Sep 08

Lockdowns are hard. Even for the likes of me, who enjoys his own company, and perfectly happy to sit at home looking out the window.

I accept the reasons why I’m here. It’s for of my own physical health and that of my community.

And it’s tough. Really tough. For the second year in a row, I had a birthday in lockdown. I missed my family and having a nice quiet dinner.

8 month Chris

I haven’t seen my daughter or her son for so long. I miss them. Video, calls, messages, photos, that’s not the same.

I haven’t seen my other child since I gave them a haircut between lockdowns. We haven’t sat in the same space and watched a bit of sci-fi on the telly. We haven’t been out for a pizza and a beer in forever.

I miss Michael’s family. For the second year running, Rosh Hashanah has been food lovingly prepared by Naomi and collected by Michael. The celebration arrives in plastic containers with personalised labels on top. We eat alone in our home, dipping our apple and enjoying the treats. It’s not the same without the noise of family.

I miss my sister and her oldest daughter turning 18. I haven’t heard or seen from them in yonks. Sure, we talk on the phone, send the odd messages, but the yearning to put my eyes upon them is unmet.

Family is important. I know that we’re all in this together, and we’re doing it tough. Unless, of course, you happen to be the Prime Minister. Then you get to make up the rules, and if they’re designed in such a way that permits you to travel, then you can claim to just be playing by the rules.

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has done just that. He works in Canberra, apparently. He jumps on a RAAF jet and heads home to Sydney for the weekend, to spend it with his wife and two children, oh, and it’s Father’s Day.

He says ‘it’s a cheap shot’ for people to point out how unfair this is. He says, ‘they’re the rules’. Rules that have been designed to favour the political class. Sydney is in lockdown, Canberra is in lockdown. Yet, somehow, the Prime Minister is permitted to not only go home, but to return to work. The rest of us would need to spend two weeks in quarantine, both ways.

It’s a hollow man who wants to be playing by the rules. The office he holds needs to be seen to be with the people, not creating loopholes for his pleasure.

This isn’t about doing the ‘right thing’ according to the rules, this is about consideration for those not able to have the same privilege that he has. The families who had to gather on either side of barricades on the NSW & Queensland border to see each other on Father’s Day, the grandparents missing their grandchildren, even though they live in the same area, the important religious celebration that has to be held in isolation. So many people are doing the right thing, following the rules, minimising the risk. And yet, the PM has no hesitation about seeing his family, and makes no apology for it. He hides behind his role. He uses his important role as PM to justify his actions of seeing his family. The man is tone-deaf to the anguish all around him, and fails to see the clear double standard.

For me, I’ll go back to video calls, phone calls, instant messages. I’ll stay away from my 8-month-old grandson, who is only 45 minutes down the road. I won’t see my children, I won’t see the in-laws, I won’t see my sister. Likewise, I won’t look for a loophole or ask for special consideration because, we’re all in this together.

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Jul 25

I have a friend, well several, ok, 5 or 3, I’m not certain. Could be way more or way less. Facebook says I have 756 of them, and as we know, Facebook knows everything about everyone. How easily distracted I am, this isn’t a post about Facebook and privacy, or more importantly how my ego is faring with my friend numbers and whether my posts get sufficient likes to show me how valued I am. No, this is a blog post about the bush, getting out of the city, escaping, running away, claiming that the rabbit is dynamite and learning to count to 5, or is it 3?

Facebook friends

For some time, my friend, as mentioned above, I will call her Marcelle, as that is her name. I have been known to call her other things. One day, I’ll compile a list of other things that I call her, perhaps I’ll expand that to all my friends, all 756 of them. Might be quite a list. Anyway, for years, Marcelle has wanted to go snow camping. I don’t really think that’s a thing. Who would pitch a tent in snow? However, she is very insistent, and quite frankly, I’d run out of excuses. I wasn’t working, my weeks just stretching one into the other. Any time I think of escaping Melbourne, we’d end up in another lockdown. So, finally relenting, I agreed to this rather preposterous notion of finding somewhere so cold that the rain turns to snowflakes and falls on you.

