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National Carers Week: My Story

One afternoon in mid-January 2017, my fiance Greg came home early from his job as a tiler with lower back pain. He took the weekend to rest up, however Monday came and the pain had not subsided. The days turned into weeks. In early March I set off on a month-long book research trip to Ireland, expecting Greg would be back at work by the time I returned. He wasn’t; he was suffering from a protruding L5/S1 Disc. He was 32 years of age, and had been working as a tiler for seven years.

My role as a carer for Greg started off small; I was doing more of the tasks we usually shared. Carrying the heavy shopping bags, doing the laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher. Anything that involved lifting and bending, or standing for extended periods of time.

On top of these increased responsibilities at home, I was also working part-time as an Attractions Presenter at Warner Brothers Movie World on the Gold Coast. At the end of May 2017 I left that job, a position I had held for over four years. I had landed a full-time position as a travel agent in Broadbeach. It was my dream job.

In June 2017 Greg underwent a discectomy, a procedure to surgically remove the damaged disc tissue. He was unable to drive for several weeks following the surgery, not only because of his physical incapacity but also the heavy pain relief drugs he was taking.

This procedure failed and the remainder of his damaged disc continued to deteriorate.

It was around this time that the gravity of Greg’s situation was beginning to dawn on us. Greg’s future was becoming more and more uncertain, and understandably he was becoming increasingly worried. Being home alone with his thoughts only distressed him further. I was often the only person Greg saw or spoke to all day, and when I arrived home from work, he would offload his ruminations from the day onto me. My work days were long in my new job; I had an eight-hour work day, and an hour’s commute home to Edens Landing in Logan, north of the Gold Coast. I was exhausted by the time I arrived home, and coping with Greg’s increasing anxiety was becoming difficult.

Being a travel consultant was also proving to be more stressful than I had ever imagined. I was utterly overwhelmed; despite my hard work, and many hours of unpaid overtime, I was not reaching my sales targets. My probationary period was approaching, and I was warned by my superiors that if my performance did not improve, I would be let go at the end of my probationary period at the end of September. I was utterly devastated; Greg and I had already made plans to move to Broadbeach, to a unit which was walking distance to my work. Nevertheless, Greg was insistent that both of us view the situation as positive. He would be glad to see me less stressed, and assured me that together we would figure out the rest.

Despite my pending job insecurity, we continued with our plan to relocate to Broadbeach. Due to his back injury, Greg wasn’t able to help with the packing or heavy lifting, so I assumed the responsibility of getting this done. We had help moving from some family and friends. Three weeks later, Greg returned to hospital for a a spinal fusion. Once again, he was unable to drive. I had to do all the organising to have our utilities and bills changed to our new address. I had to get Greg to and from his medical appointments. I had to do the grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning.

Knowing I was not going to be able to achieve my monthly sales target, I resigned from my job as a travel consultant before my probationary period was over. I was nervous about being unemployed, but at the same time relieved I would no longer be faced with the pressure associated with that job.

Following Greg’s spinal fusion, and despite the structure of his back being restored, he suffered debilitating ongoing sciatic nerve pain and numbness in his right leg and foot. To treat this pain he received a cortisone injection, after which he was once again unable to drive for a period of time. Not only did this procedure do nothing to relieve the pain, it aggravated it further. He couldn’t even do the minimal amount of walking and hydrotherapy exercise he had been prescribed by his physiotherapist.

His mental state deteriorated further: he was stuck at home day in and day out watching TV. He had had to give up everything he loved; boxing training, playing cricket, riding his motorbike, caring for our cars. He couldn’t even stand in the kitchen to cook a meal without feeling pain. There was nothing I could do or say to make things better. I felt helpless, and as a result I too became severely depressed.

The financial stress of my unemployment loomed like a dark cloud of uncertainty over us. There were many sleepless nights wondering how we would get through. I hated it; I had always been so independent, and I despised being in such a vulnerable state. I was reluctant to ask for help from my family; I thought I didn’t deserve the help. I thought maybe if I’d studied and gotten a better job, that we wouldn’t be under such financial stress now. There were people in much more dire need than I was that didn’t have family as supportive as mine, so why did I deserve it?

Christmas/New Year was the lowest, darkest period of my life. I couldn’t even get joy out of writing, which was usually the one thing that could cheer me up. Greg and I were both deeply depressed, and neither of us were able to pick the other up. With most of our friends and family living an hour away in Brisbane, we were extremely isolated. It was easier for most people just to send their thoughts and prayers rather than make the trip to see us. Our situation was too confronting; they didn’t know how to deal with it, or what to say to us.

My mum, who was coming to visit me regularly at Broadbeach, was the one who alerted me to the desperate state of our situation, and insisted I needed to seek help. I could no longer carry the physical, emotional and mental weight of being Greg’s carer all on my own.

