Purple Flowers.

It’s been just over a year since I began this blog. The day I actually broke went unmarked in any calendar because I’m not sure exactly what date I would go from. Breaking happened slowly, me fraying at the edges for two years before I tore apart all at once.

And I have gotten so much better. I get up and go to work, assisting other people. I come home and I work quietly, editing for photographers and carefully correcting colours and clearing newborn skin. I take my children to school and their appointments. I lie beside my small children at night and read them bedtime stories. I go with my lover to lunch and he eats the rest of my salad when I can’t finish it. Together we take the children to the beach where my daughter collects and entire basket of shells and we have to convince her to ‘leave some for other people’. I buy myself bedside tables from Ikea and he convinces me to sit on the trolley on the way back to the car and runs with the trolley until I’m breathless with laughter and fear we will crash into a column. I pay bills. I do my hair. I’m blissfully normal.

I sleep.

And this is not something I take for granted anymore. Some nights when I don’t have an early shift I sleep for 9 hours. This time last year 5.5 was normal. This time last year I woke to darkness every day and watched the rising of the sun and tried to breathe and survive. Now days I still sometimes wake before the sun and I watch it rise in my car with a cup of tea in a travel mug as I inch along with the other commuters.

I try to dream.

And my dreams are of fairy lights and lace. My dreams are of plaster dust and lavender. The crown of a newborn head, tiny crescent fingernails. My dreams are of wrinkles and white hairs. I throw the tablecloth of my life out before me and smooth it flat, I am careful to choose what I lay upon it. I watch the wheel of life turn and feel no sadness at it’s passing.

I wake one morning and reach for my camera. My four daughters and I escape the house like puppies set loose and we enter the outside which is different with a camera. Inside the lens everything fits into a box. We find some purple flowers in the grass by the side of a road and we stop to shoot in them. Inside the lens it doesn’t matter that cars are driving past and construction is happening beside us. It doesn’t matter that this spot is actually an overgrowth of weeds. The mosquitos are invisible in the shot. Inside the lens it only matters that there are purple flowers on the ground springing from the grass like hope and that is all I show you. Life is different, so easily distracted by the noise of everything you barely notice the purple flowers. I had driven that road every day but I didn’t see them until I went looking for magic.

That whole year I spent trapped in my own mind, fighting for a way out. Looking for a door.

I was the door.

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Soul List.

When the school holidays were on I began my Ten Things lists to help me ‘show up to life’. To begin with they were working so well. Great, actually. And they were fun and sometimes contained little things like “collect three shells’. Now, that looks simple. But I was tricking myself because I knew that to collect those shells I would have to leave the house and that was part of the way I exploit myself to get me to do things I would otherwise not do.

The problem became, by week three my list was starting to look a lot like chores. Because…well, basically they were chores. There is literally nothing inspiring or exciting about writing “take kid to dentist” on your Ten Things list. It’s an errand. The idea behind Ten Things was that it would make me find beauty in little tasks. It would make me go, “Hey, this life thing? Not so bad.” Seeing your kid have a cavity filled is not life fulfilling. It sucks.

The issue was that I got caught up in being ‘productive’ when what I started this list for was to try to make my heart sing. Errands we are going to run anyway. By all means put them in a daily planner or diary so you remember them, but they have no place on a ‘soul list’. That list should contain things like, pick a wildflower, handwrite a letter to someone you love, dance along to your favourite song, swim in the ocean, have a cup of tea with a friend. The Soul List is about choosing 10 things each week that is going to create a memory. Soul List keeps you alive. It reminds you there is more to life then dentist appointments, grocery bills and laundry.

Little things. Tiny. Delightful.

(And I just remembered that I pressed a flower on my first week which now feels like a small gift to myself.)

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So this week I was careful to write 10 “Soul List” things. I wrote a separate list for errands and chores but I made sure that everything on the “Soul List” was something I enjoyed or enjoyed once so that meant I probably would find some kind of satisfaction in it again. It’s the only way I can think to make it so I don’t feel like I’m just logging time here but actually living. It’s harder than I thought it would be but I guess no one ever promised it would be easy.

Stubborn.

My therapist set me too much homework.

