Monthly Archives: May 2012

Touching Earth Lightly

TRIGGER WARNING: For writing about to a previous suicide attempt and to current suicidal feelings. If you need immediate assistance call 000 (Emergency)  or Lifeline 13 11 14.  For other resources: Get Help Now.
Listening
           
To myself, and
 
To my surroundings
To the song that rises from this moment
          in which I am contained-
 
These dances rise up inside of me
          and spin out beneath me,
And it’s as if I stand back, inside myself
          and observe…
 
Available to constant flow and change,
I can balance
                  at the edge of the unknown
                                                        and experience fearlessness.
Eva Karczag

The words above were first shared with me by a dear friend and mentor, D. I met D when she became a co-facilitator of a queer youth performance group I was in. She appears quiet, but when she speaks all the wisdom and passion within her comes out in carefully chosen words and questions. She holds her own space, she is grounded, and that (I think) is what allows her to share herself with others in such an open and caring way- she knows, really knows, her own boundaries.

 

D saved my life in 2009. I had taken an overdose with full intention of ending my life. I remember cleaning out my life for weeks because I didn’t want people to be left with an image of me as messy or chaotic. I didn’t want to be exposed in death, when I had worked so hard in life to appear normal, happy, contained. I remember giving away bags of clothes and books to op-shops. Shredding years of academic and personal written work. I remember pressing ‘OK’ when Microsoft asked, ‘Are you sure you want to permanently delete these files?’.

 

I remember planning ahead for a time where I wouldn’t be found for at least a day. I remember stockpiling some drugs and buying others. I remember lining up pills in batches next to bottles of pure spirits. But I don’t recall the sensation of actually swallowing them. Who is that person?, I wondered as I floated above her. It can’t be me. I don’t drink alcohol. It’s bad for my epilepsy. 

 

I remember calling D and saying, ‘I tried to kill myself’. I remember regretting the words the instant they were out of my mouth. At the same time, relief. This isn’t up to me anymore. I might keep floating like I am now or I might sink like I intended, but I don’t have to make any more decisions about it. Then I don’t remember anything else until I woke up a week or so later in St.V’s.

 

I’ve been thinking-  about D., about that time, about Eva Karczag’s words – a lot lately. Thinking about what it means to be grounded, to be ‘aware of myself, my surroundings and…this moment in which I am contained’. Realising that- still! still, after all this time- groundedness for me means heaviness, disgust, shame at being seen. It means a constant battle with my body, second to second. Trying to get things done, to live and listen and speak, all of it feels equally heavy, exhausting, impossible.

 

What is the fucking POINT?, my head asks loudly, repeatedly. I will always be stuck in this body, always. Being present means being in this thing, this lump of adipose tissue, this holder of food and fat and trauma and memories. It means looking in the mirror each day and being overwhelmed, in less than a second, with thoughts of wanting to be dead, gone. It means lying in darkness and crying with shame into fear into exhaustion about having to face it again tomorrow.

 

Eva Karczag wrote those words as a way of expressing the importance of being in your body when doing improvised dance work. D. shared them with me and the youth theatre group to explain how capturing this essence when performing, moving moment to moment, being aware of self and of others, would help us improve our acting. I read those words, daily, and mostly I despair but sometimes I hope. I hope of finding a way to live with the lightness that I have only ever experienced when I was attempting to die.

 

I hope to be able to be grounded in my body, present in my mind, and attuned to my surroundings. I hope of one day touching earth lightly.

 

 

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Ninja Goldfish Kills Owners, Escapes

 

So, Thursday afternoons I have my elective class, Working with Violence and Abuse. It’s as cheery as it sounds. But so important and every week I build more strength, validation, skills and passion for this area of work. I’ve been offered a placement in an agency that predominately works with women in crisis and I’m pretty sure I’m going to take it. It feels right- this is what I want to do, this is the kind of worker I want to develop into- but also very scary.

ANYWAY, the class is a three hour seminar in a dark, stuffy room and it can often feel like the air is so heavy, and the sadness and despair is so thick you could reach out and touch it. Most people, even just by thinking about the statistical esitimates of the incidence of sexual assault, family violence and child abuse, have had personal experiences of the stuff we cover in the classes. You can see the pain on faces, watch as people flinch at certain stories, hear an occasional gasp or muffled sob.  These reactions are absolutely normal and warranted, but to have 60 people in one room all feeling them all at once- sometimes, we just have to break, breathe out and have a laugh.

