Rattle and Hum

Well the coffee and lithium cocktail landed me with mild-to-concerning adrenal fatigue. Cockiness, as it turns out, gets you nowhere. I am now on a diet of magnesium and water and abstaining from caffeine.

Well it was fun while it lasted.

Having anxiety/PTSD on lithium is like being kidnapped and kept awake during a forced nephrectomy: my fight/flight impulses just carried on causing havoc yet my brain couldn’t do a damned thing about it. The body knows though. It always knows.

On the upside – new meds. On the downside, long-release lithium has to be weaned. I should be in the safe hands of Lamictal by the time my final trimester begins. I’m told it will lift the fog. I just pray it can carry me.

It’s ironic, I have always abhorred stoicism. January however (physical responses notwithstanding), has brought with it the kind of quietude I have always resisted and railed against. My impulses are bridled, my moves deliberate. I tend to my brain like a garden. As if my life depends on it. Because it does.

It’s the hardest and most frustrating part to explain – and what I, myself would never have accepted even a year ago – I thought that if you went off your brain, went off your meds, you only had yourself to blame. My retort to that now (other than don’t be so fucking stupid) is – if you wouldn’t blame a diabetic for their levels, then don’t blame a manic-depressive for theirs. End of story.

On the upside, this newfound euthymia has sailed me through my Summer internship. Editing, as it turns out, is second nature to me. I enjoy taking apart people’s words, like a mechanic. Fixing syntax, checking facts. Tightening sentences so that they purr and hum. My creative project has recently evolved and it’s feeling attainable. I just need to run it past my supervisor and come March, I’ll be in hibernation mode, in preparation for my last academic winter.

I am stashing hope in tins and labelling them carefully.
I never want to leave myself short again.

Reading: O Fallen Angel (Kate Zambreno)
Watching: Sex Education (Season 2)
Listening to: Jenny Lewis

The paradox of privilege

It’s hard to not associate gratitude with guilt, the closer we get to the belly of the apocalypse. Future generations would probably tell me that we’re nowhere near it. That it happens long after I’m dead and gone. This – this is just the start of the showdown. That I can go about my day with my recycled bags and my mindful energy consumption and feel relatively smug. I’m told that I still have to live in this world, still have to navigate its pathways with my very human emotions and my very real sensitivities. The plates I spin require precise calculation as it is. Self-care for me looks like not adding another plate even when the ten I have are spinning so splendidly.

I’m trying, Earth. I could try harder. My friends down south are wearing facemasks to work. The places I lived and loved in 2018 have been decimated. I look out at my blue skies and clean air, at the crisp green grass, still damp with rain and I marvel, albeit with a whimper, at the fate-tempest that delivered me back here.

South-east Queensland is a utopia compared to the rest of the country right now. When the floods hit us in 2011 – we used the words ‘unprecedented’ and ‘catastrophic’. Images of houses floating away filled our screens, the death toll rose sharply – all we could do was watch on in horror as people drowned in drought-riddled country towns, helpless against the deluge. There were no protests. Climate change was bandied around but dismissed as rhetoric. Every time I walk along the river now, marvel at the new laneway bars or playgrounds and water-features, I remember that not so long ago, it was our turn. How quickly we rebuild and forget.

I am grateful for my blue sky. For my flourishing plants. How when the weather hits 40 up here (and it does), I can slide into my pool and glide across its cool waters and pretend that this is just normal, this is just Summer. This is not normal. This is the new normal.

I am grateful for this life that I am re-building, for the abated storms in my mind, for medication (no matter how imperfect at times), for my cornerstone and rock of a husband, for my daughter who grows and thrives more every year. For my family. For music. For my accessible education. For work that appears when I need it.

I watch, I read, I educate myself, I donate. I despair. I survive. I try to live, despite that fact that others do not. It feels shameful to envy the dead at a time like this and yet guilt is a useless emotion that I am slowly coming to terms with.

In therapy, we talk of horses and mornings and balance. We talk in metaphors, of demons and wolves. Of normalising what haunts me. We talk about self-forgiveness. How every time I am tempted to move back to either coast, or to go back to what broke me, I’m to make a list of what I’d be missing: my favourite Italian bakery; my favourite cinema; short drives up the mountain; forests, steamy after the rain; the currawongs that have finally migrated, their songs now mingling amongst the chorus of wagtails and stormbirds and cockatoos.

I know, deep down that it’s taken a whole year to be on the other side of this madness, and I’m not going anywhere. I’m home. But I also tell her how it feels like survivor’s guilt. That I do not have the right to love this life. She reminds me about how hard I have fought to be in this space. And that the world needs me alive, and thriving so that I have more choices, and the more choices I have available to me, the more I have to give. The paradox of privilege.

