February 16, 2015

The shallow but steep slope to recovery

Something I lack is patience.  And reasonable expectations of myself.  So I can get frustrated with how long it takes for me to recover from a particularly bad bout of mental illness.  I mentioned in my last post that I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and so I've been taking steps to ease the pressure that I've been under and put health building blocks in place (good routines).  For me, recovery feels like climbing out of a crater, where the slope is shallow in that it takes a long time to get back to the surface, but also so very very steep and difficult to climb.  Especially in the beginning.

I am very fortunate to have had the guidance of some beautiful and wise women in my recovery this time and each time that I go through this I find myself better equipped for next time.  Having depression and anxiety at 33 is so much easier than having it as a young whipper-snapper in my 20s.  Anyhow, I'm not fully recovered yet but I'm slowly but surely getting better.

There have been setbacks to my recovery in the form of feeling forced to resign from my job, which I did.  And I'm about to - somewhat unexpectedly - begin a student placement in a program that will be really challenging.  I am fairly appropriately intimidated and excited.  The end result of this upheaval is surprisingly good for my career and I faced with a great opportunity to build my knowledge in the area of my passion.  I find myself really looking forward to the next two years as I finish my degree and finally believing that I will get there because I'm that sort of person now.  The freedom that my degree will bring is within reach.  But, I'm also shit scared about not ticking other life boxes while I finish my studies - paying off our debts, buying a house, popping out adorable babies before my eggs turn to dust - but shit, that's life.  We'll get there.  I might have to learn patience.  

The other setback for me was having our beautiful garden decimated in the name of new fencing.  We are renters and so we don't get a say in these things - and to some extent we have to suck it up really - but we weren't properly included in the conversation about the work that was going to be done, so one day some guys showed up unexpectedly with chainsaws and before we knew it the fig, plum and cherry trees, jasmine and ivy that had made our humble cottage beautiful had been stripped away.  It was really sad to see the devastation, especially because with some consideration and effort some of those trees might have been conserved.  Now we're living in a very naked-looking house and it's shaken our sense of having a home, tenuous as that sense is for a renter anyway.

So that's the low-down :)

Here are some pictures from our travels over this summer.  I hope that wherever you are in the world you are finding time to be in nature.

Before I was well enough to begin running and pushing my body again, we would take a slow walk each evening around the neighbourhood.  Some evenings we could hear tawny frogmouths calling from the bush.  They are a beautiful little bird with an amazing brow.

It is heavenly to lie under the Monkey Puzzle in the botanical gardens and watch the dragonflies zipping around.

A creepy avenue through a nearby park.

A visit to a great chick I know who lives near the beach.

And a weekend away at Joanna.  It was so so so good for us.

Oh and this is a picture of a building in town known as the Glass House.  It's where a number of government services are located and so it has the bad joo joo that comes from jaded, over-stretched workers and distressed, disempowered poor people.  But, you know, the light was good that night.

November 7, 2014

When doing the right thing isn't working

I won't lie to you, I have not been well lately.  It's usual for me to live with a certain base-level of anxiety that's not normal, but recently my anxiety has been off the hook.

I won't go in to it much here except to say that it's something everyone in my family experiences and please don't feel sorry for me, because we each have our challenges.  I am fortunate to have an otherwise healthy body and a joyful life.  It's just that instead of diabetes, or a bad knee, or dyslexia, or poverty, I have anxiety.  That's my thing.

Usually I'm pretty good at managing it and I've gotten much better over the years at knowing what I don't have to feel like and dealing with it.  But in recent months, despite self-caring like a motherfucker (yoga, running, dancing, seeing my friends) I just couldn't feel better and that's not usual for me.  Ordinarily it's pretty straightforward; eat well, see my friends, be in nature, move my body = less anxiety.  Not this time.

So I went to my doctor and she told me I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from my work.

Wow.  Was my first thought.

The jury is still out for me on the usefulness of diagnosing mental health stuff, but I suppose the important point here is that I am really not ok and that my health is suffering because of my work.  I won't go in to the specifics of how you get to be this unwell in my work, because there are a lot of different theories about that.  What I know I have to deal with is the reality that my job was causing me harm.

The dilemma for me is that I am passionate about the work I do, but on the other hand I don't want to be so depleted by my work that I can't enjoy the most important part of my life; time spent with my beautiful husband.

So I've made a tough call to protect my health and longevity in this work and decided to work fewer days each week.  Financially it's a bit of a disaster, but for my health and happiness it's pure joy.  And I'm hopeful that the space opened up in my life, for my life, will mean that I nurture my creativity more and who knows where that will lead?

I certainly have ideas.

So that's where I'm at lovely people.  My body is a wreck from prolonged bad bad stress, but I'm asking for what I need.  And what more can you do?

Despite the bad bad stress, my life continues to be a joy otherwise (even if I actually can't feel joy right now) and here are some pictures of said joy:

My favourite road testing his new kicks.

