For 36 hours, I went into battle with a grown man. I was 15 years old. I attempted to outsmart him, trick him and survive him. I succeeded, because I’m still here. Through circumstances beyond my control, I met him when I was 14. Those months were marked off the calendar using my tears, blood and sweat…
It’s the anniversary of my abduction today. I recall the music that was played, the meal served (that I wasn’t allowed to eat). The orange glow of the radiator. The bars on the windows. The deadlock on the door… I had a finely-tuned penchant for dark humour. Once, I could manage to laugh, even as I watched my life be disassembled by adults, who should’ve been guiding, rather than destroying. My life force was strong and determined. I had done everything I could to stop this moment from happening. I was still doing everything I could to stop the ending being played out. I hadn’t given up. I would not give up. What was said to me and what I endured in that 36 hour period is unspeakable. Opportunities to escape were fleeting.
Tomorrow night, I shall remember that girl in the photo. I promised her, that if she survived, I would remember her suffering. I would hold her tight, keep her safe and rejoice in her survival. I was strangled to the point of unconsciousness. The agony of having someone stop your next breath; well, it stays with you. He thought he’d killed me and didn’t celebrate my resurrection. I was eventually found on the ground, within a pile of bark chips and dirt, blood sprayed over my face and head. He didn’t like it when I laughed toward the end and I couldn’t have cared less. No more pleading. He had no power over my mind, nor my spirit. He couldn’t capture nor contain me. I could control what I was thinking and feeling toward the end. He didn’t enter into it, at all.
Over fifty hours of surgery, years of hospitalisations, hundreds of physiotherapy sessions, scores of specialists, over $60,000 of medical bills, hundreds of scripts and an array of vibrant walking sticks later… I celebrate. The trauma never leaves. How can it, when you live with the scars and pain every day of your life? A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my social media, when I dropped my phone in fright. On a friend’s page, a man who looked identical to him and with the same last name, stared back at me. He had commented on something or other, on my friend’s page. It turned out, that this is a close relative of my monster. Same last name and same face. He could be a very nice man; who knows? It brought it all back. They don’t tell a survivor how they should process events such as this. Forgetting isn’t an option, but rejoicing is.
I am in Sydney and the Delta variant of Covid has seen us locked down, alongside other states of Australia. I am as anxious and scared as anyone. I don’t want to lose anyone I love; I want this to be over. We must stick together; love one another and check in with each other. It seems counter-intuitive to rejoice as another anniversary skulks up on me, particularly during lockdown. However, it is the only way forward, not only for me, but for us. We must feel it all; the fear, the anger, the anxiety and horror, alongside the hope. We mustn’t let go of hope. Remember, the comfort of hugging a friend; of meeting up for coffee. The splendour of seeing live theatre or a movie. Attending art galleries and celebrating a happy event with loved ones. I dreamed of such things, that night on that ledge. I dream of them still. I grew up. I got to have a child. I got to have a life beyond what that 15 year old could envisage. Celebrating survival within lockdown, I allow myself to imagine what comes next, long after we as a society are freed.
You survived that which was set to kill you. As you light your candles, wrapping yourself up in a patchwork quilt; reflecting and rejoicing, you will also pay tribute to those who didn’t survive similar. You will reaffirm that your life is lived in honour of them. Your life is balanced on the mighty shoulders of thousands of such angels. You will live in their name.
Winter began in Sydney as a bewildering mixture of pillows of smoke coming from fireplaces, lined coats and gloves, alongside sunshine and days that would be considered summertime, elsewhere in the world. Businesses and households had ramped up cleaning and hygiene measures, but winter’s icy fingers beckoned a new level of danger. People would be inside more often, in hermetically sealed environments, both at work and within homes, restaurants and everywhere else. Due to a debacle of a vaccine rollout, very few of our population were in this category, particularly when Astra Zeneca had been deemed out of bounds to segments of the population. It was a perfect storm, waiting to happen. The alarm was raised with the announcement of a ‘soft’ lockdown, on the Saturday before winter school holidays were to begin. My daughter had gone to the supermarket to get some bread, when this announcement came through. I rang her and she explained that she hadn’t been able to enter the store, and there were no trolleys left. People were snaked around the corner and a lady warned her not to go in, as there was a punch-up taking place! “That explains it,” she said. My daughter and her friends accepted the lockdown, abandoning scheduled classes, parties and outings. We were still able to walk and enjoy those lovely sunny days, albeit masked up. Even so, a sense of unease grew and it was disconcerting (and discombobulating), to see all the shops open, when so much had been made to close. My daughter queried this and I honestly didn’t have an answer for her. I felt for all the casual staff, who had to come to work and deal with the general public, despite their unease. Clarity around the issue would have been better for everyone.
