Last night I was speaking to a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time about break ups and the dynamics of relationships. It was heartening to be able to talk about things that happened a year ago now with a degree of detachment, and the conversation made me think about what kind of relationship I’d like to be in when the time comes. Then I remembered – I’ve already written all of that down! Last year, when my ex went overseas for a few weeks for his sister’s wedding, I was left in a sort of limbo in which I knew my partner was thinking about whether he wanted to be with me anymore. And I thought, I guess my only option is to think about whether I want to be with him too.
During that period another friend recommended a book to me – Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. I have to say that at the time, my self confidence was pretty much the lowest it had ever been, and this woman describing the power and the beauty of being a woman helped me find the strength to get in touch with the person inside, whom I thought I had lost. I forget exactly where in the book this paraphrase comes from, but essentially Estés said that a woman should take a lover who asks, and genuinely wants to know, what her deep self yearns for. So I decided to think about what my deep self yearns for. And when he came back, I showed him. And he said that seeing what I wrote broke his heart, but also finalised his decision, as he realised I would never be happy with him. And stupidly, I tried to take it all back and pretend I didn’t want those things. But I do, and I will never forget it again.
I’ve moved back to London and I still haven’t decided whether to go back to Perth for good at the end of the year, or just for a couple of months to celebrate my brother’s wedding. I kind of thought that being back in Perth would help me decide once and for all, and I thought it had, but when I got back to London I’ve become all confused again. The problem is that both options are good! I’ve got the ridiculous privilege of being able to live for as long as I like in two first world countries, and of course it’s the case that when I’m in Perth I feel like I want to stay in Perth, and when I’m in London I feel like I want to stay in London. I watched a TED Talk once about making decisions and upshot of it was that when two options are both objectively, quantifiably good, then the decision has to be made in terms of how each one relates to your identity. Which opens up a whole other can of beans! So, I’ve decided to live as though I might be leaving London for good sometime before November. And put off the decision until…sometime, later…
Obviously when you live in a place for going on 6 years, you start to take it for granted. You go to and from work, and if you’re me, you accept invitations to things other people have organised often enough that you’re busy and drunk enough to stave off any alarming (but necessary) introspection. You have so many proactive friends, that you change over time, from someone who used to actively pursue experiences that made you happy, to a passive participant in other people’s plans.
No more! I am the protagonist in my own life! she internally screamed as she bought a $30 notebook with BUCKET LIST embossed in gold on the front cover. If not now, when? resonated the tag line within her bones, bones whose age fell perfectly within kikki.K’s target demographic.
So far on the list (the G – M15+ rated ones):
Eat dinner at Dans le Noir
Go on the London Eye
Eat at The Ivy
Visit Stone Henge
See the white cliffs of Dover
See a stag beetle
Hold a hedgehog
Visit 2 – 3 Eastern European countries
Feel in love with my room
Organise a night out and be the one ‘in the lead’ – navigate!
Do an oil painting
Visit the Tower of London
See the changing of the guard
See a show at The Globe
Visit the Zoo
Flip the bird at Tory wax figures at Madame Tussauds
Visit some of the hidden Roman Baths in London
Do a copywriting course
Do a TEFL course
Updates as completed and any bucket list tips welcome!
On April 15th 2017 I gave a speech at my brother from another mother’s wedding at Tower Bridge. By popular demand, and because love is lovely, here it is:
“For those of you who don’t know me, I am Jill and I have been Matt Spicer’s friend since we were born only a month apart. We grew up in Armadale, Western Australia, and we both had the undercuts to prove it! I am absolutely honoured to be able to speak to you today about the kind of man Matt Spicer is, and to describe the incredible bond he has with his husband Matthew Coltrona.
I feel it is a cosmic blessing that Matt and I have always just ‘got’ each other. When I think back to our childhoods, I see a confident boy with sandy blonde hair, freckles, a wide smile and blue, mischievous eyes. I also see a girl with uncontrollable hair, a mouth that was always quick to laugh when she was with her best friend, as well as eyes that were sometimes filled with uncertainty.
Where I was shy, Matt was outgoing. Where I was hesitant to take risks, Matt was fearless. Where I was clumsy and couldn’t run, swim or catch a ball, Matt was zipping around barefoot in the bush, doing it all. We spent days in the pool playing mermaids, me in the shallow end and Matthew in the deep. We made Jane Fonda workout home videos (sadly lost in the mists of time). We had sleepovers when we would giggle and whisper all night long. We tormented our little brothers and Matt’s older sister, and they tormented us back. Our families spent every Christmas together and we would laugh at our parents dancing to Neil Diamond and walking straight through fly-screen doors. And always, always, when we knew it was time for one of us to leave, we would run as far away from the grown-ups as we could and hide, treasuring our time together up to the last second.
