Category Archives: mental health

What to write when you can’t write

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It’s almost impossible for me to sit down to write without first sifting through at least ten cliched topic ideas. The year in review, recent awful incidents domestic and abroad, how the summer holidays went, my increasing frustration at the unbridled gluttony of Christmas, resolutions for the new year, how good it is that my kids have grown up some. I could do a list, a top ten or a how to. Once I have sorted through all my crappy ideas, I then have to sit frozen for a period while I wrestle with the fear that I can’t write anything. The awfully romantic thing is that I wrote way easier and quicker and (I think) better when I was depressed and wanting to hurt myself. So now I have this worry that I’ve got nothing to say. After crippling self doubt comes the first few words, helped along by a nice lubricating glass of whatever it is at the moment. So then I worry that people will think I am too reliant on alcohol but I have already approached that unease and I prevailed. And then a few more words come, always in little spurts, a sentence at a time, scrutinised for repetition, banality and adages. You won’t believe how often I consult the dictionary and the thesaurus while composing a post. One thing I can’t stand when reading is obvious writer’s habits. A turn of phrase or way of expressing something that a writer uses over and over. So I am hyper vigilant to it in my own writing. Having said that I am in no doubt that most readers could find banality (!) and habits in my stuff.

Sometimes I end up with something I really like and think is good. Like this one. I really liked that one. Then most other stuff is simply OK. Maybe some of it is a bit boring to read, but I haven’t been game enough to publish something here that I think is truly crap. All writing wisdom says you have to just write, and write heaps of crappy stuff before you get to the good stuff. I think my blog is the writing equivalent of the girl who takes 200 selfies and posts only the one where her chin is just so, her eyes are open enough but not too much, and her hips turned just enough to make her look thin enough but not like she has too big of a butt. It’s a bit exhausting. I wonder if all the really cool bloggers I know and read have this problem. Or if their version of crap is my version of good. I’m sure they must at least occasionally write a bit of crap.

I wanted to finish with one of my original cliched ideas. Original cliche, see what I did there? A friend of mine recently wrote on Facebook in her Christmas wishes, I know for some of you today will be wonderful & for some it will be heartbreaking. We all get our turn at both in life. I thought that it was an expression of such lovely and true empathy. There has been a great deal of sparing of thoughts and thoughts going out to and thoughts and prayers being cast about in recent weeks. But my friend’s comment stayed with me right through the day, and the next several days. And I really did spare a thought. Lots of them. My thought sparing came with honest pain in my heart and a humble, joyful acknowledgement that all who were expected at my Christmas table were there. I always liked the idea that you could carry a bit of pain for someone at times when it was unbearable and make it (not less painful) just that tiny bit shared. So I hoped, in my thought sparing, that I did it at just the right time, for the many, many with an empty seat at the Christmas table.

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Alcohol and me

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It’s not a new year’s resolution. It is not a Dry January nor a detox nor a diet. It’s no post-40 turning of a new leaf. I simply need to know that I can. I have been drinking a glass or two of wine every day of my life for several years running. Mr 6 recently drew a picture of me with my female friends and we were all sitting around a table with glasses of wine. Clearly, it’s time to scale it back. My inner critic has been whispering furiously all this while. Am I…? Inspired in part by fear and in part by my brother-in-law who has had a month long medically induced alcohol ban and has lost 6 kg in the blink of an eye, I have set about a radical overhaul of my drinking habits. I absolutely love wine and wine loves me so I will not be going fully dry. Life is far too short and I’d become an insufferable bore. I’ve set myself two rules to follow until at least the 31st of January. Rule number 1: I can only drink at social events outside my house. Rule number two: I cannot drink two nights in a row. Given the critical blow that young children have inflicted upon my social life, I don’t think there’ll be much drinking.

We (mothers of the young) are the new face of alcoholism. We are the “Oblivion Drinkers” – mums who also work outside the home (or don’t) and self medicate with a glass or two of wine to help the stress of the day get sorted. Google mothers and alcohol and you’ll disappear into a worm hole of writings about how we’re all getting mildly or madly juiced up in the evening day after day and not noticing a habit creeping up on us. We pour with automaticity while chopping the carrots, with dinner and again once the little darlings are finally quiet, having fallen into sleep at last. We sigh and collapse, we deserve this. I could be the poster girl for a generation of Sauv Blanc Mums.

