Avalanches, Beyond Blue and Laughter Yoga

Laugh. I love making people laugh.

Yet I have not laughed much myself for near on two years.  The decision to move to Melbourne after living remote for a long time has been hard.

It has taken a monumental mental health crash to realise this. My social anxiety has been debilitating since a workplace injury.  But I am working really hard to recover.  But I need to sleep a lot, and I have had to ask for help and get help like I haven’t had to since my 20’s (when I was recovering from a temporary brain injury).

Part of that is doing the things I love that are light years away from Community Services. In fact, it looks like I can no longer work in community services and I have had to grieve that.  One burn out too many.

I do have two comedy performances coming up (a creativity workshop and a small run of four shows in March) – but I was hoping that this year I would be performing more, not less. This mental health crash means I still need to perform, I just don’t have the spoons to do it much and I have to get lots of support to be able to. Self-care has been a struggle, but friends have rallied around and I am immensely grateful to them.

Yesterday I did the washing six times, the same washing. Because I would forget and go to sleep and…yep…rinse cycle.

Some might think that the definition of irony for someone who loves writing, producing and performing comedy is to experience the mental health challenges as I do.

Or is it? Oh dear, there is that dreaded stereotype about comedians and mental health.  But it isn’t just comedians.  It’s everyone that is at risk.

I repeat. EVERYONE.

I started this blog a long time ago when I was about to trek the Annapurna circuit in the Himalayas and this blog was to raise funds for Beyond Blue. And to talk about happiness, of all things. Since then it morphed into my comedy website.

The fact is that trip to Nepal was life changing, the evolution of this blog reflects that fact.  I was trekking with a partner and during the trek we just missed being caught in the October 2014 avalanche and freak storm that killed 39.  Our next two days of trekking were very scary indeed.

Things unravelled. My partner and I split two days later and when I returned to Australia I moved out two days after we landed.  The stress of these things brings truth to the fore.

For me that truth was, bisexual me was forcing a relationship that was making me miserable.  Playing house.  Those who know me well know that this is plainly ridiculous.  Even more ridiculous is that since then I have realised I am also grey asexual, meaning real attractions for me are rarer than for most. I was bullying myself to conform.

Today I felt like, for the first time since an awful period of suicidality in November/December 2019 – like I could be aware enough to count my blessings.  Whilst I practice gratitude, when you are facing intense mental health challenges you can be practicing but not really practicing.

Some things I have shed from my 45th year (the beginning of this blog) to my 50th year:

  • Gender binary conformity
  • Giving a shit about what other people think about me
  • Denial of my neurodiversity – being okay with both the strengths and impairment of being autistic and having chronic illness
  • The desire to conform to ideas of monetary success (money stress still sucks though)
  •  Throwing in the bin any remaining concerns about the expectations of my family to be CISHET, regular job, non-artistic or any of there discrimination of the basis of neurodivergence.

Some things I am embracing:

  • Family isn’t biological.  My friends are my family.
  • Love is love and everyone deserves it.
  • It’s okay to need help.
  • I like me for the first time ever.
  • The status quo is not for me, so an arts career is probably where I should be!
  • I don’t have to be all things to all people.
  • Don’t read the comments.
  • Fuck shame.  It can piss off.
  • ENBY BI GREY-A intersectionality.
  • Block trolls.
  • Stay political.

So now, at the beginning of my 50th year I think it’s time to laugh more.  Very soon I will be a laughter yoga leader and delivering this will make sure I am laughing with others, regularly.

I am going to laughter yoga, comedy write and rest myself back to better health.  I am very limited in the time I can spend on any task at the moment and I am aware this is long path yet.  But I will persist. To quote Joe Cocker, “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends”.

Picture of me laughing for attention.

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A Story of People and Dogs

A story of people and dogs.

Dogs. Some are dangerous. Some are not. But you don’t go up and attempt to cuddle them all without making a thorough assessment, do you? Do they look like they might bite? Showing whites of eyes? Ears back? Growling? Please note they may still wag their tail when feeling aggressive and can still be dangerous – so stay away when they exhibit all or many of these behaviours.

People. Some are dangerous. Some are not. But you don’t go up and attempt to cuddle them all without making a thorough assessment, do you? Do they persistently breach your boundaries even when you make them clear? Do they insist on behaviours you have asked them to stop? Do they get angry with you for asserting your personal right to feel comfortable and safe? Please note people can smile and look presentable and still be assholes I want nothing to fucking do with and I will exercise that right…and I’ll be happier for it (true story – you don’t end up lonely – you end up loved!).

End. Of. Fucking. Story.

Day 2 – Reclusive Reflections

This is my public recovery journal for a little while.  I hope it takes both myself and the reader on a useful expedition. A tool of public recovery.

