This photo is not from that walk – but as so often, there is no photographic evidence of this day, so a photo from this era will have to suffice. My smile in this image belies the desperate unhappiness I felt in my relationship with my daughter’s father at the time…

It was a beautiful day for a walk, from Greece to Bulgaria. My daughter was under one and I carried her in a sling. I walked along to our destination, the check point between the two countries. Perhaps it was the walking, the baby in a sling, but it put me in mind of the walks that people do, when they’ve run out of options, when they have to get somewhere, anywhere other than where they are.

From age 25 through to 34 I lived in Europe. The walk above was in the last years of this time. You would say that I was an Ex-Pat, not an immigrant even, and a long way from a Refugee. This week – Refugee Week has brought up some keen memories of the positive discrimination I experienced in that time.

In that decade, there are three things I remember – opening a bank account when I arrived in London, getting my passport stamped when I lived in Greece as a teacher, and this walk.

As a fresh-faced 25-year old, I went into Abbey National building society with a gold coin, just like my Australian friends had advised me to do. I got myself a bank account so I would be able to get paid in whatever temporary work I could find. You could practically smell Heathrow fumes, I was such a new arrival. I put down my coin, went through the formalities, produced my magical Australian passport with its miraculous “UK Grandparent Stamp” on it, and left the counter with the important money receiving mechanism, aka a bank account to add to my repertoire.

Behind me in the queue were two men from an African country, I couldn’t tell which. They too had all the traces of a recent journey. But unlike me, when they reached the counter, put down their gold coin and produced their passports, they were turned away. I was still fussing with my bag and so witnessed them having to do the walk of shame out of the branch. I stood there, mutely, knowing that the accident of my place of birth was giving me an advanced place in the queue.

Six years later, I moved to Greece to teach English as a Foreign Language. There were a range of administrative tasks required of me and my new fellow teachers, and the Alien Police were our reluctant hosts. We required an interpreter for language, and were taken to the passport office to have our passports stamped. The room was full of people, presumably from neighbouring countries such as Albania, Bulgaria, perhaps further afield. We were bustled past each and every one of them, and as a slightly older person, this time I said “Sorry” to each one of them as I was unfairly advanced in the queue. We were gone in a matter of minutes, while they would have remained there no doubt for hours.

And this final time, the walk across the border. I had by now stayed longer in Greece than my passport allowed, and a border crossing was required to refresh the passport with more months of time.

So, while the beauty of the day was apparent, the reality was that this was not a walk we were choosing to do – this was a walk we had to do.

But such a simple thing – a walk to a check point. A stamp on a passport. A taxi ride back across the border (the agreement was I would carry our daughter one way, and he would carry her back. But suddenly a taxi was available when we reached the other side.) I might imagine I had a little glimpse into the horror of being a refugee, but I know that this is a pitiful, meagre example of what people have been through, are going through.

And I have been thinking about this during the week, watching the Refugee Week posts come up, seeing the stories, knowing how different Australia has become in terms of welcoming refugees. And it really is all just an accident of birth – where you’re born and what passport you can legally claim, it is absolutely nothing to do with inherent merit or worth.

#WithRefugees

So this week at work, when I turned up for an event the day after it had occurred, I contemplated yet again my inability to say no and to manage my diary. To be fair, I had given myself a lovely quiet morning in a cafe right next to this event, working on something that had needed quiet time and concentration. But should I have even said yes to this in the first place, on whatever day it was? Probably not.

Now, I have watched the incomparable Marie Forleo talking about getting on the No train in various videos for several years now, and yet still, my diary fills with events that may or may not be working towards the change I hope to see. I know that Warren Buffet says that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” And that the late Steve Jobs said “Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” And still, I baulk at boarding the No Train.

I tell myself it is easier to say no when the profit margin is your metric. My day job is running my state’s patient advocacy organisation. We provide individual advocacy support as well as systemic advocacy support through engagement activities and contributing in a myriad of ways to policy developments.

We measure outputs (easy enough) and outcomes (harder, but we at least try to show that there is change created through what we do) and we are very good at not making a profit. But what exactly is your metric in the not for profit sector? There is no single metric for success. Measuring the good we do is a slippery and elusive art.

