Thursday, March 28, 2013

Top 5 tips for taking preschoolers to the Sydney Royal Easter Show

Noo and I went to the Sydney Royal Easter Show yesterday. We went along with an old friend of mine and her son who is the same age as Noo. The day had been weeks in the organising and both us mums and the boys were very excited to head out to Sydney Olympic Park for a day of fun and frivolity.

An awesome day was had by all but I left feeling we could do it better next year with a little planning. Here are my top tips on how to do the Sydney Royal Easter Show with preschoolers:

1. Get to bed early the night before

The night before I tried to explain to Noo that the Easter Show was where the country came to the city. Where farmers brought their livestock and produce into town to show and compete. We talked about seeing the baby animals and Noo was particularly keen to see the cats on show. We talked about the showbags and rides.

I can easily get hyped up on something I'm excited about and that rubs off on to Noo. That's probably not a good idea if I want my little boy to settle down for the night. He'd only just arrived back from a weekend away with his grandparents so he was already pretty excited to be back home with me. Needless to say settling down for bed was very difficult and he didn't get off to sleep until about 10.30.

The showgrounds are massive especially for little four year old legs to walk around in the blazing sun. Make sure you go well rested. You and the kids will need all the energy you can muster!

Top tip: Don't tell your preschooler that tomorrow is the day you are going to the Show. Surprise them. That way they will be more able to settle into sleep the night before.

2. Be prepared for whatever the weather may be

Easter has been very early this year falling on the last weekend of March. Top that off with unseasonably warm weather and we had a scorcher for our day at the Show. It felt like it was about 34 degrees Celsius in the shade but I've just checked the Bureau of Meteorology website and have been informed that the highest temperature recorded at the Sydney Olympic Park Archery Centre observation point was 29.9 degrees. Regardless, we sweated.

Noo and I met up with our friends at the entrance where we were greeted by a lovely woman from the Salvation Army. She was armed with a massive pump pack of sunscreen, stick on wrist bands and a permanent marker.  We lathered up the kids with sunscreen and labelled them with our mobile numbers in the event that one of the little scallywags got lost in the crowd.

It was around this time that I realised, in our haste to leave the house to get to the showgrounds by 10am, I forgot to put on deodorant . Forgetting such an essential part of my morning routine always sends my anxiety levels up as I constantly lift my arm to see if I've started to smell. Body odour is something I have no time for. In my extremely limited beauty regime spraying three squirts of Norsca under each pit is as critical to my well being as brushing my teeth. Norsca? You might ask. Yes, the original Norsca Forest Fresh is the only deodorant I use and have used since I was a teenager. I've tried others but I always go back to that familiar and reliable green bottle*. Even when I lived in London I stocked up when back in Australia on holidays... ok, back to the Show!

Top tip: If you forget to pack sunscreen hunt down a lovely Salvo and drop a few coins into the collection bucket in exchange for all sunscreen you need for your family. Provide a public service of your own and never forget to apply deodorant before leaving the house.

Cooling off in the heat at the Easter Show
- Noo with his green ice snowie tongue

3. Plan your route around the showgrounds before you enter

Whoever designed the current layout of the Easter Show had a cunning plan to relieve you of as much cash as possible from the minute you walk through the gate. There are three public entries. The one we came through had us arrive smack bang in the middle of the Kids Carnival. With lots of noise, flashing lights and rides swinging all over the place all four of us were bombarded with a sensory overload and excitement levels started to rise with the heat. In exchange for $22 each we got 20 ride tokens per kid which sounds like good value until you discover that each ride costs between four and eight tokens depending on this size and exhilaration of the ride.

The kids had a few rides and before we knew it it was time to have something to eat. The heat was incredibly exhausting and we stopped constantly for snowies and other icy beverages. When we were finally able to drag the boys away from the rides we headed around the grounds in an anti clockwise direction, missing the farm animals I discussed with Noo the night before. This was a mistake because we never got back there and my plans to educate Noo on the cuteness of baby farm animals importance of the farming industry in Australia were dashed completely.

Top tip: Print out the Easter Show map and plan your trip before you enter the showgrounds. Avoid getting hypnotised by carnie rides causing your family to miss out on what the Easter Show is all about - agriculture!

Don't spend too much time in the carnival zones or you too might miss out on the baby animals

4. Set a budget and leave your cash card in the car

If you're a spendaholic like I am and are easily sucked in by colourful plastic bags full of junk promising joy and laughter for your foreseeable future leave your ATM debit card in the car. Only carry the amount of cash that you actually want to spend. Everywhere you turn at the Easter Show someone is trying to get your money off you. Whether the demo guy showing off the latest steam mop or the carnie with no teeth but enough charm to twist your arm into parting with $10 for a carnival game ("Every kid wins a prize!") there are folk everywhere trying to get you to spend your cash.

By the end of the day I actually felt quite grotty about it all. This is the worst aspect of the Easter Show. It is laden with cheap tacky merchandise that has been packaged up as new or different when really you can get most of it anywhere. I solved my deodorant debacle by spending $6.95 for a small can of Linx for men (it was cheaper than the $9 BO buster for chicks on sale at the chemist on site). I felt completely scammed but at least I didn't stink.

The showbag pavilion was amazing in just how much junk there was available. But god it looks good when all that stuff is displayed up on the boards. I got suckered in and dropped $100 on 10 showbags. That sounds like a good deal but some of them were really small without much in them at all.

