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?

Who Is The Perfect Middle-Aged Woman?

There was a point when I was going to name my manuscript, Grave Expectations – a wordplay on the title of the Dickens novel – that, initially, I thought was really clever. You see, one of the main themes of my story is the impossibility of living up to expectation – the expectation on the mother to be the glue of the family, the expectation on the father to be the breadwinner, and the expectation on the children – on the son to toe the line of convention, and on the daughter to compensate for her brother’s challenging behaviour.

Photo from Matheus Ferraro on Unsplash.com

The difficulties of trying to live up to expectation feel particularly poignant right now. Middle age has given me a clearer insight of the way that society measures “success” and its distorted values. I can see now why so many of us end up in jobs or relationships that don’t suit us, or in a permanent fug caused by a sense of failure.

Looking back, I spent my twenties trying to carve out the life my parents wanted me to have, and my thirties and forties trying to be a perfect parent. It’s only since I reached my fifties that I’m actually making decisions for ME, doing what I want to do – and only because I’m privileged enough to have the financial security to change my course.

I find it strange how we associate men with the midlife crisis – caused by the realisation that this is the last chance to make changes – when, in my experience, women experience a similar mental shift, spurred on by the same awareness of time running out.

That’s why divorce is so common in middle age. Women reach a point when they are exhausted by the pressure to be everything for everyone else. It’s not only career expectations we have to worry about. We live in a society that expects us to stay young and beautiful, to be perfect mothers, lovers and carers, and somewhere in that mix we are also expected to make a mark in our career.

The expectation to remain sex sirens – beyond our reproductive years – is the most ridiculous one to me. I don’t think I’m imagining the pressure on some women to remain available for their (more highly sexually driven) men at all times. Nor the trope of the stereotypical middle-aged woman as a moody, dried-up shrew, whose decision to batten down the hatches provides men with the perfect excuse to hunt elsewhere.

Conversely, middle-aged men are portrayed as George Clooney types – silver foxes who are still rampantly sexually active and attractive to women half their age, rather than the needy, pot-bellied, miserable gits that most of us know and love.

Very little is said about the men who lose their sex drive in middle age.

Caitlin Moran mentions the reality of middle-aged sex in her latest book “More Than A Woman”, and her description of what she calls the “maintenance shag” – the shag many couples (who have been married FOREVER) force themselves to endure to meet society’s expectation of a healthy relationship – is, frankly, hilarious. While her comments about anal sex made me a little uncomfortable, her dissection of the planning involved to get the weekly/monthly/annual/Christmas maintenance shag over and done with to prove to ourselves we’ve still got it – is something I can definitely identify with.

I feel that pressure to maintain a level of intimacy with my husband, that goes beyond him flashing his penis at me in the kitchen at every opportunity, or dry-humping me each time I bend down in front of the dishwasher. But the truth is, after more than thirty years together, I get more turned on by a Marion Grasby cooking video than the sight of my husband’s drooping balls.

And why should we feel bad about not shagging as much as the next couple?

Obviously, social media doesn’t help with the guilt. Images of women in their fifties who continue to look fabulous – and I don’t just mean young – pile on the pressure. As does advertising that blatantly targets our insecurities. Beauty companies are relentless in their quest to make middle-aged women question if they are living up to their responsibilities as perfect older women.

Personally, I refuse to believe that the majority of those middle-aged women, who have spent more than half their lives with the same partner, are really rooting like rabbits.

And in case you need reminding, there is absolutely nothing wrong with contentment. Sometimes, a marathon session on Netflix is far more fulfilling than a quick poke and associated muscle strains the following morning. And if the only intimacy you share with your partner is holding hands on the beach, that’s okay too. I suspect it’s way more intimacy than many couples experience.

No one leads a charmed life – you only have to look at what celebrities Chrissie and John Legend have gone through recently to realise that.

And on the subject of Caitlin’s sage advice, another piece that resonated with me in her book was “don’t marry a cunt”. Suffice it to say, there is no perfect man either – which is the most important nugget of wisdom we women should share with our daughters, after the truth about childbirth. Fortunately for me, I had a father who thought with his penis and I learned early on that serial Romeos can rarely be tamed. Hence, if I’ve done one thing right in my life, it has been to marry a good man.

Not a perfect man, but a good one.

Life is about making choices. If I really wanted to have hot sex every night of the week, I could probably find someone to deliver the goods – although, admittedly, I might have to pay for it. But would he be a world authority, i.e professional mansplainer about pretty much everything I need to know in life?

More importantly, would he have been there for me all those times I’ve fallen?

Middle age fucks with our bodies and our minds. It throws up all sorts of questions we stuffed away in the too hard box during those crazy years of young adulthood and parenting. And yet, it also opens the door to self-reflection. We can’t change the past, but we can make meaningful choices about our future. Self-evaluation is the path to that freedom. More time to think about what I want has given me freedom from toxic relationships, unnecessary anxiety, and the constraints of the ridiculous beauty standards demanded of women.

Slowly, I am silencing my inner judge that used to tell me I wasn’t good enough. At fifty-five, I can be who I want to be, and I’m enjoying the experiment. I don’t aspire to look forty, but neither am I ready for fluffy slippers and herbal teas. Right now, I want to be different things on different days, so long as I am me.

