On being an alcoholic ostrich

Despite being the author of a blog about kindness, creativity and beauty I have to admit that in recent times, I have been not very good at any of those things.  I was going to say atrocious, but then that was a continuation of my undoubted ability at catastrophising.  A friend put a little cartoon on her social media page which says “Anxiety girl – Able to leap from here to a catastrophic conclusion in a single bound’.  Ahh….the recognition.

I have two good reasons for defaulting to catastrophic terror right now.  The first was the five figure bill from our good friends at the tax office, and the second was my ongoing unemployment.  In addition to general cost of life, which is increasingly hard to meet, I now owe the equivalent of a small new car, and I have no idea of how this can have occurred.  I believe panic stations are in order.  In response, last night I became an alcoholic ostrich and watched old Dr Who episodes.  I hoped the Tardis would arrive in the backyard this morning and I could climb in and run away, but there was just the neighbour’s cat and the usual magpies ganging up on the Iron Paw.

This was the next to final straw to a week marked by almost constant crying.  I put the crying down to the reactivation of nasty adoption baggage, which clearly has something to do with it.  However, the extra frisson was provided by hormones.  Bring on menopause I say.  Hot flushes cant possibly be worse than feeling suicidal just because you’re fertile.

So, what am I going to do?

The practical option would be just to continue job hunting.  Yes, it has to be done but its also contributing to the despair.

Secondly, how about the business you keep talking about?  Yes, but not likely to provide a short term answer.  Also, contributing to despair as I have to face just how technically and economically useless I am.

Thirdly, rail loudly and vociferously and the government and all the people who elected them for their assumption that just because I live in Canberra I don’t have the same feelings about being ‘structurally readjusted’ as for example, people in Geelong.

Fourthly, cry again.

Fifthly, go home and snog the Iron Paw.

I was reading Gordon Livingstone the other day.  He said something along the lines of this.  Sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is to keep plodding in the face of everything, like jobs that don’t come or are completely or partially soul destroying, like cooling relationships, unreliable friends and irritating utility companies.  The list goes on.

The kindest thing I could manage for myself this week was to sit in the rose garden.  Under an old tree whose boughs drooped groundwards, casting shade and making me feel just a little bit calmer.  The restorative power of nature.  I think I’m off there right now.

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The real love of…

Today is Saint Valentine’s, in case you hadn’t noticed the phalanx of flustered florists rushing around your city.  I could be bemoaning my single status, but as I’ve done quite a bit of moaning recently, I will turn my words to something much more positive.  Books.

Next to the Iron Paw and her compatriots, books have been my best and most loving friends.  They have engaged me, filled me with delight, taken me time travelling, helped me, shocked me, grown my mind into places I could never have dreamed of and generally been an enduring love of my life.  People may fail you.  Books never will. A book is an act of creativity and love by its author, and guess what, libraries are full of them.  And…you can read them for free.

The Australian Library and Information Association have attempted to rebrand St V’s Day into Library Lover’s Day.  I’m not sure that the flower growers will thank them for attempting to undermine their most profitable day of the year, but I am all for it.  I love libraries.  So this post is a tribute to libraries I have loved.

The first one is unquestionably the AH Bracks Library, run by the City of Melville back in the 1970s.  It was in an unassuming toilet block brick building, almost opposite the guides hall on Stock Rd.  The City has now built a new building on the opposite corner, but my memories are of the little library.  It wasn’t fitted out in any spectacular way, and in fact, it wasn’t spectacular in any way at all except for the sense of serenity inside it.  Mum would sometimes pick me up from school, and we’d go there.  I have no idea where my brother was, and Dad was still at work.  So it was just Mum and me, peacefully reading.  The AH Bracks Library was a little oasis of peace in my turbulent life, where I got to see that my mother liked books as much as me.  My mother taught me to read, when she plane/bus/ship and campervan schooled me in Year One.  It was one of the few bonds we had that was completely pure and true.

I don’t remember much about school libraries, beyond having them.  The next library to really make an impression on me was my university library.  Almost too much of an impression in fact.  It was totally overwhelming.  But that says more about me and what a simple and sheltered life I’d had.  The pressure of assignments forced that feeling underground, and I ransacked the shelves desperately, unable to appreciate what was going on inside me and unable to appreciate and properly use the goldmine that was in front of me.

I survived and did well enough to get taken on as an Honours student.  This is how I met the Battye Library of Western Australian history.  I’d never really met a reference library before.  At first I was disappointed that open shelves were minimised.  Through the disappointment I realised that this was asking me to know what I wanted, an odd notion that I had rarely encountered before. 
It grew on me as I spent days up in the reading room, a little glass box that felt like it was suspended in space.  I also have a very clear memory of how this library gave me succour from the terrible relationship I had embroiled myself in.  Let me be plain, I have much better taste in books than I have in men.  I remember standing at the top of the steps and feeling awful after another fight.  ‘Just go to the library’, I told myself.  ‘You’ll be fine’.  And I was.  The books endured, he didn’t.

