When You Don’t Feel Peopley Due To Anxiety

Mood-wise, I’ve experienced a bit of a crash over the past few weeks. That’s not unusual as you navigate menopause and anxiety, but it’s frustrating when I was about to launch myself into full holiday mode.

Woman lying down, looking hopeful.
Photo by Talles Alves on Unsplash

I know stuff is serious when I’m not feeling peopley, because as a Leo, I am generally energised by company and being at the centre of things (sort of). But last weekend, I had to cancel pretty much everything we had planned – much to the old man’s delight.

There is little doubt in my mind that anxiety (GAD) is the root cause of these sudden changes in my mood. It can’t be a coincidence that each time I allow myself to feel a measure of contentment with my life, that little voice pipes in to remind me not to get too comfortable, and then slaps me around the face with the unexpected.

Admittedly, there has been some stuff going on that has pulled me closer to the darkness, as well as the usual woman’s guilt about pretty much every aspect of my life – usually triggered by those “sobriety benefits” articles that pop up in my inbox daily – but I suspect that the real culprit is a virus that started with an irritating case of Laryngitis and then developed into mild flu-like symptoms.

There are two big problems with not feeling 100% now, in my fifties: the first is the fear that THIS IS IT, MY TIME HAS COME, and the second is that it stops me from my daily exercise routine. Exercise (and being outside) is my fix, so when I can’t get out, all of those bad thoughts such as worthlessness, feeling like everybody in my life hates me, or that the walls of the apartment are caving in on me, chase me like a swarm of wasps, draining the positivity and creative energy from my body.

My attempts to rise above my illness and use the time (when I should be exercising) effectively, to catch up on some research for my writing and reading, exacerbated the problem this time. Reading about anxiety when I’m already in a heightened state because of all the things I’m not achieving is highly detrimental to any improvement. As is reading about Pauline Hanson’s latest bid for the spotlight, the entitlement of those Liberal Party wankers who still believe they have a right over womens bodies, and watching depressing (albeit thought-provoking) series such as When They See US (WATCH IT!) on Netflix.

However, sometimes all it takes is a change of scene, a friend saying exactly the right thing, or even a self-help article to turn me around that corner and force me back outside again. Even a measured dose of exercise and sunshine can get the old endorphins back into the spirit of living.

This time, two things enforced the change: the first was an overdue trip to the city for some culture (and some good, old-fashioned man-hating) with Annabel Crabb at the Opera House – even though, I imagine that would be most anxious people’s idea of hell, to weave their way through the furious tide of tourists in Circular Quay when they’re not feeling peopley; and the second was an article I read in the SMH, written by Judith Hoare here, about Claire Weekes, who she lauds as the “the Australian doctor who cracked anxiety.”

Claire Weekes was a scientist who experienced such severe panic attacks as a young adult that for many years she believed that she had a serious heart condition and was going to die. So, when eventually she discovered that her problem was panic attacks – related to her mental health (and more pertinently to anxiety) – she used her science background to research the condition. Having examined the treatments available for the condition, she came to the conclusion that “acceptance” was the best approach for coping with them.

“To recover, they must know how to face, accept and go through panic until it no longer matters …” Weekes said.

“Acceptance” is a pearl of wisdom that I’ve picked up in recent years – and not only in relation to anxiety. “Acceptance” has been the key to my improving relationship with Kurt, the key to finding work that suits my strengths and limitations, and (most likely) the key to the survival of my marriage, (in this case, his not mine). In relation to anxiety, it is simple and effective and backs up the latest thoughts about positivity, which are that we don’t need to be positive all of the time. Sometimes it’s okay to smell the dog poo rather than the roses – in fact, it’s important to.

However, “mind over matter” is cruel advice to give an anxious person, especially when for some, the condition can be completely debilitating. And yet, there is no escaping the fact that simple changes to our lifestyle may be a highly effective starting point to ease the symptoms. Exercise, a change of scene, and some form of mindfulness of meditation are the most immediate cure for me.

After I read the article about Claire at the weekend, I sat there in bed and breathed deeply for several minutes – a strategy I’d dismissed as a waste of time at a recent mindfulness session. And as I did it, I reminded myself that things rarely turned out like my catastrophizing brain promised me they would, which was why worrying was such a waste of time. And this time it worked.

The Meaning Of Life: And Why People Who Live In Hot Countries Suffer From Depression Too

Kurt experienced a few personal setbacks a few weeks ago and because I know that many of you follow this blog because you too have young adults who struggle, I thought I’d take you through what we’ve learned from it. Obviously, I won’t go into precise detail about what happened, but suffice it to say that after more than a year of giant leaps towards a balanced, happier life, his world came crashing down around him and he felt unable to cope.

Man looking out onto world.
Photo by Larisa Birta on Unsplash

We’ve all been there – those parts of growing up when it feels like life is conspiring against us, leaving us no way out. But it’s worse when you have a disability and the lack of a good emotional skill set and resilience to cope with it.

His cry for help coincided with my first day in a new position at work – a position that I know is within my field of expertise, even though my anxiety consistently tells me that I can’t do it – so, needless to say, I was already in an emotional tail spin that morning when he started calling me. In hindsight, I think that I may have over-reacted to the situation.

My therapist tells me that anxiety can be contagious in some families, like a chemical reaction, where the molecules keep bouncing against each other, escalating it. Apologies for my simplistic interpretation but I never took Chemistry seriously at school. However, I did manage to stop my eyes glazing over as she was explaining what she obviously believed was a useful analogy to me. And I know that I use this expression all of the time in this blog, but sometimes it really does feel (for a lot of us) as though we will never get our shit together and that life takes some perverse enjoyment out of kicking at us when we’re already on the ground. Fortunately for us oldies, though, maturity and experience help remind us in those moments that we will (most likely) get back up on the damned horse, whereas Kurt is still young. He has yet to understand the difference a year, a day, or even an hour can make to how he is feeling in that moment, or how different those areas of his life that he struggles with today may look in ten years time.

When you’ve been misunderstood and had to fight for acceptance for most of your short life, resilience is hard to build.

However, a week on, I am happy to report that he is in a very different headspace. In fact, a few nights ago the family got together for dinner – Waltons-style (not quite) – I watched the light return to his eyes as he held court at the dining table, and it was almost impossible to believe that this was the same, broken young man from the week before.

Watch any documentary or reality show on the topic of depression or suicide ideation and you will see that most people regret their attempt if they survive to be given a second chance at this crazy thing called life.

We live in a crazy world, and not even maturity hands over all the answers to our reasons for being here. So it’s understandable for an over-thinking twenty-two-year-old, whose brain is still developing, to lose his way; to question if the pressure and suffering are really worth it, and (perhaps, more importantly), why the shit seems to be dealt out so disproportionately.

