Moments

Moments come and moments go. Some moments we wait our whole life for. Some are just an instant burst of joy. Some will linger long in the memory. I just had such a moment.

To some this will seem quite a silly moment. Some won’t understand. Some will stand in awe and wish they had such a moment. While other’s will remember their moments like this and smile. No matter if you have or haven’t had a moment like this I hope you will join in the childlike wonder of the moment.

I have an Assistance Dog, Buddy. When Buddy isn’t working he is just Buddy. I guess like Postman Pat, he isn’t always a postman but he is always Pat. Anyway, one of the things about Buddy is he needs three to four toilet walks a day, after all, he is an Assistance Dog not a robot. He will not toilet on the house block but needs to go for a walk. This is actually good for my depression. No matter if it is a freezing frosty morning or like today a blistering hot afternoon I have to take Buddy for his walks.

We just got back from such a walk.

During this walk Buddy directed me towards a giant shade tree well more towards the shade of this huge oak tree. When it gets to hot on our walks Bud takes the opportunity to lie down. This time he put his nose to the ground and then rolled in the grass with a huge smile on his face. I started rubbing his tummy and then it happened I giggled. It just bubbled up from some deep well and before I even knew it was there on my lips. This sneaky giggle turned into a laugh and then it was an outrageous uproar of laughter. I was in the moment. If someone would have chanced upon this scene they would have thought I was drunk or out of my mind.

Then something else wonderful happened. I just laid down in the grass with Buddy. I giggled, talked, giggled some more and patted him. It was a perfect moment of peace in a mad world. The peace was all pervasive. There wasn’t a part of me that didn’t feel like I was at one with myself and this moment.

For the longest time I just laid there with my dog and talked and laughed and looked at his most amazing smile. It was like he understood. It was like we suddenly knew each other far better than we ever had.

Maybe this happened because it came at the end of a very stressful day. Maybe it just happened because I needed it. Maybe it just happened.

While I do understand the serendipitous nature of this moment I wouldn’t change it for a thing. I wouldn’t trade it for money or gold. This was a moment of sheer bliss. This was a moment of just being. I didn’t have to be anything or pretend I just went with what was happening. My spirits were lifted and I felt so incredibly alive. I was truly me.

This may not sound like much to you but as I have explained previously I have a range of mental illnesses and this is huge, trust me, it really is huge.

Just lying in the long cool grass, under the shade of that huge oak tree, with my best mate, now that was heaven on earth. I just wish I had the words to let you know how freeing, how calming, how relaxing and how life affirming it was for me.

 

2016

Well, another year has ticked over. I am well on the way to my 55th birthday. Life is not always easier, wait, strike that, life is darn hard with mental illness. Be that as it may, as all illnesses I learn to cope, adjust and hopefully move forward. I have decided to take a radically different direction this year.

I have decided to go back to something that use to make me incredibly happy. The one thing that growing older gives me is perspective. I can look back and see what worked and what hasn’t. Not that I want to be too philosophical about life. I sat down not long ago and thought if I could go back and do anything what would it be. The answer was immediate; Photography.

Back in the days when Kodak and Fuji battled it out on a global stage for the hearts and minds of photographers. When film ruled and digital wasn’t even a concept, I taught photography and darkroom technique. There was always something so powerful about squeezing off the shutter button and knowing I got what I wanted in the frame. Photographers have to be able to tell a story in one frame. Those who take still images have a far more difficult job than filmmakers: they get two hours to tell a story we have to do it in a fraction of a second. Unlike painters we have to work with what was in front of us we couldn’t just omit to paint that telegraph pole that we had to find a way to work around. There is joy in taking a photograph that you knew, just knew, was a goodun. Ah the joy of the days of not being able to see what you had until the film was processed.

When it comes to the darkroom. I will never forget that amazing moment when I saw the photograph I had taken suddenly emerge on paper in the developing tray. I cannot describe the emotions at that moment because how could I ever put into words, joy, happiness, electrifying ecstasy and wonder into one encapsulating phrase or term.

Long before I stepped into a darkroom I was taking photos but that moment galvanised my determination to be the best. I would never be another Diane Arbus (http://www.artnet.com/artists/diane-arbus/2) though she was always a hero of mine. A hero because she to had mental illness but was able to express herself though the art of photography. I probably would never be able to be as great as Annie Leibovitz (think the great images in Rolling Stone Magazine, think the pregnant naked Demi Moore shot on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, think the last photograph taken of John Lennon where he was curled up naked in the fetal position next to a fully clothed Yoko Ono, then you will know her work) but I was going to be the best with a lens that I could be.

