Friday, April 10, 2015

Are we bored yet? (And a beastly giveaway...)

It’s that time of the school holidays where tempers start getting frazzled and humans start bouncing off the walls. 

There are never-ending cries of: ‘I’m bored’ and complaints that there is never anything fun to do around here. Ever.

And I’m just talking about the adults.

This is where Maid In Australia comes to the rescue.

I’ve come up with a few tricks to try at home and beyond, and there should be something here for kids of all ages. Yes, even the fussiest.

And if you look carefully, there are a few freebies and giveaways as well.

Tinker with it
Firstly, the movies. There are loads to choose from during the school holidays, but what small child (or inner child) would not be thrilled by the latest instalment of Disney’s much-loved Tinker Bell classic?

“Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast” explores the  ancient myth of a fabled creature whose distant roar sparks the curiosity of Tinker Bell’s good friend Fawn (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin).
Anyone who loves Tinker Bell, will know Fawn is an animal fairy who’s not afraid to break the rules to help an animal in need.
But this animal—massive and strange with glowing green eyes—is not really welcome in Pixie Hollow, and the scout fairies are determined to capture the mysterious beast before it destroys their home.
Fawn, who sees a tender heart beneath his gruff exterior, must convince Tink (voiced by Mae Whitman) and the girls to risk everything to rescue the NeverBeast before time runs out. 

Thanks to the lovely people at Disney we have five family passes to “Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast” to giveaway. (It’s rated G). To enter, leave a comment below, and answer the question: Would you break the rules for a beast in need?
Oh and you can watch the trailer here:

Face up to it
This next one is just for Queenslanders aged 12-25 years, aged 12 to 25 years. To celebrate National Youth Week, any Queenslander in that age group with a story to share about volunteering can score a sweet phone case with their face on it.
Fill in the form, hit "share my story" and the peeps at National Youth Week will send you your phone case and share your story in their Volunteer Gallery.  You might even see yourself on the National Youth Week home page or on their social media accounts!
If you are aged under 18 years, get your parent or guardian's permission to enter.
Thinking about volunteering? Visit the Volunteering Queensland website for more information and to search for opportunities.

Game on

My kids are gamers, and if yours are too, great news: The Pokémon Video Game Championship Series is back!

That means the search for Australia and New Zealand's best Pokémon Trainers is on!
If you enjoy Pokémon Video Games and want to meet other Pokémon fans, then come along and join in the fun at one of the events taking place in Australia and New Zealand.
In previous years in Australia and New Zealand, players competed at regional championship events and top finishers were awarded travel awards to the national competition, where they could compete for qualification and travel awards to the world championships. (I know: Who knew there were world championships in these things?)

In the 2015 season, players will be able to compete in more events than ever as the series expands with the introduction of Premier Challenge Tournaments and championship points that build toward coveted world championships invitations and travel awards to the Pokémon Video Game World Championships held in Boston, in August! All expenses paid.
That's right parents, your child's obsession with all things Pokemon could pay off.
Games days are being held around Australia and New Zealand, starting in Brisbane on Saturday, April 11. Yep, this weekend. 
All the details are here! Entry is free, but terms and conditions apply, and kids under the age of 15 need a parents' consent and an adult to accompany them on the day.
All the games day are really kid and teen-friendly, and there are helpers if kids get lost or overwhelmed – and plenty of prizes throughout the event.  All competitors get a special lanyard and card just for being there. 

Go For Broke
Lastly, don't forget to check out your community for local festivals and events, like A Little Bit Of Italy In Broke. (Don't forget I have a giveaway running for a $120 hamper of giveaways if you can't get to Broke in the Hunter Valley for that one!).

Or Bollywood Baby

Close to home, in Kingaroy, Queensland, an Indian couple are putting on the region's first Bollywood evening.
The innovative pair, who took over the town's Singh's Royal Cuisine restaurant seven months ago, decided to give the South Burnett region a taste of Bollywood on Sunday, April 12. Restaurant co-manager Sandy says, there will be traditional Indian street or stall food on offer, as well as the usual menu. 
Bollywood movies, with English subtitles, will be screened during the evening. A traditional Indian beauty therapist, Meena, will be travelling from Brisbane for the evening to attend to the beauty needs of women of the South Burnett.
Eyebrow and facial threading will be on offer, as well as creative henna designs, at a small additional charge.
How about that? A taste of Bollywood in the South Burnett.

Enjoy your holidays - and watch this space for more ideas and more giveaways. And if you like Tinker Bell - or Beasts - don't forget to enter the Disney competition.

Entries close at 5 pm AEST on April 16, 2015, and is open to Australian residents only. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A little bit of Italy in Broke

One of the great things about being a travel writer, is being given the opportunity to roam the world tasting and experiencing the best of what the country and the world has to offer.

