Tag Archives: life

One hundred and thirteen days and counting

Forgive me reader, for I have sinned. It has been 113 days since I started my new life on the road, unattached and unfettered, and the freedom has gone to my head such that I have not written as much as I should. Writing for me feels a lot like exercise – something I may not necessarily feel like doing at any given moment, but an activity I do for the feeling afterwards which is my reward. Right now, I am doing virtual burpees as I type this post when I would rather be reading. You see, the silence in this van of ours is so hard to come by thanks to two loud and crazy little men, that when the cloud of quiet descends upon me, it is all I can do from succumbing to the lull of rest.

As I type this, we are in Karumba. Karumba is a small town on the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland where the water is loaded with barramundi and banana prawns, where the ground is a pale, sandy gravel and the turquoise water stretches for kilometers. It is hot, very hot, and the flies are relentless. The people are friendly, the local café sells good coffee, and the owners of our caravan park will provide us with 1 kilogram of cooked prawns for the stately sum of $22.

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When I last posted, we were in South Australia and it was freezing. Our initial plan when we left Melbourne was to test-out life on the road for a couple of months before returning to Victoria in October for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. After that, we would travel to Tasmania for a month before returning to Melbourne and beginning the journey north, along the coast.

That is not at all what happened.

By the time we got to Victor Harbor in South Australia, and had rugged our children up in more layers than we thought we packed, and had trudged them out to Granite Island to peer at penguins who had more sense than we did, and who hid in their burrows out of view, we accepted we needed to change our plans. So on a Sunday morning, as our boys played Lego at our kitchen table, my husband D and I looked at each other, uttered the immortal words, “Fuck this” and decided to head north to warmer climes.

We flicked through a random South Australia/Flinders Ranges brochure we had picked up somewhere, circled a sheep station that sounded nice, and called the Spirit of Tasmania to change our booking. Then, we spent a frantic hour in the Victor Harbor mall, buying all manner of summer clothes because we had packed none, such was our certainty that we would return to Victoria at which time we would collect our summer clothes from storage. Our boys walked out of Target with fake Crocs to replace their gumboots, wide-brimmed hats to replace their beanies, and shorts to replace their track-pants. My husband walked out with a couple of t-shirts. I left with nothing but excitement at encountering heat for the first time since March.

We drove to Noarlunga, where we visited the local BCF and bought swimming vests for children who were no longer going to be forced to crouch in wet tufts of grass to play as their parents gripped their jackets tightly and asked them to hurry up, but who would instead float in the thermal pools of Mataranka, the place in the Northern Territory that we pictured as an oasis on that cold, dreary day.

Then, we drove.

Through Adelaide, through the Clare Valley, stopping at Burra for supplies, a kick of the football and petrol, on we sped along the highway until we reached Almerta – the antithesis to our grey, drizzly days in the city and suburbs. Located in the middle of the Flinders Ranges between Orrorroo and Carrieton, we pulled up our van and the beautiful Shane – who essentially runs the entire station on her own as her husband travels for 7 months out of the year doing shearing/crutching for sheep across South Australia and New South Wales – pointed to our space on her sprawling property.

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We were the only visitors there, and it was incredible. We had no power, no phone reception, and limited water. For four days we rode our bikes through the red dirt, navigating stony hills and tufts of saltbush. By day we spotted emus, kangaroos, wedge-tailed eagles and cockatoos, played lego and cars in the dirt, and hiked around the property to explore the natural springs that emerged from the ground. At night we ate by the campfire, and when the boys were in bed, my husband and I sipped wine, placed more logs on to burn, and wondered why we hadn’t thought to do this earlier. The silence, the stars, the colours of the dirt and the sky. It was bliss.

It was bliss? Yes, it was. I can say that with certainty, even though for most of my life I have been a camp-phobe. Being raised by the elderly can do that to you. My grandparents were never going to sleep on the ground in the middle of nowhere, so my experience of childhood did not include this kind of pastime. My husband’s childhood was the same – his family owned a farm so disappearing for camping trips was not something workable or even desirable. D’s experience of roughing it came directly from being in the army, and until I met him, my experience of roughing it was staying in a 3 and a half star motel. This is partly why this whole experience of travelling on the road has been so educational for us, because we are repeatedly amazed at what we are discovering about ourselves in the absence of any outer influence. As it turns out, we do like camping. We like being offline for a little while and just appreciating being connected with each other and our kids. And we don’t even mind the dirt. Who knew?

From Almerta we continued north, stopping overnight at Wilpena Pound before another random and unexpected win when we stumbled across the tiny, deserted town of Farina. Farina was once a thriving community and many of its local sons fought in World Wars 1 and 2. We know this because we stood in awe as we read all about Farina’s history on a monument that was a couple of kilometers from the highway, surrounded by dirt, but which lead towards a huge clearing complete with trees, hills, and families of emus huddling close to each other. We rode our bikes around, chatted with the grey nomads whose language we are fluent in, and taught J about war, about soldiers, and even about the Coat of Arms, and that yes, it’s true, emus and kangaroos cannot go backwards. Neither can we.

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From Farina we headed further north, along the Oodnadatta Track. This wretched patch of road is considered a highlight for some – for me, who had elected to share driving right at this very spot – it was hellish. For four hours I white-knuckle gripped the steering wheel and endeavoured not to slide our 4WD and 22ft van into a ditch. The corrugated dirt did a number on our van, with our shower screen door falling off the rails (but not shattering, fortunately) and a kitchen cupboard being loosened from its hinges and snapping off. The landscape was eerie and lunar-like – no towns for hours, few cars passing through, just a flat expanse of blue-grey that melted into the sky such that using the horizon as a reference point became impossible. By the time we slid into William Creek, we could not get to the pub fast enough.

