welcome welcome welcome
I am so pleased that you clicked over here. Thanks for visiting my blog! I’ve been doing this since early 2014, but I’m no techie expert at blogging! You won’t find many bells and whistles here, but you will find my writing… on illness, on parenting, on plus-size modelling and all about whatever else is going on in my world!
The structure of my blog is probably worth explaining… If you want to see anything I have written, click up there on my blog title. Then all my posts will scroll in order from most recent back to the very first post I ever wrote. I also host guest posts from ‘my peeps’… other chronic illness or invisible illness people I’ve met who I really love. I know you will love their posts too. You can search under the words ‘Meet my Peeps’ to find their pieces.
If you are interested in what I have written on different topics, click up there where it says ‘My Writing’. The categories will drop down and you can choose the one that interests you.
If you would like some information about my diagnosis and my health journey, have a look under where it says ‘Dysautonomia’. Or maybe, you’d like to see other things I have written that have appeared in different places on the internet. Have a look under ‘About Me’ where it says ‘Writing for Others’. Not all my writing relates to illness, so you might be surprised by what you’ll find!
If scrolling through lots of posts is not your thing, you can use the Search Function down there to the right of the page, or click on the words that interest you from the tag cloud. Each tag will take you to the posts that use those words.
…and, if you’d like to know when I post something new, there is a subscription sign up just under my photo, there on the right. Or you could join my facebook community and receive updates to your newsfeed… I post all sorts of bits and pieces there that I find around the internet. Come and join me and my people!
Create, if …you are feeling dull. Or yearning to be transported away from your troubles. Create if you’d like to have that old feeling of personal growth, inner joy, childlike abandon. Create if you know what is good for you, because creating things surely makes us hum from the inside out. It’s in the making from nothing that we discover that long forgotten something about our human state. We need to create to feel content.
Maybe it is food, or babies(!) or lasting love. Maybe it is macrame, or dresses, or miniature worlds. Maybe it is art, or an approximation of art. Whatever it is; making something from the uniqueness of yourself and letting it exist in the world is creating. It’s a magical thing. Within the experience of creating there is soulfood and education for life itself. When I create, I learn about myself. Go create, if you want to know what I am talking about. Just find your thing, and begin to do it. Create something. Even if it’s not up to your own standards, let it be just as it is. There is a lot to be said for being kind to yourself about your own creations. What follows is kindness to yourself about other things too, and we all need that.
The last few weeks I have been loving Pip Lincolne’s series for slumpy creatives. She is so good at bringing out the best in people. And so kind. Reading her words is like listening to a friend talk. All kinds of good.
It has coincided with a new thing I am doing. You may have seen some of it on my instagram feed. I’ve joined the #drawsomethingeveryday movement. Not because I necessarily have the time for it, or the even the desire to do it every day, but because I need it. When I draw, it distracts me from pain and helps me hold out longer between pills. When I draw, I remember that I have a natural ability that I haven’t been using. It’s good to no longer be neglecting it. When I draw, it gives back to me. Repose, reflection, peacefulness. It gives me a little circle of calm. The process of creation interrupts the noise and pressure of life. I like that very, very much.
A photo posted by Rachel Cox (@rachelfaithcox) on
Over the next wee while, I’ll be featuring a few creative types on my blog. They’ll talk about why they create and how the process works for them. Watch this space…
Do you create? Are you creative?
(PS. I love the way my title, “create, if” sounds like a German person saying the word “creative”, hehe. I LOVE accents)
A photo posted by Rachel Cox (@rachelfaithcox) on
At thirteen years of age, I thought confidence could be bought and worn.
It was a black dress with an attached tartan ra-ra skirt that held all the power.
I knew it was the key to social glory at the upcoming school social. I knew that if I could just wear that dress, accessorised with carefully scrunched long socks and black karate shoes (de rigeur in 1987) …every person in the room would sigh with envy. Marvel at my meteoric rise to uber-coolness. Like in the movies. I knew that in that dress, all my adolescent problems would be solved.
My mother hated it. She thought the dress was cheap and nasty, too short, altogether wrong on every level. Somehow, I convinced her. The dress was bought. My social success was assured.
School socials were hot and steamy affairs in the tropics. The air was thick with the smell of Impulse body spray and teen sweat. Palm fronds decorated the breezeway under the stilted classrooms; our makeshift dance hall. Beats and synthesized riffs pumped out of the speakers. A swarm of coral colours and pimply faces hovered around the sound system. It was high excitement. I could feel my pulse fluttering in my neck as I walked into the crowd of teenage energy.
“Carrot!” rang out from the cool girl huddle as I walked past. Laughter from the gaggle of girls buzzing around the Queen Bee.
“Carrot!” she hooted, staring straight at me. I was confused. I leaned in,
“Are you talking to me?” I asked loudly, over the music, my smile hovering. I was unsure but a little eager to even have airtime with Her Social Highness. I didn’t know what she meant by ‘carrot’. She laughed like I was the stupidest creature ever born.
