Madness: A Memoir

Sibylesque madness quote

REVIEW by Annette Lowe

Madness a memoir

Madness: a memoir

Kate Richards

Penguin, 2013

In ‘Madness: a memoir’ ( Penguin, 2013) by Melbourne author Kate Richards relates her  experience of psychosis, psychotic depression with the piercing vividness of a natural poet. Kate’s imagery and spare narrative brings the terror and chaos of psychosis into the comfortable sanity of our world. Murderously cruel inner voices drive Kate towards self –harm. Whisky is her painkiller. Small events and shreds of daily reality reveal Kate’s gentle humour – she is a chocaholic.

Sibylesque Madness in the Mirror

She passes through psychiatric hospital, ECT, stopping her medication, relapsing. She begins to work with a therapist, and despite resistances and relapses, the psychologist gradually brings her to accept and manage her illness. The sense of profound relief that comes to Kate is not expressed, but conveyed through their small dialogues, all of them turning points in Kate’s inner life. Kate’s memoir is a landmark in our understanding of mental illness, and flags the arrival of a gifted writer in Australian literature. A novel is Kate’s next project, to be published next year. It too will be extraordinary.

Sibyl Approved Dark Red

Annette-3Annette is a Jungian analyst who has been in private practice in St Kilda for twenty years. She trained at the Zurich Institute.  Annette is a past-President of the Jung Society in Melbourne and last April was made a Life Member of the Society.


Photo source: 10 Best Blog


If you think you are old, guess what? You ARE aging fast.

by Kerry Cue

Sibylesque Gloria Steinem quote

We, The Sibyls, do not deny age its journey. Nevertheless, many studies have shown that the toxic stereotype of the stooped ‘little old lady’ not only limits your outlook on aging, it can actually reduce your life span. We have noted before that this stereotype is reinforced by Geriatric Self-Talk and assumptions of the medical profession. Now two recent publications support this view.

What if age is nothing but a mind set? by Bruce Greirson (New York Times, 22 OCT 2014) reports on a study conducted by Ellen Langer, Professor of Psychology at Harvard, conducted in 1981. Eight men in their 70s stepped into a monastery retro-fitted for 1959. Perry Como crooned on a vintage radio. Ed Sullivan appeared on a black-and-white TV. After 5 days, the men significantly improved on many ‘age related’ tests.

Sibylesque Go Wild

Our aging brain pinkMeanwhile, in his book, Our Ageing Brain: How our mental capacities develop as we grow older (SCRIBE, 2014) André Aleman cites similar studies including the study that showed:

*those with a more positive view of aging lived 7.5 years longer.

*when older people are asked to read a list of negative words associated with aging (eg. Senile) their performance in memory tests reduces.

*men who become prematurely bald present with earlier onset of age related deceases.

*older people in rural China suffer less from memory problems that we do. Professor Langer, who also conducted this study, put this down to their lack of exposure to the negative stereotyping of age we experience in the West.

According to Aleman:

A positive attitude – often perfectly justified, since many older people are in good health – keeps you young.

Photo Source: NYC, 1966, Airbus, Medialapie09 Blog


How a charm bracelet can tell the story of a life in memories

by Maureen Wheeler

Sibuylesque Quote Margaret Atwood

Forty-four years ago, on a park bench in Regent’s Park London, I met the man who was to become my husband exactly one year later. To quote Bob Dylan “I was so much older then”, we all were. We married young, had children young, took on huge responsibilities, such as, ourselves, and trusted the universe would somehow be kind to us.

We were married quietly. Just the two of us and two witnesses. My mother hadn’t met Tony so she was understandably upset. I had no idea how Hilary, my new mother in law, felt, but then I had no idea how Hilary felt about anything. I’m Irish, she’s English, is how I explained the gulf between us. She wasn’t exactly mean, she wasn’t exactly not mean, just English.

