18 Nov

Stay In Your Canoe.

A few years ago, I saw someone demonstrate how young girls (and boys) could understand what boundaries – physical, emotional and sexual – looked like. They took their arms and made a canoe which reached from the point their hands could touch out front, around and behind them. It created a canoe shape in which they sat right in the middle. I’ve never forgotten this, and I wish I’d learned this earlier. I’ve never found a more effective way to imagine around myself a space in which I healthily and sanely situate myself, safe from those I don’t wish to share myself with, or whom try to cross my boundaries. I can share my canoe with others if I choose, but in my canoe, what I say goes. It’s a no shame, no guilt, no violation space, and I maintain it carefully.

Sometimes my canoe is as big as the physical space I inhabit – my house, car, group, shop for example. Sometimes it’s skin thin. Sometimes i step out and into someone’s else’s, or they into mine. But canoes are my standard and I don’t break that standard. Nobody and nothing gets into my canoe unless I will it to be so, and I do not apologize for it. It’s a place of safety, security, well being, and it is mine to police and share as I see fit.

Christmas is a time when women especially are expected to load a heap of shit into their canoes. We get out of our guilt free zone and walk around surrounded by pressure to spend, buy and bring people together for the sake of some invented holiday where everyone is supposed to feel happy and connected. We are supposed to allow people we would never let near us any other time to disregard our canoe. We also feel it’s okay to pile up our own feelings of loneliness, lack, guilt, shame, pain and circumstance on others because we feel them so intensely this time of year. We get out of our canoe and look around and feel others are more, have more, do more, get more, and rather than dealing with it, or seeing things as they are, we begin to try and get in others canoes and get them to deal with it for us. But none of this shit is real.

Nobody has less shit to deal with. We all have ours, and it’s all magnified, triggered and exacerbated at times like these. We all hurt for the ones lost or absent, we all feel shame for things unsaid, we all wish those ties could be mended or smoothed or healed right now, even if just for a time. Yes, some have nothing and no one at Christmas, and our time to think of them is all year round, not just now. And our time to ask for help and support in our own loneliness and isolation is not just now, but all year round as well.

Just because Christmas looms, our triggers are not others emergencies. The toxic actions of family members or friends are not our job to accommodate just because a teeny baby was born two thousand years ago and religious people decided that was December 25th and a Coke commercial stole a European tradition introducing a fat white man who visits little kids at night to bestow on them the result of our over extended credit cards.

Argh, I’m getting back in my canoe.

Things are about to get crazy around here. There will be pressure, and spending, and traffic, and no parking spots, and expensive seafood, and family coming, or family absent, and unanswered phone calls, and long working hours, and unreasonable expectations, and reasonable expectations unmet.

Darling, take my advice. Don’t be tempted to get out of your canoe. Don’t expect to be rescued when you do. Deal with your shit. Stay firmly put and don’t get out to rescue anyone else. Women especially are expected to lower their boundaries, forgive the unforgivable, counsel everyone else’s pain, overfeed the already satiated, and comfort the comfortable, at this time of year. Get in your fucking canoe and push off the pier. Wave sweetly at them as they watch confused from the shore. Let them find their own canoe and paddle where their own thoughts and troubles will be their work, not yours. Don’t try to heal people or conflict or the wrongness that’s comes with facilitating peace between people who ought not be in proximity any other time with your time, money or energy. It’s time for a canoe journey, sweetheart. It will be time to return probably about February.

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16 Nov

Doing Awesome Broken (Wyong Writers Festival, Nov. 16th 2019)

For those who may be interested to read my Wyong Writers festival speech on Doing Awesome Broken, here it is

There once was a woman who loved to walk in the wilderness. At night she dreamed of the scent of the trees, the feel of the earth beneath her feet and the sound of the wind moving through the tree boughs overhead. Every morning, she packed her knapsack and tied her boots, and headed out on her favourite track, excited for all the new experiences which lay ahead.

