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.
For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream. – Vincent van Gogh
(If you’re interested in astrology, I’d like to recommend two reports by Liz Greene, a well-known astrologer, at Astrodienst. One is the Psychological Horoscope and the second is Career and Vocation. Astrodienst has software which somehow knocks up all the ingredients of your birth sign, date of birth and time of birth into reports which make you feel someone’s seen deep inside of you and brought all your secrets and characteristics into the light of day. They aren’t dirt cheap but they’re a great investment. In addition, The Astrological Houses, by Howard Sasportas, is easy to read and makes astrological understanding of your own natal chart pretty simple to understand.)
If you want facts, figures, all sorts of odd bits and pieces of knowledge, recommendations about books to read, technie internet stuff – I’m you’re girl.
But if you want practical stuff done, plants grown, letters mailed in the post, housework up to date and no dust – I’m sorry, I’ll pass and you’ll have to find someone else for that.
In astrological terms I have 10 air signs, 4 water signs, 2 fire signs and no earth. Which explains the airhead part of me and the total bollocks at practical stuff part of me.
I was a nerd/geek before the terms was invented. I used to love going to the Ramsgate library where I started off in the children’s section before gravitating at a later age to the adult section. I adored the smell of books when you walked into the library, I’d inhale that scent as if it was created by Dior.
At the primary school Catholic Convent I was the Great Bright Hope of passing the 11+ exam and going to grammar school or to the adult convent. Since I hated the convent with a passion, the local grammar school, Clarendon House, was a no brainer for me.
I loved books, reading, learning, studying, absorbing facts and figures and foreign languages. I was always first or among the top three at primary and grammar school. And I was very lucky to attend an all-girls grammar school where academic achievement was encouraged and praised. I flourished right through to my Advanced Level GCE’s. University was a lot tougher as I was suddenly mixing with clever and very clever students but I held my own.
So my life until I graduated from University with a 2:1 Joint Honours in French, German, French & German translating & interpreting, and German and French politics and economics was nose to the grindstone and head stuck in a book. It was a hell of a shock to exit the academic atmosphere at the age of twenty-three and suddenly find a real world existed outside of the halls of learning.
It never occurred to me to question how I function until I came into contact with astrology. As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m really rather partial to this very elegant system of understanding yourself and others. It makes sense of how we manifest ourselves on earth – we are unique individuals, cast from the stars, we bring the stars down into our lives and breathe their energies out into the way we progress upon our paths on this lovely planet of ours.
Most people look at astrology as the sun signs published in daily newspapers, but it’s a lot more complex. I am not going into all the intricacies because you can explore that yourself if you’re interested. I want to offer some simple comments from my own experience which, perhaps, might prompt you to do some of your own exploring of astrology and its role in explaining yourself and your own life.
I also want to stress that my interpretation of astrology is my very own, probably idiosyncratic, so to any astrologers who might happen to read this and differ from my own views – please don’t get your knickers in a twist, this is how it works for me so this is how I’m going to explain it.
Going back to nerdy me, I have written all my life. I wrote stories back in primary school. I wrote stories in grammar school. I wrote stories at University. I have written stories in the good, bad and indifferent times of my life. It’s been the bane of my life that people call me a know-all but it’s because I absorb facts, figures and information, store them in my brain and can regurgitate that information really, really easily.
And I cannot not write.
Yet I took this gift for granted. It was so natural to me, I simply didn’t realise that writing isn’t easy for lots of other people. But when I started learning a bit about astrology, I got to understand myself a whole heap more, and also to understand my husband.
I have posted below a general overview of the houses in astrology, plus my own natal chart. In his book, The Astrological Houses, Howard Sasportas provides a brief, insightful summary of how astrology works: “the planets show what is happening, the signs how it is happening, and the houses where it is happening.”
For me, the great majority of planets are bunched in air signs with three connecting into what is called a Grand Trine, and this Grand Trine compels me to communicate. I’m a gabster. I talk, I write, I communicate because it’s what the stars are offering via my own little miracle on earth.
