In 1993, Bryan went to Queensland on a company excursion. He phoned me to rave about how beautiful it was and, although we didn’t realise it at the time, it was as if this visit was a flag for changes which would come to us in the following year.
But while I was on my own that weekend, I came a hell of a cropper on our front porch which was made of raw bricks. I managed to smash my new glasses and the force of the fall left me with slight concussion for the rest of the weekend. Although I thought I’d recovered okay, I started having severe headaches again, not migraines but intense pain on the right side of my head. This led me to another alternative therapy, interestingly via some other treatment I was getting at the time for a painful back which had also got worse after the fall.
I had come across the homeopathic practitioner quite by chance when I was walking through Fremantle and came across a heap of people sitting on the stairs of the Mall and chattering among each other. “What’s going on here”, I asked, out of curiosity. “We’re waiting to see the homeopath who works in this office”, a young woman replied. “He does give us appointment times but he never sticks to them, so we just queue until we see him. He reckons the inter-action out here is part of the healing process.”
Ever curious, I decided to join the waiting queue and see what homeopathy was about as I’d vaguely read about it in one of the growing number of books I was accumulating on alternative health practices. I do have to say that the homeopath seemed pretty whacko to my still conservative outlook. He came from a very traditional medical background, but he was definitely very eccentric. He had quit the teaching hospital he’d worked at in the UK when he wasn’t allowed to practise homeopathy. He’d check your tongue, pulse and skin colour, then prescribe some homeopathic drops, make up a bottle of the drops, bang it a number of times against a Bible, then send you on your way. Interestingly, though, over a few weeks my spinal pain improved and I began to feel a whole heap better.
But after the fall in front of our home, I felt I needed something else to deal with the headaches. As I was seated in the waiting room, I noticed a sign advertising cranial-osteopathy and decided to give it a go.
I met an amazing woman who eased the headaches in the first session. It was quite extraordinary. She tuned into my body and made what felt like incredibly minute adjustments. I got up off the massage table and felt lighter, a bit dizzy and in far less pain. This was my introduction to cranio-sacral therapy.
Shortly after my first couple of treatments, I was eating in a restaurant and a friend commented that I didn’t eat a lot, and I realised he was watching what I ate as a commentary on my weight. He also let slip that a couple of other people had made similar observations (she doesn’t eat a lot, how come she’s overweight) and I was absolutely furious. If there’s one thing that really gets to me, it’s knowing people have talked about me behind my back. It goes back to my childhood when I felt on the outer in my family, and on the outer at both primary and grammar schools.
When I went back for another cranio-sacral massage, Gilda touched me then said: “What on earth has happened? All my work feels completely undone.” I told her what had happened and the anger I felt. She said she could feel it raging in my body, so with a sigh, went to work to release all the tight feelings. It took a few more treatments but my headaches were gone and I felt heaps lighter. My body loved it then and still loves it. As I now have fibromyalgia, I can’t tolerate deep massage but somehow this therapy brings me back to centre in my body and relieves a lot of pain.
I do believe that healing isn’t an instant process. It can involve lots of therapies or just one, but it’s a matter of trial and error, tuning in to what happens for you, what works or what doesn’t, and trusting your intuitive response. No one therapeutic path is correct for everyone or will work for everyone. It’s the beauty of this world that there are so many alternative therapies, which offer a rich smorgasbord for a person to experiment with and work towards the best possible healing results.
Each time I’ve worked with a cranio-sacral therapist, the approach has been different. Gilda, in Perth, worked with past lives as she gently adjusted my body. In Ipswich, Queensland, I worked with a lady who asked me tentatively if I’d ever been exposed to extra-terrestrial energies. I guess she asked tentatively because you never know how people are going to react. But I knew what she was talking about.
I’d been in a psychic development group and, during one guided visualisation session, I’d suddenly had an out-of-body experience. I found myself floating in the air and facing Mt Barney, a huge, magical mountain in the Border Ranges mountain range south of Boonah. As I hung there, suspended in the clear, cool air, the mountain broke open and a being came out and hurtled towards me. We both screamed “Oh, no!” seconds before we collided. And then I found myself back in my body feeling utterly drained.
The therapist’s words brought it all back and she looked very relieved when I didn’t scream and bolt out of her treatment room, but nodded. “You are completely dried up”, she said, “As if you’ve had a bolt of electricity go through you and fry everything in your body.” On this occasion, it took a few treatments but I felt heaps better than when I’d first stretched out on the massage table.
I also came across Ka Huna massage when I was living in Boonah, Queensland. Again, I love this massage as all the practitioners I’ve encountered seem to sense just how much pressure I can take on my body – with fibromyalgia you get really sensitive to pain. I can’t bear the slightest pressure on my bones and I certainly can’t tolerate deep tissue massage any more.
I’ve worked with my herbalist friend to support my body nutritionally and with the support of herbs and vitamins. She is brilliant and has given me very kind, loving support which has helped no end in handling fibromyalgia and its various manifestations in a more holistic way than the medical profession. Even though medicos do their best, there are limitations in conventional medicines which can often be addressed by alternative practices.
In 2009 I experienced incredibly high temperatures in Traralgon, Victoria, when bushfires killed nearly 200 people. On the Saturday we reached 47C and it was if I became sensitised to the heat. When we moved to Bowraville, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, I got heatstroke the first day we moved in, with a blood pressure reading of 220/165 and a pulse of 40. The ambulance officers thought I was going to have a major stroke and die, but somehow I survived. It left me with high blood pressure though: 165/105. I didn’t want to take blood pressure tablets so went to see an acupuncturist who had trained in China. Within a couple of months my blood pressure stabilised at 135/75.
