Deterioration

I wrap myself into my quilt like a burrito. I’m sleeping on the couch which, while not overly comfortable, doesn’t induce the same anxiety as having an argument with myself about going to bed. Instead, when I become sleepy, I close Instagram, blow out the candles, turn off the salt lamp and roll over.

I am not sure why going to bed holds such angst for me but it always has. At least, until I met G. For the first time in my life, I looked forward to going to bed because I felt safe. Held. Loved. I try to replicate this feeling now while he’s not with me but the best I can do is to stay awake until it is impossible not to sleep.

In the last week, there has been another infection, two surgeries and blood counts that still aren’t following the predicted path. My OCD has fixated itself on his illness and now intrusive thoughts of blame drive all manner of compulsions, day and night. If I haven’t given him covid, I must have given him cancer.

Life is random and unfair, I tell others. Bad things happen to good people for no reason. And while I almost believe that is true,  intrusive thoughts still swirl that this is somehow my fault. My punishment. For what exactly, I haven’t determined. It could be a range of things and my brain is providing plenty of options. As a result, my anxiety is out of control. Today I had a telehealth appointment with my GP who has recommended blood tests, an ECG to check my heart which has lingering issues from my years of being underweight due to anorexia, and some medication.

“This is the only prescription I will give you for this medication,” he tells me, “due to it having addictive properties. You must be sparing in your use but it will help with the panic attacks and anxiety. I will give you a second prescription for something that you can use long term but the effect won’t be noticeable for two to four weeks.”

It’s been seven years since I took medication for my mental health and while I suspect I need it, a new fear has surfaced during the pandemic and my husband’s illness which will likely prevent me from doing so; I cannot take any medication for fear of the masking of covid symptoms or because I may have a bad reaction requiring treatment. I will no longer even take paracetamol or ibuprofen, pain killers I have taken for years, especially when I have severe cramps during my period but now I am afraid they will mask the symptom of a fever and I will never know if I accidentally acquire covid. I will not take new tablets, not even vitamins, in case they cause some sort of reaction where I have to present to a hospital because the more places I go, the more likely I am to come into contact with someone with covid. My anxiety is pushing me towards never leaving my house again, unless it’s to travel to the hospital where my husband is having treatment. Home. Hospital. Home. Hospital. That is the extent of my world right now.

And all of it seems justified.

Music Monday | Where Do We Go – Desiree Dawson

The blisters on my cheeks where a face mask pulled tight across them for seven hours a day, twelve days in a row, have healed. It’s been a week since I’ve been allowed into the hospital. My visitorship was revoked as soon as my husband became stable again. It was disheartening for both of us but not unexpected having already happened twice before.

So I wait in anticipation of his return, in this small apartment that does not belong to me, and I have endless amounts of time to fret. Instead, I try to distract myself. I scroll, I clean, I read, I breathe. A circle of friends have organised themselves onto a roster to make sure someone calls me every day. At least once a day. Sometimes twice. Even, occasionally, three times if necessary. And it has been necessary. I am almost always ok until it is time to sleep, like now. It is then that I feel the low hum of anxiety that has been the background to my day start to rise.

And the only thing that helps me then is meditating in Love. Because in Love, I am reminded that we are all One. We are Connected regardless of time or space. In this connection, I can truly see that the Light in me is also the Light in everyone I meet.

It is difficult to focus on Now but it is all we have. And so I stay with it. With the uncomfortable feelings that rise, with the uncertainty of what might happen, and with the knowledge that the only place I can go from here is into Love. Because I am in Love, and Love is in me. And actually, it is all we need.

Where do we go, go from here
The present is cloudy, future filled with fear
The past is something we hold on too dear
So where do we go from here

Where do we go?
Where do we go?

But love is all we wanted
And love is all we need
Deep down in the dark is where we plant our seeds
Plant those seeds

I was given the sweetest treat when I started seeing myself in everyone I meet
You were given the sweetest treat when you see yourself in everyone you meet

Shake It Off and Re-calibrate Your Nervous System

In recent years, I’ve made many changes to the way I manage my mental health. Early intervention when required, the right tools and resources, and daily management have made a world of difference. But over the last few weeks, my husband’s diagnosis and hospitalisation, has tested all of my new strategies. My nervous system is non-compliant with the new tools under this much stress and my anxiety has landed me in the emergency room. As a result, I’ve been trying additional, more unusual things in an attempt to help me manage it. I can’t say they’ve all been successful and I can’t say I haven’t resorted to some of the old, comfortable coping mechanisms. But one thing that I’ve found that does help is shaking. On purpose. For fun.

