What I have learnt about camping…


I recently attended a camp with my daughter. Now, I have limited experience with camping. There was the time I went to Kangaroo Valley, and our tent collapsed in the middle of the night, and the wombat population decided to climb on top of me, laying under the flattened canvas. The less said about that the better! I have some handy hints, learnt from my limited experience.

  • Buy a popup tent. Our campsite got flooded, and the people who fared better all seemed to have popup tents.
  • As we struggled to get our tent up, we noticed the ease of which the pop-up people had erected theirs. Within minutes they were done!
  • Buy a tent that has a decent height. I am under 5 feet tall, but still had to crouch every time I went in and out of the tent. It was hard to do with a fused spine! My next tent will be of such a dimension that I can just walk in.
  • Buy self-inflating mats. We brought along air beds, which went down constantly. We had to keep lugging them over to the air pump. The first night, we slept on the ground whilst rain water ran underneath the floor of our tent. Self-inflating mats are easy and surprisingly comfortable.
  • Buy mini-toiletries to take along. Nobody needs big bottles of shampoo or body wash when camping!
  • Bring a first aid kit, with painkillers, Band-Aids, bandages and disinfectant for the inevitable scrapes.
  • We had to attend several functions, and those ironed clothes that we had neatly folded, were in no shape to be worn after being retrieved from our case. Only bring clothing which doesn’t crease.
  • Bring fairy lights to decorate your tent. Okay, normal lighting will do (you can buy magnetic lighting for inside your tent), but hey, fairy lights are pretty!
  • All of the stuff you were going to bring; go through it before leaving for camp, and halve it. You only need a pair of thongs to get to the bathroom, and a decent pair of walking shoes.
  • Bring an air dryer. Dirty clothes can be washed when you are in the shower (body wash makes an excellent detergent as it turns out).
  • Bring at least one camping chair and a table to stack all your belongings on, particularly if you have a spinal injury and find getting down difficult.
  • Stretcher beds to put your self-inflating mattresses on are a great idea, so you don’t have to get up and down.
  • Microfibre towels dry 6 times faster than ordinary towels, and are a great inclusion!
  • Make sure you keep hydrated and pack sunscreen and hats, even if the weather is mild.

I had a wonderful time on our latest adventure. The above are lessons I learnt, so as to make the next camp even better. We woke at dawn, the neighbourhood kookaburras laughing at our efforts to sleep in. There was camaraderie, hugs, dancing and singing. There were shared meals and kindness. You revaluate what you actually need in way of possessions. All you require can be accommodated in a tiny space, as it turns out. It is freeing, to get back to basics.  I can’t wait for the next camp. Next time, I am going to do it right!

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Frida, Tomatoes and Giving Pain Meaning


I had a hard time holding my newborn. When I was pregnant, I practiced carrying  a string bag filled with oranges, and a sack of potatoes. Weights and hydrotherapy also played an important role. When my daughter came along, I found it very difficult to hold her, and wrangling her as an active toddler was a challenge! Breaking my back again when she was three, saw me unable to carry her; even navigating a roundabout in the car would see me bite my lip to avoid screaming in agony.

I am a planner and think a great deal of the future. I guess when one has had so much out of their control, you grip onto that which you can have power over. My spine is a case in point. Working with weights each day and walking are things I can do to prepare for the future. I had researched spinal cord stimulation, and sought experts in this particular field. I was excited about the prospect of being able to cope as my back pain became more challenging (the fusion sites are already wearing out with age). I was so young when the damage happened, which means that preparations and reparations have to be considered now. I thought of my daughter as a teenager and young woman. I want to travel with her, and maybe one day be a hands-on grandmother to any children she may have. I want to be able to hold those babes in my arms. Unfortunately, a site of major damage is the thoracic region. Holding anything in my arms is agonizing. For a year, I harboured hope that spinal cord stimulation would help. It was to be my insurance policy; a nod to the next decades of life.

Last week, my daughter and I saw Evita at Sydney Opera House. It was a spectacular production, which left us spellbound. Tina Arena as Eva Peron, was stunning, and deserved the standing ovation which she received. My girl asked lots of questions about Argentina, and we researched it’s history online after we left. We stayed in Sydney overnight, having a leisurely brunch before seeing my spinal specialist. Armed with my latest test results,  I followed the doctor to his rooms, unaware of what was to come. I assumed we would be arranging to have a trial device implanted.  Spinal stenosis and fibrosis at the site of former surgeries meant that there isn’t adequate space to weave the wires through. I can’t even have epidural injections to manage the pain. Having surgery to place a stimulator would be far too hazardous, as it turned out. It was a lot to take in. It means I have to reimagine my future, and my daughter has to reimagine hers. Simple things like sitting or carrying luggage, going on long treks or long-haul flights will be that much more difficult.

