Week 3 of Isolation


How are you going?

Drop me a line to let me know. This is a community, and honestly, I have never felt as close to folks as now. Stripped of all extraneous detritus, we can be real, and we are.

Exhaustion

There have been so many commenting on this phenomenon, and all are relieved to know they aren’t the only ones. Even when you have work and study to occupy your time, trying to focus is challenging. Even when you have managed a solid sleep, you are still exhausted. Your mind is trying to cope with an altered reality. All of this is normal, under the circumstances.

Losing the plot over  your internet connection and/or websites or pages that won’t load

I lost it the other night, and it wasn’t pretty! Not being able to get onto an online lesson before it started, had me enraged. Of course, it wasn’t really about the above. Rather, it was deeper. There was rage at the people still having parties and not keeping a distance from others. Acting like the virus was not only not in their consciousness, but within society. Whilst some of us are into our third week (or more), of self-isolating, these individuals carry on as though they don’t have a care in the world. I am enraged by them. I am angered that our frontline workers have been abused, and that they have cause to worry about obtaining adequate PPE. 

Anxiety

Those periods where you are frozen to your seat, refreshing your phone for no reason in particular? Those times when you can’t collect your thoughts, and you pace the length of your house, unable to recollect why you needed to go to a particular  room? It has to do with anxiety. It comes out in funny ways. I felt all this after a trip to the chemist and supermarket. Masked up, whenever anybody dared come near with their trolley, my senses would heighten. Going through self-serve felt like a dangerous exercise. If only the virus was tinted a certain hue (like cornflour in a colour run), so you could see where the little bastard was hiding out!

Sadness

Sadness for friends who were going through trauma before Covid-19. Separation, divorce, ill-health, financial trouble… Certainly, the virus has introduced a perfect storm into their lives. Now they have to bunker down with those who’ve hurt them. They aren’t able to work in their chosen field, and going to hospital for treatment just got a whole lot more stressful. I feel sad for those who live alone, and are isolated. I feel sadness for those who have lost their jobs. I feel sad for those that can’t attend funerals, birthday celebrations, weddings and other occasions. I feel sad that we can’t hug. There is a whole lot to feel sad about. 

On the other side of the equation, there is gratitude

Our complicated lives have been stripped back to basics. We are living frugally, and spending more time than ever within our homes. We are connecting with friends we haven’t seen for some time. There have been mates who’ve invited me to Zoom meetings, that I hadn’t seen in years. We have checked out each other’s houses and isolation hair. We have toasted each other, and shared recipes. There have been messages flowing, and even groceries delivered to my door. I have never felt more thankful.

Pets

Friendly the cockatiel and Minnie the Pomchi, have kept us entertained and our spirits up. Friendly sings the Adam’s Family Theme Song, whilst dancing. Minnie enjoys playing ball and wading in her little pool outside. We go for walks with our puppy each day, something which brings us joy. She is as stubborn as a mule, when she doesn’t want to move, though thankfully she is little enough to tuck under an arm. Her favourite treat is a cold carrot from the fridge.

Gardens and sunshine

The virus feels so distant, when sitting out the back, surveying the geraniums and herbs in our garden with the sun bearing down on our shoulders. Autumn in Sydney is pretty magical, even at a time like this.

The Arts

Have you ever noticed that in times of trouble, the people in the arts always donate of their time and energy? Can you imagine what this period would be like, without music, paintings, shows, movies and online content? What about books and dancing? When this is over with, let’s support those who helped get us through. 

This is Week 3, done. A trip to the shops, leading to wondering where this bastard virus is hanging out, and with whom. Laughter shared by strangers at the ludicrous nature of our current existence. Helping someone find a particular item, whilst keeping the hell away from them. Holding one’s breath as a precaution when somebody miles away sneezes. Suffering the indignity of my daughter winning seven games in a row of Guess Who? Signing up for three different courses in one frenzied morning. Looking at the brown bananas, and declaring that I really should do some baking with them, before forgetting (then saying it again the next morning). Sorting out the pantry, and making use of the Tupperware (finally). Decluttering, and then being left with bags of stuff with nowhere to go, as charity shops and council throw-outs aren’t collecting for the time being. Hoping to heaven that I don’t have to rely on any call centre to fix an issue, as most are closed. Laughing hysterically at the most pedestrian of things online.