Apparently I have progressed to the next step of wellness which includes ‘doing stuff’. I’m not adverse to ‘doing stuff’, I like it. But I like it in small doses, carefully portioned to maintain the delicate equilibrium between forced interaction and introvert recovery where I have to ‘come down’ from the extra stimulation I’ve received by leaving the house. My therapist does not seem to share these thoughts and so, in what I can only imagine was either wild optimism or blind ignorance, she carefully penned into my ‘timetable’ for this week an outing to a cafe EVERY SINGLE DAY. Even as she was talking about it and I was nodding along I knew this was not happening. I barely have enough hours in the day to do half of what is on my to-do list let alone factoring in a random cup of tea every day. As such I’m two days out from my appointment and have done this task exactly zero times. Once a week may have been a more realistic goal, annoying yet achievable.

Other things on my homework list were writing three times a week (I’ve got that under control), spinning daily because I made the mistake of mentioning that I spin fibre sometimes, and two social outings. I wanted one but she pushed for two. I’ve tried really hard to spin daily, even though I’m out of practise and my yarn is less uniform than desirable and also spindle spinning requires more arm/wrist strength and dexterity than you think. I tend to give up after fifteen minutes with sore wrists, bored out of my brain because being forced to spin feels like work and hobbies shouldn’t feel like work.

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I think perhaps being set homework goals goes against my natural state which is that the moment I am told to do something I immediately want to disagree. It’s an awful trait that I’ve passed on to my eldest daughter who had incredible talent for ballet from 3 years old but dropped out of ballet every time she tried lessons because she ‘didn’t like being told what to do’. To this day even when I can see she is doing something that is an outrageously bad idea of apocalyptic proportions I have to be careful about how I speak to her about it because she immediately goes on the defensive and gets upset and it goes nowhere. I’ve basically just accepted after 18 years she is going to do whatever she likes. Sometimes (rarely) she will come to me afterwards and say, “That was a terrible idea”, and I will absolutely gloat and rub it in that I was right because I’m a terrible mother like that. But I do it in a sympathetic way because she is so much like me and I understand outrageously bad ideas of apocalyptic proportions.

Anyway, I’m mostly sitting here and writing this because I’m avoiding the tasks I have staring at me on that list like an accusation. I want to eke this post out for hours, hundreds of words just so I can avoid the ‘leaving the house’ tasks. But I won’t. Because another of my qualities is stubbornness. And that I have in spades.

Grateful.

He’s so patient with me. I feel guilty because I can only imagine it’s like buying a car you think is solid and then it turns out to have problems you can’t fix. So every time I can’t do something and he says it’s okay, smooths my hair, kisses my forehead, I feel like…”I’m sorry I did this to you.”

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In some ways that was why I needed to plan a weekend away, although it was midweek. Because I thought, if I’m close to the ocean I can retreat if I need to but it still looks like I’m getting out, doing things. Because it’s been a really really long year. And I did it, you know? We walked along the beach and I built a sand turtle and a sand flower and he made a sand heart until the tide came in and tried to soak us both. And we went to lunch and we went to dinner, even though at dinner the only table was near the door and in the middle of the room so I had to keep reminding myself that people weren’t looking at me and no one cared. “It’s like the gym,” I said to myself, “Everyone worries people are watching them but no one is because they’re all just there to work out.” So I made MYSELF look at other diners so I could see they were too busy with their company and their food and no one cared about the small woman by the door.

Such tiny steps that I don’t even feel like I’m moving until I look back and think, “You’re miles away from where you were months ago when you couldn’t make it to the kitchen. You have come so far.”

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I think I just keep waiting for it to be easy. But I think maybe…maybe it will never be easy. Maybe I will always have to pay a price to leave the house. Maybe everyone does. Because one thing I have learnt in the last six months is we are all a little damaged. Most weeks someone writes me to say, “I feel that. What you wrote? I feel that too.” And I never would have known. Sometimes it feels like everyone has it together and you’re the only one losing your shit. So maybe we all have something we just struggle with and push through. People are such amazing creatures. We can be so nasty and so cruel and then sometimes…divinity. Bravery. Compassion. Fierceness.

