Sara Haslinger – After the Fires
Sara Haslinger – After the Fires
Housing Trust Board member Sara Haslinger lost her house in last weekend’s blaze which tore through the Southern Highlands near Exeter.
With Sara’s permission we have reproduced her daily blog here to show first-hand how the bushfire crisis is affecting real families.
We would like to thank Sara for her honesty in sharing this deeply distressing personal time with us.
(This blog is unedited and taken from Sara’s daily Facebook posts, please excuse typos)
Day One – January 5
Hi everyone, we are safe. We got our animals and us all out last night. The fire looks like it has gone up our road and we don’t know if the house is lost or not. But we are safe. We will keep you posted.
Day Two – January 6
Facebook posting always starts with that Facebook question – what’s on your mind? Here is my answer today.
My mind is full of thoughts of shock and horror as the reality of yesterday hits home that we have lost our home. But then another thought pops up that my husband and son and animals, my extended family, my neighbours and my community are my home. I have not lost that home.
The loss right now is extremely raw. We can’t even get near to the area because it is still burning. We can’t know who else of our neighbours is impacted like we were.
I want to stand strong with my community and hold us all together. I want to be in action every moment of that someone else is hurting. I think my strength today is to let the tears come and to express how this all feels as a way of helping more care, more understanding dive into our community. How I am feeling today, and the actions I took in the days before, are probably the same or very similar to most of the people who lost their homes.
The day that the fire was so close that we decided to evacuate, was yesterday. The fire still had about five kms we think, to get to our road. We had spent weeks working out the decisions and actions we would take to ensure our son and other family were not home, and how we would move the chickens and cats and where they would go. We believed we were having these thoughts to be on the safe side. We joined the RFS earlier and had been spending time with our local RFS team getting to understand what they do and what we could do at our home to help them if it came to fighting the fire. We knew, living rural and on a dead end road that we had to have a plan to leave early. The stay and fight option was way too risky and the leave late option was not going to be possible.
Yesterday we moved our animals first. Our plan went off perfectly. My mum has spaces for us to move them all. My husband and I had detailed right down to who would hold the cage door open and closed that was in the back of my Pajero each time we passed a chicken in.
Once we moved them all we realised they were all safe. Our family was safe, our animals were in Sutton Forest and we were sitting outside our beautiful home having a beer working out the next steps. We had spent the morning driving to every neighbour, checking that they were all evacuating. I had been practicing methods of communication that may influence my neighbours to leave or at least stay in contact with me and stay super vigilant. We had been raking debris around the house for weeks.
We looked at each other and remembered that ‘it’s only a house and possessions’ and so we had a few items of clothes, our laptops (we run two small businesses) and passports. In the moment, when we were trying to be super rational we didn’t think about toothbrushes, moisturiser, undies, bras, cuff links for shirts, sneakers or jumpers . The list goes on and on. That list now runs through my mind like an old fashioned movie, day and night.
We left. We knew what our neighbours were doing. We dropped food off the the RFS for sustainment. We watched the app. By now it was 8.30pm. We didn’t sleep. We watched the app. We chatted. We watched the app.
We got up in dread. We went to our RFS team. I burst into tears I I saw them all Standing covered in soot and dirt, totally exhausted. They were laughing and chatting, helping each other keep their spirits up. I held boxes of food and the captain of our RFS saw me and the tears, and immediately wrapped his arms around me.
‘Okay Sara, we don’t know. The fire came up the gully, with the big storm. But we don’t know.’ He talked about the movement of the fire.
He was still hugging me. Gerald came in and we looked at each other in a moment of unaware awareness. We walked outside and the captain asked one of his team if he could explain what he had seen. The team member was our mate Steve.
‘It’s tough down there guys. Brace yourselves for the worst. We can’t get in there right now.’
The captain said, ‘we will call you the minute we know.’
We walked away and all I could think was how much love and care these people are giving us. They have hardy slept, they are trying to save their own community, and they keep offering more!
We sat at my mums place with family and waited. The waiting was terrible. So we drove to Coles to buy food for the RFS at the next town, Bundanoon. By the time we had finished the road blocks were in place. We got to a road block and the police were talking to people. A local sergeant stopped to talk to us and we all recognised each other – this is our community! He said he thought that there was still a way to get back to our mums place. We first took the food to Exeter RFS who would deliver to whoever needed it.
We went to mums.
We checked that the chickens were okay. We sat with our terrified cats.
We were in the kitchen yesterday morning and the call came in. The RFS were flat out in crisis and knowing that we are all such a close group of neighbours, they asked our neighbour from further up the road to make the call.
‘Mate it’s Hugh. It’s gone mate, I am so so sorry but the house is gone. Mate I am so sorry.’
‘Hugh thank you so much for being the one to tell us.’
‘They told me just to tell it straight mate.’
‘Yeah I get it. That was right to tell it straight.’
I fell to the floor in tears hugging my husbands legs as the realisation hit.
Yesterday was the beginning of the next part – shock.
