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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Dawn.

The Facebook memories feature is one of my favourite things. It delights me to see where I was on that day years ago. Oh look, here I was worrying because my newborn wasn’t letting me put her down completely oblivious to the fact that five years later I would practically have to bribe her for a cuddle she was so full of vibrant energy and couldn’t stay still.

Now my Facebook memories is silent because this time last year I deactivated and took a month long break to experience my existential crisis. I had just pulled through some of the worst days of my life mingled with the best days. The fact was, the best thing in my life had opened the door to the worst thing in my life and I was struggling with reconciling those. I kept thinking, what was the point to life? Not in a totally depressed way – although that question can be completely depressing – but in a ‘is there an actual point to all this’ way. Is life literally just a series of moments until you die and there is no big pay off? In those moments I truly understood why people turned to religion because the thought that the universe is a random, chaotic place is – frankly – terrifying.

The good things were brilliant and fantastic. The bad things just HURT. I kept thinking that my whole life had basically been a lie. Because I had believed that good things happened to good people. That life was supposed to be fair. And at 33 I had been rudely awakened that life isn’t fair. That good people can have awful things happen to them for no reason. That people were sometimes hateful. That if life were a scale occasionally it tipped in favour of the cons. It just seemed so stupid. Who would want to willingly go through life expecting pain as par for the course? I read philosophy searching for answers and it depressed me. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing with my life and did it even matter if I did anything at all? We are all just tiny invisible blips on an insignificant planet circling a sun in a vast universe. How could any of us feel that we mattered?

I wasn’t suicidal exactly. I just wasn’t sure it mattered whether or not I was alive.

Then I had this major epiphany that if it didn’t matter whether or not I was alive or not then I may as well live. What else was I going to do? It was less of a conviction (Yes! Choose life!) and more of a shrug towards life (Why not?).

Now is the part where you’re probably expecting me to say, “And then a remarkable thing happened and life became great!” except this isn’t a click bait article and that is exactly what DIDN’T happen. Instead life got even tougher. It felt like I was moving from crisis to crisis, putting out fires and playing catch up instead of getting ahead. Every small victory was hard won and on its heels came three times the trouble. I felt like standing under the stars and screaming at the sky, “WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!”

The universe will constantly give you the same lesson until you’ve learnt what it’s teaching you. Trouble kept finding me because I refused to submit to its schooling. I was trying so hard to steer my own course – to be in control – the universe meanwhile working the currents that pulled me in a different direction. How many times did I need to be dashed against the rocks before I learnt to LET GO and float on the tide?

I hadn’t been having an existential crisis. I didn’t believe nothing mattered. I was despairing that perhaps EVERYTHING mattered. Despair can look a lot like apathy to the untrained eye.

Every morning for the last three months I have woken 2 hours before dawn. I sit outside in the dark under a nest of quilts and I watch the sky. The night shifts imperceptibly to morning, beginning with a lifting of the black to grey on the horizon. In the beginning the sun rises so slowly that you don’t even realise it’s happening. Forms rise from the shadows. And then – all at once – you blink and where there was a grey band there is now golden and pink light stretching out like fingertips across the sky. A sudden shift from monochromatic to colour.

I know how the sun rises. I know to watch for the little changes. A tiny hand slipping into my own. A warm cup of tea. Sunlight on my bare arms. A shutter click. A lover’s caress. The smell of rain and old books. It will steal over my sky like a thief, lightening the night.

Dawn will come.

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Rain.

The day it rained a little I had things to do. I wanted to wash some clothes, clean the house and do the groceries. But I kept thinking about my camera. I stood in front of the kitchen table I was clearing while a couple of the kids were drawing in front of me. J looks up from her phone on the couch, “Are you okay?” she asks, “You look deep in thought.”
“I have an idea forming,” I answered slowly.
I turn to B in front of me, “Can you do your make up? I’m sorry. You’re going to get wet. And I need the kitchen chair.”
J, B and S all look at me wearing identical expressions of bewilderment.
“Why?” B asked, “It’s cold!”
“It will only be for a second. I need a photo.”

J asks to do B’s make up and S gets excited because in the six months she has been living with us I haven’t shot a thing. She can’t wait to see a shoot.

Twenty minutes later I’m going out the door. I’m wearing jeans and a plaid shirt that’s old and really shouldn’t be seen in public. My hair isn’t done. My phone needs charging. The clothes need washing. The floors were half swept.

I drive with purpose despite the fact I haven’t shot at this location in at least 7 years. I have no idea what I’ll find. It might rain. It’s midday. What am I doing?