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The next day at the crack of dawn we headed west to Coober Pedy. Without offending the local townsfolk, I can say with certainty that our one night there was well and truly sufficient. The mines, the holes, the life underground…well, it just isn’t for us. I’m not even that big a fan of opals. But kudos to the local supermarket and its impressive range of goods, including lemon tarts in the adjacent café that kept our boys quiet while we enjoyed a much-needed hit of caffeine.

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From Coober Pedy we continued up the Stuart Highway to finally – under drops of rain and a grey and ominous sky – cross the Northern Territory border. For one cramped and uneventful night, we hunkered down at the Kulgera Roadhouse. It is essentially a petrol station with space to park a van and connect to power. We left in the morning, heading towards Yulara.

Yulara is the home of Uluru, and the enormous rock in the middle of Australia did not disappoint. It is a special, sacred place, but what I found the most beautiful thing was not the rock itself, but rather, the prevalence of a small ecosystem on the rock’s periphery. I had imagined Uluru to be a big red boulder in the middle of nothing, but I was wrong. It is home to a huge number of plants and animals who have all made this space their home. We took photos of flowers as we rode our bikes around the base, J pointed out lizards on our way back to the car, and we spotted tadpoles swimming in puddles close to caverns. We felt so blessed to share in seeing such a special place which has for centuries been an important part of Indigenous Australia, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t angered and ashamed of my Caucasian roots when I watched incredulously as tourists mounted the rock for photos. At one point I may have shouted abuse in the direction of a pack of oldies wearing Queensland State of Origin shirts and who were not content with viewing the rock’s splendour from the ground and who instead hoisted their loud, entitled asses off the ground for a better photo opportunity. “Always speak up if you see something that isn’t okay,” we told J. “Sometimes you have to be the person who says something.”

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We stayed at Yulara for 5 days, including a day of hiking through the Olgas, a somewhat ambitious activity given that we had to carry a child each for most of the way. During our time at Yulara we sold our house at auction. A stressful, harrowing Saturday morning was spent with my husband on the phone to his sister who was in attendance at the auction, and me entertaining the crazy children with dirt, cars, and a football. But it sold, we got a good price, and finally the freedom that comes from having fewer responsibilities and assets became closer to being realised.

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From Yulara we detoured to Kings Canyon for a night. I have heard many people speak glowingly of this place but with two young children, a prevalence of dingoes and walking tracks that require more sure-footedness than my 2 and 4 year old possess, it was not a place of magic for us. We headed back to the Stuart Highway the next morning, heading towards Alice Springs where we made our home for 4 days. It was nice enough and I was grateful for the chance to clean out our van, do loads of laundry, and visit the local Flight Centre to book a quick sojourn to Bali.

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We continued north towards Mataranka, but the lure of the Daly Waters pub drew us into its grasp and soon we were drinking jugs of beer under heavily worked fans, while our children slurped ice blocks and coloured in their free activity books. The next morning we arrived in Mataranka, home of the aquamarine thermal pools. Our little N was not a fan, but J and his dad swam for ages spotting turtles and fish and relishing in the tepid water’s gentle current. Although it was a magical experience, my dislike of algae swimming against my skin freaked me out somewhat. The Bitter Springs pool was more child-friendly, and both boys had a ball, at least until J got swept over the waterfall’s barrier and remained upright only due to his strength at holding on to the rocks, and my own strength at hauling him one-armed back to safety.

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From Mataranka our next stop was Katherine, where we stayed at a sprawling property covered with shady trees, and where a large proportion of our days was spent in the shade-sail covered pool. We liked Katherine’s uniqueness combined with its quirky charms – J was amazed that the entire town had flooded so severely in the 80s that crocodiles were swimming through the middle of the shopping centre, and D couldn’t speak more highly of the lovely lady he met at the Tourism Centre, who not only guided him as to the most child-friendly spots to visit in Kakadu, but who also advised us to purchase Solicite from the Chemist to help with our sensitive little N’s reaction to mosquito bites. I too was impressed, albeit mistakenly, when I was asked for identification at the bottle shop. Apparently this has nothing to do with my appearing younger – it is a request asked of everyone buying alcohol.

Before we left, we took a trip on a boat down Katherine Gorge, marvelling at the rock formations, and the next day we left town via Edith Falls where the boys swam and I drank Coke Zero on the grass.

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After Katherine we drove to Litchfield National Park and for two nights we stayed in another green expanse of grass and trees, and where our neighbours had three boys who were all Port Adelaide supporters. J was thrilled to have met some like-minded souls and played with the boys constantly when we were at camp. We took day trips to Florence Falls and all around Litchfield, swam in clear waters and smelled the scent of the ground being quenched with an afternoon downpour. The tropics – oh how we missed you after our six years of living in Melbourne.

