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ABC isn’t always so easy – choosing schools in the modern age.

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” – Sydney J Harris

I love this quote. It is no secret that I am mad-passionate about education. I’ve spent most of my career in schools, working with children, since I was 19 years of age. First as a teacher’s aide, now as a teacher, and in the future, as a guidance officer. I believe that no educational activity is a waste of time, whether it’s primary school, TAFE, university, post-graduate learning, or learning on the job. It’s all good.

Theoretically, as someone who has the benefit of working in more than ten schools in a variety of roles, I know exactly what I want – however, choosing a school for Soren was a difficult task.

We sold our first house and moved to a suburb where we could access excellent state education options. No regrets. We love our suburb, and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. We would still consider state schools if our first choice doesn’t work out. I’m not fussed on public vs private, I care more about quality of the school.

assorted-color neckties

When Soren was about six weeks of age, I started emailing all of our local private schools – Catholic, Anglican, and non-denominational. We settled on an excellent prep – 12 school that was non-religious, all boys’, and had a good track record with inclusion, with several same-sex families enrolled with no issue.

The process we went through in selecting a school exposed me to a side of the schooling game that is vile, anti-human, and quite frankly, offensive – not only to me as a parent and a human, but to me as a teacher.

Almost all of the Catholic schools we emailed took months to get back to us. When they finally did, it was evident that they were delivering a script with a lot of vanilla keywords about “inclusion” and “tolerance.”

Note – I do not wish to be tolerated. I am not a fly. I am a human.

However, like a fly I have razor sharp eyes that can see through all the educational buzzwords.

When I pressed them specifically on same-sex families, they would ignore that part of the email and not respond to it at all. Do you really think I’m going to trust you with my child if you ignore the most crucial part of my email?

A few other Christian schools would not reply for months, then tell me they wouldn’t discuss this via email, and to arrange a time for a phone call. I did a few of these phone calls, and boy, were they disappointing.

One school told me that “It’s okay, everyone falls short of God’s grace in various ways, yours is just your relationship. We accept everyone.”

Um, I fall short of God’s grace in many ways, but my marriage to my wife is not one of them.

The same school also told me, “The family unit is quite a personal matter anyway. It’s not something your child would need to bring up at school.”

Yes, it’s a personal matter. Very personal. But like hell it will be a private matter to make everybody else comfortable.

The same school allowed students of other religions to wear garments that weren’t part of the Christian faith. I guess that’s more marketable – so people can see how “tolerant” they are – whereas the gay family thing is still seen as taboo and immoral. No pride badges, no talking about your family because people are funny about it.

For what it’s worth, I think everything should be included. Religions, cultures, and all family structures – not a cherry-picked selection of things that tick the “diversity” box for marketing fliers.

In any event, I found the conversation condescending, vile, and offensive. The fact that they wouldn’t correspond via email was also a huge red flag.

I think it is absolutely fine if consenting adults want to be in environments where they are not around us rainbow folk. By all means, build your churches and your super-straight bars and exclude us. But when it involves children – who cannot consent and are being educated in these environments – I think schools need to be held to a certain standard, one that reflects the values of the secular society that is largely funding its existence.

Why do I care so much? When I was a child, I went to three different private schools – one Catholic, one Lutheran, and one Christian. I was exposed to extreme ideas of conservative Christianity in two of them, including physical punishments. In another, I was kicked out with no chance of redemption for what was realistically not a huge mistake. The lack of “grace” was evident.

When I first came out in year 10, I was gossiped about within my school community, sent to an unqualified counsellor who burdened me with guilt for my existence, harassed online, and I was then kicked to the curb.

Again, no “grace” whatsoever. I lost all my friends and had to move schools, because my values didn’t align with their “values.”

It was messed up and it did a lot of damage. Still, I can’t be mad because it gave me exceptional insight into how I make decisions for my family – what can be tolerated and what can be avoided if possible.

The only advice I have is to drill any potential school. Do a tour, or two if you can. Go to their open day. Ask every question that is important to you. If they take months to respond, consider it a huge red flag. Check out their Google reviews – often a very accurate picture if there are a lot of disgruntled parents. Ask anyone who has their child enrolled at the school what the pros/cons are. See if there is anything about the school in the media – child abuse cases and articles about extreme bullying or sexual harassment are often very easy to find if they have been published. Ask about their teaching strategies, class sizes, how they choose their teachers, and why they have chosen the strategies they use in the school. I always asked about the school’s vision and 5-year plan if I thought we may consider enrolment.

Overall, trust your gut.

I did all of this. Will it be the perfect school? Goodness no. Will we have frustrations and disappointments? Yep. Am I the perfect parent? Most definitely not. But I feel like I’ve done my due diligence for now.

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It’s been 11 years since I was in Japan.

June 2010 marked a very important time for me. For one, I finished my first semester of university studies. My GPA was above 6. I also used K-Rudd’s stimulus package to buy discount Jetstar flights to Japan.

My parents didn’t want me to go. My mother begged me to reconsider. She asked me if she could come along.

“No.” I insisted.

I needed to do this on my own.

My parents thought I needed to “wait until I had friends who wanted to travel with me.” I realised I’d probably be waiting forever, and the thought of being overseas in someone else’s pocket when I just want to be left alone, is probably not advisable for a friendship.

So I went. 20 year old me hopped on a plane and went to Tokyo.

When I got off the plane, I had to catch a train to Minowa station. I had a print-out from Google Maps of where my hostel was in relation to the train station.

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I knew, based on the map, that my hostel was across from a McDonald’s.

I looked left. McDonald’s. I looked right. McDonald’s.

As I stood there deliberating, my map print out melted beneath the rain. Uh-oh.

I knew hailing a cab down was going to cost me and I was pretty poor, but the rain was getting heavy so I did.

