Here is another short excerpt from chapter one. I hope you enjoy.
“Congratulations Sonia we would like to offer you the ongoing team leader position if you are still interested?” asked Linda one of the managers on the interview panel.
“Interested are you joking. I would love to take the job” I busted out of my chair barely able to contain my excitement.
You did very well at the interview Sonia. The interview panel was very impressed” “We are very pleased that you are successful”.
I was sitting at my quarter desk in the corner of my office with a computer that did not always work. I was a temporary addition to the unit as an acting team leader. I was supervising one contract worker and two others that had been taken from the other two teams. This had been the tenth temporary position that I had held and it was soon about to end. Moving units, supervisors, teams and cases was talking its toll. Working with families and then suddenly having to change, and I would have to start again with new families and new decisions to make. Now I finally I had a full time, permanent position that was all mine. I could finally move forward in this job and progress in a career that I loved and had worked so hard for.
Lucky peeps I have decided to give you the whole prologue of my memoir, due to be released in 2016. You won’t be so lucky with the chapters.
12 May 2014
“Is something on your mind?” my Mum asked me as we stood in line at the Melbourne airport to check in.
“No I am fine.” I replied being bought back to reality. I had not noticed that my thoughts were somewhere in the grey clouds swirling above the airport. I looked around and noticed the sullen faces of people patiently waiting for their turn to check in. I wondered what my face must have looked like as I stood there with my purple suitcase beside me. I tilted my head and looked intently at the 4 kilogram bag beside me and my mind began to wonder a few months back;
“I can see where your head is” a colleague noticed me sneaking a peak on the internet whilst supposed to be working.
Startled at being caught out I replied quickly, “I wish I could go.”
“Why not, what is stopping you?” She asked as if it should have been an easy decision for anyone.
At that time I had no answer. No kids, no marriage and an unsatisfying job. There was nothing stopping me.
I guess I had some crazy idea that if I travelled too much I would never have settled or married. Well as it so happened, at the ripe old age of 41 I was no nearer to marriage or kids. My life had become the same monotonous events each day. Like a robot with its on switch stuck. I was getting up at the same time, going to the same job, same place, for so many years that I was really unhappy.
Something had to change significantly or I was going to burst like a hot air balloon, only the contents would not have been hot air. (Sorry for the visual but it was the truth.) It was an absolute nightmare and I felt there was no way out. (Ok a little dramatic, no one was dying or anything.)
Anyway, getting back to the airport scene. Standing in line at the Qantas check in counter. I was not sure what I was supposed to be feeling. Happy, excited, scared or nervous. I was thinking however: “Why in the hell am I doing this now?” I was 41 and do I want to live overseas at this time of my life. Shouldn’t I have been thinking about my retirement, saving money and investing, not spending it all. Unfortunately, most of my friends thought my ‘escape’ was a great idea. No one even tried to talk me out of it.
The day had finally arrived and I was leaving Australia: my friends, my family and my life as I knew it to live in another country for six months. I had talked about this for two years and I was finally going to live the dream. Well that’s what my friends called it but at the point of departure I was not so sure. A huge knot in my stomach told me I had no idea what to expect. Living in Italy and learning to cook had been a passion, a dream, a desire of mine for years; and I had forgotten how many people I had bored with the talk of it all.
The hardest part of all of this was the packing up of my belongings and piling them in brown cardboard boxes, stacked one on top of one another. I will never forget seeing the boxes sitting in my lounge room. All my precious, books, jewellery, photos, clothes all packed away. There were things that I had carefully chosen and placed around the apartment to make it my home. To make it me, mine. I had to find the right furniture, TV, TV stand (oh boy did that take ages), it had to be the perfect colour and size for the apartment. The chairs for the dining table. Now that took longer to find. Initially I wanted high back chairs but settled for low backs. A little short for dining chairs but perfect for me as my apartment was small and the dining and kitchen are so close that they kissed each other. Then lastly came the leather two seater couch. Perfect size for the apartment and perfect for my purse. Only to leave it all, to rent to a stranger to use as he pleased. I remembered the days as I slowly took each box to store in the garage of my parent’s home. Then I just walked away. I felt sick, sad, excited, and crazy all at the same time.
