I recalled the above quote by Gabrielle Roth when I read an article today about the way the medical profession treated a woman with depression.
The woman was going through a divorce so what she was really suffering from were emotions like grief, pain, regret which, yes, can drag you down into sadness. But not necessarily depression.
So this woman went to see a psychiatrist in Harley Street (a posh area in London for high-end medical professionals) who interviewed her for twenty minutes, diagnosed depression and sent her away with a prescription for escitaloprom and mirtazapine. For the next year this woman descended into hell via prescription anti-depressant medications including, additionally, aripiprazole, sertraline and disazepam. Oh, and the aripiprazole was replaced with olanzapine, on of the most powerful antipsychotic drugs. Linked to unexplained deaths, strokes, diabetes and an overwhelming urge to binge eat. The woman lost her emotions and couldn’t feel love or any emotion and wanted to kill herself.
She eventually, courtesy of a National Health Service mental health unit, went cold turkey and the five drugs she was on were cut off. Coming off one of these drugs is supposedly as bad as withdrawing from heroin, so imagine what it was like withdrawing from five drugs.
And all because she wasn’t handling her divorce well!
I’m mentioning this because, years ago, when I was doing Tarot readings in the UK, I did a Tarot reading for a lady and, looking at one of the cards in my Thoth Tarot deck, asked if she was unhappy or depressed. She told me she was being treated for depression and receiving much the same treatment as the lady above – a half-hour interview, drugs dispensed, come back next week, to repeat the process. This psychiatrist was employed by the NHS so he had a grand little repeat income with no real work involved.
As I worked with this woman in the course of the short Tarot session, we tracked back to a tragic incident in her younger days. She couldn’t remember the day, time or year of the event and I told her that this was significant as I could remember when my mother died down to the date and time. Somehow she masked her grief with a descent into depression. A depression which was being treated by a psychiatrist in a truly shoddy, shameful manner, but good for his back pocket and the drug company. And, with a bit of talking, care and compassion, I was able to track down the source of the depression but, unfortunately, wasn’t able to take things further. Hopefully, the reading gave the woman some insight and perhaps alternatives to continued medication.
I have also suffered depression, from the time I went to university at age 18 until well into my mid-forties. I first had trouble when I went back to university after my first Christmas at home and got ulcers all over my mouth and then quinsy, a severe form of tonsillitis. This cleared up but I felt dog tired all the time although I was sleeping very long hours. I visited the university health service, was diagnosed with depression and put on tablets.
The first inkling I had that low self-esteem was involved was when I saw a psychologist in Australia in 1975. The depression had reared its head again and luckily the doctor I was seeing was more interested in finding the root case rather than doling out drugs. She sent me to a psychologist attached to the surgery and I realised that I’d internalised a very negative comment from a former boyfriend. She helped me understand and get over this.
But I still had flare-ups of depression until I saw a psychologist who told me he felt I was suffering from lack of self-confidence and lack of self-esteem. I was staggered when he told me this but he gave me some good books to read and talked me through techniques of cognitive therapy.
This all helped but I only realised, after my mum died, and I saw a psychologist to cope with her death, that I’d internalised to a deep level lack of self-esteem due to my father’s behaviour when I was a child, in my teens and into my adult years. Once I realised this I never looked back. In fact, it opened up the gates for me to put depression behind me and unleash a creativity I never realised was lurking in my fearful, timid depths. Although on the surface I appeared confident and self-assertive, underneath I had no sense of being a powerful being.
Now that I’m an artist, writer, crystal worker and Tarot reader, I have no problems with depression at all. I do get what is called “fog head” with fibromyalgia but I know the difference between something that can arise out of the blue, lurk for a few days and then vanish into the wide blue yonder, and the disabling depression I used to suffer when I was younger.
I realise there’s a great difference between the depression I suffered and the sort of depression which involves schizophrenia and other serious mental health challenges. BUT suppose we stopped labelling natural human emotions, such as grief, sorrow, pain, regrets, anger and so on, as emotional reactions requiring medication. Suppose instead we focused on the steps and paths towards a fully functioning human being who can handle life’s ups and downs in a constructive fashion instead of being rather a label dreamed up by pharmaceutical corporations and their allies in the medication profession.
Yes, you might be required to delve into why you’re not in balance, which sometimes can be quite painful as I found out. And it ain’t easy. It’s bloody hard work – I’m not one of the “If you think the right thoughts all will be well” brigade. It can be a hard road to hoe but ultimately incredibly rewarding because you get to create the opportunity to be full alive, to live life to the hilt, to explore what lights your heart and soul. And in the process we can all start creating a far healthier, happier, balanced society.
So remember, do things which help your inner light:
- CREATE ART
- READ POETRY
- LISTEN TO MUSIC
- READ GREAT BOOKS
- WALK BY THE BEACH
- PLAY AN INSTRUMENT
- WATCH FUNNY MOVIES
- ASK FOR HELP FROM A FRIEND
- HELP OTHERS FACING CHALLENGES
- GET TOGETHER WITH OTHERS, FORM A SELF-HELP GROUP
- ABOVE ALL: VALIDATE AND LOVE YOURSELF, YOU’RE UNIQUE. THE WORLD WOULD BE A LESSER PLACE WITHOUT YOUR PRESENCE.
There are two backdrops to the situation in my home as a child, teenager and adult. The first is the underlying effect of domestic violence in my mother’s family. I adored my maternal grandparents because I knew, when I stayed with them, I was loved unconditionally. I’d spend hours wandering on my own in the big garden, the fields beyond the garden, and the small copse just below the house beside us which was the last along the lane. This was Blackheath where a bit of paradise was tucked away down this lane and I used to step outside the back gate, listen to the wood pigeons cooing and feel absolutely happy in my solitude and among nature.
So it was a heck of a shock when my mum told me, when she was on holiday in Australia in early 1975, that my grandfather used to beat my grandmother when my mum, brother and sister were kids, as he was a sweet old man who spoiled me no end. Mum said the kids used to run when he was in a rage to get away from his violence but my grandmother copped it the worst. I guess they must have made their peace in their middle and old age as they seemed happy together as I was growing up.
My mum did think that my grandmother had intended shooting through to her mother in West Hartlepool, in the north-east of England, but changed her mind when mum said something to her – what it was is lost in the midst of time. But the effects passed down generations. My uncle beat my aunt and he also came close to beating my cousin so hard he could have inflicted serious injury had my father not stopped in. My aunt married a violent man – again there was some sort of violence between my aunt and uncle when they were staying with us, I remember the shouting and yelling, and again my father intervened with my aunt and uncle leaving the next day.
I guess my mother felt safe with my father as he didn’t indulge in physical violence. Instead he resorted to emotional abuse because if Mum crossed him in any way, he wouldn’t talk to her for a couple of weeks, just sent her to Coventry. I never realised this as they were good at keeping up a front at home, but she told me later when they’d emigrated to Australia in 1978 after I’d moved there in 1972.
As for me, Dad was a control freak as far as my whereabouts where concerned. I was kept close to home as a kid with curfews which earned me a big scolding if I came home a bit too late. Luckily Dad had no idea of how far I used to roam and the escapades I used to get up to once I was out of sight of our home. He used to try to steam roller me if I expressed opinions but, luckily for me, I found the courage to argue back. I know it’s made me very stubborn in my opinions, mainly because I felt so threatened by his overbearing behaviour. I’ve never handled bosses well either because anyone telling me what to do instantly puts my back up and I head out to do the opposite!
