A short and sweet story today.
A lovely little three minute animation on empathy.
A short and sweet story today.
A lovely little three minute animation on empathy.
Recently, I’ve had a number of thought provoking conversations about news, the state of the world, you know, THAT stuff. At the same time as becoming more aware of the effect food has on my being, I’ve been increasingly aware of the way in which I’m affected by other things I ‘feed’ myself. Food is energy, information is energy.
I feel the tension of wanting to be informed but not, for want of a better word, depressed – in a shoulders drooping a little kind of way. I’m selective in my news sources (The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Slate, Scoop etc), no longer tuning in to websites like Stuff. As in the same way I can feel caffeine stimulate a very subtle sense of agitation, skim reading a page full of words like ‘road toll rises-assault-arson-ISIS-Ebola’ (as today’s Stuff homepage reads) also stimulates a response which doesn’t feel healthy.
Be joyful knowing the facts. One of my favourite pieces of advice from Paul Hawken (environmentalist, entrepreneur and author), quoting Wendell Berry. Someone asked him, at the end of a talk, about his response to seeing so much destruction in the world (I’m paraphrasing) and he responded by explaining that his approach is to let go of hope – because hope is the flip side of fear. We hope that something will happen, we fear that it won’t, both of these are based in the future, not grounded in the present. Instead, he says, be joyful knowing the facts. We need to know what the problems are in order to address them, but let’s try and remain full of joy.
My question for myself is how do I be joyful knowing the facts? How do I stay informed but not feel, on some level, ill at ease? Good stories. I think I need more good stories. Stories of joy and beauty to balance the dark ones. What helps me do my work, and be of service, is knowing that I connect into a global luminous spiderweb of people working joyfully to make the world a kinder, healthier, more harmonious place. And so, because I’m guessing I’m not the only one in need of these stories, I’ve decided to give myself a little project. For one week, I’ll post one (or maybe two or three) good stories here every day, I’ll keep them as short as I can. At the end of the week, I’ll check in to see how I feel and how you feel and maybe we’ll keep going.
So, without further ado. Good Stories. Both are less than five minutes. EnJoy.
Once upon a time there was a Sugar Monster that lived inside of a human called Tink. They co-existed quite happily, with Tink feeding her monster mostly with organic dark chocolate and gluten free bread but occasionally on deliciousness such as jam doughnuts. And then one day, something happened and the sky darkened ominously in the world of the Sugar Monster…
And so it would seem that having three miscarriages in six months was a little more than my body could tolerate and I’ve spent the last several months recovering from an uncomfortable but enlightening flare up of an autoimmune condition.
In all honesty, I wasn’t aware that I was that unwell to begin with. My energy levels were very low but I’d got use to that in the course of experiencing three early pregnancies and miscarrying. I’ve never been a good sleeper, so waking during the night and feeling groggy in the morning was nothing new. An awareness that my health has been much less than optimal really began with a commitment to heal parts of my story and with a new diet.
Anxiety is part of my story. It runs in the family – I can see its jagged grey edge weaving fearfully through generations. But it’s one of those things that’s so normal in the family, most of the time we just don’t see it. Always anticipating the worst and living in a a very subtle world of WhatIfs, is just part of our family culture.
To be honest, I thought I’d avoided drawing the anxiety short straw. I’d grown up with a mother who self medicated anxiety with wine and tranquilisers and I certainly wasn’t THAT anxious, in fact I’ve often had people remark on how serene and grounded I am in times of crisis. But in advance of possibly trying again to have a baby, I became very clear that anxiety is a family tendency and I was prepared to do whatever I could to not carry that through to another generation. And so in August I set a very clear intention to take forty two days – a day for every year of my life – to heal.
