River of Flowers, 2014

“What’s all this talk about an earthquake?” says Mum.

That was my 86-year-old mother’s question for me when I arrived at her home a few days ago.  I was astounded that she didn’t know.  It was pretty much ‘the’ topic here in the past week.

Today is the 3rd anniversary of the deadly earthquake that struck my city of Christchurch at 12.51pm on 22 February 2011.  Naturally the anniversary has been in the news this week, but Mum couldn’t remember an earthquake being at this time of year.  Actually, I was really thankful.  This woman had lost so much in that earthquake.  More than most.  She deserved to have it lifted from her memory for a bit.  I was glad, for once, that she had no idea what I was talking about.

As we then talked, her memories came back, but we had over 12,000 earthquakes over a period of about 18 months so it wasn’t surprising that she couldn’t remember one of them. Then she was confused as to which quake she had fallen over in.  I assured her that in that quake, thankfully, she had already been sitting down when it struck and she managed to remain in her chair as her home fell to pieces around her. My father though, was thrown to the floor.  So was I.

Heathcote River, Christchurch, 2013

River of Flowers, Heathcote River, Christchurch, 2013 (Used with permission)
Image credit: River of Flowers, Healthy Christchurch and Avon Otakaro Network
See:  Healthy Christchurch on Facebook or their website Healthy Christchurch

As part of a range of commemoration events in the city, there is one that I find draws me each year.  The River of Flowers is an opportunity for the public to share their experiences and hopes for the future by throwing a flower into one of the two rivers that flows through the city, and by writing a message of hope and tying it to a tree as various points.  Throwing my flower into the river which has always been important in my life, is for me, letting go for a few moments of the sadness, trauma, loss, and worries about the future.  It feels healthy to me, and I like that.

Natural disasters, like our quakes, happen across the world all the time.  Something that had never occurred to me until I lived through this, was that the aftermath goes on for years to come after a disaster.  When the media and their cameras have all gone away, and the rest of the world isn’t hearing anymore, the sad reality is that people go on suffering.

Three years on and my life is still unsettled (to say the least).  I now have a chronic illness (fibromyalgia) which is attributed to the trauma of the quakes.   I live in a severely damaged house and still have no idea how that will be fixed.  My house is pretty cold in winter because of the damage, but aside from that, I’m simply used to the damage.  That said, don’t suppose for a minute that I like living in a house that is now tilted on a bit of an angle.  Or the curtains blowing in the breeze even though no windows are open.  But it’s just life here in Christchurch and I know there are people here worse off than me.

I know full well that mental health is a major issue in my city.  Children are still badly traumatised, as well as many adults.  Free counselling sessions just don’t go far enough.  Three sessions per person is not enough.  The use of anti-depressants has risen significantly.  The psychiatric hospital is overflowing and they’re talking of putting inpatients into caravans out on the lawn.  Suicide statistics tend to run behind by a few years, but I understand the numbers are sadly picking up in my city.  Let’s not forget too, that there is a major housing shortage here now as well as significant poverty.  These both contribute to the state of mental well being.

But this is what really disturbs me…

A year before our deadly earthquake, Haiti (Port-au-Prince) suffered a quake too.  220,000 people are estimated to have died on 12 January 2010.  In Christchurch, there were officially 185 people died.  At the height of the Haiti quake, one and a half million people were displaced and sheltering in tent villages.  That’s just huge.  And it makes me say “what have I got to complain about?”.

While I wonder about the ongoing mental health of those who lived through the quakes here in Christchurch, I wonder even more what is being done for the people of Haiti.  Do they get access to free counselling like we have?  Are the children getting the resources that are being pumped into Christchurch.  It is so difficult to know what is being done for victims of natural disasters when the lights go off on the media bandwagons.  That said, I have a fair idea of the answers to my questions.

Whether it is an earthquake (or 12,000), a volcanic eruption, a hurricane, a bush fire or any other devastating event somehow we need to remember that life afterward is changed and will probably never be the same again.  Not just the physical welfare of victims matters, not just the infrastructure and buildings that have to be rebuilt, the mental health of victims will continue to be a major issue for years to come.

Somehow I think we forget, once the media have gone, and even more so we forget when the media never really got there.  It seems to me that third world countries recovering from disaster, do it very much on their own.

While today, I remember a day I never want to experience ever again, I want to remember people in other countries doing similar recoveries.  I have been fortunate to have access to welfare, Red Cross funding and the like.  I never ended up in a tent city.  I have insurance cover to rebuild my home (when they finally get to it).  But for so many people there is none of this, and those people are the ones I have on my mind today.

“How strange it (the earthquake) must all have seemed to them, here where they lived so safely always! They thought such a dreadful thing could happen to others, but not to them. That is the way!” 

― William Dean Howells, A Sleep and a Forgetting

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My Letter To America

It’s pretty clear to me that readers of my blog from United States outnumber all other countries by leaps and bounds, and because of that it’s important for me to say that I know what I am about to say might not fit too comfortably with those readers.  I know my country of New Zealand and yours, are quite different.  It is over twenty years now since I visited your country and I know how different what I saw then was from where I live.  Even though we might look the same, or similar, I think it is fair to say that our culture and society is quite different.  This post, which is basically about the use of guns, is not my attempt to sway your opinions on gun laws but rather I want to acknowledge that your environment is different to mine but clearly both have some issues to address in terms of guns.

