Tread Gently when Dealing with a Heart

When I was fourteen, I befriended a cockatoo at the park nearest my home. We had a kinship, and he proved himself a true friend. I would feed him, and he learnt to look forward to my daily visit. I’m not sure as to whether he was a lost pet, or a wild bird. He would let me scratch his neck, putting his head to one side, blissed-out, his eyes closing. One afternoon I went to the park, and he wasn’t there. I looked around, and found my companion laying motionless in the gutter, having been run over. My heart broke, just as it would had it been a human friend. I was soon joined by other teens in the area, and I wiped my eyes. They would probably not understand my sorrow, and I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain it to them. I learnt to hide some hurts within my soul, only allowing their release when it was safe to do so. The teens ate snacks, and chatted in the park, oblivious to the bird laying motionless. I had to disassociate in order to join in with their banter. In the confine of my room, I wept for the bird; my friend.

We have a multitude of rainbow lorikeets in my area, and they entice joy with their play. I came across. one of these little birds laying motionless on the road, having played a game of darting in and out of traffic, and lost. It brought me back to that time at fourteen. I wanted to sit in the middle of the road and weep for this little bird, and for his family, who were probably wondering where on earth he was. Perhaps, they had seen the accident? With a sinking heart, I continued my day. That is what we must do; what we are told we need to do…

I have a couple of magpies in my front yard, which houses a bounteous oak tree. The male suffered a damaged wing, and even so, I would see him foraging for food to feed his chicks. I regularly gave them food and water, and he carried on, despite the pain he must have felt. Happily, he has made a full recovery. If they are on the ground when I exit the house to go out, they clear the path for me, respectfully hopping to the side, and standing still, just watching.

I had an experience this year, where I had to continue on, and could only do so by disassociating. Someone was pressing me for details of my trauma, catching me by surprise and within a work setting. I rattled off the details as though reading a laundry list of pain, hoping it would ease their curiosity. It didn’t, and demands were voiced. “Why didn’t you do this? Why did you do that?” I wanted to scream that I was a child, and was doing my level best to survive. I wanted to tell them that I swam early morning, worked with a physio every day. I saw specialists and had surgeries, and gave statements to the police. I endured a court case and so much more, on top of studying and working when I was able. Where on earth did they imagine I would’ve found the time or energy for the crusade they imagined I should have undertaken? I kept it together until I got home, and then I wept for all the injured birds; all those wild creatures laying on the side of roads. I wept for myself too, with my broken wings. Context and compassion coupled with empathy and the ability to hear all that is unsaid are invaluable qualities. Let people tell their stories in their own time, or not at all.

I was thrown off a ledge, a long time ago, but I don’t live within that building. You can look for me there, but you won’t find me. I am a capable woman, doing her best to muddle through life. I have a cosy little home, a teenager, and whimsical pets. I have a life, far beyond my adolescent dreams. I may have broken wings, but I can still fly. What good does it do, to ask excruciatingly personal questions of someone you’ve just met? To satisfy your own curiosity? Do you know that they didn’t sleep for over a week, after your inquisition? Do you realise you transported them back to that place and time, when they’ve done their utmost to leave it? Telling your history in your own way, and having a safe space to do so, is important. Having questions raised when you aren’t expecting them is horrendous.

I can hear the magpies outside in the oak tree, and my own birds whistling the Adams Family theme song. They once heard a car alarm going off, and I expect I shall hear that sometime this morning also. Within my home, I have photos of my loved ones. I am safe within the rooms. I can weep for little birds who have been felled, and I can sit with sorrow for those with broken wings.

I once wrote in a poem, ‘Do not ask after her hunter; she needs you to remove the rusted arrow piercing her heart.’ Do not ask after the hunter; where he is now, and inquiring why he did what he did. How the hell should I know? Acts of violence can’t be understood. The hunter doesn’t matter anymore than the vehicle, who wounded a bird and left it for dead. All that matters is the overcoming. Taking care of the flock that’s left, and nursing those with broken wings back to health.

Be cautious with a person’s history, for their heart is pulsing underneath their story.