At the end of the second week of school holidays, an extension of lockdown was announced, alongside burgeoning numbers of people who had contracted the Delta variety of Covid. Teenagers were in ICU and on respirators. Last weekend, the advice took on a whole new level of urgency and the lockdown grew more stringent. There is a cognitive dissonance between our lovely warm days and the icy tendrils of this variant, weaving it’s way though communities and people’s lives. I attended an online mental health workshop the other day and they said that a lot of people are finding solace in reminiscing. They are looking at old videos and flicking through photo albums. They are listening to music from their youth and streaming shows they used to enjoy. The past at least, is predictable and one knows the characters and what happens next. There is comfort in that knowing. As for the hoarding of toilet paper? That is ‘iceberg behaviour,’ meaning that underneath that visible tip, there is a whole lot of fear of the unknown. Some people feel like they are masters of their universe, being at least able to control this necessary portion of life. As for the walks? They continue. Here is a selection of pics from the past fortnight.
Today, I went for a walk and an elderly gent was in his front garden. I wanted to be human. I wanted to take off my mask and go chat to him. Distancing is anathema to who we are as human beings. I keep reminding myself that there is no greater act of love at the moment, but to go against interacting with community. This is serious, and we know that the stakes are high.
In the last five days, two women who are dear to me have lost their husbands; their grief compounded by these lockdowns, in two differing states. I would be with them in a heartbeat, if only I could. I wept for them and lit candles, hoping with all my heart that they could feel the love, encircling them. Before this outbreak, I bought a Frida Kahlo puzzle. It was on sale, though I only bought it because it was Frida. I have never completed a puzzle (or had the inclination to), in my life! Last night, I sat at my dining table, 500 pieces jumbled into a messy pile. Needing to conquer something at this uncertain time, I determined to bloody-well put her together, no matter how long it took. I am meant to move around frequently, as sitting causes immense pain to my spine. I tell you, I didn’t move from position all night, until the final piece was in place, shortly before midnight. There was something gratifying about completing a picture, even as everything else is uncertain. People are in precarious situations all around; within their homes, lives and jobs. It fuelled me, conquering my bargain basement puzzle. I will frame it, to remind me of the importance of touchstones in our lives.
I shall never forget the day that I met you, five years ago. I had lunched with a friend, and then we’d travelled to her son’s primary school to pick up the boys on Sydney’s North Shore. I was homeschooling my daughter, and was unaccustomed to the chaos of school pickup. We walked into the schoolyard with a plethora of parents in business suits. My free-spirited daughter broke away, just as the school bell rang, and decided to climb a splendid gum tree in the school grounds. The next thing I knew, a woman was shrieking that my nine year old girl was stuck up a tree and was going to fall! A teacher ran over and told my girl to come down this instant! She said she would guide her down. My daughter had only climbed to the first branch, and said “okay,” and hopped down of her own accord, which was met with swooning. I was aghast, and whispered that it may be a good idea for her to sit quietly, whilst we waited for the boys, since tree climbing was not encouraged. Chatting to my friend, I looked around and saw a lady approaching. She had seen my daughter leap from the tree and smiled. Julie was in her thirties, and had what could only be termed a double aura. There seemed to be a circle of tragedy around her; grey and dense and full of scars and fear. There was also another ring, this being a chrysalis of hope and strength; cool and driven by a light from within her. Her hair resembled cedar shavings, tumbling to her shoulders and her hazel eyes, diluted from the pills she was obviously taking, were magnificent. We exchanged pleasantries and whilst my friend chatted to a teacher and greeted her boys, Julie sat next to me, and we talked on a much deeper level.
You see, despite only having met a few moments ago, she had recognised a kindred spirit; somebody who had been through a similar hell and lived to tell the tale. Subtly slurring, she got out what had been festering within. Born into privilege, her father was a high-powered figure in the legal profession interstate. He was also a rapist. There was nowhere for her to turn, and every time she told someone, she was shot down. How she survived her childhood, I do not know. She moved to Sydney, and married. He was another high-powered man, who ended up breaking her heart. She was left with nothing after their divorce, and had to rebuild from scratch. Due to her anxiety and depression, she was portrayed as a fragile little bird in court. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I grew to know her, I discovered she was rather, a falcon; flying high above the smaller birds. Others flew on her back, when they grew weary. Her mighty wings just kept on going, sustaining everyone in her sphere.
