Ratbags and Rogues

Step into working-class Sydney in the 60’s through to the 90’s. These ‘ratbags and rogues’ saved public spaces, historic buildings and homes. They even took over the building of the Sydney Opera House, at one stage! This is a story about the union movement, and what it takes to stand up to powerful figures, whose deepest desire is to squash you underfoot. Told with humour and wistfulness, it also has it’s share of tragedy. Given the current climate, it is also a call to arms. To purchase from Apple iBooks, here.
To purchase the paperback, click here.  For the Kindle version, click here.
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Happy 15th Birthday, Sweetheart!

Today is your last day of being 14 years old. Watching you move through life and process the nonsense this era has thrown like confetti, inspires me to do better; be better. I began to complain the other day, about a stranger who aggravated me with her self-importance. “Stop it; you’re being silly,” you castigated me. “You don’t know what she’s going through in her life. Why stress yourself out? Come on, let’s go for a walk.” You cut through drama and angst with firm compassion, offering forth the best advice I and many others have ever received. I dreamt about you for over a decade and when the first IVF clinic gave me no hope, I went to another. I just wanted to see what would happen, if I made it through a whole cycle.

You were always in a hurry, from the time you were an embryo, rapidly dividing. The embryo transfer had to be pushed forward as a result. You arrived early into the world and then you walked without firstly having crawled. I had put you down for a nap and went to make myself a coffee. Turning around, I screamed in fright. There you were, giggling, having climbed out of your cot, then walking to the kitchen. You were 9 months of age. You have climbed the tallest tree in Australia and have no fear of anything. You have in turn gifted me courage. You believe in kindness, whilst at the same time, not tolerating fools. You are as at home in a soup kitchen or visiting the dying, as you are in a shop with friends. You asked for plants for your birthday and your room is going to feel like a conservatory, filled with sun, air and emerald green tones. I will hardly see you tomorrow, as you’ll be on three Zoom meetings back-to-back, for almost 7 hours. When you finally emerge, we will have pizza and I will tell you once again, how lucky I am that such a numinous girl came into my world.

Lavender and Feeling Impotent

Have we tumbled into a dystopian novel, with the direst of storylines? Global warming and it’s inevitable effects, the pandemic and the horror of what is happening in Afghanistan. The Afghan people are some of the most gracious on earth. How can you not weep, upon seeing the footage of people, clinging to the exterior of planes? Where is our government, and what the hell are they doing? The sound of crickets is deafening.

We suffered the loss of loved ones and we’ve all suffered vicarious trauma, from the news, friend’s suffering ill health and job insecurity/unemployment and seeing beloved local businesses shutting their shops permanently, this current lockdown, too much to bear. What the hell do with we with all the pain? It’s easy to feel impotent in the face of it all…

I found myself unable to walk, when I awoke Monday of last week. Too many hours at my desk saw my spine complain. First there was tingling between my shoulder blades, which gradually turned into electric shocks. The pain was extraordinary. I saw my pain doctor and we are trialling a new medication. I am meant to go get a new MRI, but I won’t just yet. No good can come of it and so I shall muddle through. The combination of pain and anxiety saw sleep dry up, until I was only getting a few hours. I was delighted to come across a little box of promises at my chemist, which promised a deep, restful slumber and relief from nervous tension. I popped one as soon as I got home and prepared dinner. Sitting with my daughter at the table, I began to belch violently and the taste of lavender rose in my throat. My daughter looked at me with alarm, whilst I tried to figure out what was going on. Reaching for the box, I pulled out the information sheet and saw that listed as side effects, were indigestion/belching and lavender-fuelled reflux. The capsules were 100% lavender oil! Ironically, I didn’t sleep at all that night, because I was too busy burping! I should really read the instructions, before I take anything in future!

Speaking of lavender, before the capsule incident, I was really getting into it. Here are two of my favourite ways to benefit from lavender essential oil, without swallowing it! These recipes are cheap and easy to follow. Lavender essential oil can be found in the toiletry aisle at the supermarket.

Lavender Play Dough

1 Cup plain flour

1/2 cup salt

1/2 cup cold water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 drops blue food colouring and 3 drops red food colouring (if you have any handy)

10 drops lavender essential oil

Mix together, adding more flour if sticky

Store in an airtight container and play with it as needed, for stress relief.

Bath Bombs

1/4 Cup Bicarb Soda

1 tablespoon cornflour

1 1/2 tablespoons citric acid

10 drops lavender essential oil

3 drops food colouring

Silicone moulds (as used in baking)

Spray bottle

Mix dry ingredients and then spray with water, being careful not to make the mix too damp. Spray and mix several times and then put into the moulds. Allow to dry, then transfer to container. Not only can these be used in the bath, but can also be put in the toilet to clean; in the laundry when hand-washing, or in saucepans/frypans that have baked-on food.

