Poem – Connection

After late nights talking, I wake early and creep away from sleeping child into a bath. Reread a journal from 2018 and find this poem about Poppy.

Connection

Late spring evening
She's in the bath, giggling
The wind outside is restless
The air velvet and warm
As the time passes
Something eases like sand flowing
Through an hourglass
The noise goes quieter
And quieter still
The noise goes
Into the silence
We are still
We look at each other
Really alone and
Really looking
And we laugh. 

Losing Rose

Rose is in a terrible place, rarely far from death. They’ve been hospitalised many times since their near death experience in December. There was such a sense of celebration when they came out of hospital and it was so misplaced. Physical and mental health have cycled through chronic crises. It’s brutal.

Rose and I are no longer a couple.

They didn’t come home to me. Nearly dying blew wide every crack in our relationship. Every effort we both made to find a bridge between us was swamped. They proposed and ran from me. All the demons woke up. The only glimpses of peace to be found were when I took myself out of the picture and left Rose and Poppy together on a beautiful autumn day. I hoped patience would heal us but the longer I held on, the further down Rose fell.

So I let go and life took us to some un dreamed of place where the foundations broke beyond repair and for months I woke to the nightmare that they’re gone. The new normal.

Rose found love with someone else, found peace and a sense of safety that couldn’t be found with me anymore. I am so happy for them. I so want them to be okay, to feel safe, to feel loved. I am so confused and heartbroken. They are so confused and heartbroken. Nothing makes sense. We try to make time to talk but every day is torn apart by medical appointments, new infections, new allergies, medication changes, intense rehab, the fallout of trauma. No conversation is finished, few are even started. I think of the weeks spent rubbing their hands and feet and wonder if in some strange way I smell like the hospital, like death and terror and paralysis, drowning slowly in the shrill beeping hell of ICU. There’s no words for this. Their mind is fractured and ravaged. I’m replaced. I hate them. I love them. I accept what I cannot change.

I cry every day for months. Everyone wants someone to blame. I find myself defending everyone. Poppy gets a cold that lasts weeks and Rose is forbidden by doctors to be near her because they are so vulnerable now to respiratory illness. The distance drives them insane, tears their heart apart. After 4 weeks of staying apart, Rose is hospitalised with pneumonia anyway, then has anaphylaxis to one of the antibiotics. No one’s body, it turns out, can be on these massive doses for this long without becoming sensitized. Rose’s heart and mind are stripped so raw the lightest touch burns, triggers pile up and overlap, flashbacks descend like lightning storms and the nightmares rise like black floodwaters full of dead things. They are tormented by the fear it would have been better if they’d died, and it’s a mind virus resistant to nebulous hopes of a different from planned but still bright future.

My friends and family hold onto me and I hold onto Poppy. I flip my life around as a single parent. Gradually my capacity returns; I can wash dishes, cook meals, be present, plan adventures and crafts, go hours without falling apart. Plug the holes in the boat, make new plans, test new adventures.

Hate the circumstances and don’t hang blame where there isn’t culpability.

Fury at the situation eases my self hate. I can breathe again. It’s not fair and it’s not my fault. Sometimes life is just hard.

Let go of everything I can’t have. My lover, my beloved growing old alongside me. The family, waking in bed together in the mornings, holding each other tight after each fright and each good news. Let it go. Face what’s in front of me. Rose fighting for their life and not knowing what it will even look like anymore. Poppy needing a childhood that’s safe and adventurous and connected. Hold onto all our values and ideals. I can’t be half Poppy’s world anymore. I can’t work in the background knowing Rose is there with her, filling up that wonderful tank that needs connection and attention and delight and fun. I can’t be half a parent. Step up. Show up, count my blessings, hold tight onto everything good and beautiful and precious. Fight like hell for it. I nearly missed out on this. Let go and hold on.

Rose swims and drowns. I am no longer the carer in the middle of their story. I watch from the sidelines, try to throw life savers. Grieve. Train my mind to stop going over every conversation, looking for the place it went wrong or what I could have done differently. Stay focused. If I drown too, so does Poppy. You can have an existential crisis or you can have a life. Choose wisely. Hold tight.

I don’t know what happens next. I’ve found I don’t really get used to the scares. I want to be home and nearby when things are bad even when I’m not welcome to visit. Old habits. When things get very black for Rose I struggle to sleep, to think clearly, to be grounded. A fog descends that makes daily life so hard to manage. The terror fades into the background but it never goes away. In some ways I’m still waiting for them to come back from a war. I have to keep finding my way into the new world, creating it every day. Building on new habits, creating the security, the consistency, the patterns and connections and community that buffer us from these storms.

We are all losing who Rose was, and they don’t have words for this. No one can come through these experiences unchanged, and right now change is their only constant. They are in flux. They are in torment. They are in love, in pain, in the middle of it all, bound up with death and life and hope and dreams and grief and loss. They are profoundly lost and struggling towards a new future they can’t envision. We may yet bury Rose this year, or Rose may emerge in some new form, to a new life. None of us yet know the ending of this story. Whatever the ending, I must live with it, and Poppy must live with it.

There’s grief and shock and sorrow. Rage, despair, pain.

And there’s acceptance. Grace. Love. We accept the things we cannot change. We let go of what we cannot have. We hold onto what’s precious and in front of us. Over, and over again. We face life with as much love, courage, compassion, and humour as possible. Let go. Hold on.

Rose is Home

Rose has made it out of the hospital! They are getting daily visits from nurses and doctors and have so many appointments back at the hospital next week we could just camp out in the carpark, but they are home. We are out of life and death and into recovery and adapting. There have been many tears. They are in severe pain. When it gets too bad their blood pressure goes up and their oxygen levels drop. They have a complex medication schedule with many conflicts that need close monitoring. The medications that are healing the lungs are risky for worsening the mrsa in the knee. The psych meds are risky with the antibiotics. They need crutches to walk, which the physio has suggested will be needed for the next two years. There’s a lot to adjust to.

We woke up yesterday morning before Poppy and held onto each other through a deep cry. That was really scary, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. Rose’s allergic reaction is so rare it has never been recorded in someone who is not over 65 and male. It will be written up so that other doctors are aware of that possibility, given how often it is fatal.

Shock and fatigue, dragging Poppy around to appointments and chemists and trying to gather everything we need to care for Rose and restore as much independence as possible. Depression punctuated with panic. Insomnia, irritation, grief. Vulnerability.

And every day, these precious moments we thought might not happen again. Poppy playing games with Rose and giggling madly. Shared dinner. Cuddles. I went and brought a bunch of craft things so we can sit together in the evenings. Rose has Lego kits, I’ve started a diamond painting with Poppy, and she has stickers and foil and a book of bugs. Mindless, mindful, soothing.

It’s really hard. We’re really lucky. Friends and family are helping keep us afloat with safe friendly company and connection. NDIS support will help take on more tasks that are too much for me, such as the driving to so many appointments. We snatch moments of hard won normality like lunch with friends, or a board game night. Breathe it in and find the tenderness and patience we need for each other, for recovery, for our new normal.

