Cruel Thoughts

Until the past month or so, I’ve never really had to manage my chronic illness in a workplace setting, aside from the odd day where I’ve needed to go home due to a migraine. Essentially, my chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia has been in remission, allowing me to function like, and therefore pass as, a normal person.

Now, I’m managing a significant flare up of my chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia which is impacting my ability to do my job. In May, following an episode of acute pain and a trip to emergency (refer to I Don’t Know How This Story Ends for more details), I had a week and a half off work. Since getting back into work, I’ve been working at reduced capacity – shorter days, more frequent sick days, checking out for a couple of hours of an afternoon to have a nap.

I am doing the majority of my work from home because this allows me to have that afternoon nap and manage the myriad other symptoms my chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia is throwing at me – near daily headaches, random bouts of nausea, legs that feel like jelly and so on.

While my illness is still invisible from the outside, my manager, director, team, HR and even the head of the Government department I work for now know that I am unwell, although the extent of their knowledge of my illness varies.

I have been incredibly lucky that I have felt and received nothing but support from my workplace since the flare up. They have been responsive to my needs, flexible, keen to do everything they can to support me.

In contrast, a cruel new voice has emerged in my mind. You’re unreliable, you’re not working hard enough, you’re a burden and you’re not pulling your weight, you’re a liability, you’re letting your manager, director, team and/or department down…

Given how supportive my workplace has been, it clearly isn’t the source of this messaging. Instead, it is an indication of some pretty serious self-stigma and my internalisation of cultural narratives that valorise hard work in the form of long days in the office, never taking a sick day, always taking on additional work when it is offered and so on.  

The simple truth is that these cruel thoughts are false but it’s easy to start believing them when they’re repeated over and over again. By writing them down, I can see them for what they are, interrogate them, rebut them.

Cruel thought #1 – You’re unreliable

The fatigue and other symptoms I am dealing with make it hard for me to commit to things as I would have previously because now there is the wildcard that is my health. And so, the voice tells me I am unreliable. It lambasts me for being unable to attend a meeting, or having to postpone something, or having to join online instead of in person, or not being online when someone needs something from me.

But what’s really unreliable is my health. I am doing everything I can to manage my chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia, but management strategies for this illness are far from perfect, so my health remains unpredictable. For some reason, I have taken to pinning my health status on myself, seeing it as a reflection of a flaw in my character as an employee. The very fact that I am doing everything I can to manage my chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia points to a very different reality. Why am I so committed to managing my illness? Precisely because I want to be as reliable as possible.

So it’s not true that I am unreliable. My health is unreliable at the moment, despite my best efforts, meaning sometimes I have to cancel/postpone/alter the format of a meeting and sometimes I can’t respond straight away. This doesn’t make me unreliable. I am as reliable as I can be in the circumstances.

Cruel thought #2 – You’re not working hard enough

Working incomplete days and taking more frequent sick days gives the voice further ammunition. The voice equates presence with productivity, even though I know this is a false equivalence. And so, the voice tells me I am not working hard enough. The voice tells me to push myself harder, to stop making excuses.

Perhaps my ability to just churn out the work has been diminished somewhat, but I was starting from a place of “phenomenal output of high quality work” (a senior colleague’s words not mine). Even at reduced capacity, I am still getting a lot done. And on days where I work from home (at least half of my working days at the moment), my productivity tends to be significantly increased as there are no external office distractions to contend with.

In the hours and days I take off work, I am exhausted and most likely to be found in bed. Rocking up to work in that state, even if that just means sitting down at the computer at home, doesn’t help anyone. I don’t get much done because I am battling the brain fog that comes with fatigue and I set myself up for more hours and days of the same. So, it’s not only better for me and my health, but also for my organisation, if I heed the messages my body is sending and take the hours and days off that I need. There is no inherent virtue in being present and presence certainly doesn’t equal productivity.

Cruel thought #3 – You’re a burden and you’re not pulling your weight

It is now rare for me to be the person who takes on additional work when it’s going. Sometimes, if I am unwell, someone else in my team has to take on something that I would normally do. And so, the voice tells me I am a burden and I am not pulling my weight.

But it’s not that simple. For one thing, I am managing a project which has hit crunch time. Final delivery is scheduled for August, but factoring in the lengthy clearance processes inherent in working for Government means the bulk of the work need to be completed by the end of June. So while my somewhat reduced capacity may be part of the reason why I am not the person taking on additional work, I am also working on an important project which requires pretty close to full-time focus from someone and that someone is me.

Also, is this not the purpose of teams to share the load? We’re in it together, we step in to help when someone is unwell or has too much on their plate, knowing that when that person is us, our team will reciprocate. I’ve taken on additional work and stepped in to help plenty of times in the past, now it’s my turn to be helped. Problem is, I’m not very good at allowing people to help me. I’m very attached to this idea of myself as self-sufficient and independent. Being unwell requires me to let go of this and accept help, but this has been, and continues to be, a challenge!

Cruel thought #4 – You’re a liability

Experiencing illness has meant I have had to draw on my department’s resources by taking sick days, getting properly set up to work from home and so on. And so, the voice tells me I am a liability. I am a drain on my department’s resources.

People get sick. Organisations know this and they are set up, or they should be (I am lucky mine is), to support their employees through such things. They are set up to support their employees through illness because ultimately, by supporting you through illness, you hopefully get well again, which is not only good for you but also the organisation. And yet the voice makes me feel like I don’t deserve any support from my employer through this period. People are allowed to get sick, but apparently I’m not allowed to be one of them. I am criticised for taking sick days – instead of being paid for my work, I’m being paid to convalesce, and out of the public purse no less. I am criticised for the fact that my manager, director, team and other members of my department have had to dedicate time to attending to my needs instead of their work (part of their work is attending to employees’ needs, but the voice wants to ignore that).

Basically, I am criticised for any way in which I am drawing on my department’s resources rather than contributing to them. In doing so, I apparently render myself an unacceptable liability, even though I wouldn’t see anyone else experiencing illness in the same light.

Cruel thought #5 – You’re letting your manager, director, team and/or department down

The chorus of you’re unreliable, you’re not working hard enough, you’re a burden and you’re not pulling your weight, you’re a liability, culminates in this overarching sense that I am letting my manager, director, team and/or department down. This sense of letting people down is particularly acute because my illness is an existing condition which I have learnt to manage over many years. If it’s something I have learnt to manage, this flare up must be a reflection of poor management on my part and, therefore, my fault. By experiencing this flare up, the voice would have me believe I am a disappointment, a failure.

But this is not my fault. Sure, as I mentioned earlier, there are some management strategies for chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia, but these are far from perfect and there are so many other factors at play. Really, I’m just human. Illness is something that happens to humans and employees are humans. I’m don’t think you can let people down just by being human.


So, perhaps my work life looks a bit different to normal at the moment. Perhaps ability to commit to things and my productivity are somewhat diminished at the moment. Perhaps the balance of what I am giving versus what I am taking from my team and department is weighted differently to normal, towards take rather than give. There is good reason for this – I am unwell. But the voice has no compassion for this, makes no accommodation for this, and holds me to the standards of a perfect employee. Not just the standards of a healthy employee, a perfect employee. So it’s no surprise that I am failing to meet those standards – we probably all are. I am doing the best I can in far from ideal circumstances and this is all my manager, director, team and department ask of me.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

May Favourites

Having been unwell (to greater and lesser extents) throughout May, I have consumed quite a lot of books, TV shows, podcasts and music. Here are the highlights from the month.