Today we begin a new day. I am a doer and love being in action. But I am also aware that in my current state I need to think carefully about what is best for me, my husband, my family and community. So I keep thinking about what I can do –
- Food supplies to people in need
2. Help people prepare their houses
3. Check on neighbours and friends and make sure we know particularly if anyone is on their own
4. Check in with my mum who is exhausted
5. Make sure my 94 year old grandmother is okay and take her a coffee
Grandma rang me yesterday and said ‘you know what whatever is mine is yours’
To the RFS – my gratitude and love is yours
To my neighbours – gosh we did it everyone!!!!! We got everyone to safety. We worked together. We cared about each other by taking direct actions and talking and driving and checking on each other
To my family – no words. We feel deeply held
To my husband – we are a team my darling
To those who have lost loved one in then fires – we are here with you. We will make sure that no one is left alone.
To the farmers – this is a a double hit guys. We love you all and we will find more ways to support you
I will keep writing about this if it helps. Please let me know. Please pass it on.
Day Three – January 7
That same question about what is on my mind. It is Day Three. It is day three since the fires ripped through our property and turned our home and everything in it to ash.
I don’t know where to begin today with what is happening. So I will begin at the end. It’s 1242pm. I went down to the chicken coop this morning to lay new fresh hay, collect eggs, freshen the water. All except one chicken had been killed by a fox. I ran back to the house. I screamed, guttural sounds, from the pit of my being. I cried. I exhausted myself with tears.
I picked myself up off the floor and walked with a determination and strength to get back to them. I talked to them and apologised for not keeping them safe. I found one little brave soul, picked her up and hugged her for a long time. My mum called Gerald and he raced to be with us.
He is now taking them all home. Home to our land where he will bury them. We have a friend who has taken the one who survived to make sure she is not left alone. To make sure she is safe.
Many people don’t know this, but I love chickens. They are beautiful innocent creatures with the most special characters and care. They deserve like all animals, our love and care.
A year or so ago I met a woman, Tania Daykin who is one of those super special extraordinary human beings. She has a charity LetTheLadiesGo and she helps chickens by having them be adopted by families rather than live in abuse and hell battery cages. So I adopted some chickens. Then a while later I adopted some more. Our little family of chickens was growing. The deep joy they would bring to us was so extraordinary. We had planted a garden at the back of the house and we would giggle our heads off as they would dig up each new plant. Friends and family would ask why I wouldn’t put a fence around the garden to stop the chickens. But they were so happy in the dirt and eating the flowers.
Please take a moment to find LetTheLadiesGo charity and donate money and support them.
Yesterday we went home for the first time. We drove past neighbours places, we stopped and hugged neighbours and RFS volunteers still working on helping us with what is still to come.
We got to the top of our section of the road – we call it that because it is the favourite part of our drive home. It is where the trees used to stand in a kind of military guard of honour to welcome us home. The trees are sort of still there but now not just drought dry, also heat and fire dry. We inched our way down the road until we saw the first black patch. It was in the paddocks belonging to our neighbours. We drove on, getting to the first bend and dip where we were told it had been so intense that RFS could not go beyond to get to our house.
Ahead of us was our bushland. I felt my nervous system relax and ease for the first time in days and probably weeks. I was home. I smiled. I am such an ‘Aussie’ – I love our land. I love and respect the understanding, care, and wisdom that Aboriginal people have for our land. Our land loves us, holds us, shows us what is true. As we drove down the bend I felt that love and the love I have for this country.
We slowly drove along the road. We could see so much now as there were very few leaves left on trees, very few trees left where they once honoured our drive in. Almost everything was black.
We got the the northern paddock and could see a blanket of black across the entire acreage. We continued along to the first outhouse – the chook coop. It was completely destroyed.
We drove further until we reached the base of our driveway. It was strange because I was okay, I was home, but my house wasn’t visible. I still thought that maybe as we made it up the drive I would see it. We drove up the driveway and suddenly it was real – there was nothing to see. Everything was ash unless it was tin. The chimney stood tall and erect as if trying to defy the devastation.
We climbed out of the car and held each other as we stood. It was a strange feeling, the ground was soft like snow. There was so much ash that it was soft. This softness gave us softness.
We walked. Just tiny steps, looking. We took it all in. We were home. My beautiful timber cottage was gone. But we were home and it was good.
We held each other talking and looking at ash. We talked about the strange choices we had made when we thought about what to take with us when we left. We really had thought we would come home after a day of work. So we had taken almost nothing. Here it all was, on the ground but not really there.
Yet as we stood with our arms wrapped around each other, an RFS Ute stopped. Our mate Steve got out, ‘hey how are you two doing?’
‘We are home Steve.’
‘Yeah mate you are home. You’ll rebuild.’
‘Yes we will.’
We all smiled and cried. Steve drove away back to doing more work for us and our community – his community.
We walked back to the car and in the middle of the driveway was a tiny ring tailed possum very burnt. It was tiny and exhausted and wanted our help. So we got a blanket from the car and we picked it up. We chatted to the tiny possum all the way to Robertson where we discovered there was a possum rescue dude. Of course there is that dude. Because we live in a community with people who want to care and who put their care into action. So we drove to Robertson and had some time chatting with him and his family and made sure that the little possum was safe.