We dragged out a map, not like the old days when we’d have a paper map or a copy of the RACV Vicroads Country Directory. No, I went to Openstreet Map, and we selected the Mt Baw Baw national park. We stared at the map on my tablet, using our fingers to zoom in and out. Decided on staying at Mt. Erica, or if we didn’t like that when we got there, Mt. St. Gwinear. Great. Plan set in motion. It was only the next day, as I was dreaming while looking at the map, that I looked at the button that said, “This area has reported issues”. I could feel for its issues, I have lots of them. So, not really feeling up to taking on the area’s issues, thinking they should pay for their own therapy, my pointer moved across the screen slowly and clicked. Sure enough, road closed because of recent storms. There goes that idea.

Not that I was entirely disappointed. I figured that we wouldn’t be able to go right now, and should wait until the road was clear. Maybe it would be summer by that time and the cold snow would have melted!

I knew as that thought crossed my mind, pushing aside a bunch of other things going on in my head at that moment, that it was foolhardy to think we’d give up that easily. I know, I say ‘we’ and wonder if I really meant ‘she’. Alas, though, we have history. In the 1980s, we went to the Grampians to spend a weekend camping and bushwalking. When we got there, we found that the Troopers Creek campground was inhabited by a bunch of young people, so that’s people slightly younger than us in our early 20s, and they were making so much noise. We put all our stuff back into the Holden Belmont HQ and drove to Wyperfeld National Park. It was only a 3-hour drive away. That’s a story for another day.

And I was wrong, within moments of the grim discovery and the thought we might postpone, we’d found another place where the roads were open! Our attention had now moved from Baw Baw to Buller. Carter’s Mill Picnic and camping area. Not too far out of Mansfield, not on top of Mt Buller, so, you know, not as cold.

Time to hit the garage. That’s where my camping equipment is stored. Neglected for the most part. I’d need a tent. Something to carry water in. Mattress, sleeping bag, focket knipe (don’t ask), shoes, gaters, small items in dilly bags, something that rattles, an emergency space blanket. Not that I was going to space, I guess it’s called an emergency space blanket because if you did happen to be ejected from a star ship you could use it as a sort of parachute to float back to earth, or because it keeps you warm if you should get so cold, you pick which idea suits me best. A little spade with toilet paper on the handle, torches, matches, plates, forks, cups, containers with lids for storing things in, ropes, long-johns, coat and another coat in case of snow, assorted things that might be handy should we come under moose attack or get a nasty nick from a hakea bush.

Before I knew it, I had enough gear to allow me to set up a small village and grow carrots. Most of it made sense as I was retrieving it from tubs on the shelves. As I have done so many times, I picked up each item, turned it over and then asked if I really needed it. Luckily, most of it went back into the tubs. I really should throw some things out. I mean, I’m never going to use that torch that takes 3 D cell batteries and clips to the tent roof with a magnet.

Can Hamsters Eat Soda Crackers? - Online Hamster Care

Marcelle and I catch up to discuss our menu. I’d like to think of it as a planning meeting. Alas, no printed lists, no creating a menu and then ingredients. Nah, we’re too good for that stuff. It used to be easy, drop into the supermarket, pick up a pack of surprise peas, deb potatoes, kabana, cheese, salada biscuits and packets of chicken noodle soup. I guess it’s still pretty easy, the focus now is on healthier options. We sorted that out. I dropped into the supermarket and picked up some freeze-dried food, muesli bars and a bunch of apples.

Next morning, Marcelle arrived at 5.30 to collect me. Don’t panic, we weren’t going to head off in the middle of the night, we aren’t that mad! No, we went for a run in the middle of the night instead. Once that was over with, we had our breakfasts, and then hit the road.

foggy road

The biggest part of the journey is actually just getting out of the city. It seems to go on forever and ever. Buildings, cars, traffic lights. It does eventually give way to wire fences, sheep, trees and a bunch of grass. As the day wore on, we had to drive through some fairly thick fog, it was pretty low to the ground, probably about 10 metres deep. Above it, we could see the clear sky. It felt like driving in your own little universe bubble.

