Over There

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” – Maya Angelou

I miss the Middle East. So incredibly much. This would seem quite odd to most people given the horrendous ordeal I had there. I’ve often wondered if I’m the only person who has experienced this feeling about a place where you have been stuck in a nightmare. Perhaps it is some variation of Stockholm Syndrome, although I was hardly taken hostage or held captive – even if it did feel like it at times. Despite and because of that, it became my home…the place where my story began.

There are days when I crave the humidity because it felt like the thick, heavy air was the only thing holding me together.  I would sit outside in the near 50-degree heat because it was the only way I felt like I wasn’t going to physically fall apart. I didn’t have anyone to hold or comfort me so I found that support in the fat, wet atmosphere instead.  When I returned to Sydney I thought I was going to crumble into pieces and I started longing for the winter to return, thinking that if I wore layer upon layer I could somehow prevent my impending collapse.

I yearn to be standing in the middle of the desert. It’s where I can breathe and have a sense of true peace and connection to the entire universe.  When I’m there, it is almost as if I have been transported to the very beginning of time, yet I am still present here and now. Everything becomes still – even sound. The desert is mysterious and otherworldly, yet it’s the single place on earth where I feel grounded.

Apart from the desert, the only calm I found amongst the chaos was the spellbinding melodies of the Call to Prayer.  I would go out of my way to ensure I was somewhere I could hear it. I headed to malls or to the more traditional areas where I was surrounded by minarets – the bigger the mishmash of noises, the better.  There is something mesmerising about the silence between the sounds. I still listen to it when I need to find some calm.

The sickening (and sometimes headache inducing) smell of oud in the air. The sound of stray cats begging for food. The wonderfully friendly Pakistani taxi drivers playing me their favourite song over and over. Giving way to camels crossing the road. The paradox of the extreme heat outside and the icy cold air inside. The constant fear of dying in a high-speed crash every time I was on the roads. Sand. Contradictions. Locals floating around in their abayas and dishdashas. These things are home to me.

I fought to get back to my family in Sydney with a strength and ferocity I didn’t know I had, and I will never forget how I felt when I safely cleared customs and saw my parents for the very first time in what seemed like an eternity. It was the most harrowing period of my life yet I long to be back there.

One day I will tell my story – the adventures, the heartbreak, the nightmare, and the joy. I’m not feeling quite that brave just yet so until then I will occasionally and tentatively take the odd peek at my photos, all the while longing to return home.

The Stranger In The Mirror

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

When I first started writing my blog two and a half years ago, I thought that by now I would have my life back on track and I’d be travelling through life as effortlessly as I had always done.  As it turns out, that’s far from the reality I find myself in.  Life is still harder and much more complex than I could ever have imagined it to be.  I still feel like there is a huge hole in my heart – how can I not when part of me died with my brother.

I initially wanted to jump on the blog bandwagon to try and inspire and help other people who were going through something similar.  I wanted them to know that they weren’t alone, and that the thoughts and feelings they were having were normal.  I wanted to be the type of friend (even if only online) that I longed to have during those toughest of days.  I was happily writing stories that I hoped would inspire and comfort. I found peace in the writing process as I worked my way through the grief and tried to figure out who this person was that I had become. I was starting to find magic in the most unexpected of places.  I was in such a huge amount of pain but I knew for sure that by 2017 life would be easier – the pain would have subsided, I’d have worked out who this new version of myself is, and life would be as normal as it could be.

I stopped writing my blog when a dear friend of mine passed away.  We had lost touch a number of years before but we had once been like sisters, growing into adulthood together.  I was sad and no longer felt I could inspire or comfort others so I stopped writing.  I’ve tossed around the idea of restarting my blog for the past couple of years and I even started writing a few posts, but I was stuck.  I wanted the writing to be perfect.  I wanted to be inspirational.  I wanted to be bold enough to share my personal experiences with the world.  The more time that passed, the less I felt any of those things. Until now.

I don’t know what it was that gave me the push to write something today but I chose to seize the moment and run with it.  I don’t care if my writing isn’t perfect – so what if I leave out a comma here or there?  So what if it doesn’t inspire everyone who reads it?  And as I’m sitting here, listening to holes being drilled into the wall of my apartment, I feel bold, dammit!  So here I am, writing about how my life hasn’t turned out the way I thought.

Yep, you read that correctly folks!  My life hasn’t turned out the way I thought.  I’m not sure that’s exactly shocking news, and I think almost everyone can say the same.  I guess I thought that by now my grief would have disappeared, my struggles with PTSD would be a thing of the past, and that I’d be confident about knowing who the new me is.  So, here’s my reality…

The grief is still well and truly with me and whether it’s right or wrong, I’ve come to relax into the fact that it is now just another part of me. I still cry more than I have ever cried before. I cry big, fat, chunky tears that I didn’t even know were possible for my eyes to produce.  From what I’ve heard, most people say that grief passes – I’m not sure I agree.  I think I’ve figured out that it stays with you.  I’ve made space for it and invited it to be a part of my life rather than resisting it, and learned there’s a peace to be found in doing that.

