I went back…


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

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

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

Manchester


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

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

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

International Women’s Day


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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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


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

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

 

Broken or Whole?


 

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This is a great picture, taken many years ago at The Grounds at Alexandria. Rich in symbols, such as the door handles and the bucket waiting to be filled. The mirror is beautiful; it is whole. Not a scratch nor crack. I thought it was perfect, until I realized how beautiful broken could be. Shards of mirror and glass shatter to the ground, and as you try to scoop them up, you are pierced and you bleed. It hurts to clean up what was broken. Even with a dustpan and broom, you are likely to step on minuscule fragments underfoot.

It seems to be a waste of something that started whole, and yet if repaired with gold leaf, and lovingly reassembled, it can become not just beautiful, but astounding.

It is the same for us. I have friends who are refugees; who have been through wars and endured the unimaginable. I have friends who have been broken and abandoned. There is always enough remaining on the ground to work with. There is always a little left of which to rebuild. Rather than a perfect round mirror, the broken human has the potential to become a sparkling temple. You will be pierced and there may be blood. It will bring you to your knees, but the spectacular reassembling is worth the time and toil. I once lay on the ground, a discarded girl, ground into the earth. My bones were broken and I was bleeding. A dyslexic, I took on board what my teachers had said, and wondered if I was in fact, stupid.

Over the years, the shattered parts were rebuilt and strengthened. I had a child. I uncovered the reservoir of wisdom that had been filled with muck inside my soul. I learnt I could write, and I learnt I was smart. If not for the fall I would never have been shattered. If not for the fall, I would never have had the chance to rebuild.

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Anniversaries and the Helpmann Awards


It was as much my daughter’s day as it was mine. A day of remembrance. To contemplate what was taken and what has in turn been bestowed. She has had her life altered as a result of that July 25th long ago. This term, I can’t commit to taking her to drama classes in the city, as I have to attend to this chronic pain once and for all, and have viable pain management strategies in place. She doesn’t complain when I can’t take her out, nor does she wonder why I fall silent on the way home after a long day. She comforts me when she sees the mask fall and views the agony in my face. I haven’t been able to do all that I want with my daughter as money has gone on maintaining my health. I can’t run like other mothers, nor skate or ride horses with her. Her life has been shaped in so many ways by what happened to me. I didn’t tell her the date’s relevance, yet she knew it was a big, important date.

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Being a ham, she had to strut into a bank through its turning doors, pretending to be a banker. To the mirth of the employees, she shouted, “this isn’t my jam!” and ran out. She then discovered this chess set, and was annoyed that a King was overtaking the others. She sought to rectify things.

We took pictures at Wildlife World. You can tell I wasn’t ready!

We spent the afternoon hanging out, having fun. I have learnt that it does no good to not acknowledge the memories, nor try to have an ordinary day on the anniversary. What I needed was to see beauty; to be pulled out of my own mind. It helped!

As we left home at noon, I was flooded by intense gratitude. All those years ago, I would have given anything for what I was able to do this particular morning. Wake in a comfy bed in a secure home, then shower and dress. Have a nutritious breakfast and a pitcher of water. To look forward to the day. All the things you take for granted… As dusk fell over the city, winter began to bite, and I felt the cells in my body grow anxious. Dusk was when the final torment began. We walked to the Lyric Theatre, and stood enjoying the celebrities walk the red carpet, my daughter eating a croissant. I lovingly brushed the pastry flakes from her hair, and tried to avoid embarrassing her by crying out of sheer and giddy joy.

The award show surpassed all expectation. It was thrilling to see Matilda receive thirteen awards. The Australian Theatre for Young People won an award for the sublime Sugarland. Supporting the Arts is incredibly important. It takes us out of the everyday, into a world of unequal splendor. It is no coincidence that musicals hit the height of their popularity during the Great Depression and wartime. We need to transcend the drudgery once in a while. We need the Arts to give us different perspectives and to provide commentary on the times  we live in. Griffin Theatre’s The Bleeding Tree won Best Play, and when accepting the award, it was hoped that the piece about domestic violence would be viewed in the future with a shaking of the head, and the utterance of “this is how it was back then.”

When Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director, Stephen Page was honoured the  JC Williamson Award, his speech left us spellbound. There were magical performances from musicians, musicals and dance companies. Water escaped my eyes and I gave thanks that I got to see this night of celebration, and as I slumbered that evening, July 26th rolled around without fan fair.  I also got to see the dawn. The evening reinforced that we must tell our stories, not only for our own sake, but for everyone’s. I look forward to somebody in the future stumbling across my work and saying ‘things were different back then! Thank goodness we live in better times.’  Times when perfect storms in a young person’s life are abated, before they are consumed by a wave. We are on our way. No more secrets, nor hiding of abuse.

If you have a painful anniversary coming up, I would advise you to acknowledge it. Write about it, or create art around it. Plan a special day with loved ones who get it. If that’s not possible, then go out by yourself. Eat and drink delicious things. View beautiful things. Talk to strangers. Whatever you do, don’t curl up alone with the memories. In my view, such a day has to be tempered by art; it’s potency diluted by loveliness.

