7 Surprising Truths That Came Out Of My Recent Health-Scare

I went through a “thing” last month. A health-scare that came out of the blue and made me look at the world through a different lens.

Girl laughing at camera.
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Followers of my blog will be aware of my propensity to over-think and many attempts to find my new “normal” in this middle-aged stage of my life. Hence, it will come as no surprise to you to hear that when my doctor called me with “bad news”, it kicked off a truly marathon session of overthinking about my life and its fuckeries.

Fortunately, on a scale of 1–10, my health scare was in reality a 1 in terms of seriousness — when compared to sufferers of terminal illnesses, and especially during these difficult COVID times, when their treatment has been compromised. And my treatment, while invasive, was marginal in terms of discomfort in comparison to the procedures some have to endure to simply stay alive. Nevertheless, it was scary enough to provide me with an insight into the question of how best to manage whatever time I have left.

The metamorphosis of my mindset over the three weeks was also an interesting experiment in resilience

As you would expect, my initial reaction to the news of my diagnosis was one of fear, anger, and self-pity, but that quickly involved into a need to be hugged, held, and sympathised with, until finally I reached a level acceptance – where I could joke about my plight and even discuss my cremation and my controversial choice of “Light My Fire” as the opening number.

My senses were heightened

But the real surprise — and I know it’s a cliche — was the way my potential, early death sentence made me look at life so differently. I was expecting to be racked by despair, for everything to suddenly appear bleak, when instead I started to view the world with rose-tinted glasses. My senses were heightened. The fear of time running out made me focus and appreciate the colour in my life, the simple pleasures, and the relationships I am often guilty of taking for granted. My doctor had switched on a timer that propelled me to cram in as much living as I could before it stopped.

There have been many times over the past few years when menopause has turned me into a cranky old bitch (my husband’s words), made me irrationally angry and resentful about unimportant stuff, and my scare provided me with the perfect reminder of what I have rather than what I don’t have.

Not that I needed it, but my scare gave me another lesson in gratitude

I can only describe the experience as a brief glimpse into how I would grieve for my own life. My mind wandered from a state of total numbness to self-pitying sessions that focused on my regrets and dashed hopes, an obsession with my bucket-list and a greater appreciation of minimalism — a lifestyle I have been drawn to in middle age — to, finally, some level of acceptance.

It’s impossible to list everything I took away from the ordeal, but below are 7 surprising truths I discovered:

  1. The realisation I don’t want to die — which for someone who has experienced several depressions was an awakening — and yet …
  2. The discovery that I’m also not afraid of dying. I came to the realisation that I am grateful for my half-century when so many others are cheated.
  3. The understanding that no one can understand the emotional battle you experience, unless they’ve been through it themselves. And nor will they handle the news particularly well that you have a potentially life-threatening illness. No one wants to believe the gravity of your situation or can really identify with the whirlwind of emotions that come with the territory. That’s why it is easier to limit those early days of processing the news with close family and friends.
  4. I felt ashamed. Inwardly, I felt responsible and judged for my situation, which is a horrible feeling when you are already coping with a potential fight for your life.
  5. My legacy is not what I believed. I came to the realisation that the legacy I want to leave behind is not about the paltry list of my professional achievements, it’s about my acts of service. It’s about the people whose lives I’ve touched by telling them I love them, remembering their birthday, calling them (when I hate the phone), and been there for when they needed me most; and my services to charities or the awareness I’ve contributed to charities through my writing.
  6. The need to change the narrative around death. I discovered the danger of the media’s drive to corrupt the meaning of death by making us believe that living longer and looking younger are what really matters, when all that does is increase our fear. Our culture’s fear of death is discriminatory and isolating for those who are nearing the end of their lives, when what they need is support.
  7. The importance of an equal healthcare system. True to my leftie principles, my experience cemented my belief in equal healthcare for everyone. Our system here in Australia isn’t perfect, but not only was I made to feel confident in my level of care, my scare was dealt quickly, professionally, and with compassion. That support helped me cope with the mental fear of the unknown.

Has anyone else experienced a health-scare serious enough to change the way you live?

9 Surprising Truths I Discovered About Myself in 2020

Compared to many people, I was fortunate to emerge from 2020 relatively unscathed. Admittedly, certain elements of our brief lockdown in Sydney tested me, but because my job carried on pretty much as usual (and I don’t get out much anyway), there were few noticeable changes in my day-to-day life.

However, I don’t think anyone resurfaced from last year’s unprecedented event without some restructuring of their lives. And so, at the start of 2021 and what we hope will be a better year – we may have to pretend for a moment that last week’s antics at Capitol Hill never happened – I’d like to highlight some of the positive ways the last terrible year altered my perceptions.

The most notable change to my lifestyle in 2020 was that I learned to relax. I’m not sure if I am naturally a productive person, but keeping busy distracts me from overthinking – which in turn keeps the “black dog” from my back door. So when I woke up in this new, threatening world that offered no certainties, i.e. I didn’t know how our income stream would be affected by the virus, or when we would see family and friends again – and curtailed my movements, I discovered the enjoyment of greater balance in my life, and a desire to use my time more wisely.

2020 was definitely an education that made me pull my inner sanctum closer and helped me let go of the dead wood.

Not only did COVID teach us a new language – where words like “restrictions”, “isolation”, and “seeding” took on new meaning – lockdown provided many of us with more time to self-reflect, to look at our lives more closely and gain a better understanding of what gives meaning to them – and I’m not talking about alcohol.

These are 9 surprising truths I discovered about myself:

  1. I enjoy my own company is a surprising admission from a Leo, however, I am a lion with anxiety, which adds another dimension to the attention-seeking stereotype. With the curtailment of my social life, I had to learn not to feel guilty about doing and achieving nothing and I saw a noticeable improvement in my mental health. Nowadays, I try to dedicate at least an hour each day to read or watch something vacuous on Netflix, just to switch off. It’s called self-care.
  2. I’m quite innovative. I am more resourceful than I thought and I’m not afraid to try out new things. Many of my friends struggle to fill their free time – especially when their partners are busy – whereas I discovered a plethora of new interests. I completed an online marketing course, I learned how to crochet, and I even gave Pilates another go. And while it’s unlikely I will continue to crochet in my retirement, I am more confident I won’t have to take up golf anytime soon either.
  3. I need routine. I have never lacked self-discipline, but I am easily distracted and so I need structure and accountability in my day – even if that’s just a to-do list. I’m certain that the necessity of a daily routine is symptomatic of my age and anxiety as much as COVID, or even a coping strategy I’ve picked up to prevent my brain straying into dangerous territory, but I am much more productive when I set myself goals. Now I just need to work on some flexibility.
  4. Friends, family, and community are important to me. During lockdown, we relied on our friends and family like never before, and everyone – even the socially anxious and introverts among us – was forced to make an effort to maintain connection, whether that was via a quick text to check in or a full-blown Zoom call. Small talk has never been one of my strengths, and prior to COVID, it was rare for me to instigate a group chat about the mundanities of my day. However, last year forced to do just that, and I saw for myself the benefits of those interactions in terms of the mutual boost to our morale.
  5. I need to exercise. I have hated sport for most of my life, which proves just how much we change with age. I don’t exercise to lose weight, I do it to keep my brain healthy and to maintain a positive outlook. I never understood how addictive exercise was until a recent sports injury affected my mobility and the mental health benefits I derive from nature and the great outdoors.
  6. Exercise doesn’t help me lose weight. However, as much as I’d love to eulogise about the resulting weight loss from my gruelling workouts and pathetic little runs, I finished the year at the same weight I started. I am fitter, my joints and muscles are (presumably) stronger, and a recent heart check gave me the all-clear, but I have also had to resign myself to the fact that I will never be a size 10 again. And that’s OK. Weight loss is about diet, and I love my food too much to be a skinny Minnie.
  7. I’m an empath. I discovered that an increasingly unhealthy compassion towards pretty much everything and everyone means that daily doomscrolling and watching cute dog videos are not great for my mental health. While I am proud of my compassion for those less fortunate than myself, I need to control my emotional investment. I can’t let the misfortunes of others paralyse me to the point where it prevents me from doing my own work to create awareness about the stuff that is important to me. Basing my own happiness on the happiness of others is an example of “interdependence”, according to my therapist.
  8. My emotional triggers. Last year, I gained a better understanding of what triggers my anxiety: my son’s mental health and its ramifications, a latent problem with rejection (that I’m still trying to understand), and the pressure of working for other people (whilst trying to balance my other responsibilities, in particular, my son’s needs). Now that I’ve identified them, I feel more confident about moving forward with my therapist to develop coping strategies. “What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens,” (Ellen Glasgow) is great advice that I intend to heed in 2021. In simple terms, it means I will stop taking responsibility for everyone else’s problems and choices and I will be my son’s supporter rather than his enabler.
  9. The true meaning of gratitude. It has been heartbreaking to watch the toll of COVID around the world, particularly from my place of privilege. And yet, I’m embarrassed to admit that I still have those why me days. I have never taken anything for granted, but in 2021 I am even more resolved to make the most of each day and be grateful for what I have.

