Getting through Hard Times


If you had told me as a teen that I would live to the grand age of which I find myself, I would have laughed. I would not have believed you for a moment. I had been clinically dead, in coma’s, had repeated seizures without regaining consciousness, had my spine shattered, and much more besides. I wanted to die more than I wanted to live most of the time. Those moments when I experienced pure joy were often found in nature, and boy, those times sustained me. I can recall without struggle the moments a bird would land on me from out of nowhere. I recollect the dragonflies and butterflies encircling me near streams. In those moments, I realized that I in fact wanted very much to live… Really live, and not just exist.

As a young adult I faced infertility, health worries, safety concerns, and poverty. I have had my heart broken, been deceived and financially ripped off. I have been humiliated, retraumatized, and faced great pain. When the first wave hits, you don’t know how on earth you are going to survive it. It all seems too much, especially when placed upon an already rocky foundation. Trauma on top of trauma.

I have learnt what helps by learning what doesn’t. Here is my advice for getting through tough times.

  1. Do nothing. That’s right, just breathe. When you receive frightful news or it feels as though your world is breaking apart, just be. Your adrenals will be pumping hard, as will your heart. Your stomach will be churning and your brain will reach for fast responses to the crisis. You may even think of reaching for something to quiet the discomfort. Don’t do anything whilst you are processing the crisis. Breathe deeply, run a bath. Cry, scream or confide in a loved one. The situation isnt going anywhere, so just stop for a moment.
  2. Write it down. Get yourself a notepad and describe what is happening. Pour it all out, and then make a bullet list. List the steps you need to take for resolution. What would help you in your grieving? Time away from everything that is familiar? A support group and counselling? A tribute to the person you mourn? How about financial worries? Maybe write a list of all the businesses you need to contact to explain your situation and organize payment plans. You could apply to AirTasker to accept jobs to bring in extra cash.
  3. Once your list has been finalized, I hope that like me, you feel a sense of empowerment. Now it is time to ask for help, whether that be from friends, charities or professionals. People don’t know what your needs are if you don’t articulate them. You give them a precious gift by allowing them to assist you.
  4. Be extra kind to yourself. You may want to run or sedate yourself with booze or pills. You may want to stop caring for yourself and partaking in all the rituals you usually do. Please don’t. Now is the time for reflection, to sit with your feelings and reach healthy conclusions. Your body is under enough duress without adding to the load. It is time to reach out, open up and if possible, go for walks. Many solutions have been reached in my life by long strolls.
  5. Get all that stress out in a creative way. Whether that be by writing a blog, or keeping a journal, painting or drawing. It all helps.
  6. Imagine your life in a year. What will it look like? One thing is for sure, you won’t be in the same place that you are now. Nothing in this world is stagnant. We keep moving forward, even if we can’t imagine that as possible. If you are horrified at the thought of your life remaining the same by this time next year, it is time to change that which brings you dread. Life and time have a way of changing things, and it is much better to reach conclusions and embark on new beginnings of your own volition.
  7. There have been times in my life when I couldnt imagine surviving the enormous crisis pounding down on me. I couldnt imagine wanting to. By doing the things listed above, I did survive, and have a beautiful life. I weep when I think how my life could have ended before it even began. How I would never have had the opportunity for emotional healing to take place, nor hold my daughter in my arms. I shudder when I think of not having survived to meet the splendid people in my life today, nor see this morning’s sunrise.

I can tell you this with assurety, if I could survive, then so can you. This season of winter won’t last forever, and spring will offer new life and along with it, growth.

Bad News, Strength, Kindness and Saying Yes


Two years ago, I met a lovely lady from England. Her voice redolent with a gentle lilt, her energy soft and assuring. We talked briefly, and then I didn’t see her again. Last school holidays, she organized a picnic, sending out an open invitation. I took my daughter, and we had the best time! We determined to not leave it two years until the next meet-up.

