Tuesday 27th July 2021

Women of Courage Series. #62 Juliette O’Brien. 83/2021.

In July 2021 The Women of Courage posts will be connected in some way to World Head and Neck Cancer Month (July) and the #WHNCD Day on 27 July 2021. Those who have followed my blog since 2017 know I was diagnosed with a rare Head and Neck Cancer in my upper gums and under the top lip. More here. And below, as I introduce Woman of Courage, Juliette, I will expand more on our connection.

Women of Courage Series #62 Juliette O’Brien. 83/2021.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

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 was honoured and delighted when Juliette O’Brien, aged 37 agreed to share her story as a woman of courage. We have yet to meet in person, but we have connected on social media (where she is @juliette_io on twitter) and one day, we will catch up over coffee at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. Now, if that name seems familiar, then you might be correct in making the connection that Juliette is the late Professor Chris O’Brien AO’s  daughter.

I feel so privileged and glad to have been referred to my head and neck surgeon, Professor Jonathan Clark AM that day back in May 2017. He learned much in his training days from the Head and Neck surgeon we all knew from the long-running show about a Sydney Teaching Hospital,  R.P.A. on Channel 9, Dr Chris O’Brien.

Thank you to Juliette so very much for this. You are a gifted woman in so many ways and a quiet but steady achiever too.

 

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

I lost my dad and elder brother to separate unexpected illnesses when I was in my 20s. I did – and continue to do – my best to support my mum and younger brother, to honour my dad’s and brother’s memories, and to continue to find joy and meaning in the world.

I don’t think any of this is courageous, but it has taken effort and perseverance.

 

How did this change you in any way?

These losses changed me profoundly.

They drove me to question our most common assumptions about what it means to live a ‘good life’, especially external signals like attaining status, hoarding wealth and meeting social expectations.

Living in way that subordinates these to your own principles means pushing through discomfort, fear and disapproval.

I suppose this takes ‘courage’ that I doubt I would have had otherwise.

 

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

 

Sometimes we use the adjective ‘courageous’ as though it is a constant state of being or personality trait.

In fact, I think courage, or at least the possibility of it, presents itself moment to moment through the countless decisions we make, and requires renewed interrogation and commitment every day.

 

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

 

I would like to share a poem by the wonderful John O’Donohue (poet, philosopher, former priest).

It is called ‘For Courage’.

I especially love these phrases: “this darkness has purpose”; and “Close your eyes, Gather all the kindling, About your heart, To create one spark …”.

 

When the light around lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside,

When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen,

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world.

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone,
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes,
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

Thank you so much Juliette. Not only for your story but for the added words of John O’Donohue.

His words, narrated before his death, are part of a series of his that I listened to a great deal as I struggled with some challenges in my life’s transitions before cancer.

I cannot and will not compare one person’s story to another, however to know that we can share resources of hope, love, wisdom and courage is to be connected. We need to stay connected.

Looking forward to “that coffee” as soon as Covid is settling!

Denyse.

Note About Head and Neck Cancer Support on-line.

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.

This is a link to Head and Neck Cancer Australia too. This is where I found information initially after my 2017 diagnosis and where I am now an Ambassador.

 

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

Copyright © 2021 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Women Of Courage Series. #61 P.M. 80/2021.

Women Of Courage Series. #61. P.M. 80/2021.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

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 have met P.M. who is in her 50s and know of her story of courage from some sharing with friends. I applaud her decision to come forward and share this story of hers which, out of respect for others’ privacy, will be anonymous. P.M.  will come to read your comments which I hope you will make after reading to support this woman and her family member. And will be adding her comments for which I am very grateful.

I have  added some contact details below for helplines in New South Wales and Australia.

Thank you for sharing P.M.

This image was taken by P.M.’s daughter, then aged 14.

I thought it fitting to use today and have had permission to share. The same is for the collage: drawing by P.M.’s daughter aged 12.

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

 

I, and my husband, have needed to be courageous for our daughter who has experienced multiple challenges over the course of her lifetime. I have, and continue to be her advocate to ensure that she has the life she deserves.

At the age of eighteen, she was finally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Level 2.

  • The sadly tragic thing about this was not the diagnosis but that it took so many years to get to that diagnosis.
  • If she had been diagnosed as a baby or toddler she might not have struggled with eating (due to sensory issues that were never identified). Maybe she wouldn’t have screamed every time I tried to feed her or in the middle of the night for hours on end. Initial diagnoses – silent reflux and failure to thrive.
  • I had to be courageous then with all the guilt at not being able to give my daughter the most of basic of needs – nourishment. I had to be courageous when I was perceived to be nothing more than an over anxious older mum to keep seeking support because I just knew things weren’t right.