Today I walked down a path from my counsellor’s office to get coffee. Normally there is a coffee caravan near her office, but the owner of that has also, like me, decided to leave town after a long time here in Alice Springs.

The only nearest coffee is MacDonald’s, which this time of year is filled with travellers. I’m not partial to a packed MacDonald’s, but I put on my brave face and head down the road.

The ice-cold wind, which dropped the temperature from 11 degrees Celsius to around 5 degrees, blew directly into my face. I enjoyed it, the crisp desert winter air. I felt the pang of sadness again.

The sadness I feel at leaving my desert home of most of the last 13 years (I did go away for three years). Last time I left I felt nothing, this time I feel this sadness keenly.
Part of this journey recently has been the reflection that I have become more reclusive than I needed to.

As an Aspie I am very easily led. Not on matters of politics and social justice – that is my special interest and I will doggedly stay on track there (perhaps even to my own detriment). But I am very susceptible to other people’s idea of fun and I often neglect my own interests for the interests of whoever has influence in my life at a point in time. Rather than deal with this I have chosen to hide in recent times.

desert moon
Amazing example of a desert moon captured at Aputula community

Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Hiding can be a useful tool when you need to recover or rest or reflect. But what is better for me is actively reflecting on who to hang out with and why and then getting back out there. Wherever “there” is (funny expression “get back out there”?).

I stand in Maccas and make my order at the café, just for a latte and an iced lemonade. I get the lemonade because I can tell the coffee is going to be a while and I’m thirsty.

It’s super busy for Alice Springs Macca’s reflecting the winter months of June, July and August when we get a decent tourist trade. It’s a funny time to be local. Caravans, campers, 4WD’s with trailers and rooftop tents dominate our relatively old and narrow roadways. There it is…that word “our”. Yes, I think of it as my town. But it’s not my town, just one myself and my family have a long history with.

You can witness visible culture shock as people experience remote life when they visit here. People who think 200km between towns is remote…are suddenly presented with 500km, 600 or more kilometres between towns and literally nothing in between. Some stretches of the Stuart Highway you go 300km with literally nothing to stop at and then there will be a roadhouse and then nothing again for a similar stretch.

Ten minutes later (which is a long time in Alice Springs MacDonald’s) I walk back with my coffee. I have had my fill of people watching tired looking travellers and bored children.

Last time I left Alice Springs, in late December 2012, there wasn’t many in my social circle that had similar interests to my intrinsic interests. Those with the same political interests were there, but those aligned with my “fun” interests, not many. So, work was my focus during that eight-year stint from 2005 – 2012 and was super rewarding but burnt me out. There was not much fun.  There was sport, but that was more for survival to assist in the doing remote anthropology fieldwork that saw a lot of trauma and sadness and was physically tough work as well.   I had great friends here, but not many that shared my artistic passions.

So, this time, in the last two years in Alice Springs, I have sought out “my people”; performers and artists to hang out with and it’s been wonderful. But my work situation has been shithouse, to be frank (whoever this Frank is, sorry Frank) and my arty life rewarding. I need a balance and I need to shift my career to an art based one. I can be arty and political, in fact they go together.

However, there is this internal struggle that rages inside me about leaving.

Wherever you go in Alice Springs you are reminded of country. It’s all around you. If you are not familiar with the term country – it’s how Aboriginal peoples describe the landscape, but also its energy, it’s lifeforce and the bearer of their traditions, law and culture.

I’ve been very fortunate to see an awesome amount of that country with traditional owners and custodians.  That will always be with me.  That will always humble me and keep me on the straight and narrow in terms of social justice work in the future.

trephina
2008 – Trekking a favourite place – Trephina Gorge, 85 km east of Alice Springs

You cannot hide from country here. You cannot hide from the sweeping eaglehawks and galahs, native pigeons and ring neck parrots. At every turn here is a rock formation or hill or the caterpillar dreaming ranges.

It gives the place an amazing energy. I had someone I was travelling overseas once say to me “but in Sydney have the blue mountains”. Yes, of course, and they are magnificent. But you must drive some distance to see them. You cannot go anywhere here without seeing and feeling country.

I’ll miss that. I’ll miss the people. I will miss the culture. Inside of me lately is the slow shredding of who I once was giving way to who I am becoming. It’s interesting because the who I am becoming feels more like “who I really am” than I have ever felt and that is a strange feeling.

So this morning I spend time with my counsellor, going over the treachery my brain has committed in the last four weeks. I’ve been dragging myself to work, literally replaying an assault experienced at work in my head on mute.  It’s on a mute because I was suppressing it, not wanting to deal with it or feel it. I knew that if I did that I would be the mess I was a few weeks ago, when this episode began.

I’ve been masking my trauma, instead of dealing with it.  Masking is a powerful thing. I mask because I want to fit in and replay cues from my early life that said I had to fit in.  However now, as an adult, I don’t fit in and nor do I want to. Now I have to concentrate on not falling into old patterns of masking again.