We moved in to this house during winter and had no idea how many beautiful blooms would unfold in our garden through the spring.  I love our grungy old cottage.

This was taken on a day where we took ourselves to the botanical gardens to lie on the grass.  I liked the colour of the water.

I love this little kitten more every day.

Beautiful light on the side of our house.

There have been more walks up the mountain.  I'm supposed to be competing in a mud run at the end of November and I'm supposed to be training regularly.  Argh!

I've been painting my nails and wearing gaudy jumpers to delight myself.

This is my tiny yoga companion who likes to attack my pony tail during forward folds.

One weekend recently we went away with some lovely friends.  We slept in the single swag that A's had since he was titchy, when he didn't have a wife.  Sleeping in a swag is literally one of the most delightful things you can do for yourself I think.  Waking up with dew on your face and bugs that you would normally freak out about walking around in your hair feels like being alive.  Like you did something brave and not controlling.  So when we got home we rushed out to buy ourselves a double swag for grown-ups, and this weekend we're driving out west to throw it down under some eucalyptus trees for a couple of nights.

(If you're not from Australia and don't know what I'm talking about, a swag is a rolled up bed for sleeping outside that Swagmen used to use, and that country kids have sitting in the back of their utes just in case.)

In the last month my Nan moved out of the home that she has lived in for more than 50 years and relocated closer to us.  Her garden, complete with glass house, Hills Hoist and enormous orange tree has been a huge part of my life.  This is where I snuck outside one night to empty a can of Pot Pourri toilet spray because I hated it so passionately, only to discover a wide arc of dead grass around the back door the next morning.  Naturally I lied and said I didn't know what happened.

This is also where I would potter around trying to nurture cuttings like my Nan did, giving them names and talking to them until they inevitably died and I decided to rent The Boy Who Could Fly from the video store again.

This was my Grandad's room.  He died this year and that is why my Nan has moved on.  I'm happy for her that she's seeking new adventures at the age of 86.

The Strzelecki Ranges.

There's been a lot of sitting on our verandah lately.

I finished another semester of my studies.  No thanks to this attention seeker.

My sister is getting married next weekend and so myself and the other bridesmaids organised a hens party for her (bachelorette if you prefer).  It was a total hit, complete with white stretch limo and dancing on cage podiums at a seedy nightclub.  I have not been in a nightclub for a very long time.  It was hilarious.

I read this book and felt inspired.  I bloody love it when women younger than me are clever and brave.  The world is in safe hands.

And finally, roses are blooming in our garden.  I didn't realise how much I love roses until this happened.  They really are intoxicating aren't they?

September 17, 2014


Hey, it's my 33rd birthday.

As I sit here in my fluffy purple robe drinking peppermint tea, not getting ready for work like I should be, I am reflecting on what all this means.

Well, it's heightening pressure to start having babies, asking directly and without apology for what I want, smile-related wrinkles, being smarter about how to be happy, much much more courage, creativity and growing awareness, knowing more about how things work or how they could, brushing up against real life, a dawning realisation that young stuff is not pitched at me now, a bit of a sad feeling (today) and a lot of a feeling like I'm the very luckiest person.

This is a picture that I found of me and I think I must have been about 22 or 23 when it was taken.  I think that that chick would be really excited to hear what's in store for her.  And really, what more could I ask?

These days, I have a penchant for loud shirts, red lipstick and trying unsuccessfully to recreate Caroline de Maigret's hair.  Also, I'm just a floating torso now.

I met this cheeky fellow.

I have a career that I am proud of, although writing case notes sucks to the max (see, still young).

And this happened.  We got married just the way we wanted to.  Rachel Rose made my dress which I will love forever and Bario Neal made our rings, which we never get sick of looking at on our hands.

September 15, 2014

Road tripping

A while ago I promised to tell you about our summer road trip up the coast, so I'd like to do that.  Looking through my photos this morning, I felt glad that I bother to pull out my phone and take pictures as often as I do.  I have a bad memory and photos take me right back to the moment they were taken and whatever I was feeling.  It's tops.

Our plan was to spend two weeks driving up the east coast of Victoria and New South Wales and then to turn around again when we got to Byron Bay, where one of our beautiful friends lives.  Things that I learned from this experience were that it is dumb to try to drive too far too quickly, that putting up and pulling down a tent for just one night repeatedly can we wearing, and that I really (really) prefer being out in nature to being in the city.  I lived in Melbourne for about 12 years and loved the concretey life.  But I don't any more.

Our first stop was Lakes Entrance.  We had planned to camp in a national park beside the Gippsland lakes, but the bushfires that chased us all the way to Lakes Entrance (complete with water bombing helicopters flying overhead and smouldering grass by the roadside) had other plans.  It didn't feel safe to be sleeping in a tent on a narrow peninsula, when the people on the radio were saying that the coming high winds meant that the bushfires could not be contained.  So, we checked in to a cheap motel, enjoyed pear cider and fish and chips and wandering around the docks during the balmy night.