Breakdowns and Breakthroughs

2020 has alternately dragged and slipped through our fingers like sand. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t been deeply affected in some aspect of life. Not being okay at times, well, it’s the new normal. I had a friend come to my door in tears. We sat and talked for hours, and I discovered that there wasn’t one area of her life that was supporting her. A home is designed to be a sanctuary, and hers certainly wasn’t. She apologised for crying, and I interjected. Crying is never a sign of weakness, but rather of strength. I asked her if she had any idea how brave she was, to make her way to my door. It was a positive action, signalling that she is aware she is worth care. It was a declaration of worth. I knew an elderly lady in her 80’s, who rode the Sydney trains and hung around a soup kitchen. She rejoiced when I wept in front of her, saying that I would now be spared having water on the brain, from all the tears unshed! I think she was onto something.

I couldn’t wave a magic wand, nor take all of my friend’s troubles away, but what I could do was listen. We watched the little dogs in the park play, and chatted to lovely people. We ate pizza and watched a kid’s movie. Answers were forming from the very act of divulging her pain. By experiencing a quiet sanctuary, she could see that she was worthy of more than her turbulent abode. I tend to think we know the answers; we just require the space to enable us to make decisions about the future. By emptying our mind of our solitary concerns, the answers are able to form.

We are so focused on presenting well, and so intent on not burdening other people, that we forget that through our authenticity, we allow others to be ‘real’ also. We are in the final months of a very hard year, and as the Christmas decorations go up in every store, I doubt many of us are prepared in any respect, for the festive season. Our very foundations were shaken, life as we knew it disassembled. There is nothing wrong with contracting in, as long as we don’t hold our breath, and forget to exhale.

The necessity of community has been brought back home to me. We need each other; we weren’t meant to go it alone. I shall never forget the many kindnesses shown me; the myriad ways gorgeous souls showed love and concern. It has left me humbled, with a renewed conviction to bundle up all that love, and pass it onto others.

It’s okay if we aren’t gearing up for Christmas, and it’s okay if we are. It’s okay if we’re in a puddle of tears today. 2020 has seen the rule book tossed out. Anything goes!

I recently sat on a beach to watch the sun came up, for the first time in years. I had forgotten just how profound it is. No matter what has transpired the day before, the sun dutifully rises. There’s comfort in that assurance.

What has fallen apart can be rebuilt. What remains hidden can finally be seen, and what is undecided shall have answers.

Raise the Rate

This is a very personal post, but one I must share. Twelve years ago, I had savings, and was going to purchase a house. I worked whilst navigating a fall that saw me break my spine again, and a toddler-aged daughter. I was always cautious with finances, ensuring that I paid bills on time. I had been on a disability pension from the age of seventeen, to my twenties. A dear lady named Dorothy came up to the house from Centrelink, imploring me to quit being stubborn and accept the help that was being offered. I did so reluctantly, after having had surgery to save my life, after my heart and lungs were being crushed due to a hip grafted into my spine, which hadn’t taken. Upon my engagement, I gleefully contacted Centrelink, advising them of my situation, and the payments ceased. I didn’t claim anything from Centrelink in the ensuing years. I had a business, and work. A marriage breakdown changed everything. It’s paralysing, the terror that skulks up on you in the middle of the night, knowing that you are entirely responsible for the well-being of your child. 

The investments were cashed in, and my savings dwindled over the next couple of years. Operations and other expenses took what was left. It was only when I was at crisis point, that I was able to claim anything from Centrelink. The industries I had been in were now either dying or defunct, and studying new pathways was required. I asked about Austudy, but was told that it would be even less than Newstart. I studied two full-time courses. Medical Admin saw me having to travel to pracs, and I would pray that there was enough on my Opal card to make the journey there and back. 

$450.76…This is what I was living on whilst studying. $450.76 a week, consisting of Job Seeker (or Newstart allowance as it was back then), Family Tax Benefit A and B, Energy Supplement and Rent assistance. My rent alone was $430 a week, which left just $20.76 to live on. My rental is humble, one of the cheapest in the area. I had to let go of seeing a dentist, optometrist, and also of my private health insurance. When my teeth hurt, I would go through bottles of local anaesthetic, dabbing it on the exposed nerves. I couldn’t afford scripts for my pericarditis, nor for other health issues. I had to forgo the fruit and veg box I’d ordered for the past decade.

