8 October 2019

Rainbow Shirt Guy

On Father's Day this year, I took my daughters to a rally in Sydney in support of the Priya, Nades and their daughter who have been taken into detention by the Australian government and are currently incarcerated on Christmas Island. Their crime? They came to Australia as refugees by boat.

Their story is one of many in what is going to be another dark part of Australia's history someday. In the meantime, it's a rotten part of our present where our political leaders trade innocent lives and spin their xenophobia into government policy in return for votes. They are aided in this by an insidious media and most potently, the apathy of the Australian public, who buy into the fear mongering and turn a blind eye to Australia's blatant disregard for the human rights of so very, very, very many people.

History has taught us time and time again that what your government will do to others is what they will do to you given the chance or the motivation.

But you know my views on this. This particular rally was replicated around the country in major cities and smaller towns. Those that turn up to these rallies are often seasoned protesters who turn up, ever hopeful that change will occur, but equally cynical that anyone listens. The #backtobilo rallies were a combination of seasoned campaigners, and newbies. All people advocating, agitating even, for compassionate leadership.

We know that public activism works. People need to lift their voices, block roads, chant slogans and march in progress to achieve change. It is what has happened for generation upon generation. Activism and change are complex beasts, full of new language to encompass emerging ideas, and often a process of introspection and amplification existing alongside each other.  Allies can not be silent, they must add their voices both humbly and loudly. People without lived experience need to learn to listen and to support, and people with lived experience need to share what are often painful stories in order to educate and inform.  It is not a linear process. It is not an easy process. There is no 'right' way.

Change doesn't happen instantly. One does not wake up one morning aware that one has benefited from a position of privilege and that one has a responsibility to use that in support of those without. It is a challenging of your own truths. The commitment to learning more. The sloughing off of long held beliefs. It's starting a conversation that nobody is interested in having. It's being part of dialogues that inspire you and shame you, even as you become better educated. Change is realising that you can never be perfect. That you have made and will continue to make mistakes.

It's learning that your gut instinct is your learned response. It is the series of truths ingrained in you before you even knew. Change is that second response, the one that pulls up the first response and demands that it explains itself.  Change is knowing the difference between sympathy and empathy.  Change is knowing that a world that only works for you is no kind of world at all. It's a cocoon, shielding you from reality.

Following the rally, the girls and I headed off to get on with 'real life', the one where they live safely. And freely. We get a late lunch from McDonalds before we get on the train. We've still got our banners, the girls are still asking endless questions, trying to understand why we lock up refugees. I had no good answers, who does?

In the row in front of us, there is a man I recognised had also attended the rally.  He had rainbow coloured tshirt with a great quote on which was a broader version of my favourite #dontbeadick mantra. It is also a sign of my age that I would describe him as a young man.  Some other people bordered the train and one older guy engaged 'rainbow shirt guy' in conversation. In a few stops, it became clear that older guy had differing view.

'Rainbow shirt guy' (I do know his name by the way), and I started chatting. The rally had been his first one, a public flexing I suppose of his emerging internal belief system. We had a great chat until we got to our stop and went our separate ways. I told the girls as we walked along that going to a rally on your own was a really hard thing to do, especially if you're the first of your tribe to do so, and that I hoped they would remember 'Rainbow shirt guy' when they were older and that if they really believed in something, they'd have the courage to step out of the comfort zone and stand up for what they believe in. Even if their friends didn't see the point. 

People like 'Rainbow shirt guy' always impress me. Young people are getting so much braver, are discovering their voices younger and they manifest that in so many different ways when they come to building a better world, not just for themselves, but for all of us.

Last week I discovered the following message in my blog inbox (Yes, I should check it more often).  And I don't mind admitting that I cried.  It is an incredibly humbling message. I don't profess to be perfect. I'm trying as hard as I can. And sometimes, sometimes I wonder whether I make any difference at all. To anyone. Or anything.

But it reminds me so strongly that all of us are changing. And all of us are doing our best.  And I thank J so much for his wonderful words, and the fact that he took the time to write to me, and remind me that it is worth it. We all play our part in making the world a better place.  So I hope he one day he reads this blog again and know that people like him can, and will change the world. Thank you.

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1 August 2019

Ten. Whole. Years.

