Grant Hackett


I read the following with dismay yesterday. It is a road many families have walked. I have walked… Some of my friends have also walked this road. It can start gradually, sneaking up on both the individual and those who love them. They don’t want to do what they once loved. They retreat, becoming uncommunicative. They find no joy in anything. You may find that they are drinking more than usual. You may uncover just how much when you put the bins out and see the many empty bottles in the recycling. There is something going on that you can’t quite put your finger on, and they are either refusing to talk or aren’t capable of telling you. It is frustrating, as in social settings, they can be  quite animated-jovial even-which masks what is really occurring.

When it all falls apart, it is often dramatic and spectacular. It can be after years of seeking help for the person. Marriage and family counselling, dietitians and alternative healthcare practitioners (to get their diet right and make sure that they have no deficiencies), AA, NA, GP’s, brain scans, blood tests, and so much more. There may be brushes with the law, and unpaid bills and fines. You may feel as though you are grieving a loved one, though they are right in front of you. You would do anything to retrieve their essence.

Thousands of families across Australia are facing the same agony as Grant’s loved ones. Right here and now. Finding appropriate help is time-consuming and exhausting, particularly when you are dealing with someone who denies they have a problem, or who tires of being on the merry-go-round. Who could blame them? Services tend to be dislocated from one another, and having to relay the story of why you came to be in somebody’s office time and again is wearing.

After five exhausting years of not knowing what the heck was going on with their partner, a friend was relieved when a diagnosis of depression came about. It was short-lived, as the antidepressants put them in free-fall. After another year of tumult, it turned out that they actually had bi-polar disorder, and the medication was causing them to rapid-cycle. They are doing so much better today, though life can still be challenging. The whole family or friendship group may have to adapt to a new normal. Stressors which the person may have coped with in the past, may cause them a set-back in their recovery. I hope with all my heart that Grant gets the help he needs, and I hope that his family can feel our support. It highlights the urgent need for prompt and cohesive services.

For urgent help, contact Beyond Blue or the Black Dog Institute.

Fragile Minds


I was on the bus the other day, when a familiar gentleman boarded. He is usually quiet, his movements steady. On this day, he was swearing and banging his head with his hand. He had a pronounced tic. The bus driver greeted him by name, and warmly invited him to sit down. I was touched by his kindness. For twenty minutes, this fellow pounded his head with his hand. I wondered what had happened to make his condition heighten. Had his medication stop working? Was he taking it at all? I looked out the window at the rain falling, and a memory emerged.

When I was fourteen, and in the clinic, I was sipping a hot chocolate, when I noticed Robert outside. Robert was a cordial fellow, always with a greeting. He had greying ginger hair and beard. I noted him pacing up and down the courtyard in the rain. Suddenly, he went over to a window, and repeatedly banged his head into the frame. As blood gushed out of his head, I ran over, begging him to stop. Finally he did, and I held him as he wept. I was later told that he had been editor of a big city paper in the later stages of his career. Esteemed and well-regarded, until his breakdown.

What causes people to break down? It is usually those who seem to have it altogether that are the first to succumb. It is damned exhausting, keeping up appearances. I once knew a CEO of a large corporation, who was found under her desk, cowering after years of intense pressure got the best of her. When she told me her story, I determined that I needed to deal with stress as it happens. I learnt not to store it away; not to drink or eat until I drowned.

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People have minds that can be drip-fed abuse of every kind. From the workplace to home life. We need to be careful whom we listen to and whom we consider our allies. It is not only our hearts we have to protect, but our precious minds. Think of all those who give you joy, and stick with them. Christmas is a tinderbox of embers, which can either give a comforting glow, or explode. Life is not meant to be played, as if a game, and minds aren’t designed to be toyed with. Seek out the gentle, the kind and affirmative. Your precious mind is designed for dreams, for visionary ideas and to give solutions to pressing problems. It is nigh impossible to achieve any of that if it is being filled with nonsense from people who have no business being in your life. I saw scores of adults (some famous), rescind during stellar careers and lives. I learnt early on how precious a gift our minds are. Be kind to others, but also to yourself.

Coping with Christmas


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Customs House, Sydney

Christmas can be a time of great joy and conversely, tremendous pain. Remembering those we have loved and lost, reminscing about people and times past, and hopeful about times still to come. A concentrated month filled with undiluted feelings. Memories sparked by carols, occasions and conversations. Lovely memories can be just as tough as bad ones, when the people involved are no longer with us. Half of all Australians find Christmas hard due to finances. It can feel as though it comes upon us when we are least prepared.

