I recalled the above quote by Gabrielle Roth when I read an article today about the way the medical profession treated a woman with depression.
The woman was going through a divorce so what she was really suffering from were emotions like grief, pain, regret which, yes, can drag you down into sadness. But not necessarily depression.
So this woman went to see a psychiatrist in Harley Street (a posh area in London for high-end medical professionals) who interviewed her for twenty minutes, diagnosed depression and sent her away with a prescription for escitaloprom and mirtazapine. For the next year this woman descended into hell via prescription anti-depressant medications including, additionally, aripiprazole, sertraline and disazepam. Oh, and the aripiprazole was replaced with olanzapine, on of the most powerful antipsychotic drugs. Linked to unexplained deaths, strokes, diabetes and an overwhelming urge to binge eat. The woman lost her emotions and couldn’t feel love or any emotion and wanted to kill herself.
She eventually, courtesy of a National Health Service mental health unit, went cold turkey and the five drugs she was on were cut off. Coming off one of these drugs is supposedly as bad as withdrawing from heroin, so imagine what it was like withdrawing from five drugs.
And all because she wasn’t handling her divorce well!
I’m mentioning this because, years ago, when I was doing Tarot readings in the UK, I did a Tarot reading for a lady and, looking at one of the cards in my Thoth Tarot deck, asked if she was unhappy or depressed. She told me she was being treated for depression and receiving much the same treatment as the lady above – a half-hour interview, drugs dispensed, come back next week, to repeat the process. This psychiatrist was employed by the NHS so he had a grand little repeat income with no real work involved.
As I worked with this woman in the course of the short Tarot session, we tracked back to a tragic incident in her younger days. She couldn’t remember the day, time or year of the event and I told her that this was significant as I could remember when my mother died down to the date and time. Somehow she masked her grief with a descent into depression. A depression which was being treated by a psychiatrist in a truly shoddy, shameful manner, but good for his back pocket and the drug company. And, with a bit of talking, care and compassion, I was able to track down the source of the depression but, unfortunately, wasn’t able to take things further. Hopefully, the reading gave the woman some insight and perhaps alternatives to continued medication.
I have also suffered depression, from the time I went to university at age 18 until well into my mid-forties. I first had trouble when I went back to university after my first Christmas at home and got ulcers all over my mouth and then quinsy, a severe form of tonsillitis. This cleared up but I felt dog tired all the time although I was sleeping very long hours. I visited the university health service, was diagnosed with depression and put on tablets.
The first inkling I had that low self-esteem was involved was when I saw a psychologist in Australia in 1975. The depression had reared its head again and luckily the doctor I was seeing was more interested in finding the root case rather than doling out drugs. She sent me to a psychologist attached to the surgery and I realised that I’d internalised a very negative comment from a former boyfriend. She helped me understand and get over this.
But I still had flare-ups of depression until I saw a psychologist who told me he felt I was suffering from lack of self-confidence and lack of self-esteem. I was staggered when he told me this but he gave me some good books to read and talked me through techniques of cognitive therapy.
This all helped but I only realised, after my mum died, and I saw a psychologist to cope with her death, that I’d internalised to a deep level lack of self-esteem due to my father’s behaviour when I was a child, in my teens and into my adult years. Once I realised this I never looked back. In fact, it opened up the gates for me to put depression behind me and unleash a creativity I never realised was lurking in my fearful, timid depths. Although on the surface I appeared confident and self-assertive, underneath I had no sense of being a powerful being.
Now that I’m an artist, writer, crystal worker and Tarot reader, I have no problems with depression at all. I do get what is called “fog head” with fibromyalgia but I know the difference between something that can arise out of the blue, lurk for a few days and then vanish into the wide blue yonder, and the disabling depression I used to suffer when I was younger.
I realise there’s a great difference between the depression I suffered and the sort of depression which involves schizophrenia and other serious mental health challenges. BUT suppose we stopped labelling natural human emotions, such as grief, sorrow, pain, regrets, anger and so on, as emotional reactions requiring medication. Suppose instead we focused on the steps and paths towards a fully functioning human being who can handle life’s ups and downs in a constructive fashion instead of being rather a label dreamed up by pharmaceutical corporations and their allies in the medication profession.
Yes, you might be required to delve into why you’re not in balance, which sometimes can be quite painful as I found out. And it ain’t easy. It’s bloody hard work – I’m not one of the “If you think the right thoughts all will be well” brigade. It can be a hard road to hoe but ultimately incredibly rewarding because you get to create the opportunity to be full alive, to live life to the hilt, to explore what lights your heart and soul. And in the process we can all start creating a far healthier, happier, balanced society.
So remember, do things which help your inner light:
- CREATE ART
- READ POETRY
- LISTEN TO MUSIC
- READ GREAT BOOKS
- WALK BY THE BEACH
- PLAY AN INSTRUMENT
- WATCH FUNNY MOVIES
- ASK FOR HELP FROM A FRIEND
- HELP OTHERS FACING CHALLENGES
- GET TOGETHER WITH OTHERS, FORM A SELF-HELP GROUP
- ABOVE ALL: VALIDATE AND LOVE YOURSELF, YOU’RE UNIQUE. THE WORLD WOULD BE A LESSER PLACE WITHOUT YOUR PRESENCE.
Years ago I read a post on a Yahoo group site asking why people were grieving at the loss of a loved one when they believed in the after-life. I remember thinking that the writer had not yet experienced grief because, if they had, they would never have asked that question.
In this respect, in 2002 I attended a croning ceremony – a recognition that when you have gone through the menopause you have entered your Elder years, you have moved into the wisdom part of your life, as the original meaning of “crone” was “crown” – operating from your crown chakra or energy centre with the accumulated wisdom of your life experiences.
We each gave other participants a gift – one in particular which sticks in my memory was small heart with a tear on it which had been stitched up. I still have it and it’s intended to remind us of the grief and hard times we may experience in our life from which we recover but which leaves our hearts in a new place, deposits us in a different part of our lives and churns us out as different people.
I remembered this recently as I’ve been dealing with a huge dose of what I call “The Glums” – the black depression I get with fibromyalgia which takes me into some pretty grim places and from which I am still climbing towards the light and sanity again. If you can not overdo things with fibro and maintain balance, you can manage fairly well with the pain and fatigue. But when I tripped over an electrical lead and went flat on my face, my body went into shock and I also did some damage to my spine which has led to even less mobility than usual.
It was my husband who really made me face the truth as I tend to be a bit of a blue sky gal apart from the odd descent into the Glums. He went to the local markets today, a stall-holder asked after me and he told her that I couldn’t walk too far at all now. He’s quite right but it brought me face to face with my limited mobility and with the reality that my husband is now a carer for me, even cooking is now quite painful and he’s taken on that task as well as all the other support he gives me.
So I’m dealing with the grief of acknowledging my mobility of yesteryears is long past and I’m in another part of my life. Added to this, I’ve been dealing with the grief of losing our young dog, Ziggy. He got sick and despite tests and treatment and our vet’s optimism about his recovery, just after lunch one day a couple of weeks ago he climbed down from the sofa, laid down, put his head on my husband’s feet and quietly passed away. You don’t expect a pet to die so young and it’s been gut-wrenching – not just the grief but also the guilt that perhaps we didn’t get the right treatment, or we should have got him treated earlier or whatever. I guess everyone has so many “what ifs” when loss of life is involved – whether human or a beloved pet.
