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)

Recognition


I recognized him instantly, the young man seated at his desk. “Excuse me,” I stammered, “would you mind if I sketched you?” I was at the Correspondence School in William street, Sydney, to meet my teachers and attend classes for the day. These wonderful people would prepare lessons for me, in between my surgeries. The art teacher had suggested I approach his colleague to have some practice. He smiled as he turned around, which was quickly replaced with a look of horror. He had been in the clinic with me when I was fourteen. The last time I had seen him, he was catatonic, one of the patients in the long-term unit. He had been in for nearly a year, on a trajectory of hopeful recovery and devastating lows. He had been my friend, and I his. Now we were out in the world, he a twenty-five year old teacher, and I at sixteen, housed in a body brace. He pleaded with his eyes, not to let slip that we knew each other. The room was crowded, and conversation of a sensitive nature would be overheard. I told him with my eyes that I wouldn’t reveal his past. I sketched his profile as though he were a stranger. He formally bid me goodbye, and I went on my way.

The same thing happened at a department store in the city. A girl I was in hospital with served me at the counter. Her blue eyes sparkled and she smiled before her visage turned to horror. I had wanted to embrace her, and squeal, “you survived!” She had been molested by her Uncle, and her parents had disbelieved her. She had tried to take her life, and ended up in the hospital with me. She was funny, warm, kind and had run away to live with her older sister, before being dragged back. We were forbidden from seeing each other, and I had fretted over her fate. Once again, I promised not to let slip that we knew each other, without saying a word. I only had to look into her pleading eyes.

It happened time and again, my meeting people who had once been close friends. You can’t help but form an incredibly intimate bond with people whom you live with 24/7. On the outside, these people treated you like a stranger, and you were asked to treat them the same. Nobody knew of their prior admittance, nor battles, save for a few family members. It was a given that if people knew their history, it would ruin any chance of employment, let alone promotion. No wonder I had seen executives of well-known companies rescind into the shadows after having complete breakdowns. What a burden it is, to keep up appearances.

I shared the clinic with teachers, models, musicians, nurses, rock stars, people on the board of major hospitals, chefs, actors and many more aside. They became my family, and trusted me with their secrets. There was a disconnect when they went out into the world to regain their place in their industry. It was an unnerving dissonance that didn’t sit well. I instinctively knew that it wasn’t healthy. These were the days before social media, where a famous person could hide their struggles inside the walls of a private clinic.

This year has seen many stressors heaped on me in a short period of time. When one has seen hundreds of people rescind mid-way through their lives, and have heard them table their backstories, one has a tendency to be attentive to the health of one’s own mind. There have been weeks when my brain has been seized by anxiety so severe that I would spend days reading over the same sentence, or forgetting why I went into the kitchen. Depression so crippling that I would want to crawl back into bed within an hour of waking. Social media can help us to feel connected, but it can also make us feel dejected. Witnessing everyone’s highlight reels, seeing people having fun whilst we sit on the periphery of it all can be devastating.

A famous photographer was in the clinic at the same time as I, and I held her sick bowl and pressed cold face cloths to her forehead as she suffered withdrawals. She introduced me to Carrie Fisher’s writing, giving me a copy of ‘Postcards from the Edge.’ She also gifted me a diary, urging me to put anything that made me want to live in its pages. I included quotes, photos, song lyrics and my own musings, and I still treasure this thick diary with its art nouveau cover. She was a truth-seeker and was one of the rare few who didn’t give a flying fig who knew about her admittance, nor fragility.

As for myself, I feel like an Autumn leaf, blowing this way and that. It is time to have trauma counselling. Back when I was a teen, nobody I knew was diagnosed with PTSD, nor anxiety. It wasn’t seen as imperative that trauma counselling begin straight away, to reduce the severity of symptoms going forward. I have rung the centre that was organizing specialized counselling many times, as well as emailing. The trouble is, services are stretched to breaking point. The willingness to assist is there, but the sheer volume of people needing help is overwhelming. I am going to call into this place soon, and talk to somebody about starting this specialized counselling. Receiving what you need is a battle, and you have to believe that you are worth the fight. I know I am worth the fight, and I am also fighting for my daughter, so I can be the best mum to her that I possibly can. We adults need to lead our young to know that articulating our struggles and being honest with our emotions is healthy. They need to see us reaching out to one another, and advocating for services. Contact the health minister and local MP’s and persist until they respond to the call for more services. We are at crisis point in Australia.