I arrived safely at the backpacker hostel and climbed into bed. The next morning, I took a photo.

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Every day, I walked and walked and walked. I got off at many places, including the Central Business District and Akihabara. I had a red wine in Shibuya so I could get free internet. I sat upstairs in McDonald’s eating a sundae while everyone smoked inside. I went to Disneyland, which involved catching a train. I drank Coke out of a circular bottle.

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Amazing.

If I had advice for any other young people wanting to travel, I would say, don’t delay. Get out there and do it. Many countries are safe to travel to independently. You will be more likely to regret the chances you didn’t take, as opposed to the money you spent.

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I live with a broken bag.

I never hold on too tightly to things.

It is not unusual for me to throw mental clutter and old ideas away like the bags of throwaways in the thrift shop bin by the train line. I hate collecting knick knacks, old papers, and books I’ve already read. If it has no purpose, it’s as good as gone.

Anything we hold onto becomes part of our tapestry and if you hold on too tight, it hurts more when you let it go because you’ve let it become part of your bones.

Oh, my bones must be weak then.

Some things we hold onto too tightly hurt us because they are bags full of secrets. Secrets that wield razor blades which slice through our bags and cut through our skin. Then it hurts even more to pick it all back up again and make order of a broken bag. The disorganisation will weigh us down, even more than the weight of what we’re holding.

No one wants to live with a broken bag.

My broken bag is the story of who I am.

It is my collection of traumas. It is my sexuality. It is my dark treasures, my little darlings, which have stained my soul and cracked my glasses.

I can’t see straight.

I once read that when a pilot can’t see due to weather and low visibility, they become disoriented. They think they are flying straight, but in fact, they are not. It is only when their wing dips and the airplane enters the death spiral that they realise something is really wrong, and by then, it is too late.

Isn’t that a bit like life?

woman in white and black stripe long sleeve shirt

You go along through life. You have tendencies. People are nice to your face. You bumble along, unaware of whatever is slowly eating away at you from the inside.

Then something changes.

Something big comes along. A near-death experience. A majorly traumatic experience. A grief. Or maybe all of the above, captured like a snowball rolling down your lifespan.

You begin to see things in your sleep. Visions of your own death a thousand times over. Your dreamscape becomes one never-ending snuff film…

Then you stop sleeping. Then you stop leaving the house.

Then your broken bag collects all manner of dirt and dust.

You can’t go on. But you do. And you do. And you do.

You never sleep, and you wonder why people always complain that nothing ever gets done. Have they not heard of the wee morning hours? Obviously not. The more days without sleep, the more momentum you gain. Then you peak. After that, it all becomes a little messy and disorganised again. You start drawing clocks with the numbers going around the outside of the circle. The doctor pulls you up.

“Are you taking the piss?”

Nothing makes sense.

“Maybe you just need some time away,” they say.

“At least it’s not cancer.”

“My friend had something like this.. they call it a disorder, can’t remember which one.”

The doctor interviews you. It feels like hours. You keep looking at her phone sitting on the table. You watch what you say. You are slightly paranoid. Whatever they’ve got you on, it isn’t working.

Electroconvulsive therapy has come a long way since the shock treatments of the 20th century.

First, they take you for a brain scan. They ask you if you feel safe as you cross the road.

The scan comes back fine and you’re cleared for your first round of ECT.

It’s not all bad and you won’t be awake for it.

You just wake up five minutes later, confused, in a room with a TV that’s playing One Direction.

They do it five more times over. You start to feel better.

You start to call your doctor, Doctor Frybaby.

The night terrors stop. You sleep through the night again. You won’t be able to thrash your body so hard you break yourself, but that’s for the best.

You begin to excel at your studies because this experience has gifted you an amazing insight into the human mental condition.

The only thing is, your mind never seems to shut off. The thoughts continue to race.

I can’t look at a licence plate without adding the numbers in my head. I get irritated when they aren’t even numbers. I can’t look at a sign without adding all the letters. Likewise, I hate a lack of symmetry. Even songs I listen to.. they have to be symmetrical.

Well, at least when my mind plays tricks like this, I am not having completely intrusive thoughts. It never shuts off, but maybe this is a small price to pay.

I can no longer shoot out of bed at 4am to run a hard and fast 5km…. but I know how many letters are in every word.

This is all exhausting. It is chronic. It is hard work. The self-criticism in my thoughts makes it all so much harder.

I keep an awful lot to myself and some of it is very heavy, and my bag is still broken.

I am not the person I was before all of this. But I am now a high-functioning sequel to the original horror story.

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Caught in the middle.

Some months ago, I found myself booted from a Christian parenting group. Apparently, disagreeing with the majority by voting no on a poll for scripture classes in public schools, makes you a person who does not belong to the group.

It’s an odd purgatory, because I find queer parenting groups are just the same. The rising tide of gender-neutral parenting is one that I find is becoming judgmental, vitriolic, and exclusive.

If you, God forbid, refer to your son as a boy, you get booted from the group, only after being called misogynistic, internally transphobic, and emotionally abusive. These individuals would prefer penis-haver or child bearing a penis.

My son is of the boy variety. He is AMAB – assigned male at birth. Yes, we assigned his gender because more often than not, males grow into boys, and then men. The number of gender diverse individuals in the last Australian census was as low as 1260.

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t raise your child to be whoever they want to be, but there’s nothing wrong with having a ‘home base’ gender that they can use to relate to others and themselves, as well as the biology they were born into.

Put simply, I’m not parenting my child towards the very remote possibility that they may be gender diverse.

Instead, I aim to allow him the opportunity to pursue a number of interests – so far, he has done ballet, soccer, gymnastics, and swimming. I paint his nails. He chooses his own clothes, for the most part. He has a lot of different toys, including traditionally ‘girly’ and ‘boyish’ numbers. He grows his hair.