When my husband and I got married 10 years ago, we were under no illusion that marriage would be easy.  While we fancied the pants off each other from the beginning, there was no part of our relationship that was seamless, because each step of it had to be weighed up against questions from bureaucrats, endless paperwork and money.

We'd been together for five years by the time we got married and we'd lived in different countries, spent small fortunes on a variety of different visas so we could stay together in the same country, spent hours discussing whether we were right for each other when we had nothing in common and so forth, and so on, ad nauseam.

We'd covered off the all questions asked in every marriage counselling course from the top of the globe to the bottom. We talked about how our families dealt with disagreements so we were aware of the learned behaviours we'd bring to the relationship. We'd discussed whether or not we wanted kids and what kind of parents we wanted to be. We'd explored the different kinds of ways we spoke of, and demonstrated, love.

We had shared stories of exes, talked about what we wanted from life, agreed on the appropriate way to deal with envelopes that had windows, explained to his mother I hadn't been married previously - the email address was just wishful thinking about me and Colin Firth.  We'd spent hours on religion, careers, travel, music, tv and movies. We'd agreed that I was the funnier one.

Most importantly, along with love, there was trust and friendship. I genuinely liked my guy.

And ten years on. I still do like, love and trust him.

He also drives me completely spare in ways that I couldn't begin to imagine when we said "I will."

Children dramatically alter the dynamic of a relationship when they are real humans and not hypothetical beings. The strength of feeling you have for these small beings that you created together bonds you together in a way that you could not have imagined. You learn to appreciate things about your partner that you never would have realised until you saw him with his own children.

You also have less tolerance for his idiosyncrasies now that there are more people in the relationship. And he has less tolerance for yours. You compete to prove who is the most tired as you juggle full time parenting with full time work and struggle to find time for full time partnering.

Date nights segue from movie nights and dinners to pizza in front of the television. Your long texts and emails about how much you love each other become brief kisses at the end of the messages asking them when the hell they are going to be home. You register that sometimes you only get to say "I love you", not show them.

You cover off redundancies. Job changes. Depression. Ill family members. The deaths of friends. The death of family members. Broken limbs. Families visiting. Visiting families. Friendships. Stressful work. Starting your own businesses. Brain bleeds. You tell the same stories you've always told. You add new ones. You find things to laugh about. You enjoy a night out. You play to your strengths. You play to their strengths. You value the friends that mind your children so you can catch a movie. You are thankful for the community that rallies around. You adore whoever invented smart phones as you snap photo after photo, memory after memory. You wish you were in more of the photos. Sometimes it feels like you don't have time to enjoy anything, just note it down for later so you can savour it when you have the elusive 'time to yourself'.

And then just like that. Ten years have passed. We are both exactly the same people that got married that cold day in Gundaroo. And we are vastly more.  We are both more aware of how two people that love each other can lift each other up. And we are both more aware of how two people that love each other can wound each other. We have grown in ourselves as much as we have grown together. There are things he likes that I don't. There are things that I like that he will never like. There is so much we share and agree on. There has been a lot of laughter. There has been tears. We are both agreed that me not dying this year was a good thing. We value the people we have in our lives that like and love us for who we are. We value each other. We still agree that I am the funniest one.

We argued recently. Angrily, loudly on my part, quietly but no less determinedly on his part. We made up. And I was reminded just one short week out from our ten years that there is still nobody I would rather talk to when my husband pisses me off than.... my husband.

He is my best friend. The person that drives me most insane. The man that makes my world a better place for being in it. He is the mirror that reflects the best of me back to me. The man that has my back no matter how imperfectly human I am.

Happy 10th anniversary to my beautiful man.

PS: I'm glad we're Facebook friends.

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31 July 2019

Bits, Butts and Brains

Exploding bits - UNEXPLAINED!!!

Exploding butt - UNEXPLAINED!!!

Exploding brain - UNEXPLAINED!!!

It’s official. We have a hat trick! 