As she walked along one day, suddenly she heard a small voice coming from somewhere. “Where are you going?” the voice said. “Don’t you know it’s dangerous out here? Do you have a map?”

“No, I don’t need a map, I’m exploring,” she replied to the voice, “but excuse me – exactly where are you?”

“I’m here”, said a small child-like creature who suddenly popped out from behind a tree. “And I’m concerned. In fact I’m WORRIED.”

“What on earth are you worried about?” said the woman. “I’m fine, and you appear to be as well.”

“How silly you are,” said the creature. “If only you KNEW all the things that could go WRONG for someone just wandering about unprepared. I think I should go with you and warn you about ALL THE THINGS.”

Despite being already annoyed with this little bore who seemed bent on spoiling her adventure, the woman agreed to take it with her. They headed off with it perched on top of her knapsack where it could easily chatter into her ear.

“Always look down, there’s so many things to trip on. Look out! Those leaves are poisonous. Did you hear that? I’m sure that’s a dangerous animal in the bush waiting to pounce. Did you bring snacks? We might starve. You can’t go there! I did once, and what happened was HORRIBLE! Oh my God! How far are we going? Can’t you walk faster? Slower? I think we should go back. This was a stupid idea. I want to go home!”

Exasperated, the woman stopped and put down her knapsack. Sitting opposite her passenger on a  stump, she watched as it sobbed and rocked itself. At first, the woman felt afraid. Clearly this little creature was terrified out here, even though this was its natural habitat. The noises and strange movements seemed ominous rather than interesting, and suddenly she was afraid of becoming lost, despite the fact they hadn’t left the path. Perhaps wandering out here was a stupid idea, they really were both in danger, and it was time to go back. Dreaming of the wilderness was turning out to be much more pleasant than actually being in it.

But as she sat looking at the little creature sobbing, she was moved to compassion. This little one was much smaller than the woman and seemed to have suffered much in the past. She realised all the chatter and foreboding was nothing more than fear. All the wonder and enjoyment of the wilderness, the mystery, adventure and peace to be found there were invisible to it, overcome as it was by its private fantasy of everything that could go wrong. The woman gathered the little creature up and comforted it for a long time. “Everything will be all right. You are small, but I am big. I think if you come with me, rather than me obeying you, both of us will be much happier.”

And so they set off, the woman with the little creature on her shoulders. It never did cease its chattering and foreboding, but the woman now understood all it uttered were only little fears, not irrefutable facts, and so carried the little passenger with patience and love in her heart.

What we have come to know as the inner critic is that little frightened passenger who lives in our unexplored wilderness. Every time we venture from our comfort zone, its ominous little voice will begin to pipe up and try to have us return to where it’s safe and everything is familiar. But every creative, explorer, artist, adventurer and lively spirit knows our inner critic is not the voice of fact, but of fear. It wants to keep us safe from failure, from harm and from shame.

Rather than hating or obeying the inner critic, it’s better to give her the compassion, comfort and understanding she deserves and craves, and simply forge ahead. Better to try, fail and learn, than to assume failure at the outset and never have the opportunity to grow.

We all have a wilderness we dream about and wish one day to explore. A book to write, or perhaps one to read. A discipline to undertake, an adventure to have. I own a boutique and for some of my customers, trying on a dress in a brave colour, or even one without sleeves to cover what they believe are upper arms ugly enough to make planes fall from the sky, is terrifying. They fear criticism. They fear judgment. They have a permanent passenger screaming in their ear, shaming them about their bodies and asking them who the hell they think they are to not be INVISIBLE. When we have been shamed for the way we look – and shaming for many of us begins with our physical bodies – the desire to be unseen can be deep-seated, and painful when challenged. I have a sign in my fitting room which reads DARLING, YOUR ARMS LOOK FINE. You see, I like to address the passenger directly but with love and humour. That little blighter takes itself way too seriously and often, when called out, can be helped to see how out of perspective it’s demands really are. Nothing makes me happier than when a customer leaves my shop with an outfit she would never have worn before, having been given permission to feel, look and be the amazing woman she is. The inner critic does not speak truth, she speaks fear. And rather than obeying her frightened, and frightening, monologue, we can regard her as what she really is – a spinning nucleus of unanswered fears, driven by the desire to keep us safe. But obeying the inner critic won’t keep us safe. It will keep us small. The wilderness we dream of will remain a dream unless we find a way to comfort our fearful thoughts and feelings. They may be borne of experience, but they are also borne of our memory. The wilderness we desire is best travailed with our imagination.