Food onsite was also very exy. I regretted not getting a pie in the Woolworths Fresh Food Dome. They looked bloody good and not from a commercial supplier. Noo and I ended up sharing a gozleme from one of the greasy takeaway food trucks. It was OK but nowhere near as good as the ones we get from the markets that are made fresh before your eyes. The ones at the show came from a packet I saw taken from a freezer. Ewww.

Top tip:  Take as much cash as you want to spend and leave your ATM debit card in the car or at home. 

$100 in these here 10 bags of junk

5. Love the cake and art comps? Leave the kids at home

I love checking out the cake competitions but the boys were not that keen. Fair enough too. How many fruit cakes does a four year old boy need to see? Noo got a bit stroppy going through this display. He was tired and hungry and even declared he wanted to go home.

Top tip: Leave the preschoolers at home if you really want to look at cakes and art on display. 

That pig was the only animal we saw all day.

The Sydney Easter Show is great fun

Noo and I had a great time catching up with our friends and even though it was uncomfortably hot and I spent a huge amount of money we are looking forward to going again next year. We'd just do it a little differently.

On the Ferris wheel above the show.

Are you from Sydney and planning to go to the Royal Sydney Easter Show? 

What are your favourite things to do at the show?


*This comment is not sponsored. I just love, love, love Norsca Forest Fresh and should they want to work with me I'm available.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Two conferences and a man

I've got a feeling. No, I'm not about to launch into that Black Eyed Peas song. That tonights gonna be a... bloody, hell. Back on track! That song has been in my head since the Gala Dinner at #DPCON13 last Thursday night.

What I am trying to say is I've got that feeling like there's a million different things going around in my head and I really don't know how to organise them all. So much has been going on over the last week and I'd love to report on it all but that would probably take a book to do the stories any justice.

My last post attempted to express my experience at Digital Parents Conference with three photos that illustrated how I felt throughout those amazing two days. Now I've got a word cloud for you. The words in the pretty coloured heart shape below are floating around in my head and I'm struggling to organise them into coherent sentences.

In the two days that followed DPCON13 I attended another conference: The Australian Virtual Assistants Conference. AVAC2013 was just as awesome as DPCON13. I learnt so much, met some really lovely people and was truly inspired by a wonderful group of women who are literally 'doing it for themselves' by working from home running their own businesses.

I am in the process of setting up my own Virtual Assistant business. I've registered a business name, got an ABN, a domain name, some web space and social media accounts set up. I'm going to take the process really slowly so I don't fizzle out again by jumping in too hard and too fast. There's been enough fizzle this year. I need more bang!

Now, speaking of bangs, that's the final thing I wanted to tell you about. Actually, he's more than a bang. I've been seeing someone very casually for three months. We've been on about a dozen dates during that time. There's been no rush and no pressure - awesome. I've really taken it easy with this one. You know what I mean; not too many texts, not coming across overly keen. I've played the game. Not that there should be a bloody game with dating but we all know there is. And I usually lose.

Over this time I've dated a few other guys and I know he has dated other women. I've been totally cool with that because I really didn't want to rush into anything. And there have been times over the last three months that I thought I didn't like him at all. I actually wrote this post, pleading for answers as to why I am still single, on the day after we spent a night together.

That was nearly two months and four dates ago and now I REALLY LIKE HIM! And I have a bad feeling that it is going to end in tears on my part. Last night I sent him a text (yes, I wimped out saying it face to face), after we spent all Saturday night and a lot of Sunday together, asking where he thought we were going with this. I made it clear I don't want a full on move-in-let's-get-married kind of relationship (yet), but I'm feeling icky at the thought of him with other women now. Basically I want us to be exclusive with one another.

I think after a very intimate three months of dating it is about the right time to ask for exclusivity. He returned my text with something along the lines of 'yes, we do need to talk about this' but I'm yet to get a call or a text.

What do you think? Am I being fair?

I feel like such a teenager asking you lovely ladies who read me but I'm going insane here. His silence is speaking volumes. Or is it? I'm imagining him spending the last 24 hours deliberating over his feelings for me. Going through every detail of what he knows about me and likes and doesn't like and coming to the conclusion that I'm too fat, too poor or weighed down with way too much baggage bulging with The Past.

But, men are simple folk, and I'd bet $100 he hasn't given me or my question a moment's thought. He doesn't even read my blog (which is why I'm writing this here)!

Crikey, I have no idea what to think or do about it. I'm useless when it comes to men. I just can't stop thinking about him! This part of dating sucks.

At least I do know that both DPCON13 and AVAC13 were awesome.

Can't wait for next year.


Friday, March 22, 2013

DPCON13: Before, during and after

If you didn't know already, I spent the last two days at the Digital Parents Conference here in Sydney. 

It was awesome.

Before the conference began

During the conference

After the conference

More on DPCON13 when my brain is working again.

Did you go? How are you feeling?


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Twas the night before #DPCON13


Twas the night before #DPCON and all through the house
A blogger was typing while choosing a blouse
Her bag was all packed with the utmost of care
With hopes that her bloggy friends would also be there

The kids were all sorted to spend time at daycare
While mummy cavorted with faded pink hair
Bloggers and brands, mamas and dads
Would soon be together with pens and their pads

Breakfast would be served at the earliest of times
And then would begin the learning at nine
Kindness and the blogosphere, adversity too
Nothing with us bloggers is ever taboo!

