Getting through Hard Times


If you had told me as a teen that I would live to the grand age of which I find myself, I would have laughed. I would not have believed you for a moment. I had been clinically dead, in coma’s, had repeated seizures without regaining consciousness, had my spine shattered, and much more besides. I wanted to die more than I wanted to live most of the time. Those moments when I experienced pure joy were often found in nature, and boy, those times sustained me. I can recall without struggle the moments a bird would land on me from out of nowhere. I recollect the dragonflies and butterflies encircling me near streams. In those moments, I realized that I in fact wanted very much to live… Really live, and not just exist.

As a young adult I faced infertility, health worries, safety concerns, and poverty. I have had my heart broken, been deceived and financially ripped off. I have been humiliated, retraumatized, and faced great pain. When the first wave hits, you don’t know how on earth you are going to survive it. It all seems too much, especially when placed upon an already rocky foundation. Trauma on top of trauma.

I have learnt what helps by learning what doesn’t. Here is my advice for getting through tough times.

  1. Do nothing. That’s right, just breathe. When you receive frightful news or it feels as though your world is breaking apart, just be. Your adrenals will be pumping hard, as will your heart. Your stomach will be churning and your brain will reach for fast responses to the crisis. You may even think of reaching for something to quiet the discomfort. Don’t do anything whilst you are processing the crisis. Breathe deeply, run a bath. Cry, scream or confide in a loved one. The situation isnt going anywhere, so just stop for a moment.
  2. Write it down. Get yourself a notepad and describe what is happening. Pour it all out, and then make a bullet list. List the steps you need to take for resolution. What would help you in your grieving? Time away from everything that is familiar? A support group and counselling? A tribute to the person you mourn? How about financial worries? Maybe write a list of all the businesses you need to contact to explain your situation and organize payment plans. You could apply to AirTasker to accept jobs to bring in extra cash.
  3. Once your list has been finalized, I hope that like me, you feel a sense of empowerment. Now it is time to ask for help, whether that be from friends, charities or professionals. People don’t know what your needs are if you don’t articulate them. You give them a precious gift by allowing them to assist you.
  4. Be extra kind to yourself. You may want to run or sedate yourself with booze or pills. You may want to stop caring for yourself and partaking in all the rituals you usually do. Please don’t. Now is the time for reflection, to sit with your feelings and reach healthy conclusions. Your body is under enough duress without adding to the load. It is time to reach out, open up and if possible, go for walks. Many solutions have been reached in my life by long strolls.
  5. Get all that stress out in a creative way. Whether that be by writing a blog, or keeping a journal, painting or drawing. It all helps.
  6. Imagine your life in a year. What will it look like? One thing is for sure, you won’t be in the same place that you are now. Nothing in this world is stagnant. We keep moving forward, even if we can’t imagine that as possible. If you are horrified at the thought of your life remaining the same by this time next year, it is time to change that which brings you dread. Life and time have a way of changing things, and it is much better to reach conclusions and embark on new beginnings of your own volition.
  7. There have been times in my life when I couldnt imagine surviving the enormous crisis pounding down on me. I couldnt imagine wanting to. By doing the things listed above, I did survive, and have a beautiful life. I weep when I think how my life could have ended before it even began. How I would never have had the opportunity for emotional healing to take place, nor hold my daughter in my arms. I shudder when I think of not having survived to meet the splendid people in my life today, nor see this morning’s sunrise.

I can tell you this with assurety, if I could survive, then so can you. This season of winter won’t last forever, and spring will offer new life and along with it, growth.

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.

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.

 

 

 

10 ways I put myself back together after trauma


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This is me at 17 years of age

I can’t tell you how much the response meant to me after I posted Til it Happens to you. The support was incredible! I was too overcome to respond for a while. People have asked how I got through it all. I suffered status epilepticus at 13, meaning I had continual seizures which couldn’t be controlled. I stopped breathing and was in a coma. It took a long time to recover from this event (it was predicted I wouldn’t). The next year, I met a monster, and was abused. The finale was being thrown off a building at fifteen. My healing has taken over twenty years. There are some things that have helped.

