To The One That Tried To Break Me

gypsywarrior

We met before the time I knew myself.

It was the time when your approval mattered—when your approval became the foundation of the fragmented woman I was.

“You tell me who I am,” I would say, as I awaited your instruction, wide-eyed and so very eager to please. And you told me who I needed to be to win your approval, and your love so laced with conditions and strings attached to heights I would never reach. You drew your lines and wooed me into them.

But your lines soon grew into walls. Walls so wide and tall and deep I could no longer see over them or around them. They closed in around me and I became captive to them as they seethed with your hushed expectations.

I could never leave, for if I did I would know of your rejection, your disapproval, your criticism, and abuse. And you were the one to build me, so I could not bear that you would break me.

Though afraid of the darkness, I stayed in your walls so fraught with conditional love and approval. Sometimes I would see a shard of light, fleetingly, and I would believe for one whimsical moment in the love you were never capable of; that perhaps you would see beyond the surface so smeared with scars and recognize the purity of the heart underneath.

But I would soon learn your love was not light, nor hope, nor truth, nor freedom. It was the sound of the door as it closed behind you, the lock and key to your walls of darkness. I molded and shaped and bent myself to fit within your walls, but no matter how small I became for you, my efforts were futile when the walls would always change shape on your irrational whims.

The darkness grew thicker, more pungent with your dissatisfaction, until my heart too became dark, filled with a blackness that poisoned my mind and wasted away my soul. I began to hate myself almost as much as you did, this girl who could do no right. Worthless, hopeless, useless.

You nearly broke me.

But not quite.

Because you didn’t hear the primal roar that began to swell inside the pit of my stomach before it made its way into my bones and out through my scream. You didn’t know what I had already survived through, the tenaciousness of my strength, my courage, my resilience. You didn’t know of my fighting spirit that may have lay down short of hope for a time, but never without defeat.

For I cannot be defeated.

I am a warrior, made of the dust and the stars and the oceans and the skies.

I am a phoenix that has risen once again, a force of nature, a hurricane, a storm, a raging fire.

I am certain, I am sure. I am complete.

My feet stand firm upon the earth and she carries me, her energy rising up within me, and though the winds may blow I cannot be moved. The shard of light was never you. It was always the light within me, the embers of a powerful spirit you never quite burned out.

Your walls have no hold on me as I walk away now, light on the wings of my freedom. You tried, but you did not break me. You will try again, you always do. But I refuse. I know who I am now. I hear the voice of truth as it whispers in the stillness of the place you used to be. My light can no longer be contained.

And I know I will never again be found captive within the dark walls of your approval.

Beautiful Woman, Striving To Be Skinny

Beautiful woman, striving to be skinny.

I see you everywhere.

You’re on my Facebook, posting selfies of your latest workout as sweat drips from your brow, words like dying, puking, exhausting are hash tagged underneath.

Punishment.

My Instagram is filled with pictures of you, sporting your Lorna Jane as you burn away the calories of the cake you shouldn’t have eaten, but were too weak to resist.

Penance.

You sit opposite me, order your salad, no dressing, berate yourself for being a kilogram heavier this week.

Self-loathing.

You are fraught with comparison, with how short you fall next to the mothers at the playground you’ll never be fit as, the group of women at the gym you’ll never be strong as, the bodies in the magazines you’ll never be sexy as. You beat yourself up. Promise tomorrow you’ll eat less, work out more. No excuses, no matter what. Push yourself, purge yourself, pressure yourself.

Workout

I was once like you. I obsessed over the number on the scale, lived by punishment or reward, survived on protein shakes, applauded myself for staying under 1000 calories a day. I worked out, no matter what. No matter how tired my body was, no matter how run down, exhausted, unwell. I worked out until I almost threw up, head over my knees, rebuking myself with slogans. Go hard or go home. Unless you puke, faint or die, keep going. Excuses are for people who don’t want it bad enough. I pushed past the pain and worked out when my muscles were fatigued, when my body screamed for me to stop, when I injured my knee, my shoulder, until I eventually tore a disc in my back.

And that changed everything.

