How to fail at The Overland Track (a work in progress)

Beautiful snow at Cradle Valley - view from our emergency accommodation @ Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge
Beautiful snow at Cradle Valley, the morning after the blizzard – view from our emergency accommodation @ Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge

I will never complain of being cold again.

…or at least, never again until I am on the verge of hypothermia climbing a mountain in a blizzard.

I started my overland track journey months ago. The planning involved was meticulous down to the daily itinerary with kilometres mapped and photos of the highlights so we would know visually where we were along the way, the additional optional extra day hikes, and the arranging of my pack three, four, maybe five times from a month to a week before leaving like an obsessive compulsive game of Tetris. I bought the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife visitor guide “The Overland Track: One Walk, Many Journeys” and map, my young travel companion Lara, and I read blogs, bought all new hiking and camping gear for all the weather conditions mentioned in the guide and on the blogs (including snow), we bought gaiters and whistles and hydration packs and raincoats and a fuel stove and compass and pocket knife…and even arranged to have a spare ancient Nokia phone with a Telstra SIM (apparently the only way to get any kind of phone service in the National Park..haha…no, there is none, nowhere,  don’t bother…get yourself a satellite phone if you really want an “in case of emergency” communication device), and a Personal Locator Beacon borrowed from a friend. We had both read up on what food to bring and what to leave behind, refreshed our first aid for snake bites (and even printed and laminated a little emergency reference card for snake-bite first aid). We pre-booked lodges, hostels, busses and ferries. I had read that the best way to hike was from North to South, to get the strenuous uphill journey to Waterfall Valley out of the way on Day One…it’s all down hill from there they told me. Touché! It was indeed all downhill, but not from there…

Let us start with Day 1: Central Coast to Melbourne – to catch the ferry to Devonport Tasmania

The day started off well with me turning the house upside down looking for my only pair of polarising sunglasses (a must for the track), then finding them in Kmart, where I had left them the night before while picking up extra little (unnecessary) bits and pieces before leaving. I picked up 16 year old Lara along the way and assured her parents I would look after her. “We will be fine!” I said, “You have nothing to worry about!” I said… “This is a well planned trip, we have a PLB and people hike the track all the time, we will be fine”…I reiterated. We left on our road trip to Melbourne.

Just briefly: If you are sensitive to the senseless killing of animals, I beg you to not travel by car to Melbourne (or anywhere in Tassie)…I almost suffered a nervous breakdown from the native animal massacre that is the Hume Highway. It was an absolute smorgasbord of native animal manslaughter from Koalas to Kangaroos to Wombats (and while not native, foxes and rabbits deserve a mention), with L-Plater Lara narrowly missing an Echidna that I then actually prayed would make it to safety before the next killing machine sped along towards it.

We had planned to make a side trip to Canberra to drop off some long awaited wedding photos to my beautiful (patient) friends, whom with all manner of infinite confidence in my hiking and mountaineering abilities, hugged young Lara and pleaded with her in full facial animation to “PLEASE look after Tanya, I worry about this one”…clearly a friend with more insight into my run of bad-travel-luck than I.

Of course my itinerary had not factored in weekend traffic getting out of Sydney, or bathroom/food stops, so we ended up arriving at Base Backpackers in St Kilda at 1.00am…having to get up at 6.00am to catch the Spirit of Tasmania Ferry by 7.00am the next morning.

Day 2: A fairly boring ferry ride to Devonport Tasmania

Take a book, or several, maybe an iPad with games and pre-downloaded movies. I got a lot of colouring done in my adult/mindfulness/art therapy…whatever you want to call it…colouring book. We took in a movie at the on board cinema (it’s not Hoyts Lux, but it kills time…and boy, do you have a lot of time to kill), Minions was the pick of the day (or the only movie not yet sold out), and unanimously we do not recommend it to anyone over ten. Also, if you are coeliac, get used to paying $40 for a salad (actually that is really two salads that made the equivalent of a normal sized salad, but even after two tiny salads I was starving). It’s the only gluten free option they have on board. It costs significantly less if you purchase a pre-packed salad from the on-board convenience store (I can’t remember the exact price but it was somewhere between $10-20), but it won’t fill you up. Pack a lot of snack foods or starve.

Day 3: Travelling to Lake St Clair at night by car – allow extra time if you aren’t some kind of sadistic animal massacring psychopath 

Our ferry arrived half an hour late and the drive to Lake St Clair was planned to be about 3 hours. Allowing for delays, I had expected us to arrive at approximately 10.00pm. What I had not allowed for was doing 40km/hour on a 100km/hour road for a good 100km (possibly more) due to the sheer amount of nocturnal animal activity. The Pademelons with a death wish just waiting at the side of the road would give anyone cause for a heart attack by jumping right out in front of you just as you think they have safely seen you and should want to jump in the opposing direction…I think we need Pademelon mental health services in Tasmania, these animals are clearly in need of LifeLine. There is a silver lining here, apart from the stress of trying not to hit them with my car, it was actually amazing to witness these beautiful creatures in the wild. I have never in my life seen as many native Australian animals in the wild as I did on the drive to Lake St Clair through the National Park. We had to stop for Bennetts Wallabies, Pademelons (click the link to find out more about these guys, they are everywhere in Tassie, I had never heard of them before), echidnas, wombats, brush tail possums, ring tail possums and frogs. I was hoping to see a Tassie Devil, but there was no luck there. Given the prevalence of the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease these poor little guys are dying out, which is why you will find that a lot of the lodges, hotels and local businesses donate a portion of their profits to the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program in partnership with the University of Tasmania, so if you have a few $$ to spare you can help save the Tassie Devil too by donating to their research and conservation fund.

We finally arrived at our beautiful accommodation at the Lake St Clair Lodge  at about 11.30pm and were blissfully greeted with a comfy King Bed and a cosy fire to warm ourselves before heading out to Cradle Valley to start our hike the next morning.

Day 4: THE OVERLAND TRACK!

First of all, a great big shout out to Cradle Mountain Coaches who were basically at our beck and call during this trip. They weren’t even given a mention on the National Parks website or any of the blogs or guide books we looked through before embarking on our trip, and yet when it came to booking a bus to actually take us to Cradle Valley (and pick us up again at a moments notice the next day), they were the only bus company that would take us, everything else was pre-booked for tour groups. All of the bus prices were about the same, ranging from $180-$200 for a one way journey from one end of the track to the other, however, we had a pleasant surprise when the bus picked us up at 08.30am at Lake St Clair Lodge: because others had booked on our bus, our bus fare was halved to $100 per person…a lucky break, as little did we know how much we would need that extra $200 over the next few days.

The journey from Lake St Clair to the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre was rainy but pleasant. We met a lovely couple, one of whom was a Doctor (which was a nice comfort heading into the wilderness)  whom had recently moved from Sydney to Tassie and would be starting the track around the same time we were. There were also a couple of young hikers on the bus who had just completed their hike of the track and boasted about what beautiful weather they had, how they hadn’t seen a single snake (sighs of relief rang out around the bus), and that they managed to complete it quite comfortably in 4 days. They also told us about the mostly empty heated huts they stayed in along the way. The start to the trip was looking promising, even if the weather outside was looking less than dry.

