Saturday 22nd February 2020

Changes For The Good: Head & Neck Cancer & Me: Eating. 15/2020.

Changes For The Good: Head & Neck Cancer & Me: Eating. 15/2020.

Next week, I have been asked to be a patient-participant in a video being made for Beyond Five on nutrition. As many of you know I have been a Community Ambassador for Beyond Five – the Face of Head and Neck Cancer – since late 2018.

Announcement of My Ambassador Role.

I was enthusiastic to take part in this video initially…then had a small crisis of confidence (for the want of a better expression) and began doubting my relevance. I was, and still am, firmly encouraged by both the CEO of Beyond Five and my husband that I do have that quality! Thank you.

There is a back-story to this and I am going to share it briefly before making my points about the GOOD that has come for me in terms of changes from a diagnosis of Head and Neck Cancer.

Denyse and eating…before Head and Neck Cancer. 

From early days in my teens and twenties I would self-soothe with lollies, chocolate and whilst I did not over-eat significantly, I did establish a pattern of eating for comfort. None of this was ever really a secret (certainly I did not have any kind of eating disorder, for which I am grateful) but it still was something I would not admit to doing (except me) and then over time, it probably began the life-time (decades rather than all of my life!) of eating for reasons other than hunger or to nourish myself. The bigger picture (pun intended) was first written about here and then, as I became more accountable for my past behaviours around eating, I updated here. Blogging is so good for this!

The above posts show that I acknowledged my eating and what it was doing to my appearance, general well-being and health. Yet, the ‘same amount of weight’ that would come off over a few decades (3 times at least) would also go back on.

What was I missing?

  1. Probably other ways in which to see food.
  2. Or maybe the maturity (even though I was mature in years) to see through the hard yards.
  3. But maybe none of this.
  4. I think as a serial dieter/eater/non exerciser and one who ate emotionally I just did what I did.

A Breakthrough of Sorts: Not Great Though.

From 2013 onwards, I acknowledge how serious my weight had become as a result of eating and less movement when my GP challenged me to try to reduced weight or she would be sending me for a Glucose Tolerance Test as I was becoming pre-Diabetic 2 in my test results. I managed to do as asked and my weight reduced enough to see progress. Yay.

Then from 2014, my anxiety ramped up (we were about to sell our house to pay out the mortgage as I needed to stop work at almost 65), and Irritable Bowel Syndrome re-entered my life after a few decades absence. From then I found I literally could not eat as I did before without the effects of mostly explosive diarrhoea. Yes. Unpleasant and socially restrictive.

Over the time of our move to the Central Coast, and some of my emotionally challenging times to adapt to life’s transitions, this continued to be a pattern and without ‘any real effort’ my weight slowly reduced.

I did, however, raise with my doctors, that I might have had cancer. I did look pretty gaunt. No, they said. OK. I did feel anxious almost all the time.

My Diagnosis of a Rare Oral Cancer: 17 May 2017, and How That Changed Me.

My story is told here on this page: Head and Neck Cancer.

This is a little reminder for me of what I went through back then. I was told on 18 May 2017 that where my cancer was located (upper gums and under top lip) I would require a compete removal of the top half of my mouth. THAT took a while for me to get over, in terms of the shock. Then I went home with my husband and thoughts raced in my mind. One was, if this is making me stressed, then how can I self-soothe or calm if my well-ingrained practices had been to eat something sweet, salty, crunchy or whatever. It was a rhetorical question. I had 7 weeks to wait for surgery and I was so anxious, eating was not high on my list.

Early Days And Getting Hangry! 

Following my 11 hour surgery, 3 days in ICU I was transferred to a room at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and added to the regime of drips was, via my naso-gastric tube,  some nutrition. The liquid kind. It was, for me, yucky but in one way that was my aversion to milk-type drinks. However, as each feed slowly dripped into my very, very empty stomach I had to change my attitude towards this feed. I started by telling myself “it is healing me and nourishing me” as I get well. I know I was going well as each time my professional team dropped by, they told me so. BUT…even when I finally got to try to oh so good nectar of WATER orally, I began to feel hangry (cranky when hungry!). By Day 8 I was allowed some clear fluids. Hallelujah. Broth, jelly, and then over time until my day of departure: Day 10 a few more soft food choices. No teeth, except for 8 bottom ones AND a very stitch-filled mouth!

And then I Came Home. Lots of Eating Ahead? Maybe.

Before I left hospital I was visited by the dietitian who was incredibly helpful with guidelines for me, and offers of samples of food-in-a-bottle and that she would follow up my progress at home via phone calls. I remember her words “now, you need to put on weight”. WHAT? No-one ever had told me that. It was a complete revolution in terms of instruction. I now know that yes, head and neck cancer patients need to keep weight on but no-one has ever really revealed why. Note to self: ask at next visit to my team.

My return to eating caused a great deal of distress in me because diarrhoea came back with fury as my emptied stomach  rebelled with a strong anti-biotic inside. I did not, as I thought I had to do, follow the dietitian’s advice but that of my local GP who had already seen me through diagnosis and now post-operatively. His words were “eat what you are up to and can keep you going.” Drink water as much as you can. With that, I did share the news with the dietitian when she called and I appreciated her services on offer but has to do this ‘my way.’

What I Did Then. 

My mouth did restrict my intake of food but I learned to adapt and seek foods that were both nourishing and pleasurable in texture/ taste. Mind you, my reconstructed mouth was quite a barrier to a variety of tastes but it was important for me psychologically to eat normal food. But also the words from the dietitian echoed and to “add value to food”. This meant a tiny lemon cupcake would have some dairy added to it: yoghurt, custard, ice cream. I became well-versed in the inner conversations re “fun to eat but also eat to heal”.

None of this food preparation or meal decisions came really easily and it required patience on my behalf as I was normally the meal-maker and my right leg’s giving up of its fibula, skin and flesh for my mouth, meant I could not stand for long…nor did I have much energy. But, my patient husband (and then full-time carer including grocery shopper) would help me as he could. I might not have been able to bite into some vegemite toast but I could savour the flavour and add some slices of avocado for nourishment. There are posts here, and  here about eating in those days.

Before I became affected by the anti-biotic, this was what I ‘could’ eat. Soft, slippery and full fat foods.

And Over Time, I Made Changes as My Mouth Healed. 

From July 2017 until August 2018 I had only 8 teeth in my mouth. It is amazing however, that humans can adapt! Mind you, I also add, THIS human had to become creative in her eating as boredom set in quickly and a sense of resentment about what head and neck cancer brought to my now lifestyle. I did make the effort to feel more grateful and appreciative of all that had been done for me. There were 3 more surgeries too, inside my mouth, to prepare it for an upper prosthesis of teeth.

