Bent not Broken

The doctor fixed me with an unswerving gaze.

“I know you are not broken, just bent.”

And then she told me how she knew – something I have not forgotten over the past twenty-two years.

When someone is completely broken, she told me, the mind shatters and the patient doesn’t have enough mental cohesion to think of other people. They are entirely focussed on their own survival.  Their mind has nothing left to navigate the course of reason or sympathy for those around them.

I had presented to the good doctor with my two-month-old baby, after a minor car accident. The baby was fine, but when the doctor asked me how I was doing I burst into tears. She offered me tissues and reassured me as she wrote the script for Prozac.

“You were reluctant to tell me you were upset because you desperately didn’t want to be separated from your kids,” she said as she wrote Post-natal Depression on her script pad.

“Those who are extremely unwell shuffle in here not caring about what happens to anyone else, they just want me to do something to help them! Your mind isn’t that broken it’s just a little bent out of shape.”

I remembered this story as I visited my husband in the garden of the Respite where he was staying. It was a beautiful late winter afternoon and we were sitting on the bench in the sun under the Magnolia blossoms while other patients were sitting on the villa’s verandah stairs sipping milky cups of tea.

I was smiling but sniffing, my arm around his shoulders. His eyes were glassy and unfocused. I told him as gently as I could that he was unwell, but he was very much loved and he would be home soon.

But for now, rest. Respite. For both of us.

It was not the time for arguments about why I hadn’t been able to see him or know where he was staying. I had asked three times for details and they refused to tell me anything. I tried to explain again and again – I’m his wife, I love him, in sickness and in health.

If they had told me his condition and that he wasn’t able to see me right now, I would have understood and let him be. After all, every time he’s been to Respite it’s the same old dance routine. At first, relief that he’s safe, then gratefulness that he’s in good hands and I can quietly go about trying to heal myself, and then lastly shame and pain as I realise he’s not well enough to want to see me.

I understood this. I am battle weary but wise. What I didn’t understand was the way the Mental Health system was dealing with the situation. In their treatment of me, the grief-stricken still in shock wife, they re-traumatised me. No one rang from community health to ask how I was. They simply didn’t care, but as painful as that was, my biggest concern was why they kept treating me as an enemy and not checking to verify the information he had given them in a highly distressed state.  I couldn’t help but wonder why they would threaten his loving home whilst he was in Respite. Why malign the person who is willing to be there when the shit hits the fan and continue the marriage?   Why shame me so completely that forgiveness and healing are painful to contemplate. Why pick sides?  Simply put, where would he live after Respite if they were successful in presenting the situation as a complete relationship breakdown?

As someone told me from deep inside the organisation, they didn’t have that information and they weren’t going to ask for it, preferring instead to hide behind confidentiality concerns. Of course, the fact that I had previously made a formal complaint against those within that organisation could have had something to do with their stance.

Whilst the professional helpers were talking about facilitating an agreement they forgot to check whether the ill one and the relatively sane (though I confess pretty angry!) wife wanted to continue on with the marriage.

Despite my anger and shame after he went into Respite, I confirmed that the first thing was to get him mentally stable and then we could calmly address the issues. But I was in possession of the knowledge that only the night before he disappeared he had said he loved me. He had also said he wished he’d never been born and had been experiencing significant mental distress.

I suspect their split-second assessment of the situation was that there was a distraught man who had been involved in a domestic dispute.

The truth remains, rational people, do not disappear for two days, sleep in the car, go bush, turn off their phone and ensure they are not found, after a fight with their wife. Typically, angry but rational men, will head off to a mate’s place, trash-talk her till the wee hours maybe sink a few beers, and then come back to try and sort things out the next day. But then rational people also remember the entire conversation (including my angry instruction to go to a friend’s house) and remember that they have adult sons and good friends to whom they can go in a crisis.

But the experts didn’t ask those questions. Perhaps they were too rushed, or too pressured or under-resourced. Or perhaps they were simply too young, too inexperienced, too lacking in life experience. Or perhaps they were covering their professional arses.

Those who know us well, know that we love each other deeply and that despite the challenges we want to be together. After all, we promised to, in sickness and in health.

On that sunny winter’s afternoon, we sat in that garden quietly talking.  As we sat there a young patient shuffled over to us. She was obviously heavily medicated and she spoke haltingly.

“Is that your partner?” She asked my husband.

“I’m his wife,” I quietly informed her.

She stared straight into my eyes and said:

“You have the most incredible bond.”

Thank God she could see it.