Our first stop was Mansfield. Well, not strictly the first stop. We had lunch there. Mansfield was pretty packed, which shouldn’t really have been a surprise, as it is snow season and school holidays. We hadn’t thought about it being holidays for kids. It’s astonishing how over the year’s life is organised around your children and their timetables. Now, both of us, clear of that restraint, wouldn’t be caught in a camping ground during such times. While that was the intention, as we don’t have school aged kids, we also are blissfully unaware of when they actually happen. A little sense of dread niggled at me. Will we have to travel 300k to escape a camping ground full of noisy kids? It then occurred to me, that we were trying to avoid exactly the sort of campers we used to be. With our combined children, it was 8, plus two adults. Imaging thinking you’d picked the perfect spot to put up your tent, light a little fire, enjoy the tranquillity only to have two lots of kids arrive. All the running and screaming at the top of their lungs. And that was just Marcelle and me.

We drove on towards Mt. Buller. As we got closer, we could see the white tips of the alps. Sure seems to be snow up there. The thermometer in the car hadn’t risen above 10c for the duration of the trip, and now it was closer to 0 than 10.

You know we have lots of experience in travelling, Marcelle and I have navigated our ways to lots of remote and tricky places. All of that experience, and we couldn’t find the right road to turn off. I must’ve had the map upside down, actually it was an app. I was expecting to turn right, searching the right side of the roadway for the turn. I couldn’t make any sense of it. It was only when we reached the base of Mt Buller that I thought I should whip out my phone and check the app again. Sure enough, the map was wrong, in relation to my understanding of how maps should work. It makes sense to me if I hold my phone that it naturally orientates to the correct direction of travel. What’s so hard about that?

Big signs up at the gateway to Buller saying that you have to prove your vaccination status to go to the snow fields. A great idea, and with only one shot in my arm, it meant I couldn’t go up to the mountain top. Not that that was the plan, it was good to have a fallback position just in case any more insane ideas came from the driver’s side of the van.

The app map now behaving in a way that I expected, indicated that the turn-off was on the right. So, I was right, it was a right turn if you happen to be driving away from Mt. Buller. We found the turn off and took it, it changes pretty quickly from a sealed road to a rough gravel road. That’s good – it’ll keep some families out. Except the ones with four-wheel drives, nothing keeps them out.

We drove towards the campground, and just before was a car park full of four-wheel drives. My heart sank a little – not a good sign. A little sign pointed us towards the camping ground. Also, a right turn to those of you keeping track. The entry was very muddy and slippery, but still passable, even for those of us without a four-wheel drive. Then bang. Sudden stop. In front was a piece of yellow tape baring the entrance to the camping ground. Hanging off the tape was an A4 piece of paper, laminated, with the words “Closed for renovations”. Clearly didn’t check that one on the website! There’s that moment of hesitation where we have a mix of emotions, do we break the rules?, do we go somewhere else?, do we just give up and go home?

We went with option two. I would’ve gone option one or three. Luckily, Marcelle is much calmer than me. The little A4 sign with the writing in font size 16 – not big enough to read from the car unless you squint and hold your head to the left, said that alternative camping was available at the Buttercup Camping grounds. The immediate result of reading Buttercup was to sing, and that little earworm sat in my head for the rest of the trip. Why do you build me up, buttercup?

So, off we went. Following the road until we came to the Buttercup 4 Campground. There was nobody else onsite! A blessing! The sign on the road told us that we couldn’t drive any further as it was for four-wheel drives only. We had four-wheels and a big van on top of them, alas, not a 4WD. So, here we decided was home.

It was in pretty good shape. Plenty of open spaces. Limbs had recently been cut from trees that may have posed a threat to falling on tents. A toilet, picnic tables. What more can a couple of intrepid adventurers need? Across the small dirt track was open farmland, private property. Some cows wandering around doing cow things, plenty of bird life, plenty of water. The Buttercup creek flows through the campground, and beyond the creek the land quickly rises into what is generally known as a mountain. I nodded at it with a sly grin, it was lucky that there were no plans for us to conquer it this trip. I’m sure it breathed a sigh of relief.