“I’m going to call you Carrot from now on, because you always look like you’ve got a carrot RIGHT UP YOUR ARSE!”. She and her friends fell about laughing. One mimicked my walk. I tried to evaporate away into the shadows of the palm leaves. Suddenly ridiculous in my dress, my socks, my attempts to fit in. And conscious for the first time of the way that I walk. Wishing I could stand stock still until they were all gone. Knowing I couldn’t enjoy the dance floor, or life itself, with a theoretical carrot up my arse. It didn’t matter what I wore. A dress wasn’t enough.
By my forties, I’d discovered that confidence is a choice. Yes, it took me that long.
I discovered it when I did something well out of my comfort zone. I entered an Australian plus size modelling competition. The prize was a contract with Vivien’s Model Management. I didn’t win that competition, but I did win a contract; it was the start (or perhaps just a part) of the life-long process toward feeling confident in my own skin. It seems that mature, curvaceous, giraffe-ish ladies are needed in the fashion world. My speciality seems to be showcasing clothing for mid-life women with a bit of hip and sass. And doing that has built something beautiful in me. I am confident in who I am. Confident that I can be beautiful; me. With all of my flaws and all of my failings.
Working as a model has taught me so many things. But above all, I have learned that feeling beautiful is an inside job. It’s just a choice we make. A decision to believe that everyone can see the best of us, to let it shine even when we feel insecure. So, for me, confidence is just self-belief in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In the face of those millions of reasons why I feel unworthy about calling myself beautiful, the same reasons that cripple so many women. It’s listening instead to that small, insistent and compelling voice that tells me we all are beautiful. And that means, me too. If I could go back in time to my thirteen year old self on that night of adolescent embarassment, I’d whisper to her:
“-fake it, baby. Stand up tall, flash that mean girl a brilliant, dismissive, smile. Stride away, don’t skulk in the shadows. Just fake it til you make it, until the only person you need to impress, is you. Because one day, you will make it to that place. And it is going to feel amazing’.
On Saturday, I spent the day in that place. We were in the studio and design space of a renowned New Zealand fashion label, Euphoria Designs. We were shooting beautiful clothes from the new summer range, in a campaign that has me all excited about the future. Euphoria Design’s campaign selected ten ladies from their competition, ‘Confidence is Beautiful’. The entries were put to public votes, and between those (thank you if you voted for me!) and the judges deliberations, we were chosen. They were looking for a diverse group who would represent their customers, their world of wearable design. Our world, as fashion consumers. It is rare to see ourselves reflected in fashion media, regular & irregular women, diverse women. Women of various ethnicities, ages, heights, sizes, social status, health. Some fashion houses are ahead of others. Some fashion houses get it.
Monique Angus (designer of Euphoria clothing) is a woman who understands how important it is to show it. She herself is effortlessly elegant. The archetype of a classical beauty. And yet she comprehends the significance of diversity in fashion media. On Saturday she swished about the studio, quietly supporting all the girls, explaining her pieces, listening …and even clearing away our dishes. She is a thoughtful soul, with an eye for detail and a commitment to all the things that make New Zealand fashion great; quality, superb cut, beautiful construction and unique prints. Her clothes are simply gorgeous: drapey, elegant, quirky, interesting. And her campaign was simply lovely: inclusive, affirming, generous and encouraging. She made us all feel so special, so much a part of the Euphoria philosophy. I hope our pictures might encourage others to explore Euphoria, too. Monique has something for everyone, even when the budget is tight. I found such treasures in her outlet racks!
It was a very special day for me.
It’s a while since I’ve been booked for any commercial modelling, and my day with this campaign felt like a quiet confirmation. Whether it is over, or still beginning, I can do this. I love to do this.
Representing women of a certain age, women with curvier form, women who have taken a long time to discover their own beauty, women for whom confidence has not come easy… that lights me up.
(And if you, too, would like to see more diversity in fashion media, more women like the ones above modelling clothes on websites and in magazines; let your favourite brands know!)
A dress isn’t enough. Confidence comes from an active choice. And when you choose to step into your own kind of beauty, to own it, well then… that’s when a dress can truly do magic.
Recently a dear friend of mine told me her favourite quote. It is now one of mine. I hope it will resonate with you, too.
“We are not meant to be perfect, we are meant to be whole”
Let’s not waste a moment more on self-doubt. Whoever you are and whatever your story, you are beautiful. Just the way you are. Maybe you, like me, have moved on from that ‘carrot’ feeling. Maybe instead you’re in the unhappy-pear-stage, or feeling like an apprehensive-apple, or any one of the body shapes stylists love to group us into. Whatever it is, it’s sweeter than you realise. Stand up, square those shoulders, put a grin on your face and move that body like only you can. Listen to the voice inside you that speaks the truth of your beauty, not the many that speak only to bring you down.
Because when you are confident, it is a beautiful thing, it showers all of your inside sparkles onto the people around you, like glitter, like confetti. Like a celebration of something amazing. It would be a shame not to share it, right?
I’d love to know what gives you confidence.
Do you have it? How did you find it? Did it take you as long as me?
I haven’t talked much on this blog about pain. In fact, for a long time, I preferred to ignore the topic.
