Wednesday, 25 November 2020

How do i do it?

 When my children were growing up, I had to tell myself on a regular basis that the years were finite. 

This had a two fold purpose: one, to enjoy every moment because it would never come again, and two, to be aware that these moments would pass and never be again.

The years were a tapestry of moments sewn together. Some good, some bad. Loneliness enmeshed with sheer joy and exhilaration at the task at hand. Hard work with added short lived passionate affairs, work that was unchallenging but easy to navigate given my circumstances. 

I get asked how I did it. And I find I seldom have an answer. It feels like I am almost at the end of the grueling part, and I find I don’t really know how I brought up two children on my own for 15 years. So, for the benefit of other sole parents, I decided to try to break it up.

The first three days were the hardest. It was the first time in my life that I had to depend solely on myself. No parents, no partner. There were friends, but at the time I didn’t have many, and some retreated from me as if they needed to take a stance and pick a side. I felt acute pain. It was physical and raw. It was so painful that I needed to do things to keep it at bay. That first night, as he drove away, the street flooded, and as I waded in knee deep water and sandbagged the neighbour's front door in the rain, I knew I would survive. I did break after that for a few days, but kept reminding myself of how strong I felt that night.

After three days, I got drunk. A terrible way to cope, I know, but it ended that sadness. I vomited all over the bathroom, and somehow, it helped me pull myself together somewhat. 

I sat down with myself and made decisions about my work. Emergency and shift work were not going to work for my young family, so I started looking for a family friendly job.

I had to tell the children that their parents were separating. Phoebe was almost 6 and she understood.  She cried and didn’t like the idea one bit, but I made a point of telling her that it wasn’t her fault, that both mummy and daddy loved her and that she would see daddy all the time. My ex didn’t have a house yet, but as soon as he did, they would go and stay. Dan was only 4 and he didn’t really understand,  I didn’t think. But after a few weeks of changing sheets at night again after months of being dry, I put him back in night nappies. I guess he did understand in some ways. I joined the COPE library, and took books out for myself on how to navigate legal aspects and the emotions rushing through me. I took out children's books, and read to the kids, which was incredibly therapeutic for me. 

I found myself a psychologist, and started seeing her for 2 and a half years. I had intended it to be a short stint.

Dan started having nightmares, and that was hard. He saw my psychologist for a few sessions, and she said he was well adjusted, and to encourage art. So, art materials were provided by the truckload and he was encouraged to express those emotions he has always kept to himself until very recently.

Phoebe seemed ok. She has always been an intellectualiser.  Her issues didn’t become evident until her world changed. She didn’t like change, and moving into a new house was very hard for her. I had ideas of travelling and living in a different city, but I decided that I needed to be a stable base, so decided I would not move from this house if I could help it. I was angry at having to be the grown up while my ex was off living a bachelor's life. This anger lasted years. But I eventually let it go, as it was not useful and all consuming. I surrounded myself with friends.  The kids' primary school was a wonderful source of support and I met wonderful long term friends who are still in my life. Thank goodness. They saved me. These people nurtured me, helped me, supported me, held me up, helped my children and shared their love with me and my kids. It was the best thing I ever did. I thank my lucky stars for these people every day. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. My sister came back from Perth some years ago, and I have added her to my network of valuable people. My mum still worked full time, but her partner and her provided me with a place for the kids when I wasn’t available, and they loved it! My ex mother in law did not withdraw her assistance, and once again, that was invaluable.

I decided that I would enjoy my children and still do all the things that families do. I took them away on cheap holidays. Last minute hotel deals, holiday packages, joined the scouts so we could go camping  and hiking and have adventures. I opted for optimism despite recurrent and chronic depression that would take me to the edge of despair on a regular basis. I got myself a GP, I put things in place so people would call me out if I was sounding depressed. My sister in Perth would pick it up easily. I got myself a shrink when the drugs stopped helping. I exercised regularly, and this was another saving grace for me, as I couldn’t have done any of it without physical fitness and it kept the black dog at bay. I only ever had to take a week off one time when I was so burnt out and depressed that I walked out of the clinic and decided not to return the next day and instead increase my antidepressants. 

