The Horse Who Swallowed A Wolf

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Sometimes I get up very early, say 4 or 5 in the morning and I read poetry on my computer. The internet is a wonderful resource for poetry. I have found poems that have reached into my gut and pulled me inside out and twisted up my soul and then spat me out again, just for sport. Good poetry will do that to you. Small dream-like sentences that ring like a psychic tuning fork in your head.

Also the quotes of philosophers and thinkers move me. This morning I was up at 4.15am because my brain turned on when I heard my dog scratching so here we are. I read this.

There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man standing alongside the road, shouts, “Where are you going?” and the first man replies, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!” This is also our story. We are riding a horse, we don’t know where we are going, and we can’t stop. The horse is our habit energy pulling us along, and we are powerless. We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. We are at war within ourselves…We have to learn the art of stopping – stopping our thinking, our habit energies, our forgetfulness, the strong emotions that rule us.

~ Thích Nhât Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation (Broadway Books; New edition, June 8, 1999)

Oh I know that horse. I am that horse. The horse has had free rein of late. Time to recentre, time to pop that nag in the stable. The stable nag. That’s me!

Then I read another quote.

Swallowing the wolf
1. Swallowing the wolf means claiming your personal power by following your own guidance and standards, not those of the external world.
2. Two fears keep us from claiming this power: fear that we have no internal guidance or standards, and fear that we have them but they will mislead us.
3. Noticing the impact of acting authentically can help lessen these fears.
4. At the point you realize that you use your internal guides more often than external ones, you have swallowed your wolf.
5. Ignore these rules and discover your own.
- Julia Mossbridge

I am a horse who needs to swallow the wolf to return to myself. I get it. I mean it won’t be easy but Christ, I turned into a fucking horse, so how hard can it be to swallow a wolf.

Anyway, just early morning food for thought, so to speak.

xoxoxo

Illustration: https://norapotwora.tumblr.com/

My Weekend

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I worked all weekend because my life is stupid, but in between, I made a delicious crumbed chicken affair that really was a taste sensation. The trick is to mix mayonnaise and dijon mustard together with four gloves of garlic and then double roll them in the breadcrumbs.

Because my husband eats Fodmap, I forwent the garlic and replaced with a little garlic-infused olive oil and used lemon and pepper gluten-free breadcrumbs. The drumstick were really, really good. 10/10 will make again.

My kid is close to his final exams so he worked all weekend and needed sustenance, so I also made a chicken and bacon risotto in the rice cooker. Yes, it’s appalling to the purists who might be reading but I was working, and honestly, risotto is just hot wet rice, so it was tasty and did the job.

Some time was spent watering the many plants I have and giving them a shower outside, while coaxing husband to move pots to a new place because everyone like a change including plants.

I had two ideas for new books which seem to be hanging around so worth exploring when I have some time.

I’m watching old episodes of Vera because I love British crime shows. The colder the weather the better for my viewing pleasure. Clearly Shetland is top of the totem pole for me, cold, bleak and those accent made are my happy place.

I also watched Gardening World because Monty Don and Longmeadow are also my happy place. I find anything homemakery and gardeny soothing. No pressures, just ideas and relaxing.

In other news, I received a lot of messages about the death of Robert Forster, because his daughter and I have the same name. It feels like I am reading someone else’s mail when I open the messages on Facebook and Twitter. Also, people really loved Robert Forster, which is nice for his family. I hope his daughter knows how much he was admired.

Back to work for me now. I hope your weekend was more balanced than mine but all in all, I give it a 7/10.

My Simple Life

For a long time, I have been writing about building a bigger smaller life. Something less complicated and with less pressure. I feel that I am closer than ever. I like how life is now but there were some things I had to do to get to now.

What I have learned on creating a simpler life.

1) I needed stable, reliable work. I have freelanced for several years. While in theory, freelancing is terrific, for me it was either boom or bust. Getting a regular hours job and have strong boundaries around this for my writing is vital for mental health and being able to plan. Not having money is a huge trigger for me, so I needed to know when my pay was coming in.

2) I need more sleep. Going to bed earlier means I get more done during the day. Weird, right? I noticed that I was staying up late for the sake of it but not doing anything with the extra time and waking up feeling jetlagged. An hour earlier and I now have more energy and better mental health.

3) I moved someone smaller. A smaller house means fewer possessions and less storage which means less stuff. Less stuff means I only have the stuff I love around me. The things that mean something and make me happy to look at when I pass them. Also, I can clean this place in an hour, so well done me!