As the grumbling of tummies begins to be heard
Lunch at Curzon Castle would swiftly be served
I wonder what food they'll have for as there
I bet it'll be a delicious and scrumptious affair

The afternoon will continue with blog education
I hope there's no fight for the Belkin charge station
From products to writing and photos and vlogs
We'll all be exhausted like over worked dogs!

But fear not my blog pals and hear there's to be
Plenty of refreshments, I'm talking coffee and tea
Perked up by caffeine the next session will see
Us learning about possibly making money

This rhyme could go on but I'm starting to feel
Tired and worried I'm unorganised still
Excitement is burning inside of my brain
I really can't wait to see you all again

And bloggers I haven't met in real life yet
To me it will be such a pleasure I bet
To put faces to blogs and stories I've read
I'm the tall girl with pink streaks on my head

Please say hello if you see me, I can be a bit shy
But once I get started I promise I won't cry
Thank you Digital Parents for bringing us together
The next two days will be fab, no matter the weather!


Are you going to the Digital Parents Conference tomorrow?
Excited, much?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Spending danger zones: Identify and avoid

RAMS LOOSE CHANGE ROUND-UP competition entry

Money causes me a huge amount of anxiety. I never seem to have enough and when I do get some it disappears so quickly it leaves me breathless and waiting desperately for the next pay day.

I am probably the last person in the world that should offer money saving advice. Even though I set a budget to help my disastrous money management skills I still run out of money. Every. Single. Month.

To keep track of my finances I do the following:
  • keep a money diary to see where my money goes
  • maintain a budget spreadsheet that outlines all my income and outgoings and the dates they are expected to occur
  • have all my bills paid by direct debit come out of a cash management account which is inaccessible from the ATM to ensure there is always money in the bank to pay for them
  • avoid having any credit cards
The best tool I have to ensure my bills are paid is my Excel spreadsheet which tables all my expenses for the month and then calculates how much cash I have left per week for spending. That spending money then has to pay for petrol, groceries, toiletries, food, eating out, coffees, clothes, activities with Noo (eg going to the aquarium) and any other ad hoc spending. This is where I get into trouble because while I set a budget every month, I never stick to it.

Looking at all the data I have collected over the years I can see where my spending danger zones are. I've put together a little infographic below to show both you and me where I can curb my unnecessary spending and hopefully help me to stick to my budget.

I reckon if I follow these tips and become more conscious of my spending danger zones, by avoiding them where possible, I might have more success with sticking to my budget. It would be so wonderful not to have to hang out for pay day every month!

Hell, I might even get some savings started!

What are your spending danger zones? Do you stick to a budget?


Disclaimer: This post is my entry into the "Rams loose change round-up" blogger competition for bloggers attending the Digital Parents Conference.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A post about poo

I've been a bit cranky, anxious and basically over it all for about six weeks. There's been moments where I've felt ok, like I'm doing well, but mostly I've felt a bit on a slide. I've felt out of control of myself and my life.

I feel like I give, give, give and get nothing in return (which isn't really the case, it just feels that way). I'm sapped of emotional energy. If I believed in auras I reckon mine has gone from a bright multicoloured rainbow of hues to shades of dull mission brown. Because I feel like poo.

I feel bad about feeling like poo. Just like years ago when I said in a group therapy session that I felt like I didn't "deserve to be depressed". No one deserves depression, but that's not what I meant. I meant I felt like what I was going through was all my own fault and by giving it a label I was taking away my responsibility for it. The same goes for now: I have no right to say I feel like poo because really, on the face of it, I have a lot and I should just get the fuck over myself.

These are the words that go around in my head when I feel really bad about myself:

No self control
Not good enough

I always feel like I should be doing more. I feel like I am a sub par performer of life. Irrelevant to the world except for my family.

At the beginning of this year I committed to the following:

  • Work two days a week as my niece's nanny
  • Work two days a week at an office helping out with admin
  • Study one unit of my degree
  • Blog daily/every two days
  • Set up a Virtual Assistant business
  • Lose the last 7kgs
  • Find a boyfriend

OK, so that is a lot. I started the year with all guns blazing and now, by mid March, I'm flailing out of control. Each week another commitment gets crossed of the list. It looks like this now:

  • Work two days a week as my niece's nanny
  • Blog every two/three days
  • Set up a Virtual Assistant business
  • Lose the last 7kgs

I withdrew from my university unit yesterday. I just can't find the time for it. Any regular reader will know that I quit my two day a week office job on day three because the anxiety was overwhelming.

I was feeling so great at the end of last year. Cruising along, eating well, exercising, looking after my niece Mala three days a week, being a great mum for Noo. But then I tried to cash in on feeling good by committing to new projects. I failed and started falling apart again.

Try. Get anxious about failing. Fail. Feel very bad. Slowly recover. Feel great. Take on more. 
Try. Get anxious about failing. Fail. Feel very bad. Slowly recover. Feel great. Take on more. 
Try. Get anxious about failing. Fail. Feel very bad. Slowly recover. Feel great. Take on more. 
Try. Get anxious about failing. Fail. Feel very bad. Slowly recover. Feel great. Take on more. 
Try. Get anxious about failing. Fail. Feel very bad. Slowly recover. Feel great. Take on more. 