I have a deep interest in good, in all senses of the word, food. I’ve worked for Urban Harvest, an excellent little online farmers’ market, I’m immersing myself in permaculture and we’re growing as much food as we can here at Peka Peka. Lately I’ve been reading a little about epigenetics (basically how our “ancestors’ lousy childhoods or excellent adventures might change our personality, bequeathing anxiety or resilience by altering the epigenetic expressions of genes in the brain) and nutrition (nutrients can reverse or change epigenetic phenomena) which I find fascinating. And for the past year my partner Adam and I had been talking about doing the Autoimmune Paleo diet as a way of healing his psoriasis.
For those of you who haven’t encountered the Paleo diet, the basis of it is that for most of our evolution as a species we’ve made energy from fat, not sugar. With the advent of agriculture we began to get our energy from grains which convert into sugar and in general, sugar causes inflammation and consequently, very often, disease. At their core, autoimmune diseases are caused by systemic inflammation that leads your body to attack itself.
The Autoimmune Paleo diet (AIP) is an elimination diet. Initially you cut out all grains, dairy, sugar, nuts & seeds and eggs (and nightshades, as they can be a trigger for some people) until your symptoms disappear, then you gradually reintroduce particular foods and see how your body responds. Adam’s psoriasis all but disappeared in a week. A week. Having had doctors tell him for twelve years that there was very little, apart from steroid cream, he could do about the condition, changing his diet had it nearly gone in just a few days. He has learned that chilli seems to be the main trigger. He also suffers from some arthritis in his hands and feet, and he’s learned that red wine and mandarins trigger that.
My healing has not been quite so straight forward. About a week into the diet, I felt amazing. AMAZING. I went for the best run I’ve ever had. Then the Sugar Monster began to starve and scream and I unwittingly replaced my usual daily dose of sugar (a few squares of dark chocolate, a teaspoon of honey in tea, occasional baking) with delectable AIP treats made with dried fruit and coconut butter. But it turns out that all kinds of sugar – even the good ones, at the moment, even high fructose fruit – make for an unwell Tink. Indigestion, congestion, fogginess, agitation, inflammation galore. And anxiety.
For two weeks or so, almost every night, I’d wake in the early hours of the morning bordering on panic. I’d focus on a particular symptom – indigestion, congestion, headache and convince myself that I was going to die. I kid you not. Either of some terminal disease or, when the congestion was bad and I couldn’t breathe easily or my heart was beating loud and fast, I would tell myself I had to stay awake because if I went to sleep I would stop breathing.
It was exhausting, at times almost paralysing, but it passed. I began to sleep better, my digestion improved and I’ve been struck by how much clearer my thinking is and better my ability to focus is. I’ve grown increasingly aware of how much sugar (in any form) I can have. And as my wellbeing improves, day by day, I’m aware of how lacking in true wellness I was before I embarked on this journey. I may not have been dysfunctionally anxious, but it was there – it had been there all my life, fear hidden amongst a family culture of anxiety and coped in part because as a child of an addict I have very well developed coping mechanisms and a high level of resilience. It is only now, in the absence of anxiety, underlying stress and with increasing levels of energy that I’m beginning to experience what feels like to be well, not just free of disease.
At the moment, I’m still on a strict diet, dense in nutrients. Loads of greens and bone broth. Which is not to say I’m not still sorely tempted to have a jam doughnut and a good flat white. Although a lot less than I was a few weeks ago after I woke from a very vivid dream about inhaling a block of Whittaker’s chocolate and then in real life cheated on my diet with a disappointing average flat white and half a cupcake. But boy oh boy did my body let me know it was unhappy. I had an agitated inflamed sleep (or lack thereof) and woke feeling an unpleasant mix of jetleg, hangover and head cold. So, for the meantime, it’s greens instead of doughnuts, I’ve sent my sugar monster packing and it would seem that it has taken anxiety with it.
This is not, of course, the whole story. This healing has not just been about removing foods that cause inflammation and trigger symptoms but adding nutrient dense food, in order to give my body what it needs to heal. That in itself is a whole other blogpost, and I’ve gone on quite long enough except to say that community is the other element in this story of healing. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that Adam has temporarily pivoted from developing his coaching work and gone back to the film industry for a few months, in large part to give me time and space to heal. Our housemate Lissa has been come along on this ride of broth & greens with us and has been a constant presence of support. And finally, I’ve had the privilege of working with, at different times, a team of practitioners who I’ve not only been supported by but have learned a great deal from. They say it takes a village to raise a child, I’m beginning to understand that it takes a community to heal.