Today, after two hours of class we were told it was time for a fun and light activity.  We got told the ending of a story and we had to get into small groups to write the beginning. The story ends with ‘Peter and Mary are lying on the floor, both dead. The only other thing around them is broken glass and a pool of water.’ Given the past ten weeks of classes, many people said things like: ‘it must have been a homicide/ suicide’ or ‘there must have been a history of family violence’. Which is fair enough but also a really strong indicator of how blinkered (and burnt out with despair) workers can become. A colleague once said to me that after years of working in domestic violence services, she started to see every relationship and family as abusive and dysfunctional, even if they were perfectly fine, because her radar was always on the look out for abuse.

Desperately trying to get some lightness, my group said something along the lines of: Peter and Mary were killed by their ninja goldfish who wanted to escape the confines of his tank. After weeks of careful plotting, he jumped out, killed them with some serious fin-karate moves, and slipped away to freedom, leaving only scale prints as evidence. It’s totally impossible but we got a laugh out of it.

These classes- and the real situations that they are trying to prepare us to work in- do make me angry. They cause me to cry and feel helpless and want to punch something. Sometimes they trigger memories of personal stuff and I have to work really hard not to fall back into my own traumatic or violent experiences. But they also fire me up to be an advocate and a change maker, to be the kind of worker that I wish I’d had to support and empower me in the past. I look around the class and I see sixty people who are now more knowledgable about parts of society that many others don’t want to talk about. Not only are we informed, we are developing the skills needed to speak up and create change. We are sixty more people who won’t stay silent. We are people who will sit with survivors, believe them, validate their experiences, and respect them.

And if we need to occasionally make jokes about ninja goldfish to keep our sanity in check, to be the most effective supporters and advocates we can be? I think that’s just fine.

 

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And How Are You Today?

I can tell I’m pretty unhappy at the moment. This is the joy (heh) of being on the mental illness roller-coaster for a while: you get to know your illness, and yourself, better. If I had a little checklist in my brain of the things that let me know when  ‘me at normal depression level’ is slipping ‘me at super sadness’ then this is what it’d look like:

Hibernation

Am I a human or a bear who’s sleeping out the winter? Debatable, given how little I’ve left the house recently (let’s not talk about the hair thing). Over the weekend I didn’t make it out once, cos I thought I’d feel better all curled up under my blankets alone. Which I did, temporarily, but then I just felt like a social outcast/ over-anxious weirdo. Which made me feel sadder. That’s what we call a cycle of doom, kids.

Am I hibernating at the moment? Well, yes. I have a full day of classes tomorrow and if get to those I’ll give myself a big gold star. I couldn’t finish this post last night because exhaustion (see below). But today- I got to all my classes! I said things. Most of them weren’t stupid. I got tests returned. I got good marks. GOLD FREAKING STAR.

Everything feels too much/ unmanageable

Anti-depressents aren’t great but usually they do a good job at keeping my emotions manageable, e.g. I have dips, flat periods and highs rather than full-on tsunami-like level crashes. But depression is a sneaky thing and it can get through the pills sometimes. So then everything feels ‘too much’ and before long, even the tiniest things- getting up, having a shower, opening the window to let light in- become too hard. I guess what would classify me firmly in ‘super sadness’ is if all these small things became too much for several days at a time. Been there, don’t wanna go back.

Fuck, now I have ‘All The Small Things’ by Blink 182 stuck in my head. Party like it’s 1999.

Does everything feel like it’s too much to handle? Yes and no. If I can get out of bed I can do the rest of it. On Monday I managed to get up, start AND finish my essay, and get to the city to submit it precisely 4 minutes before it was due. Had a sweat outbreak on a peak hour train, survived it, got home, had a huge hill walk, felt better. Consider that day managed.

I forget all the things

Let’s just be upfront about this: I feel like I have lost my functional brain and short/ medium term memory sometime in the last few weeks.

So, Am I forgetting all the things? YES.