In an instant, I could no longer work out. My world ended. There was no worse fate that could have happened to me. I laid on my stomach for a month, unable to do anything. I cried with frustration, beat myself up with failure, drowned in self-hatred. I feared. I feared getting left behind, losing all the work I had put into my body, feared people thinking I was lazy or weak. But mostly, I feared getting fat. Because in my eyes, that was the ultimate failure.

And so before my body was healed, I started to work out again. Each time would see me back where I’d started, in pain, on the floor, unable to walk. I did this for months, until I just no longer could. Until I had to listen to my body, surrender to what it needed. Rest. Recovery time. Gentle walks. Stretching. Yoga.

No more sweat-pouring, fat-burning, muscle-aching workouts.

At first it killed me, this surrendering. It yelled defeat, poked and prodded into my deepest places of insecurity and challenged my self-worth to the core; more bound in my body image than I realised. It’s subtle, the infiltration of what we are programmed to believe is beauty, we don’t realise the way it creeps into us, the way we yield to society’s standards even when we think we are immune to them.

Eventually, it became easier to surrender, easier to let go of the demands I had placed on myself to look a certain way. I stopped seeking my value in the number on the scale and found it instead in my mind, my heart, my character, my contribution to the world. I shed lies, so many lies, of what I had come to believe beauty should be. I realised I had nothing to prove to anyone. Every day I practiced kindness, spoke to myself the way I would speak to any other woman.

Beautiful woman, who you are, right now in this moment, is perfect.

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I know you don’t believe me. I know you fill your head with your pre-requisites of beauty. A flatter tummy. Toned arms. Size 10. Lose another five kilograms.

But I understand now.

Beauty isn’t measured in centimetres, my dear.

And the moment you understand will be the moment you find freedom.

You’ll begin to exercise because you love your body, not because you hate it. You’ll eat food that brings you life and health because your body craves nourishment, not deprivation. You’ll run in the sunshine because it brings you joy, not because you’ve earned punishment. You’ll let go of striving, of negativity, of guilt and frustration and failure.

But mostly, you’ll come to realise how beautiful you really are. How strong, how brave, how kind, how intelligent, how clever, how funny, how generous, how thoughtful. How much you love. Not how much you weigh.

Beautiful woman, stop.

Stop striving to be skinny, as if that’s the only measure of your worth.

Instead, strive to change the perception of beauty, the lies we have been told.

Strive to empower women, our daughters, through the truth of their worth.

Strive to see how beautiful you really are, right now, exactly in this moment.

And then watch the world become more beautiful, because of you.

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Confessions Of A PTSD Sufferer

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“Mum… mum… MUM!”

My daughter looks at me impatiently. She has said something that requires a response of some kind. I should know what the right response is, but I don’t. I don’t even know what she has said, or how many times she has said it. Long gone are the days when she babbled at me in toddler language and all I needed to do was smile and nod to appease her. Back then I could fake it. I can’t any more. She requires more of me now, as do all of my children. I try to focus on her words. Around me, there is too much noise. There is too much clutter. There is too much chaos. I am overwhelmed and I feel out of control and it triggers a panic in me. I fight to remain present but I feel the numbness take over. I’m too tired, and I have no fight left in me. It’s too late. Emotionally, I check out. I’m gone.

My daughter sees this. She gives up on trying to talk to me, and walks away. If I had the ability to feel anything at this point, I would be drowning in the guilt of what a failure of a parent I am. But that will come later, when I’ve found my way back from this black void of nothing. Then I will cry tears of sadness for the pieces of me that are missing, and the way that affects the people I love. But for now, I have disconnected. Physically I am present. Emotionally I am no longer there. How long I will be gone for is anybody’s guess. Maybe only moments, often days, sometimes weeks. There’s no telling. However long it takes for me to feel safe enough to surface and be a part of life again.

This is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

And this is my life.

I can’t tell you exactly when I began to realise I suffer from PTSD. Was it the insomnia? The nightmares? The flashbacks? Was it the bouts of rage followed by the chasm of nothingness? Was it the constant numbness and detachment I felt, like I was on the sideline of my life watching but never fully able to participate? The hyper-vigilance? The physical symptoms? Or the crippling anxiety over things that weren’t even real?

I can tell you that has taken me years to piece together, years to understand, and even longer to own. It’s not easy to admit, and it’s even harder to talk about. But the thing is, it needs to be talked about. Because I’m tired of feeling so alone in this. And I know there are others out there who feel the same.