As this story comes to an end, I imagine my Sugar Monster sitting on a hill looking defeated and feeling weak. Anxiety sits alongside, alert & aware, sniffing the air for any hint of a doughnut.
Several times in the last few months I’ve sat down to write a blogpost.
About the age old practice of storytelling.
About growing food.
About developing this beautiful place at Peka Peka.
About finally, FINALLY, launching ElementAll.
About figuring out what balance means and how to effectively – and joyfully – integrate my ‘work’ with the rest of my life.
But each time I’ve sat down to write, I’ve got no further than a few paragraphs before a little voice says ‘Why aren’t writing you about the miscarriages?’
Why aren’t I writing about the miscarriages I’ve had?… Good question. Because even though I’ve been fairly open with close friends and family about being pregnant and then losing the baby, there is still a part of me that says ‘Ssssh, you’re not supposed to talk about it’. The cultural norm being not to tell people you’re pregnant until twelve weeks. Although personally, I’ve found that impossible… Simply because I haven’t had the energy to make up a believable story when I order decaf or turn down a glass of wine or go home for a lie down mid afternoon because I just. Can’t. Stay. Awake. For me, it has simply been easier to tell people. Then after the first miscarriage, when the simple joy of discovering I’m going to have a baby came with an edge of potential loss, it seemed better to tell people so there was a support group already waiting in the wings if something happened.
Why haven’t I written about the miscarriages? Because to be perfectly honest apart from not being sure as to whether I ‘should’ say something, I don’t know what to say. They were hard? Yes, they were hard. My mind and body has been on a rollercoaster of hormones I’m only just recovering from. I could — should — have bought shares in Earthcare tissues. I’ve experienced disliking dark chocolate for the first time in my life… I knew I was pregnant before I took the test because one day I woke up and the smell of dark chocolate made me faintly nauseous. I’ve been admitted to hospital for the first time in my life and found that remarkably disempowering. I’ve had more blood tests in the last six months than the rest of my life — I’ve heard the same jokes from the technician at Aotea Pathology almost enough to recite them.
My Traditional Chinese Doctor told me that in Traditional Chinese Medicine a miscarriage is called a little birth. I’ve had three little births in six months. To be honest, everything else I’ve experienced kind of pales in comparison. Apart from maybe Adam, the father of these little-lost-babies, who has been amazing. AMAZING.
I’m not sure I can, or want to say more. To family and friends who’ve been here in support, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. To those of you who’ve sent me emails and waited weeks for answer, I’m sorry and thank you for being patient. And to my long suffering dogs, thank you for many many snuggles and understanding when some days there is no beach.
Why haven’t I written about the miscarriages? Because in spite of writing about a number of very personal things here previously somehow this felt too close. Too personal. But I’ve finally decided to write about this for two reasons. The first is because I need to if I’m going to write anything else. There is an elephant in this writing room and I can’t write about other things until I share this story. Secondly, I – and this is my own very personal opinion – feel strongly that we need to create a culture where people do feel more comfortable talking about pregnancy early and miscarriage. Life is precious and sometimes precarious. The reality of women in their late 30s and 40s having babies is loss is more likely. This is hard, I kind of think we don’t need to make it any harder by feeling as if we have to cloak the experience in secrecy.
So. I think that’s it. I’ve had three miscarriages. It’s been tough. I’m getting my energy back. I have more stories to share.
A favourite little bowl of mine has just been chipped. I notice my immediate reaction is a soft sinking feeling of disappointment, but then I begin to think… Why? It’s still a beautiful little bowl, it just has a chip in it now.
