Women and emotional health – lets work together


helpI’ve only had one mentor in my working career. When we got to the third session I veered off into private world territory and they quickly reminded me we are not hear to talk about that. Safe to say session four didn’t get a look in.

When Nicola Roxon was announced as the Federal Attorney General a while back I expressed my admiration for her via twitter. The only response I received was from a friend correcting the spelling of Nicola’s surname. Nothing worse than promoting yourself as a writer that cant spell.

When Nicola announced her resignation I took to my phone wanting to express the same admiration but I couldn’t find the words. There are a lot of old woman in shopping centres reminding the parents who wander around in a daze that they grow up too soon. That the time spent teaching them the little things will move past in a blur and we will find ourselves telling the next generation to slow down, it moves too fast.

Working Mums Masterclass announced their mentor list for 2013 and my little picture takes pride of place on that page. Penny, who owns WMM, listened to the career I’d had and the experiences I’d survived as a mum and asked me to work with mums, to promote good mental health and to explore the challenges of teetering on the edge of that old chestnut, the work/life balance. To be honest the balance isn’t possible. Not just because of the multitude of responsibilities that pull us in every direction but because the playing field changes on a daily basis. We can’t balance out what we can’t predict, all we can do is learn some skills to develop resilience, to look after our minds and to find ways to move forward.

For me, when I first became a mum the work/life balance was non existent. I worked and then looked after my girl. There was little space for a life in between that and to be honest it was my saviour. My chance to be in the workforce, to be more me than I could be at home, to earn and provide for my daughter and to feel good that I was achieving even if it was just writing policy documents that would never see the light of day.

Fast forward five years and the arrival of my son saw me playing a whole different ball game. Acknowledging the busy-ness of the kids, the need to reassess my career and the teetering across the slippery slope of change pushed me out in to areas where some days it was more life than work and vice versa. It suits me to mix it up. I’m not on the see-saw anymore, I think I’m on that thing that spins so fast it takes a day for your eyes to adjust.

Nicola’s heartfelt speech, her acknowledging about how much time would be lost if things didn’t change was comforting and sad at the same time. I did think for a fleeting moment  but she’s has given up so much because the work that would have been required to get to the role would have been immense but on the flip-side the option to do what you love and be home for the good stuff is just as valid. Its also her playing field now, not forever.

Reaching out to people who recognise what playing field you are on, what you need to keep you out there or conversely what you need to take a break is what mentors do. Work/life balance gets thrown out there in most articles about women and careers. Balance doesn’t have to be a dirty word, it can be the key to making choices you never thought you had.

Click here to make an appointment with me.

Have you ever had a mentor? Was it a positive experience? 


The see-saw of hope

There are a few words that creep into our sentences, into the conversations we have in our hearts and minds each day. Those words tend to change and flex as we grow, as our vocabulary widens and we begin to understand the words we use.

My seven year old tends to use ‘actually’ with a hand firmly placed on her hip these days. Im hoping that will soon be replaced by a word not sponsored by Nickelodeon.

I was reading by the pool yesterday. Highlighting the important words with my crayon as I’d left my highlighter 800 kilometres away on my cluttered desk. Hope in a time of global despair was the chapter that caught my interest on that lazy Saturday afternoon.  Hope is a word that creeps into most peoples stories about now, then and beyond. We hope for good outcomes when we cook a meal, when we accept a job, when we get bad news about our health, when we live with sadness. Hoping for the fog to lift, for the light to shine and for the feeling that comes with hopefulness to carry us through. Strangely despite the over-use of the word there has never been much written about it – its like hope sits atop the seesaw of the local park with despair quietly waiting on the other end. My job as a mum has found me perched in the middle more often than not, trying to keep the kids balanced until they both grow to be similar heights and weights. My hopefulness and hopelessness oscillates when working with families yet I am always cautiously optimistic that people will find new ways to thrive.

The author explored hope through her life as a therapist but also as a woman living with cancer

‘hope can be a wish, an expectation of something desired. I hope I live the six months until clementines (the fruit in her neighbours yard) reappear. Last winter, unbeknownst to me, my partner froze a batch of clementines and we ate them like popsicles in July ‘you have lived to eat clementines again’ he said as we savoured the cold, sweet, orange sections and the moment’.

The key to hope, in all its functions, is that it exists in the minuscule and majuscule moments of life. Embracing hope serves as a tool to balance out the despair. Some of us tend to sway towards being indifferent to the feeling of hope – its a natural way to exist -whereas others tend to sit amongst the feelings of hopelessness looking for ways to search out a way to shuffle up and balance out the see-saw.

Both sensations – of hopefulness and hopelessness – are profound, they are part of our lived experiences.

Which side of the see-saw do you tend to exist on?

