You’re mad

The other day at the traffic lights I noticed a small boy with his mother and sister. On one side of the boy’s straight brown hair there was a white patch about the size of a matchbox.

It set me thinking, imagining all manner of things. 

Does the child suffer because of this one small anomaly on their person? 

Do people stare beyond the face when they talk to them and find their eyes wandering to the white patch? 

Those closest might be used to it but others new to them might wonder. 

Do they ask questions or ignore the thing that jumps out at them? Out of politeness.

 It’s not a major disability just a curiosity, which reminds me of an acquaintance who has only one arm. 

Years ago, when we were in a therapeutic group together, I took the courage to ask the story of his arm and he was kind enough to oblige. 

In a therapy group you’re allowed to ask personal questions in fact they’re encouraged. 

He told the story of a car accident wherein he was the driver and his fiancé was killed. 

How did he live through it to become the man he is today, then and now? 

How does any one of us deal with our difficulties, especially the obvious ones, the ones that everyone can see. 

Sometimes they’re not difficulties as such, like the colour of our skin or the intonation of our voices that suggest we come from some place other than where we are and others can see us as strangers or foreigners, or, as a friend reminded me lately, the way people referred to migrants in the fifties and sixties as ‘New Australians’. 

Good grief, ‘New Australians’, as though they are a rare but similar breed whose primary characteristic is their newness.

This morning, I’m off for a visit to the GP and she will check my blood pressure as she typically does and already I can feel it rising at the thought. That she will discover my high blood pressure that dogs me in my imagination. 

Long ago, I decided my heart will get me in the end. His heart got my father. Her heart got my mother. 

Both died from complications of their hearts. I take this metaphorically as well. 

I saw a heart specialist a few years back after I broke my wrist, because unlike my blood pressure my heart rate is low, elite athlete low, and I am not an elite athlete by any stretch.

After much argy bargy and concern, the specialist decided it’s an anomaly and my life can go on, as it has. 

I dislike the way the medical establishment appear to have the power to decide the fate of your body on the basis of this one word ‘diagnosis’. 

Once diagnosed it’s as if your story is now written sure and square and everything else about you matters not. Only your diagnosis.

Such classifications can become self-fulfilling. Especially the psychiatric ones.

You have bipolar or obsessive compulsive disorder and immediately the person you’re with assumed has all manner of things about you. Not the way people might think when they see the boy with the white swatch of hair on his head, or even some of the assumptions people make based on colour of skin or accent, a much more encompassing summary, like you’re mad. 

When I go to the doctor – my GP is a terrific doctor – I will tell her ahead of time that my blood pressure will be high. And she will nod wisely.

She knows me and the ways in which my body leaps ahead to urge her to make a diagnosis of hypertension, but so far she has not once mentioned the word, though she likes me to take Coversyl to help my heart at its job.

Most people over sixty she tells me are on Coversyl or its equivalent. To help your heart as it ages and gets more tired, to do its job.

She couches these things well, she has convinced me. 

My mother even into her late seventies took little or no medication and for her it was a matter of pride. As if it marked her as a special person, one who needed no medication because no one had diagnosed her as suffering any ailment.

Perhaps it was this attitude from my mother that inculcated in me these strange fantasies I have about my body, the way I feel guilty when I’m  ill, or when my blood pressure rises, as though I have done something wrong.

As though to have a body that lets you down is a crime.

This is crazy thinking I know and well worth diagnosing though I haven’t tried as yet and self-diagnosis is to be avoided.

You are the last person who can label your condition accurately. 

No, you need someone else to do this for you. Someone more expert than you in the wiles and ways of your waywardness. Or do you?

To consider yourself mad is to be sane. Most mad folk don’t recognise themselves as such or at least this is my theory at the moment. 

My theory as I clank away at this computer trying to stave off anxiety about my visit to the GP.

A regular visit for a prescription that I wish she’d give me without the need for a visit but I decided to go when one of my daughters who is soon to give birth to her first child asked all of those close to her, those who will come into contact with the baby during its first few weeks on earth, to have a whooping cough vaccine, if we are not already protected against the disease. 

I hop to it. 

When my sister was born, the one who is 21 months younger than me, I had whooping cough. My mother was panic stricken I’d pass it onto my baby sister. She took us to a doctor who gave the baby an injection, or so my mother recalled.

I have a subliminal memory of this time. My mother sent me to stay with a Dutch family, the Kaandorps and the story goes Mrs Kaandorp left me in a cot all day for the ten or so days my mother was away. 

It might have scarred me for life. The sense of not being able to breathe. The harsh guttural coughing that caused me to panic when my own babies were little, fearful they might choke on food scraps. 

The anxiety that is still in my bones. 

The body remembers.

Even writing this here I sense my heart rate rising.