I don’t have a drinking problem. I’m also pretty keen not to get one. I want to continue my love affair with wine for joy, not for survival. So I am just over a week into my new rules. This first week included New Year’s Eve, which was of course an exception. One night of wine consumption  though (as opposed to seven or eight) is a win in my view. I’m giddy to report that apart from self congratulatory day counting, I haven’t missed it. My skin in clearer (related?) and so is my head. Wish me luck!

 

Letting go and finding new

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scary dudes Arch Sept 2012

 

Coming home from China, after three years as an expat resident in Suzhou, was one of the most difficult periods in my life. If I thought I experienced culture shock going over, it was nothing compared to coming back. China is a vibrant, noisy, exciting, boisterous, energetic world where life is lived out on the footpath and in large groups of extended family and friends. Suburban Brisbane couldn’t be more different. When we are out on the streets here, we are alone or in nuclear family groups, quickly attending to the busyness of our day. Come sunset, we close our gates and lock our doors. We eat behind closed doors, we love, argue and raise our children in the privacy of our own homes. We have space, lots of it, and we prickle when someone enters ours uninvited. Coming home was hard. The silence was one of the hardest things to get used to. Quiet evenings, no incessant beeping of bike and car horns, quiet, civilised supermarkets where everyone waits patiently in line. And no nightly fireworks outside my bedroom window.

I had to let go of so many things during that time, and it was a pruning that left me bare and raw; a sad little twig trying to come back to life after a dry winter. If I’m honest, there was a material shock in coming from a place where I was a relative affluent with disposable income up to my eyeballs, to Australia, a regular on the highest cost of living in the world lists. On one salary. We went from two international holidays a year to budgeting to the last twenty bucks in our fortnightly coffers. It was humbling and necessary, and it forced me to reflect on what happiness really was and what my family really needed.

I had to let go of a concept that I had of myself that I was competent, educated, valued and skilled. I came out of the best professional experience of my career, to staying at home with my toddler, failing at the job day after day and wondering who the hell I was. Suddenly I couldn’t do anything well. It was a new experience of hating myself and how badly I thought I was at mothering. It was a dangerous cycle that escalated over the next few years. So much of my identity had ben wrapped up in my profession, that when that was gone, I was lost.

Possibly the hardest part though, was letting go of friends. Not the friends I left behind in China, for those, despite the distance, stuck close by (electronically) and are close still. It was the friends I returned to. After a while, I realised it was time to loosen my grip. I knew that being the returning traveller was nothing special to those who hung around. We have all been away, come home, gone again, returned. It’s the job of the returnee to reconnect, I get that. So, despite being an introvert to the core, I committed myself to making the effort to reconnect with my friends. I phoned, I emailed, I Facebooked, I called again. It was an incredible shock to me to find that a few of my long term friends had simply moved on. I had to, for my own sanity, just give up.

I should add that this was all during the worst phase of my depression, when I was sad but didn’t realise, I just thought I was failing. So everything was sadder, more black and white, less logical and more tragic. I was just desperately looking for a safety net and found it not in old friends, but in new ones. I vividly recall one very very sad day, I was walking around with my toddler, six months pregnant with twins and just killing time as I seemed to do day after day. Heading toward home I considered stopping at the park for a while, to kill another half hour or so. I almost didn’t, but did. I was sad to the point of holding back tears. A woman came along, newborn in pram and toddler on foot. We talked. I found that I hadn’t totally given up because I had the courage to suggest we swap phone numbers. A little over a year later, I ran my first half marathon with her. We now babysit each other’s kids. She cooked for me when I moved house. She saved me. She never even knew it.

It was a painful pruning, but the spring came, as it always does, and the new has replaced the old. It took a really long time, several years in fact, to recover from reverse culture shock. I feel like China was a juncture in my life. There is before-China and after-China. My life BC after couldn’t be more different to my life AC. My work life, home life, social life, all of them are totally not what they were before. Many spring buds have blossomed into full bouquets that have brought me such happiness. Too much with the spring metaphor? I’m thinking too much. Yep, much too much…I feel a little ill….just threw up a bit in my mouth.