The most recent example of this is why I had to write an essay from scratch in 24 hours. I fucking forgot that it was even set, let alone due. Not my usual ‘Done some research, I’m ruminating on the topic and I’ll pull it together at the last minute’ style, which has actually been quite effective for me thus far, but TOTALLY. UTTERLY. FORGOTTEN. Urgh. I think I managed to churn out something quite respectable- thank you, choc-coated coffee beans- but time will tell.

Exhaustion

I’m not really a sleeper. 4-5 hours a night, max. And in ‘normal’ times this is enough for me to be my usual functioning, busy, say-yes-to-everything self. But when I’m Ms. Saddy-Sadface and have to work extra hard at just not killing myself, then I get really, really tired. The kind of tired where my bones ache. My eyes feel like they’re going to drop out of my head. The bags under said eyes could hold a supermarket shop for a family of eight. Etc, etc. This makes sense, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying. My mental exhaustion plays out in my physical body and provides yet another reason for me to hate the bloody thing. Did you spot that? That’s ANOTHER cycle of doom, right there.

Am I exhausted? Yup. Everything seems to be taking twice as much energy and effort. Need more sleep. Sleeeeeeeeep.

Extra- Super-Dooper Happy Mask Comes On In Public (also known as, A Little Bit Manic)

I’m a chatty, engaged/ engaging person when I’m normal/ baseline. I like to talk about the world and make jokes about it as a way of digesting the sometimes horrible things that happen. Most people tend to laugh along with this humour rather then get offended or run away horrified. I don’t worry excessively about clothes or what I look like. I get stuff done.

When I’m not happy I put a shitload of effort into pretending or appearing to be happy. Takes so much energy. Makes me feel exhausted. Only capable of writing short sentences. See what I did there?

But it mostly works. People at uni wouldn’t find me any different to normal. My parents certainly don’t notice but they have a lot invested in not noticing my moods, so meh. I wear masks in all public spaces, including this blog. But I seem to crank it up a notch when I’m feeling vulnerable/ depressed/ sad.

Is the Extra-Super-Dooper Happy Mask on? Sorta. I’m feeling better today (Tuesday) and I suspect it’s because I managed to get up, go to uni, engage. I don’t feel as exhausted or as if I was trying harder than usual. Yippee.

Listening to Particular Songs On Repeat Because They’re ALL ABOUT ME

I don’t mean this in a paranoid or schizophrenic  ‘the songs are talking to me and telling me to kill the Prime Minister’ kind of way. OK, we cool? What I do mean is, I’m emotionally raw and everything- sunlight, people’s voices, song lyrics- hits harder in this state. I am mostly a ‘girls with guitars singing about love and life’ type of music fan so my collection boasts plenty of songs that can trigger a cry if I’m a bit sadder than usual.

For example: older Ani DiFranco songs have been on high rotation. Viz:

Fire Door

…and I’m singing now because my tear ducts are too tired
and my mind is disconnected but my heart is wired
I make such a good statistic someone should study me now
someone’s got to be interested in how I feel
just because I’m here and I’m real…

Joyful Girl

I do it for the joy it brings, because I am a joyful girl
because the world owes me nothing, and we owe each other the world
I do it because it’s the least I can do, I do it because I learned it from you
and I do it just because I want to- because I want to

everything I do is judged
and they mostly get it wrong, but oh well
‘cuz the bathroom mirror has not budged
and the woman who lives there can tell the truth from the stuff that they say
and she looks me in the eye, and says would you prefer the easy way
no, well o.k. then, don’t cry…

Have I been listening to far too much Ani DiFranco?  Yes. Yes I have.
So there’s my checklist and I’m checking a few boxes right now. But I got up today and the sky was beautiful and clear. I walked this evening and got to see sun fade into the dusk, my very favourite shade of blue. I did really well on the test that clears me for placement. I got to eat an awesome apple that was the perfect mix of sweet, tart and crunchy.
And those reasons are enough to hang on for tomorrow.

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I Didn’t Care For Myself Today. Luckily, The Internet Did.

Today has been a hard one. By ‘today’, I mean Saturday, even though by the time this is published it will be Sunday. First mistake was not getting out of bed this morning. As I said recently, getting out of bed each day is a vital step in my ‘don’t kill myself today’ plan. Today I haven’t spoken out loud to anybody. Today I missed: a circus class, a catch up with a friend who I haven’t seen for ages, and a housewarming party. I didn’t study or eat or keep myself hydrated. Couldn’t face the idea of putting myself and my body out into the world. Did not want to care for myself.