On the day he died I asked him if he could provide proof he was okay – as I’ve said elsewhere, it was pretty much a way of coping with the loss of a wonderful, cheery, vagabond of a dog than really expecting an answer. But after a sleepless night I went to bed for a nap the next afternoon only to be waken by loud scratching filling the room. I drifted back to sleep and when I got up, asked my husband which of our three remaining dogs had been scratching. He said none of them. And then I realised: at night Ziggy would like at the bottom of our bed and scratch. He was allergic to fleas and however much we tried to keep him flea-free, it was a losing battle. I realised that the loud scratching noise was his way of sending a unique signal from the Hereafter that he was okay and had taken the time to reassure me of this. When I was thinking about what colour rose to plant in honour of Ziggy, a yellow rose filled my vision and we found one in the nursery closest to where we live: thanks, Ziggy!
Yet despite all this, I have still experienced grief at Ziggy’s loss. We all experience grief when we lose a loved one – whether it be a parent, friend, child, fur friend, or whatever. Grief is part of life on earth. Life is not always full of sun and bubbles and all good things. To pretend it is, is to undervalue life on earth. Here we experience a range of emotions – love, hate, anger, rage, happiness, disappointment, sadness, the highs and the lows. And as my friend wrote so truly: “It is a sneaky, rolling thing, grief. You think you are on top of things and then get punched in the heart with the most ridiculous of reminders.”
I remember a recent discussion where people found difficulty in handling anger. Anger, to me, is another emotion which is a natural experience. To deny its existence or pretend it’s awful or it’s wrong or beating yourself up because you get angry is to deny what is human in us and why we incarnate on this planet – we experience a range of emotions, they help shape and create our humanity but the crucial point is how we handle these emotions.
If, for example, in the recent shootings at the Charleston Church, South Caroline, the response is to demand the death of the perpetrator, then really not much has been achieved except to behave like the murderer. It may satisfy the need for revenge but events like this give us the opportunity to develop a more considered approach – to take action against the terrorist racism which underpins this event, to ensure the perpetrator remains behind bars with – perhaps – the possibility of redemption, to consider the matter of forgiveness, as many of the victims’ families have done, even though that may seem a step too far for many right at this moment. I think also it’s okay to spare some grief for the young man who deprived nine people of their lives and left nine families bereft. How awful to live your young life in such hatred, with such racists thoughts and with a negative energy which corrodes your heart and soul.
I called this post “Life After Life” because my dear little Ziggy reassured me he was okay in life over the Rainbow Bridge. But also because it’s a reminder that we do continue to live after experiencing grief, even if it continues to clutch at our heart at unexpected times or punches us in the gut when we remember times spent with loved ones who no longer are with us in the material world.
I rather like this poem which was read at my father-in-law’s funeral and which, on re-reading, has once again left me with tears streaming down my face:
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!
Mary Frye (1932)
I had a flare-up of fibromyalgia at the end of last week complete with the Glums which is where you wake up feeling like you’re at the bottom of a dark pit with no way out. The only way out of this is sit back, relax, tell yourself “This too will pass” and eventually you wake up one day wondering why the hell you felt such darkness and despair. Experience helps weather these storms!
However, I’ve ended up with another kidney infection which I’m treating with antibiotic, home-made lemon barley water, various supplements and homeopathic remedies.
I’ve decided this is a wake-up call to take far better care of myself and have a complete break and rest for the rest of the week, at least until Friday.
Thanks for your patience and, hopefully, understanding. Back in due course – ciao, hasta la vista!
As you know from an earlier post, it was reading about the long-term effects on your brain as a child in the Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) report which sparked off this current run of posts. I felt that the kidney infection I suddenly experienced was a physical way of shifting the shit I’d felt since childhood. I also felt – and still feel – that emotions are not as easy to release as some think.
It’s my view that adverse emotional responses get buried in the body’s emotional memories which the body then draws upon as a defence mechanism and is very reluctant to ditch. Of course, I can’t prove this but if you look at the number of people who have weight problems and who also have dysfunctional childhoods in one way or another, there’s something that goes on in the body which is so far unrecognised.
After all, if weight loss were simply a matter of less calories, more exercise, being overweight would be easy to achieve. But weight has many positive features for people – protection, comfort, solace, and so on. Food has many properties beyond simply filling your belly. It has emotional overtones, comfort qualities, helps squash down grief, anger, feelings of powerlessness and so on. And in a society where spirit and soul are drowned out by consumption, fast lives, constant social media addiction, stress and so on, it’s not surprising so many people are weighty
It’s why I’ve spent time researching my family background to understand where my own weight and alcohol problems come from. Apart from my father’s own alcoholism, I can remember him mentioning that his father had been a drunk, until the time he staggered home along the tram lines and realised, when he was sober, that he was lucky not to have been mown down by a tram. He took “the Pledge” which was a formal promise to stop drinking. Indeed he never took another drop of alcohol.
As for me, apart from the ancestral inheritance of alcoholism, the first time I saw an astrologer, she coughed gently, went a bit pink, and then said: “I hope you’re not offended by my asking this, but do you have drug problems?” I was quite startled, how did she know I had alcohol problems? I know now that the position of Neptune, in the first house and – in my case – is a classic sign for addiction problems of any kind.
Australia was a problem drinker’s delight when I first arrived here. Alcohol was freely available and cheap. Grog was pretty much evident at all social events. And my drinking took off like a rocket. It ricocheted around for quite a few decades until I broke my leg and ankle in Queensland in 1996 and gave it up. I remember talking to an alcohol and drug counsellor when Dad was in hospital who said that she knew I’d give up, but she could see Dad wouldn’t. And sure as eggs, he’d been out of hospital for about five weeks when he went back on the grog.
One of the puzzles in my life was solved when I saw a psychologist about my alcohol problems. He listened and then said something which really surprised me: “I think you lack self-confidence and have very low self-esteem”. Well, I had hidden all that under a veneer of confidence but his words hit home. It was another piece in my life puzzle, realising that my father had continually chipped away at my self-confidence which had led to bouts of depression, alcohol abuse and weight problems.
I decided when I began writing about my life that I would be absolutely honest and not present an airbrushed version of myself. So I haven’t stayed off the grog, but it comes and goes, so to speak, and I’m very careful and judicious if I feel like a drink .It simply doesn’t fill my life the way it used to. I have a highly productive, creative life and I won’t allow alcohol to spoil that in any way. I’ve come to understand my demons, I’ve been through the dark night of the soul when we were living in Queensland, I’ve overcome depression, lack of self-confidence and lost my abiding need for approval, something I never got from my father.
Writing out all my demons this week has helped me dig into depths I hadn’t realised existed and which I can now release since they’re out in the light of day.
I’m a digital artist – holding my art exhibition recently, Heart’n’Art, which was a retrospective of all my art from 1996-2014 (acrylic, mandala, vision board, digital art, shamanic art) gave me a huge lift as I saw all my creativity on the walls in front of me. I’m an abundant writer. I’ve learned to stop criticising myself. I have a wonderful, loving, kind husband. I have marvellous friends. And I have a daughter as my husband’s eldest daughter, Dee, has adopted me as her mum. So I’m also a grandmother and great-grandmother.
I think I’ve done okay!
A couple of weeks ago, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I ended up with blood in my urine and the sudden onset of a kidney infection.
Prior to this, I’d felt really lethargic, unmotivated, very tired and quite under the weather. Looking at this subsequently and how much better I feel now, I’m quite sure I was subconsciously processing some real crap about my relationship with my father and was getting ready to release it.
But when the kidney infection came out of the blue, at the time it seemed unconnected with my feelings of malaise and just one of those things – except that the day before I read something which seemed like a kick by a mule in my belly.
First I had to deal with the kidney infection which cleared up with antibiotics but then, as I was resting and recovering and still feeling very tired, I began to put two and two together.
