15 June 2018

This is what happens when you reach out and get help

With the recent, much publicised suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, social media was flooded with messages urging anyone suffering depression or thoughts of self harm to reach out...get help. I know people mean well. But what help is there?


I've been hesitant to write this post, but what the hell, let's go all in. This is what happens when you reach out. If you call a suicide hotline - always promoted as the best option despite dubious proof of efficacy - or tell any sort of health or counselling professional that you are having thoughts of self harm, they are legally required to report it. Me, I was too tired to hide from my psychiatrist my utter despair. So they call 000, or the relevant emergency number. Ambulance officers arrive, and under the Mental Health Act 2007 here in NSW, are legally authorised to detain you if they believe you are mentally ill or mentally disturbed ("no, I'm not mentally disturbed, I'm having a completely justified reaction to the shit heap my life has become").

The ambulance officers will then take you to hospital. If you're "lucky", you might go straight to the mental health unit. Me? It was a weekday, mid morning, and the newly opened mental health unit did not have beds available. So. Usually, you'll have to go sit in emergency. I hadn't taken anything, physically I was fine, I just felt like an utter wreck. And there you have to sit, with an ambo to babysit you, surrounded by suspected heart attacks and falls and babies with suspected meningococcal. At some stage it was decided it was easier to knock me out, so they put me in a bed and put benzodiazepines in me, which I willingly took - believe me, I'm much happier unconscious. So that was a blurry six hours. A psychiatrist came to talk to me. I saw her report when I left hospital. She wrote in the notes that I look older than my stated age. Well thanks, that just made me feel fucking fantastic. Do they do that for heart attack victims?

After a prolonged time, and still semi sedated, I was moved to the mental health unit. They confiscate and catalogue all your possessions. Again, do they do this with heart attack victims? Go through their bags and take their squeez bacon? Mental health patients can't be trusted with their stuff, apparently. I mean, I can kind of understand; they told me phones are taken because people will call 000 and report they've been kidnapped. But all my books were on my phone. They told me I could read the books belonging to the unit. Jodi Picoult. I shudder. I asked for a bible. The didn't have any but the chaplain visits once a week. That's very helpful. I wasn't allowed to leave that day.

Look, apart from the comment about my age, which I'll let slide, the staff were all very nice. But it was still pretty gross and dehumanising. Some of the other patients were glad of the opportunity to connect with social workers and support, but I was tired and wanted to go home.

Then the next morning, I saw the psych team. I put on my cheerful face. Yes I'm feeling much better. Actually, I wasn't feeling any better, and miserable from being in hospital. But I put on the happy face and was able to go home.

That's all there is to offer. If you reach out, and tell someone you're contemplating self harm or ending your life, this is what will happen to you.


So, imagine feeling like you want to end your life, then being put through the demeaning, dehumanising process of a psychiatric hold. I want to be very clear on this: it is not working. It is not working. When you reach out and get help, the help system there is is broken. It might psychically stop a person from committing suicide whilst they are in the psych unit, but it is such an awful experience that person will lie, say they are fine, to get out as fast as they can. The NSW Coroner's website alone lists scores of inquiries into people who were recently discharged from psych units then took their own lives. The way we "help"  doing is making things worse.

There's a lot of misunderstanding about suicide, a lot of emphasis on the individual rather than a sick and broken society. The suicides of the rich and well connected prove it can happen to anyone. And this is true, but suicide is more likely to happen to the disadvantaged, the poor, the abused, the unemployed, LGTBI people. We don't hear about it as much, that's all. The photogenic girl from a caring family who commits suicide seemingly from nowhere gets the media attention, but it's the young person without the loving family and support network that is more at risk. 

For some people, mental illness and suicide ideation comes out of the blue, for no reason. But for many others, it's a reaction to abuse, chronic pain, isolation, poverty, unemployment. These suicides on the fringes of society are not the ones we know and mourn, but their lives matter.

We need to move away from a mindset that removes depression from its societal context and puts the emphasis on the individual to get help. We need to look at the problems in society that are causing all this pain - and the relentless push to be happy that further isolates those who are suffering; this is a great post about the toxic culture of happiness. A bit of research into the use of psychotropic drugs would be good, too. Because as things stand, if my mind gets filled with the black sludge of misery again, I won't be reaching out for help. There isn't any.

06 June 2018

Baby boomers: change the system or end up in the terrible nursing homes you deserve


I think I may have mentioned this, but I don't like neoliberalism.

That's okay, because most other people don't like it either. They just don't know it. But the ideology which has spread like a cancer through society for forty years - the ideology of maximising profit at all costs, cutting regulation, firing staff, user pays, and the hell with the values of compassion and decency that just get in the way of making money - they hate it. You can see it in the complaints about the terrible toll neoliberalism has racked on our society - everything from self checkouts, telcos sending jobs offshore so you speak to someone overseas who tells you your service won't be fixed for 6 weeks and can't conceive why that's a problem; TAFE unattainable and unaffordable, people with serious disabilities forced to look for work they cannot do, then they hate it.

The Liberal party and to a slightly lesser extent Labor party believe that government should "get out of the way" and let business do its thing, as free from regulation, and taxation, as possible. Therein lies job creation. But corporations pursuing profit above all won't employ a single person they don't have to, and often rather fewer people than that, as you'd know if you shopped retail or called your phone company lately. Government bureaucracies, similarly driven by KPIs and the relentless drive for efficiency, are little better.

And if anyone objects, says this is unregulated neoliberal capitalism and it's time to reign it in, oh the howls of protest from those in power. You want socialism! You want us to be Venezuela!

