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. 💜
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rose is home but not home. She was discharged from the psych facility on Monday. We are doing something that seems strange to most, I’ve asked her to keep spending nights apart. Not because we are breaking up or she’s awful to be around, but because I am so burned out I am on the edge of my capacity to cope. The last time she had a breakdown, so did I. This time I have kids and I desperately need to keep my feet under me. I have had many warning signs I’m on the edge, difficulty making myself get out of bed, or force myself to drive home, lots of crying, episodes of screaming (when alone), intrusive thoughts, intense anxiety and irritability, insomnia. I love her to bits and I’m very empathic. I can’t go offline when she’s with me, I’m so tuned in to her distress I pick up on it and feel it all myself. When she can’t sleep, I can’t sleep. I’m always on duty. I’m also chronically triggered. My history involves a lot of caring, and some very painful memories are very close to the surface at the moment. Helplessness in the face of suicide attempts, profound loneliness, fear, horror, torment. At times I feel like I’m trapped in a cage that’s been dragged underwater, and I’m drowning. Love is the cage, and madness, or trauma, is the water.
Nights alone have been a powerful restorative. I have an evening ritual. I clean and organise and cuddle Poppy and feel at peace and connected. The next day I can meet with my whole heart, however good or bad it may be. I’m not scraped raw and quivering with pain. This was my greatest regret in a previous relationship, that I equated the relationship to living together, and thought leaving one ment having to leave the other. I wish I had left the house but used the time to work on the relationship. Without living with their demons, feeling so unsafe and traumatised, I might have had more success recapturing what we’d lost. I intend to learn from that mistake.
Rose and I did this for a long time during our dating too, we lived 10 houses apart on the same street. That blend of together and apart suited us well and we flourished. Two partners with PTSD is an unusual challenge and needs a very specific approach. We are currently hunting for a room she can rent close by to replicate that time in our lives. Part of my plan to get as much of my life back on the easy settings as possible. We are not sure right now what the future looks like or how long we will do this. We spend time together every day, as a couple and a family. We will keep moving forward day by day, getting back into routines.
There are many hurdles yet before us. Welfare is one, they refuse to offer any rent support to Rose unless we formally, legally break up – absolutely the last thing we wish to do. Community mental health services are another, severely lacking in a sense of responsibility, compassion, or even basic customer service. It’s been a tough week but it’s also been so good to see Rose out in the free air again. Even in such a short time, the weight of institutionalisation was so evident. Out in the world there’s something more adult about her, more dark and wild and free and grounded. I fall in love all over again. Her beautiful eyes, soft hands, kind heart. She’s been so lost at times but she finds her way home. Darkness tears gulfs between us. Love bridges them. She is so precious and I’m lucky to have her.
My dearest Rose has had a breakdown, we are both exhausted and limping. She has been in a psych facility for over a week now. We were trying to manage the crisis at home while she crashed, until her distress became so intense she could not stop vomiting. 5 hours, 18 vomits later, some shots of anti-emetics and a lot of tranquillisers in the local ED and finally she could rest a little.
Our poor little family is shell shocked and run down. Our tribe has rallied and surrounded us with so much love and support. We have both doubted everything hard. Our case worker tells me simply – you can be the strongest, most resilient people ever, sometimes things just go wrong.
She is working so hard to understand how her world has collapsed, how to find her way back. Is she talking responsibility, a social worker asks me. I think of her desperately colouring in at 3am when the nightmares are so bad she can’t stop crying. Crawling into the shower clothed to find some kind of peace under the thundering water. They gave her a rubber band in the unit, she snapped it until her wrists bruised. Yes, I say, she is very responsible. She is overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s more than we can bear.
I’m lying in bed so deeply sad it feels hard to breathe. I type messages to people and don’t send them. I look at blank status updates and turn away without words. There is an ice cold patch between my shoulder blades, radiating a chill through my back, into my chest, like a spike into my heart. Aching with cold.
We talk ourselves into hope. We talk ourselves into despair. Over and over. Holding tight, and on the edge of everything we have loved and built dissembling. We are on fire. We are broken and spilling into the night.
Rose has messaged me from the unit tonight. She’s vomiting again, chronically, and her blood pressure has spiked. They are taking her back to the ED. I feel broken. They plan to send her home in a week. I cannot fathom caring her, as well as my children, and myself. I don’t know how to keep us all safe. She is the mother of my child. The heart of our world. I love her so dearly. I am so tired. So scared, and so sad.
This is always a hard week for Rose, with anniversaries of miscarriages and other losses. In the past she’s grieved alone, with no grave to mourn by and no recognition of her loss. So today I took her to a cemetery.
I had permission from a friend – the mother of a lovely girl who died far too young, to sit under her memorial tree and remember Rose’s little ones and our Tamlorn. We sat in the shade her beautiful tree with Tam’s ashes, shared a birthday cake for the 7 children not with us, and cried.
It hurt. It was hard to do, many kinds of pain are shrouded in shame and a trick of the heart that says don’t look, don’t go, don’t feel it, it’s too big and dark and will destroy you.
It hurt but it was not unbearable darkness.
It eased the loneliness of loss but it was not epiphany or resolution.
It did not cure, but it had meaning.
We left roses beneath the tree. I made an ink painting to remember the day. Then we left to pick up Poppy from daycare, and held her tight, all the rest of the night.