I took whatever casual work I could, so we could buy food. I worked as an extra on a series, and (dressed in summer clothes, even though it was winter), came down with pneumonia. It was a heartache, having to scrounge together the money to afford medicines. I would do anything and everything for work, and ensured I never missed a rent payment. Birthday celebrations had to be abandoned. I would back out of any social invitations. I felt ashamed, fearing nobody would understand, not knowing how to divulge the reality of my life. I became paranoid about stretching our pantry items, and basically ceased eating regular meals at all. Everything was my daughter’s, and hers alone. I daren’t invite anyone over, as there wasn’t enough food to offer them a meal. I raced through my studies, anxious to get a job. I applied for scores of positions, but there were tens of applicants for each one, some of whom had more experience than I. It was soul-destroying, when it was down to the last three applicants, and I was pipped to the post. If it weren’t for a few dear people, I wouldn’t have been able to afford school uniforms, printer ink, stationery, and other essentials. Kindness bought work boots, a medical transcription course and hope. It bought hand sanitiser, a stocked pantry and medical supplies shortly before the pandemic crashed in. The one thing I’d been determined to hold onto was my life insurance. I started to believe that perhaps, I was worth more dead than alive; my daughter would at least have security. The level of despair ran deep. 

Covid-19 hit in March, and everything started to change. I had recently obtained my White Card and other tickets, only having one assessment left to complete, on a work site. It renewed hope. The pandemic shut everything down, and suddenly, a large proportion of people were studying and working from home alongside me. Newstart was transferred into Job Seeker, and the amount received was doubled. I was able to order a fruit and veg box for $50; enough to see us through the next fortnight. I was able to pay bills without stressing. I was able to buy groceries, without having to seek help from a charity. I enrolled in several free courses through TAFE, and pretty much studied seven days a week throughout the next few months. I ate regular meals, and my health improved. I could afford medicine and medical appointments. I applied for as many jobs as I could throughout. 

Such was the shame attached to seeking support, that many in my circle never knew I’d needed to. It is exhausting, being stuck in poverty. I heard many talk about “dole-bludgers,” and it would sear my heart. I would have crawled over broken glass in order to secure a permanent job. I knew others in the same predicament who were willing to do anything to escape this wretched existence, too. Some should have been on a disability support payment, but the criteria was now ridiculous. Besides, they couldn’t afford the expense of seeing specialists to gather evidence. I didn’t have much to work with, when my world shattered. $20.76 a week after rent, doesn’t lend itself to dreams. It put me in a dangerous position, where I had to rely on someone not well enough to be dependable. A lot of people are left in this situation, and it is untenable.

I am now working, and know how fortunate I am. I was filled with terror at the thought of not finding work before the Jobseeker rate fell. I couldn’t bear the thought of being plunged into that level of poverty again. As a regular tax-payer, before Jobseeker and now, I am delighted to have my taxes pay for the rate to be permanently lifted. Nobody should have to endure poverty. Imagine not having the funds to buy medicines, nor fund a bus or train trip? Imagine not being able to afford to celebrate your child’s birthday? It is a lonely and miserable existence.

It is my fervent hope that 2020 brings with it a new awareness of each other, and that kindness shall prevail from hereon. I bumped into a well-dressed lady this past week, and she mentioned the community pantry. She spoke of her gratitude that she was able to grab food there. I have seen an elderly woman who lived through the Great Depression, scour the supermarket catalogue, circling what she intended to buy. Once the groceries were delivered, I watched her stand in front of her open fridge, gazing lovingly at the fresh produce. She was obsessed with food; the gathering of it, the preparation of it, and the feeding of loved ones. It was little wonder. She had lost siblings to starvation. When my fridge was filled, I too stood in front of the stainless steel door, looking in with wonder. What happened to me, can happen to anyone. It only takes a disaster or two to knock us about. Let’s concentrate on lifting each other up.

Bruno, Opposites and Trees

Bruno is a little dog, and I instantly adored him, when we came across him in the park. We must have made a good impression, as we were invited to Bruno’s 1st Birthday celebrations. His mum had contacted the local council, and we were greeted by an extraordinary set-up.

