Monday, May 7, 2012


I have been thinking about what to post for while now. Some days, inspiration just doesn't strike. I may also be hindered by my nagging wonder of what to cook for dinner.

I know! I'll just write down some easy recipes. That will make my blog post, and then I can choose dinner from my recipes!

Now, my dad is a very good cook. And I have worked as a cafe cook for years now. But when I choose to cook at home, I am no foodie snob. In fact, due to my ever-decreasing attention-span, quick and easy food is a must. Or I just get bored/tired/depressed in the middle of cooking and struggle to finish.

So don't expect haute cuisine here. But do expect use of tins and jars of pre-made sauce, lots of bacon, and food that can be cooked within half an hour (no lingering over the stove-top for me, lest I walk away and the dogs decide dinner is theirs!). So - to write down some of my favourite meals! All food is ostensibly for 4. But I do over-cater regularly, so you will probably have leftovers.

Shepherd's Pie.

500 grams beef mince.

2 rashers bacon, finely diced.
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced.
1 onion, peeled and finely diced.
1 big handful of mushrooms, roughly chopped.
8 potatoes, 4 medium and 4 small, peeled and cut into quarters.
Gravy powder.
Cream or milk.
Grated cheese.

Boil potatoes until soft and mashable. While they are boiling, put bacon, onion, carrot and mushrooms in a saucepan with a little butter and cook until the onion and carrot are cooked through. Then add mince. Cook until mince is browned, and then add a little water and enough gravy powder to make a rich saucy mixture.

Put mince mixture into an oven-proof dish, making sure you will have enough space to add mashed potato and cheese on top. Then, when potatoes are cooked, mash them with butter, cream or milk, and salt to taste. Layer mashed potato on top of mince.

Finally, grate cheddar cheese, and put a generous layer on top of the mashed potato. Then turn your oven onto 180 degrees Celsius and cook until the cheese is melted and going brown on top. Serve with peas and corn. Easy!


500 grams Hokkien noodles (the fresh kind found in the refrigerator section of the supermarket).
500 grams thin sliced beef.
Tinned baby corn. 
Tinned sliced water chestnuts.
Bean sprouts.
Stir-fry vegetables (celery, capsicum, carrot, spring onion, bok choy, beans... whatever you think will taste nice or have lying around in your fridge.)
Hoisin sauce.
Soy sauce.
Oyster sauce.

If you are smart enough to think ahead, marinade the beef in a mixture of the three sauces overnight. Otherwise, put a kettle of water on to boil, and start stirfrying the beef with the tinned vegetables and the stirfry vegetables (after chopping them, obviously) in a large frying pan or wok.

When the beef and vegetables are close to being cooked, add sauces to taste. Pour hot water over unwrapped hokkien noodles in a saucepan, and wait for a couple of minutes. Use a fork to separate noodles. Drain, and then add noodles to beef and vegetable mix. If the noodles aren't hot enough, heat in wok. Otherwise go ahead and serve!

Beef Stroganoff.

750 grams thin sliced beef.
1 packet fettucine.
1 onion, sliced.
2 big handfuls mushrooms, sliced.
Plain flour.
Tomato paste.
Sour cream.

Stirfry beef, onions and mushrooms with a little butter until onion is translucent and beef is browned. Add plain flour until all is coated. Then add a little hot water and a generous helping of tomato paste until meat and vegetables are in a rich tomato gravy. If sauce is too thin, add gravy powder. If it is too thick, simply add more water. Season with paprika. (Paprika is derived from capsicums, and has a peppery taste. Therefore you will not have to add pepper. The saltiness of the gravy and tomato paste should mean that you will not need salt either.)

Cook fettucine according to packet directions. Drain. Just before combining, add a generous helping of sour cream to the meat sauce, according to taste. Stir fettucine through, coating it with sauce, and serve!

Ok, that's enough for today. I wonder if I have any noodles around to cook for tonight?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Emptiness

On my bad days, I sleep in late. As late as I can. I sleep, and sleep, and finally, reluctantly, arise when my body lets me know it can't do that any longer.

I wander out into the empty house. There's just me and the dogs. I attend to their needs - letting them outside, feeding them. Then - nothing.

I say nothing, because that's how I feel. Not sad, not happy. Nothing. I have no motivation, no desires. It's an odd feeling. I don't feel happy that I get time to relax, nor sad that I am alone. I don't feel good, or bad, or busy, or lazy.

I feel nothing.

In this absence of emotion, I have to consciously attend to my needs. I'm not hungry, but I need food. I am not thirsty, but I need to drink. It all seems to difficult to do, so I prioritise what I need to do. First comes medication - 5 mg of an mood-stabiliser/anti-psychotic and 150 mg of an anti-depressant. It's a good time to start drinking the 2 litres of liquid I don't want but need. Then food. Even if it's just a muesli bar.

I try to do housework. Washing, dishes... there's always so many jobs. None are appealing, and I feel no joy of achievement upon completing them. So often, I fail in getting them done. I'll gather my dirty laundry and make it to the washing machine, and then stand vacantly. There's no sense of  pressing need, no desire to see the place clean. It's as if I can't connect the job that needs to be done with the result of completion.

I have other needs, other responsibilities, too. Exercise, socialisation, medical needs. I write them down, look at the list... and so often, nothing more happens. I feel a pang of guilt, but no motivation. Just a sense that if I don't attend to these duties, something bad will happen. 

I try to keep myself busy doing something, anything. I know it's bad to be idle, that I become self-destructive then. It could be research of something, or a computer game. It could be a piece of digital art. It doesn't really matter. I don't care much. I've played 13 000 games of solitaire, just filling in time, knowing that, even if it's not helpful, it keeps me from doing something harmful.

