Do You Consider Yourself “Woke”?

Photo of happy, elderly woman.
Photo found on Unsplash.com

I imagine there are many “boomers” and middle-aged parents out there who have been forced to ask their kids the meaning of the term “woke”. Which is why I wasn’t ashamed to admit my ignorance when a young family member introduced me to the word “sonder”.

Have you heard of “sonder”?

Her use of the word was in response to the meme below that I had posted on Instagram – a self-deprecating way of summing up my feelings about our return to a social life (or not) after COVID restrictions were downgraded in Sydney.

Clearly, the meme was the perspective of an introverted, socially anxious person who gets through most social events by drinking heavily. But evidently, she didn’t get the memos about my social anxiety, and because it’s always a tad embarrassing for a writer to admit it when they don’t understand a word, I had to check out its meaning in order to make an informed response.

According to Wiktionary, the definition of “sonder” is:

“The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own.”

Wiktionary

In other words, it is the knowledge that everyone has a story, and (in theory) it should prevent us from “judging books by their cover” and our compassion. On a personal level, it also links to a piece I wrote a few months back about the masks people wear – particularly those with mental illness – in their struggle to fit in with the expectations of society.

We need to have a “sonder” moment, where we realize that we aren’t the only ones with feelings, dreams, regrets and hopes.

Annie Cohen

In short, there is an obvious link between being “woke” and “sonder”, although that’s not to say that we should have to be or experience either to feel compassion for those less fortunate than us.

Our “stories” come in many forms, nevertheless, it is always surprising to learn about how life has f*cked over someone who doesn’t obviously fit into our stereotype of “damaged”, like the wonderful Grace Tame, winner of this year’s Australian of the Year award.

Some of you won’t know Grace – an engaging, Australian woman in her twenties whose courage and determination to fight the Tasmanian legal system is currently inspiring abused women across our nation. For, in spite of the fact that Grace does not look like the stereotype of victims of rape, she is living proof that 1) everyone has a story, 2) no one is exempt from trauma, and 3) most victims are nothing like the visual we carry in our heads of trauma – in much the same way that rapists don’t necessarily look like rapists.

Grace is the perfect example of someone with a story, that is not necessarily pretty, but needs to be heard.

Sharing our experiences of trauma helps the healing process, and was one of the reasons I started this blog eight years ago. The original premise for My Midlife Mayhem was to journal the unravelling of my life as I entered peri-menopause, whilst juggling our son’s struggles with mental illness, and in that time I’ve lost count of the number of times that readers have reached out with their own, similar experiences of “mad” uncles and “different” siblings.

And to encourage women to reach out and share their experiences of sexual assault is one of Grace’s main objectives. However, as she pointed out on QandA last week, it’s not always an easy process for victims to revisit those places of trauma and talk about them publicly, hence it requires a level of patience, lack of judgment, and compassion from those with whom they engage.

And whilst we have seen a marked increase in awareness about previously taboo topics like mental illness, we continue to skirt around other confronting topics such as child abuse – especially when it comes to discussing them with children.

And that worries me. Because I have learnt from experience that in shielding our children, we risk stunting their emotional development – something I was guilty of when my kids were younger and I allowed my anxiety get in the way of common sense, potentially setting them up to fail.

By shielding our children, we risk disempowering them, making them less resilient, less empathetic, and more entitled.

I noticed that type of “helicopter” parenting when I worked in education, in particular each time we ran through our lockdown procedure and several parents voiced their concerns about the use of the word “lockdown” – a word they believed was too frightening for their children.

But, Karen, (I wanted to say), what happens if your child finds themselves in that terrible situation and doesn’t recognise the danger for what it is?

I like to think I am “woke” and aware of issues of social and racial justice, and I also believe that certain personal tragedies have shaped me to become a more compassionate person. A large part of my job as a writer is to analyse people and their circumstances closely, to peel back the layers and discover what challenges they have overcome to achieve their goals – like Joe Biden, for example.

I would add, however, that I have also learned the importance of recognising that some people who experience trauma never overcome it, no matter how hard they try, and it doesn’t make them necessarily stronger, either. And we shouldn’t punish them for that.

Suffering does not automatically make us stronger. For some, trauma stops them from reaching their full potential and from functioning on a daily basis. Which is where the importance of “sonder” comes in. It’s also why, when I started to share my parenting struggles with others, one of my objectives was to offer an indirect source of comfort to them, to make them feel less alone. A virtual hug, you might say. From a selfish perspective, I wanted to meet other parents who were dealing with the same shit as me.

I still believe that by sharing our secrets and traumas, we help remove the shame and stigma of those experiences, in the same way we have with sexual harassment, menstruation, and transgenderism.

And like Grace is doing in her work.

Sharing our struggles helps lift the weight of shame, makes us feel less isolated, and strengthens our commitment to keep going. And I have the utmost respect for those who reciprocate, who find the courage to rip off their mask for me, to expose their vulnerabilities for my benefit – because I know that’s no easy feat.

Clearly, being “woke” and “sonder” are vital for the growth of society – especially in our current, conservative climate, where inequalities are so easily brushed under the carpet. And yet, I am continually amazed at how defiantly resistant some people are to basic kindness. Which leaves the job of effecting change to those already who have suffered already.

Which is exactly what activists like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Malala Yousafzai did. In spite of the loud voices of their critics – who accused them of being hysterical, emotional, attention-seekers, and lefties – they had to stick their necks out for their beliefs.

“Sonder” is the knowledge that everyone has a story. And whilst I am aware that keeping an open mind and listening are overrated qualities in our society, is it really that hard to pause and think about the bigger picture before we judge?