The dogs all received a toy from the lucky dip basket, as well as a big ‘doggy bag‘ to take home. It was a morning of revelry, finishing with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday, during which a plucky pooch clandestinely took off with Bruno’s birthday cake! In a year such as this, the question of whether to have a party for your pet or not is moot. Why wouldn’t you? The dogs had great fun, and we left with our cheek’s hurting from all the smiling. Any chance you have to snatch up some joy, take it, especially now.

I had an experience the other day, which shall stay with me always. I came across a lady (I would estimate in her 50’s), sitting by herself. As I stopped to smile, she complemented me on what I was wearing. “Look at you; so beautifully put-together. I wish I could do that.” I knew what she meant. I have been her, at various times in my life. She couldn’t smile, nor could her eyes contain the anguish within. She longed for the days when she could conceal what was now evident. We chatted and she told me she was depressed. Financially insecure, this was not what she’d thought her 50’s would be. “How do you keep going?” she asked, almost pleadingly. “Depression is a hard foe, and you have to be cunning. You know how it tells you nobody cares? You know how the first impulse is to isolate; to stay inside?” She nodded. “You have to do the opposite of what it’s demanding. Get out into the sunshine, and listen to the kookaburras. Admire the trees in the neighbourhood. Talk to someone, even if it’s a stranger, each and every day. Drink water, and don’t skip meals. Whatever your first impulse is, (I know from experience with anxiety, that it’s usually caffeine and solitude), do the exact opposite. What brought you outside today?” I asked. She sighed, “I needed to know that I wasn’t alone in this world. I needed all the things that you spoke about. I needed the trees and fresh air, a friendly face and birdsong.” “Promise me that you’ll do this each day?” I asked. “It’s a little thing, and won’t fix everything up; though I wish with all my heart that it could. It’s a start, though… A start in the right direction.” She nodded, and we looked in each other’s eyes. Hers were emblazoned with sapphires, and diamonds. Her shoulders straightened, and she looked different, stronger. Never underestimate the effect you can have on someone, even a stranger. Do the opposite of what you feel compelled to do when depressed or anxious. When anxious, I sit still and reflect, rather than race around, drinking caffeine and achieving nothing.

 

One of my best friends is in ICU on the other side of Sydney. Her daughter and mine are also the best of friends. We have been through IVF, pregnancy, motherhood and sickness together. We always finish our ludicrous chats with ‘love you.‘ She has been unwell for some time, but all the same, when you are dealing with a powerhouse of her stature, you believe them to be invincible. I am waiting to hear how her surgery went. She managed to text me from ICU last night, and I promised to take her to Haigh’s chocolate shop when she’s recovered. We went back and forth for a bit, before I signed off ‘love you.’ I feel impotent and powerless, as I wait. I then recalled what I’d suggested to the lovely stranger last week, which was to do the opposite of what I feel. Leaving home, I am going to walk to the river, stopping to hug trees. Then I shall listen for the kookaburras, surveying the paddocks and farms. I will await the phone call, whilst ensconced in beauty. My friend, with a keen eye for the humorous and glorious, would approve. Cockatoos screeching and swooping, kookaburras laughing and a lush verdant valley would amuse her. I imagine she is with me, as we both await the call, just like in our IVF days…

Week 3 of Isolation

How are you going?

Drop me a line to let me know. This is a community, and honestly, I have never felt as close to folks as now. Stripped of all extraneous detritus, we can be real, and we are.

Exhaustion

There have been so many commenting on this phenomenon, and all are relieved to know they aren’t the only ones. Even when you have work and study to occupy your time, trying to focus is challenging. Even when you have managed a solid sleep, you are still exhausted. Your mind is trying to cope with an altered reality. All of this is normal, under the circumstances.

Losing the plot over  your internet connection and/or websites or pages that won’t load

I lost it the other night, and it wasn’t pretty! Not being able to get onto an online lesson before it started, had me enraged. Of course, it wasn’t really about the above. Rather, it was deeper. There was rage at the people still having parties and not keeping a distance from others. Acting like the virus was not only not in their consciousness, but within society. Whilst some of us are into our third week (or more), of self-isolating, these individuals carry on as though they don’t have a care in the world. I am enraged by them. I am angered that our frontline workers have been abused, and that they have cause to worry about obtaining adequate PPE. 