Dad was, to some extent, a psychic as he used to know what upset me and he’d go for my underbelly with his words. I remember once, after Mum had died, that he told me how she’d worried about my weight. It hurt me no end and I caught a look of malicious glee on Dad’s face as he knew he’d managed to stick the knife in and turn it. He’d praise other people around him knowing it hurt me that he never once had a good word for me. In all our life, he never hugged me or told he me loved me, and never gave me praise or approval. The only photo we ever had together was when he was finally in a nursing home, and the closest contact we had was when we had linked arms at my mother’s funeral and he squeezed my arm as her coffin began to roll behind the screen after the funeral service.
COCKROACH IN SCALES
The other morning
There was a cockroach,
A big black shiny one,
trapped in the face of
As it waved its feelers back
at my looming face
trying to see if I was
(but never just right),
I thought it made a lot
For I’m a lousy housewife:
dusting, sweeping, what a waste of
And I’m a hopeless dieter,
fat and thin by turns.
So the cockroach in my scales
reflected both failures
What a way to start the day!
Over the years my weight has fluctuated wildly from slim to fat, so much so that I’ve felt like a human accordion at times, going in and out at the speed of light. I can’t say I’ve been conscious of whether I’ve been slim or fat because, regardless of my size, I was never aware of gaining or losing weight (apart from buying different dress sizes!).
I know many of my weight issues have been emotional, but also I’ve done a lot of reading about diets, weight, BMI, etc., because when I was young the hysteria around obesity and low-fat diets just didn’t exist. I do know that my weight has exercised the minds of far more people than it has mine. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve heard people say: “But you don’t eat a lot” and realised they’ve been scrutinising what I eat which gets right up my nose. It’s no-one’s business but mine what I eat, keep your nose out of my plate! As I said in my previous post, I’m also aware that when I walk into a doctor’s surgery their eyes light up as they order tests for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol and then look somewhat taken aback by results well in the healthy range.
I was also, decades ago, stupid enough to agree to go to a fat farm to lose weight when it was suggested by the organisation I worked for,and I really regret it. I lost 14 lbs in one week, with a mainly fruit juice diet, but of course, when I got back to the real world, the weight boomeranged back and then some. And it started me on a bit of a habit of fasting, then eating, and so on, which really has stuffed my body’s metabolism. I should have had the guts to tell them to poke their fat farm where the sun don’t shine, and that’s precisely what I would do today.
The day after I started working on this post – about weight and my mother’s death – I woke with excruciating sciatic pain in my hip and leg. It took until the next evening to realise that this was my physical response to approaching these subjects – matters of life and death which obviously have a great emotional and physical impact on me.
As soon as I twigged why the pain had exploded in my hip, it abated considerably. But I have been doing all sorts of odd jobs since then to avoid getting on with this post. So I have finally glued myself to my seat and here goes!
I weighed myself the night before I had the cast removed when I broke my leg and ankle in 1996 and then when I got home – 6lbs disappeared overnight, yeay! In the six weeks I’d been immobile, unbelievably I’d lost 14lbs, much to my surprise. It was as if the shock of the fall galvanised my body into detoxing all of its own accord.
From these comments and the intro you’ll probably guess that I have had some challenges with weight. And I’d probably be a weird woman if I hadn’t, given the obsession with thinness and fatness in today’s Western society.
In my childhood I was what you then called “chubby” but no-one banged on about weight and obesity as they do nowadays. In those days it was accepted that kids could be chubby but they’d lose this puppy fat once they hit puberty and started growing into adulthood.
The first time I became aware of perhaps being a bit weighty was when I stayed with my German penfriend in 1965. She was absolutely gorgeous and had a terrific, slim figure. Beside her I felt large and clumsy and I remember we each weighed ourselves but, as it was in kilograms, I had no idea what it meant. I do know that she and her mother exclaimed at my weight. When my cousin and his male friend visited us while they were in holiday in Germany, they only had eyes for my pen-friend and I felt fat, awkward and lonely. For the first time I became self-conscious about my figure.
I do know now that I ate because it was comfort food in a family where I felt on the outer. I closely associated food with being loved by my parents, particularly if my mum and I shared special food which Dad didn’t like, and we’d have this when he was doing overtime – mushrooms on toast (mushrooms were a luxury when I was a kid) and soft cod’s roe on toast (another luxury). I can also look back now and see that carrying extra weight was protective for me. My father was a bully, a control freak and he used to browbeat me if I voiced my own opinions. We’d go at it hammer and tongs until my mother would intervene to try to calm things down as she hated the discord.
At University I guess I remained somewhat podgy in my first year. I was in student accommodation and I used to drink a very hot cup of black coffee prior to meals in the refectory. The idea was to dampen my appetite but it wasn’t particularly successful, particularly if they dished up Queen of Puddings for dessert. It was my favourite and I’d eat my own portion as well as the portions of anyone who didn’t want their serving! I guess I really wasn’t overly bothered about my weight, just felt a sense of dissatisfaction which I never really pinned down.
The first time I really lost weight and became very slim was when I was working abroad during my third year at University. I was living in Stuttgart and started work at 7.30. We had a break around 8.30 and I’d get a roll with cold meat for breakfast. At lunchtime, we had a subsidised meal in the staff canteen but as very little of the food appealed to me, I had very small lunches. And in the evening, when I cooked for myself, I also didn’t eat much as it’s not much fun eating on your own.
I was, however, very happy at work as I made friends with a lovely Hungarian lady, Frau Kiss, a Hungarian refugee who’d settled in Stuttgart. She helped me in lots of little ways which made life more pleasant. Eventually I also met some really nice girls in the women’s hostel where I was living. When I first arrived in Stuttgart I lived in my own unit on the ground floor and it was quite lonely. Then I was moved to the basement area where I shared a room with a Finnish lass. She was a real raver and was always out in the evenings so I started leaving the light on in the small sink area in our room. She was quite taken aback at this as apparently the previous German girl had left the room pitch black and then complained when Marjia-Liisa made a noise trying to get ready for bed in the dark. But my little act of helpfulness broke the ice between us and from then on we got on like a house on fire.
Then a couple of English girls arrived from universities in the UK, they got stuck in the basement area like me, so we all got together. We were finally joined by Barbara, a German girl, who had a great sense of humour and adventure. And we certainly got up to all sorts of adventures between us, quite innocent now when I look back. But we were always laughing and having a good time together.
We went to the Christkindlmarkt in Stuttgart which was wonderful although bitterly cold. We visited the cinema at the American base nearby where we parked Barbara’s car and found it dwarfed by the huge American yank-tanks lined up in front of the cinema. We drove to Ulm to climb the steeple of the Ulm Minster, the tallest church in the world with 768 steps. It’s often called Ulm Cathedral but is actually a Minster as it has never been the seat of a bishop. We climbed up to the top where we found beautiful views over Ulm and the surrounding countryside, climbed down okay but when we got outside, our legs were like jelly and we ended up flopping on the floor laughing our heads off. I stayed at Barbara’s parent’s house one weekend, her folks were incredibly hospitable, and we also visited Rothenburg-ob-der-Taube which is a wonderful, medieval town.
We girls had boozy sessions in our rooms, confident we’d hidden all signs of the mayhem until we’d get home and realise our rooms smelled like pub bars, an empty wine glass or two stood on the mantelpiece and the sour-faced women running the hostel would greet us with icy faces!
