“But He’s Such A Nice Man”

I’m quite sure that utterings of “But She’s Such A Nice Woman” get said at times, but for the life of me, I can’t think of an example in this context.  This past week though, my city of Christchurch, and probably half of New Zealand has come out in support of “such nice men“. They can do no wrong, it seems. “Nice men‘ apparently makes them ‘innocent men‘.

Enough to make me sick for the victims of those “such nice men“.  Those men, who are defended by the masses and often close-minded, sometimes have victims.  And to me, the uttering of “but he’s such a nice man” simply goes far enough to harm the victim all over again.

Shame on us for letting niceties get in the way of supporting victims.

What am I talking about?  Mainly sexual harassment, one of those types of harm that often goes unrecognised.  This past week, in Christchurch, sexual harassment has been top of the list of talk-back topics, social media comments, newspapers and anywhere anyone could get themselves heard.  Everyone, it seems, has had an opinion.  Too often it has been the opinion of the close-minded and ignorant.  The only opinion we haven’t heard is that of the victim, bound to silence by a confidentiality clause.

A man (Roger Sutton), whose name won’t mean a lot to most readers, was accused of sexual harassment by a woman in his office.  This complaint made the big time here because that office is CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority).  Again, a name that won’t mean much, but here in Christchurch where we are recovery  mode from the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, CERA is perhaps the most important office in the city.  This man was its Chief Executive, and it seems that to many here, he was single-handedly making the recovery of the city happen.  And he was apparently ‘such a nice man’.  I never met him so I wouldn’t like to say although I admit he always seemed to come across well in media interviews.

The details don’t really matter.  What matters in this post is that the claim of sexual harassment was upheld, and there was a victim who wasn’t/wouldn’t/ couldn’t be heard.  She was not only anonymous but also bound by that confidentiality agreement.

The masses were crying such statements as:

“She’s just ugly!

She has no love in her life so has to wreck his life”

“But he’s such a nice man”  (heard repeatedly)

This all gets me angry because this woman who is now being torn to shreds, but remains anonymous and silent in terms of the agreement, is now not only a victim of Roger Sutton, but is also now a victim of the general public (not to mention the media who have also made the most of it).  She doesn’t need to be a victim twice.  What’s more is that too often we (the public) and the media make victims victims.  It’s just so wrong… regardless of how ‘nice‘ he is.

I admit that I possibly feel strongly about this because I too, have been the victim of sexual harassment.  And I too, also became a victim of the onlookers.  My experience was much less public, but for me the victimization of the onlookers actually hurt a whole lot more than the initial harassment.

My sexual harassment was not in the workplace, but rather in a church.  At the time I was a church-going Christian.  I grew up in the church (a minister’s kid) and to a large extent, I saw my church as something of an extended family (especially when most of my family had moved away).

To be sexually harassed by one of the male church leaders was very shocking and hurtful.  These people are supposed to be ones I could trust. I had naively thought that amongst church people I was safe.  Unfortunately that is so untrue.

Eventually I made a complaint to the church authorities.  Thankfully the head of the church, the minister, accepted my complaint.  He had received a similar complaint from another woman who had since left the church.  He and his wife would turn out to be my most supportive people.

The man who had abused me (and harassment is abuse in my mind)  was stripped of his leadership role.  As that became public, and the reasons behind the move were now known, the general public (of the church) quickly turned on me.  I was said to be “wrecking the man’s marriage“, “putting undue pressure on his wife“, and the familiar line came forth:

“But he’s such a nice man!”

He was a nice man, and everyone liked him.  Unfortunately no one wanted to believe what he had done, or was capable of.  I left the church soon after.  There was no space there for me as a victim of this man.  This church was no longer the safe ‘family‘ it had been.

The lesson I learnt since, over and over, is that nice people sometimes hurt people.  Nice people sometimes hurt, abuse and harass people.  I have gone on to learn that sometimes it’s is the nicest people who do the most harm to us.  That has certainly been my experience.  Sad but true.