Creativity included:

  • value adding to sweet foods like small cakes which were easy to swallow AND made me feel less deprived
  • making up some small plates of foods that would have me feeling like I was not missing out
  • inventing dishes for me: crustless pies, taco-less tacos
  • finding more and more ways with mince. Thank you to my A/Prof who advised mince would be a good food and my iron levels did slightly improve
  • allowing foods like small pieces of milk chocolate to melt on my tongue
  • iceblocks and paddlepops eaten with a spoon – my mouth did and still does love cold

Weight Was Good  Healthy…. Then I Got Teeth!

Notice my crossing out of good.

This is a judgement I have made like many over many years about eating. I now see, and have learned to see that my weight can be HEALTHY even if the numbers have increased. I was incredibly excited to get the upper prosthesis attached permanently to the abutments in my jaw. I remember fantasising about crunching food, chewing food and more. Well….that is what it was… a fantasy.

A reconstructed mouth is a blessing alright in terms of appearance and function for sure. But it does not do all that my mouth could do, so again, I have needed to adapt.

Adaptation took some tearful routes where my disappointment in not being able to eat something was palpable. I know I tried various foods including crunchy chips and they were/are a huge disappointment as they sting inside my newly re-skinned mouth and I could not swallow them. Onward to crunching into a piece of apple. Actually no. But I can eat small pieces or even better if I grate it.

I could add many more adaptations and they will form a new post in the future.

What I want to write about now is my weight, self-images and stories that can be untrue.

Changes in Me For the Good. Health and Head and Neck Cancer.

From August 2018 until February 2019 my weight from the rather steady figure of around 69kg increased by around 5 kg. I could feel it but I also LOVED feeling well and having more food choices. I was somewhat disappointed for a bit that some of my clothes were more snug…then I said to myself “that was because you could not eat much nor as well as you can now”. It was to be an on-going inner conversation (of self-judgement) for a while.

When I realised what I looked like (one aspect of me) was HEALTHY I began to accept that this was a good thing.

  • In fact, I knew it was. I did however let the old weight-centred thoughts creep back.
  • I started to believe I might get back to the much more heavy person I had been in 2013-14.
  • I was scared but the clothes and the scales did not lie. I stayed around the same.
  • For many months, and now it’s a year. It has not happened.
  • In fact, I am a little less on the scales than a year ago.
  • I use my clothes now as a measure of how I am going.
  • Very steadily and the scales are used rarely but they are telling me what I feel it true. So, no more stories!

My Appearance on the Beyond Five Video on Nutrition.

I now look forward to helping present the patient’s perspective on what I have learned personally about nutrition and how to nourish my soul as well as my stomach and mouth. I can honestly say I eat for both pleasure and health yet in a different way from any other time in my life.

This is why I am grateful for my diagnosis of head and neck cancer.

I have learned to sooth myself through meditation, talking with my husband, using my journal, art and going out for coffee. This is one important strategy in my every day self care. In fact, the more I self care, the less I even think of a need to soothe with food. How grateful I am for that.

Each time I go out, or plan a meal or snack at home I often have to re-think from the old familiar paths of pre- head and neck cancer.

  • Quantities are very different. That’s fine.
  • I make mall dishes I can freeze.
  • I carry small packs of biscuits in my bag to have with a coffee.
  • I know too that I can manage certain soft sweet foods with my coffee and will often ask for a bag to take half home.
  • I have still not ventured out for a ‘real meal’ but neither of us are that interested.
  • We had had lunch with family and entertained here.
  • I am less self-conscious of my eating these days.
  • I do always have a small bottle of water nearby.

 

I Am Going Well! 

This is my stock standard answer when I am asked how I am. It’s true. I am indeed. I am glad to have seen the good that head and neck cancer has been for me and my eating. This is me on Thursday 20 February enjoying being back near the water after attending the Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer Group Meeting..and catching a treat of a small iced cupcake with a coffee on the way home.

There will be some updates after the making of this video but already, just writing out what was making me feel less than my normal confident has done me good.

Onward!

Denyse.

 

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Women of Courage Series. #28. Beth Macdonald. 14/2020.

Women of Courage Series. #28 Beth Macdonald. 14/2020.

 

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week until the series concludes in 2020.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.

 

Introducing Beth Macdonald age 41 is such a joy and a privilege. I met Beth so many years ago via blogging and when I “think” her middle girl, was not even at school…and certainly her Baby (not the first one, the blog is named after) Maggie took many of us down paths of wonder and love when we saw her arrival and years that followed. Now, Miss Maggie is at school! Go figure. But, Beth, a most generous and “heart on her sleeve: gal took time out of her BIZ she has with her sister, the millions of other things she does including a podcast about the Royals too…and shares the best of her recipes (and good reality checks too) on her blog! Welcome Beth!

 

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

Leaving a long term relationship/engagement

Having children

Being online and in social media every day – putting yourself out there, pitching work to clients etc

Starting my own business

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

The growth and learning (both good and bad) can only help you grow and change as a person, each new step and challenge in life starts a new layer of armour and sheds an old layer of who we used to be

 

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

Only to ever listen to your gut and instinct: it knows ALL, you already know ALL your mind will try and trick you into thinking otherwise, but deep down you already know the answer – try to be quiet and listen to it

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

Age, wisdom and experience helps. Learning from your mistakes and knowing if you even get it wrong it will be OK. Being courageous is about having the belief in yourself to get it done, backing yourself and like anything, the more you flex this muscle, the stronger it gets!

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

Just to dig deep, trust yourself and don’t compare yourself or your experience to anyone else. You’ve got this, you REALLY do.

 

You do too Beth!

Thank you so much for sharing.

Denyse.

 

Blog/Website: www.baby-mac.com

Twitter: @BabyMacBeth

Facebook Page: BabyMacBeth

Instagram: BabyMacBeth

This is the on-line business mentioned in the introduction by me. I can highly recommend their attention to customer service and details. And the website itself is so pretty…and interesting..oh look for yourself; it’s HERE! Add To Cart. 

 

 

 

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends .

Copyright © 2020 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Self-Care Stories. #1. 7/51 #LifeThisWeek. 13/2020.

Self-Care Stories. #1. 7/51 #LifeThisWeek. 13/2020.

 

Welcome to the first in the series for 2020.

This optional prompt pops up every 7 weeks or so.

Today here’s mine!

