Possums + Peppermint Tea

More ‘real time’ walks coming soon! I’m battling with my health at the moment (still … as usual!!) Here’s more of my Lockdown One sort-of-memoir.

Read chapter one 

Read chapter two

Read chapter three

Read chapter four

Read chapter five

Read chapter six

Read chapter seven

Read chapter eight

Read chapter nine


Chapter 10

Day 10 

It’s ANZAC Day. I woke up with a sore throat and a heavy chest, head filled with worries about that superstitious heavy energy I’d imagined the day before, potentially hanging in the air and consuming my thoughts for the rest of the day.

A good day to NOT walk, I decided. No need to shrug off the body aches and the emotional worries. Don’t walk through an injury, I reminded myself.

The nation had been called to Light Up The Dawn and stand in their driveways or on their balconies at 6am to honour those who had served our country. I’d mark the day in my own way, I reasoned. Sift through the photos of my grandfather who had died so young fighting in Korea.

I made coffee as I listened to the radio, skimming the news on my phone as the coffee machine chugged. The man who had been driving the speeding Porsche that started the chain of events resulting in the death of the four police officers two days earlier was in jail awaiting trial. His lawyer cited ‘mental health issues’ as a contributing reason for him taking drugs and driving his car at 140km down a busy freeway in the late afternoon, sparking the fatal accident which saw him taunting one of the officers as she lay dying, taking photos of those involved and then fleeing the scene. 

I wondered if this was true or a convenient way to summon some sympathy for his client. His behaviour did seem like madness, but it frustrated me that his unforgivable actions would stigmatise mental ill health further.

The radio was reporting on other unforgivable news, covering the president of the United States’ theory that injecting disinfectant might help to fight the coronavirus.

His actions prompted the makers of Dettol and Lysol to issue a statement warning “under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).”

Strange days, indeed.

I drank my coffee in the dewy backyard with the dogs, making sure they did not frolic all over the Chinese broccoli and silver beet seedlings I’d sprouted in the kitchen and planted out yesterday afternoon.

One neglected corner of the garden was filled with tufts of what looked like possum fur. I peered up into the trees and saw a bird’s nest, but no further evidence of the possum. 

I’d sprinkled several packets of a bee and butterfly-encouraging mix of seeds into the soil in the weeks and months before and now cosmos, marigolds, alyssum and tiny dahlias were springing up. It was mid autumn and cucumbers and some rogue zucchinis were giving it their best shot too, before the cold weather hit them and they were overtaken by winter loving leafy greens.

I’d planted herbs in pots and haphazardly throughout the beds. There was heaps of parsley – Italian and curly leafed – as well as sage, about 6 different kinds of mint, thyme, oregano and marjoram.

I was not an experienced gardener, but I had begun planting out the beds late last year, keen for a new ‘progress practice’ that would bolster my mood and give me lots of chores to do.

I’d coined the term progress practice when writing my book When Life Is Not Peachy. Basically it’s a pastime that you need to chip away at, one that provides a tangible reward in terms of visible growth or a clear end goal achieved.

Making bread, studying, writing books, growing things, making things were all progress practices, in my book. The gardening was proving especially rewarding as tiny tube stock and seeds (all I could afford at the time!) grew into lush plants or 100s of tomatoes that bolstered my mood no end over the summer months and beyond.

The day before I’d realised I was finally feeling clear-headed enough to read an actual book – as opposed to listening to one – and I’d started Hidden Nature by Alys Fowler managing the introduction as I perched on the couch in the late afternoon.

I read a chapter in the early morning quiet and was so very glad that I had. I loved reading so much and I was one of the many who had found the uncertainty of the pandemic had left them unable to concentrate on reading. I spent several weeks trying to read and failing, so this development was a huge relief. I eyed the stacks of books and overflowing bookshelves in my living room, soaking up the comforting feeling that I was surrounded by friends, stories, possibilities … and so very many things ripe for the reading. Phew.

Alys wrote a bit about the survivalist mussels of Birmingham’s canal system in her first chapter and I was immediately transported back to my childhood south of Hobart where we gathered buckets of them at low tide, eating them boiled and doused in vinegar.  I thought about the little creek in the parkland and wondered not about mussels but about what other creatures might have adapted to the highly compromised environment that development had forced on the waterway.

I’d investigate today, I thought. I’d look it up online because at this point I was not keen to wander down into the creek itself. There’d be heaps of people around for one, and I’d feel way too conspicuous. Plus, I wanted an adventure buddy, I thought. I’d ask Rin if she’d come and dig about the creek with me when social distancing was lifted, I decided.

I made tea, ran a hot bath and settled in for a read (this time Beth Morrey’s Saving Missy) and a long soak before changing into clean sweats and noting that I really DID feel quite sick.

Spending the day on the couch with books and my favourite streaming service seemed like the very best idea. I took some paracetamol and settled in, vowing to avoid the news for the rest of the day and plant the peas and broccoli that had grown from seed to two-inch seedlings on the kitchen bench over the last couple of weeks. 