I had started off reading a post on the blog Behind the White Coat which seemed interesting as it was about a woman who was trying to lose weight and failing lamentably. I was interested because, as soon as I say to myself I’m going to lose weight, I start gaining rather than losing. I have often felt like a human concertina – I’d lose weight then pile it on again BUT the one thing I did notice was that I was only slim or thin when I was living on my own. If I was living with my parents or in a relationship, the weight piled on again. The first time I really lost a lot of weight was when I was 20-21 and lived in Stuttgart, Germany, for six months as part of my university third year abroad. Everyone noticed when I went home at Christmas how much weight I’d lost and I had many complimentary comments when I returned to university in my final, fourth year.
In the post Behind the White Coat – Quagmire I read about ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and how people abused mentally, emotionally, physically or sexually are affected well into adulthood. The writer, a pretty decent physician (she must be good, I’ve had my fair share of lousy, judgmental practitioners and I don’t praise medicos lightly!) commented: “childhood trauma causes increased levels of stress hormones which in turn permanently change a child’s developing brain.”
Although I’ve written about childhood matters, this post was particularly disturbing for me because what I’ve done is brush lightly over how I was treated by my father throughout the whole of my life until rampant alcoholism and many strokes weakened him to the point where he was no longer able to terrorise me.
“Terrorise” sounds like a bit of an over-statement but I can remember, when I was about 55, my father suddenly shouted at me (he’d been on the booze) and I nearly wet myself. I was shocked by my reaction but after reading all the material on ACE and coming to understand that most of my life I was brainwashed into thinking my father was like the Pope, infallible, I’ve come to recognise that ripping down the myths of a life is hard, very emotional work. And most of the time in the past I’ve under-stated it or glossed over it because I’ve never liked exposing myself emotionally in public.
Another quote which resonated for me was this:
“Children with toxic stress live much of their lives in fight, flight or fright (freeze) mode. They respond to the world as a place of constant danger. With their brains overloaded with stress hormones and unable to function appropriately, they can’t focus on learning. They fall behind in school or fail to develop healthy relationships with peers or create problems with teachers and principals because they are unable to trust adults. Some kids do all three. With despair, guilt and frustration pecking away at their psyches, they often find solace in food, alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamines, inappropriate sex, high-risk sports, and/or work and over-achievement. They don’t regard these coping methods as problems. Consciously or unconsciously, they use them as solutions to escape from depression, anxiety, anger, fear and shame.”
I wasn’t abused physically or sexually, but emotionally and mentally. I did okay at school, very well in fact, because I had the subconscious belief that, if I wasn’t successful at school, I’d be tossed out into the street. I lived my childhood on tenterhooks, feeling that I was always kept in the family structure on constant trial, anxious that if I didn’t do my very best I wasn’t acceptable and would be homeless. I was the classic over-achiever, still am (but interestingly since the kidney infection and recovery, I’m far more relaxed and willing to be more laid-back), and I can tell you – if anyone speaks sharply to me, I freeze, my mind goes blank and I stutter – STILL!
I suffered repeated bouts of depression. And I chose food, alcohol, tobacco (for a short time) and inappropriate sex as a result of the toxic stress of my childhood, and while I packed in smoking, and inappropriate sex when I met my husband 37 years ago, food and booze have been ongoing escape hatches to varying degrees.
In my next couple of posts I’m going to do my best to heave out all the crap and get it out of my system because I really don’t need to lug this around with me any more.
And I’m also doing so in the hope that if people read this who have been in my situation and find it helps them, then some good has come out of my writing and my experiences.
I’ve had a long break from writing because I’ve been hit with a rather bad dose of sciatic pain which has meant sleepless nights and some discombobulated days as a result. A while back I went to an all-day workshop with quite uncomfortable chairs and the result was that health-wise it really knocked me sideways.
However, in the intervening period I had an experience which I found provided rather a good lesson in coping with fibromyalgia and its effects.
I learned to say no!
Aha! Perhaps that’s one of the big lessons when we get fibromyalgia – learning to tune into our bodies, listen to what all our cells and bits of pieces tucked away under our skin feel like, and acting in harmony with our body rather than trying to run out lives strictly from our heads. And finding the inner strength to say “no” when we need to look after ourselves and not put everyone else first.
Okay, it’s a bit simplistic, I admit, as fibromyalgia is multi-faceted, acts differently in each individual and really is quite hard to pin down in terms of specific healing aspects. It seems to vary from person to person. But I was looking at a blog recently, written by a fibro sufferer, and it was like looking at myself many years ago: angry, furious at my body letting me down, straining against the bit to get active again, still over-doing things, railing against the world, refusing to listen to my body and to its message
I felt exhausted reading the blog and realised how far I’d come in working out how to co-exist with what I now consider a learning tool for my body.
I also created this piece of digital art to illustrate what fibromyalgia feels like: the blackness when you feel despair; the flashes of light which represent the chaos of this health challenge because you never know what it’s going to dish up next; the red which signifies the pain; the green which represents the peace you can sometimes feel with fibro; and the blue to signify the need to tune into your body and communicate with it. Because, as I said in my last post, trying to push through fibro is pretty damned useless, all that will happen is that you’ll be flat on your back and probably worse off than before.
All these things of course I’ve learned over 15-odd years of living with fibromyalgia. Nevertheless, I still get tempted into trying to do more than I can. A while back, I was asked to take part in a mind, body, spirit show in Kyrenia. The idea was to take my computer and printer along, create individual artwork for visitors, and do readings. I quite fancied doing this, but deep down I knew really it’s beyond me physically. Nevertheless, I’ve been pummeling my brain to get the pieces together – to be able to travel to the exhibition and set up, cope with leaving the four dogs alone for a long time in case they make a noise and upset the neighbours, worrying about whether we could handle the financial costs, and whether this was an appropriate step for me.
Truth to tell, as I said above, I knew deep within that I should say no. But I’m a Libran, I hate saying no when people ask me to do something. And if I’m really honest, the good old ego preened itself at being asked to take part and at the idea of going and creating art.
In the end, I decided to do a Tarot reading for myself. The spread was follows:
This reflected the fact that I felt a deep unease about taking part in the exhibition, that there were underlying features I felt were hidden, and I felt some sort of deception but was uncertain what it involved. In the event, I showed the card to my husband – he who scorns the Tarot – who said immediately: “You’re deceiving yourself about your ability to take part”. Ho-ho, spot on!
The next question: What would be the result of taking part? A: Five of Coins
Hmmm, pretty hard to read this one, eh? Difficulties, poverty, and ill-health.
Now the cynical among you may think the Tarot is a heap of old cobblers but – hang on! I repeated this reading three times, shuffling the cards each time, and waddyaknow? the same cards came out every time!
Message received, loud and clear. Don’t take part. Say no. Which I did and it was very hard. It was, however, made all the easier because I had a terrible night with sciatic pain, the day before I had to make a final decision, as if my body was waging guerilla warfare against my taking part in the expo. But having made the decision, I felt like a load had gone from my shoulders, I felt profoundly I’d made the right decision, and my body felt all the lighter and more cheerful for it.
So to wind up, the next day I drew another card: what is the result of my decision not to take part in the exhibition? And the result: The Wheel of Fortune. This is one of the very positive cards in the Tarot pack, and it’s part of the Major Arcana which signifies times of great significance or importance in your life. It means a fortunate turn in circumstances which I think was a great confirmation I’d made the right decision.
I don’t know the ins and outs of people who have fibromyalgia as I do. My own experience has been, however, that I have had to slow down. I cannot take life at top speed as I used to. I have to tune into my body to see what’s going on from day to day.
I appreciate people who kindly offer supportive advice – whether it’s nutritional or to suggest certain therapies. I do know I get fed up with people who make instant diagnoses of fibro, how you can get better and what the underlying causes are. It’s particularly difficult when you get someone into metaphysical analysis of illness who tell you all about your wrong thinking, your crappy attitude and how, if you think the right way, the fibro will disappear overnight.
