For those that have been Betrayed


I see you, even though you feel invisible. You are trying desperately to hide, even whilst yearning to be found. I sense the psychic wounds; the blood-letting you have endured. You are surrounded by pretty photos of pretty times by pretty lakes. There were pretty hotels in pretty, faraway lands. You have retreated from Instagram and Facebook, feeling you have nothing to contribute by way of pretty stories… Not anymore.

You had hoped that none of this was real. It can’t be real, for that would be intolerable; unthinkable. Your heart is pierced with wire, barbed and cruel, another searing pain striking whenever you think of him, and what transpired.

img_0174-2

 

Pain that sees you crawl into a ball in the shower, undone by wracking sobs which seem unworldly. What to do with the pictures, strewn about your home? The albums filled with memories? Hell, you even learnt the art of scrapbooking, so the stories were inked on pretty paper, in an orderly fashion. Each chapter had it’s own album, as great stories should.

I can see your collarbone, your flesh receded, along with your appetite. When did you last eat? I can see you haven’t slept, your eyes hollowed and red.

Next we have anger. Why didn’t you see it coming, you rage at yourself? Why did I believe their lies? Why did I think it was possible to retrieve our life together? It was concealed from you, dear heart. They only reveal what they want you to know. Lying is a game for one, and you weren’t privy to the rules. Anger extends to the partner. How could they take your family and carelessly shatter all that you had? They aren’t there to deal with the aftermath.

img_0118-2

I see you trying to adapt to being a single parent, and a single person. I see you having to navigate the legal system, locate counselling, and deal with financial matters. I know it feels overwhelming. The evenings are lonely, but then, so are the mornings. There shall be many firsts. The first time you attend a dinner, where you are the only one solo amongst your friends. The first walk, the first Christmas, the first mothers day…

There will be immense sadness and there will be grief. You wonder if the whole of your relationship was a lie. How much of it was ever real? Hindsight is a cruel teacher. It is only through it’s looking glass that we are able to see the complete picture. How can they love you like you need and like you deserve, if they don’t know themselves? If they came to you as an incomplete person, the union had to break. You aren’t responsible for filling up the mental and emotional needs of a partner who is punctured. It isn’t your job.

Your job is to tend to your own wounds. To discover the simple pleasures of a bubble bath or a solitary stroll. The kids are at sleepovers and you are alone. Now is the time to discover how decadent it feels to prepare a nourishing meal for one. You can curl up with a novel, or Netflix, unimpeded. You can play whatever music you desire. You are free now. Free from betrayal, and from the years of subterfuge. No more deceit, and no more wondering. You are worth far more. Now it is time to heal.

Go gently into your new world, and lean on your inner circle of friends. Slowly, you will begin sleeping through again. You will start eating more and cry a little less. You are going to show this world what a single woman can do. Right now, if all you did today was  go through the cycle of bewilderment, denial, anger, hurt and sadness on a continual loop, you did okay. You are still here, and have much to build on.

Remember the young woman who lived before this relationship? Open that photo album. Find her, retrieve her and offer her revivification. She has been there all this time. What does she want? What did she sacrifice or put on hold? Take all her dreams out of mothballs, and bring them to life.

img_3234

Advertisements

Budget 2019


The contents of the Australian Budget, 2019, struck me as being staggeringly cruel. No money for housing, funds pulled from the NDIS, TAFE stretched thin and services unable to cope with demand. There was no celebration in my household last night.

Doctors are campaigning for a Trauma Recovery Centre to be established. This and other incentives would have been most welcome!

NDIS

I know of families trying to access funding for their children, and being kept waiting in no-man’s land. They aren’t as yet funded for all the treatments their children need and deserve, and aren’t eligible for any other help whilst their claim is being processed. It is a long, excruciating and expensive journey.

I was referred to a support service, who have been trying to help me access the NDIS. I mentioned that I was diagnosed with complex PTSD many years ago, and have been battling alone, unable to locate adequate services. An assessment was organised, the doctor agreeing that indeed I had complex PTSD. He made the error of remarking that I am coping well, considering the amount of trauma endured. I was informed that this assessment had been knocked back, and I would not be funded for specialised help. No matter that I experience flashbacks on a daily basis, and that I have nightmares each night.