Many of my friends in the invisible illness community have concurrent diagnoses of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, and within my own family, my sister has been dealing with chronic pain for most of her adult life. It is a debilitating and exhausting challenge for the body and mind.
I previously had neuropathic pain with my Dysautonomia. Peripheral and abdominal mostly. And then I sustained nerve damage during a gynae surgery three years ago. However, the distractions of my primary diagnosis meant that it wasn’t immediately clear the surgery was the cause of my pain. I’d had a steroid injection to the site after the surgery, then gradually over time, my pelvic pain returned and increased. It affected my gait and had a dramatic impact on my mobility. Walking with a cane possibly exacerbated it, but without it I would have been unable to walk further than ten metres. It hurt so much. The pain extended from the left inner pelvis, down the middle of my left leg into my ankle. I found osteopathy helpful. I took pain medications (gabapentin and oxynorm) and modified my life. I thought that it was just another curve ball thrown at me by my dysfunctional body. I didn’t connect it with the gynae surgery. Or at least, not until after the six months of methylprednisolone infusions; when my pain disappeared completely. That’s when the lightbulb went on for me.
When an awful symptom is removed and you experience life, pain-free, it makes you acutely aware of how much it was affecting your life. I realised both how bad that pain had been and how long it had been bringing me low. As I weaned off the steroids, the pain returned. I had another, more minor, gynae surgery. This time, the pain post surgery was excruciating. I was certain that some medical misadventure had occurred. The specialist in the hospital explained that they couldn’t find cause for the level of pain I was in. I agreed that a referral to the pain team might be useful. I was in remission and just had this pelvic issue to sort out. Eager to get beyond it, I was keen to try anything.
The Gynaecology Pain Team have been so wonderful. I see an anaesthetist, a pelvic phsyiotherapist and a psychologist. They believe that pain is exacerbated by a number of factors, and first introduced me to the concept of complex regional pain syndrome. This is what my psych wrote in her last clinic letter:
“We concluded that following 32 years of neuropathic pain from [auto-immune neurological disorder -Pandysautonomia] and three years of neuropathic pelvic pain she will, in all probability, have central nervous system sensitisation”.
That just means that my nerve pathways over time have amplified my pain signals. My body is in pain, and the pain I feel is more extreme than might be felt in the same scenario by someone who hasn’t been experiencing chronic pain for a long time. The longer you have pain, the worse it feels. But don’t worry, things are in hand here; I am managing fine with all of the measures we have put in place. I have another surgery scheduled for August, when hopefully we will have a clear direction for treating the nerve pain. I am hopeful we can reduce it significantly.
I thought there might be others who can relate to this part of my story. If you want to read more about CRPS, look here. If you are in New Zealand and have been diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome too, you could join this facebook page. And for a quick overview of invisible illness (yes, CRPS falls into this category) have a look at this clever infographic by Victoria from www.burningnights.org. Thank you so much for sending me your infographic, Victoria.
The winter sun seeps thin and white through the cloud cover. The rains have been sporadic, like the tears of grief when not one year, but two have passed. When the irrefutable fact of her passing has seeped into your bones, and you know, there is no going back. The rain connects across the Tasman in great arcing fronts. Every year on this date, stretching between countries, across time, back to Kellie’s death, and to her friends and family. Reminding me that time is passing, but the grief doesn’t. It just changes, like the weather. Shifting the pressure and moving the isobars. Hail today, rain tomorrow. Some snow among the chilly grey.
I think of beautiful Kellie. Of how short her life was yet how much of a life force she was. I imagine her directing the weather like a Greek Goddess, goblet in hand, laughing at the storms. Revelling in the thunder and sending out lightning from her fingertips; her anger and joy all rolled into one vibrant and terrifyingly beautiful heavenly creature. Making her presence felt in the skies.
I think of her family with my own mother heart. It’s so unfair that they have to do life without her. I hope they are okay, two years into their marathon. I hope they are finding their own ways to keep her close, to remember and celebrate her astonishing vibrancy. I stand with her friends and family, across the ether, raising a glass in acknowledgement. That Goddess woman. Gone but never forgotten.
She was sunshine. Straight up, sunshine.
Here’s to you Kellie. X
(I like this version)
I love a good coincidence. I love the synergies between things and finding unexpected connections.
You who know me and know my story will understand the particular significance of the word ‘euphoria’ for me. Euphoria was my most significant side effect from the immune modulating steroids that put me into remission. I wrote about that here. Ah, such a buzz that was, and so nice to have a positive side effect from medications! It’s rare, you know, for the meds to produce something lovely! I like the synergy, that the med that made me happy also made me well.
So, euphoria and I were an established pair. And that bubbly happiness spread out across the joy of my remission, across the beginnings of becoming a plus size model. And then one day, I found myself in the uber cool flat of a brilliant photographer, Carolyn Haslett, who was going to do a shoot for me. She was so lovely. I felt really embarassed by my lack of knowledge about the high end plus size fashion scene. I mean, I’ve never really had budget for high end fashion, so my knowledge extended to bagging bargains and making style out of what you’ve got. And of course, when I was sick, there was very little call for fancy things. It was all comfort and practicality, perched up in my bed looking out at the world.
