Friday, 25 May 2018

2011

2011.

I want to say that 2011 sucked harder than any year since 1988, but in actual fact it sucked even harder than 1988 because it brought the shit of 1988 back, in all of its majestical un-dealt-withness. On the other hand, 2011 is the year Lenny was born so I have some guilt about saying it was a bad year. That's not very motherly! But what the heck, I'm going to say it regardless. 2011 sucked the worst of any year of my life. Beyond noting this fact at the outset, I don't quite know where to start.

I don't think you're going to enjoy this post. Don't feel that you must read it. It's about an awful time in my life - the worst. It's also, as I've been saying, about events that happened a long time ago, and since then I've talked about them at length with my doctor; the work has been done and there's nothing upsetting any more for me in this sort of contemplation. From my perspective, the only distress that's associated with telling you about this stuff is the fact that it's very possibly going to be distressing for you to be told about it, and I don't want to upset you, especially when I can't see you and how you're taking it, or do what I can to help you absorb it okay. And you need to keep in mind that I'm writing this down at the fag end of a week that has been complicated and challenging, but it's definitely had its good points too, and it's not all gloom and doom. A lot of absolute shit is happening and I don't know how much longer I can stand it, but a couple of private things have happened that have made me feel pretty good, too. Also I've accomplished a significant piece of work I’m very proud of in my job, I’m having a lot of fun with a small project in another social media bubble, and oh my gosh, the greatest thing happened at work today: the head curator accidentally threw away my lunch, and he freaked out when he realised what he'd done, tried to give me money, the whole bit - it was awesome and I am so going to enjoy figuring out how to make the most of the moral high ground I’ve so decisively attained via this interaction.

But 2011. It's fair to wonder why I'm writing about it at all. I did think about that fairly carefully yesterday and today. It's sometimes said that narratives of trauma can be cathartic for readers to receive - to know they're not alone in having gone through tough experiences - things like that. I see words to that effect written as comments under lots of lifewriting published online. I don't feel that way about other people's work myself, though - never. So I'm not doing this to help anybody. (I guess I'm happy for anyone to take what comfort they might find, I just don't understand how that works, that's all.) The motive I have is just exactly the same one I put forward in a January 2017 post which touched on all these matters and the writing of them: I want to write and it serves a purpose.  

When I had a look at what The Searcher got from the query '2011', the posts top and bottom of the list do quite a bit of the talking, especially that picture of me right at the bottom of the page, sitting on the couch, my dear friend Basil on my lap, on the first evening home from the maternity hospital. Check out the fucking look on my face. Most likely it was a semi-permanent expression in that year. What baffles me now is why other people didn't see it and do something about it. I know that I do present as immensely competent, as immensely capable, as entirely self-sufficient and as having already thought of, and dismissed in advance, every single thing that you're about to say. I've known this about myself and how I seem (and I put effort, usually unconsciously, into to maintaining this illusion) for a long time, but even so, it took many hours on the analytic couch to grasp that this pattern was laid down very early in my life, in response to an environment where it appeared that the people I was dependent on might not really be all that dependable. And in the way that these things work, the appearance of a little baby in my life called up the coping mechanisms with doubled intensity, because the little baby that I had once been was feeling vulnerable on his behalf as well as on mine.

So, adapting to new motherhood for me meant adapting to winter days spent sitting alone with a baby in my living room, struggling with being so isolated, (I initially wrote ‘sitting alone in my living room’) nursing a baby or playing with him, or trying to make him shut his eyes, always fighting off the urge to sleep myself, or spent in multiple-hour walks pushing the pram up and down the hills of Montmorency and Eltham and Greensborough. Lenny was never one of these infants you sometimes hear about who take two-hour naps morning and afternoon and go down easily for lengthy nighttime sleeps.

The best it got in the first year was the time from about two months to five months of age, when he would sleep from about 6pm to about 11pm. After that he would wake every couple of hours. So I took to going to bed when he did, so as to get maybe three or four hours of continuous sleep in twenty-four. I never fed him in bed, I always got up. He had that colicky inclination to spew if he wasn’t held upright. The house had two rooms with extensive glazing and in this year I became mildly obsessed with following the progress of the moon across the night sky and through its monthly phases.

This was alright for a while, but as he grew, Lenny fed more – he didn’t take to solids with much enthusiasm – and slept shorter and shorter periods of time. And I slept less and less too. As evenings approached I felt anxious about whether I would have enough sleep that night to get through the next day.

Around October, at about the time I surfaced briefly to say what looks with hindsight like a rather desperate hello to my blog, we took Leonard to a sleep school, where we were shown how to implement controlled crying and told that he was old enough to go to have his cot put into his own bedroom. I was very ill at this point, deeply sleep-deprived, with food issues, high anxiety, nightmares and daily panic attacks.

