The “C” List – The Case for Curiosity in times of Crisis.

I’ve been inspired by the #kindnesspandemic but I think we also need a #curiositypandemic to help us get through.

During uncertain times of this scale, human behaviour escalates in both positive and negative ways. I’m a list person. I’ve found through tough times lists are helpful, particularly in times of crisis, but I felt I needed to be more creative with my lists – and in particular foster curiosity instead of fear.

Humanity hasn’t seen something of this nature and size for 100+ years.  I’m currently writing this in the middle of being very ill.  It’s taken a lot longer than usual to draft because of that.

In my lifetime I’ve faced off with medical trauma and the very real possibility I might die a few times now.  I’ve become somewhat expert in neurobiology since a traumatic brain injury and an autism diagnosis.  But this was because I choose to foster curiosity to quell fears.

In recent times the climate of fear and misinformation has made things worse, not better.  I’ve encouraged to seek information and not just consume the nearest meme or video without question.  But to do this we need to reestablish our curiosity and replace our fear with curiosity.

I’ve always resisted the idea of a bucket list because people use buckets lists as though the only important time to do things that you dream of – is just before death.  I’ve always felt we should honour our lives throughout them and experience the world as fully as we can throughout, not leave it until the end.  Because the end is unpredictable, but the choice to live a fulfilled life of curiousity doesn’t have to be unpredictable, we can choose.

When I pursued a career in remote anthropology with the challenges I had – everywhere I went I had a note with me.  It said:

“Live a life fulfilled, not imagined”.

It was stuck on computers, written on post its in my wallet, paint penned inside my backpack.

I have posted before about the “f’k it list” of things you should aspire to do anyway – because they are worth doing.

Recent events, or the C word I don’t want to mention has prompted me to think of new lists.  Not to do lists, goal lists or shopping lists (although these are present).

It’s a curiosity list.

Yesterday was a struggle and I found myself thinking I had so much more to do and experience in the world and writing a list of things I was curious about exploring.

More importantly this was a list of things I am curious about that I WILL commit to exploring in the coming years.

The thing we need most at the moment is hope.

To create my curiosity list I asked of myself three questions about experiences I can be curious about (and created lists under them) regardless of where I am:

  1. What ideas and experiences am I curious about and what new knowledge can I seek?
  2. How can I share what I learn from my curiosity journey and how can I encourage those that are curious about that journey too?
  3. How can I ensure that my curiosity does not hurt anyone, that the journey is kind, fulfilling and hope filled?

We have the internet and we have more access to communities of knowledge than ever before.  Others will be limited in that capacity, so question two should include a way that you can share things that don’t consume bandwidth, blog posts, images or where still possible, regular mail and mail outs.  It may just be a phone call where a topic of shared curiosity is focussed on, rather than fixating on events.

In isolation, in lockdown, let’s get curious. The focus is on what we can do, learn and experience, right now, to start moving our thinking towards hope and curiosity is the vehicle.

Let’s take this time to bloom with curiosity, not fear.

Let’s move into the future holding onto to curiosity as a form of hope.

Regardless of what is on the other side, it is curiosity that has allowed us to invent and adapt and feel like we can take back some control when things are out of control.

Love to all.  Please stay safe.  Please take care of each other.  Please replace fear with  kindness and curiosity.

What’s In a Pronoun? Just one letter more or less…

I prefer these pronouns in order of preference, they/them, Jacci (yes, I am calling my name a pronoun) or she/her (so if you stuff up, don’t stress, we’ll work on getting to they and Jacci together).

I may be voicing an unpopular opinion for some here, so hold onto your flaps and prepare for lift-off.

I really do mean hold onto your labia (if you have labia and if you don’t flap a piece of anatomy as you see fit). (A)FAB.  (Assigned). Female. At. Birth.  This is my biological sex as ascribed to me by the medical profession when they held me in mid air and declared “it’s a girl”.

And then the shite began.

Because for me, girl was not me. During my childhood people called girl seemed to do the opposite to me for completely illogical reasons.  I remember being specifically bullied for doing technical drawing, woodwork and metal work at high school as a “girl”.

I am not sure how having a vagina changes my ability to hold and use an angle grinder (spoiler alert…IT DOESN’T).

No decision I have ever made for myself (as opposed to decisions I’ve made to please others) has had anything to do with ideas of boy/girl binaries.

