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General health & accessing healthcare, mental health, health condition, illness

Looking after health & well-being

NOTE: Quotes are presented word for word apart from minor editing for readability and clarity. Identifying details have been removed. Square brackets show text that has been added, e.g. ‘I want to maintain [my current level of drug use]’. Ellipses within square brackets […] show where text has been removed, e.g. ‘Counselling was good but […] I would have liked more information about other treatment options’.

Health and well-being are key concerns for the people whose experiences are presented on this website. Health is commonly defined here as relating to mental and physical condition. Well-being is often closely connected to health but also includes emotional, social and spiritual factors contributing to happiness and life satisfaction. On this website, people discuss health and well-being in different ways, describing a range of strategies for maintaining good health and well-being. Many note that eating a balanced diet, having a regular routine, and getting enough sleep are important. Others say that being healthy and well involves taking steps to avoid getting sick or run-down, such as taking vitamins, avoiding smoking, exercising and limiting or taking breaks from alcohol and other drug consumption (see also subsections under Consumption in everyday life). Although some say they limit consumption to keep healthy, others describe consumption as an important part of health and well-being. Finding a balance between work and leisure is seen as important. The value of alternative therapies such as yoga, meditation and acupuncture is also highlighted. A few say they struggle to look after health, noting that work commitments, changes to regular routine and certain patterns of consumption can impact negatively on health.

Strategies to maintain good health

Scarlett (F, 29, works in finance, ice) looks after her health by getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating regular meals. (Played by an actor)

During the week I just eat and sleep as much as I can. I do go to the gym. I take yoga classes as well […] I try to be as healthy as possible, and it sucks I can’t be healthy and maintain [regular ice use] as well because [my boyfriend and I] do love getting out and going for jogs at 6 o’clock in the morning when we’re not using [ice]. So we’ll get to […] Tuesday after we’ve had a good sleep, and we just get up and go for a walk in the morning before work and that’s very nice.

Harry (M, 52, works in the arts, heroin) recommends taking a break from regular drug use every so often to ‘recover’. (Note: strong language)

After a while speed will wear you down, particularly if you’re doing the sort of work I do, which is shift work, which can constitute like 70, 80 hour weeks and stuff like that. It’s very convenient, a very useful drug in that regard. It’s not just truck drivers that use it for their work. But at the same time, it will bugger you over a period of time. You know, it’s one of those drugs you really need to take a break. I guess it’s like alcohol. You know, one of the tricks of alcohol is to give your liver a rest. Sure, get drunk that night, but don’t then get drunk the next night, the next night, the next night, because you will be fucked at the end of that.

You know, get drunk, give yourself a couple of days to recover, get drunk again, fine. It’s that matter of managing it, I guess, although when you’re younger you’re more sort of resilient physically and so you’re able to do things a bit better. Also, considering that earlier on in the piece I got hepatitis, I’ve sort of had not the greatest liver over the years and speed affects that.

Having a good diet and enough sleep is crucial to Nadia’s (F, 32, not working due to injury, prescription painkillers) health.

I believe I’m doing everything I can for good healthcare. I believe that diet is extremely important, and it’s at the forefront of everything. Also, good sleeping patterns is something else that’s massively important. If you don’t get up at a reasonable hour, and that includes weekends, and if you go to bed too late, how are you ever expected to be in good health? You’re not.

I believe cigarettes are the devil and that’s something that’s a bigger problem for me than any other drugs because of the way I feel when I smoke […] I don’t always smoke and I feel terrific when I don’t. But when I feel sad, yes, sometimes that’s my thing that I go to. Then I have a whole bunch of them and I feel sick, and I don’t want to do it anymore and I stop. You know, that’s it until next time, so I believe that it’s vital that someone with a bad back, because […] you’re putting so much filth and rotting out your body with this toxic stuff [prescribed opioid painkillers], it’s important to keep your body as pure as possible […] It’s also important to keep your environment and your life as stress-free as possible.

[…]

I found that when I look after myself, and I don’t work in jobs where people are draining my energy all the time and being just bullies, then my spine is in much better health, and I have more energy for myself and my [children]. Yeah, but I do believe that taking these pharmaceutical medications [prescribed painkillers: Valium (diazepam) and Endone (oxycodone)], they’re invented for a reason and this is probably the reason […] These drugs were made for me, and people like me.