I happen to know my own body now, I have tried various therapies which have improved my health and helped me cope better. Considering what I was like in Boonah, I am heaps better. But I know my own body, I know what it can and can’t handle, I happen to think illness and disease are very complex and sometimes they’re a mystery which can be frustrating as we live in a scientific society which wants logical answers and cures.
For me, most importantly, you need to decide what brings heart and soul into your life and live your life with passion. Passion doesn’t necessarily mean running around doing lots of things or being hyper-active. It means working out what really makes you happy in life, what creates ease for your body rather than disease, and what really lifts your heart rather than drags you down. And, of course, only you know the answer.
Nor does the answer drop into your hot little hands like manna from heaven. It takes time to work it all out and it’s why I’m really rather grateful to the Fibro Follies because working through all the challenges has finally led me to focus on digital art and the immense creative pleasure it brings my own heart and soul.
I make the above point about lessons taking a long time to learn because back in Boonah, I found it very, very hard not to be running around like a cut snake doing the things I loved: teaching, working with crystals, going to health expos or taking part in markets. And, of course, there was the huge question mark of my father living beside us even though I had no direct contact with him. I did have feedback via the terrific social worker who was helping Dad. But even so, he suckered her like he suckered so many people and it was hard to sit back and stay detached.
Finally we came to the conclusion that our time in Boonah was over. Bryan wanted to be closer to his family and I wanted to get away from Dad’s alcoholic antics. So we decided to return to the UK. I rang Dad’s social worker and told her what we’d decided. She told Dad we were thinking of returning to the UK and his response was: “They’re not going anywhere. They’re waiting for me to die to get my money”. So then she had to tell him we weren’t thinking about it, we had decided.
I think it must have been a hell of a shock for Dad as I’d always, in one way or another, been there for him. So one day I saw him on his verandah and half-waved, whereupon he waved back and obviously wanted some contact. So at Easter 2002, I went up to see him, the door was open but I refused to enter until he specifically invited me in. And when I’d sat down, my father was polite, respectful and obviously pleased to be back in contact.
Nevertheless, I refused to put my life on hold for my father as he was still boozing like the clappers, his house was filthy and he still was leading a chaotic lifestyle. So we put the house up for sale. It took a while but when it did sell, it was as if everything fell into place as the buyers were really pleasant and helpful. We sold for cash all the antique furniture I’d inherited from Dad when Mum died. This paid for the air fares to Perth and then to Manchester, in the north of England where Bryan’s relatives lived.
Leaving my father on his own was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It really broke my heart when we got up early in the morning we left and drove away. I couldn’t look at my dad’s house or our house and, when the jet took off from Brisbane Airport, I just cried my eyes out.
We flew back to Perth with Rosie and to spend time with our friends before leaving Australia for what we thought would be the last time. We kennelled Rosie just before we flew to Manchester as she had a week or so to wait for a flight back to the UK.
And on October 12th,2002, just after the Bali bombings, we walked down the gangway onto our flight to Manchester. As we walked towards the plane, I felt another great surge of grief and guilt that I was leaving my father on his own and saying goodbye to such good friends, and burst into tears. Bryan hugged me and said he’d be wondering when it would hit me. So as we taxied down the runway for our new life in the UK, my last view of Australia was blurred with tears, a hazy view very reminiscent of the view of Australia on the horizon as the cruise ship on which I arrived in this beloved country in 1972 sailed ever closer to Fremantle, the port of Perth in Western Australia.
Back again at long last. I’ve got myself up to date, had a fairly good rest and given some thought to how I want to approach my book as blog. Frankly, I don’t just want to write about my life because I don’t think it’s that important, I’d like to talk about the lessons I’ve learned along the way in the hope it’ll help others.
For example, the interesting thing I noticed when I was dealing with my father’s alcoholism in Boonah was how many people approached me for readings with similar problems. The reality is that, if someone has an addiction problem, there’s nothing you can do until they decide to take action themselves. However, saying that and doing it are two different things when you love people. That’s what happened with my relationship with my father.
In case you’re wondering, I decided to start on this subject with fibromyalgia, because I’ve lived with it for nigh-on fifteen years now and, while I’ve had my little break from writing, I have had heaps of material about fibro drop in my life or come across many people going through the challenges of fibro like myself. It turned up in my life at a time when I was being hyper-active and also trying to cope with my father’s alcoholism. So I thought I’d look at that period in my life and how fibromyalgia had made its presence felt.
The fly in the ointment of our improved life in Boonah, if I can put it like that, was my father’s descent into rampant alcoholism and a chaotic life. He had finally bought a home in a village close to Boonah and we used to visit once or twice a week while Dad dropped in. His personal situation deteriorated as his drinking increased. He would start the day with a shot of brandy/whisky/rum and things would go downhill from there. We would go over to see him in the mornings as he would be reasonably sober, but never in the afternoons as he would be aggressive and very unpleasant.
Dad was manipulating, conniving, sly, aggressive and getting to be as mad as a March hare. So things got even more stressful as Dad’s alcoholism got worse and worse, something I hadn’t believed was possible but, yes, it was. His house was filthy and shambolic, and his life was beginning to generate into chaos. I simply didn’t know how to handle it but felt the need to stay in touch.
Many people asked me why I hung around for my father, and still do, for that matter. Firstly, our family had a history of being cut off from each other. I’d lost touch with my mother’s side of my family after her death. But when we lived in Canterbury my grandfather suddenly decided to disown Dad, and his whole family – mother, sister and other relatives – followed suit. We never quite knew why but I felt like I didn’t want to continue this sort of action. The cutting off pattern need to, well, be cut off!
I also know that Dad had not been treated kindly as a kid. He had been the middle child and the overlooked one. His elder brother, John, was the favourite, and his younger sister, Patricia, was also a favoured child. I remember Dad remarking to me once: “My parents used to say: ‘Here’s John, our eldest son, and here’s Tricia, our daughter. Oh, and this is Richard”. There was a pause, and then he remarked sadly: “No-one should treat their child like that.” Dad was very intelligent, was offered the opportunity to go on to higher education but my grandparents decided they couldn’t afford it. The unspoken knowledge was always that that, had it been the eldest son, there’s no doubt they would have found the ways and means because he was St John, even after his death in World War 11.
I’ll take the time here too to remind people that, when you have kids, they are all gifts into your life. Treating them equally and loving them equally, if you have more than one kid, is the best gift you can give them. Making a child feel that they are considered less by you is no way to treat a child and it’s no wonder that, when kids find themselves in that sort of situation in their family, they can end up quite damaged.
I could feel Dad’s pain and knew he’d been deeply hurt as a child. From the stories of his childhood, when his parents were dirt poor in the Depression, I knew that he had tried desperately to ingratiate himself with his family and it hadn’t worked. He was always the outsider. Mind you, I have to be honest, he was a cantankerous, bitter man and difficult to get on with, so it wasn’t always on the part of his parents. You can learn from childhood challenges and live from the higher aspect of your being, or you can choose to live with the negative. I also stayed in touch and felt the need to be there for my father as he had nursed my mother at home as she was dying of lung cancer. He did a brilliant job to ensure she could die in her own home and not in hospital surroundings. So I figured he had some good karma from that and I owed him some for his care of Mum in her last days.
There was additional stress too as Bryan didn’t really go a bundle on my sudden leap into the metaphysical realms. He’s very logical and down-to-earth, plus he was pining to return to the UK to be closer to his family. I had one very serious bout of bronchitis again, and I know exactly the emotional circumstances which triggered it off although I don’t want to go into details here. But I began to feel desperately tired and lethargic. I never really recovered full health after my accident when I broke my leg and ankle, and having a raging infection when I went into hospital probably didn’t help either.
I know exactly when I realised something was seriously amiss. I walked out of a shopping centre we used to visit close to Ipswich on a very hot day and as I emerged through the doors, I felt enormous pain in my hips and a wave of exhaustion swept over me. I don’t know how I got to the car, I found the only way I could move forward was to swing my hips from side to side to get my legs to move forward too.