“Next please.” I lifted my head and noticed a pretty attendant with a huge smile and her blonde hair neatly tied up in a bun. How does she look so perky and well-kept at this time of the morning. I thought enviously to myself.
I walked over wheeling my suitcase behind me. After I handed her my ticket and passport I lifted the suitcase and placed it on the carousel.
“Wow you’re coming back on 1st December” she said sounding very excited for me and still smiling.
“Yes it’s my midlife crisis” I told her. She laughed. Not a hair moving or out of place.
“It sounds exciting and you will have a lot of fun.”
Yes well I hope. I thought to myself as I took back my passport and boarding pass and after answering a series of questions that included “did I pack my own suitcase?” And “do I know the contents of my suitcase?” She then taped the arrival details on, and sent it away down the carousel towards the plane I was shortly to board.
You know that a midlife crisis really does exist and does happen at age forty. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are lying. As much as I was happy to turn forty and enjoyed a great celebration with family and friends. The big Four 0 hit me like a ton of bricks and I started questioning my life and the purpose. My job was going nowhere and offering me very little. I kept asking myself “What was life for?” Was life really all about getting up at the same time, going to work at the same time and leaving and being home every night? The only passion I had was cooking. Although, I really had no idea how I was going to work in a restaurant or even how I was going to deal with the pressures. The dream bugged like a buzzing in the ears that I could not stop, no matter what I did. At the same time the dream to live in Italy also began to bug and the two combined like a perfect marriage.
So it was that I found myself at the Melbourne airport. Ready to board QF 271 final destination Rome, for the biggest adventure of my life. To live in Italy and study a sous chef course from real Italian chefs and work in a restaurant. The adventure could be the best or worst decision I ever made. Who really knew? All I knew is that I needed to throw myself into the deep end and let the events unfold on their own.
This is the second story I wrote when I rediscovered my passion for writing in 2010. I couldn’t believe it when I came across it recently, given the memoir I am currently writing is a similar story. Some things are just meant to be!
“La prossima stazione, Bari.” The loud speaker overhead crackles as the train slowly approaches the next station. I look up at my large red backpack sitting neatly on the rack above me, wondering to myself, How am I going to get that down now? When I boarded at Rome station, a kind young Italian man had lifted it up for me. I turn my head to check the carriage of people once more, but the man is nowhere to be found. “This is the one time I wish I had a man,” I mutter as I press my hands against the armrests, pushing myself up from the seat.
I have decided, against the advice of my friend Katia, that I am going to spend a few days in Bari. As I exit the train and waddle down the alleyways to the city centre with my two backpacks, the large one on my back and the smaller one strapped in front of me, I pray that I don’t fall. People rush past, some knocking me without even looking back. I lose my balance a few times, and I’m still not sure how I managed to keep standing and walking.
As I approach the city centre and take in the surroundings, I notice quickly that there is nothing appealing about Bari. It’s a frenetic sort of place, with choking peak-hour traffic. People are rushing around as if their life depends on it. The screeching sounds of Vespas driving past is the first noise I hear as I make my way down the busy street to find the tourist information centre. I can barely breathe as the stifling heat hits my face. I feel my skin burning and worry how I am going to look in a country that prides itself on beauty. Katia warned me that the heat in Bari is like nowhere else in Italy. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all, I think to myself. Nevertheless, I decide to continue on and look for a place to stay for the next few nights.