But I will not refer to my baby son as “they” or “them.” I am not giving him a neutral, colourless identity until he “chooses” his gender. There is no need, when you can just be open-minded and accepting with lots of conversations around gender, to your little boy in his shark polo shirt.

I have been called misogynistic.

Because someone who asked for advice on how to raise a penis-having child, and I said that one of the biggest learning curves for me as a boy Mum was the amount of rough play that boys absolutely adore – and how they learn the boundaries between themselves and others through this process.

I caused great offence. They were after advice about raising a penis-having child, not advice from a boy Mum.

Um, I guess you need to make sure you wash under the foreskin!?

I was later called ’emotionally abusive’ in one of these gender threads. I’ve been called emotionally abusive for suggesting my child can have a say in who hugs him or not. This isn’t new territory for me. Bring it on.

Because I said I was sending my child to an all boys’ school.

Yep, God forbid we choose the best education we can for our son, which matches his broad interests. How awful of us as parents that we would choose a school that offers music programs, arts, dancing, sports, sciences, and a farm, all under the one roof. Or a school that bases learning around explicit teaching, which is what I support as a teacher.

No, it would be less emotionally abusive for me to call my child ‘them’, a penis-haver and send him into a school that doesn’t match the teaching style we know works for children.

This is just nonsense. The fact that our gay community is now full of people who cannot embrace and celebrate people’s expression of their gender. I am not saying we need to press-gang our children into boy/girl with no flexibility of dress style or interests, but for God’s sake, we do not need to completely erase gender in order to appease the tastes of a very vocal minority. Some of these people are aggressive, bigoted, exclusive, and downright rude.

My son is a boy – until he tells me otherwise. No amount of harassment, blocking me from groups, or attacking my parenting is going to change that.

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When people raise imaginary children

If you have no children, you are free to judge parents, but your opinion means nothing.

When I was completing my education degree, I was given an online login to raise a virtual child. I named her Lucy and responded to various parenting scenarios to produce an end result.

Virtual child

I did a good job. Lucy was well-adjusted, secure, and intelligent.

But I remember thinking – this is not real life. The various pathways to raising secure children are much more fraught with difficulty. They are many and varied, uncertain at times. They are far less linear in real life.

I’ve certainly fallen into the trap of judging parents. I am not innocent by any stretch. I even judged certain parenting styles before having children. Now, I look at certain things other parents do, and think, I would not do that myself. But now I have one of my own, I have a lot more empathy for the daily battles of other parents.

Since having a child of my own, the majority of parental judgment has come from people WITHOUT children.

People who are raising good little virtual children in their mind’s eye.  

People who are not living in the real world. You know the kind – they think that anyone less than perfect shouldn’t have children.

Overweight, mentally ill, career-driven, single, young, or less financially secure individuals. Parents who enjoy a drink. They all fall below the imaginary gold standard of parenthood.

Before I had a child myself, I thought I would do everything that is best for my child, no questions asked, and I did judge those I perceived as doing less than the best. I thought I would sooner live off baked beans than see my child go without something.

After all, we had longed for this child for so long.

I planned to stay home for three years. I hoped to breastfeed until toddlerhood. I didn’t want to smack my child. I thought I would be able to live without medications, lest it come through the breastmilk. My child would not have too much TV or too much sugar, or too many clothes.

But that, my friends, is raising a virtual child. That is not real life.

The first to fall off were the breastfeeding wheels. We had a rough start to building up my milk supply because of the severe blood loss I had at birth. We had to set timers and breastfeed him every two hours, then pump, formula feed, put him to sleep, then do it all again two hours later.

It was BLOODY HARD! I didn’t give up, but he did have some formula in those early days. He grew so well and was in the top percentile for height and weight.

At five months, though, I was losing my mind in other ways. I had few Mum friends, was hating playgroup, and I was lonely. When the day care centre opened up next door, we put him in one day a week while I did some paid work.

Far from being detrimental, it has helped his development immensely. I can’t thank his teachers enough. I didn’t last the three years, but he is securely attached and resilient.

At six months, I had a crisis and commenced anti-psychotic medication which I believe saved my life. My milk supply dried up, until I saw a private psychiatrist, who got us started again with an appropriate breastfeeding anti-psychotic.

I felt the sting of judgment from people who had never suffered mental disorders, who all thought I should not be breastfeeding while on medications.

Yet, he coped just fine with no withdrawal – and a medical doctor had approved it.

At nine months, he started biting. No more breastfeeding. I couldn’t deal with the pain, even though I knew breastfeeding was a good thing. During one of his bites, I instinctively gave him a smack on the arm. He bawled his eyes out. Oops. I felt terrible but it was an involuntary reaction.

I had other moments of poor judgment which left me questioning myself as a parent.

As for the TV, sugar, and too many clothes? Let’s just say he lives a charmed life… but he is no worse off for any of these things. He is clever, secure, and thriving.

And he loves The Wiggles.

Unless you’re in the trenches with us, it’s best to reserve judgment. Until you’re raising real life humans, you don’t know how you’ll respond to the challenges. Parenting humbles you in ways that no other life experience really can.

And sometimes?

It is actually best to put yourself first, lest you end up a burnt out, bitter, resentful parent – which is way worse for a child than being a little selfish on occasion.

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Bipolar One Cheat Sheet

Bipolar is one of those mental illnesses that gets thrown around into discussions about people we don’t like.

You know, the colleague who is in a bad mood, or the ex who snapped in anger a couple of times. However, Bipolar One is much more complex and discrete than just being a bit moody.

man in gray long sleeve shirt holding brown wooden stick

So what is it?

In order to be diagnosed Bipolar One, a person needs to have a manic episode.

