Good news is fun to share, but when things aren’t going so well, it takes a lot of courage to tell your story in public. This week, Barb has stepped up to speak about her move from Melbourne to Mansfield, which was, “The biggest, toughest transition I’ve ever made.” She now loves living in Mansfield, but it was a rocky road getting here. And Barb knows something about major life changes –in her early twenties, she moved from Canada to Australia on her own.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with change, some of Barb’s tips might help.
Can you give us a potted history of your life pre-Mansfield?
I worked in various editorial/pre-production roles with the Sunday Observer Newspaper, Peter Isaacson Publications’ magazine division, BRW, The Sunday Age and others. I went on to freelance web design, PR and furthered my education, until my husband Brad, who worked in IT for years, decided he’d had enough of corporate life. We started a successful gardening company, MowJoes, and absolutely loved it (weather depending). We sold the company when we moved from Melbourne and I’m retired now.
What brought you to Mansfield?
We lived in a beautiful, quiet street in Glen Iris, but over time, the character of the street changed dramatically. Old heritage homes were knocked down and replaced with modern, double-storey boxes. Neighbours who’d become great friends were slowly moving away. One evening, while Brad and I were enjoying a well-earned beer after work, we endured yet another run-in with our new neighbour-from-hell, who was building his McMansion right on our boundary. We couldn’t continue like this, to live next door to this jerk. On the spur of the moment decided to move.
Brad’s always had an affinity for Mansfield – he’s been coming up to ski since he was a child, his mother and step-father had lived here, and most of our long weekends were spent up here 4x4ing and camping.
Within months we’d sold our business, our home of 19 years, and packed up. We left behind our Melbourne friends, neighbours, favourite shops, routines and lifestyle. That was four and a half years ago now.
What were the challenges of this relocation?
My greatest phobia is driving. I took lessons once, but the day before I was to sit my licence test, Brad was driving through Kew Junction and a taxi ploughed straight into us. That was the end of that.
We had five weeks between the bank settlements on our Melbourne and Mansfield homes, so we stayed in our holiday home in Merrijig. That was a horrible time. Brad was in town most days and I was alone for eight hours a day. We had limited TV and internet, zero garden to speak of, and you can only walk up the same hill or down to the same river so many times. I read a lot of books and hung out with the poor old cat.
When we finally moved to our house in town, it was terrific. We’re only a ten minute walk from town, yet we overlook wide open spaces. It’s delightfully quiet after living in a construction zone for months, and we even have kangaroos jumping around behind the fence.
I spent a happy month unpacking and settling in then, BANG! It hit me. The stress of the previous months, saying goodbye to our treasured 20-year-old cat who had kept me company, and facing a close-knit, small town completely overwhelmed me. I felt lonely. Isolated.
Meanwhile, Brad had become captain of the golf club, was heavily involved with the SES and had made about a quizzillion new friends.
How did your stress manifest?
Over the next two years, everything deteriorated. I was lonely, but I didn’t want to join a group or association for the wrong reasons. I only wanted to get involved if I could actually contribute, and wasn’t feeling there was much I could contribute. I was invited to events with Brad’s friends, but didn’t want to go – getting made-up to go out and being sociable seemed too big of a climb. Instead, I’d stay home with a bottle of wine. I had no problem cracking open the wine at 11:00am. I’d always been a bit of a party girl and remained so long after the days of long work lunches and a couple nights a week at the pub.
Deep down I knew I wasn’t right. I’ve never been a patient person, but I became extremely intolerant. If something frustrated me, I’d pick up whatever was handy and hurl it across the room, right down to a nine-kilo bag of kitty litter once or twice! Poor Brad.
One day, Brad came home and handed me a card, explaining he’d been to the medical clinic and made a tentative appointment with one of the psychologists if I wanted to go.
Could it hurt? No.
I did go and she honestly made all the difference. She prodded and I talked. Once a week to start, then every second week until everything was out and on the table. I listened to her advice and suggestions, and applied most things to how I handled each day.
What happened next?
A year ago I had a bad fall and hurt my back. Three days later, I vomited blood and an ambulance was called. Turns out, I had stomach ulcers and the large doses of Ibuprofen I’d been taking had wreaked havoc in there.
Four days in hospital suffering septic shock, withdrawal and unable to walk on my own for a month after, exposed a long list of health issues – a spinal fracture, the shredded stomach, vitamin deficiencies, fatty liver and osteoporosis. It came down to one thing – my doctor said, “If you’re going to fix any of this, you HAVE to stop drinking.”
From that day, I gave up alcohol. Going cold turkey after years and years of drinking like a fish shouldn’t have been easy, but I had no problem. Disclaimer: I did have red wine with Christmas lunch, and I swear I had a three-day hangover, but owned up straight away to the doc!
It’s something I never thought I’d hear myself say, but it’s amazing what a whole new, healthy lifestyle does for your state of mind. It really brightened my world and suddenly a small town didn’t feel so small.
What are the best techniques you’ve learnt for dealing with stress?
It’s taken a couple of years, but here are some of the things I’ve learnt:
I needed to give up alcohol. I have more energy. More focus. I’m happier.
When things pile up, I list everything in that pile under two columns: my fault and not my fault. Things that are my fault, I can change. Things that are not my fault or impossible to change, there’s absolutely no point dwelling on and I have to put them aside. Then I get to work on fixing the things I can.
I tackle my loneliness. Instead of saying no to events with Brad or a night at the pub, I go along. I still don’t have any close friends here, but I’m getting better at meeting people.
I go walking as often as possible. If I need something in town, I don’t just add it to a list, I go and get it. I hang around town for a while. I look for something new every time, take a different route, walk out of my way. I sit down with a cup of coffee and watch the town go by.
I focus on my breathing when I find myself angry or short-tempered.
I count to ten before I hurl a bag of kitty litter across the floor.
What do you still miss in Melbourne?
I miss funny things. My local fish shop. Bagels. Mansfield has everything we need except a fish shop and real bagels.
How do you feel about Mansfield now?
I love Mansfield. I always have. I love little things like the day we came home and someone had left a perfect pumpkin on our fence post. I never found out who did it, but how nice. I love that I can walk out the back door and a couple of cows or horses have wandered into our yard, or that the kangaroos spot me and stop what they’re doing to stare at me for a bit.
My problem was never with the town, it was with me. Now, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Well, except maybe Port Douglas!
Where to from here?
I enjoy doing research, so I should look at joining the historical society. I’ve got a lot of my own writing hanging around that I might start submitting, and I think I’d be good at tutoring kids in reading, report-writing – that kind of thing. I keep saying I’ll dust off the camera and get out there and take pictures, so that, too.
You can follow Barb on:
Facebook: Barb Grant, Mansfield, Victoria