Un Masked

I wear a lot of metaphorical masks, but I can’t wear the face kind. This isn’t because I don’t agree with them, quite the contrary I think they’re an important method of keeping everyone safe through the pandemic.

I can’t wear a mask because I have crippling PTSD and even the thought of being asked to put one on can send me into a full blown panic attack. Given the current mandated mask laws in my state, right now and my fear of being yelled at, video’d and labelled a “Karen” on Facebook. I find it easier if I simply don’t leave the house.

Reading the news today I saw a story about a woman who was fined for not wearing a mask despite claiming to have a medical exemption. She had continued to refuse to put one on despite police requests and had allegedly become verbally abusive towards the officers. The result of this was that she was summoned to appear in court.

When the court date came she was refused entry to the building for refusing to wear a mask and appeared via video link instead. The article has stated the magistrate has set a new date and told her she must appear in person and wear a mask should they still be mandatory in the state, or she’d be arrested.

I don’t know the people in the story, it’s one article that I read. I don’t know if the person in question had a genuine medical exemption or if she was just saying that to avoid wearing one.

I do have an exemption from M, but apparently they’ll only get you so far. I’ve already learned this the hard way by not being able to have tests at the hospital for abdominal pain after my GP and gastroenterologist had sent me in fearing a cancer recurrence. I would either have had to wear a mask, or sit in the separated area full of people with Covid symptoms. Having just completed chemotherapy neither option was safe and so I just went home.

When I had symptoms that could classically have been related to a heart attack weeks later, I didn’t bother to seek treatment at all.

So, I have a PTSD issue bad enough for me to avoid important medical tests and treatments. I also live with chronic mental illness and have struggled with suicidal ideation since childhood. When I read this article, being the over thinking type I am, I immediately put myself in the shoes of the woman and had a mini anxiety attack.

As those of you who know my history are aware, I don’t respond well to being cornered. If this was me, and a judge had threatened to throw me in jail if I didn’t attend a court appearance and wear a mask, even though my mental health has been steadily improving with therapy, I think a situation like this one would throw me right off the metaphorical edge.

I can honestly say, the depth of the anxious feelings coming up just hearing this story (which has nothing to do with me personally at all) are so overwhelming that I would be likely to take my own life just to avoid being forced to wear a mask for a court appearance.

Yep. I am completely aware of how ridiculous that sounds. I am also completely aware that there are doctors and nurses wearing full PPE and masks for over 12 hours straight every day and I am incredibly grateful to them. Maybe I’m just weak, maybe I’m pathetic, maybe I’m a selfish ungrateful so and so. I know my feelings are illogical.

But PTSD isn’t logical, nor something I can just put on pause or ‘choose’ not to have. This situation terrifies me so much that death is a preferable option. The state of pure anxiety is so strong that I will completely forget my loving family, my children and friends and how my death would impact them. In that moment the only thought I can process is the need to GET AWAY and if the only escape I can see is death, that is the option I will take.

Given my bias on the subject, I can’t decide if the magistrate is being reasonable or not in his demand for her to appear in court physically. I also know that a lot of people will claim they have conditions that they don’t really have just to get around the rules. Those people make it harder on folks like me who are just trying to get through without the humiliation of a public breakdown.

Link to the article

I’m also not commenting on whether the initial fine she was issued is justified or not, or if her response to the police was acceptable. Assuming her claim for the medical exemption is legitimate, I’m mostly upset that the magistrate is able to have a warrant for her arrest if she refuses to attend court in person because of the mask mandate. I feel there should be alternative arrangements available. Why would video link not be acceptable?

I feel that this sort of precedent could dramatically affect the mental health of people who suffer from genuine medical concerns that make mask wearing impossible. Would the police even accept my exemption? If not, would they let me go home without a mask or force me to put one on?

There’s already so much stigma when it comes to mental health issues and the police, what would happen if I were to have a mental health crisis over this time and the police became involved? Being forced to wear a mask would likely cause a total breakdown potentially escalating a situation that could have been largely preventable.

What do you think?

Last Night

Last night I said goodbye.
Packed up my mind, my heart, your lies.
Tomorrow came, in its inevitable way.
And the months became memories, soon fading away.

Equilibrium

This post was written in October 2020 and never published. I’m not sure who among us wrote it, but I feel it deserved to be published.

