Do You Consider Yourself “Woke”?

Photo of happy, elderly woman.
Photo found on Unsplash.com

I imagine there are many “boomers” and middle-aged parents out there who have been forced to ask their kids the meaning of the term “woke”. Which is why I wasn’t ashamed to admit my ignorance when a young family member introduced me to the word “sonder”.

Have you heard of “sonder”?

Her use of the word was in response to the meme below that I had posted on Instagram – a self-deprecating way of summing up my feelings about our return to a social life (or not) after COVID restrictions were downgraded in Sydney.

Clearly, the meme was the perspective of an introverted, socially anxious person who gets through most social events by drinking heavily. But evidently, she didn’t get the memos about my social anxiety, and because it’s always a tad embarrassing for a writer to admit it when they don’t understand a word, I had to check out its meaning in order to make an informed response.

According to Wiktionary, the definition of “sonder” is:

“The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own.”

Wiktionary

In other words, it is the knowledge that everyone has a story, and (in theory) it should prevent us from “judging books by their cover” and our compassion. On a personal level, it also links to a piece I wrote a few months back about the masks people wear – particularly those with mental illness – in their struggle to fit in with the expectations of society.

We need to have a “sonder” moment, where we realize that we aren’t the only ones with feelings, dreams, regrets and hopes.

Annie Cohen

In short, there is an obvious link between being “woke” and “sonder”, although that’s not to say that we should have to be or experience either to feel compassion for those less fortunate than us.

Our “stories” come in many forms, nevertheless, it is always surprising to learn about how life has f*cked over someone who doesn’t obviously fit into our stereotype of “damaged”, like the wonderful Grace Tame, winner of this year’s Australian of the Year award.

Some of you won’t know Grace – an engaging, Australian woman in her twenties whose courage and determination to fight the Tasmanian legal system is currently inspiring abused women across our nation. For, in spite of the fact that Grace does not look like the stereotype of victims of rape, she is living proof that 1) everyone has a story, 2) no one is exempt from trauma, and 3) most victims are nothing like the visual we carry in our heads of trauma – in much the same way that rapists don’t necessarily look like rapists.

Grace is the perfect example of someone with a story, that is not necessarily pretty, but needs to be heard.

Sharing our experiences of trauma helps the healing process, and was one of the reasons I started this blog eight years ago. The original premise for My Midlife Mayhem was to journal the unravelling of my life as I entered peri-menopause, whilst juggling our son’s struggles with mental illness, and in that time I’ve lost count of the number of times that readers have reached out with their own, similar experiences of “mad” uncles and “different” siblings.

And to encourage women to reach out and share their experiences of sexual assault is one of Grace’s main objectives. However, as she pointed out on QandA last week, it’s not always an easy process for victims to revisit those places of trauma and talk about them publicly, hence it requires a level of patience, lack of judgment, and compassion from those with whom they engage.

And whilst we have seen a marked increase in awareness about previously taboo topics like mental illness, we continue to skirt around other confronting topics such as child abuse – especially when it comes to discussing them with children.

And that worries me. Because I have learnt from experience that in shielding our children, we risk stunting their emotional development – something I was guilty of when my kids were younger and I allowed my anxiety get in the way of common sense, potentially setting them up to fail.

By shielding our children, we risk disempowering them, making them less resilient, less empathetic, and more entitled.

I noticed that type of “helicopter” parenting when I worked in education, in particular each time we ran through our lockdown procedure and several parents voiced their concerns about the use of the word “lockdown” – a word they believed was too frightening for their children.

But, Karen, (I wanted to say), what happens if your child finds themselves in that terrible situation and doesn’t recognise the danger for what it is?

I like to think I am “woke” and aware of issues of social and racial justice, and I also believe that certain personal tragedies have shaped me to become a more compassionate person. A large part of my job as a writer is to analyse people and their circumstances closely, to peel back the layers and discover what challenges they have overcome to achieve their goals – like Joe Biden, for example.

I would add, however, that I have also learned the importance of recognising that some people who experience trauma never overcome it, no matter how hard they try, and it doesn’t make them necessarily stronger, either. And we shouldn’t punish them for that.

Suffering does not automatically make us stronger. For some, trauma stops them from reaching their full potential and from functioning on a daily basis. Which is where the importance of “sonder” comes in. It’s also why, when I started to share my parenting struggles with others, one of my objectives was to offer an indirect source of comfort to them, to make them feel less alone. A virtual hug, you might say. From a selfish perspective, I wanted to meet other parents who were dealing with the same shit as me.

I still believe that by sharing our secrets and traumas, we help remove the shame and stigma of those experiences, in the same way we have with sexual harassment, menstruation, and transgenderism.

And like Grace is doing in her work.

Sharing our struggles helps lift the weight of shame, makes us feel less isolated, and strengthens our commitment to keep going. And I have the utmost respect for those who reciprocate, who find the courage to rip off their mask for me, to expose their vulnerabilities for my benefit – because I know that’s no easy feat.

