Sorry For Ignoring You. I’ve Been Busy Stockpiling Toilet Rolls

This morning, I asked the old man the following question: If he had his time again, would he choose to relive his fifty-three years, or would he choose the sixteen-years of a dog? We have these deeply philosophical discussions, sometimes – in those rare moments he hasn’t got his nose stuck in the latest viral golf or dog video on social media.

Photo by Anna Franques on Unsplash

He chose the dog’s life, which I totally understand if you’re a pet lucky enough to have the life of The Princess – stress-free, with a focus on food and walks; where the only thing you really has to moan about is daily smotherings of love from your family. That’s not to say that I wasn’t a little peeved that he doesn’t want to replay the past thirty-five years with me – his soulmate. But I get it. It’s hard to focus on those brief moments of joy when there’s all that other stuff going on… And as I’ve been reminded over the past few weeks, the freedom from stress of a dog’s life is a very hard thing to achieve in the real world.

It won’t surprise you to know that the last post I started and aborted was an incendiary piece about my reaction to the murders of Hannah Clarke and her children. It was another exasperated cry about my dwindling belief in a system that fails women so badly, but I had to can it when a wave of exhaustion from saying stuff that seems to fall on deaf ears got the better of me.

What’s the point, I asked myself, when nothing changes?

And since then, the news has been dominated by the Coronovirus, the move of the Sussexes, the art of toilet roll stockpiling, and the impending financial crisis. Sadly, Hannah’s death has been put to the bottom of the crisis pile along with other less newsworthy examples of abuse – although, I imagine that even the most fervent deniers of the #metoo movement felt some relief about Harvey Weinstein’s incarceration and the possibility that it might put a stop to women moaning.

The problem is, lads, there are just so many examples of gender inequality that we’re unlikely to run out of ammunition anytime soon – a strong case in point being the now senior, white man race to the Whitehouse.

Those (and stockpiling toilet rolls) are a few of the reasons I’ve kept my head down for the past few weeks. That and a ferocious last edit of my manuscript before it goes under the expert scrutiny of the national literary treasure who is Anna Spargo-Ryan. The author of books The Paper House, The Gulf, and numerous other publications on mental health, Anna sold herself short by accepting my pittance of a donation to the #authorsforfireys appeal and agreed take a look at it for me.

And then there’s my son, who continues to keep us on our toes through his stormy navigation of young adulthood, and makes it harder to remember, sometimes, that these difficult moments in history and our lives make us stronger and give us purpose – something I don’t see a great deal of in my dog when she’s chasing her tail or eating poo.

What we have to bear in mind on those days when the clouds finally part, the sun breaks through and we are given small drops of the good stuff to help us carry on, is that things change. We have to keep believing that with time and education, we can undo the wrongs caused by toxic masculinity and inequality. I have to believe that Kurt’s passage through the complexities of life will get easier – which it did this week when he managed to win six pieces off the old man in a game of Chess, and that someday my little story will reach a wider audience and help people like me who are struggling for answers.

It’s Never ‘Too Soon’ For Laughter In The Face Of Adversity

We’ve had the usual mix of experiences over Christmas. Some of them have been as gloriously perfect as the anticipation and some have been the inevitable shite sprinkled on the top. That’s life. That’s the reality of the season for most people.

Woman pouring a cup of tea
Photo from Louis Hansel on Unsplash.com

But it’s safe to say the fires and the plight of the people and wildlife most directly affected by them have been at the forefront of most Aussie minds this holiday. Indeed, as I write this piece, we are in the midst of another ‘catastrophic’ day where dangerous heat and unpredictable winds combine to exacerbate the crisis.

Bush fires are not unusual in Australia – in spite of what you might hear on the media – but it is the scale of the fires this year that has been so unprecedented, particularly this early in the season. And having a narcissist at the helm of the country – a man who is no Jacinda Ardernhas made it worse.

For the population so far unaffected, the news coverage makes the left-over mince pies and turkey catch in our throats. Then there is the haze, the toxic smoke, and endless layers of ash on our balconies – each unsubtle reminders of the plight of so many communities, who on top of their personal losses feel abandoned by their government. We carry on our lives as normal, but with a growing sense of survivor guilt, conscious of the little we can do to help the affected and the very real danger of compassion fatigue that comes with such a bombardment of coverage from the media.

Each one of us is guilty of it. The news is never good anymore, and I find myself switching off from it as it triggers my anxiety – not for me, but for the thousands that are at the mercy of this horrifying drought that is so very hard to see an end to. And perhaps the saddest part is the knowledge that as soon as it rains, the victims of these fires will become yesterday’s news, just like the victims of the volcanic eruption in New Zealand before Christmas.

