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.

I’m More Concerned About Trump’s Policies Than The Size Of His Dick

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There’s been a lot of talk about fruit and veg in the press this week. First, about the loonies here in Australia that think it’s funny to put needles in strawberries, and then there’s Trump’s mushroom-shaped penis, the image in my head of which, I can’t unsee.

It’s not that I actively sought out the flagrant details of the US president’s knob, but they are hard to avoid on Twitter.

Albeit a feminist, I’m not a fan of the “kiss and tell” or tit for tat memoir, and I’ll admit to something close to the stirrings of a loose bowel movement when snippets of Stormy’s passionate (?) affair with the President first came to light. Personally, I believe that if you are going to “tell,” a “less is more” approach can be far more salacious. And frankly, the detail of Trump’s tiny manhood – while deservedly humiliating for him – doesn’t alter my opinion of him. I’m more interested in the man’s policies than the size of his dick – although, it’s true that it would be hard for my opinion to sink much lower.

In a very sad way, perhaps the size of his todger is a tiny excuse for his behavior – “small man complex,” and all that.

But you have to admire Stormy, who must surely be cognisant of the avalanche that she has triggered in the media, and which is certain to descend upon her once they get over the titillation of her lover’s small cock. Give her a few days grace before they cut her back down to size and force her to pick up the mantle of the fallen woman again, in spite of Trump’s infidelity and his proclamations about the virtues of family life.

Monica Lewinsky has never walked away from the smear campaign against her, while Bill continues to be canonized for his roving eye. So I hope that Stormy is as strong as her name suggests, or that the revenue from her book is worth the wrath that she has ignited in the White House – particularly if Trump gets re-elected.

Telling the truth at the expense of a man’s reputation is a risky business for women, and stronger women than Stormy have sunk under the weight of their aggression in a duel. The #notallmen retaliation suggests that men are fighting back against what they believe are unfair accusations by women – even though it is only abusers that are being accused, so I’m not sure what the majority of them have to worry about.

In a world in which leadership positions are dominated by men, (and for the main part, by white men), women do not fare well when they stand up for their rights; particularly against powerful men, as proven by those female Liberal MPs brave enough to speak out after the government spill and the cartoon of Serena Williams in the Australian press.

Trump is not known for his forgiveness. He is now known for his mushroom-shaped dick, which, however vulgar that might sound, is still (sadly) unlikely to contribute to the worst parts of his legacy.

 

Making Jam, Authenticism, And Being Good With Who You Are

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I’ve had some opinion pieces published on various news sites and magazines over the past month. And while that’s a writing dream come true, the push from editors to include as much of my personal life as possible, can feel a little invasive at times. I have always endeavored to be authentic – which is why I didn’t freak my shit when Mamamia changed the headline of my piece on women drinking to ‘I’m A Functioning Alcoholic!’ – but obviously I do have to think about the people I’m writing about as well.

When an intelligent, highly-educated woman that I stalk  admire on Twitter – who I had imagined spends her free time reading Tolstoy and writing about the paradigm shift of Ptolemy’s astronomy giving way to Copernican astronomy – tweeted the other day that she was making jam, I was surprised by her honesty. This is a woman that has created a superwoman brand on social media in terms of her professional life and it seemed like media suicide to admit to doing something quite so mundane.

I quickly reprimanded myself for being so judgy – before questioning why I never want to make jam or why no one has ever taught me how to make it. It’s so easy to feel insecure and inadequate when you consume the lives of other people on social media. Indeed, when I sat back and really thought about it, a part of me was quite envious that a) this woman had been taught how to make jam by a grandmother – perhaps – a recipe that she would pass down to her own grandchildren – (it was a particularly hormonal day);  that b) she didn’t give a rat’s arse about what anyone else thinks; and that c) her admission made my enjoyment of changing the position of my sofa pillows on an hourly basis, slightly less tragic.

Suffice it to say, I don’t believe that making jam will ever be on my bucket list. Indeed, I will go so far as to say that making jam is more likely to be on the list of things I will never do unless I am paid for it, like planting cuttings, scrapbooking and collecting stamps. But, each to their own. I’m a firm believer in advocating any self-care or activity that leads to self-fulfillment, and just as I was hasty in my judgment of  ‘jam-making superwoman’, I’m certain that there are hoards of you out there who cannot imagine anything more boring than writing.

But let me get back to this woman’s ‘authenticity’, which is is the new black in my book, and something that I have always tried to cultivate on this blog and in my own life. For me, it means never being ashamed of who we are and the choices we make. Sure, we don’t have to admit publicly to our boring AF hobbies like this woman did, but if something makes our soul sing, we must never be ashamed to pursue it because of what other people think – unless it’s illegal, OBVS.

That desire to be more authentic has become even more important to me in this stage of my life. To the detriment of my family, I have a burning desire to unleash my views about the world and where I sit in it. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy for anyone to broadcast their fuck ups – not even for me – which is why it took me months before I pushed publish on my first blog post. And yet, the more honest I am in my writing, the more confident I feel about myself – even if your toes curl at the mention of penises and excess body hair.

I love nothing more than to identify with the experiences of other people. I love to read about parents that are finding the gig tough, or that woman that lost her job or found the key to dieting – who obviously doesn’t exist. Their stories make me feel in touch and less alone. That’s why I love to admit to the world on a Saturday night that I’m in my jammies by 5pm or that I’ve gained 6kgs. We need to be as good with our failures as we are with our successes because they are what push us to keep growing. We need to be good with who we are, no matter what the expectations of those around us.

