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.

Real Women


Sooo, I saw the above headline regarding Serena Williams last Sunday. I was so astonished that I doubted what I had just read. I had to read the quote a few times. I winced as though I had just been kicked in the gut. Surely, the media have grown up and are past such archaic statements? Apparently not! I am quite sure Ms Williams would recoil in horror if she saw her words twisted to make a point as to what constitutes being a real woman. I felt for women struggling with infertility when I saw the headline. I was one of those women. I look back on those years as the most achingly painful and lonely of my life. Opinions such as that above seared my soul, and made me doubt my worth on more than one occasion. When I came to the point of IVF being an absolute necessity, it was in some ways a relief. By then I had come to know myself. By then I knew that being a complete and functioning woman had nothing to do with fertility. It had to do with my biology, and the fact that I coped with constant agony courtesy of endometriosis. I was a woman because I had survived the un-survivable. I was a woman because I supported my sisters, both younger and older, providing counsel and comfort. I was a woman because I sought to rise to the status of survivor, and steer my destiny without interference. It would have been unfair to expect that a baby might gift me the label of woman. If anything, having a baby takes your autonomy for a time, and you need to grip on to retain your identity. Thousands of women read that headline, and winced last Sunday. Know that you are already a woman, and having a pregnancy neither heightens nor completes that status. It is time the media steered toward inclusivity and created less blanket statements which end in exclusion.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge


A friend of ours was having a landmark birthday, and his fiancée organized to stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge. After much saving, I booked a room as well. My friends stayed in one of the Giraffe Tree Houses, where they could feed Hummer the Giraffe, whilst we had a glorious cabin outside the uShaka Lodge. It was less expensive, as we had no animals overlooking our room. Some places had bears and lions outside! We left our bags at reception and were ushered into the lodge, where afternoon tea was served. An aquarium featuring sharks and other marine life ran along one of the walls, whilst the other overlooked the Colobus monkeys. As if all this wasnt enough, we were able to become acquainted with pythons and turtles, which the zoo keepers brought out.

The first tour of the private zoo demonstrated how loved all the animals are, with personal stories about each character we met. The beautiful Sun Bear had been rescued from Cambodia by the Free the Bears organization. Many of the animals were rescued from harm or had medical conditions that would see them perish in the wild. The majority of the money made from the Wildlife Lodge goes directly back into conservation. Once the tour was over, we were taken to our rooms, which were heated, our bags waiting for us.

We had a few hours to relax before we were called to dinner. My daughter was taken upstairs in the aquarium for an early meal and tour of the facilities with the other kids, whilst I had canape’s and champagne on the terrace leading to a dining cave. Once inside, we were delighted to be  joined by hyenas on one side (behind glass), and lions on the other. It is up to the animals as to whether they come close during dinner. They arent coerced into doing anything. The four-course meal was splendid, and the champagne flowed!

We had a lovely sleep on the beautiful four-poster bed, but waking up to get to the cave for the 7am breakfast was pretty tortuous! Breakfast consisted of every health food imaginable, such as coconut yoghurt, chia puddings, muesli as well as hot food. At 8am, the second tour started, and we got to get up close with the gorgeous rhino.

After the tour had ended, my daughter and I were driven to our encounter with the meerkats. We sat on a rock, and the darling little creatures (all brothers), immediately scampered over for a closer look. We fed them, and they bounded from one lap to the other, their fur soft and warm. They were an absolute joy to watch and its a memory we will treasure forever.

Our stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge ended all too quickly, but it is a time our friends and I will always cherish.

 

Bad News, Strength, Kindness and Saying Yes


Two years ago, I met a lovely lady from England. Her voice redolent with a gentle lilt, her energy soft and assuring. We talked briefly, and then I didn’t see her again. Last school holidays, she organized a picnic, sending out an open invitation. I took my daughter, and we had the best time! We determined to not leave it two years until the next meet-up.

I became ill last week, and couldn’t lift my head from my pillow. My persistent cough caused excruciating back pain. In the middle of the sickness, I found out an old friend had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. This lady had cheered me on through IVF, held my newborn in her arms, and had been by my side throughout the last fifteen years. She and her husband squeezed the marrow out of life; out every day, travelling around Australia and the world. Taking an interest in everything and everyone they encountered. Still reeling from the shock of the news, there was a knock on the front door. There stood the English lady, a meal in hand. She had found out my address, and made me a vegetarian meal to boost my system. Her kindness and timing were perfect. As I ate a bowl of her stew and dumplings infused with sprigs of thyme and spices, I could feel nutrition flooding every cell in my body. I could feel the kindness behind her gift. I have a mild case of pneumonia, an occupational hazard with my spinal injuries, and the way my spine curves. I need to get better so I can go see my old friend; so I can also prepare wholesome meals  for those that need them.

