Plum Rains and Med Changes

So for the past few weeks we have been in the middle of what is known as Plum Rain season here in Taiwan. I have no clue why it’s called that but it happens every year at the end of spring/beginning of summer.

During this time rain can ambush you at any moment – do not be fooled by fleeting blue skies – and when it comes it doesn’t fall lightly. I’m talking torrential downpours that will have you soaked in seconds if you are caught outside without an umbrella (even with one you’ll still get wet).

I’ve always liked the rain. The sound and smell of it calms me and it has a cleansing effect on the world around me (rain here = no smoggy pollution to choke on). However, my brain doesn’t seem to agree with me – how surprising.

Over a month ago my psychiatrist warned me about the rainy season and told me that it might have a negative effect on my mood.  He wasn’t wrong. After about a week of erratic weather I began feeling sluggish, sad and demotivated. Little tasks – such as grocery shopping and cooking – became mountains to climb, and the slightest setback had me in tears. Normal feelings of tiredness clicked over into pure exhaustion and there is nothing more soul destroying, in my opinion, than waking up day after day feeling unrested. My anxiety and irritation levels spiked severely. Headaches lingered constantly and my low mood dipped even further.

When I saw my Dr again a week ago I could just listen and cry as he explained about a lack of sunlight and how it affects certain neurotransmitters in the brain. He suggested a slight med change and I gratefully accepted – nothing major, just tweaks here and there. I’ve started to feel a little better anxiety-wise since then. My mood and energy are still low though and he told me it would take up to two weeks for the new meds to kick in.

Overall I’m just hanging on to the fact that in less than three weeks I will be lying on a beach in Mauritius, far from work and the infernal heat of the Asian summer. 

Opposites

Euphoria is a beautiful, iridescent bubble

Surrounding me

Keeping me safe

Things that would usually annoy or wound

Happily bounce off

Into the ether

 

Depression is a ball of sticky, heavy sludge

Surrounding me

Weighing me down

Things that are trivial cut deep and linger

Destroying me

Piece by peace

A Mother and Her Son


On a recent trip to Hualien we had a long layover in Taipei. After a few hours of roaming around the city, finding something to eat, and getting lost in the rain, my companions and I decided to retreat to Taipei Main Station to await our evening train. 

By this time we were all exhausted. We found our way to the main hall where people were allowed to sit on the black and white checked floor in a large cordoned off area. There were masses of fellow travelers gathered there. Dumping my bags down I immediately lay down in relief and stared at the expansive ceiling and walls. 




Almost as soon as I had settled in comfortably for the 5 hour wait that still lay ahead a security guard approached us and told us we were allowed to sit on the floor but not lie down. This was around my 30th hour without sleep and my entire body hurt. Having to sit up, unable to stretch out like I had, seemed like pure torture. 

We resorted to playing silly word games to pass the time, which served as a hilarious distraction for a while, but after an hour or two restlessness got the better of us. We took turns staying with the bags while the rest ventured out to find dinner. 

When it was my turn to keep watch I looked around cautiously for the guards in their neon yellow vests. When I didn’t see them I quickly lay down for a few seconds at a time – anything to temporarily ease the pain in my back. It was then that a mother and her son came and sat down near me. 

They didn’t have any luggage with them, which I thought was strange. They both sat cross-legged and facing each other. The boy looked to be about 9 or 10. As I watched them they began to play some kind of game with their hands. I have no idea what it was, but from the look of glee on their faces I gather it was fun. 

I began to feel strange watching them, like I was spying on an intimate moment, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away. They were totally in their own world and didn’t even notice me. Every so often the boy would giggle and squirm with happiness, as his mother laughed and spoke softly to him. After a while they got up and wandered away. 

I can’t quite explain it but seeing them brought a kind of calm over me. My mind was pretty fragile from lack of sleep and I had been feeling rather unwell. In the few moments that I watched them I saw the love and joy that they shared, and this somehow anchored me into the present and soothed me. I’ll never forget them – whoever they were. 