But it’s good to be alive
And these are the choices
We make to survive
You do what you can

– Sheryl Crow

Resolution

I started to write a new year’s post but it just felt glib – especially in the wake of the country literally being burned alive. In it, I took stock of the good parts of 2019 (there were more than I realised) and tried to project myself into the future – to figure out what I’d be writing about at the end of 2020, once the shine of optimism wore off and the momentum faded. This time last year I was about to be triggered into a cycle that lasted six months. There were a lot of things I didn’t know then. And some that were fast coming to light.

Despite the anti-resolution hype, January is usually a fairly productive month for me. It’s where I set up all the plans that I will inevitably destroy by winter. This year I’m being strategic – finish my degree and my internship, try to make some semblance of an income, knowing that I’ll be out of action when I inevitably descend into the underworld, to however many degrees this time. It feels weird to plan for it. Make hay while the sun shines, my mother used to say. I recently discovered that coffee cuts through lithium, so I’m thinking semi-clearly again, but unfortunately it has a Cinderella effect, and is starting to wear off faster. And both are fucking up my kidneys, so great. But hey (hay?). The sun is shining, and I’m getting shit done. I’ll take the win.

Shutting down my Facebook has been not just healing but liberating. It’s like being cut off from the collective (#treknerd), but in the best possible way. As my therapist says, if it’s making me spin my wheels, it’s to be avoided. So I’ve curated my Twitter and Instagram feeds, have unfollowed and muted anything that makes me turn against myself, and for once, I’m not overthinking. Last year I felt profoundly alone in a sea of noise. All of it fake, despite its intention. Now, I find, there’s nothing in these waters that interests me at all.

I’ve been thinking back to a time where we all used to be a lot more honest with ourselves and each other online. When we used to write volumes, instead of posting memes. Rants, perhaps, yes. But who cares? I fell in love once with a boy who wrote a blog. Before the word blog was even a word. He was lonely, like me, and he displayed such breathtaking, heartrenching honesty in the public sphere. I loved that about him the most, even if I didn’t fully understand the ramifications of his angst at the time. But gradually that trait that I admired more than anything, shrank and turned inwards and became a cancer. He swallowed himself whole and secrecy destroyed him from the inside, leaving those that loved him in his wake.

I used to think writers were my kryptonite, but I’ve come to realise that’s not quite true. What fuels my fire is courage. Truth. Honesty. Of all the things I cannot bear, it’s watching people lie to themselves, and then watching the truth seep out through their actions. If you can’t be honest with me, then I never wanted you anyway.

So. 2021, if you’re reading this, I hope that I took my story and made something of it. That’s enough of a resolution, I think.

Reading: Book of Mutter (Kate Zambreno)
Watching: The Witcher
Listening to: Anna Nalik

Neurotypicality is a privilege.

2019 – Songs that Shaped a Year.

It seems odd that last year’s playlist was only a few posts ago, but stupidly that was the only entry that survived the blogpocalypse.

Every year I create a playlist – a kind of soundtrack to the year if you will. It’s not just the songs I listened to most (although often they are on high rotation) – each is attached to a specific memory, acting as a conduit of sorts. Often once I finish the list I often can’t listen to it, but that there’s a kind of catharsis that happens via creation.

So. Here was my 2019 in song form.

TRACK LIST.

1. Anaïs Mitchell – Anyway the Wind Blows
Prologue.

2. The 1975 – Love it If We Made it
Fresh hope. New plans. Which were just like the old plans but better.

3. Dido – Give You Up
Tearing up the new plans. Barefoot in midnight gutters, heart decimated. Not breathing. Raze it all to ground.

4. Florence and the Machine – Moderation
Rinse, repeat, replace. Invincibility rising. In four months time, I will come to know this as hypomania.

5. Sara Bareilles – Fire
No sleep. Cutting my feet on shells. Adrienne. Writing about wolves. Wondering how I ended up so far from home. Rites of passage.

6. Dermot Kennedy – Heartless
Regret. Rumination. Ground falling away. Rubber band snap. It hurts as long as you show up for it.

7. Kasey Chambers – You Ain’t Worth Suffering For
Uproot it, toss it on the pile. Wear your anger like a shield.

8. Anaïs Mitchell – Flowers (Eurydice’s Song)
No more colour. Descent into hell.

9. Hadestown Cast – Wait for Me
Keep on walking and you don’t look back / ‘Til you get to the bottomland
Anxiety. Side effects. Crossed wires. Stop running. Look it in the eye. Look at it.

10. Sara Bareilles – Orpheus
Hold me in the dark / and when the day appears
We’ll say / we did not give up on love today

11. Taron Egerton – Rocket Man
Childhood reimagined. And in December, Nathan Chen’s free skate. (Why does that always make this list?)

