(I'm not a musician.) I was taught as a child that I must not 'blow my own trumpet' as in talking about myself – especially not to say anything good about myself. I was also taught that much of what I could say about myself was nonsense and I needn't expect anyone to believe it. If I myself believed it, I must be mad. If not, I was obviously a liar. Telling my story, therefore, became a very confronting task. I am beginning this blog in my late seventies, and it is only a preparation – things I write on the way to writing the memoir. Nevertheless, everything posted here is copyright and must not be reproduced without written permission from the author (usually me). ____________________________________________________________________________________________
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Saturday 24 December 2022


 Blog posts which were draft chapters of this memoir have now been removed, prior to publication of the book in 2023.

Sunday 15 October 2017

Getting Back to Normal

Return Journey?

'How was it, coming back
after hard adventures, 
to normal?'
                     I've never 
known normal. My path leads 
ever on; a wild track.

Normal: conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected; the usual, typical, or expected state or condition.

As I said in the beginning, my life has never seemed to me to be what most people regard as normal, even though it has included the usual common human experiences – childhood, family, schooling, community, work and play, falling in love, marriage, parenthood, illness and accident, dealing with money, the death of loved ones.... 

I cherish the ordinary and simple aspects of life, but for most of my life I felt that any appearance of normality about me was just that, an appearance. In the course of my therapy, describing my lifelong feeling of not fitting in, I told the Doc that, from my schooldays on, I had always felt as if everyone else was in on some secret that no-one was telling me. He said, 'Yes, there was something they all knew and you didn't. It's called acting naturally.'

I was far too anxious and self-conscious to know how to do that. My Mum was anxiety-ridden and phobic. I know she didn't mean to pass those things on to me; she just meant to keep me safe. But she did pass them on. When I got to High School it was a bit better, I found other misfits to make friends with – non-sporty book-lovers like myself. 

At University it was even more so; and choosing to work in libraries pretty much guaranteed that I would be among kindred spirits. But as a young mother in the suburbs mixing with others, I often felt out of step. I was never all that competent in the kitchen; I didn't quite get my clothes right for social occasions. Or so it seemed to me, though I have to say no-one else was making me feel unaccepted. 

The big thing was going public as a poet, which quite soon led to my involvement in the Melbourne Branch of the Poets Union of Australia, and my participation in poetry readings. I vividly recall the first one I went to. 'All those people running around with their folders of poetry under their arms,' I said afterwards, 'just as if it was normal.'

And perhaps that's it. Maybe there's not just one 'normal' but different kinds for different people. Among the poets, I finally found my kind of normal. I fitted right in. Poets are a diverse lot; it isn't a matter of conformity. We are a group that regards individual differences as perfectly fine. At the same time, our shared preoccupation means that we are a coherent group: a tribe.

Later I found other tribes: the mystics, the healers, and finally – after Andrew and I moved from Melbourne to the Mount Warning Caldera where I still live – the witches and Pagans. Andrew was very accepting of this development. I wasn't thinking of myself as a witch at the time that my younger son was drugged and robbed on his first visit to Bali. But just after we heard this news, I happened to be reading a women's magazine with a section in which a 'good witch' shared spells. There was one for retrieving lost property. I looked at it and realised we had the ingredients in the house. I stood up, saying, 'I'm just going to do a spell' – a thing I had never said before. Andrew said 'Oh, O.K.' and returned to reading his newspaper. I thought that was a wonderful attitude! After that beginning, things progressed rapidly. Andrew soon joined me on the Pagan path, with which he too was very much in sympathy.

No, the spell didn't result in the retrieval of my son's precious computer. But there was a result. I had been in the habit of talking to the Archangels. After I did the spell, I heard a voice in my head, which I knew by the energy to be one of them, saying, 'Rosemary, we wish to speak with you.' I was very taken aback, but tried to keep my composure. As I felt particularly close to Gabriel at that time, and Gabriel's direction is the West, I turned to the West and asked out loud, 'What do you wish to say?' I heard, in tones that were reassuringly emphatic: 'He is well. Have no fear.' This of course addressed my main concern. I would have been glad for my son to get his property back, but mainly I had become afraid for his safety.

I have since heard the energy of the Archangels described as being at once full of enormous strength and huge peace. That was exactly how their energy felt to me on that occasion.