I went home and cried. I watched the movie Frida, as I laid on my Frida cushions. It will be a reimagined future. I am doing everything in my power to keep my bones and muscles, kidneys, lungs and mind strong in preparation. There will be no hope of relief nor reprieve from the merciless pain. It shall always be there, a constant reminder of the brutality of my youth. It will limit what work I can take on, and how far I am able to drive. I will be damned if it limits what I can do with my daughter. She stubbornly took my suitcase off of me the other day, on our way to our hotel room, giggling as she ran ahead, despite my protestations. She reaches out her arm to me, and carries my backpack on her strong shoulders each and every day.

 

We shared the bus ride to RPA with an eloquent middle-aged gentleman who was homeless. He was Italian, and ate a tomato as though it were an apple. He reorganized his bag, and when he stood, he rolled deodorant under his armpits, before gifting the family opposite a drawing. He read a book on philosophy as he sat back down, finishing his tomato with relish. As we departed, he tipped his hat. I would love to know his story; I’m sure it is brimming with pathos and triumphs. The most remarkable stories are.

I have always been fascinated by birds, butterflies and dragonflies. How wondrous it would be, to have wings. For over half my life, I have been fused from my shoulders down, with  limited range of movement. I am grateful that I have been able to walk, and if my mobility were to cease tomorrow, there would be no lamentations. I just want (and need), to be well enough to see my daughter through to her adulthood.

For a moment, I regretted the time and money spent seeing specialists and having all of the tests done. What a monumental waste of a year! Then there was the matter of the space all of this took up in my brain. I had put things off ‘until after I had the device fitted.’ Ironically, as I reflect, I see that these days had only brought my daughter and I closer together. We had stayed in the city, walking and laughing in the rain. We brunched and cheered on street performers. We had been together, smart phones displaced from our hands. I found myself outside the Downing Centre courts, a place I had avoided since the court case I endured at sixteen, trying to get a bad man to pay for the vile things he had done. I stood outside for fifteen minutes, waiting for our bus. Lost in my thoughts, the Italian gent, tomato in hand, tipped his cap and we talked. Mental illness had robbed him of a lot, but not his heart. Physical injury had robbed me of a lot, though not my heart. For a moment, we were in simpatico. He gestured for my girl and I to board the bus before him, and I glanced out the window at the imposing courts. I had come back to retrieve that girl.

Perhaps, none of it was about a spinal cord stimulator. Perhaps it was to give me leave to spend quality time with my daughter. Maybe it was also about facing another piece of the past. Maybe it was to show me that I can organize travel and hotels and that I am enough for my daughter. I am the mum that she needs. Perhaps it was to affirm that I need to let go of fear. The worst has come and gone and I am still here. Maybe I was meant to meet the Italian fellow, and be encouraged to eat vine-ripened tomato’s as though they were apples. He even ate the stem, and I realized that nothing is ever wasted. The same is true with lives.

I have been referred to a physical therapist, and my specialist is going to review my case at the next practice meeting. As I reflect on the year gone by, I see no wastage. My daughter and I had experiences we would never have had, and seen parts of Sydney that we wouldn’t have. We have met magical people, been in magical shops, had magical food and stepped out of comfort zones. The only thing left to do is eat a tomato as though it were an apple.

 

The Trouble with R U OK Day


Today is R U OK Day, that 24 hour period where Australian’s ask the question over social media. The usual answer is that we are fine, thanks for asking. A number of young people have told me they are dubious about this collective day of enquiring. They have a sharp point of comparison on social media and in real life. If others seem to be together, with not a care in the world, they daren’t declare that in fact they are not okay and life is not alright. Mum and Dad are okay and seem to be emotionally together, as do their friends and the community at large. They don’t see their softball coach collapse in tears, needing to be comforted in their grief, and they don’t often see mum connecting on a level that is beyond a cocktail night or a movie with the ladies, as seen in their Instagram pics. We aren’t great at naming our emotions and sharing our struggles. Pride may come into it as well as shame and embarrassment amid a desperate, silent struggle to make our centre hold. We need to show kids that we cry and need to reach out to a friend when life is hard. They need to see us as open, if we want them to be the same.

