The House of Horrors

Recently, I told my therapist what I intended to do with my family home once both of my parents are gone.

“I’m going to knock it to the ground (maybe I’ll torch it), I’ll sell the land, and never travel down that street as long as I live.”

It’s a very clear intent. It was my house of horrors, after all. Why wouldn’t I want to raze that fucker?!

Lately, I’ve been working from that house. Of all the places I can take my laptop to work – the warehouse, the office, my home, a cafe, a park, a hole in hell – I’ve chosen to take myself to the house that I’ve run from. I’m using my mobile as a hotspot, despite all the places I could go that have free wifi. I even ran out of data the other day, but I went to the house anyway and PAID for extra data. I could have gone anywhere. But I chose to work from the house that I intend to knock to the ground, burn, sell.

Why am I putting myself into, potentially, harm’s way?

There is no desk. I sit at a 60s sextagon laminate table on pleather seats with around an inch of cushioning. Luckily I have a decent ass that cushions my sitting bones. It is NOT comfortable.

But it’s quiet. Italian TV hums in the background – cooking shows, game shows, telenovelas. It’s my second language so my understanding is more limited than if it were, say, Deal or No Deal, so I can block it out. My old bedroom is just out of sight, in my periphery. I never go in there, but I would without any qualms.

Mum talks to the dogs, explains to them why she’s closing the shutters when it’s a hot day, asks them why dad isn’t home yet when it’s almost lunch time. She offers me coffee, fruit, nuts, toast, water, chocolate, biscuits, cheese, more fruit. I mostly decline her offers, but she doesn’t mind. She just likes to hear my voice, I think. She tells me why it’s important to wash grapes three times, why you should never place a knife on the table that way, that it should be this way. Just the sound of her voice used to drive me bananas. Now, it’s gentle, friendly.

Dad has a memory for dates, people, places, so they talk about the old village – who lived where, when they were born, when they started school, got married, had kids, when they came to the new country, when they went back, retired, when they died. It’s remarkable. There’s no reason to doubt him. Everyone knows him for this talent.

Yesterday, mum was telling me about how some man approached her recently and remarked on how gentle my dad is. I laughed and said: he wasn’t gentle for 70 years though. And it’s true. He was so angry, in a rage for most of his life. I still see it in there sometimes but, mostly, at 81, his rage has subsided.

I spent most of my life feeling like the victim when it came to this family. Out of control, controlled by fear and anger. I spent years after wanting that control back. I was cruel. I had the power and I wanted to make sure they knew it. Lately, though, I could give a shit about power. We’re equal, really. I’m middle aged, and they’re elderly. We’re not so different, actually, the three of us heading towards the same place, even if we think it’s a different place. Who knows, we may even get buried in the same hole.

So the fight isn’t important anymore. Not to me. Not to them. We’re still loud – we’re Sicilian, after all.

And the house? It’s not so horrifying anymore. But I still intend to burn that fucker.

That time of year (again)

It’s that time of year again when A LOT of us ask ourselves the big question(s), and I’m certainly not immune to that need.

What are my goals for next year?

Having scraped through yet another shitty year, is it too much to ask that next year starts and ends with some joy?

When I look back on 2018, I see a sea of failed relationships, poor business decisions, ideas that didn’t bear fruit, lots of gritted teeth, a tonne of cash spent on “self improvement” and (what feels like) not a lot of “improvement”, and money spent on projects I didn’t give enough thought to before I spent said money.

I had a lot of arguments in 2018, and a lot of terrible conversations because, quite frankly, I spent too much time with people who don’t know how to have good ones, and that meant I had to strain myself to ask, ask, ask. I felt like an information vampire. I know I have a need to keep the conversation going, but it was either that or spend hours watching people swipe through Facebook and Instagram. I mean, fuck.

In 2019 I plan to surround myself with women who want to learn through conversation, through experience, who don’t recoil at a little discomfort because they know that happiness is not the goal and discomfort is where you find the real gold.

I have joined a couple of book groups, to see which one suits me. I plan not to create groups because that’s an extra stressor I simply don’t need. Joining – that’s another matter.

So why make goals at all? Especially when we break them within weeks of the new year anyway.