 

If she had been diagnosed when she started school, instead of being tested for hearing loss, she might have gotten the early support she needed to be able to focus amongst all the noise.

If she had been diagnosed at seven, she might have had help with social skills so that she made and kept friends rather than being seen as attention seeking.

Current diagnosis – language processing disorder.

If she had been diagnosed at 13, she might not have experienced significant dissociative events that took her out of school, and me away from my job, and be given another diagnosis – conversion disorder.

If any of the doctors and psychiatrists who treated her then had connected the dots, saw the value in further investigation into why this had happened then maybe she wouldn’t have missed a full term of school, lost three months of her life.

  • I had to be courageous for her then – flying with her to John Hunter Hospital when we thought she was experiencing multiple epileptic seizures and not knowing what was going to happen.
  • I had to be courageous when dealing with all the doctors who sent us home saying she needed psychological help but wouldn’t actually direct us to any supports.

If she had been diagnosed at 14 or even 15, even after all that time off school, she would have been able to achieve the grades that reflected her ability and not felt dumb as well as “odd or psycho”.

  • Maybe she wouldn’t have been bullied so mercilessly that she had a meltdown in the playground surround by students screaming and laughing at her while she ripped at her face and her hair.
  • Maybe she wouldn’t have started self-harming including the first attempt at suicide. Maybe we wouldn’t have had to pull her out of school again for her own wellbeing. More diagnoses added – depression and generalized anxiety.
  • We had to be courageous when again pleading with psychologists and psychiatrists to help her, help us help her, from believing she was worthless and broken.

We had to be courageous when we decided to leave our lives behind and head north to pull her away from the toxic hell she was in and just be a kid again, even if would mean that we would need to go back eventually.

If she had been diagnosed at 16 or even 17, after moving schools, she might have had a better chance of steering clear of the drugs and other risky behavior in an effort to fit in, to find someone, anyone who would be her friend.

  • Maybe she wouldn’t have been sexually and physically assaulted by one of her “boyfriends”. Maybe she wouldn’t have left school after one term of Year 11 or lost her traineeship because of her “odd” behaviours and perceived inability to follow instructions.
  • We had to be courageous when advocating for my daughter’s right to be safe and respected in her work place.
  • To drop everything to get to her when she was having a panic attack in the middle of street, to call 000 when she overdosed because she was done. And worse, having to be courageous in the ER to insist on further treatment when they thought it best, again, to send her home only 8 hours later.

Even after the diagnosis at 18, we have had to continue to be courageous.

  • By that time she was set in a cycle of self-destruction – drugs, risky behaviour, abusers and users, and more suicide attempts.
  • There were days we feared we would lose her for good and we felt alone and helpless. The hospital system didn’t want to admit her until she was almost 19, mental health services in our town were ill-equipped to give her the intensive sustained support she needed and there were few services that could support a complex mix of autism and mental health.

At almost 21, we can finally see that there is hope.

  • Thanks to NDIS funding and some amazing supports who believe in our daughter as much as we do, she has started to see that she has a future.
  • She has found a welcoming and understanding workplace and is training to be a chef.
  • She has found her passion – to make art on a plate. She has distanced herself, most of the time, from the bad influences and is trying to make better choices.
  • As we say, life is a work in progress and there are always dips and turns on the road to the future.

Finally, I want to call out my daughter who is the most courageous of all of us.

  • She has had to live this and I am in awe of her resilience.
  • She has survived everything that life has thrown at her and kept going despite everything.
  • Her diagnosis of autism has helped her realise that she is not broken, she is not a mistake. She is exactly who she should be – a pun loving, true crime and space obsessed, artistic young lady who deserves a happy future.

Her autism is and never was the problem – it was the misdiagnoses, the lack of understanding of how autism presents in females, and over stretched medical systems that created the hell she lived through.

 

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

This whole experience has changed me forever.

This fight to save our daughter, quite literally at times, has made me outspoken about the woefully underfunded mental health system, the lack of psychiatrists particularly in regional areas and the lack of supports for autistic young adults, again particularly in regional areas.

I have discovered that I never give up, particularly on my daughter, and that I will just keep pushing when things are not going well.

I have learned the value of speaking up and speaking out.

Before all this I was quite a private person who kept everything inside but I learnt early that it is not healthy or helpful to keep things bottled up, to keep the truth from the village that surrounds you.

How can we change the stigma of mental health, of autism, if we never speak openly about what we are going through? I have developed strengths I never believed I had.

 

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

When struggling with challenges it is important to learn as much as you can.

It is harder to fight what you don’t understand the facts.

I learned early that often the medical profession did not have all the answers or the time to dedicate to one patient so that became my job after years of blindly trusting that they knew what they were doing.

I have also learned that it is important to speak up, to not hold things in and pretend everything is okay.