Once I was told I couldn’t lift as much as people with penises.  Yet I was a powerlifter and men the same height as me who didn’t powerlift couldn’t lift as much as me.  People bigger than me could and some couldn’t.  It was everything to do with training and dedication and nothing to do with dangly bits or love tunnels*.

The societal concept of gender – AFAB or AMAB has nothing to do with what we can or cannot do, some just firmly believe it does.  For some, this has benefits and both the power relationships and sometimes choice (I would argue choice is to a much lesser degree) reinforce them.

In this traditional binary sense, woman, I can barely identify with.  I only do in a lesser sense because of my life experiences of being told what to do and how to do it based solely on the fact I happen to be an adult who has a vagina and therefore has been called woman.

I. did. not. get. it.  I liked all non-traditionally “girl” things (whatever that means because I like cooking cupcakes and can sew as well as weld, powerlift and fire a rifle) and I did not conform to gendered ideas of how I should look or behave.  That was something I sometimes identified with – but not in a traditional way. I related to the politics and the issues I experienced as someone AFAB and seen as a woman by society as I aged.

So I fought for women’s rights and continue to fight for women’s rights. But that means trans women too as trans exclusionary politics disgust me.

When I tried to be “traditionally feminine” because a lover said I should – I literally became depressed and suffered huge mental health problems and even hypertension.

Why? Because, to me, this binary stuff is utter bullshit.  I cannot see any logic in the argument that what genitalia you have should define your life in terms of behaviour, occupation, reproductive rights…and the list goes on.  Yet some people seem determined to fight to continue to oppress each other with rigid boundaries about supposed genitalia dependent difference.

And then some of us started to embrace new language I was delighted to find a name that, for me personally, was better than woman and didn’t necessarily exclude me from the politics of woman either.

Non-binary.  My primary identity is non-binary.  I don’t identify with how the world classifies me into binaries.

I prefer they/them pronouns, but I am okay if you use she/her and will work with you on mutual understanding to get you to using they/them. But I would prefer you use Jacci to be honest.  I don’t get too worried when people use she/her, because that might be about how they see me at a given point in time.  But I will call them out if they continue to use it when I have asked them to not.

There have been times when I have been momentarily confused for a man and got called he by a passer by. That didn’t bother me either, because I don’t think the distinctions HAVE to exist.

I think if we suddenly decided to make people without attached ear lobes (as opposed to attached ear lobes) take less pay there would be world-wide riots.  I don’t see genitalia as any different to different ear lobes.  Okay, this is an extreme example.

But just imagine how the earing and jewellery world could monopolise on this! Ear piercing rates for would be like haircut rates are now – arbitrarily more expensive depending on if you have a penis or a vagina.  It is in no way logical.

I do occupy this space of “in-between” that nonbinary affords me quite comfortably and I feel safe here.  Even that notion of “in-between” is not accurate.  I think we can be a range of qualities in how we express our identities.  Identity is not fixed, that is a capitalist myth sent to profit from us and create profitable insecurities that drive sales revenue.

Here’s some (not all) aspects of my intersectional identity.

Feminist.  Because I genuinely believe intersectional feminism is dedicated to relieving the world of sexism and it’s ridiculous binaries (no matter how people identify).  I may not believe in the notion that binary defines me – but if you do, I will also say “okay, that’s who you are, you identify as <insert here>”.  I don’t care how you identify, as long as you don’t tell me it’s the right way for me or force systems of oppression on me or others because of a belief in a binary.  You can have your binary, but I’m not forcing on you anything by simply existing so don’t insist I adopt your methods of existence.   It’s not sexist to like make up or pink – it’s sexist to assign that notion to what genitalia someone was born with and treat them accordingly.

Nonbinary.  I don’t relate to you or the world through the lens of my biological sex organs and societal conventions about them.  I don’t make decisions based upon whether or not my vagina would approve (on no matter in my life – not even sex).   I have a complicated relationship with my breasts, partly from an abuse history, but also because I have never really felt they were an important part of my body.  I am looking at top surgery and frankly, can’t wait to be rid of them.  However, I’ve had a lot of surgeries and the thought of another in the next couple of years has made me delay.

