I’m at a friend’s birthday lunch in Noosa, a sunny coastal city in Queensland Australia. We’re sitting at a restaurant on the water; it’s a lazy Saturday afternoon in summer. The wine is flowing, the food is good, the laughs frequent.
You see, the friends at this table have known each other for decades. The stories are old ones. The ones we’ve all heard before but never tire of. Because they remind us of times long gone – good times, funny times, those years that people always said were the best of your life. With hindsight and some life experience, you realise how damn right they were.
We’re old-school today. Boys down one end, girls at the other. Just like in middle school. I watch some passersby give our table of 10 a second glance and for a moment I sit back and take in the scene. What do they see when they look at us? A gregarious well-dressed bunch of late 30 nearly 40-year- olds who look like they want for little and have much.
I look across at two of my girlfriends. The three of us have been sharing light-hearted and entertaining stories throughout the day. As the afternoon wears on and we watch the sun begin to set over the water, our conversation somehow turns serious.
You see all of us, are victims of incredible trauma. To look at us from afar you would never know. Indeed to speak to us you wouldn’t know either. It’s something we don’t readily publicise.
We don’t wear a sign on our back advertising what we have been through. Those passers-by who may have looked at us as if we had few cares in the world would never know what we have endured and in many ways continue to endure.
Unless I stood up and walked with the pronounced limp that I do, no one would know I was the victim of a catastrophic road accident.
And my friend who sits across from me, so incredibly glamorous – no-one in their right mind would pick that she had battled two massive tumours beneath that beautiful head of hers.
And as for our other friend who has lost a loved one, a child so close to her- well that is a trauma that is felt deep within.
This afternoon is the first opportunity we have had to really discuss what we’ve been through and how we believe it’s changed us as people, as women, and perhaps most significantly as mothers.
You see all of us, and I mean women everywhere, see devastating things on television every day. The news and our social media accounts are filled with stories of heartbreak; of loved ones lost, of wars, of cruelty, of humanity at its absolute worst.
Many of us have not experienced what those people have been through. We mourn for them, we cry for them and we think about those people so greatly affected by life. Yet in many ways, those people, those stories are somewhat removed from our everyday life.
Yet are they really? Most of us at some point will experience trauma. And by the age of 40 you can pretty much guarantee that life up until that point hasn’t been smooth sailing, and you’ve dealt with and lived through more than you would realise.
Whether it’s a miscarriage, a separation, a divorce, the loss of a parent, of a child, of a loved one, post natal depression, depression in general, disease, domestic violence, mental health issues, sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment. The list is a long one unfortunately, and most of us have been through at least one of these terrible experiences.
So having lived through some trauma in whatever shape or form it has come, you may have changed more than you think.
My friends and I today discuss just that. Our traumas have all differed greatly, yet we have one thing in common. We are changed women because of them.
I know that I have become more paranoid. I am acutely aware that bad things can and do happen to any of us at any time, with no warning signs.
I have become increasingly worried about the safety of my children. I am on edge any time someone other than myself or my husband drives them anywhere.
In fact my husband tells me I am ‘completely paranoid’ every time he has the kids without me as I bombard him with phone calls about their safety and whereabouts.
I hate myself for it. I hate that I cringe every time my husband takes our baby daughter out in the pram for a walk, as I think a car is going to mount the curb and run over her.
I hate that I am always anxious about not only my children’s health but also my own and that of my husband’s.
Does my sore left breast mean I have breast cancer? I had slight mid-cycle spotting this month… Google ‘ovarian cancer’ symptoms. I have a headache…Google ‘brain cancer’. Was that mole always that colour? Google ‘signs of melanoma’…And so it goes.
My lovely GP who I used to see before I moved and who was an old school friend, so kindly called me ‘hyper vigilant’ about my medical issues. And then she gave me the name of a psychologist.
Last year, my husband who travels regularly for work lost his phone. His brother was my only point of contact for about two weeks while they were overseas in Europe on business.
By the end of the 14 days, my brother-in-law called me ‘certifiable’ as I had constantly texted him every time their plane landed or was about to take off to ensure their safety.
I was about 32 weeks pregnant at the time so I did blame some of my paranoia on hormones, yet I know that such increased anxiety is due to my own accident – my own trauma. It has changed me in ways I would never have thought.
Today as my girlfriends and I talk through what our trauma has made us do, or who it has ensured we become, we acknowledge one thing: The naivety of life has been taken from all three of us and it has changed us. And I wonder then, how many other women has it changed?