Carolyn is vastly experienced in the world of fashion, here and overseas. She was a patient educator. She chatted about Georgia Pratt, a plus size model she had photographed previously. Georgia is a forerunner for plus size modelling in New Zealand and is now wildly successful in the UK. Carolyn also told me about Euphoria Design. She told me how much I would love their pieces. We went upstairs to her rooftop and she took some photos. I love all the pictures she took, but the one above feels particularly breezy and confident, it’s one of my favourites from that day. I was wearing my beloved dress from TCD (another oustanding NZ fashion label for plus girls) and enjoying the whole experience. It was a day for stepping into confidence and learning to move my body for the camera. I learned so much, not just from shooting with Carolyn, but from analysing the photos with her later.
I looked up Euphoria Design when I got home, and joined their facebook page. I am always keen to support local fashion houses, and I wanted to know more about them. Their clothes made me swoon. Luxurious, flowing layers and unique signature prints, I loved them all. I was thrilled when they announced an end of season sale, such a great opportunity to pick up designer delights at a fraction of the new season prices. And then, one day, Euphoria announced they were running a competition. They were looking for ten ladies who exhibited the ideal that ‘Confidence is Beautiful’.
I was beyond excited! I rifled through my photos and found the one Carolyn had taken all those months before, up on her roof. James Taylor‘s song started floating through my mind… I uploaded my pic and wrote about that experience, strutting across the rooftop terrace, totally new to modelling, a novice at confident posing. I wrote about how confidence is a choice you make, to back yourself. And then, even though I will never be comfortable asking for votes, I shared and shared and hoped and hoped.
Last night, I got an email saying I was in! What a win for women like me, over forty, a little frumpy, a little frazzly, a little frightened about being thought ridiculous. We’re not ridiculous. We are beautiful, for all that we are, all that we do, all that we have experienced.
It made me dance up and down my hallway. I love this competition because it is all about the very thing I believe. We shine when we stand up with confidence and believe in ourselves. We are beautiful when we know ourselves and treat ourselves with kindness; we radiate positivity when we accept ourselves for all that we are and have been through. Beauty and confidence go hand in hand. It’s a feeling. It’s quite a lot like euphoria!
I sat down this morning to write this post because I knew you’d want to know how that competition went. And as usual, I went to my online graphic program, Canva, to make the blog graphic for the beginning of the post. I kid you not, look at the font name!
So thank you: Carolyn, for the image that helped me place among the winners, to anyone who voted, to Monique at Euphoria & Jane at Identify Marketing for choosing me…
…and thank you ‘synergy’, for making it all feel like a kind of cosmic kismet. I like that.
I’ve been doing some writing for another publication. I can’t publish it here because it’s exclusive to them, but if they choose not to use it, I’ll be popping it up for you to see. I enjoyed writing it so much!
It’s all about curves and confidence, and the circuitous path it took my soul to find a way for both to exist simultaneously in my world. When I was younger, I had no idea that curves would eventually be such a useful part of my self-esteem. I had no idea that the things I hated about my body would become things that I celebrate. How did that happen? How did I get from self-loathing to self-loving?
I had a massive reality check in the experience of living with Pandysautonomia. A gift of sorts, in the way that all the most memorable life learning can be simultaneously painful, difficult and uplifting.
It made me realise that there are body issues which transcend the petty concerns of comparison. It made me feel the sting of all the time I had wasted on self-criticism, there in front of the mirror, thinking about all the ways people would disapprove of my dimensions. So ridiculous. Mum used to tell me when I was a teenager, that most of the time, other people wouldn’t even be thinking of what my body looked like. That it was a kind of vanity to assume they were. I was convinced there must be others like me. That they were studying every other like-aged-girl to see what was ‘normal’, hoping that they could become it by studying it in all its minutae. Hoping to find the magic code for ‘cool’ so we could programme ourselves to be so.
I couldn’t be. I was far too tall and generous of beam to ever fit the narrow-hipped, slim legged archetype of the eighties fashion teen; those oversized tops and legwarmers only looked good on petite little things. I didn’t yet understand that being a six foot tall woman required a certain level of bravado. That you need to own your height, your wiggle. That the most uncool thing of all isn’t wearing a home-made dress, but being a mouseling in a giantess’ body. I had no idea that confidence and ease are the symptom of a simple choice you make. To accept your unique self, no matter how different you are to the established norm. Being free within your own expression of DNA to be your own kind of beautiful. I wish I’d known that back then.
I could have done a lot with my gorgeous young self that was left undone, all because I didn’t understand. No amount of wishing, dieting, exercising, hoping, slouching, yearning or moping was ever going to change the facts.
I am a giantess.
Fast forward to my middle age… I’m so proud of being built this way. My size has become a bankable commodity since I started plus-size modelling last year. My confidence comes from finally getting it. I’m this person. Who you see is me. All of me. I wear my love of cake in my curves. I wear my love for people in my smile and the wrinkles around my eyes. And I wear my heart on my sleeve, because that is just who I am. No filter. No problem.