4) I got real about managing money. Tracking my expenses and money like a muthafucka. I use YNAB and The Barefoot Investor Excel spreadsheet to make me doubly accountable. It gives you peace of mind when you know what you are going to pay for the month ahead, and even though things are tight, with school fees, and university rent for kid and stuff, it’s doable because I know what I am working with. Meanwhile, have been adding to superannuation and doing things with that to make it fatter, so I will have some money to live on when I am much older, which is also good because freelancers don’t get superannuation!

5) I untethered myself from a busy place. Making a concerted effort to no be busy. Busy is bullshit because busy means I don’t do anything properly and busy also means I don’t think at a deeper level. When I take the time to think, to question myself and the world around me, I am in a better place mentally. You get time with yourself, to know yourself and improve yourself.

6) I said no to things or events that are not necessary. I said yes for a very, very long time I said yes because I was trying to get approval for being me because I was born a disappointment. So I said yes to everyone to try and make everything better. I realised I can’t make anything better for anyone. Only for me. So I say no to more than I say yes to. And that’s okay. I permitted myself.

7) I worked out my values and checking in with them regularly. I check my values with Martin Seligman’s tests. To have happiness and contentment in your life, then it should include the top three values. Knowing what these are, and tailoring my life to include them has made a huge difference to me and my quality of daily living.

8) I made more time by slowing down. More time to do things I like, such as gardening and writing. Reading and listening to music. This echoes my values and is such a nice way to live. A walk with the dogs and peering into neighbours gardens is one of my most favourite things to do.

9) I spent more time with friends. I have a few close friends. About six of them. They are the people I ring when shit goes down. They ring me when their shit goes down. They are exceptional people who thrill me and who I lose time with when I hang out with them. I have a group chat with two of them which could be the funniest chat group ever, at least to us. They keep me sane. They are my logical family who knows me and loves me more than my biological family ever did.

10) I found more quality in the relationships with partner and children. Less busy means I can be more there for them and yet they don’t need me as much, which is also nice but knowing I am there for them, and them knowing that matters. There is a balance that I didn’t have when they were younger and so demanding, and I was working like a demon and trying to “have it all” and realising there is no “all”, there is only now.

11) I need blocks of time. Writing a book requires focus, deep work. You cannot dip in and out on occasion and expect the story to flow. You must plant your bum on the seat and write. Hours at a time. get it out first then hone it later. This is my craft, and this is how I need to work. Simplifying my life has allowed me to get those blocks of time. This is why I have been able to do such a great job on my next book. I loved writing it because I had time. it was a gift that I have worked hard to earn.

And that’s all I know right now. That’s my life as I stand today. It can be topsy-turvey but that’s easier to cope with because I am in the centre of the wheel now, and life keeps spinning around me, and somehow I am here, in the middle, just doing my thing.

I am now off to make a roast chicken for dinner and water the plants. Peace at last, peace at last..

Kate

x

Getting doctors to listen to you 101

Twenty-two years ago, my daughter had a 12-hour operation and afterwards, kicked out her morphine drip and had a massive spike in her temperature. They wanted to put her into Intensive Care. I said that “She needs to sleep. She needs to sleep and her temp will go down. Just let her sleep.” She slept for 18 hours straight and when she woke, the temp was gone. I knew what she needed, I knew that sleep heals her. It always has.

A few months afterwards, my daughter’s paediatrician asked me to speak to a group of final year medical students about the importance of listening to parents. No one knows your child as you do, and they need you to advocate for them when they are small and without words or power.

At the time I remember thinking that I could categorise these students into their future specialities. The handsome jocks sitting at the back, who no doubt would end up in orthopaedics, fixing overpaid sportsmen’s knees for a living. The women and men, who looked like they would be lovely GP’s, and those at the front who listened closely, who would probably end up working with children.

I talked about listening to mother and father’s but mostly mother’s because we know everything our child will do and not do when they’re sick. Listen to us, I demanded of them, we know what isn’t normal in our children. Don’t brush us off. Listen, please. You know a lot about medicine, we know everything about how our child behaves, eats, sleeps, plays.

Now, after 16 years of questioning my other child’s health, demanding more answers than ‘someone has to be at the other end of the normal range’, I told the doctors in the Emergency Department that we need more than bandaids. After the third hospitalisation in about six weeks, we said enough. Sort this out. I have seen countless doctors and had tests and still, nothing is clear. Give us some help to find out what is going on.

