Liptember

September 1st – Fire & Ice by Revlon

I was twelve when I was officially diagnosed with “clinical depression” and at aged 28, after suffering from a complete nervous breakdown, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type II. Mental illness runs in my family. My mum has bipolar, my grandma had bipolar and my great grandmother spent time in an “institution” for what I now suspect was bipolar. I have watched friends become incapacitated with postnatal depression and my eldest daughter, now 12, has struggled with severe anxiety which led to the beginnings of an eating disorder. In our house mental illness isn’t a taboo subject, it’ just a part of our life.

If you have been reading my blog lately you will know that I am in the heart of a depressive phase. Just getting dressed is too hard at the moment (hence my lovely pink fluffy robe in the above photo…purchased for me during one of my many stays in the psych ward). But when I learnt about liptember I decided to sign up, slap on some lipstick & make this post.

Liptember is raising funds for Centre for Women’s Mental Health and Lifeline and goes towards research and programs for gender specific mental health issues for women. You can read more about what they do by visiting the Liptember website HERE.

This is an issue close to my own heart. This issue has impacted my family long before I was born and will likely impact my family long after I am gone. While at the moment I have little energy (I am also very, very sick…I have no voice and my neck has swollen up ridiculously – I look like a rugby player…in red lipstick…so attractive) so I am not going to be terribly eloquent or able to elaborate much….if you want to read more about how mental illness has impacted me and my family please feel free to browse the archives of this blog. I have rarely held back and some of my darkest thoughts are contained within these pages.

Instead I am going to commit to wearing lipstick every single day during this month. I will be posting proof on my instagram daily (username “theprojectgirl”). If you want to support me in this cause I would ask you to consider the following…

  1. Donate HERE (you can “sponsor” me)
  2. Purchase your own OFFICIAL Liptember lippy at Myer or Lorna Jane
  3. Slap on some lipstick every day and let people know why….lets bring mental health out of the shadows and support our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends & lovers living with mental illness.

project:girl

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Down

for those that are waiting for the rest of our holiday … I’m sorry, I just can’t manage much of anything at the moment.

I came home and felt unwell pretty quickly. I had a fever and just felt exhausted. I started sleeping (well after experiencing real restorative sleep while on sleeping medication I use the term very loosely) 14-16 hours a day. Then I stopped going out. Then I stopped getting dressed. Now I can’t manage more than lying in bed staring at the ceiling. I am still seeing my psychologist (and she is getting me some referrals to a psychiatrist to review my medication and for someone to give me a proper explanation as to why I can’t use the sleeping medication longer term) but she goes on maternity leave next month. I haven’t stopped taking any medication.

I did go on a three day carb and sugar binge in the hopes the sugar would perk me up. Didn’t work (but I think I knew it wouldn’t).

That’s all I can manage now.

project:girl

 

The Holiday: Part 1

We are back…have been home since Saturday at lunchtime. Despite all my fears I actually had a great time. The house was still standing when we got home, tiger flights all went super smoothly, money was tight – but not too tight, I was mostly better by the time we left and I slept a little most nights.

We headed off to the airport on Tuesday and by 6pm (our flight got in early) we were in a taxi and on our way to our hotel. It wasn’t some fantastic five star establishment, but it was in our budget, slept six people and wasn’t a backpackers. There was a woolworths up the street allowing us to eat very cheaply (the kids ate noodles, cereal & sandwiches and ate lots of microwaved vege & tins of salmon). To be honest it was the highlight of my whole holiday. I know we homeschool and have our kids with us 24/7, but having us all in the one room (not off in our separate corners as we often are at home) and all to myself (rather than having to share them with sports, friends, playdates & excursions) was just so lovely. One of the twins ended up sharing my bed (I had a melt down prior to leaving and spilled my guts to hubby who made sure he slept elsewhere the whole trip) in Sydney and listening to them snore lightly next to me was just so precious. The girls have always had their own beds (we never co-slept, even when they were babies) but I can definitely see the appeal of co-sleeping now.

The weather was PERFECT! It was sunny and 22 degrees when we headed to circular quay on Wednesday. We walked from Potts Point (where our hotel was) through the domain and met my Nan & Uncle before jumping on a ferry over to Taronga. Our Sydney trip was made much more affordable thanks to the presents my nan got the girls for xmas –  Zoos Victoria & Museums Victoria memberships. This ended up giving us free entry into Taronga and all the Sydney museums. The girls had a great day and it was so lovely to spend the day with my Nana and my Uncle and have them meet the twins as bigger people (my nan last saw them when they were two & my Uncle had never met them). They did seem more interested in wanting to have photos taken with every animal statue at the zoo (this continued everywhere we went all holiday) than the animals, but at least they had fun right?