Some people love these things about me, and others don’t… and that’s no problem too. I can’t change a thing about it. I’m happy, at last, in my own skin. Happy to be who I am, in a body that functions. Happy to be surrounded by people I love and to know that above all things, that’s the most beautiful thing of all. He tangata. Happy to be the age I am. To know the things I know. To leave behind me the pointless self-flaggelation of living to the standards of others. It’s a kinder, freer way to live. It makes space within my noisy head for more useful thoughts… the sort that create and feed and nurture me. Building me up to do the same for others.
I’m starting a hashtag across my social media, because I think we don’t celebrate nearly enough, all the ways that age can be ‘becoming’ to women. I’m all about the notion that beauty is relative to your soul, and sometimes, that takes a long time to understand. How are you letting age become you? What are you noticing about yourself that you finally GET, that you didn’t appreciate about yourself when you were younger?
The colours of the Yarra Valley in winter are muted. Misted vistas of gums and mountains …and the vines, stacked in soft green rows against the ochre earth. Layers of clouds roll across the skyscape, as if in competition with the beauty below. Look up! Look here! They roll and twist, jostling for the most beautiful arrangement. Australian skies are big skies, the cloud banks dwarf the landscape. I was mesmerised by them.
I went to Australia in search of respite. Thirsty for a change of scenery, a change of mindset, just a change from the daily drudge. I came here hoping for a new perspective. Hoping, if I am brutally honest, that I would want to return home again at the end of my holiday.
On Friday, with my eyes downcast, I watched the toes of my converse lace-ups scuffing along the back streets of a country town. It was early. I’m an urban girl, so to me it seemed utterly reasonable to go in search of an espresso at 7am. I moseyed off along the sleepy streets, following the blue mountain ahead of me. Tiny white curlicues of mist tickled at its edges. The night blanket of clouds was rolling back, ushered away and up by the sun. I felt transfixed by that small space of heaven, where the gold met the brooding gray. My breath misted in front of me and I felt that familiar heavy consciousness; I recognised that I had brought all of my urban angst here with me. Trailed it behind me as I jet-streamed over the Tasman.
I tried to slow my breathing, to slow my thoughts. I tried to name my anxieties and let them evaporate into the gilt of the new day.
The rhythm of my feet brought me past historic cottages, iron fretwork fencing, elaborate brickwork, local artisan studios, darkened cafes and gift shops. The air was crisp with the aroma of fallen leaves, the mountain reassuringly squat above the little town. Golden leaves gathered into drifts at the edges of the main street, swirling in little eddies down the alleyways. It was an old town, sure of itself and its place in the midst of this popular valley. So many gifts of nature and such abundance of produce. The tourists flock here year round, drawn by the wineries, galleries and a slower, more genteel way of life.
An elderly gentleman waved me in through his cafe window. He was a friendly relic from the hippie era, long hair and a handwoven hat. His old eyes seemed to know too much about me, but I stepped into the warmth regardless. He asked if I was looking for a hot drink. Gratefully, I accepted his offer of a cup of organic brew. We talked about his pretty spot there, overlooking the avenue of oak. He rustled up my coffee and began chatting with his next early riser. I fell into silence with my only my thoughts for company; contemplative. The benign presence of kind strangers was a comfort. I blew the steam from the top of my cup and asked myself the question that had driven me here, the haunting of my peace. The crossroads of my heart.
What choice do I need to make?
There is a song I have loved for a long time. A woman’s song. The lines of the impossibly beautiful melody danced through my mind. ‘Both Sides’ by Joni Mitchell. It’s about the juxtaposition of perspective. It’s innocence vs. experience. It’s how I feel about life right now. About wellness and illness, about mothering, being a wife, being in my forties, about my career. There is a bitter/sweetness to the understanding that life is all of the things; the beautiful and the frustrating, the happy and the unspeakably sad.
I spent a lot of time on that week away, looking at clouds. Chasing the kind of girlish freedom I’d had, once upon a time, when I was unfettered by responsiblities. It took most of the week for me to come to the realisation, once more, that all of my life has been borne of choice. I’ve chosen my reactions when I didn’t have control of circumstance, and I have chosen my life’s direction. The biggest choices are already made. I wasn’t choosing ‘for now’ I was choosing ‘forever’. Now, I can choose how I live with those choices. With an open heart, seeking the gilt edges of dark clouds, or with my eyes shut tight against the beauty that might be there. Love is hard. Life is hard.
As I blew the steam off the top of my cup, staring out through the glass panes of that little coffee shop, I chose to let the light in anyway.
I wish you the kind of clouds that remind you of angel hair. And also the kind that take your breath away with their severity and stormy brooding. I wish us all, the strength to look up, and forge ahead, honouring the choices of our hearts.
Are you like me? A tired mum, frazzled wife, maybe a bit lonely, hopeful, thoughtful …are you yearning for more ice-cream castles in the air? Here’s to you, and me, and the knowledge that what will be, will be.
