Forgiving the Unforgivable.

What if you were called on to forgive something you can’t see, can’t touch yet it stalks you 24/7 year after year after year, never releasing its grasp?

Welcome to my blessing and my curse.

Dermatomyositis is a severe, systemic auto-immune disease where your muscles attack themselves and self-destruct. It also, as the name suggests, attacks your skin and can also cause fibrosis in your lungs. Treatment is available but can be tricky. My case is considered severe and has been somewhat resistant to treatment. However, I’m lucky that my doctors keep plucking rabbits out of their hat, coming up with something new. I have been in remission for 2 years and am currently doing very well for me.

Newton Family & bilbo

A family photo with Bilbo as a pup Mother’s Day, 2007. This was taken 6 months before my diagnosis when I was already quite ill.

As I said, dermatomyositis is my blessing and my curse.

My blessing because most of the time I live my life to the very fullest appreciating each and every moment. I know life is short. Although I get side-tracked probably more often than most, I do know what’s most important to me, and I do try to put these people first. I’m not always successful, but I love my family and my friends. However, I also love my writing, photography and helping others.

This, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a complex balancing act. However, dermatomyositis doesn’t understand love, relationships, priorities dream or goals. It just stampedes over the lot of it and when it flares up, even the best time management in the world, can’t save you.


Getting my infusion in the brand new hospital.

Hence, it’s my curse. Almost since the birth of my daughter, I’ve been haunted by dermatomyositis. Moreover, we’re actually surprised (but exceptionally grateful), that I’m still here. I can’t tell you how heart-breaking it is to have your two year old son look up at you with his huge blue eyes and blond curls and ask: “Mummy better?” Worse than that, I couldn’t answer him. We didn’t know. To fall at home and knock your 16 month old toddler over as you crash to the floor. However, worse was yet to come. Despite her terrified screams, I couldn’t get myself off the ground, and I couldn’t even reach out a hand to comfort her. My body was completely powerless, weighed down like a sack of potatoes. What on earth was going on? It was horrific and like being sucked into some terrible horror movie, only it had somehow become my reality. In the end, I used a chair to lever myself up and due to the nature of the muscle damage, was strangely still able to walk around.   Meanwhile, my husband was carrying our sleeping daughter off my lap and into her cot. He even had to help me get dressed and cover me with my doona each night. I couldn’t look after myself. In hindsight, I don’t know why we didn’t just go to Emergency. However, I’d seen multiple specialists and a misdiagnosis early on sent things off course.

It was further six weeks until I finally had a diagnosis, and I spent a gruelling 2.5 weeks in hospital and about 6-8 weeks in rehab.

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

It’s hard to believe that the same person who has subsequently developed a love of adventure  (albeit within my limitations), was ever so sick. Or, is still affected by this snoring giant which is kept under control through medication. I have been left with 60% lung capacity and some mobility issues. Yet, these are no match for my iron will. I am incredibly determined and have the best inspiration in the world…my family, my friends, my writing and my life.


Sailing this week.

That said, I am lucky there is treatment. No amount of determination can help you beat a disease without treatment.

The life I am living is good, even if it isn’t anything like what I’d planned or expected.

I could focus on all that I’ve lost. However, going down that path really is the road to ruin…just like unforgiveness.

amelia heart painting

We have more choice in how we paint our own picture than I ever thought possible.

Seizing hold of all the good in the life I have now…this is the road to happiness. Do we call it forgiveness? Acceptance? I don’t know. Whatever you call it, it certainly took me a long time to get here. I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis 9 years ago and I certainly didn’t reach this point overnight. I was angry, and didn’t know who or what to blame. God? Bad luck? Genetics? Indeed, it was only after I had chemo 2 years ago almost to the day, that I have let it all go, and am finally learned what it means to be a human BEING…not just a HUMAN DOING.

I still haven’t got it down to a fine art. Nor do I have all the answers. However, I’ve made radical progress possibly through letting go. I had to walk away from my job a few years ago, but I am now at the point where I’m about to step out there again. I’m yet to work out where I’m going or how. However, that can wait. My kids are starting new schools next week and for the next few months, I make no apologies for putting my kids first. The rest can wait.

So, how have I been able to forgive dermatomyositis and move forward?

Fight back and don’t be a victim. This means doing what I can to give myself the best chance of managing the disease and trying not to make things worse. This also means taking responsibility for my health and not delegating my life to anyone else. I take my medication. Have regular blood tests. Exercise. Could eat better but could eat worse.

Have fun. Enjoy!

