The Welfare of Society

We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people. Metiria Turei, Green Party Co-Leader

Poverty is in the news again as the Green Party puts out their Mending the Safety Net policy and throws a gauntlet down before the other parties. The bottom line is that everyone should have enough for their families to flourish, no ifs, no buts, and no government sanctions to penalise those who are failing. I gave an inward cheer that at last the unspeakable was being spoken: our society is broken and needs fixing in a radical way.

social-welfare-cartoon

Then I started reading the comments section of the media coverage, and my heart sank again at the mean-spirited, self-righteous, I’m all right Jacks, who seek to perpetuate the punishing of poverty, and the stigmatising of the poor.

I’ve had a pretty privileged life, but there was a time when I had three children under five, and was pregnant with my fourth. My husband had just been sectioned under the Mental Health Act to a psychiatric hospital after nearly a year of erratic behaviour and even more erratic financial management. In those days, the bank account was in his name, it was the early 1980s and I was dependent on him financially, not having embarked on a career before the family began. In that year, I was really grateful to receive what was then a universal child allowance of $6 per child, it was the only independent money I had, and was usually enough to buy the children essentials like a pair of shoes.

It was a week before Christmas, I had nothing, literally, other than some food in the pantry, but certainly not enough to last, and nothing to cover the needs of babes and toddlers still in nappies. The Public Trust, which stepped in to manage the finances of mental patients while they were under the MHA, was closed for the year and would not be able to take any action to release funds to me until mid January.

Sunnyside Hospital 1977
The feeling of utter helplessness was overwhelming, but at the same time I had some pride and was reluctant to ask my parents for help (loving though I knew they were, and would do anything for me). I was still in shock from the brutal sectioning of my man, which had involved the police forcibly subduing him, followed by his hospitalisation in the then Sunnyside Psychiatric Hospital. I cried myself to sleep every night, and for many of my waking hours trembled with tension and heartbreak. Not knowing what was going to happen, or how I was going to cope, haunted my every thought.

I was lucky, I was surrounded by a caring rural community and had people calling by with meals and offers to baby-sit. My parents also rallied as soon as they realised my dire situation, and came to stay over Christmas and New Year, bearing gifts.

Without that support, I can’t even begin to think what I would have done to survive and care for my littlies. And yet, this is what so many women have to go through for periods much longer than I. They have to struggle for years to make the meagre government handouts stretch. They have to live with the abuse and name-calling that the uncaring in society inflict on them: “dole bludgers, parasites”. So often in commentaries you read the view that the poor shouldn’t have children, or go on having children if they can’t support them. There is no empathy, no sympathy, only judgment and belittling.

But I know that circumstances can change in a life, the unforeseen does sometimes happen, and a comfortable life can be overturned. No one is exempt, and only the truly hard-hearted, or foolish, can say that “it can’t happen to me”.

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To those who say it is irresponsible to have children if your circumstances can’t afford it, we chose to have no more children when my husband was better and back home with us. I had a tubal ligation. It failed, I was one of 3%, or whatever the failure percentage is, and within a few months of my operation I was pregnant again.

You see, sometimes life just throws us a curved ball and you have no say on where it will land. Most of the time we can’t change our situation, no matter how much we try. A truly caring and progressive society sees value in everyone and is prepared to pay the price of picking up those who stumble and need a helping hand.

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To those small-minded naysayers who make accusations of socialism as if it were something to be ashamed of, I say I’m proud to support the Green Party that has such a conscience and is prepared to draw a line in the sand against the policies of privilege and selfish individualism.

I always loved the song by the Hollies: He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.  We are all on this road of life together, and it is easier for us all, if we extend a helping hand, ungrudging, to those less fortunate, for we never know when it might be our turn for a hand up.

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there

For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart
Isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share

And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

In a heart beat

rest-yoga-savasana

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.   Marcus Aurelius

I lie on the floor at the end of my yoga session. Savasana, corpse like, flat on my back, eyes closed, listening to the soft soothing music and the gentle hypnotic voice encouraging me to relax toes, calves, thighs, belly. I mentally move through my body letting the tension subside. “Gently turn onto your right side and when you are ready slowly come into a seated position.” I reluctantly let myself return and brace myself to leave the lovely after yoga feeling to return to the rest of my day.  As I stand up, I glance at the letter open on the coffee table; it’s from my cardiologist. I smile at the irony of leaving my corpse on the yoga map only to be confronted by my very real mortality in the words of a letter.

