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.


The Physiotherapist

I have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on physiotherapy in the twenty-plus years since my fall. I have done weights with physiotherapists, been placed on stretching racks, been in body braces, calipers, body casts, had my muscles shocked, been in hydrotherapy pools, and so much more. I still have the initial regime on paper, that I was instructed to do ten times a day, on top of swimming, hydro and physio sessions. It went on for years. To be honest, I was now full of hubris, believing I knew all there was to know, and could do the required moves in my sleep.

When my doctor set up a health plan for their physiotherapy department, I procrastinated. I was too busy for such indulgence, and besides, I knew everything there was to know! In spite of myself, I made a booking. My, how I laughed at the new patient form I was required to fill out, with minimal space in which to answer how many operations I have had, and what my injuries were. I had to resort to miniscule writing, to make it all fit.

The physiotherapy department really knew their stuff, massaging and kneading and coaxing trapped nerves to yield with subtle movements. They explained how the various muscle groups had compensated for my injuries, and what the plan was. Of course, they asked how on earth a teen had managed to obtain such injuries in the first place, and I told them in a matter-of-fact manner about the abduction and attempted murder. There was shocked silence, until I broke the ice, and then we all laughed as I regaled them with tales of the characters I met throughout the months I was in the rotor bed. It is a hell of a tale to lay on a stranger!

One of the fellows has a partner, and this week, I asked what they had done for Valentine’s Day. I was expecting the usual; that he had ordered red roses and chocolates and that they had gone out for dinner. Instead, he replied that after work, he had met his partner in the city, and they had purchased crates of fruit and water. They had then handed out bags to 200 homeless gathered near Central Station. “We don’t need gifts,” he explained. Apparently, they did this every birthday as well. “We don’t spend money on useless stuff, we buy things that will really help someone else.”  I said in reply, “that my friend, is real love.”  Not only have he and his colleague gifted me with their knowledge regarding my spinal column and neck, but he also revealed  what real romantic love can be in this world. Sacrifice, kindness, humility. I could picture this gentle man and his equally lovely girlfriend smiling as they handed out water on a blisteringly hot evening in Sydney. We talked of the lack of affordable housing in our city, and wondered aloud how greed has been allowed to become master and major consideration in all things. If he were to run for office, I would be his campaign manager. Imagine if everyone repurposed a fraction of their wants and put those resources toward others. Miracles could happen, just as surely as muscle groups yield to a physiotherapists’ masterful hands. I left buoyed with the thought that hundreds of people in this city felt loved on Valentine’s Day because of this dynamic duo.

After more than twenty years, I still have a thing or two to learn from physiotherapists. I rediscovered the difference they can make as to how I manage my pain. I have also rediscovered the gold one uncovers when you have nowhere to go and nothing to do but be in the moment.

The Tide is finally Turning! (trigger warning)

I won’t go into the details of the crime, other than to say that the offender was sentenced to a paltry six months in prison, though looks set to serve only three. When I read how his father sprang to his defense, and attempted to minimize his actions, I couldn’t believe it. Here is the victim’s stunning Impact Statement.

The sense of entitlement regarding the offender, both before and after his insipid crime brought back memories. You see, I was this girl, and he and his family remind me of another one I encountered… The offender in my case had a long history of violence, and menacing behavior, starting when he was still in primary school. He set fire to the family home after an argument, and his parents covered for him. Using a compensation payout, he repaired the damage, and all was forgiven. The occasions of violence -which they knew of and either overlooked or helped him escape the consequences of -are many. Then, he met me…

The night of my fall, his parents stayed with him, as he was under police guard in the ER. I was placed next to him at first, a curtain separating us. There was meant to be a bedside hearing in the morning, to charge him with attempted murder. He called out to me all night as I lay broken and bloodied. His parents soothed him, promising that it would all be okay. I was fifteen, and he was 26 years of age. They arranged for him to be transferred to a comfortable clinic the next day, of where he stayed for the next year. They attended court with him when I turned sixteen, and again, never left his side. I was by myself when I had a conference with the Prosecutor and detective on the case in a side room. They hired a cruel lawyer to attempt to discredit me. Despite being assured that he was set to plead guilty on all charges, he changed his mind at the last minute. I watched him walk from the court a free man, his family smiling and congratulating him whilst I stood there broken.