And I begin to wonder when did we start to throw things away (wherever Away is) when they became flawed in their perfection. Not any less functional, but less aesthetically pleasing. When did we begin to find imperfection less beautiful? This is not something I have the answer to, but for me the wondering shifts something. Creates a desire to not let imperfection lessen my perception of value in something still perfectly functional and beautiful.
Just a thought.
Dinner tonight is just-out-of-the-oven-warm banana cake made with almond meal, coconut oil and maple syrup. (recipe here)
Oh the joy of being a grown up.
A decision to do something with the overripe bananas leads to cake baking. And as the husky notes of Etta James fill the kitchen, I find simple pleasure and presence in easing a warm slice out of the tin (imperfect as it sticks to the base) into a bowl with a dollop of organic apple & cinnamon yoghurt.
Until very recently, I considered myself a skilled communicator. Most of my training and professional experience is directly related to communication – advocacy, PR, marketing. I love talking with people, I love to write. And yet three weeks ago I spent a weekend learning a process of communication which has left me feeling a mix of things – disconcerted, excited, transformed and empowered.
Non-Violent Communication (the marketer in me at this point mutters ‘terrible name’ – but see below for the reason*) was developed by American psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg. It is, simply put, a way of communicating from the heart. The foundation of NVC is about connecting with what you’re feeling and what you need, in the present. Doing your best not to get caught up in the stories of the past or assumptions about the future, this is about what are you feeling now and what you need.
Pause for a moment and think about that. No, really, stop. Now. What are you feeling?… Curious, happy, relaxed, tired, edgy, stressed, distracted. What do you need?…Rest, space, fun, competence, understanding, cooperation. Sounds easy doesn’t it?…But I’m finding it surprisingly challenging.
And it’s not just me. There were seven of us participating in the weekend workshop and all of us (in our thirties and forties) in our different ways, successful and accomplished. Yet more than once I caught myself observing, astounded and amused (most of all at myself), a group of highly competent people standing around staring at a piece of paper trying to connect with what it is they were feeling in that moment and what they needed. “I am feeling….hmmmmm….because I need….hmmmm.”
Part of my skill as a communicator is, I suspect, a result of being an only child and only Wellington grandchild of highly articulate and intellectual people. From a very early age I sat at the dinner table and was expected to engage in conversation. But it was conversation of the mind not the heart. This is of course a generalisation, but I find it hard to reflect on thirty plus years of family conversation and remember a time when feelings were at the centre of the table. This was reinforced by my formal education at a highly academic school and then a law degree. I am trained to use an analytical, judgmental and strategic mind to communicate. I am not trained, not practiced, in communicating from the heart.
If feelings and needs are the foundation of NVC, empathy is the core. For this is not just about connecting with my own feelings and needs but those of the people I’m communicating with. During conflict, I’m learning to listen to – without judgment – what my colleague, partner or friend is feeling and needing. Without getting caught up in blame and shame and responsibility.
The trouble is that having opened the door to a heart based process of communication, I find it impossible to close, let alone pretend I haven’t seen it. Now, just a few weeks into practicing a new way of communicating, I find myself in the middle of conflict suddenly and acutely aware of how much I’m caught up in my own story. The story of long playing family dynamics or assumptions about how the other person is going to behave based on past experience, rather than what we’re both feeling in the present, what we both need.
It’s not quite that simple of course. This feels like and in fact is, learning a new language. I’m still unskilled at connecting with my own feelings and even more unskilled at connecting with my needs. Partly because I am a caregiver by nature and nurture (my pattern is to care for others first and not connect with and take care of my own needs) but mostly because this is not the way we’re trained to communicate with ourselves and with each other.
By the way, if this all sounds too woo-woo for you, bear in mind that Marshall Rosenberg has used this process working in conflict ridden places around the globe, include Nigeria, Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan, Bosnia and the list goes on. This is a powerful and well-used tool. If you’re interested you can read about some of his work here.
