Dear Daughters and Sons – Listen to RuPaul.

I realised in the middle of the night – which is when we realise all great or stupid things – that the one thing I regret in life more than any thing else is this – I didn’t believe in myself.

I have lost opportunities. I have seen small rocks that needed kicking out of the way as enormous insurmountable walls. I have assumed that I don’t deserve the opportunity in front of me or I’m not up to it.

I’ve not been much better in my relationships. I haven’t stood up to people treating me badly and said ‘No More!’I assumed that somehow I deserved to be treated badly – that I was simply more unlovable than other people. And the problem with this is that there are always people around who will take the opportunity to treat others badly – especially if they are getting away with it.

When the editor of The Age (remember newspapers) wrote to me and said the cartoon I’d sent him just needed a couple of changes I said, ‘Oh it’s been rejected.’ And threw the cartoon out when I should have said, ‘I’m nearly there,’ changed it and sent it back. When I won an award for my first manuscript I said,’It’s a fluke’ When I should have said, ‘Wow publisher’s like my work!’ When people treated me badly I said, ‘There’s something wrong with me’ when I should have said, ‘There’s something wrong with you.’

I do believe that not believing in myself comes from having a truly dreadful childhood, with inept parents who didn’t affirm my lovability as a little kid. But! And its a big but. There is a point where we all become accountable for ourselves as adults and can no longer blame our parents, no matter how crap they were, for anything.

Of course I did the typical bad childhood thing and as soon as I got the opportunity I tried to create my own safe loving family where I could believe in myself but the problem with this is that families are ever changing creatures – like life. Your children grow. They find out you aren’t invincible. They find out you are fractured. You can’t keep them as children forever or you become the terrible parent you are trying to escape.

If I could go back and change my life I would believe in myself more.

So my daughters and sons dear – believe in yourselves. Say the right things to yourselves. Expect the best for yourself. Because it turns out that RuPaul is right. If you can’t love yourself – How you gonna love someone else? Can I get an Amen in here!

Dear Daughters and Sons – The Things that Haunt Us

Many times in my life I have curled up into a ball and wanted to disappear feeling that I just can’t do it – life that is.

About Half the Time:

If I could talk to my younger self in these moments I would like to shake myself and say – Listen Younger-self – half the time when people are judgmental towards you – It’s Them – Not You.

Because people can be judgmental shits.

You just need to read the comments section of online newspapers to see that.

About a Quarter of the Time:

I would say to my Younger-self – It’s Not You – you’re just in a shitty situation. You’re working in the wrong place or hanging out with the wrong group or you were born to the wrong parents (if they were abusive) and you just need to find the people or lover or work place or church or playgroup or gym or café or whatever – where you will be appreciated. Because quarter of the time It’s the Situation and Not You.

The Other Quarter of the time:

I would say to my Younger-self – Yes you were an idiot sometimes – probably about quarter of the time. You can’t avoid it. You said stupid things and did stupid things; you handled situations and other people badly. You could have done sooooo much better.

And in my darkest moments these times come back to haunt me.

Interestingly it’s not the big things that haunt me. It’s not the decisions about who to marry (it took me two goes but I got that right) it’s not where to live or how many kids to have. It’s not the affairs I had (pre-marriage) – though one was regrettable because he was an idiot and another was iffy because he was married. But in my defense he had devised an elaborate con including an apartment, red satin sheets (which should have been a tip off) and a colluding relative to convince me he was single.

It’s the little things that haunt me. It’s where I missed friendship because I didn’t think I was worthy and so I mistrusted what was being offered or didn’t even see it. It’s the harsh words I said without thinking or when I didn’t see something from someone else’s point of view and stomped over their feelings without realizing I was doing so.

But of course curling into a ball and beating your head doesn’t change or help and leads to drinking too many whiskeys so the only thing you can do as mundane and cliché as it is – is to pick yourself up, forgive your own mistakes and other’s mistakes too and try to do better. To remember that at least:

Three Quarters of the Time:

It probably isn’t your fault when things and people go wrong so don’t beat yourself up. And you are worthy of friendship and love so grab it and run with it.

Dear Daughters and Sons – how to not become a hermit in a knitted beanie.