Now, having found my congenial place in the world, among congenial people – and with advancing age – I am at ease with myself, and therefore with others. It's ironic. Now that I don't give much of a damn what anyone thinks of me, I find that I am widely liked and accepted. And I can 'act naturally' without even thinking about it, because (I have discovered) that just means being me.

Tuesday 29 August 2017

Coming Back from Therapy

I stayed in therapy for six interesting and empowering years.

What happened in group therapy was of course confidential as it related to the other people, but I did share with Bill, as my new fiancé and then husband, some of the insights I was gaining into myself. Bill had difficult relationships with his parents and siblings, and after a while started to think he might benefit from therapy too. Our GP was happy to refer him, and the Doc to take him on. He went into a different group from me, so that we could both always feel free to say whatever we needed.

My more dramatic episodes in therapy (e.g. those related in previous posts) happened early, followed by years of more gradual progress, during which time Bill and I bought a house, got married, I changed jobs a couple of times, we had our two sons, I stopped work, then later worked part-time, he went from being a builder working for his father to his very successful career as an abalone diver, we renovated and sold our first house and bought a bigger one, and we acquired two teenage foster-sons. 

Their whole story is one to tell separately, later, if at all. Briefly, they were from a family Bill knew, where serious problems developed; they ran away from home to come to us, and we were allowed by the authorities to foster them. They had been traumatised. The younger, a country boy at heart, soon went to live with other people he knew, who had a farm in a rural area. The older stayed with us for his last two years of High School and then went on to university. After he had been living with us some months, he also decided to seek therapy from the Doc to help him deal with the things he had experienced. He had a briefer period of therapy than we did, and undoubtedly benefited.

He moved out into a residential college at university, as the  campus wasn’t very near where we lived, but always kept in close touch. I still, fifty years later, have a very affectionate relationship with both my foster-sons – men in their sixties now.

Eventually Bill and I got to a point where we wanted to try life without that weekly therapeutic support. It felt strange and vulnerable at first, but then I realised that the therapy hadn't stopped just because I wasn't attending sessions any more. I had ‘internalised’ the Doc, and in moments of difficulty would  hear his voice in my head – saying, for instance, ‘Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and after a while, if you look back over your shoulder, you'll see that you’ve travelled quite a long way.’

I’ll be eternally grateful for having been referred to an excellent therapist. I have learned from other people since that the experience is not always so positive. Were he still alive, I’d have no hesitation in recommending him to anyone who needed that kind of help; but, sad to say, he’s no longer with us.

Therapy not only enabled me to address and heal the disturbing influences of the past, it helped me go on from there – to grow from a timid, sensitive introvert, at times almost pathologically shy, and often ‘away with the fairies’, into a stronger, more decisive person. I became much more grounded in my self, more at home in everyday reality, more at ease socially, more able to be spontaneous and authentic. 

Readers have commented, on some of my previous posts, how strong I was for one so young. The strength they praise came about directly through being in therapy. I was gradually ‘toughening up’ as the Doc once put it.

He made that remark to Bill (who relayed it to me) after Bill mentioned that I wasn't getting sunburnt as easily as I always used to with my fair skin. There were other things the Doc said over the years, which similarly pointed to the effect of the mind on the body. He must have been the first to present me with that concept. Or perhaps not, as such ideas were starting to gain currency then, in the early to mid-sixties – but he would at least have been one of the first. Coming from him, it must have carried weight as scientific fact, not just a ‘New Age’ speculation. 

On the other hand, I remember his assertion that he and his fellow-psychiatrists were extremely conservative people. They had to be, he explained, because they were messing around with the insides of people’s heads.

He was far too conservative to indulge his patients in ‘magical thinking’. 

‘If you’d seen as many visionary schizophrenics as I have, living in mental hospitals, lost in their own worlds….’ he said.  Or, in answer to something, ‘Sorry, you’ve come to the wrong shop. I don’t deal in miracles. Dr X down the road sells that sort of thing’. (Dr X was the darling of the press at the time, promising that the meditations he taught would cure everything from depression to cancer.)

So I emerged better able to function in what we see as normality – and uncertain about the reality of anything metaphysical. After the breakdown, being restored to functionality was a very good place to be. Questions of metaphysics, which didn't seem to have any direct bearing on my life anyway, I could probably afford to shelve.

