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.
I’ve been absent for a while again as I’ve been working through quite a few emotional matters. Apart from my earlier fall and the death of my dog, Ziggy, I also found out recently that a good friend from my early days in Australia had died a while back from cancer. I found out quite by chance and I was really upset as I had such good memories of him, my time in the student political movement and the freedom I felt to be me when I moved to Australia.
I have also been dealing with how I felt after reading a report about Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) and how these affect us physically and emotionally in our adult life. I’ve mentioned this previously and, as I said then, I felt like I’d been punched in the guts the first time I read about this as it explained a whole heap about my weight issues and also other health challenges I’ve faced such as repetitive strain injury, depression and fibromyalgia.
While I’ve written about this in earlier posts, I talked more about circumstances and emotional effects, than the physical effects. To be honest, I don’t think I could have handled this before, it’s something I’ve shoved under the carpet or down in the cellar. But I think it’s important to write about how early childhood experiences have affected me, in the hope it may be of help to others for whom my experiences resonate, particularly because there is such an upsurge in autoimmune diseases as well as fibromyalgia (which still doesn’t seem to have a particular explanation for its existence, despite various stabs at diagnoses).
As I mentioned above, I felt like I was flying when I arrived in Australia. I’d felt pretty much the same sense of freedom when I was at university, no-one was controlling me and I was running my own life pretty competently, and in both instances – particularly when I’d split up with the guy I’d travelled to Australia with – I was extremely slim. I remember when I got the letter from my parents saying they were coming out for a holiday that my first response was: “Oh, god, I can never get away from them.” When I met my mum and dad at Perth Airport, I sat there sneezing like the clappers, with my eyes and nose running like a sieve. I remember a little boy on a seat near more watching in amazement as I went through tissue after tissue. It was all emotional, of course, but I had no idea what was going on at the time.
In early 1976 I broke up with Jack, the guy with whom I’d travelled to Australia, and I was really on my own. I loved it. My weight dropped rapidly and, when I went back to the office where I used to work, no-one recognised me as I’d got so much slimmer. I do have to say that I in a sexually inappropriate way over the next couple of years – I went through men like they were going out of fashion – the best bit being that I could say good-bye and toddle off to my lovely unit all on my own. Again, this is one of the behaviours which can arise from adverse childhood experiences. All I can say is I’m damned lucky that I didn’t contract a sexually transmitted disease, someone in the world of spirit must have been looking out for me!
And then on April 16th, 1977, I went out to meet a friend for a drink and came home with my future husband. My friend had introduced us, sparks flew, we held hands as we went for a meal with mutual friends, and Bryan came home with me, moved in that night and 38 years later we are still together. We did take a while to do the married bit – we finally tied the knot in the UK in 2004 after living there for a couple of years and getting married a few days before we returned to Australia.
Bryan and I were both very independent people, and we certainly didn’t live in each other’s pockets. We both followed progressive politics as he was a union activist, shop steward and safety officer. I continued a rather lunatic student activist lifestyle, even though I say it myself, until my parents emigrated to Australia in early 1978. And my weight piled on again.
Over the years I’ve dealt with the issues I had mainly with my father. After an incident when I was about 5’ish and got a hiding from my father over a very minor issue, now I look back, he would regularly accuse me of being a liar right through childhood or tell me “I’ll put you over my knee and give you a tanning” if he thought I was misbehaving in any way. He was a real control freak. As I wrote previously, until I was around 14 and, when he pulled that trick one last time, I looked him in the eye and told him if he touched me in any way I’d walk out and they’d never see me again. It worked. I’ve repeated it because I think it’s such an important lesson I’ve learned over the years – you have to stand up to a bully or they’ll keep on hammering you if they think they’ve managed to intimidate you.
However, I really hadn’t twigged that the control issues from my childhood and teenage years actually affected my health. I had a couple of events in the early 1980s – I had acute appendicitis and bled badly during the operation, spent a few days on morphine, getting blood transfusions and now have a 13 inch scar on my lower belly. A bit later I was working for a conservation organisation where we used to print an independent environmental magazine. You had to fix a metal plate onto hooks and then wind the plate onto the cylinder. Unfortunately, one day the person the other side switched on the machine as I was putting a plate onto the cylinder, my fingers were caught on the metal hooks and then fed into the machine. I ended up with two broken and badly lacerated fingers, lost the feeling at the ends of my fingers after I’d been stitched up but, luckily, finally got feeling back a few months later.
What really brought me to a grinding halt, however, was getting repetitive strain injury in my right shoulder and left arm in the mid-1980s. I ended up getting invalided out of the workforce in excruciating pain, and told I’d never work on a keyboard again. I’m going to go into the details in my next post, but it occurred to me – on reading about the ACE study – that I’d ended up tied up in knots physically as a result of being a Type A personality, tense, always doing more than I needed to, in order to be the best and get approval – the approval I never got from my father.
