Senseless

It’s a beautiful Autumn day. The sun is a warm glow on my bare arms and a slight, playful breeze whispers through the stray hairs that have fallen out of my ponytail, tickling the back of my neck.

Birds and  butterflies take a moment’s rest in the leaves of still trees, and the clear, haze-free skies let me see the forests that dig into the small mountains around the town of Eugowra, a 25 minute drive from where I sit.

A town that was supposed to be the site of a wedding that united two families, two hearts, two worlds.

Instead, the two families gathered in a park at Leeton, mourning the loss of the bride-to-be, who was stolen from her fiancé, her family and the world, last Sunday, by a man who felt that he was entitled to take her life.

Her name was Stephanie. She was a school teacher, a friend, daughter, sister. She was a stranger to me,  though not to people i know.

Her killer isn’t worth mentioning.

He isn’t worth remembering.

He’s just one more man whose severe inadequacies led him to believe that his desire to enact the ultimate form of control over a woman, outweighed her desire to exist.

As I sit at the table on my parents’ balcony, feeling the same sun that should have glittered off her wedding dress, I can’t stop the tears from falling, or comprehend the agony her loved ones are now forced to endure for the rest of their lives.

Most of all, I want to reach out to a woman I never knew and tell her how sorry I am that someone hurt her.

Stephanie Scott was a teacher, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a fiancé.

Today, she was meant to be a wife.

A Lofty Dream

I’m really hungry, today, but only for a café breakfast.

I’m not cereal hungry, or toast hungry, or even Work Morning Tea hungry, with their party pies, sausage rolls, cocktail frankfurts and some-kind-of-cheesecake.

No.

I am only hungry for eggs benedict on sourdough, with heaps of hollandaise sauce, chipolatas, fried tomatoes and bacon. Lots and lots of bacon.

I want to sit at a table in the sun, the sound of cutlery clinking onto plates and the crinkle of newspapers being read while people sip coffees and juices and catch up on each other’s news. I want to have a reason to wear something other than my House or Work clothes – perhaps I would even brush my hair. With a brush.

… Okay, with my fingers.

… Okay, so I’d just put it in a ponytail and not even look in the mirror to check that it didn’t have lumps all up in its grill. (It would).

Either way, this is how you’ll find me tomorrow morning, *guything and daughter in tow, fulfilling a dream that used to be my weekly reality…

*Since I can’t call him my husband, I’m too old to have a boyfriend, and ‘partner’ just sounds like we’re lawyers, he’s going to be formally referred to as ‘guything’.

Yeah, ok. That wasn’t home, either.

Well, it appears I can’t sustain rage like I used to.

A few hours in the red room, listening to some blackmetal and I’d exhausted myself.

For someone whose mental illness manifested in hours of imaginary conversations where I always came out the victor (or at least didn’t have my arguments invalidated), it’s really quite strange to realise that that sort of self-therapy no longer works for me.

I know I was just complaining that mental health is a weird place for me to exist, but after that very quick glimpse at the person I used to be on a constant basis, I’m certainly happier living in a world without that chaos.

Besides, how can you really stay angry when you have a daughter who is going through a phase of smiling whilst screwing her nose up and blowing air out of it?

Homecoming

I was only recently saying to a friend that having mental “health”, after three decades of trying to understand my mental illness, is a foreign place, to me.

Mental stability has a sameness to it that has never been part of my life, either as a child or an adult. I’m used to peaks and troughs, constant confusion, the gripping chill of reasonless anxiety. I’m certainly not used to emotional equilibrium.

At first, it was a most welcome state. I was able to deal with any issue that arose in a calm, secure, and controlled manner.

Then it just got kind of boring.

I lost the desire to write. Nothing stirred my passion, anymore. Nothing seemed worth the effort. It appears that my passion is fuelled by rage. By injustice. By bad people who get away with doing bad things to good people.

And that’s why I’m here now, in my old angry home; a place that is red and sharp and full of tiny little pointy things.

I wonder whether I should be concerned that this place makes me feel safe? It’s a place where footsteps need to be considered, because when you step too far inside, it can be quite difficult to leave. But it’s nice, for now. Nice to recognise something of myself.

