Happy 13th Birthday!


Once upon a time, there was a little girl with dimples and chutzpah in spades. Daring and unafraid. She equaled me with her absurdist humour, and we constantly laughed at the nonsense contained within life. Understated, humble and loyal, you turned down opportunities because it was a friend’s birthday, or because somebody needed you more. You have always been loyal to commitments, whenever possible. No interest in validation online, you are happy learning and plugging away in the background. You already know what you are going to do in life, and how you are going to get there.

I am meant to dread the teenage years. However, I don’t. Rather, I am enthralled by it’s swift appearance and amazed by its sweet and wise countenance. I celebrate the arrival of this new world. Keep flying, sweetheart, linking hands and arms with your contemporaries as you all learn new tricks and balance many plates. The answers aren’t found ‘out there’, nor within a phone, but rather, within yourselves. Have fun and make time for silliness. You will be an adult for a long time, and these years shall fly by.

I am learning and evolving at the same time as you. I need to lead the way, showing you how to care for yourself, learn new skills through education, and produce a future worthy of you and I. I look forward to long walks throughout Sydney, including our beloved Secret Garden. We shall keep up with our binge-watching of our favourite shows, whilst eating popcorn. I look forward to facials and pyjama days, camping and road trips, art galleries and our favourite and most hilarious activity, hamming it up as though we are ensconced in a soap opera. We actually are, and it’s best not to take it too seriously; an art you have mastered and in turn, have taught me.

You have told me what you want to do for your birthday. You want to hang out, have a supermarket chocolate cake, eat pizza then watch a movie at home. It’s so you. Whether you are holding a homeless person’s hand, demanding manners from a passenger on a train, encouraging a distressed friend or putting up with your directionally-challenged mother, you have style and grace, and a laser-like focus. It shall remain with you all your days, even after the next act in your life dissipates. Six short years, and then there will be another phase beginning. I shall remain right by your side throughout.

Love,

Mum

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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.

 

Therapy, the Past and Present


Pieces of cloth are strewn over my bed. Here is broderie anglaise from my christening gown. There is my favourite blue shirt I wore at fourteen;  a square from the white jumper I wore the night of my fall… Blood and mud-stained fabric, some pierced with bark chips. Strewn across my bed in no decipherable order. For twenty-five  years, I’ve attempted to sort through them. I had been wanting to make a patchwork quilt, to offer warmth and comfort. Trouble is, I hadn’t been taught how to sew, so had no hope of constructing it by myself.

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After years of stagnation, suddenly the lights turned green. I am studying for two degrees. A pain specialist with a fabulous reputation opened a practice in my town, and by a miracle, I was booked in to see a psychologist specialising in trauma. I turned up to her office with trepidation, afraid that by picking at the scab, I would bleed all over the place, and not heal. Perhaps, I would be left with a bigger scar. A Chilean lady came out to greet me, and my fears were cast aside. She admitted that she was puzzled at how I came to get an appointment, as her books had been closed for a while. She was taking no new patients on. I explained that a local support service had recommended her, and she laughed and said that gremlins must have gotten into her computer, opening up a space. I gave her a run-down on my life, checking off trauma as though I were reciting a shopping list.

She in turn asked about my digestion, if my mind raced, if I found it hard to concentrate on one thing at a time, if I was late to the party, having delayed emotional responses? Does my heart race? Do I breathe so quickly that I feel faint? I asked her how she knew? My digestion has always been a fragile flower.  My mind is always racing. I told her that sitting in her office for fifteen minutes, I had planned meals for the next week, my daughter’s schedule, done my budget and planned the next three chapters of a book I am writing. In fact, I am writing four at the same time. My bed has a pile of books on the floor, and I read a chapter then discard the book, perusing the next book in the pile. I even find it difficult waiting at a red pedestrian crossing, sitting through a movie, sitting still at all. As for emotional responses… I am commended for my calm at times when others fall apart. I have lost many dear friends, and can endure my grief, then a year or so later, I will be inconsolable when I see a photo of them. I am late to the party when it comes to boundaries too. Others will see things before I do, and back away from a person. When I went for an assessment earlier this year, so as to obtain a report for NDIS funding for trauma counselling, these traits were commended and cited as proof that I was coping splendidly. This lady was incredulous when I stated that NDIS had knocked me back because of the report, stating that I was a high-achiever who was coping very well indeed! My new psychologist sent me the following article on the Vagus nerve. It is the tenth cranial nerve, and interfaces with the parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs and digestive tract. It controls several muscles of the throat and voice box, and carries sensory information from the internal organs back to the brain.

