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.
As you can see from the new title of this blog, the times they are a’changin’.
I’ve been pondering my direction for a while, but then a few days ago I had a really clear dream about the contents of my book – keeping the basics that I’ve done but expanding into visionary work of bringing to an end to greedy, materialist societies and the building of a new, kinder society, new ways of education, new ways of community, new ways of work, and subversion – building a new way of living which works within the ageing and creaking system of capitalism to replace it without trying to overthrow it because, basically, corporate capitalism is slowly self-immolating and it serves the cause of non-violence.
So I decided that I wanted to speak up on what matters to me – justice, compassion, love, honesty, kindness – which fits in with my dream of a new world order where people count, not profits. I have a vision of working to overcome the divisions between us which build walls between those who essentially have a common good, and stare down the divisive tactics of those who want to hang on to power, mega-greed and utter, utter selfishness at the expense not only of humanity but this wonderful planet of ours.
And this revised, renewed blog is the result – dedicated to social justice, a new world order, fun and play in education for our kids, and visionaries who care, who create and who caper along the road less travelled to a future where we live fierce lives, love fantabulously and laugh furiously.
Am I a dreamer? You bet. This world needs dreamers, visionaries, the eccentric, the gypsies – all those prepared to throw over the Establishment’s chains of austerity which, in reality, means dreariness, servitude to debt, mindlessness, depression, and ever-increasing poverty while big business profits go unchallenged.
We can do better than this and we will – an unstoppable tidal wave of fierce warriors for a fierce, new society!
I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book on creativity where she talks about fear, courage and their relationship to creativity.
It got me to thinking about fear and courage in my own life.
The most fearful – and the most courageous – step I think I’ve ever taken is when I quit the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) in 1996. I had been a member for eighteen years and Vice-Chair for eight years. I knew when I quit that I would lose the respect and friendship of people I valued. I knew people in the Party would consider I’d stepped onto the bourgeois path and been infected with bourgeois ideology, and I would be an outcast.
I also knew that I had a drinking problem, due to the stress of the pressures I was putting on myself as well as trying to live up to expectations in the Party, and also knew that one person who was aware of this would use that to denigrate me and trash my name.
I still went ahead and quit.
I felt a huge surge of relief – that I’d finally had the courage to be me, and not the political activist straitjacket I’d forced myself into because it was the only way I could see to express my deeply held social justice beliefs.
I stepped right out of the comfort zone communism had occupied in my life but it took a lot of courage to take the path less travelled than stay on the path of least resistance. I’m proud of my decision and actions which led, eventually, to a far richer, creative and inspired life.
Of course, the next scariest thing is to admit that you were once a communist – a real party pooper. Some people may leave my life, I hope they don’t, but I need to be true to myself, not cower behind cold war poison. And what can I say? I quit the party for a number of reasons: because I’m an individualist, not a team player; because I didn’t like the games people play in politics, even in the Communist Party; I’m an idealist; because I believe – from personal experience – in life after death; because I wasn’t a practical person and trying to pretend to be one was – literally – driving me to drink; and because basically I will not allow my ideas and thoughts to be dictated to by any organisation or political party.
In fact, it was the role of alcohol in my life which started opening doors to a spiritual life and a creative life for someone who had never seen herself as creative in the slightest.
I had to quit my union job in the mid-’80s due to repetitive strain injury and was flailing around a bit trying to decide what direction to take. I came across astrology quite by chance and was drawn to get a reading. I’ve mentioned it previously but the first comment from the astrologer was: “Please don’t get upset, but do you do drugs?”. I was quite taken aback by this insight from a complete stranger, and said no, I did alcohol!
It sparked an interest in astrology and metaphysical beliefs which, I think, had been quietly brewing and, finally, in 1996 burst through the mental and very logical blocks I’d put up to anything but scientific thinking. In February that year I did a mandala workshop where suddenly my artistic skills emerged, I saw myself as a creative, artistic being and I realised my artistic forte is symbols rather than real life images. Then I connected with the Tarot and crystals.
You would say it was 360 deg. turnaround in my life. But in many senses it wasn’t. I was always interested in people, individuals rather than mass movements. I loved listening to people’s stories and experiences. In art, Tarot and crystals I was able to expand that interest into service through mandala art – by creating healing art for people and teaching mandala art to people, through advising people with Tarot readings, and teaching people how to tune into crystals and work with their healing energies.
I am quite sure that many would expect me to denounce the Communist party and beat my chest in attrition at my life as a commo. But sorry, that’s no going to happen. I learned a lot of skills and developed self-confidence. I met terrific (and yes, less than terrific people) in the Party for whom I have utmost respect. They see a life of service through political activism which is entirely right for them because each of us, as I’ve come to realise over the years, is an individual with personal beliefs unique to each person. It was I who changed direction, who understood – finally – that I am too anarchist, individual and eccentric to fit into an organisation with a structured framework, a scientific approach to society, and a belief that the minority is bound by the majority view.
