“No Mud, No Lotus”

 

Something a friend said to me the other day really stuck with me. I was telling her about how confusing things have been since I’ve been back in Perth. How things seemed so clear back in Thailand when I was finally feeling free and happy on my new path. I begun to discover who I was, what I was passionate about and had a newfound sense of strength in knowing what I wanted. And since I’ve come home, I’ve never been more unsure of where I’m at. To the point I don’t even know who I am anymore or what I want. Surprisingly she knew exactly what I was talking about even though I didn’t even know myself and said that she described that feeling as “muddy”. The part where you get deeper into the layers and things get murky and muddled up. Gone are the very clear feelings of anxiety or fear as I work through my stuff. Gone is that indescribable sense of happiness and freedom as my passion for life returned. I’m feeling the most balanced I ever had been, but like I’m spinning round in circles and have lost myself in the process of self-healing. And then it hit me. I’m a frickin’ lotus. Still.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the analogy of the lotus and its journey through the darkness into the light. Emerging from muddy waters only to blossom into something beautiful, a symbol of strength among adversity. Sure, I’ve made this connection before. But I had always seen my mud as being the husband dying from a fatal disease thing… Surely that’s all there is, no? So my emerging part was in Thailand. A rebirth if you will. And I thought I was done and could go home. (Not really, but quite literally.) But it’s that whole spiral and deeper truths thing happening. I didn’t realise it was so easy to slide back down into the mud. Crap.

 

d2075c45534e0055674e694c870c12a0

 

That’s what has been happening though. I’ve been experimenting a lot to see where I fit into the grand scheme of things. It’s like I’ve graduated with my butterfly wings and have realised they’re actually very awkward and get in the way. I keep banging into things and get knocked off balance. I mean, essentially I’m challenging everything I once knew.

I think when Mike died it could have been very easy to let it stop me from living my life. And just give up. I’m regretting a little bit that I didn’t fully immerse myself in that. Even just for a little while. But I charged ahead. I knew what hurdles lay ahead of me and I didn’t want to stop to think of how hard it would be otherwise I wouldn’t even try. And I’ve learnt a lot along the way. I’ve gained strength through facing my fears. And I’ve fallen into a heap when it was all too much. And then I realised I needed to settle and work on my health. But I think I’m realising that I came home to find my balance again. And that has been much harder than anything I’ve ever faced before. Because there’s nowhere to hide now. It’s just me. And my mud.

And now I’m at the point where I’m sitting in the mud. In the darkness. And it’s kinda cosy. But I’ve seen the light. So I’m wondering why the hell I’m back here again. Fear is no longer my motivator. It’s not about drastic changes anymore. It’s about all the murky stuff that lies beneath the surface now. And it feels like I’m going nowhere fast. It feels like a slump. Like I must be depressed instead of anxious. But it doesn’t feel like that either. I feel more calm and balanced, like I can deal with things now. But not much else. It’s a really bizarre feeling. Like I think I’m doing good, but not great. And it just is what it is at the moment. That prolonged state of discomfort while I perhaps make sense of all the changes over the past couple years or so. And figure out where I’m at now. I’ve challenged myself and done things out of my comfort zone. And that comfort zone is much wider now. And I can try all these new things without freaking out now but I don’t think I necessarily enjoy them anymore.

 

14680975_1133060250102982_7030274809184630999_o

 

Without that passion, I begin to wonder why I do them anymore. I want to give up but not enough to actually do it. Yet this eery, murky waters territory is so new and calm that it actually feels very frustrating. I wonder if I should be doing more and then I think, what else could I possibly be doing? I’m studying my art therapy and doing the therapy… And that coupled with my kinesiology is some powerful shit. And I’m doing my best to move on with a lot of dead ends lately. So I’m beginning to cotton on that there actually isn’t anything more I could possibly do. That heading into the darkness and working on all my muddy layers is just that at the moment, dark and muddy. And it feels more like I’m stuck at the moment. Like I’m waiting for the crocodile to appear and swallow me up. But he’s not there anymore.

I’ve been in such a fight or flight state for years that I’ve always been on the alert for danger. Obviously it’s not healthy to remain in that state for so long. But that was what I literally had to do. Never getting a good night’s sleep because I was listening out for Mike, making sure he didn’t have a fall or later wondering if I would get THE call from the nursing home… I basically turned into a protective caveman, never being able to rest or relax. So this eery calm is really strange for me. I’m learning to rewrite that pathway that has told me danger is on the horizon. And it probably still is. Life hands you shit, and then it hands you more. And no offense 2016, but I’m not impressed. The difference here, I suppose, is not even knowing I’m going to be okay, but wanting to be okay. Because I’ve taught myself time and time again I can trust myself to get me through anything that comes my way. But believing I want to be happy again and giving myself much more to lose is a big one for me. And stepping into my power and receiving the good things I am constantly blessed with instead of shying away from them is another.

I don’t know… Usually when I write it all just flows quite easily. I barely even reread what I’ve written let alone write drafts. This time it probably feels more muddled as I try to string my words together eloquently and fall short. But that’s where I’m at right now. So that’s what you get. Because it’s real. And I wouldn’t give you anything less.

Yesterday during art therapy, we did a session on how I felt about my hurdles. And how fear used to be my motivator. It’s really bizarre to have this less and less as a driving force. I was asked what is my motivator now. And I didn’t have a response as of yet. It’s something that will take some contemplation over the days. But it’s an interesting thing to ponder… What it is that drives you… That makes you want to try… That gives you passion and makes you want to wake up and make an effort each morning… Maybe it’s something. Maybe it’s nothing. Sometimes the answers really are in the nothing. I guess that’s where I’m at now. Surviving in the nothing. Until it turns into a very powerful something.   The subtle changes that permeate slowly underneath the surface are sometimes the biggest ones. Because you have to work so much harder at them. But that just means there’s more flowers to bloom.

What legacy will you leave?

It’s been almost 3 years since my husband passed. Next week is what would have been his birthday. I was under some sort of illusion that it would get easier as time passed, but I’m quickly realising that after a couple years the fog starts to clear. And you’re just left with unresolved layers that are suddenly coming into focus. At least for me anyway.