Our first child was a daughter. When she lost her first tooth, Hilary asked if she might have it. I was a bit stunned at what seemed an unusually sentimental thought. A few years later I discovered Hilary had bought a thick gold chain bracelet when Tashi was born, and every year she added a charm. A clock was the first one because Tashi was a dreadful sleeper.

Sibylesque charm bracelet

An aeroplane was next, because we took Tashi travelling with us when she was six months old. Her first tooth became the mould for another gold charm. A gold wok, when she went to Asia. Every year, or major event, Hilary added a gold charm to the bracelet, until she was twenty one years old. A bracelet full of memories. The gold is worth quite a lot now, but the charms and the thought that went into it is priceless.


The author with her children outside Kathmandu Valley, Nepal in 1983

The author with her children outside Kathmandu Valley, Nepal in 1983


Maureen Wheeler is a feisty conversationalist and a gifted raconteur, who started the publishing company Lonely Planet with her husband Tony.

Photo Source: vanessafrisbee blog


What grandparents know that others do not see: all children are beautiful.

by Penny Cook

Sibylesque Richard Louv Quote 2

All children are beautiful and in the words of developmental psychologist Urie Broffenbrenner ‘every child needs someone who is absolutely crazy about them’. Why would he say that? What does that actually mean in a child’s life?

Childhood is when children get a raw impression of who they are..based on how adults, the powerful, knowing ones respond to them. As an early childhood teacher for more years than I like to admit to, I have always believed that every child I am connected with needs to feel that I like them. It’s my first responsibility. I’m not talking about behaviour here. I’m talking about knowing the power I have and being responsible with it. As an adult (not necessarily a teacher), any interaction I have with a child has the potential to contribute to her/his internal construction of his/her worth as a human being and a member of society. And … I haven’t always done that exceptionally well.

Sibylesque Musical building 2

Adults, by definition rule the world. And children are wiser than we know. They are wise to the emotional script that we run with because essentially they are emotional beings. It has been said that children learn the teacher not the content. I’m guessing as you’re reading this you’re reflecting on your own childhoods and how you’ve grown up. Who did you respond to? Who were the adults who affirmed you and which adults did not? Children respond emotionally… that’s what attachment is about … emotional connection. As very young children ‘emotion’ is their first language, before a spoken language.

And that’s where grandparents are so important. We don’t have to make the decisions about the day-to-day routines. We don’t have to get children up in the morning and make sure they get to childcare, school or wherever. We don’t have to do the homework. We don’t have to provide the 5 food groups in the right amount.

 The research is in … We can play well beyond bedtime, read more stories than allocated, spend time listening and responding. We can stop and smell the roses with children.

We can be crazy about our grandchildren because they need us to be!!


Penny CookPenny Cook has been an early childhood educator for over 30 years. She loves to travel  – anywhere. Penny is a mother and ‘Nan Pen’, who is continuously fascinated and amazed by her two young grandchildren.  She has always wanted to live in  a tree house by the beach …’s never too late!! Other wonderfully insightful articles about young children by Penny include Call me on the Banana Phone, Grandma! and Hey Grandma, try this … build your grandchild’s imagination!

Photo source: Unknown.


Getting On: Some thoughts on women and ageing

Sibylesque How old quote

Sibyls' Books Red Mural

REVIEW by Lorna Ebringer

Picture 3Getting on: Some thoughts of women and aging

Liz Byrski

Pub Momentum Books 2012

The baby boomers are ageing! Expect to hear a lot about this topic as we all struggle to come to terms with this fact. Some of us are so put out by the accumulation of ailments that one friend has limited discussion about our failing bodies to 10 minutes before we are required to move to other topics.

Liz Bryski’s book “Getting on, Some thoughts on Women and Ageing” was first published as an ebook in 2012 and is now available in paperback. (Pub Momentum Books) Part memoir and part a reflection, she discusses the problems that women face as they grow old. Despite the fact that older women are central to society, working, writing, volunteering, caring for disabled children and for their parents and living busy and productive lives she finds that society renders them invisible, we are not seen in the media, in advertising, in shopping centres. We are ignored. Whole industries have grown up to help women avoid being erased by trying to make us look younger than we are. If we believe the spin we can dye our hair, have a facelift, diet those extra kilo’s away, in short, have a make over. A lot of energy and money can be spent and, of course, it does not halt time.