Matt’s gentle, accepting and patient nature helped me come out of my shell. He built me up, and my trust in him was, and still is, unshakeable. He was the first person with whom I ever cried with laughter, and is still one of the few people who can reduce me to helpless giggles with only a sideward glance, a pregnant pause or a drawn out syllable. Let’s face it, if someone can stay friends with you when you look like this, they’re a keeper.
All of this has continued as we’ve grown older. Matt has always been there – reliable, stoic and practical as a lighthouse in stormy seas. I remember panicking in Matt’s car about moving out of home. As I wailed “But I don’t even know how to make SPAGHETTI!”, he calmly gave me a step-by-step explanation of how to boil pasta and make a bolognese sauce. No wonder his cooking is so good nowadays!
Don’t get me wrong, I have had some opportunities to repay the favour. I recall Matt’s 21st birthday dinner, when it became apparent he had downed one too many red wines. He disappeared off to the bathroom, with Megan and I following around 10 minutes later. Matt had generously repainted the restaurant’s hallway, and had taken a little nap in the stalls. We got him back on his feet, and as we were apologising and paying the bill, Matt staggered over and still tried to get the restaurant to accept his Entertainment Card voucher.
You can understand then, that when this dashing, handsome Italian man came along and made it beyond the impossible 4-month mark with my Matt in July 2005, I was slightly concerned that Matt Spicer, and our friendship, would not stay the same.
As it turns out, I was right. Neither of those things were ever the same. They have evolved, expanded, and experienced even more joy and boundless possibilities because of this wonderful person. Matthew Coltrona’s articulate wit combines with an intelligence matched only by his unquestionable moral fibre. He is something of a Renaissance man, enjoying a high-flying career whilst casually refurbishing pianos, writing and illustrating children’s books, churning out Michelin Star-quality meals, and all while laughing, feeling feelings and being a dream partner to my dearest friend.
I look towards their relationship as a model of what love should be. Honest, respectful, patient, accepting and supporting of each other’s endeavours, I have never heard them say a cruel word against the other, nor have I seen them turn away when there was an opportunity to turn towards. They have built countless memories and made innumerable commitments to each other. Their shared homes, their holidays, their ‘special’ dog Napoleon and their adventure to make a new life in London were all ways of saying “I love you.” The inclusion of their friends and family in many of these escapades were ways of saying “we love you.” Their strengths complement each other perfectly and I truly could not have imagined a better person for my dearest friend to spend his life with. I believe they have found their soulmate and I cannot imagine them apart.
What was my lighthouse has become a bridge. A bridge with two equal towers forged of concrete, steel and granite. Those towers are joined together with love, communication, integrity, lightheartedness and acceptance. The connection between them is strong enough to open sometimes and let the waters flow by, carrying away any resentments. Each tower is supported to stand upright from either side with the steady ties of their backgrounds, their families, the things that make them unique and the new, important and always delightful friendships they make along the way.
The bridge on which we celebrate tonight took 8 years to build and has stood for 122 years. As Matt and Matt enter their 12th year of building their future together, I have no doubt their bridge will stand steadfast for the rest of their lives, and will leave a lasting impression on all who behold it. I am utterly, utterly proud to be able to support that bridge, and I hope we are all able to admire its beauty as we do Tower Bridge’s beauty tonight.”
Somehow it is March 10th and I only have two and a half weeks left in Perth before I fly to Cambodia for a fortnight, then back to London for a friend’s wedding. I feel like I’ve been here for no time at all. The first month involved me being in an intense state of shock, burnout, grief and exhaustion. However, it also a time of happiness catching up with family and other overseas-based Perthites while we had the chance. It was a time of wildly fluctuating emotions – having a really nice day-trip to Rottnest Island for example, despite hiding the fact I was silently crying on some of our bike rides. Having a ball celebrating my Dad’s birthday dinner before being hit with a wave of low mood – kind of a low pressure system for the heart, and retreating to my room in an attempt not to ruin everyone else’s night.
