The Only Way Is Forward

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tomato

Tomatoes are late this year. But it’s still Autumn.

So it’s March. March. How did this happen?

Anyway, I am pleased to report that my resolve to not spend another year treading water and being miserable has held and I am Getting Shit Done and Making Progress as fast as our dodgy wireless NBN will let me.

Although I have been slowed down by scheduling clashes with pay day, I have begun taking art classes every second Wednesday. This has been great fun, and rewarding. I have bought some paints and I’ll soon be receiving my grandfather’s pastels (he is going back to focusing on oils), so I’ll be able to do some art at home, but in the classes I have been learning all sorts of tricks and techniques, so I’ll stick with them for a while.

I’ve stuck to my bike riding so far, going out at least four times a week and now doing a 9km circuit. Winter is going to be hard, and fitting in around all the after school stuff is already a challenge, but I hope to keep going and keep improving my fitness. I’ve recently added a weekly yoga class back into the mix, which takes away a bike riding night but definitely has its own benefits that make it worthwhile.

I’m almost half way through the Permaculture Design Course, and so far this has been a real emotional rollercoaster and massive learning experience. Permaculture is a way of life, a sound theory of all things, that aims to create efficient, sustainable ways to satisfy the needs of people, animals and the Earth. Not only have I encountered a hundred tips and ideas for things to do in my home and garden, I have also learned philosophies for a more constructive and authentic inner life and better relationships with others. As a process it has been devastating and enlightening. A restructuring of my priorities and the way I see things. Not to mention an amazing connection with people on a similar journey with similar goals. It has pushed me beyond my comfort zone and along a path that will hopefully take me to a more prominent place with my activism and allow me to do more good both at home and in the world at large.

A course like this was the logical next step in Getting Out Of The House. I have also been doing a few social things and actually looking forward to them and enjoying them. I am generally feeling more grounded, more stable, more supported and better able to cope with the swings and roundabouts of life. I’ve been eating better, sleeping better, drinking more water. As a family we are better organised, sharing the load, and somewhat more relaxed. I might go weeks on end without half an unscheduled day, but I pace myself and take care of the details and it is mostly going pretty well.

So from here I intend to make more regular posts, not random stuff like this but posts with a topic. About the garden and the goats, about the things I learn and try, and how it all fits into the permaculture principles. I have many ideas of things to experiment with, ways to make the garden more productive, ways to make more of an impact on the world around me, and ways to enrich my life and further broaden my horizons.

I’m even actually setting goals. I’ve written down a few goals for the garden and farm for the next six months and I’m in the early stages of planning a particular challenge for the rest of this year and into 2018, which I should be able to announce in a few weeks. In the meantime I am gently ramping up my social media communication and profile in the hope that I can get all of you on board in some small way to support my efforts.

I’ve had a few moments where everything looks scary and like an awful lot of work and I wonder if I really have what it takes to push through that fear and face the experience head-on. Sometimes all that keeps me going is the thought that I would never forgive myself for giving up. Sometimes I just want to stay in bed where everything is safe and familiar and there are no risks. But I know that the only way is forward. So that is where I am going.

 

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I’m Not Dead

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I haven’t made a post in nearly three months, I think the pressure of my 100th post bearing down on me (this is #99) made me feel like nothing was worthy or significant enough to write about so I just… didn’t.

So now it is January 1, 2017 and I’m going to come out and say that it feels like last year I achieved absolutely nothing.

Perhaps things were quietly processing in my mind, perhaps I was just healing and living and feeling, and to be honest a lot of the time just doing that was hugely taxing.

First we had the big dry, where the paddock was reduced to nothing but dust and crumbs and the grain feeder became a literal lifesaver, allowing my goats to eat enough to keep their body condition, milk and get in kid without any grain-induced illness.

Then came the big wet, which progressed into the wettest September ever. Rain, rain and more rain. Everything waterlogged, it was horrendous in its own way. Then came a horror kidding season, characterised by vet visits, dead kids, sick does and more rain.

Come October it felt like the whole year had been one big stressy mess, I went through a few cycles of depression and felt like I just couldn’t get my feet under me. At work I had some issues that just went on and on and drove me to despair in spite of all my efforts to resolve them.