In January 2018 I sought counselling for myself. I was diagnosed with severe depression and moderate anxiety. I realised just how much I was carrying all on my own. I couldn’t try and hold Greg above water while I too was drowning.

I felt guilty at the prospect of getting on with my life, about going to see friends, going out for a walk or a bike ride. These were things that Greg couldn’t do, so I felt guilty for doing them, or even talking about them with him. But it was imperative that I did, for my own wellbeing.

Around this time I also started the process of applying for assistance from Centrelink. I applied for the Newstart allowance as well as two separate carer’s payments. I was denied all three. This was my true breaking point; I sat on my living room floor and wailed in tears. These payments could have given Greg and I a little financial reprieve in our time of need, one less thing to worry about. But I couldn’t even get that.

It was pouring rain outside, but I got in the car and drove to Centrelink. When I got there, the staff member informed me that my applications had been rejected because Greg received a worker’s compensation payment, which they deemed enough to cover all of our weekly expenses.

I walked back to my car through the rain, sobbing out loud, not caring who heard me. I called Greg, but he reassured me that we would be okay. We were fighters. We’d gotten this far, we would keep going. And one day we would look back at all we had overcome, and laugh at all the people who didn’t help us.

In February 2018 Greg received a Radio Frequency Neurotomy, a procedure during which a heat lesion is created on certain nerves with the goal of interrupting the pain signals to the brain. Still, Greg’s pain persisted. The next procedure would be the insertion of spinal chord stimulator, an electrical device positioned under the skin near the spine which delivers a pulsed current to the spinal cord which interrupts the pain signals being sent to the brain.

In March I I had a cervical cancer scare. Abnormal pap smear results are common, but scary nonetheless. I was also suffering severe tension headaches. I have had a VP shunt since infancy, and suffered epilepsy during childhood. These headaches became so bad I was physically sick a number of times over several weeks. On one occasion, unable to even keep water down, I ended up in the emergency room.

In July 2018 Greg and I were given a notice to leave our apartment at Broadbeach. The owners wanted to renovate the property, so we had to move out. We relocated to Coolangatta on the Southern Gold Coast, which was the hardest house move we have ever done. Greg helped where he could, but once again, it was mostly up to me to get the place packed up. I also performed the bond clean, with help from my mum and aunty.

In late September, Greg had another surgery to implant the external spinal chord stimulator for an eight-day trial. The day before the surgery, as we drove up to Brisbane, the engine light came on in my car. The timing could not have been worse. I could not believe this was happening, right before Greg was going into hospital. While it was okay for Greg to be admitted to hospital alone, they would not allow him to be released without someone else there to pick him up.

The following day Greg caught a taxi to the hospital while I sourced a mechanic. Once again my Mum came to the rescue, organising for me to have a free inspection with her mechanic. It was a non-urgent problem with the transmission, and I would be able to drive the car back to the Gold Coast and have it seen to locally.

It was not that I don’t like having to deal with situations like this on my own. It is that as a couple, usually you deal with problems together, as a partnership. And throughout my carer’s journey, I have had to deal with so much on my own.

During the eight-day trial, Greg and his specialist assessed the benefit of the stimulator. The results were mixed, so Greg will undergo a second trial mid-November. If this trial is deemed successful, he will have the stimulator permanently implanted, but this procedure will most likely take place in early 2019, further prolonging his recovery.

Following the abnormal pap result, upon further examination I was given the all-clear. X-rays showed no problems with my neck and back, and MRI tests showed no complications with my shunt and no fluid retention in my brain. My headaches were put down to stress-related muscle tension, and I am receiving positive results through physiotherapy. These health scares were a big wake up call to me to ensure I was looking after myself properly.

My role as Greg’s carer has been tough. It has been lonely. It has been unfair. I’ve taken on so much, physically, emotionally and mentally. Greg’s and my relationship has reached breaking point many times. I am 29, and have pondered the impact Greg’s condition could have on my own life long-term, and whether that was the life I want to lead. But I was determined not to let what had happened to us, a year and a half of hell, destroy what we have build over eight years together. Sometimes its hard to see the end to this saga, especially with the more time that passes. I know that although my experience as a carer has been incredibly hard, there are carers out there who have it a lot harder than me. Our situation could be much worse, and I am grateful for how fortunate we are.

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Paid To Dance Blogging Series Exclusive Interview: Julz Divine

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Dancer Name/s: Julz Divine

Age started dancing & where: In Europe.

What did you do before dancing?

I was just out of school, studying psychology at university part time, giving private French lessons and working as a sales rep for a local TV channel selling advertising space to businesses. I was living with my mum who was fully supporting me financially, therefore earning money wasn’t a big concern for me at the time, I was just trying my hand different things and earning some pocket money for fun when I could.