We had been asked if we would be okay to tell our story on the radio to help others process what is happening for us all and our community. So on the way back to mums we stopped at Sutton Forest pub and met a journalist and told our story so far.
We hope that this is helping everyone.
We know that there is still danger ahead. There is still big weather coming. I guess a few things to act on:
- If you want to give someone something to help them, go for it. Trust your own love and care that it will be perfect because it is your care.
2. Rescue a chicken from cruelty and when you buy things be conscious of what impact your choices are having
3. If you are in a fire danger area do all you can do but remember that you can’t do more than that.
4. If you can help a mate, don’t think about it. Pick up the phone and show up. That is who we are.
My love for this community and country is never ending. The love and care we are receiving is beautiful. As our hearts ache and we suffer loss, we will grieve together and we will recover together.
Thank you so much for all of your care.
Day Four – January 8
Hi everyone, here is Post 3 – Day Four after the fire that hit our road. If you haven’t read my earlier posts it may be a bit out of context. I hope it still helps.
Today is in many ways the weirdest so far. I woke at 4am crying. Waking up crying is weird. I rolled over to hug my husband and he told me he was awake. I asked him if it was too early after the loss of our home and chickens to talk about rescuing more chickens. He said, of course we can. He is that kind of guy – a doer with a huge heart.
It’s as if that then gave me a sense of permission to be in more action. My mind was going nuts as it has been for three nights so I grabbed my phone and wrote a text message to three very special friends –
‘I am sorry it is so early but my mind is buzzing and I have some ideas. For me to gather and talk with others in our community who have lost so much, and also to help our local RFS teams to complete their paperwork to get paid. What do you think?’
Funny, I got a response almost immediately. She is a farmer, a super woman, and awake also at 4am. Her response was priceless, ‘hi Sara, I can’t see your text because I can’t find my reading glasses but love and hugs and cup of tea when we feed the cows’
I love where I live: the people, the place
The support we are receiving is wonderful.
Then as I settled down my husband asked what I would like for breakfast and my heart broke all over again as I realised that our usual routine of him making coffee and me going to the chickens to let them out and feed them was not happening today.
I was back in the shock and weight of what was going on. I was in Day Four. We got up and had coffee and prepared breakfast for the cats – wash their bowls, prep their food, give them a cuddle, clean their litter trays, leave them to eat. The basic, practical daily steps are so critically important right now.
We dressed for the day. Gerald was off to Sydney to have some time with our son. To have precious papa/son time. I looked at the wardrobe and realised that I had a choice of clothes. A beautiful amazing friend had given me a pair of jeans and some boots along with other items. As a woman at 6’2” clothes are not easy to come by.
I grabbed my wallet, phone and stood in the kitchen ready to go. It was an odd and difficult moment. It’s not my house, it’s mums house, but it’s not a holiday or short stay. I live here now with my husband, three cats and all of my chickens are gone.
‘Okay woman. Make today different. Be practical today. Be strong. Do stuff. Small steps. One step at a time. You’ve got this girl. You are safe, G is safe, the cats are safe. You are cared for and today you have some routine stuff to do. SO LETS DO IT!’ My ‘inner talk’ can be pretty demanding at times!
I drove to Moss Vale. I met a dear amazing friend for breakfast but couldn’t eat. I struggle to stomach much food at the moment. I am aware that it is my stress response – one of a few.
I arrived at the cafe and was hugged by the owner as she cried for me and for us all. She held me and I held her.
I saw my friend and we hugged. We then had coffee and tried to eat whilst we unpacked some of what is going on. We talked about my ideas.
‘Sara I am no psychologist, but I think you are doing some things to put control back into your day.’
‘Yes I am definitely doing that.’ I said exhausted.
‘Okay, yes that makes sense. You are also doing so much for the bigger community. Let’s make sure that you are doing what you need. I want you to book the GP and just get support to check you are on track.’
It was her super lovely and loving way of checking if I had mental health support. Being married to a shrink (sorry, a psychologist) I was very comfy talking about it.
‘Okay Peta, yes I will get to the GP and get a mental health plan. Thanks so much for looking out for me.’
‘Yes and what other practical things are you doing for yourself today? Your routine, normal life, work?’
I always tell people that I am a ‘lawyer by trade’ but really I am just a big bundle of love for community and people and animals and our environment. I live to paint and play with chickens. I am good at what I do and I love it and I know she is right. It is super important to be doing my ‘normal life’ as well as what I am doing with the community in relation to the fires etc.
‘Yes you are right Peta. I have taken some work calls and done the basic urgent stuff. I was worried about some clients so I referred them to other lawyers that I trust. I have committed to get back to full time work on Monday.’
‘Okay great. It is so important. The journey will be long. You will need support and normality. You also need something very practical today. I will arrange for you to help the neighbours feed their horses today.’
I love Peta’s care and action. She told it to me straight.
Then she asked me to go shopping with her so she could buy me a couple of shirts.
I say it again – I love the people and the place.
The clothes shop was closed. We booked the horse feeding time and I was off to my next part of the day.