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As you can see, it’s tendrils are long and reach deep. She noted that I squirm a lot and when talking or answering questions, my eyes dart upwards and side to side. It is a common response, when you have PTSD. She could see the little girl I was come out at times. I told her that now my daughter is reaching the age I had been when the most horrid of experiences started occurring, my mind is reminding me of what happened to me. I need to reach deep, as though unplugging a clogged sink, so that generational pain won’t besmirch her wondrous life. Eating disorders, alcohol misuse, utilising prescription medications to quell emotional pain, I had already dealt with it all. Now here I was, wanting to up my game plan. I want to do it for my daughter, so I can be the best mum I can be, for my friends so I can be present and healthy, for future employers and for myself.  The battle had begun.

As she emailed me the article on the Vagus nerve, I caught a glimpse of the ring emblazoned by a ruby on her finger. My mind was suddenly back inside a bathroom when I was fourteen. A man of unparalleled evil had been introduced into my world, and a woman I had known for only a short while gifted me a ruby ring. She insisted that I wear it, assuring me that it would keep me strong. “You will need to be,” she said, glancing at the man hovering over my shoulder. Always hovering… I took the ring off to wash my hands, and forgot to put it back on. When I went to retrieve it later, it was gone. “What will keep me strong now?” I asked in dismay. This memory led to others, too numerous to mention to the therapist, though she noted that I had drifted away. “You disassociate often, don’t you?” she smiled. She told me that it was quite a clever ploy of my brain, in order to protect me from horror and terror as it happened. It has also meant that I have put up with intolerable situations as an adult, for longer than I should, without further damage being done.

I was instructed on how to breathe, so I could transcend the flight response I was caught in. “We need to start from the basics, and that for you is learning how to simply breathe.” It took forty minutes until I was able to breathe deeply and slowly. Of course, my mind dove deep into the past, to the moment I first heard anything about “the horrors,” as PTSD was formerly known. I was fourteen and had met a gentle soul called Dennis. He couldn’t sit still, and his arms shook, and he tapped his foot involuntarily. “I’m like this because I’m a vet,” he whispered. “Oh, I love animals!” I exclaimed in my naivety.  Dennis smiled bemusedly. I didn’t know what he was talking about then. Now I know.

(To be continued)

Starting Again


Hey you,

I know it doesn’t seem that long ago, since your last round of chemo/radiotherapy/surgery. You wonder if you have it in you to go another bout. You wonder if you can recover from this loss, and whether this divorce will destroy what is left of your heart. It’s one thing to sit up, crawl and stand as a baby, and quite another to start again as an adult. Way back then, a topple was a mere blip on your radar, and no matter how many times you fell, it only served to engage your stamina and your sheer strength of will.

Bankruptcy, marriage and relationship breakdowns, insecure housing, ill health and troubles aplenty, have brought you to this place, upon your knees. You have nothing left to lose, but also, nothing left to fear. The ghouls have descended then scurried, taking what was yours, and not leaving much at all. Peace of mind has gone, as is the feeling of being secure in this world. They have pillaged the treasure chest, their hands grabbing up rubies and emeralds, diamonds and gold. You have the dirt beneath your feet and on your knees, that is all.

You can’t abide thoughts of the road ahead, and how long and hard it shall be, before you are back where you once were. I have to tell you, you won’t ever be back there; you will be propelled somewhere better. We can never go back; we weren’t designed to. I remember when my spine was broken, and I foolishly believed that I would only have to work hard at rehab for a season. There would be a solitary surgery, to fuse all of the broken pieces, and then I would go on with my life, as though it had never happened. I don’t think I could have taken the knowledge that I would have to work hard on my body, year in and out, forever. That I would have many surgeries, and have to learn how to sit, stand and walk many times over. I don’t know if I could have tolerated the understanding that I would slide back to the beginning. What is the point of trying? What is the point of beginning, whether it be rehab, exercise, a new relationship or a business proposal, if there is a risk that you will put in all that effort, only to lose it all; to begin again. Perhaps, the point isn’t found in the finale, but in the effort. What you prove to yourself about your strength of character, and what you prove to others. What you find out about yourself, and the relationships you cultivate. Perhaps, these are all diamond days. Perhaps, when you are kneeling in the dirt, watching in despair as the ghouls make away with your treasure, you will find comfort in the fact that you are left, somehow alive, though bloodied. They can’t take you away. They can’t control your thoughts, nor your will. That is the greatest treasure of all.