Recovery

Rose continues to improve, much more gradually than expected with fun mini breathing and pain crises that trigger a flurry of reassessments and new tests and visits from ICU. Back on the ward and into the chaos of constant plan changes; one morning they are suddenly told they are fasting again for the next knee surgery, then taken off fasting and told they don’t need one, rinse, wash, repeat. The surgery is simultaneously urgent, not urgent, and unnecessary. The rollercoaster of emotions runs the gamut from terror to profound relief, frustration, exhaustion, rage. New tests find no new horror, just very injured lungs taking a slow path to recovery.

Doctors loom in the doorway telling us nothing is wrong, something new is wrong, the lungs are permanently damaged, the lungs are healing well. Veins collapse, tests intrude, a machine positioned behind the right ear screams persistently. A stranger comes into the room looking for green containers. A disgruntled nurse dismisses breathing stress as panic, until someone more senior applies the machines that show it’s not. But the most devaluing ideas have the greatest hold so for hours afterwards, Rose insists it’s only panic and won’t apply oxygen. They’re told to never get pneumonia, as if getting pneumonia is a poor personal life choice or a moral capacity they have control over. The future is rosy. The future is bleak and full of chronic illness. The future is unknown. The doctor that was coming can’t be found. They are always around the corner but never quite here. You’re not allowed off the ward, off the bed. You must get up, must exercise the knee, mustn’t let more deconditioning occur. Panting, breathless, sleepless. There were donuts in the cafeteria, but no one else can find them. Life is freefall in limbo. Morphine eases the pain so sweetly it brings it’s own terror of addiction, something within fights the peace.

Stop crying, says a technician entirely without feeling, I can’t get clear images when you’re crying. Sobbing is no longer considered withdrawal of consent. I’m sorry today is hard, is there anything else we can do for you? asks the soliticous nurse standing carefully two feet away from the trauma zone of a body that is no longer covered by the dignity norms of regular life outside of a hospital. The only nurse on the ward to use Rose’s real name and pronouns.

The shampoo smells like hospital. The hand wash smells like blood. The moisturiser smells like pain. The deodorant smells like unwashed hair. The food smells like dying. The massage oils smell like shitting the bed.

The hours folds into days, tesselate into years. Life continues out of reach beyond the boundaries of the hospital walls, weather is a private joke shared among the guests. The mind becomes primal, some collapse into despair, others like Rose spin into caged animals desperate to fight or flee. Friends and loved ones reach out hands to soothe, but where we see safety Rose sees the covid patient parked next to them in the overcrowded corridor, the stressed and frightened nurse, the medication drip poisoning them.

We have all walked into a dark place, but not the same place. We don’t share the same views or yearn for the same paths. For me, hospital is becoming a normal part of life, we weave it in as best we can. Picnics, lego, Poppy, card games. We come and go and learn the paths and flows and what days the parking is easiest and which wards are most peaceful and start to know the staff by name, share updates in line at the cafe. It’s horrifying but banal compared with the morgue.

For Rose the hospital is punishment for failing health, they must earn their way out through a gauntlet of requirements: less oxygen, better bloods, less pain relief. They rush the process and trip. Life goes on without them. Someone feeds the cats. They bleed out of patience and gratitude. There’s no place to take terror or rage. Peace is unstitched by confusion, the stuffing comes out, floats free, dissolves. Within the quicksand of unknown outcomes, unstable condition, multiple teams, and constantly changing plans, they cannot help but struggle, try to find the surface where they have some kind of power and plans can be made. So here we are.

Rose is Recovering

Not bacterial pneumonia after all, a rare and severe allergic reaction that filled their lungs with pus and nearly killed them. They are still in ICU but their lungs are getting stronger every day. The darkness of losing them starts to ease back to a terrifying memory. Doctors argue about the best timing for the next surgery. We talk cautiously about a holiday. We pencil in the tomorrow’s plans and roll with the changes. Startle at every new symptom. Look at our tired family and friends through eyes full of gratitude.

Poppy has been buffered from a lot of the intensity of the last week, but she’s still aware of changes and loss. She had a meltdown yesterday and I shut myself down so I didn’t meltdown with her and could be patient and firm. Then found myself slipping into the horrific depression that’s been biting at me and my heart broke.

A few days ago my whole future, Poppy’s life, and all the memories of me and knowledge of me that only Rose has nearly fell into the dark and I’d have given anything to just have them survive. How the indescribable relief of their life can exist alongside such bleak emptiness I can’t fathom. It’s not the screaming blackness of grief, it’s a greylands of disconnection. It felt like something else fell out of my world instead. Poppy left trying to connect with an empty parent. Me trying to find a sense of self and hope in my own emptiness. Undo that shutdown and coax feeling back. Talk soothingly to myself. Try to make sense of the triggers. Sit near people I love and find a sense of connection. Pieces of myself like tiny lights in the dark, winking on and off in tiny constellations. Everything fragmented.

I want nothing more in the world than to bring Rose home and share a life, yet living that life is so confusing. I can sit in the hospital and read and rub feet, I am familiar with that role. Here in exactly the life I want so much for them. I have to work hard to anchor myself to the moment and not get lost. These are good people around me. A morning pushing Poppy on the swings is something to treasure. There’s a lightness of heart I don’t have, numbness layered over terror and rage. I feel unseen and I don’t know how to make myself visible or if that’s even a good idea. I feel heartbroken by life. I just want my people alive, I’ll deal either else we have to. This is a truth.

I want a good life for us, and I’m not sure what that is, or how to do it. Also a truth. I’ve worked so hard to get here, with a home, family and work, with a loving community, and yet. I’m so exhausted and so lost from myself. How can it be so hard to live the life I’m so desperate to protect? Is that autism or just exhaustion? How can I feel like this when the news is actually, incredibly, unfathomably good? I want to go back to yesterday when I was lit with energy, indescribable relief.

I eased myself back into existence, soothing the disconnection. Shutting down my feelings to parent has to be a temporary thing, but I seem to get stuck there. I keep reaching out. I find moments to cry.

I just want Rose home and to hold on and be held onto. Nothing makes sense in my head. I can’t do this on my own.

Rose is in ICU

Rose and I had been talking lately about me starting writing again. We talked about how their nickname Rose didn’t feel right since they came out as non binary and starting using they/ them pronouns earlier this year. We talked about my sense of unfinished business since Jay, and what I would need to do to feel like I could draw a line in the sand and start again. We talked about how I’m running a business now and sharing deeply personal things could have unintended effects on staff, clients and colleagues. And we discussed my love of writing and my sadness at losing the blog and feeling cut off from it.

This was not how I planned to start sharing again. I don’t have a new nickname for Rose. I don’t have resolution or answers. But I’m being asked how I am every day and I don’t have words for that I can say without screaming.

Dearest Rose is sedated and ventilated in ICU, battling MRSA ‘golden staf’ that has chronically infected their knee following a routine surgery, and since spread to their lungs in a virulent pneumonia. Four days ago they merely had a bad knee and a slight cough. It has moved extremely quickly and taken over both lungs.

I’m exhausted and distraught. I want to cry, scream, vomit, and violently attack something. I visit every day and help wash them, rub their hands and feet, read to them. Then I go out to my car and cry hysterically. Then I come home to Poppy and try to be her connected and safe person. My community are tired, 2020 has been unkind to many of us, but they are also rallying. Poppy has a small crew of people she feels safe with this time, which is buffering her. She tells me she misses Mama’s squeezy hugs and asks me when she herself will die. I feel so depleted. I was struggling with exhaustion and depression following all the other surgeries and stress this year already. It feels like my reserves are exhausted.