There are friends and family I should contact, both for their sake and mine. I can't think of anything positive to say, however. So I turn off all internet chat options and ignore my phone. I don't answer the house phone or the door. I guess I should feel lonely, but I don't.

Before I started taking my medication, I used to cry a lot. I felt so horrible, as if I were a disgusting creature with no hope, no future. I wanted to end my life. I don't feel that way any more. I am glad of that. Now I sit and stare blankly. I can't cry. Somehow the tears don't come so easily as before. There's not the horrible depth of despair I used to feel inside myself. There's just an emptiness.

I don't feel this all the time. I do have days when the sun is bright, and the world looks appealing. It's often when I physically see friends. Their optimism lifts me up, brings me out of myself. But somehow it's so hard to ask for company. 

If I've ever seemed distant, if I've not contacted you, it may be because my heart has turned off. I    am experiencing the emptiness of my condition. But know, I still care about you. It's just that I need the medications to stop my slide into depression.

Even if that means that I can feel nothing at all.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Well, I'm unemployed. And I feel bad about it. Only last night, Graham and I were talking about renting a house (currently we're living with his parents, which is very kind of them). We came to the conclusion, that even though he has just started a brand-new full-time job, we cannot afford to rent a house on our own on just his wage.

I felt like crying when I first realised this. I felt so guilty. Graham works so hard to support us, and I've been unemployed for four months now. It's not because I can't find a job, either. Although I don't have many qualifications, several years of working in cafes means that I can get most jobs in hospitality. No, the reason I'm not working is because I am quite sick. My bipolar disorder makes working very difficult, especially in the hospitality industry. Who knew that working in a fast, noisy, high-stress, low-paid job would be detrimental to mental health?

I left my last job because it was so demanding; I was having panic attacks in the bathroom, and shaking so badly that I was spilling coffees on customers. I was crying before going to work, crying after work, and dreading the next rostered shift. So when my doctor told me to take three months off, I jumped at it.

One month after the doctor's ordered time has expired, here I am, still unemployed. Its pretty awful. While it might seem great to have time to oneself everyday  - time to rest and relax - I can never quite enjoy it. I feel guilty over not working, so I try to compensate by cleaning and cooking. This tires me, and then I feel sick from worry and work. It's hard to let go, and just realise that I may never work to the capacity of other people ever again.

And then there's trying to explain my lack of working to other people. It's difficult, when meeting new people, to realise that I no longer have a job with which to describe myself. What do I say I do? I'm a professional sleeper-inner? I occasionally write blog posts and create digital art? I'm a champion dinner cook? I don't even feel comfortable describing myself as a housewife; it's not my house, after all, and (at least for me) the words "housewife" describe someone who keeps their home spotlessly neat and clean. That doesn't really fit me, somehow.

Even if I muster the courage to say I'm unemployed, that leads to all sorts of other questions and implications. "Unemployed" could mean a professional seeking new and better employment, but I'm not looking for a job. It could just as well mean a lazy dole-bludger. It's hard to deny that that is what I am, when I have a sneaky feeling that I should be doing more.

So usually I end up telling people about my bipolar disorder. It makes me sound semi-crippled, which I hate, but I'd rather sound disabled than lazy. Either way, I feel less than other people, a person who is always asking for special treatment and consideration from others. Whether I deserve it or not, doesn't matter to me. I used to pride myself on my self-sufficiency. Now I'm dependent on my husband and his family.

I guess one day I'll feel better about this whole situation. Maybe I'll get better, or I'll start a family, or maybe I'll just learn to accept my limitations graciously. Until then, my goal is just to reduce my expectations of what I can do, and to be satisfied that, if I do my best, that that is good enough.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Venturing Into The Bush

You may have noticed fewer posts from me over the last few days. That is because I was away with my husband on a trip to Western Australia's Southwest region. We drove 353 km from our house in Mullaloo to the little town of Pemberton. We left on Friday afternoon. I was very excited, as it felt like an adventure. Graham seemed happy too.

We drove for several hours. Well, Graham did. I can't drive. It was dark before we reached the caravan park where we had booked a small cabin. Even in the dark we could tell it was clean and tidy, and we appreciatively gloated over our good fortune before making the double bed and falling asleep.

Poor Graham. I was so excited about exploring that I woke up early on Saturday morning. To be fair, when I woke him, I did sweeten the blow with pancakes, but I think he was still sleepy! At my insistence, we ate quickly and got ready to drive out in search of adventure. We decided we would travel to the Valley of the Giants, which we were assured was only an hour and a half drive away. The sun was shining, the air was beautiful and clean, and we were ready to take on the bush!

Our GPS system has always irritated me. It is old and sometimes erratic. However, we've never had too much trouble with it. So I plugged it in and tried to get direction to the Valley of the Giants. The GPS came up with a route - only to inform us that it would include unsealed roads. But we were optimistic. Surely we could make it? So we drove along winding roads, and eventually came upon the warned unsealed road. It looked fine:

So it was a surprise when a sign declared the road closed due to flooding of a river. Oh well, never mind. Surely there is an alternate route? The GPS declared there was... one that would take us several hours to traverse. Undeterred, we decided to keep going.

The southwestern area of Western Australia is stunning. Tall karri trees are skirted by lush scrub and ferns. Graham and I sat back and drank in the breathtaking views. We got ever closer to our goal, until the GPS turned us down one last road. 70 kilometres and we were there! The road had no lines, but it was wide and sealed, so we started driving.

Then the road turned into an unsealed road. No worries; it was still wide and graded.

Then it got narrower.

