The Gift

Green Sea Anemone.jpg

She was a small girl in a baggy blue bikini. Her little breathing belly hung a bit over the front of her blue and white checky pants.

She was standing on the shore contemplating the sea anemones and she squatted down to get a closer look. She didn’t have her glasses on, so she had to get down really close, and she squinted. The sun was hot and she could feel her shoulders and back tingling with the heat.

“It’s gunna crack the ton today”. This from her big brother whose smooth brown legs with their downy blonde hairs appeared beside her.

“What?” She shifted her focus from the anemones and looked up at him.

Every day this summer she’d woken up feeling squeaky with excitement and before she’d even run down the steps to the landing and into the toilet, she scrambled into her bathers. Sometimes they were still damp and sandy from the day before and they were a bit hard to put on. She’d get the top all tangled up. She’d grab her blue towelling hat and smear zinc cream on her nose.

One day, just as she had successfully wrestled her chest into her bikini top, Sean had charged into her bedroom and said “Come on Jules, we need to go now. Right now”.

It was barely dawn.  “What, without breakfast? Does Mum know?”

“Nah, no breakfast; we’ll get something later. Come On. Where’s ya hat?”

He hurried her out of the house and down the back lane. Church Street was deserted and quiet at this time of the morning, none of the shops were open yet. The street had an eerie, expectant feel as if it was lying in wait for the day to get going, as if it had something planned for the people yet to get up and start their mornings. Something that they wouldn’t get up for if they knew about it beforehand.

Sean and Julie walked hand in hand down the street and turned left when they got to the church, and then made for the beach. She was 5 and he was 8, and she had to run and skip a bit to keep up with him.

“Why are we going so fast?” she asked, panting.

“I wanna show you something, I don’t want you to miss out on seeing it”.

“Oh, what is it? Is it a s’prise?”

“Yeah, I reckon it will be. Come on, walk a bit faster Jules”.

They got to Beach Road, it was still so early, so still. And because of that there was no traffic and they didn’t have to run across to the middle of the road and stand on the traffic island, hopping from foot to foot on the hot bitumen waiting for the cars coming the other way. They crossed the road and walked down the sandy track that led to the back of the bathing boxes and then the sand.

“Are you ready Jules?” Sean let go of his sister’s hand and led the way to the front of the beach house.

“Yes! I’m ready” she whispered. She felt as though she was about to see something very big, too big for her to even imagine. She hesitated until finally Sean had to grab her by the hand again and push her through the narrow gap between the beach huts. She fell into the soft sand, and as she looked up she saw before her, hundreds, thousands, maybe a bazillion she thought, of shining, sparkly creatures waving their tendrils in the early morning sun.

Her brother had given her a gift. The gift of a sunrise so beautiful she’d remember it forever, long after he’d stopped talking to her, long after he moved to America with the Soprano, long after the bathing boxes were bulldozed to create a marina.

“Oh the sea anemones! Look how many there are!”

It was very low tide, the sun was glinting off the water and as far as she could see were the creatures she loved. She was in awe, and she crouched down and stuck a finger into the very centre of an anemone and marvelled at the strength of this magical sea animal.

They heard a strange cry and a wail, and turned to see a woman in an old fashioned dress screaming and sobbing, running towards them.

“Kids, kids! Where’s the nearest phone? My bloody shitbox of a car has conked out up there on Beach Road”.

“There’s a phone box at the lifesaving club – up the beach”.

Sean indicated a squat brown building 200 metres from where we were. She turned and ran off in the direction he’d pointed.

“Who was that?” Jules asked. “She was wearing her nightie”.

“Dunno” he said, and looked out to sea. “Jeez it’s hot. It’s gunna crack the ton today”.

4.30pm: Valerie-Dawn Morton

therapist-couchDr Angela Monahan groaned as she checked her calendar for the day. Valerie-Dawn Morton at 4.30. Christ. Bugger. Shit.

Angela was burning out fast and she knew it. Valerie-Dawn was her least favourite patient. It wasn’t because Valerie-Dawn was depressed, or anxious, or traumatised from being seriously bullied when she was a kid. It wasn’t because she cried at work every day, or that she didn’t have any friends, or that she complained incessantly at every session about her depression, the crying and that she didn’t have any friends. It was because she was fat. That was it. Valerie-Dawn was fat.

“I’m a fattist”, thought Angela. “A fattist arsehole. Dr Angela Fattist Arsehole”, she added. She had a couple of really, really fat clients.  Like not just big. These people were massive. Corpulent. Morbidly obese, couldn’t- fit- their –arses- in- Angela’s -counselling -chair type of fat.

Valerie-Dawn had first come to see Angela because she wanted to lose weight. She was depressed and anxious and traumatised from being bullied, but Valerie-Dawn wouldn’t have that, she just wanted to lose weight. Angela liked to start where her clients were at, so she went with it and hypothesised to herself that they’d get to the trauma eventually.

“So, Valerie-Dawn, what do you think your life be like if you lost weight?” Angela asked her at about 4.35pm that afternoon.

“Well, I’d be thinner” said Valerie Dawn emphatically.