What did you learn about yourself this year?

The 7 Changes Required For A Minimalist Lifestyle

“A minimalist home is very intentional,” Joshua Becker explains in an article for Good Housekeeping magazine. “Each possession is there for a reason.” 

Simplicity. A glass jar with gum leaves on a white background.
Photo by Alex Loup on Unsplash

I’ve spent the past six months bogged down in the restructure of my manuscript, hence the reason I’ve not been as vocal on this site as I once was. Anyone who has been through the visceral pain of editing 90,000 words knows that you have to isolate yourself, without distractions.

But you also have to balance that sacrifice of your free time with the reality that years of hard work may ultimately amount to nothing. That was one of the reasons for my last post, in which I purported the idea that there’s nothing wrong with contentment – a state of mind that seems particularly relevant right now.

Learning to be content with what I’ve got is important if you are like me, the sort of person with a tendency to be pulled in lots of directions, hence regularly in a state of perpetual overwhelm.

Which is why I’ve decided to take the idea a step further and I’m endeavouring to create my own sense of contentment by adapting to the whole living with less idea – the principles of which you can apply to every facet of your life.

It’s got a name, it’s called being a minimalist.

Minimalism, as most of you will know, is a style employed in interior design and decoration. It embraces a clean, modern, clinical feel, with no place for clutter – and you can adapt it to your lifestyle as well. These days, the word is being used more broadly to promote the kind of pared back, simple lifestyle many of us aspire to live – especially since COVID.

Joshua Becker describes the meaning of minimalism in his article What Is Minimalism? in the following way:

“It is marked by clarity, purpose, and intentionality. At its core, being a minimalist means intentionally promoting the things we most value and removing everything that distracts us from it.

You could argue that this new idea appeals to me because I’m a middle-class, middle-aged woman, feeling my invisibility, and it’s easier to simply opt out of society than fight the discrimination. Or it may be that because money is tighter these days – as a result of our personal decision to semi-retire early – we are being forced to cut our cloth accordingly. And both of those reasons are valid.

However, it is evident that the younger generations are also embracing this idea to change their priorities, and while I admit that during my thirties I laughed at couples on Grand Designs and sea-change shows who opted out of the rat race, I think they may be having the last laugh.

After all, what’s not to love about a lifestyle that promises more money, time, and happiness, and contributes to the protection of our environment at the same time?

So how do you become a minimalist?

The minimalist lifestyle is about living with only the things you need. Minimalists are free from the desire to buy and accumulate more. Instead, they find happiness in relationships and experiences.” Joshua Becker

Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But it’s not simply about wasting a bank holiday for a spring clean in your home – although, that’s a great starting point.

There’s more to simplifying your life than the physical process of tidying up. There’s a lot of mental work that needs doing and ingrained habits to change, and it can be hard to know where to start. So to help you out, here are seven changes that are working for me:

  1. Being more intentional. First of all, you have to really think about the purpose of your decision and what you really want to gain from it. My greatest fault is wasting money on tat when I’m in a funk. I can’t believe it’s taken my over fifty years to learn that quality beats quantity every time, but there it is. I’m that person who gets my thrill from buying something new (that I don’t really need or want) and then letting it sit in the cupboard . You must also base your changes on what you want, not what your kids or friends expect from you, or even what your partner wants. This is your life – and if your partner doesn’t agree with your choices, throw them out with the rest of the clutter.
  2. Forget about owning stuff and consumerism. As I’ve already admitted, this was difficult for me. I am a shopper and I love that sense of instant gratification, which is why I haven’t caught the online shopping bug yet. I am also creative, so I take a huge amount of pleasure from simply wandering around malls to look at beautiful things. An afternoon at the mall is one of the few times my brain switches off, so changing my buying habits is a work in progress. Where I have made a start is by buying less crap and only buying quality things I really need or recycled goods.
  3. Change your mindset and your priorities. A bout of depression or serious anxiety is the best push to make changes in your life – but I don’t recommend them. Instead of waiting for that to happen, prioritise things in your life that promote your wellness and health now. Step into nature when you can, try mindfulness if that works for you – it’s not for me, but listening to an entertaining podcast can have a similarly relaxing effect. Exercise, meet up with friends for some free therapy. Make the time to switch off and relax, and don’t feel guilty about it.
  4. Stop worrying about what others think. Remove toxic people from your life, like friends who don’t understand your choices, don’t value your opinion, who can’t have a discussion without shouting back at you. Your friends should treat you with the same consideration you treat them.
  5. Stop competing with others. Forget about the Jones’. The ugliest part of a consumerist society is the way it pushes people to compete with each another and social media has exacerbated the problem. I hasten to add that it is natural – and throughout my thirties and forties I was guilty of comparing myself to others who had more and attempted to live in their shadow or vicariously through them – but all it did was make me unhappy. The qualities I envy in people these days couldn’t be more different to the ones that impressed me when I was younger.
  6. Be grateful. I have why me days all the time, where all I do is moan about what I haven’t got or why things never seem to go the way I plan them, but once I calm down – usually on a walk – I am getting better at putting those thoughts into perspective. Don’t feel bad about them those negative thoughts. A therapist once told me that feeling sorry for yourself is completely valid, as long as you don’t let the negativity overtake everything else.
  7. Create processes – I have a scatty brain, particularly right now, in menopause, and the days I don’t organise myself and write a to-do list, I achieve much less. Of course, it’s much easier to get distracted when you work from home. One minute, I’ll be writing, the next I’m flicking through social media, and the next I’m playing with the dog. But you must be accountable to yourself for how you spend your time. That doesn’t mean you have to be productive all of the time – far from it – you just need to be productive when you have to be. Having processes mean you’re not always chasing your tail, and you’re more likely to feel a sense of fulfilment at the end of each day. The old man and I share certain chores in our home, such as walking the dog, emptying the dishwasher and cooking, and then there are some we have divvied up like the cleaning, garden and rubbish, i.e. we’re fairly conventional. Being organised stops resentment building, and we find we can enjoy our Gin and Tonic each night without feeling guilty.

Middle-Aged Women: We Need To Put Ourselves First Now

Have you felt really exhausted lately?

