20 June 2018

Those other mothers (World Refugee Day)

The fact that it’s World Refugee Day and the US has pulled out of the UN Humans Rights Council is abominable.

The fact that when Australia ratified the UN’s anti-torture protocol last year they specifically excluded our off-shore detention centres is abominable.

The fact that our media gives more outraged coverage to the USA’s policy of putting children in concentration camps than they have to the fact that we’ve been doing it for years is abominable.

The fact that we have killed 12 people in four years in our off-shore detention camps is abominable.

Here they are. Source: The Guardian
 Abominable is defined as ‘causing moral revulsion’. And it’s not a big enough word to fully encapsulate all that it needs to in 2018.

What is also abominable is that refugees and asylum seekers are used as political pawns, denying the humanity of the great mass of individuals who have been displaced as the result of war, conflict, hatred and violence.

I’m a mother who loves her children which makes me like most mothers. Most parents in fact.

In fact, I love my children so much that I will do anything I need to do to keep them safe. Because they are lucky – they were born into a country where keeping them safe involves teaching them resilience in the face of bullying, looking both ways before they cross the road, wearing a helmet while riding a bike and other such life skills.

And believe me when I say that I think of the other mothers, the other parents all the time. Not just on World Refugee Day. Those other mothers who also love their children so much and will do anything to keep them safe.

Like moving them away from the city they live in so they don’t get bombed. 

Like selling everything they have to send their child to the other side of the world so they cannot be tortured or killed because of their religious or political leanings. 

Like offering their bodies to marauding soldiers to buy their children some time to escape.

Like getting into boats with them and hoping they reach safe lands. 
Alan Kurdi. Loved Son.
Like enduring detention in the hope their children will have a better life.

Like abandoning their wider families and communities to seek safety for their children.

Like carrying a child who had their leg blown off by a landmine while playing for days to get them medical attention.

The only reason that my love for my children is not tested in these ways is because of an accident of birth.

It was my good luck that I was born in a country that exists in relative safety.

It was my good luck to be born with a skin colour that doesn’t make me a target.

It was my good luck to be raised in a family whose religion was considered acceptable in the latter half of the twentieth century.

It was my good luck to live in a country where I can talk about religion or politics or sexuality without being tortured or even killed to silence me.

The only difference between me and those other mothers is geography.

When David Bowie sung that he hoped the Russians loved their children too, he wasn’t asking the right question.

What he really wanted to know is would the Russians put people before politics?

What I really want to know is when will Australia put people before politics?

When will we recognise that these other mothers, these other fathers, these other children – they are just like you and me.


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12 June 2018

It is called Depression

*Trigger warning - suicide, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety* 

My feed last week was full of people talking about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths by suicide and encouraging people who are feeling suicidal or have suicidal ideation to reach out. To ask for help.

And then people shared some fabulous articles about what living with suicide feels like. And then more people shared it.

And then people shared the numbers of Lifeline and other support agencies. And said their door was always open – so just reach out. Just ask.

And then somebody shared a meme saying people that are depressed don’t ask for help, it’s up to us to recognise that our friends are suffering and reach out.

And now we’re at the stage where people are sharing articles saying just because people look like they have a wonderful life doesn’t mean that everything is wonderful. And sharing Pooh and Piglet memes saying it is okay not to be okay.

And in about a week – we’ll be on to the next thing.

Everything that is happening is good. It’s good that we talk about mental health, especially because EVERYBODY has mental health in exactly the same way as they have physical health. And while I appreciate that we’re talking about mental health because we most certainly need to – I’d like us to start talking about mental health less generically.

If somebody dies of cancer, we don’t say they died as the result of a physical health condition. If somebody has a week off work with the flu, we don’t say it’s because they have a physical health condition.

Less than ideal mental health conditions like depression and anxiety have names. I didn’t spend time planning on removing myself from the planet in 2016 because I had a mental health condition, I did it because I was severely depressed. I was very, very sick.

And not unsurprisingly, when I got professional help, things started improving. But just like any chronic illness, it didn’t get better overnight. It took the best part of 18 months to get back to ‘normal’ and building my strength back up took some more time after that. 

I am somebody that bangs on about everything I hurt physically - broken bums, ankles, scratches. I have no filter or notion of TMI when it comes to the physical. But when it comes to mental - I rarely talk about it when it's happening because there are NO WORDS AT ALL to describe what depression feels like. Every time you try and articulate what you are thinking the words at your disposal are inadequate, weak, lacking gravitas. 

And when you get the courage to try and get responses like 'exercise more, try mindfulness, eat better, drink less, eat more broccoli' or my personal favourite - when they pretend you didn't say anything and just change the subject - you stop saying anything until it has passed and you can talk about it dispassionately and with humour, so that it's palatable for other people. 