I’m not special. We are all of us miracles on earth, which is what makes life on this planet so interesting. If you have a look at my husband’s astrological profile, he has 9 fire signs, 3 earth, 3 water and 1 air sign. He is on the go all the time, energetic, impatient, fires up very quickly but then it’s all over. He’s a leader, a soldier (was in the British Army), a union organiser, loved working on high-rise building sites and is now retired, whereupon he fixes up our houses and creates wonderful gardens.
We are in a sense opposites, but complementary opposites. If you look at my chart, you’ll see that my Ascendant, the constellation which is on the horizon when you’re born and whose energies you first inhale, is Libra. My husband’s Ascendant is Aries, absolutely opposite. So we actually complement each other – I provide the patience, the nerdy, technological know-how, while my husband provides the practicality I lack. My family practised emotional lock-down, so when Bryan used to fire up, I would retreat and stop speaking. Eventually I learned that I had to stand up for myself and fire up too to stand my ground, and he learned to tone down the eruptions and also apologise when he went over the top.
I have watched someone who’s a Capricorn/earth sign (stubborn, practical, good with money) try to interact with someone who’s a Pisces/water sign (emotional, psychic, watery) with complete lack of understanding between the two. My friend is a Cancer/water and, while my husband and she get along, the idea of working closely together horrifies both of them. I have married friends who are a Capricorn and Virgo, earth signs, who are practical, tidy and good with money, which completely astounds me – it’s beyond my experience!
None of this I understood until I started dabbling in astrology.
In my next post, I’m going to look at the placements of my individual planets to illustrate what makes me tick – my interest in people; my extreme sensitivity to atmosphere and people’s energies; my psychic side; my writing about my life in order to a) get things off my chest and b) perhaps offer my experiences to help those with similar experiences. I’ll also explain why – although I love inter-acting withe people – close relations are difficult for me which coloured my family life and my participation in large groups.
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 thought I was done and dusted with the Canyons of My Mind series but no, my subconscious had another surprise in store for me – a nightmare!
I’ve only, thankfully, had one other nightmare in my life, when a Dementor (a monstrous being in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling) appeared and, I can assure you, I hope I never see another Dementor in my life!
I dithered about writing about this nightmare as it took a while to work out and also it has a rather unpleasant content – at least, until the end. But it seems to me it’s an example of healing at a very great depth which may be encouraging to others who may experience something similar.
So here goes.
“In the dream I am back in the house where I lived as a kid, Liverpool Lawn in Ramsgate, Kent, south-east England. I go into a room where my father is asleep but he wakes up as I enter and walks threateningly towards me, a real monster. I realise he intends to rape me and I am absolutely terrified. I run out of the house, with him in relentless pursuit and it is pitch-black outside. I then run frantically down the alley way which used to run between Liverpool Lawn and Adelaide Gardens. All these houses had semi-basements and I am absolutely terrified as I run along.
Then I see a light on in one of the basements, run down the steps and burst into the house through the back door. I shut the door and find myself facing a young couple looking somewhat alarmed (as you do, I suppose when someone bursts into your house unexpectedly). I tell them my father is following me and intends to rape me, they say they’ll help but then we all suddenly realise he’s gone around the front of the terraced houses and is outside the front door.
The young man looks outside, says that my father now has a gun, and goes outside to confront him. However, I can’t let the young man be harmed so run out and push past my father. As I run around the centre lawn and arrive at the other side, I come across people at an outside party who, when I tell them my story, advise me to tell the police who have a branch office in one of the houses on the crescent.
I run up to the police post, ring the bell and tell my story when the policeman answers the door. He tells me I’m imagining things and to go home and stop dramatising things. But then I realise I can hear my father and his parents upstairs being warmly received by the police. I am furious and enraged, rather than scared, shout at the policeman for not doing his job, and run upstairs to confront my father and my paternal grandparents.”
When I woke up straight after the dream, I felt so terrified I got up and had a cup of coffee until I’d calmed down enough to return to bed and get back to sleep without worrying about the dream recurring. It’s my belief that, when we have a powerful dream/nightmare which affects us deeply, it’s important to find out what it’s about as the dream/nightmare has significance in your life.