I have just started the second month of my three-month sabbatical in Italy. After all these years, I have come to Italy to discover myself. For some reason, I feel that I have to travel on a plane for 24 hours and spend thousands of dollars to discover “who I am.” Why I did not think to do this back home is beyond me. But that is me: getting out of my comfort zone. Isn’t that what all those self-help books talk about? If you really want a different life, take the plunge and do something different. Something you have never done before. So here I am, taking all their advice and taking the plunge! Leaving my comfortable life behind for a life of uncertainty; visiting towns that even local Italians do not recommend. Well, why not?
The previous twelve months, I had thrown myself into my career, ultimately for naught: it was a blow to my self-esteem to not be awarded the promotion I had so desperately wanted. I was told that I wasn’t ready, that I needed more work experience before I could move up to the next level. I had no idea what that meant, and the experience left me disillusioned. I began to ask myself what I really stand for, who I really am without the job I love.
I figured the answer would come whilst travelling. So to the dismay and anguish of my family and work colleagues, I took three months unpaid leave, packed my bags and jumped on the plane to Italy as if the whole world was at my feet and I had nothing left to lose. I start to wonder, as I am making my way through this strange city, why I ever thought this was going to work.
I have finally arrived at the pensione where I will be staying. It’s a derelict building that looks as if it has not been painted in years. I check the card given to me by the lovely lady at the tourist office and compare it to the number on the building. Yes, this is the place, I think to myself, feeling despondent. I hope looks are deceiving and that their rooms are actually livable. Doubt swirling in my head, I shuffle my feet inside, scouring the area trying to find the reception desk.
I breathe in a familiar smokey smell and notice a rotund woman with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. She is dressed plainly in a black skirt and cream top, her hair loosely tied up in a frizzy bun, looking as if it has not been combed in a long time. She approaches me, making her way behind a desk. I realise that she is the receptionist.
“Buona sera Signora, come stai? ” she asks without removing the cigarette or lifting her head to acknowledge my arrival.
“Buona Sera, una camera per favore?” With my clumsy Italian, I ask for a single room.
“Per una?” She asks, still not lifting her head, moving around as if searching for something underneath the desk.
“Si, per una,” I reply, handing her my passport. She finally retrieves some paperwork and asks me to fill in my details. I do, and she finishes it off using the information from my passport. Eventually I am handed the key and told to take the lift to the second floor, room 209.
The room does not alleviate my fears of this place not improving. It is a room so dark that not even the light switch or window makes any difference. The single bed in the corner sports thin sheets with holes through them, looking as if they may have once been white. I swallow hard, feeling like I am going to throw up as I think that I will be going to sleep in that bed. The pillow flops as I lift it; I grimace wondering how old it is and how many people have slept on it. I turn my head, searching for a bathroom, and notice a large rectangular hole in the room with a plastic curtain used to separate it. I drop my bags on the floor, finally relieving my shoulders of the heaviness that has been weighing them down, and walk towards the hole in the wall.
The bathroom has barely enough room for a toilet, sink and shower. To be honest, there is no shower at all—just a shower head up top near the sink with a drain underneath it. The white tiles are old and cracked.
I decide that I want to spend the least amount of time I can in this room, so I change my clothes and decide to walk to the beach. I grab the map of Bari that the smokey receptionist had provided me, stuffing my purse and book into my yellow bag along with my phone, and set off.
Bari is small, and finding the beach is not difficult if you stay on the main road. As I leave the city centre, the town becomes quieter. It’s not so frantic now. I notice how white and bare the place looks. It’s as if the same painter has gone around to every building and painted it plain white to make it look pure and pristine. Men and women stare blankly out of their windows at nowhere in particular. I strain my neck and my eyes squint in the sun as I make out my surroundings. They quickly look away when they notice that I have caught their stares. The town is not welcoming to strangers at all, especially to a young girl walking alone. Bari gives the feeling that it is the place that God forgot.
I notice that there is hardly anyone in the streets. I wonder why, on this hot afternoon, there aren’t more people going to the beach.