We ended up spending about seven hours at the zoo and after not sleeping the night before I was looking forward to getting into bed. We walked back to the hotel again and I got to remember just how hilly Sydney is (Melbourne is crazy flat in comparison).

Day two saw us taking things a bit slower. We were barely out of the hotel by 11am. We walked to Kings Cross station to catch a train into the city (Being that my Sydney personality had come back I couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to walk). Walking along I got the opportunity to explain to my daughters what strippers were thanks to every second store being a strip club…that was awesome (note the sarcasm). We got off at town hall and walked over the Pyrmont Bridge to our first stop of the day – The National Maritime Museum. The girls didn’t seem too fussed on this one, but I found it fascinating. We opted not to worry about paying extra to see the big boats as we had already visited the Endeavour when it came to Melbourne and we had just been to HMAS Castlemaine – which was a WWII navy ship similar to the one they had. They may have liked the submarine but we decided to spend our money somewhere better that night. After about an hour the girls were well and truly over that place so we walked down to the Powerhouse museum. This was one of my favourite places to come as a girl. I spent a lot of time there dragging either my poor nan along or being dragged along from one exhibit to another by my dad (my dad is really into science). We headed straight to the playground as the two elder girls had been talking non-stop about it since we visited during the Harry Potter Exhibit. It was also the right time for a lunch break.

We spent the rest of the afternoon looking around the powerhouse and I think we all ended up most getting into the Eco exhibit. As we had been putting a lot of the practices into place lately (trying to recycle more, moving away from disposable drink bottles and using a food host/buying local in season produce) it was great for the girls to be able to see just what impact that has on the environment. They also had a mini exhibit there of photographs of items in the powerhouse taken by a very old large format camera – which of course totally tickled my fancy. After another play on the playground we headed off to catch a tram (sorry “lightrail”) to the casino for our super special treat Adrian Zumbos Desert Train.

We happened to arrive during “happy hour” too which meant all the pink & white plates were $4. I decided to eat as close to normal while on holiday as I was only just recovering from being sick so I stuck to watching the girls deliberate and eat choosing instead one small peach iced tea zumbaroon afterwards.

Day three saw us pack our bags & check out of the hotel and start walking towards the Australian Museum. Another favourite place of mine when I was little (I have always been a total history & science nerd my kids are the same). IIt was this time Sydney choose to change the weather up providing us with a massive windstorm. Our suitcases where not wheeled behind us – instead they sort of floated the wind was that strong. As we were just leaving kings cross a lovely trans “lady of the night” wearing the most awesome silver sequinned dress and red fishnet stockings stopped us to ask if the kids where all ours. She proceeded to tell us how we looked like the brady bunch then high fived hubby while calling him a rabbit. It was awesome (take note there is no sarcasm this time)

It was then I realised how much I had really missed Sydney. My gran did almost all her costume jewellery shopping in drag shops. I saw my first drag show we I was just 5. I grew up with gay uncles. I spent a lot of time hanging out with my grandmas friends who mostly lived in kings cross and I loved it there. It’s just a bit more “colourful” than my life in the Melbourne suburbs. But I digress…

My Nan & Uncle again came in to meet us at the Museum. Just as well as it turns out I totally forgot to get a photo of them with the kids. We had a nice look around and the kids seemed more into this place than any other we visited in Sydney. We were about half way through the mineral exhibit when a little boy walked past me crying. He would have been about three. I could just tell he was lost…he looked petrified. I asked him if he was lost, he nodded then started screaming and facing the wall. I tried to get a name, but at that point it wasn’t going to happen. I scooped him up to head down towards the museums counter but he promptly kicked me (fair enough). So instead I sent hubby off to find a staff member. I sat with him until the staff came but as he still wouldn’t give his name they just sent his description around. Two minutes later his dad came along and as he threw himself into his dads arms he sobbed “I thought you left me all alone”. Poor little guy. The museum staff seemed to think we had done something extraordinary…which just makes me wonder how many other people ignore kids who seem lost? I would damn well hope someone would do it for my girls and I didn’t see the big deal. Once he went off with his dad we kept going on our merry way.

Apart from Miss 12s freak out in regards to the dinosaur room (she is petrified of dinosaurs, especially anamatronic ones) – which I skipped with her the day was over pretty quickly. At 1pm we walked across the park and jumped on a train to the airport.

