How I paid for ‘top surgery’ while on a pension

Let me start by saying it would never have happened while on unemployment payments. About two hundred bucks was the extent of my savings in those days, and that took a LONG time to accrue.

Once I came to terms with the fact that I had a disability that was not responding to treatment and had no sign of letting me resume paid work, and I applied for the disability pension, a heap of stress fell off my shoulders. No longer did I have to account for every dollar in my weekly budget. I could afford a few small treats AND save. That was a major turning point in my life. I’d always said that the tiny unemployment payments were a poverty trap and a punishment, but having surplus funds for the first time in years underlined those statements in red ink.

Now I could think beyond daily survival and toward an actual future. What did I want? What did I want to save for?

What did I really, really want? Top surgery. I’d wanted it for decades, and had only recently learned that it was possible to access privately. When I saw the cost I knew it would take years, and it did. It took several years, a lot of patience, stubbornness, anger and hoop jumping. I managed it with the help of all the frugality and mental health management skills I’d accumulated.

Here’s another disclaimer: I’m aware that not everyone is privileged enough to have affordable housing, access to friendly social networks that allow informal trades of goods and services, or even the personal space to work through all the emotions involved. I’m not saying that my methods will be possible or even attractive to everyone, only that this was how I did it myself.

So how did I do it? First, I opened a high interest savings account, so my money could grow even as I slept. Until then I’d considered interest unethical, because I’d known the stress of paying interest on borrowed money. So there was that, and I was desperate enough to squash those qualms.

Next I reviewed my weekly budget, averaging my regular bills and deciding on an achievable dietary plan and entertainment budget. I didn’t need a clothing budget; I had plenty. My life is pretty simple by both choice and necessity. I hand-wrote a spreadsheet of sorts, making sure all weekly, monthly and annual bills and membership fees were accounted for.

I’m pretty happy to eat the same things day in and day out, with the exception of fresh fruit and vegetables, which are of course seasonal, especially if home grown or locally sourced. So that part was pretty easy to work out. Peanut butter, tinned sardines, baked beans and tomatoes featured often, as did plain crackers, soba noodles and cheaper cuts of meat. And being a home gardener with foraging tendencies, I included nutritious weeds such as dandelions and milk thistle. Free! Bonus!

My entertainment needs were also simple. My friends aren’t status-seekers who demand that I keep up with the latest blah blah blah. Nor are they, on the whole, overly outgoing themselves. So my baseline costs were for regular coffee dates. Other entertainment needs were met by my hobbies, by the local library, and by friends with gardens who wanted my help. I may not be able to hold down a job, but my IRL social networks are peppered with informal trades and gifts. In the past I’ve joined LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems) which were wonderful too, but I couldn’t find one here.

The hardest part for me was managing my mental health throughout. Once I’d learned that surgery was actually possible, I was in a rush. Patience is something that is perhaps strengthened with practice. I don’t know, but it was anger and resentment of all the hoop jumping and delays that I most needed to manage. At times I considered giving up. Then my stubbornness would kick in and I’d take out my aggravation on plants that I knew could handle it. Every shrub was repeatedly pruned, every inedible weed removed. Lawns were mown more frequently than usual. When all else failed I hit pillows and my mattress and shifted all my furniture around to loud music. Regular gym visits helped wear me out. I had to be careful not to overdo it, as I’d injure myself or my mood would plummet further. It was a fine balance of endorphins and exhaustion.

Oxytocin from hugs became an essential mood balancing input, and one friend started to feel harassed by my increased need for those. Another friend was delighted. Luckily my cat enjoyed plenty of pats and brushing. I patted every dog that crossed my path, with their human’s permission. I hugged a lot of trees.

Any time someone gave me cash, it went into the high interest savings account. Occasionally I sold something I’d created, and those fund were added to the account. Any time I managed to trim my budget, the surplus was added to the account. A glutton for self-denial, I trimmed my electricity, gas and phone budget and added those funds. Any time I’ve played something that rewarded me for achieving a goal, it was obviously a strong incentive to continue… to improve. Bank interest gained in those days was much higher than current rates, and the buzz from each month’s interest strongly reinforced my efforts. When I wasn’t angry I enjoyed the game of it all.

Previous interactions with insurance companies had left me emotionally and financially bruised, so I omitted all contact with health insurers. This simplified things further. With a quote from the surgeon, I added a couple of thousand for contingencies, given my age. I’m pretty healthy, but without insurance it made sense to factor in some surplus for the unexpected, which turned out to be wise.

That’s it!