For a good two years after he died I’d been doing the whole ‘finding myself’ thing, diving into my fears and travelling here and there for a bit. I didn’t have much direction and for the most part, it didn’t really matter. I was really just wandering around, trying to remember who I was again after being his carer for so long. Our lives had become so enmeshed over our 8 years. He was my priority and it didn’t leave much room for me. (My doing, not his).

The night he died, I remember going out and laying under the willow tree which would forever be the symbol of letting go, speaking softly into the night that it was now time for us to take care of ourselves. Self-care is a concept which still escapes me somewhat, but I’m getting better slowly.

Anyway, enter a period of me seeking new experiences and trying to get some passion back into my life. 6 months in Thailand did the trick. I went there to volunteer as an art therapist when I realised how stuck I was in Perth. I knew it was time to make a bold change or risk falling into deep depression and just giving up entirely.

I half planned to move there but still wasn’t ready to make any commitments. Yet I was going through the motions. I started up my face painting business there and was volunteering at the children’s hospital and trying to set up some teaching work. Somewhere along the way it clicked I was just creating the same chaos as when I was running my business in Perth. Trying to look after Mike and teach also. But in this instance, Mike was now special needs kids. I knew something wasn’t right but I wasn’t quite sure what. I was exhausted and in need for some healing. And so after I got back from America, I knew it was time to sort my shit out.

I’ve been back for about 5 months now. So this fog I mentioned before… It made me panic and wonder what the hell I’ve been doing for the past couple years or so. Coming home suddenly snapped me out of the present and back into worrying about the future again. It’s almost like a culture shock. Chiang Mai felt more like home to me. Strangers in the street treat you like family. It’s all about the present moment. Connecting to spirit. Valuing experiences over possessions. At least that’s how I see it. And yeah, in that sense it makes no sense I came back. But I felt like it was time to heal and rest. I’ve been pushing it for so long and my experience in the states really tipped me over the edge.

I decided to study art therapy, which I had looked into earlier but didn’t feel ready for yet. I didn’t realise the course had already started but I had made it in for the cut off date, so I ended up having a week’s notice until I joined in. Going back to study has been hard. Art therapy has been a process of drawing attention to these emotional layers which have steadily built up over many, many years. I started getting kinesiology too, which effectively does the same.   So now my chaos has blown up in my face. And all the pain and anger has started resurfacing. And it’s probably even more difficult than watching my husband slowly die over the years. Because he may not have been 100%, but he was still there. Now every time something comes up that only my best friend would understand, I’m having to figure out how to work through it positively instead of self-medicating or avoiding.

On top of the study, I have been looking for a house and a job. But neither is happening very quickly. I’m still too exhausted. And my heart’s not in it. And the panic rises and I give up. Gone is the passion for life I once felt whilst in Thailand. The excitement of self-discovery. It’s just brutally painful now. And yet something is happening. Change. The heaviness is beginning to lift. I have nightmares. I wake up with headaches because I’ve stopped breathing in my sleep. But my bodily aches formed from emotional pains have lessened. I’m moving through my intense feelings. Just as quickly as I doubt I can make it. I still wake up weary everyday and struggle to get out of bed but inside something is changing.

I realise I’ve gone off on another tangent… so essentially what I was trying to say is that since I’ve been back I’ve been trying to do everything at once again. Study, get a house, find a job. So focussed on the goal that I’m losing sight of … well… everything. So much so that, I accepted a job working as a live-in carer for traumatised kids and wanted to quit art therapy because I wasn’t sure if I could afford the luxury of the self-healing that was occurring as a result of my studies. And there it is again. That point where I have two choices laid out in front of me. One where I can focus on myself and get to the bottom of my…. stuff (I don’t know what to call it. Suffering sounds too dramatic), or again try to help others before I know how to help myself. And over the months I have never been more confused. I feel like everything has been spinning to the point where I don’t know who I am again or what I want. And I’m getting tired of experimenting. Yet I find myself going down paths just for the hell of it…

I was reading through my transpersonal art therapy notes yesterday and I came across this:

There are so many ways in which we can fall out of the world so that it becomes distant, strange, even hostile. The fragmenting forces of the contemporary world reach through the world from psyche to society so that the rules for navigating through social life, the life-cycle, and one’s own deeper self become unclear or contradictory.

Moreover, there is one poignant question at the core of all this: ‘Where am I in the world?’

So many people now ghost through daily life being drawn into the machinery of economics and culture [mass media, politics, law, science and religion] without a grasp of what their identity and life path may be. Just as the mind may be unknowingly contracted, so may the body. Illness and disease may flow from the trapped and unrealised potentials of our being.

It suddenly struck me that this is what my past few years have been about. I watched Mike die slowly for years. His brain was still functioning but over time, MND shut down his body. Both him and I had hidden away from the world for a really long time. And only when we found each other, did someone else finally know who we were. We stuck together through the whole thing. Of course there wasn’t much time for a social life anyway, but I had been so invested in him that I didn’t know how to be around people anymore, when I was largely spending my days at a nursing home (the only placement he could get). And he didn’t really want anyone else around either. Only we understood our crazy little world. It was challenging for sure, but it’s what we knew. And what we knew, was that we didn’t know. We didn’t know how long he had left. How quickly he would lose his ability to eat, speak, move his arms and legs… And finally, breathe. And so when he died, it was like it didn’t happen. There was a limited number of people that really knew him. I didn’t have anyone to reminisce with. Nothing.

And we were both the sort of people that didn’t like to take chances. We kept to ourselves. It changed over time as we drew strength from each other but with Mike… it was too late. And it got me thinking… Why I have been so focussed on figuring out who I am in the world… What do I have to give? What gifts and wisdoms can I offer? What good can I take from such a horrible experience and use to help others? And the legacy I would want to leave is as much for him as for me. It explains the pressure I’ve been putting on myself. Because I want it all again. I want the passion for life. I want to find something of value. Life will never be the same again, and as hard as it is, I wouldn’t change that.

And so I ask you, what legacy will you leave?  What are you doing to make the world a better place, simply by just being you?