I started getting great itchy lumps on my arms in the middle of the night. I began to spend many a long night sitting up with ice on my arms as it was the only thing which seemed to reduce the itching and swelling. At first I tried tea-tree oil and then lavender essential oil but all that happened was that the welt on one arm exploded and started spreading like wildfire up to my shoulder.
I was terrified as I had no idea what was happening. The itchy welts started spreading, on my upper thighs, belly and back. They’d flare up, die down then re-appear elsewhere. The trouble was that the local doctor in a rural community is always busy so that, by the time I could get an appointment, the welts had died down and couldn’t be identified. As well the fatigue got worse and worse. I remember once that I was on the way to a workshop in a rural area on a very hot day and stopped to get petrol. I felt as if someone had opened a valve in my solar plexus so that all the energy had drained out. To get to the office to pay for the petrol was an extreme effort on my part. I managed to drive to the venue, run the workshop but pretty much collapsed of heat exhaustion on the way home. I had to call out ambulance officers who managed to calm me down, rehydrated me and reassure me that my pounding heart was due to palpitations and the heat, not a heart attack.
Eventually I had to stop work. I could hardly get out of bed and was forced to lie on the sofa most of
the day, feeling I had fog in my head so that I couldn’t think straight. I did see one doctor who was an absolute joke and a disgrace to the medical profession as he virtually told me I was lying and that, just by looking at me, that he could tell I could go and get a job if I wanted as a supermarket assistant or in a petrol forecourt. This, mind you, was after my telling him I couldn’t even walk the short distance to the hospital and had had to drive. I finally got a referral to a rheumatologist in Ipswich who diagnosed me with fibromyalgia.
I had never heard of this, and I suppose I was rather laid-back, thinking it was going to pass over quite quickly. I’m a glass half-full type of person and in the same way I thought Bryan’s Ross River virus episode would waft over him and gently fade away. Only it didn’t. And neither did the fibromyalgia for me. As I said earlier, I still have it nearly fifteen years down the track.
At first, I tried to bluff my way through it. I kept going in the belief that, if there’s a brick wall, you smash your way through it. I tried this many times and found that the only thing that happened was that the wall didn’t break and I bounced off it to end flat on my back. Each time I’d be back to square one with absolute exhaustion, fog in my head and feeling seriously depressed as if the end of the world was going to turn up the next day. Eventually I learned that the best thing was not to try to beat my body into submission because it had a mind of its own. I had to slow right down and do only half of what I thought I could do. And if I had good days I had to learn not to go bonkers and run all over the place, but to take things easy and conserve my energy.
I had to give up trying to work as the fibromyalgia was very painful and the big, blotchy, itchy spots used to erupt whenever I got a bit tired. The exhaustion used to leave me back at square one: lying on the sofa, staring at the ceiling and enveloped in brain fog (one of fibro’s symptoms). I’d get bouts of depression I know call “The Glums” but I learned to accept the old saying: “This too will pass” and know that I’d need to be patient until I’d wake up one day and wonder why I’d felt so down in the dumps.
Coping with Dad in the house next door was hard too. In hospital he’d been Mr Charming, conning people into believing he would take up gardening and go fishing. But from long experience I knew this was “Gunnadoo” and was never done. It was all in Dad’s head as he’d lost whatever get up and go he’d ever had.
While he was in hospital, Bryan had cleaned his house, tidied up the garden area, and packed and moved all his gear into our downstairs area to keep it safe. The house was absolutely filthy: the lamps we thought were amber were in fact clear but they’d been coated in dust and cigarette smoke; the carpet was so dusty and filled with cigarette ash as Dad just flicked his ash on the carpet when he smoked that it too changed from dark brown to a quite pleasant colour underneath; he kitchen floor was coated in thick grease and dirt which Bryan had to clean on his hands and knees for two days.
The same filthy habits continued in the rented house next door. Dad would simply flick his cigarette ash on the floor, the fridge was filled with food going off, and the plants kindly provided by a hospital worker withered and died. The drinking had resumed, the black moods were back, and I was a nervous wreck with high blood pressure and attacks of heart palpitations.
One night we could see that something was going on in Dad’s house as the curtains kept moving, lights going on and off, and bangs and crashes sounding. In the end I went up, got entry through the side door and found Dad in his underpants rolling around on the floor blind drunk. I can tell you, to see the father you used to love and respect in such a degraded state was really, really hard. I was terribly upset and scared he’d hurt himself.
He shouted for us to lift him but we refused as he was too heavy. We called the ambulance service but Dad was crafty, he knew that if he was on the floor they could take him to hospital but if he was upright, they couldn’t touch him. So he pulled himself into a chair by the time they turned up, sat there smoking a cigarette smugly, and refusing to go to bed to put my mind at rest. The ambulance officers were great as I apologised for calling them out but they reassured me that it was fine, it would go on the records and anyway they were already acquainted with him so he had a history of drunken behaviour.
Their prior knowledge of Dad came when they helped remove his from his home when the hospital had taken him there to assess his ability to live independently. I told them they were making a huge mistake but it seemed to me that no-one believes relatives. Dad got to the house, staggered inside, lurched around the empty place and refused to come out. He was there for most of the day, Bryan stayed to keep an eye on him and told me to go home for my health’s sake.
It got to the stage where we were looking at the police arresting him and taking him to a psychiatric institution. We decided to call the ambulance service to see if they could help and they were brilliant. They spent ages with Dad, talking to him and calming him down, and finally convincing him to return to the hospital. I thought, and still do think, that they are miracle workers and angels!
After the rolling around on the floor episode, though, Bryan sat me down and told me I had to look after myself and let Dad live the consequences of his own behaviour. He could con people with his charm, and sound quite normal when he was sober, so that I felt people were looking at me as the Wicked Daughter as I tried to explain what his alcoholic existence was like. Bryan knew how Dad treated me and what the real situation was like with this aggressive, bullying drunk, and it helped me retain my sanity when people seemed to believe Dad’s bullshit.
But I realised Bryan was right, something had snapped the previous night as I’d begged and pleaded with him to go to bed and he’d sat there smoking looking smug and so very pleased with himself. I acknowledged I was getting sick as I tried to maintain a relationship with this dysfunctional man. And so I decided to cut off contact altogether. It was quite weird living next door to my father and not having any contact. On the other hand, it was a huge relief as I started taking care of myself and, as I did so, my blood pressure dropped and my scary palpitation episodes died down too.
In my next post, I’ll be looking at our decision to return to the UK but also dishing up some ideas about fibromyalgia, how I’ve coped and what I’ve learned from this unlovely visitor to my body.
Ross River virus – an end to work for my husband
Ross River virus is spread by mosquitoes, it’s quite prevalent in the warmer parts of Australia and is gradually spreading further south. It’s characterised by polyarthritis which causes your joints to swell, you get pretty bad pain and fatigue, and your muscles ache. Depression is part of the cocktail of this disease too.
When Bryan first described how he felt, I told him I thought he’d got Ross River fever and at first I didn’t take it too seriously as I thought it was something that would clear up quite quickly. But I was quite wrong. My previously super-active partner sat in an armchair each day, wracked with pain, suffering chronic fatigue, and hardly able to move. He had always been a thin man but he got ever thinner and eventually ended up at six stone.
Bryan was deeply depressed and he told me years later that he came close to committing suicide because of the constant, agonising pain and the feeling that he’d gone from being a productive worker to someone who had become utterly useless. Funnily enough, in 2004 in Perth, after we’d spent two years back in the UK, he had a reading with a medium who told him he’d come very close to death, something to do with his immune system being rock-bottom and Bryan being close to getting a devastating illness which would have killed him. Then he said: “But you were spared. You’ve been given a second chance.”
