Don’t Worry, Be Happy

American columnist Erma Bombeck said of her career writing about the quirks of her home life “there is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt” and it is true in most cases that the bigger the laugh, the deeper the well of despair that it echoed out of.

There have been, and will continue to be, many tributes to Robin Williams. I have many, many memories of his films resonating with me, none more so than Dead Poets Society. I still can’t think “Oh Captain, my captain” without getting a lump in my throat. Today especially.

But for all of the roles he played, it was perhaps his appearance in Bobby McFerrin’s video for Don’t Worry, Be Happy that most sums up all the thoughts I’ve had since hearing the news this morning. Legend has it McFerrin wrote the lyrics while suicidal, a note to himself to push through the pain. How terribly sad if that story is true.

I too fight a sometimes daily battle with the more sinister side of my brain, and I too choose humour to pull myself out of that black hole. It’s a lucky person who doesn’t understand that the biggest laughs come from the darkest places. Sometimes the melancholia feels like it will never leave. Continue to seek help, continue to find laughter, continue to try not to worry, continue to try to be happy.

We owe it to Robin.

A Shoulder Before Bed

A little reflection before bedtime:

I think what makes the difference is knowing that someone is willing to listen to our story when we feel the need to tell it. I also think that to be in a situation where you don’t feel there’s anyone who wants to listen must be the loneliest place to find yourself.

I am reminded of this quote from Truman Capote (I think it’s Other Voices, Other Rooms?)
“But we are alone, darling child, terribly isolated each from the other; so fierce is the world’s ridicule we cannot speak or show our tenderness; for us death is stronger than life, it pulls like a wind through the dark, all our cries burlesqued in joyless laughter; and with the garbage of loneliness stuffed down us until our guts burst bleeding green, we go screaming round the world, dying in our rented rooms, nightmare hotels, eternal homes of the transient heart.”

I’m very lucky to have people in my life who want to listen to my stories.

A Killer Rack

I was chatting with a mate a while back about my desire to change careers, and she asked me if I felt I was an expert in anything.

“I dunno” I replied offhand. “Probably boobs.”

We laughed, because everyone knows Boob Men don’t come much bigger than me. What can I say? I’ve never been any different. All I know is that any time a decent set of boobs appears in front of me, I lose the ability to speak. I’m like a rugby league player trying to string a sentence together.

Lately though, boobs have been messing with a close friend of mine and they’re starting to lose their appeal. They’ve tried this before with other friends, even succeeded on two occasions in taking great women I knew. But this time I’ve been a little closer to the action, and it’s highlighted to me how little I understood of breasts at all.

I suspect some of us girls are a bit blasé about breast cancer. We are bombarded with ‘breast cancer’ messages and campaigns almost to the point of being desensitized by it all. We know to check our breasts and we know the risk factors from lifestyle choices. Sure it can kill us, but the statistics are on our side, and most of us know at least one woman who’s been diagnosed, had a lumpectomy and a round of treatment and come out of it the other side with little to show for it other than a new hairstyle.

Well, yes. Except, no. Big NO.

Breast cancer is horrible. It is a hideous, nasty, insidious disease that attacks us at the very core of our being, not only because of the importance we place on our breasts, but because our bosom is also where our heart is, where so much emotion is stored and felt – as though our chests needed any more pressure placed on them. For all the feminist ranting about the over-sexualisation of breasts, the truth is that our boobs are more than just utilitarian objects designed to feed babies.

We are destined to have a dysfunctional relationship with our breasts. From the minute our chests begin to fill out, or even more awkwardly don’t, they are an undeniable sign of our burgeoning sexuality that is visible to the rest of the world. We are judged on them, and judge ourselves on them, from the minute they appear. The other things that come with puberty, like pubic hair and menstruation aren’t readily available for viewing (well, you’d hope not), but our breasts? We have no control over them. They force us to confront our body’s development in comparison to our peers, and often they’re the cause of some pretty soul destroying taunts as we negotiate adolescence. Some of us are lucky enough to get through it all and end up happy with what we’ve got mammary-wise. Some of us get there via push up bras and cosmetic surgery. Some of us never learn to love our breasts at all. And for an increasing number of us, we wade through all that only to have our breasts betray us and develop life threatening tumours anyway.

