Back To Basics

As of Friday, I have officially finished uni for the year. This means that for the next week or two, I am putting myself into super self-care mode by focusing on the basics and giving myself as bit of a break from decision-making and analysing. The basics are:

  • Getting lots of rest
  • Drinking lots of water
  • Eating well
  • Exercising
  • Breathing fresh air
  • Getting some sunshine
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Laughing and having fun

And that’s it.

I truly am trying to keep it simple.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

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Surviving

The past couple of weeks have been difficult. After finishing my first two assignments and handing them in on the 29th of October, my health slumped. Since the 29th, I have…

  • Become completely exhausted, despite already being tired prior to this.
  • Woke up with a headache most mornings and nursed that pain through the bulk of each day.
  • Spent a string of mornings feeling incredibly nauseous and suffering some sort of digestive issue (probably a mild bout of gastro).
  • Contracted another ear infection after only recently being treated for one (being exhausted, my body’s defences were probably down).
  • Felt constantly sore in my neck, shoulders (particularly my right shoulder) and lower back (probably a combination of time spent sitting at my computer plus stress).
  • Felt like my heart was trying to flip itself over or jump out of my chest (possibly anxiety-related, but could also be medication-related).
  • Come down with a cold that made my nose run and my throat ache due to a lot of coughing (again, being exhausted, my body’s defences were probably down).
  • Felt the skin on my face and my eyes became irritated and itchy (probably an allergy-related issue given that it is Spring).
  • Thought a lot more unhealthy thoughts about what I am eating and the way my body looks (tends to happen at times of stress and ill-health, as these thoughts are all about control).
  • Felt really sad, trapped, and frustrated (if you’ve read the previous dot-points, it’ll be pretty clear why).

While all of this has been happening, I have been trying to research and write my final essay (due this Friday). Thankfully, this essay is pretty much finished now and just needs some final editing. However, writing it has been a very trying process.

Not only have I had all the aforementioned health issues to contend with, the subject the essay is for was not taught particularly well meaning it was tricky to know where to start and what to write. I researched and wrote the essay in one or two half-hour or hour blocks most days. I physically and mentally did not have the stamina to spend longer than this on it in a day, and some days even half an hour of work was impossible. Sadly, this process has not been enjoyable in the slightest. Any intellectual enjoyment I would have got from the task at hand has been thoroughly quashed by the pain I have been experiencing.

I have spent the past week and a bit living in the moment, not out of some mindfulness-inspired desire to cherish the experiences that constitute my life, but out of necessity. My focus has been on surviving – allowing myself to rest, feeling the physical pain of my headaches, breathing through the nausea… I worked on my assignment when I could, but getting it done couldn’t be my end game when simply surviving was a challenge.

The very fact that I am sitting here writing this now is a good sign for me. A few days ago, sitting down to write a blog post would have seemed impossible. So, the good news is that things can and do get better. Okay, so I’m still exhausted, and a bit headachey and sore, and I still have a cold, but I haven’t felt nauseous for a few days, and my ear infection has cleared up again.

To celebrate, I’m about to start a jigsaw – something I thoroughly enjoy doing.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

October Favourites

Fiction book

9780702253775Ghost River by Tony Birch

This is another book by an Aboriginal author, a multi-talented man who writes fiction and poetry as well as being a research fellow at Victoria University. All this after being expelled from two schools and going back to complete year 12 at TAFE after spending years in the fire brigade. You can read more about him here.

This book is set in Melbourne, Collingwood or Abbotsford specifically. There’s always something special about reading a novel set in your home city or town. The imagery is richer because you’ve seen these places with your own eyes. The Yarra River plays a prominent role in the novel, almost becoming a character of its own. But its the two boys, Ren and Sonny, who give the book its substance. It follows their adventures in their thoroughly working-class suburb populated by a suite of interesting characters – crims, corrupt cops, the homeless ‘river men’ and so on. This is a gritty book, well written and well worth a read.

 

Non-fiction book

978178733067221 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Famous for his two previous books, Sapiens and Homo Deusthis book completes the trio. Sapiens is about the past, Homo Deus is about the future, and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is about, you guessed it, the present. I think that’s why I was attracted to it.

Having read it, I can see why Harari’s previous two books were so popular. He writes so well, effortlessly combining personal reflections with research findings and historical narratives.

