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.

Julie

I shall never forget the day that I met you, five years ago. I had lunched with a friend, and then we’d travelled to her son’s primary school to pick up the boys on Sydney’s North Shore. I was homeschooling my daughter, and was unaccustomed to the chaos of school pickup. We walked into the schoolyard with a plethora of parents in business suits. My free-spirited daughter broke away, just as the school bell rang, and decided to climb a splendid gum tree in the school grounds. The next thing I knew, a woman was shrieking that my nine year old girl was stuck up a tree and was going to fall! A teacher ran over and told my girl to come down this instant! She said she would guide her down. My daughter had only climbed to the first branch, and said “okay,” and hopped down of her own accord, which was met with swooning. I was aghast, and whispered that it may be a good idea for her to sit quietly, whilst we waited for the boys, since tree climbing was not encouraged. Chatting to my friend, I looked around and saw a lady approaching. She had seen my daughter leap from the tree and smiled. Julie was in her thirties, and had what could only be termed a double aura. There seemed to be a circle of tragedy around her; grey and dense and full of scars and fear. There was also another ring, this being a chrysalis of hope and strength; cool and driven by a light from within her. Her hair resembled cedar shavings, tumbling to her shoulders and her hazel eyes, diluted from the pills she was obviously taking, were magnificent. We exchanged pleasantries and whilst my friend chatted to a teacher and greeted her boys, Julie sat next to me, and we talked on a much deeper level.

You see, despite only having met a few moments ago, she had recognised a kindred spirit; somebody who had been through a similar hell and lived to tell the tale. Subtly slurring, she got out what had been festering within. Born into privilege, her father was a high-powered figure in the legal profession interstate. He was also a rapist. There was nowhere for her to turn, and every time she told someone, she was shot down. How she survived her childhood, I do not know. She moved to Sydney, and married. He was another high-powered man, who ended up breaking her heart. She was left with nothing after their divorce, and had to rebuild from scratch. Due to her anxiety and depression, she was portrayed as a fragile little bird in court. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I grew to know her, I discovered she was rather, a falcon; flying high above the smaller birds. Others flew on her back, when they grew weary. Her mighty wings just kept on going, sustaining everyone in her sphere.

She would send me the most insightful and encouraging messages, and I looked forward to our meetings. It all abruptly ended, when she sustained a nervous breakdown. She felt she had no choice but to return interstate to live with her family once more. I received word the other day that she is gone from this world, this mighty falcon with curls the colour of cedar wood and sparkling hazel eyes. Some could only see the lady whose power had receded, but she was not a tragic figure. She fought and she told grownups and she held on. She birthed beautiful children and let herself trust a man enough to fall in love and marry. She retrained and did all she could to work and rebuild her life and soul, when it all went awry. She did all she could to smile and play and remain, despite regular nightmares, little sleep, and daily flashbacks.

When you meet a wounded soul, look beyond the timidity, the dazed eyes and the slurred speech. Look beyond the pain. These were borne of what was done to them and have nothing to do with who they actually are. Venturing into the world without family or support, all they have guiding them is a pocketful of stars, and a head filled with dreams. The miracle is, that they are willing to love at all. The miracle is, that they bestowed the love they hadn’t been given. When you think of a fragile bird, cast your mind to what they actually are. A mighty falcon, just like Julie.

Wearing a 100 year old lady’s shoes

Audrey, you don’t wear anything but bed socks and slippers now, so I was gifted several pairs of your shoes. Your shoes are an honour to own. They are much like you; stylish, sturdy, colourful, reliable and comfortable. I can picture your feet slipping into them, after a lifetime of wear. Running your fruit and veg shop, with its hard manual work, doing sums in your head as you do the books. Raising your kids as a single mum, with no partner to bounce ideas off. Taking care of business and taking care of your family. The feet of a legend who took her kids to a Beatles concert, and as a little girl, attended the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Welcoming grandkids in her 90s and friends since time immemorial. Wedgewood blue eyes and snowy hair, soft as fairy floss. You are on the cusp of your 101 birthday. I have big shoes to fill, but I’ll do my utmost to make you proud.

I don’t know where you find your strength

I am amazed by your fortitude, my friend. I have seen what you endure. I have seen the medications lining the bench, the order forms for a litany of tests. I see the isolation; the sense that whilst we can walk alongside you, we can’t comprehend what it feels to be you, experiencing this. I know what you go through, and yet there is something I am at a loss to explain…

Where do you find your strength? I know it waxes and wanes, like the cycles of the moon. That is natural, when under extreme pressure. Diamonds are only created through pressure, and you, my darling, are certainly a diamond. Not a cubic zirconia; the real thing. Have you ever seen a black opal? The most expensive of opals, with the most intense colours. The ground cracks over time, allowing soluble silica to flow deep into the ground and this is where the black opal forms, aged with layers of sediment, a bit like life. Some people complain and whine about the most pedestrian of things. Not you; that was never you.