After about fifteen minutes, I notice a line of blue on the horizon and realise that I am not far. I notice a group of men, young and old, laughing and smoking together, and I keep to the other side of the road. They are ragged in their appearance, wearing torn jeans or old shorts and t-shirts that look like they have not been washed for weeks. Some of the older men are missing teeth. They watch me and continue laughing and smoking as I walk toward the beach. I suddenly think of Katia, and her voice echoes again: “Don’t go to Bari.” I wonder what attracted me to this place. Nonetheless, I am here now, and I need to make the most of my life-changing trip.
This is my first destination after spending the initial three weeks of my sabbatical visiting Katia in a small country town just outside of Milan. It was never my intention to stay at her home for so long, but each time I mentioned that it was time for me to go, she would look at me with sad puppy-dog eyes and her sweet voice would beg me to stay “just a little longer.” I felt sad leaving, but I didn’t leave Australia to settle into another comfort zone, in another country. With trepidation, I began making plans to backpack through one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Italy.
As I walk down the main road that I assumed is leading me to the beach, I remember the day before my departure, when I told Katia that I was thinking of going to Bari. “Why Bari?” she exclaimed. “There’s nothing to see there.” She then pulled out a map of Italy, and we began to talk about other places I could visit. “There’s Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, Cinquecento…” She then pointed to a small dot in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing surrounding the dot; it was all on its own. I moved my head closer and gazed at it, seeing the word next to it: Bari. “See, it’s an insignificant dot all on its own,” Katia said, and we both laughed. “Don’t go to Bari” were her final words in that conversation, as if it was some sort of coded warning, or as if she thought I did not believe her. I now take a look around and think of that time, and I see what she meant by the small, insignificant dot on the map.
I arrive at the beach, and a wave of disappointment envelops me. It is as bland as the buildings I have just passed. There is no one around, and again, I am left wondering where everyone has gone today. Italy’s beaches are typically full of people on hot days.
There are no stalls or deck chairs like you find on most beaches in Italy. I feel uncomfortable lying on the sand, so I decide against it. I have seen men—like the group I just passed—watch women in bikinis sunbaking, salivating as if they are getting ready for their next meal. Bald, overweight men sweating profusely and breathing uncontrollably, because they have run from the other side of the street to make a pass at you or watch you as you lie there taking in the sun. Young and old will take a chance; they are not afraid of rejection.
Instead, I decide to keep my clothes on and sit on a banister overlooking the beach. I place my yellow bag in between my legs. I take out my book, and with each page that I turn, I begin to feel my shoulders droop, my eyelids barely able to stay open. For the first time today, I am relaxing, happy and safe. A warm and gentle breeze is caressing my face, providing relief from the stifling heat that I experienced in the city centre. Overlooking the water, I realise how huge this world is, how this little bit of water continues on for so many miles, to many other countries and cultures that our mind cannot fathom. I hear the waves crashing and my eyelids droop further. I do not want to sleep, but I am loving this relaxed state. This must be what serenity feels like—Bari is not so bad after all. Throughout my life, I have followed my instincts, and in this moment I am unable to think of a time when I have been wrong.
All of a sudden, I hear the roar of an engine and the screeching of tyres as a car suddenly stops near me. A hand reaches over my bent leg and grabs my yellow bag. By the time I realise what is going on, the young scoundrel with an arrogant smirk on his face is riding off on his Vespa, holding my yellow bag in the air. It’s too late. I lose my shoes as I jump off the banister and try to make a run towards him, screaming that he has stolen my bag. He appears to slow down, and turns around smiling, holding my bag in the air. He eventually drives off, and my attempts to go after him are futile. The group of smiling and laughing men that I passed earlier is now nowhere to be found. I hear the voice of my friend Katia echo once again: “Don’t go to Bari.”
Sonia writes about her personal journey in a refreshing, conversational manner. Her story is relatable, humourous and inspiring, interlaced with wonderful culinary descriptions – this book will make you hungry!
Nichola Scurry. http://scurry.com.au. Compilation CD.