Those Bloody Crises of Confidence Part 1

You may have sensed it in my writing of late, but I’m going through a bit of a crisis of confidence at the moment. I’ve tried to buoy myself up by trawling through all the memes on my Inspirational Shit board on Pinterest and drinking more wine than usual, but any writer will tell you that the rejection of your manuscript – no matter how well you prepare yourself for it – is a very personal rejection, worse even, than when your child is the only kid in the class not to get invited to a party.

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Because I have nurtured this, my third child. I have sacrificed great chunks of life (that I probably should have spent with my own children) to get this baby out into the world. Indeed, I have probably been a better parent to my manuscript than to either of my own children. And I will shoot the next person that reminds me of JK Rowling’s sixteen rejections before Harry Potter was published.

 

And while I am still not ready to give up on it, sadly there are only so many hours in each day to continue editing and re-editing and, (as the old man reminded me so supportively the other day), these last fanatical strokes of the paintbrush of a scorned wannabe writer, might prove to be its final undoing, aiding my manuscript’s journey to its final permanent residence in the reject piles of Sydney’s publishing houses.

 

I assume that at some point you have to ask the question – is it good enough? – and if you can be completely honest and listen to your instinct screaming no, you begin the grieving process.

 

I’m not quite there yet.

 

However, inevitably, there is pressure from a certain department of the house to earn some money now that everyone has accepted that I haven’t written the next Fifty Shades – and rightfully so because wine and take-outs cost money. And honestly, what kind of feminist would I be if I expected to sit in my home office all week, being creative?

 

A bloody happy one, actually.

 

The problem with rejection is that a) it’s a fucking lie that it gets any easier and b) it seeps into every other aspect of your life. One day you’re skipping merrily through hot sand on the beach, the sun on your face, and the next, you’re a loser. Which means my head isn’t exactly in the right place to search for paid work at the moment. I’ll go so far as to say,  if I’m honest I’m feeling kind of lost at the prospect of this latest career crossroads, which feels much closer to the choice between the eighteen fucking lanes leading to the Harbor Bridge than a simple right or left turn. And I just know that I’ll end up in the wrong fucking lane.

 

Finding motivation gets harder each day because I know I’m running out of time and writing is something that can’t be rushed. That voice that used to get me out of bed, full of excitement, and tell me to keep going – that I CAN DO IT – sounds hollow now. I hate people who get published. Some days it is physically painful to listen to other people’s stories of success when I have nothing to show for my hard work.

 

And then the sun rises on another day and along comes Jacinda Ardern on my computer screen, modeling her feathered Kahu huru huru cloak, with her husband on her arm. And I look at her and I think, HOW FRICKIN AWESOME is this woman in the sort of dress-up that is way more suited to a GOT set than meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace. How bloody inspiring is it to see a young, female world leader, so proudly representing her culture, her politics, and her impending motherhood, whilst slaying the toxic gender roles of the establishment with one swish of that cape.

 

I want to be her. I want to be able to stand up like her in front of all my naysayers with that self-belief and be able to say that I did it.

 

And I looked really closely at those photos of her in the media and I did wonder if there are some mornings that Jacinda gets up, looks in the mirror and feels any doubt. Knowing that her (and more specifically her bump), would be under the spotlight, I wonder if that night she asked Tim as she got ready if he thought her bum looked too big in that Maori cape or if she looked like a bit of a dick. Because let’s be honest, not many women can work a shit-brown dress and a cape of feathers whilst heavily pregnant.

 

But I’m guessing that her inner voice wasn’t screaming negative thoughts at her. I’m thinking that the ghosts of those native New Zealand birds on her back were egging (sorry!) her on.

 

‘Go bitch! You show that Commonwealth Queenie who you are,’ they were screeching – because birds in this part of the world don’t tweet or twitter.

 

Well…whatever was going through her head that evening, she wore those dead birds like a boss, with no sign of any self-doubt.

 

And more importantly, I need that cape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Do Some People Make You Feel That Pursuing Your Dreams Is A Cop Out?

live-your-dream-2045928_1920Currently, when I’m asked at social events ‘what I do’, I metamorphose back into a little girl, look down at the floor nervously and respond, usually in a pathetic whisper ‘I’m trying to write a book’ or ‘I’m trying to make a career out of writing’, then pray they don’t ask me about it. The look of pity, by way of response, is a given. It’s the sort of look you’d expect if you told them you were terminally ill or related to Trump or that – God forbid! – you’re a full-time Mum.

 

And because I’m a paranoid bitch with anxiety, I choose to interpret that look as they think I’m a failure and that they believe my choice of words is either a) a cover up for ‘doing fuck all’ ie. I’m a “lady who lunches”, or b) they secretly believe that as a fifty-something woman, surely I’m a bit past it to pursue my dreams?

 

Which all seems a little ironic when I thought that the fashionable thinking in regards to lifestyle is about having choices, escaping the rat race as quick as you can, (unless you love what you do), or chasing your dreams before North Korea nukes us. Literally, hundreds of memes enforce this view on my social media pages each day.

 

Perhaps I’m over-sensitive as well as paranoid, but (just occasionally) a ‘good for you!’ or a patronizing pat on the back for ‘having a go’ wouldn’t go amiss. I like to think that I am encouraging when someone describes to me what their job entails – even if secretly it does sound like watching paint dry.