Living a lie helps no one in the end.

You also need to learn to accept help, to willingly ask for it when you need it so that you have strength to survive the long game.

It takes courage to do all those things.

 

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

I am definitely more capable of being courageous when life calls for it – especially when it is to be courageous for my family.

While it doesn’t necessarily change the experiences, the challenges, being courageous gives you the determination and positivity needed to not give up, and to fight for a better outcome.

We know our advocacy for our daughter, to ensure she has a bright future even after we are gone, will not stop, cannot stop but will change as she grows and blossoms.

 

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

No-one knows how courageous they can be until the situation arises for you to step up, step in and work through the challenges presented to you.

It won’t necessarily change the challenges you face but it allows you to keep going, to keep fighting, keep finding hope in the darkness.

Just remember, that you never have to be courageous on your own.

Having someone there who will fight with you, take the lead when your batteries are flat, to give your other perspectives makes the challenge easier and allows you to keep being courageous for as long as is needed.

I thank P.M. and her daughter for this courageous sharing of their story. I suspect, from my knowledge, that it IS indeed much harder for girls and women to be accurately diagnosed. Yes to the fact that many of us have indeed trusted the medical and helping professions and now, as we see from your sharing, there can be an inability for ‘the connecting of the dots’ as you put it in terms of diagnosis. Thank you too for the included list of places for accessing help and knowledge.

I send my best to you all.

Thank you.

Denyse.

Places for help

Autism and girls – want to know more?

https://childmind.org/article/autistic-girls-overlooked-undiagnosed-autism/

 

https://www.autismawareness.com.au/could-it-be-autism/autism-and-girls/

 

https://www.yellowladybugs.com.au/

 

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-13/how-easily-girls-can-mask-the-autism-warning-signs/10701928

 

Autism and mental health – want to know more?

 

https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/health-wellbeing/mental-health/depression-teens-with-asd

 

https://www.spectrumnews.org/features/deep-dive/the-deep-emotional-ties-between-depression-and-autism/

 

Mental health supports

 

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

 

https://headspace.org.au/

 

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

 

https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/mentalhealth/Pages/mental-health-line.aspx

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

Copyright © 2021 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Women Of Courage Series. #60. Tracey Breese. 77/2021.

Women Of Courage Series.  #60. Tracey Breese. 77/2021.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

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 Tracey Breese, who  is 49, and known to me via our social media connections relating to schools and public education in New South Wales. Tracey is an innovator and a highly competent high school principal who has recently left one school where she was leader learner as school principal ….to become principal of a different type of high school, called Hunter School Of The  Performing Arts found via this link….and the students range from Year 3 to Year 12. What an interesting school and so good to read of Tracey’s updates on-line. I do hope to visit one day as well. Find Tracey here on Twitter.

 

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

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

― William Faulkner

Courage is a funny thing. In the moment, you don’t particularly recognise it as ‘courage’ per se.

As a school leader I see many of the ‘moments’ in my career now, on reflection, have involved courage.

Many of them have evolved from my strong beliefs and convictions.

So, that idea of courage through conviction rings true for me.

The integrity of my convictions and not lying down when I need to speak up, have been pivotal to my personality and growth, as a mum, as a teacher, as a leader and as a community member.

Many of the pivotal moments of my career have changed me.

Sadly, many of the challenges harden the resolve that you have.

I have had to work harder to get some roles in my career, where, at times, simply being ‘male’ appeared to be the criteria.

When I first became a principal, I had a head teacher come to my door and say; ‘What we really needed was a strong man in this role, it’s a tough place.’ This was not in 1960: but 2016. I was speechless.

This stayed with me and drove me to be the best principal I could be.

 

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

Yes.

I found it really difficult to believe that I have got to this point, and was still fighting some old cultural misogyny.

Even though it was only one person’s opinion, it is amazing how these things stick like velcro to your armour.

I was able to move from the moment, but I was always striving to make sure that everything achieved for students was at the level of excellence and innovation.

I was warm to all, but ferocious in my resolve to be the best person I could be.

I had exceptional role models.

Christine Cawsey has been an amazing mentor in my entire career.

It is the women in leadership like this that have forged the path and created amazing opportunities- created through their courageous and fearless watershed moments.

 

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

Stick to your convictions and don’t let others drag you under.

Michelle Obama’s quote is up in my office: ‘When they go low, you go high.’

It’s not everyday that you need the power of resilience, but when you do: go to the mantras.

I did a mindfulness course with Gillian Coutts (you’ll want to get her on the blog!) Thank you for your recommendation, she is going to share too! 

It was life changing.

The strategies were about putting the gaps in between the work.

Knowing that you need to re-centre and revive yourself between the moments.

This has been work/life balance changing for me.

 

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

Yes.