Then my next task was cancelled. It was a tiny thing yet it triggered me to overwhelm. I sat in the car with tears and exhaustion and thought about what to do. Do I go to mums in tears? I couldn’t bare having mum see me in tears again. She has seen too much lately. It is so hard watching your kids in pain.
Then I remembered my idea of helping the RFS team with their admin. So I drove there.
I stopped at the shed gate. Overwhelmed for a moment by the ocean of yellow and red. Thirty trucks and what looked like hundreds of men and women being briefed for the day. They haven’t slept properly in weeks, they haven’t seen their families. They haven’t had their normal routine.
I was seen and recognised by some of the guys. I was hugged to within an inch of my life. This was part of my home. These people were my heroes. These people were leaders.
I told them about the idea of helping with the admin. After a bit of thought the admin guy says, ‘yep. Yep. That’ll work. Go for it Sara.’
And off we were. I rang around to get help. So we are gathering a few people to help. We have looked at the process and we are testing the process to ensure that we get it right first go.
Then I drove off again. It was 10am. I had a call to be on that was for work. I did that and made it fast. Work feels overwhelming at the moment so I am doing it in bursts. Twenty minutes and then a short break. Then another twenty or so minutes and a break.
During the call I was reminded that I have a meeting to attend on Tuesday next week. Omg!!!! What do I wear to an important ‘lawyer’ kind of meeting???? Panic for a split second and then I remembered the local Hospice shop.
To jump ahead – I am going to a meeting on Tuesday in a mans tuxedo jacket, pink men’s business shirt, black shoes and a pair of pants!!! All for $45!!!
The women in the Hospice shop asked what I was looking for and why. It’s a tough answer at the moment. When people do t know what you are going through it is super hard t tell them – like cold calling! So I stood there trying to find the words and instead, cried. One of the women realised pretty fast and said ‘okay hon, it’s okay. We will get you a beautiful outfit.’
The other lady had not realised and asked ‘what? What am I missing?’
The first woman whispered, ‘the fires, the fires. Now shoosh.’
I wanted to hug those two women. They rushed around and when we had an outfit they tried to offer more. I said ‘ladies yu have been amazing. But more would be overwhelming for me. Can we leave it there?’
I reckon Tuesday will be powerhouse day for me!!!
I texted a friend. She cried and hugged me and cried and hugged me. Then she cried and hugged me. And if you cant guess, she then cried and hugged me.
Friends like that are essential. I was wrapped up in her care. She was honest, raw, caring. She didn’t try to be anything but present with me and how she felt. She bought me lunch and a handbag. Yep you read that right. I didn’t have one – they had all burnt in the fire.
As we finished our time she cried less but hugged just as much.
I got in the car. I sat and took stock. It was 1pm and I had a gap before heading to my GP appointment to get my mental health plan.
Gerald (actually I call him G or G-man) rang to tell me that Tobi was good and they were having a great day together and that he missed me. This is our first day apart for weeks. Fire prep takes two – partners – mates – best friends. That is who we are together, a team – two.
He hung up ready to go back to Tobi after we had connected and I continued to drive to the GP.
My appointment starts in ten minutes. I am doing self care. It is crucial. It feels good to be doing.
After that I am off to feed horses and get on with some admin RFS help.
Hopefully by the time I go to bed tonight I will have exhausted myself enough to get some sleep.
All my care,
DAY FIVE – January 9
Day five is on my mind! That is (as my diary continues …) five days since hearing about the house being burned down.
I talked with my beautiful hugged-cried friend (she knows that she is referred to in that way as my way of letting her know how much I love her) today. We talked at the end of the day.
The day before someone separately had said ‘start to recognise the people and events for which you feel yourself coming back together when you are with them.’ My friend today is one of those people. So we sat and talked and I could feel myself coming back together.
I have started at that part of today’s story – like starting at the end – so that you know that I did come back together. But yesterday afternoon and today did have many moments in which I felt somewhat pulled apart.
As you know, I went to the GP yesterday. A friend had suggested it as part of self care. I went along so glad that I did. I have my mental health plan in place and am linking to the best psychological support suited to me. At the surgery the doctor and I talked.
‘How are you?’
I smiled ‘I am good.’
‘Mm hhmmm.’ He said.
I smiled to myself as it did seem a ridiculous response on my part.
‘What would you like today sara? I have spoken to your husband, and so I can imagine.’
‘Yes I am after a mental health plan. I understand we have to do that short questionnaire and then if appropriate you will provide me with a referral and the plan.’ I was still smiling as the doctor seemed a bit stumped, trying to work out the words to use to comfort me.
When someone around me is unsure of what to say, and they pause and stumble, I find it beautifully vulnerable and courageous of them. The person is trying so hard to be caring and is trying to assess and meet my needs. I had a feeling of immense care for him in that moment. So I sat quietly letting him find his words.
‘Okay Sara, let’s get the referral done.’