In the UK, I was doing Tarot readings in a New Age tent at a community fair. The day before, I suddenly got a voice in my head telling me to charge only £5. I listen to these little cosmic hints so, with an eye to Feng Shui principles, on the first day I set up facing the entrance with a big sign saying; “10 minute Tarot readings – £5”. It was on for one and old. I never stopped and, as it turned out, no-one had more than £5, because they hadn’t realised the New Age tent was in operation. I thoroughly enjoyed myself as everyone I saw needed a reading and everything went like clockwork.
For me, it was a lesson in listening to that inner voice, which can be whatever it means to you. It’s like a whisper from the spirit world. But you can call it god, spirit, the light, your inner wisdom, your higher self, your goddess or whatever has resonance for you. It seems to me there are no fixed ways to approach the matter of spiritual guidance and you need to go with whatever flows for you, not just adopt one particular approach because someone else uses it.
As it happened, another Tarot reader there had a sign for readings at £25 a pop, and had no business at all. She maintained a fixed position of being a “professional tarot reader” and was quite inflexible on price. She was also incredibly ratty that I was “undercutting” her price. It was all well and good to insist on her professional credentials, but the rigid adherence to this was absolutely useless in the real world where no-one had £25 for a reading. Every person I spoke to mentioned they had just £5 spare and, to be very truthful, I really didn’t stick to the 10-minute sign. I enjoy Tarot reading and I keep going until I feel I’ve provided, as far as possible, the information and advice a person needs. As it happened, I know that I was able to offer support to a few people in real need who found what I had to very useful, and really that’s the purpose of spiritual work.
The experience at that New Age fair taught me the important of listening to those “off-world” voices and to be flexible in my approach. I’m very glad I followed the cosmic advice, because I had a wonderful time and met some gutsy, warm, fantastic people.
On the Sunday, though, I was very tired as I’d done heaps of readings the previous day. Early on a man walked in and set up a massage table. He had a lovely energy around him and I wandered over to see what he did. Cranio-sacral therapy! Wooo-hooo. I was up on that table like greased lightning, no-one else got a look in! The therapist held my feet and immediately tuned in to the grief I was experiencing in leaving my father behind in Australia. In that, and subsequent sessions, he restored my body to balance, and further cemented cranio-sacral therapy as my favourite form of body treatment.
I should add that, from the time I first learned Reiki in 1994 and went on to Reiki Master level, this form of energy healing has also contributed to the healing I’ve received over the years. It is also a therapy which, because it is so gentle, is one which my body can handle with ease.
I still work with various therapies such as crystal healing, Reiki, massage, cranio-sacral healing, reflexology as and when I feel they’re appropriate. As I said in an earlier post, I work with conventional medicine too, as and when that is appropriate. Each person’s path to healing is like a smorgasbord – you need to have tasters and sort out what sorts you.
Of course, some might comment that I still have fibromyalgia and I do get the occasional intense headache, but nowhere near as bad as the migraines I used to get. When I first started working with alternative healing therapies, I used to believe that the goal was to cure the illness. I’ve since come to realise that healing relates to something much deeper – coming into alignment with our inner self, our souls, our divine journey, our relationships with others, a profound sense of the spiritual bringing us peace of mind, if not peace of body.
One of the reasons I came to wonder about what lies behind illness and how people cope was a book I read of a lady who became ill with multiple sclerosis. She had the means to travel and experience many therapies, but never recovered from the MS. She then realised that her skills could be put to use to work with MS organisations in fund-raising and structural development, something which never would have crossed her mind had she not got MS. And in the process she was of enormous help to other MS sufferers.
Fibromyalgia has taught me to slow down, take life more easily and to understand that it has given me a profound gift: having time to smell the roses, lean against beautiful trees and feel their energy, looking closely at autumn leaves and seeing their beauty, taking time to sit with our dogs and feel their warmth and love, to hug my husband and enjoy cuddles with him, to value my friends, to realise that life isn’t about doing big things (although that’s possible) but to realise that life is a gift. Don’t waste it – joy and beauty are all around you if you take the time to stop looking elsewhere and look at where you are right now.
Hah! Until I got repetitive strain injury in the early 1980s.
RSI started me off on the road less travelled health-wise as I turned to complementary therapies when the medical profession was unable to provide answers to my health problems.
Don’t get me wrong: I have respect for medicos and the huge advances in medical care. I appreciated hospitals when I broke my leg and ankle in 1996. I have appreciated the power of antibiotics when I’ve had a severe sinus infection, bronchitis and kidney infection. Blood tests, x-rays and so on are a boon.
And just as the general community are incredibly varied, so there are good, bad, indifferent and very conscientious doctors.
I don’t throw the baby out with the just because conventional medical care can’t provide all the answers. But also, when conventional medicine lead me to a dead-end in recovering from RSI, it also led me to query the power of Big Pharma and the industrialisation of medical care which reduces people to dollar figures and profits for the huge pharmaceutical corporations. I also see doctors too often reduced to pen pushers, overloaded with paperwork, bureaucracy and unrealistic demands on what they are able to offer the general public.
I found myself looking for non-medical treatment in the mid-1980s when I got repetitive strain injury. Ironically, at the time I was working in the office of a small union and had been organising publicity about a new work injury, RSI, which was affecting a lot of women working in call centres as, with new computer technology, they could key in input very fast and overuse arm and shoulder muscles.
I simply never believed it could happen to me. I used to keep going on the typewriter long after I felt a pain in my shoulder. I kept expecting the pain to go away but it got worse. It was agonising to move my right shoulder and arm. Then I started getting pins and needles in my left arm and a feeling which I can only describe as rats gnawing away inside me.
