Tag Archives: mental health

Keep Breathing…Friday Fictioneers.

“All my life,” Melissa sighed to her therapist. “I’ve been peering through the keyhole too afraid to live.”

Phillippa was trying hard not to yawn. Dumping clients was hard. Never mentioned the “F” word.  It was all about “finding a better fit”.  Being a “therapy drop out” wasn’t good for their self-esteem.

“Anyway…”

Suddenly, Melissa became strangely animated, even possessed. “I finally attended a writer’s group this week and read one of my poems. Thought I was gunna die. Then, I heard you counting and this other voice saying: “Breathe, Melissa. Breathe. You can do it.”

“It was actually me.”

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. This week’s image was provided by © Shaktiki Sharma.

This week, I’ve spent a bit of time researching my grandmother who was a concert pianist and I’ve been thinking about that experience I had as a child of almost looking through the keyhole into her adult world. There was definitely a “them” and “us” policy and children should be not seen AND not heard. That suited us and we’d round up change for lollies from the adults and disappear with our stash.

Yet, there were those times I distinctly remember peering into this adult world and watching through that metaphorical keyhole. Nothing quite like being a spy!

By the way, I’d also encourage comments about when therapy doesn’t work and what that was like. Personally, I’m a lousy one for taking action but I’m currently working through that with my physio. Or, should I say, I’m “walking” it out.

Hope you’ve had a great week!

xx Rowena

 

 

That Christmas Black Rain Cloud.

“There is a little black rain cloud,
Hovering over my Christmas tree.
There is a little black rain cloud
paying too much attention to little me.”

Words adapted by Rowena Curtin  and sung to Winnie The Pooh – Little Black Rain Cloud.

Is it just me? Or, are you also feeling that despite all the joy, Christmas cheer, tinsel and flashing lights, there’s something not quite right with your “Ho! Ho! Ho!” That you’re struggling to squeeze into the spirit of Christmas and it doesn’t quite fit.

Not that I’m all dark, gloomy or in anyway Scrooge or Grinch-like. It’s just that sometimes, I can get really annoyed with Christmas. I don’t know whether there’s a term like “Christmas Rage”, or the “Christmas Depths”, and that’s before I even get to absent friends. Of course, no one likes an empty seat or any form of change at Christmas, even if it is only the discontinuation of Molly O’Rourke’s famous Irish Whisky Cakes 1945-2014 RIP.

Anyway, today I thought I’d just  run through a few of the dark shadows, which can jump out and bite us  at Christmas:

A Few Shadows of Christmas.

Christmas OCD

This describes that desperate pursuit of the perfect Christmas. It’s characterised by that uber-achieving Christmas newsletter, mowed lawns, dogs washed, groomed and teeth brushed; tree with matching decorations, colour-coordinated Christmas clothes. You get the drift.

CDOCD- Christmas Decoration OCD.

This relates to the meticulous selection and placement of Christmas decorations, particularly in the Christmas tree. Generally characterised by having a colour theme and having one decorator in charge, while the rest of the household spectates or evacuates to watch TV.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

No one likes an empty seat at Christmas.

SAD- Seasonal Affective Disorder.

This is where your mood is affected by the seasons. In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s due to the shortened hours of day length. In Australia, it’s caused by excessive sun baking, insufficient sunscreen leaving your skin redder than a Santa suit.

Failure

Christmas is a really difficult time of year to be unemployed, sick, homeless, dumped or even just being your little old self. Having to face family and friends when you’re feeling like @#$% can be the last straw. Been there. Done that. Sort of stuck in this gear and have now acclimatized, but would still love to be a Big Shot or at least get a book published. At this point, even A Little Golden Book would do.

Silent Night

Unfortunately, this relates to so much more than the Christmas carol. There’s the silence of not being able to find your CD of Christmas carols. Then there’s the silence of spending Christmas alone. Worse still, there are those broken relationships where the walls have become so high, that even the Spirit of Christmas can’t get through.

Stickytape-Itis

On a much lighter note, after finishing off my wrapping today, I’m adding Stickytape-Itis to the list.

Does stickytape-itis need any introductions or explanations? Of course not. We’ve all battled to find the stickytape, cellotape or whatever you might call that stuff which sticks to your fingers and just about everything else except the wrapping tape. Meanwhile, the end of the sticky tape goes missing and you’re going round and round in circles like a dog chasing its tail.