Between us and that mountain were trees. Big trees. Lots of them. Amazing trees. A kookaburra sits in (an old) gum tree, clearly on guard, maybe for their nest. I drag out my binoculars and watch it for a while. It’s just sitting there. My glasses point towards a kerfuffle going on in another tree. A bunch of plump birds are flitting about. I don’t know what they are, they look like Satin Bowerbirds, but I’ve never seen them gather in a flock before. Bowerbirds they are. A few females and a couple of males. I thought they only stayed on the ground because the male makes a bower for the female. It hadn’t occurred to me that they need to find other things to do between breeding seasons. I can feel the city in me expelled as I soak in the view. The air is crisp, the ground is sodden, the trees are swaying. I can hear the creek bubbling away. It’s icy, so cold, it should be snowing, but it’s not. The ground is its normal self – not disappointed.

We set about making camp. We do this by taking things out of the van and spreading them out far and wide. Not in nice little piles close together. We’re here in the bush, plenty of space. So, we spread out. My tent goes up in no time, as does Marcelle’s. These are small one person tents. Hardly enough room to swing a possum. Marcelle’s is brand new, so we’re both eager to see how it preforms. It’s probably rated for snow camping.

Airbeds unrolled, sleeping bags put in place. Pillow there. All this and it’s only 2.30 in the afternoon.

Someone had recently been here, the stones around the fireplace are still quite warm. I set about starting a fire, without using matches. I’m so good. I throw a bunch of twigs, bark and smaller type logs, get down on one knee to allow me to blow at the nearly dead embers. This causes the ash to rise upward, no sign of smoke, or even a flame. Not one to give up too easily, I persisted until I’m dizzy and need to collapse. Luckily, Marcelle has a portable fire in a gas bottle and the kettle can be boiled. While we sip our much-needed coffee and my world stops spinning, the fire roars into life.

blowing on the ashes

While I’m encouraging my fire, grunting as a true reflection of my ability to make fire, Marcelle’s heads over the Sleeping Quarters of the campsite. There she unwraps this superb stainless-steel fireplace. Ever the prepared one, she’s brought wood, non-petrochemcial fire starters and a match. Within moments, she’s got a fire going in the little fireplace. It’s no match for my masterpiece, I grunt as I throw half a tree into the now well-established flames.

We sit looking at the fire, there’s hardly a breath of wind, so we aren’t dodging around the smokey parts. We natter, laugh, reminisce and glow at our cleverness. Here we are, midweek, feeling like we are in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the trees and the birds. This illusion is soon shattered by the echoing sound of a gunshot. At first, I think that it mustn’t be that. Must be a cocky-scarer or the banging of two bits of wood. Alas, the noise ricochets around hills again and there is no mistaking that sound. We look at each other a bit nervously, remembering that we are in the middle of nowhere. Visions of Wolf Creek cross my mind. Right, that’s what you do when you’re trying to sneak up on someone, fire a couple of shots, so they don’t know you’re coming. Things go quiet. There’s no car noises or breaking of twigs. Maybe they’re hunting rabbits, pig, deer or a goat.

Feeling safe enough, we head off for a bit of a walk along the Buttercup Track, why do you build me up, buttercup? We have the babbling Buttercup creek to the right of us, and open fields to the left. There’s a few cows doing cow things in the paddocks, and we can see some utes sitting at the top of the paddock. Another shot rings out and the sounds bounces off the hills. We continue our walk to the next campsite. There’s plenty of water running here. Little streams run under the road. Birds flit around the freshly ploughed fields and gunshots echo.

A few more loud bangs, and it seems that the gunshots are coming from the same place. Almost like someone is sitting in their rocking chair taking potshots at the rabbits, although more likely empty beer cans.

Back at camp, the chill of the evening is setting in as the sun has gone below the ridge line. We can still see it shining on the hills to the east, but we are deprived of its direct warmth. That means, the already cool temperature drops even more. Darkness is on the way, and we think it’s best to get our evening meal out of the way before it sets in.