1. I can’t handle violence of any kind. I can’t discuss literature, nor movies, let alone view them, if they are violent. At first, I didn’t want people to think I was fragile. I didn’t want them to see the distress that talking about violence (parcelled as entertainment to the masses), conjured. I would pretend that it wasn’t hurting me. Nowadays, I don’t pretend. I gracefully bow out of conversations and invitations which would bring me into this sphere.

2. I couldn’t leave the house by myself, even to go to the letterbox. It has taken many years and many small trips to gather the strength to go farther afield. I plan ahead, and the apps I have on my phone make my preparations easier. If you are agoraphobic, be kind to yourself. Every little step is a triumph. My major incentive was that I had to get to the IVF clinic early in the morning, and simply had to do it. It made me braver than I actually felt! Now I take my daughter everywhere, and the freedom is liberating!

3. I have had to confront my deepest fears. The ones I was frightened of encountering, as I would surely fall apart. My fears included rejection, loneliness, being left alone and finding out that people weren’t as they appeared. Confronting these fears has been terrifying, and it has hurt. I have uncovered that people I looked up to were abusive behind closed doors. I have been let down and let go, but I have survived. I learnt not to leave myself behind in the process. Comforting myself became of premium importance.

4. People see a smiling, functional adult when you are out and about. They don’t recollect the child kept alive in Intensive Care on a respirator. They came into my life during a different chapter. I know what it took to get to here. The hundreds of hours of physiotherapy, the scores of surgeries… I have to remind myself of my achievements and give myself a quiet pat on the back.

5. Boundaries are a big one for a survivor. I felt as vulnerable as a newborn when I started to make a life for myself. I believed anything anyone said, and believed everyone was a friend. It has taken trial and many errors to come up with boundaries, and to trust my judgement above all else. It was a revelation, to give myself the space to honour my instincts. If a person or situation doesn’t sit right, and makes me uncomfortable, I walk away. It is imperative to do so, as I have a little girl watching me. I need to display good boundaries so she knows that its okay to be in touch with her own. It has sometimes taken me being struck mute in the company of somebody who is toxic, for me to comprehend that my body is trying to protect me by producing physical symptoms. I am free, and thus I get to decide who stays in my life. It may not be anything that anyone is doing. Rather,  they remind me of someone from the past. I still have to honour my discomfort.

6. Things will trigger me on a daily basis, and much of it is out of my control. It could be a song coming on in the supermarket, an aftershave I detect in passing. It might be a conversation, or visiting a friend in a hospital where I had prior surgery. Deep breaths are required, and sometimes a visit to the lady’s restroom to compose myself. I tell myself that my anxiety is a natural reaction, and I am doing fine. If I am with close friends, I will tell them that a memory has come up. If I am not, I will breath deeply, find a focal spot to concentrate on, and reassure myself quietly.

7. I will not drink to excess, nor take tablets to blot out a bad day. Sometimes, the memories hit hard, and along with the massive amount of pain I suffer, it becomes overwhelming. Alcohol is a depressant, and thus, is disastrous as an antidote. I will only have alcohol when in the company of friends at dinner, or as a toast of celebration. It only compounds the depression which inevitably comes after overworked adrenals have crashed. Instead, I go for a walk, swim or am otherwise active. It helps tremendously.

8. I will space out at times. When you hardly sleep, and are in pain, it happens naturally. When you put flashbacks or a panic attack into the mix, let’s say I am sometimes  away with the fairies! Writing (and preparing for a writing task), also lends itself to spacing out. If you holler at me on the street and I don’t respond, that’s why! I am escaping into my inner world, which is expansive and magical. I nearly jump out of my skin when I am walking along and a car beeps me. I remain jittery for the rest of the day. I am hyper vigilant; always scanning a crowd for danger, even when in my own world. It’s quite a combination!

9. You are allowed to say “no” to a request. You are allowed to rest. I keep going until I can’t, and at that point, I retreat for a bit. I have to. It is a revelation, when you learn that you can keep free spaces in the calendar. Even thirty minutes to sip tea and daydream is heavenly. I need time alone to restore and reboot. Time is precious, and I try to use it wisely.