Bryan saw a couple of locums who diagnosed Ross River fever. But when the local doctor returned, he told my husband that he couldn’t have Ross River because he was nowhere near Ross River. In blind prejudice, and without knowing anything of Bryan’s work history – a hard worker all his life – he decided that Bryan was faking his illness. This was despite the fact the two locums had diagnosed my husband with Ross River fever.
In desperation, we eventually decided to go to a doctor in Ipswich in the hope of getting more decent, respectful treatment. I remember sitting there with my very sick, grey-faced husband and the doctor – a complete stranger who’d never met him before – looked at him, after we’d explained the situation, and said: “Well, I’ve never met you before, Bryan, but looking at you I see a very, very sick man.” What a relief to be taken seriously!
Bryan was sent to a rheumatologist who carried out various tests, including the PSA test for prostate cancer, and I remember sitting there worried sick that he might have cancer. I needn’t have worried about that. Something else pretty devastating had happened. When Bryan came out of the doctor’s surgery he looked shell-shocked. Ross River fever sparks polyarthritis and this had affected vertebrae in his back which had been damaged by heavy work on building sites, an accident when he had a bad fall on a building site, and getting blown up and badly injured while serving in the British Army in Cyprus. The rheumatologist told Bryan that if he attempted any heavy lifting, he could damage his back further and end up paralysed. He advised my partner to stop work immediately.
So my husband’s working life had come to an end overnight, so to speak. We drove back to Boonah, very silent and, I think, very depressed about our financial future. One thing we knew we’d have to do and that was sell our home as the block was too big for Bryan to maintain due to his ill-health. And as I still had a gammy leg from my fall, there was no way I could keep the block under control.
A turning point in all this downhill race was that Bryan became eligible to move to the disability pension. We had no idea that this was a better payment, we simply knew that my partner was now officially disabled and so it made sense to apply for the pension. The switch from unemployment benefit to disability pension happened without a hitch, and we found to our surprise that we were slightly better off financially. We could get pensioner discounts on rates and electricity. And the rate of payment was higher than the unemployment benefit.
Selling our home on Mt French
Very reluctantly we put the house up for sale. It was still a rock-bottom market and nothing happened for a while. Bryan would recover somewhat from Ross River but then have to mow the block to keep the grass under control, and he’d go backwards again health-wise. We really wanted to leave Boonah but, however much we were itching to move, no offers appeared. Eventually we got one offer, which would mean a loss of $25,000, a really devastating hit on our finances as by then we had exhausted our savings. However, we decided we were selling in a depressed market but we were also buying in the same market. So we went looking for a house in the Boonah district.
What did occur to me later was that, as long as we wanted to quit Boonah and move elsewhere, nothing happened. But as soon as we decided we would stay in the town, particularly as we were both still in fairly poor health and couldn’t handle a major move elsewhere, the situation changed. It was as if we were meant to remain in Boonah for the time being.
I later realised that this is what happens to people who get drawn, quite unconsciously, to this area. I lost track of the number of people who I queried about their reasons for ending up in the town. They all looked puzzled and said it was by accident (like us), or they had a vision of Boonah for a long time (Yvonne), or liked the look of the town when they visited. Looking back, it was as if the area attracted people, turned them inside out and then, once they’d had their shake-up, sent them on their way. Those who really changed in some fundamental way left the town to carry on their new lives elsewhere.
Tarot: The Wheel of Fortune
At the time we were selling our home, however, I had no idea this sort of energy vortex existed. We were desperate to move as we were getting close to bankruptcy. I do remember looking at a picture of a house in Boonah and being attracted to the good energy which surrounded it. I insisted on looking at it, although our real estate agent tried to head us in the direction of another, grotty house he obviously wanted to get off his books. The house we went to look at was a cottage, run-down, a bit seedy but with a really lovely, large garden and lots of bounteous trees providing shade and a richness to the whole block. It was about two minutes from the town centre and in a quiet cul-de-sac. We put in an offer which was accepted. And we accepted the offer on our home, with a heavy heart but with no choice given the state of our health and finances.
Just to wind up our bleak time at Mt French, our dear old Mr Smudge came running in howling in the early afternoon, the day we signed the contract of sale. He was obviously very ill and I drove with him at breakneck speed to the vet’s. He’d been hit by a car and had to be put to sleep due to the injuries he had sustained. I held him in my arms and he purred as he slipped into the beyond. It was such a sad end to such a loving, kind and affectionate cat, and we were devastated. At the same time, our last cat, Jessie, had a hard lump on her cheek. The vet operated and we found she had a cancer in her saliva gland. We hoped the surgery might clear it up, but within two weeks, it was clear that Jessie was dying and we had to repeat the trip to the vet’s to have her put to sleep. Thank god our little Jack Russell, Rosie, remained in good health.
I remember arriving back at our home and looking at Jessie’s little body in the back seat and feeling grief overwhelm me. We had been through so much heartbreak, sadness and despair in this house, and the loss of our two cats seemed to set the seal on a period of our lives which had been far from our excited expectations when we had set off from Perth with such high hopes. I cried so much that day in a way I’ve never cried before or since. It was as if I’d got through everything trying to be positive and cheerful, burying the hurt and setbacks deep within, but Jessie’s death opened the floodgates. I sobbed my heart out all day, utterly unable to stop. It was absolutely gut-wrenching, those deep cries of pain from deep within which erupt and there’s nothing you can do to stop them.
When we walked out of the house, we did so with enormous relief. Whereas we’d been sad to leave our home in Fremantle where we’d lived for ten years, we never looked back at the house on Mt French as we drove away. But, as it happened, the end of our Mt French misadventure heralded a complete turning point in our lives and from then on, we never looked back.
In the Tarot the Wheel of Fortune can very often mean a turning of the wheel to more fortunate circumstances in life and that’s what happened once we’d left our home on Mt. French. It was, by the way, a No. 1 house in numerology which means completely new beginnings, a clear-out of the old and a fresh start in life. It was if our old life had been completely ripped away from us, we had been turned inside out and in our new home we were embarking on a completely fresh life. A true Dark Night of the Soul which I can see, looking back, brought us great blessings but, god help me, I never want to go through anything like that again!
“The child is so much a part of the psychological atmosphere of the parents,” Jung writes, “that secret and unsolved problems between them can influence its health profoundly. The participation mystique … causes the child to feel the conflicts of the parents and to suffer from them as if they were its own. It is hardly ever the open conflict or the manifest difficulty that has such a poisonous effect, but almost always parental problems that have been kept hidden or allowed to become unconscious.”
I came across this quote from Jung as I got to the end of the last post on creativity. For me, family relationships are inextricably intertwined with the feelings of self-doubt, isolation and waverings in how I should express myself that have dogged me all my life, even now.
I know people say “Get over it”, but it’s my view that emotional imprints from childhood entwine themselves in your cellular memories. They are sometimes pushed down so far it’s a hell of a shock when the buggers suddenly jump out into the light of day, like the mad uncle at weddings everyone wishes would stay safely locked in the cellar so people don’t have to face the problem head on.
As I mentioned in the last post, I strove to be excellent academically because it seemed the safest way to receive approval from my parents. My father was a control freak and bully. Through my childhood and in my adult life, he always rode roughshod over my views and battered me with words. One of the most hurtful times was when he told me that, if I hadn’t been born, he could have made something of himself. To which I replied, very logically in my view: “Don’t blame me for being here, Dad, I wasn’t there when you and mum decided to screw and make a baby!”
I always had a sense of being on the outside of the family, with my mother focusing on my dad’s needs to keep him happy and me hanging around on the edges looking for the odd drops of approval. This was a poem I wrote after Mum died when I was working through a whole heap of inner pain and confusion which was bubbling up to the surface:
colours my life and
haunts my days like
a grey shroud hovering
into my body,
creeping into my stomach
tight with tension
bloated with hot angry
seething murmering writhing
caught within me like
rats trapped on a treadmill.