Fiction books

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This was the last of Adichie’s books I had left to read. It didn’t disappoint. Now I’m a bit sad because there are no more Adichie gifts awaiting me until she releases something new. Purple Hibiscus manages to be at once intensely pleasurable to read but also thematically intense and at times confronting. Another way of putting this is that Adichie is a really good writer but she tackles some challenging issues in her writing.

Quick synopsis – protagonist Kambili’s life, as well as those of her mother and brother, is controlled by her fanatically religious and wealthy father. But when Nigeria is hit by a military coup, her father begrudgingly sends her to live with her aunt (his sister) and little by little, despite the coup, Kambili’s world, and world view, begins to open up.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

I read this in one afternoon/evening. The premise of romance is very clever. Leon, a palliative care nurse who works night shifts and needs a bit of extra cash, decides to rent out his one-bedroom flat to someone who works days so they can make use of it, including his bed, while he is at work. Enter Tiffy, an underpaid editor at a quirky publishing house who is desperate to find an affordable place to live in London after breaking up with her on again, off again partner whose place she has been living at. And so it begins. They leave each other sticky notes, getting to know each other through these messages, navigating the challenges of sharing a small space. Eventually, inevitably, they meet. Since I have said it’s a romance, you can probably guess what happens. There’s more to the story than that – Tiffy’s ex turns out to be a pretty awful piece of work, Leon’s extra cash is going straight towards his brother’s legal bills… This is just an excellent book, particularly excellent when you’re unwell and need something to make you smile and laugh.

Non-fiction book

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

This is definitely not something I would have picked up by choice and read – I very much reach for fiction these days, even more so when I’m not well – but it was May’s book club read so in I dove.

In essence, this is a book about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. But it’s not a dry history textbook version, it’s a highly readable recount of events and people which formed crucial parts of the Troubles. It’s jumping off point is the disappearance of a woman named Jean McConville, a mother of ten who just seems to vanish into thin air. Nothing like a mystery to get the reader interested.

Over time, I have learned bits and pieces about the Troubles. I had heard of the IRA and Gerry Adams (the Sinn Fein politician who claims he was never part of the IRA, but pretty clearly was) and knew about some of their activities like the London car bombings, and the blanket protest and hunger strikes by detained IRA operatives. But there was so much I didn’t know, perhaps most notably the names of Dolours and Marian Price, the first two female IRA operatives who played key roles in events like the London car bombings.

As the Israel-Palestine conflict flared up in real time, it was a clear illustration of the important of understanding history because if we don’t understand and learn from it, we are doomed to repeat its mistakes (to paraphrase someone).

TV shows

Wakefield

Set at a psychiatric facility in the Blue Mountains, this fictional show is about the lives of the facility’s patients and its staff. Nik, the main character, is a brilliant psychiatric nurse but over the course of the series, as her helps his patients to recover, his own mental health spirals. What is unique about this series is that each episode is told from three different perspectives – Nik’s as well as a patient’s and another staff member’s. This means that in each episode, the same time period repeated three times but with each perspective you see different things and things differently.

This is quite an intense series, so if you’re feeling a bit emotionally tender, perhaps don’t dive in. I’d certainly wouldn’t advise binge watching this – I watched one episode per day during my time off work was my approach, giving myself time to process each episode.

You Can’t Ask That

Back for another season and still some of the best and most important TV. Marginalised and misunderstood Australians answer anonymous questions. I’d recommend watching every episode, but I will give special mention to the episode on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the one with amputees.

Shrill

Season three of this wonderful show recently dropped and I was onto it like a flash. Shrill’s characters are very real in a way that other shows’ characters just aren’t – maybe it’s the clever show writing, or the acting, or the cinematography, or all of these, I don’t really know. These are characters who make mistakes, hurt each other, get hurt and, most importantly, grow through these experiences. Protagonist Annie is funny and fierce yet flawed, and is so well portrayed by the wonderful Aidy Bryant. I also just love the diversity of the characters in this show, and this is part of what makes it so good, because through them and their experiences, topics like racism, fatphobia and homophobia are addressed head on, but simultaneously with the grace and nuance they deserve and need.

Music

Having returned to Regina Spektor’s albums Begin to Hope and Far due to their role in previous periods of illness recovery, I then got hooked on another one of her albums which I hadn’t listened to much prior to this month. Her music is so varied that it’s hard to recommend a single song. The song I most feel like listening to varies over the course of each day depending how I’m feeling. As such, you really should listen to the entire album.

Food

Broadly, I have been enjoying anything that falls under the umbrella of comfort food for me, particularly when it’s been cooked by someone else! Mum’s cauliflower and leek cheese, potato and zucchini bake my brother’s fiance made for me, the vego bolognese sauce I made for myself, the haloumi panini at Ginger Brown…

Self-care action

Journalling. This something I don’t do much of when I’m feeling good but when things get messy, it becomes so important. I have filled so many pages of my journal recently, teasing out all the different competing voices in my head. Getting them onto paper is often a pretty effective way of dialing them down and it allows me to see them for what they are rather than getting lost in the stories they tell me. You’ve failed as an adult, you’re a burden, you’ll never recover from this – these things are easy to believe when they’re in my head and I’m feeling vulnerable but once they’re on paper, I can interrogate them, deconstruct them and replace them with other thoughts – kinder, calmer, more realistic.

Yoga

Instead of a pose, this month’s yoga favourite is a three hour workshop I attended called “Yoga of the Voice” which combined two things I love – yoga and singing. For quite a while now my at-home yoga practice has involved some level of singing, as I typically play regular music when I practice and often can’t help but burst into song, but I’d never thought particularly deeply about the links between yoga and singing. Now, the more I think about it, the more I see them having in common. Both are fundamentally about the breath which rely on an awareness of and some level of control over the way the breath moves through the body. Both really powerful practices for processing emotions by moving them through the body. Both can be done alone or in groups, and are fundamentally different practices as a result, although no more or less valuable.

Anyway, it was just such a wonderful experience to combine the two practices in earnest, and in the company of some other wonderful people (including, in a very Hobart turn of events, someone I’d met late last year on the Three Capes Track), and it was a bright spot in the midst of what was quite a challenging month.

Event

As well as the “Yoga of the Voice” workshop, I’ve also been fortunate to be bolstered by some quality time with family and friends, including:

  • A friend’s 31st Birthday celebration which consisted of a long lunch with a bunch of her friends on her gorgeous block looking out to kunanyi/Mount Wellington;
  • April’s book club, which got pushed into May. It was a small turn-out but the four of us who were there had a quality chat about the book and a cathartic, we’re all public servants here so this is a safe space debrief about the Tasmanian election;
  • Three lovely days with Mum when she made her very last minute trip down to mother me as I struggled with my health;
  • Brunch with my brother’s fiance at Straight Up following a frustrating medical appointment;
  • Brekkie at Raincheck Lounge with my brother early one Saturday after I collected him from his flight in to Hobart;
  • Dinner with my brother and his fiance at their place; and
  • A walk along the Hobart Rivulet and lunch at my favourite Ginger Brown with a friend who I unfortunately hadn’t seen for months, not for a lack of trying. The time spent apart did mean the conversation just flowed and filled hours as we caught each other up on our lives.

