A friend with benefits.

I have a friend. I have (incredibly) a number of friends, but the name of the one I’m thinking of is Maggie. We haven’t been friends for very long, but she spends many evenings with me. She walks into my flat without so much as a by-your-leave, and makes very firm suggestions as to how we should spend the evening. She doesn’t think about whether I might be tired, or planning to go out, or wanting an early night or a quiet, solitary evening. And she leaves when she’s hungry, or when she’s finished with me.

This would be extremely annoying but for the fact that my friend Maggie is a cat. A beautiful, snub-nosed, grumpy-faced and very loving Burmese who is all the colours of a cloud, from storm-grey right through to sunset-roan. And we might be of different species, but we love each other.

Maggie has a fairly set routine when she arrives in my flat. First we play the string game, or the catch-the-bright-pink-piece-of-plastic game. Then we play the human-chasing-the-cat game, and then when the human catches the cat we have cuddles, and she purrs. Then she goes to sleep on my lounge, or on my lap, and I go back to my evening.

Often the last thing I feel like is playing, especially during a week like this one where it’s as much as I can do to raise the energy to do all the things that I need to do, let alone pointless things like chasing a cat three metres across a room. But I do it, because the alternative is that she annoys me (Come on, it’s string game time! Why aren’t we playing the string game? Aren’t you ready to chase me yet? What are you doing?). And despite the fact that my to-do list is sometimes taller than I am, despite my fatigue or my crap mood, I normally find myself laughing. I normally find myself enjoying the time together. I normally find myself having fun – something that’s actually quite a rare commodity in my serious and rich life. And I generally find myself going back to what I was supposed to be doing, just slightly renewed for the experience.

Ok, so the Universe organised me a cat to enrich my life, to teach me joy and to aid in my healing. Not quite what I expected – but absolutely and exactly what I needed.

…but there’s a glimmer of light.

I’ve been telling people about how bleak the last couple of days have been – the result being that people are showing me that they care for me, and I am being reminded of how blessed I am in the people around me. My wonderful parents, who emailed and rang me just to say hello. A dear friend who told me to “man up, you little skank” – but who then gave me a hug (and honestly, I’d be offended if she wasn’t rude to me). Another friend who messaged me from her hospital bed (talk about humbling!) to see if I was ok. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to remind you of just how profoundly you are blessed and sometimes you don’t need the light to blast away the fog – it’s enough to be reminded that the light is capable of penetrating it. Because that means that the fog isn’t invincible.

But the light is.

 

Plodding through fog.

You know how I said yesterday that tomorrow would probably be better? I was wrong. Funny, there was nothing wrong with today, as such. It’s simply that I couldn’t bring myself to care about anything. I had a successful meeting with colleagues, several good visits with clients, and a piece of chocolate; it was a sunny day and there was good music on the radio when I was driving out to my home-visits. Now I’m drinking peppermint tea and listening to Beethoven’s Third Symphony. There is lots to look forward to in the next month or so and I just found out that the choir is singing some of my favourite music in August. But I am separated from it all by a bleak fog, and I have no idea why.

Maybe I just need sleep. Maybe there’s some weird emotional chemical thing going on in my brain. Maybe this is the natural down in the gradual rise and fall of my recovery from and journey through PTSD – because the blessings in my life outweigh the things I hate, and the general trend is up. It’s just that these last couple of days have been shitty.

I’ll get through it. I’ve got through so much more, I’m a survivor. I’ll survive this too, and like everything else I will be stronger for it, and more compassionate, and more who I truly am. And maybe it’s ok to have crappy days. Maybe that’s my mind, my soul, telling me to take a bit of a break. So self-care, and keeping the faith that I’ll get through this, and listening to good music and letting those who love me show me some TLC – and maybe just a little bit of comfort eating. Just a little bit. That’s ok, right?

Easy days and hard days.

Some days are easy. Some days PTSD symptoms are like the disruptive kid in the class who has finally learned that you can’t talk over the teacher, or play trucks loudly in the middle of the classroom when the other kids are trying to work quietly – as long as you keep up constant vigilance and supervision, things run smoothly and you can keep going with your lesson plan.

Other days are not easy. Other days it doesn’t matter what you do – if you’re going to have a flashback, or a panic attack, or be assailed by memories when you’re trying to concentrate on something else, it’s going to happen regardless of all the things you do that normally work. You can’t stop it no matter how hard you try, no matter what mindfulness techniques you use or how you tell yourself that you’re safe and nothing can hurt you. Turns out that the part of the brain where fear lives is that kid in the class who doesn’t always do what the teacher says.