What’s a manic episode?

Far from being just a bit strung out, a manic episode is a period of a week or longer of unusually elevated or irritable mood.

During a manic episode, a person may be very talkative, have inflated self esteem, decreased need for sleep, and flight of ideas. Risk taking behaviour may also be present, including risky investments, impulsive purchases, sexual misadventure, gambling, or otherwise risky behaviour with high consequences.

So imagine your bubbly type-A individual, going from here to there and kicking goals with little need for sleep – until the manic episode progresses to a more disorganised state…

Or – in some cases – the destructive type who is cash-happy and speeds along the highway with no thought for consequences.

A manic episode may also have psychotic features – which may include seeing and hearing things, delusions (false beliefs – for example, the belief they are being watched), paranoia, and anxiety.

Some of these psychotic features may go so far as to have an affected individual believe that there is a conspiracy with the federal police watching the house, ready to destroy them with evidence of a crime they aren’t actually sure they committed.

red blue and yellow abstract painting

Many people suffering their first manic episode will be hospitalised – a person with Bipolar is around 15 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population and this risk is heightened in manic states, due to impulsivity. The likelihood of a psychotic episode also increases, the longer the mania is untreated.

Because mania can be such a heightened, productive state, a person at the stage of needing hospitalisation is likely to resist, resist, resist. When this happens, they may be held in a facility against their will – also known as being kept under the Mental Health Act.

A person suffering a manic episode may also be irritable, rather than heightened. They may also display a lot of goal-directed behaviour (completing tasks, unrealistic plans of tasks to be done, cleaning the house.)

As opposed to the “moody” stereotype of Bipolar, someone who is experiencing mania may appear high functioning, productive, and driven. However, as mania progresses, the lack of sleep and other symptoms can cause disorganisation and impaired functioning in all areas of life – which is required for a diagnosis.

A person with Bipolar One may also suffer a depressive episode. However, it isn’t required for a diagnosis. Depressive episodes can be characterised by a lack of energy and interest, sleep problems, thoughts of death, weight loss or gain, and diminished ability to concentrate.

Bipolar One is observed in males and females equally in most prevalence estimates. Interestingly, Bipolar is more common in high income countries and more common in separated, divorced, or widowed individuals, but the association is not clear in studies completed thus far.

Far from being an illness that can be cured with positive thoughts or yoga, Bipolar is largely biologically rooted. There is a 10-fold increased risk for a person to develop Bipolar if it is somewhere in the family. This risk increases depending on the degree of kinship of the individual to the family member with Bipolar. It can also be contributed to by stressful life events and trauma.

Treatment of Bipolar typically involves some form of medication, teamed with therapy. Medication is often an antipsychotic or anti convulsant, along with a mood stabilising medication. Psychoeducational therapies such as dialectical behaviour therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, interpersonal and social therapy may be used.

But it’s not all bad.

Many people with Bipolar One do recover with the right treatments, even though it is likely to affect job performance at some stage. Working within mood episodes also presents significant challenges. Career and job changes are common with Bipolar One, however, the diagnosis of Bipolar One isn’t a death sentence, once it has been stabilised.

Moods in Bipolar are often to the extreme. For the person suffering this disorder, it can be an endless fight to find the middle ground, rather than existing on either exhausting side of the thermometer.

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Obsessions and compulsions – no, it is not necessarily a spectrum

As someone who lives with multiple mental illnesses and aspects of others, one thing that I dread hearing is this:

“Oh yeah, I’m so OCD. I hate mess! I love stacking my Tupperware containers. It’s all a spectrum, after all. Everyone is on the spectrum.”

That is, in fact, not completely true. The DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and the ICD (International Classification of Disease) are mostly categorical. These manuals are used by practitioners to diagnose disorders and disease. Both of these manuals acknowledge spectrums, but not necessarily as a means of diagnosis.

In their criteria, you mostly either have something or you do not. That is not to say that you can’t display aspects of certain disorders, but it does not mean you have some lesser form of the disorder, or that you are on some inventive spectrum where we all exist.

There is no diet OCD.

About ten years ago, when I was struggling with aspects of the relationship I was in, a well-intentioned GP suggested that I have OCD. Since seeing multiple psychiatrists, I have learned that I do not have OCD.

What I do have, are obsessions. For instance, I am obsessed with symmetry. I get pissed off when sentences or words have an odd number of letters in them. As I drive to work, my mind works like an abacus, looking at every sign along the way, to check for this symmetry. I have actually memorised every sign from The Gap to Ipswich based on its symmetry or lack thereof. I have memorised every sign in my work based on its number of letters.

multicolored abacus

I get particularly pleased when I find words that are twelve letters long. This is amazing to me. Peacekeepers, heterosexual, and organisation really scratch my itch.

However, I do not spend hours on this per day. I do it in the absence of other stimuli – so on the drive to work or when I am sitting around in a public place. I have an obsession, but not a compulsion. I don’t make my sentences fit into these symmetrical patterns. I don’t have rituals I follow around this symmetry. I do not feel that a lack of symmetry begets some scary outcome, like death or destruction. I don’t do much to scratch the itch of this obsession, it’s just a mind game for when I get bored.

In order to fit a diagnosis for OCD, a person must have a presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both. However, they must take up a lot of time, interfere with functioning, and serve the purpose of avoiding negative outcomes, or reducing anxiety and distress.

It also cannot be explained by another mental disorder. In my case, my need for symmetry is probably more indicative of my ASD or anxiety, both of which have been diagnosed.

So as you can imagine, with this criteria, your average person is actually not on the spectrum at all. Liking order is more a discrete aspect of personality or preference, as opposed to being part of psychopathology.

Assuming everyone is on the spectrum reduces the experience of those who are.