Clearly, being “woke” and “sonder” are vital for the growth of society – especially in our current, conservative climate, where inequalities are so easily brushed under the carpet. And yet, I am continually amazed at how defiantly resistant some people are to basic kindness. Which leaves the job of effecting change to those already who have suffered already.

Which is exactly what activists like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Malala Yousafzai did. In spite of the loud voices of their critics – who accused them of being hysterical, emotional, attention-seekers, and lefties – they had to stick their necks out for their beliefs.

“Sonder” is the knowledge that everyone has a story. And whilst I am aware that keeping an open mind and listening are overrated qualities in our society, is it really that hard to pause and think about the bigger picture before we judge?

Do you think that getting older has stopped you being so quick to judge?

The Truth About The Mask Of Mental Illness

So it turns out I haven’t quite finished writing about masks. Today, however, instead of talking about clinical masks, I want to talk about a different type of mask – that is, the mask that society forces people with mental illness to wear.

Sad woman with paper mask over her mouth with a smile drawn on it.
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash






It’s the mask of being well – that many of us expect them to wear, even now, in spite of the progress made in terms of awareness.

You see, mental illness is still viewed by some as a made-up illness, or a weakness, or something we should feel ashamed about. And while there are all those wonderful memes that float around the Internet to remind us to be kind and empathetic to sufferers, the reality can be very different.

It might surprise you to know that it is still rare to find a work environment in which you can admit openly that you suffer from depression or a neurological disorder

I’ll be honest, each time someone admits to me they don’t believe in mental illness, I want to scream at them for their arrogance and ignorance. And here’s why. Because, today, with my son’s permission – I’m going to give you an insight into what it is like for him to live with it, and the effect it has on his loved ones.

A few weeks ago, we planned a long overdue family weekend away. It was overdue for many reasons, such as Covid, the cost of taking away a family of four adults (and our very practical concerns about our bar bill), and our annual leave restrictions. However, the main reason the trip was short was because of Kurt, our twenty-three year old son.

He hasn’t really left Sydney over the past two years for all the usual reasons: his bartending job as a casual – which makes it hard for him to make his rent (let alone splash out on weekends away); the organisation involved in planning and booking time away with his ADHD; as well as, erm, certain dependencies he uses to alleviate some of his ADHD symptoms, that are not (shall we say) very transportable.

The main ones, though, are his crippling anxiety and OCD

The outside world may not see what it takes for people like him to leave the house, but trust me, it is no mean feat. There are rituals that his brain insists he must carry out before any transition, there is his fear of change, his laundry (so much laundry), sensory considerations, and an elevated sense of imposter syndrome. In other words, as soon as he steps through the door, our son has to put on a mask.

In other words, he looks like a normal, functioning Millennial, who smiles a lot and converses seemingly naturally. The truth is, however, he would prefer to never have to leave his bedroom.

Few would be aware of the rituals that chain him to his home, his fear of change, or the mental effort it takes to keep himself on track

The reality is, our son doesn’t travel much because his mind won’t let him and last weekend was as much about celebrating mine and our daughter’s birthdays as it was a test for Kurt. It was an attempt to get him to push back from a negative way of thinking that is getting stronger by the day, and as a fellow sufferer (but less severe), I am aware of the dangers of letting anxiety win.

“Avoiding what makes you anxious provides some relief in the short term, but can make you more anxious in the long term. Try approaching something that makes you anxious – even in a small way. The way through anxiety is by learning that what you fear isn’t likely to happen – and if it does, you’ll be able to cope with it. ” Beyond Blue

A few days prior to our departure, he decided not to come and I persuaded him to rethink. Genuinely, I believed the change of atmosphere would do him good. As a result of changes due to Covid, he has spent a lot of time on his own of late – which is not good for over-thinkers – and I was excited at the prospect of exploring antique shops together, experiencing the hotel’s leisure facilities, and enjoying the sense of togetherness that other families appear to enjoy.

I’m his mum and selfishly, I suppose, I wanted him there with us, not only to push back his anxiety, but to help me complete the faux image of the perfect family unit I aspire to

Mental illness is often inaccurately portrayed in film. Many films focus on the quirky charisma of the neuro-diverse or mentally-ill characters, rather than the often terrifying complexities of mood disorders. While we are shown aspects of the darkness, there’s very little of the day-to-day reality of living with the illness – the self-harm, the anger, the police involvement, the desperation and the tears.

When our son is on form, he lights up a room; but when he is overwhelmed, it’s like waiting for the White Walkers to break through the wall

I don’t have any photos of the first twenty-four hours of our trip when Kurt couldn’t look at us or speak to us because he was so angry with me for persuading him to come. He was even madder with himself for “being such a cunt.” (His words).

Ahead of our trip, I thought I had prepared for every eventuality and nothing could go wrong. And yet on our first night, I booked a table at a restaurant in town (because the hotel restaurant was extortionate), and that triggered Kurt’s anxiety. He joined us, but he sat in the restaurant, stony-faced, his earphones in, and as soon as he finished his food, he left by himself. Returning to the hotel bar, he set himself up at his own table and refused to join us when we returned.