Kate

I just woke up to my nurse and a doctor who looked exactly like Ted from Schitts Creek standing over me saying my name and offering me an enema. Obviously I had to second guess my state of consciousness there for a moment, particularly given my recent pastime of binge watching the aforementioned TV show, alas I was not dreaming.

I’ll spare you the details but that was an awkward conversation, at least for me.

Night 10 and along the way hospital life has somehow overthrown my memories of pre hospital life. It’s desperately frustrating to lie here and realise that aside from intellectual knowledge of its colour, right now I cannot remember for the life of me what my car looks like.

My phone has photos of the children, I know them but I can’t seem to find a visual context when I try to imagine them in my life, the home I know I live in feels like a memory of a movie from long ago. All that exists for me are blue curtains and the sound of various beeps that seem to play the baby shark song over and over.

I run my fingers along my now prominent hip bones and rib cage somewhat obsessively, a habit from the old days that seems to have recently revived itself, that and compulsive checking of my wrist size. Damn it, I don’t need that back in my life.

I try to remind myself I’m dying and none of that matters, all that matters is being well enough to make myself ill on chemo for a while so I can have yet another operation. The bag on my abdomen gurgles randomly and I get a rush of panic that I will once again awaken in a pool of my own shit having “leaked” through the night.

I think I’m still more scared of living than dying, living like this anyway. Being a cancer patient comes with a lot of pressure to be positive, pressure to claim warrior status and smile your way through your illness so your loved ones can talk over cucumber sandwiches at your wake about your ‘battle’ and how hard you fought.

Over the course of this ileostomy recovery I had a few complications, a blood clot in my lung and also issues with my stoma, when I’ve started to eat non liquid foods my bowel slows down, swells, fills with gas and essentially blocks itself causing intense pain and vomiting.

Let me tell you I was no warrior in those moments, I was sweaty, crying and in agony and when no pain killer touched the sides and the anti nausea drugs couldn’t stop the vomiting, all I could do was lie curled up on my bed with my head in a bag praying for death to come swiftly.

Now I’m frightened to eat. Again. An old fear, but now for such different reasons. I’m frightened that chemo will leave me in the same debilitatingly nauseated state that the ileus did and I’ll die from malnutrition and exhaustion long before the peritonectomy or the cancer have a chance to finish me off.

I know, I know. Millions of people walk this cancer journey and emerge as warriors, the ones that don’t make it out ‘fought hard to the end’. They suck it up, they do the chemo, they have the operations for themselves or for their families. But I’m scared I can’t suck it up for my family. The family, that as I lie here in my blue curtained chamber, I can’t even properly remember.

The compartmentalised world I inhabit feels so lonely and bleak and yet it’s all that exists.
I don’t want to feel exhausted and sick and utterly defeated for the rest of my life and I don’t want to be remembered for fighting in a battle I didn’t believe in.

I don’t know what to call this

I’m writing because I’m bored and I don’t want to do anything that I probably should be doing like cleaning. Everyone else is watching the bonfire outside. I should use this time to proper write but I looked at stuff in the draft folder and I don’t remember any of it right now and it’s boring.

I’m up to level 2021 on my fish game now! I thought that was funny because the year is 2021 so I stopped there for a bit! I’ve been playing it for a really long time, like a whole year I think? It’s called Fishdom and it’s like candy crush but you build an aquarium with cool fish in it. It’s very addictive!

What are you guys up to? I went for a walk today and took photos of things. There’s a wombat that was hanging around near our house, he let me walk right up to him today but he has mange and looks really gross and sick. I hope he isn’t in pain, maybe I can ring WIRES (they help look after native animals that are hurt or sick) and they might know what to do.

The poor wombat ☹️

Maybe I’ll go out to the bonfire anyway. Bye!

Livin’ La Vida Lockdown

So my little slice of Australia is battling Covid once again and now the entirety of NSW has been thrown into lockdown. I can’t complain really, Sydney has been struggling for months and we regional folk had had a pretty good run.

Unfortunately I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and I got a text message from the government informing me that I am now considered a ‘close contact’ meaning I had to head down to the old drive through swab n’ go for a test first thing this morning. Luckily we went to Little-Big Smoke for the test and made it before the masses turned up so it was quick and painless as having a stick shoved up your nose can be.