There’s so much noise around me. I’m still writing to Rose so they can catch up on messages when they wake. I’m so scared and so sad. Everyone wants to help and I can hardly speak. Rose’s hands and feet are chilled cold. Poppy paints herself and runs whooping with her friends under the peppercorn tree. So many people care. I go back to bed to nap. Don’t let this be my new normal, please. I have to find ways to keep breathing even when I can’t be near them. Guilt, fear, regret engulf me. Before they went under I told them it’s okay to be scared, but I want you to focus on the love. You are so loved. I’m trying to do the same. I’m so scared. There’s so much love here.

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.

She loves me

When Rose packs lunch for me, she sends with a little container with my tomato slices, carefully salted and ready to go on my sandwich so it won’t get soggy. I’m a very, very lucky person. 💜

Image description a sandwich with the top slice removed, showing ham, cucumber, and tomato slices. In the background out of focus is a blue lunchbox with yogurt and a banana.

Parenting with chronic illness

Each gallbladder attack I have is taking longer to recover from. My fibromyalgia flares and I feel like I’m recovering from getting a good kicking. I recently learned that I’ve been cutting too much fat out of my diet to try and prevent extremely painful biliary colic episodes. The extra low fat diet left me with headaches, exhaustion, foggy brain, and chronic pain. Bumping my fats back up has been quite magic and I’m feeling much better. I’ve been scheduled for surgery to remove the gallbladder next month.

Image description: A young child on a park swing. There are trees, lawn, and bark chips. A small green bike is lying on the ground by the swing.

In the meantime I’m muddling along. I used to be so afraid of this place: sick and trying to parent. It is hard. It’s really hard. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have good people around me, that network I put effort into building has saved my life. It saves me when I can text a friend in distress instead of crying in front of Poppy. When there’s someone to pick Poppy up from the ER so I can be treated. When our daycare provider lets me arrive late while I try and coordinate a crisis. My world has flexibility, care, accommodations that ease the sharp edges of my limitations and soften the harshness of the things I’m dealing with.

This creates capacity I wouldn’t otherwise have. So rather than merely the nightmare stories I feared, mostly Poppy and I muddle through. Rose takes her so I can rest or nap. I walk her to the park so she can ride her bike. We snuggle under a blanket with a hot water bottle and watch a movie together. We do crafts or painting on the dining table. She plays in the back yard while I hang washing.

I have a collection of low energy/high pain ‘tough day’ activities like this I can enjoy with her. And I’m still working towards the lower daily effort/systems and routines/life on the easy setting changes I started making last year so that my home and work is efficient, sustainable, and frees up as much energy as possible for the things I’m passionate about – such as parenting, care giving, socialising, adventures, and creativity. With thought, planning, and support, it’s actually still wonderful to parent even in a rough health time. I’m incredibly fortunate and I love her to bits.

Love, by the water

Endometriosis, adenomyosis, PMDD, and PCOS is an extremely unhappy combination of troubles. For me it means very heavy, painful, unpredictable periods that often trigger severe depression and sometimes suicidal distress.

I’ve spent most of the last 2 days in bed with a heat pack. Today Rose took the lead and set up a beautiful family trip for us all. She made savory muffins and took us all down south to a beautiful beach for the afternoon. I went for a gentle walk in the surf, Poppy collected rocks and shells, and we all enjoyed watching a seal frolic in the light rain.

Image is of Poppy, aged 3, wearing fabric rainbow butterfly wings and running along a beach.

It was so joyful and relaxed and a safe space to just be. As the rain fell lightly into the shallows where I walked I wept. My heart has been full of doubt and confusion and heartbreak lately. Watching the light catch the water and the foam on the sand, I’m so grateful.

One of the things I fell in love about Rose was her ability to create these beautiful adventures: inexpensive, simple, and so connected to the moment and the environment. I’ve often yearned for these things but when I’m sick or distressed I struggle to arrange them. My initiative is paralyzed, so I yearn but cannot act. I recall many days when I lived in my unit by the beach, longing to go down to the water and unable to. I could never have made it to the beach today, but with her doing all the heavy lifting I could be swept along to something beautiful and nourishing. I fall in love all over again.

Podcast: Keeping Mum

I’m excited to share this project in which I played a small role.

This beautiful podcast sensitively explores the largely untold story of the experience of children of LGBTIQ parents. It’s a lovely interview of the now adult child of a lesbian mother who navigated raising her family in a conservative community. The marriage equality plebiscite in Australia last year often aired concerns about the effect on children of being raised by queer parents. While there’s excellent research that shows these families are just as safe and nurturing, it’s also helpful to hear personal experiences and accounts.

Produced by Suzanne Reece who conceived the idea, conducted the interviews, edited, and created the sound scape.

I provided a voice over for Suzanne’s poem, some of the background chatter, and the illustration.

First aired on Radio Adelaide, you can find ‘Keeping Mum’ here. Please feel welcome to share it.

Autumn

It’s late Autumn, cold and grey. The last sunshine is stunning, delicious and golden as warmed honey. Last night I snuggled down into my bed like a happy burrito. I’m creating daily at the moment, a flurry of painting, writing, sewing. Today I baked delicious chocolate chunk peanut butter cookies. I’m still buzzing from making it through my uni trimester despite so many setbacks. A wonderful win to soak up.

My beautiful mural is progressing, albeit unconventionally given the frequent rain. I’m lucky Rose is still a romantic and doesn’t mind ink on the bedsheets or unexpected murals in progress on the oven.

I recently found the notes I took at the beside of a sick friend following an awful psychosis. Back then we discussed an illustrated booklet to help people better understand how to support someone so vulnerable. We spoke about it again today given I’ve recently completed my first short ink illustrated booklet, and I think I’m ready to consider the next booklet project.

It’s evening. Poppy and I are at the park. She is a red smudge in her raincoat, dashing about the green in the fading light, blowing raspberries at me from the top of the playground. The sky turns from baby blue and peach to soft greys and yellow. Birds flit everywhere, looping from tree to tree and weaving a song all around us. The last dogs go home. Poppy falls and runs wailing to cry in my arms. When she quiets the birds have stopped and we can hear the wind sweeping in through the trees. Night gradually deepens and the trees wave slowly like underwater grasses. We find helmet and boots and belongings and cycle back home.

Parenting with Trauma

Having our whole family sick together is an exercise in the logistics of rationing and portioning a tiny amount of energy to extract the maximum benefit. If I take her for an hour late tonight, then you do the morning, I’ll get you a nap at noon then you take her to the park for two hours so I can work on my assignment… The shifting priorities of dishes, doctors, meals, laundry, and mental health. It’s considerably more exhausting than being sick without kids, largely because of the difficulty of getting enough sleep to properly recover.

Monday Poppy and I went into the city. Rose had important appointments and Poppy was full of restless toddler energy. We had an argument on the bus about her not biting me which concluded with her screaming while strapped into her pram and me not making eye contact with a bus load of strangers. She got her own back by refusing to fall asleep for her afternoon nap. Usually she’ll snuggle down in her ‘cave’ made by covering the pram with a cloth, and knock off. That day she leaned as far forwards as her pram seatbelt would let her to fight sleep. 4 times she gently drifted off anyway as I paced around Rundle Mall rocking and circling the buskers. Each time she’d slip sideways as sleep relaxed her, clonking her head on the frame of the pram and waking up with a howl. Gently tipping the pram up evoked rage rather than sleep, and the fifth time she started to fall asleep I stopped and tried to gently settle her back which cued 20 minutes of hysteria.