Woman Politick.  This is a lesser identity but none the less really important part of my identity. I don’t say woman front and centre.  I don’t run around singing “I am woman, hear me roar”.  I did once and I did a disservice to people who really strongly identify as women.  I don’t particularly like the word…to me it centres our identity around “man” and dare I say it…the W. O. bit could be “without”. Without manly bits.  To me, while most of my life I have stood in the heart of the woman’s movement, it’s not how I would like to see all of us with certain genitalia lumped together – but to me it represents the social aspect of the binary and is not a negative or positive term in the way I use it.  How others use the word woman, in particular those prone to misogyny, is their issue, not mine.  I don’t have any rigid rules applied to it because those rules are not logical and are socially constrained (things I don’t relate to).

Grey a-sexual/pan-sexual attracted.  I have a long history of finding myself in coercive sexual relationships where I found myself performing a stereotype of “female desire” I had been taught by pornography.  I had a “married young” relationship with a very straight, psychologically abusive AMAB who insisted on strong “feminine” roles for me, even in the bedroom and who insisted we watch hetero-normative pornography*.  At one point in this relationships I took testosterone therapy to improve my sex drive (as seen on Oprah in the 1990’s).  I’m also autistic and in the bedroom I did what movies and films taught me too until I accepted just how unimportant to me sex acts are to me.  I didn’t have a strong sense of what I liked and that was where I looked for inspiration and their was nothing I identified with.  I just did what I was told to keep the peace knowing if I didn’t the put downs and slurs aimed at me would continue.  I learned to force myself to like heterosexual ideas about sex, and even mastered some tantric and BDSM in the process.  But the fact is, it was never really a choice and I spent until my 40’s hating myself for it.

The fact is my sexual attraction is dependent on other connections other than gender, sex or physical appearance and when I genuinely feel attracted to someone – it’s slow to develop and quite rare and may or may not lead to sex acts.  And that is completely okay and completely healthier for me.

So yeah, there it is for all to see.  The gender identity politics of me.  Like it or not.

*sorry for the use of slang terms of penis and vagina.  I personally cringe at those descriptions and believe we shouldn’t use them – but when people use them it makes me laugh and when I speak I talk about how funny I find them. 

*If you think because I am autistic I should like traditional gender roles that are like “rules” – I would argue that I like logical rules, not emotive ones (and you and I need to have a discussion about autism stereotypes).  

 

An unlikely underwear model and comedy festivals

My 18 year old self,  would never have expected me, in my 50th year of life, to be:

  1. Doing my first solo show at Melbourne International Comedy Festival
  2. Becoming an underwear model for ModiBodi

Both happening in 2020.

I also can’t tell you what a strange feeling it is to hear:
“I just saw you on the big screen at Sunshine shopping centre”
And
“You just went past me on the back of a bus in Wheelers Hill”

Some of you who have seen my #comedy in the velvet vulva will know it’s all about body positivity.  It was designed for a show about reproductive rights and for the Northern Territory Midwives to fundraise for them.  We discussed loving our bodies and not body shaming as part of the show.

I’m very proud to be associated with ModiBodi and it’s body positive, ethical fashion and sustainability messaging.

My show, Tardy, is the first to feature an assistance dog and probably the first about the systems that support ableism and stereotypes about autism.

The front of house staff are also #autistic and fabulous! It’s all a little exciting.

But I honestly could not have foreseen being a comedian and an underwear model in my 40’s and 50’s as a queer autistic person.

So, take that #ableism…take that #ageism!

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Image: three empty chairs in the flyer for Melbourne International Festival Comedy show “Tardy” – for more detail go to https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2020/shows/tardy-ready-and-disabled

 

Pepper the Wonder Dog

Assistance isn’t a big enough word for what Pepper the wonder dog does for me.

Yet some people see “assistance dog” and think she is a “pet with a vest”.  I often get people approach us and say “but what does she do?”. Currently I am feeling like talking about her, so if you ask me nicely and without a sneer (this happens) I am likely to tell you.

But just keep in mind, there are a couple of issues with this:

  1. Assistance dogs (even those in training) have very specific tasks that are linked to their human handlers disability, AND…
  2. I don’t have to disclose my disability to you. Even if you are the restaurant owner (she is allowed to be there with me).  Would you ask someone why they wear glasses? No? Then you do not need to know my disability (even though I am public about that – not everyone is, so don’t put people in that position).  I am always happy to discuss how clever Pepper is though!