I am so over this never ending cycle! I must be so much hard work for everyone. My family I mean. I'm so unreliable! No one ever knows, including me, if I'll ever actually go through with what I say am going to do.

Great advert my for new business, huh. Hire me! I may or may not complete your project depending on my anxiety levels this week.

I hate it when I get snappy at my family. I wish I could smile and say "yes, no problem" to every request without feeling like I want to scream. I think I just need space. Time out to relax and do what I want to do, even if that means laying on the couch or sitting at the computer for hours. Ok, so I do actually do that now, but only between the hours of 10pm-1.30am because they are the only hours I get to myself. That is tiring but at least I get that.

And space. Fucking hell. We have no space left to move. Noo and I live in a small room that houses my loft bed, his bed, my office, our bedroom furniture and a shitload of toys for both Noo and Mala. We cannot move. We live like freaking hoarders, sleeping under piles of stuff. So much stuff!

But, I have to be grateful and I really have no right to whinge. We live in a gorgeous apartment right in the city of Sydney. I actually pay less than the equivalent of one week's rent here for one whole month's board. I am lucky.

Everyone in our family is busy. Nobody gets to hang around and not think about other people's needs. That's just life being a human. We all have to play our role and help each other.

I guess I just think I don't do it very well. Life that is.

This post is definitely poo.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The dad question: Part 6

The first five parts of The dad question can be found here:

Part 1: The day we met
Part 2: A new addiction
Part 3: Walking into the abyss
Part 4: The opposite of rehab
Part 5: Together alone


More questions than answers

"Don't ever come to Newtown. It is my territory. If you come to Newtown, I will hunt you down and hurt you."

It was a threat, pure and simple.

The look he gave me was filled with hate. He was hissing at me from the front door of the two bedroom apartment I'd rented a little further south-west from where we'd been living with junkies and dropouts.
I'd finally had enough of him. For the two or three weeks since I'd moved into my new place, he'd been hanging around. I let him stay because I was trying to recoup some of the thousands of dollars I'd lent him. But now I was over it and I just wanted him to piss off. I needed to start my new life with Noo alone.

The love was gone. Whatever attraction or feelings I felt for this man had been vomited up over 14 long weeks of morning sickness. By the fifteenth week of my pregnancy I snapped out of the delusional fantasy that I could have some sort of a relationship with the father of my child. I was sober and clear headed and wanted to get busy preparing for the arrival of my baby on my own.

When I stopped giving him money he stopped spending time with me or showing any interest in my unborn child. I had a feeling that he was sleeping with his ex again, that he was making her promises that didn’t involve me. I was actually OK with that because it let me off the hook and gave me a reason to break up with him. I didn't want him in my new home using me for a place to sleep. I felt used enough already and I couldn't stand the lies and the bullshit any more.

I kept asking him to leave but he just wouldn't go. I never gave him a key but he'd turn up on my doorstep night after night. And then he got really sick with abscesses under two teeth. I was so disgusted but felt sorry for him at the same time.

Taking him to the hospital emergency room at 3 am to get painkillers I was so embarrassed when the doctor took one look in his mouth and showed shock at his dental hygiene, or lack of it. “How did I, a middle class, private school educated woman, end up with a dope with half his teeth in head either missing or rotten?”, the snob in me silently screamed.

While he slept on in my bed, I spent the next morning calling around dentists and the public dental hospital trying to find out what he could do about his mouth. When he finally woke up, he chugged back a couple of cones in what was to be the nursery, and left to go to the appointment I had made for him at the dental hospital.

What the fuck was I doing helping him like that? I felt like a sucker, a fool.

Later that night we fought. I was frightened. By the time he'd finally returned from the dental hospital he'd been drinking all afternoon, god knows where. I saw the violence and anger in his swollen and distorted face and I was scared for myself and my little Noo kicking away inside of me. I kept asking him to leave but still he argued on. He had nowhere else to go, I knew that, but I didn't care. I just wanted him, his grog and his bong out of my life.

With one arm cradling my belly, the other holding my mobile with Triple Zero already dialled I told him one last time:

"Get the fuck out of my place and never come back! I'm calling the police".

The fear that rippled across his face was palpable. He picked up his long neck of beer and ran for the door. And that's when he looked me square in the eye and threatened me.

It was the last time I would ever see him.

Two police officers showed up at around 11 that night. I told them what had happened and that I feared for my safety. As requested I gave them his full name and date of birth. Not long after they'd left my apartment the officer called me and said the details I’d given him had showed up a criminal record "as long as your arm". The man I'd been sharing my life with for going on five months had several warrants out for his arrest in two states.

I was shocked and I was frightened. Who was this person and what had he done? A judge was called in the middle of the night and an interim AVO (apprehended violence order) was put in place until I could get a court date.

Sleep was difficult that night. The adrenaline pumping through my veins and the unanswered questions rolling around in my mind kept me up into the small hours. I must have fallen asleep at some stage, waking when the sun came up with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I attempted breakfast only to vomit it all up again. I paced my apartment, trying to come to terms with what had happened the night before, with what I had learnt from the police. I knew he’d been to prison but I thought that was in his past. If he’d lied to me about that what else had he lied to me about? Doubt flooded me.

