The Invisible Disability

I tell people I’m cured, but it’s not true, not really. Perhaps in the sense that there is no more active cancer forcing its way into the valuable real estate inside my skull, it’s true. It was the vacuum that the cancer; the brain tumour; the aggressive growth with an intention to murder me left once it had been cut away by the surgeon’s knife, burnt away by the radiation and poisoned away by the chemotherapy, it was this vacuum that left me with something that can never be cured.

An acquired brain injury (ABI) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) as it is also known is something that happens after birth. It is an injury that can come in many forms. For example, a degenerative neurological condition, a head injury arising from a motorbike accident, sporting injury, assault,  a stroke, lack of oxygen or blood supply to the brain, substance abuse and addictions, brain cancer, radiation, chemotherapy and brain swelling. Acquired brain injury arising from domestic violence situations is the leading cause of disability and death in infants and children subject to violent home and family environments. Most people in Australia would be familiar with shaken baby syndrome; a condition inflicted on an infant by violently shaking a child, causing the head to whip violently, resulting in damage to the brain and neck.  Particular segments of society are subject to significantly higher rates of brain injury in adults.  In these segments, it is women who are at much greater risk of brain injury when compared to broader society and the risk that men in broader society are subject to. 

“You go home and sort out your things,” the radiation oncologist said to me as she patted my hand. She wanted me to prepare for imminent death, and as I stood next to the huge window that showed people going about their everyday business down below I wondered what had happened to my life because I used to be like those people down below; someone with a future. I couldn’t grasp how this cancerous monster could snake its tendrils out of the abyss in an urgent need to acquire all of me; my past and also my future.  “No!” I wanted to shout at her as she wafted away from me, through the waiting room and into the guts of the hospital, instead I kept quiet and told myself that none of it was real.

In a population of 24.6 million people, it’s estimated that around 700 000 of us are living with TBI. This condition is more common than most people realise, which is one of the reasons why it has come to be known as the invisible disability and the hidden disability. It’s also known for this because it’s often not obvious that a brain injured person even has a disability. “You look fine,” is a common remark because many people with TBI look and sound like people who don’t have TBI, but these people are dealing with complex problems that in some instances have almost destroyed their lives. These struggles remain hidden because even if they were aired it is impossible for people who have no experience with TBI to understand what it means to have lost almost everything and not be able to find a path back to a life that no longer exists. Looking fine is one thing, but being fine is another issue entirely.

At home, after the hospital, I couldn’t work out what was wrong with me. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” I’d say to whoever was listening. “Why did I come into this room?” I’d ask with growing frustration. After I moved house I couldn’t remember leaving the old one and couldn’t make out how much time had passed since I’d left the last place I’d lived in or how much time I had to get ready before going somewhere or how long certain things took. At the shopping centre I’d stand at the top of the escalator alarmed to find myself in a place full of light, sound, people and smells and not know why I was there or how I’d even arrived there to begin with. I got lost when out walking, I couldn’t recognise people and I kept forgetting almost everything that happened. Endlessly tired, I felt as though I just couldn’t cope, but I was unable to articulate what it was that I couldn’t cope with. I became depressed, began drinking too much and when my best friend and her family turned their backs on me I became suicidal.  I didn’t know I had a brain injury because no one had thought to tell someone who was meant to be dead in three months that they now had to live with TBI.

Brain injury is difficult to treat because there is no way to predict how an individual might respond to treatment. The issues that arise following TBI are complex and significant resulting in long term impacts to the lives of the brain injured person, their family and often broader groups at the societal level. “My husband told me he didn’t want to be married anymore,” said a brain injured mother in her early thirties. Her husband had left her when he found out that she needed brain surgery. “My son is fifty-five. He can’t live by himself because he can’t make decisions. I really wish he wouldn’t ride his bike around town, but it’s his only outlet and realistically, I can’t stop him from doing it.” He had been brain injured in a terrible car accident in his twenties. “I hate it when people finish sentences for me,” said a man who was dealing with the effects of a stroke. It took him the best part of five minutes to get these words out. “I wish things could just go back to how they were before. People think I’m lazy now, but I’m just so tired all the time,” said another stroke survivor.