The idea of goals means that I want to be stretched, that I want to go out of my comfort zone and force myself to do things instead of just doing the same things hoping for a different outcome (joy) and then getting angry with myself when that doesn’t happen.

Every year, not necessarily at the beginning, I hunt out a “project” to do for the year. Things like:

  • Photo a day (take one)
  • Short story/poem a week (write one)
  • Recipe a week (make one)
  • Album a month (discover one)
  • Use my planner/diary
  • Embroider regularly
  • Tend the garden
  • etc

But I either lose interest or, literally, forget. I get caught up in bullshit that doesn’t help me grow, like working, checking social media, rewatching sitcoms, asking Google for ways I can be happy. My coach tells me it’s because it’s easier to take the path of sameness, even if it upsets me, because it’s familiar. I know what it feels like to try for a minute, fail, then punish myself for failing again.

So why don’t I just give up and stop trying at all? Why do I need to do anything?

I want to be seen.

As a kid I wasn’t seen. That’s how I felt, and that’s how I feel looking back at it now. I was incredibly lonely, even into adulthood, even now. It’s so easy to be lonely, even surrounded by so many people.

I want to be seen.

I want to leave something behind. I have no siblings, no (close) extended family (that I spend time with), no children, nobody that will remember me even for one generation. I want to create the legacy or memory of me out of things I can do that are tangible, things I can hold up and say “look, I made this”.

I DO, or WANT to DO, as a way of creating because I have not made the ultimate of creations – life. How will I be remembered if I only create things for the sake of it, without a lofty intention? If everything I create is hidden away, if it’s just for me, what if it’s simply erased when I die, like a hard drive.

I need to feel that I’ll be remembered.

So what is my lofty intention?

They say to pick one goal. I’ve done that before.

What if I pick all of them? What if all of the things I have started and stopped over the years are the goals I should force myself to do in 2019? What if I did that? What if I created all of the things I said I would over the years? Like:

  • Photo a day (take one)
  • Short story/poem a week (write one)
  • Recipe a week (make one)
  • Album a month (discover one)
  • Use my planner/diary
  • Embroider regularly
  • Tend the garden

When I look at this list, and even think about the time it will take to do them, they seem so easy, not too time consuming. In fact, altogether they won’t take more than 5 hours a week. So why have I found ways not to do them? Why have I made excuses? Why have I forgotten them? Why didn’t I plan them and then follow through?

I spent a few years drinking, then the last few years using work as an excuse for not creating, not living, not socialising, not discovering. Too drunk. Too busy. I used them as an excuse for forgetting, for not planning. I remember those times when I was actually living and it felt like I was being pulled away from working, from doing what came easy. I wanted to be home, behind my computer, working instead of walking my dogs, instead of going to a movie. What the fuck?

What if 2019 is the year to stretch my creative muscle, to force myself even if it feels hard, awkward, boring, annoying, cheesy, forced, even if I want to be home working? I’ve never really forced myself to keep going. I just stop, or forget, then kick myself at the end of the year and chalk it off to “the way I am”, because that’s a label I feel most comfortable with.

If I don’t do this – if I don’t force myself – I fear I’m going to end next year in the same place, kicking myself for not trying, not persisting, feeling like a loser.

I’m scared just thinking of this plan, because my history tells me I’ll fail. I always have, after all. But I know now that I’ve failed only because it’s easier to fail, to not do, to agree with the label, then to kick myself for it. It’s easier to feel like shit about myself than it is to force myself to do things, to try things. It’s easier to fail (familiar) than it is to succeed (unfamiliar).

It’s easier to watch other people being creative and hate myself for not being like them even though I haven’t even given it a go.

So today, while Jeff is out playing bored (sic.) games with his friends, I’m in bed, surrounded by 3 dogs and 2 cats and thinking.

What could I be if I actually tried? Like, ignored all the excuses and actually gave things a red hot try?

Everyone is safe

Three weeks in, three weeks out.

Longer now, but I wrote these words, longhand, after I’d been out of hospital three weeks. I’m typing them now, with today’s point of view, so you can’t believe anything.

