A journey into openness and honesty… Distilling truths about ourselves, others and life from shared experiences… Learning to live consistently with that truth… Becoming free to be who we truly are…

Archive for the ‘Personal growth’ Category

One day at the Pharmacy…

An embarrassing experience

Some time ago my sister-in-law Janine shared an embarrassing experience she had at the pharmacy. A staff member had asked her a very personal question in earshot of others in the store. Embarrassing at the time, but very funny in hindsight.

Yesterday I had an experience that goes one better! 🙂

An adults-only post?

I was going to rate this article Adults Only, but it’s really just PG. I’ve couched it in ‘blog and facebook-friendly’ terms, and teenagers may find it helpful and enlightening. It involves a men’s health issue and a taboo subject. Hopefully you’ll have a great laugh.

It also challenges a traditional belief that research shows is completely unfounded. In fact the belief can be very detrimental to men (and women), young and old, and can seriously impact one’s mental and physical wellbeing. Yet it still clings on in some parts of society.

I also hope that what I share, as personal as it is, will be another small step towards this taboo being brought out into the open.

Some background…

Most of you probably know that as men age, things that are meant to stay upright gradually lose their ability to do so. It’s an outcome of naturally declining testosterone levels. It may be accompanied by a reduced drive, but not necessarily. Blokes can still be very keen to satisfy their natural desires.

So what’s a bloke to do? During the last five years of being single, I’ve had advice from a number of professional people… To maintain everything in full working order it’s a case of “Use it or lose it.”

There are also medications that can help.

Now for the taboo. Some people still believe that “self-love” is ‘sinful’ or harmful in some way. But none of the blokes I’ve spoken to have gone blind, and I haven’t either. Once again, professional advice says this behaviour is perfectly normal and healthy.

So how does this apply to me?

Like many other men my age, my upbringing scripted me to feel incredibly guilty. 40+ years is a very long time to struggle with an errant belief. It demonstrates that what a child is taught can impact them for life, sometimes causing significant damage.

After years of wrestling, I finally accepted that this taboo is a very harmful myth. (I still believe however, that the inherent fantasy life needs to be healthy, and that using porn is a bad idea.)

I’ve not been in a serious relationship for the past 5 years since losing my wife. However I look forward to a new relationship when the right woman comes along. And I want to be able to share the full delights of an intimate relationship with my new partner.

Casual intimacy, if such a thing really exists, is not for me. So it’s important I ‘maintain and exercise’ my ability on my own.

Back to the story…

I spoke to my doctor earlier this week. She prescribed a single tablet as a trial run and sent the prescription to a local pharmacy.

I also had an appointment with another doctor who sent two prescriptions for my regular medications to the same pharmacy.

I went down to the pharmacy to collect all three. The pharmacist was a young woman. She looked at the scripts, and as you’d expect, didn’t bat an eyelid… she’d have many blokes on the same medication.

I headed off for a coffee, then returned to the pharmacy. There was a young bloke ahead of me so I stood in the queue at the required distance. While the pharmacist attended to him, the young female assistant called out to me in the queue. I told the her that I was picking up three scripts. She found them and gave them to the pharmacist.

The pharmacist then asked, in a voice loud enough to reach me, “Have you had all these medications before?” I replied that one of them was new. In the same loud voice she asked, “Which one is new?”

I hesitated for a moment feeling vulnerable and exposed… I was about to make a very personal announcement to my new local community! Then I thought, “What the heck”, and replied in a calm, confident voice, “Viagra”.

The pharmacist and the assistant didn’t react at all (noticeably), but I wished I could have seen the face of the young bloke in front of me!

The fun continues…

The pharmacist beckoned me to the front counter and asked if I was on any other medications. I told her which ones. She informed me all was well… none of the drugs would interact with each other. She then added, without being specific, that I could however experience a little dizziness.

Dizziness from what I wondered? A reaction between my medications? But she’d just said this wasn’t an issue. Perhaps dizziness from the Viagra? To be sure I understood clearly I asked, “Which drug are you referring to?” Instead of saying ‘Viagra’ out loud, her response was, “The new one.”