What I loved was how this book made big questions and issues like climate change, technological change and morality manageable and comprehensible. There were a few quotes I recorded from the book, but this one was particularly powerful for me as a non-religious person who feels strongly that religion is not a necessary ingredient of a moral life.

Morality doesn’t mean ‘following divine commands’. It means ‘reducing suffering’. Hence in order to act morally, you don’t need to believe in any myth or story. You just need to develop a deep appreciation of suffering. If you really understand how an action causes unnecessary suffering to yourself or to others, you will naturally abstain from it.

 

Podcast

No Feeling Is Final

This podcast, created by Honor Eastly, is a memoir show about Eastly’s experiences with the mental health system and years of dealing with suicidal thoughts.

Everyone’s story is unique, but there also tend to be parallels and points of connection between our stories. So, while this is Eastly’s story, there were bits of it where it could have been mine.

Specifically, I loved her descriptions of:

  • The inadequacy of the mental health care system in Australia for people who find themselves between the two extremes. People for whom 10 Medicare funded sessions per year are far from enough, but who are ‘not sick enough’ to be hospitalised, case-managed and so on (episode 2, The Vast Wasteland).
  • The purpose of hospital: “Hospital is not the place you go to get better, it’s the place you go not to die” (episode 3, A Good Patient).
  • The ups and downs of her experience. She talks about thinking she has it all figured out, thinking she has all the answers, only for things to get messy again (episode 6, Now is the time for cake).

I recommend a listen, but I suggest listening to just once episode per day, just because there is some pretty full-on stuff in it.

 

TV 

Without Limits 

This two-part documentary follows a team of five wounded and injured veterans (two Australians and three Brits) on a journey through Australia’s remote Kimberley region. It illustrates the resilience of the human spirit and the power of learning from your peers. The veterans had both physical and psychological injuries – post-traumatic stress, chronic pain, lost limbs etc. As someone with chronic physical and mental health issues, I found their journey really resonated with me. If that doesn’t convince you to check it out, there’s the added incentive of a very cute dog – one of the veterans has a black Labrador called Hades as a support dog.

 

Fun

For years now, I have believed cryptic crosswords to be simply too hard. However, after listening to an interview with crossword compiler extraordinaire David Astle last week, I began attempting the cryptic crosswords in the paper with a bit of input from other family members. Already, I can feel myself getting hooked. Cryptic crosswords are a wonderful intellectual challenge, forcing you to think laterally and make links between disparate subjects. They are a time-consuming task, but a rewarding one because of the satisfaction that comes when you solve a clue. Each clue is like its own little puzzle just waiting to be decoded.

 

Event

On the 1st of October, I officially graduated to my full driver’s licence. Given that I had a clear record after my four free years on a probationary licence, I got my full licence for free. It’s been so nice not having to remember to put the P plates on!

There were other lovely things that happened during October, I discuss a few of them at the end of my post Busy Period.

 

Quote

Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.

– Baruch Spinoza

This quote is the epigraph of the book I’ve just started reading, Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker. It resonates with my way of looking at the world and is really just another expression of the golden rule of treating others as you’d like to be treated.

 

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Busy Period

I just started working on my October Favourites post and realised that the last thing I posted was my September Favourites. This means it’s almost a month since I last posted something here. October has been eaten up by the last three weeks of uni semester and a week of swot vac. In those last three weeks of the semester, there was a French oral, a French test, an interview with someone from the Council to Homeless Persons (my fellow students and I did the interviewing), a presentation based on what we learned from that interview, a group presentation on the benefits of data to our lives, and a test on counterfactuals and mixed methods research. Plus, there were final assignments to be getting on with – a 2000-word research project, a 2000-word law reform submission, and a 1500-word French essay.

As if this wasn’t enough, I also delivered a beyondblue presentation at the Doherty Institute, tutored several times per week, and went to soup van every Tuesday night during the last three weeks of uni semester.

Since the semester finished, I’ve been researching, writing, editing, and refining the 2000-word research project and 2000-word law reform submission.

So, you can probably see why I’ve been MIA. My focus has simply been on staying afloat amidst all this busy-ness, something which has not been easy.

I’ve spent a lot of the last four weeks with a headache and with pain in my neck, shoulders and shoulder blades. There have been two migraines and lots of depressing mornings where I’ve woken up to a splitting headache. And given how busy things have been, I am tired. That means rests every day, early nights, and difficulty concentrating on tasks I’m supposed to be doing. It means struggling to exercise because my limbs feel like jelly and I can’t summon enough energy to get my body moving. It also means feeling emotionally numb, feeling so tired that I can’t enjoy things or get angry with them or really react much at all. I’ve also had an ear infection which my fatigue may well have contributed to. Bodies just aren’t as good at fighting off bacteria and viruses when they’re tired.