Before kicking off: I have made two changes to my daily routine which is helping me:

One is to consider what I am grateful for each day. I tend to think about something or someone through the day and by even thinking that way I notice a change within. I blogged about it here. I am doing an instagram post each day here: @denysewhelan_blogs and no longer have my account private. I still have @denysewhelan going and no longer private...look at me taking a risk

Two is I am listening to Calm meditation app twice a day. One session, the Daily Calm, before I get up from bed and last thing at night a session of whatever I need at the moment. I have just listened to 10 or so day of “relationship with self.”. Calm is free initially and then you can decided to buy. I got a lifetime price as a bargain in 2018 and am never sick of it. Sleep stories are ace too on nights when I am less than sleep-ready.

What Have I Been Doing?

  1. remembering to follow my daily routine: get up, have breakfast, get dressed and go somewhere for a coffee….come home, blog, read, relax, cook, sleep…
  2. this was, for the most part, pretty well kept.
  3. however and it may have been something that affected others too, I became more anxious than usual when we had extremes of threats:
  • Bushfires
  • More fires
  • High temperatures
  • Continued fires
  • And then it rained.
  • Rainfall was excessive in some places and caused:
  • Flooding
  • Electricity to be cut
  • And NONE of this directly affected me.
  • Mmmmmm.
  • so I was most fortunate to have an in-house counsellor (aka my husband) but also that my previous years of learning how to self-care via means at my disposal actually helped..a great deal.
  • but being an avid follower of social media there were signs that my emotional health was being impacted when I stayed on news and updates for fires/disaster sites for long periods.
  • I realised even before I was “told” by my husband to stop. That was a good self-care measure in itself.

 

Why Have I Needed to Do This?

  1. I know I thrive on being informed and also caring about and for others….BUT there has to be a limit placed.
  2. I do this now by asking myself “what is it I can do that will help this person/those people etc?” If there is nothing really, I do send out a message of empathy where it’s appropriate and I might even do this.
  3. The loving kindness messages are always a way for me to feel a greater connection with others.
  4. I recalled with some hyped and stressed memories of the 5 days of the 2015 East Coast Low when we first moved to the Central Coast and I needed to talk a few of those memories through.
  5. Once I had done that I also knew I am in (and still am in) a much better headspace some 5 years later thanks to all the work I have done to achieve greater emotional health.

Loving Kindness (Metta) can be said silently for yourself, for another or for many. These words above are just one group.

How Do I Integrate This Into My Life?

  1. I continue to follow my routine as much as possible allowing for days (there were a couple!) where to go out of the house meant to be on unsafe roads in flooding rains so I stayed home
  2. I managed to fill in those particular days with little and varied projects of mine.
  3. I automatically come to my art desk when I need to zone out and concentrate on ONE thing and that worked well. In fact it has been something I have done before as well.
  4. I love the variety of activities I now have at my disposal and made use of exploring more of the media too.
  5. My husband was well-occupied with his in-house hobbies and some cabinet making in the garage so with no power lost, we really did well!

 

Afterwards. Onwards.

  1. Self-care is on-going and it can change in its focus for me, depending on how I am.
  2. This week (in fact today!) I am at Westmead seeing my prosthodontist for an update on my upper mouth. I used to get quite stressed about these visits “what will he see that I cannot” and last week I said “STOP”.
  3. I had been living in fear that had no justification.
  4. It was shifting the relaxed mood in our house (and relationship) to tense because I was experiencing some mouth pain (it IS always there, it just seemed worse)
  5. I changed how I approached the pain. I stopped focussing on it by not mentioning it. I also took panadol as instructed.
  6. Self-care is pretty well an on-going matter and recently on Bev Aisbett’s Facebook page (Living with “IT” Anxiety) she posted this, with permission to share:

Recently I took this selfie looking back to  Norah Head Lighthouse in the background, the huge seas reaching the shore…to remind me of how well I am, grateful for all in my life and how far I have come. More to come too, of course!

How is your self-care going?

What do you notice if you are not keeping up your self-care practices?

I look forward to catching up with the comments after I am back from Westmead!

Denyse.

Link Up 176.

Link Up #176. Life This Week.

You can link up something old or new, just come on in.

* Please add just ONE post each week!

* Feel free to go with the prompt for the week to add your ‘take’ on the prompt. Or not.

* Please do stay to comment on my post as I always reply and it’s a bloggy thing to do!

* Check out what others are up to by leaving a comment because we all love our comments, right!

* Add a link back to this blog in your post somewhere, or on your sidebar.

*Posts deemed by me, the owner of the blog and the link-up, to be unsuitable for my audience will be deleted without notice.

* THANK you for linking up today!

Next Week’s weekly optional prompt is: 8/51 Unusual 23/2/2020

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


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Women of Courage Series. #27. Sandra Kelly.12/2020.

Women of Courage Series. #27. Sandra Kelly.12/2020.

Trigger warning: content: as advised by Sandra.

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week until the series concludes in 2020.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.

 

 

 

 

Image credit: https://m.facebook.com/RhondaLockerPhotography/

If there is one place where I know I can find some care and support on-line it’s with Sandra Kelly who is 53. No, we have never met, but you can bet that if we did, there would be an instant rapport and a LOT of chatting together. This lady, known to me first via her blog, and now as a facebook friend has QUITE a story and it was she who asked for a trigger warning. I am in awe of Sandra and here she is, with her dear husband, with a photo taken as a memory of where they lived for quite some time before moving for family and medical reasons. What a great idea to capture the familiar for the future.

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

First of all I’ll let you in on a little secret… I don’t see myself as courageous at all (no disrespect intended to those who do).

Whether I’ve been tackling my fear of heights to absorb a breathtaking view, or staring boggle eyed at a bloody big needle about to be shoved into my boob, I’ve felt nothing but fear, anxiety, doubt, sometimes terror and many times hot stinging tears – but I have certainly not felt like a woman of courage.

You might say I fit the mould quite snuggly of Denyse’s musings that gave birth to this series – “We women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives”.

Yep, that’s me alright!

I guess I haven’t seen myself as a courageous person throughout our many years of adversity as a family because life in the face of adversity becomes… well… just life!  You get out of bed in the morning and get on with it because ‘it just is’.

It’s not always done with a smile or without a tear or fear, you just do ‘your normal’ that can appear so ‘abnormal’ to those on the outside looking in.

I’ve been married to the most courageous man for the past 32 years.  When I think of any courage I may have needed to tap into over time, it pales in comparison to the courage he displays each and every day.

My husband has severe Chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis, among other ailments, and has been in a wheelchair as a result for about 25 years now.  Infections, joint replacements, pneumonia’s, heart failure, countless hospital admissions and so much more has been our everyday life… our normal.

I’ve had to battle my own shyness and demons to best support and advocate for him and my family over the years.  It hasn’t been easy but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else doing anything else.

