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…

Posts tagged ‘authentic living’

Painful Lessons I Did Not Want to Learn

It’s been a sobering week. I’ve had insights and learned things I didn’t want to learn. Initially I didn’t want to heed them, but now I’m very grateful.

This article contains a lot of information. It’s important information that sets the context for the insights I want to share. I believe they’re relevant to all of us. It’s also very personal, especially the most recent insight late last night… that’s at the end of the article.

We’re at the beginning of a worldwide pandemic. For most of us it’s still all ‘out there’, somewhere a long way away, dramatic events we see only on TV or online. We know it’s happening. We’ve seen the impact of panic buying, and our leaders are doing unprecedented things. But it’s still in our heads, it’s yet to really touch us. The penny has yet to drop.

I’ve been doing a lot of research for reliable data on coronavirus in the past two weeks. The data is readily available and the impacts predicted are steadily becoming harsh reality.

So what have I learned? And why is it painful?

(1) Coronavirus could kill me

I could die with coronavirus. I am over 60 and this bug is vicious. I thought having an excellent set of lungs meant I wasn’t at risk of dying, but lungs are exactly what the virus attacks.

We’re all wired to think it won’t happen to us. Dire things happen to other people, not us. But the facts are now telling us that coronavirus is very different to ‘most things’.

Coronavirus is highly contagious. If left unchecked, 50 to 65% of Australians will be infected, a staggering 13 to 17 million people. It means we’re all more likely to be infected than not. If we do, 80% of cases being mild sounds reassuring. But don’t be fooled. 20% being severe cases and 5% requiring intensive care is a huge danger when you work out the numbers.

If our country fails to take drastic, successful action to stop the virus two things are certain. Our hospital system will be totally overwhelmed. And well before that, the number of people needing intensive care will totally dwarf the number of ICU beds available.

Seem impossible? That’s a very normal response. But don’t stop reading in disbelief. Let me explain with a simple explanation of exponential growth.

The number of cases in Australia is doubling every 3 to 4 days(1). At 3 days, the number of cases will double almost 5 times in 2 weeks = 32 times! There are 5 x 3 days = 15 days in a little over 2 weeks. Double today’s number of cases 5 times and you get 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 32 times today’s figure. As at 3:00pm today 29th March, there were 3,966 confirmed cases in Australia (2).

If we allow this rate to continue, there will be up to 32 x 3,966 = 126,000 cases just two weeks from now. Two weeks later it will be 32 x 126,000 = 4 million, and in 6 short weeks it will be 32 x 4 million = over 100 million. Of course that’s impossible for a population of 26 million. But it shows how quickly we’ll reach peak infection numbers of 13 to 17 million people!

Now think about our hospital system. If just 10% of infected people need hospital that’s 1.3 million people. Our hospital system will collapse. If 5% need intensive care, that’s 650,000 people for only 2,200 beds. Our ICU capacity is minuscule compared to the beds we need. In fact it was announced on Fri 27/03 that we could run out of ICU beds in as little as 2 weeks.

This means medical staff will be forced to choose who lives and who dies. The decision criteria is already being worked out in preparation. At this point the number of deaths will dramatically increase because the vast majority of severe cases won’t be treated.

So yes, coronavirus could kill me. And it could kill you too.

And untreated respiratory deaths are not pretty. You slowly drown in your own mucus as it clogs up your lungs. It’s one of the most horrible ways to die.

(2) I really DO have to take this seriously

Clearly I MUST take the situation seriously. It’s essential for my own survival, and that of all other Australians. I must play my part and follow whatever social restrictions are implemented. At present it’s staying at home and stopping all unnecessary contact with others.

Every time I go out is another opportunity to become infected.

But that’s not the main issue. If I am infected and go out with mild or no symptoms, I risk infecting a cascade of other people. Every time I have close contact with others, every time I inevitably touch the many surfaces that lots of other people touch, I’m putting other people at risk. Think carefully about all the things you touch in shopping centres.

To reinforce the point, University of NSW modelling(3) shows at least 80% of the Australian population must stay at home to have any hope of containing the virus. For your own sake, and the sake of everyone else, DON’T be one of the people pushing Australia over the critical 20% non-compliance threshold.

If you’re younger, don’t think you won’t be a severe case or die. The severity does increase with age but worldwide there are far more people aged 18 to 64 who are infected, and far greater numbers in hospital, than people 65 and older. And ask yourself, what if the hospital system collapses before I need it?

Then there’s the death rate. The estimates vary widely. Many cases will never be detected, and of the known cases we don’t yet know how many will recover or die. Medical experts in the UK(4) predict 0.5 to 1% of the total population will die. For Australia this equals 130,000 to 260,000 people. But the final figures could be worse… we just don’t know yet.