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The whole story


Throughout my life, I have always had extreme highs and lows. In high school, I was either on benders that involved no sleep and lots of guitar playing, or I would be sleeping, down in the dumps. I got to rock bottom a few times, where I could see no purpose in anything and I acted accordingly, but in my high times, I never quite fell into a full hypomanic episode. I would stay up for nights on end and then crash, rest, and reset, or hit a depressive stage. Alcohol was a big part of my life back then. Later in high school, I would drink four full-sugar energy drinks every morning during home room to give me an energetic edge. I had ADHD – which I still have – but I was unmedicated and very, very impulsive. 

Immediately after Soren’s birth, I was mildly depressed from the trauma of having to have my life stabilised after a massive blood loss, but otherwise, I was okay. I dealt with waking up every two hours and didn’t seem too tired. As soon as I was able, I started running again. I started off small, doing a few kilometres here and there, but somewhere along the way, I stopped sleeping through the night. I would wake several times a night to horrific night terrors, basically my own death in a thousand different ways – and sometimes, I woke up with paranoia that someone had taken Soren. Sometimes, I would leave the bed and check his cot, but he would be sleeping soundly. I would wake up at 3, toss and turn until 5, when I would leave the house and go for a run – usually around 5 or 6 kilometres. 

I was going pretty hard. About 3 months after birth, I ran my fastest 5km. I was barely sleeping, but I felt fantastic. I had a thousand ideas and I would bounce from running in the morning, to breastfeeding my baby when he woke up, to playing, to walking to the cafe and reading my textbook to my baby to get him to sleep, to walking home, to studying, to smashing out hundreds of words, back to playing, feeding, tummy time, and so on. I had no off switch. I remember thinking at the time, is this the motherhood that everyone complains about? 

I carried on this routine for quite some time. It probably started around mid-February of 2019. At the time, I was preparing to give a presentation about inclusion at a high school. I was also preparing a half-hour presentation for a conference at the Gold Coast. I was writing one paid article every fortnight and studying. Whenever Soren would go to sleep, I would get to work. No such thing as ‘sleep when the baby sleeps.’ I had stuff to do. 

One morning, while my wife was getting ready for work, I decided to bake. She asked me why I would do that? I didn’t know. I don’t even like baked goods that much. But here I was, at 7 in the morning, baking. When she told me to clean up the kitchen, I completely lost it. I could not understand why she wasn’t as excited as I was. 

That night, I had my first full blown panic attack since the birth. I was so overwhelmed by my love for Soren, that I felt death was around every corner. I would not let him out of my sight. I’m sure I must have needed a break, but I couldn’t imagine leaving him in anyone else’s care. I got panicky when someone else held him. I could not cope with these feelings. I went to see my doctor. 

My general practitioner prescribed me with an anti-depressant. At first, I felt okay. Then, I started sleeping the day away. I lugged myself from one baby activity to the next and then slept every time he slept. He was little, so this was a lot. I started to become worried that my two presentations were not going to go smoothly. I went back to my doctor and asked for a referral to a psychiatrist. I also went off the meds. 

“Psychiatrist? You don’t need one of those. Just keep seeing your psychologist and work through that birthing trauma.”

I found visits to the psychologist hard. Her office was in a small retail building off a main road. She had stairs. I would push Soren’s pram into her office awkwardly, then try to feed him to sleep in between discussing my intrusive thoughts. Sometimes, he would cry, and the appointment would be wasted. I counted every visit against my mental health plan and worried about burdening my wife with the bill of further sessions, because I was not getting anywhere with it. 

“So lucky I don’t have any clients in a wheelchair!” She said one day, as I pushed Soren’s pram down the stairs. I recall thinking that this comment was pretty off-colour, especially coming from a psychologist.  

By the time I had started seeing the psychologist, I wasn’t just tossing and turning. I was actively avoiding sleep. I knew I would inevitably be woken by a night terror, so I sat up most nights on Pinterest or chatting to friends on messenger. One such friend started to suggest my self-centredness I had adopted in trying to deal with my trauma could be a sign of narcissism or delusional disorder. The next time I logged in to Pinterest, my whole feed was flooded with articles about narcissism. I could not find any recipes or crafts, or the usual content I would look at. I idly wondered if Pinterest’s algorithms were targeting me to force me to confront something in myself that I had not been previously aware of.

No, I remember thinking. That’s mad.

I had started to unpack some of my childhood traumas to this friend, and she sent me articles about how childhood trauma leads to the development of narcissistic personality disorder. Well, I thought. It must be true, then. 

The more I read about narcissistic personality disorder, the more I became convinced I had it. I felt I would not connect with my son because of it, and I never stopped reading. I realised that it was malignant, incurable. 

One day, he was fussing while I was feeding him.

“I must be feeding him my mental illness through the breastmilk,” I cried to my friend. I was so conscious that I had not birthed him correctly, and I was turning him away further through the illness I was convinced I had. 

“Go and see another doctor.” She said. 

I booked in to see another GP down the road. The problem I had, was I would go to my doctor’s appointments with nice clothes, make-up, hair done, and speaking as an educated person. I did not appear as a mess. They assumed I was too high functioning to be mentally unwell. He did not give me a referral. 

“You’re doing better than you think. Just keep dealing with your birthing trauma. You don’t need a psychiatrist. They just deal in meds. If you get down, kick the cat.” 

And I paid $62 for that appointment. 

That night, I logged into Pinterest to see if I could find a recipe for baby food. I was keen to start the solids journey. What I saw shocked me. It was a “death cocktail” – an alcoholic beverage that contained Valium and vodka, designed to take someone out. My heart beat rapidly inside my chest as I was reading the ingredients. I never told my wife, for fear that she, too, would become sucked into my trauma with no way out. 