I am tormented by the thought that he may have been aided and abetted after he left that courthouse in terrorizing other girls. I tried to put him away and protect others… The outcry and rage shown to this offender (and regarding the justice system and his father’s response), have comforted me. Times are changing, and I am so very glad that I am here to witness it. When this happened to me, we had no internet. I was effectively silenced. There were letters to the Ombudsman and relevant authorities, but there was no public forum in which to share what had occurred.

Parents can no longer aid and abet these offenders without public scrutiny. Their outcries of unfair sentences and ruined opportunities for their boys will no longer be tolerated. At last, at last!


I wrote the following ten years ago, when I met an exquisite artist named Rosa. Her sister had taken her life in the same clinic I had been put into at fourteen. I may have known her.


Tortoiseshell tresses slide down her shoulders.

Ground sunshine irradiated from her soulful eyes.

Her voice is a feather, floating through the ether as a dream.

Rosa is a mermaid or Undine;

A fey creature flicking the contents of fountains and springs,

Quenching our very hearts.

In her gentle  hands she holds coral in rich hues of garnet and peach.

As she catalogues history and restores houses, Rosa restores my faith in the endearing strength of sweetness.

I reflect on delicate lace work built of iron, which shall never break.

When I speak to sister Rosa, it is akin to whispering the contents of my heart to an ephemeral cloud.

A cloud which is fine, like gossamer, and is able to reach in and touch my soul with an opaque love.

Rosa, our beautiful rose, grafted from a past which was both sweet and tumultuous.

She is a wondrous combination of rubies and roses, lemons and lavender.


Winter, it’s here again. Yesterday heralded the changing seasons, brutally and abruptly. The sky was grey, and morning and dusk were shrouded in a fog. The rain poured down, and the wind was icy. No easing into this season. The green and vibrancy of the garden receded and everything appears to be withering in preparation for death. Before I was abducted all those years ago, when my home was a mouldy old icebox of a room, I recall climbing under the grey blanket, pulling it up to my chin, and hugging my knees to keep warm. I remember the cold. The sort that gets into your marrow. I was so cold in the months leading up to the lightning strike. When I woke on the ground, I was shaking from being utterly exposed. I have never liked winter, and as a child would get as close as I could to our gas heater. I remember the delicious comfort when I was wrapped in foil by the paramedics to entice heat into my broken body. Since my fall, I have dreaded winter. Not only for the abysmal memories, but for the ramping up of my physical pain. Spinal arthritis doesn’t take too kindly to frosty mornings.

The anniversary is coming up, and strangely, I will rejoice. Rejoice that I am here, and my book was published. After this watershed, I will celebrate my daughter’s birthday. She was born in winter. The only event of beauty throughout my life’s winter’s. Her birth has replaced the scarred, knarred horrors. She was born at the tail end of winter, and heralded the arrival of spring, of birds nesting and flowers in bloom. I will go for walks in a coat and hat, make soup and celebrate the best of this season. Time brings healing. I know that winter won’t trumpet the end of my life, as I once feared. I wish I could reach through time and space and tell that young girl.

My Spine, Part 2.

When I broke my spine again, I had a small child to look after. I should have been on bed rest, followed by bracing and possibly in a plaster jacket as well. When driving, I would psyche myself to go through a roundabout, as the pain would make me scream when I turned the wheel. Once a week my daughter would go to occasional care, and I would crawl back into bed. ABC kids was a godsend in the months that followed. I had to take heavy-duty painkillers, and relied on buses to ferry us about as driving was out for the most part. My daughter and I danced in a coordinated manner, and she would help me in so many ways. It made our bond stronger, and she reflected the enormous pride she felt in assisting me. I could either sink or swim, and my child kept me buoyant. Pneumonia followed, as I couldn’t breathe from the base of my lungs. Home Care sent a dear soul to clean up my house once a week. I looked out the front window, and saw an elderly lady struggling up the three steps to the front door. She would groan, trying to vacuum and wince when she mopped. We ended up having cups of tea on her visits, she regaling me with stories of days gone by. I couldn’t put her to work!