I know better than to think I can prepare for every eventuality. The unpredictability is, perhaps, the hardest part about mental illness. The three steps forward, and the inevitable four steps back

That night he texted us to say he would take the train home the following morning.

Even now, he cannot explain what triggered his overwhelm and need to isolate, but it lasted until after lunch the following day, when somehow he managed to pull himself back and block out the voices. He apologised to us profusely, told us how much he loved us and hated himself for his behaviour, and our second night together was memorable – one of the best nights we’ve shared as a family.

When family and friends ask us how Kurt is doing, we put on masks too

We wear protective masks as well – from the judgement of being bad parents, weak, enablers, and pushovers – even though we can’t fully defend our actions, out of respect for Kurt’s privacy.

What I will say, though, is that unless you walked in our shoes, you cannot understand – in much the same way that I would have a limited understanding of how to cope with a child with a physical disability or terminal illness.

A person with mental illness may look exactly like you and I most of the time, until the mask slips

That judgment forces people with invisible illnesses to wear masks, and when they slip, society is unprepared for what lies behind it, in terms of both support and resources. But in the same way that there is no shame in having gastro, there is nothing wrong in admitting that your head isn’t well. Everyone feels sad or anxious at times, but it is the magnitude of those emotions that is so different for people with depression and anxiety, or with neurological conditions that make normal life more challenging.

They can’t “snap out of it” to make the rest of us feel better

Most of the time they don’t ask for our help, nevertheless, they deserve our compassion. My desire to paint a perfect family picture of our weekend away made my son very unhappy and his mask slipped – like he warned us it would. Fortunately, this journey together has made us stronger. We have learned not to blame ourselves (or him) for poor decisions, and I’m certain that sometime in the near future we will give the experience another shot.

The outcome may be similar, but the hope is that each experience is one step further away from surrender, and one step closer to recovery.

5 Surprising Things I Haven’t Missed In Isolation

What’s surprised me most about this virus and its impact on my life is WHAT I HAVEN’T MISSED in isolation.

Whilst the 5 O’clock shadow above my lip is evidence of how much my body is missing its minimal beauty regime, there are still many things I thought my happiness depended upon that I haven’t missed at all since COVID struck our shores.

Photo by Mental Health America (MHA) on Pexels.com

Obviously, I’ve missed going to restaurants, weekends away, and movie trips, but there’s no denying that this virus has gifted me a window of opportunity to put into perspective what’s truly important in my life.

Removed from that relentless pressure to succeed in every aspect of my life, my brain is taking a long-overdue holiday from the overwhelming expectations society places on women our age.

Here are 5 surprising things I haven’t missed in isolation:

1. People

FRIENDS, before you rush to Facebook and unfriend me, hear me out. Because I’m not talking about people per se, I’m talking about people I don’t really know that I’m forced to mix with at large social events or work. One of the chronic sides to my anxiety is my social anxiety, which may not be that obvious to most people – because I’m a professional at disguising it, aka an alcoholic. Nevertheless, it’s a problem that explains why a big part of me is loving this excuse not to leave the house right now.

The work required to socialise kills me, i.e. the diplomacy required to fit everyone in without offending anyone. So while I’ve kept myself busy during this time, I’ve not missed being socially busy and I’ve embraced the extra time and energy to pour into projects I WANT TO DO that I’ve been forced to put on the back burner in the past.

2. Shopping

There’s not much point in clothes shopping when there’s nowhere to go, and on the rare occasions I’ve visited the mall for “essentials”, I’ve discovered that my desire to shop has all but disappeared – cue fist pump from hubby. Materialism really does feel unessential right now.

That change in mindset has nothing to do with not having the cash to splash, it’s about the change in my priorities. In the past, I wasted hours at the mall, trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that now seen ridiculous. Like many women, treating myself and spending compulsively used to make me feel better about myself. Now, I wonder why.

3. My Anxiety

This is a strange one to admit to when governments around the world are preparing for a mental health emergency, and yet it makes complete sense to me. Aside from the ramifications of certain domestic triggers (hmmm…), my anxiety hasn’t been exacerbated by COVID-19. If anything, it has reduced, and recent research in Japan confirms that I’m not alone. It makes sense when one of the triggers of my anxiety is stress at work, and did I mention people?

The threat of the virus trumps most of the fears anxious people like me ruminate about on a daily basis. COVID-19 is the disaster of epic proportions we over-thinkers have been waiting for our whole lives, and now it’s finally here and more tangible, it’s rather like looking the enemy in the eye.

And health anxiety is hardly an option right now. NO-ONE in their right mind wants to end up in the ER at the moment, right? And on a more personal front, whilst having our grown up son back at home has added some tension, it has also removed the fear caused by those calls in the middle of the night. Enabling or not, it is much easier to support him during this pandemic while he’s under our own roof.