AND I’ve now written this post!  So, yes, there is a bit of educational stuff below, but then read on and you get to the interesting bit of what she does for me.  Plus I need to add, what a fantastic life she has with me.

So first, let’s clear some things up:

  1. She is protected by federal legislation even when a trainee.  Assistance dogs in Australia do not get trainee status overnight, they must pass preliminary standards and testing.  And for the record, it’s a long, expensive and intense process and people with disabilities don’t just wake up one day and decide to do this, it’s not a choice like a pet is.
  2. There are only two places she cannot legally be.  One is an operating theatre and the other is inside a commercial kitchen. As a trainee she cannot yet fly inside an aircraft with me, but she will be able to eventually.
  3. We use “assistance dog” in Australia.  She is technically a service dog, but that language gets confused with dogs that serve in the Police or military.
  4. There is no such thing as a “companion dog” in Australia.  They are not accredited and don’t have the same legal rights.  There is good reason for that, but that is another post in itself.  We do have “therapy dogs” in Australia, but a dog can’t be both an assistance dog and a therapy dog.
  5. Don’t distract the dog.  Avoid patting them and eye contact and definitely don’t whistle or click or try and call them.  The reason is the bond they have with their human is primary to them they are working dogs.
  6. Assistance dogs are not just one particular breed.  It’s about temperament and the bond with the human handler, not breed.  Traditionally some breeds have been favoured but this is changing.
  7. Pepper does not do anything she doesn’t want to do and has a very comfortable life.  That’s a key thing about cruelty free training methods and that builds the kind of bond she and I have.  The moment she looks like she doesn’t want to do something, we don’t do it.  Usually the reason she won’t want to is because she’s tired or she thinks it will heighten my anxiety.  So she really is the boss.  Part of the assessment is how enthusiastic she is when that vest goes on.  You may have read that dogs like to work alongside humans, I believe this to be true.  She is a very content and loved doggo.

Now, to the interesting bit about her tasks:

  1. Pepper helps detect dangerously high blood pressure.  She knows my scent and biorhythms so well she knows when my blood pressure is up.  She whines at me when I haven’t taken medication.  This is also why you should avoid distracting her.
  2. Pepper detects changes in my heartrate.  She is better than my Fitbit heartrate monitor.  She slows me down when I am getting anxious.  She has been known to knock my mobile phone away from me when I am getting stressed over a post online. She will slow her walk to make me slow or lean into me.  This is the signal I know to change direction or change what I am doing.
  3. Pepper helps me navigate crowded streets and venues.  She gives me physical space from people.  As an autistic person this is vital to my well being. Plus she comes to comedy gigs with me.  As someone who experiences sensory overload and is literally frightened of crowds but also fiercely independent, the help she gives helps me manage energy levels.  She is super relaxed and chilled out and no sounds or crowds bothers her.  Again, she is totally the boss of me.

Finally in November 2019 – she literally saved my life.  I was suicidal and she curled her body around me and touched her nose to my cheek every now and then as I grappled with trying to work through the urge to take my own life.  This is not a choice for me, it is part of my disabilities that I manage that my brain sometimes does this to me – particularly after a period of stress or, in this case, a workplace injury.

The life expectancy of autistic people is 36 – 52, I’m 50 this year.  I’ve made a promise to do my best to stay on this earth for the rest of Pepper’s life (she is 6 and greyhounds generally live until they are 13 or 14).

I’ve had an interesting life and I’ve done my best to fill it with experiences I love.  I intend on keeping doing that, with Pepper’s love and help for as long as my brain and body will let me.  I’m realistic about this and I would honestly just like to see 55.  With Pepper around I know I can do that.

Assistance isn’t a big enough word at all.  I like Pepper the Wonder Dog better.

Avalanches, Beyond Blue and Laughter Yoga

Laugh. I love making people laugh.

Yet I have not laughed much myself for near on two years.  The decision to move to Melbourne after living remote for a long time has been hard.

It has taken a monumental mental health crash to realise this. My social anxiety has been debilitating since a workplace injury.  But I am working really hard to recover.  But I need to sleep a lot, and I have had to ask for help and get help like I haven’t had to since my 20’s (when I was recovering from a temporary brain injury).

Part of that is doing the things I love that are light years away from Community Services. In fact, it looks like I can no longer work in community services and I have had to grieve that.  One burn out too many.