“And, what would life be like if you were thinner”?

“Well, I’d look better, wouldn’t I?”

“And if you were thinner, your life would be…”

“What?” spat Valerie-Dawn.

“You tell me what life would be like if you were thinner”.

“Well…….um… I…. I might like myself better” said Valerie Dawn quietly.

“Ah, and if you liked yourself better…”

Valerie-Dawn looked as though she might cry. Angela sat still and gazed at her. Her thoughts wandered. Jabba the Hutt came to mind and she marvelled that Jabba the Hutt was crying. Or was it that big fat wrinkly alien from Dr Who, whose name escaped her just then?  Maybe Valerie-Dawn was a combination of the two, mixed in with a bit of sumo wrestler and one of those dogs that have hundreds of wrinkly skin folds that get infected and cover the poor little bastard’s eyes – a Shar-pei or something. Valerie-Dawn had wrinkly jowls like a Shar-pei, and Angela could see that Valerie-Dawn’s cankles had grown since the last time she’d seen her.  Must be retaining fluid, she thought.

Valerie-Dawn’s corpulent face was getting red and there was snot streaming from her nose and her chin was wobbling from the effort of trying not to cry. She screwed up her eyes and shouted.

“I might like myself better! I’ll like myself!”

Angela started slightly, recovered quickly, and nodded. “And if you liked yourself, then…”

There was silence for a few moments and Valerie-Dawn heaved her enormous bosom and shifted her massive bottom in the chair a little, well, as much as her squashed hips would allow. She looked at Angela with hatred, with vitriol, and opened her mouth. Angela thought Valerie-Dawn might vomit.

“But I don’t fucken like myself do I? I fucken hate myself!”

Angela waited, knowing there was more.

“You know what? I had chocolate Freddos for breakfast today, and I had six Krispy Kremes at morning tea; there was a farewell for Damien who’s leaving. I took the leftovers, I took the box of leftover Krispy Kremes into the toilets and I ate them in there so no-one could see me. I felt sick but I just stuffed them in.  And I had a chicken schnitzel sandwich and a bucket of chips for lunch, and tonight I’m gunna have dim sims”. Valerie Dawn was panting and she folded her arms across her chest.

“Jesus”, thought Angela. She couldn’t bring herself to ask the next “what would life be like”? question.

“You really do hate yourself don’t you?” she asked instead.

Then, Valerie-Dawn did something Angela had never seen an adult do. Valerie-Dawn heaved a huge deep breath in, and then held it. Her face blew out like a giant scarlet puffer-fish. Angela waited for the exhalation, but it didn’t come. She was used to sitting in silence, letting the story formulate, so she decided to just sit and wait.

Angela was fascinated and stared at Valerie-Dawn’s big round face and her tiny piggy eyes and her now-puce skin. And she waited. And still Valerie-Dawn didn’t breathe.

“Exhale Valerie-Dawn. Exhale” commanded Angela. “Valerie-Dawn! Breathe out”.

But Valerie-Dawn would not. Angela could see beads of sweat gathering above Valerie-Dawn’s pale, sparse eyebrows. Angela got out of her chair, walked across the room to Valerie- Dawn and crouched down, her face even with Valerie-Dawn’s and blew hard and suddenly into her face.  It was something she used to do when her cat was a kitten, and wouldn’t retract its claws out of Angela’s arm when she was playing with her.  Like a circuit breaker. Angela wasn’t sure if there was anything in the psychology literature about this technique, but she did it anyway.

Valerie-Dawn let out a huge, stale breath and Angela rocked back on her heels. She felt like she was trapped in a wind tunnel. Valerie-Dawn wobbled her head a little and Angela could see her massive chest and stomach heaving, as she struggled to regain control of her breath.

Angela returned to her chair and gazed at Valerie-Dawn, feeling a little in awe of Valerie-Dawn’s steely determination to stop breathing; the colour of her face, the way she’d just suddenly made the decision to hold her breath. Valerie-Dawn was panting, and Angela was aware of her own heart racing and she made a conscious decision to breathe slowly and deeply and within a few moments Valerie-Dawn was mirroring her, and she began to relax a bit.

“I need to go to the toilet” said Valerie-Dawn. She extricated herself from her chair and opened the door of the consulting room. “Where’s the key?”

Angela got up and retrieved the key to the women’s toilets from behind reception, and watched Valerie-Dawn limp, like a penguin swaying from side to side, out the backdoor and up the pathway to the toilet block.

“Jesus Christ on a bike”, thought Angela, and went back into her room and picked up her phone to text her partner.

“Jesus” she wrote. “Valerie-Jabba the Hutt–Dawn just tried to kill herself in my office”.

“WTF?” wrote Claire. “Are you ok? What happened?”

Angela liked that Claire asked first if she was ok, and then what happened. Claire was good like that. Claire is a much better therapist than me, she thought.  Claire is a good person. Be like Claire, she thought.

“She just held her breath and went purple”.

“What? Where is she now?”

“In the toilet”.

“Christ! Did she really think she’d suicide by doing that? Holding her breath like a little kid?”