The smartest thing I did during that time was go and see a GP, who asked me to give him a rundown of what happened. I delivered a matter-of-fact summary of the end of 2016 re: work, money, relationship, dog and living situation (i.e. residing with my whole family in the suburbs with no car and no job). I think the poor guy thought I had finished after the first couple of things, but his eyebrows rose further up his face as I went on. I wrapped things up as quickly as I could, and he slowly leant forwards and typed into his notes ‘situational life crisis’. ‘OMG yas’ I thought, that is exactly right. He went on to explain that as my anxiety, depression and severe stress symptoms (I did that scale thing) were due to external factors, he did not want to put me on any antidepressant medication. I was cool with that. He also said he could write me a mental health care plan which would give me six bulk-billed Psychology sessions. I was definitely cool with that! I was about to stand up and leave when he said “I’m going to write you a medical certificate for Centrelink”. Say what?! He told me that he thought it would be good for my mental health if I had a break from working…but that I needed money for my self esteem and to reduce stress. When I arrived I had sold some employee shares that Woolworths had given me at the age of 19, and that had given me a boost of cash when I first arrived. To see it steadily dwindling away, however, created a tightness in my chest about having to find a job when I badly needed rest. The thought of re-inserting myself into the Perth Speech Pathology scene when I had been out of the loop for 5 years was intimidating and triggered off all kinds of ‘I’m not good enough, I’m not worthy’ kind of thoughts. Although going through the initial process of signing on to the dole was arguably not great for my self esteem, I can see now that it was the best thing he could have done for me and I’m glad I stuck with that plan without giving into the internal monologue of “You’re a total loser”. I started working at the age of 14 and have not stopped since (besides a few months when I was travelling), so decided to (try to) stop judging myself so harshly, let myself get better, and take that sweet sweet Government cash. I knew I had another two months to start catching up with everybody else, so besides doing a few fun things, I kept my head low and just focused on getting better. I spent a lot of time with my Mum during the day as she took some time off work, and I gladly let myself be looked after. I caught up with my friends slowly and one or two at a time to keep things manageable.
At some point in the second month I stopped carrying my dog’s collar with me everywhere I went and moved on to another stage.
I touched down in Perth almost two months ago. To be honest there is not a lot I remember about the 5 months preceding the 31st of December 2016. I have some crystal clear memories – frantically handing over my caseload to a fresh new Speech and Language Therapist, trying not to cry; power walking down the road in Seven Sisters to pick up some sleeping pills for my flight; staring up at the ceiling from the floor of my friend’s apartment on Christmas Eve; a vet tapping my dog’s eyeball to check if he is dead. The rest of it is hazy – nights wrapped up watching Now TV in my new room, staying on ‘my’ side despite there no longer being a claim on the other side of the bed. My friends’ loving and concerned faces on the opposite sides of pub tables…more nights spent on their couches or in their spare rooms, politely asking for permission to do simple things like boil the kettle or charge my phone, wishes that are of course granted but nonetheless would have warranted no such enquiry in my own nonexistent home. There are other memories too – the faces of the clients I took on in those months, the parents I met working as a nanny, the date I went on and the nice way I turned him down. The moments I could have been nasty but instead handed roses to a man while he lit me on fire. The warm faces of the family I lived with between my separation and my departure from London, making a gingerbread house with their 3 year old and watching their 1 year old son start to walk. Lying on their couch at midnight screaming into an empty house after being turned away from the couch I had previously owned; walking aimlessly around Brixton for I don’t know how many hours wearing a giant faux fur coat, holding a cardboard box with some soap and half a bottle of red wine and my dead dog’s collar and a ball he chewed before he died, crying and wishing that somebody, anybody would see me and ask me what’s wrong. Wondering why the crazy people aren’t trying to talk to me and realising that tonight, I am the crazy person, the invisible one, the one you shouldn’t make eye contact with. Someone comes up to look inside my box and walks away. It’s finally happened – I’m not going to be OK. Calling my parents at 4.50am and not forming words, crying, wailing like I have never wailed before, so much that my Mum who never cries starts crying. I take a strong sleeping pill on my flight and chase it down with a whiskey, waking up with an alarming pain in my leg and on the other side of the world.
Now I am standing still. There are no longer three jobs to do across three counties. There are no pets to look after. There is no relationship to tend, no baby to keep trying for. No house savings to add to. There are friends and family who keep me alive. And there is me, slowly coming out of survival mode and wondering where to put all of this adrenalin, these memories and this anger.
I’m glad the issue of inappropriate touching is in the spotlight right now. I have shoved, yelled at, stared down and spoken back to strangers who have touched me without my permission and accepted the fact that I might be seen as a difficult or aggressive woman. On one occasion I really thought I was going to get punched in the face until a guy’s friends dragged him away as I stood with my chin held high. But even I have experienced creepy, wrong and horrible things in my teens, 20s and 30s that I haven’t called people out on for fear of rocking the boat. I think as women we are so programmed to keep everything ticking along nicely, causing no uncomfortable feelings. We’re usually concerned about hurting others – how will his girlfriend feel, is him losing his job really worth it, I don’t want him to be humiliated. Sometimes the consequences for the woman of being doubted or shunned by her community mean that these people know they can get away with it. It’s an ongoing issue and that means the conversation needs to keep happening – women need to keep seeing these dialogues to know they’re not alone and to trust their instincts – if it feels wrong, it’s wrong. The less shame and fear we feel in being honest about what socially powerful men have done to us, the better.