Listing it all down like that it sounds like a lot. Honestly, it’s just felt wonderful and supportive and has been so important as things have become that bit more challenging in my life.


Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Things That Have Helped

As I explained in my post I Don’t Know How This Story Ends last Friday, things have been challenging for me health-wise recently. Coping with this has been difficult but there have been many things that have helped me through this period. In no particular order, here is a list of some of these things:

  • The woodchop breath – very good for letting out frustration, an emotion of which there has been a lot recently;
  • Jigsaws;
  • Reading – books I have finished since the start of last week are Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and The Women in Black by Madeleine St John;
  • Listening to music from previous periods of illness recovery – most notably Regina Spektor, specifically the albums Begin to Hope and Far;
  • The potato and zucchini bake my brother’s fiance made for me;
  • Singing loudly, both the aforementioned music and anything else I put on – good for expressing any and all emotions;
  • Kapalabhati breath;
  • Listening to podcasts;
  • Meditation, particularly practices focused on cultivating equanimity and self-compassion;
  • Journaling a lot – helping me to process all the thoughts and feelings I’m having, which have at times been quite overwhelming;
  • Texts from Mum every morning to see how I’m going;
  • The dark chocolate, oat and almond cookies Mum made and brought down to Hobart for me – these are my favourite cookies, they always hit the spot;
  • Work colleagues being super supportive – there has been no pressure to race back to work, everyone just wants me to be well;
  • Short, mindful walks in the sunshine;
  • Gentle yoga in my softly lit yoga room – once I got over the fear of aggravating my pain by doing yoga, which took a few days and even then I had to ease myself back into my practice;
  • Cryptic crosswords;
  • Joining the quick work team check-in meeting in the morning when I’ve felt up to it, just to stay in the loop of what’s been going on at work and stay connected to my wonderful and often very entertaining colleagues;
  • Afternoon naps;
  • Ibuprofen – I’ve had an almost constant headache for the past week and a bit, so painkillers have been a necessary companion;
  • Many cups of tea;
  • Collecting autumn leaves on my walks;
  • Opening my shutters and windows to let the sunshine in (when the sun is shining, not a given in May in Hobart);
  • Pants with elasticated waistbands – to avoid recreating the alarming pain from last week where my lower abdomen area felt like it was being squeezed to within an inch of its life;
  • A hot water bottle on my abdomen each night as I go to sleep;
  • Writing in my gratitude journal before I go to sleep to record three things I’m thankful for from the day;
  • Having fresh flowers inside – my lovely colleagues got me some beautiful Dutch irises last week and yesterday my next door neighbour gave me a bunch of gorgeous pink chrysanthemums; and
  • Allowing myself to feel all the feelings – sad, angry, frustrated, disappointed, anxious, and remembering that no feeling lasts forever, no matter how strong or overwhelming it may feel.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

I Don’t Know How This Story Ends

Before you start reading, I just want you to know this is a pretty lengthy post. I did try to be succinct, but it’s kind of a complicated story. To make it easier to digest, I have broken it up into a few sections. Here goes…


I’ve been having a rough time with my chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia recently. The significant life events of the past three and a bit months, notably starting a new job in February at the same time as successfully putting an offer on a house which I then moved into a month later, seem to have pushed me back into this illness. I have been exhausted, struggling to push through each day and week, and experiencing both the chronic, low-grade pain of muscle aches and persistent headaches as well as the acute pain of migraines.

At home, I had been trying my best to manage and recover my energy levels by just doing the bare minimum and cutting myself heaps of slack. On the work front, I had started working from home once a week and had even taken a sick day on Wednesday last week (pretty rare for me) just to try to get on top of my fatigue. I had taken to repeating “you’re okay” to myself over and over, trying to counteract the fear that maybe I wasn’t quite coping.

In the middle of last Friday, as I sat at my dining room table working from home, the computer screen in front of me and the plate of crackers and cup of tea beside me started blurring, swimming, developing dark blotches – I was getting a migraine. As my literal vision shattered, so too did the illusion that I was coping. Suddenly it was clear to me that I wasn’t totally okay.

I called Mum. Bless her, pretty soon after that phone call, Mum had booked flights to come down to see me and offer her motherly support. She spent three days taking care of me – cooking, cleaning, gardening, washing etc – while I tried to rest as much as I could. We discussed ways forward from here, how I was going to manage my illness in the context of living alone and working full-time.

Mum didn’t go home until Monday night, but my intention was to go to work on Monday, at least for part of the day. Instead, I woke up with a throbbing head. I decided to do a few hours of work from home, then take it easy. Waking up this way threw me but having walked and talked it through with Mum that afternoon, I ended the day feeling okay mentally and as ready as I could be in the circumstances for the rest of the week.


On Tuesday, I began my day as normal – got up, showered, packed my things, rode to work. The work day was going fine until mid-morning when I started to experience quite bad abdominal pain. My stockings and skirt felt far too tight, as if the lower part of my abdomen (below my belly button) was being squeezed and compressed. Waves of pain rippled through my body. Something similar had happened on the Saturday while Mum was with me. While the pain had been fairly intense, it had dissipated after an hour or two, so I just tried whatever I could think of that might help – staying as still as I could at my desk, getting up and walking down the corridor to the bathroom, drinking tea. None of these seemed to help but after my experience on Saturday, I was fairly confident the pain would dissipate. I kept working as best I could.

By lunchtime, the pain had eased somewhat, just as I had hoped. As I walked over to the grocery store to collect a few things, I called Mum. While I had a doctor’s appointment booked in for the middle of the following week, we discussed perhaps making an appointment for this week if possible given this abdominal pain had now happened twice. I headed back over to work, ate my lunch and cracked on with my work, putting sussing out another doctor’s appointment in the “later” basket.


Work that afternoon involved walking to a meeting a few blocks away from my office. As I sat in an unfamiliar meeting room with a couple of unfamiliar people as well as two of my colleagues, the abdominal pain started to escalate again. Thankfully I was mostly at this meeting to listen, not talk, because as the meeting progressed, the pain got worse, and I’m not sure I would have been able to say anything particularly coherent. I was acutely uncomfortable – my stockings and skirt felt like they were strangling me around the middle, I was sweating due to the intensity of the pain, I felt nauseous. I focused on breathing in and out. I tried to position myself comfortably in my chair, but the range of acceptable options when you’re in a meeting is pretty limited – legs crossed, legs uncrossed, torso up straight, torso bent over somewhat. None of these options were comfortable. All I really wanted to do was curl up in the foetal position. That meeting couldn’t end soon enough.

I suppose I hoped the walk back to the office in the crisp Autumn air might help ease the pain a bit. Instead, the act of standing up just revealed other sides to the pain, notably the way it was either referring or extending into my lower back.

Back at the office, my Director and I had another meeting to join. But I just couldn’t do it anymore. This pain was worse than the morning’s, much worse than Saturdays and it didn’t seem to be going away – quite the opposite. My Director told me to go lie on the couch and she would be with me in a minute.

In the meantime, I called Mum. Someone overheard that conversation and came to see if she could do anything. From there, things escalated quickly. Colleagues swung into action and soon I was in a car with a colleague on the way to emergency. As I had in the meeting, I focused on breathing in and out, hoping that in doing so I would be able to stick to the charming mantra I was repeating to myself: “Don’t throw up”.

