I went back…


A friend had just moved to a place which holds many memories for me. I hadn’t been back to this town for many, many years. I had lived close by at one time, and produced art, selling to shops on the main strip. I would be up all night, painting and writing poetry to take in my trolley the next day. After I had visited my lovely people, I would go to a little florist shop, who would sell me the last bunches of flowers at the end of the day. The florist insisted on only taking a few dollars. My home would be filled with the aroma of roses and lilies for the next week, then the ritual would be repeated. Listening to the buskers in the outside mall, sipping coffee and eating organic fruit… Such lovely memories.

The memories which overshadowed the above were dark indeed. I was raped in this town at fourteen years of age, on a blistering summer’s day, by the river. I had to board a bus back to the clinic with the creature responsible… Years went by-years of difficult recovery-and there I was, selling my art in this town. I was having my coffee, listening to the buskers in the mall, when I saw him. He had already seen me, gazing at me through his sunglasses. I could feel his eyes, as reflective as oil-slicked puddles, reaching out to me. My chair tipped over as I instinctively ran. I was fourteen all over again. I locked myself in the ladies toilet, crouching down as he banged on the door. He wanted to talk. I sure as hell didn’t. I remained there until I heard my name called by the friend I had been with. The coward slunk away. I never went to this town again, after uncovering he was living nearby. It wasn’t the last I heard from him, though it was the most traumatic occasion.

I ended up having to leave Sydney for a time, a decision the police supported. My life went on a different trajectory; you could call it being rail-roaded. It felt peculiar to be back in the same mall the other day. Nothing had changed! The gum trees were still present, as were the buskers. The little florist shop was open, as was the book shop I used to frequent. I took deep breaths, the memories (of which I hadn’t told my friend), flooding my brain. I felt the pressure building. We stopped and had lunch, and as I sat outside with my friend, her husband and our kids, I had an epiphany. If I saw him today, I wouldn’t run. I would face him, challenge him, and he would be the one to bolt. I am not locking myself away anymore. With that, I once again became the young artist who sold her paintings to shops, and filled her house with flowers each Saturday. I came back for her. All the things he had commanded I couldn’t have-an adult  life, a child, my legs, my sanity- were on proud display. I walked back to the car, holding my daughter’s hand.

PTSD-Understanding Yourself


This article by Pete Walker astounded me with the breadth of knowledge and detail entailed. I could identify with it, thinking no wonder I am tired! Recovery is a full-time job in itself, and by that I mean recovering who you were before the events, and who you were set to become. It is confronting (albeit healing), to uncover why you do the things you do, and respond the way you do. Your beautiful, brilliant mind conjured up all sorts of ways to cope!

Manchester


My daughter has been my companion to many concerts. Some operatic, some classical, some pop and some rock. The squeals of joy echo through my home when I inform her that we have tickets to a visiting performer. She carefully selects what she is going to wear, and we make plans to have dinner somewhere nice beforehand. Watching her dance and gaze at the performer in awe is all the reward I need. We went to Sport for Jove’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, shortly after I heard the dreadful, unfathomable news about the terrorist attack at Manchester Stadium. I looked around at all the young people laughing and delighting in the performance, and was struck cold by the thought that it could have been us. It could have been us at any performance we had attended. Afterward, my daughter chatted excitedly about the play, and how much she had enjoyed it, and we stopped at a shopping centre in the heart of Sydney for lunch. A policeman with an Irish brogue came up to us, and started chatting. It felt as though three humans were connecting, trying to make sense of the evil which had just occurred. He smiled at my daughter, and I knew that he was thanking his stars that it hadn’t been a Sydney concert. It could have been.

A friend posted a warning last night that a van had been spotted next to our local park, with a fellow lingering long enough to cause suspicion. I almost despaired. Should we now add concerts to the long list of things we need to be wary of? Are backpacks set to become suspicious, not just when left alone on public transport, but also when securely strapped to someone’s back? Parents could be rendered nervous wrecks, incapable of venturing out with their offspring, let alone allowing them to venture out by themselves. I must admit, my immediate desire was to bustle my daughter home, where she is safe. However, this is no way to live. Once upon a time, I was a hermit, a bad man stalking me. I barely left my room in three years as a teen. I remember feeling angry that my life had been reduced to an isolation cell, whilst he was roaming free.