As he prepared the referral I noticed that he spoke out loud, his thoughts. So as I sat there he said out loud:
‘Mmmm dear oh we dont know who yet. We will get to that later. Dear so and so this is a referral for Sara to receive supportive counselling as a result of losing her home on Sunday as a result of the bushfires mmm hmm mm. Ah okay and now I just add here, she came to see me a few years ago with a diagnosis of PTSD after a traumatic event including homelessness, crisis and abuse, and other things mmm hmm, and then saw me again for multiple miscarriages and failed IVF, mmm and now for her house burning down, no no for losing her home to bushfires. She has no need for medication, no signs of depression. Signed mmm hhhmm’
‘Okay Sara let’s complete the mental health assessment. Yes your score is no signs of depression, actually quite good, a bit of stress. So how are you feeling now?’
I paused, he paused and we held eye contact for just that moment long enough that words did not have to be spoken – for if they had been spoken I would have burst into the greatest laughter and recognition of what seemed to be the most absurd list of horrible events that perhaps only happens to one person in the movies.
I stood up, we smiled and as I had a tiny giggle escape my throat, he looked at me, so I smiled and left. I walked out of the surgery feeling amazing, and a huge smile appeared on my face.
To wind the clock back a couple of days, a dear friend rang me when he heard the news about the house. He asked how I was doing. Then he said ‘Sara you have been through worse, you have lost more, you have had less. You have come through it all. You have got this one, you will be more than great after the recovery.’
He was right although I also think he hadn’t gone far enough. Let me explain.
Today I spent most of the day at RFS Exeter working on the admin required to help our RFS people receive some financial assistance. I had an incredible woman helping me. She had read my idea of doing it so came along to help. The friendship we created is for a blog on another day. We are still working through the process. We were also joined by the incredible women of Mittagong Services NSW who helped us in person and on the phone working out what was needed. We finished at about 3pm. I was totally wrecked, exhausted. That is when I drove to BOWRAL to then see my hugged-cried friend.
Okay, a bit about the woman who helped me. My home, that was destroyed in the fire, had also been her home some years before me. At one point today we sat and had a cup of tea. She said, ‘I have a gift for you.’
I opened it. As I stared at the framed photo and cried she said ‘I went to your Facebook page and printed this photo of yours because I know that view from the verandah. I used to sit there too looking out at nature.’
I sat in awe of this woman and her amazingly huge heart. We looked at each other and shared a kind of single moment that I sometimes think we all imagine twins to share – a signed thought and feeling shared between two people. Then we left the tea and went back to RFS to keep working.
Exhausted from the admin work I left.
Now back to my hugged-cried friend, I sat with her in Bowral and we reflected on life and especially the doctors appointment and the moment I shared with the woman who had helped me at Exeter today.
We talked about the fact that really hard things to deal with happen to everyone. Life doesn’t go unscathed. We talked about those moments in life that push you to the brink. We shared how those moments are never ones that we regret. They are the moments and events that we become grateful for.
As my friend had said ‘you have been through worse.’
He was right. I have been through worse. And for every event in my life that has been worse, I can say that I look back with care and softness and gratitude. That doesn’t mean that I would want them to happen again or happen to others. But it does mean that I not only survived, I thrived.
Being without a home is terrifying. Being isolated in that terror is even worse. Recovering from the loss of miscarriages still aches in my body.
But I look at those experiences and I see myself as a person who is loving as much and as full as I can. Going for everything even in the face of adversity, risk and fear. I have experienced myself as deeply caring for others even when it puts me outside the ‘norm’ and I have fought huge battles to have the voices of those who have no voice, be heard.
So, the house has gone. We will rebuild. I am part of a community of people whose generosity and desire to connect goes far beyond anything we see or feel most days.
I receive messages, request, offers, care everyday.
I left my friend and went to meet G man. I arrive at his office and he has been working tirelessly to do all of our admin. When your house burns done there is a LOT of overwhelming paperwork. He had also written a post on Facebook about offering support to other families. He had not stopped al day. We worked together to finish things off and go and eat something.
So for today I say To my community, thank you. Thank you for joining me on this journey and for wanting me to be surrounded by care. Thank you for caring so much, for caring about my husband, my family, my chickens and cats. Thank you for making acre an action and not just a thought or feeling.
This has been my Day Five. A day of working hard, pushing boundaries, having quiet voices be heard, caring in action and being cared for.
To finish, I made the commitment to reach out to other families who have lost someone or something. We have connected six families today. We have a lot to go.
Imagine if we could connect 100% of people across Australia to not just survive but to thrive.
All my love
DAY SIX – January 10
Post no. 5, Day Six. I wasn’t sure that I would share this post. But here goes.
Today is different from every other day. It is being written in a different way also.
It is 7am. I slept more last night. I woke a few times and tossed around a bit but am sure I had more deep than previous nights since the big fire.
I have woken in a minor but very real state of panic and hyper vigilance. I have studied the maps for expected fire prediction. Will mum’s place be safe? Will my neighbours and community be safe? Will we have another piro storm today? Will someone lose their home? Will I be running around evacuating? Do I run up stairs to talk with mum. Do we call
Another family meeting?
The weather prediction is for the north easterly (is dad safe at Colo Vale) wind to change this afternoon to a south westerly (are we safe?).