I don’t see myself as a Pied Piper for the world and it’s a huge relief to dump this self-imposed responsibility. I believe in magic, happenstance, synchronicity and a mystical life. I am more often than not off with the fairies although my husband kindly catches my feet as I waft away and brings me back down to earth. I’m happy now to occupy my niche which is to create art and writing which, I hope, helps lift people’s spirits, inspires their creativity and makes the world a better place in some small way.
I still believe in social justice, in equality of all people, in redistribution of wealth to ensure that billionaire corporations don’t behave with complete immorality in gorging on wealth why they screw good, honest working people into the ground. I do my bit with support for social action groups, donating to activist organisations but knowing that they are the practical people and I’m not. Such a relief!
Returning to astrology: it not only tripped my inner lights, it also offered to me an insight into how we, as creative human beings, live on earth. In Australia, I came across the Aboriginal concept of songlines. For European people, this idea is quite puzzling, out of our comfort zone but nevertheless it resonates for me in a quite different way.
Aboriginal people can track Country through songlines – relating earth maps, if you like, through the form of song. I once watched an elderly Aboriginal artist, in the series “art & soul” by Hetti Perkins, an art curator, writer and activist, look at a painting by another artist and start singing the songlines of the art. It was quite extraordinary and, of course, quite outside the norms of Western culture.
But it struck me, watching this programme and reading about songlines, that we human beings have astral songlines – soul songlines, if you wish. We incarnate here on earth, but resonate with the starstuff of the Universe and, by understanding our individual make-up, our heritage, our DNA, we can get a good idea of what our heart and soul yearns for in this life on earth of ours.
One thing I’ve realised is that, by learning to understand my own natal chart, my calling is to explain my beliefs to people through my own personal experiences and to show how you can track your own soul songlines. So in the next few posts I’m going to explain how astrology works, in fairly simple terms, through the main aspects of my own astrological chart and that of my husband, and how that’s worked out in my life until now.
In 1993, Bryan went to Queensland on a company excursion. He phoned me to rave about how beautiful it was and, although we didn’t realise it at the time, it was as if this visit was a flag for changes which would come to us in the following year.
But while I was on my own that weekend, I came a hell of a cropper on our front porch which was made of raw bricks. I managed to smash my new glasses and the force of the fall left me with slight concussion for the rest of the weekend. Although I thought I’d recovered okay, I started having severe headaches again, not migraines but intense pain on the right side of my head. This led me to another alternative therapy, interestingly via some other treatment I was getting at the time for a painful back which had also got worse after the fall.
I had come across the homeopathic practitioner quite by chance when I was walking through Fremantle and came across a heap of people sitting on the stairs of the Mall and chattering among each other. “What’s going on here”, I asked, out of curiosity. “We’re waiting to see the homeopath who works in this office”, a young woman replied. “He does give us appointment times but he never sticks to them, so we just queue until we see him. He reckons the inter-action out here is part of the healing process.”
Ever curious, I decided to join the waiting queue and see what homeopathy was about as I’d vaguely read about it in one of the growing number of books I was accumulating on alternative health practices. I do have to say that the homeopath seemed pretty whacko to my still conservative outlook. He came from a very traditional medical background, but he was definitely very eccentric. He had quit the teaching hospital he’d worked at in the UK when he wasn’t allowed to practise homeopathy. He’d check your tongue, pulse and skin colour, then prescribe some homeopathic drops, make up a bottle of the drops, bang it a number of times against a Bible, then send you on your way. Interestingly, though, over a few weeks my spinal pain improved and I began to feel a whole heap better.
But after the fall in front of our home, I felt I needed something else to deal with the headaches. As I was seated in the waiting room, I noticed a sign advertising cranial-osteopathy and decided to give it a go.
I met an amazing woman who eased the headaches in the first session. It was quite extraordinary. She tuned into my body and made what felt like incredibly minute adjustments. I got up off the massage table and felt lighter, a bit dizzy and in far less pain. This was my introduction to cranio-sacral therapy.
Shortly after my first couple of treatments, I was eating in a restaurant and a friend commented that I didn’t eat a lot, and I realised he was watching what I ate as a commentary on my weight. He also let slip that a couple of other people had made similar observations (she doesn’t eat a lot, how come she’s overweight) and I was absolutely furious. If there’s one thing that really gets to me, it’s knowing people have talked about me behind my back. It goes back to my childhood when I felt on the outer in my family, and on the outer at both primary and grammar schools.