I don’t mind self isolating, everyone I know is stuck at home now anyway with the statewide lockdown, so providing I don’t actually have Covid I’m not really worse off than anyone else. At least I live on a farm so if homeschooling sends me stir crazy I can go for a 30minute walk without actually leaving my property.

I’m also planning a great big clean up, my “garden” is horrendously neglected and the farm is full of half finished projects, I’d like to try and finish at least one of those over lockdown and the weather forecast this week looks really promising, fake spring is nearly here!

We get fake spring every year, it’s about a week to two weeks of glorious spring weather at the end of August which is always followed by a bitterly cold month just before real spring comes back to stay around mid October.

One downside is that I now can’t have my blood work or the CT scan I was supposed to have this week to check if the cancer has come back yet.

Schrodingers Cancer ? We’ll try and think of it as not in the box for now.

What is/was your favourite lockdown activity?

Time Travel & Exploding Trucks

There are a few things that I consider kryptonite to my soul, among them is the feeling of helplessness. I like to be that steely faced guy who can see something going down, turn off emotional responses and sort it the fuck out.

Lost your cat? Let’s go find it. Broken arm? I’ll hold it in place til the ambulance arrives to splint it. Dude trying to bludgeon another dude to death? I’ll dive right into the middle of that shit fight and ask questions later.

Being in a situation I am powerless to change, powerless to fix and powerless to control hits me in a way nothing else really seems to. I have an intense need to make things better and when I have to step back and just watch Hell come to life, I feel like a failure.

The other night a friend came over. We decided to trip 40min into Little-Big Smoke and pick up Chinese for dinner. The country road to town is narrow and full of potholes. Surrounded by endless paddocks and gum trees, the only interesting thing to see on a dark moonless night is the sea of stars that open up the sky and bring far away galaxy’s to life.

We were chatting, about what I don’t remember. I looked up towards the heavens and noticed an odd shadow blocking the stars, barely visible in the pitch black sky. As we got closer it appeared plume of thick black smoke billowing above a distant line of pine trees.

It’s coming to the end of burn off season in rural Australia. We only get a few months a year to light our piles up between the dry heat and blistering winds before the risk of accidentally starting a bushfire makes it too dangerous again.

We looked at it harder. My friend commented that someone must be burning off something they really shouldn’t by the look of that smoke. I agreed and joked that the way it was billowing up it looked like in the movies when a plane had crashed.

As we rounded the next corner we suddenly saw what was causing the smoke. A car was pulled off the left side of the road with its hazard lights on and on the right there was a huge truck completely ingulfed in flames. I caught my friends eye for a second, she’d lost a partner to a truck crash 12 years ago and in that moment I saw her body react as the grief all flooded back.

In the darkness a man paced along the road side, his shadowy figure silhouetted by the bright orange flames, hands interlocked behind his head in a stance of complete exasperation.

We pulled off the road and I yelled out the window “is anyone inside?” That moment, waiting for the answer… It was a split second that felt like a lifetime. The truck was an inferno, if someone was inside… They’d already be dead. There was no way of getting to them, no way of saving them.

The man said nothing for a moment, lost in his own horror. I jumped out of the car and raced toward the man, a woman’s voice piped up from further back, “keep back! It’s going to blow again!” Another said “there’s no one in it, he’s the driver”.

I yelled out to my friend to move the car further back, just as she reversed up the road the truck exploded and a huge ball of fire burst from it. The man let out an anguished cry. He was shaking.

I asked what had happened and he told me he’d smelled a burning electrical smell, found somewhere to pull off the road and flames suddenly started coming into the cabin. It was his own truck, quite new, his pride and joy as well as his livelihood. Now it was all going up in smoke.

The other couple that had pulled over with us had already called emergency services and the drivers wife so we tried to comfort the devastated man while we waited. We all told him that the fact he got out physically unharmed was all that mattered, that insurance would pay for the truck where as nothing could replace him.

But he just shook his head, this was his only income, he had a family to feed and he felt like everything was lost. I tried to think ‘how would M act in this situation?’ So I tried to validate the hugeness of this for him at the same time as reassure him that his family needs him safe more than anything else. But there was nothing I could do to fix it for him, nothing that could take that pain away.

His wife arrived a good 25 minutes before emergency services did. She ran to him and they just held each other watching their only source of income burn to ashes. The rural fire service finally turned up, struggling to get enough members to the call out. They are also limited to 4 people in a truck because of Covid which really slowed things down. Thank goodness there wasn’t any life in danger.