I eventually stepped out by myself, and what a revelation it was! I determined never to close the door and put myself into solitary confinement again. I won’t do that to my daughter either. Did you know that amongst all the horror, several homeless men (who were sleeping rough near the arena), ran to help? They comforted children, stemmed blood loss and helped get people to safety. What I will say to my child, is always look for the helpers… There is always helpers. We will still attend concerts, but sadly our innocence has gone.

International Women’s Day


It was the eve of International Women’s Day, and I was ploughing through a long list of chores. I caught the headline news, and dropped the pen I was holding. The healthcare centre I had been visiting with my foot was featured in a story about a doctor arrested for sexual abuse and assault. He was subsequently charged. Nausea overtook me, horrified that I had taken my child to this practice, a place where evil had quietly resided. We always went into the room together, and I was quietly relieved that it wasn’t our doctor; it couldn’t be. His manner had been a little strange… He had looked at us intently and for too long. There was an air of arrogance about him, but nothing that screamed danger. I had it confirmed that it was indeed the doctor we had been seeing, and I ran to the bathroom to throw up. All the horror of the past came hurtling back. I bid my daughter goodnight, and bundled myself into my room, armed with gin and a bottle of tonic. It took  four glasses until I was adequately settled.

I didn’t know what to do with the anger, confusion and terror I was feeling. I had felt less afraid in the past few years, more confident and assured that both my daughter and I were safe. I had tried so hard to keep her safe, always aware of where she was and with whom; scanning her social media daily. Now I found that she had been in the room of a predator, when accompanying me to appointments.

I had a few women contact me, sharing that they had been abused by this creature. In all cases, they froze when he insisted on thorough examinations; it had felt wrong, and yet they didn’t quite know why. Surely a doctor insisting on you undressing can’t be amiss? I knew exactly what they had gone through; where their minds had wandered to. They had disassociated , a device of the brain to protect us from threat. It were as though they weren’t there, and this couldn’t be happening. Numbness had been conscripted, and it was only later that the full horror of the betrayal hit them. They talked of the pain they felt, by having taken their children to this particular doctor. They had trusted him. The world felt a bit less safe as a result.

I am going to escort one lady to the police station to give a statement. It has now been 24 hours since the news hit, and I still can’t eat. I keep replaying the consults I had with this man over the last month, replaying everything he said and how he had looked. There was nothing to give him away; nothing you could put your finger on. My instincts felt he was rather peculiar, but nothing overt. Thank God I had seen him about my foot, and only my foot.

I am furious that he was able to go from practice to practice. Who knows how long it had been going on, and if the authorities knew? More victims have come forward since his arrest, and I applaud all these brave patients. On International Women’s Day, my heart is with all those whom he hurt. My thoughts are with all those whom he deceived and re-traumatized. My thoughts are with all the parents who thought their children were safe in his care. It isn’t the celebration of International Women’s Day that I had hoped for, but as I reflect on the women I know and love, and the girls I have had the privilege of seeing grow throughout the years, I am humbled. The old guard is dying, and an egalitarian spirit is not only being summoned, but demanding to come forth. The sexism, abuse and horror of the past shall not be tolerated. It never should have been.

 

 

 

Grant Hackett


I read the following with dismay yesterday. It is a road many families have walked. I have walked… Some of my friends have also walked this road. It can start gradually, sneaking up on both the individual and those who love them. They don’t want to do what they once loved. They retreat, becoming uncommunicative. They find no joy in anything. You may find that they are drinking more than usual. You may uncover just how much when you put the bins out and see the many empty bottles in the recycling. There is something going on that you can’t quite put your finger on, and they are either refusing to talk or aren’t capable of telling you. It is frustrating, as in social settings, they can be  quite animated-jovial even-which masks what is really occurring.

When it all falls apart, it is often dramatic and spectacular. It can be after years of seeking help for the person. Marriage and family counselling, dietitians and alternative healthcare practitioners (to get their diet right and make sure that they have no deficiencies), AA, NA, GP’s, brain scans, blood tests, and so much more. There may be brushes with the law, and unpaid bills and fines. You may feel as though you are grieving a loved one, though they are right in front of you. You would do anything to retrieve their essence.

Thousands of families across Australia are facing the same agony as Grant’s loved ones. Right here and now. Finding appropriate help is time-consuming and exhausting, particularly when you are dealing with someone who denies they have a problem, or who tires of being on the merry-go-round. Who could blame them? Services tend to be dislocated from one another, and having to relay the story of why you came to be in somebody’s office time and again is wearing.

