Saturday, October 17, 2015

Now we are five

There are certain dates that mark time for me.  I always like to write to see where I am when this number on the calendar rolls around.  Yesterday was one of those days.  Peter and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.  As someone who never thought she'd get married, it's been interesting to see how I feel each year as I go along this journey.

Someone I work with is getting married today, so there has been a lot of talk about weddings and marriage in recent days.  Some of our team are long timers.  Married for between 15 and 30 plus years.  They joked, asking why would anyone do it, and 'it's not too late to back out'.  There was discussion of separate beds meaning people had their own space, but separate houses would be ideal.  One person commented, saying her 25 years of marriage was like climbing a mountain.  She has reached the top and now wondered why she was there.

On the other side there was my boss.  She had to travel to another country last year to be able to marry her partner, as gay marriage isn't legal here.  We spoke later about our own marriages.  She commented how amazing the feeling is when everything still feels fresh and new, but old and like you've always know each other. I smiled.  I have written these words (almost word for word) in previous posts around the 16th October.  It made us wonder what happens to you to become one of the 'it's not too late to back out' brigade.  Does time inevitably weary all relationships?

I talked to Peter about this yesterday.  He said 'but when you meet the right person you don't have any choice, you have to be with them'.  And this sums up what it felt like meeting Peter six years ago.  He felt like home.  I couldn't let him slip away and I'm thrilled that it seems he felt the same about me.  He smiled at me and said he had promised me a wild and crazy ride.  Laughing we both agreed more wild and less crazy would be good at this point.  After weeks and months of ups and downs and stress and tears and heartache because life is so fucking hard sometimes, I stopped and looked into the face I adore.  We smiled at each other.  Perhaps the first five years are the hardest?

Over celebratory cocktails last night I said how much being with him has changed me.  I can recommend marrying the president of your fan club.  Being told that I can do anything, and receiving texts telling me I'm amazing, actually makes me brave.  Perhaps by someone else believing in me, pushing me forward, I have gained strength and belief.  Also dealing with some quite serious, big adult stuff in the last five years has also made me stronger.  In so many ways Peter teaches me things about myself.

Peter said without me he probably wouldn't have been diagnosed and medicated.  I had to ask if this was a good thing, jokingly.  He said it was better than some potential alternatives.  Perhaps I push him forward too?  I think in essence we have unerring belief in each others abilities.  And for two self loathing Gen Xers, it's quite a surprising place to find ourselves in.  Thank goodness for dumb luck and chance meetings.

So at five years it feels like life is hard. Love is the easy bit.  The last few days have reminded me how important it is to stop every so often and put the stress aside.  To look at each other and remember how lucky we are to have found the person that changed our lives.  To have a moment of connection, breath deeply and realise you still want to be with this person, as life without them doesn't make any sense.

Now we are five.

I love you Peter

xo

16th October 2010 - Photo thanks to my brother :)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mental

Last week was Mental Health Week, and somehow that seemed pretty fitting.  You see, it's been a tough week.  Tougher than usual.  The universe seemed to be turning the stress levels up to 11.  And in all honesty, I don't think I'm coping very well.

Peter is having a really hard time at his workplace.  So much so, we think they are trying to push him out.  He has said things to me in recent days that have upset me so much.  You see, I do a volunteer role at my workplace (on top of my regular job).  I'm a Discrimination Advisor.  This role has taught me so much and enabled me to assist people with information and help to support them through the difficulty they are having at work.  Complaints don't always fit into the category of discrimination.  Sometimes, actually a lot of the time, it's just really shit behaviour by someone that ends up having people in tears and on the verge of quitting their job.

I've written about Peter's depression and anxiety before.  There are moments when it's not easy for either of us.  But Peter told me this week things managers in his workplace have said to him.  That 'his absenteeism makes things difficult operationally'.  I wish they could see him while he's sick.  Looking wild eyed and with hands shaking.  I wonder if they think he's sitting in beer gardens or reading books under trees.  He's not skiving off; he's trying very hard just to feel ok.  He has run out of sick leave so no longer gets paid if he's sick.  Imagine that stress on top of everything else.

He has asked many times if there can be small accommodations made when he returns from sick leave.  Just a little space to ease him back into the workplace.  Some time to catch up quietly before jumping back into dealing with the public.  Just a day or two.  He was told this 'wouldn't be fair on his colleagues'.  It was this that made my head explode.  I have realised that many people probably don't know or understand their rights within the workplace or place of study.

Most of us think of discrimination in a pretty clear cut way.  But there are two types, direct and indirect.  Direct is quite self explanatory, but indirect is somewhat harder for people to get their heads around.  It's treating everyone equally within a workplace, but this idea of 'treating everyone the same' that disadvantages someone.  eg. making meetings at 5pm would make it difficult for someone with carers responsibilities.  People can ask for 'reasonable accommodations' to be made in their workplace - whether temporary or ongoing.