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One day when I am better I am going to write letters to everyone who helped me. And he will get the first one. And I will send them out, written in my own hand, thank you, thank you, thank you. For your patience, for your support, for your empathy. Thank you. I am grateful for you.

Running for your life.

This week I made myself a list of days I need to do things and what time and stuff I need to remember because while I’m slowly step by agonising step crawling my way back to me, I still have a shocking memory and kept forgetting dates and times.

At the beginning of the week I was sure I was going to rock this, maybe it would be hard but I would definitely complete it and at the end of the week I would look back at my long list of accomplishments and fantastic mum-moments and feel like I actually did something apart from survive. I thought to myself (okay, I mostly lectured AT myself because I’m one of my biggest cheerleaders and also a giant nag) ‘listen, this is like a muscle, you have to WORK at getting stuff done in the beginning and then before you know it, it won’t be so hard anymore’. Kind of like how last week I began weight bearing exercises to rebuild muscles and the next day my thighs hurt like an absolute bitch and then the day after, even though I KEPT doing the exercises, it didn’t hurt so much and now it doesn’t hurt at all even though I’m doing more than I was when I started.

And I think I might be on the right track with that line of thinking, but shit, it’s really hard. Basically every morning my anxiety tells me to go back to bed and make excuses for why I can’t do whatever I had on that day and stubborn me has to dig her heels in and push on through. I hope this time next year I will look back and just be like, “Oh, man, you were so sick then but look how far you’ve come.” But it’s really hard to feel like a warrior when you just keep having your ass kicked by life. And I kind of feel a little resentment that I even have to be a warrior anyway because I don’t feel it is in my nature. I’m the person that would be first to die in a horror movie because I’d run for a bit and then think, “Nah, fuck it. Let’s do this.” And turn around face them knowing I’m probably toast. And sometimes I think I like that part of me more than I would if I was the running and screaming type. The part of me that is just ready to give it up. Not give up life but give up running. The part that turns and stares and just says, “Whatever. Let’s see what happens next.”

I kind of did that in the beginning when I first sort of broke down (I never know what to call what happened, ‘nervous breakdown?’ ‘anxiety attack that lasted for weeks?’) when I would lay outside and just be buffeted by waves of crushing anxiety and nausea from the anxiety. People think anxiety is just worry.

Wait. Let me rephrase that.

People who have never HAD anxiety think that it’s just worry. If you have ever suffered you understand likening anxiety to worry is kind of like telling someone whose leg has been crushed under a bus and the bus is on fire and also it’s on the bottom of the ocean and your drowning that you understand because you once stubbed your toe.

“Just don’t worry about it.”

“Oh, thank you. I’m cured.”

Friends, 95% of the time – I don’t even KNOW WHAT I am anxious ABOUT. It’s not that I’m worrying about my power bill or what to wear to a cocktail party. It’s that I can’t get out of my bed to put water in a frigging vase for the flowers my partner bought me to coax me out of the very bed I can’t get out of AND I DON’T KNOW WHY. I just know if I stand up I will either pass out or throw up or cry.

And so during that time I did kind of just turn and face the attacker and be like, “Whatever. Just stab me then.” And it did. But instead of dying I just lay there bleeding until I realised it would keep stabbing and I would keep not dying until I got up and shuffled away. So I do. I move. I run. I walk. Fuck, some days? I just crawl. But I keep moving. And I’m resentful that I am forced to be this warrior when I’m really more of a lazy, accept-my-fate kind of gal.

So this week I have moved. I have put on foot in front of the other and hated the fact it’s so damn hard the whole time. But I did it. This week the attacker didn’t catch me.

See you Monday, bitch.

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Transition.

This last week I was at my therapists and I hadn’t seen her in a fortnight because I had to cancel last week with the flu. She asked how I had been. And I was like, “Well the first week was good. I went to lunch to my partner and we went out to dinner. But then I backslid badly last week and didn’t cope so well. I barely slept on the weekend and it was hard to eat.”

