License To Rant

The best thing about turning fifty is that you get a license to rant and it turns out that I have quite a talent for it. Which is why I’m going to dish the dirt on the six or seven police officers at a Random Breath Testing unit at 10am this morning in my sleepy suburb.

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‘Have you had a drink this morning, Madam?’ I was asked.

‘If only,’ I almost replied with a twinkle in my eye, until common sense prevailed. Australian police are not known for their sense of humor, and as I locked eyes with the loaded weapon on the officer’s hip, felt the color seep into my face and for a second there, I forgot how to count to ten, I decided that a quip wasn’t worth the risk. 

But what I would like to know is just how many drunk drivers they expected to catch at 10am on a Tuesday morning? I mean, in the scheme of things, it was probably a little late in the morning to catch those that had over-indulged the night before, and a little premature for those gagging for their lunchtime tipple.

And while I know that (in general) the police do a wonderful job of policing my son and that part of the reason for the fall in the rate of traffic accidents among young people is thanks to their diligence, surely they have better things to do?

With the escalation in bullying in schools around the country that has dominated the media in Australia this week, surely some educational visits to schools would have been a more valuable use of their time?  Suicide is also on the increase in the same age-group, so what about educating kids in how best to support a suicidal friend? Surely, that has to be more beneficial to the public taxpayer than catching Reggie McPissface who is one drink over the limit?

Then there are the homeless, more and more of them, and many through no fault of their own. Perhaps, as the days get shorter and cooler, they might welcome a hot drink or some friendly advice about the best places to sleep tonight to keep warm; indeed, I imagine they would appreciate an interaction of any sort.

And yet six or seven police officers can justify the time breathalyzing a motley crowd of people on their way to work.

 

 

Middle-Aged Wisdom, Loving Your Neighbour and Pointless Power Struggles

The family will argue this point but one aspect of my personality that has calmed down with age is my need to control everything and my desire for power. woman-281473_1280

 

Some call this ‘wisdom’, and for many of us it takes a long time to get there.

 

Many of us are guilty of getting so caught up in aspiring to symbols of wealth and power between our twenties to forties, that we forget what’s really important in our lives. It has taken me fifty years to discover that large nugget of wisdom.

 

I feel morbidly sad these days when I watch the news and witness the latest worldwide atrocities provoked by the need for power and greed, and I defy anyone with a heart not to be affected by them. Only recently in Australia we’ve been shocked by terrible cases of abuse in juvenile detention centres, as well as the death of a young man who was bullied about, and never recovered from, the death of his brother a few years ago at the hands of violence.

 

Do we feel this level of visceral pain about the plight of others more pertinently as we get older because we become more sensitive to death, because the world’s a more scary place or because we have more time on our hands to seek answers about our own existence and our place on Earth? Perhaps it’s because we have more exposure to the news. I don’t know, but if someone had told me when I was younger that one day I would feel such a pervading fear about what is going on in the world, I’d never have believed them.

 

This perpetual need for ‘power’ over others seems to be at the root of many of our problems in the modern world, whether the need is driven by a desire for land, to impose faith and relationship rules or by politics. You only have to look at the comparison between the ideals of Trump and Hitler.

 

Remember when we swore that what had happened in World War 2 would never be allowed to happen again?

 

It’s easy to blame capitalism for our problems, and the greed which goes hand in hand with that idealism, but modern day warfare is just as prolific in third world countries. Education research this week suggested that teaching children to be competitive in their studies – a strategy once thought to promote thinking – actually encourages the need for one-upmanship in adulthood.

 

I studied French Literature at university and one French philosopher’s piece of writing always stood out for me when he said that ‘even the working class own dogs’; the analogy being that we all need to have some level of power, and it doesn’t have to emanate from money.

 

That innate desire to be better than our neighbour will never change. Scientists would argue that competitiveness is in our genes from conception, presumably to aid survival; and history justifies that argument. There have been wars on a macro level for time immemorial – usually to do with increasing power in regard to territory or religion – but the current desire to wield superiority over our fellow human beings on a micro level is very disturbing in a word that is supposed to be progressing.

 

In spite of everything we have learned about mental health over the past few decades, such as how unfairly sufferers were judged and treated in the past and the effects of trauma on the brain, there are still carers out there, in positions of trust, who use their power to abuse helpless victims.

