Single Parenthood


Fresh fruit and vegetables are put aside for the kids. Mum tells her offspring that she isn’t hungry right now, and will eat later. After they have retired for the night, she eats a plain biscuit, to curb the hunger pangs. The notes that find their way to the dining table from schoolbags, fill her with dread. $60 is required for the performing arts costume. $10 for a ticket to see her child perform. She tries to conjure money from thin air, and sometimes (miraculously), is successful.

She is studying full-time- along with many of her friends- and knows that a well-paying job shall be her reward at the end of her studies. She picks up casual work as much as she can, and tries to look after long-standing health issues, the scripts for which are stacked in the kitchen. She is unable to purchase any of them.

She inquired about going onto Austudy, but was told that it would be less than Newstart, a figure of which doesn’t even cover her rent. She wishes that she could obtain a Government loan, of which she would happily pay back once she was working. There is no money from the other parent, despite many promises. She somehow has to work out her budget with an unreliable co-parent.

Afterpay is a blessing, to purchase necessities, though school uniforms can only be purchased in the school shop. Made by a private company, they have the monopoly on the market, and charge accordingly. As a result, the kids have one uniform, which she washes and dries multiple times each week.

She had to ring the health fund and ask for a suspension on the grounds of hardship. Ironically, they can only do so if she is able to pay up to the date of the call. Her only option was to ask for an extension, and at the beginning of November, she will be required to pay an astronomical amount. Her front tooth is split all the way to the nerve, causing embarrassment and pain. She doesn’t want to let go of the health fund; not yet.

She and the kids only have a few dollars left on their Opal cards, and have to limit their trips. She fears that loved ones who are desperately unwell shall need her, and she will be unable to get to them.

She is cramming day and night, in a desperate bid to complete her studies before time. She needs a full-time job, which is an impossibility at the moment. She has a few prac sessions coming up, and needs experience before anyone will hire her. She needs money to get to prac.

Her heart broke when she discovered that her child didn’t tell her about a school excursion, and she knew that money was the reason he chose to stay behind at school.

She is trying to keep her spirits up. She is trying to cope. It feels as though she is being punished for leaving an abusive and toxic marriage. There was no settlement; he had spent everything they had, forcing her to withdraw her investments and savings. She gets why so many women feel forced into going back or staying when they are desperate to leave. Solutions are simplistic when you are on the outside, looking in. They aren’t at all simple when you are on the inside, looking out.

A hurried storyboard review of her former life is played as an animation. Rather than it occurring at the point of death, it begins at the point of life; true life. The lies, the promises, the dreams and goals. Her ten year projection, which didn’t come to pass. The myriad jobs she took to keep her head above water, the exhaustion and pain. Life shouldn’t consist of survival only, should it? She dreams of being secure, of having money to fall back on. She dreams of having money to go out with friends. She dreams of simple pleasures. She dreams of a time when her children have more than one uniform. She dreams of peace.

She dreams of a government which will support single parents as they start all over again. Her only crime was leaving before she was destroyed. For all the uncertainty and sacrifice, it has been worth it to live on her own terms. Finally, on her own terms.

Assumptions


We all do it, don’t we? Make snap judgements about situations and people. Assumptions… I guess a part of it comes from fear. Terror of being rejected, of not knowing or appreciating our worth to other people. A single mum, I had been undertaking three full-time courses (now only two), and have been flat-out between studying, managing my health and being present for my girl. I haven’t gone out to dinner or even had a coffee with friends, and have felt a little disconnected. To my amazement, when I bump into my tribe, I am greeted with hugs. They have missed me, as much as I have missed them! You have no idea what an invitation can mean to somebody; that sense of connection. Hell, even meeting to do a grocery shop together! People who value you will understand that mummy needs to bank coin. Food isn’t going to buy itself! They get that you are studying, working, surviving on little sleep or have medical appointments to manage. Don’t assume that because you haven’t been visible, that you aren’t missed or wanted. Don’t assume that somebody that has gone to ground is avoiding you. Life is cyclical. There are times when everything happens all at once, and times when the clock empties itself of commitments.

