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))

Dona Nobis Pacem (2013)

(That’s what ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ means)

Today I am participating, for the second time, in Blog4Peace…   because peace is something that I strongly believe is desperately needed in our world.  Bloggers from over 200 countries are participating today, and that just says to me how important our quest for peace is.

Sometimes I’m not too good at sticking to ‘the rules’, especially with blogging challenges and the like.  Hopefully Mimi will forgive my errant ways.  Usually bloggers create a template of their statement of peace, and post it on their site on 4 November.  I have borrowed a template (above) for this post, but came to the conclusion that firstly, I’m a better writer than an artist, and secondly, I had something to say that I couldn’t contain in a template. As well as that my brain isn’t quite functioning straight right now and to achieve both tasks is simply beyond me.

The Mission (1986 film)

The Mission (1986 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was watching a movie the other day.  A favourite from years ago, of which I have just managed to get my hands on a copy.  It is The Mission (1986) starring Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro.

The brief summary of what this is about is that some Jesuit priests are living and working with locals above the Iguazu Falls in the South American jungle in the 1750s.  There is some outstanding music in this movie, probably one of the reasons I love it, but there are difficult moments too when Portuguese rulers take back the land, destroy the mission built with the Jesuits ,and try to enslave the locals.  The priest, played by Jeremy Irons, believes that God is love, and violence is a direct crime against that love.  He argues that they should trust God rather than fight back.  He chooses to stay with the villagers in peace while other Jesuits decide to renounce their vows and fight with many of the male villagers.

It’s hard to fit a movie into a paragraph, but the reason I raise it is the two choices that are made, effectively between peace and war.  I sat watching the movie, and there were villagers, priests and soldiers representing the Portuguese rulers dying everywhere.  Most of it was played out beside the river and I was struck how easily dead bodies were cast aside, out-of-the-way, so that the fight could continue.  It seemed to me those bodies meant nothing, and I was struck with a knowing that I could never kill another being (human or animal), in such a situation because I simply couldn’t allow myself to let them mean so little.  It was difficult enough to stand and watch my cat being euthanised last year.  I knew it was taking away her pain, but it was so difficult to let a life be taken.

That said, that’s an easy statement for me to make.  I’m not back there in the 1750s with the threat of my village being destroyed, and I’m not even in a position where I have to consider that I might be sent to war here in the 21st century.  I live in a country (New Zealand) where military involvement is not mandatory. It was for young men (including my grandfather) in the first and second world wars, but as a woman, that was never something I would have had to face doing.  Yes, it’s easy for me to say.  My choice not to bear arms would not have any affect on my family and/or loved ones.  Saying no is definitely an option for me.  But I get that for so many, it’s not that easy.

Peace is one of those things that I think we all have our own views of what it is about.  For me it is about respecting the value of each human being to a point where that person deserves to be saved.  This post isn’t directly about war, although obviously it is not ignored because without peace we often have war. My personal belief is that war is never necessary.  There is always another way of solving a dispute, and every effort should be taken to preserve life.  Maybe it’s more difficult, maybe it takes longer.  Jeremy Irons, in his role, chose to take what he viewed as God’s way.  That’s not why I like it but rather what I do I like is the respect a peaceful solution offers to each individual.

We are all worth saving.  None of us deserve to be left dead or injured on the side of the road, or permanently traumatised by the horror that soldiers, and the indigenous and local people have witnessed in the name of war.  My belief is that peace values each of us.  It says we are all too important to be cast aside as I saw in the movie.

That’s why I have taken time out from my usual blogging to take part in today’s Blog4Peace.  All of the bloggers taking part in this event believe that if words are powerful….this matters. The wider we spread this message, each in our own way, the more people will see that the right thing to do is to lay down arms and live at peace.

What does all this have to do with blogging for mental health?  If we had peace world over then we could all let it be.  I am convinced that our overall mental health would be significantly better.

Music drew me to that movie, just as I believe that music draws us in peace toward togetherness.  That’s why I’m finishing this post with music from Playing For Change Songs Around The World.

“Dad, how do soldiers killing each other solve the world’s problems?” 

― Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995

Image credit:  Shannon Pinkley-Wamsley

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

Fathers Day

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Today is the first day of spring down here in New Zealand, although the weather in Christchurch has been pretty good lately so I have been thinking it was already spring.  Anyway, I have my daffodils in a vase, and outside my kitchen window there are birds frantically building a nest in a tree which used to be the domain of my cat, Penny.  She’s probably looking down from heaven horrified that I’m letting this happen.  After all that was HER tree.  But I’m fascinated watching the progress.