When I went back for another cranio-sacral massage, Gilda touched me then said: “What on earth has happened? All my work feels completely undone.” I told her what had happened and the anger I felt. She said she could feel it raging in my body, so with a sigh, went to work to release all the tight feelings. It took a few more treatments but my headaches were gone and I felt heaps lighter. My body loved it then and still loves it. As I now have fibromyalgia, I can’t tolerate deep massage but somehow this therapy brings me back to centre in my body and relieves a lot of pain.
I do believe that healing isn’t an instant process. It can involve lots of therapies or just one, but it’s a matter of trial and error, tuning in to what happens for you, what works or what doesn’t, and trusting your intuitive response. No one therapeutic path is correct for everyone or will work for everyone. It’s the beauty of this world that there are so many alternative therapies, which offer a rich smorgasbord for a person to experiment with and work towards the best possible healing results.
Each time I’ve worked with a cranio-sacral therapist, the approach has been different. Gilda, in Perth, worked with past lives as she gently adjusted my body. In Ipswich, Queensland, I worked with a lady who asked me tentatively if I’d ever been exposed to extra-terrestrial energies. I guess she asked tentatively because you never know how people are going to react. But I knew what she was talking about.
I’d been in a psychic development group and, during one guided visualisation session, I’d suddenly had an out-of-body experience. I found myself floating in the air and facing Mt Barney, a huge, magical mountain in the Border Ranges mountain range south of Boonah. As I hung there, suspended in the clear, cool air, the mountain broke open and a being came out and hurtled towards me. We both screamed “Oh, no!” seconds before we collided. And then I found myself back in my body feeling utterly drained.
The therapist’s words brought it all back and she looked very relieved when I didn’t scream and bolt out of her treatment room, but nodded. “You are completely dried up”, she said, “As if you’ve had a bolt of electricity go through you and fry everything in your body.” On this occasion, it took a few treatments but I felt heaps better than when I’d first stretched out on the massage table.
I also came across Ka Huna massage when I was living in Boonah, Queensland. Again, I love this massage as all the practitioners I’ve encountered seem to sense just how much pressure I can take on my body – with fibromyalgia you get really sensitive to pain. I can’t bear the slightest pressure on my bones and I certainly can’t tolerate deep tissue massage any more.
I’ve worked with my herbalist friend to support my body nutritionally and with the support of herbs and vitamins. She is brilliant and has given me very kind, loving support which has helped no end in handling fibromyalgia and its various manifestations in a more holistic way than the medical profession. Even though medicos do their best, there are limitations in conventional medicines which can often be addressed by alternative practices.
In 2009 I experienced incredibly high temperatures in Traralgon, Victoria, when bushfires killed nearly 200 people. On the Saturday we reached 47C and it was if I became sensitised to the heat. When we moved to Bowraville, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, I got heatstroke the first day we moved in, with a blood pressure reading of 220/165 and a pulse of 40. The ambulance officers thought I was going to have a major stroke and die, but somehow I survived. It left me with high blood pressure though: 165/105. I didn’t want to take blood pressure tablets so went to see an acupuncturist who had trained in China. Within a couple of months my blood pressure stabilised at 135/75.
In the UK, I was doing Tarot readings in a New Age tent at a community fair. The day before, I suddenly got a voice in my head telling me to charge only £5. I listen to these little cosmic hints so, with an eye to Feng Shui principles, on the first day I set up facing the entrance with a big sign saying; “10 minute Tarot readings – £5”. It was on for one and old. I never stopped and, as it turned out, no-one had more than £5, because they hadn’t realised the New Age tent was in operation. I thoroughly enjoyed myself as everyone I saw needed a reading and everything went like clockwork.
For me, it was a lesson in listening to that inner voice, which can be whatever it means to you. It’s like a whisper from the spirit world. But you can call it god, spirit, the light, your inner wisdom, your higher self, your goddess or whatever has resonance for you. It seems to me there are no fixed ways to approach the matter of spiritual guidance and you need to go with whatever flows for you, not just adopt one particular approach because someone else uses it.
As it happened, another Tarot reader there had a sign for readings at £25 a pop, and had no business at all. She maintained a fixed position of being a “professional tarot reader” and was quite inflexible on price. She was also incredibly ratty that I was “undercutting” her price. It was all well and good to insist on her professional credentials, but the rigid adherence to this was absolutely useless in the real world where no-one had £25 for a reading. Every person I spoke to mentioned they had just £5 spare and, to be very truthful, I really didn’t stick to the 10-minute sign. I enjoy Tarot reading and I keep going until I feel I’ve provided, as far as possible, the information and advice a person needs. As it happened, I know that I was able to offer support to a few people in real need who found what I had to very useful, and really that’s the purpose of spiritual work.
The experience at that New Age fair taught me the important of listening to those “off-world” voices and to be flexible in my approach. I’m very glad I followed the cosmic advice, because I had a wonderful time and met some gutsy, warm, fantastic people.
