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Grieve Writing Competition Entry 1

As many of you already know, in March of this year, my long term relationship ended, and with it my time living on the Gold Coast.

For two years I had been caring for my fiancé, who suffered a debilitating back injury at work in January 2017. I thought the past 24 months had been hard, dealing with a constant barrage of financial, health and home-related stress, but nothing compared to how hard it was to walk away from a nine-year relationship and start a new life 800 kilometers away. Within the space of two weeks, my life on the Gold Coast was over, and I was headed to Yeppoon, a hour’s drive from Rockhampton on the Central Coast of Queensland.

In the past three months I have experienced the strongest grief I have ever felt; for my relationship, for my beloved beach-side home in Coolangatta, for the life I left behind. This grief has been fraught with confusion; did I give up too early? Should I have stuck it out for longer? There have been a lot of confusing feelings, a lot around my self worth, and I’ve certainly doubted whether I made the right choice.

During this massive life upheaval, I used writing to process my grief. I wrote two flash fiction short stories: Home Is Where The Heart Breaks, in which I reflect on suddenly  having to leave my beloved home on the Gold Coast, and Hypothetical Child, about the impact that my decision not to have children has had on my life. The Hunter Writer’s Centre in Newcastle, New South Wales, holds an annual writing competition called the Grieve Writing Project, that publishes an anthology of flash fiction and poetry on the theme of grief. In April I submitted both stories to the project.

It has been a huge challenge to leave my old life behind and start anew out in the world on my own. I have experienced a period of anxiety and depression more severe than anything I experienced over the past two years caring for my partner. I have felt completely separate from my former self, disconnected from my passion for writing. I have been very reluctant to accept my new reality, and embrace my new surroundings here on the Central Coast. With the help of mental health professionals I have worked through a lot in these past months, and I have finally reached a point where I feel I can allow myself to accept my new reality, and be vulnerable enough to feel happiness and joy again as I move forward. As part of this healing process, I have decided to share these stories now. I hope that by sharing my experiences, it helps those who are going through the same experiences. If any of my friends ever feel like they need, I’m always open if you’d like to talk, whether for advice or just to listen.

 

Home Is Where The Heart Breaks

I never thought I could love living somewhere as much as I have loved living on the Gold Coast. For the past year and a half I have walked on the beach every day, taking my troubles to the ocean. Breathing in the fresh air, feeling the sand and seawater between my toes, I forgot about my problems for an hour. This place has nurtured me through what has easily been the most challenging period of my life.

We moved from Broadbeach to Coolangatta six months ago in the hope things would get better. Our unhappiness followed us; we had become more like housemates than lovers. We weren’t living in the space together, merely existing alongside one another. It was painful and depressing, yet I still loved the unit itself- the balcony off the back, the little yard, the tree-lined park just over the fence where locals played football and walked their dogs. I walked from Coolangatta to Snapper Rocks every afternoon, and watched the surfers ride the waves at sunset. Amidst my misery, I felt so lucky to call this place home.

And then I just left; I could not bear the misery a moment longer. I returned only to pack and move out, and by then I had already been erased from the home Richard and I shared. The week I was gone he took the pictures of us down; he couldn’t stand to keep looking at them after we split. It was ‘too painful, he said. I find myself feeling similar about the Gold Coast in general now; a place I was once so proud to live, I can barely stand to look at a picture of, because it is a reminder of something so treasured being taken from me too soon.

Separating from Richard, I didn’t anticipate everything else I would have to separate from as well. The family, the friends, the home. I don’t know what makes me feel sadder- leaving Richard or leaving this place.

It feels unfair that Richard gets to stay here, and I resent him somewhat for it. This lifestyle is wasted on him- he doesn’t appreciate living by the ocean the way I do. I have friends and a community here, yet the situation dictates that I’m the one that has to leave.

There is still so much I want to do on the Gold Coast, so many places to explore. The seaside bike path from Bilinga to Tugun, the sunflowers in Kingscliffe and the mountainous Byron Bay Hinterland. I always thought I’d have more time to prepare myself to leave, but my time here has run out. I need to let go of the way I thought things would be, but I’m just not ready yet.  I don’t understand why, but the journey of life is moving me on. It’s time to go now, and I have to say goodbye.

Cooly 4

 

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Books By The Beach: The Wilted Rose at Tallebudgera Creek

Welcome to Tallebudgera Creek, stop no. 9 on my Books By The Beach tour!

Tallebudgera Creek

Tallebudgera Creek is by far one of my FAVOURITE spots here on the Gold Coast. Where I am sitting in this video is on the Burleigh National Park side of the creek. Here there is a small, quiet beach, and I love to come here on a weekday when the crowds have gone and read a book or do some writing. Sitting on the sand, you can smell the rich aromas from the australian native plants and trees just behind you.

Talle 3

 

By hang on, you say. This is Books By The Beach, not Books By The Creek!

Let me explain…

Tallebudgera is best known for its sparkling creek which is framed by the Burleigh Heads National Park on one side and Palm Beach on the other. However, this popular beach destination starts its journey further inland, from the Springbrook Plateau below Burleigh Mountain in the Springbrook National Park near Upper Tallebudgera, and north of the New South Wales/Queensland border. The creek flows generally north by east through the Tallebudgera Valley towards Burleigh Heads before reaching its mouth, south of the Burleigh Head National Park, and emptying into the Coral Sea. The creek descends 100 metres (330 ft) over its 25-kilometre (16 mi) course.

Talle 2

Tallebudgera Creek is known for good fishing, and its name even translates in an indigenous language to “good fishing”. Bream, flathead, whiting and even bull sharks call the creek home. Camping, swimming, picnicking, and kayaking are other popular activities amongst visitors.

While the waters in the creek are renowned for their relative calm, the surf waves are within walking distance at nearby Tallebudgera Beach.

In this post I’m going to share with you about my book The Wilted Rose.

The Wilted Rose is the story of one Australian family’s struggle with mental illness during the 1960s and 70s. The story depicts the rise and fall of ambitious young woman Sarah Ross, whose pursuit of a nursing career in the 1950s is challenged by tradition and religion. After Sarah’s mental health deteriorates, her dedicated husband Jack adopts the role of her carer, and their daughter Grace must survive adolescence through great adversity, before their family finally receive a definitive diagnosis for Sarah’s condition. The Wilted Rose is a moving story of passion, heartache, and unbreakable family bonds.

I started working on this book around the age of eighteen, and published it at twenty one. I held a launch for the first edition at the Suited To Success office in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, attended by several of my friends and family. The first print run of the book, which consisted of fifty copies, sold out quickly.

I held another launch for the revised edition in August 2012 at the now closed Black Cat Books and Cafe in Paddington. Guests at this book launch included representatives from various community groups associated with the book’s subject matter, including mental health organisations and local historical societies.

PLEASE NOTE: At the end of this video there is information about purchasing The Wilted Rose on Amazon. My books are not currently available on Amazon. Instead you can download a PDF version of the first chapter for FREE HERE:

The Wilted Rose Chapter One

If you live in Australia, I can post you a signed paperback copy of The Wilted Rose. Simply send me a message via the Contact page.

The Wilted Rose

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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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