Are you meeting society’s expectations of the perfect middle-aged woman?

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.

The Truth About The Mask Of Mental Illness

So it turns out I haven’t quite finished writing about masks. Today, however, instead of talking about clinical masks, I want to talk about a different type of mask – that is, the mask that society forces people with mental illness to wear.

Sad woman with paper mask over her mouth with a smile drawn on it.
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash






It’s the mask of being well – that many of us expect them to wear, even now, in spite of the progress made in terms of awareness.

You see, mental illness is still viewed by some as a made-up illness, or a weakness, or something we should feel ashamed about. And while there are all those wonderful memes that float around the Internet to remind us to be kind and empathetic to sufferers, the reality can be very different.

It might surprise you to know that it is still rare to find a work environment in which you can admit openly that you suffer from depression or a neurological disorder

I’ll be honest, each time someone admits to me they don’t believe in mental illness, I want to scream at them for their arrogance and ignorance. And here’s why. Because, today, with my son’s permission – I’m going to give you an insight into what it is like for him to live with it, and the effect it has on his loved ones.

A few weeks ago, we planned a long overdue family weekend away. It was overdue for many reasons, such as Covid, the cost of taking away a family of four adults (and our very practical concerns about our bar bill), and our annual leave restrictions. However, the main reason the trip was short was because of Kurt, our twenty-three year old son.

He hasn’t really left Sydney over the past two years for all the usual reasons: his bartending job as a casual – which makes it hard for him to make his rent (let alone splash out on weekends away); the organisation involved in planning and booking time away with his ADHD; as well as, erm, certain dependencies he uses to alleviate some of his ADHD symptoms, that are not (shall we say) very transportable.

The main ones, though, are his crippling anxiety and OCD

The outside world may not see what it takes for people like him to leave the house, but trust me, it is no mean feat. There are rituals that his brain insists he must carry out before any transition, there is his fear of change, his laundry (so much laundry), sensory considerations, and an elevated sense of imposter syndrome. In other words, as soon as he steps through the door, our son has to put on a mask.

In other words, he looks like a normal, functioning Millennial, who smiles a lot and converses seemingly naturally. The truth is, however, he would prefer to never have to leave his bedroom.

Few would be aware of the rituals that chain him to his home, his fear of change, or the mental effort it takes to keep himself on track

The reality is, our son doesn’t travel much because his mind won’t let him and last weekend was as much about celebrating mine and our daughter’s birthdays as it was a test for Kurt. It was an attempt to get him to push back from a negative way of thinking that is getting stronger by the day, and as a fellow sufferer (but less severe), I am aware of the dangers of letting anxiety win.

“Avoiding what makes you anxious provides some relief in the short term, but can make you more anxious in the long term. Try approaching something that makes you anxious – even in a small way. The way through anxiety is by learning that what you fear isn’t likely to happen – and if it does, you’ll be able to cope with it. ” Beyond Blue

A few days prior to our departure, he decided not to come and I persuaded him to rethink. Genuinely, I believed the change of atmosphere would do him good. As a result of changes due to Covid, he has spent a lot of time on his own of late – which is not good for over-thinkers – and I was excited at the prospect of exploring antique shops together, experiencing the hotel’s leisure facilities, and enjoying the sense of togetherness that other families appear to enjoy.

I’m his mum and selfishly, I suppose, I wanted him there with us, not only to push back his anxiety, but to help me complete the faux image of the perfect family unit I aspire to

Mental illness is often inaccurately portrayed in film. Many films focus on the quirky charisma of the neuro-diverse or mentally-ill characters, rather than the often terrifying complexities of mood disorders. While we are shown aspects of the darkness, there’s very little of the day-to-day reality of living with the illness – the self-harm, the anger, the police involvement, the desperation and the tears.

When our son is on form, he lights up a room; but when he is overwhelmed, it’s like waiting for the White Walkers to break through the wall

I don’t have any photos of the first twenty-four hours of our trip when Kurt couldn’t look at us or speak to us because he was so angry with me for persuading him to come. He was even madder with himself for “being such a cunt.” (His words).

Ahead of our trip, I thought I had prepared for every eventuality and nothing could go wrong. And yet on our first night, I booked a table at a restaurant in town (because the hotel restaurant was extortionate), and that triggered Kurt’s anxiety. He joined us, but he sat in the restaurant, stony-faced, his earphones in, and as soon as he finished his food, he left by himself. Returning to the hotel bar, he set himself up at his own table and refused to join us when we returned.

I know better than to think I can prepare for every eventuality. The unpredictability is, perhaps, the hardest part about mental illness. The three steps forward, and the inevitable four steps back

That night he texted us to say he would take the train home the following morning.

Even now, he cannot explain what triggered his overwhelm and need to isolate, but it lasted until after lunch the following day, when somehow he managed to pull himself back and block out the voices. He apologised to us profusely, told us how much he loved us and hated himself for his behaviour, and our second night together was memorable – one of the best nights we’ve shared as a family.

When family and friends ask us how Kurt is doing, we put on masks too

We wear protective masks as well – from the judgement of being bad parents, weak, enablers, and pushovers – even though we can’t fully defend our actions, out of respect for Kurt’s privacy.

