PTSD, Fairy Lights and Healing (Trigger warning)

A migraine descended on Friday. My head holds a portent for storms, the barometric pressure in the atmosphere causing excruciating pain. My spine decided to be in simpatico and on Saturday evening, my right leg went from under me. I managed to hit a sharp edge of a piece of furniture in the living room. Dazed, I sat on the floor as my daughter rushed over. She told me I was bleeding and she helped me into the bathroom. There was an incredible amount of blood gushing from my lip and when I removed the gauze for a closer look, I saw that I had a gash trailing from the bottom lip, down. Unable to stem the flow of blood, I arranged an Uber. I thought I was doing okay, albeit a bit stunned. I couldn’t talk in the Uber, so my daughter relayed information to the driver. He had a baby seat in the back and was a lovely fellow. We were his first customers; he needed to earn money for his family as the lockdown wore on.

I was seen by a nurse and instructed to take a seat in the waiting area, after being told the wound would probably need stitches. A couple in their 70’s were sitting nearby and my daughter and I whispered that they were the sweetest, most devoted couple we’d ever seen. The lady laughed as my daughter pulled out umbrellas, water bottles and assorted detritus from my handbag, as she searched for her headphones. “We sure cram a lot into our handbags, don’t we,” she said. My daughter chatted to her and we looked on as she fussed over her husband, her arm around him. A pregnant lady sat with her partner and they were holding hands. At one point, we began to laugh at the absurdity of finding ourself in casualty, on the first day of a long weekend. The outburst caused more bleeding from the gash and I had to have the gauze changed. We were sitting on uncomfortable chairs and the wait was long. In spite of this, nobody went to the window and asked how much longer, nor did they complain. The couples settled in and held onto each other. It was apparent by the creases around eyes, that we were all smiling at one another, underneath our masks.

An hour turned into three, turned into four. My spine was screaming, and I paced the waiting area, as the elderly couple and the pregnant lady were called in. New people arrived, with one family bringing in a very sick teenager. Poor little darling had endured surgery a week prior and it looked like an infection had set in. I started to feel panic, a chill rising from my feet. Agitation began, as did the deep desire to escape and go home. I felt trapped; I couldn’t leave without being seen to. My wound was still gushing and I could taste blood in my mouth. We were called in at 11pm and the staff were lovely. They took a picture of the gash and sent it to the plastic surgery department. I was lucky, as I was on the cusp of needing plastic surgery. As it turned out, cleaning and sealing the wound and being shown how to dress it, alongside meds, would suffice for now. We left after midnight and found ourselves stranded. There were no taxis, nor Uber drivers available. My anxiety reached a crescendo, as I realised that we would have to walk home. It was cold and drizzling, but even so, I had no idea why I was feeling so ghastly. I had been through so much worse. We have a motto, ‘The Angelou girls never give in, nor give up.’ Walking home wouldn’t kill us.

Spine aching, leg not working properly and still suffering a migraine, I paused in the empty main street. It was sublime; the golden fairy lights strewn through the trees, casting a magical glow. You could have heard a pin drop; it felt as though we were the only people inhabiting our town. I took a picture at this unfamiliar scene. Usually, the area would be bustling, but due to the late hour and Greater Sydney’s lockdown, it was a ghost town. Cheering up, I thought well, this covers both Saturday and Sunday’s walk, so I’d fulfilled my commitment to keep active through October.

We finally arrived home after 1.30pm, me castigating myself for not having driven to the hospital. I was in shock and just didn’t think of hopping in the car. I would have been in no fit state to drive, anyway. Redoing the dressing, I looked into the mirror in the bathroom. The sink was smattered with blood from earlier that night. I unravelled, as I remembered other times my lip had been split, my mouth filled with blood. On the ground the night of my fall at 15 years of age, my lip had been split; my teeth having pierced through when I landed. I spat up blood, as I tried to survive. There were other times; punches landing on my face and my head being rammed into a door frame. On a cellular level, I remembered. I recalled not only those traumatic events, but also, the conversations, sensory details and emotions. As I crawled into bed, it all came back in technicolour. No sleep was had. Sunday, I stayed in bed all day, unable to move. Whenever I drifted to sleep, nightmares would ensue.