4. “The Treadmill”

Again, the treadmill issue tie in with people and my anxiety. While I like my routine, I don’t necessarily enjoy all of the functions on my personal treadmill and at fifty-four, I’m still trying to shape my life into one I want, that works for me, i.e. working for myself, and doing something I feel passionately about. This break from certain outside pressures has paused the tension that usually mounts. It has provided me with the opportunity to step back and do exactly what I want for a short space of time, when I want to.

5. The Weight Of Expectation

I am aware that it is my personal responsibility to control the weight of expectation I feel – or so my therapist says. Everyone wants to succeed, but to balance pressures (many of which I put on myself) with my mental health is an ongoing battle. With the release of some of that pressure, my head has bobbed back to the surface of the water again.

I won’t deny that I’ve had an innate desire to find more inner peace for some time, and for those of us lucky enough to come through this virus unscathed, one positive of this COVID-19 experience has been to highlight the areas of our lives we need to re-evaluate. It has pushed nature, family relationships, and my health back to the top of my priority list. I may be missing the opportunity to explore countries I’ve never visited and family I haven’t seen in a while, but I am not missing the anxiety that used to accompany me on those trips.

Is there anything you haven’t missed in isolation that has come as a surprise?

If you enjoyed this post, follow my blog on my homepage.

How’s Everyone Coping With The Latest COVID-19 Isolation Restrictions?

So…how’s everyone travelling?

YOU’RE NOT, I assume, and neither will you ever consider booking a cruise ever again, I would take a guess (if you’re of sound mind).

Photo by Curology on Unsplash

In the spirit of Gloria Gaynor, I am surviving, although as you can imagine, this is not a great time for hypochondriacs. Reassuringly, very little has really changed in our house, aside from an escalation in the toilet seat debate and some highly competitive stockpiling of toilet rolls in our own bathrooms.

Fortunately – and that is a serious downplay of that word in an uncharacteristic attempt at sensitivity – we don’t have young kids at home, and having worked at home together for some time, we are used to avoiding each other as much as possible within the strict, self-imposed boundaries of our home. But it’s funny how much this crisis has improved communication – in general.

It has certainly increased mine. Anyone who knows me well will be aware that I would rather have a mammogram than make a phone call, and yet I’ve been Messengering and WhatsApping like a Millennial over the past week – mainly in my attempts to keep tabs on anarchist, older members of my family.

My stepmother has reported back that my father is adhering to the new restrictions, much to my surprise. Apparently, he has taken an uncharacteristically sensible approach to isolation in spite of his disgust at the government’s decision to open the supermarkets to his age group between 9 and 10am – when he rarely surfaces before 10. I think the word he used was “unrealistic” in his description of a decision he believes is based on unfair stereotyping about old people being early risers.

Evidently, he’s not too worried about catching the virus, because ‘It’s only going to get the really old buggers” he tried to reassure me as I counted the hairs in his nostrils during our weekly video chat. And that’s why he put his chances of survival his the hands of alcohol rather than government restrictions and has upped his whisky consumption – “Just to be safe.”

Mind you, Dad has always been a pragmatist. I’m pretty sure he mentioned the same “more chance of getting run over by a bus” analogy during our conversation that he used to terrify me with during my childhood, hence, although he has always blamed my mother for my issues with anxiety, I’m beginning to question his accountability.

Meanwhile, the other old man in my life has been burying his head in the sand – particularly in relation to our finances. Having agreed to curb our spending at our last finance meeting – instigated by him, I should add – I was somewhat surprised by his expenditure on golf over the past few weeks – since curtailed by the closure of all courses yesterday.

“Essential?” I queried as I trawled through the bank statement and watched him splutter some excuse about therapy for his mental health in these highly anxious times. So it’s anyone’s guess how he will fare as we move forward.

He hasn’t been quite as successful at concealing the delight on his face each time one of our social engagements is cancelled. I swear he rubs his hands with glee each time the government limits the number of people that can gather in a group, and any day now I expect him to bunker down with the dog in full isolation mode.

It was the small, magical moments during our holiday to Hawaii that mattered most

Forgive me for my recent radio silence, but I’m struggling to get back into real time since our return from Hawaii.

No doubt, some of you will be interested to know how we fared, having spent so much time reading about my angst in relation to where the fuck to take an anxious, middle-aged man who didn’t want to leave his suburb. But, alas, I am no travel writer, so I’ve decided to style this post in the same way as Jamila Rizvi did here last week in The Age, and focus on the small things that made it feel so special.

Woman sitting on beach in front of view.
I call this photo “Come to Mama!”

I won’t lie, the holiday (in the company of my husband and our twenty-something daughter) wasn’t always the plain sailing experience I had prayed for prior to our departure from Sydney. However, I won’t bore you with the stories of when our two hire cars broke down – leading to the old man’s worldwide ban from AVIS – the loss of his bank card, or the time he turned the wrong way down a street. As I’m sure you can tell from this photo, he had a great time.