Why did you to start? Did you have an ideal time frame or an end goal?

I saw my first live exotic dance show at Le Lido cabaret in Paris in 1992 at the age of 15. My mum took me there, this is why I got in despite being underage! And my dad paid for it. This shows that I come from a family who are very open-minded about this style of entertainment, even though they are quite conservative in some other ways.

I loved the show and thought to myself: “It would be really awesome to get involved in something like this one day!”

Fast forward 4 years. I was 19 and working as a sales rep for a TV channel, selling advertising. My first client happened to be the new night club due to open in town. At the time I didn’t even know what kind of club it was. As I sat there talking to the manager about the advertising packages I watched a group of beautiful ladies rehearsing some dance moves at the other end of the room. I couldn’t take my eyes off them!

After I’d finished my meeting I approached the ladies and asked what they were doing and how I could get into something like that. They were very friendly and invited me to join them at their next rehearsal. Which I did. And quit my advertising job that very day.

They explained to me what the show was all about and how it worked, showed me some dance moves and suggested that I should audition.

This goes back to the era when strip clubs had choreographed feature stage shows as part of their entertainment packages. Therefore, any dancer who aspired to get a job there had to come prepared with 2 or 3 fully choreographed and costumed solo feature acts, ready for stage!

My mum stayed up all night to help me make my first stage costume. If I remember correctly, it was my ballroom dance dress remodelled to resemble a showgirl costume. I think we did a rather good job of it, if you ask me!

I did fail that first audition and didn’t get the job at that club. I was young and clueless while the other performers were very experienced showgirls. However, those seasoned showgirls encouraged me to not give up and try again. I followed their advice and got the job at the next club! I danced at that club, and then another club on weekends for a few months. I had a ball!

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I then moved on to doing other things – travelling, studying, several day jobs, getting married, getting divorced, travelling again… and so on for several years. That whole time throughout my travels I kept a couple of stages costumes in my bag, just in case, because I always thought I’d go back to dancing at some point. Which I eventually did.

I went back to dancing in Brisbane, circa 2004. I was in my late 20’s then. Since that time I covered just about every genre of Adult Entertainment industry: as a strip club dancer, feature showgirl, lingerie waitress, party stripper and burlesque performer. I’d say I’ve been dancing for around 13 years, cumulatively.

First stage show experience:

My first stage show experience was actually an audition (back in the 1990’s). Now, this would be a nerve-racking experience for anyone, even a seasoned performer, let alone a 19 yo first-timer!

Imagine this: you have to perform a very sexy and seductive stage act in an empty club, in the broad daylight in front of a small group of club’s executives who just sit there with grim expressions on their faces… And this is your first time on stage ever as a solo performer… Can someone please kill me now???

Needless to say, I felt very awkward and ended up experiencing every stage mishap imaginable – from several wardrobe malfunctions to getting my heel caught in between the floor boards and falling over as a result… Not very sexy… Beam me up Scotty!!!

That memory aside, my first ever public performance, once I got my act together, got me instantly addicted to the stage! The adrenaline rush that comes from performing in front of the live audience is incredible!

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First lap dance experience:

When and where I first started dancing there was no such thing a lap dance. It was all about the stage performance.

Once I had re-entered the dancing industry in the 2000’s, I had to learn the whole lot of new things! One of them was the art of lap dance. I just couldn’t understand the concept! Luckily, on my first shift one of the seasoned dancers took me under her wing. My first private dance booking was a double dance with that lady. She showed me all the lap dance moves in the real life situation. And I was just parroting her, ‘monkey see monkey do’ the whole time whilst thinking to myself: “Why would anyone want to pay $200 for this??? Just to see some some ladies gyrating their hips in front of them?” After 10 + years in the industry I still struggle with the concept, to be perfectly honest with you…

Best & worst shifts financially:

The one that stands out in my memory as one of the best was the night when I made around $800 purely in tips in the course of 5-hour bikini waitressing shift and some podium dances in a mining town in West QLD. I didn’t even do any lap dances that night, if I remember correctly. People just kept throwing money at me!

Worst was $50 or more out of pocket after a full night shift. This is how this happens: the night is slow, you make no money whatsoever, but you still have to pay your club fees, the price of those few drinks you bought from the bar, your cab fare home or a parking fee. This could easily amount to $100-200

Besides money, what qualities do you believe make a good customer?

Basic good manners. it’s that simple! Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and offering ladies a drink goes a long way, trust me! Just the heads up, Ladies and Gentlemen: when you treat the club’s staff with respect you get a far better service from them in return. So, do yourselves a favour and be nice to all hospitality staff!

