There is an REM song that features the line ‘It’s been a bad day, please don’t take a picture’. This line rolls through my head at the end of a particularly bad day. When you are feeling raw and overwhelmed by events that came from nowhere and took your feet from under you.
Today is July 31st. Twenty years ago this evening I was in a hospital room in Geelong, facing my first open-heart surgery. I had no idea what I was in for. My relatives had been prepared for the sight of me post-surgery in the ICU, and I had signed the consent form with the blunt and cursory warning that my survival of the next day’s operation was not guaranteed. Here are the reasons you might die, okay? Cool, now sign this. We’ll see you in the morning.
I survived that surgery, and the next one five years later. But on July 31st last year I was facing a different catastrophe. The next morning I would wake to find Cookie in labour, a whole month early. And I would find myself rushing our beloved hand-raised kid Poppy to the vets with serious respiratory distress.
August 1st 2018 was a day when things went very wrong. A bad day, please don’t take a picture. By the end of the day I would be down over $1000 for vet treatment, Poppy would be dead, Cookie’s one live-born kid from her quads, delivered by cesarean, would be beginning her unwinnable battle for life, and I would be beginning to realise just how much trouble my goats were in.
A year on I can only be thankful for the distance I have gained from that dark and desperate day. The tears I shed for Poppy and my distress at losing one from my set of perfect miracle quads. The realisation that something very, very bad was going on in my herd.
From this point things did not let up for a long time. In fact, they are only just letting up now. On the back of a frantic end of financial year at work, and the relentless, oppressive workload that came with it, I spent six weeks coming to terms with, preparing for, executing and recovering from snatching kids and having the rest of my herd destroyed. Hot on the heels of that came my breakdown at work, stress leave, repeated attempts to feel okay in my job and finally my seemingly inevitable resignation. Next came my back injury, which took my whole summer and taught me all sorts of lessons about pain.
Then just as my back was settling into something I could bear the thought of living with, my annual visit to the heart specialist became my next source of stress. A series of tests over 10 weeks, constant fear that after all these years my heart was starting to feel the effects of the hardware installed in 2005 to keep me alive. My anxiety was taking on a life of its own, shifting from a background buzz to a deafening, ceaseless roar. My body was constantly tense, strung like a bow, causing muscle pain and headaches.
A new medication to reduce the frequency of cardiac ‘events’ and settle the palpitations and ectopic beats that had escalated, likely due to the constant flow of cortisol and adrenaline through my body, had the handy side-effect of knocking my anxiety out cold. It feels weird, but it is an enormous relief. Just in time for the arrival of my old friend seasonal depression, affectionately known as Winter Flat, the name of a bleak new housing estate to the west of town.
But it can’t rain all the time, even if sometimes it feels like it. Every year, a few weeks past the winter solstice, the life force starts to stir again. Dormant trees begin to bud. Udders on maiden does begin to spring. The horses begin to shed their winter coats. The wattles bloom and the old almond tree pops up white blossoms like popcorn on its bare branches.
Eggs flow in, from the Silkies and the ducks, and the Muscovies begin their annual courtship games with all the posturing and social drama of The Bachelor. The sun comes out for a few days to give a glimpse of things to come, before disappearing back behind the clouds for the wettest month of the year.
Quite muddy becomes horribly muddy, kids are born on freezing nights, and in the ensuing chaos you lose track of time. And then suddenly… it’s October. You play the game of ‘is this the last frost?’ for several weeks before bravely planting your tender seedlings in the garden and crossing your fingers that the Cup Day rule will play true this year.
If there is one thing I don’t tell you all often enough, it is how fiercely I love being alive and witnessing the million tiny miracles that the world has to offer. How hard it is to live with the fear that at any moment my heart could malfunction, leaving all my unfinished business permanently unfinished. Do I live for the future, or live for the moment? Why not both?
So it’s time for me to pull up my socks, and set to work healing from everything I’ve been through in the past year. To drink more water, go to bed earlier, eat less chips, do more exercise, and generally take care of my beloved cyborg vessel so that it can support my consciousness through as much life as possible. But priority one is reducing stress. I’m going to have to google how to do that, and hope that life decides it’s time to cut me some slack.