One night Barbara introduced us to Schnapps, I think it might have been Goldwasser, which we English girls imbibed with gusto. She told us to skol it down it which we did and all promptly got drunk as skunks as none of us drank much at all. We were staggering everywhere, and I remember waking up with an appalling hangover. Barbara thought it was hilarious as we British girls sat there, head in hands, moaning, until she frogmarched us one by one to the restroom and stuck us in a cold shower!
I didn’t realise that, in this new lifestyle in Germany, I’d lost so much weight until I returned home for the Christmas holidays. My parents both commented on how much slimmer I was, and so did my boyfriend, but I didn’t see it in myself at all. I do know that when I returned to university in the fourth year, after my third year abroad, many people commented on the remarkable change in my appearance although, once again, I hadn’t realised how much weight I’d lost, it just sort of happened.
Much the same sort of weight loss happened when I worked on a kibbutz in Israel in March 1972, prior to travelling to Australia. I did physical work on my feet all the time, and the weight dropped off. I do know that unless I’m really active, it’s hard for me to lose weight, even more so now I have mobility challenges.
I realised much later down the track that my time overseas in my third year at university was really the first time I was away from anyone’s influence. I was pretty much on my own, and I lost weight because I didn’t need it to protect myself from my father’s bullying ways and the fact that I extended that to being subconsciously fearful of any relationships I had with the opposite sex. I loved being independent both at university and in Germany and France where I also spent six months.
Because I have so many air signs, nine in astrology, I have always been in my head and thinking, thinking, thinking. My conversations start: “I think…..” or “I’ve been thinking…..” (and generally my husband looks nervous because he says this usually means hammers and nails somewhere in the house), or I say, if people do rash things: “Why don’t people THINK”. Occasionally I look down and remember I’ve got a body attached to my head and say in surprise: “Oh, hello, body, still hanging around are you, thanks very much, I appreciate it.”
I started getting some idea of why I used food as a substitute for love and weight as protection when I saw a psychologist after Mum died. The thinner my mother got as the cancer spread, the fatter I got as if in some way I could protect myself, I think, on two fronts: from the fear of death myself if I got fat and from the grief I was experiencing as Mum came closer and closer to death. Seeing the psychologist after mum died, to get help from the loneliness and grief I felt, also opened a can of worms – mum no longer stood between me and my father as the peace-maker, we had to face each other, and our relationship got rocky to say the least!
When David Cameron announced his cabinet reshuffle a short while ago and more women were appointed to Cabinet, the headlines talked about “girlpower” and, of course what the “girls” were wearing. No talk of “womanpower” because so often we women are described as “girls” as we are not supposed to become fully-grown, mature, strong WOMEN. (I might add I am wholly cynical about the promotion of women as I see it as a cynical attempt to garner women’s votes rather than a genuine dedication to women’s equality.)
If you have a look at the photos on the right, the top row is of girls, the bottom is of women. The images in the top row are a vision of us as girls, never growing into a womanly shape, shaving our pubic hair so we look like constant teenagers, torturing ourselves with ripping out that hair (and I can tell you, I had my pubic hair shaved once, when I had my tubes tied at 27, and the constant itching of it growing back made me swear NEVER to shave that hair again!) and keeping us confined in the straitjacket of thin as desirable and right.
In the bottom row, the images are of mature women but now, in the same vein of keeping us as eternal girls, it is not considered appropriate to talk about women as “luscious”, “juicy”, “reubenesque”, “curvy”, “succulent” – because they all imply – shock, horror” – women who aren’t thin and possibly look like (whisper) mature, adult, powerful women.
I decided to follow up my posts on women’s liberation with one about weight issues because, looking back from the time I got involved in women’s liberation in the early 1970s until now, I got to thinking that the focus on diets and thinness is an act of sabotage – it has been a misogynist weapon to dis-empower women and keep them focused on weight issues instead of on living up to their full potential. A woman focused only on her weight and shape if far less powerful than one who is at home and comfortable with herself and makes her way in society as a formidable, strong individual.
The cult of “thin is good” didn’t always exist. Because I grew up in the ’50s and 60s, I have a perspective which isn’t possible for younger people, and that is, I can remember when women were weightier than accepted cultural norms now. It was accepted that as you had children and headed to your senior years, that weight gain was a normal process of life on earth. So it seems to me that the focus on thinness (mainly for women but now affecting men too) started getting stronger around the time women’s liberation erupted and started questioning women’s status in society. But thin is “in”, so to speak, at least on the part of women’s magazines, the diet industry, the medical establishment, the fashion industry and so-called fashion mavens who we’re supposed to follow like headless chooks.
While we’re busy focused on diets, size, weight, fatness or thinness, we are diverted from standing strong in our own right – as juicy, strong, powerful women, at ease with ourselves regardless of our weight, getting to know our own bodies intimately so we know what weight is right for us, and leading full, adventurous lives . As this quote from Naomi Wolf puts it so succinctly:
Marilyn Monroe would now be considered obese – which sounds ridiculous given the sex goddess she was. Yet we are repeatedly lectured that what I see as normal women are obese/morbidly obese/likely to peg it overnight because if they’re overweight they must be harbouring god knows how many life-threatening health challenges, and so on and so on.
This of course is a godsend to the enrichment of the diet industry, Big Pharma and medicos who see what is considered a fat woman now (but wasn’t when I was young) and like Pavlov’s dogs immediately start talking about diets, losing weight, yada, yada, yada. I know when I’ve walked into so many doctor’s room, their eyes light up as they order tests for diabetes and cholesterol levels and heave out the good ol’ blood pressure apparatus. Sadly for them, and they look quite taken aback, all my health signs are, well, healthy!
And as we’re on the subject of medicos, I have to say that I personally find the term “obese” quite offensive. It’s as if doctors conjure up a word which is designed to make normal/not so fat/ and fat people seem as sub-human as possible and to cow us into submissive slaves of thin worship. I sometimes wonder if the medical industry creates such words as “obese” or “geriatric” to elevate the power of medicos and reduce us patients to obedient, malleable, cowed, uncertain, unquestioning clients. I also despise doctors who lazily judge the health of overweight women by their size rather than their uniqueness and medical history.
I can remember having a meal out with some other women, all good-looking, fairly slim, about my age when I was in my late ‘thirties and the whole damned dinner talk was about weight, thinness and diets. I mean – what a ruddy great waste of women’s lives to spend it worrying about weight and what diet you’re on and whether you’ve gained or lost a couple of pounds from one week to the next. Being frightened of food, obsessing about calories, fat levels, carbs and all the other catchphrases of the thin mafia is absolutely ridiculous.
All the research which gets pumped out about what makes you live longer,what causes cancer, how to avoid heart attacks, etc., simply doesn’t take into account that people are individual, have their own genetic heritage and shape, and need to consider what their heart and soul tells them about what is good for them, not scientists and health gurus who change their minds a few years down the track or even from year to year and, dare I say it, month to month, week to week.
And having gone through some literature on this subject, I have found out – and this will no doubt amaze you – that if you carry more weight than that which is supposed to be healthy these days and you are fit, you are far more likely to live longer than a socially acceptable thin, unfit woman. Also, wasting your life on a yo-yo of dieting, losing weight, then gaining weight again and often extra weight than before you dieted, is putting your health far more at risk than a woman who looks at herself, smiles, smacks her booty gleefully and tells herself she’s a yummy individual with far more to do with her life than waste it on worrying about what is a current societal obsession about thinness.