The doctor asked if I was worried about the scarring, which would surely take hold. No, I am not afraid of scarring on my skin. My body is a depository for scars. I had not thought of the times I had a bloodied mouth, until Saturday night. Those scars are deep and much, much worse than the ones on my skin. The loneliness of endless nights, filled with flashbacks, is awful. It isn’t a collective trauma, something you share with others. At that time, as now, it was you battling to survive, alone. Saturday’s actual events were filled with beautiful imagery and shall be remembered fondly; there was the couple expecting a baby, the lovely family gathering around their child, the elderly couple whose devotion to each other was on display. There was the compassionate nurse and kind doctor. There was my daughter, calmly trying to stem the flow of blood and whose tenderness reached into my heart. There were twinkling lights and the quiet, reflective walk home. No, the spinal pain, migraine and injury weren’t traumatic. The memories this night conjured up, were what made me unravel. The violence that caused the wounds from long ago…

I scrubbed the clothes I’d worn, which were covered in blood, wiped down the bathroom and washed towels and mats. I am in the process of cleansing my soul, now that the sludge has surfaced. There is no way around what I am experiencing. You can’t avoid it, outrun it, drown it, nor drug it into oblivion. All you can do is feel it; sit with it. Run warm baths filled with lavender and rosemary for remembrance. That girl deserves her experiences to be honoured. She deserves her courage to be acknowledged. A dark night of the soul can return when you least expect it; even whilst walking empty streets, filled with twinkling fairy lights. In insurance cases, specialists are asked to provide percentages of how much certain injuries were caused by a singular event. How many panic attacks, sleepless nights and dissociative episodes have had their origins in my bloodied mouth? I hadn’t thought about it, before Saturday night. Will I be a little more healed, now it has burst open, from it’s hiding spot in my psyche? Has it been consolidated? A week ago, I felt like a falcon, flying high and free. Today, I feel like a fragile little bird, who has fallen a long way, without being able to fly. I shall hold that chick in my hands and nurse her whilst she regains her strength. Like I have done thousands of times before…

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

Lavender and Feeling Impotent

Have we tumbled into a dystopian novel, with the direst of storylines? Global warming and it’s inevitable effects, the pandemic and the horror of what is happening in Afghanistan. The Afghan people are some of the most gracious on earth. How can you not weep, upon seeing the footage of people, clinging to the exterior of planes? Where is our government, and what the hell are they doing? The sound of crickets is deafening.

We suffered the loss of loved ones and we’ve all suffered vicarious trauma, from the news, friend’s suffering ill health and job insecurity/unemployment and seeing beloved local businesses shutting their shops permanently, this current lockdown, too much to bear. What the hell do with we with all the pain? It’s easy to feel impotent in the face of it all…

I found myself unable to walk, when I awoke Monday of last week. Too many hours at my desk saw my spine complain. First there was tingling between my shoulder blades, which gradually turned into electric shocks. The pain was extraordinary. I saw my pain doctor and we are trialling a new medication. I am meant to go get a new MRI, but I won’t just yet. No good can come of it and so I shall muddle through. The combination of pain and anxiety saw sleep dry up, until I was only getting a few hours. I was delighted to come across a little box of promises at my chemist, which promised a deep, restful slumber and relief from nervous tension. I popped one as soon as I got home and prepared dinner. Sitting with my daughter at the table, I began to belch violently and the taste of lavender rose in my throat. My daughter looked at me with alarm, whilst I tried to figure out what was going on. Reaching for the box, I pulled out the information sheet and saw that listed as side effects, were indigestion/belching and lavender-fuelled reflux. The capsules were 100% lavender oil! Ironically, I didn’t sleep at all that night, because I was too busy burping! I should really read the instructions, before I take anything in future!