Yesterday, my brother, who has faced and recovered from a Stage 4 rare cancer diagnosis, said to me that this is the problem with the middle of medicine. No one talks to each other. No one calls the other doctor and the mother or father and sits down and looks for the patterns. I knew there was a pattern but I am not qualified to understand it but I trusted that it was happening. I said I wouldn’t be leaving till they listened to us. It was less Terms of Endearment than that but it had a touch of Lorenzo’s Oil! We want to know, dammit!

With five different specialist doctors in the cubicle, my GP’s office sending through every old test my kid had ever had and a series of questions that were so certain and validating, we realised this wasn’t in our imaginations. It is happening. It isn’t normal. We are were listened to. Yes, there is a pattern. Yes it’s hard to diagnose. Yes, something is wrong. Yes, we can help you. Let’s do every test known to man, and see what comes up.

So now we wait for the final diagnosis and while it is disappointing it has taken so long to find out, and so much stress and illness in between, we are on our way to better. Apparently this illness doesn’t usually get discovered out until about 40, so we are way ahead of the curve in that way and it is manageable and will improve my kid’s life immeasurably which is all I wanted in the first place.

We are tired. We are shattered but we have some sort of path forward. Thank you to Dora, Fiona, Andy, Rach, Jonah, Fred, Sarah, and Anna for your love and friendship. We are grateful.

The Break Up

Sometimes I race through life, trying to do it all at once. I think it’s because I don’t look after myself, so the fear of morality is a clear and present danger.

It is fascinating how easily I can avoid feelings if I keep busy enough.

Until I stop because life stopped me. A slippery driveway and a large bin undid me, and now I type this with a broken wrist and one hand

Forced rest.

Up to this point, I have been working 14-16 hour days. By choice because I live in an alternative reality of having to do everything all at once because you never know what will happen and my inner scarcity panic merchant tells me I must do it all now, just in case.

The morning of the fall, I had been at the gym where I am attempting to become fitter. I was under the guidance of a trainer who looks at me like I am already a failure.

This was our second session.

I had asked for a trainer who wouldn’t shame me. Who would work with me gently. Who could hold my hand as I started to gain muscle and work myself out, and ground my body.

I have a self-care deficit from having to care for others since childhood, so this was vitally important. Perhaps what I needed doesn’t exist, but I digress in this plus-sized dress.

That morning the trainer told me to get onto a machine that I am sure was used in Seville in the 1400s, and looked about as doable as me winning the Nobel Prize for Physics.

I suggested I wasn’t okay with this, but she ignored me. Asked me my weight, then asked me again to repeat it, as though she didn’t hear me correctly, so she could put in the correct weight stacks and then told me to get on it. Shame was rising. I climbed onto the machine and then went down for the first time that morning.

I failed to lift my own weight as I am a planet, and I went slamming down onto the floor where she proceeded to call out my name as though I had done something wrong while the clatter of the weight stacks reminded everyone there was an interloper in the room.

I was then banished to look in the mirror and do repeated arm curls where I felt tears fall as I hid them from her. This was why I didn’t want to go to the gym. This is why fat people don’t go to gyms.

Thirty minutes later, I broke my wrist. Talk about not wanting to go back there!

My friend who does reiki asked me what was I trying to take a break from? Myself, I thought. The ridiculous workload that I put on myself. Saying yes to everything just in case. Eating everything, just in case. Doing everything, just in case. Huge goals and short time limes and the feeling of responsibility I have to do it all, just in case.

I drove myself to the hospital with my broken wrist. I drove home from the hospital with my wrist in plaster. I went back to work. I still wasn’t getting it.

I worked the next day in the office. I went to the doctor who told me to stop working.

I worked the next day.

Today I stopped.

My friend Dora, one of the smartest women in HR in Melbourne, asked me why I was working so hard when no one cared about my thoughts or opinions. They don’t care she reminded me. She is right. Nobody cares.

My husband’s work sent me flowers, so that’s nice. Pale pink, dusky roses. I love roses.

I was working to avoid the deepest feelings of pain at not being loved and trying to win everyone’s approval all the time.

I worked so hard because it meant I didn’t have to look in the mirror while I did arm curls. I worked so hard so I could avoid the pain of loneliness.

I worked so hard because I wanted to be valuable to others.

I worked because I don’t know what else to do.

I worked to avoid the feelings of being with myself.

Today, I have drawn up my letter, and I have stopped.

I am taking the break seriously. Enough.

Onwards.