Pauline (F, 51, works in administration, cannabis) sometimes finds it hard to eat a nutritious diet because of work commitments, stress and a routine of smoking cannabis after work. (Played by an actor)

A regular week for me would be smoking [cannabis] every night […] If I’m really focused on my health, I won’t have it until after dinner, but often the craving for the pot is more than [the feeling of], ‘Gee I want my dinner’, which then leads to naughty patterns around not eating properly because I can’t be bothered […] Then at 8.30 or 9pm, I’m sort of looking in the fridge for just anything I can shovel down, where[as] I could have […] cooked up some beautiful organic vegetables and meats that I’d bought.

[…]

Even just last night, I was sitting there and I thought, ‘No, before you have a second joint, you have to have that soup that’s heating on the stove. It’s ready now. Just go and eat it’. So [regular cannabis use] does link in to some disordered eating patterns for me.

How consumption contributes to health & well-being

Limiting alcohol and other drug consumption was a strategy some used to maintain good health, while other say consumption is part of, rather than a threat to, health and well-being. As Callum puts it, ‘[Cannabis] makes me a more relaxed person. It definitely increases my appetite and overall […] I think cannabis contributes to [me] being a more sort of whole human being’. Like him, some say they consume alcohol or other drugs to promote relaxation and relieve stress. Several comment that consumption helps relieve pain and anxiety, or helps them cope with sleep issues and depression (see also Consumption in everyday life).

Along with eating a balanced diet and doing regular exercise, Jacob (M, 33, works in hospitality, cannabis) smokes cannabis daily and says it ‘works well’ with his other activities to support his health and well-being.

Part 1

[To look after my health and well-being], I eat well, I exercise. I’m pretty lucky to come from a pretty healthy family, so we just don’t really get sick, and don’t have any major illnesses in the family. But yeah, I cycle pretty much everywhere I go. The last couple of years living by the beach, I would surf four times a week. I try to have a balanced diet. Like I’m not a health freak. I’m not, you know, juicing kale and quinoa all day long, but I don’t eat McDonalds at all. Yeah, so I’m just trying to balance it as much as I can. Again, I’m not against any food. I’m not vegetarian or vegan or any crazy diet. I’ll eat anything, but I’m just sort of trying to sort of moderate what I eat, and just be active. I like being outside. I like being in the sun, and being in the park and yeah, riding my bike and going out, and playing Frisbee with friends. And again, I’m very lucky to be a healthy person so I don’t really have to worry about it too much.

Part 2

[Marijuana fits] great [into my health and well-being] [laughs]. Yeah, it works well together […] I don’t think it helps my health. Well, I’m not really sure. I’ve been reading a lot of stuff the last couple of years, researches [sic] about the health benefits of marijuana which is apparently anti-cancerous, and help[s] with diet, and help[s] with digestion, and all that stuff, but I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it too much because again, I’m so used to smoking weed with everything I do, so like riding to work and back […] I’d wake up and have my joint, and get on the bike and ride, and then I’ll finish work and have a joint, and I’ll ride back to work because I just enjoy the ride. I have my headphones on and listen to my music […] But [smoking weed] was never contradicting [my health]. Like, going to the park with friends and playing Frisbee and running around, it’s great. We’ll just smoke a few joints when we’re doing it as well […] Yeah, [smoking cannabis is] very much, very much [part of my social life].

Callum (M, 36, studying, cannabis) experiences chronic pain from a back injury and finds smoking cannabis alleviates the pain and helps him to relax. (Note: strong language)

[In terms of my day-to-day experience of smoking cannabis,] pretty much I don’t smoke it in the mornings. I wake up, I wait ’till the afternoon, do what I need for the day. Yeah, when I feel the need to relax, when my day’s done, I smoke a bit of weed. It helps me unwind. Also when I get to bed at night, due to the fact that I have crushed T12 vertebrae, I find that if I don’t smoke, I just have problems getting comfortable in bed, but if I do smoke, there’s no problems, I’m a basic, normal, functioning human being. Due to my back, when I actually broke it, [the doctors were] like, ‘You’ll never work, you’ll never walk properly again. Here’s opiate medication. Take that home’. There was no guidance, there was no nothing, and pardon my French, but I got out of hospital and said, ‘Fuck that, I’m a human being. I have rights. I want to live my life. I want to be the best person I can and still be a human basically, and I’m not going to shut myself off’. So I threw out the medication, and just continued to smoke weed through my whole recovery, and I believe it’s helped me be a more functional human being.