Author: Liz Bryski

Author: Liz Byrski

When we are noticed, it is as a problem. The “problem of our ageing population” is mentioned all the time in the media. We are regarded as a financial burden by the wealthiest generation in history. This is truly astonishing given the contribution we have made to society in our working lives over the past 40 or 50 years and the contribution we are still making in providing the volunteer work force in our charities and community support groups, in the care we are giving to our parents and grandchildren and often to our adult disabled children.

Sibylesque Boogie Woogie Man

Liz Bryski raises and addresses all the negative issues that old age brings with it but she is undeterred. Remembering the feisty older women in her life when she was a child and how much she admired them she is determined to enjoy the journey and reading her book encourages us all to do the same. So what are the positives? Now that we are free from full time work and caring for young children we have time to “make the most of every moment and every day, love more and better, learn more and read more” We can enjoy our friendships more and allow them to enhance our lives. As a result our lives become packed with interest and adventure. We are healthier than ever thanks to good medical care and the consciousness that we have to address fitness issues to live well, she swims, we dance, our friends walk, ride bikes, go to the gym and Tai Chi, we meet other people doing these things and we are luckier than our parents in this respect.

I hope that we will see further thoughtful discussions like this that allow us to look forward with optimism and courage.

You will find Liz Byrski’s article Why it is good to be old here.

Sibyl Approved

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Lorna Ebringer’s passions include trekking  in remote areas of Georgia, China and Japan, opera appreciation and rock ‘n roll dancing. Her previous posts were Notable Women: Christine de Pizan and When god had a wife.


Photo Source: Liz Bruyski’s website, Youcanbefunny blog………………………………….


Dealing with a Sudden Death in the age of Digital Data

 by Elizabeth Darling

Sibylesque bureaucracy quote

When my partner died unexpectedly my generous local bookseller gave me a book on grief counselling titled “I wasn’t ready to say goodbye”. There are many helpful books on coming to terms with grief and loss. Funeral directors, banks, solicitors; all have handy lists of things to do and organisations to contact. The lists are useful, but if we had prepared ourselves for the possibility of a death and its consequences, I would have had the space and time for grief. I do not write of philosophical or spiritual preparation, I write of ordinary practical arrangements, which need to be made and reviewed during a partnership. I’d like here to share some advice, which will help others find time to grieve, rather than waste emotional effort in railing against petty officialdom.

We had sensibly made wills and written agreements about the form of funeral service and the disposal of ashes. These agreements saw me through the first stages, past the unamused funeral director who could not provide an IKEA style coffin, the disapproving relatives who expected a religious funeral service, and gave me the strength to demand the ashes from the crematorium without purchasing a tasteful urn and plaque for placement in their memorial gardens.

Sibylesque E Darling 4

The next 9 months were filled with time spent, not grieving, but becoming increasingly frustrated and desperate, on the end of a phone, listening to strangers in call centres who were “so sorry for my loss” but who were unable to help me because I didn’t have the required papers, code words or numbers, and who frequently demanded to speak to the person whom I had told them was dead. Although they never used that word, it was always ‘Deceased’. Filling in forms occupied a great deal of time, many required supplementary documentation. Some forms needed to be submitted a number of times.

Here is a list of actions which you should take while your partnership is active to avoid this mind numbing experience:

Store in one place relevant documents and update regularly. There are a number of essential documents; passports, birth, marriage and divorce and death certificates, investment and superannuation papers, tax returns, and whatever will be needed for next year’s tax returns, mortgage and insurance papers, property titles, car registrations, bank records, the Christmas card list; those papers you would save if a bushfire was threatening.

Make sure that there is a secure, accessible, accurate list of all codes for any transactions on the internet, or records kept on the computer system. This must be on paper, not hidden in the thickets of computer files.