Today is also Father’s Day in New Zealand, and I admit I find that a little more troublesome.  I loved my father dearly and used to enjoy having a day for him, but now that he’s gone I feel a bit like being at a party where the guest of honour was a no-show.  It just doesn’t work.  It doesn’t seem right.

In the past week I have seen lots of advertising telling me to buy everything from socks to chainsaws for my father.  It is all wasted on me.  It was anyway, as my family never went in for the commercialisation of Father’s Day (and Mother’s Day).  A card, a hug and a family dinner was it.  And it was enough.  My father was never going to appreciate a chainsaw anyway.

Actually when I think about it, he would have.  In his last years he had a bee in his bonnet over a neighbour’s tree hanging over my property.  The neighbour refused to do anything and Dad refused to let it go.  Had I given him a chainsaw he would have found his way over the fence (the mind boggles at the thought) and chopped it down himself.  Then all hell would really have set loose.

The thing is that I was lucky with my father.  I might not have him around now, and I continue to miss him every day.  But I had a father who loved me, was there for me and made sure I had my physical and emotional needs met as I grew up, and long into adulthood.  I know that there are too many people who don’t, or haven’t had fathers like that.  How do you handle Father’s Day when your memories, or even your current reality is either no father, or an abusive, neglectful or unloving father?  It’s pretty tough to be grateful for a father like that and I think the commercialisation of such an occasion only succeeds in rubbing dirt in the wounds even more.

The truth is that not all fathers are good fathers.  I wonder how we acknowledge that, in a way that doesn’t exclude people who have this reality?  It seems to me that as a society, when Fathers Day hits (and Mothers Day for that matter) we forget that reality.

As I mention Mothers Day, I think this is an even bigger issue because some how society paints a picture of the wonderful, loving mother who provides for our every need.  We get a picture from the media of mothers who would do anything for their children.  And sure, that is an accurate picture for many, but not for all. For many the abusive, neglectful or unloving mother is a reality.

For many, mothers weren’t there for their children and failed to provide for their physical and emotional needs.  Mothers can be as abusive as fathers, but I’m inclined to think that society hides from that truth.  Somehow it’s easier not to think of women in that way.

Again, Mothers Day as we know it simply serves to isolate those who have had less than ideal relationships with their mothers, almost more than it isolates those who have poor or no relationships with their fathers.

Unfortunately I’m not sure there is an easy answer, except I know that it is terribly hard to live with the reality of poor parental relationships anyway.  It is simply made more isolating and difficult when as a society we paint such rosy pictures of the traditional nuclear family.

I miss my father today.  I will probably go and put some daffodils on his grave later, but mostly I will simply be thankful that my father loved me, and perhaps even more so, believed in me.  I know I am so fortunate.

This one’s for Dad…

“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.” 

― Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

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

A Soul Craving Music

In the last week, or so, I have discovered that my soul is craving music again.  It’s so long since I’ve had that need, that I hardly remember it, and I certainly have little idea of what to do about it.  It’s completely unexpected. It just came from nowhere, that I need to listen to music (I mean really listen) and even more, I need to make music again.

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” 

— Victor Hugo

The music inside me, and the desire to make music, went a very long time ago.  As my life fell into a deep depression many years ago, I found tha,t if anything, music just made it all worse.  It was worse because music draws out emotion for me, and I couldn’t bear what it was drawing forth.  Music was not just a noise in the background.  It spoke right to my heart, even more so when I made my own music.  I had to silence it.  I did for a very long time.

Music was always an important part of my (previous) life.  I learnt instruments from the age of about seven.  First the recorder, then piano, guitar, flute and voice.  I was never going to be a virtuoso.  I didn’t put in enough practice.  I wanted to play because I could and lacked the discipline to excel.  I studied music right through school and by high school was in every choir, orchestra or event going.

While my parents encouraged, and paid for, the music lessons they didn’t support my desire to excel further in voice. I always felt sad about that because when I sang, my heart opened.  It was a feeling I didn’t get anywhere else.  I continued in my own way by being heavily involved in music as what I’ll call a practising Christian.  The music was largely the reason I went to church.

When my mental illness started to kick in, the desire for music dropped out.  I also stopped going to church shortly after, and so again, the music went out of my life.  Actually I couldn’t bear to listen, let alone play music.  That was all aggravated further when I had my flute stolen soon after I got sick.

Any musician will understand that I loved the flute I had.  I loved the sound I got from it.  Now I had a new flute, purchased only because the Insurance company insisted, but it didn’t give me the same sound quality.  That was about 18 years ago, and I haven’t played my flute since.  As for my voice, it has largely remained quiet too.  I’ve sung at a few special weddings, but that’s it.  It was simply too hard, to let that sound out.