Things we DO know though on the last day of July 2019:
  1. An unidentifiable number of strangers have seen me naked this year.
  2. Medical staff use their iPhone cameras to examine you these days and not torches. It was weird the first time and it remains weird the 3874848th time too.
  3. We need to talk more about bits and butts and brains. I am able to confirm when you’ve talked about yours as much as I have had to talk about mine this year there is ZERO embarrassment factor by the end of it. Well not for you, your audiences will still squirm with embarrassment or giggle when you mention YOUR UNMENTIONABLES.
  4. It doesn’t matter how well you look after your body or how badly you treat it - the theory of random chaos applies to who ends up in hospital with something.
    I have met all types this past few months and a lot of them were smug healthy arsehats who were very pissed off that having eaten the right things, exercised, thought happy thoughts and so on, their brains broke or their insides let them down. Sure you can do things which are good for you and that is a good thing - but it doesn’t get you a free pass to old age.
  5. More medical specialists need to revise #dontbeadick 101. Being hospital is really scary and just because it’s business as usual for them doesn’t mean it is for you. People want answers and explanations, not two minutes with your registrar while you bark into your phone about another patient. We get that you’re busy, just remember you are in the business of ‘care’.
  6. Your tribe has your back.  Every single time. Thank them and then pay it forward.
  7. The essentials for going to hospital are (in no particular order) - an extension cord, your phone charger, your phone, clean undies and t-shirt, flip-flops, toothbrush and toothpaste.  This is true whether you are having a baby, pre-cancerous lesions removed, invasive procedures or a stroke.  You can cope with anything if you can text somebody to bitch about it. But its easier to cope with clean teeth.
  8. You need a good GP. And if you're the kind of idiot that doesn't visit doctors - know that my life expectancy is better than yours now that I didn't die because I will be visiting that darling woman anytime something goes even remotely pear-shaped. Not going to the doctor is not a status symbol. It's a sign that you're an idiot who doesn't look after themselves because they can't say 'bottom' to a stranger.
  9. Be an organ donor.
  10. Give blood. Regularly. 
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15 July 2019

Self love and precious scars

I've been a people pleaser all my life.  It sounds like a lovely thing to be, but the inherent desire to please others is nothing at all to do with being a good person. It's closely aligned with low self esteem, a desire to be what others want you to be, to mould yourself into something others find acceptable.  It's to always assume that for others to like you, you need to be something other than yourself. It's internalised messaging working against your best interests in every single way.  It is measuring your worth, your success, your intelligence and your abilities against the nebulous opinions of others.

And I've spent the best part of 44 years doing that. I can never recall a time in my life where I didn't think I had to be more than what I was to be truly loveable.

Which is fucking tragic when you think about it.

At the very least (which is actually everything) I have a husband and two daughters who think the sun shines out of my considerable backside.  I also have a wonderful tribe of people across the globe who like, and love me, in all my glorious imperfection.

Just as I like, and love them, in all their glorious imperfections.

Yet, when you have a brain bleed, in fact a stroke of any kind, it leaves scarring in your brain. That scarring impacts different things depending on where it's located, but the brain is a wily little bugger and it creates new pathways as best it can to get everything going again as close to 'before' as it can.

I feel very much like as my brain was forging new pathways, it got to that people pleasing bit, went "WTAF ALISON????" and promptly marched straight past it. 

In the last few months I've been setting boundaries like I've been doing it all my life. I don't have to change who I am to be accepted. I don't have to put in the effort to stay connected to those that want to be connected to me. There is literally no compulsion in me to put myself on fire to keep other people warm.

Source: Bridget Jones' Diary

I've been owning my experience, my knowledge, my space. I have even said 'no' to things I don't want to do or be involved in. I'm surrounding myself with the people who want me to succeed and who believe in me, the same way I believe in them.

I have been wary of this 'new' me. It has felt out of character, perhaps not to be trusted, how does it fit along the high functioning depression I live with. Is it to be believed?  I've poked it and prodded it. I took it to my psych to talk about it and she said that it was the most positive act of self love she'd seen from me in the 9 years we've been talking. 

"Self love?" I queried. "Am I not just being selfish?"

And the answer is no. Self love is regard and well-being for yourself.  Selfish is having no consideration for other people. I have, as always, lots of consideration for other people - it's just for the first time since forever, that consideration is not coming at the expense of my own emotional well-being and that of those I hold most dear.

I remain imperfect. I have been thinking of this period of growth as a version of the Japanese art of Kintsugi - the art of precious scars. Where the bits of me that have broken are not something to be hidden away. That in fact, in the healing of the scars, the filling in of the broken bits has left me stronger, and more beautiful in many ways.