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I’m now saving for a house, which seems as achievable as 3D printing a unicorn. A person needs a dream, right?

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Thanks to the photographer of the fab image above, obtained free from Pexels.

It’s a beautiful day

My mental health was slipping again, due to sleep deprivation from noise I couldn’t adequately block out. After seeing my doctor yesterday, I am happy to report that I now feel fresh as a box of fluffy ducklings. Amazing what one good sleep can do!

The smell of ripening peaches is drifting indoors to where I sit, eyes drawn to the tiny cheeping Silvereyes birds in the tree. It is the sweetest chirp. I saw a group in my neighbour’s tall conifer yesterday, foraging for insects and feeding youngsters. All accompanied by that beautiful sound.

Gentle, gregarious

Imagine a group of them, hopping gaily from branch to branch. Happiness right there, yes?

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Sparrows are also chasing each other around the apple and feijoa and tamarillo trees.

New Holland Honeyeaters usually swoop swiftly in and out, clattering their beaks at each other, or shrieking from higher vantage points. They’re mostly here of an evening, in high numbers, taking turns to bathe in the wee pond I have hidden beneath the native white elderberry shrubs. Or to bathe in the water held by leaves I have hosed at dusk for their benefit on hot days.

Quick thinkers

Since adding more native daisies and grasses, flowering understory plants and small bowls of fresh water to my small garden, I’ve noticed an exponential increase in visiting birds, butterflies, bees and other insects. Even massive spiders have moved in, which I only ever notice while watering. I used to be so jealous of my neighbour and her huntsman spiders. She hates them.

No snakes or lizards… yet.

Fruit bats are always welcome – after all, I keep the peach tree to attract them, and I’m grateful they appear to be ignoring my figs for the moment. While looking for a strictly informative video about Aussie fruit bats, I found this one that hit home pretty hard. Good on you, is all I can say to this person!

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Currawongs are my major fruit stealer, especially berries, but they have appeared to be more interested in raiding others’ nests lately. They’re beautiful too. I tend to talk to them, much as I chat with magpies and ravens.

Respect the beak

The currawongs swoop in at dusk to scoop up the beetles, moths and crickets that emerge when our driveway lights come on. It’s a stunning nightly ballet.

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One bird I would love to see more of is the Superb Blue Wren, which I believe travels in extended family groups. When I hear them on my river walks, I always stop and wait for them to appear, so I can admire them properly.

I wonder what I need to plant here at home, to be wren-nip?

They’re usually deep in the shrubbery

The cat wants her chair back, which means it’s time for my lunch. That’s how we tell the time in this place. Bye for now!

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Fluffy duckling photo is courtesy of a fab photographer at Pexels. Thank you!

Facets of the whole

Someone portrayed my story as the trunk of an elephant. They themselves had the view of a rear leg, catching only glimpses of the trunk. They needed me to describe the view from my position. I was glad they hadn’t said that my view was of the rump – that would have been a royal turn-off and I’d have missed their point about us each being (or seeing) a facet of the whole.

Someone else described my life as insipid. That caused me to pause. They meant my current life, and it IS insipid, from the outside at least. We had been talking about how I’d minimised the stressors in my life, prior to medical transition, to help ensure that I’d cope with those changes. There were so many unknowns. I knew my friend meant no judgement or offence; it just wasn’t the word I’d have chosen. Quiet, simplified, sheltered, perhaps. Insipid made me cock my head in curiosity. What was it about that word that I might not have previously considered?

Now I’m ready to add more to the mix, little by little. Easily overwhelmed, it’s not a great idea for me to leap blindly or make grand plans. My boots-and-all years are well behind me now. A shy adventurer, I leapt headlong into all sorts, with faith that I’d adapt and overcome. With age I became less confident, or perhaps just less reckless.

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Thanks to the photographer – pic obtained via Pexels

Good morning!

Hello, it’s been so long since I posted. I woke full of things to tell you and wanted to use a device with an Actual Keyboard (TM), so I needed to clear the decks first. Then the cat stole my chair, so I needed another one. The human pinballs staying next door (we share a wall) began running up and down the hall on their cloven hooves, so I grabbed my noise cancelling headphones and lined up an Off Track podcast of nature noises (running water and frog calls). The computer wasn’t turning on and I worked out why, which was followed by a software update because it’s been so long since I used the ruddy thing that it had Things To Do in preparation for mine. My glasses were dusty, so I took the opportunity to clean them, then realised they were not my Computer Glasses, so I swapped them, and cleaned those as well while waiting.