She would send me the most insightful and encouraging messages, and I looked forward to our meetings. It all abruptly ended, when she sustained a nervous breakdown. She felt she had no choice but to return interstate to live with her family once more. I received word the other day that she is gone from this world, this mighty falcon with curls the colour of cedar wood and sparkling hazel eyes. Some could only see the lady whose power had receded, but she was not a tragic figure. She fought and she told grownups and she held on. She birthed beautiful children and let herself trust a man enough to fall in love and marry. She retrained and did all she could to work and rebuild her life and soul, when it all went awry. She did all she could to smile and play and remain, despite regular nightmares, little sleep, and daily flashbacks.
When you meet a wounded soul, look beyond the timidity, the dazed eyes and the slurred speech. Look beyond the pain. These were borne of what was done to them and have nothing to do with who they actually are. Venturing into the world without family or support, all they have guiding them is a pocketful of stars, and a head filled with dreams. The miracle is, that they are willing to love at all. The miracle is, that they bestowed the love they hadn’t been given. When you think of a fragile bird, cast your mind to what they actually are. A mighty falcon, just like Julie.
Audrey, you don’t wear anything but bed socks and slippers now, so I was gifted several pairs of your shoes. Your shoes are an honour to own. They are much like you; stylish, sturdy, colourful, reliable and comfortable. I can picture your feet slipping into them, after a lifetime of wear. Running your fruit and veg shop, with its hard manual work, doing sums in your head as you do the books. Raising your kids as a single mum, with no partner to bounce ideas off. Taking care of business and taking care of your family. The feet of a legend who took her kids to a Beatles concert, and as a little girl, attended the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Welcoming grandkids in her 90s and friends since time immemorial. Wedgewood blue eyes and snowy hair, soft as fairy floss. You are on the cusp of your 101 birthday. I have big shoes to fill, but I’ll do my utmost to make you proud.
I am amazed by your fortitude, my friend. I have seen what you endure. I have seen the medications lining the bench, the order forms for a litany of tests. I see the isolation; the sense that whilst we can walk alongside you, we can’t comprehend what it feels to be you, experiencing this. I know what you go through, and yet there is something I am at a loss to explain…
Where do you find your strength? I know it waxes and wanes, like the cycles of the moon. That is natural, when under extreme pressure. Diamonds are only created through pressure, and you, my darling, are certainly a diamond. Not a cubic zirconia; the real thing. Have you ever seen a black opal? The most expensive of opals, with the most intense colours. The ground cracks over time, allowing soluble silica to flow deep into the ground and this is where the black opal forms, aged with layers of sediment, a bit like life. Some people complain and whine about the most pedestrian of things. Not you; that was never you.
I see the joy your pets bring with their delightful antics. The humour found in shared ‘in-jokes’ with your kids. I see how you relish a hug, a gift, a friend. Certain music both enthrals and moves you to tears. I remember when Haighs chocolate opened a store in Sydney. You were as excited as a child, and caught me up in your enthusiasm. You have never complained, when I’ve taken you to avant grade festivals. Remember the New York taxi driver, who espoused his wisdom, after you slid into the back seat of the cab? Remember when the kids broke away from us as toddlers and we found them nearby on a film set, where they were being fed by the caterers, their plump little hands stuffed with food? I have photographic evidence of all our misadventures with our mates. Who can forget the time we graced Canberra with our presence?
I promise you, more fun is to be had. There will be more laughter. Always remember that you are both a black opal and diamond. Borne from pressure and cracking, exploding into an exquisite array of colours and facets. After further pondering, I know where you find your strength. It was always there, within you.
All the dreadful diagnosis and radiology reports are stored somewhere deep in the recesses of my office. The scripts are filled and the date when new ones will be required have been diarised. Some days, the pain can be a reasonable 6/10. You need to work; you want to work. You feel okay, until you’re not. Trying to engage with people whilst sharp pieces of bone are lodged in your spinal canal for all eternity is tiresome. You have to rise above; transcend it. You need to focus more; work harder than others might.
