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.

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Frida, Tomatoes and Giving Pain Meaning


I had a hard time holding my newborn. When I was pregnant, I practiced carrying  a string bag filled with oranges, and a sack of potatoes. Weights and hydrotherapy also played an important role. When my daughter came along, I found it very difficult to hold her, and wrangling her as an active toddler was a challenge! Breaking my back again when she was three, saw me unable to carry her; even navigating a roundabout in the car would see me bite my lip to avoid screaming in agony.

I am a planner and think a great deal of the future. I guess when one has had so much out of their control, you grip onto that which you can have power over. My spine is a case in point. Working with weights each day and walking are things I can do to prepare for the future. I had researched spinal cord stimulation, and sought experts in this particular field. I was excited about the prospect of being able to cope as my back pain became more challenging (the fusion sites are already wearing out with age). I was so young when the damage happened, which means that preparations and reparations have to be considered now. I thought of my daughter as a teenager and young woman. I want to travel with her, and maybe one day be a hands-on grandmother to any children she may have. I want to be able to hold those babes in my arms. Unfortunately, a site of major damage is the thoracic region. Holding anything in my arms is agonizing. For a year, I harboured hope that spinal cord stimulation would help. It was to be my insurance policy; a nod to the next decades of life.

Last week, my daughter and I saw Evita at Sydney Opera House. It was a spectacular production, which left us spellbound. Tina Arena as Eva Peron, was stunning, and deserved the standing ovation which she received. My girl asked lots of questions about Argentina, and we researched it’s history online after we left. We stayed in Sydney overnight, having a leisurely brunch before seeing my spinal specialist. Armed with my latest test results,  I followed the doctor to his rooms, unaware of what was to come. I assumed we would be arranging to have a trial device implanted.  Spinal stenosis and fibrosis at the site of former surgeries meant that there isn’t adequate space to weave the wires through. I can’t even have epidural injections to manage the pain. Having surgery to place a stimulator would be far too hazardous, as it turned out. It was a lot to take in. It means I have to reimagine my future, and my daughter has to reimagine hers. Simple things like sitting or carrying luggage, going on long treks or long-haul flights will be that much more difficult.

I went home and cried. I watched the movie Frida, as I laid on my Frida cushions. It will be a reimagined future. I am doing everything in my power to keep my bones and muscles, kidneys, lungs and mind strong in preparation. There will be no hope of relief nor reprieve from the merciless pain. It shall always be there, a constant reminder of the brutality of my youth. It will limit what work I can take on, and how far I am able to drive. I will be damned if it limits what I can do with my daughter. She stubbornly took my suitcase off of me the other day, on our way to our hotel room, giggling as she ran ahead, despite my protestations. She reaches out her arm to me, and carries my backpack on her strong shoulders each and every day.

 

We shared the bus ride to RPA with an eloquent middle-aged gentleman who was homeless. He was Italian, and ate a tomato as though it were an apple. He reorganized his bag, and when he stood, he rolled deodorant under his armpits, before gifting the family opposite a drawing. He read a book on philosophy as he sat back down, finishing his tomato with relish. As we departed, he tipped his hat. I would love to know his story; I’m sure it is brimming with pathos and triumphs. The most remarkable stories are.

I have always been fascinated by birds, butterflies and dragonflies. How wondrous it would be, to have wings. For over half my life, I have been fused from my shoulders down, with  limited range of movement. I am grateful that I have been able to walk, and if my mobility were to cease tomorrow, there would be no lamentations. I just want (and need), to be well enough to see my daughter through to her adulthood.

For a moment, I regretted the time and money spent seeing specialists and having all of the tests done. What a monumental waste of a year! Then there was the matter of the space all of this took up in my brain. I had put things off ‘until after I had the device fitted.’ Ironically, as I reflect, I see that these days had only brought my daughter and I closer together. We had stayed in the city, walking and laughing in the rain. We brunched and cheered on street performers. We had been together, smart phones displaced from our hands. I found myself outside the Downing Centre courts, a place I had avoided since the court case I endured at sixteen, trying to get a bad man to pay for the vile things he had done. I stood outside for fifteen minutes, waiting for our bus. Lost in my thoughts, the Italian gent, tomato in hand, tipped his cap and we talked. Mental illness had robbed him of a lot, but not his heart. Physical injury had robbed me of a lot, though not my heart. For a moment, we were in simpatico. He gestured for my girl and I to board the bus before him, and I glanced out the window at the imposing courts. I had come back to retrieve that girl.

