Agoraphobia, Walking and Sunshine

I was stalked as a teen. Female police officers took to patrolling my street each day, as the danger was ever-present. My world contracted in, to the point where going to the letterbox or even sitting in my backyard, felt beyond imagining. I was a hermit for a very long time and it was only the arrival of my daughter that saw me venture out. It was accomplished in little bite-sized steps, over a long period. The pandemic arrived and suddenly, life contracted in again, not just for me, but for many people suffering anxiety, depression and those who have suffered agoraphobia at some stage in their lives. Working from home, there have been weeks when I haven’t seen a single person, other than my daughter. You think you’re chugging along nicely, until you’re not. Being in constant pain, isolated at home, a background of trauma and absorbing every aspect of what’s been happening in our world, is a recipe for poor mental health.

Why is it, that the very activities you need to maintain, are given the least precedence? They’re the first things to go, when you get busy and the last activities you resume. Convincing yourself that you don’t have time, what with work, study, looking after the house and kids… Poor mental health skulks up on you. The first signs may be insomnia, or being able to go to sleep, but waking abruptly a few hours later. It can be lethargy, lack of enthusiasm, loneliness (though not having the energy to reach out), physical aches and pains, agitation, feeling restless and fidgety and not being able to think clearly. It may present as feeling the need to up your caffeine and alcohol intake. Inside what was once your sanctuary, it now feels like a cone of silence and the mind starts playing tricks on you. You feel as though you don’t matter and that nobody wants to see you. You may feel invisible and doubt your very existence (as well as importance). Social media may add to the distress. The untruths take hold and have 24 hours each and every day to hold you captive.

It’s spring in Sydney and the weather looks delightful, as you cast a cursory glance through a window. You vow to get out there, ‘as soon as you can,’ yet somehow, the day is chewed up and before long, night falls. You slumber, then prepare to do it all over again. Hours stretch into days, stretch into weeks. Depression doesn’t come to your door, announcing itself. It creeps through the back gate, under cover, calling itself many other things. Once I had identified what was actually going on, I made adjustments; life-saving alterations. I made myself get out of the house for an hour each day, every day. It didn’t matter what I had to do, I made time. If I had any other illness, I would ensure that I maintained my health and did whatever was needed; why are our brains so different? I had to see walking as the medicine it was. On Monday, I walked with a friend. We bought coffee and walked our neighbourhood for miles. We talked to people we met, admired gardens and visited hidden areas of loveliness. This led to other walks; some early morning or at dusk. Now, it isn’t negotiable. It’s for pain management, to lower anxiety and to help me sleep better. It is to help me manage my life and stressors.This is why I am taking part in the following: Make a Move for Mental Health. Dedicate 15, 30 or 60 minutes to improving your wellbeing every day throughout October. You can challenge yourself with physical activities like running, or with self-care activities like meditation; either way you’ll be doing something positive to help young people and yourself.

1. Sign Up (It’s Free)

2. Set Your Goal. It could be 15, 30 or 60 minutes a day.

3. Spread the Word and maybe, a few people may sponsor you!

4. Throughout October, make it a non-negotiable!

5. Log in Daily to record your mental health minutes and keep yourself accountable.

Sign up at Make A Move

Lavender and Feeling Impotent

Have we tumbled into a dystopian novel, with the direst of storylines? Global warming and it’s inevitable effects, the pandemic and the horror of what is happening in Afghanistan. The Afghan people are some of the most gracious on earth. How can you not weep, upon seeing the footage of people, clinging to the exterior of planes? Where is our government, and what the hell are they doing? The sound of crickets is deafening.

We suffered the loss of loved ones and we’ve all suffered vicarious trauma, from the news, friend’s suffering ill health and job insecurity/unemployment and seeing beloved local businesses shutting their shops permanently, this current lockdown, too much to bear. What the hell do with we with all the pain? It’s easy to feel impotent in the face of it all…

I found myself unable to walk, when I awoke Monday of last week. Too many hours at my desk saw my spine complain. First there was tingling between my shoulder blades, which gradually turned into electric shocks. The pain was extraordinary. I saw my pain doctor and we are trialling a new medication. I am meant to go get a new MRI, but I won’t just yet. No good can come of it and so I shall muddle through. The combination of pain and anxiety saw sleep dry up, until I was only getting a few hours. I was delighted to come across a little box of promises at my chemist, which promised a deep, restful slumber and relief from nervous tension. I popped one as soon as I got home and prepared dinner. Sitting with my daughter at the table, I began to belch violently and the taste of lavender rose in my throat. My daughter looked at me with alarm, whilst I tried to figure out what was going on. Reaching for the box, I pulled out the information sheet and saw that listed as side effects, were indigestion/belching and lavender-fuelled reflux. The capsules were 100% lavender oil! Ironically, I didn’t sleep at all that night, because I was too busy burping! I should really read the instructions, before I take anything in future!