May you have a restful Easter, no matter where you are. May you have peace, and may we never endure a time such as this ever again.

 

Week 2 of Self-Isolation in the Viral Era


The days seem to blend into one another; time and dates have blurred edges. It is becoming harder to recall our lives before everything changed. All the things we took for granted! Meeting up with friends… Restaurants… cafes and hugs, travel and visits from loved ones. Classes are grieved, as are extracurricular activities. Who would have thought toilet paper, masks, sanitiser and disinfectant would be such hot items?

I attended my first online funeral earlier this week. It added to the sorrow of the life lost, seeing eight people gathered in the large chapel, the chairs spaced so that even a husband and wife weren’t actually sitting together. There were no hugs, and no huddling together. A person who had hundreds of friends and family scattered throughout Australia was sent off by eight people, and those of us who watched online. It felt strange; disconnected from reality. It’s our new normal, I’m afraid.

The next evening, a group of us were invited to sing Happy Birthday to a four year old on Zoom, as she cut her birthday cake. As I saw the squares light up with familiar faces, my heart swelled. We have to be distant, but we certainly aren’t alone. It was joyous, getting together from the confines of our home for a little girl.

I had to go up the street to have my flu shot. After two weeks of confinement, it really hit me, seeing the places I usually frequent, shuttered and empty. I thought of my friends, who work in these places (or own them), and the sole traders who supply these shops. It was a melancholy feeling; how could it be anything but? It’s all the little things that you miss. I miss the chatter amongst patients as they sit next to one another, whilst waiting for the doctor. I miss the smiles of the staff, now hidden behind masks. I miss catching up with the friends you bump into down the street. The few people I saw were guarded, hurrying about their business, so that they could get back home.

This update from Bill Crews just about broke my heart. The most vulnerable sector of our society, made to eat their meals out in the rain. Surely we can do better, Sydney? This tumultuous period reinforces the absolute truth that we are connected. What happens to one, can ultimately, happen to all. Unemployment and homelessness, poverty and being at the mercy of this wretched virus. Why can’t we put up the vulnerable in accomodation, now that the city is devoid of tourists? Now is the time to soften hearts, rather than harden them.

 

I am thankful for the wonderful souls who have delivered food and groceries to our door. I almost cried, when I saw that the service I used was able to purchase toilet paper for me. It’s the little things that mean so much! I am thankful for the concordant birdsong outside my window, and the sun filtering through the myriad of trees outside my door. I am thankful for teachers who are doing double-duty, organising online lessons, whilst also teaching in a classroom. I am grateful for those who check up on each other, ensuring that everyone has what they need.

There have been involuntary tears, and moments when I feel helpless. Not being able to see loved ones is tough, particularly when they are going through so much, for a myriad of reasons. I worry about those in quarantine with toxic family members. Not being able to escape into their job, or through a social outing, is excruciating, when trapped inside a chaotic household. Life has contracted in. We need to uncover small joys, where we can. Whether that be going for a walk, or by having coffee on the porch. It may mean listening to music, or watching a comedy. Our movements may have been limited, but free pleasures remain. Your thoughts belong to you, and can’t be contained within the four walls of your home. They can see you making plans for when this time is done, and help you to clarify the future you yearn to build.

I keep thinking of what it must have been like to go through the era of the Spanish flu or Bubonic Plague. Without phones, internet, television, running water, sanitation and Netflix! No updates forthcoming, and with limited resources. I can’t even imagine how cut-off each household must have felt from one another.