The weather predictions did not help us with the piro storm last week. We did not think last Saturday night that we were in super serious risk. We thought we were being cautious by leaving. We left with only an hour or so to spare. We think that our neighbours left with only fifteen minutes to spare.
G man is already up and about. Time to talk with him first. Time for calm rational thinking. Hyper vigilance is a good thing today but not when it is coming FROM my nervous system as crisis overload.
Why am I writing this today? Today feels unsafe and panicked. Breathe deep today says my inner voice.
My humour has left me this morning.
My sister texted and we joked on text for a bit. But I knew that i was in a different space.
I did not want to get out of bed. My joints aches. My arms were heavy and my hips and lower back aching. Was this going to be my trauma crash?
G had things to do so he was out of mums place doing tasks for us. I was on the phone quickly helping organise fast home opportunities for people. I was on the phone to Services NSW (if you lost anything in the fires please call them) helping sort some emergency items for some families. I was reaching out to some people who had offered to help. It was amazing but at the same time I knew that my trauma response was I full swing and that soon I would hit a peak and crash.
It is 11am. I got through calls, emails and texts. Then it came. A wave of panic first. Will other people lose their homes today? Then the wave of fright and flight and I wanted to run. Hard. Fast.
All of this whilst lying on the lounge frozen in the aches and heaviness in my body. I asked a friend if her sister could help with massage. An appointment was made for Sunday.
A friend called and asked me about my intention for the day. She was caring for me. She asked me to stop, to slow, to turn my attention to myself. I promised that I would but also not to put pressure on me to be someone I am not. When people are in crisis I need to act. At the same time I needed to take action for my own well-being.
I called G Man. It is 12pm.
‘Darling I am okay but I need that shrink appointment and fast. I am going into overload. I am starting to freak out. I am wanting to run.’
‘Yeah I will do that right now.’
I stayed on the lounge. People called and I did what I felt was important. I worked on a few local projects. I made calls for support for on the ground.
My body was in full ache and the symptoms of PTSD, which I am familiar with, hit me like a Mack truck. These symptoms are normal during a crisis and loss such as this. You can suffer the symptoms and not have PTSD. It is so important to talk with a professional who understands.
For me today was a good example of the symptoms. The physical, mental and emotional impact.
Many people have told me ‘it’s okay you are safe and a House is a house.’
I agree to a certain extent. I have a long history of homes being taken away from me, and this particular home had become an immense symbol of privacy and safety for me.
This home was hidden away. Limited access to the world. I felt deeply safe. I felt deeply cared for in that home. The destruction of my home touched on that and there is the trauma.
By 2pm I had worked through the various calls etc on local projects. I had rejected several media people’s requests.
I did not sleep. I cried for a moment. But this in my body is not as simple as grief or loss. This is pain, anger, grief, sadness, loss, and all of what is still felt from my past.
I am so grateful for today. It is a moment in time when I am acutely aware of the agony in my body at the experience of HOME being taken from me again.
I spoke to the psychologist who I am now seeing in monday. My nervous system settled a bit.
G came home at 4pm.
A text came in for all of our neighbours to meet to talk about tonight. The police were there to help. We all talked. It was 5pm.
We then went HOME to our land. We watered the fruit trees which we hope survive. I was sad and disappointed that on that land I could feel trauma.
We got in the car and came back to mums.
It is 8pm. This is Day Six. This is the hardest day so far. It is also the most important so far. I have landed in what it feels like in my body when my HOmE – the building that represents safety and care – is taken away from me.
It is critical that I walk through these kind of days.
Tonight I am calm, soft and at mums relaxing
DAY SEVEN – January 11
My paintings – reflecting on them this morning and whether to do some painting at the moment.
All are gone from the fires but here are some photos of a few – some finished and some not xx
It is Monday. It is a work day. It is my first psychology appointment to talk about the fires and their impact.
Such a strange day yet becoming my norm as we navigate the journey of losing our home and getting ready to start the rebuild.
My early mornings have become a bad time. I wake up with my dreams still running and I realise that it is a new day but that I am already working hard to process what has happened. Each dream is different – this morning it was the sound of sirens of fire trucks going past and me needing to make sure that we leave. Yesterday it was a feeling in my legs that I have to run as hard as I can to escape the fire. It’s as if my fight/flight response is off because we have already escaped and my flight response seems to only be kicking in now a week later – I told G and laughed that it was a bit slow on my part, a week late.
I made a commitment to myself to go back to work today. I need to be back in my practical environment, doing things, my family needs income. My husband needs time to himself I think, to do some stuff for him before he heads back to work. I need to leave the Highlands and be surrounded by my team in Sydney.
I got dressed this morning and was overwhelmed by the love and care of my family, friends and community. I looked at clothes that had been donated to me trying to work out an outfit. I cried at the experience of people’s generosity and care. My sister bought me a pair of black pants, my friend gave me a cardigan, my mother in law gave me a top, a stranger bought me a jacket, another stranger supplied me with face wash and toiletries. It is overwhelming. I find it uncomfortable to be given these things and to be supported in this way. I have fought most of my life to be independent and strong and this feels like I am being pitiful and weak. I have thoughts that I have not done anything to deserve this and then I realise that people’s care is not about deserving. Real care of others is not about any kind of value judgment – it is about seeing what people need and providing it.
