Agoraphobia, Walking and Sunshine

I was stalked as a teen. Female police officers took to patrolling my street each day, as the danger was ever-present. My world contracted in, to the point where going to the letterbox or even sitting in my backyard, felt beyond imagining. I was a hermit for a very long time and it was only the arrival of my daughter that saw me venture out. It was accomplished in little bite-sized steps, over a long period. The pandemic arrived and suddenly, life contracted in again, not just for me, but for many people suffering anxiety, depression and those who have suffered agoraphobia at some stage in their lives. Working from home, there have been weeks when I haven’t seen a single person, other than my daughter. You think you’re chugging along nicely, until you’re not. Being in constant pain, isolated at home, a background of trauma and absorbing every aspect of what’s been happening in our world, is a recipe for poor mental health.

Why is it, that the very activities you need to maintain, are given the least precedence? They’re the first things to go, when you get busy and the last activities you resume. Convincing yourself that you don’t have time, what with work, study, looking after the house and kids… Poor mental health skulks up on you. The first signs may be insomnia, or being able to go to sleep, but waking abruptly a few hours later. It can be lethargy, lack of enthusiasm, loneliness (though not having the energy to reach out), physical aches and pains, agitation, feeling restless and fidgety and not being able to think clearly. It may present as feeling the need to up your caffeine and alcohol intake. Inside what was once your sanctuary, it now feels like a cone of silence and the mind starts playing tricks on you. You feel as though you don’t matter and that nobody wants to see you. You may feel invisible and doubt your very existence (as well as importance). Social media may add to the distress. The untruths take hold and have 24 hours each and every day to hold you captive.

It’s spring in Sydney and the weather looks delightful, as you cast a cursory glance through a window. You vow to get out there, ‘as soon as you can,’ yet somehow, the day is chewed up and before long, night falls. You slumber, then prepare to do it all over again. Hours stretch into days, stretch into weeks. Depression doesn’t come to your door, announcing itself. It creeps through the back gate, under cover, calling itself many other things. Once I had identified what was actually going on, I made adjustments; life-saving alterations. I made myself get out of the house for an hour each day, every day. It didn’t matter what I had to do, I made time. If I had any other illness, I would ensure that I maintained my health and did whatever was needed; why are our brains so different? I had to see walking as the medicine it was. On Monday, I walked with a friend. We bought coffee and walked our neighbourhood for miles. We talked to people we met, admired gardens and visited hidden areas of loveliness. This led to other walks; some early morning or at dusk. Now, it isn’t negotiable. It’s for pain management, to lower anxiety and to help me sleep better. It is to help me manage my life and stressors.This is why I am taking part in the following: Make a Move for Mental Health. Dedicate 15, 30 or 60 minutes to improving your wellbeing every day throughout October. You can challenge yourself with physical activities like running, or with self-care activities like meditation; either way you’ll be doing something positive to help young people and yourself.

1. Sign Up (It’s Free)

2. Set Your Goal. It could be 15, 30 or 60 minutes a day.

3. Spread the Word and maybe, a few people may sponsor you!

4. Throughout October, make it a non-negotiable!

5. Log in Daily to record your mental health minutes and keep yourself accountable.

Sign up at Make A Move

Happy 15th Birthday, Sweetheart!

Today is your last day of being 14 years old. Watching you move through life and process the nonsense this era has thrown like confetti, inspires me to do better; be better. I began to complain the other day, about a stranger who aggravated me with her self-importance. “Stop it; you’re being silly,” you castigated me. “You don’t know what she’s going through in her life. Why stress yourself out? Come on, let’s go for a walk.” You cut through drama and angst with firm compassion, offering forth the best advice I and many others have ever received. I dreamt about you for over a decade and when the first IVF clinic gave me no hope, I went to another. I just wanted to see what would happen, if I made it through a whole cycle.