After five exhausting years of not knowing what the heck was going on with their partner, a friend was relieved when a diagnosis of depression came about. It was short-lived, as the antidepressants put them in free-fall. After another year of tumult, it turned out that they actually had bi-polar disorder, and the medication was causing them to rapid-cycle. They are doing so much better today, though life can still be challenging. The whole family or friendship group may have to adapt to a new normal. Stressors which the person may have coped with in the past, may cause them a set-back in their recovery. I hope with all my heart that Grant gets the help he needs, and I hope that his family can feel our support. It highlights the urgent need for prompt and cohesive services.

For urgent help, contact Beyond Blue or the Black Dog Institute.

The Rooms I have Lived in…


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I have existed in many rooms throughout my life, and have lived comfortably in others. I had ballerina wallpaper in one, and the dancers had no faces. No eyes with which to see out of, nor mouths to scream with. There have been many hospital beds, and places in ICU. I have been in several rotor beds, which turn you and help you to get used to being upright again. I have shared rooms with three others and had my possessions rifled through. Throughout the night, I got used to sleeping with one eye open. At fifteen, when I feared my life was coming to an end, I had a solitary room down the end of a dark corridor, a bare globe offering a garish, dull light. It was freezing cold, and I had an essential oil ceramic pot near my bed to disguise the putrid smell of mould. There was the room in a refuge, a large space filled with bunks. The kids would voice their fears as to where they would go once they reached the maximum time allowed at this temporary facility.

I have rattled around a room with a wallpaper motif of guns. I had a soundproof space and I would look in the dresser mirror, and study my scars. I lived in a little room at eighteen, with a donated table. My bedside table was an upturned box I had painted. It was stifling hot and loud, the residents of the share house keeping a radio on the other side of the curtain separating their space from mine. The next room was in a series of old horse stables, made from stone and converted into bedsit’s. My landlord was called Moses, and so I found myself living in a stable, Moses collecting the rent by tapping on the window each Saturday morning! There have been rooms where sleep wasn’t had, and flashbacks were frequent. There have been rooms where I recuperated after surgery, crutches and wheelchairs, braces and walking sticks crowding the corners. My favourite of all the rooms I have known is my current one. Women being treated at Catherine Hamlin’s Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia knitted the blanket on my bed. A glass lamp I found on the side of the road offers light. The exercise equipment I use to keep my bones strong is strewn around, and crystals and books are gathered, along with makeup in all the colours of the rainbow. It is a well-ventilated and quiet retreat, and my favourite place to write. I can rest my spine whilst I do so. After so many dark, dank and depressing rooms, I finally have a space where I can rest, dream, recuperate. It is important to have a room of your own. Oh man, the places you have to trawl through before you get there!

Christmas 2016


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I love Christmas; I always have. I love the pageantry, the carols, the celebration, the decorations and the message of hope and renewal. I remember Christmas at my grandmother’s house, and wish my daughter had experienced it. Grandma would be up at dawn, baking. Chocolates lined the beautifully decorated table, and the TV would be playing Christmas movies. Now it is up to me to set the standard for Christmas. I usually try to keep busy, to find joyous activities for my daughter. I also keep busy to escape my own mind, crammed with lamentations and grief. I try not to give it freedom to ride roughshod over Christmas, but it makes me aware of its presence. Dear friends popped in during the week leading up to Christmas, and I was so grateful. People reaching out makes all the difference.

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We decided to go into the city Christmas Eve, to soak up the atmosphere and a lovely family joined us. We went to the Bodhi Restaurant near St Mary’s Cathedral, and listened to a spectacular choir as we drank Chinese Fairy cocktails and chatted to people at nearby tables. The light show was spectacular The Nutcracker was the theme this year-and we sang opera as we made our way home afterward. My daughter had left carrots out for the Reindeer, and had sprinkled Reindeer food outside. Santa had cookies and milk left on the kitchen bench. Wouldn’t you know that in our absence, the Santa sack had been filled! My daughter was delighted to find a punching bag (bought from an op shop) with boxing gloves, and a virtual-reality Viewfinder with National Geographic discs so she could see planets, stars and animals up close. There was also a telescope and microscope, which caused squeals of joy.

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My little girl handed me my gifts. I burst into tears when I saw the little jar filled with affirmative messages “for when you feel sad,” she said. There was also a collage of pictures and a hand-drawn medal from our City to Surf walk. “I loved that you challenged me to do it, and I walked all that way!” she smiled. I hadn’t realized that it had made such an impact on her. Her gifts were so very precious to me.

