My Panic Years & Why Author Nell Frizzell Is My Hero

Australian Sand Dune Landscape Photography

Author Nell Frizzell is my hero.  I’m not an avid reader, but every now and again often through strangely serendipitous and randomly coincidental conversations, I am introduced to a book that hits me in the deepest parts of my being more often than not related to my current state of play. How the The Panic Years came to be part of my very small personal library is no different.

Last Saturday I had been talking to my photography teacher about the push and pull of what a majority of society perceives to deem as the ultimate measure of success – buying a house and having a baby. These two seemingly common measures of success are getting further and further out of reach for me – mentally, financially, physically and biologically. Changing course and taking the childless road travelled has never looked so appealing, and the idea that I might go out and enjoy my life instead of dissecting and being so analytical about every single personal and financial decision I make as it corresponds directly to my biological clock, would be a welcome relief from thinking about whether or not I want, need or should have a baby on my own. Welcome to the contents of my brain every hour I’m awake, seven days a week.

For context and transparency, I am currently single, 37, don’t own property, invest in shares, am currently living with my parents whilst I grow my photography business, and I work part time in an admin role that I really enjoy to not only bridge the financial gap with consistent part-time income until my photography business becomes profitable enough for me to step into that on a full time basis, but also to save for a property, and for a time, there was a blurred lined between whether the property deposit I’m saving would become an IVF deposit instead.  

There are all sorts of factors to consider and things that have happened that have shaped where I’m at today – travel, doing the “right thing” when I was younger by pushing my dreams of a creative job to the side and getting a proper job, less than ideal dating experiences and chasing after men who were emotionally unavailable in my twenties, two interstate moves in my early thirties, pandemics that put a glaring light on my singledom and the isolation that comes with that. Add to that the increasing inflation, interest rate rises and the basic cost of living like food, electricity, and healthcare going through the figurative roof, and the now very stark reality about there not being enough rental properties, and house pricing that is simply out of my reach given that I simply wouldn’t be able to service a mortgage on my own with one wage without moving to more affordable rural regions far away, which would then mean not having family or friends as support around me. Furthermore, whilst the house deposit/IVF fund would enable me to potentially have a baby on my own, there are no guarantees that IVF would indeed actually be successful for me which would then reduce my house deposit.  Add to that the question of can I actually afford and indeed would I actually want to raise a tiny human on my own in a world that, let’s be honest, is a little on the crazy side right now. There’s also the very reasonable question of, if I have a baby on my own, what happens to my baby if I were to die? Who then takes on my decision, my child, and how would that impact another family, person or people so significantly – not just financially, but mentally and physically and how does that impact their own family nucleus.

Other questions less terrifying but equally as important to consider – what if I did have a child and I became unwell or unemployed and couldn’t work and couldn’t afford to put a roof over my child’s head, what if I couldn’t feed my child, what if I couldn’t afford medical bills, what if, what if, what if. The reality is as a single parent it’s all on that ONE person. My parents would jump in at this moment and say they would help which is lovely and just the type of awesome parents they are – but the reality is they won’t be around forever to bail me out when life gets hard and so what then?

And perhaps you’re wondering why I decided to launch a business? Perhaps you’re thinking if I really wanted this why wouldn’t I just go out and get a corporate job? The pandemic showed me that even corporate jobs aren’t guaranteed, that even if I could work from home, if my boss decided that I had to come into the office to work then all that money I’m making will then go into childcare remembering there’s one of me not two, which means one income not two, and before you try and tell me about government financial assistance, there isn’t a lot out there for anyone in this position…I’ve looked. These questions and more are just the tip of the iceberg. Statistics and research show that a woman raising a child and working part time, will not be able to contribute to their superannuation in the same way that a full time working person would, which means that when they retire they wont have have enough to live off – and in the current state of the world I’m not sure that pensions will even be around when I’m ready to “retire” so this is actually a huge deal – particularly for single women. This is one rarely publicised reason as to why I want to have my own successful business – so that IF I were to have a baby on my own I can still work from home full time, contribute to my future self, I can still raise my baby without losing my money to childcare, I can still at least pay my rent, and I can still put food on the table. I would have the flexibility of being my own boss, attend sports games and special events at school, help with the homework, and I can decide the way in which I work that’s best for me and my baby – my family.