“Come on dogs, let’s go”, I put the leashes on my two canine companions, grab my  Led light and stride out into the pre-dawn. The air is crisp and frosty, the black velvet night sky with its stellar jewels is,  this morning, eclipsed by the field of diamonds at my feet where the frosted grass winks and sparkles in my head light. I gasp at the immense beauty of it and shudder at the familiar thought that I may never see it again.

I have always been afraid of dying. My earliest memories are of that dread of no longer being. Where had it come from, I wonder, was there something dark in my childhood that had planted this fear, or was it just common to all mankind. My rational self plumps for the latter.

When I was younger, up until my early twenties, I had suffered from a recurring death dream, usually when I was becoming ill and running a temperature. The vividness of the residual feeling of distress it left me with remains, but the details have faded into the past. These lasted until my mid twenties when a spiritual awakening dispatched the fantom back to the darkness.

Since those earnest days, I have not exactly abandoned my faith, but the things I believed back then, are not what I believe now; life and all that it has thrown at me have changed my mind about many of the tenets of orthodoxy. Strangely though, I have not been bothered by my nightmare since. It seems, however, that despite my spiritual beliefs, I am firmly attached to this life, the sensory world I occupy; not longing for the essential life hereafter. This has come to the fore once again as I am having to confront my finiteness in a way that sixty years of living now makes very pertinent.

As I turn from the road onto the beach and watch my younger dog dash into the sea, my thoughts turn to my son, whose collapse while training for a marathon a couple of months ago, was the trigger for a series of events that led to the letter from my heart specialist. My man-child, fit, healthy, living the dream of every young man, in snowboard heaven in the French alps had collapsed while running with a friend in England’s midlands. Out of the blue, no hint of trouble previously, he nearly died as his heart went into atrial fibrillation and he lost consciousness twice. I think of how often I run on my own in fairly remote places, and ponder how things might have turned out very differently if my son had not been with a running companion. I catch my breath and pant as the alternative once again hits me and my heart skips as tears well.

For two weeks the family had gathered round our computers, in New Zealand, the Middle East and the UK, we are a scattered clan, but rallied together to share digital hugs and ignore the hours of home to talk in international time zones. His doctors wanted the whole family tested, ECGs, echo scans, the whole shebang as they tried to identify the problem, tachycardia or cardiomyopathy. They wanted to know about family members who had died untimely deaths, the baby sibling, the uncle, the grandfathers. I had been pretty sure it wasn’t my side of the family, I’m an avid family tree researcher and most the of the untimely deaths were on my husband’s side,  so I was confident that I wasn’t to blame. But the doctors kept asking about my youngest who had died at 6 months of bronchiolitis. At the time, I had been too distressed to question what I was told and had accepted the fact that although usually a relatively harmless virus, occasionally and in some people, it turned virulent. But now, I wondered.lyttelton_harbour_by_night__by_carn_nz

I turn off the Led light on my forehead and blink as my eyes accustom to the starlight and the softly glowing sea reflecting the illuminations of Lyttelton across the harbour. The night sky always awes me; sometimes I find looking into infinity disturbing, the enormity of the universe overwhelms my comprehension.

But I take comfort in iSaucepan09-01-14named_zpsccdfd190dentifying Orion, my companion constellation, the one I track across the sky on my sleepless nights, clouds permitting. I see it now, the archer drawing his bow, just above the dark shadowed hills.

I had gone to my local GP and told him the saga, so an ECG was done on the spot and I heard the odd sounds, the galloping hoofbeats, the pauses. The nurse too quickly said that she wasn’t qualified to comment, effectively cutting out my unvoiced question.ECG

Yes, there was some erratic heart beat, and I readily confessed that I had been aware of it for years, but had always assumed it was the stress that I had lived under for the last thirty years, my marriage not always the easiest, and I have been through anguish many times.