I just read back through notes I have written since December, and boy, this eight months has pulverised me, leaving shards of glass scattered around my psyche. My friends only know a little of my depression, and of my anxiety. The experiences which led to this are too much, even for dear friends. I have been loathe to burden anybody with the complete picture. As a result, I reached out to experts. I spent hours explaining things, handing over my notes. They in turn promised that they would organize specialised counselling, at a price I would be able to afford. I waited and waited, and I rang and emailed. Eventually, I had the horrible realization that there was no help forthcoming. It reminded me of the time, twenty years ago when I was promised a dedicated counsellor to help me navigate my past. After a long while, they rang, and apologised. They were unable to offer help for the deep trauma I had suffered. There was no help at all for me. I remember the sinking feeling, as I began to understand that I had too much pain for them to deal with. If I wanted to survive, I had to find a way, without being given any tools. It was like climbing a sheer cliff face without ropes and a harness.

It is lovely to ask people if they are okay, but what if they answer that no, they aren’t? Where are the services? Where is the immediate help? I know so many families who are trying desperately to help their son/daughter or brother/sister hold on, but they are doing it alone. Whatever the mental health budget is at present, it needs to be tripled, at the very least. We are in a state of emergency. I have not been okay, and hand on heart, I hadn’t found the help I have needed, despite searching. I made up my own emotional first aid kit. It contains:

*Contracting in to save energy, necessary for the battle. Huddling up in my home, and retreating from social media.

*Opening my front door and firing up my laptop when I had a clearer head.

*Walking at least thirty minutes, most days.

*Playing soothing music and calming my senses with candles and essential oils.

*When I didn’t have the energy to talk on the phone or meet up in person, I would try and at least converse via text and email.

*Making sure that I eat, and do so regularly.

*Movies and the theatre, always.

*Making a list each day of what I wanted to achieve. I found my brain was so overloaded that I couldn’t remember half of what I needed to do, and so my lists have been a blessing.

*Not comparing my journey to anyone else.

Top of the kit was being kind to myself; knowing that I was doing my utmost to be here in a year’s time. I did so whilst querying all the wild suggestions my addled mind proffered. I would be panic-stricken leaving the house, worrying as to who I might bump into and what I could possibly say. Wondering if people liked me at all, worrying that I was alone. The brain that hasn’t rested at night, and is going full-pelt of a day, is a brain that can trick us into believing any number of scenarios. I wanted to give up searching for tools, I really did. I was tired and it is hard to be vulnerable enough to ask for help in the first place. I did one thing before shutting the door for good; I rang a dear lady who works for a large organization and I told her everything. Within a day, she had emailed me a list of resources and has organized assistance. It is hard-going, locating a service without a huge waiting list (at best), but you are worth it; your life is worth it. Persist, and if you don’t feel you can, ask a trusted friend to persist on your behalf.

On this R U Ok day, I hope that people feel free to answer honestly. Our young are looking at us to not only give guidance as they make their way through life, but to also show them our vulnerabilities and the strength it requires to ask for help. In the past week, I have been honoured to hear several women sharing with me of their grief, that they are suffering domestic violence, and that a child has had a devastating health diagnosis. These women were not okay, and I batted away their apologies and assured them that it was alright to state it. Tea was drunk and tissues were given, as well as the biggest gift of all, which is time.  Imagine somebody came to your door and you asked, R U OK? What if they said they were the opposite of okay? Would you sit with them in their anger, depression and sorrow? Would you be still and silent, leaving room for them to speak? This is what is needed in the midst of our noisy and harried existence. Arms to hold you, hands to dry your tears, cups of water to hydrate and compassion so that you feel heard.

Here a list of excellent Apps which be of assistance if you are in Australia:

Recovery Point

Headspace

Positive Pathways

Daisy

Suicide Call-Back Service

Happy Birthday, Raphie!