Speaking of lavender, before the capsule incident, I was really getting into it. Here are two of my favourite ways to benefit from lavender essential oil, without swallowing it! These recipes are cheap and easy to follow. Lavender essential oil can be found in the toiletry aisle at the supermarket.

Lavender Play Dough

1 Cup plain flour

1/2 cup salt

1/2 cup cold water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 drops blue food colouring and 3 drops red food colouring (if you have any handy)

10 drops lavender essential oil

Mix together, adding more flour if sticky

Store in an airtight container and play with it as needed, for stress relief.

Bath Bombs

1/4 Cup Bicarb Soda

1 tablespoon cornflour

1 1/2 tablespoons citric acid

10 drops lavender essential oil

3 drops food colouring

Silicone moulds (as used in baking)

Spray bottle

Mix dry ingredients and then spray with water, being careful not to make the mix too damp. Spray and mix several times and then put into the moulds. Allow to dry, then transfer to container. Not only can these be used in the bath, but can also be put in the toilet to clean; in the laundry when hand-washing, or in saucepans/frypans that have baked-on food.

Yesterday, I had to go into the local supermarket. Armed with my list, I just wanted to grab what I needed and get the heck out. In the first aisle, I encountered a woman, talking loudly on her phone. Her trolley blocked the whole lane and all I could do was wait for her to move it. In the second aisle, she not only did the same, but she came so close to me, that I could feel her breath, even though she was wearing a paper mask. She was still talking loudly, a bank of people behind me, waiting for her to move. She obviously hadn’t gotten the memo about social distancing, as she reached over me to grab something off the shelf. By the third aisle, I’d had enough of her nonsense, and pushed my trolley through a gap. She wasn’t having that, so attempted to round the corner to the fourth aisle, at the same time as me. We narrowly avoided colliding, as she stared at me daggers. It takes a bit for me to blow a fuse, but I was dreadfully close. I was in a mood by the time I got to the checkout. The man waiting behind was smiling underneath his mask; I could tell by the creases around his eyes. He seemed to be a pleasant character. Behind him, there was a fellow who had Downs Syndrome and another man. They were hugging and it warmed my heart, even as the unpleasant woman shot me a glacial look from the next checkout. The man behind me insisted that the pair behind him, go in front. Conversations were had and I felt all the rage run out of my feet. It was then that I noticed the lady serving me. “How are you doing?” I asked. “You are doing such a good job, in what I imagine is a really stressful situation.” She thanked me for asking and opened up. She told me how many times she’d been abused that day and how understaffed they were. She said that the supermarket had never been this busy, in all the years she’d worked there. Five strangers connected, even socially distanced and from behind masks. I read today, that the average Australian performs 2 good deeds a day. I will hold onto that, and say ‘bah’ to the self-centred people. I think that who you were before all this strife, has been magnified during it. The lockdown has presented us with the community-minded and the self-involved. Thank goodness for the former!

What to do with the feelings of impotence? It can be soul-destroying, to witness all the agony happening in our world; feeling as though you can’t do anything as a little person. The supermarket connection made me realise that we must start locally.

To advocate for the Afghani people:

To advocate for planet earth:

There is plenty you can do to help your community, also.

  • Support local businesses as much as you can. Order online from them, get takeaway etc.
  • Check in with friends and family regularly. You may be surprised by who is struggling.
  • Offer to drop supplies off to an elderly neighbour’s door
  • Check out the local community page on Facebook and see if anyone needs assistance with anything. People regularly offer help and ask for it.
  • Arrange online meet-ups. You could have a theme, watch a movie together, or play trivia.

This is a discombobulating time. You don’t have to have it all figured out, nor do you need to give yourself indigestion. All you need do is care. Start with your little patch of the world and work your way out.