It was time to say goodbye to Sydney. Our plane took off on time (which is impressive given the issues all the planes were having with the wind) but it was certainly a bumpy take off. Just sitting on the tarmac (while still attached to the areobridge) the plane was rocking furiously. Taking off was like a roller coaster, we dipped from side to side and had that falling feeling a lot in the first few minutes, but soon we were above the weather and we touched down on the Gold Coast (early again – Go Tiger!) and were on a bus pretty quickly. The 702 bus (a regular pt service…not a specific shuttle bus) took us to the corner where our hotel was.

The only major panic I had during the whole trip was now as we looked at a very locked up reception and the sign that pointed out reception closes at 4:30pm. I was almost crying at this point as no where on the website or the booking form mentioned it. He called the number I had which rang out. We had rang the bell which said after hours but no answer. Then a few minutes later someone came through the intercom and asked for our names. We were told the code to the gate and the mini safe behind which had our keys ready and waiting for us to check in after hours. We went straight up to our apartment (which was GORGEOUS) and got the girls settled in, bought some fish & chips for dinner and then had an early night.

and here ends part 1 – stay tuned for poolside relaxing, beach side fun & roller coasters galore.

project:girl

stressed

I am suppose to be looking forward to my holiday (two more sleeps…but more likely 1 as it;s 3:30am and I am still awake) but the reality is I am just not. I am ridiculously stressed and I need to brain dump in order to hopefully get some sleep. Why am I stressed about a holiday? Read on.

  1. I have been sick. Not the usual run down-ness that I always seem to have, but incredibly unwell. I have problems with my digestion so it goes in waves…I get really backed up…then everything comes out both ends. Aren’t you glad I shared? So I got so backed up I was throwing anything I ate back up. Then everything came out. Then I got a migraine. Then another. I started getting feeling back in my left hand on day 3 (I get stroke symptoms during my migraines…including loss of feeling down one side of my body) only to have yet another one on day 4. I realised on all the days I had a migraine I had also had cheese. I forgot about that link and today had some of the vege bake I made the kids (with cheese sauce) and got hit with the beginnings of another one. I have had the flu. I have had aching joints. I haven’t been able to be away from my bed and my bathroom for almost three weeks. The thought of not being better by tomorrow makes me even more stressed, which has made me spend half of today throwing up. Awesome. As I have been so sick I haven’t been able to exercise at all.
  2. My sleeping medication runs out the day I leave and my doctor has decided that’s all I can have. I don’t have time to see another doctor. So I am looking at an entire holiday where I am unlikely to sleep. Especially as I don’t sleep well anywhere other than my bed, with my sheets, and my pillows. Ad in strange noises and the fact that in Sydney we are all in the one hotel room (on the gold coast we have an apartment) and I know I am not going to sleep. Me knowing I am not going to sleep is going to stress me out…so there will be no chance of sleep.
  3. We booked with Tiger. I know we shouldn’t have but the $10 flights were too hard to resist. Now I am convinced our flights will be cancelled and we will be stranded somewhere. I flew tiger years ago with no issues (before they were grounded) but now I wish we had paid the extra and gone with someone else. Of course had we done that we wouldn’t have been able to afford to go at all.
  4. My family. Grrrr. I have a large extended family in Sydney who haven’t seen the twins since they were two (they are now eight). They have been asking forever for us to visit. We are now coming and suddenly they are all busy. I have also been lectured in the past for my spontaneous trips and for not giving them enough notice. This time I let them know we would be coming back in Feb. Then we let them know when we booked the tickets. Followed up 3 weeks ago, then two weeks ago, then one week ago and again today. They still don’t know what they are doing. Had I known this I would have just gone straight to the Gold Coast.
  5. The thought of being touched by my husband makes me feel ill. It has for a few months now. At home he sleeps on the lounge. In a hotel in Sydney we are going to have to share a bed. To say this is freaking me out is an understatement. I am making myself sick over it. Seeing as how we are barely speaking I can’t even find the words to vocalise that.
  6. Two weeks without therapy. I clearly have a lot of work to do with my psych and this holiday is interfering with that as I am just getting started with her. Then I only have four weeks before she goes on maternity leave.
  7. Loud Noise. People. Commitments. The kids are looking forward to theme parks and zoos and I can’t just postpone it if I don’t feel up to it. I can’t let them down when they are so looking forward to it all. The thought that I might let them down is stressing me completely.
  8. Public Transport. I know the pt system in Melbourne. I know the pt system in Sydney. But on the Gold Coast I have no freakin idea. I have printed out bus timetables and maps and will have the internet on my phone…but the whole thing stresses me out. There is nothing I hate more than getting on a bus and not knowing exactly what stop is mine. Thankfully our hotel is 400m from a shopping centre and the bus stop is at the shopping centre. But still it is one more thing to freak me out.
  9. The house. I am completely stressed our house will burn down or be robbed while we are gone. We have only been robbed once but that time they backed a truck up to our house and took everything (including furniture and my make up case). More than anything I am worried about loosing our books. We have spent the last few years building our library from a handful of picture books to over 600 books ranging from classic novels, shakespeare and poetry to kids novels to encyclopedias and reference books (mainly on history and science as that is what the kids – and me – are into). Not to mention the thousands of dollars worth of homeschool curriculum on our shelves. I know these things are unlikely to be stolen…but if our house burns down we will loose them all. I am more stressed about the books than things like photos (my work as a photographer means I always kept a set of hard drives “offsite” and still do to this day).
  10. Money. We don’t have a credit card. We don’t have any savings. We have a small amount put away for this holiday. But if anything goes wrong I am not sure what we should do. But if we had waited til we had more money we would never go. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.
  11. My mum. She lives just five hours south of the gold coast. If she decides to call me and realises I am there she will invite herself along. She is the person that most stresses me out in the entire world. She hasn’t called me in at least 5 months so hopefully I am safe. But if my brother doesn’t keep his mouth shut then she will show up and no doubt ruin our holiday. She also apparently has a new number which I don’t have so no way of effectively screening her. Then even if we do avoid her I won’t hear the end of it for years.