Hence, the rise in mental health issues in our youth.

I constantly question what we can change for this boy of ours to help him believe that overall the good outweighs the bad. That is the problem with depression – it is not something that you can fix by throwing money at it. On paper, Kurt has everything he should need to be happy. He has family support, a job and that sort of energising personality that Robin Williams had. ie. a convincing mask.

When the old man and I watched Chernobyl this week, I found myself looking at the bleakness of the Russian landscape in disbelief, wondering how any population could enjoy their lives beneath the heaviness of those grey skies and such an unforgiving political regime – let alone a dodgy nuclear reactor – and I decided that it is because they have known no different. But I was wrong. Happiness doesn’t come from the tangible stuff in our lives. It has less to do with blue skies and much more to do with living in a supportive community and having friends. It’s why the poorest in Africa and India are still happy. Seriously, Indian people are the most rounded, happy people I’ve ever met.

Blue skies help, but people who live in hot countries suffer from depression as well.

I keep telling Kurt that dealing with life’s crap makes you more resilient, even though I’m still trying to convince myself. I’m not comfortable using “stronger” in this instance – there are many days when I feel far from strong, but I hope that he builds the resilience to hang in there long enough to experience the good bits about this world. Ie. the myriad of wonderful relationships and experiences that are within his grasp if he allows his stars to align. But then that does require a certain level of positivity, hence the Catch 22 fuckery of my parental wisdom.

I suppose that the real crux of the matter when it comes to the meaning of life is that, in truth, there is no real alternative.

It Wasn’t The Lack Of Compassion That Hurt, It Was The Lack Of Understanding about Mental Illness and Addiction

I had been feeling upbeat over the past few weeks, ahead of our run for breast cancer – which we nailed by the way, raising in excess of $800 for research. And then I stumbled upon a FB share of an old article of mine that was published by News.com last year.

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

As a writer of contentious topics (for some) – ADHD, feminism, inequality, mental health – I realise that I put myself in a glass house when one of my articles is published, and I have learned not to read comments from trolls.

This particular article was a highly personal piece about Kurt, detailing his struggles with his mental health, and my reasons for coming full circle on my views about cannabis legalisation. It was an opinion piece – hence, bait for comment and constructive criticism – to which I am always open.

However, many of the comments were not constructive. They were subjective – targeted directly at me as the author and mother. They laid the blame for Kurt’s issues squarely at my feet, and it was that lack of understanding about mental health and addiction that hurt the most – even more than their lack of compassion.

It was a slap in the face to realise that in spite of the attempts of fantastic organizations such as Lifeline and Headspace and various media outlets to improve awareness about mental illness, (as well as the increasing numbers of kids that are taking their own lives), that many people still believe that kids with mental health issues deserve no support, and should even be punished for not towing the societal line.

I am used to being held responsible for Kurt’s choices. Sadly, blame starts with the parents when it comes to ADHD, although there has been a gradual shift in attitude in recent years, thanks in part to the increasing acknowledgement and support of the condition by world governments.

And I can (sort of) see why. A child with impulse control or oppositional issues can look like a monster when you peer in from the outside. However, that refusal to show compassion or to probe more deeply into understanding the condition is why so many of these kids end up being bullied, isolated and rejected, leading to depression, self-harm, OCD and self-medication.

When it comes to inclusion, attitude is the biggest problem we face. But trust me when I tell you that any child with mental health issues who self-mutilates or lines up pills on the carpet is not “attention-seeking” (by our common acceptance of the term). They are seeking attention for help.

Beyond the public condemnation, perhaps the hardest part of the journey for parents or carers is the lack of support, the sense of isolation and the self-blame. That’s why I wrote that article. For others out there, like us, going through what we did and feeling alone.

It has taken years for me to come to terms with the fact that I am not to blame for Kurt’s struggles.

Sure, if I had my time again I would handle some things differently, but I know that no child could have been loved more. We raised our kids identically. We put the same boundaries in place that we did for NC, and like any normal teenager, she tested those boundaries. The difference was, NC was able to distinguish which of her strikes for independence were worth the consequences – unlike Kurt, who was encumbered by poor impulse control.

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt – at the very least until I have all the facts or I have met them personally. Rather than judging a book by its cover or from local gossip, I arm myself with as much information as I can before I draw my conclusions. When did we stop doing that as a society? When did we decide that it was acceptable behaviour to take a pop at someone for our own entertainment?

Surely, there can be no excuse for ignorance when we have access to information at our fingertips?

Social media has made it easy to bully without consequences and I fear that we are losing our sense of compassion. So before you jump right in with your heart rather than your head, remember that there is a real person at the other end of posts or comments, who is often motivated by doing good. That person has a heart and possibly a full wardrobe of skeletons that you know nothing about.

Why I Cried In A Star Is Born

For those of you who know me and my need to spew verbal rubbish at least twice a week as a means of therapy, you might have guessed that my past few weeks of silence has nothing to do with laziness or writers’ block.

However, this time, it is not my story to overshare. Instead, I want to talk to you about “A Star Is Born”, because it is rare for me to cry in a movie.

Admittedly, I cry each time I watch “Terms of Endearment” – who doesn’t? – but usually, I’m pretty hardcore when it comes to movies – even tear-jerkers. Be it emotional defensiveness or a block, I am lucky that a history of brutal initiation ceremonies at boarding school, a family tree that resembles the Ewings in “Dallas”, and the numbing effect of anti-depressants for my anxiety – all contribute to protecting me from the lows.

(I should also point out, in my defense, that – spoiler alert – BRADLEY COOPER DIED in the movie).

But sadly, while those are all highly plausible reasons for my ugly sobs at the loss of that perfectly chiseled and landscaped chest beautiful hunk of a man (and the hero of many a middle-aged woman’s fantasies), in truth, the reason for my public blub was the content of the movie. It was just a little too bloody close to home.

Anyone close to a person who suffers from depression, anxiety or alcohol and substance abuse will understand the sadness and sense of helplessness caused by their struggle.

The devastating effects of these conditions radiate throughout the inner and outer circles of the people close to them, provoking a fear that never truly goes away.

Unfortunately, mental illness is not something that can be fixed as easily or as quickly as a broken limb. Indeed, I am beginning to believe that perhaps it can never be fixed – although some people do learn to manage it.

I am not a psychologist or doctor, but I would like to explain in simple terms the “depression” I have witnessed. Due to a myriad of reasons, there are some people who don’t feel that they can ever be happy or slot acceptably into society. Particularly, a society that expects the same from them as everyone else – that views them as a problem rather than a group of people that need support. Modern society is a meritocracy that is not inclusive to those with a disability, and when these people can’t meet normal expectations, they start to feel inadequate or a burden and they isolate themselves. This is when many of them start to dance freely with the notion of death.