I have a friend who created a wonderful project based on the concept of human happiness. As a psychologist, she studied the subject for years, writing content, conducting interviews and gathering data. She packaged it all up into a program she planned to launch as content on a website. I helped her create the site, and she set a date for the launch – her birthday. On this auspicious day, her baby would be introduced to the world. As the day grew closer, she began to baulk. She’d been working on her first blog post for months, and it still wasn’t ready. She was convinced the day the website went live, ninety eight percent of internet users would visit it, read that first blog post, and judge both she and it as rubbish. So, she wrote, edited, wrote, ditched everything, began again, procrastinated and panicked, all the time trying to make that blog post PERFECT. Her birthday came and went, he blog post was unpublished, the site remained invisible. I don’t know what happened to her project, but the irony of her being so miserable creating content on human happiness was not lost on me. There is no such thing as perfect. Sometimes it’s okay for things to be a little bit crap when you let them go into the world, including yourself.

Often when I’m sewing in my shop, people comment on how CLEVER I am. I dislike the word CLEVER – it always sounds a bit smarmy to me. I like to answer, “well, if nothing else, I’m prolific!” I used to be a bit of a slap dash creative, but I learned it’s good to take on skills which will bring about a better result. I employed a guild-accredited patchwork teacher once to teach in my shop, and when she saw my sewing, she was horrified. I was glad for her guidance. However, I’ve also learned attaining to perfection is a burden. Author Malcolm Gladwell famously stated you need 10,000 hours to be a phenom (not an expert, as is often misquoted.) An expert is different from a PHENOM. A phenom is a person who is outstandingly talented or admired – in other words, CLEVER. Call me a phenom any day. But let’s not miss the bit about the 10,000 hours. That’s a lot of time doing something. That’s PROLIFIC.

Aiming to be prolific is possible. Aiming for perfection is a recipe for disappointment. It is self-sabotage. Prolificity (say THAT three times fast) is actually very easy when you love doing something and, importantly, you give yourself permission for it to be a little bit crap when you release it to the world.

I worked with an acting teacher who shared with me a phrase he learned from a successful screenplay writer. KILL YOUR DARLINGS. Let your dear things go. Launch them. Send them away. Give them permission to fly. So often we wilderness-seekers are paralysed not by potential failure, but by our former successes. We fear a change to the formula or exploring new ground will bring disapproval instead of the accolades we enjoyed when last we tried. My acting teacher friend encouraged me to move beyond what people appreciated before to explore new ground. Publish the blog post with its imperfections and move on to the next one. Thank people for their compliments, then sit down and make something new. Don’t find yourself in fifty years singing the same old songs to the same old people, just because they clap each time. Our darlings need to be allowed to fly away, so something new can come. Our little passenger likes to keep us repeating past successes because they’re safe, but the wilderness is for PHENOMS. Past successes can be as inhibiting as past failures, but both need to be released to move forward.