For John (M, 34, works in the health sector, ice), taking ice alongside prescribed antidepressants helps him to cope with depression.

I guess still use drugs fairly often. Like I said, I use them as an antidepressant. On a day-to-day basis, I can feel depressed, that’s not to say that I use drugs every day because I don’t, but I probably use on average twice a week, yeah […] I take an antidepressant daily and like I said, I use crystal maybe twice a week. So, you know, I can generally go a couple of days of feeling a bit low, a bit blue, but then I start to feel desperate and want to use again to make me feel better […] Generally if the drugs are good, I feel less depressed straight away. I feel good, it’s a good feeling. I feel confident.

Maintaining physical health

The importance of looking after physical health is a common theme. Many say they do vigorous exercise regularly, including swimming, running, surfing, skateboarding and going to the gym. Others prefer moderate exercise such as stretching, yoga and walking.

Artemis (M, 28, works in education, cannabis and party drugs) takes part in sport and other physical activities to maintain his health. (Played by an actor)

I go to the gym five days a week, as every gay man in [this city] is expected to do. I have endurance, I run, I cycle, I play tennis regularly, I swim […] Even though I find the gym incredibly tedious, it’s just the worst, I know the best thing I can do for my brain is to keep my body as healthy as possible […]

[But, yeah] the thing that’s probably most detrimental to my health when I take drugs is the fact that I chain smoke when I’m high. Otherwise I don’t smoke cigarettes, I find them disgusting, but man, when I’m high, I’ll just go through them like a crazy person […] Yeah, cigarettes are probably the thing that bother me the most […] I also think, and this may be a deluded justification, but I also think smoking a pack of cigarettes […] once a month, or once every two weeks, isn’t going to be my undoing, but I could be wrong about that.

An active person, Lucy (F, 34, works in retail, cannabis) goes for regular walks and plays sport. She’s also careful of what she eats, and meditates to relax. (Played by an actor)

[To look after my health and well-being] I write, I play netball, I walk all the time, walk my dog. I’m pretty active. Yeah, I like to go bush walking. I’m not lazy, I do lots of stuff and I eat pretty well […] I used to be really lazy but I definitely eat better now, because I mean, I’m getting older, you[‘ve] got to be more conscious of these things. So yeah, I eat pretty well, and I’m starting to really take an interest in growing my own food and buying organic food, things like that. I sometimes do meditation at the local Buddhist Centre, because I know that’s good for me, because I do tend to get a bit frazzled [laughs] Sometimes when everything is going on, it’s nice to relax.

Zoe (F, 30, studying, ice) says that exercise such as walking or gardening ‘releases endorphins’ and helps reduce her desire for ice. (Played by an actor)

When I feel, if I’ve got a craving coming on or things are starting to become overwhelming, I’ll actually go and exercise. Like, even if it’s just a walk around the block or something, to get those endorphins going, which in the end can actually give you a very similar kind of rush as being high, because releasing those natural endorphins is ultimately, what ice kind of does. It releases that serotonin level in your brain to make you feel happy and wonderful and great, which, guess what, so does exercise [laugh]. So I have those steps in place. I also enjoy my gardening, and so sometimes I’ll get out there and prune the rose bushes right back if I’m really craving or something. My cravings are far and few between now, which is really good.

Leisure, recreational activities & well-being

Striking a balance between work and leisure is also seen as important to well-being. This involves making time for leisure activities and hobbies. People say they enjoy a variety of leisure activities, including bushwalking, camping, creative writing, photography and woodwork.

Zac (M, 53, works in health services, party drugs) has many interests, which he says help him to manage his drug use. (Played by an actor)

You know [taking drugs] is a fun […] thing to do but I also love just having dinners with my friends […and] I like exercising, I like cycling. [There are] a million other things I want in my life, and I think that’s why it hasn’t become dangerous for me because I have lots of other interests […] I mean next weekend, I have arrangements with friends: literally lunch, dinner [things planned for] the whole weekend so there’s no space for it […I mean] the more stuff I have going on, and the more interests and fun things I’m doing, the less [time I have for drug use…] So these are all […] systems of control [for managing it].