Inevitably, their behavior can leave their loved ones in a perpetual state of fear – a fear that is hard to understand when you look from the outside in. For while there is empathy for people who are physically sick with those illnesses of which we have a greater understanding, such as cancer, there is less for those who suffer with invisible illnesses.

Added to which, the desperation they demonstrate in their behaviors and choices in life is easily misunderstood. For example, a common misjudgment about homeless people is that they are lazy addicts that abuse the system -rather than victims of mental illness, neglect, or abuse, who have hit rock-bottom. Addicts are viewed as the dregs of society or irresponsible pleasure-seekers, rather than people suffering from a disease.

I’ve used the analogy of a game of “Snakes and Ladders” many times when I’ve written about caring for someone in this situation. To support a person that you love to the end of the world and back, who won’t seek professional help, is similar to playing the game. You take ten steps forwards, and just when you think they are finally making progress, they slide back down a snake.

During their better periods, you fool yourself into thinking that this time they will stay well. You pray that the new job, new house or new partner will provide them with the change they need to provide them with the purpose they need to live. But you never breathe freely.

You despair at the way they abuse their bodies as a coping mechanism – which, obviously, it isn’t. You know that they self-harm to feel something – anything – that they drink to forget or to find the courage to function in such an unforgiving world. You know that the alcohol and drugs – the very things they abuse to feel normal – are just a catalyst to greater heartache as you watch them spiral helplessly towards their own self-destruction.

So what can you do?

You can look out for the signs. You can listen to them without judgment. You can empathize. You can remember that depression is not the same kind of sadness that many of us experience from time to time. And yes, it is possible to function with it – which makes it even harder to spot. Eventually, you may have to acknowledge that you may not be able to save them.

If the statistics are to be believed, we have a massive problem on our hands with the number of “troubled kids” and men out there. The choice made by Jackson Maine in “A Star Is Born” is becoming more common as our kids are placed under greater pressure from advanced telecommunication, social media, and fears about their future in terms of climate change and housing. Many of them are reaching their tipping point. When that silent growth of fear linked to not being good enough that has been eating slowly away at them starts to spread – like the Melanoma in those scary skin cancer ads – it distorts the reality of their situation. And ultimately, without the right support – and even WITH the right support – it can lead to devastating, irreversible decisions.

To help prevent these tumors from growing, we need more funding in schools and mental health services. We need greater awareness and better education. Above all, we need more empathy and understanding. So please consider carefully who will best serve the future of our kids when you place your vote at the next election.

For the carers of these people – who love them unconditionally and who for the most part are at a loss for answers or solutions about how best to help them – the fear that they will make Jackson’s choice is all-consuming. That is why I cried in “A Star Is Born”.

Managing Anxiety and Depression: The Trick Is To Find Happiness In The Small Things

After the cabin fever brought on by the Armageddon of a dodgy weather cycle in Sydney over the past 24hrs – totally unrelated to climate change, according to our government – it was a relief to get out of the house this morning. 

After almost a month of holiday excess, I decided that I would make my comeback to fitness with a morning jog with the old man – although for those of you conjuring up an image of beautiful blogger with handsome, virile husband pounding the pavements, please take note that the image below is far more representative of the truth and I am not about to metamorphose into a wellness blogger. 

Our jog – (roughly) 1.2k to the north end of the beach (which feels like 7k) and then back again, which is driven solely by the thought of the steaming bowl of porridge waiting for us back at home – is a strategy to get us focused for the day ahead. But the truth is that typically HE runs back to the house while I stagger back, on all fours, like some crazy woman in search of the nearest defibrillator.

This morning, however, I couldn’t even manage a stagger back. Two weeks of partying in London have turned muscle into lard and it was as much as I could do to throw off my runners halfway around and pad back along the deep sand of the beach, the ocean swirling at my feet.

A choice for which I am eternally grateful .

The point is that my failure to complete the circuit didn’t affect anything other than my pride, and that walk back along the beach turned out to be one of those rare moments of unbridled happiness that can appear unexpectedly in a moment of defeat. Kathy Lette commented about such experiences on Twitter recently:

‘Society is so obsessed with happiness. If you were happy every day of your life you’d be a brekky telly weather presenter. The trick is to find happiness in small things.’ 

Kathy Lette, Twitter

In truth, it’s hard to visualize Kathy having bad days if you judge her from her social media pages. Vivacious, successful and always in the company of the type of celebrities that most people would die to be in the company of, the writer is usually papped with a glass of Champagne in one hand – one of the many reasons, (writing and humor aside), that she remains an icon to me, even if my own glass tends to be full of Aldi Prosecco rather than Cristal. However, the truth is that Kathy, like everyone, has faced her challenges. Raising a son with autism is not exactly a walk in the park.

Finding happiness in small things has become something of a mantra for me this year. I’m currently reading Matt Haig’s “Reasons To Stay Alive”  – who isn’t? – and the message that runs through the book, (and coincidentally, has always been the advice of my doctor), is the importance of building up reserves of mental strength through activities such as exercise or creativity, or whatever floats your boat, really. Everyone goes through stages of life that aren’t easy, but once you survive a bout of depression or learn to manage your anxiety, that resilience will better prepare you for the next time. 

“Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.” 
― Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

I might be in a bad place physically at the moment, but I’m mentally okay – well…okay by my standards, thanks to Zoloft! – and I believe that it is my focus on those small things, such as the love of family, writing, peering up into a cloudless sky – I’m in Australia, Matt! – or enjoying the sensation of sand running through my toes on the beach are what keeps my silly brain in check.

Continuing to grow is also important.

‘Continuing to grow’ is a phrase that can reduce the old man to a quivering wreck since the time I accused him of ‘waiting to die’ in an argument. Now, every time he agrees to do something that he wouldn’t choose of his own volition, he feels obliged to remind me of how much he is ‘growing.’ I equate my request that he keep on ‘living’ to the compromise I make each week when I am his target practice on the tennis court.

At 53, I continue to learn and grow, through my writing, through my work, through friendships and relationships. I continue to be curious about the world around me and about my place in it. Don’t get me wrong, our life isn’t perfect – who’s is? – and yet, finally, I’ve come to realize that it’s how we approach our problems that truly matters.

‘It’s lucky I’m a happy person,’ my uncle said to me on holiday as he drove me to the 24hr care home to see my beloved aunt who suffered a serious stroke last year.

Honestly, I don’t know what gave this gorgeous, generous and humble man such a gift of positivity, for he hasn’t had a particularly extraordinary or successful life – depending on how you measure success, of course. Indeed, he has only ever truly cared about one thing in his seventy-odd years – the love of his wife of almost half a century.