What I will say, though, is that unless you walked in our shoes, you cannot understand – in much the same way that I would have a limited understanding of how to cope with a child with a physical disability or terminal illness.

A person with mental illness may look exactly like you and I most of the time, until the mask slips

That judgment forces people with invisible illnesses to wear masks, and when they slip, society is unprepared for what lies behind it, in terms of both support and resources. But in the same way that there is no shame in having gastro, there is nothing wrong in admitting that your head isn’t well. Everyone feels sad or anxious at times, but it is the magnitude of those emotions that is so different for people with depression and anxiety, or with neurological conditions that make normal life more challenging.

They can’t “snap out of it” to make the rest of us feel better

Most of the time they don’t ask for our help, nevertheless, they deserve our compassion. My desire to paint a perfect family picture of our weekend away made my son very unhappy and his mask slipped – like he warned us it would. Fortunately, this journey together has made us stronger. We have learned not to blame ourselves (or him) for poor decisions, and I’m certain that sometime in the near future we will give the experience another shot.

The outcome may be similar, but the hope is that each experience is one step further away from surrender, and one step closer to recovery.

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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“Clear intentions” may help you focus in lockdown, but treading water is also fine

It’s very easy to get sucked in by the words on those memes about writing a novel or finding a cure for cancer during this period of isolation, especially if you’re a perfectionist like me.

After all, who doesn’t want to defy the challenge posed by this pandemic and come out at the end of it with a Nobel Peace Prize?

Woman writing a list in a book.
Photo from Catherine Lavery on Unsplash.com

Personally, though, I prefer the memes that focus on simply getting through these trying times. Loser talk for some, I know, but it’s important to remember that not all of us are driven by competition or what “The Jones” are doing. For some of us, the best way to handle this type of crisis is by taking each breath carefully.

And that’s okay.

This week, I noticed several people on Twitter mention the need to grieve the loss of time caused by this pandemic, and in an article by Geoffrey Mak in The Guardian, he concurred that “Some days grief entails languishing in bed, because that is surviving.”

That’s essentially what I’m doing – I’m taking each day at a time as we wait for the finale of this virus’ terrifying journey.

Having Kurt back at home has helped distract me and forced me to set clear intentions each day as I’ve watched him discover the importance of setting them for himself. ADHD does not like being locked up in isolation or a lack of a routine.

His four goals the other day were to learn a new trick on his skateboard, to memorise a new song, have a bath, and edit a chapter of my manuscript that he’s sat on for at least six months, and by the end of the day he had ticked off three out of the four. And that’s okay.

Self-awareness from past disappointments has taught him the need to be realistic in his intentions.

Elaine Lipworth discusses the benefits of clear intentions to combat anxiety during crises such as this in her piece on Thrive Global here. She reiterates the importance of not “setting yourself up for failure and mentally beating up on yourself for not being able to achieve your goals,” (which is a quote from Khazan, author of Biofeedback and Mindfulness In Everyday Life).

I.e. The importance of setting up achievable goals.

Anyway, it turns out that I am very similar to my son in the respect of intentions. I am much happier with a routine and that’s why I’ve been setting my own clear intentions over the past week, along with some “ideal world” ones are are more like goals. You see, unless I keep myself busy, I find it impossible to escape the vortex of the media’s depressing post-mortems about every aspect of COVID-19, which exacerbates my anxiety.

These are my daily intentions at the moment:

  1. Daily exercise – Typically a walk or a short run.
  2. Pitching – Sending ideas for articles to editors
  3. Eating – Enjoying at least one special meal a day, or even trying out a new recipe
  4. Writing – Articles, my blog posts, and manuscripts
  5. Reading – As much as I can
  6. And clearing out my inbox daily

Things don’t always go to plan. Yesterday, for example, I had to forego my exercise due to a dodgy stomach that the old man insinuated was caused by too much Easter chocolate.

And that’s okay.

When it comes to those “ideal world” intentions – which again, I admit are closer to goals – I’m not putting any real pressure on myself to achieve them, but they include:

  1. Online learning – Completing a content marketing course and commencing an advanced web design course with TAFE – did you know that they are running some free, online short courses during lockdown? Check them out here.
  2. And I’m also teaching myself how to crochet – a skill I had hoped I’d have nailed by now and could share with the kids back at school, but I’m not certain that will happen this school year!
Crochet gone wrong.
My rows seem to be getting shorter!

Some of you will be thinking WTF! right now, while others among you – the would-be high-achievers – will be seriously questioning what I’m doing with my time. And that’s because we’re all different, and each one of us is handling the impact of this virus the best way we can, within the limited scope of what we understand about it.

And we’re not all in the same boat. Some of us will be balancing these intentions with work and homeschooling kids, while still others will be coping with the onset of mental health issues triggered by the virus and struggle to get out of bed each morning.

And that’s okay.

But if you ARE that person who is focused on simply “surviving” – i.e. whose best intentions are to watch Netflix, brush your hair daily, or make it downstairs, you can still try to be specific in those intentions. Don’t short-change yourself. Make them meaningful in some way is what Elaine suggests.