I’ve talked (ok, probably raved a little) about NVC since its crossed my path, but honestly this stuff is GOOD. One of the things that seems to capture the imagination of those who’ve been on the receiving end of my enthusiasm is the notion that what you say to me – particularly in conflict – is not necessarily what I hear you say. So often I translate what you say to me through the story I’m caught up in at that moment and my assumptions about you. Harsh but true. There is considerable benefit in simply asking someone who is reacting emotionally/negatively to what you’re saying by asking them gently if they would tell you what they heard you say. You might just be surprised…
Look, I could go on. But let me finish with this. I feel (huh) given my background in communications that I can say without hesitation this is one of the most powerful tools I’ve encountered. I can share with you how revealing it is to sit quietly next to the lovely man I share my life with, after a night of lying awake struggling to connect with what I’m feeling and what I need, and be able to say to him “in this moment, this is what I’m feeling, this is what I need” and have that simply heard and responded to with his own feelings and needs. Without judgement, without blame, without expectation.
I’m excited by the potential, at home, at work, at play.
Watch this space.
P.S. Our NVC teacher was fantastic. If you’re interested in learning more, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll hatch a plan.
* Marshall was inspired by the writings and actions of nonviolence activists like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Apparently the word nonviolence is the closest literal translation that Gandhi found to the Sanskrit word ahimsa. Although in English this word appears as a negation, in Sanskrit naming a concept or quality through negation instead of directly is sometimes a way of suggesting it is too great to be named.
Many years ago, I worked in international animal welfare. In choosing photos for marketing campaigns we came up with the ‘nose scratch factor’ – show the photo to someone and if they almost immediately went ‘aww’ and reached out to scratch the nose of the animal on the photograph, we had a winner.
I’m endeavoring to do a similar thing with photos of food. But instead of scratching it, I want you to eat. Even better than that would be if you were inspired to cook it and eat it. No, wait, even better would be if you could grow part of it and eat it.
I love food. For me it is a constant connection to nature. A way of connecting with people. One of my favourite quotes is from Hippocrates who said ‘Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food’. I get that. I know, simply from my own experience, that what I eat plays a major role in how healthy I am.
Over the last year, a number of possibilities for Peka Peka have begun to emerge and one of them (rapidly becoming a probability) is a food forest. My imagination has been captured by the idea of growing a forest of food. The kind of food Hippocrates had in mind. Yummy stuff but also healing stuff. This also speaks loudly to me of biomimicry, of learning from Nature. When asking myself ‘how would Nature grow food?’, acre after acre of the same crop sprayed within an inch of its life (and ours) with pesticide is not what springs to mind.
I could go on. And on. Food, it would seem, is one of the main ways I connect dots. But instead, I’m going to leave you with a recipe for this evening’s ridiculously simple, delicious and nutritious meal. Taking a photo of it prompted me to write this post, as I realised that if I really do want you to make it and eat it, a ‘how to’ would probably help…
1 cup of organic brown rice
180 grams of smoked fish (The Smokehouse produce is gorgeous)
1 tablespoon of miso paste (if you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend Urban Hippie miso)
a small handful of wakame (I use Pacific Harvest)
another small handful of karengo (also Pacific Harvest)
a drizzle of hot sauce (if you like)
Let the smoked fish warm to room temperature while the rice is cooking, it’s much tastier warmed up a little. When the rice is ready, take two small soup bowls adding half a tablespoon of miso to each, along with half a cup of boiling water. When the miso has dissolved add half of the wakame to each bowl, sit back and watch as it unfolds into beautiful deep green fronds. Or not. If you want to keep busy, find two slightly larger bowls and add as much brown rice as you like, flake half the smoked fish into each, divide the karengo between the two servings along with most of the wakame from the miso, leaving just enough to perk up the miso!
The final touches are simply to squeeze half a lemon over each serving, drizzle some sesame oil, add a touch of hot sauce if want it a little bit spicy and Bob’s your Uncle…While this isn’t a super quick meal because the rice takes 20-30 minutes to cook, the rest of it takes 5 minutes or less. At which point you can happily sit down with miso soup and a bowl of rice-y goodness to follow.