You were always in a hurry, from the time you were an embryo, rapidly dividing. The embryo transfer had to be pushed forward as a result. You arrived early into the world and then you walked without firstly having crawled. I had put you down for a nap and went to make myself a coffee. Turning around, I screamed in fright. There you were, giggling, having climbed out of your cot, then walking to the kitchen. You were 9 months of age. You have climbed the tallest tree in Australia and have no fear of anything. You have in turn gifted me courage. You believe in kindness, whilst at the same time, not tolerating fools. You are as at home in a soup kitchen or visiting the dying, as you are in a shop with friends. You asked for plants for your birthday and your room is going to feel like a conservatory, filled with sun, air and emerald green tones. I will hardly see you tomorrow, as you’ll be on three Zoom meetings back-to-back, for almost 7 hours. When you finally emerge, we will have pizza and I will tell you once again, how lucky I am that such a numinous girl came into my world.

Wearing a 100 year old lady’s shoes

Audrey, you don’t wear anything but bed socks and slippers now, so I was gifted several pairs of your shoes. Your shoes are an honour to own. They are much like you; stylish, sturdy, colourful, reliable and comfortable. I can picture your feet slipping into them, after a lifetime of wear. Running your fruit and veg shop, with its hard manual work, doing sums in your head as you do the books. Raising your kids as a single mum, with no partner to bounce ideas off. Taking care of business and taking care of your family. The feet of a legend who took her kids to a Beatles concert, and as a little girl, attended the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Welcoming grandkids in her 90s and friends since time immemorial. Wedgewood blue eyes and snowy hair, soft as fairy floss. You are on the cusp of your 101 birthday. I have big shoes to fill, but I’ll do my utmost to make you proud.

I don’t know where you find your strength

I am amazed by your fortitude, my friend. I have seen what you endure. I have seen the medications lining the bench, the order forms for a litany of tests. I see the isolation; the sense that whilst we can walk alongside you, we can’t comprehend what it feels to be you, experiencing this. I know what you go through, and yet there is something I am at a loss to explain…

Where do you find your strength? I know it waxes and wanes, like the cycles of the moon. That is natural, when under extreme pressure. Diamonds are only created through pressure, and you, my darling, are certainly a diamond. Not a cubic zirconia; the real thing. Have you ever seen a black opal? The most expensive of opals, with the most intense colours. The ground cracks over time, allowing soluble silica to flow deep into the ground and this is where the black opal forms, aged with layers of sediment, a bit like life. Some people complain and whine about the most pedestrian of things. Not you; that was never you.

I see the joy your pets bring with their delightful antics. The humour found in shared ‘in-jokes’ with your kids. I see how you relish a hug, a gift, a friend. Certain music both enthrals and moves you to tears. I remember when Haighs chocolate opened a store in Sydney. You were as excited as a child, and caught me up in your enthusiasm. You have never complained, when I’ve taken you to avant grade festivals. Remember the New York taxi driver, who espoused his wisdom, after you slid into the back seat of the cab? Remember when the kids broke away from us as toddlers and we found them nearby on a film set, where they were being fed by the caterers, their plump little hands stuffed with food? I have photographic evidence of all our misadventures with our mates. Who can forget the time we graced Canberra with our presence?

I promise you, more fun is to be had. There will be more laughter. Always remember that you are both a black opal and diamond. Borne from pressure and cracking, exploding into an exquisite array of colours and facets. After further pondering, I know where you find your strength. It was always there, within you.

Give Yourself a Break

If 2020 was a year of shut-down, 2021 has proven to be the year of overwhelm, judging by what people are expressing out there. How do you ensure self-care, when you are assailed by a mighty to-do list, each and every day? I have had the privilege lately, of bearing witness to three incredible women, who have taken health challenges by the horns, and are fighting like hell. Learning to walk again, learning to live anew and learning to wait for answers. They are true heroines. They have seen their bodies broken down and rebuilt. They get up and face each day with courage.

I am working, studying; juggling. Trying to fit everything in that I need to do to build a future for myself and my daughter. I sometimes come home, and collapse into bed without dinner, my spine aching so much that I simply cannot move. My studies alone entail at least 20 hours commitment each week. I had to laugh the other day. I received a curt email, saying that as I’d missed a message, requesting a self-tape to be sent immediately, I was going to be ‘released’ from this particular representation. I had been at work, and couldn’t have done it in time. I was given zero notice. Ordinarily, I would have felt terrible, castigating myself for the missed opportunity. This time, I laughed. Even if I stayed awake 24 hours a day, I still wouldn’t get through that day’s messages and notifications on various social media. It just isn’t possible. I can only do what I can do. The same applies to you.