“Dunno. I’ll ask her in a minute. See you at home honey. Oi vey”.

Angela could hear Valerie-Dawn clumping back across the wooden floorboards of the waiting room, toss the key on the reception desk and then wobbled her way back into the room. She slumped heavily into the chair.

“Do you want some water”?

“Nuh”. Angela poured some anyway.

The two women stared at each other, Valerie-Dawn’s eyes narrowed and she put her tongue into the inside of her cheek, and pushed her head back into the chair. This action gave her an extra chin. This was Valerie-Dawn’s defiant look, and it pissed Angela off no end. But Angela decided she needed to admonish herself for being such an arrogant fattist; this woman needed her help, not her condemnation. But, she also wanted to see how long Valerie-Dawn could hold her breath.  She wrestled with her conscience a few moments, picked up her pen and notepad, crossed her legs and cleared her throat.

“So, Valerie-Dawn”, began Angela, “what do you think your life would be like if you keep on hating yourself?”

 

Domestic violence

Stop with the “#notallmen” already!

I’m becoming more and more irritated by the “not all men” whiney rants that pop up whenever anything is written or discussed, particularly on social media, about violence against women.  Violence and murder is perpetrated on thousands of women and children in our country every day, and the #notallmen responses are infuriating.

“Not all men”/ #notallmen is dismissive and extremely unhelpful. And, if I hear another “I don’t know any men who do this sort of thing”, from a man or a woman, I shall scream. It’s confronting and uncomfortable to think that someone you might know, or know of, would do such things. But you know what, just because you may not know someone who uses violence to control and punish doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen! Not all rapists and domestic violence perpetrators actually tell you what they are doing; in fact, most don’t.  And they do their best to make sure their victims don’t tell either.

The sorts of serious criminal offences that are committed against women and children on a regular basis in Australia include rape, battery, assault, imprisonment, kidnapping, destroying property, harming family pets, and theft. Serious crimes. Add name-calling, putdowns, shouting, financial, emotional and verbal abuse and we have something ineptly named “domestic” or “family” violence. Feminist author Judith Hermann had it right when she called it “domestic terrorism” back in 1992.

“Not all men” is a galling interruption to important conversations about sexism, misogyny, women’s rights and abuse of children. “Not all men” redirects the discussion to “it’s not my (men’s) fault”. “It’s not my fault that women get raped, suffer violence, get killed”, etc, etc, etc.  #notallmen serves to shift the focus of the conversation, instead of getting people to engage with what is actually happening: an epidemic that is huge and seemingly unfuckingstoppable. An epidemic of murder, rape and abuse of hundreds of thousands of women and girls in Australia, every day.

Why are we (and I mean our government and our society, not the small number of underfunded services that try and assist victims of violence) doing so little about this terrible scourge that causes so much physical and psychological pain that then damages generations of us?

Ok already, we know it’s not all men. The majority of rapes are perpetrated by men; the majority of domestic violence is perpetrated by men; the majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by men; the majority of all violent crime is perpetrated by men. The statistics in Australia are horrible and unbearably sad. Two women a week are murdered, usually by men who are known to them. 87% of domestic violence victims are women whose perpetrators are known to them, usually their intimate male partner. One in three women has experienced some sort of violence since the age of 15 – that’s nearly 4 million Australian women. One in five women have been stalked, many by their current or previous male partner. Fathers, stepfathers and male relatives make up the majority of perpetrators of females under the age of 15. Two million women experience unwanted sexual touching, mostly by men, each year. The Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Bureau of Statistics tell us that the available statistical data relating to sexual assault research is likely to be an underestimation.

I’m not denying that some women perpetrate violent and sexual crimes. This is of course far from acceptable.  However, what I, and many feminist writers more eloquent than I (and without the swearing) are saying is that the titanic majority of these crimes ARE COMMITTED BY MEN.  (Not sorry for yelling).

So stop being male apologists.  Stop with the #notallmen bullshit and engage in the discussion.  Be outraged that this epidemic goes on unchecked. Be furious that we are sentencing generations of women, girls and children to lifetimes of terror and despair. Do something. Get real. That puny, snivelling hashtag won’t save lives.

*I didn’t make up any of the stats I used in this post.  Given that most of the research I read said that the incidences of domestic and sexual violence appear to be increasing, the stats are probably higher in 2015.  Here’s where I got them from:

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004 and 2012

Australian Institute of Family Studies 2012

Herman, J (1992) Trauma and Recovery, Basic Books: USA

www.dvrc.org.au (Domestic Violence resource Centre Victoria) 2015

**Photo credit: Huffington Post UK

 

Cake cropped

The brides wore purple…and black!

Today is a very significant anniversary of a very personal, yet political act. Come with me, I’d like to share it with you…

After 4 months of whirlwind preparation, 1 April 2010 dawned bright and clear…a gorgeous autumn day and the beginning of the Easter weekend…it was the day of our Civil Partnership Ceremony, though we loudly and proudly called it a wedding – and a wedding it was for sure!

