CAST LIGHT ON THE SHADOWS LONG.

Seven years ago I wrote the “Shout” post on this blog. It’s over two and a half years since I wrote “Tell me, what’s fear to you?“; the post that went viral and took my words to people all around the world. June marked fifteen years since my Daughter was murdered and next February will be the thirtieth anniversary of her birth. I turned 48 years old myself this week.

In all those years there is one part of the night my Daughter Number One was murdered that I have never written about. In her powerhouse performance “Nanette” Hannah Gadsby talks about how the things we leave out, the things we don’t say, the things we hide from ourselves and from others can end up shaping our narrative. She says “You learn from the part of the story you focus on”.

Last month was the Pride march here. Son Number Two and I were again proud to march with PFLAG. Last year we brought two friends with us. This year we brought five friends with us, mostly young people. Pride, for me, is a celebration of love and community. I see people around me struggling with identity and worth, purpose and meaning and if there’s one thing I can still be certain of, it’s that we really can’t have too much love and community in our lives.

As we marched I was thinking about the “coming out process”; how for some it is momentous and for others it’s anti-climactic. Some feel compelled to make a statement while others think their sexuality is no one’s business but their own. Some fear losing their families, their jobs, their homes, their lives.

It made me think about the #metoo movement; why does anyone speak up? I think the reasons why people don’t speak up, in general, are pretty clear. Whether it’s in a courtroom, the schoolyard, online or in the media the risk for vilification and ridicule are huge. Recently, in Ireland, there have been protests after a lawyer there argued that the teenage survivor’s choice of underwear had been implicit consent to sexual intercourse. While my mind was screaming “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?” to that there came the heart wrenching response from a Scottish mother whose 17 year old daughter killed herself two weeks after the trial of her rapist, during which she was compelled to hold up her own underwear in the courtroom, three separate times. For fuck’s sake. There are so many valid reasons not to say a word, to anyone, ever.

My Daughter Number One kept her secret. Until she found someone she loved and trusted enough to share it with. Shortly before she died she told her Very Best Friend that her murderer had touched her inappropriately when she was younger. Her Very Best Friend was thirteen years old. In the brief time between her disclosure and her murder, my Daughter and her Very Best Friend argued about her telling someone else. Someone who could do something. The Very Best Friend tried, over and over again, to get her to tell. My Daughter was trying to protect us, her siblings and her mother, that much I know. I don’t know what she had been threatened with to keep her quiet but she was brutally raped and killed, so I don’t doubt her judgement that the threat was real.

The psychologist from the Sexual Assault Unit that I worked with shortly after Daughter Number One’s murder said that, in her opinion, Daughter Number One had been testing the waters by disclosing to the Very Best Friend. She was met with a loving, supportive response. She was listened to and believed. In all likelihood, the psychologist thought, she would have made further disclosures, if only she’d had the time. If only she’d had more time. We all ran out of time.

My Daughter Number One’s Very Best Friend was thirteen years old when she rang him from a public phone box in the dark of night, shortly before she died, to say that she loved him and would miss him. Her murderer spoke to the Very Best Friend and told him that he was letting her call because he “knew how much she loved him”. He was thirteen years old when the police came to his door the next day to tell him my Daughter was dead. He was thirteen when he attended her funeral.

By the time the inquest rocked around her Very Best Friend was fifteen. He was fifteen when he sat through the evidence produced and he was fifteen when it was his turn to sit, alone, in the witness box. So many lives spun off their trajectory when Daughter Number One’s life was savagely ended. The Very Best Friend took paths and made choices that devastated me and I carried the grief and guilt for what had happened to him just as much as I did for what had happened to my Daughter.

I didn’t ever write about the Very Best Friend. He was so young, at first, and then, when he was older my own shame and guilt and reluctance to cause him any more pain kept me quiet. When my post went viral two years ago I had a message from the Very Best Friend. He said that I could write about him if I wanted to. He said he was ok. He said he still missed my Daughter Number One, but that if what happened hadn’t happened he wouldn’t be the person he is now and he’s GOOD with who he is now.