I started to really, truly believe that Pinterest was sending me secret messages that I needed to see, and I wondered if I was actually supposed to die during birth, and my death was actually waiting for me just around the corner. After all, my son did not need a mother who was a narcissist. 

Since seeing the cocktail on Pinterest, and becoming well again, I have never been able to find it. I actually question if this pin existed at all or if it was a figment of my imagination. 

The next day, I woke up for my morning run. It was still somewhat dark, with the slightest bit of sunlight peering through the fence of the high school I ran past every day. The light seemed to ricochet off the path and surround me, in a spinning, lighted tube that I was running towards. It was like a vortex, sucking me in. I could barely stay on the path because it was so bright and distracting. I kept hearing something behind me, so I paused my music and turned around. Nothing.  

When I was home alone during the day, I started to believe my son was not attached to me. Looking back in hindsight, he was so attached to me. He was very cuddly and excited when I would play with him or hold him – but I was so deluded that I thought I was a refrigerator mother figure, and that I was turning my son away from me. I kept telling my friends the attachment wasn’t right and that I was a narcissist. They assured me I was not, offered evidence to the contrary, and told me it was all fine, but my beliefs could not be shaken. One of my particularly clever friends asked who was gaslighting me into believing this nonsense. 

“It is not nonsense. This is the real me.” I said. 

By that stage, I knew something was gravely wrong. My frantic late-night Googling had offered me insights about post-birth mental health conditions, and I wondered if I was having a psychosis. I begged my wife to hospitalise me, but we ended up going to stay with my parents. She was worried that our son would be taken if I was in hospital. During that time, I became convinced the police were after me for misadventures from a decade earlier, back when I was a teenager. I became so paralysed, and so scared, that I could not even leave the house. I panicked any time I heard someone knock on the door, absolutely sure someone was after me.

I felt cornered and that I had no way out, that I was going to be taken away and never see my son again.

“Please make sure he grows up better than me,” I told my parents and wife. 

One morning, I woke before the sun at my parent’s house and began wandering the streets. I contemplated all sorts of things – including running away and disappearing. Ending it all.  Then I saw a car come around the bend, and I ran back to home base, terrified it was the police. I let myself in through the back door and I could hear my wife yelling for me. 

“I’m here!” I said. 

“I’m safe.” 

But I didn’t feel safe. 

The whole weekend was all about trying to get me admitted to a hospital. The first hospital we attended – a private one – refused admissions on the weekend. We then went to the Royal, where they left me in the waiting room with others who were going to be admitted. In the waiting room, I saw people who scared me. One man was playing with a tissue box.

I was so convinced that every tiny little thing I had ever done wrong was coming back to bite me. Every piece of technology – televisions, radios, my phone – they all had messages for me, and they were all telling me terrible things.

After a wait, the nurse interviewed me. Her name was Rebecca Miles as well. I thought this was too close to be a coincidence.

They assumed I just needed sleep and sent me home with a sleeping pill. 

The next day, I was no better. I was taken to another public hospital and interviewed twice, including once by a security officer, and then taken into the emergency department. It was absolutely terrifying. I sat on a bed with my family around me, unable to say much at all. The person in the room next to me was throwing chairs and screaming.

I was so agitated and when I did finally talk, I told the psychiatrist I was not going with her – I did not belong with those chair throwers. And I had an assignment that still wasn’t quite finished. 

“Here, take this,” she said, and handed me a pill. 

All I remember from that point forward was being seated in a wheelchair and taken into the ward, through the dark and dusty back hallways of the hospital. I could barely keep my head up. The porters who took me away started high fiving each other and moving the wheelchair all about the hallway. I was so tranquillised that I could not say a word or tell them to stop. 

I was taken to a shared room, where I apparently slept for two days. 

When I woke up, I was still completely paranoid. The nurses gave me olanzapine – an anti-psychotic – to try and help me come down from my paranoia.

The days in public hospital were spent watching many hours of TV – still feeling that it was full of secret messages – and attending group sessions. The nurses would check on me throughout the night and they shone lights into my face to check that I was safe. I never got used to that. 

At one stage, another patient cornered me in the laundry and told me about her baby who had been born with its cord wrapped around its neck, deceased. I told my wife, and she attempted to get me a referral to a private postnatal ward on the other side of the city. 

It took a while, though. In the meantime, I was allowed out of the hospital on day leave. My family took me to the Redcliffe Show with Soren and my wife. It was absolutely wild. There was a man with a puppet and smoke coming out of his stage. I thought he was somebody I used to know, and that he was going to follow me around to collect evidence on me. There was a police stand and they gave Soren a sticker when my parents took him to have a look. I would not approach them, though. I knew they could smell my fear. 

Once I got to the postnatal ward, I saw a psychiatrist who reassured me I was not narcissistic after interviewing me for what seemed like hours. I kept watching her phone on the table, wondering if she was recording me. She kept saying “Oh, that’s terrible,” an awful lot as I told my story, which felt oddly affirming. She changed my meds and got me booked in for an MRI, to prepare for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). I was so scared of ECT that I barely slept in the nights leading up to it, but my son was with me and I was surrounded by other mothers who had mental health concerns, so I was beginning to recover and realise I was, in fact, not alone. 

After I was discharged, I began to feel normal in some ways. I started functioning again and the paranoia disappeared. I was sleeping through the night and after six rounds of ECT, I was no longer plagued by night terrors. 

Since that time, I have had mini-relapses while trying to find the right meds. This came about in the form of mini hypomanic episodes and mild depressive episodes. However, I was aware of what they were and able to keep them at a manageable level. 

After finding the correct medication and sleeping all night, every night, I have become completely stable. In my journey, I also found a Mum’s group for parents with mental illnesses, and a better psychologist more suited towards trauma. As my stability increased, I started to take on casual days at work, which built my confidence again. I started to feel like myself. 