Fortunately, disasters such as these bring out the best in most people as well, and in many communities – many of whom have lost everything – it is that spirit that helps people get through these dark days. There are food collections and donations for those who have been displaced or lost their homes, and basic provisions are being packed and sent to our fire crews. When asked by the media about the morale of the victims, a Sikh volunteer who helped set up a free food truck close to the most ravaged areas mentioned their need for connection – apparently, the need to talk to someone about their losses far outweighs their need for food.

Houses can be rebuilt, so perhaps the biggest fear for everyone in the country is that these fires symbolise a new normal for Australia, unless we address climate change more proactively. It’s hard not to feel scared when your government is in denial about the problem and the foundations of the news globally seem built on increasingly devastating incidents of drought, flooding, and the rise of right wing parties who downplay it.

That’s why we have sought solace in humor this holiday period. Daniel Sloss and Trevor Noah on Netflix have gone some way to distract us from the gloom. Comedy has helped lighten the sense of helplessness and provided a reminder of the power of laughter in the face of adversity, even if the sentiment at the root of so many of their jokes is steeped in the same cuntery of life that plays out daily on our screens.

In my experience, laughter is the best medicine. When everything is taken away from us, all we have left is our spirit, our survival instinct, hope and humour. Comics such as Robin Williams knew that, as did survivors of The Holocaust and refugees who have made the decision to risk their lives on terrible journeys between continents. To a lesser degree, it was what I relied upon when I started this blog. At the time, my intention had nothing to do with writing, but expressing myself in that way helped me make sense and light of some difficult personal situations. Dissecting them in my head and then sharing them on my computer proved to be cathartic, which was why I opened up about being fired from a job, my son’s challenges with ADHD, my battles with anxiety, and my perceived failures as mother and wife. It was equally helpful to know that others out there in cyberspace identified with my struggles.

It sounds crazy, but sometimes all you can do is laugh at your own bad luck, and so I am grateful to be part of a family where the expression ‘too soon?’ is NEVER ‘too soon?’

Right now, the victims of this disaster will still be in shock, their spirits temporarily broken. They will need to talk about their experiences and be heard. But if there’s one piece of advice I want to give them it is that they WILL rise out of the ashes. They WILL get back on the horse. Seven years ago when I lost my job, it seemed like the end of the world to someone with anxiety, who was petrified of rejection. And yet, that bad luck forced me to take a different path – into writing. Similarly, there are people who have beaten cancer that talk about how their illness has changed their lives for the better.

These fires will change the life trajectory of many of its victims. All we can hope is that the change will be for the better for some of them.

The first time we smile after the loss of someone close to us is shocking. How dare we pick up our lives when something so terrible has happened, we rage internally. And yet, laughter is a sign that the spirit has returned and that hope is winning. Fortunately, the country’s spirit has not been quashed. There are angels waiting in the wings of those regions that are still battling against these terrible fires – angels with full kettles and open hearts, who are ready to listen and to help the victims smile again.

Every Cloud…And All That Claptrap

Muslim woman looking thoughtful.
Photo by kilarov zaneit on Unsplash

Sorry, sorry, SORRY for being so lax about updating you with my own particular brand of mayhem over the past few weeks. You know what house moves are like, and then there’s the day job, and an overdue revisit to my fiction writing. Added to which, some weeks it is just so hard to pull the words together, particularly when I strive (honest!) to make good news the focus.

I know that my ramblings sometimes pertain to my personal frustrations about bad news, but on the whole, my medication and a desire to live a more harmonious life for the sake of my mental health, lead me to try and see the brighter side of life.

However…it’s impossible to ignore the dark cloud over NZ at the moment. I’ve been ruminating about it, and I’m still not certain what we are supposed to take from this shocking act of terror, other than (the fact that there are c..ts out there that don’t deserve to breathe the same oxygen as the rest of us), to acknowledge the incredible ability to forgive of those most directly affected by it.

I assume that in the wake of crises such as these, there is little choice other than to pick yourself up and go on in the best way you can…if you can. But let’s also not forget that the magnitude of some acts of evil is so great that those left behind find it impossible to forge a path ahead. No one can fail to have been moved by the recent loss of a mother to suicide after the murder of her children by their father and of the two fathers who lost their children in school shootings.

But we are given one life, and our job here is to make the most of it.

Forgiveness takes courage, faith and maturity – particularly in the face of such a terrible act of depravity as the one in Christchurch. And while I’m not a religious person – nor particularly forgiving – I do see the ability to forgive as an upside to religion – even if it does find itself so often at the core of these atrocities.