I cut all my hair today and I’m feeling much lighter. It’s been a hell of a week. Poppy got sick out of nowhere. I woke at 3am to find her spiking a huge fever and having convulsions. One ambulance trip and a day in hospital later the conclusion was it’s an unknown virus but nothing dangerous and we all went home. It’s taken a number of days for her to kick and in the meantime, Rose and I have come down too. It’s such a non specific thing (headache, stiffness, aches, tiredness) it’s been hard to tell if we’re sick, sleep deprived, or depressed.
Hospital involved taking Poppy’s temperature, checking her pulse and oxygen saturation, and wearing an ID bracelet, all of which she found extremely upsetting. So we brought home her used pulse ox set and ID bracelet to add to her toys for play, and Rose brought a new under arm thermometer that lights up green for normal temp, orange for elevated and red for very high. Since then we’ve been playing ‘What colour are you?’ with Poppy, Mummy, Mama, and sister, and Poppy is now quite happy to have her temperature taken and check out what colour she is. Hopefully if she needs a stay in hospital again these things won’t be so traumatic. Rose is the mastermind behind this, she’s a genius.
In the meantime, I’m resting as best I can and nibbling away at work, and hope to be back on my feet for real and less sore very soon.
At first it seems there’s no visible difference from the complete shift in your world from focusing on each other to wrapping yourselves around children. You check in, keep a wary eye out for signs of trouble but everything mostly feels smooth and unchanged. The lack of sleep, lack of adult time, debriefing space, opportunities to not be adult all add up but none of it seems to be costing closeness or connection. The relationship is getting almost no attention yet is still growing just fine, like an old rose bush in the yard.
Then somewhere you find yourselves without warning on the edge of a precipice, watching each other and seeing the pain in the eyes and the numbness in the heart, wondering which of you will let it go first and how many millions of pieces everything will break into when it smashes on the rocks below.
The world wears through the skin into bone and through bone into void. The foundations are strong but they cannot hold forever.
2 years now, Star has been with us, and Poppy is now 18 months old. We are still asking the questions, gently, what does love look like here? What do we each need to thrive, or when that’s out of reach, at least survive?
Rose and I have found ourselves at the raw edges, feeling worn. Parenting is an intense commitment built upon the strength of a relationship we’ve barely tended. So we’ve started up family counseling again, and set aside some hours each week, alone. Date lunch. Once a week soul time. We go someplace and talk, about us, our lives, our dreams, our hearts. Like the old days. We unpick and re-weave ourselves like old shawls. For a couple of hours we are the only people in the world. We sneak out of life and hold hands and talk about love.
Something that had withered, grows new shoots. Soaks up the sun and rain and hearts cracked open. Feels alive again.
How easily we lose one another, side by side in the same bed, working in the same kitchen. Yet how neatly the rift is mended, like a darned sock, the jagged edges drawn back together, the cold pushed at bay.
Darkness is all around us and our souls do not cry loudly as they fade. They speak the quiet language of loss, the ‘failure to thrive’ of the adult who so wants to thrive.
We run far out beyond the horizon, holding hands. And run home, hearts aching for our children, longing to hold them. Always walking both worlds, like selkies. Slipping one skin to show another, knitting our lives from the days and nights, the poems and the tears that lay in our hands, like pearls.
The news is good for Rose. Our doctor considers that she has merely been unlucky lately with multiple illnesses and infections, rather than suffering from an underlying problem we haven’t found yet. Irritatingly there was no discharge summary or even a record that she had been in the ER, much less any test results. But she is recovering and rebuilding her strength.
I am thrilled. I was so worried I nearly threw up in the waiting room before we saw her doctor. She is deeply precious to me, utterly irreplaceable and unique.
I had a wonderful day in the studio this afternoon, just playing. Then I bought Rose some little gifts and flowers from the city and came home on the bus feeling like I could fly. We recently celebrated 5 years together. She is my home, my family, my safe place. I love her to bits.
My lovely oil painting is progressing and I have begun to work on the colour layer. Some tones such as the pink in her cheeks and yellow in the dress will be added in glazes over the paint. I’ve been learning so much, it’s such a novelty to have instruction, as I’m mostly self taught in my preferred mediums. This class is the first oil painting tution I’ve had and it’s been very enjoyable. Mixing all those skin tones! There’s a great many hours left in this one yet.
It’s been a rough couple of days after a really wonderful week. We’ve all caught a particularly nasty strain of gastro. Poppy came down first and has recovered, Rose and I have been hit hard. Star has just come down today. It’s played havoc with Rose’s other health challenges. I managed to get her through the echocardiogram she’s been waiting for several months to have. Then all hell broke loose that night. It got me while I was walking Poppy to the shops to buy groceries, I struggled home. The world’s most useless home doctor visited for Rose who had been violently ill for hours, took no vitals and gave her an anti nausea med to pointlessly vomit up. With Star in the kitchen and me on the couch vomiting into a bag with Poppy on my lap, Rose got up and passed out, crashing to the floor. It was terrifying. I called my Mum and an ambulance. We were all really stressed, and Star wasn’t sick yet so I couldn’t even give her a hug.
The sadness of missing out on the marriage equality rally in town with so many friends and beautiful families.
Rose is still in hospital but slowly on the mend. It looks like she fractured her kneecap in the fall, but although she smacked her head she’s got away with a lump and a nasty headache. It’s taken a long time to rehydrate her and weird and worrying test results which are slowly coming right. It’s horrible not being well enough to go be with her.
