Grief, Loss and Goodbye

On Monday 27 August 2018, Edith Isobel Muldoon passed away.

I would say that most people wouldn’t recognise her name, but she was my grandmother.

Ma, as she was known to her 8 children, 26 grand children and 25 (and counting!) great grandchildren, was born on 3 January 1924. Ma has always been the oldest person in my life, a baton now passed to my Uncle Paul. She was kind, gentle and always seemed fragile, but I never once thought of her as weak. Weak was simply not a word you could associate with Ma. Even as she got older and more frail, she radiated a kind of inner strength that made you think she would live forever. She was given her last rites about 11 times (we lost count and there is some debate as to the actual number, but it was in the double-digits) and was the definition of an Aussie Battler.

For as long as I can remember Ma was there. I can’t remember ever hearing so much as a stern word from her, and nothing I did was less than perfect. Whether it was turning up with pink hair or forcing her to read my terrible story written “way back in the old days” – or her childhood, as I would find out later. She assured me it was fantastic and wanted to read more. Having reread the story recently, I know she can’t have meant it, but I appreciate the care. Or maybe she did mean it. Maybe it having come from her granddaughter was enough to make her truly love it.

I have so many memories of her, and I wish I had more. Each is precious to me. Like the time I stayed at her little flat and we had apple pie and ice cream (my favourite dessert to this day) and couldn’t figure out how to make the VCR play the tape. Or the time I took the Bible to read to her after school and less than a page in she said “This is boring, what else have you got?” which led to me reading her a vampire book for the next hour or so before it was time for me to head home. She bid me goodbye, making me promise to come back and finish the book with her. Or the time I told her I was moving to England. I ended up telling her three times, as her memory wasn’t so good then. Each time she reacted differently. The first time crying because I was leaving her, the second time happy that I was going on an adventure, the last time only saying “Why would you want to do that for?”

This is the first time I’ve really lost someone. When my grandfather and aunt died, I was too young to really understand. But I feel the loss keenly now. When my mother called to tell me, I knew before I even answered. Ma had been sick again, this time different from the others, and there was no other reason my mother would be calling me so early. At first I didn’t cry. I just wanted my mother to tell me what to do. Should I go to the old age home? No, they were all at my parents’ house. But then something in me snapped and it was like I couldn’t breathe. My mum told me I was in shock as I started to cry. I tried desperately to pull myself together, assured her I would be fine to drive and that I would head over right away. As soon as I hung up I started crying for real. I half-ran to the laundry and scooped my puppy up, sobbing into his coat as the poor thing probably wondered what on Earth was going on. It took a while for the sobbing to subside, and then it was like I went into auto-mode. I fed the dog, got dressed and got into the car. About halfway to my parents’ I got a bit teary, but by the time I pulled into their street I was calm, and ready to be the strong one for my mum.

And then my little brother opened the door and held his arms out to me. I burst into tears afresh and sobbed onto his shoulder while he asked “Wanna cuppa tea?”

I nodded and was passed into my mother’s arms. My aunt passed me the tissues and I sank into an armchair, sniffling. We shared in our shock, and my mother and aunt filled me in on how it had happened and when they got the call. She passed peacefully, in her sleep. People were already on their way.

Within a few hours two more aunts and an uncle had arrived. We all held each other, united in the pain. More tea was made. We started to plan. At this point I felt as if I had gone numb. Everything became very black and white, yes and no. We made sure everyone had been told. We arranged a time to go to the funeral home. We got on our coats and shoes and went.

The funeral home is stately, near the airport, but quiet. We were greeted and shown into a room where there was a quick bustle as we all found a seat, then a man, whose name I can’t remember, came in. He went through all the details he needed for the Births, Marriages and Deaths. Names, spouses, dates, birth places. Would we have a church service? Yes, Catholic. When? Next Monday. 2 o’clock. We went into the coffin room and I felt like we’d walked into a freezer. My mother went pale and I knew what she was thinking. We couldn’t put Ma in one of these boxes. Flowers were discussed and then we returned to the room. My mother had a bit of a cry on her brother’s shoulder (very alike, we are) and then we finalised some details. Then we were offered the chance to see her.

I’d known this was coming, but I still hadn’t made a decision. Did I want to see her or just remember her as she had been the last time I saw her – sleeping, peaceful and alive? The whole walk to the chapel I didn’t know. My mum paused with me outside the door and asked if I wanted to see. I still didn’t know. I followed them in. She was behind a curtain and I followed them all the way to it. My uncle dashed passed as I reached the barrier between my grandmother and I, muttering “I wish I hadn’t done that”. I hesitated then. Once I saw, I couldn’t take it back. I couldn’t unsee. But if I didn’t look, would I regret it?