Anniversary in Lockdown

For 36 hours, I went into battle with a grown man. I was 15 years old. I attempted to outsmart him, trick him and survive him. I succeeded, because I’m still here. Through circumstances beyond my control, I met him when I was 14. Those months were marked off the calendar using my tears, blood and sweat…

The abuse had already begun, when this picture was taken at 14. Looking at the camera, I determined to say with my eyes “WTF has happened to my life!” This was long before WTF was even a thing. I remember exactly how I felt on this particular day.

It’s the anniversary of my abduction today. I recall the music that was played, the meal served (that I wasn’t allowed to eat). The orange glow of the radiator. The bars on the windows. The deadlock on the door… I had a finely-tuned penchant for dark humour. Once, I could manage to laugh, even as I watched my life be disassembled by adults, who should’ve been guiding, rather than destroying. My life force was strong and determined. I had done everything I could to stop this moment from happening. I was still doing everything I could to stop the ending being played out. I hadn’t given up. I would not give up. What was said to me and what I endured in that 36 hour period is unspeakable. Opportunities to escape were fleeting.

Tomorrow night, I shall remember that girl in the photo. I promised her, that if she survived, I would remember her suffering. I would hold her tight, keep her safe and rejoice in her survival. I was strangled to the point of unconsciousness. The agony of having someone stop your next breath; well, it stays with you. He thought he’d killed me and didn’t celebrate my resurrection. I was eventually found on the ground, within a pile of bark chips and dirt, blood sprayed over my face and head. He didn’t like it when I laughed toward the end and I couldn’t have cared less. No more pleading. He had no power over my mind, nor my spirit. He couldn’t capture nor contain me. I could control what I was thinking and feeling toward the end. He didn’t enter into it, at all.

Over fifty hours of surgery, years of hospitalisations, hundreds of physiotherapy sessions, scores of specialists, over $60,000 of medical bills, hundreds of scripts and an array of vibrant walking sticks later… I celebrate. The trauma never leaves. How can it, when you live with the scars and pain every day of your life? A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my social media, when I dropped my phone in fright. On a friend’s page, a man who looked identical to him and with the same last name, stared back at me. He had commented on something or other, on my friend’s page. It turned out, that this is a close relative of my monster. Same last name and same face. He could be a very nice man; who knows? It brought it all back. They don’t tell a survivor how they should process events such as this. Forgetting isn’t an option, but rejoicing is.

I am in Sydney and the Delta variant of Covid has seen us locked down, alongside other states of Australia. I am as anxious and scared as anyone. I don’t want to lose anyone I love; I want this to be over. We must stick together; love one another and check in with each other. It seems counter-intuitive to rejoice as another anniversary skulks up on me, particularly during lockdown. However, it is the only way forward, not only for me, but for us. We must feel it all; the fear, the anger, the anxiety and horror, alongside the hope. We mustn’t let go of hope. Remember, the comfort of hugging a friend; of meeting up for coffee. The splendour of seeing live theatre or a movie. Attending art galleries and celebrating a happy event with loved ones. I dreamed of such things, that night on that ledge. I dream of them still. I grew up. I got to have a child. I got to have a life beyond what that 15 year old could envisage. Celebrating survival within lockdown, I allow myself to imagine what comes next, long after we as a society are freed.

You survived that which was set to kill you. As you light your candles, wrapping yourself up in a patchwork quilt; reflecting and rejoicing, you will also pay tribute to those who didn’t survive similar. You will reaffirm that your life is lived in honour of them. Your life is balanced on the mighty shoulders of thousands of such angels. You will live in their name.