So I’ve stayed home in an angry agitated state of helplessness, sickness and anxiety. Star looked after Poppy all yesterday, thankfully. I dealt with the nights, a cycle of vomiting, crying, nursing, and napping. I put out a call for help but the few kind souls who offered I told to keep away, they had important reasons not to be exposed. Families are so vulnerable in times like this, we have so few formal supports. If I was employed in child care no one sane would ever put a child in my care but there I am putting out the rubbish and vomiting into the driveway, and sorting out my meds and water bottle while a one year old screams and hangs onto my trousers. We are very lucky to have such good informal supports. My Mum came and cleaned for us, Rose’s Mum did some shopping and took Poppy to hospital to visit her.
Hopefully we will all be together again and recovered very soon, because that has been a tough couple of days and I could sure use a hug!
Yesterday was our anniversary. ❤ I’m so proud of us. It’s strange and a bit painful to be celebrating our relationship at the same time that the marriage equality plebiscite (a postal vote about same sex marriage) is going ahead here. It’s stressful and consuming a lot of emotional resources. We hate it.
But here we are, 5 years in love. My tiny unit is stuffed to the seams. My once solitary and lonely life is unrecognisable. Through thick and thin, Rose and I have woven something beautiful; dark, bright, strong, and precious. We’ve kept believing in each other, in ourselves, and in our family. Not all the time, sometimes only a little bit, small scraps of hope in dark and painful times. But enough. In the good times we are so strong, so complimentary in our skills, so similar in our values. In the bad times we are strong enough to hold on. Not perfect but not trying to be. We’ve both escaped enough utopias to know that there magic in muddling through.
Rose and I have now been together, unbroken, for longer than any other family she’s ever been part of. The sheer amount of work she does to have made that possible is hard for people to comprehend. All the times she doesn’t run when that voice deep inside tells her to go. All the ways she’s learned to share and explain and connect so she can function the way she needs to without tearing at our relationship. She’s amazing.
We are struggling to balance our family, to nurture ourselves and each other along with our children. They are such a joy, so adored and long awaited and we pour ourselves out. There’s little left for each other at times, guilt and exhaustion. But here we are, celebrating us as Spring drips with honey blossoms and rain. We keep holding on, we keep learning.
Rose sees so much of me, sees me so real. She believes in me, so unwaveringly, and walks with me whatever the path. Her kindness is her shining heart. She’s my safe place to come home to, somewhere where they speak my language and dream my dreams.
I’ve been incredibly lucky in so many ways. Every year with her is a blessing. She’s absolutely unique and I love living with her, sharing all that we share, waking beside her every morning. She is my beloved and I am hers.
My darling Rose is sick. Tonight we’re tucked up on the couch with cauliflower and bacon soup, watching Harry Potter.
That’s a considerable improvement on last night where she was hanging out in the ER and I was shuttling between her and the girls at home. Fortunately nothing is seriously wrong, and with a few weeks rest she should be feeling a lot better. She went in to have pain in her chest and leg investigated in case they were a heart attack or a blood clot. The chest pain turned out to be inflammation in the lining of the heart, and the leg they believe is a ruptured cyst. Both painful but not dangerous. She’s feeling pretty miserable and has also come down with tonsillitis, poor love. It’s really not been her year, she’s had so many health challenges and difficult circumstances to navigate. She’s still an incredibly devoted parent but is needing some extra down time and support. Fortunately work are understanding so we’ve both taken a few days off. Poppy missed us both badly and has been really unsettled today and struggled to sleep orv play by herself. So we’ve cancelled day care tomorrow to give her some extra snuggles and hopefully with some love and rest we’ll all be feeling a lot brighter very soon.
I came home from work the other day to find Rose sick and tucked up on the couch under a blanket. I washed some dishes and made dinner, which is always a bit tough when I’ve been away all day because Poppy is so sad that I’m home but still trying to do other things. I nursed and cuddled first, and played and sang to her while cooking but after awhile it wasn’t enough and she was crying holding onto my leg. Rose got up and tickle-chased her around the house. My home rings with baby giggles and whoops of delight and I feel like my heart is going to burst.
It’s been one hell of an adjustment, this year. Brilliant, but huge changes and new skills needed. I had a great conversation with my shrink my other day who helped me get out of a hyper-critical mindset I’ve been stuck in and my heart is so much lighter.
Rose and I have been hurting, feeling like however much we love each other, our relationship was withering. A desert was opening up between us. We moved between talking about love and marriage and having more children, and wondering if we might break up and fall apart, bewildered by how our relationship has changed so much in such a short time. And under everything else has been a kind of fury in me, killing every living thing around me. Every day a few more trees dead and the desert a little bigger.
Fear will do that to do you. I want to be good enough. I want to keep my job. I want to get my family out of poverty and cramped public housing. I want to raise my girls well. When I’m terrified I’m not good enough, when I feel like I’m straining under a load too heavy to carry, when I’m giving everything and it’s still not right then terror has teeth in my soul and a kind of violent frenzy grips me. I try to succeed through criticism, motivate myself through brutality. Every imperfection is magnified and my campaign of self improvement is bloody. Every error I make – or Rose makes – must be corrected immediately or we will live like this for the rest of our lives. There’s no time to learn, no space for growing and talking over and trying again. Gone is the beautiful ‘muddling’ of our pre-parenting days. The stakes are high and perfection is the baseline of acceptable.
We tear apart. Even when I bite down all the harsh words and speak none of them, my rage boils just beneath my skin and we can both feel it. I burn like a nuclear bomb and the fallout is soft, silent, deadly, and widespread.