You and I are not perfect. Our message, creations, words and work can never be. We are all, in both little and significant ways, broken and imperfect. Ben and I lived as caretakers for a time on a sheep station in rural Victoria. It was a magnificent place, established in 1850 with a bluestone mansion of 12 bedrooms and six bathrooms. My job was cleaner and housekeeper. Even though nobody was in residence but us, our days were full. I loved to spend my free time wandering around the property, through the many historic outbuildings and across the beautiful landscape. I got in the habit of picking up pieces of broken pottery and glass which were everywhere, and which came to the surface every time the sheep scoured a section of a paddock down to the dirt. I imagined a story for every bit I collected. Elegant wine glasses for celebrations, elaborately decorated dinner plates for reunions and rustic bowls for end-of-day meals by fireside. Medicine bottles clutched during fervent prayers murmured on bended knees. Liquor vessels for blessed relief and raucous laughter. Scent and cosmetic jars for luxury and indulgence. Milk bottles for sustenance and nourishment, preservation, nurture and health. Coffee and teacups for conversation – sit a while? Pass the sugar. Share a moment with me. I bring my treasures back in plastic bags and the cradle of my shirtfront, washing them carefully in the kitchen sink. I hold each one and give it a story, bless it, place it aside with all the others around the house in bowls where I can see them. Now, I muse, they all have a story. No longer worthless, they belong somewhere, to someone, again.

We all are wounded by our past – shamed, embarrassed by failures real or imagined. We are plagued by doubts, and by our little frightened passenger who just wants to stay safe. We have hurt people and been hurt by them. We have tried to save what would not and could not be saved. Just like all those fragments I found in the dirt, we too can be broken, dropped and forgotten, our stories rendered useless or imperfect in our eyes or those of another, but we are not ever lost, worthless or invisible. The value of us, and of our stories, is not negated by imperfection. Each fragment of us holds not only beauty, but also the fullness of our lived experience and our essence – where we came from, where we have been, and what is to become of us. We are broken, but we are not unseen or lost. We are all a beautiful, broken, if sometimes buried treasure. Even though it may seem so at times, despite the things that happen to us our intrinsic value, and that of all the gifts we bring, is never removed. Our worth is in our very dust, in our grains, in our shards – and in our stories. And it remains ready to be found, by us, and every friend, lover, seeker and storyteller willing to get their hands dirty.

© Jo Hilder 2019


27 Feb

Pushing Through By Letting Go

If you’re going to push through what can at times feel like never ending barriers to your joy, you’ll need to accept the way you feel as normal, whatever the way you feel is.

Frustration. Sadness. Melancholy. Worry. Boredom. Listlessness. These are moods, and sometimes not the response to something that’s happened we interpret them to be – they can be caused by a biological or chemical imbalance in us, rather than a circumstance happening to us.

Learning to be with our feelings and emotions, training ourselves to understand our thoughts and moods is so important in our growth and evolution. Self-understanding can help us avoid impulsive decisions and reactive choices which can undo our prior work and create unnecessary chaos and disorder.

It’s possible to sit with feelings of dissatisfaction, fear and frustration, and simply allow them to come to us, then through us, without our interpreting them as calls to action until we have had time to assess the facts and take an objective assessment.

When I was going through cancer treatment, I experienced more fear and loneliness than ever I had. I spent two months away from my family having radiotherapy as there was no facility where we lived. This time spent largely alone with my own thoughts and feelings was the first prolonged period like that I’d had in my life up to the age of 33. What I learned about myself – and about how to stand outside my thoughts and feelings, knowing they were not me, but a product of many things – has helped me so much since. I know how to be alone with my moods. I know how to sit with fear and sadness, even the inexplicable kind. And I understand also that even when we go through horrible circumstances and suffering, joy and happiness is possible. This is the gift I was given in my cancer experience – to see the possibility of joy in me, despite the imminent threat of suffering, and even death. Nothing scares me now. Not a damn thing.

Learning to sit with our own thoughts and not react to them immediately is a valuable skill and puts us in good stead across the whole of our life. We are not our thoughts. Like our art, our choices, our decisions, they are a product of us. You know, the hardest part of facing cancer is realizing that when it boils down to it, the cancer is made of you. And it’s the same with our thoughts. We get so caught up with fighting them, or surrendering to them, we forget about having compassion, because they are made of us, by us, often without our even being able to help it very much.

Give yourself a break. Sit gently with your thoughts and feelings and remember they are made of you – even your sadness, fear and anger. Hold your thoughts patiently with compassion, and as they come to you, allow them to come through you. Give your rational, mindful self time to process them. Don’t act until you’ve listened to yourself cycle through the response, the feeling, the rationale and the reasoning. Because you will. And eventually, your wisdom will join with your intuition in the quiet afterspace, and you’ll know exactly what to do.