Yesterday, I had to go into the local supermarket. Armed with my list, I just wanted to grab what I needed and get the heck out. In the first aisle, I encountered a woman, talking loudly on her phone. Her trolley blocked the whole lane and all I could do was wait for her to move it. In the second aisle, she not only did the same, but she came so close to me, that I could feel her breath, even though she was wearing a paper mask. She was still talking loudly, a bank of people behind me, waiting for her to move. She obviously hadn’t gotten the memo about social distancing, as she reached over me to grab something off the shelf. By the third aisle, I’d had enough of her nonsense, and pushed my trolley through a gap. She wasn’t having that, so attempted to round the corner to the fourth aisle, at the same time as me. We narrowly avoided colliding, as she stared at me daggers. It takes a bit for me to blow a fuse, but I was dreadfully close. I was in a mood by the time I got to the checkout. The man waiting behind was smiling underneath his mask; I could tell by the creases around his eyes. He seemed to be a pleasant character. Behind him, there was a fellow who had Downs Syndrome and another man. They were hugging and it warmed my heart, even as the unpleasant woman shot me a glacial look from the next checkout. The man behind me insisted that the pair behind him, go in front. Conversations were had and I felt all the rage run out of my feet. It was then that I noticed the lady serving me. “How are you doing?” I asked. “You are doing such a good job, in what I imagine is a really stressful situation.” She thanked me for asking and opened up. She told me how many times she’d been abused that day and how understaffed they were. She said that the supermarket had never been this busy, in all the years she’d worked there. Five strangers connected, even socially distanced and from behind masks. I read today, that the average Australian performs 2 good deeds a day. I will hold onto that, and say ‘bah’ to the self-centred people. I think that who you were before all this strife, has been magnified during it. The lockdown has presented us with the community-minded and the self-involved. Thank goodness for the former!

What to do with the feelings of impotence? It can be soul-destroying, to witness all the agony happening in our world; feeling as though you can’t do anything as a little person. The supermarket connection made me realise that we must start locally.

To advocate for the Afghani people:

To advocate for planet earth:

There is plenty you can do to help your community, also.

  • Support local businesses as much as you can. Order online from them, get takeaway etc.
  • Check in with friends and family regularly. You may be surprised by who is struggling.
  • Offer to drop supplies off to an elderly neighbour’s door
  • Check out the local community page on Facebook and see if anyone needs assistance with anything. People regularly offer help and ask for it.
  • Arrange online meet-ups. You could have a theme, watch a movie together, or play trivia.

This is a discombobulating time. You don’t have to have it all figured out, nor do you need to give yourself indigestion. All you need do is care. Start with your little patch of the world and work your way out.

Lockdown Bubbles, Isolation and Comfort

Living on the outskirts of Sydney, I have just finished week 7 of lockdown. As a single mum of a teenager, I have gotta say, that at times it’s been challenging. I feel fortunate, in that I was a solitary critter as a young woman, particularly between the ages of 15 and 18. I did my schoolwork by correspondence and my only outings were to specialists or admittance to hospital to have surgery. I learned to enjoy my own company and seek my own counsel, though I secretly craved communion.

My world blew apart some years back, and it has taken everything I have to reassemble a life worth living and a future worth striving for. Frequently travelling across Sydney, visiting friends left me feeling buoyant. Hugs meant the world to me. Bouncing ideas off of each other and lending an ear in times of trouble. Coming in for a cuddle… I miss it all.

When I had my daughter, I suffered complications and ended up back in hospital, requiring surgery. In the maternity wing, my daughter in the cot next to me, I watched families come in to see their newest member. I have never forgotten the nurse who came and sat with me, keeping me company. She brushed my long hair and plaited it, so it wouldn’t get knotted. I felt loved. I felt safe. She will never know what a gift she gave me, nor how I still treasure it.

I miss having dinner or watching a movie with friends. I miss visitors. I miss gatherings and celebrations and being with workmates and clients. I thought I was chugging along nicely, but it hit me all at once. I don’t have a lockdown bubble, nor a partner for support. I feel bereft, not knowing what to do, nor where to turn. Friends have their family units or partners, and I feel uncomfortable, if I ask for time.

After a heavy day, you long for company; for someone to debrief with and maybe, watch something on tv, adding commentary to whatever it is. I think my teenager is coping well, and for that I am so thankful, but at her age, it is only natural that she seeks out friends online and via her phone. She can’t be my support person; it isn’t her job. Her work involves forming social bonds with her peers, and locating her footing within this world.

