When I started talking with Samilya and playing with the idea of writing her story I envisaged a historical novel. My fantasy included crafting turbulently romantic scenes and bold acts of heroism. I soon realised that this was not the pathway for recounting the abuse and neglect that had been foisted on Samilya. I needed to place Samilya’s story in a historical context and provide a psychological overview of the impact of trauma on her life. The reality became hours of library and internet research and ploughing my way through tombs of government documents.
I had no idea how to write a novel and even less idea of how to write a biography. Yet still, I persisted. I needed to become a better writer.
I asked for feedback on my writing
I am blessed to be surrounded by a group of intelligent, educated, thoughtful readers in my life and so I reached out for help – I asked for feedback on my writing. Handing over my draft manuscript was terrifying. Here was my best – what if it wasn’t enough? I was tentatively stepping into the arena and asking for criticism. I could no longer see what needed work in the manuscript, I was drowning in it.
And so started a process where I would edit the manuscript, hand it to a carefully selected reviewer, listen to their feedback and make more changes – or not. Then I would repeat the process with the next reviewer. It was often hard to hear what my readers had to say. Sometimes it was excruciatingly painful. Always it was useful and they made me a better writer. The manuscript is far richer for their input.
I asked for a lot of feedback. By the time I finished 15 people had read and provided feedback on my writing – psychologists, social workers, academics, a well-known author, those with legal backgrounds, some who saw the bigger picture, some who were detail-focused, a few who loved me and one who didn’t know me.
During the feedback process, I became better at asking for what I needed my reviewers to look for. I learnt to listen without becoming defensive. I became adept at choosing which feedback was useful and which wasn’t. I was full of gratitude for the time and consideration they took to share their thoughts with me. I have since given feedback on another writers manuscript and it’s a tough job.
As the pandemic hit Australia I submerged myself in learning to crochet and making six Pandemic Christmas Wreaths. I finished them when I was forced into lockdown due to a broken ankle.
A Pandemic Christmas Wreath of Connection and Optimism
Remember those first weeks of lockdown early in 2020, before we got jaded and screened out? That’s when it was still fun to do zoom calls. I hadn’t yet done 8 weeks of telehealth as a psychologist and wondered how many tears I had missed.
Like many others we connected with family overseas, particularly my nephew and his wife from Wellington, New Zealand. They had visited us in January 2020 with their gorgeous baby son. New Zealand entered a harsher lockdown than we did in Australia at that time so we supported each other by catching up on Zoom, playing trivia quizzes, sharing lockdown stories and Covid-19 stats. It was during one of these zoom calls that I launched my Christmas Pandemic Wreath project. I stitched love for my New Zealand family into to this wreath along with my hope that, as they hang the wreath each Christmas, they would look back at 2020 as a year of connection and optimism.
A Pandemic Christmas Wreath of Grief and Love
The impact of the pandemic hit my son and his fiancé with an unexpected ferocity. She was unable to return to the UK for her mother’s funeral and her sister’s wedding was cancelled. The ease of living overseas, where a trip home is just a day and some hard earned money evaporated overnight. If she went home for the funeral, she would not be able to return to Australia. I’m so glad she stayed. I’m also glad they had travelled to see her mum when she was ill earlier in the year.
There is no way my son and his fiancé will forget 2020. As they hang this wreath each Christmas I hope they honour their grief and remember the love they share together, with others who are not always present, and that we share it with them.
A Pandemic Christmas Wreath of Grit and Thankfulness
I worried more as I stitched this wreath. My daughter and her partner were locked down in Melbourne. Basically they’d been in lockdown since 21 March 2020 and restrictions didn’t begin to ease until November 2020. I worried about their mental health, their relationship and their jobs. While they found it tough they also flourished creating art, furniture and gourmet meals. They embraced a buy local strategy and our birthdays were celebrated with bundles of gifts found within a 5 km ring of where they lived.
The Melbourne lockdown saved Australia from a rampant attack by Covid-19. This wreath embraces the thanks I have for all Victorians who kept the rest of us safe. I hope when my daughter and her partner hang this wreath each Christmas, they look back with pride at the intense time they spent together, the determined grit they displayed, and all they achieved and created.
A Pandemic Christmas Wreath of Family Resilience and Caring
This wreath is for Ms Forgotten Australian’s youngest daughter’s family who hold a special place in my heart. The family underwent 4 Covid tests this year, whereas I had none. Like any family, the kids, 4 and 6 years old, bought home coughs and colds which resulted in multiple tests. I don’t know any child who looks forward to having a stranger stick a swab up their nose! It takes fortitude and integrity to turn up for yet another Covid test with fearful children, who probably just have a cold.
