Join our IDAHOBIT webinar

Sunday May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia. The fabulous folks at the South Australian Rainbow Advocacy Alliance Inc and the SA Dept of Human Services are hosting a FREE webinar online and I’ll be on the panel along with Neda Madhoc and Zac Cannell discussing the theme for 2020 – Breaking the Silence.

Sunday May 17
3-4pm ACST
FREE
Tickets here
Everyone, including allies, is welcome

Image may contain: 3 people
Image description: Poster advertising IDAHOBIT 2020 Online Community Webinar. It has a bright rainbow background with silhouettes of people dancing/celebrating. A large box frames photos of the three panelists, and a big heading asks “How do we break the silence for diverse parts of the LGBTIQ+ community?”

Auslan interpreters will be present throughout the event. You can find it on Facebook here. Or jump straight to the free tickets on eventbrite. Hope to see you there, folks.

Free Online Art Inspiration and Exchange Class

Hullo folks, 19onGreen and I are starting a new arts group tomorrow! The first class is free and online, you can link in on Facebook here. Or get in touch with me for the zoom link to join in.

It will be low pressure and fun. Set up some art supplies to play with or a work in progress. You don’t have to share anything you don’t want to, but you’re welcome to ask questions, get feedback, and hang out with some friendly arty folks.

These sessions are diversity friendly, if you have any questions or concerns reach out to me.

The next sessions will have a small cost and be run in person at 19onGreen in Brompton.

The world as it is

Talking with people who speak my language. Shared experiences, peers. The night full of rain like stars falling. Meeting again after long absence the clients I’ve not been able to see since covid hit. Taking a break in the middle of my day to walk around the block with Poppy. We collected pretty leaves. She rode her bike through the largest puddle. I was instructed very seriously on how to carry her gumboots full of puddle water home. I accepted my instructions.

The afternoon light dappled through the trees and laying on the footpath and storm water like white gold. The sound of the leaves making music together in the wind.

Jay is alive. Alone, almost silent, lost far from me in a shadowed place. Avery likewise sending small messages from a world consumed by pain. We have not lost hope. We watch, and listen. Gather patience, tune our ears better. Find warmth to ease the rattle of our chilled and anxious bones. Hold our hearts tight in burnout and loss. The light falling white gold through the trees. The world waiting.

Somewhere as far away as yesterday my phone buzzes like a sick insect. “The thing you have to understand…” says a man’s voice, many men’s voices, overlapping, talking to my empty study late at night, blending like a hundred radio channels left on, all talking and never hearing. The thing you have to understand they say to my empty room. A room away, I read next to my child, sleep next to her, dream alongside her. I have to understand nothing. They buzz into eventual silence.

Everything is wrong. No one and nowhere is safe. Safety is a dream we’re dying for. My throat closes on the phone to them, the words stick. Articulateness is in the ear of the listener, an artifact of relationship, not a fixed quality of a person. The words stick, freeze, cling to my throat like mud.

I can’t explain myself, he says. I’m not good at communicating, she tells me. Her words say yes, but her body says no. 8 years in I’m finally learning to listen to her body. When I get overwhelmed I just agree with anything, he tells me. I’ve heard the same story a million times over, felt my own capitulation in the face of professional gaslighting, group hysteria. Just because I can spell it doesn’t mean I can stop it.

I’m lying naked in the bath, far beyond shame, while my best friend calls hospitals and we try to calculate the value of a person’s life.

I’m watching, who steps in, who panics, freezes, or steps back. I know who my friends are. I know who is sitting by me in that bath, in their own baths, remembering what it is to be naked in the face of injustice, wordless in the face of impatient unsafety.

The rain falls on my bald head when I take out the bins and I can’t help but laugh. The world is so intimate, bright- dark, full of dew. Life and death, words and silence, the mud on my feet and in my throat. Shared and fractured, kept safe, and lost far beyond memory. It is what it is.

Finding my way home

My work life, like that of most NDIS support coordinators, has become a kind of dark vortex that sucks me in. Death and risk and burnout, apathy, inadequate systems, and hopelessly slow processes makes progress slow. It’s like having my foot to the floor on both the accelerator and the brake. Or trying to put out a house fire with teaspoons of water.

But not all my world is work, and I’m lucky enough that Rose has been holding down the family fort for me. When I wrote that I worked for 48 hours without a break, that was only possible because Rose looked after Poppy and our lives for 48 hours without a break. There is so often other forms of less paid, or unpaid, and unrecognised work that props people in paid work up. Rose has been a champion and like me, she’s tired. So I’m pulling back, setting limits, spending more time with my family as best I can. The front lines are no place for a family. But I’m lucky to have them.

Image description: Poppy riding her bike through a big puddle. The puddle is full of bright autumn leaves. She’s riding a green and timber bike. Her cardigan is blue and her gumboots are rainbow.

It’s special to slow down enough to remember they are relationships I cherish, not obligations I’m failing. Sometimes I’m a menace to my own goals and values.

Image description: a basin of plaster paints in bright rainbow colors. Poppy is scraping some green paint onto a plastic palette knife.

Poppy I often do messy play on our days together. Rose finds messy things stressful so it’s a Mummy- and-kiddo activity. On this day we played with paint mixed with plaster of Paris. It goes solid once dry, and has a lovely thick texture perfect for palette knives while wet.

Image description: plaster painting of a plant with long green leaves and pinkish flowers, but Sarah K Reece

Life is not all dark, even in the vortex. So many bright lights remain. They keep my heart strong, my bed warm. The guide me home.

Alone but Alive

Still alive – the best news I wake every morning.

Still alone in the house.

Well, not Alone alone. No support workers. Butter* remains faithful and devoted. The neighbour who originally found them is still dropping in to check on them. The cats sleep on them.

This was their blog post recently:

Keep Going, by Jay

I’m tired. Depression comes and goes in waves. Right now I’m lying in bed, on warm fluffy sheets, under a weighted blanket, with one of my best friend’s puppies. I really really get self care.

Every day I check Jay is alive, boil my kettle, prepare breakfast and morning tea and start work.

Image description: busy study space with many notes in neat stacks on a desk, 2 computer screens, a split keyboard, and a rainbow got water bottle on a chair.


I resource myself in every possible way to give me strength. Friends hold the space with me. It’s a sprint, and then a marathon. I borrow friend’s dogs and sensory aids, call people over who sleep in the home with me when I can’t speak or move my arms anymore. I have vast, beautiful, devoted networks I’ve spent years building and learning how to let love me. They – you – send love, money, good wishes, funny videos, clever suggestions, strength, compassion, sadness, horror. I bear witness and you bear witness with me. It’s a small miracle that we can bear it, this one more atrocity in a sea of atrocities.

I think it’s partly because it’s more than a sad story. Jay isn’t just a victim and I some Erin Brockovitch hero. I’m dealing with disability and stigma myself. Jay sometimes comforts me, shows me their vast strength and patience. We are more than the roles given to us, and less.

Everyone keeps advising me on self care as if it will erase the distress, the sacrifices of crisis work and witness bearing. I found it curious that we love a marathon in sports, or endurance for the sake of testing the limits of the human body against some vast feat: a mountain or ocean or flight to the moon. We understand sacrifices in those contexts, for those worthy goals. But in community services? I’m viewed with alarm and suspicion. My weariness and emotions count against my credibility. We understand adult nappies to train for space but are confused and concerned by me sitting at my computer for so long I’ve got sores on my butt and I can’t move my hands.

What a strange world that mountains are worth conquering and stars reaching for and races are for winning, but for humans, for our own precious people we preach instead a balanced life. I have lost count of how many times I’ve been advised to abandon Jay to the public health, or death, or both. As is always the case with secret tragedy I’ve been hearing stories of devastation and lots from others who have been here. Their takes of death and abandonment, broken heartenedness and reaching the end of all their efforts to find only failure and loss.

We talk about burnout instead of community, and sustainability instead of resources. Jay could have died the other day for the simple lack of a urine test and antibiotics. It took a super human effort to provide them. I don’t regret it. Even if it’s not enough in the long run, I don’t regret it. Not any of it. And I won’t look away.

How to Stand with Jay

It’s my Birthday and other Wonderful News

I’ve had the most wonderful birthday I’ve had since I was 8.