I do have two comedy performances coming up (a creativity workshop and a small run of four shows in March) – but I was hoping that this year I would be performing more, not less. This mental health crash means I still need to perform, I just don’t have the spoons to do it much and I have to get lots of support to be able to. Self-care has been a struggle, but friends have rallied around and I am immensely grateful to them.

Yesterday I did the washing six times, the same washing. Because I would forget and go to sleep and…yep…rinse cycle.

Some might think that the definition of irony for someone who loves writing, producing and performing comedy is to experience the mental health challenges as I do.

Or is it? Oh dear, there is that dreaded stereotype about comedians and mental health.  But it isn’t just comedians.  It’s everyone that is at risk.

I repeat. EVERYONE.

I started this blog a long time ago when I was about to trek the Annapurna circuit in the Himalayas and this blog was to raise funds for Beyond Blue. And to talk about happiness, of all things. Since then it morphed into my comedy website.

The fact is that trip to Nepal was life changing, the evolution of this blog reflects that fact.  I was trekking with a partner and during the trek we just missed being caught in the October 2014 avalanche and freak storm that killed 39.  Our next two days of trekking were very scary indeed.

Things unravelled. My partner and I split two days later and when I returned to Australia I moved out two days after we landed.  The stress of these things brings truth to the fore.

For me that truth was, bisexual me was forcing a relationship that was making me miserable.  Playing house.  Those who know me well know that this is plainly ridiculous.  Even more ridiculous is that since then I have realised I am also grey asexual, meaning real attractions for me are rarer than for most. I was bullying myself to conform.

Today I felt like, for the first time since an awful period of suicidality in November/December 2019 – like I could be aware enough to count my blessings.  Whilst I practice gratitude, when you are facing intense mental health challenges you can be practicing but not really practicing.

Some things I have shed from my 45th year (the beginning of this blog) to my 50th year:

  • Gender binary conformity
  • Giving a shit about what other people think about me
  • Denial of my neurodiversity – being okay with both the strengths and impairment of being autistic and having chronic illness
  • The desire to conform to ideas of monetary success (money stress still sucks though)
  •  Throwing in the bin any remaining concerns about the expectations of my family to be CISHET, regular job, non-artistic or any of there discrimination of the basis of neurodivergence.

Some things I am embracing:

  • Family isn’t biological.  My friends are my family.
  • Love is love and everyone deserves it.
  • It’s okay to need help.
  • I like me for the first time ever.
  • The status quo is not for me, so an arts career is probably where I should be!
  • I don’t have to be all things to all people.
  • Don’t read the comments.
  • Fuck shame.  It can piss off.
  • ENBY BI GREY-A intersectionality.
  • Block trolls.
  • Stay political.

So now, at the beginning of my 50th year I think it’s time to laugh more.  Very soon I will be a laughter yoga leader and delivering this will make sure I am laughing with others, regularly.

I am going to laughter yoga, comedy write and rest myself back to better health.  I am very limited in the time I can spend on any task at the moment and I am aware this is long path yet.  But I will persist. To quote Joe Cocker, “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends”.

Picture of me laughing for attention.

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Toxic gratitude

Toxic gratitude; using gratitude thinking as a weapon to make others feel like their feelings aren’t valid.

Inflicting the “you should be grateful because…” on someone going through a tough time isn’t helpful.

Stop. Just stop it. When someone is down – please stop comparing their pain. Pain is pain.

Stop with the “I’d just be pleased to <insert comparison>” thing please.

Someone doesn’t get a job they’ve worked hard for. Please don’t say “I’d be pleased to just get an interview”. Someone sharing their disappointment and it is not about you.

Or the classic put down by comparison “there are people worse off”.

Particularly when someone is depressed or struggling with any symptom of mental illness – don’t do this comparison relativity thing.

It’s like saying to someone with a broken arm “I’d just be pleased with a broken finger and some time off work”.

Feeling crap about things and struggling to see the upside is part and parcel of depression.

It’s like saying to people who’ve lost a home in the fires “oh well, at least it’s insured”. Insurance can not replace memories or mend broken hearts after an event such as losing a home to fire. So, yeah, stop! Think.

Let people have their feelings. It’s not up to you to dictate how they should feel.

People don’t need a reality check – if they are feeling pain or distress that is their reality.