Cooking is minimalist, to say the least. We’re trying to pretend we’ve been out hiking in the wilderness all day, and all we have is a pan, some freeze-dried food and some water. Ignore the fact the Marcelle has brought with her a fully decked out van with a 12v fridge, crockery, cutlery, a stove, tea towels, kitchen utensils, and I’m sure the kitchen sink is there somewhere. But hey, I’m ok with this, better than worrying about gunshots.

Just as it’s getting dark, we’re eating our dinner. I’m rugged up in my winter jacket, hat and gloves. We huddle around the fire with half a tree still burning and continue to chat while we finish dinner with a coffee.

It’s dark, it’s cold, the sky is ablaze with stars. I miss seeing the stars in the city. Tiredness creeps in and we both think that it’s about time to retire for the night. It feels really late, upon checking we realise it’s only a quarter to seven. No matter! Mind says sleep, who am I to argue!

Into my little tent I go and try to manage getting into a sleeping bag with barely enough room to sit up. I somehow manage this and nod off quickly, getting up once in the middle of the night to stare at the stars.

The morning light arrives, and I lay in my bed, comfortable and warm. I can feel the cold of the outside air, so I pull my beanie down over my ears and shut the baffles on my sleeping bag. I’m waiting to hear noises from outside. Then I know that Marcelle is up and about. It’s very quiet out there. Just the odd magpies doing their morning calls and the rushing of water. The tent looks icy. I doubt it’s snowed, though. In any case, a bit of light rain has fallen, so not likely to be any snow.

I think I’ve waited enough time, I can hear no noises from outside. I’m surprised. Marcelle is always up at sparrows fart. How could she still be asleep? I sit up and open the fly of my tent, and rather than being greeted by an empty campground, there Marcelle is, faffing around. I can’t believe I haven’t heard her. She’s managed to open all the doors on the van, and that makes a racket. She’s removed the fly from her tent and flapped in the breeze to dry it out, still I heard nothing. Not only that, but she’s boiling some water. “How do you do that?” I query from the safety of my tent. Sneaking around the campsite.

Breakfast is had, we sit around again enjoying the wilderness. Marcelle shows me a bloodied cuff on her trousers. Sometime yesterday a leech had latched onto her ankle, had a full feed and dropped off. She didn’t realise until she saw her blood soaked pants. More examples of our intrepidity. I can only hope to get two leeches to outdo her. The very thought makes my skin crawl, so I’ll just look in awe at her with her blood stains, as if she’s been out bush for months. I’ll have to be content with the black charcoal and ash on my jeans left by kneeling on the ground trying to start the fire yesterday.

We talk about our ambitions for the day. We both want to get home before the sun sets and we want to do a walk. We commence the task of looking at our spread out campsite and bringing all the items back to a central point for packing up. Everything stowed away, we agree to head back to Carters Mill Picnic Ground. We know there’s a few good walks around that area, and we should make an effort to at least claim to have been hiking.

The trip down the mountain was interesting, with a bit of rain there were plenty of puddles to splash water in all directions, and the van mostly behaved itself by sticking to the track.

We arrived at the picnic ground. It would seem that the weather was keeping people away today! A few cars, but not as many as yesterday. We were relieved. This means we don’t really need to interact with other people. These two introverts are much happier in their silence as they trek along the track, and only break that silence for two reasons:

  • Something interesting to look at.
  • Something funny to say.

The walk we choose is rather short, as it’s raining. As intrepid as we like to pretend we are, a good soaking, while not bothering us, is really not needed! It’s only a light sprinkling anyway. There are two walks, a 2k walk or a 3k walk. The short one is a circuit. The other is return on the same track. As tempting as an extra kilometre was, we went to the Plain Creek Loop Walk. It was lovely. A wonderful little wooded area, over a little bridge, and through the forest. The rain falling on my raincoat hat, the sound of Plain Creek bubbling away. The odd bird out in the weather.

In no time at all, the walk was done. The two very smoked campers and hikers got into their van and headed back the way they came.