Plus we need to get a perspective on the health hysteria which prevails at the moment – new food fads, super-foods, how to live longer, anti-ageing tucker – and so on. You can be the healthiest, fittest person around and then drop dead of a heart attack or get a life-threatening illness for no apparent reason. And everyone says it’s unfair because someone who doesn’t exercise or is fat doesn’t die at an early age. But it’s LIFE, outrageous, unpredictable, unfair, fair, dropping surprise health bombs into our lives – our time of death is unpredictable so get the most out of each day and you’ll have a wonderful life – exciting, adventurous, questing, humorous, fun, loving, fully adult, powerful and, above all, SATISFYING.
I can pretty much guarantee that when the truth comes out about – as it will – that the current BMI holy bible is a heap of old cobblers with no scientific foundation, and thinness is recognised as a trumped-up cultural creation to control and disempower women – the pendulum will swing towards an acceptance of women as they are meant to be – short, tall, medium, thin, fat, stocky, lean, weighty, or whatever is their natural, womanly shape. And if they’re pink with purple spots, or orange with red stripes, or green with turquoise hair – so be it!
I was reading an interview today with the director of the new movie Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron, and right at the end he said:
“I was unhappy, trying to fit the mould (of Hollywood). And I was desperate because I needed the money. I had my son back in Mexico and it took me a couple of years to realise that I have to do what I have to do, what I am. The funny thing is, when I started doing that, it’s when so many good things started happening for me!”
I spent a lot of my life being what I thought was acceptable to people and being deeply unhappy within myself without really realising why. When I finally dumped Ms Goodie-Two-Shoes for real in 1996 , I felt a sense of lightness and giddiness as if a big boulder had fallen off my back. As I’ve said, I started working with crystals, art, took up teaching, and dabbled a bit in astrology.
But it’s here in North Cyprus that the crystals and art have coalesced in surreal, digital art and I can now really understand what I’m supposed to be doing and what I have to do because the genie’s out of the bottle.
When I first met my husband, Bryan, he used to rave about Cyprus and the great time he’d had here as an army brat while his father served in North Africa, and when he himself served in the British Army in his late ‘teens. In Queensland, Bryan had a dream about Cyprus where he was walking in the streets of Famagusta with a white dove on his shoulder BUT the streets weren’t those of the Famagusta of his childhood, they were the streets of today. When I told my friend, Yvonne, about his dream, she reckoned my husband had left a piece of his spirit on this island, and I do believe that.
Quite frankly, at times I could quite cheerfully have nuked the island after listening to Bryan rave about it over the decades. So I couldn’t believe it, when we were discussing the idea of leaving Australia, when “Cyprus” popped out of my mouth and Bryan immediately said yes!
Here I have felt not a skerrick of artistic longing for conventional paint until canvas, which felt really odd, but I was quite bereft of any inspiration. Then I was fiddling with Photoshop and came across a great little gizmo called “liquefy”. You activate this and then you drag your mouse over photos and it swirls and melds the colours into a cauldron of flowing shapes and rainbows. Until then I’d only used Photoshop to tweak photos I’d taken of scenery, rocks, family, and so on. But with the discovery of the “liquefy” function the medium of digital art opened up for me which I’d always considered, well, not quite art. Not quite art, that is, until I realised that all the gizmos available for working with digital art allowed me to get all the images out of my head which had been whirling around and going nowhere fast.
Then I started working with the photos of crystals in my care and it all came together. The spirit energy I can sense in crystals, rocks and stones could be coaxed out with digital art. This past week too I’ve been doing a course on surreal art, learning to layer photos to create quite complex images. And I’m off and running. I can suddenly understand that everything I’ve experienced, all the places I’ve been have all been leading up to this time in my life when the surreal art which has been lurking within me can be released.
A while back the Merit Hotel, which is a bit to the right of us on the coast (we’re slightly set back from the sea) held fireworks displays on two successive nights. I stood and took photo after photo as the brilliant display lit the sky in front of us as we had a free, box seat for these displays. I’ve worked with the photos since, using Photoshop, but now I’ve learned to combine images to create a completely new one. This photo combines work I did on another piece of Munjina Rock in my crystal collection with a photo I took of a firework exploding during one of the Merit’s fireworks displays.
It’s an amazing feeling, huge bursts of creativity are pouring out from within me, as if a cork has been released from a champagne bottle and all the surreal bubbles are exploding into being.
While this is my story, I’d like to to take the time – in winding up – to urge you to walk on the creative wild side however it works for you. Creativity doesn’t need to mean art, music, but really what lights your heart and what your practice in your daily life which is you and no-one else.
I’ve just heard today that Lou Reed, who wrote the iconic song “Walk on the Wild Side” had died. And it strikes me that one of the problems we’re faced with today is that we’re always being encouraged to live in fear, to be confined by straitjackets, to forget our own wild nature. It’s never too late, as I’m proving. Don’t live a little life!
Here’s a link to Lou Reed and Walk on the Wild Side:
I was stuck up Mt French with my leg in a cast for six weeks, as the broken bones were slow to heal, much to my disgust. I wanted my leg to be healed YESTERDAY! I used to phone my friend in Perth and she said she could hear my impatience burning down the wires. Unfortunately, impatience didn’t get me anywhere except feeling extremely frustrated.
When I had the cast off and put my weight on my right foot for the first time, it felt like I was walking on glass. It took quite a while before I could abandon the crutches altogether but I still had trouble with a recurring infection around the cut where my leg had been set and a metal plate put in place. I was not in good shape, got tired easily, my foot would swell in the evenings, and I had to rest a lot.
So I kept drawing mandalas. I used the technique taught at the workshop in Brisbane which was based on creating shaded white symbols on black cardboard, and then a layer of colours over the white, the idea being that you could show light shining through each symbol in the mandala.
As I got more mobile, I also started teaching mandala workshops in small groups. I have to say, looking back, that I jumped in the deep end with teaching. Prior to teaching mandalas, I had started practising Reiki and reflexology in Yvonne’s clinic, as she had bought a house with an area attached she was able to use as a clinic. But learning Reiki 3 really opened the door to my expanding the courses I taught.
A friend was going to attend a Reiki 3 course but it fell through for her so I phoned the Reiki Master to see if I could take her place. I told her I had no money and would pay her when I could and she immediately agreed. Another miracle and step forward in my life. I had an absolutely wonderful weekend, very intensive but very rewarding.
There were only two of us so we had very personal and intense instruction. On the second day we were taught an advanced healing technique where we looked inside people and worked with whatever we saw or felt. It was a form of psychic healing where you tuned into the emotional and spiritual energies of a person to sense what was required at those levels for healing to happen. It’s not an everyday occurrence. You would only do this form of healing with someone’s permission and when they had themselves done enough work on themselves to be able to participate in the whole process. So it’s not for complete beginners.
We were to be intuitive in our approach, our Reiki Master said. I was instantly alarmed – intuitive? Me? But something amazing happened. I saw exactly what needed to be done – it was quite different from acting as a channel in Reiki healing, more interventionist but at a psychic, spiritual level as I’ve described above. And for me it involved symbols which of course flowed for me as I love symbolic work. I remember describing the images to the other person doing the course with me, and knowing that I had to stop at a particular stage because he had to do the rest of the work.