Man looking miserable at shopping center.
Have you ever seen such a vision of natural joy? He just LOVES shopping and Halloween.

And by normal standards, I imagine that the sort of holiday woes we experienced are the kind of par-for-the-course shit that everyone goes through, laughs about and puts down to travelling.

Admittedly, the bus tour between Honolulu and Haleiwa on the North Shore was not the anticipated 45 minute journey I had forecast in my itinerary – probably because I read the ‘by car’ calculation of time instead of ‘by stagecoach’ – but at least it included an educational tour of Honolulu’s military bases and a nostalgic trip back to the prison set where Hawaii 5-0 must have been shot. The return journey was even longer, and while none of us expected a three-hour circumnavigation of Oahu that took us into the night, we were all grateful for the scenic experience.

Many lessons were learned: we now know never to declare war on a feisty Hawaiian customer service lady who deals with entitled tourists on a daily basis; we learned that the portion sizes really are as terrifying in the US as we had been led to believe, and that you only need order a few plates to share; and finally, we now appreciate that the mountain temperature on our weather App is no guide to the temperature on the beach.

Mouthwatering plate of Tuna Tataki.
The TUNA!

There were the usual minor medical issues like blocked ears, dehydration, and some ongoing issues with obesity augmented by the portion size of the Rocky Road ice cream they sold at our local bar.

But let me get back to the small things that justified our thousands of dollars spent choice of destination, that still make my heart sing to the tune of Moana each time I think back to them:

  1. The landscape: What’s not to love about a destination that offers world-class beaches, the spirituality of a mountain landscape (that look like it belongs in Peru), and cheap, designer shopping that even the most ardent window shopper will find impossible to resist?
  2. The beaches: I can honestly say that Waikiki, the beaches on the North Shore of Honolulu, and those in Maui lived up to the paradise we had been promised. Living in Australia, it’s hard to impress us when it comes to beaches, but we weren’t disappointed – particularly by the ocean temperature, which made it dead easy to plunge into it several times a day.
  3. The turtles: I’ll be honest, we didn’t see flocks of them like I imagined – a bit like when we visited Kangaroo Valley and never saw any kangaroos – but we spotted several from the shoreline and a couple swam up close to us. Fact: they can be SERIOUSLY BIG MOTHERFUCKERS!
  4. The snorkelling: This time it was the relaxing experience I imagined it could be when I was growing up and wanted to be Jacques Cousteau. Pretty, unthreatening tropical fish were a welcome change from The Great Barrier Reef’s terrifyingly black Gropers and slimy cucumbers, and although NC swore she saw a sea snake, she only told me about it once we were on the plane home.
  5. The music: Hawaiian music comes from the soul and shoots straight through the heart. I will always remember the night the old man asked a Hawaiian singer to sing a song from Moana for NC, who ugly-cried (very publicly), and another when a heavily pregnant dancer performed the Hula.
  6. American coffee: It gets a bad rap around the world, but the choice of flavours is awesome. I mean, how can a Vanilla/Macadamia nut coffee be bad?
  7. The food: OMG! Sex is good but have you ever tried melt-in-your-mouth Ahi (tuna), sealed in hot butter, with sides of coleslaw and coconut rice?
  8. The sunsets: I’m usually half way down a bottle by sunset and never fully appreciate their beauty, but Maui’s sunsets light up the sky like fireworks and are impossible to ignore.
Restaurant view of stunning mountain landscape in Maui.
Not a bad view for lunch.

And then there were the cheap COCKTAILS, an overdue discovery of Fireball whisky. and the old man’s dishcloth dance – after aforementioned whisky. All in all, a myriad of magical moments thrown into twelve days and an experience I’d love to replicate, had the old man not thrown away his passport.

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.

John Marsden has a point: Let’s strive to build our kids’ resilience, rather than trying to turn them into something they’re not

Many of you won’t be aware of this, but quite a large chunk of my career has been spent in education – working with kids with special needs. At the beginning of this year, I returned to the field to become the co-ordinator of a new after-school care facility.

Child sitting in a tree with her doll.
Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

Last week, we completed our first week of vacation care. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t tell you too much about what happens on the job, but what I can share is the wonderful experience of working in a progressive school, ie. the type of school that encourages the type of childhood that most of us Generation Xers experienced – with its focus on outdoor play and exploration, and the inherent dangers therein.

While I try not to waste too much time reflecting back on my own parenting fails these days, it’s hard to ignore the ongoing evidence of the relationship between our kids’ deteriorating mental health and “helicopter parenting”. The link has made me think about how I would do things differently if I had my time again.

The school in which I work is a green, progressive school, set in beautiful, lush grounds in the bush where the kids spend much of their day, with the option not to wear shoes – apart from during funnel web season, when (obviously) I wear full body armour. And the focus is on learning through exploration and play, using nature as the primary resource for teaching. Technology is used minimally and the culture of the school is based is on kindness and respect.