We talk bewildered. Why? What’s happened? I used to be kind, now I’m scary. The word abusive is brought into view and something in me drowns in tears and despair. It’s true. How did this happen? Why am I like this? How do I stop? What’s happened to me, to us? I used to be her safe place. I hate myself. I cut deep into my own heart, looking for the cancer. Trying to be better. Imsorryimsorryimsorryilltrytobebetter. Self hate and rage and terror add intensity. She has nightmares of me. The desert just keeps growing.
Stop and look at what you’ve achieved, says the shrink. Tell me about your skills and success and accomplishments. Vividly. Feel them, in your heart, in your body. Embody them. Bring them from head knowledge into the rest of you. Every time the criticism, anxiety, or despair comes. Remember your successes. Be kind to yourself and to her. Go back to your healing roots. Get away from delusional self improvement, terror of failure, and brutal perfectionism.
I come home and we sigh with relief, hold each other tight. The war moves away, out of my skin and bones. No more nuclear winter. The rage leaves like a bad memory of a dream I once had. We touch again, unthinkingly, lightly, like leaves falling. We kiss. When she’s hurting I feel only compassion. I can see how hard she’s trying and how battered her heart is. Her brilliance begins to shine again. She can think more clearly around me, show her strengths better, be more competent. I can see how skilled she is, how amazing she is. I fall for her all over again, her eyes like hazelnuts and green pine bark, her hair a halo of curls. She crawls off the couch and chases Poppy around the house, who squeals with delight. The forest fire stops raging and I become a small fire in a hearth once again, bright and warm and safe to be close to. Banked against the cold night and able to roar if needed, but not burning down the house.
Life becomes a joy again. There’s pain around me, confusion, darkness, death. But a relief bubbles up through it all. She’s my Rose again and I’m worthy of her trust again. She lights down in my heart like a bird nesting. My demons murmur but they don’t run the parliament. The darkness is there between the stars in our eyes, the taste of death and blood. Our hopes like ships upon the waters. The smell of our baby in my arms, milky kisses on my cheek and the quiet steady ache of my arms to have her in them. Finding my way back to connection for each of my precious family. Remembering laughter is what makes the night shorter and less savage.
And I’m blemished but no longer the snake in our nest. The knife in my smile is sheathed. She doesn’t flinch when I walk near, my beautiful love, my beloved. In her bad dreams she stirs and I wake. She reaches for me in her sleep, fingers tangled into fingers. My heart croons peace to hers like a dove. The joy in my world is like the moon rising. She rests her head against my heart. She rests her heart within my arms. I’m hers again. I’m hers.
Finding myself needing downtime, debriefing, and reflection space. So many conversations and experiences to digest. I recognise that lingering uneasy feeling of needing to stop taking in new experiences and find a safe place to slow everything down and unpack.
I find myself thinking of the unpaid and often hidden and unrecognized work of the precious friends, mentors, and loved ones who hold a space like this. I’m seeing how to use such blessings more wisely and waste less time circling the same dilemmas. It’s a rare gift, space in which feelings don’t have to be rational or justified to be explored. I have worked hard to get better at doing it myself for myself and for others, to support people to feel genuinely safe, heard, and understood.
I’m deeply grateful to Rose who has created this haven for me for years now, hours of conversations that at times seem pointless, confusing, frustrating. But that commitment to validation and reflection where I’ve been able to move out of personal journals and into relationship and conversation has been invaluable to me. Her love and skill and patience is a big part of why we work so well together. She is brilliant at listening, being safe for the vulnerable or traumatised, and remembering a my wildness and my darkness when I’m burned dry and can’t recall that I’m really a mad poet who has learned to mimic a regular person but I live, breathe, and recharge best out in the wilds, running along the edge of the night.
I’m so blessed to have some friends who also hold spaces for me, online or face to face. Their timely connection has been the difference between lonely anguish and comfort, severe distress and pain I can howl out of my heart. I’m aware of how lucky I am.
I’m struck once again by how many aspects of therapy that are healing and helpful are also aspects of life and relationship. They don’t have to be walled away as trained skills available only in treatment, by those in regulated relationships. They can and often are part of the very best friendships, they are part of the love that passes between partners, parents, children.
Eugene Gendlin recently passed away. I found his book on Focussing extremely interesting and helpful. I was intrigued that he didn’t take his ideas and lock them away in the exclusive domain of therapists, as is usual. Instead he considered focusing to be a skill any two people could learn and support each other in. Thousands of people have learned and offered this skill of holding space and listening to each other in support groups online and around the world. Precious, peer based. No power. No treatment. Connection. There’s nothing at all wrong with needing professional support. But I don’t like the locking of knowledge into silos, reserved for the experts and not recognised as the significant skill and profound kindness it is when we receive it in our personal lives.
It’s been a wonderful day, very precious to experience a Mother’s Day that didn’t feel like being eviscerated. Rose and I have had a day of tending. We’ve spent time with Mums and women who nurture, and reached out to a few folks who find today hurts. We soaked up the joy of our kids and talked through some of the sadness and yearning that’s part of today when there babies not here and Mother’s not here.
Rose took us to a forest and we breathed it in. She took this beautiful photo of me on the playground, wearing my awesome birthday shirt and boots.
We attended a couples massage class together which was beautiful and powerful and deeply needed. We sat and looked into each others eyes and cried. We touched each other and eased pain. It was one of the first times we’ve been alone together since Poppy was born, and the first that we didn’t use that time to sleep! (It was tempting)
We visited my Mum and Star’s Mum and enjoyed gifts in bed and sat around a campfire and did no work or housework or admin at all, just connected with each other and our people.
It was beautiful.