I'm loveable.

Who knew eh? Who fucking knew? #slowlearner

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20 May 2019

Fair go or ego?

Somebody asked me on Sunday how I felt because 'I lost' when the coalition won on Saturday night.

Let me be clear about something.

I didn't lose anything.

I'm a white, middle class, female in a heterosexual relationship. I have two daughters, both my husband and I have jobs, we have access to healthcare, education and all the other stuff that makes life relatively easy in a first world country.

The only way I could possibly be better off is to be male.  And a lottery win would be nice.

Let me repeat this because I think it's really important - I didn't lose anything.

I didn't vote to improve anything for me or my family. We are already sitting pretty because of the system - by and large, the system works for us.

I am heartbroken and devastated because maintaining the status quo might be good for the economy but it's devastating for us as a society.
"The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members"
I'll be honest - I don't understand how we can say we don't 'like' Bill Shorten and yet vote in Dutton, Christensen and Joyce. I don't understand how we can vote in a government that has repeatedly demonstrated it's unreliability, traded in cruelty, trashed our economy, had us formally recognised as a country that consistently violates human rights.

I don't understand how people can say they don't want to pay taxes. That's what you do, that's how a functioning society works - that is what pays for our roads, our politicians, our art, our culture, our healthcare, our defence forces, all the bits that we like to complain about when they are not working efficiently. Which they can only do if we pay taxes.

I don't understand how so many of the parties on the voting slip were so blatantly racist or focussed on only one issue and we somehow thought that was okay. I don't know how Queenslanders voted for the companies that are going to destroy that which they are most famous for - beaches, great barrier reef, rainforests. 

I don't understand how one man spent $60 million dollars on a campaign just to get the current government back in, when he could have used that same $60 million dollars to do good things that would have genuinely made Australia great again. 

I don't understand a lot.  And not because I don't try. I've travelled, I've volunteered, I've talked to people whose views and experiences are comprehensively different to mine. I read far beyond my comfort zone, I researched every single party before I voted and that included reading a lot of policies that made me feel sick.

I really really wanted Labor to win over the Coalition. I did. I'm not going to deny that. I liked that they played a steady game and told us what they were going to do. I didn't agree with all of it. I never will. Because a government should be working towards what is best for the whole, not the individuals. Truth is, it's been a long time since that happened - so maybe we've forgotten how to live in a country whose government is about governing and not about personal power.

I didn't vote for change because I need it. I voted for change because I can see that Australia needs it. We need to be better at caring for the environment, for refugees, our elderly, our Indigenous Australians, our children, our women, our queer folk, our farmers, our businesses... for everybody and everything basically.

I am not heartbroken for me. I'm heartbroken for a country that prides itself as being the land of the fair go, when it's not. It is the land of the ego. What is in it for ME, for ME, for ME, for ME?

Gough Whitlam summed it up in a piece he wrote for the London Daily Telegraph in 1989 when he said "The punters know that the horse named Morality rarely gets past the post, whereas the nag named Self-interest always runs a good race."

And so I ask myself now - when my heart genuinely aches when I think of how many people are going to be genuinely affected by the return of the Coalition to government - the people who will die, the people who will be incarcerated, the people who will be traumatised and persecuted, and the opportunities and minds that will be forever lost to Australia - what can I do?

Probably channel my inner Gough and contain to maintain both my rage and my enthusiasm. I need to stay mad at the inequality and the injustice, I need to maintain my enthusiasm for change, and most of all, I need to retain my belief that people are inherently good.

Change does not have to wait for a change of government. If we continue to speak for those who are voiceless, or have lost heart, if we maintain the rage on behalf of those who have been beaten down, if we enthusiastically campaign and advocate for change, if we believe we can - anything, anything is possible.

ScoMo need not be the only person to believe in miracles.
It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. (Fredrick Douglass)
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7 May 2019

Dear New Mum

The Western Sydney University has this great initiative called the "Mother’s Day Letters Project". It came to my attention via a friend studying to be a midwife. The project is about supporting new mums and promoting resilient motherhood.