I’m interested now to recall one question the Doc asked me, as to why I was so concerned with the state of the world and all the people who were unfortunate or suffering. It was hard for me to understand why he asked; I took it for granted that everyone of course must care about such things. He said that he himself didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about, ‘Oh, those poor Vietnamese’ or whoever, and he hadn't observed that many people did, at least not to the extent that I did. He asked again why I thought I did so. I didn’t have an answer.

I took it that he was suggesting there was something wrong with me for doing so: that it was unbalanced in some way, that perhaps he thought it a displacement from addressing my own problems.  But I didn't say any of that. I just shut down, stubbornly telling myself, inwardly, that my reactions were perfectly normal, natural and right.

He may indeed have been suggesting what I thought he was, but in hindsight I wonder if he wasn’t simply asking me to examine myself in order to know myself better. Perhaps he had some inkling of the healer within me – which was yet to emerge consciously, though I look back now and see that it was always part of me and there were always signs.

Another time, in answer to something I said, he replied, ‘That’s the teacher in you.’ I stared at him and he said (interpreting): ‘What’s that silly psychiatrist saying now? I’m not a teacher, I’m a librarian’ – which was just what I was thinking. Then he repeated, gently but firmly, ‘It’s the teacher in you.’ I decide to at least entertain the possibility that it might be an aspect of me, although I had always thought teaching was one of the last things I’d ever want to do. Of course, in later years I became a very successful teacher of adults in such contexts as writing workshops, meditation classes, Reiki seminars….

When I started conducting workshops, years later, I realised that I had somehow absorbed, as if by osmosis, the way the Doc conducted his group therapy sessions. I don't mean that I began analysing people! It was more a matter of group dynamics, a way of letting everyone be heard, asking pertinent questions in a non-threatening way, interpolating with occasional expertise or opinion only as necessary and useful. In truth, it’s hard to explain; it’s just a thing I do naturally, a way I instinctively fell into, which I recognised as having been his way, and which works. 

It was also from him I learned that, in groups, learning happens best in an atmosphere of laughter. I learned that it’s OK for a group facilitator to make mistakes sometimes and be wrong sometimes – so long as they’re always truthful. And I learned how to ‘open my antennae’ (a phrase he occasionally used) and listen intently, not only to what is said but also the unsaid.  But it was only later, when I started teaching, that I learned what joy and fulfilment it would give me. I loved it.

I didn’t at all set myself up to play psychiatrist, or try to heal or improve people in any way. Yet, when I taught poetry writing at Box Hill TAFE and Bill and I hosted live-in weekend workshops for my students, my boss Issy, who attended, said publicly afterwards, meaning it as praise, ‘What Rosemary does isn’t just poetry; it’s therapy!’ I think the therapy was partly in the approach, and partly in the fact that poetry workshops (like group psychotherapy!) can’t help but promote intimacy.

But when I left therapy it wasn't exactly with the Doc’s blessing. He thought I could get more out of it yet, but said he couldn't help me any longer as I was no longer drawing for him the maps he needed to help me navigate my journey. I didn't know what he was talking about, couldn't identify anything I was concealing. He pointed out that he had other patients eager to get into group therapy, and it wasn't fair to keep me on if I wasn't progressing. So I left, somewhat comforted by the fact that, if he'd thought I was in a serious mental condition, he would surely have hospitalised me instead. There was no suggestion of that.

It was some little time later that I had my 'lightbulb' moment. I was in my early thirties, and inexplicably discontented. I asked myself, 'Why are you feeling discontented when you have everything you're supposed to want - good husband, two gorgeous kids, nice house, friends, as much work as you choose to do? What is it you really want?' A lightbulb went on in my head, as depicted in cartoons, and the answer was immediately present. What I wanted, had always wanted, was to be a poet. 

I had been one since I was seven, but, having been discouraged from seeing it as a viable career, I merely scribbled privately. I seldom showed my poems to anyone, let alone submitting them anywhere for possible publication. But, with the lightbulb, I thought, 'OK, well I'd better do it for real.'

That meant I had to start working on my poems to make them as good as I possibly could. When you're only scribbling privately for your own amusement, there's not the same impetus to do that. It also meant I had to be brave enough to submit them to literary magazines.