I see the joy your pets bring with their delightful antics. The humour found in shared ‘in-jokes’ with your kids. I see how you relish a hug, a gift, a friend. Certain music both enthrals and moves you to tears. I remember when Haighs chocolate opened a store in Sydney. You were as excited as a child, and caught me up in your enthusiasm. You have never complained, when I’ve taken you to avant grade festivals. Remember the New York taxi driver, who espoused his wisdom, after you slid into the back seat of the cab? Remember when the kids broke away from us as toddlers and we found them nearby on a film set, where they were being fed by the caterers, their plump little hands stuffed with food? I have photographic evidence of all our misadventures with our mates. Who can forget the time we graced Canberra with our presence?

I promise you, more fun is to be had. There will be more laughter. Always remember that you are both a black opal and diamond. Borne from pressure and cracking, exploding into an exquisite array of colours and facets. After further pondering, I know where you find your strength. It was always there, within you.

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.

Give Yourself a Break

If 2020 was a year of shut-down, 2021 has proven to be the year of overwhelm, judging by what people are expressing out there. How do you ensure self-care, when you are assailed by a mighty to-do list, each and every day? I have had the privilege lately, of bearing witness to three incredible women, who have taken health challenges by the horns, and are fighting like hell. Learning to walk again, learning to live anew and learning to wait for answers. They are true heroines. They have seen their bodies broken down and rebuilt. They get up and face each day with courage.

I am working, studying; juggling. Trying to fit everything in that I need to do to build a future for myself and my daughter. I sometimes come home, and collapse into bed without dinner, my spine aching so much that I simply cannot move. My studies alone entail at least 20 hours commitment each week. I had to laugh the other day. I received a curt email, saying that as I’d missed a message, requesting a self-tape to be sent immediately, I was going to be ‘released’ from this particular representation. I had been at work, and couldn’t have done it in time. I was given zero notice. Ordinarily, I would have felt terrible, castigating myself for the missed opportunity. This time, I laughed. Even if I stayed awake 24 hours a day, I still wouldn’t get through that day’s messages and notifications on various social media. It just isn’t possible. I can only do what I can do. The same applies to you.

My day’s are usually broken up as follows:

  • Feeding pets and getting ready for the day, when I rise at 4.30am
  • Quick breakfast, then either travelling to work or starting the day’s studies or work from home
  • Fitting in a quick lunch
  • Scanning emails and messages and replying to as many as I can
  • Doctor appointments and necessary exercise to strengthen my bones
  • Grocery shopping, laundry and cleaning the house
  • Paying bills and organising my calendar
  • A walk in the evening, before a quick dinner
  • Continue to work/study until around 9pm (sometimes later)

Rinse, recycle and repeat, day after day.

I am trying to give myself one day off a week (I’m trying). The correspondence outlaid in the email I received, made my heart thud wildly, before I acknowledged the absurdity of the request. I am only one person. I can’t be ‘on’ 24/7, although heaven knows, I have tried. Witnessing my friend’s health battles has been a wake-up. Their lives have contracted in and all that matters at the moment, is their healing. The lists and demands that we think are so important fade, like old, useless receipts we keep in our wallets for reasons unknown. You can’t even decipher the words on the paper anymore. How do you keep going, particularly when you are the sole breadwinner and have health battles? Here are my tips:

  1. Make a bullet list of what needs to be done, but put the tasks into categories. What has to be done today? What won’t matter if you put it off? What needs to be done by the end of the week? Focus on what is most pressing. I find it thrilling, to highlight what has been accomplished from the list at day’s end.
  2. Get up and move around every hour, on the hour. Make yourself a pot of tea or coffee
  3. Ensure you stop for lunch!
  4. Go for a walk at the end of the day. It sets a demarcation line between work and leisure time
  5. Ensure you are hydrated
  6. Post-it notes are my best friend and ensure I can sleep soundly, knowing I have put a pressing task onto paper for the day ahead
  7. Break tasks into 45 minute increments. I find it helps keep me focused
  8. I find rosemary and peppermint oils help to refresh my brain
  9. Be kind to yourself. It seems obvious, but often, it’s the one thing we forget to do
  10. Ensure you ‘star’ or otherwise highlight contacts and emails you don’t want to miss, in amongst the masses you receive each day

I am endeavouring to see friends I haven’t seen for a long time. Time gets away, doesn’t it, and in the pandemic, it was hard to see people we love. Yesterday, I saw my friend, who happens to be a superb florist. We chatted to the glorious customers who frequent her shop, and I literally lost track of time. I had forgotten what that felt like, to be able to stop and be still awhile.

I also saw friends I hadn’t managed to see in over a year. I almost cried when I spotted them; the beauty of their faces, the familiarity of their voices. People who have travelled through life and its many twists and turns with me. I am trying to snatch time back, anyway I can. I want to make my daughter proud; by witnessing me achieve everything I set out to provide for us. I want my friends to know I love them, by creating pockets of time, especially for them. I want to get the balance right. I am not there yet, but am on my way. Life is so very precious; alternately, fine as a silver thread and dense as tar, often in the same day. I think the most desired of all things, is time. Let’s make the most of it.

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…