Before I went into the room, one of my aunts came out and leaned towards me. I pulled her into a hug, holding her tightly, and the feeling of moving from the role of comforted to comforter hit me hard. I had lost a grandmother, but they had lost their Mum. That morning, they became orphans.

I walked through the curtain, but didn’t look, looking instead at my aunts and my mother, sisters, all together in their grief and loss. One by one they left, until only one aunt and I remained. And then I looked.

It didn’t feel real. I thought I would feel shock or horror, but it just felt like I was looking at a replica of her, like in a wax museum. Her mouth and eyes were slightly open, her hands crossed, still holding her rosery beads. My aunt was bent over her head, one hand resting on her hair, one on her hands, whispering a quiet prayer. I moved closer, wanting to do the same, once my aunt had had her moment. But I suddenly felt like a hand had grabbed my throat. I needed for her to draw a breath, for her eyes to flutter. She wasn’t breathing. She needed to breathe. I fled the room, feeling like if I stayed a moment more I would lose my ability to breathe.

We left quickly after that, all of us shaken and tearful. We all went back to my parents’ house. There, the practicality took over once more. We heated bread, prepared soup and set the table. Everyone kept saying that they couldn’t bear to eat, but once we started we couldn’t stop. Tea was made and drunk. We began to talk about how we couldn’t believe it. All fed, we began to talk of sleep. I left them then, and went home.

I put together some vases and flowers I had been meaning for months to take to put on my grandfather, uncle and great-uncle’s graves. Then I drove to the cemetry. I went to my grandfather, Pa, and uncle, Gregory, first. I spoke quiet words to them, asking them to tell Ma that we love her and miss her, and asking them to make sure she has a good cup of tea and a sherry. Then I went to my great-uncle, Desi. Ma’s brother. I choked out the words “Take care of her, Desi”. And fled back to the car before the tears could fall.

I went between having to move and do things and lying on the sofa, completely numb. I decided I would go back to work the next day. That night I took half a sleeping pill, knowing that otherwise I would lie awake crying or staring at the roof. I slept fitfully and woke the next morning.

The day went on as normal. I dressed, tended to the puppy, and got to work. There was slight differences. The soft “I’m sorry”s, people treating me much more gently. I wished they wouldn’t. It made it harder to hold it all together.

Family arrived in trickles over the week, greeting us with hugs and “I can’t believe it”. I picked my sister and niece up from the airport on Friday and by Sunday the house was filled to the brim.

Monday, the day of the funeral, dawned grey and raining. Fitting, I thought. I got up and showered, putting my hair into two braids and crossing them at the back of my head. I tried putting on eyeliner, but it looked awful, so I took it off and did my makeup simply. I put on the earrings I bought for the funeral and then threw on jeans and a t-shirt – There were things to be done, I would put my dress on later.

I went down to my parents’ house and was welcomed by a chorus of my nieces and nephews announcing my arrival. I was swept into a game of UNO and then into helping prepare for the wake, my sisters and sisters-in-law and myself sitting around the table, putting sandwiches together. Too soon, it was time to go to the church. We all got changed and went down. We found our seats and I thought to myself how maybe I would be okay and only cry a little.

I didn’t even last until the service started.

I opened the little booklet and teared up immediately. Things only got worse. At one point I looked down the row and saw two of my brothers, tears falling down their cheeks. I’ve never felt so connected to them as I did in that moment,

The first of three speakers in the Eulogy was my Uncle Paul. He told us the History of Ma. He joked, making us laugh, and making us cry. Then came my mother. We laughed and laughed. Then she cried and we cried. Then came my cousin, the comedian. I was hoping for something that would make us all laugh and forget for a few moments, but his speech and poem were so touching that I sobbed shamelessly into a tissue.

The priest read a section of a poem written by Ma titles Miss Me But Let Me Go. I was a hopeless mess.

We went to the cemetry, our tears hidden by the light rain. We each held a flower, my mother and her children and grandchildren each holding a yellow rose. Hallelujah played as we stood, watching the coffin lower into the ground. One by one, we walked passed the coffin, dropping our flower in and saying our final goodbye.

At the wake we were pulled into comforting arms, passed from person to person. We opened ten bottles of the sherry Ma had so loved and each benefitted from the warmth it brough us. We ate and tea was poured liberally. The priest had reminded us that for those that believed, like Ma had, this wasn’t goodbye, just goodbye for now. I don’t know what I believe, but in that moment, I held onto those words as if letting go would mean I would be lost for all time.

My grandmother wrote two books, both about her marriage and raising her children. Her love for writing was something she gifted to me. In the last week I read her first book. I shared her memories, her love, her laughter and her loss. I laughed, cried and loved every precious word she had penned. I will hold those books in my heart forever. Her love for her children and husband and extended family and friends was so clearly printed on every page.