I tried to get my shit together by attempting to lock down my feelings, shut them off, be cold and dead inside. I spent as much time alone as possible, did as little as possible, but the problem with trying to tie down what is going on inside you is that it fights back even stronger the second it gets an opportunity.

There were times when I raged and howled, times when I thought I could not go on, times when I thought this was all life had in store for me until the end, and I wasn’t sure I could push through it.

And then at some point the noise stopped. I took my hands off my ears and realised it had been coming from inside my self. And the force behind it seemed to have finally run out of energy.

There was, for the first time in a long time, a faint fragment of peace inside me.

It wasn’t all uphill from there. It never is. As a ‘do something, do anything!’ kind of person, who is unable to do nothing, sometimes I charged ahead in the wrong direction. But gradually I have got somewhere, found something to aim for. I have started putting one foot in front of the other in a meaningful fashion.

So what does this mean for 2017?

Well, I’ve enrolled in a permaculture design course, being run over several weekends. My hope is that this will give me some direction in how to make my garden more productive and more organised and reinvigorate my environmental and sustainability interests. I also hope it will reconnect me with fellow permaculture enthusiasts in my local area in a social sense and make me feel like part of a community.

I got a bike for Christmas. Actually, being a grown-up I got it on December 21st. I’ve set the goal of riding at least four times a week (so far I have managed five times) for as long as I can. I’ve got a bit addicted to Google Fit, tracking my ‘workouts’ and constantly trying for new personal bests. I’ve finally found a form of exercise that is quick and cheap and doesn’t cause me injuries or push my heart rate to risky levels. I kind of enjoy it too.

Soon there will be some major changes in the goat paddocks, with the goal of eradicating the CLA bacteria (cheesy gland/infectious abscesses) that has plagued my herd for the past few years. Some goats will be put down. Some will be put into permanent quarantine. But my goal is to have my main herd CLA free within the next few weeks. This will alter the way I select which stock to keep for breeding and which to sell. It will mean losing some old favourites, but will hopefully save my future milkers and their offspring.

So those are a few things that I’ll be getting up to. I still don’t have any long-term goals and for the most part I don’t know where this year will take me. But I’ve made myself a few personal promises and I don’t want to waste another year tormenting myself and going around in circles. I intend to embrace my spiritual side again, to meditate and get back into yoga. I won’t be spending my whole time running around after others to the point where I have no time scheduled for myself. I may get into painting, like I have been wanting to for ages, but I would like to take lessons first rather than just jumping in. I just want to try some things and see where it takes me.

I intend to be kinder to myself, to do things I enjoy. Maybe I’ll take this year to consolidate the healing process and set myself up for the future. Maybe something big will come up to challenge me. But the worst is behind me. I must step forward with confidence.

The Separation of Body and Mind

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How did so many of us get so far detatched from our bodies?

We intellectualise our existence, elevating the fluff between our ears into higher and higher reverence, and leave our bodies neglected on the earth… which we also neglect.

The trans movement talks in circles about ‘identity’ and ‘I am what I say I am’, completely shunning the physical reality of the body that only knows what it feels and does what it is instructed to with the tools we give it.

We learn to treat our bodies with disdain, women in particular learn to hate our bodies, to see only flaws and inadequacies and never to marvel at the delicacy and intricacy of the vessel that labours faithfully to support the very mind that mercilessly criticises it.

We expect our bodies to run at full capacity when loaded with substandard and inappropriate fuel, and while deprived of proper rest and left to languish, idle, in front of screens. We complain of fatigue when we know that it comes from a lack of care and sleep.

We submit our bodies to dozens of chemicals in the name of ‘hygiene’ and even more in the name of ‘beauty’. This beauty is never achieved, never attained, we go on endlessly applying chemicals and removing our body’s natural protections, causing pain and irritation, in a time-consuming regime that exists solely to avoid the uninvited and unconstructive criticism of others.

We eat food from packets that is many steps removed from natural ingredients, we choose ‘99% fat free’ without caring about the sugars and the additives and preservatives we replace that fat with. We forget how to listen to our bodies, filling up on kilojoules rather than nutrients, trying to satisfy a hunger that we don’t understand.

The bitter contempt we harbour for our bodies is exploited in order to sell us products that won’t fix the problems we don’t actually have, and won’t ever make us satisfied with how we look.