So, let us begin again, knowing that the archer shall propel us forward, farther than we have been before. It is time to start anew. Let us begin…

For those that have been Betrayed


I see you, even though you feel invisible. You are trying desperately to hide, even whilst yearning to be found. I sense the psychic wounds; the blood-letting you have endured. You are surrounded by pretty photos of pretty times by pretty lakes. There were pretty hotels in pretty, faraway lands. You have retreated from Instagram and Facebook, feeling you have nothing to contribute by way of pretty stories… Not anymore.

You had hoped that none of this was real. It can’t be real, for that would be intolerable; unthinkable. Your heart is pierced with wire, barbed and cruel, another searing pain striking whenever you think of him, and what transpired.

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Pain that sees you crawl into a ball in the shower, undone by wracking sobs which seem unworldly. What to do with the pictures, strewn about your home? The albums filled with memories? Hell, you even learnt the art of scrapbooking, so the stories were inked on pretty paper, in an orderly fashion. Each chapter had it’s own album, as great stories should.

I can see your collarbone, your flesh receded, along with your appetite. When did you last eat? I can see you haven’t slept, your eyes hollowed and red.

Next we have anger. Why didn’t you see it coming, you rage at yourself? Why did I believe their lies? Why did I think it was possible to retrieve our life together? It was concealed from you, dear heart. They only reveal what they want you to know. Lying is a game for one, and you weren’t privy to the rules. Anger extends to the partner. How could they take your family and carelessly shatter all that you had? They aren’t there to deal with the aftermath.

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I see you trying to adapt to being a single parent, and a single person. I see you having to navigate the legal system, locate counselling, and deal with financial matters. I know it feels overwhelming. The evenings are lonely, but then, so are the mornings. There shall be many firsts. The first time you attend a dinner, where you are the only one solo amongst your friends. The first walk, the first Christmas, the first mothers day…

There will be immense sadness and there will be grief. You wonder if the whole of your relationship was a lie. How much of it was ever real? Hindsight is a cruel teacher. It is only through it’s looking glass that we are able to see the complete picture. How can they love you like you need and like you deserve, if they don’t know themselves? If they came to you as an incomplete person, the union had to break. You aren’t responsible for filling up the mental and emotional needs of a partner who is punctured. It isn’t your job.

Your job is to tend to your own wounds. To discover the simple pleasures of a bubble bath or a solitary stroll. The kids are at sleepovers and you are alone. Now is the time to discover how decadent it feels to prepare a nourishing meal for one. You can curl up with a novel, or Netflix, unimpeded. You can play whatever music you desire. You are free now. Free from betrayal, and from the years of subterfuge. No more deceit, and no more wondering. You are worth far more. Now it is time to heal.

Go gently into your new world, and lean on your inner circle of friends. Slowly, you will begin sleeping through again. You will start eating more and cry a little less. You are going to show this world what a single woman can do. Right now, if all you did today was  go through the cycle of bewilderment, denial, anger, hurt and sadness on a continual loop, you did okay. You are still here, and have much to build on.

Remember the young woman who lived before this relationship? Open that photo album. Find her, retrieve her and offer her revivification. She has been there all this time. What does she want? What did she sacrifice or put on hold? Take all her dreams out of mothballs, and bring them to life.

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Learning from Toddlers


Hopping onto a full carriage at Central station, I was cursing myself for arriving in peak hour. Tired and hungry, I stood next to an equally exhausted lady, who grimaced by way of a greeting. People left at the next few stops, and a mother with a stroller boarded. That is when everything changed. I hadn’t noticed the mother and little boy before, seated in the middle section. The little boy stood as I found a place to sit, and wandered over to the stroller, greeting the little girl with  unadulterated joy, as though they were old friends. After he introduced himself, the little girl’s mum was offered a seat by a building worker. He actually insisted. The little girl was let out of her stroller and the kids sat snuggled together. I watched as their rapport was built, sharing toys and French fries.

The lady I had been standing with smiled knowingly, when she heard the mothers describing how hard new parenthood had been, and how they had been certain they were screwing it all up. Parents of older kids chimed in, and told their own stories. We confessed all the things we vowed to never do with our kids, which we all did. We talked of our own battles and what we had learned through the years. I laughingly relayed that I had vowed to never feed my toddler chips, and stories were told about all the silly rules we had administered, pre-children. Banana sandwiches are great, but then so is the occasional bucket of chips. Pretty soon, the whole carriage was chatting, introducing ourselves to one another. The toddler’s energy and ease of friendship had contaminated us all. They alternatively sung Wiggle songs, played with toys and ate chips.