Wow. I LOVED my birthday as a little kid. There was chocolate, friends, adventures, gifts, and cake. My parents created the most wonderful parties imaginable! Games, handmade Woman’s Weekly style decorated cakes, bonfires, crafts, it was frankly the most wonderful day of the year for me. As I got older and my friendships collapsed, my birthday parties remained so coveted that even kids who actively disliked me would turn up and be nice to me for the day.

Fast forward to my teens and the memorable 16th where only 2 kids attended and neither of them knew me, and you have the foundation of the next 20 years where I’ve been a suicidal depressed mess this time of year, often for weeks or even months.

Not today. Today, in the middle of a damn pandemic, owing thousands of dollars to my staff, and having suffered the most intense and exhausting few weeks trying to keep Jay alive… today I’m happy.

I’m Autistic!

I have a diagnosis of Autism largely to thank for that. It’s been life changing good news, opening my world up to patterns and knowledge and workarounds for so much confusing suffering and incapacities. I’ll unpack that more another time, and I know a lot of folks will find it confusing that I’m celebrating this news instead of sad. But for all the folks who get it, especially the sheer liberation of a late diagnosis after years in the dark… WHOOOOO HOOOO it finally makes sense! I’ve spent 4 weeks discovering the sheer peace and joy of weighted blankets, noise cancelling headphones, extremely hot baths, avoiding fridge cold foods, and not having to have hair. 1,000 times a day I make discoveries and undo years of conditioning and fear to find who we are and what we need to function.

Image description, headshot of Sarah smiling straight at the camera with dark green trees behind. They have a shaved head and are wearing bright purple lipstick covered in silver holographic glitter and look happy.

Including how to make birthdays wonderful – such as not having to be scared of all the thoughtful gifts because I know I go blank and don’t communicate appreciation, but no matter how hard I try I have not been able to change that! All that self knowledge buried by socialisation and fear of screwing up my friendships is now unlocking and I’m full of fierce joy.

If you want to give me something this year for my birthday – share my Stand with Jay campaign, or give me an etsy giftcard, or tell me something I’ve said or done or created that has made a difference to you. You don’t have to do any of those, I’m just happy to have you in my life.

Rose has her own house!

In the middle of a pandemic is a difficult time to be allocated a public housing unit, but what can you do? She now lives a few minutes away in a beautiful little place and the breathing room for so many different trauma and sensory and work needs has taken the stress off us and left us giddy in love. In fact…

We’re getting married!

A quarantine wedding! Perfect for the mad social creature that I am who can’t bear for anyone to be left out, and the sweet introvert that is Rose who feels uncomfortable in any group larger than 8. We’re working through the details now and hoping for June. ❤

The small issue of my work life currently not only not paying, but plunging me into the largest debt of my life temporarily put a dampener on the plans for my wages… but we’ve found a wonderful option for a low cost quarantine wedding that looks like it suits us perfectly and should be able to do the entire thing for $3,000, or if we really have to cut the budget, down to $400. (no photos, pretty clothes, etc, so I hope not)

I’m in horrible debt

I owe over $10,000 in wages (still calculating the overtime), plus the tax, super, work cover, insurance, meals, and other business costs such as mental health supervision, HR, my office manager (no one in their right mind wants me calculating the payroll with my math disability). NDIS weren’t going to pay us, then were, then decided not to again. It’s a huge mess and some pretty serious allegations are flying around about me… however all my choices and actions have been documented and I’m an open book and welcome the coming investigations, in fact I’ve done my best to initiate every investigation possible!

So I’m looking into loans to pay my staff, pay back loans from friends who offered money to cover us during the small exciting window when NDIS assured us they would pay us, and pay myself at least enough to buy a more comfortable office chair and get married. I’m sure things will come out clean in the wash but we’ve all got to eat in the mean time and frankly start paying rent again.

Jay is still alive

Between the bloody public health system, NDIS, and the pandemic, all the staff who were supporting Jay have been stood down – there’s no pay and no insurance. Jay is stuck in bed in the house and it’s horrible, but we’re with them online and the neighbour who found them in the first place is helping. Tomorrow we start again trying to get actual decent care set up. But having them alive and being able to take a day off has been a pretty fantastic birthday present. 🙂

Image description: Sarah standing in front of a garden, with bare feet, a short black tunic with Star Wars on the chest, teal shorts and jacket, shaved hair, smiling at the camera

Please #standwithjay

“We will both die here.” The Neurodiversity Community Has Lost One of Its Most Beloved Advocates.

Source: “We will both die here.” The Neurodiversity Community Has Lost One of Its Most Beloved Advocates.

 

Jay is still alone, afraid, overwhelmed. We are trying to create precarious safety after too many broken promises, too many failed plans.

Too many dead and dying disabled and divergent people.

Are we dying of covid? Or restricted access? Abelism? Discrimination?

Rejection?

Broken hearts?

Weariness.

Some days we fight with everything we have

Some days we lie back, numb, broken. Surrender to the pain and the exhaustion. Let the planet turn and the stars wheel overhead. Weep for our friends, for friends we haven’t even known. For people like us. Let go.

And tomorrow

Who knows what comes with dawn?

We wait

Watch

Witness

Love.

 

How to Stand with Jay

 

Magnolia Speaks

Jay is still alive today. Alone in the house and crying. We are all trying to comfort them online. But alone.

Magnolia* is Jay’s overseas partner. They have gone through hell and back watching this from far away, working on documents to send to doctors about what has happened and what is needed, talking to the staff about how to manage the food and caring and what plurality means and reminding people about pronouns and trying to keep Jay safe.

Magnolia offered to write something we could share and yesterday their words were hopeful. Then last night we were forced to abandon Jay in their home once again and the bitterness and fear is horrible. Here’s what they want to share:

Magnolia Speaks: 15/4/2020

I’ve been writing it over and over again in my head, trying to find a way to tell you what this is like. Trying to find a way to say this is hell but those words are so overused I don’t think you’ll understand.

The last post I wrote was hopeful, but it’s hard right now to find the hope. I didn’t know what we had could unravel so quickly, but here we are. Once again I am watching, an ocean away, while my love is left alone, no help, pain mounting and sickness spiraling out of control. We all keep going onto the discord channel, family giving comfort, workers giving their free unpaid time to gently ask them, can you drink, did you take your meds, are you okay?

It’s a stupid question ‘are you okay?’ but we keep asking it. If okay means safe and stable, they’re not okay. But every time they answer there’s the one little glimmer of hope: not dead yet. Not dead yet. Still here. Still here.
“I’ll find a way to stay alive,” they promised us. I’ve watched them stay alive against all odds for a long time, and I believe in them more than I believe in most anyone. But they can’t go on forever with nothing. Even Jay acknowledges that.

Despite despair, despite the mounting challenges, Jay’s family is still here and we’re not going anywhere. This team is still here, and they’re all fighting for the same thing — to hear Jay’s voice and give them power in a world that wants to take everything from them. When hope is too weak to hold us up, we will move forward with the power of anger, the pure fire of our determination.

Please, if you’re reading this, please don’t give up. Keep fighting with us. Let’s make a fuss too big for the broken governmental systems to ignore, too big for the hospitals to wash away with a PR campaign, too loud to be drowned out by bureaucracy and polite dismissals.

Jay will keep fighting to stay alive,
and us?
We’re fighting to make something
worth staying alive for.

Magnolia
a digital artwork showing a white dog sleeping at the feet of a person in a wheelchair. The person is brightly rainbow coloured with punk mohawk hair and glasses. They are painting a landscape artwork on an easel.
Original artwork by Jay. Image description a digital artwork showing a white dog sleeping at the feet of a person in a wheelchair. The person is brightly rainbow coloured with punk mohawk hair and glasses. They are painting a landscape artwork on an easel.

How to Stand with Jay

If you’re still reading, this is the one they wrote yesterday, when we had a plan and things looked hopeful again. We ride the waves of hope and despair, nothing stays static for long for Jay.

Magnolia Speaks: 14/4/2020

This last week, almost every time I woke up it was to my phone ringing. Check your messages. Please come help. What do I do, I don’t know what to do, what do I do? I can’t take this any more.

I’m not a professional. I’m just a disabled parent scrabbling to prevent yet another bout of homelessness. I have no medical training or background in care giving. And yet, somehow, I am one of the precious pins that is holding the fragile structure of Jay’s survival together.