I look back over the last few weeks and am surprised how calm I had been when the echo scan showed that I had the same condition as my son and like him, I could be struck down at any time. Doctors expressed surprise that I had had no symptoms  and that I  was so fit for my age. Familial cardiomyopathy was the final diagnosis; the familial bit, I was told, is quite unusual, although a dilated left ventricle is quite common in athletes

The shell shingle crunches beneath my feet as I stride across the strand. If I can’t run, I can at least walk at a brisk pace. The cardiologist hadn’t actually forbidden running, just he would rather I didn’t until he could ascertain whether the possible clotting in my heart has dispersed, maybe in three months when the meds have had time to take effect; I will  know hopefully at the next scan. When I had complained that running was my stress relief, he conceded that I could continue what I had been doing as it was better for the heart to not be stressed than to be exerted.

I’ve been fit and athletic most of my life, so it goes against the grain to feel so vulnerable. A fistful of daily pills (Warfarin thinning the blood, ACE inhibitors expanding the blood vessels, Beta blockers lowering the blood pressure) to match the plethora of emotions: from numbness to dread to simple pleasure at the beauty all around.

I look around to check the dogs are following; Fluff and Scruff, those aren’t their names, just the seeds of an idea for a children’s story I have wanted to write for my grandchild, but not got around to. I have lots of those seeds, lying in the drawers of my mind, waiting for the right conditions to be planted, watered and tended, but I always have an excuse: no time, too stressed, too tired, too many other things to do. The words of a poem learned so many years ago at school, flash across my memory, “What is this life, so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”  The  confrontation with mortality is a spur to  to finish projects that have been on hold; to treasure each beautiful morning walk on the beach; to create a legacy to leave to my children.

Since knowing about my “condition” I have felt fragile and vulnerable, easily moved to tears, in fact, starting to feel my age. I’m in a battle with myself.  My  heart has been playing all sorts of tunes in my chest, thumping and skipping, growling at times. Rhythms I have lived with all my life and just put down to stress, now sound stereophonically in my ears. More than ever before, the awareness now that my life depends on that beat.

I reach the stream and linger so that the dogs can slake their thirsts in the fresh tumbling waters. They lap long and deeply, how sweet it must taste to them. Somewhere downstream where the tide meets the fresh water, I can hear the honking, and squawking of Paradise ducks. Upstream a cock boldly crows declaring, “Day is coming” and further up the valley, an echoing less confident cock crows, “Is it really coming?”.

The rather uncomfortable knowledge that death could come at any time is also strangely reassuring. At least, with heart failure, the end is likely to be blessedly quick and out of the blue. I hate the idea of becoming decrepit and slowly descending into a long drawn out illness.

Cutting across my melancholy, snatches of a song stir in my memory:
Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel…
River runnin’ free, you know how I feel…
Hmmmmm

I turn again towards the sea to the black horizon and see the sun beginning its display. No lyrical rosy fingered dawn today, but a blood red, fiery orange passion. My heart lifts and I join the ghostly voice of Nina Simone in the final chorus:
“Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me.
Yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, ooooooooh…
And I’m feelin’ good”

 

A pain in the neck

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Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world. Arthur Schopenhauer

New glasses, I lost my old ones somewhere in the garden, or at least that’s where I narrowed down the potential field to.

The garden, why on earth the garden? I’m one of those folk who pushes her specs on to the top of her head when not needing them, because that’s a convenient place to keep them, easily accessible, I know where they are and I don’t need to worry about carrying a case with me.

It turns out that, according to my insurer, the garden is quite a common place to lose glasses and not an easy place to find them. Glasses, bright and shiny, are popular with magpies and even an occasional cat is not averse to stealing them.

It had been a couple of years since my last eye test, so I was due for a check anyway. Two weeks later and my new specs were ready, I went for a final fitting and collected them. I knew it takes a while for eyes to adjust to new vision, so I expected a bit of discomfort, but the last two weeks have literally been a pain in the neck. I’ve had headaches, puffy eyes and pain down the right side of my neck down into my shoulder. The sore eyes, I can understand as wearing occupational/ progressive lenses feels rather as if I’m peering through a pair of binoculars, which for eight hours staring at a computer screen is is likely to lead to ocular discomfort.

I’ve come to realise that I move my eyes constantly, scanning words, paragraphs, pages and screens. Unlike my partner who reads every word and is consequently a painfully slow reader, I’m a speedster, and herein lies the problem.

