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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.

Facebook is celebrating its 10th birthday today amidst speculation of an impending decline. But the behemoth of social networks is showing no signs of flailing just yet.

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Facebook is one of the first things we check in the mornings and the last, before we go to sleep.

Whether its FOMO, addition or just habit, Facebook has become a stalwart pal for about one sixth of the world’s population, a staggering ‘citizenship’ which could surpass the number of people living in China, the world’s most populous nation, within the next year.

It seems the way people use Facebook is dependent on whether (or not) they grew up with the network. As Seth Fiegerman writes, ‘Facebook’s users seem to be divided into two groups: younger users who are forever connected to people from the past, and older users who are given a powerful tool to reconnect with those they’ve long since lost touch with’.

Having signed up to Facebook at the beginning of 2008, I wasn’t one of the first to jump on the bandwagon. But I did have an account before many of my friends, albeit one I saw as the inferior little sister to my, at the time, beloved Myspace. I actually got a Facebook account to keep in touch with new friends from interstate. Either myself or members of the Sydney clan had to make a move to the dark side (Facebook and Myspace, respectively), and I ended up caving to what I thought was the short straw. About a year later, Myspace became effectively defunct and I found myself pretty proud of my already established Facebook backlog and network.

Nevertheless, I still latched onto Facebook as a way of remaining connected, rather than reigniting long lost friendships from my single digit days. Simultaneously, my peers began to use Facebook as their primary social network, to the point where I’m now connected to hundreds and hundreds of ‘friends’ some of which I’ve either met only once, or haven’t spoken to directly in years. However, every now and then someone I might classify as ‘random’ (a word my mum thinks is ‘soooo Gen Y’) pops up on my newsfeed and I’m kindly reminded of their existence in the world, if not in my life as such.

At the moment, I’m still pretty dependent on Facebook to do what it does best and give me updates and a realtime tracker of what my friends and ‘friends’ are doing with their lives. Ironically, Facebook really shows just how much we’re not doing because we’re too busy updating our online presence through status’, photos and ‘checking in’ to places where we want to be (virtually) seen.

I am not out to diss Facebook. As I said, I’m still thoroughly engaged with, and through, the network to people I’d otherwise have lost contact with. Despite only being a few years out of school, there are so many people I’d have called close friends that I now, rarely see or even speak to. Facebook provides me with that virtual and emotional link to classmates with whom I spent weeks and years, side by side. Someone’s got a new boyfriend, someone else is on exchange, one girl is living abroad and another just qualified as a professional nurse and has already landed the job of her dreams.

When people announce exciting (or even terribly tragic) events on Facebook, there is an almost resurgence and instantaneous spill of camaraderie for those involved. It’s pretty amazing how quickly people come together for someone in need, or to celebrate and congratulate a new couple, job or marriage.

But Facebook also perpetuates a continuous disease of comparison between both strangers and friends. If the aforementioned friend got ‘the’ job while you lucked out, you might feel down. You see a group of old friends catching up without you and checking in somewhere for drinks, and now not only you know you’ve been sidelined, but everybody else in their network does, too.

And social networking is, ironically, incredibly self-centred. While each network proclaims to be about connecting people, they’re all centred around individual users creating a ‘profile’ through which they will portray themselves to the world. Yet whether by intuition, self-protection or devious scheming, what and how we choose to display ourselves online is overwhelmingly self-selected – and if it’s not, you can untag yourself or remove yourself from the group with the click of a button.

So people are choosing profile pictures where they’re pleased with their appearance. They’re checking in only at the places/with people with whom they want to be seen. They’re selectively creating a virtual profile of themselves filled with all the good bits, and only minimal (if any at all) aspects of their vulnerabilities. And as Brené Brown teaches us, there is so much power in vulnerability.

But with over 1.23 billion users worldwide, Facebook is clearly doing something right. The network also hosts thousands of support groups, allows for easy sharing of digital content, and makes inviting friends to your birthday soiree so much easier. Of course, sometimes you’re drowning in events from promoters or can’t see anything on your newsfeed other than bloody memes or videos of friends nek nominating each other, but being so privy at least means you’re kept in the loop… at all times… whether you like it or not.

I suppose what it all comes down to is the power of social networking in creating, building and maintaining relationships between individuals and groups across the globe. In the words of TheFacebook’s multibillionaire founder, Mark Zuckerberg, ‘It’s been amazing to see how people have used Facebook to build a real community and help each other in so many ways’.

Only time will tell if the network survives its terrible teens. Always reinventing itself, Facebook continues to keep up with if not, lead, the Joneses so if it continues to dominate global connectivity into the 2020s, here’s hoping we’re all still interested in those self-appointed popular girls from high school because, who knows? Maybe we’ll even see them settle down some day.

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