There are a few things we can do to uplift ourselves and keep swimming when feeling overwhelmed.

  • Volunteer! Nothing lifts your spirits like being of service to others, whether that be serving meals, wrapping gifts or talking to the lonely.
  • If you haven’t the finances to give purchased gifts, how about offering a service? Babysitting, a dinner, gardening or cleaning may be what your loved one most needs.
  • Cheap and lovely gift ideas include Reindeer food for kids to sprinkle on the front lawn Christmas Eve (A mix of oats and glitter in little bags), bath salts, hot chocolate mixes or a picture of you both in a painted frame.
  • Walk around town and enjoy the free entertainment, window displays and decorations. Find out when carol services shall be held locally. It costs nothing and will lift your spirits.
  • Whatever you do, please don’t isolate yourself. Connect with the community and friends. If Christmas is a challenging time for you, trust me, you will feel worse if you shut yourself away.

Love costs nothing, nor does enjoying the beauty of the season. It is a misnomer that you need money to be able to enjoy Christmas. You just need a full heart.

Lowering Stress at Christmas


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This article got me thinking about how stressful Christmas can be. We are usually dealing with the same income we have during the rest of the year, with the added burden of buying gifts, extra food, drinks and attending functions. It is easy to become anxious with the pressure! I had planned for my daughter and I to go on an overseas holiday for a week with friends this month. I had budgeted for it, and my daughter was so excited that she packed her suitcase months ago! Circumstances beyond my control led to me having to cancel. It broke my heart to disappoint my daughter, and I dreaded breaking the news to her. She put her arms around me, and said “it’s okay; we will go another time.” We surely will.

We are of the belief that things are meant to evolve for our highest good. If something can’t happen in that moment, then maybe it wasn’t meant to. Our time shall come, and it will be all the sweeter when it does. I underestimated my child’s reaction prior to her hearing that we would have to pull out. I think we do that sometimes; buying things we can’t really afford for people. Those that love you, truly love you; want you, not tokenism. They don’t want to see you in debt, stressed about paying off the credit card bills. She has already stated that the best Christmas present will be us being together. She has a little wish list that I am able to fulfil for Christmas (with Santa’s help).

The season is much more than gifts. It is helping those less fortunate, trips to the city to see the decorations. Carol services and playdates with friends. Swimming and a cheeky gin and tonic (for me). Reflecting on the year and how to build upon it in 2017. We can only do what we can do, and it’s okay to be honest with those around you that you can’t afford to do something (or buy it), at this time. Love is what it is all about!

Pressure


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I have been suffering the worst anxiety of my adult life; well, since I had IVF at least. The kind that makes you wake in the middle of the night, sweating and shaking. The ferocity of which makes you heave and feel as if you can’t catch your breath. I am entirely responsible for my child’s education; that alone is a lot of responsibility. I am trying to look after an adult with a mental illness that is unpredictable. I am trying to keep a household going, pay bills, and keep a grin on my face. I am preparing to see specialists and have necessary medical tests; attempting to scrape together the money to do so. Society regularly tells mothers that we are responsible for our health; that if a parent goes under, everything falls apart. I have been trying, I really have, to not go under. To ensure that my daughter is happy and secure. To not fail in my sworn mission to make everything okay with everyone I love. Oh, also to complete a book this year. 

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This year has pummeled me, the marks of which I acknowledge  in the rare moments  I have to sit and reflect. I knew the anxiety was turning into a monster by the following: 

I had two panic attacks in as many days.  I couldn’t work a door handle to exit a building, and the other when a lavatory door got stuck. I went straight into full panic, and passers-by had to calm me.

Feeling disengaged from life. Having  a list of things to do, but not having any idea as to how to do them. 

A pounding head all day, every day, and a terror of everything that once provided comfort. Social outings and social media, phones and emails procured extreme anxiety. 

Forgetting to eat, to sleep, to stop moving and sit quietly.

I called Lifeline, and tearfully relayed the events which had transpired to heighten my symptoms. The counselor was marvelous, and said they weren’t at all surprised that I was finding the going tough. When everything is all up to you, it can be anxiety-producing! I made contact with a counselor, whom I am going to see for a while, and I also saw my local GP. I am going to start medication, until I have a handle on the anxiety. It is not something I can do by myself, and goodness knows, I have tried. My brain feels as though it has forgotten how to relax and is ticking away 24/7. I am sure many can relate. Chronic pain is exhausting. Being a carer is exhausting. Having high expectations of yourself is exhausting. 