I know I can’t stay here, I have a wonderful world waiting for me on the other side, but for one day, I’m just going to take a little holiday inside the red, and remind myself why I worked so hard to leave it in the first place.

When Old Becomes New

For many years I had a secret dream. A dream I wouldn’t even voice aloud to myself, not even in the voice that lived inside my head. 

I felt so undeserving of this dream that I brushed it off when it came up in conversation and made self-deprecating jokes about my inability to handle the task purely to hide just how vulnerable it made me feel to want something I felt so incapable of doing.

It’s been two months since my dream came true with the birth of my daughter, and what began as the most terrifying journey soon became a pleasant and happy experience as I grew with confidence in my own ability and in my relationship with my baby.

As weeks went by I began to miss my autonomy, my friends, my ability to just unwind and not be thinking about sterilising bottles or changing nappies, so last Friday my parents watched our daughter and my partner and I joined my friends on a night out – a night that began in all the ways my drinking history has taught me to avoid.

Unsurprisingly to many, I ended up where those historic sessions always found me; 20 odd vodka redbulls later, not able to tell you my own name – In fact, I was probably in the worst shape I’ve ever been, and that’s coming from someone who has given themselves pancreatitis from drinking. 

The day that followed was the most heartbreaking of my life.

It’s a day of new feelings, and of meeting old ones long buried and long forgotten.

I was dizzy, weak, unable to throw up but unable to keep anything down. I couldn’t pick my daughter up without the fear of dropping her. She cried and my partner was the only one who could help her. I couldn’t feed her, change her or bathe her. I couldn’t comfort her and I probably terrified her with the amount of alcohol that was steaming out of my body. My skin was grey, my eyes were bloodshot and my body shook.

I cried most of the day.

I felt physically better the next day (though by no means what you would call “well”), but mentally, I was beginning the sharp descent into the boozeblues.

This is where those old feelings brush up against new feelings.

It has occurred to me in these days that have followed that mentally and emotionally, I am back where I began in motherhood. I don’t have a single ounce of faith in my own ability as a parent as a result of ending up in that same boozetown I swore I had left behind. 

If I fell this far already, when I was enjoying our life so much, what am I going to do when we have actual challenges to face?

It seems my confidence is intrinsically linked to my control over my drinking – when I fail at controlling that, I lose any shred of faith in my ability to function anywhere else in life. All I see is how worthless and useless and selfish I am to not be able to stop, even when something so perfect is waiting to see me the next day.

I’ve spent the past few days with my old friends regret, fear, self-loathing and The Whisperer – she’s the one who speaks to people when they’re at their lowest, looking for ways to stop feeling those ugly feelings about themselves – she sits on your chest, fills up your veins, squeezes your lungs and tiptoes through your mind, kicking dust all over the things you find most precious. 

Now, when my daughter cries, I can’t say what she needs. Until Friday, I was okay with guessing. Now it feels like everything is a guess. It makes me feel small and not good enough for her.

We’ve been talking a lot the past couple of days, my daughter and I. She’s been smiling at me and laughing. Until Friday, those smiles and laughs were just that – a baby’s smiles and laughs. Now part of me aches because she’s too beautiful for me. She’s two months old and I’ve already let her down.

And now I remember why she was my secret dream, because this is what I knew was in me. This is why I knew I’d fail. 

So this is it. This is the memory I need to keep each time I take myself to the bar to buy a drink. I need to remember how this feels, rather than try to forget it.

It’s in the forgetting that we end up having to remember.

I now know

Nineteen days ago, at 6:18pm, my eyes lit upon a piece of my heart that I’d never known had been missing until we met.

She was tiny and perfect and couldn’t possibly be real. Couldn’t possibly be something my partner and I had created.

She couldn’t possibly be a soul that I would be priveleged enough to spend the rest of my days loving in a capacity that is so sacred, you don’t ever understand the infinity of its depth until you step into those same shoes yourself – the shoes of a Mother.

It’s all you hear during pregnancy – “It can’t be described”, “You’ll know it when you feel it”, “It’s different for everyone”.

Those vague responses are all used to describe everything from labour to breastfeeding to the concept of motherhood itself and I’d always found it to be a cop out… until now.

I think the simple truth is that words just aren’t enough. Words have power, but not here.