We arrived at the visitor centre a little after 12.00pm. I had read that the hike to Waterfall Valley should take between 3-6 hours, and had planned for us to have a leisurely start to the track, aiming to arrive at the camp site by 6pm at the latest…we walked the City2Surf (14km) in 2hrs for timing comparison the month before, 10.7km to Waterfall Valley? Piece of cake in 6 hours, with plenty of time for breaks and photos, I thought.

What did I learn early on in the trek? It probably wasn’t a good idea to eat a massive plate of sweet potato wedges immediately before heading out on a 10.7km hike. Good to know now. Ain’t hindsight a wonderful thing? Never again! Take a snack bar. You probably won’t even eat it, especially in the conditions we set out in.

At the counter in the visitor centre we were warned that there was going to be some snow tonight on the mountain, and also that there had been a record number of hikers leave that day, about 30 people so far, so we would probably need to use our tent. I had checked the weather report religiously leading up to leaving and knew about the “light snow” and rain that was predicted for the next couple of days. NO WORRIES! I thought cockily! We have snow coats, poles, gloves and -10 sleeping gear…plus, light snow?? HOW BEAUTIFUL! (haha…hahaha…oh the naïveté).

We excitedly hopped into the shuttle line to take us to Ronny Creek, the infamous starting point of The Overland Track. It was packed. There were about another 30 people just in this line, people with babies strapped to their chests, were these people hiking the track too? I had a side thought about a comment I had made a few weeks prior to leaving about how “I just want a guy who wants to strap babies to our chests and hike around the world, too much to ask?”. I had an “awww” moment about this couple ready to take off on an epic adventure with bub strapped in for the ride. We waited, and waited …the bus came, the bus left, the bus came back again with a big enclosed trailer for all the backpacks the driver had clearly not anticipated would be coming along for the ride. As people climbed into the bus, the “hiking baby” couple disappeared into the background until I realised that they had decided that taking a baby into cold wet conditions was probably not ideal. They bailed, and so they should have, and so would we have if we had been a little less unrealistically optimistic.

It was not long before we arrived at Ronny Creek. Apparently most of the others on the bus were just going on short afternoon hikes to Dove Lake or other surrounding attractions. There was another group of about six women about to embark on the track, and a couple of guys suited up in camouflage gear. Were they part of the 30 hikers? Or additional? Who knew? We were still optimistic about getting a spot in the hut at Waterfall Valley.

We headed into the Log Book hut, signed-in to start the track with our ambitious intentions for a nine day hike with day trips, swapped camera-phones with the girl-group for a quick obligatory “Starting the Overland Track” signage snap…and off we went out into the rain, all smiles and enthusiastic anticipation.

Ignorance is bliss - the start of the Overland Track and Ronny Creek.
Ignorance is bliss – the start of the Overland Track and Ronny Creek. I learnt fairly quickly that nothing should ever be strapped to the outside of your pack. Ever.

About 100 metres into the track, we saw our first wombat (on the track, not the trip, obviously). There he was right next to the wooden planks of the track, just munching down on the luscious greenery that covered the ground around and under the track. He seemed to notice us and rather un-politely turned his back to us and continued his grassy feast. A small part of my brain kept saying “he is so cute, doesn’t look vicious at all…I wonder if…”, and then I remembered the ringtail possum incident of 2014, and thought better than to attempt to pat the cute fluffy little wombat. Leave him be, as we should do with all wild animals, no matter how cute and cuddly they look, they are in fact, wild (speaking from experience).

Wombat on the Overland Track
Wombat on the Overland Track

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We trekked on up through rainforest with stunning rivers flowing under the wooden bridges built into the track, we hiked up and up stairs and rocky path, our 15kg packs weighing heavily on our hips and shoulders by now. A pleasant enough day tripper swanned past us unweighted, with her young daughter hopping beside her and exclaimed “it’s BEAUTIFUL once you get there!” while I shot her a “my back is killing me, don’t talk peppy to me lady” glance and my mind exclaimed obscenities at the weight of my pack. We finally reached Crater Lake where we paused for a moment to take in it’s beauty…or what we could see of it through the increasingly dense fog.

Crater Lake...you see it right?
Crater Lake…you see it right?
Lara next to Crater Lake
Lara next to Crater Lake

We continued past the boat shed and up the incline to a junction. Facing south, Dove Lake sat below us to our left and Crater Lake to our right, which path to take? We decided to go with the one labeled “Overland Track” (obvious choice) which took us on a steep mountain climb (yes, actually mountain climbing…assisted by chains and poles impaled into the rocks) up Marion’s Lookout. We stopped to take an optimistic smiling selfie of us venturing up into the mountain, meanwhile we couldn’t even see the view below us anymore, and yet, we continued. As we endeavoured further up the cliffs, the wind picked up, as did the altitude, and correspondingly the temperature dropped…to freezing. It felt as though we had only climbed a few metres, but the terrain was vastly different than what we had endured thus far, and it took all of our balance and core strength to keep from being blown off the top of Marion’s Lookout. According to the guides and blogs, this is where the classically stunning outlook over both lakes, and the falls should bring us to tears of joy at the beauty of nature…we weren’t quite in tears by this point, but if we were, I can assure you, it would not have been at the beauty of nature. The outlook was, foggy at best. I took my glove off and tried to take a photo on my phone of the thick fog and cloud cover, but my fingers quickly lost all feeling and my phone screen was covered in tiny little icicles that rapidly melted to water at my touch and my fingers just were not up to the task of photographing the icy predicament. A wall of thick snow looked like a river frozen in time on the side of the mountain and vanished into foggy nothingness to our left…and we couldn’t even see two metres to our right, but it looked a bit clearer up ahead, so we trekked on.

Dove Lake, I think...hard to tell with all the fog.
Dove Lake, I think…hard to tell with all the fog.
Optimistic smiling selfie...a few minutes before we realised we were in a blizzard.
Optimistic smiling selfie…a few minutes before we realised we were in a blizzard. Our last photo on the track.

The snow covered most of the top of the mountain plateau, the fog seemed to disperse to the sides of the track so we could still see the track ahead, we figured it looked better and we continued. The wind picked up and was blowing us like rag dolls all over the track. From a distance I imagine we must have looked like two drunk hooded puppets on a tequila bender going for a mindless wander through the snow. I have only ever experienced snow once, and it was magical. It felt like tiny little soft delicate angels floating down onto my skin. That was not what this felt like.

I thought back to the weather report, “light snow in the evening”…light snow my frost bitten A** (and that’s not even a euphemism, I actually did not get feeling back to my behind for a full 24 hours after this ordeal, I was genuinely concerned it might be gone forever, along with my fingers and toes). This was a blizzard. A BLIZZARD. High winds were sending thousands of tiny little ice daggers at high speed into my face. I could not feel a single one of my extremities, and my hands were actually burning from the cold like they were soaking in lava, while being simultaneously numb to the bone. Still, we could see ahead and thought it would all be ok once we get to the hut, the heated hut that the people on the bus told us about.