Don't let this beautiful photo of Ninety Mile Beach fool you.  The wind was so intense that the sand was stinging every part of my body that wasn't covered.  Also, apologies for the slant, I'm a bit lazy about editing photos.

The following day we hoped to drive on to our next destination, which was Mallacoota.  But the bushfires and incredible heat had other plans.  So we hot-boxed it in an amazing old caravan instead.  

This is why we waited another day.  That was our route and those running symbols mean evacuate.  NOW!

We lay in a pool of our own sweat for hours, not daring to move, until we discovered the caravan park pool.  Us and all the kids.

The following day we were able to push ahead.  The road was still smokey, but the wind had settled so there wasn't supposed to be any unpredictable fire fronts.  (We're all still pretty jittery here in Victoria after Black Saturday.)

We spent a night at Mystery Bay with beautiful spotted gums, intriguing rock formations and a highly vocal possum.

Because we were behind schedule, we had to leg it from there straight to Sydney.  We stayed in Double Bay which is a fancy suburb with big houses and private beaches.  The first night we were giddy with excitement.  It was humid, there was the scent of frangipanis in the air, we ate delicious Thai food under morton bay figs (one of my favourite trees) and we were anticipating exploring the city over the next few days.

And then we kind of hated it.

I don't know if I was strung out from the long hours of driving and hot boxing in a caravan or if I am genuinely not compatible with cities any more, but I felt overwhelmed, overstimulated and like nobody in a sea of spending nobodies.  One day A and I were fighting our way through the crowds around Circular Quay and there was an elderly lady sitting on the footpath holding a sign telling us that she had escaped domestic violence and asking for help for herself and her son.  Nobody even glanced at her as they hurried past on their way to spend money somewhere and it felt kind of appalling.  I get it, I really do.  I lived in the city and I was that person who sort of had to tune out other people's mental illness and despair because there was too much to respond to.  Or it felt like that.  But now that I live in the country, where the people you pass look you in the eye, it felt jarring.  I was busy staring at the sky pretending I wasn't going to ball my eyes out, so I asked A to go and say hello to her and give her the money that we were planning to spend on some crap somewhere.

I remember A telling me about a story he read or heard about a homeless guy who described one of the worst things about being homeless as that nobody would look you in the eye for days.  Like you didn't exist.

But, you know, I took some photos of Sydney anyway.

One of my happier moments in Sydney was spending time with an old friend and reconnecting.  We had a picnic looking at this.

After a few days, we were sling-shotted out of Sydney to Booti Booti National Park.  We stayed at a lovely campground near the beach.  It was from about here northwards that we began learning about how intense (climactically and emotionally) tropical weather can be.  Alex and I had a yucky argument one day (putting up and pulling down tents repeatedly can do that to you if you're not careful), so I stormed off to the beach and while I sat there with nobody else around, some dolphins swam by and leaped out of the water to eyeball me.  It was magnificent.

I saw a spider in this bushland that made me very very afraid.

One day we drove to the nearby town of Forster where we swam in a beach pool.  It was fucking cold in that water.  So it was exhilarating.

This storm rolled in one evening and is easily the most incredible storm I have experienced.  The torrential rain came from nowhere while I was pottering around the camp kitchen making us a Milo.  A was in the tent luckily, but the rain was so intense that I had to hide behind the BBQ for a while before making a mad dash to the car where we sheltered while the storm passed over.  We sat in the car peering nervously at our tent and drinking bourbon and coke, until we were pretty drunk and didn't care if our tent got washed away.  We had a great time.

There is often a beautiful stillness following a storm.  Of any kind.  And that evening we lay in our tent peering out at it feeling enormously happy.

Another long long drive, via the Big Banana and the Big Prawn, led us to Goonengerry (behind Byron Bay) where our friends live.  Their house in the rainforest is breathtaking.  Their spiders are also breathtaking.  And that's all I'll say about that.

The return journey was planned to take about three days.  We drove down through the Hunter Valley which is lovely.  This coal train was not really slanty.

We visited my brother and his partner in Katoomba, where they have a property.  This is the view across the road from their property.  I'm not kidding.

This is a tree that we lay under in a town called Kandos one day on the way home.  We were talking about the town that we'd just driven through where there was a pub called The Lady Bushranger and thinking about how some wonderful women came out of this part of the country.  Like Louisa Lawson (mother of poet Henry Lawson) and of course Elizabeth Jessie Hickman, who was the lady bushranger.  It was nice to think about women who we could look up to for their striving and strength, because our society hasn't always set it up so that worthy women are noticed.

The Drover's Wife by Henry Lawson is a genuinely pretty great poem.  It feels very visceral and Australian for me.

By the way,  you'll be proud of me.  Yoga and running are an everyday part of life for me now.  This song is on my running mix.

This song is not on my running mix, but it's pretty great.