Families like them helped keep Brisbane safe. This family, like many others, coped with disruptions to their home, work, school and leisure routine and yet they continued to care for the vulnerable in their community. They got on with the task, complaint free, resiliently adapting to the changes. As they hang the wreath each Christmas I hope they remember their collective resilience and the way they cared for each other through this time.
A Pandemic Christmas Wreath of New Beginnings
Our nephew, his pregnant wife, their 9 month and 4 year old daughters started the year living with us as they made the move from Sydney to Brisbane. Then they bought a new home, he started a new job, she upstaged him by giving birth to a new baby girl during Covid, and of course were separated from interstate family. Its been lovely watching their excitement and joy at each new adventure. As they hang their wreath each Christmas, I’m sure they will remember the many new beginnings of 2020, not just that they lived through a pandemic.
A Pandemic Christmas Wreath of Friendship
As I stitched this wreath, I thought of the times we have shared with these friends this year. We started this year together in South America, a lifetime ago. While there we watched the fires burn in Australia, never thinking that this would be just the beginning of a year like no other.
As the Covid-19 raged, we were separated from family and supported each other.
As family members broke bones, we checked in with each other! Thanks for the loan of the crutches!
Together we snuck a brief holiday to Caloundra, not a destination we would normally have chosen, usually planning trips much father away. As we walked and talked, it helped eased the stress of the year.
As they hang this wreath at each Christmas, I hope it reminds them of our friendship, the good times we’ve shared and how we survived a pandemic!
I could make more wreaths, as I am blessed with family and friends who have helped me endure the devastation of the Australian bushfires, the pandemic and now a broken ankle, but I think I’m done. Lets hope 2021 is remembered as a time we all paused, focused on what we want for our lives and made some lasting changes.
I hope you all made the most of Christmas, wherever you were, whoever you were with.
We celebrated my brother’s 60th birthday with Takaro Trails three-day self-guided cycling tour of the Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. There were four of us over 60, and one young man of 59, my husband Steven. While laughing, riding and celebrating life “active, balanced and connected” became my mantra for healthy ageing.
Riding through the Takaro Trails I contemplated the opportunities in my life to remain active.
Keeping my mind active will be easy, I hope. I love to read, listen to podcasts, write and play computer games. Social injustice still fires me up and I’m curious about the world. I delight in talking to young people and discovering their views. Even though my adult kids roll around the floor laughing at me, I enjoy learning new technology and embrace social media. I still work part-time as a psychologist and I remain committed to my professional development. I’m inspired by the hopes and dreams of colleagues and clients.
Keeping my body active will be more of a challenge. Despite this bike trip, and that I also rode the Otago Rail Trail, I’ve never particularly enjoyed exercise, yet I know how essential it is. I do enjoy an easy cycle at the weekends and have sometimes regularly ridden my bike to work. I dabble in a bit of yoga, and I particularly like Yoga with Adrienne’ videos. Some mornings I manage to get myself out for a walk. My most active engagement in group exercise was through NIA dance and exercise classes. I kept that up for two years and will probably return to the welcoming group. Pottering in the garden brings me great pleasure and is another of my active pastimes. I purposefully increase my incidental exercise too, often parking Continue reading →
It’s Mother’s Day this Sunday in Australia. A day when many families come together to rejoice in the loving bond between mothers and children. A day to celebrate the blood, sweat and tears that ooze out of mothers while raising children. But for some families, it’s a day of heartbreak. There will be no bunches of flowers or boxes of chocolates. Adult children and parents can become estranged to each other. That’s tough.
Those that choose to break the relationship with their parent or child, often see it as a move of self-preservation. For some reason, the family dynamics have gone awry and the person, unable to stand the emotional turmoil, chooses to leave. A broken attachment can feel calmer and safer Continue reading →
My new year started on safari in Kenya. One of the many amazing highlights of this trip was walking with the giraffes on Crescent Island, Lake Naivasha. It was like wandering through the Garden of Eden and it was easy to imagine the birth of humanity here.
Watching the gentle and majestic giraffes inspired my new year wishes.
How to live like a giraffe.
Walk with dignity, purpose and pride.
Hold your head high and look beyond the petty irritations of life.
Remain calm under all circumstances.
Stay connected and protected by your family and friends.
