I don’t dwell on what might have happened had I been sent home on day five after my daughter was born. But whenever the news throws up sensational stories reporting murder, infanticide, or suicide, and there is even a slim possibility the perpetrator might have been psychotic – then I think about it. Because that could have been me.
In our first world society martyrdom is more insidious than the lick of flames on skin, the sizzle as fire catches hair. If you don’t count what can happen on social media, we don’t have public disembowellings. And the causes we sacrifice ourselves for are often not great, necessary, or noble.
Martyrdom today is working until midnight every night doing a job you hate until it breaks you, without investigating your options. It is smugly telling your mothers’ group that you breastfed your baby as your cracked nipples dripped blood, because you were doing what was ‘best for your baby’. It’s going to work even though you’ve got the flu, because you believe you are indispensable. It is having Sunday lunch with your extended family every week even though it drains you emotionally.
Most of us fall into the trap of martyring ourselves for something at some stage. I did so early on in my career.
I had an entirely different post planned and almost ready to go this week. I lost momentum, and its tone remained whiny, even with repeated editing. So instead, here are some snapshots of my last couple of weeks:
Brisbane takes it’s sweet time moving into autumn and winter. The hot days and humid nights seem to loiter for longer every year. Then one day you realise that air conditioning is unecessary and sweat is no longer a constant companion to skin. The introduced species of trees begin to glow sunset colours before they shed their summer coats, and brittle leaves scuttle along the footpaths.
Have you ever heard or seen a word or phrase that made you feel intensely uncomfortable with who you are?
Until about eight years ago, I had never been on the receiving end of discriminatory language. And yet it managed to find a way into my white, straight, agnostic, charmed life. The first time it happened, I was walking through a shopping centre. The words assaulted me suddenly, shook the breath out of me: ‘PSYCHO BITCH’
My first best friend and I shared the ages five to thirteen in a tiny village in southern Germany. We explored our world freely. The church bells and the colour of the sky were our only reminders of when to go home. We played in the woods. We watched frogspawn turn into tadpoles. We climbed trees. We built igloos and snowmen. We ate wild raspberries and blackberries straight off the hedge. We rode our bikes everywhere. Then, one rainy October afternoon, everything changed.
There comes a moment in many of my conversations when I have a choice to lie or tell the truth. If I’m meeting a new person I don’t tend to lead with: ‘I have Bipolar Disorder’, unless it’s relevant. However, the longer I know someone, the more likely we are to reach that moment of disclosure. It came up within days of my discharge from a recent hospital stay. I ran into an acquaintance who asked how I was.
And there was a second, where it would have been so easy to answer with the expected: ‘Fine.’ Or ‘Busy’ And leave it at that. If it had been a person I didn’t know asking, I would have. But this was someone I see quite often. So, I gave an honest answer: ‘Ok, but I have just spent a month in hospital. I have Bipolar Disorder, and sometimes it flares up badly.’
The ten-year-old asked me out of nowhere a year or so ago. And I had been well, for a couple of years at that stage. I always find, the longer I am out of hospital, the more of my life I reclaim, the harder it becomes to imagine ever getting that sick again. So, the instant answer that flashed behind my eyes was:
‘No, of course not darling.’
Because after all, the thought of dying is too horrible to bear, let alone articulate. But bitter, repeated experience with the pattern of my illness has taught me that while it’s good to be optimistic when I’m well, I know at some point I will get sick again, and while I am extremely fortunate to have access to excellent care, the nature of the illness means there is a small chance it could kill me.
As we enter the pointy end of the year my trusty, hard copy 2017 diary is filling up. There are end of year everythings to go to. There are kids’ concerts. There are art shows and celebrations of learning. There are special assemblies and swimming carnivals. There is keeping a spotless house…WHAT THE? Oops I seem to have slipped into someone else’s list because that one never makes it onto mine. But it’s an easy mistake to make – the straying into someone else’s list of ‘Shoulds’. There are extra work shifts, and continuing education seminars. There are more invitations for catch ups with friends, family, acquaintances, work colleagues. There is of course Christmas – no longer quietly creeping up, but everywhere we look, reminding us to worship. At the altar of consumerism. Impending Christmas shouts that we should put reindeer antlers on our cars and see people we might not otherwise choose to spend time with.