What really worries me is how many victims have learnt the same lesson?  And what do they do?  It’s not just sexual harassment to which this applies.  It’s any type of harm.  How many victims choose to stay silent because of this?  How many perpetrators run free?

“To those who abuse: the sin is yours, the crime is yours, and the shame is yours. To those who protect the perpetrators: blaming the victims only masks the evil within, making you as guilty as those who abuse. Stand up for the innocent or go down with the rest.”

― Flora Jessop, Church of Lies

 

 

 

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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World Mental Health Day 2013 (Kiwi Time)

Today (10 October) is World Mental Health Day.  Yes, I accept that for some of you I am a day early. That thing called time zones always has me a day ahead of everything, but maybe that just means we can have two World Mental Health Day’s.  What do you think?  Twice the coverage?  It would have to be good.

My first task on this day was to go look at what the World Health Organisation (WHO) have set for the theme of the year.  This year’s theme is the elderly and mental health.  Personally I think this is a great theme, not simply because we are all getting older, but because I have an 85 year mother for who I have some responsibility to help as she copes with what old age throws at her.  Old age ain’t pretty (and I’m not talking looks) but it’s actually not what I have on my heart today, so I’m deviating from the theme.  Apparently that’s allowed.

I am worried about what is happening about the mental health needs of those on our planet who aren’t fortunate enough to live in first world countries.  From where I’m looking it doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot of support for people with mental illnesses in the third world, and perhaps war-torn countries, let alone for those who are simply trying to maintain a good level of mental health.

Look at the globe depicted in the hand in the image above, and that says a lot to me.  Because it seems that all the world’s focus is on the countries who actually probably have the resources to handle their needs, if they just managed them properly.  But where are the poorer, less resourced countries?  They are the ones that need to be targeted.

I like the focus there is on veteran mental health, and the need identified for post traumatic stress support and treatment for those who have served in war zones.  But what about the people who live in those lands as their home?  What are we doing to treat their post traumatic stress?  They experience trauma too.

A few weeks back there was a major (7.7 magnitude earthquake in Balochistan, Pakistan).  Having lived through a number of catastrophic earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, I admit my ears prick up when I hear there has been another major quake somewhere in the world.  While this doesn’t directly relate to World Mental Health Day, what struck me then was the scant media coverage of the tragedy.  For some reason the people of Pakistan suffering and being killed was of seeming little importance to the world media, and so it sadly becomes of little importance to the world.

And that’s where I get back to World Mental Health Day.  When world media decide for themselves what they class as important, people miss out on the aid and treatment they need.  The survivors of that quake will be in all sorts of need for mental health support right now, but what’s the bet that half of us didn’t even know it happened?

What else matters to me?  I’ve been thinking about the situation in Russia with the open abuse and restrictions on those people who identify with LGBTQ.  I wonder if you are a transexual, Russian woman how you access good and safe psychiatric care for your Bipolar Disorder?  The gay, Russian man with suicidal depression?  I’m wondering whether they are of any priority to the people and services who have the skills and resources to treat these people?  They need and deserve the same standard of care as the heterosexuals in that country.

I don’t know the answer to these questions but I damn well hope someone does.  I hope someone has these peoples needs on their priority lists.

World Mental Health Day is a wonderful tool if we use it to ensure that mental health services stretch right around the globe.  If World Mental Health Day is just for the first world countries then I think we are all letting down our fellow human beings.  We are one planet and we are all worthy of quality mental health.

“I’ve always thought of wholeness and integration as necessary myths. We’re fragmented beings who cement ourselves together, but there are always cracks. Living with the cracks is part of being, well, reasonably healthy” 

― Siri Hustvedt, The Sorrows of an American

Standing Idly By

It’s something that I find so difficult.  To stand idly by and do nothing when someone is being hurt.  Some people find it easy to say “it’s none of my business“,  or “I’m not getting involved” but for me it’s so hard.