I managed to win a fair few awards back in the day. I have not achieved two goals that I set out to accomplish. I have no produced a calendar and I have not had a solo exhibition. I will make these happen.

I decided that 2016 was the year I fight back. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t do everything to beat my illness that I can but this was different this was a proactive start. I was going to take control from the very beginning. I was going to be in control. On the front foot and pull its nose in the process. This will not be the year I am defined by my Schizoaffective Disorder, Anxiety, Paranoid Delusions, Panic Attacks or even my Agoraphobia.  So I formed a plan and on January the first I enacted the very beginning of that plan.

I along with my psychiatric service dog, Buddy, took my camera down to Balmoral Beach in Sydney and took photos of the first ray of light for the dawning new year. This became important. This became almost an obsession. I had to be there to see the new year in. I didn’t want to see the dark at midnight. I didn’t want to have some drunken bum slobbering the words Happy New Year. I didn’t want to be at a party. I wanted to stare down the new year as it awoke on that first day. I had to be there and capture this in an image or images. I wanted to stand tall as if to say… well illness I am still here, I am alive and I plan to live. This was my great moment of defiance. My moment to claim this year as one I will live. I was here to say I will not go quietly into that good night. I will thrash. I will not be crushed. I will not be driven to my knees. I will stand up and be counted. Illness you do not own me!

On the first of January, 2016 I declared my independence. I drew the line in the sand and said here and no further.

On the first of January, 2016 I captured that moment in photos. I plan to make this a year of creative photography and with ever click of the shutter I declare I am winning and my illness will not break me.

If you are suffering with mental illness or any other demon then make this your year of independence too. Find one thing that makes you happy. It doesn’t matter what that thing is. It could be:
– Colouring In
– Fixing Old Cars
– Knitting
– Sewing
– Crochet
– Cross Stitch
– Tapestry
– Drawing
– Painting
– Baking
– Woodwork
– Photography
Whatever it is do it and bring joy to your heart and tell the illness, demon or monster in your life that you are not living their way any more. Draw your own line in the sand and say “here and no further”.

In 2016, live!

 

Christmas…

 

Christmas is suppose to be a time of joy. A time of family. A time of getting everything ready for the good times and creating cherished memories. What if those good times never happen?

While you are busy thinking of gifts you have to buy or gathering food for the big event there are people like me with nothing or no one. I don’t mean that I am destitute. I like many do not celebrate Christmas. The simple fact is that there is no one to celebrate with. There won’t be a gathering about a Christmas tree with presents under nor a table laden with food. In fact there won’t be a gathering of any type. To be honest there isn’t a tree. I am surrounded by bare walls. No decorations. No one to wish Merry Christmas too except for the checkout person at the supermarket.

People tell me their plans of gathering family from the corners of the globe or from just around the neighbourhood. I do want to be happy for you and I hope that my face doesn’t give away what is happening in my heart and soul as I listen.

I have no family to gather with. No loved ones. Occasionally, someone might say ‘oh if you aren’t doing anything why don’t you come around for lunch?’. Sure crashing someone else’s family day is my idea fun – NOT. The idea of going to one of those charity free lunch for the poor and lonely just makes me cringe.

When you reach under your beautifully decorated tree with the angel or star on top to hand a neatly wrapped present to a loved one please remember that there are some that aren’t that fortunate. As you hand them the present just hug them first and thank God he has blessed you in ways that I have not been. As you see the joy in them for the gift you lovingly purchased or made and a tear runs down your cheek there will be tears in my eyes but from the ache of loneliness.

I face a day of being alone. Eating weet-bix for lunch or maybe a piece of toast with a cup of coffee. In an empty house.

My morning shall be busy because I will be on radio from 6 until 10am playing Christmas music, speaking of the joy of Christmas. All while my soul aches. All while my life is empty. I have my service dog, Buddy, who will be by my side and  he is a constant joy. So the day will not be a complete waist or a desert of unhappiness.

Please don’t complain to me of the hassle of gift shopping or the crowds at the shopping centres. I know that family can be stressful but I am not the one to tell that it is all such a pain to organise your family so you can all be together on the day. Enjoy your family because you don’t know if they will all be on the planet next year. Enjoy the gift buying but enjoy the love you have more. Some of us do not have this.  I don’t have this.

I just want you to be aware of the fact that the things you might complain about with Christmas are the same things I long for.

This year there will be no laughter, no gifts to unwrap nor to give away, no one to pop the Christmas cracker with, no one to share a meal, no one… no one.

But say a prayer and pray for the other ones
At Christmas time, it’s hard but while you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear
Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there’s death in every tear
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom

An exert from “Do They Know It’s Christmas”

 

Where does the hate come from?

Where does the hatred come from?