For example, you might try out some new healthier recipes when you cook, or try dying your hair. If you’re feeling strong enough to give a new “exercise” a go like Kurt, set yourself a specific goal linked to it. And if Netflix is what slows down those bad thoughts in your brain, try to prioritise some shows with educational benefits as well as entertaining ones.

On paper, this self-imposed isolation looked like “the dream” to some of us, but the truth is, that’s not always the case. Why? Because people need connection.

While there’s nothing to prove at the end of this period, clear intentions will help keep you focused on the end goal and a healthier outlook for what’s left of the year.

Who knows, you might even unleash some undiscovered creativity! Although I’m not sure mine will have anything to do with a crochet needle.

What your clear intentions at the moment? What’s working for you?

How’s Everyone Coping With The Latest COVID-19 Isolation Restrictions?

So…how’s everyone travelling?

YOU’RE NOT, I assume, and neither will you ever consider booking a cruise ever again, I would take a guess (if you’re of sound mind).

Photo by Curology on Unsplash

In the spirit of Gloria Gaynor, I am surviving, although as you can imagine, this is not a great time for hypochondriacs. Reassuringly, very little has really changed in our house, aside from an escalation in the toilet seat debate and some highly competitive stockpiling of toilet rolls in our own bathrooms.

Fortunately – and that is a serious downplay of that word in an uncharacteristic attempt at sensitivity – we don’t have young kids at home, and having worked at home together for some time, we are used to avoiding each other as much as possible within the strict, self-imposed boundaries of our home. But it’s funny how much this crisis has improved communication – in general.

It has certainly increased mine. Anyone who knows me well will be aware that I would rather have a mammogram than make a phone call, and yet I’ve been Messengering and WhatsApping like a Millennial over the past week – mainly in my attempts to keep tabs on anarchist, older members of my family.

My stepmother has reported back that my father is adhering to the new restrictions, much to my surprise. Apparently, he has taken an uncharacteristically sensible approach to isolation in spite of his disgust at the government’s decision to open the supermarkets to his age group between 9 and 10am – when he rarely surfaces before 10. I think the word he used was “unrealistic” in his description of a decision he believes is based on unfair stereotyping about old people being early risers.

Evidently, he’s not too worried about catching the virus, because ‘It’s only going to get the really old buggers” he tried to reassure me as I counted the hairs in his nostrils during our weekly video chat. And that’s why he put his chances of survival his the hands of alcohol rather than government restrictions and has upped his whisky consumption – “Just to be safe.”

Mind you, Dad has always been a pragmatist. I’m pretty sure he mentioned the same “more chance of getting run over by a bus” analogy during our conversation that he used to terrify me with during my childhood, hence, although he has always blamed my mother for my issues with anxiety, I’m beginning to question his accountability.

Meanwhile, the other old man in my life has been burying his head in the sand – particularly in relation to our finances. Having agreed to curb our spending at our last finance meeting – instigated by him, I should add – I was somewhat surprised by his expenditure on golf over the past few weeks – since curtailed by the closure of all courses yesterday.

“Essential?” I queried as I trawled through the bank statement and watched him splutter some excuse about therapy for his mental health in these highly anxious times. So it’s anyone’s guess how he will fare as we move forward.

He hasn’t been quite as successful at concealing the delight on his face each time one of our social engagements is cancelled. I swear he rubs his hands with glee each time the government limits the number of people that can gather in a group, and any day now I expect him to bunker down with the dog in full isolation mode.

9 Innovative Games To Help You Pass The Time During Self-Isolation

Isn’t it funny how swiftly the things you once dreamed about can turn to disappointment? Not that I’ve ever dreamed of spending more time (than I have to) with the old man, but surely I can’t be the only one who used to fantasise about having more time to write, more time to watch back-to-back shows on Netflix, or the time (even) to trim my pubes?

Photo by niklas_hamann on Unsplash

It is slowly dawning on me how boring self-isolation might be. There are only so many ways you can entertain yourself at home during overlong days when anxiety has sucked the creativity out of you and wakes you up much earlier than usual.

That’s why I’ve put my thinking cap on and come up with some innovative ideas to help keep that knife safely in the kitchen drawer:

  1. The Smart TV Microphone Game – This is a game the old man and I developed when we got our first smart tv – which it turns out, is nowhere near as smart as we hoped. It’s a bit like Chinese Whispers, only using the TV. Simply give the microphone a command and watch what rubbish it comes up with. It is highly entertaining.
  2. The Food Mystery Box – The unfair rationing due to stockpiling has seen the return of this wonderful Masterchef idea which can only get better the longer idiots keep ravaging our supermarket shelves. What culinary feasts can you come up with from the ingredients in your cupboard? To make it more challenging, the use of pedestrian ingredients like tuna, Baked Beans and those gross mixes of different types of beans are definitely not allowed.
  3. SNAP! – Not the traditional card game we all know and love but a real test of your relationship in these anxiety-inducing times. The old man and I are already professionals at this game. Basically, the winner is the first partner to reach the target of ten snaps at their other half. On several occasions, I’ve managed to reach this target before my first coffee of the day.
  4. The No Toilet Roll Game – This is a great game for those into problem-solving. The premise is simple – the winner is whoever finds the best replacement toilet paper from around the house. However, certain exclusions do apply – and these include the dog.
  5. Will He/Won’t He? This is a traditional betting game in which we guess how long it will take for Scott Morrison to prioritise people’s lives ahead of the economy and close all schools.
  6. Will I Starve On Newstart? – This is another problem-solving game where each player has to work out how someone who was on an (average) AUS$68K salary can live on $280 a week – for potentially six months.
  7. Kids Houdini – This is for the parents out there who have removed their kids from school. Each parent gets one child to gag and lock up – say, in the garage or a wardrobe – and they time how long it takes for them to get themselves free. There’s only one rule: no calling Child Services
  8. Essential Item Sweepstake – This is another guessing game where you bet on which will be the next essential item to disappear from our supermarket/pharmacy shelves. Those that predicted Ventolin and tonic water are currently in the lead.
  9. Wine O’Clock – You decide how early is “too early” in this crazy life or death scenario we’ve unwittingly become victims of. Life as we know it has changed, and so should some of those other ridiculous social constructs that have been forced upon us.