We are our bodies. Our bodies are not the enemy, not there to be conquered or exploited, but to be harnessed and conditioned to provide us with a physical link to an incredible world where many sensations await us. Our bodies want to go on. They want to be well. And while there are times when things don’t work out for our bodies, times when things go wrong, generally the better we care for them, the better they can serve us.

Our bodies can be a refuge for our overstimulated minds. They can be strangers or they can be our dear friends and comrades.They can be an appendix, an adjunct, to our minds or they can be partner and resource.

Our bodies do not exist to provide visual stimulation to others. They exist for our own use, under our own terms. They are what we are and where we reside. They are miraculous and fabulous and come in many shapes, sizes and colours, all with untapped capabilities. They should be loved and appreciated and celebrated for what they are.

Love and appreciate your body. Forget all the things you have been told are wrong about how it looks. Care for and nurture your physical self. The rewards will be great.

Nowhere Good

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And a couple of weeks ago I shut down my personal FaceBook page, severing all contact with family, friends and most of the outside world.

Some of you may be wondering where I have been.

The short answer is – nowhere good.

Let me tell you something about social anxiety and avoidant agoraphobia – they are an ever-tightening noose. Like quicksand, the more you struggle against them, the more they suck you down.

For someone who is terrified of being disapproved of, I have an awful lot of unpopular opinions. I am well aware of this. Painfully so. Hence why I get that nasty feeling in my gut when someone I respect displays annoyance at something I have said.

I can’t remember the last time I went to a party that was not for the benefit of an immediate family member. It was probably around the time that people from my high school group were turning 30yo. That was about eight years ago. I can remember only two occasions when I have gone to visit a friend for a chat and a cuppa.

Sometimes I try to arrange social events. Sometimes people say ‘hey we should catch up’, which strikes terror into my heart. While I find it incredibly hard to say no to people, I know that there is no way I can possibly go through with it.

Sometimes I have the sense to come up with a reason to cancel well ahead of time. Other times I work myself into such a state the day before that I am actually physically unwell and unable to go ahead with the plans. Every social arrangement is accompanied by dread. People ask ‘isn’t it worth it when you go and you have fun?’ The short answer is, no. Why put myself through all that fear and dread on the off chance that I might have a good time? Most likely afterwards I will spend hours going over things I should or shouldn’t have said, stupid comments I made, stupid things I did that will make people mad. The fear doesn’t end with the event.

These scenarios come with extreme guilt, loads of negative self-talk and a certainty that the other person now hates me and never wants to speak to me again. And as much as I rationally know that those things probably aren’t true, that doesn’t stop me from feeling like the lowest form of life on earth for a few days.

The last time I got invited to a party, I decided that it was far enough ahead not to worry about, and said I would go even though I had no intention of actually going. In the lead-up I was asked repeatedly if I was going to be there on the night. I said I wasn’t sure, that I had to make arrangements for my kids. In the end I got dressed, got in the car, drove past the venue twice and drove home. Then I sat in the garage and cried, thinking about what a pathetic loser I was and how I would have to face the people who invited me and how they would be mad at me for not turning up.

Sometimes I feel okay and think it would be fun to do something social. Sometimes I even arrange it. A couple of years ago I planned a birthday party for myself and invited a whole bunch of people. I knew nobody would actually come, so a couple of weeks later I made up a reason to cancel it.

Over the years you get to know yourself. You learn that there is no point making plans with someone or agreeing to attend a social event because you can’t possibly go. But even when you know this about yourself, you have moments where you think you can be a normal person. And then you feel even worse when you realise that you actually can’t.

It isn’t fun. I don’t really know what fun is. Fun is something you have with other people, and I am afraid of other people. I don’t need fun, it just gets in the way of all the other things I need to do.

The fact is, I don’t play well with others. And these days people don’t like what I have to say, it makes them uncomfortable. In recent years I have stopped trying to be like everyone else, and my distance from regular people has only widened in that time. I can smile and nod, but I can’t make small talk. I can answer your questions and I am happy to listen, but I assume that you don’t really care about what I have to say, and I have no right to make inquiries about your personal life.