It’s enough to drive you crazy and could very well be that tipping point, which pushes a normally sane and sensible person over the edge of madness.

……

So having brought up all these issues, I guess you’re wanting me to come up with some preventative measures or kind of treatment. However, I’m sorry. I’m just the messenger and I have no psychological credentials whatsoever.

However, what I can suggest is letting all the expectations go…just like a helium balloon floating way across the sky until it’s out of sight. This might take a bit of practice, but you’ll soon find out that you won’t die if someone adds a green decoration to your purple and silver themed tree. That it’s not the end of the world when the dog eats your handmade Christmas Cake leaving you nothing but crumbs. That is doesn’t matter if you neither give nor receive Christmas Cards, presents, pudding whatever. I am thankful that God sent us Jesus at Christmas time and I am also mindful that we can’t take the ones we love for granted. That while it might be hard to focus on each other every single day, that we can at least be more conscious of family and friends at Christmas and truly savour the people who mean the world to us.

Life is too short to let anything get in the way of that.

We but not only carpe diem seize the day but also make the most of each other.

Love & Blessings for Christmas and the New Year,

Rowena

PS When it comes to dealing with little black rain clouds, especially ones hanging over our special moments like Christmas, perhaps we should simply borrow cupid’s bow and arrow and shoot the darned thing down. One pop…and it’s gone!

 

The Secret- Short Story

“There are no secrets in Balmain.” – Dorothy Mullins.

  1. Sunrise, Balmain… July 21, 1903.

 

 “Singing Tooral liooral liaddity.

Singing Tooral liooral liay.

Singing Tooral liooral liaddity.

And we’re bound for Botany Bay.”

 

Setting off in their fishing boat, Dadda was the Captain and Maggie was 1st Mate.

“Fishy!” Maggie squealed, as Dadda helped her reel in her fish. “Bweckfsst!”

2.

That’s all Margaret remembered about before.

A book with no beginning, Margaret had been adopted as a tot and her story now began at Chapter Three. All the previous chapters had been ripped out. Thrown away. She wanted them back. Not that she and her sister didn’t love their second family. But you are who you are, and then you’re not. Sometimes, Margaret wondered if finding out would turn her into someone else. Or, whether she was more than a just a name.

Years ago, Margaret had consulted the tea leaves .Yet, as she peered into the tea cup, there was nothing… only the scream. She had lived with the scream all her life, never knowing why.

Now in her late 60’s, the beginning didn’t matter anymore. She was “Grandma”.

 

3.

Moon Landing, Balmain…Monday July 21, 1969, Sydney Time.

As the neighbours crammed into their sardine tin of a terrace, everybody knew Bob’s brand new telly had fallen off the back of a truck. No one cared. Man was landing on the moon. There was barely breathing room left!

Grandma was knitting footy socks in the front row. 1969 would be a good year for the Balmain Tigers. She felt it in her bones.

“Robbie, Tom, Arty, Jack…these should fit Paddy,” she mumbled.

Knit one, pearl one but then Grandma dropped a stitch… and another.

More than her knitting was unravelling. Mary Mullins’ perfume had unwittingly unlocked a secret inner labyrinth, and the Minotaur was out. The room was spinning round and round like a record on acid and Margaret felt incredibly dizzy. Being sucked into this swirling vortex, she reached out a frail, desperate hand. Bob steadied her back in her seat.

“Lottie, tell Mum Gran’s had another turn,” Bob yelled. Even if his mother-in-law dropped dead in front of the telly, he wasn’t budging. He had the best seat in the house.

Lottie found her mother bailed up in the kitchen, making curried eggs and cups of tea.

“Dot, I can’t watch! They’re gunna die!” her cousin wailed, who clearly hadn’t read The Power of Positive Thinking.

“Mum, Gran’s had another turn.”

“Mother Mary!” Dot gasped, crossing herself. “Grant me peace!”

Dot’s blood pressure hit the roof. She ripped open the Bex and made one for Mum and one for herself.

Bex might be a universal panacea, but they knew Grandma had more than a headache. That she was on the blink like a broken telly. At times, she didn’t know who or where she was, retreating inside watching her own, private movie. How long would it take? Dot’s eyes welled up, as she pictured spoon-feeding her mother like a baby.