Weingarten, Kaethe (2007) Hope in a time of Global Despair in Flaskas, McCarthy & Sheehan; Hope and Despair in Family Therapy, UK.
Image from here

The C word…

A few days ago I took a little excursion to a suburb Id never been to, to collect a book that I needed. On the way home I was mulling over the conversation Id had with the nice man that I’d collected the book from. In the middle of my brain fog I missed the exit off the freeway and then had to drive on, way past where I lived only to finally turn round, drive back and then miss my exit coming in the other direction. Epic fail.

I’d mentioned to the man what I needed the book for, what I was studying. When I mentioned ‘missing’ he mentioned the C word. Closure. Ive had a few families like this one point out their disdain for the word and I think driving home I was wondering what other words we shouldn’t say. And then I got to thinking about who makes the rules about what we can and cant say.

My girl, in the infinite wisdom of a almost 7 year old, likes to point out words that belong on the can/can’t say list. She has a whole heap of them that she adds and takes away from the list depending on her mood and what might have slipped out of my mouth. Chubby is her forbidden C word, its always been on her list despite her strong desire to watch the Biggest Loser while eating Maltesers. She’s cant spell irony just yet.

I was trying to work out how we all make the list of the right and the wrong words, they seem to attach themselves to people as we grow but more so as we encounter new life experiences. Loss and trauma will do that to you, a conversation can be a virtual minefield of word based bombs. Ive dodged a few in my time….like most people have. Sometimes the need to say the right thing makes you say the complete opposite. Working in the mental health field before moving to missing I noticed how many words litter our vocabulary that paint a pretty crap (apparently that’s a good C word) picture of how we view people that are struggling with poor mental health – crazy, loon, psycho. We throw them around without thinking what power they have. When I started working with families who had lost someone I was cautious about how I discussed things, not to use flippant cliches and not to do dumb stuff like calling a dad by the name of his missing son. More than once.

The thing is no words are ever going to be right, we cant all be conscious of how our words can be misinterpreted when our overall message is one of support or love but we can be open to hearing about what words really rub people up the wrong way. To learn more about how they are heard by others. I was waiting for a friend at the movies last night and lurking on twitter thinking about my shakespearian twist on what comes out my mouth when this quote grabbed me, and then I realised it doesn’t matter how we say things, it matters that we reach out in the first place.

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

John Maxwell

Do you have words that you cant stand? Do you tell people not to use them?

Riding in cars with…kids.

Image from here

When trauma and loss happen most of us know what to do. We know who to call, where to seek help and what we can (kind of) expect about the ways to cope. I guess we’re the ambulance chasers of our own experience.

But what happens to kids when life and all its catastrophes happen?

Catastrophes in a kids world can be big and small – they’re not proportional to ours. They have different meaning and the lens by which they explore them doesn’t match with the life lessons we’ve endured.

Centuries ago when I started working as child protection caseworker I did a whole lot of training on how to talk to kids, the ways to build rapport with a small person that had never laid eyes on you before. I cant imagine how scary that would be for a small person to be expected to bare their soul to someone – but I do know that being a place of safety for a kid overrides that fear of stepping into their lives for the first time.

Every Friday night my daughter and I drive a small distance to her dance class. We changed classes this year to a spot that was a few minutes walk away but I realised that in doing that I missed the chance to talk. Its funny to watch a 6 year old grappling with her identity, how quickly some kids are able to reflect on the who’s, whats and whys of their existence. In the driving to and fro we created chances for random, but meaningful conversation.

We started back at that place a little further away this term. As each Friday night looms I think of 1000 reasons why Id prefer to be at home with my Ugg boots on but once we’re set, when a small person has been dropped to his cousins and bigger girls are OK to wait for Dad to get home from work I relish in the talk of the journey.

Its been on these trips that Ive been able to explain divorce, explain the difference between Daddy and Dada, the reasons why its Ok to be married to 2 people (but hey not at the same time. This isn’t Dr Phil) and about what makes us happy and sad. Its not all drama, its all the places in between.

It was raining on Friday, the streetlights were bright and they smeared across the windscreen, the singing between her and I to songs that probably arent suited to a 6 year old were belted out. She cleared her throat and said ‘mum, tell me about you as a kid…do you think you were as funny as me?’.

Riding in cars with kids can create the chance to stare out the window and solve the dilemmas of the world.




Giving power to the loveliness

I had a story published at Daily Life this week. It had been a story that had been rattling around in my head for a long time. Its something that Ive been pondering when I study – its about the fact that if we are all going to experience some type of loss, at some time in our lives, why dont we talk openly about living in that space after the loss has happened?