Body cast at 17 years.
Body cast at 17 years.

My local neurosurgeon says that he cant operate for pain relief, as it simply wouldn’t help. When structurally I am unable to walk, or breathe, then we will go in. He encouraged me on my last visit, telling me I am doing a good job. I have to keep moving, and exercise every day. Whether it be a walk, swim or visit to the gym, it helps. I feel connected to a body I spend quite a bit of time attempting to escape. I do weights, and work out on the cross trainer, as it doesn’t provoke agony afterward. A scientist friend put me onto Zen Spray by Martin and Pleasance after I broke my back again. I find it helpful, and it can be used on fracture sites. I have a lumbar brace, which holds me together and provides some comfort. I use a walking stick, as without it, I fall over, particularly when tired. I have learnt not to compare my days with others. Anything accomplished, whether it be sitting at my desk, or pegging up washing, is a triumph. I take medication to help with the pain at night so I can catch a few hours sleep, and if I have a busy day coming up, I have to plan for it. That means resting before and after, just laying flat, and pain killers. I have a TENS machine, which I use frequently, and wintergreen oil helps soothe the arthritis.

I will be trialling new hormones to compensate the bone loss in the next few months, and seeing my neurosurgeon at St Vincent’s. I feel blessed. When I suffered the breaks through the thoracic region, my right arm couldn’t be lifted high, and I suffered constant tingling. It is somewhat better, enough that I can write and grip things. Positive self-talk is a must for the mornings I crawl to the bathroom. “You can do this!” I insist. When I am out and the pain ramps up, I work out how much longer I have to be upright before I can rest. Funnily, it helps. “Almost there!”

One wrong move, or carrying too much weight, and I can feel (and hear), the scaffolding go. I have come home from grocery shopping in agony, which nothing tempers. Relaxation music and meditative cds are a blessing as I try to escape the pain at night. Bowen therapy has also been a help when the pain isn’t acute. It is worth trying to maintain your mobility and limit the daily pain. I know what it is like to feel helpless, to have pain drag you down. I know what it is like to feel isolated, removed from the wonderful things going on outside you. Be kind to yourself, surrender when you need to, and do something that shall help you feel good. It is a mental battle, living with pain. Be your best advocate.

My Spine.

Since my back was broken in the fall at fifteen years of age, I have had almost twenty years of intense pain. Operations, grafts, casts, hardware, braces, physio…I have endured pain that I never would have imagined. I lead a ridiculously full life in spite of it all. At fifteen, I had a hip graft and Harstshill rectangle wired in. The next year, the hardware was taken out as it had slipped out of place. At seventeen, I had operations to save my life, as my spine had collapsed, crushing my stomach, heart and lungs. At twenty, I had surgery to remove the rods screwed alongside my spine. Nobody knew how I would cope or be able to hold myself up without them.

Harrington Rods.
Harrington Rods.
I had further surgeries to shrink the three remaining discs after they bulged out. I went through pregnancy with metal filings and chunks of bone lodged in my spinal canal (too risky to remove), and a spine made out of old hip and rib grafts, fused from the thoracic region down. I would have endured hell itself to have this child. I went to the physio department of my local hospital regularly, and did hydrotherapy daily. Some days, the pain was disabling, and I was in a wheelchair toward the end of my pregnancy. I developed gestational diabetes and had to inject insulin, and when I went into labour, my sugar levels were uncontrolled. The obstetrician couldn’t risk a general anaesthetic, and we had to chance administering a spinal anaesthetic. I was warned that there was a risk I could be permanently paralysed, and they only had one opportunity to get it in place. I breathed deeply and didn’t move an inch, and it worked!