So now the desire returns.  It’s a little strange after all this time.  I listen to music, carefully chosen, and it brings emotion to surface.  I hear music and it reminds me of events, places  and people.  More so though, it brings to the surface feelings about those events, places and people.  It’s not a bad thing either.  It feels good, and so I listen to more.

The desire to make music is back even more strongly.  I’m not sure I can bring my flute out from the back cupboard.  After so long of no practice I hate to think how it would sound, and I’d still be disappointed by the tone of my ‘new’ flute.  But I’d like to sing again.  And not just in the car to make myself look ridiculous in the traffic.

Church music is no longer for me, although it will always have a special place in my heart because of the extent to which I was involved in it.  A few days back I was watching a Youtube clip of a friend’s son who was singing in a Jazz Band.  It was only short because his performance was interrupted by the Cook Strait earthquakes last Sunday (yes, it does seem that there is always an earthquake in New Zealand).  What I listened to left me with a ‘I’d love to do that‘ feeling.  I don’t know how or when, but I’m open to what comes my way.

My soul wants to sing again, and so it shall.  Music is, and has always been, about expression for me.  I need to express what is inside again.

And to express my mood about all this, is one of my long time favourites.  Maybe out of left field, but my music tastes are wide.  Close your eyes and listen.  It’s wonderful.

Awake my dear. 
Be kind to your sleeping heart. 
Take it out into the vast field of light 
and let it breathe.

~ Hafiz 

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

You Are My Sunshine

It makes my day when I receive a nomination for an award.  It’s even better when I discover it comes from another kiwi blog.  I have only been following this blog for a short time, and shamefully hadn’t even  realised that it is written by a fellow kiwi.  I love the fact that there is another kiwi, passionate as I am, about mental health… and is writing about it.

D.J. Halswell from A Mid-Life Adventure has nominated me for the Sunshine Award.

Here are the Sunshine Award’s simple rules:

  • Post the Sunshine Award logo
  • Then nominate 10 fellow bloggers you feel are worthy of this award
  • Announce their nomination on their blog
  • Plus, link a ping-back to the nominator’s blog

Questions for all nominees:

Favourite colour?Green… any green.

Favourite animal? I don’t have my own pet at present but my canine nephew Duncan is a favourite as are his feline siblings Sally and Harry. My beagle friend, Poppy is also a firm favourite even though she is on the other side of the planet.

Oh, were we talking favourite kind of animal?  If we were, then it’s a bear.  Unfortunately bears have never got as far as New Zealand.

Favourite number?  I don’t do numbers.  Any number is just fine with me.

Favourite non-alcoholic drink?Freshly squeezed orange juice (with bits, pulp or whatever you like to call it).

Favourite alcoholic drink?I don’t drink a lot these days, but when I do it is dry white wine.

Facebook or Twitter? 

  • Twitter: @CateReddell   I admit I don’t do much on Twitter, but I’m there…
  • Facebook: Infinite Sadness or what?  I’m currently debating how much longer I’m staying there.  My purpose for starting a page was to spread the word on my blog, and that just isn’t really happening due to Facebook’s reluctance to share posts (at no cost).

My Passions?Writing, reading, spending time with my two-year old niece and her teenage brothers,  life where judgement of others does not have a place.  I’m also passionate in my dislike of reality television.  I simply don’t get what is so entertaining.  Why can’t we have real, quality television instead?  Or better still, why not just turn it off?

Giving or Receiving Gifts? Both are rewarding!  Receiving gifts can be hard sometimes because I find myself wondering about the motives behind the gift.  But I love giving gifts, especially those which are for no other reason than because I could.

And my 10 nominees are…

Firstly let me acknowledge that there are a lot of bloggers who don’t want to accept awards, for a variety of reasons.  If you are one of those, and I have nominated you, please accept my apologies and don’t feel under any pressure to participate in this award.  Just know that I think your blog is great… and then carry on with your day.

With that said, my nominations ( in no order) are:

Claudia at Summer Solstice Musings

Jayne and Chas at THE SUNRISE GOAL

Jennifer at Chopping Potatoes

PTSD And Beyond (particularly for her post We Are Not All the Same)

Sid at Dad Knows

Natalya and Anya from Finding Health After Illness

Kina at Human In Recovery

Come November

A Wilderness Love Story

And yes, the perfectionists will notice that are nine blogs listed when I was meant to nominate 10.  Just sit back and breathe for a moment.  It will feel okay soon.  It’s always good to be able to just sit with imperfect things (a shortened list too)and break a few rules. :-)

And to finish, just because I can…

“I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.” 

― Robert A. Heinlein