Bad Dreams? I Blame Anxiety

Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho on Unsplash
Of course, sleeping in the garden might be my problem and I could simply invest in a bed.

I used to have this theory about dreaming, which was that only creative, imaginative people had them. I admit that this conclusion was drawn from the fact that the old man doesn’t dream.

As a middle-aged, menopausal woman on anti-depressants (who struggles with sleep), the only bright side to the kind of dreams I have – imagine GOT crossed with Psycho – are that as a writer, even crazy dreams offer up some wonderful ideas for content. But I can’t deny that it would be refreshing, occasionally, to have some nice, vanilla dreams. You know, the sort of dreams where I’m sipping expensive cocktails in exotic destinations or sexual dreams, with the men of my fantasies. Rather than dreams where I’m falling off cliffs or being chased by knife-wielding rapists.

Let me share the one I had last week. Interpret it as you will.

The dream began with me introducing one of my best friends to a new friend of mine, who swiftly replaced me in my BF’s affections. Unsatisfied with that, this interloper continued to torment me throughout the dream, popping up in other parts of it to enlighten me about secrets my BF had shared with her – the sort of secrets that she had never shared with me during our entire twenty-year friendship.

During this REM version of Mean Girls, I found myself back at uni in the classic dream of being late for, and not having prepared for, an exam. This time, however, I was studying for a degree in science, and not only was I late, but the only preparation I had done for it was to skim through a Year 6 book on nature.

While I was mulling over how I could make the life cycle of the amoeba relevant to a tertiary physics paper, I was also struggling to locate my seat in the massive exam hall, where thousands of candidates were waiting to take the same exam – each of whom was already in their seat and eyeballing me.

Finally, an adjudicator took pity on me. Relieved, I followed him as he directed me to my place, whereupon – and get this! – he pulled a machete from his apron and cracked open my chest to reveal my heart – which was bizarrely the first time I noticed that everyone else’s heart in the room was exposed. Even weirder, was the immediate sense of calm I felt, that finally, I was like everyone else. Hence, it was only as I shuffled about in my seat, preparing to start the exam, that I noticed that my heart was different to everyone else’s – because mine had bulging lumps in its arteries. Clots!

The finale to this horror story, was my embarrassing (somewhat deja vu) attempt to get my computer going and onto the exam program – because apparently, I was a technophobe in my dream as well as in real life. Until, fortunately, my neighbour took pity on me, setting me up in the nick of time for the start of the exam. I remember throwing him a look of gratitude as I placed my headphones on confidently as the examiner called out Start – which is when I discovered that I had no sound.

It is no secret that bad dreams and night terrors happen to anxious people, and unsurprisingly, I can relate almost every detail of that dream to current concerns about my health, work, and the fear of not living up to expectation.

But if my mind is really that bloody imaginative, why can’t I have nice dreams for a change? Why can’t I have the dream where I’m a famous author, who sells the film rights to my novel to Steven Spielberg, who then picks Meryl Streep to play my character in the book? Why can’t I dream about lunch with Meryl – where she perfects my accent, we sing Abba songs together, and she reveals all of her inner secrets to me, like the one about her best on-screen kiss?

BTW – My money’s on Robert Redford.

The Secret To Growth Is Curiosity

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I heard the word “curiosity” mentioned in two different contexts last week. The first time was at Clementine Ford’s book launch in Sydney, for her new book “Boys Will Be Boys;” and the second was in an article in The Guardian by Celia Dodd here, about retirement.

Inevitably, “retirement” is somewhat of a buzzword in my community at the moment, and I know that I must be secretly starting to get anxious about it from the way I furtively check out the fitness of old people on the bus.

Most of our friends are on the cusp of the transition, and they share similar concerns to us – which are mainly finance-related. Will we have enough money, or will we need to downsize to escape the rising cost of living in Sydney, seems to be the biggest question on most people’s lips. And then there’s that other fear – shared by some of the men – about how they will survive this next stage of change, with no fixed routine.