I feel safer, more comfortable, when I don’t feel like I have to put on an act to be normal. When I don’t feel like I have to carry a conversation, say interesting things, maintain a logical train of thought or get my words out in the right order. When I am by myself, or in a familiar environment.

I don’t want to upset people, and it often seems like the only way to do that is to not say anything and not do anything.

So if you are wondering where I have been, this should give you an idea. This is where I live. I know it is not normal and probably not healthy, but I do my best with what I have. I don’t imagine it will get better over time, and I have come to accept that. This is my brain on anxiety.

Hiding in Plain Sight

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Sometimes I go looking for trouble, sometimes it finds me.

The other day I was sitting in the waiting room at the hospital waiting for my pacemaker review. I glanced at the stack of magazines on the table next to me, pushed aside the ‘Women’s Weekly’ and ‘That’s Life’, and picked up a glossy beast innocuously titled ‘Women’s Health’.

I started to flick through. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I really thought there might be something in it actually beneficial to women. Clearly my years of avoiding commercial media have made me soft. What I saw was a manual for making yourself sexually attractive to men.

The quick-fix diets, the fashion and make-up tutorials, and most disturbingly, the ‘what men really think’ article that could be summed up as ‘men want women to pander to their every requirement, and be decorative and sexy but also faithful and not slutty, while men do whatever the hell they want’. I pulled a face and put the magazine back on the stack at this point.

Seriously, this magazine doesn’t even try. It is just another waste of paper telling women how to fit into the tiny box of ‘acceptable’ that has been created to control how we look and how we live.

So of course, I went looking for trouble. I visited the websites of both Australian Women’s Health and Australian Men’s Health to see what kind of message these publications are peddling.

Women’s Health in a nutshell – how to get your chocolate fix without getting fat. How to drop a dress size – fast! How to zap belly fat or get great legs. The Fitness section had subheadings for Running and Yoga – activities that are not likely to cause increase in muscle mass and therefore affect your apparent femininity.

Men’s Health had different subheadings in the Fitness section – Muscle Building and Cardio. Because apparently muscles are only for men. Weight loss short-cuts also feature, and under the heading Sex and Women is a section on how to ‘improve your game’, also known as ‘getting women to have sex with you’.

Where Women’s Health has recipes and nutrition information, Men’s Health has supplements and cooking tips. Apparently women know how to cook, but men don’t.

One of the first articles I saw on the Men’s Health page was about ‘ticking off your bedroom bucket list’. This is an article about getting your partner to indulge your sexual fantasies. And it begins with the author doing ‘what any man would do’ – plying his partner with alcohol to make her more receptive to his suggestions. According to Men’s Health, manipulation and coercion are an important part of the male sex life. Good to know.

Presumably that is why Women’s Health is dedicated to making women decorative and sexy and fuckable and educating them on how to do what a man wants in bed.

The covers and images of both these magazines are so bland and generic as to almost be sterile, yet the air of casual harmlessness hides a disturbing theme. They tell men that they must be buff and tanned and healthy in order to get all the women. They tell women that they must be slim and tanned and healthy and wear just the right amount of make-up in order to be seen as acceptable.

These magazines are the media equivalent of that moron internet troll who tells everyone that fat people are gross because they are unhealthy. They are the published version of the constant reinforcement of the gender binary. Their titles suggest that they care about the wellbeing of people, but their content perpetuates the sterotypes that harm every person who does not look like the airbrushed models in the photographs.

Why can’t there be a magazine simply called ‘Health’, which is gender neutral and doesn’t set out to divide the population? Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising and managing your mental health are issues relevant to all people.

On the topic of mental health, I did a search for ‘depression’ on the page of both magazines. Nothing showed up in the links for either on the main pages, so I had to do some digging. It seems that mental health is not sexy or cool enough to feature in these publications, despite it being a huge health issue for men and women.

I think what bothered me the most about the content of these magazines, is that they seem to represent the attitudes of society in general. Rags like Cosmopolitan and Cleo make a point of being racy and over-the-top, but these Health magazines present as wholesome advice for everyday living, rather than the manuals for slotting seamlessly into the patriarchal abyss that they actually are.

On Fat Shaming

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I’ve had a few posts roll through my Facebook newsfeed today about plus-size models and beauty at all sizes. Every single time I read the comments they are full of fat-shamers putting in their opinions about how ‘unacceptable’ the pictured women are.