This, to me, just shows how bloody important it is to push against those thoughts each morning the absolute SECOND they pop up when the alarm goes off. Because otherwise they take over- don’t go out in public, hide your body, you don’t deserve food or water or interaction, just die you fat ugly useless bitch- and the window of time to possibly fight them is slammed shut. Because I didn’t fight today, I didn’t get up and out of my head, and therefore I didn’t find any reasons to keep going.

To which we say, thank fuck for the Bookmarks folder. Because in there is a little gem of a blog post from somebody else, for the times when I can’t draw these things up from within myself. Behold, the amazeballs that is Sarah Benincasa, and her 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Kill Yourself, reproduced in full and with no editing, below:

I’m toying with actually accepting the idea that part of my condition as a depressive human is that sometimes I’m going to want to off myself.

I don’t say that lightly, nor am I exaggerating. At various points in my 20s and now, in my early thirties, I’ve gone through moments, minutes, hours, days and sometimes even weeks during which I’ve repeatedly thought about suicide. It’s not a secret or anything — I wrote a book about it (and about other things, like awkward sexual encounters and bad haircuts — but mostly about mental illness.)

I think that part of the reason I have these thoughts is because of my wacky brain, which sometimes prompts me to do strange things like develop a fear of the toilet or look at a billboard a certain number of times “just in case” as I walk to work each morning.

“Just in case of what?” you may logically be asking. My response? “JUST IN CASE.” The point here is that I’m not exactly 100 percent healthy in the ol’ thought department.
Anyway. The other night, after a few days marked by crying jags in places as diverse as my best friend’s guest bedroom in Houston, the shower at the Super 8 in Austin, and my couch in Queens, I had one of those wracking sobfests that really clears out the clogged parts of one’s soul and leaves you feeling exhausted but somewhat relieved. In the midst of my festival of tears, I found myself sincerely thinking, “I can’t kill myself. I haven’t finished my taxes yet.” And then I started to laugh.
Later, I told a friend about my feelings, which is the thing you ought to do when you’re feeling suicidal. Because he knows my twisted sense of humor well enough, he sent me this poem by Dorothy Parker. It’s called “Resumé.”
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
Gallows humor? You bet. And man, did I need it. In fact, I started thinking of other reasons not to kill myself, besides the “I have friends and family who love me, and there is hope, and I’m not such a bad person, I just make mistakes sometimes like everybody else” type of stuff. I share them with you now because I guaran-fucking-tee at least one person reading this post needs to see this info. I know there are times when I’ve needed it.

1. It’s messy.

Regardless of how you go, you’re going to leave a body for other people to clean up. Dead bodies are gross. Did you know that some people let poop out when they die? It’s true. I mean, not on purpose or anything. It’s something to do with the bowels relaxing. Anyway, what if no one finds you for a few days? You will be stinky, and someone else will have to deal with it.

That’s a little inconsiderate. Why not stay alive and call a therapist? Stimulate the economy. You’re a jobs creator, just like Mitt Romney! Or you could just call your best friend and tell her you’re having a rough time. She’s your best friend; it’s her job to help you through rough times. Which brings me to the second point…

2. Other people need you.

During my big crying festival, I remembered that my friend had just broken up with her boyfriend and I hadn’t called to do a post-game recap about it yet. I knew it would really help her to get to let it all out with me. And while I wasn’t in the shape to deal with it at that particular moment, I figured I ought to stick around long enough to let the tears pass and get into a headspace where I could chat with her.

So a few days later, that’s exactly what I did. And I felt good afterward, because I know I hold a special place for her as a sort of confessor/big sister.

3. Dead people don’t get to eat cinnamon buns.

They also don’t get to do my other favorite things, like live-Tweet presidential debates, re-read “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” hold newborn babies with squinched-up little red faces, talk politics with their dads, walk in the woods on a warm autumn day, eat their brother’s excellent apple butter chicken, or fall asleep in a soft bed after a long day of walking.

They also do not get to have sex (at least not consensually. And do you want to risk your earthly remains being defiled by some creepo gravedigger? No. No, you do not.)