In the past few days, New Zealand has been rocked by the news of the murder of two children, aged six and nine, (by their father) followed by the suicide of their father in Dunedin, one of New Zealand’s four largest cities.  It was not a mass shooting.  It is 24 years since we had a mass shooting in New Zealand (Aramoana, 1990).

The father shot dead the children in their beds, before turning on gun on himself.  Those children come from a school now in mourning, and while I hate to say it, I suspect this type of incident happens every day in your country.  In my country though, it is not common, thank God.  The mother of the children, the man’s ex-wife, had run next door to get help.  It’s hard to begin to imagine the hell she must be going through now.

The man apparently had a mental illness and was on medication for it.  To his family’s knowledge he did not have a firearms licence, necessary in New Zealand to own a gun.  It’s hard to imagine how he would have held a licence with a string of breach of protection orders in the past year.  Questions that are all being asked now.

Personally I am very glad that it is not easy to obtain a gun in my country.  I won’t pretend to be anything other than anti-guns, although as I said already I recognise that my society and yours are quite different.  But I will always stand up for more control on gun ownership.  I have no desire to live in a world where owning a gun is necessary, or even desirable.

I was 15 years old when my ex-boyfriend J loaded a rifle, gave it to me and told me to kill him.  He didn’t want to live if I wouldn’t be his girlfriend.  He owned a gun (he was 18 at the time) for hunting but I strongly believed both then and now that he should not have access to one.  Why?  He was too impulsive.  I knew he could shoot himself, or me for that matter, without too much thought.  The thought would come later, when it was too late.  And that is the problem I have with guns.  Act now, think and get the facts later.

I can still remember thinking how easily it would be to pull the trigger.  By then J had been creating a lot of problem for me by stalking.  Fear thankfully got the better of me, aside from the fact that I’m not the sort of person who could fire a bullet at anything, anyone. Harming anything is difficult for me.  I just wouldn’t do it.  Instead I dropped the gun and fled, running about three miles home.  He followed me on his motorbike.  Who knows where the gun was by then.  I didn’t stop to ask.

In spite of the fact that I would have arrived home hot, sweaty and out of breath I didn’t tell anyone what had happened.  My family was all home, it was Saturday night, and no one knew a thing.  It was many years before I ever let that burden go by telling my family (when I wrote my book).  The trauma of that night was something I carried with me from then on.  I didn’t tell anyone because I thought it must be my fault.  What’s more I had been told I must show Christian compassion to J, and frankly that seemed so unfair.  It still seems unfair and totally wrong to me.  I hate the thought of people being guilted into this Christian compassion.

That night was over 30 years ago now and, in spite of a lot of therapy, I still carry it with me when I see things like the Dunedin shooting reported.

It’s too easy to pull a trigger.  From what that man had with him, he had apparently gone there to burn the house down.  Who knows whether the shootings were part of the deal.  Maybe it was simply too easy.  I don’t know, and I guess no one will ever know.

I don’t want to get into a gun lobby debate but when this story hit me I needed to say that while I hate that those children have died, and I hate that their mother is now alone, I am very glad that guns are not common in New Zealand.  Tragedies like this happen but not often.  Thankfully.  Frankly I wish it was harder still to get our hands on guns here.  I simply don’t believe there is a need, although I accept that maybe your country is different.

“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.” 

― Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

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Scared Of The Dark

Today in New Zealand, is Guy Fawkes Night.  It’s a tradition that is celebrated in a number of countries and has its origins back in 1605 when a man by the name of Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow up the British Parliament.  Apart from the fact that New Zealand is part of the British Commonwealth, I really don’t see why we still ‘celebrate’ it.  Afterall it’s nothing to do with my country is hardly an honourable event.

Celebrations come complete with bonfires and fireworks, and what kiwi child can’t remember their father tying Catherine Wheels to the clothesline, and setting off Skyrockets out of the old glass Fanta bottles?  The fireworks were always pretty but the fear of the noise and fire was overwhelming for me, and I was usually glad it was over.  The bullies after school would set off Double Happy and Tom Thumb firecrackers, throwing them at anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Again, not something I enjoyed.  Thankfully firecrackers are no longer legal.

Nowadays there is a move to official, public firework displays down at our local New Brighton Beach.  I’m quite okay with those, although I don’t ‘do’ crowds so tend to stay away.  Crowds in the dark, with loud explosions, is not my idea of fun, even if it’s professionals out on the sea lighting the fuse.  But still many people choose to let off their own fireworks in their backyards, and last night it seemed that my whole suburb was doing this (perhaps leaving them free to go to the official display tonight).

Yesterday wasn’t one of my better days.  Actually on the fibromyalgia front, it was a pretty good day (finally) but there were a few emotional triggers, a few ghosts from the past,  that set off several (private thankfully) meltdowns of tears.  It was one of those days I didn’t want to be awake anymore so headed to bed early.  Unfortunately at the same time my suburb was letting off fireworks.

See?   I can admit it.  I’m scared of the dark.  Actually I wasn’t as a child, but as life has gone on and trauma has come my way I have come to dread the dark.  I simply don’t like not being able to see what is around me.  I need to be able to see if there are any threats to my safety or sanity.  Some nights are better than others but last night was one of those where I was sleeping with the light on.  What’s more I couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes.  I desperately needed to see.  That doesn’t help in the getting to sleep process.