On days when I would feel like a bad mother, I would allow myself to wallow. But only for one day. And then I would pick myself up, shake myself off and keep going. Who else have they got? Who do they rely on? Who is their rock?” My children have saved my life many times over the years, and I am so grateful for the gift of being their mum.

I learned to practice gratitude. I would find something to be grateful for, even on the darkest of days. A jacaranda in full bloom in a dark storm, an outing to the park to blow bubbles when strapped for cash, a zoo membership so we always had a free exciting place to visit, my health,  my strength and fitness, a fragrant candle lit in the evening, fresh eggs from the chooks, my children. Always my children. On days when I was so tired and I just wanted to scream, I would just make my coffee a bit stronger and sometimes have a little brief cry in the kitchen.  I wrote a lot. I did a lot of internet dating, with the mistaken idea that I would find a man to rescue me and make everything better again. That I would have a family again, and more children. But I needed to rescue myself, and I did. I learned how to. I kept this blog to remind me of what was good. And I listened to gems at work, people I worked with over the years and patients about how precious those years were, and not to waste them, be mindful,  carpe diem.

I used movies and television and books, and took wisdom from those places. Buffy was a great teacher to me, about relationships and learning about them. I grew up a lot. I was a 31 year old divorcee with two young children, and desperate to regain a nuclear family. It wasn’t to be for me. My lesson was in all of this instead. To learn to be happy with what I have. It is so much.

I read hundreds of books on child development and parenting, I attended positive parenting courses at the council. I hugged my children, I told them I loved them daily, twice daily. I helped with homework, I helped at school, I did reading. I lived with very little money, in exchange for being with them and enjoying being their mum. You don’t need a lot of money to create fun. We used the library and toy libraries a lot. We exchanged books at the book exchange. We used nature a lot, and made food from scratch. Baked bread and made pizzas. Anything can e special if you make it so.

I had a few relationships over the years,  but the biggest lesson for me was about self love, and learning about healthy relationships.  It was not something that came naturally to me, and after a few years, I gave up my pursuit for a relationship and settled instead on male company, not necessarily casual,  but serial monogamy,  I guess.

My animals became a huge aspect of my life, and I have learnt about respect, mutual affection, security and love from them. Unconditional love. Lucy is one of my best friends, and while this may sound pathetic to some, she is a constant. She has been by my side for 14 years. She greets me at the door every day, comes when I need to hug her (when she feels like it), sleeps next to me, sits near me when I cry, has taught me about unconditional love and mutual dependency.  She is here when my children are not, and has been my substitute when my kids have moved on to seeing their dad more. She's helped me to sit with grief as I cry all over her perfect coat.

She has taught me about beauty, and femininity. She is a goddess incarnate, and she will be the hardest thing to let go of as she ages.

So how did I do it? How do I still do it? 

I found myself and all my gifts, that’s how. I am a good friend, a good mother, a nurturer,  a goddess.

I never knew any of this about me at 30. None of this would have happened to me if my life had not hit rock bottom. And I would have missed out. 

If you are a sole parent, or have depression, or are simply sad today, make yourself go for a walk and find something to be grateful for while you are at it. I am so glad I did. I still do. And I am forever grateful for this life.


Sunday, 12 April 2020

NORMAL...or how to stay sane in 2020...according to yellow fluff

I am not doing the best job of normality by any means, but I thought I'd share how I'm staying reasonably sane during this period. I know my previous posts have come through as negative, but I like to call them realistic. I grew up in a dictatorship,  witnessed daily poverty, disappearances of political prisoners, violence on the streets, poor water supply, constant electricity outtages and even water outtages.  Gastro, hepatitis A, and other communicable diseases ran rampant through our community. So I don't think I'm an expert by any means, but for those of you born and bred in Australia, our current situation would be your first taste of unrest or insecurity. And my life in Chile was good, despite all the hurdles. Life here is hugely better!

I think being realistic is part of the equation. Allow me to explain the ways in which I am trying to look after my mental health at the moment:

1. Get up. I know, you have nothing to really get up for it you are not working. But the mere act of setting an alarm and getting up for a shower and to clean your teeth gives you a sense of purpose

2. Plan: I sometimes think there is nothing to do, so I  make a list of things I intend to achieve, even if it is to feed the cats and other animals, put up a picture or do a craft. The mere act of crossing off items off a list has actually been shown to make your brain release dopamine, as a reward for a job well done.