I still struggle with PTSD.  When my trauma counselling was over, I was sent on my merry way with all the well wishes in the world and I felt happy that I was no longer technically ‘traumatised’.  Whist that seemed true at the time, I had no idea it would continue to be triggered as time went on.  With the benefit of hindsight, I now know that I was completely unprepared and uneducated on the effects of PTSD – I wasn’t warned that it may return or that it would continue to affect my life. I still have panic attacks and at times I find myself feeling generally unsafe which, over time, leads me to believe I am in real danger.  It is usually a week or two later that I realise how irrationally I have been acting and I immediately start meditating, cutting down on caffeine, and generally being kind to myself in order to get it under control.

I still don’t know who the new me is.  Just a few years ago I knew exactly who I was. I knew what I liked, what I didn’t like, how I liked to dress, what I enjoyed doing on weekends, and I knew I wanted to be an actor.  I was more certain about being an actor than I had ever been about anything in my life – it was my obsession.  Suddenly, I didn’t know any of those things.  I didn’t enjoy the things that had provided happiness and comfort in the past – not even acting.  I had to rebuild my life from scratch.  I found myself unable to get work for the first time because the corporate world decided that since I had taken one year off from a fifteen-year career, I was clearly out of touch and unemployable.  Turns out that was a huge blessing and it pushed me to pursue a career in the arts.  Only not as an actor – and I am surprisingly comfortable with that.  I am still struggling to prove myself in my new career, and at times find it hard to muster the energy I need to handle all of the judgement and rejection that comes with starting over.  But one truth I know for sure is that I am an artist, and I die inside a little each time I consider taking the ‘easy’ way out and selling my soul to the corporate world – that feeling tends to give me the motivation I need to fight on.

I think the point of this long, long post is to say that even though I still don’t recognise the face I see when I look in the mirror, I am beginning to respect the reflection looking back at me.  I am learning to look at it without judgement or impatience, and to look instead with curiosity and awe.  That reflection and I are still strangers, but I’m hoping that with a little bit of kindness, love, and perseverance we will one day soon become, at the very least, firm friends.

The Breakup

“The end…or is it a new beginning?”
– Dr Spencer Johnson

I used to love the beach.  A lot.  It was my one stop shop for getting a tan, curing a hangover, spending time in nature with friends and simply being Zen.  If I ever went more than a couple of days without feeling the sand between my toes I thought I would go crazy.  It was somewhere I felt completely free.  It was my happy place.

As my return to Sydney drew near, I started dreaming of being on my beach once again.  Swimming in the Persian Gulf during the peak of summer is somewhat akin to stepping into a bath of boiling water and I was craving the feeling of aliveness that I got from taking a dip in the Tasman.  I knew for sure that once I was back on my beach everything would be normal again and I would be able to breathe for the first time in months.  But when something totally knocks you off your axis, not even your happy place can give you the comfort you are seeking.

I remember my first visit to the beach after returning home so vividly it seems like only yesterday.  I was wonderfully excited about being able to sit in the very same spot where I once watched in awe as whales breached and dolphins competed for waves with surfers.  I ran towards the ocean like a junkie desperate to score a hit but when I got there something weird happened: I felt nothing.  I couldn’t feel the sand between my toes despite my bare feet, I couldn’t feel the sun on my face, I couldn’t smell the salty air and worst of all – I couldn’t breathe.  I felt like I had lost a piece of my soul.

I persevered for a while – I wasn’t going to give up my happy place without a fight.  I’d set off for the beach time and time again positive that this was the day my life would start to become recognisable but I would always leave feeling as numb as when I had arrived.  I don’t remember much about last summer at all but I’m positive I tried many, many times to reconnect with my old friend because I do recall having a pretty banging tan!

I didn’t visit the beach at all during winter.  That might seem like an obvious choice to most people but for those who know me it’s drastically unusual.  I had given up.  I was finally forced to admit that our time together had come to an end.  It was like being dumped by a boyfriend who decided to go AWOL instead of actually telling me that our relationship was ancient history.  I felt stupid for trying so hard to repair a bond that was clearly over.  It was time to walk away and never look back.  And that’s exactly what I did…until a few weeks ago.

I opened my kitchen window one lazy Sunday morning and took in a deep breath of beach air.  The smell was familiar and so comforting.  It was as if a little miracle had been sent my way that day because at that precise moment I could breathe again.  I could smell the Zen in the air and I felt electric.  But my excitement quickly turned to anger.  Was the beach trying to get back together with me after rejecting my advances only a few short months earlier?  Pfft…what a nerve!  I immediately closed my window but it was too late – the seed had been planted.