Today is the anniversary of my fall. There is no guide-book as to how one is meant to feel, nor commemorate the occasion. Anger, sorrow, lamentation, joy and utter gratitude feature heavily. Every year is different. I have gone back to the building, I have gone on long walks or to the movies. Last year, my daughter and I attended the Helpmann Awards. This year, I am weakened by my lungs, coughing and feeling a little woozy. I feel better than yesterday though. In the months I spent in hospital, I assured myself that each day would be an improvement on what came before, and it was. Today is an improvement on yesterday. I got dressed, and am taking my daughter to an appointment in the city. I shall probably get us dinner, and order a cheeky Cab Sav. The night of my fall, I hadn’t eaten for days, and craved fluid. I was frozen, laying on the ground, my blood splayed around me. I craved food, fluid, and warmth. Today, I had all three. Tonight, as I slip into my bed, I will give thanks that I am here. I will give thanks for old friends that extract the marrow out of life and English friends who make me the vegetarian equivalent of chicken soup for my soul. Life is a strange and precious gift.

 

The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever!


My daughter and I and some dear friends went to Sydney Park last Saturday to pay homage to Kate Bush, whilst at the same time, denouncing domestic violence. I used to listen to Wuthering Heights as a young girl, living under the oppressive understanding that a violent and possessive man would be deciding when my life would end in the near future. I didn’t have to imagine him telling me that I was ‘going to lose the fight,’ nor have ‘bad dreams in the night.’ He told me routinely, and I indeed had bad dreams. I imagined coming back dressed in red, banging on the window, trying to get somebody (anybody), to hear me and welcome me in. Never in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned joining so many others, dressed in red, dancing to this song so many years later! It was a powerful remembrance of how far I have come, watching my little girl twirl by my side. St Peters has a special place in my heart. I was a young poet/artist when I lived there, selling my wares to the little shops up King St. I would take my little dog, Mitzi Winstopple to Sydney Park each evening, and dream of the future.

In preparation, I raided our fancy dress box and my daughter found a 50 cent gown that fitted her beautifully.

It was cathartic, and I felt cleansed. We wandered up King St to the Union Pub, where scores of other Cathy’s gathered. We bought felt hats for $10 at a bargain store, and I told my friend of my life in St Peters, and the sadness I felt at leaving. I came back not only to pay homage to Kate Bush, but to retrieve something I had left behind; myself.

The next day, I paid for my dance. I wept with the pain, but it was worth it. If there is a price to be paid, always make sure it’s worth it. Two days later, my spine is coming good. I can’t wait until next year!

 

Hunger-Roxane Gay


I have just finished ‘Hunger’ by Roxane Gay, and am feeling a plethora of emotions. I too have had a complicated history with food, created by trauma. I was on an eating disorder unit at fourteen, and rather than healing, I learnt a heap of new tricks to stave off weight. I chose to starve myself, in an attempt to deny the emotional pain of its sustenance. I also had bulimia. Some of my friends were frail, too weak to move out of bed. A few of my friends were at the other end of the spectrum, the weight providing a cocoon. One of my friends, Annie, had a complicated relationship with her abusive mother. A young woman in her twenties, she suffered the indignity of having to be weighed at the train station on their luggage scales. Her eyes were azure-blue, and boy, we had fun, making the best of a bad situation. She and I would have food fights in the day, and give each other facials of an evening. Annie was one of the most beautiful people I have ever known, taking this kid under her wing.

I learnt a lot about how it feels to carry extra weight, and the outrageous discrimination she faced. People didn’t really see her; they didn’t give themselves the chance to delight in the intelligence and compassion she conveyed in conversation. Over the months, the weight fell off her, but as we all know, the fight after the fight is the hardest of all. As she said to me, there was anger at those whom sought her out where once she had been discarded. It were as though they now deemed her worthy. The memories and emotions long suppressed, rose to the surface of her being, and now had to be dealt with. I lost touch with Annie after our time together, though think of her often.

As an adult, I have had friends who felt unsafe to sit in my dining chairs, lest they break, and I couldn’t blame them. I turned my chairs over, and noted that they were flimsy, a single bolt holding the structure together. I felt angry on their behalf. Life shouldnt be such a battle, and everything from airlines, buses, and cinema seating is so tiny, particularly when armrests are featured. I immediately replaced my seats, going to an op shop and buying a dining set made of solid timber. My guests can now sit and chat without being uncomfortable. Roxane’s book reiterates the challenges and judgements that befall a larger person. It shouldn’t be this way, not in this day and age. I long for the day when we really see each other and also our intrinsic worth.

 

SistaCare 2017


My daughter, her friend and myself were invited to SistaCare 2017, held at the Exodus Foundation. Rev. Bridget Perkins-Ocean organized the day, along with a bevy of helpers. Students and teachers from Ultimo Tafe did hair and makeup for the ladies in the church. It was a delight to see the women and girls see themselves through fresh eyes.

Dress for Success Sydney gifted the women from the Exodus Women’s Group new outfits, and boy, they looked gorgeous! Dress for Success is an amazing initiative, dressing and styling ladies who are looking to get into the workforce, or need outfits to attend weddings, funerals etc. The ladies then see themselves through fresh eyes, imagining all they are capable of. What was inherent and hidden, buried under trauma and life events, has been reclaimed. My girls were thrilled when asked to lead the fashion parade!