I look forward to the day when people who have sought help for their mental health can embrace upon meeting outside of their initial contact. They can introduce their friend to their colleagues and share where they are up to now. The silence and shame and the hiding parts of ourselves is toxic. The older I get, the more I see of our fragility as a species. I know  that the parts of my body that were fused and reinforced with titanium are the strongest parts of me. The cracked and damaged parts are the strongest. It is the neck and shoulders, hips and discs in my spine that once were healthy, that are complaining. The same is true for the mind. The brain that can be pliable and work toward a glorious future, can also become stuck on replaying trauma, like a reel of film. It is exhausting to keep a smile plastered on, to disregard the damaged psyche underneath and to play pretend. It is time to stop. It is time to advocate and it is time for shame to be quashed.

The Last Place…


I have returned to most of the places where frightful events took place… Buildings and hospitals, houses, parks and reserves. I have stood at these scenes and wept for the girl who suffered so. I wept for what transpired. I took my power back, and incorporated that young girl  into my psyche. No more feeling discombobulated, as though I had been blown apart, my ashes found all over Sydney. I became a little phoenix, rising with her wings outstretched. However, there was one place I hadnt been back to, couldnt go back to…

It was where I spent a great deal of my childhood, it’s gothic visage, cemetry and vast grounds  seemingly enormous and frightening to a child. I have visited friends at the nearby hospital, averting my gaze from the tower standing high amongst the trees at the end of the road. In the 70’s, the old hospital was turned into a mental health facility and school for children and teens. The family had many visits there, none of them ending well. So many memories; too many memories. I was to be placed there at fifteen, my third such hospital, but the only one catering to anyone remotely in my age bracket. At my pre-admission, an older teen threatened to rape me on my admittance. I couldn’t go there… I had been through enough. Besides, I wanted to work. I had left school a year prior, and my god, I had seen and been through more than most adults. This felt like going back to the beginning. I was to be held here, with nowhere else to go.

A series of events saw the story changing, and my back was broken. I ended up spending several months in an orthopaedic ward. This place is my Sliding Doors moment. What would have become of me if I had been admitted? Would my story have been better or worse? I wouldn’t have had my hip and ribs grafted into my back, to make up a replacement spine. I wouldn’t be in physical pain every second of the day and night. However, I doubt I would have healed emotionally. It was the wrong place in the wrong era at the wrong time. I would have been as vulnerable as before.

My daughter was looking forward to an upcoming camp, as was I, and we learnt where we were to be staying. Yes, it was the place I had been avoiding for over twenty years. Every cell in my body stood on a knife’s edge. Then, I breathed. I thought deeply about the timing, and whether I could face it. Memories came flooding back. The hallways and offices, the conversations and smells. How desperate I felt to live a happy life, away from all this. I believed this opportunity happened for a reason. I am now strong enough to go back, and reclaim that girl. Strong enough to go back and reclaim me. I packed for camp, and then I went to camp. I wasn’t afraid. This time, I was free to leave, and nobody would harm me. I faced the gothic structure with courage and was rewarded with my last retrieval of ash. The phoenix could now breathe fire. The phoenix could now fly.

I am Sorry…


People tend to find it hard to know what to say when confronted by another’s suffering, particularly if they don’t know the person well. They may inquire as to how many children they have, and when the answer is “three; two here and one in spirit,” they don’t know how to respond. It is the same when encountering grief, serious illness, infertility or a survivor of abuse. It is tempting to apply a verbal salve to the savage wound, usually in the form of platitudes such as “chin up,” “you can try again,” “it will get better with time…” These words hold no healing, and are rather like acid being poured onto a vulnerable soul.