I must say, upfront, that in fairness to my father, I’m pretty sure that he never sexually abused me. I know there are many instances of repressed memories but it was emotional, mental and physical control which characterised my relationship with my father.
If you look at the nightmare, it divides into three: 1) running away 2) seeking refuge 3) finally deciding to stop running, stand up for myself and overcome the fear (if you are trying to analyse a dream, look at how it breaks up. You’ll generally find a new section begins “And then….”).
I also think that the inclusion of my grandparents – with whom I had a distant relationship once my aunt, the favourite, had a daughter and replaced me – is also about ancestral healing, perhaps again because I felt I’d been also on approval with my grandparents and discarded as soon as my cousin was born.
It seems to me, the fear and terror represents what I felt as a child with the episode which I described in an earlier post and which left me believing I was in my family on approval, so to speak, with that approval liable to be removed any time. Of course, this wasn’t the true situation – this was my perspective as a child. It also represents the fact that I’ve been running from these feelings for a lot of my life.
I found the middle bit a bit hard to understand, until I realised that both the young man and woman were aspects of myself – the immature beings which, in my life, have been represented by my desire for approval and to be liked which, quite often, have led to me appeasing others at my own expense, fudging the truth, putting on a friendly face when I felt quite hurt by what people had said.
And finally, standing up to the police, my father and my grandparents is the position I’m in now – one where I’ve cleared out the old fears and childhood insecurity, and asserted my ability to be a powerful force for myself, for my creativity and for my self-confidence and self-esteem.
I should add that, since I completed writing about my childhood and since that nightmare, I am far more laid back, far less driven and far more ready to honour myself as a worthy, loveable human being who approves of and stands up for herself.
If anyone has any additional ideas about my nightmare, please feel free to contribute your thoughts, I’m more than happy to build up a collective understanding of my nightmare/dream as I feel it helps others in understanding their own dreams.
Oh, and just as an afterthought, my eating patterns have stabilised and I’ve started losing weight!
Just to wind up, as I said previously I went through my life thinking that my parents were a couple in themselves, with me on the outside. So imagine my surprise when I had a reading with a medium which turned my ideas topsy-turvy.
Doubtless there will be people who will scoff at the idea of a medium and conversations with people in spirit but, trust me, this incident came out of the blue, with no wishes for any kind of link with my parents.
I had been selling crystals at a new age fair in Victoria and it had been very quiet. A guy approached my stall and started making very accurate comments about my life so, as I was bored witless doing nothing, I trotted over to his stall and said I’d have a reading. I had no preconceived ideas, but just left the whole thing open.
The first thing the medium said was that he wanted no facts or responses from other than “yes” or “no” so that he couldn’t be accused of “reading me cold” which happens with a lot of so-called mediums and Tarot readers (and don’t forget I’m a Tarot reader!). His first comment was that my mum and dad had turned up, which surprised me no end as I hadn’t thought of them at all. His next comment was that they weren’t together, they’d gone separate ways, each to their own spiritual lineage.
Then he said my mum had told me she never loved my father. At first I misunderstood and thought she’d said she’d never loved my grandfather. But no, she said she’d never loved my father, she’d only married him under pressure from her family to get some sort of financial stability. But what she had wanted was to have her own business and be independent.
Now funnily enough, when I had an astrology reading in Boonah, the astrologer had asked me about my mother and whether she was unusual in any way. To be very honest, my relationship with my mother was very much overshadowed by my antagonistic relationship with my father. So I felt rather bewildered, although I knew that she’d been very efficient and happy running the guesthouse when we lived in Ramsgate, and always enjoyed going to work – whether it was in the grocer’s shop or bakery in Sandwich, or in Debenham’s when my parents moved to Canterbury (I was in university by that stage).