This morning I woke up in my hotel room, feeling rested and calm. I stretched one foot out to the right, one arm out to the left, sliding them along the crisp white hotel sheets that I would never have to heave out of the washing machine. The smile spread from the corners of my mouth all the way to my ears while my eyes stayed shut. It was beautiful. I’d gone to bed at 9pm and my watch informed me that eleven hours had passed between. Eleven. Deep sleeping hours!
I woke, packed up my things and prepared for the day. I’m down in the hotel bar now having a coffee before I meet the beautiful Sarah, in person, at last. She’s an all-time favourite blogger of mine. The coffee was made for me by a barista who spoke about the complexity of the bean with an earnestness. I smiled at him, but thought about how I will not have to stack that cup in the dishwasher, or refill a kettle, or check the expiry date on that milk. Just drink it.
I am such a fan of Sarah, as a writer and a person. Meeting her is very important to me. I can’t wait to wrap her up in a big hug of thanks. To enjoy food and conversation with her and Annette from I Give You the Verbs! Dear Kate had to go and do some very exciting new work stuff, but you can check out her blog here (next time, Kate!) After our bloggy brunch, Miss Annette and I are lighting off for the Yarra Valley for a girls weekend. We’ll take the meandering way, and she promises that I can stop and take pictures to my heart’s content along the way.
This trip to Melbourne is something I’ve been longing to do for years. A chance to revisit my past, reconnect with people I haven’t seen for years and finally meet some I’ve been talking to online for a long time. But even more than the gorgeousness of all that, this trip, for me, is all about respite. I just needed to take some time out from all of the ‘adulting’ and be me, on my own, for a bit. The Rach who isn’t looking after anyone but herself, just for a few days. I need to mother myself.
I need to stretch out, on a big big bed, all alone. To stand next to my soul sisters and spread my arms wide to the sky. To sleep and wake when I feel like it. To please myself doing anything I feel like doing; compromise free. I’ve explored, I’ve shopped, I’ve chatted and I’ve been blissfully quiet. I’ve drunk wine, I’ve taken a trip down memory lane at my old boarding school, I’ve eaten anything and everything I feel like eating without a single bite being cooked by me.
It’s been gloriously selfish and deeply important for me to do all that.
When you become a mum, you don’t know that you are becoming something other than an ‘individual’. It’s something you have to learn. And once you have learned that by heart, there won’t be respite for a long, long time. My kids are now 8 and 11. The teenagers are now 17 and 18. The family has grown to a point that I’ve been able to set them up to manage their lives without me for a few days. The hubster is doing a stellar job with them. Their schedules are all being met.
I could probably have done this earlier, but I wasn’t internally strong enough to push for it. Sometimes, even with great families, it does take pushing for it. You have to fight for yourself the way you’d fight for your brood.
Respite is something we need to fight for as women, as givers, as mothers and wives. For the good of our souls, sometimes women just need a break from all the relational roles we carry. Freedom to just be ourselves, to turn the nurturing inward. To have a rest from all of that responsibility. That’s what I’m doing.
I highly recommend it.
It might not be a trip to Melbourne. Maybe, if you have one, it’s a visit to your Mum’s place. Or camping in the spring, all alone. Or a solo movie. It might be a journey to see your cousin, or a drive down winding country roads. Find your respite, sisters of mine. I promise it will feed your soul and bring you joy.
It might be easier than you imagine to make it happen.
Go on. Tell yourself to have and break and then, for goodness’ sake: go do what you’ve been told!
It’s heavy, this load mothers carry.
At first, it’s a gently moving tiny thing in your belly. A flutter of foetal fondness, the quiet beginnings of a whole new world. There might be a portent of things to come, as you grip the toilet bowl and heave into it. Maybe at some soul level it is a recognition, and the shock of it makes you suddenly sick. There might be an inkling that things are going to change in a big way as you find yourself asleep on the sofa before dinner, too tired to manage adult conversation. Your partner is suddenly solitary, watching their own shows, doing their own thing. Perhaps neither of you thought pregnancy would be like this. Maybe at some emotional level it, too is a recognition. You are going on a journey that even they can’t take with you; the slow drip of anaesthetic starts early, numbing the sadness of all the ways becoming parents can change a relationship.
And the moment after the birth, when you gaze over the precipice into your baby’s eyes, there is a knowing made broad by the pain of labour, a realisation that something has begun, something unmappable, unfathomable. Something that will probably take all of you, more even than birthing this baby did. In that moment it is clear that there is no pathway back to the land of before-motherhood. So you step back from the edge, sure that if there was such a thing as a life’s purpose, yours has been decided. You are a mother: you lift that feather-light load into your arms, and balance the responsibility on your shoulders, squaring them to the future.
I could bleat on about what they don’t tell you about motherhood, but it wouldn’t change anything. The truth of the matter is that motherhood, for me, and for millions of women like me, didn’t come naturally. I didn’t take to it like a duck to water. I couldn’t smile beatifically with baby on hip whilst I simultaneously slid a tray of buns out of the oven. The early years were jaw setting, teeth gritting, mind numbing tedium. I tried so hard to do it well. It mattered so much to me for it all to be just perfect. But I confess, I was a mess.