WRONG!

The snow became thicker, about a metre deep by now and we trekked uphill through it naively, in our hiking boots. Snow boots, for the record, are NOT optional apparel (as per the guidebook) and “Spring”, does not exist on the Overland Track. At least not when we left.

Just as we were about to give up hope, Lara exclaimed “I see the hut!!!” oh thank the lord (despite my atheism), I thought out loud. We picked up the pace a bit and another exclamation from Lara came “I see people!!”. They looked like tiny brightly coloured ants, we were so far away. I took a deep breath, channeled some of Lara’s enthusiasm and pummelled ahead, losing the bottom of my hiking pole somewhere deep beneath the snow.

Finally as we came closer to the hut, I realised this was “Kitchen Hut”, the emergency shelter that rested at the half way point between the beginning of the track, and the huts at Waterfall Valley. My heart sank. There was a group of six or more guys at the hut who had passed us earlier, and the group of girls who had taken our photo, and us theirs, at the start of the track, plus the army camouflage people. The guy group made a cocky remark about how they thought we had turned back and how the huts at Waterfall Valley are full so we would have to camp, before having a smug group giggle and continuing on. How were they not dying of hypothermia like the rest of us??? I have no idea. The group of girls seemed equally as freezing as we were and I was genuinely concerned for one girl who seemed to be shivering uncontrollably in the corner of the hut like she was stuck on one of those hideous vibration machines at the gym. I wasn’t quite at that stage…and yet, they continued. I changed my soaked socks, strapped my pack back on and we left the hut.

As the other hikers quickly disappeared out of view no more than three metres in front of us, we tried to find the path. I saw the tiny tip of one of the markers poking through the top of the snow, and we hiked towards it. Lara got a few metres ahead of me when we realised that the metre high markers were now completely buried in the snow. We had no guide as to where the track went other than the footprints of the other hikers, the wind was getting stronger, the ice daggers sharper and more aggressive in their attack, and we had no idea where we were going. Our view ahead was completely obscured by fog. We could no longer see outside a six metre radius. The look of sheer terror on Lara’s face said it all as the tears exploded, and I’m sure mine expressed the same unspoken pessimistic sentiments “if we stay out here, I am genuinely afraid we might die in this blizzard”. Just as I was about to make the call to turn back, my foot fell through a half a metre of snow and became trapped under the ice. A panicked Lara hobbled over to me as quickly as she could through the snow, and we both risked freezing our hands off to dig my now saturated, frozen, sleeping foot out of the snow. Lara was not the only one on the verge of tears at this point, but my brain screamed at me “Keep it together Tanya, you’re the adult!” Lara helped me up and I thumped my never-heavier foot into the snow in front of me as we headed back across the plateau and down the mountain to safety. Each time Lara shouted questions back to me I tried to reply, but my lips weren’t moving, they were so numb that everything I muttered sounded like I was blowing bubbles under water, I felt like I’d had a stroke. You know that feeling when the dentist numbs your mouth with anaesthetic and you can’t feel half of your face for a few hours? Well my entire face felt like that, for about 24 hours.

As we descended the light grew increasingly scarce and we hiked about an hour or more in the dark (I lost track of time), in the snow,  before reaching the boardwalk at the beginning of the track. They say the walk back is always quicker…this seemed endless. We saw another wombat, and another…not quite as exciting after 5.5 hours in a blizzard. Finally we spied the beginning of the track in the distance, and a light, on the road, coming down the hill. Lara seemed to gather some kind of superhuman energy from some as yet untapped reservoir, and bounded along the end of the track with her pack bouncing up and down in the distance…I dragged myself to the finish line like decrepit roadkill. As the truck with the huge flood lights neared towards us, Lara did what any desperate freezing hiker would do: she stood directly in front of the vehicle on the road, and stared it down fiercely…until it stopped. Like animals in the headlights (quite literally), we stared at the man pointing a flashlight in our faces. Finally my lips moved “we need a lift, there’s a blizzard”…it’s all I could muster, and it wasn’t even coherent, but he got the point and a couple of people got out of the back of the truck and helped us into the the back with our packs. In all fairness, the thought that this may be a truck full of serial killers did cross my mind, and yet I actually just did not care by this point. Better to risk serial killers than hypothermia? My brain may have been frozen. Luckily for us, it was not a truck full of serial killers, but a Peppers Resort Nocturnal Animal tour. I have never been so grateful to see a tour bus (truck, bus, does it even matter at this point?).

The bus took us back to Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge where I’m quite sure we were given a considerable discount on a rather luxurious room overlooking a small lake with a warm fire and beautifully smelling (unlike us) Appelles toiletries. We then had the best dinner I have ever eaten of Pork Belly Roast and Strawberries and Cream for desert, and wine (for me)…a huge glass of wine (my judgment could be clouded, anything would have tasted amazing after that endeavour, but I still maintain it was very decent quality food). While my whiskey drinking days have been about five years behind me, I decided that an improvised “Irish coffee” using the Cradle Mountain Single Malt Whiskey in the mini-bar, was exactly what I needed to get the feeling back into my digits, and my face.

First aid for hypothermia...hot drinks. Best first aid ever!
First aid for hypothermia…hot drinks. Best first aid ever!

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Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge the morning after the blizzard
Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge looking magical the morning after the blizzard

Cradle Mountain Coaches was again at our service to pick us up with a few hours notice the next morning to head back to Lake St Clair Lodge. Given that we hadn’t quite budgeted for the 9 days we expected to be on the track, we decided to cut our losses and reschedule the ferry home for the Friday night, a few days after returning to Lake St Clair. We toured the Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park as much as we could, stopped for a few day hikes to waterfalls, including the largest waterfall in Tasmania, and the glow worm caves of …can’t remember. We had an overnight stay in Tulluh which brings me memories of being given a $6 discount on a two bed room (yes, we looked so hobo that we were given a $6 discount on a room) and we were then ambushed by a Bilby while preparing our dehydrated camp dinners in the back carpark on our fuel stove (I can understand why she thought we needed a $6 discount on the accommodation). The entire trip could have been filmed as some kind of terrifying dark comedy really, and we joked about it pretty much at every chance we got…what else can you do in these situations but laugh at yourself?

Camping outside Sheffield
Camping outside Sheffield, with Lara cooking us a magnificent vegetable soup!

The rest of the trip was fairly non-eventful…although I did build a kick-a** camp fire on our last night camping near Sheffield, which made me feel pretty proud given the amount of times I’ve had exes comment that my fire building skills were not up to standard and take over the job 🙂

My kick-a** campfire :)
My kick-a** campfire 🙂

One might think this would deter me from hiking, but no. I’m already re-planning my trip for January 2016, and have picked up some sage advice from other hikers who actually managed to hike AROUND the blizzard due to their knowledge of the track. This time I will be joining a bigger group, with some more experienced Overland Trackers.

