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.

 

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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)

The Trouble with R U OK Day


Today is R U OK Day, that 24 hour period where Australian’s ask the question over social media. The usual answer is that we are fine, thanks for asking. A number of young people have told me they are dubious about this collective day of enquiring. They have a sharp point of comparison on social media and in real life. If others seem to be together, with not a care in the world, they daren’t declare that in fact they are not okay and life is not alright. Mum and Dad are okay and seem to be emotionally together, as do their friends and the community at large. They don’t see their softball coach collapse in tears, needing to be comforted in their grief, and they don’t often see mum connecting on a level that is beyond a cocktail night or a movie with the ladies, as seen in their Instagram pics. We aren’t great at naming our emotions and sharing our struggles. Pride may come into it as well as shame and embarrassment amid a desperate, silent struggle to make our centre hold. We need to show kids that we cry and need to reach out to a friend when life is hard. They need to see us as open, if we want them to be the same.

I just read back through notes I have written since December, and boy, this eight months has pulverised me, leaving shards of glass scattered around my psyche. My friends only know a little of my depression, and of my anxiety. The experiences which led to this are too much, even for dear friends. I have been loathe to burden anybody with the complete picture. As a result, I reached out to experts. I spent hours explaining things, handing over my notes. They in turn promised that they would organize specialised counselling, at a price I would be able to afford. I waited and waited, and I rang and emailed. Eventually, I had the horrible realization that there was no help forthcoming. It reminded me of the time, twenty years ago when I was promised a dedicated counsellor to help me navigate my past. After a long while, they rang, and apologised. They were unable to offer help for the deep trauma I had suffered. There was no help at all for me. I remember the sinking feeling, as I began to understand that I had too much pain for them to deal with. If I wanted to survive, I had to find a way, without being given any tools. It was like climbing a sheer cliff face without ropes and a harness.

It is lovely to ask people if they are okay, but what if they answer that no, they aren’t? Where are the services? Where is the immediate help? I know so many families who are trying desperately to help their son/daughter or brother/sister hold on, but they are doing it alone. Whatever the mental health budget is at present, it needs to be tripled, at the very least. We are in a state of emergency. I have not been okay, and hand on heart, I hadn’t found the help I have needed, despite searching. I made up my own emotional first aid kit. It contains:

*Contracting in to save energy, necessary for the battle. Huddling up in my home, and retreating from social media.

*Opening my front door and firing up my laptop when I had a clearer head.

*Walking at least thirty minutes, most days.

*Playing soothing music and calming my senses with candles and essential oils.

*When I didn’t have the energy to talk on the phone or meet up in person, I would try and at least converse via text and email.

*Making sure that I eat, and do so regularly.

*Movies and the theatre, always.

*Making a list each day of what I wanted to achieve. I found my brain was so overloaded that I couldn’t remember half of what I needed to do, and so my lists have been a blessing.

*Not comparing my journey to anyone else.

Top of the kit was being kind to myself; knowing that I was doing my utmost to be here in a year’s time. I did so whilst querying all the wild suggestions my addled mind proffered. I would be panic-stricken leaving the house, worrying as to who I might bump into and what I could possibly say. Wondering if people liked me at all, worrying that I was alone. The brain that hasn’t rested at night, and is going full-pelt of a day, is a brain that can trick us into believing any number of scenarios. I wanted to give up searching for tools, I really did. I was tired and it is hard to be vulnerable enough to ask for help in the first place. I did one thing before shutting the door for good; I rang a dear lady who works for a large organization and I told her everything. Within a day, she had emailed me a list of resources and has organized assistance. It is hard-going, locating a service without a huge waiting list (at best), but you are worth it; your life is worth it. Persist, and if you don’t feel you can, ask a trusted friend to persist on your behalf.