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We got up early Christmas Day, and went to Ashfield Uniting Church to hear the purveyor of the real and gritty, Rev Bill Crews. The atmosphere was joyous beyond measure, volunteers ready to serve thousands of people at the free Christmas lunch.

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Our plans for Christmas Day lunch had fallen through, and I thought we may instead go to lunch with friends after church. It was a hot day in Sydney, and my daughter had a headache. I asked if she wanted to go home and she nodded. I have always wanted a big family Christmas, like the ones you see in movies (and on Facebook), and felt sad that I was taking her back to an empty house, with no special lunch prepared. I got the familiar, lost, sinking feeling that I have come to know and loathe. Fortunately, I had a little girl here, who wanted me to set up her Christmas gifts, and we spent the afternoon playing. I baked some veggies for dinner, and we toasted Christmas with pink lemonade in cut crystal glasses.

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Friendly enjoyed opening the gifts too!

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We then watched Christmas movies, snuggled up on the couch. My daughter told me it had been the best Christmas ever, and I had a massive revelation. I was enough for her! Boxing Day, I rested and read a book, something I had longed to do all year. We have a beautiful week ahead, filled with wonder and fun, but for now we rest.

Fragile Minds


I was on the bus the other day, when a familiar gentleman boarded. He is usually quiet, his movements steady. On this day, he was swearing and banging his head with his hand. He had a pronounced tic. The bus driver greeted him by name, and warmly invited him to sit down. I was touched by his kindness. For twenty minutes, this fellow pounded his head with his hand. I wondered what had happened to make his condition heighten. Had his medication stop working? Was he taking it at all? I looked out the window at the rain falling, and a memory emerged.

When I was fourteen, and in the clinic, I was sipping a hot chocolate, when I noticed Robert outside. Robert was a cordial fellow, always with a greeting. He had greying ginger hair and beard. I noted him pacing up and down the courtyard in the rain. Suddenly, he went over to a window, and repeatedly banged his head into the frame. As blood gushed out of his head, I ran over, begging him to stop. Finally he did, and I held him as he wept. I was later told that he had been editor of a big city paper in the later stages of his career. Esteemed and well-regarded, until his breakdown.

What causes people to break down? It is usually those who seem to have it altogether that are the first to succumb. It is damned exhausting, keeping up appearances. I once knew a CEO of a large corporation, who was found under her desk, cowering after years of intense pressure got the best of her. When she told me her story, I determined that I needed to deal with stress as it happens. I learnt not to store it away; not to drink or eat until I drowned.

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People have minds that can be drip-fed abuse of every kind. From the workplace to home life. We need to be careful whom we listen to and whom we consider our allies. It is not only our hearts we have to protect, but our precious minds. Think of all those who give you joy, and stick with them. Christmas is a tinderbox of embers, which can either give a comforting glow, or explode. Life is not meant to be played, as if a game, and minds aren’t designed to be toyed with. Seek out the gentle, the kind and affirmative. Your precious mind is designed for dreams, for visionary ideas and to give solutions to pressing problems. It is nigh impossible to achieve any of that if it is being filled with nonsense from people who have no business being in your life. I saw scores of adults (some famous), rescind during stellar careers and lives. I learnt early on how precious a gift our minds are. Be kind to others, but also to yourself.

A Time to Stay Silent and a Time to Use Your Walking Stick!


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A week or so ago, I boarded a bus with my daughter. We sat at the front of the crowded people-mover. My daughter was listening to music on her headphones, and I caught the eye of the lady across the aisle. She was in her sixties with cinnamon-brown eyes and blonde hair, cut into a bob. She appeared to be on her way to work, judging by her green uniform. A male voice up the back of the bus cut through our greetings, and seemed to become louder and more agitated as the moments passed. The bus stopped, and the driver alighted, a new driver coming on shift. After the bus started again, the man’s voice became louder, his speech laced with profanities and threats to all around him. The driver was busy negotiating his way around road works on the highway, and the lady and I exchanged worried looks. We both knew that we were prepared if he started anything. My daughter was oblivious, in her own world, listening to pop songs. If she had heard, she may well have told him to pull his head in. I was glad she hadn’t heard, as she knows no fear. In her world, if someone is being a bully, a nuisance or menacing, you simply demand that they stop. I had a feeling that the woman opposite had seen this man’s behaviour before, as had I. We knew the unspoken rules, of making no eye contact with the offender, remaining silent so as not to provoke him. If and when he did go on his threatened rampage, I was ready with my walking stick! No way was he going to get near the lady opposite, nor my daughter. Twenty pained minutes passed before he alighted-still ranting- and we breathed a sigh of relief. I escorted the lady to the train station, and she said that he had abused the elderly women waiting for another bus, before we came aboard.