I’m right where I’m meant to be right now, doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing.

 

On the days where it feels all-consuming, for us both, I trust in that little mantra and its undeniable truths.

Around 15 years ago our niece came to live with us permanently (she and her two brothers would come to stay every holiday since they were very young).  Around 12 months later the two boys joined us permanently as well.  They were aged eight, twelve and fourteen at the time.

We had a fourteen year old of our own, granny up the end of the verandah, hurricane Nikki the Labrador, Bing the allergy ridden Shih Tzu itchy dog, two cats, one bird and welcomed the boys two pet rats into the swelling family as well (yes, you read that correctly, two rats).

We certainly were packed to the rafters.  A full house but with much room in our hearts.

I’m in awe of the courage and intestinal fortitude my family showed during those early months and years of adjustment as all our lives changed shape. So much vulnerability at its best and its worst has woven a safety net of respect, love and connectedness that cradles us with its indestructible strength.  It is a privilege to call them all my family.

In early 2013 I was diagnosed with triple negative invasive breast cancer and under went surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.  It was cruel.  Not only for me but for everyone around me.

Treatment wiped me out – physically and mentally.  I was a mess. In and out of hospital with infections and zero immune system fighting capabilities took its toll.

By September of that year I was a shell of my former self weighing in at only 38 kilos and not a logical thought colliding anywhere in my brain.  I was done.

I still shake my head and marvel at how I found the strength to crawl out of that hole and head space.  I think I used up a huge chunk of everyone else’s courage because mine was missing in action.

In 2015 I had a piece of my right lung removed because of suspected breast cancer spread.  Thankfully the lesion was not cancerous.

These few years were horrendous. My depression and anxiety were off the scale. I’m not ashamed to admit that I suffered two breakdowns in a three year period.

Thanks to the unconditional love and support of family and friends I survived it all.  Every cell of my being could not hold one ounce more of appreciation, gratitude and love for those very special people I have in my life.  Even that sentence falls way short in describing their dedication.  They fought for my existence in this world when I no longer had the will.

Recently we called on all our reserves of strength to sell our beloved home in a beautiful country town in Gippsland Victoria to move closer to health services and family.

We miss our lovely little community and our gorgeous mountain views and wildlife terribly but being closer to support services in ‘rural suburbia’ has been necessary and so worth it.

Being closer to family has brought us much pleasure as well and has enriched our lives for the better.

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

My life experiences have changed me in many ways.  Some for the better and some for the worse.

If I was needing to shine a light on just one of those ways it would that I am definitely a much more patient person than I was in the earlier years of navigating all this ‘stuff’.

People need the gift of time and empathy to heal wounds and find their way, without judgement. I’m much better at gifting myself that same time and empathy now… well, most days.

I desire to live a slower quiet life.  Sure there are things I’d like to tick off my bucket list but I won’t be regretful on my death bed if they are left unchecked. I love the sense of safety that my home, friends and family bring me and I’m quite okay with pottering around home spending time with them.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

Do the best you can and be okay with that. Try hard not to lament over how you think you should  be doing life in the face of your challenges.

Placing unrealistic expectations on yourself is a sure way to smother your courage and chip away at your spirit. I’m living proof of that.  Be kind to yourself, okay?!

Laugh at the absurdity of it all, cry your eyes out, go for a walk, pull the doona over your head for a day. What I’m trying to say is, the courage to get through your every moment comes in many different forms to every different person and requires acknowledgment of your individual needs to feed your internal resources.

Do what you need to build your resilience stores in your own way.

Do ‘you’ without shame.

Having said that I also need to say this:

 

“We are all angels with one wing, the only way to fly, therefore, is to embrace one another”.

There are a few versions of this Luciano De Crescenzo quote floating around and it’s been a long time favourite of mine. We are nothing without those who will quietly wrap their wings around us as we sit in the dark and still hold tight as we take flight towards the light.

Gather your angels… courage ought not be a solitary practise.

 

And finally, nurture your mental and emotional health.  At two in the morning when it’s just you and your thoughts you’ll be wanting to turn up the volume on your voice of reason to drown out that persistent fear monster and his incessant mouth flapping.  Explore ways that will work for you.

 

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

I believe I’m less fearful in dealing with situations now that require me to find my voice and advocate for my loved ones, or indeed myself.  Being fundamentally shy I have to draw deep on my strength for this to happen.

I found that not speaking my truth was far more crippling and detrimental than the actual fear of doing so – even if my voice trembled.  Experiencing the fragility of life through various filters, like feeling the loss of your own power and control over what’s happening, feeds a need to be heard and understood.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

I wish I had some profound, concise statement that I could wrap up in a nugget of gold for you to take away… but I don’t.

I’m still stumbling through life grasping hold of people to break my fall and trying to do my best for myself and those around me on any given day.

However, I do believe it’s very important to remind ourselves that courage is not defined by a puffed-out chest and an almighty roar striding head on with sure footed fearless steps in the face of fear or pain.  Thank you Hollywood for those illusions.

It’s more often than not a tentative negotiation of the stepping stones of life trying not to fall off and get stuck in the mud at the bottom… and that’s okay.

 

In the words of the amazing Kelly Exeter “Wobbly courage is still courage”.

 

Wobbly courage sits well with me. I identify with it and it speaks my language.

It just may work for you too.

 

Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post.

“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life.  But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.  Then life would begin.  At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”  Alfred D. Souza

Please don’t wait for life to begin on the other side of crappy times like I have done in the past.  These obstacles are your life at the moment – look for the splashes of joy in each day and live the now with as much purpose and meaning as your circumstances may afford you, in whatever shape that takes and serves you best.

I wish the gift of love and strength for you all.

 

What a heart-felt and wonderful story you shared so courageously Sandra. Thank you so much.

Denyse.

 

Social Media:

Blog/Website:  www.sandrakelly.me

Instagram:  @sandrakellywhatlieswithin

 

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends.

Copyright © 2020 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Telling My Story. Chapter 13. 1999-2000. 6/51 #LifeThisWeek 11/2020.

Telling My Story. Chapter 13. 1999-2000. 6/51 #LifeThisWeek 11/2020.

The story behind Telling My Story is this: I began in May 2017 and then was diagnosed with cancer. I had a lengthy break and returned to the plan to keep on documenting my life, one blog post at a time. Here is the link to the page where they all are now. It’s been a while since my last one. This one, I admit, is not a brand new one. In fact I wrote back in 2018 over 4 weeks about the challenges and more of being a principal from 1998 – 2003. This post has much of the first two years in it, and the next one, which I will post for Life This Week 8/51 will conclude that part of my professional education leadership life. 