And my one piece of advice from me to every new mother I meet since I become a mum myself is "trust yourself". But the project was asking for letters - so a letter I wrote.  Mine is below, but if you want to take part in the project you can do so RIGHT HERE. This is in no way sponsored or anything interesting like that - I just like the idea of coming together and supporting new mums before they get sucked into the vortex that is 'online mothers groups' or 'in my day...' or any of the other well meaning advice that doesn't take into account the exquisite individuality of each and every child and associated parenting experience.

My daughters aged 1 and 0.
Dear New Mum,

Trust yourself.

You have just spent a number of months growing this small human inside you. Depending on the kind of person you are you have either turned to family for all their advice, read all the books, joined every forum, faithfully read all the things the nurses or doctors or doulas have recommended. Maybe all of the above. You have bought all the things you need, and all sorts of things you will never need. And now, now you’re a mum.

You have birthed that baby by pushing it out of you or by having somebody slice you open and then stitch you up. Either way, you’ve just done something magnificent – you grew a human. Like seriously – all on your own. Sure, you got some help getting it started but in the end – who is the legend that did most of the work? YOU.

So trust yourself.

Nobody is an expert at raising a child. Not your mum, your friends, your sisters, aunts, cousins, nor the woman offering advice from the next bed who is up to her 68th child. No medical professional is an expert. No baby guru. No author. No midwife. No nurse. Nobody.

So trust yourself.

Babies just need love, food and regular changing. They have no agenda. They can’t be manipulated into behaving into a certain way unless that’s how they go naturally. Good sleepers are just sleepy babies. Good eaters are just hungry. Babies that sleep through the night from 2 days older are mainly mythical creatures who will cause their parents grief in different ways further down the track.

So trust yourself.

Nobody is going to love that baby like you. Despite their relentless opposition to learning to speak in the womb, that baby of yours will learn to communicate with you. Initially it all just sounds like crying. And it still will for a couple of years but generally if you pick them up and cuddle them, or feed them, or change their butt – they’ll quieten down. You will learn when a small smile is your baby farting or actually smiling. You will learn the little cues they offer up. Because you love them, you’ll work it out.

So trust yourself.

If you are having a really crappy time and you feel sad and down and you’re not enjoying it – that’s not you being a bad parent. That’s your brain. Go and speak to the doctor – get some help whether its medication, or a therapist, or a massage. You are a good parent. You’re a great mum. Being tired all the time is a given. Being sad all the time is your brain being an arsehat.

So trust yourself.

I have never met you. I probably never will. But I know this – your child might sleep perfectly for three months and cry for the next or all the other things that you will spend time feverishly googling to see whether or not they are normal - but they are doing things right on schedule for them. And no matter what happens, whether they are diagnosed with ‘a thing’ or they cruise through the first year like the poster child for children, the only thing you can be sure about is that you know your child better than anyone.

So trust yourself.

You will lose time marvelling at their tiny toes or weird dimples. You will see beauty where others see one of those weird fur-less cats. You will marvel at your child’s uniqueness - just like everybody else. You will discover that wiping poop off your shirt is not as gross if it comes from somebody you grew. You will marvel at the fact that you just whipped snot out of your child’s nose with your own two fingers (which you know is totally disgusting but the tissue box was out of reach and buggered if you were moving).

So trust yourself.

Loving your child is an evolving process. Just when you think you are at breaking point, they smile, or giggle, or just look at you as if you are the most wondrous thing they have ever seen and all of a sudden, it’s bearable again. Loving a child is a visceral experience. Go with your gut every time. You are never wrong. Yes, even now. Right now, when you think you don’t know anything.

Trust yourself.

You. Yes you. You are a perfect mum. Just as you are.

Much love

Me x

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3 May 2019

Old correspondence feels

Last weekend I spent a pleasant couple of hours sorting through a box which I have moved many times over the last twenty years but never unpacked.

It was full of old correspondence from my late teens into my late twenties.

Birthday cards, letters, invitations to weddings, invitations to birthdays, invitations to christenings, postcards from friends and family, blank valentine cards from my long term mystery admirer (my dad) that had arrived every year without fail, short notes from my Grandpa and assorted elderly relatives who have long since passed away.

As I sorted through it, I chuckled at the various assortment of couplings that had occurred within my friendship group that I could track through the shared signatures at the bottom of cards, but that ended with wedding invitations that I dug up deeper in the box.