The cat pawed my leg, wanting whatever she always wants whenever I sit at this computer, which is still a mystery. I patted her, keeping an eye on the line of Thinking Process displayed on the screen. She wandered off to eat then return to bed.

I became distracted by an open window on the screen – a list of books by Anna Livia, an author I was besotted with in the early 1990s. Pronoun Envy! I’ve not read that one! The window promptly shut as a Restart procedure began. Ok then… I watched the line that indicates deep computer thought and motion…. only one minute to go…

Started writing this, as the ‘one minute’ took a surprisingly long time. I need to search for the email I received from the VPN company recommended by the virus protection company, to continue our conversation about why their software appears to be incompatible with my computer’s operating system and what they might want to do about that. I distract myself from watching the Thinking Line by tidying up some of the clutter I generated overnight.

And here we are. It’s now afternoon and I have forgotten what I originally intended to write about. I hope you’re well.

Trying something different

Today I’m using a set of cards from a box published by Corban & Blair, Australia, called “What’s Your Story?” I found it years ago at an op shop and at the time I thought it could help me get to know a new person in my life. Each card offers one line of text and an image as conversational prompts. The introduction card states that the set is designed to be interactive.

The card I chose has the prompt, “Why is the past important?” and a black and white photo of three generations of white male humans in formal dress.

I have some immediate thoughts that may yet fly away like moths on a windy night. My first response is that as a youngster searching for a way through grief, I was repeatedly told to live in the moment. Live for today. Live as though you have no future, and stop dwelling on the past. So I tried that for a while. As I travelled and soaked up others’ histories, others’ stories and family sagas, I resisted talking about my own. And ended up feeling like a wayward helium balloon.

I don’t think I really understood the deeper meanings behind living in the moment, but I do think there’s a time and a place for it. There’s no way through grief except to grieve, for instance, and when faced with beauty I’d rather admire it than compile a shopping list.

My next thought is that I enjoyed being part of group conversations, with cards similar to these, while staying in intentional communities. When it came my turn to participate, I would ‘pass’, which was both acceptable and frustrating for others. But being in the room with adults who were sharing deeper thoughts and feelings, including those arising from past events, was a wondrous thing to me. It was what I most deeply wanted and was afraid of. I loved that people who lived in such communities would be open to new ways of relating. I’d already witnessed new ways of group decision making and conflict resolution. This was even more personal and precious to me.

And the final thought, which has miraculously stuck in my noggin, is that I have often dug into my past when redesigning my future. For instance, when I stopped travelling and tried to settle down in suburbia with my first love, and struggled, I made a mind map of everything in my past that had contributed to happiness, and brainstormed ways of incorporating it into my new life. Hobbies, neighbourly relationships, special interests, outdoor activities, daily habits, they were all applicable. If I’d still been trying to live as an untethered balloon, it would have taken me longer to figure out how to stay in one place. I needed to dig into my past and identify my values in order to be true to them. I guess I’m saying it’s a way of connecting to myself, because who am I if not the sum total of my past thoughts, feelings, activities, values and decisions?

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As always, thanks to the photographer responsible for the image I chose at Pexels.

…and as an aside, untethered balloons tend to land (eventually) and be eaten by wildlife who are consequently damaged by this experience. Just saying.

NaNo 2020 ends today

The month contained too many things, like firecrackers lit all at once, and I am a poor multitasker. Of all the things, it was the lessening of C19 restrictions that f*cked me up. Now I’m ready for a Bex and a good lie down.

It’s no big deal. Tomorrow is another glorious day.

  • Thanks to the photographer of this image obtained free via Pexels

What a weird week

It’s Friday afternoon Down Under and I’m still not sure what happened this week. My anxious brain was on work to rule, meaning a day late and a dollar short. I hardly slept, everything took twice as long to figure out, let alone complete, and I often had the sense that I might be hallucinating. It was weird enough to make me just a little concerned for my health, but not enough to step back into my C19 comfort zone.

Comfort zones… happy sigh. I like them. For me, that’s where the magic happens. Sadly, it’s not entirely healthy to live there. So in order to avoid the December flood of festive (commercial) poppycock, I’m scheduling all the important things I avoided during self-isolation (nostalgic sigh) into the remainder of November. Pity it all clashes with NaNoWriMo. Pity my head can’t cope.