I still haven’t written about him until now. I can’t even tell you why now feels like the right time. Just that I want to honour their friendship and my Daughter’s love for her Very Best Friend. He heard her and he believed her. And I will always love him for that. For my own sake, too, as I scroll through his photos, I need to focus on seeing the Very Best Friend as he is now, a grown man who survived and is good with who he is and where he is at. While I don’t ever expect to not feel guilty for some of the negative impact my Daughter’s death had on the Very Best Friend’s life, I’m thinking maybe I don’t have to carry it around with me every day. I’d rather be proud of him and happy for him, instead.

All of the people and all of their lives and all of their words and all of their hearts and no man is an island. We are all connected and the choices we make every day can literally change lives; our own and other people’s. I was lying in bed in the home of a Beautiful Friend. It was after 1am and, sooner than I was happy to acknowledge, it would be time to get out of bed to babysit her Magic Kid. I was reading Twitter when I saw a Jim Jeffries tweet that Russell Crowe had retweeted. Son Number Two and I had gone to see Jeffries last time he was in town, in a packed Arena holding 10,000 people. I knew he was touring again but I couldn’t afford tickets this time around. In his tweet Jeffries said he’d be at an open mic night in town that night. And I thought to myself that, if my Beautiful Friend came home to her Magic Kid early enough and I made my way home in time, Son Number Two and I should check that out. He’s always up for an adventure and life is short, you know?

The Beautiful Friend arrived home and drove me to my place. Son Number Two and I got ready and by 4.30pm we were on our way into town. We arrived just after 6pm, to find a handful of people outside the club. A young guy in a suit promptly informed us that there was a list for those who had pre-booked and a queue for those who had not. There were many people who had pre-booked and no guarantee of getting in. We joined the queue. Just before the doors opened at 7pm the guy on the door, who had been clicking off the numbers of privileged people on the list as they passed, turned to us and said “You guys will get in. I don’t know about the people at the end of this queue but you will definitely get in!” The half dozen people who were in front of us when we arrived had been found on the list and gone in already, so we were at the head of the queue. And shortly afterwards we were waved up the stairs.

Entering the club a gentleman with an English accent, also looking sharp in a suit, asked me if it were just the two of us and I answered yes. He seated us in the third row, just off centre. We were under three metres from the stage. Phenomenal seats! It would be understating it to say we had a brilliant time. The venue was intimate, the entertainment high quality and the experience sublime. It was a once in a lifetime experience and with all the shit things Son Number Two and I have been through together it was cool to do something that goes partway to balancing the ledger. Everything happened so smoothly to get us there, things falling into place like dominoes. When you factor in all the variables we definitely beat the odds. But sometimes you do. Someone has to, right?

When I spoke to my Daughter Number Two about how her Sister died we talked about the Very Best Friend as well. When Daughter Number Two chose to speak about her Sister for a school public speaking assignment she asked the Very Best Friend for help. When a young friend of her’s wrote to my Daughter Number Two and told her about some risk taking behaviours she was engaging in, she heard her and she believed her. Then my Daughter went and told a trusted adult. She said to me “I was worried she would be angry with me. She was upset, but not with me. I told her about my Sister and why I had to tell.” There are so many reasons not to say a word but there are just as many reasons to speak.

We can never really know all the people who will hear us, or the impact we have by the choices we make. We will never know how far the ripples of our lives will go. But I can guarantee that you will touch many more people in this life than you can possibly imagine. That is your superpower.

Safe onward travel x

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FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD.

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Since we were without power this morning for hours and hours I have almost finished the packing. Now the power is back on I can fine tune my travel details and make some bookings. The last twenty four hours have brought numerous reminders of how tenuous and fleeting life is. I just need to stay focussed on the road ahead.