Until then, I will stick to local hikes…

Exposure Award Finalist – Alice: Portrait of an Inspiring Young Woman – to be exhibited in The Louvre, Paris

Alice

I took this portrait of my beautiful friend, muse & model, Alice, as part of a project to explore my own identity through photographing the women who have inspired who I am in my approach to life and art.

This year I decided to enter “Alice” into the Exposure Award, this year held in the beautiful city of Paris! Much to my surprise, “Alice” has been selected as a finalist in the competition, and will be exhibited in a digital display at The Louvre in July 2015.

While it is up to the judges as to whether or not I win the Exposure Award, it is up to the everyday people to vote for and comment on the Vox Populi (people’s choice) Award.

So, if you think “Alice” deserves a chance at the People’s Choice award, then please visit my voting page and don’t forget to vote AND comment:

https://tanyaduckworth.see.me/exposure2015

Thank you for all of your wonderful support!

xo

Here it is: The Gluten-free Lactose-free Pumpkin Basil Gnocchi Gorgonzola Recipe

Pumpkin Basil Gnocchi Gorgonzola
Pumpkin Basil Gnocchi Gorgonzola

So after a few requests for my Gluten-free Lactose-free Pumpkin Basil Gnocchi Gorgonzola Recipe, I figured it would be easier to just make a blog post, and direct everyone here to view it 😉

A few notes on my recipes:

1) I don’t follow recipes, I’m more of an intuitive/experimental cook, I go with the “feel” of it…not really very scientific to be honest, as I rarely write down my methods (except for my famous tuna dip, that took 6 months to come up with the right balance of ingredients and methods…but that recipe, is top secret). So, if you’re making this and it doesn’t seem to be the right texture/consistency as I describe here, just add and subtract ingredients until you get the right texture. I’ve tried my best to remember approx. measurements for the ingredients.

2) Everything I cook is always gluten-free dairy-free, because I am coeliac and lactose intolerant, not because I like to follow-trends and be the cool gluten-free hipster (or annoying, to all of us actual gluten-free people). I respectfully disagree with the commonly held (and scientifically unsupported) notion in health and nutrition communities that gluten-free food is “healthier” for you…it’s really not, unless you have a reaction to it. If you’re going gluten free for the health benefits, it is really not going to benefit your health unless you are either Coeliac or Non-Coeliac gluten intolerant. There really is no other good reason to give up naturally occurring gluten containing grains including wheat, rye, barley, oats (yes oats do by definition contain gluten, they contain avenin which is a gluten-protein, it is just that oats have a slightly different structure to the usual gluten proteins, which means that most coeliac’s or gluten intolerant people, can still tolerate oats, but 1 in 5 of us, cannot…I happen to be that one in five, so I don’t eat oats either). The majority of people can tolerate grains, and in fact, grains are an insoluble fibre (carbohydrate), essential to assisting in protein digestion, particularly meat proteins. Including them regularly in a balanced diet, has been shown to reduce incidences of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, intestinal inflammation (unless you’re coeliac), constipation and colon cancer.

So basically, if you aren’t coeliac/gluten intolerant or lactose intolerant, please substitute my gluten free ingredients for regular flour etc, and my lactose free ingredients for regular milk/cream/cheese etc, and leave out the lactase enzyme in the sauce – and feel absolutely zero guilt, there is no scientifically valid reason for feeling guilty for eating gluten or lactose-containing products 😉 (subsequently, if you do feel any guilt for eating specific types of foods, you may actually be showing symptoms of an eating disorder, and you can contact The Butterfly Foundation telephone support line on 1800 33 4673 Monday–Friday 8am to 9pm AEST or find further information about eating disorders here).


THE RECIPE

Ingredients

Gnocchi

  • 1x small-medium Butternut Pumpkin/Butternut Squash (depends how much you want to make, but this usually makes enough for about 8 servings – you can freeze what you don’t use for later)
  • Nuttelex – dairy free spread (or butter/margarine)
  • Maple syrup
  • Maldon Salt
  • Cracked Black Pepper
  • Approx. 1 cup of finely chopped Fresh Basil
  • 2x medium sized eggs lightly beaten
  • 2x cups of plain (all-purpose) gluten-free flour (I either use White-wings or Greens for gluten-free. Just substitute with normal plain flour if you don’t need gluten-free)
  • 1x cup of self-raising (self-rising) gluten-free flour

Gorgonzola Sauce

  • A good quality soft gorgonzola cheese (if I don’t have gorgonzola I will just use any other soft or semi-soft blue cheese. Blue stilton makes a nice blue cheese sauce as well)
  • Good quality parmesan cheese (buy the block and grate it yourself, none of this “Kraft” parmesan rubbish, it will ruin the flavour of your sauce)
  • 1x Zymil lactose-free cream – (or normal thickened cream)
  • 2 cups of Zymil full-cream lactose-free milk (or normal full-cream milk)
  • Maldon salt (to taste)
  • Cracked pepper – I usually use a four pepper mix of black, white, green and pink peppercorns for the sauce, it’s a bit sweeter and less intense than pure black pepper
  • 2 tbsp of Nuttelex – dairy free spread (or butter/margarine)
  • 2 tbsp of plain gluten-free flour (I either use White-wings or Greens for gluten-free. Just substitute with normal plain flour if you don’t need gluten-free)
  • Special ingredient: Approx. 1/3 cup (or a couple of splashes from the bottle) of Champagne, or a dry sparkling white wine

Method

Gnocchi

  • Cut the pumpkin into squares, (gutting out the seeds etc) and scatter them into a baking tray with skins on
  • Get a butter knife and put a blob of Nuttelex/butter on each piece of pumpkin, spreading it around to cover most of the pumpkin
  • Grab a palm full of Maldon salt (approx. the size of a 50 cent coin or a half dollar coin in the US), then using your other hand pinch the salt then sprinkle it over the Nuttelex/butter covered pumpkin and keep sprinkling it over the top until it looks like it’s enough (sorry for being vague, everyone has different tastes when it comes to what the “right” amount of salt is, so just use your judgement)
  • Crack some black pepper over the top of the pumpkin
  • Drizzle with maple syrup (again, a little or a lot, it’s up to you…I just put a light drizzle, as I don’t want it to taste like candy, I just want a gentle sweetness)
  • Place baking tray in oven at 180 degrees Celcius (350 F) for about 30-45 minutes (keep an eye on it. The pumpkin should be very soft and mushy when you poke it with a fork)
  • While the pumpkin is baking in the oven, make the gorgonzola sauce (scroll down for method)
  • When fully baked, allow to cool and then remove the pumpkin skins, place the pumpkin in a large mixing bowl and mash (you can mash it with a fork, potato masher or I usually use a whisk
  • Mix in your pre-whisked eggs using your whisk, until fully combined
  • Add the cup of freshly chopped basil and combine
  • Add cracked black pepper (usually just a couple of grinds otherwise it can be too overpowering) and combine

Now it’s time to get messy. Add the flour one cup at a time, first add a cup of plain flour, then the self-raising and stir the first couple of cups in using a wooden spoon. Once the mix starts to thicken too much to combine with a spoon, get a chopping/kneading board, put some of the plain flour on the board, then turn the dough out onto the board and start kneading the dough while adding the rest of the flour bit by bit once the dough becomes sticky again (see Fig 1.0).