As you can see travelling when you have anxiety issues is just massively fun. Wish me luck and we will be back in a few weeks.

project:girl

scared, trapped & feeling awfully small

The good news to the fact that I am spirally down again is the fact that I have a new psychologist to help me deal with it. The bad news it will be 3 weeks til I can see her again because of the holiday.

total spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie…

Today I watched “the Duchess” (Keira Knightly) and was left feeling more depressed than ever. Toward the end I think I started to have a panic attack as it felt completely overwhelmingly oppressing. The movie is about a young girl who becomes a dutchess. Her husband has no interest in her beyond her baring him a son. Along the way he takes a mistress (who had happened to be her best friend). When she tries to leave he gives her no access to her children. Eventually giving up a man who actually loves her to be with her children. She then finds out she is pregnant by the other man. Forced into the same situation again…give up her baby so she can continue to stay with her children. All while he former best friend remained living essentially as a second wife. In the end she goes back into society knowing she has no escape at all.

It is rare I have such a strong reaction to a movie like that. Of course as a feminist I get frustrated that women were (and in some countries are) treated that way. But I think it had an effect on me because of how things currently are. My husband and I never got to counselling (he swore black and blue he would if I took him back this time). He has also stopped sleeping in my bed again. We barely talk at all. We don’t spend any time in the same room.

I watched my mother go from one abusive relationship after another. Always telling me she couldn’t leave as she would be alone and this is the best she can get. I always swore I would never “stay for the kids” or allow myself to stay with someone out of fear. But here I am.

I am too scared to leave having been told numerous times I would not be able to manage the kids on my own and I am not leaving without the kids. I can’t even say the words “l love you” in print. I couldn’t write it on his birthday card (I haven’t been able to say them to him in months). My skin crawls at the thought of him touching me. But it’s not like he ever does. We haven’t had sex in two months … I was so excited at the time (spontaneous shower sex …. at a time we were barely speaking) think maybe things changed. But when it was over he left the room and didn’t come back to bed. It had been months before that too. There is no longer hugging. No holding hands. I find his endless prattle obnoxious.

At a time when I have been so level headed and sleeping well and so happy….I just ignored it all and that movie left me sobbing hysterically as I felt the walls crushing in on me.

I’m scared to be alone. I am scared that my girls will grown up thinking if you get a man you have to stay with them even if they make you feel this way. I worry about how many years it will be before the kids all leave. Then what? alone in a house with someone who has little to no regard for me and someone I am starting to hate?

today I am scared. I feel small. I feel cornered. I dread the fact that I will be spending 12 days on holiday with him.Our sydney room we will have no choice but to share a bed. I am fearing that more than anything at the moment.

today I feel the opposite of perfect. Today I had to get it out or I might cry myself to sleep. Today you get far from perfect me.

project:girl

Perfection & Fear

Since my last post I have been thinking more about my perfectionist tendencies and how they have held me back in life. There was so much I wanted to do, to try, but the fear of not being perfect at it first time made me not give up…but not even try in the first place. So here is my (non exhaustive) list of things I have not tried, but wanted to, because I knew I thought not be perfect at it..