Research has shown us that there is a genuine danger that some men will sink into depression in retirement unless they find new purpose in their lives. It was something I worried about the old man when he began his semi-retirement, (as I mentioned in this post), until I realized that hitting a ball each day and the daily update of his guide to how to stack the dishwasher, would keep him busy.

In Celia’s article, she argues that to thrive in retirement, we don’t need to be a lawn bowls champion, but we do need the curiosity to try new activities or listen to new ideas – rather than “filling time on life’s scrap heap until you die.” We need to keep on growing as people. Interestingly, however, she does refute “the assumption that you have to be constantly busy to achieve anything.”

I, too, see a direct correlation between curiosity, growth and the continued enjoyment of a fulfilling life, no matter what our age.

Clementine’s use of the word “curiosity” was in relation to Trump’s blinkered vision when it comes to abused women, and the appalling lack of empathy, compassion, and (above all) curiosity, he showed last week for a man in his position of power. Several times, the US president has shown a disinterest in listening to public opinion or in the evolution of new ideas or change – in much the same way, (Celia says), that we latch so easily onto one of the biggest myths about retirement – which is that it is “a static phase during which nothing much changes.” 

Not true. The curiosity that has come with aging has made me the woman I am today: a woman that strives to hear the voices of others in order to educate and improve myself; a woman who is aware of the gaps in her knowledge and experience, but keeps going, in the hope that someday she can use it to improve the lives of others with less privilege – whether that’s through writing or in the donation of her time.

Which is not to say that I always get it right. We are not a perfect race, and never will be – and we are certainly nothing like the narrow-minded white vision of fascism – thank God!  And yet, I hope that I listen, absorb and am respectful of the opinions of others. I continue to be curious about this crazy world and its colorful range of inhabitants, and I am more aware now than ever about my responsibility as a small cog in the very large wheel of society.

Curiosity is the key to positive change, understanding others and finding purpose at every stage of our lives. Those that choose to switch it off, remain stagnant, as the world rotates around them, and we have seen over the past week how very dangerous that can be.

I’m More Concerned About Trump’s Policies Than The Size Of His Dick

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There’s been a lot of talk about fruit and veg in the press this week. First, about the loonies here in Australia that think it’s funny to put needles in strawberries, and then there’s Trump’s mushroom-shaped penis, the image in my head of which, I can’t unsee.

It’s not that I actively sought out the flagrant details of the US president’s knob, but they are hard to avoid on Twitter.

Albeit a feminist, I’m not a fan of the “kiss and tell” or tit for tat memoir, and I’ll admit to something close to the stirrings of a loose bowel movement when snippets of Stormy’s passionate (?) affair with the President first came to light. Personally, I believe that if you are going to “tell,” a “less is more” approach can be far more salacious. And frankly, the detail of Trump’s tiny manhood – while deservedly humiliating for him – doesn’t alter my opinion of him. I’m more interested in the man’s policies than the size of his dick – although, it’s true that it would be hard for my opinion to sink much lower.

In a very sad way, perhaps the size of his todger is a tiny excuse for his behavior – “small man complex,” and all that.

But you have to admire Stormy, who must surely be cognisant of the avalanche that she has triggered in the media, and which is certain to descend upon her once they get over the titillation of her lover’s small cock. Give her a few days grace before they cut her back down to size and force her to pick up the mantle of the fallen woman again, in spite of Trump’s infidelity and his proclamations about the virtues of family life.

Monica Lewinsky has never walked away from the smear campaign against her, while Bill continues to be canonized for his roving eye. So I hope that Stormy is as strong as her name suggests, or that the revenue from her book is worth the wrath that she has ignited in the White House – particularly if Trump gets re-elected.

Telling the truth at the expense of a man’s reputation is a risky business for women, and stronger women than Stormy have sunk under the weight of their aggression in a duel. The #notallmen retaliation suggests that men are fighting back against what they believe are unfair accusations by women – even though it is only abusers that are being accused, so I’m not sure what the majority of them have to worry about.

In a world in which leadership positions are dominated by men, (and for the main part, by white men), women do not fare well when they stand up for their rights; particularly against powerful men, as proven by those female Liberal MPs brave enough to speak out after the government spill and the cartoon of Serena Williams in the Australian press.