Weird that. Apparently you can’t feel high blood pressure, it just is. But you can feel anxiety like a rising tide of tension in every vein and a stomach that drops down low as if it’s contracting and your heart races and pulsates and tries to get outside of you to reach a place of calm even as it’s accelerating like someone has put their foot down hard on the accelerator and you cannot stop them.

All you want is to put the brake on and enjoy stillness.

And if all that little boy with the white patch on his head has to worry about is the two-toned colour of his hair then his life will be a breeze. 

But lives are not like that. Not for any of us.

All of us will suffer and in the end we will die. The greatest indignity of all and yet also in a strange way a triumph because to die is also to have lived, at least for those of us who have lived long enough to have a story to tell. 


After my visit to the doctor, I’m relieved to report, despite my fears, it’s normal.

My heart is still chugging along. 

Flowers, nuns and psychoanalysis

Over the last several weeks my husband has come home every weekend with several bunches of daffodils and early cheer.

‘Because they’re cheap,’ he says. ‘$10.00 a bunch.’ 

I’d prefer he didn’t buy them. That, too, I don’t say.

Waste of money, I think, but don’t say.

It falls to me to put them in vases, although the other day he asked our daughter first.

I got to them before she had the chance. 

No point in leaving flowers with naked cut stems lie around on top of the table clothed in a sheet of brown paper and ready to wilt. 

 I put them in a large vase on the kitchen table and when my daughter saw them she asked if I’d simply put this week’s fresh bunch in with last week’s dead ones. 

‘No,’ I said, ‘Did you really think I’d do that?’ knowing full well that I had toyed with saving as many of last weeks stems still presentable and adding in the new ones.

As I pulled out daffodil after daffodil I noticed that each yolk yellow trumpet still stood tall and seemingly fresh, while the pale yellow frilly skirt around it had started to grow brown and wilt. 

In the end I tossed the lot onto the garden for mulch. 

There you have it: the old and the new. 

‘They look like they’ve just been tossed into the vase,’ my daughter said and leaned over to rearrange them. 

‘Fine by me,’ I said, and she laughed.

‘I thought you enjoyed this type of thing.’

I do not. It rates to me like housework: something we have to do and regularly. The end result is satisfying but in no time at all the place is messy again.

No, I do not enjoy arranging flowers.

I enjoy that first moment of beauty, especially if, like freesias and most of the flowers in early spring, they give off a perfume that infuses the room.

But thereafter I find it almost intolerable how fast they die. 

In days, they’re past their prime. 

In days, they begin to wilt. 

In days, the water goes murky and needs replenishing or topping up and in days, I begin to wonder how long I can leave those flowers on display without its being obvious they need to go.

Years ago, I admired my analyst, Mrs Milanova, for her doggedness in providing her consulting room every week with a fresh bunch of flowers, most likely from a florist.

Some of them, like the gerberas she was keen on and the tall stemmed tulips, came with their stalks propped up by a twisted coil or some type of wire or green covered cable to disguise its presence.

This artificial propping up annoyed me, though I never told her as much. 

It still annoys me.

I can understand its usefulness: tall stemmed whatevers are going to topple faster than those with short stems or lots of branches covered in leaves. Unless they get help.

To me, flowers represent life gone too soon.

I prefer something with a longer shelf life than cut flowers. I prefer something that’s less likely to remind me of the transience of life. 

Flowers also remind me of churches and the chapel at my school where my favourite nun, Sister Dominic, had the task of replacing them regularly.

She also had the task of going to the florist to buy them. More often than not the florist gave them over to the nuns free.  

What was that like? To receive things for nothing simply because you wore a habit. 

In any case, because I was in love with this nun when I travelled through my teens at boarding school and away from the world, my passion for her intensified and I did anything I could to be near to her, including helping her in the sacristy. 

She tolerated me there and gave me the job of smearing Brasso over each of the vases the nuns used to hold their flowers. Letting the liquid Brasso dry and go white, then scrubbing it off with a soft cloth until the vase shone like gold. 

I preferred this task with its strong chemical smell to the task of arranging flowers. Not that I ever did this.

I sensed Sister Dominic disliked this task too. Not that she said as much. 

Nuns did as they were told. They went where they were told. They took on whatever was asked of them by their Reverend Mother because this was part of their vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. 

Although I spent my last several years at school contemplating the life of a nun and imaging that the only way I could be close to my favourite nun was to join her, the idea of such silent obedience appalled me, just as it did twenty years later when I entered the analytic training. 

Then, too, I figured one way of being able to stay close to my analyst, my beloved Mrs Milanova, was to become one, too. 

It was easy enough to abandon the idea of becoming a nun once I went out into the world and looked around me at all the things I would miss out on, including the company and certain pleasures of men, but to leave the analytic calling proved much harder. 

Like a flower cut down in its prime ditched from the vase, faded and ready to turn into mulch. 

When they’re so much happier left in the ground.