1. Sing In Public

My grandmother was an amazing jazz singer. I grew up watching musicals. My brother and I used to sing all the duets from Disney musicals together (in the safety of my bedroom and my pacifist brother who wouldn’t have criticised me ever…well not back then). I love music. I also love to sing….but you wouldn’t know it as I have a strict no singing in public motto. I know I don’t have a beautiful voice like my gran so I just will not sing in public. Yesterday Miss 12 & I attended a Grease sing-a-long and she sang along with gusto (as did the rest of the audience). I remained tight lipped in fear someone would hear me. The only people who have heard me sing are the girls (and probably their father who wisely has never even mentioned overhearing me sing). When they were babies I would sing them “You are my Sunshine” and every now and then I have a sick child crawl into my arms and demand I sing it again.

2. Run
This one I think I am slowly beating. But given as how I have stalled in moving on to the next week with the Couch to 5km app I think it is still fear holding me back. I spent much of my teenage life living in a small beach side town in rural NSW. It seemed everyone was athletic – except me. I also had incredibly weak ankles growing up and they ached all the time. Also I am almost blind in one eye … my glasses are supposed to correct both eyes so I have the same vision with them on. Great in theory, but in reality they can never get it just right and I have almost no depth perception. I can’t see shallow holes in the ground. Which meant whenever I had to run around the school oval I almost always hurt myself. My foot would find a hole and my weak ankles would collapse and I would be unable to walk for a week. I now run on a footpath I know. I know which square is raised slightly. I know because I run laps up & down this 200m path 3-5 times a week. But still fear is holding me back from moving to the next level. I am afraid that I won’t be able to do the longer runs (it is a run/walk to recover/run again – repeat program slowly building up to running) so I stay on week 1. Even though when I started my run was more of a shuffle and now I am running. Even though I am covering more ground every time I go out (in the same time). Even though I now have great shoes that support me. Even though I have nothing to loose. I just can’t seem to do it.

3. Finish My Work
This is a big one. This one still wakes me up at night in a cold sweat. This makes me ashamed to still be alive (I know that sounds horrible, but I can’t help but feel if I was dead my clients would have been better off). I still have unfinished client jobs. Including several weddings. I had friends offer to take over when I was in hospital. I had retouchers and gifted photographers willing to take over all my client jobs. But I was certain I would get better. I feared what the clients would think of me for not doing it myself. I feared how the photos would turn out if I didn’t do them myself. Then the longer it went on the bigger the fear got. Now I can’t look at my work without having a panic attack. Its been over two years since I shot my last wedding. Now I fear having to contact my clients (who have I guess long since given up) and tell them I can’t do it. Or that I can do it. That I have done it. I fear it all. None of the photographers who initially offered are in contact with me any more. In fact not a single photographer (Including those I mentored, took into my home, gave their careers a start – not for any money) remained in contact with me. I am scared of putting myself out there. I am scared a client will find my blog, see I am living again and accuse me of being a horrible person. I am scared you will all judge me harshly for it.

4. Press Charges

Recently I discovered in NSW their is no statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. In the 18 years since I was abused not one single person (councellors, psychiatrists, psychologists, womens health workers, doctors) have informed me of my right to press charges.I had been linked to an article about how shoddy the system was in some places in the world in regards to the time limits. Mainly as something like child sexual abuse, especially as it is commonly a family member, is almost never addressed when the person is still young. I know that had I been told this ten years ago I probably would have declined. It was still too fresh. My mum & I were barely speaking again. It was too much for me to deal with. I was terrified. After everything I just assumed it had been too long. The information that I could still go to the police and report it was overwhelming. I was so incredibly angry that no one had given me the option. Now I have the option but fear is again holding me back. My mum is completely unreliable…she wavers between refusing it ever happened, to showing me the piece of paper from DOCS that says there was “insufficient evidence” to do anything to telling everyone how she tricked him into admitting it. None of those things happened the way she claims they do (she likes to rewrite uncomfortable history so she is the hero, never the villian). I am not in contact with any of the people I told in high school. The school counsellors never reported it. My only other possible witness is my brother. He is just 18 months younger than me and lived in the house at the time. The last time it was discussed with him was 17 years ago when my dad grilled him and he claimed to know nothing (the guy walked around the house naked and masturbated in the loungeroom in the afternoons when we were home…if my brother didn’t notice there is something wrong with him). While I can remember exactly some moments I couldn’t give an accurate timeline. Fear of upsetting my brother (my 12 year younger brother…after all it is his dad I would be going after), fear of the police laughing at me and telling me I have no hope. Fear of having to come face to face with him again (I have had to do that enough given he is my brothers dad). Fear of what my crazy mother would say. Fear of having to have a real conversation with my brother about what happened. Fear that people will assume I have some ulterior motive (the popular one in my family is “she is looking for attention”). Fear of having to relive something that already haunts me everyday.