Fatigue crushed in on me from all angles. “How will I ever get through this day?” I wondered aloud everytime the sun came up. It wasn’t just fatigue weighing on me, but despair and grief for all that I’d lost and all that I knew I’d never be. It was the guilt I felt at having survived when others weren’t so lucky and it was my heart broken at having been discarded by those I always believed had loved me unconditionally. Ultimately, I felt as though nothing I ever did was good enough and that there must be something inherently wrong with me. I couldn’t stand my own reflection in the mirror because my identity had been wiped out, all that mattered had been cast aside and I no longer knew who I was or what any of it meant.

Personality changes, behavioural problems, emotional lability and cognitive impairment are major issues for those dealing with TBI.  There are general clinical tools for treating these types of problems, but none necessarily specific to TBI.  Research on the topic can be contradictory to personal experience because there is no definitive description for how someone’s behaviour, emotion, or personality might be affected following TBI.  For example, some research downplays the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a TBI, especially if the TBI occurred in a medical setting, while opposing research and personal accounts evidence otherwise. This serves to demonstrate how complex it is for healthcare professionals and policy makers to make decisions that will deliver the best outcomes for the most people and to tailor treatment to individual needs.

“You could have contacted disability services and asked for special consideration,” the clinical psychologist conducting a neuro-psychological assessment on me told me right before I was about to do my final exam for university. After struggling for so long and living with TBI for five years I’d finally worked out what was wrong with me.  At uni I’d found a DVD about brain injuries in the library.  Someone had shoved it in the space that was meant for a book I wanted for an assignment about ecosystems.  As I watched the DVD the shadow began to lift from my soul. The band around my heart loosened and the rock in the base of my abdomen began to break away. “This is what’s wrong with me,” I whispered to the empty lounge room, awestruck.  I felt immensely relieved, and it wasn’t until later that I started to feel angry about the way I’d been treated and ignored by the health care professionals involved in my hospital experience, and by those who were meant to care about me.  Being overlooked by the health care professionals is not acceptable, but being discarded by those who were meant to care about me is nothing short of repugnant. How do they live with themselves, I’m often brought to wonder. And they wouldn’t be the last ones to treat me in this manner, which likely demonstrates a broader attitude to disability within Australian society.

Often people with disabilities are excluded from participating fully by indirect discrimination. For example, the local theatre provides several disabled parking spaces, but the time limit is two hours. The council has long term parking, but the distance from the town centre precludes use by those with mobility problems. This means that having a problem with mobility makes it hard to access the theatre for cultural events, which often extend beyond a two hour timeframe. Certainly these issues can be planned for in advance and innovations applied to address any problems encountered in this situation, but this assumes a certain level of problem solving ability and a certain level of peer or personal support. This is not always available to all people. “Sometimes it’s easier just to stay at home,” said a lady in her forties after surviving a stroke, and I wondered how she was perceived now, bereft of nuance;  her face permanently set in the same emotionless expression and her voice delivery the same toneless quality; all due to stroke.  

I wanted to give up drinking because it was beyond my ability to control. I tried so hard to cut back, but always ended up drinking more and the more I drank, the worse I felt about how disrespectful it was to be living like that. I wanted to do more with the second chance I’d been given, but I didn’t know how to do that because I felt so unworthy of everything. I didn’t know how to live through the emotional turmoil that my life had become since my brain injury and I was using alcohol as a way to cope. I wanted so much to be “normal” and after I graduated from uni I kept trying to get a job, but was rejected over and over again, each time, my heart breaking anew.  Even though I’d worked out that I wasn’t crazy, just brain injured, I was depressed and remained suicidal for a long time. I fought with my husband, who had stood by me since the first day I’d  become ill. I fought with his parents, who he relied on for support, I fought with my mum about the way I felt about myself, and I fought with the world because I felt like I didn’t belong. I never stopped fighting with myself, but finally I won the fight against alcoholism and gave up drinking. I just stopped and never had another drink again. This wasn’t easy to do in a society where alcohol is so important to our way of life. It’s still not easy and it’s been many years since I’ve had a drink, but I’m so very glad I did it.

