Blog Archive

11 August 2019

Cruel Master Anxiety


Cruel Master

Snaky snarling ‘round my legs
Into brain and heart he begs
Crushing soul and breathing fire
Sucking each last drop desired

Stealing fun and joy and mirth
In his stead a scab a dearth
Writhing panting to be freed
On desperate wanton pain he feeds

Scratching 'cross my barren breast
Beating time within my chest
Head constricting thoughts restricting
Help me fight the pain

Weaving lies to truth an answer
Twirling ravage spreads like cancer
Endless hours stretch outward on
Listless aching greets the dawn

Pacing racing catching breath
Concluding retorts harken death
Seeking other paths to follow
Inside only emptied hollow

Shaking soul in quaking vessel
With this daemon beast to wrestle
Immortal mind immoral bind
Take me from the pain 

****************************

Anxiety and depression are such cruel masters. Their very essence makes them unbearably difficult to talk about whilst in their grips. It seems ironic to write about them when my mental health is the best it's been in years, but given the perpetual misunderstandings and misgivings about mental illness that abound, I realise the importance of doing so.

No one willingly invites anxiety in. No one says, "sure, invite your buddy depression along to the party!" It is a bitter battle. Often, it creeps up too far, the dark murky waters swirling up around the chest, the throat, before we even see it. At that point, it's nearly impossible to climb out and escape the downward pull. 

Surviving bout after bout eventually improves one's awareness of the rising waters lapping around feet and legs, when it's still possible to step out. But it still requires a life raft, a safety rope, some form of preserver any time we slide down deeply enough.

Don't look away from those who are hurting. Don't vilify those who are slipping. Don't demean those who are drowning. Reach out your hand. Use your strength to lift them up. Drain the swamplands so we all can have better mental health.

01 August 2019

Dancing Solo


You know that I can dance
You think that I am pretty
You see me all alone
So uncomfortably I'm sitting

You look the other way
You wonder what they'll think
I'm not like other girls
Wrapped in taffeta and pink

You're staring at your hands
Pretending not to see
I'm desperate to dance
But no one will ask me

You do not see the hurt
The tears are locked inside
I know I'm not allowed
To crack my shell of pride

I slip into the night
I look up to the stars
I find my own rhythm
The beat within my heart

I dance with wild glee
With grace and with finesse
I dance like no one's watching
I dance and never rest

I don't want validation
I do not need your hand
I wanted your connection
For you to understand

That loneliness and solitude
Are never the same beast
This soul is full of fire
And dancing is its feast

You missed out on the wonder
You missed out on the joy
Of dancing with a magic girl
You mean hubristic boy

**********

Social isolation is a brutal reality for many teens. Personally, it was always most painful when there was dancing because my body needs so desperately to move. I could dance for hours, until I was drenched in sweat and the sun was coming up. I once did so after running a midnight 10k in 45 minutes. That's how much I love dancing.

But no one ever asked me to dance. No one ever took me to a dance. No one ever took me out dancing.

I keep dancing for myself. I've finally found a place where I can be completely free and connect with others who love dance as desperately as I. It's a treasure, it's a wonder, it keeps me sane. 

This poem is for all the boys who never asked me to dance because I was just a little too weird.

26 July 2019

Never Walk Alone


The hardest thing about depression is the overpowering sense of isolation it imposes. It's crushing and creates its own feedback loop, convincing you that no one can understand or bear the brunt of its force. When someone is on the slippery slope into depression or desperation, the best antidote is not to attempt to cheer them up, but to convince them that they are resolutely not alone. That they are seen, not judged, heard, not spoken at, and that you are walking beside them them no matter what.

After too many battles with deep and debilitating depression and a few close calls, I now have what I fondly think of as my "break glass in case of emergency" friend. A friend with whom I've made a standing pact to call any time I start to have intrusive thoughts or I can't see my way through my current situation. It's a reciprocal relationship, I've made the same commitment to her. I know that if I call, she will drop whatever she's doing (within reason, of course) and ride it out. This is the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.

I know we don't all have this. I certainly didn't until I was nearly 40 and ended up in a psych ward with a 4-month old baby. I wouldn't have made this deal with my guardian angel had she not insisted upon it because she loves me so much. But I implore anyone struggling with their mental health to look for that person when you come up for air. If you're in the midst of a crisis, don't beat yourself up because you weren't prepared, but when you are vomited out on the other side and have a chance to catch your breath, make it a priority. Find that person in your life whom you deeply trust and tell them what you need, ask them to promise they'll be there no matter what, and make the promise in return so you have the honour of being that critical person for someone else.

If your mental health is great (whoot!), look around for someone in your life you love to the end of the earth who might not be on such solid footing. Tell them that you've got their back no matter what. Tell them to put you on speed dial. Tell them that you'll kick their ass if they're ever in a terrifying black place and they don't call you. It may, quite possibly, save their life.