Extend my limits. If you can’t go through the front door, how about trying the side door? Think laterally and be resourceful. It can be very easy to shrink inside your shell where it is warm and cosy but do you really want to live the rest of your life at half-mast?

Rowena Violin

Violin Concert 2015.

Everyone needs a reason to live. A reason to get up in the morning. A reason to go through all the tedious bits and pieces in life when the going gets tough, boring or too painful to go on. It doesn’t matter what that reason is, but it helps you keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Find support. I’ve had considerable counselling over the years and that’s really helped. I had some training in mindfulness techniques, which I really struggled to take on board at the time but probably use more than I realise. I also went on a low-dose anti-depressant during a serious setback a few years ago and stayed on them. I am looking at re-visiting this in the next few months. I’ve been on so many other drugs that I let it be but they’ve come down significantly so it’s time for a review. My life is no longer hanging on by a thread.

Find a way of releasing your anger. I have written journal after journal burning off angst, deep sorrow, anger and anxiety throughout this journey and it’s really helped…both through venting and also being able to look back and see how far I’ve progressed.

Get out of your box. Sitting at home alone, it’s too easy to feel sorry for yourself and focus too much on how things how gone wrong for you. However, you only need to step outside your front door to realise that everyone has their lot…their blessings and their curse. You are not the only one. Even if you have a rare disease like me, there are still people in the same boat. For me, that’s either other parents battling health issues or others fighting different auto-immune diseases. I am far from being alone.

Most of us know if our glass is half-empty or half full. If you’re a pessimist, you’ll probably need to work harder to maintain your equilibrium. Write down something to be grateful for everyday…your What Went Well or WWW Book. Focus on that instead of the bad stuff.

Help someone else. Helping someone else has been shown to do wonders for your mood.

I have always seen dermatomyositis and a separate being, not “me” or even a part of myself. This means I haven’t internalised it. I am still myself.

Watch your language. Never call yourself a “sufferer”. I don’t have dermatomyositis. I am living with it. It might have moved into my body but it hasn’t taken over my soul.


Before I head off, I just wanted to address forgiveness when it’s someone you love who is living with a chronic illness or disability, which is a very different experience from being the person directly affected.

From my experience, it’s much harder for those around me to separate me from the disease. So, when I’m too tired to listen, be attentive, play, join in or can’t go bushwalking, go to the shops or invite friends over, they don’t usually see dermatomyositis. It’s more a case of Mummy being asleep again. Mummy can’t be bothered or…Mummy doesn’t love me.

After all, while I might have an over-abundance of words, don’t we all know actions speak louder than words?!

So, I also have to forgive what can be a lack of understanding and compassion by those who I love the most at times. Deal with their anger and disappointment that Mummy is somewhat broken and there’s a gap between the concept of what a mother should be and reality. As my health goes up and down quite significantly, this can also be the contrast between “Well Mummy” and “Sick Mummy”. They don’t need to look any further afield to know what they’re missing out on.

When my kids are angry about things and playing up, they’re actually needing more love, not less and it’s not the time for me to retreat, which goes against any concept of self-preservation. However, that’s what it means to be a parent. Somehow, you need to be thick-skinned and thin-skinned all at the same time. However, who is immune to being hurt, especially by those you love the most?

This all brings me to this point. It doesn’t matter who or what is hurting you, you need to forgive and quite often this forgiveness is all about the little things. Overcoming the everyday. It’s less about that big one-off apology. It’s a daily thing. Just like breathing, eating, thinking, we forgive.

This post is part to the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. Please check out the link  to have your mind truly blown away by such personal journeys of grappling with forgiveness. Each month writers come together to post on compassion often within a theme. This month’s theme is forgiveness. 

xx Rowena

73 thoughts on “Forgiving the Unforgivable.

  1. fizzstah

    I have polymyositis (same as dermotomyositis but without my skin being affected) You shared a very powerful message and I appreciate it thank you x

  2. roweeee Post author

    Thank you so much for getting in touch. We’re part of the same, very small family. How are you going? I’ll pop over and visit your blog. Best wishes, Rowena

  3. roweeee Post author

    Thanks very much, Deborah. Wasn’t a phrase I came up with but I first heard it over 20 years ago and it’s resonated more to me as time’s gone on.
    Sorry it has taken me so long to reply. I have a bit of technical difficulty with accessing some of my comments in WordPress.
    xx Rowena

  4. roweeee Post author

    Thanks very much, Luccia. The idea of the WWW Book came from my daughter’s teacher a few years ago. The kids had to fill it in everyday and could write whatever they liked. The got lazy and some of them only wrote one word but hopefully it sowed a seed. Well, it’s certainly encouraged me and I do sort of do it and now I’ve passed it on so the word has spread.
    Hope you’re having a great week.
    xx Rowena