Edith Isobel Muldoon was 94 when she passed. She left behind a large, ever growing family. She had over two hundred people that came to bid her fairwell, each of them full of love and admiration for her. She created a family that was bound by more than just love. I am so lucky to have been her granddaughter and to have had her in my life. I will forever remember and love her.

Ma, thank you for your love, for your support and for teaching me that the harder things get, the harder you fight. Thank you for showing me that leaning on those around is a sign of strength, not of weakness. Thank you for loving me no matter what. I miss you. I love you.

Goodbye – For now.

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No Use Crying Over Spilt Tea

One year ago I was going to kill myself.

I had set out the date, the place and the method.

I was tired of trying so hard and feeling so awful. I was tired of  living in a place that made me miserable. I was just plain tired.

And so I decided that I would live for one more year. I would save up my money and the next december, I would go to Japan for two weeks. I would see everything I’d dreamed of seeing, and then at the end of the two weeks, on December 31, 2018, I would go to Aokighara and I would die.

This plan filled me with relief.

I kept this a secret, just to myself, and it felt like a small warm glow inside me. The end was in sight!

Here’s the thing. I hard been working so hard to treat the symptoms of my depression and anxiety. I was exhausted from fighting against it so hard and it never getting any better. I felt like I’d tried everything. I was on anti-depressants, I’d had counselling, I’d done mindfulness, journalling, breathing exercises, going for walks. The list goes on. And on and on. But still I was stuck in a house filled with memories of abuse. I was in the room where I had been hit and slapped, I walked the corridors where I had been shoved and punched, I walked passed the place where I had been molested. And every day all of those memories where being triggered.

If someone has gangrene, is it better to give them pain medication, bandage it up and hope it gets better, or is it better to cut off the limb?

It was like I was rotting away, and all I could do was treat the symptoms and hope that the rot wouldn’t spread.

Then came New Year’s Eve, 2017. I was celebrating the official countdown to my death. I went out with friends, got drunk, watched the fireworks and danced. One of my friends was there, absloutely blind drunk, and he changed everything.

Barely standing, he leaned his forehead against mine and yelled this over the music:

“Promise me that you will live your best life!”

I told him that I was suicidal (I was also pretty wasted) but he wouldn’t have a bar of it.

“No,” he slurred, “promise me. Promise me now, that you’ll live your best life.”

I nodded, tears in my eyes.

“Say it!” Awfully demanding for a drunk guy, “say the words!”

“I promise!” I said, “I promise I’ll live my best life.”

“Good,” he said, then stumbled off into the night.

The next morning I woke up, took some panadol and contemplated the night before. Maybe he was right. Maybe I could give this one year the best that I could, and then, if things really didn’t get better, I could kill myself. Somewhat reluctantly, I dragged myself into 2018.

A few days later I was due to start back at work. I’d be doing the shifts alone, as I’d volunteered to do this so the main receptionist could have a week off. Nothing I couldn’t handle. Except that week, everyone in the building had a problem. I had people marking snarky remarks, being condescending and straight up rude, and I got pissed. I was so angry that I spent a lot of that week sending out job applications. The next week the main receptionist came back, I had a big complain to her and forgot all about sending job applications out.

My friend’s words rang in my head every now and then when I had down days, and each time they would make me pull myself together and focus.

Things basically settled back into a routine, until a few weeks into the year when I got a call from one of the jobs I had applied to. I’d completely forgotten about it and was surprised that they wanted an interview. I agreed, but couldn’t even figure out what the job was. It was with a subset of the university, so I figured it would be good pay, and it was full time, which I wasn’t sold on, but I figured I’d give it a go.

I turned up to the interview, and I don’t remember much of it, because I was so nervous. I do remember them bringing up the fact that I was studying, and assuring them that study and work would be no problem to balance (liar, liar, pants on fire). What I didn’t know at the time, was that one of the interviewer’s was my wise friend’s mother.

I didn’t hear anything from them for a while and convinced myself I hadn’t wanted the job anyway. And then I got the job. I was excited, shocked and terrified all at once. I gave my two weeks noticed, got my replacement trained up, and moved to a new job.

The first few weeks are a blur. I was meeting new people, learning new systems and trying to figure out my place in the company. But I did figure one thing out pretty quick – I loved it. Suddenly I was earning nearly four times what I had been. I was out of the house nearly all the time, I was getting to know my colleagues, and I had skills from my old job that I was using here.

Then I got my licence. I could finally pay for lessons, and I passed the test first try. I was cruising along, but I still didn’t feel great. I hated going home and would often just drive around to avoid it. I started half-heartedly looking for places that were up for rent. Then my parents announced they were going to America for a few weeks.

At first, this was just a holiday from them, for me. I had started going and looking at places to rent, but nothing was jumping out at me. My parents left and I kept looking. This place was nice, but not pet friendly, and I wanted a pet. That one was pet friendly, but in a bad neighbourhood. This was was in a good place, pet friendly, and waaaaaay out of my budget. It felt hopeless.