It’s a lonely journey, cancer. Much as she has many people there for her, no one is really there with my friend. I don’t know exactly how bad the post-surgical pain was, although her tears gave me some idea; I didn’t know exactly how rattled she was by the diagnosis, although I could sense it in her text messages and emails and every black-humoured remark. I didn’t know how scared she was of what the future held, although I could guess. I was scared for her too. And I may have been alongside her in the hospital for part of it, but only one of us was the patient.

I sat in a scanning room in Nuclear Medicine, arguably the grimmest part of any hospital, while she had radioactive fluid injected into her nipple by a doctor she’d met only minutes before, the same doctor who was at pains to make sure it was okay I be in the room lest I get a nipple flash – as though there’s something awkward about a friend seeing your boobs, but not a bunch of medical staff. The room, at once high tech and 1960s retro, was a bit like the set of The Thunderbirds. The off-grey walls and floors and harsh lighting only added to the alienation. I watched her being slid into the PET scanner, manoeuvred and bossed around by staff who go through it too many times a day, saw them tape her breasts and draw guides for the surgeon on her skin in Nikko pen. I kept wanting to say “you know that’s a person there, right?” as they joked amongst themselves and worked out where to put the markings. It was all I could do not to reach out and grab her hand, give her some form of human contact amongst all the science fiction.

And yet I saw some of the sweetest moments of humanity in that hospital too. Fleeting connections between strangers that made all the difference to both of them – whether between the staff and patients, patients and their visitors, or between the patients themselves. There is an immediate level of intimacy created when people are brought together through illness. Maybe it’s just because someone else knows how bad the hospital food is, but it’s a connection nonetheless.

The fatalist in me says that breasts are just breasts – who cares if they go? And actually, I do believe that. Having a killer rack suddenly takes on a whole new meaning when there’s a Grade 3 malignant tumour nestled in your cleavage. If they’re out to kill you, then get rid of them. It’s not like your personality is stored in your mammary glands.

But I still have my breasts intact, and I don’t know what it’s like to mourn their loss. Another patient, full of good intentions, said that it’s better to be safe than sorry. She was right, of course, but my friend’s response “I’m both” was gut-wrenching.  It doesn’t matter how many times a woman is told she’s sexy, there’s a part of her that fears being undesirable. So imagine the psyche of a woman battling the combined effects of chemotherapy – the disappearance of distinguishing features like eyebrows, eyelashes and hair; the nosebleeds, blistered skin, lethargy, nausea, weight gain (or loss depending on the person) – along with the crippling depression that is both a symptom and a result of treatment, and whose scars across her chest continue to pull and hurt and send phantom pains shooting from the nerve endings where her nipples used to be. Can you imagine the strength it takes just to get out of bed some days, let alone out the front door? Seeing someone who oozes self-confidence be so vulnerable is heartbreaking. This should not be happening to her.

And yet, why not her? That’s the nature of this stupid thing. It doesn’t give a shit that she’s fought enough already to be here. Cancer is completely indiscriminate in its selection process. It’s never cared about any of the people I know who’ve answered that knock on life’s door.

I simply can’t fathom how anyone copes with being told they have cancer. It’s terrifying enough as a friend to hear words like tumour, mastectomy and chemotherapy. To be able to remain a functioning member of society when you are at your most fragile; when control of your life has been taken from you and put in the hands of a stranger now known as your oncologist; when dealing with the shock and fear and disbelief at how quickly life exploded has turned your brain to mush and left you unsure of every decision you make; when you can deal with it all with humour; when you can maintain some semblance of life despite all that, and when you can come out the other end never once having asked “why me?” while knowing there’s still so much ahead to get through…well frankly, that’s where my words run out.

And so, my love affair with breasts has hit a rocky patch. I still think they’re lovely, but I now view them the way I view a potentially dangerous dog. I’m happy to play with them, but I expect them to attack.



So…media powerhouse Mia Freedman has this great website called Mamamia that’s basically the oracle for all things that could possibly come under the heading ‘Life’.

This week they published my Chinks in the Armour post, and the response has been overwhelming. Honestly, after so much darkness, it’s been the most wonderful experience!

You can see the article in its Mamamia incarnation here:

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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

By Caz.