 

Perhaps the reason so many writers and people who work from home appear trapped by the demons of their craft is the solitariness of the job, which inevitably breeds doubt. With no peer support or encouragement, or any chance of an ‘employee of the month’ award, you have to have a deep-seated belief in what you’re doing to survive.

 

Do people really think that I don’t know that I have less chance of getting published than flying to the moon? But will reminding myself that only 0.1% of the writing population get published – and only those with the first initials JK – spur my creativity to greater heights?

 

Even the old man looks at me suspiciously when I lie in bed an hour longer than he does of a morning, trawling through the news sites and social media in search of ideas.

 

‘Where do you think I get my ideas from?’ I snap back at him when he asks me what time I’m getting up, sensitive to the fact that I feel the need to justify my time.

 

Perhaps it is envy. When you tell your friends that you work from home, it is rather like admitting that you’ve won the lottery or you got some half-price Blahniks in the sales, and you can hear yourself play down your efforts and try to negate the luck of that swim in the ocean at lunchtime.

 

But losing an income is not all fun and games, not when that second drink at the pub with a girlfriend can cause a domestic rift; the only holidays abroad you enjoy these days are those of your friends on Facebook, that you live vicariously through, and dinners out are a luxury. And chasing my dream was about more than being paid to do what I love, it was about putting my mental health first and being more cognizant of the preciousness of each day – which doesn’t pay well either.

 

And I know I am lucky.

 

Time to Tear Down Mia Freedman

I needed to write this piece in defense of Mia Freedman of Mamamia, because she has been an inspiration for my own writing. Whatever her detractors accuse her of in connection to the debacle yesterday with Roxane Gay, I refuse to accept that her intentions in her approach to their interview were anything but respectful and professional.

“You don’t have to knock anyone off their game to win yours. It doesn’t build you up to tear others down.” (Mandy Hale)

 

I feel for Mia Freedman since yesterday’s very public condemnation from writer and feminist, Roxane Gay, in which the author accused her of being ‘cruel and humiliating’, appertaining to comments the editor made about her weight. IMG_6039

 

For some time, Mia has always been a target of abuse that she doesn’t always deserve – some might even accuse her of setting herself up for it. When you put yourself in the public eye and work with and for women and women’s rights, you open yourself up to the firing line and some days there will be sunshine and other days, a deluge of rain.

 

To be a good writer, you have to take risks and Mia wouldn’t have reached the echelons of journalism she resides in now without thought-provoking and incendiary commentary. Most of the time, I enjoy, learn from and share her opinions. She has highlighted issues that many women face, both in society and on the homefront. From mental health, work/life/balance and parenting issues to relationship and body image issues, there are very few topics that Mia won’t touch, and I have identified with several of them at different stages of my life. Although I am not naive enough to believe that Mia’s life is similar to mine, I enjoy her quirky style, her honest approach, and her ‘close to the mark’ opinions on sensitive issues.

 

As I dip my own toes into the murky waters of journalism, I can see how hard it is to always get it right and know instinctively the location of “the line”. Sometimes I struggle to find the balance between the truth and the level of hyperbole I want to use to make a story funny or compelling enough to get noticed, even though I know that if I step over the line, to betrayal and disloyalty, a good news story can go bad very quickly.

 

The competitiveness of the media and rivalry among writers, some of whom are prepared to disclose everything, can cast a shadow over that line. And perhaps Mia, with her experience, should have known better. She doesn’t need to write click bait headlines, sell herself, or compromise her integrity at this point in her career, especially when her magazine attracts the interest of high-profile writers of Roxane’s caliber, who Mia has the utmost respect for, clearly.

 

Yesterday, I think Mia made a genuine mistake, but I don’t think her intention was to ‘shame women,’ and she has since acknowledged publically her error in judgment. I believe it is time to stop casting stones in her direction and the predictable loser’s behavior of tearing down those that succeed.

 

Sensationalism will always sell, which is why I realized a while ago that I had nothing more to contribute to Mamamia anymore unless I was prepared to sell my soul. Although I share my family’s story on my blog, it is a censored version, but I know how easy it is to make mistakes when those bright lights first begin to shine; and I have done so many times – fortunately without the ramifications of Mia’s.

 

We all make mistakes – they’re how we learn and grow and they are endemic to human nature. If there is any lesson to learn from here, it is that the only non-fiction story we are free to embellish is our own.

 

Food Goals When You Work From Home

One of the main benefits to working from home, aside from the greater job security than that currently offered by the FBI, is the 24hr on-site cafeteria. 

I have instigated Google’s food policy in our house. They don’t allow their employees to be further than 200 feet from food at any time – a strategy that ‘inspires innovative thinking’ they believe, as well as a greater appreciation for food, in my experience. Particularly now, as we enter winter, and I’m cold and beginning to miss the luxuries of the modern office, (and in particular, ducted heating), and have turned to food for comfort.

Without the usual office time-wasting distractions of forming scrums around the coffee machine, bitching in the toilets, sending funny emails about the boss, kicking the photocopier and social media, food has become much more significant in my new working environment – perhaps too significant.

And the best part is there is no judgment.

There’s none of that pressure to take in the grossest, sludgiest green smoothies for breakfast; no need to hide my Nachos under my sprout salad sprinkled with caterpillar semen for lunch, which I then used to top up with Maccas when I was ‘doing the mail’. No, you see I can eat what the fuck I want to in my own home, and if suits my very busy schedule to eat ten smaller (hmmm!) meals per day, I have earned that right.