 

Evidence of this in relation to the behaviour of Catholic priests, for example, has been heavily documented and the inquiries are still ongoing, but let’s not forget that child abuse occurs daily in our homes and can be verbal, physical and sexual.

 

And terrorists are now targeting children. 

 

And then there’s the type of bullying that isn’t even publicly recognised as bullying by the majority, where the abuser is more covert in their operations and intentions, such as online bullying or bullying in the workplace, which has to have a correlation with the increase in mental illness and suicide.

 

When exactly did ‘loving our neighbour’ end?

Trauma and Bullying And Their Link To Mental Illness

The Sharpest Pencil, one of my favourite blogs, by Lana Hirschowitz, drew my attention to this illuminating, but deeply sad post by Mike Cullen recently on the subject of bullying, after the investigation of the Safe Schools program here in Australia was announced.bully-655659_1280

 

An Open Letter To The Prime Minister of Australia

 

In their own words, ‘the Safe Schools Coalition Australia offers a suite of free resources and support to equip staff and students with skills, practical ideas and greater confidence to lead positive change and be safe and inclusive for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families’.

 

Unfortunately however, concerns have been raised recently at the explicit sexual content used in schools and what some see as its ‘indoctrinating’ influence, hence the investigation.

 

This investigation into something that many see as a highly positive arm of education, was designed to help school children understand the problems faced by the young LGBT community, and its investigation comes at a time when the suicide rate in Australia has increased by more than 13% over the past year, and the worst affected group are 15-22 year olds.

 

In is post, Mike describes his time at school, where from his kindergarten year he was bullied for being an LGBT kid, a sad indictment of not only our society but of the children we are currently educating, because this behaviour still happens today. As a parent, it is distressing to read about the terrible experiences and injustices kids like him are subjected to, just for being different to their peers.

 

Around the same time, I read a letter that was published by clinical psychologist, Richard Bentall, (a school contemporary of the actor/commentator, Stephen Fry, who is very publicly vocal in the mental illness forum about Bipolar Disorder, being a sufferer himself), to correct Stephen on his mistaken belief that all mental illness is linked to genes, but rather to social and environmental factors that may lead to trauma (which includes sexual abuse, Stephen).

 

What I Wish Stephen Fry Understood About Mental Health

 

But obviously it’s not only LGBT kids who are at risk of bullying, trauma and mental illness.

 

When I first read Bentall’s letter, my old friend ‘mother-guilt’ inevitably set in and I found myself wracking my brains to think how or when we might have traumatised our son Kurt, who as many of you know we have been through the proverbial teenage mill with over the past few years  as a result of mental health issues. Until I realised that although his ADHD has always been the root cause of many of his problems, the real shift from ADHD to depression and self-harm began in Year 9 when the bullies cranked it up a notch at his school, mentally but physically.

 

Looking back to that time now, knowing what we know now, I despise myself for the naivety that led me to accept the advice of a school that had shown very little in the way of interest in my son’s troubles, despite the many red flags, and which believed that making him sit out of the classroom was the most effective way to punish him. The school also intimated that bullying was a phase my son just had to go through, a kind of rite of passage for boys to teach them to toughen up; in fact the only real support the school offered would have singled him out for even more bullying.

 

The situation ultimately came to a head when Kurt made a stand and refused to return to the school; his innate terror of physical harm at the hands of his peers was such that it far outweighed any potential repercussions from the Department of Education for what we knew they would see as truanting. He lay in bed for days, depressed and disconsolate, until we decided something had to change, upped sticks, moved location and school.

 

I wish I’d listened to my son earlier, rather than a school that was ill-equipped and under-funded to cope with mental illness, but I thank God that eventually we followed our gut instincts as parents and acted upon them.

 

These days, sadly, too many parents don’t get to see the warning signs, and aren’t given that second chance before it’s too late.

 

Ironically, within a few weeks the school did threaten to report us to the Department of Education for Kurt’s unofficial absence.

 

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the current suicide rate in young adults proves that mental illness is a big problem for our kids, that many of them are struggling and we still don’t understand what the triggers are. Suicides are not mentioned in the media for fear of copycat behaviour, but because of that cover up (which has valid reasons), many parents remain in the dark about the increase in the statistics or may not realise that their child may be vulnerable and at risk.

 

So remain vigilant, keep the communication lines open with your teenagers and don’t trust departments or schools to have the same instincts as you have when it comes to your child.