Now it was my turn to laugh… to myself of course… she’d obviously realised the embarrassment she’d caused me earlier!

A happy ending…

When I got home I opened the packet… Lucky me, I got four tablets instead of one!

So here’s to a happy ending! 😉


Mother’s Day joy and pain…

All of us had a Mum… right?
Technically, yes. We all had a mother otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

But having a mother is not the same as having a Mum.

The cemetery

Healesville cemetery is a sacred place for my family. On the edge of a country town it is a beautiful, peaceful location surrounded by trees and views of the nearby mountains.

My wife, Rosie, loved Healesville. Her family holidayed there when she was young. Healesville was my home town. Rosie and I chose this cemetery as our burial place a few years before she died of breast cancer.

My parents are buried at Healesville. The plot Rosie and I bought almost directly faces their grave in the next row.

Mother’s Day

We lost Rosie just a few years ago. Mother’s Day is tough for my family.
Our hearts and minds are still raw. My children miss their Mum.

Mother’s Day afternoon I visited the cemetery with Merryn and Liam (my daughter and son-in-law). We stood in front of Rosie’s grave to remember her, and silently vocalise our feelings of love and grief.

Merryn brought some white roses from her garden. She gave me one to place on Rosie’s grave. I made a hole in the recently rained-on earth and planted the rose upright in front of Rosie’s headstone.

While Merryn and Liam continued to reflect, I turned around to face my parents’ grave. I read the plaque as I have done many times. Seeing my mother’s name, Edna Winifred James, died 12th June 1966, aged 49 years, impacted me as never before.

I was struck with a profound realization
In the 53 years since she died I’ve never grieved for my Mum, not even on Mother’s Day? How could this be??


Mum did not have an easy life. As a young woman she was beset by a condition I also share… depression. Mental health issues were little understood in those days. Depression was a shameful thing; you kept it hidden and suffered in silence. Thankfully her older brother, Bert, saw her struggling and tried to encourage her and build her self-confidence.

But depression was no stranger to Bert either, and tragically he took his own life when Mum was a young adult. I can hardly imagine the extent to which this caused her to plummet further.

Mum was married during World War II. After Dad returned from the fighting, three daughters arrived in succession. Six years later they had a son… me.

Mum’s pregnancy with me was torrid. Shortly after I was born she had a severe breakdown which put her in a psychiatric ward for months. Dad stayed home to work and visit Mum; my sisters were sent away to his brother’s family, and I was looked after by Mum’s sister.

Recently I read some letters Mum wrote to Dad from hospital in December 1957, 4 months after I was born. She was knitting a jumper for me and was so hoping to be allowed hospital leave to have Christmas with the family. I don’t know that she made it.

It saddens me deeply to think of the pain Mum must have felt during those dim, dark days of 1950’s psychiatric treatment. Separated from her family, knowing her children had been farmed out due to her breakdown, must have been incredibly painful.


Mum’s recovery was very slow, if she ever really recovered at all. I spent 2½ years with my aunty; she adored me and raised like a son; no doubt I bonded to her during that time. When I finally returned home, my mother was a distant woman in my life.

Disabled with depression, Mum spent a lot of time in bed or sitting unresponsive in a chair, lost in her pain. The demanding role of raising a 2 year old was simply beyond her.

I have very few memories of my mother from childhood. If she spent quality time with me I remember very little of it.

Mum lived a short life. One Sunday night while playing the organ in church an aortic aneurism burst. Mum literally died of a ‘broken heart’.

I was eight years old at the time.
I’d had a mother for six short years.
But I never really had a Mum.

Life shaping scars

Mum couldn’t care for me after birth and had to give me up. My aunt cared for me deeply, then she too had to give me up. Infants can’t comprehend the reasons for these things. As a baby, this was rejection, not once but twice… first by my mother, then by my aunt. Infants interpret rejection as their own fault. Indelible feelings of guilt and fear of rejection were scripted into the core of my being.

These scars have shaped who I am and still affect me today. Fear of rejection and guilt gave rise to decades of depression and anxiety.