As I lay there, trying to go to sleep, fireworks were exploding nearby sending both light (through the curtains) and noise into the room.  I was anything but relaxed.  I knew it was probably a window of about half an hour (as it went dark outside) that the fireworks would continue.  I grit my teeth (don’t tell my dentist) and sat it out.

“Someone once told me that none of us are actually afraid of the dark; we’re scared of what it conceals from us. We’re afraid of having something with the potential to hurt us standing right before our eyes and no registering it as a threat. People can be like that too.”

- Unknown

For me, these words are quite accurate.  I wasn’t scared of the dark as a child and generally wasn’t an anxious child.  I’m 48 years old now and I struggle to sleep in  the dark.  Even my darling L (who, by the way,  turns three next week) sleeps in the dark, with an occasional visit from mum.  But not me.  I go through stages of needing a light on somewhere, but right now it’s not a good stage.

I have learned what the dark contains, and what is hidden in the shadows.  I have learnt that there are people and things that can hurt me.  I have only just got over the whole ‘earthquakes in the dark‘ thing that has been hitting my city for three years now.  Imagine a 7.1 quake in the dark if you can, and you soon learn of what you are scared.

More recently though I have discovered there were people standing right beside me, that were a threat to me… but I had no idea for far too long.  They were there to abuse me, and lie to me, determined to ‘play’ with me and perhaps even destroy me… and I had no idea.  Let me be clear.  I knew they were there, but I had no idea they were such a terrible threat to me.

That’s why I’m scared of the dark.  I need to know what, and who is there.  I can’t close my eyes because I might miss their approach.  Now that I know of their existence and threat, I can do (and have done) what I can to protect myself.  But trauma has visited me again, and I remain fearful of anything else that might seek to harm me.

I have some work to do, but meanwhile the light stays on.

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” 

— Laurell K. Hamilton (Mistral’s Kiss (Merry Gentry, #5))

An Anniversary I’m Not Celebrating

Twenty years ago this weekend, I dived off the platform into the murky waters of mental illness.  Twenty years!  It does seem like a long time ago, but twenty years?  That is a good chunk of my life down in those muddy waters, trying to hold my breath and not drown.  I celebrate that I didn’t drown, but twenty years?

I had won a weekend holiday in Queenstown (a tourist trap for kiwis and plenty of overseas tourists).  My boyfriend, D and I chose this particular weekend to take the trip because it had been my birthday during the past week, we had just got engaged the weekend before, and we both needed a break.  Over the past couple of months I had Glandular Fever (mononucleosis) and was still feeling pretty fatigued.  A weekend away (from Auckland where we were living then) was just what was needed.

The weekend started okay.  We flew to Queenstown and picked up a rental car.  We were feeling pretty lucky to have won this weekend because money was tight and it’s not something we could have afforded.  I had been off work for about six weeks and was only back part-time.

But life was pretty good.  I was a career girl in a job I loved, I had shifted to Auckland the year before and so had finally escaped the stalkers who had plagued my life.  I had good friends.  I owned my own home,  I was a committed Christian who was at church twice on Sundays, and most of all I loved the lifestyle I had.  But wow!  How life can change?  Twenty years on and I am a completely different person.

Back to our weekend away, I wasn’t really aware of anything but at one point D said to me that I had been really negative all day.  It wasn’t about anything specific, just everything.  I hadn’t realised but now that he mentioned it, I started to realise he was right.  So I stopped talking.  That seemed like the best way (at the time) to fix the problem but by the end of the day everything had got too much and we were back in our hotel room, me bawling on the bed.  For hours.  Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

D had no idea what was wrong, or even why I was crying.  Neither did I, really.  I just knew my life had crashed somehow and I couldn’t stop crying.  The glass in the mirror had shattered, and somehow I knew I couldn’t put it back together again.

And so began 20 years of mental illness.  It seemed my mental health had got on a plane to Queenstown, but didn’t come back.  First, I was diagnosed with Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Next, those two triggered Anorexia and that became a whole different ball game as not only my mental health but my physical health was under fire.  Much later came the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Adult Attachment Disorder.  It seemed like once it started, there was no stopping it.

As I said earlier, up until that weekend it seemed like I had life together.  Sure, bad things had happened in my life but I had held myself together and survived.  The thought that I would dive into the mental illness pond was the furthest thing from my mind.  It wasn’t anything anyone else seemed to expect for me either. My parents had only recently given me a birthday card which said “for the woman who has everything“.  I never thought of myself that way, but life was pretty good at that stage.  I assumed it would just go on that way.

But life has a way of surprising us, doesn’t it?  Really, I had a lot of things go wrong in my life and my strategy was to hold it all together, rather than deal with it.  The years of stalking had a price to pay, and now I know that when the trauma ends, that is the time the effects of it really hit.  Until then you’re just fighting for survival.  But I could finally relax.  Perhaps it was finally safe to let go and cry. But then I couldn’t stop.

I remember in the early days reading a book about a woman who had depression for two years.  I was appalled by the idea of two years of this hell.  I couldn’t consider I might be depressed for months, let alone years.

