The following is what I read out at last weeks Writing Group. I did have to screw up a bit of courage to read aloud what I had written…
We all have had people throughout our lives that have influenced us, sometimes for the good, and unfortunately sometimes for the worse. Long ago I chose celebrate the good and as much as possible exclude the bad. I have been lucky, there has been much to celebrate.
The support and guidance from my parents, with their lessons on honesty, integrity, kindness, and humour, forged my core beliefs. While I have been influenced by many, without the foundation that I received from my parents, I may not have succeeded in so much. The same goes for my husband, Carm. He has been an influence in my life, and more importantly he has been a supporter of everything that I dream to do. He has stood beside me through many happy times, and has offered his helping hand when things were bad. Without the influence of these important people in my life I would not have achieved what I have done.
I was planning a gap year before entering university but had no job lined up and there weren't any interesting possibilities. My friend June and I sat at her kitchen table discussing my future. We were so engrossed in our discussion that we hadn't noticed Mr. Jenkins, Junes' father, come into the kitchen. He listened to our conversation as he poured himself a coffee, and then joined us at the table. He asked me a few questions then offered me temporary job on a contract to document master files that he had with the Department of Science and Technology. I had no idea what a master file was and didn't know how to type, but I jumped at the chance, not knowing that this decision would lead to a 30 year career in the IT business.
The first day of work was overwhelming; I remember a giant sheaf of computer paper with columns of words and numbers that made no sense to me - the elusive master files were buried in all that data. I had no idea what a computer was all about, let alone how to identify the files which somehow made up a 'system'. There was so much to learn but Mr. Jenkins and the other people on the project showed me the ropes.
Partway through the contract, Jack Drawbridge, the government manager of the project, was in my office with an offer. If I were to take a typing class he would hire me on a more permanent contract. I took the challenge, fumbling my way through an evening course for beginner typists. Every time my fingers fly over the keyboard I am grateful for that push.
Not only did Jack influence my career path, he would often drop by my office for discussions on computing theories. We'd sit on uncomfortable desk chairs, sometimes with a coffee beside us, and always with pen and paper for Jack to illustrate his theories. I don't think he could talk without a pen in his hands! There were rarely any arguments as he had easily convinced me from the beginning of the wisdom of his theories. I passionately believed the same things and based my whole career on working towards those exalted (if not impossible) goals.
Jo Ellen Welsford had also sat with Jack and was no less influenced by him than I. As my former boss, she rates highly in the list of influential people in my life. She not only influenced me in my career by having a strong work ethic, she was also a supportive and encouraging mentor that believed in my abilities. When I became ill and could no longer work to the levels that I had been working at, she did not turn her back on me. She encouraged me to keep going, even when it was hard, and pushed me so that I never gave up even when it seemed impossible to carry on. She helped give me a sense of purpose and the feeling that life was worth living.
Others who have influenced me include Karen Pryor, author of "Don't Shoot the Dog", a book about operant conditioning and positive re-enforcement. She changed the way I deal with not just animals, but also people. In the same vein, Pat Parelli gave me new ideas on how to relate to my horses and influenced the way I look at the world. My friend Pat Wolfe encouraged me to pursue my dream of breeding horses. His expertise in bloodlines and confirmation moulded my eye. It was my friend Ruth who influenced me during my parrot breeding years. She was a sounding board for husbandry questions, an uncritical ear when I got out of breeding, and now a good friend.
In 2004 things started to go wrong. Sitting in a large blue armchair, head in my hands, I listened to Dr. Becks pronouncement. I had bipolar disorder. It sounded like his voice was coming from far away as I processed this news. This was a life sentence, how could it be happening to me and would I survive it? Looking up, I tried to focus on his words and wished that Carm was with me as I knew I wouldn't remember anything.
In the first months after diagnosis, I railed against the injustice. It wasn't fair and I couldn't accept it. My illness and the drugs used to treat it had dulled my mind - I was used to using my mind to solve problems, I defined myself by my intellect, but now it had deserted me. Who was I now? I was scared that I wasn't me anymore. Over time the medications started working and I was able to function somewhat. Family, friends and my doctor helped me to discover that there was more to me than my intellect and that this was not the end, but the beginning of a new chapter.
Dr. Beck saw me weekly for years and most profoundly influenced my recovery. Visiting his office once a week and plunking myself down in the big, blue armchair became a comforting routine. I knew that I could lay bare my troubles, and that he wouldn't just pat me on my back with a 'there, there', but would help me to find my way. When my will to get better wavered, he pushed and prodded, and sometimes made me mad enough to do it just to spite him. Electrodes sometimes stuck to my forehead and in my hair as we used bio-feedback therapy to try to train my brain to feel better. We discussed the effects that food, sleep and social rhythms have on mental health. Not relying solely on medication, he used whatever therapy he had access to in the quest to bring me back to the land of the living. He convinced me that I had it in myself to get better, and taught me habits that I could use to stay well. Without his influence I might not be sitting here.
After six months at home, I started back to work two days per week. There were many times that I sat at my desk overwhelmed by the complexity of what I was supposed to do. Simple tasks took hours longer but thankfully co-workers picked up some of my workload and sheltered me from difficult clients. Pep talks from co-workers reminded me to keep trying.
Those that helped me through those dark early days allowed me to become the person I am today. Without their help, I may have remained sick and without hope. It is these people that have influenced me the most..
Many dreams were dashed at the beginning of my illness, leaving me feeling rudderless and without direction for several years. Since retiring at the beginning of 2011, I've spent a few years working on my wellness, but needed to find something more concrete to focus my attention and efforts on. I started a blog as a way to exercise my mind and as a forum for practicing writing - writing was hard for me and I wanted to improve. Two years ago, by chance, I picked up a book of short stories by Alice Munro. Since then, I've read and re-read her writings, savouring her way with words, being inspired by her, wanting to be better able to express my thoughts. The passage of time is changing "I can't" into "I'll try". Now, instead of passing my days in an aimless state, I'm writing, or thinking about writing, with Alice Munro as my inspiration. I have direction. My long term goals have not materialized in my thoughts just yet, but for now I will practice.
And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.