And then out of nowhere came all sorts of knowledge flooding in which I passed on and now have no idea what I said. Of course I wouldn’t repeat it, if I could, as it’s private and personal to the person concerned. But I do know I felt stunned and he looked stunned. He stared at me for a moment, then stomped off to the bathroom and shut himself in. I really thought I’d blown it, but my Reiki Master looked amused and reassured me that I’d tuned in correctly and that I’d done the right thing in the whole healing process. It was a heck of a relief, I can tell you!
I’ve gone through a process of pooh-poohing Reiki a bit over they years, but now I’ve come full circle because I’ve seen it lead to miracles. For some it relates to spiritual, mental, emotional or physical healing. For others, it opens pathways to personal growth and heading in completely different directions. For me, it opened up the whole process of teaching. While we were still living up Mt French, I had opened a healing centre in Yvonne’s clinic premises when she bought a new house and started working from home. I started off doing Reiki and reflexology, something I’d learned back in Perth. But one day I thought I’d like to start teaching a course in colour, energies and healing.
I have no idea where this proposition came from but, as they say, it seemed a good idea at the time. I set up a billboard in the main street of Boonah, but then nearly had a nervous breakdown when someone appeared to say they wanted to attend. I must have looked like a headless chicken running around when the guy signed up, but it must have been meant to be because I met another lady shortly afterwards who also wanted to take part. I found I really enjoyed teaching. I was a good communicator and was able to sort out my ideas and get them through to people.
I also find it interesting that, if you’re heading in a direction which meets your life purpose, you’ll get help along the way. I started off with two people in my first class and I continued to do the odd class on chakras and creative visualisation with just two people but it expanded when we moved down off the mountain to the centre of Boonah.
One day I got hold of a book about focusing on your goals, and happened to mention it to a friend that I’d like to teach it. She said she’d like to take part, spread the world and, lo and behold, within a matter of weeks a group of seven had got together to work our way through the book. With me as the teacher.
I must admit that the first time I looked up and saw six faces looking back at me waiting for me to take the lead I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I felt quite inadequate, but took a deep breath and ploughed on. We had a ball and I discovered that I had a knack for creative visualisation and tuning into people as they described what they’d seen, heard or sensed.
We all have different ways of using our senses so some might find creative visualisation very easy and images popping up without difficulty. I know the first time I was able to visualise very clearly during a guided visualisation I felt my self-confidence go sky-high. I never realised I had that ability. My visual sense is very important for me. I can see parking spaces, or notice little details very easily. If I visualise, I can do so with no difficulty whatsoever.
Just don’t mention auditory ability to me. It’s pretty much low on my list. Bryan, my husband, on the other hand has perfect pitch, can listen to music and distinguish all the instruments and the nuances of singers, drummers and other performers. Whereas to me, it’s a nice noise, I’m not too bothered about the lyrics, I just like the overall, end result. I’m also tone-deaf which causes my husband to wince if I do sing as he can hear when I’m off-key and I can’t.
Other people sense or feel things. They might get a feeling of unease about something, or sense happiness, or smell scent or something like that. Then you find that some people can work well with more than one sense. There is no right or wrong, it just depends on each person’s particular focus.
I became aware of my ability to do creative visualisations when I was doing a mandala workshop with one of my friends while the rest were complete strangers. Up until that point, I’d run workshops but used the text of a book on mandalas word for word in guiding people into creating mandala art. On this occasion, however, I was particularly concerned about one participant. He created amazingly straight lines, so straight, in fact, I thought he’d got a ruler stashed away. But I gradually came to realise that he couldn’t access his creative side, and was working with his intellect all the time.
In creating mandalas you need to access your intuitive, sensing ability which arises in the right side of your brain and affects your left side. As I mentioned earlier, the left side of your brain, which relates to intellect, reasoning and logic, crosses over to your right side. You could say that your right side is your “doing” side and your left side is your “receptive” side, if that makes things clearer. The idea of contacting your intuitive side is that you sideline your intellectual side so that you can access your emotions, your feelings and your inner wisdom. So while this particular guy was creating beautiful mandalas, they had no emotional depth to them.
I was lying awake that night, pondering on this problem, when a voice said: “Take them into a creative visualisation and work with Mother Mary.” I nearly levitated. “I don’t believe in Mother Mary, I don’t do that sort of religious stuff.” The voice persisted: “Work with Mother Mary.” I sighed, rolled over and went to sleep quite quickly after this little exchange.
But the words remained in my head so I decided to take a punt. I sidelined the written material I’d been using, someone else’s text, in other words, and embarked on my very first creative visualisation. As I let go and trusted the flow, the words poured out as I started: “Mother Mary ……”. It worked a treat. The logical guy created a mandala which veered between emotional, intuitive images on one side and logical images on the other side. It was quite amazing to see the difference and at the end of this particular session, he walked outside, burst into tears and had a good, hearty cry. Ever after that, I simply asked for the right creative words to flow when I was doing creative visualisations, and it’s worked like a dream.
This is what I extended into my workshops in our new home. The numbers were small as I only had a limited space but I was thoroughly enjoying myself.
I was then asked to take part in other events and one of those led me to holding my Live Your Dream course at a nearby health centre. It was a big jump as I had between 10-16 women at these courses. Once again, I looked at all the faces gazing back expectantly at me, took a deep breath and jumped in the deep end.
This is what I mean by the Universe leading me gently by the hand, expanding my work slowly but surely so that I got confidence in handling larger and larger groups. It was a wonderful process and I loved my work.
The first course I held at the Women’s Centre was brilliant. The women were bright, courageous, willing to be open and honest, and very supportive of each other. I really remain honoured by their presence at that course as they were willing to jump into the unknown, face their challenges and take action to change their lives if they felt it appropriate. I say “appropriate” because through the course some people got a better handle on their personal situations and were able to take action to stay in that situation but work with it in different ways which made life a lot easier for them.
The first “Live Your Dream” course was repeated a few times and it also led on to courses in “Understanding Dreams”. I also incorporated mandala work in some of the courses because it’s interesting how focusing on the voice within and accessing intuitive images can open the way for deeper understanding in a self-development context.
As my confidence in art work grew, I contacted a new age magazine in Brisbane and asked if they’d be interested in my contributing an article on mandalas. I created my first bespoke mandala for the editor which was the first time I created images outside the inner circle.
I advertised in the magazine and ended up getting regular orders for personalised mandalas. In the beginning, I really enjoyed creating atwork for individual people. It amazed me that I could get such different images for each person. But gradually I found that I was on a treadmill and the joy of creativity began to fade until one night I walked out and showed Bryan the latest mandala I’d drawn. He looked at it and said: “It’s mechanical, Mo, it’s got no heart to it. It’s nothing like the mandalas you’ve created previously.”
I knew he was right and had put into words what I was feeling inside – that I was forcing myself to drum up images whereas previously the whole process had flowed for me. So I tore up that mandala, left it for a while and eventually found my inspiration returned to finalise what I decided would be my last bespoke mandala.
The relief I felt was enormous and a sure sign I’d come to the end of the road with that path.
I wasn’t intending to continue on the theme of domestic violence in my family’s history except something happened which reminded me of how one can be affected not just by physical violence but by verbal pressures. I found myself freezing when someone said something sharply to me (who it was doesn’t matter, more how it affected me), and it reminded me of behavioural patterns from childhood which still affect me from time to time.
So I thought I’d carry on with how a dysfunctional relationship has affected me and how I’ve pretty much worked it out of my system. I’m writing this basically to encourage other women who might come across this blog and who are struggling with a dysfunctional relationship – whether in childhood, in the family right now or in a relationship – to get some understanding that they’re not on the same leaky boat alone.