Contrary to popular opinion I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason.  I also don’t believe that, as I was taught as a child, I should be thankful for all things.  What I do believe though is that I can learn from all things.  I have learnt many things across that twenty years.  I have learnt that kindness and compassion extend to all people, regardless of who or what they are.

I’ve learnt a lot of things I’d rather not have learnt too.  But that’s how life goes.  We don’t always get to pick and choose.  I’ve seen a lot of things I’d rather not have seen.  I wouldn’t choose this route.  I would never choose mental illness over health and life, but having gone down that route I choose to let it be.

I finish with this thought.  For a (very) long time I wished for my life back.  I wished for a return to the ‘old days’.  I know that’s not going to happen now.  This is my life as it is.  That old life is gone and wouldn’t be relevant to me now anyway.  I went to Queenstown as one person, and came back as another.  If twenty years of mental illness has taught me one thing it’s to live one day at a time and accept what I have.  I won’t always have the answers to why, but I can just let it be.

“An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers…To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy…If I try self consciously to become a person, I will never be one. The most real people, those who are able to forget their selfish selves, who have true compassion, are usually the most distinct individuals” 

― Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

Even When Your Voice Shakes

Today I am heading into the city to be part of a protest rally against the use of animals to test party pills (legal highs).  It is one of a large number of protests around New Zealand today, the largest ever combined rally for animal welfare in this country.

The thought of using animals to test party pills just appalls me, with not the least reason being that animals react differently to humans with these concoctions, so other than to harm innocent beings it seems a waste of time.  Some animals die from the testing.  I’m inclined to say that if people want party pills then they should test them on themselves.  But then that allows no compassion for those who get caught up in that scene without really wanting to be there.

I’m learning to speak the truth, even when my voice shakes, and being part of this rally is one way of doing that.  I don’t plan on saying anything but the ‘voice shaking’ bit for me comes in the form of going to a crowd gathering.  Crowds just do my head in.  I struggle enough at the supermarket on a quiet day, and I mostly do my best to stay away from anything at which a crowd might gather.

I’m not a particularly anxious person.  I don’t have panic attacks (or I haven’t for a very long time).  I’m just not confident around people, especially people I don’t know.  A crowd seems to close in on me and I have the sense that I just don’t belong, and that I need to escape and get out.  I can’t remember when I last went to some type of protest gathering, although I regularly have strong feelings of support for them.  I just haven’t been able to get past my ‘voice shaking’.

What makes this one different?  I have a growing concern for the welfare of animals because of a number of things I have recently witnessed.  To see an animal treated cruelly, or with indifference breaks my heart and fills me with anger.  In the past I wouldn’t support any cruelty but it wasn’t a personal issue to me, until I spent 12 years of my life living with this little lady.

Penny Kitten

Meet Penny.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while you might have met her before.  This is actually a painting of Penny, as a kitten, done from a photograph by a good friend and talented artist.  Penny was my first pet.  She’s passed on now (about 18 months ago) but she will always be my first-born.  I love her dearly.  She taught me so much about compassion and accepting each other.  Penny never had the opportunity to have kittens but she cared for me in a way that left my jaw dropping open. Yes, she was a cat and could be as indifferent as any cat, but she also loved me and was constantly there for me, particularly when I was unwell.  She saved my life at one point, simply by being with me and giving me a reason to live.

It’s difficult sometimes to put aside the teachings and beliefs that we grow up with.  I just took for granted that, as I was taught, animals were down the scale of importance compared to humans.  Humans were on the top of the hierarchy of beings, and all animals were beneath.  Not as important.  Animals were on earth to provide for humans.  Animals did not have a soul and that is what put them down a peg or two.  They were less than me.

I don’t believe that anymore, and mostly that has come from the lessons Penny taught me.  My personal belief is that all animals are created equal, and are worthy of as much care as any person.  It feels (coming from my background) like almost blasphemy to say that.  I know it’s not a unique viewpoint, but to come from where I came, it is in some ways turning my back on my beliefs.  Again, my voice shakes.  If we are in any way superior in any of our functioning it is only so that we may care for other beings.

I didn’t have pets while I was growing up, except for a mouse for about two hours, and guinea pigs for about two days (another story).  We were told we couldn’t have pets because Dad was allergic to cats and a dog wasn’t allowed either…  something to do with shifting cities every few years for Dad’s job.  Actually I think my parents just weren’t people who could see the value of animals.

I can remember asking my Dad (a minister) where animals went when they died.  I ‘understood’ that people went to heaven but because animals didn’t have a soul, then they just died.  End of story.  Hmm.

I believe that Penny is in, what I understand to be, heaven.  I believe she’s there with my father.  They died about eight months apart and in spite of Dad’s allergy to cats, he never had a problem with Penny.  Actually he loved Penny, and he was the only other human she would go near.  This is my view but it’s okay if you don’t see it that way.  Really.

Penny taught me a lot of things, but mostly that each creature (including me) are equal.  We all deserve to be safe and treated with compassion, animals maybe more because for some they don’t always have the environment or ability to care for themselves.  I hate the idea of animals not being treated with love, and I hate the idea of them being used as test subjects for party pills or any other substance.  It’s wrong.