As a couple’s therapist, I’m always on the lookout for new ways to build connection and intimacy with couples. I was delighted when I discovered an ex colleague of mine, psychologist Iris Goemans, had created Mindful Coupling. This innovative tool for couples is like a delicious box of chocolates, full of unexpected delights. I asked Iris to tell me more about Mindful Coupling…
What is Mindful Coupling?
Mindful Coupling is a relationship card set designed to help couples reconnect, reawaken and rejuvenate their relationship. It includes 30 powerful weekly actions and 64 intimacy-building questions to strengthen a couple’s bond, deepen their connection and enhance intimacy.
What inspired you to create Mindful Coupling?
Love is one of the most profound emotions known to human beings. Romantic relationships can provide a deep source of fulfilment and can be a very meaningful part of our lives. However when I looked around me, I noticed very few relationships that were actually doing well. I noticed many couples feeling dissatisfied in their relationship and disconnected from each other, and that this was causing a lot of anguish. As a wife and mother myself, I understood that feeling disconnected can easily happen, especially when you’re running a household, looking after children, maintaining jobs, and generally trying to keep on top of all the other things life throws at us. People tend to think that the grass is greener on the other side, but it’s actually greenest where you water it. Continue reading →
Survivors of child sexual abuse, who courageously gave evidence toThe Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, are now torn between applying for compensation through the Redress Scheme and/or launching legal proceedings against the perpetrating organisations. Neither pathway is easy and neither has a guaranteed outcome. Historical child sexual abuse cases are notoriously difficult to win given the passage of time, lack of witnesses and the legal requirement for detailed information. Survivors and solicitors embarking on the marathon journey into the world of trauma and legal processes need to be well prepared.
Acknowledge the legal process will trigger trauma symptoms
Applying to the Redress Scheme or undertaking legal action is likely to be distressing. Revisiting the abuse, providing statements, and arguing your case may trigger flashbacks, nightmares and other trauma symptoms. During this time be proactive in care for yourself.
Gather a support team
Invite someone, other than the solicitor, to join you on the journey and be your support person. Ask them to accompany you to appointments, read information, discuss the case with you and retain the focus in appointments when you are distressed. Give consideration to who you would ask. Another trauma survivor may also be triggered by the process. Perhaps there could be more than one person to assist you.
Inform your family and friends that the legal process is likely to be stressful and lengthy. Try and be clear about what you need e.g. “After appointments, I may be distressed, can you spend some time with me?” “Can you come for a walk sometimes to help me manage the stress?” “I may just need a hug or my handheld, will you be able to do that for me?”
Access support through a psychologist, counsellor, social worker, or caseworker and schedule regular appointments in advance.
Commit to a rigorous self-care plan
Legal cases may go on for years and are stressful. They are indeed a marathon and not a sprint. Continue reading →
How has life, and the way we date, changed since Rhonda and Arthur met and married? This couple, my inspiring parents-in-law, Stevens loving Mum and Dad, and wonderful grandparents to my children married on 1 October 1955, 63 years ago. They have enjoyed over 60 years of loving.
The first date
They met on a blind date. For those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s where friends set up a date for you with someone you don’t know. Kind of similar to Tinder except you didn’t get to stalk their Facebook page to see what they looked like.
Rhonda and Arthur courted. The definition of courting for their time would have been “be involved with (someone) romantically, with the intention of marrying”. The urban dictionary today gives the definition as “traditionally courting would include no sexual activity but today that is not usually followed”. I didn’t ask them which definition they followed, and I don’t ask my kids which kind of courting they do either.
Let’s take time out to acknowledge and celebrate stepfathers on Fathers Day. Over 20% of Australian children live in step or blended families, therefore, thousands of men are stepping into an ambiguous and difficult role.
Those passionate and delightful “in love” feelings couples experience in a new relationship don’t necessarily encompass your new partner’s children. And kids don’t Continue reading →
Through the Redress Scheme, those who have been sexually abused in Australian institutions now have the opportunity to obtain financial compensation, counselling and a personal apology for the horror they endured. But don’t for one minute think it will be an easy process.
On 14 September 2015 the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its Redress and Civil Litigation Report. After receiving submissions from more than 250 individuals and institutions, the 589-page report made 99 recommendations. There was an enormous financial cost to the Australian public for the Royal Commission so we should listen to what the Royal Commission had to say.
Here are some of the most significant recommendations regarding the Redress Scheme and what’s happened so far: Continue reading →