Getting through Hard Times


If you had told me as a teen that I would live to the grand age of which I find myself, I would have laughed. I would not have believed you for a moment. I had been clinically dead, in coma’s, had repeated seizures without regaining consciousness, had my spine shattered, and much more besides. I wanted to die more than I wanted to live most of the time. Those moments when I experienced pure joy were often found in nature, and boy, those times sustained me. I can recall without struggle the moments a bird would land on me from out of nowhere. I recollect the dragonflies and butterflies encircling me near streams. In those moments, I realized that I in fact wanted very much to live… Really live, and not just exist.

As a young adult I faced infertility, health worries, safety concerns, and poverty. I have had my heart broken, been deceived and financially ripped off. I have been humiliated, retraumatized, and faced great pain. When the first wave hits, you don’t know how on earth you are going to survive it. It all seems too much, especially when placed upon an already rocky foundation. Trauma on top of trauma.

I have learnt what helps by learning what doesn’t. Here is my advice for getting through tough times.

  1. Do nothing. That’s right, just breathe. When you receive frightful news or it feels as though your world is breaking apart, just be. Your adrenals will be pumping hard, as will your heart. Your stomach will be churning and your brain will reach for fast responses to the crisis. You may even think of reaching for something to quiet the discomfort. Don’t do anything whilst you are processing the crisis. Breathe deeply, run a bath. Cry, scream or confide in a loved one. The situation isnt going anywhere, so just stop for a moment.
  2. Write it down. Get yourself a notepad and describe what is happening. Pour it all out, and then make a bullet list. List the steps you need to take for resolution. What would help you in your grieving? Time away from everything that is familiar? A support group and counselling? A tribute to the person you mourn? How about financial worries? Maybe write a list of all the businesses you need to contact to explain your situation and organize payment plans. You could apply to AirTasker to accept jobs to bring in extra cash.
  3. Once your list has been finalized, I hope that like me, you feel a sense of empowerment. Now it is time to ask for help, whether that be from friends, charities or professionals. People don’t know what your needs are if you don’t articulate them. You give them a precious gift by allowing them to assist you.
  4. Be extra kind to yourself. You may want to run or sedate yourself with booze or pills. You may want to stop caring for yourself and partaking in all the rituals you usually do. Please don’t. Now is the time for reflection, to sit with your feelings and reach healthy conclusions. Your body is under enough duress without adding to the load. It is time to reach out, open up and if possible, go for walks. Many solutions have been reached in my life by long strolls.
  5. Get all that stress out in a creative way. Whether that be by writing a blog, or keeping a journal, painting or drawing. It all helps.
  6. Imagine your life in a year. What will it look like? One thing is for sure, you won’t be in the same place that you are now. Nothing in this world is stagnant. We keep moving forward, even if we can’t imagine that as possible. If you are horrified at the thought of your life remaining the same by this time next year, it is time to change that which brings you dread. Life and time have a way of changing things, and it is much better to reach conclusions and embark on new beginnings of your own volition.
  7. There have been times in my life when I couldnt imagine surviving the enormous crisis pounding down on me. I couldnt imagine wanting to. By doing the things listed above, I did survive, and have a beautiful life. I weep when I think how my life could have ended before it even began. How I would never have had the opportunity for emotional healing to take place, nor hold my daughter in my arms. I shudder when I think of not having survived to meet the splendid people in my life today, nor see this morning’s sunrise.

I can tell you this with assurety, if I could survive, then so can you. This season of winter won’t last forever, and spring will offer new life and along with it, growth.