I don’t have any pets at the moment, because of uncertainty caused by living in a house with substantial earthquake damage.  I’m trying to hold off getting any until I have the repairs done (whenever that is).  But I miss having an animal in the house.  They are so intuitive.  More so than us, often.  Right now I make the most of my time with Duncan, my brother’s dog.  He has become very special to me, even though I only see him about once a week.  He’s young, he’s exuberant but he’s loves his humans very much.  I don’t believe for a minute that he is beneath me somehow, or that he doesn’t have a soul.

Duncan

“Man is the cruelest animal.” 

― Friedrich Nietzsche

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” 

― Mahatma Gandhi

Finding My Voice

If there is one thing that mental illness, and probably in particular depression, did to me was silence me.  My voice, my opinions, ideals I felt passionately about, got sucked out of me as the depression grew deeper and more entrenched.  I didn’t care anymore.  Well, at least I didn’t have the energy to care any more.  I just let things pass.  My own misery was all I could focus on. Actually to be totally honest it was simply a matter of would I live another day?

Before I was ever diagnosed with a mental illness, and we’re talking nearly 20 years ago, I was an opinionated person, but only to a degree.  Now I can look back and see that I had opinions but they were shaped by what, and who, was around me. I held little value in what I really thought, assuming that difference from others meant I was wrong.  And I constantly thought I was either wrong or just dumb.

Often that difference from others meant that I remained silent.  All that really did was contribute further to the growing depression.  It’s a vicious circle.  The silence contributes to the mental illness, and the mental illness contributes to more silence.

I’m sure there are some people close to me who always thought I was too opinionated.  “A dog with a bone.”  But gosh, what’s wrong with a dog with a bone?  They’re happy.  Isn’t that a good thing?  Seemingly not.  Becoming less depressed is not always seen as a welcome thing.

It seemed at times that finding my voice again was troublesome, and it actually did cost me dearly.  When I was at my sickest I didn’t voice opinions, I didn’t disagree (apart from about putting food in my mouth!), I just let life happen around me.

Sometimes I look back at world events across those years and I can’t remember a scrap of it.  These things just happened, and I wasn’t well enough to notice, let alone to form opinions and to have my voice.  Actually the only event I could recall was the 9/11 World Trade Centre disaster.  I was aware of it happening because in a brief psychotic state I believed I had caused it.

Now I’m starting to find my voice, and it feels good.  I’m learning what I believe in, and what I am passionate about.  I find those things are quite different from what I believed previously, but that doesn’t surprise me.  You don’t go through prolonged suffering without being changed along the way.

My voice is not always popular, but that’s ok, because I am learning that my worth as a person is not based on agreeing with those around me.  That is a huge step for me.

I’m learning that a ‘dog with a bone‘ is a good thing because, while some people will hate it (and they do!), ‘dogs‘ with ‘bones‘ achieve change in the world.  Even me, with my one small voice can make change.  Just as each one of us can.

The ‘bone‘ I have been chewing today has been on the issue of disaster tourism in my city, Christchurch, NZ.  Before 2010 I doubt I knew the term disaster tourism even existed.  Now I know it only too well.  Wikipedia (and I know that’s not reliable but it will do for now) defines disaster tourism as:

 “the act of traveling to a disaster area as a matter of curiosity. The behavior can be a nuisance if it hinders rescue, relief,
and recovery operations”

In my opinion it is taking people who have become victims and are possibly traumatised, and turning them into a sightseeing venture. It screams ‘wrong’ to me, but I know that there are many people who think it is a good thing, and many people who make a good livelihood from such ventures and will convince innocent victims that it is in their interests.

It’s happening everywhere around the world, anywhere there has been some type of disaster.  Think of the last natural disaster you saw on the news, and the disaster tourism will be a big business there for years to come.

It’s a big issue in Christchurch, and is becoming bigger now that tourism operators want to take tourists further into what they call the disaster zones.  I’m just not convinced that this is a good thing for the people who have lived through the disaster, and are now rebuilding their lives.  Personally I need normalit, if that is possible.  I don’t need buses full of tourists coming down my street.

You can pick the ‘rubberneckers’.  They drive slow, and their eyes are not on the road.  I live on the edge of the area tourist operators want access to, and frankly I don’t like being stared at.  Letting tourists through doesn’t help me recover in any way. I get told that letting tourists see the ruins helps them to understand my suffering.  Really?  And how does their ‘understanding’ help me recover?  I know it puts money in the pockets of the tourism operators, but I’m not at all convinced.

But I’ll stop chewing that ‘bone’, because that’s not really the point.  What is the point is that having an opinion on disaster tourism (or anything else) is something to celebrate.  It is a good thing to be finding my voice again, and to know (or to be learning) what matters to me.  It feels great.

Not everyone agrees with that though.  Some people in my life wish I would shut up.  Some people might wish that I dropped the ‘bone‘, but personally I think that it is a good thing when people become passionate.  And it is a great thing when people can recover from mental illness, and find their voice.

I’m sorry to those in my life who would prefer me to go back to silence, but I’m only sorry because you miss out on knowing who I really am.

“How would your life be different if…You stopped allowing other people to dilute or poison your day with their words or opinions? Let today be the day…You stand strong in the truth of your beauty and journey through your day without attachment to the validation of others” 

― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

…And She Flew

Image credit: whakaangi.co.nz.