Trump is not known for his forgiveness. He is now known for his mushroom-shaped dick, which, however vulgar that might sound, is still (sadly) unlikely to contribute to the worst parts of his legacy.

 

A Guest’s Place Is Not In The Kitchen

Entertaining is all well and good as long as your guests know their place…which is not in the kitchen.

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I’m not certain if the protocol (in terms of entertaining) has changed in the UK since we left thirteen years ago – a time in our life when our social life was constrained by the needs of young children, hence fulfilled by a monthly rotation of dinner parties with roughly the same people – but I quite liked the unwritten rules of ownership when it came to the distinction between guest and host. 

In those days, the onus on guests was to bring flowers, booze, and interesting conversation, and the responsibility of the host was to provide everything else. Admittedly, if you weren’t Donna Hay, that premise did add some pressure, but what kept you going as you marinated the Coq Au Vin in your tears, devilled your eggs, and began your relationship with Valium, was the knowledge that all your hard work would be recompensed by four of five reciprocal dinner invitations, where you could be the one stuck to your seat, getting lairy, and talking about stuff that only comes out of your mouth after a bottle of fortified wine.

Indeed, the only time you relaxed the rules was towards the end of the evening, when Mrs. Perfect came into the kitchen and offered to clear up, releasing you from your servitude to pop out to the back garden for a furtive joint.

Social etiquette is a little different in Australia. For a start, people offer to bring food with them. And when I say “food”,  I don’t mean that moldy piece of Cheddar that’s sat in the fridge since Christmas with a few Aldi olives. They bring plates of the type of gourmet food that wouldn’t look out of place on a Heston Blumenthal menu.

And while that generosity lifts the burden of the host to provide all three courses and canapes, it also adds more pressure to the quality of the food that you are serving.

The other differences are – and this may have something to do with the open-plan style of the homes here – there is more of a hands-on vibe, where guests mill around the kitchen offering assistance and trying to get involved, which makes it much harder to conceal what I like to call my natural cooking disasters.

And then there’s that new breed of men that like to cook and make your mother’s tried and tested home cooking recipes appear amateurish. Personally-speaking, there’s nothing more intimidating to me than a man who knows his way around a sous-vide and who brings his latest cooking appliance with him to knock up the appetizers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that men are starting to take on their share of domesticity, but I’d prefer to see more of them voluntarily clean the toilets beforehand than show off their version of the “Snow Egg.”

And all this camaraderie in the kitchen means that you have to clean it properly, ahead of the event, because people will be in your kitchen. That caked potato on the roof of the microwave (since the time it exploded) and all those tiny scraps of food that inhabit the cutlery drawer (because your dishwasher is still going after twenty years), have to go. You even have to wipe down the door fronts – not exactly what you bargained for when you had that crazy idea of a relaxing lunch.

Food Goals When You Work From Home

One of the main benefits to working from home, aside from the greater job security than that currently offered by the FBI, is the 24hr on-site cafeteria. 

I have instigated Google’s food policy in our house. They don’t allow their employees to be further than 200 feet from food at any time – a strategy that ‘inspires innovative thinking’ they believe, as well as a greater appreciation for food, in my experience. Particularly now, as we enter winter, and I’m cold and beginning to miss the luxuries of the modern office, (and in particular, ducted heating), and have turned to food for comfort.

Without the usual office time-wasting distractions of forming scrums around the coffee machine, bitching in the toilets, sending funny emails about the boss, kicking the photocopier and social media, food has become much more significant in my new working environment – perhaps too significant.

And the best part is there is no judgment.

There’s none of that pressure to take in the grossest, sludgiest green smoothies for breakfast; no need to hide my Nachos under my sprout salad sprinkled with caterpillar semen for lunch, which I then used to top up with Maccas when I was ‘doing the mail’. No, you see I can eat what the fuck I want to in my own home, and if suits my very busy schedule to eat ten smaller (hmmm!) meals per day, I have earned that right.