I’ve been watching the system fail Jay for a long time, cursing the ocean between us and all the people who couldn’t find an ounce of compassion. Someone so funny, so persistently kind and gentle and patient, someone full to the brim with passion and fascination and ideas, and these agencies look and see…nothing. They don’t care enough to try to understand.
But we’re changing that.

There are two parallel stories happening here, and it’s hard to tell them both at once. Because one of the stories — one that needs told not just for Jay’s sake, but for the sake of thousands of people like them who are being neglected and left for dead — is a bleak one. It’s the story of people who are discarded by society for their differences, whose value is ignored and denied. That story is a cry for help, a warning, and a call to action.

But the other story, the one that is in my heart right now, is a story of hope. I fell in love with Jay a long time ago, and now I am finally watching other people see what I see. Not Jay the crisis or Jay the case, Jay the person. Jay the artist, Jay the dog trainer, Jay the inventor and explorer, in curiosity and silliness and devotion. Jay who remembers a silly typo from three years ago, who rescues a starving little cat from under their porch, who gets a dream and digs in and fights the world until they get it.

This is why I’m honored to wake up at 3 am and struggle through ten channels of chat logs to try and avert a crisis. Why every time I get a call I thank the people who called me to come. Maybe I’m not the best person for this job, and I know this is an uphill fight, but Jay is worth every second. And maybe, between us, we can make an uncaring world sit up and pay attention.

We can help them see how lucky we are
to have someone like Jay in the world.

Magnolia

Jay’s Own Words

It was going well. Then it went downhill. Then it all caught on fire again. I’m so tired and heartbroken. They are at huge risk again. I am at huge risk. My team is at huge risk. The NDIS changed the plan again and now we are not getting paid for our time from this point. They’ve expressly forbidden my team from returning to the house because Jay may have COVID, which means my team are not covered by any kind of insurance if they disobey. They have been forced to stand down. We tried to get Jay into hospital before the last worker finished the last shift, but the ambulance was full of latex and Jay started reacting. It’s just so impossible to keep things on track.

I’ve showered. My mouth has stopped swelling – that’s rather nice – turns out it was an allergic reaction after all. I’m kind of numb, which is think is good at the moment. Safer for me. Apparently I’m being accused of kidnapping Jay. And of endangering their life by trying to get them into hospital. And of endangering their life by trying to get them out of hospital. And of endangering their life by trying to support them at home. And we asked for COVID testing we were told we were stupid. And now we’re told we’re wrong for not taking them to hospital to get it. It’s day 9 post exposure and their only symptom of possible COVID is a sore throat. The blood in their catheter scares me a whole lot more. I have to sleep, I just have to. I have to sleep and hope.

I’m tired of talking for Jay. They are eloquent and amazing. They don’t need me to talk for them, they need the communication device that’s going to take a month to get here, and for people to start treating them with respect.

They wrote a blog post about this situation on their blog and I have permission to share it. Go and see their own words.

Different not less by Jay

How to Stand with Jay

Jay’s Breaking News!

We have 2 new people on board to help with my workload and both are on the ground in NSW and experienced with complex disabilities!

The changes to Jay’s NDIS plan that locked me and my staff out of being able to access it have not only been fixed, they’ve been made retroactive. That means the $10,000 or so I was going to owe in wages this weekend I can now invoice to the NDIS plan to cover. WHOOOOO

We have finally got high level medical support for Jay. Today we were called because they and one of the staff were exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 while in the local public hospital ED fighting hopelessly for help. That doctor tried to arrange for Jay to visit the same hospital for testing, given some of their symptoms could be COVID-19. When we explained the ambulances we’ve called refused to take them given they may have a neck or back fracture, they tried to get someone into the house. We all found it impossible to arrange for a swab to be done in the home because currently I’m more like to be able to arrange for a helicopter than I am for masks, gowns, and latex free gloves.

So he went off to speak to someone higher up and between them they saw what so many this past few weeks have failed to see: the bigger picture. COVID-19 is scary and potentially lethal for Jay and yet at present it is not even the most urgent medical need. We need proper holistic medical assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, and it’s not possible to get the tests we need such as scans done under sedation, in a home environment. Nor it is okay to focus on COVID-19 while they are at risk of death or paralysis if there’s a neck fracture, or death by drowning due to feeding in a prone position with a known severe swallowing issue.

Bizarrely enough, the COVID-19 exposure is the best thing that’s happened for Jay’s access to care. What the hell is wrong with our system that this is the case!?

We have a plan of attack, which we will swing into action tomorrow. For now, I’m going back to tackle all the admin that will make paying staff possible, and dealing with the remaining cash flow crisis – I owe thousands in wages. Tomorrow will be admission to hospital and me chasing up every loan option I have available.

We still need donations towards all the incidentals not covered by NDIS, but far less urgently than before. Mostly what I need right now is low or interest free loans so that I can resource staff to pay critical costs in their own lives while we are waiting on money to come in from the NDIS.

Gawds it’s SO GOOD to have a good update to pass on!

How to Stand with Jay

Carrying Jay

I’m near collapse. If the hospitals weren’t full of COVID-19 I’d have asked for admission. My tongue has been swollen for days now, cracked in the middle and ulcerated along the edges. My body is in so much pain it’s not always possible to walk or even type. My saliva is thick and foamy despite frequent drinking and crystal clear urine. My hands cramp. My eyes are dry and hurt.

The cognitive losses are likewise showing. I move in and out of having such a profound stutter I can barely speak or cannot speak at all. It’s getting harder to tell the difference between me and Jay except this is a tiny taste of their vulnerability and exhaustion.

Jay’s team is under horrific strain. Today we learned they were exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 person in the public hospital ED last weekend. They have been working around the clock high intensity shifts. No one has any money left for taxis and basic supplies for themselves at work, much less their own rent, student fees, medical costs, and food.

We have an agency ready to step in this week for a range of shifts, but we need disposible gowns, latex free gloves, and masks. Can anyone help me source these for Outer Western Sydney urgently?

Jay is presently stable. They have had several health crises to manage over the past few days, and we have discovered the agonising imperfection of emergency health care systems not designed with people with disabilities in mind. They remain at home with staff, on antibiotics. They are still in 9/10 pain from what we assume is an untreated spasticity crisis, but may also be underlying trauma such as fractures or bruised bones from various falls and poor handling. Without access to proper sedated scans we cannot be confident in the medical clearance they were given, given the severity of the pain.

Jay remains determined to survive, devoted to their family, distressed by the impact on the local staff, and afraid that somehow, some of this is in some way their fault for being complex or difficult or… I don’t know exactly what. Not normal? For daring to reach out while in unimaginable suffering, and now witnessing the sharing of that suffering in a smaller way with the people who heard the call and have come to help.

My wonderful long time friend Nick Jones created this artwork and meme for me today. It’s helping to help me going.

Image description: artwork depicting space with planets, nebulae, and a tiny spaceship in the distance. White text overlay of a wrote from the Firefly series “When you can’t run anymore, you crawl, and when you can’t do that… well, yeah, you know the rest.” In the series the final line not mentioned here is “you find someone to carry you”.

It is not easy to be the eye of the storm and the epicentre of such anguish. They bear it with dignity and humor and vulnerability. I want to meet them so badly. The state lines are all closed, I cannot do a midnight race to be by their side. How often we have thought they are dying in the past week, and I’m trapped interstate in frustration and despair.

Indulging hopeless fantasies of last minute Bruce Willis style rescues, careening into the ed of a local private hospital with a suitcase stuffed with the deposit we’d need, Jay making jokes about my sanity, me swearing like a sailor, the team providing remote support yelling the directions for the hospital to me over my headset, or crouched on the back of my stolen accessible taxi ambulance, holding Jay in their wheelchair as I hurtle around corners.

In this fantasy the denouement is a place of white and sterile peace, nurses slipping past a room in soundless shoes, a quiet efficient, reassuring hum of paperwork and handover and obs. Jay lays in bed, sleeping deeply and peacefully. The hospital is everything everyone dreams it can be, a safe haven with deep and calm acceptance of all the differences that block access to care for Jay now – trans, disability, non-traditional relationships, neurodivergent…

In my imagination, Jay’s team of support workers are all in their homes, safely sleeping the deep peaceful ready of front line crisis staff who are finally off call. I’m sitting next to Jay, not too close, but close enough to be able to see if their sleep turns to nightmares, to offer a hand to soothe.