And then I went to see a place. It was on the upper side of my budget and much larger than I needed (four bedrooms!). It was pet friendly, right near the university and I loved it. I put an application in and two days later I was approved! With my parents away, I put all my focus into moving.

It wasn’t easy. I was exhausted and honestly, just didn’t want to do it. It seemed like so much work. My best friend came over and helped SO much. We were doing loads over to my new place, but I kept making excuses as to why I didn’t actually move in there. The truth was, I was scared of making that leap. I don’t know why, but I was.

Then one day I was driving and decided to go to Hungry Jacks and get a drink. I noticed the RSPCA Adopt A Pet Day was on, and thought I’d go and talk to them about a dog I’d seen on the website who was in Sydney, and the best way to go about adopting him. One of my friends’ mum’s was there and we got chatting. She directed me to another lady after I told her I was looking for an older dog who looked fierce but was a cuddler. That lady had a puppy with her who was up for adoption. I was holding him while we talked about possible dogs for adoption. The puppy I was holding looked up at me, licked my chin and I fell in love. We started talking about him. She told me he’s a beagle, staffy and mastiff mix, twelve weeks old, and his brother had just been adopted, so he was the last of the litter left.

I took him home.

Obviously, I couldn’t take him to my parents’ place, they don’t let dogs or any pets in there. So I had to take him to mine. But he was only a puppy, I couldn’t leave him there alone! And that gave me the push I needed.

Suddenly, I was out on my own, with this un-named puppy in my house. Everything was strange. I had a bed and nothing else. Not even a fridge! But I was okay. The first two nights he slept on my bed. I named him Chester and taught him not to pee in the house. I got a fridge and a washing machine and he learnt to sleep in the laundry. And then one day I was playing with him outside and I laughed. He was being silly and it was hilarious. I fell to the ground and just laughed and laughed. I felt so free!

That was a few weeks ago now. Now, Chester has nearly doubled in weight and size and I love him more than anything. I have a sofa, blankets and paintings on the walls. Tomorrow I’m having friends over for brunch. I laugh, I smile and I sleep well at night. I feel happier and more confident than I ever have before. Suddenly, it’s like I’m living someone else’s life. Sometimes it doesn’t seem real. I think about the idea of dying, and it seems abhorrent. I can’t die, I have a puppy relying on me! I now actually look forward to going home. I get home and Chester is waiting for me with cuddles and a wagging tail and hours of play ready for me. I don’t dread being at home. I don’t jump at every little noise. I’m not only happy, I’m content.

I spent so long treating my symptoms and ignoring the cause of my problems. It was like a weed that I would cut back, but couldn’t figure out why it kept growing. And then I ripped it out of the ground and it died.

I’m glad I didn’t kill myself. I’m glad that I listened to my friend and I’m glad that I’m living my best life.

“Take care.”

Self care is something that I think is amazingly important. I recently left my job as a part time receptionist and moved into a full time position as a student support officer. I was close with a few people at my old workplace, and one of them told me that moving into full time work would up my stress and it was very, very important to take care of myself, even though often I would be so tired I wouldn’t want to bother. Well, she was right.

Changing jobs was stressful. Not as stressful as I thought it would be, but definitely stressful. More stressful was that only a couple of weeks after I began in my new position, my grandmother got sick and was put in hospital and given two days to live. That was a few weeks ago and she’s still alive and kicking, which is why we call her Lazarus (for those unfamiliar with the Biblical story, Lazarus rose from the dead. My grandmother has been given her Last Rites (you know, the things you have once, right before you die) nine times now. Hence, Lazarus).

So, all the family came up. And, as with every family, there are people that relieve stress and those that add to it. Some of my family definitely make my stress levels rise.

After that little dramatic moment, we’ve had family around nearly every weekend, stress at work, assessments due at uni (because apparently I thought I could do it all. Ha!) and all of this has resulted in me being a little ball of stress.

Not that I noticed this right away, of course. I thought I was coping really well. I thought that I was handling everything, helping out to help others and acing life. And then my sister slurped her drink and it pushed me over the edge and I sat and cried in my room for like an hour. And that was when I was like, “Hmm, okay, maybe not at my best.”

It was my birthday two weeks ago, and so I decided for my birthday I would stay the night at a hotel with a big spa bath and treat myself. Except that weekend and the next the university was having graduations, so everywhere was booked up. But now, two weeks later, I’m sitting on a hotel bed. Let me tell you about it:

I had a driving lesson this morning, then went down town and picked up a few things, some bubble bath, some bath bombs, and some sweet treats. I then went home, had lunch, packed my bags and headed to the hotel (only 2 blocks from home). I got my room key and walked down to my room. I unlocked the door and stepped in.

