Is 45 too late for a career?

I had a dream, back in high school.
I would graduate.
I would get a job.
I would study.
I would buy a car.
I would leave home.
I would have a career.

I woke up at 45 and realised
I’ve graduated more times than I like to admit.
I’ve been on disability since I graduated high school.
I have a twenty-year-old Lancer in my driveway and P platers drive newer cars than me.
I’m still waiting on that career.
It might be too late for a career.

*

It’s hard to get ahead in this world when you’ve been on welfare so long that the salary included in a job advertisement reads like a foreign language to you.

And you think over all the casual and part time jobs you’ve had and none of them required any of the study or skills you’ve collected along the way, the shells on beach walks.

You need someone to give you that big break.

That crack of an open door where you can use you skills.

You also need them to give you space to dip your toe in and make sure the anxiety monster isn’t going to do a Jaws on you and leap out of the water to chew you up. You need to get used the tides, the breaking of the waves and the calms.

*
Forty-five can’t be too old.
You have to believe this is true. To hold this truth like a sick bird in your hands, cupped so gently, with every good intention.
You need to know you’ll learn to swim in life, because if you can’t believe in that, you might as well drown.

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Re-remembering the Past

Do you ever have one of those days where you focus on the past too much? I know the saying that anxiety is living in the future and depression is living in the past, but here in the present I’m writing about the past and there’s some really intense feelings coming up.

To set the mood I’ve also been going through photographs from that time in my life and listening to the music that I was hearing back then. Not just the stuff I liked, but stuff I hated too, because it all has feelings attached to it and if I do my job right I can get that layered into the text.

The part that is getting me down is seeing that I had no voice back then. There was some unspoken rule in my family that this anxious teenager couldn’t be trusted to make the right decisions for herself and so they were made for me.
I don’t think suffering panic attacks, or having generalised anxiety disorder should preclude anyone from choosing their life path, who they spend it with or what they do with their time.

I’m trying to rewrite this narrative so I have some kind of a voice in the end, even if it’s two decades too late. I’d love to have a do-over and go back in time, but I’m sure everyone has at least one of those moments they’d like to change, anxiety or no anxiety.

So I’m taking all the ‘no you can’t’ statements that were given to me as my story and I’m looking for the ways I responded by showing them ‘yes I can’ and bringing those to the front of the stage, and hopefully when I finish this what I’m left with won’t be a source of memory that causes depression, but will be a memory I can be happy to sit with. I know I can’t change the facts, but I can shift the focus, put the spotlight on the good things, and I get to choose how, in light of the years I’ve lived since, I remember things. I’m not going to be held hostage to the way other people want me to remember my past. Not anymore.

Journal for a healthy mind

Writing was something I did late at night in high school, sometimes all night, until my parents had me medicated and I lost those creative thoughts in the fog.

I remember my high school made us keep journals from the first week until we graduated, and I was disappointed they’d discontinued this practice by the time my daughter hit high school.

Sometimes, especially in the first year, it was hard to think of things to write about, but as time went on I found those journals to be very beneficial.

Once I was at university I read ‘Freedom Writers’ and saw the movie by the same name, and it brought back memories of high school journals.

I’ve heard about schools introducing meditation to help calm students, make them more focused etc. I also see a lot of parents are unhappy as they feel it has a religious aspect to it. This has not been my experience with meditation but what if students were to have some time at the beginning of the day to journal, dump the chatter running riot in the background of their minds, before the school work begins?

I’m middle aged and I still need to do a ‘brain dump’ of all the useless stuff bogging my thoughts down on an almost daily basis.

Shame & Mental Illness

The police officer told me mental health no longer held a stigma as it once did.

I told him he was mistaken.

Challenged I told him that where they were taking the man in question, to the local ER, they would encounter someone who had no tolerance for mental health cases.

He cut me off.

But I knew the person quite well and sure enough the man was medicated after being told, if he just took the pills then he could go home.

It’s not right, but what patient under the Mental Health Act is in a position to argue when they have two paramedics and two armed officers standing over them and called into their GP check up by their inexperienced GP? There are too many horror stories in the news to take a chance and speak up.

I think that is partially why I didn’t let on after I had my only child a couple of decades ago that I suspected postnatal depression. I had a history of anxiety/panic disorder and major depression. Admitting to it made me fear that with my history I could end up losing my child.

It’s very liberating to be able to write about it in memoir form now that she’s an adult and we can even talk about times when things weren’t so great.

Writing can help in the processing of old wounds but it can also shine a light on some that have been hiding for year, perhaps even decades. I’ve found a couple of those. In a cathartic way I will work through the old and new, the seen and hidden, and at the end there will be a manuscript, albeit a tear stained one.