I thought about my neighbour this morning. He will be heading off to work too. He is a handyman today with no tools. He had tool boxes with the gear that he needed to work to be able to provide for his family. He doesn’t have that gear now. It is heart breaking. I emailed Bunnings. I asked them to help him. I emailed two other people I know and asked them to help. The bloke needs the same as me – shelter, food, clothes, care, community, work, purpose, engagement. He also needs tools.
I drove to the psychologist appointment. I won’t share a lot about that as it is my private space where I can pour out my feelings and also get some practical tips for recovery. We did talk about one aspect however that I want to share. Sadness.
‘What are the main emotions that you are feeling at the moment?’
Pause. Reflection. Sensing. Looking from that helicopter view down on myself sitting in the chair I responded. ‘Sadness.’
I said, ‘It’s not sadness about anything yet it seems to be about everything. It is like I am carrying a watertank full of tears, of sadness. Just walking around hoping that someone will relax with me and sit in the sadness. I don’t want to jump away from it, I don’t want to be happy right now. That will come. I am a strong person and will rebuild. But I want space to have this sadness and recognise it. The sadness is about me and my journey and having another big thing happen in my life that I need to recover from. My sadness is about my husband and what he is going through. My family. My neighbours. My friends. My community. What they are all going through. The people I walk past who are exhausted. The RFS volunteers are my neighbours, friends and community and they are exhausted. Their families are exhausted. The people who make my coffee are exhausted. Every person who has a small business and has no or few customers – they are exhausted. I am worried for every community in NSW who has to battle through the exhaustion and still pay bills, raise kids, get on with day to day living. I look at the land we live on and that gives us our oxygen – it is burnt badly. I cannot bring myself to look at images of injured or dead animals as it is too much for me. I look to all of the people working so hard trying to help and I see their sense of helplessness.
All of that plus so much more is my sadness. I want us to have the space and time to feel the sadness. So that from there we can bond, integrate, join, care and recover. From there we can make different decisions. We can find better ways forward.
I have been thinking about the decisions and actions being taken. I want to find a better way. We need to first hear the voices of those most impacted, those closest to the losses caused by the fires. We need to allow those voices to be the loudest. Not the politicians, not the businesses – their voices will come later. We need to first hear the voices of those who lost loved ones. We need to find ways for those voices to tell us what is in their reality and we need to meet their needs. We need to stop assuming that we know. Then we go to the next voices, the ones who lost animals, land, property, connection. We need to hear their voices and meet their needs. Then we need to move to the third layer, those closest next who were most impacted. We need to keep doing this until the broadest picture of the journey we have been on and are still on, is integrated and understood. We need to start at the cold face of it all. We need to make decisions from there. We need to listen.
If we don’t do this we will not find a better way forward. We will not find paths of recovery in which we thrive. We will make the same wrong decisions and we will suffer.
Those thoughts have filled my mind today.
But then I drove to work and a friend spoke with me. She gave me space to be sad.
I walked into the office and my team quickly embraced me with so much care. They had bought some clothes, my favourite food snacks (I have a reputation for not eating much at work), they even bought my favourite perfume and some jewellery. We talked for a while and then we turned to work. I was in my mental safe space – being a lawyer, solving problems. Focused on problems for others.
I received a text message from a young woman in a ministerial office. We played phone tag for the day. She was persistent.
I left early – 430pm – to get home. I had a call from the ministers office. I was shocked. A friend had told me that she was in contact with a relevant minister and that she had explained that I had lost my home but also had a practical way for government to better help families and community. When the young woman rang she Cleary had no idea that I had lost my home or the purpose of her calling me. That angered me. That is the breakdown between our government and our commmunity. Government is using the language of understanding and listening but they are not actually doing either.
I expressed my disappointment and anger. Then I received a call an hour or so later from the minister.
I expressed myself. I am still clear on a simple fact that I have experienced for decades in every community based project I have run – in multiple countries around the world – for over twenty years. Government does not listen to its community, does not lead well and does not see what is right in front of them. They are not able to witness or accept the reality. I am told it is because I am now on the cold face of what is happening yet my message has been the same for twenty years. Leaders need to listen deeply, then look through the lens of a more caring integrated value set, that allows them to feel real care, to be able to make better decisions.
My day ended with all of these talks. We will see what happens when meet with government this week – tommrow and Friday. The proof is in the pudding.
Then we had dinner with friends. They offered to cook us a meal. Six of us. Two had been fighting fires for weeks to the road from our place and two were supporting us living in the neighbouring suburb. We had a normal night. You know – laughter, food, wine. We forgot for a few hours about what had been going on for weeks. We rested in ways only possible when friends hold you close.
Tomorrow is a day of work. Let’s see what comes. I am excited given my day of activity and I am nervous wondering what might come at 4am waking me up.