I lie on a towel on the banks of the creek and get wet anyway. I pull up my jeans and wade into the water, mud between my toes and the stones slipping. Cars drive past honking their horns and I don’t care because there is only me and the viewfinder and a subject and everything else falls away.

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Every shutter click I know is perfect. I’ll barely need to touch these in post.

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I line up the banks so it’s straight, I expose on instinct.

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Muscle memory.

Finally I’m ready for the last shot. I know it won’t be perfect. I know it won’t be exactly what I have in my head. But I need to shoot it anyway or I will think about it all night. “One, two, three…fall.”

Submerged.

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The Door.

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The first door I remember belonged to my grandparents house in suburbia in the city I was born. I don’t remember my first entry obviously, but there is a photo of me having my first bath in the bathroom sink, a pale green fashionable in the 70s that had fallen out of vogue by the time I was old enough to look at that photo and be intrigued. I lived there with my mother and grandparents and my two aunties who were 2 and 5 years younger than my mother. I remember my time in that house as a carefree existence. I must have run in and out of that door hundreds of times without giving it a second thought.

Later there would be other doors. The door to the caravan we lived in by the sea. The old door of the house we rented before my brother was born. The door of my childhood home. I walked in and out of them never really sensing a barrier between me and the outside world at all. I barely even registered their existence.

When I was newly pregnant with my second daughter and she was barely bigger than a lentil, tucked away in my womb, I went for a walk. I wanted to go to the library – a place of comfort for me my whole life. Bookstores and libraries were like church for me, I could spend hours breathing in the calm that surrounded them. I was a child that drove my mother crazy with the state of my room, clothes and toys strewn everywhere, but my bookshelf was immaculate. I would carefully alphabetise the authors and arrange them by genre. I pushed my eldest daughter in a pram to the library, I was excited to introduce her to the written word. Her father accompanied us. It was summer and the midday sun beat down on us during the walk home. I felt a little light headed. My heart rate picked up. I felt ill. I thought I might throw up or pass out and we were still a good fifteen minutes from home.

It was an anxiety attack.

I didn’t know what was wrong just that I was suddenly ill. I had to lie down – right now. He went back with our daughter for the car, I lay in the shade of a struggling sapling on the grass by the footpath.

When I returned home I rapidly became much better. And I was terrified it would happen again. Better to stay at home than experience that kind of crippling experience in public. I was embarrassed and horrified. I still didn’t know what happened. I thought maybe heat stroke or morning sickness. I should take it easy. I should stay inside.

The door became a terrifying thing. Suddenly it was no longer a benign presence in the house, barely given another thought. Now it signified the very real difference between ‘safe’ and ‘unknown’. And I have always been a cautious person.

Agoraphobia took me under it’s wing like an old friend. It whispered fears into my ears and wound it’s fingers into my hair. It seeped into the marrow in my bones.

I was housebound. I left only a handful of times for antenatal appointments. I didn’t go see my family. I didn’t go to the shops. At my worst, I didn’t even go to the letterbox. I would watch as the postman dropped our mail into it and suggest my eldest daughter toddle down to it. I told myself she enjoyed her ‘big girl job’ while I stood at the threshold of the doorway, unable to cross the line to the outside.

When I finally reached out for help after my second daughter was born, when I could no longer pass off my fear as related to pregnancy, my counsellor came to the house and visited me bedside. At that point, at my very worst, I left the bed only to go to the bathroom. The day I made it to the couch she cheered. And I was so frustrated and confused because who gets praised just for making it to their own goddamn lounge room? That’s insanity. It’s depressing.

Slowly, I learned to MANAGE my fears. That is very different to overcoming. Managing means you learn ways to deal with it, not that you are no longer frightened.

Some days I could step out that door without giving it much of a thought. Some days it would loom before me like a threat. Some days the very act of turning the doorknob and stepping into the sunshine felt like rebellion.

Because I learnt how to manage it so well and I could hide it so effectively, I had virtually forgotten I suffered at all. Until one day a few months ago I found myself staring at my front door unable to step past it. Until I retreated back to my bedroom and refused to leave. Until my lover brought me flowers and begged me to leave the room to put them in a vase in an attempt to coax me out and when I cried and said I couldn’t he fetched a vase himself and put them by my bed so I would have something ‘beautiful to look at’.

Then I knew. It had never left, just gone into remission. And now here it was again, ruining my life.

But see, last time I just bowed down. Last time when the door would threaten me I would retreat. This time, I’m fucking angry. This time I am committed to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. This time – no remission. I’ll cut it out myself. This time when the door stands in front of me, I will call it’s bluff.

Hand to handle.

Pull it open.

Just one step.

Outside.