Over the next few days I started to make fleeting visits to the beach and it wasn’t long until I was spending hours upon hours there.  I found myself waking up every day excited about the prospect of floating in the water and meditating on the sand.  Before I knew it, our love had been rekindled.

Rediscovering my connection to the beach was an incredible journey of frustration, perseverance and faith.  What this adventure taught me is that everything will happen in its own time regardless of what my plans or timelines might be.  Believe fully that everything is moving forward in accordance with the universe’s grand plan, remove your attachment to where you think you should be at any point in your life and then you will find that one day when you least expect it, you will be able to bask in your happy place once more.

Nigel No Friends

There were people everywhere on the city street, but the stranger could not have been more alone if it were empty.
– Markus Zusak

It seems that the universe has given me a somewhat bizarre gift. The gift is this – I have become a complete Nigel No Friends.   I am a total Scott No Mates, Mona the Loner, Kermit the Hermit…you get the picture.  It has taken a long time and a lot of tears to see it as a gift.  But indeed it is.  It’s a chance for me to become reacquainted with myself and to be who I am unapologetically.

My life has been extremely quiet lately.  The type of quiet that makes you look forward to the banal conversations you have with the checkout chick at Coles who comments on the brand of coconut water you have chosen.  This is a new experience for me and to be honest, I struggle with it at times.  All the experts tell you this will happen when you are grieving but no amount of being told actually prepares you for the reality of it.  All you can do is look back one day with the benefit of hindsight and think to yourself “Oooh, so that’s what the experts mean.  I get it now.”

It happened slowly at first.  I’d receive brief text messages every now and then with the promise of a catch-up at some unidentified point in the future or I’d hear second hand that so-and-so was scared to talk to me.  People at work would look the other way when they saw me walk down the hall despite the smile on my dial and I’d get the occasional “let me know if you need anything” Facebook message.  I’ll let you in on a little secret folks – if someone is grieving they don’t have the faintest idea in the world whether or not they need anything so you’re not likely to be taken up on that well intentioned offer.

Now, I’m not totally clueless.  I absolutely understand that people feel like they don’t want to intrude or that the reason they stay away is because perhaps seeing their friend inconsolable is awkward and makes them feel completely helpless and uncomfortable.  Hell, I’ve probably even done that myself, so being the one in the middle of this situation I sought to understand things from other people’s perspectives.  Unfortunately I became so empathetic that I assumed the position of the nurturer in my relationships.  I spent almost all of my energy reassuring people that I was ok (I wasn’t) thus convincing them to feel comfortable in my presence.

As the months went on, the role of nurturer took its toll on me.  I eventually admitted to myself that I had run out of juice and I couldn’t continue caring for my friends in this way.  I felt like I didn’t even have the strength to look after myself but I knew it was time to use any energy I could muster up on starting my recovery.  When this shift happened, people dropped like flies.  I hadn’t seen most of my mates since before my brother died and I guess eventually it seemed to them that so much life had gone by since we last met that it was now too late to get in touch.  Admittedly, a lot of time probably had gone by but I had been stuck in that grief time warp where the whole concept of time takes on a new meaning so three months could have easily been three days in my world.

It’s sad to me that there’s a bunch of my friends who don’t even know what actually happened.  Maybe it’s because the thought is too sad for them to bear so they can’t bring themselves to ask.  Whatever the reason, I have come to view this moment of solitude as an unusual gift that I’ve been given to use in any way I choose.  I am choosing happiness.

The Great Escape

“Wherever you go, there you are.”
– Source Unknown*

In order to write this post, I’m taking a break from planning my escape.  I work towards my freedom little by little each day.  Chipping away at it one daydream at a time.

Some days I plan my move to Byron Bay.  I imagine that I will live in a shack by the beach and have a super awesome job where I get paid to sit on a hill covered in daisies and overlook the ocean as dolphins swim by.  On other days I can almost feel the comforting embrace offered by the heat and humidity of the Middle East as I plan my relocation back to where I lived after my brother passed away.  I write lists of what I will buy at the supermarket when I arrive and research apartments to rent in my old building.

Eckhart Tolle says that if you find your current situation unbearable you can do one of three things: remove yourself from it, change it or accept it.  I have quite a way to go before being able to accept my circumstances and I don’t have the power to change them so I’m currently floundering around, trying to remove myself from this weirdness I’m trapped in.  I just can’t shake this overwhelming desire to be set free.  Emancipated from my pain.  I’m flailing around in the unknown and I feel so utterly helpless not knowing how to navigate my way through it.  All I can think of doing is physically placing myself somewhere else in the world, as though that will solve everything.  Maybe I will be able to breathe again if I move to the mountains or maybe my feelings won’t be so intense if only I can just see the lava flowing into the ocean in Hawaii.