I feel that the emotional intelligence you gain in leadership is so important and changes all the time as you experience different situations.

Courage is also about calling in your resources and knowing the right resources you need in the moment.

This includes the fact that in all situations, you do have the power of your own response.

This is the best point in courage.

The courage to know yourself and not be forced into responses by others.

I am at all times the calm and consistent adult.

I do not have to respond in a stereotypical way to any situation.

Walking away, in some instances can save others from themselves.

 

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

Courage is standing strong to your conviction, not the overwhelming and all powerful emotions that sometimes take over others.

Be the best person.

Walk away when needed.

Don’t get in the ring if you don’t have to.

Sometimes, doing what’s right is more important that doing what is easy- that is to be truly courageous.

 

As a now-retired K-6 principal I read your story with heightened interest and even used red and italyics to show how we women in leadership roles have had to manage some people’s comments, attitudes and ignorance. I am in awe of your daily work with the many students, staff and families who are part of your new school community. What a thrill it must be to be also part of a large student population with huge talent in many area. Mind you, as I would understand from having two “OC” classes at RPS, giftedness has its many challenges too.

 

Thank you so much again for sharing.

I am sure others who read will also take something from your work, your heart and your mind as you lead your school onward.

And I wish you and your colleagues some respite from school life as you lead up to the mid-year Winter School holidays.

Denyse.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

Copyright © 2021 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Women Of Courage Series. #58 Tracey Lee. 71/2021.

Women Of Courage Series. #58 Tracey Lee. 71/2021.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

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

In counting back the years, I realised that I met Tracey Lee, aged 55 via twitter first…back in what we affectionately call ‘the good old days of twitter: 2010-2012’. Then I also got to meet her in real life at a mutual friend’s book launch. Over the next few years we chatted and caught up, in that social media way, on both facebook and twitter. When we moved from Sydney to the Central Coast of N.S.W. I knew that I had a friend I could meet up with again, and we did and have for coffee and chat. Love those connections. But in recent times, I was also delighted to be both an encourager and cheerleader in Tracey Lee’s ventures which she writes of here. I will let her share the story. Thank you!

 

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

Is there anything more terrifying than your “baby” starting high school? Is there anything more potent to ring the alarm bells of what will you “do” for the rest of your life!

  • Let’s take it back a decade, to when I was made redundant from my permanent part-time graphic design job, secretly 8 weeks pregnant with my second child and knowing I had no chance of finding another position that would fit me and my childcare needs.
  • With support from also-redundant colleagues and bereft clients, I set up a computer and dial-up modem in my dining room, establishing my freelance business.
  • While I never “made a living”, it was enough to keep our nose above water and pay for family holidays.
  • It gave me flexibility to be at school: helping in the classroom, canteen, P&C, and cobbling together costumes for the dreaded Book Week.
  • And extra time to spend with my Mum, who lived alone since we lost Dad, and who was showing early signs of dementia.

I had fallen into graphic design when I dropped out of law school (a terrible choice!) because I had always been “good at art”.

  • I enjoyed design, and it certainly honed my skills as a communicator, and I loved working in publishing (because books!), but it was never a goal that set me alight.
  • Into the presumption of stability known as “mid life”, little ideas crept into my head, of how I would resurrect my creative practice beyond on a computer, to find that part of me that the responsibilities of adult life and parenthood had driven out.

Enter Twitter! 

At the (since lamented) suggestion of my husband, I started an account.

As a SAHM/WFH (Stay At Home Mum/Working from Home) freelancer, I was thrilled to expand what had become a narrow social circle. I started with old friends from publishing, then followed the bread crumbs, gathering a group of individuals whose interests mirrored mine.

It did not occur to me until later that I had created a virtual curriculum vitae for future ambitions.

I followed parents and teachers, artisans and creatives … and a cluster of allied health professionals working in mental health.

I remembered the psychology I enjoyed as a part of my abandoned law studies, and the kindling started to smoulder.

If only I could resurrect my art practice and, through the joy I knew it could invoke, help people heal from self-doubt and hardships in their lives: art … and, therapy? That’s a job!

Putting aside qualms from my flawed experiences, I spent the rest of that year secretly searching qualifications and university degrees. I discovered mature-aged admissions pathways. I applied. I was accepted. Dear God!

 

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

I was used to work schedules and deadlines, but now I needed to factor in the unexpected, to learn how to drop the ball and catch it on the bounce when a child became ill or a paid freelance job turned up without warning.

I learned to focus my research and to “kill my darlings”, the factual nuggets or personal theories that just would not fit in under the word limit. (My worst effort was the 6000 word “draft” for the 1500 word assignment).

And then there was the dreaded Group Assignment: how to get my work done and learn to trust everyone else to do their own work … or to let go when it was obvious it was never going to happen.

