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There are so many reasons to talk about mental health and wellbeing.

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Our world is facing anything and everything at once. Big universal issues of poverty, malnutrition, economic crises, disease, unemployment, climate change and outbreaks of war. And communities are suffering overflows of waste, insufficient maternal and child healthcare, inflated petrol prices and supermarket wastage.

I find it incredible that every single person – or dog, cat, ant or any other living, breathing species – is unique. Everyone has their own history, experiences and story to tell. Each person is their own mixture of their parents, friends, extended family, education, culture and religion. It really takes my breath away knowing that each person I speak to, interact or make eye contact with, as well as every person I just pass someone on the street, is one of a kind. And anyone you have heard of, referenced, imagined or backstabbed is, too.

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I’m no saint. Sure, I’ve spoken a bad word about someone behind their back, joked about a person’s shoes being too big, their hair unkempt (although let’s face it, I’m the number one perpetrator of that ‘crime’), and criticised someone’s decisions based on my personal principles. But that’s just it. My judgements, assumptions and assertions are my own, stemming from my personal, social, familial and cultural background. I’m trying to to judge less, and accept and appreciate more. Because if someone is acting safely, in a manner that could be widely considered as socially, ethically and morally just, then really, who are we to judge?

The times are tough and tedious and I think you’d be searching far and wide to find someone who wasn’t in need of a helping hand in one way or another. Maybe your grandmother needs someone to take her grocery shopping because she can’t carry all the bags back to the car/bus/tram. A friend might want a wingman for a first date on Valentine’s Day. Or maybe your loving, caring mother or father might appreciate a phone call from their long, lost daughter or son who they haven’t seen in weeks, despite you living just a couple of suburbs away, across the river.

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I say this because everyone deserves a life – a life where they feel appreciated and loved for who they are, no matter their race, religion, sexual identity, gender, socio-economic status, whether they live in a house, a yurt or they choose a nomadic lifestyle. If someone has committed a crime, they deserve a chance to redeem themselves if they are willing to work towards a better and more sustainable life in which they will contribute positively to society.

And so often, it’s about the words we choose. Naming and shaming does nobody any good. Not one of us is perfect; no one has everything. Social media perpetuates this constant feeling of inferiority, FOMO, hints to us that we’re insignificant in a burgeoning network and sea of faces. But as I said, in each (legitimate) profile picture, is a whole person. A person with unique feelings, thoughts and experiences from which we can learn, and influence in the best ways we know how.

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Alongside all the heavy weights pulling on the world, everyone also has their own troubles and challenges. While I’d love to be able to resolve global conflicts, find a cure for dementia or cancer, or provide a home for all those seeking asylum across the globe, I’m aware of trying to ground myself in reality. That’s not to say one person cannot make an impact, instigate change or contribute to solving any one of an array of international issues. But if that’s a bit overwhelming, maybe we can start closer to home.

Everyone can find themselves in a sticky situation where they’re left feeling vulnerable and alone. For some, this is rare, and these people are lucky. For others, helplessness and struggle seem to be daily battles occurring within the depths of their stomach, their heart, their mind. These people do have a bright future ahead of them. They might just need a leg up over the bushes to see it.

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A huge percentage of the world’s population are facing or coming to terms with mental ill health. Mental health is a precursor for a life where one is appropriately stretched and tested, and is gratified and celebrated in return.

We need to let these people know that while despair can be debilitating, it too, shall pass.

Thankfully, there are thousands and thousands of people across the world who are striving everyday to communicate this message to those who need it. And if you don’t need it now, chances are you or someone you love will need a little shot of hope somewhere down the track.

So many industries and sectors are working their butts off to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and appreciated. Every month, awareness is growing, as are available support groups, networks and healthcare professionals. You might not need that kind of support, and that’s okay too. Sometimes your greatest support can be your puppy, your partner, or even a note pad and pen.

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I second the responses of Thu-Huong Ha, who in December, asked the question, How should we talk about mental health?. Drawing on wisdom from TED speakers, she highlighted the importance of sensitivity, being considerate, and respect when talking about the health of our minds. I suggest this is the same respect and thought we give others who’ve broken a bone and cannot participate in a shopping spree, or those who’ve been diagnosed with a condition that’ll put them out of work for weeks or months at a time.

We do not give up on these physically scarred individuals. Because everyone who is scarred, is also healing. They are one and the same. Healing is a process which only time can propel. But with the right treatment, ointment, love and care, we can all heal, whatever our wound, and in turn, help others to do the same.

Nobody else can tell your story. And it’s okay to ask for help to relocate your voice, your legs and your lungs, so that you can.