At the time my husband, Bryan, was working away from home in Bunbury, south of Perth, and most evenings I would just rest on the sofa and hope the pain would go away. If I tried to do a simple task like washing up, my whole shoulder would seize up and I’d have to stand stock still until the intense pain abated. But as it got worse, so I started getting severe migraines. I’d wake up around 2am with a violent pain starting at the back of my head, working towards the front at the back of my forehead, and for all the world like it was a brass band pounding around at full volume. I’d take headache pills which got stronger and stronger in order to cope. If I was lucky the headache might fade a bit and I could get to work and cope okay. If I was unlucky, I’d wake up vomiting and it was like a vicious cycle – vomiting exacerbated the headache which me throw up more which intensified the headache, and so on.
I had, of course, read all the literature about repetitive strain injury but tried to ignore the fact that it seemed to be happening to me. That was, until one day and I got into the office with my head pounding from another headache and I just sat there crying my eyes out. The union secretary came into the office, took one look at me, and thankfully for me, took charge. I wasn’t capable of thinking straight or taking action of any kind. She made an appointment for me at her doctor’s, got me in early and off I went to see a doctor who not only was incredibly kind, but also very helpful in supporting me through what felt like a nightmare.
She arranged physiotherapy for me but as this was something new on the medical scene, no-one quite knew how to deal with it. By rights – I found out later – I should have seen a rheumatologist, but I was sent to see an orthopaedic surgeon who was a butcher. He wrenched my head back and forward and side to side with the result that the pain got even worse. He told me he could operate and cut a nerve which might help. That sounded very dodgy to me and even more so when I saw a programme on the ABC about a pain centre in Adelaide dealing with patients, many of whom had had the type of operation the orthopaedic surgeon wanted to carry out on me. And as any small step forward I’d made with physiotherapy was wiped out by his lousy treatment and I ended up worse than when I’d first started treatment, I declined surgery.
I clearly remember sitting in my doctor’s surgery, tanked to the gills with anti-inflammatory medication and a soft collar around my neck. I hardly dared to move because the pain would flare up and feel like a knife being driven into my shoulder. My left arm felt as if rats were gnawing it inside. My doctor asked: “Are you feeling any better?” And I had to say no. She looked at me and said somewhat reluctantly; “Well, I don’t think there’s anything more we can do for you.”
Which is a bit depressing, folks. I’d always been on the go, active, restless, eager to get on to my next project. And suddenly I was sitting on a sofa all day, frightened to move, terrified about what the future held for me and very lonely because Bryan was still working down south during the week and home only on the weekends. I knew an older lady who said very kindly (but not very helpfully, to be truthful): “You young folk always think that life is a straight line that you can set out in front of you without any deviations. Life isn’t like that. All sorts of side paths, obstacles and cul-de-sacs happen. It’s life.”
But in a nice little piece of synchronicity (although I’d never heard of synchronicity at the time), I happened to see an advertisement for a reflexology course at the local community centre. I will be very honest and say that the first time I’d ever heard of reflexology was when a friend said she was going to get a treatment with this alternative therapy. I asked them what it was as I’d never heard of it before, and was quite revolted when they told me it involved foot massage. Errr, yuk, fancy getting your smelly old feet massaged! But, as the old saying goes, never say never.
I created the original painting in acrylic when I was living on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. A while back I felt the urge to revisit it, and added some turquoise coloured stones in the corners and a circle of turqoise coloured chips complete with a dash of glitter. Then I added some fabric purple flowers with Swarovski crystals in the centre.
And this represents the turning of the wheel in the next part of my life.
There’s been a slight hiatus in my work on this blog due to the intense heatwave we’ve been experiencing here in North Cyprus since virtually the beginning of July – temperatures up around 37-40C (98-103F) every day with high humidity.
I get quite ill in these conditions and, as I’ve had heatstroke twice and did a merry dance very close the Pearly Gates the second time, I have no wish to experience that again. It does mean that, for virtually two months each summer, I am confined to our apartment as the heat hits me very hard and very fast, and it’s quite dangerous for me to be in the open sun as I’ve got older.
So this current bout of heat and humidity has has convinced me and my husband (reluctantly as we do live it here in North Cyprus) that the Geriatric Gypsies had better get the old moving caravan out again and dusted down. We were dithering about where to move to when I woke in the night and a voice said “Ireland” which sounds quite good. My husband agreed the next day and so, when the heat dies down, we’ll clean up our apartment and put it on the market.
Next stop: Eire. We have no idea where we are heading, which is a little bit challenging given we’ll be taking three dogs with us. But never say die. Or to be somewhat more positive: “Onward and upwards, teacups!”.
What this space for further developments in the continuing Crazy Crone’s Wild & Adenturous Life – b’gosh and begorrah, now dancing around with a pint of Guinness in my hand and practising my Irish step dancing!
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!
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 did a short swing into Thailand in my previous post and decided I’d like to keep writing for a while about places I’ve visited, so instead of ranting and raving about diets, food, size and so on, I decided I’d just publish the names of books I’ve found interesting.
The reality is we all have to work out what sort of food and eating habits suit each of us. I’ve avoided the dreaded word “diet” because it implies losing weight and eating naff food and all the horrors associated with a food regime which will likely leave us hungry, unhappy and piling on the weight when we return to normal food.
Like I’ve said, I know emotional influences surround my relationship with food and weight, and I wonder if the fact that so many people are overweight these days (as in seriously overweight, not overweight by the BMI shonky weight formula) is because of the pressures people are under today with long hours, poverty wages, unemployment, fast-paced society and so on.