Later I obtained a psychological profile of myself from Liz Greene, a renowned astrologer, and was taken aback to read the following about my mother:
“Although your mother might have appeared conventional in her behaviour, and devoted to her family’s needs, she is pictured in your horoscope as a strong and independent spirit, who was perhaps not as able to accept the limitations and compromises of family life as she pretended to be. Thus she suppressed a natural restlessness and a rather explosive temper which sprang from a strong desire to break free and pursue her own goals and dreams without the restrictions of marriage and motherhood.”
The medium continued that my mother told him she had felt hemmed in by marriage and even more trapped when she became pregnant. And this rather validated my feeling that I wasn’t a very welcome addition to the family unit.
Then came another bombshell. The medium said that my parents had considered divorce when I was in my ‘teens. Now this was something which really wasn’t something I thought about at all. But in my ‘teens my parents had suddenly asked me what I’d do if they got a divorce. I thought they were joking, laughed and said I’d bang their heads together. Nothing more was said and it just seemed a rather puzzling anomaly over the years. Then, through the medium, my mother said she’d stayed for me. I remember thinking rather forcefully that she wasn’t going to lumber me with that sort of guilt. And then the medium added that she’d been a bit more truthful and admitted it was for security too.
To say I was a bit shaken was an understatement. All my ideas of a loving couple went right out the window. And then my father came through, saying that he was lonely in the world of spirit, as lonely as he had been in life when all the people he had loved had never loved him. It sounds sad, but I remember thinking that a great deal of Dad’s problems had been entirely self-generated and self-inflicted, so I didn’t feel a whole lot of sympathy. The medium said Dad told him my mum had great bouts of explosive anger which she kept separate from me but directed at Dad. Dad told the medium that he was glad when Mum finally died (of lung cancer) as he thought his life would improve. But nothing had changed except for the worse. Finally the medium said he thought Dad was doing a life review.
I’m quite aware that cynics out there will be rolling their eyes and snorting about mediums and life after death, but the astounding thing for me was that the medium sought no information, provided me with details which confirmed a lot of what he transmitted to me and, in the final analysis, cleared up a lot of things which had puzzled me over the years but which hadn’t really bothered me enough to explore in greater detail. The unexpected information about my parents’ marriage came right out of left field and left me quite shaken and very surprised.
There’s another factor in my feeling on the outside in my mother’s and father’s relationship. Again in astrology, and without going into great boring detail, I have Pluto and Saturn very close together in Leo in the ninth house, which is to do with groups, societies, friends, and so on. These two planets cuddled up actually bring up a lot of hidden fears, suspicions and neuroses for me to do with gatherings of people, relationships, groups and so on. So I would bring these hidden fears into my relationship with my mother and father, particularly after my mother failed to offer me any consolation after the hiding I got from my father when I was young, which I mentioned in an earlier post.
I remember my mother saying once that she didn’t think I was emotional, but in fact I used to hide my emotions because of the dysfunctional relationship with my father. I didn’t allow one chink in my armour as I knew he would sense it and fire a few verbal bullets and arrows at me. In fact, I’m very emotional – I cry at the drop of a hat at sad movies; weep at war memorial ceremonies; mourn over animals affected by cruelty; get weepy at children in refugee camps and other images of cruelty. But I generally keep this to myself.
Actually, to be very honest, I sometimes think I must have seemed like the cuckoo in the nest to my parents. I can’t have been an easy child as I was quite secretive, withdrawn and quiet. I did have a few childhood friends but lost them when I was transferred to a Catholic convent when I was six while my friends stayed in a state school. And at the Convent I never made any good friends, having arrived much later than others in my year. The one girl I thought had been a good friend turned out to be otherwise when her sister told me she used to laugh at me – perhaps confirming again my fears about groups and friends.
What I do cherish, however, was what the medium passed on to me from my mother: “You are my delight and my reason for living.”
And that is finally “it”, the end, of this review of family relationships. I am thankful for the kidney infection which helped release all the stuff bottled up inside me and extend my grateful thanks to the terrific physician author of the blog post which, unknowingly, sparked all this off, Behind the White Coat.
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!