I want to let them know that they are worth a damned sight more than anyone dragging them down or indulging in violence – whether physical or mental – against them, and to say to anyone who reads this and thinks they’re perhaps over-reacting: if you feel abused in any way, if you feel that someone is putting you down, if someone is bashing you or verbally abusing you, it is okay to acknowledge you may feel worthless and a heap of shit, but it’s also okay to feel angry, to experience hatred because it’s your experience, no-one else’s. No-one has the right to say that you are over-stating things, being sensitive or whatever. You have your feelings, you’re entitled to own your feelings and know they are fine.
The next step is to deal with your circumstances and work on clearing out crappy feelings – because those feelings affect only you, not the person who caused it. I want to tell you that I ran a group once with women who’d been sexually assaulted or suffered domestic violence or been the subject of hurtful behaviour and comments designed to smash their self-confidence. Each and every one of these brave, gutsy women had finally quit a situation that dragged down their spirits. They had regained their self-esteem, their self-confidence and rebuilt their lives. Some of them were in difficult financial circumstances but not one of them would go back to the hell of the past. They saw themselves not as survivors but as victors, because they had regained their spirit and their sense of self.
The quote in the title comes from one of those women. She had been through unimaginable difficulties but never gave up hope. Every time she was down, she told herself: “I am a fine woman”. I have never forgotten that and it’s been my mantra too and I’m pretrty sure it remains a mantra for other women in her group not only for her courage but her honesty in baring her soul to us.
Before we left Australia, we saw a programme on ABC TV which was based on the fact that many women who were the victims of domestic abuse in post-war Sydney got shot of their violent partners with thallium, a rat poison readily available in the corner stores in the city, although not available in other parts of the country.
About 100 deaths were attributed to these poisonings although the figure could have been higher. In most cases the women poisoning their partners were the victims of domestic violence and in those days there was no escape. To leave a marriage meant, for women, poverty and social ostracism. If you were getting beaten up, you had to put up with it and try to survive as best you could. Enter stage left thallium which was tasteless and highly effective at putting in food and knocking off your violent partner.
True not every woman who used the poison was the victim of domestic violence, but very many were and they were desperate.
Nowadays of course there is more knowledge of domestic violence, awareness of women’s refuges and far more support than there used to be. Nevertheless, many women continue to remain in violent relationships and all too often you see the comment: “Why don’t these women just get out of this situation. Just walk out or walk away.”
But it’s easier said than done, as victims will attest. There’s the shame factor of admitting publicly you’ve been bashed. Often there’s the very real fear of being homeless or facing the prospect of poverty. And all too often it’s because women have been brainwashed into thinking they deserve what they’re getting, that they don’t deserve any better and they’re basically a heap of worthless shit who should be happy they’ve got a man in their life, however violent.
If you’re wondering if I’ve been a victim of domestic violence myself, no, I haven’t, thank goodness. But going back to the history of domestic violence in my family and to the domineering attitude of my father, it came as a shock to me in my ‘fifties to realise how much I’d been brainwashed by my father over the years.
He used to say things with so much certainty that as a child I never queried whether his comments were truthful and correct or not. And this attitude continued into adulthood because it was one I’d grown up with and I had no reason not to trust what my father was saying. Also in my adult years I wasn’t around my father very much and, if I was, we used to argue like the clappers because I stood up to Dad when he said things I didn’t agree with or sneered at my views. Looking back now, I realise that my mum was the peacemaker between us and when she died, Dad and I were face to face in our relationship without an intervening presence.
In my ‘fifties I found out that something Dad had asserted was quite untrue and was in actual fact a piece of complete fiction. I found out other untruths and I began to query just what was real in the past and what wasn’t. I really have no idea now if the stories Dad told of his younger years were real or complete fiction. It’s a weird situation as you realise you’ve been so comprehensively brainwashed when you think you’re a perfectly functioning adult!
I also learned that, as well as being a liar, my father was always ready to rip off anyone, regardless of whether they were his friends or not. And he used money to try and control people, including myself. Facing up to who your father really was – and also seeing him when he was down and out as a raging alcoholic is very painful. We all would like the perfect father who loves us and approves of us, but for many of us it’s often it’s pie in the sky, particularly with older generations where fathers were often absent due to work requirements.
I don’t know about women who’ve been the subject of domestic violence, but I do know now that whenever someone speaks sharply or aggressively to me, I still freeze. My mind goes blank, I feel I’m in freefall, and it is really hard to get together the words to respond. Often I’ll simply reply shakily and quite weakly which really pisses me off no end when I look at how I could have replied further down the line. I’m working on this because it’s only with writing about my reaction that I’ve been able to pin the source down to the verbal batterings I used to get from my father.
In my next post I want to look at my relationship with money, because it too has been affected by my reaction to my father’s miserly approach to life and my fear of not being in the least like him. Once you start digging down into your family, its origins and how it affects you, it can seem like opening Pandora’s Box. But clearing out the box is the best way to get clear of shit which has been dragging you down, and standing tall in your own right and with confidence in yourself as “a fine woman”.
“The child is so much a part of the psychological atmosphere of the parents,” Jung writes, “that secret and unsolved problems between them can influence its health profoundly. The participation mystique … causes the child to feel the conflicts of the parents and to suffer from them as if they were its own. It is hardly ever the open conflict or the manifest difficulty that has such a poisonous effect, but almost always parental problems that have been kept hidden or allowed to become unconscious.”
I came across this quote from Jung as I got to the end of the last post on creativity. For me, family relationships are inextricably intertwined with the feelings of self-doubt, isolation and waverings in how I should express myself that have dogged me all my life, even now.
I know people say “Get over it”, but it’s my view that emotional imprints from childhood entwine themselves in your cellular memories. They are sometimes pushed down so far it’s a hell of a shock when the buggers suddenly jump out into the light of day, like the mad uncle at weddings everyone wishes would stay safely locked in the cellar so people don’t have to face the problem head on.
As I mentioned in the last post, I strove to be excellent academically because it seemed the safest way to receive approval from my parents. My father was a control freak and bully. Through my childhood and in my adult life, he always rode roughshod over my views and battered me with words. One of the most hurtful times was when he told me that, if I hadn’t been born, he could have made something of himself. To which I replied, very logically in my view: “Don’t blame me for being here, Dad, I wasn’t there when you and mum decided to screw and make a baby!”
I always had a sense of being on the outside of the family, with my mother focusing on my dad’s needs to keep him happy and me hanging around on the edges looking for the odd drops of approval. This was a poem I wrote after Mum died when I was working through a whole heap of inner pain and confusion which was bubbling up to the surface:
colours my life and
haunts my days like
a grey shroud hovering
into my body,
creeping into my stomach
tight with tension
bloated with hot angry
seething murmering writhing
caught within me like
rats trapped on a treadmill.
Memories emerge of life
on my own
at home, at school, at work:
a wall of silence surrounding
me as I beat against
its confines like a
seeing the light and warmth
of love and contact but doomed
to prison’s hellish walls.
My breath catches – tortured
lungs striving desperately to breathe
but clutched instead by cold terror
as the past rises before me
clamps to my back
and fiendishly melds with my body
like a deformed
chimpanzee squealing triumphantly
“you’re trapped in a
on the outside
It was actually a conversation with my mother when she was on holiday in Australia in 1975 that opened up vistas on the dynamics of my family life. Mum revealed that as a child she had witnessed domestic violence in her family, with my granddad beating my grandmother, and the kids running away when my granddad was in one of his violent moods.