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Finally – after weeks since our decision in Adelaide to head north – we reached Darwin. We fell in love almost instantly – the heat, the sunsets, the seafood, the mangoes, the laid-back lifestyle, the existence of Casuarina Shopping Centre which but for a lack of a Myer/David Jones has pretty much everything someone who has been deprived of a shopping centre for weeks could need, our caravan park’s epic pool and the bar’s $20 jugs of Pimms, our proximity to the Palmerston library where I retreated to complete online job applications…Darwin had it all. We became regulars at the Mindil Markets of a Thursday night where we ate a smorgasbord of food on our leaf-strewn picnic blanket before heading on to the sand to watch the sun set over the water. We were in Darwin for over a month, and although we did spend one week of this time in Bali and another week in Brisbane (N and me, for a wedding and a job interview) and Melbourne (D and J, for D’s mum’s 70th birthday and to clear out our house prior to settlement), we could have stayed longer, and we were sad to say goodbye.

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Bali was of course as one would expect from Bali – relaxing and invigorating – but what was even better about our short vacation was that it planted a seed for a life we might be able to pursue now that we are free from material attachments. Why can’t we relocate there for a period of time and just enjoy life by the ocean, teaching our kids about different cultures and lifestyles? Why is that out of the realms of possibility? It’s not, not now anyway. And what does that mean for our kids? Maybe it means they get to see the world through another’s eyes.

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One night after we were walking back to our hotel after dinner, a woman begging on the ground reached up towards J with an outstretched arm, her hand gesturing for money. He asked us immediately why the lady was on the ground. This prompted a long discussion about poverty, about the act of begging, and about being grateful for the kind of life we have that means we do not need to ask others for money. J seemed to understand, but when we stopped off just before our hotel to buy water at a convenience store, he burst into tears and asked if we could buy that lady a lollypop. She doesn’t have any money for a lollypop and i want to give her one. The poor lady.

He cried and cried and cried.

And although I was sad to see my son distressed by what he had witnessed on the streets of Kuta, I was also grateful. How can I teach him to be thankful for the life he has if it is in a vacuum, if he has no context? If he has not seen that there are people in the world who are poor, who do not get a chance to become educated, who do not have the privilege of clean water and nutritious food, and who for whatever reason find themselves on the pavement of a thoroughfare asking strangers for spare change, how does he learn about them? That night, he learned something powerful – that the world is not just limited to his protected circle and that there are many other people living very different lives than the one he knows. I dropped to my knees and held him close to me, and I told him that he was a beautiful and kind soul for feeling sad about the lady he saw. I told him feeling sad about her situation means that he cares. And that sometimes caring hurts, but that having a caring nature is one of the most wonderful things in the world.

I will stop my recount of our adventures there – 3000 words is quite enough for one blog post. Suffice to say that after 113 days the experience has been unforgettable, the lessons learned innumerable and the connection with my boys even stronger than it was 4 months ago.

The journey continues.

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The road ahead

A few months ago I wrote a piece about my longing to get off the wheel. It was a watershed moment where I realised what I wanted my life to look like and what it actually looked like were very different things. In the past I have been reasonably judgmental towards those who complain about situations they have the power to transform, be they an unsatisfying relationship, an unfulfilling job or something even larger, for example, the very make-up of their beings. I am not immune to this malady – I lament a number of my own personal failings and repeat mistakes often; my only redeeming feature in this is that I try to improve the things I dislike. Slowly, much like a snail wading through mud, I am gradually propelling myself toward something more than the version of me I believed I was for so long. No longer am I the bratty, angry child who never thought much about her life, so sure was she that it was bound to end before she reached double-digits, presumably by her own hand.

Now being well into the double-digits and of (reasonably) sound mind, I find myself in a life that is both confronting and inspiring in its departure from what I believed my life would be. For most of my adolescence I did not consider what my adult life would look like, because I reasoned that the chances of me making adulthood seemed so slim, to gaze into the future was simply frivolous. As I got older I lived day to day, stumbling through in a haze of antidepressant medications that sedated me more than boosted my awareness, which I paired with nights of binge drinking to the point of blackouts. I cannot recount the number of times I woke up the next day with what can be eloquently described as fuck-all memory of the night before. And while this kind of experimentation can all be chalked up to youthful exuberance, for me it was always a shade darker, because deep within my soul, I knew that drinking really let me forget who I was, and how utterly futile my attempts at happiness would be.

Of course, the universe has a way of teaching those of us who want to learn, and for all my failings and self-hatred, I had an interest in unraveling the tightly wound knot that had formed around my soul. I wanted to understand who I was, and what had caused me to become all the things I despised. I wanted the anger to subside, I wanted the burning hateful rage towards my parents to at least be more akin to a manageable back-burning activity than a fiery inferno doomed to engulf me in flames. I wanted to be a better version of myself, but short of self-analysing in what was then the DSM-IV (and becoming convinced I suffered from a number of personality disorders), I had no other tools at my disposal.

It was a work of both luck and kismet that I started seeing a therapist in 2002. For fourteen years we have waded through my psyche, studying the blocks within my own foundation for flawed belief patterns and crumbling debris that leads to self-sabotage. And with a chance to unlock my own story, I have re-written the ending. So now, having overcome (most of) my own demons, I find it difficult to simply exist in an unconscious life. I cannot wed myself to the idea of working long hours, away from my children, in a job that does not satisfy me, so I can pay for a mortgage.

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All I really need is my health and the health of my family, somewhere to write, time with the loved ones I never believed myself worthy to have, and a chance to nourish my soul. And another twist of fate, I have found myself a partner in life who holds the same beliefs as I do. My husband D has been in the workforce for over 20 years and he has worked his ass off to get where he is. And guess what?

He has just resigned.

Why?

So that as a family, we can take 12 months off, away from the daily grind, to rediscover what motivates us and brings us joy, and most importantly, so that we can spend quality time with our children.