“How’s your Mum, luv?” a neighbour asked. “Saw she had another turn. Have you taken her to the quack? Don’t mean to pry but don’t you think it’s time?”

“There’s no way I’m sending my own mother to the asylum. She’s just under the weather. That’s all. She’ll be right.”

“None of her business,” Dot muttered.“We’ll get by. We always do.”

After all, they were Balmain born and bred… tough as old workman’s boots, and never gave up!

Dot’s sister turned up with the kids.

“Gran’s got purple hair!” The cousins all burst into hysterics.

Engulfed by the intensifying vortex, Margaret had arrived home with a new “do”. New hair always helped, although she wasn’t too sure about this purple halo, which seemingly glowed in the dark.

Like an apparition, a sketchy white figure appeared through the fuzz, bouncing along like a kangaroo. “The Eagle has landed…That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind “

The room erupted with applause until Robbie’s home-made detergent bottle rocket missed the moon, smashing through the back window, hitting Grandma on the head.

“Robert Joseph Augustus Mullins!!!! Go to your room!”

Robbie bolted off to save his hide.

Meanwhile, Grandma wandered out the front door heading for Darling Street. An old lady slipped out behind her. Lottie had seen her before at Mass.

“Mummy! Mummy! Grandma’s…” Lottie shrieked.

“Not now, Lottie,” Dot snapped. “Grandma can wait!”

Yet, before she even stood up, a pamphlet slapped her in the face:

“Save our Sons…The government has failed to convince Australians that Vietnam is truly a war in which young lives must be sacrificed. That is why it relies on unjust conscription law which forces young men into the army against their moral convictions.”

“Dotty, you’ve got five boys. You’ve gotta sign up. This war’s the devil’s work!” Her sister insisted. Bernadette had married well and moved up to Wahroonga. They even had their own swimming pool.

“Mrs Mullins, don’t listen to that pack of hysterical mothers with nothing better to do,” groaned a bloke in a suit. “Without the Yanks, the reds will move in. We’ll all be speaking Russian.”

Dot was saved by a knock at the door, although the front door was wide open and the flotsam and jetsam were letting themselves in and out.

“Quick! It’s the coppers”.

They all knew Constable Baker. He was a local lad, but he still meant trouble.

“The telly!” Bob panicked. “Fell off the back of a truck…Struth! Should’ve known. This time, it’s the slammer!”

Bob had been charged with receiving stolen goods before.

Meanwhile, the toilet flushed…just in time.

“Mrs Mullins, your mother’s down at the wharf again. You’d better come.”

“See, Mum,” Lottie snapped. “Tried to tell you Gran had wandered off.”

Riddled with guilt, Dot grabbed her purse.

As usual, Bernadette was “busy”.

4.

The pressure was building. Hauling herself into a dinghy, Margaret thought she was fishing with Dadda again. Yet, the voices were still yelling and screaming with violent horror. Margaret could no longer block them out.

 

“Brownie! Gotcha Brownie!” Her father threatened, holding a razor to her mother’s throat.

“Stop, Jack! It’s me…Florrie!”

Blood squirted like a fountain from her mother’s neck. Miraculously, Muvver ran down the hallway clutching Sadie.

Then, Maggie heard a thud, another scream and found Dadda also bleeding by the throat beside Muvver.

“Muvva! Muvva! Wake up, Muvva!” Maggie shrieked.

But Muvva was gone.

Maggie heaved Baby up all by herself. She was Muvver now.

“Ssh, Bubba. Sleepy-byes.”

Then, the lights went out.

5.

“Mum!” Dot called, holding her hand.  Margaret had taken off her coat and was holding it like a baby.

“We’ve called the ambulance, “Mrs Mullins.”They’ll be taking her to hospital,”

“But she’s my mother. She belongs at home,” Dot pleaded.

“Mum. It’s me, Dotty.”

There was no response. Margaret was rambling and her words were like autumn leaves scattered by the wind. All Dot heard was: “Uncle, Dadda did it.”

“Dadda, did what?” Dot gasped, but she already knew. “I’ll strangle the bastard.”

This was a demon no priest could exorcise. An unforgivable sin. No amount of Hail Marys could fix this. Dot fell to her knees.