Do you think that getting older has stopped you being so quick to judge?

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.

11 Painful Truths About Living With Men

To be honest, I thought I’d done my time in share houses until COVID-19 attacked our shores, but it turns out that the most confronting change brought about by this virus is not my fear of catching it but my forced cohabitation with two men.

Group of four men, hugging in front of a sunset.
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Some of you know that when the country shut down, like many adult kids working in hospitality, our twenty-two year old son was forced to return home due to financial concerns. In general, I’m not one to praise this government’s policies, but on this occasion I’ve got nothing bad to say about its generosity in terms of financial bailouts – other than it could have stretched to bar-tenders, who have a preference for nocturnal hours and making cocktails in the middle of them. But unfortunately, the considerable financial commitment required to live in a rental property in Sydney has sealed my fate and I’m back living in a share house.

I have to say that it’s been some time since I witnessed firsthand the huge chasm between men and women that cohabiting highlights. I know I’m generalising here – because no one can compete with my daughter for the world’s untidiest bedroom – but while (in general) I embrace the contrasting skills that gender diversity brings to the table, living in close proximity to two men again has been a stark reminder.

And it’s not like we weren’t prepared. The old man and I thought long and hard before we welcomed our son back into the fold. I’d go so far as to say that we thought we had our new living arrangement sussed when we decided that the best way forward was to treat Kurt as a tenant. That way, we justified, there would be less danger of me resorting back to “nagging Mum” – which I hate even more than him – and Kurt would show us the respect he would a landlord.

Yeah, right!

The truth is, it’s only taken Kurt a few short weeks to wear the trousers again – or not, as the case may be – making it more and more difficult to find that balance.

I mean, it’s not like your average tenant would walk around the house naked or steal your booze and expect to get away with it, is it?

Even though Kurt is a Gen Y Metrosexual (with a liberal dose of OCD), the usual share house conflicts in regard to cleaning and cooking responsibilities have already been triggered. Although, they’re not as bad as another issue, that I wasn’t expecting – THE FIGHT FOR THE BALANCE OF POWER.

And how come men get so brave in a group?

Below are some of the triggers I’m talking about:

  1. No-one ever sweeps the bloody floor apart from me! – Allow me to put that indignant comment in some context. I AM THE ONLY ONE BLOODY WORKING at the moment, and yet it appears that men can quite happily trample over last night’s dinner preparations, stray dog biscuits, and poop stains (that the old man walked in from the garden) on the floor, without getting grossed out.
  2. The toilet brush is invisible – I gave up trying to explain to the old man what the toilet brush was for a long time ago, but I truly believed that I had educated my son about what it was for. Silly me.
  3. The distinct bromance/brotherhood/pack mentality that has emerged – That whole “what happens on tour code” has been reinstated since the Prodigal Son returned. It seems that men become uncharacteristically brave when there is more than one of them. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but over the past few weeks there have been signs of a possible male coup when it comes to power. Suddenly, I am the butt of all jokes, our TV viewing has been limited to violent, comic-book, sports or science-fiction movies, and my gourmet cooking (once prized by the old man) has been ridiculed while his pathetic attempts to successfully plate up a baked potato have been bigged up.
  4. The new location of the dishwasher is apparently in the Bermuda Triangle – Apparently, the distance between the kitchen sink and dish washer is insurmountable.
  5. Our new method of communication is farting. While not so vocal when it comes to smalltalk (or discussions about whose responsibility it is to sweep the floor), the men in my house are fluent in the language of farting. Where does that amount of gas come from, and why are they so damned proud of it?
  6. Nudity is a perfectly acceptable dress code ANYWHERE in the house. No, I don’t want your dick in my face when I’m drinking my morning coffee. PUT SOME BLOODY CLOTHES ON!
  7. The length of time men can spend in the bathroom. And why their optimum pooping window is always just before I need to use it?
  8. The old “replacing the toilet roll” conundrum – And what exactly are they using when there isn’t any toilet roll in the bathroom?
  9. The cold – I hadn’t realized before that we were living on Everest. Exactly how many fingers and toes am I expected to lose before I’m allowed to turn off the air con?
  10. All men do think about is food – When are they NOT thinking about their next meal, snack, second or third breakfast? The only three words I can guarantee from my two boys in 24 hours which are “What’s for dinner?”
  11. That privacy is subjective – Kurt informed me in no uncertain terms that I was to knock on his door before entering his room – in case he was doing something no mum should ever see. However, when I requested the same courtesy, I was laughed at. That’s why I make no apologies for the number of times he has found my tits in his face – although his assuredness that I’m past it continues to irk.

Anyone else had their boys return home?

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Pity The Parents Whose Boomerang Children Have Been Forced Back Home By COVID-19

One aspect of COVID-19 that is rarely mentioned on the news is the impact on families who – due to recent job losses – have had grown children return back home.

Some of you, I imagine, view the bounce back home of our Boomerang Generation as an opportunity to rebuild relationships, fatten them up and dry them out as one of the few advantages of this lurgy, but for others who have children like our second-born, Kurt, the predicament is a little more complicated.

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

Some of you might remember Kurt – our ADHD, larger-than-life adult, son from my earlier blog posts – because he was one of the main inspirations for this blog. He was the child who launched so many parenting curveballs at us on his journey through the teenage years that eventually – approximately one year and twenty-eight days ago – he left us no choice but to evict him for his and our safety and for the sake of our own mental health.