Anxiety

Those periods where you are frozen to your seat, refreshing your phone for no reason in particular? Those times when you can’t collect your thoughts, and you pace the length of your house, unable to recollect why you needed to go to a particular  room? It has to do with anxiety. It comes out in funny ways. I felt all this after a trip to the chemist and supermarket. Masked up, whenever anybody dared come near with their trolley, my senses would heighten. Going through self-serve felt like a dangerous exercise. If only the virus was tinted a certain hue (like cornflour in a colour run), so you could see where the little bastard was hiding out!

Sadness

Sadness for friends who were going through trauma before Covid-19. Separation, divorce, ill-health, financial trouble… Certainly, the virus has introduced a perfect storm into their lives. Now they have to bunker down with those who’ve hurt them. They aren’t able to work in their chosen field, and going to hospital for treatment just got a whole lot more stressful. I feel sad for those who live alone, and are isolated. I feel sadness for those who have lost their jobs. I feel sad for those that can’t attend funerals, birthday celebrations, weddings and other occasions. I feel sad that we can’t hug. There is a whole lot to feel sad about. 

On the other side of the equation, there is gratitude

Our complicated lives have been stripped back to basics. We are living frugally, and spending more time than ever within our homes. We are connecting with friends we haven’t seen for some time. There have been mates who’ve invited me to Zoom meetings, that I hadn’t seen in years. We have checked out each other’s houses and isolation hair. We have toasted each other, and shared recipes. There have been messages flowing, and even groceries delivered to my door. I have never felt more thankful.

Pets

Friendly the cockatiel and Minnie the Pomchi, have kept us entertained and our spirits up. Friendly sings the Adam’s Family Theme Song, whilst dancing. Minnie enjoys playing ball and wading in her little pool outside. We go for walks with our puppy each day, something which brings us joy. She is as stubborn as a mule, when she doesn’t want to move, though thankfully she is little enough to tuck under an arm. Her favourite treat is a cold carrot from the fridge.

Gardens and sunshine

The virus feels so distant, when sitting out the back, surveying the geraniums and herbs in our garden with the sun bearing down on our shoulders. Autumn in Sydney is pretty magical, even at a time like this.

The Arts

Have you ever noticed that in times of trouble, the people in the arts always donate of their time and energy? Can you imagine what this period would be like, without music, paintings, shows, movies and online content? What about books and dancing? When this is over with, let’s support those who helped get us through. 

This is Week 3, done. A trip to the shops, leading to wondering where this bastard virus is hanging out, and with whom. Laughter shared by strangers at the ludicrous nature of our current existence. Helping someone find a particular item, whilst keeping the hell away from them. Holding one’s breath as a precaution when somebody miles away sneezes. Suffering the indignity of my daughter winning seven games in a row of Guess Who? Signing up for three different courses in one frenzied morning. Looking at the brown bananas, and declaring that I really should do some baking with them, before forgetting (then saying it again the next morning). Sorting out the pantry, and making use of the Tupperware (finally). Decluttering, and then being left with bags of stuff with nowhere to go, as charity shops and council throw-outs aren’t collecting for the time being. Hoping to heaven that I don’t have to rely on any call centre to fix an issue, as most are closed. Laughing hysterically at the most pedestrian of things online.

May you have a restful Easter, no matter where you are. May you have peace, and may we never endure a time such as this ever again.

 

Week 2 of Self-Isolation in the Viral Era

The days seem to blend into one another; time and dates have blurred edges. It is becoming harder to recall our lives before everything changed. All the things we took for granted! Meeting up with friends… Restaurants… cafes and hugs, travel and visits from loved ones. Classes are grieved, as are extracurricular activities. Who would have thought toilet paper, masks, sanitiser and disinfectant would be such hot items?

I attended my first online funeral earlier this week. It added to the sorrow of the life lost, seeing eight people gathered in the large chapel, the chairs spaced so that even a husband and wife weren’t actually sitting together. There were no hugs, and no huddling together. A person who had hundreds of friends and family scattered throughout Australia was sent off by eight people, and those of us who watched online. It felt strange; disconnected from reality. It’s our new normal, I’m afraid.