My day’s are usually broken up as follows:

  • Feeding pets and getting ready for the day, when I rise at 4.30am
  • Quick breakfast, then either travelling to work or starting the day’s studies or work from home
  • Fitting in a quick lunch
  • Scanning emails and messages and replying to as many as I can
  • Doctor appointments and necessary exercise to strengthen my bones
  • Grocery shopping, laundry and cleaning the house
  • Paying bills and organising my calendar
  • A walk in the evening, before a quick dinner
  • Continue to work/study until around 9pm (sometimes later)

Rinse, recycle and repeat, day after day.

I am trying to give myself one day off a week (I’m trying). The correspondence outlaid in the email I received, made my heart thud wildly, before I acknowledged the absurdity of the request. I am only one person. I can’t be ‘on’ 24/7, although heaven knows, I have tried. Witnessing my friend’s health battles has been a wake-up. Their lives have contracted in and all that matters at the moment, is their healing. The lists and demands that we think are so important fade, like old, useless receipts we keep in our wallets for reasons unknown. You can’t even decipher the words on the paper anymore. How do you keep going, particularly when you are the sole breadwinner and have health battles? Here are my tips:

  1. Make a bullet list of what needs to be done, but put the tasks into categories. What has to be done today? What won’t matter if you put it off? What needs to be done by the end of the week? Focus on what is most pressing. I find it thrilling, to highlight what has been accomplished from the list at day’s end.
  2. Get up and move around every hour, on the hour. Make yourself a pot of tea or coffee
  3. Ensure you stop for lunch!
  4. Go for a walk at the end of the day. It sets a demarcation line between work and leisure time
  5. Ensure you are hydrated
  6. Post-it notes are my best friend and ensure I can sleep soundly, knowing I have put a pressing task onto paper for the day ahead
  7. Break tasks into 45 minute increments. I find it helps keep me focused
  8. I find rosemary and peppermint oils help to refresh my brain
  9. Be kind to yourself. It seems obvious, but often, it’s the one thing we forget to do
  10. Ensure you ‘star’ or otherwise highlight contacts and emails you don’t want to miss, in amongst the masses you receive each day

I am endeavouring to see friends I haven’t seen for a long time. Time gets away, doesn’t it, and in the pandemic, it was hard to see people we love. Yesterday, I saw my friend, who happens to be a superb florist. We chatted to the glorious customers who frequent her shop, and I literally lost track of time. I had forgotten what that felt like, to be able to stop and be still awhile.

I also saw friends I hadn’t managed to see in over a year. I almost cried when I spotted them; the beauty of their faces, the familiarity of their voices. People who have travelled through life and its many twists and turns with me. I am trying to snatch time back, anyway I can. I want to make my daughter proud; by witnessing me achieve everything I set out to provide for us. I want my friends to know I love them, by creating pockets of time, especially for them. I want to get the balance right. I am not there yet, but am on my way. Life is so very precious; alternately, fine as a silver thread and dense as tar, often in the same day. I think the most desired of all things, is time. Let’s make the most of it.

Breakdowns and Breakthroughs

2020 has alternately dragged and slipped through our fingers like sand. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t been deeply affected in some aspect of life. Not being okay at times, well, it’s the new normal. I had a friend come to my door in tears. We sat and talked for hours, and I discovered that there wasn’t one area of her life that was supporting her. A home is designed to be a sanctuary, and hers certainly wasn’t. She apologised for crying, and I interjected. Crying is never a sign of weakness, but rather of strength. I asked her if she had any idea how brave she was, to make her way to my door. It was a positive action, signalling that she is aware she is worth care. It was a declaration of worth. I knew an elderly lady in her 80’s, who rode the Sydney trains and hung around a soup kitchen. She rejoiced when I wept in front of her, saying that I would now be spared having water on the brain, from all the tears unshed! I think she was onto something.

I couldn’t wave a magic wand, nor take all of my friend’s troubles away, but what I could do was listen. We watched the little dogs in the park play, and chatted to lovely people. We ate pizza and watched a kid’s movie. Answers were forming from the very act of divulging her pain. By experiencing a quiet sanctuary, she could see that she was worthy of more than her turbulent abode. I tend to think we know the answers; we just require the space to enable us to make decisions about the future. By emptying our mind of our solitary concerns, the answers are able to form.