It was a hell of a shock for me because my granddad was a lovely, kind, gentle soul when I knew him as a young kid. I supposed he’d mellowed over the years, I used to spend heaps of time with him when I was staying at my grandparent’s home as a child, and I absolutely adored him. You can’t know the ins and outs of relationships, only the people within them really know the nitty-gritty. I guess through the years he and my grandmother had reached some kind of peace.
But as I began to explore the dynamics of my own family, I began to realise how much the history of domestic violence had influenced past and present events in my parents’ life and my own life.
My parents had applied to emigrate to Australia after the war, had actually received approval and had started making arrangements for their voyage to the other side of the world. But my mother changed her mind at the last moment and we never made it Downunder.
I had often wondered why my mother changed her mind but, as often happens in families, no-one really went into details of why. After Mum had told me about her violent childhood, she said that as a young girl she remembered her mother talking of leaving the children and my granddad and returning to her parent’s home in West Hartlepool. Mum said something to her (I can’t remember what it was), but those words caused my grandmother to change her mind and stay. And so I wondered whether, when it came to crunch time after my parents’ application to emigrate to Australia, my mother stayed in England because she felt guilty about leaving her own mother who had stayed in a difficult marriage for the kids.
This is, of course, speculation. On the other hand, the ghost of domestic violence began to open doorways for me to understand the way in which my family unit operated emotionally. My father was very emotionally withdrawn. He never, ever, in my whole life, gave me a hug or touched me in a loving, caring way. The most I got from him was a peck on the cheek, except for the moment at my mother’s funeral – when my father and I were arm in arm for the first time – and he squeezed me arm as mum’s coffin began to roll away from sight on the way to her cremation after she died of lung cancer.
For the first time in 1975 Mum also referred to my father’s dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. For some reason my paternal grandfather decided to disown my father, we never understood why. But at his funeral, the whole family ignored my father including his mother, and when he came home he demolished a bottle of Scotch in one evening. Later on, when Dad had been stabbed in the back in regard to his business by so-called friends, he started drinking heavily, so much so that my mother had considered leaving him.
As well as this piece of gobsmacking news, on that holiday in 1975 my mother told me my dad would often not talk to her for days or weeks on end to punish her for something which had upset or annoyed him. It was an eye-opener for me as they’d managed to hide it from me. But I began to realise that marrying an emotionally distant man was the safe option for my mother who had seen physical violence as a child.
My aunt, my mother’s younger sister, married a physically abuse and mentally unstable man. I knew when I got older that my aunt’s husband had been jailed for selling contraband meat, but he wasn’t jailed for the selling part of it, he was jailed for attacking the arresting police officer with a rather large meat cleaver. I can remember as a young child that my aunt’s husband became violent when they were staying with us in Ramsgate, where my mother ran a guest house, my father had to intervene and they left early the next day. And as happened in those days, no mention was made again of the outbreak of domestic violence, there was silence as it was buried down in the cellar with all the other murky bits in my family’s dysfunctional relationships.
And my uncle himself, my mother’s brother, was moody and quite violent. He once started beating his eldest son, my cousin, until my father pulled him off fearing he’d kill his son. Again, while on holiday in Australia and staying with my parents in Busselton, down the coast from Perth in Western Australia, my aunt revealed that my uncle, my mother’s brother, had physically abused her in their marriage to the extent that she had also considered quitting the marriage but had decided to stay.
As for me, I hated displays of anger. I was never allowed to be angry as a young kid, there was a kind of taboo even though, because I was so sensitive, I could feel an undercurrent of anger and hidden aggression. But anger scared me which is why I couldn’t handle displays of anger, even though I had anger raging in me.
If I was upset I would withdraw emotionally, distance myself from the world, and brood over whatever had upset me. What drew me out of this, or rather hurtled me out of this, was my husband. In astrological terms, he has an overload of fire signs which means he can shout, stomp around and get any pissed-offness out of his system immediately and then it’s all over. It used to throw me for a loop when he first behaved like this because in our family we did not fire up and show emotion. And it used to get up Bryan’s nose no end that, instead of yelling back, I’d withdraw and, very much in the tradition of my father’s treatment of my mother, I’d stop talking to him. I’d emit silence from every pore of my being!
How have I overcome this? Well, over the years I’ve begun to understand this family pattern and work on releasing it. As I’ve studied astrology, I’ve also begun to understand that when my husband fires up and fires off, it’s his way of dealing with stress and tension. It’s also a far healthier way of dealing with life by getting lousy feelings out of his system than my way of bottling it all up inside of me.
The first time I yelled back at my husband was brilliant. I felt powerful, energised and – best of all – once I’d done my lolly, I felt I’d got my frustrations out of my system. I grinned at Bryan and then, when he said: “Well, how does that feel? Told you you’d feel a lot better!”, started laughing my head off. I’m quite sure that if people could peer in the windows of our apartment and see some of the times when we now go head-to-head, they’d be quite taken aback. Because when we’ve got crap out of our system, we both start laughing at each other and feeling pretty damned good about how we get along. And I guess after thirty-six years of staggering through life together, something must be working okay.
If I sound a bit over-the-top about discovering a bit of an artist within me in 1996, it’s because I never, ever – right through my life until that mandala workshop I attended in 1996 – saw myself as having a shred of creativity within me.
My primary school in the early ’50s was a Catholic convent with nuns from Ireland, who taught embroidery and knitting. I was woeful at both and bored stiff with what seemed like completely unproductive skills (although I have to admit, I can still do a mean blanket stitch courtesy of Sister Veronica).
BUT I was very intelligent and so I was fast-tracked as the student most likely to pass the 11-plus examination, bring kudos to the school (where most of the girls were in training to be Catholic mums knocking out kids ad infinitum) and get approval from my parents.
I couldn’t have cared less about pats on the head from the nuns because I loathed being at the convent with a quite virulent hatred. I was moved there when I was six so that my father could fulfil his promise to the parish priest, when he married my mother in a Catholic church, that he would bring me up as a Catholic.
I was incredibly lonely as I had nothing in common with the other girls who were imbued with Catholicism. I was a rebel even at that age. I simply couldn’t mindlessly accept the rituals and rigmarole, and recital of catechism seemed utterly pathetic. From an early age I always asked “why?” and it inevitably got me into trouble. I nearly always missed Sunday Mass and when I did attend I got into trouble for having a punch-up with my friend in the front pew of the church or I sniggered at the wrong time and brought immense wrath down on my head. If we had days off for “Saint’s Days”, I used to view it as an opportunity to sleep in rather than rush off to yet another stultifying mass. I really got the evil eye from the nuns when the visiting priest turned up and I forgot the words of the “Our Father”.
But what was vitally important to me was the approval from my parents and it was a goal of mine until I staged my teenage rebellion in Australia in my mid-‘twenties. Late starter, you might say.
An incident happened when I was 4.5 which was quite minor but which my parents blew out of all proportion. I’m not going into the details because it sounds utterly pathetic, but ever after I was labelled a liar, I copped a hiding at the time and then felt the full weight of parental disapproval descend on like the hounds of hell in the ensuing few weeks and if I ever looked like kicking over the traces. My parents’ response triggered huge amounts of shame in me and, looking back, I can realise now that I felt that their love, from that time on, was conditional on my being a very, very good little girl.