We start the EMDR therapy and when we do that she asks me to think about that morning where I couldn’t sleep. And then she brings me out and asks what comes up before starting the machine again. We do that again and again until I sort of break through to the root of the issue and that day I just BREAK DOWN. I’m a crying mess and I’m telling her I’m just sick of my BRAIN and I don’t know what to do about this because am I supposed to keep trying to be well? Am I suppose to just accept this is ALWAYS going to be hard? Like, what the fuck, even?

I cry until I’m calm and the room is quiet with nothing but the low hum of the paddles vibrating in my hands and after awhile she says softly, “And what comes up now?” And I take a deep breath and say, “Well. I suppose I just have to get better. There is no way through it but through it.”

It’s kind of like, when you are in labour to begin with it doesn’t feel so bad. You breathe through the contractions and sometimes you can muster a little smile for whomever is supporting you through it. You walk around. You take a shower. I’ve been in labour and resetting a Tamagotchi for my three year old at 8cms dilated.

Then something changes.

The contractions pick you up and wring you out. You finish one and barely have time to recover before the next one is descending. You tire. There are no more smiles. It’s hard work. At that point I sent my three year old and six year old to their room with a movie so I could focus on the business of birthing. Even then though you still remember why you are here. Good grief, but this is hard work but I’m having a baby and this will end.

And then.

Transition.

Transition is when women give up. It’s when you feel like you cannot possibly go on. There is sometimes a lull in contractions at this point but you are still rocking from what has been and cannot imagine you can survive their return. For me they space right out. But the intensity of them when I am so exhausted just leaves me in despair. This is the point when I look into my midwife’s eyes and confess I don’t think I’m strong enough. That it has never hurt this badly. That I will surely not survive this. I look to her for help. I want her to take over and take this from me because I don’t believe in myself anymore.

I can’t do this.

You can.

I can’t.

You can. You are. You must.

There is no way through it but through it.

At some point in the next few minutes I will rally. At some point I will grit my teeth and realise that *I* am the ONLY one in the room with the power here. That it is only ME. In the space of seconds I will turn from despair and towards the goal and think, “Then let us do this.” And then I push.

Transition.

Transition hurts. The shadow of lost hope washes over you. But there is no way through it but through it.

Then let us do this.

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Today.

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Today I did the four hour round trip to drop my kids off to their dad and his partner. (Don’t stress, this photo isn’t for them who I am fond of). On the way back I was alone for the first time in a long time. Like, completely alone. I sang loudly to Christina Anu about stepping out in my deadly red shoes. I drank soft drinks. I nibbled at a donut. I made weird popping noises with my mouth because when you’re driving along at 100ks for two hours and there is nothing but fields and cows for company you get kind of bored and start doing weird shit. I talked to myself. I paid attention to tiny details and wished there was somewhere I could safely stop to photograph the echidna that emerged from the grass to snuffle at the dirt, a falling down fence, a large tree stump that I would have liked to sit on, the way the light dappled across the mountain to my right which was just the shadows of the clouds but knowing that couldn’t strip it’s magic.

I take the scenic route when I drive out there, I like to look at the trees that emerge from the water in this one spot. I like the way the grass is so green and reaches out to the water like fingers. I like the bridge that only one car can travel at once so you have to stop and wait. I like the cows grazing by the water’s edge. I like the strange pyramid house. I took my camera and drove slowly along it on my way home and pulled over so other cars could move past me.

And then I was alone.

I was standing by the side of the road and it the silence was so loud that when a bee went past me it’s hum reverberated in my ear so intensely I wondered if I had ever really heard a bee’s hum before. I stood by the side of the road and watched the water below – you can’t walk down because it’s private property – but I wished I was down there lying on that marshy grass, I wished I was part of that scene so still and yet impermanent. And I thought, fuck you. Fuck you to my anxiety that told me I would never get out of that house. Fuck you to the inner voice that says I’m not good enough or pretty enough or clever enough or strong enough. Fuck you to the shadow that stalks me and whispers fears into my ears. Fuck you, because I am here and it is beautiful and I am enough.

You will never be able to leave the house.

Fuck you.

You will never be well.

Fuck you.

You aren’t good enough.

Fuck you. I am still here.

ps. It’s really hard to give the finger to yourself.

Ambidextrous.