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The anniversary of my fall happened recently. I consider the date to be my actual birthday. It could have been the end date between the dash, stating when I was born and when I died. If he had his way, it would have been. I have done everything I could think of to get through this particular day. I recall one year, I visited a dentist, and wept uncontrollably in the middle of Bondi Junction afterward. It was only when I looked at a newspaper, that I realized it was the anniversary of the fall. It convinced me that we have a powerful subconscious reaction to anniversaries, even if we don’t consciously dwell on them. This year, I took my daughter to lessons by a beach. On the bus, a brilliant stream of sunshine pierced through the windows, bathing me with soothing honey and saffron light. I closed my eyes and smiled, just as I had done the morning after the fall. Sunlight had broken through the clouds, and reached its honeyed fingers through the hospital window. Tears poured down my face at the sensation.

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I sat on the beach whilst waiting for my daughter and watched the waves crash in and then be pulled back. I was asked to hold close the following in the aftermath of my fall; ‘It came to pass…not to stay.’ For years I had imagined the waves crashing in, and then receding, taking with them all the challenges and pain. It was a marvellous saying, and an inspired piece of imagery.

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There were many ways I could have died that particular night, and he spoke aloud all the possibilities. I was strangled into unconsciousness at one point, before being pushed after I regained consciousness. I was then dragged across the ground, my survival having been an affront to him. The people on the waterfront looked at me curiously as I grinned maniacally from sheer joy, incredulous that I am still here. I talked to strangers, and patted little dogs wearing winter coats. I pulled out my key chain; I had found the perfect reminder for this date.

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I spent the rest of the evening looking through old scans, deciding what to take to my appointment at a pain clinic. I was of course, asked what had happened, and my throat grew dry as I revisited the trauma, trying to provide a recap in an hour. It is a saga that goes on, year after year. It demands time spent in surgeries and in surgery. Doctor’s surgeries tend to have the same inane and dated sporting, golfing, automobile and real estate literature, though if one is lucky, you may come across an old Reader’s Digest. I find it all laborious and tiring, and frankly can think of a million better uses of my time. However, I have an eleven year old daughter to whom I am the epicentre of her busy world, and I need to be on my game. I have to think of the future, and all I want to do with this kid. Spending time and money to maintain the wonder that is this vessel; well, it has to be a priority.  On a positive note, I have reached the Medicare Safety Net for the year! Go me! My daughter and I were having a girl’s night recently, and she tried to teach me some of her dance moves. She did so slowly, and we were in fits of laughter at my uncoordinated efforts, until I fell to the floor in pain. She kept apologizing and my heart broke. It is always there, demanding to be acknowledged. Each time I require my girl to do things I can’t do without extreme pain. Each time I have to explain how I was injured.

After my daughter bid me goodnight, I did what I do most years on the anniversary. I poured a glass of red wine, lit a candle and wished myself a happy birthday. It is always a birthday party for one. That bitterly cold evening, I imagined I was covered in a blanket, a pillow underneath my head. I imagined I was safe. I sipped my wine, then blew out the candle. I tucked myself in, and fell asleep. Another year passed.

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Reaching Out


I have a friend whose visage has no sharp features. Rather, it presents in soft-focus, much like the content of their mind and heart. Sensitive, to them life can feel like steel wool rubbing against debris stuck to the surface of their psyche. Steel wool can be useful for plugging holes to discourage rats and their gnawing teeth, I guess. The aftermath of youthful trauma rears its head- ready to bite- throughout their life. They found the hardest times were when their children reached the ages they had been when they were subjected to horror. The hardest times were when their partner made a flippant remark that reminded them of someone else, in another time. Hell, the past has a way of making itself known, even if one buries it in a pile of compost in order to grow flowers. Turning the waste (as happens in random remembrance), it comes up for air.

I had known this particular friend for many years, had known about their depression and anxiety. I knew about the trauma this person had endured, both in childhood and in their current experience. I knew that they had attempted suicide at thirteen, and that it was nothing short of a miracle that they were still here. I had bumped into this friend twice in as many weeks, and we hugged as though the separation of a year hadn’t occurred. I gave them my new details, and they said they would be in touch. I knew they weren’t traveling well, and each day, my thoughts extended to them, so I was delighted when they finally texted. “Can I come over? Are you home?” I said I was, and put the kettle on. We talked about many things, including  recent stressors  (which would bring anyone to their knees). Without a solid foundation in their childhood, nor a cheer squad, this person was flailing.

They admitted their thoughts had turned to not being here, and they still weren’t sleeping, a long-standing problem. They had used up their free psychology visits, and no resources were forthcoming, despite pleading for help, not once or twice, but many times. They had found comfort in their pets, but when they suddenly died, that support was taken as well. This friend didn’t need advice, they just needed someone to listen. I held their hand and declared, “by you messaging, and finding the energy to come over, you made a powerful declaration about your worth. You want to live, and I am in awe of you.”