You’ll know exactly what to do.

21 Feb

Your Business Is A Safe Space, And It’s Up To You To Keep It

You’ve heard me speak about safe spaces before, about creating, holding and keeping them. Your venture, enterprise or business is a kind of safe space, into which you invite others who become your customers, patrons, tribe and/or ambassadors. Your skill as a micro business owner operator is to know how to create and safe space, and learn and keep the guidelines which make it a place where the best of people can prosper.

But here’s something many small business owners and operators neglect, or even deliberately overlook.

Your space isn’t safe if it isn’t also safe for you.

For some months after we opened a year ago, a woman would come into the shop quite regularly, not to purchase anything, but mostly to download her problems. She would try on clothing, look around, ask for items to be put on hold, but I don’t remember if she actually purchased anything in all that time. After a while, whenever she entered the shop I would feel anxious and know I would need to be careful not to find myself standing for an hour listening to her unpack her terrible story to me, or to my mum, who helps out. No doubt, she was going through a hard time, however she did disclose she was seeing a qualified mental health professional to help her deal with it. Knowing she was supported certainly helped me draw a line behind which I knew I needed to stay, or I was at risk of being drained every time this person came into my space.

The last time she was in the shop was to ask me to hold an item **again** for her, with the list of terrible things that happened this week which she felt justified my removing the item from sale for another period of time. To clarify, we don’t hold items, I don’t have the room to store them, and we turn items over so quickly it’s simply not tenable. But her sad story and the long telling of it had moved my poor mum to agree simply to placate her and hasten her leaving the shop, as she was more than a handful, and it took all our patience and skill to provide a competent service to her, and any other customers who happened to be in the shop at the time. So she came in to read me her long list of sad reasons I needed to bend store policy and keep the item off the rack for her, and I gently told her that the item needed to be purchased today or would be returned to stock. After all, I run a shop, I conduct transactions. The customers inclement circumstances may at times impact the nature of these transactions, but at my discretion. That’s the skill of holding space. It’s called boundaries. And as the space holder and keeper, if you don’t set boundaries and make them clear, someone will walk right up and start making demands which make you wish you thought about boundaries approximately ten years ago.

So I told this customer, no. I’m returning the item to the rack today. You may purchase it now, or tomorrow, or next week. However, it isn’t going in my back room again.

What followed was a further litany of reasons I had to acquiesce to her request, mainly because of terrible things she was experiencing in her personal life right now. It felt uncomfortable. I was being manipulated. She was using her own misfortune, pain and unhappiness to get what she wanted from me. And she was not asking for my understanding. She was demanding I obey her. At volume. With wild arm movements. And a finger pointed in my face.

And it is at this point my focus shifts from making safe space for her, and keeping it for myself.

I did not need to ask her to leave, thank goodness, because in a split second of clarity she apparently realized she was becoming hysterical over a shirt, and so she threw one last aspersion at me and left.

I was going to ask her to leave. I felt threatened, and I was being verbally attacked. Her response to the situation was uncivil and disproportionate. Whilst I empathize with her circumstances, I’m not her counselor, nor am I obliged to provide her with additional services or favours because of them. She is not welcome to come back, because in my space, there are boundaries, and I am the one who keeps them. My customers, both the ones who come to conduct appropriate business, and those who don’t, need to know this.

If the space isn’t safe for us as well as for our customers, the space isn’t safe at all.

Comments and responses welcome.

14 Feb

Tired Is Not A Life Skill.

They say it like it’s a badge of honour, as if pushing through our exhaustion, or hanging on when we want to let go is some sort of achievement of itself. But sometimes letting go is exactly what’s needed, even if just for a time. Stepping away, or even just taking a rest, may be essential for our own health and that of our interest or enterprise.