4. It’s cliché, and you are not a cliché.

Nor are you a statistic, or some sad footnote in the local paper, or whatever cheesedick obituary they put together. You’re you. You’re unique and special and lovely and people care about you, and you deserve a better ending than anything you could bring upon yourself.

We all know what happens when a sad person kills herself: nothing. That’s it. It’s the end. No one gets to find out what she might have done or could have done or would have done if she’d stuck around. And that’s shitty. So keep hanging out with the rest of us in the mirth and the muck, because you matter more than you can possibly imagine.
5. Someone needs to change the kitty litter.
‘Nuff said.
I thought about all this stuff, and sometimes it made me laugh and sometimes it made me cry more, but mostly it reminded me why I ought to stick around. So I’m sticking around, and I’ll keep sticking around until it’s no longer my time to stick around. But it’s not my job to determine when that time is. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go trip the light fantastic and sing the body electric and, y’know, take my Prozac.
– Sarah Benincasa
And with that, I get through another day. Thank you, internet.

PS: ‘xojane.com’, which is where this piece comes from and where the link will take you to, is actually pretty awesome and uplifting and bookmark-worthy in its’ own right. I highly recommend it and no, they didn’t pay me to say that.

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Epilepsy and Stuffs

Just a few more thoughts on epilepsy and chronic illness and stuffs…I’ve written about this before, here. But I have had some new thoughts since then! So read on.

Seizure free? Whoa!

I haven’t had a seizure for over eight weeks now. EIGHT WEEKS. Why yes, I am rather excited, can you tell? As far as I remember, I haven’t gone that long without seizures since I was eleven or twelve. I am on a new drug and, for the first time in a zillion (ok, ten) years, this drug actually works. I can’t even list all the drugs I have tried for the past decade to try and get this thing under control. I thought there were no more drugs I could take. It really does feel magical. Like somebody has opened up my head, reached in, and rewired it so that the knots and glitches causing seizures have been straightened out. Weird visual, I know, but just go with it.

But wait…

OK, I must confess. There is one slightly annoying thing about the new med. It’s made my periods dry up. Which led to the following conversation with my GP.

Me: I haven’t had a period for 8.5 weeks.

Her: Could you be pregnant?

Me: Absolutley not.

Her: Well, what contraceptive methods are you using?

Me: Lesbianism.

Her: (silence)

I have been seeing this doc for quite some time. I’m out to her, as I am to the majority of people in my life. I think it must just be an automatic response. Looks like a woman? Looks older than puberty? Not menstruating? Must be straight, and must be UP THE DUFF! Which is kinda sad and indicative of our heteronormative world. But that’s another post. Also, I don’t have a girlfriend and I haven’t had sex of any kind for many moons. So I’m actually a celibate lesbian, even more pregnant-proof! But again, that’s another post.

I don’t mind that Aunty Flow hasn’t been visiting lately. It’s quite convenient really. But a little part of me- particularly Future Me- is worried that it’s possibly impacting on my health and my abilities to do baby-making down the track. Hmmm. Actually I have a whole swag of anxieties around epilepsy and being pregnant/ having kids. Anti-epileptic drugs can harm the baby. Going off anti-epileptics during pregnancy can cause seizures which can harm the baby. Having a seizure during labour…oh, you get the picture. It’s not something that requires attention right now, and so I shall file it away for future worrying. *click* That was the filing cabinet in my brain sliding shut.

Travelling with epilepsy

Something that does require attention right now is preparing to fly on a jet plane to Nepal, which I will be doing in August. I will also be walking up and down mountains. In remote areas. Like, places where epilepsy is still considered to be an expression of witchcraft. Eeeek.

The first obstacle to making this adventure happen was finding a travel insurance company that would provide me with cover for both a) epilepsy and b) remote area evacuation. It was not an easy task to find (and pay for) a product I hope I never have to actually use. But I did it and wept a little as I deposited almost a fortnight’s cash over to this large, reputable insurance company. They better be damn helpful if I do need to engage with them.

Next step is getting my doctor’s letter listing all the meds on it translated into Thai (for the stopover) and Nepali. I’m having nightmares of being chucked in a jail somewhere because a customs official mistakes my medications for something more illicit and labels me as a drug trafficker. Yay! More stress!