Guys,

I was so shocked. I’m used to staying at youth hostels, sharing with at least 5 other people, the most fancy room I’ve stayed at was just big enough to fit a single bed in it. I walked into this room and it was a living room. A living room! Off the living room is the bathroom (which is made of TWO rooms!) and the bedroom! I was so shocked and so excited. I videoed my friends to show them. And, I’m not ashamed to admit, I ran and jumped onto the bed.

So, since I’ve been here, I had a bath. Now, this bath is amazing. It’s a spa bath. It’s big enough to fit three people comfortably (not that it will be). I filled it up, put in the bubbles and bath bomb and jumped in. Now, I’m not used to spa baths, so I had no idea that when I turned on the jets they would fluff up the bubble bath even more. One third of the bath was bubbles.

A. Maz. Ing.

I did a face mask, had music on, and shaved my legs. Then I got out and got all snuggled up in a dressing gown and put the tv on. I’ve ordered dinner and am in my pajamas and it’s not even 7pm yet!

And you know what, all my problems, all the stress factors feel so far away.

For the first time in weeks I haven’t been sitting and stewing over all the things I need to do at work, home and uni. I haven’t had to interact with anyone, I haven’t had to run around after anyone, I haven’t had to do anything. If I want to, I’ll do some study. Most likely, I’ll eat my dinner and fall asleep. Hell, I might even have another bath.

Now, this might just seem like I’m putting a hold on things, just ignoring problems. I mean, they’ll still be there when I go home, right?

Well, yeah, they will be. But I’ll be refreshed, calm and more able to deal with them, which means they’ll be a hell of a lot less likely to overwhelm me. I can just get in and deal with them.

Now, I’m not saying you need to go and book a hotel room. Although, if you can, maybe you should. But you do need to make sure that you take time for you. Whether it’s taking an hour out to do your nails, or have a bath, or just to sit and bitch to a friend, you need to find something that helps you feel more relaxed, calmer and more refreshed. You need to make sure that there’s a regular time for you to just check out. You can’t be switched on all the time, you’ll blow out. Everyone needs time out, and it’s so important to find it, even when there are extra people around, everyone needs something from you, your boss needs you to work overtime and you have assignments due.

I don’t often do this, but here’s a challenge: This week find fifteen minutes minimum. Make a cup of tea, some juice, whatever. And then just sit. And breathe. And drink. And everytime a thought of “I need to-” or “x needs this” comes into your head, close your eyes, take a deep breath and exhale it. Then take five deep, slow breaths and open your eyes again.

Try this. If it doesn’t work, try something else. Just find something that helps you to relax. Take care of yourself, because if you don’t, you can’t take care of anyone else.

The Winds of Change

“The only thing that is constant is change.” – Heraclitus

Not only is that how many essays started in high school when we were doing Change as a topic, but it’s also true. Changes are constant, consistent and certain. Changes are big, small, simple and complex. We probably undergo thousands of changes that we don’t even notice. The last month or so has been a ‘period of change’ (that’s what people call it, right?) for me.

First, I got a new job. This is exciting and horrifying all at once. I’m very much settled into my current, part-time job. I know the people, the systems, what to expect. I’m happy and comfortable. My new job will be full-time, it will be with a whole new team and all new environment. I’m shitting myself.

Second, university started. I’m on my third degree – wait, it’s not as impressive as it sounds. I keep chopping and changing, so really, I’m on my third attempt at a degree. This one, I’ve convinced myself, I will actually complete. But with full-time work and part-time study, this is making me nervous.

Thirdly, at the ripe old age of nearly-twenty-four, I got braces. If you want to talk about pushing comfort zones, I don’t think I’ll be comfortable for the next year or so. If someone offers to shove a whole bunch of metal into your mouth for a few thousand dollars, definitely consider it carefully.

Since change is such a sure thing, we need to know how to deal with it. There are some changes that are easy to deal with. For example, recently my favourite Mac’n’Cheese brand changed their packaging. I didn’t realise this for months because I would walk into the aisle, scan the shelves and walk out, having not recognised my brand. After weeks of frustration (I really like Mac’n’Cheese), I decided to go with the ‘other’ brand that was there. Turns out there’s “NEW LOOK” written very clearly on the packet. I have now adapted to that change. Other changes, however, are no so easy to adapt to. Moving towns, losing a loved one, break ups, they’re all big changes, and changes that can throw us into utter turmoil.

So. How do we cope with change? Well, I cope with it like this:

Crying, trying to get out of the change, flatly refusing to change, then, after many renditions of these, finally, accepting the change. And mostly, once the change occurs, I just deal with it. I’ve moved over seas to live four times. Each time I didn’t know what to expect, where I would live, or what it would be like. I didn’t know if I would make friends, or if I could easily keep in contact with friends back home. But I just kind of picked up the routine and dealt with it. If I had to name one skill, it’s that I’m pretty good at going with the flow.