Dear Daughters and Sons,

All my life I have been ’emotionally fluid’ you know – like waves, large ones that roll and crash about without direction. Its gotten worse as I’ve gotten older which is a bummer because I expected to grow wise and become able to control my emotions. Not just grow older. I used to wonder how those older people who lived like hermits with big overgrown gardens and spooky houses became like that. Now I know that over a life – life’s experiences can wear you down, erode away your sense of self worth and faith in others until you want to hide. I could easily be on the road to being the strange hermit, behind the rambling roses, with the tumbling down house. I have been hurt often enough, I have hurt others often enough that I find it easy to drown in waves of self loathing.

I have searched for self worth in many places. I searched for it in my appearance and true, when I was in my 30’s the decade where everyone is beautiful, I felt great walking down the main street of Daylesford in my short short dresses and knee high boots. But now I am too old for short short skirts though never too old for knee high boots. We all will look older one day (unless we are Nicole Kidman) and can no longer rely on youth for self worth. I searched for self worth in sex and I had some fun sex on tables and by rivers with gorgeous men with long flowing hippie hair and even better forbidden sex with men I shouldn’t have been with. But then I met the man I wanted to grow old with and my relationship with him became more important than sex – which was lucky because nothing ruins sex and self worth like getting aggressive cancer and I got that when I turned 40. I searched for self worth in social media even though I don’t really get it and hashtag all the wrong words and send messages to the wrong people. But I realised I felt happy when people liked my posts and became distraught when a men’s vigilante anti feminist group in the USA latched onto me and swamped me with hate mail and I ran and hid.

Lots of things make me want to hide. I could easily be on the road to being the strange hermit, behind the rambling roses, with the tumbling down house. I have been hurt often enough, I have hurt others often enough that I find it easy to drown in waves of self loathing.

But I choose not to become the strange hermit in a hand knitted beanie.

Because what really gives me my sense of self worth is the relationships I have with the people closest to me. These aren’t relationships where we exchange a couple of texts or like each others posts (though these are useful ways of staying in touch on a daily basis with those you love). These are relationships that exist in real time, spent in the real world, with food and drink and old fashioned breaking of gluten free bread. This is sitting every morning with my husband over a pot of tea and coffee. This is knowing what is happening in my kids lives and hearing their voices every few days. This is being honest with my friends about how much they mean to me even if they think I am a soppy loser who might be too dependent and intense.

So daughters and sons, in a noisy noisy world with skinny skinny actresses and models plastered everywhere – don’t find self worth in your appearance. And in a world where thank god it is becoming more acceptable to be pan/trans/bi/gay/straight/binary/non-binary remember that in the end sex is just sex and please remember that texting is not a heartfelt letter, posting memes is not sharing your soul, likes and follows do not mean you are loved or not loved.
What matters is the relationships you are building with those that will accompany you through life and stop you becoming a hermit.

Dear Everyone – Happiness only exists because of Sadness

In my last letter I said that I was starting Day 1 on my road to happiness.

Somehow I got stuck at Day 1 and didn’t get to Day 2 for a long time.

And when I got to Day 2 I didn’t realise I’d got there until I was looking back and was able to say ‘Oh yeah things have got better.’

So have I found happiness on Day 2?

Maybe.

Nothing has really got better – not in a practical sense. I am still struggling to pay my bills. I am still 57. I am still invisible when I go out unless my uber cute 19 year old daughter is with me and then some of the shine on her settles on me just because I am standing within her shine zone. My body is still ravaged by cancer and makes me cry and I still pester my gorgeous doctor Gavin with irrational fears of cancer in my left little toe nail. I still feel crap almost every day from the affects of the treatment. There are still crap drivers on the road that make me use language I tell my kids off for using. Alcohol still makes me fat. Avocados, chocolate, bubble tea and cheesecake still make me fat. In fact anything I really like to eat makes me fat.

But we look for Happiness in all the wrong places.

Because Happiness is not to be looked for. Happiness is not to be found – it’s to be made.

And it can’t be made for an entire life time.

Happiness is only happiness in contrast to Sadness. Otherwise it’s nothing.

Happiness, (and its only taken me 50 years to realise this) is made of moments, some are fleeting moments, some last the length of a holiday.

It is still moments of happiness that fill a life.

The rest of the time we rail and struggle against whatever life sends us just trying to survive and trying to find one or two other people who will bare themselves to us so they can stand beside us as we rail and struggle together.