While we aim to set our own priorities, the reality is that the health sector churns with policies and models of care and so on that need reviewing, either because their time has come or real change is actually being attempted. When I say no to being part of this change or attempted change, am I saying for example, that prison health is not something that should be prioritised?

Once, we got excited at my work by the introduction of a triage tool for new projects. At last, we would be able to board the No Train with a systematic framework to guide us! But our initial excitement waned when it seemed like pretty much every project would make it through the triage tool and land, writhing for space and air in our diaries and schedules.

And so, while I have every intention of saying no I pretty continuously say yes to everything. ANd the current resistance seems to be the non-profit organisation excuse. The path to real change is very slippery and circuitous…

Please be aware that this post deals with sexual assault and rape. Please take care of yourself and if you find this subject triggering, please scroll on.

Against my instincts, I attended your session at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival On Rape. I was going to ask a question and during the session began scribbling on an envelope to see if I could come up with just one question out of the many that clamoured for attention as I listened to you. I almost felt obliged to speak into the space and add a countering view to some of those you expressed. I looked at my envelope with its scrawl, saw the microphone too far away, tasted the stress chemicals from the creeping anxiety that comes when contemplating asking a question in a public session, and then the session ended.

Impact

It is now a week later, and exactly 17 years to the day since I survived a home invasion and sexual assault. I wrote a memoir about the experience of recovery as well as trying (and failing) to make the victim services system better. I called it Not My Story because I am a complex and varied human being and this is just one experience I have had. As Sohaila Abdulali said in her excellent book:

rape doesn’t have to define you…it is terrible but survivable…you can go on to have a joyous life

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, p. 10

You declare that healing from rape is a must – a sort of requirement of a good feminist. You puzzled over the discrepancy between the number of war veterans who suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) compared to rape survivors.

I still remember the moment when I learned that women who had been victims of childhood sexual assault are much more likely to go on to be raped as adults. Doesn’t that account for at least some of the discrepancy?

Or is it just important that we remember that rape is a horrendous thing to endure? Back to Soulali Abdulali:

I have one terrible fear about this book…that, in my hopes of contributing to the conversation in a level-headed manner, I will appear to be saying that rape is no big deal. It’s the fear that in saying it does not have to be the end of hope and light, I will appear flippant and not honor rape victims’ terrible suffering and trauma.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape p. 95

Rape and Justice

There were some key parts missing from the discussion on the justice system. The justice system embodies the status quo and lags well behind changing social mores. I found it puzzling that you thought sentence lengths were too long. I know someone who was repeatedly assaulted by her father from before she could remember until after she reached adulthood. Four years he got. Four years.

The section in your essay when you say “an elbow, a thumb even, can do you more harm that a penis” bleeps over the reality that the United Nations recognises rape as a weapon of war. Tell a woman raising a child who is the product of a rape that it would have been just as bad as if she’d been elbowed in the eye.

Healing

Someone in the audience asked you how you heal from rape, and you acknowledged that you didn’t really know. You acknowledged that to this day, if someone even lightly touches your face, tears can spring from your eyes. In other words, its still there. That, right there, is post-traumatic stress.

I spend quite a bit of my memoir talking about healing, and I am convinced in the importance of the body – it holds traumas, and it can release traumas.

I describe a moment not long after the rape when I found myself in a similar physical position – in the dark, scrabbling to open a door, my daughter on my hip. This time, I was quite safe, in a suburban cafe with one of those old toilets in the garden, and I had just mis-timed turning off the light and plunged myself too soon in darkness. I was able to consciously unplug the trigger (darkness, trying to open a door, daughter on hip) from danger. Bringing conscious thought to the incident was like magic, and I was able to do that over again with other triggers. I moved out of the place where it had happened, in order to tame those triggers, and I taught myself to sleep again.

I also used the nurturing touch of trusted practitioners – masseurs, energy workers, acupuncturists to name a few. I could feel the trauma being massaged out, the safe touch laying down new memories in my body. The first time I was massaged, I cried a lot. The second time, a little, the third time, not at all.

I’m going to finish with a vision to celebrate this, my seventeenth year of surviving and thriving since the assault. Imagine if we nurtured survivors of gender-based violence much like people who have a breast cancer diagnosis. We could offer a range of natural therapies and offered them a lovingly crafted quilt as a comfort measure and a strong sign from our society that we see the suffering and offer support and healing.