Fear of the not perfect outcome is holding me back from so much. It’s all well and good for me to post a picture of my messy bedside table…even to talk about not being able to sing in public. But even if I can’t press charges or finish the work myself…I need to find some way of moving forward without being paralysed with fear that it might not turn out “right”.

project:girl

Coming Home

That’s how I feel at the moment, like I am finally coming home again.

In the lead up to what has come to be known as my total implosion two years ago I stopped shooting (photography). My business collapsed and I couldn’t even work in the charity I had built from the ground up (a photography charity). Then I stopped picking up my camera all together. After I got out of hospital I took a handful of shots of the girls in a bright moment and then a few days later had to sell all my top of the line gear as it was christmas, I had bankrupted the business…and us in the process…and it was the only thing we had of value to sell. I still had a few cameras, but they were all film and required too much effort. Reality is though, I couldn’t have sat down to a digital image anyway….I just wasn’t ready.

one of the last shots I took in September 2010

From those last photos I took of the girls I didn’t pick up a camera again until the end of last year, when I got a new iPhone. It had been almost 14 months since I had shot anything and we went to visit some friends in the country. There was an old abandoned house she wanted to take photos of and wanted some help with her camera. Those who know me from my photography days know breaking into abandoned places to shoot was old hat for me…usually dragging clients along for the ride. While we were there I started taking some shots with the phone. We had great fun until someone threatened to call the cops – I just pleaded ignorance like I always did (a very wise photographer once said “ask forgiveness, not permission”). When I got home I pulled some of the images up on my computer and was kind of blown away. I bought the original iphone 3g the day it came out in aus. It was great for a camera phone…but sucked as a camera (if that makes sense). But the iphone 4 was so clear and crisp.

abandoned house in rural vic

A little spark came back. Up until I saw those images I really thought everything I had learnt was gone, any bit of creativity of talent I had was gone – along with my career. But these images gave me hope. Maybe one day I could shoot again. Maybe one day I could pick up a real camera. But I still wasn’t even close to being well. Looking at my film cameras made me sick. I felt an impending sense of doom and dread when I loaded photoshop. I wasn’t ready.

Instead I busied myself with reducing the medication that had amputated my love of life, photography and any creativity I had. I busied myself in homeschool. In healing my body. In learning to run. Then I had a massive backslide, which in one stupid move, ended up giving me my life back. The CAT team did little for me emotionally or mentally. But they did prescribe me a sleeping pill that seems to have given me back to my family & myself. I hadn’t slept properly in 21 years (I was diagnosed with chronic insomnia when I was just nine years old). The medications I had been given all sedated me, but never gave me any sleep. They left me hung over and unable to function the next day. These ones put me to sleep, but then stop working. If I miss my window (by trying to do other things) then I can’t sleep until I take them again. I wake up 6-8 hours after taking them like an internal alarm clock has gone off. All of a sudden I am a morning person. A pleasant person. I don’t go to pieces when things fall apart. I smile. I laugh. I live.

I pretty much forgot all about photography until hubby remembered I had put two rolls of film, my first rolls from my holga, in to be developed two years ago. I actually dropped them off on a day release from hospital. He picked them up and was nice enough to grab me a roll of replacement film, just in case. He came home again and we were busy with dinner and bed times and all the other fun stuff that happens between 3:30pm and 9pm when you’re a parent.

He bought in the film disks…I didn’t even remember requesting a CD instead of prints. So I popped it in the computer. Colour film first and was greeted to a sea of pink. The Holga (a plastic toy camera) I shot the film with is notorious for it’s unpredictability and it’s light leaks. As I had never tried more than two rolls (shot one after the other in a few days three years ago) I didn’t know what to expect of mine. But in the pink haze I fell in love with photography all over again…especially film photography.

unexpectedly beautiful

This shot moves me. It’s hard to explain, I guess, if you don’t know the children in the photo. Miss H is kissing Miss A…this NEVER happens. Miss H is the dominant twin and also the less affectionate of the two. Every photo I have of the two of them it is Miss A lavishing love and affection on her twin. I knew I could pull it into photoshop and “save” it. I could colour & exposure correct it, hell turn it black & white and avoid most of the issues entirely. But why? It is so perfectly imperfect that I just couldn’t. I want it on my wall. I look at it and tear up.