Holidays

In a little under four weeks I will officially be on leave for a whole month. I can’t wait to be free of screaming children and classrooms. However, as the time draws ever closer I can’t help but be filled with apprehension. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to go home and see my family and friends, but holidays are always a bit of a weird time for me. 

The truth is that my Bipolar Disorder doesn’t seem to take a vacation. I was reminded of this just last weekend when I had four days off and travelled to Hualien. The night before we left I didn’t sleep at all, I was too keyed up. The next day was spent traveling to Taipei (with a 12 hour layover) and then finally to Hualien in the late evening. In total I went close to 40 hours without sleep, a big no no for me. 

By the time we got to our destination I was a mess. I was switching rapidly between giddy hysterics and paranoid panic. My thoughts were racing and my whole body felt wired. Just before boarding our train out of Taipei I had a full on anxiety attack, and spent the ride to Hualien wrapped in my boyfriend’s hoodie hiding my tears from my friends. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to sleep when we got to our hotel. 

Thankfully my meds helped me out and I did manage to rest. The remainder of the trip, though enjoyable, was spent in a fog of sadness. Depression is rude like that – it doesn’t care that you’re on holiday. 

So, as much as I can’t wait for my upcoming time off, a part of me is understandably on edge. I will have to face multiple triggers while I’m away – extended traveling without proper sleep being the least of them. 

I’m already feeling overwhelmed by the amount that needs to be done before we even leave – such as transferring money from my bank account here to my one in South Africa, shopping for gifts for everyone, and various other admin things. 

I won’t even touch on my anxiety surrounding actually being back home, not to mention the looming depression that will almost certainly be waiting for me when I return to Taiwan and work. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Hualien Day 2: Liyu Lake

On our second day in Hualien we decided to visit Liyu Lake. We caught a train at around lunchtime and then got a taxi there from the station.

319

321

359

Once we got there we wandered around for a bit. The place was huge and there were many people there despite the weather being overcast.

328

330

335

339

341

346

342

There were all sorts of activities going on – people kayaking, pedal boating and fishing.

351

352

355

360

361

374

376

380

387

Once we had walked around to the other side of the lake we decided to rent pedal boats for an hour and go out onto the water.

388

389

393

397

405

407

416

420

422

As we started to head back to shore the weather broke and the rain and mist moved in over us. We got out our umbrellas and ponchos and headed to a coffee shop to refuel. From there we got a taxi back to our hotel.

424

427

429

430

431

Hualien Day 1: Taroko National Park

This past weekend my boyfriend and I accompanied a few friends to the city of Hualien, on the east coast of Taiwan. Although it was raining the majority of the time (it’s the season of plum rain) we still managed to visit some incredibly beautiful places.

On our first day there we went to Taroko National Park (one of nine national parks in Taiwan), named after the landmark Taroko Gorge. Photos of this place can never do it justice but that didn’t stop me from trying.

177

178

The bus dropped us on a bridge over looking part of the Liwu River. From there we descended a few metal stairs into the gorge itself, and followed the Shakagang hiking trail that was carved into the rock face.

184

187

188

189

190

193

As we wandered along the path I was awestruck by the gorgeous colours of the landscape. It seemed almost unreal. Mother Nature proved once again that she is always the most beautiful.

199

200

202

209

211

213

226

227

234

235

236

237

Once we had completed the trail we hiked back to the bridge and then moved on to go and see more of the park. We opted to walk instead of waiting for the bus. Our next stop was the Eternal Spring Shrine (also called Changchun Shrine).

240

241

242

243

254

Unfortunately the bad weather meant that the trail was closed, so after stopping briefly for coffee we decided to head on up to the nearby temple and bell tower.

266

271

272

284

275

Near the temple we had to cross a small suspension bridge that had a five person limit.