I know that excessive tiredness comes with the territory of menopause and living through a pandemic, but what I’m feeling at the moment is more like a heavy weight pushing down on me, squeezing every drop of energy from my body.

And I know exactly what it is – it’s frustration. The frustration of not being able to do everything I want to do in the free time at my disposal. You see, in the hours outside of the (vaguely) routine areas of my life I feel like I’m on a treadmill – running, without actually getting anywhere

I’m running, without actually getting anywhere

Coronavirus shone a brighter light on this problem, which if I’m honest has been niggling under the surface for years. It triggered a renewed urgency within me to get on with the stuff that brings me joy (in the words of Marie Kondo), which for me involves doing more, cramming as much new learning into whatever time I’ve got left.

I respect other women my age who choose to sit back and relax for this last chapter of their lives, but new learning empowers me, which has a positive knock-on effect on both my mental health and my relationships.

I’m simply not ready to slip quietly into the middle-aged woman box

When I moaned about my frustration with friends of mine, they suggested it might be linked to the pressure many of us feel about the need to achieve – that social media has intensified – to justify our right to equality in some way. But I don’t think it’s that. I’m old and ugly enough not to feel the pressure to have to impress anyone else and I’m also in the fortunate position where I don’t need to keep on “achieving” for financial reasons.

So what’s really stopping me from getting out there and kicking ass? Am I just a serial whinger or is it truly harder for women our age to kick our goals?

Where do I start?

1. My Body. Whilst I’VE accepted (sort of) that I look older (funny, that!), that’s not always the case when it comes to my work colleagues. And if the ageism that denies some middle-aged women their invitation to get jiggy at work social events isn’t bad enough, there’s the fact that some of us are treated like idiots. I’m certain that your average twenty-something isn’t actually aware of the memory lapses caused by menopause, and yet they can’t help talking to us like we’re two-year olds, or making assumptions about what we can and cannot do (particularly when it comes to technology). Snubs like these are hurtful and do nothing to alleviate our problems with concentration.

2. Mood Swings. Anti-depressants for anxiety (which help combat hot flushes), and an endometrial ablation for very heavy periods convinced me that I’d sail through menopause. So I wasn’t fully prepared for some of the other symptoms – in particular the mood swings, anger, and paranoia. Any idea how hard it is to get the creative juices flowing when you can’t stop obsessing about why your husband still can’t clean a bench top properly?

Men have no idea how exhausting it is to have to pretend you’re human when you feel like an axe-murderer on the inside

3. Lack of confidence. I know there’s no one else to blame but myself if I don’t achieve what I want, but I do believe that society and the way it views women of a certain age should share some of the responsibility. So often, the “What if I fly?” excitement in my head about a new project turns into a “What’s the point?” negativity when I’m confronted by discrimination. Added to which, some days, putting my goals first seems bloody impossible with the responsibilities of a day job, my home life and the emotional labour that goes with it. It feels like Imposter Syndrome to think that little me can do anything amazing.

4. Gratitude – I can’t ignore the voice in my head that says I should be grateful for what I’ve got. I’ve read a lot and listened to a ton of podcasts on the subject of privilege and I know I should feel more grateful than I do. I’m white, I’ve had a good education, and I’m relatively financially secure. But I still want more. Whilst I am incredibly grateful for what I’ve been given, I can’t be that sincere happy-clappy kind of grateful that some expect of people in my position. I still have dreams. And because being grateful is evidently not enough to make my happy, I’m starting to question if I’m just an inherently angry, selfish person.

5. That lack of me-time I keep mentioning, whichis (I admit it) turning me into that middle-aged stereotype I hate so much – the crabby Olive Kitteridge version. Lack of time to do what I WANT makes me resent people who make unnecessary demands of my time or who take advantage of that small part of my nature that can be generous. I begrudge the expectation that I should be responsible for all of the emotional labour in the family. This constant push and pull I experience about WHAT I SHOULD BE versus WHAT I WANT TO BE is exhausting and I’m tired of saying “yes” to everything and then hating myself and others for putting me in that position.

So, there it is…

If you’ve ever wondered why our age-group is portrayed as cantankerous old bitches, you might want to look beneath the surface. Frustration at feeling like we’re up against the clock all of the time is one cause of our sensitivity. The fear of not having enough time to complete everything we want to achieve is another.

Of course, I hope I’ll be remembered as “a good, caring person”, but is it so wrong to want more? Is it wrong to want something for me? To be ambitious? It”s not like my goals are unrealistic in any way – they are very highly achievable given the opportunity to prioritise them rather than have to fit them around everything else in my life.

When the virus first struck I put aside MY goals because I was worried about its impact on my mental health and the knock-on effect that might have on my ability to do my job, care for my family etc. I made a conscious decision not to take anything new on that might prove challenging… apart from crocheting – who was I kidding? – and removed myself from anything with the potential to trigger stress. In other words, I put everyone else first again and sacrificed my right to happiness. Being busy doing stuff I enjoy energises me; being busy making everyone else’s life easier doesn’t.

But perhaps my biggest problem is self-perception

Which brings me back, again, to that hurtful stereotype of the middle-aged woman, which contributes to the way we are discriminated by a society that, frankly, doesn’t needs any help in that department.

Middle-aged celebrities like Cindy Crawford who have “aged well” (Yuck!) may think that they are empowering women our age by looking fantastic and fit – but are they really? To me, it’s a bit like how porn educates young boys about sex, isn’t it? The women who inspire me are the ones who are authentic – middle-aged women such as Frances McDormand and Helen Mirren, who haven’t traded their looks for success. I have no problem with women who use their looks for their careers, but I do have a problem with women promoting the beauty of middle-age with surgical and financial help.

Brene Brown knows from personal experience how impossible it is to attain success and experience true happiness when we feel vulnerable. She believes that the people who are successful have to be totally confident in who they are, what they’re doing, and what they want. These people remove toxic people from their lives and they say no.

The truth is that successful people have to be a little bit selfish

And by “success”, I mean personal success, and achieving personal goals. And that’s, sadly, the realization I’ve come to as well. I’ve resolved to be more selfish from now on and place boundaries around my time.

But first of all, I need to manage my time better, which means going back to the drawing board and making a list of all the things I can’t give up (my day job and my family responsibilities), and the personal goals I want to add (new learning, publishing my manuscript, launching my writing business properly, exercise, travel and good food). And finally, I’ll decide what to cut from my life – because those things no longer bring me pleasure (Thanks again! Marie Kondo), because they aren’t value for money, or simply because they are a symptom of my weakness for taking on everyone else’s problems as well as dealing with my own.

I know it may sound crazy to do a complete re-evaluation of your life in your fifties, but how lucky are those of us who still have choices that are denied to so many?

Anyone else feel selfish about putting themselves first at this stage of their lives?

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The 25 Best Feel-Good Movies For Lazy Weekends

Are you genuinely still social-distancing?

Same Kind Of Different As Me movie poster with four of the cast.
Same Kind Of Different As Me Movie Poster

Or are you just socially anxious like me, and pretending you still have to?

If so, let me plan out next weekend for you because Angela at Heritage Films has asked me to give a shout-out for this wonderful, feel-good movie starring Renee Zellweger that they are premiering online between the 29th and 31st May. It’s called “Same Kind Of Different As Me,” and for each ticket sold (drum roll) a donation will be made to the Salvation Army and its Red Shield Appeal, who have been hit really hard this year.

Check out the movie trailer here:

A bit about the movie…

Ron Hall, played by Greg Kinnear in the movie, wrote the original story of “Same Kind Of Different As Me” – about a couple, whose lives change forever when they develop an unlikely friendship with Denver Moore, a homeless man – and sales from it have raised over $100,000 towards homelessness. As soon as Angela described it as “a true, inspirational story about a woman who transforms a city with kindness,” I knew it would be right up the street of a feel-good movie aficionado like me…especially now, during these dark, COVID times.