One of the most effective pieces of advice I’ve encountered in recent years has been from the late Sir Paul Callaghan. A friend who knew him well said that one of the best things you could say about Sir Paul was that he was the most Paul Callaghan he could be. His words struck a deep chord. We live in turbulent times and many people I know are challenged by how to find their purpose, be of service and make the world a better place. I whole heartedly believe that one of the best things you can do, and be, is the most you.
At forty, I’ve had my fair share of life experience. But in many respects I’ve done what the system expected. Achieved well at school, went onto university, followed a career path, at least for a while…But this path does not necessarily, in fact often doesn’t, allow much room for your true, full self to step out of the wings and onto the stage. My conscious journey in this respect began with the decision to explore a business idea, reduce my paid working hours and follow my nose. My nose hasn’t led me in a particularly linear direction I have to say. I’ve had to stop and have conversations with it occasionally, asking if it knows where it’s going. Sometimes it doesn’t, instead quietly it asks me to trust. Have faith. Have fun. Become increasingly comfortable with the unknown.
Chiaroscuro is an art term referring to the use of light and dark to achieve a heightened illusion of depth. If I imagine a painting of myself, being the most Tink I can be means exploring not just how light is used, but dark. What lies in the shadow, where is the contrast.
I’ve spent a good part of today feeling out of sorts. There were moments in which I wasn’t sure whether I felt weepy or snappy. I sat in a meeting this afternoon and there was too much information. I wanted to go home and run along the beach in the howling wind. Or lie in a warm bath. Or eat dark chocolate. Or do all three.
The actual writing part 1 of the story of Frank was remarkably effortless, the words flowed, but its been a long time in the making. The hitting the publish button was the hard part. Reaching out with this stuff still doesn’t come easily. And the effort of it has left me depleted. In addition, I then spent yesterday morning facilitating the handover from one of Mum’s new carers to another. I’m told that this is the hardest stage of dementia. Mum knows something is seriously wrong. She wants to know what we can do to fix it. I have to gently tell her that we can’t.
Becoming the most Tink I can be also means become familiar with who I am, and how I am, when I’m out of balance. When I’m tired, stretched to thin, depleted. The shadow side of the luminous me is the one inclined to retreat, feel overwhelmed with responsibility, alone, under-resourced. If I’m in my element connecting, this part of me wants to disconnect. This journey of figuring out how I can be the most me I can be is learning that sometimes when I’m in this space, the very best thing I can do is the last thing I feel like doing – connect, reach out. But sometimes, what is most nourishing are the things I really want to do. Have a glass of red wine and dark chocolate. Soak in bath. Curl my toes into sand. Watch a movie and escape.
But I don’t always know. I don’t always get it right and redress the balance. Sometimes I get it wrong. I snap. And snarl a little. And weep, sometimes a lot. And that’s okay too.
“There is strong shadow where there is much light.” Johann, Wolfgang von Goethe.
In the wake of posting part 1 of this story, I ‘ve received some lovely feedback and engaged in thought-provoking conversations. I concluded one email to a friend with the words below and tonight they seem fitting words with which to conclude…
“…in the face of Mum’s deterioration and climate change etc etc etc to convince me of how much I want to live my life with light and joy and love and belly-aching laughter. To be kind to animals, play with children, stop and have conversations with old people. Be silly. Be brave. Be vulnerable. The hardest part at the moment with Mum is seeing her aware of how much she has f….. up. So much regret. So many opportunities not taken, possibilities not explored. One of the best things I can do to help her story seem less of a tragedy is being the most me, the most Tink, I can be.”
How can you be more fully you? What are those facets of yourself you’ve yet to explore, step into, reveal? Who are you, and how are you, when you’re out of balance? What is the shadow that creates light?… Food for thought I hope.
Let me be frank.