I have never seen happier, more fulfilled children. Perhaps, because there are fewer rules, but most likely because they have the freedom to explore and take control of their own learning. That approach makes it the perfect setting for kids of different abilities and the responsibility it encourages boosts their self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. It is such a privilege to watch them make up their own games and then extend them, and to work out their own problems. During after-school care, they sit together and play board, construction and card games, they colour in, they play together outdoors, they craft out of recycled materials, and even help cook their afternoon tea. Some of them are happy to simply sit and read a book.

While it is a child-centred environment – there are still expectations in terms of behaviour and respect for our resources, of course, but most of the time the kids sort out their own issues among themselves because they are encouraged to problem-solve at every stage of their learning.

As you can imagine, I was horrified in my interview for the job when I found out that the children were encouraged to climb trees and retrieve balls from snake-infested bushes. Hence, I have been forced to learn how to keep my own anxiety in check. As my supervisor explained to me, if a kids falls out of a tree and breaks their arm, they won’t climb as high the next time.

Humorous meme.
Found on Pinterest from http://www.shopatartworks.com

Raising my own kids, I know that I was guilty of the type of “helicopter parenting” that educator and author, John Marsden, talks about in his new book, The Art of Growing Up, so with this new responsibility I have been mindful of my need to relax and let go more. John worries about the effects of this parenting on the resilience of our children. ‘When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’, I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe. These adults have a view of childhood as some kind of discrete interval, rather than just a few years from the continuum of life. How fortunate that the spirit, courage and curiosity of many young people remain largely undefeated by such adults.

One of the points he raises is the danger of putting our kids in a bubble to “protect” them from outside influences, which means that once they grow up and enter the real world they are unable to cope with its demands. Worryingly, when he interviewed a group of children and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, many said that they didn’t want to grow up at all.

Of course, backing off and letting children with special needs like Kurt fail isn’t quite as straightforward. It is important to advocate for them at every step of their education, but towards the end of Kurt’s schooling I had learned not to sweat the small stuff and to pick my battles in relation to homework and lost uniform, a change that has stood me in good stead for this job – particularly on the days the kids make slime and potions, or when I catch one of them at the top of a tree!!!

But, perhaps, my enjoyment of this more relaxed approach to childcare has something to do with my appreciation for less drama in my own life right now, as well as my personal appreciation of nature and mindfulness that has developed with middle age. This new simplicity to how I live my life, boosted by my greater respect for nature, is empowering. And it is so much more fulfilling than the exhausting drive of my thirties and forties that I see evident in modern parenting, where parents are continually striving to turn their kids into something they’re not.

Flying, And The Criminal Act Of Exceeding Your Baggage Allowance

Last week was not an easy one in terms of anxiety, because I had a flight booked at the end of it. So what should have been a week of relaxation – the first of (for the most part) a two-week staycation – culminated in sleepless nights as I catastrophized about the terrifying superpowers of seagulls, Trump’s craziness, and the week of unsettling windy weather that settled upon Sydney.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

I have never liked the wind – especially when I’m about to board a plane – so it’s not surprising that my anxiety levels had hit the roof by the time I reached the airport on Friday morning and learnt that my flight was delayed by three hours as a result of strong winds. This news, on the back of a week of menacing emails from my airline about my baggage allowance sent me straight to the airport bar – answering my question of who the fuck drinks at ten in the morning.

As an increasingly intolerant middle-aged woman, I am highly appreciative of good customer service ie. follow up emails about the details of my flight, special offers etc. However, I do not appreciate being hounded to “manage” my travel booking on an hourly basis, especially when we all know that “manage” is airline code for getting you to spend more money.

I’m not certain which part my airline didn’t understand about my choice of the cheapest flights to get me from a to b for the weekend, but obviously they still believed they could bully me into purchasing their soggy banana bread, my seat on the plane – or extra legroom – or some extra weight allowance for my baggage.

‘We noticed that you only have 7kg of baggage,’ they warned me threateningly in several emails leading up to my departure, as if the worry associated with getting on a plane and expecting it to stay in the sky wasn’t bad enough.

What they no doubt didn’t realise was that the words “baggage allowance” are already a trigger for me since my last trip to Queensland, when I mistakenly picked the standard 7kg max baggage allowance option without really understanding what the weight means in woman terms; henceforth initiating a personal quest to fit in every variable of clothing, beauty product, and accessory I might need for two days into my tiny case. Fortunately for me, my talent for being such a stickler for detail (AKA anxious), meant that my baggage did come in around the 6.99kg mark at its final weigh-in – something to do with wearing eight of my twelve outfits, I imagine. But then my sister foiled my plan by returning a book to me at the airport – the thickest fucking novel ever – and insisting that I take it home.

That weekend marked the start of new rules imposed by domestic airlines about hand luggage allowances and I was hauled over the coals publicly for being a few grammes over my allowance and forced to layer my last four outfits before they would allow me on board.