It’s estimated that up to eighty percent of people with TBI acquired their brain injuries while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This includes secondary damage such as injuries resulting from impaired decision-making while under the influence or from direct damage due to overconsumption and the toxic results of this on the brain.  Having TBI increases the risk of having another TBI and this is compounded by the consumption of alcohol due to the brain’s increased sensitivity to alcohol following injury and the impairment of cognitive abilities necessary to make competent decisions and effective choices. Some research suggests that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption following TBI.  This is difficult to accept in a society where the consumption of alcohol is widespread, acceptable and often expected, particularly in social settings and celebratory gatherings.

I started to accept that I’d lost almost everything that was once important to me and as it shifted aside, newness began to make its way in. Accepting the way things were and the questionable things that people had done to me didn’t mean that I forgot any of it or forgave any of it, it meant that I was able to move forward. I was still confused a lot of the time, but then, isn’t that just life? It’s hard to know what happens because I’m human and what happens because I’m brain injured, and if it’s even worthwhile figuring out the difference. I got a job; one that I loved; one that I was good at. “I can’t believe I finally did it!” I shouted at my husband after the call came to tell me they wanted me for the position. Mum sent me a card and I got lots of congratulatory messages from everyone who knew how hard I’d worked. “You’re going to be really good at this job,” one of the messages said. It was all so exciting. I didn’t reveal that I had a brain injury because I knew that being brain injured would not impact on my ability to do the job, and it didn’t. It didn’t impact on anything until I unwittingly told someone I had TBI. Not long after that I had to leave. I couldn’t cope with being treated like I was stupid, yelled at for being “dangerous”, picked on and accused of selfishness. It’s funny how I was none of these things before they knew I was brain injured. I’d been brain injured for fourteen years before I got this job, but to them it appeared that it had only just happened and all of a sudden I was a different person. “I don’t want to work here anymore,” I said to the lady in the office. I got in my car and drove home. No one called to ask if I was ok or why I left. I was sad, but mostly I just felt really, really sorry for them. It made me realise how shallow life must be for people like this; people who have no compassion and understanding of what it’s like to live not just with TBI, but with any kind of challenging circumstance that is beyond their own personal experience. It fell on me how difficult life must be for those of us who have no agency; people who aren’t like me and have no voice; all of us who can’t be cured.

Note: I have used published information to write parts of this post that relate to statistics, clinical and social perspectives, but I have paraphrased everything and nothing has been copied and pasted. This article was intended as a speech to be presented at the National Brain Injury Conference and as a result I did not include citations.

Beliefs Goodbye

The other day I got to thinking about what it must be like to hold onto beliefs. I’d never considered this before because I’m constantly revisiting my beliefs to work out if they still apply to my life given the information at hand. When I imagined what it must be like to have beliefs that stop you from living an awesome life I saw a mind walled off by bricks. It made me want to shout, “NOOOOOO!”

Stuff changes ALL the time and it’s really not worth holding onto ideas that no longer work for you. That’s actually a great recipe for unhappiness. Petula is a character I created to demonstrate what it must be like to live with beliefs that have never been challenged. Petula is certain that she’s right ALL the time, even though the evidence often contradicts what she believes. Gees, she must get tired from constantly having to defend her beliefs. This is what she looks like when something comes up that she doesn’t agree with: 

When something goes wrong in Petula’s life she can’t accept that it might be because she’s applying a narrative fallacy, in which she is imagining a logical link where one doesn’t exist. And, she’s doing this because she has false beliefs about the world. Instead, if she looked at what she believed and saw that it wasn’t actually true (based on the information at hand), she could deal with it differently and wouldn’t have to blame her shit on other people:

Here’s some beliefs that I once had, but have changed because I grew as a person.

Hard work trumps everything – I always believed that if I worked really hard at something I’d get there in the end. This isn’t actually true 100% of the time because there are other factors at play that are out of my control. These factors can influence my success. Being in the right place at the right time can often make all the difference and this has nothing to do with how hard a person works. Getting rid of this belief allowed me to stop berating myself for not trying hard enough or telling myself that there was something wrong with me. Sure, I still do everything to the best of my ability, but if I can’t achieve a goal I rework the goal instead of blaming everything on myself, which only results in apathy in the end, and apathy never motivated anyone to do anything.

Everything happens for a reason – I held onto this one for a long time. It was a story I told myself about the way the world works so that I could understand the randomness of existence. The fact is, existence is largely random and there really is no reason behind much of what happens. What we do with the outcomes of situations is what defines the ultimate reason for an event. Getting rid of this belief relieved me of the burden of searching endlessly for meaning.

