Australian Women

Brave to the Bone – for The Big Smoke

Brave to the Bone – for The Big Smoke

Here’s a little piece I wrote for a new publication out of Sydney, The Big Smoke…

From The New Yorker

From The New Yorker

Chinks In the Armour

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only lesbian who doesn’t fancy Ruby Rose. I know we’re all supposed to love a heavily tattooed, spikey-haired lezzer with a bit of talent and a lot of fame, but that’s never been my bag. This week though, I could have French-kissed the bejesus out of her. Talking about her battle with depression was a very courageous way to get my attention, certainly more effective than flashing her tits in FHM a few years ago.

I’m not normally a big fan of public emoting. I’m not even really a fan of writing about my emotions directly, I’d rather let them weave into my work organically than state implicitly ‘this is me’, yet in December last year I stood in line at my local Coles and burst into a very public bout of uncontrollable tears. Not the sort of tantrum brought about by long queues and a shortage of cranberry sauce that’s acceptable at Christmas time, but a silent overflow of tears that hurt my throat, and crushed my chest.

I had noticed the girl in front of me was covered with scars. Long, purple lines covered her forearms in a crosshatched mess of pain, and one angry, red one travelled from somewhere under her skirt, down to her knee. I’d seen similar scars before – on a friend, on the guy who works in the Night Owl – but I’d always been dismissive of them, waving them off with a reaction that was more ‘you hopeless emo’ than ‘you poor thing’. I never understood what would possess anyone to cut themselves up, why they’d want to do that to themselves. Recognising myself in her scars definitely wasn’t in the plan.

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I had been in a fog since morning, drifting from one task to the next, just getting done what needed doing. I was going through a very confusing break up at the time, one that had taken me so by surprise I simply couldn’t get past the shock to even deal with it. I was doing what I always do in those situations, which is to get up and get on with it and try to live around the hurt. I had to get up and get on with it. I run a business that employs people who are dependent on me for their livelihoods, so I did my best to ignore how I was feeling. I knew I was pretty drained emotionally, but it took a stranger with distressingly visible signs of pain to show me just how much I was hurting under my own skin.

Given my state of mind back then, my meltdown wasn’t a complete surprise. I hadn’t expected it to come to a head quite so spectacularly and in such a public location though. The strength of my reaction frightened me. I was so embarrassed by how pathetic I must have seemed that I went into hiding. I curled up on the couch and stayed there for two full days. I called in sick to work, and ignored phone calls. I replied to text messages only if I absolutely had to. And until last week, I didn’t tell anyone about it.

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It’s hard for me to write about this period without it sounding dramatic, which means it’s hard for me to write about it full stop. I don’t do drama, I prefer to keep things light. 2012 was a bust, horrible from beginning to end. It was like living through twelve months of sensationalist tabloid headlines – relationship breakdowns, financial dramas, family stresses, more relationship breakdowns, business and staffing problems, best friends dating exes, exes dating other exes, housing problems, health issues. I was New Idea, Woman’s Day and Who Weekly all rolled into one tattered publication. At the time I brushed everything off with “It could be worse, it’s not cancer” because I was trying to keep some perspective, but if the best you can say about a period of time is that at least no one you love died it’s not saying much, is it?

By the end of the year I was a mess. My hands shook all the time, I couldn’t sleep, I was drinking more than I ever had (which on this occasion IS saying much), I wasn’t eating, and I would cry at the drop of a hat. I couldn’t believe I’d become that person – the one with the continual dramas about nothing. I was under a lot of pressure to be okay, from myself and others. I was aware of friends going through far more traumatic events. Yet the truth was that, despite telling myself it could be worse, I couldn’t actually have felt any worse.

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The best indication that all was not well in my brain was that I couldn’t write. For the very first time in my life, I had no words. Deadlines came and went without me acknowledging them, story ideas dried up, I didn’t have a creative atom in my body. Writing is my outlet, but it’s only therapeutic when you can actually get the nonsense in your head out. And shitty heartbreak prose isn’t my style anyway. Thank god I can’t paint; my apartment would have been overflowing with huge canvases, painted black and pierced with stab marks. Nice, very postmodern. I was trapped inside myself.

I walked for hours every day trying to clear my head, but when I need to get away from my thoughts the very worst thing I can do is walk. Walking time is thinking time for me, and I was sending myself mad. Sleeping didn’t help either, because there was pressure for it to be a relief from the pain, and consequently gave no real rest. I would sleep knowing I was only going to wake up and feel awful again. I wanted it over. I know that my love for my parents meant I would never have thrown myself off the Story Bridge, but I honestly thought about it every single day.

I needed something to show for the pain I was feeling. That’s why the girl in the supermarket upset me. I could see that she once felt that way too, that her scars were something tangible, and that causing herself physical pain had given focus to her internal pain. That I understood even a fraction of what made her do that to herself scared the hell out of me.

Friends began to worry about me. I could tell they were discussing it whenever I wasn’t around. Eventually one suggested that it might be time to engage a professional. I listened, and made an appointment with my GP. She confirmed what I’d begun to suspect – that I was in the middle of a full emotional breakdown and diagnosed me with depression. Having no desire to become a totally mournful bitch, I got over my distrust of psychoanalysis, found a therapist I liked, and began to regain control of myself. I also went on a high dose of happy pills.

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Antidepressants have been my liberator. I don’t want to be on them forever, but at a time when I had little control over my behaviour, they acted like emotional Botox and gave me a break from the black emptiness I was feeling. I’d want to cry, but I just couldn’t. Eventually my brain gave up trying, and gave being happy a go instead. The clarity allowed me to focus on the real issues.

At this point, I really need to acknowledge how lucky I am to have amazing friends around me. And by lucky, I mean seriously lucky. I have an incredible pack of loyal and loving supporters who never once judged any of my behaviour during this period (well maybe they did, but they didn’t let on), and who made a point of being there for me without condition. I honestly don’t know how people get through life without a close posse around them. Streisand was right; people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. It might have been a miserable way to learn how loved I am, but I’m glad to know it now.

I also highly recommend removing whoever you need to from your life. Just tell them to fuck off. Seriously, use those words. You’ll feel better. Maybe that’s the best way to treat depression too. Get angry with it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but neither is removing people you care deeply about – even when you know it’s the right thing for yourself. The adage says that life wasn’t meant to be easy, but sometimes by doing what’s most difficult, life gets a whole lot less complicated.

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As for where I’m at now…I’m getting there. I still have days where I feel the emptiness coming back, but propelled forward by good friends, good drugs, tight family and a great therapist, I’ve started to see so much more ahead of me than the fog of sadness had hidden. I feel strong enough now to look beyond the protective wall those things have created. There are still a few chinks in my armour, but they’re being polished out. And I’m happy, albeit in a way that knows a price was paid for it. In fact, maybe it’s not happiness at all. Maybe relief is a better word – relief that I came through, that I can see I’ll be okay. Things are different now.

I felt so stupid for having such a seemingly irrational response to what was just another break up, and continuously asked myself the same question my mother did: “Why do you need therapy? Because you’ve let that <insert offensive description of my ex> make you feel bad?” But depression isn’t rational and it isn’t even so much about the catalyst for it. It’s about a genuine inability to lift out of feeling helpless and hopeless, and no one needs to feel stupid about that. We do though, and it stops us asking for help. That’s why I’ve chosen to write about the last five months. The more voices saying “me too”, the easier it will become.

One last thing. Nora Ephron once said the following:

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Print it out, stick it on your mirror. She knew her stuff.

By Caz.