Wouldn’t that be something?

It’s a lifetime now since Mrs Aylward taught my then pre-primary aged child. Her green eyes are just the same, overflowing with kindness and empathy.

That pre-primary year was the first time I realised my daughter was going to be socially ostracised by her peer group. She didn’t know it yet, but it was so horribly obvious to me, a pain worse than a broken heart.

I did actually have a broken heart in my own right at the time too, because the man I had fallen for, hadn’t fallen for me. Yet.

And then there was the small matter of the person who had broken into my home nearly a year and a half earlier had finally been apprehended, and the frightening juggernaut of the legal system had suddenly kicked into gear. I was dodging in and around court commitments with school pick-ups.

And there was Mrs Aylward. I could tell her what was really going on and get her kind, wise tips on how to minimise the impact of all the drama on my girl. I could hope for the best that things would resolve with the school (they didn’t) and just try to put one foot in front of the other knowing that my girl had such a compassionate guardian for the hours she was away from me.

All of that is now long gone. Eventually, how I wish I had done it sooner, but eventually, I moved schools, and it changed everything. Sometimes there is just a year that doesn’t quite work for your child, and you need to find them a new year group.

The object of my affections eventually realised the error of his ways and we have been partnered for many years.

The perpetrator was sent to prison, and I didn’t even have to testify in the end because thank God, he changed his plea.

And there, this Easter weekend, was Mrs Aylward. All these years later, when I have crossed the river to a kinder, milder time with a well-adjusted adult daughter and a happy home.

Mrs Aylward’s eyes are exactly the same kind green. Nothing has changed, and we stop and chat. But to my surprise she wanted to talk about me, about my day-job, and what I have been working on. I would have been more than content to talk about my daughter. But it is somehow so special and affirming, that she is keen to talk about what’s going on for me.

Everyone needs at least one Mrs Aylward in their life.

This could become a very long list… How often does it happen that an insight you once really “got” – something that was so clear and right – somehow drifts away? And then, a reminder will suddenly come, and you once again know an insight’s truth, right down to your bones?

Back in January, I had a moment of inattention. Well, I have many of those, but at this particular moment, my hand was wet, and the plate pictured above slipped from my grasp, fell to the sink and smashed. This plate still very much sparked joy every time I used it. Boiled egg with soldier toast breakfasts for example. Feeling forlorn, I took a photo of the smashed plate and posted it on Facebook.

“I have a cup and saucer in that pattern,” said one. “It’s the last in the set.” My joy sparked for that cup and saucer too, possibly enlarging my sense of forlornness. See left for joy-sparking.

Another person said, “Turn it into a mosaic.”

Good idea, I thought, but it would be another six weeks before I took any action. And then, one Saturday in February I took to the remaining intact plate with a hammer and turned it into a spiral mosaic, pictured above right.

It wasn’t until I had finished the mosaic, that I recollected that I had put a picture of the mosaic on the front of my memoir Not My Story and explained why Please note, the subject matter of this memoir may be triggering.

To quote myself:

“The mosaic image that appears on the cover was inspired by an excellent radio program on Post-traumatic stress I happened to catch one day. The interviewee noted how important it is for trauma survivors not to think about putting the pieces of their lives back together, like a broken vase where the cracks and weakness are all too apparent. Far better to create something beautiful, special, strong but different – a mosaic that uses all the broken pieces but rearranges them in a sturdy, transformed, stunning new framework which is stronger, beautiful, and different from before.

Stronger, beautiful, and different from before. I’m almost glad I broke my favourite plate in order to have this reminder. Almost.

This week, like many weeks at work, has got me thinking about the complexity of trying to do good work. Because nothing can be achieved without the combined effort of people, working together. If only it could be one person, striving valiantly in the arena as per this quote – but usually, the work that not for profit organisations do requires co-operative effort.

 

And that’s where it all goes wrong.

People have different ideas of what will work, and what’s important. And in the not for profit sector, often these ideas are dearly-held, they’re personal. Commitment to a cause often comes from experiencing something adverse, a permanent, life-altering consequence which could have been avoided. It can create an almost universal sense of T not wanting others to suffer as they have.

