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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Survival and Ghosts.

When I was little I was really scared of ghosts. Not like a white sheeted floating figure but actual spirits. I’m a pretty reasonable person and I like to think I’m fairly grounded in reality and yet I don’t know everything and there are millions of things in the world I don’t understand so while there may be (and probably is) a reasonable explanation for this when I was little I was plagued by this apparition of an old man walking past my bedroom.

To set the scene we were living in this old house that was owned by The Blue Nurses who were left it in a will by the old guy that lived there before us. We had just moved back to QLD after living down in NSW in a caravan by the beach where we ate so much fresh fish that I seem to have developed a permanent aversion to it (but that is beside the point) and taken up residence in this giant old house. I assume at one point it was all joined together but it was like a duplex by the time we got there. Two large bedrooms either side, bathrooms and kitchens and living areas and on our side a wide enclosed verandah. No toilet. The toilet was downstairs and I was terrified of it. My parents are like the King and Queen of ‘making do’. Most women would be driven crazy by having to cart a 5 year old outside and downstairs in the dark to the toilet but my mum just stoically bore this burden. This wasn’t the only flaw in the old house. The bedrooms which came off of the enclosed verandah had large glass doors – beautiful – but impractical to shut every night so we left them open. And the enclosed verandah had windows but no glass. Just fly screens. And some didn’t have fly screens because they had long been torn off. One night I woke up basically exsanguinated by mosquitos. My dad also liked to pot plants (once in the living room which did drive my mother to distraction although we can laugh about it now) and at that stage he was in a cactus phase and he kept them all over and he was also fond of rocks and he carted ones he particularly liked home and put them on the verandah. My mother worried the verandah would collapse under the weight but she just puts up with these little eccentricities. I should mention that I actually really love rocks also so this isn’t weird to me. I just managed to have both my dad’s love of hoarding with my mother’s love of purging items so I collect them and then throw them all away in a fit of decluttering. Anyway. Back to the house.

The other side was linked to ours through various doorways that were closed off with furniture. In my room it was kind of barricaded by my large wooden toy box, which I was grateful for because the other side was completely full of stuff that had belonged to the old man and his wife before she passed. It had their pots and pans, clothing, her make up, furniture etc. I assume the Nurses went through it and cleared out anything of major value but the fact there was still rouge that had once coloured this dead woman’s cheeks kind of freaked me out a little.

Most of the time when I was small my mother would read me Enid Blyton books and draw on my back until I drifted off. But sometimes I would be lying there awake and I would see this old man walk past my door. It freaked me out so badly because I kind of knew he shouldn’t be there and that he wasn’t actually THERE. I lived in fear he would one day not just walk past but turn his head and look at me and if that happened I would just die of fear but I couldn’t stop watching for him in case he DID look at me. I kind of brushed this off as an overactive imagination on my part. Nothing is there, nothing is there, lalalalala, go to sleep…

Anyway, I had this cat Tinkerbell and one day she got hit by a car and died. After that I kept seeing Tinkerbell. Lying in a patch of sun on the verandah, walking through the house casual as you please like she wasn’t dead and buried under a tree in the backyard. Finally, I come to my mother and tell her I’m seeing Tinkerbell. And mum doesn’t appear shocked by this at all and says, “That’s okay. Sometimes they just stick around for a little while after they die.” (Years later she would tell me she wasn’t shocked because she herself had also been seeing Tinkerbell). THIS COMPLETELY FREAKED ME OUT. Because my line of thinking was that if I was seeing Tinkerbell because, no big deal sometimes they just stick around awhile, then maybe I WAS seeing Old Man because HE was sticking around. And I didn’t not want Old Man to be sticking around. I wanted him to not be walking past my room, thank you very much.

We moved into my parents first bought house when I was seven which effectively put an end to the Old Man walking past my room but I was still completely freaked out about going to sleep. I would lie awake for ages. I would pile dozens of teddies around my body in bed in order to confuse any potential ghosts about where I was, perhaps they would just miss me if I was camouflaged by teddies. Almost every night I was anxious about ghosts. Avoiding ghosts was my primary goal in life. And then one day I got sick. Probably with just a flu or something but I was completely miserable and far too sick to care about anything except sleeping and trying to keep down fluids and not boiling my brain with fever. And I stopped caring about the ghosts. I was so sick I was just like the seven year old version of, “I’m too sick to deal with your shit.” When I got better I began to worry about ghosts again. But I found that interesting. That when you were very sick, you didn’t really care about anything except being sick.