There have been some positive experiences over the past week or two which have buoyed my mood somewhat, although I can’t say they’ve revived me physically. These have included:

  • Sitting in the car and reading to fill in the time between tutoring and yoga (right near each other and a 15-minute drive away from home). I’ve done this twice now and enjoyed it both times thanks to a good book (I’ll discuss the books in my upcoming favourites post) and perfect evening weather for sitting with the window down and looking out over the park right near my yoga studio.
  • Mum taking me to my favourite cafe (Green Refectory in Sydney Rd, Brunswick) for coffee and cake one afternoon.
  • Meeting my brother in the city for dinner at a Thai place followed by Ben & Jerry’s ice creams which we ate on Swanston St while watching a busker perform. (Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is made with Fairtrade ingredients and the flavour I had, Peanut Butter & Cookies, is actually vegan and absolutely delicious).
  • Meeting up with one of my best friends for lunch and a long walk on a beautifully sunny afternoon.
  • Counting birds for National Bird Week on the Bird Count app. Over the week, I submitted 8 checklists (20 minute duration), seeing 42 different species and a grand total of 923 birds. The bird I saw the most of were musk lorikeets (103), followed by rainbow lorikeets (101), noisy miners (91), little wattlebirds (83), superb fairy wrens (76), white-eared honeyeaters (58) and magpies (44).

There will be another post in a couple of days time once I get my favourites finalised. There are a few other things I’m working on plus more ideas buzzing around my head so there will be more posts coming as life gets slightly less busy.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

September Favourites

Fiction book

Silly Birds, Mad Magpie, or Kookoo Kookaburra by Gregg Dreise

Yes, these are all picture books. I have read other picture books too over the past month, all of which have been written and illustrated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors and artists. These three, written and illustrated by Gregg Dreise, would have to be my favourites because, firstly, the illustrations are beautiful – every page is like a work of art. Secondly, there is a strong moral to each of the stories. Thirdly, this moral in each story is based upon an Aboriginal saying.

  • Silly Birds: “It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys”
  • Kookoo Kookaburra: “Kindness is like a boomerang – if you throw it often, it comes back often. If you never take the chance to throw it, it never comes back”
  • Mad Magpie: “Stay calm like the surface of the water, yet strong like its current. And know that there is a song out there for you”

 

TV

Filthy Rich and Homeless

This is the second series SBS have made of this show. The premise of the series is to give  five high profile Australians an insight into what it is like to be homeless. In the first episode, they are sent out onto the streets for 48 hours with nothing but a sleeping bag and one change of clothes. Then, in the second, they are buddied up with a homeless person so that they can see the world through their eyes. This was the episode I enjoyed the most because it showcases the stories of some pretty incredible individuals. The second episode also features a stint in crisis accommodation. Finally, in episode three, the five are sent to boarding houses and other such accommodation.

The show reflects a lot of what I have seen and learnt from the years I have spent volunteering on a soup van. I hope the show helps people to understand that homelessness can happen to anyone and that the experience of it engenders a sense of hopelessness and perpetual fear which makes it very hard to put the pieces of your life back together.

 

Food

It’s Spring, so asparagus is in season, which means yummy risotto with onion and garlic, asparagus, peas of various sorts (green peas, sugar snaps, snow peas), pine nuts, and goat cheese.

 

Yoga pose

Wide-legged shoulder stand

Shoulder stand is a regular part of my yoga practice but until last week I had never opened my legs wide while doing the pose. Honestly, it was just really fun to do and quite liberating in a way because we rarely have the space or safety to open ourselves up like that.

 

Music

High As Hope by Florence + The Machine

Last month I featured a song from this album, this month I have to say that I am just obsessed with the whole album. I purchased a copy at the beginning of September, and it has been on very high rotation ever since. Choosing a favourite song from the album is too hard, sorry.