I had a friend demonstrate a mop that has a receptacle for a eucalyptus oil and vinegar solution, and can be used on tiles and floorboards. You don’t need to lug a bucket of sudsy water from room to room! The knowledge of this excited me (more than is natural), and I was a convert after trying it out. My Friday night was spent sourcing this wondrous mop. When you are in constant pain, it’s the little things that mean a great deal. Anything that gives one comfort, is a beautiful thing.
Hiding within the liniments and machines, the Lyrica and other meds, is the same person you were before. You have the same ideals, the same dreams and the same goals. The mind is determined, but the body can sometimes falter. I had to cancel plans on the weekend. I was loathe to disappoint two young people and some amazing adults, and left it until I had to face the inevitable. I couldn’t carry on. What happened next filled my heart. I was encased in love. These beautiful people understood, completely and entirely, and checked up on me to ensure I had everything I needed. The relief was palpable. When the spoons allotted for the day are gone, they are gone.
Neurological and orthopaedic pain can be merciless, wiping you of time, energy and peace. It helps to consider the tides, determined by the moon’s gravitational pull. Sometimes, you experience high tide, where you can do everything your calendar dictates. Sometimes, you are pulled into yourself. Both have their time and place. Being able to adapt to what the moon is dictating, is necessary. If I have learnt anything in the past year, in the midst of the pandemic, is that nothing is set in concrete. Pain and health, security and insecurity can besiege a life, despite what we command. It is best to honour our bodies.
If 2020 was a year of shut-down, 2021 has proven to be the year of overwhelm, judging by what people are expressing out there. How do you ensure self-care, when you are assailed by a mighty to-do list, each and every day? I have had the privilege lately, of bearing witness to three incredible women, who have taken health challenges by the horns, and are fighting like hell. Learning to walk again, learning to live anew and learning to wait for answers. They are true heroines. They have seen their bodies broken down and rebuilt. They get up and face each day with courage.
I am working, studying; juggling. Trying to fit everything in that I need to do to build a future for myself and my daughter. I sometimes come home, and collapse into bed without dinner, my spine aching so much that I simply cannot move. My studies alone entail at least 20 hours commitment each week. I had to laugh the other day. I received a curt email, saying that as I’d missed a message, requesting a self-tape to be sent immediately, I was going to be ‘released’ from this particular representation. I had been at work, and couldn’t have done it in time. I was given zero notice. Ordinarily, I would have felt terrible, castigating myself for the missed opportunity. This time, I laughed. Even if I stayed awake 24 hours a day, I still wouldn’t get through that day’s messages and notifications on various social media. It just isn’t possible. I can only do what I can do. The same applies to you.
My day’s are usually broken up as follows:
- Feeding pets and getting ready for the day, when I rise at 4.30am
- Quick breakfast, then either travelling to work or starting the day’s studies or work from home
- Fitting in a quick lunch
- Scanning emails and messages and replying to as many as I can
- Doctor appointments and necessary exercise to strengthen my bones
- Grocery shopping, laundry and cleaning the house
- Paying bills and organising my calendar
- A walk in the evening, before a quick dinner
- Continue to work/study until around 9pm (sometimes later)
Rinse, recycle and repeat, day after day.
I am trying to give myself one day off a week (I’m trying). The correspondence outlaid in the email I received, made my heart thud wildly, before I acknowledged the absurdity of the request. I am only one person. I can’t be ‘on’ 24/7, although heaven knows, I have tried. Witnessing my friend’s health battles has been a wake-up. Their lives have contracted in and all that matters at the moment, is their healing. The lists and demands that we think are so important fade, like old, useless receipts we keep in our wallets for reasons unknown. You can’t even decipher the words on the paper anymore. How do you keep going, particularly when you are the sole breadwinner and have health battles? Here are my tips:
- Make a bullet list of what needs to be done, but put the tasks into categories. What has to be done today? What won’t matter if you put it off? What needs to be done by the end of the week? Focus on what is most pressing. I find it thrilling, to highlight what has been accomplished from the list at day’s end.
- Get up and move around every hour, on the hour. Make yourself a pot of tea or coffee
- Ensure you stop for lunch!