On the Sunday, though, I was very tired as I’d done heaps of readings the previous day. Early on a man walked in and set up a massage table. He had a lovely energy around him and I wandered over to see what he did. Cranio-sacral therapy! Wooo-hooo. I was up on that table like greased lightning, no-one else got a look in! The therapist held my feet and immediately tuned in to the grief I was experiencing in leaving my father behind in Australia. In that, and subsequent sessions, he restored my body to balance, and further cemented cranio-sacral therapy as my favourite form of body treatment.
I should add that, from the time I first learned Reiki in 1994 and went on to Reiki Master level, this form of energy healing has also contributed to the healing I’ve received over the years. It is also a therapy which, because it is so gentle, is one which my body can handle with ease.
I still work with various therapies such as crystal healing, Reiki, massage, cranio-sacral healing, reflexology as and when I feel they’re appropriate. As I said in an earlier post, I work with conventional medicine too, as and when that is appropriate. Each person’s path to healing is like a smorgasbord – you need to have tasters and sort out what sorts you.
Of course, some might comment that I still have fibromyalgia and I do get the occasional intense headache, but nowhere near as bad as the migraines I used to get. When I first started working with alternative healing therapies, I used to believe that the goal was to cure the illness. I’ve since come to realise that healing relates to something much deeper – coming into alignment with our inner self, our souls, our divine journey, our relationships with others, a profound sense of the spiritual bringing us peace of mind, if not peace of body.
One of the reasons I came to wonder about what lies behind illness and how people cope was a book I read of a lady who became ill with multiple sclerosis. She had the means to travel and experience many therapies, but never recovered from the MS. She then realised that her skills could be put to use to work with MS organisations in fund-raising and structural development, something which never would have crossed her mind had she not got MS. And in the process she was of enormous help to other MS sufferers.
Fibromyalgia has taught me to slow down, take life more easily and to understand that it has given me a profound gift: having time to smell the roses, lean against beautiful trees and feel their energy, looking closely at autumn leaves and seeing their beauty, taking time to sit with our dogs and feel their warmth and love, to hug my husband and enjoy cuddles with him, to value my friends, to realise that life isn’t about doing big things (although that’s possible) but to realise that life is a gift. Don’t waste it – joy and beauty are all around you if you take the time to stop looking elsewhere and look at where you are right now.
I’d written some notes when the man sitting beside me picked up my journal and told me he was into graphology or the science of analysing handwriting.
“You’re not happy where you are and you’ll be leaving in a few weeks”, he said.
“I love my work,” I said vehemently, thinking he was real fraud.
And on the surface, it was true. I felt responsible in my position at the office and, although I didn’t realise it at the time, I got my self-worth from being in paid work. I was only working part-time but, trust me, in that time I was a workaholic, always wanting to be the best I could.
Unfortunately, while my head told me one thing, my body told me another. Although I returned to work, things didn’t improve. As I was the only person in the office, I’d have to catch up with all the word that hadn’t been done. The pain in my shoulders and arms would return, and so did the excruciating headaches. At the same time, I created a crisis at work. I got bored doing the same old work. Story of my life, I’m afraid. Once I master something and know how things work, I lose interest. On to the next project.
At my office, however, I started angling to become a union organiser. I thought I enjoyed working with people, which is true in one sense, but what I ignored (or tried to stuff into the closet) was that every time I went out to talk to union members, I had to gear myself up to plaster a confident smile on my face and really steel myself to sally forth and spruik about union matters. What I also never realised until much later was that I subconsciously created conflict with the union president precisely because he was a man who, to my senses, was large and overbearing. Actually, he was quite pleasant. My response was because he brought up stuff to do with my father, something I never realised at the time.
And looking back, I can see that this is how I reacted to every male boss I worked under. Since it involves others, I won’t go into detail except to say that I did not take any criticism well, I was impatient with being told what to do, and really resented the fact that so many male bosses seemed to undervalue the work of their women employees.
Headaches – Behaviour Modification
I did come across a tremendously helpful course which was run by the Psychology Department of the University of Western Australia, aimed at helping people with chronic headaches learn behaviour modification to bring their headaches until control. It was an eye-opener to me. We were all quite driven people, over-achievers, and – to my amusement – I found the dentistry profession was well represented at this course as people were so uptight and nervous around dentists that dentists got uptight and deeply stressed themselves.
It was also another eye-opener in how hard it is for people to change their ways. We had to fill in cards which showed the level of headaches each day and what painkillers we had taken. I remember the course co-ordinator being quite taken aback at the number of pills I was chucking down my throat, mainly because I was self-medicating to get through each day. One of the exercises we had to do was treat ourselves to something special that week and I had decided to get my first ever massage. I had booked with a male therapist and I was very nervous about the whole procedure. He told me to undress to a level comfortable for me and I made it to bra, knickers and petticoat. These days I’m happy to strip right off, especially if I’m having a wonderful Ka Huna massage!
