Fake It

When I had PND, my health nurse said to me, ‘make sure you look at her, give her eye contact, constantly, force yourself to smile, even though you don’t feel it’.  I remember this advice vividly and sadly, nearly 6 years down the track, I’m sitting here doing that exact same thing.  My beautiful baby is home from school today, maybe sick, maybe not sick enough to be home, but either way, she’s here and she wants to build Lego.  As for me, I am sick and have been for the past 4 days.  I can’t think straight, I can’t concentrate, I’m dizzy and light headed, I’m so sad that at some moments during the day, I wish I wasn’t here.  Yesterday I was so agitated that I had a dissociative episode — not uncommon for me when I’m under pressure.  My brain just couldn’t cope and it shut down.  It’s the body’s way of keeping you going, keeping you alive, by just shutting down and shutting off.  But that doesn’t make it any less frightening.  So I’m faking it.

I’ve done school drop off, I’ve showered, I’ve done all my Mum jobs (apart from tidying the house) and now I’m just trying to get through the next couple of days.  This will be gone as quickly as it came, once I get my period.  Too much information?  Who cares.  This is my life and has been for a very long time.  Every 23 days, pretty much without exception, I go from being a normal, happy, loving, kind human being to wishing I was dead and being completely unable to function.  Getting out of bed is a monumental effort.  The thought of making school lunches will set off panic attacks and having to leave the house?  Fuck.  Every 23 days, I sit and cry and then berate myself for feeling the way I do.  You ungrateful bitch, you selfish, fat, ugly woman.  You don’t deserve to be here, you don’t deserve your beautiful family or anything that you have.  You are worthless, you are broken.

When I can tap into logic during these times, there are glimpses of reality that try to tell me that this will pass, that this is NOT my fault, that I am NOT being selfish, that I am worthy and that my beautiful children have a wonderful, loving mama.  But those moments of logic and insights into reality are few and far between and these 5 or 6 days of living hell, feel like an eternity.  Some months are worse than others, like this month for instance.  Events of yesterday set off anger in me that usually I would deal with and respond to in a reasonably ‘Kate-like’ (perhaps not always reasonable) manner but on top of this hell, control is lost.  I may still feel my anger is validated but the lack of control in how my body and mind responds, is frightening.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d still be voicing my opinions but the feelings inside me wouldn’t be pushing me to the point of a tightening throat, a pounding heart, a sweating brow and feelings of dissociation.

I’m whinging and moaning and feeling sorry for myself because I’m going through this but if I’m honest, I’m not doing everything I possibly can to help improve things.  Diet for one, is a huge factor in mental health and for months (many, many months) now, my diet has consisted of coffee in the day, with very little to no food, then maybe something to eat after dinner, which typically is never a good choice.  Aren’t Cheerios a food group?  I can’t stand to feel food in my stomach and so that in itself is another issue to deal with.  I’m drinking too much coffee — but fuck me, I’ve got nothing else — I’m not putting any good things into my body and I’m not getting out and exercising like I should be but when I feel like I shouldn’t even be present on this earth, exercise and healthy eating are the last things on my mind.

So in a day or two, when this has passed, maybe I’ll try my best to make some positive changes, try to do ‘the right thing’ by my body and my mind.  For today, however, I’m doing my very best.  I’m faking my smiles and feigning enjoyment in life, when really, I want to be in bed, I want to be held and told that it will be okay.  I want to know that I am not alone in this fucking hell of (probably) hormone related depression.  At 2.30pm I will go to the doctor and I will ask her what my options are.  I imagine she will be in agreement with my self-diagnosis of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder and I’m sure medication can easily be dished out but I need to try all these other things before I go swallowing any more pills.

I’m so hesitant to write this, lest it be dismissed under the old ‘oh, she’s got PMS’ banner but this is beyond PMS, it is beyond over-eating chocolate and having a cry.  This is a living fucking hell and I’ve had just about enough.  So today, today will be the day that I will do my best to get by in the hope that when this again passes, I can put one foot in front of the other and take some positive steps forward.