And then the moments of happiness remind us that life is not just struggle and railing and swearing but it is something else, something we can’t put our finger on that we call spiritual or meaningful or …..happiness.

I have realised that for me my true happiness comes from the moments of connection and sharing life and food and celebrations that I have with those I love, my kids, my husband and my friends or even people I don’t know who drop a line to say they are standing beside me.

And no matter what shit happens to me – those moments keep happening.

So I do have happiness.

Dear Daughters – finding a perfect man – Dear Sons – why you can never be one

Yesterday my husband Pete forgot about my strict baptist upbringing and thought he would try a little role playing with me.

He walked into the kitchen, swaggering in a singlet and shorts and said, ‘G’day Lovvie, I’m Big Bob from Big Bobs massage palour for professional women.’

He didn’t get the response he wanted, I reached for my favourite tea pot, laughed and said, ‘Nah thats never gonna work on me.’

He walked out and a few minutes was back, ‘G’day Love,’ he said, ‘Mick the plumber here to fix your ah plumbing.’

‘Nope – not working,’ I said and kept pouring the hot water onto my darjeeling leaves.

‘Ahh,’ he sighed, ‘what do you want then?’

‘Try – Hi I’m Aiden, I have a PHD in Women’s Rights, I’m super kind and sensitive but also really witty and I work out and I can mend fences, do electrical work and any other tradie jobs you need doing. Got any housework or handiman work I can do for you,’ I said.

‘Wow you don’t want much in a man hey?’ he asked.

SPECIAL NOTE: To all the men who keep writing me hate mail about this post – STOP! This post is NOT about men. It’s about women and the sometimes ridiculous expectations we have of what men can be (mainly instilled in us as little girls by disney movies and alpha men in hollywood movies). Like wise men often have ridiculous expectations of women –  and if we aren’t gorgeous and slim and under 35 we simply don’t exist. And for the record my husband is not slim, nor handy with any tools, he can’t do electrical work, or fencing and he doesn’t have a PHD but he does have a really kind heart, he knows when I want protection (because he is physically bigger than me) and he respects my abilities and encourages me to achieve all I want to achieve in life as I hope I do for him.

 

Dear Daughters and Sons on Day 2. To be Happy Put Your Head in the Sand

Dear Daughters, Sisters and Sons

This is what I always do.

In my mind I line up all the wonderful women I know, admire and love and then I focus on how far short I fall of them.

This is not a good idea.

But I’m not going to stop doing it, so instead what I am going to do is ignore the short fall.

Ignoring stuff is a really useful life skill and tool.

I have found it to be a most useful tool in having a successful marriage. Anything that can be ignored should be. Only make an issue of stuff that is a deal breaker and ignore every thing else that niggles at you and I promise your marriage will be far less fraught with tension.

So I am going to ignore the fact that I can’t paint as beautifully as my friend Maryanne, or that I don’t have the social skills that make people feel warm and happy like Julie and Jenuarrie, nor am I as kind, compassionate and funny as my friend Louise manages or be, nor am I as beautiful inside and out as my friend Linda, nor do write as well as Kate, nor cook as well as Maggie and I certainly don’t look as sexy in the kitchen as Rachel. I even look at my daughters and think how much more together they are, than I was at their age.

Basically I can look at any other female and immediately identify all the ways in which I fall short in comparison. And I don’t manage to manage my friendships well because I assume that underneath my friends are going to feel about me the way I feel about me which isn’t that great.

So on day 2. Of changing my life, in the pursuit of happiness I have decided to ignore the fact that I don’t do any of these things as well as the clever, wonderful women I know.

I’m going to ignore this and I’m just gonna get on in there and do this stuff anyway ignoring the fact that I might not be doing it very well – just like those kids that apply for Australia’s got talent, who sing like cats but are convinced they are the next Amy Winehouse and don’t hesitate to tell the judges how brilliant they are.

I’m going to try some blindness to my own failings and see if it works. I’m going to do the three things I love doing most regardless of how well I do them or how well anyone else does them, cooking, painting, writing and then even if I am a wailing cat I am going to inflict them on the rest of the world.

So last night I created a new recipe and put it on my recipe blog, I wrote on this blog and I started a new painting.

I admit I had to force myself to do these things as the despair was biting at my heels.