And I'm a huge fan of festivals and events. It's funny that it's usually the big festivals that get all the attention - cultural, writing, arts, music, food and wine, the lot. And yes, the iconic ones, that involve motorised eskies, cheese rolling, tomato crushing, and cockroach racing are huge hoggers of PR and hype.

But it's usually the lesser known, much-loved local festivals that I enjoy the most. There is ease of attendance - park, walk, or car-pool with friends. Free or cheap entry. And the luxury of finding a seat with friends, at least, early in the day or evening.

Then there is the priceless relaxed ambiance you just don't find in the moshpit  anywhere else. Where you can chat to local growers or producers, knowing you're not holding someone up and they are actually one of the people behind that product. Or pull up a chair next to a local you may not know, but will pretty soon later.

One of my favourite kind of festival is the cultural experience where you to feel like you're in a temporarily in another country,  or even better, a country within a country - for a certain time. 

Take, for example, A Little Bit of Italy in Broke Fordwich, NSW, Australia.

This flavoursome festival in the Broke Fordwich wine region of the Hunter Valley celebrates its 10 year milestone pn April 11 and 12 2015.

That's right, this weekend, the Broke Fordwich Wine Region of the Hunter Valley will become all things Italian, providing rustic ambiance and mouth-watering aromas, all in the one location.

Known as the picturesque and more tranquil side of the Hunter Valley, Broke Fordwich will have an array of gourmet delights and world class wines, on offer to provide the ultimate Italian experience, without the hassle of overseas travel.

The renowned event was initially born in 2005 from an intimate Italian dinner that was hosted at a local home and catered by Italian chef Bruno di Sarno.  That initial dinner was so popular, the next one was even bigger and more delicious. Next thing, there was a full-on festival, which has grown by word of mouth - get it - to attract more than 3,000 people to the region during the weekend.

With wine-tasting, cheese-making (and tasting), olives and oils, and loads of other farm-gate produce on display to taste and talk about, the festival authentically celebrates the traditional Italian lifestyle revolving around food, music, wine, family and community.

Starting at the ‘Passport Office’ on the main street of the historic village of Broke Fordwich, visitors can pick up a passport which will outline all the venues that are participating in the Festival. 
The price of entry is $10, which includes a $10 souvenir tasting glass to be used for a complimentary sample of local wines from each of the region’s top 12 producers. 
As you travel around from venue to venue, get your passport stamped to go in the draw to win over $2,000 worth of wine, food and accommodation.  Plus, to make getting around easier, there will be a shuttle bus available all weekend for only $5 per day.
In love with Italian food? Indulge in nonna’s old-town recipes with live cooking demonstrations happening at several locations across the two days, or enjoy a luscious spread of woodfire pizzas, gelato, olive oils, formaggi, wines and fresh local produce. Gosh, I can taste it from here.
Other highlights during the festival will include live entertainment, market stalls and puppet shows that are fun for the whole family.

President of Broke Fordwich Wine & Tourism Association, Eden Anthony says, “We have had a great time in bringing to our Festival the love for good food, wine, music, fun, warmth and friendship that is always Italian, and so reflective of the general way of life in the Broke Fordwich region.”
Their motto? Che sta per essere un buon weekend! Buon Appetitio!! - It’s going to be a good weekend, have a great meal!
Maid In Australia's Motto? Fancy Italian? Don't mind if we do...

Can't get to A Little Bit Of Italy in Broke Fordwich? Don't cry into your home-made espresso. Thanks to the festival organisers we have a $120 hamper of goodies to give away from Belarna Grove, which are best known for their olives and olive oils. To enter, leave a comment below and share your favourite Italian 'taste' - whether it be food, wine, oil, music, culture or - it's up to you. Entries close 5 pm AEST, April 15, 2015. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bundy, bogans, and a bloody big bear