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We have bought a caravan that will be ready late next month, and have traded in both our cars to buy a 4WD that I struggle to park. I have commenced the culling process, donating scores of goods to charity, selling some bits and pieces, and throwing out what remains.

Our family will set off on our adventure sometime after July. We have no concrete plans; no itinerary. We have a rough idea of which part of Australia we want to be in at various months of the year, but that is it. We intend to sell our house, and most of our belongings, and commit to a life of minimalism. Instead of the frantic rush out the door of a morning, we will eat breakfast as a family. Instead of frenzied Sundays spent preparing for the demanding week ahead, we will take each day as it comes, without reference to looming deadlines. We will parent together and apart, ensuring we each have space to re-energize and decompress. Our children will learn about life not in a classroom but in the long walks we take as a family, exploring our surroundings and marveling in nature’s beauty. We will read books, play games and rest at midday, without fearing the flow-on effects of naps on bedtime.

We will create the type of life we want to have. And if during this time, we find that we hate being in close quarters and that the only thing that makes our family work is time apart from each other, it’s okay. We can re-jig our plans, because we are answerable to no one but ourselves.

This time away from the typical ‘9-5 hang out with the kids on weekends’ approach to life is also motivated by our combined desire to reevaluate how we interact with the world around us. At present, we live in the inner-west of Melbourne which has a strong community vibe but whose sense of neighbourliness has not graced the street in which we have lived for the past five years. Our neighbours think nothing of calling the pound if our dog accidentally enters their backyard; something that has happened three times in about four years. As an animal lover, I struggle to understand the course of events that sets off such a response to an issue that is part of suburban residential life (if I found a dog in my backyard the owners would be lucky to get it back). Likewise, a neighbour who lives across the road from me, thought nothing of marching over to my house at Arse Hour (i.e. the time between feral children wanting dinner and feral children eating dinner) to school my friend who was visiting on why it was inappropriate for my friend’s car to be parked immediately outside her house. On the road.

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My family got back from Fiji a few weeks ago and while we were there I looked into visiting one of the remaining villages where people still live traditionally. In the tour information booklet, visitors are advised to feel free to compliment villagers on their belongings, but to be careful not to be too complimentary as villagers will always offer the item as a gift, even if they cannot afford to do so.

In the space of two weeks, I went between engaging with people who would share with me even if doing so was to their own detriment, to dealing with the pettiness of someone who feels enraged by their yard or the public road outside their home being infiltrated by some kind of interloper.

I may not be able to move to a traditional Fijian village, but I can create a village of my own with my tribe, where we harness our energy to enjoy the little things in life. And while it means a huge departure from the norm and what is ‘safe’, what is less safe for me is to remain fixed in a lifestyle that no longer reflects the person I am, or the kind of role model I wish to be. I want my boys to question the norm, to be kind to the environment, and to know that there is more to life than exhausting one’s energy at work which leaves nothing to draw from once the work day is over.

I have no idea where this will lead us, but I know it’s the path we are meant to travel, and naturally, I will be writing about all our (mis)adventures.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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For the long run

It has been 49 days since my last post; words I type that are almost confessional. Much has changed since then, but much more is still swirling with the flavours of uncertainty, excitement and anticipation.

I quit my job. One day after my last post, I wrote my letter of resignation.

When I was pregnant with J and approaching my last day of paid employment, I was in a panic. Giving up my job was akin to independent suicide, or so I believed. It would make me wholly dependent on my husband. My years of fighting to be financially secure and reliant on no one for myself would come to an abrupt halt.

Where did this need to be self-sufficient come from? I suspect it became ingrained around the time I had finished high school, when I knew that the only thing that would allow me to flee my relatives – at least in a theoretical sense – was the ability to book a plane ticket and fly far away. To do that, I needed funds at my disposal, funds which were eaten up quickly in a flurry of petrol/alcohol/food/textbook purchases. The fact that escaping my relatives would also mean being away from my grandparents was the worst kind of juxtaposition I could imagine, but the sense that I could leave if I wanted to was often the only thing that kept me in one place.

This need to be able to run away formed a large chunk of my ideology.

If you are unhappy, leave.
If you start something you hate, quit.
Nothing is permanent.

These are the thoughts of someone who believed her world to be always, painfully, frighteningly black and white.

So the sense of being able to escape – and being in a position to afford to escape – has always been at the forefront of my mind. I felt I belonged nowhere, so I always needed to get to that next place, because maybe – maybe – I would belong there.

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As I continue to muddle through the causes for my various mindsets, I have found myself undertaking a Diploma in Mindfulness Therapy. Mindfulness as a concept dates back thousands of years, but can be found in Buddhist teachings, yoga and general meditative practices. Mindfulness as a tool for cognitive well-being is arguably still in its relative infancy, but there is mounting evidence supporting it as a mechanism through which busy minds can be calmed, and stress reduced.

Oh mindfulness, where were you twenty-eight years ago? When I lay awake in bed for hours playing a game I liked to call ‘Worst Case Scenario’? When I imagined night after night the exact moment of discovering my grandparents’ deaths? When I played in my head the image of someone coming to take me away from my home, my small limbs flailing as my throat became hoarse from screams? When I imagined being placed with my disinterested father; when I made plans to run away and live under bridges. Mindfulness, what would you have said to me then?

Without any kind of coping mechanism for these kinds for thoughts, eventually I developed my own.