There’s no home for you here

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iron man fighting a baddy Arch April 2013

There is no place to go. I hate where I am and cannot go anywhere else. Around me, there are people who care, but those people will rotate in and out of my life daily, weekly, every few months. There is nobody near me who I have known for more than six months. People look intently at me, assessing, scribbling notes, making assumptions, making diagnoses. Without my knowledge or consent, people sit around huge tables and talk about every single, horrible, private and shameful detail of my life. They all own a little bit of me but I own nothing. I have nothing more than what fits in two drawers, one box and a schoolbag. My house does not carry the sounds of life, but the echoes of a place that people are getting ready to leave. The walls are ragged and weak from my rages; vicious and visible scars that are a perfect image of my pain. I move through this alternate universe like it is normal. In fact, it is. Not a single day in my life held the kind of normal that you know. My normal is ten different houses in one year and ten different schools in ten years. My normal is to be sent, taken, pushed, hidden and locked away. My normal is not to think for a moment that anybody else will do what they said, so there is only me. My world has locked doors, case notes, uniforms, therapists, impossible words and long, long days of trying so hard to survive, that when the night comes, I have to let go. The need in me to rage is like your need for water in summer. I want a cluttered home. Noisy. With people laughing and arguing and watching TV. I want school newsletters, junk mail and bills piled up on the kitchen bench. I want to live in a house where they don’t lock up the knives, the baseball bats and the paracetamol. I want to get dropped off at school and make it to 3pm. But there is nowhere I can go. I am too unpredictable, too violent, too impulsive. Some people like me enough to wish they could have me, but they know that they will not be safe with me around. So I cannot have a home. All I get is an echoey room and a whole bunch of people who can see the crack up ahead through which I will fall.

I am moving on

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red right hand Arch Feb 2012

I thought I would wind up Passing Phase when the twins got themselves toilet trained. Having a house full of people personally responsible for their own excrement has been my mental line in the sand for many things. We’ll be able to go out without the children’s section of a department store on our backs, whole days out, less laundry, no nappies, camping even! But the time has come and it has come in lengths ahead of the twins being nappy free. I need to write about stuff other than parenting. I need to move on.

But I’ve fallen in love with Passing Phase. I really have. Writing just gives me something I can’t find anywhere else. So PP stays, but the brief will change. My new Facebook page here (please go and like it!!) will hopefully bring new readers, criticism, praise and disagreement. I am still waiting for my first troll. My writing focus will be opinion, fiction and maybe a bit of parenting.

The whole point is to build readers. I’ve got an important story to tell and when the time is right, I want to tell it loud and clear. I also want to build an audience who is interested is joining the discussion about disadvantage, education and the profound junction at which the two meet.

Join me. We’ll have fun. Or at least, an argument 😉

Lost Together

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skeletons and scary stuff Arch July 2012

 

Please note that the following is a fictional reflection on a news story that has appeared in the media in Australia in recent weeks.

She had four children. She was young. She had a long history with bad men, painful relationships, loneliness. She was dirt desperate poor, had been all her life. No job, no education, no back up plan. Her kids were really all she had. Her kids were her purpose, her possessions. It was all she knew. She didn’t really have a lot of say in it anyway. She got fucked. She got pregnant. The first time was against her will at the age of 13. The next one just happened and after that it just seemed like the thing to do. After the birth of one child or another, who really knew, she sunk into a black hole so deep she lost all feeling. Even pain didn’t hurt anymore. Even the backhand of her drunken boyfriend didn’t hurt anymore. She lived a robotic cycle of motherwork and housework. As the months passed, things slipped out of her control. The house got messy, then dirty, then squalid. She noticed, but was catatonic with hopelessness. That she did notice made it so much worse. Made her feel that every inch of her was a failure. Things were just so hard. She woke up tired every morning. Not just bone tired but that kind of tired when simply speaking scrambles your mind. The emptiness she felt overwhelmed her and, given her lack of words, she could not explain it to herself or anyone else. So she fell silent.