I once asked my psychologist why I shivered when I had to have uncomfortable conversations and her response was “stress”. When adrenaline and cortisol are released into your body in huge amounts during a threat, they create neurogenic tremors in addition to speeding up your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing.

Shaking is the body’s natural way to release tension and stress and return to equilibrium. Animals instinctively shake to relieve stress after a life-threatening event. This helps them to discharge the energy of the traumatic event. But when humans are conditioned out of this response we lose the ability to re-calibrate our nervous system. We are supposed to cope. We are supposed to be fine. Unfazed.

Unfortunately, if we can’t shake it off, trauma can get trapped in the body. This impacts our ability to respond to future stressors and can lead to a complicated ripple of life-altering impacts. The brain and nervous system can become stuck. They are rewired in a way that can make healing a challenge as they remain on high alert for threats, continually flooding the body with stress hormones.

So in an attempt to reset my nervous system, I am shaking. On purpose. For fun. It doesn’t work all the time but if I shake for several minutes a day, it definitely helps. A friend calls me on Zoom in the morning, and together we do a shake session. She picks the music, I just show up.

If you want any more information on the science behind shaking, this link has plenty!

And if you need a song, here’s the first one she chose. Obviously.

Fate

Fate, Federal Court, Moon
by Anne Carson

The fate of the earth. The fate of me. The fate of you. The fate of Faisal. The fate of the court where Faisal will plead his case. The fate of the court’s bias. Every court has a bias. It sifts to the surface gradually. The fate of whomever we drink to after court. The fate of that branch of mathematics that deals with ‘dead-end depth’. The fate of Yemen where Faisal will probably never return. The fate of the engineering job Faisal had in Yemen before the events in question. The fate of the ‘simple random walk’ and its difference from the ‘homesick random walk’, concepts from a mathematics textbook I read once about dead-end depth. The fate of Montreal where Faisal lives now. The fate of his family, the ones still alive, back in Yemen and the fate of the bridal couple, still alive, whose wedding was the target of the drone pilot (a mistake). The fate of the others, not still alive (a mistake). The fate of the moon that rose over us as we drove through the mountains of Pennsylvania to be present at Faisal’s day in court. The fate of the silveriness of the moon that no words can ever describe. The fate of the bright sleepless night. The fate of our phones, which we decide to take to the courthouse at 9 a.m. and relinquish at the door. The fate of two guys doing a job interview in the cafeteria where we stop for coffee on the way to courtroom 31. Been around the block, says one guy. Army does the billing, says the other guy. The fate of so many men in suits and ties. The fate of being lost in marble corridors. The fate of being much too early at courtroom 31. The fate of the knot of lawyers who surround Faisal as he enters in a new suit. The fate of congratulating him on his new suit. The fate of his smile. His smile is great. The fate of the numerous clerks who pour glasses of water for the judges and generally fuss around. The fate of the appellant whose case precedes Faisal’s, which concerns a warrant ‘so lacking in probable cause’ that [something to do with ‘Garcia’] [something to do with gangs and ‘a constitutional path’]. The fate of the pearls worn by Judge Dillard, who sits on the far right of the bench, which curve like teeth below her actual teeth. The fate of straining to hear what Faisal’s lawyer, with his back to us, says to the judges. The fate of him perhaps saying that the government is asking the court to refrain from judging, asking the court to step back without knowing what it is stepping back from. The fate of proportionality, a matter of context. The fate of what is or is not a political question. The fate of the precedent called ‘al Shifa’, with which everyone seems familiar. The fate of a publicly acknowledged programme of targeting people who might be a danger to us. The fate of inscrutable acronyms. The fate of me totally losing the thread of the argument as we distinguish ‘merits’ from ‘standing’. The fate of what Faisal is seeking, which is now given as ‘declaratory relief’ (new phrase to me). The fate of ‘plaintiffs who have no chance of being harmed in the future due to being deceased’, a wording that gives pause. The fate of how all this may depend on her pearls, her teeth. The fate of the sentence, ‘We are really sorry, we made a mistake,’ which Judge Dillard utters in a hypothetical context but still it’s good to hear. The fate of the government lawyer who is blonde and talks too fast, using ‘jurisdictional’ many times and adding ‘as the relief sought is unavailable’. The fate of wondering why it is unavailable to say, ‘Sorry’. The fate of Judge Dillard’s invitation to the government lawyer to tell the plaintiff how he might ‘exhaust all administrative avenues of redress’, as the government claims he should have done before bringing this case. ‘Where would he go?’ Judge Dillard asks with apparent honest curiosity. ‘If you were he, where would you go?’ The fate of our bewildered conversation afterwards about why she said this, whose side she is on, what she expects Faisal’s lawyers to do with it now. The fate of the tuna sandwiches eaten with Faisal while debating this. The fate of his quietness while others talk. The fate of his smile, which seems to invite the soul, centuries ago. Serving tea, let’s say, to guests. The moon above them. Joy. The fate of disinterestedness, of joy, of what would Kant say, of not understanding what kind of thing the law is anyway, for example in its similarity to mathematics, for they both pretend to perfect objectivity but objectivity is a matter of wording and words can be, well, a mistake. The fate of the many thoughts that go on in Faisal when he is quiet, or the few thoughts, how would I know? The fate of the deep sea diver that he resembles, isolated, adrift. The fate of him back in his kitchen in Montreal next week or next year, sitting on a chair or standing at the window, the moon by then perhaps a thin cry, perhaps gone. The fate of simplicity, of randomness, of homesickness, of dead ends, of souls. Who can say how silvery it was? Where would he go? Sorry?

