Sunday, 18 March 2018

International Women's Day - Local Hero

Recently a friend messaged me to ask if she could pass my phone number onto her friend, who was inquiring about a speaking engagement.  I told her it sounded scary, but it was fine to pass it on.  I then got a phone call from Beck who works for the Clifford Craig Foundation, which is a medical research program. 

She told me that every year they hold a luncheon for International Women's Day and they have a main guest speaker and also a 'local hero'.  She told me that his year the main guest speaker was going to be Jelena Dokic who was former number 4 tennis player in the world.  She said she knew about my story and had read my blog, and had hoped that I would agree to be the 'local hero' this year.

I laughed and said I don't feel like a local hero, but after talking about what it would involve I agreed to do it.  The week before I met with the MC Sara, who was so lovely.  We chatted about how the day would run and that my part involved a 10 minute Q&A session where I would already know what she was going to ask me as we would chat about it then. 

She asked me what two messages I would really like to get across to the audience as she wanted to make sure that came out during our conversation on the stage.  I said there's so much to share, but I thought the two most important things I want people to know are that when someone is grieving the way you can help them is to just allow them to grieve. There is no wrong way or right way and everyone grieves differently.  So many times I hear 'it's time to move on', 'he would want you to be happy' or 'when is she going to stop talking about them' but pushing away how you feel doesn't help anyone, especially not yourself.

As a friend the best thing you can do is to be there and be a listening ear. Don't try to push away how someone is feeling, because it may be uncomfortable for you. 'Moving on' doesn't have to mean getting remarried.  I have moved on in many ways as I have no choice but to, but just because I don't want to get remarried doesn't mean I'm not 'happy'.  I also said that how someone looks on the outside, doesn't always reflect what is going on the inside.

The other message I wanted to get across was that you can't always choose what happens to you in your life, but everyone has a choice about how they respond to what has happened.  I shared with her that I had suffered depression and anxiety and you can't change how you feel, but I had to make a choice to ask for help and go on medication at the time.  I still make choices every day, even though things are still hard.  It doesn't fix things straight away, but eventually you can look back and see that those little choices that you made every day has helped you along the way.

Sara was lovely and said she was so excited for me to speak at the luncheon as she could tell I was going to inspire a lot of people.  I was glad that it was going to more of an interview up on the stage, as I didn't really have to prepare a speech, but was more just having a chat and sharing my story.

On the day I was so nervous.  I had been really busy at work and had hardly thought about it, and then all of a sudden I realised that I would be speaking in front of 350 people.  I'm not a huge tennis fan, but know a little bit about it and some of the bigger players.  I knew who Jelena Dokic was and just remembered her as this young blonde haired girl who was an incredible player, but who was always causing a drama. I remembered her Dad who was aggressive towards the media and I knew there was some controversy about her not playing for Australia at some stage, but playing for her home country instead.

When I arrived early for the luncheon I was taken to a room by Beck and Sara, where Jelena was doing Media interviews.  She looks a lot different to the girl I remembered, so it was hard to imagine that the Jelena Dokic I was with, was the same as the young blonde haired girl.  When we were introduced she was lovely and shook my hand and said she had heard a lot about me, and she was sorry for what had happened to me.  We got our photo taken with Beck before we went in for lunch.
We were both taken to our seats, and it hit me then how big this was and how many people I would be speaking in front of.  I knew that everyone was really there to hear Jelena though, so I tried not to stress too much, and just enjoy lunch.

While we eating we chatted to each other, and she was so down to earth and easy to talk to. She asked me if I was on Instagram and said she wanted to take some photos to put on Instagram afterwards. I admitted to her that I didn't know heaps about tennis, but told her that I recently took the boys to the Launceston International tennis finals and how much they loved it and that we had been playing tennis for fun recently, and how terrible we were!