Then it got bumpier.

Until finally we were driving along a sandy death-trap suitable only for tractors. Graham suddenly spoke up. "How long is it until we get to the end of this road?"

Surprised, I asked why. 

"Because we are close to running out of fuel. We need to get off this track and find a petrol station."

"Should we turn back?"

"We actually don't have enough petrol left to do that."

We started to get nervous. Then the GPS went silent - it had no idea where we were any more. Visions of being stranded in the bush, with no petrol and no phone reception began to flash before my mind's eye. Graham looked just as scared.

And then, oh joy of joys! We got to the end of that horrific road! And only a couple of hundred metres away there was the most welcome sight - a roadhouse and petrol station. We filled the car and bought a map. As we relaxed outside the roadhouse we realised just what had happened. The GPS had sent us on a huge 500 km trip, when there was a highway that would have gotten us there in half the time. 

The orange arrows are the way we came. The purple marks the easy way the GPS inexplicably missed. Perplexed and frustrated, we checked our map again. We were only 13 km away from our original destination - the Valley of the Giants. We decided to go and visit it, as we had come so far to do so.

The Valley of the Giants is an untouched part of a National Park, famous for its forest of tingle trees. These trees are over 40 metres tall, and more than 400 years old. The rangers have built a huge and very high walkway among the ancient trees. We climbed up the walkway and found ourselves walking through the treetops, 40 metres above the ground. It was beautiful, and all our worries melted away as we explored the forest.

It was beautiful and majestic.

Eventually, refreshed and happy, we set off back to the caravan park. I packed away the offending GPS and we navigated the old-fashioned way... by map. And it was easy, and took less than half the time to get back than we had spent trying to get there!

We had a lovely trip away. But I now hate that GPS, and have sworn to destroy it in some way. Any suggestions on methods welcomed! 

Identifying Australian Country; A Beginner's Guide

Graham and I went for a weekend trip in the country a couple of days ago. I was quite excited. I'd lived for most of my life in rural areas, and had friends who lived in the country, but it had been a long time since I had really ventured out into the country areas of Australia. 

We left on Friday afternoon, in our trusty stationwagon.  As Graham drove, and I cooed at the sight of cows and snakes and rednecks, I began to wonder - where does the city end and the country begin? While you might think it's just a case of wide-open spaces and grass indicating the country, that's not always true. There are parts of the city that are beautiful and rustic, and there are parts of the country that bustle. So I began compiling a list of signs which one should look out for when trying to determine whether one is in the country.

Traffic Lights

Have you been through a set of traffic lights recently? Do you know if there is another set within a 1,000 km distance? If the answer is no, you are entering country. Traffic lights are unneeded in the country, a place where if you are in a traffic jam, you have inadvertently stumbled into the yearly agricultural Show on the day the Slim Dusty tribute band is playing.


Check the roads. Are there dead animals? In posher, "rural" areas, most roadkill is quickly swept away. Not in the country. There are simply too many roads and not enough cars to make it worthwhile clearing away the unfortunate furry victims. The most work put into clearing these carcasses is hauling away particularly large kangaroos and rolling wombats off the tarmac before decomposition causes them to explode. Because that would be messy.

I was going to put up a picture of roadkill, but the photos made me sad. Here instead is a photo of a happy baby wombat.


Count the cars passing you (and in the country, they will pass you, as they consider speed limits to be merely guidelines). If 8 out of 10 vehicles are utes (pick-up trucks, as the Americans term them) or four-wheeled drive vehicles, you have made it to the country. Look out for R.M. Williams stickers, red dust or clay, and sheepdogs in the back. If the driver is trying to impress a girl, he may have washed it. But probably not, as that wastes water.


There are farms, and there are farms. Or to be more precise, there are hobby farms run by enthusiasts, and then there are real farms, inhabited by farmers. One is built, the other accumulates and grows. One thing that always seems to turn up on real country farms are discarded tyres. Watch for drifts and piles of tyres in various desolated paddocks - the higher the pile, the longer that family has been there. One would think that they would haul them away and dispose of them, but that would only be feasible if one could find a functioning vehicle. And that's not easy because...

Country Farms Double As Auto Wreck Yards

For every fully functional, well-running car on a country farm, there is likely to be 10 more, ranging from fully rusted, disembowelled wrecks, to clunky bombs kept "for the kids to learn to drive in". It seems to be a point of honour not to get rid of them, perhaps because of a fear that, should they dispose of a vehicle, the very next day they will find that they needed a part from it. Or that they have broken their children's hearts by hauling away their playground and cubbyhouses.

A Sign Isn't A Sign Without A Bullethole

Many country people own guns. Many country roads have signs. How a respectable farmer's rifle ends up putting rounds into the local speed limit sign seems to be a mystery though. However, the fact remains that a true country sign is battered, riddled with bullets, and probably singed from recent bushfires. Legibility is for city slickers.

The Pub

If the settlement has a pub, it is a town. If it does not, then it is only a tiny village undeserving of mention. It may have churches, cafes, a garage, a general store and a doctors - but it is only when it acquires a pub that it truly becomes a town. The bigger towns may have two or more pubs. While it may seem that there just isn't enough people to meet the supply, these pubs usually have a strict clientele that they cater for. There are the rough pubs, where all the farmers and workers go to drink; there are the posh pubs meant for families, where one can get a meal; and there are the tourist pubs. If it has a title such as "Ye Olde Tavern", it is for tourists. Go to the tourist pub if you get a choice. The drinks are more expensive, but there will be more choice, rather than the three beers on draft in the local pub.