Fig 1.0
Fig 1.0

Once the dough is soft, but not sticky (don’t let it get tough, if your dough is tough you will have rubbery gnocchi, that is why you add the flour bit by bit in the last part, so you can monitor the texture and consistency…if you don’t need all the flour, don’t use it all). Next, place a medium sized sauce pan on the stove-top and put it on high-heat to boil the water.

Once it is this soft doughy consistency, break off handfuls, and roll it into approx. 1cm thick logs, then get a smooth edged knife and cut into small 1cm thick slices on an angle to form little bite sized gnocchi pieces (see figure 1.1)

Fig 1.2
Fig 1.1

Once you think you have enough gnocchi to serve as many people as you need it for (tip: one cup of gnocchi goes a long way, and is usually enough to make one person very full, it is deceptively filling), place the prepared gnocchi pieces into the boiling water (all at once) and stand-by with a straining spoon to scoop the cooked gnocchi out of the water and into your serving bowls as they float to the top. You don’t want to leave them in there once they have floated to the top, or they will overcook and become rubbery. You can roll the left over gnocchi into logs, cover in plastic wrap and freeze for chopping up at a later date.

Sauce 

Tip for lactose-free: depending on how intolerant you are, you can skip this step if you like. For some people using lactose-free cream and milk will be enough to counter the lactose in the cheeses used. However, I still react, so I usually take extra precautions to avoid a tummy ache by adding a chemist bought liquid lactase enzyme (I use Lacteeze Drops) to the sauce (that I have pre-prepared the day before). Once the sauce has cooled, I usually add 10 drops of Lacteeze at least 24 hours before I plan to eat it. 24 hours is usually an adequate time period for the lactase enzyme to completely break down any remaining lactose in the sauce, and to ensure that it is pretty much as lactose free as you are going to get for this particular meal.

  • Place the cream into a medium sized saucepan, add flour and whisk (use an actual whisk if you want smooth sauce with no lumps) until it forms a smooth paste
  • Add milk gradually, stirring until combined with no lumps
  • Place on a moderate heat stove top, stirring continually with the whisk at all times
  • Add Nuttelex/butter, and continue stirring the whole time
  • Add a couple of pinches of salt (or more…just add it to your taste)
  • Crumble in the gorgonzola cheese, I would usually use about a cup of crumbled gorgonzola, but you can use more or less if you like…just keep stirring it and tasting it as you go
  • Grate about a 1/4 cup of parmesan and add that to the sauce while stirring
  • Turn the heat up to high and continue stirring the whole time
  • Add pepper to taste – continue stirring
  • Once the sauce is thick and creamy, not too thick but not runny (it should be velvety smooth see Fig 1.2), spoon it over the gnocchi in the bowls. It should melt off your spoon if you take a spoon full and drizzle it back into the pot
Fig 1.2
Fig 1.2

Serving your Gnocchi!

Place the cooked gnocchi in each bowl in even portions, then spoon the sauce over the top (depending on how much sauce you want). Garnish with a pinch of Maldon Salt Flakes crushed in your fingers and sprinkled on top, and a couple of grinds of pepper (I use the four pepper-corn blend for this), and if you like, a few sprigs of fresh basil. Serve with a dry white or sparkling white wine. My favourite wines to pair with this are:

$$$$$ Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, Moët & Chandon Imperial or Bollinger Special Cuvee NV (I am sure there are many more wines that could go in this price range…but I have yet to taste them due to my budget).

$$$$   2012 Brokenwood IV-BC76 Chardonnay

$$$     Chandon Vintage Brut 2011, Brokenwood 2014 Maxwell Vineyard ChardonnayPetaluma     Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay 2013

$$       Chandon Brut or Oyster Bay Chardonnay (NZ)

$         Villa Maria Private Bin, East Coast Chardonnay (NZ)

Bon apetite! 

Gluten-free Lactose-free Pumpkin Basil Gnocchi Gorgonzola
Gluten-free Lactose-free Pumpkin Basil Gnocchi Gorgonzola

Mindful in May – my journey into stillness (but mostly frustration)

I had this big long explanation (*cough-excuse-cough-cough*) all ready to go about why it has taken me so long to post this particular blog article. Long story short, I am a perfectionist and a chronic procrastinator. I would sit down to finish it, and because I was still not quite sure where I was going with it, I would inevitably wind up fluffing around on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, clean the house…clean the bits of the house that I meant to clean last spring but found something more interesting to do…sort through old magazines, read old magazine articles (funnily enough I stumbled upon a useful one about decluttering and procrastination!)…   …   …You get the picture, basically any form of mindless task that could keep me busy while avoiding the task at hand. So today I have eliminated distractions (as best one can when one lives in an inner city apartment), sat myself down with a coffee, headphones plugged in, laptop fully charged, Yoga done, and committed to a deadline…blog must be published by 3pm! GO!

So, a long time ago in a month called May, I embarked on a challenge called Mindful in May! (That was not meant to be a cheesy rhyme, it just came out that way). So Mindful in May or MIM is a month long meditation challenge, designed to help participants become more present, centred, focused, calm, less stressed, and also, to recruit sponsors and raise funds for Charity Water, to provide clean water to developing countries. The sponsors and fundraising part, I managed to achieve, and for those sponsors I am truly grateful as you helped me raise enough funds to provide 10 people with clean water for life! So I would like to say a special thanks to Mum & Dad, Katie Taylor, Rhonda Lawrence, Alison Crofton, Bianca Leef, Ann McIntyre, Alison Nash and Christelle Molle, for their contributions 🙂

Back to MIM:

The practice of mindfulness has been shown to be effective in assisting the treatment of anxiety disorders including stress and mild anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), as well as depression, and assisting with other forms of mental illness such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Developed initially from meditation principles derived from Buddhism and Hindu Yoga practices, mindfulness is a form of personal awareness meditation, that helps us to reconnect with ourselves, our mind and the sensations of our bodies, while screening out the irrelevant distractions of everyday life.

So this is a little bit of insight into my experience with practicing these techniques during Mindful in May.

While I would love to say that this process enlightened me, de-stressed me completely and I experienced some kind of mega-spiritual uprising from within…unfortunately, I found it frustrating as hell, and it made my perfectionist-self feel like something of a pathetic loser of mammoth proportions. Meditation, is no walk in the park for the faint hearted, motivationally challenged, or the easily distracted (moi)!