It might be un-Australian of me, but I've never liked rum.
Growing up in South East Queensland, it made a girl stand out a little.
In fact, when I was a young adult, with dreams in my head and stars in my eyes, I barely touched any demon drink. Which made me a curiosity at country parties, but always popular when it was time to drive home.
Like many of my friends at the time - though our parents probably didn't believe us - we were obsessed with making it out of the country and on or in to universities, cities, airports; wherever our yearnings took us. So we were pretty straight really, and rarely played up. At least when it came to doing anything really naughty.
Conversations at unauthorised after school get-togethers focused on the pros on living off or on campus, and whether it would be better to Eurail or share-drive around Europe. Or whether America or Asia would be better instead. And there was always a responsible adult available to car-pool groups home.
I don't remember any of us wagging school to get up to mischief. Quite the opposite, we voluntarily stayed back after school and went in on weekends to to practise theatre, hone debating skills, train at sport, or fine-tune musical skills.
Only one or two people smoked, although a few might have broken into the parental alcohol supply occasionally. To their great shame, that got spread around the district, as all good news does in the country. And that was about the sum of it.
Teenagers, hey?
But that didn't mean that Bundy Rum hasn't been a constant visitor to most get-togethers I've attended in Queensland, whether on the coast, in the cities, or further north. And it's often a requested present to take friends who live overseas.
The debate always rages: Is it Bundy Time yet? (Kind of like the Mummy Blogger's 'Wine O'Clock' call).
Then there are the fine details. Should rum be served neat, or on the rocks? In a cocktail, or with coke or dry? Is diluting alleged perfection with diet mixers a travesty?
In any case, I was cruising through the main streets of Bundaberg recently, searching for the infamous Hungry Jacks, showing a friend the sights. Two minutes later, (sorry, but have you been to Bundy lately?), we pulled into the Bundaberg Rum Distillery.

I mean, it would be rude not to, right?
Besides. my Travelling Companion seemed quite obsessed at the idea of taking a look at where the legend began. Perhaps history is a hobby of his. Or perhaps he was after the rumoured free tastes at the end of the tour.
Arriving at the distillery where the magic begins, we walked straight into an endearing family scene.
"Say Bundy," a couple of Dads shouted. "Bundy Bear," encouraged a Mum.
The kids happily obliged, photos were snapped, and the family ambled off, content.
Ah. Special family memories created, right there.
Inside, the Bundy fervour was even more intense.
An actual life-size model of the Bundy Bear, encased in glass, presumably for his protection, drew camera-toting tourists like bugs to a beer - or rum - at sunset.
"Do something funny. Act like you're grabbing his nuts or something," said one bogan to the other, as one bloke posed for photos and his mate snapped away with abandon. His friend made a bold grabbing action in the general direction of where one might expect a bear's, erm, tackle to be, and went away happy. But not before swapsies of course.
Everyone wanted a photo with the Bear.

In deference to a written requirement that children posing with the Bundy Bear be joined with an adult, a mother happily pushed her toddler into shot.
"Say 'rum'," she trilled, and pulled the toddler close for a cuddle. The toddler smiled, looking a trifle confused. I'm happy to report she probably had no clue who Bundy Bear was and was waiting for the rides to begin, or Micky Mouse to appear.
To be fair, Bundaberg Rum is a fascinating part of Queensland - and the nation's - history, and it is certainly worth a visit. There are tours, at a price of course, but the free display is informative too.  I was particularly impressed by the company's resilience, having survived wars, fire, drought, insolvency, temperance, and more. A true Aussie battler that one.

Even I was keen to try some of the more unusual variety of rums, but the bar was inundated by those who did the tours - and unless we missed something in translation, you had to take a tour, to taste the rum. In any case, we didn't get to ask, so enthusiastic were those crowding the bar and downing their free tastes. So we left without trying a drop of the famous sugarcane juice.
Nearby, visitors can check out where Bundaberg ginger beer and other delicious softies are made.

Nearby, visitors can check out where Bundaberg ginger beer and other delicious softies are made.

We'd already taken a look at the CBD, the Burnett River, quaint old buildings, shopping centre (hey, you can't get Boost Juice in Kingaroy) and the local Hungry Jacks (ditto - and the only place on our Fraser Coast/North Burnett getaway where free internet actually worked).
However, my Travelling Companion had not been overly impressed.
"I'd expected a quaint country town," he began, and no amount of mentions of the Bert Hinkler museum, and beautiful gardens would change his mind.
Perhaps it was the BBQ bogans, who appeared to be cooking nothing, but simply burning stuff, smelly stuff, at a local park; whilst swearing heartily and drinking beer as if they'd not had a drink for weeks.
Perhaps it was the fact that despite being before midday on a Saturday, most of the shops in the CBD were already shut. To my despair, this included one called Bundy Bogan, which I was desperate to explore. And I so wanted a singlet.

My friend was still sulking that that the dignified country town with a winding river and beautiful gardens had come up short. (Though, just quietly, a Boost Juice at the mall, somewhat placated him).=. And Bundaberg is that, Kind of. It's just that - perhaps it wasn't at its best the weekend we visited.
We loved the old homes and businesses though, and the hotel-motels that looked like something out of a time warp.
And I was lucky, that in the recesses of my mind, I remembered family holidays at Mon Repos Beach, Bargara.
It wasn't turtle season - hatching or laying - just then, but I encouraged my friend to humour me by exploring a little more of the region while we were there. After all, Bargara is about a 15-20 minute drive from Bundy. And I remembered it being a little taste of paradise.
It still is.
We did not make it to Mon Repos this time, but Bargara, beautiful Bargara, was even more idyllic than the one I had stored away in my archives.