HOW MINDFULNESS CHANGED MY LIFE.
“Why didn’t I respond to her when she spoke to me like that? I never say what I need to. When I do say something the words just blabbed out of my mouth and make absolutely no sense at all. She probably compares me to Christina who does everything the way she wants it and never complains. Never challenges her. She’ll give Christina the promotion I bet you. I am never good enough. Never do things the way she wants me to”
Does this seem familiar to anyone? Those incessant thoughts that bug you from morning till night; sometimes all night that they leave you tossing and turning and the thoughts constantly churn around in your head with no end.
Depression and anxiety are the results of a very busy mind that makes you feel debilitated, personally dissatisfied and feeling empty for most of the days. Depression is exhausting; there is no better way to put it. The thoughts don’t let you sleep at night and you are tense all throughout the day. You feel that there is a monkey on your back weighing you down that you can touch the ground as you walk.
In 2009 following a diagnosis of mild anxiety, I was diagnosed with mild depression. I had become disillusioned with any therapeutic intervention, new age or otherwise. All through my 20’s and 30’s I read so many books that gave advice on how to live a happy and fulfilled live written by people who claimed to be experts in their field. They were happy and successful and these proved that the techniques worked. I did many courses whereby the conveyors talked about their children with mental health issues, their divorce and relationship issues to then find the love of their lives; and how they overcame life’s difficulties simply by practicing meditation, living in the present moment and using breathing techniques: I did a ropes course, to confront my fear, I danced in sexy lingerie in front of men and women, I meditated by walking in an old growth forest and felt the sun’s rays hit my face and calm me. I read every book that was released on the topic. I used the techniques to cope with life’s difficulties. I thought I had it all.
My diagnosis made me realized that I did not have it all. It wasn’t, until I accidentally came across Mindfulness meditation that I realized that solving life’s problems is not that simple.
Mindfulness as described in The Mindful Way through Depression: Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmental of things as they are.
When I ask people what paying attention to the present moment means I receive responses such as: “stop and smell the roses”, “Be aware of where you are, your surroundings right now”, don’t think about the past or future, just be in the present, right here and now”.
Most articles that make a small mention of mindfulness will describe it as it was above.
“Mindfulness is being present and making conscious choices about what you are eating so that when you are aware that you are about to eat something unhealthy, you are more aware and can make more conscious choices” I read in one article about weight loss.
Paying attention to the present moment as that experience of the present moment is presenting itself, right here and now is not that simple.
When you are depressed and crying at the drop of a pin: the present moment is not great and very hard to deal with. To sit with the pain as mindfulness suggests and feel the depression; feel the sadness, the tears, the heartache and becoming aware of the thoughts in your head associated with those feelings. Coming from someone who lived with this for months, living in the present moment is the most difficult thing I ever had to do. But it was also the most liberating experience of my life.
Once the depression is accepted as part of you and your life, then you can start to overcome the illness. As soon as you accept the depression; it then gives permission to come to the surface and be felt. You become aware of the thoughts associated with the depression and you can slowly change them. Thoughts create our emotions, and as soon as we turn them around, our emotions will turn around also. When we start to see the reality of a situation as opposed to what we think we see, then happiness, peace and calm creep in.
So what’s my advice after my experience of anxiety and depression? Stop striving for happiness and just be with whatever your day is dishing out at you.
Mindfulness taught me to accept the depression, live it day by day, moment by moment. When I tried to push down the depression, the anger and crying would re-surface with a more powerful force that I knew if I did not do something productive, the depression would take over my life. There are some days I still become anxious, feel sad and want to cry. That’s ok; I accept that is my day. Contrary to popular belief that there isn’t an emotion that is bad or wrong, it’s when we do not understand them and allow them to rule our life and our relationships; that is what is wrong, not the emotion.
So if you’re suffering from anxiety and depression I urge you to find a Mindfulness meditation center close to you and join a group.