I’m An Empath, So Why Can’t I Cut Myself Some Slack?

I’ve been really grumpy over the past few weeks. I can tell I’ve not been my usual happy-go-lucky self because I’ve seen that fear in the old man’s eyes each time we pass each other in the house, in response to which he has been uncommonly brave and accused me of “unreasonable behaviour” several times.

Photo by Dale de Vera on Unsplash

We’ve both been under pressure, having recently completed our fifteenth house move since we met. I won’t bore you with the details, but sadly the landlord of the lovely pad we moved into in March last year decided to sell it for silly money. Fortunately for us, our agents took on this cute little townhouse around the same time, and aside from a whining dog next door, blinds that bang, and ridiculous Sydney temperatures that turn our bedrooms into private saunas at night, we’re settling in really well. 🙂

I won’t lie, if I hadn’t been forced to work on the day of our move, I suspect that the house would already look like it had been professionally styled, at whatever the cost to my health. So it was fortunate, I suppose, that I had to leave the management to the old man – whose priorities seem to have been moving boxes of stuff we don’t use from one cage to another.

You see, what the move did highlight is how much pressure I put on myself to do everything perfectly

I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself when, in general, I would describe myself as an empath to everyone else. I truly believe that my journey with Kurt has made me more compassionate towards the plight of those less fortunate. Furthermore, I like to think I’m a good person to have around in a crisis – if someone gets ill or is blindsided by something unexpected.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint, but I rarely judge others unless I am judged. For example, when I pass overweight people on my walks, I don’t judge them for their size. My default setting is to commend them internally for trying to change their lifestyle. It’s the same when I hear stories about the acts of the mentally ill or even paedophiles – I’m always trying to find reasons why they behaved that way or excuses for what they did.

I felt nothing but sadness for the plight of Joachim’s character in Joker, in spite of the way he handled his trauma

But strangely, I don’t seem to have those same reserves of empathy when it comes to myself. Like so many of us – on this endless treadmill in search of perfection – I never sit back and say ‘well done’ to me.

Each time I look back on what I’ve achieved, it seems insignificant – certainly not the sort of achievements that deserve a bottle of bubbly or a work jolly

Why is the expression ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ considered loser’s talk? Social media has pushed us all aspire to be what (perhaps) only the top 5% of people manage to achieve, i.e. public recognition for their success in some domain, and yet we choose to measure ourselves by these people – models, actresses, perfect mothers, successful career women – rather than “good” people.

The way the media handled Kobe Bryant’s death was a great example. Kobe was put on a pedestal while there was barely a mention about the other people in that helicopter, who presumably had successful lives and families that would miss them as well.

I’ll save the question of how we measure success for another day

But if you’d asked me ten years ago if I ever saw myself as a paid writer, I’d have laughed in your face. And yet here I am – achieving something I am hugely proud of and fulfilled by on a daily basis.

Needless to say, I had to reinvent myself AGAIN to do it – a problem many women face when they need a job that fits in with family and lifestyle and the reason the list of jobs on my resume reads like a Jill Of All Trades – most of which I have no real qualifications for. But luckily for me, I am good at being in the right place at the right time, I’m a great bullshitter, and (apparently), I look trustworthy.

I’m not sure why we feel the need to keep ramping up our personal goals without acknowledging the stepping stones we cross along the way? Small achievements are still achievements, aren’t they?

Over the past few months, I’ve lost nearly two kilos through sheer willpower. I’ve never felt as hangry in my life and I still can’t get into my old clothes, but I am achieving my goal – which is what I set out to do. So why aren’t I happy about it? Why do I always focus on the days that I gained weight rather than the ones when I lost? Why do I keep doing a job that I find stressful, particularly when I’m balancing it with Kurt’s needs, house moves and writing goals?

Have you done anything recently that you should have celebrated, but never got around to it?

It’s Never ‘Too Soon’ For Laughter In The Face Of Adversity

We’ve had the usual mix of experiences over Christmas. Some of them have been as gloriously perfect as the anticipation and some have been the inevitable shite sprinkled on the top. That’s life. That’s the reality of the season for most people.

Woman pouring a cup of tea
Photo from Louis Hansel on Unsplash.com

But it’s safe to say the fires and the plight of the people and wildlife most directly affected by them have been at the forefront of most Aussie minds this holiday. Indeed, as I write this piece, we are in the midst of another ‘catastrophic’ day where dangerous heat and unpredictable winds combine to exacerbate the crisis.