1998.

I really enjoyed being a K-6 School Principal. I had waited till my late 40s to decide to ‘take the plunge’ and actively seek a principal’s role in a K-6 school in Sydney’s west. Having been a relieving Principal in a school where I had been a Deputy Principal I knew that I did not want to apply for that role as I had been at that school for almost 10 years. This was a much longer period than I usually stayed in one school and family reasons were part of this but I knew that to lead that school was fraught with trying to placate factions and being in conflict ethically with the old-fashioned and out-moded forms of discipline.

My Primary School. Attended 1960-61 is where I decided I wanted to be a teacher.

In the lead up to the end of the 1990s I was asked to relieve as a Principal is a larger school within the Western Sydney environment I knew well. This school already had a leadership team including Deputy Principals but it was the wish of the out-going (Long Service Leave first!) Principal that someone from out of the school be appointed. That was me.

What a baptism of fire this was!

Whilst I knew the general area, I was not knowledgable at all about the make-up of the student population – which was well into the 600s. I was to lead that school for Terms 3 and 4 when a principal would be appointed. There were special needs classes, there were children of high needs (intellectual and behavioural) in mainstream classes. Fortunately, it came with a non-teaching Deputy, who helped bring me up to speed with every new challenge including:

  • chasing a boy who was ready to jump the low fence and run onto the road. He stopped. In the playground.
  • finding another boy climbing to the roof of a building to escape the problem he had being in class.
  • having a mother of a girl scream at me over the desk “what are YOU going to DO ABOUT this, YOU”RE the PRINCIPAL”

“I really do not want to be a Principal” I said after a very hectic Term 3 leading into Term 4…but then again..

” the old death bed regret” popped into my mind.

“Did I want to think I should have given the principalship a go but I did not?”

Answer: NO.and this…

As the last Term of 1998 progressed, unless I did decide to start applying for Principal’s roles, I had this ultimatum delivered.

As a Deputy Principal who had needed to leave her original school (the 10 year one) because the school student population  was slowing and there was no longer a DP position, I had to accept any position as a DP and guess where I was appointed: to the school where I was currently Relieving Principal. 

Oh. No, I thought that was untenable and also once I knew who the new boss would be in the following year my hand was forced – in a way. So it was out with the application templates and late nights writing and honing these to match K-6 School Principals roles that I might fit.

It All Takes Time.

Back then, applications for Principal  were sent into the District Office for the Superintendent to look over with his/her panel of selectors. These were a parent from the school which was seeking a new principal, a staff member from that school, a principal of similar status as the role on offer and the Superintendent. If the application met with the panel’s approval, professional referees (nominated on the application) were called, and then if the panel thought they wanted to know more, then the applicant was invited to a formal interview.

I went through this process over some weeks for a total of four times and got to interview but not the role. I was also still leading a school! I did get positive and helpful feedback particularly by one District Superintendent By the second last week of Term 4 I thought I was not going to get a Principal’s job but that was not true and within 2 days of school ending for Term 4, I was offered and I accepted the role of K-6 Principal in my own right.

Appointed As Principal.

The District Superintendent rang me to offer the position and of course I accepted it. Being so close to the end of the year, I could not visit the school until close to the end of the January holidays.

The words that rang in my ear, and were written to me by the District Superintendent echoed…and not nearly as much as in future years.

“Denyse, you have to bring this school into the next century and I know you are the one to do it. It won’t be easy and it will have challenges but you are the right fit for this”.

And of course, Life Goes On, in the family! We were looking forward to the birth of Grandchild #2 in the May of 1999 and by this appointment, I remember telling my daughter “I don’t think I will be able to have part-weeks off to care for him/her”. My daughter understood, and already had an amazing family day care arrangement. I admit my “Grandma” hat was firmly back on my head – with the blessing of my boss, the one who had appointed me and my staff when she, new GD was literally on the way, I was able to have the week off school to help out and BE Grandma. That time meant a great deal.

With my GD some years later!

1999 First Year as a Principal.

The first months.

Hot, No Plan, Making Plans, Learning About the School.

I was busy learning about the school and the fact that the person I replaced had actually died the previous term without anyone at the school having access to school keys, passwords and the like made it more difficult. The school was a medium sized (around 450 kids from K-6) one with added Unit for Students with Special Learning Needs and an Autism Satellite class. Within the stream of classes there were two “OC” groups: Year 5 of 30 students and Year 6. These students gained their place at the school via competitive examinations the year before.

The school culture was, as my boss told me, one I would need to lead into the 21st century and I knew that but I also knew to hasten slowly on some changes whilst making some practical ones quickly. The previous principal, sadly departed, had been there for quite some time, shared very little in terms of financial goals for the school but, as a local which I was not, whatever he had done was acceptable. One big ticket item that happened under his leadership was a sports area which catered for a number of court-based sports.

One of my first spends was blinds. In a school with a second storey and in a very hot/cold place in outer Sydney, some respite from the sun and to make activities such as work via a whiteboard or screen effective this was vital. Once done it gave the school, from the inside and out, a better appearance for the community.

The school was fully staffed with each role filled: 2 Assistant Principals (teaching) 2 Executive Teachers (teaching). There was a group of speciality teachers: for Gifted and Talented students, Special Needs – Intellectual, English as a Second Language, Computer and Technology, Special Learning in Mainstream. I had been familiar with leading each of those roles in my previous schools with three  ‘new’ to me

  • having the O.C. classes
  • overseeing the use of the school’s facilities with an outside the NSW Dept of Ed jurisdiction
  • supervising a Special Needs Unit of 3 staff within the school

I like to think, looking back from now, that I did all I could to both understand, accept and get up-skilled quickly to enable me, the educational leader of the school, to best meet the needs of those students, also considering the skills of their teachers and to see that the parents of the students knew the children’s needs were paramount.

That of course, was also integral to my oversight and management of the remainder of the school in the mainstream classes.

There were computers for my work and communication via emails did not arrive for a few years. It was a telephone, fax and mail school and being on the outskirts of Sydney the communication and responses were not as frequent as the suburbs of Sydney.

The year went well with ME being the major learner of course. I was the ONLY new staff member but I also had to ensure that MY leadership goals were part of the new school’s as well. There was a lot of policy discussion which was mostly related to why there were none where I was used to having these done. Like I have said before, I was there to make change but I also needed to handle matters carefully.

This year I turned 50 and on the staff was another person my age and I recall a joint celebration with two cakes. We did socialise somewhat during the school term with a restaurant meal or something similar with staff. We had regular morning teas and I promoted collegiality and support for all staff.