We are so focused on presenting well, and so intent on not burdening other people, that we forget that through our authenticity, we allow others to be ‘real’ also. We are in the final months of a very hard year, and as the Christmas decorations go up in every store, I doubt many of us are prepared in any respect, for the festive season. Our very foundations were shaken, life as we knew it disassembled. There is nothing wrong with contracting in, as long as we don’t hold our breath, and forget to exhale.

The necessity of community has been brought back home to me. We need each other; we weren’t meant to go it alone. I shall never forget the many kindnesses shown me; the myriad ways gorgeous souls showed love and concern. It has left me humbled, with a renewed conviction to bundle up all that love, and pass it onto others.

It’s okay if we aren’t gearing up for Christmas, and it’s okay if we are. It’s okay if we’re in a puddle of tears today. 2020 has seen the rule book tossed out. Anything goes!

I recently sat on a beach to watch the sun came up, for the first time in years. I had forgotten just how profound it is. No matter what has transpired the day before, the sun dutifully rises. There’s comfort in that assurance.

What has fallen apart can be rebuilt. What remains hidden can finally be seen, and what is undecided shall have answers.

Birthdays, Dreams and Life

She came into this sphere in a cacophony of birdsong and Annie Lennox’s ‘Precious Little Angel.’  This numinous being filled with promise and life. She was in a hurry, even when a blastocyst in a square dish, nurtured by an embryologist who became a dear friend. She has brought people together, gathered up dreams and made them glorious reality. She has seen monsters and apparitions come to life, and then vanquished with her steely, focused gaze. When we have a girl’s night, we end up in fits of giggles, and her sense of humour drinks in the absurdities of life, and makes them something light.

2020 shall be the year when the lives of our youth were suspended within a holding pattern. For her, it has meant no public singing, no choir camps or meeting up with her choir family. It has meant no drama classes, and no Highschool musical. It has meant that much has been stopped, or at least postponed. Anyone who says that the young aren’t resilient, are wrong. They have seen our world fall, and they shall be the ones to rebuild. They have taken this year in their stride, alongside the worries, the fears and uncertainty. She said to me that she’d remember the time when society and school shut down as a simple time in an otherwise chaotic era. We played board games, and went on long walks, and ate popcorn and watched streaming shows. She wants space, where silence isn’t filled with noise and competing demands. Time, that is what she craves. She didn’t know what she was missing, until there was a bounteous amount.

As I wrote in her card on the eve of her 14th birthday, I couldn’t quite fathom where time has disappeared to, since the day she was born. A lion’s share was snatched up in parks and excursions and artistic pursuits. There were birthday parties and weddings, christenings and funerals. Time spent with her has been both limitless, and too fleeting. Always dramatic, I shall never forget your retort, when I said you needed to go to sleep. “You are messing with my electrical spirit!” you protested. You were five years old.

On your birthday, you once again craved simplicity. You went for a walk, chatted to loved ones, and comforted a friend who needed to hear your voice on the phone. By the time you came back out of your room, your birthday pizza was cold, but no matter. The warmth of your exquisite heart shone bright. Keep shining, sweetheart. Once a blastocyst, and now a meteor. Happy Birthday.

Love Mum

 

On this day…

Trigger warning

I looked set to die on this date, a lifetime ago. I was abducted, held overnight, strangled, then thrown off a building. I was fifteen years of age. Before this event, I’d been a typical teenager. I jogged around my neighbourhood, roller-skated, hung out at the shops with friends, and thought anyone over 25 was ancient. Then, my life changed. No more high school; I began learning by correspondence. A life that was expansive, contracted in. I lost touch with all my friends. My world started and ended in my room. My daughter is soon to be 14, the age that I was when it all began. The thought of anyone hurting her; my little girl…I will keep her from harm, that is the solemn oath I’d whispered when I first held her as a newborn.  I still have sharp pieces of bone lodged in my spinal canal. It feels like I’m being perpetually knifed in the back. It alternatively enrages, saddens and fuels me to keep going. Today is a time for reflection and grieving. By the same token, it’s a time of celebration. I sat in my living room last night, and was overcome. Here I am, cosy inside my sanctuary. I cradled a hot cup of tea, my daughter and safety. That winter’s night, as I lay smattered in my own blood, this was what I was dreaming of. Now, it is mine. Everything I only dreamed of, pined for and craved, I now have.