Now days when I am having a rough patch with myself mentally it’s difficult for me to care about anything but how sick I am. It’s consuming. It pushes everything else out. I don’t do my hair. I don’t care I’m wearing jeans four sizes too big. I don’t care that I’m 34 and don’t know what I want to do with my life. Every single fibre in my body is dedicated to one purpose – survival. Last week though I found myself obsessing over my face. I get hormonal cystic acne on my chin when I’m about to ovulate because my body is under the impression the best way to catch a mate to fertilise it’s impending egg is to be sure he sees me by planting a beacon on my face. It’s frustrating to the extreme but my body is very firm on this being the correct plan of action so I suffer through. And last week I was like “THIS IS BULLSHIT! No one should have to simultaneously deal with acne AND the emergence of smile lines.” And I was googling how to clear the cystic acne and really miserable and then I remembered that a month ago I wouldn’t have given a shit about my face. Because I was too busy just surviving a month ago. The fact I was caring about something so trivial was a sign of WELLNESS. Cystic acne was basically my ‘ghost’. You only have time to obsess over the little stuff when you aren’t busy doing battle with the big stuff. I was still morose over my face but I was happy I could be morose. That there was enough of me left over to give to something petty. To care enough to be vain.

I looked into the mirror. And I smiled.

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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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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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Unexpected.

I read a study about sex. The idea was the more sex you had, the more sex you wanted.

I guess shooting is similar. The more I shoot the more I want to. The catch is, it has to be good. A bad shoot can bring me low for days, a good shoot gives me a rush that makes me want to do it again. Maybe it’s more like drugs. I don’t know. It definitely improves my mood when it works. Some shoots never work despite planning it for ages. It just doesn’t translate. Oddly, my best shoots have been virtually spur of the moment with little planning. I don’t like to think about it.

I sell some of my images through Getty, only of myself or the kids – basically images that would just be sitting on my hard drive doing nothing so I figure if they’re just doing nothing they may as well be earning me some money every now and then. The best seller? It’s a photo of me that you can only see my legs on and I’m holding a bunch of balloons. I took it spur of the moment one year on B’s birthday. I was putting together all these helium balloons for her party and decided to quickly set up the camera, snapped a shot and gave it a slap up edit.

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I didn’t even have a backdrop. I’m standing between less than a metre of space between two doors that I edited out. When it sells it gives you the name of the company, sometimes you can find the image through reverse Google search. It has been bought by Samsung, by a French magazine, it’s on a German book cover… One of the quickest spur of the moment images I ever took. It’s funny how that happens.

What I discovered about myself recently though is that while I consider myself a portrait photographer, I don’t really shoot people. I shoot landscapes or props that happen to feature people. It’s why I can’t do headshots. People just aren’t the sole feature of my photographs. It’s weird how it has taken me almost 8 years to figure that out.

After it rained last time I decided to do a series with my girls. Different locations, nature, same white dress….

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I took J out spur of the moment the week after I shot B with S and B to help me. To be honest, this was not really anything like I envisioned.

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The favourite shot of mine was impromptu, I was busy piling dead leaves around J while she lay on the ground and this sprig of green leaves kept getting in the way. It was so ALIVE and vibrant that it sat in complete contrast to the muted browns, the dead and dying all around. I placed one over J’s heart.

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Hope.

The best ones are the ones you don’t know you’re going to take.

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Cheerleader.

In the morning or evening when everyone is inside I sit under the sky and I write. I do it on my phone, on the laptop, sometimes I scrawl it along pages in a worn notebook. The more I write, the more I see a theme emerging. The more I write, the more I see that my words are me attempting to cheerlead myself on. I’m standing outside myself looking at a crumpled me on the floor and shaking my own shoulders, whispering words of encouragement into my own ear, spooning bits of hope into my own mouth and hoping I will stand up again. I pull out memories of the past and show them to myself, offering them up like jewels and wait to see which one will spark determination in my eyes.

This hopeful me, she is like a mother – fierce and gentle at once. She refuses to give up and let me rot away in defeat. Her words are gifts to me. I am equally shocked by how broken I am as by how determined I am to fix myself. I am awed by the part of myself that diligently drives to therapy every week and walks through my fears while my eyes follow the lights on the EMDR machine. That pushes to eat another mouthful. That says, “Get up. What else are you going to do?” That opens the door and steps out. At first I was horrified and ashamed by my own fragility. More and more I am aware of my own strength and bravery. And every time I write, every bit of hope I swallow down, I get to know her better.

This last week was a good one for me. For the last three months I had been waking hours before sunrise, nauseated with anxiety, trying to gag down a banana (I could tolerate very few foods) and reading to try to put my mind anywhere but in my own body. My brain wouldn’t shut down, it felt like an old Rolodex flicking through thoughts rapidly, never settling on a single thing. Sometimes I would physically be sick. By the time four hours had passed, the sun had risen and I had pulled myself together enough to wake the children and get them ready for school, faking the morning until I dropped them off and could retreat back to my room and my books until I needed to fake the pick up. I felt physically and emotionally fragile. I never really understood that word until that time, when I had absolutely no mental strength at all. I went no where. I mean – NO where. I literally went only to the school for pick ups and drop offs and therapy. I didn’t go to shops or see family or even for a walk around the block. Nothing.