I needed to allow myself to hand in work that I was not 100% happy with for the sake of getting it out of the way, ready to start on the next project.

Being the anxious type, that did not sit well with me!

And then there were the results that were disappointing, especially on assignments I felt I had “nailed”, to learn that there is more than one way to interpret an assignment, and that I would not always be “right”.

 

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

But the hardest thing to learn was to be self-centred, not in a selfish way, but in a way that allowed me to believe what I was doing, my aims and ambitions, were important.

  • Even more so than parenting demands, reasonable when my children were younger, which I had let persist because what I was previously doing was “not so important”.
  • I would like to say we blossomed graciously as a family, but it was a lot bumpier than that.
  • My new priorities were resented, and I had days when I struggled with guilt.

Yet, oddly, no one died. No one got injured or even particularly hungry, although a few dirty uniforms might have been shaken out at 8am and quickly sprayed with deodorant.

I learned that when I centred myself, others would fall in around me.

As a primary caregiver it can be confronting to be the instigator of one’s own obsolescence. It can be frightening to peel off the cocoon of parenting to see if what emerges will have beautiful wings, or be incomplete and damaged, unable to fly.

 

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

While this is about my year of Open Foundation, the next chapter was the four years of ups and downs it took to complete my three-year Bachelor’s degree (with Distinction!), with Mum leaving us in my final year.

By then I knew I was not cut out for the post-graduate Master’s as I had planned, so I looked for smaller certificate courses, finding one I could mostly complete online. And then …

And then COVID-19 spat its contagion, hungrily eating its way through freedoms I took so for granted.

I was used to WFH, but now my husband was WFH, my oldest had TAFE shut down and my youngest was studying “FH” as well. I was happy we could be safe and not suffer financially, but as someone who requires a quiet space, I shelved my plans for the year.

Sometimes courage means knowing your limits and when to say no.

Sometimes courage is an understanding that life will throw sharp sticks, and you need to protect yourself and regather for when it is safe to start again.

 

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

If years as a mature-aged student — forging a pathway to my first ever burning passion — taught me anything, it is that by creating a clear image of who you are, you can hold steady.

If who you wish to be is not possible right now, do not believe it can never happen or that your efforts have been wasted.

Such intrinsic courage does not fail at the first, or even fifth, hurdle.

I once read that direction, not speed, is pivotal when finding your way through life.

With a few pressing family issues and my youngest attempting the HSC in 2021, I’m still not quite ready to spring ahead, but I know my pathway when I am.

And hey, 60 is the new 40, am I right?

Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post. For example a website or help line.

From UON / Open Foundation:

“Open Foundation is a free pathway program offered at the University of Newcastle for people who do not have the qualifications required for direct entry into an undergraduate degree program.’

https://www.newcastle.edu.au/study/pathways/open-foundation

 

Gosh I loved reading this from Tracey Lee because I remember a lot of what was happening as she plunged in…and see the top photo? A proud artist. Lately I have been loving her instagram pics where she includes art and art via nature. I was incredibly pleased to know of her graduation. However, like everything in 2020, the graduation could not happen in person. The photo here is from her graduation from the pathways’ program. Lots to be proud of here and perhaps for others to find encouragement in their tertiary study ventures.

Thank you!

Denyse.

Tracey Lee’s  Social Media:

Business Facebook is: https://www.facebook.com/LPFdesign

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tracey_ArtTx

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tracey_arttx/

This series continues over the next months.

If you have  story to share, please leave me a message in the comments.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

Copyright © 2021 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Who’s A Volunteer? 34/2021.

Who’s a Volunteer? 34/2021.

It’s said, by many, that when you get to retire from paid work you might like to consider being a volunteer. I agreed with that notion.

Are you a volunteer?

Maybe you are not even retired but still a volunteer.

Here’s something about what this has been for me, and with a few notes about my husband’s experiences.

Retired Couple. 2015.

From this Australian government organisation in 2015 here is this.

           Definition: Volunteering is time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain.

The following areas are not considered to meet each of the core requirements of volunteering (‘without financial gain’, ‘willingly given’ and ‘for the common good’) and hence are not included in this definition of volunteering. It is acknowledged that many of these have a constructive, positive and vital role in society and may exist alongside volunteering and / or provide a pathway into volunteering.

• Direct family responsibilities are excluded. It is recognised that direct familial relationships vary for different people and social groups and so this is open to individual interpretation. In addition, foster carers have many similarities with volunteers, but because of the family relationship, these are outside this definition of volunteering.