My executive staff were good but two of them sought promotion – one to a country school, the other to a city school and of course I was pleased for them professionally when their  work was rewarded with what they sought. I recall an incident which was a critical one as it demonstrated a lack of foresight, organisation and care from one of the senior staff. This related to a student being announced at the final year assembly as Vice-Captain, when in fact, she was to be a prefect, and another student was the Vice-Captain. In an embarrassing time for the student, her family and the senior staff I had to interrupt the announcement with the correct person’s name. From that time, I was aware of more loopholes within the school’s management. Policies for example. In a first for this executive staff, there needed to be a written policy on the how, what and why of student leadership nominations, voting and results. From my side, it looked quite poorly scrutinised and certainly that family of the student who was incorrectly announced as vice-captain continued to let me know of their upset long after that incident. No apology in the world was good enough.

Onward into 2000 & beyond.

There were some staff changes into this year of the Sydney Olympics and I had to call panels of parent representative, school representative and one other teacher to enable me to interview, by merit selection, 2 people to replace those who had been promoted. More on this in the third post next week.

The education communities in and near Sydney loved the fact that this was the year of the Sydney Olympics and we even had an extra week off school in September 2000 for all of the available transport (buses mostly) to be geared to getting people to and from Olympic venues. A person who had carried a torch in part of the area near the school brought it to us and we all got to hold it. We had special days and the vibe was good. We even made our Staff Photo that year based on Sports and the Olympics.

I had some lovely people working at the school in administration and I know my mantra (from my boss) of keeping on heading into this famous 21st century was embraced but it remained a load on me as the school leader both administratively and educationally. There were courses in finance and human resources to attend and of course ones to train us further in Child Protection.

This became even more important as time went on, and I recall sitting at yet another training course thinking “I am responsible for all of this yet I have no control over it”. It was quite a  watershed moment for me.

I loved the role even so. I felt I brought action and innovation to the school and lifted its place in educational areas. I may not have been a local in a very conservative area but I did my best to keep open and good relationships with the local community, my Parent groups and the community of schools nearby.

At home, I know I really never switched off. The laptop came home with me. Newsletters written by me on the weekend. There was no email or other communications like that until 2002 so everything was done and then printed off for the families each fortnight. I improved more of the external appearance with signage and keeping areas safer by removal of damaged play equipment. I had a General Assistant 3 days a week and because of the size of the school grounds, he spent most of his time on a mower.

I had to organise school repairs and more via private contractors and be savvy enough to know how to ask for quotes and then to see how the school might benefit and when to get those happening in a child-free time. I would be phoned at home in school holidays about staffing and maintenance and there was/is not a time-off for school principals.

In re-reading this I recall much of it. It has stayed as a very strong memory, being principal of R.P.S. I did have some amazing opportunities and one was being a community member for the local (new then) gaol in the area and contributing to ideas and supporting the warden in his role. I was the district principal  representative for Stewart House, the N.S.W. Public Schools charity supporting needy children to have a break from home by the sea. I do know I missed a lot of ‘family time’ because of the nature of the role and my school was about 40 minutes from home but I was (still am) a passionate educator!

Stewart House: South Curl Curl.

Next time: 2001 and 2002. The Way My Career as a N.S.W. School Principal Ended.

I know there is a lot that’s been said (and I hope read) but it’s such a pivotal part of my life (then) and even now. I needed to share it as I have.

Thank you.

Denyse.

Link Up #175

 

Link Up #175. Life This Week.

You can link up something old or new, just come on in.

* Please add just ONE post each week!

* Feel free to go with the prompt for the week to add your ‘take’ on the prompt. Or not.

* Please do stay to comment on my post as I always reply and it’s a bloggy thing to do!

* Check out what others are up to by leaving a comment because we all love our comments, right!

* Add a link back to this blog in your post somewhere, or on your sidebar.

*Posts deemed by me, the owner of the blog and the link-up, to be unsuitable for my audience will be deleted without notice.

* THANK you for linking up today!

Next Week’s weekly optional prompt is: 7/51 Self-Care Stories 17.2.2020

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Women of Courage Series. #26. Maureen Jansen.10/2020.

Women Of Courage Series. #26. Maureen Jansen. 10/2020.

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week until the series concludes in 2020.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.

I am so pleased to introduce Maureen Jansen who is 73. We have ‘only’  met via social media thanks to us living on opposite sides of the Tasman Sea. Maureen is a New Zealander. We ‘met’ in mid 2018 via our common connection: Head and Neck Cancer. I suspect, even without this between us, the teaching and ‘grandmothering’ along with outdoor photography would also connect us!  Maureen tells her story. It is one of amazing resilience and testament to her strength of character and will. The best bit…is that in June 2020 we have plans to meet! More on that another time. 

Thanks Maureen for sharing your story today as a Woman of Courage: 2020.

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

I’ve had to dig deep four times after receiving cancer diagnoses. My first diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer was in 1996 and I decided to be brave to protect my children who were then 13, 17 and 19. The youngest was living at home and I was more scared of traumatizing him than of anything else. I’ll always remember a fellow patient in my ward saying that the first thing she said when the doctor told her she had cancer was “My kids”, as tears poured down her cheeks.  I now think that my reaction was too stoic and not open enough with my youngest son. And by the way, that advanced cancer diagnosis proved to be of a type of ovarian cancer which usually responds well to treatment. I was well and truly cured but the repression of emotions initially, followed by a complete turnaround in prognosis later, led to a very mixed up and depressed me when I returned to work after it was all over. The vagaries of the human heart!

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

The ovarian cancer diagnosis and later the head and neck cancer diagnoses changed me a lot. I had counselling and anti-depressants which both helped me deal a little bit better with my former anxieties, funnily enough. I have had to make a conscious decision to get over fear of needles and other painful procedures because I know that they will be part of my life now although I am currently very well. I’m not as scared of physical pain as I was, and even had two fillings the other day without an anaesthetic. I’ve learnt to chant a little rhyme in my head when needles and drills do their thing. It’s usually only for a short time. My proudest moment was when I had some clips out in a wrist wound five years ago. The nurse was struggling and each time she used the clip removing device, there was a surge of pain. I did my deep breathing and we talked and laughed as we went through each one. It was a strangely uplifting moment.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

I really think that learning some specific coping strategies from a psychologist is invaluable. I have found many mindfulness tools excellent. Mindfulness, walking, taking photographs of nature and posting them online … These things have helped me as well as trying to live a productive life with plenty of service to others. I’m not good at self care but we should all do it!

