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.

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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.

Vivid, Wirrimbirra and how to talk with kids about terrorism.


Psychologist John Blythe has the following advice on how to talk to kids about the latest horrors. I was grateful to read it before I sat my daughter down to answer her pressing questions. My heart is with all who have suffered as a result of these atrocities.

There is evil in this world, the energy denser than tar, and yet there is goodness, shimmering and light as gossamer. There is also beauty, and thank goodness for that!

We had a little walk around Vivid last week. Sydney can get bitterly cold this time of year, and the food trucks supplied us with chilli bowls, hot chocolate and tea. Scores of volunteers of all ages cheerfully directed the crowds, and strangers chatted and greeted one another. I would suggest going on a week night, rather than the upcoming long weekend, as it is far less busy!

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We also went to Wirrimbirra Sanctuary, where we met the following characters.

There is evil, but there is also light and beauty.

 

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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Who am I?


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I carry a small girl on my shoulders. She grips on, her little hands threaded through each other, resembling a heart around my neck. She assumes that I have the strength to carry her. I hope that I do. I have been many things throughout this life. Misunderstood. A wild thing, a hermit, an eccentric. A school mum, a student, a broken girl. I have been a patient, a victim of violence, a train wreck and a phoenix. I have been a scorpion, a lamb and a lion. Reinvention has been borne of necessity.

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My hand brushes the right side of my torso. It is concave, the result of where they took two floating ribs to graft into my spine. The scars read like a surrealist map. This is where they directed her. This is where it led. This is where they operated, and this is what was said. Nobody tells you that anger can be directed into useful avenues. I am not okay with having been broken. I am not okay with not being able to fall asleep. I am not okay with living with chronic nerve pain and having shards of bone and metal piercing into my spinal canal. I am not cool with a lot of things. So unnecessary and nonsensical. The other day, I was sitting on a bench without back support. I tried to hold my frame up, I really did. Panic set in when I realized that I had to move immediately and lay down on the grass. My spine can’t support my weight when seated at a bench! The pain was out of this world when I attempted to. Here are some more labels, healed, a forgiver, getting on with things…


The pain is like rocket fuel, cajoling me to write. I want to help pave a tranquil path for my daughter and her contemporaries. It makes me strive and makes me determined. It is okay to be pissed off. I came to this earth without scars. I have had to design a life that is manageable and joyful, in spite of them. To devise experiences that go much deeper than the levels of scar tissue and adhesions. To have experiences that shoot through them like a laser and reach deep into my soul.

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I have been given a golden key, which only those with wrung-out psyches obtain. It is a marvellous compensation for having lived a dark dream. I am more than all the labels noted above. I have come to believe that labels are meant for containers, not people. I am a woman doing her best. I am a person wanting more for her daughter. I want her to know her worth. I want her to seek validation not from other people, but rather from herself. To trust her own impressions and honour her instincts. We are worth more than a few token labels, you and I. It is a lazy means to describe the intricacies of a person. We all carry a little person on our shoulders, and the way their hands lace around our necks, resembles a beautiful heart.

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An evening of Inspiration


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The Development Effect is a new business, set up by two remarkable women. Their modus operandi is to inspire, give back to their community and empower women and girls. I was privileged to be asked to talk at their inaugural event a while back. I sat alongside Michelle Cashman, an extraordinary singer/songwriter. Michelle has been there. You know, ‘there,’ that horrid place of loneliness, depression, anxiety and chaos not of her making. Not only does she write songs which reach deep into your soul, she creates podcasts to uplift others who have been through the fire. Her blog can be found here. To listen to some of her incredible songs, follow this link. When you are going through the fire- the heat searing your flesh- you tend to wonder what the point of it is. Often, there isn’t a point. When your flesh has cooled and you are alone with your wounds, it can give you leave to demand that your pain mean something. To be able to write, sing and talk about the fire gives it such a meaning. You will inspire others, and they in turn will inspire. Perhaps the fire itself is a pointless and cruel pit of flames. Perhaps that doesn’t matter. What comes after, that is what is important.

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Ten Ways to Help Yourself During a Flashback


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Many people in my circle would probably be surprised to know that I have PTSD. They would be surprised at its ferocity and how hard I have had to work to have a semblance of normality. It hasn’t been easy! There was years of involuntary shaking when the telephone rang or someone knocked at the door. I would have to talk myself into venturing to the letterbox. I rarely went out alone. I can suffer flashbacks pretty easily, especially in social settings. You are out of your comfort zone and when a “red zone” topic comes up in conversation, I can literally feel my body tense and my brain react. I will sometimes feel welded to the seat, unable to move and get away. Sometimes I look placid and I smile. I have covered up my terror with gulps of wine, but when I get home, the horror hits. It can take weeks to get my equilibrium back. When a group of people start talking about the horror in the news and such, I usually think “there goes two weeks of sleep.”
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I began to think that there had to be a better way than to nurse a flute of champagne (well, actually several), to take away my discomfort. There had to be a better way than to stay glued to my seat, listening to horrifying opinions on deeply upsetting topics.
Here is how I cope.
1. Remembering that I am here, not there. I have a little piece of paper that I pull out of my purse. You are here, not there, it reads. I find it deeply assuring when I am feeling myself pulled back into the trauma of the past.