Published in the London Review of Books
Vol. 39 No. 6 · 16 March 2017

I was once given this poem as the introduction to a writing exercise. Write or re-write a paragraph of your work-in-progress beginning every sentence with the fate, our tutor said. Notice how commencing with these words changes the way you shape your story. Notice what impact fate has on your narrative.

I do not like fate. I refuse fate. I want to scream at fate to fuck off.

I do not want to think about the fate of the earth, the fate of me. I especially do not want to think about the fate of you.

I do not like fate having an impact on my narrative.

And yet. Here we are.

The fate of me. The fate of you. The fate of the hospital where you are having your chemo. The fate of the doctors. The fate of the nurses. The fate of the specialists who are administering your treatment. The fate of the apartment in our COVID capital. The fate of the foundation that’s provided our accommodation. The fate of my psychologist who keeps asking “are you eating?” but how could I be eating? The fate of the words intensive protocol, neurotoxicity, and treatment related complications. The fate of having to learn another medical language in the middle of a pandemic after already learning the language of the pandemic. The fate of how all of this depends on limited evidence.

And so, I say.

Fuck fate. Fate will not shape my story. Or yours.

Music Monday | Last Goodbye – Jeff Buckley

By the time this song was put onto a mix tape for me, Jeff Buckley had already been dead for two years. He was only 30 when, late one night in May 1997, he waded into the Mississippi River and drowned while going for a spontaneous swim. His body was found a few days later, upstream in Memphis.

As 2019 draws to a close, I’ve been watching the rounds of photos comparing people’s current self to their self from the beginning of the decade. In late 2009, I had just turned 31 but was severely entrenched in anorexia and yet to choose recovery. I didn’t believe I’d see the end of year, much less the end of a new decade. By the end of 2010, I was attempting recovery. Cautiously, with only a little hope.

Life has shifted many times over the past 10 years. Many things have changed but unfortunately, some have not. I’m in treatment again and have been for a year. It’s 25 years since Jeff Buckley released this song, a year after I first developed anorexia. But this time, I’m hoping that with the right treatment, I can say the Last Goodbye.

Music Monday | Outside the Lines – Birdtalker

After running a Spotify account for about two years, I’m finally starting to use it in a way that doesn’t involve just searching for my favourite songs and listening to them. Lately, I’ve been paying attention to the recommendations and last week stumbled onto this gem.

Birdtalker’s debut album One was released last year after an EP in 2016, and a new single came out just over a week ago.

When I met G, I sent him a list of my flaws; number nine of fifteen said “I listen to too much indie folk music.” Birdtalker’s debut One may not fit as neatly into the indie folk music genre as their EP Just This but it is still largely reminiscent of that soft, folksy Americana that draws me in.

But what Birdtalker has, in addition to sweet sweet sounds, is something magical in their lyrics. There is an existential heartache in their songs; the search for meaning and purpose by a couple who’ve deconstructed from Protestant religion. Perhaps it’s their rejection of exclusionary dogma, a mirror of my own trajectory, and the unpacking of the baggage of religious narratives that I resonate with. Perhaps it’s the way they challenge traditional hierarchies while they examine their role in maintaining such systems. Perhaps it’s that their songs sit in a liminal space I’m far too familiar with. Whatever it is, I love it.

In an article with Billboard prior to the release of the song I’m posting tonight, songwriter Dani Green said: “I was pretty angry when I wrote it, but I don’t think you would know that from listening to the song.”

Dani, who co-fronts Birdtalker with her husband Zack Green, tells Billboard about the gentle, harmony-laden folk song. Organized religion was Green’s intended target, but “Outside The Lines” carefully encompasses hypocrisy on a broader scale.