Memories emerge of life
on my own
at home, at school, at work:
a wall of silence surrounding
me as I beat against
its confines like a
seeing the light and warmth
of love and contact but doomed
to prison’s hellish walls.
My breath catches – tortured
lungs striving desperately to breathe
but clutched instead by cold terror
as the past rises before me
clamps to my back
and fiendishly melds with my body
like a deformed
chimpanzee squealing triumphantly
“you’re trapped in a
on the outside
It was actually a conversation with my mother when she was on holiday in Australia in 1975 that opened up vistas on the dynamics of my family life. Mum revealed that as a child she had witnessed domestic violence in her family, with my granddad beating my grandmother, and the kids running away when my granddad was in one of his violent moods.
It was a hell of a shock for me because my granddad was a lovely, kind, gentle soul when I knew him as a young kid. I supposed he’d mellowed over the years, I used to spend heaps of time with him when I was staying at my grandparent’s home as a child, and I absolutely adored him. You can’t know the ins and outs of relationships, only the people within them really know the nitty-gritty. I guess through the years he and my grandmother had reached some kind of peace.
But as I began to explore the dynamics of my own family, I began to realise how much the history of domestic violence had influenced past and present events in my parents’ life and my own life.
My parents had applied to emigrate to Australia after the war, had actually received approval and had started making arrangements for their voyage to the other side of the world. But my mother changed her mind at the last moment and we never made it Downunder.
I had often wondered why my mother changed her mind but, as often happens in families, no-one really went into details of why. After Mum had told me about her violent childhood, she said that as a young girl she remembered her mother talking of leaving the children and my granddad and returning to her parent’s home in West Hartlepool. Mum said something to her (I can’t remember what it was), but those words caused my grandmother to change her mind and stay. And so I wondered whether, when it came to crunch time after my parents’ application to emigrate to Australia, my mother stayed in England because she felt guilty about leaving her own mother who had stayed in a difficult marriage for the kids.
This is, of course, speculation. On the other hand, the ghost of domestic violence began to open doorways for me to understand the way in which my family unit operated emotionally. My father was very emotionally withdrawn. He never, ever, in my whole life, gave me a hug or touched me in a loving, caring way. The most I got from him was a peck on the cheek, except for the moment at my mother’s funeral – when my father and I were arm in arm for the first time – and he squeezed me arm as mum’s coffin began to roll away from sight on the way to her cremation after she died of lung cancer.
For the first time in 1975 Mum also referred to my father’s dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. For some reason my paternal grandfather decided to disown my father, we never understood why. But at his funeral, the whole family ignored my father including his mother, and when he came home he demolished a bottle of Scotch in one evening. Later on, when Dad had been stabbed in the back in regard to his business by so-called friends, he started drinking heavily, so much so that my mother had considered leaving him.
As well as this piece of gobsmacking news, on that holiday in 1975 my mother told me my dad would often not talk to her for days or weeks on end to punish her for something which had upset or annoyed him. It was an eye-opener for me as they’d managed to hide it from me. But I began to realise that marrying an emotionally distant man was the safe option for my mother who had seen physical violence as a child.
My aunt, my mother’s younger sister, married a physically abuse and mentally unstable man. I knew when I got older that my aunt’s husband had been jailed for selling contraband meat, but he wasn’t jailed for the selling part of it, he was jailed for attacking the arresting police officer with a rather large meat cleaver. I can remember as a young child that my aunt’s husband became violent when they were staying with us in Ramsgate, where my mother ran a guest house, my father had to intervene and they left early the next day. And as happened in those days, no mention was made again of the outbreak of domestic violence, there was silence as it was buried down in the cellar with all the other murky bits in my family’s dysfunctional relationships.
And my uncle himself, my mother’s brother, was moody and quite violent. He once started beating his eldest son, my cousin, until my father pulled him off fearing he’d kill his son. Again, while on holiday in Australia and staying with my parents in Busselton, down the coast from Perth in Western Australia, my aunt revealed that my uncle, my mother’s brother, had physically abused her in their marriage to the extent that she had also considered quitting the marriage but had decided to stay.
As for me, I hated displays of anger. I was never allowed to be angry as a young kid, there was a kind of taboo even though, because I was so sensitive, I could feel an undercurrent of anger and hidden aggression. But anger scared me which is why I couldn’t handle displays of anger, even though I had anger raging in me.
If I was upset I would withdraw emotionally, distance myself from the world, and brood over whatever had upset me. What drew me out of this, or rather hurtled me out of this, was my husband. In astrological terms, he has an overload of fire signs which means he can shout, stomp around and get any pissed-offness out of his system immediately and then it’s all over. It used to throw me for a loop when he first behaved like this because in our family we did not fire up and show emotion. And it used to get up Bryan’s nose no end that, instead of yelling back, I’d withdraw and, very much in the tradition of my father’s treatment of my mother, I’d stop talking to him. I’d emit silence from every pore of my being!
How have I overcome this? Well, over the years I’ve begun to understand this family pattern and work on releasing it. As I’ve studied astrology, I’ve also begun to understand that when my husband fires up and fires off, it’s his way of dealing with stress and tension. It’s also a far healthier way of dealing with life by getting lousy feelings out of his system than my way of bottling it all up inside of me.
The first time I yelled back at my husband was brilliant. I felt powerful, energised and – best of all – once I’d done my lolly, I felt I’d got my frustrations out of my system. I grinned at Bryan and then, when he said: “Well, how does that feel? Told you you’d feel a lot better!”, started laughing my head off. I’m quite sure that if people could peer in the windows of our apartment and see some of the times when we now go head-to-head, they’d be quite taken aback. Because when we’ve got crap out of our system, we both start laughing at each other and feeling pretty damned good about how we get along. And I guess after thirty-six years of staggering through life together, something must be working okay.
If I sound a bit over-the-top about discovering a bit of an artist within me in 1996, it’s because I never, ever – right through my life until that mandala workshop I attended in 1996 – saw myself as having a shred of creativity within me.
My primary school in the early ’50s was a Catholic convent with nuns from Ireland, who taught embroidery and knitting. I was woeful at both and bored stiff with what seemed like completely unproductive skills (although I have to admit, I can still do a mean blanket stitch courtesy of Sister Veronica).
BUT I was very intelligent and so I was fast-tracked as the student most likely to pass the 11-plus examination, bring kudos to the school (where most of the girls were in training to be Catholic mums knocking out kids ad infinitum) and get approval from my parents.
I couldn’t have cared less about pats on the head from the nuns because I loathed being at the convent with a quite virulent hatred. I was moved there when I was six so that my father could fulfil his promise to the parish priest, when he married my mother in a Catholic church, that he would bring me up as a Catholic.
I was incredibly lonely as I had nothing in common with the other girls who were imbued with Catholicism. I was a rebel even at that age. I simply couldn’t mindlessly accept the rituals and rigmarole, and recital of catechism seemed utterly pathetic. From an early age I always asked “why?” and it inevitably got me into trouble. I nearly always missed Sunday Mass and when I did attend I got into trouble for having a punch-up with my friend in the front pew of the church or I sniggered at the wrong time and brought immense wrath down on my head. If we had days off for “Saint’s Days”, I used to view it as an opportunity to sleep in rather than rush off to yet another stultifying mass. I really got the evil eye from the nuns when the visiting priest turned up and I forgot the words of the “Our Father”.
But what was vitally important to me was the approval from my parents and it was a goal of mine until I staged my teenage rebellion in Australia in my mid-‘twenties. Late starter, you might say.