“Your mother’s not losing her memory, dear. She’s getting it back.” Said the voice and Dot realised an old lady was holding her up.

Who was she? An angel? She seemed so familiar. Yet, Dot couldn’t place her. Those eyes! Finally, the penny dropped. The stranger had her mother’s eyes. Pedalling backwards through time, she’d almost arrived back at the beginning, crash landing in an eerie corridor overflowing with ghosts. Suddenly, she remembered the lady hugging her at her first Holy Communion.

“I’m Aunt Cissie…your mother’s aunt. Florrie was my sister.”

Dot shuddered. “Florrie…” even the name sounded like a ghost.

Words were inadequate. Aunt Cissie reached into her handbag, pulling out a well-worn newspaper clipping.

BALMAIN SENSATION.

SAD DOMESTIC TRAGEDY.

A TAILOR KILLS HIS WIFE.

AND ATTEMPTS SUICIDE.

A MOTHERLESS BABE.

EXCITEMENT IN DARLING-STREET.

The busy waterside suburb of Balmain was

thrown into a state of unusual excitement

this morning, by the news of one of the saddest

domestic tragedies imaginable, a tragedy

which was committed by a man of good re

pute, worried by business troubles into a

state of temporary insanity…[1]

“I’ll never forget her little voice: “Dadda hit Muvver”.

“Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of Florrie and the girls. My poor Ma, bless her, went to her grave a broken woman. As much as we loved the girls, we had to set them free.”

Dot held her hand tight just to make sure she was real. That she wasn’t an angel.

Aunty and Dot climbed into the boat beside Margaret.

Finally, they were all in the same boat together.

 

Balmain’s secret was out.

 

[1] The Australian Star (Sydney, NSW : 1887 – 1909) Friday 24 July 1903 p 5 Article

This is the short story I submitted for the Central Coast Short Story Competition. I have identified some changes I’m going to make but I wanted to post the original and would appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

Many thanks!

xx Rowena

 

 

Homeless.

A first-hand insight into homeless, which everyone should read. It could be you. It could be me.

https://carrotranch.com/2016/08/25/august-24-flash-fiction-challenge/

xx Rowena

Carrot Ranch Communications

August 24Hot sun heats the metal beyond touching comfortably. The playground equipment squats at the mouth of a giant coulee, as if poised to be devoured. No children run across the taupe grit where soap suds lap at the water’s edge. Soap Lake gets its name from those minerailzed suds, and a few adults wade out into its tepid waters. What do they hope to be healed of?

The town of Soap Lake is as gritty as the sand. Houses built of black basalt are void of green lawns. Small businesses based on an alternative healing niche line a short main street. A few resorts boast of healing waters piped to rooms. Locals 30 miles away in Moses Lake warn me of biting red bugs in the water and tweakers in the desert.

It looks as inhospitable as a homeless shelter must feel to a child.

That we even have homeless…

View original post 2,209 more words

H: Q & A With Hemingway #atozchallenge.

So, there we were down on the beach with the opportunity of a life time. I could actually ask Hemingway THAT question!

However, do you think I could find the words? I had enough trouble writing a letter to Ted Hughes and I pretty much sidestepped all of that. Although Hemingway is known for his trademark, minimalist style, does that mean I can simply ask him straight out, at point blank range?

Well, I’m about to find out.

Using a permanent marker, I wrote the letters  on the back of an old receipt:

WHY?

Before I could change my mind, I stuffed the note into the bottle and my son threw it far beyond the waves. Of course, some crazed mutt sploshed through the surf trying to retrieve it but gave up once they’d found their old stick.

I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait for a reply and to be perfectly honest, was rather apprehensive. Who in their right mind would have the insensitivity to ask a question like that? So much for the Golden Rule and putting myself in someone else’s shoes. I’d let my insatiable curiosity totally overpower all discernment. Why couldn’t I simply leave the man in peace?

However, almost immediately, I spotted the bottle floating back through the waves towards us. Despite being fully dressed, the kids strode out through the water to retrieve it. Battling it out, of course, to see who  could get there first. Without any hesitation or directions from me, our daughter popped the cork and pulled out the note:

Dear Rowena,

Please don’t let my death

define my life.

-Hemingway.

A very valid point! Indeed, so wise!