Some people see this as special treatment.  But I think they should take a step back for one second and think.  Anyone who watched 'Changing Minds' on the ABC would see people with really quite severe mental health issues.  These people are dealing with so much.  It also threw some very interesting statistics at us about mental health in Australia.  45% of all Australians will suffer from a mental health issue during their lifetime.  That's staggering when you think about it.  And anxiety is the most common class of mental disorders.  I do think that mental health is not understood very well, unless you've been one of the 45%.  Most people won't be hospitalised, like in Changing Minds.  Most people just keep battling on every day.  Sometimes struggling, sometimes losing the struggle.

There was a group of us chatting at the pub the other night.  People were commenting on what a great initiative the week of mental health programming was on the ABC.  It's good if people feel less ashamed or stigmatised.  This is a step forward.  But what people really need is support and understanding.  Making small accommodations for people as students or workers can mean the world of difference.  It's not special treatment, it's actually creating a level playing field.  Perhaps this is easier to grasp if your disability is physical.  You can see that someone in a wheelchair needs a ramp or adjustable desk, or people with vision impairments require different software on computers.  But when the disability is invisible it makes it all the more harder.

My role has taught me the power of acknowledgement.  Listening, understanding and seeing if there are things that can be done to help.  Whether small or large, any support is good.  And it can be this that makes all the difference to someone.  A few people have suggested that I need support too.  That in difficult and stressful times we all need someone to help us.  Thinking about how much I've cried this weekend perhaps they are right.  Life is hard.  Some days harder than others.  And right now I'm looking ahead down the road and stressed by what I fear is coming.  So here I am at the end of mental health week thinking about the best way to look after myself.  Watch this space.







Saturday, October 3, 2015

Space and a place

I'm not sure why I am here.  No, that's not an existential question.  I was just asked why I had attended Catherine Deveny's Gunna's Writing Masterclass.  You see, it was bought as a gift for me by my lovely husband Peter.  Maybe he sees something in me that I don't?  I'm scared by natured and something like this has me completely shitscared.  SHIT. SCARED.  Going around the table I explained that I blog.  I'm actually quite proud that I've blogged regularly and consistently for six years.  I write to get stuff out of my head and the process of putting things into words has helped me make sense of thoughts and feelings.  It's a cathartic purge, but also great practice.  Playing with words and language.  Writing for me is forming ideas, getting stuff to fit together like puzzle pieces.  Practice.  Discipline.  Voice.  I can say things in my writing that then allows me to speak it.

Devs then called me an 'amateur writer'. Something sank in my stomach.  While others around the table had no problem calling themselves writers, I did.  Yep, stuck with the idea that only people who do it for a living or are published can call themselves that.  Words. Labels. Judgement.  But perhaps this says more about how I see myself.  Anxious and insecure, the shy awkward girl I was growing up is always just under the surface.  I call myself a high functioning introvert.  When I say this people are surprised.  But I look around me and find that I have gravitated towards people who feel the same.  That someone in life, at any moment, will come and tap us on the shoulder saying 'we've figured out that you don't know what you're doing.  You're a fraud, so just pack up your things quietly and get out'.  The facade of someone with their shit together has been chipped off.

It's always perspective.  We never see ourselves as others see us.  We see the worth in other people but never ourselves.  Self loathing, self critical Gen Xers.  Bless us.  It's a wonder we make it out the front door at all.  But writing has done something unplanned.  I slowly built up the courage to write honestly.  To open myself up, warts and all, heart on sleeve.  I was scared but in this seemingly anonymous online world I was able to push through the fear.  To borrow a cliche, I wrote like no-one was reading.  I wrote purely for myself.  I also realised that if you don't open up, people never get to see the real you.  The 'you' your close friends see.  The 'you' you share with people you trust.

Looking back I can see that insecurity is a theme in many of my blog posts and that self doubt obviously runs deep.  Peter suffers from anxiety and depression.  He knows there is no 'cure' for how he feels, but a book he read spoke of learning to make space for it.  Understand that this is part of who you are and rather than fight it, make room for it within yourself and your life.  And maybe at the ripe old age of 45, through words, I have done just that for myself.  Rather than focus on the 'am I good enough' mantra that has plagued my life, I have found a place to put that insecurity.  I've made space for it.  It's part of who I am but it doesn't have to define or limit me.  The keyboard and screen became an anonymous safe space that gave me courage I didn't know I had.

So where to from here?  I'm not quite sure. I'm not the witty, quirky David Sedaris style writer I wish I was.  But I do love observing people.  How fucking interesting are other people!  I'm not quite the funny and mouthy Caitin Moran style writer either.  But these two have something in common that I adore.  Their pieces that I loved the most are the poignant moments of self reflection, written with honesty and heart.  Showing tragedy and comedy. light and dark. They will continue to inspire me.

The class is done and I'm not quite sure where to go.  Some people wanted to write for themselves or family, some people wanted ultimately to be published.  Maybe from this I can find myself part of the community of Gunnas.  Brave enough to share our writing and see where this leads.  I know one thing for sure, whatever happens, there is space and a place for writing within me.