What they don’t tell you, when you leave the mental hospital, is that you have to start running your own life again, like an adult, in control of yourself. You have to set an alarm and actually get out of bed so you can get to work. You have to remember to take your meds, morning and night, you have to go shopping for groceries. You have to create some sort of routine. You have to smile and tell everyone how much better things are now, thanks for asking, because you don’t want to worry them, or make them uncomfortable, or bored.

If you stay in bed all day when you come home from the mental hospital someone might suggest you sign yourself back in. What they don’t tell you is that you don’t know what you want to do, but sleeping all day doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world. I wish I’d  slept more while I was in the mental hospital.

To think I started to miss my normal life, but now that I’m in it I’ve come to realise that I’m actually quite shit at it, shit at my job, shit at making decisions, shit at planning, at being on time, at giving a fuck about it because I don’t really have anything I want to look forward to.

I thought the meds would make me feel less depressed but, SPOILER ALERT, they do not.

Nothing much has changed, mentally, except I’m not expressing myself as readily as I used to and I’m not taking Valium like they are Lifesavers.

I’m not taking them at all, actually, which makes everyone very pleased with me, and themselves. Also also, I haven’t been an asshole to anyone so far.  Is that the bonus we were all hoping for?

I haven’t yelled at anyone, mainly, because stressors have been taken from me and given to others. No more evening work at home. No more new staff for the shop. No more toxic Facebook groups or people. No more this, or that. I have “light duties”, and I’m told not to worry about “this”, and that “that” is being taken care of. I tell them “alright”, I won’t think about it. There’s a lot I don’t think about, like writing, I don’t think about it at all. That’s a lie. Every day I have this fleeting thought. The word “writing” comes and goes. Just like that.

I have ideas. So many ideas. But then I remind myself where my ideas end up. So I let them fly away. Like the word “writing”.

So there it is. I’ve become the benign person I always feared I’d become – no hopes, no dreams, no passions, no vices. Just a benign middle-aged woman, fat, having lost my looks around 30 kilos and 5 years ago, and with nothing much of interest to say.

I’ve literally lost words.

It’s safer this way. For everyone.

Day 20 – October 20th 2018

I’m still living as a bit of a hermit, avoiding eye contact.

The weekends are boring. No group sessions, so I spent today watching episodes of Episodes and LoLing out loud.

I’ve made plans for the immediate future, small ones, setting the bar low. I wonder if three weeks in here have actually done anything more than just managed my change of meds in a safe environment, out of harm’s way. Out of everyone’s way. Jeff couldn’t have managed it.

I’m calmer, less angry, less aggro. It feels like less me. Jeff tells me that it feels like the old me, when we had more conversations, but I chalk that down to the lack of distractions, and better meds. I fear they’ll wear off eventually. They always do, and we have to go through this whole shemozzle all over again.

I wonder what it will be like when I get home? Will I stop hiding? Will I come out of the room? Will I actually sit outside and watch the clouds roll past? Will I write? Will I play with the cats, the dogs? Will I pick flowers? Will I go to trivia nights or do crosswords again? What a small, small life I seem to be planning.

Day 19 – October 19 2018

I admit it: I stopped wearing makeup around the end of week one. Not even mascara.

When I look in the mirror, I see a vacancy. Nobody’s home. My eyelashes seem to have shrunk, there are gaps in my eyebrows and a few greys, dark circles, patchy skin, fading pink hair. I feel disappeared.

It’s not as though I don’t know all this – that’s why I wear make up, to feel… less vacant, maybe.

But between that and wearing leggings as pants, I don’t know what’s happening!

Am I becoming more relaxed, or have I just given up. They feel the same to me, right now.

That said, I know I haven’t given up entirely. A few days after arriving, I walked out of my room to get night meds and my cardigan was on inside out. I knew it was when I left my room. And someone even told me about it but I just grunted.

Tonight, as I was leaving my room, realising my cardi was on inside out, I stopped and sorted it it out. Feeling a little more like the old me, I suppose.

Day 18 – October 18, 2018

I promised myself that I would blog everyday while in here, even if it hurts, or it sucks.

So, because I’m a little lost for words today (or I’ve become terribly boring), I’ve decided my day will be brought to you by the Lemonheads, well, Evan Dando, at his “best”.