What actually happened was that I spent the day in a swampy fever, not ideal when you are a) on high alert for dangerous viral infection and b) wanting to be productive and active to boost your sense of wellbeing.

Certain that it was a bad cold, I climbed into bed and fell asleep for several hours, waking when Ari woke up in the mid afternoon.

He bought be lemsip and peppermint tea, and ordered me a China Bar laksa which I wolfed down. I drank a glass of medicinal wine and curled up on the couch – my former natural habitat – to watch TV and will myself better.

I had poetry homework to finish, walking to do, gardening to dig into and blog posts to write. This was so much like me, I told myself. Within a week or two of starting some kind of exercise regimen, I got sick and temporarily sidelined. Huge emphasis on the temporary this time, I urged myself.

I wondered if this was a thing that happened to everyone. Does using your body shake things up and make you more susceptible to getting sick? If so that is a cruel joke and if not it’s something that happens to me every single time I try to incorporate regular exercise into my life.  Was I going too hard? Walking too far? Humph. I was not prepared to alter my plan, instead willing myself to get better quick smart and I hit play on yet another episode of New Amsterdam and mopped the sweat from my brow/neck/chest.

Day 11

I stayed in bed and watched Where’d You Go Bernadette starring Cate Blanchett. It’s suggested Bernadette has something called an adjustment disorder. Perhaps I have an adjustment disorder? I wondered.

I managed to research a dramatic monologue for poetry and write my own monologue. I wrote about isolation, but not my own. Instead I focused on my grandmother who is living alone still at 98 and loving/hating it.

The poem turned out quite well and I posted it in our discussion forum along with my notes about The Cleaner. At least I got something done.

Day 12

Did I get COVID-19? No. No I did not. I did however, get some kind of bug, a bug which had me curled up in bed wishing for good health and the greenspace of the parklands (much like everyone else).

What, I wondered, could be more meta than an enforced shift of the routine you put in place to counter the stress of … and enforced shift?

With best laid plans to bounce out of bed and head to the park in my head as I dozed off last night, I endured an assortment of nightmares and woke up in a pond of sweat – still feeling terrible and clearly not ready for a walk in the morning.

I pulled on my dressing gown and shuffled into the kitchen to make coffee, letting the pups into the back yard as it brewed and checking in with the news.

The truck driver in last week’s crash had been charged taken from his hospital bed to a police station in Melbourne’s west.

Lockdown restrictions were beginning to be eased in some states, with Queensland and Western Australia allowing outings that were previously deemed non-essential if they are close to home and in small groups.

I couldn’t help but think about how much my kids were going to LOVE seeing their friends again. It had been so hard for them to scale back their social contact. Perhaps it’s only a week or two until they can catch up with their buddies.

There’s huge debate about Australia’s CovidSAFE app which became available for download the day before. I downloaded it straight away because I feel like a) it’s so important to get this pandemic under control and save lives as quickly as possible and b) I surrendered my own privacy long ago. All that said, everyone has their own view and I respect that. You do you!

The media was countering the rising death toll with reports of the benefits of being locked down. People were discovering new talents, taking up old hobbies. Siblings were learning not to squabble all day long with some even forming stronger bonds. Social media was full of photo and video of people who were happy to show off their dinky iso hairstyles and dorky fashion choices. Things had gotten quieter, slower, realer for many, none more so than those who have contracted the disease.

I made myself a bread roll stuffed with the previous day’s quesadilla filling – potato, chorizo and bacon – doused it with sriracha and wandered into the living room to plan the day.

Granted I was not well enough to hit the track at the end of the street. But I could do some quieter things at home that moved me ahead in the same way: write the poem for this week’s poetry workshop, read some more of Saving Missy, read some more of Hidden Nature, write a blog post, put some more kitchen seedlings into the garden. None of those required much physical energy.

Perhaps moving forward was about more than that step count and improving fitness? This small health setback was an opportunity to notice what was going on with me and adjust accordingly. It was about improving and stepping ahead in other ways too, I reasoned.

A few days earlier I was talking to Ari about the impact of isolation as we whizzed out to pick up some shopping together.

Everyone’s getting to know themselves better and trying to do the right thing, I said.  He partly agreed pointing out that there were people wandering about drinking coffee, buying sneakers, sitting on the ground eating burgers together. Those folk did not appear to be attending to the essentials or gaining a deeper knowledge of themselves … although coming to terms with the depth of your love of coffee or burgers could be a form of self-awareness. And sneakers have been deemed a “sort of” essential (like jigsaw puzzles) because you need them to exercise, which IS an essential.

Perhaps it’s not everyone, I agreed. But lots of people are being more mindful, I said hopefully.

I reminded myself that so many will be dealing with loss and health consequences, front line workers and those being racially vilified included.  

That’s the thing about this pandemic. We need to look for the good news stories, but the sad ones also have to stay front and centre. It’s a tricky and often tragic balance. You can’t filter out the sad stories simply to bolster your own mental health, can you? I don’t think so, anyway.

I turned up the volume on Gardening Australia and made myself yet another cup of tea.