There are no such thing as “tireless” advocates, entrepreneurs, artists, activists or human beings. We all get bored, frustrated, jaded, angry, exhausted and disillusioned. And these are legitimate feelings and experiences we can learn from, and which sometimes must be obeyed. Tirelessness, relentless activity, keeping on as if we had something to prove, these can be toxic to us and the things and people we love. Listening to our bodies and to our intuition, reading the signals of circumstances and seasons, knowing when it’s time to hold on and time to let go, these things are wisdom, and sometimes we learn the hard way. The term “tireless” sounds great in magazine articles and podium introductions, but it’s not real. We tire, and only we can give ourselves permission to accept we do, and take rest in whatever form is necessary.
“Tireless” is not a life skill or an achievement of itself. You are allowed to become frustrated, jaded and exhausted. You are allowed to stop and do something different, or differently. Don’t be tempted into relentless activity by the desire to be known as a “tireless” achiever. Give yourself a break, friend.

08 Feb

My Darling, Your Arms Look Fine :)

I’m baffled by the practically universal belief of women that the top six inches of their arms, if exposed, will stop traffic, cause tsunamis, bring Satan screaming up from Hades or at the very least, elicit inevitable horror, judgement and disapproval from fellow human beings. Despite my honest and enthusiastic appraisal and encouragement, it seems impossible to convince many women their upper arms are anything less than hideous and they owe it to society to keep them hidden from sight.

I call bullshit.

Firstly, your arms look like arms. Everyone’s arms are different. Yours look like yours.

Secondly, what the hell is it with “flabby arms”? Why are these a problem? Why do women feel they owe society upper arms that don’t jiggle? I don’t get it.

Thirdly, nobody is looking at your upper arms. If you’re looking at other peoples upper arms and disapproving, that says everything about you and nothing about them. And vice versa. No one actually cares about your arms. No one.

Finally, arms are not decoration. They are for waving around when we talk and grabbing our kids and grandkids with so we can hug them, for wrapping around our lovers and swinging in the air when we dance. They are connected to our hands and those suckers are pretty much the most useful appendage we have. The tops of our arms are just below our shoulders, where we have carried every burden and concern and sorrow we’ve ever had, and where our children have sat and seen the big wide world ahead. Damn, girl, you need to be loving your arms, all of them. Your upper arms are wonderful, delicious, gorgeous and strong. Give them some sugar and don’t be ashamed of them. Wear less sleeves and show the world you are proud of your body and all its capable of. Here’s to upper arm love!!!!
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07 Feb

Be By Yourself.

I like being by myself. It wasn’t always so. Once, I hated isolation. It seemed like evidence I was doing something wrong. I blame the “naughty corner” idea – not that my folks were big advocates of sending me to my room if I did something wrong, but I reckon the idea of using alone-time as a punishment has taught generations of us that our own company is shameful and punitive, rather than special and beneficial.

I know now I can’t function without large chunks of being by myself. I need time to think, to feel, to undo and do and wind and unwind. My best growth has occurred in my most silent, unseen moments. I once was a creature of being seen and heard, of attention and crowds and constant company. I craved the attention and affirmation and proximity of others. But now, I do my best work by myself.

I feel my feelings and think my thoughts. I ruminate, undoing the ways and beliefs of my past, holding myself with compassion and patience as I break apart my ideas and work at healing my wounds. Without aloneness, these actions can’t occur. I love my friends, I treasure my family, but I crave my own company most. To be best friends with oneself surely is one of life’s most beautiful reconciliations.

12 Jun

Depression Doesn’t Care About Your First World Solutions

DEPRESSION DOESN’T CARE ABOUT WHERE OR HOW YOU LIVE. (**Trigger warning – discussion about suicide)

I think the world is messed up, big parts of it anyway. The bit I live in, however, is comparatively great. The problems I’m subject to by default of living here would be generally known as “first world problems”. So let’s be clear. The problems of the world, society or our immediate community, unless we live in conditions of considerable duress or oppression such as in detention or forced isolation, or subject to violence, are unlikely to make us suicidal.