We are in the early stages of self-isolation, and still have Winter to come. Winter; the season which ushers in frosts and bitter cold, grey skies and barren trees and gardens. It seems to drag, and then one day, Spring arrives. We can get through this harsh winter, if we work together. All this shall seem like a distant nightmare; one we shall recall for the young, in fifty years’ time. They will ask us what it was like, and what we did. Let’s ensure we have ripping yarns to share with them. Tales of how we looked after each other, connecting online, and sending messages to old friends. Tales of getting back to basics, and making do with what we had at our disposal. Stories of mateship and making the best of a bad situation. We are making history, each and every day of 2020.

 

 

 

Self-Isolation, Sacrifice and Love


Last year, some friends and I were extras in an excellent Stan series called The Commons. 

It depicted isolation, the ramifications of global warming, border security and what happens when a virus is rampant in the community. We were evacuees within this odd world, and our scenes depicted life within a temporary facility, and then a huge camp, complete with a makeshift hospital and medical staff. At the time of filming, nobody had heard of Covid-19, because it wasn’t apparent in humanity. There were times when I got chills, watching the ‘fictional’ story unfold, and there were scenes where I had tears in my eyes. Some of us reached for fellow extra’s hands. I watched Series 1 on my iPad over January, from the place we were staying in the city. The dystopian themes had begun to mirror real life, with people walking around with face masks; choking smoke and bushfires decimating Australia…

Boy, has life changed since The Commons was filmed in Sydney!

I know we have all been affected by limited supplies of medications and supermarket goods. We’ve seen appalling footage of brawls and greed on display. However, there have been many more outstanding  examples of goodness.

My friend Van, has set up a group to make masks for our frontline workers, and it’s going gangbusters! If you have the skills, you can sign up here.  To request masks, join the sister group.

I have been unwell this week, and have had a bag of goodies left at my door, been gifted hand sanitiser and soap, had a fairy godmother help more than she will ever know, and had many friends message to ask if I need them to get us anything from the shops. Thank you with all my heart.

Many people I love have lost their jobs, and are in precarious situations. Personally, I have felt helpless, being unable to visit and administer hugs and comfort in person. How do we keep our spirits up? A friend messaged the other day, admitting that her anxiety was all-consuming, and she wasn’t coping at all. She was berating herself for feeling like this, and I assured her that she was having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. For humanity, the events of 2020 are unprecedented. There is no ‘right’ emotional response, for we haven’t been here before; not on this scale.

I spent three years isolated in my room, from 15-18 years of age. I was studying via correspondence, only leaving my confines to go to hospital for surgery or procedures. There was no internet back then, so I was pretty much cut off from my peers and society. I learnt to lean in, in order to mentally survive. Here is what I did:

  • I kept a strict routine so I didn’t flounder. I wrote a timetable for each day of the week, detailing when I would exercise, eat, study, read and even watch tv. I broke it up into 30 minute segments.
  • I dressed and groomed as though I was going out to work.
  • I ensured I learnt new skills, to make the most of these years. I read about financial matters, ethical investing, different cultures, the arts, nutrition, the art of writing and so much more.
  • I prepared a bucket list of all I was looking forward to doing once this time was over. Things like taking a ferry across the harbour, visiting certain restaurants, finding ‘my tribe,’ and what I wanted my future to look like.
  • I ensured that I enjoyed my own company. This is imperative. I would make myself laugh with my own private jokes, kept myself as healthy as I could with exercise and good food, and talked to myself as I would a friend, with kindness and encouragement.
  • I made time to dream, to stare out the window and zone-out. Every creative soul requires this.

It is just my daughter and I in the household, and as I am unwell, I have to isolate from her, ensuring we aren’t in communal areas at the same time. Before she started highschool, I home-schooled her for four years, and fortunately, she is a stickler for routines too. I am so grateful that we have the internet and mobile phones to connect with society throughout this strange time. We are a lot more accessible than when I was fifteen; trying to cope with my isolation. We will get through this.