An appointment was made with my doctor, and a case worker was scheduled to accompany me. I had to ring the NDIS to ask that they email the access request form for my doctor to fill out. I tried for two days to get through, without any luck. Yesterday, I nearly fell over when my call was answered. I explained the situation, and asked that they email me the appropriate form. The operator told me that he would put me on hold, whilst trying to track down somebody to help. Eventually, he came back on the line and said that he was unable to rouse anyone in the department, and that it was highly unlikely that they would respond to the memo in time. The case worker had to cancel the appointment with my doctor. This support service are trying to help me access funding due to my spine. I spend around $120 a week on catheters alone, so am in need of assistance!

Newstart

The unemployment benefit called Newstart has not gone up for 25 years! It is well below the poverty line. How is one to keep their phone on, buy food,  pay rent and afford travel and clothing for job interviews? A friend of mine has major physical limitations and has suffered unspeakable cruelty in her married life. Instead of being a lifeline, Newstart has made her stress about the $50 she has to spend on medications each week.

I have another friend who had to give up her job in November. Her specialist insisted, saying that she would never be able to resume work. He promised to help her by filling in reports so she could get onto a Disability support pension, which is a much higher rate than unemployment benefits. Her medical treatment has been all-consuming and brutal. Four months after she applied, her application for a Disability Support Pension was denied. Devastated, I accompanied her to Centrelink. The staff member was lovely, and one could feel their frustration at not being able to help. My friend-who is a single mother-has had no income since she had to give up work, and because she still had a small amount left in her savings account, she was told that once she had burned through that, her application for Newstart would be expedited. She is now on Newstart, which is just enough for a little bit of food and her rent each fortnight.

Housing and Domestic Violence

I have a friend who was forced to flee her marital home with her children, and ended up living in her car for a time. Here is the experience of many women.

  1. Locate a local service, and turn up desperate, pleading for help. You have no money, you are already battle-weary and the kids need emotional support.
  2. The service promises to help, but they are stretched to breaking point. Even getting your child into specialised counselling means hopping onto a waiting list for a year. Your child- who was ready to open up and talk- has closed down in the interim, and the opportunity has passed by the time their names are at the top of the list.
  3. You go from service to service, all wanting to help you start anew, but unable, with their limited funding.
  4. You learn of a scheme wherein your rent is subsidised for a year or so, whilst you get back on your feet. Unfortunately, there are strict guidelines you must adhere to, including locating a property with a tiny rent attached. There is nowhere in your area, nor near your child’s school at or under this price.
  5. The public housing waiting list stretches to 60,000 people. The chances of you and the kids being offered a property in the near future is remote.

A friend of mine applied to have security cameras and other measures put in place at her rental property. The funding was finally approved, and the company came out to instal the devices. Pulling up the paperwork, they told her that it was an old quote, and as it had taken so long to be approved, their prices had gone up. She would have to reapply and start the process anew.

TAFE

On a personal note, I made contact with NSW TAFE, and was told that I could apply for a concession for the particular courses I was keen on. Excited, I arranged a loan to cover the deposits, and called up to enrol. TAFE apologised, and said that at this time, they were unable to complete my enrolment, as their system was having issues with Centrelink. I have the amount for the deposit in my account, and am eager to begin, but at the moment, can’t proceed.

There are many families and individuals in the same predicaments as above. I wouldn’t have thought that the ability to fund one’s education, have a stable place to live, be able to afford medications and support, and to feel safe, would be requests deemed frivolous. Don’t even get me started on the necessity of having dental work included in Medicare!

Joy wasn’t found in last night’s budget. I hold onto the miracle that is found within the human spirit, which can somehow survive setbacks and knock-backs and frustrating delays. I hold dear the resilience contained in a battle-weary person, who gets up each day and dares to hope.