The anxiety was building up like a pressure cooker inside me until finally I burst into tears sobbing huge great big sobs. I cried because it was really over. That intense passion and love I thought I felt for him when we were first together was gone and I was mourning that loss. Little Noo growing inside me was going to grow up without a father in his life. I somehow knew, even then, that we wouldn't see him again. Calling the police had made sure of that. I probably should have felt more upset for Noo but I knew that I’d be able to give him a better life without his dad than if he was around.

Curiosity was killing me. Who was this man who fathered my child? What had he done? The night before I’d told him to arrange for a friend to come and collect his stuff. I didn't want him returning anywhere near the building. I got a call from him later that day saying a mate would come back tomorrow afternoon. I was to pack up his stuff and leave it all out by my front door.

He had barely any possessions. Some clothes, a doona, a glass bong (which he’d stolen from the previous house), old towels, some photos of his kids, a pillow. There were also some papers and drawings. I carefully went through everything and packed it up in his bag. That’s when I found the letter. It was the only tangible evidence that I had of his identity. He didn't have a driver’s license because he couldn't read to learn the road rules and take the test. He didn't have a Medicare card or credit cards or any of the other identifying bits of plastic most people carry around with them. I realised then he was a ghost, only using cash to make himself untraceable.

The letter I found explained why. 


That is it for now but of course there is more to come.

As usual, thanks for reading.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Letter to the lump in my breast

Dear Lump

I'm not going to bother to ask how you are because I know the answer and quite frankly I couldn't care anyway.

I feel rude in saying this, but I really don't like you. I know you're not cancerous so I guess I shouldn't hate you. I didn't have to suffer what so many women have to go through after they find a lump. Yep, around 40 women a day throughout 2013 in Australia will be told by their doctor their lump is not a fibroadanoma, but something much worse.

Before I got the results you scared the shit out of me. It was about a year ago that I was having a shower and feeling around like I do every so often. You live just on the left side of my left boob, as you know. I was shocked when I felt you there that first time. I've always been pretty good in feeling myself up, my finger tips making circular motions, scanning every inch of my chest. You're hard like a peach stone and about the same size so when my fingers slid over you goosebumps exploded over my skin. Where did you come from?

Searching for you became an obsession. I had to check over and over that you really were there, it wasn't just a figment of my psychosomatic imagination. I bruised myself in the hunt for you. The flesh above you turned grey and then yellow.

I went to the doctor and she checked you out and told me she wasn't worried but I should get you scanned by some machines to be absolutely sure. An order form for a mammogram and ultrasound was handed over to me. I felt sick. Not worry? Please! I started freaking the fuck out. Thoughts rushed through my head.

Please don't let me have cancer. 
    Please don't let me have cancer. 
        Please don't let me have cancer.

I put off the scans for a couple of weeks. Denial is what you call it. Please don't let me have cancer. My dad walked with me to the x-ray place. The day was overcast and grey which was apt. I waited for my turn in a waiting room full of people needed to be scanned in some way for some reason.

The mammogram was first. Oh boy. That hurt. Surely science has to come up with a more comfortable way of scanning women's tits. And men complain about the finger up the arse in the hunt for prostate cancer. I think I'd rather that than have my 16DD boobs turned into pancakes again.

Please don't let me have cancer.

It is funny what the wait for health results can do to your mind. Flashes of the past, the future, the end. You probably don't know this Lump, but I'm a chronic catastrophiser. I don't do this sort of drama well. Especially when I'm sitting in a room, surrounded by medical equipment, wearing nothing but a paper robe and my undies and I'm waiting to have my boobs prodded by strangers.

Next was the ultrasound. The last ultrasound I had showed me the bubba in my belly. Such a nicer experience than this. Lump, you fucker. By now you've got me so freaked out I really thought I'd vomit. The radiographer is rolling that thingie over and around my boobs with one hand while she expertly taps the keyboard with the other. It reminded me of when Noo's little foetus was being measured but this time they were measuring you. The dark little ellipse on the screen was about 2 cm in width if I recall. I hated you even more when I could see you. See and feel, makes it all the more real.

When it was all over I was told not to worry, the experts in the room thought it was nothing "too dramatic" so I should just get on with my life and wait for my GP to call. And so I waited. Please don't let me have cancer. And I waited until I got the call back for another test. Another test?

I freaked. At the time I was also dealing with chronic restless leg syndrome, fatigue and my anxiety levels were very high. Colonoscopy, endoscopy as well as swallowing a camera to look at my insides were procedures I was also going through because another doctor thought there was something going on in my bowels.

Congruent cancer scares. Doesn't my body know I don't cope well with this shit? And I couldn't be making this up either. You can't create breast lumps and empty all your iron stores by being depressed or anxious which is usually the cause of my physical ailments.

For the next test I had the joy of having a big needle stuck into my boob guided by the ultrasound. The doctor had trouble getting in the right spot and had to have several goes at it of course. It hurt like hell. The staff in the room kept asking me if I was ok. I must have looked pale. My mouth was dry. I kept thinking of Noo, of the statistics, of my chances...

Waiting sucks at the best of times but waiting for cancer tests is just pure torture. Please don't let me have cancer. It had become my mantra. I said the words over and over again.

Finally the appointment with my GP came around and you were given a name: Fibroadanoma. Or breast mouse. Just a fibrous lump. Benign not cancerous. Relief overwhelmed me. I'm not one of the 40 today.

I was told everything was ok and I was stoked. But still...