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A Photograph

I was a selfish teenager.  Actually, most teenagers are pretty selfish, self absorbed.  Maybe I was no different to any other.  I was busy wallowing in deep, dark, gothic misery, contemplating the relevance of my existence and wishing away my teen years.  So when I was told that my birth mother, Gabrielle, was losing her sight due to Multiple Sclerosis and wanted to meet me, I said no.  Fuck that.  She gave ME away.  Why should I?  At 17 years of age, with an attitude as big as Ben-Hur, why would I give a shit?  She made her choice, it’s too late… The following year, she died.

Gabrielle, taken only a couple of weeks after my birth.  And an excerpt from the article.

Today I gratefully received some photos from my aunt, Gabrielle’s sister, as well as an old newspaper article about her from the Sunday Observer, dated October 20, 1985.  The article read ‘In her wallet, Gae has a poem written to her by actress Helen Morse and a note from singer Jon English, and a baby photograph of a daughter she had adopted out when she was 18 — all testimonies to a brave woman.’  She carried a photo of me, for all those years, and perhaps until the day she died, aged 36. I never knew.  How could I know?  I wish I had known.

I’m sitting here, with tears pouring down my cheeks.  I have often regretted my decision never to meet Gabrielle, but tried to move on with life with the attitude that I did what was best for me, at that time.  For me.  Not for her.  For me, a selfish fucking 17 year old. Despite Gabrielle’s family reassuring me that it was probably best I didn’t meet her when she was so very sick as it wouldn’t have been an accurate reflection on who she really was, I regret it.

It wasn’t until I gave birth to my son in 2008 that I really started to think about just how incredibly difficult, — actually, difficult doesn’t even come close — HORRENDOUS, it would have been to give away your baby, especially when you had wanted to keep it.  It wasn’t until I held my son in my arms that I could even remotely imagine the pain and anguish that she must have felt, having her baby taken from her, only hours after giving birth, never to be seen again.

In 2012 when I gave birth to my daughter, these emotions erupted.  My daughter was eerily like me as a baby and I couldn’t help but look at her and think of Gabrielle.  I know she got to hold me once, something that wasn’t the done thing back then, but one of my aunts worked at the hospital, so she did.  Looking into my daughter’s face, I was consumed with thoughts of Gabrielle, the pain and suffering she had gone through, the emotional torture she would have endured, walking out of that hospital, without me in her arms.  In retrospect, this played a big part in my post natal depression.

As I have written before and will reiterate now, my life was blessed.  I was adopted by the two most amazing humans in this Universe and have been gifted with every opportunity and drowned in love.  This, these feelings, they are separate.  These are feelings that are unique to me and not a reflection on the incredible life I have had.  These feelings of sadness, of regret, of loss — they are mine and will live within me until the day I die.

Today, I sit here ruminating on those words, ‘in her wallet… a baby photo of a daughter…’  That was me, a daughter.  She carried me with her, always.  A photo that my Mum and Dad would have sent to her, as they kept her updated on my life each year (as I said, amazing humans).  Every time she opened that wallet, she would have seen me, that baby that she carried for 9 months, that baby who she held only briefly and was then taken from her, forever.  I imagine that every time she opened her wallet and saw my photo, her heart hurt.  I can’t imagine how it couldn’t?  I can’t imagine having to give my child away, not now, not at birth, not ever.  No mother’s heart could EVER heal from that pain.  As I sit here and write, the lump in my throat grows bigger and the tears flow freely.  As I sit here today, aged 43, nearly 26 years since Gabrielle died, my heart hurts.  For her, for me, for us.

I try not to carry regrets in my life, and believe that the long and rocky journey I have travelled and the choices I have made, have shaped who I am today.  But this, this is different.  And this time, I sit here with a clear and sober mind, trying to allow these feelings to just be…

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Remember That Weekend When…

How my children will likely remember this weekend and it ain’t over yet… 

 

“Hey Charlie, remember that time we had to mind Dad’s bird?”