Numerous surgeries, court cases, pain and healing have ensued. Here is what I’ve been left with, rather than what was taken.

  • I know what it’s like to survive an event that looked set to kill me; that in itself is a gift.
  • What is there to fear anymore, within this life?
  • I am in agony every second of every day, and yet still I rise. It’s not always easy, and nor is it pretty, but it is worth it.
  • I strive and I achieve. I would rather feel it; the ecstasy and the bleakness, than feel nothing at all.
  • I don’t obsess over the minutae of life. What does any of it matter, in the big picture?
  • The months I spent on a Stryker bed in a barren hospital room, made me crave colour. A fruit bowl brimming with citrus, or viewing the lavender and geraniums in my garden, fills my soul.
  • There is no time for small talk. All interactions are met with a sense of urgency and a need to delve deeper.
  • Nothing is taken for granted. I remember well, the months spent in body casts and the years in body braces. The glorious sensation of washing my hair and having that first shower, remains with me, and each morning I rejoice as I undertake this ritual. As for running a bath; it’s as decadent as it’d been after six months in a cast.
  • Bird song remains as sweet as when I heard a solitary bellbird from my hospital bed.
  • In this hour, I was being wheeled to the CT machine in the hospital. I recall tears streaming down my face, experiencing a sunrise I didn’t think I’d see. I still love dawn; the dappled light and promise of a new day.
  • My daughter greeting me with a hug. ‘Good morning, Mama,’ she says. Once, she’d been a beautiful dream; an apparition I saw regularly in my slumber. I still can’t quite get over the fact she is earth-side now. I have the Petrie dish she grew in as an embryo. Miracles and other wonders are intertwined within even the darkest of times.

With nothing left to fear (the worst has been done, after all), and provided with the warmth, food, security, family, colour and        freedom I’d craved on that lonely, bitter-cold night, I am content. I dared to dream within the 24 hours I was hostage. All that I dreamed of as a hungry, cold, isolated kid, has come to pass. Anything else that I’m gifted is a bonus.

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,’ Janis Joplin sang, and she was right.

Bruno, Opposites and Trees

Bruno is a little dog, and I instantly adored him, when we came across him in the park. We must have made a good impression, as we were invited to Bruno’s 1st Birthday celebrations. His mum had contacted the local council, and we were greeted by an extraordinary set-up.

The dogs all received a toy from the lucky dip basket, as well as a big ‘doggy bag‘ to take home. It was a morning of revelry, finishing with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday, during which a plucky pooch clandestinely took off with Bruno’s birthday cake! In a year such as this, the question of whether to have a party for your pet or not is moot. Why wouldn’t you? The dogs had great fun, and we left with our cheek’s hurting from all the smiling. Any chance you have to snatch up some joy, take it, especially now.

I had an experience the other day, which shall stay with me always. I came across a lady (I would estimate in her 50’s), sitting by herself. As I stopped to smile, she complemented me on what I was wearing. “Look at you; so beautifully put-together. I wish I could do that.” I knew what she meant. I have been her, at various times in my life. She couldn’t smile, nor could her eyes contain the anguish within. She longed for the days when she could conceal what was now evident. We chatted and she told me she was depressed. Financially insecure, this was not what she’d thought her 50’s would be. “How do you keep going?” she asked, almost pleadingly. “Depression is a hard foe, and you have to be cunning. You know how it tells you nobody cares? You know how the first impulse is to isolate; to stay inside?” She nodded. “You have to do the opposite of what it’s demanding. Get out into the sunshine, and listen to the kookaburras. Admire the trees in the neighbourhood. Talk to someone, even if it’s a stranger, each and every day. Drink water, and don’t skip meals. Whatever your first impulse is, (I know from experience with anxiety, that it’s usually caffeine and solitude), do the exact opposite. What brought you outside today?” I asked. She sighed, “I needed to know that I wasn’t alone in this world. I needed all the things that you spoke about. I needed the trees and fresh air, a friendly face and birdsong.” “Promise me that you’ll do this each day?” I asked. “It’s a little thing, and won’t fix everything up; though I wish with all my heart that it could. It’s a start, though… A start in the right direction.” She nodded, and we looked in each other’s eyes. Hers were emblazoned with sapphires, and diamonds. Her shoulders straightened, and she looked different, stronger. Never underestimate the effect you can have on someone, even a stranger. Do the opposite of what you feel compelled to do when depressed or anxious. When anxious, I sit still and reflect, rather than race around, drinking caffeine and achieving nothing.