Not that I disapprove of the new laws. It used to get on my tits whenever passengers turned up with whole sets of suitcases as hand luggage.

But that’s why this time I was on guard. I took a large bag as opposed to a small suitcase – which weigh around 2.5kg before you put anything in them, ie. an entire outfit option including boots – and I started to pack my bag several days before I was leaving, safe in the knowledge that should I veer over my cheapskate limit, I could always leave my niece and sister’s gifts behind.

However, that didn’t stop me fretting and waking up at night to obsessively-compulsively re-measure the Borrower-sized quantities of my beauty products and re-weigh my bag. Stupid, really. I mean, it’s all a load of bollocks in the grand scheme of things, isn’t it? Because when I’m up there in the sky at the mercy of the elements, or birds – seagulls, I presume – that fly into the plane’s engines, Kamikaze-style – will whether I packed both sets of hair straighteners really make a difference to my chances of survival?

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.

Why Try Mindfulness In Middle Age? Because That’s When You Realise Just How Fucked Up The World Really Is

I took an introductory course in mindfulness a few weeks ago. I thought that the company of calm, spiritual people would wield its inner peace on me. But when it turned out that only my friends had signed up for the course, I realised something I already knew – that we’re all dealing with our own shit.

Women practising meditation.
Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

Among other living hells, Menopause is known to exacerbate anxiety, and while I have found other calming techniques for my over-active brain – such as running, writing, and drinking more wine – I keep hearing the word “mindfulness” bandied about in association with ADHD and anxiety, which is why I decided to give it a shot.

I suppose that everyone is seeking the simplest solution to cope with the trials of life, but that need becomes more pertinent the older you get, when you realise just how fucked up the world really is.

I also knew that my experience would make great blog fodder, and as I’m prepared to give most things a go to enhance the experience of this, the last, physically-able chapter of my life – apart from pole-dancing, obvs, which is a subtle reminder to my sister who, one birthday, demonstrated that my psychotic sense of humour runs in the family – I decided to ignore the natural cynicism of my inner voice that tells me that this spiritual stuff is a load of bollocks.

Indeed, I felt for the first time in my life that I had the appropriate level of maturity to handle it.

Which was where I was wrong when I got worryingly close to breaking the magical spell of silence during the walking meditation with a fart or a show tune.

But like when you give up smoking or drinking, you have to commit to new ideas such as mindfulness for them to have any hope of working, and once I got my giggles of self-consciousness out of the way, I did just that. I mean, let’s be honest, while the power of running has gone some way to combatting my anxiety, it’s far more appealing to sit in my own space and do fuck all for the same benefits.

Our teacher was lovely. Non-judgmental, with one of those soothing voices that carried us along to our safe place without too much of a fight, he managed to hide his despair at the three crotchety, middle-aged cynics in front of him, whose bodies creaked each time he asked us to change position on the floor. He didn’t even seem to mind when he told us to think about our favourite place for our first visualisation and I admitted that mine was in bed. Everyone else picked a tropical island!

Admittedly, I found that focusing on my breath was about as stimulating as Scott Morrison’s election campaign, but I loved the soothing effect of the chanting bowl. I defy anyone who has worked a full day and managed to get back out of the house for a mid-week evening meeting, not to find some relaxation in the sound – so much so, I’ve decided to invest in one for the next finance meeting with the old man. And the walking meditation was an interesting exercise in self-control and fitness as the five us us walked slowly around the room together, first like zombies, and then like Neil Armstrong on the moon, while I fought a personal battle to keep a straight face.

But there were many ideas and exercises that I loved. One of the exercises was to connect our heart to someone we love. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I picked the old man as the recipient of my limited levels of love – that are rather like the permanent level of cyan ink on our colour printer – but I suspect it had something to do with guilt. I’d been a complete bitch to him that week. Funnily enough, he didn’t mention feeling any different when I arrived home, which confirmed my suspicion that he likes being “treated mean.”

Anyway, I found this article on the web, which provides a really good beginner’s guide to mindfulness. So keep your mind open. It’s not easy, but focusing on what you are grateful has to be a far healthier way of getting through this crazy old thing called life. Since the course, I have inadvertently incorporated the deep breathing exercise when I feel anxious, and it has worked wonders for eliminating the shame I feel about pouring that extra glass of wine.

Mothers: Admit It, We Never Stop Worrying About Our Kids

Mothers, be careful with those little comments you drop into the conversation each time you see your adult kids (who have left home) and look like they haven’t eaten a square meal that month.

You know the type – How much fruit are you eating? ARE YOU EATING? You’re looking a bit pale, or How firm are your stools? The type that all of us mums just can’t help ourselves from asking.

Well, take my advice and shut the f..ck up, because those comments could come back to haunt you. Such is my fate since I foolishly peered into my son’s fridge and made an innocent comment about his beer diet.

‘Well, I was thinking…’ he replied the other night when he came around to ours for what looked like his first feed this month, (having obviously decided that this was the perfect window of opportunity for some long overdue Mum -manipulation), “that maybe you could deliver me a care package, once a week, for those difficult days leading up to pay day?’