At the beginning of the year I set myself some tasks. And they seemed realistic but we are halfway through and I still have most down as ‘in progress’. I was badly waylaid by my mental health and most things slid while I worked solidly on improving my headspace and cleared funds to pay for therapy. It would have been cheaper to pay for pills but when I tried that I got serotonin syndrome and I like being alive so I took comfort in the statistics that research showed six months of therapy had the same success rate as medication for anxiety and plowed ahead.

I’m three months in and I’ve gotten a lot better. I’m sleeping through the night. I’m not having severe panic attacks every day. My list of trigger foods is diminishing. I can accomplish leaving the house for errands and on rare occasions for pleasure. I’m managing my work. As far as where I am now compared to three months ago? I’m going to go with an 80% improvement. I guess what I wanted was a complete fix though. You know those people that just leave the house without analysing everything about the leaving?

Do I have my water bottle?

Do I have an anti-emetic in case?

Who will I see?

Will I have to eat?

What could happen?

Will I freak out while I’m out?

What is my escape plan if I do freak out?

It’s exhausting. I just want to be one of those people that eats and leaves the house and does normal things and instead I have this brain. I worry it’s so altered from half a lifetime of this behaviour that I’ve permanently rewired it into what it is now. That I will never be ‘normal’. That this is the best I can hope for. The worst part of that is the frustration I feel from having done this to myself. These fears? They aren’t real. I know that. And I’m a smart person. I know they aren’t real. I know it’s just a lie. My brain reacts as though the outside world is a place of peril. I could cope with this if it WERE a place of peril. But it’s not. And despite all this evidence that I can safely go to lunch with my partner and nothing will happen except I’ll eat a salad and maybe get kissed by him (definitely get kissed by him) I still overanalyse as though instead of us walking into Grill’d we are heading to a battlefield.

My brain.

Why?

And maybe this is as good as it gets for me. Maybe that’s true. Maybe the outside world will always be a struggle. Maybe I’ll always come home exhausted from interacting with people. Maybe I’m just easily stimulated and sensitive. Maybe this is who I am.

Maybe it’s like, if I had a medical issue and I suddenly had to lose my right arm, my life would be different. And for years I’ve denied that it’s lost. I’ve pretended it was there. And occasionally I’ve reached for a glass with that arm and the glass has fallen through the air and smashed on the ground. And at those times when it’s undeniable that I’m different now I’ve collapsed under the weight of that knowledge because it shattered my delusion that this was a temporary situation. The arm will come back, right? If I take this pill? If I deep breath from my belly? If I pray? If I think positive? Those times of shattered glass I survey the shards and go, “All is lost. I have no arm. I’m ruined.” And so on until the denial kicks in again. Maybe what I need to do is move into acceptance. “Okay. You have no arm. And it fucking sucks and it sure would be easier if you had an arm like all those other folks, but you don’t. So what DO you have?” Maybe it’s like, I need to get better at using a spoon with my left hand. I need to get fitted for a prosthesis and learn how to use that. And it won’t be easy and it will be harder. But the loss of the arm doesn’t need to mean the end of my life.

I am good. I am kind. I love hard. I have fairness coming out my ears. I’m empathetic. I’m smart. I’m beautiful. I am creative. I’m an agoraphobic anorexic with social anxiety and emetophobia. Big fucking deal. Get the fuck up. Learn to use your left hand.

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You Got It.

What is your earliest memory? Mine is being held by my grandfather. He said when I was born he didn’t intend to like me. He thought he was too young to be a grandfather and was offended by my existence. But when I came home from the hospital with my mother I would settle in his arms. He didn’t want to choose me – but I chose him.

He would rock me in his arms and sing me a lullaby and I would fall asleep. I liked sensory things like the satin that rimmed my blanket and scratching stickers. I have this vivid recollection of my grandfather holding me in front of the inside of my auntie’s wardrobe where she had a collection of stickers and me picking one of them off. I remember her protesting and him defending my right as the baby to demolish her sticker collection. That is my oldest memory. Being safe in his arms.

In fact in all my earliest memories I only remember being loved and cared for and cherished. I remember there always being somebody’s lap to climb into and someone to listen to my chatter. I remember my mother stroking my back so I could fall asleep, my auntie taking me out early in the morning and teaching me how to swim, my grandmother hanging clothes while I shadowed her out to the clothesline and she listened to my stories, monopoly games with my other auntie.