We didn’t evict him, really. Fortunately, around the same time we decided that the only course left open to us was to leave the country, our son decided that he’d had his fill of us as well, which made it a darn sight easier to convince him to that independent living was a blast.

Anyway… four moves later, after several fraught dealings with landlords, numerous police visits, a tenancy record, and a steep learning curve when it comes to budgeting, I will admit that the experiment has been an interesting, if not convincing one.

Suffice it to say, our boy gave it his best shot, but once the restrictions COVID-19 were enforced and he lost his job (in hospitality), it was impossible not to notice the deterioration in his mental health caused by his isolation with only four walls for company for the foreseeable future.

Kids like Kurt need to talk connection, which is why (like many families out there facing similar difficult choices at the moment) we’ve made the tricky one to bring him home. Emotional ramifications aside, he can’t realistically live on benefits and pay the high rent still expected by Sydney landlords during this virus – however generous the government has been – and from our own financial point-of-view, his rental offering will help us buy toilet roll should it ultimately find itself the black market.

He would agree that our renewed cohabitation is not an ideal solution, but he assures us that he is not the same boy who left home a year ago. Hence, new rules have been agreed, boundaries reinstated, and the lock has been taken off the bar.

Needless to say, it’s hard not to feel anxious about this change when some distance had improved our relationship with our son, but I am trying to stay positive. I’m endeavouring not to show my resentment at having to sacrifice my bedroom – our choice – in an attempt to maintain our sanity. Anyone who knows someone with ADHD will understand that some of them are huge personalities with a tendency to be nocturnal, so a relatively self-contained space of the house seemed like a sensible option.

And noise was a driving factor in our Kurt’s original decision to leave. Our son is naturally exuberant, musical, and (I can only assume) partially deaf – although unfortunately his musical knowledge does not seem to stretch to the term sotto voce. Added to which, he has inherited my father’s Chris Hemsworth baritone voice that gets louder whenever he is excited – which is often – like a puppy dog. By locking him down providing him with a self-contained room, the hope is that his nightly visits down our creaky stairs to raid the fridge, use the laundry, play guitar or to organise a rave for the neighbourhood kids should be restricted.

Inevitably, there have already been casualties: the dog has lost her leftovers; there are some mysterious new drink stains on the carpet; and the addition of a hideous pink velvet retro armchair to my Hamptons living area. There was also a skateboarding accident that in normal times should have received proper medical attention, a disastrous midnight head shave into a Mohican, and a noticeable twitch in my left eye each time I hear the theme tune to Endgame.

I love my son and I can see that Kurt is trying his best to behave like a normal human being, but for us sleep is probably the biggest issue caused by his return back home. It has meant that the old man and I have been forced to share the marital bed again, and while I have tried to put on a brave face about it – by justifying my stoicism as a necessity of this war – there is a limit to the number of times I can listen to him toss, turn and sniff in bed next to me without feeling the desire to stab him.

John Marsden has a point: Let’s strive to build our kids’ resilience, rather than trying to turn them into something they’re not

Many of you won’t be aware of this, but quite a large chunk of my career has been spent in education – working with kids with special needs. At the beginning of this year, I returned to the field to become the co-ordinator of a new after-school care facility.

Child sitting in a tree with her doll.
Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

Last week, we completed our first week of vacation care. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t tell you too much about what happens on the job, but what I can share is the wonderful experience of working in a progressive school, ie. the type of school that encourages the type of childhood that most of us Generation Xers experienced – with its focus on outdoor play and exploration, and the inherent dangers therein.

While I try not to waste too much time reflecting back on my own parenting fails these days, it’s hard to ignore the ongoing evidence of the relationship between our kids’ deteriorating mental health and “helicopter parenting”. The link has made me think about how I would do things differently if I had my time again.

The school in which I work is a green, progressive school, set in beautiful, lush grounds in the bush where the kids spend much of their day, with the option not to wear shoes – apart from during funnel web season, when (obviously) I wear full body armour. And the focus is on learning through exploration and play, using nature as the primary resource for teaching. Technology is used minimally and the culture of the school is based is on kindness and respect.

I have never seen happier, more fulfilled children. Perhaps, because there are fewer rules, but most likely because they have the freedom to explore and take control of their own learning. That approach makes it the perfect setting for kids of different abilities and the responsibility it encourages boosts their self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. It is such a privilege to watch them make up their own games and then extend them, and to work out their own problems. During after-school care, they sit together and play board, construction and card games, they colour in, they play together outdoors, they craft out of recycled materials, and even help cook their afternoon tea. Some of them are happy to simply sit and read a book.

While it is a child-centred environment – there are still expectations in terms of behaviour and respect for our resources, of course, but most of the time the kids sort out their own issues among themselves because they are encouraged to problem-solve at every stage of their learning.

As you can imagine, I was horrified in my interview for the job when I found out that the children were encouraged to climb trees and retrieve balls from snake-infested bushes. Hence, I have been forced to learn how to keep my own anxiety in check. As my supervisor explained to me, if a kids falls out of a tree and breaks their arm, they won’t climb as high the next time.

Humorous meme.
Found on Pinterest from http://www.shopatartworks.com

Raising my own kids, I know that I was guilty of the type of “helicopter parenting” that educator and author, John Marsden, talks about in his new book, The Art of Growing Up, so with this new responsibility I have been mindful of my need to relax and let go more. John worries about the effects of this parenting on the resilience of our children. ‘When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’, I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe. These adults have a view of childhood as some kind of discrete interval, rather than just a few years from the continuum of life. How fortunate that the spirit, courage and curiosity of many young people remain largely undefeated by such adults.