Now, as a person who is what is deemed a ‘healthy weight’ it is easy for me to spout phrases like ‘all bodies are beautiful’ and ‘size is not an indication of health’. But I grew up in a family where the number on the scales was an ever-present spectre and everybody talked about ‘when I lose the weight’ or ‘when I get skinny’. All sorts of diets were tried and weight came and went. But the body image issues were constant.

Obesity is a huge problem in the developed world. In some countries, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Obesity and poor diet have been linked to many life-threatening health problems. Governments and food companies must take a fair whack of the blame for their misleading marketing of processed foods as ‘healthy’ and the laws that allow this. Drug companies are invested in treating the illnesses caused by poor diet. It is a hard battle to fight on a personal level when the whole system is invested in making you fat.

I might not be an overweight person, but I am not a healthy person. I have an extensive history of heart problems, and mental health difficulties on top of that. I eat with the goal of prolonging my life. But there have been times when, due to medications, my weight has threatened to spiral out of control.

The last time I tried antidepressant medication, I got to a point where no matter how I tried, my weight was climbing by about half a kilogram every week. I was probably eating half of what I am now, and exercising, but my weight kept rising. I counted calories obsessively, and even tried going all fruit and vegetables one week. Nothing worked. Until I went off the medication.

So yeah, I can sympathise with people who try everything they can think of but struggle to lose weight. I can also sympathise with people who have great difficulty eating the way they are told they ‘should’ in order to lose weight.

One thing all those fat-shamers lean on is that promoting body acceptance is the same as promoting obesity, and since obesity is unhealthy then promoting body acceptance is socially irresponsible. Think of the children, they say, growing up in a world where they are encouraged to be unhealthy because being fat is okay. They pretend that the reason they want everyone to be slim is because they want them to be healthy.

This is a load of crap. The reason fat-shamers want people to be slim is because they want them to be decorative, and we live in a world with stringently-enforced beauty standards. A world where people who don’t fit that standard are expected to cover up, change their appearance, and hate themselves if they don’t comply.

And what good does that do?

We all want to be healthy. It is easier for some people than for others. We all want to like our bodies and like ourselves. We all have ‘imperfections’. We have rolls and wrinkles and scars and stretch marks and none of these things make us less of a human being.

Even women who are not overweight are encouraged to hate their bodies. We are given a set of Rules that we must adhere to. Don’t be too tall. Don’t be too hairy. Don’t be too old. Don’t be too fat. Spend ages making yourself look good enough, but make sure you look natural. Unless you can follow all the Rules, you are not allowed to feel good about yourself. And even if you do follow the Rules, don’t get too cocky, you’re not that hot…

The idea of women in particular being decorative above all else should be stomped on, crushed and criticised every time we see it. You might see plus-sized models promoted as ‘real women’, but they too are a marketing trick. You don’t see models with cellulite or hairy legs or blemished skin.

We are all allowed to be comfortable in our own skin and happy with how we look. Whether we are old, sick, fat, disabled, hairy or scarred. We do not have to conform to beauty standards. We are good enough. We are valuable. We are beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Because whatever ‘imperfections’ you may have, the person who would shame you for your appearance has a bigger problem. They are probably a self-righteous jerk.

Overweight people exist. In the western world there are a lot of them. Yes, being overweight has been linked to health problems, but does that mean that every overweight person is expected to hate how they look, and if they don’t hate how they look then everyone else is allowed to do that hating for them? What does that achieve? If being slim was easy, everyone would do it, but a huge proportion of the population find it very difficult. The issue is complex. The solution is elusive. But if shaming overweight people made them healthier, we would have no overweight people. All it does is make people feel bad about themselves. People who look after their health are people who feel that they are worth it. Your weight is does not always directly correlate with your health or wellness. And none of these things represent your value as a person.

Oh, and here’s me at the beach recently in a bikini. Old, white, hairy, scarred. I don’t care. I think I look great.

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Selling the Drama

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Congratulations to anyone who spotted the 90s alternative music reference in the title. If you did, you should go and listen the Throwing Copper, it is still a good album.

Anyway, lately my life has been full of drama. Depending upon your source, drama is either a situation representing some form of conflict or an overly emotional response to an event that should have an easy solution. I’ll let you make up your own mind.