 

Self-care action/item

On the recommendation of my psychologist, I downloaded an app called InsightTimer to my phone. It features thousands of meditations, but there’s one in particular I’ve found useful. It’s called Sleep in Peace, Wake with Joy and Completely Relax and is led by Barbara Badolati. I initially found it annoying, so you may too if you try it, but what annoyed me about it is now the reason it’s so useful – it’s very simple and repetitive. Part of me thought it was beneath me given its simplicity and repetitiveness, but simplicity and repetitiveness are a perfect recipe for sleep, which is exactly the aim of the meditation. It doesn’t necessarily put me to sleep, but it definitely puts me in the relaxed state necessary for sleep.

 

Quote

As soon as I read this quote from the wonderful Jackie Huggins, I identified with it.

Writing is my greatest joy. It frees the mind, heart and soul in a manner that only a writer can understand. For me, it is a process in which expression flows from the very core of the spirit and enables others to take a glimpse inside the writer’s world view.

 

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Disability

Just two years ago, I considered the question of whether I have a disability for the first time. When I started at university, I was referred to the Student Equity and Disability Support (SEDS) team for assistance with managing my chronic health issues while studying. Student Equity and Disability Support. Wait, were they telling me I had a disability?

This was news to me. I understood what I had as a chronic health issue, not as a disability, and the idea that I had a disability scared me. I tried to forget about the notion, but the world wouldn’t let me. The concept of disability kept cropping up on television shows and in podcasts. The question ‘Do you have a disability?’ kept appearing on forms and in questionnaires.

So, I began to mull over the concept of disability and subsequently realised that I had a very narrow view of what disability was.

I thought disability was always visible in a person’s body or behaviour. I thought it was a life-long thing. I thought it meant the person could never be independent or autonomous. Finally, I thought of disability as a neat, discrete category of people – either you were disabled or you weren’t.

But it’s not like that at all.  Disability can be hidden and/or invisible. Disability can be temporary. Disability does not necessarily render a person dependent for life. Disability is not a neat, discrete category, it’s better thought of as a spectrum.

Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act (1992) defines disability as:

  • total or partial loss of the person’s bodily or mental functions,
  • total or partial loss of a part of the body,
  • the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness,
  • the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the person’s body,
  • a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction,
  • a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment, or that results in disturbed behaviour.

This definition points to something important – the fact that disability takes numerous and diverse forms, the common thread being a body which does not work as well as it should. And I certainly have a body which does not work as well as it should. The symptoms of my illness are all indications of this:

  • Fatigue/exhaustion
  • Frequent headaches and migraines
  • Shoulder, neck and back pain
  • Muscle aches, particularly in big muscles such as the thighs
  • Brain fog
  • Decreased immunity
  • Poor circulation
  • Tendency to feel light-headed
  • Diarrhoea/constipation
  • Irregular periods
  • Racing, irregular heartbeat
  • Shakiness

Not only are these symptoms disabling in and of themselves, they also cause significant mental and emotional distress and anguish. It is difficult to feel positive, happy and relaxed when I am tired, in pain and so on. It is an effort just to get up in the morning and do the basics such as taking my medication, showering, getting dressed and so on.

So, I’d say that I am disabled. Not profoundly disabled but disabled nonetheless. But part of me worries about saying that I am disabled.

I worry that in doing so I will somehow diminish the seriousness of other people’s disabilities. This is not my intention at all. I do not claim to know what it is like to live anyone’s life but my own.

I also worry about being doubted. People will invisible disabilities, of which mine is an example, are often accused of faking or imagining their disability, of creating it to gain benefits of some kind. While this notion is laughable – I don’t know why anyone would pretend to be disabled, given how difficult being disabled can be – it is also deeply hurtful to be accused of lying about something which has such a profound impact on one’s life and identity.

Finally, I worry that identifying as a person with a disability will negatively impact on my life. If I tick that box on an application form for a job, will I be overlooked? Discrimination is illegal, but it happens nonetheless, and I don’t fit neatly into any of the categories in the Disability Discrimination Act (1992). 

In a sense, I am lucky, because having an invisible disability means I can choose whether or not to disclose it. I can choose to be honest and hope for the best, or I can choose to ‘pass’ as ‘normal’. Both choices have their risks, neither feels entirely comfortable, yet it is a decision I will most likely be faced with at times.

I am also lucky because I may not need to face this conundrum forever. It is possible that my disability will go away, that I will recover from these chronic health issues and go on to live a ‘normal’ life, whatever that means. For many people living with disabilities, this simply is not possible.

Two years ago, I was horrified by the notion that I was disabled. Now, it is a fact I accept – I am disabled. This is a big change of attitude, one which I am glad has happened.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

August Favourites

I read so many good books in August (ten in fact) that I am finding difficult to decide on favourites to include in this post. I’ve narrowed it down to five.