Who hasn’t loved Renee Zellweger since she dished up blue soup in Bridget Jones?

Evidently, Angela knew that flattery would get her everywhere (when she described me as a blogger with compassion in her pitch to me), but there are other (less shallow) reasons I want to endorse this movie premiere. Firstly, there are those massively important donations to The Salvation Army who “leave no-one in need” – and I know from personal experience how easy it is for any of us to suddenly find ourselves in a position of dependency on awesome charities such as these – and secondly, this is not just any old movie, it is a story with heart and soul, with an amazing cast, and I think most of us could do with a little of that right now.

Did You Know That Ugly-Crying Actually Enhances Your Mood?

This movie is guaranteed to release all those pent-up emotions of the last two months – which is a good thing because (interesting fact) a big, ugly cry actually ENHANCES your mood. And, frankly, it sounds like a) the perfect antidote to the Corona blues and b) the ultimate way to waste a lazy weekend afternoon for the professional couch potatoes among us.

But if those aren’t big enough incentives, remember that feel-good stories like these force us to think about how lucky we are – a really important reminder for those of us fortunate enough to come out of COVID-19 relatively unscathed.

Anything that gives us pause for thought and time to reflect on our priorities is a good thing, right?

AND FINALLY, THE BEST BIT. With your invitation to watch this movie, you are ALSO invited to the pre-movie program which includes interviews with the stars and the author, i.e. the perfect excuse to put on your glad rags for the first time (in what feels like a decade) and crack open a bottle of bubbly.

You can buy your movie pass HERE, and once you receive it you’ll get 48hrs to complete the movie and two weeks to start it.

And remember, the MAIN reason I’m giving you permission to take an afternoon off is because single and family movie passes make a direct donation to this year’s RED SHIELD APPEAL.

Cast of Four Weddings And A Funeral
Four Weddings And A funeral movie poster

And while I’m on the subject of THE BEST FEEL-GOOD MOVIES, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few of my own. I’m not an idiot, so I realise that anyone worth their salted popcorn (when it comes to tearjerkers) will have seen most of these already, but if you haven’t, hit up a box of Maltesers, get out the blankets and give them a shot.

Enjoy!

  1. The Green Mile – Starring Sandra Bullock, the queen of feel-good movies.

2. When Harry Met Sally – Who hasn’t been in the situation this couple finds themselves in “the morning after”? Harry’s expression says it all. It always reminds me of the look on the old man’s face the morning after we (drunkenly) decided to try for a baby.

3. Chocolat – Anything French is “HOT AF!” I would definitely turn for Juliette Binoche.

4. Love Actually – So yeah, in terms of political correctness, this movie hasn’t aged the best, but who can forget the magic of that wedding, THAT funeral, or the brutal bedroom scene caused by Snape’s infidelity.

5. Notting Hill – The fairytale. “I’m just a boy, standing in front of a girl, asking him to love her.”

6. Steel Magnolias – The best story about friendship. Hankies a must.

7. Ten Things I Hate About You – Heath Ledger. *Sob*

8. Pride and Prejudice – Where Mr Darcy’s awkwardness is almost as sexy as a man carrying a baby.

9. Four Weddings And A Funeral – This movie always reminds me of the year of our wedding, minus the funeral. So many memories, so embarrassingly nineties.

10. My Big Fat Greek Wedding – John Corbett at his sexiest. We learnt what a bunt was and we’ll never say I.A.N the same way again.

11. Forrest Gump – An epic journey of kindness.

12. The Shawshank Redemption – The best bromance.

14. The Holiday – Cutest cottage, kid, and dad.

13. Bridget Jones Diary – The most accurate depiction of those angst-ridden years of our late-twenties and early-thirties. The best song to sing with a hairbrush.

15. Grease – The first movie I saw at the cinema with friends.

16. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – The subtle introduction of Leonardo to the world.

17. Silver Linings Playbook – The most romantic take on love with mental illness.

18. Dead Poets Society – Robin Williams “Oh captain, my captain…’

19. Bend It Like Beckham – An inspirational tale for young girls everywhere.

20. My Left Foot – The courage and determination of Christy Brown.

21. The Full Monty – Finally, some titillation for the ladies.

22. Bridesmaids – Too many hysterical moments in this movie to mention, but…every bride’s worst nightmare has to be a bad case of diarrhoea in your wedding dress.

23. The Untouchables – A mesmerising story of friendship and hope.

24. The Body Guard/Field Of Dreams/Dances With Wolves – Something for everyone. Who knew that Kevin Costner was such a feel-good film maker?

25. Benny And Joon – A beautiful film about love and “difference”.

Any movies I need to add to my list?

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5 Surprising Things I Haven’t Missed In Isolation

What’s surprised me most about this virus and its impact on my life is WHAT I HAVEN’T MISSED in isolation.

Whilst the 5 O’clock shadow above my lip is evidence of how much my body is missing its minimal beauty regime, there are still many things I thought my happiness depended upon that I haven’t missed at all since COVID struck our shores.

Photo by Mental Health America (MHA) on Pexels.com

Obviously, I’ve missed going to restaurants, weekends away, and movie trips, but there’s no denying that this virus has gifted me a window of opportunity to put into perspective what’s truly important in my life.

Removed from that relentless pressure to succeed in every aspect of my life, my brain is taking a long-overdue holiday from the overwhelming expectations society places on women our age.

Here are 5 surprising things I haven’t missed in isolation:

1. People

FRIENDS, before you rush to Facebook and unfriend me, hear me out. Because I’m not talking about people per se, I’m talking about people I don’t really know that I’m forced to mix with at large social events or work. One of the chronic sides to my anxiety is my social anxiety, which may not be that obvious to most people – because I’m a professional at disguising it, aka an alcoholic. Nevertheless, it’s a problem that explains why a big part of me is loving this excuse not to leave the house right now.

The work required to socialise kills me, i.e. the diplomacy required to fit everyone in without offending anyone. So while I’ve kept myself busy during this time, I’ve not missed being socially busy and I’ve embraced the extra time and energy to pour into projects I WANT TO DO that I’ve been forced to put on the back burner in the past.

2. Shopping

There’s not much point in clothes shopping when there’s nowhere to go, and on the rare occasions I’ve visited the mall for “essentials”, I’ve discovered that my desire to shop has all but disappeared – cue fist pump from hubby. Materialism really does feel unessential right now.

That change in mindset has nothing to do with not having the cash to splash, it’s about the change in my priorities. In the past, I wasted hours at the mall, trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that now seen ridiculous. Like many women, treating myself and spending compulsively used to make me feel better about myself. Now, I wonder why.

3. My Anxiety

This is a strange one to admit to when governments around the world are preparing for a mental health emergency, and yet it makes complete sense to me. Aside from the ramifications of certain domestic triggers (hmmm…), my anxiety hasn’t been exacerbated by COVID-19. If anything, it has reduced, and recent research in Japan confirms that I’m not alone. It makes sense when one of the triggers of my anxiety is stress at work, and did I mention people?

The threat of the virus trumps most of the fears anxious people like me ruminate about on a daily basis. COVID-19 is the disaster of epic proportions we over-thinkers have been waiting for our whole lives, and now it’s finally here and more tangible, it’s rather like looking the enemy in the eye.

And health anxiety is hardly an option right now. NO-ONE in their right mind wants to end up in the ER at the moment, right? And on a more personal front, whilst having our grown up son back at home has added some tension, it has also removed the fear caused by those calls in the middle of the night. Enabling or not, it is much easier to support him during this pandemic while he’s under our own roof.