An incident happened when I was 4.5 which was quite minor but which my parents blew out of all proportion. I’m not going into the details because it sounds utterly pathetic, but ever after I was labelled a liar, I copped a hiding at the time and then felt the full weight of parental disapproval descend on like the hounds of hell in the ensuing few weeks and if I ever looked like kicking over the traces. My parents’ response triggered huge amounts of shame in me and, looking back, I can realise now that I felt that their love, from that time on, was conditional on my being a very, very good little girl.
So I always behaved. I always excelled academically. I was pretty much always top of the class and thereabouts and the time I came fifth all hell broke loose, with teacher-parent meetings, lectures and extra work. When I was 11 and passed the 11-plus examination, I chose the grammar school close to home and waved a relieved and happy goodbye to Catholic schooling.
The need for academic excellence persisted, however. Over the years from the early incident of my childhood, if my parents ever wanted to get me back into line, I’d be called a liar by my father or threatened with another hiding. The hiding threat stopped when I was 14 and Dad said: “You’re not too old to put across my knee and have a hiding”. I stared at him and then said: “If you so much as touch me, I’ll pack my bags, quit this house and never return”. He knew I meant it and never raised the threat again. Although he continued to love labelling me a liar at the drop of a hat even though, as I’ll explain later, it was a case of the pot calling the kettle black as he was an ace liar and manipulator.
Nevertheless, I stayed on the treadmill of always trying to be the best, mainly coming top or near the top in classes right through to going to university in 1966.
But while I was good academically, I never saw myself as creative. The fact that I could write stories at the drop of a hat was so easy, it didn’t seem like a gift or talent. And in those days, I guess creativity was defined by your artistic, musical or other arty-farty abilities.
This was reinforced when a guy I was going out with while I was at University in Bradford split up with me and later, when we’d got back together, I found a list he’d made of reasons for or against resuming our relationship. One of the “against” factors was my “lack of imagination”. I felt like I’d been sucker punched by this but had too little self-esteem or self-confidence in those days to tell him to get knotted which would have been the appropriate response.
A memo to anyone reading this: if someone doesn’t value you for who you are, don’t take it personally. It’s their problem, not yours. Concentrate on being the best you can be and honour what lights up your heart and soul. DON’T listen to naysayers, DO listen to your own intuition and integrity to sort out what is right for you. DON’T on any account give your power away to others to decide how you feel, it’s not worth it.
Bullies love it if you suck up their negativity, they feed on your fear. Stand up to bullies, as I did with my father, because bullies are at heart gutless and cowards. Picture them in silly clothing or doing stupid stuff, because ridicule is the best weapon. People don’t value you if you are simply a pale shadow of them or you’re trying to fit in by pretending to be what you’re not. Because when you do that, you dishonour yourself and you’ll find yourself getting depressed or spirit-less as you fail to honour the real you.
I suffered various bouts of depression over the years, starting with my first year at University when, for the first time, I mixed with people academically brighter than me. It left me feeling even more uncertain about myself as a valid person. I used to feel exhausted even though I was sleeping very heavily. So I went to see the doctor in the students’ sick bay who diagnosed depression. Tablets helped me recover but I’d still fall into a depressive state again further down the track where my head felt full of fog and I’d be dead tired all the time. Tablets helped but the malaise went deeper.
In the midst of one bout of depression just after we arrived in Australia, I was referred by the doctor I saw to a therapist who was immensely helpful. She managed to fish out how I felt about Dave’s comment. She suggested a Gestalt session, whereby I sat opposite a cushion on a chair and repeated what Dave had said. Then I occupied the cushion and told him how angry and upset I was. She repeated my comments to me. Then she told me to switch to being Dave and say whatever I thought he might say in response to my comments. To my absolute surprise, I heard myself say: “I don’t remember writing that list at all.” The counsellor laughed at my stunned mullet expression. I realised that I’d been hanging on to this comment and the only person it had hurt was myself. I could feel this huge burden of feeling unimaginative shifting off my shoulders and I felt so much lighter when I walked out. Dave commented how much happier I looked too.
It made me realise that when we hang on to negative stuff that other people have said about us, the only person we hurt is ourselves. Years later I saw someone comment in a newspaper: “I hate people who wear white shoes”. I looked down at my white shoes and decided that I was pretty damned good, and to hate people for a particular “crime” such as wearing white shoes was pretty pathetic. We are so quick to say: “I hate people who …… (and here you can put in your favourite prejudice) when in fact they aren’t aware that we hate them, the only person affected by the hate is ourselves, and it’s a complete waste of energy. Life’s too short to spend it in useless energy-wasting activity.
Although the therapist helped me unlock a few doors, it took a long time to pin down the recurring depressive episodes to the lack of confidence and self-esteem I’d felt since childhood. Later down the track I saw a psychologist who suggested I lacked self-confidence. I thought he was mad as a cut snake as I always projected confidence and a picture of myself as an extrovert. But he managed to dig deep and wheedle out of me how I really felt – how I kept up a face of competence, had a smiling face on all the time, never showed anger and basically presented a false front to people. He directed me towards a range of self-esteem books which I found incredibly useful. They helped me see patterns in my behaviour which I hadn’t realised existed.
I also had a really interesting experience when I was at a fair on Mt Tamborine. I saw a lady with a stall advertising healing work and I felt very drawn to her. So I decided to have a session with her. It was like no other healing session I’d had before or since. She took me back in envisioning the situation of my father’s family, and I could see my grandmother standing between my father and his elder brother, John. John had been the favourite son but had been killed in the D-Day landings and henceforth his memory was sanctified by my grandparents. In the vision I saw my grandmother stepping back and my father punching John in the face. And John faded away. It was as if John had been held back by, perhaps, his own regrets but by Dad’s feelings of frustration, anger and – most likely although it’s only a guess – guilt at his feelings. The vision seemed to set both of them free from the ties of the past.
Then this healing lady took me to the age of eighteen, when I was leaving to go to university. She asked me how I felt. I was surprised to say I felt dragged down. Then she asked me how my father felt. My immediate response was jealousy and lack of support. As a teenager, Dad had passed exams to go to technological college but hadn’t been allowed to go. His parents claimed lack of money but everyone knew that if it had been John in Dad’s place, John would have attended college. My father was very bitter about that. I realised as I connected with my feelings at the time of my departure to Bradford University that I’d picked up sub-consciously Dad’s feelings, jealousy and resentment that I had opportunities denied to him.
I have Neptune in the First House in astrology, close to my Ascendant and Sun Sign. They’re all bunched up in Libra. But what it does mean is that I can see into people, I can see below the surface, I can sense people’s feelings. So at some unseen level I’d picked up on what, I guess, was a lack of support from my father, and it dragged me down without my knowing why. I don’t remember all the details of the healing work I did with this lady on Mt Tamborine on this time in my life, but I do know that she cleared out all the lingering feelings from that time and I came out from her session feeling so much lighter and happier.
I – and Cathy who had come with me to that market – gave our names to the lady who said she was just establishing herself in Queensland. Neither of us heard from her again or saw any sight of her. And I wonder whether she was one of the angels who turn up in human form to give a helping hand to us mortals when we need help and we’ve reached the stage where we’ll accept that help. On the other hand, of course, there could be a very simple explanation. She didn’t like Queensland and departed for greener pastures elsewhere!
There were lots of different ways I received help in dealing with depression and releasing it bit by bit over the years. Looking back it rather reminds me of an onion, peeling away the different layers to get rid of the crap bit by bit.
But really the big turnaround in the bouts of depression came when I started painting, working with crystals and teaching women mandala art, crystal healing and a course I developed called “Live Your Dream”. I had come full circle to recognise myself as a very creative being. And in understanding that, I stood tall in my own shoes and never looked back. The last depressive episode I had was in 1996 and that was it. The final hurrah to the Black Dog.