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

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.

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.

Single Parenthood

Fresh fruit and vegetables are put aside for the kids. Mum tells her offspring that she isn’t hungry right now, and will eat later. After they have retired for the night, she eats a plain biscuit, to curb the hunger pangs. The notes that find their way to the dining table from schoolbags, fill her with dread. $60 is required for the performing arts costume. $10 for a ticket to see her child perform. She tries to conjure money from thin air, and sometimes (miraculously), is successful.

She is studying full-time- along with many of her friends- and knows that a well-paying job shall be her reward at the end of her studies. She picks up casual work as much as she can, and tries to look after long-standing health issues, the scripts for which are stacked in the kitchen. She is unable to purchase any of them.

She inquired about going onto Austudy, but was told that it would be less than Newstart, a figure of which doesn’t even cover her rent. She wishes that she could obtain a Government loan, of which she would happily pay back once she was working. There is no money from the other parent, despite many promises. She somehow has to work out her budget with an unreliable co-parent.

Afterpay is a blessing, to purchase necessities, though school uniforms can only be purchased in the school shop. Made by a private company, they have the monopoly on the market, and charge accordingly. As a result, the kids have one uniform, which she washes and dries multiple times each week.

She had to ring the health fund and ask for a suspension on the grounds of hardship. Ironically, they can only do so if she is able to pay up to the date of the call. Her only option was to ask for an extension, and at the beginning of November, she will be required to pay an astronomical amount. Her front tooth is split all the way to the nerve, causing embarrassment and pain. She doesn’t want to let go of the health fund; not yet.

She and the kids only have a few dollars left on their Opal cards, and have to limit their trips. She fears that loved ones who are desperately unwell shall need her, and she will be unable to get to them.

She is cramming day and night, in a desperate bid to complete her studies before time. She needs a full-time job, which is an impossibility at the moment. She has a few prac sessions coming up, and needs experience before anyone will hire her. She needs money to get to prac.

Her heart broke when she discovered that her child didn’t tell her about a school excursion, and she knew that money was the reason he chose to stay behind at school.

She is trying to keep her spirits up. She is trying to cope. It feels as though she is being punished for leaving an abusive and toxic marriage. There was no settlement; he had spent everything they had, forcing her to withdraw her investments and savings. She gets why so many women feel forced into going back or staying when they are desperate to leave. Solutions are simplistic when you are on the outside, looking in. They aren’t at all simple when you are on the inside, looking out.

A hurried storyboard review of her former life is played as an animation. Rather than it occurring at the point of death, it begins at the point of life; true life. The lies, the promises, the dreams and goals. Her ten year projection, which didn’t come to pass. The myriad jobs she took to keep her head above water, the exhaustion and pain. Life shouldn’t consist of survival only, should it? She dreams of being secure, of having money to fall back on. She dreams of having money to go out with friends. She dreams of simple pleasures. She dreams of a time when her children have more than one uniform. She dreams of peace.

She dreams of a government which will support single parents as they start all over again. Her only crime was leaving before she was destroyed. For all the uncertainty and sacrifice, it has been worth it to live on her own terms. Finally, on her own terms.

Therapy, the Past and the Future

Continued…

The therapist wanted to see me weekly, and in the meantime I practiced breathing like a normal human would. Damn, it was hard! I saw the pain doctor for an initial consult, and he was knowledgeable and lovely. I told him about my studies; the training and travel it would involve. “I just need to be able to function,” I pleaded. I told him I required solutions that wouldn’t zone me out. After perusing scans and examining me, a deficit in the strength in my arms was noted. I had noted it too, for a long time, a hangover from the second time my spine was broken. A new medication and regime was implemented, and I left with some hope. As long as I can keep writing, I am okay with whatever comes.

My daughter was scheduled to dance with her senior troupe, but the event was cancelled at the last moment. The dance school had managed to enrol in a festival to be held somewhere else. It was a place and a town I had avoided for the past 25 years. The man that threw me from the building, his family lived there, and every family function was held in this club. In fact, he had been arrested on charges relating to me whilst having dinner there. Now my daughter was going to this place, accompanied by me. I was conscious of my breathing leading up to the event, and was also more aware of my coping mechanisms, thanks to my one session of therapy! However, once enclosed within the walls of the club, I thought to hell with being conscious of breathing. To hell with being present. It was a mausoleum to gambling and drinking, resplendent with its very own forest, lagoon and faux train station. There were hidden corners and booths everywhere, and I scanned each and every one, searching for him and his family, whose transgressions matched his. I finally found my people, and instantly offered to find a chemist for one of the young dancers. Down I marched, becoming lost in the cavernous space, until I was directed as to a pharmacy outside. I walked through an alley, my heart beating wildly as I turned to face the train station, where he once sold drugs. Was he there?!

