R U Ok? My life, three years on.

Three years ago, my life was very different.

Three years ago, my life was very different.

This photo recently came up on my Facebook page and it floored me. I was speechless, with my mouth actually hanging open as I stared at it. And because this week, it was R U OK day here in Australia, I thought I’d talk about why it had such an effect on me.

R U OK day is about suicide prevention, specifically, about asking us to engage with the people around us with meaningful conversations about life and how we feel about it. I don’t normally write posts like this, but this image, randomly generated by Facebook in a ‘your memories from three years ago’ way, moved me.

This is not me in the photo, it my Friend, holding my son, then three-months old. I remember that day; I remember it so clearly. I remember where we were, what we talked about, the things we said, the anger and sadness and grief we vented, and also the hope we held that the light at the end of the tunnel we were in must surely be coming.

This baby was everything and he was wonderful and I wanted everything to be perfect for him. But right on this day of this photo, I was living in an isolated town with a newborn. I had post-natal depression. I had post-traumatic stress from a birth that went badly and a litany of physical problems for myself and my baby (and what seemed like endless medical appointments and all-day trips from the country to the city) that followed. I had insane levels of sleep deprivation (quite seriously, in hindsight, I should never have been on the road, let alone driving the highway as much as we were). My husband and I had just received notice that an enormous mobile phone tower was to be built right next to our house, something we found very distressing. (We lived on six acres and our neighbour had over 100 acres but still the tower would be right outside our lounge room window.) I was in the middle of a soul-destroying, heartbreaking, messy, bitter breakdown and breakup of relationships with several women I had considered to be close friends. I was losing a significant business/life calling I had created from scratch (my first ‘baby’, with my identity all over it). I was gutted. My heart was in pieces. My world was falling apart.

And of course, I was trying to keep it together so that no one could tell how much pain I was in, especially the women with whom I was ‘breaking up’ and especially from my precious baby. I couldn’t possibly be vulnerable… I had to be strong!

As for my Friend, her life was in a very dark place as well. I won’t speak of her troubles as they are hers to share with the world if she wishes. But they were even greater, and more difficult, and more life-changing than what I was going through. I was so worried about her that day. I could see the stress and the trauma all over her face and body.

But we had tea (and hot chips and probably some cake). Many cups of tea. And we talked for hours while we sipped that tea, and I fed the baby, and we rocked the baby to sleep, and we talked some more. We could be vulnerable in that space. We were each other’s life preservers that day, holding each other’s heads above water for a bit longer so that help could come to us eventually. We trusted Light would come to us somehow. That it had to get better. It just had to.

So the other day, Facebook pulled out this photo and this sea of emotions from the technological ether washed over me. I was viscerally shocked. Why? Because my life is completely different now. And so is my Friend’s. Our lives couldn’t possibly be any more opposite than what they were that day.

And I think this is important to note: neither of us could see it coming. Neither of us could have predicted it. Neither of us had a plan.

All we were doing was getting through each hour of each day, trusting, hoping, trusting, listening, drinking tea and trusting some more.

And it happened. Now, we are both living our dream lives. Three years on.

I have my dream career that I’d worked so hard for and wonderful publishers I am blessed to call my friends. I have published three books in three years, all of them best-sellers, two of them internationally so, and I have contracts for two more. The success of these books has paid for the renovations on the seriously rundown house we took a huge chance on buying. Yes, we moved house and re-located to acreage on the Sunshine Coast, with all of our horses, which had been my childhood dream. My husband’s business has gone from strength to strength, as has our health and our level of joy, creativity and connections to wonderful people. We are happy, every day.

Now, I’m not saying the past three years hasn’t been the most intense and frantic of my life. But I could never have imagined this life on that day three years ago. So I’m thinking you don’t always need to be able to see the Light on the other side. You don’t always need a plan. You don’t always have to know the answer. I think we just need to keep talking to our friends and family, and drinking tea and hugging and laughing and crying and be able to borrow their strength when we don’t have enough for ourselves.

Sometimes, just drinking tea with your best mate (or mum, or neighbour, or aunt, or pastor, or your kid’s teacher) might be all you need to make it through the day. And you only need to make it through this day. If you look too far ahead it gets scary. So just get through this day. And take on tomorrow with fresh eyes.

Wishing you love.

The Light will come. It always does.

For St Patrick’s Day: A Tale of My Irish Past

Like many Australians, there are a lot of Irish personalities in my family tree history (on both sides). But these two are my favourite. John and Ellen Clare met on the ship from Ireland and fell in love.

John and Ellen Clare met on the ship from Ireland and fell in love

John and Ellen Clare met on the ship from Ireland and fell in love

Their names are John Clare and Ellen O’Laughlin, from County Clare in Ireland. Ellen was young (nineteen or twenty) and John a bit older (around thirty) when they each boarded a ship leaving Ireland for Australia in the late 1800s, seeking a new, more prosperous life. They met on the boat and spent the months that it took for them to reach Australia falling in love. They married in their new country and went on to have nine Catholic babies, one of which was my great-grandmother, Hanora (Nora) Clare. They ran a pub in the town of Toowoomba and by all accounts were a very happy couple. John died first and left Clare to run the pub on her own while bringing up all those children.

Nora Clare went on to marry Edward Jackson, who was from County Armagh in Northern Ireland and unfortunately it wasn’t the love story her mother had. Edward was a heavy drinker and a violent man. Nora and Edward had ten children, one of which was my grandmother, Jean. Jean grew up in the small town of Yarraman in Queensland, a town I lived quite near to until recently, while Alwyn and I resided in Blackbutt for six years. The very same pub that Edward used to frequent in the early 1900s is still there. According to my grandmother, Edward would stumble out of the pub and onto his faithful horse, who then carried him home in the dark and stop at the front gate and whinny for Nora to let them in.

Nora Clare (Jackson), my great grandmother

Nora Clare (Jackson), my great grandmother

Nana moved to Brisbane for work and lived up in the hills of Paddington in a workers cottage, when workers cottages were in fact inhabited by the less fortunate. And it’s in Brisbane that her children were raised.

I went to Ireland in 2003, and truly, the only way I can describe the feeling was like coming home.

I wonder about Clare and John, whether they were excited to leave Ireland or desperately sad, whether they wanted more for themselves once they got to this country or whether they were ecstatic that they got more than anything they’d hoped for. I can’t even imagine taking such a tremendous leap of faith and saying good-bye to my homeland, family, friends and everything I knew for a strange, hot, snake-infested, wild country on the other side of the world, called Australia. I feel so sad for Nora, raising ten children with an alcoholic and violent husband, trying to keep them all safe, living with the terror in her house, and for her daughter, Jean, my grandmother,who was irrevocably changed because of it.

Nana had four children, the first of which was my mother, Geraldine, who had two children with my father, Brian.

They were all so very brave. And I am here because of them, with the good fortune of being able to choose to have just one child, with my red hair and freckly skin. And so is my son, named Flynn (a good Irish name), who demanded potatoes all day, every day while he was renting my womb for nine months. People frequently tell me he looks like a little leprechaun. So the Irish spirit continues in us all.

In honour of the many thousands of Irish men and women who came to Australia, happy St Patrick’s Day.

p.s. Thank you to my mum and my aunt Christine for organising photos for me at the last minute! xx