Real Women


Sooo, I saw the above headline regarding Serena Williams last Sunday. I was so astonished that I doubted what I had just read. I had to read the quote a few times. I winced as though I had just been kicked in the gut. Surely, the media have grown up and are past such archaic statements? Apparently not! I am quite sure Ms Williams would recoil in horror if she saw her words twisted to make a point as to what constitutes being a real woman. I felt for women struggling with infertility when I saw the headline. I was one of those women. I look back on those years as the most achingly painful and lonely of my life. Opinions such as that above seared my soul, and made me doubt my worth on more than one occasion. When I came to the point of IVF being an absolute necessity, it was in some ways a relief. By then I had come to know myself. By then I knew that being a complete and functioning woman had nothing to do with fertility. It had to do with my biology, and the fact that I coped with constant agony courtesy of endometriosis. I was a woman because I had survived the un-survivable. I was a woman because I supported my sisters, both younger and older, providing counsel and comfort. I was a woman because I sought to rise to the status of survivor, and steer my destiny without interference. It would have been unfair to expect that a baby might gift me the label of woman. If anything, having a baby takes your autonomy for a time, and you need to grip on to retain your identity. Thousands of women read that headline, and winced last Sunday. Know that you are already a woman, and having a pregnancy neither heightens nor completes that status. It is time the media steered toward inclusivity and created less blanket statements which end in exclusion.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge


A friend of ours was having a landmark birthday, and his fiancée organized to stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge. After much saving, I booked a room as well. My friends stayed in one of the Giraffe Tree Houses, where they could feed Hummer the Giraffe, whilst we had a glorious cabin outside the uShaka Lodge. It was less expensive, as we had no animals overlooking our room. Some places had bears and lions outside! We left our bags at reception and were ushered into the lodge, where afternoon tea was served. An aquarium featuring sharks and other marine life ran along one of the walls, whilst the other overlooked the Colobus monkeys. As if all this wasnt enough, we were able to become acquainted with pythons and turtles, which the zoo keepers brought out.

The first tour of the private zoo demonstrated how loved all the animals are, with personal stories about each character we met. The beautiful Sun Bear had been rescued from Cambodia by the Free the Bears organization. Many of the animals were rescued from harm or had medical conditions that would see them perish in the wild. The majority of the money made from the Wildlife Lodge goes directly back into conservation. Once the tour was over, we were taken to our rooms, which were heated, our bags waiting for us.

We had a few hours to relax before we were called to dinner. My daughter was taken upstairs in the aquarium for an early meal and tour of the facilities with the other kids, whilst I had canape’s and champagne on the terrace leading to a dining cave. Once inside, we were delighted to be  joined by hyenas on one side (behind glass), and lions on the other. It is up to the animals as to whether they come close during dinner. They arent coerced into doing anything. The four-course meal was splendid, and the champagne flowed!

We had a lovely sleep on the beautiful four-poster bed, but waking up to get to the cave for the 7am breakfast was pretty tortuous! Breakfast consisted of every health food imaginable, such as coconut yoghurt, chia puddings, muesli as well as hot food. At 8am, the second tour started, and we got to get up close with the gorgeous rhino.

After the tour had ended, my daughter and I were driven to our encounter with the meerkats. We sat on a rock, and the darling little creatures (all brothers), immediately scampered over for a closer look. We fed them, and they bounded from one lap to the other, their fur soft and warm. They were an absolute joy to watch and its a memory we will treasure forever.

Our stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge ended all too quickly, but it is a time our friends and I will always cherish.

 

Bad News, Strength, Kindness and Saying Yes


Two years ago, I met a lovely lady from England. Her voice redolent with a gentle lilt, her energy soft and assuring. We talked briefly, and then I didn’t see her again. Last school holidays, she organized a picnic, sending out an open invitation. I took my daughter, and we had the best time! We determined to not leave it two years until the next meet-up.

I became ill last week, and couldn’t lift my head from my pillow. My persistent cough caused excruciating back pain. In the middle of the sickness, I found out an old friend had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. This lady had cheered me on through IVF, held my newborn in her arms, and had been by my side throughout the last fifteen years. She and her husband squeezed the marrow out of life; out every day, travelling around Australia and the world. Taking an interest in everything and everyone they encountered. Still reeling from the shock of the news, there was a knock on the front door. There stood the English lady, a meal in hand. She had found out my address, and made me a vegetarian meal to boost my system. Her kindness and timing were perfect. As I ate a bowl of her stew and dumplings infused with sprigs of thyme and spices, I could feel nutrition flooding every cell in my body. I could feel the kindness behind her gift. I have a mild case of pneumonia, an occupational hazard with my spinal injuries, and the way my spine curves. I need to get better so I can go see my old friend; so I can also prepare wholesome meals  for those that need them.