Last week, after hours of therapy it was like I suddenly woke up. I got up one morning and said, “I’m going to clean the car.” I drove several suburbs away and vacuumed and shampooed the carpets. I went to the shops and bought new mats. The next day I drove 400kms to drop off the kids to their dads. The next day I took my second eldest daughter to lunch. The day after that I took the teenagers to the plant nursery and we bought herbs and house plants. I visited with my grandparents the day after that. I ate food sometimes without even thinking about what I was eating. One night I looked down and realised I had finished my entire dinner. I got seconds. I challenged myself to eat ‘trigger foods’. “Eat the ice cream, it’s therapy, just do it.”

I woke up one morning happy and realised I hadn’t actually been happy in months. It was as though all those months of cheerleading myself on had finally come to fruition.

Part of me is terrified of relapse. I worry I will wake up and find I have flicked the switch back to survival mode. I know there will probably be steps back sometimes, that it’s expected. But this little glimpse through the looking glass of what recovery feels like is so amazing in it’s brilliance that I’m hoping I can carry it’s light through the darkness if the sun goes behind a cloud.

This is what I want to tell myself if that happens, I’m going to write it here so I can read it if I need to:

Recovery exists. Magic exists. Happiness is real. You have worked so damn hard for this and you can feel ‘well’. You are brave and you are strong even if you feel fragile. Underneath that delicate exterior you are a fighter. Don’t listen to the lies your fears tell you. They’re not real. I am real. And I am telling you – you got this.

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The Exhibitionist.

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When I first picked up my camera and read the manual until it was dog-eared seven years ago I began to shoot my kids, flowers, the cats. But I quickly turned to self portraiture. In all honesty if I could have painted I probably would have painted self portraits, but being challenged in that department I choose the camera as my weapon of choice. Self portraiture fulfils a gap in me. I have always written and I am painfully honest. Sometimes, the camera allows me to tell a story without finding the words. If I am frustrated, sad, fierce or sensual I can tell that story by composing the image in my head and then when I execute it there is a magic no science can take away. This camera is an extension of myself, the dance we do together is well practised.

We are constantly told about self love. About acceptance of who we are. “Be yourself.” “You can only truly love another when you have learned to love yourself.” “Love the body you are in.” But when that is practiced in the form of self portraiture it is often viewed as a vanity.

Photos showing flesh are particularly frowned upon. Words then get thrown around like, “slut” “whore” “shameless” “disgusting”. The body doesn’t know words. The body simply is. These are words that you feel when looking at the body. These words are not me or my body. They’re your feelings and opinions. If I had describe my body I would say, “capable” – because it works. “delicate” – because I know it is small and fine. “a fighter” – because I birthed like a frigging goddess. “amazing” – because I grew and nourished six incredible human beings from it. “beautiful” – because it is the only vessel I have in this world. “sensual” – because it is how I express physical love. “imperfect” – and I do not mean that as a fault. I would probably also throw the word “fertile” in there for obvious reasons. And “mine” lastly – because it belongs to no one but me.

If my body offends you, I would suggest you don’t look. If flesh offends you then I would suggest you explore your reasons for this. If you choose to attempt to quantify my worth by only focusing on my flesh then you are greatly underestimating my worth. I am far more than the mere sum of my parts. I am a mother, a writer, a lover, a woman and I won’t be held down by words or threats. I am freedom and flight. And I am not ashamed.

Independence Day.

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On the 4th of July two years ago I had my very own Independence Day. That was the day I left my house in the country and drove 200kms away blasting a playlist I had created called, “I’m coming home.”

I don’t know what I expected when I came down here because at the time I was mostly just fleeing where I was. Basically at that point the plan was to just get here and then decide. And I’ve sort of done nothing except fall apart. Actually, that’s bullshit and I need to change that internal dialogue because it’s unhelpful.

I went away for the first time in my adult life. I met friends who I had never seen in person and some who I had been conversing with over the Internet for a decade. Do you know how surreal it is to wrap your arms around someone who you have shared the most intimate parts of your life with but never seen in the flesh? I fell hopelessly in love. I bought furniture that I liked without asking if anyone else did. I watched fireworks light up the city on New Years Eve. I bought handspun and hand knitted gloves from a market in Salamanca and drank tea made with water from the Huon River. I went to the movies with my friend. I ate birthday cake with my family. I shaved my brothers head at 4am one morning. I stood in the snow in a lace gown while my friend took photos of me. I read hundreds of books. I wrote poetry and prose – thousands of words to make sense of all my sparkle and all my fault lines. I picked shells along a beach in Tasmania and laughed when the ocean ran into my shoes and soaked my pants even though it meant I had to make the drive home in my underwear. I shot photos. I made love. I built fires. I listened to music. I danced. I sang. I swore. I cried. I laughed until my cheeks hurt.

Fuck it.

I lived.