Previous Voices


Several years ago, I had a breakdown. I hid under my duvet not wanting to see or speak to anyone and cried until I was numb. I was lost, scared and mentally going round in circles.

Gentle coaxing by my family got me to the doctor who prescribed some practically psychedelic anti-depressants and a course of very expensive but invaluable cognitive therapy.

Over the next six months I slowly pulled my life back together and started to learn how to protect myself from the pressures that had led to the breakdown. I made resolutions not to follow the same patterns of behaviour, to try the things that scared me and to start experiencing the things I was putting off for later.

So I am very proud to say that over these last few years I have achieved several things I never thought I would do. I moved to a new country, married a wonderful and unbelievably kind and supportive man and learned to live my everyday life speaking a different language.

And for the most part things are great. But every once in a while, like today, I wake up feeling numb, not wanting to get up and face the world. I want to start my own business and I don’t know where to start. I’m scared again of the future.

So this morning I am going to dig down deep inside myself and try and find those feelings I need to make myself feel OK – my resolve, some courage and a touch of determination.

Janette, 33, Paris, France

My Mum turned 60 this week, and it suddenly hit me that I only ever think of her in terms of the last 30 years – since I was born. It took me putting together a DVD of images for it to really hit home that she had a life before rearing five children.

As I scanned in hundreds of black and white images of her wrapped in blankets in the arms of old men in trilbies, playing next to the fence of a brownstone terrace in the States, or standing innocently with a Jack Russell terrier, I realised that my Mum was a little girl, just like I had been.

There were photos of her bronzed and sexy in a bikini posing next to a surfboard or sitting proudly on the bonnet of a Holden – Dad’s other love. She had a glamourous look, the way that 1960’s photos always do.

She was beautiful; wrinkles and sun spots were decades away. Her simple and honest self-made clothes made her look like Jackie O and her vibrant smile exuded an energy that leaps from the picture even now, decades later.

This was my Mum at my age. And then she had kids.

Not that the smile isn’t still there and that she can’t surprise you with quirkiness you never believed she had; but she is different. She is my Mum. Not a baby making sandcastles or a fife playing school girl or a carefree teenager. She is my mother and all it encompasses – and it wasn’t really until now that I realised the true sacrifice that motherhood is.

Janette, 33, Paris, France

This morning, Chris and I enjoyed something rather new in our wonderful world of wedded bliss – we went for coffee.

When I first met Chris, he was the anti-coffee. Our two worlds, though mostly in sync, collided in a most uncaffeinated way. To him, my coffee needs were fickle. To me, his coffee hatred was despicable. For years, I tried to convince him of the virtues of coffee. Realizing the work ahead of me, I took the quiet, subtle approach on this one. Rather than force the cup under his nose day after day, I casually slipped in my coffee trickery from time to time. And though he’d enjoy a cup of coffee after a hard workout or an occasional decaf, it just wasn’t the same as having someone fully leaded and ready to hop on my wired wagon to ride off into a sunset of liquid brown Sumatra.

Coffee is quite literally the lifeline of my daily grind and I couldn’t be more happily addicted to its potent and perky properties. Sure, there have been times when I’ve thought about giving it up. Times when I feared it was staining my teeth, lining my liver with oils, and giving me the java jitters. But the powerfully addictive pull of coffee is no match for these fears. Like undertow in an angry ocean, it will not easily release you from its hold. Coffee has an insidious way of instantly drawing you in, tempting you like a siren at sea to sip and savor your way into its sneakily addictive and tenuous trap. It tricks you with sugar and cream, it’s milky froth and syrupy sweetness all merely disguises to distract you away from the plain and simple fact that it is coffee and it is indeed a drug.

Oh, you think you can stop. You think you are in control, that you can put the cup down at any time. But go ahead, try it – I double grande dare you.

I speak from experience on this one – I thought I was strong. I thought I could take a coffee break. It lasted about 3 days. Those were 3 of the most painful, unproductive, and pointless days of my life. I was like a wild animal that had been caged – and I was ready to roar. Each morning by 10 am, a fog would roll over my head, my vision would blur, and my brain would begin to pound like a giant drum keeping a booming beat. I was edgy, jumpy, short, snappy, and snippy (more so than usual). My co-workers still refer to those 3 days as ‘the time Liz tried to quit coffee’. We don’t talk much about those days anymore.