Stuff in the media is true – I guess I got this from my dad and I also banished this belief because of him. When he died the newspaper wrote a story about him which wasn’t true at all. This was a big shock to me because I’d never once stopped to think that newspapers make shit up. Getting rid of this belief really ignited my critical awareness. It changed the relationship I have with television, radio and the internet. Nowadays I don’t watch TV and don’t listen to any news stories at all. What’s the point of consuming news? It’s only ever negative and now I know that much of it probably isn’t even true. 

I can’t run – I believed this for forty years! The fact is, I can actually run and have been doing just that since 2016. It was hard at first, and sometimes it’s still hard, but mostly I love it. Getting rid of this belief opened the door to feeling like I totally own my life; my health, my appearance and my attitude. I’m fitter now than I have ever been and I also look better now than I did when I was 22. 

I don’t want to be like Petula. I don’t want to blame my problems on other people. I don’t want to do this:

Saying goodbye to some beliefs is hard. I think I struggled most with the belief that friendships are meant to last forever. That was something that I’d been indoctrinated with since early childhood. Even close friends (like besties) come and go and I’ve learned that just because you’ve been best mates with someone for more than twenty years, doesn’t mean they won’t run a country mile when the chips are down. But, this is a perfect example of how to apply new evidence to a belief and call it into question.

Don’t be like our friend Petula:

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot for the sake of your beliefs

Who are you: 07 41268909

Does anyone know who owns this number? I’d like to find out. I’ve been calling them all morning, but surprise, surprise, they won’t answer. I wonder why?

Maybe it’s because they rang the cool guy I’m married to and left a message on his voice mail that said, “There’s a rumour going around that while you’re away, Jen will play. Watch your back.”

I don’t think they mean the kind of playing that I’m known for, such as walking 25km in under five hours or decreasing my running time over 5km by more than ten minutes. I don’t think they mean how I love live music, vintage clothing or learning new shit. I think they are basic arseholes trying to make my life difficult because for some reason, they don’t like me.

Are they jealous because my husband and I have been married for fifteen years? Are they threatened because I look totally fucking amazing and have a better physique now that I’m in my forties than I ever did, even when I was 22 years old? Are they scared of how smart and articulate I am even though about one third of my brain is missing?

People like these fuckers at 07 41268909 are the scourge of the earth. They’re your basic spineless morons. If they’ve got a problem with me, why don’t they show up here and let me know? You know why, because they’ve got tiny little pea hearts and tiny little pea brains, not to mention that they have no nuts and no spine.

You know, I’d get it if I was an arsehole too, I really would. Sometimes I lose my shit, just like everyone does now and then, but I’m not out there trying to intentionally hurt people by making up stories about others, breaking other peoples’ stuff, stealing stuff, hurting children and animals. I mean, I did actually get nominated for Australian of the Year in 2018. Not that this would mean anything to these particular losers and others like them.

These people exemplify what it means to be a bad person. Only bad people do shit like this. Even if I was having it off with a bunch of dudes, how is a message like the one they left at all helpful? They’ve done it because they have a bunch of anti-values and black hearts…

Anti-Values are values that have a predictably bad outcome. These include dominance, revenge, sadism, ideology, hardness, and exclusivity. Presumably in our primordial past, these anti-values ensured some measure of security and flourishing, but they no longer have a beneficial role in our modern communities.”

Furthermore, how old are they for crying out loud? This is pure high school bullshit. You know, the kind of shit you left behind when you were like 15 or 16 years old. Their emotional intelligence must equal zero. Not much can be said for their level of intellect either, considering they were dumb enough to make the call on their own number.

So, my family and I have been calling it all morning and the dickheads have even answered a couple of times, but when we ask who they are, they predictably hang up.  I’ve gotten a few friends onto it as well and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll find out who it is. Once I do, I’m going straight to the cops because I’m not putting up with this kind of shit, especially when I haven’t done anything wrong and the way I live my life is none of anyone elses’ business anyway.

