PTSD, Fairy Lights and Healing (Trigger warning)

A migraine descended on Friday. My head holds a portent for storms, the barometric pressure in the atmosphere causing excruciating pain. My spine decided to be in simpatico and on Saturday evening, my right leg went from under me. I managed to hit a sharp edge of a piece of furniture in the living room. Dazed, I sat on the floor as my daughter rushed over. She told me I was bleeding and she helped me into the bathroom. There was an incredible amount of blood gushing from my lip and when I removed the gauze for a closer look, I saw that I had a gash trailing from the bottom lip, down. Unable to stem the flow of blood, I arranged an Uber. I thought I was doing okay, albeit a bit stunned. I couldn’t talk in the Uber, so my daughter relayed information to the driver. He had a baby seat in the back and was a lovely fellow. We were his first customers; he needed to earn money for his family as the lockdown wore on.

I was seen by a nurse and instructed to take a seat in the waiting area, after being told the wound would probably need stitches. A couple in their 70’s were sitting nearby and my daughter and I whispered that they were the sweetest, most devoted couple we’d ever seen. The lady laughed as my daughter pulled out umbrellas, water bottles and assorted detritus from my handbag, as she searched for her headphones. “We sure cram a lot into our handbags, don’t we,” she said. My daughter chatted to her and we looked on as she fussed over her husband, her arm around him. A pregnant lady sat with her partner and they were holding hands. At one point, we began to laugh at the absurdity of finding ourself in casualty, on the first day of a long weekend. The outburst caused more bleeding from the gash and I had to have the gauze changed. We were sitting on uncomfortable chairs and the wait was long. In spite of this, nobody went to the window and asked how much longer, nor did they complain. The couples settled in and held onto each other. It was apparent by the creases around eyes, that we were all smiling at one another, underneath our masks.

An hour turned into three, turned into four. My spine was screaming, and I paced the waiting area, as the elderly couple and the pregnant lady were called in. New people arrived, with one family bringing in a very sick teenager. Poor little darling had endured surgery a week prior and it looked like an infection had set in. I started to feel panic, a chill rising from my feet. Agitation began, as did the deep desire to escape and go home. I felt trapped; I couldn’t leave without being seen to. My wound was still gushing and I could taste blood in my mouth. We were called in at 11pm and the staff were lovely. They took a picture of the gash and sent it to the plastic surgery department. I was lucky, as I was on the cusp of needing plastic surgery. As it turned out, cleaning and sealing the wound and being shown how to dress it, alongside meds, would suffice for now. We left after midnight and found ourselves stranded. There were no taxis, nor Uber drivers available. My anxiety reached a crescendo, as I realised that we would have to walk home. It was cold and drizzling, but even so, I had no idea why I was feeling so ghastly. I had been through so much worse. We have a motto, ‘The Angelou girls never give in, nor give up.’ Walking home wouldn’t kill us.

Spine aching, leg not working properly and still suffering a migraine, I paused in the empty main street. It was sublime; the golden fairy lights strewn through the trees, casting a magical glow. You could have heard a pin drop; it felt as though we were the only people inhabiting our town. I took a picture at this unfamiliar scene. Usually, the area would be bustling, but due to the late hour and Greater Sydney’s lockdown, it was a ghost town. Cheering up, I thought well, this covers both Saturday and Sunday’s walk, so I’d fulfilled my commitment to keep active through October.

We finally arrived home after 1.30pm, me castigating myself for not having driven to the hospital. I was in shock and just didn’t think of hopping in the car. I would have been in no fit state to drive, anyway. Redoing the dressing, I looked into the mirror in the bathroom. The sink was smattered with blood from earlier that night. I unravelled, as I remembered other times my lip had been split, my mouth filled with blood. On the ground the night of my fall at 15 years of age, my lip had been split; my teeth having pierced through when I landed. I spat up blood, as I tried to survive. There were other times; punches landing on my face and my head being rammed into a door frame. On a cellular level, I remembered. I recalled not only those traumatic events, but also, the conversations, sensory details and emotions. As I crawled into bed, it all came back in technicolour. No sleep was had. Sunday, I stayed in bed all day, unable to move. Whenever I drifted to sleep, nightmares would ensue.