Claire <3

14311367_10206550410391560_5407096166270262781_o

Latest piece I’ve been working on.  Describes the ‘chaos’.  Death and Growth.  Transition.

 

America

So it’s 4am and I’ve just slept for another 12 hours. I’ve been back in Perth, Australia for four days now. I’ve probably been asleep for about 80% of it. And that’s not an exaggeration either. I don’t remember a time when I’ve slept so much. Crossing so many time zones really takes it out of you. Not to mention the unexpected physical and emotional stresses of America in the past 5 weeks.

Going back a little, I was in Thailand trying to get things started with work. I was getting really frustrated at how slowly things were moving and was starting to get a little miserable there. Especially when the burning season kicked in. Funny how we take for granted things like breathing in nice, clean air. So anyways, the last thing I had posted was about going to Chiang Dao and making several revelations about my life. It was a good break to help me recalibrate but I quickly realised that I needed a proper time out. Away from the craziness. The sensory overload which I’m not used to. The pressures of trying to make it on my own. And life doesn’t wait for you to catch up. Nope. It’s up to you to look out for yourself and find your own pace. And that’s exactly what happened. In a roundabout way.

It was nice to be out in the country with minimal distraction and communication. But when I got back, things got real. When I first got to Thailand, I found out my sister had breast cancer. I had contemplated going over to see her but wasn’t sure if I could manage it after only just getting to Chiang Mai. So a few months on she was having a double mastectomy. When I got back from Chiang Dao, I opened up a bunch of startling emails, saying that she was having complications and was bleeding a lot. It was probably lucky I saw all the emails at once before I could panic too much because she ended up pulling through okay. My family decided to go over to America to see her, and as terrified as I was to deal with this kind of thing so soon after Mike dying, I decided to go too.

I wasn’t sure what state she would be in or if I could handle it. So many memories came flooding back of Mike’s extended time in hospital after he had an adverse reaction to a simple surgery. Crap. Okay. I’m only just now seeing how I’ve been put in the very same situation years later. There was so much other stuff going on that I missed the obvious. So basically when Mike was in hospital, I had a bit of a meltdown and realised how stressful everything had been and how I couldn’t keep doing everything on my own anymore. (I’m skimming over it for the sake of my story, but there’s a more detailed version in my earliest post). I can now see after I’ve taken a step back that the same lesson has repeated itself, just in a roundabout way. I can see how confusing this must all sound. I’ve been in such a brain fog, on pain meds, catching a cold and just being a bit of a zombie for the past week or so. I’m a bit of a jumbled mess. But if anything, the reason why I write my blog is to try and show the real stuff that goes on underneath the surface. Not the glossy version. So I’m sure you can bear with me for a while :)

Anyway, getting back to it… I wasn’t sure how I would react to seeing my sister after surgery. But when I got there I was pretty shocked to see it was as if nothing had happened. She was already back working from home and everything looked relatively normal. But from what I’ve learnt in my time, looks can be deceiving. No one knows the chaos that goes on inside but you. No matter how well you try and explain it. Apparently people used to think I had it together while I was looking after Mike. I didn’t mean to put on a façade or anything, I was just strong because I had no other option. I had a husband to look after, bills to pay, a business to run. All of that. I just kept going because I didn’t know any other way. I didn’t know there was any other help. And in the end, I was judged for it. Because people backed off thinking we had it sorted, when in reality, you don’t have the time to ask for help. You’re that burnt out that it’s more about survival mode. You don’t think about how it looks to other people because you simply don’t have the resources to do so. Your energy reserves are all used up.

And here is something I will say to anyone who knows someone going through a rough time that doesn’t know how to help. This bit is important. Most people offer help and wait for the offer to be taken up. Sounds perfectly reasonable, yes? More often than not, they don’t want to be pushy or intrude as it’s usually a delicate matter. The reality of it is that most people who are struggling don’t have time to ask for help. They just push on. The best thing to do is just show up. It’s that simple. Show up and do whatever you can to help. Sometimes we don’t even know what we need when asked. Sometimes we’re just struggling and trying to get by. But I know the thing I always appreciated most was just having someone be there without you having to ask. And you can argue that we’re not mind readers, and that is precisely why I’m bringing this up. Because until you go through it for yourself, it’s a very simple yet hard concept to understand. Anyway, I digress, yet again…

So I went in trying to have an open mind and trying not to freak out from my own experiences and expect the worst. My thoughts for coming on this trip was first and foremost to just show up and be there for my sister. Even if I was nervous about it. I figured she would be fine and whilst spending some time with her, also get a bit of distance from my current situation and hopefully gain some clarity. It only took a couple hours for another disaster to hit though. I feel like it was a bit of an omen for the rest of the trip…

My dad took a fall in the rain the first night we were there. He ended up cracking a rib. Me and my niece saw it firsthand and the way he slipped and bounced headfirst into a parked car then rolled off like a ragdoll… Needless to say it shook us up pretty bad. He couldn’t breathe and I literally thought he was dying, the noises he was making and how severe it all seemed. That experience alone completely messed me up. It brought up a lot of deep emotions I hadn’t felt since Mike was dying in my arms.

Fast forward a bit and there’s 8 of us staying in a small apartment. My sister recovering from surgery. My dad not being able to move much from his injury. And the carer part of me kicked in because I was familiar with how to safely aid someone with mobility issues, and then probably the anxious part of me too as I remembered how difficult it was to learn all this the hard way without being taught. It probably sounds like common sense but surprisingly it isn’t natural for most people. And well… I don’t know what all your families are like but as much as we love them, being in such close proximity in such a confined space… Well, let’s say it’s an interesting experience ;) Meanwhile, I’m freaking out because I’ve lived alone for years and am not used to all these extra bodies around me. I treasure my quiet time and use it to ground myself from the craziness that is my life these days. (Good crazy and bad, mostly good). The weather was so cold so I couldn’t go out into nature and do my thing and didn’t have my own space to meditate or process, so I just kinda got swept up in it all.