Hope


How do we survive what life throws at us? It is miraculous, indeed, that a broken heart keeps beating. Hope is found in the friend who has retreated- missing from all social media-and  whom reappears after their dark night of the soul. It is the dawn we thought we may not see, and waking after major surgery that we were warned may kill us. It is the rescinding and rebuttal of bottles of booze and cigarettes after being warned of the inevitability of an early grave. It is continuing in the face of grief, and the exercise we partake in, despite wanting to stay in bed. It is a mindset that urges us to keep going, and keep alive, despite a downward turn in fortunes. Hope has no need for evidence, it is timeless and often without basis in facts. It stands alone, without anything to cling to, as ephemeral as a cloud, and as mighty as a gladiator. I have strolled through areas of Australian bush, which had been decimated by fire. Hope is found in the green shoots and new foliage on charred trees and scrub. You only need a small area which is undamaged to cultivate new life, it turns out. img_1550

You can have it all, and then lose it all. Enjoy today whilst it is here. The one thing that you cannot lose is yourself, a fine purpose-built instrument ripe for remodelling. Soaring above the decimation and loss is a feeling of hope; that you have it in you to rebuild. The hour is not too late, nor are you too old. We are somehow driven to grow in mud and rise from the ashes, again and again. Hold onto hope, no matter what circumstance you’re in.

Stay…


Last week, Sydney lost a talented chef to suicide.  Bronzed and seemingly healthy, his smile could light up our city. There was much commentary after the news hit social media, but what pierced through the rhetoric was the notion that when alone, he’d fallen into a worm hole, and hadn’t the resources to stave off the impulse his depression looped into. These holes seem to have no end, and can be hard to extricate oneself from.

I know a person who was close to succumbing, in January, 2019. There are as many pathways into anxiety and depression as there are people in the world. Hers wasn’t initially caused by a chemical imbalance, rather circumstances conspiring against her. It were as though her mind were a strudel, with layers of pastry piled on top of one other. The apple promised sweetness, and she held the layers of stress in her hands, waiting to reach the filling. All it took was another day of calamity- not of her making- to break her resolve. Heart beating wildly, hands shaking and a mind unable to see a way out, she reached for the phone. Once a playdate for her child had been arranged, and she was alone, her mind led her onto a dark stage. There was no audience, nor were there lights. There were no solutions here.

She had done all that she could to make life better, more secure, and she couldn’t see her way clear. All of a sudden, a beam of light hit the centre of her brain, insisting that she send a text. She asked what her friend was up to, and if she may join her. “Of course!” came the enthusiastic response. They drove to the beach, singing along to the radio. She made herself focus on all the beauty surrounding her. The Bird Of Paradise, alongside hibiscus, in reds and oranges,  dotting the landscape. She closed her eyes and felt the salt air caressing her skin. Her bottle of chilled water felt good as it hit her neck, the Cheezels they had bought, decorating her fingers like rings. She had gone against her wildest impulse, which was to not experience anything at all. It had frightened her, how her brain insisted that the stressors couldn’t be balanced against beauty.

They were gone for hours, away from home and everyday life. She was dropped back revived, just in time to make calls and forge a path through the thorny brackets of which she had been stuck. The next morning, she woke at dawn, and saw something similar to this.

Morning light and lorikeets greeted the new day, alongside the help needed to extricate herself from overwhelming concerns. Within a month, she had begun a new medication. It was a small dose, but enough to chase away the anxiety she had been battling alone, without armour. She could now see her way clear, and a path opened up in front of her. Happiness returned, and she started to engage with the world again. To her amazement, she had been missed. Depression in an active state is renowned for the crap it feeds us. Looking back, she shudders at what she would have missed, in just a couple of weeks. The mundane joy of a cool change after stifling heat, through to her child’s laughter.

She hadn’t the language in her distressed state to tell her friend what the matter was, nor what she needed, other than to be with someone. Perhaps that is all one needs to do; to reach out and say that you need company, even accompanying them as they go about their errands. Anything to not be in alone, battling a pocket of despair by yourself. A wormhole is a tunnel with two ends. Perhaps reaching out to those on the periphery is a way of ensuring we make it back to life. Look out for those self-isolating or who seem to be going through changes. Our psyche can be as fragile as a butterfly wing, and whilst it is tempting to cease all that has ever given us joy, it is imperative that we don’t. The lies our minds feed us tends to be done in secret and when alone.  You are too precious, and life has too much beauty left to unfurl. Let today mark the beginning of us all leaving our particular pockets of despair. If you survived today because you decided to go grocery shopping with a friend, rather than stay by yourself, then that is a miracle indeed. Whatever it takes to keep you alive, do it.