A few years ago I was out walking one morning with some friends.  We had been walking alongside the Avon River, which flows through Christchurch, NZ when we noticed a mother duck leading her ducklings (about 10 from memory) onto a road bridge to cross the river.  From my observation (I live near the river) ducks don’t have the best road sense and in breeding time it is a common sight at the end of my street to see peak hour traffic grind to a halt as a mother duck leads her young across the road.

Back to the ones crossing the bridge this particular morning, without even need for discussion we could see that traffic was not going to be able to see the duck family in time to stop, and so we formed a kind of human shield at the back of the ducklings, while one of our group tried to herd them onto the footpath.  As it turned out, no duck or human was hurt that day.  The traffic could see us much easier than the ducklings and so their lives were saved.

I am very clear that many people wouldn’t have done anything to help the ducks to safety that day.  They’d say “it’s none of my business“,  or “I’m not getting involved” or even “they’re just ducks“.  That attitude makes me kind of sad, although I recognise that it is perhaps a much more stress-free approach to life.

English: Duck and ducklings, Frogmore "Go...

Image credit: Wikipedia.com

My stress levels have been peaking this week, and I’ve found myself with physical symptoms of stress that I haven’t had since Christchurch was in the thick of earthquakes in 2010/11.  Life has been pretty stressful lately but actually it wasn’t about my life that I was getting stressed.  This is interesting because it was what I could see happening to other people (whom I don’t personally know) that was stressing me more than what was happening in my own life.

“You don’t just give up.  You don’t just let things happen.  You take a stand!  You say no! You have the guts to do what’s right, even when everyone else just runs away.”

 – Mia Kaim

And this is where I get stuck.  I might have the guts to do what’s right, but sometimes it is at the expense of myself.  I could stand up to the person who I can see harming others, and a big part of me wants to.  That big part says those people being hurt deserve to have someone stand up for them.  I realise that it’s like I’m stuck in this battle of is it me, or is it them?  Who is going to get hurt the most?  Actually in this case, the other people are being hurt much more than what effect it has/would have on me, yet I am also aware of that there probably would be a personal cost to me.

From an early age my mother would tell you that I ‘collected’ what she called ‘lame ducks’ (that always seemed rather uncharitable to me) or people who needed my help, or needed to be ‘saved’ by me.  She’s right, I did seem to collect people like that and I think her worst fear was that I would marry one of them and maybe produce ‘lame duck’ grandchildren (I didn’t).  Actually I think my father did much the same as I did in collecting people who needed his help.  Maybe its genetic, but I just hate to see someone being hurt, or mistreated.

I don’t find this one at all easy.  I talking about the general dilemma rather than the specific issue in front of me right now.  I simply don’t find the “don’t get involved/it’s none of my business” argument that easy to sit with when people are being hurt.  Actually I’d go so far as to say that I sometimes wish I was the type of person who could take that approach.  It must be so much easier to simply turn your back and walk away, but even as I write that I’m screaming “That is so wrong!“.

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” 

— E.B. White

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

Certainty

Certainty is one of those things that we never realise how much we appreciate it until we don’t have it.  I’ve realised that I am lacking certainty, and right now, I miss it dreadfully.

If you have been following my blog for a while you’ll remember that I live in Christchurch, NZ where we have been ravaged by a procession of earthquakes since September, 2010.  The quakes have finally died away (pretty much) but we live with the aftermath on a daily basis.

The most devastating quake to hit the city was on 22 February 2011.  People died, buildings collapsed, and lives would never be the same.  My home sustained substantial damage including basically splitting the building into three pieces and knocking it off its foundations in one corner.  But hey, after some emergency repairs it was deemed liveable.  It’s just not entirely weather-proof (it’s winter here, so I’m feeling that) and the floor slopes to one side.  Aesthetically it doesn’t look too good, but then there are many worse off than me.

Since then, certainty vanished.  I have little idea whether the house can be fixed, or whether it will end up being demolished.  I know that to fix it will take some major work, not to mention money.  In New Zealand we have a government agency, the Earthquake Commission (EQC), whose responsibility it is to fund the repairs of damage caused my natural disasters.  That funding is through a tax levy on insurance.