The very next day, this friend texted, and wanted to take me up on my offer of going for a walk. It was another powerful statement. I knew it took everything they had to do so, and went against everything they felt like doing, which was to stay in and lock themselves away. As we walked, we took in gardens, and noted the concordant sounds of kookaburras and cockatoos in trees stripped of their leaves. We admired architecture and smiled at the sight of garden gnomes and whimsical sculptures.

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Another friend recently dropped in, whom I hadn’t seen in years. I had loved them from afar, knowing somehow that their life was now complicated and far from the halcyon days of old. They apologized for not keeping in touch, explaining that every shred of energy had been dedicated to their partner, who had been suffering mental illness. I reassured them that in regards to friendship, seven years is no time at all. I meant it. It was a homecoming, and we simply picked up where we left off, spending an afternoon laughing and crying in equal amounts.

People’s lives are complex, and we rarely know what goes on behind closed doors. We have no idea what it takes to prepare themselves for the dawn of a new day. To get up and shower can be an extraordinary achievement, as can visiting a friend or going for a walk. When a friend isolates, seemingly dropping all contact, they may be going through a transformation or they may be going through hell. I have seen the trees outside my bedroom window shake their leaves throughout autumn so they can have the energy for new growth. Hellish times make life contract, reduced to the basics necessary for survival.  People can be like trees, and need to know that the door is always open. They need to be assured that understanding and love await them after a time of withdrawal, and that we will grieve their losses, as much as we shall rejoice when new growth springs forth.

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Recognition


I recognized him instantly, the young man seated at his desk. “Excuse me,” I stammered, “would you mind if I sketched you?” I was at the Correspondence School in William street, Sydney, to meet my teachers and attend classes for the day. These wonderful people would prepare lessons for me, in between my surgeries. The art teacher had suggested I approach his colleague to have some practice. He smiled as he turned around, which was quickly replaced with a look of horror. He had been in the clinic with me when I was fourteen. The last time I had seen him, he was catatonic, one of the patients in the long-term unit. He had been in for nearly a year, on a trajectory of hopeful recovery and devastating lows. He had been my friend, and I his. Now we were out in the world, he a twenty-five year old teacher, and I at sixteen, housed in a body brace. He pleaded with his eyes, not to let slip that we knew each other. The room was crowded, and conversation of a sensitive nature would be overheard. I told him with my eyes that I wouldn’t reveal his past. I sketched his profile as though he were a stranger. He formally bid me goodbye, and I went on my way.

The same thing happened at a department store in the city. A girl I was in hospital with served me at the counter. Her blue eyes sparkled and she smiled before her visage turned to horror. I had wanted to embrace her, and squeal, “you survived!” She had been molested by her Uncle, and her parents had disbelieved her. She had tried to take her life, and ended up in the hospital with me. She was funny, warm, kind and had run away to live with her older sister, before being dragged back. We were forbidden from seeing each other, and I had fretted over her fate. Once again, I promised not to let slip that we knew each other, without saying a word. I only had to look into her pleading eyes.

It happened time and again, my meeting people who had once been close friends. You can’t help but form an incredibly intimate bond with people whom you live with 24/7. On the outside, these people treated you like a stranger, and you were asked to treat them the same. Nobody knew of their prior admittance, nor battles, save for a few family members. It was a given that if people knew their history, it would ruin any chance of employment, let alone promotion. No wonder I had seen executives of well-known companies rescind into the shadows after having complete breakdowns. What a burden it is, to keep up appearances.

I shared the clinic with teachers, models, musicians, nurses, rock stars, people on the board of major hospitals, chefs, actors and many more aside. They became my family, and trusted me with their secrets. There was a disconnect when they went out into the world to regain their place in their industry. It was an unnerving dissonance that didn’t sit well. I instinctively knew that it wasn’t healthy. These were the days before social media, where a famous person could hide their struggles inside the walls of a private clinic.