I really loved The Old Man & The Sea and I no longer needed to read in between the lines.

He just was.

ernest-hemingway-with-typewriter

This has been part of a philosophical series of letters to Dead Poets who have inspired me, which is part of the April A-Z Blogging Challenge. They are a cocktail of fiction and non-fiction.

xx Rowena

 

The Dog At the Library…Flash Fiction

“Is that your dog?” the woman gushed. Rufus had worked his magic, drawing the stranger into his swirling vortex of feverish anxiety. He was constantly recruiting strangers as therapists.

“I’m so sorry! I was just dropping off a library book. Can’t leave him alone for five minutes. Separation anxiety.”

Howling and running around in circles, Rufus was wrapped around the pole, almost strangling himself.

Yet, Rufus was a survivor. It’s not often that an Old English Sheepdog ends up at the pound.

Rufus at pound

Rufus at the pound.

Then again, I’d never heard of one called “Loopy” before.

That’s why we called him Rufus.

The Boys 2

Rufus with our original Border Collie, Zorro.

March 2, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a library. You can honor the libraries in your own experience, dream about libraries of the future or explore a community without one. Bonus points for discovering something you didn’t know your library offered.

……………..

This flash was based on our Old English Sheepdog, Rufus, who has subsequently crossed over the rainbow bridge.

Not long after we got married and moved into our own place, Geoff and I brought Zorro, a pure-bred Border Collie, home from the pound. This was before we had kids and as newlyweds, Zorro became our surrogate child. I was working 3 days a week as well as renovating our house: painting rooms, making curtains and completely overhauling the garden. Just like a much loved only child, Zorro went everywhere with us. Moreover, just like so many parents, we loved our one dog soooo much, we thought about getting another…No. 2…a friend for Zorro…a sibling!

Sound familiar?

I had already been reading the dog ads in the local paper like a desperado glued to the personals. That was how I found out about the Old English Sheepdog at the pound…Loopy.

Thrilled, I dragged Geoff up there at break neck speed before we missed out. I’d never thought about owning my own Old English Sheepdog They’re so cute!!!

Anyway, when we arrived at the pound, things with this Old English Sheepdog weren’t so good. He had severe eczema, was severely underweight and malnourished and had just been returned to the RSPCA for chasing cats. The dog was also called Loopy, which I thought was a bit inappropriate for an Old English Sheepdog. So, that name should have set off alarm bells as well. Loopy was loopy and changing his name was never going to stop that.

Obviously, this was no glowing report card and although some alarm bells went off, all I remember hearing was: “POTENTIAL”. Just sort out his skin, fatten him up and we’d have a great dog. If you have ever been duped by the words “renovator’s dream”, then you’ll know exactly what I mean.

We went home to think about it. Went back with Zorro and they got on alright and we arrived home with Rufus, the re-badged Loopy, in tow.

The next day when I went to work, we left Rufus on a running lead. Much to my horror, when I arrived home, Rufus was all but choking. He’d been walking round and round in circles and the clip had gotten caught up in his fur and he couldn’t move at all. I virtually had to perform surgery to cut him loose. Indeed, he was lucky he didn’t strangle himself.

This was just the beginning of his loopiness, or running round in circles so stressed that he looked possessed. Thunder storms were hell. We’d lock him in the house to keep him safe and then he’d run round and round our kitchen table in circles frothing at the mouth with his heart almost pounding out of his chest. We’d try to get him to sit and lie down and perhaps we should’ve looked into medication but I didn’t really think about medicating pets back then.

We knew absolutely nothing about rescue dogs. Indeed, we had not been warned that he had some really deep-seated issues and may not be suited to family life. That he wasn’t just a dog looking for a new home but was a rescue dog in the true sense of the word needing a lot of work, training and patience. We were about to start a family and in retrospect, getting a second dog wasn’t a bright idea in the first place. Then, I also developed my health/disability issues just to complicate matters further.

I know this has become “dobbing on Rufus day” but his emotional issues were just the tip of quite a deep ice berg. He’d jump up onto the kitchen bench stealing food, swallowing it plastic bag and all, no doubt doing dreadful damage to his stomach. Also, because his jaw didn’t quite meet, he’d end up slobbering and then shake his head and goop would fly across the room, splatting on the wall. Charming!! He also tried biting Geoff a few times…not good!