On the other side of the bed is their partner Avery, ragged and unwell looking but no longer in unbearable constant agony. He holds Jay’s hand and sleeps awkwardly between chair and bed, face pressed into Jay’s arm, hands clasped around their hand. Magnolia is on the phone,

People step into the early morning light of the room. It’s the special support coordinator, the hospital CEO, and a high ranking police officer. They smile at me wryly and don’t speak. The police officer has an autistic non verbal child, and has briefed the other two. They step to once side and nod at me the way people are very old friends sometimes do when they meet again across crowded spaces. I nod back, get up, and walk out of the door with a heavy tread. My injuries and exhaustion have been tended to, the crisis is over, I’m no longer needed.

I walk slowly out of the hospital and into the dawn light. The sky is luminous, like a white pearl. My family are waiting for me bedside a fountain at the entrance to the hospital. Poppy runs to meet me and I have strength enough to lift her and twirl her around she giggles in delight and buries her face into my neck.

Rose comes slowly forward and holds me, eyes searching mine for confirmation it’s finally over. She breathes a deep sigh of relief. We hold each other, cheek to cheek. Lacing her fingers in mine to head home together, I can feel the unyielding firmness of her engagement ring between my fingers.

In my mind’s eye the next dreams start taking shape. We are standing beneath trees in the winter, isolated by COVID but connected by technology and community and love. We’re both well, we’ve been paid and tended to our health. We say our vows and kiss beneath a rainy sky and the massive trees. My heart catches fire.

How to Stand with Jay

Brains Trust – give me some referrals

It’s been brought to my attention that I am flailing about online in a pretty distressed and intense matter and generally freaking out a lot of folks. I’m going to totally own this one! I’m in an unprecedented (for me, I suspect it actually happens pretty often) mess, and I hadn’t got around to mentioning it yet but surprise! I’m autistic. So I’m currently freaking out most of the non autistic people and most of the autistic folks around me are getting it. I can’t do all this shit and keep all these people going and try to keep you, the general public, feeling calm and soothed and comforted and safe too. I kinda need to, because half of New South Wales currently thinks I’m having the most public psychosis ever lol (funny that when I do have actual psychoses, I am public about them!), all the bastards who are blocking what Jay needs are flinging some mud, and I’m generally careening around doing my best to juggle 1,400 things while on fire. So my capacity to hide that I’m on fire is a bit shall we say, reduced.

Sorry about that – deal with it.

Feedback about how to handle this more effectively welcomed. 🙂 Feedback that amounts to “have you tried being less autistic?” not so much.

Moving on!

Help me with:

I need a GP or physician with experience with complex disability and spasticity. Anywhere in Australia. Frankly I’ll take anywhere in the world. We need specialist competent guidance please and we can link you in with tech. If Jay doesn’t qualify for telehealth with you, we will cover the cost through business/donations. Please get in touch with me asap with your qualifications and availability.

I need someone who can edit my youtube channel, I am using videos to communicate with my team and having trouble loading longer ones. The obvious option is to stop waffling so much but that’s never been my strong suite. Paid, obviously.

I need the NDIS medical clearance for accessing a hospital guidelines. What exactly do my staff need to do to be cleared?

I need a way to get Jay tested for Covid without moving them from their bed. Thoughts?

I have stressed, vulnerable people in shutdown because people keep phoning them. Can someone help me arrange new phones and sim cards with new numbers so they can turn the old ones to silent and address calls as they can. They can’t do this now because this family is trying to stay connected to each other. We need to split up the lines of personal safe communication from the lines of more public and stressful communication. I really like amaysim – can they help? They are both used to iphones. Will pay, obviously, from donations!

I need advocates. Autism, disability, mental health, queer, whatever. Throw them at me. I can’t do this alone, but we can do this together.

Get in touch with me.

How to Stand with Jay

Jay is trapped in bed

We need urgent help

Image courtesy of Image by Николай Егошин from Pixabay
Image description: large house fiercely on fire in the night, guttered with the windows burned through

Context:

Updated list:

More details:

In Home Safety Issues:

  1. Raised by RN
  2. Raised by Support Worker
  3. Raised by Jay
  4. Verified by Occupational Therapist – pending

Current Status:

I need 2 staff 24/7 with Jay and there is nowhere in the present home for them to sleep, and no separate spaces for them to have downtime. Due to severe sensory issues they also need to be able eat away from Jay, as most food smells are highly distressing and many cause meltdown/shutdowns.

An occupational therapist visited yesterday morning for staff training with safe use of hoist. Could not proceed,  Jay was in too much pain and then went into meltdown due to overwhelm. OT has shut down use of hoist, shower chair, and commode because of the severe pain Jay is experiencing. Given we don’t know the cause of the pain, we are risking potential severe injury to them if we mobilize them with the hoist.

Jay spent the weekend in the local public hospital ED. We called an ambulance for them when their pain escalated into crisis with symptoms mimicing a heart attack. Jay has no ambulance cover – we have promised we will cover it with our donations fund. (THANKYOU ALL!) Edit – wow it turns out NSW has different rules around ambulances to SA and there will be no cost. Awesome! We really need to do something about that here where I live.

Jay was unable to get proper care or assessment in the ED despite everything their entire tried over the whole stay. And I mean EVERYTHING we tried – but that’s a story for another time.

His GP was booked for an urgent telehealth appt over 2 weeks ago but has never called. This is the GP who has not followed up on a highly vulnerable trans client who’s hormone shot is over a month overdue. Apparently this is pretty common for them – can’t even blame COVID19.

Trapped in bed

Trapped in bed at present without capacity to get into their wheelchair. Jay now needs 2 staff available 24/7 to enact pressure sore protocols (need to roll them every 4 hours and apply cream to skin) – we think – we can’t yet get anyone into the house to tell us! Jay’s skin has already thinned badly due to a long time trapped in bed while abandoned in their home – also a story for another time, but I can tell you it’s been a really bad year for Jay.

We urgently need a GP for a wide range of assessments and referrals related to chronic and severe neglect.

We also have immediate medical questions we are not qualified to answer and we need a GP or someone trained to guide us!

We need from a GP: Immediate:

  • We need covid tests for Jay and all staff. The ED Jay spent the weekend in was a hotspot for covid but refused to refer or administer tests or medically assess the support workers. This means we can’t take them into places where high risk residents are in lockdown. We need clearance to open housing options or to know housing options closed because we are now infected and risk killing the rest of the residents. 
  • We need medical assessment and advice of the risks of using the hoist to mobilize into the chair, vs feeding someone with severe dysphagia while lying down in bed. 
  • We need to assess, diagnose and treat the pain crisis or provide referrals to those who can.

We have managed to arrange:

  • 9 April disability specific physiotherapist for telehealth assessment.
  • 14th April we have booked trans friendly GP: should be able to provide script for hormone, we can then hire a nurse to administer. 

Jay reports a bad sore throat today and has been feeling constantly very hot then very cold for the last two days despite no fever on the thermometer. This lack of temperature regulation is very concerning given other health conditions. Jay reports severe neck and back pain, radiating down both arms, which is especially concerning because Jay is usually unable to feel pain even if it’s a really bad injury. We are all afraid something very bad is happening medically. We desperately need a disability GP with experience in spasticity – we are making calls and waiting to hear back. If you know anyone – please get in touch with us urgently, my phone is on 24/7.

How to Stand with Jay

Help me save Jay

Australia is utterly failing the care of people with disabilities in the face of COVID-19. I have been working around the clock this last two weeks to try and save someone’s life. Right now we are a small team of family and support workers and we are all exhausted.

Who is Jay?

‘Jay’, the person who is likely to die within the next couple of weeks unless we can turn things around radically, is a fabulous, trans non-binary, autistic, non verbal wheelchair user with two wonderful partners who are also in severe crisis – one bedbound in an interstate hospital due to severe injuries that occurred while trying to help Jay mobilise without support, the other overseas and suffering chronic pain and crisis. Both are Jay’s supplementary decision makers and both have limited capacity to fulfill that key role without our support.

Catastrophic System Failure

If you know anything about being trans you know what kind of medical care Jay has been getting. If you know anything about being a wheelchair user you know what kind of access to services has been going on – they can’t even access most of their own home. If you know anything about severe allergies you know how easy we’re finding it to feed them and keep them clean and safe. If you know anything about severe mental illness related to trauma, you know just how this hell is impacting them. If you know anything about being non verbal you know just how well most people are understanding Jay’s needs, capacities, and limitations, and the absolute torture it is to be constantly so unheard, overruled, ignored, and humiliated.