- Go for a walk at the end of the day. It sets a demarcation line between work and leisure time
- Ensure you are hydrated
- Post-it notes are my best friend and ensure I can sleep soundly, knowing I have put a pressing task onto paper for the day ahead
- Break tasks into 45 minute increments. I find it helps keep me focused
- I find rosemary and peppermint oils help to refresh my brain
- Be kind to yourself. It seems obvious, but often, it’s the one thing we forget to do
- Ensure you ‘star’ or otherwise highlight contacts and emails you don’t want to miss, in amongst the masses you receive each day
I am endeavouring to see friends I haven’t seen for a long time. Time gets away, doesn’t it, and in the pandemic, it was hard to see people we love. Yesterday, I saw my friend, who happens to be a superb florist. We chatted to the glorious customers who frequent her shop, and I literally lost track of time. I had forgotten what that felt like, to be able to stop and be still awhile.
I also saw friends I hadn’t managed to see in over a year. I almost cried when I spotted them; the beauty of their faces, the familiarity of their voices. People who have travelled through life and its many twists and turns with me. I am trying to snatch time back, anyway I can. I want to make my daughter proud; by witnessing me achieve everything I set out to provide for us. I want my friends to know I love them, by creating pockets of time, especially for them. I want to get the balance right. I am not there yet, but am on my way. Life is so very precious; alternately, fine as a silver thread and dense as tar, often in the same day. I think the most desired of all things, is time. Let’s make the most of it.
When I was fourteen, I befriended a cockatoo at the park nearest my home. We had a kinship, and he proved himself a true friend. I would feed him, and he learnt to look forward to my daily visit. I’m not sure as to whether he was a lost pet, or a wild bird. He would let me scratch his neck, putting his head to one side, blissed-out, his eyes closing. One afternoon I went to the park, and he wasn’t there. I looked around, and found my companion laying motionless in the gutter, having been run over. My heart broke, just as it would had it been a human friend. I was soon joined by other teens in the area, and I wiped my eyes. They would probably not understand my sorrow, and I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain it to them. I learnt to hide some hurts within my soul, only allowing their release when it was safe to do so. The teens ate snacks, and chatted in the park, oblivious to the bird laying motionless. I had to disassociate in order to join in with their banter. In the confine of my room, I wept for the bird; my friend.
We have a multitude of rainbow lorikeets in my area, and they entice joy with their play. I came across. one of these little birds laying motionless on the road, having played a game of darting in and out of traffic, and lost. It brought me back to that time at fourteen. I wanted to sit in the middle of the road and weep for this little bird, and for his family, who were probably wondering where on earth he was. Perhaps, they had seen the accident? With a sinking heart, I continued my day. That is what we must do; what we are told we need to do…
I have a couple of magpies in my front yard, which houses a bounteous oak tree. The male suffered a damaged wing, and even so, I would see him foraging for food to feed his chicks. I regularly gave them food and water, and he carried on, despite the pain he must have felt. Happily, he has made a full recovery. If they are on the ground when I exit the house to go out, they clear the path for me, respectfully hopping to the side, and standing still, just watching.
I had an experience this year, where I had to continue on, and could only do so by disassociating. Someone was pressing me for details of my trauma, catching me by surprise and within a work setting. I rattled off the details as though reading a laundry list of pain, hoping it would ease their curiosity. It didn’t, and demands were voiced. “Why didn’t you do this? Why did you do that?” I wanted to scream that I was a child, and was doing my level best to survive. I wanted to tell them that I swam early morning, worked with a physio every day. I saw specialists and had surgeries, and gave statements to the police. I endured a court case and so much more, on top of studying and working when I was able. Where on earth did they imagine I would’ve found the time or energy for the crusade they imagined I should have undertaken? I kept it together until I got home, and then I wept for all the injured birds; all those wild creatures laying on the side of roads. I wept for myself too, with my broken wings. Context and compassion coupled with empathy and the ability to hear all that is unsaid are invaluable qualities. Let people tell their stories in their own time, or not at all.
I was thrown off a ledge, a long time ago, but I don’t live within that building. You can look for me there, but you won’t find me. I am a capable woman, doing her best to muddle through life. I have a cosy little home, a teenager, and whimsical pets. I have a life, far beyond my adolescent dreams. I may have broken wings, but I can still fly. What good does it do, to ask excruciatingly personal questions of someone you’ve just met? To satisfy your own curiosity? Do you know that they didn’t sleep for over a week, after your inquisition? Do you realise you transported them back to that place and time, when they’ve done their utmost to leave it? Telling your history in your own way, and having a safe space to do so, is important. Having questions raised when you aren’t expecting them is horrendous.