Grief and the Seasons


I spoke to a friend on the matter of grief, and she said something profound. She mentioned that those grieving would be best to give themselves a year before making huge changes. “They have to endure the four seasons…when you think about it, each season contains first’s. There are birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas. The list of first experiences without their loved one is excruciating. Enduring those four seasons will take all the strength in them.”

 

Grief can be felt in a myriad of ways. There can be grief for what was left unsaid, and for what was spoken in haste. It can present as regret for what never was and for what had been. The relationship you wished you had, compared to the one you experienced. The pain of an empty chair at your dining table, or felt after reaching for the phone to call. It can present as it’s twin, anger. You may be so bloody angry at everything, not least what others concern themselves with. Don’t they know that an angel just died?

Grief is complex; one moment you may feel fine, and the next be in the foetal position on the floor. It is not a linear journey, rather it is a mass of swirly pathways. Grief is messy, it’s trajectory launching you into a future wherein you have to leave the fallen behind. You take only the memories, and the love, with you. I imagine butterflies, dragonflies and fireflies escorting the bereaved as they rest in a cave. The walls perhaps lined with glow worms as they sit and weep. It can be a lonely journey, and certainly a puzzling trip, for which nobody wants a ticket.

Piercing through the hymns, the eulogies, the visual displays and the flowers, is the love you hold in your heart and the promise of what might have been. It sears through the ICU monitors, silencing the alarms and machines. At the end of it all, we leave with only love; that which we gave and accepted in turn. If you can endure the first four seasons of bereavement,  hope and love wait on the other side.

 

Financial Abuse


I recently met up with a friend whose partner (in secret), had racked up substantial debts, which they were repaying at $550 per week. If you asked her partner what he’d bought, I don’t believe he would be able to tell you, such was the lack of value placed on the items. It has added up to a huge chunk out of their wages. Financial abuse is insidious, tied in with emotional and mental abuse, and at it’s heart, control.  Ultimately, living with someone whose goals aren’t aligned with yours, is unworkable. Being lied to, having money taken out of your account and being forced to withdraw what you have saved in order to live, is more common than most people think. It consists of regularly making up excuses when you can’t afford to go out,  whilst trying to keep the household running and school supplies bought. It is incredibly stressful.

I have seen and heard it all in my time. I have seen people I love left with nothing after sacrificing everything, in order to pay off debts that aren’t even theirs.  I have seen people trapped by ill health and other issues, rendering it harder to leave. I have seen people promised money over the Christmas period, or a partner swearing that they would pay their share, and then not do so. I have seen it all, and wept with those on the receiving end.

I have written an ebook about financial, emotional and mental abuse, available on Amazon. It is such an important subject, and my main goal was to help people feel less alone. The fact that you are still here and fighting for yourself and any children you may have is extraordinary! It takes such a massive effort (and toll), when you are locked out of your own life; financial matters and fines, debts and betrayal hidden from you. If this is you, keep going, please. I have seen lives rebuilt after suffering these particular traumas. I have seen a woman five years down the road- and now financially secure-cradling the hands of another, promising that they too shall get through it. I believe her.

417k77ugrel

Get your copy here.

The Consolation of Shopping


I once knew an elderly gent whose house was filled with clutter. The living room had no available seats, and he had given up using his mahogany dining table. There was no room for cutlery, let alone plates. I have seen shipping containers filled with items which still had their tags attached, never used. I have seen sheds built in yards to house the surplus of a person’s shopping addiction. I have come to understand the motive behind chaotic shopping patterns.

The $100 shoes that were on sale, in a style they would never wear, in a size that doesn’t fit, represents the love they never received. It is also symbolic of ill-fitting relationships.