Being part of this families life for a mere 2 weeks has been the biggest wake up call for me about the state of disability rights in Australia. We are FAILING, we are being FAILED.

What are we doing?

We are trying to keep Jay alive in impossible circumstances. The little team we have is full of the most incredible people I have ever had the privilege to spend time with, and we are all keeping each other going with so much passion and integrity it frankly makes me cry with relief.

But the problems are too big,
too entrenched, too systemic, and we are too few.
We need a bigger team backing us up.

I know we’re in all crisis with the damn virus. I know everyone is struggling in some way. But many hands make light work. If all you can do is share this post or send some love, I can’t tell you how much difference that will make. We can’t be alone in this anymore, please.

If I can’t save Jay’s life, I am damn well making sure they don’t die alone. They are clean, safe, cared for with respect, have access to their family, and can rest in the certain knowledge that I will be helping their partners pursue every single person and system who has so catastrophically failed them through every legal channel open to them.

It’s not just Jay at risk

Do you know how many disabled people are going to die because of COVID-19? How many are already being refused medical care on the basis they are too complex, too unlikely to recover, and that their lives are not worth living anyway? Did you hear about the Spanish residential home in that was discovered by the army with all the residents dead, abandoned by the staff? It’s started here in Australia. People with disabilities are being abandoned. I don’t know if we can save them all. I don’t even know if we can save Jay. But I can tell you now, those Spanish residents likely died alone in the kind of terror, agony, and despair that is unimaginable to the rest of us. If Jay dies they will not go that way. They will die loved. They will die clean. They will die with their beautiful assistance dog cuddled next to them. With a tender hand whenever it is needed. With a voice in their ear telling them we are here. We are watching. We see you. We bear witness. You will be remembered, always. Join me.

How to Stand with Jay

Being different in this world can be such a source of strength and sorrow. There’s probably never been a harder time for most of us than right now. Who do you know with a disability or diversity? Reach out. Check in. Even if we can’t save them all we can tally the dead. No one dies alone.

Never the Spanish Residential Home again.
Not here. Never again.
Help me make this happen!

Looking for NDIS support workers

I need a couple of new folks on my teams, one in the Western Sydney Parklands/Mount Druitt area, and another in the Northern Adelaide area. Both folks need people with integrity, disability and mental health experience, and who are taking the COVID-19 health and hygiene precautions super seriously.

Whether you are already working in the NDIS, run your own business, are new to the NDIS but experienced with disability and mental health, want to be subcontracted or employed, I’m pretty flexible. The model can be variable, it’s the person and capacity to learn that I’m focused on. Get in touch and lets see if you’re a good fit.

You will need to have or get a clearance for working with people with disability, full first aid training, medication handling training, and COVID-19 hygiene training (the last one is free and easy to arrange). Your own car is vastly preferred. Lived experience of disability, diversity, neurodiversity, and so on is preferred but not essential.

Dealing with Trauma during a Pandemic

Hey folks, I know many of us with trauma are having a rough time at the moment too. Some of us are not safe in our homes, are facing increased risk of harm from people close to us, or are struggling terribly with awful triggers such as feeling trapped, abandoned, and not having enough resources to survive. Shops don’t feel safe anymore, many of us are losing access to essential supports and are finding our brains are blowing up under the strain.

I’m very busy at the moment supporting my family and clients, but some of my beautiful contacts have been swiftly responding to create free resources for people.

A friend of mine, Jade, is running beautiful resources such as reading kids books online particularly for little’s and kids in multiple systems – check out her work here. Jade has been co-admin of the Dissociative Initiative facebook discussion group for many years, she’s incredibly thoughtful and compassionate. She wrote a huge blog and has published a range of stunning books on trauma, multiplicity, and recovery.

Another friend of mine, Raven, is part of a huge free online conference for survivors. It is accessible from anywhere, and takes place between 23rd-27th of March. Raven is well known for her amazing Puppetry (R)Evolution using creative techniques and hand made puppets to discuss issues such as child sexual exploitation. Her 25-minute video is about using creativity and activism in healing on the 26th March, and I’ve been assured it will include puppets. Here’s the schedule and list of speakers with their topics: http://walkingwithoutskin.com/rape-and-resilience-summit-speakers .

I’m hearing a huge surge in self harm, suicidality, eating disorders, and PTSD symptoms. Anxiety and depression are high, right when everyone around us is telling us to not panic and go out and do a lot of things. Executive function skills are in short supply and bad memories are looming large.

Some of us know that if there are shortages, we’re not on the list of people who will be prioritised. That alone is a kind of social shame and rejection that can send people down a dark spiral. It’s hard to put into words, but we all need to feel like our lives have meaning and purpose, that we’re not just here to consume, and that we’re not expendable.

If this is you, or someone you care about – hold on. If the old stories have kicked back in and death and self destruction feel like valid – or the only – reasonable response to such widespread terror and shortages, hold onto the knowledge that we need you. If the ‘broken people’ trauma narrative has you feeling that you’re not destined or worthy of survival, if the idea of taking up essential resources that someone else might have to go without makes you want to run rather than fight for a place in the world, if it all feels too hard to hold on while the planet tips into darkness anyway…

I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for what you are going through, and for the people who don’t understand. I’m so sorry that at the point where you want to stand up and shine brightest you’re falling apart. I know what it is to feel tuned to the agony of the world, to feel the death of every person, every creature, in your own skin like a million needles. I know what it is to be seduced by the idea of scapegoating yourself, that perhaps the world would be a better place without you in it. That perhaps someone more worthy would have a meal or medicine. That perhaps you could take with you all the darkness and anguish and dive over the edge of the world with it clutched to your heart and vomiting from your mouth and dripping down the inside of your legs and leave behind you a brighter and gentler dawn.

These stories are like parasites that eat us alive and turn our minds against ourselves. I say to you – what kind of world do we want? Because if you want a world that is a little kinder to the so-called broken people, we need you in it. If you want a world that is loving to those in pain, we need you to bear the pain and find the love. You cannot make any of it better or reduce the suffering even one mite by tearing another hole in the fabric of the universe on your way out of it. Stay here. Hold it with us. Mourn it with us. Love it, with us. Stay.

Pandemic Resources for supporting People at Risk

Formal supporter and informal/family carers alike are all facing new challenges at the moment with the pandemic. If you’re anything like me you’ve been scrambling to get in front of the situation, make sure basic needs are being met, and take care of yourself at the time. It’s a hectic time! Here’s a few resources I’ve created or come across which may help speed up your capacity to adapt, predict, and head off potential issues and risks.

Pandemic Plans

If you’re a support coordinator or social worker you may need a formal written safety plan for your most at risk clients/participants. Larger organisations are using overall plans, which is fine, but if you can doing personalised plans for at least the high risk folks – ideally in consultation with them – is good practice. It tailors the plans to the person and is an invaluable handover tool if you become unwell and need to shift your caseload to someone else.

Informal family and friend carers, a written plan may seem like overkill, but being able to share it with others does have value – assuming anyone else in your formal or informal networks has the same perceptions of risk and ideas about safety as you and the person with the disability (PWD) is a common point where things start to unravel. Fewer assumptions, more communication!

There are a few examples being kindly shared by people, so if you don’t have a public health background you don’t have to start from scratch. This is mine and you’re welcome to borrow, use, modify any aspect of it provided you don’t on-sell it. 🙂 Pandemic Safety Plan.

Karina and Co have generously made their Pandemic Safety Plan public too.

The Growing Space have also been agile responders to the crisis and have provided some invaluable free resources such as this fabulous Pandemic Checklist.

Free webinars

The Growing Space have also teamed up with Disability Services Consulting (DSC) and are offering a free webinar about responding to the challenges of COVID-19 for participants, families and PWD.

They are also running a free webinar for Support Coordinators.

DSC are offering this training on preventing infection.

Resources

DSC have their own fabulous list of COVID-19 resources for people with a disability including general and NDIS specific information.

I hope that’s helpful. Take care out there everyone. If you need some more specific advice or help reach out to me or the folks I’ve linked here, I expect the webinars in particular will be excellent.