And my grandfather. Infinitely patient with me. A streak of mischief that wasn’t tamed when he became an adult. His laugh. His hands roughened from work. His pockets always jingling with change.

I remember sitting in his car on the way to the shops one time when I was very small and Roy Orbison “You Got It” came on the radio and I began to sing and him laughing because I knew the lyrics. We were going to buy things for Nanna from the grocery store and he let me pick ice cream but then remembered he left his wallet in the car and only had the change in his pockets so instead of putting back the ice cream he put back what he came to buy and came back later with his wallet for what he actually needed.

Sometimes when I am feeling low or like I don’t want to keep going, when things are hard – I think of all the care and love he showered on me when I was little and I think I owe it to him to be brave. Because he gave me a wildness by teaching me to laugh at life. Because he treated me like I was precious and left a hard act for any man to follow. Because he sang me to sleep. Because he put back what he needed just to give me something I wanted. Because my oldest memory is of being safe – because of him.

Because he loves me. Even if he didn’t intend to in the beginning.

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Underdog.

Today I was sitting up at 6:30 in the morning reading up on statistics on youth crime and birth rates because I needed to engage in an argument on the Internet. I have no idea why I do this. It’s bizarre. I think it stems from my need to forever be backing the Underdog and someone made a sweeping statement about poor people and I immediately jumped to the defence of poor people everywhere because – Underdog. Anyway, I read her statement and thought it couldn’t be right and it was absolutely poverty shaming but I can’t ever just speak my mind unless I’ve verified it with studies or statistics because on top of this irrational need to engage in arguments where I back the Underdog I also have this irrational love of statistics and studies.

Alright, so I am awake at 6:30 in the morning researching so I can make a backed up argument in defence of those in a low socioeconomic bracket….

I can’t remember where I was going with this story.

Let’s skip ahead.

Okay, so I’m in my therapist’s office and we are discussing this because, you might remember, I had a real issue with my Tolerance Card and this need to research is all part of my Curiosity Card (although in this instance it leached over into my Fairness Card because I felt poor people were being treated unfairly).

Wait!

I just remembered where I was taking this story. Right. So while I was thinking about the Underdog and poverty I was remembering a journal entry I wrote ages ago about how poverty is paralysing. It seemed really poignant and I thought I might be able to cheat and use some of it to blog because I’ve been struck by the worst case of writer’s block of all time. So I was trawling through my old journal trying to find it and slipped down the rabbit hole into my own brain space a year ago and was like Ho-ly Shiiiiit. Because – damn if I wasn’t depressed a year ago and also – my god, have I come a long way. Even when I was good I was still pretty bad. I was blaming a lot of outside forces for my mental decline because see, I’m so sensitive and delicate. I just can’t take much of a pummelling. And, you guys, I was totally having my ass kicked. But that’s not the outside forces fault, they were just being themselves. It was me who couldn’t take the whipping. (So you know what? If you have found this blog and you know who you are, fuck it, I forgive you, okay? You were a world class bitch but hot damn if you weren’t good at it).

Anyway, back to it. Or back to where we skipped ahead. I’m in my therapists office and she thinks I’ve made outstanding progress on my Curiosity and Tolerance Cards. So we begin to work on Gratitude.

And I’m like, “Why are we working on strengths? I mean, aren’t they already strengths? Shouldn’t we be working on the stack of cards I didn’t choose?”

And she responds with, “Sometimes there are little flaws in the strengths. You don’t realise it at first but if you try to build with them and there is a tiny crack the whole structure comes down. First we explore the strengths and then we get to the part where we add in strengths you didn’t know you had.”

That seemed like fairly solid advice. So this week for homework I need to think about Gratitude. This one is easy. Just while I’ve been writing this I’ve had the opportunity to be grateful for a smashing sunset, for the black cat curled by my feet, for the smell of woodsmoke, for my son’s chatter inside. I am grateful for the fact I am getting well. I am so grateful for not quitting. But then again it’s unsurprising I backed myself.

I always did like the Underdog.

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