Without going into too much detail, things continued to get more and more intense. There was a brief stint where I went to Texas. It was on my bucket list to see the grave of Dimebag Darrell from Pantera and so I was happy I got to at least do that. It was sad in itself though because my husband and I had met with Dime standing in between us at the airport. It just felt like another end to an era. But I felt like Mike was with me that day and I was lucky enough that no one else was around. I was pretty content to have my moment, lying in the dirt beside his grave with fond memories of both Dime and Mike.

Before I knew it, it was time to leave. The three weeks went by crazy fast. It was really hectic. I think there was a common theme going around at this time where myself and others I spoke to were going through some major life stuff. Where all of a sudden we were confronted with everything over the past ten years as it hit us smack bang in the face and we were left questioning our choices and reevaluating… well… everything. Family patterns were being investigated. Things we didn’t have a chance to deal with in the past were now presenting themselves forth to give us another chance. To give us that opportunity to resolve it in a different way. That was more conducive to our true selves. So when it came time to leave, I could feel I was just starting to scratch the surface. But I sensed I had more work to do. And so I extended my stay for two weeks. To not only just deal with what was in front of me, but to take the chance to improve it. To perhaps get some closure. To spend more time with my sister now that things had started to settle down. And to just be there.

In retrospect, I probably should have regretted my choice to stay but I don’t. I ended up travelling across America to see my friends and to feel like I had actually been there instead of just holed up in a country town and going back with a bad impression of the place.

If I had left, I would have been travelling on what would have been Mike and I’s 4th anniversary. Sometimes even when I feel like I have done a lot of healing and in a pretty good place, when it comes to anniversaries, it’s like I temporarily take 5 million steps back. After the stresses of the whole trip, this was one of those times. The night before, I slept in foetal position and was just in major fight or flight mode. This meant that my shoulders were super hunched up and I woke up in major pain and something had locked up overnight. So somehow this travelled to my lower back. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to fly but I felt like I should be okay. Perhaps I should have taken into consideration how hard it can be to travel alone though. Lugging around all your stuff like a pack horse can tend to put a strain on the body. So basically I arrived and threw my back out the next day. I couldn’t even move at one stage. I was in a lot of pain just moving my foot forward an inch. I didn’t have time to see a doctor before my next flight though so I kinda just had to go with it. I was starting to feel the effects of constantly being on my own. Pain seems to bring about some emotional truths at the same time. I felt like I was reaching that breaking point that I mentioned, before I went off on several tangents, when Mike was in hospital and I realised how alone I was. I was so far from home but I felt even more miserable that going back to Perth didn’t feel like home either. And I was so confused about Thailand. I just felt completely ungrounded and just like I was floating around. And all these months of not knowing what the hell I’m doing but just doing it anyway… Being so far out of my comfort zone which I used to live so deeply in… Not wanting to stray into the unfamiliar… But straying further and further away from everything I once knew…

And that’s the thing. I’ve healed in so many different ways and seemingly so quickly. To me anyway. I’ve made mass amounts of progress and I have been the happiest I’ve ever been within myself. I don’t take that lightly. But at the same time, with happiness comes a fear. A fear it will be taken away. That I shouldn’t let my guard down and allow myself to enjoy my life, despite not knowing what could happen around the corner. That in being happy with the way my life is now and being more present in each moment, it takes me away from my past. And one guess as to what that past is. Or who, rather. Yep, Mike. There’s a slight panic in feeling like I’m further away from him now, or feeling how much I have changed from how we once were. All these changes, and being so far away in, let’s face it, a country that’s not for me at all (No offense, America). I think I finally just cracked it, and my body followed suit.

The thing about back pain is that no one can actually tell how excruciating it is. My friends wanted to show me around and do the tourist thing, and I would have liked it, but it wasn’t really what this trip was about. It was much deeper than that. And I was at that point where everything was caving in and I just needed to stop. Stop and just go with it. Rather than trying to fight it, accept the situation and readjust.

It really sucked how it happened because I was bouncing around between completely foreign places. Having to rely on people I knew, whether briefly or forever, but that I didn’t want to have to be so vulnerable with. I really felt what it must have been like for Mike to have no choice but to let people take care of him. I knew it was no mistake that I ended up in this position. Totally uncomfortable and not wanting to be a bother, but really having no other option. And as much as I hated it, I knew that I was pretty lucky to be with people who did take me in and look after me really well. (Thankyou <3). It also reaffirms what I was saying earlier about no one actually knowing what is going on in the inside. And I think for that very reason, it’s why no one knows what is right for you but you. Which is why it needs to be your call to voice your needs and do what you need to to look out for yourself. Whether or not that involves having the help of others.

It’s been a real reality check though. Because I can see how this situation has reoccurred because I was struggling so much in Thailand. Trying to set up two different businesses and beating myself up with how slowly it was coming together (after about a month). I think just having everything stop like that while I had to look after my physical health made me realise how alone I have been. And most of the time I can get by. My new experiences cancel it out most of the time. Because those moments are more precious and meaningful than a good majority of what I have ever before encountered. They make all the pain and struggle worth it. But sometimes we fall. We’re only human. We can’t always do it all. Being strong is such a valuable trait but it can also be our downfall if we’re not careful.

I’ve spoken to a lot of friends who are going through similar things at present. Who are leading a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. We’re all on our own journey at the moment, yet unified in this crazy path we are going down. It’s easy for us to freak out and have our doubts when we realise how hard it is, but at the same time, it’s hard because it’s the road less travelled. The things we get to see and do… That’s what makes it worth it. And I got to say, this year has been absolutely insane so far. I’ve gone through so many hardships and battled my demons and just have absolutely wanted to give up and not play anymore but somehow in my weakness, I have never felt stronger. I feel like I’m getting somewhere. And through each difficulty, I learn to trust myself that little bit more somehow. Even when I keep upping the game to the point where I wonder if I can manage. But somehow, I always do :)

 

DSC00329

 

P.S. I did manage to do a few touristy things here and there.  I’ll add photos later when I can be bothered and when I’m completely out of my zombified fog of pain meds, sickness and ridiculous amounts of sleep!  And again, I’m not really one to proofread, what you see is what you get usually so sorry if it’s all come out in a jumbled mess..  Sort of ;)

 

Chiang Dao… City of Stars or Stairs?