Why do they do that? Understanding people's reactions to crisis

We’re in a pandemic and most of us at the moment are baffled and frustrated by each other’s responses. Most of us have heard about threat responses in terms of fight/flight, but many of the pandemic responses are actually about the step before that, what makes us register something as a threat in the first place.

There’s some pretty good data on this topic fortunately, and it can take some of the heat out of it to put people’s responses into a broader context. It’s not that people are being ‘difficult’, it’s that people have different capacities to identify threats and risk. Understanding that can be the difference between explosive frustration, and a compassionate and useful response. Whether you need to help your Mum understand why it’s important to stay at home with her sniffle, or a client make sense of increased hygiene issues for staff at the moment, or a policy maker , HR manager, or boss respond quickly and appropriately to the emerging crisis – it helps if you have some insight into why they are behaving the way they are.

Under-response

What crisis? Everyone is going mad. Panic merchants are the ones doing the harm. Everything is okay, really.

Statistically, about 70% of people will not recognise a crisis as a crisis. This is termed ‘normalcy bias’ and is a pretty well known cognitive bias or common thinking error for people. Normalcy bias simply means that the mind finds crisis hard to comprehend and tends to assume that things will stay the same as they’ve always been. The wiki entry on this is wonderful and has some great links to research and further information about disaster planning and so on.

For people in this state of mind, the crisis is people’s ‘overreaction’ and panic. They will fight this and resist efforts to recruit them into seeing there is a crisis because the panic is the ‘threat’ they are responding to. It’s an accident of thinking, that’s all. There’s a number of things in my experience, that make it more likely people won’t recognise a crisis such as:

  • Preoccupation with a different crisis – this often applies to highly vulnerable groups such as people experiencing homelessness, mental health crises, domestic violence, poverty and so on. They are already in crisis mode and focused on the next meal/not killing themselves/a safe place to sleep/appeasing a terrifying person in their life
  • No living memory of the crisis at hand. We get better at managing crises we’ve experienced before. We’re not even that good at recognising many of them the first time. Some things seem to be somewhat hard wired – fear of heights and spiders, for example. Others require memory and stories to help us recognise the danger – such as a swiftly emptying beach before the tidal wave hits. The living memory between severe pandemics can be easily lost.
  • Changing nature of the crisis can also slow our capacity to recognise and respond to it. Changing animal husbandry practices, travel patterns and global trade have also changed the nature of pandemics in ways we’re not familiar with. Some areas in the world have regular epidemics and are much more familiar with issues of biohazards. Others rarely deal with them are far slower to recognise them.
  • No emotional impact of the crisis warning signs. It’s primarily our emotional responses that allow us to shake things up from ‘life as always’ to ‘urgent new priority’. As much as we like to congratulate our own rationality and see people who under respond as irrational, in a way it’s the opposite. We’re scared enough that our emotions are able to hijack our plans for the week and insist – there’s a huge issue we need to address, forget everything else! If you want to learn more about this amazing process I suggest the fantastic book How we decide by Jonah Lehrer.
  • No training to deal with the crisis. People are generally better at recognising and responding to a crisis if they have trained for it. This is why we do disaster planning and train people in exiting planes, burning buildings, and so on. Basic level training gives us a slight edge. Really good training means actually doing the thing – getting people to swim out of submerged helicopters and so on. Muscle memory is reliable in crisis mode in a way that our rational brain and other forms of memory are not.

People who under-respond need to be bypassed where ever possible, and engaged with in ways that bring the reality close to home for them – not just statics but emotionally. The impact of ‘it won’t happen to me’ thinking can also be incredibly difficult to budge, so work with whatever seems to clicking best with them – facts and figures, appeals to emotion, proximity to the threat. These folks need education plus emotional impact. Sometimes are more able to act on other’s behalf than their own and will respond to protect a ‘vulnerable group’ provided they don’t have to face their own vulnerability. Humans have developed a lot of defenses against recognising our own mortality and don’t tend to appreciate having to pull them down.

The Freeze response

This is a threat response that can look similar to those who under-respond. The outcomes may look the same, but the mechanisms are the very different. These folks have identified that there’s a crisis, but have frozen in response to it. They are numbly going about their ordinary day, because they don’t have a new plan of action. They need a completely different response to the under-responders, because while they may appear the same they are in a vastly different space. These folks are in terror or massive dissociation. Emphasising the severity of the crisis will make this worse. These folks need emotional support and a clear plan of action. The education needed is about what to do next, and the emotional need is about hope. Hope is still present, and hope is preserved through action, not inaction.

Freeze is a common and at times extremely useful threat response – play dead until the predator leaves. As with all threat responses, there’s no single one that works in every situation. Freeze may well be a useful response for some people who are geographically very isolated. But for most of us, a plan will be far more useful, particularly as this plays out over weeks and months.

Over-response

Panic, hoarding, shutdown, terror, suicidality, eating disorders, self harm. Fight and flight. Threat responses are curious things, and some folks are registering the crisis but responding in ways that make themselves less rather than more safe. I can relate this, currently my ‘startle response’ is over the top, I jump out of my skin at unexpected sounds or touch. This is a part of my PTSD – I’ve literally been neurologically wired to expect and respond to a particular type of crisis – personal attack. A heightened startle response is helpful if I’m under some types of threat – it’s not so useful in a pandemic.

We’re all coming to the pandemic with our personal history of what threat looks like to us, what’s helped in the past for us (even if the type of threat is different) our cognitive distortions and bias, and our primitive threat responses that are largely outside of our conscious control and generally well geared for historical threats (attack, starvation etc) rather than modern ones.

Helping to contain the emotional responses through the ways that humans regulate such as social connection, grounding, mindfulness, prayer, self expression, and so on, literally calms the emotion centers of the brain so the rational mind can come back online and help to direct the crisis response to be more useful. This is why loneliness and isolation in quarantine are such huge concerns for people, because for many of us they cut us off from our connections and leave us in a state of chronic distress and hyper-arousal.

As long predicted, the new poverty is a technological one – those with internet connections and home devices are far more able to compensate for quarantine than those without. Helping people to access smart phones, laptops, and good internet or data plans will be as essential as food and medicine to help in the months ahead.

From Individual to Community Health

We have become used to thinking in terms of individual health in Australia and other developed countries. Epidemics and pandemics challenge this approach in a profound way that can be very uncomfortable for people.

Did you know, there have been over 1,300 epidemics in the world since 2011? (Epidemics are local to a region, pandemics are worldwide) Some places have been hit by these over and over. They are far more profoundly aware of the impact that lack of resources such as supplies and a robust public health system, community education, basic food and sanitation supplies, and a robust health workforce can have on everyone. Health is not and has never been just an individual behaviour or characteristic. We are healthy or sick, well resourced or vulnerable, together. When there are not enough resources, communities turn on themselves. This is the entire field of public health – how communities thrive or struggle.

Predators and vulchers

Already evident in the pandemic is a harsh fact of human existence, that we prey upon our own. Predators are out there doing harm in the form of scams, stealing, exploiting, and deceiving. Some are individuals who lack any other forms of resources. Some are vast organisations who are skilled at distracting people from their bloated consumption of common resources. Vulchers rarely directly attack their prey, but they will pick the bones of the wounded and vulnerable. They represent a significant additional health risk to manage. They are always present in any society, but much more so in conditions of scarcity and social breakdown. Civil war and food scarcity for example, often go hand in hand. Cultures that cannot provide for all members tend to self destruct and devour themselves.

Violence

Family violence rates are likely to vastly increase under the added pressures of the pandemic. Quarantine leaves people vulnerable to those they share their homes with in terrifying ways. Trauma bonding means people will hold strongly to those who are doing them horrible harm. It’s a huge social issue and it’s likely to get worse.

In the same way that school bullies and rapists are not all doing it for the same reasons and in the same ways, people who are violent to their families fall into basic categories of type. Some people are sadistic and enjoy torturing people around them. Some have profound control needs stemming from their own trauma. Some have impairements that make it difficult for them to understand the impact of their behaviour on the people around them. Some feel entitled to bend everyone else to their will. There’s a wide range of reasons people are violent, but the broad trends hold – less freedom to leave, and higher pressures are both recipes for disaster.

