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

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.

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.

International Women’s Day

My daughter and I went to a special event last Sunday, to celebrate International Women’s Day. One of the speakers talked about how she ended up homeless. In her career, she’d collaborated with some of our leading advertising people, and her children went to a private school. By all intents, she led a charmed life. She was active in her daughter’s school, designing scores of costumes for the school play. Nobody knew that she was sleeping in the store room after rehearsals, nor that she showered at the local swimming pool. They didn’t know that she camped out in the elements for the best part of a year. As was tradition, she was invited to luxury accomodation (free), in Victoria for a mother’s get-away. As she sat on the deck at sunset, one of the mother’s shared the disappointment of a postponed overseas holiday, whilst another complained about their maid and au pair. The dichotomy between her reality and theirs was too much, and she ran to her room. The mother’s sat in gobsmacked silence, with only one following to see if she was okay. In floods of tears, she confided that circumstance had rendered her homeless, and she didn’t know where she was going to go after leaving this place.

When this eloquent lady took to the stage, this was not the story I was expecting. We make so many presumptions about each other; what they do, who they are, and what they’ve been through. She had once hidden what she had survived, even from her inner-circle. Shame keeps us concealed. We don’t dare speak the truth of our lives. We have worked so hard to formulate an image, crafted from our happy snaps, holidays, career and family. What happens if it all goes to hell? Who are we then?

I must admit, when this lady first came on, I thought she was another upper-class motivational speaker. Somebody who’d lived a charmed life, trying to inspire us plebs to aim for her lofty position. When the reality of her recent past was unveiled, her one-dimensional image became one of real substance. She had been to hell, and was now determined to pull other women up. She had known hunger, and fear; panic and a lack of security. She wasn’t selling anything, other than hope. I imagine that was the only thing keeping her warm and sated during that tumultuous time. She now helps other women, who’ve found themselves homeless. By sharing her story, she has opened people’s eyes to the reality of this growing crisis, particularly amongst older women.

We need to be real with one another, and share not only our triumphs, but our pain. How exhausting it is, to have to wear a mask. It doesn’t serve us, nor society. We weren’t designed to withhold our truths, nor remain silent. Communion can only happen when we split open, revealing what had been concealed. You never know who you will help with the sharing of your story, particularly how you managed to claw your way out of hell.

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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.

 

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)

Trust

I thought I was a fairly optimistic person, considering all the trauma that has bounded into my life at one time or another. I thought I was pretty calm in the face of disaster. I never stopped to wonder why I had to start taking medication for anxiety, and why I had been waking up in the middle of the night with heart palpitations, unable to get back to sleep. I had come to expect catastrophe, and my body was vigilant for it’s approach. These last few weeks have been a lesson in trust. Doing all that I humanly can, and then letting go.

I was told that my home was up for sale a while back, and was frankly, devastated. I love my little home, and the street on which I reside. I respected the decision, and cleaned and prepared the house for Open Homes, hoping that an investor may purchase the property and let us stay. The anxiety was so bad, that I just had to release the outcome, or be consumed by the unknown. The amount of times I envisioned packing boxes, paying thousands toward another move… I could see myself spending hours changing my address online and unpacking somewhere new…Today I was told that we are able to sign a lease for another year! I can’t tell you what a relief it is, and the joy I felt when telling my daughter.

We can come to expect life to cheat us; to not be kind in it’s approach. I was grumpy the other day, when a bus I needed to catch arrived early, and I still had some way to walk to the bus stop. “Great!” I seethed. To my complete surprise, the driver noticed me and opened the doors, patiently waiting until I could get on board. “I didn’t want you to have to wait for another hour,” he smiled after I had thanked him. This kindness gave me a lightness of spirit, and I had further meaningful interactions with the teller at the bank, an elderly lady and a shop keeper.

It reinforced that the world isn’t in fact out to get me. I have been abused and seen the perpetrator walk after a ridiculous sojourn to jail. I have been robbed and taken advantage of. I have been discarded and ostracised. Haven’t we all? I used to say that there are more good people on this earth than bad, and I believed it. We seem to build up an irritation, as though we are preparing a pearl inside our shell. All that we end up doing is keeping the world out, and shutting ourselves in.

I was talking to a friend who had suffered abominable abuse as a boy, and recent events in his life have served to affect him negatively. I told him that a year ago, when I had to leave all that I was and the titles I had aligned my identity with, I thought that the bad guys may never come to justice. “You know what kept me sane?” I asked my friend. “Cardinal Pell being found guilty and put in jail.”  Heck, watching all of the bad people coming to justice. It will happen to them all. They will be punished, one way or another. I have lived long enough to see it occur, and know that more shall follow.

I will open my heart once again, to both life and it’s people, trusting that a driver shall wait for me, the teller shall be pleasant and that good people do get rewarded for being a good tenant or a good person. I have to trust this life, as it is all I have. The bad guys will fall, given enough time. I have seen it happen. I once again believe that life isn’t trying to bring me to my knees; it is trying to help me up.

It’s time to get out my dusty Gratitude journal, and at day’s end, list all that I am thankful for. The list is massive.