Maybe not the ‘myself’ that I was before the birth, but a capable and high-functioning 2.0. 

In many ways, I have had to grieve. I did not ever foresee becoming so unwell and the whole process was very traumatic. Prior to his birth, I was very stable and functioned very well, despite having a history of anxiety and depression. I did not ever consider becoming so unwell I could not function, work, or leave the house. I grieve the “me” that was there just prior to the birth, and I grieve the fact that I will now likely never know a life without medication and regular appointments with specialist doctors. 

The silver lining is that I stayed engaged with my studies throughout, I have amazing friends who share my struggle, and I am well enough to do all of what I need to do, to fulfil the life I imagined for myself back then. I have an amazing psychiatrist and psychologist who keep me on the stable path. In 2021, I will be undertaking DBT therapy to give me internal strategies to deal with triggers. 

Everything will work out, and my son and wife absolutely adore me.

Felix culpa. I say it often, but life really is good.

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Motherhood, reimagined

The birth of my son split me in two. It happened gradually, then suddenly. As far as children go, he was dearly wanted and now that he is here, he is dearly loved. I’ll come back to the part about being split in two – because sometimes it’s fitting to take it back to the very beginning. 


June 2016. I was working in a stressful job. A gay woman stuck in a religious private school. After two years of loyal service, and after witnessing many fellow staff members take leave to undergo fertility treatment, I approached my boss requesting the same. 


“Sorry, I’ll have to get back to you. No one has done this before.”

They had – they just weren’t gay.


In the months that followed, I timed my IVF appointments cleverly around the school day. My doctor was willing to see me at 5am, which meant I didn’t have to tell my boss. When the big day of egg pick up arrived, I needed the whole day. I rang my boss and told her I had a migraine.


“When you wake up from the egg pick up, the number of eggs will be written on your wrist,” the doctor said. 

“Now just lay back. Soon, you will fall asleep…”


I counted back from ten. When I woke up, there were six circles drawn on my wrist. Six! I was 26 years old and I got a measly six eggs. I was despondent. 
In the days following, our little future babies were placed in dishes with donor sperm. There, they made the fateful journey to conception.


Each day, I called to see how my dish-babies were doing. 


Six.
Five.
Four.
Three. 
Two. 

Two! After all that effort, money, time, stress, and hormones, we got two embryos. One barely made it to freeze and was considered unviable for pregnancy but was placed on ice all the same. 


“We are not doing part two of this process until you find another job,” my wife, Natalie, had said. 


It took me over a year, but I finally found another job – in a state school. I loved it. It was inclusive, and I became part of the furniture. I took a paid sick day, and we went back to our clinic. When the day of transfer finally came, I laid back comfortably as my doctor readied his implements. 


“This is purely diagnostic. It is unlikely to work. Don’t do anything differently, just live your life.”

“Okay.” 


He spread my legs and inserted the syringe. As he did, an entire waterfall of emotion washed over me. I sobbed. It was finally happening. But it might not work! 

“Are you okay? We’re done here.”


“Yes, I’m fine,” I sobbed. 


He patted my back.

“Best of luck!”


As we turned and left the clinic, I realised I had a two week wait before me.

“Don’t pee on any sticks,” was the advice given to me by a friend. 


By day four, I caved. I peed on a stick. I sat anxiously on the toilet, tapping the test like I was trying to get ink out of a pen. About five minutes later, a slight line appeared. I kept my obsessive behaviour to myself. I didn’t even tell my wife about that first pee-stick. With every day that passed, I peed on another stick. By the end of the two weeks, I had confessed to my wife and we had a bag full of sticks, each line appearing darker than the last. They clattered in the bag, as we emptied them every day and lined them up like assembly line soldiers. It was amazing, the first signs of the miracle of his conception. 


My luck seemed to continue after the easy conception. I stayed relatively slim throughout my pregnancy, didn’t have any sickness, and I managed to work until I was 34 weeks along. Sooner or later, though, I knew my luck was going to run out. 


“What I’d really like to do is give birth in water.”

My midwife jotted this down and explained that it may be possible if a bath was available. Perfect! 

Mere weeks later, the day finally came. I was four days overdue and it was time to see what was going on. The sliding doors at the Royal Brisbane hospital welcomed us. We sauntered down the corridor with giddy excitement.  We were welcomed into one of the consulting rooms, where I lay flat on my back, wondering when they would suggest an induction. I had desperately wanted to go into labour spontaneously, but nothing had worked – vigorous sex, running, time in the bath. 


The midwife poked and prodded my belly. 


“The baby’s head is displaced, and I think he or she may be quite big. Had they told you that during the ultrasounds?”


“Yeah. They said the baby is measuring ahead.”


“How would you feel about being induced now?”


I paused.


“We don’t even have our bag packed.” 


“That’s okay, we can send your wife home to prepare everything. We can take you up to the ward shortly.”


“I see you’ve expressed a desire for a water birth. Because we’re inducing you, that option will no longer be available.”

I lay in a ball, awaiting the next step. Any time my stomach hardened with Braxton Hicks, I became excited that this could be it.


“Nope, not yet.” The midwife shuffled in and out, checking on me, then going to do her rounds. 

The Earth inched towards evening as the sky lit up an intense orange, and then darkened; not that I could see it overly well through the hospital shades. As the darkness of night crept in, my labour was induced. My body had let me down – but I was not done. The contractions started and I knew I could do this. I crinkled my nose, proud of myself for how well I was handling the contractions. I laboured on for hours, with cervix dilating on schedule. As I started to become tired from a lack of sleep, the contractions intensified. It was a consequence of the induction hormones and it became unbearable very quickly. Nonetheless, I stayed strong.