“Ugh, yeah, how could I forget?  Remember how it bit you when you put that harness thing on it, then it shit all over the bathroom?”

“Oh man, yeah I remember.  Then it ate the fish picture off the wall and cut my finger open”

“Ha ha… I forgot about your finger.  That would have really hurt”

“Yeah, it did.  That was the worst weekend.  I remember I was crying because I was meant to clean up after the bird — that’s what Mum and Dad had agreed to — but I wouldn’t do it.  Man, I carried on like a fucking two year old”

“You sure did Billy and Mum was soooooo pissed off”

“Oh Charlie, do you remember after Mum cleaned up the bird shit, she went into your room and the cat had pissed all over your bean bag and when she picked it up, all the piss ran off onto the carpet?”  

“Oh yes, I remember that, then she went into your room and found that the bird had shit on your clean bed and she totally lost her mind.  Do you remember how she picked up the doona and just shook it and screamed ‘F-U-U-U-U-U-U-C-K‘, like, at the top of her lungs?”

“Ha ha.. yeah and we asked her to stop swearing and she screamed ‘I WILL FUCKING NOT!’

“Oh yeah, then she went to hang the clean washing out and you’d dumped a towel with bird shit on it, right into the washing machine with the clean washing in it and when she picked it up, it went all over her hands.  The kids from next door were there and she dropped the ‘F bomb’ in front of them and had to apologise.”

“Fuck, I forgot about that, sis.  No wonder she lost her shit.  She was so stressed ’cause the dog wanted to eat the bird, too.

“Yeah, and she nearly cried when I tipped that entire bottle of bubble blowing shit all over the bed after that.  Oh and then the next day, the cat pissed in the kitchen sink!”

“No wonder she couldn’t even get out of her pyjamas to go and get a coffee, remember that?”

“Yeah, I do.  She made you go into Coles to do the shopping ’cause she wasn’t dressed.”

“I’m seriously fucking surprised she never went into the bottle shop that weekend.”

“Me too, Billy.  Me too.”

Emotional Exhaustion

I’m fucked.  Totally mentally and physically exhausted.  I feel like curling up into a ball, getting under my doona and crying my heart out.  I was wondering what the hell was wrong with me but I guess it’s been a pretty emotional couple of weeks.

Last week and beautiful young soul in our community took his own life and I can’t stop thinking about it.   Today I finished up my 8 week relapse and support program at St Vincent’s and I’m going to miss the incredible people there, not to mention having a purpose beyond my home and children for 2 days per week.  Tuesday the segment of Insight I was on was aired and the feedback I have had has been incredible but the whole thing has been pretty emotional — not something I really put much thought into before I did it.  Just like other people my age, I’m also watching my parents struggling with illness and general age-related shit.  Being an only child, I’m starting to feel quite alone in that aspect of my life.  I’m stressed about finances, my Exhole isn’t doing so well with his own mental health, which not only worries me with regards to his personal safety but also that if anything did happen to him and he wasn’t able to contribute financially to the kids, we’d be fucked and have to move out of this house.  I know that sounds callous but it’s the truth and I can’t help but think of what might happen if the shit hits the fan again.

So I guess that’s enough of a list of reasons to make me feel emotionally drained, exhausted and teary.  Despite the plethora of incredible feedback after Tuesday’s program, the old ‘Fat Girl Story’ is still playing in my mind.  If only I were beautiful, if only I were skinny, if only were good enough, if only you were worthy, if only… It’s so fucking exhausting when you spend hours each day telling yourself what a piece of shit you are.  Granted, not all days are like this and I am well aware that the old chestnut called ‘self-care’ has been lacking but that doesn’t make it any easier to sit with.  Ahhhh, ‘sit with’ — a beautiful term I have learned over the past 8 weeks.  Sitting with feelings that are shitty and allowing them space within my body.  Something I never used to do, something I used to drown with litres of wine, something that I now have to face, like a normal person.  Actually, I’m not sure how many people are actually comfortable sitting with discomfort, if our nation’s drinking habits are anything to go by but that’s another blog post entirely.

