I take back what you have stolen.

“I take back what you have stolen, and in your languages I announce I am now nameless. My true name is a growl.” — Margaret Atwood

The past few months have been difficult ones, internally at least. Life has rolled on, work has continued, The Wild One is ever present and finances have fallen together as needed. Internally though… Change is the hardest thing. Effecting true, long lasting, change is equal parts exhilarating, terrifying, maddening and agonising.

I sit in a small, comfortable office every two weeks and talk for an hour or more. Together with the warm, gentle, woman across from me I dig through my past and my present, through my fears and long held beliefs, through my fears, and begin to slowly, ever so slowly, to untangle the knots. The knots are complex things – fear entwines with shame, shame twists around anger, anger tangles into anxiety, anxiety wraps into grief and sorrow and so on it goes. We work at it, picking apart the emotions and events that caused them slow and sure. This has been the hardest work of my life. I can tell you that without a second thought to it. This is HARD. And like most things that are truly hard work, it is  worthwhile.

If the process of exploring the events and the emotions around them is complex then dealing with the long held beliefs about myself that I hold because of them is near impossible. Worthless, valueless, incompetent, powerless, small, broken, fragile, useless, damaged. I have always been waiting to be dumped, to be turned on, to be betrayed. I have felt unloveable and unworthy of anyones time for as long as I can remember. I fake having self worth so well that almost no one has never realised how absolutely and utterly worthless I have felt for the entirety of my life.  Mistaking my careful and precise public image of control and confidence for a sense of self worth rather than the survival instinct it was. I have always had power. For every bit of grief this body of mine has bought upon me it has made up with with the power to manipulate – and like every born survivor I have played my advantage and protected myself.

And now, the dots have connected. One and at a time and some so subtly I didn’t even realise until it was pointed out. I’m shedding a skin I’ve worn for a very long time. It is terrifying, and yet…

I don’t know this woman.

She is so different from the one that sat here and typed a week ago, let alone months or years ago. There is a quiet confidence built of an understanding of where she has been, and where she is. She looks forward and knows where she wants to go. She knows what she isn’t, what she is and what she wants to be. She no longer needs to be anything for anyone else but herself. She will be accepted and loved as she is or she won’t be and that is ok. She is me, all the same.

I have been put through hell in this life – I have raped, beaten, mocked, shamed, battered, bullied, assaulted, betrayed over, and over, and over again since I was a small child. There are things I simply do not know how to do that are basic formative skill that I never learnt and I have been left isolated and afraid.

I’m not scared anymore, and I don’t feel alone anymore. There are so many ways I have changed, and so many ways I will continue to change… and so many more ways that I want to change.

At the centre of it all there’s just this quiet calm ‘Hello, this is me.’

It's scary out there…

The thing about fear is that, for the most part, we’re taught to handle the basics… but usually poorly. Then we get let loose on the world and suddenly we’re faced with the complex – death, love, and whatever the bright green gelatinous $40 blob the waiter just informed you was edible is – and we haven’t got a fucking clue.

For me that lead to three situations.

1. A five year long abusive relationship that I struggled to fully end.

2. Continuing a ‘friendship’ for over a year after the ‘friend’ had raped me.

3. A sudden appreciation for small vicious mammals…

Ever seen what a small mammal does when you back it into a corner where it’s fight or die? It might still die, but there will be a lot of blood and you’ll be wearing those marks for the rest of your fucking life.

I’m scared. To be honest, in a way I’m actually more scared right now than I’ve ever been in my life. The normal reaction is to withdraw into myself and pretend everything is ok until it washes over and I can pretend nothing ever happened. See how far that’s gotten me in the past (hint: see points 1 and 2).  I let myself get in the position that I have something to lose…

And I’m ready to go scorched earth and rip some fuckers throat out. I don’t remember the last time I have been so angry and ready for a fight.

Fear isn’t a bad thing. Reacting blindly to fear is a bad thing, but the fear itself? Fear can be survival instinct telling us to run away, it can tell us we have something to lose, it can tell us when to stand our ground, it can tell us to fight… and, when faced up to and looked at squarely, it can put steel into us like we never knew was possible.