I raced back from the chemist, and after giving the supplies over, I ate my body weight in sugar. Salad wasn’t going to suffice today, no way! Ice-cream was devoured, as was caffeine, followed by lollies and chocolates from the vending machines. The noise of this club and the lights offended my senses, which were already going into overdrive. Had he seen me? Had he followed me into the auditorium? Anyone could come and go from here. He had followed me before, after seeing me on the street, once trapping me in a laneway, another time, a public bathroom. It may seem silly, but my sapphire blue walking stick became a magical staff. I could use it to trip him up, if need be. I sat at the back of the room, hyped on sugar and adrenaline. I told nobody about what I was experiencing. Where to begin? Realising that I was isolating, I walked to where the other parents were sitting. I enjoyed their company and banter; it was rather like an elastic band snapping me back to the present.

We got a lift home with another mum, and in my tired state, I stopped paying attention to our whereabouts. Glancing up, I realised that the shops looked familiar. I had been here before. Oh no! We were on his street! A place where cruelty had occurred, or should I say, more cruelty. Every day was a battle of wits and a struggle to survive.

I threw up when I got home, then took out my box of comfort tools. They consist of pyjamas, bed socks, essential oils, music and my bed. I had done it, and it was over. I knew I would never go back. I saw my daughter dance with her friends. It was a triumph. I feel as if I live in two worlds, the inner life keeping me busy, even as I socialise. No wonder people experiencing this duality are often exhausted. Remembering what that kid went through… Nobody cared and nobody rescued her, amongst the many who knew what was happening. To experience it all again felt like a respectful thing to do. It is my way of telling her that I am sorry for what she endured; that it was wrong, so wrong. To have to feel it, and then move on, is hard. It feels as though I am leaving her behind. I had nightmares for a week (when I managed sleep), and tried to go easy on myself. I am doing the best that I can. I have learnt that once I re-enter a place or hear a piece of music, for instance, it loses it’s hold over me. I would have to actively avoid most of Sydney to not encounter a place of trauma.

In the time since this experience, I have met with friends, and we’ve laughed and shared stories over coffee. I have relished the warmth of the mug coursing through my hands. I have delighted in the visiting birds, and watching the leaves falling from my trees. There is no reason why I survived that time in my life. Other young girls hadn’t been so lucky after having met him. I have completed a module of my health admin course, and am confident I could save a life if I needed to. It wasn’t because I’d performed CPR on a model at the Health campus, it was because I’d already saved a life previously. It was my own.

 

Therapy, the Past and Present

Pieces of cloth are strewn over my bed. Here is broderie anglaise from my christening gown. There is my favourite blue shirt I wore at fourteen;  a square from the white jumper I wore the night of my fall… Blood and mud-stained fabric, some pierced with bark chips. Strewn across my bed in no decipherable order. For twenty-five  years, I’ve attempted to sort through them. I had been wanting to make a patchwork quilt, to offer warmth and comfort. Trouble is, I hadn’t been taught how to sew, so had no hope of constructing it by myself.

img_3813

After years of stagnation, suddenly the lights turned green. I am studying for two degrees. A pain specialist with a fabulous reputation opened a practice in my town, and by a miracle, I was booked in to see a psychologist specialising in trauma. I turned up to her office with trepidation, afraid that by picking at the scab, I would bleed all over the place, and not heal. Perhaps, I would be left with a bigger scar. A Chilean lady came out to greet me, and my fears were cast aside. She admitted that she was puzzled at how I came to get an appointment, as her books had been closed for a while. She was taking no new patients on. I explained that a local support service had recommended her, and she laughed and said that gremlins must have gotten into her computer, opening up a space. I gave her a run-down on my life, checking off trauma as though I were reciting a shopping list.

She in turn asked about my digestion, if my mind raced, if I found it hard to concentrate on one thing at a time, if I was late to the party, having delayed emotional responses? Does my heart race? Do I breathe so quickly that I feel faint? I asked her how she knew? My digestion has always been a fragile flower.  My mind is always racing. I told her that sitting in her office for fifteen minutes, I had planned meals for the next week, my daughter’s schedule, done my budget and planned the next three chapters of a book I am writing. In fact, I am writing four at the same time. My bed has a pile of books on the floor, and I read a chapter then discard the book, perusing the next book in the pile. I even find it difficult waiting at a red pedestrian crossing, sitting through a movie, sitting still at all. As for emotional responses… I am commended for my calm at times when others fall apart. I have lost many dear friends, and can endure my grief, then a year or so later, I will be inconsolable when I see a photo of them. I am late to the party when it comes to boundaries too. Others will see things before I do, and back away from a person. When I went for an assessment earlier this year, so as to obtain a report for NDIS funding for trauma counselling, these traits were commended and cited as proof that I was coping splendidly. This lady was incredulous when I stated that NDIS had knocked me back because of the report, stating that I was a high-achiever who was coping very well indeed! My new psychologist sent me the following article on the Vagus nerve. It is the tenth cranial nerve, and interfaces with the parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs and digestive tract. It controls several muscles of the throat and voice box, and carries sensory information from the internal organs back to the brain.