Thesis lead to graduation lead to unrelated job lead to money.  I confess that once I had money and could afford to buy books, libraries receded for me.  But I’m talking about libraries today so I now have to skip many years until I arrived in Canberra.  Enter the National Library.  This library and I have a relationship that has survived even the most abusive of processes, the PhD.  It is also only one short block away from the only decent rose gardens in the city.  Double win.

A consolation prize goes to my local library, which in my current penury has been become part of my regular round.  Just as the AH Bracks library was unlovely, so is this one.  I’m annoyed with our government for wasting millions on projects like City to the Lake when the facilities which are already here are in such desperate need of makeovers.  And which cater to the entire community, not merely those who are rich enough and well enough to go there. In the latest budget cuts, they’ve announced cuts to the mobile library service which I think is utterly wicked. So I will be continuing to use my local library, because it’s a good service and it needs the numbers.

My last library is the one that moved me to tears for its sheer beauty.  You can’t borrow from it, and you have to pay to see it.  Seeing it was my birthday present to myself last year.  It is the library at Chatsworth House.  I didn’t expect to cry when I saw it.  All it needed for absolute perfection was the garden immediately outside.  When I die, that’s where I’m going. 

Libraries, I love you.

 

Writing helps

According to Anne Lamott, broken-ness has benefits.  I learnt this from a book my friend lent me on Sunday, after she read my last entry and invited me over for salad, tea and ‘the best biscuits in the world, ever!’  (Thanks, my love).  Here’s what Anne says.

Prayer is talking to something or anything with which we seek union, even if we are bitter, or insane or broken.  (In fact, these are probably the best possible conditions under which to pray).  Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen and do not have to get together before we show up.[1]

I like this book a lot.  She talks about how awful it is seeing her cat die,which reminded me that it will shortly be the anniversary of losing Miss G.  Her agonising descent was accompanied by reading Julia Cameron’s Letters from a non believer.  I started my own letters for a while then, beginning with some pretty wild and angry accusations at IT for letting my faithful and loving feline companion die so ignominously. Anne suggests this is ok because it was truthful and real, and her version of IT prefers truthfulness.

I don’t recall much about those letters now beyond what I’ve just said about my cat.  Except, that writing them helped.  The same as writing my last entry helped.  It was my depressed, mucked up, pathetic, whining truth and I felt better for saying so.  Writing helps.

I’m still not in sparkling shape.  I have this project to finish this week, along with four rather bitter anniversaries.  Dad’s birthday (today!  Happy Birthday Dad, where ever you are), Mum’s death day, the last day I saw my best friend alive and losing Miss G.  So I think its time to take Anne seriously and pray.

Help me to loosen up, to remember to breathe.  Help me to clear away the debris of my bad memories.  Let the pain wast through me.  Give me perspective on my past, and help me to cultivate compassion for myself, my families and my friends, living and dead.  For everyone who is bitter, insane or broken, may they experience kindness and peace.  May we all be at peace. 

Namaste.


[1] Anne Lamott, Help, thanks, wow: The three essential prayers, Riverhead Books, NY, 2012, p5-6.

Changing the sky

Some Buddhist writers I have read like to use an image of the sky and the clouds as a teaching metaphor.  The clouds are our moods, ceaselessly coming and going.  It doesn’t matter how dark and stormy or how light and fluffy the clouds are, the sky remains constant and blue behind it.  It is a teaching which is supposed to give comfort in times of turmoil.

I get the idea and I think its nice.  I just feel it’s the reverse for me.  For me it’s the sky that’s the problem.  My sky is black, and the clouds give me relief.

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately in the effort to find a therapist.  Someone who can actually help me reverse the order of nature.  It is, in fact, the research that is the cause of current lack of cloudiness.  Having had no income since April and with the current government’s policies, little prospects, I was compelled to take the only thing that’s come my way.  Unfortunately it happened to be about adoption.  I thought I’d be alright.  Really, I did.  But I’m not, and I don’t know what to do anymore.  On the positive side I can afford to replace my dangerously bald tyres and keep the Iron Paw in the style to which she has become accustomed.  On the other hand, it’s all come back.

I’m having terrible dreams again.  Self mutilation, exposure till death experiments.  Fun stuff like that.  I’m experiencing a kind of dissociation.  I can watch TV, listen to people, do the work, run errands, all the while watching from other kind of vantage point.  My body is here.  I can feel it on the chair, the points of contact.  My skin prickling and sweaty from the unending heat.  But it’s like it’s also happening to someone else.  Am I here?  Am I real?  Does anyone care?  I scream at other drivers, I’m rude to waiters.  I just want the entire world to get out of my way.  I feel anxious in crowds.