Depending on when you recognise these signs of impending country, you may be quite a way into real country Australia. If you have any sense at all, you will make sure that you know where the next petrol station is, and how far you can drive without your petrol running out. The reason why?

Get out your mobile phone. Look, no reception bars! Check the roads. Look, no bus signs! Taxis? Even if you could call one, how far do you think they are prepared to travel to find you? So, when next you go to the country, be prepared. Watch the signs. And if you feel faint of heart, make sure you have enough fuel to get back to civilisation. 

The Australian country is a foreign land, and no one has yet tamed it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Soldier of Christ

Sometimes Catholic religious compare themselves to an army. They call themselves "Soldiers of Christ". In their opinion, they are fighting against the forces of evil, in groups, training and sacrificing themselves for the greater good.

And it is true that the religious are disciplined, strong, well-trained and obedient, capable of great sacrifice, just as a good soldier is. There are many parallels that can be made between the two. But, having lived as a religious for two years, I have seen more of religious life than most people, and I can draw some more interesting parallels between religious and soldiers.

They Break You Down, Then Build You Back Up

It's no secret that the army recruitment training can be tough. It's been a stated objective that the officers training the recruits aim to completely break them, before building them back up into the desired soldiers. And it's pretty clear why. A soldier needs to be part of a whole; he needs to be instantly, unquestioningly obedient, loyal, brave and uncomplaining. Any soldier without the physical and mental toughness born of enduring their training would not last long in a war zone.

It's exactly the same for religious. I'm going to refer to "nuns" and "she/her", as this is from my personal experience, but I am sure this can extend to male religious as well.

A nun's probationary period, known variously as a "postulancy", "aspirancy" or "novitiate", can be horrendously difficult to endure. At least in the convent where I was based, there was little lee-way given to new sisters. New sisters were expected to quickly learn and follow the rules; this, coupled with a demanding physical schedule, could be exhausting. With little sympathy from the older sisters, new sisters would be expected to sink or swim under their own power.

It's hard to see why the experience should be so hard, but the effect was very similar to a soldier's training. Sisters would be broken physically and mentally, and if they survived, would be re-trained to think and act as a religious. While a nun may never need to enter a war-zone, the confines of religious life, coupled with their long days and rigorous schedule, requires a certain mindset and physical toughness. The probationary period is expected to produce that, whilst weeding out  candidates who couldn't or didn't want to make such a sacrifice.

I remember being broken in so many ways during my time in the convent. From kneeling to sisters when I broke the rules, to giving up personal gifts to the convent, to being denied phonecalls to my family - they all worked to break me down. The idea was that I would become selfless, identifying myself with the convent. But, at least for me, it didn't work. All it did was hurt, leaving me sick and broken.

They Both Value Obedience Over Individuality

Soldiers are not known for their individuality. They give up much of it when they first join, being addressed as "Private", rather than by their name; wearing uniforms; eating, sleeping, training and recreating in communal, utilitarian areas; even marching in uniform rows. Soldiers who stand out either do so because they failed to conform to expectations, or because they went over and above expectations in performing their duties. The great majority of soldiers are a uniform group, all with the same physical abilities and mental mindset.

Nuns are very similar. Of course, there are the habits, which turn every sister into a perambulating sheet of dull cloth, but there are the names too. Depending on the order, every person who goes into religious life can expect to be referred to as "sister", and even give up their given name for a new one. For example, my name is Felicity, but when I was in the convent I was referred to as "Sister Mary Raphael".

All sisters are expected to live alike, with no one having any privileges or possessions that cannot be shared with all the other sisters. Even more than soldiers, nuns are taught to hold everything in common, and to move, act and think alike. They become part of a whole, and are encouraged to disregard their own needs and wants in favour of the entire group.

I was quite ok with a lot of the methods used to make me a part of the convent whole. I didn't mind giving up my possessions, or sharing food, rooms and books. I didn't even mind being called by a religious name. For me, the problem began when I was led to believe I should give up everything, even my own well-being, in order to better serve the convent. I was ready to do so, and tried my best, but in the end, when I was ill and asked to leave, I felt rejected, as if I had given everything, and received no gratitude in return.

 They Are Open To Abuse

I'm not going to make this into a post about the various failings of soldiers or religious. Every organisation is open to abuse of the system, and for every example of power abused, there is hundreds of examples of the organisations working. If an adult chooses to take one of these paths, they should be mature enough to understand the pitfalls and dangers they are risking. Soldiers know they risk injury and death serving their country, and nuns should know they risk isolation and physical and mental exhaustion serving their God.

What interests me is the way soldiers and nuns both value their loyalty over their own well-being. From the before-mentioned training, both are conditioned to value the good of the whole over that of the individual. They are taught to be obedient and selfless. The problem can be if the organisation that they have been trained to be loyal to fails in its responsibility to the individuals making it up.

Even after I left the convent, I was very reluctant to discuss the convent. I used to deflect questions with humour, and tell quirky stories, rather than reveal what I had truly been feeling over the time I lived there. I think now that it was because I still felt this loyalty to the convent. Even though I had been rejected from it, even though I had no ties there anymore, and even though it may have hurt me, I couldn't bring myself to criticise it.

These days, I think of my time at the convent was as character-building as a stint in the army - with most of the same pitfalls. I may not have gone to a war zone, or developed PTSD, or been injured in the line of duty, but I bear my own scars of serving, even if for only a couple of years, as one of the Soldiers of Christ. The convent was not perfect, but I learnt many lessons. Rather more of them were learnt the hard way than I would have liked, but still, I have experiences and memories that will shape me forever. And it taught me the ultimate parallel between the army and religious:

Being a soldier is hard. One may asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for one's country. But being a Soldier of Christ is harder, as they aim to make every nun make the ultimate sacrifice for their God.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Long Distance Wedding

I knew soon after Graham proposed to me in October, 2010, that I wanted to get married in my home state of New South Wales, in the little village church of St Michaels in Mittagong. Perhaps this was silly. I have written before about my ridiculous lack of organisational skills. How was I meant to organise a wedding from across the country? 