Somebody backs out of an invite to an event or meal out? Perhaps their finances are fragile, and the focus is on making rent and keeping the lights on. Somebody disappears from social media? Could it be that their world has shattered into a million pieces, and they have been buried deep? All shall be revealed come spring, when they emerge as a new being. When parts of a person wither, shrivel, hollow-out and die, it is an immensely private and deeply painful time. They can’t articulate what all this means, nor what it feels like to themselves, let alone their 900 Facebook friends. Time is a luxury that we aren’t afforded much of in this modern age.

In the olden days, a woman with a new baby would have a time of healing. A person in mourning would have a period of keening. We weren’t accessible 24/7, encouraged to show how positive we were being in the face of it all. We were able to just be, instead of do. I met a single mother I adore in the supermarket the other day, and we hugged and briefly caught up. It was a Saturday night, and she was on her way home from work. She has also gone back to University. “At the end of the year, when my studies are over, I can’t wait to catch up!” she enthused. Oh how I appreciated her words. She is in a contracting season, where her studies, her job and her girls are her entire world. It is a mere season, and she can appreciate that it’s end shall offer growth. I look forward to our catch-up, knowing that it will be worth the wait.

Babushka Dolls


The psychologist observed that when her client wasn’t attempting to mentally escape the room or indeed, her own mind, there was a child seated in front of her. “That is all well and good, but I can’t work with her. She is your responsibility, now that you are a woman. You need to comfort her. She is not in charge anymore, and you need to be.” She grabbed the Babushka doll from her desk, and took it apart, revealing a young adult, an adolescent, then all the way down to an infant. “All these ages are contained in you, as well as the experiences, good and bad. They are waiting to be sorted and acknowledged. I need to talk to the Matryoshka doll, the one who contains all the others. Do you think that is possible?”  The woman nodded, trying to coordinate her breathing (which she had been told was far too rapid), and look at things from an adult point of view, not as a frightened child. A child who didn’t have a choice in anything, from where she was to whom she was around.

“Let me talk to the Matryoshka doll, the strong matriarch; give her the job of guiding your life.” It seemed like a plan, a better plan than anything she had cooked up previously. Rather than the dolls being left in a line, disengaged from each other, they were put back together, contained in the elder doll. Back together, where they belonged. The angry adolescent, frightened child and vulnerable young woman weren’t left behind. United and celebrated. All the ages were back where they belonged, with Mama handling business from a grown-up’s perspective and experience. She seeks solutions, whereas the younger dolls seek only to run, to escape discomfort. It may have kept her alive once, but not now. No, not now. She is finding that it’s a comfort to be an adult; to take charge, and stop scaring herself to death.

 

Therapy, the Past and Present


Pieces of cloth are strewn over my bed. Here is broderie anglaise from my christening gown. There is my favourite blue shirt I wore at fourteen;  a square from the white jumper I wore the night of my fall… Blood and mud-stained fabric, some pierced with bark chips. Strewn across my bed in no decipherable order. For twenty-five  years, I’ve attempted to sort through them. I had been wanting to make a patchwork quilt, to offer warmth and comfort. Trouble is, I hadn’t been taught how to sew, so had no hope of constructing it by myself.

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After years of stagnation, suddenly the lights turned green. I am studying for two degrees. A pain specialist with a fabulous reputation opened a practice in my town, and by a miracle, I was booked in to see a psychologist specialising in trauma. I turned up to her office with trepidation, afraid that by picking at the scab, I would bleed all over the place, and not heal. Perhaps, I would be left with a bigger scar. A Chilean lady came out to greet me, and my fears were cast aside. She admitted that she was puzzled at how I came to get an appointment, as her books had been closed for a while. She was taking no new patients on. I explained that a local support service had recommended her, and she laughed and said that gremlins must have gotten into her computer, opening up a space. I gave her a run-down on my life, checking off trauma as though I were reciting a shopping list.