This lady was shaking, and I helped her up the steps. Yes, she had seen it before, and it had indeed brought back memories. I sat with her, comforting her as she debriefed from the stressful situation. She had been ready to tackle him, as had I. Anything can happen in our modern world. You can be attacked for doing nothing, and staying mute. As long as there are ladies with walking sticks and people with righteous indignantion burning in their bellies, we will all stay safe. When I left her, she was past the disorientated stage; past the fear. She was angered, and rightly so. She was just trying to get to work, and I was just trying to get my daughter to her classes. Nobody had the right to interfere with our day in that manner. He was ticked off with life, dumping the toxic waste all over strangers on a bus. He probably felt a sight better afterward, whilst we were left shaken. It has taught me that I must teach my daughter when to stay silent, and when to fight. I pray she never needs to put it into practice.

 

When it gets overwhelming…


I had been feeling better in myself than I had in a long time. Even though I was still in immense pain, I felt able to cope. I was exercising daily in order to maintain my bones, and was eating food which nourished me and provided energy. Then, a trial started. It only took one look at the young woman’s radiant smile, and my heart shattered. It was all over the media, and as I learnt of the case, I thought surely the man involved would be punished. The events ended with her being locked on his balcony, and tragically falling to her death.

Of a night, I dreamed of this young woman. She appeared holding a falcon. Sometimes, I woke up crying. I know how it feels to be held against your will. I know how it feels to be outside on a balcony. I know how it feels to free-fall through the sky to earth, and I know what it feels to hit the ground and the terror beforehand. My life was spared by a series of fortunate events. It feels as though I have a duty to live for all the wounded angels who have soared through the air and haven’t survived. To go to new places, talk to new people, embrace life and try new things. Complacency won’t cut it.

The verdict came through as a newsflash, when my daughter and I were watching Ghostbusters on her IPad. The television was on mute, but I studied the screen and saw ‘Not Guilty’ flashed across the bottom. My daughter was holding my hand in case I got scared by the movie. I was terrified, though not for the reasons she thought. As I held her soft warm hand, I silently apologized to her. I apologized that we haven’t come as far as I had hoped. Each guilty verdict that is read helps to heal some of the pain of the past. It is an acknowledgement that it should never have happened, it was wrong and the justice system gives a damn. I recall watching my perpetrator shake his lawyer’s hand and smirk as he walked by at my committal hearing. I watched her perpetrator on television look up to the heavens and sigh, (as if heaven had anything to do with his release).

My mind in overdrive, and my heart heavy, I felt my adrenaline ramping up. I couldn’t sit still. I had an overwhelming urge to go shopping for my daughter. She needed new shorts, immediately! I couldn’t banish creatures such as this from the world, but damn it, I could get her shorts. I had that power! Off we went, my mind in a trance. Snatching up clothes, I smiled as I realized she also needed new sandals. She keeps growing, and will soon surpass her very short mum. As she smiled at me, my heart felt heavy. I want to keep her safe forever. I hope that I am laying the groundwork in these years for her to become a confident, assertive young woman. I walked dazedly past friends, unable to stop and chat. I had no energy, even whilst my body was soaked in adrenaline, coursing through every atom. There was loneliness in being unable to articulate how I felt. I know what this young woman’s family would have thought as they left the trial. I bought a bottle of red wine, and a text came through. It was my daughter’s singing teacher, asking if we were coming to class. I had forgotten all about it. I sat and messaged back, apologizing. She was lovely, and sent a smiley face, bless her.

I am so sorry justice wasn’t served. I am so sorry your family are suffering. I am so sorry you didn’t survive and go on to have the life meant for you. I am so sorry men like him are out in the world, on the prowl. I am sorry that narcissists exist. My daughter held a little fashion parade when we got home. “I love them, mummy,”she smiled. “That’s good darling,” I replied. I drank my wine and had no sleep whatsoever. PTSD seems to be a clumsy dance, propelling you forward, then back. I looked at my slumbering daughter, vowing to make the next eight years count. Vowing to build her up so she will have the power to judge a scoundrel when she encounters one.

I survived by a series of miracles, and as I run around like a mad thing of a day, I always give thanks. I vow to live for these voiceless angels as well.