• A number of programs are highly structured, with fixed requirements and provide options of volunteering type activities but with limited choice and/or varying types of in-built financial or reward outcomes. These vary widely and are excluded from this definition. Examples include:  Compulsory educational service learning (where students are required to volunteer as part of a course) Mandated court orders including community service and fines  Internships  Formal work experience / vocational placements  Mandatory government programs  Limited choice labour market government programs

• Volunteering requires a donation of time. Other types of donating such as giving money or materials and donating blood are not considered volunteering, although it is acknowledged there is a time element required in these forms of donating

My Experiences.

These started around the time I was in partial retirement from around 52. Later, they were when I was over 65.

  • With caring for our grandchildren, over time, for no financial reward ever but the joy of memories made. However, see above, ‘not about volunteering.’

 

  • teaching English in women’s homes in the community. A one-to-one experience, for which I had to do some training, at no cost to me, and also provide materials for the women. I enjoyed it and I think the two women became more confident over time of having an English speaker helping them I found it a bit too one-sided as the women, who were at home because of child-rearing were not completing even the smallest of ‘between times’ work. 

 

  • helping in Smith Family Parramatta  office prior to Christmas one year taking phone calls from people who wanted to register for the Smith Family Christmas hampers. This meant I had to drive into Parramatta, park my car, and attend the office for about 4 hours. I took down details and recorded them so families could be included by Christmas. It was quite boring for someone who had only recently ran a school but I also needed “not” to have responsibility to assist my mental health recovery. That role finished abruptly when I managed to break my ankle getting out of the car at home after a shift there. No, I did not pursue work related claim.

 

  • becoming a volunteer at local art gallery did not even reach training stage. Once we arrived on the Central Coast, I wanted to settle in (as I thought then) with some busy activities. Trouble was that emotionally I was not up to this role’s training requirements (I.B.S. would strike any time) and I also add that by the time I decided to step away from this, I realised how ‘cliquey’ the other volunteers were and felt excluded anyway. I was new to the area and ‘felt’ I was an outsider.

 

  • looking after ethics program in local area when we first moved to the  Central Coast seemed like a win/win for me as I needed some work of a productive kind while my husband already had his weeks in retirement sorted. I liked the people I met at the schools and was already helping get new people on board to be teachers when I felt something that did not seem quite right. You see, I felt conflict. I am, NSW teacher/principal at heart, and this program was independent to schools and I could see a conflict of interest  that I could not brush off. I sensed, and heard for good reason that it was an Us vs Them issue and I could not continue. I tried to let them have this feedback but it was a political hot potato and I left.

 

  • teaching mindful colouring was something I was passionate about in the midst of my first year of doing my best to settle to a new way of life. The local independent bookshop was happy to support my plan where I would supply all materials and I just needed a space. A local cafe owner said yes to that as we would be buying coffees. And off we went. We had 4 the first week. Then down to 3. Sadly, I was not prepared to continue because of this. I really did think this would work. No it did not. 

 

  • creating bookmarks for the charity The Big Hug Box. This was a passion for me as I was using my distraction activities of art, designs and more to create bookmarks as part of my post-cancer treatments. I’d be helping this new 2018 charity with my donations of goods and time. I also donated more than 300 bookmarks over time and took part in a packing day. Still on call if needed but I stopped the bookmarks.

 

  • teaching mindful mandala making and colouring because I wanted to share the ways in which this is helpful for our emotional health. I instigated this idea through my local library. Honestly, just as well I have determination because so many stumbling blocks were put in my way… no personal indemnity insurance ( and no, I was not going to pay for it) and then, oh, you would have to do our volunteer course to do this here, and no we don’t have any training coming up. I was ready to give up, when the local librarian – all part of the huge council area – said, you can have the space and I will say I am the organiser. Truly. Anyway, it went well over 4 weeks. I provided everything. I did offer it again, and waited in the empty room on two occasions and after that, I did not return.

 

  • I also offered to a women’s shelter that I could do this course in mindful colouring if they thought there was a need. They said yes, but without my person indemnity insurance, I could not start. So, another loss.

 

  • I also supplied Chris O’Brien Lifehouse with books of my designs and many pieces of media for in-patient art and visitors’ mindful colouring as it was a practical contribution I could make as I lived 2 hours away.

 

  • I am an ‘unofficial’ supporter  of Public Education via my social media and other presence and it’s one way I like to stay supportive and connected. 

 

  • In 2017 I was diagnosed with a head and neck cancer, and in a way to help me understand more about my cancer (there are many types of head and neck cancer) my two surgeons directed me to what was then called Beyond Five. Over time, I learned more about Beyond Five and the almost 100% volunteer support it requires the website going, changing and being of use. About a year into my recovery, I shared my story with Beyond Five, and then following my head and neck team’s assurance I seemed to be doing the right thing with my social media and other messages, I was invited to become an  Ambassador for what is now called Head and Neck Cancer Australia.