It is the opposite of the work I was known for. I shot “edgy” stuff in regards to the backgrounds. I took clients and their families to dirty, grimey, beautifully dirty places and took beautiful photos of their children and families. I retouched scrapes and double chins. I airbrushed imperfections. I even filled in a gap in a childs tooth once (by request). None of those photos were real. I prided myself on the non-cheesy grin, as I spent up to 3-4 hours with each family getting to know them. I made their kids genuinely laugh…but the rest, well it was rarely real. I got closer to real in wedding photography. Always surveying the crowd, looking for intimate, special, one off moments to capture. But they always went home with the grinning group photo on their wall. Toward the end it’s no wonder I burnt out. I don’t think I was doing what I loved any more.

I remember the first time I KNEW I was a photographer. The first time a photo I took moved me to tears. Miss 11 was four years old. It had been a rough few years. Things had been so ridiculously hard with her aspergers and at the time chronic OCD (which was being treated by a specialist at the childrens hospital). It was a time of tears and frustration. A time when our daughter couldn’t maintain eye contact with any one. Her father couldn’t cope and the other three kids avoided her like the plague. It was just me and her. I was learning on my new digital SLR. She would sometimes sit and let me take photos (other times she would just scream at me). Then I got this shot…

for a moment, she looked right at me

When I opened it up the tears came. I had proof. She had looked at me and the stars aligned so I could record it forever. It still makes me cry. It was the start of a new life for her and me. She blossomed soon after this. Had friends. Started to socialise, to talk, to make eye contact. I showed anyone who would look this photo. I put it on her birthday invitation. Which led to people asking me to take photos of their kids. This moment, frozen in time, opened a whole new chapter in my life. Overnight I had a business. I had a calling. I felt useful. I was providing my family with money, I was enjoying my “job”, I hung out with kids all day and their awesome families. I met new people, learnt new things. Up until then I was a stay at home mum with four kids under five, in a city I had never been before, with no friends, no family and every single day was hard and horrible. This photo changed everything.

But as a perfectionist, I guess it was only a matter of time before it almost killed me. Always in search of the perfect shot. The perfect light. The perfect moment. When I decided I needed more photos of my kids I dragged them out and spent the whole time yelling and screaming (the exact opposite of the way I dealt with clients kids). It got to the point that when the kids saw the work camera come out they would cry, run away….or both. I always loved the simple old shots their dad would get on his mobile phone or on his point & shoot camera. I was missing out on capturing the stuff everyone has of their childhood. It was too much stress. Even the shots I do have are buried somewhere on a hard drive because I shot like I would for work – lots of photos  & in RAW format…meaning I needed to put in the same hours to finish a family shot as I would a whole wedding.

My charity work was the opposite of perfect. We were the ones called when a child or baby was dying. When the families needed something, anything. I sat with families as their children took their last breath, and documented it for them. The hardest thing about not being apart of this organisation any more is that I knew I was doing my lifes work. What I was born to do. It was all real and there was no audience beyond the family. While I felt run down and exhausted with my paying clients (and with the admin of the charity) I never felt that way when I was working for the charity. A lot of people assume it was this work that burnt me out, that pushed me towards a nervous breakdown. But it did the opposite. It gave me hope. It made me strive to be a better parent. To try to cherish every moment. I miss it every day….which probably makes me sound like a total freak. But imagine finding your lifes purpose and then loosing it. Imagine finding something you can do amazingly and then not being able to any more. It is probably a big part of the reason I stopped shooting entirely.

But deep down…I was still a perfectionist. I would still scrub the house from top to bottom before a visitor (or I would meet them somewhere else). I still struggled to do any school with the girls until everything was printed, bound and perfectly organised. I still couldn’t buy groceries unless we had an entire meal plan for the week. I couldn’t leave the house unless I looked “perfect”…which never happened, so I didn’t leave the house. I didn’t shoot because I didn’t have a top of the line digital SLR and working photoshop. I fell back on the medication excuse … that I got hand tremors and couldn’t hold a camera, which hadn’t been true in over a year. I didn’t want to produce substandard results…even if it was just me who was going to see them. I couldn’t fail AGAIN. So it was easier not to try.

my backyard (three houses ago) three years ago…when I was busy living

By the time I got the the b&w roll I was relieved. Maybe it didn’t have to be perfect. After all, when I considered my life to be perfect this was how my backyard looked. I was never perfect. I may have tried to cultivate that image by only showing people the glossy, beautiful, airbrushed side….but it was never perfect. I tried too hard and subsequently everyone was shocked when I lost it. How could someone so “together” fall apart so chronically. Only my husband (and my kids) knew how imperfect and fragile I was.

