The Boy in the Bamboo Cage

So if I were to pick the one experience that had a massive healing impact on me, it would be this… Meeting the boy who was once caged like an animal. How’d I get here? Ever since Mike passed I decided to start living my life again. In caring for him I’d been so far removed from society, and figuring out how to rejoin the masses is a little like what I imagine returning from war or prison, to a world you once knew but perhaps don’t know how to be in anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. We experienced so much together and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but to say it was intense in our confined world would be a bit of an understatement. So through all the discomfort, I kinda threw myself in there and much craziness has ensued.

There’s a lot to be said about keeping yourself occupied whilst grieving. Two months in somehow I started working again, designing sets and whatnot for burlesque performers for a sketch group. It didn’t take me long to get back into my art either. I decided to continue the series I started whilst Mike was deteriorating, documenting the different stages. It sorta turned into the stages of grieving though. The intense emotions I had no words for… The part of me that felt half dead inside, and half screaming. This took me on a trip to go do a photoshoot with a real skeleton named Esmay. She was a stunner ;) I also got in touch with my favourite artist in the world that got me into art (and consequently tattooing) in the first place and randomly applied for an internship in America. Didn’t pan out but got some awesome feedback which sparked up my creative fire again. Also got to meet my favourite band Dark Tranquillity, and personally thank them for the tough times they got us through.

After a while I decided it was time to travel. The lack of bands that want to travel all the way to Perth seemed like a good excuse to go to a gig across the country, to stalk Children of Bodom in Brisbane. Going to another city doesn’t seem like a big deal but when your whole life has been turned on it’s head and you’ve been so accustomed to having the same person by your side, it’s a big deal.

Next I ended up in England for an art retreat. Was so nervous going so far outta my comfort zone alone and knowing absolutely no one that it took me several valium to get my arse on that plane. But I did it and that was the first of my healing stages. I ended up staying for two months to get through the discomfort and have things feel a bit more natural. I was always one of those people who liked to have a plan for things. Anything outside of that plus a fear of the unknown and unfamiliar was way more than I felt I could handle. What we went through with Mike’s MND… well, if that doesn’t teach you to let go and let life happen, nothing will. It’s a hard lesson to learn though. Hence I have some ink etched permanently on my arm for the reminder. When life gets too much and I have that “What the hell am I doing, I’m so far out of my comfort zone” feeling going on, I look at my willow tree and am reminded to flow with life, not against so I don’t snap and break.

Anyway, I met some amazing people and learnt from some ridiculously talented people. I felt really out of my league, not actually having done much art. Yes, I’ve studied a lot, but never devoted much time to it outside of that. But I produced these two works below. They’re still on my to do list to finish.

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So after I got back from England, I think it was about 9 months in from when he passed. I fell into a bit of a lull. Distractions were wearing thin and being in the same house with the same memories just got a bit heavy. I don’t want to call it depression because I know what the real thing feels like and this wasn’t it. I still had fight left in me. I was still doing things and seeking new experiences… But that empty feeling was still there. I think the fact that I was having so many amazing experiences but still feeling a giant hole inside of me just left me a little flat and wondering what the point was. Chasing after new experiences is not something you can sustain for very long. Still, I was getting to know myself extremely well.

That lull ended up lasting about a year. I was still growing and changing but I felt off. I know I wanted more and needed a proper change. Maybe not even a change but a decision. To move on. To look for something more substantial. And yet I was frozen in fear. I knew I had to move from our home but I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t want to pack up 8 years of memories and bail. I wanted to go to something not run away from something. So I waited. And waited. Finally I decided that I needed to at least try something, because no ideas were coming to me fast. And so I bit the bullet and decided I wanted to do art therapy and leave Perth. And so, law of attraction kicked in. Once I made the decision to move to Brisbane, I found something else. I was just trying to get myself moving again but I didn’t feel like Brisbane was it. So somehow I stumbled upon something online to go volunteer in Thailand as an art therapist. Instantly I knew this was it for me. Everything sunk in and made complete sense.

I got goosebumps. For so long I had been doing all these things and feeling completely empty. I was forever changed by my experiences, and for so long, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t connect to people. I didn’t fit in anywhere like I fit in with Mike. I wanted to do something more. That reached my heart and soul space like Mike had. I hadn’t felt that for a really long time until I came here to Chiang Mai.

Yes, see, I was getting there eventually in a long-winded kinda way. So I only signed up for a few weeks, but decided to come over for a couple months. It’s a good amount of time to really experience things and get a feel for it. To really feel outside your comfort zone and get a proper taste. I always had the plan to go to Thailand for a while after Mike died. I knew I would have nothing left after him. I hadn’t built much of a world outside of him. Who had the time in between full-time caring, teaching, running a business or making funeral plans and sorting through a million documents. This is probably why I despise multi-tasking these days. Why I only like to focus on one thing at a time. Why I hate making plans too far in advance or being locked into anything. Life changes abruptly at times. You never know what you’re in for so it’s turned me into a bit of a commitophobe.