12. Josh Ritter – Dreams
Starting therapy. Words that keep coming and coming. Telling the story without stopping. If I breathe I’ll lose my nerve.

13. The Highwomen – The Chain
Diagnosis. Lithium. Surrender. Acceptance. Sleep.
—–
14. Bat for Lashes – The Hunger
Redefining normalcy. Missing fire, hunger, light.
—–
15. Angel City Chorale – A Thousand Beautiful Things
When in doubt, sing. Maybe it’s not too late.

16. Mama Kin Spender – Cold Rooftop
Nambour Civic Centre. Time stopped. Transcendent. Blue light. Vibrating; feeling every note as it left my body.
—–
17. Mama Kin Spender – What’s Wrong with Me
Backstage, nausea, these lyrics, fuck. FUCK. Back in a January street, heart in hands, heart in mouth. Leave. Don’t leave. In her arms, can you feel what’s wrong with me.

18. Taylor Swift – The Archer
I jump from the train / I ride off alone.

19. Nakhane – You Will Not Die
Doubt. Minimisation. Pinprick light from the bottom of the ocean. Numb is the new black. Purgatory.

20. Michael Kinawuka – Piano Joint (This Kind of Love)
Time distortion. Waking in mid-air. Play it over (and over) again.

21. Francesca de Valence – The Seine
Rewriting Paris.

22. Ben Howard – Oats in the Water
Melancholy as a default state.

23. U2 – Love Rescue Me
In the arms of salvation. Learning harmonies for U2 gig. Fortifying. Learning to take the place I have denied myself for too long.

24. Jamie McDell – God is a Woman
Welcome to forty.

24. Adam Lambert – Ready to Run
Doubling down. Self-defence as self-care.

26. Taylor Swift – I Forgot that You Existed
It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference.

27. Ben Platt – Ease My Mind
For the man who reads my drafts, and collects my dirty cups, reminds me to wear my glasses, lets me empty the contents of my restless mind and helps me put the pieces into piles.

For the man who let me go, and then let me come back.
For the man saw who I was, and stayed.

28. Anais Mitchell & Kate Stables – Woyaya
Old songs that become new songs.

Listen here.

Slowing

Ever since I began this M.A I have fallen into the habit of scanning texts – obsessively flicking pages, scribbling notes – so much so that I often forget the simple joys of slow reading. I have about ten books on the go at the moment. Count them. That’s not a completely uncommon practice for anyone who studies writing, anyone who writes and edits for a living, or is a compulsive bookworm, but this frenzied desire to consume and conquer is frankly what landed me in front of a therapist to begin with.

One of these is Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson. I feel a little ashamed to be admitting that because it’s a memoir staple – but I’m late to just about every party I’m invited to, so here we are.

“There’s no such thing as autobiography,” Jeanette famously wrote once. “There’s only art and lies.” That line stays with me. I obsess over it as I spend my summer picking through stories – truths, untruths and everything in-between, which is of course what interests me the most. The liminality between what we can and cannot articulate, wrestling with Lejeune’s pact (which is kind of like the picture on the front of a macaroni box: a serving suggestion. In reality, you can cook it any way you want, as long as you don’t serve it up and call it prawn hargow).

That’s a terrible analogy. Also, I’m hungry.

Yesterday we bought ourselves a coffee machine. I asked Stephen if he wanted to wrap it and put it under the tree, so we’d have something to open Christmas morning. He looked at me, kind of mock-appalled, at the thought of not having coffee for the next 9 days. And so we spent a few hours wasting some half-decent Lavazza beans (hey we’re entry-level), adjusting the grind, the tamp, and obsessively watching the pressure rise as if we were checking the temperature of a newborn with a fever. The machine takes 20 minutes to heat up, which is sacrifice I never thought I’d have to make (what do I DO in that time?). Nespresso has ruined me.

But, it made me realise how much I need to learn how to spend my time wisely. Slower coffee, slower reading, slower writing. Slower creating. Which means giving up the habits which sap my time. I’ve already started to back away from social media in preparation of my final trimester. I’m working on learning a new guitar chord, every time I feel the impulse to check something. So far I know six by name, and another four which kind of sound right, but are probably just random string groupings. If I’d not sold my piano in a fit of depression last year, then I could have checked. Mind you, if I hadn’t sold my piano, I wouldn’t be playing anything at all. It would just sit there as a constant reminder of what I gave up.

I guess that’s why I’m writing here too. If I spend 30 minutes writing a blog post, then that’s 30 minutes I’m not around a news feed that screams at me first thing in the morning. It’s probably time to admit that I’m in an abusive relationship with Facebook. It’s a bit of a hard habit to break when no-one is around to stop you.