And finally, an epic organisation/ memory fail…

I was supposed to pick up my medications from the chemist today, because I ran out of the vital magic drug and have almost run out of some other meds. But I forgot, because I also had a assignment due and clearly my brain is not up for holding mutiple things in my memory right now. So, it’s 9pm and I suddenly have an ‘OH FUCK’ moment, where the important thing you were supposed to remember comes flashing into your consciousness.

It’s OK, I reassure myself, the pharmacy is open until 9.30pm. Haven’t done much exercise today, so run like the wind, bullseye! I get there at 9.1opm, and it turns out they actually shut at 9pm on Fridays. I bang on the door. ‘I’m not robbing you!’ I shout. ‘I’m not a junkie! I just really need my meds!’. They take pity on me and open up. I almost cry in gratitude. They look at me like I’m somewhat deranged. Well, aint that the truth.

How To Be A Responsible Epileptic, Rule #47: Always secure the medication that you are heavily dependent on BEFORE you completely run out.

And a fun fact to finish with: I am dependent on four medications to keep me functional/ alive. The full cost of them is $549.95 per month. I pay $23.20 towards that.  I don’t thank the government often but I will on this occasion. Thank you, Australian government, for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Health Care Card concessions. Many of your other policies are terrible but these ones are amazing. Don’t you ever try to take them away or I kill you. Love, Me.

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I Think I Can, I Hope I Can…

‘Placement’ is the subject on everyone’s minds and the word on everybody’s lips right now. We’re about to be thrust into the real world of social work, no more cotton wool, no more role-plays in classrooms where we can laugh if we stuff it up (and then critically reflect on it afterwards, of course!).

The major reason I entered this degree was because I want to contribute to change- individual, community and worldwide change- on the way we think about, experience and act on violence. Yup, big cliche, I know- the victim/ survivor becoming the advocate and change maker. But it’s true, that’s what I feel pulled towards and that’s what I’ve been doing from a very young age, before I could even name what was happening to me as ‘abuse’ and define what I was passionate about as ‘activism’.

I have a lot of insight and experience now, at the ripe old age of 23, but is it enough? I sat in a class today about childhood sexual abuse and I thought, is it still too close? Can I cope with this? Am I drawn to this kind of work for the wrong reasons?  They are confronting questions. They force me to look inside myself and sit still for more than 30 seconds and think, really think, about what I have to offer right now, and what parts of myself are still too raw. To get past the good girl who always says yes to everything, even things that aren’t helpful/ supportive for her. To let my ego get bruised a bit by acknowledging that maybe I’m not quite ready to throw myself into family violence or crisis work just yet.

But…maybe I am. Maybe that’s the the wonderful thing about placement, that you get to experience a field and a workplace while still clearly being defined as a learner, not a member of staff. Maybe I won’t know how strong I am, and what skills and talents I have, until I throw myself in and try to swim.

I was speaking about this yesterday with the Wise Woman*- basically asking, do you think I can handle this? Am I strong enough?- and she made it very clear that if I was going to do a placement in these fields, I needed to have strong supports around me, and I needed to use them. Again, pretty confronting for the part of me that finds it really hard to accept that, no matter how self-relient I think I am, I’m really just like everyone else. Even the carers need care, the supporters need to be supported.

Sometimes the best way for me to digest such a foreign idea- self care? pffft!- is to be harsh. As in, I’m no good to anybody if I burn out before I even get my degree. I can’t sit with somebody in crisis if I have no boundaries and take on all of their emotions. I can’t support other people work through their shit unless I’m committed to working through my own. I can’t model compassion for others if I don’t have any for myself.

So, I’m thinking about it. I’m listing the things I need from a placement- a space to learn, good supervision, time to debrief when needed, flexible hours to allow me to continue accessing outside support- and I’m calling on the advocate inside me, the one who fights so well for others, to come and bat for me for a while. I hope that will be enough to get me started while I learn how to do this thing called life.

 

 

*The Wise Woman is my current ‘therapeutic person’, after a number of false starts with psychiatrists/ psychologists. The Victorian public mental health service system is a complex beast (a whole other post!) but basically it didn’t meet my needs and so I now get my support and help outside of it.

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