We’re currently in hospital with Poppy, who has some kind of terrible gastro and can’t keep anything down. We drove home from our camping trip a day early and brought her straight to our local hospital. That was a drive I’m not likely to forget in a hurry. She was admitted and rehydrated with a nasal gastric tube. Rose and I have been caring for her in shifts. Last night at 3am I took Star home and we both caught up on some sleep. It was the first night I’ve been apart from Poppy since she was born and if I hadn’t been so sleep deprived I fell asleep the moment I got into my room, I’d probably have had some big feelings about that.
It’s so strange to be here feeling sad and scared when it’s such a minor issue really and there are really sick kids around. I feel like I’m making drama to be upset, feel like I need to get through this as quietly as possibly without drawing attention to her, in case somehow that means she comes in for something much nastier. At the same time I feel like she’s dying and it’s inevitable that we’ll lose her. I want to bite the nurses who tell her to stop making a fuss, and kiss the ones who touch her gently and are comforting. Just giving yourself permission to feel what you feel instead of measuring it against some yardstick of what’s valid and acceptable is hard but so helpful. Parenting is weird.
I’m trying to stay out of crisis. It feels like my life tips into crisis regularly at the moment and I’m under too much strain. I’m trying to find what I need to be okay. Dashing to the hospital after missing my bus stop this morning, the strain in my body was like my muscles were trying to teleport me there directly, such an intense need to be back with her. I thought about the line I’ve been using to calm my pain levels, from my cranial sacral therapy – breathe into your bones, and the journalling I’ve done around what that means to me- the breath that turns my bones from straining steel under pressure, back to living bone, that takes root like a tree and grows and bends beneath the storms.
Thinking about the poems and images of wings and how the pain is where they would be if they were visible (I went to say if they were real, but that’s not quite the same thing) and someone had cruelly bound them together so I couldn’t fly. The way wings are related to my poetry, difference from others, my walking in other worlds.
So I walked back to the hospital a little slower and I breathed and felt the straining ease a little, the sense of tendons overtightened like guitar strings about to snap back off. Pain rushes back in with awareness, muscles are stiff but they move again, that sense of being locked shifts. My stride changed, the pain flared worse at first then eased a little, became mobile and moved around between different muscles, felt less like I was on the edge of tearing apart.
I called some of our tribe for help. Some chatted online with me, or visited the hospital with lunch, made us dinner, took Star food shopping for school, put on a load of washing of clothes and bedding with vomit on them… I concentrated on not falling off the edge of the world in my own head and forgetting that people care about us, or feeling guilty about our resources compared to so many parents. We are there for our tribe in many ways, it’s not manipulative or parasitic to call on them for help. I made eye contact and enjoyed hugs and soaked up as much as I could.
Rose and I, still negotiating our new roles, fielding the constant question of which of us is the mother, dancing between the needs of our girls and ourselves, having to find a new common language for this part of our lives. Things tangled this evening and our conversation to get back on the same page was the kind where 10 minutes in it feels horribly dangerous and digging into deep wounds and black places and you’re starting to wonder if you shouldn’t just abandon it now before it all goes to hell… But we passed through to understanding and found out way back together. I’m home again for a sleep now. Poppy is sleeping in hospital with Rose after a bath and keeping down the first feed in 24 hrs. We’re hopeful she will be well enough to come home tomorrow.
This was Poppy on camp before she became sick. It was very beautiful and my new tent -a birthday gift from Rose, was amazing and wonderful. 🙂
We’re away for the long weekend, staying with a friend. Desperately needed, I’m hovering on the edge and need daily effort to help me get back to an okay baseline. I’ve had to put a lot of thought into getting out of work mode and being aware of the impacts of all the changes. It’s been the most wonderful thing to get out of our routine and away from work and clear my head.
I hadn’t prepared for how different traveling with a baby is! We’re not that experienced at traveling with Star, adding Poppy has been a steep learning curve. We’ve had a couple of super stressful nights with very little sleep and a hysterical tiny person suffering night terrors who will only settle with Star… go figure. So it’s been a weird holiday, absolutely brilliant and restful in some ways, really stressful in others. Lots of work happening to maximise the former and minimise the latter!
We tried a different approach to sleep arrangements last night and Poppy only woke up 4 times, tears but no night terrors. I feel fairly human today now. By last night I was a wreck. It’s tough!
Yesterday Star and I explored one of the sink holes in town and rose gardens along side it with our cameras. I’ve transferred to a new phone and the camera is amazing. I particularly love macro photography and looking for things we don’t usually record. There’s such a mindfulness aspect to photography where you really pay attention to what’s around you. It’s a delight to see Star enjoying it.
Still adapting to my new full time working life. My two main current contracts take a lot of management and I’m making plenty of rookie mistakes there too and learning rapidly. I’ve been taking heart from a great quote about how an expert is a person who has made every possible mistake in a very narrow field… the mistakes are tough but absolutely invaluable and I’m learning loads. Mostly I only make them once. Sometimes the issues and blocks and skills take more time.
Noticing things like the sense of burden that has come with the transition to being the primary breadwinner in our family. The way that I no longer really notice if the lounge is a mess but suddenly Rose who didn’t used to care, feels stressed by it. Transition of roles. I’m determined to use my time as lead parent and household manager to help me be a good breadwinner partner who gets the stress of those roles and provides excellent support. We’re discussing how we share the load and use our skills best, what to do about the areas that neither of us are great at, or both find really stressful. Rose after 10 + years in the workforce is doing the same in reverse.