On this R U Ok day, I hope that people feel free to answer honestly. Our young are looking at us to not only give guidance as they make their way through life, but to also show them our vulnerabilities and the strength it requires to ask for help. In the past week, I have been honoured to hear several women sharing with me of their grief, that they are suffering domestic violence, and that a child has had a devastating health diagnosis. These women were not okay, and I batted away their apologies and assured them that it was alright to state it. Tea was drunk and tissues were given, as well as the biggest gift of all, which is time.  Imagine somebody came to your door and you asked, R U OK? What if they said they were the opposite of okay? Would you sit with them in their anger, depression and sorrow? Would you be still and silent, leaving room for them to speak? This is what is needed in the midst of our noisy and harried existence. Arms to hold you, hands to dry your tears, cups of water to hydrate and compassion so that you feel heard.

Here a list of excellent Apps which be of assistance if you are in Australia:

Recovery Point

Headspace

Positive Pathways

Daisy

Suicide Call-Back Service

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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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.

Realizations


Trigger Warning: A lovely friend with raven hair, beautiful children and an optimism that knows no bounds, left Sydney to live interstate some time ago. She had been almost killed by her beau, after she told him it was over, scared of his erratic, menacing behaviour. She moved after she had recovered, setting up a new life in unchartered waters. She had to return for the court case, and he was sentenced to minimal time. He once again started to seek her out on social media and via phone messages, in direct violation of his parole. He was once again incarcerated. Trouble is, both he and his lawyer were privy to her new contact details, emblazoned across documents. The police recently contacted her and advised that she move, quickly. It was almost 25 years after the same occurrence happened to me… My new home phone number had been given to him too, the result being that the vile abuse I was subjected to several times a day gave me a phobia of phones. I am still terrified of surprises, and unknown numbers.

The other day I went for a walk, and came across an alley. It reminded me of a place and time in Auburn, when I had a knife to my heart. I was fourteen years of age, and my back had not yet been broken. I had stood up to a vile creature, who had recently been bailed after bashing an elderly lady. For over twenty years, I had held onto the pain felt after a security guard had come upon us. Rather than help, he ran. Hey, I was scared too! Did he even care? This guard, in his fifties, ran to save himself, leaving me there. For some unknown and mysterious reason, the realization hit me that this guy had most likely saved my life. He was a witness, and bad people don’t like there to be witnesses. Whilst bloodied and broken, I survived, and I survived what was to come next. This new understanding helped to heal a broken shard of my soul. I had been focusing on this security guard’s cowardice, and hadn’t given any thought to him being a witness. This is the stuff that happens to survivors, whenever they hear a certain piece of music or they are simply walking along the street.

I had a brilliant therapist from fifteen to eighteen years of age. She was acknowledged for her work with abused kids. However, when I turned eighteen, I was on my own. The local community centre organized a few sessions with a generic counsellor and other centres tried to locate a trauma specialist to aid my healing, with no luck. Dymphna House was closed after their funding was pulled and other centres were stretched to breaking point. For the past twenty five years, I have tried to muddle through, mostly on my own. Stuff keeps coming up, aided by a body riddled with battle scars and psychic wounds. I am starting sessions with a trauma counsellor soon. It has only taken twenty years to source the help I have needed as an adult. I couldn’t think of anything worse than being inside a house of mirrors or walking a labyrinth, trying to find my way out. Healing and moving through life has proved enough of a maze, filled with dead-ends and false exits.

My friend is again packing up her life, and twenty five years after the fact, I had a realization regarding my day of terror. They tried to take our world’s away, and yet we stand.  I have no compulsion to take my daughter to see my home town, for it was filled with events of the bad kind. Some people’s home town’s offer pleasing memories, or so I’m told… I will instead take her to my sanctuaries; places where I laughed and dreamed. I shall take her to the places which kept me alive; the cinemas and theatres, parks and beaches. We shall see them all, and I will reiterate that at all these stops, I had dreamed of one day having a daughter. I had dreamed of having her, and I had dreamed of support being readily available for anybody that needed it, and for the broken system to change. The first of my dreams has come true, and she stands beside me. May the other parts come into being now, not tomorrow. Now.