(3) I’ve got to practice what I preach

I’d had a sore throat on and off for over 2 weeks prior to last Friday. I thought two weeks with no other symptoms meant it couldn’t be coronavirus. I decided to collect a parcel from the Post Office then go to the supermarket. When I saw the sign on the Post Office door I stopped, “Please don’t enter if you’ve got any symptoms”.

I’d stayed home for the previous 9 days because of my throat. I allowed no-one in my house, so I could not be carrying the virus. But, hold on, I’d made one exception. Two older family members came to visit after staying with their daughter’s family in the suburbs. They were keen to see my new house before returning home. I was keen to make it very clear to both of them that it was essential they minimise all contact with others. Both having chronic health conditions meant their lives could depend on it.

The second realization hit hard at the Post Office door. My sore throat had gone days ago but was back again that morning. I thought it was just a recurrence of the same bug. But what if my new sore throat was coronavirus that I’d picked up from my visitors? However unlikely it was, it actually could be coronavirus, and I could be risking other people’s lives.

I hesitated for a moment, then, sad to say, I rationalised it away. We all love picking up parcels and I allowed my desire to overrule the possible risk.

I went inside and picked up the parcel, all the while knowing deep down I’d made a choice that contradicted what I’d been passionately proclaiming to others… If you’re showing any symptoms avoid all close contact with others!  Contrite, I drove straight home… definitely no more shopping for me until I know I’m clear!

I know many of you will identify. We’re all human. We don’t like stopping activities that bring us pleasure. And if we’re honest, we often do things we know aren’t wise, especially for our health. Most times there’s no immediate consequence. But coronavirus is different. It’s no overstatement to say this is a critical moment in history. We all need to work hard on not letting our desires lead to choices and actions that put ourselves and others in danger.

(4) The reality hits home

I took a break from working on this article late last night. Only partly finished I wanted to be fresh today to finish it.

TV is something that helps my brain slow down enough to sleep. I selected SBS. You’ll probably laugh, but I love zombie movies. I find them so over-the-top that they’re hilarious and a great way to relax. “The Road to Tuhan” was on. This movie was great. Hilarious moments were interwoven with a heartwarming drama. Well into the movie, the most recent realization hit out of the blue. I had a mental picture of sitting on a precipice watching the world fall over the edge.

How could I possibly be watching something as inane as a zombie movie when the whole world is facing a life-threatening crisis? What if I’m one of the casualties and have only weeks or months left to live? Is watching a zombie movie what I want to do on one of my last remaining nights?

It sounds very dramatic, but it’s possible. In balance however, there’s absolutely no value in worrying about the worst possible outcome. Far better to ask what can I do to achieve the best outcome for myself and everyone else?

There’s a lesson I learnt from my late wife Rosie. She had a 16 year journey with breast cancer. The whole time, right up to the day she died, she remained realistic about where the cancer was taking her. Rather than hiding behind positive thinking, or allowing herself to become morbid, she faced every downward step head on. She was determined to make the most of every day, always enjoying life and being an encouraging, supportive friend to literally hundreds of people. I want to live like Rosie did.

So what can I contribute in the face of coronavirus? This article is Chapter One of my coronavirus journey. It is part of what I can offer. If I can convince just one other person to play their part, or even save a life, it is abundantly worth it.

Where to from here?

Australia has reached the stage of community transmission of coronavirus. An antiviral drug is still a long way off. The most effective, and possibly only way, of stopping coronavirus is now total lockdown.

Ideally we would have been in lockdown at least two weeks ago. But no government (apart from the Chinese) can take a whole nation from life as normal one day to total lockdown the next. It takes time to convince a whole nation that a course that devastates our economy and has severe social impacts is the best way to go! Leaders can only lead if the nation chooses to follow them.

Our leaders are not idiots. Put aside your political opinions. They are doing their absolute best to lead Australia through to the best possible outcome.

Conservative governments like ours have the economy flowing in their blood. Even with the facts staring them in the face it takes time for them too to believe that total lockdown, whatever the economic cost, is the fastest way to get through this pandemic with minimum social and economic cost. But give our leaders due credit. Don’t be quick to judge. They are only human too.

But don’t wait for the government to tell you it’s time for total lockdown. The more people who voluntarily do it now, the better the outcome will be.
Help lead the pack rather than drag your heels behind it.

Final thoughts

Think of people on the front lines

If you think total lockdown is tough, and it certainly will be, think of the people who still have to go to work so the rest of us can make it through. Health workers at every level, those keeping us supplied with food and essentials, law enforcement. They are all at higher risk than you.

Our health workers especially are at risk. They don’t want to die either, and yet they’ll make the sacrifice turning up day after day to perform very high risk roles. They may well run out of protective gear long before the pandemic is over. Look at Italy now. Many will be totally exhausted by their selfless work and traumatised for life by what they see. They will face the likelihood of taking the virus home to their loved ones after every shift.