Don’t you realise you don’t need to struggle through any of that? If your grandparents die, you can always kill yourself! It’s the perfect plan! You will be okay, because you always have that ticket out of here, and no one can ever take that from you.

And so, night after night, year after year, I made plans for my own death.

Of course over time the need to book a one-way ticket to the afterlife became less pronounced, mainly because as I got older I grew less dependent on my grandparents for security. By the time I had finished university I had a full time job and qualifications that could not be undone. So on some level, I felt as though if I needed to, I could survive *most* things the world might throw at me.

But still, if you have consistently calmed yourself with thoughts of ending your life, old habits can quite literally die hard.

As part of my mindfulness studies, I am required to commit to regular practice. This involves being seated, usually in a cross-legged position, closing my eyes, and focusing on my breath: the inhales and the exhales. The sounds of breath entering and escaping the body. The sensations of my body as it sits quietly and calmly, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. A time to bring awareness to the body. A time to notice thoughts without judgment. I have done yoga for several years, so this process is not entirely foreign to me. Of course, in yoga it is usually only for 10 minutes and when I am in savasana, well aware that class is almost over.

It is Tuesday night in my mindfulness course, and we are all asked to complete a silent, seated, 27 minute guided practice. I sit on the ground, a friend to the right of me. The class comprises of all females, including the teacher. I find nothing threatening or scary about anyone or anything in that room.

And, yet.

I sit still, and I breathe. I try to calm my thoughts. I get to what I imagine is the halfway mark of practice. My mind is wandering, as is normal, but I focus on my breath. Then I notice more. My feet are beginning to tingle, a sensation that rushes up to my knees. Pins and needles, that prickly annoyance that has plagued me since I was a school kid, leaving me open to teachers chastising me for not sitting still in my seat; for having my legs out in front of me in a cramped school assembly space instead of folded beneath me like everyone else.

This sensation has come to me before in practice; I asked my teacher for advice and she said to remember it will pass. She said to try to imagine breathing air into the affected areas. I did this once, and it worked – the feeling went away.

But not this time.

I sit, and I sit, growing ever more pained and uncomfortable. I try to breathe slowly, calmly, but in a room of silence am trying desperately not to draw attention to myself. Then, panic. I cannot move; the tingling is now numbness. I cannot move my legs, I cannot feel my feet.

I cannot get out of here.

I am breathing and breathing but I am stuck on the floor and I can’t fucking get out of here.

I feel faint, clammy. My heartbeat is racing, my palms sweaty. I cannot stop this sensation and I cannot move. My breathing has all but stopped. I notice that I am quite literally holding my breath.

In Bessel Van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, he explains how trauma and its resulting stress harms us through physiological changes to body and brain, and that those harms can persist throughout life. Family disturbance or generalised neglect can wire children to be on high alert, their stressed bodies tuned to fight or flight.

And here I am – the girl who always has an exit plan for when things became too hard –  literally unable to move.

As someone who knew she would flee even before she knew what the concept of fight or flight was, it is something of a breakthrough to realise that in moments of stress, my body is still geared to wanting to run away, even if my brain logically knows I don’t need to. I also think it is remarkable that for years my pins and needles might have suggested more than simply a pinched nerve to anyone who had cared to scrape more than just the surface of my home life. I always believed that I needed to be able to escape, meaning that I always had to sit in a way that would let my legs carry me away from a perceived threat as quickly as possible. In my world, pins and needles, however fleeting, were not an option. They were an impediment to safety.

I had a brief flashback during practice. J’s birth; that same awful tethered feeling of complete terror that one cannot leave. Trapped in a hospital room, connected to machines, unable to flee. There were other images too; I am not ready to go into them, not yet, when I don’t know what they mean.

I am slowly unraveling the story of my life. Through writing, through making a mind-body connection. I need to do this so that I don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, or fall into old self-destructive patterns that for so long were all I knew.

I don’t know where I am going, but I am hopeful that I will learn from the journey.

I will keep writing.
I will keep breathing.
And I will try to remind myself that I do not always have to run.*

*Unless rocking out to this tune:

 

 

 

 

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Farewell, wheel.

I am seated in the bustling, clinking coffee shop whose caffeinated beverages have sated me for the almost four years I have been a parent. As a baby, I placed J in his pram, snugly secured under a cotton wrap acting as a blanket, and pushed him with aching anxiety towards this cafe. Don’t cry, I whispered, sometimes loud enough for fellow pedestrians to here. Please don’t cry.

If I walked fast enough I could arrive at my destination before J’s wails of distress became bad enough to invoke my own physical uneasiness. Upon arrival, I could scoop him up from the pram and fold his curled little frame into my own, cuddling him with a bottle as he buried into my chest. As I nursed him, I sipped from the enormous coffee that gave me just enough energy to withstand the 3pm sleep refusal, the 4pm wails of discontent, the 5pm attempted (and failed) dinner preparation, and the 6pm reprieve when my husband walked in the door, arms outstretched for a cuddle with the boy who had broken my heart only to glue it all back together with his sticky, vegemite-covered little hands.

When I returned to work when J was seven and a half months old, this place similarly fed me with the fuel I needed to pretend to be competent at my job. On weekends as a family of three, we would stop here for late breakfasts, feeding J our toast and taking turns at eating our meals while the other parent entertained our rambunctious, headstrong, happy boy. We watched in awe as a mother with three children – twin 1 year olds and an older toddler – sat at a table surrounded by highchairs as her well-behaved children nibbled food brought from home, making barely a peep. By comparison, we held onto J as though we were wrestling a giant salmon, whose determination to do what he wanted, regardless of our instructions, made us baffled and bemused all at once.