What are/were your customer pet hates? (Things that annoy/ed you about customers most)

1)“The Preachers” and “The Saviours” – the type of customers who come in to the club, enjoy the entertainment and then start preaching to us that our job is degrading/sinful/amoral and that we should be ashamed of doing it. My thoughts: “If you don’t like it, then why are you here?”

Those who say “I can take you away from all this if you would just go home with me”, basically offering me to become his personal sex slave instead. No thanks…

2) Those female customers who treat dancers with disrespect and think they can get away with it because of their gender. No! The same rules apply to everyone. Your gender doesn’t give you any entitlements!

Best memory of your time as a dancer?

Ohh, there are so many… All those exciting show tours I went on either by myself or with groups of fellow showgirls. I got to perform in so many beautiful exotic places all around Australia and meet so many awesome people along the way. I might have to write my own book about those experiences one day, so stay tuned!

What is the most rewarding experience dancing has allowed you to have?

Having the freedom to choose the hours I worked and being able to take time off anytime to do other things. All the travelling I got to do with this job. Performing on stage in front of some amazingly appreciative audiences. Getting to dress up in glamourous sparkly costumes and being paid for it.

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In the recent years I’ve performed stage shows at multiple charity events and helped raise funds towards some great causes (including Domestic and Family Violence Awareness, LGBTI Community, Community Arts Centre in Broome WA, Animal Rescue Centre end several others) and it has been very rewarding!

Best piece of advice to pass on about dancing?

Don’t take people’s negative comments to heart. Try not to get involved in ‘dressing room dramas’ and conflicts with other dancers, it’s not worth it. And don’t let one bad night bring you down and affect your self-confidence. Bad nights happens to everyone once in a while, even the most experienced and popular dancers.

Are you currently dancing? If not, what are you doing now?

Now I’m 41 and have retired form dancing in strip clubs – those long night shifts in stiletto heels are just too taxing on the body. I still occasionally perform Burlesque stage shows and do some lingerie waitressing shifts every now and then. Aside from that I work as a freelance makeup artist and photographer, do some odd jobs in hospitality and retail, volunteer for RSPCA and study for a Certificate in Community Services.

How do you feel about the statement that some people make that stripping is degrading to women?

*Rolling my eyes* Does a circus clown or a comedian degrade himself by making himself look like a fool on stage? Does he feel offended when the audience laughs at him? No. This is the whole point of his act! Same thing applies to striptease artists. We invest a lot of time effort into making ourselves look like sex sirens and put on theatrically sexualised dance routines in front of the audiences. It’s a stage act, a form of performance art and self-expression. Why is it degrading if we willingly choose do it? This could only be degrading if were were forced into doing it.

How do you feel about the use of sexualised imagery of women in advertising material?

Indifferent. As long as it looks good and doesn’t depict any violence or abuse it’s fine by me. What bugs me, however, is the rampant gender stereotyping in advertising material. Why is it always the woman who’s doing the housework in most TV commercials and the man is drinking beer, playing sports or driving cool cars? This is what needs some revision, if you ask me.

Some people argue that strip clubs shouldn’t exist at all, removing the opportunity for women to be ‘objectified’ in that setting. How do you respond to this?

With an eye roll! They are missing the point! Strip clubs, burlesquer clubs and bikini bars are places where it is safe and acceptable to objectify women because they willingly put themselves into that environment and are comfortable with being objectified whilst getting paid for it!

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Visiting strip clubs and engaging in the services of dancers is an intrinsically male activity. Do you believe that the practice of visiting strip clubs and engaging in the services of dancers is an activity that should be freely available to men, and to the general public, now and in the future?

Strip clubs should continue existing. However I think they could with some changes, the old format is getting boring. They should offer more variety of entertainment, for a start. Bring back the proper choreographed cabaret-style stage shows! This would attract different demographic of customers. Some clubs started introducing ‘ladies nights’ where they would have male topless waiters and performers in a separate section of the club. I think it’s a great practice! Both sexes should me made feel welcome in strip clubs. Offer something for everyone!

Women’s rights are being highlighted daily in the media at the moment. What purpose do you think stripping holds in our modern society? Do we ‘need’ to have stripping as part of our ongoing culture? If so, why?

I think people are taking things too seriously. It’s just another form of entertainment, that’s all. Some people like it, others don’t. Everyone should just chill and let each other be, I reckon. I don’t think we ‘need’ it. Just like we don’t ‘need’ ballet, circus, opera, football etc. But it’s great to have all these options available for everyone to enjoy.

As far as women’s rights go, women should have the right to work in a strip club if they choose to and not be shamed or lectured for it!

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Paid To Dance: Asha’s Story Part Two is AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER in paperback and Kindle eBook for release WORLDWIDE on July 20th, 2018.

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