Hold space for them instead. Find time for them. Just be there, even if for a short while.

Maybe try “this is really tough for you, how can I help?”.

“Would you like to talk about it? I’ll do my best to listen” (nb: then actually listen – often people don’t need solutions, just to be heard).

But please, don’t compare their pain and force gratitude down their throat. I hardly think gratitude is meant to be used as a weapon.

If you let them feel what they feel and talk it through and encourage them – they’ll find gratitude again.

Stop weaponising gratitude.

Gaslighting a nation

My political heart is raging.  Scott Morrison, during an interview on 2GB has said:

“I know Australians understand this and they’ll be pleased I’m coming back, I’m sure, but they know I don’t hold a hose, I don’t sit in a control room.”

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Tweet: Our PM just did a classic non-apology – gaslighting all of us: “I know Australians understand this and they’ll be pleased I’m coming back, I’m sure, but they know I don’t hold a hose, I don’t sit in a control room.” MATE! YOU’RE THE PM: YOU ARE THE CONTROL ROOM. #sydneyfires

I was enraged and took to Twitter, my go to place for the airing of political grievances.

Democracy is about, at the root of it, debate of ideas.  It is not about deflection, denial and gaslighting as I see Australian politics has become in the last 20 years.

I think my twitter rage today sums up how I have felt about Australian Democracy since John Howard declared martial law and I watched Australian troops misused to descend on remote Aboriginal communities in Central Australia.

I’ve said my piece at rallies and I fought hard to raise awareness to see the end of Howard’s similarly hate-filled protégé Tony Abbott’s reign.  And yet, here we are Australia, with a gaslighting goon for the fossil fuel industry in charge again.

This is not a regular fire season.  The PM himself has used the language “mega fire” (which is climate change language) to describe fires, yet consistently dodges declaring a climate emergency.  He has dismissed concerns about funding of volunteers by saying “they want to be there”.  He does little to address the fact that volunteers are dying as a result of underfunding and large scale funding cuts at all levels of government.

The current government uses techniques that are both propaganda and gaslighting 101.  Gaslighting is a psychological abuse technique that leaves you questioning or second guessing your own sanity.  Propaganda is similar but tends to be more conscious manipulation of constituents.

Scott Morrison is exceptional at single statement, misleading testimonials aimed to leverage his social rank to get people to nod in agreement.  Like when he totally dismissed a comparison of climate change policy ranking Australia last as “It’s not credible”, but refused to elaborate.  I know I am a nerd, but I am always surprised how many Australians just believe him on that and won’t seek the source documents he dismisses.

On the 9th of September 2005, an article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald about the death of Donald Horne, who wrote the book “The Lucky Country”.

Forever misquoted, Donald Horne dies” was the title. The authors, John Huxley and Samantha Selinger-Morris, cite him as saying:

“I was about to write the last chapter of a book on Australia,” recalled Horne, who died aged 83. “The opening sentence was, ‘Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.”‘

They go onto to say that his 1964 book “The Lucky Country” which coined the oft used phrase in Australian politics was:
“…meant as an indictment of an unimaginative nation, its cosy provincialism, its cultural cringe and its White Australia policy.  But much to Horne’s subsequent misery, many failed to detect his irony and many more, either willfully or lazily, misinterpreted his words.”

The Australian habit of popularising an otherwise critical perspective on its nationhood like that of “The Lucky Country” is well entrenched in white Australia.  It is often twisted to suit a misguided sense of national pride not limited to just the misuse of Donald Horne’s social commentary.   Most recently the bogan-wannabe-but-really-spoiled-private-school-boy at the helm of Australia’s government is a perfect example of the ignorance of a culture of lucky country lies.

“She’ll be right”.  “Don’t talk about politics and religion”.  All the privileged banter our culture hides under and very soon, will not be able to hide under anymore.  Folks, climate change is real and it’s going to get worse.  The Australian white picket fence is burning down, it’s time to care. No amount of belief in trickle down economics will prevent that.

I almost wrote in that tweet that parliament was the control room, but parliament is sitting less and less under the political turmoil of the last two decades. If you are unsure I suggest you go and take a look for yourself.

sittings

This year Scott Morrisons government has sat for only 40 days, and last year between him and Malcolm Turnbull there was only 26 days.  The impact on leadership spills on sittings is quite clear.