After all, if you’re feeling stressed, what better way to make yourself feel good than to splurge on food you love in excess quantities. The trick is to eat the food you love in reasonable quantities and make good choices. But aaahhh! if food choices were that easy, we’d all know exactly what our bodies would like, we’d stop eating when we feel less than full, and we’d choose food we like, not food we feel morally bound to eat and avoid food we feel morally bound NOT to eat!
Every man, woman and their dog has an idea of what the best way to eat is and what food is good and what isn’t. Be your own detective: tune into how you feel about particular foods, when do you feel good after eating, when do you feel slow and tired, and so on. Sort out what food suits you!
Be that as it may, these books have been very helpful to me, they dismantle myths about obesity and the great “eat your carbohydrates” brain-washing which has permeated our society to the point of being mythologised and worshipped, and interestingly, the writers aren’t part of the diet/nutritional/pharmaceutical/medico in-crowd (with apologies to some doctors who I know are pretty decent people!).
The Obesity Myth – Paul Campos
The Big Fat Surprise – Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet – Nina Teicholz
Why Diets Fail (because You’re Addicted to Sugar) – Nicole E. Avena
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants – How the Food Giants Hooked Us – Michael Moss
Why We Get Fat – Gary Taubes
Health at Every Size – Linda Bacon
The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and other Incendiary Acts – Hanne Blank
Intuitive Eating – Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch
However, I have to say that I am not a fan of the size acceptance which says if you are really, really fat, that’s okay. I respect people whatever their size and I really loathe the fact that if you’re fat you’re automatically considered fat/lazy/stupid/lack control/greedy and so on. People are worthy of respect and consideration whatever their size.
But I have seen some very, very fat people in Australia, the UK and particularly the US, and the truth is that our bodies are not meant to carry super-weight. I differentiate this from what is called “overweight” these days and which I call “normal” because I Iived in earlier times when there was a far more realistic approach to what our size should be.
As you get older, your body will find it hard to carry severe, excess weight. Simple fact. Sort out what is healthy for you and get your own agenda, but if your body feels uncomfortable at the weight you’re carrying, then it’s a nudge to you to work out how to get fit and healthy. But don’t be dissatisfied with your body if it doesn’t fit the “thin” stereotype you see these days. Along the way you may lose weight, but don’t focus on weight – focus on the fit and healthy part because that’s by far the healthiest way to look after yourself. Like I said, ditch the “thin is good” stereotype, take a good look at your body, and decide what is right for you.
COCKROACH IN SCALES
The other morning
There was a cockroach,
A big black shiny one,
trapped in the face of
As it waved its feelers back
at my looming face
trying to see if I was
(but never just right),
I thought it made a lot
For I’m a lousy housewife:
dusting, sweeping, what a waste of
And I’m a hopeless dieter,
fat and thin by turns.
So the cockroach in my scales
reflected both failures
What a way to start the day!
Over the years my weight has fluctuated wildly from slim to fat, so much so that I’ve felt like a human accordion at times, going in and out at the speed of light. I can’t say I’ve been conscious of whether I’ve been slim or fat because, regardless of my size, I was never aware of gaining or losing weight (apart from buying different dress sizes!).
I know many of my weight issues have been emotional, but also I’ve done a lot of reading about diets, weight, BMI, etc., because when I was young the hysteria around obesity and low-fat diets just didn’t exist. I do know that my weight has exercised the minds of far more people than it has mine. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve heard people say: “But you don’t eat a lot” and realised they’ve been scrutinising what I eat which gets right up my nose. It’s no-one’s business but mine what I eat, keep your nose out of my plate! As I said in my previous post, I’m also aware that when I walk into a doctor’s surgery their eyes light up as they order tests for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol and then look somewhat taken aback by results well in the healthy range.
I was also, decades ago, stupid enough to agree to go to a fat farm to lose weight when it was suggested by the organisation I worked for,and I really regret it. I lost 14 lbs in one week, with a mainly fruit juice diet, but of course, when I got back to the real world, the weight boomeranged back and then some. And it started me on a bit of a habit of fasting, then eating, and so on, which really has stuffed my body’s metabolism. I should have had the guts to tell them to poke their fat farm where the sun don’t shine, and that’s precisely what I would do today.
The day after I started working on this post – about weight and my mother’s death – I woke with excruciating sciatic pain in my hip and leg. It took until the next evening to realise that this was my physical response to approaching these subjects – matters of life and death which obviously have a great emotional and physical impact on me.
As soon as I twigged why the pain had exploded in my hip, it abated considerably. But I have been doing all sorts of odd jobs since then to avoid getting on with this post. So I have finally glued myself to my seat and here goes!
I weighed myself the night before I had the cast removed when I broke my leg and ankle in 1996 and then when I got home – 6lbs disappeared overnight, yeay! In the six weeks I’d been immobile, unbelievably I’d lost 14lbs, much to my surprise. It was as if the shock of the fall galvanised my body into detoxing all of its own accord.
From these comments and the intro you’ll probably guess that I have had some challenges with weight. And I’d probably be a weird woman if I hadn’t, given the obsession with thinness and fatness in today’s Western society.
In my childhood I was what you then called “chubby” but no-one banged on about weight and obesity as they do nowadays. In those days it was accepted that kids could be chubby but they’d lose this puppy fat once they hit puberty and started growing into adulthood.
The first time I became aware of perhaps being a bit weighty was when I stayed with my German penfriend in 1965. She was absolutely gorgeous and had a terrific, slim figure. Beside her I felt large and clumsy and I remember we each weighed ourselves but, as it was in kilograms, I had no idea what it meant. I do know that she and her mother exclaimed at my weight. When my cousin and his male friend visited us while they were in holiday in Germany, they only had eyes for my pen-friend and I felt fat, awkward and lonely. For the first time I became self-conscious about my figure.