I started off on day one with all intentions of being a “good little meditator”. I felt refreshed, calm, relaxed and inspired after my first Mindful in May meditation, yet this was not to last. In fact, after day two, I found myself more aware of all the little things I “should be doing”, and it was hard to kick the feeling of anxiety rising up inside me at how much time I was wasting by sitting here doing nothing and just “being”. Enter the 2 minute “catch your breath” meditation, my little-bit-of-a-life-saver throughout the month of May. It kept me going on the days when I wanted to quit altogether because that annoying point of logic in my head, called my brain, kept trying to derail me by constantly reminding me that I had “more important things to do, you can do this later…the laundry is trickling down the hallway, you have to get to your second job you don’t HAVE 10 mins to clear your mind, you have work and support group emails that need replying to, and some text messages that people are going to get annoyed about if you don’t reply soon…this painting is due in 2 days! We’ve run out of bananas, how am I going to make a banana smoothie?” it just didn’t end.

So after trying desperately to focus my mind for the first week, I decided, that perhaps it wasn’t the meditation specifically or my inability to focus that was the problem (I may have been slightly deluding myself there), and that it might have more to do with the meditation recordings for the Mindful in May program. This was not a cop-out. The first week of meditation consisted almost entirely of the exact same “Body Scan” recording every single day, apart from the mini 2 minute “catch your breath” meditation mentioned above. I don’t have the greatest attention span on the best of days, so to have to listen to the same 10 minutes of relaxing my “feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs…” etc etc every day for a week, I started thinking to myself “what exactly have I signed up for?” To be honest, I expected a little bit more from the program. This program was clearly for absolute beginners, and yet also for those who already had extremely good concentration, and tolerance to boredom. Nevertheless, I had to continue. It was for a good cause, and I already had a sponsor by this point, so I could not let them down!

I persevered!

As I was not unfamiliar with the concept of meditation, (I have been a daily yoga practitioner for over a decade, which always culminates in a short meditation), this particular practice began to lose my attention fairly quickly. By the time I got to week two, I had already downloaded some apps on my phone with alternative meditations to ease my boredom and keep on track.

I started off week two with the “Mindfulness of Breath and Sounds”, which was OK for a couple of days, but again, an entire week of it was just way too much, and to be honest, the meditation was not all that different from the first week, so did not inspire a lot of confidence for weeks 3 and 4 of the program. I decided to simply extend my yoga practice with a 10 minute meditation at the end of each session in Supta Baddha Konasana, AKA Reclining Bound Angle Pose, while listening to a guided relaxation meditation using my “Simply Being” iPhone app, or my “Take a Break” app from Meditation Oasis . I found these apps to have a much better calming effect, subsequently helping me to focus more easily on my relaxation, and bring my mind back to the feelings of my body and breath. I still continued with the 2 minute meditation from the MIM program when I was in a rush, or at work and just needed to re-centre myself for a couple of minutes…it is a really great little meditation.

By week 3 I decided to take another look at the program and see if there was anything new to the recordings. On day 22 I listened to the “Mindfulness of thoughts” meditation. Again, the meditation recording started exactly the same as all the other recordings, so I listened to the first one and then switched to my iPhone apps for the rest of the week. Again, the loving-kindness meditation of week 4 started the same way, and then changed into some self-reassuring mantras which were quite lovely, yet still there was something lacking in the recordings that I just couldn’t put my finger on. After completing the program, and reflecting, I realised what this was. They seemed very clinical, rather than natural and calming.

As I knew a bit about the spiritual aspects of Mindfulness, through my yoga training, I decided it was time to explore the evidence-based therapy technique. Normally this is the first place I would start, however, Yoga is one of my pre-science education pleasures, so this time I started on the “spiritual” side of the fence. I recognise that this may be why I had such an aversion to the clinical, repetitive recordings (one of the benefits of practicing Mindfulness is developing insight into one’s own reactions to things…maybe I got more out of my month than I’m giving it credit for)?
I’m more used to a creative, free-flowing, semi-structured yet with room to drift, type of meditation…this “step into my virtual office and I’ll check the boxes on my Mindfulness worksheet” approach just wasn’t cutting it.

My initial Google search of “Mindfulness” did not inspire confidence in this practice as a therapy.

Mindfulness, is the new buzz word in mental health, and while the Black Dog Institute describes it as:
…not simply a relaxation technique or ‘power of positive thinking’. The technique is based on Buddhist meditation principles but was described by Teasdale and Beck for use in treatment of depression and then used by Linehan as a core skill in her cognitive behavioural therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder. Linehan (1993) describes three “what” skills: observing (simply attending to events and emotions), describing (applying labels to behaviours, emotions and situations) and participating (entering into current activities) and three “how” skills: taking a ‘no judgemental’ stance, focusing on one thing in the moment and being effective (doing what is needed rather than worrying about what is right or second guessing the situation).

My feelings, after completing Mindful in May, are that the Western Therapeutic take on the technique, seems to have sucked the soul out of the practice, which is at it’s core, meant to be a spiritual journey into self awareness and acceptance. I’m not entirely sure that the spirituality of the practice can be removed, and replaced with a clinical distancing, without indeed removing the very thing that makes Mindfulness an effective therapy in the first place. Connecting with the soul, the inner-self, or from a psychoanalytic perspective, balancing the needs of the id with the requirements of the ego and super-ego.

I have noticed Mindfulness training institutes popping up all over the place, in much the same way as the phenomenon of “Life Coaching”. While I don’t disagree with the use of Mindfulness in therapy, or the practice of Life Coaching for that matter, I do feel that the capitalisation of such beneficial therapeutic techniques by large corporations with the sole intent of making huge profits, has largely contributed to the watering down of these practices into nothing more than a pyramid scheme. It was this type of pre-fabricated, mass-produced detachment that I felt in the recordings for Mindful in May. If this is the style of teaching that is happening with therapists practicing Mindfulness, then I feel that contemporary psychology is dramatically missing the mark. It seems to have taken the “human” out of human behaviour, and is instead focusing solely on changing the “behaviour” while forgetting about treating the “human” behind the behaviour. A human with complex feelings, emotions and a capacity for a mind-body-self connection that is being sadly neglected in contemporary Psychological Mindfulness Therapies.

Essentially I feel that the effectiveness of Mindfulness therapy, as with any therapy, lies in the ability of the therapist to empathise with the patient or client. However, I also feel that Mindfulness therapy itself, should be taught to therapists in the context of it’s history and spiritual basis for centering, rather than as a clinical, detached, step-by-step box checking process, because the heart and empathy within Mindfulness rests in it’s ability to treat the whole person, not just the brain, or the behaviour, but to reconnect the person with their inner-self, otherwise known on spiritual terms as their “soul”.

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#yesallwomen …because, it’s still an issue

After this article appeared in my Facebook newsfeed for a second time this week, I decided I had to write a short piece about my experience with this type of open and blatant public sexual assault. After reading the comments under the post shared by “Daily Life“, I realised how ridiculously common this is…which only makes it more disturbing don’t you think? I mean, why is it, that something so common, and disgraceful (on the part of the perpetrator), is so hush hush that every woman, and girl, who has experienced it thought that it was just some weird freak thing that only happened to them? Something to be too embarrassed to share with others…it’s almost as if we feel if we told others, it would somehow become our fault or that we would be told we were overreacting or imagining it? O_o (I wonder where we got this idea from? I’m looking at you #rapeculture).