4. “The Treadmill”

Again, the treadmill issue tie in with people and my anxiety. While I like my routine, I don’t necessarily enjoy all of the functions on my personal treadmill and at fifty-four, I’m still trying to shape my life into one I want, that works for me, i.e. working for myself, and doing something I feel passionately about. This break from certain outside pressures has paused the tension that usually mounts. It has provided me with the opportunity to step back and do exactly what I want for a short space of time, when I want to.

5. The Weight Of Expectation

I am aware that it is my personal responsibility to control the weight of expectation I feel – or so my therapist says. Everyone wants to succeed, but to balance pressures (many of which I put on myself) with my mental health is an ongoing battle. With the release of some of that pressure, my head has bobbed back to the surface of the water again.

I won’t deny that I’ve had an innate desire to find more inner peace for some time, and for those of us lucky enough to come through this virus unscathed, one positive of this COVID-19 experience has been to highlight the areas of our lives we need to re-evaluate. It has pushed nature, family relationships, and my health back to the top of my priority list. I may be missing the opportunity to explore countries I’ve never visited and family I haven’t seen in a while, but I am not missing the anxiety that used to accompany me on those trips.

Is there anything you haven’t missed in isolation that has come as a surprise?

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C-Words like COVID-19 are never good, but most clouds have a silver lining

Historically, c-words have had a bad rap. For example, the c-word “c*nt” is described as a vulgarism for female genitalia on Wikipedia, and the euphemism for “cancer” used to be the archetypal c-word. That is until recently, when a far more sinister c-word entered our vocabulary.

I suppose it is fortunate, therefore, that the negative connotation of some words evolve over time. “C*nt” and “cancer”, for example – words deemed so terrible in the past that they had to be given euphemisms – have become increasingly popular in modern conversation.

Which I’m rather glad about. You see, I’m rather partial to the word “c*nt” – in spite of how Americans feel about it. In my opinion, there is no better word to describe someone who is, frankly, more of a “c*nt” than a “knob” or a “dick”.

And it might surprise you to know that for many modern women, “c*nt” is not seen as a derogatory word. It is actually an empowering word for some of us, because we don’t see our genitalia as threatening, ugly or something to be ashamed of. We see them as a thing of beauty, a valuable weapon for our sex, and the embodiment of womanhood. It is my pride in my sexuality that empowers the word.

Modern women don’t see women’s genitalia as threatening, ugly or something to be ashamed of

Australian comedian Judith Lucy demonstrates her liberal use of the word in her wonderful podcast “Overwhelmed and Dying”. Indeed, so comfortable is Judith with the word “c*nt” (and pretty much every other modern expletive), recently she had a portrait of her c*nt made – You can hear about it on the episode “Hanging Up My Vagina” here.

Cancer was another c-word that was only ever mentioned in hushed tones

“Cancer” was another of those words no-one talked about either. During my childhood, the disease was only ever referred to as the c-word for reasons I’m still not clear about. Ignorance, perhaps, or a symptom of the anxiety that followed two world wars in which society had been encouraged into a short term, false sense of stoicism that the disease ignored. Of course, it didn’t help its popularity that cancer was seen as guaranteed death sentence back then.

Even today, medical researchers implore doctors not to use the word cancer (unless absolutely necessary) due to its power to induce panic.

Fortunately, prognoses have improved for many cancer sufferers, as has their level of public support and our general awareness about the disease. So much so, some cancer sufferers are quite comfortable to talk about their journey, including what they LEARNED from it – whether that’s a greater appreciation for life or a timely reminder to make changes before it’s too late.

As Martha Carlsen says: “Don’t be afraid of the C word. Go ahead and fear or despise cancer itself and what the treatments may bring. But don’t be afraid of the word. Saying it out loud won’t make the disease worse or cause your treatments to fail or scare your friends away,” here

And now this new c-word has reached our shores

So is COVID-19 the new c-word? Because the living hell that it has unleashed around the globe makes it is damned near impossible not to drop its name into every conversation or to lap up every detail of it’s trajectory like a dog with a bowl of ice-cream. This virus will leave a hideous legacy. It has taken innocent lives, threatened others, and its overall impact is certain to destroy far more than public health.

Yep, it’s a bit of a c*nt!

Nevertheless, I don’t think so.

I think some good can come from this virus

It may not be blatantly obvious YET, but this virus is responsible for some seriously good shit. It has given us pause for thought. It has forced us take a break, sit back and reflect on our lives and the choices we are making. It has made some of us stop taking our relationships for granted, drawn a line under the relationships of others, and redefined life goals for many. It has helped us acknowledge the previously undervalued foundations of our society who are now out there on the frontline, battling to save lives.

Maybe some of the changes it causes will be positive?

I hope so. While the toll on our mental health will be enormous and the impact on the world economy is yet to be calculated, I’m certain that the legacy of COVID-19 won’t be all bad. Positive changes are already being seen in the workplace, for example, and as a result of social distancing rules it’s likely that when employees come out of isolation in search of jobs, their priority will be ones that offer greater work flexibility for a better work/lifestyle balance; the responsibility of childcare will be shared more evenly between couples, and there will be a greater investment by the government into healthcare.

And while we have yet to see the full benefit of isolation on our environment, the signs are positive in terms of pollution and its effect on climate change as well.

On a personal note, this period has reminded me of how lucky I am that I married my best friend

Even I have noticed subtle changes in my own thinking over these past few weeks. Check-ins from friends and family have moved me and served as a valuable reminder to service my relationships more often; this taste of retirement has reassured me that I will have plenty of purpose when the time comes, and I have never felt more grateful about being married to my best friend.

And so, while c-words are never good, it is handy to remember that most clouds have a silver lining

What subtle changes have you noticed in your life?

20 Surprising Things I Am Thankful For This Year

Anger was the main topic of conversation during my last visit to my therapist for the year. Anger about stuff I can’t control, mainly, but also anger about the world stuff I talked about here in my last post, as well as some anger issues about the usual personal frustrations.

Photo by Howard Riminton on Unsplash

In response, she drew that volcano on the board for me again, which is supposed to represent the three things that cause anger – fear, sadness, anxiety – but in truth, she could have added resentment, disappointment and envy as well.

Of course, anger is not an unusual emotion to experience at this time of the year, when there is so much anticipation, expectation, and erm family involvement. Which is why I have found myself pounding the pavements around my lake more often and more heavily than usual in the lead up to Christmas in an attempt to keep that woe is me vibe under control.

That’s why it was so good to be reminded that some things/people can’t be changed, and her analogy about not buying a cake from the butchers made perfect sense. And so, instead of dwelling on my frustrations about the last year in this final post before Christmas, I thought I’d give gratitude another go.