On Monday I had to tidy up the rear wind tunnel (garden path, thank you) in prep for the property inspection. Resentful as heck about conforming to pointless standards of tidiness as opposed to ecological health, I blared music to chop unsuspecting edible plants by, and I conducted an outraged internal monologue to amuse myself with. Win! Then I tried to text the person who I’d promised my other bicycle to, and brain could not word. Then it could not verbally express without swears, or properly operate phone. Fail! Luckily said person was understanding. Bike successfully rehomed.

Fortunately few words were required for my medical appointment. Testosterone jab, tick. I’d not slept well the previous night, thanks to pointless anxiety about this jab.

An emailed invoice arrived, for a package that was apparently on its way without my paying for it. When I’d earlier tried to pay, I’d received an “insufficient funds” message, and yet they said I’d paid. They were happy and I was confused.

A friend forwarded messages regarding overdue pet registration bills he’d received on my behalf. Neither of us could recall adding his details to my bills. And I couldn’t understand why I was being charged for two animals, including the cat I’d reported as deceased the previous year. When I tried to call the office I received a “this phone number has been disconnected” message, which seemed highly unlikely, as this government office meticulously maintains their details online. So I logged into my pet owner page and notified them again of number one cat’s demise. Then tried to pay online with number two cat’s ID number, only to receive the message that I was not a recognised pet owner. Unsure how to proceed, I used their online email option, explaining what I’d already tried and asking for help. In return, I received an emailed invoice, marked PAID. How that happened is beyond me, and I decided in the interests of sanity to leave it there and move on.

Tuesday included scheduling further medical appointments and hanging funny things outside for the house inspection people to see. They amused me, anyway. Wednesday is a blur, apart from scheduling a trip to the dentist. Thursday was a failed attempt to attend the dentist, plenty of panic and mental flailing and self-flagellation. And today I finally attended. It only took kava tablets, six alarms, a backup phone call, a YouTube meditation video, diazepam and a friend to amuse me with in-jokes and a special brand of calm empathic vibes. Plus emailed moral support from a disability worker. Totally normal.

I’d love to say that the weekend will be spent calmly and colourfully in the cocoon of my own creation, but I’m more likely to be catching up with my NaNoWriMo writing, with housework, and making lists of other appointments and tasks to tick off. I do hope to catch up on some sleep though. Sleep deprivation makes everything funny peculiar.

Pick a new subject

I relish depth and honesty, so when I feel safe I dive deeply into my own hopes and fears, and encourage others to speak of theirs.

And yet.

It scares some people. I get it. I’m not always in the right frame of mind, myself. When others barge in and vent all their passion or fear all over me, I feel sullied, disrespected. It has to be consensual.

This blog feels like a safe space to me, much of the time. In part this is because you have the choice to read, or not. I trust you to look after your own needs and I’m fully aware that some topics will be more palatable to readers than others.

When I mouth off on potentially triggering subjects, I post warnings, either explicitly (CW) or implicitly in the titles. If I forget a warning, or if you are adversely affected by content that snuck up on you, I want to know. I will amend my posts and thank you for your feedback, knowing only too well what it’s like to be emotionally sideswiped.

My therapists have supervision and/or their own therapists. Some disability support workers also receive routine supervision. I don’t know about my own support workers, so I’ll have to ask. A friend reassured me this week that those workers are there to support me, however I need support, so if I need to talk about something in particular, that should be ok.

And yet I worry. Because health systems are not perfect animals and because staff turnover is high. I worry about who cares for the carers. Do I need to care for them? How will that affect the care I receive in future? These things need to be discussed. They need to be clear. So I will ask.

See how I worry? It’s an extended form of wondering plus caring, minus information. You’re not a support worker, and yet I worry about you. I worry how my words impact you, and whether you’re ok.

As for bravery, well, we’re all flawed humans and it’s likely that even my most embarrassing disclosures will reassure at least one person. You’re not alone! We’re all bloody idiots in one area or another. “Speak for yourself,” you say?

I can pick another subject to ramble on about. How about dragonflies? Sloths? The way platypus light up in the dark?

Inarticulate rage for the planet

I’ve been grieving the planet since I was ten. When another grief is added, it feels overwhelming. How to stop grieving?

I keep looking for ways to solve the problem.

When I discovered Permaculture I thought hey, design, wholistic approach with fingers in many pies. It feels scattered sometimes, and leads in all kinds of fascinating directions. I thought I could be involved in this many-fingered design solution, and I have been. Not the sort of involvement I expected, and with no end in sight. 

During that long, agitated conversation with the essential worker I mentioned last time, we spoke of death. I said I find it hard to see the point of a life in which at every point I destroy a little more of my own home. Nor do I want to end up in a codependent relationship with the large-scale earth-fuckers, where I’m endlessly cleaning up their messes and therefore enabling them. We need structural change. A global agreement to care for each other, to live without greed. Humans, hey? We have so many faults and excuses. I’ve lost faith in humans. The earth won’t grieve my death.

