• Phoebe Kingston

Rebirthing and Evolving

This is the very first Thru the Rabbit Hole Blog post, by me (Phoebe) founder and owner. I actually wrote this in February after spending a month considering how on earth, I could describe my journey heading into this new year and new decade. I see it as a personal New Year statement and it’s a synopsis of my recent journey in life. I didn’t want to make any New Year resolutions but write something meaningful and powerful for me as a woman wishing to embark on another new journey this year with the preparation the official launch of my business Thru the Rabbit Hole. I hope you rabbits enjoy my first post.

During 2019 I learnt important things about myself and I’ve acknowledged my accomplishments over the past few years.In 2016 my life began to completely change in a deeply personal way. I did some tertiary study at the first and only university to offer a particular education to people of lived experience. It opened me up to new perspectives in mental health; a better understanding of a dark history, of politics, of social justice, of differing service models used in other countries, of different worldviews, and a grasp on the paucity of science that psychiatry has founded and somehow legitimised itself with. These learnings were also powerful because an incredible consumer academic facilitated them in such an empowering style, a person with admirable deep rooted personal values, qualities, and total authenticity. She soon became one of my mentors. I had never seen everything I respected and longed to be, professionally and personally, amalgamated so beautifully in one person. My “life education” on that course changed the trajectory of my personal development and my career. I seized new professional and personal politics, a new worldview, a new value system, and new career opportunities.

During that study I also discovered I was pregnant and growing a new life to nurture. I didn’t feel ready. I wanted to finally focus on myself in a meaningful way and focus on a career, after years of mental health struggles, a ‘psychiatric diagnosis’ of ‘schizoaffective disorder’ and long term unemployment. I felt that it was my time to evolve and work. I had an intensely angry reaction to my pregnancy, for so many reasons but perhaps, in one way, I was more ready than I’d ever been. I was not supposed to be able to fall pregnant naturally and although I had never wanted a child, I knew it was a gift. A gift I had never desired like many people, but still a gift and I still felt that having our baby was the right thing to do and my darling little Tobi is indeed the most precious boy to me.

I expected 2017 to be a total write off on all fronts but that was not the case. I didn’t work in my main job but did over important ad hoc work and the important job of being a mother. It was so difficult with my mental and emotional challenges, the medication, and the initial hospitalisation but all things considered I did well, and I could’ve been a lot worse.

It was particularly frightening when about 3mths after Tobi was born, my devoted husband was diagnosed with cancer. Ralph entered both the happiest time of his life -experiencing the joy of finally becoming a father and entered the most stressful time of his life -parenting a baby largely alone whilst watching his wife struggle with depression, ‘psychosis,’ mania, mood swings, and suicidality. Quite suddenly he discovers he has a tumour and physical threat to his own life. We were new parents under extreme strain, but we made it through.

2018 was my first year as a working mum and it brought lots of professional opportunities and instead of my career pausing it escalated but I was struggling with Tobi and developing the crucial bond with him. For my part, I felt a connection almost immediately (but I wasn’t always able to express it). I felt overwhelmed with love for him when I first held him on the ward, and I think it may have been that emotion and fear of losing him that elicited my ‘psychosis’ of evil spirits from the underworld coming to take him from us. I began the most intense battle of my life, for my mental health and was severely ‘unwell.’ I believe Tobi struggled with me for a long time, I felt he didn’t accept me as his mother which compounded my difficult journey of accepting myself as a mother. I lived with a broken heart & soul for just over 2yrs, no one knew of my personal pain, but I never gave up and I never stopped loving him. I stopped loving myself.

In 2019 I actually managed to start practicing some things; my commitment to my values and qualities, really flexing my new moral muscles, my personal and professional strengths and more. I took a significant carer risk in 2019, one that could’ve lost me the best ‘proper,’ paid, and secure employment I’ve ever had in my life -my permanent government peer support contract with the Department of Health. A rewarding job with lots of perks. I started a dispute for the protection and support of my peers in the peer support workforce. It was risky, but it was the right thing to do and I knew it in my bones. It felt good to be brave enough to be living by my values even if it meant risking meaningful and rewarding employment. Also, in mid-2019 my precious Tobi finally bonded to me (another story). My life and motherhood was coming together.

In late 2019 I started a huge surgical journey to have all my lose skin removed from all around my body after the achievement of losing almost 50kg’s due to a very physically difficult pregnancy and medication induced weight gain. I dropped from a size 22 to a size 8 -then to a size 6 post surgery. It seemed my weight loss paralleled other achievements in my life. I felt that as 2019 closed, I had significantly evolved as a person, not changed just strengthened more important aspects of myself and culminated so many things in myself and my incredible life. To “get my body back” was no shallow desire in it’s entirety (admittedly it was about 30% of my surgical decision though) it was more about icing my cake of personal triumph and confirming my new & integrated identity. My new figure was the outward and physical representation of my inner self, my strong personality and character. Identity has been a key theme in my life over the last decade. I experienced identity loss during my mental health ‘treatments’ and ‘diagnosis’ and had to regain my entire sense of self through my ‘recovery’ journey (discovery I prefer to call it) but this last 3.5 years has been an identity overhaul on a new scale for me.

I had a phase when ‘unwell’ of being self-absorbed and let some friends down but it’s true that it is hard to love others when you don’t love yourself and perhaps, I was just so distracted with my pain that I just didn’t have anything left to give. I also, early in my mental health career, had a phase of thinking that I knew lots about mental health and the sector in general, which is hilarious to me now because that phase was my starting point when I really didn’t know much at all. Yet now I’ve learnt so much that I consistently feel that the more I learn the less I know or am sure of and I constantly feel that there’s so much more I need to learn. This phase of believing I knew a lot coincided with my phase of talking myself up in mental health circles, perhaps, in an attempt to credential myself and raise what was actually a lack in confidence. The compensatory ego thing but of course being a bit manic sometimes has that effect anyway. It’s something I’ve looked at through my self-development and disliked about myself but realised why I was this way. I’ve recently dropped those aspects of myself because they no longer serve me, and I’ve felt differently lately.

I had to let a friendship go in November 2019 and I was proud of myself because it meant that I finally, genuinely loved and respected myself. I had healthy self-esteem. I now love myself and don’t need to beg others to love me too. I have never ended a friendship before, but I now have such amazing people in my life, people who value me, love me, support me, and teach me so much, so I do believe now that I just don’t deserve, need, or have time and energy for anything less.

It’s now April 2020 and I’ve had 3 and ¾ years of formidable personal and professional learning, more personal I think, although in lived experience professions the two aren’t mutually exclusive and are almost the same thing due to the nature of the work we peer workers do. After the birth of my new education, the birth of my child, and the birth of my career, I’ve grown and evolved. I’m gloriously happy with my life and my two boys. My marriage to Ralph and my relationship with Tobi, are my greatest personal achievements. I will be here for them forever. It’s been a difficult few years with challenges in career, family, friends, and motherhood all at once, I lost my way a little as a wife. It’s almost impossible to hold everything at once. So, my role as a wife will certainly be my focus and new learning in 2020.

I hope I continue with this powerful momentum and enthusiasm for all areas of my life, my new life; one I’ve worked so hard to create and the new person I worked so hard to actualise, commit to, and believe in. I am reborn, which is what my first middle name means. My life has always been full of these signs and omens and now I’ll be using my other legal name, Renata. As I started 2020, I rebirthed as Phoebe Renata and I commit to her beyond this new decade.

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