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

In terms of my health I think I will be braver but other situations like dealing with conflict and communicating with others are situations I find take the most courage, honesty and wisdom. I’m still learning.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

It can well up in you when you least expect it. Often things are not as bad when you are IN them as they look to an outsider. When your back is against the wall, some sort of survival instinct seems to kick in. If it doesn’t and you feel frightened, you have every right to be. Psychological help makes a huge difference when fear and anxiety become too much to bear. Seek help!

 

Thank you so much Maureen. For sharing and for being here to tell the story. What a story! I have so much admiration for you. Looking forward to catching up “in real life” as they say. Meanwhile, I am adding below something about the facebook group.

Denyse.

Social Media: follow Maureen here.

Blog/Website: hncmaureen.com

Twitter: @HNCMaureen

Instagram: @birdlikeme

 

 

IF a family member or someone you know does have a diagnosis of a head and neck cancer or that person is a carer, the value of a good facebook group cannot be over-done. The friendly space that IS this group for eligible people to request membership is a good one. There are people from all over the world but the group is not huge so personal connections can be made. It is mainly made up of New Zealanders, and Aussies too…along with those from the U.S. There are questions to be answered to join and it IS strictly for those with a head and neck cancer. Link is here.

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends.

Copyright © 2020 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

 

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Share Your Snaps #1. 5/51. #LifeThisWeek. 9/2020.

Share Your Snaps #1. 5/51. #LifeThisWeek. 9/2020.

Here we are, fifth week of the link-up already, and it’s time to Share Your Snaps. This optional prompt occurs every 5th week here for Life This Week.

January 2020 has not, in the overall scheme of things, been wonderful for so many people and places. As I prepare this post, it’s late Saturday in NSW on the Central Coast and (fingers crossed) the air-con is working because it’s high 30s outside. Many are doing it much worse than we are, including family who lived back where we used to – it’s around 45deg C there now. I am getting RFS fire updates for NSW on my phone and “know” it is still very nasty out there.

Here’s my January: each has a short story! Of course it does.

A flashback to the end of November when I received the delightful photo book with these lovely grandchildren. Love this so much.

After the success for me of finding something/someone/reason to be grateful for my birthday month of November, I went full-on into gratitude. I wrote about the why here. However, January has really made me work at finding gratitude. I guess, that IS the point. Nothing comes easy. I admit I faltered a bit wondering whether to continue to post a photo each day for 366 days but I am continuing. I also complete a journal entry each evening.

 

What helps keep me focussed….

Back in January 2018, as I faced more challenges (despite the fact I had already overcome many in 2017 relating to head and neck cancer) I made my word that year: B.O.L.D. I explained its purpose here. I know I glanced at and reminded myself of my goals a LOT in 2018.

In 2019 my husband suggested that whilst I may have had head and neck cancer, it was not the sum total of Denyse. Yes, he is/was right but I also saw that this takes time to integrate into one’s life. I used integrate as my word….and tripped, fell, got up again…a few times as I did this over and over. But, it, like the year before’s B.O.L.D. worked.

It comes as no surprise for regular readers and followers  then that I chose gratitude for 2020. I saw how helpful having the words engraved on little bracelets was for 2018 and 2019 so 2020 got a third one. I admit they are not heavy at all, and I do look and them more than I realise and am buoyed and supported by my memories of how I far I have come and how I can keep on going. Even on tough days. I am actually having some right now. Sigh.

Thank you NOT Instagram.

I have been unable to be part of Instagram on my new Iphone since 7 January. I have tried un-installing, re-installing, making a new account, sending messages to both Instagram and Facebook and seeking help at the Apple store. I have the app on the Ipad and can use instagram there but for this Iphone lover, it is not fun. Nevertheless, I am still seeking help and have some plans to see other people who may help. I do believe, the whole thing is about something being ‘stuck’ in their system. I am OK about it for now but it is frustrating.

In the meantime I opened a second Instagram account: @denysewhelan_blogs for my gratitude photos and @denysewhelan continues for day-to-day pics. I have made them both public and deleted many of my photos so if one or the other gets ‘hacked’ I have photos already in the cloud etc.

We celebrated 49 years of marriage on 23 January and this photo was unearthed when I last visited Dad. Mum had a ‘brag book’ with our wedding pictures in it. I look at this photo and of course love it but think “why didn’t I wear something around my neck?” Seriously I was very much a minimalist in terms of the dress. This was from Bridesmaids’ stock at the wedding shop we went to in Sydney. Still have the dress. No, still can’t fit into it but a couple of granddaughters have tried it on as little girls.

One year before marriage, I was appointed to my first school. Barraba Central. I got this copy of my service record when I had my “proper” retirement from N.S.W. Department of Education in 2018 and I just LOVE how my record was hand-written. Sigh. This is from the NSW State Archives in Kingswood.

A simple lunch, right? Well, for me it was another occasion to give this food of regular eating a go. Even though I have a set of teeth up top, my mouth does not easily eat foods unless they are cake-like, cereal with milk, soft and creamy and so on. But I really miss regular food so gave this another try. Instead of joining the bread roll, I made it the 2 halves and with some small bites, and chewing very well, I enjoyed the simple lunch as shown. Lettuce is tricky for head and neck cancer patients which is why I chose a curly textured one not a slippery smooth one.

Back to the beach. 

Inspired by a friend in New Zealand who posted a photo of herself off for a beach swim, I made a promise to myself to get back to the beach. Well, in a way. I chose not to go into the water: rough and some blue bottles and seaweed, but I did walk in the water and enjoy the ambience and views. What I did not factor in is that mornings are my “going to coffee at the shops” time and so will keep beach visits to afternoons and when cooler day occur!

Thank you grandchildren…and my children who made this photo shoot happen. Bye to January 2020.

Having said goodbye to January, I am turning my mind towards February and taking part in Fat Mum Slim’s Photo-A-Day. I am not regularly part of this but figured for 29 days I will give it my best. Do you follow @fatmumslim and #fmspad?

Thanks for reading and I hope linking up a post too.

Denyse.

Link Up #174

 

Link Up #174. Life This Week.

You can link up something old or new, just come on in.

* Please add just ONE post each week!

* Feel free to go with the prompt for the week to add your ‘take’ on the prompt. Or not.

* Please do stay to comment on my post as I always reply and it’s a bloggy thing to do!

* Check out what others are up to by leaving a comment because we all love our comments, right!

* Add a link back to this blog in your post somewhere, or on your sidebar.

*Posts deemed by me, the owner of the blog and the link-up, to be unsuitable for my audience will be deleted without notice.

* THANK you for linking up today!

Next Week’s weekly optional prompt is: 6/51 Interesting 10.2.2020

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Women Of Courage Series 2020. Accidental Feminists’ Author: Jane Caro AM. 8/2020.