Julie

I shall never forget the day that I met you, five years ago. I had lunched with a friend, and then we’d travelled to her son’s primary school to pick up the boys on Sydney’s North Shore. I was homeschooling my daughter, and was unaccustomed to the chaos of school pickup. We walked into the schoolyard with a plethora of parents in business suits. My free-spirited daughter broke away, just as the school bell rang, and decided to climb a splendid gum tree in the school grounds. The next thing I knew, a woman was shrieking that my nine year old girl was stuck up a tree and was going to fall! A teacher ran over and told my girl to come down this instant! She said she would guide her down. My daughter had only climbed to the first branch, and said “okay,” and hopped down of her own accord, which was met with swooning. I was aghast, and whispered that it may be a good idea for her to sit quietly, whilst we waited for the boys, since tree climbing was not encouraged. Chatting to my friend, I looked around and saw a lady approaching. She had seen my daughter leap from the tree and smiled. Julie was in her thirties, and had what could only be termed a double aura. There seemed to be a circle of tragedy around her; grey and dense and full of scars and fear. There was also another ring, this being a chrysalis of hope and strength; cool and driven by a light from within her. Her hair resembled cedar shavings, tumbling to her shoulders and her hazel eyes, diluted from the pills she was obviously taking, were magnificent. We exchanged pleasantries and whilst my friend chatted to a teacher and greeted her boys, Julie sat next to me, and we talked on a much deeper level.

You see, despite only having met a few moments ago, she had recognised a kindred spirit; somebody who had been through a similar hell and lived to tell the tale. Subtly slurring, she got out what had been festering within. Born into privilege, her father was a high-powered figure in the legal profession interstate. He was also a rapist. There was nowhere for her to turn, and every time she told someone, she was shot down. How she survived her childhood, I do not know. She moved to Sydney, and married. He was another high-powered man, who ended up breaking her heart. She was left with nothing after their divorce, and had to rebuild from scratch. Due to her anxiety and depression, she was portrayed as a fragile little bird in court. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I grew to know her, I discovered she was rather, a falcon; flying high above the smaller birds. Others flew on her back, when they grew weary. Her mighty wings just kept on going, sustaining everyone in her sphere.

She would send me the most insightful and encouraging messages, and I looked forward to our meetings. It all abruptly ended, when she sustained a nervous breakdown. She felt she had no choice but to return interstate to live with her family once more. I received word the other day that she is gone from this world, this mighty falcon with curls the colour of cedar wood and sparkling hazel eyes. Some could only see the lady whose power had receded, but she was not a tragic figure. She fought and she told grownups and she held on. She birthed beautiful children and let herself trust a man enough to fall in love and marry. She retrained and did all she could to work and rebuild her life and soul, when it all went awry. She did all she could to smile and play and remain, despite regular nightmares, little sleep, and daily flashbacks.

When you meet a wounded soul, look beyond the timidity, the dazed eyes and the slurred speech. Look beyond the pain. These were borne of what was done to them and have nothing to do with who they actually are. Venturing into the world without family or support, all they have guiding them is a pocketful of stars, and a head filled with dreams. The miracle is, that they are willing to love at all. The miracle is, that they bestowed the love they hadn’t been given. When you think of a fragile bird, cast your mind to what they actually are. A mighty falcon, just like Julie.

Tread Gently when Dealing with a Heart

When I was fourteen, I befriended a cockatoo at the park nearest my home. We had a kinship, and he proved himself a true friend. I would feed him, and he learnt to look forward to my daily visit. I’m not sure as to whether he was a lost pet, or a wild bird. He would let me scratch his neck, putting his head to one side, blissed-out, his eyes closing. One afternoon I went to the park, and he wasn’t there. I looked around, and found my companion laying motionless in the gutter, having been run over. My heart broke, just as it would had it been a human friend. I was soon joined by other teens in the area, and I wiped my eyes. They would probably not understand my sorrow, and I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain it to them. I learnt to hide some hurts within my soul, only allowing their release when it was safe to do so. The teens ate snacks, and chatted in the park, oblivious to the bird laying motionless. I had to disassociate in order to join in with their banter. In the confine of my room, I wept for the bird; my friend.