So I always behaved. I always excelled academically. I was pretty much always top of the class and thereabouts and the time I came fifth all hell broke loose, with teacher-parent meetings, lectures and extra work. When I was 11 and passed the 11-plus examination, I chose the grammar school close to home and waved a relieved and happy goodbye to Catholic schooling.
The need for academic excellence persisted, however. Over the years from the early incident of my childhood, if my parents ever wanted to get me back into line, I’d be called a liar by my father or threatened with another hiding. The hiding threat stopped when I was 14 and Dad said: “You’re not too old to put across my knee and have a hiding”. I stared at him and then said: “If you so much as touch me, I’ll pack my bags, quit this house and never return”. He knew I meant it and never raised the threat again. Although he continued to love labelling me a liar at the drop of a hat even though, as I’ll explain later, it was a case of the pot calling the kettle black as he was an ace liar and manipulator.
Nevertheless, I stayed on the treadmill of always trying to be the best, mainly coming top or near the top in classes right through to going to university in 1966.
But while I was good academically, I never saw myself as creative. The fact that I could write stories at the drop of a hat was so easy, it didn’t seem like a gift or talent. And in those days, I guess creativity was defined by your artistic, musical or other arty-farty abilities.
This was reinforced when a guy I was going out with while I was at University in Bradford split up with me and later, when we’d got back together, I found a list he’d made of reasons for or against resuming our relationship. One of the “against” factors was my “lack of imagination”. I felt like I’d been sucker punched by this but had too little self-esteem or self-confidence in those days to tell him to get knotted which would have been the appropriate response.
A memo to anyone reading this: if someone doesn’t value you for who you are, don’t take it personally. It’s their problem, not yours. Concentrate on being the best you can be and honour what lights up your heart and soul. DON’T listen to naysayers, DO listen to your own intuition and integrity to sort out what is right for you. DON’T on any account give your power away to others to decide how you feel, it’s not worth it.
Bullies love it if you suck up their negativity, they feed on your fear. Stand up to bullies, as I did with my father, because bullies are at heart gutless and cowards. Picture them in silly clothing or doing stupid stuff, because ridicule is the best weapon. People don’t value you if you are simply a pale shadow of them or you’re trying to fit in by pretending to be what you’re not. Because when you do that, you dishonour yourself and you’ll find yourself getting depressed or spirit-less as you fail to honour the real you.
I suffered various bouts of depression over the years, starting with my first year at University when, for the first time, I mixed with people academically brighter than me. It left me feeling even more uncertain about myself as a valid person. I used to feel exhausted even though I was sleeping very heavily. So I went to see the doctor in the students’ sick bay who diagnosed depression. Tablets helped me recover but I’d still fall into a depressive state again further down the track where my head felt full of fog and I’d be dead tired all the time. Tablets helped but the malaise went deeper.
In the midst of one bout of depression just after we arrived in Australia, I was referred by the doctor I saw to a therapist who was immensely helpful. She managed to fish out how I felt about Dave’s comment. She suggested a Gestalt session, whereby I sat opposite a cushion on a chair and repeated what Dave had said. Then I occupied the cushion and told him how angry and upset I was. She repeated my comments to me. Then she told me to switch to being Dave and say whatever I thought he might say in response to my comments. To my absolute surprise, I heard myself say: “I don’t remember writing that list at all.” The counsellor laughed at my stunned mullet expression. I realised that I’d been hanging on to this comment and the only person it had hurt was myself. I could feel this huge burden of feeling unimaginative shifting off my shoulders and I felt so much lighter when I walked out. Dave commented how much happier I looked too.
It made me realise that when we hang on to negative stuff that other people have said about us, the only person we hurt is ourselves. Years later I saw someone comment in a newspaper: “I hate people who wear white shoes”. I looked down at my white shoes and decided that I was pretty damned good, and to hate people for a particular “crime” such as wearing white shoes was pretty pathetic. We are so quick to say: “I hate people who …… (and here you can put in your favourite prejudice) when in fact they aren’t aware that we hate them, the only person affected by the hate is ourselves, and it’s a complete waste of energy. Life’s too short to spend it in useless energy-wasting activity.
Although the therapist helped me unlock a few doors, it took a long time to pin down the recurring depressive episodes to the lack of confidence and self-esteem I’d felt since childhood. Later down the track I saw a psychologist who suggested I lacked self-confidence. I thought he was mad as a cut snake as I always projected confidence and a picture of myself as an extrovert. But he managed to dig deep and wheedle out of me how I really felt – how I kept up a face of competence, had a smiling face on all the time, never showed anger and basically presented a false front to people. He directed me towards a range of self-esteem books which I found incredibly useful. They helped me see patterns in my behaviour which I hadn’t realised existed.
I also had a really interesting experience when I was at a fair on Mt Tamborine. I saw a lady with a stall advertising healing work and I felt very drawn to her. So I decided to have a session with her. It was like no other healing session I’d had before or since. She took me back in envisioning the situation of my father’s family, and I could see my grandmother standing between my father and his elder brother, John. John had been the favourite son but had been killed in the D-Day landings and henceforth his memory was sanctified by my grandparents. In the vision I saw my grandmother stepping back and my father punching John in the face. And John faded away. It was as if John had been held back by, perhaps, his own regrets but by Dad’s feelings of frustration, anger and – most likely although it’s only a guess – guilt at his feelings. The vision seemed to set both of them free from the ties of the past.
Then this healing lady took me to the age of eighteen, when I was leaving to go to university. She asked me how I felt. I was surprised to say I felt dragged down. Then she asked me how my father felt. My immediate response was jealousy and lack of support. As a teenager, Dad had passed exams to go to technological college but hadn’t been allowed to go. His parents claimed lack of money but everyone knew that if it had been John in Dad’s place, John would have attended college. My father was very bitter about that. I realised as I connected with my feelings at the time of my departure to Bradford University that I’d picked up sub-consciously Dad’s feelings, jealousy and resentment that I had opportunities denied to him.
I have Neptune in the First House in astrology, close to my Ascendant and Sun Sign. They’re all bunched up in Libra. But what it does mean is that I can see into people, I can see below the surface, I can sense people’s feelings. So at some unseen level I’d picked up on what, I guess, was a lack of support from my father, and it dragged me down without my knowing why. I don’t remember all the details of the healing work I did with this lady on Mt Tamborine on this time in my life, but I do know that she cleared out all the lingering feelings from that time and I came out from her session feeling so much lighter and happier.
I – and Cathy who had come with me to that market – gave our names to the lady who said she was just establishing herself in Queensland. Neither of us heard from her again or saw any sight of her. And I wonder whether she was one of the angels who turn up in human form to give a helping hand to us mortals when we need help and we’ve reached the stage where we’ll accept that help. On the other hand, of course, there could be a very simple explanation. She didn’t like Queensland and departed for greener pastures elsewhere!
There were lots of different ways I received help in dealing with depression and releasing it bit by bit over the years. Looking back it rather reminds me of an onion, peeling away the different layers to get rid of the crap bit by bit.
But really the big turnaround in the bouts of depression came when I started painting, working with crystals and teaching women mandala art, crystal healing and a course I developed called “Live Your Dream”. I had come full circle to recognise myself as a very creative being. And in understanding that, I stood tall in my own shoes and never looked back. The last depressive episode I had was in 1996 and that was it. The final hurrah to the Black Dog.