It’s difficult to be a wife, mother of four, daughter, sister and friend, and suffer with PTSD. Because one minute I am here. And the next, I am not. Of all the symptoms of PTSD, this is the one I suffer the most with – what is known as disassociation. Where life simply gets too much for me. Where I feel like there is too much going on, I am too busy, I am too tired, I am too overwhelmed. I feel out of control. It paralyzes me to feel overwhelmed and out of control, to feel there is no clear escape route from the chaos in my mind. It reawakens the traumas of my childhood, when I could not control the things that happened to me, where there was no escape route. And so in order to cope, I disconnect. It is like a switch flicks in my mind, and I am no longer there. I go to where I know it is safe. Because I know that no one can hurt me there.

During those times I slip away from everyone and everything. I lose interest and motivation. The fire inside of me dies away. I stay at home too much and I avoid social events. I do not answer my phone when it rings, nor do I reply to messages. I function on autopilot, meeting the obligatory physical needs of my family, but emotionally I have ceased to exist. I see the confusion it causes in those around me. They do not understand where I have gone, or what they have done wrong. I see the pain it causes to those nearest to me, how they feel pushed away by me. They long to love me, and I am unable to let them in. I can’t. The walls around me are a fortress and they are made to keep people out, to keep people away from the dark places inside of me that reek of shame and are stained with blemish. They were made for solitary confinement, and I find comfort in this penitentiary where I feel such bleak, satiating, nothing.

I want to stay here forever. I want the world to leave me alone. The darkness wraps around me like a heavy blanket and I want to succumb to the weight of it. I cannot be coaxed out, and those that try suffer my wrath. I’m on my time, and I will do this my way.

Eventually, some time later, I begin to feel warmth from the ashes of the fire that never quite went out. I am numb, but I am no longer cold. I look up, and I begin to notice the world again. I see beauty, and I am moved by it. The walls of my fortress begin to crumble. Love and light flood the darkness, and they feel like resuscitation to my heart. The numbness falters, and I begin to feel again. I’m on the road that will lead me back to life. Until the next trigger. But for now, I am back.

PTSD has taken so much from me, but what I grieve most is the inability to be the parent I long to be. Most days we do well. But there are days I cannot connect, days where I am so absent and unaware of what is going on in the lives of my children. I can’t be the fun, energetic, creative, playful parent that they see in other mothers. They ask me to come into their classroom and help – they don’t yet know that that I can get so overwhelmed with anxiety that I can’t leave the house. They don’t yet know what it takes for me to make it to their assemblies, their basketball games and their music lessons. That on those days I am fighting a silent and invisible battle that they can’t see or understand. I am often wrought with feelings of guilt and failure, but I am slowly understanding that if the best you can do is crawl, then that is the best you can do.

I’ve come to accept that PTSD will always be the Achilles heel of my life. I’ve stopped trying to fix myself, cure myself, heal myself, and most importantly, lie to myself that this isn’t a real thing in my life. The research has been done, and shows the long term effects caused by early childhood trauma, especially that which was sustained over long periods of time. Some of these effects include drastic changes to the brain – changes to the hippocampus (learning, memory and the part of the limbic system which controls emotions), the medial prefrontal cortex (long term memory and decision making) and the amygdala (emotions – especially fear detection, emotional behavior and motivation), as well as a complete rewiring of the neural circuits.

The increased levels of cortisol in the body, due to prolonged stress, also impact the brain’s response to inflammation and impair the immune system and the body’s ability to heal. As Debra Wilson, a researcher on PTSD, writes, “Trauma in early childhood predisposes the individual to autoimmune disease later in life.”

Some of you may be cynical of this research, but it’s impossible for me to deny any of these things. They are my reality. I know them to be true.

And whilst there may be no cure, there is awareness and there is understanding. There is healing in coming out from the shadow of our shame and bringing our stories into the light. As we begin to mend ourselves, we begin to mend each other. There is hope in simply knowing we are not alone.

Yes, this is hard for me to write. But I know it is harder to suffer alone and in silence.

And sometimes, all it takes is for one voice to break through the silence to cast light into our darkest places.

May my voice be heard. You are not alone.