Let me know if you know who this number belongs to:

07 4128909

The Flat Earth

I seem pretty good at ruining peoples lives lately. Do I have a sign on my head? Is there something wrong with me? I don’t think so, but I am what some would call a Tall Poppy. I’m not someone who thinks highly of themselves, like some definitions say, but someone who has achieved a lot:

“Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is a term commonly used in Australia, referring to the expectation that poppies should grow together, and if one grows too tall, it is cut down to size… women…, like poppies, [are cut] down due to their success and achievements.” (Billan, 2019)

After the last school holidays when heaps of people came to my small village to camp, go fishing, boating and to the beach I sent an email to the council. I didn’t do it because I hate visitors or because I’m trying to ruin peoples lives, I did it because it was glaringly obvious that the visitors have different values to the people who live here. The reason I know this is because:

They drove their cars onto the beach, ruining the fragile little dune system. They launched their boats on the sandy strip next to the boat ramp and drove their cars along that beach crushing a lot of the mangroves. At the campsites they had shotguns and were shooting things in the middle of the night. They dug holes in the grassed foreshore and had fires. ALL of this stuff is totally illegal and wouldn’t be tolerated in a more populated area.

In the email I highlighted the problems above, plus gave the council some ideas about how it might be time to upgrade the toilet block and shelter shed. I was totally surprised when the council rang me up and said they were going to investigate all of the problems I’d outlined and do what they could to address them. Whoa! I wasn’t expecting that.

Council started upgrading the rest area by removing the ugly old fence and chain around the area. It looks good already.

So, they came down here, assessed things and made some decisions about what needed fixing. They didn’t ask me or anyone in the community if it was OK for them to make changes, they just did what needed doing, which is what councils do all the time because guess what? We live in a democracy.

This is what they did:

Rocks sourced by council and placed by a local earthmoving contractor to prevent cars accessing the beach. When I saw them I thought they looked great. “I love how you’ve left the gaps in between. People will still be able to get onto the beach no worries, plus look at all the new seats!” I said to the contractor. He seemed pretty pleased with the job. This will stop any further destruction of the dune and the vegetation that sits along it and the mangroves that sit below it. We could put plaques on these rocks to commemorate people from Woodgate. The rocks could be painted, carved, seats put on them, etc, etc. If you don’t like the way they look, instead of whinging, do something constructive about it.

Bollard placed by the council to prevent people launching boats on the sand. Um, hello? Are you in there? Didn’t you notice the actual boatramp? It’s only right there in front of you!! This will prevent the vegetation to the right of the bollard being destroyed and an erosional process starting up. This bollard doesn’t have to be permanent. If people want an accessible boatramp for the frail or disabled, this would be an awesome opportunity to get that going (see: change bringing opportunities).

All these things are about protecting the coast. I didn’t ask the council to come in and ruin everyone’s lives by making these tiny changes. I’m sorry, but contrary to what some people might think, I don’t actually have that power. Here are some little examples of the things that have been said to me:

“I’ve been here for thirty years and there’s no erosion. It’s exactly the same as it was when I came here thirty years ago. People don’t drive their cars on the beach.” (Hmm, I do wonder how this person might know this considering they sit on their arse inside their house all day long and the only time they go out is to hang the washing on the line, which is nowhere near the beach, rocks or bollard).

“You shouldn’t move here if you don’t like it.” (I do like it, you moron, that’s why I’m interested in making sure that the way we use the area is sustainable).

“How come the council does what you say, but when we ask them, they won’t help us? That’s not fair.” (I don’t know, maybe because all you do is whinge and aren’t effective at communicating what you want in a specific enough way and to the right person/department).

“You’re the only one who thinks like this, no one else does.” (OK, that’s great, but how do you know that and why does it even matter anyway. Besides, it’s not true because I spoke to most people about it and everyone I spoke to said it was a good idea).

“Those rocks are ugly. We don’t need those. They could have done a better job of putting them in place. They look terrible.” (I let the contractor know how unhappy they were with his job).

“You’ve done this to be annoying.” (What the actual fuck?!).

“What else are you planning?” (Again, what the actual fuck?!)

I gave good, logical responses to all of these ridiculous statements and questions, but this person could not understand anything I said even though I dumbed it right down for them by using specific examples that related to them and their own lives. They must’ve asked me three or four times the exact same thing, which was really about it not being fair that the council doesn’t listen to them, but will listen to me. They were upset about that mostly because they think that just because they’ve lived here for a long time they have more rights than someone who moved here four years ago.