Seeds and Growth


They certainly did not know that we were seeds! Seeds containing the most fragrant, vibrant flowers. This life, it can get so ugly. I have had my body smashed up, bloodied and ground into the dirt. I have been saved by garden mulch. When I am out, and find it has stuck to my shoes and clothes, I am not in the least irritated. Rather, I am grateful for being reminded of the time it saved my life. If I had landed on concrete, I would be gone. The mulch softened my fall, allowing me the opportunity to live.

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The battle was far from over. There I’d be- lovingly attending my budding garden- when a slug would come along and eat the shoots. Pesticide was poured over the dirt, and it seemed that everything had died. Over and over again. Little did they know that there were slumbering seeds buried way underneath the mulch. They couldn’t destroy what would flourish underground! As a grown woman, I have tools to keep the pests at bay. I have a little fence (not white picket in nature), and those seeds are about to rupture. No matter what they do, they can’t access those seeds. I think it’s time for us all to bloom. I will scoop up a handful of mulch, and give thanks.

Dismantling of Mental Health Services in Australia


It is with dismay and disbelief that the following came up on my news feed yesterday.

Headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, providing early intervention services to 12-25 year old’s. The centres are located in major cities, as well as regional and rural areas of Australia. They don’t look like a mental health facility, and therein lies their beauty. The service is free or has a low cost attached. There is an online and phone service. They also have a program that works with school communities. I could go on…

I know a young man who accessed their services after a near-fatal suicide attempt at seventeen. He was a sensitive, whose family had been through a great degree of trauma. He now works with Headspace, giving talks. The team are accessible to young people; they are not clinicians in a drab setting, who seem out of touch. Headspace work with those who suffer eating disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, bullying, schooling issues, depression and other mental illness.

This is extremely personal for me. I was a youth before Headspace was created. I had attempted suicide for the first time just after my thirteenth birthday. It was so serious that I was in Intensive Care for a while. More attempts followed, and I was diagnosed as having reactive depression; a response to deep trauma and strife in my personal life. I would oscillate between pure joy through to deep sadness on a weekly basis. Kids like me only had the hospital psychiatrist to chat to, and mine were all elderly males. The rooms were grey and dark, and they managed to get limited information out of the young, as the vibe was so grim and threatening. Twenty plus years ago, you saw the staff doctor after a suicide attempt, and then were dismissed- in my case- with Valium. There wasn’t a centre to call nor drop into. There wasn’t a service to confide abuse or bullying to.  Certainly, schools were under no obligation to recommend a centre nor assist a struggling youth.

I was put in a private clinic at fourteen (long story), and I was the youngest person there. DOCS had wanted me to go to a centre for adolescents so I could attend school and start my healing from having lived a dark dream. Instead, I was sent to a place brimming with adults. There were drug dealers and perverts; dangerous individuals, whom I had to fend off on a daily basis. There were even those there by arrangement of their lawyers, in order to beat criminal charges. I had people sneaking into my room at night. I developed a raging eating disorder after patients twice my age schooled me in the dark art of weight control. Suicides occurred, and I learnt more about the evil this world holds than a child should know. I was raped and eventually, almost had my life taken. I live with the ramifications of this year on a daily basis.

You bet I am angry. I have been extremely vocal over the years on this subject. Youth should never be in places designed for adults. Two decades ago, this clinic cost $500 a day, just to secure a bed. Free services were non-existent or scant throughout Australia. The young are made to grow up quicker, and the pressure brought to bear is harsher than ever now. We need to roll out more services, rather than tear them apart! Please stand with me in being vocal regarding the need for more funding for youth mental health in Australia.

I look back on my hellish adolescence and shudder. I survived and am now a contented mum and woman. I want this generation to be able to access support designated for their age group. They deserve to reach adulthood with adequate support.

 

 

 

The Tide is finally Turning! (trigger warning)


I won’t go into the details of the crime, other than to say that the offender was sentenced to a paltry six months in prison, though looks set to serve only three. When I read how his father sprang to his defense, and attempted to minimize his actions, I couldn’t believe it. Here is the victim’s stunning Impact Statement.

The sense of entitlement regarding the offender, both before and after his insipid crime brought back memories. You see, I was this girl, and he and his family remind me of another one I encountered… The offender in my case had a long history of violence, and menacing behavior, starting when he was still in primary school. He set fire to the family home after an argument, and his parents covered for him. Using a compensation payout, he repaired the damage, and all was forgiven. The occasions of violence -which they knew of and either overlooked or helped him escape the consequences of -are many. Then, he met me…

The night of my fall, his parents stayed with him, as he was under police guard in the ER. I was placed next to him at first, a curtain separating us. There was meant to be a bedside hearing in the morning, to charge him with attempted murder. He called out to me all night as I lay broken and bloodied. His parents soothed him, promising that it would all be okay. I was fifteen, and he was 26 years of age. They arranged for him to be transferred to a comfortable clinic the next day, of where he stayed for the next year. They attended court with him when I turned sixteen, and again, never left his side. I was by myself when I had a conference with the Prosecutor and detective on the case in a side room. They hired a cruel lawyer to attempt to discredit me. Despite being assured that he was set to plead guilty on all charges, he changed his mind at the last minute. I watched him walk from the court a free man, his family smiling and congratulating him whilst I stood there broken.