3. Exercise: it's really important. If I could prescribe just one thing to all my patients, regardless of age or condition, it would be this. It focuses your brain on the basics: breathing, sweating, muscle energy, how tired you are feeling, and then seems to erase other thoughts and release dopamine at the end, so you feel good afterwards, AND  you can cross it off your to do list for that extra bit of dopamine. The other benefit is the sunlight. We are invariably spending more time indoors and therefore that daily dose of Vitamin D becomes even more important.

4. Alcohol, caffeine and lollies. Pft.  Spoil sport. I do it too, but just watch how much you are having of all of these things. Not only will you be depriving your body of nutrition, but alcohol makes you feel more depressed over time and disrupts your sleep cycles. You will gain weight, and place your liver and other organs at a higher risk of disease.

5. Eat well. We are so fortunate to still be able to enjoy good quality food. Continue your 5 serves of veg and two of fruit per day. You will get everything you need, and I dare you to try it and report back. I know you will feel better, no one ever feels worse. Trust me, it's one of those basic things I always go back to when I'm feeling bleurgh (technical term).

6. Mind stuff: the biggie. Your thinking will determine how you are feeling at the moment. So limit the amount of news stories you read or the focus you give to our current situation. Pick one good (preferably written) source of reliable information per day, and follow that. Avoid TV news stories. Seriously, the images of horror will climb straight into your limbic system (the emotion part of your brain) and you will feel worse. So, yes, you do need to be realistic, in that difficult things are going on, but dwelling on them or agonising over them will not change them!

Try to think of today and no further if you can. If you try to think ahead and imagine all sorts of scenarios of what the world might look like in 2, 3 or 9 months, then you will become overwhelmed.  Remember that your imagination, predictions or trajectories and maps are not reality. And at the end of the day, do you really want to miss what is happening  right here, right now? Look around you, smell around you, listen, look, feel the earth around you and all it has to offer.

Be grateful. We all have loads of things to be grateful for, everyday. A friend of mine shared an article once about dopamine release in the brain from just feeling grateful about something. The feel good parts of your brain light up, truly, and it can have a long lasting effect beyond the moment of gratefullness. So count your blessings, for we have many!

Hug someone. There is always someone you can still hug. And if you don't have anyone, hug a teddy or your pet. For older people living alone, consider moving in with a buddy and sharing the load so you don't feel lonely.

Grief. It looks like this shouldn't belong here, but it does. It is ok to feel sad. There are sad things happening. Call it by its name: you're grieving. Give it a few minutes per day, have a cry.  Allow yourself the time to acknowledge it and call it what it is. But do not allow it to become your current mood. It is a normal part of loss, but it shouldn't colour your all day, every day, there are other things happening.

USE THE RESOURCES! The government is pouring money into services in acknowledgment of how hard things are at the moment. Use the telehealth services to chat to a doctor, we are expecting it, even. And NO, it does not take the time from "someone who needs it". If you need it, then use it! And while you are there, take care of existing health conditions  review your general health and your medication, get your flu vaccine and all that sort of stuff!

7. Socialise. It's not the same, I agree, but a socially distant walk with a good friend, a video call with a friend or sibling or cousin makes you feel alive again, and hearing laughter or seeing a smile is so therapeutic.

8. Do something nice for someone. May be someone you know needs toilet paper, or hand sanitizer, or rice. Drop a little basket to someone who needs those things. Write letters to nursing home residents and drop them off to the staff to make their day, get the kids to draw things for the residents, write a letter by mail to a good friend or family member. Write a list of self help things and put them on your blog so that you remind yourself of all the things you need to do to stay healthy, and someone else might find it helpful. If you are really good at something, how about recording a brief tutorial and uploading it as a resource for home schooling parents? Borrow the neighbour's dog and go for a walk. Offer to help someone with their gardening.

9. Take the time to do things you never get a chance to do: paint that wall, plant that veggie patch, call an old friend. I often think how little time I get to spend at home usually, so this is it!

