World Mental Health Day 2015 – Dignity Or Do I Have To Beg?

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Dignity in Mental Health – 10 October

World Mental Health Day is always an important day to me, and this year it’s been one I’ve been thinking about for some time. The topic set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is ‘Dignity in Mental Health’.

What does that mean? And how should I choose to write on that topic. In deciding, it’s important to acknowledge that ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ will mean something different depending on where you call home. I live in New Zealand and what ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ is to me will probably be different to you.

What has come to mind is the times when my dignity has not been maintained in either living with my mental illness or being treated for that mental illness. Some of that has been directed to me specifically but other times it has been more of a societal issue. And that’s what I intended to write about today… until today. When I completely changed my mind because of the circumstance I have found myself in.

The term dignity is one of those which we all know but is quite difficult to define.  What do we really mean? So to the dictionary, I went;

“The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect”

What does that mean? That was the Oxford Dictionary, that which I grew up with. Whether for amusement or clarification, sometimes it pays to take a look at The Urban Dictionary:

“A proper sense of pride and self-respect”

That was one of five definitions offered but is the one I feel most comfortable with. Because it’s about me (or you). It’s about self. That which will give me “a proper sense of pride and self-respect” will give me dignity. It makes sense to me.

Today I found myself in a looming sense of indignity (in terms of my mental health) because I am in a situation where I would have to expose myself more than someone without a mental illness might have to. It was making me feel sick. The more I thought about it, the more a headache came on. Maybe it might seem like no big deal but it is personal and it isn’t going to come easy.

 You might be aware that I am currently looking for some alternative accommodation for six months while my current abode is repaired of its earthquake damage. As is becoming a common task, this morning I went to look at a possible flat/apartment. I liked it. Actually I loved it. It would suit me down to the ground. As I left the agent gave me an application form which I would have to send through to her office.

These application forms are worse than applying for a job. Landlords can be exceptionally picky in this city. There is a huge demand for rental accommodation for exactly the reason I’m looking.  Earthquake repairs and people who have come to the city to work (on earthquake repairs) who need accommodation.

I know that if I had a job my chances of getting this place would rise substantially. You see, the jobless simply don’t stand a chance. We are an underclass and landlords don’t need to acknowledge that underclass even exist. But mental illness makes it worse.

I haven’t worked since 2010, at which point I had a part-time job for 18 months. Before that, I took nine years to complete a three-year degree. And before that I spent eight years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. I have to go back to 1993 to find when I was employed full-time and actually did something those landlords would consider of note.

To get this flat (I saw today) I have to provide something of an employment history and then I have to provide personal references, separate from employment references. Are they kidding? As I said, I had to give up work years ago and I gave up on having friendships some years ago. They hurt too much. With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) it’s too hard and too painful. I couldn’t do it. I have no one who I could seek a personal reference from. I have no references.

Here’s my point:

There are other people for whom this process will be limiting if not failing. I know that I’m not alone. But for someone with a mental illness, landlords in my city are literally refusing to admit we exist. They simply don’t HAVE to admit I exist because they have plenty of nice, qualified, rich, employed Jane’s or John’s. And those nice, qualified, rich, employed Jane’s or John’s have good personal references too.

My only option is to get down and beg. IF I can possibly find a landlord or agent who will give me even just five minutes to beg they might actually discover… I might not have a job, or steady work record and I might not have upstanding people who know me BUT my mental illness, does not preclude me from being a good, responsible tenant who takes care of their property and pays their rent on time. Hey, they might even find they like me. If they give me a chance.

I am a good person. I will be a good tenant, and actually regardless of my lack of a job my insurance company back me.

But because I have a mental illness I simply don’t exist.

Dignity in Mental Health can be viewed from a perspective of how we are treated by mental health professionals. But it is just important to ask with what dignity are people with mental illnesses treated by society. Do we even exist in the eyes of other facets of society? Do we have to get down on our knees and beg for a place to live, or a benefit or a job?

Maybe you’re a Christchurch landlord and think you have every right to deny my existence. You do have that right but how would you want to be treated if tomorrow you were diagnosed with a mental illness, and your world came crashing down around you? Wouldn’t you want your dignity intact?

I have exactly four weeks to find somewhere to live. And sadly it is having an enormous impact on my mental health. Keep reading and I’ll be shouting from the rooftops of WordPress when I find somewhere to live.