Our current PM and his crew of neo-fascists employ a blend of techniques to avoid doing anything other than push-pull ideology, propaganda and gaslighting instead of democratic debate.

It’s the old school shite and that shit-awful “lucky country” narrative.

Scott Morrison blithely sums this up with his litanies of “How good is <insert mindless cause and effect association here>” generalisations and gross distortions.

Some of us in Australia are furious.  We want debate on the floor of parliament, not sex and fraud scandals, fabrication and well crafted bullshit – but actual, meaningful, evidence based, debate.

Stopping stigma at work

I woke up this morning feeling like everything that has happened has led me to here.

The fact is, I thrive in working environments where people are not stigmatised for speaking out publicly about social issues like better mental health.

I’ve had jobs in the last few years where I’ve done projects that aim to break stigmas and these are the best jobs I’ve had.

I’ve left jobs with mentally unhealthy workplace cultures.

That’s why my part time arts career is so satisfying and why it’s my intention now to make it a full time pursuit.

In the arts breaking stigma/taboo is our business.  I’ve experienced more than my fair share of stigma. Particularly about being outspoken about mental health.

We need to shatter some neo-liberal bullshit about mental health in workplaces.

You spend 8 hours a day at work, if it’s mentally unhealthy and hostile – it will be potentially having an affect on your mental health.

I was impressed recently by Our Watch ambassador, prevention of violence against women activist and mental health advocate Tarang Chawla sharing his story about a recent suicide attempt.

You can listen to him on SBS here:

https://open.spotify.com/episode/1kPVZNbo2PSCOJmfZSqUxM?si=2SDSpEMTRWitkeqUoJu2Ug&nd=1

I’ve posted about past struggles with episodic depression. But in recent years I’ve been following the advice that Tarang and many others advocate – I took steps to prevent it getting worse.

What I found refreshing about Tarang’s story is that mental health concerns have not stopped him working for violence prevention – they’ve made him a better advocate and representative for change.

A key mental health preventive for me is staying away from work environments that don’t take staff mental health seriously – or where they treat staff with mental health concerns as damaged goods.

Mental health is like any other health condition. If the aircon at work is giving people a chest infection – you fix the aircon.

I refuse to work in environments that don’t take mental health seriously.

If the working environment is hostile and workflows are breaking people’s mental health – fix the environment.

If workplaces don’t have wellbeing days or an employee assistance service offering counselling I’m not interested.

There are ways workplaces can take care of employee mental health:

  • encourage a culture of acceptance – no hush hush stigma
  • have an employee assistance program
  • while open acceptance of mental health is important don’t force or coerce people to disclose either
  • wellbeing days – break the stigma of “sickie days” “or sick of working days”
  • social, friendly, accepting workplace cultures
  • spaces for quiet or to eat in peace (in addition to a staff room/kitchen)
  • regular wellbeing breaks are actively encouraged (5 mins every hour)

People are not machines – if people think a big wage makes up for poor workplace culture – well that’s not for me either. I’m not materialistic and I’m anti-capitalist greed,  so waving as big pay cheque in front of me won’t work either – will not make me stay and “stick it out”.

Not everyone work for money or status. Mentally healthy workplaces recognise that.

Being in environments where profit is put before people is not the place for me.

We are not trees. If getting away from a work environment makes you feel better – you’ve done the right thing.

I think as a culture, Australians need to wake up when it comes to ridiculous ideas like “put up with it” or “stick it out”.

These ideas are killing us if you look at our suicide rates.

Stigma sucks and it kills.

No job, marriage or mortgage is worth compromising your mental health.

And there are millions of people out there with great working lives who have had mental health concerns before.

The big lesson for me – is if people talk about mental health as though people are broken – get the hell away from them.

We are not broken. Mental health is like any other health condition, you make sure your environment is conducive to staying well, do your best to work with appropriate medical advice and you can live a life like anyone else – it’s not a sentence to life that is less, it may open up possibilities you didn’t expect.  Sticking at something that makes you miserable is self-punishment, not self-care.

The idea that mental health concerns make you “less” is a well broken stereotype, inaccurate, ill-informed, potentially discriminatory and ableist.

#stigma #mentalhealth

When nice can be not nice…

Five reasons why I hate “niceness” as a measure of people.