EQC has become the organisation we love to hate.  Personally I think a lot of that is justified.  Between them and my insurance company (that’s another story entirely because they literally fled the country) they hold my life in their hands.  My certainty is at their mercy.

For some residents of Christchurch, including my parents, their future was determined on the day of that quake.  Their home was immediately deemed only fit for demolition, and they were instantly homeless.  Not entirely homeless, because they just shifted into my home, until we were able to find a new home for them some months down the track.

That would clearly be devastating for anyone, and there were thousands of people in that boat. I don’t wish that for myself, but sometimes I think it would have been a bit easier.  At least I would know.  At least I could get on with my life.

But instead life stopped that day, and it’s been a waiting game ever since (for me, and thousands of other residents in the same boat).  Will my home survive?  I don’t know.  Will I have to shift out?  And where will I go?  I don’t know.  Will there be a fair settlement?  I don’t know.  I’m just waiting.

So today as I write, there is a small army of assessors from EQC roaming my property.  This was last done in September 2011 but they have come to the conclusion that the assessment they did at that time was not accurate.  Basically they didn’t take into account that my home is physically joined to three others.  How could they miss this fact?  I don’t know.  This has particular implications for me because my foundations need to be repaired and to lift the house in order to do that, they would probably have to lift the other houses too.  That starts to sounds complicated, expensive and possibly simply not worth it.

As this team of EQC staff (I think there are about 10 and apparently they are combining the assessment with a staff training exercise) go through my property (and my neighbours) inside and out, I wonder just what will be the result.  I certainly won’t know this today, and I suspect it will be months more before I get any certainty from them.  That’s just the pace they work at.  And this… is just life.

So does certainty matter?  Is it something I need to ensure lasting mental health even?  I’m inclined to think it does matter, simply because I like to know what is ahead.  Even if change is ahead, at least if I know, then I can prepare for it (mentally and physically).  But in this situation that’s not possible.  It’s no worse for me than for many other residents of this city.  We all face this indeterminate wait, with a foreboding that our future is in someone else’s hands.

Perhaps the major thing that I have learnt in this whole earthquake nightmare (which included the subsequent death of my father) is to live one day at a time.  The only problem is that sometimes it is just so damn hard to do that.

Some days I can do the ‘one day at a time’ philosophy.  I can accept that at some stage I am going to have to leave my home, either permanently, or temporarily while repairs are undertaken.  That I don’t know when that will be, and when it happens I probably won’t get much warning.

But other days, like last night when I was trying to sleep, it just seems all too much.  I just want to know.  I just want that certainty of what is ahead. Some days I can live with the uncertainty, but on others it seems like my entire mental health rides on those 10 EQC assessors who are here today.  But then here in Christchurch, that is the only certainty so many of us have.

“The world is a wonderfully weird place, consensual reality is significantly flawed, no institution can be trusted, certainty is a mirage, security a delusion, and the tyranny of the dull mind forever threatens — but our lives are not as limited as we think they are, all things are possible, laughter is holier than piety, freedom is sweeter than fame, and in the end it’s love and love alone that really matters.” 

― Tom Robbins

When Your World Turns Upside Down (reposted)

A few weeks ago I published this post but removed it shortly after, when I felt uncomfortable having shared what is contained in it.  I now feel more comfortable with sharing it, and so am re-posting it.  I apologise to those who read the original post and commented, before I deleted it.  I did appreciate your comments.

Today has been the second anniversary of the worst earthquake we lived through in Christchurch, NZ.  185 people weren’t so lucky and lost their lives.  Many more were injured.  And yet many more have suffered health problems (and for some death) following the quakes.  For me, my father died six weeks later, my mother is a completely different woman and my own fibromyalgia is attributed to my trauma from that experience. 

Our lives literally turned upside down.  While recovery, repair and rebuilding slowly take place, for about 450,000 residents life will never be the same.  This post is about what came to matter.