“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” ― Michael J. Fox

4.35am

It is five years today since my city, of Christchurch, was shaken so badly that I seriously thought the end of the world had come and was happening right on my doorstep.  A shallow, 7.1 Richter scale earthquake began a rollercoaster of quakes which would last more than two years. What followed was four earthquakes over 6 Richter scale and a staggering 16,000 plus quakes to today.

Not to mention the physical and emotional damage, it is without exaggeration that I say my life totally changed that day. How I live, how I think, how I feel and perhaps most importantly (in my eyes anyway), what matters to me. I am more compassionate. More mindful.

Christchurch wasn’t a city that got earthquakes.  That was Wellington (head north).  I had grown up knowing how to deal with earthquakes (run for the nearest doorway and hold on!), yet that 40 second quake was beyond anything I knew or had ever thought would happen to me.

It was 4.35am, so it was dark and I was asleep when I hit.  When I woke to the bed rocking and rolling, I immediately knew I had to get to the doorway (some maybe two metres away). You have no idea how hard is to get to a doorway in the midst of such a quake.

As I left my bed I instinctively grabbed one of my most precious possessions which was sitting by my bed. But when I (finally) made the doorway I realised I had left another very precious item still beside the bed. I immediately wanted it with me but wasn’t sure I could get back to the bed to get it… and perhaps most importantly still be alive. I chose not to go back.  I didn’t think I could get back and then back to the doorway alive. I still find it incredible that all that was in 40 seconds, it seemed so much longer.

No one died that day but more quakes happened, and people did die,  I admit I moved my focus of what mattered.

When people died in the quake of 22 February it really hit me that lives were at stake.  As I stood in an office car park with hundreds of others, having been evacuated from the building I was in, I saw injured people. While I probably had no doubt by then of the risks we faced, I heard on the grapevine that other buildings had collapsed. I knew that lives would be lost today. That said, my parents were by my side so I knew they were safe.  It was only a few hours before I could speak to my sister-in-law and knew they were all safe.  This was bad, but the worst (death) was happening to other people. I know that sounds a little callous, but it is what I was thinking at the time.

185 people died that day, one was known to me.

Six weeks later, my thinking changed again in a very abrupt way. The quakes continued and as a result of extreme stress, my father suffered heart failure. I was down on the floor in my lounge (my parents were by now living with me as their home had been declared unlivable and would later be demolished) doing CPR on Dad. I had never expected to be here, but thankfully had learnt CPR some 20 years ago. It took 20 minutes before paramedics arrived and took over (many roads were still blocked and impassable), another 20 minutes before they declared Dad dead.

Now this ‘worst thing possible’ had happened to me. Earthquakes now meant death, what’s more, death of my father and best friend. I now had to look after my mother, and this time when the phone calls were made to the family, I could no longer say that everyone was safe.

Some seven months earlier, my focus was on my possessions.  Of my most valuable, I had one with me but had left the other just a few metres away. The death of anyone hadn’t really  occurred to me. While the quake was bad, I never thought someone close to me might die. Now the unthinkable had happened.

Draw your own conclusions, that’s really what we have to do in such situations.  But I’ll tell you my conclusions.  I’m reminded of them each time I feel yet another shake (last night).

I’ve concluded that taking one day at a time is not an option. It’s essential. It’s what I have to do because I simply don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to say “I love you” tomorrow and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to say “I’m sorry“. I don’t know if my precious possessions will be gone, and whether my house will still be standing. Think that’s going too far, and in my opinion (now) you’re fooling yourself. My aim now is to take each day as it comes, because I really don’t know if tomorrow will actually come.

Five years on and I’m still waiting for my house to be repaired.  It is expected to start in November and will take six months.  I’ll be looking for somewhere else to live shortly. My brother’s business was all but destroyed five years ago. He’s still working hard to try to rebuild it. We are not finished with the aftermath. Not by a long shot. It will be a long time yet before we can breathe easily again. But meantime, kiwis (and especially kids) are now taught to “Drop, Cover, Hold” rather than trying to run for far away doorways.

Kia kaha, Christchurch
(Be strong)

Cate

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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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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Beauty for Mourning

I woke myself up sleep-talking this morning.  I know it sounds funny, but I do it to myself quite often.  (You just can’t shut me up.).  As I woke, I was looking (in my dream) down the eye-piece of a gun and saying ‘but I can’t see if I’m going to hit someone’.  What I remember was being told to fire at a target but I was worried that people would walk in front of me, and I wouldn’t see them because I was focussed on the target.