I do know now that I ate because it was comfort food in a family where I felt on the outer. I closely associated food with being loved by my parents, particularly if my mum and I shared special food which Dad didn’t like, and we’d have this when he was doing overtime – mushrooms on toast (mushrooms were a luxury when I was a kid) and soft cod’s roe on toast (another luxury). I can also look back now and see that carrying extra weight was protective for me. My father was a bully, a control freak and he used to browbeat me if I voiced my own opinions. We’d go at it hammer and tongs until my mother would intervene to try to calm things down as she hated the discord.
At University I guess I remained somewhat podgy in my first year. I was in student accommodation and I used to drink a very hot cup of black coffee prior to meals in the refectory. The idea was to dampen my appetite but it wasn’t particularly successful, particularly if they dished up Queen of Puddings for dessert. It was my favourite and I’d eat my own portion as well as the portions of anyone who didn’t want their serving! I guess I really wasn’t overly bothered about my weight, just felt a sense of dissatisfaction which I never really pinned down.
The first time I really lost weight and became very slim was when I was working abroad during my third year at University. I was living in Stuttgart and started work at 7.30. We had a break around 8.30 and I’d get a roll with cold meat for breakfast. At lunchtime, we had a subsidised meal in the staff canteen but as very little of the food appealed to me, I had very small lunches. And in the evening, when I cooked for myself, I also didn’t eat much as it’s not much fun eating on your own.
I was, however, very happy at work as I made friends with a lovely Hungarian lady, Frau Kiss, a Hungarian refugee who’d settled in Stuttgart. She helped me in lots of little ways which made life more pleasant. Eventually I also met some really nice girls in the women’s hostel where I was living. When I first arrived in Stuttgart I lived in my own unit on the ground floor and it was quite lonely. Then I was moved to the basement area where I shared a room with a Finnish lass. She was a real raver and was always out in the evenings so I started leaving the light on in the small sink area in our room. She was quite taken aback at this as apparently the previous German girl had left the room pitch black and then complained when Marjia-Liisa made a noise trying to get ready for bed in the dark. But my little act of helpfulness broke the ice between us and from then on we got on like a house on fire.
Then a couple of English girls arrived from universities in the UK, they got stuck in the basement area like me, so we all got together. We were finally joined by Barbara, a German girl, who had a great sense of humour and adventure. And we certainly got up to all sorts of adventures between us, quite innocent now when I look back. But we were always laughing and having a good time together.
We went to the Christkindlmarkt in Stuttgart which was wonderful although bitterly cold. We visited the cinema at the American base nearby where we parked Barbara’s car and found it dwarfed by the huge American yank-tanks lined up in front of the cinema. We drove to Ulm to climb the steeple of the Ulm Minster, the tallest church in the world with 768 steps. It’s often called Ulm Cathedral but is actually a Minster as it has never been the seat of a bishop. We climbed up to the top where we found beautiful views over Ulm and the surrounding countryside, climbed down okay but when we got outside, our legs were like jelly and we ended up flopping on the floor laughing our heads off. I stayed at Barbara’s parent’s house one weekend, her folks were incredibly hospitable, and we also visited Rothenburg-ob-der-Taube which is a wonderful, medieval town.
We girls had boozy sessions in our rooms, confident we’d hidden all signs of the mayhem until we’d get home and realise our rooms smelled like pub bars, an empty wine glass or two stood on the mantelpiece and the sour-faced women running the hostel would greet us with icy faces!
One night Barbara introduced us to Schnapps, I think it might have been Goldwasser, which we English girls imbibed with gusto. She told us to skol it down it which we did and all promptly got drunk as skunks as none of us drank much at all. We were staggering everywhere, and I remember waking up with an appalling hangover. Barbara thought it was hilarious as we British girls sat there, head in hands, moaning, until she frogmarched us one by one to the restroom and stuck us in a cold shower!
I didn’t realise that, in this new lifestyle in Germany, I’d lost so much weight until I returned home for the Christmas holidays. My parents both commented on how much slimmer I was, and so did my boyfriend, but I didn’t see it in myself at all. I do know that when I returned to university in the fourth year, after my third year abroad, many people commented on the remarkable change in my appearance although, once again, I hadn’t realised how much weight I’d lost, it just sort of happened.
Much the same sort of weight loss happened when I worked on a kibbutz in Israel in March 1972, prior to travelling to Australia. I did physical work on my feet all the time, and the weight dropped off. I do know that unless I’m really active, it’s hard for me to lose weight, even more so now I have mobility challenges.
I realised much later down the track that my time overseas in my third year at university was really the first time I was away from anyone’s influence. I was pretty much on my own, and I lost weight because I didn’t need it to protect myself from my father’s bullying ways and the fact that I extended that to being subconsciously fearful of any relationships I had with the opposite sex. I loved being independent both at university and in Germany and France where I also spent six months.
Because I have so many air signs, nine in astrology, I have always been in my head and thinking, thinking, thinking. My conversations start: “I think…..” or “I’ve been thinking…..” (and generally my husband looks nervous because he says this usually means hammers and nails somewhere in the house), or I say, if people do rash things: “Why don’t people THINK”. Occasionally I look down and remember I’ve got a body attached to my head and say in surprise: “Oh, hello, body, still hanging around are you, thanks very much, I appreciate it.”
