Hope


How do we survive what life throws at us? It is miraculous, indeed, that a broken heart keeps beating. Hope is found in the friend who has retreated- missing from all social media-and  whom reappears after their dark night of the soul. It is the dawn we thought we may not see, and waking after major surgery that we were warned may kill us. It is the rescinding and rebuttal of bottles of booze and cigarettes after being warned of the inevitability of an early grave. It is continuing in the face of grief, and the exercise we partake in, despite wanting to stay in bed. It is a mindset that urges us to keep going, and keep alive, despite a downward turn in fortunes. Hope has no need for evidence, it is timeless and often without basis in facts. It stands alone, without anything to cling to, as ephemeral as a cloud, and as mighty as a gladiator. I have strolled through areas of Australian bush, which had been decimated by fire. Hope is found in the green shoots and new foliage on charred trees and scrub. You only need a small area which is undamaged to cultivate new life, it turns out. img_1550

You can have it all, and then lose it all. Enjoy today whilst it is here. The one thing that you cannot lose is yourself, a fine purpose-built instrument ripe for remodelling. Soaring above the decimation and loss is a feeling of hope; that you have it in you to rebuild. The hour is not too late, nor are you too old. We are somehow driven to grow in mud and rise from the ashes, again and again. Hold onto hope, no matter what circumstance you’re in.

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Stay…


Last week, Sydney lost a talented chef to suicide.  Bronzed and seemingly healthy, his smile could light up our city. There was much commentary after the news hit social media, but what pierced through the rhetoric was the notion that when alone, he’d fallen into a worm hole, and hadn’t the resources to stave off the impulse his depression looped into. These holes seem to have no end, and can be hard to extricate oneself from.

I know a person who was close to succumbing, in January, 2019. There are as many pathways into anxiety and depression as there are people in the world. Hers wasn’t initially caused by a chemical imbalance, rather circumstances conspiring against her. It were as though her mind were a strudel, with layers of pastry piled on top of one other. The apple promised sweetness, and she held the layers of stress in her hands, waiting to reach the filling. All it took was another day of calamity- not of her making- to break her resolve. Heart beating wildly, hands shaking and a mind unable to see a way out, she reached for the phone. Once a playdate for her child had been arranged, and she was alone, her mind led her onto a dark stage. There was no audience, nor were there lights. There were no solutions here.

She had done all that she could to make life better, more secure, and she couldn’t see her way clear. All of a sudden, a beam of light hit the centre of her brain, insisting that she send a text. She asked what her friend was up to, and if she may join her. “Of course!” came the enthusiastic response. They drove to the beach, singing along to the radio. She made herself focus on all the beauty surrounding her. The Bird Of Paradise, alongside hibiscus, in reds and oranges,  dotting the landscape. She closed her eyes and felt the salt air caressing her skin. Her bottle of chilled water felt good as it hit her neck, the Cheezels they had bought, decorating her fingers like rings. She had gone against her wildest impulse, which was to not experience anything at all. It had frightened her, how her brain insisted that the stressors couldn’t be balanced against beauty.

They were gone for hours, away from home and everyday life. She was dropped back revived, just in time to make calls and forge a path through the thorny brackets of which she had been stuck. The next morning, she woke at dawn, and saw something similar to this.

Morning light and lorikeets greeted the new day, alongside the help needed to extricate herself from overwhelming concerns. Within a month, she had begun a new medication. It was a small dose, but enough to chase away the anxiety she had been battling alone, without armour. She could now see her way clear, and a path opened up in front of her. Happiness returned, and she started to engage with the world again. To her amazement, she had been missed. Depression in an active state is renowned for the crap it feeds us. Looking back, she shudders at what she would have missed, in just a couple of weeks. The mundane joy of a cool change after stifling heat, through to her child’s laughter.