Once upon a time there was a little blond girl called Frank. Her father was a doctor, he spent a lot of time away from home making people better. Her mother was beautiful and very funny but worried a lot about a lot of things. So much so that the little girl ended up being more of a Mum to her Mummy. But she didn’t realise that until much, much later.
Frank and her Mummy and Daddy lived a good life. Often Frank and her mum would while away the school holidays at the golf club pool where lots of other mummies whiled away the school holidays. With wine. And then gin. But there was nothing unusual about that. Then Frank’s daddy bought a beautiful little farm with another doctor and there were many happy idyllic years of horses and BBQs beside the stream. And more wine and more gin. And more worry. But no-one talked about that.
Frank grew up and went to boarding school. Her mother didn’t like it at all. So there was more wine and little white pills to take the edge of the worry which was growing into something bigger and scarier. And still no-one talked about it.
Frank grew up some more and went further afield. Her father became very sick. Her mother couldn’t cope and the wine began to make an appearance earlier in the day. The dosage of the little white pills was increased, the ‘do not take with alcohol’ label ignored and people began to talk about it. The wine, that is, not the worry.
Frank’s beautiful but by now not nearly so funny mother spent a week in the drug & alcohol unit at Kenepuru Hospital. It stopped the drinking but traumatised her. Not the best way of dealing with chronic anxiety. Another time she was prescribed a medication to stop her drinking, one that intentionally made her as sick as a dog when she drank (in fact even sicker than any of Frank’s family’s dogs). But Frank’s dying father while dying was still very much a doctor, he couldn’t stand seeing her so violently sick and had her taken off it.
Frank’s father died. And her mother spiralled, disconcertingly elegantly, out of control.
Frank tried to talk about it. Although often she wanted more than anything not to talk about it. But she felt that someone had to. Except that most people didn’t want to hear.
And they still don’t really want to.
Particularly now that my mother has alcohol induced dementia.
At this point let me say, I’ve thought long and very, very hard about whether I could, and should, publicly write about my mother’s journey and my part of her story. Not just thought, I’ve searched my soul. But there are two things which lead me to hit the ‘publish’ button. The first is that I am now at peace with where we both are, in relationship to each other and her history. That’s not to say I don’t feel profound sadness, sometimes acutely so, for her condition. However the frustration, anger, grief and confusion have passed and replacing these feelings, for the most part, is deep compassion.
The second reason I choose now, not only to write about this but do so publicly, is that it would have helped me enormously to read similar stories and understand that I was not alone. One of the consequences of people not being willing to talk about it, particularly for an only child, was that I felt hugely alone. Often the unwillingness to talk was prefaced by a few brief comments about my mother’s condition not being my responsibility. And while I understood the reasons for such comments, this in fact only amplified the feeling of isolation.
I don’t believe in regrets. But I do wish we’d talked about it. I’ve no doubt that the reason for not doing so was to protect me, but I was a smart kid. I may not have realised there was anything odd about the level of wine consumption – it was normalised – but I did on some level, unconsciously and energetically, register the anxiety and the extraordinary lack of communication in my family. And instead of ripping of the bandaid and confronting the dysfunction in the family and allowing the wound to heal, under the bandaid of middle class civility, it was left to fester and become something much more diseased.
I could go on. It is said that you should write about what you know. And heavens knows, I know something about having a relative suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. I suspect I will go on, there is a great deal more I would like to share, hoping it may be of help to people in similar situations. And I suspect there are many… This morning in fact, I came across an article stating that eight million prescriptions for pills to treat anxiety and depression were dispensed in New Zealand 2011-12 (current population 4.4 million). I would say it’s a fairly safe bet that for a significant number of people taking this medication, alcohol is part of the mix.
I began this post by attempting to summarise forty years of experience, forty years of this story, my story as part of my mother’s. Somehow, telling it in the same way I would tell a children’s story intuitively felt like the most simple way of beginning.