Internet banking and direct debit arrangements to pay regular bills for utilities or other service providers create real difficulties. It is a mistake to drift into the habit of allowing one member of a family to manage the finances, especially when the records are held in computer files. I never learned how to operate the details of the accounts package and slowly the household bills had drifted into his name, and were paid from one of his accounts. This made it difficult to prove that I had any involvement, or rights (more on this under superannuation entitlements).

On the death of an account holder, the banks freeze accounts, and direct debits are then not processed. Our bank could not tell me what direct debits had been regularly paid from my husband’s accounts, and we could not access his files (being clever, he had cryptic clues for his codes kept beside his computer but these were incomprehensible to me). I am now unsure whether it is of benefit to be so reliant on the internet as a vehicle for paying bills, although more and more companies are penalising individuals who want to operate on the paper bill system.

Like most, I have an email address. I use my iPad and my iPhone for communication. I can search for information and use the word processor, but like many of my generation I am unable to operate complex computer systems, having left him to write his own research papers and to edit, spellcheck, rationalise, record, and print out mine. If I’d been asked to explain, I’d have said that he couldn’t paint and I can, we didn’t need to double up on skills. Only he knew how to copy, download, make complex documents, take photographs, and add my illustrations to the text; why should I bother to learn all that when he could do it so easily? I had not considered how I would manage on my own. I certainly did not know how to do an etax form!

Sibylesque E Darling 2

Although we were able to access his emails, we had no way of cancelling or changing any of the arrangements he had made. Pushing the unsubscribe button without the specific identity code is useless. Where a transaction is electronic it is not easy to validate if there is a computer failure. Paper bills addressed to the house (which once could be paid by anyone with a cheque book regardless of the name on the account) are no longer posted. Telephone conversations are of little use, Call Centres rely on callers being computer literate and are unable to help if you cannot download forms or fill in forms on the internet or send a fax or pay electronically. Of course we had bought services and items on the internet, but my role had been to decide what: I did not know how. Being required to take a photograph with your iPhone of the screen of your computer, which showed that you have paid the rates and then to take the phone into the rates office to prove that you have paid the rates because their computer does not, seems too ludicrous to be credible. At least chequebook butts and paper receipts are still seen as legal proof.

Keeping records such as tax returns or medical records in the computer, either on the hard drive or on discs in files or in separate memory sticks presents the same problem, if the information cannot be retrieved. Records on parchment in Mediaeval Latin can with diligence and effort be translated – his files defied accomplished hackers.

We should have asked whether it was better to have services or items in both names or one. I had to pay to have my car’s registration and insurance changed into my name, because although I had bought it, it was registered in his name.

Ask your bank what their policy is on joint accounts. Do they freeze the account if one of the partnership dies? Have you arranged your income so either one could remain solvent until probate has been declared? In some cases this can take a long time. The solicitor was prepared to lend me money in the expectation that probate would ultimately be declared, but no one likes to be a supplicant.

Sibylesque E Darling 1Are all the service manuals for appliances kept in one place? They will be necessary if, as in many households, one person only has worked the appliance. I had not learned how to operate the central heating, the 5 remotes for the T.V. and sound systems, the clothes washing machine. He had always stacked the dishwasher. (Well, he never cooked.) I did not know how to start his car or drive the lawn mower. I could not reach the switch for the hot water system. I might never want to mow the lawn, but I should have learned how to change channels on the T.V. and a number of other routine domestic tasks, which had become his province alone.

Is there a list of the tradesmen usually asked to attend to the blown light bulbs, the blocked drains and other routine maintenance? It’s no use knowing vaguely that when the cistern fails it can be fixed by a neat tap with a hammer, somewhere. What you need to know is how all the idiosyncrasies of the house are controlled. Which brick is placed where to hold open the garage door? How is the heating system turned on and off? If the house alarm goes off unexpectedly how is it cancelled?