She in turn asked about my digestion, if my mind raced, if I found it hard to concentrate on one thing at a time, if I was late to the party, having delayed emotional responses? Does my heart race? Do I breathe so quickly that I feel faint? I asked her how she knew? My digestion has always been a fragile flower.  My mind is always racing. I told her that sitting in her office for fifteen minutes, I had planned meals for the next week, my daughter’s schedule, done my budget and planned the next three chapters of a book I am writing. In fact, I am writing four at the same time. My bed has a pile of books on the floor, and I read a chapter then discard the book, perusing the next book in the pile. I even find it difficult waiting at a red pedestrian crossing, sitting through a movie, sitting still at all. As for emotional responses… I am commended for my calm at times when others fall apart. I have lost many dear friends, and can endure my grief, then a year or so later, I will be inconsolable when I see a photo of them. I am late to the party when it comes to boundaries too. Others will see things before I do, and back away from a person. When I went for an assessment earlier this year, so as to obtain a report for NDIS funding for trauma counselling, these traits were commended and cited as proof that I was coping splendidly. This lady was incredulous when I stated that NDIS had knocked me back because of the report, stating that I was a high-achiever who was coping very well indeed! My new psychologist sent me the following article on the Vagus nerve. It is the tenth cranial nerve, and interfaces with the parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs and digestive tract. It controls several muscles of the throat and voice box, and carries sensory information from the internal organs back to the brain.

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As you can see, it’s tendrils are long and reach deep. She noted that I squirm a lot and when talking or answering questions, my eyes dart upwards and side to side. It is a common response, when you have PTSD. She could see the little girl I was come out at times. I told her that now my daughter is reaching the age I had been when the most horrid of experiences started occurring, my mind is reminding me of what happened to me. I need to reach deep, as though unplugging a clogged sink, so that generational pain won’t besmirch her wondrous life. Eating disorders, alcohol misuse, utilising prescription medications to quell emotional pain, I had already dealt with it all. Now here I was, wanting to up my game plan. I want to do it for my daughter, so I can be the best mum I can be, for my friends so I can be present and healthy, for future employers and for myself.  The battle had begun.

As she emailed me the article on the Vagus nerve, I caught a glimpse of the ring emblazoned by a ruby on her finger. My mind was suddenly back inside a bathroom when I was fourteen. A man of unparalleled evil had been introduced into my world, and a woman I had known for only a short while gifted me a ruby ring. She insisted that I wear it, assuring me that it would keep me strong. “You will need to be,” she said, glancing at the man hovering over my shoulder. Always hovering… I took the ring off to wash my hands, and forgot to put it back on. When I went to retrieve it later, it was gone. “What will keep me strong now?” I asked in dismay. This memory led to others, too numerous to mention to the therapist, though she noted that I had drifted away. “You disassociate often, don’t you?” she smiled. She told me that it was quite a clever ploy of my brain, in order to protect me from horror and terror as it happened. It has also meant that I have put up with intolerable situations as an adult, for longer than I should, without further damage being done.

I was instructed on how to breathe, so I could transcend the flight response I was caught in. “We need to start from the basics, and that for you is learning how to simply breathe.” It took forty minutes until I was able to breathe deeply and slowly. Of course, my mind dove deep into the past, to the moment I first heard anything about “the horrors,” as PTSD was formerly known. I was fourteen and had met a gentle soul called Dennis. He couldn’t sit still, and his arms shook, and he tapped his foot involuntarily. “I’m like this because I’m a vet,” he whispered. “Oh, I love animals!” I exclaimed in my naivety.  Dennis smiled bemusedly. I didn’t know what he was talking about then. Now I know.