We were two brides – who were “given away” and “walked down the aisle” by our Mums; there was a bevy of brides’ babes including a best woman and a best bride dude; and a beautiful throng of family and friends who witnessed a very personal; and very special ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery here in Canberra.  Our celebrant was Judy Aulich, one of the first registered Civil Partnership Notaries in the ACT.  We even had our photos taken with Labor MLAs Andrew Barr (now Chief Minister) and Simon Corbell – one of which was published in the Canberra Times (who’d have thought we’d be Page 3 girls!) Our ceremony was intimate, our vows to each other were emotional and heartfelt and I’m told there “wasn’t a dry eye in the house!” We had flowers, and a string quartet, and champagne and a sit down dinner. There were messages from some who couldn’t make it; and a bag-pipe playing uncle in the UK sent us a video because he promised he’d pipe at our wedding. We had a band and dancing, there were speeches and songs, some tears, and much laughter. It was a big bash; a very big, important deal.

Why did we do it? A myriad of reasons. Because we could. Because we live in the ACT where our relationship could be legally recognised and celebrated. And mostly because we love each other and we wanted to celebrate that love with people who in turn loved us and cared about us. And maybe because we are both Leos.  And also because, well…“the personal is political”.

Perhaps not many couples would think that having a wedding or getting married is a political act – it is a tradition of human society after all, a contract that men and women have been entering into for many centuries; it’s been a heterosexual rite of passage for a very long time.  For us, having our partnership legally recognised is both a personal and political act – we have brought our personal lives, as a same-sex couple, into the political arena.

In the ACT, prior to November 2009 we could not have a ceremony, led by a duly registered celebrant, which legally recognised our partnership.  That we were being prevented from marrying saddened us immensely. Over the years we have witnessed straight friends marry and we were, and are, very happy for them. However, there was also sorrow (and if we are honest, envy, as well) that we couldn’t celebrate in the ways that they could, and we felt sad (I usually cried) when the celebrants at friends’ weddings would announce: “marriage in this country is between a man and a woman”.  So, we were overjoyed when in late 2009, the ACT Government, with a strong push from the ACT Greens, (and no support from the Federal Labor government) were finally able to enact legislation that enabled same-sex couples to legally celebrate their unions.  And then we made our announcement to our families, and the planning for our wedding began!

So we, the brides, wore purple and black. We looked fabulous! Our gorgeous brides’ babes wore sexy, flirty 50’s- inspired black matte taffeta halter necked swing dresses, and the brides’ dude was handsome in an immaculate black suit and shirt with a purple tie and pocket handkerchief. The youngest member of our bridal party, our little “ring-bringer”,(who incidentally has two mums), wore purple sequins on her white and pink dress.  Our guests included our Mothers; friends and family from all over the globe: Israel, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Wagga-Wagga, the North and Central coasts, Ballarat, and London! And of course all our loved ones from our fair city as well.  We are thankful to them all for helping to make our special day such a wonderful and significant occasion.

There’s still a way to go in Australia before all relationships are considered politically, legally and socially equal. My partner and I can’t yet say we are “married” (though we do!)

As I said in my speech at the wedding:

“Just as once our society didn’t consider Indigenous Australians citizens of their own countries, and inter-racial marriage was frowned on, we believe that the discrimination that still prevents same sex couples from being married will one day no longer exist and we will be able to say to our grand-children: “would you believe that your grandmother and I weren’t even allowed to get married in the early 21st century!!??”

Happy anniversary to us!

Shark in grass

Things I saw in March

This is a bit of a catch up post about “things I saw”. March has been a busy month with work and recovery, a 21st birthday for a precious niece, and a holiday and a training course!

Some of the things I saw were intriguing and beautiful, and some I thought hilarious (it doesn’t take much for me to find things funny!). I was walking along the beach one day and I thought I saw a shark in the grass (see featured picture). As I drew closer I realised it was a surfboard. It had a note on it saying people could borrow it but to please return it to this spot. How nice is that?  Here are a few other things I saw:

a murder of crowsIs this a Murder of Crows or a Coven of Currawongs? They took absolutely no notice of me as a I walked past; there must have been something pretty interesting under that tree.

shortcut shortcut2

I love the way we take shortcuts and here are two I saw this month on the walk from home to work. The first one shows the bike/pedestrian path curving ever so slightly, but no, we will not follow the road we shall create our own path; one that is straight not curved, thank you very much!  The second one makes a beautiful triangular slice from bike path to street. When I was younger a friend lived on a corner block and every day schoolkids would walk across her front yard instead of along the path to turn into the next street. Her oldies were cross and got hot under the collar about this. “There’s a perfectly good footpath for them to use”, fumed her dad. “Yairs”, agreed her mum. Dad constantly threatened to string wire across so their grass would have a chance to come back; but they never did and I’ll bet kids are still cutting that corner.

donateSpotted at the Wesley centre in Sydney. Say no more.

In Mid-March I went on a short crusie to New Caledonia. Here is an example of the towel art found in my cabin on the first day. I think it’s meant to be a seal…

Towel art Sostice March 2015  wake and sunset and this…every morning when I woke and every evening I was so thankful for the opportunity to see the world, or a bit of it anyway, while others cooked for me, cleaned for me, and made it possible for me to be present and enjoying all that my holiday offered.