This year has seen many stressors heaped on me in a short period of time. When one has seen hundreds of people rescind mid-way through their lives, and have heard them table their backstories, one has a tendency to be attentive to the health of one’s own mind. There have been weeks when my brain has been seized by anxiety so severe that I would spend days reading over the same sentence, or forgetting why I went into the kitchen. Depression so crippling that I would want to crawl back into bed within an hour of waking. Social media can help us to feel connected, but it can also make us feel dejected. Witnessing everyone’s highlight reels, seeing people having fun whilst we sit on the periphery of it all can be devastating.

A famous photographer was in the clinic at the same time as I, and I held her sick bowl and pressed cold face cloths to her forehead as she suffered withdrawals. She introduced me to Carrie Fisher’s writing, giving me a copy of ‘Postcards from the Edge.’ She also gifted me a diary, urging me to put anything that made me want to live in its pages. I included quotes, photos, song lyrics and my own musings, and I still treasure this thick diary with its art nouveau cover. She was a truth-seeker and was one of the rare few who didn’t give a flying fig who knew about her admittance, nor fragility.

As for myself, I feel like an Autumn leaf, blowing this way and that. It is time to have trauma counselling. Back when I was a teen, nobody I knew was diagnosed with PTSD, nor anxiety. It wasn’t seen as imperative that trauma counselling begin straight away, to reduce the severity of symptoms going forward. I have rung the centre that was organizing specialized counselling many times, as well as emailing. The trouble is, services are stretched to breaking point. The willingness to assist is there, but the sheer volume of people needing help is overwhelming. I am going to call into this place soon, and talk to somebody about starting this specialized counselling. Receiving what you need is a battle, and you have to believe that you are worth the fight. I know I am worth the fight, and I am also fighting for my daughter, so I can be the best mum to her that I possibly can. We adults need to lead our young to know that articulating our struggles and being honest with our emotions is healthy. They need to see us reaching out to one another, and advocating for services. Contact the health minister and local MP’s and persist until they respond to the call for more services. We are at crisis point in Australia.

I look forward to the day when people who have sought help for their mental health can embrace upon meeting outside of their initial contact. They can introduce their friend to their colleagues and share where they are up to now. The silence and shame and the hiding parts of ourselves is toxic. The older I get, the more I see of our fragility as a species. I know  that the parts of my body that were fused and reinforced with titanium are the strongest parts of me. The cracked and damaged parts are the strongest. It is the neck and shoulders, hips and discs in my spine that once were healthy, that are complaining. The same is true for the mind. The brain that can be pliable and work toward a glorious future, can also become stuck on replaying trauma, like a reel of film. It is exhausting to keep a smile plastered on, to disregard the damaged psyche underneath and to play pretend. It is time to stop. It is time to advocate and it is time for shame to be quashed.

Realizations


Trigger Warning: A lovely friend with raven hair, beautiful children and an optimism that knows no bounds, left Sydney to live interstate some time ago. She had been almost killed by her beau, after she told him it was over, scared of his erratic, menacing behaviour. She moved after she had recovered, setting up a new life in unchartered waters. She had to return for the court case, and he was sentenced to minimal time. He once again started to seek her out on social media and via phone messages, in direct violation of his parole. He was once again incarcerated. Trouble is, both he and his lawyer were privy to her new contact details, emblazoned across documents. The police recently contacted her and advised that she move, quickly. It was almost 25 years after the same occurrence happened to me… My new home phone number had been given to him too, the result being that the vile abuse I was subjected to several times a day gave me a phobia of phones. I am still terrified of surprises, and unknown numbers.

The other day I went for a walk, and came across an alley. It reminded me of a place and time in Auburn, when I had a knife to my heart. I was fourteen years of age, and my back had not yet been broken. I had stood up to a vile creature, who had recently been bailed after bashing an elderly lady. For over twenty years, I had held onto the pain felt after a security guard had come upon us. Rather than help, he ran. Hey, I was scared too! Did he even care? This guard, in his fifties, ran to save himself, leaving me there. For some unknown and mysterious reason, the realization hit me that this guy had most likely saved my life. He was a witness, and bad people don’t like there to be witnesses. Whilst bloodied and broken, I survived, and I survived what was to come next. This new understanding helped to heal a broken shard of my soul. I had been focusing on this security guard’s cowardice, and hadn’t given any thought to him being a witness. This is the stuff that happens to survivors, whenever they hear a certain piece of music or they are simply walking along the street.