Generally speaking, people in the Western world are not suffering from depression and wanting to harm themselves because life is hard and the world is or seems awful. They want to leave the world because that seems like a way of helping everyone else.

People say suicide is selfish. From my experience, when you’re having the thoughts, it seems like the most selfless thing in the world. It seems like the thing which will most better the lives of the people you care about. It’s the only way you can think of to give them relief from the fucked up waste of space that is you and all the shit that comes with you.

Depressed persons don’t end their lives because they are bored of their spoiled lives and success, or because they feel the world is awful and they want to leave. They do it because it seems like the most logical way to break through the dead end we reach every day, trying to come up with a solution for the way we think and feel about things, and about ourselves. It’s being unable to step outside ourselves and our thoughts any more, and becoming completely identified with our perceptions and responses. It’s being tired of waking up and thinking, I don’t think I can go around in this circle in my head again. I just can’t do it.

Ending ones own life is certainly a tragedy. It hurts others, which is not ever the intention of the one leaving. However, I want that we also honor the choice to leave. It took courage, and the best interests of those of us left behind were without doubt in mind. They did not believe there was any other option, and for that we may in time forgive them. As one who has felt those feelings and thought those thoughts, I can say it was the thought of what my actions would bring upon my family, and realizing I did in fact believe they loved me and would suffer loss, that gave me faith enough to wait it out. But I do not judge those who decide not to. We will all be together again in time.

Nothing that is loved ever dies.
Jo xxx

08 Jun

Speak Of The Darkness, Live In The Light


Success does not cure the shadows. Money will not buy away the hopelessness. Moving to Bali to work from a laptop on the beach will not stop the thoughts of helplessness or self loathing or shame. I am broken hearted by this news. I truly was inspired by this man and his passion for his field. I call for more open, safe and authentic spaces where we can support one another to be as broken as we are awesome.

Oh, my heart. Thoughts with his family and friends.

21 May

The Silver Thread

THREE years ago, I was so mentally and psychologically unwell, I had self-harming thoughts every day. I excluded myself from literally every social contact except the completely necessary. I suffered from paralysing anxiety and depression which had me convinced my life was not worth living. I existed in a waking nightmare. My doctor and I worked together on a mental health plan which included medication and therapy. I could not work. I could not leave my postcode, often, the shops was as far as I could go. So I worked with that.

Every couple of days, then eventually every day, I would go to the shops. But not just any shops. Op Shops. You see, I LOVE op shops. I’m a collector, a bower bird. My mum calls it hoarding. She’s probably right. But this collecting of second hand things is inexplicably joy-filled to me. While browsing through op shops, the thoughts and feelings of anxiety, self-loathing and depression disappeared. Desperate for relief, several days a week I tracked around local op shops. Then I found some in Sydney, so I drove the hour and a half to visit those too, perhaps spending all day driving and shopping, gathering and hunting. And slowly, the number of days spent at home with anxiety were replaced with days out feeling happy, excited, and rewarded with bags of inexpensive joy.

It didn’t take long for my thoughts to turn to wondering what I could do with my treasures. I found a little community of buyers and sellers on Instagram, and I began a little money spinning hobby. I was having fun. I found the end of the silver thread. I saw some pendants on Pinterest I loved, and thought I could probably make something similar, so I looked up YouTube videos on jewellery making. I sold some. Then I wondered if I could upcycle some op shop clothes to go with my jewelry pieces. After a few months selling online, I booked a market stall.

Next minute, I have a shop. I have recovery. I have reconciliation to my peace, my joy, my mental health, my spiritual gifts and equilibrium. I am studying again. I haven’t experienced anxiety such as I was in some time now. Every day, I wake and look for the glimmer of the silver thread, leading me forward to the next thing. I have learned not to overthink, to live in the moment, to be grateful, to embrace change and all the souls who enter my life now because of what I do. I love my life.