She hadn’t the language in her distressed state to tell her friend what the matter was, nor what she needed, other than to be with someone. Perhaps that is all one needs to do; to reach out and say that you need company, even accompanying them as they go about their errands. Anything to not be in alone, battling a pocket of despair by yourself. A wormhole is a tunnel with two ends. Perhaps reaching out to those on the periphery is a way of ensuring we make it back to life. Look out for those self-isolating or who seem to be going through changes. Our psyche can be as fragile as a butterfly wing, and whilst it is tempting to cease all that has ever given us joy, it is imperative that we don’t. The lies our minds feed us tends to be done in secret and when alone.  You are too precious, and life has too much beauty left to unfurl. Let today mark the beginning of us all leaving our particular pockets of despair. If you survived today because you decided to go grocery shopping with a friend, rather than stay by yourself, then that is a miracle indeed. Whatever it takes to keep you alive, do it.

Frida, Tomatoes and Giving Pain Meaning


I had a hard time holding my newborn. When I was pregnant, I practiced carrying  a string bag filled with oranges, and a sack of potatoes. Weights and hydrotherapy also played an important role. When my daughter came along, I found it very difficult to hold her, and wrangling her as an active toddler was a challenge! Breaking my back again when she was three, saw me unable to carry her; even navigating a roundabout in the car would see me bite my lip to avoid screaming in agony.

I am a planner and think a great deal of the future. I guess when one has had so much out of their control, you grip onto that which you can have power over. My spine is a case in point. Working with weights each day and walking are things I can do to prepare for the future. I had researched spinal cord stimulation, and sought experts in this particular field. I was excited about the prospect of being able to cope as my back pain became more challenging (the fusion sites are already wearing out with age). I was so young when the damage happened, which means that preparations and reparations have to be considered now. I thought of my daughter as a teenager and young woman. I want to travel with her, and maybe one day be a hands-on grandmother to any children she may have. I want to be able to hold those babes in my arms. Unfortunately, a site of major damage is the thoracic region. Holding anything in my arms is agonizing. For a year, I harboured hope that spinal cord stimulation would help. It was to be my insurance policy; a nod to the next decades of life.

Last week, my daughter and I saw Evita at Sydney Opera House. It was a spectacular production, which left us spellbound. Tina Arena as Eva Peron, was stunning, and deserved the standing ovation which she received. My girl asked lots of questions about Argentina, and we researched it’s history online after we left. We stayed in Sydney overnight, having a leisurely brunch before seeing my spinal specialist. Armed with my latest test results,  I followed the doctor to his rooms, unaware of what was to come. I assumed we would be arranging to have a trial device implanted.  Spinal stenosis and fibrosis at the site of former surgeries meant that there isn’t adequate space to weave the wires through. I can’t even have epidural injections to manage the pain. Having surgery to place a stimulator would be far too hazardous, as it turned out. It was a lot to take in. It means I have to reimagine my future, and my daughter has to reimagine hers. Simple things like sitting or carrying luggage, going on long treks or long-haul flights will be that much more difficult.

I went home and cried. I watched the movie Frida, as I laid on my Frida cushions. It will be a reimagined future. I am doing everything in my power to keep my bones and muscles, kidneys, lungs and mind strong in preparation. There will be no hope of relief nor reprieve from the merciless pain. It shall always be there, a constant reminder of the brutality of my youth. It will limit what work I can take on, and how far I am able to drive. I will be damned if it limits what I can do with my daughter. She stubbornly took my suitcase off of me the other day, on our way to our hotel room, giggling as she ran ahead, despite my protestations. She reaches out her arm to me, and carries my backpack on her strong shoulders each and every day.

 

We shared the bus ride to RPA with an eloquent middle-aged gentleman who was homeless. He was Italian, and ate a tomato as though it were an apple. He reorganized his bag, and when he stood, he rolled deodorant under his armpits, before gifting the family opposite a drawing. He read a book on philosophy as he sat back down, finishing his tomato with relish. As we departed, he tipped his hat. I would love to know his story; I’m sure it is brimming with pathos and triumphs. The most remarkable stories are.

I have always been fascinated by birds, butterflies and dragonflies. How wondrous it would be, to have wings. For over half my life, I have been fused from my shoulders down, with  limited range of movement. I am grateful that I have been able to walk, and if my mobility were to cease tomorrow, there would be no lamentations. I just want (and need), to be well enough to see my daughter through to her adulthood.