Even so, I have begun to see the potential pitfalls in this new partnership. The fifteen-pound weight gain (on average) of Google employees over their first year of employment, has been termed the Google 15, hence I haven’t got close to the scales in months. But I ask you, with no-one to have hour-long chitchats in the toilets to discuss current events, (the size of Jon Hamm’s penis, for example), how exactly is a girl supposed to fill the gaps in her concentration?

It has been said that the lack of physical contact with the outside world can be a disadvantage to those who work from home – research that I suspect was reported by someone who has either never worked from home or who actually likes people  – and I now see how that sense of isolation could lead to an eating disorder for the lonely writer. Chocolate chip cookies have been my support through several, highly stressful hours to deadline.

I’m lucky that I have been able to learn from the best when it comes to my WFGs (work food goals), my progress in which he will assess in my annual review. Because there has to be some biological reason that my husband, who also works from home, has to run 7ks a day to maintain his current weight.

He works at the other end of our house – the end with heating, (an issue that is escalating and as such has been added to the next team meeting agenda). His office, which doubles as a nap-pod and reading room – in fact, any room name he can invent to avoid me – is even closer to the evil magnetism of the kitchen and I hear him and his furtive rustlings in the pantry; the tell-tale timeout beeps from the fridge door.

The waft of melting butter on crumpets is all it takes to pull me out of my steely focus on work and straight into the cookie jar, a consistency which is certain to score me a 5 at my review, I hope.

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When You Use Your Age As An Excuse Not To Chase Your Dreams

I went to a workshop on freelance writing on Saturday. Pursuing the dream, seizing the day, there are a number of clichés I could come up with to describe my final charge into a job that I love. adult-1868015_1920

I learned that journalism is not for the faint-hearted these days, with cutbacks and job losses and a sizeable drop in the word rate in recent years. And like many jobs in the arts, you have to be either crazy or passionate to go into it – and there’s probably a very fine line between the two. It’s also bloody hard work, and perhaps not something sane people ‘of a certain age’ should consider when they could be winding down with Ellen each morning.

Fortunately, there appears to be less of an ageist facet to freelance writing than in fiction-writing, where you need to be able to market your work physically as well as write it. Sitting on the stage of a writer’s festival, with knitting in one hand and inhaler in the other, is probably not the promotion a publisher is looking for when they try to sell your erotica novel. So the appeal of the freelance writing gig is that I can be back of house, slouched in front of my computer, clad in jammies, hair unkempt, toes being kept toasty by the dog in winter.

I’m not naive enough to believe that you can be anything you want to be at this, (or indeed), any time of your life. I suspect that it is too late for me to become an Olympic athlete or an astronaut for NASA, but then again, would I ever have really pursued those goals with such a distaste for sports and heights?

There were about fifteen of us wannabe writers in the room – an eclectic, somewhat motley bunch, each with aspirations of making money from doing something we love and at different junctures of our writing career. The full spectrum of ages and personalities was made more evident once we were asked to share an imaginary pitch and those different views, politics, idealisms and sensitivities sliced through the room with as much subtlety as a hot knife through butter. Most writers, I suspect, are opinionated know-it-alls who seek a platform from which their voice can be heard.

At the beginning of the session, our leader took full advantage of her position of power by asking us to introduce ourselves, and flashbacks of being picked on by my English teacher to transpose Shakespeare, flooded my brain.  Funny really – when all of us in that room were confident enough to put ourselves out there; had given up our Saturday to improve ourselves. I watched as each one of us squirmed in our seats as our turn got closer. Writers are not quite as gregarious when it comes to self-proclamation and hubris with the spoken voice.

One thing I have learned over time is not to downgrade myself in these situations. I refuse to apologize for who I am these days, when in the past I would make feeble, self-deprecating jokes or give reasons as to why I shouldn’t really be there – a habit women are far more guilty of than men. Typically, the person who protested too most about her inexperience went on to deliver the best pitch and we all hated her immediately.

Most of the group, however, spoke with humility and passion and openly admitted to the rest of us strangers that they were still chasing the dream, (the unspoken words being), before it’s too late. Many of the younger ones were already in-house journalists and about to set off on travels that they would finance through their freelance work and some were already published authors, branching out in different directions of the writing industry – one they hoped would pay the bills. Several, like me, were scratching the itch.

‘Change’ is exciting and terrifying and in these situations when you have committed yourself to a situation, (and ‘flight’ is still a tempting possibility),  it would be easy to cave in to those ‘what the fuck am I doing here?’ fears that mess with your brain. So it’s good to be with like-minded people, with similar goals; to be reminded that you’re not alone.

There are millions of us still searching for ideas and answers for ways to improve ourselves, and I know that I’m lucky to have this opportunity. There will be days when it is impossible to eradicate doubt from my mind, and in the same way that those progress prizes at school marked me as being not quite good enough, the old fear taunts me that I will always be known as Louisa The Trier, in Viking terms. But that’s okay.

I’ve stalled several times over the last few years in relation to taking this step, so I wasn’t surprised when ‘you’re too old for this’ rang in my ears as I walked into that meeting room on Saturday, pretending to feel confident. Youth and beauty are equated with success in our society and once you get past fifty, it is easy to disappear ‘over the hill’ unless you fight. 

It turns out that I wasn’t the dinosaur.

It’s time to change that internal rhetoric.

I Can’t Do It All

shouting-1719492_1920It was with a heavy heart that I closed the final chapter on my day job today, in pursuit of fulfilling some dreams and kicking some goals before it’s too late.