I got all teary at the letters from my baby sister. I moved out of home when she was 8 and I was 18 and her letters are the sweetest things, detailing the minutiae of her life as well as big announcements about what was going on at school and with other siblings.

The postcards from my friends and family travelling the world. The different perceptions of the same cities. The different priorities when they travelled. Their different adventures and loves scrawled in cramped script with my various addresses squeezed into a square and partially covered with a stamp. A long letter from a friend that died unexpectedly a couple of years ago poignantly recalled his particular style of storytelling and brought him fleetingly alive again. 

There were other clues to the end of the last century and the beginning of this one. The different styles of wedding invites over the years, the more sophisticated printing styles for the 21sts. The letters that people enclosed in their annual Christmas cards summarising the last 12 months for you - sometimes accurately and sometimes not.

The long letters from friends living and working abroad. Sorry letters. Love letters. Cards made out to me and boyfriends who always seemed like the one. Some postcards written by me to others and returned to me so that I 'could keep the memory' which I always thought strange since I kept travel journals.

There are newspaper clippings featuring me or people I know. Old departmental newsletters. Memes from the olden day of faxes. Newspaper or magazine articles that clearly resonated at the time but for which I have no memory now of why. Appointment letters for jobs and other positions. Christmas and birthday cards from people whose names no longer spark any recognition. Congratulations cards. Bon Voyage cards.

The departmental pass I had lost so never handed back in. Some IOUs. Some photographs of babies who are now older than the parents that took the original photograph. Plane tickets. Movie tickets. Itineraries. A badge from the US Air-Force. Part of a love letter written to me by somebody now dead. Four cloth badges featuring 'Condoman' from some long forgotten safe sex campaign.

Some beautiful cards and letters from people that cared for me and saw my strengths long before I ever learned to appreciate them.  All carried from city to city, from house to house. 

image source: my heritage blog

It is not just me that is still hugely interested in the lives of our families and friends. We still want to know what is going on, stay connected.  We use email, social media, chat forums, share photos digitally. We are just doing it differently. Invitations are sent via email, websites are set up for weddings and we have family WhatsApp groups to keep people connected since they no longer live around the corner and can pop by for Sunday night dinner.

There are positive and negatives to both. I enjoyed sifting through the box, marvelling at what version of me thought keeping a Christmas card from my then chiropractor a good idea. I recycled a bunch of the cards - from people I didn't recall, and even from people I did but who are no longer part of my life and whose words no longer hold the meaning they did. 

But I enjoy the immediacy of communication these days and I love a daily remember of what I was doing this time a year ago, six years ago, ten years ago. I love seeing my girls' faces on the couch beside me as we look at younger versions of themselves, or recall funny things they said and I had shared. I have saved every email from the guy who turned out to be the one and I have over 29,000 photos on my phone alone which allows me to be nostalgic without sneezing through a dusty box.

I like scrolling through photos of my friends and families lives - the good, the bad, the ugly and the occasionally questionable. I love seeing the faces of babies turn into toddlers turn into children even though they all live on the other side of the world. I love hearing about people's holidays or being able to send support and love when the world is an arse.  I love the immediacy of the news and being able to share or save or the output of my accomplished and clever friends.

Basically, I like my tribe and staying connected to all the wonderful people in it.  Both old and new.

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4 April 2019

Too much and not enough

Little one. I see you and my heart explodes. It also aches for you sometimes.

You're only seven and already the world is busy telling you how you are too much and not enough.

You're too loud. Too noisy. Too exuberant. Too talkative. Too energetic. Too everything.

Except for when you're not.

Then you're not paying attention. You're not listening. You're not focussing. You're not doing as you are told. You're not conforming. 

Because this is what it is all about. 

The world wants you to be what they are comfortable with and your natural self doesn't pay any attention to what the world is comfortable about.

You are energy. You are joy. You are rage. You are loud. You are loving. You are kind. You are emphatic. You are fierce. You are just the way you are supposed to be.

And yes that self - that self - can be a right pain in the arse sometimes. It can drive your parents to distraction and your beloved sister to tears of frustration.

Ignore us until we learn to live alongside your beautiful you. Ignore any person at all that tries to make you into a different, quieter, smaller you. Never let your true self be dimmed. Not one iota. You can wear what you damn please. Be as loud as you want. You can say no. You can demand the world be better suited to people like you who know what they want and when they want it. 