Even so, I have begun to see the potential pitfalls in this new partnership. The fifteen-pound weight gain (on average) of Google employees over their first year of employment, has been termed the Google 15, hence I haven’t got close to the scales in months. But I ask you, with no-one to have hour-long chitchats in the toilets to discuss current events, (the size of Jon Hamm’s penis, for example), how exactly is a girl supposed to fill the gaps in her concentration?

It has been said that the lack of physical contact with the outside world can be a disadvantage to those who work from home – research that I suspect was reported by someone who has either never worked from home or who actually likes people  – and I now see how that sense of isolation could lead to an eating disorder for the lonely writer. Chocolate chip cookies have been my support through several, highly stressful hours to deadline.

I’m lucky that I have been able to learn from the best when it comes to my WFGs (work food goals), my progress in which he will assess in my annual review. Because there has to be some biological reason that my husband, who also works from home, has to run 7ks a day to maintain his current weight.

He works at the other end of our house – the end with heating, (an issue that is escalating and as such has been added to the next team meeting agenda). His office, which doubles as a nap-pod and reading room – in fact, any room name he can invent to avoid me – is even closer to the evil magnetism of the kitchen and I hear him and his furtive rustlings in the pantry; the tell-tale timeout beeps from the fridge door.

The waft of melting butter on crumpets is all it takes to pull me out of my steely focus on work and straight into the cookie jar, a consistency which is certain to score me a 5 at my review, I hope.

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Why I Blog…

I had the chance to speak at a local library event recently about blogging, using this blog as my example. It had little to do with talent or notability, more an obvious case of nepotism as one of my close friends is a librarian there, but we all have to start somewhere.  diary-968603_1280

 

One of the aspects I talked about was why I write.

 

I’ve been writing since I first had NC, some twenty years ago, when the mental tsunami of things not being quite as they should be first hit me. I’m a fervent believer that buried trauma can be triggered later in life, leading to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and because I never dealt with my mother’s death when I was a teenager, that grief never went away.

 

And so I struggled with the early stages of motherhood – a bummer, as being someone with little self-confidence or sense of worth, I’d pinned all my hopes on motherhood being what I’d be good at.I could blame NC for being a ‘difficult’ baby, or the sense of isolation that can occur when you are the first of your peers to take the grown up step of procreation; whatever the reason for my mini break-down, I had few people to share my concerns with. I might have even have been suffering from post natal depression. But what I did know was that I needed an outlet, some way to release the pent-up frustration and pressure, and for me ‘writing’ became the perfect antidote.

 

Hence, my first book was about the anti-mother, the mother that sucks at it, who doesn’t fit into the smug rivalry of mother’s groups, struggles to breast-feed, feels no bond or fulfilment from watching their newborn breathe, and frankly, can’t wait to get back to the office. In terms of honesty and authenticity, I was ahead of my time, but back then I had neither the energy or the balls to take it to the next level.

 

This blog evolved for two reasons. The first came about after I was let go from a job, which provoked my second minor mental break-down, super-vulnerable as I was at the time, coping with Kurt and issues relating to his ADHD. The second reason was that the seed of another book was developing inside me, desperate to be nurtured and hatched and I decided to do it properly this time, to research thoroughly about how to improve the chances of success of a forty-something, so far unpublished writer.

 

Every article I read about getting published pointed to the necessity of a writer’s platform, in the form of a blog.

 

And as soon as I hit ‘publish’ on those first few outpourings, full of deep, desperate questions, searching for answers and readers who understood the terrifying emotions I was experiencing that had been caused by the humiliation of losing a job, and the fears of having a child that doesn’t tick all the boxes of ‘normal’ development – often in a humorous and self-deprecating tone because that’s a defence mechanism I employ to reduce the pain – I found I could I could cope with the isolation so much better. I had a safe zone. Catharsis.

 

I need to write now. It’s not a passion, it’s not a job, it’s something I have to do to keep me sane.

 

This little blog and the manuscript in my computer give me the voice to shout FUCK OFF! when life throws me a curved ball. It is my therapist, my therapy, and a space where I can be me.