img_3878

As you can see, it’s tendrils are long and reach deep. She noted that I squirm a lot and when talking or answering questions, my eyes dart upwards and side to side. It is a common response, when you have PTSD. She could see the little girl I was come out at times. I told her that now my daughter is reaching the age I had been when the most horrid of experiences started occurring, my mind is reminding me of what happened to me. I need to reach deep, as though unplugging a clogged sink, so that generational pain won’t besmirch her wondrous life. Eating disorders, alcohol misuse, utilising prescription medications to quell emotional pain, I had already dealt with it all. Now here I was, wanting to up my game plan. I want to do it for my daughter, so I can be the best mum I can be, for my friends so I can be present and healthy, for future employers and for myself.  The battle had begun.

As she emailed me the article on the Vagus nerve, I caught a glimpse of the ring emblazoned by a ruby on her finger. My mind was suddenly back inside a bathroom when I was fourteen. A man of unparalleled evil had been introduced into my world, and a woman I had known for only a short while gifted me a ruby ring. She insisted that I wear it, assuring me that it would keep me strong. “You will need to be,” she said, glancing at the man hovering over my shoulder. Always hovering… I took the ring off to wash my hands, and forgot to put it back on. When I went to retrieve it later, it was gone. “What will keep me strong now?” I asked in dismay. This memory led to others, too numerous to mention to the therapist, though she noted that I had drifted away. “You disassociate often, don’t you?” she smiled. She told me that it was quite a clever ploy of my brain, in order to protect me from horror and terror as it happened. It has also meant that I have put up with intolerable situations as an adult, for longer than I should, without further damage being done.

I was instructed on how to breathe, so I could transcend the flight response I was caught in. “We need to start from the basics, and that for you is learning how to simply breathe.” It took forty minutes until I was able to breathe deeply and slowly. Of course, my mind dove deep into the past, to the moment I first heard anything about “the horrors,” as PTSD was formerly known. I was fourteen and had met a gentle soul called Dennis. He couldn’t sit still, and his arms shook, and he tapped his foot involuntarily. “I’m like this because I’m a vet,” he whispered. “Oh, I love animals!” I exclaimed in my naivety.  Dennis smiled bemusedly. I didn’t know what he was talking about then. Now I know.

(To be continued)

Halfway between Home and the Northern Beaches

The Saturday started off with a vibe of foreboding. We had errands to run at the local shops, and my back pain was a 20/10. It was so bad that I had to take one of my night-time medications whilst I was out, just to cope with the travel back home. I couldn’t have walked another step without it. Back home, I had a bath, and rubbed every liniment I owned onto my spine. I zapped my back, braced it, and would have chanted had it promised to help. I had no time for this nonsense! We were all packed to go see our dear friends on the Northern Beaches, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop us. My left kidney is twice as big as the right, and my spine is putting pressure on it, and other organs. My spinal canal is so narrow that they can’t loop wires up it to fit a spinal cord stimulator. Still, I press on. I have to ensure that my determination at the very least matches the force of the nerves being crushed. Yay! we made it onto the bus toward the station. I bit my lip every time we went over a bump, to the point that the inside of my mouth started bleeding. The train came on time, but then stopped abruptly at regular intervals. Apparently, the Vivid festival had caused public transport chaos. I started to feel anxious, knowing that I only had a finite amount of time before the pain ramped up again. I wanted to be safely encased in our friend’s home when it did.

The train stopped before Circular Quay and we were told that we couldn’t proceed for a while. Thirty minutes later, we rolled into Wynyard station. We needed to get the B-Line bus to the Northern Beaches, and there was nobody around to tell us where to go. We wandered the perimeter outside the station, and missed the first bus. My confusion grew, as the pain ramped up. Taking deep breaths hurt, as did trying to correct my posture. My right leg went from under me, leaving me with one functional leg, a walking stick and suitcase. Dismayed, I thought about returning home. I knew I would feel worse if I abandoned the visit we had all been looking forward to. I was halfway between home and our friend’s. Exhausted, we hopped on the next bus. I was climbing the walls in pain, and there were no seats. My daughter watched as commuters got off, and was on her way to secure a seat for me when a guy carrying a case of beer pushed past and sat down. She was having none of it, and demanded that he get up; that her mother needed the seat more than his beer!

An hour passed, and when we alighted, our friends were waiting. We were encased in hugs and love, and fed a curried vegetable pie. We listened to the Beatles and the next day, went to the beach. If we hadn’t gone, I would have felt sad at what the never-ending pain has taken from me. I would have felt awful for my daughter and our friends, who would have been understanding, but nonetheless…I would have missed the last hot day before winter curled it’s icy fingers around Sydney. I would have missed so much. Beauty, love and art… That is what makes life bearable. Particularly if you are going out of your mind with pain.