So, is he lucky?

I don’t think so. But I do believe that he chose to live his life a certain way, and it’s the right way.

And The Progress Prize For Best Father This Father’s Day Goes To…

conner-baker-480775-unsplashI’d like to say an early “Happy Fathers Day” to all those men for whom fatherhood hasn’t been quite what they expected, perhaps due to their own issues, the pressures of “toxic masculinity”, or perhaps because, (as in the old man’s case), they produced a square peg.

First of all, I should probably justify my use of “toxic masculinity” in this context, which The Good Man Project defines as: ‘the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away,’ because I want to make sure that you don’t think that this is another attack on men. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Rather, it is an explanation for why some men struggle with relationships, aggression, depression and even suicide, because of the expectations leveled at them by society. It is why videos of tearful men cuddling newborns and greeting their dogs after long periods apart make women weak at the knees; it is why videos of sons coming out to accepting fathers are the best.

Margaret Mead said that “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think,” which (I believe) highlights the fine line between advising and judging our kids’ choices, as parents. We have to guide rather than direct. We have to be their consultants.

And let’s be honest, for some parents that’s easier than for others. While some parents rise to the challenge of a kid that is not textbook and who refuses to listen to a darn thing you say, some fall face down in the mud for a while before they get back up – like the old man has, in his struggle to accept Kurt’s unbridled passion for life and magnetic attraction to trouble.

That’s why I’m nominating him for a “progress prize” on Fathers Day this year.

It’s a sort of apology for all the times I used him as a boxing bag for my fears about our son or ignored his input because I was scared.

It hasn’t been easy for the son of a middle-class, ‘normie’ family (as Kurt describes neurotypicals), who was brought up in a traditional, white-picket-fence environment and for whom a crisis was when one of the boys kicked a ball over the neighbor’s fence and someone had to retrieve it. Parenting this larger-than-life son, who has turned every one of his old-fashioned values on their head, spat in the face of just about every law and convention ever created, and defied every parenting strategy, has been a learning curve for this mild-mannered man who can’t even book a table at a restaurant. It has probably taken the full twenty-one years of Kurt’s life for the old man to reach a full acceptance of him, as well as taking twenty-one years off his own; but he has been there, he has stayed the course.

There have been altercations – many vocal, some of them physical – and visits to the police together. He has been roadie, banker, and advisor to a child that has pushed him to the brink of his patience in his attempts (mostly futile) to knock some sense into educate our boy – and let me draw your attention  once again here to the fallacy that we are only given the stuff we can handle – and yet, while Kurt may not be the child either of us envisaged, I truly believe that one day the old man will thank him one day – if for no other reason than the shitload of content he has provided him with for dinner parties.

Parenting is the greatest and most arduous of journeys. It provides an education like no other and at times it is far from plain sailing. Our journey has been a rocky one, with lots of motion sickness along the way, and yet finally, I can see dry land on the horizon, and the old man helped get us there.

 

‘Making Self-Love Habitual’

‘Self-lovers don’t diet. They eat what they want, when they want, but do so mindfully.’ (Jacinta Tynan, Sydney Morning Herald)

reading-925589_960_720Admittedly, I’m still working on the ‘mindful’ part of this comment, but I’ve been doing a lot of research recently about loving yourself and this article – How To Make Self-Love An Instinctual Habit – confirmed to me how easy it is to change your outlook if you look at it as something that needs and deserves the same care you give the rest of your body.

Ie. If you value yourself.

 

I also rewatched Tim Minchin’s Nine Life Lessons again  – frankly, one of the best video clips online, in my opinion – in which he recommends embracing life and taking a positive approach wherever possible, even if (naturally) you err on the side of “glass-half-empty-dom” or like him, take the piss out of people for a living. 

Recently, I have tried to mix things up a bit within the confines of my own personality – to adopt new interests and remove bad habits, so that I embrace life more proactively. Recent health studies into dementia stress the importance of learning new skills – crosswords aren’t enough, it seems, (much to the old man’s disdain) – and so, after my last stay in the Doldrums Hotel, I’ve introduced nine habits of my own (below) that I’m forcing myself to do I’m cultivating within my lifestyle to help improve my mental outlook:

  1. Reading – As a teenager, I was an avid reader – anything from Mills and Boon to Jane Austen, and loads of Jackie Collins in between. It provided escapism, fuelled my eschewed dreams of romance and relaxed me when I was feeling anxious. And then I had kids, and the opportunities for reading time dried up. I tried various book clubs – that forced me to read books I wasn’t interested in – and when I began to write seriously, fiction had to be replaced by articles, how-to-write and self-help manuals. Anyhow, recently I’ve forced myself back into reading before bedtime, and not only am I sleeping better, I’ve also been inspired by what I’m reading from both a creative and educational standpoint. You’re never too old to learn.
  2. Fangirling – I know it sounds as pretentious AF – and by way of a pathetic excuse, I will say that this new pleasure of mine is somewhat tenuously linked to my writing – but I love to listen to author talks. NC and I attended a Q and A with the writer Emily Maguire last weekend, which included High Tea and Champagne.  What better way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon?
  3. Masterchef – After a sabbatical of seven or eight years, I decided to give Masterchef another go and I’ve dragged the old man in for the ride. Neither of us has massive culinary aspirations – and I’ve ignored the notebook he passes to me each time the show starts – but what’s not to love about watching the journeys of this likable, brave group of amateurs, who are willing to make mistakes so publicly in search of their dreams?  The arrogance and bizarre eating habits of the chefs are equally entertaining as is the occasional public slaying of the professionals. Miss you, Brendan – talking of fangirling!
  4. Exercise – Admittedly, I never thought I’d include this one in a list such as this, and after years of wobbling down my street in a vain attempt to shed weight, that’s no longer my goal. These days, I exercise to keep my brain fit and healthy. Nothing too strenuous – mainly walks and swimming – but just enough to stop my mind reaching into those dark corners where it prefers to reside.
  5. Simple cooking and eating – I’ve always been an advocate of four-ingredient cooking (preferably three), and recently I’ve turned my hand to a few new dishes. Soups have been my thing in these cooler months and I’ve worked out that you can basically knock up any sumptuous vegetable soup with one hero vegetable and a base of potato, onion, and stock. Comfort in a bowl. I sprinkle a handful of crisp bacon on the top to disguise the fact it’s vegetarian from the boys.
  6. Friends – I know – obvious, right?  And yet ageing and menopause can conspire to push you back into the doldrums more than you’d like, making you socially anxious. And one day, the thought of staying at home under a blanket with the dog on the couch sounds far more appealing than making an effort to see people. Having moved back to our old neck of the woods, I’m so grateful to old friends for forcing me out.
  7. Writing/Journalling – For me, writing has been a life-saver. It’s cheap therapy for me, and really, I should be paying you for listening. There was a while back there when I was so focused on my manuscript that I rarely left the house, when I felt like I had nothing much to say and I parked the blog for a while. But recently, I’ve got back into it with a renewed fervor. My world hasn’t suddenly developed more layers, but it has evolved and developed different layers, and I have begun to enjoy the writing process again. I’ve also started writing a new blog about interior styling here for anyone who is about to sell their home or is passionate about interiors.
  8. Resting – I haven’t resorted to nana naps (just yet), even if some of my friends swear by them, but I do force myself to sit down occasionally. Over-stimulation fuels my anxiety and when I am impulsive and rush, I make mistakes. This has been one of the hardest disciplines for me.
  9. Medication – In the wake of recent events, I can’t emphasize this example of self-love enough. There is no shame in taking medication for an illness – many people are forced to. There should be no stigma attached to taking medication to live a normal life, especially when a normal life is not being afraid to leave your house. Obviously,  I would love all my nine points to be based on organic, holistic ideas, but the reality is that some people need more than that. To enable a quadriplegic to ski, he needs the assistance of a specially-designed chair;  to help someone with anxiety leave their front door, a pill can work. So, what’s the problem?