The massage was blissful and I continued having them, with this therapist and then another one later on. I did find that the day after the massage I’d wake with a humdinger of a headache, a truly horrendous migraine which would lay me out for half the night and half the day. I came to realise, however, that it was all the tension I was releasing with each massage. As I started working with the behaviour management techniques we were shown at the course, the headaches gradually abated, for which – even today – I remain truly grateful.
However, and again I’m not going into details to preserve the privacy of those participating in the course with me, I did notice how people simply weren’t willing to change their lives in fundamental ways to relieve the headache problem they were suffering. I was so desperate, I was willing to take on board whatever was suggested. But others made all sorts of excuses. I remember one guy boasting that he’d had lunch, as if this was an amazing occurrence. We all leaned forward to hear the delicious details, only to find him saying he’d had a ham sandwich at his office desk. Our co-ordinator looked at him, then said: “Do you service your car?” He looked puzzled but said yes. Then she asked him if he gave it petrol and oil regularly. Again he looked puzzled and said yes, but we knew where Diana was heading. She said sweetly: “Then you treat your car better than you treat yourself!”
I think it was at this time that I decided I’d throw myself into any course I was taking, regardless of how I felt about it, with the intention of working with whatever I could pick up which worked for me. When I was taking part later in an Inner Child workshop, I’d notice that when a particularly challenging session was coming up, people would fudge it and not turn up.
At this stage, I’d like to say that, if you’re attending a course and you suddenly find you are making excuses to pack it in or skip a particular section, it’s a sure sign that it’s the very thing coming up that you’re trying to avoid which you need to face up to and attend. Because sure as eggs, it’ll be challenging for you but it is likely to lead to insights or changes which are fundamental to your well-being. It may be hard, it may be challenging, but I do feel the end result is really worth-while if you’re truly committed to growing your life.
The massages and treatments I received when the RSI was first diagnosed were, now I look back, the first cracks in the ice castle I’d built up around my family history. I used to get a massage with a therapist who’d comment on the anger he felt in me. So I would simply respond: “Who me?” I never showed anger. It was never allowed in our family. Emotional outbursts were simply forbidden, one of those unwritten rules in our family life. I simply never saw myself as an angry person. Now I look back and see those awful migraine headaches as the tool my body used to try to release the anger and pain I had locked in my body.
After my mother died of lung cancer in 1987, I found I couldn’t talk to anyone about the grief and anger I felt. People were embarrassed about a close family member dying, and shied away from any talk about losing my mum. I guess to I’d had so much experience of bottling up emotions, that I had no idea how to handle this loss. So I decided to go and get some counselling. I found a psychologist in Fremantle, went along for my first session, and I can truly say that my exchanges with this very kind, sympathetic woman were life-changing.
Lucy gave me permission to be angry about my family. It was a quite new concept to me, and I was quite overcome with guilt and shame the first time I talked about my childhood and the anger I felt about my father and the bullying and control I experienced throughout my childhood and into my ‘teens until I escaped to university.
Alongside this counselling, I was also pursuing other alternative therapies, as I was find out that each seemed to peel another layer from me, like peeling an onion. I was getting a better understanding of my body but, best of all, the RSI was less intense, although it hadn’t gone completely. And the migraines had abated considerably as a result of learning to modify my Type A behaviour and take a more relaxed attitude to life.
Actually, I look at all the various healing modalities I’ve followed and think I must sound incredibly neurotic. But when I look at the illnesses I’ve dealt with, overwhelmingly they seem to be structural and psychological. I think this probably reflects the years I’d spent locked down in loneliness, guilt and fear, and the way in which I tip-toed through the healing process in order to cope with what came tumbling out of the cellar where I’d, sub-consciously, locked all my pain and feeling of being so unloved.
Hah! Until I got repetitive strain injury in the early 1980s.
RSI started me off on the road less travelled health-wise as I turned to complementary therapies when the medical profession was unable to provide answers to my health problems.
Don’t get me wrong: I have respect for medicos and the huge advances in medical care. I appreciated hospitals when I broke my leg and ankle in 1996. I have appreciated the power of antibiotics when I’ve had a severe sinus infection, bronchitis and kidney infection. Blood tests, x-rays and so on are a boon.
And just as the general community are incredibly varied, so there are good, bad, indifferent and very conscientious doctors.
I don’t throw the baby out with the just because conventional medical care can’t provide all the answers. But also, when conventional medicine lead me to a dead-end in recovering from RSI, it also led me to query the power of Big Pharma and the industrialisation of medical care which reduces people to dollar figures and profits for the huge pharmaceutical corporations. I also see doctors too often reduced to pen pushers, overloaded with paperwork, bureaucracy and unrealistic demands on what they are able to offer the general public.