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Support Services Australia:

headspace

beyondblue

Black Dog Institute

Butterfly Foundation

twenty10

Lifeline

Kids Helpline

Relationships Australia

International:

Mental Health America

Mind (UK)

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

Canadian Mental Health Association

Or please use Google to find the most direct and appropriate service for you.

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Kids are so often questioned by endearing adults about what they want to be when they grow up. I’d say it’s one of the three most common questions grandparents ask their grandchildren, teachers ask their students, and family-friends ask their younger acquaintances.

There are your stereotypical answers: firefighter, sports star, pop singer. I know I had dreams of becoming a famous entertainer; traveling the world with my entourage, performing to thousands of screaming fans at the world’s biggest arenas. I knew every word to Sk8r Boi, Born To Try, and Bring It All Back. With friends and cousins, I created shows and made tired adults sit through our endless cycles of songs and dances, accompanied by summersaults, and a hairbrush held upright, just below my chin – for authenticity, of course (see below).

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I’m an avid TED fan, and spend my spare moments listening and watching TEDTalks from all over the world. TEDTalks give me insight into the possibilities and opportunities available to me, knowledge about the brain, our emotions, global institutions, personal triumphs, life challenges and revolutions of all sizes and nature, and the chance to gain an understanding and new perspectives about issues so central to our world, past, present and future.

I’ve listened and watched American model Cameron Russell’s TEDTalk time, and time again, (and if you enjoyed my post Like This, I suggest you watch it, too). I love Andrew Solomon’s soliloquy on depression, and Brené Brown on The power of vulnerability.

As the slogan says, the speakers at TED really do have ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’.

Today, I came across a recent TEDxTalk by Logan LaPlante. LaPlante shares his thoughts on this reoccurring concept of asking children what they want to be when they ‘grow up’.

LaPlante explains his philosophy that maybe what we should focus on is making a life, rather than making a living, and suggests that being happy, healthy and engaging in creative practice will help us achieve our life goals in more meaningful and rewarding ways.

Maybe you’ve come across similar ideas somewhere, someplace, sometime. Maybe you think there’s nothing so exceptional about an individual such as LaPlante having developed this point of view.

Except, Logan LaPlante is 13 years old. In Lake Tahoe, California, he lives with his parents and his younger brother, Cody. And, another thing that makes LaPlante’s philosophy so poignant is how he found these principles by which he lives. 

Logan LaPlante

Logan LaPlante

Ask LaPlante what he wants to be when he grows up? Happy. He believes innovation, exploration and experimentation are key aspects of developing a life worth living, and actively pursues his interests through his education.

LaPlante was taken out of the traditional school system at age nine. Now, he is homeschooled, and has coined the method through which he learns, as Hackschooling.

He explains, ‘hackers are people who challenge and change… systems, to make them work differently, to make them work better.’ He says hacking and hackschooling involve adopting an open ‘mindset’ where you’re not afraid to try new things, to get messy.

LaPlante stands by Sir Ken Robinson’s argument that creativity should be just as valued as literacy, and suggests hackschooling as a ‘remix’ or a ‘mash up’ of traditional education, one that  encourages students to develop their passions, take on opportunities, and think outside the square.

He now loves writing, because he was given the opportunity to write about subjects that actually interest him. His favourite ‘class’ is an internship he has one day a week with Big Truck Brand, a global lifestyle and accessories company. He is motivated, stimulated and aware.

LaPlante talks about Dr Roger Walsh’s idea of Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLCs), and has made these principles of learning how to be happy and healthy an integral part his hackschooling philosophy.

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And, as LaPlante says, because it’s a mindset, not a system, ‘the cool part [is] hackschooling can be used by anyone, even traditional schools’.

At its heart, hackschooling is about encouraging kids to follow their passions. It’s about involving young people in the community, drawing on local resources, making learning fun, and trusting that given these opportunities, young people will find their way to make a living as a byproduct of their journey towards creating a meaningful life.

Learning should be hands on, involved, inspiring. We should focus on developing skills and fostering relationships, rather than memorising charts and tables and facts.

Logan LaPlante recognises we’re living in a world in great need of more young people with this hacker mindset, and the benefits it offers individuals, their communities, and the world at large.

If only our Education Minister and (sadly appointed) senior teaching staff such as Christopher Bantick were open to adopting the hacker mindset. I’m sure the world would have a much brighter future.

Last night I uploaded a new profile picture to Facebook.