The tension was ramping up last week; we knew it was coming, an intractable period, which nothing could prepare us for. It’s a day-by-day proposition, doing what we can, when we can. Zoom and Google classroom will be our new best friends, as lessons go online, from drama and singing to dancing. It is a brave new world, and also a strange one. One day, we shall all open our front doors, run into each other’s arms, and embrace. We will celebrate each other’s birthdays in person, and file into restaurants. We will go back to the theatre and cinemas, and attend concerts. Nothing is lost forever.

 

Corona Virus, Panic and Toilet Paper


If you had predicted at the beginning of the year that we would have a shortage of toilet paper (after a wave of panic-buying), I reckon most of us would have laughed. We had more important things to worry about, such as the bushfires and related smoke, choking Australia. Yet, here we are. I recall that one of my most controversial posts on social media, had to do with punch bowls. Yes, you read that right. I saw a photo on Pinterest which detailed how an old punch bowl could be repurposed as a bird bath in your garden. Thinking it a brilliant idea, I shared it. There was outrage! I received quite a bit of feedback from people, defending their grandmother’s punch bowl, and stating that they still use them as intended. It was at a time when our society was going through upheaval and grief. People were unsettled, and had nowhere to reconcile their jarred emotions, and so they jumped on the punch bowl post. I thought about this event, and realised that the toilet paper panic really has nothing to do with loo paper. Rather, it’s emblematic of our fears, and need to control what is happening. We are at the mercy of this virus, just as we were the bushfires, but hell, at least we can control how many rolls of toilet paper we have.

That being said, I went into five supermarkets and three pharmacies in the last three days, looking for pasta, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitiser, toilet paper, tissues and other necessary items, and came home empty handed. I was hoping to purchase these things, not only for my household, but for friends who have a myriad of conditions that would see them become seriously ill if infected. There is the lady who has a port in her chest, through which immunoglobulin is administered regularly. There are friends undergoing chemotherapy, and friends over 60 years of age. There are those with asthma, and those with other health conditions. Some friends can’t get out to the supermarket or chemist. Many of these items can’t be ordered through online shopping , as they are in limited supply or sold out completely.

I must admit, I was angered when I saw first-hand, the empty shelves, and thought of the people who’d bought more than they’d require for the next month. It means others miss out; usually those who are in desperate need. I had relatives who lived through rationing during WW2, and they didn’t hoard. Rather, they were issued a certain amount via their corner shop, and made do. They even ensured there was enough to give visitors to their home’s. I feel for the workers in our supermarkets, especially after hearing terrible stories of the verbal abuse they’d suffered. Some have had things clocked at their heads, after shoppers became enraged by the shortages.

Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for freedom, and also our health. We can all do our bit during this crisis. Check in on your elderly neighbours, or friends with health conditions. Reach out and see what they need at this time. Donate your extra cans and toiletry items to local charities and refuges. Ensure that nobody is left behind.

I met a medical receptionist in my neighbourhood, and she told me that she and the doctor she works for, are issuing patients in need with toilet rolls, hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes from their stock. Others have reached out to check in on loved ones and reassure their friends who are anxious. Parcels have been left at front doors, and people have shopped for the vulnerable in their community.

This period of crisis shall pass, as all challenging times are want to do, but the kindness we exhibit, and the dignity of which we hold ourselves, shall be remembered always.

Letter to a Teenager


Hey there,

I tried to bury my teenage years, but my wild and wonderful youth refused to be forgotten. For that, I am grateful, as I have some things to share with you. Or rather, she does.

I respect your need for space and privacy. I recall what it was like to need a release in the form of a journal, and promise that it shall always remain private, for your eyes only. We all need a room of our own, including a mansion within ourselves, where we can let go of artifice, and connect to our innermost feelings. I get why your door is shut, and why you need alone time. You have been at school with hundreds of your peers and teachers, for seven hours, and need time to decompress.

