Life and work: slow growth in every direction

Flowers 'foraged' from St Kilda's backstreets: RUOK, 2010, Rose Nolan, edition 314/1000.

Today is #RUOK day, a day that I—and many people I know—have complex feelings about. To be able to answer the question, "Are you okay?" one must first be able to answer the question, "Are you?" and for a long time—not least, but especially directly following Owen's birth—I have found it very difficult to answer, directly and coherently, "I am".

I have written about my depression before, tangentially, but am writing about it properly at the moment, honestly and at length. Little seeds of a book that have been sown over the last few years are growing into a collection of essays, each touching on an object or totem—a bowl of soup, a movie, a song—that helped in my recovery from postpartum depression. I've recently signed with Grace Heifetz at Curtis Brown, which is exciting, and have my nose to the grindstone trying to put enough together to start shopping the proposal out.

Most amazingly, I am enjoying writing again. After Owen's birth, my relationship with language really devolved, and it feels like a minor miracle that three short years later words are coming together again, that there is joy in this, that I am stumbling over little revelations and able to pursue research again, if not nimbly then at least doggedly. It feels like a small Spring in my brain, and I can understand how one could easily become religious in a country where the coming of Spring coincided with the birth of a saviour.

Of course, it is still not easy. Each writing day starts with a spike of nausea and anxiety when Owen realises that I am taking him to daycare, away from me, and the tears and tantrums begin. He loves daycare. But five months of separation from his father earlier in the year have given him a deep fear of departure, and my heart rate only slows when we get to care and he runs off happily, leaving me on his own terms, and leaving my body a wreck. It takes a full hour for my somatic system to calm down on these days. I picked a bunch of flowers on the walk home today, trying to hold my heart steady, trying to calm my breathing and not let his anxiety spiral me off into my own.

It can be lonely, too. Melbourne has a robust literary community but I have often felt myself standing outside of it, too tired for book launches, too tied down to family, too broke to pay for tickets to a festival event and the babysitter I would need to be able to attend it. I applied to be part of a conference the other day, and the convener couldn't tell me whether there would be childcare on site, despite an expected two hundred people in attendance. Childcare is the bane of my life, and alongside therapy, the only thing holding me to any ability to actually write.

It's why I feel so tired, on a day like today, when we pretend that checking in on a friend, one day a year, can make the kind of difference that is needed. I am mostly okay. Thanks for asking. Here is a list of things that I want:

I want a dedicated mental health hospital in every state, with roaming rural units picking up the slack. I want a depression or postpartum psychosis bed in every maternity ward. I want to not pay $220 per session with my psychologist because my Medicare rebates have run out. I want a fully funded CAT team; in-home care; for my husband to have many more compassionate leave days in his contract that currently he has. I want for my child always to feel safe and secure in my presence. I want to be treated like this disease could kill me, because at times in my life, I have truly wanted it to.

I want to put this all down so that somebody else can pick it up, and I can go back to the small scope of my small life without guilt.

As a writer, as a writer with seriously impaired mental health, I often feel as though I should be more strident, more visible, a serious advocate for myself and others. But the truth is I don't want to write petitions or call my government leaders; I am not an activist, not in that way. I have to hope that my writing will be enough, and that I can turn from quiet advocacy towards the things that I want to write about without feeling as though I am abandoning my community, or a part of myself. I know that it is up to me to raise my voice but Christ, I wish I didn't have to.

Today the spring breeze wafts through my apartment, alongside the sound of construction from next door, and my child is in care and happy and safe and I am happy and safe and able to write and all of these things are good things. I am okay enough to work towards being better, and there is slow growth in every direction. And I school myself not to sprint, lest I fall on my silly face, but to keep pace with my blossoming, beautiful child.