In the middle of December we drove to Bermagui to spend a week in the house facing Beares Beach that had belonged to my grandparents. My grandmother had died that July in an aged care home.

We had Lenny in a portable cot in the room where we slept. He was sleeping for an hour, waking to feed for twenty minutes, sleeping for an hour again, then chirpy and bright all day.

One night, near sunrise, I put him back in his cot and went to lie on the bed in the room next door. I knew this was the bed my grandfather had died in, fifteen years previously. In my head, a Crowded House song was playing over and over. We’d had it on in the car during the long drive up the coast.


There’s a hole in the river 
Where her memory lies 
From the land of the living 
To the air and sky 
She was coming to see him 
Something changed her mind 
Drove her down to the river 
There is no return

When the sun rose I got up, dressed, went outside and got in the car and took the beach road south out of town. I wanted to be at home, in my own bed, sleeping, but there was no rest for me anywhere. I drove over a long, low bridge across a wide sandy estuary and I pulled over by the dunes. I immediately fell asleep. When I woke up I sat in the car for a long time, then I got out and walked down the beach and into the waves.

I heard a man shouting, Get out here now or I will come in and get you.

I turned and saw a man and a woman and two dogs standing on the beach. I walked out of the water. She said nothing. He said to me, almost crying, I had a friend who jumped off the Gap and I’ve never forgiven her.
I told him I had a baby at home and I was tired. He told me I had postnatal depression, and he said, pointing to the woman standing beside him, she had had it too and the kid had gone straight into the creche. That’s what you have to do now, he said. I looked at her face, which I could not really see because of her sunglasses. Where do you live? he said. I said I live in Melbourne. Where are you staying? he asked. I said Bermagui. He said, we will take you home. And I went into 'I can handle this' mode. Thank you, I said, but it's not far. I will drive myself home now. They didn't want to let me go, but they did and I went back to the house.

By this time my husband had called my parents, who lived a couple of hours away, and they were all sitting in the living room when I walked in. Someone said Where have you been? and I said, I tried to drown myself. I went into the bedroom and lay on the bed in my wet clothes. A little while later my mother came in carrying a cup of tea which she put on a table near the window. Neither of us said anything. She left the room. The next people to come in were two paramedics who told me they were going to take me to the hospital in Bega and I needed to put on some dry clothes. They went out and I got changed. Then I went out to the ambulance and they made me lie down in the back and we went to Bega. 

In the hospital there I was interviewed by a psychiatrist of some description, who committed me, and the next day I was sent in another ambulance to the mental hospital at Goulburn, where I remained on suicide watch for several days. I was not allowed to have Lenny in the hospital with me and it would not have been a safe place for him. It was not safe for me. I was propositioned, if you could call it that, by male patients several times a day, and one of them assaulted me. I could not lock my room at night and I was terrified I was going to be raped. I was eventually released into my family's care by the registrar there, on condition that they drove me straight to the private hospital in Melbourne's outer northern suburbs which has a mother and baby unit. I stayed there for two weeks. It was there that I met my doctor. I went home the day before Christmas. Two days after Christmas I ran away again.


I wrote above somewhere that I don't feel sad to contemplate any of this now and that is true, but I so deeply regret that I didn't ask the people on the beach for their names.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

the rest

The networks were down until 4pm today.

 

The rest of the search keywords are a bit curious. I'm still wondering about how this specific combination of things about my life came to be the things that animated somebody's curiosity. I'm not wondering in a cross way. I think that must be apparent from what I wrote yesterday. This morning, after the computers shat themselves and before the stack of puzzle boxes came out (oh yes, there's a stack of them now) I was wandering around the building and thinking about what I'd written and about what I might write now. Ultimately it feels like I received an invitation to write about things I haven't written about directly and that invitation is welcome - I am aware that invitations to write, to think, to reflect, to articulate are rare and as far as possible should be received with respect and honest good faith.  I also was pleased to have an occasion to reread the post I wrote last year about going back to work and accidentally showing the students the birth photos. That's the nucleus of an alright piece of writing there and I think I'll see if I can get someone interested in publishing it.

brunswick

That said, I don't have much to say to 'Brunswick'. This is the neighbourhood to the west of where I live, and it's got Sydney Road in it, and therefore A1 Bakery, but otherwise it's not really of great interest to me. Some of my friends live there. I don't wish to see it obliterated with an atomic bomb or anything like that.

sold house

My husband and I bought a house in Montmorency at the end of 2006 and lived there happily enough for several years. It wasn't big enough for a family of three, which could have been rectified, but by the time we sold it in the middle of 2012 I had learned enough about the community there to know I didn't want to bring up a child in that environment. This was a key and emblematic episode in the sad acquisition of that knowledge. It wasn't only the horrific incident described in that story, it was very much also the things that a small group of men whom I knew very slightly from the community said to me about it, on different occasions, at the RSL, in the main street, on the train, about the Aboriginality of the girl involved, and about what kind of person she was, about what good kids the boys were and how bad it would be to ruin their lives over this thing.