There was a facebook outage the other day that lasted just under an hour, so I believe. Apparently Tinder and Instagram went out too. What was most remarkable about that, aside from the fact the world kept turning, is that I didn’t notice. I only knew about it from the news later. Keeping busy is the way to go at the moment and I am filling my days with real life interactions. I have one friend who has deactivated her facebook account and another who has cut down her usage. I haven’t made any bold resolutions myself but practically speaking my focus has shifted. Don’t get me wrong, my love affair with the internet has not diminished; it has brought me far too many gifts for that! However, as I said, I am engaging more with the ‘real’ world and that cannot be a bad thing! I guess too much of anything isn’t healthy. I’m aiming for balance.

Safe onward travel x

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THE REAL THING

As regular viewers are aware I am a super big fan of the interwebs. I don’t usually qualify this but the truth is that I see it as an adjunct to real life experiences. I’m a big fan of communication in all it’s forms and I like the internet for connecting people. That being said I also try to translate ‘virtual’ friendships into real life ones. It’s not that I think online friendships are necessarily less ‘real’, in some ways they can be more intense, more intimate than our face to face contacts. It is conversely easier to expose yourself while hiding behind a screen. But for me I like layers and depth, so if I can I like to get to know my online friends offline too. Then of course there are the real life friends, some of whom I had before I had the internet!! For me, it is in the mix. It is about balance. This video touched me none the less.

On the weekend The Love of My Life and I stepped out of our daily routine. On Friday night we went out to dinner with his children and Son Number Two. Good food, a lovely view and the very best of company – it was wonderful! On Saturday, on the spur of the moment, The Love of My Life decided we should drive Son Number Two to his drama class and hang out to watch. His drama teacher is absolutely lovely and I was interested to see her work. I was also, naturally enough, happy to see my Son in action. I was not disappointed on either count. Afterwards Son Number Two went for a sleepover at a friend’s house and The Love of My Life and I went to meet up with a friend of his. The friend was funny and interesting and entertaining. It was a very pleasant way to pass the time. Intelligent conversation always does it for me. It was stuff I really needed. I hope we get to do it all again soon. Or something like it.

Safe onward travel x

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SAY SOMETHING, I’M GIVING UP ON YOU.

I’ve been reading some stuff about PTSD and the actual brain changes that occur. It’s sobering stuff but it also makes so much sense to me. The brain changes thing just tells me what I’ve known for a long time; I am not the same person I once was. I’ve had people suggest this is a lifestyle choice – because, obviously, what better fun could you have? – or that I should have moved on by now. Or the insightful and deeply profound ‘the past is the past’!

Except sometimes the past is very present and that’s not a choice. Anything and nothing can ‘trigger’ me, sending me back to places I’d rather not ever revisit, so that I physically feel like I am there. I feel things as if they are happening right now. My heart pounds, my thoughts race, panic and terror build, an overwhelming desire to flee – the fight or flight reflex at full force. Once this happens I don’t have much control. I can talk myself down but depending on how big the response that takes time. The Love of My Life helps. He can make me laugh through tears. Touching him centres me and brings me back to the here and now. He can reach always me when I get lost in the fog.

Some things are logical triggers; a white cross by a roadside, a charred accident site marked with tape, the news that bodies have been found in the search for a missing father and daughter, the screech of tyres, the crunch of metal – and these just in the last week. Do you know how many car crashes there are in films? Lots. In almost every movie it seems. And scenes when a doctor or a police officer is informing someone that their loved one has died. Missing children. Murdered children. Children. Mother’s Day. Phones that repeatedly ring out unanswered or go to voicemail time after time. But all of these are logical triggers and so, to a certain extent predictable and expected, easier to avoid and/or manage if they occur. Others are not so clear cut and sneak up on you. An expression on someone’s face, a song playing on the supermarket sound system, a street name mentioned in passing.