In Sydney, I happened on Martin Place and I was reminded that just a few months ago three people were killed and more than a dozen people will live with the horror of the Lindt cafe siege for the rest of their days. There was a humble note taped to a post outside the cafe in protest to the despicable comments that Fred Nile, self-described “Christian”, made about some of the hostages who escaped the cafe before the siege ended.

martin plce         martin place 2The note says “Fred Nile keep his mouth shut. Not a threat, a plea from decent Aussies”.

 And spotted in Brisbane this month, the smallest red carpet in the world, and in no uncertain terms, a sign that says “Dogs on skateboards who smoke and drink wine are not permitted in this area”.

no skateboarding dogs                   

Photo credit: me and my iPhone

ollie at beach

Things I saw in February

I love to look around me in this gorgeous world of ours and I am lucky to live in a beautiful part of it. Sometimes I see things that strike me as hilarious, or stunning and amazing, or just plain wtf?  Here are a few things I saw in February 2015:

Near where I live is a lovely walk around a wetlands area, home to an enormous number of creatures and birds. There’s always something to see on this walk but  I was struck one day by two pieces of spraycan writing on the path.F abbottabbot did this

You can just see the absolute inarticulate rage here can’t you? The first was on the footpath, the second on a lovely little spot where people sit and contemplate the ducks and the frogs.  There wasn’t quite enough room for the “s” in “THIS”, but it looks quite arty like it is. But there was certainly enough room to add the extra “T” to our PM’s name. If Abbott really did do this he may have spelled his name correctly.  Get it right angry spray painter!!

I well remember reading “Snugglepot and CuddlepIe” when I was a little tacker and I read it to my own child as well. We loved the fierce “Banksia Men”, and the delicate flower dress of Little Ragged Blossom. These reminded me of those times.

gum nut flowersBanksia man

When my daughter was little, she asked “Are the Banksia Men real”? And when she recognised a tree full of them for the first time she was delighted. “They are real!! Mummy, I thought that was just a made up story”.  We delighted in examining each one very closely, marvelling at how different they all were, and how spot on May Gibbs’ illustrations were.

gumnut blossoms

Kidnapper and Banksia lout

Kidnapper and Banksia lout

The banksia men were pretty fierce in May Gibbs’ story – a lot of angry kidnappers and louts, and in real life they can look fierce too. The one I photographed looks rather benign though – all big lips and kind of friendly.  Maybe this particular one is a peaceful and relaxed Banksia person without kidnapping and mayhem in their background.

In February I was lucky enough to walk along a track, (accompanied of course, by the Frequent Urinator – see featured picture), with million dollar views at the South Coast. Some savvy South coasters have parked picnic tables and chairs alongside the track or out the back of their homes, to take advantage of said views, while they share an ale or a meal with family and friends. The dining furniture ranges in quality and ingenuity, but here are a few of my favourites:

This one’s definitely seen better days…table 5

Who table 1cares what’s on the menu when you can look out at this?

Might get a few splinters with this one:table4

Fancy pants and well-maintained!table3

A few old besser bricks and a bit of wood and we are all set for a Chardy at sunset!

table2

The world is a funny and beautiful place isn’t it?  I look forward to sharing more things “”I saw last week” with you.

Photo credit: me and my iphone; May Gibbs’ illustrations from “Snugglepot and Cuddllepie”.

Compassion with fashion logo

“Compassion with Fashion”: mental health+people+music+gorgeous designs

Compassion isn’t often a word we hear in the same sentence as “Fashion”, so when I first heard of this event, I was intrigued. A Canberra mother and daughter duo had an idea, and that idea crystallised into a fashion parade to raise awareness and funds for mental health. The mother, Erika Zorzit, witnessed her daughter Paris, a young model, being bullied and harassed at school and on social media and supported Paris to find help to deal with the resultant anxiety and depression that followed. Then, “Compassion with Fashion” was born. I was delighted to be invited to speak at the event as a mental health practitioner – here’s what I had to say:

Good evening everyone and thank you Erika for the invitation to speak tonight.

This evening  gives me an opportunity to share with you some of the experiences we’ve had over the years in our clinical practice that complements the work of Compassion with Fashion . At Life Unlimited (our practice name) we specialise in treating depression, anxiety and trauma-related mental health issues, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These conditions come about for a variety of very serious reasons, such as war and combat, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We work with mostly an adult population of clients.

However, in the last few years we are increasingly seeing younger people in our practice whose wise – or perhaps frightened – parents are taking notice of how their children’s mental health is faring in an age of unprecedented technological growth; violence saturated TV, games and movies; the rise and rise of social media and the ever-present spectre of cyber-bullying – all issues that their parents did not have to deal with at the same age.

We’re seeing children as young as ten with eating disorders, teenage girls who are convinced that they need surgery to fix some errant body part, young people who feel stressed and anxious about what their peers think of them based on what they do or don’t look like. And we see adults hamstrung by a perception that they just aren’t good enough because their appearance, behaviour or knowledge doesn’t fit someone else’s norm.