Image credit: whakaangi.co.nz
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Remember the kiwi? It’s not a piece of fruit (that’s a kiwifruit) but a small, flightless bird. Our national icon here in New Zealand, s/he lives in the undergrowth of the New Zealand bush doing all s/he can to avoid predators. S/he is an endangered species, and that must be hard when you’re a bird… and you can’t fly. What’s more, as someone pointed out to me recently, s/he also can’t swim. Actually it’s amazing s/he has survived, against the odds, for so long.

According to the Department of Conservation, who work to protect this, and other natural treasures here in New Zealand, there are only about 72,000 of these birds left.  Actually that’s not many, and you won’t see them easily when you come here as they are also nocturnal birds.

Even if you’re not from New Zealand, it’s hard not to be taken with the kiwi.  A bird that can not fly, that hangs out in the dark, and apart from an impressive looking beak, does not have much with which to defend itself.

The kiwi (bird) is where some 4.5 million New Zealanders take their name.  We are also known as kiwis, and personally I’m honoured to be represented by such a bird who faces the odds, time and time again.  That kiwi (the bird) can not fly… but this kiwi (me) is going to fly.

“Come to the edge”, he said.  We are afraid. 

“Come to the edge”, he said. 

They came.  He pushed them, And they flew…”

   – Guillaume Apollinaire    

My favourite quote (above) reminds me that sometimes, even when we are scared, we need to fly.  We have to take a (hopefully somewhat measured) risk and leap into the unknown.  And there we fly…

In five weeks, I am going to get on a plane (actually several) and fly half way around the planet to be with someone I love.  Standing on the edge, there are risks, but I’ve measured them and believe they are worth it.  Aside from the risk of flying half way around the planet to be with someone I haven’t met in person before, I also have to face 31 hours of travelling time.  Yes, that’s right.  31 hours.  That includes stops in Sydney, Bangkok and Dubai before I get to my destination in England.  And that is the shortest possible trip I could afford.

31 hours of sitting on planes, and passing time in airports is not exactly many people’s idea of fun.  The most I have ever done is 15 hours and that was hard enough.  Now I am doubling that, and have to factor into the equation my fibromyalgia.

Anyone with fibro, or probably any type of chronic pain, will be wincing at the idea of this.  It is a huge undertaking when sitting for any extended length of time will see my body seize but, and walking through airports and waiting in lines will see the fatigue set in.  This is not going to be easy, or even pleasant.  But that has been part of the weighing up the risks for me.  I expect by the time I get to England I will be half dead, but it’s worth it.  I have no doubt of that.

I have done my homework on what I should expect of my body but  I admit I haven’t yet considered too closely what my brain function might be like by the end of this.  Will I be able to think straight?  Unlikely but Frank knows to expect a wreck off the plane.  If anything can test our commitment to each other it will be the state of me after that 31 hours.  While it would be nice to think I’ll be looking my best, I know I won’t be.  That’s just how it is.  Sometimes that’s life.

The difficulty with fibro is that I really can’t accurately predict how I will be.  I know sitting immobile is a factor, as is the difficulty of sleeping over that time.  I would love to have one of those seats where you can lie down properly to sleep, but they were way too expensive.  I also know walking long walkways in airports might be difficult.  But I might handle it all really well.  Let’s hope.

Meantime I did some reading.  7 Keys to Savvy Traveling with Fibromyalgia by Tami Stackelhouse, a Fibromyalgia Health Coach provided some interesting food for thought.  Some of it I admit I struggled with though.

One of the first ideas suggested was to use wheelchair assistance in airports.  Hmm.  It might be a good idea, because usually there is a lot of walking in airports, but I’m not ready to face a wheelchair just yet.  I’m struggling enough with hope right now (see Fatigued Hope), without going that far.  Maybe that’s pride, maybe it’s stupidity, and maybe it’s maintaining some sense of self-empowerment.  I think  I need that right now.

What I need from my blogging friends is to hear what works for you.  Have you travelled long distance with fibro?  What did you do to make this as easy, and preferable pain-free, as possible?  And if I wake the morning of departure to a fibro flare, how would I be best to manage that?

I am going to step to the edge, and fly (unlike the kiwi).  Whatever the pain, I know this is worth it.  But anything I can do to lessen that pain, would just make damn good sense.

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” 

―    Mary Anne Radmacher

A Bit Mental (Lilo The Waikato)

Lilo The Waikato

Image credit: Lilo The Waikato (used with permission)

Yesterday I watched a great piece of television, and what’s more it was on mainstream television channel TV3.  The scheduling wasn’t great but at least it got there.  The programme was all about raising awareness of depression, and that has to be a great thing.  If you want to watch it, here’s the link.  It will be there for a couple of weeks.

Inside New Zealand – A Bit Mental – Special – On Demand – TV3.

Location map of Waikato River, North Island, N...

Location map of Waikato River, North Island, New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Bit Mental is a documentary about Jimi Hunt, a New Zealand man who has struggled with depression for two years.  As part of his recovery he created a challenge for himself of travelling down New Zealand’s Waikato River… on a $8 lilo air mattress (in other words cheap!)… and in doing so raising awareness for depression.  If you’re not sure what a lilo is, that’s the yellow thing Jimi is floating on in the picture above.  Just plastic and air.  He went through 11 in the whole trip as he succumbed to punctures.

He described it as:

“a ridiculous journey to raise awareness for a super serious problem.”