For a moment, I regretted the time and money spent seeing specialists and having all of the tests done. What a monumental waste of a year! Then there was the matter of the space all of this took up in my brain. I had put things off ‘until after I had the device fitted.’ Ironically, as I reflect, I see that these days had only brought my daughter and I closer together. We had stayed in the city, walking and laughing in the rain. We brunched and cheered on street performers. We had been together, smart phones displaced from our hands. I found myself outside the Downing Centre courts, a place I had avoided since the court case I endured at sixteen, trying to get a bad man to pay for the vile things he had done. I stood outside for fifteen minutes, waiting for our bus. Lost in my thoughts, the Italian gent, tomato in hand, tipped his cap and we talked. Mental illness had robbed him of a lot, but not his heart. Physical injury had robbed me of a lot, though not my heart. For a moment, we were in simpatico. He gestured for my girl and I to board the bus before him, and I glanced out the window at the imposing courts. I had come back to retrieve that girl.

Perhaps, none of it was about a spinal cord stimulator. Perhaps it was to give me leave to spend quality time with my daughter. Maybe it was also about facing another piece of the past. Maybe it was to show me that I can organize travel and hotels and that I am enough for my daughter. I am the mum that she needs. Perhaps it was to affirm that I need to let go of fear. The worst has come and gone and I am still here. Maybe I was meant to meet the Italian fellow, and be encouraged to eat vine-ripened tomato’s as though they were apples. He even ate the stem, and I realized that nothing is ever wasted. The same is true with lives.

I have been referred to a physical therapist, and my specialist is going to review my case at the next practice meeting. As I reflect on the year gone by, I see no wastage. My daughter and I had experiences we would never have had, and seen parts of Sydney that we wouldn’t have. We have met magical people, been in magical shops, had magical food and stepped out of comfort zones. The only thing left to do is eat a tomato as though it were an apple.

 

Happy Birthday, Raphie!


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The anniversary of my fall happened recently. I consider the date to be my actual birthday. It could have been the end date between the dash, stating when I was born and when I died. If he had his way, it would have been. I have done everything I could think of to get through this particular day. I recall one year, I visited a dentist, and wept uncontrollably in the middle of Bondi Junction afterward. It was only when I looked at a newspaper, that I realized it was the anniversary of the fall. It convinced me that we have a powerful subconscious reaction to anniversaries, even if we don’t consciously dwell on them. This year, I took my daughter to lessons by a beach. On the bus, a brilliant stream of sunshine pierced through the windows, bathing me with soothing honey and saffron light. I closed my eyes and smiled, just as I had done the morning after the fall. Sunlight had broken through the clouds, and reached its honeyed fingers through the hospital window. Tears poured down my face at the sensation.

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I sat on the beach whilst waiting for my daughter and watched the waves crash in and then be pulled back. I was asked to hold close the following in the aftermath of my fall; ‘It came to pass…not to stay.’ For years I had imagined the waves crashing in, and then receding, taking with them all the challenges and pain. It was a marvellous saying, and an inspired piece of imagery.

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There were many ways I could have died that particular night, and he spoke aloud all the possibilities. I was strangled into unconsciousness at one point, before being pushed after I regained consciousness. I was then dragged across the ground, my survival having been an affront to him. The people on the waterfront looked at me curiously as I grinned maniacally from sheer joy, incredulous that I am still here. I talked to strangers, and patted little dogs wearing winter coats. I pulled out my key chain; I had found the perfect reminder for this date.

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I spent the rest of the evening looking through old scans, deciding what to take to my appointment at a pain clinic. I was of course, asked what had happened, and my throat grew dry as I revisited the trauma, trying to provide a recap in an hour. It is a saga that goes on, year after year. It demands time spent in surgeries and in surgery. Doctor’s surgeries tend to have the same inane and dated sporting, golfing, automobile and real estate literature, though if one is lucky, you may come across an old Reader’s Digest. I find it all laborious and tiring, and frankly can think of a million better uses of my time. However, I have an eleven year old daughter to whom I am the epicentre of her busy world, and I need to be on my game. I have to think of the future, and all I want to do with this kid. Spending time and money to maintain the wonder that is this vessel; well, it has to be a priority.  On a positive note, I have reached the Medicare Safety Net for the year! Go me! My daughter and I were having a girl’s night recently, and she tried to teach me some of her dance moves. She did so slowly, and we were in fits of laughter at my uncoordinated efforts, until I fell to the floor in pain. She kept apologizing and my heart broke. It is always there, demanding to be acknowledged. Each time I require my girl to do things I can’t do without extreme pain. Each time I have to explain how I was injured.