Women Of Courage Series 2020. Accidental Feminists Author: Jane Caro AM. 8/2020.

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.

The posts are returning each Wednesday from now…and I have posts waiting ‘in drafts’ for publication until April 2020. Do tell me in the comments if you would like to be part of this series. Already 27 women (including  Jane and I ) have shared their stories.

 

 

In April 2019 I attended Newcastle Writers’ Festival and got to hear, amongst others, Author and Public Education Advocate, Jane Caro speak. Jane’s been known to me for a long time via social media, her other books and her involvement in promoting public education. She spoke at length of the roles we women have played and often at great loss or expense to our health, welfare and future financial security in her book Accidental Feminists.

 

Her written and spoken words really made me think.

Women do so much unsung, not necessarily because of not wanting people to know, but because we “just do get on.” I know that my life has taken some not great twists and turns and I realised I drew on resources of courage to do so.

This led me to finding out more about courage from others.

Introducing Jane Caro A.M.

Many of you may have seen Jane speak and give commentary on TV shows like The Drum and on Morning T.V. Jane’s voice, particularly in terms of Public Education has been remarkable. She went to a N.S.W. Public High School – Forest High and I went to another local Northern Beaches public high school too. Jane is younger than I but we share some common elements in our upbringing in new-ish suburbs that now command million dollar prices. I knew of Jane’s career in advertising (she has appeared on Gruen) from her first book and she has written others. Find them here. Jane generously took time to complete the same questions I asked others, and like others who I call “Women of Courage” she does not see herself that way. Enough from me, thank you Jane Caro.

 

 

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

People often say they admire my courage, but I don’t really feel that I am courageous. Reason being, I am not afraid. Courage, to me, means doing something you are genuinely afraid to do and – th thing that most people see as courageous – speaking my mind – privately or publicly – is not something I am afraid of. It seems it is something many others are afraid to do – hence they mistakenly ascribe courage to me. I find this terribly sad. We ought to live in a society and at a time where being straightforward and candid is applauded, not punished. For many, especially many women, the opposite seems to be true.

Sure, many people (usually men) try to shut me down by insults, sneers, mockery, threats and general nastiness but I long ago realized they only have the power to hurt me if I give them that power, otherwise their weapons shrivel and die because I will not respond the way they want me to. No doubt being forthright has cost me work, promotion and opportunities, but it has also delivered all of those (well, except promotion, we only want lily-livered leaders apparently) and, best of all, it has delivered self-respect.

Was I born this way? Certainly not. I was hyper-sensitive as a child and young person about what people thought of me and I knew they did not think well of me. What is bearable in an old lady is unbearable in a young one, I think, which is why so many of my younger feminist friends cop so much more abuse than I do. I suffered from an anxiety neurosis as a young woman and it was in overcoming that that I feel I did something that required actual courage.

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

The neurosis was so debilitating and intense that it forced me to seek help via a variety of therapists, some more helpful than others. I learnt an enormous amount about myself and about people in general in the process of that therapy that has served me well ever since. Not least how to hang on to my own power in the face of criticism, abuse and bullying.

I think women are trained to seek approval and that is why we so fear conflict or unpleasantness or find it so hard to express ourselves without fear. This training makes sense when you are a member of a subordinate group. It can be dangerous not to be approved of and to be excluded. As a result of my therapy, I gave up seeking approval. All I try to do now is be as much myself as I can.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

After about 15 years of mental tribulation – I functioned fine, I just felt like shit – I finally overcame my anxiety neurosis (some may feel I have over-corrected). It didn’t disappear in a puff of smoke, just dwindled away slowly until I no longer suffered from anxiety at all. The dwindling began after I faced real danger (I have lived a very protected life) when my first child was born premature, caught an infection, stopped breathing in my arms and almost died.

She was so sick she got the last available neo-natal intensive care bed available that night in NSW. She eventually stopped breathing at least 4 times and had to be intubated. The next morning, I asked for help (as going to therapy had taught me to do) and spoke to neo-natologist and grief counsellor Dr Peter Barr. He said these three sentences to me that began to crack the carapace of anxiety I had been living behind. “There’s nothing special about you, there’s nothing special about Polly (my daughter). Terrible things can happen, and they can happen to anyone. Safety is an illusion, danger is reality.”

Sounds brutal but it was just what I needed. What he was saying to me was that I could not control what happened which, as it turns out, was what my anxiety neurosis was all about. I was both thinking of all the terrible things that might happen as a sort of spell to stop them happening, while at the same time fearing that by thinking about them, I was conjuring them up. Of course, I had no such power – none of us do. As a result of Polly’s near death (she survived with no ill effects) I began to let go of the illusion of control and with it came a loss of fear. If I can’t control my own or anyone else’s safety – no matter how much I love them – no point worrying about danger until it happens.

If I can’t control how you will react to what I say, to what you think of me on TV or when I give a speech, I shall just put my energy into controlling what I can – my research and preparation for the task and let your reaction be yours. I shall not worry about whether you like or approve of me because doing so makes no difference to whether you do or not. I finally learnt the truth and power of what we call ‘boundaries’ – simply where I stop and you start. Once you know what you can control (inputs) and what you can’t (outcomes) life gets much easier and you don’t actually need courage.

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

I don’t know and -with respect – I don’t really care.

For the situations that may await me I will do no preparation or worrying. I will deal with them as they appear and I will deal with them as I need to which may be with courage or may be with full on weeping, whining and falling apart. I have learnt to trust my emotions rather than fear them or try to control them. Sometimes the strongest thing to be is not strong – but honestly vulnerable and needy. I don’t need to be better, nicer, smarter or more courageous than I am. I just need to be as I am.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

Be yourself. Accept and celebrate your messy, needy, unwieldy bits – they’re the best and most genuine part of you.

Don’t pretend, especially don’t pretend to yourself.

Don’t strive, just be.

Have fun and never,ever,ever feel guilty about that.

Know where you stop and others start.

And stop seeking approval. You are fine just the way you are, you just need to believe it.

 

Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post.

Life is short, stop trying so hard.

 

I have read Jane’s words over and over and wish to take many of her messages on-board. The quote from the neo-natologist still blows me away. I too need to remember this.

With much gratitude Jane, for your time and advice. Love that you could share here too.

Denyse.

 

Social Media:

Jane Caro  on 26 January 2020 is found here.

Twitter: @janecaro

Bio: AM. Walkley award winner. Novelist (Just a Girl, Just a Queen, Just Flesh & Blood), author (Plain Speaking Jane, Stupid Country, F Word, Accidental Feminists)

 

 

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends and on Fridays, it’s Open Slather here with Alicia.

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