Depression, Grief, Animals and Butterflies


I saw my bus coming, and stepped aside so an elderly woman could climb down. She paused at the door to compliment the driver on his thoughtfulness and driving ability. A conversation began between two older ladies, both of whom reiterated that he was a safe driver, steering the bus smoothly. He said goodbye to his passengers down the road at changeover, giving a cheeky wink to these two, and the ladies gushed some more over his impeccable manners. One of the women was born in Portugal, the other, Italy. Both had lost children in road accidents when the kids were seventeen years old. The people responsible were each handed a suspended sentence. The shared horror saw the women sit in stunned silence at their chance meeting, until the other lady departed the bus at a shopping centre. The Italian lady’s daughter was a girl called Lisa, and she had died alongside a young friend. Lisa’s father, overcome by grief, took his life shortly after her death. Her friend’s mother also took her life a few years later. The Italian lady, Rosa, felt she had to keep going for her other children. She knew she couldn’t do it alone, and found help with the aid of counselling and medication. I was so moved by her openess, her courage and quiet dignity. I squeezed her hand as we said our goodbyes. I thought of her Lisa at the train station, and how astounding it was that Rosa had survived that dreadful volume of tragedy. At that moment, a Monarch butterfly fluttered down to my daughter and I, resting on the bench beside us.

We were on our way to a special event, the vision of which was spurred by a young war widow whose husband had sadly taken his life. We were going to sing; to gather for these families, and all service men and women, past and present. I posted photos that evening, and a particular friend liked them on social media. I smiled, knowing that we would be seeing each other soon at a mutual friend’s get-together.

The next morning, I was alarmed to find what read as a farewell on her Facebook. A group of loved ones were beside themselves as her phone rang out. We were all eager to hold her, to talk her through the crisis. To simply be there… Tragically, we received word that she had taken her life. The events, people and conversations of those couple of days seemed intertwined. Grief and depression, butterflies, PTSD, remembrance…

Depression is a filthy liar. It wants us to believe that we are alone, isolated. It tells us that nobody can help us, that nobody cares. It assures us that strength is only found in standing alone, keeping our pain to ourselves, and sharing with nobody. It says that we are a burden, an unsightly stain on otherwise blissful lives. It is a liar.

Rosa and the lady from Portugal gave me a gift when they talked of their lives and their grief. I now know these women at a profound level, and look forward to many more conversations, deepening the friendships on our bus journeys. I know about the children they lost, and shall keep them in remembrance. The young war widow who inspired a new way of honouring our soldiers has spurred needed conversations about PTSD and the care of our men and women. A woman in her seventies talked to me-a stranger-about her husband’s suicide and her subsequent deep depression. We need to keep talking, reaching out and sharing. Whenever I see butterflies, my thoughts shall turn to those whom we have lost to the insideous scourge of depression and PTSD. Keep the conversation going; visit those whom are struggling. Make contact with those who seem to have retreated. We are not islands, nor were we ever designed to be. My suicide attempts were serious indeed, and quite frankly, it is a mystery as to why I am still here. All I know is I’m thankful beyond measure that I am.

I sat by the river near my home yesterday, filled with sorrow. Tears pooled in my eyes, and slipped down my face. Within moments, a duck had waddled up, sitting at my feet, quacking away as though it were telling me the secrets of the universe in duck language.

It was soon joined by a dragonfly, a willy wagtail  and then this guy.

Wiping tears from my eyes, I smiled at the motley crew assembled. It had been the first time I had left my house in several days. I had finally remembered my own advice to others, that whatever depression and grief urges you do, you must do the opposite. I no sooner desired to go for a walk than I craved root canal surgery, but I knew that was what I had to do. I would never have met my erstwhile friends had I not. Keep reaching out, keep talking, and know that life simply wouldnt be as grand without you. You are wanted, you are loved and you are needed.

Triggers and PTSD


We have to share with each other; it’s an absolute necessity. I have seen people retreat, building a fort around their minds and hearts. I can tell you from experience, it is the absolute worst thing that you can do. I have seen brilliant people rescind mid-way through stellar careers and lives,  eaten alive by depression and the aftermath of  trauma. I am often too busy to deal with my memories and triggers at the time they come up. I admit it’s a state I am not only grateful for, but prefer. I then wonder why I burst into tears in the shower, crawl into bed, unable to converse at the end of the day, or am irritable and bereft. I sat down and wrote some of my triggers, and then sardonically laughed, incredulous that I ever questioned why I am exhausted and crave space at the day’s end.

