When I think about resilience I think about my mother. She is currently standing at the round, faux marble top kitchen table, her hand made apron fastened to her blouse with two bobby bins, rolling out the pasta with her “laganaturo”, a metre long handcrafted rolling pin. Today she will make her usual three types of pasta to be freezer bagged and consumed later on in the week; gnocchi, fettuccine and orrichiette.
My mother is a beautiful, rosy cheeked woman in her mid fifties, round and proud, she holds her head high. Her face lovingly lined with the years that passed and the years that are to come. Immigration to this lucky country gave her a new life and a new patch of dirt in the form of a brick house on a quarter acre block, she would proudly call her home. The year is 1993 and I am 17 years old and in my final year of high school. My dad is currently in the Royal Melbourne Hospital undergoing treatment for a renal tumour that has entirely consumed his right kidney. He has a fever and Mum is worried. Her hands kneed automatically, as she rolls and stretches the dough, her mind is elsewhere and her eyes, distant. Dad has been in hospital two weeks now. My textbooks sit on the kitchen bench as I attempt to study for my final year exams. I keep an eye on the homemade chicken soup that is simmering on our stove. It will be poured into the well used light blue thermos and taken to Dad later this afternoon. I snatch a few moments attempting to memorise hand written notes. Biology. I am still uncertain as to why I chose sciences as my main repertoire when I have decided to study a business degree. If I am lucky, I will get my first preference at RMIT.
Mum has gone into the laundry, that is where she quietly cries, looking out the window into our neighbours yard. She thinks I don’t see her and I pretend that I don’t, out of respect for her stolen moments of privacy. My heart aches too.
Up until then my mother, had been my mother. Someone who looked after me, clothed me, fed me and did all the motherly things as best she could as my own extension. Today I saw her as a woman in her own right. She is separate from me and I realise behind her fierceness and her outgoing Italian-ess, she is also sad. But I know, that come what may, she will get us through. If I were older I would have recognised my mother as resilient. But I am 17 years old and too self centred within my own teenage miseries to really know what the word meant. But I knew she was strong and if I became a woman half as strong as she had been then my life and all that was in it would be okay.
Many years later, I sit typing this post as a writer and as an emerging artist whose years are far long gone from those at RMIT and the University of Melbourne, from the commercial business world, academia and teaching. My final high school score of 121 out of 168 is now inconsequential, irrelevant and a distant memory. Mental illness has entered my life in a variety of guises including my own.
Resilience, is something my mother had, and something which has also shaped me into the person that I am today. I have Bipolar disorder with psychotic tendencies encompassing visual and auditory hallucinations. Last year, I reached my limits, boundaries were pushed and I was shoved over the line. Yet I think until we reach our limits we don’t know how to overcome them. They were dark times tempted by pills, razor blades in an unending grey, cold, bitter winter. There is an education to be had, a triumph of the human spirit. To me, I think resilience means overcoming hardship and adversity and still recognising that life is worth living and that behind every dark, thunderous cloud there is a rainbow of light and hope.
Resilience is also a way of thinking, it’s a way of living, it’s an idea, a process, an outcome and a modus operandi. It also comes in many shapes and colours. My mother’s resilience was a quiet shade of blue that was calm and hardworking. My life partner’s is a soft muted, calming green, that is unassuming and silent. Mine is a bright, loud red colour, shining, vibrant and glowing.
It is with that resilience, that I wear like a warm woollen coat keeps me walking with one foot in front of the other. Some would and have suggested in the past, that owing to my mental illness that I am somewhat weaker, feeble and not as useful as I perhaps once was. Certainly, I am not as quick witted or sharp minded as I used to be, however, I have also calmed down a lot within that life change. Slowly and meditatively, I learn and listen. It is with a certain amount of carefulness that I apply myself, instead of the brash, hurried race against the deadlines and the clock. From the hare I have become the tortoise. Slow is an embraced way of life. As Gandhi once said; “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” Bipolar disorder is much of a muchness.
Bipolar disorder, I have recently discovered also provides one with the opportunity to remove the pointless from one’s life; the pointless rushing around, frantically in a hurry going nowhere, the pointless relationships that seem to endlessly revolve into nothingness, and the pointless living habits that are not even remotely conducive to one’s state of emotional wellbeing.
Whenever my medication is adjusted, I am useless and I am inspired. Inspired to write even though my ancient bones feel weary and my fingers tired to the type. I have my ear buds firmly implanted in my sensitive ears, which are concurrently being kept warm by my multicoloured woolly beanie and I am listening to the ultimate natural sounds soundtrack, one hour of crashing waves and the calming sea as my children watch The Muppets movie in the living room. This is not because I wish to transport myself to a wide, warm stretch of white sand and the blue, deep, calming ocean, no. It is because Kermit the Frog, whose voice on other occasions, would lovingly transport me to my childhood, is, in fact grating on my raw nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard and inciting murderous thoughts on those poor, innocent puppets.