Of course this is not a simple story, but my message in this post is simple. I wish we’d talked. It took me a very long time to do so, with family or close friends. Because we didn’t talk about it as a family, I didn’t even realise it was a problem for ages. Talking with family might have caused something to crack, but as Rumi (and Leonard Cohen) have said, it’s the crack that lets the light in. Reaching out to friends, having friends brave enough to talk about it with me and listen, helped let light in for me and consequently allow some of my own, long suppressed light, to get out.
For those of you in similar situations, of course I don’t know how it is for you and your family. Clearly I’m not a health practitioner, but I do have decades of life experience in health. I grew up in a medical family, within the last ten years, my father, grandfather, grandmother and two uncles have died. My father had Lewy Body dementia, my grandmother Alzheimer’s, both Uncles died far too young of cancer. I have a profound interest in health and take a holistic approach. I work in communications. With stories. I believe in the healing power of storytelling.
So, my message in this first post, part 1 of the Story of Frank, is ultimately simple. Please talk. If there’s even the tiniest window try, if not, see if you can make one. It might be, probably will be, scary, it may well be uncomfortable, you could well feel as if you’re not getting anywhere, but if I were you – and in many respects I have been – I would try. It’s never too late.
To be continued…
In three weeks, I’ll have been at Peka Peka for one year. This is a little of what I’ve learned.
Go barefoot. I have between 100,00-200,000 exteroceptors (a sensory nerve ending stimulated by the immediate external environment) in each of my feet and they love being bare. Preferably on the sand or grass, and if it’s the latter, dewy is even better. If you’re not willing to take my word for it, here is an article on the benefits of being barefoot.
Sleep is the bomb. Most of us don’t get nearly enough, particularly the early ‘core sleep’, quality is apparently just as important as quantity. You hear people say they get used to sleep deprivation, actually the vast majority of us don’t. After a year of raising two high energy puppies who for the first 6 months woke at least once during the night needing to pee, I have considerably more sympathy for new parents. Sleep is an enormously important ingredient in our recipe for self-healing, lack of it can make us more anxious, affect food choices and lead to disease. Again, if you won’t take my word for it, click here and here.
The trick to not feeling overwhelmed by a large house (never owned a house before and this one is 300 sqm) and 12 acres of land with 2 acres of garden (never had a garden before) is to not feel overwhelmed. Occasionally this is easier said than done, but it turns out that step 1 is to make a conscious decision not to feel overwhelmed. Step 2 is to break it down into steps. And realise that I don’t have to deal with all the weeds in one day. Or even one week.
I’m considerably more handy than I thought. I’m not one for reading instruction manuals. I bave spent my adult life thus far considering myself far from handy. But it’s amazing what you can do when you have to. When no-one else is around to fix things. Or they are, but it’s your responsibility. At 11pm two days before Christmas, wickedly tired, I downloaded the manual for my dishwasher, disassembled and reassembled part of it in order to fix the fact it wasn’t cleaning properly.
I love it here. Recently, I read an excellent blogpost by Umair Haique on How to Let Your Purpose Find You. His advice is to be uncool enough to love.
“In our overly numb culture of icy cool, when we do feel something, we so often feel the opposite of love: hate, anger, fear, and envy. And those can give you drive. But drive isn’t purpose — drive is a fury to be slaked, an ambition to be achieved. Purpose is love, not just little-l love, but Big Love, the grand affair that defines a life — first between you and your better, fuller, truer, worthier self; and then between your that self and the world.”
This place found me. I fit in. It’s not that I don’t or haven’t fitted in, in other places. But this one is different. An essential element of practicing biomimicry (an ’emerging discipline of an ancient practice’) is understanding that we are a part of Nature. And we need to learn how to fit in again. I’m learning that here. Learning to listen to the pohutukawas breathe as they sit in a circle surrounding the house. I watch the hawks swoop leisurely up and up and up on currents of air and in some strange inexplicable way, a part of myself takes flight too. I’m learning to listen, observe, take baby steps in order to connect with an inherent wisdom we’ve somehow, mostly, forgotten. But with the help of the 100,000 exteroceptors in my feet, I’m beginning to remember.