10. My survival has been an odyssey of epic proportions. I tried to run from the memories. I attempted to smother them, as one instinctively does a fire. The smoke streams from underneath the cloth, and then the flames explode forth in a cacophony of rage. It is like burning off disease, only to have damaging adhesions form underneath. Running doesn’t work, and it certainly doesn’t help. Over many years, I have visited my places of trauma. I have wept and I have released at each site. I only did so when I was ready. You have to be ready. My natural instinct is still to run when triggered, but now I have tools. They come in the form of a laptop, a paintbrush, a pastel. They come to me as bird song, my walking shoes, my friends and my music.

When I was a child, I had big dreams. I had a determined spirit and an acute awareness that what was being done to me was not only wrong, but evil. I felt as though a cannon had ripped through my psyche, smattering me into pieces. Over time, I have laid out all the pieces, and put them into place. I am glued, sewn, fused and grafted together. I was once a china doll. Now I am reinforced and can never be broken again. It takes time to heal. You will want to give up. You will consider yourself beyond repair. You will want to run and you will try to escape your own mind. You will want to give up. Please don’t. The joy of finally accessing the tools to help you cope are worth the fight.

Til It Happens To You


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I  had my hair done yesterday by a professional.  I can’t tell you how decadent it felt to have someone wash and style it. I had previously painted my hair in turquoise and aqua tones with fudge, and cut it myself, much to the amusement of the real hairdresser. She was a beautiful young woman, and confessed that she wants to write. I hope I convinced her that she could; that she had many untold stories begging to be shared. She watched my daughter dancing to the music over the salon’s speakers, and quietly wondered what her children would be like. “It is a delicious surprise,” I smiled. “They will bring more joy than you ever anticipated.” After my hair was done, I bid this angel farewell. I had Lady GaGa’s song, Til it Happens to you in my head. I had watched in awe as she performed this extraordinary song at The Oscars. For over twenty years, I have tried to articulate my experience, and damn, this song said it all. I was rendered speechless after hearing it.

I boarded the bus home, and a news bulletin came on the radio. Cardinal Pell had been speaking in Rome, and essentially proclaimed that children weren’t believed back in ‘those days.’ He wasn’t even sure that he knew it was a crime. He took no responsibility. A lady seated near me called out to the bus driver that she was infuriated by his response. The driver grimly nodded and I stroked my little girl’s hair, silent. I wondered how many on that bus had been abused as children.

13 years of age
13 years of age

I recall the dread I felt when I needed to go to the toilet after being repeatedly raped. I would cry and shriek in pain, my kidneys infected and my ureter bleeding. Still, nobody helped. Everybody knew and the good people that were trying to make it stop, were syphoned far away from me. I was urged to drink more water. Day after day after day of being abused. Death seemed a more attractive option than living at the time.

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I was in the clinic with a decorated photographer. She shot for Vogue amongst other publications, and her mother had a title, by order of the Queen. She handed me a beautiful green journal, and urged me to write. “Song lyrics, words and sources of inspiration,” she advised. “One day you will open it, and see how far you have come.”

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Oh yes, I have come a long way. I don’t quite know how I pulled it off. I was pounced on like I was game and he was the hunter. When I was bloodied and damaged, I was discarded. There will be one indelible image seared into my mind when I recall the Royal Commission of 2015-2016. It will be a spouse’s retort to a columnist who had defended Pell. This is Clare Linane’s eloquent response.

It is always there, waiting to be triggered. I tiptoe through life, roaming the vast, wild coastline, visiting Sydney’s Islands and watching theatre. Perennially searching for beauty. It helps. Everyone who has been alone with the horror of abuse as a child can take comfort at the outrage today. They are being held accountable. At last! At last! It doesn’t take away the pain and anger stemming from the years of silence. I hope that in your search for peace, you stumble upon things of beauty too. We shall never be silenced again.

Beyond Blue


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I attended  a fundraiser for Beyond Blue last week. Two women spoke, both with differing pathways into depression. The first speaker had been an ambitious executive, which had seen her reach the top echelon of her company. It meant constant travel, 18 hour days and a huge amount of stress. She had jetted interstate a few weeks after having her baby by caesarean and that was but one instance of her punishing schedule. She knew it was time to revaluate her life when she began to weep in her car on the way to work; when, late at night, she thought of ending her life. She is now uncovering who she is and reconnecting with those she loves. So many people in the audience related to her experience.