I’m currently holed up in the mountains in a small town about an hour out of Chiang Mai, Thailand. I decided it was time to get away from the noise both outside and inside my head. They say Chiang Mai has a much slower pace of life and I suppose if you compare it to Bangkok with which I am more accustomed, that is true. But compared to Perth, it can still get a little much for me.

I chose Nature Home Guesthouse as my hideout for the next few days or so. A dirt road leads you to their property, which is filled with palm trees and fruit trees like papaya, coconut, durian and lemon and anything else you could possibly want. There is an onsite restaurant where the food is made straight from the garden. There’s something satisfying about having to wait longer than you normally would because you see them duck out the back door to pick herbs. The bungalows are nestled in amongst the trees, with the mountains as your backdrop. You can even camp if you want, but it does get pretty chilly at night being so close to the mountains. There’s a nice homey vibe about the place that just feels like you’re part of the family. After the past month of lonely apartment life, it’s definitely a welcome relief.

The bungalows have a little sitting area out front. And with a restaurant down the driveway, you really don’t need to leave. You can definitely tell you’re in the country by the roosters that are there to greet you in the morning, and the sounds of the birds chirping without any traffic hum in the background. I even discovered a gecko in my fridge and a snakeskin hanging from the tree in front of my bungalow. I’ve begun to get used to the rustle in the bushes when I go sit out front, not quite knowing if it’s the resident puppy or some other creature.

 

 

I tried to pick a place where I could shut off from the world and have a chance for a bit of a mental catch up with all the happenings of late. A nice bonus of being nestled in amongst the trees is that the wifi doesn’t reach my room. The lack of distractions was a little unsettling in itself at first but it wasn’t too long before I started to enjoy my patch of paradise. After a morning of mediation and yoga though, it didn’t take me long to decide to go exploring. I’ve realised being outdoors in nature is better for inner work anyways and helps get rid of the mental chatter. I ended up at Pong Arng Hot Springs and Sri Sangwan Waterfall in the Pha Daeng National Park. Afterwards I had a bit of time to kill so I went to the main temple in Chiang Dao, Wat Thum Pha Plong. To be honest, I’m a bit templed out since coming to Thailand. In Chiang Mai, there’s a wat around every corner. I went in openminded, but not terribly enthusiastic. I ended up being completely blown away. Temples really aren’t all the same.

 

 

 

It took 500 steps to get up to the top. I didn’t think this sounded like much, but I was wrong. So very wrong. Especially given how steep the first 201 were. I welcomed the little sayings posted on trees on the way up that served both as motivation and an excuse to stop and take a breath.

 

DSC08662 copy.jpg

 

 

As I journeyed up the steps, I began to see it alongside my life, and how the way I approached them reflected on how I was in life. It’s the same as what they say with yoga. How you are on the mat is how you are in life. When you cling to certain default positions and where you hold your tensions. The body-mind connection becomes even clearer.

I know it was only 500 steps, not some massive trek across country, but it served its purpose all the same. There was one sign that jumped out at me in particular.

 ”We practice the Dhamma to achieve lasting happiness, not to suffer more. Don’t be discouraged if the practice is difficult and painful at times. It is not unusual for struggling to occur along the way when we seek something of such great value.”

 

DSC08672

 

And sure enough, as I began to get tired, I wanted to give up and feel like it wasn’t worth it. Sometimes it feels like all I do is struggle since Mike died, and I had enough of it.   There’s some times when I’m just over it, want to crack the shits and just not even try anymore. But I don’t know how anymore. I couldn’t revert back to my old ways if I tried. I’ve begun to carve out a new, unfamiliar path, of which I’m not particularly liking or feeling comfortable with lately, but whenever I think back to settling back down in Perth, I shudder. I’ve never felt a true connection there. It’s kind of like a bad relationship. You stay because you’re comfortable and aren’t quite sure how to leave, but it can bring out the worst in you and drain your very essence. I might feel differently in time, but for right now, I know I’m exactly where I need to be.

Going back to the quote, I realise all I seek now is of great value. I’m here in another country, trying to sort out my life purpose and heal at the same time. And it’s been incredibly difficult. I haven’t been sleeping properly, and since I moved into my new apartment, I’ve fell into a bit of a slump. It was nice living in the city, with so much to see and having such wonderfully supportive guesthouse owners. I was starting to get comfortable and finally familiar with somewhere, I felt a bit crazy for leaving. But I needed to switch out of holiday mode and have more of a space to work in, and settle in a bit more. But having done that, it hasn’t really helped me feel settled at all. And again, I’m at that crossroads where I want to settle to feel safe and comfortable, but I can’t commit to that because I’m still exploring and trying to figure out what it is exactly that I want. Some days I want to settle into just anything to feel secure. And this is where the struggle lies with work…

Once I realised I wasn’t able to start teaching like I had been told (and this is the part where the relaxed Thai culture begins to get frustrating), I’ve been floating in some limbo state, trying to figure out what to do. I’ve been hurriedly trying to get my face painting business set up here, as well as advertise my classes to generate some income so I’m not always just eating into my savings. But with that comes a whole adjustment phase where I’m trying to figure out the system here. There’s a lot of misinformation and going around in circles. And as I’m trying ever so hard to figure out how they do things here and get the proper information, I realise that alongside that headfuck is one simple thing that I hadn’t yet considered. That these things take time. And money. And I start to panic when I realise that for the past four months, I’ve been mostly volunteering.

My natural reflex when things aren’t going to plan is to think I’m just not cut out for it and to switch course. That used to work in the past. When I would just think I was a failure and give up on life. But not anymore. I’ve finally found what I want and I know not to trick myself into losing interest anymore. The thoughts that tell me I was wrong, that I don’t want this after all and I have to try something new that will work better for me… That’s just fear. And when you’re caught in fear and in a pattern of distracting yourself from it, it can be very hard to pull yourself out. And this is where my road trip came in. Because I knew that’s what I was doing. And I’ve been making excuses not to get away. But it was time.