And I admit that after I did them I did in fact feel better in my mind and body. So maybe the stiff upper lip the British always stood by has some merit – along with putting your head in the sand.

Dear Sisters, on day 1. make your own happiness

Dear Sisters,

I have not written for a long time. This is because I am a mess.

When I was in my 30’s people in their 50s told me that your 50s is the best time of your life. For me this has not been true.

When I look back, the best time of my life was my 30s. I was slim; I had great sex with men wherever the passion took me and was old enough and mature enough to manage it with reasonable aplomb and only a few bad choices. I had two of my kids in my 30s, I found “the one” and got married in my 30s and most importantly I felt I had my whole life ahead of me.

Little did I know that life ahead of me was going to mean spending my 40s fighting cancer and then the after effects of cancer. And spending my 50’s being a mess.

I have not found this wonderful place I was promised of finally being happy in my own skin. In my 50’s I have fallen apart.

Astronomically and sensationally fallen apart.

A couple of things have happened to trigger this slide into despair.

The cancer was life threatening and life changing and I never really got over its damage. The psychological damage from cancer is massive and underrated. Even if you survive and don’t get me wrong I am so, so grateful for surviving but I don’t look the same, I don’t feel the same, so many parts of me that made up me were ravaged and killed by the cancer. I lost my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes, my cervix, my uterus, my ovaries, my breasts and what I got was a whole pile of chemically induced weight. I was left with a shell emotionally and physically. My hair was the only thing to grow back and it grew back resentfully in tiny thin wisps that weren’t even a reminder of the enormous curly long locks I had pre-cancer.

When I told my oncologist I felt bad after the cancer, that I had trouble getting out of bed each day he said, ‘but your cured for the time being – you should feel good.’ And that is the attitude that is most expressed, once you have survived you should pick yourself up and get on, because after all there is all those people who are still being diagnosed or not surviving. This is true but doesn’t address the nightmares, the change to your personality and looks, the exhaustion from the treatment, the constant worry that every little thing wrong with you is the cancer back. I would happily have a permanent weekly spot in my doctor’s appointment book to check the ache in my little finger and the new freckle spot on my toe.

So I took this cancer baggage with me into my 50’s and in my 50s’ further trauma struck. I was monumentally wronged by a woman who sued me for something I didn’t do and when we were just getting back on our feet from the cancer this cost me a huge amount of money and emotional stress to defend myself against her allegations. The lawyers won out. I spent many days in tears worried about my ability to emotionally and financially survive.

But again I survived and was just getting back on my feet again when I was attacked in my workplace, by a massive bloke, who punched me in the head and tried to kill me with a 25cm pair of scissors. I truly thought I was going to die in that moment. So this was the second time in a decade or so that I faced imminent death.
I stood there as he plunged at me with the scissors, aiming for my heart and I thought this is the place I die – this is what my life amounts to – dying here at the hands of an idiot.

I lost my job because the threat to my life continued and I was no longer safe in my workplace. And he got a one month suspended sentence and I became a mess again.

I know this all spells Post traumatic Stress.

Is Post Traumatic Stress real? Insurance companies think not and it’s hard to prove you have it.

How do I explain what it feels like to not be able to walk out my front door or if I do walk out the front door its even harder to come home again. How do I explain that I spend most of my waking time thinking about how I could kill myself in a way that seems natural and won’t destroy my family or that most days I can’t answer my phone or look at my emails because I expect it to be bad news of a catastrophic type. How do I explain that I am constantly shaking inside, a shaking that just never stops. And what can be done about it anyway?

On top of all of this I am in my 50s’s. This means I have become invisible. I get served last in shops and the sales people don’t bother to make eye contact with me, men don’t see me at all, younger women have started calling me love and darling and speaking to me as if I am an idiot, the clothes shops are not for me, the advertisements are not for me, the world is not for me.

I have reached the age where people make jokes about people my age having sex or passion and make ooh sounds that are of the oooh gross type rather than the oooh sexy type.

I am a woman who is 50 therefore I question if I have value in the world.

So what to do? I have long believed we are responsible for our own happiness. So I think the answer is obvious and practical. I need to change my life. I need to ignore the fact I am in my 50s. I need to find that place that I was told about where I don’t care for the gazes of men or the recognition and approval of others.
I need to get physically healthy and mentally sound. I need to take responsibility for my own happiness. Today is day 1.