 

One of my best friends is in ICU on the other side of Sydney. Her daughter and mine are also the best of friends. We have been through IVF, pregnancy, motherhood and sickness together. We always finish our ludicrous chats with ‘love you.‘ She has been unwell for some time, but all the same, when you are dealing with a powerhouse of her stature, you believe them to be invincible. I am waiting to hear how her surgery went. She managed to text me from ICU last night, and I promised to take her to Haigh’s chocolate shop when she’s recovered. We went back and forth for a bit, before I signed off ‘love you.’ I feel impotent and powerless, as I wait. I then recalled what I’d suggested to the lovely stranger last week, which was to do the opposite of what I feel. Leaving home, I am going to walk to the river, stopping to hug trees. Then I shall listen for the kookaburras, surveying the paddocks and farms. I will await the phone call, whilst ensconced in beauty. My friend, with a keen eye for the humorous and glorious, would approve. Cockatoos screeching and swooping, kookaburras laughing and a lush verdant valley would amuse her. I imagine she is with me, as we both await the call, just like in our IVF days…

Isolation, Community Pantry and Anzac Day

What a whirlwind this week has been! You can actually be busier than ever, stuck at home. Projects that were lying dormant, have been completed.

I had a dream about starting a community pantry, and by chance, the next day, my lovely friend, Lisa, mentioned that she wanted to as well! We put the call out for a suitable pantry-holder, and a friend dropped in a locker. Not only was it weatherproof, but cool enough for us to put some Easter eggs inside! Lisa printed and laminated signs for the outside, and we managed to fill it. We decided to put it at the back of the bus stop, outside our local park. Within a day, things were taken, and it filled my heart when I saw a teenager and his little sister shyly approach the locker. “Are you sure it’s okay to take stuff?” the little girl asked. They took a few items, and closed the door, and I saw them walk to a house near the park. As items are taken, more appear. If it provides a meal for a family, or saves people from having to go to the supermarket for one or two items, we are pleased. We sanitise it at least once a day. Times are tough for so many people. Many have never needed to rely on Centrelink, nor charities before, and it takes time to wrap your head around it. One of the bravest things one can do, is ask for help. Everything is cyclical; you are the giver in one instance, and you must accept help in turn.

 

There was a rap at my door last weekend, and I was surprised, as nobody comes to visit at the moment! Standing on my porch, was my friend, Donna. She runs Butterflies Florist, and was holding a bouquet of flowers. It reminded me of how birds call out to each other when they can’t be seen. They are letting each other know that they are okay. At dawn, they call out to assure their compatriots that they made it through the night. This felt like a call from friends I hadn’t been able to see since this began.

 

Another dear friend (knowing my love of hummingbirds), dropped off a piece of art at my front door.

 

Yesterday was Anzac Day, and for the first time, we weren’t able to attend a communal dawn service, and see friends afterward. I felt for all the veterans and their families, for whom the day was usually set aside to connect with each other. They must feel bereft. My daughter and I held a dawn service in our driveway, and it was haunting; the Last Post playing from my television, as we stood in silence. Daybreak was smeared with honey and saffron hues, and kookaburras started laughing. A friend mentioned that she was going to her volunteer shift at Lifeline, anticipating a busy evening. Calls have escalated since all this began, which is no great suprise. As I walked around the neighbourhood, I saw wreaths woven from rosemary, tied together with red ribbons; poppies decorating front yards. One lady had a basket of rosemary out, asking passers-by to take a sprig for remembrance.

 

I am apprehensive about the gradual return to school, and as it turns out, so are quite a few teachers and principals. The following was a post from a friend of mine at the coalface, posted with her permission:

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 2.39.48 pm

On a positive note, I have trained my little dog to fetch the paper and pamphlets. She hasn’t quite grasped letting it go though, demanding that I chase her! On every walk, I find that I am noticing beauty as never before. It’s as though with the absence of distractions, we’re able to appreciate beauty more readily. I hope that this remains when we come out of hibernation.