While cool resorts and holiday homes have sprung up since I was an anklebiter, the charm of Bargara remains the same.

It's still a pretty sleepy seaside town, where, even during the school holidays, we picked up a lovely self-catering apartment for $150 a night, just one block from the beach, cafes and restaurants. (This was one of the options available at Kacy's Bargara Beach Motel, which came recommended by a friend. I would have happily stayed a week.)

There was a wonderful mix of family, couples, and singles holidaying in the area, and all budgets appeared to be catered for.
It's another pristine Queensland coastal region, which is not only beautiful, but has a history worth sharing too.

And the country charm isn't far away.
"What'll youse have," said our waitress, at the excellent Thai restaurant we'd been encouraged to try. It had been fully booked when we rocked up earlier, and they promised to phone when a table became available. When no one did, we decided to check. Just as well. They had forgotten.
The next morning, we had time for a lazy breakfast, a walk on the beach, and a scenic drive home.

We missed out on the jungle juice, experienced more than our fare share of bogans, and I'm still dreaming of turtles.
I would have loved to have stayed longer - in Bargara, not Bundaberg - but felt lucky to have rediscovered it at all.
I guess it was just rum luck that I rediscovered Bargara at all.

Disclaimer: No rum was tasted in the writing of this post. No bears or turtles were harmed. All food, accommodation and drink were independently booked and paid for, though I wouldn't have said no to a motorbike ride. I did succumb and get a photograph of myself attempting to grope the Bundy Bear's not-so-private area but that was taken on my iPhone and blogger is being difficult and has decided I have uploaded enough photos for one day. You'll probably thank blogger for that.)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghost

Well, maybe just a bit ...
(Trigger alert)

I love dogs, so I'm not a fan of that saying that depression is like 'the black dog'.

Therefore, I don’t talk about 'kicking the black dog' like other depression-slayers do. Instead I relate mental illness to climbing out of the bottom of a very deep, dark tunnel. Or being swallowed by a thick heavy fog that just won’t lift, no matter how far you travel or try to run away.

We had a real black dog for a year. We loved that creature. No way it was getting kicked anywhere, even out of bed! 

To me, depression is like a nasty ghost. It’s always lurking in the background, and you never know when it’s going to show up and scare the life out of you. Literally.

You shower, dress in something nice, do your hair and make-up. But when you look in the mirror, you see someone or something standing behind you. The most horrific face you’ve seen in your life. The being which is there in your nightmares, but who also haunts your waking hours. And whose thoughts and intentions are far worse than those of any character ever dreamt up for novels or the silver screen.

I now know I’ve had depression on and off for most of my life, but I’ve blinked and ignored The Ghost and made It go away. For disappointingly short, but wonderful, periods of time, I’ve even been happy.

When I was younger I didn’t want to know about The Ghost. I was, I thought, young, clever and vibrant. I wasn’t the type of person who got depressed!

During some of my extensive travelling days. Even then I was experiencing crippling depression. Looking back, I wonder how much of my wanderlust has been about running away from depression and about Mindfulness, and living in the moment. You can't be nearly as depressed when you are breathing new air, enjoying enticing food and drinks, meeting new people, speaking other languages, and experiencing different lifestyles. But The Ghost is always there, lurking in the background.

When my first marriage broke up when I was 30, I tried all the usual things I did to beat my depression – exercise, yoga, work, travel, keeping busy. I even dated. (Well, that part was new, since I'd been with the same man for 10 years!) When all that didn’t work, I asked my GP for help.

 After my first marriage break-up, but my condition was under control and I was happy and doing well in my career. It was my friend on the left's 21st birthday. I was 31 I think. I'm in the middle! 

The GP prescribed anti-depressants and I also did counselling and hypnotherapy. I leant on my family and friends. Yoga was a lifesaver. After about a year I was off the pills and feeling good again.

But I never admitted that I’d been depressed. Of course, I’d been sad and confused for a while after my marriage break-up, but we left it at that. Life went on, I remarried, and for a while, things were good.

The Ghost appeared again a few months after I gave birth to my lovely son Chase. It was then diagnosed as postnatal depression, and later we realized I’d had prenatal depression as well. And Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, thyroid problems. ankylosing spondylitis, fibryomyalgia, insomnia, parasomnia, and many other physical conditions which contribute to depression and anxiety.

I hesitantly mentioned to people that time that I was depressed and was told: ‘What have you got to be depressed about? You’ve got a beautiful baby. You’ve got nothing to be sad about!’

So I learned to say nothing.