265

270

273

306

After that it was a pretty steep climb up to the bell tower. The views were worth it though.

286

288

291

295

304

298

We paused at the top to ring the bell and drink in the sights, then headed back down.

By this time I was pretty exhausted (we had been hiking for close to four hours) so my boyfriend and I separated from our friends and headed to the visitors center to catch the bus back to our hotel.

307

308

310

 

Flowers: Season 1

(Warning: Spoilers)

I recently watched one of my favourite shows again. It’s called Flowers. There is only one season so far, made up of six 30 minute episodes, and it tackles the topic of mental illness in a family setting.

I watch things with this particular theme almost obsessively, and in my humble opinion few works of fiction get it as right as this series does. It is simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking. 

The character I identify with most is Maurice Flowers, a middle aged husband and father who suffers deeply from depression. The way his story and those of his loved ones are told through bleak honesty and dark humour really touched me.

There is one scene that hit home particularly hard for me and that is when he is finally discussing his condition with his exasperated wife. The conversation goes like this:

Deborah: how can I help to stop you being so sad?

Maurice: I’m just having a bit of a bad patch.

D: OK, well how long will this dark patch last because it’s getting frankly quite boring.

M: I know, I’m trying. 

D: Well, whatever you’re doing it’s not working is it? Do you want to try something else, maybe go to see a doctor, perhaps?

M: I can’t really explain it.

D: Could you try? Because if I don’t know what’s going on with you I can’t help. And I love you, Maurice. (Pause) I used to be quite a happy person before I met you.

M: It’s like….it’s like an invisible monster with no shape, no form, but it’s loud and fierce and it never ends.

D: Right, OK, is that the clearest way you can think of to explain it?

M: I’m trying, I’m sorry.

D: No, right, it’s OK. (Pause) So what do we do to defeat this monster?

M: We can’t. 

D: There must be some way. All monsters have a weakness. (Pause) Maybe it’s love. Maybe love is how we defeat this monster, together.

M: Love makes it worse. 

To someone who has never experienced depression I would imagine that that last line could be quite confusing. How can love make it worse? Surely having support from those that care can only make things better?

Sadly, I understand exactly what Maurice means. When in the depths of a depressive episode I not only feel alone but I usually want to be alone too. Having to face how my condition hurts those I love is beyond what I can handle when just staying alive is in itself a challenge. I see how they try to help, I feel their frustration when their efforts fail (through no fault of their own, they are up against the mightiest contender – my brain) and I hurt even more when I see the pain they go through trying to understand what’s wrong.

Depression truly is a monster. It is soul destroying for everyone it touches, directly and indirectly. Maurice describes it well in a later scene when he confesses his suicide attempt to his wife:

Please just know that I’m not unhappy because of you, I’m just ….. this is just who I am, I guess, and I don’t know how to change that and how, and what I can do to make it stop. Every morning I wake up and the first thing I think of is killing myself. I feel exhausted all the time, and impossible to gain any kind of pleasure from anything even when I think of the things which should make me happiest, when I think of our love and our children and everything we have ever done together. It’s as if I’ve had a set amount of life assigned to me and I’ve used it all up. There’s nothing left.

Throughout the show I cried quite a bit, but this was the part when I almost drowned. It is so spot on that I felt like I was hearing a script from my own head (with different personal details of course).

I feel that a show like this is so important because it exposes the bare bones of mental illness and what it can do to a person and their family. It doesn’t glamorize it or gloss over the ugly parts; it accurately depicts how devastating it can be.

I am utterly in love with Flowers. I love how I can relate to it so much. I love how it manages to find humour even in the most awful situations, without cheapening the message. It’s fantastically written and acted and I would highly recommend it to everyone.

Asleep

Heavy limbs

Weary heart

A soul that wants to sleep

 

Aching head

Blurry brain

Too tired to even weep

 

I won’t give in

You will not win

This fight is not yet done

 

I’ll push on still

With force of will

Until I see the sun

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