A week ago I was feeling pretty low, so I decided to deactivate my Facebook page. I was sick of every status or comment I put up sounding like a complaint. I felt like I was fishing for sympathy, and nobody owes me sympathy. Everyone is dealing with their own crap. So I got out of there and took my complaining with me.

But let me tell you a little bit about the past couple of weeks. They have not been easy. Actually, the last month or so has been kind of a trial.

First there were the events surrounding the decision to sell the property and find somewhere else. In amongst all this was Matt’s surgery and subsequent long and painful recovery. At the same time I had three does kid, leading to many sleepless nights in the freezing barn and some rather tense moments pulling stuck kids. Then there was the huge task of getting the place cleaned up for sale, the hole in the roof fixed, the driveway made drivable and a whole lot of stuff going to the tip.

In the end, the driveway took 25 tonnes of gravel, which was dumped in 5 tonne lots and had to be moved by shovel and wheelbarrow. It was an enormous task, which mostly fell to Matt. His efforts were superhuman.

So finally the house was on the market. This led to the inevitable inspection appointments, the need to keep the place tidy and keep the dogs out of the way, the rounds of looking at properties for sale. Yes, selling up is stressful.

Then the house we really wanted sold, as did our second choice. If this place sells after today’s open house we will have nowhere to go. We are relying on the perfect property to pop up in the next month or so, with little more than the hope that the universe will provide it for us.

So that was all the house crap, that’s no big deal, people sell and buy every day. On top of that I have had a house full of sick people, starting with Rohan. He ended up having a week off school carrying a bucket around, although he didn’t actually vomit at any point. He has been dubbed ‘patient zero’, after managing to infect his brother, his auntie and his unofficial step-father. Callum was so sick that he didn’t feel like kicking the footy, but he managed to get to the Geelong-Hawthorn match as well as a birthday party last weekend with the help of dissolvable Children’s Panadol. Sarah and Matt have been sick for the best part of a week, and all I can do is hope that my ‘flu shot will keep me safe.

So things were already on the difficult side when, on Rohan’s birthday just before we were heading out for dinner, I found a gravely injured pony in my front paddock. This led to an emergency after-hours vet visit, two ponies being put down, and not surprisingly us being late to dinner.

The next morning I found my favourite Muscovy duck very badly injured but not having had the sense to die of her injuries. This was probably the most unsettling of a series of unpleasant events. Her injuries were horrific, beyond what I am willing to put into words, and on finding her still alive my only thought was to find a way to end her suffering. Matt to the rescue once again, dragged out of bed after a 12-hour night shift to dispatch my poor duck. The smell and sight stayed with for far too long.

My resilience ebbed badly after this, and I took myself off all social media. I was intensely disappointed at my inability to soldier on, and I had many cruel and unnecessary things to say to myself about the matter. Rock bottom hovered way too close for comfort, and things began to stack up. Two dead ponies, a dead billy goat and a dead duck made the planned butchering of our two sheep seem much more sinister. Sick goat kids and sick human kids felt like an epidemic. The stress of having the house for sale and looking for a new one kept me from sleeping.

Yet somehow this week things turned around. Nothing has really changed other than my way of looking at things and the understanding that I don’t have to let it all get to me. So on Friday when in the midst of trying to get the house and yard ready for Saturday’s open for inspection as well as getting one child off to the football and the other to his father’s house, I found myself dealing with a labouring goat and the realisation that my mobile phone had been cut off, somehow I coped. I called the phone provider and made a quick payment, after complaining that I got no warning of my service being blocked and explaining that I had in fact paid my partner’s bill instead of my own. I left Rohan watching the labouring goat, who kindly had healthy and very robust twins without any assistance. I got everyone to where they needed to go (once again with some help from Matt), and spent the evening making cheese and getting the house clean.

Do I create this drama? I don’t really see how I can. It certainly makes me appreciate the quiet times when I can sit down with nachos and a cider and watch old episodes of Greys Anatomy, or just hang out in the farmyard with my goats for half an hour. And I need to remember to set aside this time for myself, to recharge and relax, so that when it feels like one blow after another I can stand up and absorb it, knowing that eventually, based on sheer weight of numbers, something will go my way.