(To be continued)

Halfway between Home and the Northern Beaches


The Saturday started off with a vibe of foreboding. We had errands to run at the local shops, and my back pain was a 20/10. It was so bad that I had to take one of my night-time medications whilst I was out, just to cope with the travel back home. I couldn’t have walked another step without it. Back home, I had a bath, and rubbed every liniment I owned onto my spine. I zapped my back, braced it, and would have chanted had it promised to help. I had no time for this nonsense! We were all packed to go see our dear friends on the Northern Beaches, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop us. My left kidney is twice as big as the right, and my spine is putting pressure on it, and other organs. My spinal canal is so narrow that they can’t loop wires up it to fit a spinal cord stimulator. Still, I press on. I have to ensure that my determination at the very least matches the force of the nerves being crushed. Yay! we made it onto the bus toward the station. I bit my lip every time we went over a bump, to the point that the inside of my mouth started bleeding. The train came on time, but then stopped abruptly at regular intervals. Apparently, the Vivid festival had caused public transport chaos. I started to feel anxious, knowing that I only had a finite amount of time before the pain ramped up again. I wanted to be safely encased in our friend’s home when it did.

The train stopped before Circular Quay and we were told that we couldn’t proceed for a while. Thirty minutes later, we rolled into Wynyard station. We needed to get the B-Line bus to the Northern Beaches, and there was nobody around to tell us where to go. We wandered the perimeter outside the station, and missed the first bus. My confusion grew, as the pain ramped up. Taking deep breaths hurt, as did trying to correct my posture. My right leg went from under me, leaving me with one functional leg, a walking stick and suitcase. Dismayed, I thought about returning home. I knew I would feel worse if I abandoned the visit we had all been looking forward to. I was halfway between home and our friend’s. Exhausted, we hopped on the next bus. I was climbing the walls in pain, and there were no seats. My daughter watched as commuters got off, and was on her way to secure a seat for me when a guy carrying a case of beer pushed past and sat down. She was having none of it, and demanded that he get up; that her mother needed the seat more than his beer!

An hour passed, and when we alighted, our friends were waiting. We were encased in hugs and love, and fed a curried vegetable pie. We listened to the Beatles and the next day, went to the beach. If we hadn’t gone, I would have felt sad at what the never-ending pain has taken from me. I would have felt awful for my daughter and our friends, who would have been understanding, but nonetheless…I would have missed the last hot day before winter curled it’s icy fingers around Sydney. I would have missed so much. Beauty, love and art… That is what makes life bearable. Particularly if you are going out of your mind with pain.

Phone Etiquette


Every time you ask a query online, you seem to have to put your mobile number in the contact form. I have tried to get away with not entering it, but the page won’t let you proceed until you do. I was recently enquiring about further education, and contacted around twenty institutions. Imagine, twenty places, all trying to call you, each and every day. I kept missing the calls, and we played tag-team. I  pleaded for them to email me the pertinent details, rather than insist on talking to me. I simply didn’t have time for all the calls.

There are many reasons why answering the phone may not be possible.

  1. You are using your mobile to navigate with Google Maps, and the phone dips out whenever a call comes through.
  2. You are a migraine or Trigeminal Neuralgia sufferer, and answering the phone during an attack is not possible.
  3. There is thunder and lightning about. I have had people that I love suffer electrocution during storms, so keep well away from my mobile as soon as the clouds gather!
  4. The phone is charging in another room, and you forget about it.
  5. I am early to bed and early to rise, and have programmed my phone not to ring after a certain time of night.
  6. You are working or studying, and  haven’t the time to hold a phone conversation.
  7. You are driving or otherwise travelling.
  8. You are at the theatre, cinema or enjoying the arts in any capacity.
  9. You are spending quality time with your child.
  10. You need time to relax.
  11. Calls coming from unscreened numbers make you nervous.

These are just some reasons off of the top of my head! If I didn’t email and text, and spent every day with the phone to my ear, I wouldn’t get anything else done.

Caitlin Fitzsimmons investigated this issue in the Sydney Morning Herald. Do you agree that phone calls are disruptive? Wouldn’t it be easier to text a message, rather than play a tiresome game of tag?  I use my mobile to get around the city, take photos, look at my emails, and shoot off a text. What is yours primarily used for?