According to last year’s national survey of young people, conducted by Mission Australia, coping with stress was the top issue of concern, with body image coming in third after school or study problems.  Unaddressed, we know this can lead to adults struggling with stress, study or work problems, and body image.

Because of tonight’s theme and the drivers leading to this fabulous event, let me share some brief thoughts about body image, mental health and some of the ways we work with our clients.

It strikes me that each year, we seem to get a new name for those unruly bits of our bodies that women especially, are expected to subdue with diet and exercise.  Remember the muffin top? Geez, if you had one of those you were doomed. And last year we had the advent of the “thigh gap”, aided and abetted by Photoshop and airbrushing, and no doubt for many women, extreme diet and exercise!  There’s also a thing called the “Bikini Bridge” – look it up, it really is a thing – I have no words right now to talk about that!  And gents, you are certainly not off the hook, there are plenty of sources on the internet that tell you if you haven’t got a pec implant, a calf re-sculpture or your neck hair removed, well apparently, you are not a 21st century man!

However, do you know what this year’s hands-down, most unruly body part is? Apparently, we now have to get rid of a pesky part of our anatomy called the mons pubis – that’s the soft fleshy bit under our pubic bones – feel free to find it ladies, maybe in the privacy of your own home but here if you want to.  I mean, there’s a really good reason it’s there – like cushioning and protecting our pubic bone and our reproductive organs!!  But we’re now being told that we can have surgery to rid ourselves of our fat/huge/enlarged/gross mons pubis!!

You know, mention any body part and we can point to someone who is making a great deal of money by telling us that we look wrong and we need to “fix” ourselves. We are exhorted to work it out, tone it, tan it, bleach it, tattoo it, cut it, cauterise it, remove all the hair, replace it, enhance it, get rid of anything that just might jiggle.  Body-shaming is big business.

Read any popular magazine or e-zine and we find that exercise has absolutely no status anymore as a pleasurable activity. It’s another way for us to manipulate our bodies, another vehicle of self-torture. It seems exercise is less about being healthy and feeling good in our skin than about an emphasis on looking good to others, or fitting some warped image of what we think is sexy or “ideal”. When we focus on how we look rather than how we feel, we’re much more at risk of flogging our bodies for the sake of beauty.

A relentless pursuit of a “bikini body” is not likely to give us a lasting relationship with our bodies. Nor is it any kind of sustainable health pursuit. To get a truly joyful relationship with our bodies, we need to focus more on our internal experiences, not the external.

When a woman comes to our practice, and we start defining her therapy and health goals, many women put “I want to lose weight” somewhere near the top of the list.  There are a couple of things I say in response – and one seems pretty brutal. “You know”, I say, “losing weight is a dead person’s goal; I guarantee you will lose weight when you are dead”.

Then I ask: What about in the meantime? What about now? What would your life look like if you did lose the ten kilos or however much you think you need to lose? Invariably we get answers like these: I will be fitter. I’ll have more energy. I’ll be able to run around with my kids. I’ll feel better. My health will improve.

So, instead of focussing on losing weight, we focus on gaining life.  What do you need to do to get fitter, what activities give you more energy? If you never had to think about losing weight again, what would you do differently?  Some of the “aha” moments our clients get when they answer these questions are sometimes funny, sometimes sad and poignant.  Here’s a few examples:

If I never had to think about losing weight again…

  • I’d go to the gym/beach/the river/the mountains
  • I’d wear a bikini and go swimming – maybe I’d skip the suit and skinny-dip!
  • I’d make love to my partner
  • I’d dance/I’d run/I’d hike
  • I’d audition for a play/join a choir/learn an instrument
  • I wouldn’t be depressed/anxious/stressed
  • I’d enrol in uni
  • I’d look for a new job
  • I would love summer
  • I’d wear sleeveless shirts
  • I’d go overseas
  • I’d be in the photo instead of taking it
  • I’d stop avoiding people
  • I wouldn’t hide anymore

We soon see how very life limiting the whole idea of “losing weight” is. All these answers our clients bring are about living life, engaging with people, places and things that have meaning and bring them joy and purpose. Once we become clear about what is really and truly important, we focus on what we value – our family, friends, health, community, relationships, culture, learning – and begin to live a life that is not constrained by an external view of what we should be or look like.

It’s time we start having a more complex view of ourselves as men and women – and valuing what our bodies can do for us, looking at what brings meaning and purpose to our lives, what we can contribute, and actually living a life of meaning and purpose.  We need to appreciate beauty, of course we do, but let’s not denigrate ourselves if we are not someone else’s “ideal” of what beauty is.

I’d like to end with a couple of favourite quotes. The first is from JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series.

“Is “fat” really the worst thing a human can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil or cruel? Not to me”.

And this by writer Anne Lamott:

“oh my god, what if you wake up one day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written, or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart! Don’t let this happen!”

Thanks for listening; enjoy the rest of your evening.