People’s who’s threat response is geared towards ‘fight’ are some of our greatest allies at the moment, tackling political inaction, industry collapse, and personal crises. But some are going home and attacking the people closest to them. Again our existing infrastructure already fails us – people trying to flee abuse are often faced with homelessness, poverty, cruelty, beuracracy, and additional abuse (same as children taken from their families). Under the additional strain of the pandemic the human cost is likely to be brutal.

False prophets

As people scramble to pivot in the new economy, false leaders will also emerge, many of them quite unaware of the harm they are about to do. People are already sharing health information that’s completely incorrect, advice that’s harmful, and resources that don’t work. As people are facing the overnight destruction of their existing business models, many are having to urgently reskill which means there’s a lot of folks branching out into areas with limited expertise and training. This is what happens when there’s totally inadequate community safeguards in the form of housing, welfare, and infrastructure. Desperation will create some of the most amazing innovations and wonderful resources. It will also create a whole stack of people who are way out of their knowledge areas.

So be careful of what you’re consuming at the moment. If the self care advice leaves you feeling ashamed and overwhelmed, ignore it. Most of it is slightly recycled rubbish and does more harm than good. If the resiliency articles make you feel vaguely superior to the people out there falling apart in the ER – they are utterly worthless to you. Resilience is largely about access to community resources, not your personal qualities. Think twice about what you’re consuming and where you place your trust.

Leaders and Healers

These folks are emerging too. A little talked about threat response is the tend-and befriend. It creates connection and cohesion during times of crisis. Strangers help each other, friends form deeper bonds, families put aside quarrels and pitch in. We are seeing magnificent online movements such as The Kindness Pandemic, and the local supports on Facebook through the #loveyourneighbour groups. People with expertise in disaster response, crisis communication, epidemiology, social cohesion, community resilience, trauma responses, mental health, digital communication, business models, public health, disability, diversity, inclusion, homesteading, freelancing, and managing unpredictable circumstances are all in the spotlight as folks who’s wisdom and experience is urgently needed. While some people are in panic or shutdown, others are emerging, sharing resources, making sense of the complex health instructions, translating things for their communities, and helping people to respond. They are like lighthouses. Look for them, they are always present and they shine brightest when things are dark. Often they’ve been doing these things all along, and suddenly we have a new clarity and can see more clearly the value of what they do.

Overfunctioning/underfunctioning

Right now most of these helpful folks are scrambling and under pressure. Where some people have had their work wiped out overnight, others of us are working until 3am – whether that’s in the ER or our home study, trying to close the horrifying gaps out there that will translate into suffering, loss, and death.

Some of us are scrambling to start new businesses, find new jobs, cover essential bills, refill the pantry, get life saving scripts, and deal with what’s coming. Some of us are falling apart. Harriet Lerner would frame this as over-functioning and under-functioning. In her books The Dance of Anger, and The Dance of Intimacy, she explored how these opposing but complimentary roles become common traps for people. Overfunctioners tend to cope with life by doing things. They swing into action, organise, plan, offer advice, and get in there to make things happen. They are productive but also problematic – all this activity is driven by avoidance of their own vulnerability. They (Ha! Who are we kidding!) We do, so we don’t have to feel. This means some of what we do is helpful (organising a swift hospital response, for example), and some of it is extremely unhelpful (responding to personal crises for example – have you just tried overfunctioning??). Worse, we trap people around us into underfunctioning by taking over things they are capable of doing.

Underfunctioners tend to shut down or get overwhelmed. They drop the ball, signal for help, and zone out. Over and underfunctioners often think the other can solve their problem, but they tend to mutually reinforce the roles for each other and actually make them worse over time. The issue is largely about vulnerability and responsibility. There’s a great little run down here in the Guardian. Underfunctioners have a fabulous capacity to ask for help. Overfunctioners have a fabulous capacity to ignore their needs and take on responsibilities. We may even take on both roles – one in one relationship and context, and the other in a different one.

We all have both a capable and vulnerable self. In crisis most of us are showing much more of one of those than the other. The overfunctioners need the courage and permission to stop and get in touch with their vulnerable selves. Schedule in some time to panic, cry, feel lost, afraid, confused. The underfunctioners need to be cued to bring their capable selves back online. Ask them for help with something they have expertise in – looking after the kids, making a meal, helping a neighbour. Don’t reinforce their vulnerability by taking over, especially not as a way to vent your frustrations and avoid your own feelings. Give them space and opportunities to be part of the solutions, not the problem.

You can do it

Empathy doesn’t mean agreement, but it does mean getting close enough to each other to resonate. We don’t need to fling mud and shame, there’s a context and reasons behind all the ways people are responding to the pandemic, and any other crisis for that matter.

You may be frustrated, baffled, overwhelmed, or simply tired of everything, but you are still part of the human equation and you’re still responsible for what you put out into the world, and what you consume. We each bring our own gifts to this challenging time. Soothe your kids, plant your garden, tend your neighbours, plan your safety responses, do what you do best, and have grace for those who are showcasing all the ways our minds can mess us up and make us fall on our faces in a difficult time. Matching our skills to the challenges we find ourselves in is largely a matter of luck. The next time it could be you. We build a better and safer world for all of us, or we keep fighting over tiny pieces of it, that’s really the heart of it. A stronger community is a healthier one.

For those interested in learning more about pandemics, or where I got the stats from for this article, this is a fabulous easy to read resource from the World Health Organisation: Managing Epidemics, key facts about major deadly diseases.

Support your community through Coronavirus

It’s a mess out there, I know. Whatever impact it’s having on you, I know that we all do better when we are connected. So here’s some thoughts about boosting your connections over the next month, for your own health and that of others in your community.

The disability paradox

If you’ve never had to deal with anything like this before – you have so much to learn from folks with disabilities who are used to struggling with medical anxiety, lack of clarity, having to self-isolate for health, trying to negotiate working from home, and limited access to essential resources. We are your mentors!

We are also under horrible strain. We have heard from many places that people don’t need to worry because it’s only the vulnerable people like us the coronavirus is likely to harm or kill. We are facing extra strain as resources run thin and supports struggle to keep up. Be very mindful of us and how frustrated, devalued, hurt, and angry many of us are feeling at the moment. Reach out where you can and remind us we are valued! Offer supports and learn from our expertise. Together we have got this.

If you are able to be active

Here’s a fabulous little template that’s been going around online you can print or hand write and leave in letter boxes or on doorsteps. According to the ABC it was developed by a Cornish woman Becky Wass who has posted it to her older neighbours. Here’s a printable link for download.

Image description: printable template with the heading Hello! If you are self- isolating, I can help. For full details see the link in the text above.

If you are self-isolating

Rose is unfortunately at high risk of complications if she catches COVID-19 so we are self isolating now. If you are doing so – thankyou and good luck. I will be creating a lot of online resources over the coming weeks so get in touch if you want to be notified about them. I’ve created my own letter which we printed and left under painted rocks in our area yesterday. Feel free to modify or copy yourself, here’s a printable link for download.

Image description: printable template with the heading COVID-19: Take care at home. At the bottom of the image is a painted rock made to look like a bus. For full details see the link in the text above.

Connection is the antidote

Communities are more than neighbourhoods. They are our friends and family, our online connections, our workplaces and support groups. The mental strain of a pandemic and quarantine can be huge but many factors such as boredom, loneliness, anxiety can be easily addressed. One of my friends hosted an online video craft session tonight. A physio I work with has sent out a comprehensive, informative, and reassuring email with clear pandemic safety protocols to their staff. Someone dropped us some lovely eczema friendly soap this afternoon.

If you’re looking for some extra resources I’ll be sharing a draft pandemic safety plan for vulnerable clients within the next couple of days, and here’s a couple of articles I’ve found helpful, courtesy of Headspace, and Prof Nicholas Procter:

Don’t panic, plan. Connection isn’t a crazy response, it’s part of the “tend and befriend” crisis impulse – less well known than fight or flight, but in this instance, far more useful.

Brutal and beautiful

It’s been in many ways one of the most brutal weeks we’ve had as a family. Rose and I have both been slogging through medical settings in terrible pain, Poppy needs some specialist care, Tonks the cat has needed the vet, and currently neither Rose nor I can drive due to our injuries. 3 weeks ago the sky was clear blue and all was well and suddenly this, all unrelated.