10. It's not forever. Life will throw us curve balls all the time. Think of it as a life experience,  something you'll be able to tell younger people about when they are not living it. It's a historic time. Realise tough stuff makes you tougher and helps you to learn resilience and coping. So, you're growing through it. And it will pass...look, it's Easter already!

11. And never ever be afraid to ask for help. Call lifeline, call a friend, ring your doctor, yell HELP! loudly outside your house.  It is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength to acknowledge your needs and seek to fulfil them.

So there you are, follow these principles and you can be as sane as I am. For those of you who know me, normality is in the eye of the beholder!! 😏

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

1 pixel, 2 pixels, 3 pixels....

So what are we witnessing? We are approximately one month into an experience we prepared for back in 2009, with trepidation,  expecting H1N1 to be the one that caused the pandemic we were due to have. It fizzled. So part of me was thinking that this would fizzle too, in the beginning.

And yet here we are. Over a million people around the world have now had this disease and thousands have died. Yes, other things kill people. But not usually this fast nor efficiently.

In Australia,  we are at a crossroads. We have managed to somewhat contain this. It has slowed its spread and is no longer razing through  people like pixels in a Lord of the Rings epic battle scene. So now, what do we do? Economic predictions and mathematical models fill the media. Doctors talk about access to care and availability of ICU beds, access to protective equipment for those of us who will be caring for the ill. Economic gurus watch the stock market and try to predict just how big a crash we can expect.

It seems if we save people, we lose money.   So, we will eventually lose more people, slowly; to poverty, disease, domestic violence and crime. And if we don't save people, we retain some money. A sacrifice. We expend people in order to retain some of our comforts. An uncomfortable crossroads, a historic one. No doubt generations will analyse, scrutinise and judge every decision that is made from now on.

It feels surreal and eerie. People are on edge, irritable, nervous. It feels like a battleground at dawn. The mist settling over the pristine leaves, cleansed by the lack of petrol fumes. The streets are deserted and more populated by birds and other critters that roam without fear.
We are insects suspended on the surface of a perilous lake. All it needs is for a little bit of soap to break the surface tension and we ALL fall in..

I wish I could take a peek into the future. Will this very wise bug divide us all as it has over the last month, or will we unite and live to see another day?

Like all wars, a lot of us won't get to see the end.  And it seems so selfish to wish for our own safety and those we love ahead of the many who will perish. It will be someone's mum, dad, child, cousin,  work colleague. People will talk about the many that COVID19 took before a vaccine was available.

No doubt humans will live on. We have done it before. It's the individuals,  the little grains of sand like me, who may not get to see the outcome. Or maybe we will, and rebuild.

What will life be like?

Only a month ago, our wheel of progress was turning and everyone was head down in their own priority: make money, but a house, have a holiday. And now, we cower in silence. Silenced by a minute and insignificant speck that will FINALLY make us reconsider our values and morals as humans.

If the past is anything to go by, we may learn nothing. But what is certain is that my life will never be the same again. The aftermath of what is happening now will be felt for generations.

I saw a little girl and her father at the lights today. She would have been no more than 6. She approached the lights and she hesitated because she didn't want to touch the button to cross the road. She looked up at her father and he used his foot to push it.

We will have people who may grow up with a much larger sense of personal space,  or hygiene. New words are already emerging and new terms will no doubt enter the everyday. Maybe we will have greater empathy for others. Or will it all be forgotten? The "it's all about me" hoarding and consuming locust viewpoint may just prevail for more years to come.

Part of me wishes that we would just all collapse in a heap and finally become extinct. The truth of the matter is that nature is older than time, and is just dealing a well rehearsed hand and has lived to see the outcome. She presses on, unheeded and yet undeterred.

I am just a speck, a pixel.

 But a flake of snow or gust of wind can cause an avalanche, just look at Covid 19! Think of that. What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want generations in the future to say about you? Be the strongest, most righteous and powerful pixel you can possibly be. The eyes of history are on us.  Because one thing is for sure. This is real, it's happening. Stand up.



