Tag Archives: Norman Doidge

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

 

 

 

 

 

Almost Heaven: Sydney Writers’ Festival 2015

When the Sydney Writers’ Festival comes round each year, I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven. I’m like a starving dog salivating through a butcher shop window, yearning for that door to open.

Not only am I desperately hanging out to get into my booked sessions but I also want to soak up the incredible ambiance. The weather has been miserabnle before but today the surprisingly warm Autumn sunlight twinkles across the waters of Sydney Harbour as the Bridge seemingly peers over your shoulder. Yet, the view isn’t just about the landscape. It’s also about watching the crowds mill past and watching people deep in thought or discussion and wondering why each and every one of them are there. Are they all like me desperately hoping to hit the big time? Anyway, I soon spy Gleebooks and the four letter word I can never resist: SALE and my Santa’s sack fill to the brim is left behind the desk for later. It’s better than the Royal Easter Show.

Out on the town.

Out on the town.

Yes, indeed, like a scruffy little rabbit-chasing black dog rolling in a fresh cowpat until the stench has well and truly infiltrated the fur follicles (nameless, of course!!), I could roll in the Sydney Writers’ Festival until it was well and truly absorbed by each and every cell. I was definitely in my element.

It is easy to go a bit crazy at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in the same way people literally go mad at the Boxing Day sales. You’ve been waiting so long to get back especially if you, like me, have been counting down the days ever since the last one. Yes, indeed. I live from festival to festival. It is Mummy’s “Great Hurrah” every year when I run away from home and responsibility, flaunting my writer’s cap. Most other years, I’ve stayed in Sydney overnight although this year, I’m here for the day.

This year my programme looked like this:

1.30 Roger Woodward Concert Pianist with his autobiography: Beyond Black & White

3.00 Claire Tomalin: On Charles Dickens the Inimitable

6.30 Norman Doidge: The Brain’s Way of Healing

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Talking with Dr Noman Doidge who has put neuroplasticity on the map.

Although I was looking forward to each of the three sessions for different reasons, my focus was on the session with Norman Doidge. Actually, focus is quite the understatement. I was like a crazed fan trying to invade the Beatles’ hotel during their 1964 Australian Tour. I not only wanted to thank him for how much his books have changed my life but I also wanted to tell him how learning the violin had accidentally rewired my brain and that much of the process of learning the violin mimicked the ideas of Feldenkreis (These are ideas presented in his second book along with case studies)…..as did learning to ski. Indeed, learning the violin has rewired my “noisy brain” and enabled me to enjoy listening to music and even listen to the others in my vilin ensemble to pick my cue. This is a huge improvement.

Although playing the violin and learning to ski might appear very different on the surface, both involved that slow, conscious movement and intense repetition to improve. That is, at least the way I was learning them with my swag of physical disabilities or “issues”. This is what’s required to maximise rewiring the brain.

I managed to listen to Norman Doidge again today on Radio 702 with Richard Fidler and this really helped to cement in the concepts as Filder really probed the depths of his responses.

You see, while it’s all very well to have nitty gritty scientific discussions, what people really want to hear is: “What can this do for me or my loved one who is “blocked” in some way or another? How can you make it better? What can I do?

Meatloaf

 

After all, rewinding back to my darkest hours, I was moping round the house singing Meatloaf’s epic song: Anything For Love http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X_ViIPA-Gc. I meant it too. I was prepared to do anything at that point to snatch back any time with my kids that I could. I even went off chocolate and cut back sugar for a few months, which was a huge achievement for me!!

However, how does an unknown contact a guru, even when they have a riveting story which shouts their findings from the mountain top?

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Autumn Leaves at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Winter is almost upon us.

Sadly, it just doesn’t happen. Tried reaching him via the festival beforehand and no success. Stood up in the queue with my walking stick and foot in boot to ask a question and I could barely stand up and they ran out of time. I guess I’ll have to get cracking with my own story.

By the way, I didn’t think about this at the time but just think of the neuroplastic implications of perpetual whinging?!! Yikes! It makes me shudder!!