This place – motherhood – is enormous. It’s terrifying, confusing, depressing, filthy, humiliating, wounding, and wonderful. It heals, it fulfills dreams, it overwhelms and it brings you undone, both in sadness and in a happiness you never thought was possible.

With one wind-powered smile from my daughter, every single scar left open from my past no longer exists. It’s just gone. It doesn’t matter anymore.

And with one pained scream erupting from her sad little mouth, every single fear I’ve ever had in my life comes together in a great wave to crash over me and set my heart racing.

I spend hours staring at the monitor watching her breathe, or counting the wrinkles on her hands – those perfect little hands, so inconceivably small and delicate.

She overwhelms me.

There are so many things about her existence that I never expected…

I never expected pregnancy to be so empowering. I never expected the sight of my giant belly to bring me peace, to make me feel whole – I’d never realised there was a part of me that seemed to need that confirmation that I was, in fact, a woman capable of nurturing life – but it seems I did because pregnancy gave me a confidence I’ve never experienced before – a confidence where truly, nothing really mattered except my family and our security – outside influences, opinions, rumours all went by the wayside and suddenly, I felt capable of anything – if I can nurture life, I can do anything.

I never expected labour to be anything besides painful and undignified. I had no concept of what it would involve – no way to predict the pain – and sure, it certainly was painful. There were moments when the contractions were one after the other, on top of each other, two at once, almost… and in those moments I wanted to give up, to give in – oh god, take me for a c-section, anything to stop this!

… but in those moments I also realised that there was no longer room in my life to do that running away I’d become so good at. Here, now, I had no choice – there’s no going back when you’re in labour – you have to keep going through it, even though it hurts and you’re exhausted… because very soon (you hope), you are going to have to push through the things you don’t want to do on a regular basis. You’re going to have a tiny human who is entirely dependent on you for their survival – there’s no room whatsoever for “I’ll feed them later. I’ll just watch two more episodes of this and then feed them”.

And so the contractions kept coming, and I had to keep breathing. And pushing.

And then she was there, and her father was smiling and I was exhausted, confused, and in love.

Then everyone went home, and it was just Alia and I, alone in our hospital room. I stared at her, marveling at how much she looks like her father. Even her sleep-smile is his.

Then I remembered the needle thing in my arm, and how it was attached to a big walky-around thing which was plugged into the wall because the battery was flat, and it dawned on me…

she was staying in my room with me. Motherhood had begun.

I was exhausted from labour. I’d been unable to keep my eyes open to enjoy her when she was born and now I was only going to get a couple of hours sleep before I had to feed her? Change her?

Suddenly, I was terrified, and had to call the midwife to do it for me until that needle thing was able to be taken out in a few hours.

My first job as a mum and already, I had to get someone else to do it.

… this was the other stuff I never expected. That confidence I’d had as a pregnant woman was gone, and had been replaced with a feeling I’ve known far too intimately for far too long – fear and insecurity. I can’t do this. I have no idea what I’m doing. What if it’s wrong? They will judge me and I will get in trouble.

This feeling increased over the next few days and tears would just fall out of my eyes at random moments. My heart had never been so sad in my whole life. It felt that my entire body was built solely to house sadness, and it was full of it – it had no room left for it, so it just spilled over, onto my crisp hospital sheets, onto my failed boobs that my child couldn’t latch onto properly, and, if I’d been able to bring myself to physically touch my child – they would have fallen on her, too… but three days into her life, I didn’t want to hold her, change her, bathe her – I let my mother and my sister do that, and when everyone left at night, the walls would close in and I would fill up with that sad fear again.

Just you and me, kiddo.

I never stopped loving her. I never had mean or negative thoughts about her – she was still the most amazing little creature that has ever existed – it was me that was the problem.

But days passed, and with the incredible support of my family and my partner, sunshine crept back into the room and I was able to cope with the rollercoaster I was beginning to ride.

Now, nineteen days into her life, my little girl is feeding well, sleeping well and filling my entire family’s hearts with a light they haven’t known in many years. Our cats – the previous leaders of the house – have reacted in ways I never imagined – they run to check on her when she cries, and boycat even shared a cuddle with her and her dad yesterday.