So, I’ve gone into mummy survival mode.  The kids had toasties for dinner, as did I and I cannot wait to crawl into bed.  I’m already planning going back to bed after school and kinder drop off tomorrow and I feel like I could sleep for a decade and still want more.  I can feel waterfalls of tears coming my way and as soon as the kids are in bed, I’m going to let them flow.  I’m sad.  I’m hurting.  I’m tired.  I’m stressed.  I’m glad I can identify how and why I’m feeling like this instead of running to the bottle shop and sending myself back into blurred tornado that was my life for so very long.

Hurry up kids, go to bed.  I need to check out.  x

New Sneakers

Warning: Suicide themes

 

At midnight last night, I found myself Googling ‘how to talk to children about suicide’.  Never, in my overzealous worries about my children, did I ever think I’d be doing that Google search.  Apparently my search isn’t uncommon, because results were plentiful.  Be honest and open.  Use words like ‘death’ and ‘dead’.  Be available.  Listen.  Answer questions with facts.  Offer comfort.  Stick to routines.  Reduce change and FUUUUUUUCK!  STOP!!!  My son is nine.  NINE.  9!  Not even double digits and, as I watch him sleep, I realise that after I speak to him when he wakes, his life will never ever be the same again.  Explaining to your child that someone they care about has committed suicide, rips them immediately out of the innocence of childhood and drops them smack bang, in the middle of reality, where people from all walks of life, are living in such a hideous, insufferable pain, that in 2015, over 750,000 people (worldwide) ended their own lives.

Death is a part of life and although incredibly distressing and painful, there is something unreachable, unfathomable, about someone taking their own life because their world was just too painful to bear any longer.  The questions, the guilt, the disbelief, the helplessness — flow through the community around them at every level.  Friends, colleagues, school mates, teachers — and the family — the family whose world just completely imploded on them, in a wave of epic sadness and devastation.  Suicide brings with it questions to which there will never be answers, guilt that can erode a human soul and a grief that destroy lives.  People immediately want to know why but it matters not, because at the end of the day, if drugs were involved, if that person had long term mental health issues, if they were isolated from their peers — nothing changes the fact that they are no long here and their pain was so completely unbearable that they chose not to go on.

So this morning, my boy ran into my room and jumped into bed with me.  His face filled with smiles, his arms wrapping around me, happy to be home from a week away at his father’s.  I lay next to him for a while as he showed me some new games on his iPad and talked to me about the cat.  We pondered how long is sister would sleep for and he explained how tired she had been during the week.  We decided to cancel the dental appointment we had for the morning and he thought that a day at home would be fun.  As the lump formed in my throat, I realised that this moment had been given to me, a moment where it was only he and I, with no interruption.  A moment we rarely get.  I put my arm around him and said softly, ‘hey, I need to tell you something.  I found out something really sad last night, about your friend’…  He stared into the doona as I did my best to deliver the information in the appropriate manner (whatever the fuck that is).  I watched his eyes glaze over as his brain went into a spin and I wanted to scream my hatred at the world.  ‘Why, how?’, were the only questions he asked.  Then just as if I’d told him we had to go to the shops, he said ‘oh, okay then’ and returned to our previous conversation.  I guess I was shocked at the lack of response but my brief Google search had warned me of the different ways children react to these things.  ‘Be guided by your child’, I said over and over in my brain.  I hugged him tight and told him I loved him more than anything and that I hoped he would always come to me if he was hurting, no matter what.  ‘I will Mum’, he replied.