I thought she might fall asleep in the art gallery but unfortunately that was the end of the whole idea. She talked to the other patrons, wanted to know all about the art, and once we found the kid’s studio space spent a happy hour cutting a sheet of paper into very tiny pieces.

The studio was set up to invite self portraits, with mirrors and oil pastels. This was mine:

I was glad of the space, it’s the most at home I’ve felt in the gallery.

I’ve realized that PTSD has interrupted our usually very calm parenting approach. Kids this age can be intense, they have huge feelings, test boundaries, and have way more energy than seems sensible. Poppy is fearless, explorative, passionate, creative, and stubborn. Generally Rose and I navigate these traits patiently and with appreciation of their positive aspects. But when she hurts us deliberately we’ve both struggled and the conflict has been charged and difficult to resolve. We’ve been worried about what it means and stressed by our own responses. I in particular lose patience and get angry, but Poppy isn’t easily intimidated which leaves me in a bind where I either behave in more frightening ways until she’s cowed and takes me seriously, or I find another way of approaching this. It speaks to the heart of parenting approaches to obedience and discipline. Do children follow instructions because they are frightened of us, or of the consequences? Or because they are connected to us and trust us? Is it appropriate to scare your child? If so, when and how much? Are boundaries about anger or love? Is breaking the rules or pushing the boundaries about immaturity, defiance, conflicting needs, forgetfulness (it’s easy to over estimate the memory capacity of a small child), or something else?

I’ve been starting to do a bit more reading on parenting her age group and it occurred to me that Rose and I are generally excellent at not taking difficult behavior personally, setting boundaries with warmth, and redirecting troubling behaviors. So when Poppy was getting into constant trouble for climbing furniture in the house, she now has a climbing frame outside for her to monkey around on. But when she hurts us there’s no such framing. We see no positive aspect to such behavior, no legitimate need looking for expression. We talk instead about her being mean, we privately discuss her sensitivity to our stress, her restlessness, her trying to get our attention. We’re troubled by a normal child behavior and framing it as lack of empathy. It’s triggering, evoking memories of being hurt by others and we both move into threat responses. Rose tends to freeze and withdraw, I get angry.

It occurred to me recently we’re misframing the behavior due to our histories. Most children this age want to roughhouse. Wrestling and tumbling and play fighting is a normal developmental behavior. Engaged with care it’s a place for learning about how to hold back and not hurt each other, how to apologise and caretake when accidents happen, and it satisfies the touch hunger and intense energy of very young children. Learning how to wind down into calmness following rough play is a key part of regulating such excitable and energetic kids.

Last night when Poppy started to get rough with Rose who was crashed out on the couch with a migraine, I didn’t get charged. I chose to see her inappropriate behavior as a need for rough housing and set a boundary with patience rather than frustration. I told her Mamma was sick and could only have gentle play around her. When Poppy kept being rough I removed her to the bedroom not as punishment but as an appropriate location for rough play. I gently with her permission threw her onto the bed, threw a big stuffed lion at her and told her this was where the fierce and grouchy creatures play. She was thrilled. She ran growling at me to the edge of the bed, waited for me to put my hand in the centre of her chest, then braced herself for me to gently push her back, screaming with laughter.

Later that night with Rose asleep and me exhausted on the couch with Poppy, she started to rough play again and I forbade her from getting on the couch with me. For the first time she was easily redirected into quiet play and spend a calm hour making complicated meals with her toy food instead.

There’s no problem with her empathy, Poppy is an incredibly affectionate and loving child. She’s not unusually aggressive or showing signs of attachment damage or deprivation. In mislabeling her normal needs as something that disturbed us, we introduced a charge into our relationship that she gravitated towards. Kids do this without knowing why, they can sense it and it’s irresistible. It’s why they do mad things like grin at an adult who’s already at the end of their rope and angry with them. They are still getting a sense of their own power in the world and what they can and can’t do. Navigating our own trauma as parents is about recognizing blind spots like this, paying attention to threat responses needlessly activated, and prioritizing basic needs like sleep, connection, and companionship so we function as best we can. For me at the moment on bad days I’m dealing with chronic irritability and low grade suicidality. Sleep deprivation and feeling isolated turn my world black. Over and over in a thousand little ways we choose safety together, celebrate freedom and autonomy, look for loving ways to speak about the unspeakable things, and link into the world around us. Without our wider networks of friends, family, therapists, without kids rooms in art galleries, and foodbank, and doctors who see trauma survivors rather than welfare bludgers, we couldn’t do this. But together there is so much strength, sufficient grace. Enough to let us all grow.

Using language to support parent infant bonding

Language is so powerful. When Poppy was born we found many people would frame our experiences or her behaviour in ways that were not helpful for us. It’s amazing how many of our common phrases ascribe bad intentions to the child. It may seem like nit picking to fuss over a word, but words build the story that impacts how we understand each other. They create the filter through which we interpret each others intentions.

I first learned about attribution theory in uni, studying psychology, and a lot of things clicked in my mind about people I’d known. Most anyone when depressed or overwhelmed sees the world and other people through a filter that makes the innocuous seem hostile and the mildly difficult downright sinister. Some of us are more prone to this more of the time, living in a world where grey runs to black. How we feel can strongly change the way we interpret others and the world around us.

Many of the stories created by common phrases used about children would pit Poppy against us, as if she was indifferent or even cruel. People would say things like she was “being a jerk” if she wouldn’t stop crying, was “too smart for her own good” if she climbed something and fell off, “had us wrapped around her little finger” if we went to comfort her after she fell over.

On one level this is a way to be light-hearted about the stress of parenting, laugh it off, and validate how awful and exhausting it can be! But for some, in the context of stress and sleep deprivation, this can also take the relationship between parent and child into dark and risky places.

It can be difficult to understand just how painful things can get if you haven’t been there. In the early months of Poppy’s life, I was often sick, very sleep deprived, and feeling at the end of my tether. I’ve noticed that a kind of flip in thinking can happen when things are really bad. If you feel stretched past capacity enough, at some point it feels like it’s not possible for everyone to survive. Survival instinct and maternal instinct start to contradict each other. The maternal (or parental) impulse to protect and nurture is powerful and we tend to see it as the norm. But it’s not always the way, and when threat levels are high and bonding is distorted it may diminish or become secondary. The impulse to protect the child may dissipate next to the sense that there’s simply not enough resources for everyone.

Things can get really desperate if the child’s behaviour is framed as a threat in some way to your own survival. The shift in thinking from ‘we are all in this together, having a tough time’ to ‘they are sucking me dry’ is a risky one both for the relationship and the child.

This interesting article, the neuroscience of calming baby explores what’s going on behind a common phenomenon – babies are calmer when carried and held but will often become distressed when put down. It talks briefly about how important it is to understand that this is an inbuilt mammalian response, to “save parents from misreading the restart of crying as the intention of the infant to control the parents”. Soberingly, this is important because “unsoothable crying is a major risk factor for child abuse”. This is not in any way to blame a child for being harmed, or to excuse harm done to children. It is to examine the context in which otherwise devoted, well intentioned parents can find themselves struggling with furious impulses or not coping.