For the last two years I have quietly analysed every aspect of this, and I go back and forth with “just do it, but don’t do it, but what if I do do it and it’s terrible, but what if I do do it and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me”.

For the last two years I’ve tried to put into words – often unsuccessfully and through many tears (you know the the kind so powerful you find it hard to catch your breath) to my friends and family about what it feels like to be in my mid to late thirties, to know the clock is ticking, to know the ticking biological timebomb of my egg count gets less and less every month and knowing I have no control over the biology of my body, to still be single and not understand why a man doesn’t want to be in a relationship with me, and the sense of failure the comes about being unable to find a man that that actually wants to be with me and love me, and to know that even if I did meet my person today that there still has to be a period of time whereby you fall in love, get to know each other and actually decide you’d want to have a baby together and then actually get pregnant – none of which is guaranteed, and none of which holds a timeline to guarantee that this all happens before my eggs run out.

It took me two days to read this book – which is fast for me – and I can hand on heart say with absolute truth that this book has more accurately described the feelings I’ve had from my mid twenties to present day 37 year old me in more brutal yet equally beautiful honesty than I ever could have tried to communicate verbally.

Nell Frizzell has poetically and brutally described in her words the “flux” of her panic years with such honesty and with the ability to describe it with such clarity. She’s given insight to motherhood and her experiences with it, which has certainly made me appreciate my friends that are mothers so much more than I previously did, whilst understanding that I’ll never truly know what that’s like to be a mum unless I experience the unique path of motherhood. Just as those who are mothers will never understand what this feels like for me and the other late thirties childless singles in our own unique positions as well.

I messaged my photography teacher after reading the first few chapters and said that I would normally highlight bits that I resonate with in books like this, but in doing so this entire book would be highlighted….every single word – that is how powerful and profound this book is to me. Please read it. Regardless of your motherhood or childless status – please read it. Regardless of your coupled up or single status – please….read it. I hope it gives you some clarity, and if it doesn’t I hope Nell Frizzell’s brilliant words bring you some comfort and knowing that you’re not alone.

Finally, the pertinent questions for those of you who read along this far –

Did this book give me clarity?  Ultimately yes.

Will this book dictate my decision?  Ultimately no.

This decision is mine to make.  It’s a big, hard, exhausting, emotional decision that I never dreamed I would ever have to make.  To be clear, the very fact that I have a choice just highlights my privilege.  There are countless women out there that will never have a choice to have or not have children for varying reasons and in various circumstances, and my heart truly does ache for those women.

So what is my choice?  Ultimately I think it’s not linear.  I do want a child, but financially it’s just not viable for me to do so and that is the reality and one that I’ve sat with silently for the last couple of weeks and now admit out loud today.  If I did meet a lovely man and we were to fall madly in love and we decided to have kids, and my body and biology allows me to do so then I’m all for that.  But to do this on my own – it’s simply just not something I can do.  I know other people do it, but I’m not other people.  I am me.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow for someone who is independent, but the reality is that this is out of my control and rather than running on that hamster wheel getting frustrated, upset, and despairing about getting nowhere fast and watching everyone else move forward, I’ve decided that the best thing for me is perhaps to surrender to the fact that I’m perhaps not meant to be a mum on my own and move forward and create a life for myself that I haven’t yet considered. For now at least, my photography will be my passion, my business will be my focus, friends and family will be my centre, and travel will provide me with beautiful memories.

Until next time,



Founder, Lens & Muse

Deb is an Australian photographer and writer from Newcastle, NSW, and she is passionate about exploring and documenting the natural and built world with creative curiosity and camera in hand.

Commercially, she photographs accomodation, eco-tourism travel service providers and sustainable outdoor product based businesses Australia-wide to create bespoke, impactful image galleries to connect with those inspired by environmentally focused travel, adventure and lifestyle.

You can find more travel articles, photography guides and her photography portfolio here, and you can find more of her work over on her Instagram and Pinterest pages.

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