Post 11 – two weeks since the fire. Two weeks ago we were trying to sleep but were watching the apps, listening to the scanner. The fire was going to destroy our home at about 1030pm. We didn’t know that until Sunday.
Today it is Saturday – two weeks later.
Each time I go home, the place feels and looks worse. I wonder if it is my brain looking after me by breaking down the impact into digestible pieces. The destruction is extraordinary. If there are looters coming to our property – please take the ash with you. Could you also take the brick and tin? You can have the charcoal. If yu take those things here isn’t much else left.
I looked today for a hint of new growth through the blackness. I found a tiny patch. I know it will come. I think about building a new home and for a split second I think of new homes as lovely but then I have waves of sadness and anger and want my own home. Yes it was old and it had all sorts of funny quirks but we loved that home. Our laundry had a wall with writing on it. The writing was markings from the family who had owned and built it. Their kids heights were marked on there. So many markings – years of growth of bubs becoming adults. I couldn’t have children. We had tried for years but alas did not. I wrote about my son. My son as I call him, is my step son. But to me there is no step. I would do anything to ensure he is safe, cared for and loved. He is mine. I love him within an inch of his life – the poor young Man. But this wall, just a laundry wall, it was full of stories of children. I loved it. I loved knowing that they grew up in that house.
From writing these posts I have met a woman who had lived in the house before us. She reached out to me to help me with the RFS. She raised her kids for a number of years in that house. We have shared memories about the quirks. We are building a friendship from all of this destruction. Can you believe it? We are two women connected by a home and we are now building a friendship.
Today G and I went to buy an iron and ironing board. It was difficult. It was exhausting. Being surrounded by hundreds of things that we had once owned that we no longer own and have to replace, is overwhelming. A toaster. A kettle. A toothbrush. A hairdryer. A fridge. An oven. The list is long. None of these items mean anything yet the destruction of them ALL and their pending replacement feels all too hard.
I receive a lot of messages from people who have read the posts. I am so lucky. I am so grateful. I don’t know what to say to people. The kindness. The care. The friendship. The connection. Our community.
I went to Bowral today to do some tasks. I met a jeweller who had said that he had a gift for me. We talked. We hugged. We shared stories. He has done so much for our community by being part of it. I am so inspired by him to keep going.
We were exhausted today. We went to a cafe and bought coffee and talked about what we were doing. We went into my favourite clothes shop. It is in Exeter. The shop like every shop in retail, is working so hard. With all of the owners hard work she still gave with all of her heart and generosity. I bought a gift of thanks for my mum in the shop and the owner struggled to let me pay for the gift knowing what we are going through. This is her livelihood! My goodness, I would empty the shop by purchasing it all if I could. She gave me a dress to take home! I don’t know what to say. So many people are doing whatever is in their capacity to do.
The care and generosity of so many people has been incredible. My husband is so grateful for how much care his wife is being given. I am thankful that my husband can feel good in this tough time. The cycle of goodness and kindness creates more kindness and care. The multiplier effect is truly alive and happening in the southern highlands.
We went to Mittagong today to pick up the air compressor that a stranger gave to a stranger, and a stranger picked up and held onto to give to a stranger. A bunch of strangers. We stood in the rain for over an hour. We got wet. We talked. We related. We shared. We told stories. Strangers.
It reminds me of a small community project that I created when I was about 23. It was all about strangers coming together in a shared interest, to learn about each other. It had residents in Waterloo, sharing with CBD lawyers, and a bunch of chefs. Strangers working for strangers. To discover that no matter what circumstances we find ourselves, there are always common links that provide for opportunities of kindness.
Here I am, 23 years later and living that experience again but not of my own creation. People are amazing at their best.
We got home today complete exhausted and fragile. My nervous system feels trashed and fragile. There is no desire to debate or argue about anything I would normally have the strength to face online. My desire to share the evidence of what is happening in our community is taken over by my exhaustion.
Gerald has gone out to dinner with two amazingly awesome mates. The three of them together could raise the roof of any building with just how kind, caring and wonderful they are – three Aussie blokes. I hope they are having a beer and eating a meal and telling stories. That process is so critical to our day to day existence. I love knowing that G man is surrounded by great blokes.
I am home. I sat with mum and expressed my sadness and exhaustion. I realised that I wanted to be alone – well as alone as you can be when you have three cuddly cats living with you. Mum has come in and out checking on me. She is wonderful. My Uncle is here too and was also talking to me with all the care of who he is. I am so lucky. My uncle has always been the guy who cared. My whole life, with so much happening in my life, he has always shown up with what I needed – a hug, care and understanding. His understanding of people astounds me. His enormous heart astounds me. That I get to be cared for by these two – mum and my uncle – astounds me.
So here I am, tucked away in mums home, safe and comfy, my three cats on the lounge. My husband being cared for. My neighbour has some tools. My friends are safe. There are thoughts of those who don’t have as much as I have. What can we do to provide them with the same care and respect as I have?
I don’t know tonight.
So tonight for me has become down time. I did some painting but more of that tomorrow. Time now to sleep. I hope I get some more sleep. Cat cuddles and TV before sleep.