I’m on high alert all the time. They call it ‘hypervigilance’. From Wikipedia (so it must be true 🙂 but hey, any further information required you guys have Google too):

“Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviours whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. Other symptoms include: abnormally increased arousal, a high responsiveness to stimuli, and a constant scanning of the environment for threats.

In hypervigilance, there is a perpetual scanning of the environment to search for sights, sounds, people, behaviours, smells, or anything else that is reminiscent of threat or trauma. The individual is placed on high alert in order to be certain danger is not near. Hypervigilance can lead to a variety of obsessive behaviour patterns, as well as producing difficulties with social interaction and relationships.”

I’ve spoken here about constantly assessing my own reactions, my own thoughts, other peoples words, actions and motivations. ALL THE TIME. Every waking minute of each and every single day. I’ve told you that trusting is so hard. Trusting my own instincts. Trusting other people. Because fool me once shame on you but fool me twice, shame on me. And oh I’ve been fooled before. The next punch that puts me down I want to at least see coming. But it is so fucking EXHAUSTING! Getting through the day still takes so much effort. That’s not even counting the nights, when it’s either sleeplessness caused by racing thoughts or sleeping which brings nightmares. Why would anyone think I’d CHOOSE it?

Some days are better than others and I have more acceptance now that it is what it is. I cannot go back or change anything that happened. What is done is done and I will never be who I once was. I am ok with that. I’m ok with who I am, with all my flaws. I walk the road less travelled but I’ve met some really interesting people along the way and I’ve truly seen the best of human nature. Those connections, they are what sustain me.

I’ve always been good at connections. Making them, keeping them. It’s just harder now. It takes so much more effort and that effort is so much harder to sustain. But I try, because to me that is the difference between living and existing. Today I had an email that someone had responded to a comment I’d left on their blog. My words had touched them and their appreciation touched me. Like I said last post, to feel heard, that is really something. I heard her and she heard me. I love the internet for that reason. I’ve spoken here about the gifts the internet has brought me. For me it is another avenue for connecting but it is on such a very grand scale. It still involves putting yourself out there though. Taking a risk. Being vulnerable.

I was talking to a new friend’s new girlfriend online the other day and she said “It’s so nice to finally meet a real man!”. I’m not going to get into a discussion about what constitutes a ‘real’ man, or a ‘real’ woman for that matter, but the guy in question wears his heart on his sleeve and I think that is what she meant. How he feels, what he thinks; he says so. He takes risks and leaves himself open. He seems happy at the moment with his new love and I’m very happy to be able to share in his happiness because he puts it out there. And so it multiplies. Another friend is proposing to their love tonight. Theirs is an awesome love story which I’ve been privileged to watch unfold and I’m beyond excited about this proposal. My lovely friend, who has always been generous of spirit, shared the secret with me so I’ve had the excitement and anticipation building and I’m looking forward to the expected facebook proposal photographs sometime soon. It makes me do an internal happy dance each time I think about it. Proposals are just so damn hopeful. When you think about the proposer and the proposee, their daughter, their families, their friends; that’s many, many people who are going to gain happiness from one person’s choice to remain open to life’s possibilities and to share themselves with others.

So the moral for today is this:

Tell people how you feel, dare to risk looking stupid, say what you think, dare to dream, make new friends, leave yourself open, try new things, explore – yourself, others, places, ideas. Because it’s hard this life, but these are the bits that make it worth it. Connect with others and find yourself. Go ahead, reach out and touch someone.

Life is short. Travel safe x

A Rose by any other Name?

What is in a name? Good question William my friend. Sometimes a lot I think. Getting letters addressed to and being referred to as ‘Mrs. X’ has long since lost it’s appeal. I am not married to Baby Daddy anymore, yet I still have his surname and it jars me when I am referred to as Mrs. Baby Daddy. So, what to do? Well, the answer seems obvious really – change it. But to what?