I have a confession to make.  This isn’t the first time I’ve planned an escape.  I actually managed to break free back in March only to be reclaimed by my captor.  I had organised an amazing trip – it was going to be the adventure of a lifetime.  I planned to travel across the USA from San Francisco to New York.  As I made my way across the country, I became exhausted when I slowly started to realise that I was actually on the run and I seemed to be running from myself.  My whole escape attempt had been in vain.  I was so busy jetting from one side of the world to the other that I didn’t realise I couldn’t actually outrun my feelings – the sadness, guilt, grief, denial and even the confusion that comes from moments of happiness.  And I couldn’t outrun the fact that my brother had died.

I finally admitted that I wasn’t getting the freedom I was seeking so I booked my flight home.  In hindsight I think I knew on some level that I was running away, but I ignored my instinct and made myself believe I was just going on a holiday.  That made it a lot easier for me to convince everyone else too – I didn’t want anyone to try and talk me out of it.  Besides, the work I put into organising such an epic journey kept my mind so occupied that I forgot about my reality for a little while.

The trip to America wasn’t a complete disaster – I really did have an incredible time.  I met awesome people, visited amazing places and learned a lot about who I am.  In particular, I realised that there’s no point in lying to myself – that little house of cards will always come tumbling down sooner rather than later.  Maybe next time I hastily jump on a plane I’ll be able to ditch my pride for long enough to truly admit whether or not it’s actually just another attempt to escape.  Until then, who knows what other experiences I’ll have as I move slowly towards acceptance.  Maybe those experiences will be a little closer to home as I have come to learn that even if I run to the furthest corners of the earth, I wont be able to hide from myself.

For now though, I am going to gain great pleasure fantasising about moving to an Ashram deep in the heart of India where I will spend my days meditating under the Bodhi Tree!

*After much research, I couldn’t find the original source of this quote.  I came across a number of possible sources including Buddha, Confucius and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.  If anyone can shed any light on this it’d be greatly appreciated.

The Beginning

What if I fall?
Oh but my darling, what if you fly?
– Erin Hanson

I once read somewhere that if you want to be a writer you need to have the social life of a rock star, travel to the end of the earth and back, have amazing adventures that rival those of the great explorer Ibn Battuta and basically be – well, not me!  That article really made me feel that I would never be an author and for years it just seemed like an unachievable dream.  At the moment my life is pretty quiet and on the surface seems rather uneventful.  However, under that seemingly peaceful façade, I am actually going through a lot – an internal adventure of sorts.

You see, my brother passed away last year.  Suddenly.  Needless to say, my life was turned arse up.  This process of grieving him is the hardest and weirdest thing I’ve ever experienced.  There is also something beautiful about it.  Don’t get me wrong, grief is a bloody difficult thing to endure and you feel a pain that never in your wildest dreams could you have imagined existed, but there is magic in it if you choose to see it.  I’ve discovered a depth to life that I’ve never encountered before.  When I breathe in the air at the beach I can feel the universe filling up my lungs and when I sit on the sand I appreciate every individual grain.  But not every day is full of enlightened moments and butterflies.

I woke up one morning a few months ago feeling anxious.  I was a stranger to myself and no longer had any idea where my life was heading.  As I was drinking my morning coffee, I started replying to a Facebook message.  My friend and I had been talking about getting back onto your path after life really knocks you off your feet.  He asked me a simple enough question – “Are you experimenting and attempting things you’ve never tried before?”  As a matter of fact, I was!  So as I was telling him all about the guitar lessons, yoga practice, Pilates sessions, Reiki healing and shamanic journeying, I started to think about all of the things I still want to have a crack at.  “I want to write!” I declared and followed this up with the usual myriad of excuses – I don’t have anything to write about, I don’t know where to start, and I’m just not interesting enough.  I finished the message, sent it off and jumped into the shower without another thought…or so it seemed.

Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but all of my best ideas come to me in the shower.  I was musing over a conversation I’d had with my mum a few days earlier.  It was about regret.  She was telling me about how she regretted some choices she had made whilst raising my brother and wondered if she had given rise to different decisions, would he still be alive today.  Then she said, “Whenever I start to regret something, I remember you telling me that we are only human and therefore can only make human choices.”  I suddenly had the greatest thought – this is what I will write about!  “This” being my journey through grief and back to myself.

I want to share with you my experiences of the human condition whilst dealing with a profound loss.  Some stories will be funny and others might be heartbreaking.  Whichever way they turn out, I hope my writings provide some inspiration and comfort to those in a similar situation – perhaps my thoughts echo yours, or perhaps this is just a safe place for you to visit where you don’t have to feel weird and alone.  Whatever your reason for visiting my page, thank you and I hope you enjoy my quest.

And so, in the words of MS MR’s “Hurricane”, welcome to the inner workings of my mind!

Ha!  Look at me being all writer-like and shit!