Life is frankly a serious PITA at times. We are getting slugged by expensive medical costs and the need for private surgeons and physio (My elbow is a mess and Rose’s knee) so we’ve shelved plans to bring home a lovely therapy bearded dragon for Rose, and are booking in vital appointments and doing all the admin needed to get some money back through Medicare/ health insurance etc or possibly covered by one of the various low or no interest loans out there for folks like us.

ID live stage photograph of Rebeltheshow, at the Adelaide Fringe, with a musician hanging upside down on a swing, balancing on his head, while playing a ukelale.

And yet, things are so, so good. People are helping us in a host of ways. Work continues to be excellent and something I love. Poppy and I swung in the hammock this evening, watching the light through the leaves of our mulberry tree. My home is clean and the garden is tended and Tonks the cat will be okay.

Last night Rose had to go through an awful procedure where they sedated her and stopped her breathing to relax her limbs enough to allow her frozen knee joint to be manually unlocked. I said goodbye and sat in a waiting room alone at 4am, sobbing on the phone to a friend, waiting to find out the outcome.

I remember kissing her forehead, the flash of her brown eyes: so beautiful, a hint of green in the outer iris, hazelnut brown and bright as golden timber in the centers. The pain so severe and enduring after 7 unbearable hours that she was desperate and shrugged aside the risks: anything to make it stop. I promise I’ll fight to come back to you, she told me. Be at peace I said, trust them, I know you will, I trust you.

It’s been a truly horrible week and yet my heart is so light and singing, singing I can’t contain it all. I think of Adelaide Writers Week last year, Jackie French talking about riding in the back of the ambulance where her husband was suffering a heart attack, noticing the beauty of the world around them. Telling us that no matter how dark things get there’s always beauty and we must look for it and be open to it.

My world today sings. Everything is brighter and more subtle, more beautiful and tender and lovely. I am in love with the world simply because Rose is still in it.

Ink Painting: Mother and child

Late last year I began this work after struggling through a day with Poppy when I was suffering unbearable depression and anxiety. We went to the museum in town together and she had a wonderful time. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and that her momentum was pulling me along while I tried not to drown.

I adore using UV inks to explore the idea of things that are hidden from sight or knowledge. That there are things that are only known in certain settings or visible in certain lights. This mothers movements make little sense until you can see the water flowing around her. Her context is invisible to most.

ID: line drawing with black ink of a mother and child holding hands. The child is walking along a low wall, balancing on top with arms outstretched. The mother is floating along behind, clutching her throat and watching the child. UV reactive ink shows a flowing river about the mother that is invisible in regular light.

Dearest Rose

Who is she? This woman I fell in love with seven years ago? We play supporting roles in each other’s lives. We wound each other in ways no one else could, deep in each other’s heart. We live in the brightest hopes and most painful broken dreams of each other. We are each the sun to the garden of the other. She speaks and my ear is a basket gathering petals. She is the child in the night, sleeping under a roof of stars and never entirely comfortable in a house again. She is the cat purring by my chest, full of love. She is a kite that flies out beyond my grasp, never entirely mine. Never tamed or owned or fitting within one role or name or way of being in the world.

She adores me. Her devotion is terrifying. She wraps her life around me, her hopes and belief in the future. She’s tender and generous. She forgives.

She hurts me. I live in the shadows of her wounds, in the debris left by everything that shattered and starved when she was excommunicated from a world where there was enough food, love, safety, and hope.

We dream new dreams. This is the first challenge after loss. Without new dreams there is no life.

We grieve. We learn how to say goodbye, how to let go and hold on. How to let go over and over again in a thousand little ways, like prayers for the future to be worth living for.

We own the scars. We find pride in them, we hold them tightly. We find the world ended but we are still here. We live with our mistakes and we do better.

We reach into the gap between dreams and reality and we do the work that bridges it. The hard and glorious work of being liberated from the past. To expunge the shame and agony. To let the memories burn down from raging fires, to coals, at last to cool ash.

She blesses me with her kisses and her silences, her fingers restless tapping my skin like rain on a window pane or a broad leaved plant. She holds my heart. All my world has been planted in her chest, birthed through her love. She gave me my daughters. She remembers the trees for me. She is my love.

Speaking about vulnerability

Well. So while I was wrestling alligators, fighting off polar bears, and manhandling monster trucks… I tripped and fell hard in my driveway. I’ve broken my left arm and bruised and sprained a few other things. For someone who has been busy with NDIS work driving to people’s homes this has been pretty inconvenient.

ID: smiling person with short brown hair, snuggled on a white couch under a faun blanket. Their left arm is wrapped in a thick white bandage.

It did mean however, that I was unusually available for a short notice speaking opportunity today. One of the reasons my work crosses several areas is to help me stay afloat when encountering difficulties like this- I’m not much use as a gym buddy for one client right now, but I don’t need my left arm working to talk about diversity and vulnerability.

It’s a precious thing to be offered the floor in a space like that, an expression of trust and hope that you’ll help people find the words for what needs to be said. I’m home now, exhausted, pleased, strangely sad in that indefinable ‘post event’ way. I know the real work starts after I walk out the door, the challenge of holding safe spaces and integrating complexity.

I find myself so moved by our common ground, the similarities in our hopes and struggles to be human whether we are the most fortunate or most destitute. And how unaware we are of each other, but where the blindness of the poor makes little difference to the lives of the powerful, unawareness for the powerful builds the walls that exclude and create so much needless suffering. The burden of responsibility is so much higher, and our need for allies in those spaces is so great. I’m glad to play a small part in humanising people to each other. Our work in that space will never be finished, but I believe each moment counts.

At the end of the day

Curled into bed at the end of the day with my little girl in my arms smelling sweetly of honey soap. My garden is growing wild in the darkness outside, full of seeds thriving and vines twisting and the ghosts of birds long since bones. The fan rattles on, talking to itself. Cats come and go. My bone pen calls to me like rain far away at sea or over the mountains, unheard but felt in some strange sense we have no name for. My Studio is a ship far out at sea with the lights still burning. My little girl radiates the soft warmth of a banked fire, embers safely glowing within her chest.

My work is good. It satisfies me, immensely. A parched place within is soaking in the long steady rains of over 2 months constant work and much more booked in ahead. I’m turning down many opportunities and focusing on my areas of strength and passion. The NDIS support worker is complex, challenging, taxing, subtle, and deeply fulfilling. I feel of use in the world and with the help of my business mentor I am starting to shape my business into a sustainable and enjoyable model, with a balance of creative and intense emotional work. My life is incredibly full.

Rose is out at Amanda Palmer, it was by far her turn and she needed the opportunity, the inspiration, connection, and compassion I’m sure she’ll find there. We both went too see There Will be no Intermission for our anniversary and it was stunning. Such raw honesty, brutal intensity, deft humor, and compassion. Amanda delivered something incredibly dark and beautiful.

Rose, my beloved, continues to wrestle with her old demons. She’s walking a hard road at times with horrendous anxiety. But she’s also stepping into her own work and volunteering opportunities as well as being Poppy’s primary carer. We are all learning how to grow plants from seed together, and she tends a small veggie patch I organised her for Christmas. The roses are stunning in bloom, by far the most luminous is Jude, the rose she chose the weekend I proposed in what seems like a hundred years ago. Sometimes our path is painful but there’s also so much tenderness in it. I’m so grateful to her for the joy and spark she brings to Poppy and I, her joy in the little things, her creativity and sense of adventure. She is utterly ernest in all things and so devoted. I’m hoping she was able to open her heart a little tonight and soak in something precious. She so deserves all the safe, inspiring, dark, raw, and soulful nights in the world.

Helping bush businesses after the fires

The fabulous folks I volunteer with at the Freelance Jungle have stepped up in their own unique way after the horrifying bushfires here in Australia. They’ve put together a new projected called Skills for the Bush, where self employed people from anywhere in the world can register to donate their skills and time to support a bushfire affected small business to recover and grow.

Read more about the great project on the Freelance Jungle blog post Freelancers Helping with Bushfire Recovery, or sign up through the Skills for the Bush survey.

I know many of us are already donating and supporting causes. I also know that many of us feel helpless in the face of the sheer scale of the disaster and how long support efforts will be needed. Participating can be powerful way to reduce the impact of vicarious trauma, so whether you are driving supplies for fruit bats, buying quality face masks to donate to fire fighters, or getting involved with the Skills for the Bush project, doing something sustainable and connecting benefits everyone. ❤