I’ve also started teaching privately. This is another example of the uncanny ways the universe works. My first student is not actually a cute lil four year old I’m making arts and crafts with. He’s the same age as me. He got into a car accident when he was younger and was in a coma for months. It’s not the same as MND, but working with him has given me a lot of reminders about what it was like caring for Mike.

I remember when he first died, it felt like the rest of the world was going at some crazy fast pace. I had had to learn how to slow down a lot with Mike as the simple little things people take for granted like getting out of bed or taking a shower had become a whole process. And after he passed, it didn’t take long for me to realise I could move at my own pace again. It was really strange at first. I even felt guilty. There was a lot of things I refused to do if he couldn’t, like going to see bands and really, just going out in general. I’d always be worrying about him anyway. And so going back to that slower pace has been really challenging and brought up a lot for me. Not to mention getting familiar with a whole new person, their capabilities, and how to best teach them in a style that works for you both. Taking all that into consideration, amongst all the anniversaries I’ve been hit with lately… Well, it’s becoming even clearer now why I needed to get away.

Anyway, as I continue to head up, another sign says

‘There’s a chance to get refreshed when you are tired. But there’s no chance to re-live your life, once you are dead.”

 

DSC08663

 

This pretty much sums it up for me. Why I put so much pressure on myself to move forward in life, and mostly too quickly to the point where I am impatient and want to give up. I’ve learnt the importance of living my life now, when in the past, I had given up before I barely started. And I think a large part of me thinks that if I slow down, I won’t want to keep going. Because it’s all hard. All the time lately it feels like. And so I keep pushing on. Trying not to look at where I’m going. Because that’s what I did when I was with Mike during his illness. We just had to keep going with whatever moment arose. But it was only towards the end that I learnt the importance of taking a pitstop when I was tired, and going at my own pace. Before I didn’t think it mattered. All that mattered to me at the time was putting him first. Because his needs seemed so much greater than mine. To me that is, by choice. I’m not saying that to make myself seem selfless. He was the most important thing in my life. But I’m slowly relearning how to make myself the most important thing again.

DSC08686

 

When I got to the top of the stairs, I felt instant calm. It felt like the whole world just stopped. The only other time I’ve felt that was lying beside Mike. When we could pretend we were a normal couple for five minutes, not surrounded by medical staff in a hospital with buzzers going off. This is the calm I felt at the top of this mountain. The magical stillness that you just want to bottle and take home with you. The only people up there were a couple monks and a woman praying inside the cave. So I sat at the top of the stairs and took it all in. I looked down to the trees below, the 201 step viewing platform which was now really tiny, and to the surrounding mountains. There’s definitely a special vibe at the top. It was definitely of “great value” to me. After meditating for a while, I descended the steps and read all the signs again on my way down, interpreting them with added meaning.

 

DSC08671

 

 

Just in case I forgot the impact that day had on me, the same message came through again the following day. I hired the same yellow truck to take me around to some more temples. The driver was a really lovely, gentle and kind-spirited woman who took me off the more touristy path, to some spots even the locals hadn’t been to. I had a little trouble understanding her as I don’t speak the northern dialect, so I can’t remember most of the names of the places we went to.

We went further into the mountains and drove amongst the different villages. Including one with the most delicious Giew noodles I have ever tasted in the village equivalent of Chinatown. The first stop was up to a chedi so high that the truck couldn’t get up. We had to park further down and walk up. To give you an indication of how steep it was, we were stuffed at about 100 metres haha. And then we finally got to the top of the path, only to find a whole bunch of other steps to climb. It was hazy that morning but I was pretty grateful we had left early before the 36 degree weather kicked in.

 

 

The next place we went to was my favourite. Again, a ridiculous amount of stairs. But the view was even more stunning than the last place. Chiang Dao translates to ‘City of Stars’ and I can see why since each spot is so high up it really does feel like we are up amongst them. The stairs here were particularly brutal though. I kind of laughed to myself when I thought yesterday was difficult. I was hanging onto the railing for dear life. The steps were really narrow and you barely had room to step on each step, and nearing towards the top they became uneven and incredibly steep. With each set I would just try to gun it and push through the pain, huffing and puffing. My driver on the other hand, despite remarking how quickly I was able to go up, was calmly taking each step slowly and purposefully, not breaking a sweat and inadvertently teaching me a thing or two about life Mr. Miyagi style. And I suppose for me, if I stop half way I want to give up, that’s why I push on and just keep going. But in doing so, I’m not really present in each moment. And if you compare the two of us once we got to the top, well… She was the clear winner…. At life :P

 

DSC08788

 

There was a point were we had passed a few flights or stairs, and I thought we were at the top. I was crestfallen once I realised there were more. Especially since it was warming up. A LOT. My driver just smiled sweetly at me and told me that the best things are always the hardest to get to. And there happened to be a bench there so she said we weren’t in a rush, we can just take our time and have a break when needed. When we got to the top, there was a welcome breeze. There was a little makeshift home where the monks must stay. I always see the saffron robes at the top of these mountains and think how freaking fit these monks must be. At the last place, I was knackered going back down the steps and a monk just glided by as if on water.

 

 

Next we went across to another temple in a cave. I don’t know how I have gone so long without knowing such an incredible combination existed. Seriously, where have you been all my life? On Saturdays, they chant all day so I took a moment to still myself again and sat in, zenning out to the chanting. It was several levels up. There were tents on each level where people would stay to solely pray for days. There was a little shop that sold amulets, beads and statues that had been blessed by the monks. Across the road was a beautiful little café with views of the mountains and fields below.

 

 

Actually, I lied, this other place was my favourite. Believe it or not, there were no stairs. But that wasn’t why I liked it so much! It had that same instant spiritual calm feeling about it like Wat Thum Pha Plong. Some places I go to just have a really special energy about them. It really is indescribable. You need to be there to feel it for yourself. I don’t find it often, but when I do, I lap it up. This cave was really cool, which was a welcome respite from the heat. Inside it was tiled, which kept it even cooler, but it was also quite open and inviting. There were a bunch of mats for people to sit and pray on, with a large golden reclining Buddha. I grabbed a mat and chose a spot to meditate. I can usually only do guided meditations as my mind usually wanders too frequently, but this place made it much easier. It was so serene and quiet, that as I was meditating, I could literally only hear a fly buzzing around and a bat flapping it’s wings as it flew overhead. And the stalagmites were really low so it was a pretty cosy and confined space to share with these beautiful creatures. It was so peaceful and comfortable in there that I just decided to corpse pose for as long as possible.