Living One Day At A Time And Being Content With What We Have

4939a1e96f466bb6214bb62cd62c9e12A successful designer, seemingly with the world at her feet, takes her own life. Her body is found in her New York apartment with a note that will devastate her family and change the course of her young daughter’s life forever. One thing is certain: she achieved success in the way that the west determines success, and yet, something was still missing. She didn’t ‘have it all’.

We will never know or perhaps understand the demons that led Kate Spade to make the ultimate sacrifice, but if there is one thing to take from this tragedy, it is that happiness cannot be bought, a belief shared by a young eighteen-year-old boy in another section of the news today. Jake Bailey was diagnosed with cancer at the age of eighteen – discovered in the dentist’s chair following a pain in his jaw – whereupon he was given three weeks to live, without treatment. He survived, and his experience has taught him the invaluable lesson of embracing life, each hour, each day, each tiny, magical moment.

 

To take one day at a time.

 

Meanwhile, Matt Haig, whom I’ve quoted on this blog before  – author of “Reasons To Stay Alive,” “Notes On A Nervous Planet” (out in July), and advocate for increasing mental health awareness – is considering removing his presence from Twitter due to the abuse leveled at his comments about positivity, gratitude and empathy for those struggling with mental health issues.

 

He wrote this comment on Twitter this morning, which resonated with me after reading of the tragic death of Kate Spade.

 

‘We need to radically change the idea of ‘having it all’ so that it includes contentment. Without it, ‘all’ is nothing.’

 

Most of us are guilty of jumping ahead of ourselves, planning for the future and not living in the now. The old man and I do it. We tie ourselves in knots, worrying so much about whether we’ll have the money to retire, that we forget to “live”. We wasted many years aspiring to meaningless symbols of materialism, that for the most part didn’t make us happy – (Apart from the Lexus – the Lexus made me happy!). And then, when finally we think we have it all and yet somehow still haven’t hit the sweet spot of contentment, we question why.

 

Imagine if all we had to think about was our survival? There are many examples of tribes and cultures around the globe that only have to consider living from one day to the next, that live a happy, fulfilled existence. Whereas globally, one person suicides every forty seconds, according to the World Health Organization, and the occurrence of “depression” is highest in the US – ‘the land of opportunity and dreams.’ It is lowest in Japan, a country that has adopted a simplicity in their approach to life, such as its practice of Kintsugi – the art of repairing broken pottery with gold rather than replacing it with new.

 

‘While the general Western consensus on broken objects is that they have lost their value, practitioners and admirers of Kintsugi believe that never-ending consumerism is not a spiritually rewarding experience.’ (Make)

 

Or as Val Jon Farris says in the Huffington Post:

 

‘It is the practice of focusing one’s intention on life’s hidden beauty and power.’

 

Fundamentally, is loving ourselves, valuing and being content with what we have.

 

 

The Lost Opportunities Caused By ADHD

Sadly, the main take-home from the ADHD conference I attended last week was the pervading sadness in the room at the mention of “lost opportunities”.

worried-girl-413690_1920

Unlike other neurological conditions, ADHD appears to leave a bad taste in the mouths of some, and as such, the condition attracts unfair criticism. There is some truth in the criticism that certain sufferers of ADHD make it difficult to help them – in part due to mood and conduct disorders, which can make them oppositional, angry and self-defensive. But that reaction can be just as easily blamed on self-defensiveness, borne of a lack of support from a society that stigmatizes or completely refuses to acknowledge the existence of the condition.

A personal reason for my attendance at the conference for adults with the condition was the sneaking suspicion that I sit somewhere on the high-functioning end of the spectrum. Other reasons were my ongoing research for my manuscript – the main protagonist being an adolescent with ADHD – and my hope of gleaning some new advice in relation to my continued support of my son, Kurt.

There are certain givens when you put two hundred people with ADHD in a room together:

  • The event has zero chance of running to time.
  • It will be noisy.
  • Questions are never left to the end, even if the speaker requests this.
  • There will be a continuous background noise of bodies shifting in seats,  fiddling and whispering – in other words, a plethora of distractions to distract the easily-distracted.
  • The cakes disappear very quickly.
  • The queue for the smoking area will be longer than the queue for the toilets.

This annual conference, run by the “ADDults With ADHD” group, is a lifesaver for Australians who suffer from the condition and who qualify for little support from the government. This, in spite of the inclusion of ADHD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Many of the adults will have been diagnosed on the back of their children’s diagnosis. Research has shown that there is a genetic link, and between 40-50% of children who have parents with ADHD will inherit the condition. Which means that a lot of people will have gone through life feeling “different” and facing the unending criticism and trials that are pertinent to the condition.

And yet, there is a wonderful sense of community, relief, and support when you put a band of these people in a room together, each seeking answers, the latest advice, and dare I say it, validation. 

ADHD and its co-morbidities represent one of the “invisible” mental illnesses that for a long time have been unrecognized, even though the neurological condition has been chartered since the 1800s. As such, it currently sits where depression and anxiety sat until a few years ago – condemning its sufferers to a life of shame, failure, and regret, as a result of the missed opportunities caused by that small difference in the development of the frontal lobe of the brain.

As millions of high school kids begin their HSC exams today, it is worth remembering that there will be children who miss the milestone because of their. Some will have dropped out of school due to anxiety, depression or bullying; others will be excluded due to truancy, non-completion of course requirements or other behavior-related issues.