Although, I have to be honest. With me, it’s sort of like getting caught in a current. I will struggle, flail and try to get out with all my strength. Then at some point I’ll realise I’d be much better off to not do that. Next thing I’m kicked back, a cocktail in my hand, just watching the scenary going passed.

I think most people’s reaction to change is fear. The unknown is a scary thing. My new job is something I’ve never done before. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it. I don’t know if I’ll get along with the people I work with. I don’t know if I’ll like it. I don’t know how I’ll cope. I don’t know if it will make studying even harder.

But you know what? I didn’t know any of that about my current job. In fact, I was 99.9999999% sure I couldn’t do my current job. I was so sure I couldn’t. But I could. I can. I do. I didn’t know if I’d get along with the people I work with. And I didn’t get on with all of them, but with most I do. In fact, today I spent most of my time at work laughing and joking with people. I’m having a going-away party tomorrow and I realised how many of the people who had once been collegues are now friends. I hated my job at first. Everything was scary and overwhelming. I didn’t know how or have the confidence to manage relationships when they got confrontational. I remember the first time I got yelled at over the phone. I froze up and later cried. And cried. And cried. But now people get mad at me, and I’m like “Sure, I suck, I’m the worst, is there anything else? No? Cool, have a good day.” *click*

I think back to that time, how scared I was, how shy I felt, how everything, even outside work, seemed scarier. I didn’t use to be able to strike up a conversation with people I didn’t know, but now I can. In fact, I had four conversations about the weather with four different people today, and that’s a slow day. I can look strangers in the eye and joke around with them. I still get shy and awkward sometimes, but if the me before this job could see me, she would be amazed. And she should be very proud.

I know that starting this new job will be hard. But I also know that I can adapt. I’ve grown up in a tumultuous house, at best. I had a hard time in school. I’ve had shitty relationships, and gone through fine weather friends. I’ve struggled badly with mental health, self-harm and suicide. And I’m still here. And if I can do it, then there’s no way you can’t.

I always wish there was a step-by-step guide to these kind of things. Going Through Change for Dummies or something. But I think it’s mostly just taking care of yourself and believing in yourself. And if you can’t, doing it anyway. After all, we can’t escape change, might as well embrace it.

 

 

 

 

Image credit: https://www.tes.com/lessons/vNa25x2u0apeIg/3-3-wind-direction-and-wind-speed

Triggers

Triggers are something that gets made fun of a lot. I think people started using ‘trigger warnings’ for things that seemed quite trivial to a lot of people, and it took the meaning away from the word. Now, if you talk about triggers, people think you’re being over sensitive. They don’t realise that for a lot of people triggers are a very real, very scary and very awful thing.

I have a few triggers. I grew up in an abusive household and have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). There are things that ‘trigger’ me and put me back in that mindset, the mindset of being in danger, powerless and terrified. Things like shouting, not even directed at me, just in the same area, causes me to freeze up. It become harder to breathe. My heart starts racing. I can’t think. My body kicks in the fight or flight reflex and pumps me full of adrenaline. Any kind of confrontation is the same. I sit and shake for ages afterwards. Shouting, certain gestures, even being in my childhood home, are all triggers. Unfortunately, I still live in my childhood home, something that contributes largely to my poor mental health.

Triggers don’t only come from PTSD. There are also things that can trigger mood swings. For example, tonight I was feeling pretty good, better than usual. I had a long, busy day at work, so I hadn’t had time to dwell on my thoughts. I got home and was watching my current favourite tv show. I went out to get a drink of water before bed and my little brother made a comment, something he thought was a hilarious joke, about how he and my mother were going to get me a garbage skip for Christmas.

Now, this might not make a lot of sense, but let me explain. My room is always messy. I’ve tried to keep it clean and tidy, but so much of the time finding motivation to get out of bed is too difficult, let alone to clean. I have bursts of energy and I’ll clean for a while, then it’s like getting hit in the face, and I just can’t do it. I also learnt when I was younger that if my room is messy my father won’t come in here, which means it’s safer. My bed is right at the opposite end from the door and there’s an obstacle course separating the two. In a house where I often hid in cupboards for hours to avoid him, that kind of safety is highly prized.

But why did that joke hurt so much? Well, it was like a slap in the face. I was so cheerful and happy and then BAM a reminder that I’m not good enough. A reminder that they talk about me behind my back, they make jokes together at my expense. I know all this, but it’s still not nice having it through in my face, especially around this time of year when everyone talks about how important family is. What really sucks is they wouldn’t have any idea how badly it effects me. How I went into my room and cried and cried, while they laughed. What’s worse is I don’t think they would care. I’m just being too sensitive. And that’s where the issues really come in. People don’t understand that when you have a mental illness, you’re not going to react the same to things. Teasing might just seem like teasing to some people, but to others it’s soulcrushing. It’s not being too sensitive, it’s reacting to something that really cuts deep. But because they don’t experience the same, they can’t understand it, and they don’t like it when you “ruin” their joke. They expect you to laugh along, and when you don’t, they get offended. We’re not allowed to get offended. But they are.