I found myself looking for non-medical treatment in the mid-1980s when I got repetitive strain injury. Ironically, at the time I was working in the office of a small union and had been organising publicity about a new work injury, RSI, which was affecting a lot of women working in call centres as, with new computer technology, they could key in input very fast and overuse arm and shoulder muscles.
I simply never believed it could happen to me. I used to keep going on the typewriter long after I felt a pain in my shoulder. I kept expecting the pain to go away but it got worse. It was agonising to move my right shoulder and arm. Then I started getting pins and needles in my left arm and a feeling which I can only describe as rats gnawing away inside me.
At the time my husband, Bryan, was working away from home in Bunbury, south of Perth, and most evenings I would just rest on the sofa and hope the pain would go away. If I tried to do a simple task like washing up, my whole shoulder would seize up and I’d have to stand stock still until the intense pain abated. But as it got worse, so I started getting severe migraines. I’d wake up around 2am with a violent pain starting at the back of my head, working towards the front at the back of my forehead, and for all the world like it was a brass band pounding around at full volume. I’d take headache pills which got stronger and stronger in order to cope. If I was lucky the headache might fade a bit and I could get to work and cope okay. If I was unlucky, I’d wake up vomiting and it was like a vicious cycle – vomiting exacerbated the headache which me throw up more which intensified the headache, and so on.
I had, of course, read all the literature about repetitive strain injury but tried to ignore the fact that it seemed to be happening to me. That was, until one day and I got into the office with my head pounding from another headache and I just sat there crying my eyes out. The union secretary came into the office, took one look at me, and thankfully for me, took charge. I wasn’t capable of thinking straight or taking action of any kind. She made an appointment for me at her doctor’s, got me in early and off I went to see a doctor who not only was incredibly kind, but also very helpful in supporting me through what felt like a nightmare.
She arranged physiotherapy for me but as this was something new on the medical scene, no-one quite knew how to deal with it. By rights – I found out later – I should have seen a rheumatologist, but I was sent to see an orthopaedic surgeon who was a butcher. He wrenched my head back and forward and side to side with the result that the pain got even worse. He told me he could operate and cut a nerve which might help. That sounded very dodgy to me and even more so when I saw a programme on the ABC about a pain centre in Adelaide dealing with patients, many of whom had had the type of operation the orthopaedic surgeon wanted to carry out on me. And as any small step forward I’d made with physiotherapy was wiped out by his lousy treatment and I ended up worse than when I’d first started treatment, I declined surgery.
I clearly remember sitting in my doctor’s surgery, tanked to the gills with anti-inflammatory medication and a soft collar around my neck. I hardly dared to move because the pain would flare up and feel like a knife being driven into my shoulder. My left arm felt as if rats were gnawing it inside. My doctor asked: “Are you feeling any better?” And I had to say no. She looked at me and said somewhat reluctantly; “Well, I don’t think there’s anything more we can do for you.”
Which is a bit depressing, folks. I’d always been on the go, active, restless, eager to get on to my next project. And suddenly I was sitting on a sofa all day, frightened to move, terrified about what the future held for me and very lonely because Bryan was still working down south during the week and home only on the weekends. I knew an older lady who said very kindly (but not very helpfully, to be truthful): “You young folk always think that life is a straight line that you can set out in front of you without any deviations. Life isn’t like that. All sorts of side paths, obstacles and cul-de-sacs happen. It’s life.”
But in a nice little piece of synchronicity (although I’d never heard of synchronicity at the time), I happened to see an advertisement for a reflexology course at the local community centre. I will be very honest and say that the first time I’d ever heard of reflexology was when a friend said she was going to get a treatment with this alternative therapy. I asked them what it was as I’d never heard of it before, and was quite revolted when they told me it involved foot massage. Errr, yuk, fancy getting your smelly old feet massaged! But, as the old saying goes, never say never.
I’ve been absent for a while again as I’ve been working through quite a few emotional matters. Apart from my earlier fall and the death of my dog, Ziggy, I also found out recently that a good friend from my early days in Australia had died a while back from cancer. I found out quite by chance and I was really upset as I had such good memories of him, my time in the student political movement and the freedom I felt to be me when I moved to Australia.
I have also been dealing with how I felt after reading a report about Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) and how these affect us physically and emotionally in our adult life. I’ve mentioned this previously and, as I said then, I felt like I’d been punched in the guts the first time I read about this as it explained a whole heap about my weight issues and also other health challenges I’ve faced such as repetitive strain injury, depression and fibromyalgia.