In my world, coffee is king and I willfully submit to his sovereign control. At night, I lay in bed thinking to myself that tomorrow I will drink coffee from the rooster mug or tomorrow I’ll get coffee at Joyful’s or tomorrow I’ll ride 60 miles then stop at Starbuck’s. In the morning, it’s not a matter of ‘when’ – it’s simply a matter of ‘where’ and ‘what kind’. So many places, so many choices; Joyful’s, Upper Crust, Kona’s, Starbuck’s, Caribou; flavored or dark; americano with or without syrup.

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Have you seen the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”? I loved it, but this summer we will be having “My Big Fat Jewish wedding” outside London and I’m cringing.

Legally speaking, we are already married. Last month we had a French civil ceremony in Paris. The major, knowing he had a captive audience, gave a speech on local Green politics (the Presidential elections are next month so you can’t blame him). It was a lovely day with just our closest family and a few of our closest friends, lunch at a great restaurant overlooking Notre Dame, a walk on the banks of the Seine – perfect, relaxed.

I know there are girls who dream their whole lives about exactly what their weddings will be like, they know what dress they will wear, what the flowers will be like and in some cases who they’ll marry – but I am just not one of those girls. I hate being centre of attention. I have visions of myself this summer as one of the hippos from “Fantasia” squeezed into a lacy dress, standing under the chuppah, beetroot-red with embarrassment, wishing I was anywhere else.

‘The mamas’ (one New York Jewish, the other Swiss-Belgian Jewish) have bloomed into fully fledged wedding planners such is their absolute delight.

So why are we doing it you ask? Well, as my mother (the Swiss-Belgian mama) who has a PhD in Jewish guilt tactics puts it, there are so few opportunities in life to be joyous – you gotta celebrate any chance you have. So relatives are jetting in from the four corners of the globe; venue, rabbi, kosher caterer and klezmer band are all booked.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to celebrate! I love the traditions of a Jewish wedding and if I had the choice, it would be a small, intimate ceremony with just the closest of friends and family. But, lists start getting written, family politics come into play and you start compromising to keep everybody happy. As my family told me – “it’s not your wedding, its all of ours”. So “we” are getting married again this summer..

Janette, 33, Paris, France

In four day’s time I buy a house. And so domesticity and responsibility must start in earnest. You see, for the past 9 years, I’ve avoided it. I’ve been an Australian living in London.

Not that I didn’t have responsibilities in London of course. I was a teacher in an inner-city comprehensive high school in one of the poorest boroughs in the country. 180 kids (I believed) were dependent on me turning up every day. I was middle management!

But as long as my council tax was paid on time, my marking was done, and the cleaner was paid, I could swan off to Romania or New York or a week of skiing in the Alps, without much thought to anything else.

Some time though, in amongst all this swanning, I found myself a husband and started to think carefully about the lifestyle I wanted any future children to have. I wanted them to grow up not being afraid of creepy-crawlies, to have tough enough soles to skip across a searing road from the beach to the fish shop, and know how to put up a tent in a storm. In short, I wanted them to grow up like I did, with a sense of adventure and a passion to explore.

I had many heated debates with my husband. What about coming home on a crisp autumn day to throw off your scarf and beanie and warm your toes on a radiator? What about growing up in a truly multi-ethnic community? What about strolling past the Christmas lights in Selfridges with the waft of roasted chestnuts in the air?

Good points perhaps, but I still won the argument. And so now here we are in Brisbane, about to purchase a 30 year debt. On March 28th, I will dust off ‘How to be a domestic goddess’, strap on an apron and “settle down” once and for all. Or at least until I find something else to take my fancy.

Tanya, 30, Brisbane, Australia.

(I thought I’d avoid the pressure of a first post and start with a funny little story. I’ll come back with something more substantial later. Bear with me, ladies 🙂 )

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Taipei Metro (MRT) authorities put this sign up at the entrance to the ladies toilets in the stations. Out of nowhere… I had no idea this was going on! My life was carefree, but now?!
What should I do? I mean, peeing is important to me. MRT toilets used to be my haven, a reliable oasis in the toilet desert that is Taipei. I knew that if I had to go, like really, really go, all I had to do is find the nearest MRT station, McD or Starbucks. What now? Should I trust that they’re going to take care of this, or should I just prepare for the worst and make sure I wear nice underwear?

Not just undies, I guess now I have to make sure other things are neat, too. Oh, I didn’t need this pressure!

Tasha, 34, Taipei, Taiwan