The next evening, a group of us were invited to sing Happy Birthday to a four year old on Zoom, as she cut her birthday cake. As I saw the squares light up with familiar faces, my heart swelled. We have to be distant, but we certainly aren’t alone. It was joyous, getting together from the confines of our home for a little girl.

I had to go up the street to have my flu shot. After two weeks of confinement, it really hit me, seeing the places I usually frequent, shuttered and empty. I thought of my friends, who work in these places (or own them), and the sole traders who supply these shops. It was a melancholy feeling; how could it be anything but? It’s all the little things that you miss. I miss the chatter amongst patients as they sit next to one another, whilst waiting for the doctor. I miss the smiles of the staff, now hidden behind masks. I miss catching up with the friends you bump into down the street. The few people I saw were guarded, hurrying about their business, so that they could get back home.

This update from Bill Crews just about broke my heart. The most vulnerable sector of our society, made to eat their meals out in the rain. Surely we can do better, Sydney? This tumultuous period reinforces the absolute truth that we are connected. What happens to one, can ultimately, happen to all. Unemployment and homelessness, poverty and being at the mercy of this wretched virus. Why can’t we put up the vulnerable in accomodation, now that the city is devoid of tourists? Now is the time to soften hearts, rather than harden them.

 

I am thankful for the wonderful souls who have delivered food and groceries to our door. I almost cried, when I saw that the service I used was able to purchase toilet paper for me. It’s the little things that mean so much! I am thankful for the concordant birdsong outside my window, and the sun filtering through the myriad of trees outside my door. I am thankful for teachers who are doing double-duty, organising online lessons, whilst also teaching in a classroom. I am grateful for those who check up on each other, ensuring that everyone has what they need.

There have been involuntary tears, and moments when I feel helpless. Not being able to see loved ones is tough, particularly when they are going through so much, for a myriad of reasons. I worry about those in quarantine with toxic family members. Not being able to escape into their job, or through a social outing, is excruciating, when trapped inside a chaotic household. Life has contracted in. We need to uncover small joys, where we can. Whether that be going for a walk, or by having coffee on the porch. It may mean listening to music, or watching a comedy. Our movements may have been limited, but free pleasures remain. Your thoughts belong to you, and can’t be contained within the four walls of your home. They can see you making plans for when this time is done, and help you to clarify the future you yearn to build.

I keep thinking of what it must have been like to go through the era of the Spanish flu or Bubonic Plague. Without phones, internet, television, running water, sanitation and Netflix! No updates forthcoming, and with limited resources. I can’t even imagine how cut-off each household must have felt from one another.

We are in the early stages of self-isolation, and still have Winter to come. Winter; the season which ushers in frosts and bitter cold, grey skies and barren trees and gardens. It seems to drag, and then one day, Spring arrives. We can get through this harsh winter, if we work together. All this shall seem like a distant nightmare; one we shall recall for the young, in fifty years’ time. They will ask us what it was like, and what we did. Let’s ensure we have ripping yarns to share with them. Tales of how we looked after each other, connecting online, and sending messages to old friends. Tales of getting back to basics, and making do with what we had at our disposal. Stories of mateship and making the best of a bad situation. We are making history, each and every day of 2020.

 

 

 

Self-Isolation, Sacrifice and Love

Last year, some friends and I were extras in an excellent Stan series called The Commons. 

It depicted isolation, the ramifications of global warming, border security and what happens when a virus is rampant in the community. We were evacuees within this odd world, and our scenes depicted life within a temporary facility, and then a huge camp, complete with a makeshift hospital and medical staff. At the time of filming, nobody had heard of Covid-19, because it wasn’t apparent in humanity. There were times when I got chills, watching the ‘fictional’ story unfold, and there were scenes where I had tears in my eyes. Some of us reached for fellow extra’s hands. I watched Series 1 on my iPad over January, from the place we were staying in the city. The dystopian themes had begun to mirror real life, with people walking around with face masks; choking smoke and bushfires decimating Australia…

Boy, has life changed since The Commons was filmed in Sydney!