Perhaps, none of it was about a spinal cord stimulator. Perhaps it was to give me leave to spend quality time with my daughter. Maybe it was also about facing another piece of the past. Maybe it was to show me that I can organize travel and hotels and that I am enough for my daughter. I am the mum that she needs. Perhaps it was to affirm that I need to let go of fear. The worst has come and gone and I am still here. Maybe I was meant to meet the Italian fellow, and be encouraged to eat vine-ripened tomato’s as though they were apples. He even ate the stem, and I realized that nothing is ever wasted. The same is true with lives.

I have been referred to a physical therapist, and my specialist is going to review my case at the next practice meeting. As I reflect on the year gone by, I see no wastage. My daughter and I had experiences we would never have had, and seen parts of Sydney that we wouldn’t have. We have met magical people, been in magical shops, had magical food and stepped out of comfort zones. The only thing left to do is eat a tomato as though it were an apple.

 

Making a Will and Planning a Funeral


I recently made a new will. It was something that had been on my mind for some time. I initially had one drawn up with the Public Trustee a decade ago. I balked, however, at the potential of huge fees charged to my estate by the government. The other day, I typed a list of  my insurance policies, as well as bank account details and passwords to my social media. It felt like an overwhelming task at first, but as I progressed, I began to feel empowered. I booked an appointment at my local legal centre for a small fee, and provided the necessary information. There were points added to help guide my daughter until she becomes an adult. It all felt rather dry, so I then began to plan for my penultimate party, my funeral.

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I stayed up until the early hours, selecting songs, writing a eulogy, copying photos to a USB. I laughed when I thought of my daughter cringing when goofy pictures played. There was too much material to cram into an hour, and so I planned for my wake as well. There will be much laughter, I can guarantee! I didn’t have an 18th, 21st, nor 30th. I am determined to have a joyous party, at least once in my life. To have everyone I love together; to have strangers hug and share stories. To hopefully raise money for selected charities. It will not so much be about me, but to honour my daughter, and show her that she is surrounded by love.

I looked at my drafted plans, and smiled. It has been a painful, lonely, bewildering, scary and ferocious life, thus far. It has also been a life filled with laughter, smiling, swimming, floating, singing, whimsy and love. I have had dear friend’s pass away at a young age, unfortunately not leaving a will. I have seen the intended wishes for their children and possessions be dishonoured. My heart broke a decade ago, and it propelled me to have my initial will drawn up.

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We leave this world with no earthly possessions, but what a relief it is to know that it will all end up with those it was intended for. If it’s something you have thought of doing, my advice is to not put it off any longer. It is a relief to not have it on your intended to-do list, and in the back of your mind. Drawing up a will and planning your funeral can assist you in living, funnily enough. Do you want your ashes to become a diamond, or would you want to be buried in a pod, and grow into a mighty tree? The possibilities are endless, and your loved ones won’t have to guess what you would have wanted. As I selected photos and music, I felt content. It has been a good life, despite the storms. It has been a good life because of the people whom have walked alongside me.

Farewell, young Prince


Once upon a time, an effervescent soul joined the theatre in her native England. Oh, what fun was had in the halcyon, carefree days of her youth, treading the boards. She eventually emigrated to Australia, and joined a local company, befriending a gent with a twinkle in his eye and wicked sense of humour. Life provided the pair with many twists and turns, including marriages to other people, but somehow they found each other again. The lady was in demand as a singing teacher and also as a performer. She smiled a lot and her love of sequins befitted her seemingly extroverted self. Yet, I recall bumping into her at the supermarket, one bitterly-cold evening. We exchanged pleasantries, and then I saw the look. The look that betrays the dimples and smile, and  speaks of pain that the eyes can’t hide, no matter how trained in the theatre one is. She was lonely, so lonely, and needed everything in her contracted world to expand. She ultimately needed to see the fellow from long ago. He had since divorced as had she. She attempted to explain who he was and what he could possibly become in her future, but there weren’t enough superlatives on earth. Complex, bitingly funny, sensitive and much more. I truly couldn’t wait to meet him.