20 Mistakes You Don't Want to Make in Your 20's…

So my brother found and posted this article on Facebook. It has some good advice in it if you pretend to ignore how fucking misogynistic the author is and you have a dick. However it does make some good point, and they can actually be pared down to three things:

1. Work towards your dreams, and work hard.

It is a simple concept that’s really hard when you try to put it into practice. Figure out what you want and fucking well go for it… Ignoring the part where you’re 20 and apparently have to decide what you want to be doing for the next, oooooh, 40 odd years of your life.

If you know what you want to do resist the pressure society will throw at you to ‘get a real job’ and instead work towards building your dream. Study what you need to study, travel if you need to travel, live in your parents basmeent and devote every waking minute to your craft if that’s what it takes.

Which isn’t to say don’t have a job. Some of the most prolific and famous artists, musicians and writers that ever been had day jobs for the entirety of their careers because it gave them a stable financial base so they could focus on their craft rather than wondering how to pay the rent next month. Just don’t waste your time doing something that doesn’t support your art.

And that goes for people who want to be high flyers in the corporate world. Going to university and getting a part time position doing the filing in the industry you want to be in is a fucking smart move. You’ve got the foot through proverbial door. You can ask questions, you can put your hand up for odd jobs that will teach you about the industry, you’re insider when positions come up (most companies will employ internally if it is an option) and you have access to the people who can mentor you. Don’t waste that chance.

2. Don’t get yourself stuck in relationships that bring no value to your life.

Friends, lovers, and family can be the greatest cheer squad you will ever have. They can also be the people undermine you the most. If I had a penny for every time someone close to me told me I was being unrealistic in some way I would be rich, and if they hadn’t done it I probably wouldn’t be about to turn 30 and only just starting to chase dreams.

Every person you choose to have in your environment (coworkers don’t count you don’t get to pick them) needs to be supportive. Surround yourself with the people who believe in you and you will get further faster. Which isn’t to say surround yourself with people who will blow air up your ass. Sometimes you need your friends and family to bring you back to earth before you do something epically stupid, but they shouldn’t be doing it in a way that makes you feel like you should pack it in and give up.

And the relationship goes both ways.

Encourage the people who encourage you, bring out the best in them, support them, help them, care about them. They need you as much as you need them.

So yeah, don’t be afraid to say good bye to people who bring you down and undermine your confidence. Do be awesome to the people who support you. Simple, yes?

3. Live within your means. 

Financial stuff is important. Do not waste your money, do not blow it on random crap and all night drinking binges every other day when it can be buying the equipment you need, paying for your education, and sending you to far off places. What is important will be different from person to person… For some going years without a holiday in order to get their business of the ground is important and for others a round the world trip will do more to further their careers than actually having cash in the bank, it really does depend on what your goal is.

However absolutely no fucker ever has been better off in debt than not in debt. Go for the cheaper share house if it’s an option, fuck off the designer label wardrobe and fancy cars in favor of gear that costs half the price and looks as good and a car that won’t crap out on you every other day, and generally just keep your expenses well within your budget. You’ll spend less time tossing and turning at night worrying over how to pay your rent and more time getting to do what you enjoy this way.

This also extends to buying equipment if you’re in the creative field. Always buy the very best you can afford because it will make a difference, but don’t get yourself into debt you can not pay because the stress will wipe out your creativity.

And straight from my experiences:

There is enough room for everyone:

There is enough room for everyone, so support people. Offer advice and encouragement. Mentor the new kid. Network your ass off in field and out. Quite often it is the people you are kind to just because you can be who will be the ones that think of you when there’s an open slot in that gallery they’re exhibiting at, or call you randomly to do a photo shoot rather than hire a model they don’t know, or end up asking you to collaborate on a big project, or even think to let you know of that awesome position coming up in their workplace. Contrary to what people think it is not dog eat dog. The more you support and care for those around you the more the opportunities will open up.

Stephen Fry is my Hero and Other Things About Depression

Stephen Fry is my hero. Really. Which is funny because I actually have no idea what he’s even famous for, but every time he opens his mouth about depression I just want to hug the man and thank him.