One of the points he raises is the danger of putting our kids in a bubble to “protect” them from outside influences, which means that once they grow up and enter the real world they are unable to cope with its demands. Worryingly, when he interviewed a group of children and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, many said that they didn’t want to grow up at all.

Of course, backing off and letting children with special needs like Kurt fail isn’t quite as straightforward. It is important to advocate for them at every step of their education, but towards the end of Kurt’s schooling I had learned not to sweat the small stuff and to pick my battles in relation to homework and lost uniform, a change that has stood me in good stead for this job – particularly on the days the kids make slime and potions, or when I catch one of them at the top of a tree!!!

But, perhaps, my enjoyment of this more relaxed approach to childcare has something to do with my appreciation for less drama in my own life right now, as well as my personal appreciation of nature and mindfulness that has developed with middle age. This new simplicity to how I live my life, boosted by my greater respect for nature, is empowering. And it is so much more fulfilling than the exhausting drive of my thirties and forties that I see evident in modern parenting, where parents are continually striving to turn their kids into something they’re not.

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.

It Wasn’t The Lack Of Compassion That Hurt, It Was The Lack Of Understanding about Mental Illness and Addiction

I had been feeling upbeat over the past few weeks, ahead of our run for breast cancer – which we nailed by the way, raising in excess of $800 for research. And then I stumbled upon a FB share of an old article of mine that was published by News.com last year.

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

As a writer of contentious topics (for some) – ADHD, feminism, inequality, mental health – I realise that I put myself in a glass house when one of my articles is published, and I have learned not to read comments from trolls.

This particular article was a highly personal piece about Kurt, detailing his struggles with his mental health, and my reasons for coming full circle on my views about cannabis legalisation. It was an opinion piece – hence, bait for comment and constructive criticism – to which I am always open.

However, many of the comments were not constructive. They were subjective – targeted directly at me as the author and mother. They laid the blame for Kurt’s issues squarely at my feet, and it was that lack of understanding about mental health and addiction that hurt the most – even more than their lack of compassion.

It was a slap in the face to realise that in spite of the attempts of fantastic organizations such as Lifeline and Headspace and various media outlets to improve awareness about mental illness, (as well as the increasing numbers of kids that are taking their own lives), that many people still believe that kids with mental health issues deserve no support, and should even be punished for not towing the societal line.

I am used to being held responsible for Kurt’s choices. Sadly, blame starts with the parents when it comes to ADHD, although there has been a gradual shift in attitude in recent years, thanks in part to the increasing acknowledgement and support of the condition by world governments.

And I can (sort of) see why. A child with impulse control or oppositional issues can look like a monster when you peer in from the outside. However, that refusal to show compassion or to probe more deeply into understanding the condition is why so many of these kids end up being bullied, isolated and rejected, leading to depression, self-harm, OCD and self-medication.

When it comes to inclusion, attitude is the biggest problem we face. But trust me when I tell you that any child with mental health issues who self-mutilates or lines up pills on the carpet is not “attention-seeking” (by our common acceptance of the term). They are seeking attention for help.

Beyond the public condemnation, perhaps the hardest part of the journey for parents or carers is the lack of support, the sense of isolation and the self-blame. That’s why I wrote that article. For others out there, like us, going through what we did and feeling alone.

It has taken years for me to come to terms with the fact that I am not to blame for Kurt’s struggles.

Sure, if I had my time again I would handle some things differently, but I know that no child could have been loved more. We raised our kids identically. We put the same boundaries in place that we did for NC, and like any normal teenager, she tested those boundaries. The difference was, NC was able to distinguish which of her strikes for independence were worth the consequences – unlike Kurt, who was encumbered by poor impulse control.

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt – at the very least until I have all the facts or I have met them personally. Rather than judging a book by its cover or from local gossip, I arm myself with as much information as I can before I draw my conclusions. When did we stop doing that as a society? When did we decide that it was acceptable behaviour to take a pop at someone for our own entertainment?

Surely, there can be no excuse for ignorance when we have access to information at our fingertips?

Social media has made it easy to bully without consequences and I fear that we are losing our sense of compassion. So before you jump right in with your heart rather than your head, remember that there is a real person at the other end of posts or comments, who is often motivated by doing good. That person has a heart and possibly a full wardrobe of skeletons that you know nothing about.

Mothers: Admit It, We Never Stop Worrying About Our Kids

Mothers, be careful with those little comments you drop into the conversation each time you see your adult kids (who have left home) and look like they haven’t eaten a square meal that month.

You know the type – How much fruit are you eating? ARE YOU EATING? You’re looking a bit pale, or How firm are your stools? The type that all of us mums just can’t help ourselves from asking.

Well, take my advice and shut the f..ck up, because those comments could come back to haunt you. Such is my fate since I foolishly peered into my son’s fridge and made an innocent comment about his beer diet.

‘Well, I was thinking…’ he replied the other night when he came around to ours for what looked like his first feed this month, (having obviously decided that this was the perfect window of opportunity for some long overdue Mum -manipulation), “that maybe you could deliver me a care package, once a week, for those difficult days leading up to pay day?’

‘What does a care package entail?’ I asked naively.

‘You know…a batch of Shepherd’s Pie, Bubble and Squeak – I’ll even eat your Lasagne if I have to. Something I can knock up easily myself…’ Ie. In his frying pan, which happens to be the only pan in his unit.

‘Perhaps you need to learn some money management,’ I replied wryly, fully aware of how he prioritises the half of his earnings that don’t go on rent.