My first big pay came through a couple of days ago, the first time I’ve been the earner in our relationship. Rose spent the day quite stressed and checking in with me if I was upset or angry with her. We call this her ‘foster kid mode’ and it’s one of her threat responses to particular kind of stress. Sometimes it means I’m leaking suppressed anger or taking control in ways I shouldn’t. Sometimes it’s nothing to do with me but some other stress going on. By evening we took a couple of minutes to check in together and investigate what was setting it off. The massive change in our dynamics and the fresh vulnerability of money in different roles was what came up right away. We named it and that was enough to bring down the stress for now. Simply bringing things into view safely is so valuable.
I’ve brought my usual rest and relaxation things with me and found it’s not quite working. Even making art, which I’m enjoying, is not settling me like it usually does. A whirring anxiety is chronically present in my chest. Today we did Easter gifts, Rose arranged chocolates and something else for everyone. Star was given a jigsaw puzzle. She and I started it this morning and I calmed. Now that art is part of my working life in a much bigger way, making it is still triggering that sense of trying to be productive. It’s still output. ‘Doing’, not the ‘being’ I so desperately need in order to calm down. Everything changes, the risks are no longer what they used to be.
So much has changed. At the moment, while I navigate new work, new roles, new cultures, new relationships, new clients, new kinds of work, two kids at home and all the differences that come with this, it is very much like a controlled period of crisis. I’m in a stage of intense personal development and high levels of self care. I’m learning from rookie mistakes such as- I can’t sustain working all day then doing housework all night. That skipping meals and running on constantly broken sleep isn’t sustainable. Or not making time to pump milk during my work day results in severe engorgement and bruising.
Transition. Adaptation. Transformation. Moments of dark distress and others of pure magic. Learning how to be a family together, how to support each of the dreams we’ve all worked so hard for, how to attune and tend to each other. Yesterday was hard. Today is joyful. That’s the nature of adventures, and it’s what we’re teaching our girls. The hard walk up the hill gets the view. The effort to pack good supplies is rewarded when you have insect repellant on hand. It’s worth feeling a bit of fear about heights to be able to stand on the edge of the dormant volcano and see the swallows dancing over the dark water far below. To be alive.
The discomfort and hard work are the cost of the magic, those moments of bliss and awe and feeling deeply. It doesn’t need to be perfect to be absolutely wonderful and worthwhile. (something the disability community are constantly trying to get us to understand)
There’s always a cost, to everything, your values, your goals and dreams, everything. The secret seems to be to try and keep the costs bearable, and then to bear them willingly. Don’t allow them to steal the joy or consume all your attention.
In a way it’s hard to define, the costs seem to be part of the magic. Those who have wealth enough to insulate themselves from all of some kinds of costs, who helicopter to the view instead of hike, find themselves insulated also from the wonder and the beauty. My friends who have a lot of money are dissatisfied by and return to the kitchen meals that being me great joy. Dissociation is social and financial as much as it is personal.
Striving seems to be part of it all, the burn in your muscles and pebble in your shoe that demands attention. An indulgent endless diet of dessert loses joy. A life deeply lived and rich in experiences is one with risk and pain and discomfort and hard work, alongside joy and love and contentment and peace and awe.
So there are adventures all around at the moment, personal and professional. I’m overjoyed and incredibly fortunate. Learning the new risks of burnout, the new skills to find my sustainable rhythms and follow my joy. Managing and embracing the costs. Living with my whole heart.
My family has been touched by death again recently and it’s complicated and painful. Sudden death is like a punch in the mouth you don’t see coming. Rose’s estranged biological mother has died. It’s the end of a complicated relationship. It’s the end of a cycle of abuse, suffering, love, rejection, corruption and hope. It’s deeply sad, a kind of freedom, a loss, a relief, and a new torment. It’s the end of hopes and efforts for change and ‘one day maybe things will be different’. It’s a lot of secrets taken to the grave. It’s unfathomable by those of us lucky enough to have good relationships with our mothers. Some of us have never listened – or choose not to know – of the darkness that can exist between mother and child, of the grief and rage and bewildered pain of the children where things are so bad at home they end up on the streets or in care.
Rose wrote a public farewell, feeling the tensions between the untold stories and the assumptions of others, the pressures on those who grieve to do so in the right ways, to justify their choices and fit their painful, complex experiences to our simplistic ideas about the virtue of mothers. Platitudes that hurt.
Not all children are wanted. Not all children are loved. Not all loved children are well loved. Not all mothers or parents who love have the skills, support, and capacity to meet their children’s needs and protect them from their own demons. Some of us eat our young.
My precious child.
Tonight as you sleep your mama is feeling lots of things. She feels sad, she feels angry. There is relief and guilt and frustration. Your Mama feels lots of things all at once and then nothing at all… numbness always follows.
This week my darling daughter, your mama recieved a call that she has been expecting her whole life. You see… your Mama’s Mama died on monday baby girl; she died in her home from a heart attack. She was 62.
Mama hasn’t seen her Mama in a long time… it’s been about 8 years. Mama made that hard choice and mostly doesnt regret it. They have spoken but rarely and not always nicely. Your mama recently shared stories and photos of you and all the wonderful ways you fill up your Mums’ lives. Her Mama was happy to know you were happy and healthy.
Mama had a complicated relationship with her Mama… it was never easy or particularly healthy. Mama stopped living with her when she was still a kid because she was sick and needed help to be a better Mum. That was tough on her Mama and she didn’t always try her hardest, but she never gave up. My Mama wanted so badly to love and look after me… right until the very end.