In my last post I talked about suicide and how I deal with those feelings. Triggers are different. They’re often unpredictable and difficult to avoid. They hurt. People judge. It sucks. But being aware of triggers is very important. There’s not a lot I can do when someone around me yells. As I said before, it makes me freeze up. I have learnt that repeating the phrase “It’s okay, you’re safe” outloud to myself does help, but that’s only once the trigger, or what my brain sees as the threat, has been removed. Dealing with triggers is something I’m still learning about. I recently got the book The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk which was recommended to me by a psychologist I was seeing. She thought it might help with the triggers, learning how the mind and body stores the traumas. I haven’t started reading it yet, but when I do, I’ll make a post about it. I’m hoping it will be good, that it will help.

As always, I feel a bit better after writing. Still crap, but that seems to be the norm at the moment. Probably due for another medication switch up, but that’s another post entirely. So, I guess this is where I say goodnight and settle down to sleep.

Goodnight.

 

 

 

Image credit: https://www.concealedcarry.com/safety/should-you-modify-your-carry-gun/

Depression and Suicide

Suicide is something I think about a lot. I’ve had bad depression for most of my life. I didn’t start getting any kind of treatment until I was nearly eighteen and most of the coping I’ve done on my own. It’s not something that’s easy to talk about. It’s not something people want to talk about. I’ve tried to bring it up with people I’m close with in the past, my mother, friends, etc. but it’s amazing how quickly they want to change the subject. If you ever want to test someone’s thinking speed, bring up mental illness and they’ll have a topic within seconds.

Something that I hate is the taboo around talking about mental health. It’s something I could go on about for ages. Recently a friend of mine brought up the fact that she had been at a fast food drive through and the girl serving had self-harm scars. She asked us, two other friends and I, if we thought the girl should keep them covered. I wanted to say no. No, she shouldn’t have to keep them covered, she shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of them, how does that help?! But it’s confronting, and I know that I keep evidence of self harm covered up as much as I can. I recently had someone notice something I had burned into my ankle and it’s like this wave of “Play it cool and lie” came over me. I don’t want people to know I self harm, even if I haven’t done it in weeks, months, years. I don’t want people to know because it makes me seem weak, and because I’m ashamed of it.

Shame. That’s a big thing with mental health. And I don’t mean “Oh, isn’t it a shame…”, I mean that horrible, burning shame that you carrying around with you. Because people can’t know. They can’t know that you cry yourself to sleep. They can’t know that you hurt yourself. They can’t know that every day you think about whether it wouldn’t be better to just rip the bandaid off and end it. And this shame that forces you to keep it all in, also convinces you that not only to people not want to know, they don’t care. It turns the rational thoughts of “It’s confronting and they’re struggling to respond” into “They don’t care about you”.

I can remember confiding to my mother once that I didn’t think anyone cared about me. She told me that I had convinced myself of that. I didn’t have to. If you were to ask me who in the world cares about me, I would answer “Nobody”. Not to be dramatic, not to be attention seeking, or self pitying, but because I truly don’t believe it. I can rationalise, I can tell myself that of course people care, but that is what I have to convince myself of. It’s not that I’ve talked myself into believing that no one cares, or that I’m alone, that’s like an inherit thought. That’s just how I feel. I can sit here and go through people I know in my head care. My mum, my sisters, my friends. But could I honestly believe that they care? No. That’s mental illness.

Mental illness is exhausting. Not just forcing myself to get out of bed, to go to work, to smile and laugh and pretend, that’s actually easy compared to just existing with myself. At work I have distractions. People coming and going, things I have to do, problems to solve. That’s the easy part. The hard part is when I’m trying to fall asleep at night, or when it’s quiet and still and my thoughts can just do their thing.

Mental illness is isolating. I work in an office with a lot of people. I would see at least a hundred different people a week. I see friends regularly. I live with my parents and my little brother. I have people around me all the time. And I feel so disconnected from them, I might as well be on a different planet.

Mental illness is tireless. It’s like trying to swim against a rip. You push all your energy into just staying afloat, but it doesn’t let up. It just keep pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing and eventually you have to make a choice: do I keep swimming or do I sink? Which one is easier?

For the people around me, it’s easier that I keep on swimming. That effects them less. No one wants to have to deal with a suicide. Think of what that would involve. Police. Medical staff. Funerals. Getting rid of possessions. Having to tell people that hadn’t heard.

For me, it’s easier to sink. It would be so easy to just end it, just to give up. There are methods where it’s just like falling asleep. No more tears, no more heart stopping panic attacks, no more terror, no more depression. Just sleep.