The response to my first submission was, 'These are too long for us. Please send us some shorter ones.' Greatly encouraged, I did. They were accepted, and I never looked back. It became apparent that I had a vocation, which I had not been honouring. I have followed it ever since. Not following it had been causing unsuspected problems in my life. I wasn't fully being myself.

I encountered the Doc years later in a personal development course we were both doing. There was a large number of participants; we didn't need to do more than spot each other across the room. He in fact gave no sign of recognition, and I realised this was because he was bound by professional ethics not to publicly acknowledge a patient unless they first acknowledged him. I did that, in one of the breaks. I had something I wanted to tell him. 

'Excuse me,' I started. 'Do you remember me?' (Maybe it wasn't professional ethics, I thought. After all, he must have so many ex-patients.)

'Of course I remember you,' he said. 

So I reminded him that he had said I wasn't drawing him the maps he needed. I explained that I had discovered the missing piece of the map, which was that I was a poet, and that I was now living my vocation. He said he had seen some poems published in the newspapers under my name and had wondered if they were by me, if it was the same Rosemary Nissen. He asked after Bill and our foster-son; we had a brief, pleasant conversation and then got back to the course we were doing. I don't know if he bought my explanation about the poetry, but he didn't indicate otherwise. What was noticeable was that he treated me like an acquaintance rather than a patient - perfectly proper, as I was no longer a patient, and no more than I would have expected from him. He always understood these niceties and was completely appropriate. 

It was some years later again that I discovered I also had a vocation as a healer. Six months after learning Reiki I, the basic technique for hands-on healing, Bill and I learned Reiki II, the technique for healing in absence. As I’ve explained in an earlier post, I learned Reiki initially with the notion of helping Bill who, as a spiritual healer, was getting drained if he did too much of it. I suggested he learn too, to get some formal training to put to his gift. But in practice the Reiki superseded what he had, and prevented him from getting drained anyway. Meanwhile, I found I loved it.

I fell in love even more with Level II – such a wonderful gift, to be able to send healing across space and to some extent across time. I’m so constituted that when I find something good I want to share it with the whole world. So of course, at this point I decided I would train as a teacher. (The term ‘Master’ in ‘Reiki Master’ means teacher.)

I was so elated and grateful, the morning after  completing Level II, I woke up early, put Amazing Grace on the stereo, and danced. I was in bliss.

Reiki seems to me to be magical. It certainly is not yet explainable in terms that science recognises. And it works! So it was one factor in having me open again to the possibility of magic. It has been a wonderful path for me ever since. 

So has the path of psychic mediumship, which developed soon afterwards, as outlined in a previous post. The famous Tarot author Rachel Pollack describes Tarot as ‘the outlaw therapy’. My readings, in which Tarot is only one of my tools, are a form of spiritual counselling. 

I have also qualified in many other energy healing modalities besides the original Reiki. And my magical path has essentially been about healing too, in a broad sense. (For instance, in ritual, ‘turning the wheel of the year’, we intend to look after the wellbeing of the planet.)

A few years back, a friend devised a way to discover what one’s ideal job would be. She told me mine would be to heal the world via poetry. She was so right! As soon as she said it, I realised that's exactly what my ideal job would be. In fact she saw me doing it by sharing poetry online. It didn't take me long to understand that I am doing exactly that. 

Not that I am the only one doing it, I hasten to note. Poetry is healing for the one who writes it, as I have experienced in times of trauma and bereavement. It can also be healing for its readers, whether it soothes, uplifts or is cathartic.

I once had a reading from someone who was an excellent channel for various angels and spirit guides. I asked what I could label myself, e.g. for purposes of putting something on a business card. She told me that ‘they’ would prefer that I didn't label myself at all as it is limiting to do so. But they could see that I needed something for practical purposes. Only it was difficult, they said, because I was a good healer, a good teacher, a good psychic reader … in the end they suggested I might call myself ‘a teacher of metaphysics’; they would be happy if I were to use that label. I do, but not exclusively. I don’t think it means much to the average person, so I use more specific ones as well, such as Reiki Master, psychic medium, poet … a list.

These new directions that opened up for me, these explorations into healing and magic, started happening at the time my children became young men and got out from under the parental roof, when I was newly free of the practical duties of motherhood. Perfect timing, I think, as I look back now.