We stopped in Yarck for lunch. Yarck is such a good name to say. It’s from the local Aboriginal name for the river Yaruk, meaning long river. The lunch stop was the Giddy Goat because, why wouldn’t you stop there? Restrictions meant that the little café was closed for sit down meals, however, a long bench stretching across the side of the footpath and a few little fires in barrels meant we could order our toasted sandwiches, sit outside in the chilly air and watch the world go by.

And that’s it, as exciting as it gets. A single night out in the bush, no snow, plenty of water falling from the sky. A wonderful collection of native birds. Trees, fire, smoke and good company.

A great way to replenish the inner workings of my brain with great company.

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Feb 26

I thought that telling people I was gay was a tough gig. It still makes me nervous at times. The stigma around being gay is fading out, like a farmhand on a horse riding off into the sunset. Not that I’ve ever been a farmhand or ridden into the sunset. I have, however, been on a horse

Working in the 80s and 90s would have been so much harder for me if I was out. I well recall the homophobic jokes and teasing that I laughed along with. Being gay was not ok.

Until now. Being gay is ok for me.

The stigma around mental illness still exists. I know plenty of people who have an illness.

So, big breath, I too have a mental illness. I’ve been fretting about telling you. In some ways it feels like coming out. The stigma associated with a mental illness feels the same.

The same questions pop into my head

  • How to tell you?
  • What will you think of me?
  • What if you don’t want to be my friend anymore?
  • What if you change how you treat me?

And that’s just the start.

The answer to the first question is easy – “I wanted to let you know that I have a mental illness”. The real work is then afterwards, that’s when the stigma rolls in, or more importantly, that’s the perception. My perceptions, as I have often observed, are not always spot on, and like coming out, it’s an internal stigma, so the only logical answer to the next lot of questions is “Fuck you” if your answer is anything other than “OK, no probs” to question 1.

I have had depression for more years than I care to remember. For many of those years I have worked with my GP and psychologist to understand the nature of my illness and find ways to mitigate it. The last thing I have ever wanted to do is tell others. I didn’t even want to admit it to myself.

When I left Family Life in March 2017 it was after a long stressful period at work. There was so much going on at the same time, and this became a real turning point for me. I was there for 18 years, and I always enjoyed the job. As my mental health declined, so did my work, so did my mood and so did my interactions with others.

When I made my farewell speech then, I said to the staff that part of the reason for my leaving was my well-being. My mental health. I explained how I was trying to look after it, I had begun some medication, and need to stop and rest for a while.

I didn’t tell anyone else about my reasons, I said that I was leaving to complete my studies.

Work out of the way, I could focus on studying better. I muddled through, I really did. I don’t know how I actually passed. There were many dark days and while medication took the edge off, I was still not very well at all.

It was two years later when I started a new job. I was onto my 2nd medication, and it seemed to work, I was reaching a better equilibrium and felt ready to take on the next challenge.

And I love my job, I love the work we do, and the people who do it. It ticks all my social justice boxes.

Eighteen months into the job and I could feel the wheels falling off again. I tried hard to keep things under control, but I was slipping.

For a reason I don’t really understand, I came off the medication. While the medication helped, it really made me exhausted, to the point that my brain would just shut down by around 6 every night. I’d have to go to bed, which is just ridiculous, so I’d stay and watch telly for a couple of hours while snarling at Michael for chatting to me.

Initially, when I came off the meds, I actually was pretty good, for a little while. The crash sort of sneaked up on me. Little things at first. It was easy to say the pandemic was causing me stress, and it did, it kept me awake at night, trying to work out how to look after our teams and the people we support. I could put my mood down to that stress.

After I was particularly snappy in one of the leadership team meetings, not rude mind you, just snarky, Kon, the CEO, took me aside and asked me if I was ok. That’s an outrageous question to ask! Indignantly I said, “Yes, of course I’m OK”. The next words out of his mouth are the single most important he has ever uttered to me.

“No, you’re not ok”

Weak knees, tears welling up, head down and a slight stutter as I finally acknowledged the truth. “You’re right”.