Be as fierce, as joyful, as deliciously gleeful as you want. You can be mad, you can be cranky, you can be loud. You can change your mind as often as you want. 

Just don't change you. 

Your true self might be too much and not enough for some but your true self is a beautiful thing to behold. You are at heart curious and compassionate. You look for reasons to like people. You want to share every experience in all its details with all your friends. You have empathy and a fierce sense of justice. Your commitment, love and loyalty to your sister is wondrous to behold. Your heart might sometimes be furious but it is ever so loving. That's a gift my girl. A true gift. 

You will need to earn to walk softly when you feel like stomping and to utter polite words rather than hurl profanities as you age. Compromise is part of life. We need to adapt our behaviour and fit in with the world sometimes. That's just part of being on a planet with 7 billion other people who are all completely individual. But never, and I mean NEVER, at the expense of your true self. Always seek out people that love you for the you that you are, not a version of yourself that other people find more palatable or more socially acceptable. 

Never stop asking why when we ask you to do something that makes no sense. Never stop that wonderful ability to lose yourself in a moment or a task that looks like you're not paying attention when we want you to do something else. Never stop questioning. Never change who you are 'just because', and never change because somebody wants you to do things differently. And that includes us your family as well as society at large.

I admire your tenacity and your joy. As your mama, I'm going to try so hard to let you be just the way you are for always. I never want you to doubt yourself, to second guess yourself or to live with the lack of self esteem that comes when you are not allowed to be who you truly are. 

You are loved in every single way, every single day. 

You are neither too much nor are you not enough.

You are perfect just the way you are. 

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22 March 2019

So. I had a brain haemorrhage

An acute right sided deep small to moderate sized intracerebral haemorrhage in fact.

A stroke.

Or as the Germans call it - a schlagenfall.

I had it on the first Sunday of March. I woke up with a headache and a stiff shoulder and painkillers did nothing to relieve it. An hour later, I vomited violently in the downstairs bathroom and then was hit with a headache so severe I don't have the words to describe it.

It was like the hounds of hell were repeatedly striking me on the back of the head with an iron bar. Each wave of pain coming so closely on the back of the previous I couldn't catch my breath. In fact, I was trying not to breathe as that seemed to be the only thing that could possibly stop it. It was relentless. I lay on the bathroom floor wishing for oblivion.

I could hear my daughter crying and there was nothing, but nothing I could say to make it okay because at that stage I didn't know what 'it' was.

The ambulance came. The paramedics started talking strokes. I'm 44.

What's my pain level out of 10? Eleventy billion. Possibly higher.

Into the ambulance. Insert canula. Morphine.

First to one hospital. CT scans. Lots of words like brain bleed. Haemorrhages. Transferred to second hospital into the neuro ICU. More CT scans. More canulas. An AV line. Tests. Then an angiogram. Eventually the MRI scan.

They take blood. They ask questions. How's your blood pressure normally? (Fine - being a blood donor means I'm across these stats like a legend - my BP is generally perfect). Are you diabetic? (No) Do you smoke? (not since 1 February 2006). Do you take cocaine? (No). Have I ever? (No)

Are you sure about all of the above. Over and over again - yes. I offer up everything I can think of - I'm a booze hound (that's not a good thing and you shouldn't be but that hasn't caused this), my grandfather's great niece has Takayasu's Arteritis (nah, too far removed), I have had an unexplained abscess in my backside (hmmm... inflammation but no), depression (nope), I was feeling particularly upset the night before it happened (ah... nope).

All the surgeons are in agreement. I've definitely had a brain haemorrhage. But nobody knows why.

Smile for your visitors. Be polite to the nurses and doctors. Brave face for family and friends. Save the crying for my own time. Crying hurts my head. The facts are starting to filter through the fog.

I'm fucking terrified.

Only around 10% of strokes are haemorrhagic - which roughly means caused by a bleed rather than a clot.

The survival rate for a haemorrhagic stroke is around 30-40%. Compared to an ischemic stroke (the common one) which has a survival rate of 85%.

So that's good news. I've beaten the odds.