The designer dress is symbolic of needing a lift after a failed attempt on IVF. Having the news broken over the phone, seeing prams and pregnant women everywhere is enough to drive a woman into the closest store.

The new furniture, smart TV and rugs represent the sinking feeling that something is not quite right within a cultivated life.

The bookshelves crammed with ornaments is symbolic of the urge to hold onto the past and it’s people, even though it is time to let go.

The broken pots and detritus in the garden is symbolic of a life out of control. They looked so inviting at the garden centre! You had grand plans to make an entertaining area in the yard, but realised that everyone in your family flits in and out, and the conversations you crave aren’t to be had. Those items symbolise abandoned dreams. It is akin to telling yourself that you aren’t worth the effort and time, nor is it worth doing for your sole enjoyment.

Perhaps, people that are content in life don’t shop excessively. The items that they buy are needed, and valued. They use everything that they buy, and don’t purchase gifts to win favour. A life that is in balance doesn’t swing like a pendulum.

The endorphin kick one feels at the shops is as forgotten as the identical shorts and shirts at the back of the wardrobe once home. The sinking feeling when one surveys the damage held on receipts is not worth the fleeting rush to the brain’s reward centres.

This stuff can’t make up for the cruelty inflicted on you. It is no substitute for inclusion, nor love. It can’t make pain disappear, or a longed-for child appear. It won’t make people love you more, and it can’t vanquish illness.

I have had the sad task of clearing out several homes of friends when they died. I have seen their bedrooms crammed with makeup and skincare, shoes and clothes, and gifts hidden away in case they are needed one day. Everything still had the prices attached. I have seen beds used as repositories for shopping bags, thrown into the room as though they were a live stick of dynamite, ready to explode. I have felt desperately sad as I surveyed the magazines and kitchenware, piled high in living rooms. Not wanted nor needed, nor ever used. I have understood that such scenes have been their attempt to stockpile in case they meet with a cruel winter. It happened once, and it can happen again. This stuff is their insurance policy. Mindlessly purchased, they felt the lovely flutter in their tummies, their brain beliving that this purchase will make their life better. Heck, it will make them better. It will make them care less that their husband is a philanderer, their family is a hot mess and that they are depressed. It will eradicate all of it. The shopping culture lies. It manipulates us, deliberately and often. It knows what it’s doing, down to the displays, the lighting, the music, the colours and scents. It knows how we think, the holes we try to fill and what we are trying to make up for.

Here’s how you can beat the horrid high and low during this Christmas season.

  • Make a budget and stick to it!
  • Make a list of those whom you want to buy for, and decide what you want to gift and how much you can spend beforehand.
  • Check in with yourself before leaving home. Buying stuff is no consolation for feeling lonely and sad. Make sure anything that you purchase is for the right reasons.
  • Eat before you leave home, and carry a water bottle. That horrendous disorientated feeling brought on by shopping centres is made worse by hunger and dehydration!
  • Check in any rewards points you have accrued throughout the year. These can be used for groceries or you can opt to donate them to a charity.
  • Declutter your home. The stuff that makes you depressed has to go. The clothes you have held onto but never worn, the kitchen gadgets in boxes and books you have yet to read, need to be donated or sold. No good comes from a home without sufficient room for energy to circulate.
  • Give experiences, whether that be movie tickets, a voucher to dinner in the New Year or babysitting services. Experiences last longer than stuff.
  • You have nothing to prove to anyone. You are enough, just as you are. Put down that item you can’t afford, and bake something for your friend instead.
  • Call your friends and organise catch-ups. Go on picnics or have a coffee together. People need you, not stuff.
  • Shop local! Support your local farmers markets and shops. These people are your neighbours and possibly your friends.

I remember in living colour, the sadness I felt as I surveyed dusty shelves piled high with items still in their original packets. The hope that this product would be a game-changer had long perished, and all that was left was a prison built of  discarded aspirations for a better life. Sit with pain, befriend and understand it. Shopping won’t help what needs fixing. Self-love can.

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

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.

img_8538

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.

img_7770

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.