At the hospital, I gave my details, signed a form without reading it (something about fees, stuff you should read but can’t when you’re bent double in pain) and waited. Without having to pretend to be okay anymore, I writhed around in my seat more freely trying to position myself comfortably, but still had no luck. There was no comfort to be had by that point really, aside from the calm presence of my colleague beside me.

Having spent a lot more time in hospitals than your average twenty-something, I find them to be quite comforting, familiar places, so it didn’t feel particularly hard or weird going through the hospital motions once I was admitted – putting on a gown, having bloods taken and a cannula inserted into my arm, being asked the same questions repeatedly by multiple staff members, being brought pills in a little plastic cup, peeing into a specimen jar, being prodded and poked.

Mercifully, at some point in this process, the pain started to ease off. My test results were all normal. The emergency doctor was satisfied I wasn’t in immediate medical danger. I was sent home with a referral for a pelvic ultrasound and a letter to my GP. My wonderful colleague sat in the waiting room for more than an hour, refusing to leave until there was someone else there to support me. My Director messaged to check how I was. I talked to Mum. My brother’s fiancé showed up to sub in for my colleague. People really rallied around me and held me in my hours of need.


“There is nothing serious causing the pain” was something the emergency doctor said to me a couple of times. I got what he was trying to say, something along the lines of “you don’t have a life-threatening illness,” but I also heard “stop being a drama queen love”. I heard echoes of other medical professionals I’ve seen in the past for various forms of pain who’ve variously minimised, misunderstood or dismissed my pain.

And I couldn’t help but feel there was a gendered element to the doctor’s “nothing serious causing the pain” comment when it was followed by his assessment that the pain was probably “something to do with the ovaries”. When these two phrases combined, I heard “stop being a drama queen love, it’s just a women’s health issue, now stop wasting my time.”

I’m pretty confident the doctor didn’t intend for me to hear what I heard, but a combination of being a feminist who understands how women’s pain and women’s health issues are consistently dismissed and misdiagnosed, and having experienced this dismissal and misdiagnosis personally, this was what I heard. I can’t help but think that a female emergency doctor would be significantly less likely to use this language and framing.


The other effect of this language and framing, combined with the fact that my pain eased off considerably after a few hours, was that I started to doubt myself. Had the pain really been that bad? Should I have tried harder to ride it out like I had that morning and on the Saturday? Was this just a new symptom to add to the bevy of aches and pains that come with chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia and therefore not something to present to emergency with?

My head filled with self-doubt which has continued to haunt me over the past few days. I have also been haunted by anxiety. I am anxious about the pain coming back and hence everything I do comes with a sense of trepidation. If I eat something different, or eat a lot, or eat too much of one particular food, will that cause the pain to ramp up again? If I move a lot or in the wrong way, eg going for a significant walk or doing yoga, will that make it worse? Am I spending too much time sitting down? Is it better to by lying down? Should I spend more time standing?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions because at this stage, I still don’t know what caused the abdominal pain. I’ve had a scan and am seeing the GP tomorrow. I’m anxious about this too. Will I get a diagnosis tomorrow? Or will there just be more uncertainty, more waiting? If I get a diagnosis, will it be treatable? Will I need an operation? Or will this pain just be added to the existing bevy of health issues I have to manage?

I don’t even know what the preferred outcome is. For this not to be happening would be nice, but that’s not one of the options.

For this not to be happening would be really nice in fact. You might recall how I started this post, talking about how I’ve been having a rough time with my chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia recently. Before this abdominal pain thing happened, I was already having a rough time. And just before this abdominal pain thing really kicked off with a bang on Tuesday, I’d just got to a place in my mind where I felt like there was a way forward in managing my illness. And if I was tired before this abdominal pain thing started, imagine how I feel now. The hospital admission, the uncertainty, the anxiety – these have just compounded my fatigue. So it goes without saying that I am more than a little frustrated.

In addition, the backdrop of already having a rough time with my health adds another whole layer of complexity. And associated with this comes more questions. How much, if anything, does the abdominal pain thing have to do with my chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia? Is it part of my existing illness, exacerbated by it, peripherally linked or completely unrelated? The timing suggests some relationship, the medical literature makes a link look more likely than not (chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia and migraine sufferers are more likely than your average person to have or develop a whole host of other health issues), but there is also such a thing as a coincidence.


At this early stage, there are a lot of questions and very few answers. I have spent the last few days having to tolerate a high level of uncertainty. I have been trying as much as possible to rein in the parts of my brain that kick into gear when uncertainty strikes but DO NOT help me to deal with it – problem-solving (a blurry watercolour problem can’t really be solved), catastrophising (I hope I don’t need to explain why convincing myself I have cancer isn’t helpful), self-criticising and blaming (again, hopefully pretty obvious why telling myself this is my fault is unhelpful).

I have been trying as much as I can to cultivate the qualities of mind I know help in these circumstances – I have been practicing mindfulness meditations to navigate the difficult emotions I am experiencing and develop a sense of equanimity, I have ramped up the self-compassionate, self-soothing talk as much as possible and I have been writing to get the tangled web of thoughts and emotions as untangled as I can.

I have been off work for the rest of the week and have spent the majority of my time reading this month’s book club book, Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, a highly engaging work of non-fiction about the Troubles in Northern Ireland; watching Wakefield and You Can’t Ask That on ABC iview; listening to an array of different podcasts; responding to concerned messages from colleagues and friends; and trying to nap and sleep and rest up as much as I can.

Despite my best efforts, I remain exhausted and have had a fairly consistent headache since the abdominal pain eased off on Tuesday night. I am also feeling a lot of difficult emotions – I am anxious, sad, frustrated, a bit lonely even. I am waiting and wondering. I don’t know how this story ends.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

April Favourites

Fiction books

The Bluffs by Kyle Perry

I found the plot of this novel really gripping and hence raced through it within a couple of days. It’s very much a thriller with lots of plot twists that keep you guessing about which characters you can and cannot trust. The basic premise is this – a group of teenage girls go missing from a school excursion in Tasmania’s Greater Western Tiers. Years earlier, five young girls went missing in the same area and the tales of the so-called “Hungry Man” still circulate in the small town of Limestone Creek where the lost girls are from. The complex relationships between the characters are a key focus of the novel – the lost girls; their friends, families and teachers; the local cop; the police investigative team brought in from Launceston… There’s a lot to take in. You will most likely get sucked into this novel and spat out the other end.

While I definitely recommend this book, I did find it a bit frustrating in the sense that it consistently stated how atmospheric the Greater Western Tiers where it is set are, without actually describing what makes them so. It was a plot driven novel, so I didn’t expect it to devote page after page to verbose description, but for me it just seemed to come up short on this front.

You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

This was April’s book club book – it’s hard to know where to begin in describing it because there were so many layers to it: a compelling narrative and protagonist, important themes (sexuality, cultural identity and expectations, attachment styles) and a really interesting structure.

The novel switches frequently between time and place – from the protagonist’s youth to her adulthood and back, from the US where she lives as an adult to the Middle East where she spent time as a child and back. In doing so, the novel illustrates how much our past and present are bound up with and inform one another. The protagonist navigates the complexities of being queer and coming from a family where this isn’t accepted; being in relationships but always searching for more; wanting to grow and understand herself but also fearing what that growth and understanding might reveal.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

This was the book I selected at the book club Christmas party last year. Everyone bought a book they love, wrapped it and wrote their own blurb for that book. My blurb said “A family is forced to leave their home and start again. A page turner I couldn’t put down. Fiction but equally real. DO IT, you won’t regret it.”

