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)



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

I Don’t Do The New Year Thing

I know I’m boring.  I know it would be much more exciting if I was actually excited about the New Year, but really what’s the big deal?  It’s just another day.  You have your parties and have a great time.  Enjoy the fireworks, if that is what happens in your part of the world, but me?  I’ll hopefully sleep through it.

So with that bah humbug attitude I won’t give you another ‘2012 highlights’ post.  I’m sure there will be lots of those, and good on the bloggers who take the time to look back.  Actually this will probably be my shortest blog ever.

As for New Year’s Resolutions, I don’t do that either.  Maybe I’d be more focussed and maybe I’d achieve more but hey, I’m happy (and that’s an achievement).  I’m just going to keep taking one day at a time.

Some of the content in this link I’m about to give might be a bit corny but basically it just demonstrates that there are still good people in this world.  Many of them.  What’s more there are good people doing great things.  Some of them get noticed and recognised, but many more just go on being great human beings, behind the scenes.  In a year there is so much heartache and tragedy, far too much to mention, but no matter how awful it is there are still good people doing great things.  That’s what I’m celebrating (while I sleep through the New Year).

26 Moments That Restored Our Faith In Humanity This Year

Thanks to BuzzFeed for the reminder.

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” 

―    Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Slightly Overwhelmed

Pooh! (Photo credit: mikewoods)

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along,
listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

 ~Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, inspired by A.A. Milne

Someone (not one of my blogger friends) recently commented that I would be best to get off my ‘bottom’, find myself a job… and then everything would be fine.  Actually the ‘instruction’  was a bit longer than that but you get the idea hopefully.  Right here and now I will say that I would love to have a job, be able to work again for 40+ hours per week, to feel like I was really achieving something, let alone contributing something to the world.  Oh and the money would be great too.  I won’t go into the finer details but existing on next to nothing, courtesy of my Government, is not nice.  If you think it’s a great way to live, you’re demented.  If you think it’s a breeze, you’re fooling yourself.

The thing is that if I could work I would, but my body just ain’t up to it (and I don’t think that person appreciated that fact).  My mental health is better than it has been for years.  I’m a little reluctant to say that anywhere because as soon as I do, I’m scared I’m in for a giant fall.  It’s true though.  I had the hardest year ever last year, but all of it taught me something about living one day at a time (or one hour at a time when appropriate).  Actually I’m quite proud of myself for coming out the other side, but rather pissed that my body is just not up to it now.

Now that my mind is doing better I have been motivated to take on all sorts of things, to feel passionate (check out my Passions Profile Challenge that I’m half way through) about things, believe in things, want them to change.  To be honest, I’ve spent years doing nothing.  My head was just not in a space to be able to do anything.  It wasn’t about being lazy, but rather about simply not being capable.  It’s just what mental illness does to you (and me).

So I have all these things I have involved myself in… and now I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed.  I have mountains of new posts to (write and) read, because I want to follow everyone’s blogs.  It’s not about being nice or anything, but rather about wanting to absorb what others think and feel.  And why not, after so many years of not being able to?  Years of not caring.

I have things I have committed myself to, which mostly involve supporting other people with mental illness.  I feel very strongly about this and it is a priority.  But what do I do when my body won’t keep up?  I’ve always been an all or nothing kind of girl and it’s so hard to operate at less than 100%.  I think I’m operating at about 60% right now and I hate that.  I’ve missed so many years of life (for want of a better word) and I want to catch up, I want to run (figuratively).

When I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (a few months back) I was told I needed to cut back on stress.  The stress of last year was highly likely to be a major reason why I landed this illness.  Actually I was told a similar thing the year before when I was diagnosed with the auto-immune condition Graves’ Disease, but sometimes we don’t have much control over what gets thrown our way.

So it should be easy.  Cut back on what I’m doing, get more sleep and let my body do whatever it wants to do (it’s still beyond me when it hurts and when it doesn’t).  But let me throw in this one.  If I cut back on the things I am doing, and the involvement I have in things that are important to me, then I take an enormous risk with my mental health.  Activity does not spare us from mental illness but I know full well after many years at this ‘game’ that if I do less, and I am involved less, then my mood takes a dramatic dive for the worse.

I am so scared that if I ease off as much as my body needs, my mind will react and implode.  It’s just what I know happens for me.  My depression will spike again, and that will cause my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) symptoms to start rearing their head.  Oh, and I also know that if my mood drops I run the risk of having problems with my eating disorder again.  I can already feel this creeping in.  I could also continue down the spiral to self harm and suicidal ideas.  I really don’t want to go there.  I’ve been there with all of this, and actually my initial depression and mental illness started when I had Glandular Fever, and my body wasn’t letting me do what I needed to.

If anyone says “it’s not that bad”, I swear I will scream because this is a very real fear.  And I doubt it’s just me that has this fear, when their body says ‘no’.  It’s just I’ve had nearly 20 years of fighting for my life (literally), trying to get my mind back.  It’s back now (although obviously I still have difficulties with some stuff) and I feel like I’m in charge now.  Except my body as objected and said it wants to take over.  It just can’t do the job I need it to do.

Meanwhile I have mountains to do, to read, to write, to say, to contribute… but I know I have to do it all one half day at a time.  I am just slightly overwhelmed by it.

“Sometimes it’s important to work for that pot of gold.  But other times
it’s essential to take time off and to make sure that your most important
decision in the day simply consists of choosing which
color to slide down on the rainbow.”

~Douglas Pagels, These Are the Gifts I’d Like to Give to You