My condition was managed, but came back as prenatal depression when I was pregnant with beautiful Harmonie, now 12.

When you’re pregnant, everyone expects you to be glowing and happy. Could you imagine saying you’re unhappy, and admitting that you cry yourself to sleep every night? I was happy about having another baby, but I was just so inexplicably sad. And I had terrible morning, noon, and night sickness; hormonal headaches; and was just so tired. Again, I kept quiet about it.

Not to mention I was working full time, and even had to make work phone calls on the way to the hospital, at the hospital, and finish writing a story on the day I returned home with my beautiful baby. That certainly didn't help.

Pre and postnatal depression doesn’t mean you don't love your kids or that you want to harm them. (That's another, more serious condition). It’s yourself you can’t love or accept. YOU are the one who is never good enough.

In fact, you worry about your children even more. That’s part of the anxiety coming in. You worry every minute you leave them, that something will happen to them, particularly if you leave them, even for a medical appointment or work.

One of my first jobs after having Chase was hanging out on a movie set with stars all day, at Warner Bros. Movie World on the Gold Coast. I watched scenes being filmed, the stars reviewing the rushes, joked with a few of them, and joined a small panel of interviewers. 

The most stressful part was that the schedule ran extremely late. Perfectly normal, but as a new Mum, I hadn't taken into account that the fact that the milk would come in at the usual time anyway, even though I'd left plenty of expressed breast mik at home. So my boobs got very full, leaky, and painful and I ended up ending up having to 'milk' myself in the ladies room. I'll never forget the horrified look on a young publicist's face as she walked in on the scene halfway through the afternoon. Some of the male crew however, were very impressed with my temporarily enhanced assets.

But I digress.

“Weren’t you nervous?” non-writer friends asked.

Not at all. I knew what I was doing as a journo, interviewer and writer. I wasn’t so sure when it came to being a new mother. But bless him, my son taught me how to parent him. And his sister added to my skills after that. Work, it seems, has always been good for my condition. As has parenting. Once I got over the initial fear that I wasn't good enough. 

Again, my condition was managed. Medication was adjusted, viewed as safe for my breastfeeding baby. Counseling was given and I improved. Endorphins kicked in when Harmonie was born and I was really happy, until my second marriage hit the skids.

And make no mistake; I love my kids so much. None of this is their fault, and if I had to make a choice between having depression and NOT having children, I would choose them. Every single time.

As I wrote earlier, the depression and anxiety was always there anyway. It's not as if having kids caused it.

I was hospitalised as a kid for unknown reasons during time of family stress, but it was whispered that "she's a worrier". Back then, there were no child psychologists and no counselling was given.

Bad Things happened during my early and later years that I've only started to talk about in confidence with my team. There were times when I'd make appointments with specialists when I was in my 20s, and then cancel at the last moment. And then push the memories and triggers back into the archives. But I've learnt, they never go away. They just come back to bite you on the arse even harder.

As I found out during my years of therapy, for reasons way more complicated to go into here, I am what is known as a People Pleaser. A Highly Sensitive Person. A Perfectionist.

I would avoid confrontation and let people do bad things to me because I thought I had to do that to be loved. I have made bad choices in my relationships as a result. I am learning not to do this and to be more assertive, but old habits die hard. And because people are used to me lying down and accepting whatever crap they throw at me, my being assertive is interpreted as being aggressive. (What? But she also does what she's told ...) 

During the early years of my treatment, I never once put my hand up and admitted to suffering depression and anxiety to anyone but my GP, psychiatrist and my now ex-husbands. It was a Very Big Secret, and my exes still don't know the extent of what I've been through in the past. There have been things that I've hidden from myself that have taken me years to share.

Even though the academic, rational part of me knew these things were nothing to be ashamed of, the perfectionist in me felt like I had somehow failed; that I was ‘broken’. I felt people would judge me, even family.

I didn't want to bother my friends and family. Still don't. They had/have relationships, careers and/or kids. Some were/are recovering from cancer, injuries, with sick kids, or relationship woes of their own. I did not feel like depression compared to their issues.

As a journalist, health writer, and author, I felt my career could be harmed if I owned up to being depressed. If anything I worked harder. So I juggled mothering, being a wife and writer; trying to prove I could do it all. Al I was doing was wearing myself out and leaving no time at all for ‘me’. And unknowingly, getting more depressed in the process.

My second book Happily Ever Parted on the shelves next to one of my former Professor Mark Pearson's many best-sellers Blogging and Tweeting Without Getting Sued.  A proud moment indeed. Photo: Nereda Fernandez

I plastered on a fake smile, pretending everything was normal. I’d do the school run and joke with other parents, help out at my children’s’ classes, make terrible birthday cakes (but they tasted nice), interview celebrities and experts, write well-received articles, and all the while feel increasingly empty.