It seems that this type of public sexual assault incident  is not as uncommon as you would think. I remember my first “wanker” on the train from Sydney to Gosford…I was 17, I was frozen, he was creepy and I ended up moving carriages. The second “wanker” on the train a year or so later, did not get off so easy (no pun intended)…I pulled a pair of scissors from my bag (I was on my way home from a photography class, hence the scissors) and yelled loudly and aggressively in the crowded carriage (yes, these guys love a good crowd, until you embarrass them in front of it) “you vile disgusting perverted *obscenity* get the *obscenity* off this train before you lose your *obscenity* *obscenity*”… the stench of tangy sweat and alcohol wafted past me as he hobbled away zipping up his pants as the carriage looked on in shock and confusion (yes, the link between sexual assault and alcohol is widely published, yet usually in relation to how the victim gets themselves in trouble by drinking too much, sadly the info on rapists drinking too much and raping people gets lost in #rapeculture, sorry I mean “translation”).

And would you believe it? It happened a 3rd time…3rd time wanker was tossed off the train at my station by the train guard. Great work train guards, way to put me at risk of further sexual assault. I could go on further and further about the amount of unwanted and unwelcome sexual harassment and assault I have experienced before then, from the creepy nighttime whispers in my ear of the boyfriend of a lady I babysat for in high school, and since then, to my ex-boyfriend’s colleague who blatantly went in for the goal at a Bondi Beach music festival and wanted to join the police force a few months later (lucky for us ladies, he didn’t pass the psych testing, touché), to the numerous night club gropings, but the point is, this is not an isolated and uncommon incident. Sexual assault has become normalised in our culture, to the point where even women are confused about whether or not they have or haven’t been sexually assaulted. Rape culture, is achieving it’s goal. The fact that people can spout rape jokes (women and men) at the dinner table in front of their parents and peers and not get a firm disinheritance, cold shoulder, or at the very least a reprimand, is baffling to me…yet this is the culture we live in. And we sit there and we laugh along, or we pretend we didn’t hear them, because it’s impolite of us to call people out on their disgraceful behaviour and we may be judged harshly by our peers and families. I am for one sick of tolerating this type of behaviour, yet I sometimes have this involuntary giggly reaction to uncomfortable rape jokes, I hate my reaction to it, and I kick myself mentally for weeks afterward for not having thrown a plate of hot spaghetti in the face of the joker…I have decided to remedy that with Kung Fu classes, so that my involuntary reaction to rape jokes is more appropriate to the situation.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am, because I have to be, because if you’re not outraged by this kind of disgraceful behaviour, then the problem is with you, not me. The problem is not with any of the women who have experienced this kind of behaviour and questioned their own astounding involuntary reaction to it…the reaction that has been ingrained into us by a society that wants to silence our voices, because each time we speak the truth, a little bit of rape culture crumbles, and for the people this culture benefits, that must be a terrifying truth to face.

Why is it important to keep this movement going? Because – Feminism is a dirty word and people still think we don’t need it: equal respect and zero tolerance for sexual harassment and assault. We don’t need it at all…*insert sarcasm font*. #yesallwomen

RU OK? I wasn’t…

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TRIGGER WARNING.
I feel like I’m laying on a glacier. The ground beneath me is cold and hard and my eyes can’t stay open. I open my drowsy eyes to an all enveloping darkness. No cracks of light, like I have woken to a universal void. Am I still sleeping? Are my eyes still closed? I blink to check. I am awake. My hand touches the floor, then moves to the throbbing gash on my forehead before I push myself up off the cold and unnaturally smooth ground. I am naked. I try to orient myself, but there is no up or down…where is left or right? I feel my heart start beating faster as I start to realise I am awake, and this is reality. My breath gets heavier as I step into the void, searching for a crack in a door or window to colour the blackness. As my hands move swiftly across the walls, my hopes of finding an escape seem to grow more and more distant. Panic sets in, it’s happening again. My movements become quicker, more desperate and I start using my nails to dig at the walls, clawing my way across and up and down the rough concrete. I feel like there are hands clasping my oesophagus and I hear foreign sounds coming from the back of my throat, like an injured animal caught in a trap. My fingers are stinging. I find my way to what seems to be a metal pole across the ceiling and start banging on it to make noise, finally I find my voice, and I start screaming for help, please someone come and find me. I bang the concrete until my hands hurt and pull at the metal bar. I have lost my voice. Suddenly there is cold water raining down on me, I slip, and grab onto some slippery plastic that breaks my fall and I bang my head again. I am trapped, and exhausted. There is no escape. I sit sobbing, wrapped in a plastic sheet, in my concrete cell, devoid of all light, with icy water running over my freezing, naked body, and I wait…

5 years ago, I was not OK. I was diagnosed with PTSD. My first symptoms arose swiftly and unexpectedly while watching a documentary on Thai boxing, my heart started beating as though I had run a marathon, I couldn’t catch my breath, I huddled in the corner of my boyfriends bedroom, rocking myself to feel comforted and safe. My boyfriend entered the room and asked what was wrong, but I couldn’t explain it…so instead of just sitting with me and comforting, he threw his arms in the air and said frustratedly “well what? Get it together, I can’t deal with this” and went upstairs to an easier, more comfortable environment. I eventually pulled myself off the floor and into bed…and depression for months to follow.

The triggers kept coming, and my big wake-up call was a trip to Bali, where after a night of drinking, I had a flashback so vivid and realistic, that I demolished a hotel bathroom trying to escape a concrete cell that I believed I had been put in by my captors, my traffickers. I was found huddled in the bathtub wrapped in a shower curtain, when hotel staff broke into our room to see what the commotion was. I had just experienced a psychotic episode, not uncommon for people who suffer from PTSD. In that moment, and with the alcohol in my system, and the giant flashing trigger of being in an environment very similar to the place where my trauma began, I truly believed that I had been kidnapped again…and this time, I was not escaping.

The hotel staff were lovely, they assumed I had been drugged and we went along with it, so that we wouldn’t have to pay the damages for the bathroom I had just destroyed. We felt bad, but we just couldn’t afford it, it had taken 2 years just to save for this small holiday with all the debts I still had looming from my last disaster trip from hell…6 years earlier (travel insurance isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, for the record). Who knows maybe I was drugged? But I don’t think so. Not like the last time. This time, it was all in my head, because that is where Post Traumatic Stress Disorder lives. PTSD feeds off the little similarities, the tiny nuances in our environment, that trigger the memory and emotional centres of our brain, the amygdala and hippocampus, to start reliving traumatic memories as if they are happening all over again. Sometimes, they don’t release the memories, just the physical symptoms, the adrenalin, the racing heart, the feeling of anxiousness first thing in the morning when you have nothing to be worried about, the feeling of leaving your body and not being present in your own life…the waking up and wishing you hadn’t, because you just don’t want to be here, in this horrible world where people do horrible things to each other…anymore.