I started getting some idea of why I used food as a substitute for love and weight as protection when I saw a psychologist after Mum died. The thinner my mother got as the cancer spread, the fatter I got as if in some way I could protect myself, I think, on two fronts: from the fear of death myself if I got fat and from the grief I was experiencing as Mum came closer and closer to death. Seeing the psychologist after mum died, to get help from the loneliness and grief I felt, also opened a can of worms – mum no longer stood between me and my father as the peace-maker, we had to face each other, and our relationship got rocky to say the least!
When David Cameron announced his cabinet reshuffle a short while ago and more women were appointed to Cabinet, the headlines talked about “girlpower” and, of course what the “girls” were wearing. No talk of “womanpower” because so often we women are described as “girls” as we are not supposed to become fully-grown, mature, strong WOMEN. (I might add I am wholly cynical about the promotion of women as I see it as a cynical attempt to garner women’s votes rather than a genuine dedication to women’s equality.)
If you have a look at the photos on the right, the top row is of girls, the bottom is of women. The images in the top row are a vision of us as girls, never growing into a womanly shape, shaving our pubic hair so we look like constant teenagers, torturing ourselves with ripping out that hair (and I can tell you, I had my pubic hair shaved once, when I had my tubes tied at 27, and the constant itching of it growing back made me swear NEVER to shave that hair again!) and keeping us confined in the straitjacket of thin as desirable and right.
In the bottom row, the images are of mature women but now, in the same vein of keeping us as eternal girls, it is not considered appropriate to talk about women as “luscious”, “juicy”, “reubenesque”, “curvy”, “succulent” – because they all imply – shock, horror” – women who aren’t thin and possibly look like (whisper) mature, adult, powerful women.
I decided to follow up my posts on women’s liberation with one about weight issues because, looking back from the time I got involved in women’s liberation in the early 1970s until now, I got to thinking that the focus on diets and thinness is an act of sabotage – it has been a misogynist weapon to dis-empower women and keep them focused on weight issues instead of on living up to their full potential. A woman focused only on her weight and shape if far less powerful than one who is at home and comfortable with herself and makes her way in society as a formidable, strong individual.
The cult of “thin is good” didn’t always exist. Because I grew up in the ’50s and 60s, I have a perspective which isn’t possible for younger people, and that is, I can remember when women were weightier than accepted cultural norms now. It was accepted that as you had children and headed to your senior years, that weight gain was a normal process of life on earth. So it seems to me that the focus on thinness (mainly for women but now affecting men too) started getting stronger around the time women’s liberation erupted and started questioning women’s status in society. But thin is “in”, so to speak, at least on the part of women’s magazines, the diet industry, the medical establishment, the fashion industry and so-called fashion mavens who we’re supposed to follow like headless chooks.
While we’re busy focused on diets, size, weight, fatness or thinness, we are diverted from standing strong in our own right – as juicy, strong, powerful women, at ease with ourselves regardless of our weight, getting to know our own bodies intimately so we know what weight is right for us, and leading full, adventurous lives . As this quote from Naomi Wolf puts it so succinctly:
Marilyn Monroe would now be considered obese – which sounds ridiculous given the sex goddess she was. Yet we are repeatedly lectured that what I see as normal women are obese/morbidly obese/likely to peg it overnight because if they’re overweight they must be harbouring god knows how many life-threatening health challenges, and so on and so on.
This of course is a godsend to the enrichment of the diet industry, Big Pharma and medicos who see what is considered a fat woman now (but wasn’t when I was young) and like Pavlov’s dogs immediately start talking about diets, losing weight, yada, yada, yada. I know when I’ve walked into so many doctor’s room, their eyes light up as they order tests for diabetes and cholesterol levels and heave out the good ol’ blood pressure apparatus. Sadly for them, and they look quite taken aback, all my health signs are, well, healthy!
And as we’re on the subject of medicos, I have to say that I personally find the term “obese” quite offensive. It’s as if doctors conjure up a word which is designed to make normal/not so fat/ and fat people seem as sub-human as possible and to cow us into submissive slaves of thin worship. I sometimes wonder if the medical industry creates such words as “obese” or “geriatric” to elevate the power of medicos and reduce us patients to obedient, malleable, cowed, uncertain, unquestioning clients. I also despise doctors who lazily judge the health of overweight women by their size rather than their uniqueness and medical history.
I can remember having a meal out with some other women, all good-looking, fairly slim, about my age when I was in my late ‘thirties and the whole damned dinner talk was about weight, thinness and diets. I mean – what a ruddy great waste of women’s lives to spend it worrying about weight and what diet you’re on and whether you’ve gained or lost a couple of pounds from one week to the next. Being frightened of food, obsessing about calories, fat levels, carbs and all the other catchphrases of the thin mafia is absolutely ridiculous.
All the research which gets pumped out about what makes you live longer,what causes cancer, how to avoid heart attacks, etc., simply doesn’t take into account that people are individual, have their own genetic heritage and shape, and need to consider what their heart and soul tells them about what is good for them, not scientists and health gurus who change their minds a few years down the track or even from year to year and, dare I say it, month to month, week to week.
And having gone through some literature on this subject, I have found out – and this will no doubt amaze you – that if you carry more weight than that which is supposed to be healthy these days and you are fit, you are far more likely to live longer than a socially acceptable thin, unfit woman. Also, wasting your life on a yo-yo of dieting, losing weight, then gaining weight again and often extra weight than before you dieted, is putting your health far more at risk than a woman who looks at herself, smiles, smacks her booty gleefully and tells herself she’s a yummy individual with far more to do with her life than waste it on worrying about what is a current societal obsession about thinness.