Here are some of the places, aromas, music, etc, that bring forth strong memories and emotions:

Suburbs: Concord, Bondi, Auburn, Greenwich, Lane Cove, Katoomba, Westmead, Parramatta, Revesby, St Leonards, Manly, Ryde, Lidcombe and Kogarah.

Scents: Anais Anais, Tabu, sandalwood, Aramis, cigarette smoke.

Songs: Run for your Life, Sorrow, Hard Woman, Dear Prudence, Stairway to Heaven, Belladonna, Oh Father, Stray Cat Blues, Ruby Tuesday, Comfortably Numb and so many more.

Conversations about crimes and offenders, falling, abductions, crimes against children, abuse. Seeing famous people and institutions fall one-by-one, some of whom I once looked up to.

Hearing people scream or argue loudly, having to climb stairwells or go over bridges; anything to do with heights, and being unable to avoid such. Hearing trains in the background or the wail of sirens, winter and feeling cold, certain herb teas that I used to drink as a teen, seeing strangers that remind me of past villains, sharp knives (I don’t own any, nor do I have a knife block), two-minute noodles, toffee, apple pies, carrot cake,

Too many movies to mention.

In any given day, I have to deal with at least one trigger that provokes unpleasant memories and emotions. I am often in a situation where I simply can’t avoid said trigger and have to somehow plough through. It is at home when the mask can fall and you can let it all out. How do you explain to someone the cologne they have spritzed has brought up unpleasant memories, particularly if you only met the person five minutes ago? What do you do when you are in a restaurant and a song comes on that hooks you straight into the past?  It is a minefield and I step on them all the time. A portion of my brain explodes, as does my heart. I pick myself up, and stagger home.

Once inside my sanctuary, a few things happen. I turn on gentle ambient music, light candles and drop some lavender oil into my diffuser. I play with my birds, and prepare a healthy dinner. I then soak in a bath filled with salts and essential oils, slip into pajamas and dim the lights in my room. Breathing deeply, I try to sort through what has transpired throughout the day, and what has come up for me. I let it be, assuring myself that it is of little surprise that I felt adrift, and that it is completely normal. I try to sleep, aware that I may have nightmares, if the triggers were strong enough. Waking, I will have a herb tea and hot shower, and start the day, hoping that the triggers go easy on me. This is PTSD, and trying to navigate through it.

When I was a teen, I met many returned military personnel and emergency responders, damaged by what they had seen. I met scores of people who had been in notorious orphanages. I met people who had encountered unimaginable horror as young people. Back then, knowledge of PTSD was in its infancy. These folks were thought to have ‘shell-shock’ or a nervous disorder. I regret not having my PTSD acknowledged for many years, as it is crucial to seek treatment early. When I open the paper and see an institution or individual I had encountered finally being brought to justice, a part of me rises, and yet another part of me falls. Why did it take so long, and why did so many have to suffer? Why weren’t we heard way back then? I take comfort that the world my daughter is growing up in is slowly but surely changing. The treatment we were told to accept would be deemed outrageous now. At last, at last.

I live with chronic pain and will require more surgery. I haven’t been able to run, rollerskate nor do many other things with my daughter, and need to be supine more than other mums. My daughter has borne witness to tears brought on by my constant pain, and seen my whole demeanour change when faced with a trigger. It is a wicked burden for both her and I to carry. It shouldn’t have happened. The times are changing, and it brings me such comfort. As I endure my nightmares and flashbacks I am at least assured that the days of being silenced are coming to an end. I feel like a bird with a broken wing, trying to heal and trying to fly. I am slowly getting there. The public outing of personalities whom had hurt and damaged many people has helped. No more dark spaces in which to hide. Suddenly, there is light.

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.

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!