I can hear the magpies outside in the oak tree, and my own birds whistling the Adams Family theme song. They once heard a car alarm going off, and I expect I shall hear that sometime this morning also. Within my home, I have photos of my loved ones. I am safe within the rooms. I can weep for little birds who have been felled, and I can sit with sorrow for those with broken wings.
I once wrote in a poem, ‘Do not ask after her hunter; she needs you to remove the rusted arrow piercing her heart.’ Do not ask after the hunter; where he is now, and inquiring why he did what he did. How the hell should I know? Acts of violence can’t be understood. The hunter doesn’t matter anymore than the vehicle, who wounded a bird and left it for dead. All that matters is the overcoming. Taking care of the flock that’s left, and nursing those with broken wings back to health.
Be cautious with a person’s history, for their heart is pulsing underneath their story.
2020 has alternately dragged and slipped through our fingers like sand. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t been deeply affected in some aspect of life. Not being okay at times, well, it’s the new normal. I had a friend come to my door in tears. We sat and talked for hours, and I discovered that there wasn’t one area of her life that was supporting her. A home is designed to be a sanctuary, and hers certainly wasn’t. She apologised for crying, and I interjected. Crying is never a sign of weakness, but rather of strength. I asked her if she had any idea how brave she was, to make her way to my door. It was a positive action, signalling that she is aware she is worth care. It was a declaration of worth. I knew an elderly lady in her 80’s, who rode the Sydney trains and hung around a soup kitchen. She rejoiced when I wept in front of her, saying that I would now be spared having water on the brain, from all the tears unshed! I think she was onto something.
I couldn’t wave a magic wand, nor take all of my friend’s troubles away, but what I could do was listen. We watched the little dogs in the park play, and chatted to lovely people. We ate pizza and watched a kid’s movie. Answers were forming from the very act of divulging her pain. By experiencing a quiet sanctuary, she could see that she was worthy of more than her turbulent abode. I tend to think we know the answers; we just require the space to enable us to make decisions about the future. By emptying our mind of our solitary concerns, the answers are able to form.
We are so focused on presenting well, and so intent on not burdening other people, that we forget that through our authenticity, we allow others to be ‘real’ also. We are in the final months of a very hard year, and as the Christmas decorations go up in every store, I doubt many of us are prepared in any respect, for the festive season. Our very foundations were shaken, life as we knew it disassembled. There is nothing wrong with contracting in, as long as we don’t hold our breath, and forget to exhale.
The necessity of community has been brought back home to me. We need each other; we weren’t meant to go it alone. I shall never forget the many kindnesses shown me; the myriad ways gorgeous souls showed love and concern. It has left me humbled, with a renewed conviction to bundle up all that love, and pass it onto others.
It’s okay if we aren’t gearing up for Christmas, and it’s okay if we are. It’s okay if we’re in a puddle of tears today. 2020 has seen the rule book tossed out. Anything goes!
I recently sat on a beach to watch the sun came up, for the first time in years. I had forgotten just how profound it is. No matter what has transpired the day before, the sun dutifully rises. There’s comfort in that assurance.
What has fallen apart can be rebuilt. What remains hidden can finally be seen, and what is undecided shall have answers.
This is a very personal post, but one I must share. Twelve years ago, I had savings, and was going to purchase a house. I worked whilst navigating a fall that saw me break my spine again, and a toddler-aged daughter. I was always cautious with finances, ensuring that I paid bills on time. I had been on a disability pension from the age of seventeen, to my twenties. A dear lady named Dorothy came up to the house from Centrelink, imploring me to quit being stubborn and accept the help that was being offered. I did so reluctantly, after having had surgery to save my life, after my heart and lungs were being crushed due to a hip grafted into my spine, which hadn’t taken. Upon my engagement, I gleefully contacted Centrelink, advising them of my situation, and the payments ceased. I didn’t claim anything from Centrelink in the ensuing years. I had a business, and work. A marriage breakdown changed everything. It’s paralysing, the terror that skulks up on you in the middle of the night, knowing that you are entirely responsible for the well-being of your child.
The investments were cashed in, and my savings dwindled over the next couple of years. Operations and other expenses took what was left. It was only when I was at crisis point, that I was able to claim anything from Centrelink. The industries I had been in were now either dying or defunct, and studying new pathways was required. I asked about Austudy, but was told that it would be even less than Newstart. I studied two full-time courses. Medical Admin saw me having to travel to pracs, and I would pray that there was enough on my Opal card to make the journey there and back.