 

  • Being a member of the local Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer support group which meets monthly and being a contributor to sharing knowledge and awareness to others affected as patients or carers or family members.

 

  • I was very pleased to know I could be a mentor for Public Education via another way, supporting a student with a funded scholarship. However, over the time of being accepted, and then getting ready to help this person, I was not confident of the ways in which the program was run. I wanted to feel I could find support as I was learning the program via on-line systems but with little to no communication, I have declined their offer. Sadly, with some organisations this can be what happens.

 

  • My blog has been a voluntary activity. I have been able to write, share, find friends from this amazing medium. I do it all on my time, when I can, and it’s a great volunteer role because “I” am in charge of this one. My blog is over 10 years old now and brings me a great deal of personal reward.

My Husband’s Experiences: not all as a retiree! The last 3 were.

  • P&C President at our local primary school for 7 years our son was there.
  • Scouts President whilst our son was part of cubs.
  • Volunteer Teacher of Children in The Westmead Kids’ Hospital.
  • Safety House Co-ordinator in our neighbourhood in the 1980s -1990s- remember those?
  • Local Community Progress Association President.
  • President Local Drama Society in a Country Town.
  • Musical Director of performances over 3 years in that town.
  • President Ecumenical Council at local Church in the country town
  • National Charity Telephone Crisis Support.
  • National Charity  Face to Face Counsellor.
  • Driver: Cancer Patients To Appointments.

Some feedback we would LOVE to give to organisations where we no longer volunteer. Do not, please, take our service or time for granted. In my husband’s case, he PAID hundreds of dollars towards his training to be National Charity TSC…and as he was also doing a University course to become a trained counsellor, there were costs there. However, he was pleased to be able to help and learn via his supervisors how he was proceeding. This is when it becomes tricky. Those ‘people’ in charge of volunteers are paid and for some, the power of the position became a lack of respect in dealings over time. It does not take too much guessing to know why volunteers may leave. In my husband’s case, he did leave to become my carer as I had just had my cancer diagnosis. In another instance, the driving role, the system was so poorly organised on some days he would leave our place at 8.00 a.m. and not return till 6.00 p.m. because of poor planning for patients’ needing being collected, taken to the hospital and then collected.

He no longer performs any volunteer roles. 

 

Some further comments about volunteering here.

https://www.oversixty.com.au/lifestyle/retirement-life/5-amazing-benefits-of-volunteering-in-retirement

1. Stay active and engaged with life

2. Helping others makes you feel happy

3. Make new social connections

4. Have new experiences and learn new skills

5. Change someone’s life – change your own

 

My husband and I also ask each other, is it because we have both been leaders in our work places that we find it hard(er) to be a volunteer….or maybe that is not the reason. We can also see that organisations who need volunteers  to assist their services must go through quite a bit themselves in judging suitability and more. It’s perhaps the reason why I wrote this post. I was so sad to relinquish the mentor role but I also knew, that understanding my need to clarity and certainty in doing this role well, I could not, if I had not a great deal of faith in the organisation’s representative. 

This post comes under a few of my topics, including stories about ageing which I write about from time to time. I know you do not have to be a retiree to volunteer but most of my activities were then. 

Are you a volunteer?

Tell us more.

Denyse.

Linking up here with Leanne for Lovin Life Linky

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

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Photos In Wyong: From Colour to Black & White. #SundayStills.#11. 32/2021.

Walk In Wyong: From Colour to Black & White. #SundayStills.#11. 32/2021.

Each week I am writing and posting here for inclusion in the #SundayStills from this blogger and kind person, Terri from here. I now post on a Sunday!

From sometime in my post-head and neck cancer BIG surgery timeline, in the latter part of 2017, I began to visit Wyong, a regional and busy place here on the northern end of the N.S.W. Central Coast. It’s about a 12 minute drive from home. I usually only visit on Sundays when it is far less busy from weekday traffic and businesses being open. I have a ritual of getting a coffee made by the kind lady who I have featured here before. I also take a walk around the area, keeping mindful to stay safe as I have been approached for money a couple of times.

Wyong is a very old country town, and I am mindful of its history in the area’s agriculture,  fishing industries, dairy farming, horse training and breeding and of course the original inhabitants from the Darkinjung people.

I took my walk, and looked for interesting images that would look better in black and white, and here they are. Come on my walk!

 

From the elevated carpark….the town centre is quite hilly, this was the view to the sky which turned on some amazing clouds.

 

Before I left to carpark I captured the Chapman Building. It’s located in Alison Road, where I was about to walk, and is now used for a few different purposes but ‘back in the day’ it was a general store for the area. There is a coffee shop underneath. Not the one I go to!

Down the hill towards Wyong Train Station but this was a far as I needed to go. I liked the angles, the crispness of the lines, and behind this fence you find….