The Mona Mask

Since childhood I’ve had a fascination with Marilyn Monroe and everything classed as old Hollywood. I love the movies, the look, the storylines, the songs and the dancing.

And so it came to pass that I started wearing make up in primary school, and adding ‘doe’ eyes, as my mother called them.

As the years progressed I found the cover of a ‘look’ that wasn’t the frumpy stay-at-home me allowed me to venture out more often. I even did some acting in a local group and in the local eisteddfod.

One day, I don’t know when, I stopped doing my hair in the usual pompadour and stopped wearing eyeliner and bright lips. The colour in life kind of faded a bit too.

Now here I am, wearing red lipstick at home, doing a pompadour if there’s not been enough time for a wet set and dressing vintage once more. I must say it looks a lot different on my middle aged face than it did as a teenager.

This time I’ve given this alter ego a name, Miss Mona Maree. Maree is actually on my birth certificate and I use that to remind me that part of me is in this alter ego. Mona is a name Marilyn Monroe was said to sign when she was trying to be anonymous, and I’m trying to be a little bit anonymous in my playing with this character. It’s also a hat tip to Marilyn as she was the one that drew me into the 1950s, into old Hollywood and into what was my teenage look.

As of today Miss Mona Maree, (like how her initials are mmm?) is out of the closet and heading down the street to grocery shop in red lippy, bright red hair in a pompadour and wearing a half vintage ensemble.

 

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Gas Maintenance Should be Prescribed for Landlords

In 2014 I was working, travelling, writing a thesis and doing all the usual wife and mother things. I had what I would consider one of my most successful and productive years ever.

In 2015 I completed another course and worked through the year, but I did notice I picked up a bug every time I worked. I took some vitamins and thought nothing more of it.

In 2016 I started the year feeling good, confident of going back to work after the summer break, I’d been accepted to study at a Ph.D level and had my sights on moving up the ladder at work. I was also writing up a storm and getting published. What could go wrong?

In March, just as the nights start to cool down, if you’re a bit of a reptile like me, you reach for the heating. From here on I managed to get two publications to my name, very small pieces, one had even been written some years ago so it was nice to find it a home. I left work in May and didn’t go back.

It was around this time that my once a month migraines started happening more often, I was giddy a lot, often felt extreme emotions from what I imagine mania must feel like to the very depths of depression where I felt life was a joke and it wasn’t funny. I started avoiding going out. I blamed it on the stress of starting a Ph.D, but I couldn’t read properly as the words swam and made me nauseous. I wondered if I could be pregnant but the stick said no, and besides I was in peri-menopause. I lost weight and my BMI was 17. Obviously it was my diet and the change of life that was upon me, right?

I worked with two dieticians and my GP and in late September I started to put on weight, and what could have been an irritable bowel became normal again. With my senses regained I noted the older cat had suddenly lost a lot of weight and developed a head tremor occasionally. Caught on video I was able to show the vet when I took him in. She definitely believed the cause was neurological but without further examination she couldn’t say for sure. My poor cat was subjected to blood tests and aesthetics that gave him a look of distrust in his eyes when I’d pick him up, certain he was going back in the transport cage. And my bank account took a significant blow.

It was suggested, that at 13 it might be time to put him to sleep. Cats in our family lived to 21, to 19, to great ages. He was too young and hadn’t gradually gone down hill as he aged, this had been quite sudden. I bargained for a couple of weeks, she gave me a month. In four weeks I fed him every brand of cat food, tempted him with every cut of meat suitable for a cat and bought him all the treats I could find. And he started to fill out. He had kitten moments and played tag with my younger cat.

Excited, I took him back to the vet where his signs of recovery were nothing short of amazing. The vet nurse teared up saying, ‘It must be some bond you guys have.’ Indeed. And I felt on top of the world with our small achievement.
So much so I applied to return to my unfinished Ph.D, and started asking around about a return to work. Both cat and I were feeling fine again.

The summer of 2016-2017 was uneventful. I was ever expectant of losing the cat to the next hot day but he seemed to cope fine. He turned 14 and at 14 and a half the dreaded day arrived. It was just after Easter, the nights were getting cold again and his weight had dropped drastically as we watched him expel everything he could from both ends simultaneously. We’d bought him time. There was nothing more we could do. The routine had been to wake early with him and take him to the garden, to feed him up to ten times a day in small portions so he’d keep it in, and to alway turn on the central heating so he could sit over the lounge room duct and warm himself. He lived in that spot most of the time, unless the sun was out and then so was he, rolling in the dirt and bark, pouncing on little bugs.