I finally got around to reading it in April and I certainly didn’t regret it. This is the story of a Nuri and Afra, a Syrian couple forced to leave Syria due to civil war, and their journey to the UK. Nuri is a beekeeper by trade, hence the title of the book, his wife Afra an amazing artist. Both are deeply traumatised by their experiences in Syria, particularly by the death of their son. One of the most wonderful (and simultaneously horrible) things about this book is the way Lefteri demonstrates the impacts of Nuri and Afra’s trauma on them. She’s doesn’t tell you as a reader that they both have their own unique version of post-traumatic stress disorder, she shows you.

This book also has an interesting structure. Each chapter is divided in two – the first section of the chapter dealing in the present, the second dealing in the past, with the present and past sections connected by a shared word. I haven’t encountered this device before. I think it was part of what made Lefteri’s demonstration of trauma so powerful because the device blurred the lines between present and past. There was no full stop dividing present from past, you were propelled from one to the other by the shared word.

Non-fiction book

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness by Bill Bailey

I had such good fun reading this book – there was laughing out loud, reading passages to others, turning over corners of pages where there were gems of wisdom or humour. Divided into short (four or five page) sections on things which bring Bailey joy and happiness, this book is the perfect thing to pick up when you’ve got a spare five minutes and/or you’re feeling tired/down and need a boost.

It also made me think a lot about the things which bring me joy and happiness. Many of them are the same – trees, birdsong, walking etc – but there are also plenty of other things I would add to my list – swings at playgrounds, cryptic crosswords, bouldering-style hiking, dipping my feet in a cold ocean/creek, food in bowls that is eaten with spoons…

Another joy of this book were the comic illustrations and cartoons peppered throughout which were drawn by Bailey himself.

Events

Collins Bonnet and Collins Cap hike

I’ve been doing quite a lot of hikes where there is a significant climb in altitude recently. I find these sorts of hikes force me to be mindful, not so much of my surrounds but simply of myself – breathing in and out, watching where I’m placing my feet, pacing myself. I do remain aware of my surrounds, particularly the soundscape. Often being visually aware is more challenging – when I find myself looking around to spot a bird, I’ll often stumble because I’ve stopped watching where I’m placing my feet and will have failed to correctly negotiate a rock or root or whatever else is in my path.

There’s something so satisfying about the effort of climbing followed by the release of making it to your destination, often the top of a peak or a view. In this case, I had two climbs – the first up Collins Bonnet (1260m elevation), the second up Collins Cap (1098m elevation) – after starting from an elevation of 550m at Myrtle Forest. The two climbs were quite different. To get to the top of Collins Bonnet, you negotiate rocky scree slopes by following arrows on poles. In my case, when I got to the top, I saw very little – cloud rolled as I made my ascent and by the time I got to the summit I was basically floating in the clouds. To get to the top of Collins Cap, you follow a narrow, rocky track through scrubby bushland. At the top, I had expansive, 360 degree views. I stopped for lunch. From where I sat to eat my extremely satisfying sandwich (food always tastes good outdoors after exercise), I could see other nearby mountains to my left (possible future hikes), New Norfolk and Mount Field straight ahead, and Hobart to my right. In both instances, I ended up in conversation with fellow hikers. On Collins Cap, I even got to share some cake with two friendly fellow hikers.

Maria Island retreat

I was fortunate to have the opportunity in April to go on my first ever retreat, one of my 2021 intentions. I’d never been on a retreat before because I’d never felt I could justify the expense. But having been and done the retreat, I think the money I spent on my three days and two nights on retreat on Maria Island was money well spent. The retreat had everything up my alley – meditation, yoga, watercolour art, singing, amazing vegetarian food, cups of tea, beautiful nature (including lots of wombats), walking, swimming, social connection, sunshine, wood fires.

It was quite the experience and I came back feeling inspired on many fronts – cooking, singing, meditation, art. I also came back feeling cold, but that’s another story – the weather turned on our last day and suddenly it was below 10 degrees Celsius with an apparent temperature around zero. The wind gusts were strong, bringing with them rain that soaked us as we made our way back to the ferry. And it wasn’t just on Maria that the weather was turning – we had suddenly arrived at crisp Autumn weather, which was a bit of a shock to the system after pretty mild days throughout March and early April.

Yoga pose

Boat pose

I’ve really been enjoying the combination of strength and balance required by this pose. When you’re aligned correctly, I also find it to be a really satisfying way to stretch out and elongate both the legs and the spine. I used to think I’d never be able to get into the full boat pose, now it’s second nature – goes to show what consistent practice can do.

Food

My simple food favourite is pears – they’re in season and delicious.

My other special mention goes to that sandwich I ate on top of Collins Cap. It was kind of like a vegetarian Ploughman’s sandwich – homemade wholemeal sourdough bread, wholegrain mustard, crumbly Mersey Valley cheddar cheese, sliced tomato (fresh from a friend’s garden), basil leaves (from the same friend’s garden), pickled cucumber (cucumber grown by someone at work, pickled at home by me) and cracked black pepper. combination

TV show

Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds

Series two of this show is just as delightful as season one. It’s a slightly different premise – instead of the older participants being people living in aged care, this time they live independently – but it works equally well. Once again, it is such a joy to watch the bonds develop between specific older adults and four year olds, and to see both parties challenged to face their fears, knowing that their buddy has got their back.

I had somewhat forgotten why I liked this show so much the first season when I saw that it was back for a second, but I very quickly fell back in love with it and the new participants.

Self-care action

I’ve been pretty tired since moving to my new place, so it’s been important to manage my energy levels carefully and not to push myself too hard. Last Friday, I tried working from home for the first time at my new place. It was great! I finished up my work at 4.30pm and went straight to my yoga room for more than two hours of yoga and meditation. While I do really like being in the office, it does save quite a bit of time and energy not having to get to and from work and do all the logistical thinking that goes with that (packing lunch, packing my work clothes if I’m riding and so on). It’s also just really nice being in my space.

I’m planning to work from home more regularly going forward, probably on a Friday, because I like the way this eased me from the week to the weekend. Whether it’s once a week or once a fortnight I’m not sure at this stage, but I think it’s a good self-care move.


Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Astounding

The 11th of this month marked eight years since I was admitted to hospital for eating disorder treatment. Eight whole years.

Recently, I revisited my journals from the time and a few things stood out which I would like to share.

Trigger warnings for you: eating disorders (obviously), fatphobia, suicidal thoughts.

One – the quote on the wall

There was a quote on the wall of the common area on the ward which said:

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you go, they merely determine where you start.

Nido Qubein

I started as a deeply troubled teenage girl on a psych ward in Melbourne. I was merely surviving one day to the next, I didn’t believe there were any reasons to be alive. I was afraid of life – school, my friends, food, my feelings, my body. I could not see a way forward.

Eight years later, I have so many reasons to be alive, too many to list. I am not afraid of life – life is exciting and full of possibilities, new experiences, people, places. I am a balanced, stable adult sitting at the dining room table in the home that I own in Hobart. I am happy.

It astounds me to witness my own transformation. I hope that deeply troubled teenage girl on the psych ward in Melbourne can see me now. I certainly see her. I still carry her pain deep within me and it has shaped me into the person I am today.

Two – fatphobia

Despite making significant strides in my recovery on the ward, my fatphobia remained strong.