For those in other parts of the world, the Waikato River is our longest river at 425 kilometres.  There is some gorgeous scenery but some very serious white water known as the Huka Falls, as well as a few hydro power stations to get through.  In other words it’s a crazy journey that no one had done before on a flimsy plastic lilo, but Jimi did it.  The link above will give you the full story.

Jimi was told by his doctor that his depression had a chemical basis, rather than psychological and so his recovery was about correcting that chemical balance.  I admit I was slightly concerned when he commented that he wasn’t bad enough to need medication.  It was one of those things that just didn’t sit right with me.  Maybe because I was ‘bad enough’ to need medication.  Was he saying that because I needed depression I was much worse?  To me, I was just different.  I decided to drop the issue in my head, maybe I was seeing things that weren’t there (it happens often!).

Back to Jimi’s recovery, he was challenged by his doctor to get some exercise, get fit and set some goals.  And so Lilo The Waikato was born with his aim to raise awareness for depression and funds for Lifeline (a 24 hour telephone counselling line).

The Huka Falls, Waikato, New Zealand

The Huka Falls, Waikato, New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thing I really liked was that along the journey Jimi set himself up so that he had to ask for help, something which he recognised as key to his recovery, and something that he took a while to learn.  He had to ask for accommodation (the journey took about two weeks) and meals.  He had to ask for the occasional tow.

It was a practical reminder of how asking for help is so important when struggling with depression, and mental illness.  I guess it rang home to me because it is something that I recognise I have struggled with at different parts of my mental illness journey.  Some parts would have been so much easier, and less painful had I asked for help at the time.  Jimi recognised it as something that would have made a big difference to his recovery too.

What Jimi did was pretty amazing.  You wouldn’t get too many people who would take on such a challenge, let alone while raising awareness for mental illness.  And what’s more, there were many people (including more than 20,000 Facebook followers who encouraged, supported and followed his journey).

All this got me wondering, as I watched the programme, what awareness and support could be raised for other mental illnesses?  There is no official hierarchy of mental illnesses, but I’m inclined to think that depression is a little more ‘acceptable’ to the general public than other mental illnesses.  So what if there was a person with say, Schizophrenia or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) who could raise this kind of acceptance?  Would it work?  Would the general public just say “s/he’s crazy”?

No doubt plenty of people said that Jimi was crazy.  It’s certainly not something that I would choose to do.  But people got behind him and supported his cause.  It would be great to see more people backing a greater awareness of all mental illness.

Currently there is a woman, Annie Chapman, who is walking the length of the North Island – using the Te Araroa Trail (1600 kilometres), here in New Zealand to raise awareness of the need for better treatment options for those with mental illnesses.  It’s a completely different undertaking being a protest walk (known here as a hikoi) with community meetings along the way.  What interests me is that her Facebook followers amount to under 200.

Why is there such a difference in support?  I guess there are a lot of reasons, but I wonder whether the need to ask for help when you’re battling depression is more acceptable somehow to the public than the nitty-gritty of treatment options for all mental illness.  I don’t know, and perhaps I’m not being fair, but it does raise the question of what is acceptable to the public and what is too much?

What I do know is that what these two people, and probably others I haven’t heard about, are doing is fantastic.  Whatever is done to make mental illness easier to talk about, and more widely acceptable has to be great.

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” 

―    Friedrich Nietzsche

The Other Side Of The Story

On Christmas night I sat down for a short while to watch the headlines of the daily news on television.  I have been cutting back on what news I watch recently because of the often traumatic nature of it.  Now days I might watch the first ten minutes and then leave it.  That way I know some of what is going on, but don’t need to torment myself with the rest.

The first story was the record number of people who had attended the Auckland (NZ’s largest city) City Mission Christmas dinner.  These types of free meals have been run in major centres for years, and provide a free meal and entertainment for those who can not afford to have their own celebration.

What struck me was the way the newsreader told it.  There was almost glee in his voice as if he was talking about record numbers attending a car show, or some other event where record numbers would be looked on as a good thing.

For me, I see the record numbers as a terribly bad thing, that more and more people are having to turn to charitable organisations to enable some celebration of Christmas.  We should be looking to find ways of making these numbers go down rather than up.  It’s just wrong.  Ironically there were even people there who were tourists in New Zealand.  the bus tour they were on had brought them there for their Chritmas meal.  I admired the head of the City Mission who said it was fine they were there because they were seeing another side to New Zealand.  I just hope they paid for their meal.

I love that these events happen each year, and actually I have grown up  all my life being part of such events.  My parents would regularly do family Christmas celebrations for us at lunch time on Christmas Day, and then we would be involved in putting on a community meal at night for those who had no where else to go.  Mum would do most of the cooking and Dad would be out front welcoming people.  Us kids were often doing the dishes.

It is wonderful that so many give up their time (and money) to run these meals, but the fact that there is growing need for such events simply suggests to me that people are struggling more and so many people are alone.

This is one event where record-breaking statistics should be very unwelcome.  Yes there will always be people alone, and for them I am glad these events still exist.  But many of the people attending are families who simply can not afford to celebrate Christmas.

Image credit: FB/Fresh Minds Matter

Image credit: FB/Fresh Minds Matter

Straight after Christmas Day, in this country comes Boxing Day on 26 December.  It is a day recognised in most Commonwealth countries (although feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).  Boxing Day used to be a day to go to the beach in New Zealand, or better yet, the day to head off on your summer holiday.