I don't like you being there. You ache when I have my period. You feel foreign inside me. Unnatural and superfluous. If I had the money I'd get a plastics doc to cut you out. I don't like you there.

But at least I don't have cancer.

Yours in dislike

To my sister in law who fought breast cancer and won, I love you. Your strength amazes me.

To my very, very good friend who was diagnosed in her 20s after the birth of her first baby, battled breast cancer and won the fight, I love you. Your bravery is like nothing I've ever known.

And to all those who have been affected by breast cancer in some way I salute you: Survivors and those who've lost friends and loved ones to this disease you're courage amazes me.

Have you ever had a cancer scare? How did you endure the waiting?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ode to sugar addiction

Sugar, sugar in my head
You fill me with both joy and dread
I crave you, need you, hate you, eat you
'Til the guilt monster is fully fed

I know the truth but still I eat
Lollies, chocolate, anything sweet
You give me headaches, weight gain and pain
And I then I fall down in defeat

On my tongue I feel you melt
Sweet and luscious oh you smelt
My heart, my health, my love will go
What a hand of cards you have dealt

Addiction is so hard to fight
I need some help with my plight
Your taste, colour and smell entices
And you're always everywhere in sight

Despite the evidence around
The government says you're still sound
How are us addicts really to know
That the health cost is so profound

When you're not in my life
I feel so awesome, out of strife
I need to say goodbye again
Cut you off with a jolly big knife

Bitter/sweet and love/hate too
Parting is sweet sorrow for you
No longer filling the sugar industry's coffers
Mars, Nestle, Cadbury I will now eschew

I hope you've enjoyed my sugary rhyme
I've come to the end, I'm out of time
Bring on a happy, healthy, delicious life
I quit sugar, to not would be a crime


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I'm full of myself

So it is only the fifth day of March and already I've missed two days of blogging, breaking my first mini goal for the month. I am crap at sticking to goals! I'm in a filthy mood too, after what has been a shocking day with two kids who are hell bent on making my life a living fucking misery.

Ok, so my life ain't that bad, but seriously! How do you mums with more than one child do it? Anyway, I'm not going to go on about that now. I can't think about it any more. I'm at my desk, mum is in the kitchen cooking dinner and Noo is finally playing on his own. I haven't heard the word "MUUUUUUMMMMMMMM!!!" yelled out for at least 10 minutes. I'm free to write...

So, back to my failed goal of writing a post a day for the whole month of march.

How do you crazy post-a-day people do it? Is it the stockpile approach? You know, write a stack of stuff and save it in your drafts and you're always ready to go no matter what comes up in real life? Is that it? So you can actually have time away from the computer to go live the experiences to later write about?

I actually have two posts nearly written truth be told. Both The Dad Question Part 6 and Part 7 are nearly complete but I've been hesitating because I am worried that they are too personal to publish. Yeah, I did just type that: too personal to publish. You would have thought with all the other shit I've written about nothing could be too personal for

I read an awesome article yesterday on none other than The Daily Life website. After my disgust and disappointment with the journalistic integrity of this post with its sweeping generalisations about Australian psychiatric facilities, I was glad I didn't abandon the site completely after reading this post. Yesterday's piece was titled In defence of the personal essay written by blogger Kate Fridkis.

Kate talks about the flack that we personal writers get for writing about ourselves. You know the whole you must be "full of yourself" to write about yourself and the nuances of your life. I understand that argument because you do have to be somewhat self aware to write about what is going on in your life. But does that have to mean I'm full of myself?

When I am having difficulty putting fingers to keyboard the main reason is usually because I'm over myself and my own voice. Not just the sound of it out loud but the sound of it in my head. Typing out my story makes the words ring loud and clear and they become unavoidable as I attempt to arrange them into somewhat intelligible sentences to present on my blog.

I get so sick of Me, Myself and I. But there is more to the personal story than the person who is writing it.

The crux of Kate's piece is that personal essay writers are important in this world for so many reasons other than self gratification. Every living person has a story to tell and they are all important. It is just up to the individual as to whether they use their voice to share that story.

I love this paragraph about what personal writers can achieve:
"They give us insight into the parts of life that don’t coincide with the news or fit into a major publisher’s agenda. They allow people to tell their own stories, instead of waiting for someone else to show up and record and edit them. In doing so, they give the writer control. They place inherent value in the human experience, in every shape it takes. They emphasize small, meaningful moments. They connect us with other people by exposing the similarities that exist even in our very different lives. Because of this, they create community, because honesty surrounding particular experiences draws other people who also want to be honest about the same issues. They give people who have been silenced a platform to speak. They celebrate non-famous individuals, investigate mundane but serious problems, and reveal meaning in everyday life. They allow us to learn from the mistakes of people we've never met. They tell us the truth about experiences we’re curious about but can’t ask about in polite conversation. They make it clear that there are many, many truths, and help keep our perspectives diverse and more tolerant as a result. They encourage openness and vulnerability in a world that can feel impersonal, cold, and disinterested. They acknowledge that people’s experiences, as well as reported facts, are innately interesting and relevant. They reassure us that we’re normal just when we were worried that we were weird and unacceptable; there’s someone else out there going through something similar. And so much more.
Personal essays provide us with historically relevant and valuable accounts of what people’s lives are actually like. They are an amazing opportunity to learn about other people and ourselves, and in doing so, to delve deeper into the human condition."

I love it!

"...delve deeper into the human condition."