I ask for more painkillers. I might be alive but I still have a pool of blood sitting in the basal ganglia part of my brain waiting for the body to do it's thing and reabsorb the blood. In the meantime - it hurts.

Apologise to your husband for scaring the bejeezus out of him. Make bad jokes about how English people cope in a crisis. You say 'Pip Pip' and 'Lets queue' and you both cry together. You promise not to do anything daft ever again. He laughs because he's been married to you for almost ten years and he knows that's a promise you are not qualified to make.

They send me home. Rest and recuperation and we'll see you again when the bleed clears up. No driving. No flying. Cancel your work. Don't be worried about no answers. Be thankful you're not dead. This kind of thing kills people you know.

Yes. I got that. Thank you. My typical black humour has not abandoned me but this phrase is starting to make me stabby.

Currently my bleed is defined as 'cryptogenic' which is a fancy way the medical fraternity say "I don't have any fucking idea why this happened." They've taken vials and vials of blood. I have to have another MRI next month once the bleed goes down so they can see if it was hiding something. Say a tumour or a melanoma. But they don't think so, they think it's just bad luck.

I didn't need them to throw in other options. Google is getting quite the work out as I try and work out what they have said versus what they have meant versus what they didn't say out loud but is in my notes. I write down my questions for next time. Why the referral to rheumatology? What are we looking for now?

The specialists say... The face drop will go (could've been worse Al). The weakness in your left arm should pass (but hold off replacing those broken glasses and vases until you know for sure) Your vision should go back to normal (and if it doesn't get new glasses). Your words will come back to you. The fatigue will pass.  Give it time. How much time? As long as it takes. Maybe 3 months. Maybe more. They say they understand it's frustrating. But I should be thankful I'm not dead.

Yes. Thank you doctors. I've got that bit. I've beaten the odds.  I'm not dead. I have gotten off lightly.

They warn of personality changes - I might be more emotional (my poor husband I think). I might say or act in ways that are different from before. It might be that I have permanent physical changes. Just rest. Just remember - no straining, no lifting, try and avoid extreme emotional responses. Sure. Fine. How long for? As long as it takes. 3 months. Maybe more.

I still have no answers. There is nothing I can control. Nothing I can change which limits the possibility of this happening again. The median age for a person suffering a stroke of this kind is 86 years old.  They rarely suffer a second stroke.

Possibly because they're dead from old age. I've got 42 years to go before I'm supposed to get this kind of stroke. I think to myself, how strange is it that just two years ago that this same brain was full of suicidal ideologies, that I saw my death as my only useful contribution. And now this same brain, this same brain wants so desperately to live. This brain wants to feel like it has some control, that they are doing something actively, changing something permanently, being responsible for not having another brain bleed.

I'm still finding it hard to process. It's been three weeks. I am starting to get out and about again. I am still feeling very vulnerable and highly emotional. I drop the children at school and then get a lift home. Talk to friends. Potter about doing things that need doing. It's still restful compared to my normal pace. I have to relinquish control of many things to my husband. I don't have the energy or if I'm honest, the capacity. I have to work - we have bills and I don't get paid if I don't work. While speaking to a client I lose all my words, my brain refuses to function. I have to apologise and reschedule. I cry. Again. I'm still an ugly crier. Some people just can't catch a break. At least I can still laugh at myself.

In 36 hours it'll be three weeks since my brain haemorrhage didn't kill me. It's another 4 weeks until we can check out what the bleed is doing. I'm moving forward while going nowhere. It's like walking up the down escalator. I wait. We wait.

I'm more comfortable helping than being helped. I'm not comfortable with platitudes. Unexpected kindness makes me cry. I find being frank about it helps. I end up reassuring people. I am ever so appreciative for the food, the flowers, the fruit and the Facebook love.

I don't have the words to express my thanks to the friends that are in touch, that help out, that follow through, that make me laugh, that let me cry over and over again. They don't tell me it's okay. They nag me about rest. I admire my mother's superhuman efforts not to nag me and to remain upbeat when she calls.  Dad and I talk in reassuring shorthand and play Words with Friends. I tell my wider family that I love them because life is short.

It's been such a short time. It's been such a long time.


And survived. And all is the same and all is different.

This is recovery.

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  PS: Strokes - all the cool kids are doing them: Emilia Clarke's Story