The second speaker is a dear friend of mine. She was gravely ill, and in hospital constantly as a young mum. Isolated from her peers, and desperate to get better, she fell into depression. I think we all would have, given her experience. She gathered the right team around her to assist her recovery, and through sheer grit, she climbed out of the darkness. The thought of leaving her family was too much to bear. She had something to hold on for.

The talk reaffirmed that depression can strike in a myriad of ways. It can be caused by unbearable pressure or illness, grief and loss. We can have a life which seems marvellous, and still be depressed. We need to look out for each other, and provide a sprinkling of hope. Whether that be pulling up a friend by asking what the hell they are doing, running around like a whirlwind. What are they attempting to escape? It could be checking in with loved ones to enquire how they are doing.

We are as malleable as clay, and as fragile as the glass on our phones and other gadgets. We are strong beyond measure, like intricate iron lacework on old terraces. We are complicated. Depression doesn’t need to have a reason. It just is. A horrible blight on an otherwise healthy rose. I wish I had the answers. I guess we can help ourselves by regularly checking in with our lives, and banishing (as much as we can), that which causes stress and angst. We can check in with our friends, even if only to send a message of love and appreciation. We need to know we aren’t alone.

Please Hold On


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Last night, I noticed a message from a fellow blogger. She implored our community to send comments of support and love to a woman she didn’t know, but was terribly worried about. I went to the blog she was referring to and saw a photo of a gorgeous young woman. Her dark tendrils of hair and the faraway look in her eyes were reminiscent of a model from a Raphael painting. She wrote about being battle-weary, of finding comfort in the notion that she may quietly slip away. She was saying goodbye. Many people were concerned about this stranger. We need her in this world! Messages of love and support were sent. Please hold on. I have been there, sweetheart. I know how it feels to be done with this world and all the anguish contained therein. I wanted to fall asleep forever. I thought that my life would have to expire in order to slay the demons slowly killing me. I never imagined turning eighteen, let alone thirty! My attempts (plural), were executed with the help of a medical manual and many prescription pills. I had to be resuscitated, was in ICU, and in coma’s. Nobody was more surprised than I to awake. It took a long time to feel thankful that I hadn’t succumbed. Before these attempts, I could see beauty. It was presented outside of my realm. In music, art, other people and their pretty lives. It seemed inaccessible to me. I know what you felt last night, for I have felt it too. You get to a point where you feel like you are committing an act of mercy, by setting those you love free of witnessing the torment you have been facing. Setting them free to start anew. That is scary territory; when you believe that you staying is worse for your loved ones than you leaving. I am so proud of this young woman, for telling us what she was feeling and why. That took enormous courage. We were strangers at the beginning of the night, and by the time dusk had smeared the sky with cinnamon-hued light, we knew you.

Many years have passed since I last woke in Intensive Care, furious that I had been saved. Many years have passed since I felt I had no place in this world. My days are filled with wonder and mirth. I laugh at the silliness of some of my encounters. Others have me weeping in the shower. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss any of it. My daughter growing, having a beloved colony of guinea pigs, meeting friends by the river, riding buses with groomed elderly ladies, seeing in another year… The list goes on and on. There will come a day sweetheart, when you shall be glad that you are here too. Keep talking and please keep writing. Life won’t be filled with darkness forever. It is merely the background for the painter. They shall fill it with stars and swirls of blue. You will be in the foreground, in all your Raphaelite beauty.

Stephen Fry sent this response to a young lady who had reached the end of her ability to cope.

 

Once a Victim, now a Survivor


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I am incredibly touched that Gentle Kindness nominated me for the Once a Victim Now a Survivor Award.

This award is for those who have gone through mental illness of any kind, abuse, trauma, and especially PTSD. Here are the rules:

  1. Thank the blogger that nominated you
  2. Nominate 5 – 10  bloggers to pass the award to
  3. Post  questions for your nominees to answer (you may use the same as these below)
  4. Inform your nominees and post a comment in their blog to let them know they’ve been nominated

Here are the questions for my nominees. Feel free to skip any questions that you want to skip. You can fill in your own questions as you feel appropriate.