Ascribing bad intentions to a baby starts to activate a sense of threat, that the child is wilfully harming the parent, deliberately denying them basic needs of food, sleep, and relief from distress. When bonding is good and parent needs are getting met, these things don’t matter so much. But in harder times they can contribute to a sense of being tortured by the child rather than by the circumstances. It’s desperately important to see a child’s distress as distress rather than an attempt to control, manipulate, or do harm. Language is part of how we do this, helping to interpret and contextualise so we don’t distort what we’re experiencing.

It’s also critical not to set up impossible expectations such as “when you cry I will make it better for you” with a child. Overburdened by this sense of responsibility, parents are at risk of feeling intense distress in the form of failure, agitation, and frustration if confronted by distress they cannot sooothe or silence.

Rose and I translated a lot of common sayings when we encountered them. Someone would say to us things like:

  • “She’s fighting sleep” and we would agree but shift the intention- “yes, she’s struggling to sleep today”
  • “She’s not a very good baby” becomes “she’s having a hard time settling at the moment”
  • “She’s got you wrapped around her little finger” becomes “she sure is a little cuddle-bug”

This was incredibly helpful for me in a few instances where I was struggling. In early weeks I was prodromal (warning signs of psychosis) partly due to severe sleep deprivation. I would get Poppy confused with Tamlorn, the little one I miscarried. Rose and I would tag team Poppy all night to give each other some sleep. There have been times I’ve handed Poppy over in sobbing distress and Rose has taken her out for a morning drive because my nerves are shredded by her crying and my nipples are mangled from her biting and I’m losing it.

It makes a difference to understand that Poppy is behaving as she is supposed to, not to harm me. Human babies often want to be held all the time and use crying to signal fear, pain, hunger and every need they have. It’s also a biological norm for infant crying to send us round the twist, and being able to see our own limits coming up without hating ourselves for them is valuable. Infant needs can be more than a parent can meet, or impossible to understand at times. Nurtured infants need nurtured parents and few of have invested in those kinds of communities before bringing a baby into the world.

Parent needs are deeply important to meet in order to buffer that sense of threat and reduce the fight/flight response being activated in distress. Staying out of crisis mode is partly achieved by treating adult needs as real and significant, and using language wisely to tell the most helpful story about the situation.

So we found it helpful to say ‘squeaking’ instead of ‘screaming’ for example. “Our little person is squeaking again” sounded less dramatic and helped us keep perspective. We talked about “witching hour” and planned around the time every evening that Poppy would be overwhelmed and inconsolable. We used baby wearing to manage her desire to be close in a way that reduced our fatigue and back pain, learned how to rest her face on our shoulder so her screaming didn’t go right into our ear, and use as a mantra “I’m here with you, you’re not alone” in place of wanting to fix it when nothing was working.

In our case, ‘colic’ was managed by reducing stimulation. The lights went off every night at 6pm, Poppy had a warm bath as soon as she started becoming distressed, and we didn’t go out in the evening for many months until she passed through the phase.

Language is a big part of what helped us navigate these huge challenges well. The risk of psychosis in the early days, serious difficulties with breastfeeding, and a baby with undiagnosed functional lactose overload and colic caused by sensory overwhelm. Combined with 2 deaths in the family and a range of illnesses for Rose and I, it was not an easy start. We were and are ecstatic to have Poppy, she is an absolutely beautiful, loving, curious, adventurous child. Tending to the stories we told and the language we used helped us to bond together during those difficult times.

Love amidst pain

At times when I’ve been very broke, I’ve felt that a troubling and difficult to name challenge that has been not the obvious stresses – affording bills and medical care and food, but a subtle one. Judged according to choices it’s assumed I’ve made, my life, my clothes, my presentation fits me to a standard. If there’s only one pair of jeans in the op shop that fit me, their cut and colour says little about me except my lack of choices. When I’m with others who’s choices are also constrained, this is understood, and we envy each other when personal taste isn’t inhibited by limitations. It’s a joy when we can forge something close to our sense of self from what we have.

Today I have been resting. My mind is burned out trying to understand some things that are extraordinarily painful to me. I have read and watched movies and curled up on the couch under a blanket. The weather is glorious, late summer and soft sunshine. I am recovering from a horrible head cold that has made my whole body ache. And I am thinking about my life not in an abstract sense as if I could have done anything, but from within the constraints I have faced. The long and terrible illnesses, the homelessness, the loneliness, the terrible suffering and self loathing I am still recovering from, growing up queer and unsafe. I think about the cards I was given and how I have played them and I am at peace. I have an incredibly beautiful life. I adore my family. I have navigated such heart rending and terrifying challenges to be here and to love the way I do from a heart so starved and shattered. It is so far in many ways from what I wanted or hoped for. But it so glorious given how lost I could have become. Queer and Christian can be a death sentence, and when I return to my old home at times, I can see myself on the floor of the bathroom like a ghost. I am curled around myself screaming silently and begging god to undo what I am. I have faced the absolute terror of hell and exile to stand here today. I have faced suicide and self harm. I have faced a loneliness so deep and profound that it felt like it was erasing me from the inside out. I have navigated multiplicity and psychosis, caring and needing care, the loss of friends, the heartbreak of not finding my place in employment.

I would not have chosen this path. I would never have chosen homelessness, or chronic pain, or my string of failed attempts to haul my life back onto the track I was aiming for. I would not now choose our vulnerablity, our financial insecurity, our public housing. I aimed very high and where I’ve landed so far, it turns out, is incredible.

I adore my daughters with all my heart, and the joy in parenting them surpasses anything else in my life. My beloved Rose and I are restored to each other after the terrible strain of last year. We are learning that knowing each other for 6 years does not mean we know each other. That love is in asking the questions and listening closely to the answers. The hand reached across the gulf of miscommunication and expectations. There’s so much love here.

Yesterday I went to a wonderful talk by local artist/illustrators about how they navigated their work while raising young children. It was wonderful and I learned so much. I also realised that their process was only fitted around children, while I was trying to build mine around illness and disability and many other things. It has not been easy and yet I am finding a small slow path.

Yesterday I went to the funeral of someone I had not known very well, the husband of a dear late friend. I was not sure I would be able to go. Death is not something I am reconciled to since I had my terrible breakdown. I felt angry and humiliated by my vulnerability to it. Rose eased me into finding the thorn in my paw. I was terrified of my secret, nagging judgement that his life had been wasted. I recalled heartbreaking conversations with him about his lack of the spark of joy, his envy of my passion. He too, faced many challenges in his life. Only when I found this fear could I see that my block was little to do with him, but my own secret terror that in some way I couldn’t even find words for, my life has added up to nothing.

So I went to the funeral. They read a poem by my late friend. It hurt so badly it felt like I was dying for a time. My heart broke for his friends and family. My heart broke for my friend, and how hard friends can be to come by. How irreplaceable each of us are in the web of our lives. I thought of the millions of people in the world and how easy it is to be lonely. How hard it can be to listen as deeply and carefully as Rose and I are learning again to listen to each other. How life is neither all triumph nor all loss. I listened to the heartfelt eulogies by his friends and saw both his pain and his life in a softer and more loving light. I thought about my friends. I thought about how I would be remembered if I died today, the way I would not want my sorrow or my struggles to be the focus, but my love and the people and things I have loved and tried to learn how to love well.