I found myself crying at weird times – in the car on the way to meetings, at the shops, reading the newspaper, during clichéd toilet paper commercials. Then I’d wipe my tears, put the smile on, and act like nothing had happened.

As a journalist I regularly interviewed wonderful, amazing, high-achieving people I admired,  who admitted to struggles with depression, anxiety, bipolar, and/or mental health issues.

Yet I would never admit to suffering too. Even though I related to everything they said. Thankfully, this irrational fear ended, and I talk quite freely about it. Some of them have become very dear friends and supporters. They are among Australia's highest achievers, but I won't name them, because although many also talk about it publicly, they are their stories to tell, not mine. 

When my second marriage ended, I was voluntarily hospitalized for what was formally diagnosed as a ‘major depressive disorder’. In the old days it was called a nervous breakdown. I was also diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

It was the most difficult time of my life, up until then. The worst part was being separated from my children and being forced to examine my life and come to terms with my mental health issues. It was also probably the best thing I have ever done for myself.

I spent more than a month in that hospital, seeing psychologists, the psychiatrist I still see now, and doing group therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, Mindfulness, Acceptance Commitment Therapy, Positive Psychology, CBT, meditation, the lot.

The worst part was discovering I had not just one Ghost to banish, but several.  And some had been constant companions since childhood.

I still continue to see a psychiatrist, psychologist, and study all the therapies. I’ve completed several outpatient courses in Mindfulness as well as women’s issues and parenting courses, assertiveness, and relaxation/meditation skills, which have worked wonders.

I’ve learned so much about myself, and in the process I’ve finally accepted that depression, anxiety and any other mental health illness are illnesses just like any others.

If you have a heart or lung condition, or diabetes or a broken leg, you see a professional to have it treated. The same with mental health issues. So why the big deal?

They can be managed and treated, which is where I was at for several years.

I had never been so in touch with myself, or aware of my moods and my feelings. Even when I felt low, I knew what to do to feel better, and no matter what happened, I could find joy in every day. Even the crappiest ones. It could be as small as a laugh with the kids, a snuggle with my dog, a decent cup of coffee, a good gym class, a beautiful sunrise.

When I went into hospital for the first time, I was forced to admit to family and friends that I was not okay. And they were wonderful.

Many of them had suspected that something was not right, but were not sure how to approach me.

My friends too, have been amazing. Many have gone above and beyond the call of duty, checking on me, getting me out of the house, making sure I’m looking after myself. Dragging me out for walks, feeding me, even though I don’t want to go out or eat, let alone be social. Allowing me to sob all over their very strong shoulders; and roam their hallways in the middle of the night. Looking after and taking in my pets when I'm in hospital, to the extent of letting them sleep with them!

I had a few people step backwards slowly – perhaps they thought depression was catching – but most people are really interested.

Quite a few asked questions before shyly admitting that either they have it too, or someone they love is depressed, or bipolar, or anxious or suicidal and they do not know how to help.

My psychiatrist suggested I write throughout my recovery as therapy and I often posted on my personal blog ( about my journey to happiness.

Indeed, journalling is a big part of some recovery treatments, and I did it long-hand first time around. A big ask for a writer used to typing at a bazillion miles an hour. Now I find it easier to type because my fingers can keep up with my thoughts. Also, if I want to go back later and read where I was at a particular stage, I can actually read what I was thinking! 

I stopped blogging about depression and anxiety a few years ago when I began getting trolled. It didn’t bother me personally – in fact it spurred me on. But when the trolls went after my followers, good people they did not even know, I felt I had to censor the comments for the very first time, and put an end to the posts.

However, often the posts about mental health were the most well-received and commented on, and I've decided to start again. Of course, I'll still be writing about travel, life, writing, authors, stuff that shits me, and whatever the hell else takes my fancy. But in my pursuit of happiness, depression - and my recovery from it - is part of all that. And I'm not staying silent any longer. 

I’ve certainly found blogging about my pursuit of happiness healing, and I find it rewarding to help others through their own journeys. I’ve organised a few things like the inaugural  RUOK day in Brisbane, and been an Australian ambassador for International Domestic Violence Day. (Funny – one of the trolls and his family assumed I was writing about him, when I was writing about someone else entirely. Guilty conscience perhaps?)

I do a lot of voluntary writing for mental health charities which don’t get a lot of funding, and I’m passionate about the lack of resources and training in Australia for people who need help – especially in remote and rural areas, where the needs are highest.