And all the while I’ve been mothering, trying hard to keep my ducks in a row; my career was stagnating, seeping into the nether. My body, altered for ever. That’s okay, you and your sisters-in-arms tell yourselves, because you recognise that mothering is an Important Thing. The type of humans you are unleashing on the world is an enormous responsibility. So you think deeply about what that means, and make detailed observations about character development, values, ethics… chore lists. You try, every dinner time, to incorporate conversations that go beyond the staples of mashed vs. smashed potatoes. Your greatest goals are for consistency and citizenship. You are a serious mother. You heave another layer of significance onto your burden. You won’t let society down, no sir. Your kids will be a gift to their world.
Sometimes, after dinner, scraping the food you only just put onto the plates, off the plates; your inner self crouches at the clifftop, eyes drawn deep down into the abyss. And when you are applying the toilet brush again, to poo skids that aren’t your own, or scraping up vomit, or fielding a phone call from a teacher about behaviour issues, or discussing playground politics, or staring at a pile of washing that seems to be stuck on a universal glitch, repeating ad infinitum… in those times, there is a yawning emptiness that tears apart the space time continuum. Threatening to pull you in. You can see something on the other side of the abyss. It seems nicer than where you are. And you know you need to resist it, the same way you need to do everything else.
Because if you don’t, who will?
In those times, the leaden weight of what you have taken on threatens to topple you. Your well meaning single friends will tell you to take a load off. Leave it to them! They say. They’ll manage! Take time for you! And you nod and tell them they are right, but your inner self is shaking her head and scoffing at you. Sure. Uh-huh. And when you return after they’ve been left to do it for themselves, who cleans it all up? Who makes it possible for the routines that keep things functioning? Who mops up the tears and has the conversations that need to be had? No, there is no respite from this choice you made. It isn’t a part time job. It’s equal parts love and loss, hope and fear, exasperation and care.
You carry it with you. It is you. It’s not simply what you do, it is who you are. It’s the motherload. Sometimes, the heaviness is not joyful and I do not feel grateful for it. I know I probably should. There are so many people I know who yearn for this. Or they think they do. I wonder if they would if they knew both sides of this blissful burden?
I write this in open honesty. I write it because I know there are other mummas out there dealing with this heaviness of heart. I don’t write it because I dislike my children, no, my love for them is fierce, my whole life is an example of what I would do for them, because I do it. They know my heart, by heart. I write it because I need to acknowledge that it is hard. I guess I just want to say that. In this world of carefully curated images of motherhood. My own is messy. I do my best. I hope it will be good enough, in the end. That my contribution to the world will be worth all the sacrifice, soul searching and sheer grit. But it’s a heavy load alright.
What are your thoughts on this?
I don’t have a bucket list. It seemed like a stupid thing to have when I was sick, like a pointless fantasy. So while the well-world went about inventorying all their possibilities, I thought more about the small things I would love to do when I was well. More baking for my family. Swimming in the ocean. Making memories of connection and authenticity; creating those little moments, that pieced together would someday provide comfort for the people I love. Like a soft woven wrap to draw around themselves when I am gone. Like I do with the memories of my mother.
But like all the things I never realised about the ‘well-world’, being in remission has me thinking about this bucket list phenomenon. I suspect the list I am developing is a ‘fuck-it list’ (pardon the crude word, but it rhymes and expresses my feelings in a satisfying manner!) I am seeing opportunities that I never would have taken on previously and thinking ‘…ah, fuck it. Why not?’ Things that never would have been on my radar before I got sick, because, let’s face it; who in their right mind would want to rock climb inside a mountain?
The thing is, if I can go through all those years of sickness, I can do most things. And yesterday I figured if I could put this fat body in front of a camera, I could put it on a caving expedition too.
Let me preface with the fact that the last time I climbed anything was a tree when I was a teenager. I’m not agile, I’m not yet fit. And I am carrying a lot of weight, even for my 182cm frame. I’m 110kg. So when we arrived at the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co. in Waitomo (I was with our friend Tatijana from Macedonia, and CC from China) the plan was to glide on black inner tubes through the cave rivers, under the glow worms. It was a real disappointment to discover that the rains had flooded out all but one expedition: the most challenging of the three expeditions, the extreme 5 hour Odyssey caving adventure through the heart of the mountain. Humouring the girls (both teeny creatures), I agreed to see if I passed the ‘fit test’, where you have to physically force yourself through a tiny low tunnel constructed in the ticket office. It bends around a corner and the theory is, that if you can fit through there, you can fit through the cave crevasses on the trip. Inside the fit tunnel, I had a little hyperventilation moment. Two young tourists I didn’t know giggled at my predicament. I said no to joining Tatijana and CC on the trip.