I live with depression, and by live I mean it’s my baseline, my daily existence. As opposed to going through bouts of depression which most people will at least once or twice in their life I live under the cloud almost all the time. Some days I get flashes of sun, on a rare occasion I’ll have solid periods of sun, but most the time the sun is behind the clouds and there’s a low drizzle of rain.

It’s not too bad, truth be told. I don’t do the random spikes of manically up and then crash like someone with bipolar has to deal with. I don’t have a baseline of happy to compare back to so I don’t necessarily feel truly horrible the way someone who is going through a bout of depression in their otherwise mostly ok life would. It’s just a fact of being for me.

I sleep a bit more than most people. Frequently 10 – 14 hours a day if I have no reason to be up. I often have trouble doing basic things like dishes, laundry and cooking… I forget to eat a lot (and sometimes wish my waist line would show that really). For the most part I get by. I have had to learn to focus on what I do get done so I don’t fall into a bottomless pit of feeling like a waste of air for not getting shit done. I go out often, even if it’s just to sit in a cafe, because being out helps keep me balanced. I try to see people, and I try to not hide how I feel without being angsty-pants-the-angsty at the same time – it’s a bit of a balance but achievable.

Mostly it just spoils things a little. I can’t quite raise the enthusiasm, I don’t feel as inspired by life, I get tired and worn so very easily…

Sometimes shit gets bad though. The clouds get so thick and dark that I go from feeling a little numb and sad for no real reason, disconnected from the things and people around me, to a place where hurting myself is an option, killing myself is a good idea or where I want to simply cease being. These periods are the worst because it’s hard to ask for help when you feel completely disconnected and/or feel like your very being is wasting oxygen.

The wonderful illustrated blog Hyperbole and a Half put up a very accurate representation of how these times feel, up to and including trying to explain to the people you care about, in this post… although I tend to not get the laughter bit, but rather get irrationally angry instead. It made me cry. I had therapy today and then went and talked to a good friend who is struggling with some of these same issues at the moment, and then read that post on the way home and cried.

It’s my life in a blog post.

I’ve sat here a number of times, quite recently, and simply wished I didn’t exist. Not even wished I was dead, just that I did not and had never existed. Like my very presence is fucking shit up for everyone around me. It’s not a nice place to be at, and it’s a long slow process to get back to a baseline of overcast and just a little bit rainy. When people tell me these are brave words I feel a touch lost…

It’s not brave.

It just is. It’s a fact of life like going to work so you can keep a roof over your head. You deal with it because you have to… that doesn’t take bravery or courage. It takes, perhaps, a little strength. It requires a certain level of iron in your soul to deal with this shit day in and day out without letting yourself sink… mostly it takes a lot of self knowledge and the willingness to believe against all odds that tomorrow will be better.

So yeah, Stephen Fry is my hero, because he doesn’t sugar coat it all with saccharinely positive self help bullshit. It hurts, and it’s hard, and you can not control it, but you’ll get days with the most beautiful blue skies if you can wait out the storms.

Don't mistake me for fragile…

Note, this post may be a trigger to some people and simply a really cold harsh shock to other. These are the moments I remember with a crystal clear clarity…

I remember the first time I was fingered. Down the back of the yard in the cubby house. He was in his final year of highschool. I was 6 years old. 1st grade of school. I never told my parents, I would have got in trouble for letting him.

I remember the first time I was told ‘it’s because he likes you’ about the boy who would beat me and scream in my ears while I read a book in recess. I was in grade 3, I was 8 years old. I learnt to love the librarians at that school.

I was 9 when my ‘friends’ would take my lunch, hit me, blame me for anything they did. I had already learnt to sit quietly and take the punishment.

I was 10, in a new school, when I began to get breasts and curves. I was tall, and skinny, with red hair, and glasses and new to the school. I was bruised and insulted and friendless.

The librarian suggested I needed to spend less time alone in the library that year.

I was 11 when she and I played out on the flats – now a housing development – and talked about fairies. I was 11 when believing in fairies became another thing I had to hold close to my chest and never admit out of fear of what others would do to me.