Plus we need to get a perspective on the health hysteria which prevails at the moment – new food fads, super-foods, how to live longer, anti-ageing tucker – and so on. You can be the healthiest, fittest person around and then drop dead of a heart attack or get a life-threatening illness for no apparent reason. And everyone says it’s unfair because someone who doesn’t exercise or is fat doesn’t die at an early age. But it’s LIFE, outrageous, unpredictable, unfair, fair, dropping surprise health bombs into our lives – our time of death is unpredictable so get the most out of each day and you’ll have a wonderful life – exciting, adventurous, questing, humorous, fun, loving, fully adult, powerful and, above all, SATISFYING.
I can pretty much guarantee that when the truth comes out about – as it will – that the current BMI holy bible is a heap of old cobblers with no scientific foundation, and thinness is recognised as a trumped-up cultural creation to control and disempower women – the pendulum will swing towards an acceptance of women as they are meant to be – short, tall, medium, thin, fat, stocky, lean, weighty, or whatever is their natural, womanly shape. And if they’re pink with purple spots, or orange with red stripes, or green with turquoise hair – so be it!
The Dark Night of the Soul comes from a poem written by Saint John of the Cross, a 16th-centure Spanish poet. It refers to the journey into Hades where you enter a realm of darkness, where you learn humility and where you re-emerge blinking into the light, a different person, wondering why the hell your life suddenly descended into chaos, hard times and inner darkness.
Both I and my husband experienced this hell on wheels when we lived up Mt French and it is not something I ever, ever want to through again. I remember just after we’d staggered into a lighter part of our lives – when we sold our Mt French home and moved down into the centre of Boonah – reading an article by a woman talking blithely about dark nights of the soul, how wonderful they were and hey, bring on the next one. And I remember thinking clearly at the time that she had no idea what a real dark night of the soul is because, once you’ve gone through one, you don’t ever want to return to that dark time of your life where tempestuous swirls tear your life apart and you feel you’re in a whirlpool of sadness, pain and despair from which there is no escape.
The purpose for me, however, is that spiritual demands are at work on you. It’s a bit like being in a spin dryer where all the dross gets tossed out and you are cleansed and on a different path as well as transformed into a different person – one more aligned with your soul purpose once you’ve lost the layers grafted on you by parents and society as you move through life.
What could go wrong in our home in Boonah went wrong. Prior to moving into our new home and while we were still staying in a motel, I ended up with a really painful toothache. I needed a root canal filling which took a bit of a chunk out of our savings. But after we moved in, things really started going downhill.
No power – no water
I first found out that there are drawbacks to living on a somewhat remote property with tanks and no town water on the morning I was due to pop down into Boonah to sign the final contract of sale. I turned on the tap. No water. Our furniture and boxes from Perth had arrived on the Wednesday and we’d done some solid unpacking so we were dirty, dusty and unkempt. And I couldn’t have a wash or shower. I ended up dipping a piece of tissue into half a glass of water on the bedside table and using that to try to restore some semblance of normality and not look like the Wild Woman of Borneo when I went into the solicitor’s office.
So that was our first experience living outside a city. When the power goes off, the pump that gets the water into your home doesn’t work and you don’t have water coming out of the taps which, as city slickers, we were used to. Bryan had to climb on the top of the really big tank, take the top off and fish out a bucket of water. What we also found out was that when the local power supply company was going to do maintenance work and shut off power supply, it didn’t let you know the power was going to go off. You had to buy the local paper to find out. And, of course, we hadn’t even had time to find out that a local newspaper existed, let alone read it.
Bryan got the property fenced within the week (more money out of our savings) and finished off that work while I was driving to pick up our mutts from kennels north of Brisbane, as I mentioned in a previous post. Rosie, our Jack Russell, made herself at home straight away, but if you take cats to a new home, you need to keep them indoors. Our three cats were curious and sniffed around, but then I noticed that Mr Smudge, who was around nine years old and neutered, was trying to urinate but couldn’t. More drama.
I phoned the vet – this was a Saturday afternoon so out of hours and, of course, more expensive – and he told me to get Mr Smudge to the surgery urgently as he likely had a blocked urinary duct which, of course, was an emergency. The rest of the afternoon was spent with me helping the very kind vet sedate the cat, pull his penis out and unblock it. Ever tried it? Difficult, I can assure you! More money out of the coffers but at least our dear, kind old cat survived.
Bryan couldn’t find work so we ended up on unemployment benefits. When he did finally get casual work, the drought broke, the main road out was flooded, he couldn’t get to work so his pay as a casual worker plummeted. We decided to fill the smaller water tank and it broke at the bottom just as all the water had been delivered by the tanker and poured in. We lost all the water and I think we felt real despair as we watching the water promptly pour out again – more money wasted plus we lost our back-up tank and had no money to replace it.
Getting Daisy, our oldest cat, treated for paralysis ticks took another bite out of our savings and, as we were then on unemployment benefits and on the breadline, our savings went down relentlessly. Sadly, although Daisy survived, she was a bit more frail and a few months later, late one evening, we found her dead under one of our bushes. Whether it was the result of the ticks or she got bitten by a snake, we don’t know. She looked very peaceful and we buried her in our garden the next day.
The Father from Hell
Finally my father arrived from Perth. When we were thinking of moving to Queensland, I asked him if he’d like to move too as I didn’t want to leave him alone after my mother died in 1987. He agreed eagerly and his household effects travelled with ours from Western Australia to Queensland. But he took ages to decide to move to the Eastern States and dithered and dithered. He eventually got around to taking the plunge, flew over and we met him at Brisbane Airport. But I was to find out that Dad had become a “gunnadoo” – always going to do this or do that and nothing ever got done in the end.
