Appreciate the routine and the little things, mental health experts say. Over and over, if you’re online or watch too much cable TV like me.

Our apartment complex has a rubbish disposal system that’s located out in the street but available only to those of us who pay our council fees and are given a specific key. This allows the council to record the number of non-recyclable bags of rubbish that each key holder/ratepayer disposes of each year. Are you gripped yet?

Now, I’m reasonably proud of my effort as we earned a 36 euro refund last year from our French sub-prefecture due our ordure amount falling under their estimate for our apartment size and household. My ugg boots wore a regular path along the back alley to the free public recycling bins and, thanks to Coronavirus still dominating 2021 as well as 2020, my lofty aim is to recycle even more, use the paid bins even less and earn an even higher refund this year. Yeah, that and continuing to make my own bread gives me wild-and-crazy gal status these days.

Every now and then someone just selfishly dumps a heaving bag of garbage by the locked rubbish bin. It’s easy to assume that they’re lazy or refusing to pay their share of council services or just plain ignorant. In light of ‘appreciating the little things’ and trying hard not to scream obscenities up at the neighbouring balconies, my belief is that the dumper has just moved in and is too damn tired to figure out what the tear drop-shaped dongle is on their new key ring. They’ll figure out the rubbish process after they’ve put the IKEA billy bookcase together and set up the wi-fi. When it comes to moving house, priorities always include a made-up bed to collapse into, a functioning kettle and being able to find a bath towel not already used to wrap around breakable items.

This morning was one of those mornings. A bulging bag, resting hopefully by the locked garbage system, beads of rain streaming off the black plastic into the gutter. I recalled seeing two different moving vans on Friday and assumed — let’s be positive and pay things forward — that one of the new tenants left it there; a temporary breaking of the rubbish rules; soon to be amended when they found their bearings and felt settled in.

We’re already thirty six euros ahead, my brain reminded me. Be a nice neighbour and shout them a rubbish disposal. Give their crap a quick trip down the chute. Besides, Felix was tugging on the lead, eager to be out walking despite the drizzle.

The key was waved over the techno receiver thingy. It flashed green, ready for a new load of rubbish. I picked up the bag which promptly split and a sticky, soggy item affixed itself to the back of my hand. It was a sanitary pad. A bloody — in both senses of the word — used sanitary pad.

Ever the lightning-fast opportunist, Felix’s nose immediately shoved itself into the frighteningly fragrant mush. No, Felix! NO! I peeled the pad off and furiously flung it away out of his reach, distractedly noting that it landed somewhere in the hedge opposite and therefore NOT in the locked bin. In my panic, I’d turned into a person I despised: a litterer. A dizzy spell hit me and all I could clutch at for support was the damned rubbish chute, greasy and black from frequent use.

My routine of maintaining a 10,000 step walking minimum for the past three months had led to a painful swelling on my left foot and strange fits of unsteadiness if I turned my head too quickly. Yes, walking. My heart ached to recall that I’d run a marathon six years ago and now couldn’t even take a friggin STROLL without incurring a Trumpian bone spur, albeit a genuine one.

As the unpleasant sensations generated by my inner ear canal resulted in a series of imagined somersaults and nervous sweat forming on my upper lip and chest, I had the luxury of time and discomfort to remember a few other things. Diagnosis of vertigo.

The email from my editor saying that payment for three articles written as a contracted freelancer have to be submitted via three separate invoices because their ‘budget doesn’t cover all three for this month.’ This despite being asked to do all three by the end of January. I’d have dearly liked to tell the editor to go streak maskless into a retirement home aqua-aerobics class, but I needed — need — the money. I want to contribute a few pennies to our household and therefore did, of course, humbly and politely resubmit the invoice; thank her for the opportunity and internally despise myself for the ‘please pay me, please’ attitude we freelancers have to adopt. All in order to beg those who enjoy a regular salary with all the associated insurances and supports to pay us for work already done. It truly does feel like living the adage ‘beggars can’t be choosers.’

Then there was the refund, due nearly a year ago after overseas flights were cancelled by the airline. As one of my ‘beat the bureaucracy’ personal projects, it had been avidly chased down, a ‘goal’ set to ensure that the big guys were kept honest as we little guys fought get our own money back. All associated emails, dates and lists of contacts via the complaints system, twitter and phone calls were saved, as were my communications with the bank, insisting that they check at their end as well. A bureaucratic challenge that occupied me for NINE months, only for me to search for the refund via an entirely unrelated online account this morning and see that the refund was paid there, almost nine months ago to the day. I felt very very stupid, and very very small.

And now, a litterer. A thoughtless, polluting person with no regard for others or for the environment. The pad was visible in the bushes, taunting me and my queasy weakness in refusing to pick it up again and put it in the bin. A decision made out of my own selfish revulsions.

Perhaps the ponky pad was the universe’s way of paying things forward?

Author’s note: If you like this, please give me a click on the clapping hands icon. Getting ‘the clap’ would make me feel a little less alone. Also, feel free to follow me on Medium, Twitter (@KathLockett) and Instagram (@moomoostone).

Aussie in France, still trying to work out what to do when she grows up