In my journals, I repeatedly expressed an intense fear of “letting myself go/overeating and getting fat”. I was afraid to give up my thin privilege (although obviously I didn’t put it in those terms at the time).

I think this entrenched fatphobia impacted my ability to fully recover for years after my admission. Fatphobia and diet culture are the water we’re all swimming in and for years either no one pointed this out to me or no one pointed it out with enough cut through to get me to take notice.

This is something I’m still working on but thanks to my wonderful psychologist here in Hobart I have found intuitive eating, health at every size and all the associated resources (podcasts, Instagrammers, books), and these are really helping to guide me in the right direction.

Three – insight

In hospital, I worked through the exercises in the book Eight Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder by Carolyn Costin and Gwen Grabb. A question in one of the exercises was “What do you think are the characteristics of a person who is okay with their body?”. Despite my pretty intense fatphobia and very problematic relationship with food and my body, my response to this question was pretty much bang on:

  • They wear whatever they want, regardless of whether society tells them they should/shouldn’t wear a certain kind of jeans etc.
  • They eat whatever they feel like and do not relate this to their self-worth and whether they are a virtuous person.
  • They accept the fact that it’s okay and enjoyable to eat chips and chocolate sometimes and that this won’t make them ugly, fat etc [my only edit to this is that it’s okay and enjoyable to eat whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it].
  • They don’t compare themselves to other people or magazines and say things like “I wish I had her flat stomach” etc because they accept that this is not natural for their body [let’s be honest, most of what you see in magazines is not natural for anyone’s body].
  • They know that their natural body shape is healthy and that trying to change this is not healthy and will be detrimental to their life.

Basically, I knew what a healthy relationship with my body (and food) looked like, I just didn’t know how to get there. Thinking about this now, I’d probably add the following:

  • They appreciate their body for what it does, for being the vehicle that carries them through the world.
  • They are attuned to their body’s needs and responsive to these.
  • They move their body in ways that feel good to them.
  • They have compassion for and either accept or are working towards acceptance of their body’s imperfections and limitations.  

Reflecting on this now, again it astounds me that from where I was eight years ago in my relationships with my body, I have now reached a place where I pretty much am the person described above – a person who is okay with their body. Even more astounding is the fact that I am more than okay with my body, I’m actually pretty happy with it! Who’d have thunk it?


How can summarise these reflections? Clearly a lot can happen in eight years. Thankfully a person who thinks they are broken can be put back together again and not only that, but they can become stronger, kinder, better. I think that’s what my experiences have done for me.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Home

I spent more than a year walking around Hobart looking at people’s homes and gardens with envy, yearning to have a home and garden of my very own. Just over a month ago, that dream became a reality.

Now that I “own” (in a very white Western sense) a very small piece of this place we call Australia, it was important to me to acknowledge that “my” land is stolen land. Pretty much as soon as I moved in, I stuck the sign picture below beside my front door to remind me and any visitors of the simple fact that the land on which my home stands always was, always will be, muwinina land.

My acknowledgment of country sign

I have been incredibly lucky to not only find and be able to afford a first home, but to find and be able to afford a home that hasn’t been a compromise just to get into the market. I didn’t have to buy a run-down old house in need of lots of back-breaking work to make it liveable or a soulless, off-the-plan new build that looked the same as all the other houses in the neighbourhood in order to be able to afford the purchase. Instead, I was able to buy a solid, established house which pretty much ticked all the boxes I wanted a house to tick.

It has a garden (not massive, but big enough for me to grow some produce and get creative); a solid kitchen with generous pantry space; a recently renovated, spiffy bathroom (complete with rainfall shower and an excellent bath); a generously sized living/dining area; and lovely views from the living/dining area down to the Derwent River.

It is light-filled and bright; low maintenance (floorboards or tiles throughout, brick construction); within active transport (in this case cycling) distance of the city; and on a quiet street (in fact it’s in a dead end street).

Some things I am enjoying about my space include:

  • The view down to the Derwent River, watching the boats come and go;
  • Having a pantry rather than just a cupboard to store my food in – my range of ingredients has already expanded;
  • My very comfortable couch – a great place to sit with a book and a cuppa;
  • Sitting around my gorgeous wooden dining table sharing food with friends;
  • The excellent bath – makes for a very relaxing soak;
  • Having a dedicated yoga room (luxurious I know);
  • My bedroom being just that, my bedroom, rather than being multi-purpose; and
  • Having lots of cupboards and a garage to store things in.

Things I am enjoying about my new location are:

  • Riding my bike to and from work (previously I walked, which I also enjoyed, but riding has quickly become a positive part of my daily routine);
  • Being able to see the Derwent River from home (not possible from my previous abode);
  • Being close to Cornelian Bay with its abundant birdlife, boat sheds and boathouse (great for coffee and sweets);
  • The maritime sounds of ship horns and gulls; and
  • kunanyi/Mount Wellington revealing itself when I walk up the hill from my place.

Mostly, I am just feeling extremely fortunate and grateful to have broken into the property market and to have secured such a wonderful place as my first home. I’m not sure it has fully sunk in yet that I actually own this place, although having to pay a mortgage and bills is helping it feel more real!

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

March Favourites

Fiction books

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

I’ve had the pleasure of reading a few wonderful novels recently where the natural world is just as much part of the story as the characters are and this was another novel of that ilk. A previous novel I’ve written about which integrated the natural world beautifully was Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (refer to my January Favourites).

This is also the story of an unlikely friendship between an eccentric (in the best possible way) eighty-nine-year old woman and a young, broken-hearted soldier. There is also an element of magical realism woven through the narrative a la Trent Dalton.

Ultimately, I just found this novel a pleasure to read and am grateful to the friend who lent it to me.

A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos

Book club was how I found myself in possession of, and reading, something I would never choose for myself – a young adult fantasy novel. And book club was how I found myself enjoying a young adult fantasy novel and wanting to get my hands on the next one in the series.

I don’t suddenly think I am a young adult fantasy fan – my two friends in book club who read this genre on the reg said this book was quite unique – but I am really glad to have kept an open mind and discovered this.

Protagonist Ophelia is promised to a man from another “ark” and sent off to live in his world. As quickly as she can, she has to learn who in this new place she can trust and who to be wary of in order to protect herself, her family and her people. And of course, figuring out who she can trust isn’t simple.

The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey

So technically I finished this in April but it was so heart-wrenching that I want to tell you about it now. Books don’t normally make me cry, this one did. And not just once, but multiple times. Maybe it was just the tiredness talking (I was really tired as I read this) but I think there was something more to it than that.

To be honest, I wasn’t absolutely sold when I started it. I thought it would be interesting, but I didn’t anticipate how much it would suck me in, how utterly invested in the main character Caitlin I would become, how strongly I would identify with Caitlin’s experiences, despite significant differences in the particularities. This book cracked me open and I cried, because it described mental illness with such brutal honesty. In this way, it reminded me of Clare Bowditch’s descriptions of her mental illness in her memoir Your Own Kind of Girl (refer to my 2020 December Favourites).

Selfishly, my tears as I read The Morbids were as much for myself as they were for Caitlin. Just as I have, Caitlin breaks, hits rock bottom and starts on the long-haul journey of clawing her way back again. So I was crying for her and for myself. On the one hand tears of grief for the suffering I and Caitlin experienced, and on the other tears of joy and gratitude for the life I have now, and the life Caitlin starts to find for herself.