That’s part of why I started this blog. I needed somewhere to not be perfect. Until I could stand anywhere, with anyone and just *be*, I needed to force all my shit out there. As such this blog became a place where  I was the most flawed.

I found it liberating.

In the ruins of my old life, I have found a new one. But finding photography again, freed from the shackles of perfection, is …. beautiful/special/overwhelming/amazing/scary/perfect

My favourite image from my b&w roll was one of my eldest daughter. The only one of the girls who relished “model” time in front of the camera. She regularly offered her services when photography workshops were run by people we knew. She has a knack for being impeccably groomed, knowing just how to smile, how to make the light work for her. This shot is her, and me. It is her being imperfect and not liking it. She is after all, my daughter. She has the same tendency to wan everything to be perfect. To refuse a photo unless she looks just right. To not want to spell anything she doesn’t know in case she makes a mistake. To not want to perform unless she is sure she knows all the moves in case it’s not just right. And it’s this image of her that I adore….

Another one I would love to frame and hang on the wall…of course I would then have to put up with death stares and tantrums until I took it down and replaced it with something more like this

After I went through my film photos and fell in love with the imperfectness of them all …. I went online and purchased a pack of polaroid film from the impossible project (when the polaroid film company shut down a group of polaroid enthusiasts bought the last factory and are now making limited edition polaroid films for all polaroid cameras). It arrived just two days later and so I took out my Polaroid Impulse (found at an opshop for $5) and loaded it. The battery for the camera is located in the film cartridge so I got the shock of my life as everything whirred and clicked. It then proceeded to spit out a photo of nothing….it was just blue. I tried to figure out something to take a picture of and decided my bedside table would be a winner. Still not getting it I tided it up and staked my books neatly.

sterile…and boring

I couldn’t quite figure out what went wrong. I loved the faded colour, the cool tone (even though I normally would warm up any of my photos I used to shoot) and even the terrible focus and blurriness…but the subject itself, blah. I need to remove the giant pole I have had up my backside since I was born. So in an attempt to show just how imperfect I am this is my bedside table in it’s….more natural state.

My “real” bedside table

Next to my bedside table is my tray – I eat most of my meals in bed still. In the drawer are sleeping pills, pain killers, spare glasses, polaroids, notebooks and a polaroid camera as I ran out of room on the bedside table. On the table itself is my real pile of books that I am about to read, cameras piled up as I try to find film for them (my brownie is 60+ years old…film isn’t easy to come by), My glasshouse Marseille candle, an empty protein bar packet, empty glass & water bottle. Behind that is my vase & flowers (made by my daughters – origami flowers) including the toy flower won by hubby for me at luna park. Behind that is our fan that I really use as an extra bedside table – on top is magazines, the lamb hubby won me at luna park, my heart rate monitor box & in front of that is my yoga mat. What you can’t see is the pile of rubbish next to my bed, the two piles of books I need to put into our goodreads account and the piles of books to go back to the library in front of that. My bed is unmade (and really the doona cover should have been changed a month ago), I’m still in my pj’s, the house is a mess and our CERES box (organic fruit & vege box) is sitting unpacked on the kitchen table (next to the kids who are currently making their own books). The floor is covered in bits of paper and dust and muddy footprints (thanks to soccer going back this week). But for once these things don’t upset me. The kids are all happy, I am playing with cameras and exploring something I love and my hair fits in a pony tail again (it is also red as I have dyed it again after months of not caring).

I feel content. At ease. I want to photograph that. Just not sure how.

While I try to figure that out I want to introduce you to my partners in crime!

Betsy – a six-20c Box Brownie made in 1948 and the oldest in my collection (I have also had her the longest)

Amy – Canon AE-1 35mm camera from 1976 (my most recent acquisition, also the exact model I learnt to shoot on all those years ago)

Megan – Polaroid Impulse from 1988, rescued from an op shop a few years back

Olivia – a Holga 120GN plastic toy camera, my baby circa 2009

Now I just need to purchase some film for the first three and get back out and shoot!

project:girl