Whilst every speaker highlighted the good that comes from the condition – the ability to hyperfocus, (when employed in the right way), the big hearts, intuition and sensitivity (that make them great carers and teachers), and the ADHDer’s leaning towards creativity – inevitably, mention had to be made of the negatives linked to the diagnosis, as well.

For every ten comments a child with ADHD receives each day, nine will be negative. So, it’s little surprise that the condition wreaks havoc with the mental health and expectations of a child.

The minute the term “lost opportunities” left the mouth of one speaker, an audible sigh went around the room from the audience. In the same way that parents grieve for the missed opportunities of their child, the newly-diagnosed adult with ADHD grieves the loss of their own.

‘Don’t tell your employer you’ve got ADHD,’ was the damning advice of one psychologist – an appalling admission in this age of so-called equality. For the same reasons that it is inadvisable to acknowledge depression, HIV, or your sexual preferences in the workplace, it is still safer to keep schtum about your ADHD.

The condition, (we don’t like the word “disorder”), continues to be stigmatized by the media as either an invention by pharmaceutical companies to make money, or by bad parents to excuse poor parenting – this, in spite of the medical evidence and the statistics that indicate that up to 50% of the male prison population have the condition. And with suicide on the increase, it is hard not to make a connection with ADHD, when anxiety and depression are known comorbidities.

Conferences such as these are a promising start to support people with ADHD – to peel back the layers of negativity that surround the condition and to rebrand it. In the same way that disability is recognized among the physically sick, it is time to change the rhetoric around invisible disabilities like ADHD.  Let’s remove the stigma that clouds our judgment when it comes to invisible conditions and provide the equal opportunities and recognition of the struggles that its sufferers deserve.

Ever Feel You’ve Lost Your Way?

I posted this meme on my Instagram page this week and it obviously resonated with my followers, so I thought I’d share it with you.

 

I have a morbid addiction to allowing those “bad chapters” in my life cloud the good ones, and sometimes the clouds get really dark and fluffy, and no matter how many “gratitude” posts I read or how many  memes about happiness I am inspired by, I can’t seem to clear them and retrieve the happiness from my soul.

 

You know that I am generally a glass half-full gal, (full to the brim if I can get away with it), who is only too aware of each person’s responsibility for their own happiness and the importance of living life to the full. And in general, I am quite proactive when it comes to soul-searching and finding impulsive short-term solutions to my problems.

 

But this time, I have struggled to find my way out of the maze.

 

I gave up one of the best jobs I’ve had a few months ago because mentally I wasn’t coping with its demands alongside the impact of other forces in my life, and I needed to take some time out to mend my broken wings. The loss of my salary – as pitiful as it is – means that we are cutting our cloth accordingly, (although not as short as the old man would like), hence the fourteenth house move.

 

The idea was to try “something else”, which was to be “writing”, you might remember, and the dream started off well. In the first month of my “sabbatical”, I returned to my manuscript, signed up for some courses, got my blog into better shape than it had been for a while and I felt excited. I was ready.

 

Not even the first rejections that began to dribble into my mailbox put me off and I managed to brush their implication aside. I know the story of JK Rowling’s difficult road to publication by heart and as I am obviously the next JK, I was mentally prepared for those evil little reality checks. What I was less prepared for was the outcome of my other dead cert plan during my time out – to get my son’s life on track while I was at home. Stupidly, I believed that under my supervision, his life would fall directly into place and when it didn’t – hasn’t – my confidence began to flounder. I questioned my purpose.

 

As a creative, you can guarantee that as soon as you start to question your purpose, your ideas dry up and all productivity comes to a grinding halt. And again, even though the advice to writers is to keep writing through a “block” – even if the only words you get onto the page are a load of old bollocks – my focus had disappeared along with my confidence and the coordination required to juggle so many different balls and I went into self-protection mode. I began to avoid the blank screen that symbolised my failure completely.

 

I lost my way – perhaps because I’m better when I’m chasing my tail with no time to over-think. They do say that retirement is dangerous and although I am not in that position, I can see where the life of the wannabe “writer” – in particular, the lack of social interaction and abundance of focus for just about anything other than putting words on a page – can be dangerous.

 

It’s time to stop watching what time the neighbors leave the house to go to work; it is time to stop checking Aldi’s Wednesday and Saturday “specials” online; it’s time to stop looking up recipes on Taste.com that I will never cook. It is time to put those bad chapters behind the Great Wall where they belong, pull up my big girl panties again and find my way back. Which is why, my friends, I am gifting you this generous page of complete bollocks.

 

 

 

When It’s Time To Motivate Your ADHD Child, No Matter What The Psychs Say

One of the reasons I gave up my day job recently was to motivate Kurt to get back on track with his life. He’s had a difficult transition over the past two years since he left school and has suffered periods of depression and self-doubt at times, countered at other times by the ADHDer’s insatiable desire to experience the most of life by being irresponsible, drunk and fancy-free. adventure-1807524_1920

 

Which means that to the outside world, I guess, it looks like he’s functioning. Sadly, though, things are never that clear-cut and the rules are simply not the same when it comes to ADHD kids. You can do everything by the book, and it is still impossible to get them to learn from their mistakes, even with consequences. And oh, how I wish that “tough love” had worked, but it doesn’t or hasn’t so far with our son and when you really think about it, rehabilitation programs for depression and other disorders are about giving those people love, time and compassion through therapy. 

 

I read a wonderful post recently written by the mother of two children whose first child was “parent manual perfect” and whose second was a “monster”, and how it feels to be the parent of “that child.” For the most part, kids are comparable to each other once you leave the poisonous environment of “mothers’ group” competition and can accept that they develop in different areas at different stages. The author had a friend called Jenni at the stage that she was in the throes of preening over the perfection of her first child and Jenni was struggling with the child hell, and she admits now to privately maligning her friend for bad parenting. That was until she produced her own little bundle of horror.

 

I can identify with Jenni – although now that Kurt is older and I no longer have to deal with the daily condemnatory attacks from school or too many direct comparisons with the children of friends, I am more at peace with it. And anyway, I don’t feel as responsible for his choices and differences now because ultimately he has to take responsibility for himself.

 

If it were that easy. The problem is, he doesn’t and each time we put that on him, the result is a crisis of confidence leading to emotional breakdown. Medical professionals such as psychs and pediatricians and your GP understand mental illness, but they don’t know your child the way you do. And I’m sorry, but when you witness your adult son in genuine distress, you have to make a call and question if tough love is the only solution. Any parent would do the same thing.