I think there is a common thread through our desire to hear people’s real stories – to hear the nitty gritty details, why the news is so invasive, why we watch people having microphones pushed into their faces to give us the scoop on just how it is they will go on. We then mutter to ourselves that we dont know how they’ll survive – that if we were in their shoes then we wouldn’t be able to cope. I cant even type the things that Im frightened about losing in my life, its too awful a place to go to.

The thing is people are still walking, talking, ordering coffee and going about their lives in spite of what has happened to them. Chances are that if we ask a person about their life they will have a story (or 7) about something catastrophic that happened to them at some point or continues to happen to them. But we dont ask ‘whats your tips for surviving, well?’. We either say nothing or shake our heads and give our condolences.

The story I wrote included some thoughts from Ingrid. Ingrid came to talk at my work a few weeks ago, she finished up her hour long chat by reminding us that in the midst of all the awfulness the world was still out there, that it was still a beautiful place and that despite what had happened to her she would continue to believe that. Turning off the news, closing the paper and not honing in on the trauma wont stop us from remembering that it happens – it will go on regardless – but it might make us take notice of the lovely things that are still here, not gone.

What do you think?

Is resilience an innate skill that we all have lurking somewhere in side of us – waiting to jump out??

The backstory

image from here

I was reading an article while my boy slept on the backstory authors have in the process of writing a book. The little pieces that get you to the point where you are ready to begin the story-telling.

I can remember a few months back when I talked about people’s little bio’s. The little snippets of themselves they give in three sentences or less when they meet someone new. Im thinking of starting a new one as I discovered this week that someone typed into google ‘can a baby be born in space’ and found my blog. Astronaut is the new addition to my bio.

Both blogging and life often start with a backstory. A reason to explain where you are, how you arrived here and what you’ve got to say about it. I notice that most of the time when people start a blog its born out of something that happened to them that shapes them into the writer they are today. Some of the backstories come from places of trauma and sadness, of the need to overcome adversity or just an attempt to make meaning from their loss. Sometimes in the sharing of the backstory the unravelling of what brought them to that moment becomes clearer.

I was having a text chat with an old friend (because who has time to actually speak on the phone??) and we were talking about the over-sharing phenomenon that happens to certain people. Having a social work degree doesnt always extend to after business hours but the listening skills you develop mean that if someone is going to make a graphic disclosure about their backstory at the park, at the dinner party or waiting in line at the supermarket its going to be us. I dont have the heart to stop people even when Im late or tired or all full of other peoples stories. The backstory share is the challange of a kind face Im told.

I think when stuff happens that make life more difficult we tend to get frozen to that time. Its as if our lives become the before and then the after and the space in between becomes the material for the backstory that impacts on the stories we are telling now.

Does your backstory impact on the one you’re telling now? Do you share it with other people?


Help Blah

Big personalities are a little hard to contend with. All that jostling for space, talking over each other and not really taking turns to speak and share.

I finished something this week that had been hanging like a metaphorical albatross round my neck since last year. I think at the time when I said yes I thought that the helping would make me feel like I was giving back but it really became the opposite. I noticed that in helping I felt more depleted, I felt bossed around and I felt a little sick at the thought of it all.

I couldn’t sleep last night tossing and turning and having imaginary conversations with myself where I stood up to the big personalities, where I told them really what I thought…they’ll remain imaginary because part of the thing of getting older means you realise that clashing with people in spectacular ways isn’t useful. It just inflames things. Walking away on the other hand, realising that helping doesn’t have to mean giving up a little piece of you is the stuff that life lessons are made of.

I’m helping in my own way from now on, I might not have a purpose or a role but Ill have me and that pays it forward more than any way I know how.

Have you ever found that a nice dose of helping actual became a big dose of blah?

eulogies in the shower


My sanctuary is the shower…I can burn myself with the hottest water, lean against the tiles and do all of the thinking I need to do (usually with the light off which drives my husband bonkers). When I worked as a counsellor I used to say to the mums that were worried about puffy, sobbing eyes that they should focus on doing all their crying in the shower because a) no one could hear you b) if you splashed your face with cold water the bags under your eyes would vanish and c) it  might be the only time you legitimately get to yourself everyday. People loved this idea, I seriously thought I should do a community service announcement it was like I was a beauty consultant and grief counsellor all rolled into one big dash of red hair.

Edenland posted a piece the other week about your funeral song. The song you envisaged that would be played when people came to celebrate your life….now before I explain my idea Id just like to state that I have no wish to harm anyone. Just saying it. You never know whose reading your blog. Do you?