It took a lot for me to admit that I couldn’t cope; that I was in trouble. Relaxation and walks, chamomile tea and lavender oil are lovely adjuncts but weren’t offering a complete solution to such extreme anxiety. Spring is now here, and help is at hand. It is a matter of resetting a brain that has spun out of control. It is a matter of calming it down and soothing the tempest. I will still be responsible for an awful lot in life; that isn’t going to change. However, I will have the foundation required to cope with it all. One short woman alone.

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I saw the doctor and she agreed that I needed some help. I have started on a mild dose of medication and my mind already feels clearer. If you are suffering, please know that you aren’t alone.

Flower Markets, Pie shops and Friendship


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Some time back, I went through a hellish week. I hadn’t endured such concentrated crap for quite a while. Unpleasant people from the past tried to sneak back into my atmosphere via social media, money that I was assured would be there to pay essential bills wasn’t, and I was devastated by other events beyond my control. “What on earth is this?” I shrieked, to nobody in particular. “I’m a good person!” The week before, I had been blissfully unaware of the universal dump that was about to be bestowed on me. I wasn’t at all prepared. The thing with trying times, is that they are often beyond our control, but not our capabilities, despite stretching us to our limits.

I knew that I was in strife when I couldn’t stop my arms from trembling, and my hands from shaking. I lost my appetite and three kilograms in a weekend. I was exhausted and longed to rest my thumping head. I was on the loo constantly, my digestive system unable to cope with the stress. My heart felt as though it was leaping out of my chest, and I felt numb; disassociated from what was occurring. All the above were symptomatic of the massive adrenaline rush I was enduring. I couldn’t articulate what I was going through, and so I retreated. I didn’t want to burden anybody, anyway. I longed to disappear. I couldn’t see a way out of the situation I was facing. I felt I had let my daughter down, even though events had been out of my control.

There was a little tap at my door. A friend had been working around the corner and had called in to see me. My eyes were rimmed red from crying and sleep deprivation. Upon seeing me, she held me close, then took me for a drive. We stopped at a pie shop off the beaten track, and I ordered a vegetable pie. They began to make our pies, and we were shown to a round table, the linen tablecloth and colored serviettes adding warmth to a chilly day. There were flowers on each table,nestled in bright vases, and we enjoyed the best pies of our lives. The pastry was flaky, and the filling had just the right amount of seasoning. Afterward, my friend took me to a flower market. We were allowed in the cool rooms, and admired the floral displays. My daughter was asked if she wanted to pick out some flowers to take home with her, and her little face lit up. The dear lady who was running the farm even let us look out the back to see where the gerberas were growing in massive irrigated sheds. Watching my daughter play with the little dog on the farm, I felt the oppression of the past week loosen. The lady at the flower market was gracious to this stranger, and I am sure she could sense that I was fragile on this day. As for my friend, well, she did more for me than she will ever know. She enabled me to escape my own mind, gifting me temporary reprieve.

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The next 24 hours, saw two other good friends call in, and I cried some more as I relayed the impossible situation I faced. What they gave me in terms of support, love and compassion outweighs anything I could calculate. They are indeed my sisters, and they effectively pulled me back from the abyss, and helped me seek ways to continue on. You can feel overwhelmed when a friend is facing a crisis, particularly when lacking funds, time or the health to physically assist.Let me assure you, that real friends understand all that. I equally treasure the cup of tea I was made, a friend opening her house to me, the phone call I received and the heartfelt messages I was gifted. Just knowing that you aren’t alone is enough to sustain you, and bring you clarity. Each and every kindness shall be recalled and valued always.


I still haven’t any resolutions to long-standing burdens, but at least I have a list of steps I can take, right here and now. I feel a little more empowered, and certainly stronger than I did throughout that horrific weekend. It all started with a country drive, a quaint pie shop and a flower market.

Seeds and Growth


They certainly did not know that we were seeds! Seeds containing the most fragrant, vibrant flowers. This life, it can get so ugly. I have had my body smashed up, bloodied and ground into the dirt. I have been saved by garden mulch. When I am out, and find it has stuck to my shoes and clothes, I am not in the least irritated. Rather, I am grateful for being reminded of the time it saved my life. If I had landed on concrete, I would be gone. The mulch softened my fall, allowing me the opportunity to live.

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The battle was far from over. There I’d be- lovingly attending my budding garden- when a slug would come along and eat the shoots. Pesticide was poured over the dirt, and it seemed that everything had died. Over and over again. Little did they know that there were slumbering seeds buried way underneath the mulch. They couldn’t destroy what would flourish underground! As a grown woman, I have tools to keep the pests at bay. I have a little fence (not white picket in nature), and those seeds are about to rupture. No matter what they do, they can’t access those seeds. I think it’s time for us all to bloom. I will scoop up a handful of mulch, and give thanks.