How and what you implement prevent tragedies is not usually simple. Many things can sound good on paper, and when you try to make them happen, it doesn’t translate well in the real world. You realise you have accidentally overlooked a key group’s ideas on the matter. People who will need to implement the change don’t share your perspective, and if they won’t or can’t change, then nothing gets better.

So, what to do? For me, I have finally understood that principle of working on yourself in order to create change in the world. Resisting other’s resistance to change just creates, well, more resistance. I have been reading plenty of Eckhart Tolle in the last few weeks, enjoying the debriefing of the book A New Earth on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday podcast. I think that the saying below is provocative and true.

So I am practising the art of being absolutely OK with what is, and then seeing what happens. Sometimes, I can keep this up for minutes at a time…

Let’s start with praise for the idea of domino habits – one habit creates a chain reaction of better behaviours which lead to a better life. For me, it’s been yoga.

I was nearly 30 old before I ever did any kind of yoga. I was living in London at the time and was well and truly into an exercise-averse adulthood. I can’t remember now what it was that attracted me to the yoga studio – I walked past it every day on the way home from the train in one of the lesser known suburbs of South East London, Deptford, as it was being set up. The building was beautiful-that surely must have helped. When it opened its doors, I became one of the first students. The teacher was Glenys Shepherd, a strikingly attractive 50-year old who looked almost no older than I was at the time, and had begun Iyengar yoga with scoliosis that had initially made some poses almost impossible for her to get into. Yoga had transformed her body so she now had a straight spine and exuded wellbeing. To say she was an Iyengar enthusiast was a vast understatement. I learned all the poses so well, and that excellent foundational knowledge has stayed with me. Thanks to the internet, I can see that the yoga studio is still there although Glenys has finally given up teaching (although she is preserved for posterity on Vimeo!)

When I moved to Greece to teach English as a foreign language two years later, I took yoga with me, and it saved me from the horror that is an early teaching career. When another two years passed and I found myself back in Perth and pregnant,  pregnancy yoga provided the perfect foundation for a wonderful experience birthing my daughter.

And then, as with so many things that require spare cash and time, it fell by the wayside in the early parenting years. In fact, my daughter was well into high school before I took yoga up again in earnest. I had had one try at Iyengar again and knew it was not for me, when my niece recommended her vinyasa flow yoga class at Momentum Coaching and Yoga. I have featured a photo of my current yoga teacher Natalie Snooke who established this yoga studio. And no, Nat doesn’t know I’m writing this and there are zero kickbacks for me. I think it’s good to acknowledge those who have really helped us on our way to a better life.

What changed everything for me was doing the 21 Day Yoga Challenges that she offers. The first year I was a student, Nat posted it on Facebook and I clicked that I was going and she rather uncertainly private messaged me. My practice had been patchy at best, and I had to come clean and say it was a Facebook yes, not a real yes. The next year my practice was more consistent and I took the 21 Day Yoga Challenge in earnest. You commit to doing either a class (classes are unlimited for this period) or to practice at home -in which case you text that you have done your practice. You get a star on a chart that is displayed at the Yoga studio for every day’s practice. I will do almost anything for a gold star, and all of a sudden, I could make yoga classes which previously had been too hard to fit in with my demanding job. Having unlimited access to classes also removed the cost barrier and the challenge provided the impetus.

But what I learned from this, and the subsequent 21 Day Yoga Challenges that I’ve done, is that the actual purpose of the Challenge is for you to develop your home practice. And that is the domino habit that I think has changed everything for me as a human being. I use the Yoga Download site to practice at home, and I can take yoga anyway, so when I go away for work or holidays, I take my yoga mat and keep up the regular practice.

Once, I wanted to do Uttanasana with straight legs (the pose where you bend forward as per this image) I have very tight hamstrings. Now, I’ve abandoned that ambition. What’s much more important is turning up on the mat, day after day and giving yourself that wonderful experience of yoga, bent legs and all.

And every time you come back to yoga, it’s always there, waiting for you just like Glenys told me it would be.

So here it is – the end of 2018, almost. There isn’t really too much time left to scrabble in many last-minute achievements, so it’s time for The 2018 Reckoning.