Fortunately, however, not only do such tragedies offer a reminder of the bad in this world, they demonstrate the good and the generosity of spirit in most humans, as well – no matter what their beliefs. And I am certain that the stoicism and forgiveness shown by the bereaved relatives and friends of the victims will have an influence, and ultimately makes us better people.

Obviously, I can’t move past what happened without mention of Jacinda Ardern – my poster girl for all that is wonderful in this role – and her role in picking up the pieces of those broken hearts in NZ. A woman who epitomises great leadership, Jacinda has proved once again the value that women have to offer to politics and positions of authority. And let’s hope that when Gladys Berejiklian takes up the mantle of NSW Premier formally, she follows Jacinda’s lead. We need more women like these to represent us. While Gladys’ politics may not be to everyone’s taste, she appears to be a woman who is capable, fair, and with the right amount of empathy to tackle sensitive tasks – even if, at times, her spending habits are questionable.

Perhaps, more significantly, she appears to be a politician who listens.

But back to forgiveness – a process I am struggling to extend to the scientists who admitted this week that they don’t really understand the extent of the danger of eggs on our health. Although, thanks to Egg Boy, they have been given a new purpose. And while I’m on the subject of the often questionable work of scientists and their research – space, anyone? – allow me to also extend my personal thanks to the researchers who discovered the benefits of cheese this week.

Every cloud…and all that claptrap.

Anxiety, Hope and Earning The Olympic Gold For Worrying

If they handed out an Olympic Gold for worrying, I’d get it.

 

I’ve skirted around the void of depression many times, when my anxiety has gnawed away at me like some flesh-eating bacteria, so close to the bone that I’ve felt like it was all too much. directory-466935_1280 

 

Unlike many people out there who wax lyrical about alternative methods to “cure” depression, medication has been my saviour, the only treatment that has worked consistently for me and allowed me to function relatively normally. Exercise helps, but it wouldn’t be enough on its own.

 

But even medication isn’t an antidote, and so sometimes I get caught out when the black dog begins to circle.

 

In the first weeks after we moved to the suburb we live in now, which is close to the Harbour Bridge, a young man took his life by jumping off it. It was an event that affected me viscerally at the time because we were fighting to stay alive in a zone of wall to wall fear for our son Kurt. That poor boy’s death became personal to me. I was angry with him, visualised myself shaking him and promising him that with time he would feel better, I cried for him and couldn’t get him out of my head or imagine that level of despair. I catastrophized his death and convinced myself that it was a sign.

 

Suicide is becoming more and more common, not just in middle-aged men where it has always been prevalent, but in our young, who on the surface should have everything to live for.

 

When you’ve found yourself close to the level of negativity where you give up hope and question your reason for being, no amount of ‘but look at what you’ve got to live for’ talk can help. Whenever I move into a bad period of anxiety like I did recently, I always end up sitting with the doctor, tears of shame streaming down my cheeks at being so miserable when my life is near perfect.

 

But there are a multitude of triggers of depression and anxiety, many of which the experts have yet to understand.

 

I read many articles about suicide, not because I’m some weirdo but because it’s one of the main themes of the book I’m writing. What has stuck with me are the number of articles from survivors and how, so often, their attempt has been enough to change their outlook. It’s only afterwards that they can see through the clouds of despair, acknowledge that there is some hope, that they are loved, and that some simple changes and support in their life could provide a very different outlook.

 

When you are immersed in that thick, obscure soup, you think that nothing will ever change and it is the overwhelming fear of failure and letting people down that prevents you from embracing what life has to offer.

 

But the patterns of our lives twist and undulate constantly – something you realise with middle age but the young person with depression will find hard to see. For example, twelve years ago, I would never have believed that I would be living in Australia now, doing a job I enjoy, and that the kids would have survived my unique brand of parenting. The bi-product of a divorce, I might also be quite surprised to see that my marriage has endured all the dramas I’ve thrown at it, and I would never have believed that parenting could hold so many challenges or shape me so indelibly.

 

Three years ago, if someone had told me that things with Kurt would eventually get easier, I wouldn’t have believed them. Back then I saddled myself with blame for his behaviour, held myself personally accountable that my little boy wasn’t happy in his own skin. I now see that he has to take some responsibility too.

 

And here we are, making baby steps towards some light.

 

One of the best bits about life is its unpredictability; that nothing has to stay the same. Each day we grow, develop and begin to understand more and more deeply why we were put here. This short period on earth can be a difficult tenancy but we are the landlords of our destiny and if things don’t go to plan, it’s reassuring to know that we can move on. If only everyone was given a second opportunity to realise that.