So those days come. Today was one of those days. Tomorrow might be too, but it probably won’t. I’ll get an early night, and tomorrow I’ll give thanks for a new day, and hope for the best.

Why my life sucks, and why it totally and utterly doesn’t.

I’m not sure that it was a good idea to have the glass of red before writing this post, but anyway – we’ll see how we go.

Here are some of the reasons that my life sucks:

1. I spent almost ten years of my life essentially in captivity, controlled by someone who hit me and hurt  me.

2. I have post-traumatic stress disorder.

3. I flinch whenever someone touches me or makes a noise from behind, or whenever I see something close in my peripheral vision.

4. I get panic attacks and flashbacks for no apparent reason. And nightmares.

And here are some of the myriad of reasons that my life totally doesn’t suck:

1. I have wonderful, loving, giving, supportive friends who for some reason like me, who show me love and allow me  to show them love.

2. Every weekend, I get to sing amazing music. I get to be a part of something beautiful, something greater than myself. I get to be part of this music’s history and I get to help be a part of something that brings joy to the people who worship at the Cathedral. And I get to do it in my spiritual home, my place of safety, and I get to do it with my friends.

3. I have survived what I’ve been through and I am surviving PTSD and panic attacks and flashbacks and nightmares. I’m more than surviving. I’m healing and continuing the process of reclaiming my life. I’m blossoming.

4. I am surrounded every day by the beauty of creation, by the bustling peace of the river and port, by the stark beauty of the coastline and the eternity of the ocean, and by the lushness of bushland.

5. I can walk and run and think and dance, and I can sing, and I have a body that’s healthy and a mind that’s capable of healing.

6. I have money in the bank and food in the fridge and spare change in a box on my bookshelf, and I haven’t yet had to worry about where the next meal is coming from. This makes me luckier than (I think) ninety-nine per cent of the world’s population.

7. When the election is called I can walk up to a polling booth and vote unmolested. No one will ever try to take my democratic right and responsibility away from me.

8. I can go to a church, or a mosque, or a synagogue, or attend an inter-faith gathering, and it will never cross my mind that someone might walk in with a bomb strapped to their chest.

9. I live in a country where health care is pretty much universally accessible (unless you’re an asylum seeker – of which I am profoundly ashamed) and in which I can access all the resources I need for my emotional and mental and spiritual recovery. Also just if I get the flu.

10. I am still breathing. I will wake up tomorrow and be grateful for my life.

So all in all, my life totally doesn’t suck. All in all, I am deeply grateful.

 

On honouring movement.

On my morning walk to work (my cold has dispersed sufficiently that I can go back to work: yay), I passed through the industrial area. There was a small flatbed truck pulled to the side of the road, and its driver, a small Japanese man who looked as though he was in his sixties, was carefully feeding a large pin into a metal thing on the truck’s tray (please be impressed by my grasp of technical language when it comes to the anatomy of trucks). Not an unusual sight in and of itself, especially in that area – the number of small trucks that come through the area, serving the car dealerships and the warehouses and the panel-beating workshops, is such that a truck barely attracts my attention, unless I’m crossing the road in front of it without noticing it (which, in my defence, I’ve only done once, and it was all ok because the driver noticed me before it was too near a miss).

What caught my attention this time though was the care with which the driver was feeding the pin into the thing: slowly, delicately, as though he were handling the fragility of spun glass, rather than heavy indestructible metal. He lowered the pin in so gently and with such exquisite exactness that there was not a sound of metal on metal; and then slowly, almost tenderly, he turned the pin so that it was scrupulously centre. The whole process was such that I actually stopped walking to watch, and when he had completed what was almost a meditation in movement I found myself thinking, “That was so beautiful”.

There is something quite profound in watching a person make beauty and art out of a mundane moment, but that truck driver did it, in a grimy industrial backstreet. It made me think: every single action we take should be done with that much care. Each movement of our bodies is a miracle of bio-engineering and neurological wonder; even the act of doing my washing-up, or (more pleasantly) reaching for my tea-cup, should honour the wonders of creation that we all are. And of course, in honouring our own creation, we honour the Creator.

Plus, you’re far less likely to spill stuff if you do things slowly.

Wisdom to wisdom.

My post-cold blagh (that’s a technical term) is such that I can think of doing nothing other than curling up on the lounge and watching several episodes of Firefly (I love Joss Whedon!). I am certainly too blagh to come up with something intelligent on my own, so once more I am relying on the wisdom of Thomas Merton. It is at least thematically linked to some of the things I’ve been writing about…:

“Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfil my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself, and if I accept myself fully in the right way I will already have surpassed myself”.

So that was the brilliance of Thomas Merton. Now to the brilliance of Joss Whedon.