After my daughter bid me goodnight, I did what I do most years on the anniversary. I poured a glass of red wine, lit a candle and wished myself a happy birthday. It is always a birthday party for one. That bitterly cold evening, I imagined I was covered in a blanket, a pillow underneath my head. I imagined I was safe. I sipped my wine, then blew out the candle. I tucked myself in, and fell asleep. Another year passed.

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Live Through This


There is a marvellous website, called Live Through This where survivors talk about their lives post-suicide attempt. It is heartfelt, often joyous and resplendent with hope. I think of what my life was way back when, and how it is now. It is light years from there… I am light years from there. If you had told that young woman what she would still have to endure, including the loss of a relationship she thought would last forever, she may well have not believed you. Furthermore, she may have told you that she couldn’t imagine bearing a skerrick of that pain. Endure she did, and overcome she has. She didn’t do it alone. At a very low ebb, a friend came to her door with a pronouncement of concern and trailing the thoughts and love of many mutual friends. She held in her hands a box,  wrapped in a red bow. Therein lay the tools needed to rebuild her life, both materially and emotionally. There has been much grieving and loss throughout the world in the past month, losing exceptional people to suicide. A movement grew on Twitter, using the hashtag, #livethroughthis.

 

I thought of my people coming to my aid. I had feared the unravelling of my wings may never happen; that I would suffocate in my tight cocoon. I feared I may never be freed to see what life could be and who I could become. Just when I thought the world might cease to exist for me, I became a butterfly. My fervent hope and dearest wish is that we all continue to live through this, spurred on by acts of kindness, both big and small. A smile at the right time may save the life of a stranger. It is never too late to start again, and we are never too old. We need to keep communication open and searingly honest with one another. Now is not the time for pretend nor gliding through life as though we are taking part in a masquerade ball. You can’t be human and not have wounds. Perhaps we need to share them with one another; not in the hope of a quick fix, but because the very act of sharing releases the pressure. Whatever it takes to keep you alive. You all deserve to see what life could be, how the colour can change from sepia to a rainbow after heavy rain.

 

My new Heart


I met the most extraordinary lady a few years back, from the USA. Tall and elegant, with twinkling blue eyes and a mischievous sense of humour. This lady had seen it all. She had been beaten up and had her face broken. She had experienced homelessness and then employed as a cocktail waitress. She had her own graphic design business, before coming to Oz and travelling to the Far North. On her return, she taught troubled kids, believing in them until they could believe in themselves. Starting another business, she lived on two-minute noodles and water whilst ploughing away. She endured more heartbreak and found salvation in riding her motorbike and attending Cosplay events. Beguiling and independent, I had never met a more free spirit. She raised her daughter single-handedly, something to be immensely proud of. No family to back her up nor support her. Now, her daughter is grown, and my friend is leaving to  be nearer her. It happened within weeks, and not only did she notice the signs that it was time to move on, but she listened. She heard loud and clear through the notes that were left in her building, neighbours abusing one another over minor infractions. She heard it through her listlessness, and when she added up what seven years of rent had cost her, in a place she didn’t love. It had been the longest this free spirit had stayed anywhere.

We arranged to meet with her, shortly before she left. She gave my daughter this ring, saying that if she wore it, it would remind her of her worth and strength, just as it had her. It is Lapis, and fitted her perfectly. My friend didn’t have anybody to buy her jewellery, and so she bought it for herself as a young woman. I love that she didn’t wait to have it gifted her.

To me, she gave her Cosplay belt, fitted with pockets, so I could travel lightly. She made me promise to go to festivals in her place. She also gave me a gift which reduced me to tears. One evening at her place, a glass heart I was wearing slipped from the cord around my neck, and smashed on her tiled floor. Picking it up, my friend vowed to fix my broken heart. I had forgotten all about it, until the moment I opened the hessian bag and saw this:

My new rose quartz heart and my old, shattered glass heart.