I live in Perth, WA, and that is a huge distance away from NSW. It is a 5 hour flight from Perth to Sydney, or a week's drive across a desert. For my international readers, that's the equivalent to flying from London to Greece, or from New York to the Caribbean! I would have to organise everything long distance, as well as organise flights and luggage for myself, my husband, his groomsmen, and his family. How on earth was I to manage?

I quickly found myself bogged down in tasks. Wedding dress shopping, invitations, guest lists, reception venues, catering, booking the church, bridesmaids' and groomsmens' attire... the list seemed endless. Faced by a gargantuan collection of jobs, I felt like cancelling the whole thing. It all seemed too hard, and too expensive. 

Who on earth has the money to pay for a wedding these days anyway? With the average wedding costing around $30,000 Australian, I knew I couldn't afford the sort of wedding presented as "essential" in all the wedding magazines. Apparently you need professional photographers and cameramen, rented wedding cars, professional hair and make-up artists, DJ's... the list seemed endless. Even if I had the money to pay for all of them, how would I ever coordinate them all?

The answer came in the form of family and friends. When I confessed to my mother and some close friends that I was overwhelmed, they stepped in and helped in so many ways. Firstly, they helped me understand what was necessary, and what could be safely dropped. The most important thing was to get the ceremony right. Then the reception needed to be organised. And then flights and accommodation. All else could be dispensed with or left to others to do.

And the amount of help I got from other was amazing! Julie, my good friend in Perth, gave up 4 or 5 afternoons to help me create gorgeous hand-made invitations and mass booklets. I paid only for the basic materials, and ended up with gorgeous professional-looking invitations. She helped me make sense of the ceremony, and was a great source of support and advice from her own lovely, low-budget wedding. Many days when I would have rather forgotten about the whole thing, Julie made me feel like I could manage.

My mum found the site my bridesmaids could get their dresses from (especially helpful when they lived in three separate states!). On my sisters' request, I selected a short sleeved, high-waisted style of dress. Each bridesmaid got one made in her own measurements and in the colour she liked best, so that I could have a rainbow of bridesmaids. My mum then found two darling flowergirl dresses in white with bright sashes for my younger sisters.

My sister Imogen made my wedding cake - a beautiful cupcake stack decorated with white edible flowers. She also volunteered her exquisite singing voice, and sang the Panis Angelicus and Ave Maria solo during the ceremony. My brother Callum cleaned and organised his car, and acted as my chauffeur for the wedding day.

An old friend offered to pay for and arrange my wedding flowers. Mrs H. took me down to the flower markets in Sydney the day before the wedding and allowed me to pick out the flowers I wanted. I ended up with a gorgeous bouquet of white tulips, roses and lilies, while the bridesmaids and flowergirls got bouquets of multi-coloured tea-roses. She even squeezed her supply of flowers far enough for button-holes for all the men, and corsages for my mum and Graham's mum!

My friend Francis generously agreed to take my wedding photos, and brought, not just his professional camera, but a colleague to help. Another friend, Joshua, brought his guitar all the way from Adelaide, and played and sang at the ceremony. And so many people put aside their time and made the huge effort to get to the wedding, especially my two bridesmaids from Melbourne, the groomsmen from Perth, and my maid-of-honour from Albury.

I could go on describing the gifts of time, effort, money and support we received, but I think you understand just how much help I received. After all this, my own efforts seemed insignificant - as if, knowing I didn't have the skills necessary for organising our wedding on my own, my family and friends decided to do most of it for me.

I guess this is a "thank you" post. If you read this and see your name here, or even if you helped me and I haven't acknowledged you by name, please know how grateful I am. What seemed like such a mammoth effort became a work of love, as so many people made sure our wedding day was special. 

I am glad we didn't have the money to afford a "normal" wedding. How could a wedding organised by distant professionals and paid for out of a large bank balance ever be as intimate and special as our little wedding? It may not have felt like a "professional" event, but it felt better - a celebration with those people who love us best. 

I love you all so much, and I look forward to when I can next celebrate with you.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Just Dance

I'll be the first to admit this: I am not built for dancing. I am built like a refrigerator, strong and solid. I am big and cuddly, not graceful and lithe. Therefore it makes sense that I don't dance very well. Oh, I can jiggle my blubber and wiggle my hips with the best of them, but, really, most of the science of dancing escapes me.

I guess I just don't know how to move. Sure, I can follow a beat, but apart from the aforementioned jiggling and wiggling, I don't know what to do. My feet stay firmly planted on the floor, as I can never find a way to move them without looking like a tap-dancing hippo. So while everyone else is shuffling, I'm bouncing along like an Irish-dancing planet. Arms? How do I move them without knocking someone out with my arm chub? And some people can do awesome cool movements with their head and upper body. I can't.

So, for a very long time, I refused to dance at all. Why betray my lack of grace with my obese chimpanzee style of dance? But I love music, and I love a good beat, and so, in the privacy of my study, I've developed my own way of moving to the music. And I took another step in confidence when I found myself comfortable jiggling and wiggling in front of my husband.

I don't think I'll be making YouTube videos of my unique style of dance however. I know very well it must look spastic. And it is a bit odd that I refuse to stand up to dance anymore, I suppose. You see, I dance in my office chair now. It cuts out half the movement and coordination needed. The most I'll do with my feet now is tap along with the beat.