What a precious moment. Another person cared enough, not just about my job performance, but me as a person, to tell me he was worried about me, to ask why my responses and actions were out of sync, to check in with me, really check in on a professional and personal level.

There are others too, of course, who have been trying to tell me. My husband, Michael, more on that soon.

I have to say that I love my job, I want to throw myself into it and work hard. I felt like I was working with a team that is making real change for people, and I find that important and rewarding. Furthermore, I didn’t want to mess this up, that’s an anxiety all on its own. The guilt of walking away in the middle of a pandemic was gut-wrenching for me.

Walk away I did, and this time, I thought, I’m pulling out all stops. First stop to the GP – I wanted a real diagnosis, not that his diagnosis wasn’t real. I wanted a psychiatrist to give me the once-over. I really wanted to put a plan in place to help me manage. I knew I could live with depression, I just knew I couldn’t do it by myself.

What’s essential to me in my leadership role is modelling behaviours. Over the course of the pandemic, I was aware of the huge impact it was having on the well-being of the staff. It was really a tough gig for all of us, locked up at home, trying to help some of the most vulnerable people in Victoria and struggling to make sure we could make ends meet.

It felt so wrong at the time to have to take leave. It is what I have been saying, though to the staff, if you’re unwell, take the time off. We’ve got this, and we need you back, so go heal.

Here was an opportunity for me to model a bit of self-care, and there’s little point in doing that if I don’t tell people what’s going on. So I did. I was quite upfront with people. I told them that I’m not well, and I’m taking a mental health break to look after my depression.

I hated taking the time off. I’m glad I did. I think it’s difficult for some people to do this. We’re so caught up in our bullshit that we forget we are only human. There should be no shame in not being at the top of your game. Nobody batted an eyelid when I had time off to have my skin cancers removed. Nobody cared I took time off to have my wisdom teeth removed. Nobody should care that I need time off to have my depression removed, or mitigated, or managed. I don’t know the right word.

So, I did take some extended leave, during a pandemic, where I got to sit at home and do nothing. A dose of mountains, trees, kangaroos and small goats would have been ideal, but impossible. So, home I stayed. Taught myself how to program in Python. Set up a Raspberry Pi, bought some lenses to take photos with it and read.

Diagnosis came when I sat with the psychiatrist who ran me through a series of questions about life. Mild to severe depression he proclaimed. Oh yes, he proclaimed, we had full trumpets, the unrolling of a parchment and the tolling of bells before the big announcement. Well, that’s what it felt like. At last, I had some words. I hadn’t realised just how important this was for me. I think that just popping a few pills wasn’t enough, I needed to know just what I was dealing with. The psychiatrist prescribed a bunch of blood tests and from that my third medication was introduced.

And this time the changes in my mood were so much better. The time off, seeing my psychologist weekly, the psychiatric assessment and a treatment course all helped me to get back on track. It was about a month before I returned to work, raring to go.

Now some months later, I’ve taken a couple of weeks off for an intensive program of TMS. Again, it was important for me to let the leadership team know, and the staff too.

I don’t feel mighty, I’m hoping that my little blog will help someone, I’m hoping that letting my team know they’ll know it’s ok to take care of themselves.

I feel like this is tough for me. Everyone’s journey and experience is very different to mine. I don’t want for a minute to undermine yours.

What I do want, is a world free of stigma. Stigma creates trauma, and we need to let go of the things that cause said stigma. It’s a nice way of saying, if you’re a misogynist, a homophobe, a transphobe, a mental health phobe (is there a word?) to pull your head out of your arse. Stigma sucks and has real life impacts for those at the other end, and you have no excuse for being phobic.

Finally, you know what’s vital to me? Michael. I have told him he is the love of my life. We have been on this journey together, and this wonderful man has waited for me, he has put up with so much while I’ve been to the bottom and slowly back to something near normal. He sees in me something that keeps him here. As I do in him. My relationship with him is an important part of my happiness. I just want to be with him. I want us to be happy. I’m grateful, happy, pleased, thrilled, I don’t know how to express it. I’m rapt that he is in my life.

You, you take care of yourself.

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