However this place and it’s people and vast stretches of the country around it, have taught me who I really am.  I am sad to leave, but also immensely grateful for my experiences here.  I leave a big part of my heart here.  

I know I need to leave to heal and to expand the work in the arts I have begun here.

However, now that I am being more of who I know myself to be, I am not sure where I belong. Maybe it isn’t in one place. And that is something I am beginning to quietly celebrate.

Yes, you read that right.
Celebrate.

Wee Chemical Beastie – Day one of recovery

It’s been a long time since I have felt this bad for as long as I have (eight+ weeks now). A good six years since I was this depressed.

But I guess it’s accumulative. I think the sleeping ugly beast has woken angrier and hungrier than ever.

It wants to devour me whole. I need to say this now. I am not a victim (I am very much a survivor) and I am not crying poor bugger me. I am merely trying to make sense of the journey to date and writing about and sharing my experience helps.

Life hasn’t been entirely fun since 2012. It’s been a series of recoveries and traumas, but in fact that could be argued for my entire life (and it is the same for many of us humans).

In 2013 I was raped. It wasn’t the first time that had happened to me and I was too afraid of him to report it. Sexual assaults within relationships were not foreign to me either (on two other occasions).

I got on with things. I have so normalised sexualised violence in my life that I don’t allow myself to process it properly.

I just opened an internet browser before publishing this – and the article said “Why Fifi Box went public about sexual assault”.

Why do we need a reason? Because we are ashamed of what someone else did to us? I am sick of this and feeling empowered by the current wave of women speaking up.  I am not ashamed, it was not my fault.

My relationship with my then 16-year-old fell apart and he went to live with my mother. What had been a great relationship flew into emotional stand-offs and seething resentment. I was so damaged I couldn’t be there for him and I didn’t want to damage him more in the process – his life has been tough enough.

It took a good two years to recover emotionally and in the middle of that I had a relatively healthy (compared to my past) relationship that failed. I think I, at least subconsciously, decided I couldn’t love again.

I finished the book I have been writing in 2016 after returning to Alice Springs via China (teaching English) and Darwin.  I’ve still got edits to do, it won a publishing mentorship with Hachette.  I should be so proud of that, but the woken ugly beast consumes me.

I am exceeding frustrated with community service work (my day job) where I find myself trapped. It isn’t that I dislike the work, it’s the politics that frustrate me. Neo-liberal clap trap that means a small percentage get rich and the rest battle. I need to do something else.

Earlier this year I was assaulted trying to lock a gate at work by a drunken, exceptionally sleazy man off the street. It was a “low level” assault, but it was creepily sexual in intent (words spoken, parts of me grabbed).  I managed to use the gate as a weapon and he took off.

I have not quite been the same since.

It resulted in a simmering sadness, that when my job wasn’t refunded (it was a temporary contract) recently, became a crescendo of pain. If you can’t find love (and perhaps I have replaced love with work), but all you can find is violence – there isn’t much in the way of hope, at least that is how I feel now.

There has been a brief hospitalisation and I am on day five of anti-depressants. There is no way I can keep pushing myself.

As for strategies; I’ve read, I’ve studied, I’ve exercised, I’ve meditated, had a perfect diet, lived like a machine, then lived like an artist. All in different combinations and intensities and had long periods of peace and long periods of darkness. I’ve always refused the self-medication of alcohol or drugs but have dabbled very occasionally – it doesn’t feel better, it just makes me numb and makes me push myself more.

I will continue to do combinations of the above approaches, but I know I need more help at the moment.   I have severe hypertension that is linked to old traumas and injuries and it is responding accordingly, with massive blood pressure that I struggle to control, even with the right BP medication.  I also know it will come back to more manageable when I start becoming well again.

As an artist, primarily a writer and storyteller is where I am most happy. But it is a never-ending fight with “day jobs” and I can’t yet seem to get the right writing job. I will eventually.

Whilst I am not a fan of pharmaceuticals, I know what happens to Cheetahs when they can’t run. They die. Now I feel like a wounded animal waiting for death. But I am also very much wanting to keep living, so at the psychiatrist’s command (and my request) I committed to the wee chemical beastie.

I still feel I have something to offer the world, however my mind tears to shreds everything I do now and sends me mountains of negative feedback. This woken beast hasn’t killed off my self-love yet and I am hanging onto that little bit of something I have left.

So now I let the internal battle be waged between the woken ugly beast and the wee chemical beastie.

So, I’m wishing the wee chemical beastie luck because the ugly beast is large and fearsome. I’ll hand it the tools and weapons that usually work for me to assist as best I can. It’s all I can do now.

Relapses are places for learning, for healing, and a redirection of sorts.

I declare today day one of recovery.

Narrative Songs

I have a challenge ahead of me. I already perform comedy and public speak.