I know we have all been affected by limited supplies of medications and supermarket goods. We’ve seen appalling footage of brawls and greed on display. However, there have been many more outstanding  examples of goodness.

My friend Van, has set up a group to make masks for our frontline workers, and it’s going gangbusters! If you have the skills, you can sign up here.  To request masks, join the sister group.

I have been unwell this week, and have had a bag of goodies left at my door, been gifted hand sanitiser and soap, had a fairy godmother help more than she will ever know, and had many friends message to ask if I need them to get us anything from the shops. Thank you with all my heart.

Many people I love have lost their jobs, and are in precarious situations. Personally, I have felt helpless, being unable to visit and administer hugs and comfort in person. How do we keep our spirits up? A friend messaged the other day, admitting that her anxiety was all-consuming, and she wasn’t coping at all. She was berating herself for feeling like this, and I assured her that she was having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. For humanity, the events of 2020 are unprecedented. There is no ‘right’ emotional response, for we haven’t been here before; not on this scale.

I spent three years isolated in my room, from 15-18 years of age. I was studying via correspondence, only leaving my confines to go to hospital for surgery or procedures. There was no internet back then, so I was pretty much cut off from my peers and society. I learnt to lean in, in order to mentally survive. Here is what I did:

  • I kept a strict routine so I didn’t flounder. I wrote a timetable for each day of the week, detailing when I would exercise, eat, study, read and even watch tv. I broke it up into 30 minute segments.
  • I dressed and groomed as though I was going out to work.
  • I ensured I learnt new skills, to make the most of these years. I read about financial matters, ethical investing, different cultures, the arts, nutrition, the art of writing and so much more.
  • I prepared a bucket list of all I was looking forward to doing once this time was over. Things like taking a ferry across the harbour, visiting certain restaurants, finding ‘my tribe,’ and what I wanted my future to look like.
  • I ensured that I enjoyed my own company. This is imperative. I would make myself laugh with my own private jokes, kept myself as healthy as I could with exercise and good food, and talked to myself as I would a friend, with kindness and encouragement.
  • I made time to dream, to stare out the window and zone-out. Every creative soul requires this.

It is just my daughter and I in the household, and as I am unwell, I have to isolate from her, ensuring we aren’t in communal areas at the same time. Before she started highschool, I home-schooled her for four years, and fortunately, she is a stickler for routines too. I am so grateful that we have the internet and mobile phones to connect with society throughout this strange time. We are a lot more accessible than when I was fifteen; trying to cope with my isolation. We will get through this.

The tension was ramping up last week; we knew it was coming, an intractable period, which nothing could prepare us for. It’s a day-by-day proposition, doing what we can, when we can. Zoom and Google classroom will be our new best friends, as lessons go online, from drama and singing to dancing. It is a brave new world, and also a strange one. One day, we shall all open our front doors, run into each other’s arms, and embrace. We will celebrate each other’s birthdays in person, and file into restaurants. We will go back to the theatre and cinemas, and attend concerts. Nothing is lost forever.

 

Letter to a Teenager

Hey there,

I tried to bury my teenage years, but my wild and wonderful youth refused to be forgotten. For that, I am grateful, as I have some things to share with you. Or rather, she does.

I respect your need for space and privacy. I recall what it was like to need a release in the form of a journal, and promise that it shall always remain private, for your eyes only. We all need a room of our own, including a mansion within ourselves, where we can let go of artifice, and connect to our innermost feelings. I get why your door is shut, and why you need alone time. You have been at school with hundreds of your peers and teachers, for seven hours, and need time to decompress.

I stopped eating as a teenager. I wanted to reduce my space in the world. If I was invisible, perhaps I wouldn’t be hurt anymore? I could have control over something, at last! It took a great deal of effort to restore my body and mind, and retain a healthy weight. Since this time, I have put on weight, been pregnant and bedridden, and you know what? I never once weighed myself. In fact, I don’t own scales. They provide scant information regarding the measure of one’s health; emotional and physical. Nor do they describe how well I’m travelling through the world. Food is now a source of nourishment, and exercise is a tool used for mental wellbeing. Please, don’t contract in. You are allowed to take up space. You are in competition with nobody.