I became ill last week, and couldn’t lift my head from my pillow. My persistent cough caused excruciating back pain. In the middle of the sickness, I found out an old friend had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. This lady had cheered me on through IVF, held my newborn in her arms, and had been by my side throughout the last fifteen years. She and her husband squeezed the marrow out of life; out every day, travelling around Australia and the world. Taking an interest in everything and everyone they encountered. Still reeling from the shock of the news, there was a knock on the front door. There stood the English lady, a meal in hand. She had found out my address, and made me a vegetarian meal to boost my system. Her kindness and timing were perfect. As I ate a bowl of her stew and dumplings infused with sprigs of thyme and spices, I could feel nutrition flooding every cell in my body. I could feel the kindness behind her gift. I have a mild case of pneumonia, an occupational hazard with my spinal injuries, and the way my spine curves. I need to get better so I can go see my old friend; so I can also prepare wholesome meals  for those that need them.

Today is the anniversary of my fall. There is no guide-book as to how one is meant to feel, nor commemorate the occasion. Anger, sorrow, lamentation, joy and utter gratitude feature heavily. Every year is different. I have gone back to the building, I have gone on long walks or to the movies. Last year, my daughter and I attended the Helpmann Awards. This year, I am weakened by my lungs, coughing and feeling a little woozy. I feel better than yesterday though. In the months I spent in hospital, I assured myself that each day would be an improvement on what came before, and it was. Today is an improvement on yesterday. I got dressed, and am taking my daughter to an appointment in the city. I shall probably get us dinner, and order a cheeky Cab Sav. The night of my fall, I hadn’t eaten for days, and craved fluid. I was frozen, laying on the ground, my blood splayed around me. I craved food, fluid, and warmth. Today, I had all three. Tonight, as I slip into my bed, I will give thanks that I am here. I will give thanks for old friends that extract the marrow out of life and English friends who make me the vegetarian equivalent of chicken soup for my soul. Life is a strange and precious gift.

 

Getting my back up


To get from my town into the city, I have to take a bus and then a train. I usually have a spinal brace on, and carry a lumbar roll wherever I go to place in the small of my back. I take pain relief beforehand. I can cope with the stiffness and discomfort quite well, but if something extra is required, it messes with my system and the trip home is hell. I have had times when I have been doubled over on the trip home-whether by car or public transport. I was taking a certain medication twice a day to help the sciatic pain and I must say, it kept me walking. However, it was rendering me a zombie in the mornings, and I craved bed so I could go back to sleep. I now take one dose at night time, and whilst the pain has crept back during the afternoons, at least I can function in the morning and get my daughter where she needs to go.

For over twenty years, I have been in extreme pain, though I can still recall a time when I wasnt. I remember what it was like to skate, dance and be flexible. I miss those times. I have learnt what I can do by discovering what I can’t; where my limits are. My days are structured to the letter. Morning weights to keep my bones strong, and physio exercises for my spine. Brace and Tens machine after a shower and liniment. Morning medications to help with pain and inflammation. Of an evening, I have a bath, my medications and am usually in bed by 8.30. The relief of laying flat at the end of a day! I wake several times with the pain during the night. If I am held up during the day, and can’t take my meds at the usual time, the pain gets out of control, and I am almost delirious because of it. I have to have excellent time management.

One day a few months ago, I was given a friend’s newborn baby to hold. I have difficulty lifting-even raising my arms is excruciating- and whilst I loved holding this precious bundle, I was in agony for days afterward. I resent that the pain limits my ability to lift a precious baby. When my daughter came along, I bought a crib that I could wheel around the house, lifting her onto my lap when I was in a rocking chair to avoid strain on my spine. If my baby ever has her own babies, I want my spine to be strong enough to do the same. This is one major reason I work so hard in the here and now on my back!

Sitting for any length of time is a challenge. All the weight goes to three dessicated discs in my lumbar spine. If I am sitting too long in one spot, the pain is out of this world. Laying down is the most comfortable position. I worry when I need to take long car rides or plane trips, as I know pain will be a companion. I just want to try and hold it together. I am on as little pain medication as I can get away with, acutely aware of the balance between being functional and not. Without it, I would hardly be able to walk, let alone get out. I have had a few incidents lately when my right leg simply wouldnt do as it was told. I fell over in a toy shop, and a dear lady raced over with my daughter to help me back up!

Most days I cope, but there are days that are so abysmal that I break down. I fear that the time has come to undertake corrective surgery to keep me going. Then, I come back from the abyss. I hope the centre holds for a little bit longer. I am not frightened of what lays ahead; I just want to be strong enough to hold my grandbabies one day.

 

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.