Bush fires are not unusual in Australia – in spite of what you might hear on the media – but it is the scale of the fires this year that has been so unprecedented, particularly this early in the season. And having a narcissist at the helm of the country – a man who is no Jacinda Ardernhas made it worse.

For the population so far unaffected, the news coverage makes the left-over mince pies and turkey catch in our throats. Then there is the haze, the toxic smoke, and endless layers of ash on our balconies – each unsubtle reminders of the plight of so many communities, who on top of their personal losses feel abandoned by their government. We carry on our lives as normal, but with a growing sense of survivor guilt, conscious of the little we can do to help the affected and the very real danger of compassion fatigue that comes with such a bombardment of coverage from the media.

Each one of us is guilty of it. The news is never good anymore, and I find myself switching off from it as it triggers my anxiety – not for me, but for the thousands that are at the mercy of this horrifying drought that is so very hard to see an end to. And perhaps the saddest part is the knowledge that as soon as it rains, the victims of these fires will become yesterday’s news, just like the victims of the volcanic eruption in New Zealand before Christmas.

Fortunately, disasters such as these bring out the best in most people as well, and in many communities – many of whom have lost everything – it is that spirit that helps people get through these dark days. There are food collections and donations for those who have been displaced or lost their homes, and basic provisions are being packed and sent to our fire crews. When asked by the media about the morale of the victims, a Sikh volunteer who helped set up a free food truck close to the most ravaged areas mentioned their need for connection – apparently, the need to talk to someone about their losses far outweighs their need for food.

Houses can be rebuilt, so perhaps the biggest fear for everyone in the country is that these fires symbolise a new normal for Australia, unless we address climate change more proactively. It’s hard not to feel scared when your government is in denial about the problem and the foundations of the news globally seem built on increasingly devastating incidents of drought, flooding, and the rise of right wing parties who downplay it.

That’s why we have sought solace in humor this holiday period. Daniel Sloss and Trevor Noah on Netflix have gone some way to distract us from the gloom. Comedy has helped lighten the sense of helplessness and provided a reminder of the power of laughter in the face of adversity, even if the sentiment at the root of so many of their jokes is steeped in the same cuntery of life that plays out daily on our screens.

In my experience, laughter is the best medicine. When everything is taken away from us, all we have left is our spirit, our survival instinct, hope and humour. Comics such as Robin Williams knew that, as did survivors of The Holocaust and refugees who have made the decision to risk their lives on terrible journeys between continents. To a lesser degree, it was what I relied upon when I started this blog. At the time, my intention had nothing to do with writing, but expressing myself in that way helped me make sense and light of some difficult personal situations. Dissecting them in my head and then sharing them on my computer proved to be cathartic, which was why I opened up about being fired from a job, my son’s challenges with ADHD, my battles with anxiety, and my perceived failures as mother and wife. It was equally helpful to know that others out there in cyberspace identified with my struggles.

It sounds crazy, but sometimes all you can do is laugh at your own bad luck, and so I am grateful to be part of a family where the expression ‘too soon?’ is NEVER ‘too soon?’

Right now, the victims of this disaster will still be in shock, their spirits temporarily broken. They will need to talk about their experiences and be heard. But if there’s one piece of advice I want to give them it is that they WILL rise out of the ashes. They WILL get back on the horse. Seven years ago when I lost my job, it seemed like the end of the world to someone with anxiety, who was petrified of rejection. And yet, that bad luck forced me to take a different path – into writing. Similarly, there are people who have beaten cancer that talk about how their illness has changed their lives for the better.

These fires will change the life trajectory of many of its victims. All we can hope is that the change will be for the better for some of them.

The first time we smile after the loss of someone close to us is shocking. How dare we pick up our lives when something so terrible has happened, we rage internally. And yet, laughter is a sign that the spirit has returned and that hope is winning. Fortunately, the country’s spirit has not been quashed. There are angels waiting in the wings of those regions that are still battling against these terrible fires – angels with full kettles and open hearts, who are ready to listen and to help the victims smile again.

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 Only Guarantee In Life Is That Everything Changes

Some people are resistant to change – particularly from middle age onwards – while others embrace it. Some of us want to cram as many crazy, new experiences into our twilight years, while others take comfort from what they know.

On a personal level, I have always embraced change. That need explains my itchy feet, the numerous house moves, and the embarrassingly full resume, but for others unnecessary change threatens their safety. I believe that explains (not justifies) the reaction of some people to immigrants or women who hold powerful positions in the workplace.

I stole the idea for the title of this post from a piece written by Zach J.Payne on Medium. It seemed appropriate to discuss the meaning of the words as we race towards Christmas and its overindulgence while bush fires rage around us and the blatant foresight of tv series such as Years and Years keep us awake at night.

However, it is not only Australia’s archaic approach to climate change or problem with overspending that has taken the bang out of the crackers this Christmas. That exhaustion has also been caused by the never-ending cycle of murders and abuse of women at the hands of men. In the last few weeks alone, another woman was burnt to death on the way to her rape trial whilst another died in a menstruation hut. The tiredness is also caused by the worrying increase in mental illness in our children – that no one seems to be tackling with any seriousness – and tragedies such as the White Island eruption.