We have a multitude of rainbow lorikeets in my area, and they entice joy with their play. I came across. one of these little birds laying motionless on the road, having played a game of darting in and out of traffic, and lost. It brought me back to that time at fourteen. I wanted to sit in the middle of the road and weep for this little bird, and for his family, who were probably wondering where on earth he was. Perhaps, they had seen the accident? With a sinking heart, I continued my day. That is what we must do; what we are told we need to do…

I have a couple of magpies in my front yard, which houses a bounteous oak tree. The male suffered a damaged wing, and even so, I would see him foraging for food to feed his chicks. I regularly gave them food and water, and he carried on, despite the pain he must have felt. Happily, he has made a full recovery. If they are on the ground when I exit the house to go out, they clear the path for me, respectfully hopping to the side, and standing still, just watching.

I had an experience this year, where I had to continue on, and could only do so by disassociating. Someone was pressing me for details of my trauma, catching me by surprise and within a work setting. I rattled off the details as though reading a laundry list of pain, hoping it would ease their curiosity. It didn’t, and demands were voiced. “Why didn’t you do this? Why did you do that?” I wanted to scream that I was a child, and was doing my level best to survive. I wanted to tell them that I swam early morning, worked with a physio every day. I saw specialists and had surgeries, and gave statements to the police. I endured a court case and so much more, on top of studying and working when I was able. Where on earth did they imagine I would’ve found the time or energy for the crusade they imagined I should have undertaken? I kept it together until I got home, and then I wept for all the injured birds; all those wild creatures laying on the side of roads. I wept for myself too, with my broken wings. Context and compassion coupled with empathy and the ability to hear all that is unsaid are invaluable qualities. Let people tell their stories in their own time, or not at all.

I was thrown off a ledge, a long time ago, but I don’t live within that building. You can look for me there, but you won’t find me. I am a capable woman, doing her best to muddle through life. I have a cosy little home, a teenager, and whimsical pets. I have a life, far beyond my adolescent dreams. I may have broken wings, but I can still fly. What good does it do, to ask excruciatingly personal questions of someone you’ve just met? To satisfy your own curiosity? Do you know that they didn’t sleep for over a week, after your inquisition? Do you realise you transported them back to that place and time, when they’ve done their utmost to leave it? Telling your history in your own way, and having a safe space to do so, is important. Having questions raised when you aren’t expecting them is horrendous.

I can hear the magpies outside in the oak tree, and my own birds whistling the Adams Family theme song. They once heard a car alarm going off, and I expect I shall hear that sometime this morning also. Within my home, I have photos of my loved ones. I am safe within the rooms. I can weep for little birds who have been felled, and I can sit with sorrow for those with broken wings.

I once wrote in a poem, ‘Do not ask after her hunter; she needs you to remove the rusted arrow piercing her heart.’ Do not ask after the hunter; where he is now, and inquiring why he did what he did. How the hell should I know? Acts of violence can’t be understood. The hunter doesn’t matter anymore than the vehicle, who wounded a bird and left it for dead. All that matters is the overcoming. Taking care of the flock that’s left, and nursing those with broken wings back to health.

Be cautious with a person’s history, for their heart is pulsing underneath their story.

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.

Single Parenthood

Fresh fruit and vegetables are put aside for the kids. Mum tells her offspring that she isn’t hungry right now, and will eat later. After they have retired for the night, she eats a plain biscuit, to curb the hunger pangs. The notes that find their way to the dining table from schoolbags, fill her with dread. $60 is required for the performing arts costume. $10 for a ticket to see her child perform. She tries to conjure money from thin air, and sometimes (miraculously), is successful.

She is studying full-time- along with many of her friends- and knows that a well-paying job shall be her reward at the end of her studies. She picks up casual work as much as she can, and tries to look after long-standing health issues, the scripts for which are stacked in the kitchen. She is unable to purchase any of them.

She inquired about going onto Austudy, but was told that it would be less than Newstart, a figure of which doesn’t even cover her rent. She wishes that she could obtain a Government loan, of which she would happily pay back once she was working. There is no money from the other parent, despite many promises. She somehow has to work out her budget with an unreliable co-parent.