I went to a therapy appointment yesterday to open in a safe place a big painful box about family and history and abuse and relationships. I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe or stay seated on the couch. I couldn’t stop. So much love and so much pain. Agonising dilemmas that are sunk deeply into my skin like razor wire. No easy answers or lights on my path.

When I left I splashed cold water on my face and hair and wrists. I took a cold drink in a small paper cup and I staggered carefully to my car. I sat with my journal in my lap and no words until the urge to vomit passed. I drove home carefully into the sun, taking the route with the most shade cast by trees, and crept into my home to hold my little girl and a hot water bottle for the rest of the evening.

Today I look at what I have built, what I have made of my life with what I’ve given, or found, or forged, and I am content. It is humble but no secrets rot beneath the floor. It is glorious. I am limping and dancing, both. There are many beautiful and wounded people I have built relationships with, of one kind or another, tended these like gardens that need work and effort and understanding. Learning how to listen, how to speak, and how to endure. Gratitude for those who came before me and made my world possible, those who changed my world so that queer people were not vile, those with disabilities were not repulsive, trauma was not a weakness of character, and that those who were sick or poor should be given a wage to allow them shelter and food. I remember their sacrifices and their work and I am thankful. I remember them when I choose to make sacrifices and to work towards a better and kinder world for my children and their children. There is so much love here.

Painting: Silver birch tree spirit

Poppy and I spent the day together at one of our favourite parks recently. It’s a chance for me to not multitask and to be focused and present in a way I don’t often find myself doing. It was hot and dry and I found it took several hours before I adjusted to that and felt comfortable. The same for not working or cleaning or doing something on my phone, there’s always a restless period where it’s not comfortable or easy, until something adjusts and stills. Poppy and I bounce off each other and have fun in between little person big feelings. There’s often a time when we start to click together like fish swimming along side each other in a school. An attunement occurs that’s wordless and smoother. We don’t get in each other’s way so much, it’s more fluid and trusting. I love it.

We played on the playground and swings and explored the creek. Then Poppy made some art.

She was slept afterwards so we walked around until she fell asleep in the pram. Then I made some art in the shade of a huge gum tree, while she slept peacefully in the cool breeze beside me.

I wasn’t expecting to paint anything significant. I’ve just set up my travel kit with new watercolours and worked out a formula for teal, my favourite colour of ink. I was entirely focused on connecting with Poppy, not looking to fit anything else into the day.

Yet somehow, this beautiful heartbroken women emerged. It’s about the fifth time I’ve tried to paint her. She emerged without planning, starting from her open, distraught mouth and spreading into snow and trees. Painting intuitively like this is a sacred part of my arts practice.

Her hair began to resemble the tree branches and tangle around the babies and her arms. At the end I suddenly realised she was a tree spirit, which has never been part of any painting I’ve made of her. But it fits perfectly.

Christmas is extra sweet this year

We have come through a lot this year in my family, eating disorder and breakdown and a lot of challenges. We’re approaching Christmas now with this sense of how lucky we are. Things could have turned out very differently. We came close to tragedy but we are all still here, and there’s a sweetness and joy in that. Making it a fun and special time of year for Poppy is a focus, so we’ve been doing lots of fun things but pacing ourselves so it’s not too much.

We’ve made our own Christmas cards, late. Baked lots of fun gingerbread – dinosaur shapes for Poppy. Made dairy and gluten free treats for friends with intolerances. Visited the pretty light displays. Wrapped gifts. Put up a toddler friendly felt tree. Had naps, swims, and bike rides to the park. Went to a queer friendly rainbow carols service at a local church. I’ve been happily embroidering gifts and getting loads of extra time in my studio gilding prints. It’s been a busy art month for me, I’ve sold a lot of work! It’s been wonderful. ❤️

I am absolutely loving reading more about book illustration and have begun to map out a couple of roughs for possible short books next year. I may launch into my multiplicity book instead though, and I’m keen to exhibit Smooth Seas never made Skilled Sailors locally, preferably before uni kicks back in. I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

Christmas can be a painful, exhausting and stressful time of year. It can be meaningless, overtaken by other troubles needing attention. It can also be time to celebrate surviving whatever the year threw at you, to remember our departed with love and light candles for them, to celebrate and reflect and wind down from the doing and the plans and goals.

Whatever you are dealing with, I hope you have some sweet among the bitter, someone who loves you, someone to share with. ❤️

Adventures with Poppy

One day a week, I remind myself that I can be tuned into my anxiety about the future, or I can be tuned into Poppy, but not both at the same time. It sometimes takes several hours of deliberately not being focused elsewhere for me to actually feel myself settle and connect. She changes from being one responsibility among many I am juggling, to a relationship I’m sensitive to, we speak in a shared language, track each other, are sensitive to minor changes in mood and state. She is a joy to be with.

Today we went into town and listened to a busker play beautiful music. Then we spent some time in the museum, looking at the butterflies and examining shells under a microscope.

Once Poppy had run off her morning energy, we wandered more sedately through the One Mountain, One River, One Sage: Treasures from the Shandong Library exhibition. The beautiful old handmade books were delightful. ❤ We wandered through the Royal South Australian Society of Arts exhibition on the way home, and Poppy carefully re-stacked the pram so the bags were in her seat and she could ride home tucked into the basket beneath. There’s so much joy here.

At the HealtheVoices Conference

The flight was beautiful, I journalled and watched the clouds. I’m resting, soaking it in.

I’ve been to the Museum of Modern Art and wept on the floor at Hoda Afshar’s 2018 exhibit Remain, about the experiences of refugees on Manus Island. It’s stunning, and as much as I love public health and all the many things I do, it makes me deeply glad to be an artist and to want to stretch myself further, build my work in these spaces of such vulnerability. This is our history, being preserved here, the forbidden stories being told. Art can do that and I’m so in love with it.

Walked in the sunshine with new friends.

Washed the day from me, and slept.

Put on a beautiful dress I’ve never had the chance to wear, (non binary, gender queer people can wear dresses too if they want to) and shared a fancy dinner.

It’s a delight to be here. The alienation I’ve so often felt – in galleries, hotels, places inhabited by people with wealth, isn’t so present today. This is not my world, but I don’t feel at war with myself being here. It’s okay to visit. There’s no rage or burning anguish. I’m able to take in the pleasures and enjoy the luxuries. I’m curious and listening. Other people’s stories and experiences are always so interesting, the overlaps and the gulfs between us such rich food to share.

I keep thinking of the Pt Lincoln conference where I slept in my van in the national park because the bare hotel room stressed me. How hard it was to be there, how excited and exhausted and far beyond my own limits I was. The beginning of my breakdown, falling into the void. Months of anguish to come.

I can stand in galleries now and I’m not in burning pain. I can sleep in the hotel and enjoy the smell of the hand soap. I can walk into and out of this world without losing myself. I’m not numb and I’ve not gone native. I’m just no longer responsible for everything that’s wrong with the world.

I cried a little during a video call home with Rose and Poppy. It’s my first night away from her since she was born, and alone in my room is very alone indeed. I can hear the building air conditioning, and the gentle rumble of the lifts, but no people. I feel insulated like a single bee in a vast honeycomb. If I can’t sleep I might go sit downstairs in the bar to be near to people.