Opal (M, 45, primary carer to his children, alcohol and prescription painkillers) enjoys relaxing, doing craft and going camping with his kids.

After so much turmoil, I really enjoy sitting down. I love the peace of the morning before the sun comes up. Like, that’s my time. You know, that’s why I get out of bed so early because that’s the best time for me […from] 4 o’clock until 7 o’clock when I get the kids out of bed. I love that time. But previous to that, I was always making things or doing things, you know, building stuff. Always very active. [I] never had a hobby as such you know, never been a hobby [family] but very active with everything we do […] We are always building things. Like, for instance, my daughter, we make papier-mâché things for school, you know. I was always in there doing it with her, and the painting, and the buildings, and all of her hobbies, and yeah, stuff with my son. So just all the crafts that they do, I’m always involved with.

Camping is a really big thing for us. We love to get out and go camping [at] every opportunity that we have. That’s a big thing for us […] and when we go camping, it has to be somewhere where there’s no concrete cowboys. I can’t stand going camping where there’s someone [who just] drove past bloody BCF [Boating, Camping Fishing store] and brought a tent. You know, I want to be away from everybody […] Yeah, nobody around when we go camping.

How work contributes to health & well-being

Although some people stress the importance of having time off work, a few also note that work helps them to feel healthy and well. They recommend setting personal goals and pursuing work and other goal-directed activities as effective ways of keeping well.

Zadie (F, 33, works in the health sector, heroin) consciously ‘works on’ her mental health by dedicating time for it and setting personal goals. (Played by an actor)

I know that heartbreak can be a risk for me choosing to self-medicate [with heroin] so I need to throw myself into something else. So I picked up some hobbies, which was new for me, because I’ve never really prioritised that. I’ve always felt, I suppose maybe that it’s a little bit selfish to do something just for me, that I should be putting everything into the family, my children […] and I just went, ‘No actually, I need to do something for myself, and I know I’m at risk of potentially going down that road of self-medicating again, so I really need to do this for my mental health’, and I did and it worked.

[…]

I did a lot of work on my mental health, but again, I did it by myself. I read books, I came up with strategies, I kind of pinpointed people in my life that seemed to have really great mental health, and tried to figure out […] how they got there. And I really dedicated a lot of time to it, you know, I came up with all sorts of strategies, and set little goals for myself […] You know, kind of put down on paper what kind of person I wanted to be, and I just worked out ways to get there, and it took maybe three years, but I got there, and I’ve been there ever since.

Working full time gives Jack (M, 38, works in retail, prescription drugs) a sense of ‘personal pride’ and also helps him maintain his physical health.

[To look after my health and well-being…] when I’m at work, [I] just try and focus, and get as much out of work as I can […] It helps me because I have a cause. You’re contributing to society. You’re not sitting back, living on a pissy $500 a fortnight. Breaking open cigarette butts to roll, to try and scrape enough tobacco to roll a cigarette. It just gives you meaning, and it gives you personal pride, and […] physically, it improves your health. I like interacting with the public […] There is [a lot to get out of in terms of work…] Every time I go down the street, someone will just say, if I see someone who I haven’t seen in over a year, they’ll tell me that I’m like a different person. Everything [about me is different], my eyes look different, I don’t have the dead stare, I walk with my shoulders back, I don’t slur, I’m just more on the ball all round.

Alternative therapies

In addition to these work and leisure activities, some people highlight the value of alternative therapies such as Reiki (a Japanese therapeutic technique), meditation, and acupuncture in supporting their health and well-being.

Along with taking opioid pharmacotherapy treatment, Amy (F, 52, studying, heroin) sometimes has acupuncture, which she suggests may help to ‘shift’ her patterns of heroin consumption.

