Allow me the honour of introducing you to not just (one of) this year’s recipients of the Koo Wee Rup Citizens Award for Community Service, but the founder of the revived Koo Wee Rup C.W.A. chapter, an amazing intellect, community-minded spirit and courageous heart, Joss Pohl. (For the record, I’m leaving this one in Joss’ own words, because it was hard enough dragging them out of her. So please, read through. It will be worth it.)
I never intended on being in Australia for long. In fact, I was pretty convinced that I would be here for a maximum of five years, moving onto the UK or the US for another extended bout in my organisation (Drug Discovery/Biotechnology). However, much to my own surprise, I clock up seventeen years this year in Melbourne. It certainly has come with its challenges. I moved over here from New Zealand with just a couple of grand, a suitcase and a puppy. With no job prospects, fresh out of university and completely city naïve, I was faced with a harsh reality that 1. The world really isn’t a friendly place and 2. you have to work for every little bit to get anywhere in life- Things are NOT just handed to you on a platter!
Fast forward to 2013 and life almost did a full circle. As I faced a failed marriage, I was struggling to make ends meet as I left my home with a couple of grand, the same dog, but also now, a young (1 year old) son. Times were tough. Whilst I had a fair paying job, being a single parent was difficult. More so, because as a Kiwi, I was not entitled to any additional benefits other than the childcare subsidy. Facing my 2nd eviction from a rental (both times due to the landlord selling the house), I scrapped up all I could get, as well as a loan from my parents and managed to buy an affordable (read: run down) cottage in Koo Wee Rup.This was somewhere where I could start my life again, put down roots and establish my ‘family’.
As you get older, starting afresh gets more challenging as finding people/friends in a new area is difficult. My son did not go to school nor did I work locally, so I reached out to the C.W.A. head office in Melbourne, after my boyfriend (now husband) suggested I do so. The C.W.A., I felt, had the same ethics as I did, as well as being always involved in a vast array of different activities including helping the local communities that they are based in.I was surprised to find out that there was no longer a C.W.A. branch in Koo Wee Rup and all the other branches nearby were run during the day for retired women, which obviously did not suit as I was working.
Disheartened that I was going to have to try some other avenue of finding like-minded people, the C.W.A. H.Q. suggested I run an information night and see if there were any other locals interested. Reluctantly – because I just wanted to attend a branch, not start one(!) – I organised for a meet up at the community centre, paying for the hall hire out of my own pocket. Over forty people turned up on that night and 18 signed up that evening. The KWR CWA had been reignited.I want to quickly segue into the life changing moment that made me aware of how lucky I am to be part of the KWR CWA and why I am so proud to say I volunteer with some of the most amazing and supportive women I have ever met.
My office for work is in Tullamarine and I commute to the office 3-4 times a week; I also tend to fly all over the country for meetings with clients. I am not sure whether we have a whole extra 3000 words about blood clots or how I very nearly died- taking also our unborn daughter with me in 2018. But I am lucky enough to have realised after a trip to NZ (November 2018) that I wasn’t breathing well and one of my legs had swollen. My heart rate, which was always a steady 50-60bpm was reaching 180 bpm after a few steps. I went to Koo Wee Rup Medical Clinic and a dear friend was available to rush me off to Casey Hospital (later transferred to Monash ICU). It turns out I was suffering a massive pulmonary emboli (clots to the lungs). At this time I was only 24 weeks pregnant and so I was put on bed rest from that moment on. At 30 weeks I was re-admitted to hospital as my body was shutting down with the stress. My girl arrived 4 weeks later – only 2 kgs – and was admitted to the Special Care Nursery. Her growth had been severely impacted due to the pulmonary emboli.
Whilst most people have blood clots dissolve over time, I am one of the 2% of the population for which this wasn’t the case. I am now dealing with a disease called Chronic Thromboembolic Disease, which basically is ‘clots of the lungs’. I am in the process now of determining whether I can have surgery to remove the scars from my lungs, so I can breathe properly again, or whether I will have to deal with this until it eventually kills me (my heart will eventually give up as it will be working too hard to push the blood through my clotted lungs). My daughter is having physio at the moment to get her up to speed with gross movement. At present, everything on her side is going well.
Facing my own mortality made me realise the importance of a support network. With everything that happened I can point to four things that saved me from spiralling into a deep depression.
Seeing a professional about my mental health. I am not afraid to say that I am on anti-depressants; I knew that I would need assistance to get through everything. I also have a really good mental health plan and go regularly to a cognitive behaviour therapist in Narre Warren.
A trusted and strong mate/partner. I wish I could yell it from the highest roof-top about how blessed I am with my husband. I am not going to deny that nearly losing me and his daughter did not affect him. It did. I would love to say we are both coming out stronger now than we ever have, but that is some bullshit people feed you to hope for the best. We are still struggling- finding our “normal” after my diagnosis. There are days when I feel he should leave as he doesn’t deserve this added stress and I am sure there are days when he feels he should! But marriage is more than just two people having a party, it’s a commitment and, dare I say it, hard work. We work at it, we don’t fight, or hate each other; we just know that challenges are draining both of us, so mostly we ensure that we are giving each other peace. I am sure in a few more years I will confidently say we are stronger than ever, but we are in that process.
3. I was taught gratitude during my stint in hospital. There are always people in worse situations than you, so it also allowed me to practice gratitude. In doing so, I raised funds recently for the National Heart Foundation by walking a marathon in the month of October. Whilst 2 years ago I would have been able to run a marathon in one sitting, nowadays, due to my lungs I am lucky if I can run around the block, without a recovery of a day!
4. And lastly, my amazing friends in the C.W.A. (past and present members). Focusing outwardly in helping other people, I wouldn’t have got through my challenges. These women, not only visited every day when I was in hospital, but I had members drop off food, look after my son, drop off firewood for the winter, the list goes on. Staying active (as active as I could anyway) with the branch allowed me to ‘switch off’ my own issues and focus on other people. In all honesty, there have been many times that I have thought I should leave the branch because there is too much going on in my own life. But these women are the reason I have managed to pull through so many challenging aspects of my life, they are my rock, my family and my friends.
I am pretty sure that your readers are aware that most mums are far more than ‘just mums’ (Editor’s note: darn tootin’!) and I have to say, this also goes for the members of the K.W.R. C.W.A. Our branch is by far, one of the youngest in Victoria and a majority of us have young children. We have members who not only donate their spare time (which is very thin on the ground) to the C.W.A., but their local C.F.A., their childrens’ schools, volunteer at the Koo Wee Rup Hospital, volunteer at the LIONS 2nd hand store, westernport landcare, help with the ladies auxiliary, the list goes on. Our members are also members of the township committee, Scouts Victoria, Cardinia food movement, Leadership Victoria and Lions – and I am sure I am forgetting some! I am almost embarrassed when I am bestowed the honour of the “citizens award for community service” at the Australian day awards, because I am aware of so many more deserving women in my group. (Editor’s note – this is partly why it was so dang hard to get this story out to you all!)
There is so much more I could potentially write about so many experiences over the years (Editor’s note: I’ll nag you to write more later), to mental health, domestic violence, more information on blood clot awareness, how people should try and find people local for employment etc. But ultimately if there is anything you take from this article is the following: Find your tribe; Whether its rotary, a sports team, the CWA, a garden club, high school friends, family etc. and value them. These people are the ones who will be there for you, when times are tough.