Fiction book

9780702259968Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

Last month, my fiction favourite was also Melissa Lucashenko’s novel Mullumbimby. This month it’s her new offering (only released in July this year). Too Much Lip is a much grittier novel than the former, dealing with some fairly difficult themes including crime, incarceration, sexual abuse, and so on.

The characters are all too real, people who are far from perfect and are just trying to survive. Sadly, the difficulties faced by the characters are similar to those faced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. This book provides an important insight into their struggles, all the while highlighting their resilience and strength in the face of adversity.

Much like Mullumbimby, Too Much Lip was really hard to put down and a pleasure to read.

 

y648Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

This is also a very new release and was also really hard to put down. The novel is partially based on the author’s own life, something which is startling when you consider the book’s content. The narrator is a young boy whose has a missing father; a drug-addicted, troubled mother; a heroin-dealing step-father; a notorious criminal as a baby-sitter; and a brother who doesn’t talk, but instead writes his thoughts in the air with his finger.

The book is totally compelling and I highly recommend it, so long as you’re not afraid to read a book that contains some fairly graphic violence.

 

Non-fiction book

y648 (1)The Power of Hope by Kon Karapanagiotidis

Again, this was a book which I found very hard to put down, finishing it within two days. Kon Karapanagiotidis is the founder of Melbourne’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, an incredible facility which has provided a range of vital services to asylum seekers since 2001.

Kon’s book is indeed full of hope, but he doesn’t shy away from the personal challenges he has faced nor the political and moral challenges we face in Australia and indeed the world.

 

71+9fiPz8sLThe Choice by Edith Eger

This book has been compared with Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, a book with which it certainly shares many similarities. Like Frankl, Eger survived the Holocaust, however she was much younger than him at the time. When her and her fellow prisoners were liberated, she was close to dying. It took her numerous years for her to recover from the trauma, both physical and psychological, of her experiences. Nonetheless, she did, and became a world-renowned psychologist who has used her personal experiences and professional knowledge to help thousands.

 

1144682My Place by Sally Morgan

The final book – sorry for the long list – is a memoir considered an Australian classic. My Place is about Morgan’s life experiences and her journey to understanding her family history and culture. This leads her to explore issues such as the attempted assimilation of Aboriginal people into white Australian society through the institutionalisation of children; the rape of Aboriginal women by white men, often leading to pregnancy; the years of labour done by Aboriginal men and women on stations and properties without adequate, if any, remuneration; and much more.

It is indeed a wonderful book which deserves its title as an Australian classic. It should probably be compulsory reading for all Australians.

 

Podcast

I’ve really been enjoying the Speaking Out podcast which is hosted by Professor Larissa Behrendt, a Gamilaroi/Eualeyai woman who is the Chair of Indigenous Research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney.

There are two segments I listened to recently which I highly recommend. The first, Stolen Generations Demographics, was an interview with the Healing Foundation’s Russell Taylor following the release of a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which details the impacts of the Stolen Generations not only on those who were taken from their families but also their descendants. The statistics paint a stark picture which you can get a snapshot of in this summary on the Healing Foundation website.

The second, The Case for Native Title Reform, was an interview with barrister Tony McAvoy who in 2015 became the first Aboriginal person appointed to the position of Senior Counsel. He is an expert on native title, so the interview provides some valuable insights into some of the key issues with the current native title legislation.

 

TV

There have been a couple of fantastic episodes so far in this series of Anh’s Brush With FameThe first was Anh’s interview with Adam Goodes, a retired Indigenous football player who won two Brownlow medals (the AFL’s highest honour) and was named Australian of the Year in 2014 after standing up against racism. The second was an interview with Dr Munjed Al Muderis, a man who arrived in Australia by boat after fleeing Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and is now a pioneering orthopaedic surgeon.

 

Food

My Birthday cake was delicious – a cinnamony apple and almond cake made by mum.

 

Music

Hunger by Florence + The Machine

Florence has a new album, it’s great just like all the ones before it, and this is a lovely song off the new album.

 

Quote

Despite at times feeling unable to get out of bed and face the world, you’re still here, still going, fighting and using every ounce of your energy to appear normal. This is resilience. Your ability to survive and thrive against the odds is your resilience.

– Kon Karapanagiotidis

 

Love, hope and peace from Emma.