Afterpay is a blessing, to purchase necessities, though school uniforms can only be purchased in the school shop. Made by a private company, they have the monopoly on the market, and charge accordingly. As a result, the kids have one uniform, which she washes and dries multiple times each week.

She had to ring the health fund and ask for a suspension on the grounds of hardship. Ironically, they can only do so if she is able to pay up to the date of the call. Her only option was to ask for an extension, and at the beginning of November, she will be required to pay an astronomical amount. Her front tooth is split all the way to the nerve, causing embarrassment and pain. She doesn’t want to let go of the health fund; not yet.

She and the kids only have a few dollars left on their Opal cards, and have to limit their trips. She fears that loved ones who are desperately unwell shall need her, and she will be unable to get to them.

She is cramming day and night, in a desperate bid to complete her studies before time. She needs a full-time job, which is an impossibility at the moment. She has a few prac sessions coming up, and needs experience before anyone will hire her. She needs money to get to prac.

Her heart broke when she discovered that her child didn’t tell her about a school excursion, and she knew that money was the reason he chose to stay behind at school.

She is trying to keep her spirits up. She is trying to cope. It feels as though she is being punished for leaving an abusive and toxic marriage. There was no settlement; he had spent everything they had, forcing her to withdraw her investments and savings. She gets why so many women feel forced into going back or staying when they are desperate to leave. Solutions are simplistic when you are on the outside, looking in. They aren’t at all simple when you are on the inside, looking out.

A hurried storyboard review of her former life is played as an animation. Rather than it occurring at the point of death, it begins at the point of life; true life. The lies, the promises, the dreams and goals. Her ten year projection, which didn’t come to pass. The myriad jobs she took to keep her head above water, the exhaustion and pain. Life shouldn’t consist of survival only, should it? She dreams of being secure, of having money to fall back on. She dreams of having money to go out with friends. She dreams of simple pleasures. She dreams of a time when her children have more than one uniform. She dreams of peace.

She dreams of a government which will support single parents as they start all over again. Her only crime was leaving before she was destroyed. For all the uncertainty and sacrifice, it has been worth it to live on her own terms. Finally, on her own terms.

Babushka Dolls

The psychologist observed that when her client wasn’t attempting to mentally escape the room or indeed, her own mind, there was a child seated in front of her. “That is all well and good, but I can’t work with her. She is your responsibility, now that you are a woman. You need to comfort her. She is not in charge anymore, and you need to be.” She grabbed the Babushka doll from her desk, and took it apart, revealing a young adult, an adolescent, then all the way down to an infant. “All these ages are contained in you, as well as the experiences, good and bad. They are waiting to be sorted and acknowledged. I need to talk to the Matryoshka doll, the one who contains all the others. Do you think that is possible?”  The woman nodded, trying to coordinate her breathing (which she had been told was far too rapid), and look at things from an adult point of view, not as a frightened child. A child who didn’t have a choice in anything, from where she was to whom she was around.

“Let me talk to the Matryoshka doll, the strong matriarch; give her the job of guiding your life.” It seemed like a plan, a better plan than anything she had cooked up previously. Rather than the dolls being left in a line, disengaged from each other, they were put back together, contained in the elder doll. Back together, where they belonged. The angry adolescent, frightened child and vulnerable young woman weren’t left behind. United and celebrated. All the ages were back where they belonged, with Mama handling business from a grown-up’s perspective and experience. She seeks solutions, whereas the younger dolls seek only to run, to escape discomfort. It may have kept her alive once, but not now. No, not now. She is finding that it’s a comfort to be an adult; to take charge, and stop scaring herself to death.