I had a brilliant therapist from fifteen to eighteen years of age. She was acknowledged for her work with abused kids. However, when I turned eighteen, I was on my own. The local community centre organized a few sessions with a generic counsellor and other centres tried to locate a trauma specialist to aid my healing, with no luck. Dymphna House was closed after their funding was pulled and other centres were stretched to breaking point. For the past twenty five years, I have tried to muddle through, mostly on my own. Stuff keeps coming up, aided by a body riddled with battle scars and psychic wounds. I am starting sessions with a trauma counsellor soon. It has only taken twenty years to source the help I have needed as an adult. I couldn’t think of anything worse than being inside a house of mirrors or walking a labyrinth, trying to find my way out. Healing and moving through life has proved enough of a maze, filled with dead-ends and false exits.

My friend is again packing up her life, and twenty five years after the fact, I had a realization regarding my day of terror. They tried to take our world’s away, and yet we stand.  I have no compulsion to take my daughter to see my home town, for it was filled with events of the bad kind. Some people’s home town’s offer pleasing memories, or so I’m told… I will instead take her to my sanctuaries; places where I laughed and dreamed. I shall take her to the places which kept me alive; the cinemas and theatres, parks and beaches. We shall see them all, and I will reiterate that at all these stops, I had dreamed of one day having a daughter. I had dreamed of having her, and I had dreamed of support being readily available for anybody that needed it, and for the broken system to change. The first of my dreams has come true, and she stands beside me. May the other parts come into being now, not tomorrow. Now.

Live Through This


There is a marvellous website, called Live Through This where survivors talk about their lives post-suicide attempt. It is heartfelt, often joyous and resplendent with hope. I think of what my life was way back when, and how it is now. It is light years from there… I am light years from there. If you had told that young woman what she would still have to endure, including the loss of a relationship she thought would last forever, she may well have not believed you. Furthermore, she may have told you that she couldn’t imagine bearing a skerrick of that pain. Endure she did, and overcome she has. She didn’t do it alone. At a very low ebb, a friend came to her door with a pronouncement of concern and trailing the thoughts and love of many mutual friends. She held in her hands a box,  wrapped in a red bow. Therein lay the tools needed to rebuild her life, both materially and emotionally. There has been much grieving and loss throughout the world in the past month, losing exceptional people to suicide. A movement grew on Twitter, using the hashtag, #livethroughthis.

 

I thought of my people coming to my aid. I had feared the unravelling of my wings may never happen; that I would suffocate in my tight cocoon. I feared I may never be freed to see what life could be and who I could become. Just when I thought the world might cease to exist for me, I became a butterfly. My fervent hope and dearest wish is that we all continue to live through this, spurred on by acts of kindness, both big and small. A smile at the right time may save the life of a stranger. It is never too late to start again, and we are never too old. We need to keep communication open and searingly honest with one another. Now is not the time for pretend nor gliding through life as though we are taking part in a masquerade ball. You can’t be human and not have wounds. Perhaps we need to share them with one another; not in the hope of a quick fix, but because the very act of sharing releases the pressure. Whatever it takes to keep you alive. You all deserve to see what life could be, how the colour can change from sepia to a rainbow after heavy rain.

 

Women and Heart Health


I had an operation at seventeen to save my heart and lungs from being crushed, after my initial bone grafts crumbled and weren’t able to keep my spine straight. It remains incredible to me, that my chest was opened- floating ribs removed- and someone massaged my heart for many hours during the mighty surgery. I guess I became cavalier about my heart as a result. After all, the amount of times I thought this heart was incapable of any further psychic injury, and yet it still kept beating, is incalculable.

Four years ago, I lost my dear friend, Serena, and my attitude toward my heart changed. She had a family history of cardiomyopathy, with both her father and aunt dying young. She went to her GP, complaining of exhaustion and a nagging cough, and it was put down to a virus. She ended up collapsing at home, and was taken by ambulance to hospital, where it was discovered she was in heart failure. She was put on the transplant list and transferred to St Vincents. She died that evening, leaving us shocked. Women are more likely to die from heart disease than any other cause, and yet we are reluctant to seek help as a matter of urgency. One reason for this is that the signs of heart disease are often vastly different than for men.

A few months ago, I went to see a new doctor, as mine was on holidays. I told him that my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest and that I felt like I had indigestion each night, with a weight in my chest. I was also breathless, nauseous, dizzy, with a tight neck and was exhausted all the time. My symptoms were worse when laying in bed. He took one look at me, 48 kilograms, a vegetarian with low blood pressure, and reached for the obvious. I had gone into premature menopause in my early thirties, and it seemed that my symptoms were caused by the lack of hormones. He suggested I go back onto the patches, but something didn’t feel right. In the meantime, I was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia and TMJ problems, so I put a lot of the symptoms down to these conditions, and the stress of dealing with such.