Friday, 20 March 2020

Nowhere to run

It is Friday the 20th of march. Two weeks ago, I was planning a weekend away with my son to see a band and to have an elective procedure this coming week.
And today, the world seems a surreal mix of a fantasy novel and reality.
Like a slice out of a book or a story someone is telling. When I open my eyes in the morning, I feel slightly disoriented for a few seconds and then I remember.
I think the worst thing right now is not knowing what is going to happen next. Just how bad it will be, or whether we will just get used to it, like we do everything else. Sometimes I think that we could run away, but there is literally nowhere to run and we are all in it together.

Did you hear that?

WE ARE ALL IN IT TOGETHER.

This is something I have been talking about for a long time. I have a huge social conscience. I believe in fairness and compassion and helping others, even if it is the last slice of bread left, karma might look after you. And even if it doesn't, then maybe you will perish knowing you have done the right thing.

I am seeing the ugly side of humanity that I dread, avoid.
Ugly fighting at the supermarket, ugly ripping things from under others before they can get it. Survival of the fittest.

We are all just animals.

What people constantly insist they  are not.

What some of us try to resist. And maybe it will mean that people like me will die first. Refusing to stockpile, refusing not to help others, do my part in this war. I find that quite shameful that some people think that that is ok.

When this is all over, will the selfish have survived?

Will a new world be rebuilt by those who hoarded and were selfish? Will a new world just be made up of the young and fit; and the frail, sick, elderly and disabled will have died?

Sad.
Horrible.
Inhumane.

I hope I am wrong about humans. The sadness I feel at the moment is not the sadness of what might happen to me, but the sadness of what might happen to the world. I hope that this pandemic will not confirm my fears about humans.

So I ask you today- do your bit for a fellow human. Share your stockpile, help your neighbour, feed a stray cat, donate some of your stuff to the local nursing home. Visit an elderly person when you are immune and give them a hug.
People like me who are single and often alone are feeling the loneliness more than ever. Think of others before yourselves. Please. I am a doctor and I fear what I will be doing in the months to come and what our health system will look like. What decisions I will be making. And guess what? None of those decisions will be based on what is best for  me or mine. It will be based on what is best for ALL OF US. WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER. YOUNG, OLD, BLACK, WHITE, SMALL, BIG, RICH, POOR.... the whole world will feel it. How do you want to feel when it is all over?




Monday, 9 March 2020

Lucky 13

I went back to my ex a year after we broke up. This was after I did some pretty huge psychology work. I felt that my part of the errors made needed mending. I needed to give it another chance just so I could actually look back with the knowledge that I had done everything I could in the relationship. After a great 6 weeks or so, the same cracks started to show. Him working 6 days a week, breaking promises to see me, canceling at the last minute, never revealing where he lived, never meeting any of his friends, never going on a date but just coming to my house for sex.
I recognized the pattern, I spoke to him about it and communicated my needs, clearly. I expressed my developing feelings for him, and my desire to move the relationship to the next level. He went silent. He got angry at me. He ghosted me. So I did what I needed to do in order to keep my dignity intact. I demanded a proper date, with a meal, sharing time together that did not include sex, and asked for his address. It felt to me that this would actually show his commitment to the relationship. I emphasized that if he could not do this, I needed to walk away. I then added that I would not contact him until he came back to me with an answer.
Two days after this, he came back to me with texts, photographs of his birds and casual banter.
Realizing he was giving me crumbs to reel me back in, I asked him straight out if he had an answer for me. That I could not be his "buddy". To let me go, and let me go with the decency that I deserved, with a proper breakup.
It took him a while, but he did. He apologized for his short comings and admitted that he was incapable of a relationship with anyone.
I'm hurting, because I allowed this, I have allowed people to treat me like this.
The difference is, I'm walking away with pride and self love for the very first time in my life. I loved the times when he was present. I hated the times he was not.
I now know that I have done everything I possibly could and he will not change.
As I move forward to the rest of my life, I know. I know for the first time in my life, that I love ME, that I deserve that love and I have closed the door for good on abuse.
No more.
I hope that maybe this will also be a wake up call for him. I wish him all the best. I don't hate him, maybe I will tomorrow for being capable of deception, unconscious as it was.
But the one time I sobbed with joy yesterday was when I realized that as I typed the words in my text, I really, really meant them: " I cannot do this anymore. I love you, but I think I love me more"

Mummy guilt

They say that guilt is a useless emotion. It is basically the feeling of having done something we should not have done, or omitted to do som...