I am tormented by the thought that he may have been aided and abetted after he left that courthouse in terrorizing other girls. I tried to put him away and protect others… The outcry and rage shown to this offender (and regarding the justice system and his father’s response), have comforted me. Times are changing, and I am so very glad that I am here to witness it. When this happened to me, we had no internet. I was effectively silenced. There were letters to the Ombudsman and relevant authorities, but there was no public forum in which to share what had occurred.

Parents can no longer aid and abet these offenders without public scrutiny. Their outcries of unfair sentences and ruined opportunities for their boys will no longer be tolerated. At last, at last!

A Jar of Marbles


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We had seen a video on how to make fairy lanterns, and went to a discount store to find the jars, tissue paper and glitter required for our project. I had felt the need to apply a mixture of turquoise, blue and purple to my hair. Now, when you front up amongst a crowd in a quirky manner, certain people gravitate to you. The artists, the poets, the dreamers…They see in you a kindred spirit. I stood in front of an aisle of craft supplies, discombobulated at the wide array, uncertain of which to choose. I noted a lady facing the same conundrum, next to my daughter and I, and smiled at her sympathetically. She was tall, with bohemian clothing and a funky short hairdo. “Excuse me,” she said, “could you help me?” She had a bag of marbles in one hand and a jar in the other. “Do you think these will fit in this jar?” “Afraid not, especially the bigger marbles,” I replied. She explained that somebody very dear to her was facing a deluge of sorrow, and was hanging on by a spindle. They had expressed that they were afraid they were losing their marbles. “I want to present them with their marbles,” the woman stated. “I need them to know that I care; that what is taken can be replaced.” I squeezed her hand. “You are a good person.”

I guess my fairy lanterns are also thematic. Here are these little fairies, highlighted with a background light, illuminating the way.  When I was in the clinic as a teenager, I was privy to many stories. I recall that the term PTSD was rarely used back then. It was called ‘the horrors’ instead. I was fourteen, and quite naïve. I became friends with a gentle fellow called Denis. He was kind and funny, and also severely traumatized. He quietly told me that he had been a vet. “How wonderful! I love animals,” I smiled. “Bless you, kid,” he laughed. I learnt over time what he actually meant as I heard him scream throughout the night; witnessed him slip into catatonia for days on end. I was told I had a strong mind, which bounced back like an elastic band, no matter what I was enduring. I wasn’t even clinically depressed, according to the experts. Rather, I railed against cruelty and abuse, to the extent that I would prefer to leave this world than remain in suspended animation. As my own PTSD began, I thought about Denis often, how despite our generation gap, we had this horrendous condition in common.

My mind takes me to dark places and I regularly fall into deep depression. None is more surprised  than I. I am a genuinely happy soul, who can seemingly bounce back from anything life hurls at me. I call myself a smiling, laughing depressive. I have been around long enough to understand what my triggers are, and try my best to avoid them. I have a delayed reaction to triggers. I may explode a day or two later. I need time alone to process what has transpired. Alcohol is a no-go zone at such times, as it leads to dreadful melancholy when I already feel low. I have to get out in the fresh air and walk. I have to turn off the phone and not have too much stimulation. Now is the time to get out my first aid kit. It contains ambient music, books, exercise, essential oils, candles, soup, a fruit platter, gardening, art, writing, playing with my daughter, the theatre and retreat. I am a happy woman with a tortured soul. It is quite the dichotomy. I have had to save my life many times over. There have been mountains that have seemed unconquerable; events too awful at first glance to be survivable. I have had to make that choice.

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There is hope beckoning to me outside the bramble where I lay. There always has been. I cut through the brackets to reach my friends, and my life. Life as a smiling, laughing depressive can be confusing. It is concealed from other people, and felt behind the scenes. “You are always smiling and appear happy darling,” an elderly friend once said, “but I see the sadness in your eyes when you think nobody is looking.” I told her she was far too perceptive. I think my spirit animal is the phoenix. Ignited by passion and a love of life, and consumed by the same. Perishing and emerging in an endless cycle. You can be the most positive, joyous person around, and still be pursued by depression and anxiety. The two states eye each other off warily. As long as you have a jar of marbles, you will never lose your own. My fairy lanterns are visible proof of an illumination inside my mind which can never be extinguished, despite the odds.

We are stronger than we believe we are, and can survive what we thought we couldn’t. We are also fragile, and deserving of kindness. If you have been through trauma, your brain has been left battered and bruised. It needs love and time set aside in its quest for reparation. I can’t help being an extroverted introvert. It’s who I am. I love people, and socializing and I also adore being alone. The same is true for being a smiling depressive. I love this life, and have had to reconcile the fact I was almost destroyed by it. My path isn’t paved, and nor is it straight. At least I have my lantern to light my way.

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