Speaking of lavender, before the capsule incident, I was really getting into it. Here are two of my favourite ways to benefit from lavender essential oil, without swallowing it! These recipes are cheap and easy to follow. Lavender essential oil can be found in the toiletry aisle at the supermarket.

Lavender Play Dough

1 Cup plain flour

1/2 cup salt

1/2 cup cold water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 drops blue food colouring and 3 drops red food colouring (if you have any handy)

10 drops lavender essential oil

Mix together, adding more flour if sticky

Store in an airtight container and play with it as needed, for stress relief.

Bath Bombs

1/4 Cup Bicarb Soda

1 tablespoon cornflour

1 1/2 tablespoons citric acid

10 drops lavender essential oil

3 drops food colouring

Silicone moulds (as used in baking)

Spray bottle

Mix dry ingredients and then spray with water, being careful not to make the mix too damp. Spray and mix several times and then put into the moulds. Allow to dry, then transfer to container. Not only can these be used in the bath, but can also be put in the toilet to clean; in the laundry when hand-washing, or in saucepans/frypans that have baked-on food.

Yesterday, I had to go into the local supermarket. Armed with my list, I just wanted to grab what I needed and get the heck out. In the first aisle, I encountered a woman, talking loudly on her phone. Her trolley blocked the whole lane and all I could do was wait for her to move it. In the second aisle, she not only did the same, but she came so close to me, that I could feel her breath, even though she was wearing a paper mask. She was still talking loudly, a bank of people behind me, waiting for her to move. She obviously hadn’t gotten the memo about social distancing, as she reached over me to grab something off the shelf. By the third aisle, I’d had enough of her nonsense, and pushed my trolley through a gap. She wasn’t having that, so attempted to round the corner to the fourth aisle, at the same time as me. We narrowly avoided colliding, as she stared at me daggers. It takes a bit for me to blow a fuse, but I was dreadfully close. I was in a mood by the time I got to the checkout. The man waiting behind was smiling underneath his mask; I could tell by the creases around his eyes. He seemed to be a pleasant character. Behind him, there was a fellow who had Downs Syndrome and another man. They were hugging and it warmed my heart, even as the unpleasant woman shot me a glacial look from the next checkout. The man behind me insisted that the pair behind him, go in front. Conversations were had and I felt all the rage run out of my feet. It was then that I noticed the lady serving me. “How are you doing?” I asked. “You are doing such a good job, in what I imagine is a really stressful situation.” She thanked me for asking and opened up. She told me how many times she’d been abused that day and how understaffed they were. She said that the supermarket had never been this busy, in all the years she’d worked there. Five strangers connected, even socially distanced and from behind masks. I read today, that the average Australian performs 2 good deeds a day. I will hold onto that, and say ‘bah’ to the self-centred people. I think that who you were before all this strife, has been magnified during it. The lockdown has presented us with the community-minded and the self-involved. Thank goodness for the former!

What to do with the feelings of impotence? It can be soul-destroying, to witness all the agony happening in our world; feeling as though you can’t do anything as a little person. The supermarket connection made me realise that we must start locally.

To advocate for the Afghani people:

To advocate for planet earth:

There is plenty you can do to help your community, also.

  • Support local businesses as much as you can. Order online from them, get takeaway etc.
  • Check in with friends and family regularly. You may be surprised by who is struggling.
  • Offer to drop supplies off to an elderly neighbour’s door
  • Check out the local community page on Facebook and see if anyone needs assistance with anything. People regularly offer help and ask for it.
  • Arrange online meet-ups. You could have a theme, watch a movie together, or play trivia.

This is a discombobulating time. You don’t have to have it all figured out, nor do you need to give yourself indigestion. All you need do is care. Start with your little patch of the world and work your way out.

Sydney Lockdown. Winter 2021

Winter began in Sydney as a bewildering mixture of pillows of smoke coming from fireplaces, lined coats and gloves, alongside sunshine and days that would be considered summertime, elsewhere in the world. Businesses and households had ramped up cleaning and hygiene measures, but winter’s icy fingers beckoned a new level of danger. People would be inside more often, in hermetically sealed environments, both at work and within homes, restaurants and everywhere else. Due to a debacle of a vaccine rollout, very few of our population were in this category, particularly when Astra Zeneca had been deemed out of bounds to segments of the population. It was a perfect storm, waiting to happen. The alarm was raised with the announcement of a ‘soft’ lockdown, on the Saturday before winter school holidays were to begin. My daughter had gone to the supermarket to get some bread, when this announcement came through. I rang her and she explained that she hadn’t been able to enter the store, and there were no trolleys left. People were snaked around the corner and a lady warned her not to go in, as there was a punch-up taking place! “That explains it,” she said. My daughter and her friends accepted the lockdown, abandoning scheduled classes, parties and outings. We were still able to walk and enjoy those lovely sunny days, albeit masked up. Even so, a sense of unease grew and it was disconcerting (and discombobulating), to see all the shops open, when so much had been made to close. My daughter queried this and I honestly didn’t have an answer for her. I felt for all the casual staff, who had to come to work and deal with the general public, despite their unease. Clarity around the issue would have been better for everyone.