This is why I got into blogging. It started with me searching for personal stories about lapband surgery as I was trying to decide whether or not to take the plunge. I found stories in the bucket loads on blogs from all over the world. I then decided that starting my own blog about my weight loss/gain/plateau journey could be just the thing I needed to keep me sane and accountable. In doing so I found a voice I never knew I had and I discovered a new love: writing.

Human connection was the next bonus. Reading, commenting and finally meeting up in real life with people I'd met through the blogosphere opened up a whole new world for me. The therapeutic benefits of blogging has also been enormous.

I remember writing early on in the life of my blog that I like the idea that my words are here for my family to read. My blog will be here for my son and my grandchildren to read if they want to. That's even despite the fact that a lot of my story is sad. It might be sad (at times) but it is still relevant. I wish my parents, grandparents and great grandparents wrote their stories as they lived them. I would love to read about the details of their every day life.

Personal bloggers are today's diarists. The only difference is we put it all out there to the world to read and to judge. From that comes consequences. I don't care what anyone says about me but I worry about the consequences my personal story telling might have for Noo in the future. Mainly I worry about him getting teased. Kid's can be cruel (and not just to their parents - see above).

And that's where I'm at with the Dad Question. It is my personal story but it is Noo's too. Already I've divulged a lot. Why am I worried all of a sudden? What has changed?

I don't know the answer but I'll keep writing. I'm addicted now. Whether my words are read, if they help people, or entertain I am just happy to be given the chance to express myself.

If you are a blogger who is reading this right now keep writing. Your words are important.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

March mini goals with pink hair

Dear Reader

How are you?

I am really well thanks.

I am OK but I'm going to make out like I'm awesome!

I have pink hair, if you hadn't noticed on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Or on the left column of this page. It is not like the picture I showed my hairdresser, which you can see below. I nearly cried at first but then everyone (maybe it was you Dear Reader on my IG feed so thank you) told me it was awesome so I've come to like it a bit. It sure is different and makes me feel young but sometimes I feel a bit 'muttony', if you know what I mean. No one likes mutton dressed as yoof.

The picture on the left is the one I showed my hairdresser. The picture on the right is me.

I just thought I'd give you a little rundown of how I want this month to go. You know, to make myself accountable.

Yesterday, on the 1st of March, I decided that I was going to achieve the following:

  1. Publish a blog post every single day from 1 March through to 31 March. So here I am posting. I hope to complete The dad question series and my 2013 KISS SMART goal series.
  2. Get back on my health kick! For fucksake woman (I'm talking to me now, not you Dear Reader). Stop putting junk in your gob Vanessa. It only makes you fat and feel like shit and get bad headaches which make you take prescription painkillers which make you get constipated and moody as all hell.
  3. Get stuck right into uni on the first second week and not get behind like the last couple of attempts at study. Yes, I'm enrolled again. I'm doing "Engaging Media" this study period. I WILL NOT FAIL! Not that I ever have failed before but in striving for high distinctions I have withdrawn because of the anxiety that kind of pressure causes me. Ps mean degrees or so say the losers I mean other students.
  4. Attend the Digital Parents Conference and learn lots about blogging and social media and meet heaps of people and smile and make lots of new friends and don't be afraid or anxious or late.
  5. Attend the Australian Virtual Assistants Conference and learn lots about running my own virtual assistant business and meet heaps of people and smile and make lots of new friends and don't be afraid or anxious or late.
  6. Try not to be overwhelmed by the fact that I am attending two conferences back to back and have to meet not one but two lots of different people as well as sit, listen and absorb new shit information for four days in a row.
  7. Enjoy myself, be happy. Take deep breaths. 
  8. Enjoy being with Noo and my niece Mala. Kids are meant to be fun not work all the time.

OK, so that's my eight mini goals for March.

Have you set yourself any goals to achieve in the lovely month of March?

Yours in friendship


PS. I love that it is autumn! Hello funky winter clothes and snuggle up doona nights.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Australian psychiatric hospitals like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? I don't think so

The last time I wrote a post in response to a newspaper article was when the Sydney Morning Herald's Good Weekend magazine published a piece on Zanax and it's over use. In The Xanax (and other benzos) dilemma: My story I talked about my experience with benzodiazapine addiction and how my addiction was allowed to flourish while in a private psychiatric facility.

Now I want to respond to another story in the Fairfax press. Inside a psychiatric ward was published on the Daily Life website earlier this week. Author Kasey Edwards writes about her friend's experience in a Melbourne psychiatric facility. Now I don't know what hospital Ms Edwards is referring to, and as it is in Melbourne I know it's not one of the three psych hospitals I have been admitted to, but I take real issue with the article's negative generalisation of psychiatric hospitals in Australia.

"If your idea of psychiatric wards comes from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, then you're not wide of the mark", writes Kasey Edwards.

From my experience of three psychiatric hospitals she couldn't be further from the truth. Talk about sensationalist journalism! Never did I see any patients catatonic or frothing at the mouth or in straight jackets or talking about killing themselves because they wanted to escape the dreadful place they were imprisoned in.

Between 2007 and 2009 I had six admissions to three different psychiatric facilities so I have a fair bit of experience with this.

The article talks about a "$9,500 per week" hospital so Ms Edwards must be referring to a private facility. All three hospitals I have been admitted to were private. I cannot talk about the public sector because I have no experience with it.