Day 17 – October 17 2018

The first half of today is brought to you by the live version of:

Well this morning can just go and fuck itself in the holes.

I go to group. I upset people. I think people are pussies and just way too sensitive and should grow a pair. Remember all the quiet people in class at school who never put up their hand and it just meant that the class went slowly and you got so bored? Well that’s what group was like. And me, well I was already in a shitty mood and did all the things the old teenage me used to do: eye rolls, sighing, you know; don’t pretend you didn’t do it and don’t still, now and again.

It’s like I enjoy their discomfort. I try to think of a time when someone has done the same to me, and I can’t. Actually I think there was one time, at an old job, but I just thought she was a cunty young girl (I was in my early 30s by then and she was mid 20s so, you know). She made me fee like shit, but I simply despised her. Instead, people are so sensitive to my bad behaviour, and I HATE weak people. Yes, that’s what I’ve come to realise. I honestly have a hard time with weak people, the over-pleasers, the “may I” people.

It all gets back to my shrink. They report things. So my homework is to practice the STOP technique. I will take a moment before I react, maybe even take a literal step back. Gah. Homework!

Jeff came to visit and we’re getting back into having conversations. It’s the lack of distractions. When we get home from work, we keep on working, distracting ourselves. So many of us do it – we keep working, or sit and watch tv, scroll through social media. Of course we can’t have conversations – we haven’t done or experienced anything new to have conversations about.

He asked me why I publish this blog. Why I want people to read it?

My answer is always the same: To feel less alone.

We’re all lonely at times, and all we see of each others’ lives are the great moments on social media. We forget that everyone has shitty days, sad days, stressful days, long work days because we just see a teeny slice that’s usually fun or funny. So we wonder: “Is it just me? Am I the only person who’s suffering?”

Day 16 – October 16 2018

Didn’t get my BP taken this morning. Waking up was hard enough.

A nurse woke me at 8.10 to remind me to go and take my meds. They like to clear us out by 8.30 but I went back to sleep instead and she ended up bringing my meds to my room instead. What luxury. Like breakfast in bed.

There’s a girl with super long, pointy, manicured nails. She ran up to the nurses station early in a panic, bloody scratches all over her forearms – that’s her self harming technique, not drugs, booze and anger like my generation. The incident did make me wonder why they let her keep the nails though. I mean, may as well give her a blunt knife.

Saw the shrink and she’s increased the dose of my new meds. I think they’re working, to be honest, because I barely feel like crying, I barely feel like taking Valium. I barely feel a thing. And I can tell that my writing has become pretty ho-hum.

Jeff said he spoke to the shrink yesterday but he won’t tell me what they talked about. Not that I think they’re conspiring (are they), but I do wonder what “the plan” is (do I?)

I think this new kinda me – quieter, less sensitive to dickheads, not too worried about the future – is the best I can expect maybe.

Last night I watched an episode of Shameless, the US version and, wouldn’t you know it, Peggy Bundy was on it (yes yes I know she’s done lots since Married with Children but I’ll always think of her as Peggy Bundy). So it seems Peggy is bi-polar or manic depressive or whatever they’re going to call it. Her mania is loop-de-loop cray, which obviously attracts Frank Gallagher. But what interested me in the episode was that, after she’d chilled, she told Frank that she didn’t like it when she was manic, that she wants to be normal. But Frank gently tells her that she is normal. I guess if we lived in Frank’s world, we would all be normal.

So it got me thinking, who are doing this for, you know? The meds, the therapy, the talk-talk-talk, the TMS, the ECT, the hospital stays? Is it anybody’s business if we want to be self-destructive?

What if I stopped trying so hard to be a “better kind of me”? It would be easier for me, even if it wasn’t for others.

Should I consider psychiatric anarchy?

Day 15 – October 15

BP 120/80 – How ordinary

Questions for my shrink today:

  1. Why am I still here?
  2. What do you expect I will learn here?
  3. Do you know that nothing has changed in my routine since I got here (except I’m sleeping more)? I work all day, stay in my room hidden away, get angry at people etc
  4. Is there anything wrong with hiding away?