This year was my fourth using The Desire Map technique and annual planners. Desire Mapping is a subtle but to me very useful method of thinking how you most want to feel, and then setting goals from that basis. So for example, if you think about how you want to feel once you land the job, or finish the dissertation, or move house or buy the dog…these feelings give you strong clues about what’s most important to you as a human. It also allows you to get creative about how to bring those feelings into now. These are called Core Desired Feelings.

My Core Desired Feelings

This is how my Core Desired Feelings have evolved over the years:

2015: Abundant, Creative, Focused, Free Joyous.

This was my first year Desire Mapping. I didn’t use my journal for work appointments, so it wasn’t quite “alive”. I started in March.

2016: Creative, Focused, Free, Joyous, Mindful.

This was my first full year Desire Mapping where I used the journal each and every day. On the left-hand column would go work appointments, on the right-hand column the to-dos for the day job. But the Core Desired Feelings always reminded me that my writerly ambitions always had space in my life, and weren’t forgotten.

2017: Congruent, Creative, Free, Joyous then Abundant, Congruent, Creative, Free, Joyous.

I figured half-way through the year that my finances needed a bit more of a kick, and that it was time to put Abundant back into the mix. During 2017, I did a Women in Leadership Circle with the fabulous Sue Rolinson. One of the many valuable things we did was create a Vision Statement for ourselves.Worth the course fee alone!! Mine is: 

I am a courageous, creative woman who compassionately disrupts the status quo.

2018: Abundantly Aligned, Courageously Creative, Joyously Free

After making that Vision Statement, I realised that Courage was missing, and I needed to add it! However, you’re encouraged to have no more than five Core Desired Feelings. With a bit of adjective/adverb collocation, I was able to sneak it in! Note that creative, joy and free are always, always there.

2018 Big wins

  • Having three overarching goals, with smaller steps clustered underneath
  • Getting my first novel manuscript ready enough for two competitions
  • Starting out the year at 75 kilos and finishing at 68, and incorporating the Five and Two/ Intermittent Fasting as just part of life
  • Putting together an awesome team at my workplace
  • Speaking at the March Stories from the Heart event

2018 Some important but not big wins

  • Sticking with the regular coaching
  • Reaching out for help with the manuscript, and getting it! So when I didn’t win either competition, I had somewhere to go next
  • Running Patient Experience Week events again, and adding in World Kindness Day events

Some areas for growth…

  • Weekly Artist Dates. They were not weekly, I think I did about three all year
  • I did not manage to manifest a Citizen’s Jury in 2018. I thought I was so close (I probably wasn’t) and was heartbroken when I realised it wasn’t going to happen.
  • Savings goals are still a work in progress. OK, so I am exactly where I started with one account, but $1,500 better off with another. So that’s something I suppose. And all debts are largely gone.

And now, for 2019…

I’m excited to be giving myself a mini-retreat to Nathaneal’s Rest to walk the labyrinth and think about 2019 Core Desired Feelings. I already have my juicy journal to get started with…

I hope that you have found some time in 2018 to think about what’s most important to you, and do the things that really light you up. And that you have fabulous stationery to help it all unfold! Happy New Year xxx

At 7pm on the 27th October 1998, I was several hours off becoming a mother. Being a first-time mother and everything being quite s-l-o-w, I was hopeful that it wasn’t as far away as it actually was. In reality, I wouldn’t be ready to push until 2am.
 
I was using water in labour, some 9 years before WA would get its act together and create a water in labour policy. If I had lived in NSW on the 27th October 1998, it would have been much more routine for a low-risk mother like myself to be offered the option of a waterbirth.
 
This demonstrates what I know in my bones – it’s not about the research, it’s about the culture. Unfortunately here in Western Australia, certainly in the maternity world, we are still in thrall to the medical profession. In this world, we are far more afraid of allowing a woman to immerse herself in a tub of salty water than we are to inject a range of powerful painkillers into her spinal area which will definitely cross the placenta.
 
About this time two decades ago, 7 pm on 27th October 1998, I would have been advocating for myself, and my request for more time to let labour unfold was expressed firmly, using medical terminology. What it actually sounded like was; “I WANT A VE (vaginal examination) BEFORE YOU TRANSFER ME!”
 