I’m amazed how many people suffer in silence, who feel unable to speak out lest others judge them. And I admit, when I am depressed, I still find it nearly impossible to ask for help. It’s extremely hard, especially as an adult, to admit: ‘I’m not okay’. Especially when you are barely able to speak, let alone hold a conversation. (And I can't tell you how many times that has been held against me. I am now not even allowed to speak to my children in case I cry. Rather than be allowed to reassure them that I am fine. And I am okay. Now.)

Some days, it’s a major effort just to get out of bed and have a shower.  Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the worthlessness, particularly in the middle of the night, when you think there is no one you can call, when it’s so easy to step over the edge. And I'm talking in general here. Not about me Right Now. Read my lips: I am not suicidal. I am perfectly safe. If I were suicidal, I would contact my psychiatrist, psych. nurses, counsellor or GP, whoever answered first. Always have done. And at the time of writing this post, I am in a hospital, a proper psychiatric one. So I'm safe. 

I would like to point out that to be blamed and hated and to told you are selfish and deserve what you get if you’ve been driven to the despair of considering taking your life, is one of the reasons that people feel ashamed and remain silent. It can also be what drives people over the edge. Sorry, but it's the truth. Mentally ill people don’t choose to be that way.

I choose happiness. I always have. I live for those fleeting moments of joy that flit into my life. No one would ever want to feel the way that depression makes them feel.

I regularly ask my psychiatrist for a magic pill for a cure, but he hasn't found one yet. Instead, I take what I am prescribed, and do my therapies. The meds have their benefits, but I find the side effects disgusting. They include weight gain, confusion, irritation, extreme fatigue, allergies, gastric problems,  dental problems, weird mouth movements, and even sexual problems. (Thank God, I don't get all of them!) But, apparently, they do the job. So I take them. Or have until recently. (But wait, there is more - please don't stop taking your meds without tapering off on medical supervision). 

There is still so much shame and stigma attached, and so many people and organisations still try to use mental health against those with it – even though it is discriminatory.

My own advice is, if you are suffering, reach out for help. You would be amazed how many people are there for you who will help if only you let them. GPs are great, if you have a good one. Beyond Blue can be wonderful. Local drop-in centres are usually fantastic. And the people who help you the most, are often the last people who expected to give a damn. And that’s a beautiful thing, which makes up for every troll and misinformed comment in the world.

Overweight after one of my hospital treatments, but rediscovering my inner child with former school friends in Thailand, whose cheer-up activities included shopping for willie whistles. Which I then had to declare when I returned to Australia. Laughed more than I had in ages, and did me the world of good. Way better than any pill.

And yet ...

Recent events in my life, caused my depression and anxiety to spiral out of control for the first time in years. I cannot go into the reasons here, but many of my regular social media followers and real-life friends will be aware of my struggles.

Feeling good last year after taking my kids to Darwin to see their Dad. My condition was being managed, and my career was going well. But it was all torn apart months later, by events I cannot go into here. Hence the new and additional diagnosis: Situational or Reactive Depression 

I voluntarily sought help, and after much research and discussion with two psychiatrists and my team of carers, I chose, under medical advice,  to come off one of the major drugs I’ve been on for the past two years or so, cymbalta (duoloxetine). 

I’m no wimp – I came off effexor-xr before – and that was even worse. Both withdrawals were hellish experiences. Though both drugs worked when I first took them, they lost their efficacy after a few years - and higher doses. Extra meds were added into the mix, but the side-effects were not worth the perceived benefits. For me.

For me, exercise, meditation, yoga, mindfulness and counselling were working better than the pills, and with the blessing of my psychiatrist, I came off the cymbalta. Previously, I came off effexor because it stopped working and I also needed to go on medication for debilitating migraines, which I was unable to take whilst on effexor. It may have been coincidental, but weight dropped off, and my blood pressure came down once the effexor was out of my system. My migraines became less debilitating and frequent as well.

Coming off the meds has been compared to coming off hard drugs like meth, cocaine, heroin – not that this fact makes it a badge of honour. But it’s damn hard. 

Weeks since I touched my last tiny dose of cymbalta, I am still experiencing excruciating pain, brain zaps, electric shocks, migraine and back ache, gastrointenstinal bugs, hot and cold sweats, flu-like symptoms, irritability (sorry), and more. Oh and the latest - hypersexuality. God help me. Probably just as well I am in hospital right now, or no one would be safe. Regardless of gender. 

The hospital I’ve been admitted to many times in the past 5-6 years is great, with amazing staff, and has pioneered many ground-breaking therapies in Australia. But I have done so many courses there and group therapies that I could pretty much teach those classes myself. I know what I need to do: It’s putting it into practise that is the challenge.