 

I’ve loved my job and at the end of my last ever face-to-face meeting with a client today, for a brief moment “doubt” stepped in. I was fortunate to meet so many interesting people in my role that helped me evolve into the open-minded/hearted woman that I’m proud to have turned into over the past few years. It also opened my eyes even wider to what the world can possibly think it is going to achieve by closing its doors to immigrants and denying all of us those precious opportunities to embrace, share and learn from different cultures.

 

I told my employer I was off to chase some dreams when I resigned because there is some truth to that story. But I’m also aware of how unprofessional it would sound if I admitted to her that in reality the balance between my work and home life has become too tricky to navigate, and something has to give. So I’ll admit it to you, my readers. I’ve been angry for a long time. I’ve sought medication and therapy to control my stress levels and calm the internal storms that keep raging, but they haven’t worked, so changes need to be made – for the sake of just about everyone who knows me. I’ve had to accept that I can’t do what we women are meant to strive for; I can’t do it all.

 

I’ll say it again, I can’t do it all, and I refuse to feel ashamed of that. It won’t be me who changes the world, and that’s ok. More specifically, I can’t support my son and his needs and loss of direction and hold down a demanding job at the same time.

 

I’m not superwoman or Gwyneth.

 

What I am, though, is bloody lucky, because I’m fortunate to have choices as a woman – they call it “privilege” these days – and I am aware that my choices are ones that many women will never have. The shame attached to that admission kept me at work for longer than I should have stayed, to the detriment of both my son and my health. But as they tell you at the gym – apparently – you need to listen to your body and your heart, so that is what I’m doing. The final justification I needed to make this momentous leap into the scary vortex of the unknown came from the old man when we were on holiday and I admitted to not coping – like he didn’t know – and he reminded me as I sat in the corner of the room rocking, that we only have one life, and that we are in the fortunate position to have choices.

 

I know. I bagged a good’un. 

 

Anyway, here’s what I’m going to do: for the remainder of this year I’m going to get my son back on track, in a consultant capacity only, (as per my therapist’s recommendations), and as opposed to the way I used to try to help him as a meddling, helicopter parent. In the two weeks since my workload has lightened up a little, I’ve already seen the difference some quality time with him has made. For the past year, I have allowed his age and social presumptions dictate my own expectations for him, and I forgot that he is Kurt and he is his own person, and it has never been a good idea to compare him to his peers. His stepping stones to adulthood will happen when he’s ready, and they won’t be defined because someone has written in some parenting manual that he should be doing things at the same time as other kids his age. That never happened during his education, so it’s unlikely to happen now.

 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the time to talk to him and more importantly, to listen to him. We’ve laughed together again, I’ve taken him to the doctors and for coffee and driving, and amazingly he passed his test first time – a massive boost to his confidence. And that success has infected all the complex facets of his personality and where he sees his place in the world in the best way, and on a practical level, it has meant that finally, he has some means of independence from us – a freedom he has yearned for but not quite been able to reach by himself.

 

He is already talking about travel and going back into education – without pressure from us. (Honest). More importantly, he is talking to me again, probably because I’m not barking or sniping at him at the same time as writing my endless “to-do lists” and deciding which parts of my life to prioritize.

 

So I will be here for him for a while longer, and in between the challenge of getting my son back into the realms of loving life again, (and I will join him in that challenge), I’ll also submit my book for publication and see if there’s any damned way to make the paltry sum of money I need to keep the old man off my back, from writing.

 

Concessions will need to be made, of course, so that I can chase my writing/perfect mother dreams – financial mainly, much to the old man’s delight. Because unless I sell my book (and the following twenty with film rights), we will continue to have the ugliest house in the street. The big car is already up for sale and I will have to return to the role of “house bitch” for a while as the old man works extra hours to formulate a plan of how to bridge the shortfall in our earnings. But as long as he doesn’t cut my weekly wine allowance, I will be stoic.

 

And every cloud has a silver lining – at least there will be food in the fridge again.

 

 

Talking Publicly About Trauma

Anna Spargo Ryan has written a riveting and widely appraised book called The Paper House, and I’m thrilled for her success (if not a bit jelly) because I’ve followed Anna on Twitter for a few years. She is intelligent, witty and an advocate for mental illness awareness and I was particularly keen to read her book which deals with the topic of grief, because I knew that she would treat it as empathetically as it can be. 

Caucasian woman feeling sick flu illness
Talking Publicly About Trauma

 

Because, let’s face it, “grief” is not everyone’s cup of tea; not everyone is prepared to open up about a topic that is so intrinsically painful and personal. But it just so happens that I have, and the subject is at the core of the storyline in my own manuscript; another reason I was keen to see how Anna treated it.

 

Very differently to me, it appears, because Anna is one of those rare writers whose fingers drip melted chocolate onto the keyboard and create literary genius.

 

I admit that these days I rarely read what would be categorised as “literary” books, and my own work will fall into the category of women’s fiction – more Jilly Cooper than Graham Greene – with its own treatment of mental illness, although it is similarly symbolised by a central, dysfunctional family whose experiences of death are treated in a more black and white, in-your-face, Big Brother style of writing.

 

Since having children or reaching middle age, (I’m not sure which), I suffer from what I know to be a common problem of not being able to stay awake longer than fifteen minutes through pages of descriptive prose, clever metaphors and stunning imagery, no matter how breathtaking it is. 

 

Although that is not The Paper House. No, Anna’s book is so much more than that. It is more akin to putting on a ball dress for the first time in a long time, when you feel typically more comfortable in jeans. It forces the reader to think about her purposeful choice of every word on the page, their beauty and their poetry in spite of such gut-wrenching subject matter, as she takes you on a journey of flora and fauna and emotion.