I am an interesting and engaging lecturer and facilitator of anthropology. I am learning about radio presenting and have done my first live broadcast. I am an independent producer of complex comedy productions with social messages. I am most proud to get to perform at major Fringe Festivals.

However, I choose parody song in my comedy when I can really sing. A rich, jazz voice. Those that have been lucky enough to hear it are suitably impressed. But I am rarely convinced.

There have been a few ways we have talked about the politics of identity over the years. So many ways we have chosen to look at the notion of “being yourself”.  I know that means, for me, being a performer.

When I was living in China I entered a street stall with thousands of white t-shirts with the words on it “Be yourself, no one else can”.

*Irony alert*

Yes, you too can achieve this goal by wearing a mass-produced t-shirt like millions of others!

I want to talk about our own personal t-shirt slogans that hold back our voices.  Our internal narratives that mean we may ignore natural drives to perform, sing, paint, speak or do whatever it is our heart calls us to do.

The voices we hide away or may not recognise at all.

It took me many years to find my voice and to be brave enough to commit to a natural drive to perform that I have suppressed all my life. But around 2015 I saw the narratives that were holding me back clearer than ever.

Every achievement in my life, small or big, was always accompanied with a certain voice.   Then something terrible happened and I was forced to be creative in my healing.

The below video is a short snippet from my speaking product “Normal is a cycle on a washing machine”.  This talk goes on to talk about how we can use “normal” as a way to limit our healing and how to overcome our internal voices about what is “normal”.  Part of this is changing the way we use language.  Language is a powerful action.

Through that healing, guided by a few more positive voices I recognised some negative voices from my past – particularly in regard to singing.

It came from years of people in my circle as a young person who said to me, “It’s okay, but it’s only <insert minimising language here>”.

“Only a small-town choir”.
“Only a paper award certificate”.
“Only an average voice”.

There are none of those voices left in my life, I have consciously removed negative people from my life.

Yet sometimes the relics of their narratives stuck and I have to work around them.
The interesting thing was that these negative voices are always from people who never even tried to do what I tried. They were always too scared.

These are the people who curb your enthusiasm with platitudes like “well everyone needs a hobby”, when you start working towards making a career out of performance.

Fear and negativity breeds fear and negativity. They suck you in and you get stuck.

When I perform now, comedy or public speaking – I still hear whispers of these old voices. But I acknowledge them and put them in an imaginary rubbish bin that I visualise in my mind’s eye.  I convert the negative narrative to a positive one.

“I am on stage and the crowd wants me to entertain them”.
“I was acknowledged with a review”.
“The crowd will enjoy the parody song”.

Yet, I am still not quite able to sing properly on stage – but here’s some news, I am about to change that.  It’s the next big step in my healing journey.

A small artistic musical project called “Steame Funk”.  Stay tuned.

Oh and if you want to book me for a positive mental health talk or a comedy show…contact my agent at https://www.inspiringrarebirds.com/jacci-pillar/

Hypnotism, Hospitals and Healing.

Been an interesting week to say the least!

My comedy business, Gin and Titters (named after my need for a gin and tonic before I make people laugh) – hosted a visiting Comedy Hypnotist Dave Upfold.  You can check him out at Not 1 But 2

simple centre to the top 1We’ve worked hard with promotion but unfortunately we’re not able to attract the crowd we wanted.  Despite this the show was great and people thoroughly enjoyed themselves! It was interesting watching people I know volunteer on stage and as usual – us Theatre Sports folks were some of the most entertaining! Check out the fabulous dancing here from my fellow Alice Springs Theatre Sports buff!

Alice Springs is a small transient population of 24 000. During the Easter long weekend even less and people tend to celebrate with family more than go out.  We had to compete with a large scale music festival.  In the end we got one good night out of the three planned.

The other complication was my health.  As you know (and if you read The Girl who Cried Blood Pressure ) I have very difficult to control blood pressure.  It’s know as secondary hypertension, because it is not caused by a heart problem, but by a more systemic issue.  In my case, it’s linked to the massive trauma of Neurological Decompression Illness (see my LinkedIn article about being a “bends” survivor).

So this week it reared it’s head again.  Now, stress? Yep.  But normally that is not a problem – if my medications are working.  But they haven’t worked for about 18 months and I’ve been struggling to convince the medical profession of that fact.

They see me living life to the full and figure – can’t be that bad.  But, on the flipside of that, I am a stoic pain the ass, so they would naturally assume that.

So here we are, a comedy hypnotist, a sound effects guru and a bedraggled me (at least it feels that way for me at the moment)!  Onwards and upwards!

Anyway, a day in hospital and a change in medication and we are back on the road…literally…for the end of the week in Tennant Creek, Katherine and Darwin.

That’s another 600 km drive to Tennant Creek, then another 680km to Katherine and then another 300km or so to Darwin!