‘Perhaps you need to remember that you were young once too,’ he reminded me with that twinkle in his eye that he knows makes me melt at the knees.

And he has got a point. I spent a considerable part of my twenties on the Marlboro and hot chip diet, and it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do in between my three jobs and nagging my husband (!). Of course I can sacrifice a few hours a week slaving away in the kitchen to make sure that my twenty-one year old little boy doesn’t waste away.

But just putting this out there – no one bought me care packages.

So, anyway, call me a “Sad-Fuck-Of-A-Helicopter-Parent, but three Shepherds Pies were dutifully delivered to the next suburb on Saturday afternoon, along with step-by-step instructions for how to heat them up. Of course, the old man refused to have any part of what he calls my “pathetic enabling”, although he did mention that if there were any leftovers, he’d have one instead of salmon on our next fish night.

‘Where are my care packages,’ NC grumbled in a text when she sniffed signs of sibling favouritism from the city.

And so, it appears that the old man was right about one thing and wrong about another. He was wrong when he told me that no one really likes my home cooking – as was the dead fox outside our bins all those years ago that I have been reminded about after every one of my cooking fails. But he has been right all of those millions of times when he has said that I will never stop worrying about our kids.

Whereas, he appears to be coping quite admirably.

Why I Cried In A Star Is Born

For those of you who know me and my need to spew verbal rubbish at least twice a week as a means of therapy, you might have guessed that my past few weeks of silence has nothing to do with laziness or writers’ block.

However, this time, it is not my story to overshare. Instead, I want to talk to you about “A Star Is Born”, because it is rare for me to cry in a movie.

Admittedly, I cry each time I watch “Terms of Endearment” – who doesn’t? – but usually, I’m pretty hardcore when it comes to movies – even tear-jerkers. Be it emotional defensiveness or a block, I am lucky that a history of brutal initiation ceremonies at boarding school, a family tree that resembles the Ewings in “Dallas”, and the numbing effect of anti-depressants for my anxiety – all contribute to protecting me from the lows.

(I should also point out, in my defense, that – spoiler alert – BRADLEY COOPER DIED in the movie).

But sadly, while those are all highly plausible reasons for my ugly sobs at the loss of that perfectly chiseled and landscaped chest beautiful hunk of a man (and the hero of many a middle-aged woman’s fantasies), in truth, the reason for my public blub was the content of the movie. It was just a little too bloody close to home.

Anyone close to a person who suffers from depression, anxiety or alcohol and substance abuse will understand the sadness and sense of helplessness caused by their struggle.

The devastating effects of these conditions radiate throughout the inner and outer circles of the people close to them, provoking a fear that never truly goes away.

Unfortunately, mental illness is not something that can be fixed as easily or as quickly as a broken limb. Indeed, I am beginning to believe that perhaps it can never be fixed – although some people do learn to manage it.

I am not a psychologist or doctor, but I would like to explain in simple terms the “depression” I have witnessed. Due to a myriad of reasons, there are some people who don’t feel that they can ever be happy or slot acceptably into society. Particularly, a society that expects the same from them as everyone else – that views them as a problem rather than a group of people that need support. Modern society is a meritocracy that is not inclusive to those with a disability, and when these people can’t meet normal expectations, they start to feel inadequate or a burden and they isolate themselves. This is when many of them start to dance freely with the notion of death.

Inevitably, their behavior can leave their loved ones in a perpetual state of fear – a fear that is hard to understand when you look from the outside in. For while there is empathy for people who are physically sick with those illnesses of which we have a greater understanding, such as cancer, there is less for those who suffer with invisible illnesses.

Added to which, the desperation they demonstrate in their behaviors and choices in life is easily misunderstood. For example, a common misjudgment about homeless people is that they are lazy addicts that abuse the system -rather than victims of mental illness, neglect, or abuse, who have hit rock-bottom. Addicts are viewed as the dregs of society or irresponsible pleasure-seekers, rather than people suffering from a disease.

I’ve used the analogy of a game of “Snakes and Ladders” many times when I’ve written about caring for someone in this situation. To support a person that you love to the end of the world and back, who won’t seek professional help, is similar to playing the game. You take ten steps forwards, and just when you think they are finally making progress, they slide back down a snake.

During their better periods, you fool yourself into thinking that this time they will stay well. You pray that the new job, new house or new partner will provide them with the change they need to provide them with the purpose they need to live. But you never breathe freely.

You despair at the way they abuse their bodies as a coping mechanism – which, obviously, it isn’t. You know that they self-harm to feel something – anything – that they drink to forget or to find the courage to function in such an unforgiving world. You know that the alcohol and drugs – the very things they abuse to feel normal – are just a catalyst to greater heartache as you watch them spiral helplessly towards their own self-destruction.

So what can you do?

You can look out for the signs. You can listen to them without judgment. You can empathize. You can remember that depression is not the same kind of sadness that many of us experience from time to time. And yes, it is possible to function with it – which makes it even harder to spot. Eventually, you may have to acknowledge that you may not be able to save them.

If the statistics are to be believed, we have a massive problem on our hands with the number of “troubled kids” and men out there. The choice made by Jackson Maine in “A Star Is Born” is becoming more common as our kids are placed under greater pressure from advanced telecommunication, social media, and fears about their future in terms of climate change and housing. Many of them are reaching their tipping point. When that silent growth of fear linked to not being good enough that has been eating slowly away at them starts to spread – like the Melanoma in those scary skin cancer ads – it distorts the reality of their situation. And ultimately, without the right support – and even WITH the right support – it can lead to devastating, irreversible decisions.