My world has literally turned upside down in more than one occasion. It has been frightening, life changing and heart stopping (both literally and figuratively when I look across my family who also experienced this). It happened, for me, by way of massive earthquakes, but for others it might have been tornadoes, hurricanes, bush fires, floods, tsunamis or a number of other events that we know as ‘natural disasters’.

It might be ‘natural’ but nothing seems ‘natural’ at the time. Everything is totally unknown and shocking.Out of nowhere, comes complete devastation. The question that repeatedly came into my mind as I was in a number of major earthquakes in Christchurch, NZ was “how can the earth do this?” It was simply beyond my wildest imagination that the world was capable of moving like this, yet now it was my reality.

If you have read back through my posts you may have read some of this before, but this is a different angle than that which I have shared previously.

In a few weeks it will be two years since Christchurch experienced its worst (although not biggest) and deadly earthquake. On 22 February 2011 a 6.3 earthquake, centred just 10 kilometres from the central city, hit on a busy, summer Tuesday. It wasn’t the first, or the last quake to devastate the city.

Nearly two years on, it seems that finally the after shocks might have died away. There are still occasional ones just to remind us of our terror, but mostly now it is about concentrating on rebuilding ourselves, our homes and our city. Or waiting. There is so much waiting. In early days for supplies of fresh water, now we wait for the Government and Insurance companies, and of course we wait at the thousands of roads-works holding up traffic as the repairs to roads, water pipes and sewers go on.

Five months earlier on 4 September 2010 at 4.35am I was woken by our first quake. It was a 7.1 quake centred just out of the city at Darfield (about 30 kilometres away). It was dark, and I woke to this incredible violent shaking. Initially I had no idea what was happening. In New Zealand we are used to minor quakes but this was far beyond anything I had experienced.

As children we had been taught that in an earthquake you make your way to a doorway or under a table. Instinct somehow kicked in. Moments before my cat had been asleep by my feet, but I couldn’t see or hear where she was. That instinct saw me grab my teddy bear and try to make it to the doorway. It was only two metres but it seemed like miles because the cupboard doors on one side, and the bed on the other, were being tossed and thrown around the room. I literally had to fight to get past.

I clung to the door frame, and as I did I realised that there was an old doll on my bedside table. I had grabbed the teddy bear but I hadn’t grabbed the doll, and now I wanted her. I wanted to go back. For a moment, she was everything in the world, but then I knew I wouldn’t make it back. Right then I wasn’t sure if this was the end of the world, or was it a very bad earthquake. I just hung on and hoped it would end. I hoped my doll would still be there when it stopped.

When these ‘natural’ disasters strike they tend to be life-changing in many ways that one would never have expected. What is important takes on new meaning and you find that things you thought were important, don’t hold the same value you thought they did.

On that dark September morning, all that mattered to me was my cat (who I didn’t see for another two days) and the teddy bear and doll. I thought my world was ending. It would have been useful to have my mobile phone from the bedside table, but I didn’t think of that until it rang a few minutes later (what became a regular ritual of checking on other family members).

There wasn’t much logic to what was important but in time I would repeat the same choices. Five months later, when the February quake struck it caused much more damage because it was closer to the city centre, it was very shallow and it was lunchtime on a busy work day. My parents lived in an apartment building in the city centre, and when they (and I) struggled down the damaged stairs some time after the quake, they were leaving the building forever. I was with them that day, and while I had time to grab my bag, they had no time to grab anything. Dad had his car keys. That was all.

Their experience made me question my priorities again. What really mattered? Actually a lot didn’t matter. Mum was understandably upset because she hadn’t put her wedding rings on that morning.

We were fortunate that my brother and I were able to go back into the building for a short while several months later. By then we had worked out what really mattered. There was mum’s rings, my grandfather’s World War Two medals, and family photos. Of a houseful of possessions we had narrowed it down to that.

It seemed a little crazy to walk past broken china on the floor. Items my parents had got as wedding gifts and had been part of our family for my whole life. They didn’t matter. They just weren’t important. I’d like to say that what mattered was that we were all alive, but by that time my Dad had died. The stress of everything had beaten his heart.