“I was tired of feeling like people in that arena could — because they say they’re believing in good things — treat people really poorly,” Green explains. “That just stirred up a lot of anger in me. The language of the song, the words, are very flowery and elevated to poke fun at the elevated, flowery language of religion, the ancient texts. It feels like it’s deceptive. That language, because it’s so nice and flowery, is like a shield you could put up in front of you, but then you go and treat people in ways that’s not at all reflective of the things you said.”

“Outside The Lines” is, however, representative of Green’s lyrical approach on the album’s 11 tracks. “It’s sort of a snapshot of a period of deconstruction and having a lot of open-ended questions,” she says. “It feels pretty open-handed and like it asks a lot of question and sort of targets mainstays or institutions, things that are kind of an unquestioned part of your life — until you decided to start questioning them. So it feels like a lot of questions, with a little bit of resolve.”

Nostalgia

And in the distance
As barren hills are touched by black-tipped fingers
The fading light reminisces about the days it lingered
Over pots of tea with toast
Whispering sweet nothings to its only ghost.
Then the moon rolls across the inky sky
With a gut full of ache and his upside down smile
And he stops to rest in the furthest corner
Heaves in gasps as the solitary mourner
Closes his eyes just for a minute and
Imagines the days when he was thinner.

January 2013

Music Monday | Norman Fucking Rockwell – Lana Del Rey

“And it ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about love.”

Curled on the couch of my airbnb eating olives, I strip the marinated flesh from the pits and spit them onto a plate. I’m in town for the Melbourne Writers Festival and arrived the previous afternoon but sitting here, having a snack, is the first time I notice the giant clock on the wall is broken. It isn’t that the time is wrong. Worse. The two hands are missing.

“The light was draining out of the room, going back through the window where it had come from.”

I am here, an impostor, having not written anything that’s offered traction for the past year. My brain has been broken.

“My heart is broken,” she goes. “It’s turned to a piece of stone. I’m no good. That’s what’s as bad as anything, that I’m no good anymore.”

Brain.
Heart.
Both.

In November last year, a colleague was killed in a workplace accident. While not on my shift, he’d been a mentor when I first finished my training. The task he was performing was routine. Something I did in the course of my duties. Had it been four hours later, it could have been me standing in front of the thing that exploded. After that, I spiraled quickly into the same dark place I’ve pulled myself out of so many times before. By December, there was a succession of bad news; coming from work, family, home. And I continued to sink.

“Things change,” he says. “I don’t know how they do. But they do without your realizing it or wanting them to.”

My first event at the 2019 festival was Lee Kofman and Fiona Wright’s talk session. Released several months ago, Kofman curated and edited an anthology of essays called Split to which both she and Wright contributed. Together, they discussed life, love, loss and the writing of their essays.

The theme for MWF 2019 is “When We Talk About Love” taken from Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (from which all the above quotes are taken) and the session was called Museum of Broken Relationships: Split.

The talk was held in the No Vacancy gallery, amongst a borrowed collection from the Museum of Broken Relationships.

From the Museum website:
Museum of Broken Relationships is a physical and virtual public space created with the sole purpose of treasuring and sharing your heartbreak stories and symbolic possessions. It is a museum about you, about us, about the ways we love and lose.

At its core, the Museum is an ever-growing collection of items, each a memento of a relationship past, accompanied by a personal, yet anonymous story of its contributor. Unlike ‘destructive’ self-help instructions for recovery from grief and loss, the Museum offers the chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creativity – by contributing to its universal collection.

Museum of Broken Relationships is an original creative art project conceived by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić in 2006. It has since taken thousands of people on an empathetic journey around the world, challenging our ideas about heritage. Its original permanent location was founded in Zagreb. In 2010 it won the EMYA Kenneth Hudson Award as the most innovative and daring museum project in Europe.

Stories of lost relationships covered the gamut; romantic partners, parents, friends, children. But the grief was palpable, no matter which type of relationship.

This week, Music Monday isn’t a song. It’s an album. It’s no secret that I adore Lana Del Rey and, on repeat, as I work overtime shift after overtime shift, is Norman Fucking Rockwell.

Lana is the Queen of languid love songs. And of writing about broken relationships.

I’ve finished my olives and need to get to another session. The microwave in the kitchenette says 4:30 but that clock can’t tell me the time either. It’s twelve hours out; I noticed this morning as I ran out the door for breakfast at 20:43.

Perhaps, it’s time to make my own time. It’s time to rediscover my love. It’s time to write.