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Portrait of Roger Woodward by portrait by Boris Eldagsen http://www.rogerwoodward.com

 

Anyway, rewinding to my session with Roger Woodward, concert pianist http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Woodward

You might recall that my grandmother, Eunice Gardiner, was an accomplished International concert pianist who’d not only attended the Royal Academy of Music in London but was appointed one of a handful of Fellows. Eunice taught at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music when Roger Woodward was a student and although I’d never met Roger Woodward, it seemed like he was something like a long lost member of the family. Not our family but my grandmother’s family of pianists. I met quite a few of her protege’s over the years and she had an affinity with them I could never even try to grasp. They were birds of a very exceptional feather and by nature, an exclusive club. The rest of us mere mortals simply didn’t get it. My mother had originally been in that family and had met my father at a soiree at my grandparents Lindfield home featuring pianist Gerard Willems and also attended by Australian authors Ruth Park and husband D’Arcy Niland. I’m not sure if Roger Woodward was there that night but until recently I’d thought he’d played that night and so he was very much enmeshed in my personal history.

While Woodward spoke about his time at the Sydney Conservatorium and took me into my grandmother’s world, what really gripped me from his talk was his belief in social justice and the need to take a stand. That as creatives we can stick our head in the sand and ignore it or stand up and fight. In 1965, he moved to Poland where he became strongly associated with the Solidarność movement. He remarked that while a lot of artists stood on the fence, in Australia, you stood up for your mates. He said: “I don’t feel comfortable sitting back as a human being and saying: “That’s not my business. Stand up for human rights. Australianness is standing up against a bully.”

On a lighter note, I must say that Woodward is the consumate performer. Not just at the piano but also in the way he delivered story after story and you were transported back in time into his shoes. You could sense each and every emotion as you sat riveted on the edge of your seat  I hadn’t expected that. Although I grew up with the classical music scene all around me, I was very much a foreigner….an alien so I was really pleasantly surprised to enjoy his session so much.

By the way, I just have to mention that he was waering these striking maroon and navy striped socks.To be they displayed a character, personality. Not quite sure what else socks say about a person but I was wearing a pair of navy “Happy Socks” with different coloured circles all over them. Yes, they were colourful and quirky, reflecting just a little of who I am too.

Charles Dickens

Next, I was off to Claire Tomalin: On Charles Dickens the Inimitable. At this point, I was joined by my friend Clare, who was my appendage for the afternoon (I have a companion card). Although I’m somewhat interested in Dickins, I must confess that I’ve filed him under “should read” rather than “must read”. While I love performances of his works, I don’t read a lot of novels and prefer shorter and more contemporary works. That said, I have been researching our family history and Dickens writes about that period of history and he does it exceptionally well. This was the carrot enticing me to explore Dickens further.

If you have attended writers’ festivals yourself, you, like me try and organise your sessions around a can’t miss and then sandwich something else in to fill the gaps in between. This was how I ended up at this session exploring Dickens. After booking the tickets, however, a friend had heard Claire Tomalin interviewed about the book on radio and then I was sold. I even bought the book beforehand. Suddenly, crusty old Dickens which I’d struggled through at school, had been metamorphosed into a character himself. A character I was intrigued to explore not just as a writer but as a student of people.

Tomalin, who has written many biographies in her time, said: “the best way to get to know a writer, is to hear their own voice” and she read out a letter Dickens had written to his sister. However, there were two anecdotes which truly appealed to me. Firstly, she mentioned that Dickens wrote with a quill. That somebody could write so prolically with such awkward equipment, is beyond me. Just think was his output would have been if he’d had a computer! He’d have filled a library all by himself!! Secondly, she talked about how Dickens loved walking and by walking we’re not just talking about a stroll to the local shops. Indeed, he walked 20 miles a day. This struck me as a kind of therapy.

However, the Sydney Writers’ Festival isn’t complete with a bit of indulgence. Clare and I ended up dining out at a fabulous restaurant the Ash Street Cellar. It was a thorough great meal and such a thrill to be back  in the city. I felt like a real person again…myself. I used to work and live in the city many lifetimes ago and it’s still in my veins. That said, I do prefer the more relaxed beachside, family lifestyle these days. I prefer to just visit the smog these days.

The Sydney Writers’ festival continues and the Vivid light festival starts tonight , I believe. We saw a few glimpses of it last night but I’ve seemn it in previous years and it is spectacular.

Are you a writers’ festival junkie? Do tell!

xx Rowena

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A Cappucino and chocolate Mouse at the Ash St Cellar after gnocchi for dinner.