I’m not Kate Spade and I’m not Anthony Bourdain, but what I do know is this – to reach the point where you feel so hopeless, so sad and so devoid of all perspective as to think that being dead is the answer – the good intentions of other people are not part of the equation anymore.

What we need is a sustained change in our approach to depression and anxiety in all their complexities - both on and offline.

When we talk about anxiety and depression we need to name them. We can use all the colloquialisms, we can use French words instead of English, but we need to call them by their names.

We need to go beyond asking people if they are okay and say to our friends, ‘Hey there, how’s the old Black Dog going?’, ‘Hey, I know you’ve been in a good place since you last had a depressive episode, but is it still going well’, ‘How is the old Anxiety Monster Clive doing my dear – do you need me to listen for a while?’. You can even ask as one friend recently did, ‘Look at you still alive and all – not planning on changing that are you?’

If people (like me) that live with depression and/or anxiety are ever going to feel ‘no shame’ about having these conditions, people need to stop treating it as shameful. If somebody has cancer, you’ll ask how their treatment is going. If somebody is depressed, you can, you should do the same thing.

Those little acts of care, those bon mots of kindness, will do so much more than caring and sharing for a week or two when a high-profile person dies by suicide. Looking out for each other, genuinely caring about somebody’s physical and mental wellbeing already has a name – it’s called friendship.

And you don’t need some pesky high functioning depressive with a blog to tell you how to be a good friend.

So I won’t.

But be one.

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4 June 2018

Feeling uncomfortable? Me Too.

In a conversation recently, a friend said that she was finding the whole #metoo thing a very discomfiting experience. She noted that every time somebody spoke out, spoke publicly about the abuse they had experienced, or outed one of her celebrity crushes – she felt incredibly uncomfortable, and hated that her first reaction was quite often ‘oh that can’t be true’.

I don’t think she is alone. In fact, I know she’s not. I sometimes feel like that too. And it’s not just about #metoo. I have had friends personally tell me their experiences of sexual assault, rape, domestic violence and even war, and initially it always feels unreal. How is that this person could have experienced all this and I didn’t know? How is that they can have experienced all this and be able to talk about it? How are they so normal?

And when you see people like Asia Argento stand on a stage in Cannes and state publicly that Harvey Weinstein raped her when she was 21 – you can acknowledge her bravery and the power that comes with telling your truth, even if it makes others feel a bit uneasy.

Women of a certain age, and that’s pretty much everybody born before the year 2000, were raised to be quiet. We were raised to know that if anything happened to us – the shame was ours. It would change what people thought of us. If violence of any nature was inflicted upon us – well then, who was ‘really’ at fault?

But one of the powerful positives of mass communication is that it has given a voice to people who didn’t otherwise have it. People are no longer isolated from other people’s experiences. Slowly, around the world, women, and many other marginalised groups, have been finding that they are not alone.
See - it's not just me that thinks that! 
Everybody has a unique experience. What has not been unique is society’s response – ignore, minimise, reshape. And so people started talking. They gathered their courage. They spoke even when their voice shook. They overcame all the things they have been raised to believe about their position, about their worthiness, about their shame, about their responsibility and they have spoken.

And finally society is listening. They are listening in India, they are listening in America, in the UK, in Australia, in every country around the world – change is happening.

But to listen, to truly listen, is discomfiting. We have to challenge our own internalised processes. Our own perceptions of people we know. Our own understanding of people we may have admired. We have to reconcile what we now know, with what we thought we knew.

And the hardest of all, is we have to truly look at ourselves and think about what we have internalised. What unconscious bias exists in our own perception of the world and the things that happens to it? Are we judging without listening? Are we making assumptions without evidence? Are we holding people accountable to standards that we would not hold ourselves to? What are we doing as an individual to support the voices – both the quiet and the loud? The ordinary and the famous?

I think it is good that we are uncomfortable with hearing other people’s stories. I think the fact that we find oppression, cruelty and violence to be unbelievable at first speaks to the inherent goodness that is in most of us. Often, what we find most unreal is that these things have happened to people we care about, people we love. We find it discomfiting that people we have looked up to have abused others and are not who we believed they are. This is true of celebrities, it’s true of other people’s fathers, it’s true of people’s priests and ministers, it’s true of people’s teachers.

We don't need to be comfortable with messy fucked up internalised and societal expectations of how women should or should not be behaving, nor do we need to be comfortable with hearing women's stories of the violence they have experienced, nor do we have to be comfortable with challenging our own thinking.

Because ultimately - comfortable is important for sofas.

But completely irrelevant for change.

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