The Mother’s Day One

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4.43am. Rain pelting the roof stirs me from deep sleep. The sound reminds me of one of my favourite Powderfinger songs… the tapping of the rain beats a corrugated drum… the lyrics float dreamily in my mind as I attempt to register what day it is. Most days I’ve been venturing out of bed around this time to take advantage of some quiet hours to write before I get swamped with the busyness of the day. For a non-morning person it has been a harsh adjustment, but it has now become my favourite part of the day. This morning however… my mind relaxes as I remember it’s Mothers Day. I can’t remember the last time I had a sleep in. My body is still recoiling a late night and a couple too many reds. Relief floods me to the core as I drift effortlessly back into sleep, anticipating more blissful hours of dreaming ahead.

6.00am. Heavy footsteps thud into the bedroom, followed by the loud slamming of the bathroom door and the infuriating sound of someone messing around for like an hour trying to lock the door. In the unlikely event that someone else is going to barge in at this unearthly time of morning, obviously. The sound of this sends my mind firing. Frigging hell, there are two other bathrooms in this house, why is she using ours?? Why is she awake so damn early?? Doesn’t she know it’s Mothers Day and all I wanted was to sleep in this morning??

Immediately I feel guilty. Yes, she knows it’s Mothers Day. Because yesterday she kept winking at me, blowing me kisses and saying, “It’s your special day tomorrow, Mum” with an excited glint in her eye. So when she crawls into bed and pries my eyelids open, desperately keen for me to be awake so she can lavish her seven-year old love and affection on me, I can only smile and kiss her forehead as I pull her in closer for a cuddle. The battle between my selfish needs and sacrificial love has raged, and love wins.

Ultimately, this is my entire experience of motherhood.

See, I’m just not one of those women who have taken to being a mother with ease. Honestly, for me, most days this whole parenting thing just blows. For those that don’t know me very well and are reading this thinking I must be the most loathsome woman for saying this out loud, let me clarify that this isn’t about whether I love my children or not. I love them with a love that I never believed was humanly possible. The love where you know you would die for them. There’s simply no question of the unequivocal love I have for them. But as an inherently flawed and broken human, being a mother nearly kills me most of the time. Love doesn’t come easily to me. Nor does being needed and depended on all the endlessly-exhausting-and-demanding day long. I’m still trying to work out how I’m supposed to grow people from infants to adults when some days the decision over what to eat for breakfast is so overwhelming that curling into fetal position under the kitchen table seems like the most reasonable preference.
People talk about children being a blessing. And they ARE. My children captivate and amaze and leave me breathless with who they are and the things they do. But the biggest blessing for me comes through the suffering. My children have challenged the person I am and the tendencies I have to be selfish, disconnected, inward, capricious, flighty. They are the ones that take me out of my comfortable, insular mind where I’m happy to dwell and bring me into the moment that I may experience life with them. They are the ones that force me out of my selfish ways and teach me how sacrificial love makes me a better person. They are the ones that make me choose patience when everything in me is ready to scream at them for not tying their shoelace fast enough. They are the ones that ground me when life gets tough and flight wants to trump fight, they teach me of resilience and strength and courage and perseverance to stick it out. When I was so sick with chronic fatigue, they are the reason I forced myself out of bed every day when the exhaustion and depression made me want to never get out of bed again. Why I fought so hard to find answers that doctors could not give me, why I fought so hard to get my health back and why I still fight every day to stay strong and healthy. They are the reason I understand unconditional love, how to give it, how to receive it, and what it means in my life.

My children have saved me in ways they may never realize.

I can’t give them a mother that has it all together and knows what she’s doing all the time. But I hope they can one day appreciate they had a mother who loved them fiercely and did the best she could with who she was and the life she’d had. Who taught them to be true to who they are, even when the world tells them otherwise. To be both courageous and vulnerable. To not allow mistakes to define their worth, but embrace them as catalyst for becoming a better person. To know they can rise above their circumstances. To know they will always be enough.
But mostly, to know that they can always pry my eyelids open at 6am anytime they ever need me.

Sixteen Years Ago, I Married A Farmer…

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Sixteen years ago I married the man I fell in love with.

Sixteen years ago, I had no idea about life, about love, about how hard it would be to choose to wake up every morning and stay married. How hard it would be to choose to hold tight, when all I wanted was to run. How hard it is, even today, on my anniversary, to choose to stay grounded when my weary bones ache with the weight of making it through another day.