Perhaps, the biggest cause of my fear at the moment is what is happening on the world political stage right now, with the terrifying rise of the right, the possible impeachment of Trump, and the British election. The scariest truth to come out of this year for me is that we are voting in self-serving narcissists.

And the tinsel and fairy lights have done little to assuage those fears this year. It is increasingly difficult to feel positive about the overall state of the world – even from my position of privilege. And so, the only thing that keeps us going is hope. That things will change – however far-flung that feels right now. That, in general, good beats evil.

We need to remember that the Berlin Wall did come down, fascism was beaten in two world wars, women in Ireland now have the right to abortions, and improvements continue in terms of the eradication of serious illness – which means that in the west our longevity improves all of the time.

That is, if we still have a world to live in, of course.

On a micro level, we experienced one of those changes last Sunday, when our son joined us at our Christmas party.

As many of you know, Christmas is a special time for me. It represents everything I aspire to in terms of family, togetherness and belonging – even if our reality isn’t always that chocolate box version.

His arrival was a surprise. Why? Because we have organised many family events over the past few years that he has promised to attend and then been a no-show. He is, after all, a young man in his early twenties who is not comfortable with large groups – especially large groups of Boomers and Gen Xers who know about his struggles. So much so, it was only a few years ago that I truly believed that one day we might become estranged, only to be reconciled in twenty years time on one of those cheesy programmes on tv, or (worst case) at visitors time in prison.

That’s a lie, because my worst case scenario has always been the fear he might not be here at all.

And yet, if anyone asked me twenty-two years ago if I thought I would find myself in this position, I would have laughed. I mean…I’m far from perfect parent material, but I am a middle-class woman with privilege who tried (desperately) to tick off most points on Dr Spock’s perfect parent checklist.

However, I had a child who was and is very much his own person. One who is only now growing happier in his own skin – even though, I will be very surprised if he ever embraces the “system” wholeheartedly. Being neurodiverse makes life that bit harder for him. And while I may be a tad prone to catastrophizing, those fears about his future have felt very real for a very long time. And so, even now, (and we’re far from out of the woods), I grab at any scrap of love he throws at me with gratitude and relief – to my daughter’s disgust.

Shit happens to everyone. That’s life. The good news is that (in general) we learn how to cope with the holes in the road that try to fuck up the suspension on the car. And as the journalist Jan Fran said when she was a guest on the Wilosophy podcast and Wil asked her what she is most proud of in her life, the importance of how we REACT to situations and change is a pretty big thing to learn.

It never ceases to amaze me how capable we human beings are in the face of pain and tragedy. Right now, in Queensland and New South Wales, homeowners are risking their lives to save their properties alongside volunteer fire fighters who will have to give up their own Christmas to help them. Those homeowners don’t know if their houses will still be standing tomorrow – all they have is hope. But they are coping, because they have to. Today, the families of those killed on White Island will feel utter hopelessness as the bodies of their loved ones are retrieved to be laid to rest, but one day they will find some meaning to their loss – because what else is there?

Everything changes and not always for the better, but we are more resilient than we think. 2020 is another year that will bring change and challenge. That lunatic Boris looks like he will get back in, no doubt Trump will find some corrupt way to out-manoeuvre the US judicial system, and Scomo will continue to pray to his god to put out the fires. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

So all the rest of us can hope is that other changes emerge from next year for the better of mankind, and that more activists like Greta Thunberg and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez stay angry enough to lead them.

The Brain Fog Caused By Menopause

Increased forgetfulness or fogginess in the brain has to be one of the most debilitating symptoms of menopause, and it comes at a time when dementia is already a terrifying prospect, particularly for those who have lost parents or older relatives to the degenerative condition.

Two or three years ago, when we were deep in the trenches of Kurt’s troubles, I rushed out of the house one day to get into my car and for some reason my attention was drawn to the little storage area in the door where I there was a lighter and some cigarettes. My immediate reaction was one of anger, because I thought that (on top of everything else) Kurt had not only used my car but smoked in it as well, and it was only after I had snapped my seat belt into its lock and was searching for the ignition that I noticed that the car’s dashboard was a different colour to mine.

I was in someone else’s car!

In a menopausal brain fog, many of us will have walked up to a car the same colour and shape to our own in the street, tried to open the door, and then made a hasty, red-faced retreat. But it’s another level of humiliation to have to get out of a car, praying that no one witnessed your (potential) theft of the vehicle.

Fortunately, I haven’t committed anything quite as embarrassing as that incident of late – and I still blame my poor brain function on the stress I was going through at the time – but pouring juice in my coffee, wearing clothes inside out, forgetting names, losing my keys and walking into rooms with no idea why I’d done so, have become regular occurrences.

Issues with memory loss, lapses and “brain freeze” associated with menopause are often attributed to hormonal imbalance, but did you know that those symptoms can equally be caused by poor sleep, certain medications, stress, and too much alcohol? Hmmm. So there were likely several very good reasons I got into the wrong car that day.

Forgetfulness is a topic that comes up regularly when the girls and I get together to discuss which of us has the most embarrassing dementia story that week. So when one of them told me that she uses the Lumosity App to keep her brain healthy, I decided to give it a go.