The two dogs accommodated each other better than Bilbo and Lady did at first. However, I couldn’t help feeling that Zorro was thinking: “What the heck have you done?” They were like the original Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple. Zorro was always neat and he almost looked like he was in a three-piece suit with his black and white fur. Rufus was a scruffy, dribbling rogue anarchist. Even at the beach, he took off after a sea gull and ran a couple of kilometres away in seconds. He seemed totally beyond management.

We are not dog rescue types and we had two kids during that time. It definitely wasn’t an easy time and I was also coming down with a debilitating Auto-Immune disease which was eating away my muscles.Under such grueling circumstances, why did we battle on with such a challenging dog when we could have walked away? Sent him back.

I don’t know. Being an eternal optimist, perhaps I kept hoping our efforts would work. Also, once we’d brought Rufus home and made him part of our family, we couldn’t send him back. That it didn’t matter whether a family member was human or canine. We couldn’t give up on him. Throw him out. After all, given his issues, it would be difficult for the RSPCA to re-home him. I couldn’t just lead him to the slaughterhouse.

Perhaps, if we’d known a suitable home for him, it would’ve been different but I certainly didn’t want to be him killed. We loved him. Perhaps not warts and all but despite all his issues, he was a fabulous dog!!

He was an extremely loving, affectionate dog with an exuberance and enthusiasm matching his anxiety…a tension between yin and yang.

DSC_0027

Mister & Rufus

The children adored Rufus and would climb all over him like a horse. He was beautiful with them..even when they pulled his fur.

DSC_0023

Who wouldn’t love Rufus?!! He was adorable!

He also had huge chocolate brown eyes and would look at you with such love and adoration. You were his world and you could throw your arms around him and he was so hugable.

We loved Rufus.

Then, one morning, we woke up and Rufus was lying on the back deck. He didn’t move. Didn’t respond when I called him. Rufus had passed away, crossing over the rainbow bridge.

A few days later, we welcomed Bilbo into our family. Being a pup, he was obviously much smaller than Rufus and our 2 year old son was quite upset. Wanted a big dog.

Bilbo grew up.

By the way, we have subsequently adopted Lady as a two year old dog. That adoption has gone really well.

What we have probably learned from our experience with Rufus is the importance of carefully matching dogs and humans. Not everyone is positioned to take on a rescue dog and people who are buying puppies also need to make sure they can handle the adult dog. Dogs really love their humans and it’s not fair to keep re-homing them. They’re a lifelong commitment.

Inevitably, thinking about how to respond to troubled or “broken” dogs, raises the whole question of people. If we send a dog back to the pound due to mental health and behavioural issues, what is that saying about people experiencing these challenges. That’s been front of mind while I’ve been writing this. This is, of course, a very complex issue but I have to believe that while love alone may not be enough to pull someone through, it certainly goes a long way. Yet, loving someone who is struggling, isn’t always easy or straightforward but we have to persevere. We also have to have faith and believe in ourselves as we struggle as well. Life and people are incredibly complex and diverse. Not something you can neatly sum up in a few words.

Somehow, my 99 word flash fiction has expanded into a psychological journey. One which I need to shut down at this point so I can get to bed.

Have you ever had a struggling rescue pet and how did it go?

xx Rowena

 

Wrestling With Adversity.

As much as I appreciate inspirational encouragement, it can also be more than a bit annoying and downright depressing when you’re dealing with a situation which isn’t going to change. When no amount of positive thinking is going to turn back the clock and undo what has happened.

“I can do anything? Hello!!!!! Who are you trying to kid? I know I’m never going to Climb Everest and I’d be lucky to climb up those stairs so don’t give me that !@#$!!”

There are some things that no amount of motivational hype are ever going to change. These take you down a very different path where you’re living or more likely, wrestling, with adversity. You’re neither winning nor losing but the two of you are engaged in an incredibly heated battle. It’s such an intense, close fight where it takes everything you’ve got just to stay put. Nobody has any idea how this battle is going to play out. Who is going to win and who is going to lose. It’s neck and neck.

