Thursday, August 14, 2014


I have a wound. On my back; my lower back, where you bend and twist. It hurts. I’ve spent two days in bed and two days sitting because moving hurts, getting up hurts, sitting down hurts. Basically I am in pain a fair bit of the time. It started as a mole. I had it scraped by a skin specialist two weeks ago and that left me with an open wound the size of a one cent coin. Pathology came back. Not melanoma, but not nice either. He wanted to take more skin around it. My own GP was able to do it so I went to her. She cut around it and then had to pull the skin together to stitch it. At one stage she needed the nurse to hold the skin together while she stitched so my body was fighting against the idea that it was joining in this way. I have 9 stitches.

This all happened on Monday. On Tuesday the dressing was a little blood soaked so my husband offered to change it for me. I leant against the bench so the skin was as smooth as possible on my back for the new dressing. He started to pull at the old dressing. It didn’t hurt but it was an odd sensation. Suddenly though, I started to sweat profusely, yet I felt cold. Then I felt sick. “Get me some water”, “No, get a bucket… I’m going to be sick” “No, don’t put a blanket on me, don’t touch me.” He placed a chair next to me and I slid into it. I was holding my head over the bucket, convinced I would vomit. Then, very slowly my hearing seemed to be going. I could feel it drifting away, like I was moving but not moving. Everything felt far away. When would this stop? I wondered how this would end. Was I having a heart attack? At what point should I tell him to call an ambulance. Then slowly the radio came in range again. I could hear. I could hear him, his worried voice and calming strokes on my back…and I was present again. Did that really happen? My t-shirt was spotted with perspiration. My skin was clammy. Somehow I made my way to the bedroom and lay flat on the bed. The dressing was half off by this stage and with the support of the bed under me he was able to continue changing it.

I was reflecting on all of this this morning. I asked my daughter to help me dry my feet and put my shoes and socks on. My son asked to look at my back and recoiled, as he does, when he spotted a little blood on the bandage. He was gentle when he hugged me goodbye. My elder daughter enquired as to whether I could drive. They understand I’m a little incapacitated at the moment. My husband, bless him, is running around like a chook with his head cut off…doing almost everything in our household while I sit or lie, trying to will my wound to heal and not pull apart every time I move.

And the reason I was reflecting on this was because I’ve spent the week grieving for Robin Williams; a man I didn’t know personally, but a man who touched my life through his many gifts. I’ve thought a lot about mental illness in the days since he died. I know I’m very, very inadequately equipped to understand. Robin Williams didn’t have a wound on his body with a blood soaked bandage. He had a wound in his brain. No-one could see it. It makes it so much harder to understand. 

Last night during the news my 10 year old daughter asked me questions that seemed difficult. I didn’t shy away from them but it reinforced to me that our society responds to mental illness differently to other illness, not necessarily intentionally, mostly through lack of understanding. If he'd died accidentally, or as a result of a physical illness, the questions, still difficult, would have had more straightforward answers.

Why did Robin Williams die? He was very sick. It was called depression and it affects the brain. It made him think things about himself and other people.
Why do people get it? I don’t know.
Can you take medicine for depression? Sometimes.
Did Robin Williams take medicine? I don’t know.
Is the illness why he died? Yes, it probably was.
But they just said he hung himself… I know... the illness…. sometimes makes people…. do things….

I want her to know we can talk about it and people who have depression can be helped. Just as my back will improve in time, people with depression can get better. I want the conversation to be about hope. But sometimes the wound is so bad, or so deep, or so unfixable, that just like the worst melanoma, they don’t recover. And that’s perhaps why Robin Williams didn’t get better.

Lots of people are writing about mental illness at the moment, and I’m glad. I want to know what I can do and what we as a society can do. Yes we can listen, and many of us do and are more than willing to. I’m 99% sure I’ve said some things that are wrong. Not intentionally. I want to help. I want to understand. 

I’m sure someone with a mental illness could write those first few paragraphs I wrote above about my back wound, but about their mental wound. Would people be as understanding of their need to lay in bed, not move, be incapacitated? I think perhaps our society doesn’t accept that a dark, hidden, brain wound can be just as bad, or oftentimes worse, than a bloody, visible wound. I'm more than willing to tell you I'm sitting here in bed because I have a bloody, back wound. If I was sitting here suffering with depression would I tell you that? I don't know... Would I? The very fact that I question myself on that tells me that somewhere in my consciousness is a thought about not being open about mental illness. I seem to know that many people would choose not to share, because sharing means exposing something that our society has attached a stigma to. How do we shake that? How do we change that?