I had a fridge magnet once that read: ‘What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?’ I was told recently that it was time to deploy some innocence. That I don’t have time to let inadequacy consume me. Maybe it’s not inadequacy. Maybe it’s a fear of naivete. Maybe they’re the same thing.

Hue and Saturation

Lately I’ve been pushing each pill through its foil shield so hard that it breaks in two in my hand. I divide and calculate, and consider briefly what it would be like to turn up the vibrancy just for a little while. Nothing long-term. Just a slice to carry me over Christmas. Something to remember myself by.

I wonder if hybrid non-fiction can include part-cautionary-tale.

I write it down just in case.

Marie

My two best friends were swinging side by side, slightly out of unison. It will be my turn soon, they assure me and I shrug as if I couldn’t care less. I’d locked my arms around the playground poles and was in the process of looping my body around in circles, pretending to make my own kind of fun, my hands smelling of dust and metal. Earlier, we had skipped to the park singing Listen to Your Heart, agreeing that Marie was really pretty – even with short hair – debating whether she and Per were “together” together or just “band” together. T had her theories. She said that she read in a magazine that they used to be an item but now they were too famous and that they had chosen fame over romance. She just knew Per was secretly in love with Marie, based on the songs that he penned – and had we even listened to the words to It Must Have Been Love? We argue how to pronounce Per’s name in Swedish. T is insistent. She is confident and sophisticated in her pronunciation and I stop questioning her. By the time they jump off, there is no time for me to swing.

I watch this memory like a time-traveller. I want to gently tell my eleven-year-old self that she would always be the third wheel and to not let it bother her so much and also that she should let her friends go to the shops without her, so she could swing for hours uninterrupted. I want to tell her that T was wrong, it wasn’t pronounced “Pierre” and that even though it felt unfair that T’s parents were letting her skip primary school graduation to go to the Roxette concert, that she would finally get her chance twenty years later. Marie would have been battling cancer for ten years by that time, refusing to cancel even when she barely felt up to it. Per would do all of the heavy lifting on stage – always watching her with barely-disguised concern. She would sit for most of the numbers, and let him take the lead. Brisbane audiences would slam Marie’s lacklustre performance but she would feel nothing but gratitude and awe for witnessing such resilience and bravery.

I want to add that she will look at T’s empty seat beside her – that they both will try to be friends as adults, but in reality they are completely different people and she will finally accept that.

Finally I want to tell her that Marie would die on her husband’s 39th birthday and that she will be late for work because she played their music and it spun in her head on repeat, taking the world as she knew it down, down with her.

My favourite adventure

When I was younger, my mother told me to make sure that I married my best friend. Predictably, I ignored her advice (twice). Third time lucky. 😉

Happy Birthday to the love of my life, my partner in crime, the keeper of 11 years of pop-culture references and person most likely to say yes to my (probably terrible) ideas. You’ll always be my favourite adventure.

Pattern interrupt.

I woke up, feeling like I was sinking. I had been dreaming about broken rope bridges that led to watery graves all night and when I finally opened my eyes, I knew I was on that old familiar downswing. Since my diagnosis, I have been learning to identify how to to stop spinning my wheels and implement a pattern interrupt, so I picked up the Pam Grout book : Art & Soul, Reloaded. There aren’t too many new ideas in here, particularly as I am already a devotee of Julia Cameron and Steven Pressfield (whom she references frequently), but I also know that creative nonfiction involves remixing ideas and making them your own, and so I put my protestations aside and read the first few chapters over coffee.

I won’t call it eye-opening, or life-changing – but then, when did those descriptors become the gold standard? The whole point of the book is to create, no matter what, no excuses, even though it’s probably been done before. I was just about to close it down for the day when I stumbled across her chapter on blog writing. I smirked because already I’d had fantasies of shutting down what I’d started.

“Writing a blog is free, priceless, and, according to Seth Godin, one the best things you could ever do for yourself. He recommends writing a blog post a day… Don’t panic, a blog can be a paragraph or two.”

Don’t panic. Ha.

The trouble with blogging every day is that when you are a perfectionist, even the smallest ongoing practice that lands in front of others becomes a behemoth task.

Ironically – figuring out what to write is not my problem – I am an avid diariser. I could write for hours. It’s not the writing. But…the editor in me wants to cut and shape every word to perfection. Do I have time to publish a blog every day and deal with the potential emotional fallout?

Maybe that’s the point.

And yet – I’m competitive enough to rise to a challenge…perhaps even to prioritise it over fear. I’m not sure I want to do it alone though – so as soon as I can rope someone else into it, I will. How’s that for an excuse?

One or two paragraphs. That’s all. Sigh. We’ll see.