To effectively use graduated lenses, you have to move your head more than is natural, and for me tipping it at times to unnatural angles to see text in focus. Although in latter days, I’ve resorted to tolerating out of focus in order to to relieve the neck strain. To add to my annoyance, the new glasses have a limited range so that for reading tasks beyond the computer screen, looking at a calendar on the wall behind, for example, the vision is again out of focus. The result of being mostly out of focus is mild nausea.

I gave them two weeks and then cracked. I was surprised at how tearful I was when I went back to the optometrist, realising how important sight is and how limiting poor vision is I suppose, while feeling pathetic at the same time. Half an hour later I have a solution: two new pairs of single lens glasses, one for computer work and one for closer reading.

I know it’s going to be a juggling act most of the time, swapping between pairs for different tasks, but to prove to myself I’ve made the right decision, I’ve spent today on the computer wearing a pair of single lens specs I wore three years ago. They’re no good for close reading, but at the end of the day, my eyes don’t feel swollen, and I don’t have a sore neck and it’s been so good to see the whole picture instead of the narrow focus.

The vision professionals’ claims are that around there is around 90% uptake of progressive/occupational lenses , so I’m in a small minority of folk who can’t tolerate them. So be it. My life revolves around reading in some form or another, so I need the right tools for the job.

I can’t help feeling there is a moral to this tale. So much of modern life is centred on specialisation, narrow focus; problem solving by zooming in on incidentals and minutiae instead of seeing the big picture and the wider implications; concentrating on a current issue, without understanding the historical context.

 If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence. George Eliot

Sleeplessness


When the mind is tired or bored the neural pathways find their own entertainment.

Ekbon syndrome, hereditary acromelalgia, anxietas tibialis, or leg jitters, it sounds neurotic, silly – how can anyone who doesn’t experience restless leg syndrome it take it seriously?

Tensing torture of legs, arms, shoulders, back, an occasional ankle or toe – It’s hard to describe to those who don’t suffer from this affliction. Imagine a network of strings, like those of a marionette, only internal, running between muscle and bone; these strings are relentlessly tightened and released causing an urge to stretch out the afflicted limb to the point of jerking or twitching. It’s not painful as a cramp and others have described the sensation as writhing worms boring into your bones; it’s the unremitting sleep deprivation that is distressing.

They say caffeine makes it worse – I’ve had no coffee for two years with no noticeable improvement.
Exercise helps, but can also exacerbate.
Stress is a contributor, but so is boredom.

Every method of relief that is sworn by for one sufferer, another finds useless. Some medications help some people, but not others. Even those that I’ve found relieving, sometimes aren’t; there seems to be no rhyme or reason for efficacy.

If I’m lucky, a visit to the bathroom, a couple of tablets, a short routine of seated yogic exercises (spinal and hamstring stretches) and snuggle back down to slumber. On a bad night, the exercise becomes more vigorous, leg and arm swings, even rolling around the floor doing sit-ups; eating can help or applying a warm wheat pillow to to the recalcitrant member.

Distraction is also effective; to soothe my rampant limbs, I’ve written some good letters to the local paper on bad nights; getting heated about an issue takes the mind off bodily discomfort.

My nocturnal mania sets in as I hear the gentle rhythmic breathing of my sleeping dogs and occasional staccato spousal snores. The wind blows, rain falls, possum wheezes, hedgehog fossicks: the sounds of night. Across the dark sky clouds billow, stars sparkle, hackneyed words maybe, but exactly appropriate. I look for Orion, the constellation’s passage marks how long I’ve been awake.

Full moon, no moon, months pass through the seasons. Although now It’s mid-summer the nights are already lengthening, dawn no longer at half five but inching past six.  For me the avian calls that welcome the dawn are still hours away.

Awake, digital time rolls over
minute by minute, luminous green;
no seconds ticking by
in metronomic melody
to soothe midnight thoughts
weaving patterns of mental modalities,
nocturnal dalliance on diurnal banalities.

Silent seconds barely pass with each tossing turn.
Focus breath, consciously release
toes, ankles, calves, thighs
belly, arms;
shrug off care’s burden
that on shoulders lies.

Relentlessly tension’s rhapsody reprises:

Jaws clench, brows knit, lips purse,
mind engages.

A blackbird sings,
false herald of a distant dawn.