Music

I was on a Bat for Lashes bender throughout March, both discovering some newer (2019, I’m so not up with music these days) and older (2006) work of hers, all of which I have been absolutely loving. The album Fur and Gold (2006) was on repeat as I moved house, showered, did yoga, drove somewhere – basically if I had music on, it was highly likely to be that album. Then later in March, I had the brainwave that maybe there was some newer Bat for Lashes music I had yet to discover – sure enough, there was a whole album Lost Girls (2019). Since I discovered that, that album has also been on repeat. I’ve also been listening to the two Bat for Lashes albums I thought I knew well, The Haunted Man (2012) and Two Suns (2009) and have (re)discovered gems on those albums as well. So, here are three Bat for Lashes songs I am currently obsessed with.

I’m on Fire (from Fur and Gold, 2006)

Glass (from Two Suns, 2009)

Peach Sky (from Lost Girls, 2019)

Podcasts

Cautionary Tales – I think this is the third season of this podcast which I’m pretty sure I wrote about when each previous season was released. Just as good as ever, I love the way creator Tim Harford weaves together historical events, psychological research and present-day events to not only make us aware of our cognitive biases but also illustrate how these can lead us very astray.

I Weigh with Jameela Jamil – Dr Jen Gunter and Dr Jen Gunter Returns. with Dr Jen Gunter. So basically, I love every episode of this podcast but the two episodes with Dr Jen Gunter, ob/gyn extraordinaire and author of The Vagina Bible, stood out. My word, there is so much they don’t teach us about female anatomy and these podcast interview dig a bit deeper into just some of these things – very enlightening and very needed.

Food

As I moved out of the share house I’ve lived in for just over twelve months, I revisited my favourite local café spot with Mum and Dad one last time and it didn’t disappoint. I had the beetroot and seed bread with poached eggs, whipped feta, asparagus, pickled beetroot and dukkah. Absolutely delicious and very wholesome – the bread is dense and very seedy, with stunning pink marbling through it from the beetroot.

Another highlight was Dad’s Birthday lunch down at Willie Smith’s in the Huon Valley. Mum and Dad kindly came down to Hobart to hep me move into my place, and both my brother and his fiance were here, so Dad got to celebrate his Birthday Tassie style. We shared a selection of dishes – dips with bread and crackers, sundried tomato and basil arancini, a scrummy vegan charred pumpkin dish, epic roasted potatoes with salsa verde and the Willie Smith’s salad (featuring pecorino cheese and, of course, apple). We of course finished the meal with apple pie. I also tried their spiced apple tea which was sensational – it’s essentially mulled apple juice, but “spiced apple tea” definitely sounds better!

Event

Moving into my very own house has got to be the most exciting (but also most exhausting event) not only of the month, but probably one of the most exciting of my life. Like all such events, it’s taking a while to sink in that it’s actually real. Having a friend from Launceston stay the night definitely helped (same person who lent me A Year of Marvellous Ways) – somehow having someone else in my space made it feel more real that this is my space.

That friend and I had a really lovely Friday night and Saturday together. Friday night we went for a stroll around my local area, ate curry I’d made for dinner and chattered away until suddenly it was late and we were tired. Saturday morning we had tea/coffee and breakfast sitting in my living room window looking out at the Derwent River, then headed out for a hike. We climbed steep fire trails to New Town Falls, bush bashed our way up beside the falls, headed along the Hunters Track admiring the rocky scree slopes in one direction and the views to Hobart in the other, checked out the interesting rock formations, found some crazy purple fungus and cooled off at the end of the hike with a restorative foot dip in the New Town Rivulet. There were lots of gorgeous little birds about – Eastern spinebills, pardalotes, scarlet robins etc – and virtually no other people. The more time I spend on that mountain the more I love it! We then headed to a café for a late lunch before coming back to mine for cups of tea and a bit of restorative stretching, before my friend headed back to Launnie. There was plenty more chatter on the Saturday – we’ve definitely got one of those relationships where conversation just naturally meanders its way from topic to topic and there are always more things to say.

Yoga

Not a pose, but a place. The house I now own and live in (still doesn’t quite feel real) has two bedrooms, but it’s just me living here, so the second bedroom is a bedroom no more – it’s my own personal yoga studio/room. I am insanely privileged to have this wonderful space and I am making the most of it – my at home yoga practice can go for up to two hours these days. I love the way the sunlight comes into the room and the views I get out to my garden.

Self-care action

In my new house I am blessed with a very good bath. The week after I moved, I was struggling physically – two migraines in as many days led me to take a sick day the following day to rest and decompress. A long soak in the bath with a candle lit, some tunes playing and a book in hand was an excellent self-care act and one which I will definitely be repeating.


So, that’s March.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

February Favourites

Event

The highlight of the month would have to be one of the biggest things I’ve ever done – buying a house! Unsurprisingly, I am incredibly excited about this, but it’s also kept me busy, hence the lack of any writing on this subject as yet. Settlement is in one week, so I will be living in my very own house very soon!

Other events

Aside from the small thing of buying a house, February also featured some wonderful hikes; trips to the beach to make the most of our lukewarm summer; two book clubs (despite February being a short month, January’s meeting actually ended up being in early February and February’s meeting was towards the end of the February); and a series of brekkies, lunches, dinners and coffees with friends. My brother’s fiancé moved to Hobart last month so it’s been particularly nice spending time with her and with my brother when he was here.

The photos below are from the Tarn Shelf hike out at Mount Field National Park which was just magical.

Fiction books

The Survivors by Jane Harper

This was February’s book club book, chosen given that several of us had read and thoroughly enjoyed Harper’s first novel The Dry, with the bonus of being set in our home state of Tasmania. This latter point turned out not to be a bonus as Harper didn’t quite nail the small-town dynamics and location of her fictional Tasmanian town. While The Survivors probably isn’t quite as good as The Dry, I still enjoyed coming home from work to keep reading it as the mystery at its heart unfolded.

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

Jena Lin is a violinist and former child prodigy who ever since falling (metaphorically) from the staggering heights of her childhood stardom has been trying (and failing) to fill the void left by her fame. Admittedly Jena is not a protagonist to whom I related strongly, but I found her fascinating nonetheless. Tu doesn’t shy away from the complexity and messiness of her protagonist and writes unapologetically about female desire.

The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Fat Round Things and The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I, both by Carolyn Mackler

I’m on a bit of an odyssey at the moment into the world of fat/body positive young adult fiction – ie fiction I wish I’d read as a teenager (you may remember me writing about two young adult novels by Bethany Rutter in last year’s November Favourites).

Both of these novels feature the bold and wonderful Virginia Shreves as she navigates all the complexities of family, friendship and love. They are both highly readable and fun, but also tackle some difficult and important themes such as self-harm. As I said when I wrote about the Bethany Rutter books, I would recommend these whether you are a young adult or not!

Memoir

Bewildered by Laura Waters

I met Waters on the Three Capes Track last November and discovered that she was an author who had written a memoir about hiking the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand, a trail which takes you from the tip of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island. I really liked her and we had some really good chats on the trail (mental health, family, work, other things besides), so I was keen to seek out and read her book. I’m pleased to report that she is an excellent writer – reading Bewildered was a pleasure! I love the way Waters weaves together the physical journey of the track with the metaphorical journey she is on to process her recent past. I also love the way Waters prods at learned ideas about how women should behave and what women should be capable of doing. Reading this inspired me to keep hiking, keep challenging myself and to perhaps one day attempt the Te Araroa Trail.