Another 15minutes passed before the police turned up. After telling them what had happened I commented on the ridiculous length of time it took them to get there and the cop looked at me with a lost look in his eyes and said they’d all been in another tiny town on the opposite side of Little-Big Smoke at a car accident with a fatality.

I acknowledged that he’d obviously had a really shitty night and apologised for having a go at him. He just sighed and said “it’s part of the job”. I said of course I knew that, but it’s still shit that he has to see those awful things, job description or not, and I thanked him for doing that hard work so many others cannot. He looked like he was on the verge of tears at that point so I just added a thank goodness the driver of the truck is uninjured and if he didn’t need anymore information from us I’d be on my way.

Someone complimented me later for stopping and trying to help but the compliment stung, because of course you aren’t going to drive past that scene and NOT stop. Also, I COULDN’T help. I like to think that I’d have somehow rushed into that blazing truck and pulled the driver to safety if it had been required, but when I think about it, sadly my urge to assist is born out of selfishness rather than selflessness.

I’m not some saintly person who is trying to create peace on earth and a better world, I mean I’m not opposed to those things at all, they’d obviously be great, but Im just saying it’s not from the goodness of my heart. My motives are far more for personal gain than they probably should be.

When it comes down to it I feel the need to help, to fix things, because I’m trying to fill a hole guilt has burned inside of me for all the things I couldn’t protect myself and others from as a child. I re enact scenarios to try and somehow change a past I can’t let go of. It’s not that I want to help, it’s that I can’t stand the guilt of not helping and fear of feeling that guilt far out weighs any fear of being hurt or killed in the process.

Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, I can’t physically go back to childhood and explain to my younger self what is and isn’t my own guilt to hold. However I wonder if those emotional parts of me that hold that fear now can somehow be reached and soothed. But then again, if I let go of the guilt that drives me to help, what would I be left with?

Just Another Existential Crisis

Talking to a dear friend the other day after yet another physical health concern, Suzi commented that she wished God would just make up His mind. “Do you want me or not God?” She had cried out half joking, half serious. Our friend then said softly “maybe God is leaving the door open, waiting for you to decide what you want.”

This comment hit Suzi like a freight train.

We all get depressed. A DID system works in mysterious ways, most of which I don’t understand. Some things will effect all of us, but they seem to affect us differently. Suzi might be known as the calming force and voice of reason within us, but she too shares this brain and unfortunately isn’t immune when that familiar cloud of depression washes over us. Lately I think she’s been feeling that she’s in over her head.

She’s our only alter that still holds onto the spiritual views we were raised with and she’s been struggling with how rest of us are unable to share the same faith that she does. We also have a tendency to dismiss her feelings about this particular subject in a way that’s equivalent to pretending not to be home when the Jehovahs Witnesses come knocking. We don’t want to listen, we don’t want to be converted and you do you but please bugger off and stop bothering us.

I think the cancer diagnosis hit her pretty hard. She’s been on a mission to finish her ‘teachings’ as she calls them. She is so incredibly certain of herself and her views that there’s little room for counter points and when we argue she simply gives off this infuriating “I’ll wait for you to come to the realisation that this is Truth and I’ll love you while I wait” vibe. It’s unintentional I’m sure but it feels super patronising.

She has found more places to express her spirituality recently. While it’s arguably good that she has an outlet, it’s kind of fuelling the fire. She believes strongly in reincarnation and seems to have come to the conclusion that this life is essentially some sort of final exam. Something about having to get herself and the rest of us through without offing ourselves and teaching us how to grow spiritually and emotionally enough to make this our last hurrah earth side.

She thought she had more time and didn’t push as hard as she feels she should have and now she’s panicking.

I don’t know what to think about it. On one hand I can see her ‘proof’ points but I am also very aware of how much damage these beliefs caused to us collectively when we were young. There’s also an argument to be had about the role of mild psychosis and magical thinking in our history and it’s impact on her.

We already struggle greatly with understanding our place in reality and this isn’t exactly helping us differentiate.

Catherine, who is 99% science with a side of floaty poetry has pretty much the opposing views and I can also relate to her opinions which leaves me directionless and yet again without my own stance on the matter. As usual I’m feeling quite trapped in the grey area.