This is what I call wrestling with adversity. While it is possible to overcome your struggles and setbacks, that’s not to say that it’s easy or a one way journey. It’s more a case of wresting back and forwards with your opponent. However, through this process you not only become a stronger and more strategic fighter, you also come to appreciate who or what you’re fighting for. What is most important to you and how to embrace and hang on to that despite your adverse situation.

So, ironically, that thing which all but kills us, also ultimately I believe, helps us appreciate life more in the longer run. Faced with losing our life, we see things so clearly, almost illuminated, and we know what matters. Maybe, I shouldn’t talk in the plural here and only speak for myself but read books like Tuesdays With Morrie, it soon becomes apparent that I’m not the only one who sees things this way.

So, when it comes to adversity, you end up with something of a double-edged sword. The very same thing which cuts you down and almost destroys you, seemingly slices off the dead wood and helps you live life more fully. I wouldn’t go so far as saying we’re better for our struggles because some losses are just too awful but there’s something powerful in it that we don’t always appreciate or understand.

I have been wrestling with my auto-immune disease again this week. Yet again, I was reminded about just how comprehensively this disease has moved in and taken over my body. Quite frankly, I was angry. Pissed off. Wanted to tell it to take a hike, which, of course, I can’t. I could’ve told it a hell of a lot more too. Instead, I poured that angst into my pen and carved my frustrations into the page. Catharsis…It’s such a wonderful thing. You feel so free once you’ve released all that toxic junk.

I wrote  this poem while I was on the train. It’s quite a long trip to my dentist, who is located in Kirribilli in the shadows on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and an ambitious stone’s throw from the Sydney Opera House.

Right from when I was first diagnosed, I viewed this illness as a possessive stalker. However, in this most recent poem, I pushed the analogy right over the edge describing a forced, violent marriage where there is no escape but then just as suddenly as he appears, he is gone without any explanation and no idea if or when he’s coming back.

You see, like other auto-immune diseases, dermatomyositis has flares and goes into remission and isn’t a constant. Indeed, is anything but. It’s like living on a shifting carpet and nothing is predictable.

This is true of so many medical and other issues we face. Just when we think they’re gone and problem solved, they’re back with a vengeance as if to remind us that no matter how far we run or how well we hide, there is no escape. They will be back.

However, no matter what we are going through and how unique our situation might be, we must remember that we are not alone. That while each of us has our own journey and some of us well and truly take the road not travelled, that there are overarching commonalities which bind us together. Once I realised I wasn’t alone, half of the battle was won…especially once I appreciated that just because bad things happen to us which aren’t going away, that we don’t always have to feel bad. Rather, we can still appreciate the good which survives alongside the bad and that it is just as much a matter of where we focus our gaze as what happens to us. It might be a cliche but it’s not just a matter of what happens to us but also how we respond. For one person a set back is perceived as a challenge but for someone else it’s the end of the world.

This has been a difficult place for me to reach.

I know what it’s like to fall straight down. Land in the mud and keep sinking and how hard it is to swim through that same mud, desperately trying to get back to the surface. I also know what it’s like to stop fighting and feel myself drowning but someone has always helped me get back to the top. That might be by physically bailing me out but most of the time, it was their love which saved me. Mostly, that’s been the love of my family and my friends but I’ve also been very deeply touched by the Love of A Stranger.

Perhaps, you’re still floundering around in that mud not knowing if or when you’re ever going to get out. If so, I’ll throw you a life buoy and encourage you to keep fighting. I have been there. Been cynical. Lived with a disease which stubbornly refused to give in to treatment and things weren’t looking good but 9 years since my diagnosis, I am not only still here, I am making the most of a different sort of life. Not what I’d planned but I love and am loved. While I’ve always had my writing and photography which are fantastic outlets for dealing with adversity, I now have this online blogging world I can access from home and I have become a citizen of the world.

Heart Hands red heart

If you are struggling, know that I hold your heart in my hand and wish you well. Please keep putting one foot in front of the other and even if you only change course by a few degrees, as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will indeed end up somewhere else. You will be in a different place.

I also encourage you to find out more about neuro-plasticity and how even changing what and how you think actually changes the very structure of your brain. This isn’t wishy-washy hype but actual science. Well-respected Canadian Psychiatrist Dr Norman Doidge addresses it in his two books: The Brain Which Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing.

Things may not be the same but please never, ever give up! Keep trying to find your way out.

Love & God Bless,

Rowena