I know I’m not alone in feeling isolated and discombobulated at the moment. There are many of us. Of a day, life gets too busy to entertain deep thoughts. It is in the small hours, when anxiety gets the better of me. What if I get sick; who will look after my daughter? What if she and I both fall unwell? Would I be lost and forgotten, if I don’t emerge for some time? It’s all up to me; entirely up to me: the house, the bills, the education, the garden, the pets, the car, work, her extracurricular activities… What if I fail?

In a single parent household, time is a strange beast. Dreams and flashbacks have been intertwined. There’s gratitude for the extraordinary acts of love and comfort I’ve been showered with in my life, from the visitor of another patient who wet my forehead when I was vomiting and feverish, to the hugs received and the gentle kiss on the top of my head. It all means so much, and is what I crave, more than anything.

I know many are living by themselves and are bereft of the sort of bubble which sees them attached to another person. It makes this time tougher, in ways only those facing lockdown in this manner could understand. I was talking to a single lady last night and I told her I’ve been doing okay, apart from a few evenings of deep wistfulness, bordering on melancholy. You have a win? There is no other adult to share it with. Having a particularly hard day? Same. My friend remarked that she actually danced around her office and gave herself a high-5, in celebration of success, last week. Inspired, I determined that I will do the same.

I am in no hurry to partner up. I want to get to know myself and build upon the foundations, already laid. I appreciate that my solitary existence is not a punishment, nor purgatory. Rather, it is precious time, where I get to create and tune in. If a relationship happens, it would be welcomed, but not yet. I need to sit with the loneliness and feel it. I need to create a rich inner world, just as I did when I was younger. What better time than when in lockdown, without a relationship bubble?

This time is hard, so hard. We must check in with other, and await the time when we can be together again. The warm, doughy squeeze of a hand and a bear hug, shall never be taken for granted again. Twice, there has been a gentle rap on my door, and it was such an odd sound, that I didn’t respond at first. It was a bit like hearing your pet talk to you in human language! There on my doorstep, was a masked stranger, delivering a box of food from a friend. An act of kindness can sustain you for a very long time. The food, delicious as it was, didn’t nourish me as much as the intent behind it. I was told that I am loved; that I matter. That I haven’t disappeared and am remembered. As with the nurse who plaited my hair when I was a new mum, this shall never be forgotten.

I had my first FaceTime with a group of friends last night and boy, did we laugh. We shared where we are at and made plans and pledges to each other. I was the only single amongst them. I lost the monikers of ‘separated, divorced; a single mother….’ I became simply a woman, doing her best to muddle through life and a pandemic, alongside her friends. I no longer felt alone. It reiterated that I have to keep communicating; reaching out. Not shut myself away within my blanket fort, feeling as though I am a bother and a nuisance. Here is what I find helps:

  • Walks in the sunshine and fresh air
  • Thinking of how you would prepare for a date night in and then doing that for yourself. It may entail a movie, a takeaway, candles and flowers.
  • Take a moment to celebrate where you are at. Don’t wait for something extraordinary to occur. Being here now, in the midst of this chaotic era, is enough reason to celebrate yourself!
  • Arrange to meet up with friends on FaceTime, Skype or Zoom
  • Determine to send messages or make calls to at least one person each day.
  • Know you aren’t alone; there are many single households out there. When you share with others, you free them up to share with you too, on a very deep level.
  • Tell people if you’re struggling. Your tribe will be there.
  • Don’t wait for a special occasion to dress up, practice self-care or use your good stuff.

Anniversary in Lockdown

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…

The abuse had already begun, when this picture was taken at 14. Looking at the camera, I determined to say with my eyes “WTF has happened to my life!” This was long before WTF was even a thing. I remember exactly how I felt on this particular day.

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.

Sydney Lockdown. Winter 2021

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.

Julie

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.

Wearing a 100 year old lady’s shoes

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 don’t know where you find your strength

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.

Spoons

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.

Give Yourself a Break

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Get up and move around every hour, on the hour. Make yourself a pot of tea or coffee
  3. Ensure you stop for lunch!
  4. Go for a walk at the end of the day. It sets a demarcation line between work and leisure time
  5. Ensure you are hydrated
  6. 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
  7. Break tasks into 45 minute increments. I find it helps keep me focused
  8. I find rosemary and peppermint oils help to refresh my brain
  9. Be kind to yourself. It seems obvious, but often, it’s the one thing we forget to do
  10. 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.