I wouldn’t say I really care enough either way for it to be my existential crisis. Generally I just avoid thinking about it all, but frankly I’m really tired and hitting a point where I just want to feel better because right now I’m feeling all the pressure of an anxious hangover from their conflict.

I guess I am bothered because I just don’t know how to give Suzi what she needs, it feels like she deserves this opportunity after she’s cared for us for so long. We owe her a chance to live her truth and yet it’s just not a truth we can collectively embrace.

Suzi has always been there for me, long before I knew who she was. She held me through my hardest moments, she taught me grounding techniques and how to dissociate away fear. I still remember that dark night in London as a six year old, when she showed me the brick wall for the first time. The brick wall worked, arguably a little too well; it let me live my life free from fear, free from pain. The others were less lucky, but I know she has helped them too. V jokingly calls her ‘saint Suzi’ but beneath her sarcasm I know she appreciates her.

I’m at a cross roads. There’s a dis-ease in the pit of my stomach caused by the knowledge that we’ve reached a time of unavoidable change and my go to move is to camouflage and freeze. But that’s not going to cut it anymore and I don’t know how to move forward.

Shrodingers Secrets

I am but a box, and for as long as I live in silence the secret can both exist and not exist inside me.

If I am the only living person in the world who knows, is it even still considered a secret? If nobody else is told, I can make it disappear. That gives me control. That gives me power over my own life.

But if can stop it from existing, how do I know I didn’t create it somehow?

If I share this Shrodinger’s secret, if I let it breathe and give it a life outside this box, I can never get it back again. If it turns out, that the secret wasn’t ever even a secret but a figment of my imagination, a creation of a long ago fear then I have birthed a monster. Invented a creature that will cripple me with it’s guilt and cover me in shame for the rest of my days.

That monster could never be re-caged. To even acknowledge it’s existence as a myth feels forbidden and scary, it feels like a dirty secret. The kind of secret that you shouldn’t know, the sort you’re not allowed to permit to enter your mind for even a moment let alone tell another living soul. It feels conflicting and gut wrenching and yet it might… it might not even be real.

Can you even call something a secret if you don’t know for a fact it exists? Does that make it more of a rumour? What if it’s only a collection of bodily sensations, flashes of memory and whispered half thoughts that aren’t allowed to be finished? If all you know for certain is that it must never be pondered on or discussed in any way, is it a secret or simply fear born inside an overactive imagination?

Secret feelings, secret pain, secrets you can’t get off your chest because you don’t know exactly what they are and if you’re just imagining them then somehow being wrong is just as terrifying as being right.

People say to trust your intuition, but what if…
What if it’s wrong? What if it’s all in your head?
Yet if it has no basis in truth then why doesn’t it simply feel like nothing, like a story instead of so gut wrenchingly and painfully possible that you want to vomit?

Perhaps it needs to have room to be wrong because the alternative is unfathomable.

I can’t trust my mind, I can’t trust my instincts and I certainly can’t trust my memory. I can never say the agonising words that echoed through the deepest chambers of my heart, not even to M for fear they would poison parts of myself relying upon a facade to simply exist.

I wish I could forget I knew there was a box at all.

I feel humiliated, judged, ashamed, terrified and broken. I feel like I’ve screamed out ‘witch!’ In seventeenth century Salem, and now that embers fill the air and smoke burns my eyes, I see the devastation of those around me and I wonder if maybe I was wrong.

I used to think that once those involved had passed away I’d be free to speak my fears. But death had other plans, for it taught me that nobody can truly die, until you do. To utter these secrets to think these thoughts is to summon a ghost. Accusations will only leave me haunted, if not physically then certainly metaphorically.

These feelings of shame well up inside me stealing the air from my lungs, making me shiver, making my head fuzzy, making me desperately want to curl in a ball and die.

I don’t know how to move forward with this.
It’s circling my mind incessantly and I keep trying to block it out but it’s utterly relentless. A chamber of hell I can’t escape, filled with mythical monsters and pointing fingers.

There is no solution. In recognising it’s possible existence as a secret, I’m committing the most awful sin of all, the thing that twists a knife through my heart and leaves me to bleed out on the floor. If it’s not real I deserve to die for thinking it, if it’s right I’m better off dead anyway.

So let’s keep this box closed tight, 
try not to worry what’s inside.
A secret lives only if you let it leave your lips, but if you keep it then it dies.