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The Likes I received were incredible/ridiculous/many. Every time I checked my phone, the Likes had increased. I went out to yoga, put my phone on silent, and by the time I came home an hour and a half later, the number had skyrocketed further, still. As I write, I’m on 209 Likes and 23 extremely generous and complimentary comments. That’s a Like Record for me, the most I’ve had on anything I’ve posted over my five plus years on the social media platform.

So, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is great! People think I’m attractive, people like what I’m wearing, my smile, the composition of the photo, or a combination of all of the above’. It made me feel good, I felt (no pun intended), Liked. I felt more worthy than I had a few hours before, I felt more accepted and somehow, more legitimate, as a valuable, equal member of my peer group, of society, if I can to take it to that extent.

Here’s the problem: I recently had a professional photo shoot at a professional photography studio. I had my hair and make-up done by an ‘artist’, was shot by a professional photographer, and the team used ‘props’ like a fan to blow my hair around, made lighting and furniture adjustments, and positioned me in ways they thought complementary to my figure/features/whatever. Essentially, they directed me into looking ‘good’. The photographer said she had all the knowledge and experience needed to produce the most flattering shots and I was (and still am) grateful for her keeping to her promise.

But, how do I know she succeeded?

Because one of those photographs is the one I made my profile picture less than 24 hours ago. That same one with the most Likes, kind comments and good feelings that have come as a result of the finished product.

Oh, there’s another Like. 210, now.

So, here’s the thing. What does it say about me that this course of events and tiny clicks, minute actions by others, granted, by you, that have led me to feel a significantly increased my self-esteem over a short period of time? How else could I have achieved this sense of okay-ness on my own? Am I so dependent on others that I am unable to pick myself up?

And, perhaps, what does it say about you? Is this a situation you’ve too, been in?

What lesson does it teach me, or us, about our society? About praise, about dependence, about the relationship between looking good and feeling good?

Instant gratification. Social media provides me – and I suspect most of my generation if not everyone active across the various platforms – with comments, Likes, Followers, that give me a sense of achievement. For that second that I’ve got someone else’s attention, I’ve been thought of, considered, mentioned.

Truth is, my presence in your mind probably is only momentary, fleeting if anything was. You’ve no doubt now scrolled down your newsfeed and Liked three other Friends photos, status’ or Shares. But in our fast-moving world, that moment I was present with you is as significant as I can ask for.

But, here’s the thing. Is that person in that picture you Liked actually me? I mean sure, it’s me – the image captures my hair, my face, my favourite clothes, my ring, my posture. But, I’ve been manipulated. Edited. Touched up.

Granted, it wasn’t actually touched up a whole lot. If I had a copy of the original, organic, un-Photoshoped photo, I’d post it here for you to make that judgement yourself. I saw it before editing though, and I’d say they only smoothed out a few blemishes or whatever they deemed to be imperfections on my face or something.

But, what about all these pre-production adjustments? I spent a good 20 minutes getting my hair and make-up perfected before they even considered taking me into the proper studio (for lack of a better word) part of the ‘studio’. Yes, they opted for a fairly natural look (upon request), and they let me bring my own clothes. So, I suppose the final photograph could be considered a fairly realistic representation of who I am. But, what is troubling is knowing that had I uploaded this picture (see below) instead, I’d probably be sitting on a solid, oh, five Likes, if I’m lucky. And they’d most likely be from my nearest and dearest who fit the ‘take me as I am’ brief.

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We’re constantly being bombarded by Photoshopped images of celebrities, by messages of the ‘ideal’ body type, skin colour, hairstyle. We’re told, heck, dictated to, what’s ‘hot’, what’s ‘in’, asked ‘who wore it better’, shown so-and-so’s ‘biggest blunder’.

To be honest, it’s all fucked.

And I can only say this because I play into this culture of externally-identified ideals of perfection and sources of assurance. I’m a victim and an offender but it’s perpetual, it’s enthralling, it’s insane.

We, as a society, have an addiction to judgement. We draw conclusions from un-evidenced or unsubstantiated data. We take thing at face value and buy into advertising, media reporting and gossip without stopping to consider our deeper values or attitudes.

Even when just taking that photo above on my computer’s Photo Booth, I took a couple. I wanted to look my best ‘in a bad situation’ (read; day at home, no make-up, dirty hair). Side note: omfg the temptation to edit that picture was enormous.

But, why is this? I’m not saying we don’t have the right to want to feel beautiful, to feel accepted and to want to be happy. Naturally, that’s an inherent aspect of building one’s self-esteem, something no one should be denied. It’s something principally deeper than that.

It’s more about how we source that emotion, and questioning why we value certain ‘sources’ over others.

