A couple of weeks ago I read Forged with Flames (Wild Dingo Press), the painful and inspiring memoirs of Ann Fogarty (co-written with Anne Crawford.)
As the Ash Wednesday bushfires raged around her in a small Victorian town in February 1983, a young mother stood between her two young daughters and the massive fireball heading straight for them…
Ann tells her dramatic story with candour and disarming humour beginning with her working-class childhood growing up in a village in Lancashire, England. Her fateful decision to marry the young Australian from Melbourne took her to the other side of the world for the adventure of a life time. Twelve years later, her peaceful family life was shattered.
This story takes us far beyond the drama of Ash Wednesday. Her reflections and insights are profoundly illuminating and inspirational. This is a story about living and loving, about hope and determination, about facing your worst demons and staring them down.
Ann’s story is well told and sensitively handled, sharing her account of suffering horrific burns in the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires, facing countless months of recovery and rehabilitation, and many years learning to deal with the psychological damage such trauma causes. Ann’s battle with anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder continued over the years to follow and she shares many valuable insights with her readers, on how to acknowledge and work to overcome PTSD and anxiety.
I had allowed Ash Wednesday and all that came after it to rule my life and define my existence. I saw now that I had unknowingly refined suffering to a great art. It had become my identity. But what was at the core of me? Soon after that evening, I took up meditating, joining evening classes taken by a woman who held them in her home. I learned to breathe in a calm, controlled way, gradually learning to still my thoughts and listen to my heart, which led to a feeling of contentment. I didn’t need to fill the holes in my life with anything from outside. I started to find joy in small things. The cheerful little faces of pansies I had planted brought on a wave of happiness. A breeze with a hint of warmth lifted my spirits as I closed my eyes to it. I had begun to learn how to be alone and happy.
Living in Melbourne, Ann’s story resonated strongly with me. The suburbs she speaks of are familiar, some very close to home. Here battle with breast cancer was also an experience I could easily identify with, it made me feel for her even more than I already did.
Ann’s story really is one of strength and hope. As you would imagine, she has moments of despair, but some how she manages always to rise above them and move on to the next important stage of her life. It’s truly inspirational.
I was incredibly lucky to be able to ask Ann a few questions about her story and about how she’s doing now…
Firstly, thank-you so much for sharing your story. Could you please tell me, what do you hope people will gain from reading ‘Forged with Flames’?
I have always hoped that people reading Forged with Flames might find encouragement there for their own struggles. I know I have drawn strength from other people’s stories myself, and felt like I could keep going, and I would love it if my book would do the same for someone else.
I hope too, that as bushfires are such a part of Australian life, others might not make the same mistake I did on the night of the fires and realise that getting out early is such a sensible and life saving thing to do.
For me, hearing of your struggle with anxiety and PTSD was most inspiring. What would you say to others who deal with anxiety themselves?
I would say, you are definitely not alone, there are so many of us dealing with the same issues. I hid the depth of my own anxiety for so long, believing it to be a weakness, so I would encourage others not to do that, as it only causes you even more pain and anguish. Seek help and support from people who are able to really hear you and offer you counsel.
Also, I’ve found that life can still be amazing even with anxiety, and if you don’t let fear make the choices in your life, you can do things you never imagined you could ( I am still a novice at this myself because it’s terrifying to do, but so worthwhile ). I know people with anxiety will understand what I mean when I say that sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning can be a great act of courage in itself, so I think we all have to be so proud of that.
It sounds as though you’ve a wonderful family around you. Do you have any advice for loved ones helping a family member or friend through tough times and illness.
You certainly do not recover from tough times alone and friends and family play a huge part in getting you through. For me, just having people beside me to share the journey and ease the sense of loneliness I felt in my struggles, meant everything. I valued people’s loving presence far more than their advice, which I was not ready to hear or take for a long time.
When someone is by your side in whatever way it is possible for them to be, a sense of trust develops and you are then able to open up and share how it really is for you. But this can’t be forced and comes as a result of willingness on their part to just accept the hurting person exactly as they are. That being said, the friend who knows just when to give you a friendly push along is an invaluable ally.
We left you at the end of the book doing well, and continuing to work through your challenges. How are you doing now?
That’s exactly how I am still – doing well, but needing every day to work on my challenges. Most days now, I can manage my anxieties, but there are still times when I think, will this never end, and wonder how I will actually be able to keep going. I am still hopefully looking for a break through anxiety wise, but until then I’ll keep hanging in there!!
What’s next for you? Any more plans to write…?
Life since the book’s publication has been very exciting and just when I think the excitement is finishing something else pops up. I made a promise to myself before the book came out that I would not say no to anything out of fear, and so far I haven’t. This has meant I’ve done things I never imagined I could and been to places I never thought I could go. I am determined to keep following this plan and see where it leads me. As for another book – well, I certainly don’t want a sequel to this one, but perhaps something with a sickeningly happy ending ?!!
If you’d like to find out more about Forged with Flames, you can do so here…