 

 

We went to yet another place high up in the mountains afterwards, (the heat now at migraine level), then headed back. I got a well earnt massage as I was already starting to ache after a monster day, and hopefully stave off my headache and even that wasn’t without a lesson. I’m pretty reluctant to try just anywhere with massages as they can be pretty brutal. I’m not really a fan of them trying to bend your limbs in all different directions when they have no idea of the capabilities of your body. And whilst I don’t agree with the amount of force they use since they are unfamiliar with your body and could do a lot of damage, when I told the woman to ease off, she said something that made me think… That sometimes you have to endure the pain temporarily to achieve the benefits, because if you just do it softly, it might feel good but it’s not really addressing the problem and can even hurt more later. Something I’ve heard before actually.

Anyway, I’ve only been here for two and a half days and made several other revelations about my life. This place is clearly working its magic. The pictures don’t really do justice to all the magnificent views and the general vibes of the places so you’ll just have to trust me on it.  I’m now hobbling around, I’m that pathetically sore. Think it’s time to recharge and digest my life thus far and get in some drawing time.

It’s now 7am. There’s been a funeral going on at the temple down the road so I can hear a monk over the loud speaker. Time to go grab a home cooked breakfast fresh from the garden and pat the resident puppies I think!

 

 

The Highest Point

 

Yesterday I released the last of Mike’s ashes on a mountain top in Chiang Mai. I had already scattered most of them after the funeral but saved a small handful…  For what, I was yet to discover.  I had faith I would find a good reason eventually.  And this was it.  To say these past two years have been challenging is a major understatement at the very least. I’ve faced a lot of personal demons head on and fought inner battles of epic proportions. It only felt fitting that the spot I chose was the highest mountain in Thailand. Nothing seemed more perfect than going into the new year (just snuck in on the last day of January) by saying a final goodbye, truly planting my feet into my new life I have worked so hard on creating.

 

DSC08064

 

I’ve always felt a lot of guilt at moving on. It’s always put me in a strange place of working with every last strength I have to build something I can call my own and feeling bad that the more I change, the further away from Mike I would feel… Thus partly trying to sabotage myself in the process. Of course deep down I know that it would make him ecstatic to see me getting back out there and finally becoming the person he knew me to be, just in public and operating at 100%. So it’s taken a while but I felt like it was a really good time to accept all that has come into my life, and move forward wholeheartedly by taking that metaphorical leap.

So the idea was to stand on this mountain top, release the ashes into the earth below and not only reflect on the past as I move forward, but give thanks to Mike and mother earth, paying my last respects for all these gifts I have received. The reality? There was a lookout… Sorta. But mostly it was a sign that said “Highest Point in Thailand” and a walkway that snaked around and ended up in a gift shop and back to the car park. Don’t get me wrong. The place was freakin’ beautiful. And there were shrines and ahh… so green! But nothing felt right.

In the end, I decided that this was a reminder of life not exactly going to plan. And what I’ve learnt over the years is that surroundings are really quite irrelevant. It’s what you make of it and feel in your very heart and soul. So I decided to let it go that it wasn’t going to be the way I imagined it and thought about how I would tailor it to be just as meaningful and significant as I wanted, and do it in my own somewhat messy and unusual way. Just like we always used to.

So rewinding back a little… I harp on a lot about my favourite patch of the day/night. I like to make the effort to get up really early, when it’s still dark. I love seeing the world from a more private view. That little slice of time you get when it feels like the rest of the world is asleep. When it feels like it’s just you and the universe… It’s what I live for. Those are the times you remember. And I do still remember the times I would wake Mike up in the dark of night to go do something crazy or just sit in the stillness.

Where was I heading with that? Well, the drawback of my timing and venue was that it is in the middle of the most touristy season in Chiang Mai, and it would most likely be packed. I decided instead that I wanted to go for sunrise, hoping there wouldn’t be as many people and I could have a little more privacy.

The other thing about this season, is that it is actually winter here. It means that the weather is rather mild and pleasant during the day instead of stinking hot, and that at night and in the mornings it can get a bit cold. But when you go to the highest point in Thailand, it is freeeeezing!

 

DSC08056.JPG

 

The weather started getting really hot and smoggy last week. The air was thick and uncomfortable. On the last day of mercury retrograde and the full moon, the rain started to fall. It ended up pouring for the next couple days. It felt like a massive cleansing of stagnant energy. I said that when the weather broke, that’s the time I would scatter the ashes. And so, the sudden onslaught of cold and rain stopped… I waited an extra day for good measure. It was lucky too because even though it was sunny again, at the mountain it had still been raining with thick fog. You couldn’t even see the sunrise. I started to doubt whether this was such a good idea after all, but in the end decided to go for it. I don’t really shy away from a challenge anyway.

So armed with blankets, pillows and two very awesome and willing counterparts, we set off at 4am. At about 5:30 in the morning, I felt a nudge from the taxi driver signifying we were at the entrance. I dopily got out to pay our entrance fees and we were off. The women selling woollen gloves at the base of the mountain foreshadowed how cold it was going to be. By the time we got to the lookout, it was a bustle of activity. The stalls were already selling hot coffee and soup. Everyone was rugged up, staking their spot to watch the sunrise. This wasn’t yet the highest point, but it was the best viewing platform to watch the sun greet the morning. We decided to forego the last ten minutes of the sunrise to get ahead of the crowd.

 

 

After hunting around for a while, I ended up going off track to find the right place. I ended up walking through all the trees, burning sage and scattering the ashes. I saved the last of his ashes to bury under a tree I was particularly drawn to. It wasn’t the grand gesture of releasing it down below, but it was perfect all the same. We weren’t even far from the walkway through the forest, but as soon as we got off the path, there was that little special patch of land and time, where everything fell into place and felt very still and peaceful. Exactly the way I wanted.