2. I will immediately excuse myself. Whether that be from a conversation or a shop where music is being played that reminds me of the past. I will find a quiet area (usually the bathroom), and concentrate on my breathing.


3. I will watch my diet. Grabbing crackers and dips at a party will not do. A balanced diet is necessary. When I was at my worst, it was found I wasn’t absorbing B12 and needed shots. The difference was quite incredible. Bananas and other foods high in the amino acid Tryptophan are also helpful.


4. I am allowed to state that I am uncomfortable. If the people are unaware, I am allowed to state what my past looked like.


5. I need to have adequate rest. The PTSD (which involves nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks), escalates if I am rushing from one thing to another.


6. On certain dates, I need space. I wont commit to anything on the anniversary of my fall, for instance. It is a time of reflection, grief and also celebration that I survived. It is a deeply personal time.


7. I take a bottle of Rescue Remedy and lavender essential oil with me in my bag. The act of sniffing them -or putting the Rescue Remedy on my tongue- snaps me back to the present.


8. I carry a photo of my daughter with me and take it out and look at her smiling face. The joy contained in the picture helps me to centre. It could be a picture of a pet. Whatever helps you.


9. I wont over-imbibe. The crash that comes afterward emotionally is devastating.


10. I can leave. Wow! I now give myself permission to leave! If the vibe is going South and the conversation is awful, I can leave.

It is a hard thing to live with. Sometimes the past can seem clearer than now. Every detail is etched into my memory, and doesn’t fade with time. Sights, sounds, smells, touch and taste can take me back. No wonder it happens a fair bit! The most important thing is that I show myself kindness. I need regular time to myself to process what I am feeling, and what I have heard. In a week, people can talk about murder, sexual abuse, child abduction, and crime movies/novels many times over. It sticks to my skin, like they have gone mad with a labeller. I go out to nature and breathe. I need silence to oppose the noise in my mind.

I had an experience the other day, whilst visiting a school on the other side of our city. I saw a lady sitting by herself. Her eyes showed abject terror, her body language stiff and self-protective. She was waiting to pick up her kids. I sat with her, and we started talking. She talked about a man from her childhood, a member of her family. “He was too friendly,” she whispered. Her eyes met mine. She knew I knew and I knew that she knew that I knew. I told her how sorry I was. So very sorry. I hope she is treated kindly in her adult life. You don’t “get over” some experiences, but you can live beautifully despite them.

Seeking Movement and Colour and Life (Part 1)


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I was meant to see Rod Stewart last week but due to circumstances out of my control, I couldn’t go. I put my granny knickers back in the drawer, and purchased two tickets to a charity screening of Cinderella instead. Saffron from Kid About and  Kaity are two local businesswomen who joined forces to raise money for Kids of Macarthur Health Foundation.  They put together a magnificent event, resplendent with face painting, photo props and raffles. My little girl and I  went beforehand to Coco Cubano and  shared a platter. Munchkin had a mango drink and I had a Mojito. We had endured a crazy schedule that day, starting off at drama lessons. Now to get there, we have to catch a train through the suburb where I fell. The building is right near the railway line, and visible in all its glory. Every week, I hold my breath, and shudder with conflicting emotions. Gratitude that I am alive two decades after the event. A feeling of absurdity that I am taking my daughter to her activities past the building which held the ledge which held the villain…A feeling of defiance. ‘Up yours! I am still here!’ A feeling of sorrow. ‘I was so little…’ I took this grainy picture and somehow it seemed fitting. The scratches upon the train window are evident. It is grainy as the building whizzed by, much like my life on that particular evening.

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Anyway, we had been to drama and then guitar lessons. Mummy’s spine was beyond agonizing. I leant over toward the seat in front for some relief on the bus. Mummy needed a Mojito by the time we got to our pre-movie café.

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I met many familiar faces at the movies, including Nicci, our cupcake aficionado.

 

I didn’t know what to expect with this retelling of Cinderella and it was beyond my imaginings. It held all the little girls spellbound, and the ladies gasped at the visual feast on-screen. The settings were  beautiful. The villains were beyond contemptible; vile and  bitter. Fortunately, they didn’t take Cinderella’s light. She didn’t end up a twisted old bat, wounding others as she had been. She became more of who she was inside. May that be the case with us all. I am so glad we went, to support our friends and the wonderful organization who was benefitting, and to see Cinderella come into her own.

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