By the time he was walking, J found entertainment by playing on the large astro-turfed cubes that sit in the courtyard of the café I consider a second home. When I was pregnant with J’s brother, I perched myself onto a bench and watched J play on these blocks, promising him a treat when it was time to go.

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After N, J’s little brother, was born, this place was where we caught up with friends. It is where we went as a family of four, feeling safe in the embrace of our surroundings, and enjoying the cooing over our littlest person from the staff. When J went to childcare on Fridays, I rocked N in the pram with my leg while I typed frantically, desperately willing my fingers to capture the thoughts that bounced through my brain. And when N eventually joined J at childcare, after I dropped the boys off (together, usually with N staying in J’s room for a cuddle with his favourite educators), this is the place I returned to, frenetically typing my stories onto the screen and realising my past was now in my present.

Today, I had a similar plan – to drop the boys at childcare and then retreat to the comfort of this space, where I could do some (paid) work and also some writing of my own. These Friday mornings I treasure; the ritual of writing in a coffee covered cove where the hum of conversation drowns out the sound of my fingers hitting the keyboard. It brings a joy I struggle to describe.

Usually it brings joy. But not today.

Today, instead of running into the arms of a friend and needing me to chase him down for a kiss, J cried when I dropped him off. Bawled, really. Mummy don’t leave, his words. J is not a crier, especially not at childcare, which occurs in a place he loves with faces he adores. N also cried, before his feet had even touched the carpeted, Lego strewn floor. I fled his room in such a hurry that I forgot to sign him in, and needed to creep back stealth-style in order to complete the requisite paperwork. I think N saw me; I definitely saw him.

So now, I ask myself, why? Why am I doing this? Would I derive not as much joy from ONE DAY a week that was truly my own, where I could write in peace and solitude? One day without my boys, one day to just be me again? Do I need three days out of a seven day week away from them?

I like work, in the sense that I like to use my brain and I like to get paid. But I like writing my own pieces more; I like being the master of my own output more than I have ever liked answering to others. I like the idea of leaving a legacy in some form, and I take little pleasure in thinking that my legacy might be summed up in the words “Public servant. Occasional writer.” That isn’t who I want to be.

So what does an ideal life look like? Perhaps I could start with describing what it doesn’t entail. It doesn’t entail waves of guilt at being away from my children so that I can do a job from which I derive little satisfaction other than financial, and which exists largely to pay for the childcare which I would not need if I was at home. It does not include frantic, stressful, angst filled mornings of trying to get non-compliant children to eat, to get dressed and to leave the house, all by a defined time with a ticking-clock soundtrack. It does not include a similarly pained evening ritual where overtired children lament the lack of food in the house but then refuse to eat dinner that I have prepared while holding one or both of them. It does not include snapping at my children for the missing lunchbox lids, for not napping during the day, or for generally turd-ish behaviour because they’re tired and cranky and they just don’t want to.

Maybe my ideal life entails both parents, or at least an extra set of hands, in the home to ready the kids for school. Maybe it involves a few hours of kindy and a couple of playgroup sessions. Maybe it involves N napping for longer than an hour during the day because he is home and it is quiet and his room is dark. Maybe we sit outside on the grass and play in a space that is so big and secluded that I don’t need to worry about a random stranger snatching them from my front yard while I rush inside to pee. Maybe I work from home and while I am typing my husband is with my boys, playing outside, or if he isn’t home, maybe a trusted friend/family member/nanny is with them so that I can get that crucial me-time, so that I can fit my own oxygen mask first without trying to breathe life into others when my own capacity is dwindling.

Maybe the legacy I leave for my kids is that they have a mother who just followed what she wanted to do, and who didn’t buy into the materialistic world that tells me I must earn money so that I can buy things that will make me happy, or at least happier than I would be without.

So when did I get on this wheel? Was it when I was a teenager and knew I had to escape my home town lest I suffocate underneath the mediocrity of suburbia? Was it when I was at university and reasoned that the only way I would rise above the sludge of my relatives was to succeed in ways they could not? Was it when I married and had a white wedding despite my disdain for princess brides? Was it when we bought a house, a beautiful, quirky, cosy house, parts of which I love and hate simultaneously? Was it when I reasoned that I needed money to buy all the things for the baby who had beautiful outfits but a mother with vacant eyes? Was it when I went back to work to prove to myself that I was still me, that I still had a brain, subconsciously reasoning that staying at home to child-raise would turn my mind to mush? Or was it when I returned to work after a glorious yet challenging 15 months of maternity leave, coming back to grey linoleum and fluorescent lit cubicles, sitting for seven hours a day so that I can be back at work?

I don’t know when it happened, but I know that I want to, I need to, get off the wheel.

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I have spent the best part of nine months distributing my grandfather’s estate, apportioning items of worth to family members lacking in such a quality. I have waded through paperwork, through things, looking for needles in haystacks and golden tickets, and at the end of it all, I will have more stuff. It will mostly be stuff that I want – some books, a vase belonging to my Nanny and my grandfather’s watch. They are small things with big sentiments; the sentiment being, the people who used to own these things are gone.

When I die, I do not want my boys to have to rummage through debris to uncover what I had. I want them to know what I had, because they shared it with me.

So, what to do?