I write all this my dear friends not to boast about my success, but to tell you with all my heart THERE IS HOPE. There is a silver thread. It may not look or feel like you expect, but there is a way forward. I did not want to break down. I did not want to even go on living. It was a dark, dark place. And it’s not the first time I’ve survived such a fall into darkness. Depression, cancer, and other physical and mental challenges have dragged me down holes I thought led to hell at best. But I am here. The silver thread is clear to me now, but I know there may come a time when my sight grows cloudy again. My task is to do my healing work while I can, to be thankful for the moment, and to appreciate all the souls on this path, here and now. One thing I know now beyond doubt – there is a conspiracy for our good going on all around us. This is the silver thread. If we look for the glimmer, and follow it, we will find ways and paths forward. Sometimes there is no “cure”, no escape. I am not cured of mental illness. But I am empowered in my path of healing. Each day I know what to do to be well. And I do that, because I know that’s all I can do.

Be well, dear friends. I pray you can find the silver thread today in amongst the melee and the mess and find yourself able to fashion it into something marvellous, to follow it through to a clear path, an open way. There is a conspiracy for your joy in the workings of all things. Close your eyes. Listen for the voice of support, encouragement, love. There it is. Now step forward, just one step. There is hope. There is hope.

Love, Sister Jo.

***If you or someone you love feel you need help or support for thoughts of anxiety, depression or self-harm, please seek professional support from a qualified health professional.

20 Jul

Sister Jo Bangles story is my story.

Sister Jo Bangles has a story. And her story is my story.

Just over two years ago, I suffered an emotional and mental crisis. A breakdown, followed by months of debilitating depression. I quit my job. I stopped writing. In fact, at the time I became unwell, I had a book released by a publisher after years of trying to be published, and I found myself barely able to tell people about it, let alone promote it. We moved back with my parents so we could cope financially on one income. I felt ashamed, crippled and helpless. All I wanted to do was hide in a hole or sleep. Thank God good friends and family encouraged me to seek out quality mental health support. It saved my life.

As I began to recover, I realized it was important I didn’t develop a habit of staying away from people and places. I needed also to avoid being with and believing the depression, which told me there was nothing worthwhile in the world, and I was finished as a person, and as a creator. I decided I’d get up, and get out of the house as often as I could. I started getting in the habit of visiting op-shops, a past time I’d always loved and which gave me joy. While browsing through the shelves looking for bargains, I didn’t think depressing thoughts. Whenever I was out and about on the op shop trail, I was happy, and my heart was light.

I brought home a ton of crap in those few months.

I found a small community of folks doing what I was doing, and trading their goodies through social media. I began to grow a little pocket money making venture – more op shop money, woohoo!

An unstoppable creative, I remembered some jewelry pieces I’d seen on Pinterest, and I thought I could make the kind of jewelry I liked from the bits I was finding in my explorations. I looked at a few videos online on how to make jewelry. And I was away.

Before long, I decided to get my sewing machine out and make a few pieces from op shop finds. I had never been one for buying new clothes anyway, and I saw so much inspiration on Pinterest I knew I could never run out of ideas!

What I love most still about creating these pieces is the feeling I get having gathered something which was considered no longer useful or beautiful, and giving it new life. It gives me so much bliss to resurrect the torn, the broken and the thrown away things of this world, to be a force against our disposable culture and throwaway mentality.

What really continues to inspire me is knowing Sister Jo Bangles has at her heart a culture of embracing, rather than hiding imperfection, of celebrating vulnerability rather than rejecting it, and of allowing the loose threads and ragged seams be seen, and seen as beautiful and worthy.

I know that in my own vulnerability, in my imperfection and brokenness, I am worthy and beautiful. Society may see me as an aging woman with mental health issues, unemployable perhaps, overweight (whatever that is), scarred and broken in places, not rich, without all the trappings to show for a “successful” life, but that’s not who or what I am. I am creative, bold, vulnerable, beautiful, strong, worthy and courageous. I’m a survivor. I have so much living left to do.

Just like all my Sister Jo Bangles creations.

I trust they bring you as much joy as they do me.

Love, Jo xxx