Today is the anniversary of my fall. There is no guide-book as to how one is meant to feel, nor commemorate the occasion. Anger, sorrow, lamentation, joy and utter gratitude feature heavily. Every year is different. I have gone back to the building, I have gone on long walks or to the movies. Last year, my daughter and I attended the Helpmann Awards. This year, I am weakened by my lungs, coughing and feeling a little woozy. I feel better than yesterday though. In the months I spent in hospital, I assured myself that each day would be an improvement on what came before, and it was. Today is an improvement on yesterday. I got dressed, and am taking my daughter to an appointment in the city. I shall probably get us dinner, and order a cheeky Cab Sav. The night of my fall, I hadn’t eaten for days, and craved fluid. I was frozen, laying on the ground, my blood splayed around me. I craved food, fluid, and warmth. Today, I had all three. Tonight, as I slip into my bed, I will give thanks that I am here. I will give thanks for old friends that extract the marrow out of life and English friends who make me the vegetarian equivalent of chicken soup for my soul. Life is a strange and precious gift.

 

The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever!


My daughter and I and some dear friends went to Sydney Park last Saturday to pay homage to Kate Bush, whilst at the same time, denouncing domestic violence. I used to listen to Wuthering Heights as a young girl, living under the oppressive understanding that a violent and possessive man would be deciding when my life would end in the near future. I didn’t have to imagine him telling me that I was ‘going to lose the fight,’ nor have ‘bad dreams in the night.’ He told me routinely, and I indeed had bad dreams. I imagined coming back dressed in red, banging on the window, trying to get somebody (anybody), to hear me and welcome me in. Never in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned joining so many others, dressed in red, dancing to this song so many years later! It was a powerful remembrance of how far I have come, watching my little girl twirl by my side. St Peters has a special place in my heart. I was a young poet/artist when I lived there, selling my wares to the little shops up King St. I would take my little dog, Mitzi Winstopple to Sydney Park each evening, and dream of the future.

In preparation, I raided our fancy dress box and my daughter found a 50 cent gown that fitted her beautifully.

It was cathartic, and I felt cleansed. We wandered up King St to the Union Pub, where scores of other Cathy’s gathered. We bought felt hats for $10 at a bargain store, and I told my friend of my life in St Peters, and the sadness I felt at leaving. I came back not only to pay homage to Kate Bush, but to retrieve something I had left behind; myself.

The next day, I paid for my dance. I wept with the pain, but it was worth it. If there is a price to be paid, always make sure it’s worth it. Two days later, my spine is coming good. I can’t wait until next year!

 

Getting my back up


To get from my town into the city, I have to take a bus and then a train. I usually have a spinal brace on, and carry a lumbar roll wherever I go to place in the small of my back. I take pain relief beforehand. I can cope with the stiffness and discomfort quite well, but if something extra is required, it messes with my system and the trip home is hell. I have had times when I have been doubled over on the trip home-whether by car or public transport. I was taking a certain medication twice a day to help the sciatic pain and I must say, it kept me walking. However, it was rendering me a zombie in the mornings, and I craved bed so I could go back to sleep. I now take one dose at night time, and whilst the pain has crept back during the afternoons, at least I can function in the morning and get my daughter where she needs to go.

For over twenty years, I have been in extreme pain, though I can still recall a time when I wasnt. I remember what it was like to skate, dance and be flexible. I miss those times. I have learnt what I can do by discovering what I can’t; where my limits are. My days are structured to the letter. Morning weights to keep my bones strong, and physio exercises for my spine. Brace and Tens machine after a shower and liniment. Morning medications to help with pain and inflammation. Of an evening, I have a bath, my medications and am usually in bed by 8.30. The relief of laying flat at the end of a day! I wake several times with the pain during the night. If I am held up during the day, and can’t take my meds at the usual time, the pain gets out of control, and I am almost delirious because of it. I have to have excellent time management.