I was so happy to have a couple of good friends in the crowd who had gone along with their other friends and workmates.  It was also lovely to see a few familiar faces in the crowd.  The food was delicious and Jelena and I swapped our food as she didn't like salmon, but I love it. 
The food was amazing, but I think I was so overwhelmed with the whole day that it was hard to enjoy it!
While everyone was eating main course it was my turn to speak.  Sara was an awesome MC and just made it all so relaxed and easy.  They put a family photo up behind me as she introduced me, and it was obviously a huge shock to many people in the audience that Noah passed away and then Aaron passed away, as there was a huge gasp from the audience as she said it.

Sara asked me to share my story in a few minutes, and I talked about Noah's diagnosis and how we were just starting to feel like things would be okay after he passed away, when Aaron passed away.  Sara mentioned  about being awarded the Barnados Tasmanian Mother of the Year in 2015 and asked me to share the story I told her when I found out that I was in the final, as she thought it was very funny. 

I shared how embarrassed I was when I got the call that I was nominated and in the top 6, as I didn't feel like I deserved it, and how I didn't tell any of my friends about it until I had to when I was told I was in the top 3 and had to invite people to the ceremony.  She then said she hoped that I knew now that I was deserving of the award and I said I still didn't think I was, as I'm just a regular Mum like everyone else who gets cranky with their kids.  Everyone in the audience clapped when she said that I was very deserving of it which was so lovely, and she kept pushing, so I then said that I can see that I've helped my boys through their grief, but also that I am just a normal Mum and had been yelling at the boys to hurry and get their shoes on that morning.  Everyone had a laugh at that.

Sara also wanted me to share about my work, so it was very easy to speak as I got to talk about the things I love the most - my work and my family.  She then asked me to share my two messages I would like to get across and before I knew it the ten minutes were over (and it only seemed like it went for half the time). It was so nice to feel and hear so much support from the audience and it was nice to be able to sit down and relax knowing my part was done.

After I spoke lots of ladies came up to chat.  One older lady told me that her husband had recently passed away and how hard it had been, but said that if I can do it then she can. She then started crying and said she hardly ever cries, but said how good it was to talk to someone who understood.

Another lady came up and asked me if I recognised her. I knew her face, but couldn't work out how I knew her.  She was the funeral director at Noah's funeral! She said how great it was to see me, and to see how 'well' I was doing. She said she really appreciated what I said about grief, and said she is going to share that in her work. 

Jelena then spoke and shared that although she was such a successful tennis player, she suffered many years of terrible abuse from her father from the age of 6, when she began playing tennis. She was abused physically and emotionally if she didn't play well, or even when she did! Nothing was ever good enough for her father and she lived constantly in fear about what he would do to her. 

After she spoke she signed copies of her books, which a book shop was selling at the event. 
I went and bought one and when I took it up to her to sign she said she would've given me one. I told her I didn't expect her to do that and was happy to buy it. 
She's an amazing athlete, but what's even more incredible is that she did so well despite (and even because of) the abuse she suffered from her father. I thought I knew about her from the media, but really no one knew what she was going through, or if they did they didn't or couldn't do anything about it. I felt so much for her when I read that everything she earned was signed over to her father, before she finally 'escaped' the abuse by leaving when she was older. She almost committed suicide and her story is incredible to know that she was once a refugee, became the number 4 tennis player in the world, while being abused to terribly. 

She wrote a beautiful message in it for me. I read it over the last week and am blown away by what she's been through.
When Jelena was signing books she asked me to hang around till she finished, so we could take some more photos together.  She was so lovely and kept saying how inspiring I was, and asked if we could swap phone numbers. She told me she is going to be starting up a foundation later in the year, and would love for me to work with her and for her to be able to help me.  We swapped numbers and have texted each other since meeting, and it's just so strange to see 'Jelena Dokic' pop up on my phone.

 A couple of days after the event Jelena posted this on her Instagram! I was blown away and couldn't believe that she had even posted about me, let alone said such beautiful things (she said I work with high school kids which isn't correct - they're way too scary for me!).
Most of the time my  life is very boring, but then something like this comes up, and it's exciting and amazing to meet people like Jelena.  We spoke about how sharing our stories helps us to heal and how she wasn't ready to share hers until now, and how writing is very draining emotionally.  I told her maybe one day I'll write a book but for now it's nice to be able to have the opportunity to share my story in other ways.

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