‘What does a care package entail?’ I asked naively.

‘You know…a batch of Shepherd’s Pie, Bubble and Squeak – I’ll even eat your Lasagne if I have to. Something I can knock up easily myself…’ Ie. In his frying pan, which happens to be the only pan in his unit.

‘Perhaps you need to learn some money management,’ I replied wryly, fully aware of how he prioritises the half of his earnings that don’t go on rent.

‘Perhaps you need to remember that you were young once too,’ he reminded me with that twinkle in his eye that he knows makes me melt at the knees.

And he has got a point. I spent a considerable part of my twenties on the Marlboro and hot chip diet, and it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do in between my three jobs and nagging my husband (!). Of course I can sacrifice a few hours a week slaving away in the kitchen to make sure that my twenty-one year old little boy doesn’t waste away.

But just putting this out there – no one bought me care packages.

So, anyway, call me a “Sad-Fuck-Of-A-Helicopter-Parent, but three Shepherds Pies were dutifully delivered to the next suburb on Saturday afternoon, along with step-by-step instructions for how to heat them up. Of course, the old man refused to have any part of what he calls my “pathetic enabling”, although he did mention that if there were any leftovers, he’d have one instead of salmon on our next fish night.

‘Where are my care packages,’ NC grumbled in a text when she sniffed signs of sibling favouritism from the city.

And so, it appears that the old man was right about one thing and wrong about another. He was wrong when he told me that no one really likes my home cooking – as was the dead fox outside our bins all those years ago that I have been reminded about after every one of my cooking fails. But he has been right all of those millions of times when he has said that I will never stop worrying about our kids.

Whereas, he appears to be coping quite admirably.

Bad Dreams? I Blame Anxiety

Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho on Unsplash
Of course, sleeping in the garden might be my problem and I could simply invest in a bed.

I used to have this theory about dreaming, which was that only creative, imaginative people had them. I admit that this conclusion was drawn from the fact that the old man doesn’t dream.

As a middle-aged, menopausal woman on anti-depressants (who struggles with sleep), the only bright side to the kind of dreams I have – imagine GOT crossed with Psycho – are that as a writer, even crazy dreams offer up some wonderful ideas for content. But I can’t deny that it would be refreshing, occasionally, to have some nice, vanilla dreams. You know, the sort of dreams where I’m sipping expensive cocktails in exotic destinations or sexual dreams, with the men of my fantasies. Rather than dreams where I’m falling off cliffs or being chased by knife-wielding rapists.

Let me share the one I had last week. Interpret it as you will.

The dream began with me introducing one of my best friends to a new friend of mine, who swiftly replaced me in my BF’s affections. Unsatisfied with that, this interloper continued to torment me throughout the dream, popping up in other parts of it to enlighten me about secrets my BF had shared with her – the sort of secrets that she had never shared with me during our entire twenty-year friendship.

During this REM version of Mean Girls, I found myself back at uni in the classic dream of being late for, and not having prepared for, an exam. This time, however, I was studying for a degree in science, and not only was I late, but the only preparation I had done for it was to skim through a Year 6 book on nature.

While I was mulling over how I could make the life cycle of the amoeba relevant to a tertiary physics paper, I was also struggling to locate my seat in the massive exam hall, where thousands of candidates were waiting to take the same exam – each of whom was already in their seat and eyeballing me.

Finally, an adjudicator took pity on me. Relieved, I followed him as he directed me to my place, whereupon – and get this! – he pulled a machete from his apron and cracked open my chest to reveal my heart – which was bizarrely the first time I noticed that everyone else’s heart in the room was exposed. Even weirder, was the immediate sense of calm I felt, that finally, I was like everyone else. Hence, it was only as I shuffled about in my seat, preparing to start the exam, that I noticed that my heart was different to everyone else’s – because mine had bulging lumps in its arteries. Clots!

The finale to this horror story, was my embarrassing (somewhat deja vu) attempt to get my computer going and onto the exam program – because apparently, I was a technophobe in my dream as well as in real life. Until, fortunately, my neighbour took pity on me, setting me up in the nick of time for the start of the exam. I remember throwing him a look of gratitude as I placed my headphones on confidently as the examiner called out Start – which is when I discovered that I had no sound.

It is no secret that bad dreams and night terrors happen to anxious people, and unsurprisingly, I can relate almost every detail of that dream to current concerns about my health, work, and the fear of not living up to expectation.

But if my mind is really that bloody imaginative, why can’t I have nice dreams for a change? Why can’t I have the dream where I’m a famous author, who sells the film rights to my novel to Steven Spielberg, who then picks Meryl Streep to play my character in the book? Why can’t I dream about lunch with Meryl – where she perfects my accent, we sing Abba songs together, and she reveals all of her inner secrets to me, like the one about her best on-screen kiss?

BTW – My money’s on Robert Redford.

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.