The community where Lenny is growing up now has its flaws all right - chiefly smugness and complacency - but that's a big step up from open racism and misogyny, and the rest.

renting

Before Montmorency we lived for some years in this rented house in Rosanna. Before that we lived in this flat in St Kilda, before that, it was this one, and before that, the ground floor flat in the same building. Before that I lived here, and before that I lived here, and before that, here, and before that a couple of shorter term addresses that I don't remember.  Golly, what a rabbit hole to fall into.


east brunswick

Look, even though the kinder and the tram route both have it as 'East Brunswick', and they have some standing as authoritative sources, I really think it's called Brunswick East. I have lived here since 2012 and I expect to be living here at least until Leonard finishes primary school. It's as good as anywhere else.

2011
psychiatric

tomorrow

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

I'll tell you about those things you wanted to know

I'll see how far I get down this list before I pass out. (I didn't sleep much last night then I got up at 5:30 to go to the gym, then work was kind of excruciating, despite the completion of the jigsaw, then home, cook, clean, parent, blah blah blah. It doesn't leave much in the tank. On the bright side, Wednesday is the day I treat myself to a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich with my coffee on the way to work, and eating it is always the high point of my week by quite some distance.)

pregnancy 

I was 38 when I got pregnant, in 2010, after several years of fertility treatment culminating in two years of IVF. In addition to dealing with the expense, the awful mess the surgeries and the drugs made of my body and my mind, and the recurrent terrible bleak distress associated with the unsuccessful cycle, I had to live with despising my fertility specialist with a burning hatred, for her patronage, her arrogance, her incapacity to form any kind of human connection with her patients.

The pregnancy itself, having been conceived in such an insane atmosphere of high intervention and specialist management, inevitably was conducted in the same terrified yet disconnected manner. I had an obstetrician in the neighbouring suburb to mine and she was the best person involved in my care. She wonderfully said to me, when another clinician had been annoying to me about being a vegetarian, A hundred million Indians can't be wrong. I also had a diabetes nurse - I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes at seven weeks - a fertility clinic nurse, an endocrinologist, and I saw the same ultrasound person seven times. At the last scan he informed me that the baby was so large he would get stuck halfway out. A darling friend who I will treasure forever stared when she heard this and said, Well, that will be awkward at parties. The twelve week tests were ambiguous and so, after some jagged, heartsick and grief-stricken consideration, I had an amniocentesis. In the interval between deciding to take the test and actually having it administered. I had panic attacks almost daily, often nightly. All this noted, I remember enjoying the late second / early third trimester, when I could feel the baby, I was well, and had got on top of managing my insulin levels. I also became pretty much insatiable sexually, not that I have ever had a low sex drive except in times when I've been physically ill, but it got utterly mental. I continued to work up to 34 weeks.

latrobe

Surviving the ordeal of conceiving a baby also destroyed my academic career. When I began this blog I was lecturing at level B on semester length contracts, then I took on a two-year appointment Level B'ing for La Trobe at its Mildura campus, where I flew each week to teach, as well as at the main campus. Then I had a string of two-year level B appointments at the main campus, maybe three of those? Then I lost my job in English but managed to get taken on as a level A in academic development, which I had gotten interested in through involvement in various faculty projects to improve the quality of teaching, and then I went for and got a promotion to C, and then I did that work for two more years before the university decided conclusively to dispense with my services and paid me out a rather large sum of money which I spent mostly on paying off IVF debts and travelling. But to backtrack: I could not do all the fertility stuff, not to mention actually be pregnant, deliver the baby and survive his infancy and go back to work, and also meet the publishing requirements the faculty retrospectively imposed on all staff in 2012 when there was a faculty restructure just before the university-wide one two years later. So I did lose my job in the English department, which I loved and was really good at, when my kid was about a year and a half old. I had been back from maternity leave for about a semester, I think. About six weeks before returning to work I had a calamitous nervous breakdown which I suppose we'll get to in due course. Meanwhile you should read this story about how fantastically well I disgraced myself on my first day back at work, if by some terrible omission you haven't read it already.

midwife

Didn't have one, except in the trivial sense that some were present in the operating theatre when Lenny was born. One of them placed a bottle of formula in my husband's hands to feed the baby with, while I was in the surgical recovery room.

diabetes

As I said, I had gestational diabetes while pregnant. I cannot eat much sugar now - it gives me a headache - and I don't wish to. The management of the diabetes was so excellent in so many ways but it did make me extremely anxious and I am sure that anxiety contributed in a profound way to the disastrous level of anxiety that came later, when I was largely alone with the baby, cut off from the life I had been living, and chronically sleep deprived.