The girls with Reverend Bridget

Reverend Bill Crews was there to greet everybody, and both the beauty school at Ultimo Tafe and Dress for Success gave a talk about their services. It was then time to eat, something my two models were very much looking forward to!

Two very brave and inspirational ladies then told us of their pasts, the details of which were gut-wrenching. To look at their radiant smiles, you would never know what they have endured. Women need to tell their stories to one another; to have a circle of mighty and courageous souls to depend on. I would like to thank everybody who made this event possible. To walk into the food hall and see it so lovingly decorated, was glorious. I was the first seated and it gave me such happiness to see the look on their faces as the guests entered. The tables were set for them, resplendent with china tea cups and flowers. The first step to having a woman recognize her value is to treat her as a precious, valuable person. Giving her back what was once taken. The Exodus Foundation, Dress for Success, volunteers from Ultimo Tafe and the speakers did just that.

 

Update on Health Services


Remember how I wrote about my friend and her admittance to hospital? Well, she came to my place after having pathology done, and over a cup of tea, there were many tears, borne of frustration and overwhelm. She works as a casual with the elderly, and if she doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid, so she has had to pick up as many shifts as she can. The specialist who ordered her scans wanted them done before the end of this week as he is going away on a conference Friday for two weeks. She tried to book in, and found that she will have to wait a month! Three sections of her spine shall need to be done as well as a brain MRI. She knows that her symptoms are a sign of something amiss, and as you can imagine, is desperate to find out what. It seems incredibly cruel to make a person wait for answers when they still have to work and somehow function in the interim.

She missed a call from her GP the other day as her phone dips out where she lives. She was let out of hospital with a severe headache and many symptoms to fend for herself. By prolonging diagnosis and treatment, the health system actually loses money. It makes no sense! It was made clear to her that if she was willing to pay for the MRI’s, she could have them done immediately. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the thousands of dollars this would necessitate. Being in a private health fund means nothing in this circumstance. It shouldn’t be this way. My job as her friend is to help keep her spirits up whilst she waits.

Why can’t our Health Service be Streamlined?


A friend of mine almost lost her life as a teenager when she came down with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. It has left her with long-term problems, which saw her admitted to hospital a few days ago. She was due to have an MRI so the doctors could gain an understanding as to what was happening neurologically, but at the last moment, it was cancelled, much to the frustration of both my friend and her specialist. It was a Friday afternoon and radiology had a backlog. She ended up being discharged, and asked to make her own arrangements for the MRI and a nerve conduction test. Now this lady is a single mother with no family support, and lives quite a way out-of-town.

This scenario seems to be common in the Australian health care system, and one can feel overwhelmed, attempting to deal with it all alone. Ideally, these tests would be done in hospital, and once the specialists know what is going on, the patient would be sent home with that knowledge, and hopefully ongoing support.

It is incredibly confusing, navigating our system! On the one hand, pathology may be free when requested by a GP rather than a specialist and on the other, scans may be charged when requested by a GP rather than a specialist. If attending appointments alone, you are likely to forget to ask pertinent questions, and incredibly likely to not retain important information. Having an advocate with you is important! I would like to see a system where the person is asked before discharge what support systems are in place when they get home. How far from town do they live? Do they have transportation? If the answers are in the negative, keep them in hospital to have the tests done in-house. My friend works incredibly hard, and I have been worried about her health for some time. Instead of having answers last Friday, she has been left to organize the tests herself, with a lengthy wait in the interim. We need a better system than the one we have.

Reaching Out


I have spent a great deal of my life alone, dealing with stuff. I have been alone in court rooms, making police statements; before surgery and after. I have been alone in hospitals and clinics and in my room at home. Of course, being a writer is a solitary profession, and as a homeschooling mother, I have to organize social occasions and outings. There is something comforting about relying on yourself to give what both you and your child need, and yet it is frightening too! Big decisions are made by me. No back-up, just me. No pressure!

There is a low-grade depression which can bring forth ferocious social anxiety at times, making me wary of reaching out. I hadn’t seen a friend for many months, and had missed her greatly. I rebelled against my fear of being dismissed and walked into her work the other day. I was greeted with a big hug, not only from her, but also others I knew. It felt like a home-coming, and I realized how silly my fears were. I had felt as though I was stuck between worlds. One as a mum who travels widely in order for her daughter to see friends and attend classes, and then as a woman who feared she had lost connection to the community in her dear little town.

I see now that I can be both… I can hold onto both. I was afraid that I would be forgotten, left behind. Feeling brave, I texted other friends, and organized catch-ups. I have a list of treasured people I want to catch up with! The brain can tell us porkies as a way of protecting us, but one of the biggest fibs is that to retreat shall protect us. It won’t, we will just feel alone. I have been alone too much in my life, and it is time to reach out. Time to yourself can be reflective, a way of filling your cup. Socializing can too. It is about getting the balance right. Who do you need to make contact with?