 

Anna drags you into Heather’s world of visceral pain, not in a maudlin, heavy-handed way, nor does she allow you to wallow and fret for her loss. Although not trivialised, “grief” is touched upon delicately, and decorated with a heavenly backdrop that helps describe the outer body experience of living, the shell of her former self that she is reduced to by her grief.

 

There is dysfunction, humor and realism too, brought to life by a sister who refuses to allow Heather to fall victim to self-pity and absorption, and a husband whose view is typically more black and white, more ‘life goes on’ as well as a handful of quirky instrumental characters who pass through her journey and contribute to her recovery.

 

Anna’s book tackles the difficult subject of recovery of the mind, body and spirit after trauma.  As is often the case, this new trauma in her life – the loss of a child – triggers the pent up grief of her earlier loss of a parent, which I recently identified as an aspect that has unwittingly crept into my own writing when I talked about my blog at a local library a few weeks ago.

 

To be honest, I never realised before just how much my own personal trauma has infused my writing. But grief never goes away completely.

 

Not trauma on the scale of heinous, newsworthy trauma, obviously, nevertheless the sort of low-level domestic trauma that we all go through at certain junctures of our lives, that is impactful enough to put a pin in our happiness, take a toll on our relationships and affect how we function.

 

Anyone who follows Anna’s blog knows that she suffers from anxiety and she wrote a post for Daily Life recently entitled Can We Not Shame Women For Writing About Their Trauma?. The article discusses how certain women writers have recently been accused of capitalising on their trauma in their blogs and writing. Some people believe that these writers should be reminded that not everyone is interested in reading about abuse, infertility, death or mental health issues.

 

But in Anna’s own words, ‘Critics accuse us of being self-focused and overly dramatic, but it is in relating these stories that we find our commonality. We are not isolated. We are not one person climbing a mountain on her own. We are women who, for the first time in all of history, can hear and be heard’. 

 

I tackle “depression” in my book, as well as suicide, loss and the effects of mental illness on a normal family. These aren’t light topics that can be trivialised and I hope I treat them responsibly – but identifiably too – because I know that there are many people out there living those experiences right now, who are not being supported.

 

I used to co-run a support group for parents of kids with ADHD and sometimes our meetings would attract up to a hundred parents, all coming to be educated, supported and reassured. Due to the stigma surrounding ADHD, many of those parents chose to remain anonymous, yet still came in their flocks.

 

Talking and writing about trauma publicly does help others, which is why TED is such a success and literature such as Anna’s has such reach. We are fortunate to have choices in our democracy, and if we don’t want to hear about it, we don’t have to listen.

Why I Blog…

I had the chance to speak at a local library event recently about blogging, using this blog as my example. It had little to do with talent or notability, more an obvious case of nepotism as one of my close friends is a librarian there, but we all have to start somewhere.  diary-968603_1280

 

One of the aspects I talked about was why I write.

 

I’ve been writing since I first had NC, some twenty years ago, when the mental tsunami of things not being quite as they should be first hit me. I’m a fervent believer that buried trauma can be triggered later in life, leading to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and because I never dealt with my mother’s death when I was a teenager, that grief never went away.

 

And so I struggled with the early stages of motherhood – a bummer, as being someone with little self-confidence or sense of worth, I’d pinned all my hopes on motherhood being what I’d be good at.I could blame NC for being a ‘difficult’ baby, or the sense of isolation that can occur when you are the first of your peers to take the grown up step of procreation; whatever the reason for my mini break-down, I had few people to share my concerns with. I might have even have been suffering from post natal depression. But what I did know was that I needed an outlet, some way to release the pent-up frustration and pressure, and for me ‘writing’ became the perfect antidote.

 

Hence, my first book was about the anti-mother, the mother that sucks at it, who doesn’t fit into the smug rivalry of mother’s groups, struggles to breast-feed, feels no bond or fulfilment from watching their newborn breathe, and frankly, can’t wait to get back to the office. In terms of honesty and authenticity, I was ahead of my time, but back then I had neither the energy or the balls to take it to the next level.

 

This blog evolved for two reasons. The first came about after I was let go from a job, which provoked my second minor mental break-down, super-vulnerable as I was at the time, coping with Kurt and issues relating to his ADHD. The second reason was that the seed of another book was developing inside me, desperate to be nurtured and hatched and I decided to do it properly this time, to research thoroughly about how to improve the chances of success of a forty-something, so far unpublished writer.

 

Every article I read about getting published pointed to the necessity of a writer’s platform, in the form of a blog.

 

And as soon as I hit ‘publish’ on those first few outpourings, full of deep, desperate questions, searching for answers and readers who understood the terrifying emotions I was experiencing that had been caused by the humiliation of losing a job, and the fears of having a child that doesn’t tick all the boxes of ‘normal’ development – often in a humorous and self-deprecating tone because that’s a defence mechanism I employ to reduce the pain – I found I could I could cope with the isolation so much better. I had a safe zone. Catharsis.

 

I need to write now. It’s not a passion, it’s not a job, it’s something I have to do to keep me sane.

 

This little blog and the manuscript in my computer give me the voice to shout FUCK OFF! when life throws me a curved ball. It is my therapist, my therapy, and a space where I can be me.

 

And it has been my saviour, over and over again.