I was 11 when Hayley moved to my school late in the year. She would be my first friend. As odd as I was, and utterly unashamed by her own intelligence.

I was 11 the first time I was accused of chasing someone else’s boyfriend. A boy who I hated for grabbing at my breasts and ass, and calling me names. She was popular, and if I was simply a nobody before then now I was hated.

I was 12 when I noticed older boys straring at my chest.

I remember the first time I was catcalled from a car. I was 13. He almost caused a car accident. It would be years before I stopped hiding myself under baggy shirts.

The year after a blue eyed boy started visiting my house. Only when he and his girlfriend weren’t getting along. I didn’t care, I was so starved for any kindness and contact by that point.

When I was 15 I would be stalked by an older boy for 6 months. Driven home each afternoon by a friend’s father in the police force or walked by his younger brother and a friend – who didn’t know what was wrong but cared that I didn’t want to be left alone with him. I never told my parents. My father would be angry at me, my mother had two young boys hitting puberty to deal with.

I was 15 when I called out a boy in class, in front of everyone. He called me a red headed rat rooter. I, with absolutely perfect composure, suggested he bring his insults out of grade school given I’d been called that and worse since I was 7. My teacher nodded to me, a gesture of approval that I had stood up for myself.

I was 16 when two older boys would fight over me. One who would come and go as he pleased, and one who would possess me.  I had no idea what to do and no one to ask.

I was 16 when Shannon, a gay boy a few years older than myself, would look at me and tell me I was brilliant and not to let anyone tell me otherwise. I didn’t quite believe him, but he talked to me about art, books and my dreams. He will never know that he saved my life that year.

When I was 16 I would wear ankle length skirts to school.

When I was 17 we moved to Melbourne. I had no friends. My grades suffer. I sink into a depression I only survived because I HAD to be there for my brothers… Someone had to be.

When I was 18 I was stood up in a bar. I met people. A few weeks later I slept with a man with a partner who would succeed in turning me into a possession. We would fuck for years on and off while he told me he loved me… I was his dirty little secret. Years later he would be the reason I would hide myself, my sex, my sexuality, my love, my strength… because I was nothing.

When I was 23 I met my first long term partner. He who would manipulate me, turn everything into my fault, who knew exactly how to keep my long past the point where I wanted to, needed to leave.

When I was 26 I lost my mind, and started on the path to healing myself.

When I was just 27 I stopped being a dirty little secret. I would instead by that girl he used to have an affair with… In short he would make me his slut and shame me when I told him to back the fuck off.

I was closing on 28 when I began to say enough, began to get angry. I was told I was being unreasonable over and over.

When I was 28 I got drunk at my birthday party and was raped by the friend I met when I was 18 later that night. I fuck him a few days later in a desperate attempt to take back the control. It would be months of grief and anger before I could acknowledge that I had made it clear he was not welcome to my body in that manner and that he had abused my drunken state to get what he wanted. That it was rape and there was no excusing him for it.

I am 29. I am told I am sexy and bold, smart and intimidating. I have fight depression every day, sometimes it’s an easy battle and most times it is not. I have learnt to wield that anger as a weapon. I hurt.

I also know my own worth and I love with everything I have. I refuse to let fear rule me, and I have so much I fear in my heart and mind. I will acknowledge that I am seen as an object of desire by most and that I will be treated poorly for it for the rest of my life, and that I can wield it as a weapon should I so chose.

You look at me and see confidence, beauty and strength. You see what I let you.

I look in the mirror and see a woman who is both broken and brave in the same breath.

And when I look at you, especially those of you who are just beginning to really fight with what the world has pushed on them, I see people who are so much bigger, bolder and braver than they will ever realize.

Festival of Change

I had a pretty intense experience over the weekend at the festival, and there’s a lot I can’t and won’t talk about, but what I will is about safe spaces and how they can, in very short periods of time, change everything. The festival I was at was basically one big hippy gathering – there was art, music, meditation circles, music, amazing food, music, drumming classes, aikido lessons, music, mud baths, wood fire heated steam tents and showers, and did I mention the music? In a several thousand strong camp (consisting of some of the best of people I have ever met) you could not walk anywhere without music at pretty much all hours of the night.