Next time I so want to see the National Art Gallery too.

Tomorrow I’ll be listening and presenting. I wish I’d brought my loom work project, I want to do something with my hands. There’s too many people to talk to, I sit in the middle of it all and let it wash over me like a river. Some of it I can catch and touch and the rest will flow past.

It’s hard to sum up what I do, my advocacy work across many domains. I haven’t used the phrase ‘multiple’ yet, I will tomorrow. I feel tired. I remember being at a conference 8 years ago and discovering 2 other multiples there, the joy I felt! Some people here have a very clear message, a very specific advocacy focus. I admire that. I think in some ways my work around adversity is that for me, but there’s other threads I’m still finding words for.

I miss my little girl.

I love this life. There’s so much joy in it. I’m glad to be here.

Passion and Balance

One day each week, Poppy and I have an adventure. Last week we went to the museum and looked at dinosaurs and opals. I thought I might be mildly hallucinating at one point but it turns out one of the taxidermy animals is animatronic and occasionally flicks it’s tail. A little sign about that would be nice!

Then one of us chased pigeons, played in a very small but nonetheless very wet mud puddle, and fell asleep. The other one of us packed up lunch and went to look at all the interesting things in the art gallery in relative peace.

It’s been a very recent development that I enjoy the art gallery. I’m absolutely wild about artists studios but have often found gallery spaces alienating. It’s been weird and a little embarrassing. It’s assumed they are my home territory when actually I used to have a lot of meltdowns after visiting galleries and didn’t usually go there if I had the choice.

But I’ve been doing lots of work unpicking mental blocks and old injuries, and Rose has taken me to some exhibitions where I’ve felt less overwhelmed by my stuff and more about to enjoy them at times. They are not home territory by any stretch (even my own studio isn’t that yet) but they are also no longer hostile territory. I wish sometimes it was a bit easier to be me.

Nonetheless, adventure time each week with Poppy is an absolute joy and doing us both a world of good.

This is one of the last little things I made in my flame work glass workshop, a tiny bee. Unfortunately because he wasn’t annealed in a kiln, his little wings broke as he cooled down. I’m currently immersed in research about kilns and torch types and where to buy oxygen tanks from. I postponed a planned exhibition of small sculptures when Rose became really sick, but I’d love to be able to put it together for next year.

This bead worked perfectly: I was practicing a technique that traps air bubbles under the glass. My teacher said I was the most gifted student with glass she’d had in 20 years of workshops. It just clicked. I adored it and I’m so keen to set up a flame work space in my studio.

I’m also hugely enjoying my studies. Epidemiology suits me and I’m loving falling down rabbit holes of information and getting a handle on the big topics. Today I was digging into health prevention, surveillance, and theories of health promotion. It’s fascinating to see how frameworks that fit one scenario so well (such as smallpox) have been such unwieldy tools in other contexts (such as diabetes), and how poor evaluation can make health promotion interventions look successful (eg education leading to increased health literacy) when they actually backfire and fail on the important scales (eg increased stigma, greater reluctance to engage in prevention or treatment). I’m just enjoying it so much.

My other project at the moment is a couple of talks interstate. I’ll be traveling to Sydney and Melbourne next month to give presentations at big events. This always involves a fair bit of preparation, both for the talk, planning the event with the folks coordinating it, and planning the trip. I’ll be doing a road trip and bringing the family with me to Melbourne, which is very exciting. I’m really looking forward to meeting the people behind the emails too.

I’m still practicing Kaizen and being mindful of Barbara Sher’s types of scanner, hoping that I’ll learn what schedule suits me best and how to set up my projects so they and I both thrive. I’ve several more wonderful projects waiting impatiently in the wings, but right now I’m finding downtime is important and immersion time helps, trying to change hats all day long is exhausting. Hopefully in time I’ll learn more how to balance everything I love so much.

It was a wonderful week and I’m excited about the week ahead too. We continue to muddle through; work, study, friends, home, family. Learning, helping, creating. Good things are emerging. ❤️

Navigating overwhelm

Poppy and I spent the day together yesterday. We visited a festival in town, spent a long time learning how to cuddle bunnies, pat baby sheep, not to be scared of the chicks peeping.

It wasn’t one of the easier days. She had meltdowns about wearing clothes, and howled all through the bus trip because I wouldn’t let her kick the window. Sobbing hysterically on the seat next to me, wailing ‘Don’t touch me Mummy!’ as I dug deep for patience. There’s nothing like parenting an unhappy little person to make you doubt your competence! The best moment was when she was dancing to a choir, full of vim and delight and I could sit for a moment under shade and rest my tired brain from the high alert state of watching a small person running around an un-fenced area surrounded by traffic.

It wasn’t one of my easier days, wrestling a sinus infection and struggling to get up to date with the grad cert I’d been a late enrolment in… The challenge hasn’t been the content of the course it’s been the online format, which was a surprise to me.

So Wednesday for example I went into uni and hoped to get some work done after an appt, then discovered I couldn’t complete one assignment because the necessary information had been sent out prior to my enrolment, so I didn’t have access to it. So I hopped on a computer and figured I’d listen to a lecture, then realised I didn’t have earbuds with me so I couldn’t do that without disturbing others. So I came home and tried to access the lecture on the laptop I’ve been borrowing, but it’s embedded in a power point and the open office software messed so badly with the formatting I couldn’t follow any of the text. So I dug up a pair of earbuds and tested them in my phone to make sure they worked, then headed off to my office which has the microsoft office suite on my desktop. Where I discovered that desktops can’t process earbuds with inbuilt mics unless you have a splitter to separate the signals. So still no lecture for me. At which point I cried and came home.

The trickiest part is that I’m navigating these challenges I need to keep my mental space together. The more I struggle with things the stronger my sense of anxiety and displacement become – that I shouldn’t be in higher education, that I don’t belong and I’m going to fail (again). I’ve been talking myself gently through all the challenges for a couple of weeks and bouncing back well, but yesterday with uni and a work challenge not coming together I fell in a hole. I got back from my day with Poppy and couldn’t make decisions anymore. Should I try to get more done (everything is due on Sunday! and I’m late with everything!) or try to rest and clear my head? Bath for restoration or bed for sleep? Poppy woke me up hourly the night before and I felt like my head was a watermelon hit with a hammer. Am I getting sick with the cold everyone’s had, in which case this might be the clearest I feel as I go down over the weekend, or is this mostly sleep deprivation in which case don’t soldier through, rest and come back to it.

My mind obsesses about the problems, trying to solve them even when it’s clear I’ve no capacity left to think clearly. It adds in bigger, older ones I haven’t solved – what am I doing with my work life? How am I going to schedule everything? Where’s the next job coming from? Smaller problems get unimaginably large as the overwhelm diminishes my capacity. Everything clusters together into knots where I can’t assess priority anymore. It all feels urgent and impossible, the unmopped floors, the people I haven’t caught up with, the tax I haven’t quite finished, the assignments due in days… I notice the biggest anxiety is in thinking I’m supposed to look like I know what I’m doing but I’m scared it’s becoming obvious I’m unprofessional/incompetent/unskilled. I’m afraid this is the reason I’ve failed at all those job applications, and the more anxious I am that it’s my fault, the more desperately I try to show I’m competent rather than bewildered. A customer texts asking if I’m free for a gig and I seize up, unable to message back because I have a social engagement at that time and I can’t decide if I need the income or the time with friends more, can’t even work out how I would work that out, and my car died last week, very expensively, so if I say yes to the gig I’m also taking Rose’s car from her and making a choice about her access.