 

And it has been my saviour, over and over again.

 

Many bloggers hit that wall of ‘what the fuck am I doing’ at certain points in the blogging life – (Mumabulous, one of the best writers I know, had a wobble about this topic recently) – especially if you’re not in it for the fame and glory and the whole idea of monetising and selling your soul terrifies you. And I have questioned my loyalty to this little online space repeatedly.

 

But I keep coming back. It’s like an addiction that needs to be sated, an itch that needs to be scratched, a baby that has to be released out into the world. Not because I thrive on attention – because sometimes I get little or no feedback from my readers- but because it is my favourite creative outlet to vomit up all the stuff that needs to come out to make me feel balanced again.

 

I was doing that Prima Donna thing that other day, strutting around the apartment moaning about why I wasted so much of my life writing a book that will never be published, and NC asked me why that mattered if I enjoyed the process.

 

And she’s right, of course. I’ll be back in the old man’s bad books for admitting to this but I’m not motivated by money, or even the kudos of having my name in print, really…(although I assume that the validity to be gained from being published helps with the self-doubt, something I struggle with on a daily basis).

 

Will I stop if I don’t get that? Probably not.

There’s More To Following Your Dream Than Achieving Success…

Once a year I allow myself to cavort around Walsh Bay in dark sun glasses, high heels and Review cardie, and I try to look all luvvy and creative-like at the Sydney Writers Festival.

 

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Swanky coffee shop at the Writers Festival, darling!

This is a vital part of ‘following my dream.’

 

I think I look like Tara Moss but I’m probably more Jilly Cooper.

 

I had to move heaven and earth to get to my first session this year – it can be SO tedious when the day job conflicts with my wannabe life as aspiring writer.

 

But these trips are so invaluable for keeping me motivated.  I see the Writers Festival like a sort of work ‘jolly’ – as recompense for the hours of toil I waste at my computer, (with very little to show for it). It’s like a paint sample pot worth of gold that sits close to the finish line of the symbolic rainbow in my head, that keeps me going for the rest of the year.

 

The ‘end of the rainbow’ being when I finally get something published.

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Tara Moss (Photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer)

 

I may kid myself that I go to the festival to further my education, but I actually go there to pose soak up the ambience by stalking being with bonafide, successful writers and social commentators – people who have been able to justify those hours of frustration, isolation and intense misery. 

 

And the sessions never disappoint. Last year I came out a reinvigorated feminist, ready to storm the government for change and burn my bra if necessary.

 

And today was no different. By the end of the session, I had developed a renewed vigour for finishing my own book and an even greater motivation to help improve awareness about mental health issues in young people.

 

This is what culture is all about, people – enhancing your learning via the brilliance of other people.

 

With such an esteemed panel of speakers, including Steve Biddulph (who is one of my parenting gurus and Brendan Cowell, who is hot), the discussion was never going to be predictable.

 

The theme of the discussion was ‘Wild Things’, and it was about the new-found violence and sociopathic behaviour we are witnessing in 15-19 year old men today, which could be blamed on anything from changing family structures or alcohol consumption to a lack of nurture.

 

So not exactly aimed at the Bridget Jones blondies like me…

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Bridget Jones, 25 year later (Photo credit: tripu)

 

 

But the main protagonist in my book, (whose working title remains ‘How Much Fucking Longer’) is a wild and angry young man, who lives life impulsively and is always on the edge of trouble. So as you can imagine, the session was full of new ideas to infuse into my character.

 

Can’t think who could have possibly inspired this character of mine! I must just be brilliant!

 

The panel sat on these very sexy, writer-ish chairs.

 

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Very Sexy Writer-Ish Chairs!

 

And I decided there and then that I will know that I have truly made it as a writer when I am invited to the Writers Festival to discuss my award-winning and best-selling book and film, and I get to sit on an Arne Jacobsen Swan Chair.

 

And I also realised that ‘following your dream’ is not just about achieving success, or your goal or that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; it’s about having fun along the way, too.

 

 

 

 

 

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