 

Therapy, the Past and the Future

Continued…

The therapist wanted to see me weekly, and in the meantime I practiced breathing like a normal human would. Damn, it was hard! I saw the pain doctor for an initial consult, and he was knowledgeable and lovely. I told him about my studies; the training and travel it would involve. “I just need to be able to function,” I pleaded. I told him I required solutions that wouldn’t zone me out. After perusing scans and examining me, a deficit in the strength in my arms was noted. I had noted it too, for a long time, a hangover from the second time my spine was broken. A new medication and regime was implemented, and I left with some hope. As long as I can keep writing, I am okay with whatever comes.

My daughter was scheduled to dance with her senior troupe, but the event was cancelled at the last moment. The dance school had managed to enrol in a festival to be held somewhere else. It was a place and a town I had avoided for the past 25 years. The man that threw me from the building, his family lived there, and every family function was held in this club. In fact, he had been arrested on charges relating to me whilst having dinner there. Now my daughter was going to this place, accompanied by me. I was conscious of my breathing leading up to the event, and was also more aware of my coping mechanisms, thanks to my one session of therapy! However, once enclosed within the walls of the club, I thought to hell with being conscious of breathing. To hell with being present. It was a mausoleum to gambling and drinking, resplendent with its very own forest, lagoon and faux train station. There were hidden corners and booths everywhere, and I scanned each and every one, searching for him and his family, whose transgressions matched his. I finally found my people, and instantly offered to find a chemist for one of the young dancers. Down I marched, becoming lost in the cavernous space, until I was directed as to a pharmacy outside. I walked through an alley, my heart beating wildly as I turned to face the train station, where he once sold drugs. Was he there?!

I raced back from the chemist, and after giving the supplies over, I ate my body weight in sugar. Salad wasn’t going to suffice today, no way! Ice-cream was devoured, as was caffeine, followed by lollies and chocolates from the vending machines. The noise of this club and the lights offended my senses, which were already going into overdrive. Had he seen me? Had he followed me into the auditorium? Anyone could come and go from here. He had followed me before, after seeing me on the street, once trapping me in a laneway, another time, a public bathroom. It may seem silly, but my sapphire blue walking stick became a magical staff. I could use it to trip him up, if need be. I sat at the back of the room, hyped on sugar and adrenaline. I told nobody about what I was experiencing. Where to begin? Realising that I was isolating, I walked to where the other parents were sitting. I enjoyed their company and banter; it was rather like an elastic band snapping me back to the present.

We got a lift home with another mum, and in my tired state, I stopped paying attention to our whereabouts. Glancing up, I realised that the shops looked familiar. I had been here before. Oh no! We were on his street! A place where cruelty had occurred, or should I say, more cruelty. Every day was a battle of wits and a struggle to survive.

I threw up when I got home, then took out my box of comfort tools. They consist of pyjamas, bed socks, essential oils, music and my bed. I had done it, and it was over. I knew I would never go back. I saw my daughter dance with her friends. It was a triumph. I feel as if I live in two worlds, the inner life keeping me busy, even as I socialise. No wonder people experiencing this duality are often exhausted. Remembering what that kid went through… Nobody cared and nobody rescued her, amongst the many who knew what was happening. To experience it all again felt like a respectful thing to do. It is my way of telling her that I am sorry for what she endured; that it was wrong, so wrong. To have to feel it, and then move on, is hard. It feels as though I am leaving her behind. I had nightmares for a week (when I managed sleep), and tried to go easy on myself. I am doing the best that I can. I have learnt that once I re-enter a place or hear a piece of music, for instance, it loses it’s hold over me. I would have to actively avoid most of Sydney to not encounter a place of trauma.

In the time since this experience, I have met with friends, and we’ve laughed and shared stories over coffee. I have relished the warmth of the mug coursing through my hands. I have delighted in the visiting birds, and watching the leaves falling from my trees. There is no reason why I survived that time in my life. Other young girls hadn’t been so lucky after having met him. I have completed a module of my health admin course, and am confident I could save a life if I needed to. It wasn’t because I’d performed CPR on a model at the Health campus, it was because I’d already saved a life previously. It was my own.