 

A few weeks ago, after almost two years of the tough love strategy, imposed in the main to combat addiction issues rather than mental health issues, and with no tangible results to show for it, the old man and I decided to try another approach, as we watched Kurt hurtling towards his next crisis. We decided that instead of berating him for his lack of focus and achievements and nagging him daily to make steps towards progress/being normal – (even though you know those steps will be small, because your expectations change when you have kids like these, even though you need ear muffs to block out to the judgements of others who continue to accuse your ADHD kid of being naughty or lazy) – we decided to cut him some slack.

 

Yes, ultimately he does have to manage independently in the real world, but perhaps, we decided, we need to accept that journey is going to take him a few more years. And we are tired, and surely daily combat in your own home is no good for anyone’s health.

 

Anyhow, we decided to focus on what steps we could help him with to get him back on track, and decided to start with his driver’s license, in an effort to build his self-esteem and give him a taste of the independence he so desperately craves.

 

Attaining your driving license is a grueling process here in Australia – rightly so, after the loss of so many young lives before recent regulations were changed – and kids have to do 120 hours under supervision before they can take the test. Fortunately, after ten years of back-to-back viewing of every season of Top Gear, Kurt has always had an enthusiasm for the concept of driving and is, in fact, a natural driver, so we knew it would make him feel good about himself to pass his test. This, in spite of my knowledge of the appalling statistics of accidents of kids with ADHD.  

 

And after three weeks of intense arguments instruction, he passed his test. First time.

 

The old man and I teared up the center, he out of pride, and me out of abject fear for what this achievement meant. But within a couple of hours, Kurt was on the road, solo, so I did what any proud parent does and put out a warning with his number plates to all my friends and followers on social media.

 

It was a small shot in a long game.

 

Fortunately, we’re mature enough not to let the fine for driving in a bus lane ($285) that happened TWO HOURS AFTER HIS TEST and the parking fine ($285) the next day demotivate us. I hasten to add, though, that in the spirit of recently reinstated tough love, he will be paying for both.

 

 

I Can’t Do It All

shouting-1719492_1920It was with a heavy heart that I closed the final chapter on my day job today, in pursuit of fulfilling some dreams and kicking some goals before it’s too late.

 

I’ve loved my job and at the end of my last ever face-to-face meeting with a client today, for a brief moment “doubt” stepped in. I was fortunate to meet so many interesting people in my role that helped me evolve into the open-minded/hearted woman that I’m proud to have turned into over the past few years. It also opened my eyes even wider to what the world can possibly think it is going to achieve by closing its doors to immigrants and denying all of us those precious opportunities to embrace, share and learn from different cultures.

 

I told my employer I was off to chase some dreams when I resigned because there is some truth to that story. But I’m also aware of how unprofessional it would sound if I admitted to her that in reality the balance between my work and home life has become too tricky to navigate, and something has to give. So I’ll admit it to you, my readers. I’ve been angry for a long time. I’ve sought medication and therapy to control my stress levels and calm the internal storms that keep raging, but they haven’t worked, so changes need to be made – for the sake of just about everyone who knows me. I’ve had to accept that I can’t do what we women are meant to strive for; I can’t do it all.

 

I’ll say it again, I can’t do it all, and I refuse to feel ashamed of that. It won’t be me who changes the world, and that’s ok. More specifically, I can’t support my son and his needs and loss of direction and hold down a demanding job at the same time.

 

I’m not superwoman or Gwyneth.

 

What I am, though, is bloody lucky, because I’m fortunate to have choices as a woman – they call it “privilege” these days – and I am aware that my choices are ones that many women will never have. The shame attached to that admission kept me at work for longer than I should have stayed, to the detriment of both my son and my health. But as they tell you at the gym – apparently – you need to listen to your body and your heart, so that is what I’m doing. The final justification I needed to make this momentous leap into the scary vortex of the unknown came from the old man when we were on holiday and I admitted to not coping – like he didn’t know – and he reminded me as I sat in the corner of the room rocking, that we only have one life, and that we are in the fortunate position to have choices.

 

I know. I bagged a good’un. 

 

Anyway, here’s what I’m going to do: for the remainder of this year I’m going to get my son back on track, in a consultant capacity only, (as per my therapist’s recommendations), and as opposed to the way I used to try to help him as a meddling, helicopter parent. In the two weeks since my workload has lightened up a little, I’ve already seen the difference some quality time with him has made. For the past year, I have allowed his age and social presumptions dictate my own expectations for him, and I forgot that he is Kurt and he is his own person, and it has never been a good idea to compare him to his peers. His stepping stones to adulthood will happen when he’s ready, and they won’t be defined because someone has written in some parenting manual that he should be doing things at the same time as other kids his age. That never happened during his education, so it’s unlikely to happen now.

 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the time to talk to him and more importantly, to listen to him. We’ve laughed together again, I’ve taken him to the doctors and for coffee and driving, and amazingly he passed his test first time – a massive boost to his confidence. And that success has infected all the complex facets of his personality and where he sees his place in the world in the best way, and on a practical level, it has meant that finally, he has some means of independence from us – a freedom he has yearned for but not quite been able to reach by himself.

 

He is already talking about travel and going back into education – without pressure from us. (Honest). More importantly, he is talking to me again, probably because I’m not barking or sniping at him at the same time as writing my endless “to-do lists” and deciding which parts of my life to prioritize.

 

So I will be here for him for a while longer, and in between the challenge of getting my son back into the realms of loving life again, (and I will join him in that challenge), I’ll also submit my book for publication and see if there’s any damned way to make the paltry sum of money I need to keep the old man off my back, from writing.

 

Concessions will need to be made, of course, so that I can chase my writing/perfect mother dreams – financial mainly, much to the old man’s delight. Because unless I sell my book (and the following twenty with film rights), we will continue to have the ugliest house in the street. The big car is already up for sale and I will have to return to the role of “house bitch” for a while as the old man works extra hours to formulate a plan of how to bridge the shortfall in our earnings. But as long as he doesn’t cut my weekly wine allowance, I will be stoic.

 

And every cloud has a silver lining – at least there will be food in the fridge again.

 

 

Broken People

Wow! ‘Manchester By The Sea’.

 

sad-505857_1920It’s unlike me to enthuse about movies on this site. Truth be told, it’s getting much harder to walk away from a movie and feel truly motivated these days, (Hidden Figures is an exception), so exhausted am I by the blatant ageism, objectification and sexism that Hollywood continues to get away with.

 

But then a little film like this comes along.

 

Admittedly, it had my name all over it. Grief, depression and dysfunctional relationships are the sort of dark ingredients that get my blood pumping, although hardly the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster, even when they are blended so beautifully together that it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen. Even the visual is bleak, as the storyline is set up in a backdrop of snow, sleet and the sort of bitter cold weather that makes the characters appear even more vulnerable and our heart ache even more viscerally for them, before anything awful has actually happened.