Here it is: my list of thank yous to the people and things that have contributed to my happy bits this year:

  1. The agents who have rejected my booknot really – because they’ve forced me to look at my manuscript again and improve it. I refuse to give up on this story that I know millions of women and mothers that are coping with mental illness in their family will identify with.
  2. My anti-depressants for my anxiety. Without them, there would have been many times I would have crumbled and given up. I continue to believe wholeheartedly that if you need medication for an illness, you take it, and no one should judge you for that choice.
  3. The editors who have taken a chance on me and allowed me to express my humble opinions to a much larger audience than this blog.
  4. My boss, for having faith in me, even though I keep questioning why.
  5. Old friends and family from the UK, who occasionally drop me a line and fill my heart with love.
  6. The Princess, who makes me look like a saint when it comes to unpredictable moods as she ages and who accepts me for who I am. In fact, thank you to all dogs who give so much unconditional love to their families and who provide so much entertainment on video.
  7. Toasted sandwiches – I rediscovered these halfway through the year and they are one of my new favourite comfort foods.
  8. Running – WTF!? I’m not going any further, any faster, or enjoying it any more than when I started this craziness, but it is one of the healthier ways to quash the anger.
  9. My therapist – I clicked with her the first time we met and I’m gutted that she’s moving away to pastures new. Thank you for not sitting on the fence. Thank you for sympathizing when I have those woe is me moments, and thank you for knowing exactly the right time to tell me to put on my big girl panties.
  10. My children – I want to thank NC for being my best friend, for always being straight with me, and for loving me in spite of my questionable nurturing skills. I know that her inheritance of the emotionally awkward gene makes it as hard for her to demonstrate her feelings, so let’s see just how bloody awkward Christmas can get when the two of us are forced to hug publicly again. Thank you Kurt for the many corners you have turned this year, for making me a proud mama even when you don’t think I am, for holding on, for holding out, for showing strength in the face of adversity, and for beating the old man at pool.
  11. Family – Thank you to those who stay in touch in spite of the distance I have put between us; to those who have braved a visit to the other side of the world, and to those who keep alive the memory of those that we have lost, which is far too many. A special thank to my siblings who have been through a lot of the same shithouse stuff as me, whose wings have been broken time and time again, and yet who manage to stick them back on each year and maintain a sense of humor.
  12. Wine – Thank you for getting me through many awkward social situations and personal crises, even if next year I am determined to put some distance between us. At the age of 54, I’m beginning to understand the ramifications of toxic relationships.
  13. My walking buddies – I never thought I would enjoy walking, come to hate noise, and see the point of plants. I like to think of the middle-aged stereotype I am turning into as maturing rather than growing old. Thank you to those friends with whom I have travelled kilometres, over-analysing our lives for their meaning. So many times I’ve returned from those journeys a changed woman. Our talks have made me understand how good life is when it is simple. Being at one with nature in the company of good friends is all an old girl really needs – except for no. 12, obviously.
  14. The cunts – Thank you to those people whose ignorance, discrimination, and abuse of privilege has made me wiser and stronger. To those who are too blind and too arrogant to acknowledge the inequality between men and women, the plight of refugees, or the affects of climate change. To those who refuse to accept that certain types of humour are simply not appropriate and continue to put their needs above everyone else and judge a book by its cover. To those who refuse to accept that the world is evolving, and without their massive cuntery, those changes might be for the better.
  15. To the fire fighters and other rescue services, thank you for your generosity, bravery and commitment to keeping us safe here in Australia.
  16. To the men who have shown empathy for the women who have been abused and betrayed by their gender, who have supported rather than doubted or torn them down. To the men who are determined to change toxic masculinity for their own benefit as well as ours, who knock back sexist jokes, who cry, who show their sons love and who share the emotional and physical load at home.
  17. To my readers and followers – thank you for putting up with my lack of filter, sweariness, biassed opinions and embarrassing need for attention. Thank you for validating my writing and making me feel more relevant.
  18. To the people who have made me laugh this year – Benjamin Law, Ricky Gervais, Daniel Sloss, the writers of Guilty Feminist, Wil Anderson and his Wilosophy, Kathy Lette and Tim Minchin, to name a few.
  19. To my health. Thank you to my body for putting up with the abuse I give it. Next year, I will not take it for granted as much and try to value each extra day that I am given.
  20. To my husband who puts up with my shit on a daily basis. I don’t tell him often how much I love him and appreciate him 1) because we’re reached that stage where we take each other for granted, and 2) because a lot of the time he irritates the fuck out of me. But evidently, the fact that we can still laugh together and at each other is the glue that has bound us together for another year.

A very Happy Christmas and New Year to everyone xx

The 7 Best Ways To Find Your Christmas Spirit If You’re A Grinch

In spite of my newfound, VERY mature thoughts about the insignificance of consumerism in my life at this time here, I have launched myself full throttle into Christmas.

Living room with full of Christmas decorations.

To be honest, I’m a bit of a Christmas tragic. We were fortunate to have a mother who made the festivities so special for us that even though she died in December, the month remains my favourite in the year. In some ways, I suppose, I want to uphold her tradition of Christmas madness because it feels like a celebration of her life. My sister is as bad. So much so, we have an annual race to get the tree up first. I won this year. (Just saying, Ange).

When we lived in the UK, we used to wait until mid December before we put the tree up – although I’m sure that has changed as the world gets more and more embroiled in the commercialism of the season. But here, in Australia, we kick off the celebrations much earlier, probably because it is the start of our long summer holidays, or possibly for the benefit of the many migrants who struggle to find their Christmas spirit.

I fully commit. While many of my British circle don’t feel Christmas is the same in a hot climate, I have embraced the morning swim on Christmas morning with gusto, followed by turkey and Christmas pudding – even in 35-degree heat!

Needless to say, by late November I’ve already mentally signed off for the year and entrenched myself fully in plans for our annual Chrissy Drinks, what to wear on the special days, and Christmas shopping. This year, I’m even going to see White Christmas with some fellow Christmas freaks.

So, if you’re a Grinch and need some help in the Christmas spirit department, here are my 7 great ways to find it:

1.Add some sparkle to your home. OBVS, a tree is the best, but if you can’t be bothered, a liberal dose of tinsel and coloured lights will do the trick. I have a rather fetching bauble head piece that I wear.

2. Nothing beats the aroma of Christmas spices. I still make Delia’s Red Cabbage each year, even though everyone in the family hates it. The smell of cloves and cinnamon push me up one more notch on the Christmas madness scale.

3. Fish out the Christmas movies. I can recommend the latest piece of schmalz from the UK – Last Christmas – in spite of the reviews. Emma Thompson is superb, Emilia Clarke is magnetic, and Henry Golding makes for some lovely tree candy. Although, for my money you can’t beat The Holiday or the Christmas scenes in Bridget Jones.

4. Go to Aldi and stock up on all their yummy Christmas treats. It is a scientifically-proven fact that calories don’t count at Christmas and while you might think you don’t need that DIY Gingerbread House, of course you do!

5. Christmas music – At home, in the car, in the shower. Sex is good, but absolutely nothing beats dancing around the kitchen to Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

6. Give/Donate/Be Kind. So we all know that the old saying that giving is better than receiving is a load of old bollocks, but even the biggest cynic knows that nothing beats the high to be had from “giving.” If you can find a way to donate or help someone at Christmas, I promise you’ll enjoy yours all the more. Whatever your budget, even the tiniest act of generosity can make a difference to those less fortunate than you. Buy charity Christmas, donate some cash, help the koalas, or thank the firemen, but make a difference! This year, I’m going to “donate a plate” for the homeless via The Wayside Chapel here.

7. Don’t be a Grinch and you might actually enjoy it. Be positive. Don’t worry about who you don’t like or who doesn’t like you at Christmas lunch, family feuds, or undercooking the turkey. There are fewer and fewer occasions when families and communities get the opportunity to simply BE together, so whether you are religious or not, look at Christmas that way. It is a reminder about what is important. No one’s really coming for the turkey (who would?) or the booze – they’re coming to see you, to see each other. They’re coming for that magical sense of belonging that lose sight of in our busy lives. Christmas has this incredible power to reinstate it.

Fortunately for me, after almost thirty years together, Scrooge has resigned himself to my craziness at this time of the year. He refuses to indulge in it – evidently, he has picked up that it is much safer not to burst my Christmas bauble – but each year, he dutifully buys the ice for the Christmas party, mixes the drinks, and then (I imagine) he rolls his eyes the minute my back is turned. On Boxing Day, when I am rocking in a corner, he skips around the house singing his self-penned “Christmas Is Over” song with gay abandon.