 

Many bloggers hit that wall of ‘what the fuck am I doing’ at certain points in the blogging life – (Mumabulous, one of the best writers I know, had a wobble about this topic recently) – especially if you’re not in it for the fame and glory and the whole idea of monetising and selling your soul terrifies you. And I have questioned my loyalty to this little online space repeatedly.

 

But I keep coming back. It’s like an addiction that needs to be sated, an itch that needs to be scratched, a baby that has to be released out into the world. Not because I thrive on attention – because sometimes I get little or no feedback from my readers- but because it is my favourite creative outlet to vomit up all the stuff that needs to come out to make me feel balanced again.

 

I was doing that Prima Donna thing that other day, strutting around the apartment moaning about why I wasted so much of my life writing a book that will never be published, and NC asked me why that mattered if I enjoyed the process.

 

And she’s right, of course. I’ll be back in the old man’s bad books for admitting to this but I’m not motivated by money, or even the kudos of having my name in print, really…(although I assume that the validity to be gained from being published helps with the self-doubt, something I struggle with on a daily basis).

 

Will I stop if I don’t get that? Probably not.

Self-Doubt, Writing and Giving Birth To Book Babies

Self-Doubt, Writing And Giving Birth To Book BabiesI’m nearing the end of the ‘book’ I’ve been writing, for what seems like the whole of the last century. I don’t really like to call it ‘a book’, because that sounds arrogant, and couldn’t be further from the truth of how I feel about my latest creation. This ‘book ‘of mine is, in reality, just a very long Word document that I have painstakingly crafted over the past few years, primarily as a kind of therapy, and secondly to fulfil some innate, crazy desire to write one good story.

 

Of course, my close friends are aware that I’ve wasted a large chunk of my life on this particular piece of writing, and so have started plaguing me about when it’s due.

 

The thought of which terrifies me.

 

It was the same when I first started my blog. It took me four months before I invited my close friends to read it because I’m terrified of failure and rejection. And although most people wouldn’t consider completing a novel as a ‘failure’, publishable or not; I do. (Actually a lot of people probably would).

 

Some of us are much more sensitive to criticism than others. Self-doubt, which I believe stems from anxiety, can be a crippling trait, and it prevents many of us from ever reaching for the stars. While a positive word about my writing can have me soaring for aeronautical miles, a small piece of what is deemed to be constructive criticism, can have me locking all the doors, burying myself in a mental coffin and hammering down every last nail.

 

When you are an unpublished writer, self-doubt haunts every hour of your craft, because there is no tangible proof that you can actually write. There are good days, when your fingers tap-dance happily on the keyboard, flirting dangerously from the sheer joy of creativity, and powerful verbs jump out of your head straight onto the page; everything feels right, like there was a reason and it is all worthwhile and makes sense. And then there are the days when you read a page over and over again and still come back to the same conclusion – that what you have in front of you is a load of bollocks and your name is attached to it.

 

I’m not a glass half-full person who believes you can do anything if you put your mind to it. I was always crap at netball.

 

It’s not like I have any pressure on me to write the next literary masterpiece. On good days, I would describe my innocent piece of fiction as chick lit on ice; on bad days, it feels as though Mills and Boon would reject it after the first paragraph. Not that I’m a snob when it comes to writing – I swooned in the first book of Fifty Shades.

 

It does help these days that I don’t care AS much. Generally. And that I know that my true friends will stand behind me to pick up the pieces when I fall apart after the first ten rejection letters and I start drinking heavily…more heavily… and then they’ll subtly remind me about self-publishing.

 

I’m secretly aware that I’m postponing the end of this particular gestation because I’m scared of the outcome, not because it’s not cooked yet. I’ve used ‘editing’ as an excuse for far too long, while I try to make this baby perfect; but nothing in life is perfect and colour and imperfections make life more interesting in general.

 

Yet I know that personal and commercial success rarely stem from fear, but come from having the courage to carve your name on your convictions.

 

I’m proud of this literary baby, whether it is recognised commercially or just by my loved ones. This baby was planned, made with love, and it will always remain a legacy of mine; of my love of a good story and having the balls to put it out there.

 

 

Mental Illness and Grief: Stories That Need To Be Written

It’s an interesting decision of mine, to carry on writing my book, when due to it’s subject matter, I know that my chances of ever being published are about as high as Glenn McGrath’s invitation to MC an RSPCA conference.

Grief
Grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And no, it’s not because the subject matter of my never-to-be-published book is some X-rated erotica where Christian Grey actually gets his penis out, or a threatening feminist tale about how women will ultimately rule the boardroom.

It’s about ‘grief’.

You see, I have it on good authority, (thank you Kerri Sackville), that the topic of ‘grief’ is not saleable – even though ‘death’ is something that affects all of us, no matter which party we vote for, demographic or country we live in.

In short, the first chapter of my book opens with a suicide – SHOCK! HORROR!– because no-one wants to be reminded that suicide happens, even when the number of cases has almost doubled in certain age groups over recent years; and with the increase in drug use and impact of social media and cyber-bullying, we are certain to witness a huge surge amongst young people).

In a year where suicide has been highlighted in Australia due to the untimely deaths of celebrities Charlotte Dawson and Robin Williams, how can we still be pushing education about mental health issues under the carpet?

But back to the book. So how exactly did I get my book so awkwardly wrong?

Well mainly because having spent the past thirty-plus years grieving, I know a little bit about that topic and the ensuing mental illness it can provoke. And as a friend (who is still grieving and feeling misunderstood) pointed out recently, no-one can really understand grief unless they’ve been there themselves; so suggestions from naïve do-gooders to ‘move on’ can be highly inflammatory.