And, it’s also about how much we rely on social media for quantified assurance and positive reinforcement.

211 Likes.

I don’t want to play the blame game anymore than I have, nor do I believe this culture has come about as a consequence of a single event/person/aspiration. It’s a process, it’s constantly evolving. And no one is immune (J-Law, case in point).

212 Likes.

I’m not anti-make-up, anti-media, or even anti-Photoshop.

But, if I – or you – can’t upload any picture of ourselves in equal self-confidence, and are dependent on external input to confirm or trash our mood and opinion of ourselves, I think there’s at least something to think about.

 

 

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The response I received on my previous post has been overwhelming. All your words of wisdom have been gratefully appreciated. This is only the beginning of a long, complex journey towards recovery, but my word stands: it will be worth it.

I had an amazing birthday yesterday. I was incredibly spoilt by my parents, family and friends. A week ago, nobody would have believed I’d have been home to celebrate but with the support of those around me, home I was. Thank you to everyone who made contact and gave me their well wishes. It means an enormous amount to have you all by my side. Here’s to an exciting year of growth ahead.

A mere portion of the gifts I received. I now live in a florist!

A mere portion of the gifts I received. I now live in a florist!

Today I Appreciate:

  1. Being with 16 other young women who are making a move on the tough ride over Humpday
  2. Getting back to sleep after an early wakeup
  3. Art Therapy
  4. Getting a headway with sorting things out for university
  5. Feeling heard
  6. Being cared for
  7. Having a warm bed to snuggle up in
  8. Messages and calls of hope from loved ones

Things I Could Do Without:

  1. Guilt
  2. Physical illness
  3. Slipping over in the shower and hurting my bum (TMI?)
  4. Self-pressure
  5. A poor and unreliable internet connection
  6. No Wifi
  7. My laptop battery’s ridiculously short life-span
  8. Ensure

Pleasures of the past have been on my mind recently. Some are once-offs, a lot are series’ or phases or crazes that fled through my time as a child. Some memories are bittersweet, some are vivid while others pale against the background of their time. But here are just some ‘things’ – for lack of a better collective noun – I miss.

  1. Baby-sitters Club books, Karen Brewer and Stoneybrook Academy
  2. So Fresh and Barbie CDs
  3. Lizzie McGuire
  4. Mary-Kate and Ashley books
  5. HMV gift vouchers in metallic colours
  6. Arthur
  7. Barney & Friends
  8. The Ketchup Song (Aserejé) by Las Ketchup
  9. Beanie Kids
  10. Gel pens
  11. S Club 7… “ain’t no party like an S Club party”
  12. The original version of Snake for old Nokias
  13. Pinball on my mum’s old PC laptop
  14. Sunny Boys from the milk-bar after school and snow cones at the Australian Open tennis
  15. The Game of LIFE and Guess Who?
  16. Follow Me by Uncle Kracker – the first pop song I ever knew all the words to
  17. Canned-spaghetti sandwich jaffles
  18. Cheese toasties my Nanna used to cut into boats with sails
  19. Before- and after-school care with Milo milks
  20. Four square
  21. Splice ice-creams
  22. Ice Magic
  23. Monkey bars
  24. Performing shows with friends/cousins for family and friends
  25. Family outings/day-trips
  26. Incursions
  27. Parental permission slips
  28. Baby chinos
  29. Going into mum’s work and being spoilt rotten
  30. Hairbrush microphones
  31. Lime spiders
  32. Ribena
  33. Getting a packet of salt and vinegar chips from the vending machine after swimming in the local pool, with wet hair and a towel swung around my waist
  34. Spider solitaire
  35. MSN
  36. Not knowing your own city well enough such that every trip in made it feel like there was a whole new world you were about to explore
  37. Calling up a friend and getting your parents to speak to arrange a play date
  38. Slumber parties
  39. Feeding the ducks on an extended-family picnic
  40. Looking forward to a trip to Luna Park/a theme park for days in advance
  41. The Drive-In
  42. Baking tiramisu on Italian Day in primary school
  43. Book Week dress up parades
  44. Roll-Ups
  45. Those sucky yoghurt things where you tear off the top and slurp up the dairy
  46. Lip Smackers
  47. Monkey bar blisters
  48. Family road trips
  49. Staying up late enough to hear the number one song on the Hot30 Countdown, just as the clock ticks over to 10pm
  50. Endless energy
  51. Waking up early and actually being ready to start a new day
  52. Lunch orders
  53. Ovalteenies – “nutritious & delicious”, from the tuck shop lunch mothers at morning tea time
  54. Choosing which Teletubbie/Powerpuff Girl/Sex and the City character you wanted to be
  55. Getting a new CD and playing it over and over and over again (e.g. anecdotally, Anthony Callea’s Rain)
  56. Sandpit treasure hunts
  57. School fetes
  58. Junior School discos
  59. The Black Seat outside the principal’s office
  60. Kopiko and White Rabbit Cream Candy
  61. Hall – a subject we had at my first school that was just literally semi-structured play time in a huge hall where there was gymnastics equipment, a stage, art materials, things to play ‘shop’, and an old typewriter that I seem to remember was pretty popular
  62. Plaster fun houses
  63. Relative fearlessness
  64. Seeing someone with their/getting your hair braided and beaded, and knowing they’d just come back from a tropical, exotic island holiday (and then seeing how long you could leave it in before your mum told you it was getting too knotty beyond presentable standards)
  65. Running through the sprinkler during a hot Aussie summer in the backyard
  66. Choosing (in advance) what I wanted for dinner on the night I arrived home from camp after a week of dehydrated, mass-produced meals
  67. Moving the TV into the living room for the 2000 Sydney Olympics
  68. Solitary tea parties with my dollies
  69. Loosing track of time and not worrying about how much/little time there was to do something/anything/everything
  70. Lining up in pairs to enter the classroom
  71. Sitting on a bag of rice in the back seat of my dad’s car so I could see the world – like a booster seat, just made of uncooked, edible grains
  72. Kneeling on a stool to reach the stove top and cooking and stirring the Béchamel sauce with my dad
  73. Judy Blume books
  74. Voting for class captains/library monitors/SRC representatives
  75. Guess How Much I Love You