I stopped eating as a teenager. I wanted to reduce my space in the world. If I was invisible, perhaps I wouldn’t be hurt anymore? I could have control over something, at last! It took a great deal of effort to restore my body and mind, and retain a healthy weight. Since this time, I have put on weight, been pregnant and bedridden, and you know what? I never once weighed myself. In fact, I don’t own scales. They provide scant information regarding the measure of one’s health; emotional and physical. Nor do they describe how well I’m travelling through the world. Food is now a source of nourishment, and exercise is a tool used for mental wellbeing. Please, don’t contract in. You are allowed to take up space. You are in competition with nobody.

 

I almost died by my own hand. I couldn’t see a way out of the situation I was in; I seemingly couldn’t locate an alternate pathway that would enable me to live. It’s hard when you’re a teenager, to see tomorrow. Everything seems to be focused on the now… The math exam today, the friendship group you’re in, family problems… It can seem insurmountable. I can tell you with the gift of hindsight, that 25 years have passed, and I am so glad that I didn’t die. I am astounded that I’m still here. I grew up and left everything that hurt me. I experienced joy and learnt many things. I had a child, and have beautiful friendships. Whatever is causing distress, shall be vanquished in the course of time. You will leave that high school. You will leave those friends who hurt you. How many of us still have friends from our formative years? If you are fortunate, you may retain one or two, but usually, that’s all. Young adults move for work or university. They travel the world, and form new friendships. These years will go so quickly (even if it doesn’t feel like it now). There hasn’t been a time when I wasn’t glad that I survived, in spite of having challenges as an adult. Your life is precious.

 

Always look at the big picture for your life. Every day you can do tasks that your future self will thank you for. It may be taking time out to see a movie with a friend, or going for a walk. It may be signing up to performing arts groups at school, if your career aspirations lean toward music, drama or dance, for instance. Write down what your dreams are; in every area in your life. Research the pathways that will get you to where you want to go. I promise, that there is more than one  pathway for the fruition of your dreams! Make mind maps, with the dream at the top, and the steps you need to take spreading out like new shoots on a tree. Breaking it down means that it no longer feels overwhelming and insurmountable.

 

As wacky as this sounds, when I felt weak and defeated, I would picture teenage me talking to my adult self. What does she look like? How does she move through the world?  What advice would she give me? It helps you to step outside the problems you are currently facing. Let your future-self lend you strength.

 

Never take anyone else’s opinion about you as gospel. Firstly, if someone is being derogatory toward you, or if you’ve heard from others that they are spreading gossip, you have to ask yourself, why? Are they envious? Do you have something that they want? Look at their motives. The majority of the time, you aren’t in the equation at all. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.  How you feel about yourself is incredibly important. After all, you have to live with yourself, 24/7. Teenage Pink was told that she wouldn’t amount to anything, by some adults. Many people have had dire predictions thrown on them, regarding their futures. The best revenge is ignoring these ridiculous opinions, and proving them wrong. Nobody has the ability to predict your future, so ignore and rise up. As a dyslexic, I was routinely told that I was stupid. I couldn’t spell, and my writing was appalling. Guess what I ended up doing as a young adult?!  Never let anyone tell you what you are capable of.

If I had my time over as a teenager, I would take up more space, not less. I would be more of an extroverted dresser; a bohemian clothed in mismatched colours and patterns.  I would care less about fitting in, and dedicate my time to standing out. I would feel free to listen to my gut instincts about people and situations, and hope that my instincts were honoured by others. I wouldn’t feel the need to be accomodating and ‘nice’ to people who deserved anything but.

 

I am glad that you are a teenager in an era where you are allowed to have a voice. I am glad that you are living in an era where you can be anything you desire. This is a good time to be alive; to advocate for change. Your generation shall be the ones to change what is foul, and restore what is broken.