While I’ve written about this in earlier posts, I talked more about circumstances and emotional effects, than the physical effects. To be honest, I don’t think I could have handled this before, it’s something I’ve shoved under the carpet or down in the cellar. But I think it’s important to write about how early childhood experiences have affected me, in the hope it may be of help to others for whom my experiences resonate, particularly because there is such an upsurge in autoimmune diseases as well as fibromyalgia (which still doesn’t seem to have a particular explanation for its existence, despite various stabs at diagnoses).
As I mentioned above, I felt like I was flying when I arrived in Australia. I’d felt pretty much the same sense of freedom when I was at university, no-one was controlling me and I was running my own life pretty competently, and in both instances – particularly when I’d split up with the guy I’d travelled to Australia with – I was extremely slim. I remember when I got the letter from my parents saying they were coming out for a holiday that my first response was: “Oh, god, I can never get away from them.” When I met my mum and dad at Perth Airport, I sat there sneezing like the clappers, with my eyes and nose running like a sieve. I remember a little boy on a seat near more watching in amazement as I went through tissue after tissue. It was all emotional, of course, but I had no idea what was going on at the time.
In early 1976 I broke up with Jack, the guy with whom I’d travelled to Australia, and I was really on my own. I loved it. My weight dropped rapidly and, when I went back to the office where I used to work, no-one recognised me as I’d got so much slimmer. I do have to say that I in a sexually inappropriate way over the next couple of years – I went through men like they were going out of fashion – the best bit being that I could say good-bye and toddle off to my lovely unit all on my own. Again, this is one of the behaviours which can arise from adverse childhood experiences. All I can say is I’m damned lucky that I didn’t contract a sexually transmitted disease, someone in the world of spirit must have been looking out for me!
And then on April 16th, 1977, I went out to meet a friend for a drink and came home with my future husband. My friend had introduced us, sparks flew, we held hands as we went for a meal with mutual friends, and Bryan came home with me, moved in that night and 38 years later we are still together. We did take a while to do the married bit – we finally tied the knot in the UK in 2004 after living there for a couple of years and getting married a few days before we returned to Australia.
Bryan and I were both very independent people, and we certainly didn’t live in each other’s pockets. We both followed progressive politics as he was a union activist, shop steward and safety officer. I continued a rather lunatic student activist lifestyle, even though I say it myself, until my parents emigrated to Australia in early 1978. And my weight piled on again.
Over the years I’ve dealt with the issues I had mainly with my father. After an incident when I was about 5’ish and got a hiding from my father over a very minor issue, now I look back, he would regularly accuse me of being a liar right through childhood or tell me “I’ll put you over my knee and give you a tanning” if he thought I was misbehaving in any way. He was a real control freak. As I wrote previously, until I was around 14 and, when he pulled that trick one last time, I looked him in the eye and told him if he touched me in any way I’d walk out and they’d never see me again. It worked. I’ve repeated it because I think it’s such an important lesson I’ve learned over the years – you have to stand up to a bully or they’ll keep on hammering you if they think they’ve managed to intimidate you.
However, I really hadn’t twigged that the control issues from my childhood and teenage years actually affected my health. I had a couple of events in the early 1980s – I had acute appendicitis and bled badly during the operation, spent a few days on morphine, getting blood transfusions and now have a 13 inch scar on my lower belly. A bit later I was working for a conservation organisation where we used to print an independent environmental magazine. You had to fix a metal plate onto hooks and then wind the plate onto the cylinder. Unfortunately, one day the person the other side switched on the machine as I was putting a plate onto the cylinder, my fingers were caught on the metal hooks and then fed into the machine. I ended up with two broken and badly lacerated fingers, lost the feeling at the ends of my fingers after I’d been stitched up but, luckily, finally got feeling back a few months later.
What really brought me to a grinding halt, however, was getting repetitive strain injury in my right shoulder and left arm in the mid-1980s. I ended up getting invalided out of the workforce in excruciating pain, and told I’d never work on a keyboard again. I’m going to go into the details in my next post, but it occurred to me – on reading about the ACE study – that I’d ended up tied up in knots physically as a result of being a Type A personality, tense, always doing more than I needed to, in order to be the best and get approval – the approval I never got from my father.
More on that in my next post when I’ll look at all the alternative healing methods I adopted in order to manage my health challenges.
Years ago I read a post on a Yahoo group site asking why people were grieving at the loss of a loved one when they believed in the after-life. I remember thinking that the writer had not yet experienced grief because, if they had, they would never have asked that question.
In this respect, in 2002 I attended a croning ceremony – a recognition that when you have gone through the menopause you have entered your Elder years, you have moved into the wisdom part of your life, as the original meaning of “crone” was “crown” – operating from your crown chakra or energy centre with the accumulated wisdom of your life experiences.
We each gave other participants a gift – one in particular which sticks in my memory was small heart with a tear on it which had been stitched up. I still have it and it’s intended to remind us of the grief and hard times we may experience in our life from which we recover but which leaves our hearts in a new place, deposits us in a different part of our lives and churns us out as different people.