My wise best friend gave me a birthday gift that shows that insight to and awareness of another’s struggles can transcend geography. Sensing my impending exit from a conventional life, she bought me books by Marie Kondo, she of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up acclaim. Although I am neither a hoarder nor a clean-freak, I feel something truly cleansing from the act of a good cull, and although I am yet to read these books, I have a feeling her KonMari Method is something that will resonate, because as I type this I know that the first thing I need to do is to get rid of the stuff. I will donate most of it and will be ruthless in my approach, knowing that memories are not fixed by holding on to mementos; they stay alive when we pause to remember and in the stories we share.

Next, the job. I know it has to go. I want to be with my boys, but I still need that space for my writing, the one day of uninterrupted time to create. J will attend sessional kinder; N will attend childcare one day a week. We will find a playgroup for social activities. We will figure it out.

Thirdly, the house. It needs to be tidied, finessed and sold. No mortgage means no responsibility for a house we are rarely in because we are both at work to pay for the house. Then what? In my dreams of adventure, we leave. We pack our necessities up and we drive. We stop at beaches and swim in the surf. We eat dinner made from produce I buy at the market. I have dedicated time to write while my husband has dedicated daddy-sons time. My husband learns to cook; I learn to stand on a surfboard. I freelance and consider ways in which I can share my love of words with those who need it most; disengaged kids and struggling mums being my target audience, mainly as I have been both of these people at various points in time.

Eventually, we find a huge block of land, surrounded by trees and a large expanse of lawn. It will be close enough to a city so that commuting as part of any work arrangements is not prohibitive. It will be a home I work from, the home my husband works from, and it will be the place where my children grow. J will go to a local school and I will feature in his days, popping up at sports days and swimming carnivals. We will go to the beach during the week. We will grow vegetables and run and play and kick the football and do yoga and laugh and sing and when I start to go a bit crazy from home life, I will take refuge by packing myself off to attend a course aimed at bettering myself. I will attend weekend yoga retreats in Byron or six week internships in creative writing at NYU, dragging my excited Yankees-cap wearing boys with me. We will travel and visit the world and if we don’t want to do it during school holidays, we will work around that. I will give my boys an education that relies little on conventional classroom techniques, surrounding them with creative free thinkers who challenge the norm, and intelligent aunts and uncles who offer conversation that sparks curiosity. Their father, the greatest role model they will ever have, will teach them how to kick a football with their left feet, how to craft items from wood, how to restore a motorbike, how to throw a right hook into a punching bag. I will teach them to be kind to the world around them, to water the flowers, to be gentle with our animals (at least one dog, a pig and maybe some chooks) and how to express themselves through music and words. I will also – inadvertently, and in a way that happens only because I cannot change my spots – teach them to be loyal to each other, to challenge the norm, and to speak up when they see injustice in the world.

In truth, part of me wonders how any of this could be possible. Don’t people just work hard, buy a house, live in their house, buy things, have a family, go on holidays and keep working? Isn’t this how it’s done? If I look around me, I would say that this is the norm. But I don’t want to be the norm, and I fear that if we stay here, stay put, we won’t do any of this. We will remain stuck, wheels spinning, trapped doing what is safe. We will not venture left of centre because we see no one else doing it. We see people working to pay off mortgages and we see parents tired after work and who spend less time with their kids than they would like. We recognise how they look because it is familiar – this is how we see ourselves.

I will miss this coffee shop. I will miss its walking distance, the buzz of community in my inner-west enclave. I will miss watching my sons point to the trains that whiz past the courtyard where they play. I will miss the view of the city on my walks with the boys. I will miss where my boys go to school, and the smiling friendly faces of the beautiful staff. I will miss the cinema where hubby and I used to watch movies weekly, and where I took J to Mums and Bubs sessions as a newborn, one of which I recall with clarity as being one of the most joyful experiences of my life.

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I will miss the Sun bookstore and its gorgeous little warm aisles of paper. I will miss the September weather where the sun shines after so many months of freezing grey days, and I will miss the twilight evenings where darkness doesn’t fall until 9pm. And I will miss the house to which I brought home two babies from hospital and in which I have experienced the brightest moments and deepest lows of parenting.

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I will miss it all.

But, and as I have been at pains to remind myself, leaving it doesn’t mean I will never return. Perhaps in years from now I will again yearn to feel part of city life and the buzz. And although it leaves me with a sad, heavy sense of loss, I know that I need to lighten the load now so that we can carry more joy in our lives for the future.

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Not drowning; waving.

Carmela Soprano is good at asking for help. I know this because I saw her do it repeatedly in that glorious series The Sopranos, and in no episode was this more apparent than Sentimental Education. In that episode, Carmela makes a request for help to her son’s high school teacher, with whom she is having a secret post-separation affair. The interesting part about this request is that Carmela makes it with such nonchalance, she doesn’t seem to even realise she is asking for help at all. And true, she eventually asks for too much, gets called a “user” and is humiliated by her rebound guy, but that’s beside the point. Carmela knows what she wants, and when she finds someone who can help her, she requests (or demands) their help, and she definitely takes any offers of help she is given.

In many ways, I am not like Carmela Soprano. For a start, my husband is not the boss of a New Jersey crime family. Also, unlike Carmela, I do not keep firearms hidden in my kitchen. But there is one way I do aspire to be more like Carmela, and that is in her ability to ask for – and accept – help from others. Unfortunately, my aversion to asking for help extends to even the most banal of activities, for example, grocery shopping. In a supermarket, I can easily be spotted frantically searching the aisles, stalking the object of my desire and occasionally leaving without it. It’s not that I am too proud to ask for help; rather it’s that I am too attracted to the glory of knowing I did something all by myself.