It was quite simply, one of the most poetic and symbolic gifts anyone has ever given me. There was my old heart, shattered and black with all it had absorbed in the past. Here was my new heart, bigger though lighter, and certainly untainted. I shall keep both, as a reminder that one can heal with the right people around you. My friend has taught me many, many things in the past few years. She has taught both my girl and I to always believe in our dreams, to rejoice in being independent and free-thinkers. She has shown us how to survive on very little and how to celebrate when fortune enters one’s life. She has taught us how to be brave, and how to have fun. How learning never ends and what a joy it is to study new things. She has taught us that when life kicks you into the dirt, you can not only survive, but thrive. This woman had nobody to help her, nor cheer her on. Whatever she has accomplished has been done with determination, self-belief and a will of iron. My darling friend, the Lapis ring and my brand new heart can’t wait to bask in your glow upon our next meeting. xxx

Old Magazines and Time Travel


Half the folks I read about as having married, have since come out as gay. Not even thirty years ago, people felt they had to hide who they were. Anyone over forty was considered to be of advanced age, and a rare few were celebrated as looking good “in spite of their years.” IVF was still in its early stages, and as ICSI hadn’t been devised, success rates were low. Gluten was considered good in most cases, and low-fat powdered skim milk was the go! Sexual, domestic, financial, emotional and verbal abuse were rarely discussed. If they were mentioned, it was only in brief commentary, advising the person to seek some form of therapy, though adequate help was scant. The postal service was rushed off it’s feet; the internet and express delivery still a long way off. We thought it marvellous if we could have our film developed in 24 hours, viewing the dodgy pictures we’d taken.

We saw Hollywood stars fall in and out of love, just as we did. Some famous folk sadly succumbed to drugs, alcoholism or other tragedies. If only we had a time machine to warn them! Would they have listened? Would we, had we been approached, regarding impending disaster? Some of the ads and features I came across in the old magazines made me smile and reminisce; some made me glad to be alive right here and now. People can be who they truly are without falling foul of the public or media. They don’t need to announce an engagement or marriage to be accepted. Medical advances have seen everything from cochlear implants transcend from one station (leaving only a minor improvement in hearing), to many, which can be adjusted easily for the individual’s comfort. Laser surgery is a thing, as are insulin pumps and scores of other astounding breakthroughs in medicine. A friend of mine was kept alive via an artifical heart whilst waiting for a transplant in the past five years!

Ageing is celebrated, and we are actually seeing people over forty on catwalks, and in the arts, being revered and heard. We live in an age of self-defrosting fridges, little vaccuums, mobile phones, laptops and the internet. Rather than hiring a huge video cassette, we are able to download a film on our IPads. We are fortunate, to be alive at this time. No more secrets nor shame. We are indeed fortunate.

The Nest


I had been given very little hope of ever having a child with IVF (after three attempts). Despondent, I went for a walk in a local park. I was standing under a tree, brushing away my tears, when an empty bird’s nest fell at my feet. I took it as an omen, and cradled the precious gift. I still have it- behind glass in my cabinet-eleven years later.Just the other day, I was walking with my daughter, and the nest pictured above landed at my feet! I marvelled at the time and effort that went into building it; a perfect home and  refuge. Of course, it came home with me, and my little bird was just as enchanted as I, coming close to inspect the handiwork. Nests and eggshells from newborn chicks are items I tend to find regularly. What are yours?

Getting through Hard Times


If you had told me as a teen that I would live to the grand age of which I find myself, I would have laughed. I would not have believed you for a moment. I had been clinically dead, in coma’s, had repeated seizures without regaining consciousness, had my spine shattered, and much more besides. I wanted to die more than I wanted to live most of the time. Those moments when I experienced pure joy were often found in nature, and boy, those times sustained me. I can recall without struggle the moments a bird would land on me from out of nowhere. I recollect the dragonflies and butterflies encircling me near streams. In those moments, I realized that I in fact wanted very much to live… Really live, and not just exist.

As a young adult I faced infertility, health worries, safety concerns, and poverty. I have had my heart broken, been deceived and financially ripped off. I have been humiliated, retraumatized, and faced great pain. When the first wave hits, you don’t know how on earth you are going to survive it. It all seems too much, especially when placed upon an already rocky foundation. Trauma on top of trauma.

I have learnt what helps by learning what doesn’t. Here is my advice for getting through tough times.