breastfeed 
breastfed
breast

Despite the formula in the hospital, despite the low birthweight, I was determined to breastfeed. I myself was not breastfed as a baby. My nipples were damaged by the baby's mouth in the first days after birth and didn't heal for weeks. On being discharged from the maternity ward, the nurse checked my surgery wound, took my temperature etc, explained the pain medication I was going home with, unbuttoned my blouse and looked at my breasts and wrote on her discharge card, "Breasts: small." I took deep, deep offence at this, my god, it just seemed so unnecessary! What I didn't understand was that small breasts, as mine admittedly are, fill up with milk and get rock hard much faster than big ones, and the baby will need many small feeds as opposed to fewer larger ones in order to get enough milk. This has implications for what it is possible to do in terms of resuming the activities of normal life, which took many months in my case. First there was basic health to be regained. I got mastitis twice before week six. The first bout was coupled with an internal infection where my uterus had been cut. I went back to hospital in an ambulance. Lenny came too of course,  he was about two weeks old, I think. I wasn't done with antibiotics of one kind or another for about three months. I never really got used to getting my tits out in the presence of friends and family members and once or twice of work colleagues who I would by no stretch of the imagination think of as 'friends'. One humiliating occasion that sticks particularly in my mind I went to visit some friends and had to feed Leonard there instead of after leaving their house as I'd intended, and he took forever, like maybe an hour, and I just thought, we are all hating this. You can't see the breast when the baby is on it, but it's the sitting there for ages, for ages and ages, with your clothes all dishevelled while your friend makes weirder and weirder desperate small talk. And so I didn't go out a great deal and never very far from home. This was a pretty dumb move on my part because I retreated further and further into my own exhausted, lonely, solitary brain.

All that said, eventually I got pretty good at breastfeeding and got to like it, when it wasn't the only source of nutrition and the pressure was off, so to speak. I was disappointed that it didn't make my boobs permanently larger, but at least they didn't lose their shape. I didn't completely stop lactating until Lenny was nearly three. I'd finished feeding him almost a year before that. Bodies are freaky, man.


Alright that is definitely enough for today. So that leaves

brunswick
sold house
renting
east brunswick
2011
psychiatric

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Update of information

The jigsaw is practically finished (this picture is more than 24 hours out of date)



It's a big week for workplace food. The above is happening every day. It's a fine line between pleasure and pain with this genre of catering, I find 

 
Lastly on the updates front, the dirt heap has followed me to work. I felt quite moved to see it in the cold late autumn sunrise, squatting silently at the top of the southern lawn. It has smartened itself up quite a bit but I'd know it anywhere.

Alright well, as usual, I'm in bed. I have wanted to write but life hasn't been providing me with the little pushes, or invitations, that I need to find my way into the words that will resonate at the proper pitch and frequency. And now I have received a prompt that I can use. Indulge, tolerate and forgive me please, because this is going to get kind of meta. 

Today I looked at the Blogger dashboard to see if anyone had left a comment here that I should read and publish. Nobody had, but in a different section that lists search queries made by visitors in that box on the top left, there was an interesting list of words. Just the words and the time of the search - no other information. It's almost always empty, this section, but today, in two bursts, someone searched my blog's archives for these words:

pregnancy
latrobe
midwife
diabetes
breastfeed 
breastfed
breast
brunswick
sold house
renting
east brunswick
2011
psychiatric

Once the initial wave of paranoia subsided I had two parallel responses. First was a kind of irascible curiosity about who the searcher could be. After all, this is an inquiry made by someone who does already grasp some version of an outline of some important stations in my history, and yet who also seems to not know as much as they'd like to about them - otherwise, why investigate at all? You see, I have no way of knowing who is reading my blog unless readers choose to make themselves known to me. I can see visitor numbers, countries of origin, what kinds of operating systems they use, and that's about it. It has become a kind of discipline that I accept this situation and indeed it has many really positive aspects. I try to respect the terms of the bargain implied in the format and in my preferred way of deploying it. But something about this list interested me. It perhaps adds up to a presumption of a chapter in the story of a life about which the subject might perhaps feel vulnerable, were it to be known about by others. And so I considered what kinds of people in my environment might possess that sort of curiosity, and whether I could conceive of benign interest in these topics or whether it could only feel like a dirt-digging exercise. And then I thought of a couple of people who might fit the profile - and then I felt much better - because I immediately saw some motives that I could accept and that made sense to me. And then I thought also that in a way this list of words is a strange kind of invitation to reflect and to string together a story and see where it might lead to. Tomorrow I will begin stringing together that story.