A medical professional, biker, guitarist and intriguingly also a plumber, he greeted me warmly. My friend had come back to life with his presence and they married. He had an horrendous, abusive upbringing which had scarred him in ways only she knew how to soothe. Over the next few years, they built a life together. He was spiritual, more than religious, as he had witnessed his share of hypocrisy and one thing he couldn’t abide was cruelty, nor fools. He had already endured several agonizing illnesses, and numerous surgeries. Trying to keep life and soul together was proving too much.

A sandy-haired medico/biker, with an impish grin and wicked humour made the choice to not continue. I will think of you, my friend, whenever I open a decent bottle of plonk, hear the engine revving on a motorbike, listen to proper music and look into your beloved’s eyes. Those eyes which once contained an Olympic pool filled with tears, are now twinkling. You conjured hope into being, and so it remains.

Removed from Society by NBN Cable (Digital Detox)


I thought I may have finally got the balance right regarding social media and the internet. Refraining from oversharing, and pulling back from the dreaded Fear of Missing Out and understanding the truth behind a cultivated snap and status. Seeing who the fearsome Wizard really was behind the curtain in Oz. A house move saw me taken off the internet for the term of my natural life (okay, it was a month)! A fibre optic cable below my house was damaged and needed replacing. It was a month filled with highs and lows.

The Lows:

  1. My daughter is enrolled in some excellent classes, which can only be accessed online. This presented a problem.
  2. No Netflix, Stan or Apple TV!
  3. This led to no The Handmaid’s Tale for four weeks!
  4. I couldn’t complete research for my upcoming book.
  5. I couldn’t write on my blog.
  6. Our many groups sent out invitations and vital information, via Facebook, which we couldn’t access.
  7. We missed hearing loved one’s news, and knowing what was going on in their lives.
  8. A strange feeling of isolation, of being on an isle by ourselves, took place.
  9. Paying bills and keeping informed about payments was a hassle.
  10. We missed opportunities only presented online.
  11. We certainly missed the feeling of connectedness.
  12. We craved the immediacy of being able to put a query into a search engine.

The Highs:

  1. When we woke, the first thing we did was not look at social media. We chatted over breakfast instead.
  2. My daughter rediscovered workbooks and the joy of reading novels.
  3. We played board games after dinner.
  4.  We found ourselves having early nights and waking refreshed.
  5. We were so busy setting up house (and our lives), that we rarely thought of social media.
  6. We found out who we were and where the internet left off in its cultivation of us.
  7. We rode out the listlessness and found a contentment with being without our devises.
  8. There was time to potter, to read, play and rest.
  9. We found that if we took a photo and couldn’t upload it to Instagram, it would still exist and bring joy.
  10. We brought out our old DVDs to delight in.
  11. I lost a large chunk of anxiety, being offline. I sometimes felt as though social media were a beast that demanded to be fed and acknowledged. Once you were on Facebook, for example, it would feel rude to answer one or two messages, and not the rest. The same feeling applied to going to one or two groups and not the others. So many invitations and details to remember!
  12. We needed this month to reflect and replenish, and we did just that without the sensory overload.

A lovely fellow came over and fixed our NBN connection, once and for all. Sure, it was a relief to be back online, but there was also a feeling of wistfulness. You know the feeling when your phone has been off and when you switch it back on it lights up and buzzes with numerous notifications? Whilst we enjoy being back online, with all that it entails, we are also wary of getting sucked back onto the digital highway. You know how one moment you are answering a Facebook message, and the next you are looking at Meerkats on YouTube? You don’t know how you got there, nor are you adult enough to switch off. Before you know it, its 2am and you have to be up in four hours. The IPad and laptops may be fired up again, but we have kept the board games and novels out, as a pertinent reminder that we are more than an avatar, and we need to regularly switch off.