Our job as adults is to ensure that you experience your teenage years in an unscathed fashion. Talk to us; please know that you can. We were teenagers once upon a time, and can cast our minds back to see what you are facing. Ask us what is what like for us. Ask for advice. You are important, and you are loved. Us adults can sometimes be a bit slow to catch on, when you try to talk to us about your life. Keep trying… write it down and slip us the paper over breakfast, if need be. Put a communication diary onto our pillow, and we will respond with an entry beneath.  Be patient with us; sometimes we are a bit slow on the uptake, and sometimes we forgot what it was like to be a teenager. We get busy with the ludicrous minutiae of adult life. We need each other, in this mad, infuriating, heart-breaking, joyful, ridiculous world. Let us hear your music, and let us watch your favourite shows with you. Let us into your world. In many respects, you are experiencing life in such a different way to what we did. The ways of our youth no longer exist; gone the way of paper tickets, cameras with film, video cassettes and boomboxes. Teach us what it’s like to be you, a teenager in the world.

Bushfires and Climate Change


In the months leading up to Christmas in Australia, the atmosphere was charged with a negative current. You could see the threat hovering within the blistering sun, and in our parched gardens and lawns. We started to taste ash on our tongues, and took to sealing up our homes. I had to assist a few people who were battling with the air quality, and they all said that they didn’t have a history of asthma, and that their struggle took them by surprise. Fires raged all around my area, and a cursive look at the Fires Near Me app each morning, told a startling tale. This bushfire season was unprecedented, starting early and violently. Friends were forced to leave their homes, with minutes to spare, on occasion. Leading up to Christmas, an installation was put outside Wynyard station, a stark reminder of what had transpired, and what may lay ahead. Charred and devoid of green, it highlighted the calamity our country was facing.

I have followers in many countries, and I know you have all been looking on in horror. I was on the periphery of it, but have many friends who were out there fighting the fires. Some of my mates had to evacuate, and some lost property. Asthmatics have died due to the air quality, and those in ill health have had to seek refuge inside. The smoke permeated through operating theatres, MRI machines, and office blocks. I have had to resort to steroids, two preventers and face masks in order to breathe. An estimated billion native animals have perished. The festive season saw many of us unable to celebrate. Rather, we were refreshing our phones for the latest updates, checking in with loved ones, masking up and feeling helpless as our country burned. This is unprecedented, and can’t be allowed to be our new normal.

Personally, I am appalled at how our government has handled this tipping point. They refused to meet with fire chiefs in order to prepare for this season. They denied the reality of climate change, favouring coal and ignoring alternatives put forth by scientists. Here is an excellent resource on National Geographic, detailing the scientific reality of climate change. Australia has one of the highest emissions of carbon in the world, and the time to look into renewable energy sources to greatly lower our emissions, is today.

We have good people on the ground, helping to restore and rebuild lives and homes, and also rehabilitate the wildlife that survived. The cost of these bushfires will be astronomical, not just in 2020, but in the years to come. Here are a few ideas of where to donate:

Spend with them is an Instagram account, set up by Turia Pitt. When you order a product from this account, you shall be directly helping towns and businesses affected by the fires.

 

Donate to Animals Australia

In NSW, you can donate to your local Rural Fire Service

In Victoria, donations can be made to the Country Fire Association

In South Australia, you can donate to the CFS 

Givit

Foodbank

WILDLIFE

Donate to Animals Australia

Wires

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

Wildlife Victoria

Educate yourselves on climate change, and start adapting your life. This is a crisis that will affect our world as a whole. You can check out your carbon footprint on this excellent free resource. We can all do better. We must do better. It should be our tribute to those who perished in the bushfires; those who lost everything, and the animals who succumbed. Australia is a breathtakingly beautiful country, which shall rebuild and restore. We need you to visit in the year ahead, to buy from us, and receive our hospitality. I believe as a people, we are already saying, ‘never again.’  I feel the clarion call has been received and responded to. There have been protests and  free educational sessions arranged to deal with climate change and demand action. The commentary on social media toward what transpired in the years leading up to this disaster, has been blistering. We simply won’t stand for inaction, nor apathy. Not anymore.

 

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)