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I went to a Bravehearts luncheon the other day, and afterward, one of the women divulged the abuse she had suffered as a child. Those gathered listened respectfully, and afterward, I went up to her, hugged her, and whispered, “I am so sorry that you endured such things; so sorry that you suffered so.” I did this because  kind folk had said this to me. Others wanted to know how far I had fallen when I was pushed off that ledge as a teen; they wanted to know the details to satisfy their curiosity. I treasure those who cradled me, and whispered how sorry they were. It is the ultimate recognition of trauma. You aren’t attempting to fix the situation with glib words, nor paper over what a brave person has divulged. You have acknowledged their pain and the unfairness of what has transpired. “I am so very sorry…” That is all that is needed.

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I attended a White Balloon Day luncheon, to raise awareness and funds for Bravehearts, an Australian organization whose aim is to prevent child sexual assault. Their services include counselling for children and adult survivors, advocacy and support, an education program for children, research and lobbying, and community awareness campaigns. The more we talk and educate our children, the safer our society shall be. I would love to be able to give the gift of safety to our kids, so they have nothing to survive from their childhoods. That is their right and our responsibility as a community. I have hope that the tide is turning. Even a decade ago, such lunches would have been rare. The subject would have been deemed unpalatable. We as a whole are becoming more cohesive, aware and supportive. May it flourish at the same time as predators fall.


PTSD-Understanding Yourself


This article by Pete Walker astounded me with the breadth of knowledge and detail entailed. I could identify with it, thinking no wonder I am tired! Recovery is a full-time job in itself, and by that I mean recovering who you were before the events, and who you were set to become. It is confronting (albeit healing), to uncover why you do the things you do, and respond the way you do. Your beautiful, brilliant mind conjured up all sorts of ways to cope!

Broken Wings and Healing


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A little bird came into my life on Valentine’s Day. She was found on the floor of a cage; her wings had been hacked with what appeared to be scissors. She had no tail and was ailing. Desperate to rescue her, she came home with us. Over the months, I have been in awe of her spirit. The feathers underneath her crippled wings would twist and bleed, causing terrible pain. When they fell out, I would pick them up, and feel how razor-sharp the damaged ends were. Despite the anguish she must have felt, she had a personality that was bigger than her. She whistled the Adams Family theme song, danced and chatted all day. She would run across the dining table when she saw food. Vegemite toast, pumpkin soup and cups of tea were her favorite. We named her Friendly, a fitting moniker.On shopping day, she would see you come in with the bags and dance from side to side in anticipation of a honey stick. She would lock the other cockatiel in their house, run away with Lego pieces when my daughter was playing and generally cause mayhem. She would even pick up a pencil and try to draw in my daughter’s workbooks, just as she had seen her do. When her wings hurt, she would cry, and come to me for comfort. 

Recently, she grew a proper tail, and her feathers grew strong. She became obsessed with flapping her mighty wings. To my despair, she got out the other day. Friendly flew to a tree in the park around the corner, hopping up on the farthest branches, annoyed at any attempt to catch her. We shared information about her on community pages and many kind people shared her picture, in case she flew from the tree. The fire brigade advised to leave her there overnight, as it was now dusk and she was settled in for sleep. They didn’t want to startle her. At dawn, the fire brigade came, and tried to catch her. Irritated, she flew off. My daughter and I combed the neighborhood for hours, whistling the Adams Family theme song, and calling out her name. Despondent, we had set off for home when my phone rang. She had been found! 

Friendly had flown a block away, landing in someone’s front yard. A group of teenage girls had been on their way to school when they found her, and notified the home-owner, who took her inside. They were having Vegemite toast for breakfast, and Friendly ran across to their plates and helped herself! She looked mighty proud of herself, without a hint of distress. After devouring a honey stick, she had a mammoth nap. We held our little bird, watching as she slept. Strangers as well as friends, celebrated her return. It touched my heart to know that so many people were celebrating alongside us.

Today she is singing and dancing, and as I watch her I shake my head, incredulous. I wouldn’t have thought that a frail little bird with butchered wings and no tail would ever be capable of flying as she did; nor of evading the fire brigade! Wings can be clipped and we may not have the rudder necessary to balance. It doesn’t mean that it will remain so. Balance returns and broken wings heal. Just ask Friendly. She has had her taste of adventure and I think (hope), she is now happy to stay put. She just wanted to see how far she could go on her healed wings, and the answer was a long way! The birds she hung out with and the friendships that were formed will remain a mystery, but with her outgoing personality, I am sure she charmed the native birds.



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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