The first time I was admitted was to a small private hospital in a beach side suburb of Eastern Sydney. The hospital cared for drug and alcohol (D&A) patients as well as patients with serious mood and anxiety disorders. I was admitted for drug and alcohol addiction as well as depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder.

Yeah, it wasn't fun. People were not happy in that place - everyone was pretty fucked up so come on, of cause it wasn't a laugh a minute. We had rules and schedules to abide. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served at specific times. We had to line up for our meds. Sometimes the nurses weren't as sympathetic as you'd want them to be - especially when you're begging for your second PRN Valium in an hour because you're coming down hard and it sucks. Sometimes you had to wait a bit for your meds, but usually the nurses were able to get everyone sorted in a timely matter.

"Patients being forced to assume child-like behaviours"? If you're managing a ward with let's say 30 patients of course you are going to have schedules and you're going to have to line up together for meals and meds. When you are admitted to a hospital you are under the care of that hospital so there are going to be only certain times that you can leave. There are procedures for signing in and out of the ward if you want to go to the shops. That is so no one goes AWOL unnoticed or hurts themselves.

That first time I was in hospital I was pretty terrified and I probably did look like a "skittish kitten that had been kicked". Being so new to any type of therapy was scary. I had only once before, very briefly, been on antidepressants so I was new to psychiatric medication as well. I was put on an ever changing cocktail of meds trying to find the right combination for me. It was not easy. In fact I had a pretty hard time of it.

One combination of medication brought on the most shocking restlessness. I couldn't sit still and my mouth even started quivering making me stutter. And then the meds they put me on to stop the restlessness caused me to slur my words for a couple of days. The first time I took Seroquel I had the most horrific night terrors I thought I was dying in my sleep. On both occasions, when I asked to speak to a doctor about the side effects the drugs were having on me, the medication was changed immediately.

My second and third admissions (both D&A, PTSD and attempted suicide) were at a different facility on the other side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This is where I did come into some grief. I've discussed it in detail in my previous post. More set up for mood disorder patients than drug addicts, I got into trouble with another patient, after spending a total of 10 weeks there. The only reason I left was because I was kicked out.

My fourth (D&A) and sixth admissions (post natal depression) were to a larger hospital in the inner western suburbs. Having several wards, it catered to drug and alcohol, mood disorders and post natal depression sufferers.

On my fourth admission I was kicked out for drinking (read the Dad Question Part 3) and on my sixth I was seriously sick with post partum thyroid disease which made me extremely anxious to the point I thought I was losing my mind again.

The fifth admission in between was back to the first hospital to wash out of Effexor (just like Julie in the article). I was on a very high dose of the antidepressant because of the then undiagnosed post partum thyroid disease I'd been suffering for four months - extreme anxiety, excessive sweating, 'brain buzzes', insomnia, paranoia - just presented like I was an over anxious new mum.  I was falling apart but no one thought to test my blood for thyroid issues. Anyway, I'll get over that one day.

Now for some generalisations that I experienced at three very different psychiatric hospitals in Sydney:
  • All three hospitals had schedules and rules to follow. This is like any hospital, mental or not.
  • All three had good, bad and indifferent staff. From the psychiatrists you saw once or twice a week for private one on one sessions, to the psychologists you saw in daily group therapy, through to the psychiatric nurses who were around all the time, there were some great practitioners and some crap ones.
  • Never, ever did I have to take a medication for a prolonged period that made me feel bad or had adverse side effects.
  • Never, ever did I hear a patient say they'd rather die than stay in hospital a minute longer. On the contrary, I met so many patients, especially women, who didn't want to leave! Hospital was a safe haven. A place where they could rest and gather themselves before having to go back out into the scary big wide world.
  • Never, ever did I have to talk a doctor into letting me discharge myself. Never.
  • Once I had been around the traps a few times there were others who were inpatients at all three hospitals at the same time as me. It was like a revolving door. So many people came in and out just to go back in again.
  • Not once did I ever feel over-drugged or that I had 'lost my agency'. In hospital I felt a greater sense of control which the routines help bring about. The outside world was where I felt out of control. So often I wanted to feel out of it, to escape from my reality, my flashbacks, but the therapy was there to help me deal with what was waiting for me on the outside. 
  • At all three hospitals I always had a sense that the staff were preparing you to leave, not trying to hold you indefinitely. Group therapy sessions of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and mindfulness were given to arm patients with the life skills to deal with life on the outside. And anyway, there are waiting lists to get into those hospitals. The doctors are not going to hold you back if they deem you fit to leave and you feel ready to go. Not when there is another patient out there desperately waiting for your bed. 

So Kasey Edwards has given one account of her friend's experience in a psychiatric hospital and her personal experience of visiting that friend. I am sorry Ms Edwards' friend had such a terrible experience when she was in hospital. But to call out that "we need to focus on the type of care mental health patients are receiving" as if it is all bad and that "it's likely that the 'cure' will be worse than the disease" is, in my belief, misinformed and rather dangerous.

What if some frightened person with serious mental health issues read that article and then became too scared to go to the doctor to seek help because they're worried they're going to be sent to the mental asylum where people are not allowed to leave?

Please, if you are not feeling ok and need to seek help, do so without fear of Australian psychiatric hospitals.

If you do need assistance these sites maybe helpful:
Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia
Beyond Blue
Black Dog Institute