It’s been very interesting just going back into acupuncture. I’m feeling some really heavy stuff because when I said to my [acupuncturist…] ‘Should I feel sick?’ They said, ‘Well, things are leaving your body so [you may feel sick]’. I told them a fair bit at the clinic about myself, [about having] hep C and all that […Acupuncture is] my new thing like. Yeah, I’m on Suboxone [opioid pharmacotherapy treatment: a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone] but there’s something about getting acupuncture that [I like]. My very first ever time that I stopped using heroin, like I was like 22 or something, and I’d only tried it at 19. I went and sought out acupuncture, and got really back into health foods and gave up smoking. There’s something about going back to acupuncture that feels right, and feels healing. It feels like maybe that’s what I need with my heroin use, is to shift some[thing]. Like, there’s some stuff happening with my body at the moment that is just […] very, very painful. Like, across my shoulders and back, and I think it’s, like it’s impacting on my life, like to do stuff like this […] I know it’s all connected to my addiction. So [acupuncture] is like a new thing for me to try as a treatment form almost.

A regular routine of meditation, yoga and Reiki (a Japanese therapeutic technique) helps Nadia (F, 32, not working due to injury, prescription painkillers) cope with chronic back pain.

The yoga supports me through [the pain associated with my back injury]. If I didn’t have that, I’d be in pretty bad shape, but yeah, it supports me through it. I can’t do all the fancy [yoga positions] anymore, but it’s still [….] really good to have that tool for healing.

[…]

You know, I put up with [the back pain] to a certain extent […] But if it’s 10 am, you’re better off to just take one [Endone (oxycodone)], or take half of one, or just do something, you know. So you try everything else first and that’s sort of like the last option that I take.

[…]

I do about two hours’ worth of yoga, meditation, Reiki. I don’t know what you call it. It’s sort of a mixture of everything, every morning. That’s really great for my physical health, it’s really great for my mental health, it sort of ties me together as a person, and it allows me to feel, I guess, the same open-mindedness and sense of exhilarated awareness that I felt when I was taking other kinds of psychedelic drugs years ago, but this is true, this is real. This is not something that’s chemically induced. This is something that I’m doing, like I am doing this all myself.

The role of family & friends in supporting well-being

Spending time with family and friends gives a sense of well-being for many we spoke to (see also Relationships, confidentiality & telling others). Emma joined an online community to meet people with similar interests and says this has improved her emotional well-being and broadened her social network.

For Zadie (F, 33, works in the health sector, heroin) family and friends are a valuable ‘support network’ on which she relies for her well-being. (Note: strong language) (Played by an actor)

I’ve always had amazing, amazing people in my life and lots of them. So that’s always been a really, really, really massive support structure […] I look at say, some of my family members that haven’t ever found their people or that big support structure. And I think, ‘Fuck, couldn’t imagine life without it’ […] because I’ve always had people that I can be open with and talk to. And [who are] supportive and inspiring and all of that. So that’s huge […] I know who I can go to. And this is probably why I’ve never accessed [alcohol and other drug] services, because I’ve got a support network and I’ve got great people I can talk to.

Seeking professional support is another way they maintain their health and well-being. This includes seeing a general practitioner (GP), counsellor and/or attending a local health service regularly (see also Living with illness or a health condition and Living with a mental health condition).

To support his mental health, Barry (M, 40, unemployed, heroin) attends counselling and sees his GP.

[Counselling] is hard, dragging up and dredging up […] a lot of the past […] You know, when it’s emotional, it’s really, really emotional because I’ve never dealt with it […] My way of dealing with it was drinks, drugs […] and ignoring it. Turning a blind eye to it. Whereas now, I’m confronting it head on, you know, so it’s pretty intense. But it has to be done […] I moved up here in May and in that time, I’ve done more therapy and good solid […] really ‘to the bones of it therapy’ than I’ve done in the last over 20 years […] I’ve got a great GP who I can call in and see whatever I want. If I’m not coping, I can ring up and make an appointment and just go in and talk, you know. I do a lot of journaling […] which helps.

Talking to a counsellor and attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings helps Ben (M, 29, works in hospitality, alcohol) look after his well-being, along with maintaining a ‘healthy routine’.

I see my counsellor. She’s always good to put things sort of into perspective, things that I’m confused about. As well as going to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings and just listening, just hearing the similarities to my problems that I’ve had in the past and using them. So I sort of don’t isolate myself thinking that I’m not the only one out there that’s been through all this. There are other people to talk to. But yeah, apart from that, just a healthy routine during the day […] Like as I said before, just being occupied with something. And eating well, drinking lots of water, trying to socialise as much as I can, making new friends, which has come in handy and really helped me a lot in rehab. Meeting all these new people with similar problems that I can relate to.

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