Dismantling of Mental Health Services in Australia


It is with dismay and disbelief that the following came up on my news feed yesterday.

Headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, providing early intervention services to 12-25 year old’s. The centres are located in major cities, as well as regional and rural areas of Australia. They don’t look like a mental health facility, and therein lies their beauty. The service is free or has a low cost attached. There is an online and phone service. They also have a program that works with school communities. I could go on…

I know a young man who accessed their services after a near-fatal suicide attempt at seventeen. He was a sensitive, whose family had been through a great degree of trauma. He now works with Headspace, giving talks. The team are accessible to young people; they are not clinicians in a drab setting, who seem out of touch. Headspace work with those who suffer eating disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, bullying, schooling issues, depression and other mental illness.

This is extremely personal for me. I was a youth before Headspace was created. I had attempted suicide for the first time just after my thirteenth birthday. It was so serious that I was in Intensive Care for a while. More attempts followed, and I was diagnosed as having reactive depression; a response to deep trauma and strife in my personal life. I would oscillate between pure joy through to deep sadness on a weekly basis. Kids like me only had the hospital psychiatrist to chat to, and mine were all elderly males. The rooms were grey and dark, and they managed to get limited information out of the young, as the vibe was so grim and threatening. Twenty plus years ago, you saw the staff doctor after a suicide attempt, and then were dismissed- in my case- with Valium. There wasn’t a centre to call nor drop into. There wasn’t a service to confide abuse or bullying to.  Certainly, schools were under no obligation to recommend a centre nor assist a struggling youth.

I was put in a private clinic at fourteen (long story), and I was the youngest person there. DOCS had wanted me to go to a centre for adolescents so I could attend school and start my healing from having lived a dark dream. Instead, I was sent to a place brimming with adults. There were drug dealers and perverts; dangerous individuals, whom I had to fend off on a daily basis. There were even those there by arrangement of their lawyers, in order to beat criminal charges. I had people sneaking into my room at night. I developed a raging eating disorder after patients twice my age schooled me in the dark art of weight control. Suicides occurred, and I learnt more about the evil this world holds than a child should know. I was raped and eventually, almost had my life taken. I live with the ramifications of this year on a daily basis.

You bet I am angry. I have been extremely vocal over the years on this subject. Youth should never be in places designed for adults. Two decades ago, this clinic cost $500 a day, just to secure a bed. Free services were non-existent or scant throughout Australia. The young are made to grow up quicker, and the pressure brought to bear is harsher than ever now. We need to roll out more services, rather than tear them apart! Please stand with me in being vocal regarding the need for more funding for youth mental health in Australia.

I look back on my hellish adolescence and shudder. I survived and am now a contented mum and woman. I want this generation to be able to access support designated for their age group. They deserve to reach adulthood with adequate support.

 

 

 

A Jar of Marbles


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We had seen a video on how to make fairy lanterns, and went to a discount store to find the jars, tissue paper and glitter required for our project. I had felt the need to apply a mixture of turquoise, blue and purple to my hair. Now, when you front up amongst a crowd in a quirky manner, certain people gravitate to you. The artists, the poets, the dreamers…They see in you a kindred spirit. I stood in front of an aisle of craft supplies, discombobulated at the wide array, uncertain of which to choose. I noted a lady facing the same conundrum, next to my daughter and I, and smiled at her sympathetically. She was tall, with bohemian clothing and a funky short hairdo. “Excuse me,” she said, “could you help me?” She had a bag of marbles in one hand and a jar in the other. “Do you think these will fit in this jar?” “Afraid not, especially the bigger marbles,” I replied. She explained that somebody very dear to her was facing a deluge of sorrow, and was hanging on by a spindle. They had expressed that they were afraid they were losing their marbles. “I want to present them with their marbles,” the woman stated. “I need them to know that I care; that what is taken can be replaced.” I squeezed her hand. “You are a good person.”

I guess my fairy lanterns are also thematic. Here are these little fairies, highlighted with a background light, illuminating the way.  When I was in the clinic as a teenager, I was privy to many stories. I recall that the term PTSD was rarely used back then. It was called ‘the horrors’ instead. I was fourteen, and quite naïve. I became friends with a gentle fellow called Denis. He was kind and funny, and also severely traumatized. He quietly told me that he had been a vet. “How wonderful! I love animals,” I smiled. “Bless you, kid,” he laughed. I learnt over time what he actually meant as I heard him scream throughout the night; witnessed him slip into catatonia for days on end. I was told I had a strong mind, which bounced back like an elastic band, no matter what I was enduring. I wasn’t even clinically depressed, according to the experts. Rather, I railed against cruelty and abuse, to the extent that I would prefer to leave this world than remain in suspended animation. As my own PTSD began, I thought about Denis often, how despite our generation gap, we had this horrendous condition in common.