To help prevent these tumors from growing, we need more funding in schools and mental health services. We need greater awareness and better education. Above all, we need more empathy and understanding. So please consider carefully who will best serve the future of our kids when you place your vote at the next election.

For the carers of these people – who love them unconditionally and who for the most part are at a loss for answers or solutions about how best to help them – the fear that they will make Jackson’s choice is all-consuming. That is why I cried in “A Star Is Born”.

9 Reasons Why Empty-Nesting Is So Much Better Than I Expected

Since Kurt left home – the last of our young adults to leave the nest – friends keep asking us how we are coping with our loss, how much we miss him, and whether we’ll get another dog?

Black and white image of young man looking to view of city.
Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

And my diplomatic answer is a resounding YES – of course, I miss him terribly. The house isn’t quite the same without his raw energy, and I still feel that pull on my heartstrings whenever I notice something he left behind; or that queasiness in my stomach when he doesn’t pick up my calls or return my texts.

But I can’t lie – it is also quite liberating not to have that pile of twenty or so extra towels to wash each week; it is much easier to sleep without earplugs; and I have found this wonderful new window of opportunity of approximately two hours each week when I don’t have to replace toilet rolls.

Most of all, I don’t miss the silent judgment of healthier-than-thou mums in the supermarket as they glance at the Kurt-food in my trolley.

In truth, the old man and are having the time of our life. And while I know that some of you experienced empty-nesters out there will wince at that rather self-centered admission – and I am prepared for those times when I sit down and sob over a guitar pic I discover under the sofa or the hidden box of dinosaur nuggets in the freezer – here are my reasons for it:

  1. Our relationship is better with him now. Luckily for us, he appears to have forgiven us for fucking him up, and, even more amazingly, he appears to want to stay in our lives. We spend short bursts of “quality” time with him now, rather than extended “nagging” time.
  2. The house is really clean and tidy. It’s not that he was a grub – but, well… you know how intolerant you become in middle age about empty glasses left around the house, clothes drying on the back of your favorite chairs, and (did I mention?) permanently empty toilet roll holders. The old man also doesn’t miss Kurt’s free access to his wardrobe, either, and the daily search for a pair of clean socks.
  3. SOME of the anxiety linked to our responsibility to turn him into a responsible adult has gone, along with that albatross around our necks of having to be his role-model all of the time. We can get pissed as farts, watch porn and swear at each other with gay abandon. Hell! We could even smoke weed if we wanted to – strictly for medicinal reasons, obvs. We remain delightfully ignorant of the ingenious ways our child is sticking up his middle finger at society now – hence we are sleeping better. We don’t wake up to the stress of getting him out of bed to go to school or work – he is managing that by himself now – and quite honestly, I hadn’t realized how exhausting “enabling” him was, or what pathetically easy pushovers we were.
  4. Our food shop has halved, which means it takes me about fifteen minutes to zip around Aldi. It also means that with spare dollars to spare, I can sneak into Woollies now and then. The best part is that we can eat what we want!
  5. We can walk around the house in whatever state of deshabille we want. There’s no need to lock doors when we’re in the bathroom. There are no more screams of disgust at the sight of our old, sagging bodies, and best of all, we can nap in the afternoon – without someone prodding us to check if we’re still breathing or what’s for dinner.
  6. We can eat out in nice restaurants again now without having to consider fussy palates or the cost of paying for four adults. We can go out later – after the babies and toddlers have gone home to bed.
  7. The silence is golden. No door-slamming, rapping or sibling arguments.
  8. Our wine and beer stash has a longer lifestyle, as does the loose change in my purse.
  9. We don’t argue about the kids as much or judge each other for how we parent them. We have assumed roles for who deals with which issue when they call – the old man deals with money, while I share my limited advice about cooking and how often to clean sheets – which has always been NEVER unless someone is coming to stay.

This period feels eerily like that rose-tinted stage of parenting right after I gave birth. It is similar to that sense of euphoria I felt as I looked down at the faces of my newborns for the first time and felt so damn grateful and proud that I had got through it. Just before I remembered that the thing in my arms was real and that I couldn’t hand them back when it got too tough or if I changed my mind.

What Advice Would You Give Your Daughter As She Transitions Into Womanhood?

Women supporting women.

When I was growing up, I wish someone had told me to bury the past, to keep my eyes focused firmly on the road ahead, and to embrace the company of women.

An out-of-the-blue email from an old girlfriend prompted me to write this post. The first true girlfriend of my adulthood – ie. after kids – we were the only two mums in our parenting class with babies that refused to commit to the stepping stones of perfection outlined in the parenting manuals. Shamed by a smarmy group of other first-time mums whose kids were nailing them, we got through the shit show on wine, whinging and WTFs.

It took me a long time to connect with women. Raised through my teens by a single and unconventional father, it wasn’t until my late twenties and the births of my own children, that I was thrust among the fairer sex. Before that, the majority of my friends had been men. Sharing their black and white space, that felt devoid of emotional complications – other than those unfortunate misunderstandings about the status of our relationship – I felt calmer.

Since then, of course, I’ve come to terms with the bollocks to be found in the majority of self-help books about the search for happiness and personal fulfillment. Experience has shown me that the streets aren’t paved with gold, that life can be grossly unfair, and that the only way to make any sense of life is to make the best of what you have. And this newfound wisdom has helped me understand more about the differences between men and women, and the reason why friendships with men used to appear more attractive/straightforward. It’s because they have fewer layers.