So why don’t I end it? Well, firstly, because it’s biologically ingrained in us to survive. Go to the edge of a cliff. You’ll feel your palms and the bottoms of your feet start to tingle and sweat, your stomach will clench, you’ll tense up. Your body is literally fighting to keep you alive. It’s really hard to override that instinct. Secondly… Well, no, I think that’s the only reason. I haven’t got the energy to override my human nature screaming at me to stay alive, even though I’m miserable.

Now, you might be thinking, why don’t you do something about it? That’s one of the things people say if you do force the conversation upon them. One of my friends, who knows quite well I’m medicated and have seen psychologists, said that once and I wanted to slap my palm against my forehead and say “Oh! Of course! Why didn’t I think of that! So simple! I’m cured!” but I didn’t, because I’m not an asshole. I do, in fact, do things about it. I go bak to my doctor to reasses the medication I’m on whenever I feel like I’m getting worse. I want to see a psychologist, but I work with all of the ones in my city, and have no way of getting to another town to see someone else. There are psychs in training at the uni I can see, but I don’t want to be the one that turns them off being a psychologist. That’s not entirely true, I just want to see someone with experience, someone who has gotten people through this kind of thing before.

I also have management strategies for when things get bad. I have specific songs that I put on that make me feel happy. I go for walks. I distract myself. But those don’t always work. If it’s late and I’m trying to get to sleep, and all of a sudden all I can think about is how much I’d rather be dead than anything else in the world, what then?

Well, then I get up and blog. I put on one of my happy songs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sywP3aVNUpY), I cry and type until my head pounds, my face is wet and my wrists are all crunchy from being held wrong. Then I check the time and realise I need to be up in a matter of hours and I don’t have time for this shit. Then I sign the blog off, post it and go to sleep.

Goodnight.

 

 

 

(Image credit: https://leisurethings.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/lets-talk-depression-and-leisure/)

It’s All About Perspective

Last week while I was at work, I got talking to this nine year old girl. We talked about her favourite books, school, and all the other things nine year old girls like. Somehow we got talking about age and I made the catastrophic mistake of asking her how old she thought I was.

“46?” came the reply. I laughed and said “Not quite!” Her next guess was 47 and it only went up from there. Now, I turn 23 tomorrow, so obviously I hope that I don’t look 47, but to a nine year old I clearly do look “old”. But let’s be honest, most kids aren’t great judges of age. I sure wasn’t, still aren’t! They see kids, big kids and grown ups. And maybe “old people”, you know, those people with grey hair and false teeth. Apparently those people are only a few years older that me!

I have to be honest, though. I did go home and check for wrinkles. Not because I’m old, but because I’m getting older and for the first time I’m starting to feel as though life is getting away from me.

When I was little I imagined a lot of things about being a grown up. Some things, like having my hair change naturally to black, having green eyes and a flawless tan, were not realistic. Other things, like being a vet, were. However if nine year old me could meet present day me, I don’t think she would be impressed. Her expectations of being married with kids, a farm and horses have not come to fruition. But at age nine, I thought people in their twenties had all that and more.

Silly me.

A little older, not much wiser, 13 year old me walked the school hallways looking at the year 12 students, 17 and 18 year olds, in admiration. They were so grown up and beautiful. They had relationships not just boyfriends. They drank coffee! They had it all together.

Ha!

Fast forward five years. 18 year old me: struggling with school, single, didn’t like coffee. I thought I’d turn 18 and go out clubbing. I went once to a place known as The Spewie and avoided it from then on. I thought I’d have my license and my own car. I still don’t. I despite that, I knew that I’d be married by 19. 20 at the latest!

Hahahahahaha!

Wrong again, past me. We’re currently on the cusp of 23, single and very much still trying to figure this whole life thing out. I have, in the past few years, leaned a lot, however. I’ve learned that no one really knows what they’re doing, but if you act enough like you’ve got it figured out, people will think that you do, and eventually, your life starts to look as if you’re a Proper Adult™. For example, I go to work every day. I complain about work. I save money. I buy an obscene amount of books. I’m about to buy my first car. And then I will learn to drive. From the outside, it’s starting to look like everything is coming up Milhouse. Finally, I’m an adult!

Except…

I don’t really understand taxes.

My little brother had to teach me the difference between a blue slip and a pink slip.

I can’t even keep my room tidy, let alone a house.

But the important thing is that this is all okay. I’m 22, nearly 23. Sure, some of my friends are married, some of them have kids. Hell, a couple of them have even graduated university! Some of them are really acing it. And some of them are addicted to meth. So, in the grand scheme of things, I’m not doing too badly.

It’s all about perspective.

 

 

Image credit: https://www.tes.com/lessons/s2mKePgAVVUC0Q/space-and-perspective