Whenever you hire a rental property for a self-catering holiday there is a folder of instructions for all appliances, and peculiarities of the house (do not turn on both the heater and the kettle at one time, the fuses blow!). Every household should have one, a current one. Instructions for a beta dvd recorder are of little practical use, but notes on how to play back or change messages on the telephone are essential. A number of callers were so distressed to hear his voice still on the answering machine that they hung up without leaving a message. Some were angry with me. I should have known that they would find it distressing.

Make a priority list: some things can wait, some can’t. The funeral director, your solicitor, or the bank will give you a list of organisations, which need to be informed. It is not their role to tell you how long each task will take, or how difficult dealing with each organisation will be. Grief and shock would seem to affect the memory and organisational ability. In a bound book, (scraps of paper lose themselves), make notes of the questions you need answering. Record all conversations. Cross off what has been achieved, on despairing days it is sustaining to see that you have made some progress.

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Decide who can be reliably asked to help and prepare to be vague with others – not everyone who offers to help, can, and you need a bland response, which will acknowledge their offer but not commit you. You have to protect yourself!

Before you make a phone call to an institution (Origin Energy perhaps) or visit one (Vic Roads, for example) check that you have all the documents you will need, and time.

When ringing Call Centres have a novel at hand: I read 2 chapters while on hold to a line to a call centre in W.A. trying to change the name on an account.

Listen carefully to the instructions as to which button to press. I have spent an hour in a queue only to find I was talking to the wrong department.

Remember the individual on shift on the line’s end or at the counter in an institution may know that it is necessary to offer condolences (the manual tells them so) but it is not necessary to deviate one bit from the job description. Be prepared to demand to speak to the supervisor.

It is better to hang up or walk away than to lose your temper or self-control – the only person who suffers is you! As soon as the shift is finished, the operator is done with your problem. You still have to resolve it. (I lost my temper in the Roads Board Offices, with a subsequent migraine headache although I was right, and she was wrong, I had to go back the next day and start again, she simply moved onto another customer)

A Certified copy of Death Certificate is necessary, and of the Will, before any organisation will change anything. Find an amenable JP and get him to certify at least twenty copies.

In general, do not assume that any organisation will be swift to respond. Ask how long it might be before a reply can be anticipated, and follow up if the reply is not timely. It was 10 weeks before we received a death certificate and then only because we persisted. The clerk had been unable to read the doctor’s handwriting so had done nothing to process the form. This is a useful reminder to ensure legibility…

If Superannuation and insurance policies were set up by a partnership with the expectation of supporting the survivor, it is important to know beforehand what the support will be and how it can be accessed. The old Commonwealth Superfund, for example, not only requires a copy of Death Certificate and Will, but also of joint household bills, and other proofs of identity and cohabitation This, they cheerily informed me, was to prevent identity fraud, Who would want to be.

Erithrean Sibyl crop .

Elizabeth Darling is a dynamic thinker, meticulous writer and recent widow, who lives in rural Victoria.


I am old … hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore!

by Kerry Cue

Sibylesque Mary Beard Quote 2

Mary Beard, The Spectator

Mary Beard, The Spectator

In the Telegraph, UK, today Prof Mary Beard explains in an article by Hannah Furness (05 Oct 2014), that she aims to reclaim the word ‘old’. Baird, who is recognised by The Sibyls, for her feisty contribution to the feminist debate, has called for a revolution to break down the stereotypes of ‘hunched old lady’ and ‘Darby and Joan’ and claims that “old” should now become something that “fills people with pride”.

Beard was attacked by TV Critic AA Gill in the Sunday Times in his review of her history documentary Meet the Romans for being ‘too ugly’ to be on camera. He also implied that she should appear on ‘The Undateables’, a BBC reality TV show involving mentally disabled and facially disfigured participants.

Has anyone attacked the BBC’s David Attenborough for being ‘too old’, ‘too ugly’ or ‘too mentally disabled’ to appear on TV?

Sibylesque Agatha Christie

This is not just about being old. It is, explains Beard, about being old and female.