But we do have everyone else, and some families weren’t so lucky. We are fortunate. We found mum’s rings and Granddad’s medals (although they mysteriously disappeared later). We retrieved most of the family and ancestor photos that couldn’t have been replaced.

For me, I lost precious items in my home too, particularly gifts from friends. Smashed on the floor. But two years on those things don’t matter. The things that did matter, which were of my heart, were my cat, my teddy bear and the doll. Oh, and I never take my rings off now. I learnt that lesson from Mum.

“You can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count.”

― A.A. Milne

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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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Step Away From Your Screen

Step Away from your Television

Step Away from your Computer

(after you have finished reading this) ;-)

Something very terrible happened yesterday in Connecticut, and there’s no denying the trauma that has caused for many people, both those involved directly and those of us who are watching it all replayed on our screens.  In what I am about to say I am not down-playing what happened, nor am I ignoring the needs of the victims and survivors.  What I want to talk about it how do we manage our feelings as onlookers.

I have a mental illness, and because of that there are a number of things that I have difficulty with.  I know I’m not alone in this, and that’s why I am stepping away from my normal policy for my blog of not giving advice.

I just want to share something I’ve learned over the past couple of years.  With the shooting yesterday I know the automatic thing is to sit glued to the news channels, etc.  Don’t.    You’ve got the facts.  Now turn off the television/computer/ phone, or whatever your source of media information.

The media are there to give us the information but so often in times like this, they ‘play it up’ for want of a better term, they go on to talk about why something has happened, and really they don’t have the knowledge or the experience to do that without setting people off on tangents that really aren’t helpful.  They might give us information but they make it more emotional, hype us up and leave us more upset.

It’s hard for anyone to handle, but it’s harder for people with mental illnesses for a number of reasons.  Firstly our moods can already be lowered, and news like this plummets anyone’s mood lower.  For some people (including those like me who have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) we struggle at best of times to regulate how we’re feeling.  News like this leaves us unsure of how to react, and how to manage those feelings we have.  The temptation can be to reach out to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking, drugs, self harm and the like.

We know it’s happened, we know it’s terrible.  But we don’t need to go on tormenting ourselves by watching it.  Turn it off, light a candle, say a prayer or whatever you need to do, and then do something nice for yourself.  We don’t need the details replayed to us, over and over again.  Turn it off.

The other thing that is difficult for people with mental illnesses is the inevitable talk of whether the gunman had a mental illness.  I am choosing not to debate that here because I don’t think it’s helpful right now.  What does matter is that if we have a mental illness ourselves, we can hear what the media, or other people say about people with mental illnesses…   and we hear them saying that stuff about us.

Suddenly we’re thinking that media and others are saying we’re capable of such terrible acts.  That’s not what is being said, and if it is then they’re saying it as a cruel generalisation.  It’s hurtful and it’s dangerous.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I commented on my personal Facebook page that watching the television news was very traumatic, and that it could replay in our minds things from our past.  I said this in relation to a weather event in New Zealand, because watching it had brought to mind all I had experienced in our earthquakes in Christchurch during 2010/11.  Simply watching the television was replaying my traumatic memories.

What is being played on television and other media today, and in the weeks to come, is traumatic for anyone.  But for a person with a mental illness is going to be so much harder to bear.  I really believe (and am choosing to do this for myself as much as possible) that it is time to turn it all off.

Remember the victims and the survivors.  Think of those who are working to help the town grieve for their lost.  But what good can come from having it replayed over, and over on your screen?  What is something more productive that we could do?  One thing we can do is something to soothe and take care of ourselves.

Image credit: FB/Bullying is for Losers

Image credit: FB/Bullying is for Losers

“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…” 

―    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,    The Little Prince

All I Want For Christmas

There’s a few things I’d like for Christmas.  If that’s too much to ask for, there’s a few things I need to buy.  While I’ve been either lying in bed, or lying on the couch over the past few days experiencing the full on fibromyalgia attack (note, not a flare!  See Namby-Pamby Flares) I have realised there are a few things I need.