I remembered this recently as I’ve been dealing with a huge dose of what I call “The Glums” – the black depression I get with fibromyalgia which takes me into some pretty grim places and from which I am still climbing towards the light and sanity again. If you can not overdo things with fibro and maintain balance, you can manage fairly well with the pain and fatigue. But when I tripped over an electrical lead and went flat on my face, my body went into shock and I also did some damage to my spine which has led to even less mobility than usual.
It was my husband who really made me face the truth as I tend to be a bit of a blue sky gal apart from the odd descent into the Glums. He went to the local markets today, a stall-holder asked after me and he told her that I couldn’t walk too far at all now. He’s quite right but it brought me face to face with my limited mobility and with the reality that my husband is now a carer for me, even cooking is now quite painful and he’s taken on that task as well as all the other support he gives me.
So I’m dealing with the grief of acknowledging my mobility of yesteryears is long past and I’m in another part of my life. Added to this, I’ve been dealing with the grief of losing our young dog, Ziggy. He got sick and despite tests and treatment and our vet’s optimism about his recovery, just after lunch one day a couple of weeks ago he climbed down from the sofa, laid down, put his head on my husband’s feet and quietly passed away. You don’t expect a pet to die so young and it’s been gut-wrenching – not just the grief but also the guilt that perhaps we didn’t get the right treatment, or we should have got him treated earlier or whatever. I guess everyone has so many “what ifs” when loss of life is involved – whether human or a beloved pet.
On the day he died I asked him if he could provide proof he was okay – as I’ve said elsewhere, it was pretty much a way of coping with the loss of a wonderful, cheery, vagabond of a dog than really expecting an answer. But after a sleepless night I went to bed for a nap the next afternoon only to be waken by loud scratching filling the room. I drifted back to sleep and when I got up, asked my husband which of our three remaining dogs had been scratching. He said none of them. And then I realised: at night Ziggy would like at the bottom of our bed and scratch. He was allergic to fleas and however much we tried to keep him flea-free, it was a losing battle. I realised that the loud scratching noise was his way of sending a unique signal from the Hereafter that he was okay and had taken the time to reassure me of this. When I was thinking about what colour rose to plant in honour of Ziggy, a yellow rose filled my vision and we found one in the nursery closest to where we live: thanks, Ziggy!
Yet despite all this, I have still experienced grief at Ziggy’s loss. We all experience grief when we lose a loved one – whether it be a parent, friend, child, fur friend, or whatever. Grief is part of life on earth. Life is not always full of sun and bubbles and all good things. To pretend it is, is to undervalue life on earth. Here we experience a range of emotions – love, hate, anger, rage, happiness, disappointment, sadness, the highs and the lows. And as my friend wrote so truly: “It is a sneaky, rolling thing, grief. You think you are on top of things and then get punched in the heart with the most ridiculous of reminders.”
I remember a recent discussion where people found difficulty in handling anger. Anger, to me, is another emotion which is a natural experience. To deny its existence or pretend it’s awful or it’s wrong or beating yourself up because you get angry is to deny what is human in us and why we incarnate on this planet – we experience a range of emotions, they help shape and create our humanity but the crucial point is how we handle these emotions.
If, for example, in the recent shootings at the Charleston Church, South Caroline, the response is to demand the death of the perpetrator, then really not much has been achieved except to behave like the murderer. It may satisfy the need for revenge but events like this give us the opportunity to develop a more considered approach – to take action against the terrorist racism which underpins this event, to ensure the perpetrator remains behind bars with – perhaps – the possibility of redemption, to consider the matter of forgiveness, as many of the victims’ families have done, even though that may seem a step too far for many right at this moment. I think also it’s okay to spare some grief for the young man who deprived nine people of their lives and left nine families bereft. How awful to live your young life in such hatred, with such racists thoughts and with a negative energy which corrodes your heart and soul.
I called this post “Life After Life” because my dear little Ziggy reassured me he was okay in life over the Rainbow Bridge. But also because it’s a reminder that we do continue to live after experiencing grief, even if it continues to clutch at our heart at unexpected times or punches us in the gut when we remember times spent with loved ones who no longer are with us in the material world.
I rather like this poem which was read at my father-in-law’s funeral and which, on re-reading, has once again left me with tears streaming down my face:
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!
Mary Frye (1932)
much of it wasted on wrong turns,
back roads riddled by ruts.
I had adventures
I never would have known
if I proceeded as the crow flies.
Super highways are so sure
of where they are going:
they arrive too soon. A straight line isn’t always
the shortest distance
between two people.
Sometimes I act as though
I’m heading somewhere else
I narrow the gap between you and me.
I’m not sure I’ll ever
know the right way, but I don’t mind
getting lost now and then.
Maps don’t know everything.