We went for lunch at the nearby Huhu cafe. It was delicious. I enjoyed a glass of wine with my lunch, and as I sipped, our waitress (who summers as a cave guide) wanted to know why I wasn’t joining my companions on the climb. I explained the fit test squeeze and she said her partner who is bigger than me could get through the mountain, so I could too. And besides, the tightest bit is only ten minutes long (puh! says my hindsight!). Was it her? Was it the wine? Was it the encouragement of my tiny and enthusiastic companions? We went back to base, I spoke with the cave instructors, and I signed up.
Even when they attached my harness and ropes to me, I didn’t really think about why we needed them. Even when they put the helmet on my head, and passed me some men’s size tens, I didn’t really think about what was ahead. I suspect my brain had ceased all extra function, I was already into the first challenge of my trip, and I was all denial. It’s nothing I thought, it’s been done before, it will come to an end… it’s fine. Thoughts ominously reminiscent of going into labour.
About five minutes into the cave, I had to bend double to fit under a rocky outcrop. “I hope there aren’t too many of these” I thought, clueless. At that point, my feet were still on flat ground and I had balance in my favour. For the next two hours, I would be squeezing my generous self through the narrowest spaces, balancing all my weight on one toe, or holding myself up with my weakling abs and two fingernails. It was a kind of torture. The girls ahead forged on, laughing and chatting with the instructor who was guiding them. My instructor, Tim, calmly pointed out footholds he liked to use. Inside my head, there was a litany of swear words for Tim and his favourite footholds. I wrestled my long, large self, up, over and under the bumps and edges of limestone, willing myself onward. Sometimes, my legs were so weak I had to lift them by pulling on the fabric of my overalls. Sometimes Tim would push my foot into a hold, and once, he planted his hands on my bum and pushed me upward. I was so horrified I lost my grip and slithered back down the slippery rocks; he broke my fall.
“I’mfhotyu!” (I’ve got you!) he tried to say, but his voice was muffled by the arse in his face. It was not my finest moment on (in) the planet.
The two hours of ‘squeeze’ replay in my memory as a kaleidoscope of close up views of rock. The feeling of rocks pushing against my back and diaphragm, the pain of resting all of my weight on my knees or hands, the scrape and panic, the trap and terror. But just like labour, I kept going, thinking that the only way ‘out’ is to keep going onward. I tried to focus on my breathing, on the circle of light from my helmet. I looked intently at each section of rock in front of my nose, refusing to let myself lose it.
“Attach your clippers now” said Tim. His voice even and controlled. I looked down. Beneath me, maybe four or five storeys down the crevasse, was a roaring river. Between me and the end of the trip was more rock, more rope, more dizzying heights. There were intermittent slippery little metal staples to hold or stand on, and every couple of meters, we had to unclip and clip our safety harnesses from one section of rope to the next. Sometimes, to do that, we had to lean outward and use our body weight to make the ropes taut. I could hear the roar of the rising river below us and the hammering of my heart. Twin thunder shouting at me to ‘get out!’. I intended to.
Twice, we had to trust our harnesses and swing out into space. Once, we abseiled. Neither were things I have ever done before. I panicked with the abseiling. The rope burned the print from my palm because I was gripping it so hard. I was far beyond my maximum ability to keep pushing on, and yet I was. Tim was ahead now, and had cheerily set up afternoon tea at the bottom of a gully. I lurched into the space and sat my shaky self down. I swallowed the sugary cordial in great gulps, it tasted so good! Ems, the other guide, fastened her big brown eyes on us. “Want the good news, or the bad?” she asked. I couldn’t respond, I just stared at her. We had taken three hours to traverse the first half of the course. There was at least one and a half to two hours ahead, of even higher terrain. I looked down at my shaking legs and hands, wondering how I could do it. And she said “there is a way out from here if you need it”.
Striding forward, up the spiral pathway to the outside, my body surged with new energy. I was going to see the outside! I tore of my helmet, and stepped out into the air. The wind whipped my hair sideways. The pale sky rained over my face and muddy caving gear. I tipped my face upward and grinned at myself. I didn’t give a monkey’s about not making it the whole way, I was utterly delighted that I hadn’t died, wrapped in rock, pinned under the mountain. I was free.
I don’t think I will ever try caving, abseiling or rock climbing ever again, but I am glad I did.
As I write, my arms ache from the push and pull of my afternoon underground. My limbs are bruised and swollen, but my self-belief is soaring.
So, I caved. And I caved in. And I made a memory with Tatijana and CC that none of us will ever forget. A small piece in the tapestry of our lives that will connect us forever. And for me, more proof of the universal fact that we are never what we have always thought we were. We can do things that we imagine we can’t. We don’t need to limit ourselves because we are fat, or unfit, or fearful -or any other combination of self-limiting descriptors. If any of these things are holding you back, maybe you should start a ‘fuck-it’ list, too.
I’d just like to acknowledge all the beautiful people I know who are still pushing through the relentless difficulties of being sick, or caregiving for someone who is. Climbing through the mountain yesterday was so hard, but even at it’s worst, in the seconds of sheer terror, it was not as hard as the long journey through Dysautonomia. I tip my helmet to you, because you are the true boundary pushers. You are the endurance athletes. You are the explorers who discover ways to live with meaning through all that struggle. Two words for you my friends.