Firstly I need a laptop.  Please Santa.  I’ve been ‘writing’ posts in my mind as I’ve lain there unable to sleep.  They probably didn’t make much sense, but if I had a laptop I wouldn’t have to transcribe onto paper for later when I could sit at my desktop computer.

Even my two year old niece was watching Dora The Explorer on her mother’s laptop the other day.  If L can use a laptop then surely I should be allowed to write my posts from bed, or the couch.  Shouldn’t I?  My bank account says otherwise so I’m really pinning my hopes on Santa.  Really Santa, I do believe!  Everything you say is true!  Absolutely!

Next…

I Want To Float

Image credit: flickr.com/photo/40571874@N00/1101392997

Why do I want to float?  Because with fibro, pressure from anything hurts.  Whether I am sitting on a chair, lying on the bed, anything.  Even standing makes my feet hurt.  So I don’t want to be on anything.  I want to float.

What are my options?  Well, we’re short of swimming pools in my part of Christchurch thanks to the earthquakes of 2010/11.  The two public pools that were on my side of the town have been destroyed.  We’re waiting on the replacements, like many other things.  No doubt we’ll be waiting a while and I don’t mind.  Personally I think fixing homes is more important, but the Government didn’t ask me and I see they’re fixing children’s paddling pools at parks.  So swimming pools can be too far off.

I live only 10 minutes drive from the sea so I could take to the beach.  The only thing is that if I’m going to float in the sea I really have to have my eyes open to watch for stray waves, and perhaps sharks.  Somehow I just don’t see that as practical.  It wouldn’t be very relaxing.

One of my favourite television programmes is the English Absolutely Fabulous.  I love it, and actually when required, I can do a pretty good Eddy impersonation.  Eddy had a floatation tank in her house.  While the idea of getting in a tank and closing the lid leaves me a little claustrophobic, the length of the tank she had seems like just what I need.

I have a bathtub in my house but I’m tall, and I can’t stretch out totally and float.  What I need is an extra long bath.  Maybe seven and a half feet long.  I’m thinking that when the earthquake repairs are finally done to my home ( before, or after the swimming pools) I can have the bathroom extended to include my extra long bath.  It would be bliss.  If yoiu can’t find me, that’s where I’ll be.

Whether or not the insurance company and government combination responsible for the repairs would be willing to help is questionable.  But I might just remind them that my fibro was apparently caused by earthquake trauma.  How can they say no to that?

One more thing I want while we’re at it…

I want to float

Yes, again I want to float.  But this time, not on water.

Image credit: Kropsoq / Wikipedia.com

As I’ve said before (see Serious Attitude Problem), Christmas is not my favourite my of year.  I might not have been doing anything practical this week in terms of getting ready for Christmas, but I have been thinking.  Unfortunately I haven’t been doing the thinking I needed to like ‘how am I going to get my shopping done and not stress out with all the crowds now that school is out?‘  Instead I’ve been thinking ‘how can I get out of this?

Much as I have no desire to repeat those years, the years I spent Christmas in hospital or respite care had their very definite advantages – the ability to ignore reality.  In hindsight I admit that it was very convenient to have to miss everything about Christmas just because I was entombed in a psychiatric hospital.  You have to admit, it’s a pretty plausible excuse.  I’m not going back there and I know now that I’m a ‘big girl’ and I have to face reality, but don’t we all need our own escape plans?

Mine?  Well New Zealand is said to be the adventure tourism capital of the world, so the last thing I want is a hot hair balloon.  That way I can just float away when it all gets too much.  That wil be me running from the family Christmas barbeque (remember it’s summer here), jumping in the basket… and away I float.  Bliss  And by the way,in true introvert style, it will just me… and someone who can drive/fly this thing.  Wish me luck.

“You never really know what’s coming. A small wave, or maybe a big one. All you can really do is hope that when it comes, you can surf over it, instead of drown in its monstrosity.” 

―    Alysha Speer