It was a really weird dream for me to have.  I don’t do guns.  Ever.  I am completely against their use by the public and would never find myself in the situation of firing a gun.  Actually, because of something that happened a very long time ago I am very scared of them.  I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near one, let one be holding and firing it myself.  Yet that’s what I was dreaming.

The next thing I knew was the tragic news that 28 people had been shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. My heart sunk at the thought of yet another school shooting, and fell even further when I learnt that most of those killed were young children.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

 — Fred Rogers

It is extremely hard to find anything good in such a situation.  One of the first pictures I saw was of police officers leading children away from the school.  The helpers.  In spite of the tragedy, the helpers were there… and  we can be thankful for that.  There will be many helpers over the coming days helping children and adults from all types of situations deal with what has happened.  We can be thankful for them too.

One thing I’ve learnt in the last couple of years, through the earthquakes and other trauma here, is to look for the good.  It’s often really hard to see it, and it’s really hard to look away from the traumatic scenes to focus on something else, something good, maybe something beautiful.

Yesterday I drove up my driveway, and let me explain that there is nothing beautiful about the property these days.  As well as badly damaged homes, the driveway (bitumen) has enormous cracks across it from where the earthquakes nearly two years ago left it damaged.  I admit that I have had no inclination to do gardening because I know it will all be ripped up when the house is repaired.  So everything is looking pretty rough.  Yet I drove up the driveway and caught sight of something red on the ground.

Beauty for Mourning
Beauty for Mourning

When I got out of the car I found red poppies growing in what looks like the world’s worst driveway.  I’ve seen plenty of photos (although better standard than mine) of flowers coming up through bitumen or concrete.  Sometimes it looks genuine but mostly it looks like it has been placed there purposely.  These poppies were not placed there.  They grew from seeds blown from who knows where, and the forced their way through the hard surface to provide a touch of beauty.  It is a big property but these are the only flowers on it.  They’re risking everything, as I and my neighbour drive up over this area everyday.

Maybe that seems a bit dumb, but to me it was a gift, and if I hadn’t had my eyes open I wouldn’t have seen what I wasn’t expecting.  It was so nice to see something beautiful amongst so much damage (that I admit I am just used to now).

I don’t think  anyone has perfect words for a day like today, which has contained so much tragedy and heart ache for so many families.  Maybe the good in it is to remind the people we love, just how much we love them.  Treasure the beauty that exists.  Because it is there.  We just need to be reminded to look.  We often need to look where we least expect it. If we don’t have our eyes open, we might just miss it.

Image credit: FB/Bullying is for Losers
Image credit: FB/Bullying is for Losers (used with permission)

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

I Want It… And I Want It Now

It’s generally known that Preacher’s Kids (PK’s) have the worst reputation on the playground.  There were homes I wasn’t allowed into because I was a PK, as I was assumed to be a bad influence on the children who belonged in those homes.  That was a few years back now, and actually I’m still waiting to try out some of the things I was supposedly reputable for, but I admit that I wasn’t the perfect child either.

Crisis occurred in our house, when I was eight.  It’s one of those moments that stands in my memory as a pivotal moment in life.  It was huge.  Well I thought so anyway.

I was eight, and at that time (in the early 1970’s) that meant I got eight cents a week in pocket-money.  My brother who was nine, got nine cents.  I’m guessing by now you can work out the rational.

I was never really a big chewing gum/bubble gum kid, actually I don’t know that my parents approved of such things, but I loved lollies (candy).  Onto the market came a new chewing gum, Wrigley’s Doublemint.  And I wanted some.  My friends got enough pocket-money from their parents to be able to afford the ten cents for a packet.  My eight cent pocket-money was not enough for me to be able to buy a packet each week with my friends, and I thought I was completely hard done by.

At the time my father was working part-time as a Preacher, and unless you are the Archbishop of Canterbury (I mean England, not here in Christchurch, NZ) the pay rate was never good.  He was working part-time so that he could complete his theology studies.  Mum wasn’t working at the time, because my parents believed that it was more important that she be home for us three kids.  Money wasn’t flowing freely in our house.  I never went without food but I did think life was tough and this is part of why  Mum insisted in sewing my clothes (instead of buying them).  Again, I was hard done by.

