Onwards into a new decade
A decade ago, late 2009, I moved to Perth from Melbourne. It is hard to see that person in me today – as one friend put it, it’s like day and night. I arrived in Perth alone, unsure, insecure. The only people I knew here lived an hour away.
It reminded me of landing in Perth 21 years ago. I knew no-one and had 2 weeks to find somewhere to live. I was tired, afraid, alone and wondering why I had left everyone and everything I knew and loved to come here. I was driven by fear – the main reason I left Africa was fear based. Fear dictated what I could and could not do and my life was very limited as all my energy went into surviving each day.
Here I was again, in Perth, a little older, and one would hope wiser but still driven by fear – fear of failing; of losing my job; of starting over. I had a comfortable life in Melbourne; a strong support circle.
I began the decade in pain – serious pain – needing heavy painkillers to sleep. I had two knee surgeries until I finally convinced the doctor to do a full knee replacement. By this time i was hobbling and needed a walking stick to get around. The new knee gave me a new lease on life. I could climb stairs again and walk on the beach; sleep without pain killers; lose the walking stick.
I have had cataract surgery in both eyes and for the first time since I was a teenager, no longer need glasses to see. I see in HD now – being able to see individual leaves on a tree is amazing – and the colours- what can I say? So thankful for the cataracts and that it was not something more serious.
I now have hearing aids and can’t believe how much I was missing. I can hear the leaves rustling in the wind, a clock ticking, conversations in a group setting and can turn the volume down in my car. Technology is amazing and I am grateful for it and how it has helped me in countless ways.
The past decade and last five years, particularly, have been some of the hardest of my life. My dad died and my complex PTSD when into overdrive. I woke up every day wondering if that would be the day I would end it all. But along the way, here in Perth I had made friends, bought my first house and begun to settle.
I was adopted as ‘Grandma Su’ for a little while by a beautiful little girl and her mom until they relocated to Sydney. I have been adopted by another family as ‘aunty Su’ and know I am loved and wanted.
In the darkest times, people have rallied around me, sometimes not even knowing that the unplanned visit, or phone call or invite for a coffee actually saved my life. The PTSD was so bad I didn’t think I could continue to work as it was harder and harder for me to leave the house.
Then one day a work, one of the bosses took me for a coffee and started to help in making changes like working from home one day a week. She also asked me to make an appointment via the employee assistance program to see a counsellor. It took a lot of courage to make that first call but it was the best thing I could have done.
I met M – an amazing, caring, insightful psychologist who did not minimise what I was experiencing and started me on the road to recovery. M taught me that PTSD is not merely a mental illness. When we experience trauma, it is not restricted to our minds – all of you is traumatised- body, mind, spirit and emotions and to truly heal meant more than simply treating the mind. She taught me about mindfulness and identifying triggers and showed me exercises that could help when I felt the panic start.
Although my sessions with M were limited, she started me on the road to real recovery and I am forever grateful to her for that. I saw another therapist for a while and when she went on maternity leave was then referred to C. I am so thankful for that referral and that I actually made the call. C immediately started to help me change the script I had of myself. I often felt foolish but persevered nonetheless and today, the script is more true than the one I entered her office with that first day.
C has helped me to recognise the fractured person I was and begin to integrate. She continued to help me identify triggers and change the narrative around them. She has given me additional tools to manage and even overcome PTSD symptoms until I am now in the space where I no longer believe PTSD is a life sentence. She recommended books to read and they have been literally life changing.
So while I started the last decade with thoughts of death, driven by fear, I end it with hope and thoughts of life. I am content, happy, comfortable in my home. I still have my moments, still have triggers, but have tools and strategies to deal with them. I have found a family and a home here in Perth and am so thankful for the people in my life that have helped me to become this better, truer version of myself. I bought a house and made it a home. I have lost friends, made friends, started to put down roots and belong. I know I am accepted and loved. I laugh more, play more, interact more. I love my life.
I have learnt about the power of forgiveness; the importance of self-compassion; the difference between guilt and shame. I have learnt to let go of the past and spend more time in the present. I have learnt that community is important. We need each other and life really is better together. I have learnt to let go of the things i cannot control or cannot change.
I turned 60 last year, and suddenly realise I do not have to prove myself to anyone anymore. I am comfortable in my own skin probably for the first time in my life.
My word for the year is rest. It has been a long, hard battle to get to this point in my life and I am taking time to just enjoy being. No more striving – to prove myself; to fit in; to win approval. I am just being me – comfortable in my own skin.