Mama knows that things are gonna be tricky over the next little while. There are hard conversations to have and affairs to attend to. Mama is glad she has her best friend and girls by her side. Mama will be ok; she will cry, she will feel bad. Mama will hug you a little tighter, she will tell you that she promises to do her very best, she will possibly cry while rocking you to sleep. Mama will try to take too many photos as usual.
You have done something amazing baby girl; you have turned a broken, alone, afraid little girl into a proud, strong, brave Mama… and my Mama would be proud of that!
Sleep well my precious daughter… you are so very loved xxx
We’re all wrestling in our own way and finding ourselves out of step with each other. Even sweet, innocent Poppy knows something is wrong. She’s been teary and difficult to comfort this week, biting, scratching and clinging to her safe people. We were busy making the transition to Star in school again, and me at work, and Rose at home and in some work. Suddenly we’ve been adapting to this new reality and the presence of death. I’m glad I saw Cave this year. I cry and I’m scared at times for my hurting love, but I’m not crashing into the black place I did a couple of years back. He’s made death bearable for me again.
It’s not so much a transition as a transformation. We are all so changed by the events of the past year and there’s no going back. At times I find myself paralysed by terror, rigid with fears of loss. So much to lose and so much self destruction in me and those I love, such deep wounds. With money from my art, I buy a good pen and write, and my terror eases. Fear steals so much from the good years. I see a therapist who reminds me to breathe into my bones. We sleep and are all still here in the morning. The Rose I wake to at dawn is different to the woman who lay down beside me the night before. And so are we.
Recently we went to the home of this woman Rose has not seen in 8 years. We picked through things, looking for important documents and childhood mementos. Rose shared some of the memories with me. These are the stairs she pushed me down. This is the cupboard I would sleep in when I was afraid. Some of the stories are unspeakably bad. The walls are covered in photos of Rose. The rooms are full memories of pain. There’s shit on the carpet, filth in the corners. The neighbor tells us stories of her kindness and how much she cared for her friends. I never met this women. I feel the complex tangle of who she was to different people in her life. There’s inspirational quotes on the walls, Bible verses in journals. She kept the paperwork where her parental rights were severed. “Lying c*nt” she’s written in the margins of Rose’s testimony. We stack the tins where she kept her street drugs and dirty syringes on the coffee table. Poppy plays with a wooden toy we find for her. We take a few dolls Rose used to love and a little girl’s dress. The place feels like a cage that’s finally empty.
We leave. We pick Poppy up from the ashy floor and gather our little collection of toxic treasures that will hide in our shed until the right day to look at them. It’s over.
We lock the door behind us and drive home, to our beautiful home with our tree hanging green over the roof, our clean beds and lovely daughters, garden full of roses and cupboards full of food. There will be time for grief and rage and bitter pain. The wounds that don’t really heal and the fears that linger. Even when you escape the ghosts come with you, in our home it’s only Poppy who hasn’t yet learned this. But alongside so much pain is now so much tender love. None of us grieve alone. None of us dream alone.
Poppy is six months old today and I’m blown away. My whole life has changed so much in such a short time! Not so long ago Rose and I were childless. Now we are navigating the daily intense splendor of parenting in full swing! Star is learning to drive and Poppy is learning to crawl. Life is a cycle of feeling overwhelmed, confused and afraid, then finding our feet again and enjoying a sense of calm, contentment and competency. It’s like the tide, some days we are in touch with our expertise, others most painfully not. We are learning not to panic on the days we feel out of our depth, to just do our best and hold on. We are in a constant unfolding process of creating together what kind of family we are. It’s such a joy and a privilege.
My relationship with Rose, my beautiful, dedicated partner in crime, goes through a huge change. We are a team highly focused on the needs of our girls and finding the safe space we’ve created for each other gets stretched out to include our kids. There’s less time to be young ourselves, less energy for our own needs. The role of parent dominates and we adjust, joyfully. In quiet moments we remember to change form, days where we have barely touched as we tag teamed life, we reach out and remember each other.
Watching Rose be a Mother is a joy I wasn’t sure I’d get to see. I’ve learned so much from her. She is a joyful parent, she naturally gears towards play. She shows Poppy the rain, paddles her toes in the ocean, lets her smear yogurt on her face and squeeze watermelon through her fingers. She sings and Poppy dances. She knows all her ticklish spots, knows her tired cry, her pain cry, her sleepy face. She is highly attuned, watching for the edge where fun turns into fear and pulling back from it. Everything else may be a disaster but Poppy is clean, fed, groomed, in a fresh nappy and dressed immaculately, always.
I have learned so much from her and still look to her first in matters of children. As a child and youth worker her experience is much broader than mine. We’re a good team. There’s a lot of complimentary skills. I’m able to speak to the anxiety about every spot, to help set up the rhythms and routines that keep the household running, to help hold the space when emotions drown someone. I’m chief spider catcher, milk maker, and debriefer. Rose cooks beautiful meals, folds the nappies, cuddles Poppy to sleep. Reads me Harry Potter. Suggests nights down the beach. Reminds me to stop working and soak it all in.
Through 6 months she’s had my back with breastfeeding, which has been a joy sometimes and a hell others. When I’ve told her she needs to change her ideas about being supportive and support me if I need to stop nursing too, she’s wrapped her brain around that. Yesterday she gave me a beautiful gift bag to say thankyou for 6 months of breastfeeding. It had peanut butter cookie dough ice cream, milk bottle lollies, and a three strand milky pearl bracelet from her, Star, and Poppy. I am so touched. She gets it. She gets me.