I confess that when Im in the shower some of the thinking I do is about funerals. Not about my funeral but about people that have left a scar on my soul. I think about what would happen if they werent around, how I’d react, if Id sob, or look blank or just silently give a little thanks to the man upstairs. I think about the chic black dress Id wear, with big sunglasses that covered most of my face, hell in some daydreams Im wearing gloves and carrying a little clutch (maybe I get this daydream confused with the one where I am Audrey Hepburn??). The key to my daydream is the eulogy…Im a big one for speeches. I loved talking at my wedding, I made sure I weaved my story around the central figures in my life slowly ending up at my daughter and then my lovely husband sitting in front of me. Anyways…back to the eulogy (which should never be confused with a wedding speech)

I usually craft the speech with some background music, a bit of coldplay ‘fix you’ or Adele ‘someone like you’ and then I begin. I pay particular attention on the purpose of the talk – a way to capture the true essence of the person, the highlights, the lowlights and all the spaces in between. I stay strong, I don’t cry, I keep eye contact with the (imaginery) people in the congregation and I tell the truth because when in your life can you truly tell the truth about someone? When they’re gone you can speak with integrity and honesty and without fear of retribution or anger…

The end of the song, the end of the speech or the end of the hot water usually finishes my daydream…I remembered thinking that this was an odd way to view trauma and upset in your life but in talking to close friends the gentle art of a good meander through your mind (in the safety of your own bathroom) is good for the soul and good for a bit of truth telling – well it is for me…

The telling of stories

Ive been absent from the blogging roundabout for the last couple of weeks except for my post about pancakes. I began to worry that Id lost my capacity to sit and concentrate for longer than 12 seconds. Holidays with kids can do that – all I want to do is sleep, drink coffee, watch bad TV and hang by the pool…oh wait thats what Ive been doing!

I put it out to the twittersphere tonight that I was worried I had lost the will to blog and the lovely Marnie came straight back telling me to write about my lost words. And so thats what Im doing.

Im in the last stages of a book on my holiday reading pile that explores the trauma of peoples lives, fictionally. The story sounds incredibly familiar to me. I’m not sure if, as a social worker, Ive just been exposed to so many similarly horrific stories or if its been lifted from a real life story with just a bit of tweaking to make it non identifiable. Regardless of how it came about it makes me a little uncomfortable as it starts to cross that imaginary line between fiction and real life. Its isn’t escapism its stark realism.

In the early stages of my blog I latched on to some creative writing tasks to get my fingers moving. I guess I passed off these fictional attempts as just that – fiction – but to be honest most of them were true stories about me just crafted into small pieces that maybe someday could be glued together as the basis of a short book. A girl can dream.

In the telling of stories we share tiny bits of our soul. I have been able to share a lot of spaces with people as they tell me about parts of their lives – the intricate tapestries that brought them to where they are. Yesterday I felt that I had stepped back in time. I met with some people that I had knew from my working world many moons ago. People who by trauma or misadventure got to meet me and in turn I got to sit with them when they heard the worst news any person could ever hear. They shared their story with me and they continue to do so. It sounds ironic but I guess having this blog makes me wary of sharing of stories from your own vault because each time a little piece escapes so does the anonymity and the solitude that comes from working through it in peace, in your head.

Some days I feel that all I am is one big repository of stories but maybe instead of thinking of it as a hindrance maybe I’m just one big book with lots of real stuff to tell.

Im hoping that this year gives me more chances to tell more, to hear more and learn more and I wonder how many more faces, names and stories will continue to leave little reminders on my soul. Only time can tell.

Are you a story teller or a story keeper?


Looking up

I wrote a few weeks back about the idea of first firsts…about the space between the life you’re living and the reminders of the past when we take a trip down ‘this time last year’.

For people living with life and sadness and loss the arrival of Christmas can surely shake the ho ho ho’s out of you. I know that I start to resemble the grinch when I see reindeer antlers on cars I secretly hope those little rudolph remnants get ripped off driving into a suburban shopping centre  (can you tell that Christmas isnt my most favourite holiday of the year)?

When I used to work directly with families living with unresolved losses Christmas was a tricky time – the setting of the table reminded people more of who wasn’t there rather than who was. The passing out of presents brought the reality home that the simple gift of giving couldnt be shared with that person. And for those that embraced spirituality the message that they were all part of a family was a little too distant for those who felt they had not much to hold on to.

We might talk about the rituals of loss but the rituals of life are often more closely linked with what is absent. Through the year the times we where are encouraged to sit and be with the ones we love automatically provides the flipside notion of who we dont have.

I didnt necessarily learn any new skills in managing the holiday season from the families I worked with. There werent any top 5 ways to get through the season but I did notice that the art of bunkering down and surviving it became the task that they all aspired to. We all often reflect that in the bracing for the day we hate that once it passes, it becomes a little like a giant life lesson band aid – once we rip it off we see the little scungy mark it left behind and then we try to focus on moving forward again.

Life is an interesting little mix of lessons and learning…for all those living with the first firsts I hope that the morning after gives you some space to breathe, to rip off that bandaid and to keep looking onwards and then  maybe upwards.