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Additionally, here are two pieces I wrote for artsHub this week:

Name Your Price for Leading Literary Journals <— this is super good value for all you bookworms

Grants Support INternational Opportunities for Victorian Artists

So today I met the most amazing guy while I was out shopping. I always thought people who say everything happens for a reason were kind of crazy but my mind’s spun 360. I’d just bought a top from Sportsgirl and as I walked out of the store, I turned my head to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind. My legs didn’t quite get the message so I kept moving forward while I was looking the other way, and what do you know? I bumped straight in to McDreamy. He had brown hair with a cute little curl down by his ears and his eyes were bright blue. He wore a black jacket with burgundy jeans and a little beanie, in a deep emerald that brought out his eyes. And then he said to me, ‘You look so hot today, Esther. Like a sunrise”.

Okay, clearly the above is a total coup and while I’m hesitant to publish such utter crap, and don’t want to be labelled as the girl who cried wolf, I’m interested to know how many people will click to ‘read more’ after scanning those opening lines. Ps. I promise I’ll never do it again.

This long weekend has been a chance to rest and recuperate (from what specifically, I’m not sure, just ‘life’ I suppose). I’ve been to a photographic exhibition, seen friends, celebrated a few birthdays and spent time reading. I thought I’d post a little recap of some things that have caught my eye or ear over the past week or so. So without further ado, here’s my What’s Hot? list for the Queen’s Birthday weekend of 2013.

1. You may or may not have been aware that we were given a whole day off today to watch the incredible talent of Broadway, by way of the Tony Awards. In fear of spoiling the results for those hungover and still in bed, or studying for an exam this week, I won’t say too much. But in case you were tossing up as to whether or not to watch the awards, here’s the ceremony’s opening number from the ridiculously innovative and entertaining Neil Patrick Harris. So much love for Lin-Manuel Miranda and his ridiculous lyrics.

2. I’ve also been listening to lots of podcasts. I’ve written about podcasting before, but I want to reiterate that it’s such a good way to catch up on news and cultural debates. Podcasts also open up windows of opportunity for you to gain insight into niche fields of study and enquiry. Some of my recent favourites are as follows:

3. On Twitter I’ve (Re-)Tweeted links to Dumbo Feather’s What Does Money Mean To You?, Steve Colquhoun’s piece, Is shiny Apple rotting at its core?, this short film about Zach Sobiech who said “You don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living”, and Mental Floss’ Five Hit Songs, Translated.

4. This pin has been repinned from one of my Pinterest boards 46 times and liked seven times.

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6. Here’s a Greenhouse made of caramelised sugar.

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7. And here’s a collection of cupboards, drawers, fridges and ovens. Click on the picture for more in  Erik Klein Wolterink‘s photographic series.

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Hope you’ve relished your last long weekend until November, Melbournians.

You can follow me on Twitter @estherlf or on Pinterest here.