An hour passed, and it was time for the toddlers to say goodbye, and they hugged one another. I thought of the ease in which the little boy had gone up to greet the little girl. It had brought out the best in all the weary travellers. It taught us to get our noses out of our phones, and actually smile at one another. Even if you are only going to be with a group of people for one solitary hour of your life, make it count.

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Phone Etiquette


Every time you ask a query online, you seem to have to put your mobile number in the contact form. I have tried to get away with not entering it, but the page won’t let you proceed until you do. I was recently enquiring about further education, and contacted around twenty institutions. Imagine, twenty places, all trying to call you, each and every day. I kept missing the calls, and we played tag-team. I  pleaded for them to email me the pertinent details, rather than insist on talking to me. I simply didn’t have time for all the calls.

There are many reasons why answering the phone may not be possible.

  1. You are using your mobile to navigate with Google Maps, and the phone dips out whenever a call comes through.
  2. You are a migraine or Trigeminal Neuralgia sufferer, and answering the phone during an attack is not possible.
  3. There is thunder and lightning about. I have had people that I love suffer electrocution during storms, so keep well away from my mobile as soon as the clouds gather!
  4. The phone is charging in another room, and you forget about it.
  5. I am early to bed and early to rise, and have programmed my phone not to ring after a certain time of night.
  6. You are working or studying, and  haven’t the time to hold a phone conversation.
  7. You are driving or otherwise travelling.
  8. You are at the theatre, cinema or enjoying the arts in any capacity.
  9. You are spending quality time with your child.
  10. You need time to relax.
  11. Calls coming from unscreened numbers make you nervous.

These are just some reasons off of the top of my head! If I didn’t email and text, and spent every day with the phone to my ear, I wouldn’t get anything else done.

Caitlin Fitzsimmons investigated this issue in the Sydney Morning Herald. Do you agree that phone calls are disruptive? Wouldn’t it be easier to text a message, rather than play a tiresome game of tag?  I use my mobile to get around the city, take photos, look at my emails, and shoot off a text. What is yours primarily used for?

Pain and Anxiety


When I first read about Jo Cameron-the ease in which she moves through the world- I envied her. Imagine not being woken by niggling fears surfacing at 2am? What a joy to not suffer anxiety, nor terrors, from real or imagined foes! As for aches and pains, imagine not suffering with any? How liberated would you feel?

 

Jo Cameron was interviewed in the New York Times recently. The potential for her genes to be studied, so that pain and anxiety in everyday patients may be diluted, is a tantalising prospect. It may result in the ability to demand that a certain gene calms the hell down!

 

Along with the obvious advantages to living as Jo Cameron does, there are also disadvantages. I have told my daughter to be aware of that feeling in the pit of her stomach, that relays whether a situation or person is giving off good vibes, or not. Are they making her feel anxious? It is a sense that over-rides all logic, and hence doesn’t involve the brain, as much as the gut. I have told her to always honour that feeling, and have promised that I shall too. Imagine if we didn’t have any warning of danger? No rapid heartbeat, sweating, nor adrenaline in overdrive? There can be good stressors, which pivot us beyond what we believed were the limits of what we can endure. Studying, exams, public speaking. Anxiety can be used as a helpful resource, and not a hindrance in these cases.

When I went into labour, I thought they were mild contractions, involving my lower back. Compared to endometriosis pain, it was a walk in the park! The back pain grew worse, which saw me agree to finally go to hospital. It turned out that I was in full labour! If I hadn’t had the back pain, I would never have known. Every segment of my spine is damaged. There are bony spurs growing on my neck, all the way down. My spinal canal is narrowing, leaving little room for the nerves. I am sometimes out of my mind with the pain, and as a seasoned pain-sufferer, I often welcome it. It gets so bad that my brain packs an overnight bag, and we escape the minutiae of everyday life. I laugh more heartily, dream more vividly, and write more eloquently than I would have done.  I appreciate the spider senses in my solar plexus going into overdrive if confronted with danger. The same goes with my hand retracted from a steaming cup, before being scolded.

It would be lovely to have the ability to adjust the settings on anxiety and pain, without turning them off completely. Perhaps, Jo Cameron holds the answers we have been seeking.