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.

Parenting Smugness, Social Media and Learning To Let Go Of Toxicity

One of the greatest things I’ve taken away from middle-age so far is the necessity to eliminate toxicity from my life.boy-58985_1280

 

The toxicity that culminates out of everyone’s idea of how best to parent is one of the most offensive.

 

Because I read many blogs, a lot of articles about raising and parenting young children pop into my Facebook newsfeed on a weekly basis, and even though I’ve reached a very different stage of the parenting game to new mums, occasionally I find myself reading about their plights and sighing with relief that I’m no longer stuck on that particular treadmill.

 

Because if parenting isn’t already fucking challenging enough, there’s a tribe of holier-than-thou people out there judging the rest of us on how we parent. If you need any proof, think back to the gorilla scenario of only a few weeks ago.

 

On the surface, it makes sense to assume that young mums have it better than the new mothers of my generation. For starters, I find it impossible to recognise the wealth of gear you can buy in baby stores these days – designed to make the daily lives of modern mums more convenient and efficient. Kids eat on-the-go sachets of ready-prepared organic meals for dinner, and there is a whole range of distracting contraptions to dump them into for the purposes of distraction, while mums nip off to the loo or prepare food. And although there’s still a way to go, childcare facilities and options for working mums are on the whole improving, which means that young mums have more choices.

 

Yet some aspects of parenting young children remain reassuringly unchanged (cackles smugly). Getting your bundle of love off to sleep is still a chore akin to root canal surgery – although the invention of sleep clinics offer a new line of support, something my generation of mums who sat in the hall all night, boobs lactating and weeping uncontrollably as they tried to control their baby’s screams, might have benefitted from.

 

Getting your child to eat solid food was another of those massively competitive parenting milestones, and always the topic du jour at any mother’s group. Some kids refuse to eat no matter what you throw at them, like NC – FACT – and I did end up throwing food at her, many times. She was one of those babies who zipped her mouth firmly shut the minute a spoon containing solid form got close to it, even though I’d have fed her chocolate cake doused in Oreos if she’d have taken it.

 

Things got so bad, I convinced myself that I would be processing her meals through high school. I should mention that her favourite food is now Thai.

 

It was the wisdom of a friend that turned that particular world of parenting pain around for me, when she reminded me that ‘babies won’t starve themselves’. That kind soul saved me from the terrifying belief that my child would be the first child in our middle-class suburb to die of malnutrition, and her words of assurance came exactly when I needed to hear them, at my hair-pulling breaking point, when I’d begun picking at scabs irrationally, banging my head against the wall and the old man was terrified to come home.

 

Perhaps if we’d had social media back then and I’d read a post from another mum with a similar predicament to mine, that might have equally provided me with the comfort I craved – to know that I wasn’t alone in this hellhole called parenting that everyone had tricked me into, and lied about being fulfilling.

 

However, social media can be a double-edged sword and some of the ridiculous expectations that are rammed down parents throats in the guise of advice nowadays can also be responsible for increasing anxiety in many new mums, particularly those who live far away from their parents, hence experience the isolation of what they see as personal failure that much more intensely.

 

New mums are exposed to so much information out there that they must second-guess their decisions all the time, whereas in our day, the only real expectation forced upon us was to get on with things without complaining too much. There was much less pressure in terms of judgment from our peers. It was rather like when we were little and went crying to our mums if we hurt ourselves, only to be told to cut it out or she’d give us something to really cry about.

 

Sure, we had family who interfered – the mother-in-law who always got the kids to sleep or delighted in reminding us about how they did things in her day. But we didn’t have Mrs Psycho Smug on Facebook, thankfully, whose child is vegan, walked out of the womb and commences her advanced pure maths degree by the age of ten.

 

In this age where mental health issues are becoming more prevalent, women and men need to support each other more openly. When we find ourselves in a difficult place, or simply aren’t coping with the shite that can smear our lives at different junctures, we don’t need judgment, we need someone to listen to us, to be held and supported in whatever way possible.

 

Likewise, when our self-worth is on the floor and the inflated, glamorised success stories of others begin to make us question our value, we need to discipline ourselves to move away from that toxicity and learn to celebrate our difference and individuality instead.

 

Our ability to raise a child that skips merrily through each milestone without tripping over once is one minuscule aspect of what we have to offer.

 

One of my favourite quotes that I often cite in relation to ADHD is this:

 

Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid. (Albert Einstein)

 

Says it all, really.