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)

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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.

Stay…


Last week, Sydney lost a talented chef to suicide.  Bronzed and seemingly healthy, his smile could light up our city. There was much commentary after the news hit social media, but what pierced through the rhetoric was the notion that when alone, he’d fallen into a worm hole, and hadn’t the resources to stave off the impulse his depression looped into. These holes seem to have no end, and can be hard to extricate oneself from.

I know a person who was close to succumbing, in January, 2019. There are as many pathways into anxiety and depression as there are people in the world. Hers wasn’t initially caused by a chemical imbalance, rather circumstances conspiring against her. It were as though her mind were a strudel, with layers of pastry piled on top of one other. The apple promised sweetness, and she held the layers of stress in her hands, waiting to reach the filling. All it took was another day of calamity- not of her making- to break her resolve. Heart beating wildly, hands shaking and a mind unable to see a way out, she reached for the phone. Once a playdate for her child had been arranged, and she was alone, her mind led her onto a dark stage. There was no audience, nor were there lights. There were no solutions here.

She had done all that she could to make life better, more secure, and she couldn’t see her way clear. All of a sudden, a beam of light hit the centre of her brain, insisting that she send a text. She asked what her friend was up to, and if she may join her. “Of course!” came the enthusiastic response. They drove to the beach, singing along to the radio. She made herself focus on all the beauty surrounding her. The Bird Of Paradise, alongside hibiscus, in reds and oranges,  dotting the landscape. She closed her eyes and felt the salt air caressing her skin. Her bottle of chilled water felt good as it hit her neck, the Cheezels they had bought, decorating her fingers like rings. She had gone against her wildest impulse, which was to not experience anything at all. It had frightened her, how her brain insisted that the stressors couldn’t be balanced against beauty.

They were gone for hours, away from home and everyday life. She was dropped back revived, just in time to make calls and forge a path through the thorny brackets of which she had been stuck. The next morning, she woke at dawn, and saw something similar to this.

Morning light and lorikeets greeted the new day, alongside the help needed to extricate herself from overwhelming concerns. Within a month, she had begun a new medication. It was a small dose, but enough to chase away the anxiety she had been battling alone, without armour. She could now see her way clear, and a path opened up in front of her. Happiness returned, and she started to engage with the world again. To her amazement, she had been missed. Depression in an active state is renowned for the crap it feeds us. Looking back, she shudders at what she would have missed, in just a couple of weeks. The mundane joy of a cool change after stifling heat, through to her child’s laughter.

She hadn’t the language in her distressed state to tell her friend what the matter was, nor what she needed, other than to be with someone. Perhaps that is all one needs to do; to reach out and say that you need company, even accompanying them as they go about their errands. Anything to not be in alone, battling a pocket of despair by yourself. A wormhole is a tunnel with two ends. Perhaps reaching out to those on the periphery is a way of ensuring we make it back to life. Look out for those self-isolating or who seem to be going through changes. Our psyche can be as fragile as a butterfly wing, and whilst it is tempting to cease all that has ever given us joy, it is imperative that we don’t. The lies our minds feed us tends to be done in secret and when alone.  You are too precious, and life has too much beauty left to unfurl. Let today mark the beginning of us all leaving our particular pockets of despair. If you survived today because you decided to go grocery shopping with a friend, rather than stay by yourself, then that is a miracle indeed. Whatever it takes to keep you alive, do it.

Grief and the Seasons


I spoke to a friend on the matter of grief, and she said something profound. She mentioned that those grieving would be best to give themselves a year before making huge changes. “They have to endure the four seasons…when you think about it, each season contains first’s. There are birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas. The list of first experiences without their loved one is excruciating. Enduring those four seasons will take all the strength in them.”

 

Grief can be felt in a myriad of ways. There can be grief for what was left unsaid, and for what was spoken in haste. It can present as regret for what never was and for what had been. The relationship you wished you had, compared to the one you experienced. The pain of an empty chair at your dining table, or felt after reaching for the phone to call. It can present as it’s twin, anger. You may be so bloody angry at everything, not least what others concern themselves with. Don’t they know that an angel just died?

Grief is complex; one moment you may feel fine, and the next be in the foetal position on the floor. It is not a linear journey, rather it is a mass of swirly pathways. Grief is messy, it’s trajectory launching you into a future wherein you have to leave the fallen behind. You take only the memories, and the love, with you. I imagine butterflies, dragonflies and fireflies escorting the bereaved as they rest in a cave. The walls perhaps lined with glow worms as they sit and weep. It can be a lonely journey, and certainly a puzzling trip, for which nobody wants a ticket.