I’ve been listening to A LOT of Cold Chisel these past few weeks, literally falling asleep to them in my ears, then waking up in the middle of the night with them still going in my ears and I’ve loved it. I no longer feel embarrassed about it. They music is raw and loud and rough, like me, I think.

It reminds me of when I was still living at home, a teenager, I did exactly the same with whatever band I was into at the time. But as I fell asleep, I would fantasise that I was the singer or lead guitarist. Anyway, I had this record player that my folks still have, and it played both sides of the record – not by flipping it over though. The stylus moved over and around to the bottom of the record and would play it upside down. How’s that for 80s technology – I can’t even find a you tube video of one.

I championed my “healing” today, given the dramas of the last few days.

I sat in the common room (with my headphones in playing at full volume) not wanting to kill the people who were talking across the room over me – PROGRESS!

It was hours before I asked for my Diazepam.

Seriously, though, I don’t think Valium works on me anymore. I did accuse them, early on, of giving me placebos but they said it would be illegal, yadda yadda.

My appetite is back, unfortunately. There I was hoping that I would lose weight at this resort!

Day 14 – October 14 2018

BP 128/70

I have a Sunday alone so I decide to do some work on my values.

Here’s what mine seem to be:

I did some online tests to be certain. Obviously online values tests will be accurate, but they seem to be in my case.
But I always ask if these answers are based on now or on the knowledge you think you have of yourself, you know? We get stuck in a loop, maybe? But I’ll go with these.

Then there are some questions we went through in group:
What have been my peak experiences?

  1. Traveling to the US to study
  2. Making beautiful thing like embroidered toys and beaded jewellery
  3. Writing in French phonetics – I actually got a thrill doing this
  4. Going to great concerts and gigs – big and small – Muse in Prague, Radiohead at the Hollywood Bowl, Peaches at Big Day Out, Clare Bowditch at the Builders, Courtney Barnett at RRR
  5. Hearing new music for the first time and feeling completely overwhelmed – this happened the first time I heard Sia’s Breathe Me, and Courtney Barnett’s Depreston.

  6. Publishing my books – This feels like it *should* be here but I’m not 100% sure. I know that writing them were peak experiences.

The values I was honouring around these peak times:

  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Knowledge
  • Independence
  • Freedom

Suppressed Values – When have I been angry or upset – then flip it to reveal what value was suppressed.

  1. Growth of the business with so many staff
    • Suppressed value – independence
  2. Relying on others to make something happen – like walking the dogs, having fun while travelling (this seems obscure, but, you know…) – because I feel like I won’t do it without them. Like when your gym buddy can’t go and you’re disappointed and won’t go either, like it’s their fault.
    • Suppressed values – curiosity, independence, freedom, joy
  3. When someone has a belief that is so completely against mine, but it feels to me that they don’t have a real reason to feel the way they do, as if I feel it’s just a trend.
    • Suppressed Values – Curiosity, freedom, independence
  4. My inability to make goals or stick to plans or remember things, or maintain a diary/planner
    • Suppressed values – Curiosity, creativity, knowledge
  5. Whenever I’m complimented (or my mother tells me that I’m “the best” anything).
    • Suppressed value – I thought it was Independence but now I’ wondering if it’s not just curiosity or some sort of false humility. I’m just not sure why.
  6. Not finishing things – DipEd, Photography Cert, Canine Myotherapy Cert, etc etc
    • Suppressed values – Knowledge, curiosity, excitement, freedom, creativity

Code of Conduct – what’s most important in my life?

Creative self expression, which is the wanky way of saying: Knowledge and its creative communication.

I get really angry at friends or anyone who doesn’t want to try something new or interesting because I feel they’re missing out and I want them to have excellent experiences too.

I remember this one time when Jeff took our neighbour’s kids to the Show and I begged them to go on the scariest rides even if they were too frightened to. I virtually had a fight with these kids about it. Jeff told me later that he explained to them why I was so angry with them when they told me they wouldn’t go on the scary rides. He told them: Jo just wants you to experience everything, even if it’s scary, just to know what it’s like.

This, I think, is the value that’s missing for me right now.