Last night before I got into bed, I found a couple of photos of Billy and his friend.  He was Billy’s ‘buddy’ when he started primary school.  So he was 5 or so years older.  15 years old, an age that doesn’t seem so far off for my own son any longer.  The photos showed the boys on the last day of school, as Billy walked his friend down the middle of the gym, during their graduation ceremony.  I looked at them together, both ridiculously tall, and both wearing super cool sneakers.  My mind was drawn to the sneakers.  The memories of buying Billy’s sneakers and the joy he got from wearing them for the first time.  The excitement of trying them on, choosing the ones he liked, revelling in the fact that his foot was far bigger than a kid his age and the looks on the faces of the shop assistants when they realised he was 3 or so years younger than his height would suggest.  Then I looked at the other boy’s sneakers.  I imagined the excitement he’d shared with his mum or dad, the joy he’d had when choosing them and wearing them to school for the first time.  The looks on the faces of the shop assistants when they realised he was only in grade 6 and not year 8 or 9, as his height suggested.  My mind raced from feeling my son growing in my belly, to holding him in my arms as a baby.  Helping him balance as he learned to walk, watching him swimming in his first school uniform, which was at least a size too big.  Saving his teeth for the tooth fairy as they slowly but surely fell out, letting him pick his own funky hair cuts and clothes and trying not to be overly worried as he took off down the street on his bike with his little friends.

And now I’m sitting here, thinking about how this boy will never buy another pair of fucking sneakers with his mum.  In one harrowing moment, he is gone.  In one harrowing moment, the lives of so many have been forever altered.  I cannot even begin to imagine the incomprehensible pain his parents are in right now.  My mind won’t even allow me to try.

If you, or someone you know needs help, reach out for help.  Within Australia:  

 Lifeline 13 11 14Beyond Blue

 

Excerpts #1

**TRIGGER WARNING — Eating Disorders**

“She pondered what it would be like to be one of ‘the beautiful people’, as she forced her fingers down her throat, purging the evening’s misery and shame. Oh to walk freely, without the piercing, judgement riddled eyes burning ferociously into her flabby flesh. To hold her head high in the aisle of a crowded store as people passed, instead of sucking in her bulging gut and apologising for her hideousness. Staring through her tears into the disgusting pile of emotions, she wondered what ‘the beautiful people’ were doing…”

 

Where Were You?

I’m not entirely sure why I’m sitting here, ruminating about this and getting so upset but I am, so I’m writing.

In Sydney last week, something really struck me.  Every single one of the women I met, who had various alcohol issues, had stories of partners who had, at one point or another, made comment on their drinking habits or tried to stop them.  One beautiful woman had her husband sitting in the audience, watching on, as proud as proud could be.  In her comments on the program and then again in private, it was evident of the love they shared and the absolute commitment her husband had shown when she was in active addiction and then in recovery.  Another lady spoke of how her husband would suggest she’d had enough to drink and the story was pretty much the same across the board.  All of these stories got me thinking about my own situation.

When I met my Exhole, I was the life of the party and he would happily join me.  The girl who could out-drink anyone — men or women — and was always a laugh a minute.  He’d come down from Melbourne to stay with me on the coast every weekend.  He’d bring flowers and grog and we’d get shit-faced for the entirety of his stay.  If I ran out of grog, he’d get me more.  If I had no money, he’d pay for it.  If I fell over drunk, he’d pick me up.  When I behaved badly, he fobbed it off.  When I was unable to recollect the night before, he’d happily fill me in so I didn’t look stupid in front of our friends.  What a fucking legend, right?  A guy who would do whatever I want, whenever I want and doesn’t care if I mouth off all fall down drunk.  A guy who doesn’t care that I’m far from thin, broke and completely out of control.  What more could I ask for?

As the years went by and I neared the end of my drinking, I would often make promises to myself about how or when I would drink.  The greatest challenge for me was to stay sober on a Friday night.  If I could achieve that, I could achieve anything (so I thought)! Every day on his way home from work, my Exhole would call and ask if I needed anything.  Wine or groceries but mainly wine.  Frequently, especially on a Friday, he’d call and I’d say ‘no, I’m not going to drink tonight’.  ‘Are you sure?’ he would reply.  ‘Yes, I’m going to try not to drink’ I would say.  ‘I’m happy to get you wine, I don’t mind‘, he would again reply.  If I managed to stay strong and not give in to his offer, I’d more often than not get to about 8.30pm and say ‘I wish I’d got wine’.  On more than one occasion, he’d jump out of his chair and exclaim ‘don’t worry, bought you some, it’s in the car’.  At the time, I thought this was loving, thoughtful and kind but a couple of years with a clear head and I realise it wasn’t at all, it was enabling.