1. “Nice” is such a loaded term and nice does not equate to good. Remember the expression smiling assassin? Or people that put you down “nicely”? Delivering feedback well is positive but smeared with too much nice is just plain condescending.

2. “Nice” can be a heavily gendered way to refer to people. Women are expected to be nice all the time – even when experiencing shit behaviour. Don’t believe me? Ffs. Read! Talk to a woman or ten about this.

3. “Nice guys always come last”. See number 2 above. Nice women are expected, NOT NICE behaviour from a man supposedly gets them ahead. This usage can particularly fuck off. It’s time we stopped rewarding men for being assholes and stopped punishing women for speaking up. Not good for men, not good for women, not good for people.

4. “If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all”. Okay but I tried complimenting racist behaviour (not) and it just emboldened the racist clown. So maybe this another one of those old school false equivalencies we can throw in the bin now. And burn it.

5. “Nice” is often fake and fleeting. “Niceties” are what some use to tolerate people rather than learn to accept and adapt. Again see number one – “they were very nice about how they told me I was too fat to date them until I called them on it then they went full nasty”. Seriously, nice can be a proper passive aggressive to exclude people and feel better about it – rather than engage in a meaningful way.

In conclusion, don’t get me wrong – I like “GENUINELY nice” behaviour, but just don’t use it as a meaningful measure of human behaviour but another generalisation. We don’t have a nice-o-meter and I’m tired of it being used to measure people’s worth. Sometimes our circumstances preclude “nice” and honest emotion is required. Much like any generalisation about behaviour – nice can be weaponised!

Born-day and #IDPWD

It’s my birthday and it’s also International Day of People with Disabilities.

#IDPWD2019 a day to acknowledge our struggles, be at one in pride & commit further to acting together to remove systemic inequality. Whether you like international days or not – that’s my intention today. Plus it’s my birthday, so for me it’s a celebration of survival.

There’s been a lot of talk about invisible disability and I’ve been recovering lately from some experiences I would rather not repeat, but that sadly have experienced a lot during my lifetime.

Recovery means doing what you have to do.  That might mean talking or not talking, writing, resting, rehab.  It also means dealing with the stigma (your own internalised and other people’s) associated with recovery.

Don’t let the “today tonighter’s” get under your skin.  These are the people who cry “fake” when they don’t understand disability issues like; semi-ambulant use of a wheelchair or that screen readers help low vision people use a mobile phone or people who think disabled people are broken. The people who say “it can’t be that bad” to criticise people taking care of themselves.  This is the ableist shit we cop from people who buy into the burden arguments of the old medical models (whether inadvertently or not) and this blog entry is not for them, it’s for PWD.

So here are my tips for dealing with ableist S.H.I.T.

S – is for Shame.  Shame and stigma are weapons and it’s something we are learning to resist (internal and external shame).  Try to work with kindness to yourself when you feel you are self-shaming.  For example, mental health issues are experienced by 85% of the population and probably everyone at some point in their life, if we are honest.  If you’ve had someone tell you to hide a non-visible disability because you can – gently remind them reasonable adjustment is a right and shaming you is harassment and hurtful.  Remind people (or get an advocate to remind them) that disability is not to be ashamed of and that shame can be a form of abuse.

H – is for Hate.  As an Autistic person I struggle with people’s hatred.  I just don’t get how people can hate with passion.   How it translates into thinking that because a disabled person rights are somehow special treatment – or that we are a burden.  This is hatred and it covers a view that disabled people are less than them.  I call it out and have tried to learn to call it out with compassion, but none the less call it out. Hate is hate – even when sheathed in politico speak like “merit based” arguments used to diminish what a disabled person might need to contribute.  The whole rotting pearl of “we can’t change everything for one person” crapola when people merely ask for a reasonable adjustment.  Same with poor taste jokes and casual use of disability slurs. Call out people who slag off someone else because they are different and if you can’t safely call it out – allow yourself to get space away from them or get an advocate and get to safety.  You do not have to put up with hate.

I – is for I.  Allow yourself to be an I.  Hold space, take up space.  You are enough.

T – is for Time.  Things are getting better over time.  Take employment, for example.  In 3 out of the last 4 jobs I have disclosed disability safely.  Compared to before that when you couldn’t even talk about it.  Things are getting better, it may not be quick enough for many of us sadly, but together we are making change.

Keep on keeping on. We can do it.  #disabilitypride