Photo credit: “Compassion with Fashion” http://www.compassionwithfashion.org

Off we go

Two weeks off

Downstairs the house smelled of wet dog and mould, and unwashed socks that had been worn too many times.  I didn’t care. That was what Exit Mould and Pine-o-clean were for. I bought bottles of the stuff and cans of Glen 20 and I washed and dried everything, including the dog, and I shut fast that room with its smell of ancient foot odour.

I went for long, punishing walks with the dog. He had to run to keep up with me and he was only small – a maltese terrier -type crossed with something or other. He had a penchant for bullying much larger dogs and was annoyed when I didn’t let him off the leash to run after what he thought were fair game. I’d learned my lesson last year when he decided to take on a huge mastiff. She weighed ten of him, with a head the size of a basketball.  I was the one left with the 800 dollar vet bill, a mutt with a plastic collar of shame around his neck and a drain in his chest, and an earful of virulent abuse from the mastiff’s owner.

Occasionally he’d balk at the pace as we pounded along the beach or the bush tracks behind the dunes. I’d play Green Day as loud as my ears could bear, so I wouldn’t have to think or feel or hear anything else but Jesus of Suburbia and American Idiot. With my headphones, sunglasses and a hat jammed on my head I could be anonymous and separate.  Every now and then, the leash would jerk and pull my arm backward. I’d turn to see the dog sitting stubbornly in the middle of the track and he’d look at me balefully as if to say “slow the fuck down, will ya?” I’d jerk the leash back my way, and off we’d go again. I did not slow the fuck down, and he with his tongue sticking out, bright red and dripping, had no choice but to run or be dragged. I’d make him jog along the shoreline and he kept a wary eye out for any encroaching waves, for he hated to get wet and would bark in a shrill voice at me if I got too close to the water.

When we eventually returned home, the dog would throw himself onto the tiles downstairs in an effort to get cool, panting mightily. When he thought I wasn’t looking he’d curl up on the couch.  And then he’d sleep for hours and hours, only occasionally shifting to get more comfortable. Sometimes his legs would jerk and his body shuddered as if he was having a mini-seizure, and he’d moan in his sleep.  I took to walking by myself in the afternoons so  the dog could rest and I could trudge along unimpeded, without the need to examine other animals’ excrement or stop to wee on fence posts .

We were both a little leaner at the end of those two weeks.

*Picture credit: me and my iPhone

cricket

Girls don’t play cricket!

I’ve struck up quite a relationship with my physiotherapist in the last couple of months, as you do when you go there for twice weekly torture, er, treatment,  to get back some movement and minimise stiffness in the arm I shattered a few months ago. She is as determined as I to contradict the surgeon who told me optimistically that I’d never get more than 80% function back in my arm and that I’d get arthritis in my elbow before too long.  So, she is working her damndest to get my flexion and extension as near a hundred percent as possible. And that’s hard when you’re dealing with an arm and elbow that seems to have more metal in it than a hardware store.

So to counter the excruciating pain the treatment brings, we often chat. To take my mind off the fact that it feels like she is breaking my arm all over again, and also we like to have a yak. About our families, work, the news, and so on. The other day we were talking about what we each did over the Christmas holidays and she’s had a lovely break from work and she’d played cricket with her three year old son. As you do, as so many Australian families do at Christmas; after the meal there’s the big backyard bash. Everyone from Grandad to the youngest gets in on the action. It’s tradition. You use a tennis ball (don’t want to break any windows on Christmas Day) and the stumps are an eskie or the barbecue, or they’re real ones that someone got from Santa that very morning. Hit it on to the roof or over the fence and you’re out. Backyard rules apply.

Her son, remember he’s three, had been at the crease for quite a while and his mum said, “OK darling, it’s Mummy’s turn to bat now”. Three year old gives his mother a withering stare and says “No. Girls don’t play cricket Mummy, they sit down and watch”. She was stumped, pun totally intended.

It starts young. We both felt outraged, but what is this little fella’s reference for cricket playing? He’s never seen women or girls play cricket. His Dad’s an avid fan and junior has watched the cricket on TV along with him. No women to be seen. Except a few in the crowd, who are sitting down, watching.  Just like he told his mum.  He probably thinks girls don’t play football either (any of the codes), or basketball or baseball. The two sports he might know that girls play could be tennis or netball. Maybe.

Sexism is insidious. This little boy doesn’t even know he’s doing it. For him, it just is. Sport is one aspect where women are virtually invisible (soon to be more invisible with the loss in 2015 of the ABC’s coverage of women’s basketball and soccer). This is what girls and boys grow up with. Boys and men play, girls and women watch.

Women have been playing cricket in an Australian national team since 1934, and our women’s team won the world cup last year. There been a “W-league” (curiously, men’s sporting codes are never called the “M-league”) competition in Australia for professional basketball for 34 years. Lauren Jackson is our greatest player. She’s played in the American League for years and she’s been a WNBA (USA) All-star and Champion many times over.  Lauren earns a massive six figure salary. She’s also an Olympian and has represented her country. She’s currently back in Australia playing for the Canberra Capitals. Is that enough to keep women’s basketball on TV? Is it enough for a little boy to grow up seeing women play sport on TV? No and no.