My mind takes me to dark places and I regularly fall into deep depression. None is more surprised  than I. I am a genuinely happy soul, who can seemingly bounce back from anything life hurls at me. I call myself a smiling, laughing depressive. I have been around long enough to understand what my triggers are, and try my best to avoid them. I have a delayed reaction to triggers. I may explode a day or two later. I need time alone to process what has transpired. Alcohol is a no-go zone at such times, as it leads to dreadful melancholy when I already feel low. I have to get out in the fresh air and walk. I have to turn off the phone and not have too much stimulation. Now is the time to get out my first aid kit. It contains ambient music, books, exercise, essential oils, candles, soup, a fruit platter, gardening, art, writing, playing with my daughter, the theatre and retreat. I am a happy woman with a tortured soul. It is quite the dichotomy. I have had to save my life many times over. There have been mountains that have seemed unconquerable; events too awful at first glance to be survivable. I have had to make that choice.

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There is hope beckoning to me outside the bramble where I lay. There always has been. I cut through the brackets to reach my friends, and my life. Life as a smiling, laughing depressive can be confusing. It is concealed from other people, and felt behind the scenes. “You are always smiling and appear happy darling,” an elderly friend once said, “but I see the sadness in your eyes when you think nobody is looking.” I told her she was far too perceptive. I think my spirit animal is the phoenix. Ignited by passion and a love of life, and consumed by the same. Perishing and emerging in an endless cycle. You can be the most positive, joyous person around, and still be pursued by depression and anxiety. The two states eye each other off warily. As long as you have a jar of marbles, you will never lose your own. My fairy lanterns are visible proof of an illumination inside my mind which can never be extinguished, despite the odds.

We are stronger than we believe we are, and can survive what we thought we couldn’t. We are also fragile, and deserving of kindness. If you have been through trauma, your brain has been left battered and bruised. It needs love and time set aside in its quest for reparation. I can’t help being an extroverted introvert. It’s who I am. I love people, and socializing and I also adore being alone. The same is true for being a smiling depressive. I love this life, and have had to reconcile the fact I was almost destroyed by it. My path isn’t paved, and nor is it straight. At least I have my lantern to light my way.

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The Reverse


I was feeling adrift on Good Friday. Wistfulnes came upon me and I was listless. Thinking of this world and the tragedies which occurred the past week…My mind was insisting that I curl up in bed and not move. I know enough about myself by now to defy this edict. I ended up doing the reverse. I took my daughter down to the river and went for a walk. I was joined by friends and as the kids played, we chatted. On my way back home, I met another mum, who was trailed by two little boys. Her face was cast in sadness, and she disclosed that she had only been at her in-laws for fifteen minutes and already they were irritated by her gorgeous sons. Rather than stay and become more and more upset by their cantankerous  behaviour, she walked to the river. The boys burnt off energy and we had a lovely time, picking up sticks and errant treasures. 

  
My daughter was overjoyed to find that the Easter Bunny had been Easter Sunday ! There was a trail leading to the backyard, a little girl with a basket, hot on the scent. We lit a candle at breakfast time, and stated what we were thankful for. Afterward, we went to church, and were greeted by many familiar faces. This place is about love, and about service. You can be real here, and the relief is palpable. 

We messaged a friend, and found her to be depressed. She was alone in her unit, and I said that we were coming to see her. “when you are feeling despondent, you sometimes have to do the opposite of what your brain is telling you to do,” I insisted. I know from personal experience. If you feel like isolating yourself and staying in, you have to do the reverse. If you feel like drinking or binging, the same applies. Holidays are a cruel reminder of what you are missing out on, if you are alone. You see the myriad of families enjoying each other’s company on Facebook via status updates and photos. You can’t even watch TV without ads appearing, showing you how it is meant to be. Feelings of rejection, abandonment and fear emerge from the recesses of one’s mind. It is hard to escape. 

   
 I mentioned to our friend that we were going to Vaucluse House, so my daughter could take part in an Easter trail. To my delight, this friend wanted to come along. It takes guts to do the opposite of what your mind is demanding. We watched my daughter and her friend playing amongst the ancient trees, and had a Devonshire tea afterward. It was a perfect afternoon. Next time you feel like isolating, or are pressured to stay inside a home with people that make you feel unwelcome, do the reverse.