This. The former Police Station and/or residence. Now, a real estate office. Again the lines of the building look great in B&W.

As I turned to walk back up towards the park area, where there are still many blooms, I had to capture this light pole. There are some lights like this, with solar on top I think. This one looks a wee bit dirty thanks to the B&W and spiders!

This sandstone retaining wall is strong enough to hold many plants, and trees. The Central Coast area is well-known for its sandstone and I would be certain this was locally mined.

I didn’t climb up to the park for floral photos this time but captured these two from the garden at street level and loved their features even more in B&W.

Now I looked for interest and the recycle bin, in black with cut outs appealed. The sign for access to phone lines, set in the footpath and the phone booth did too.

 

I was almost at the shopping centre ready for my coffee…and this was my final image. So much strength in these lines and angles.

Do you look at and different angles and lines when walking around familiar places?

I like to notice those differences.

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Rain Welcomed Here. #SundayStills.#10. 29/2021.

Rain Welcomed Here. #SundayStills #10. 29/2021.

Each week I am writing and posting here for inclusion in the #SundayStills from this blogger and kind person, Terri from here. I now post on a Sunday!

Living in Australia all my life, I can say with conviction that we always seem to say we need the rain.

We are a large, and often drought-affected country. In the past few years, the unrelenting heat meant that we had not only drought-conditions but it placed much of the country at risk of bush fires in 2019 leading into 2020. They did unfathomable damage…but, even after the rains came, the rain did too!

We are a country like this….as famous poet Dorothea McKellar wrote:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!

About the Rains Around Here. Always Welcomed*.

Each new house built for the past few years is required to have an outside water tank. We also have water supplied via the council from dams beyond the mountains. We have, in some cities, recycled water as options for using in toilet and on gardens (we had this in our Sydney home) so we don’t tend to take water for granted.

*I admit though, we are not too affected by flash flooding here but we have lived in streets where there is no kerb and guttering and it makes life challenging to leave in a vehicle. Where we live now it’s OK as we have some better drained roads and land for housing.

I do LOVE it when I can get out safely in the rain, after the rain or before the rain, to get some pics. These are a few from the past year. I live around 20 minutes from most of these places. Very happy to do so.

I feel energised by the rain and wind at the ocean

 

Not quite raining…yet.

 

A gathering of all the feathered friends.

 

A Sydney pool getting swamped in the rain

 

Dots of rain….

 

Driving away from this, I had to stop to capture it. Rain on its way!

 

Then this

I held the iphone out of the window to capture this! Got wet too.

I admit a rainy day or two is OK but I tend to want some more outdoor suitable weather to arrive. This does not always happen so I do get out for a bit in my car.

Do you like the rain?

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Things That Are White. #SundayStills. #9. 26/2021.

Things That Are White. #SundayStills. #9.  26/2021.

Each week I am writing and posting here for inclusion in the #SundayStills from this blogger and kind person, Terri from here. I now post on a Sunday!

White.

What’s a woman to think about who has just celebrated her Golden Wedding Anniversary?

That WHITE dress.

So much tradition in white. I was a bride of very simple tastes and am not someone who goes for a lot of frill and bling.

These images, of images, sorry, are from wedding photos my 97 year old Dad has hanging in a collage in his Unit.

 

My Mother’s Parents. I called them Nanny and Papa. This is around 1920. These were poor, working class people from a rural background. I would think the gown was borrowed.

 

My Dad’s parents. I never met my grandfather as he died when Dad was 11. My Grandmother (Gran) was a stylish dresser but with little money. She was a war bride from the U.K. marrying the love of her life around 1921. She lived a sad life as a widow with 4 children to support and did it tough.

 

My Parents. 2 November 1946. Mum and Dad had formal photos taken after the wedding. Mum’s gown was, I believe, made with the help of post war coupons. There would have been a lot of help with sewing and more. No idea what happened to the gown. Likely shared with others. Mum and Dad got to celebrate 60 years wed before Mum’s death from cancer.

 

 

The 1970s kids. Us. 23 January 1971. I bought my wedding dress off the rack from the bridesmaid section in a bridal shop. The veil was the closest to fancy. Very practical and comfy. My husband hired his suit.

Dear 11 year old granddaughter, you look so cool. Yes, your Grandma has carted this dress around NSW for over 50 years so you can try it on at our Golden Wedding Anniversary!

 

Our daughter made us an orange flavoured cake (her Dad’s choice) for our Golden Wedding Anniversary and it was decorated with white icing, and flowers. So pretty.

I know Wedding Dresses can be all shades of colour.

This post however, did benefit from having images of brides in white!

No judgement made on reasons nor actual “whiteness” of said dresses as white can be of soooo many differing shades! Ever tried to choose a white paint for a room?

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