“Hold onto me.” Natalie said, as I stood in the birthing suite, leaning forwards every time I contracted. 


Time passed and I waved one midwife off as the next came in and wasted no time checking my cervix. 


“It’s 8cm. You’ll have a baby in two hours.” 


I beamed! It was finally coming together. I continued to feel the tightening of my body with each contraction as they became more frequent. Soon, I felt a sharp, choking feeling around my middle. It knocked the breath out of me.


“Is this normal?”

“Here do you want some gas?” The midwife passed me the inhaler. 


I breathed in.


“Ugh, it’s not working.” 


The midwife asked me to spread my legs so she could check my cervix. She looked inside me, then paused. 


“Your dilation has regressed…” she trailed off and walked out the door to get another midwife. 


“Hi, I’m Cheryl.” Another midwife walked in, accidentally brushing my forehead with her fingers as she turned around.


“Holy smokes, you’re hot!” she exclaimed. She took my temperature. 


“Forty degrees!” 


About five minutes later, a doctor arrived.


“You have an infection, which is why you have a fever and regressed dilation. Your baby’s head is still displaced. We need to call time on this labour for everybody’s safety.”


“Just sign this consent form and we will take you off to the theatre.” 


I signed rapidly and a midwife came to remove my hormone drip.

 
“Your contractions should stop now.” 


As soon as she said that, my contractions went from lasting around thirty seconds, to a continuous sensation. 


“Ahhhh!!! It won’t stop!” I screamed. 


They started to wheel me down to theatre, ready to prepare me for a caesarean section. When we got there, the doctor started to explain the spinal block.


“We’re going to insert some fluid into your spine. Then we’ll put some water on your belly to see if you feel it. Then we’re going to cut just below your bikini line to deliver the baby. Do you want your wife to say if it’s a boy or a girl?”


“Oh my God, stop talking!” I writhed in excruciating pain. The contraction that started when they took out the hormone drip hadn’t stopped. 


The doctor stabbed my spine and I remained curled into a ball with an oxygen mask on. 


I leaned towards Natalie and the doctor leaned into her ear.


“You have to stay strong, for her.” 


My forehead was sweating and I couldn’t move. 


“Can you straighten out, please?”


The doctor rolled me onto my back and patted just below my bikini line. The nurse poured a few drops of water on the area.


“Oh my God, don’t operate!” I yelled.

 
“Okay, we’re going to have to do a general.” 


The anaesthesiologist leaned in and inserted a needle, which I couldn’t feel above the contractions. It all happened so quickly. This was all completely out of my control now. I had to let go. I inhaled sharply and expressed my only wish. 


“Don’t tell her the sex of the baby before I wake up!”

That was the last thing I remember as the curtain of unconsciousness fell down around me. 


The next thing I remember is that my eyes were too heavy to open and I felt disconnected from myself, like a butterfly outside of its chrysalis. 


Was I dead? 


I opened one eye. I could see the most perfect looking baby on my chest. No blood, no fluid, no bruises. 


“He’s perfect.” I exclaimed, making an assumption about the sex of my baby before drifting back into the woozy stream of unconsciousness. 


The next time I woke, someone was holding my baby up in front of my face. They swiftly yanked the nappy down to reveal the sex. 


“It’s a boy!” 


We had already named him Soren, for a boy or a girl. It hurt so bad, but I smiled. 


 “Why are you crying?” I looked over at my wife, confused. 


“It was just a C-section. They do these all the time.” I assured her. 


“You don’t get it. I almost lost you.” 


“You lost almost half of the blood in your body. They had to resuscitate you and you had tubes down your throat. It took a long time. Soren was fine, but you nearly died.” 


I felt like part of my emotional self was anaesthetised. I could see and hear my own mortality being shared around me, but I couldn’t feel myself hurting. It was completely numbing, as if I’d been sliced through the chest and I was watching my heart exist outside of it weeping and bleeding, but not feeling so much as a twinge. It was almost like my brain was dismembered from my body and I was merely a spectator. 


The mental impact of his birth raged on and I still feel it today. However, I could not have had my son under any other circumstances. This was his birth. As traumatic and as violent as it was, it brought him to us. 


Sometimes I still feel split in two, but together, we are family. Felix culpa.

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Repetition compulsion.

Why do we look at things which we know will trigger us? Both my psychiatrist and my psychologist have told me to stop looking at content that is likely to trigger me, and yet, I can’t seem to stop. Or I will stop for a short while, then go right back to it. I often spend time reading online about medical procedures and birth. The last time I forgot to take my meds and I stayed up all night, I watched open heart surgery.

Some psychologists and neurologists refer to this as ‘repetition compulsion.’ Rather than remembering something as a part of the past, we revisit it repeatedly in an attempt to master it. This makes sense, because the more I see triggering material, the more desensitised I become. Yet this would not be mastering the trauma, but instead, numbing it.

When I first awoke from the birth, and Natalie was crying, she then told me what had occurred. I remember feeling anaesthetised emotionally, like my mind was putting up walls to stop me from feeling the shock. It didn’t come until later when I became unwell that I really started to feel it, in the form of night terrors, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts.

What is keeping me stable at present is medication. If I forget to take it for a day, I suffer immensely. I don’t sleep, I have strange thoughts, and then my mood will be extremely low for days, even after I’ve caught up the dose. The medication, in essence, is flooding my brain with chemicals so I don’t have to feel the significant lows or the debilitating anxiety brought on by the birth. It is a numbing agent, to some degree. Fortunately, I have only forgotten a handful of times. I set reminders on my phone.

I wonder sometimes if this numbness is good. Then I remember what the alternative is like, and I will take numbness any day.

I guess this is my reality now. In many ways, I have had to grieve and adjust because the old me, the pre-birth-me, is never coming back.