I have no attachment to my maiden name, and I haven’t used it since I was seventeen. Mrs. Incredible Hunk would suit me fine but since that’s unlikely I am forced to look for inspiration elsewhere. My dear friend Matty opened the question on his facebook page yesterday, which gave me the idea to open it up to the world wide web.
So, friends and strangers, what say you?

Please leave a comment if you’ve any suggestions. Thanks in advance 🙂

We Connect.

One of my talents, before and after, has been making connections. Bringing people together, fostering relationships, maintaining them. I’ve been thinking about connections this week, both personal and professional, both IRL and virtual. I’ve been exploring social media for business promotion purposes. I’ve spent a bit of time online over the last few years – try to contain your shock – and I’ve seen the way communities, friendships and relationships can grow. I’ve been an early adopter of most forms of social media and can see how they can be utilised for promotional purposes. For the small business owner the beauty is there are heaps of things you can do with no outlay except an investment of time. I’ve been working on some things for the owner of the cricket coaching facility that my Son Number Two attends each Saturday. The cricket guys and the involvement with cricket has been so positive for Son Number Two. The guys there are all great and working on this has been fun and reminded me that I have skills I can use. Watching word spread, and more and more people ‘liking’ the fan page I’ve set up is almost as cool as seeing how many people read my ‘Whatever gets you through the night’ posts.

On a personal level I’ve been connecting online with a group of ex-service men and women. They are a tight bunch but very welcoming and we share diagnosis’ of PTSD and related issues. They are funny and super supportive of each other. Our individual roads less travelled, our highways to Hell, may have been different but we have all ended up in similar places. Talking to someone who knows how you feel cannot be underestimated, nor can sharing with someone who gets the associated black humour. The thing is though, is that they have left themselves open to connecting with people. With a lot of mental illness it is an uphill battle against detachment. The temptation to isolate yourself, to curl up into a little ball and shield yourself against a world that is too harsh, too noisy, too in your face is huge. After my Daughter Number One died it was a conscious effort not to live in anger, hatred and bitterness. I felt that would be giving more power and allowing more to be taken from me by someone who had already taken so much. Fuck, it’s been hard though. To trust, to make friends, to love. The effort cannot be underestimated. Because if you do leave yourself open to the good you also leave yourself open to the bad, and no one’s life is completely plain sailing. You always hurt the one’s you love and they you, because those are the people you leave yourself vulnerable and exposed to. The point though, is that the payoff is so worth it. To have someone know you as well as anybody could, to have someone who understands you better than anyone else, to have someone who hears you when no one else can, to have someone who sees you as you truly are and have that someone love you anyway. With all your faults, your imperfections. Through good times and in bad. For me, that’s absolutely worth the risk of hurt. Because for me, that is what life is about. Living is loving.

Not everyone can do it. I understand that. For some it’s just too big an ask to let anyone ever be that close to them again. You can only do what you can do. My very special friend, who introduced me to all his special friends has found a new love and they have been very open about their affection for each other. Being privy to that has been so cool. It makes my heart so glad. It is a privilege really. It’s all about hope. And how lovely of them to share that hopefulness with their happiness. For me, hope is what you need to carry on through the tough times. Hope things will get better, easier. Hope that the good times will return. Hope things will work out. Without it there is no reason to get out of bed in the morning, no reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

The kicker is, though, is that you have to find the energy, and the guts to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and soldier on. There’s a whole wide world out there and in spite of many indications to the contrary there are lots of good people out there too. You just have to be open to it. It’s like using the world-wide web for small business promotion. The potential is there, but the fact is unrealised potential is the same as no potential at all. Maximise your potential. You are the only one who can.

Travel safe guys x

Sunday bloody Sunday

Moments of quiet contemplation today. Time to ponder life’s big and important questions. Like, can I lose a few kilograms in two weeks so I can wear my new dress to see my friend play in his band? And what impression is someone who has 27 pictures of themselves on their dating profile really trying to make?

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio….. and all of it is out there on the interwebs.