More on that in my next post when I’ll look at all the alternative healing methods I adopted in order to manage my health challenges.
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)
much of it wasted on wrong turns,
back roads riddled by ruts.
I had adventures
I never would have known
if I proceeded as the crow flies.
Super highways are so sure
of where they are going:
they arrive too soon. A straight line isn’t always
the shortest distance
between two people.
Sometimes I act as though
I’m heading somewhere else
I narrow the gap between you and me.
I’m not sure I’ll ever
know the right way, but I don’t mind
getting lost now and then.
Maps don’t know everything.
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!
I’ve been absent from my blog for quite a while, apologies for the lack of writing, but very hot weather in August (40-odd every day and hot nights) really did a number on me. As it was very humid too, the heat really exacerbated the good ol’ fibromyalgia and it’s taking me a while to really get back on my feet.
I’ve also been focused on my digital art as it really helps me stay positive when my health is a bit challenging..
I’ve really had to re-assess what I can and can’t do as my tendency is to pretend the fibro and hip pain don’t exist, except they have a mind of their own and make their presence known! At present I’m focusing on an art exhibition I’m holding here in North Cyprus on 22nd November. I’ll be showing my acrylic, mandala, vision board and digital art, as well as photography from Australia and New Cyprus.
I’m not a terribly practical person as I prefer the creative process rather than the practical one, so I’ve decided to spend my time from now until 22nd November on all the background stuff needed to get the exhibition up and running, and then return to this blog after that time.
Then I shall be writing about my trips to China – exciting and memorable. And also about my health issues and how I’ve worked with various alternative therapies over the years. Thereafter, I’ll be posting every other day, health taking into consideration, and posting art on the intervening days.
My apologies for my absence, but for once I’m listening to my body and taking things step by step. It’s very frustrating to do so, by the way, but perhaps common sense has hit me in my golden oldie years!
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.
I am delighted to be the recipient of additional awards from fellow bloggers. They are:
The Inventive Blogger
The Dragon’s Loyalty Award
Best Moment Award.
I’ve taken ages to get myself organised to respond to these nominations and I feel very honoured that fellow bloggers have thought enough of my blog to bestow these awards on me. I’ve taken ages to get organised as, for the life of me, I couldn’t work out how to get the awards up and running in the widgets sections, and then all of a sudden it clicked. The problem is that, when I’m a bit knocked around, as I have been since the dogs skittled me and I had a bad fall, and I’ve been suffering from sciatica and sleepless nights, the fibro fog flares up. Head fog is well known with fibromalgia and it really stuffs up clear thinking. So today, since I’ve got the widgets organised, I’d like to thank:
Don Charisma, http://DonCharisma.org
I have to be honest – I know Don awarded me two of the awards but who dished up the third is a mystery and I apologise to that person profusely.
I’m pretty much repeating this on my art blog, but I’ve had to adapt the requirements to what I can handle given my health challenges.
Three things I have given to people:
1. I offer advice, support and help if someone is in trouble.
2. I smile at everyone I meet as I remember the story (may be one of those rumours, but what the heck) of a man who committed suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge and when they checked his room, they found a note that if someone smiled he wouldn’t jump.
3. I give people hugs because hugs are great!
And ten things about me you may not know:
1. I was born with pigeon toes and my feet were in splints until I was 18 months old to force my ankles to turn out. Mum told me she was devastated until she visited the children’s ward and saw kiddies with feet turned backwards who’d have to have major surgery to correct their feet’s direction.
2. I loved visiting my mother’s parents as a kid as I could wander in woods and fields, even though it was near the centre of London.
3. I loathe animal cruelty.
4. I love cheese sauce on cauliflower or in macaroni cheese.
5. I have lost 2 inches in height as I’ve suffered back damage which is mortifying as now I’m much shorter than my husband!
6. I have written stories and articles all my life.
7. I am good at learning languages – French, German, some Indonesian, and a smattering of Turkey, but German’s my first love.
8. I graduated from Bradford University with a B.A. (Joint Hons), 2.1, in French and German interpreting & translation, French & German politics and economics.
9. My German economics teacher told me my dissertation was very good but incredibly boring (I agreed!)
10. I have lived in or visited or travelled through thirteen countries. I’m a firm believer in travel opening the mind to the fact that people around the world are pretty damned brilliant.
I’m supposed to nominate other bloggers but I’m going to do that on my blog, The Crazy Crone’s Artsy-Fartsy Studio, http://thecrazycrone. org.