It won’t lessen how difficult things are for us at home, but it helps get our own sacrifice in perspective.

We all need each other

Lockdown has to be longer than two weeks to beat the virus. At least 4 weeks, perhaps even months, will be necessary(5).

Social isolation is going to take a terrible toll. There will be spikes in the number of people suffering anxiety and depression. Domestic violence and suicides will rise dramatically. There will be no lack of people who need your support.

If you can, don’t despair, that will not help you at all.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking only about yourself and how tough things are for you. Endless video, binge eating, porn, or whatever you’re into will work for a while. Ultimately it will leave you bored, depressed and worse off.

Instead recognize WE ALL have an essential job to do. Think of everyone you know who could be doing it tougher than you. Think of your family and friends. Connect with other people. Make calls, send messages, or chat online to encourage and support other people. You will lift their spirits and help them through. You too will get a ‘buzz’ each time as your brain releases feel good hormones. It will help you make it through as well(6).

If you’re struggling, reach out to others. Don’t try to go it alone. People will never be more willing to support you than now.

Be grateful. Choose to enjoy life. Grasp this opportunity.

Your attitude is the key to your own emotional survival.

Be grateful for everything you can. Be grateful for your loved ones. Be grateful for the food you eat and the roof over your heads. Be grateful that the end of the crisis WILL come. If nothing else, being grateful means you’re still alive!

Keep enjoying everything in your life that brings you joy. Music, photos, books, all the things you can learn from online, things you can create, your pets, and of course, other people… the list is endless.

Use this time to learn and grow in every way you can.

Initiate new friendships. Build deep connections with others. Repair broken relationships.

You will never have another life changing opportunity like this (we hope) to achieve so much.


  1. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-17/coronavirus-cases-data-reveals-how-covid-19-spreads-in-australia/12060704
  2. https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/coronavirus-covid-19-current-situation-and-case-numbers
  3. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-25/coronavirus-covid-19-modelling-stay-home-chart/12084144
  4. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51674743
  5. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/how-to-stop-covid-19-find-test-isolate-treat/
  6. https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness

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

On Being Vulnerable

If allowing others to see into my heart…
The heights of my joy, the depths of my grief, the things that bring me delight and make me laugh, the pits of my depression, my fear of rejection, my ache for love and security, the burning of my anger, my passion to write, my passion to ‘change the world’ and set people free…

If it enables others to see more clearly into their own hearts,
and better understand, love and accept themselves for who they are…

If it fosters a greater understanding of, empathy with, and compassion for, the people and the world around them…

Then sharing my heart has been worth it.

If allowing others to see into my mind…
The complex web of my thoughts, the beliefs and values which underpin who I am, my endless questioning and analyzing, the insights and wisdom gained from life’s experiences, the rational thinking of an Engineer, tempered by intuition, the negative self-talk borne of childhood hurts, and the obsessive repetitive thoughts borne of OCD…

If it enables others to see more clearly into their own minds,
and provides insight and deepens understanding, and motivation to assess their own beliefs and attitudes, helps them grow in freedom to be who they really are, to believe in themselves, find their potential, and live life more fully…

If it fosters a greater understanding of, empathy with, and compassion for, the people and the world around them…

Then revealing my mind has been worth it.

If allowing others to see into my spirit…
My wrestling with God, and faith, and the “answers” which don’t satisfy the integrity my spirit demands, the call to be authentic to my understanding of the truth (but what is true??), my ache for meaning and purpose, the years of unanswered cries from the deepest part of my being, the profound sense of my own value and worth, and the immeasurable value of others…

If it enables them to see more deeply into their own spirits,
and helps them to discern what is truly life-giving, and discard whatever enslaves, burdens or limits them, and to love themselves and others more fully, to embrace freedom from distorted thinking, and the baggage of life’s hurts, to see what really matters in life and discard what is trivial…

If it fosters a greater understanding of, empathy with, and compassion for, the people and the world around them, and helps them bring grace, healing and freedom to others…

Then providing even small glimpses into that most sacred part of me has been worth it.

I’m no better than you, or more special than you,
I simply believe an awesome universe lies within each of us,
Hearts, minds and spirits waiting to be explored and shared.

Vulnerability with trusted others is the birthplace of healing,
It allows the light of love and truth to shine in, and banish the dark places within our being,
And allows our own amazing light to shine out.
Vulnerability with one another is essential for true connection,
Authentic loving relationships are what we all need, and what we long for.

If I share ‘too much’ then I ask for your forgiveness.
I believe however the greater danger,
for all of us,
is that we share too little.

IJ Icon - BlogInspired by Brene Brown’s TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability”
Highly recommended watching…

Ian James 8/5/2015