  5. roweeee Post author

    When you have adversity on multiple fronts, it really does overload most people’s coping mechanisms and breaks down their sense of there being a fair and just world. Why has this happened? Who is to blame? It’s natural to want to blame someone. Have a a reason. I guess for me, when I am able to share my story and help someone else, it doesn’t make it worthwhile but it does provide meaning and a sense of purpose.
    From what you’ve said, your brother had a form of muscular dystrophy. My auto-immune disease attacks my muscles and I am a member of our local Muscular dystrophy group. I’m not sure if you are wanting a family of your own but I know families who are going through IVF and doing genetic testing to have a child who isn’t affected. This can present some ethical challenges but those options are available these days.
    As much as you need to look after the girls and be there for them, it is also important to have some time for you and something that you enjoy. I’m gathering that blogging and writing is filling this role for you as it does for me.
    Take care & God Bless,

  6. Minuscule Moments

    Rowena You are stronger than most. I am inspired by your will to live in the moment. Creating art, music and a nurturing family life for your gorgeous kids. Lately I have been doing a meditation in the morning and my very first thought for the day is I am still here and I give thanks. We humans go through life thinking are are owed a living. There are no guarantees and so I walk with you, inspired by your zest for life and cheer you onwards. I can’t imagine the challenges you face on top of the usual daily life struggles that we all face. Follow your writing dreams, you will get there.

  7. roweeee Post author

    Thank you so much. You are so encouraging! I know you also have your issues and are doing an amazing job there. Not that its a job but you know what I mean. I posted more of a rant style poem today. I went to the dentist on Tuesday and these train trips really whet my creative juices.
    I am definitely thinking that acceptance is more of a ongoing wrestling match. That’s where your meditation is a great thing and I do that walking at the beach but I’ve been quite tired this week.
    I have read two books I think you’d love.
    One is for adults and is Max Porter: “Grief is the Thing with Feathers On”. It’s a very poetic book where the Crow from Ted Hughes (Sylvia Plath’s husband) comes to help a family heal after the wife/Mum dies. It’s not all that long and so poetic. I’ll be writing a review but I LOVED it!!
    The other book is a kid’s book but really spoke to me. “What Do You Do With AN Idea?” by Kobi Yamada & Illustrated by Mae Besom. It won a Gold Award through the Independent Book Publishers. I bought it from a beautiful little shop next door to my dentist in Kirribilli under the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It has fantastic clothes and jewellery and a few kids toys and books etc. I love it. Great book for all ages but when I got it home it was $39.00. Ouch. Must check price tags in future but I know I’ll be re-reading t his one to keep me inspired xx Ro

  8. Minuscule Moments

    The books sound great and sometimes we have to not worry about the price. I collect kids picture books which inspire me to create. The first one sound especially like something I would read thanks Rowena have a great week. I am suffering with a cold or a bad sinus infection. My body is trying to tell me to slow down for a day or too.

  9. roweeee Post author

    Hope you feel better soon, Kath. Have you ever tried olive leaf extract? It’s incredibly high in anti-oxidants. When I’m behaving myself, I try to take it all Winter. It’s great stuff but can also be a little hard on my stomach but worth it.
    Took my daughter to see Matilda yesterday. I have a companion card and so we only had to pay for my ticket. That didn’t stop the entire day becoming hideously expensive. It was one of those days where it’s like a snowball rolling down hill getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Bread and milk for the rest of the week! This was a deferred holiday treat. I am like Cinderella today. Totally pooped. of course, it was all worth it! Absolutely! Hope you all had a great weekend!
    xx Rowena

  10. The Sock Mistress

    Thank you for sharing your story. Far too many struggle daily with conditions that can be overlooked to an outsider and reminds me I need to be patient and kind to everyone. Who knows what is going on that cannot be seen.