Throughout the next year, my spine was weaker, and as my oestrogen levels dropped-the result of medication I was taking for endometriosis- my bones weakened. I slipped over when my daughter was two, and heard a frightful snap in my back. The pain was so intense, I could hardly breathe. With no-one else around, I had to pick myself up, and take the stroller back to my car. I drove home, knowing that I had broken my spine. I certainly had, from T10-T12. For those who have injured their backs, the following will make sense to you. In my MRI report, it stated, “At C5/6 there is arthrosis bilaterally, contributing to foraminal narrowing on the right (foramina are channels where nerve roots exit the spinal cord). At C6/7 posterior broad based disc osteophyte (bone spur), protrusion is seen. In the thoracic spine, there is anterior wedging of T7 vertebral body with approximately 30% loss of height anteriorly. Subchondral bruise related to the left T6 costovertebral junction, being degenerate in nature. In the lumbar spine, posterior step deformity of L2 relative to L1 remains. Disc dessication (dried up discs), are present at L5/S1. At L4/5, there is a degree of facet arthropathy of the large ligament in back. L3/4 there is again arthropathy associated with scar tissue related to previous laminectomy, involving much of the upper lumbar spine. At L2/3 the facet arthropathy indents the posterior aspect of thecal sac (the membrane surrounding the spinal cord).”

The report above was tabled almost five years ago. Things have gotten worse. Being in early menopause has made the pain more intense and my bones more fragile. An attempted murder half a lifetime ago, and I deal with the aftermath daily. I can handle the pain, but what hurts is not being able to go horse riding with my daughter, nor skating, nor cycling. If I fell over, the damage would be catastrophic. How do I cope, and what have I learnt? I will tell you in my next blog piece.

I Am Thankful.

I am thankful on this gorgeous autumn day.

Firstly, for this little fellow. His name is Bristem and I found him at a fete for $3.00 on Saturday! Handmade in Nundle, he is the inventor of new games for the elderly to play in ‘Elador.’ He waits patiently for a friend to come by and see if he enjoyed his new card game. Wouldn’t it be lovely if folks that invented games for our lives had Bristem’s good intent and his friendly features? A girl can dream!

I am also thankful for tie-dyed doilies. Where have you been all my life?!
Also, tiny fairy doors, leading to magical portals of splendour. We all need to escape now and then! The news is filled with stories of truth being released from hidden corners; people finally granted the peace which being heard conspires. The survivors of Robert Hughes, and now Parramatta Girls Home… I hope they find a friend like Bristem, devising fun games to take them away from the memories. To have the colour come back to their lives, as bright as my new doily. To have a means of escape as handy as my little fairy door. Most of all, I hope they have a new beginning. I am thankful that they held on. I am thankful for their bravery and stoicism. I adore living in a world with these souls.

My Friend in her Nineties.

We used to go down to Ashfield Uniting Church each Sunday, a trip that took an hour each way. It was worth the travel, to see our friends and be a part of a wonderful community. A dear little lady, Joan, joined the community, and had a vibrancy about her. Shortly after I discovered I was pregnant, she slipped me a card. It was addressed to “The lady with the long blonde hair, who brings her little dog to church.” Mitzi Winstopple- our miniature schnauzer-adored our Sundays and we made sure he was always a part of it. I opened the card, to read of her delight that I was having a baby. It touched my heart so. Eight years later, Joan is still in contact, and in her late nineties. She still lives independently and is a source of inspiration to me. Her recent letter, “Your daughter is a miracle baby-one that was born despite hardships. You would have enjoyed the Bill Crews Trust Film Festival that was on last month. Very provocative films-social themes to make you think and perhaps change your views.” How wonderful that a woman in her nineties embraces change and loves being challenged! Salt of the earth.

Another dear soul I think of often is Betty. She was in her eighties when we met, and everyone thought I was her granddaughter as we had the same features. She was so excited on hearing I had given birth, that she took two trains and a bus to come visit. She ended up in our town, wandering the streets. A dear couple took her home, fed her, then dropped her into a mutual friend’s store. This lady in turn, locked up her store, and drove Betty around. The joy when she picked my daughter up… It still fills me with overwhelming gratitude, that a dear elderly lady went to such lengths to celebrate my daughter arriving. Bless all the feisty, spirited older ladies. Now and always.