I'm not sure how to end this piece of writing. I feel pretty useless while desperate to help. I’m searching for something; some education program, some answer, some guidance, some way of breaking down society's way of thinking about mental illness; a way of thinking that is driven by fear... fear in so many guises. Fear we might hurt, or get hurt, fear because we don't understand, fear we might catch it or fear we might make it worse.

I don’t have a mental illness. I hope I never do, just as I hope I never have physical illness. But I want those who do to feel that they can lay their wounds open, and know that we’ll try to help them… if we can. We as a society need to be willing to do so. We need to stop this from being something that is hidden. We need to be fearless.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Loving something before you've even laid eyes on it

About 15 years ago I read a book called 'Cross Stitch'... I probably should say, I devoured it. A friend had recommended it and left it on my doorstep one day. I can pin point the approximate timing because I was on maternity leave after having had my eldest daughter, who is now 15. I then went on to read the second (Dragonfly in Amber), third (Voyager), and fourth (Drums of Autumn), books in the series. I had fallen in love with Diana Gabaldon's historical, time travel, romance, action series. It's a genre-less series. Booksellers tend to pop it on the romance shelves but it is so much more than that. True, woven through all the books in the series is a love story between the two main characters, Claire and Jamie. I guess it's a tad spoiler-ish to tell you that their story runs through the series...on several occasions one or both of them come close to dying, but the series is still going, so I guess you now know they make it. Sorry about that. (#NotSorry)

I soon discovered that the first book was called 'Outlander' in the US. When it was released to the UK, Australia and New Zealand market they made a few changes...cut out some scenes, changed words, fixed up some date anomalies and changed the title. I'll never understand why they changed the name. Cross Stitch brings up images of sewing, but it was explained as crossing in time...i.e. the time travel element to the story.

I learned that Diana Gabaldon was writing a 5th book in the series and that the series would probably end with a 6th book...a double trilogy. Leading up to the release of the 5th book (The Fiery Cross) I re-read the entire series so I could read the new book with everything fresh in my mind. It was released late in 2001. I did this again when the 6th book (A Breath of Snow and Ashes) came out (2005)! I have never done this with any other book or series. I'm an avid reader and like anyone who loves reading I have a pile a mile high of books I want to read, yet with this series I have read the books multiple times. The first many, many times. Incidentally, the 6th book wasn't the end, and Diana Gabaldon continues to write. She's just completed the 8th and has indicated that there are more to come.

About a year ago I heard that the first book was to be made into a TV series. Fantasy casting of the characters has occurred for years and years by the many different fan groups online and now it was a real thing. Ron D Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame was involved and Diana Gabaldon was incredibly positive about the adaptation. Fan groups fretted and fussed over the casting choices as they were announced. It was very exciting when it was announced an Australian partner, Foxtel's SoHo, had signed to screen the Starz series.

Whatever happened, I knew I would love the adaptation. I was a signed up, card carrying fan. They would have had to have cast Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber to have disappointed me. So, as the launch date drew nearer I started seeing clips and interviews. I watched all the interviews from the San Diego Comic Con, I read the reviews, I devoured every single thing I could find. Just over a week ago I saw that SoHo were planning to screen episode 1 for fans selected from a competition. I entered in a variety of ways and succeeded in winning tickets via Random House. (Thank you thank you)

I invited a friend who I used to work with to go with me. We had shared many 'Jamie & Claire' chats when we had realised we were both fans of the series. She was equally excited. Our drive to Richmond in pouring rain was filled with anticipation. As soon as we arrived we saw other fans. They were clutching "pocket Jamie's", eyes wide with excitement. I had started to realise just how widespread the fandom of this series was and just how much we all loved this book series...and it was about to come to life before our very eyes.
It's hard for me to review the episode without gushing. I'm not an unbiased viewer. I loved it before I saw it. As the opening credits rolled my eyes welled with tears. I could hardly believe this was happening. My favourite book had living breathing characters up on the screen. It was amazing.

Since seeing that episode, and being sworn to secrecy, then following online groups where US viewers were discussing their first viewing I've seen a glimpse into a global fan following like nothing I've seen before. Small details have been discussed to within an inch of their life. Things like character features, Jamie's hair colour, Claire's eye colour, the sound of their voices, the way they look at each other, Claire's first husband Frank, THAT scene in the castle, her watch, her belt, her dress, her hair, the Gaelic, the cussing, the voiceover, the gunshot, the music.... I can't ever remember following such an intense dissection of a television show...but these were fans of the book, who had read every sentence and chapter, usually multiple times. Maybe fans of Game of Thrones, or other book to TV adaptations have done the same.

So, the thing is. I love it...and I want you to love it too. In fact I want everyone to love it so much that Starz signs on for a second season, and then a third etc etc... And if you want me at 8.30 on a Thursday evening for the next 8 weeks... I'll be busy back in 1743!