The rest of my dancing relies on me flailing my arms around. I can only imagine that it looks like an attempt to take off, helicopter style. I bob up and down in my chair, shake my shoulders, roll my head and use the most incredible jazz hands ever. It must look retarded (and Graham certainly laughs hard whenever he catches me doing it), but it feels fun.

So, the next time you visit, if you decide to game with me, be prepared! I now celebrate victories in dance! I'll turn on the Prodigy's "Voodoo People", start waving my arms around, and bounce up and down, to the accompaniment of squeaks from my long-suffering chair.

It's not graceful, it's not even viable anywhere outside my study, but it's nice to allow myself to dance, even in the strangest ways... Now I feel like dancing! I'll leave you to imagine me, bouncing and wobbling in front of my keyboard...

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Today I am feeling manic, and that means I am finding it hard to sleep. Yesterday, I was awake all day, and when Graham went to bed, I just didn't feel like sleeping too. Of course, I did try, but after a couple of hours, I realised my body just wasn't going to cooperate. At other points in my life this has been really frustrating, as I used to worry about being alert for work, but at the moment, as I'm unemployed (or funemployed, as I've heard it termed), I am really not bothered. In fact, I've found some real benefits to being awake when others are asleep. Benefits I want to share with you for the next time you also may be experiencing insomnia.

I'm not talking about the tired insomnia brought on by worry and stress. No, when I'm happy manic, I am awake through an overabundance of energy. My body insists I stay awake, as if there was something really really exciting about to happen at 2 AM. I never know what that thing may be, but it is definitely exciting, as if Christmas, my birthday and my best friends' visit were all the next day, and I am waiting for them whilst hopped up on caffeine and sugar. I feel that much anticipation, and I need to do something, anything, to pass the time. Here's some of the things I have found that are better when done in the middle of the night:

I can listen to any music I like, without worrying about boring anyone else. Graham is very tolerant of my listening habits, but it's nice to know after he's asleep that no-one is going to be worried if I obsess about a particular song. I can play Owl City's "Saltwater Room" 10 times in a row if I want, and no-one can stop me!

I can go outside in the dark. It's summer here in Perth, and the nights rarely fall below 25 degrees Celsius. Perfect for sitting outside looking at the stars. I love the stars, even though I can only identify one constellation, and I don't even know what that's called. I can't even find the Southern Cross - and, seriously, when one looks for that, EVERYTHING seems to form the cross shape. How am I meant to find it then?

I can also go in the pool if I want. I mean, I never put my swimming costume on and get in properly (what if there's monsters in the pool filter?!), but I am perfectly fine with dipping my feet in while I drink a cold drink. No sunburn, no unbearable heat, just a comforting warm and the cool of the water. And that cold drink? Well, that leads me to my next point.

I can raid the fridge, and no-one will bother me. Seeing as I get my sleep during the daylight hours while Graham is at work, dinner becomes my breakfast, and my other two meals consist of whatever I can find in the pantry or fridge. Am I really hungry? I can make custard with bananas from scratch if I want, or soup, or leftovers. I do have to be careful about the microwave noise, but I've become an expert at stopping it before it makes that loud "ding!" noise at the end. Am I just hot and bothered? I can raid the freezer for icypoles, or drink that last soft drink in the fridge without feeling guilty that I'm depriving someone else. 

I can watch all the YouTube videos I want after midnight. Free internet is awesome! And I can watch all the episodes of Life In Cold Blood back to back if I want, or get creeped out by the parasites in Monsters Inside Me, or catch up on episodes of My Little Pony. Anything too big for me to download during the day, every show Graham's not interested in watching, it goes on my insomnia list.

I find it easier to think at night. Somehow, I get the best blog posts after midnight. And I have lots of quiet time in which to type. And when I find I need a break, I just surf the net, or open Photoshop for some art time, or watch the PowerPuff Girls. All those things I find I feel slightly guilty about doing during the day, when washing and cleaning and other jobs await me.

I have heaps of time in which to have a loooong shower. No one else needs the hot water, and I have the bathroom all to myself. I can spend an hour plucking my eyebrows if I want, or just enjoy sitting in the shower. (I do know the shower makes noise, but it is at the opposite end of the house to all the occupied bedrooms, so I feel ok about doing this.)

And of course, there are all the usual benefits of being up late at night. No telemarketers call, the dogs are sleepy, and the house is quiet. It's peaceful, and I enjoy it. Really, the only downside is that when I want to talk with people, I have to wait for them to be awake. I don't think people appreciate it if I call them in the very early morning.

In this way, I spend my sleepless nights. I keep myself busy until 5 AM, when Graham's alarm goes off, and I jump back into bed for a quick cuddle. He then goes for his shower, while I, all clean and cool and finally tired, stretch out in the middle of the queen bed... and finally go to sleep. I sleep for 8 to 10 hours, and then wake up, refreshed and alert, as Graham arrives home from work.

Insomnia is not ideal. I would live my life without it if I could. But it's nice at this time that I am able to enjoy some aspects of being awake when the rest of the world is sleeping. Next time you are unable to sleep, try some of things I mentioned - somehow these experiences are different at night! Or simply see if I am awake to commiserate with you. Because if I miss anything during my manic vigils, it is friends to share them with.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Who Am I, And To What End Do I Live?

I think I became a stoic by accident at the age of twelve. I had heard of the philosophical views of the Stoics (I was quite a reader), yet I didn't decide to live like that. It just happened. My brother died one day after birth, and I needed to survive somehow. While most of my family went through the natural process of grieving and healing, with the exception of my siblings who were too young to understand, I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be dependable, in order to help my family. So I denied my grief, squashed my emotions down as best a 12 year old can, and plodded on, determined to be a good, helpful child.