Sounds derogatory, I know. Although, not as insulting as the word “depth,” which is the one I really wanted to use. But hear me out, because my employment of the word is not meant to be a judgment about men’s personality flaws or their shoddy housework skills (this time), I use it to champion women and the female experience of life.

I believe, that because the role of women requires so much more emotional labor and intelligence than theirs, (which I spoke about here), and we experience greater physical and emotional trauma – eg. during menstruation, childbirth, and menopause – we experience a more visceral understanding of ourselves as humans and our place in this world. You only have to look at the women who have experienced near-death experiences in childbirth, or from rape, or those whose husbands left them on the poverty line, with nothing but the kids, for examples.

Whereas, men – and I’m generalizing here because this is not a discussion about the mental health of men or the stress some experience as sole earners of their family etc – seem more transparent, more easy-going, (dare I say) less judgemental than women. (Obviously, what I’d really like to say is “simple” – in the nicest possible way.) And while there are no doubt evolutionary and physiological explanations to why one gender carries the burden of more emotional baggage than the other, it is nevertheless impossible to ignore the societal influence of male privilege. Perhaps, that’s why, (on a social level), men seem less confrontational than women – who are judged throughout their lives, making them complicated creatures.

While I’ll admit that many of my closest female friends have always secretly terrified me, fortunately for women, kids are a glue that draws us together. The uncanny ability of our offspring to extract emotion from the most determinedly cold hearts, to frazzle nerves, to provoke self-doubt and tears, and to force us to question just about everything as they chip away relentlessly at our resilience and turn our brains to pulp, are the main reason the coffee morning was invented.

In spite of the suspicions of certain men, the purpose of the coffee morning is (generally) not to discuss the latest fashions, the most energy-efficient washing machine, or the last time we had an orgasm. Coffee mornings are about support, about building resilience and sharing experiences. Men should try it, sometime.

Women are there for women on those days the dam bursts. When all those tantrums in the supermarket have finally worn you down; when the barrage of abuse at dinner time (each time you force their kids to eat peas) becomes too much; when you lose your job; or when you burst into tears in the vegetable section of Coles because someone took the last ripe avocado.

Who better to rely upon in those situations than someone who has got the tee-shirt, on those days you’re sobbing into your phone, wine in one hand, and the scalp of your third child in the other? The truth is, your girlfriends are the only ones who can help you make sense of the new, terrifying vulnerability that comes from having your emotions and hormones put through a spiralizer.

Because THEY’VE BEEN THERE.

Personally, I’m a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Over the years, my attempts to feign the habits of a worthy friend have improved, but alas, for the main part they remain superficial. I try to be better than the sub-standard set of female instincts that nature provided me with – to remember birthdays, special events, cards etc – however, an unhealthy obsession to overthink, a possible case of early onset dementia, and a natural scattiness have determined that I will never be that thoughtful, perfect friend that some of us are lucky to have in our lives. I can only hope that those friends who always make the first call or send the first text understand that my silence is unrelated to their worth.

Sadly – and yes, here comes the excuse – some people travel through life with the baggage of their past stuck as firmly to their shoulders as a backpack. And it has been easy to blame my detachment issues on any number of things – and I do. I am what they call an Olympian “victim”. The divorce of my parents, the loss of my mother (and some things that even I’m not ready to share) have been assimilated (rather than dealt with), to protect myself – a self-defensive mechanism that has had some unfair repercussions for our kids, in particular, our daughter.

NC has recently entered a phase of self-reflection. Like her mother, she has struggled to open the box fully on her emotions, but as she matures she is becoming more aware of the dangers of that choice. A bystander to the emotional carnage caused by the death of my mother, and our struggles with Kurt, she has inherited my need for control when it comes to her emotions. The concept of a free fall terrifies her, but she can’t ignore the logic of her scientist’s brain: that putting up barriers will prevent her development and thwart any positive relationships in her life – what she needs to reach her full potential.

Hence, there are two pieces of advice I wish to share with my daughter: the first is to surround herself and nurture relationships with a group of strong, intelligent, and diverse women who will challenge her and blow the wind in her sails when she needs it. The second is to put her heart on the line and to dare to love and trust.

What would be yours?

Empty-Nesting: You Know When It Is Time…

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

The old man and I became empty-nesters this week. Kurt has left the building.

I swear he wasn’t pushed. We view our negotiations as closer to a manipulation that made sense – primarily, for him. Not once did we bring up the subject of our sanity in the conversation.

Anyone who has twenty-something-year-old kids still living at home will know that there comes a time. A time when the kids need their space to grow, go wild and make their own mistakes. A time when you need your sleep.

It’s one thing to offer them a roof over their head while they are studying – to improve their career chances – but it’s another to sacrifice your peace when they are in the workforce, with far more disposable income than you’ve had in a very long time, and living the rowdy lifestyle that goes with it.

We have tried to make living together work over the past year – honestly! In some ways, Kurt has tried harder than us, and yet no amount of nagging will make the twenty-one-year-old brain of our son think along the same lines as our fifty-something-year-old brains.

Particularly, an ADHD brain – which I can vouch for because I was that kid that smoked the butts of cigarettes at five in the morning, hitch-hiked across Europe, and strolling into work straight from nightclubs. Needless to say, “the crazy” hasn’t fallen far from the tree in our house.

Fortunately for my father, my period of existentialism happened away from home, with no one to nag me about noise, how often I ate, or the dreaded R-word (responsibility) every five minutes, like a stuck record.

I swear that the word will always be a trigger in Kurt’s life.