There’s a National women’s football (soccer) team in Australia – the Matildas – who played their first international match in 1979. They’re in the World Cup this year.  We have a national W-league for soccer too. Our own Canberra United team has won the Grand final three times in the last six years. They’re semi-professional, several players are Matildas, some of them have played in the professional league in the USA, but they don’t get paid much. They all work or study and fit in a gruelling training regime, and they are tough, strong, fast, fit elite athletes and they play an exciting skilful game. But we won’t be seeing them on TV any more either.

If we don’t want our children growing up thinking girls don’t play sport (and certainly not seriously, professionally) we need to show them that indeed girls do. And they’re good at it, and they train as hard as men. TV is a strong and powerful medium that can teach us so much. It is part of our daily lives. Kids watch heaps of it.  Unfortunately there are even less female sporting role models on TV now. And more and more children will grow up believing that girls don’t play cricket (or football, or soccer or basketball); they just sit down and watch it.

*Photo credit: smh.com.au

summernats

Sum, sum, Summernatstime

It’s summer, it’s the beginning of the year, half of Canberra’s gone to the coast and there’s a lot of big, shiny, noisy cars on the roads. This can only mean one thing…it’s Summernats time.

Canberra seems to have a love-hate relationship with Summernats.  Short for Summer Nationals, the annual car festival attracts tens of thousands of people and their street machines to the capital at the beginning of every year. It’s either “oh God, those petrol head bogans are here again wasting fuel and making a noise” or “oh those Summernats, they’re only here for a few days, they’re good for the economy” ($15 million bucks this year, I hear).  People who live in the north, and who haven’t gone to the coast, complain about the noise, and the smoke from the burnout comps and not being able to get a park at Dickson shops because the ‘nats are all there buying beer, and eskies and snags and bread rolls and ice.

I saw my first Summernats “street cruise”, which was definitely unofficial, about 20-odd years ago, just after the birth of my daughter.  The “cruise” involved a whole lot of hotted up cars driving from Watson, where the event is held, into the city and back again.  We sauntered out in the late afternoon, up to Northbourne Avenue, and were most surprised to see quite a throng of people lining the road, some with deck chairs and picnics and drinks, waiting for the cars to arrive. This is quite the big deal, I thought. What’s the attraction?  I heard the cars before I saw them, and covered the sleeping baby’s ears, for fear her very new eardrums would burst.

What I saw next was a stream of cars, some very shiny, and some that looked like an old boyfriend’s 2-door Torana and I wondered what was so special about a car in which I had sped around Melbourne in my youth.  With no exception, every car was driven by a man, a young man at that, with three or four other young men in the back, arms hanging out the window waving their VBs and their cans of rum and cokes. Seems chicks didn’t feature at Summernats, except on the roadside watching the parade. Perhaps this was the petrol head equivalent of surf culture at the time? The boys did all the fun stuff and the girls sat on the beach, looking pretty and waiting.

The cars of young men zoomed by. And with rare exception, every backseat rallying cry was “Show us ya tits! Show us ya tits!” One of them even had a Chucky-esque doll which he waved out the back of a purple panel van.  The doll’s t-shirt was controlled by a string and when the doll’s handler pulled the said string: voila! the t-shirt rolled up and Chucky yelled , yep you guessed it: “Show us ya tits!”

I was not impressed, especially as a young, exhausted breast-feeding mother with a six week old baby in her arms. “You can tell who the bottle-fed boys are”, I said to her.  I didn’t pay all that much attention to Summernats after that year, except when I was living in the north and hadn’t gone to the coast and sat somewhere between “God that incessant revving is annoying”, and “they’re buying up big at the IGA, that’s gotta be good for the local shops”

Fast forward to 2015, and the “City Cruise” is now very official. Police sanctioned, intersections are closed off, and there are barriers in the city for onlookers to stand behind. The Cruise is executed with precision and a police escort, front and rear. There’ll be no funny business – no speeding, no burnouts, no undue noise, no offending the locals. It’s done and dusted within half an hour. It’s a far cry from the one I first saw which seemed to last several, higgledy piggledy hours, and if I remember rightly culminated in a bit of a riot and someone swinging from the traffic lights at Antill Street. This year 200 cars drove sedately, though at quite a clip, along Northbourne Ave; people complained it was too fast to take pictures.

I stood on the corner of my street (yep, living in the north again and not at the coast) for a nostalgic view at the Cruise. It was hot, and people wore hats, and huddled under the gums on both sides of the road. There were a couple of deck chairs but no eskies and cold drinks that I could see. I still heard them before I saw them, and when the cars came they were all gleaming and they were mostly pretty damn loud. There were some differences from my first Cruise though – mostly men drove, but they weren’t so young. A lot of them had wives and girlfriends in the car with them. And a great deal of them had kids in the back who waved at the crowds –  with their hands, and their iPhones –  but no one waved with beer cans.

And do you know what? Not one of them yelled out, not once did I hear: “Show us ya tits! Show us ya tits!”