When I was in the eighth grade, it was decided by people with far more insight and perception than I that my issues – described as behavioural and characterised by an overwhelming desire to self-destruct in a spectacular fashion – needed to be urgently addressed. To facilitate this, the Head of Students at my high school arranged counseling sessions for me, for one hour a week, at a local youth centre staffed with social workers and psychologists. Learned teachers saw these sessions as an opportunity for me to both understand the ramifications of my actions and to realise my potential by committing to improving my life. I saw these sessions as an opportunity to miss a double maths period.

So every Friday morning, my teacher drove me in her little red car to the local youth service. Each counseling session I would sit in a room with walls covered with anti-drug posters, opposite a portly woman named Coral who wore shirts the same colour as her name, and we would discuss my litany of problems. Coral was nice, but – in a huge personality flaw – she didn’t think I was funny. So when I told her how I had committed the hilarious crime of hiding the contents of a fellow student’s pencil case over the course of several weeks, Coral didn’t laugh. When I told her that my father was an asshole, she just nodded and agreed that some people aren’t great with children. And when I told her I hated living at home – which was not really true, but was something to which I aspired – she eventually looked at alternate accommodation for me, like share houses.

But the idea of sharing anything more than a bong with disillusioned teenagers of the outer-eastern ‘burbs horrified me, so I quickly decided that Coral was trying to have me bashed into submisison by some of her unsavoury clients. Bad enough that I would have to accept Coral’s help once a week, but having her plot my demise during these sessions seemed a bit harsh.

Five years ticked by where my issues lay unaddressed, surfacing only when I went to bed and stalking me to the point of insomnia. It wasn’t until I was 18 years old and had (finally!) been diagnosed with clinical depression that I was sent off to see someone in the hope they could cure what I’d already decided from careful perusal of the DSM IV was some kind of personality disorder. Sadly for me, the shrink entrusted with my care was a slim Spanish woman named Doctor Adina, whose penchant for power suits and jagged, gaudy Eurotrash artwork hurt my eyes. Obviously I would not accept help from her. For a start, I could barely concentrate, such was the assault on my vision.

I decided to instead visit Dr Adina’s colleague, Doctor Roger, who was about $20 a session cheaper than his European counterpart. Doc Roger was an obese man in his fifties, who reminded me of Dr Marvin Monroe. His room was light, but cluttered with too many indoor plants, with rotting vines and dirty saucers of water covering bookcases and filing cabinets. On his desk, Dr Roger kept a pitcher of water on a tray with six small glasses beside it. These objects troubled me endlessly. When would the Doc ever have five people in his office with him who were all thirsty at the same time?

Although I initially resisted Dr Roger’s efforts to assist me, I occasionally shared some stories with him. And despite being largely bereft of personality, he seemed to have some pertinent things to say about my situation. I saw the Doc regularly for a few months, until I received a phone call from his receptionist late one afternoon. To say it confirmed my ongoing belief that everyone is an asshole who will eventually desert me is an understatement.

“Hi Sarah. This is a bit awkward. Err, Dr Roger will have to cancel your next few appointments,”
“Oh, okay. Until when?” I replied.
“Well, we’re not sure,” she said, “Best to just call us back in a few weeks. Actually, maybe give it a month.”
“What am I supposed to do until then?” I asked.
“Well, you can see one of his colleagues. Have you heard of Dr Adina?”

Dr Roger’s unexplained departure from my life certainly did not help my abandonment fears, so after this experience I decided I would not be accepting “help” from anyone ever again.

A few years later and with even more poor judgment calls under my belt, I finally agreed to seek help from Noelle, a psychologist. “You know she can’t prescribe drugs, right?” asked my ever-helpful friend, the one who recommended Noelle in the first place. Notwithstanding this major drawback, I decided to give this “help” thing one last crack.

And I am so grateful I did.

I saw Noelle regularly for almost seven years, until I eventually moved state. She has enabled me to learn so much about myself, without ever preaching or being judgmental. She is someone who has quite literally changed my life, in that my work with her has allowed me to realise – among countless other things – that it is okay to ask for help, and it is definitely okay to accept offers of help I might receive. It doesn’t mean I am weak. It doesn’t mean I haven’t tried hard enough. It is just a way of being efficient, which I guess is how Carmela Soprano sees it too.

Yesterday one of my friends offered help. In short, she offered to put me in touch with someone she hoped could help me further my writing career. If fruitful, this has the potential to start me down a path of sharing my writing with a larger audience. Having long held a desire to put “WRITER” in the occupation section of my tax return, this possibility is huge to me. But as my friend knows me well, she stressed that she didn’t know if I would be okay with her gesture; the subtext being that the extent of my pride is considerable, and she didn’t want to step on my toes.

But although there was a time in my life when this offer of help would have been met defensively with the cries I now hear my almost three-year-old bleating at me repeatedly, namely “I CAN DO IT MYSELF!”, that didn’t happen today. Today, I accepted my friend’s help. And because I did, I now have a chance to share the stories that circulate in my head until I finally commit them to words. A chance to connect with others who may have experienced challenges similar to mine. A chance to improve my enjoyment of life, by giving more to this little writing pastime of mine; making it more of a career and less of a hobby.

And – maybe – a chance to help others, who just like me, are hoping they can be just a little bit more like Carmela Soprano.

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