That bond (and God) is the reason that now, a month or so after the crisis, we are now healing together at home, after our visit to hell. In the past month, we have moved through pain and anger and grief with the help of his n hers psychologists. Good ones! We’ve taken time to reflect and reconsider and pray and try again.

Outside my window, the blossoms are forming on the cherry tree and there are white lilies and daffodils in the garden. It’s a new season outside, a new beginning, just as it is inside this little home.

 

 

 

Things I learnt whilst walking the big, black dog

I have a big black dog. Yes,  in the flesh as well as metaphorically.

Each day I attempt to walk him around our neighbourhood, though this very rarely turns out well. In actuality, I am the hair and red cheeks at the end of the lead as Dog (with a very big D) races off to discover the sensory wonders of a leftover ham sandwich that picnickers have left behind.

He’s a good dog. A loving dog with a big tongue and a gentle mouth. He’s quite simply the largest Labrador pup I’ve ever seen, let alone welcomed onto the end of my bed. It’s not that he doesn’t have his own bed, in fact, he has two, but most nights you will find him stretched out between the husband and I snoring loudly enough to wake the dead. He is a good dog though. He is the very best lawn licking, knicker nicking pup there is, and he often teaches me things as he drags me along the suburban streets hair first.

Today was rubbish day. It was a warm but not stifling morning. Clouds sat on the horizon too content to rumble or race . I walked Nitro down the hill past the faux-castle (yes, we are a nation of funny folk) and around the corner towards the track that wends its way over the headland down to the Marina. I learnt many, many things about my neighbours today.

1/ My neighbours like wine. And Bombay Sapphire. And milk.  Lots and lots of milk bottles in the recycling. Does the milk consumption ameliorate the alcoholic consumption?

2/ If one should rise in the clothes they’ve slept in (none) one does not need to pull the curtains. One should greet the sun in the altogether and as they do smile at the rubbish man and the woman with the frizz challenged hair walking the dog. I have some pretty unattractive neighbours.

3/ Dogs have a sixth, seventh and eighth sense, but it’s their ninth sense I want to focus in on. Dogs sense evil. Whether supernatural, human darkness, or rabid feline, dogs sense it. There can be no other reason why my puppy duppy stood dead still on the street and barked at a gate. If I’d let go of the leash he would have eaten that gate and spat out the bolt. He might have licked the letterbox for afters…but what was he barking at? No one was there. No one. Not a cat or dog or noxious human. What was he barking at? Resident evil. That’s my pick.

4/ Seagulls can fly, dogs can not. Shame. Suck it up buttercup. In this sucky life, there will always be seagulls, and some of us will always be Labradors.

5/ Midlife angst is alive and well and rearing to go at about 80km per hour in a 50 km zone. I’m assuming the decibel rating of his raceway scream up the road is directly inverse to the size of his manhood. Middle age sucks but please don’t kill a couple of kiddies in your quest to prove your virility.

6/ What’s wrong with people who put out ONE rubbish sack? One. One little bag. It wasn’t even full. Do these people live? Do they bleed? Are they real? One…? I’m still trying to get my head around that as I cross the street with two of my sacks and casually place them in my neighbour’s lineup. And when I nonchalantly push the jangling recycling bin out to the kerb. We have lots of jars and um, cordial bottles.

7/ Little lap dogs don’t pooh. Apparently. That’s the only explanation I have for discovering thousands of cheerio turds along my route. Their owners mustn’t notice when Todd needs a sit. Perhaps they’re checking their phone? Interesting how it’s always little poohs that aren’t plonked into doggy bags and removed. We know because it’s always the little ones that Nitro hoovers up before I have a chance to stop him.

8/ A good life is full of many little things, and in order to really squeeze the marrow out of this life, we should sniff and bite and sometimes inhale every single paspalum sprig, and every single fern. Though Nitro’s determination to sniff every single little thing means my walk around the neighbourhood takes so long I could possibly do it quicker on hands and knees than whilst walking him, he has taught me something. What if we were to stop and mindfully experience our lives instead of just marching on, how much better would our lives be?

I have a big black dog. On good days and bad days, I walk him around the carefully kept gardens of Half Moon Bay. I peer not-at-all-creepily through windows of empty houses and wonder where the people are and I puzzle at the vagaries of the weather that sweeps in off the harbour. With the help of my big Black Dog I see everything, hear everything and feel everything.

I have a big black dog, both actually and metaphorically. It’s a blessing and a curse, but at least I know I am truly alive.

Death of a Blog

Kiwi modern storyteller

I guess it’s sad to start with a death. But, in truth most new things do start with the ending of something else.