I have no idea how long this amazing strike for independence will last. Forever, I hope – for his sake – even though my heart physically hurts when I think about my loss. For all his noise, for all those visits to the police station and suspensions from school, I will miss our boy.

Like any child, he has made an indelible mark on my heart. But in his case I have shared his struggles so viscerally – struggles that have mirrored mine many times – so his departure almost feels as though a part of me is leaving with him.

But this decision is not about me.

When our daughter left, I knew that she was ready. Kurt’s departure is different – he needs to go. For him, for us; perhaps most importantly, for the future of our relationship with him.

I would be proud to say that raising my son has made me a better person, and yet I’ve never pretended to be that “perfect,” selfless stereotype of the mum of the kid with special needs who rose to the challenge. Our journey has been a tough one, and there have been times when I have resented his “different” dynamic in what should have been an ordinary life. ADHD is not an easy condition to live with – for neither the sufferer nor the carer – and it can have a devastating impact on close relationships.

But what I will say is that my son’s presence in my life has made me more conscious of “difference,” and the difficulties of those people that have a “different” brain, who struggle in a society not customized to their needs, that continues to deny their disabilities, and to fall by the wayside. Being Kurt’s mother has made me less discriminatory and an advocate for people like him – work that I am proud of.

Am I more patient? No. But then, this stage of my life is probably not the best time to be judged by my patience levels.

Our boy has only moved up the road, which means that he can pop back, anytime – which he did last night at 1.30am, in search of a clean towel – and we can reach his new unit within five minutes if he needs us. Nevertheless, the three of us know that we need this time. We need time to heal, time to forget the scarring judgments spoken in anger, to repair, and to breathe freely again. We need time apart to remind ourselves of how much we love each other. The old man and I have more than twenty years of sleep to catch up on.

A year ago, I would never have believed that this day would come. A year ago, it felt like a fantasy to think that one day Kurt would hold down a job. A year ago, we feared for our son’s life, or that he might remain fully dependent upon us for the rest of ours.

In those darkest moments, hope and survival are sometimes the only things to hold onto, and one of life’s greatest gifts is the element of surprise. Always remember the healing power of time and its ability to scaffold forgiveness, change circumstances, and people. We are so proud of where Kurt is right now.

Friends, whose kids have already left the family home, have assured me that their relationships with their kids improved once they decamped. And while my relationship with Kurt has always been complicated – intense, symbiotic, and unhealthily enabling at times – I know that deep down both of us need this move to work. Little has remained left unsaid in our relationship. We know each other inside out – for better or for worse – so we know what we mean to each other.

Nevertheless, it is time for our chick to fly.

How To Cope With An Internet Outage With Millennials

bruno-gomiero-94171-unsplashMy sympathies lie with the businesses that were affected by Telstra’s latest outage last week. My own family has been at their mercy for the past two weeks, effectively in lockdown.

Any parent will tell you that there is no greater pain than watching a child suffer, and that is exactly what we have been forced to endure during the outage. While for the old man and myself – hardcore Generation Xers who were brought up on The Famous Five, Cats Cradle, conkers, and – dare I mention – books, it has proven to be more of an irritation than a personal loss, our two young adults have experienced immeasurable grief.

While Kurt’s body has completely lost the ability to function – withdrawal seeing him pace the house like a caged animal to metamorphose into a frightening hybrid of Gollum and the Hulk – NC has refused to come home or return my calls.

And yet, perhaps more terrifying than the sight of two young adults in a perpetual state of despair is the grey pallor and twitching of the parent that is responsible for fixing the problem.

Suffice it to say, the old man has been forced to use his home blood pressure monitor more than usual over this past two weeks. So, when a friend caught him chained to the fencing of the golf club, refusing to go home, and promised him that “cable is three times faster than anything else, mate,” desperation forced his hand and he made an uncharacteristically impulsive decision.

He ordered cable.

In hindsight, I will admit that our expectations were stupidly unrealistic, not helped by the events of the night before during which Kurt managed to use up five precious gigabytes of data within the space of an hour – apparently, that is a lot in data-speak, particularly in a house that prioritizes data over food. So it was with bated breath that we watched cable guy do his ten-minute reconnaissance of our joint and set to work, first in the lounge, and then up a pole on the other side of the street – which foolishly, I interpreted as a positive sign.

And when, finally, he placed the magic card in the old man’s hand with our new passcode – which, it is no exaggeration to say, was the equivalent of Charlie’s golden ticket, (so much so, the old man has since tattoed had the number tattooed his chest) – I can only compare the euphoria to seeing Buble perform his complete collection of Christmas songs live…and naked.

Obviously, being ever the practical one of the family, he held cable guy captive a little longer as he tested and ran through every nuance of the new technology with him, and cable guy was generous enough to humor him, even when he asked some (frankly) very stupid, Generation X type questions.

But I will admit that the sound of my husband’s whoop of joy upon his discovery that the new speed of our new internet thingy, (insert appropriate technological jargon here), far exceeded our expectations was a beautiful thing, comparable I would say to his reaction to the births of our children – although he didn’t do a celebratory lap around the block naked either of those times.

In fact, we remained high on life even when cable guy left our home to save some other poor family in similarly dire straits.

Until, the call from upstairs the wild, that no father wants to hear.

‘DAAAAAAAAAD! The Internet doesn’t work on my phone!’

We are back in lockdown. An immediate state of emergency has been called in which we have hourly meetings to discuss possible emergency action such as new routers, a different bedroom… perhaps even a new house?

I am confident that we will work through this difficult time, folks, but in the meantime, we would be grateful for your prayers.

*Reaches for wine.*