  11. roweeee Post author

    Thank you very much. What you say is so true. I have friends who have lost children and couldn’t have any more and to all intensive purposes, you could assume they’ve opted for career instead of family without ever suspecting their heartache. You never know.
    xx Rowena

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  13. foreverpollyanna

    Enjoyed reading this, especially where you said you view your disease as a separate being and don’t internalise it. I too have the same “sleeping giant” although its not so asleep as I would like it to be yet. I was diagnosed with Dermatomyositis and Anti-Synthetase Syndrome last year. Nice to read someone else’s story with it, I hope you are keeping well

  14. Rowena Post author

    Thanks for popping round and it’s really great to meet you. I’ve had DM now for 10 years and it’s been a grueling battle at times and I think I’m the best I’ve ever been at the moment. It’s taken a lot of jiggling to get my medication right. I am currently on 7.5mg prednisone and cellcept. I had infusions of IVIG for 5 years and then it stopped working. I had chemo using cyclophosphamide 2 years ago and have been okay since then. The ILD is contained but I have 60% lung capacity at my best.
    I would love to keep in touch.
    Take care & best wishes,

  15. Carol Balawyder

    Rowena, I should have read this post before the Opera House one – great explanation of your disease, its symptoms and your great attitude towards it. I find your advice to be universal. As I went along reading it I thought that it would make a great TEDTalk. Keep well! xxx

  16. Rowena Post author

    Thanks for that encouragement Car9ol. I’ll look into that. I do think it’s a message that needs to get out there to help people deal better with adversity in whatever shape or form. Take care xx Ro

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  18. RahulYuvi

    wow ! Just went through this post ..Rowena you are one of the bravest human beings I have come across who just refuse to be pitted on , who refuse to be called a victim and rather lead a very brave , dignified and inspirational life ..Hats off and Salute to your Zeal..I really want to reblog this one, provided you allow me to..

  19. RahulYuvi

    Wow. Just went through this post .Rowena you are one of the bravest human beings I have come across who just refuse to be pitted on , who refuse to be called a victim and rather lead a very brave , dignified and inspirational life.Hats off and Salute to your Zeal.I really want to reblog this one, provided you allow me to.

  20. Rowena Post author

    Thank you so much, Rahu. I’d love you to reblog this, as it could help someone else just like your post helped me. Would it be okay for me to reblog yours as well please?
    After reading your post, my son reminded me of the strange bumps he has on his skin which look a bit like raw chicken skin. I did a Google search and there is such a disease: Keratosis pilaris causes numerous small, rough, tan or red little skin conditions around hair follicles on the upper arms, thighs, buttocks, and cheeks. Keratosis pilaris creates the appearance of gooseflesh, goose bumps, or chicken skin.
    Not sure whether he has thin or just eczema. He’s gone away on a camp atm so I’ll folow it up when he gets back. My uncle is a dermatologist.
    Further to your comments, it is hard for anyone with a life-long chronic condition to know quite how to proceed. There is that balance between needing help and being independent;acknowledging and accepting your limitations while also trying to stretch beyond everything you believe is possible or even plausible; trying to dream without falling into despair.
    The dermatomyositis is a tricky disease. It causes muscle weakness, especially during flare ups, but I generally see myself as a person with a small engine and fuel tank. I can do things. I just can’t always get too far. The disease a combination of rest and exercise. My kids, bless their souls, often extend me physically beyond exhaustion, but this repeated physical exercise is keeping me mobile, fit and in a better condition to fight off the chest infections, which are my greatest threat. I also want my children to have their Mum. Whether I can walk or not isn’t the thing. I can get so exhausted that I need a lot of rest.
    Being a victim undermines all of that. It disempowers you, by handing the reins of your life over to someone else. Moreover, instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you need to ask yourself: what can I actually do to make this situation the best it can be? We also need to consider what we can do to make it worse. So often, we are our own worse enemies. I am also guilty of this.
    I’ve had to give myself a huge kick in the backside this week. The cough was really bad and very scary and it was getting me down. I am on something like my 5th lot of antibiotics and it’s still not shifting. I even decided to call the cough Fergus.
    Anyway, I realized I could be doing more to fight it and had a fruit and yogurt smoothie today. Try to boost my vitamins etc. I also got some sunshine today and out walking. Hopefully it helps.
    It’s important to keep fighting for the life we want, even when we feel we are sinking and it is slipping away. Somehow, we need to stay on top of that, and have people around us who can help us back up without taking our journey for us.
    Anyway, I need to get to sleep.
    Goodnight and best wishes from Australia.

  21. RahulYuvi

    I will surely reblog your post and please feel free to reblog if you find my post worth sharing ..besides,I just to say, stop thinking so much and please
    stop reading about diseases/symptoms in internet as that is absolutely of no use other than creating unnecessary anxieties..Whatever has to happen will anyway happen..Whenever you feel victimised or helpless ,just think, there are many with even worse medical condition who don’t even have resources to get themselves diagnosed..At least you are in better condition than that..Death is any ways fixed,sooner or later everyone has to go..lets be grateful to god for whatever time we are here and whatever we have !

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