So anyway, back to my volunteering. It was to work with marginalized communities in Chiang Mai. I hadn’t been there since I was little. And my relatives all live in Bangkok… So as much of a major bonus as it was to be able to speak Thai and have been to Thailand more times than I can count on both hands with my shoes off, it was still pretty scary. I started packing up the house over the months leading up. This wasn’t some random decision like the others. For the first time I felt like I was heading towards something. And building more upon a new life. And I had absolutely no idea how it would go. But it spoke to me. I knew this was my next step, where my soul needed to go.

So my stuff in boxes, my dogs still in Australia, I’ve headed over here still a little (or a lot) unsure of whether I’ve moved here or not. I don’t have a home. I’m floating around. And yet I have the most direction than ever before.

When I first got here I did the art therapy programme, where they hold workshops for all sorts of people. From Burmese refugees, male sex workers, people with AIDS, hill tribes, adults and children with both mental and physical disabilities, people in prison, etc. etc. Unfortunately there was an annual exhibition on so I didn’t get to do as many workshops as I would like. It kinda sucked, packing up my life and just kinda winging it, only to find I was largely doing stuff I had already done a lot of before. But I decided to just go with it and try to enjoy the experience anyway. Training from my time with Mike which came in handy. Had I not of kept going, I wouldn’t have met the one person responsible for what felt like the last little piece of the puzzle that put my heart back together.

I had heard we were going to a children’s home for kids with disabilities. I didn’t think it would be too bad because they were children, so I would be further removed from any connection to Mike but I was wrong. As the workshop started nearing I began to get nervous. I had been pre-warned that some kids might have similar disabilities to what Mike had. The benefits of being open with your life and bearing your soul… By the morning of the workshop I was a full-blown wreck. I was crying in the truck on the way over and I hadn’t even gotten there yet or knew what it would be like.

Another volunteer was keeping an eye out for me, easing me in slowly and introducing me to some of the kids. They were mostly toddlers. I got there and thought yep, I can do this. And then I saw him… He was 18 and much older than the others. If I remember correctly, he had hydrocephalus. His mother didn’t know what to do with him as a child, and so he was caged up in a bamboo prison, being fed food and water like an animal. He was in a wheelchair but was able to get in and out on his own.

The workshop being held was a music one that day, where a series of instruments were made and decorated to encourage sensory stimulation for the kids. He just hung back on the outskirts. Something about him reminded me of Mike. I was told he just liked to keep to himself and not really get involved. What he went through as a child meant he was a bit dubious of people, especially females. I observed him though. I saw him watching us all as people fussed around the smaller, cute kids that were much easier to engage than him. He couldn’t respond much, but experience had me looking past that and trying to connect to who he was, even though I was relatively shaken up. I walked out to calm myself, but essentially broke down on the play equipment, hot sun beating down on me. I didn’t want to bring my own personal stuff and fear energy into that space. It was actually a really warm and inviting environment. So after crying my eyes out, I picked myself up, took a deep breath and went in and sat beside him.

It was hard because I had only just met him. I didn’t know how to get a response out of him. I hadn’t gotten to know the subtle indications that told me what he wanted or was feeling like with Mike.  It was all rather awkward. He didn’t seem to be as interested in the musical instruments, but I didn’t know if that was because his mobility was limiting him or he couldn’t provide much expression for me to be able to tell. I sat there rather uncomfortably not knowing what to do, but really, I was probably already doing something. For me, when you’re that person that hangs back just watching everyone else… Perhaps not knowing how to be a part of things or join in… Maybe having your physical or mental difficulties limiting you in some way… Or maybe just choosing not to… It doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t seek some sort of connection. When you are that person on the outskirts, I feel that sometimes all you need is someone to sit with you in silence. Not having to be anything or do anything. Just being. That’s what me and Mike did for a really long time once his voice started to go and it was a major effort to talk or move.

And so I sat there. And slowly I began gathering up the courage to engage him, randomly handing him instruments. He pushed them back at me and I felt like he probably hated me and wanted me to leave. The reality? He was giving them to me so he could free up some space so he could get out of his chair and sit beside me.

There was another boy around the age of 9 who wasn’t as into the musical craziness going on with the younger kids either. I heard they both liked to draw. Much more in my wheelhouse than music. So the three of us ended up sitting quietly at a table drawing amongst the blaring beats and sensory overload, finding what I like to think was a little patch of peace in the chaos. And I think that’s what I’m doing right now. Why I decided two months just didn’t cut it and why I’ve come back to trial out another few. To see if I can actually begin this new life of mine. To properly try to rebuild it, getting past the fear of moving on. Because it’s all chaos, but with that has come a form of inner serenity. And I’m not quite ready to give that up just yet.

And so that’s the gist of the past couple years. There’s a lot more that happened, some not fit for public consumption but you get the idea.  More on what I’m currently doing and other experiences on my travels to come!

 

 

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