I don’t mean the hatred of other people, races or religions. I can honestly say I don’t think that I hate, truly hate anyone. I also cannot say that I am always at harmony with those around me but I don’t hate them.

The hate that I am talking about is the hate of self. Where does it come from? I have spent many hours throughout my life asking the question why was I born. I am not a great thinking. I am not a great artist. To be honest I don’t really do anything well. If mediocrity had its lowest common denominator then I would be it. People don’t understand my self deprecating humour, I have often heard statements like ‘stop putting yourself down’. If I don’t say it, you’ll be thinking it so I say it. That humour is to get the truth out in the open.

From the moment that I read Job chapter 3 I thought that it could be words I penned about me. In case you don’t know Job, it is a book in the Old Testament of the Bible, just to give you a taste of what I mean here is an extract:

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said: “May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’ That day–may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine upon it. May darkness and deep shadow claim it once more; may a cloud settle over it; may blackness overwhelm its light. That night–may thick darkness seize it; may it not be included among the days of the year nor be entered in any of the months. May that night be barren; may no shout of joy be heard in it. May those who curse days curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan. May its morning stars become dark; may it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn, for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me to hide trouble from my eyes. “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?

The chapter is longer but you get the idea. I have always thought that my birth was a mistake or putting into more plain english I should never have been born. Did I some how slip through God’s quality control? I know I am a malfunctioning model because of my mental health issues. I don’t know if I am incapable of love but I know I am not worthy of it. 

Where does the hate come from?

From the age of 6 I said that I would never marry and so far I have kept my word. I grew up in a very violent family though to be honest it was more directed from my father towards my mother. My earliest memories of them are bloody fights (yes, where blood was spilt). From the time I could walk I was always trying to get in between them to stop my mother from being hurt. Was that were the hate come from? Was it my fault? To this day I don’t know and telling me that I am not to blame really is stupid. Why would I marry only to perpetuate this type of relationship? I wouldn’t, no, I couldn’t, bring a child into the world and have them see what I have seen and felt. I have never been to war but have lived in a  battle zone!

John Lennon penned these lyrics:
How can I give love when I don’t know what it is I’m giving?
How can I give love when I just don’t know how to give?
How can I give love when love is something I ain’t never had?

Love is a very hurtful, deceptive thing.

Where does the hate come from?

This is a deep down loathing. No, this isn’t a little thing of oh I didn’t do that well because I do nothing well. You may think that is just a pity party but what I am trying to express goes much deeper than that. I deserve nothing because that is what I am. I am not expecting you to understand. I am not sure I understand. I am just expressing.

Where does the hate come from?

I don’t think that this hate comes from my parents or siblings or those who thought it was fun when at school to bully me. Those long days of relentless bullying by teachers and students. We moved so many times that the notion of friends became like a dream, a desire, something longed for but never realised. We moved so much that friendships or what I might call friendships became transitory. When people say they are catching up with old friends I am bewildered by the idea.

Where does the hate come from?

Is it being born into an Aboriginal family but having white skin or as close to as possible. Does this hate come from not feeling I belong in either society the Aboriginal or the European? Does it come from clawing at my skin to find the Aboriginal skin? Does it come from people not seeing who I really am? If I mention my culture people either eye me suspiciously or ask the dumbest questions. I am denied full access to either.

Where does the hate come from?

Does it come from the desire not to be a gender. Being male is to me a shameful thing. It is men who hurt women. It is men who rape. It is men who destroy the land in a desire to be wealthy. I have never wanted to be female. I do not desire gender reassignment. I just don’t want to be male. I constantly see the things males do and I don’t want to be connected to that even by gender. Men breed children, don’t love them and often leave. There was what was called a joke when I was growing up, the Australian male is like the wombat: eats roots and leaves. Basically it is true. Men drink to feel good about themselves or to numb the pain and then inflict it on other people.

Where does the hate come from?

It comes from deep down. It is within me and without me.

The Cyclops of Loneliness

The glare of the desk lamp glows in the dark like a spotlight. It casts long shadows but doesn’t dispel the dark. It makes some of it scurry but it doesn’t overcome the dark. As soon as the light goes off the darkness races back to overcome the areas that were once claimed by the light. In many ways that is like my life.

I sit here with the glare of the light that is like a Cyclops in the darkened room. It reminds me of my aloneness. The absence of people while surrounded by things. Possessions are not the sum total of my life but they threaten to rush in and take over the place where people who are the light of life.

I spend so much time alone that the loneliness is like a constant companion. Like a ever present darkness. The scary monster of defeat and gloom that stalks me constantly until I feel I cannot go on. It is like I am drowning in a vast ocean of emptiness. It is the loneliness that is the hardest part to deal with, it is never defeated and rushes back in like the darkness after the light.