Traditionally though, Boxing Day was a day to give money and gifts to the poor.  I grew up with the explanation that is was the day when servants packed up (in boxes) all the left overs from Christmas, and gave them to the poor.  Also it was a day when servants who had worked hard through Christmas Day, could have time off to visit their own families.

Boxing Day is probably one of those events where there are many different explanations, but it seems that giving to the more needy is a common thread.  I suspect most countries who recognise Boxing Day have lost this aspect to it, and I think that is sad.  I also have this question in my head of why the poor had to wait to simply get what amounts to ‘leftovers’?  And why couldn’t the rich give to the poor before Christmas?

I think what disturbs me most is what has happened to Boxing Day now.  Boxing Day has lost that charitable aspect and now is a consumer day.  It is now the day when the retail sales start, in the same line as the Black Friday sales in the United States after Thanksgiving.

How did we go from a day recognised for giving to the poor, to a mad scramble around the shops to get the best bargains possible?  Isn’t there something wrong with that?

Personally I don’t handle large crowds of people and so the idea of going shopping for the Boxing Day sales is completely beyond me.  I’m not interested in what bargains I might be able to get, and would rather preserve my mental health.

Boxing Day was yesterday in New Zealand, and like I had done the night before, I watched the first ten minutes of the television news.  The headlines were the record sales for the retail sector.

What I’m wondering is how many people buying up on Boxing Day could really afford what they were buying?  How many purchased on credit, and will struggle to pay it off?  And dare I say it, I wonder if there were people at the Christmas Day meals who were also at the sales, trying to get a bargain?  I don’t mean to criticise them personally.  I criticise a system that has the extremes of wealth and poverty, which no one appears to be trying to align.

There is something wrong with this side of the story.  The news readers don’t stop to align the two, but I bet the social workers who will be trying to help people budget their money know it only too well.

“Every life deserves a certain amount of dignity, no matter how poor or damaged the shell that carries it.” 

―    Rick Bragg,    All Over But the Shoutin’

Peace on Earth

Merry Christmas

from New Zealand

New Zealand’s Pohutukawa flower (the NZ Christmas Tree) Image credit: Sarang/Wikipedia.com

Christmas in New Zealand arrives right on time for a summer celebration.  While I see pictures of Christmas celebrations in the snow from around the world, that seems completely foreign to me.

We have the usual pine Christmas Tree in our homes, but the real tree of Christmas (and probably the most well-known symbol of New Zealand Christmas) is that which produces the flower above.  The Pohutukawa tree.  If there are plenty of the red flowers out in time for Christmas, we know that summer will be a good one. Most of these trees are found in the North Island, where I spent my childhood, so I have lots of good memories of them, although they’re not that common down here in the south.

I grew up having a hot Christmas dinner of roast turkey and ham, but really it always seems a little crazy considering the warm weather outside.  Now days, and today’s plans with my family, will be around the barbeque outside followed by pavlova and fresh berries for dessert.

So that’s my Christmas plans, but I have to admit that I’m not big on the whole Christmas theme.  The reason I think I struggle with it is this expectation that everyone will be on their best behaviour, and we are cheerfully ‘nice’ to people who during the rest of the year, we perhaps don’t want a bar of.  If only we could use Christmas to find peace in our world and in our families.

I wish for a Christmas that spells the end of war. 

I wish for a Christmas that spells the end of hate, and a return to loving our neighbours.

I wish for a Christmas that contains no crime.

I wish for a Christmas where we all stay safe from harm.

I wish for a Christmas of love, especially for those grieving as a result of crime and war.

I wish for a Christmas of peace.

There are no doubt millions of people in this world who wish for the same, regardless of any religious beliefs they may or may not have.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could take those individual wishes and turn them into both an individual, and global reality?

Santa Claus, presents and singing Christmas Carols are simply not what matters, in my mind.  What matters is working out what each of us, as individuals, can do today to turn this planet towards peace.

Image credit: FB/ONE HUMAN FAMILY

Image credit: FB/ONE HUMAN FAMILY

Two years ago my family celebrated Christmas with a new child, my niece L.  She was born about six weeks before Christmas.  It was to be our last Christmas with everyone there, as my father died suddenly four months later.  It was a stressful time for us as the earthquakes had started to hit Christchurch and while we were all together, it was a difficult time.

A baby in our midst lightened the mood and promised of good to come.  She bought hope.  We had no idea of what trauma we would go through in the months to come, how much we would lose, and how much pain there would be.   But somehow L’s presence in our family gathering offered us hope and joy.  And no doubt today, she will continue to provide that to me.

And that’s on my mind as I’ve picked out this music (complete with snowy scenes for those who need that to connect with Christmas).  The lyrics veer towards a Christian understanding of Christmas but I don’t think that needs to exclude anyone.  We can use Christmas to celebrate new life, regardless of our religious beliefs.  That’s what I’ll be doing anyway.

I wish you all peace, love and hope as you celebrate your Christmas.  Enjoy the young.  Take joy in their lives.  And most of all, find a way to be at peace with yourself, and with our fellow beings.

“Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special!  How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer…. Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously? ” 

―    Bill Watterson,    The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

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