I’ve spent most of my life searching for someone or something to fix me, and fill the deep void in my spirit. Decades of counselling, medication and therapy eventually helped me to manage the depression, but the painful void remained.

I looked to God to fill the gap, but 20 years of commitment to faith tragically reinforced my fear of rejection instead of healing it. I looked to Rosie to fill the void, but no amount of love she could give was enough. Even the love of my wonderful children, and great support from close friends could not get me there.

But the picture is not all bad. Suffering teaches you things you cannot learn any other way; it can build love, empathy and compassion for others like nothing else. That said, I would never choose to suffer, but I am so grateful for the lessons I’ve learned and the people it has brought into my life.

A precious memory

The night Mum died I was at home with my sisters. I remember the look on Dad’s face when he walked through the front door. Before he spoke a word, I burst into tears.

I have other memories of that night. The pastor came around to comfort and pray for us. My sister Glenda held me; the comfort she gave me healed a childhood divide and created a bond that exists to this day.

Most profound of all is a memory from earlier in the evening, before Mum and Dad went to church. After dinner she put me on her lap and gave me a cuddle. I remember it distinctly, but why? Why would I remember something that happened before she died?

Was her hugging me so unusual? I don’t remember her ever having done it before.
Was she motivated by an inner sense that her time was at an end and she wanted to say goodbye?
Whatever the reason, this expression of her love profoundly impacted my young mind. I stored the memory away, waiting for adulthood to bring it back so I could discover the message it contained.

Finding Mum 

My rational adult brain says Mum must have loved me. But for years this meant nothing to my heart.

I knew there was no value blaming her. How could I be angry with a woman who did her very best amidst terrible suffering?  I’ve known that suffering too. Instead of anger I felt compassion, but still no sense of love, or being loved.

I always found it difficult to speak of ‘my Mum’. I felt awkward. It just didn’t fit. It lacked any feelings of warmth or authenticity. So I referred to her as my ‘my mother’ instead.

In recent years it dawned on me how tough life was for her; how incredibly painful it would have been not being able to care for me; to allow another woman to take her place because of the disabling torment within.

I realised she had little or no control over what happened. This allowed an emotional connection with her to start growing. I still have a long way to go.

The message embedded in her cuddle just hours before she died is finally reaching my heart…

My mother really loved me.
I really did have a Mum.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a time for celebrating Mums. The huge role mothers play in raising children can bring a great deal of joy and fulfilment. It is also very difficult and demanding, with more than a fair share of heartache. But the vast majority of Mums (and Dads) do the best they can.

Mums fully deserve to be celebrated on Mother’s Day.

Be aware of others

Mother’s Day is a tough day for many people. It may seem like everyone around you is celebrating, while you are feeling pain.

Many people, both young and old, have lost their mothers.
Many mothers and children are separated by distance, and fractured relationships.
Many mothers languish in nursing homes, forgotten or neglected by their families.

There are mothers who have lost children.
And women who longed for children but couldn’t have them.

And then there are those who had a mother, but never had a Mum.

Mother’s Day is a tough day for all these people.
Next year, let’s be mindful of how they feel and let them know we care.

A closing thought

Let go of your Mum.

No Mums live forever. At some stage you have to let your Mum go. When you stand by her side in her final days, as much as you want her to stay, let her know she is free to go. Firsthand experience has shown me how important this is.

There are many other aspects of letting your Mum go; it’s a process that begins in childhood and continues through our adult lives.

A vital step is realizing you are a complete person in yourself. Your fundamental value and worth do not come from your Mum, and must not be dependent on much or little she loves (or loved) you. Some of us, even as mature adults, remain stuck in childhood.

The victim narrative of ‘not having a Mum’, and the void it created, has driven me to avoid rejection by pleasing other people. It has relentlessly demanded ‘I do more with my life’ and daily told me I’ve failed. Perversely, it also became part of my identity… being a victim gave me significance, prompting care and support from others.

I’m finally realising I need to leave the victim narrative behind.

The irony is, at the same time as finding my Mum, I’m finally letting go.




Ian James 20th May 2018

© 2018 Ian James, http://www.onlivingauthentically.com