Added to the heritage of domestic violence was the fact that, most of my life, Dad was a dry drunk who never dealt with his anger and resentment. There was a photo of my dad when I was a kid and he was stuffing around on the beach laughing. I often wondered what turned this laughing young man into the taciturn, grumpy, miserable man he became as he got older.
I never realised when I was young that Dad had an alcohol problem because we only had alcohol in the house at Christmas and everyone drank in moderation. Mum told me, when she was out on holiday in early 1975, that after getting sacked from his own company, Dad started drinking a bottle of whiskey a day, to the point where she was close to leaving him. I suppose things cleared up as they were still together when they came on holiday and remained together until Mum died in 1987.
But when we were living in Queensland Dad told me once that, when he was in the Navy, he heard some Wrens talking about a Petty Office who was a real drunk and realised they were talking about him. He told me it shook him so much he he’d never been drunk since, which was quite ironic as he’d already knocked back a few glasses of whiskey/brandy/rum or whatever he was drinking at the time, and his voice was already slurred in the late morning.
Once my mum died, Dad’s slide into rampant alcoholism accelerated. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I never went to see him in the afternoon as he’d be drunk as a skunk. If I phoned, his voice would be slurred and I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. In Queensland, his life became chaotic. His house was filthy, he’d sit in his chair and smoke, but flicked the ash to the ground so a thick layer of ash lay around on the carpet. How he never set fire to his place is beyond me. His kitchen floor was covered in ingrained grease and dirt. And he became more and more erratic.
Finally he blacked out early one morning, phoned us to tell us he’d called an ambulance and my husband, Bryan, drove to his house to give a helping hand.It turned out Dad had broken a couple of ribs and fractured a couple of vertebrae in his fall. When Dad entered the local hospital I told them Dad was an alcoholic, so they gave him small doses of alcohol each day to minimise withdrawal effects. Unfortunately, he got a chest infection, had to take antibiotics and so couldn’t have alcohol. He got the D.T.’s, kept falling out of bed, told me seriously about the possums that were climbing over a fellow patient’s bed, got violent and eventually was heavily medicated.
I won’t go into any more gory details, but one thing I do want to say. Alcoholics are charmers, don’t believe a word they say, concentrate on your own survival, don’t get dragged down into their dysfunctional lives. My father charmed everyone he met. He was full of promises about what he was going to do when he got out of hospital – fishing, gardening, etc., – and suckered everyone, including his social worker. If Bryan hadn’t been with me, knew the truth of how my father treated me and how he behaved, and supported me through all the chaos, I would have thought I was either going mad or already insane.
No-one believed me when I told him what life was like with my father and at one stage, when I was trying to sort out power of attorney, I was virtually accused of being after his money. He would sober up in hospital, a psychiatrist would see him and pronounce him fit, and out he’d come into mainstream life again to continue his boozing and aggro. Eventually he had several strokes which left him with virtually unintelligible speech and confined to a wheelchair. Luckily for him he was offered a place in a first-class nursing home with his own en-suite. He was able to have a small amount of alcohol each day but eventually got to weak to handle the grog.
We moved to the UK in 2002 for my sanity and my health and because Bryan wanted to be closer to his kids, stayed on the west coast when we returned to Australia in 2004 in order not to become embroiled in Dad’s affairs again, and finally moved to northern New South Wales when he entered a nursing home. When we got to the nursing home for the first time, the nurses told me he was eager to see me. And true to form, Dad was only eager because he wanted me to take him out of the nursing home and take care of him. By that stage, I had got the determination to say no, and to care for myself, something that had, in earlier years, been sadly lacking in me.
I got a phone call at 5am one morning to say that my father was likely dying as he’d had a turn for the worse. We lived about three hours from his nursing home and got there in time to say good-bye. I sat and gave Reiki to dad, finally kissing him on the cheek as I left. In my grief, I left my walking stick behind and Bryan went to get it. He said Dad opened his eyes as he walked in, Bryan said: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her”. And with that Dad closed his eyes and passed away a couple of hours later.