Isn’t It Funny How Our Priorities Change With Age?

The old man opened the vault last week. Last month was the first time he didn’t lose a ton of our money since he became an investor and it triggered un uncharacteristically generous response. Of course, I leapt at the opportunity to spend.

Photo from Sophie Elvis on Unsplash.com

I’m sure I must have mentioned that we’ve owned our current sofas for almost twenty-two years? Or that our television is so old it doesn’t fit through modern doors and has to be turned off manually? And that our dining set is from IKEA, circa 1800, and I bought it with my first pay after Kurt was born?

According to the old man’s philosophy, the money we spend is about making my life as miserable as possible “financial choices” i.e. nothing to do with an appreciation for antiques or sentimentality, although I believe that it also has something to do with the old man’s natural parsimony, his complete disinterest in what our house looks like, and my uselessness with money – as in saving money. That’s why – and I am embarrassed to admit this – I relinquished joint control of our bank account a long time ago.

I know…bad feminist!

Anyway, unsurprisingly, furniture has never featured highly on his list of priorities (unlike top-of-the-range golf clubs and wasted memberships at gyms), so the deal he offered me last week – to purchase two sofas, some dining chairs, and a new tv for him – could have knocked me down with a feather.

There were a few conditions, OBVS: I had to pick the furniture within an hour; it had to meet the practicalities he deems important ie. the color had to be a practical shade of neutral because of the Princess’s habit of wiping her bum and her spaghetti mouth on them; and I was NOT TO GO OVER BUDGET.

Sometimes, it really is like he doesn’t even know me!

And, honestly, I can’t describe to you the anticipation both of us felt as we travelled to the mall like a proper, grown up couple going furniture shopping. Although, then again, this grown up business does seem to be becoming a bit of a habit, if you remember here.

Of course, his generosity in terms of patience in the furniture stores didn’t extend as far as the family wallet. He lasted all of five minutes in the first shop before he had his first tanty and I had to send him packing to the tv store, which brought back horrible memories of Hawaii and our lifetime ban from Avis. Which left me an hour – negotiated up from half an hour – to find the furniture we will most likely wee and die on, before he changed his mind.

And I did it. The furniture had been ordered and is due to arrive before Christmas, and I am …well …not nearly as excited about it as I thought I would be, as I admitted to Tightarse the other night.

‘So if what would excite you if you could buy anything?’ he asked me, stifling a yawn.

Well… not the material stuff, anymore. We are lucky, we have everything we need. No, these days what gets me really excited is the thought of giving, having new experiences, learning about new stuff, the luxury of time (if I have the option), being a part of social change, and er…food. The prospect of taking the kids out to dinner and giving them free range to pick what they want from the menu – even dessert; shoving $50 in their hand when they need it – because I remember how much we appreciated the gesture from my in-laws when we were hard up; travel, education, and the freedom to do exactly what I want. All of those things excite me more than plush new sofas that someone will spill red wine on the minute I’ve unwrapped them – although, needless to say, I still made sure they will arrive before Christmas, in time for the family visit from the UK.

Isn’t it funny how our priorities change with age?

What excites you now?

Middle Age Is About Making Important Choices

I knocked back some paid work last week. Not that we’re rolling in money and I can pick and choose the hours I want, but this time my choice was based on my health. I knew that working five days a week in three different fields would have undone all of the good I got from my holiday.

I know how lucky I am to have that option, but that’s because we have made choices about the way we live. We sold the family home and rent an apartment now, and the old man is we’re careful about what we spend. In the past, both of us have struggled with stress and anxiety – which have been exacerbated by our problems with Kurt – and so we are well aware of our limitations.

I believe fervently in the importance of recognising those when it comes to your mental health, particularly in middle age when menopause can trigger anxiety and reduce our tolerance for working with dickheads for someone else. Sometimes, when I listen to friends who constantly moan about their jobs – and who are fortunate to have those options – I want to shake them and ask them exactly what they’re waiting for?

I am aware that there are people out there – mostly self-employed – who love their work, and that perhaps my view sounds somewhat narrow-minded. But I learnt about the fragility of human life very early on, and I’m also fortunate that I can do some of my paid work from home.

Instead of working on those days I was asked to, I took my first dip in the ocean since the end of winter. I lay in the water like a pig in shit, looking up at the blue sky, and acknowledged how lucky I am. The water in Sydney doesn’t get higher than 24 degrees and it was predictably icy, i.e. enough to shock my body into questioning what the fuck I was doing. Nevertheless, it was clear, bathed in sunshine, and personally I can’t think of any better experience.

So I won’t be getting that new dining set to replace the one we’ve had for over twenty years, which is now so old it has come back into fashion – much to the old man’s delight. But I did experience another of life’s precious moments, and without being maudlin, who knows how many opportunities I’ve got left to do that.

There Is No Better Education In Love, Compassion And Empathy Than Having A Child With Special Needs

A few weeks ago we went to a fundraiser. It was a black tie event to raise money for the family of an old colleague of the old man’s whose son broke his neck and damaged his spinal cord in a freak rugby accident recently.

Alex Noble is their son’s name, and if anyone feels like funding a real cause, as opposed to other, less noble causes, please feel free – here is the link to his GoFundMe page.

At one point in the evening, Alex’s parents stood up on stage to tell us a little about his story, his progress, and their plans for the future – should they reach their target that night to secure the funds they need to renovate their house, meaning he can eventually come home.

“There’s not a lot of joy in my life right now, but there’s a lot of love,’ his mother said.

It was a comment that hit me hard, because albeit that in terms of bums on seats that night, there was a wonderful level of support in the room, as a mum who is also a part-time carer of an adult dependent, (as well as being a professional cynic), I did wonder how many guests would be there for the long-haul of Alex’s journey, once the glitter is swept away.

Many of the guests were close friends of the couple or friends of their son, so in some ways it felt almost voyeuristic to be there, to witness the pain and rawness caused by such a cruel twist of fate; to sense the fears that his family feel in terms of the uncertainty of Alex’s and their future.

When we plan our children, we never anticipate for one moment that things won’t work out like the parenting manuals told us they will, so I understand what Alex’s Mum was trying to say. I’ve felt that way many times with Kurt – because let’s not underestimate the devastation caused by mental illness or disability, either. Indeed, it was only a week before that I thought that we had lost our son?

Scratch the surface and there is heartache in every family. I can’t tell you the number of times people open up to me about siblings or relatives with mental health issues who have been hidden, the skeletons in their cupboards.

But Alex’s Mum was right about how adversity cultivates love. Because in return for the pain caused by our son’s neuro-diversity, we have been given an education in love, compassion and empathy, and we are better people for that. We are as proud of him as we are of NC – much to her horror. While his steps forward have been slower, they have been celebrated with the same enthusiasm as hers, and his progress has provided us with an invaluable insight into how society should be measuring success.

Admittedly, there have been times when there’s not been a lot of joy in caring for someone who may never get better, and I wouldn’t wish our experience or that of Alex and his parents on anyone. Before his accident, they would have been looking forward to the last chapter of their lives as independent once again, but the ramifications of his physical disability may be lifelong, and they will affect not only them, but his siblings, and possibly future generations of their family.

I’m glad that they feel loved and supported. I hate cliches, but shit like this does make you stronger, because you have no choice but to be strong. But as I said, there are hidden benefits to life’s knocks such as this. While they will have to reset their expectations of Alex, his milestones will be as meaningful as those of his siblings – if not more so. And though it may feel painful at the time, this tragedy will draw a line in the sand between their true friends and their fair weather friends, because they won’t have time for games.