The longer I don’t text back the more my head is screaming with alarms about not being professional, and the worse the sense of failure and self loathing get. Once they are too strong, I can’t push through them enough to write back, can’t work out what to write, can’t make the decision, and everything I do, including continuing not to write back, is utterly utterly wrong, self sabotaging, and proves I have brought all the bad luck in my life on myself. I can see it happening but I’m swept along in a avalanche. Every move I make is wrong, and I can’t reach out for help because I think that’s probably wrong too. I open texts and messages and can’t work out what to write or who to send it to. I can argue all the cases (reaching out for help is a good thing, chasing being rescued is a bad thing, so and so won’t mind hearing from me, I’ve been leaning on so and so too much) and I can’t work out a fair or reality based guideline. I’m just lost and inclined to blame myself. My thinking spirals in on itself and the intelligence which is so useful and incisive in some areas becomes destructive beyond my control.

Overwhelm is such a huge part of dealing with parenting and mental health and yet I find it’s not talked about that often. It’s been a big part of my focus in my family for the past couple of months – what sets it off, makes it worse, makes it better? Carving up my life and rearranging it so it’s not part of my baseline anymore.

So yesterday I went to bed but couldn’t sleep, had a bath and felt physically a bit better. Visited friends for board games and found that I couldn’t do the games and run the mental programs of trying to figure out my study and business/work. That was desperately needed and nothing was engaging me enough to get me there until then. The mental break was restorative. Last night Poppy only woke a couple of times. Real rest, mental and physical. So today, I’ve read over the email from my lecturer that has bewildered me every time I’ve looked at it for two days and at last I think I can see what he wants, I think it’s just an odd grammar structure possibly part of English as a second language (wild guess on my part) where the the question asks What but really means How or Why. Maybe this is normal for public health? I don’t know yet. I’ll adapt.

These are the skills and patterns I need to get this cert. I am going to figure this out.

Deep breath. Soothing internal voice. We can do this. Back to it.

 

Ink Painting: We fall into the stars

A3 size. Ink on Arches paper.

A little while ago, Rose took Poppy and I camping, back to Rapid Bay. The place we used to go when dating. The place I went alone to mourn Tamlorn the Mother’s Day after the miscarriage. The place I fell off the planet into the void when running from the ‘real world’, but sent alone under the stars, in exile.

Together we watched the stars, a million million of them, brighter than I’ve ever seen. Satellite and stars falling and the milky way a mist across the sky. In the bay, dolphins swam with their young. Poppy asleep on my lap, my eyes wet with tears. I didn’t know if there would more nights like this for us. Somehow here we are, holding hands under the stars.

It is the work of our lives to find some way to stay alive, to still feel alive.

In Rose’s arms there, I felt so alive, it was like breathing stars that fluttered in my chest. We sat up in chairs opposite each other, held hands and looked up. It felt like the world tilted and we were looking down, into an ocean of lights. We held onto our chairs and each other and kept looking, hearts cracked open in wonder. All that starlight poured in. Love grows stronger under moonlight, feeds on poems.

We sit at the edge of the world and hold hands. Our child sleeps. The wind is warm and soft. We look up. We fall into stars. Love binds us to the world and each other. We do not fall.

Family Joy

My wonderful sister was married on the weekend! Rose and I were bridesmaids and Poppy was a flower girl. It was very beautiful, very moving, and I cried through most of it! We were not as helpful in months prior as I’d have liked to be, Rose being in hospital was unfortunate timing. But we were able to help a bit with their gorgeous newborn baby so preparations could happen, and I helped make a bouquet and the fresh flowers and pails for the flower girls and boys to scatter.

Most of the petals were harvested from my garden that morning, keeping to the theme of purple with a little white, pink, and red, and everything chosen needed to be soft for any bare feet to step on.

My clever sister designed her brooch bouquet with gift brooches from family and friends. I wired it up and helped secure it all in place.

This was the bouquet part way through construction: a bit less glam at this stage! Don’t ask me to make another one, I swear I’ve got more grey hair!

Funny story, I was finishing the handle with some small nails the night before the wedding when Poppy grabbed a jar of nails off my desk, tipped it up to her mouth like a cup, then coughed and spluttered. When quested she told us she’d swallowed a nail so we all had to trek into emergency again. There, the nurse stripped her down and discovered she set off a metal detector over her chest and back, faintly! We were facing possible surgery and most of us not making it back to the wedding. But the x-rays came back completely clear, so after many unhappy hours of nil by mouth, we were able to take her home and continue as planned. Lucky!

There was a surprise naming ceremony for my tiny niece at the wedding too, and I was so honoured to become a godparent. ❤️ My sister is a truly lovely, brilliant, and kind person, one of my closest friends. To celebrate and part of such a joyful (exhausting) time in her life makes me very happy. I can’t wait for our kids to play together. And maybe sometime for Rose and I to celebrate our family too.

Still kisses with saliva

You know it’s a good weekend when you wake up on an airbed on the floor of your mates place.

Rose was back in the ER last night having brain scans to rule out scary possible causes for severe headaches and really high blood pressure. I wound up driving all over the countryside and took her back up to the party late in the evening then decided to stay put. Her scans were clear, thankfully. Something’s going on but it’s for the local doc to sort out.

Apart from the health scare it was a great day. I even made it to the studio, bought some new paints, and started a new art work. Had some folks switch out who haven’t been around in ages. Felt liberating.

Rose and I celebrated 6 years together this week. We went out for ice cream together and have another camping trip planned. It feels like we reached rock bottom recently and are coming out the other side. Falling back in love. Making a life again, not just surviving and holding on. After the long downwards slide, engines on fire and screaming, it’s exhilerating. Still here. We’ll make it work.

Posted this on Facebook: Happy 6 years together, darling. What an adventure! You are the most amazing person, so kind, devoted and loving. You have such depth and complexity, so many contradictions and unexpected qualities. You give me great courage! Your patient and enduring love make you the most attentive and wonderful parent. Your honesty and bravery inspire me. Your dreams for our future make my heart happy. The humble way you learn and change your mind and explore life keep you open to new horizons and possibilities. You are beautiful and strong. I’m proud to be with you. I love you.

Waking up to find it’s all not as bad as it seemed. Counting the cost and tallying the things we still have. It’s enough. There’s enough here for a good life. There’s good earth here to grow in. Good memories to build on.

The household is still sleeping. Poppy is pressed into my back, warm and soft. The sunlight after the night’s storm is chill and white. My bones are full of happy conversations around the fire with friends, and chiming softly. It’s damn cold. But yesterday we switched and stretched and remembered the real world isn’t the only one out there. Stepped sideways into other places. Supped, cracked bones, sucked marrow from life. Ink on fingers, poems slyly in mind like sleeping snakes. She kisses me and I can tell she means it. I sit under the tree in the backyard and the world turns over in its sleep, I slip past and out some other door where my chest is a seashell holding the roar of the ocean. We drive in the night, Bowie, NIN, VNV, Numan singing of darkness. Into the company of people and we are not afraid.