The 3rd and final red flag, came about in a phone counselling class, where a mock crisis scenario involving a student who had been raped, caused me to leave my body and view my life from outside of my body…a classic dissociative experience. I realised this wasn’t the first time I had felt this way. I had left my body several times since my nightmare trip to Thailand that never ended, in 2003. Whenever something about kidnapping or sexual assault had come on the news, or each time I heard a rape joke in passing, or whenever someone made a sexist or female derogatory comment, or when I saw or heard something that objectified women…turning them into objects, not humans, that can be manipulated, drugged, kidnapped and potentially sold…as an object. I feel my heart beating now, as I write this, I feel a sandy grip around my wrist, I can smell J’adore in the air around me, but it isn’t there, it is an olfactory hallucination produced by my brain, telling me to panic, and run…and instead, I shake it off…and I breathe.

I breathe.

When PTSD reared it’s ugly masochistic head in 2009, I had little to no support from those people around me, who were meant to be my close friends, and my partner in life. I was lucky enough however, to have Lin & Megs, who encouraged me to see a psychologist and if it weren’t for their encouragement I would have continued having these horrible reactions to triggers, with no idea what was going on, or how to cope. These people saved my life.

For the next 6 months I underwent counselling, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Exposure Therapy and Journal Therapy…at one point, in the begining, I was so depressed that my psychologist threatened to have me sectioned. I decided right then, that I was not going to live like this anymore…and that I wanted to live a long and happy life, and I wanted to travel again one day. Most of all, I wanted to travel back to the same place, to Thailand, and stop this from happening to anyone else. I also decided to change psychologists, to someone a little more sensitive to my condition. It took seeing three different psychologists before I found one that I really clicked with, and it was worth perservering. I had been prescribed anti-depressants earlier, without any referral for therapy, and they had only made me more confused…not depressed…I just felt empty, with a strange sense of happiness and impulsivity, which was a very odd feeling to me, and I feel this is what contributed to my anxiety about the PTSD, I wasn’t dealing with the issues, just masking the symptoms.

I did fortnightly therapy for 6 months, I read newspaper articles about the things that terrified me, I stopped leaving the room when there was a rape on the news, I started wearing J’Adore again, and while I still get pounding hearts, and flashes of anger at injustice in the world, particularly to women, I cope. I breathe. I fight back or I shut it down, before it escalates into a full-blown break-down. Occasionally I still have triggers that are just too much, persistent people who like to antagonise and push people’s buttons when they see a reaction…I try to avoid those people like the plague, sometimes you can’t avoid them though, so I need to cope, and breathe. Lots of breathing…and yoga has been my saviour. It encompasses a deep connection to body and mind, that unites me back to myself, calms me completely, both physically and mentally, and just generally helps everything seem more manageable 🙂

My therapy did not stop after 6 months though, I use it everyday, and not just for PTSD, but to deal with any difficult time in my life. I don’t believe that anyone can be cured of PTSD, yet we can learn to cope with it, using the skills learnt in therapy. I still see a psychologist twice a year, or just when I feel like I’m forgetting something I’ve learnt or if something comes up that I’m not sure I have the skills to cope with…and just to let her know how I’m going.

PTSD brought up new memories for me of an experience I thought I had forgotten about, those memories had been hiding inside my brain, waiting for a trigger to bring them to the surface. I believe that this is a protective mechanism, I do not believe I would have coped as well, or even sought help, if these flashbacks had started sooner. It’s not the same for everyone, but when those symptoms start, it’s your brains way of saying “you’ve reached your coping capacity, you need some help to get you through the next part of your journey”.

I will eventually share the full story of what happened in Northern Thailand…that is a story for another day.

I share this story today, because today is RUOK? day and 5 years ago, I wasn’t OK, but today I am, because I had some good friends who asked if I was ok, and I got help with something that I was not equipped to deal with on my own. There is no shame in mental illness, it is only a shame to see someone losing their happiness because they feel like they can’t talk to anyone about it.

If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or any other condition that might need psychological or medical help, please take a look at some of these resources:

https://www.ruok.org.au

http://www.beyondblue.org.au

http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au

You can also see my post of free or low cost psychological services here:

https://thescienceofhippyness.com/2014/07/01/low-cost-psychological-resources/

Me and these amazing kids in Northern Thailand 2003
Me and these amazing kids in Northern Thailand 2003 the day before my friend and I were kidnapped…I escaped soon after, she did not until the next day, I live with that guilt everyday

 

Low cost psychological resources

I just posted this in my Au Pair Support Groups, but I feel this information is useful to many people, so I thought I would share it here also.

Hi Au Pairs,

I have had some au pairs asking about free mental health services.
Here is a list of mental health resources in Australia, where you can get free phone or internet therapy, or minimal cost private therapy.

Generally speaking, most Universities in Australia have a public Psychology clinic, where FREE or dramatically reduced rate therapy sessions are conducted by Provisionally Registered Psychologists (post-graduate psychology students, who have already completed 4 years of undergraduate training to register with the Australian Psychology Board, and need to complete another 2-4 years of clinical and research training, depending on their specialisation). Sessions range from FREE to $20-60 per session. Some clinics base the fee on your income, others it is a flat-rate.

Please note this is not a comprehensive list. If you do a google search for “University Psychology Clinic” including the main city you live in or near, or any local universities you know of, then you will probably find one at your local university. I know there are clinics in Canberra at universities there also. There are many many more free or low cost psychological services available to people on low incomes and you do not need to be an Australian citizen or covered by medicare to use most of the university clinics.

Online help for anxiety and depression:
https://virtualclinic.org.au/

Emergency counselling hotline:
https://www.lifeline.org.au

Online resources for finding help:
http://www.headspace.org.au/

Online resources and helpline:
http://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Online resources for mental health:
http://www.sane.org/

The University of Sydney Psychology Clinic $20 adult psychology sessions with Provisionally Registered post-graduate psychology students:
http://www.psych.usyd.edu.au/clinic/adult_service/adult_service.shtml

UNSW Psychology Clinic, sessions with Provisionally Registered post-graduate psychology students:
http://clinic.psy.unsw.edu.au/Clinical_Services.htm

Student-intern counselling clinic Pyrmont, have drastically reduced therapy sessions by supervised counselling students:
http://www.jni.edu.au/clinic

Other University run reduced-rate psychology clinics:
Macquarie Univeristy – near Ryde area:
http://www.psy.mq.edu.au/clinic/services.htm

University of Western Sydney – for those out west – this is a FREE service:
http://www.uws.edu.au/ssap/ssap/psychology_clinic

Bond University QLD:
http://bond.edu.au/about-bond/facilities-services/psychology-clinic/clinic-hours/index.htm

University of QLD, Brisbane:
http://www.clinic.psy.uq.edu.au/

University of Adelaide:
http://health.adelaide.edu.au/psychology/clinic/CTAD/

University of Western Australia, Crawley WA, first session $35, all after $30 (they also have a clinic specific to eating disorders):
http://www.psychology.uwa.edu.au/community/clinic

Monash University, Melbourne ($20-60 per session depending on income):
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