In the words of the song – every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

I decided at the beginning of the year that Vegemitevix was to be quietly and humanely put to sleep.

After all, I can’t relaunch as Vicki Jeffels Author and start this blog without saying goodbye to the old Vixen.

Rebranding is quite involved, as any marketing consultant will tell you, and I’m still working on changing all the social media accounts and organising redirects. Vegemitevix.com is still up but more as a headstone than something alive and dynamic. In time, I will quietly turn the life support system off and it will cease to be.

But oh the memories will live on.

Not least of which because some of them have been captured in my book From Pavlova to Pork Pies which was published late last year.  Other memories will live on in our heads, as contrary to perceived wisdom things don’t live on the internet forever – we are so bombarded by information from every quarter only the truly relevant remains vital. The rest will fade away, gracefully. Just as the old gang has faded from view.

I lecture in Digital Marketing now and when I consider the blogging hey-day of 2008-2012 I am in awe at what we achieved. Young bloggers have no idea how much easier it is now to get started and to turn professional. Back then, the majority of ‘Mummy bloggers’ were trying to keep their career lives happening whilst raising the kids, and we fought hard to be taken seriously. When brands asked us to blog about shampoo and offered a bottle as payment, we sent it back. We said ‘thanks but no thanks’ to SEO opportunists who demanded backlinks for ‘the exposure’. ‘Just think of the exposure’ they’d say. We’d laugh into our keyboards. Who did they think we were? Numpties?

Blogging was very much a community activity back then. We would all comment on each other’s posts and share the love around far and wide. It wasn’t unusual to have over 40 comments on a blog post, these days you’re lucky to get two or three. We developed writers’ groups (Remember Judith’s Room?) and clubs – BritMums, NetMums, Kiwi Mummy Bloggers – and we supported our mates. Somehow it was all more social and less competitive back then. More grime and giggles more wine than whine.

These days things seem so much tidier. Less messy. Perhaps, less real?  I haven’t decided if this is all image and artifice or whether it really is a change in how we live now. Do we all now live in our competitive little, sanitised bubbles? Are the Insta posts in their glossy styling and careful curation simply a reflection of our tidy lives?

During a recent howling storm in NZ some kindy kids in Thames were let out to play in the rain. They had a ball; jumping in puddles, squelching through the mud, and sliding down the slippery slide. Someone took video of the kids playing and shared it on social media. At the time of writing that video has had over 27 million views. Why? Because kids don’t often play like that anymore. They’re not allowed to play that way. They’re ferried by anxious Mums to after school activities or escorted home to a nice clean play on ipads and tablets. Playing in the storm was seen as dirty, slightly dangerous play, a rebellious expression of freedom. Kudos to the parents and the staff involved who had the courage to let kids get dirty and who didn’t give a flying frittata about being seen as ‘bad Mums’.

But it’s not just this generation of kids who’ve changed, their mothers (and fathers) have changed also. We seem to all be shy of getting mud on our clothes or wearing the wrong clothes and God forbid seeing that image displayed on social media! So many of us still curate the stories we share. We present a brand sanctified, ultimately safe stream of stories on our social media.

But some of us old storytellers still linger, fingers on the keyboard, humour honed, razor wit sharpened. We’ve done the nice, the nuanced, the brand beautiful and we’ve learnt that though we gained audience we lost authenticity. Blogging isn’t so much about brand engagement for us anymore, it’s more about good old fashioned soul speaking, storytelling. And in the best stories, there’s always a bit of blood, sweat and tears.

I turned 49 the other week. That was a shock. I keep thinking that I’m still the Vixen of 39 yrs old fighting the world for her cubs, and then I pass a mirror and realise, although the vixen’s still there, she’s greyer now and a little thicker around the middle. We all change, we all grow older, some of us even grow wiser. (I’m working on that). But I’m no longer an expat mummy blogger. We’ve returned home and the kids are all but grown up. Two of my three kids have left home and the baby (the baby!) is in her last year at school.

And so, it’s  time for a new chapter. I’m writing more, with another series at the plot planning stage, and I’m teaching, sharing my learnt lessons. This vixen may not need to growl at the world to protect her kits anymore but she can still hold her own. I’m no longer dependent on brands so I will speak my soul and tell my stories and, importantly, I’m not frightened of being seen to be a little bit messy.

I’d love it if you came with me as I navigate changing careers, the empty nest, the middle years, and the next stage of my crazy life.

Vix x

NB/ I’d love it if you signed up to my mailing list and followed my page on Facebook and on Twitter and Instagram.