I’ve noticed that people say this kind of shit a lot:

“I’ve been here longer than you!”

“We’ve been here thirty years!”

“My family has been in the area for five generations!”

Big fucking deal. That might give you a personal sense of ownership, but it doesn’t actually translate into real ownership that can be applied in a tangible reality unless you personally hold a legal title over property or effects. Everyone, regardless of age, ability and time spent in an area is entitled to the same human rights. No one person is entitled to more rights than the next and that goes for people who have lived in a place for a long time as well.

Check out how Australia was colonised for crying out loud! It’s funny that people want to claim ownership over something they don’t own by virtue of time spent, but the same people wouldn’t be willing to acknowledge the original inhabitants of this country the same way. Yet, it’s the same argument, isn’t it? And, that argument tells us that if we’re counting years spent, then Indigenous Australians would beat every single one of us   40 000 times over. Also, what does that say about contemporary children? Just because they’ve been here less time than adults they have less rights? No, they don’t. They have the same rights as the rest of us and there’s no way that most people would argue with that.

Check out these things in my little village that were once new, and required change:

Kopper’s Logs fencing. This is to stop idiots driving their cars onto the foreshore and wrecking the joint. These fences (they go all the way along the front) weren’t always here. The council put them there because they recognised the area needed them. This had nothing to do with me by the way!

Picnic table erected by the council. At one point, this was just bare ground, so things have changed since then. Again, nothing to do with me.

A bin placed by the council. This used to an area with no bins. Now we have quite a few of them. Things have changed since people used to chuck their rubbish on the ground. My doing? No.

Seawall constructed by the council and its contractors. This used to be eroded dunes. Things have changed since then and if they hadn’t, well, the foreshore and road would have likely vanished by now. Did I do this? Nup.

Cement stairs from foreshore onto beach. Constructed by the council. If these weren’t here we’d be clambering over rocks. Things have changed since the seawall was constructed. My fault? No.

My house. This was once a bare block of ground and its not anymore, that means things have changed. Did I build this house? No. Did I move here? Yes; more change.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? We can’t avoid change. It’s inevitable. It’s like that because there’s no way to control everything. I’m sure that’s fairly obvious, but do people get it, like really get it, way down deep in their bones? No, people in general despise change, especially older people. Why? The cool guy I’m married to said this, which I think is pretty awesome:

“They probably think…I should be controlling you or telling you how to live. You know how husbands did back in their day when they got married and had twenty kids by the age of seventeen, and the wives just cooked and cleaned and the husband controlled all the money. You know, back when the earth was flat…I’ts a wonder we get any change in society. You know, because all the old [people] have been here before us and lived on this planet longer. I don’t know why people move to earth if they want to change everything.”

The Flat Earth: this is where some people are stuck (image from The Conversation website).

Sometimes, it really feels like I’m from another planet. It does. The shit that people say and do and the stuff they think just blows my mind. I find it hard to understand how someone can make it all the way into their seventies and still be a moron. If someone has been here the longest, wouldn’t that make them the smartest? I mean, they’ve had the most time to learn things haven’t they? I dunno, I just can’t get my head around it, can you?

I refuse to make myself small so that other people can feel OK about their own small lives. This is my one precious life and I will live it fully by engaging with existence and applying myself to overcome challenges. This means I will achieve things that others don’t, and that’s not something I want to hide, especially if these things can inform change that can provide us with even more opportunities than we have now. And I’m certainly not trying to achieve things to show anyone up. I could not think of a worse waste of time. I’m not into mind games. I’m interested in being the best human I can be and if that means I grow taller than the other poppies, then too bad, so sad.

(Image from: Unsplash)

Don’t be small

Grow big and shade out the sun

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Sock Protectors

Did you know that sock protectors have special powers? Yep, those simple pieces of fabric,held up by elastic that sit over the top of your boot can get right into the nooks and crannies of your life and bring the whole thing crashing down around your ears. Surprised? I was too.