I recall hungover days where I’d call friends and shamefully explain the events of the night before.  Nights where I’d fallen and torn ligaments, the night I had tripped over backwards and subsequently broken my ankle, the night I’d consumed well over a cask of wine and couldn’t remember a thing.  In my mind, my confessions were a cry for help.  I mean, if someone came to me and relayed the same stories, I would be asking if they were okay.  But I was met with giggles and flippant responses of ‘oh Kate, you’re hilarious’ or ‘we all do silly things when we drink’.  But how many silly things do you need to do before someone steps in and tries to help you?  How many times do you need to reach out for help before someone realises your behaviour is out of control?  How many times do you have to relay horrific stories before someone stops laughing at your antics and points out that this sort of behaviour isn’t ‘normal’?  I don’t want this coming across as hateful, because I have so many beautiful friends around me, all of whom I love dearly, and perhaps they just didn’t realise the enormity of the situation.  However, my Exhole was living with it.  He saw the falls, he witnessed the behaviours, he drove me to the emergency room, he knew EXACTLY what was going on, yet he didn’t say a word.

Despite him ceasing to drink around me when I decided to stop (for which I am grateful), on my hundredth day sober, he turned to me and said, ‘you’ve changed.  You used to be so much fun.  You used to drink and know how to have a good time.  Now you’re just boring’.  After I recovered from the shock of what I had just heard, I questioned him briefly.  ‘I’m not able to get up for our kids in the mornings.  I’m driving to school, probably still over the limit from the night before.  I’m wetting the bed most nights.  I can’t function any more.  If I don’t stop, I’m going to die.  I’m scared.  Aren’t you worried about this?’  His response was, ‘I really don’t see a problem’.  That was the day I asked him to leave.

So after listening to the stories of the other women in Sydney last week, I’m feeling sad, disappointed and angry.  Where was he when I needed help?  Where were the people who cared, reaching out to have that uncomfortable conversation with me?  Why were people laughing at these ever increasing behaviours and fobbing them off as funny, or silly.  I know my Mum (and probably Dad) were extremely worried about my drinking and my health but I’m not sure they knew exactly how bad it was.  I hid a lot from them, for many years, not wanting them to worry.  I wish I had reached out and been honest with them earlier.  As it turned out, only one woman, who I hadn’t known for all that long, actually sat me down and asked, ‘are you an alcoholic?’  I openly said ‘yes, yes I am‘.  So I’m sitting here today, wondering why it isn’t like in the movies where people stage interventions, pin down their loved ones and insist they go into rehab immediately.  Why wasn’t my Exhole worried that I was killing myself?  In fact, I just sent him a text and asked him that exact question.  His reply was ‘Kate, I could never help you with your drinking, you are the type of person if I told you to stop drinking you would drink twice as much, it happened when you realised you had to…’  Why didn’t he even try?

I know my sadness and anger are superfluous but to quote the saying I detest the most, ‘it is what it is’.  I guess, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that nobody reached out to me and the important thing is, I came to rock bottom, completely and utterly broken and desperate, all by myself.  I reached out for help, all by myself and although my recovery is mine alone, I have support around me to keep me going.  My family, friends and colleagues all know my story and support my recovery as much as they possibly can and for that, I am eternally grateful.  Dwelling on what could have been is pointless and getting it out of my head by writing it here, certainly lifts the weight a little.

If you are struggling with alcohol or drug issues, please contact your GP or reach out to the wonderful people at Alcoholic’s Anonymous Australia or Narcotics Anonymous Australia and please remember, you are not alone.