One day a few months ago, I was given a friend’s newborn baby to hold. I have difficulty lifting-even raising my arms is excruciating- and whilst I loved holding this precious bundle, I was in agony for days afterward. I resent that the pain limits my ability to lift a precious baby. When my daughter came along, I bought a crib that I could wheel around the house, lifting her onto my lap when I was in a rocking chair to avoid strain on my spine. If my baby ever has her own babies, I want my spine to be strong enough to do the same. This is one major reason I work so hard in the here and now on my back!

Sitting for any length of time is a challenge. All the weight goes to three dessicated discs in my lumbar spine. If I am sitting too long in one spot, the pain is out of this world. Laying down is the most comfortable position. I worry when I need to take long car rides or plane trips, as I know pain will be a companion. I just want to try and hold it together. I am on as little pain medication as I can get away with, acutely aware of the balance between being functional and not. Without it, I would hardly be able to walk, let alone get out. I have had a few incidents lately when my right leg simply wouldnt do as it was told. I fell over in a toy shop, and a dear lady raced over with my daughter to help me back up!

Most days I cope, but there are days that are so abysmal that I break down. I fear that the time has come to undertake corrective surgery to keep me going. Then, I come back from the abyss. I hope the centre holds for a little bit longer. I am not frightened of what lays ahead; I just want to be strong enough to hold my grandbabies one day.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale


The Handmaid’s Tale, a series based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, has just been released in Australia. Last night I streamed it, determined to watch only the first episode and have an early night. Of course, that didn’t happen. What ended up occurring was I watched all ten episodes. It was confronting and terrifying,  yet it somehow made my resolve stronger. As a survivor of sexual assault, physical violence and fundamentalist religion disguised as faith and obedience, I am acutely aware that the depiction isn’t a grim warning about what may happen. For survivors it is a remembrance of what has already been, and what we must guard against.

The order decreed in Gilead is the ultimate submission by women. Not having access to money and property nor control of their bodies. It is a world I don’t want to live in. It is a world I have lived in. Having scriptures spouted to suit whatever situation befalls, and to claim it as evidence that the perpetrator is in the right. Women and girls being told that they are here to be pleasing and pleasant, first and foremost. The exquisite rebellion encapsulated by reading, driving a car or etching words of encouragement for those who come after you in your cell.

I vowed that if I survived, I would fight for my daughter to not have to endure a speck of what myself and my contemporaries endured. I was fourteen when I uncovered that grown men were placing bets on who would obtain this child, far away from home. My mental fortitude kept me alive, even as they sought to destroy me, discarded as collateral damage in a war I knew nothing of. I hadn’t been taught the rules, so how could I be expected to play? We must arm our daughters with knowledge, fill their hearts with empathy and love, and make damned sure that no part of The HandMaid’s Tale is a part of their future. I know of too many incidents of women who are infertile sitting in far-right churches, and left crushed after it is announced that yes, it is indeed a fertile church, and one of its members is pregnant with her fifth child. Everybody applauding, amid laughter that God has rewarded this place with ripe fruit. The women who can’t have children or who are undergoing IVF feel as though a sword has pierced their soul upon such occasions. Worth is down to how fertile you are, and home-making lessons are offered and encouraged. The women are kept ‘accountable’ to each other. How exhausting and depressing. Freedom is found when you can be whomever you want in this world. It is not found in your dress, your submission, nor your fertility.

Homeschooling in Australia


I have been homeschooling my daughter for just over two years now, and as the second term of 2017 comes to an end, I reflect back on our time. It has honestly been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I have seen my daughter’s self-esteem and happiness escalate, and she confidently looks people in the eye when talking. She has joined the RSL Commemorative Youth Choir, and sung at Government House and taken part in camps. She has acted in plays and film, taken part in many social groups, and knows what she wants to do, and how to get there. The parents and kids we have met whilst home schooling are friendly and welcoming. My daughter has re-discovered a love of learning. We try to balance workshops and trips into Sydney with days at home, hitting her workbooks and online resources. Things I have learnt are as follows:

  1. Parents need to trust their instincts when it comes to their child.
  2. I went overboard when we started, purchasing copious amounts of resources! I found I needed only a quarter of what I ordered. Streamlined educational resources are best, and my daughter certainly has her favourite online programes and workbooks.
  3. My daughter favours starting early, ploughing through, and finishing early.
  4. It helps to make a timetable each day. My girl loves to know what is coming up, and be able to tick off each task when its completed. She also loves to know the details of our outings; what time we are leaving home, who will be there, how long the classes are and what they entail.
  5. I add the details of what she has studied or where she has attended workshops to her year file each evening, whilst it’s fresh in my mind.
  6. Preparing food the evening before a big day is advisable, and saves a fortune when out and about!
  7. We follow the school holidays, and try to stay at home as much as possible. After a busy term, that to us is heaven! She loves catching up with her old school friends in the holidays.
  8. I like to go through the house after each term concludes, gathering up old resources, craft, art supplies and clothing she has grown out of. When you work in the same space in which you live, it helps to have it tidy, and keep track of what is needed in the term ahead.
  9. Holidays are great for slowing the pace. A sleep-in is decadent, as are lovely long walks. Home schoolers need to rest in the break.
  10. We chat about scheduling for the next term; what she wants to do, and where her interests are leading her. There are so many fantastic opportunities, that we have to narrow them down.
  11. I highly advise those who are new to home schooling in Australia to join the Home Education Association, and also if you are in Sydney, Shen.
  12. I make her a Vista Print school album each year, consisting of all the activities she has undertaken. It is a lovely way to commemorate her school year.
  13. We plan to go swimming, the movies and shopping when school is in, as it is less busy. We make up the time by rising early or spreading the work over a weekend.

This past term, she has taken part in the Australian Young People’s Theatre classes, been to several performances at the Opera House, taken professional dance classes, done lino printing, learnt about film-making, how the brain registers emotions and much more, on top of her lessons at home. There are sacrifices to be made, and it can be a costly affair. I know of parents who, after pulling their kids out of school, have had to sell their home or sacrifice a second income in order to educate their children. They do so happily, particularly after seeing the early results of their decision. I am learning as much as my daughter, and each day is a joy. I only wish we had started homeschooling sooner!

Hunger-Roxane Gay


I have just finished ‘Hunger’ by Roxane Gay, and am feeling a plethora of emotions. I too have had a complicated history with food, created by trauma. I was on an eating disorder unit at fourteen, and rather than healing, I learnt a heap of new tricks to stave off weight. I chose to starve myself, in an attempt to deny the emotional pain of its sustenance. I also had bulimia. Some of my friends were frail, too weak to move out of bed. A few of my friends were at the other end of the spectrum, the weight providing a cocoon. One of my friends, Annie, had a complicated relationship with her abusive mother. A young woman in her twenties, she suffered the indignity of having to be weighed at the train station on their luggage scales. Her eyes were azure-blue, and boy, we had fun, making the best of a bad situation. She and I would have food fights in the day, and give each other facials of an evening. Annie was one of the most beautiful people I have ever known, taking this kid under her wing.

I learnt a lot about how it feels to carry extra weight, and the outrageous discrimination she faced. People didn’t really see her; they didn’t give themselves the chance to delight in the intelligence and compassion she conveyed in conversation. Over the months, the weight fell off her, but as we all know, the fight after the fight is the hardest of all. As she said to me, there was anger at those whom sought her out where once she had been discarded. It were as though they now deemed her worthy. The memories and emotions long suppressed, rose to the surface of her being, and now had to be dealt with. I lost touch with Annie after our time together, though think of her often.

As an adult, I have had friends who felt unsafe to sit in my dining chairs, lest they break, and I couldn’t blame them. I turned my chairs over, and noted that they were flimsy, a single bolt holding the structure together. I felt angry on their behalf. Life shouldnt be such a battle, and everything from airlines, buses, and cinema seating is so tiny, particularly when armrests are featured. I immediately replaced my seats, going to an op shop and buying a dining set made of solid timber. My guests can now sit and chat without being uncomfortable. Roxane’s book reiterates the challenges and judgements that befall a larger person. It shouldn’t be this way, not in this day and age. I long for the day when we really see each other and also our intrinsic worth.