I don’t want to give into it. I feel guilty for feeling it. The lonely starts as I drive in my driveway and attacks as I open my front door and there is a feeling of dread when I close that door.

As I sit and watch yet another hour of boring television I grow into that sad old single bloke that lives down the street. I Facebook to try and feel like I am plugged into some kind of community, to talk to somebody, to feel. Nothing works! The lonely is always there. It is so palpable. I can’t find the cure nor do I know the answer.

The Cyclops of loneliness is a powerful enemy.

Just a moment

What is a moment?

Life is made up of moments be they good or bad moments. What is it about these brief parcels of time that we store them in our memory to be recalled and reflect on these moments. It sometimes feels like we can take them out and look at them like a diamond or precious gem.

Life’s moments can be good or bad memories. I can clearly recall the moment that I heard of John Lennon being gunned down outside his Dakota apartment building in New York by Mark David Chapman. I can tell you where I was and the shock that gripped me along with grief. I had never been to New York nor had I met John Lennon but it affected me. It was a moment just a moment in time. It is like this for people when it comes to events like when Lady Dianna Spencer died in a car accident or how the 9th of September is forever connected to the terrorist attacks on the United States of America. If I bring it to the more personal level I know the moment that my mother passed away with me by her side.

Moments don’t have to moments of bad news because I still remember holding hands with a girl for the first time when I was in Yr 7 at school. I swear that I could feel electricity surge through me as our fingers entwined. There is the memory of that moment when I know that I am in love. Moments of laughter. Moments with friends. Moments with the sun on my shoulders. Good moments that become great memories.

Sometimes special moments can happen with people you just meet and probably won’t ever see again. One such moment happened a couple of days ago when I went for coffee with a friend of mine. We were at Café Mondeo in Blacktown. As part of my paranoia I try to be aware of everyone and everything around me. I noticed that several people from another table got up to leave, one person went to the counter to pay and this woman in a wheelchair came wheeling towards me. She stopped and we talked. The conversation started because as always my psychiatric assistance dog Buddy was with me and she told me about her assistance dog which is a golden retriever. We didn’t need to ask each other what the dogs do for us or why we had them. It was a moment of two people who had a bond of common understanding because of our dogs. It wasn’t about the dogs it was about that we were equals. It didn’t matter about our disabilities because for a moment it was just two people talking. There wasn’t that awkward question of “why do you need a service dog?” we just talked. It wasn’t a romantic thing but what it was was a moment where I felt normal.

It was an amazing moment. I don’t think that I connected with someone like this for a long time. A moment of understanding. A moment of equals. A moment that I treasure.

In a crowded city and in the crush of depression I was treated as a person. I was treated as normal. I was me.

Service Dog Discrimination Must End!

Today a report surfaced that read, “POLICE have cracked down on a Batemans Bay food outlet after a blind customer with a guide dog was refused entry on Saturday, September 12… The shop owner would not let him enter the store because it was a food outlet”. (Read the article)

I am a person who has an Assistance Dog and while Buddy is not a guide dog it doesn’t make him an less needed for me to  live as normal a life as possible. Buddy is a mindDog. You haven’t heard of mindDog, well, you probably aren’t alone there. The point is that business owners and managers need to know the law. Assistance dogs have been around for sometime now and so the concept is not new. In the short time that Buddy and I have been a team and going out in public (October 2014) we have been kicked out of 3 businesses and one physically. This is an embarrassing event when it happens and it shouldn’t happen. I never mind if a person in any business ask about Buddy and Assistance Dog status. I try and stay calm and explain, show his ID card.

It is time for all the discrimination to stop. I personally think that this man was right in calling the police over being refused entry to a business. I do know a lot of people with Assistance (Service) Dogs think we need to tread carefully and educate the owners and managers. As a person with legal rights I do not think that this is my responsibility. I agree we who have Service Dogs have responsibilities but we also have legal rights. Discrimination in all its forms needs to be ended and if defending our legal rights via legal means maybe the only way. Once businesses know that we are not going to give in, give up or crawl away then things might change.

There are now service dogs assisting people who have impaired vision (guide dogs), impaired hearing (hearing dogs), a physical disability (physical assistance dogs) and psychiatric service dogs (mindDog). I know that there are other assistance dog organisations for other impairments and illnesses but you get the idea. There are more and more ways that dogs help people but none of this is new. If you own a business it is time to know the law and more than this you need to let every member of your staff to know the law to do with Assistance Dogs. It is not my job to do your staff training.

Since Assistance Dogs have been around for some time now this should be a no brainer!