Our arrangement had been that we would buy a block big enough for him to build a home and he would pay a proportionate amount towards the cost of the block. When Dad did arrive, he hadn’t sold his house which wasn’t surprising, it was in a good state inside but when people saw the swimming pool – filled with water plants, huge goldfish and filthy dirty – the buyers took off like long dogs. And, of course, he had no money to pay for a new home or towards the cost of our block.
The decision we made to choose to live together until Dad’s property in WA sold was one of the most stupid I have ever taken. Both Bryan and my father were used to being top dog, and my father not only didn’t take kindly to not being in charge in our home, he was also hitting the booze hard most of the day.
I knew that my father had had an alcohol problem prior to my mother’s death in 1987 and it got worse once he was on his own. I never went down to Rockingham to see him in the afternoon as he would be drunk. I had thought things might have improved by the time he came to Queensland but that was wishful thinking. I learned to dread his words: “Sun’s over the yard arm, time for a whiskey” which would be about 11 in the morning. And when my father drank, he was an aggressive, bullying drunk. Evenings were a nightmare and the arguments got worse and worse.
We had agreed with Dad that he’d contribute a share to the cost of the block and then build his own, smaller house on the block. But when, eventually, he sold his house he made it clear that he intended to dole out his money in small amounts, as and when he chose, to control us. Dad had always tried, and sometimes succeeded, to control people with money. He wanted us – his daughter and son-in-law – to dance to his tune and he took pleasure in trying to pull the strings. I can say now that I should have realised this, but I never thought he would do the dirty on us so cynically and deliberately.
One evening we ended up having a monster row when my father started threatening Bryan. Luckily, my husband was able to keep his cool and walk away from the difficult situation. A couple of days’ later my father moved out and left us pretty much destitute. I told him this and I can still see the malicious look of glee on his face which confirmed that he knew this full well and didn’t give a tinker’s cuss.
And do you know what? I was silly enough to keep trying to make my relationship with him work. What a bloody idiot! So here are a couple of life lessons: 1) don’t mix your money with that of relatives, it can create enormous headaches. Since then I’ve heard horror stories of relatives falling out over money so you never know, you may need to read this blog just for the one lesson of keeping your money and your relatives’ money completely separate.
My second piece of advice is that, if you recognise the sort of situation in which we found ourselves in your own circumstances, take care of yourself first. Alcoholics don’t change their spots, you can’t get them to clean up their act unless they choose to, and you need to look after yourself and let alcoholics make or break their lives all on their own.
When we moved to Queensland, we sent our Rover car over by transporter which was a lot cheaper than buying a new car after moving interstate (but in another sign of the bad luck hovering over us, the transporter broke down on the middle of the Nullarbor Plain!). However, repairs for Rover cars, as they’re British, were expensive to maintain (we’d been able to use a Rover-trained mechanic in Perth), so we decided to buy a second car and ended up with a Ford station wagon, in bright lemon yellow. And yes, the car turned to be a lemon. It started off well but, with our luck in Queensland, it went downhill fast. It needed major repairs which further depleted what were becoming very meagre savings.
On 2nd July 1996 I fell and broke my leg and ankle, as I mentioned in an earlier post. I was hardly mobile, couldn’t cook, relied on Meals on Wheels at lunchtime, and Bryan – as well as driving 45 minutes to and from work in Ipswich – also had to cook in the evening. I was also not recovering well. When I’d been admitted to hospital I’d had a raging temperature and was on intravenous antibiotics as I’d splintered the bone in my leg. Back at home, I had no energy, and I lost a lot of weight, very fast. I had packed in the booze (a story for another day!) and also had a good old dose of ‘flu within a few days of getting out of hospitals.
I’d take ages to shuffle from the sofa to the kitchen, get there soaked in sweat, take ten or so minutes to recover, make breakfast, then repeat the process back to the sofa. I’d fall into a deep sleep in the afternoons, and just felt exhausted all the time. I got a nursing friend to check out my sugar levels and they were fine. But in the month after I came home I lost a stone in weight (14 lbs, 6.3kgs). I did have the pleasure of stepping on the scales prior to the removal of my cast and then hop on after returning from hospital with a skinny, emaciated right leg to find I’d lost 6lbs instantaneously which I thought was pretty nifty!
My husband was very impatient with me as he had always been healthy and really had a hard time handling illness of any kind. He was exhausted from driving to and fro from work and then having to cook, I was just generally exhausted, we were having arguments, and tensions between us were quite bad. I didn’t want to return to the hospital for any further antibiotic treatment as information was beginning to circulate about the dangers of antibiotic overuse and subsequent resistance. So in the end I was so tired and exhausted I went to Yvonne, my herbalist friend, and got treatment from her and her herbalist co-worker.
Interestingly, the night after I started treatment, I had a dream where I was walking up a hill, reached the peak, then started on the downhill walk. Along the way I saw a cottage with the lights on in the window. I looked through and saw two women there who beckoned me in and fed me as I sat at the table. I mentioned this to Yvonne and she was dead pleased, saying it was a sign I was on the mend. She was right too. It was a slow process but I gradually began to regain my strength although I wasn’t fully mobile again until about a year later. However, I’ve never really returned to being the full quid since I had that fall, and I’ve read that quite often something traumatic like that as you get older can affect your subsequent health.
I had returned to fairly good health by December 1996 when one day I walked out of our home one day to drive into Boonah and saw Bryan sitting in the carport looking grey, exhausted and absolutely dreadful. Yes, folks, our bad luck continued. He had received several large mosquito bites when working at a nearby town. We didn’t take too much notice at the time, but they heralded the onset of Ross River fever for Bryan.My active husband could hardly move and is thin and wiry at the best of times, but within months of copping this illness he’d gone down to six stone and looked like a skeleton.