At the end of the second week of school holidays, an extension of lockdown was announced, alongside burgeoning numbers of people who had contracted the Delta variety of Covid. Teenagers were in ICU and on respirators. Last weekend, the advice took on a whole new level of urgency and the lockdown grew more stringent. There is a cognitive dissonance between our lovely warm days and the icy tendrils of this variant, weaving it’s way though communities and people’s lives. I attended an online mental health workshop the other day and they said that a lot of people are finding solace in reminiscing. They are looking at old videos and flicking through photo albums. They are listening to music from their youth and streaming shows they used to enjoy. The past at least, is predictable and one knows the characters and what happens next. There is comfort in that knowing. As for the hoarding of toilet paper? That is ‘iceberg behaviour,’ meaning that underneath that visible tip, there is a whole lot of fear of the unknown. Some people feel like they are masters of their universe, being at least able to control this necessary portion of life. As for the walks? They continue. Here is a selection of pics from the past fortnight.

Today, I went for a walk and an elderly gent was in his front garden. I wanted to be human. I wanted to take off my mask and go chat to him. Distancing is anathema to who we are as human beings. I keep reminding myself that there is no greater act of love at the moment, but to go against interacting with community. This is serious, and we know that the stakes are high.

In the last five days, two women who are dear to me have lost their husbands; their grief compounded by these lockdowns, in two differing states. I would be with them in a heartbeat, if only I could. I wept for them and lit candles, hoping with all my heart that they could feel the love, encircling them. Before this outbreak, I bought a Frida Kahlo puzzle. It was on sale, though I only bought it because it was Frida. I have never completed a puzzle (or had the inclination to), in my life! Last night, I sat at my dining table, 500 pieces jumbled into a messy pile. Needing to conquer something at this uncertain time, I determined to bloody-well put her together, no matter how long it took. I am meant to move around frequently, as sitting causes immense pain to my spine. I tell you, I didn’t move from position all night, until the final piece was in place, shortly before midnight. There was something gratifying about completing a picture, even as everything else is uncertain. People are in precarious situations all around; within their homes, lives and jobs. It fuelled me, conquering my bargain basement puzzle. I will frame it, to remind me of the importance of touchstones in our lives.

Spoons

All the dreadful diagnosis and radiology reports are stored somewhere deep in the recesses of my office. The scripts are filled and the date when new ones will be required have been diarised. Some days, the pain can be a reasonable 6/10. You need to work; you want to work. You feel okay, until you’re not. Trying to engage with people whilst sharp pieces of bone are lodged in your spinal canal for all eternity is tiresome. You have to rise above; transcend it. You need to focus more; work harder than others might.

I had a friend demonstrate a mop that has a receptacle for a eucalyptus oil and vinegar solution, and can be used on tiles and floorboards. You don’t need to lug a bucket of sudsy water from room to room! The knowledge of this excited me (more than is natural), and I was a convert after trying it out. My Friday night was spent sourcing this wondrous mop. When you are in constant pain, it’s the little things that mean a great deal. Anything that gives one comfort, is a beautiful thing.

Hiding within the liniments and machines, the Lyrica and other meds, is the same person you were before. You have the same ideals, the same dreams and the same goals. The mind is determined, but the body can sometimes falter. I had to cancel plans on the weekend. I was loathe to disappoint two young people and some amazing adults, and left it until I had to face the inevitable. I couldn’t carry on. What happened next filled my heart. I was encased in love. These beautiful people understood, completely and entirely, and checked up on me to ensure I had everything I needed. The relief was palpable. When the spoons allotted for the day are gone, they are gone.

Neurological and orthopaedic pain can be merciless, wiping you of time, energy and peace. It helps to consider the tides, determined by the moon’s gravitational pull. Sometimes, you experience high tide, where you can do everything your calendar dictates. Sometimes, you are pulled into yourself. Both have their time and place. Being able to adapt to what the moon is dictating, is necessary. If I have learnt anything in the past year, in the midst of the pandemic, is that nothing is set in concrete. Pain and health, security and insecurity can besiege a life, despite what we command. It is best to honour our bodies.

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.