Piercing through the hymns, the eulogies, the visual displays and the flowers, is the love you hold in your heart and the promise of what might have been. It sears through the ICU monitors, silencing the alarms and machines. At the end of it all, we leave with only love; that which we gave and accepted in turn. If you can endure the first four seasons of bereavement,  hope and love wait on the other side.

 

The Consolation of Shopping


I once knew an elderly gent whose house was filled with clutter. The living room had no available seats, and he had given up using his mahogany dining table. There was no room for cutlery, let alone plates. I have seen shipping containers filled with items which still had their tags attached, never used. I have seen sheds built in yards to house the surplus of a person’s shopping addiction. I have come to understand the motive behind chaotic shopping patterns.

The $100 shoes that were on sale, in a style they would never wear, in a size that doesn’t fit, represents the love they never received. It is also symbolic of ill-fitting relationships.

The designer dress is symbolic of needing a lift after a failed attempt on IVF. Having the news broken over the phone, seeing prams and pregnant women everywhere is enough to drive a woman into the closest store.

The new furniture, smart TV and rugs represent the sinking feeling that something is not quite right within a cultivated life.

The bookshelves crammed with ornaments is symbolic of the urge to hold onto the past and it’s people, even though it is time to let go.

The broken pots and detritus in the garden is symbolic of a life out of control. They looked so inviting at the garden centre! You had grand plans to make an entertaining area in the yard, but realised that everyone in your family flits in and out, and the conversations you crave aren’t to be had. Those items symbolise abandoned dreams. It is akin to telling yourself that you aren’t worth the effort and time, nor is it worth doing for your sole enjoyment.

Perhaps, people that are content in life don’t shop excessively. The items that they buy are needed, and valued. They use everything that they buy, and don’t purchase gifts to win favour. A life that is in balance doesn’t swing like a pendulum.

The endorphin kick one feels at the shops is as forgotten as the identical shorts and shirts at the back of the wardrobe once home. The sinking feeling when one surveys the damage held on receipts is not worth the fleeting rush to the brain’s reward centres.

This stuff can’t make up for the cruelty inflicted on you. It is no substitute for inclusion, nor love. It can’t make pain disappear, or a longed-for child appear. It won’t make people love you more, and it can’t vanquish illness.

I have had the sad task of clearing out several homes of friends when they died. I have seen their bedrooms crammed with makeup and skincare, shoes and clothes, and gifts hidden away in case they are needed one day. Everything still had the prices attached. I have seen beds used as repositories for shopping bags, thrown into the room as though they were a live stick of dynamite, ready to explode. I have felt desperately sad as I surveyed the magazines and kitchenware, piled high in living rooms. Not wanted nor needed, nor ever used. I have understood that such scenes have been their attempt to stockpile in case they meet with a cruel winter. It happened once, and it can happen again. This stuff is their insurance policy. Mindlessly purchased, they felt the lovely flutter in their tummies, their brain beliving that this purchase will make their life better. Heck, it will make them better. It will make them care less that their husband is a philanderer, their family is a hot mess and that they are depressed. It will eradicate all of it. The shopping culture lies. It manipulates us, deliberately and often. It knows what it’s doing, down to the displays, the lighting, the music, the colours and scents. It knows how we think, the holes we try to fill and what we are trying to make up for.

Here’s how you can beat the horrid high and low during this Christmas season.

  • Make a budget and stick to it!
  • Make a list of those whom you want to buy for, and decide what you want to gift and how much you can spend beforehand.
  • Check in with yourself before leaving home. Buying stuff is no consolation for feeling lonely and sad. Make sure anything that you purchase is for the right reasons.
  • Eat before you leave home, and carry a water bottle. That horrendous disorientated feeling brought on by shopping centres is made worse by hunger and dehydration!
  • Check in any rewards points you have accrued throughout the year. These can be used for groceries or you can opt to donate them to a charity.
  • Declutter your home. The stuff that makes you depressed has to go. The clothes you have held onto but never worn, the kitchen gadgets in boxes and books you have yet to read, need to be donated or sold. No good comes from a home without sufficient room for energy to circulate.
  • Give experiences, whether that be movie tickets, a voucher to dinner in the New Year or babysitting services. Experiences last longer than stuff.
  • You have nothing to prove to anyone. You are enough, just as you are. Put down that item you can’t afford, and bake something for your friend instead.
  • Call your friends and organise catch-ups. Go on picnics or have a coffee together. People need you, not stuff.
  • Shop local! Support your local farmers markets and shops. These people are your neighbours and possibly your friends.

I remember in living colour, the sadness I felt as I surveyed dusty shelves piled high with items still in their original packets. The hope that this product would be a game-changer had long perished, and all that was left was a prison built of  discarded aspirations for a better life. Sit with pain, befriend and understand it. Shopping won’t help what needs fixing. Self-love can.