I mean, I get it…sadness and anger are uncomfortable emotions to be around in this world where we are supposed to spray a mist of happiness around us, and pretend to be upbeat and personally successful all the time – to fit in.

But grieving is an exhausting preoccupation, and like depression, the uninitiated can interpret it as a type of self-flagellation. But let me assure you, it’s even more exhausting having to pretend not to be sad and in pain, simply to appease the undeveloped senses of those around you.

Spookily enough, depression is a huge theme in my book, too.

(Definitely a bestseller on my hands!)

Depression is another wrist-slapping/don’t-go-there topic in the world of publishing, I imagine?

The point is, my book is therapy for me. It’s a story I needed to tell. It’s a story that will force my readers to deal with skeletons in closets, mental illness, guilt, family dysfunctionality and self-development head on.

And you’ll know if you read my blog, I happen to be an expert in all of those areas.

But I don’t view my little piece of never-to-be-published fiction as a sad story. The death of a loved one changes the future of those closest to them, but it can also create a sense of awakening.

‘Growth’ can emerge from the isolating cocoon of grief.

And there are some funny bits in my book, too, because I find it impossible to be serious about serious stuff most of the time. Humor and self-deprecation have always been strategies to help me cope with blackness.

We’re not all afraid to confront our emotions, in spite of what those silly publishers believe.

Did I ever tell you about how my foot slipped on the wet mud at my mother’s funeral and I nearly plunged headfirst into the hole dug for her coffin?

She would have laughed her head off.

Why I Write

I’ve delved back into ‘the book’ with a passion over the last couple of days due to a ‘no screaming clients zone’ at the day job. It has been more orgasmic than watching the make-up sex scene in The Notebook. 

Why I Write
Found on ingridsgedichtenenverhalen.blogspot.com

 

Well, nearly….

 

I’ve finally finished the first edit and have checked the structure to see if the storyline makes any sense whatsoever and I’m quietly excited by it.

 

I think there’s something for everyone, unless you’re intelligent – flawed characters, human weakness, black humor, inner turmoil, sordid sex, social injustice and resolutions.

 

It’s a kind of realistic chick lit where real people are dealing with real problems yet still manage to forge and repair relationships along the way.

 

And did I mention that it still manages to be funny…in parts?

 

Best remind me not to market the book, personally.

 

But what I also rediscovered this morning is how much I FUCKING LOVE WRITING, whether it’s the book or this blog. It’s why you can’t stop me, even when I write those posts that no-one reads.

 

I love this little blog and over-sharing my opinions on just about everything to do with middle-age; although sometimes I do question who could possibly be truly interested in my boring little life and how I can make it sound more interesting than it actually is.

 

Why I Write
Found on imgfave.com

How can I put the Cosmo into My Midlife Mayhem?

 

Sure, I can be gross, I can shock and I’ve written a few posts about willies and vulvas because being mildly offensive comes easy to me but I need to keep the blog interesting for ALL my different readers and sometimes that’s a struggle – if you’re not my identical twin, say.

 

Whereas in the book, I can write about whatever the fuck I want. I can create the sort of characters I would like to meet and be friends with, describe the sex I’d like to experience and develop whatever situations I bloody well want. It’s like having a superpower, and published or not, the book will always be my legacy.

 

But back to this blog hop I was invited to – ‘Why I Write’ – by the absolutely fabulous Brenda at Mumabulous, who shares my far-from-healthy interest in hawt, young men – here are my answers to the questions:

 

 

What I’m Working On

 

See above.

 

How Does My Writing Differ From Others In My Genre?

 

It doesn’t, and I don’t see that as a bad thing, necessarily, because I want my readers to feel they identify with me. There are a lot of us women out there experiencing the delights (!) of teenagers, (in particular those lucky enough to have those of the wildly talented ADHD strain), the glorious symptoms of Menopause and the spontaneity that goes hand in hand with a long and tedious marriage or partnership.

 

But if you’re looking for intelligent or considered thought, My Midlife Mayhem is probably not the blog for you. If you’re looking for a belly laugh at the bitch-fest that is ‘getting older’ and can accept my impulsive, scathing style of writing, give it a go.

 

Why Do I Write?

 

See above, and….

 

Three main reasons:

 

  1. It saves me a fortune in psychology fees and stops me from bolting the minute I can’t cope, tearing my grey hair out or drinking three times the weekly allowance for women.

 

  1. I’m probably a complete narcissist and love the attention although I haven’t even truly admitted that to myself yet. I’ve always had trouble making and keeping friends. I think I’m funny – other people don’t. On the blog I can be ME without having to worry about offending people. Writing gives me a virtual friendship group of characters, fellow bloggers and readers and it takes the pressure off me to leave the house and be sociable.

 

  1. Creativity sates me. I need a creative outlet. When I can’t be creative, I wither and drink. I’m a far better writer than I was a furniture painter.

 

How Does My Writing Process Work?

 

My family is fundamentally my muse and triggers might include an off-the-cuff facetious comment from the old man (who can still be funny, VERY occasionally) or an impulsive act from my son Kurt. I am an overly opinionated person anyway and the blog serves as a very accommodating forum to air my misguided opinions.

 

There is a process of sorts – a note on my iPhone if something titillates me, a rough draft straight onto the page without a lot of thought and then I go back to it several times until it feels authentic and is funny. I add the humor after the first written vomit.

 

And there it is. Why I write. Bet you wish Mumabulous hadn’t asked.