My family are devoted Catholics, and I know that their faith was, if shaken at first, only deepened by the experience, as they worked through their shock and grief to find healing in prayer. Grief tends to do that to people; either they find greater meaning in their faith through it, or they abandon faith altogether. As for me, I began thinking about God differently. I didn't ever doubt He was there, nor did I feel tempted to turn my back on Him. Instead, I told myself God did everything for the best. I didn't feel loved by Him, so much as I felt I needed to be strong to endure whatever else He had to throw at me. I gave up on trying to make sense of the whole situation, and just concentrated on enduring.

As I grew older, I ceased to feel as if I was loved by God and others just for who I was. Instead, my belief that God was distant led me to believe that if I could just become virtuous enough, maybe He would come to love me. I guess I thought I could achieve peace through practising religion. So I would pray and try to conform my life exactly to the rules of the Catholic Church. I became set on obedience, and I was ready to sacrifice whatever it took. I think I began to consider myself as more of a thing than a person, something that could achieve recognition through successes, but that had no intrinsic value of its own. 

I've mentioned often before that I found my emotions a hindrance and an obstacle as I grew out of being a teenager into young adulthood. I found negative emotions driving me to do things I logically didn't want to do. I perceived my emotions as being unwanted, a barrier between me and my ideal identity, that of an in-control, virtuous, rational woman. So I crushed them down. If I could have had them surgically removed, I think I would have. I prided myself on being unattached to physical things, and on having a clear and logical mind, and emotions just seemed like unnecessary baggage to carry around.

While I was in the convent, this desire to be emotionless, a person driven by logic and obedience, only seemed to be reinforced. I did my best to ignore the needs of my body and emotions, driving myself to the point of physical collapse in order to do everything prescribed by the convent Rule. I never considered that God might not want me to hurt myself in order to obey, but simply accepted the rigorous life as another God-given suffering to endure.

My body didn't really cope with the physical demands of religious life, but I took that as a necessary suffering. I used to look at one sister who had very plain signs of a mental illness, and I would think that I could accept any physical suffering, so long as my mind never went. I was absolutely fine with the idea of physical disability or death, but to lose my mind? I would think of my deceased grandmother, who eventually lost the ability to remember certain words, and who would forget to check the use-by dates on packets of food, and I was terrified I would one day lose control of my own mind.

It was ironic, therefore, that my desire to be a stoical, intellect-driven, successful person was shattered when my wayward emotions asserted themselves, pushing me into full-fledged mental illness. All my self-worth, based on my mastery of myself and on the achievement of religious life, was destroyed. I was asked to leave the convent, and worse, I found myself at home with no identity, no path in life, and a mind that was fractured with violent emotions I had seemingly no control over.

I think I spent some time just trying to endure this new pain. I felt broken, a shell of a person whose main purpose in life was simply to survive each coming day. Instead of being proud of my achievements, I slipped into self-hatred. I suppose I still thought of myself as a thing, and a thing that had out-lived its usefulness at that. I felt I had used up all of my energy and resources, only to be cast away because I couldn't live up to this perceived ideal. I was mentally sick, and I couldn't think clearly like I used to. I was battered by emotions I couldn't control, and therefore I found my physical self also out of control, one day full of boundless nervous energy, and the next day lethargic in the midst of deep depression. I had nothing left to take pride in, and I wanted to die.

There were two things that helped restore my self-worth. One was medical help, where through a combination of counselling and medication, I was shown how to gently control my emotions and to listen to what they were telling me. As I began to heal mentally, I found my mind growing clearer, and my health improving. On top of that, I found myself enjoying so many things I had simply ignored before; the sun as it dipped below the horizon of the ocean, the enjoyment of waking on a weekend to find that you can sleep in as long as you want, the fun of playing with a dog. Life was fuller, and I appreciated it so much more than I used to.

The second thing was the entry of love into my life. A nice young man got to know me, began to love me for who I was, not for what I could do, and decided he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. I could hardly believe at first that he truly meant it. But he did, and the feeling of being wanted, just for who I was, was incredible.

I said before that I used to have an ideal identity. I wanted to be calm, rational and unaffected by emotions or physical needs. That identity was crushed when I became mentally sick. So who am I now? I'm still not sure, but I think if I want to be anything, I want to be a whole person. I want to be at peace within myself emotionally, physically and intellectually, able to reconcile those different facets of myself into one whole. I want to be someone who is able to enjoy both the emotional and physical enjoyment of eating cake, and the enjoyment of expanding my mind. I want to be happy with who I am, just as I am. I'd like to know that I am a worthwhile human being, not for anything I can do, but just for being me.

I doubt I can ever achieve all of this fully, but it is an ideal. In the meantime, I am quietly trying to start over a new life as a wife, and one day, maybe a mother. I bet there will be times when I love sight of who I want to be in the pressures of what I feel I should be doing, but hopefully I never forget for long.

Finally - God. I think it took the love of my husband to really drive home to me that God loves me. If Graham can care for me just as I am, broken and sick, then God must also do so. So I am much happier when I pray now. He is not just "up there", sending trials on us randomly. In fact, I can see that without trials such as my mental illness, I would never have grown past some very harmful attitudes and beliefs. So I guess I finally learnt the lesson my family learnt back when I was twelve - that God only gives us suffering we can bear in order to help us grow. It only took me around 10 years to learn it, but at least I got there in the end.