The kids slipped away from her too. They went to school dirty, then hungry, then not at all. At least, not that she noticed. Her friends used to describe her as kind and sweet, a beautiful soul. Then she got pregnant again. With twins. Suddenly, there was a moment of sunshine. Hope. This was a miracle, something people wish upon stars for, and she, undeserving she, was chosen. Her friends gathered and said, this is what they needed, this will really give her something to live for, bring them together, put a smile on her face, she was born to be a mother. And it did. Just for a little while. Indeed she did smile. She loved them, of course she did, like any other mother.

But there was an unrelentingness to baby twins that she was in no way prepared for. They took turns in feeding and crying through the night in such a way as to leave her stretches of rest no longer than thirty minutes at a time. The stress of waiting for the sound of the next cry left her unable to sleep even in those moments of sheer exhaustion. The black dog momentarily kennelled came back bigger and angrier than ever. The sadness dried up her milk and she felt a failure once again. She struggled to afford the formula so she watered it down and cut back a bottle or two per day. Another shameful failure. Her children begged her to play, to smile, to cuddle the babies. But again, her words were gone, I’ll be better tomorrow, she thought, and seven days slipped by like one.

She had one single thing that was only hers and no one elses. One place she could be someone else and not her pathetic self. She had nothing that was fun, nothing nice, no joy. So it was easy to tell herself she deserved this one skerrick of something close to enjoyment, even if it was just a stupid internet game. In that world she had an escape, a different name. She could invent whatever past she wanted. She felt, not free from her desperation, but at least separated from it, when she played. But when she stopped, she fell back into hell.

Her friends gathered without her and whispered but did not dare say anything. They worried. But they thought, once the babies sleep through the night, she’ll be right. They didn’t notice, but it had been months since anyone saw or heard from her. Just give her time, they whispered, she’s got her hands full, they said. You don’t tell anyone how to raise their kids, they nodded.

While her friends whispered and gathered and worried, she tried. She was desperate to be a good mother, but incapable, utterly paralysed. Every time she failed, which was hundreds of times a day, she hated herself more deeply, more completely, more ferociously. The shame kept her away from her friends, her children, her boyfriend. The babies screamed day and night, cracking her already broken mind. If she ignored them long enough they would quieten and she would convince herself that they were just sleeping and that she’d check them in half an hour, after a little sleep. Just a little sleep. She knew she should probably feed them again, but she was so afraid that if she woke them she would never hear silence again. This is how days disappeared into nowhere. Months and months of soon, later, tomorrow piled up toward catastrophe.

She woke from a heavy nap one black afternoon with a sick jolt of panic. It was a rare moment of sharp rational pain. She realised she could not remember when she last fed the babies. She realised that it was probably weeks since she had taken them out of their room, and her breathing started to come fast and shallow. The house was silent. The smell of the house reached her as her senses woke up, joining her in panicky clarity. She knew before she walked into the room. She knew before she lifted the blanket and saw their quiet, open eyes. And when she saw, her already broken mind left her completely.

Somewhere in the days before this unspeakable moment, the two little babies had slipped away from the fear of abandonment, the pain of hunger and the life altering injury of constantly wanting to be cuddled. Had they lived, they would never have recovered from the hole left by those missing cuddles. They lay side by side, as they were from the very moment their lives began. When it came time to go, they held hands and went together.

She is the mother and will be visciously tried, judged and hung before a word is spoken in the courts. She is the mother and was supposed to protect them. She will stand trial for their murder, every horrible detail printed, and the father will be a side story. The father that failed those babies too. The friends that failed her will shake their heads and cry. The system that failed her will hope their mistakes are not played out in the media the way her failings will be. She will think of it every moment for the rest of her life and every time she does she will die again until there is nothing left of her.

Baby names, guns and feeling great

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Here are some links from the past few weeks of the Parenting Panel on ABC612 Brisbane. We talked about baby names in the wake of the birth of the thoughtfully named North West, we talked about allowing your children to play with guns (or not) and we talked about coming out of depression and feeling strong.

Listen to the baby name madness here.

Listen to the gun play debate here.

Listen to us talking about getting better and feeling great here.

And just because….

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