$450.76…This is what I was living on whilst studying. $450.76 a week, consisting of Job Seeker (or Newstart allowance as it was back then), Family Tax Benefit A and B, Energy Supplement and Rent assistance. My rent alone was $430 a week, which left just $20.76 to live on. My rental is humble, one of the cheapest in the area. I had to let go of seeing a dentist, optometrist, and also of my private health insurance. When my teeth hurt, I would go through bottles of local anaesthetic, dabbing it on the exposed nerves. I couldn’t afford scripts for my pericarditis, nor for other health issues. I had to forgo the fruit and veg box I’d ordered for the past decade.
I took whatever casual work I could, so we could buy food. I worked as an extra on a series, and (dressed in summer clothes, even though it was winter), came down with pneumonia. It was a heartache, having to scrounge together the money to afford medicines. I would do anything and everything for work, and ensured I never missed a rent payment. Birthday celebrations had to be abandoned. I would back out of any social invitations. I felt ashamed, fearing nobody would understand, not knowing how to divulge the reality of my life. I became paranoid about stretching our pantry items, and basically ceased eating regular meals at all. Everything was my daughter’s, and hers alone. I daren’t invite anyone over, as there wasn’t enough food to offer them a meal. I raced through my studies, anxious to get a job. I applied for scores of positions, but there were tens of applicants for each one, some of whom had more experience than I. It was soul-destroying, when it was down to the last three applicants, and I was pipped to the post. If it weren’t for a few dear people, I wouldn’t have been able to afford school uniforms, printer ink, stationery, and other essentials. Kindness bought work boots, a medical transcription course and hope. It bought hand sanitiser, a stocked pantry and medical supplies shortly before the pandemic crashed in. The one thing I’d been determined to hold onto was my life insurance. I started to believe that perhaps, I was worth more dead than alive; my daughter would at least have security. The level of despair ran deep.
Covid-19 hit in March, and everything started to change. I had recently obtained my White Card and other tickets, only having one assessment left to complete, on a work site. It renewed hope. The pandemic shut everything down, and suddenly, a large proportion of people were studying and working from home alongside me. Newstart was transferred into Job Seeker, and the amount received was doubled. I was able to order a fruit and veg box for $50; enough to see us through the next fortnight. I was able to pay bills without stressing. I was able to buy groceries, without having to seek help from a charity. I enrolled in several free courses through TAFE, and pretty much studied seven days a week throughout the next few months. I ate regular meals, and my health improved. I could afford medicine and medical appointments. I applied for as many jobs as I could throughout.
Such was the shame attached to seeking support, that many in my circle never knew I’d needed to. It is exhausting, being stuck in poverty. I heard many talk about “dole-bludgers,” and it would sear my heart. I would have crawled over broken glass in order to secure a permanent job. I knew others in the same predicament who were willing to do anything to escape this wretched existence, too. Some should have been on a disability support payment, but the criteria was now ridiculous. Besides, they couldn’t afford the expense of seeing specialists to gather evidence. I didn’t have much to work with, when my world shattered. $20.76 a week after rent, doesn’t lend itself to dreams. It put me in a dangerous position, where I had to rely on someone not well enough to be dependable. A lot of people are left in this situation, and it is untenable.
I am now working, and know how fortunate I am. I was filled with terror at the thought of not finding work before the Jobseeker rate fell. I couldn’t bear the thought of being plunged into that level of poverty again. As a regular tax-payer, before Jobseeker and now, I am delighted to have my taxes pay for the rate to be permanently lifted. Nobody should have to endure poverty. Imagine not having the funds to buy medicines, nor fund a bus or train trip? Imagine not being able to afford to celebrate your child’s birthday? It is a lonely and miserable existence.
It is my fervent hope that 2020 brings with it a new awareness of each other, and that kindness shall prevail from hereon. I bumped into a well-dressed lady this past week, and she mentioned the community pantry. She spoke of her gratitude that she was able to grab food there. I have seen an elderly woman who lived through the Great Depression, scour the supermarket catalogue, circling what she intended to buy. Once the groceries were delivered, I watched her stand in front of her open fridge, gazing lovingly at the fresh produce. She was obsessed with food; the gathering of it, the preparation of it, and the feeding of loved ones. It was little wonder. She had lost siblings to starvation. When my fridge was filled, I too stood in front of the stainless steel door, looking in with wonder. What happened to me, can happen to anyone. It only takes a disaster or two to knock us about. Let’s concentrate on lifting each other up.