Here's my poem on this theme:

Break Glass in Case of Emergency 

Have you ever been alone?
I’m with you
No one calling on the phone?
I’m with you
No one playing in the park
I’m with you
No one holding in the dark
I’m with you

No one ringing in the year
I feel you
Never offering their cheer
I feel you
No one making any plans
I feel you
Ever offering their hands
I feel you

Have you ever been afraid
I see you
Of the plans that you have made
I see you
Wishing you could go there brave
I see you
So those friendships you could save
I see you

Softly calling to the night
I hear you
Your darkest thoughts the terror fright
I hear you
Ever clinging for the dawn
I hear you
Hoping you were simply wrong
I hear you

That the games you’ll learn to play
I get you
And the perfect words to say
I get you
To the eyes that you behold
I get you
With their secrets never told
I get you

Come clear as you can see
I know you
You were never meant to be
I know you
The same as all the rest
I know you
In your head or in your chest
I know you

You are you as I am me
I am you
This mumbled way to be
I am you
But you never walk alone
I am you
When you have me in your phone 

24 July 2019

Review: The Rosie Effect


I've just devoured Graeme Simsion's second novel, The Rosie Effect, and I'm already hungry for the third part of the trilogy. I set out to read this quickly, as I was approximately one third of the way into Toni Morrison's Paradise when it came into the library for me and I didn't want to lose the thread of her masterpiece yet again, but I did not anticipate consuming it within 24 hours. Yes, I did other things, work, kids, household, in that time, but every spare second, and a few I probably shouldn't have spared, were spent completely engrossed in the continuing tale of Don Tillman. Simsion's writing is fast and fluid, and I find Don so relatable I don't need to ponder his thoughts or actions. Hence, whipping through the first two books in this series.

The new dimension of a baby on the way drew me even deeper into this book than The Rosie Project. The scrutiny of Don's suitability as father material raised some painful questions for me and caused me to reflect on my own journey into motherhood. Clearly, as a woman, I had the double-sided experience of being in Rosie's shoes as well, so reading this book provided an opportunity to explore two distinct forces within my own mind.

When I became pregnant with my first child, I had no idea I was autistic. I'd thought about it in passing as increasing numbers of friends posted things about it on social media, but the Ran Man stereotype was solidly cemented into my brain (just as in Don's), so I shrugged it off. While the female presentation of ASD was only just being codified by the DSM-5 around the time I was growing a baby, I apparently had enough "tells" to be picked out by some professionals. No one, however, had the decency to mention it to me.

The distain Don encounters from the social worker, Lydia, recalled an experience I had during my first antenatal appointment. I went blindly to see a random doctor, who I expected would instruct me on what I should/shouldn't do, as I was unaware of any of the protocols or procedures surrounding pregnancy at the time. Although I had become pregnant precisely when I intended to (four months after going off the pill, and a month after giving up coffee and alcohol, I deemed the safest minimum time at which to "pull the keeper"), was an appropriate age (34), finished with my PhD, gainfully employed on my second 3-year contract at a prestigious university, and married, I got the distinct feeling that the first doctor I saw thought I was tremendously unsuited for the task. I attempted to get the requisite information from her, but left angry and insulted after being spoken to like a child for half an hour. I took the pile of pamphlets home and ingested their guidance and recommendations along with half a round of unpasteurised sheep cheese, which I promptly put away when I read the warnings about listeria.

I can visualise that doctor's visit and the follow-up with painful clarity. I can hear her rising tone of irritation as I resolutely refused to have the amniotic fluid tested for markers of Down Syndrome, as my husband and I had weighed the risks of the procedure and were unprepared to terminate the birth on such grounds. I sensed she was angry with me about something else, but I had no idea what. I was healthy, fit, educating myself as rapidly as possible about all things pregnancy and baby related, committed to breast feeding, and making informed choices, what could she possibly be aggrieved of? 

It took seven years and this book for the penny to drop. If I were a betting person, I would put money on her judging me unfit because she saw my lack of eye contact, endlessly fidgeting and fluttering hands, "professorial" tone, sewed it up in one dismissive package and hoped I wouldn't bring "another one" into the world. It's certainly possible that I'm giving her more credit and a colder heart than she's due. Maybe she was just overworked and tired. Maybe she thought I was lying about my diet, exercise, non-use of drugs and alcohol, etc. because I couldn't look her in the eye when asked. Who knows? But the way she talked to me, like I was a child or an imbecile, rather than someone with exceptional brain power, makes it hard to draw a different conclusion.

I've heard many other autistics repeat this same refrain. The moment someone, particularly a (mental) health professional, either discovers our diagnosis or surmises it for themselves, we're summarily dismissed as too daft to understand what they're saying. Either that, or they dismiss the diagnosis, because we're clearly too "high functioning" to be autistic. A nasty Catch-22.

The Rosie Effect does great things to dispel so many of the myths surrounding autism. Don loves deeply, is a stalwart friend, is trusting and patient to a fault. The lengths he goes to in his attempts to protect, assist, and prop up the people around him are laudable. I was moved to waves of tears as his friends and family gave their heart-felt accounting of all he'd done for them. These are the stories of autists we need to tell.

This wouldn't be an honest review if I didn't include the things about this book that chafed. No great criticisms, but things that made me pause and suspend my belief. I find Don's best friend, Gene, continues to be far too two-dimensional. I recognise that this is normal through Don's lens, but even Gene's words and actions don't belie a full human rendering in this book. I keep waiting for him to be more completely revealed around every corner then feel disappointed when he's not.

I will also add one editorial comment. No American medical student would use the term "muso". That is an unabashedly Australian term, which had me scanning back through the pages to see if there was any indication that the study group contained other Aussies. It was also odd that Don used the term "crib" instead of "cot", even when speaking to his father, but I can see why the former would be selected for international audiences to avoid confusion.

Finally, I gave this an unreserved 5 stars on Goodreads and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a touching, fast-paced, insightful read.