Image: Rossi Boots website

It’s no secret, I love making shit for people. Every year I make upwards of twenty Christmas cakes to give out to my friends and family. I write stories and stupid little poems for people, I buy my friends gifts when I come across something I think they’d dig. I give money to homeless people and I give my time to charitable causes by hiking long distances to raise money for stuff I care about.

Once, at Woodford Folk Festival I bought two teenagers some books in the bookstore because they didn’t have enough money to get the books they wanted. “Get whatever you want and I’ll pay for it. Don’t worry about the price, just get it and I’ll pay for it,” I said. When one of them asked why I said, “Just because.”  After I did that I felt totally magnanimous and went a bought a stranger a coffee, then another, then another, all anonymously. It made me feel totally awesome.

This is nothing new. I haven’t set out to create trouble for anyone by being kind. In fact, I’ve been this way since I was a little kid. All through my life I’ve loved making things to give to others. I never imagined that it could turn on me.

A while back I made a good friend of mine a pair of stupid sock protectors. They were flowery and ridiculous. I knew he’d probably never wear them because of their ridiculousness, but I thought it was funny, and I thought it was fitting because we hadn’t been friends that long, so it was a light-hearted gift to give at a beginning of a friendship.

I wish I’d never made them. As a result of these stupid sock protectors I’ve been accused of some pretty outrageous shit. Quite a significant amount of assumptions have been made about me, my motives, my marriage and how I spend my time. Even my human rights have been called into question.

Because: sock protectors.

It must have had something to do with the fabric I made these particular sock protectors from because I’ve had no back lash from the sock protectors I made for other friends to let them know I value their friendship:

Peter: I met this guy when I hiked from Woodgate to Brisbane in 2019. These ones were made out of Star Trek fabric

Yal: I met this dude at uni in 2010. These ones were made out of Hawaiian fabric

Liv: I met this cool chic on the same hike as I met Peter. These ones were made out of red flowery material

Tiiu: Another cool chic I met on the hike. These ones were made out corduroy with a stawberry print

Wardy: A fella from a town I used to live in. This guy had about ten pairs; all flowery material

And, what about all the other stuff that I’ve made people over the years; bags out of old jeans and vintage sheet and curtain fabric; the jams and preserves I’ve prepared; the writing paper I’ve marbled by hand in my kitchen; the cross stitch and weaving I’ve crafted; the plants I’ve grown from seed; not to mention the stuff that my friends have made for me, like shopping bags out of old t-shirts, kitchen hand towels, cocodamas, crocheted beanies, patchwork quilts, etc, etc?

How is it that a simple act of kindness can be taken out of context and used as a tool of destruction and vitriol? I know the answer, it’s because in general, people have a hard time being able to step back and look at the big picture. I’ve noticed that it’s really difficult for people to recognise their shortcomings. I know this because I’m human too. I’ve come to learn that one of the hardest things to do in life is to take responsibility for stuff and come to terms with your accountability. It’s so very much easier to take something that has nothing to do with your situation (like sock protectors or even birthday cake) and focus on that to alleviate having to examine your own shortcomings; in this situation, an inability to see things for what they are, not what they’re imagined to be.

Basically, my gift of sock protectors allowed a person to circumvent the accountability they needed to face and shift it onto me, which, by the way, has absolute zero to do with me nor with sock protectors, but I’m pretty doubtful they’ll ever see it like that. This is where the magic comes into it. It’s magical thinking that has facilitated the great switcheroo here, magical thinking that decades, or even just a few hours of discord in a person’s life can be blamed on sock protectors and that everything will be solved because it’s all my fault, even though me and the sock protectors only came along after things had gone south.

It sucks having to deal with your own shortcomings, but unless you do, you can’t live an authentic life, and that means that you can’t ever really be properly happy. As the Cool Guy I’m Married to says, “Take the hit early”.  What he means here is, if you accept that you’re wrong, that you made a mistake, or that you basically just fucked things up, then that’s great because you can sort it out ASAP and get on with things. It’s OK to make mistakes because as humans that’s one thing we’re pretty damn good at. It’s how we’ve made it to the point where we live in civilisation; a place where most of us have jobs, drive cars, have bank accounts, watch TV, buy shit we don’t need and have running water. The life we all have now is only the way it is because we fucked everything up, but kept on learning and moving forward.

You have to own your own shit because:

 

HURTING + OVERCOMING = LEARNING + GROWING