1.  In what ways do you feel that blogging can help people with psychological trauma  or mental illness?

Most definitely! It gives you a platform to not only articulate your experience and feelings, but also to educate.

2. How has blogging helped you with your healing, or your personal journey?

Being able to tell my story has been invaluable, and the messages of support I have received are incredibly uplifting. We are a real community! I certainly feel validated.

3. What books, movies, or YouTube channels would you recommend to someone with a similar background to you?

I have written a book called Lived to Tell. It details what occurred, and most importantly, how I came back from hell. It has a happy ending! People placed bets that I wouldn’t live to fifteen, and now I am a grown woman. That still makes me shake my head in wonder! My worst day now pales when compared to my worst days then.

Here are my Nominees:

Remember how to Fly

Bipolar for Life

Heathers Helpers

Lovely Wounded Lady

There are so many others, and you all deserve this award. Please put it up if you would like to.

Graham Moore, thankyou!


The Bully Project
The Bully Project

This picture of an extremely talented man, and the condensed version of his inspired acceptance speech have gone viral. Thankyou, The Bully Project, for framing this heartrending speech. Thankyou for the work that you are doing.

I was thirteen years of age, when I tried to die. I felt different, and had the sinking feeling that I might never find my home in this world, nor a place to belong. I almost succeeded. I look at my life now, and you know what? Every day I feel like kissing the earth over the fact that I am still anchored here. To every kid that doesn’t fit in, and worries that they never will, the good news is that you don’t have to! There is a world out there wanting to embrace you. People needing your gifts and anxious to hear what you have to say. There are ideas waiting to be born, and places to visit. Adventures to be had. To concur with Graham, “I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different and doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you: You do. Stay weird and stay different.”  It has worked for me! Those dark years gave way to a future I could only dream of. People that love and “get” me; a job I love. I am now home schooling my daughter, and seeing her flourish is one of my greatest joys. Thank God I am here. If all you have to hang onto at the moment is an audacious belief in yourself, it’s enough. It’s more than enough. I don’t know where my fellow classmates are now. My path dramatically diverged from theirs. I have found my tribe, and a place to belong. Hold on…You shall too. They are out there waiting for you.

Revising Life.


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Robin Williams has left us. My friends and I are all in tears. Those that bring laughter and joy are usually the ones who battle in private. Acutely aware of not wanting to burden the people around them, they say little of their struggles. They keep busy, running several projects at the one time, spinning the plates with only two hands. Their social life looks full and one witnesses the happy snaps, reassured that your friend or family member has had a week of contentment. Busy, busy, busy. Loathe to stop and sit quietly with their thoughts. Running harder and faster, with a full calendar and mind. A fleeting sinking feeling might appear, and they acknowledge the hidden anger, grief, pain and sadness within their psyche. Who to tell? Everyone is so busy. Everyone has their own stuff. I have to keep it together. I don’t want to have my depression dismissed by platitudes. It wont help. When I was in the midst of grave depression, what did help was acknowledgement. A hug, and sharing a pot of tea. Going for a walk in the sunshine and talking to a friend. It is a tremendously brave thing to do, to share that you are in hell. So very brave.

One cannot keep depression at bay by running harder. You stumble, and the black dog awaits the fall. Maybe we need to have a revision of life, and how we do it. Simplify, go back to basics. Keep Sundays as a day of rest and of connecting. Give more hugs, be attuned to the subtle nuances of our other humans. Pare down the commitments and be with those who fill your heart. You can’t afford to be punctured, to leak as though you were a sieve. This is your life that is at stake. Anything and anyone that compounds the darkness, must go, at least for now. I regret that life is so difficult, and for some, too difficult. I have lost many loved ones to suicide. My heart still aches. If I could have breathed hope into them I would have. If you are suffering depression, and are dismissed by the first person you confide in, keep going. Go gently in this world, beautiful people. Too much activity is just as troubling as none. Balance. These are things I am learning. Robin, we love you. We cherish the legacy you left us. As I sit with my daughter in the years to come to watch your movies, I will tell her about you. Bless you always and ever, and our love to those whom you left on earth.