Monday, February 20, 2012


The jokes about Catholics often revolve around their sense of guilt - that, of all religions, Catholics are the ones wallowing in a sense of failure and guilt. I don't know if that's true - as far as I can see, Catholics are exactly the same as everyone else when it comes to guilt. But today I am feeling down, and with that comes my guilt.

I have a crushing sense of guilt, one that seizes on any occasion to make me feel sad, worthless and powerless. I don't quite know how this all started. Maybe it began when my brother Thomas died? He was one day old when he died of a birth defect. I remember how we found out he had a birth defect before he was born. I remember how upset my mum was. I even remember lying in bed, unable to sleep, trying to bargain with God. If He took me, maybe he could heal Thomas? I wanted more than anything else to have my family happy and whole again, and if that meant me dying so that my brother lived, I was ok with that.

Of course, God notoriously doesn't do bargains, and I found myself stubbornly alive while my brother died one day after birth. In the time that followed, I tried my hardest to hold the family together, to be a good big sister and daughter. I remember trying to take over as much cooking as possible, trying to keep my siblings happy and trying not to bother my heart-broken mother. I resolutely crushed down my own feelings of grief out of a sense of responsibility towards my family.

All my efforts seemed to be in vain however. I couldn't mend broken hearts, no matter how much cooking I did. I felt guilty that I couldn't do more. And, as I grew up, this sense of guilt grew and expanded. Looking back, I realise I was developing bipolar disorder, which was causing havoc with my emotions. But at the time, all I could see was me betraying my stoic, responsible ideal with these stupid emotions. I wanted so much to be good, to be the perfect daughter, but I felt so bad.

Eventually I started using this sense of guilt as a motivator. Any time I found myself oppressed by sadness, or tired, or sick, I would beat myself up mentally. I would remind myself of every failure, mocking myself until I would go and achieve things out of a sick sense of guilt. It worked, to a degree... until I found myself just too overwhelmed by these feelings to do anything but cry. And when the tears subsided, I would begin the cycle all over again.

I can't remember exactly when I realised this, but eventually I internalised this feeling of guilt to a point where I was no longer consciously mocking myself. It came naturally, a little voice that nagged and nitpicked every action, every thought. I thought, however, that it was just how I was, that this was what adults lived with. 

When I was 21, I began going to a counsellor. She helped me realise just how hard I had been on myself, and explained that it was much healthier to be gentle when it came to my emotions. She encouraged me to acknowledge emotions such as sadness without repressing them, and tried to make me understand that it was normal and healthy to feel them. I was told to treat myself like I was a hurt little child - with gentleness and patience.

Sick and tired, I agreed and tried my best to change my patterns of thought. It was difficult. I would find myself subconsciously acting in ways I was used to, and I would have to try to change my thoughts. But it felt good to allow myself to cry, to feel sad, and even to feel good on occasion.

But I found something happening that scared me. That little voice of guilt never left. No matter how much I tried to be positive, that voice was at the back of my mind, mocking and hurting me. And as I tried to ignore it, the voice got louder. I had thought this voice was part of me, under my control. But it wasn't. And as I tried to let myself heal, I found my mind was constantly under attack. 

At one point I went on a weekend retreat. I thought the peace and quiet of some time out would help me. But what I had intended to be a weekend of prayer turned into a hell. That little voice of guilt started shouting at me. I would be trying to speak to people, only to have a voice in my mind telling me: "I hate you! You are worthless! They hate you too! Go and die!"

I knew I shouldn't listen to it, but it was so loud and frightening. I didn't know what to do about it and I was ashamed to let anyone else know, so I retreated to my room. I needed something to block it out, so I got my iPod out and listened to music, turning the volume up to ear-splitting levels. I listened to one song over and over.

I woke up in a dream today
To the cold of the static, and put my cold feet on the floor
Forgot all about yesterday
Remembering I’m pretending to be where I’m not anymore
A little taste of hypocrisy
And I’m left in the wake of the mistake, slow to react
So even though you’re so close to me
You’re still so distant
And I can’t bring you back

It’s true the way I feel
Was promised by your face
The sound of your voice
Painted on my memories
Even if you’re not with me

I’m with you
Now I see keeping everything inside
Now I see
Even when I close my eyes

(Linkin Park, With You)

Anyone looking in on me would have seen me, crouched on the bed, muttering to myself: "I'm not bad... I'm ok... No! Be quiet! I'm not listening to you!"

By the time I got home, I was ready to kill myself, to do anything to shut that voice up. Eventually I rang my psychologist and poured out my heart to her. She listened, and she said she could help me. I needed medication. Relieved that she believed me, I filled in the prescription and took the tablets exactly as directed.

Gradually the voice subsided, and the weight of guilt it had put upon me started to lift. I was able to admit I had some good in me, and that I wasn't a complete failure. I was able to see that the voice was probably psychotic. It wasn't me, it wasn't normal, it was a symptom of sickness. With an anti-psychotic medication, I was able to to start healing. 

Today, that little voice of guilt hasn't quite gone away. It's always there, ready to mock and guilt me if I fail at something. But it is much quieter now, and I don't listen anymore. I know how to distract myself from it, and there are even periods of time when it goes away altogether. 

I have failed at a lot of stuff in life. But while I can feel remorse for what I have done badly, I don't think I am meant to live my life crushed by my guilt. So much of my guilt was for things I had no control over, or for things I couldn't change. So today I live my life without guilt. What has happened is in the past, and I can't change that with all the guilt in the world. I do take things I do wrong seriously, and I will ask forgiveness from any person I think I may have hurt, but afterwards I try not to dwell on it. My voice of guilt has taught me just how dangerous it can be to hold onto these feelings, and I am determined not to listen to it again.