We are in the thick of some unexpected work opportunities that are some of the most exciting and inspiring I’ve ever had. I’m doing several projects with the SA Mental Health Commission. Rose is also involved with their youth projects. So we’re having a lot of deep conversations about work and parenting and money and vulnerability and mental health, figuring out what we need and how to look after each other and our family and set things up so we can be shiny. It’s a whole new level of partnership where we are both deeply aware of each other’s struggles. We’ve supported each other through all our work ups and downs over the years and we’ve learned a lot. Rose is intimately familiar with the kind of madness I have around money and ethics where being broke and exploited feels safer to me and negotiating pay melts me into panic attacks. This time I’m surrendering a lot of power to her and my other trusted people to help me navigate this area. Exporting the skills I lack. I’ve seen other people with deep wounds or difficulty seeing straight in a key area do this (one brilliant couple I know, she keeps an eye out for his signs of burnout. He is honest and open about his voices and she has the power and right to call veto if the warning signs of overload are present). It’s a very big change from trying to up skill myself in every area, it’s vulnerable and strange to use my best judgement to rely on trusted others instead of continue to try and navigate when I know my compass is very faulty. It’s kind of terrifying and liberating.
Twice since I picked my advocacy work back up, Rose has found language to say ‘my gut is worried about this plan’. Not easy conversations to have or language to create but we’ve muddled through. Muddling through is an approach Rose brought to our relationship and frankly I think it’s our superpower. Imperfect, messy, inelegant, nevertheless we get there. We muddle together. I’ve taken the unprecedented steps of backing away from something that she identified as too high risk, focusing my energy on lower risk ventures for now. Together we are becoming more skilled at dealing with the impacts of my advocacy (both good and bad) on our whole family, now that we have one! Two heads are better than one, it seems.
Rose and I are both brilliant and vulnerable. It’s hard to see both aspects at times, but in our years together I’ve learned they are two sides of the same coin. All those years of suffering, all the skills we lack and blocks we hit and struggles we have are the place where the insights, the deeply tuned empathy, and the sparks of brilliance are. They are a package deal, intricately linked to each other. When things work well we can buffer the lacks and losses and create a setting for the skills to shine. But there’s no way possible to gain all this insight without some scars, and even healed you don’t run like someone who hasn’t been wounded. You don’t love like someone who doesn’t know loss. Our absolute joy in Poppy comes with a thread of terror, a dark numbing loss, memories of death and sadness and fears of being inadequate, incompetent, and alone.
Competence and vulnerability tend to get split off as we try to show one side in our work and our public lives and the other keep hidden for 3am or maybe the shrink. The reality is, that heart is so big because of its scars, and the flaws in the diamond are part of what makes it precious. None of us are invulnerable or competent at everything and dangerous things happen when we try to be or get put under pressure to pretend to be. I’m learning that professionalism is not actually supposed to be a brittle facade of perfection, where you conceal every sign of pain, insecurity, confusion, doubt, or failure. It’s not a superhuman inhuman cardboard cut out of yourself you hide behind and can’t have any realconnection through.
Professionalism is a place where you have a good sense of who you are, your skills and vulnerabilities, and you can talk about them, negotiate around them, set up what you need to be brilliant, and nurture and protect the vulnerabilities. Human and connected. That’s a pretty radical departure from what I was taught, and what most of us experience. (Thinking of my lovely friend in a management position on excellent pay who used to lock herself in the toilet at work to cry, and send me miserable emails from her phone) Spaces it’s not safe to be human do dangerous things to people. Dehumanised roles and workplaces have brutal, predictable impacts on people. It’s only the psychopaths who thrive in them, slick, charming, and invulnerable. People like me tend to simply self destruct without really knowing why. It’s my nature to not fit into boxes I’m pressed into. Most people are able to adapt but find the cost is both more subtle and more profound than they at first realised.
It takes skill to keep the needs of work (be shiny at this time in this way) set up in such a way that they fit with human needs, with the way our energy ebbs and flows, our needs for human contact and for retreat from it, for a sense of meaning in our work. It’s the nature of all industry to wrestle with the line between productivity and exploitation, to look for cheaper, quicker ways to get results, to fall for slick charm and treat people as faceless cogs in a machine. And if resources were limitless and there were no consequences for abuse, that process of chewing up and spitting out people, animals, and our environment would work just fine and be highly profitable. It wouldn’t matter if we all worked like machines, but we ate living organisms and fit together not like cogs but like parts an ecosystem. So kids die in sweatshops overseas making cheap clothes, and middle-class workers with horrible bosses suffer chronic depression, migraines, and the kind of miserable self destructive behavioral ticks we used to see in caged, bored, lonely zoo animals. No resource is limitless. Industry that abuses creates wealth for a few at a high price for everyone else. Ethical, sustainable industry does not exploit but instead invests. Like good relationships. Like good families.
So my beloved Rose and I are gearing less towards self improvement and more towards what discovering what environment we need in our family for each of us to be our shiny best somewhere. What does Star need? What safe place to fall, what resources, love expressed in what way? What do I need to be brilliant and keep my finger off the self destruct button? What does Rose need to allow her painful past to be a source of invaluable insight rather than a millstone of inertia and defeat? Not how can we be less vulnerable, but how can we be more human? Work with how we work. Muddling through. Imperfect but good enough.
This is a love letter to Rose, really, in its own way. She is the heart of our home, the one who reminds us to be in the moment, to soak each other up. She’s here through it all, even when it’s overwhelming. 1 year of loving a teen together. 6 months of loving a baby. She changes nappies, pack lunches, teaches baby sign, wipes tears, gives cuddles. She buys pearls. She is my love. ❤