The doctor asked if I was worried about the scarring, which would surely take hold. No, I am not afraid of scarring on my skin. My body is a depository for scars. I had not thought of the times I had a bloodied mouth, until Saturday night. Those scars are deep and much, much worse than the ones on my skin. The loneliness of endless nights, filled with flashbacks, is awful. It isn’t a collective trauma, something you share with others. At that time, as now, it was you battling to survive, alone. Saturday’s actual events were filled with beautiful imagery and shall be remembered fondly; there was the couple expecting a baby, the lovely family gathering around their child, the elderly couple whose devotion to each other was on display. There was the compassionate nurse and kind doctor. There was my daughter, calmly trying to stem the flow of blood and whose tenderness reached into my heart. There were twinkling lights and the quiet, reflective walk home. No, the spinal pain, migraine and injury weren’t traumatic. The memories this night conjured up, were what made me unravel. The violence that caused the wounds from long ago…

I scrubbed the clothes I’d worn, which were covered in blood, wiped down the bathroom and washed towels and mats. I am in the process of cleansing my soul, now that the sludge has surfaced. There is no way around what I am experiencing. You can’t avoid it, outrun it, drown it, nor drug it into oblivion. All you can do is feel it; sit with it. Run warm baths filled with lavender and rosemary for remembrance. That girl deserves her experiences to be honoured. She deserves her courage to be acknowledged. A dark night of the soul can return when you least expect it; even whilst walking empty streets, filled with twinkling fairy lights. In insurance cases, specialists are asked to provide percentages of how much certain injuries were caused by a singular event. How many panic attacks, sleepless nights and dissociative episodes have had their origins in my bloodied mouth? I hadn’t thought about it, before Saturday night. Will I be a little more healed, now it has burst open, from it’s hiding spot in my psyche? Has it been consolidated? A week ago, I felt like a falcon, flying high and free. Today, I feel like a fragile little bird, who has fallen a long way, without being able to fly. I shall hold that chick in my hands and nurse her whilst she regains her strength. Like I have done thousands of times before…

Agoraphobia, Walking and Sunshine

I was stalked as a teen. Female police officers took to patrolling my street each day, as the danger was ever-present. My world contracted in, to the point where going to the letterbox or even sitting in my backyard, felt beyond imagining. I was a hermit for a very long time and it was only the arrival of my daughter that saw me venture out. It was accomplished in little bite-sized steps, over a long period. The pandemic arrived and suddenly, life contracted in again, not just for me, but for many people suffering anxiety, depression and those who have suffered agoraphobia at some stage in their lives. Working from home, there have been weeks when I haven’t seen a single person, other than my daughter. You think you’re chugging along nicely, until you’re not. Being in constant pain, isolated at home, a background of trauma and absorbing every aspect of what’s been happening in our world, is a recipe for poor mental health.

Why is it, that the very activities you need to maintain, are given the least precedence? They’re the first things to go, when you get busy and the last activities you resume. Convincing yourself that you don’t have time, what with work, study, looking after the house and kids… Poor mental health skulks up on you. The first signs may be insomnia, or being able to go to sleep, but waking abruptly a few hours later. It can be lethargy, lack of enthusiasm, loneliness (though not having the energy to reach out), physical aches and pains, agitation, feeling restless and fidgety and not being able to think clearly. It may present as feeling the need to up your caffeine and alcohol intake. Inside what was once your sanctuary, it now feels like a cone of silence and the mind starts playing tricks on you. You feel as though you don’t matter and that nobody wants to see you. You may feel invisible and doubt your very existence (as well as importance). Social media may add to the distress. The untruths take hold and have 24 hours each and every day to hold you captive.

It’s spring in Sydney and the weather looks delightful, as you cast a cursory glance through a window. You vow to get out there, ‘as soon as you can,’ yet somehow, the day is chewed up and before long, night falls. You slumber, then prepare to do it all over again. Hours stretch into days, stretch into weeks. Depression doesn’t come to your door, announcing itself. It creeps through the back gate, under cover, calling itself many other things. Once I had identified what was actually going on, I made adjustments; life-saving alterations. I made myself get out of the house for an hour each day, every day. It didn’t matter what I had to do, I made time. If I had any other illness, I would ensure that I maintained my health and did whatever was needed; why are our brains so different? I had to see walking as the medicine it was. On Monday, I walked with a friend. We bought coffee and walked our neighbourhood for miles. We talked to people we met, admired gardens and visited hidden areas of loveliness. This led to other walks; some early morning or at dusk. Now, it isn’t negotiable. It’s for pain management, to lower anxiety and to help me sleep better. It is to help me manage my life and stressors.This is why I am taking part in the following: Make a Move for Mental Health. Dedicate 15, 30 or 60 minutes to improving your wellbeing every day throughout October. You can challenge yourself with physical activities like running, or with self-care activities like meditation; either way you’ll be doing something positive to help young people and yourself.

1. Sign Up (It’s Free)

2. Set Your Goal. It could be 15, 30 or 60 minutes a day.

3. Spread the Word and maybe, a few people may sponsor you!

4. Throughout October, make it a non-negotiable!

5. Log in Daily to record your mental health minutes and keep yourself accountable.

Sign up at Make A Move

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.