The medicinal changes heighten awareness in one respect where every sound and every feeling is felt through life’s own surround sound system in full stereo. If you feel cold, the cold you feel is bitter and insipid. It s cold gnarly fingers seep into your skin and rattles your bones. The sounds heard are far too loud, like a nightclub where the speakers are blaring and you cannot hear your own voice. The ear buds that sit in your ears feel as though they are bruising your ears in small violent acts. Co-ordination goes out the window; hands drop plates, feet trip over. You can almost hear the mental miscommunication as though your brain’s orders have missed the train and the nervous system takes over, moving down the track on its own accord, unconscious and without a driving mind to direct it. Thoughts crash into each other, like ten pins, bowled over ruthlessly, snippets of sense breakthrough on occasion. The rest, is to bide your time until the storm is over and the sun decides once again to shine through in the form of a stabilised mind.
Hope, I like to think is eternal. Where there is hope there is life. The date is 22nd August, 2011. Here is an excerpt from my journal, written whilst I was an in-patient at the prevention and recovery centre for mentally ill patients:
“I have tried to read the few books that I packed with me, but my head is all over the shop. I cannot concentrate and it is something that I am still struggling with four days later. Earlier today, the treating psychiatrist said that I must remember that I am unwell, that we don’t have any issues giving time to a broken leg or hip to heal yet we quickly dismiss any mental issues. I had to laugh however when the psychiatric nurse visited my unit about half an hour ago, sat on the coffee table and with a perplexed look after reading my file, remarked that he had difficulty obtaining an understanding of what I went through, let alone the emotions and feelings associated with it. When he read all that I listed and all that I have been through, with a touch of triviality, he exclaimed that it’s amazing that I have held it together for this long and have come this far. “Resilience”, I told him, “is a magical thing.”
Every life I believe has its own soundtrack. My own tune that evoked and expressed my desperation at that particular moment in time was The Fray’s, You Found Me. My fast and downward spiral into madness had become a personal battle between myself, God and the Universe.
“I found GOD on corner of first and Amistad, where the west was all but won.
All alone smoking HIS last cigarette,
I said “Where you’ve BEEN?”
He said, “Ask anything”
WHERE WERE YOU, when everything was FALLING APART?
ALL MY DAYS were spent by the telephone
THAT NEVER RANG, all I needed was a call,
THAT NEVER CAME to the corner of first and Amistad.
Lost and insecure, you found me, YOU FOUND ME
Lying on the floor, SURROUNDED, surrounded
WHY DID YOU HAVE TO WAIT, WHERE WERE YOU?
WHERE WERE YOU?
Just a little LATE, you found me…..”
Mental illness, if allowed, can steal from a family rather than give. Our children, already fostering resilience are generous souls, open hearted towards the plight of others. I do not wish my mental illness to impinge on their childhood. The movie has now finished as I take a sneak peak through our sliding door and watch them take two garden chairs on the porch, leaning them both in together to make their own little cubby house. My son’s laughter peels across the property as my daughter squeals with delight. It is within their laughter that I grow. It is within their laughter they tell me it’s alright.
Here is what I have learned; although I have a mental illness, it does not mean that I am incapacitated in all aspects life has to offer. Certainly I cannot return to the teaching profession as visual and auditory hallucinations prevent me from walking into the classroom, but I can express my creativity through my artwork.
My life has changed 1000 times over and will change 1000 times more. Every day a new prism of light is shone within the corners of my mind. I am who I have become today, hopeful, resilient and confident within the slurry and slipperiness of the mooting, ever changing landscape that is Bipolar disorder. I am still on a journey of self discovery and on the quest for the search for meaning, in the meantime, I am sitting back, my legs covered by a crocheted blanket and smelling the gentle waft of the daffodils and jonquils that have been freshly picked from our property sit, in a glass on the kitchen bench.
Finally, my resilience explains and acknowledges that my bipolar disorder, all that it touches and encompasses is mine and mine alone and within ownership, therein lies my strength.
If I am unable to participate it is because my mind has shifted, it is not about you.
If I am unable to attend, it is because my spirit is tired and medicated, it is not about you.
If I am unable to see, it is because my vision has been hampered with visual hallucinations, it is not about you.
If I am unable to reason, it is because my words are either depressed or manic, it is not about you.
If I am unable to understand, it is because my thoughts are disjointed and broken, it is not about you.
If I am unable to hear, it is because my auditory hallucinations are impeding my ability to listen, it is not about you.
If I am unable to adhere to your timetable, it is because I am a free spirit and I dance to my own tune, it is not about you.
If I choose not to invite or be with you, it is because my serenity and reality lies elsewhere, it is not about you.
If I am unable to share, it is because my ability has been impeded, it is not about you.
If I am unable to call you, it is because my life is at times laborious and overwhelming, it is not about you.
If I am unable to visit you, it is because my anxieties have become too much to bear, it is not about you.
If I choose not to be a part of your life, it is because my wellbeing is critical, it is not about you.
My mind returns back, I am 17 years old again. I watch my Mum look out of the laundry window, silent and unaware. Oh, my beautiful mother, thankyou for teaching me the meaning of resilience without saying a word.
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