I can count at least ten properly qualified therapists and quite a few other ones that I have seen since my undergraduate days.  In short, I’ve been bouncing in and out of therapist’s offices all my adult life.  All were good hearted, well intentioned people who did their best to help me.  But not one has ever truly been able to get to the core.  Here’s a clue why.  If you type the word ‘adoption’ into the Australian Psychological Society’s website, you get zero hits.  Despite three parliamentary enquiries and multiple apologies since 1997, the APS doesn’t appear to consider the experience of adoption as a problem.  It’s a common phenomenon, the myth of the happy adoptive child.  I think the profession owes me a refund, given the number of therapists I’ve educated…

The Australian Institute of Family Studies disagrees.  Their study is the most recent, largest and most rigorous study undertaken yet in Australia.  It found that more than two thirds of adoptees, regardless of how they perceived the quality of their relationship with their adoptive family, reported mental health problems.  At least I know I am not alone in being unable to get the kind of properly trained, professional help that I need.

At the core, I believe, of the black sky problem is the fact that the first trauma happened at the very beginning.  Adoptees have no pre trauma self.  There is no before and after the event.  There just is.  All my well meaning therapists never got that.  Some even attempted to run the chosen/lucky line on me.  Don’t ever tell me I’m lucky.  I could be unable to control my urge to punch you.

You see, now that I’ve met my biological mother, I rapidly came to understand that the government took me away from someone who was actually psychologically capable of being a good enough mother.  But she wasn’t married.  They gave me to a married couple who both came from less than well adjusted backgrounds.  It was an unhappy and at times violent house.  I have the broken bones and the scars to prove it.  This is what they call complex trauma.  If I’d been left with my biological mother, the first trauma of abandonment at birth would have been averted.  Secondly, while you can never predict or control the future, it’s unlikely that under my biological mother’s care I would have felt so scared or lonely or flawed.  She’s not perfect, of course.  But most of her problems came from the experience of having no other options except to hand me over the government.  She was, as she herself says, fine before that.

As I understand it, therapy for trauma victims in part relies on utilising memories of the pre trauma self.  The soldier before he went to war.  The rape victim before the attack.  My mother, before the adoption.  My adoptive mother, perhaps before the first baby died.  They have somewhere memories of a self who is happier, freer, something-er.  I don’t have those.  Black sky is all I know, relieved by cloudiness.  It doesn’t seem to matter how positive I can feel at times, it all comes back to black.  The older I get, the less hope I have of it ever changing.  I’ve invested thousands and thousands of dollars in trying to heal myself.  I have no more ideas left.  I’m tired and I feel broken beyond repair. 

 

Imagining the future (well, trying to)

Many writers these days, from the most woo woo to the highly respectable, advocate the power of the imaginal.  In short, if you can’t first imagine something in exacting detail, how do you think you can make it happen or encourage it into being?

Having clarity around a desirable future seems like a reasonable course to me.  Yet, it’s something I have rarely, if at all, tried.  I’m not short on imaginative skills.  There are two novels awaiting their first revision in my virtual bottom drawer.  In my usual struggle to get to sleep, my imaginative can go into overdrive (although not often helpfully as I lie awake).  Rarely do I use my imagination in any kind of sustained campaign on my own behalf.

Having realised this, I’m sobered.  I’ve spent the best part of twenty years of professional life working in planning.  I’ve lost count of the number of vision statements I’ve drafted.  Perhaps it’s because of those endless meetings where stakeholders (yes, that offensive word) debate word choice and order as acrimoniously as any democratic parliament. 

Being a planner is like swimming in spit.  If that seems harsh, please let me assure you that I have been physically spat on and threatened.  My image has a basis in reality.  While most people don’t stoop to the physical expression of their feelings, you know they want to spit on you by their disdainful tone, condescending manner, and dismissive body language.  The notion of visioning, however theoretically noble, has thus been tainted for me.

I’ve been mixing up in my head my exposure to a highly politicised take on imaging the future with how it could be at a personal level.  So I decided to try it.  As my year off is coming to a close, I need to make some decisions.  I need a vision for the second half of my life.

No pressure then…

My result is best described as chocolate coated pickled onions.  It looks presentable, but it’s so wrong.  So unpalateable.  My years in planning make me default to a question of context.  Every plan I have ever written has a section which outlines this plan sits in the hierarchy from global to local.  Partly this is to do with defining what the plan can do, and partly it’s about expectation management. 

In my case, it’s the question: what can I actually control?  Everyone can dream big but it’s the translation process where we all tend to foul up or trip up.  What can I do?  Very little really.  What a tiny cog I am, caught up in political tides of austerity and downsizing, and public discourses of hatred and insufficiency.  Let alone my own internal discourses of negativity, such as the dream of the PhD ring crumbling into dust, which did not help elevate my mood…

All this process has done is make me feel smaller and more vulnerable that I felt before.  At heart, maybe I’m not deserving of what’s on that dribbled out attempt at an imaginal future.  I can write the words but they ring hollow, beset by doubts and fears.  It’s so sad.  I’m halfway through my life, and it appears I have neither vision nor belief.