Then the nights got chilly and the heating was back on in the evenings. Soon I was agitated and anxious, refusing to go out even to buy food. Imodium became my best friend and the doctor suggested that it was time to look for something like cancer – every other test had shown nothing was wrong with me physically.

I cried easily. Then I cried most days. Now I was also seeing a psychiatrist, because when they can’t find a physical cause in someone with a history of mental health issues they always blame it on mental health.

My weight was falling from a BMI of 22 back towards its low of 17. I had migraines for three days on and one day off on a continuous loop. The psychiatrist introduced a new pill to the already long list and I felt worse.

Inside I gave up.

For now there would be no more new tablets. No new foods. A steady bedtime and daily mindfulness meditation. We would start small.

Come September I started to feel different. With each passing week I picked up a little bit more. There was fresh talk about a return to study.

The summer of 2017-2018 went by quickly. I was accepted back to study and I did some freelance writing. Things were looking up again.

Not long after I started to question whether I was made out of the right material to study anymore. I quit. I’d become good at quitting.

That winter the younger cat, an indoor pedigree, started to have the odd loose bowel motion, she lost her appetite and lost weight. She slept all day and woke around 4am to run laps of the house, jump onto us from the bedhead and meow with gusto until we finally got up the next morning. Or afternoon. We often spent up to 14 hours in bed. I blamed the pills. The doctor agreed that they all had sedative effects and combined would make anyone tired.

The vet couldn’t find anything wrong with the cat so we just took her home and crossed our fingers that she would come good.

Despite giving up and crying daily I was always thinking of things that could cause me to feel like this, to give me so many migraines. I noticed my husband going down hill too and put it down to him feeding off my bleak mood. I Googled random things from cat hair to Bakelite to wi-fi to central heating’s effect on humidity.

And there it was. A string of search results for carbon monoxide (CO) leaks and the effects of long term low level exposure. We ticked every box. But the house wasn’t that old, granted we’d lived in it for six years and not once had the landlord or property manager suggested it should be checked. The state government website recommends at least ever two years.

I booked a servicing, and checked in with my property manager, who was fine with me paying for a service as it was ‘for my piece of mind’. I wasn’t aware that I could ask for this service to be paid for by my landlord at the time.

The day the plumber arrived I expected all sorts of tests but instead we were simply informed that under the law he could not leave our heating connected. He was used to seeing one or two cracks but we had about five and two that made circles, something he’d never seen before. He suggested it would take approximately one hour of use for the house to start filling up with CO. From there, he explained, the air is sucked back to pass through the heat exchange box and then be pumped back into the house. In theory, increasing the level of CO in the house each cycle.

I informed the property manager, who informed the landlord, who requested a mate of his check it out. He wanted to hook it back up and suggested we knew nothing of CO poisoning. We were learning fast. One thing I had learned from all the study I had completed was to research well and I did. There is an abundance of research on acute CO poisoning which is the kind that makes the news because it wipes out entire families in one night. Chronic long term exposure to CO, is lacking in major studies but this much we know, it can cause headaches, nausea, diarrhoea, weight loss, neurological symptoms, long term effects on memory and even long term effects on the electrical responses of the heart. (Edit: October 2018 my husband suffered a heart attack, requiring a pacemaker and two stents. His heart’s electrical function was off and each night he was in ICU he effectively ‘died’ in his sleep).

Another plumber came out and was awarded the job of replacing the entire unit.

Approximately a month later our rent went up by $20 a week, we were assured it had nothing to do with the CO leak and costly replacement of the unit. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…

The remaining cat now sleeps through the night, she had been noisy at night because that was when the gas wore off. She’s put on weight and is playful during the day – all the things she had stopped being. I can’t help but feel robbed over losing my other pet, and that his suffering was for nothing.

Both my husband and myself are having medications slowly withdrawn – pills we should never have had polluting our bodies in the first place. I’m a healthy weight, not nauseous, have a mild migraine about every three weeks that lasts around 36 hours.

Make sure your gas heating is checked. There’s a lot of emphasis on CO being the silent killer because as we all know exposure can kill and kill fast but here’s the less publicised side – chronic exposure, where you feel better when you are away from the exposure for a few hours, where your pets or children are effected too, where multiple members of the household have similar symptoms.
This is a slow and tortuous death that can take years. It’s not given any press. We are still at risk of long-term neurological problems, only time will tell there, but I do hope to finish my Ph.D and work on a more regular basis once more.

I invite you to read this information from Harvard Health – Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.

And this article from Issue 10 Volume 59 of BMJ Journals entitled: Effects on Health of Prolonged Exposure to Low Concentrations of Carbon Monoxide.

I don’t know if we would have survived another winter. I consider myself lucky to be here to write this at all.