Bring on the revolution.

Go get ‘em, Mary!!!

Photo source: The Spectator, unsourced.


Call me on the Banana Phone, Grandma!

by Penny Cook

Sibylesque Imagination Quote

I love technology. Well, I love that I get photos of my grandchildren on my smart phone!! The world has changed. It used to be that the grandmother was retired, or never had to work, so she didn’t need photographic documentation of what her grandchildren were up to because she was there!! Either in a visiting capacity or sometimes as a carer,

But, as a full time working grandparent in 2014, I love the photos. I love that I am included in the stories of their play. Although I’m not there I get to see when the 5-year-old decides to be Tarzan and his 9-month-old sister is cast as Jane. He in his underpants and she in her nappy. I get to see her diving into an upturned basket and emerging with an Octonaut. I get to see Tarzan reading a book and Jane looking lovingly on. I get to be delighted with their play.

I wonder, if we have forgotten the importance of play.

Sibylesque Banana Phone

If children haven’t had lots of opportunities to ‘play’, to pretend a banana is a phone or pencils on the front of their bikes are headlights, then we have a serious problem with literacy. We know we are hard wired for language, but not for reading and writing. When children participate in ‘symbolic play’ (the banana for the phone), they are beginning to understand about symbols. They are learning that you can substitute one thing for another and transfer meaning. Eventually, they will understand those squiggles on a page represent the words we use to communicate. While they’re playing they are also talking and building a bank of words they can use to navigate the world, have their needs met and communicate their thinking. There is a body of research that strongly suggests if children don’t have quality verbal interactions with adults, by the time they are three years old they can be seriously disadvantaged in the literacy journey.

How do children ‘get’ these quality interactions? Well, there are lots of ways. Reading stories together is one. Being available to listen and respond to the wonderful life theories children are constructing is another. Singing is possibly neglected in the literacy world, but so important. Young children are very forgiving. They are not yet music critics so don’t care what you sound like. They just like to sing together.

Sibylesque Iimaginary Train

So are we putting the cart before the horse with our expectations about reading and writing? Do we have an understanding of how young children learn? Are we rushing children in to the ‘academic’ world and are we taking away the very substance of how they learn – play? Have we forgotten the connection between symbolic play and the ‘valued’ literacies of reading and writing?

How can we reclaim play for children? Well Grandparents, rip the sheets from the bed and string them between the couch and the recliner. Get in that cubby with the kids. Drink copious cups of tea. Be the dog, the baby, the mum, the dad, sister, brother or whatever. You are building readers and writers…. And don’t let anyone tell you anything different.



Penny CookPenny Cook has been an early childhood educator for over 30 years. She loves to travel  – anywhere. Penny is a mother and ‘Nan Pen’, who is continuously fascinated and amazed by her two young grandchildren.  She has always wanted to live in  a tree house by the beach …’s never too late!!

Photo source: Smatoday blog, Vic Museum and ipad App store.



Can you die from a broken heart? Yes! It could happen to you.

by Kerry Cue

Sibylesque Heart Foundation Quote

More women in Australia die from Heart Disease than cancer. This is also true in the UK and the US. This fact often surprises women. We are so attuned to raising money for breast cancer research, we assume it is the number one killer. This misperception makes a heart attack for us dangerous. We don’t recognise the symptoms. We put symptoms like nausea and chest pain down to something we ate or anxiety.

A recent article by Martha Weinman Lear in The New York Times (The woman’s Heart Attack, 26 Sept 2014) highlighted the difference between male and female heart attacks. Martha, who had a heart attack herself, explains that more men have the classic dramatic chest-clutching ‘Hollywood’ heart attack.

Sibylesque Heart Attack

Most women do not have drama on their side prompting those around them to call an ambulance. The symptoms of a heart disease could simply be fatigue and insomnia. Something that we often assume is NORMAL.

It’s back to the same old message for women’s health. Keep in tune with your own body. Take action when things don’t feel quite right. The life you save may be your own.