My other problem is that although my clinical depression has been controlled with medication, psychotherapy, counselling and exercise for some time, the reason I’m ill again is situational. (IE. People treating me like shit, and cutting off contact with my children). And no amount of medication is going to fix that – although it might banish The Ghost while I deal with my challenges.

I’ve always been quite a holistic person, and I’m becoming more so as I age and the more I research, the more convinced I become of this. Why continue to put good food and drink into my body, get adequate sunlight and exercise, meditate, practise gratitude, for example, if for now, extra drugs aren’t what my brain and body needs?  So I’m looking into the whole thing. 

I have recently voluntarily admitted myself to a different hospital which includes exercise, music, diversional therapy, diet, nutrition, being in nature, and more. And of course, the right medication for specific conditions. Or I may go back to see my former psych., who I know has my best interests at heart. It's a one day at a time thing at the moment. 

My writer’s block seems to have cleared back after The Very Bad Thing happened in September-October last year, and my life and health fell apart. I don't think it's a coincidence that this has coincidence that the urge to write reappeared as I came off cymbalta. That doesn't mean I might not go on psych-recommended medications if necessary. But I'm thinking more clearly than I have in years.

I’m no longer afraid of my mental health being used against me. Let them go for it. It’s an illness like any other. And it’s a sign of my strength, not weakness, that I am here at all.

I have a great support group around me – and I don’t just mean professionals, I mean people who care about me and don’t give up on me.

For now, it’s one foot in front of the other at the moment. Or one hand at a time, as I climb out of this pit, and push The Ghost’s face, quite roughly, out of my line of sight.

Most importantly, in case they read this, I have the best motivation in the world for getting better, my kids Chase and Harmonie. And I hope they know The Ghost is never around them. It cannot harm them.

My hearts ... Chase, Harmonie and Lucy. Just after being chosen as one of Escape Travel's Family Reviewer's in 2013. The only single parent to be chosen.  Photo: Anne Martindale, South Burnett Online (

It is my illness and my battle and I will beat it again, and be the silly, funny, Mumma, they were impressed  with when they saw her on Sunrise and on other television shows all those years ago. Who cries only at silly shows like when Patrick dies, and not when she can’t get an appointment at the chiropractor, or buys the wrong chicken. And who will one day refuse to make pasta with two different sauces, because it’s okay not to be perfect. (Sorry, but that’s life).

I am still the Mumma, oops Mum (because they're too old for that now), who they can talk to about anything, and who will sort out their friends' problems as well. And who can get them games and cool stuff to try out before anyone else in the country. Because that's what Mummy Bloggers do.

I wrote the following post years ago, not that long after my first major breakdown:

It came from the heart and it didn’t win, probably because I didn’t write about the New Ford Territory or how fabulous it was at all really.  But I feel the same way now, even though my circumstances have changed. 

(Except this time I would actually mention the New Ford Territory and the fact that it drives great, we loved the slushy cup holders, extra handbag room, and air-conditioning throughout, and the fact that we naughty Mummy Bloggers took turns posing  with glasses of champers in our hand in the driver’s seat and pretended to be screaming to children in the back ‘don’t make me come back there ...’) And then were all too scared to post the photos. Because we wouldn't actually do that in real life and couldn't condone that, and we just knew people would take it the wrong way. But oh how we laughed! See I was happy then too!

I love you Chase and Harmonie, and don’t ever have to feel you have to ‘save’ me. You have already done that, and you do that every day just by being the wonderful young people that you are. You have taught me far more than I ever have taught you.

And I’ll get there again. Back in the driver’s seat. (Except I expect you will both be fighting over who gets to drive by then, or expecting a car of your own ... x)

Get help:

National 24/7 Crisis Services • Lifeline 13 11 14 • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 • Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 • MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78

General support: beyondblue support service phone 1300 22 4636 or email or chat online at
Suicide Call Back Service
SANE Australia Helpline 1800 18 SANE (7263)
Young people: Kids Helpline
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: Social and Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Services
Culturally and linguistically diverse background: Mental Health in Multicultural Australia
LGBTI, other sexuality, sex and gender diverse people: MindOUT! QLife line 1800 184 527
Veterans: Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service 1800 011 046

Most of all, don't suddenly stop taking medication, and don't rule it out. DO see a psychiatrist if you are taking anti-depressant or other brain-altering drugs. In general, GPS are not qualified to treat mental illnesses. Their job is to refer you to someone you can help you. Every person is different though. A proper diagnosis too, is key.

UPDATE: I am home again. I DID finally find my way back to see my former psychiatrist. He is the best, as he has been with me all these years. I'm on a new medication to Australia - in fact I'm his first patient to try it. And I won't go into that yet. The important thing is that I've been to hell and back and I'm still here. And I am home again, and with all the supports in place to get my life back again. Thanks everyone, for sticking with me. x