  1. Do nothing. That’s right, just breathe. When you receive frightful news or it feels as though your world is breaking apart, just be. Your adrenals will be pumping hard, as will your heart. Your stomach will be churning and your brain will reach for fast responses to the crisis. You may even think of reaching for something to quiet the discomfort. Don’t do anything whilst you are processing the crisis. Breathe deeply, run a bath. Cry, scream or confide in a loved one. The situation isnt going anywhere, so just stop for a moment.
  2. Write it down. Get yourself a notepad and describe what is happening. Pour it all out, and then make a bullet list. List the steps you need to take for resolution. What would help you in your grieving? Time away from everything that is familiar? A support group and counselling? A tribute to the person you mourn? How about financial worries? Maybe write a list of all the businesses you need to contact to explain your situation and organize payment plans. You could apply to AirTasker to accept jobs to bring in extra cash.
  3. Once your list has been finalized, I hope that like me, you feel a sense of empowerment. Now it is time to ask for help, whether that be from friends, charities or professionals. People don’t know what your needs are if you don’t articulate them. You give them a precious gift by allowing them to assist you.
  4. Be extra kind to yourself. You may want to run or sedate yourself with booze or pills. You may want to stop caring for yourself and partaking in all the rituals you usually do. Please don’t. Now is the time for reflection, to sit with your feelings and reach healthy conclusions. Your body is under enough duress without adding to the load. It is time to reach out, open up and if possible, go for walks. Many solutions have been reached in my life by long strolls.
  5. Get all that stress out in a creative way. Whether that be by writing a blog, or keeping a journal, painting or drawing. It all helps.
  6. Imagine your life in a year. What will it look like? One thing is for sure, you won’t be in the same place that you are now. Nothing in this world is stagnant. We keep moving forward, even if we can’t imagine that as possible. If you are horrified at the thought of your life remaining the same by this time next year, it is time to change that which brings you dread. Life and time have a way of changing things, and it is much better to reach conclusions and embark on new beginnings of your own volition.
  7. There have been times in my life when I couldnt imagine surviving the enormous crisis pounding down on me. I couldnt imagine wanting to. By doing the things listed above, I did survive, and have a beautiful life. I weep when I think how my life could have ended before it even began. How I would never have had the opportunity for emotional healing to take place, nor hold my daughter in my arms. I shudder when I think of not having survived to meet the splendid people in my life today, nor see this morning’s sunrise.

I can tell you this with assurety, if I could survive, then so can you. This season of winter won’t last forever, and spring will offer new life and along with it, growth.

Christmas comes early


Throughout the years of infertility, Christmas had been a lonely time. I made the best of it, putting on a coat threaded with stoicism.  However, when I was decorating the house, wrapping gifts or shopping, there was an acute sense that someone was missing. I couldn’t bear to see children posing with Santa at the shops, and the Christmas music seemed  intent on mocking my friends and I. I joined an IVF support group online, and we talked of how confronting Christmas was, and how we were dreading all the reminders. “Bugger it,” said one lady, “let’s get our trees up early!” She demanded to see photographic evidence, and we dutifully complied. There was magic in the way this act lifted our spirits; we were showing that we were still holding on, to both our sanity and dreams. Some of the ladies tragically lost babies, and others didn’t end up conceiving. Still, we all held faithful to our tradition.

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Late October, my daughter discovered the decorations in the garage and pleaded to be let loose with them. I held her off until November the 1st. Bless her, she counted down the days, and on the first of the month, she ran in, reminding me that it was time.


We played Christmas carols as we unpacked the tree and decorations. As I looked around at the assembled baubles, a lump gathered in my throat. Each represented a time and place, a year or a particular person. We talked of what each piece meant to us as we worked. ” I need to put all the Christmas things up early, like you did when you were pregnant with me,” my daughter laughed. Oh darling, it started way before I was pregnant, at a time when a precious group of ladies met on the internet to give comfort to each other. We still provide a photograph each year, to assure the others that our job is done.

We need sparkle to lift us up. We need to get out the china and silver, the candles and bling. We need to create beauty. It is akin to standing on a mountain top and shouting that you are here. The more personal strife befalls, the more we need to decorate. It was worth all the work to see this little girl beam with excitement. The season of hope is starting.