In spite of financial strain, my parents actually agreed to put my pocket-money rate up to ten cents, so that I could afford the chewing gum and be like my friends.  To this day, my brother thinks this was unfair.  His pocket-money went up to ten cents too, but he maintains that he was the one hard done by.  He’s getting over it (even without the aid of the therapy I’ve had to have).  I got what I wanted, but actually I’m not sure that in the long run, it did me any good.

One would think that the issue was solved, and crisis was averted.  It wasn’t though because at that point I admit that I decided that now that I had more, I needed more (again) and began regularly stealing money from my parents.  It was never huge amounts, but only because they didn’t have huge amounts that I could access.  You could say I had a taste of Doublemint and wanted more.  My friends could afford to buy an ice-cream after school and I couldn’t, so stealing from my parents meant I could have what I wanted… when I wanted it.

My stealing continued for several years.  Not only taking money from my parents, but Mum regularly had money in the house for various church mission projects, and I siphoned off (never large amounts)the top of those funds too.  I can remember being questioned once by my parents about the missing money, but actually I don’t have any memory of being told off, or disciplined for my stealing.  To this day, I have no idea why they didn’t.  They must have known it was me, and it was certainly against the rules.  But then that’s probably a whole other post.

Eventually my stealing came to a natural end.  I can’t explain how, I just know that I didn’t want to take their money anymore.  Actually the shame I carried was huge, and is the reason why I have never raised the issue with them as an adult.  I could admit that lots of kids steal the odd money from their parents, but that wasn’t what my shame was about.  I was ashamed because I was stealing from them when they had practically nothing, and of course stealing from the church.  My parents were breaking their backs to provide for me and my brothers, but I was simply making matters worse by taking more.

A lot of people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) have difficulty with impulsive thoughts.  But I don’t think what I was doing was necessarily impulsive, nor have I had a great issue with impulsivity in my life since.  Rather I think what I needed was instant gratification.  I wanted the chewing gum ‘now’.  I didn’t want to have to wait until the next week when I could afford it.

Last year, in my city we all became very good at internet shopping because most of our shops were closed for months because of earthquake damage.  Actually I like internet shopping anyway because I don’t get seemingly brainless shop assistants asking me if I’ve ‘had a nice day’.  But there’s one thing I hate.  When I click the ‘purchase’ button I want the product I’ve brought right there and then.  I don’t want to have to wait for the next day, or the next week for it to arrive.  I want instant gratification.

I can be very careful in making decisions about what I want and what is right for me, but once I’ve made that decision, I want it now.  I am completely impatient and even impractical.  Recently I made a decision about something that I want, but I can’t have it yet.  I have to wait.  I hate that waiting.  No doubt it is good for me, somehow…

So how do I accept the wait and the delayed gratification?  I asked my brother, the one who was upset about our increase in pocket-money, and has been suffering ever since.  He tells me what I need is maturity.  Only he could tell me that… but I want it now.

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire
to be very grown up.” 

―    C.S. Lewis

Dona Nobis Pacem

“Grant Us Peace”

Trying to achieve peace within myself has been a life-long battle, not helped by long-lasting mental health issues.  Achieving peace is a battle I continue to work on daily.  The Dalai Lama says that peace can’t be achieved in this world until I find peace within myself.  I think he’s right, purely for the reason that I am part of this world.  I am affected by what happens in this world.  Sounds simplistic, doesn’t it?

I live in a small country, almost on the edge of the world, called New Zealand.  Our population is only 4.5 million.  I know that’s pretty small, but it needs to be kept in perspective.  Our statistics might not sound much, until you think about the proportion of people in our population affected by the country’s decision to be a part of war.  We all with be familiar with the six degrees of separation.  In New Zealand, that shrinks down to around two, maybe three degrees of separation.

In the 11 year war in Afghanistan, 11 New Zealand soldiers (including one female) have been killed in combat.  It doesn’t seem like much does it?  But what if one of those 11 soldiers was your flesh and blood?  Then their death becomes personal, and the war has a deep impact on your life.

On top of those 11 kiwi soldiers, there have been many more soldiers from around the world who have died, and then there are thousands of civilians who have also died.  If they were your family, this is very personal.  If you are/were a soldier there, then this is personal.

Six weeks ago New Zealand  sent its last group of soldiers to Afghanistan.  This is the last troops that will be deployed from here, as New Zealand is pulling out its troops in April 2013.  I watched on the television channels here as those troops said their good-byes to their families at the airport.  It was gut-wrenching stuff, not only to see parents saying goodbye to young children and husbands to wives, and vice-a-versa, but for one reason that must have been at the heart of most kiwis watching that day.