The aim of the app is to “challenge your memory and attention” and to improve your mental reflexes in terms of problem-solving and processing in a fun, want-to-cry kind of way, and it offers three free games per day to keep you on your toes.

Since I started using it, I’ve discovered that I am crap at games that involve cars, circuits, and especially parking – but funnily enough, I have demonstrated quite a talent for the coffee-making game and remembering ocean creatures. I can already see the benefit of the tool. I’m not grown up or boring enough to want to tackle crosswords or Sudoku yet, but I can now see how our brains need a workout in much the same way that the rest of our bodies do, particularly when our muscle starts to waste away in menopause.

The only problem with the app is remembering to do it.

I won’t be getting sober anytime soon but I am “drinking smarter”

Photo from Damir Spanic on Unsplash

I was a grown-up last weekend. The old man and I went on a date night to a swanky restaurant and I chose to drive.

In my last post I talked about the necessity of making choices in middle age, and prior to last night, I would have looked forward to washing down the posh grub with a bottle of expensive wine, and wasted the afternoon working out a feasible way to get to the restaurant on public transport. What can I say? I like drinking. Alcohol tastes nice. Drinking turns me into the interesting, cool girl I should have been…at least, until the next morning. It helps me cope, and gets me out of the house.

For me, drinking is also a form of self-care. Hear me out, peeps. You see, my list above doesn’t account for alcohol’s other, hidden benefits for me personally: its medicinal ones for colds, backache, and muscle pain; its effectiveness as a coping strategy for my social anxiety; its ability to foster connection; and the strength it provides me to contend with a society that writes women my age off, (or only draws attention to us for all the wrong reasons – Alexandra Grant).

Therefore, it was with some surprise that grown-up-me decided that night that (for the sake of a couple more drinks) I couldn’t be assed to sit on a bus full of obnoxious teenagers or work through a heinous hangover the next morning.

Anyway, everyone knows the first sip is the best.

A few years ago, I wrote in my first paid article for Mamamia on the subject of my concerns about my drinking and the increase in women’s drinking in middle age. I remember that what I was really aiming to do in that article was to empathize rather than shame women who drink. I can’t remember the exact headline I pitched to the editor for the story, but it was changed to ‘I am a functioning alcoholic and I’m not alone’ – and I was mortified. At the time I think I was looking for a new job.

BUT… if the decrease in the number of units our government deems healthy for us to drink is anything to go by, she had a point. AND…Maybe I’m paranoid, but drink shaming seems to be levelled more directly at women – and in particular middle-aged women. Granted, there are medical reasons for this – in that women’s bodies can’t process as much alcohol as men. But there is also this social construct that a woman who is drunk is far more shameful than a man, even though many men who have drunk too much go on to do terrible things, while a woman is more likely to fall asleep on the sofa. Just check out the photos of the after-race parties if you don’t believe me.

Why are men given license to have fun, while women are expected to stay at home and live like nuns? You can see that question in people’s heads when they see a group of drunk women – who’s looking after the kids while they’re out drinking? Well, Carol, who’s looking after the kids while their dad’s out drinking?

However, since I wrote that article, I have become more aware of the effect that alcohol has on my body – I’m getting old, Goddammit! – which is why, (and trust me when I promise that I am not getting sober and deserting my people entirely) – I’ve decided to “drink smarter” (in the words of Kate Spicer from The Sunday Times).

Menopause has played a huge role in that decision. I’m certain that many of you fifty-somethings will identify with the impossibility of being a functioning alcoholic when your hormones contrive to make your life – and in particular, your hangovers – as unpleasant as possible. Suffice it to say, I have to be fully committed to knock back a bottle of wine.

So, yes…the hangovers from hell, my aspirations to run 5kms (more than once), and that other cruel twist of menopause – weight gain – have guilted me into reducing the Rose and discarding the Chardy. I wish I could say that concerns about my longevity or longterm health were truly behind my decision, but after twenty years of smoking, a lifetime of anxiety, and a pretty shoddy family history when it comes to health, I know I’m fucked I’ve been playing Russian Roulette for a while now.

And I won’t deny it is a struggle. Alcohol is a wonderful crutch, it has been a loyal and reliable friend, and maintaining my commitment to Kombucha for just a couple of nights a week has stretched my self-discipline to the max. I am want to crumble at the first sign or conflict or stress.

But that’s okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I suppose what I’m really trying to say in this very convoluted post is that when the fun police make you feel bad about your drinking, don’t beat yourself up about it. You are not alone. Many of us have vices we’re not proud of – for some of us that is a glass or two of wine, for others it is several Magnums – as in the ice cream; for others still, it is leading corrupt governments and ignoring the voice of democracy.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with drinking with non-drinkers or fellow alcoholics and I don’t need anyone to drink with me to have a good time (See symptoms of an alcoholic). I do see the benefits of sobriety, but I am also aware that swift judgments are easy to make; it takes much more time to look beneath the surface.

My intention is not to glorify alcohol, but there are still occasions in my life when I am dealing with stuff when I want/need to drink. There are also occasions when I want to celebrate that I’m still here and in a good place. And in the words of the author, Mike Gayle “We all do what we need to do to get by.”