 

 

Afterwards we went to a waterfall as the weather warmed up. I went for the obligatory dip in the water to cleanse the remainder of the morning and release it back into the flow of life, feeling settled and peaceful. After baking in the sun, listening to our favourite band, we headed home. That night I had a drink in his honour. It was the most amazing day, and I’ve been blessed with so many lately as it is. I’m forever grateful for all these experiences, and this particular day will be a favourite of mine.

 

12085321_10153423463926089_1887938511_o

Workplace in Wonderland

I’ve decided it’s time to tell you all about the magical place that is Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I found out about the place from a Halloween party of all things. It was my last art therapy workshop in my volunteering placement. I had absolutely no idea what I would do after the workshop. Enter fate… The workshop was held at The Healing Family Foundation, where mentally-disabled adults create clothing and crafts with user friendly handlooms. Their products are sold at RICD and on this particular day, a woman from the institute was there and happened to be looking for more volunteers. When she heard about my design background she was pretty eager to get me involved in an upcoming project involving a giant pink castle entrance. As you do… There was talk of murals and art therapy also. It seemed like all my random skill sets were finally about to make sense…

So I got her details and proceeded to get in touch with the institute, alas to no avail. However, as luck would have it, the next week I would meet a man who had been involved in elephant therapy for autistic kids. It turned out the elephant therapy was no longer running, but he did know one of the doctors who worked at RICD, involved in horse therapy. So long story slightly shorter, I ended up going on a tour of the institute and decided this was the place for me.

The institute entrance is a giant castle archway on both sides. There are two buildings, one newer one that is actually a giant piano and has an enormous panda bear that has a control room in its head. Of course it does… I don’t think I could do justice to all the awesomeness that ensues within these walls, so here’s a few snaps…

 

 

They have a sensory room where kids are stimulated through lights. There’s a really cool bed that is ridiculously soothing. I want to live there. Next door there’s an epic bouncy room. They also have a swimming pool in which they have light projections on the walls and different functions in the flow of water for the pool, with adequate suspensions to aid the kids with various disabilities. There’s basically all the therapies you can imagine… Music therapy, art therapy, drama therapy, acupuncture, a herbal medicine department… They even have a hotel and restaurant upstairs which is a training centre for young adults with disabilities.  And then you have the In Patient unit which is one of my favourite places to be.

In IPD, they teach the kids a variety of skills. Some they prep for school, others they teach their parents/guardians forms of massage to aid muscle stimulation. I’ve started hijacking their pre-school class where I teach arts and crafts. It’s a bit difficult not knowing the capabilities of each child personally and not knowing what to cater for in particular, so it’s basically a lot of taking it slow and trial and error. The firsthand experience is what makes it. I realise that’s kinda what I’ve been prepping for through all those years when I was caring for Mike.

The thing I probably spent the most effort on while Mike was sick was trying to find ways to maintain his quality of life. Each function his body lost was defeating to say the least. I would try to help him see what he still had left, but obviously there’s a grieving period through each stage of the illness. The letting go of the way things once were. And there’s a depression that comes with it. It’s only human.

And as you may have seen from my previous posts, that’s where the petting zoos came in. The makeshift trip around Europe in the backyard. The silly treasure hunts. The picnics in the park with random cupcake decorating. I wanted him to see that we could still find new and inventive ways to be us within all the craziness that surrounded. That yes, life was now much more complicated, but it was still our life. And so whatever I could tailor to his new set of abilities, I did.

His world continued to get smaller. First he had to quit work when he realised he couldn’t do any physical work. Then it was driving. Then it was walking. Eventually it was a struggle to leave the home. Creativity levels were at maximum capacity, trying to think of new ways for us to do things together. I never really thought about it at the time, but I guess that’s what kept me going through everything… Still being able to utilize my creativity. It was an outlet. Something else to focus on besides watching him die.

I felt really out of my element when I first arrived to volunteer at the hospital… For about five seconds. Funnily enough, my first job was to be a translator for the wheelchair department. The first patient I met was a woman who was getting her chair fixed because she had flipped over whilst at home alone. It made me realise how where I had ended up wasn’t so far fetched after all. I’ve only really delved into the art world. Anything in the science realm was way out of my comfort zone. Or so I thought. It made me really think about how experiencing life firsthand is so much more precious than learning from a book. Especially since it’s the opposite to how I like to learn. Countless visits to every type of doctor you can imagine and having to figure out how to get Mike’s body off the ground when he would fall at home, mixed with a bit of empathy for how scared this woman was and knowing what to say to console her made me realise I knew more than I had given myself credit for. It affirmed to me that this is where I’m heading. That my experiences aren’t lost. That they can count towards something new. To helping other people in similar situations. I’m still figuring it all out and don’t know where I’ll end up, but I basically decided on the first day that this is where I want to work. So I made it happen.

Some days during volunteering I taught workshops to the staff to try bridge the gap between science and art. Basically whatever I could do, I did. I bounced around between different departments, getting a feel for the place. I attended a workshop for the staff which turned out to be all in Thai, including workbooks which I couldn’t read and got put on the spot, having to come up with answers to questions I wasn’t quite sure of. But it came with snacks! I went to a conference also and face painted some of the older kids from the Art, Music and Drama department. Another day I got to check out the horse therapy. It was held on an army base, for kids with autism.

There’s something to be said about how special RICD is. There’s even a big playground in the waiting area.  They really work at creating an atmosphere that people want to be in.  And when life can present us with challenges, I think that goes a long way.  Everyone is so happy and caring, such a warm and inviting environment that the pessimist in me almost has to wonder what the catch is. But really, I’m just grateful to have found my way here. So thus far, the plan is for me to keep training up and move into art therapy. In the meantime I’m setting up a bunch of art classes at the institute and getting my face painting business up and running again. My first job is with 300 kids at a zoo. No pressure!

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.

10463835_10202069706976775_4760701334863269887_o

 

10629476_10202260037854928_6055069718012643710_o

 

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!