Just a few weeks earlier a total of five kiwi soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, in two separate incidents.  Those five were from the same battalion as this fresh group were from, at Burnham Military Camp.

How could this new group of soldiers say good-bye to their friends and family, and have any sense of peace of mind, without this in their heads.  And how could families say good-bye without wondering whether this would be their final good-bye?  Would they come back in a box, like their friends and comrades had?  I dearly hope not.

Peace of mind?  I don’t think so.  All in the aid of fighting a war.

Saying good-bye to troops headed for war is something my father knew only too well as a child.  There was very little peace of mind for him as a six-year-old, and my grandmother, when my grandfather would be sent off to World War Two.  Some 92,000 kiwi troops went to this war, the maths is mind-boggling to consider just how many kiwis were left at home, with little peace of mind.

Grandad as Lieutenant S.T. Reddell (1942)

You can read more about my feelings about my grandfather’s involvement in Peace Not War   (Passion Profile Challenge #1).  He was in the Royal New Zealand Navy Intelligence division.  He ‘officially’ served his time in the War in the National Home Office in Wellington.  ‘Officially’ he never left the country.

Unofficially though, and the reality for my father and grandmother is that, he ‘would go away’ for weeks at time.  They wouldn’t know where, or for how long.  It just happened that the ‘trip away’ would coincide with a naval ship or submarine leaving Wellington harbour around that day.  They could see it leave the harbour from their temporary home in Kelburn.

To this day no one in the family knows where Grandad went, or for how long.  He died in 1969 after a long illness related to his war injuries, but he was never allowed to tell anyone the details of his trips away.  From the rumours, I think I’m glad about that because there would have been no peace of mind for anyone had they known where we suspect he was, or what he was doing.

Peace matters to me on a personal front because of the experience of my father and my grandparents.  But it matters to me on a global basis for much more than this.  I don’t believe that we were put on this planet to fight, kill and injure each other, let alone innocent by-standers.

“We are connected to the sky
and connected to the earth.
Together we are the conductors of nature.
Let our song of connection be forever beautiful.”

Image and words used with kind permission of Alison Pearce (see credits below)

We are connected to the sky and the earth, but we are also connected to each other.  Regardless of our history, race, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, sexuality or even simply our thoughts… we are brothers and sisters, as fellow human beings.  However we choose to believe that we appeared here on this planet, and regardless of what higher power we choose to believe or not believe in, we are all one species.  So why would we choose to kill each other?  Why would we choose to destroy another’s family?

I believe that we choose  war over peace because it is easier.  Certainly not easier for those caught up in it, or watching loved ones in it, but it’s an almost simple way to win an argument.  Just kill the opponent, or at least anyone who matters to that opponent.  End of argument.  Apparently.

If we could simply lay down our arms, and talk.

If I disagree with my neighbour, we stand in the drive-way and talk.  It works because we are prepared to listen and understand each other’s  perspective.  It works, and while we have differences, we can still be friends, respecting each other’s individuality.

It’s interesting that in the past two years, living in Christchurch, we have all been through multiple devastating and deadly earthquakes.  As neighbours, we all put aside our differences, and helped each other.  The increased bond between neighbours is one good thing that came from the devastation.  I suspect something similar is happening today in the areas badly affected by hurricane Sandy.

Peace between neighbours reigned for us in Christchurch, and was a very good thing.  More important than arguments was making sure each other had the basic provisions of food, water and shelter.  Maybe it’s a simple way of looking at it, but I believe that simple is often best.  Talking and listening is often best.  It by far beats the need to kill and destroy.

That’s why I have taken part in today’s BlogBlast4Peace.  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 agree that the right thing to do is to lay down arms and live at peace.

I encourage you to read some of the hundreds of other blog posts on this subject today.  See the official site at BlogBlast4Peace for more details.

Make a choice, and take a stand for peace, as I have done, and speak out.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu
Nobel Prize for Peace 1984

“Never doubt that a handful of committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

 – Margaret Mead

Some Very Important Credits

My Peace Globes (used here and on my Facebook page) were kindly created for me by my friend, Michelle Frost.  Check out Michelle’s blog to see what she is saying about peace today at Crows Feet.

Artwork and Prose from Alison Pearce  are both used with her permission.  Alison produces some excellent work, which can be seen at Art That Speaks by Alison Pearce.  Her site is well worth a visit.  Thank you for your co-operation Alison.