Sometimes the creepy thing that happens is completely out of a guy’s character and is just an aberrant, horrible thing that he did, which is not a reflection of who he is and will never happen again. In which case, do we simply resolve it in our own minds, decide to forgive and move on? Or is there a part of us that will never fully heal from it unless we talk to the person, ask what on god’s earth they were thinking and have them understand how much they have betrayed us. There is the question of ‘what makes something bad?’ I have come to think that anything that leaves you feeling like you have been used for a sexual purpose that you did not consent to, and which plays on your mind for days afterwards, is bad. Who touched what and where and how is secondary to believing the woman who knows that something bad has happened to her.
Sometimes, life creates a perfect storm and all your chickens come home to roost. In some cases, particularly for those one in three of us who struggle with mental health, they’re demon-chickens. Of course when these demon-chickens burst into the house and start flapping all over your furniture and scratching the rug, you want them to fuck off! You’re scared of them, you make feeble attempts to shoo them away but eventually you give up, let them take over and watch them shit all over your living room.
You understand that these are now your demon-chickens. You resign yourself to living with them for the rest of your life. You start to observe them with a kind of disgusted curiosity. From their behaviour you can tell one of them should be given the name Shame; it likes to roost next to its buddies Self-Loathing and Unworthiness. You notice that these three usually take over a roosting spot from Anger. Anger paces up and down the prime perch screeching at everyone and attacking anyone who comes near, all because it thinks that will make its injured wing feel better, before it runs out of steam and hides behind the curtains.
You can’t help but notice a toxic pair – the Obsessive Compulsive Hen and the Catastrophising Rooster, who start off by trying to groom each other carefully and wind up plucking all the feathers off each other’s backs. One of the most horrible, ugly demon-chickens is Paranoia, who broods under the coffee table and watches the other chickens, misinterpreting all of their signals for signs of attack and lashing out unpredictably. But the hugest and most destructive of all these demon-chickens is the Avian Prince Panic Attack. This anxious fowl sleeps for days and nights at a time, hiding away in the shadows of the room. You and all the demon-chickens know he’s there, and you know that if you can keep the others under control just enough so that he doesn’t wake up, you will be able to go about your every day life, working around these unwelcome house guests.
For a while after they first arrive, you wake up each day and hate the fact you have these assholes living with you. You think, what did I do to deserve this? If these chickens have come to roost in my house, then I must have done something wrong…all the other houses must have looked too nice and too normal to have chickens from hell take over. They must have been giving out free chicken-wire on your street one day and you were out doing something bad, and didn’t get any. You are too embarrassed to admit to your friends, family or work colleagues that you can’t do something as simple as shooing some birds from your home. You try to cover up the signs, but sometimes you turn up with a telltale feather stuck in your hair. Once or twice you try to storm the room, swinging wildly while the demon-chickens cluck and scurry but do not leave.
As time passes, you realise something has to be done. From your observations you understand that the more you glare at the chickens and feel bitter about them being in your house, the bigger and nastier they seem to grow. You realise that you have been unconsciously feeding them, on autopilot, every single day. No wonder they don’t want to leave!
You start to see these demon-chickens, these unwanted, unloved house guests in a different light. Instead of letting Shame, Self-Loathing and Unworthiness take over Anger’s perch when he’s finished screeching at everyone, you pick him up gently and put him back in the spotlight. Why does his wing still hurt? How did it get injured in the first place? It takes a while, but you commit to making sure he won’t be in so much pain. Shame, Self-Loathing and Unworthiness start getting fed a different diet made up of little pellets of compassion and forgiveness, and they start to look a bit less demonic and more sad and in need of a hug. Eventually these four fowl decide it might be better to have a wander around the back garden rather than making a mess in the living room all day and all night. Sometimes they still saunter back in, but they are greeted, fed some healthy food and gently sent back out, where they are happiest.
There are still some chickens roosting in your living room. That fucker in the shadows is still there, and sometimes you walk out of the house with a feather caught up in your hair. But somehow, you know that one day you will be able to enjoy yourself in your clean living room, with a back yard full of happy chickens.