On the way north to Brisbane, we drove through great clouds of butterflies which an Aboriginal friend told me later was a sign of an easy passing. Dad had been terrified of dying but his eventual death was calm, peaceful and full of ease. I was glad for him that he was finally at peace and out of this mortal coil where he’d been so unhappy.
I remember the daughter of a friend shaking off her father when he went to hug her, and it was so hard to stand back and not say to her: “You are so lucky. Your dad loves you, he’s affectionate, he hugs you. Don’t whistle it down the wind”. I have met many, many people with wise, wonderful, kind, loving fathers and I simply want to let them know too how lucky they are. Treasure your father. Sort out any differences, if that’s possible, and remember that life is a lottery – you don’t know when someone is going to die, so make the best of ever loving moment you have with them. Count your blessings.
To those who are in dysfunctional family relationships, I simply say that you are worth more. Love and care for yourself because you have something unique to offer the world. Don’t let the miserable, the selfish, the violent, the jealous, the drug- or alcohol-addicted drag you down. Let them go. These days there is more openness and awareness of family problems. As I mentioned earlier, the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study has raised awareness of how challenges in childhood can have long-term effects. Surround yourself with loving, supportive people, whether friends or advisors or health/mental professionals, and build yourself a new family if you need to with friends of your own choosing.
Remember – shine your light. You are not the Pied Piper of the Universe. Let others work out how to shine their light and don’t let them dim yours.
FAT HATRED, THIN WORSHIP
This week I saw that the National Health Service in the UK is to offer gastric bypass surgery to obese patients. I also saw a headline in one newspaper which read: “Drop the staple gun, Doc, and Tell Fatty to grow some willpower”. The article contained such comments as:”I have also found fat people funny”; “it is something they have imposed on themselves through a combination of gannetry, indolence and stupidity”; and “sometimes I even go to places where I know there will be lots of fat people and sit on a bench watching them clumping around, sweating and gasping, and snigger to myself.”
As you can see, it’s okay to be bigoted about weighty people because somehow, being not thin, we have ceased to be human beings and can be ridiculed, insulted, discriminated against and then be told to have surgery which can be life-threatening and possibly lead to our deaths. Doubtless if weighty people died during gastric bypass surgery the fat haters would be gleeful to have less fat people to pollute their perfect lives.
The reason why I feel infuriated by the headlines is because I have been reading a couple of books and other material which actually show that “obesity” and the much-vaunted BMI are a recent creation and a nice little money earner for the medicos and diet industry based on shonky health research. At the same time, the low-fat, high carbohydrate diet extolled to Western nations like the UK, US and Australia over the past few decades also has feet of clay, a big con trick by the food industry to protect their profits despite research showing that people following what they believe are healthy diets are actually endangering their own health.
BLAME THE VICTIM
But hey, let’s blame the victim, then you don’t have to look at the food giants, the pharmaceutical industry and the diet industry who have all colluded to squash research showing the health dangers of a high carbohydrate, high-sugar diet to protect their god-almighty profits.
And let’s not mention that people also eat for emotional reasons such as stress, long working hours, job insecurity, low wages, unemployment, social interaction, homelessness and so on, because then you have to look at the social reasons for over-eating and lack of exercise because people are knackered by the end of the day trying to cope with the pressures of life in Western society today.
This has tied in with the fact I wanted to follow up my posts on women’s liberation with some material about diets and thinness stifling women’s creativity and power, and also how eating can be emotional, as I witnessed when I got as fat as butter when my Mum was dying of lung cancer.
So what I’m intending in my next few posts are:
1) Feminism, women and weight;
2) My own weight battle;
3) Dealing with my mother’s death from lung cancer & my own (fat) emotional response;
4) The giant con trick perpetrated on Western society by the dietary, medical, pharmaceutical and food industries to protect their profits regardless of the ill-health of people following what they believe are health diets.
I have no doubt that questioning the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet and the all-powerful BMI is tackling sacred cows, but I really hate being conned and both of these are con tricks, not exposed by the industries involved, but brought out into the light of day by individuals doing independent research and publishing their findings.
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.