 

Women and Heart Health


I had an operation at seventeen to save my heart and lungs from being crushed, after my initial bone grafts crumbled and weren’t able to keep my spine straight. It remains incredible to me, that my chest was opened- floating ribs removed- and someone massaged my heart for many hours during the mighty surgery. I guess I became cavalier about my heart as a result. After all, the amount of times I thought this heart was incapable of any further psychic injury, and yet it still kept beating, is incalculable.

Four years ago, I lost my dear friend, Serena, and my attitude toward my heart changed. She had a family history of cardiomyopathy, with both her father and aunt dying young. She went to her GP, complaining of exhaustion and a nagging cough, and it was put down to a virus. She ended up collapsing at home, and was taken by ambulance to hospital, where it was discovered she was in heart failure. She was put on the transplant list and transferred to St Vincents. She died that evening, leaving us shocked. Women are more likely to die from heart disease than any other cause, and yet we are reluctant to seek help as a matter of urgency. One reason for this is that the signs of heart disease are often vastly different than for men.

A few months ago, I went to see a new doctor, as mine was on holidays. I told him that my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest and that I felt like I had indigestion each night, with a weight in my chest. I was also breathless, nauseous, dizzy, with a tight neck and was exhausted all the time. My symptoms were worse when laying in bed. He took one look at me, 48 kilograms, a vegetarian with low blood pressure, and reached for the obvious. I had gone into premature menopause in my early thirties, and it seemed that my symptoms were caused by the lack of hormones. He suggested I go back onto the patches, but something didn’t feel right. In the meantime, I was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia and TMJ problems, so I put a lot of the symptoms down to these conditions, and the stress of dealing with such.

Meanwhile, I felt ever weaker, and had to grip onto furniture to stop me falling over. I was in bed early each evening, completely spent, and my heart felt as though it was going to jump out of my body. I ended up losing consciousness a few weeks ago, and an ambulance was called. When I came to, I felt silly causing all this fuss, and apologized to the two women taking my vitals as I lay on my bed. After doing an EKG, they said that they were worried about my heart, and took me to hospital. Another EKG was taken, and it was alarming. My heart was beating way too fast, signalling a problem. Another EKG was taken by my regular doctor, which showed the same. At this juncture, I took the advice to rest as much as I could.

My doctor organized an emergency appointment for me with a cardiologist, and it was found that I wasn’t breathing from the base of my lungs, and that I had chronic pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the sac that envelops the heart. Shortness of breath, fatigue and coughing are common symptoms. It feels as though I am being stabbed through the heart continuously. I was put on three medications, which will hopefully ease the symptoms, and told to rest. No exercise. I have to be careful to avoid the flu, as I can’t have a flu shot when my immune system is weak. I am going for review in a week’s time and undergoing more tests.

I am telling you all this, because I was cavalier. I drink my three litres of water each day, live on a plant-based diet and exercise daily. It still didn’t protect me. Issues with the heart can have so many causes, including genetics and stress. I have had enough stress for a few lifetimes, though I had thought I was managing it. If you are experiencing any of the above, please, go seek medical advice. The longer a potential problem exists, the more damage can be done to your heart.

I was strangely calm after these recent experiences. I had to stop and reflect; I didn’t have the energy for much else. This numinous child of mine took precedence in my thoughts, as did my determination to see her flourish as an adult. Having no time to waste has also taken priority. I have often said that you know when something is right to do because it takes nothing from you. Rather than feel drained, you feel replenished afterward. I had begun spinning out of control, like a crazed sprinkler, flinging my attention every which way. It is time to get back to basics; to have fun and do what doesn’t create such exhaustive spillage. This was my warning to do what I can, and then rest from the day’s efforts. We are only given the one precious heart, and boy, does it go through some trauma over a lifetime! Somebody once massaged my beating heart. It is my responsibility to take as good of care of it as I possibly can.