 

You might not go and see this movie because of the controversy surrounding the lead actor, Casey Affleck – sexual harassment allegations from some years back which have tarnished the production because they were settled out of court, leaving inevitable question marks. NC refused to come with me, and I had to overcome the sour taste in my mouth because the theme of the movie is so important to awareness about depression and, well frankly, personal.

 

I won’t spoil it for you by giving away the storyline. Suffice it to say that this is a ‘real’ film about broken lives, shattered relationships and fragmented families, hence no solution and no happy ending where you walk away with a smile on your face and a good feeling in your heart. I commend the filmmakers for that, because when it comes to depression, it’s a falsity to think that anyone fully recovers or that they wake up one morning and are miraculously fixed.

 

Below are some thoughts I wrote about on a bad day:

 

Do you ever think about doing something easier? Until you realize all over again that nothing is easy.

 

Do you ever think that everything is too hard? That no matter how many times you re-invent yourself, you’ll never be truly happy?

 

Do you often feel so tired that even your most reliable friends, coffee and wine, can’t get you through the day, can’t lift your mood any more, and your only solace is buried beneath the bedclothes with your anger and self-pity for company?

 

Does that voice of self-pity become so loud sometimes that the only way to keep it in check is through thoughts of escape?

 

Does that grinding ache of impending panic in your belly take over every waking thought some days, and do you hate yourself for being such a loser, for being so pathetic, so spoilt, when you have more than most people would ever want?

 

Do your relationships and interactions with close ones feel two-dimensional? Do you feel like they ask too much of you one day and not enough the next? Do you feel that you can’t give back what they need from you and that what you have to give, isn’t enough?

 

Is the visual of happiness in your head completely different to what you thought it would be? Is it closer to a small room, these days, by yourself, where you can do what you want, eat what you want, the only place where you feel in control of your destiny?

 

Friends, don’t worry because I’m fine, and reading this back today I realised that it is the voice of the typical creative who has a platform where she can explore, through words, all dimensions of self-pity.

 

Sometimes, I think I suffer from ‘perfectly hidden depression,’ a word made up by Dr Margaret Rutherford, which she explains in her piece When People With Depression Function Too Well. Most of us suffer from this some of the time, I suspect, mainly because it turns out that life is not the fairy tale stories we were brought up on.

 

I function well, but as Dr Rutherford so cleverly describes, sometimes I feel as though I don’t have the vitality for life that I should have, and the closest I get to it is via pills and self-medication, aka wine.

 

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many of us are ‘broken’. Some by trauma; some by inherited mental illness.

 

And some will handle it better than others.

 

What I love about ‘Manchester By The Sea’ is the rawness of Lee, the main character, and the honesty of his depiction of ‘the black dog’, which is a real dedication to nothingness, because the trigger to his illness has left him barely functioning. He continues to work in a non-challenging environment, but the only way he can function outside of this distraction is to isolate himself, self-medicate and not have to explain why. Trauma has changed his life irreparably, in spite of society and his family’s expectation that everything will be okay in the end.

 

Casey Affleck deserves an Oscar for playing a ‘dead’ character who will never go back to the person he was before, no matter how much others want or try to coerce him to. Sometimes the pain doesn’t go away and I don’t think that Lee really wants it to. He sees it as his punishment.

 

Most of us find a way to move forward after trauma; to appear normal on the outside, at least. It is assumed (or hoped) that we will get through whatever triggered the depression because no-one wants to talk to the sad person at the dinner table when they’re hellbent on having fun.

 

Sadly, many don’t get through.

 

 

Suicide, And Making Men Understand That They Don’t Have To Be Heroes

man-1465525_1280It seems a million shades of wrong to be preparing for Christmas drinks when a week or so ago another family lost their son, in his early twenties, to suicide. I cannot imagine their ongoing suffering as I worry about whether we’ll run out of wine or if I’ll poison everyone with my Thai chicken meatballs.

 

A week has passed since the funeral and while the rest of us move on with our lives, prepare for Christmas and celebrate another day of life, that family’s life is shattered. Somewhere on his journey, their young son who always wore a smile on his face, lost his will to live; he lost sight of the value of his life and how much he mattered.

 

We have a duty to find out why our men are choosing to leave us when seemingly they have everything to live for. It’s doesn’t seem right that a child should find justification to end his life before his parents. That’s not the natural order of things. But castigating ourselves about how that boy could not know how much he was loved and valued, or how much he touched the lives of others, is futile now.

 

We accept the powerlessness we humans have in the face of the blows dealt by fate to change the lives of some irrevocably. We accept that we are mere pawns in the game of life with no power or foresight to change the direction of its steely hand. Illness, political gamesmanship and even climate change all impact and mould our destiny.

 

But we should never accept suicide as another of nature’s or God’s ways to control our population, because it is a choice.

 

However, unless we fund the research to identify the triggers that provoke men to give up on life prematurely, the statistics will continue to increase. Change will only come about via education and sniffing out the vulnerability before it takes hold. We need to change the way we raise and talk to our boys to make them understand how much their position in the world has changed. We need to talk to our boys. We need to remind them that they don’t need to be heroes, and perhaps, if they understood that they don’t need to carry the weight of responsibility or swallow and store their emotions to maintain a mask of strength, we could prevent such loss.

 

Television series such as the “Man Up” series are starting to embrace this rhetoric – to “start a conversation about male suicide.”

 

Because the statistics are appalling.

 

“In 2015, preliminary data showed an average of 8.3 deaths by suicide in Australia each day” – approximately two-thirds of which were men.

 

“We need a revolution in the way we think about and deliver mental health care and suicide prevention across Australia,” wrote Jeff Kennett for The Sydney Morning Herald

 

Sometimes it’s hard to truly believe that our lives are equal in value. But whether we’re in the support team on the plane of football stars that crashes, refugees seeking new lives or the nurse in the rehab centre where the multimillionaire seeks sanctuary, when our time comes our material wealth becomes immaterial. I believe that our legacy is about what we leave in the hearts of others.

 

That young man’s death has left a gaping hole in so many hearts, so we have to ask the question, why?

 

Here’s what we do know:  We know that when they are young, men can be impulsive because their brains are not fully formed until their twenties, which means that their ability to manage emotional crises may be compromised. So in those moments of despair, they don’t have the experience to comprehend that the searing intensity of pain will diminish, that things may not be as bad as they seem or that communication may contribute towards healing.

 

What we can do is encourage them to talk, ask them if they are okay, look out for signs of depression.  We can remind them that they don’t have to be heroes.