See, nobody ever told me what it would be like to be married to a farmer. I didn’t marry a farmer. I married a man who just happened to be a farmer. Little did I know that the two could never be separated. It turns out I did marry a farmer. And a farm. And everything that goes with that. And you can’t test run these things. You can’t try it out for a while and know if you’ve got what it takes, and make your decision from that. You jump in the deep end, blindfolded, and hope to God you know how to swim.

Most days I still feel as though I’m treading water, flailing, faking, hoping at some point I’ll look back and wonder what was ever so hard about this. But not today.

Because damn straight, I could never have known how hard being married to a farmer could be.

I didn’t know what it felt like after a long, dry summer when it still hadn’t rained in March. When there is not a blade of grass in the paddock, and the pasture that you spent thousands of dollars planting in the winter has withered to nothing in the summer. I didn’t know what it would feel like to know that supplement feeding your sheep just to keep them thriving until it rained would mean looking down the barrel of a $75000 cost, over and above every other farm cost. When your bank account is at its lowest and your overdraft at its highest. I didn’t know what it would be like to try and remain positive, when your soul is as parched as the land that surrounds your every view. When you see the look on your husband’s face every time he comes back from checking on the sheep. You try not to worry about the next time you’ll see some income. “It will rain. It always does,” you say. Except when it doesn’t.

I knew nothing of the depth of loneliness and isolation that exists living in such a remote part of the country. The way the wide, open spaces that you once so loved can turn so suddenly and mesh into wide, open spaces of your heart that can never seem to be filled. The spaces that you long to be filled by the family and the friends you love so dearly. Except they are so, so far away. And 350km feels like an eternity away, as lack of finances and lack of time and lack of opportunity begin to consume. And you wake some days with an ache, as though you are an orphan, or lost on an island. You long for home. Except you don’t really know where home is. Or if it even exists.

I had no idea of the fear of bushfires, storms, tornadoes and earthquakes. How precious water was and how devastating it would be to not be able to have a bath when your muscles ache but your rainwater is nearly gone. How many times I would have to drive the dreaded 100km round trip each week to be there for my kids at school, or after school, or so they could spend time with their friends, no matter what I needed to get done in my day. I didn’t know that I would have to learn how to be an expert on GST and PAYG and BAS lodgements. That I would have to find the courage to shoot a snake and kill a huntsman. I didn’t know that I would have to be a roustabout, a tractor driver, and chop a load of wood. Whilst being seven months pregnant with three other children under my feet. I didn’t know how little need there was for nice clothes, for makeup, to shave my legs, and for cute shoes. Especially cute shoes. I didn’t know how empty it would feel to have nowhere to go, Friday night after Friday night. How many holidays and dates and special occasions we declined because the belt had to be pulled tighter again.

I didn’t know how many sacrifices I would have to make.

I didn’t know how many dreams I would have to give up.

I married the man I loved. But goddamn, it’s been a tough road.

Tonight I was moping that we hadn’t done anything to celebrate our anniversary. Paul was frustrated with not understanding what was wrong with me, and I couldn’t put it into words.
When really, it is so simple. Life is tough. Our life is tough. Our marriage has been tough. God knows how we made it this far. We are both weary. We are both spent. We are both giving our all to be everything for everyone else. Our marriage gets put so far down the priority list and most weeks we live as ships passing through the night. And just for this one day of the year, I needed to put us first, and to honour how far we’ve come and what we’ve worked so hard for. In spite of every damn obstacle that has come our way. But we didn’t. Life once again got in the way.

So I went for a run. And I glanced over into one of the paddocks we’d fenced off and planted trees in a couple of years ago. We’d spent days planting these trees – one side was deep soil, and the other side was shallow rock. It was the side planted in shallow rock that actually grew, which always seemed strange to me. How does that happen? How does the tree that has to overcome the biggest challenges survive and grow? It occurred to me that the tree knows something that we don’t. It knows that it has a harder battle than the tree planted in deep soil. It must fight harder for survival. But because of this, strength is gained. Resilience is gained. Determination. Durability. Perseverance. Persistence. Its roots grow deep and it becomes unshakeable.

Nothing worth doing is ever easy. But it’s always worth it x