I find it hard to have compassion for myself, here, on my computer produced by modern slavery and with components obtained in ways that should also be illegal. Who is the hypocrite here? Yes, ’tis I. I told this worker that I am alive for the sake of my parents. Who knows what I will choose when they die.

Now I’m reading this novel, The Last Migration, by Charlotte McConaghy. She writes like an artist, making even despair lyrical. I feel seen and heard. I can’t say I experience the ocean as profoundly as the protagonist, or that I relate to any particular character. It’s the book itself, the vibe of the entire thing. A primal scream. 

That sounds so cliche. Rage and grief and despair are not new, but where are the actions of leaders that reduce the devastation? I’m not using words well, here, and yet I assume you follow. You don’t have to be a great writer in order to be heard and understood. It helps though, if you want to be widely read without accompanying ridicule. 

I’ll flesh out this inarticulate mess, later, for my book. It feels to me like a kernel to be ground up or sprouted. Who needs drugs when being woken rudely from sleep results in chunky thought soup?

Thanks to the photographer who produced this image of natural wonder, which I obtained via Pexels.

Perversely privileged

I was talking with someone about our respective C19 experiences today, and appreciating their viewpoint. As an essential worker, she’d worked throughout all the restrictions the rest of us endured, so she couldn’t relate to the experience of weeks at home alone. She’d interacted with others on a profoundly personal level and had great insights into how they lived. She said we’d all learned important things about ourselves. I found myself getting animated, even agitated, reflecting on the effects of extreme social isolation. Thank goodness for my cat, we agreed, and my new penpal, and fabulous friends and neighbours. I’ll not quickly forget their kindnesses.

We spoke about ways in which we’d tried to help others, whether via donations, energy or basic human contact. I was startled to hear about the extent of debt some people routinely lived with, in order to live outwardly affluent lives. I couldn’t imagine living that way in the first place, let alone being affected so suddenly by job loss. I’d initially chosen to live simply, aged eighteen, then fallen into a poverty trap that has taken years to claw my way out of. The idea of routinely living with huge debts made me even more anxious. I talked about how I’d used small debts as a strategy to keep myself alive in the 1990s, during extended periods of suicidal thinking. I’d told myself that I wasn’t allowed to die until the debt was fully repaid, and I’d kept increasing the debt until I’d recovered my equilibrium.

I felt perversely privileged during the pandemic. I had years of practice in staying home alone, managing depression and anxiety and poverty and a general feeling of irrelevance. I had no mortgage, car payments, or school aged children to take care of, and my elderly parents care for each other in their own home. Isolation was hard, and not too hard. Probably just more of the same hard.

(Grammarly tells me that the previous sentence is grammatically challenged. Sorry.)

Being of a generation that witnessed the start of the AIDS pandemic, I take viruses seriously and am alert for scapegoated/stigmatised populations. I can’t say, “It won’t happen me because I don’t belong to that demographic.” The reality is far more complex. At least this time we pretended that we were all in this together, while the usual social hierarchies prevailed. I enjoyed watching blatantly classist, racist, ageist and ableist policies and attitudes being called out.

At the pandemic’s peak I was frequently reminded of feminist discussions around rape. Of the tyranny of saying, “It obviously won’t happen to me because I never wear/go to/talk with….” It makes people feel safe to believe that those who are hurt somehow deserve it, but it’s not a viable protection strategy.

When the antisocial behaviours resulting from conspiracy theories annoyed me, I reflected on my own distrust of people with power, and on those years I refused to use fluoride toothpaste or wear sunscreen. It was my youthful New Age hippy phase, when I believed that thoughts created your reality. Wishful, magical thinking; if I visualised healthy teeth and skin, and refused to give the ozone hole any energy, I would be fine. If they don’t hurt others, I have some compassion for those exploring alternative belief systems. But while dental caries and a skin cancer scare were my own personal comeuppance, the consequences of ignoring hygiene, social distancing and mask rules affect many more people. When so-called leaders participate in magical thinking, the catastrophic consequences are hard to forgive.

I’m aware that I’m speaking as though it’s all over, which of course is untrue. At the time of writing, my state is ‘reopening’ and floods of humans are escaping the city for regional and rural areas. It’s a milestone to celebrate.

Thanks to the photographer responsible for the beautiful image above, via Pexels.

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