Meanwhile, I felt ever weaker, and had to grip onto furniture to stop me falling over. I was in bed early each evening, completely spent, and my heart felt as though it was going to jump out of my body. I ended up losing consciousness a few weeks ago, and an ambulance was called. When I came to, I felt silly causing all this fuss, and apologized to the two women taking my vitals as I lay on my bed. After doing an EKG, they said that they were worried about my heart, and took me to hospital. Another EKG was taken, and it was alarming. My heart was beating way too fast, signalling a problem. Another EKG was taken by my regular doctor, which showed the same. At this juncture, I took the advice to rest as much as I could.

My doctor organized an emergency appointment for me with a cardiologist, and it was found that I wasn’t breathing from the base of my lungs, and that I had chronic pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the sac that envelops the heart. Shortness of breath, fatigue and coughing are common symptoms. It feels as though I am being stabbed through the heart continuously. I was put on three medications, which will hopefully ease the symptoms, and told to rest. No exercise. I have to be careful to avoid the flu, as I can’t have a flu shot when my immune system is weak. I am going for review in a week’s time and undergoing more tests.

I am telling you all this, because I was cavalier. I drink my three litres of water each day, live on a plant-based diet and exercise daily. It still didn’t protect me. Issues with the heart can have so many causes, including genetics and stress. I have had enough stress for a few lifetimes, though I had thought I was managing it. If you are experiencing any of the above, please, go seek medical advice. The longer a potential problem exists, the more damage can be done to your heart.

I was strangely calm after these recent experiences. I had to stop and reflect; I didn’t have the energy for much else. This numinous child of mine took precedence in my thoughts, as did my determination to see her flourish as an adult. Having no time to waste has also taken priority. I have often said that you know when something is right to do because it takes nothing from you. Rather than feel drained, you feel replenished afterward. I had begun spinning out of control, like a crazed sprinkler, flinging my attention every which way. It is time to get back to basics; to have fun and do what doesn’t create such exhaustive spillage. This was my warning to do what I can, and then rest from the day’s efforts. We are only given the one precious heart, and boy, does it go through some trauma over a lifetime! Somebody once massaged my beating heart. It is my responsibility to take as good of care of it as I possibly can.

Moving and Reframing


My daughter and I are moving again, into a lovely friend’s home. She is travelling to Europe to go exploring with her little family, and we shall be minding her Chinese Crested dog. She looks like this:

This little dog is a great escape artist, notorious in our town. She has an elderly boyfriend who happens to be a Chihuahua with no teeth, as well as another suitor around the corner. She actually helped dig this terrier out of his backyard so she could play with him!

At the moment, I am sorting through what is going into storage, and what needs to be brought into the house. I have already donated/given away quite a bit. Honestly, when you start decluttering, it is akin to falling through a worm hole; limitless! I have no idea why I kept all manner of items, including clothing and shoes that were ill-fitting. Perhaps it was in the back of my mind that in order to feel safe, I had to hold on. Maybe it was in case I couldn’t  obtain more shoes and clothes, books and nick-nacs? This move has been hard physically, as I am not supposed to lift anything. Even the process of filling boxes has been excruciating. Somehow, I am managing. This move is getting me closer to feeling secure, with a forever home; I can feel it.

My friend has a yoga studio in her home, imbued with years of people relaxing and letting go. It hangs around in the ethers, and makes you sigh with relief upon entering. For several months, I shall be able to breathe in and exhale heavily, laying my head down and resting. It will be a welcome relief, even if I have to keep a watchful eye on our little Chinese Crested friend!

To those in permanent housing, I highly recommend clearing out your home, as if you are moving, only bringing that which you need or love back in. It is cathartic! The thought of moving twice in a year is overwhelming, and so I won’t think about it for the time being. This move sees me  being transient, a roamer without a base. It is both thrilling and frightening. I remind myself that we are all transient in the end. You have to shake up your world sometimes, or else you stagnate. As I light candles and incense in my friend’s home, and leave my shoes at her front door, I will be honouring the home’s history, and waiting with eager senses to receive what it has to teach me.