 

I almost died by my own hand. I couldn’t see a way out of the situation I was in; I seemingly couldn’t locate an alternate pathway that would enable me to live. It’s hard when you’re a teenager, to see tomorrow. Everything seems to be focused on the now… The math exam today, the friendship group you’re in, family problems… It can seem insurmountable. I can tell you with the gift of hindsight, that 25 years have passed, and I am so glad that I didn’t die. I am astounded that I’m still here. I grew up and left everything that hurt me. I experienced joy and learnt many things. I had a child, and have beautiful friendships. Whatever is causing distress, shall be vanquished in the course of time. You will leave that high school. You will leave those friends who hurt you. How many of us still have friends from our formative years? If you are fortunate, you may retain one or two, but usually, that’s all. Young adults move for work or university. They travel the world, and form new friendships. These years will go so quickly (even if it doesn’t feel like it now). There hasn’t been a time when I wasn’t glad that I survived, in spite of having challenges as an adult. Your life is precious.

 

Always look at the big picture for your life. Every day you can do tasks that your future self will thank you for. It may be taking time out to see a movie with a friend, or going for a walk. It may be signing up to performing arts groups at school, if your career aspirations lean toward music, drama or dance, for instance. Write down what your dreams are; in every area in your life. Research the pathways that will get you to where you want to go. I promise, that there is more than one  pathway for the fruition of your dreams! Make mind maps, with the dream at the top, and the steps you need to take spreading out like new shoots on a tree. Breaking it down means that it no longer feels overwhelming and insurmountable.

 

As wacky as this sounds, when I felt weak and defeated, I would picture teenage me talking to my adult self. What does she look like? How does she move through the world?  What advice would she give me? It helps you to step outside the problems you are currently facing. Let your future-self lend you strength.

 

Never take anyone else’s opinion about you as gospel. Firstly, if someone is being derogatory toward you, or if you’ve heard from others that they are spreading gossip, you have to ask yourself, why? Are they envious? Do you have something that they want? Look at their motives. The majority of the time, you aren’t in the equation at all. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.  How you feel about yourself is incredibly important. After all, you have to live with yourself, 24/7. Teenage Pink was told that she wouldn’t amount to anything, by some adults. Many people have had dire predictions thrown on them, regarding their futures. The best revenge is ignoring these ridiculous opinions, and proving them wrong. Nobody has the ability to predict your future, so ignore and rise up. As a dyslexic, I was routinely told that I was stupid. I couldn’t spell, and my writing was appalling. Guess what I ended up doing as a young adult?!  Never let anyone tell you what you are capable of.

If I had my time over as a teenager, I would take up more space, not less. I would be more of an extroverted dresser; a bohemian clothed in mismatched colours and patterns.  I would care less about fitting in, and dedicate my time to standing out. I would feel free to listen to my gut instincts about people and situations, and hope that my instincts were honoured by others. I wouldn’t feel the need to be accomodating and ‘nice’ to people who deserved anything but.

 

I am glad that you are a teenager in an era where you are allowed to have a voice. I am glad that you are living in an era where you can be anything you desire. This is a good time to be alive; to advocate for change. Your generation shall be the ones to change what is foul, and restore what is broken.

Our job as adults is to ensure that you experience your teenage years in an unscathed fashion. Talk to us; please know that you can. We were teenagers once upon a time, and can cast our minds back to see what you are facing. Ask us what is what like for us. Ask for advice. You are important, and you are loved. Us adults can sometimes be a bit slow to catch on, when you try to talk to us about your life. Keep trying… write it down and slip us the paper over breakfast, if need be. Put a communication diary onto our pillow, and we will respond with an entry beneath.  Be patient with us; sometimes we are a bit slow on the uptake, and sometimes we forgot what it was like to be a teenager. We get busy with the ludicrous minutiae of adult life. We need each other, in this mad, infuriating, heart-breaking, joyful, ridiculous world. Let us hear your music, and let us watch your favourite shows with you. Let us into your world. In many respects, you are experiencing life in such a different way to what we did. The ways of our youth no longer exist; gone the way of paper tickets, cameras with film, video cassettes and boomboxes. Teach us what it’s like to be you, a teenager in the world.

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 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.

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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.

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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)