Podcasts

Maintenance Phase

The tagline of this podcast says it all really: “wellness and weight loss, debunked and decoded”. Co-hosted by journalist Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon (Your Fat Friend, check her out, she’s amazing), each episode focuses on a health and wellness fad (think Halo Top ice cream or intermittent fasting) and reveals the junk science behind and deep cultural roots of each. This podcast makes me feel smarter but also motivates me to keep pushing back against diet culture, fatphobia etc.

Music

Omoiyari by Kishi Bashi

I’ve been loving this whole album. This album was created in locations relevant to the Japanese American incarceration during World War II and the songs clearly draw their inspiration from this history. I don’t think this is an album it’s appropriate to pick a favourite song from – the whole experience is kind of necessary. And as you listen, definitely worth looking up the lyrics of the songs – they tell some pretty important stories.

Dark Eyes by Half Moon Run

This is another whole album I’ve been loving. Yes, it’s from 2012, so it’s not exactly new, but my love of Half Moon Run only started more recently with their more recent music, so it’s been a pleasure to go back and discover this 2012 gold. Picking a favourite off this album is challenging, they are all favourites, but recently I’ve been loving the slow burn of the song Unofferable.

TV show

Aftertaste

If you;’re after something fun to watch and can stomach quite a bit of swearing, this is a really well crafted and funny show about a middle-aged, angry white male celebrity chef Easton West (he has distinct Gordon Ramsy vibes) who has completely fallen from grace and alienated pretty much everyone in his life. So he returns home, to the family he left behind 30 years earlier, hoping to rebuild his life. Enter his niece Diana, an extraordinary baker and all around queen, and an unlikely professional partnership begins to emerge. And boy does Diana have things to teach Easton. This show is full of warmth, wit

Self-care action

February was a hectic month for me – I bought a house, started my new role at work and instantly got stuck into the project I’m managing which due to COVID-19 delays we have six months to complete rather than the ideal 18, plus had to of course keep doing all the mundane things you need to do to keep life ticking along (washing, cleaning, shopping, cooking). This meant self-care became more important than ever. An important aspect of this for me was taking a few naps on weekends when energy was sapped and needed replenishing. Not glamorous or interesting or ideal, but necessary and an important act of self-care to allow myself to just lie down and rest.

Yoga pose

Dancer’s pose

Another balancing pose (like last month’s favourite of half moon), dancer’s pose is both a challenge and a joy. It requires balance, but also strength and flexibility, making it incredibly satisfying when you get it right!

Food

I ate a lot of good food in February. Something I’ve enjoyed quite a few times, both in cafes/restaurants (special mentions to Hobart’s Raincheck Lounge and Straight Up Coffee & Food) and at home, is a “nourish” or “Buddha” or whatever else you want to call it bowl. Basically, it’s a bowl based on a grain such as brown rice with an array of toppings, usually involving most or all of the following: roasted or sauteed vegetables, a vegan protein (eglentils, falafel), pickles of some kind, salad veg, nuts/seeds, some kind of sauce (often hummus/tahini based). They’re always more aesthetic when I order one at a cafe/restaurant, but my DIY versions, while less photogenic, are at least as tasty as the cafe/restaurant ones!

Feeling At Home In My Body

Recently, I’ve been feeling much more at home in my body. Instead of fighting against my body, I find myself increasingly able to work with and into this body of mine. Instead of tuning out the inevitable unpleasant sensations and imperfections, I am aware of its sensations and, yes, even its imperfections. Judgment and criticism have been supplanted by curiosity and openness. How does my belly feel after a big dinner? What does the flesh of my thighs look like when I kneel down, bum to heels? What signals does my body send when I’ve been sitting at my computer for too long at work?

Fullness, fleshiness and flickers of unpleasant sensation no longer set off alarm bells that cause me to disengage from my body. Now, these are all just pieces of information which I trust myself to experience and respond to if required. And the more I do this, the more the effect multiplies, my belief in my ability to positively engage with body reinforced.

As a result, I feel far more confident and comfortable in my body, just as it is. Confident and comfortable enough to practise yoga on the beach in sports shorts and a bikini top. Confident and comfortable enough to undress and look at myself in the mirror after eating a large meal and simply observe the roundness of my stomach. Confident and comfortable enough to take myself off on hikes I haven’t done before, knowing my body will respond to the challenge.

I feel liberated – I have liberated myself.

It has taken me years to get to this place. I now realise I have lived years and years disconnected from my body because of my discomfort with it. So why now? How is it that I am finally coming back into my body? There are a few things which have helped me immensely on this “journey”, each of which I will address in turn.


Intuitive eating

In recent months I have finally, after years of holding on to just a little bit of control over what I ate, making rules (albeit nowhere near as extreme as the rules my eating disorder set for me in my youth) about when it was “normal” and “healthy” to eat, how much it was “normal” and “healthy” to eat and so on, I have let go.

Intuitive eating is a multi-faceted concept, but ultimately for me it about trusting that my body knows what it needs and will ask for it, and then honouring these requests. At its core then, intuitive eating is about coming back to the body. In doing so, I have found so much freedom and headspace. I have given myself unconditional permission to eat whatever, whenever, however feels right and I have quieted the voice in my head that tells me what, when and how I “should” eat.

You can read my post Intuitive Eating & Body Trust for more on this.

Spending an increasing amount of time in nature

Being in nature reminds me that I too am natural. I am not a machine, I am a complex organism made up of many parts. Every weekend now, I find myself called out into nature. I wend my way up hill after hill, feeling the sweat coat my body, my heart pound in my chest and the air rush in and out of my lungs. I stop to watch an echidna forage for a snack or to feel the smooth bark of a eucalypt. I apologise aloud to a mob of Bennett’s wallabies when my footsteps startle them into action. I break into a run on a downhill stretch, feeling the wind in my face and the strength in my legs. I come home with blisters on my toes, sand in my socks, mud on my boots, tangles in my hair and a smile on my face. On the boulder fields, in the forest, on the sand, in the water – this is where I find myself, find my home.

My deepening yoga practice

Breath and body – these are the fundamental building blocks of yoga practice. Breath and body. As with nature, I increasingly find myself called to my yoga practice, to my mat. On work nights, I am drawn home by the desire to get onto my mat and reconnect with my physicality – with breath and body – after a day spent in the cerebral space that is my work. My yoga practice is a chance to explore and celebrate my body’s strength, flexibility, balance. It is a chance to play with movement and stillness. It is another way in which I honour my body and show it kindness, because I respond to its signals. And throughout, whether in movement or stillness, I breathe deeply into every fibre of my being, refreshing, renewing, restoring. On my yoga mat, I am again at home.

Positive social media

I only got Instagram about six months ago, primarily to share photos from my hikes and other Tassie adventures. But the other thing Instagram has allowed me to do is to curate a feed of images, videos and messaging from people unashamedly, passionately inhabiting their bodies, feeding their bodies, moving their bodies, dressing their bodies, whatever that body may look like. In doing so, these people inspire me to unashamedly and passionately inhabit, feed, move and dress my own body. As such, my Instagram feed becomes a constant reminder to come back to my body, to nurture it, love it.


As I said at the top, in reaching this place, I have realised how disconnected I had been from my body because of my discomfort with it. I never want to go back to that state of disconnection because feeling connected has allowed me to feel free. And what an immense gift that freedom is.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.