But they will be tired all of the time and there will be days when they feel like they can’t go on and will question why me? So I suppose what I really want to say to all those parents battling through each day with kids with disabilities or dependencies, is that your joy may well be diminished, but like a flower in summer, your heart will be opened to maximum capacity.

The Meaning Of Life: And Why People Who Live In Hot Countries Suffer From Depression Too

Kurt experienced a few personal setbacks a few weeks ago and because I know that many of you follow this blog because you too have young adults who struggle, I thought I’d take you through what we’ve learned from it. Obviously, I won’t go into precise detail about what happened, but suffice it to say that after more than a year of giant leaps towards a balanced, happier life, his world came crashing down around him and he felt unable to cope.

Man looking out onto world.
Photo by Larisa Birta on Unsplash

We’ve all been there – those parts of growing up when it feels like life is conspiring against us, leaving us no way out. But it’s worse when you have a disability and the lack of a good emotional skill set and resilience to cope with it.

His cry for help coincided with my first day in a new position at work – a position that I know is within my field of expertise, even though my anxiety consistently tells me that I can’t do it – so, needless to say, I was already in an emotional tail spin that morning when he started calling me. In hindsight, I think that I may have over-reacted to the situation.

My therapist tells me that anxiety can be contagious in some families, like a chemical reaction, where the molecules keep bouncing against each other, escalating it. Apologies for my simplistic interpretation but I never took Chemistry seriously at school. However, I did manage to stop my eyes glazing over as she was explaining what she obviously believed was a useful analogy to me. And I know that I use this expression all of the time in this blog, but sometimes it really does feel (for a lot of us) as though we will never get our shit together and that life takes some perverse enjoyment out of kicking at us when we’re already on the ground. Fortunately for us oldies, though, maturity and experience help remind us in those moments that we will (most likely) get back up on the damned horse, whereas Kurt is still young. He has yet to understand the difference a year, a day, or even an hour can make to how he is feeling in that moment, or how different those areas of his life that he struggles with today may look in ten years time.

When you’ve been misunderstood and had to fight for acceptance for most of your short life, resilience is hard to build.

However, a week on, I am happy to report that he is in a very different headspace. In fact, a few nights ago the family got together for dinner – Waltons-style (not quite) – I watched the light return to his eyes as he held court at the dining table, and it was almost impossible to believe that this was the same, broken young man from the week before.

Watch any documentary or reality show on the topic of depression or suicide ideation and you will see that most people regret their attempt if they survive to be given a second chance at this crazy thing called life.

We live in a crazy world, and not even maturity hands over all the answers to our reasons for being here. So it’s understandable for an over-thinking twenty-two-year-old, whose brain is still developing, to lose his way; to question if the pressure and suffering are really worth it, and (perhaps, more importantly), why the shit seems to be dealt out so disproportionately.

Hence, the rise in mental health issues in our youth.

I constantly question what we can change for this boy of ours to help him believe that overall the good outweighs the bad. That is the problem with depression – it is not something that you can fix by throwing money at it. On paper, Kurt has everything he should need to be happy. He has family support, a job and that sort of energising personality that Robin Williams had. ie. a convincing mask.

When the old man and I watched Chernobyl this week, I found myself looking at the bleakness of the Russian landscape in disbelief, wondering how any population could enjoy their lives beneath the heaviness of those grey skies and such an unforgiving political regime – let alone a dodgy nuclear reactor – and I decided that it is because they have known no different. But I was wrong. Happiness doesn’t come from the tangible stuff in our lives. It has less to do with blue skies and much more to do with living in a supportive community and having friends. It’s why the poorest in Africa and India are still happy. Seriously, Indian people are the most rounded, happy people I’ve ever met.

Blue skies help, but people who live in hot countries suffer from depression as well.

I keep telling Kurt that dealing with life’s crap makes you more resilient, even though I’m still trying to convince myself. I’m not comfortable using “stronger” in this instance – there are many days when I feel far from strong, but I hope that he builds the resilience to hang in there long enough to experience the good bits about this world. Ie. the myriad of wonderful relationships and experiences that are within his grasp if he allows his stars to align. But then that does require a certain level of positivity, hence the Catch 22 fuckery of my parental wisdom.

I suppose that the real crux of the matter when it comes to the meaning of life is that, in truth, there is no real alternative.

Why Try Mindfulness In Middle Age? Because That’s When You Realise Just How Fucked Up The World Really Is

I took an introductory course in mindfulness a few weeks ago. I thought that the company of calm, spiritual people would wield its inner peace on me. But when it turned out that only my friends had signed up for the course, I realised something I already knew – that we’re all dealing with our own shit.

Women practising meditation.
Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

Among other living hells, Menopause is known to exacerbate anxiety, and while I have found other calming techniques for my over-active brain – such as running, writing, and drinking more wine – I keep hearing the word “mindfulness” bandied about in association with ADHD and anxiety, which is why I decided to give it a shot.

I suppose that everyone is seeking the simplest solution to cope with the trials of life, but that need becomes more pertinent the older you get, when you realise just how fucked up the world really is.

I also knew that my experience would make great blog fodder, and as I’m prepared to give most things a go to enhance the experience of this, the last, physically-able chapter of my life – apart from pole-dancing, obvs, which is a subtle reminder to my sister who, one birthday, demonstrated that my psychotic sense of humour runs in the family – I decided to ignore the natural cynicism of my inner voice that tells me that this spiritual stuff is a load of bollocks.

Indeed, I felt for the first time in my life that I had the appropriate level of maturity to handle it.

Which was where I was wrong when I got worryingly close to breaking the magical spell of silence during the walking meditation with a fart or a show tune.

But like when you give up smoking or drinking, you have to commit to new ideas such as mindfulness for them to have any hope of working, and once I got my giggles of self-consciousness out of the way, I did just that. I mean, let’s be honest, while the power of running has gone some way to combatting my anxiety, it’s far more appealing to sit in my own space and do fuck all for the same benefits.

Our teacher was lovely. Non-judgmental, with one of those soothing voices that carried us along to our safe place without too much of a fight, he managed to hide his despair at the three crotchety, middle-aged cynics in front of him, whose bodies creaked each time he asked us to change position on the floor. He didn’t even seem to mind when he told us to think about our favourite place for our first visualisation and I admitted that mine was in bed. Everyone else picked a tropical island!

Admittedly, I found that focusing on my breath was about as stimulating as Scott Morrison’s election campaign, but I loved the soothing effect of the chanting bowl. I defy anyone who has worked a full day and managed to get back out of the house for a mid-week evening meeting, not to find some relaxation in the sound – so much so, I’ve decided to invest in one for the next finance meeting with the old man. And the walking meditation was an interesting exercise in self-control and fitness as the five us us walked slowly around the room together, first like zombies, and then like Neil Armstrong on the moon, while I fought a personal battle to keep a straight face.

But there were many ideas and exercises that I loved. One of the exercises was to connect our heart to someone we love. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I picked the old man as the recipient of my limited levels of love – that are rather like the permanent level of cyan ink on our colour printer – but I suspect it had something to do with guilt. I’d been a complete bitch to him that week. Funnily enough, he didn’t mention feeling any different when I arrived home, which confirmed my suspicion that he likes being “treated mean.”

Anyway, I found this article on the web, which provides a really good beginner’s guide to mindfulness. So keep your mind open. It’s not easy, but focusing on what you are grateful has to be a far healthier way of getting through this crazy old thing called life. Since the course, I have inadvertently incorporated the deep breathing exercise when I feel anxious, and it has worked wonders for eliminating the shame I feel about pouring that extra glass of wine.