I was fully aware that I would be bullied. I expected it and didn’t take it personally. I didn’t take it lying down, either. I was firm with the Obstetrician, who did do a VE and noted that at 3-4cm I could carry on. He left me to it. I was “one of those” labouring women.
 
I was having my daughter at the Family Birth Centre Birth, at Swan Districts Hospital. The Family Birth Centre would last for just 18 months before becoming offices for obstetric staff, with all the glorious irony of a Christian Church built on top of a pagan site, as they so often are in Italy and Greece.
 
I squatted and I moved as much as I could. I used the many different labouring positions I had practised for the last five months of my pregnancy. I kept the birth within my power as much as I could, riding the wild waves of nature that birth actually is. I was lucky, and it all went my way, resulting in a happy, healthy, intervention-free birth.
 
The wonder and awe of managing to have a natural birth was a wave of joy I would ride until at least the first 72 hours after birth.
 
A daughter was born. A mother was born. A birth advocate was born. In that order.
 
As I contemplate that day with 20 years of experience as a maternity advocate, what change has there been in my home state of Western Australia?
  • There is a water birth policy. But still, in WA, most hospitals will not routinely offer water birth
  • Midwifery-led care is still the exception, not the rule. It is growing, but with a glacial place.
  • We still don’t have benchmarks across our nation to say what our targets for midwifery-led clinics should be. And we are meeting that by making no coherent progress.
  • Women are still having the conversation with their GP that goes a bit like “You’re pregnant, congratulations! Do you have private health insurance? Which obstetrician would you like?”
  • Women are STILL not aware that they can opt for midwifery-led care if they are low risk, and this GP conversation has shifted little in two decades.
  • Women who are medium to high risk STILL largely don’t have the option of care with a known midwife.
  • Women are STILL emerging traumatised from a first birth, vowing to do it differently next time. They still don’t know what they don’t know.
  • Women are STILL spending more time picking the right pram than thinking about how the birth experience can support them to make the massive transition from woman to mother.
  • We still have only one free-standing birth centre in Perth, but on the grounds of a tertiary hospital. We have another one being constructed as we speak, but this time right inside the ward of a tertiary hospital.
  • We have a smattering of midwifery group practices across our state.
I can say for me that the memory of my daughter’s birth is still with me, twenty years later. It won’t be with the midwife who was with me throughout the labour, or the Obstetrician who popped his head around the door a few times.
I suspect this is true for all women. The impact on us is life-long, and yet we still struggle to see our preferences enacted in the maternity services in our state. It still seems that it is always the health system who gets to have the final say.

I was enjoying a coffee at one of my (many) favourite cafes recently when I bumped into a gorgeous woman I met at an NLP course. We had not studied together for more than two years but she remembered me talking about my novel manuscript.

She was kind enough to ask me where it was up to. I was so happy to be able to share that I have lodged it in two manuscript competitions!!

See the action shot below, of me posting one of them, and having a champagne to celebrate!
“Is it finished?” she asked.

Oh, how I wish!

Here is an action shot of me blithely posting the first 50 pages of my manuscript to a competition hosted by the Queensland Writer’s Centre, combined with an action shot of the glass of champagne to celebrate.

This calm photo belies the panic of having finished my edits at 50 pages, exactly where I wanted the extract to end, then realising it was double-spacing, not 1.5 line spacing. So page 50 had become page 64 and more painstaking hours of editing were required.
When I had finally finished and printed it out, I lovingly placed it in the envelope, removed the cover from the adhesive of the envelope, then I could not resist pulling it back out for one more look. Page 50 stuck to the adhesive and could only be removed by me ripping it.

Off I went to print out the 50th page, only for some reason, it said “page 51”. I triple and double-checked that it was the last page and could not account for the gremlin which had shifted the page number forward by one. In the end, I grabbed a pen and changed the one to a zero. Then came this action shot, and the much-needed champagne restorative.

I should find out in the next few months if I have been successful in either of the manuscript competitions I entered, and meanwhile, I will chip away with further edits. If I don’t win either, I will then move onto plans B and C in order to get my first novel published! I will keep you posted.

But one thing is for sure – these writing projects are never finished!