I watched, I danced, I tranced around the bonfire and participated in the ecstatic dance workshop, and I spent a lot of time just talking and walking… mostly I let go.

The environment here was safe in the sense that there was no pressure, no fear, no concerns about being judged. Everyone was there for the same reason – to enjoy themselves. I wore what I wanted, I didn’t think twice about ditching excess clothing when dancing the bonfire because there was no concern that I would be touched in appropriately or be harassed, I told a complete naked stranger she was beautiful and hugged her…

Bonfire… topless… in the centre of a circle of 50+ people I danced topless with absolutely no shame or fear.

The result? By the time we left that place I had pretty much done a mental three sixty.

I feel connected with myself and the world around me. I’m in love with everything all over again. The city delights me, I breath the colours and the movement, sunrise is incredible and I’m blessed to be faced with it of a morning. I’m excited to create and dream and I want to change – myself and my world.

The things about depression and anxiety is that you get stuck in it, and you do begin to fear change. Change is scary, it can be the thing that sets back months and years of work. Even outside of that there is so much fear – what if people don’t like me, that thing I do isn’t socially acceptable people will judge me, I can’t do that I’m not good enough.

Places like Confest, people like the attendees of Confest, break you away from that. There’s the encouragement to dream big and go for it, to be an authentic and alive you. To live, love, communicate and collaborate with the world around you. And in a very small space of time that kind of place, where you’re free of judgement at the same time as being actively encouraged to chase dreams, can change everything.

This is me. Growing up.

“You are well within your rights to stand up, interrupt everyone around you and say “This is not who I am. This is not what I want. I’m sorry, but you’ve mistaken me for somebody else.”

 – From the I Wrote This For You Tumblr

In many ways that quote sums up what I’ve been attempting over the last few years. I have succeeded in some ways and failed in others. Neither success nor failure are good or bad things in this , they are simply marks of progress.

Sometime back, mayhap even last year, I was having a conversation with my best friend about growing up and changing wherein he said something along the lines of growing up meaning growing apart, changing meant moving in different directions, and he disliked these things a lot. At the time I tried to reassure him that this didn’t have to be the case…

In hindsight I would like to kick myself for that.

Over the course of the past 6 years there have been massive changes in my life. I had an emotional melt down, my anxiety issues attacked on all fronts, and, as mentioned not that long ago, I have been suffering through a massive depressive period. As a result I’ve discovered a great deal about myself, my personal boundaries, my likes and dislikes and what I will and won’t tolerate.

I drew the line, finally, with manipulative and abusive relationships and walked away from mine. Not without tears and struggle, but I did it.

I’ve come to a place where things like being sexualised constantly by anyone, and believe me constant comments on how great my breasts are is sexualising me, is not tolerable. Yes, they’re pretty fucking impressive, but they’re not me and quite frankly they don’t have much personality of their own.

I’ve hit the point where taking advantage of me while I’m drunk and not able to give full consent after being told, many fucking times, no is not acceptable – and oh how I loathe that it took me till 28 fucking years of age to draw that line.

I have stopped being willing to forgive and let slide. I can and will hold a grudge, I will not forget when people hurt me because frequently the same people repeat the actions over and over all the while informing me that they love me dearly. The same old bullshit repeated ad nauseum no longer cuts it.

I remembered the power I held in my body, my sexuality and my sensuality. I am using it and I am doing so without feeling like doing so makes me beholden to anyone. I don’t owe anyone anything, and that doesn’t change when I get out of my jeans and singlet uniform and put on something slinky and sexy.

I also learnt how to ask for help, finally. To reach out to the people I need. In doing so I quickly discovered who would support me and who would try and hinder my development. Who try to hold me in the one place as the same person they knew 6 years ago, or even three years ago… hell 6 months ago.

In short I grew the fuck up and started taking control of my life. I changed.

In doing so I have begun to move away from many people formerly important to me. I’ve changed too much, grown to different from the person I am expected to be, to continue with them.

I should be sad…

But that girl is not who I am, not who I want and I will not be put back into that box.

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