Pain and Anxiety


When I first read about Jo Cameron-the ease in which she moves through the world- I envied her. Imagine not being woken by niggling fears surfacing at 2am? What a joy to not suffer anxiety, nor terrors, from real or imagined foes! As for aches and pains, imagine not suffering with any? How liberated would you feel?

 

Jo Cameron was interviewed in the New York Times recently. The potential for her genes to be studied, so that pain and anxiety in everyday patients may be diluted, is a tantalising prospect. It may result in the ability to demand that a certain gene calms the hell down!

 

Along with the obvious advantages to living as Jo Cameron does, there are also disadvantages. I have told my daughter to be aware of that feeling in the pit of her stomach, that relays whether a situation or person is giving off good vibes, or not. Are they making her feel anxious? It is a sense that over-rides all logic, and hence doesn’t involve the brain, as much as the gut. I have told her to always honour that feeling, and have promised that I shall too. Imagine if we didn’t have any warning of danger? No rapid heartbeat, sweating, nor adrenaline in overdrive? There can be good stressors, which pivot us beyond what we believed were the limits of what we can endure. Studying, exams, public speaking. Anxiety can be used as a helpful resource, and not a hindrance in these cases.

When I went into labour, I thought they were mild contractions, involving my lower back. Compared to endometriosis pain, it was a walk in the park! The back pain grew worse, which saw me agree to finally go to hospital. It turned out that I was in full labour! If I hadn’t had the back pain, I would never have known. Every segment of my spine is damaged. There are bony spurs growing on my neck, all the way down. My spinal canal is narrowing, leaving little room for the nerves. I am sometimes out of my mind with the pain, and as a seasoned pain-sufferer, I often welcome it. It gets so bad that my brain packs an overnight bag, and we escape the minutiae of everyday life. I laugh more heartily, dream more vividly, and write more eloquently than I would have done.  I appreciate the spider senses in my solar plexus going into overdrive if confronted with danger. The same goes with my hand retracted from a steaming cup, before being scolded.

It would be lovely to have the ability to adjust the settings on anxiety and pain, without turning them off completely. Perhaps, Jo Cameron holds the answers we have been seeking.

Budget 2019


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

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

NDIS

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

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

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

Newstart

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

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

Housing and Domestic Violence

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

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

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

TAFE

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

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

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

Scoliosis


When I was in Primary school, the Government funded a scoliosis screening program, to pick up worrying curvatures early in a child’s life. At the time, I passed the screening with flying colours. Then, I broke my back. A few years later, after numerous surgeries, I was informed that my hip graft had failed, and I had scoliosis to such an extent that my heart, lungs and stomach were being crushed. Without major surgery, I would die. I was seventeen when I went into hospital to have this surgery. I had previously spent two years in a body brace, which unfortunately couldn’t save my spine, as the problem stemmed from the grafts failing. They at first opened my chest, somebody holding my heart whilst ribs were removed for grafting and put in via the front. Then I was turned over, and they operated on my spine, installing Harrington rods, screwed into place. I was later put in a fibreglass body cast.

 

 

My scoliosis was rectified enough to save my life, but the rods had to be taken out at twenty, and later fractures in my spine have seen the scoliosis worsen. I live with a monumental amount of pain now.

I worry when I see kids slouching, quite often unable to sit up straight with shoulders back. I am also concerned with the weight young people carry in their backpacks to and from school. It is as though they are carrying bricks around! It is essential that scoliosis is discovered early, before long-term damage is done, and requires surgery. It affects future pregnancies, the work you can do, and your general wellbeing.

My friend’s daughters were diagnosed early, and whilst they require bracing for a few years, they shouldn’t need any treatment beyond that. My friend has set up a petition, to urge our government to bring back screening within our schools. If we can prevent even one child from enduring hell later on, it is worth it.

You can sign the petition here.

 

Hope


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

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