Things are coming together…

Out of everything that I never expected, despite the constant warnings given, I never expected to find a love like this. It isn’t just love for my daughter, or a greater depth and passion that I hold for my partner, but an overwhelming awe for my own mother and every single thing she has done and continues to do for us – her children – that has astounded me the most.

I now know what she went through to bring us into this world, physically. I now understand the fear that would have flooded her each time our safety was in question, and I now know that it is impossible to measure the depth of her love for us, and just how overwhelming that is.

I now know that I will never be able to show her how grateful I am because she wouldn’t accept it – wouldn’t deem it necessary – our very existence gives her no choice – she does what she does because we are more important to her than she is.

I now know that that’s what parenthood is all about and that it lasts forever.

The building blocks you wish to crumble

Little girl. Big teeth. Eyes magnified by purple-rimmed glasses, one lens of which her mother has wrapped in kitchen paper to correct her newly diagnosed astigmatism… and yet the playground doesn’t taunt her. Nobody laughs at her. Or calls her four-eyes.

She plays with girls, with boys, her shy, chunky legs awkwardly trying to escape in a game of catch and kiss. Butterflies. A game of Witches (or hide and seek with a pointed hat).

Two years pass. Two years swinging from monkey bars, or bringing barbie dolls to school in a Grace Bros bag that had once carried those denim shorts she wore every weekend.

Sleepovers and secrets, giggles hidden behind hands as the divide began to emerge between boys and girls.

Filled up – that’s how she felt, all full of sun and smiling and the love of friends. Confidence, you’d probably call it, if you weren’t 8 years old with no real concept of what that meant.

Then a new face appeared – one with more confidence than everyone else combined. You didn’t need to know the word for it, you just knew she had it.

By association, so did we.

Until that day that the little girl with the big teeth and magnified eyes showed up to play with all her friends, and was met with silence, and a wall of shoulders covered in winter.

Her eyes locked with the girls she’d known since that first day she stepped into that giant kindergarten room. They couldn’t hold it. They stared at their feet, but she saw their own confusion, and .. something else she didn’t recognise.

Her heart beat faster.

“What have I done?” she asked them, confused.

Then angry.

Then sad.

Then scared.

“What have I done? Why won’t you talk to me?”

That silence, that cold fucking silence that stole the power from within her and lay doubt and self-blame at her own tiny feet. Her little brain tried to understand – logically, there was no explanation – the only reason someone would suddenly stop speaking to you was if you had done something bad.

So what had she done? Why wouldn’t they tell her?

The bell rang. Class started.

She couldn’t concentrate. She had to know. Nothing came to mind. She hadn’t said anything mean, or left anyone out. She’d brought dolls for everyone the day before. Her Grace Bros bag sat next to her chair, little plastic faces peering up at her.

Recess. She tried to speak to them. They walked away, no answers. Eyes began to watch, to whisper. The playground buzzed with the news. An empty metal seat beneath a tree held her nervous, confused, body as she cried for the first time. Alone. She had never been alone, before.

The bell rang for class. Nobody tried to speak to her. Nobody volunteered to sit with her. Nobody seemed to understand what had happened, but instincts kicked in – the Alpha had chosen an Omega.

The rest of the day was spent in a fog. She doesn’t remember walking to the bus stop, waiting silently in the bus line, or even the trip home. There was too much incomprehension to process.

She didn’t want to go to school the next day. Her body had never known depression or fear like this. It didn’t know what to do with it. She didn’t say a word to her parents, to any teachers. She climbed off the bus and walked into the playground.

To her friends, smiling at her. And to the Alpha, who put her arm around her and asked her why she didn’t sit with them yesterday. Had they done something wrong?

She remembers her heart filling with relief. Gratitude. Safety. And she remembers how easy it was to put aside the questions she had in case those questions saw her put out in the cold again.

She remembers how quickly the role of victim became hers. How quickly self-preservation crept into her makeup. How alert she became to warning signs that she was going to be picked again and how normal it felt for your stomach to boil, your heart to pound and for a part of your brain to start being told to be quiet when it whispered that this wasn’t normal.

“What is your biggest fear?”, asked a stupid Buzzfeed quiz.

I couldn’t answer.

“The silence of a person you love” wasn’t one of their multiple choices.