But a free market system that puts human services in the hands of barely regulated, for profit corporations, terrible nursing homes are the inevitable, and symbolic, result.

Nursing homes really epitomise what free market capitalism has become. The government has shifted human services to the private sector. Privately run nursing homes, free of regulation and heart, can stack elderly and dying people like firewood with a minimum of staff and count the profits coming in, hailed as successful business people driving the economy, and meanwhile it's the poor schlub who left a substandard school early, can't get a place at TAFE, and has lost heart after months of futile job searching who is called a parasite.  

Nursing homes are increasingly owned by foreign conglomerates. Research shows nursing homes owned by group capital consistently perform worse than non profit facilities across all measures of patient care. If you spend your lifetime voting for neoliberal economic policies, then a for profit nursing home is where you’re going to end up. Choice is not going to provide much comfort when the general standard is terrible. When you have media exposure like the Four Corners episode, people are outraged for a bit, then everything continues on as normal, because it's the underlying system that is terrible. The Baby Boomers are starting to go into nursing homes; by 2030 - that's 12 years away, think how recent 2006 seems by comparison - there will be half a million of them. And if we don't act now to make some pretty fundamental changes to our political and economic systems, these shitty nursing homes are what they all have to look forward to. We've already seen this in for profit care of at risk kids.

What do we value most as a society? What values do we vote for? If that's unregulated, profit driven capitalism, then as a society we're all headed for profit driven nursing homes that employ as few staff as possible, serve the cheapest possible food, skimp on medical necessities, and leave us to rot in our filth. There are high rates of depression and suicide in nursing home residents.

It's extremely stressful not only for the patients, but the families, the overworked staff. There are no minimum patient to nurse ratios and the complaints process basically consists of receiving a complaint, asking the nursing home did they do anything wrong, and when the nursing home writes back to say they didn't do anything wrong, closing the case (now where have I heard that before?)

But hey, when we die from that bedsore that festered after we were left in one position for 18 hours, at least our loved ones can show they cared with a hideously overpriced funeral! This is harsh, but it's the truth. These are hard conversations to have. It's hard for us to admit that we've lost sight of what's fair and decent in the last 40 years, and it will be even harder to turn things around. But Baby Boomers need to ask themselves what happens when they can no longer manage all the caravanning and being a grey nomad, when spending their kids' inheritance gets really old and so do they. As a society, we all need to shift our values, stop putting profits above people, and vote accordingly.

Because if we live by the profit motive, we'll die by the profit motive. 

04 June 2018

The weird psychology of Barnaby Joyce and the Right

Oh, for a skilled political journalist to have handled the Channel 7 interview with former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and his former staffer turned partner Vicki Campion last night. Then maybe we would have had some answers to the questions that really matter - or at least had those questions asked in the first place. Because the real issues here aren't who fell in love with whom, or even what was said in the public confrontation between Joyce, Campion and Barnaby's ex wife Natalie. The questions that needed to be asked - relating to the integrity of our democracy - were ones like "why was a special role in Matt Canavan's office created for Vikki Campion once news of the affair began to circulate around Canberra?" and "Barnaby, considering that it was your fault voters in New England were forced to a byelection because you couldn't get your citizenship sorted out, was it ethical for you to then pretend everything was okay at home when you knew at that stage that the pregnancy was going to cost you your role as Deputy PM?"

In case you've not seen enough already. Source: Channel 7


Instead, what we got was something in the ball park between fluff piece and the full on car crash that was the Four Corners expose of Kathy Jackson and Michael Lawler (which I admit I watched 3 or 4 times). This was more of a minor prang than a write off, as crashes go. But what struck me as the strangest thing was a little softball piece tucked in towards the end, after the yucky stuff was out of the way, as 7 journalist Alex Cullen asked the proud new dad how he'd feel if his son wanted to enter politics. If that's what he wanted to do, I'd try to get on board, Barnaby said. But what if baby Sebastian wanted to join the Greens, Cullen asked? Barnaby Joyce shook his head. He'd wonder where he went wrong as a father for such a ghastly thing to happen.

And that might be completely understandable for this homespun, "country bred", conservative politician. Except for the fact that earlier in the interview, we'd seen Campion and Joyce describe how, early in Campion's pregnancy, figures from the National party had approached Campion and told her she had to abort the pregnancy, or "they're gonna come after you". Barnaby Joyce then described these National party politicians, whom he still sits in parliament with, as the scum of the Earth.

In other words, it was people from his own, conservative side of politics who had threatened his vulnerable, pregnant partner. And yet instead of distancing himself from these people, vowing off the National party after core members of it cause his family so much pain, Barnaby remains part of the party, worried he'd have gone wrong if his son wanted to join...the Greens. I don't get. Why would you side with the people who hurt you against the ones who wished you no harm? Why would you not be able to see that the way these National party figures behave in the lives of those around them is symbolic of the ideology they have for the country you claim to care about? Barnaby Joyce is just on the edge of awareness here, so he's screwing his eyes shut, sticking his fingers in his ears and singing to himself at the top of his lungs.

But he's not the first right wing politician to stubbornly take the ideological side of those who have caused them pain. Witness Pauline Hanson last week on Sky News, crying that fellow One Nation Senator Brian Burston had stabbed her in the back in a disagreement over company tax and his potential defection to the Shooters party. It's hardly first time Hanson has been let down by those on her ideological side, either. She's had a running feud for many years with her One Nation co-founder David Oldfield, slinging insults, allegations and innuendo. Conservative "hard man" Tony Abbott led the drive to have Hanson imprisoned on corruption charges in 2003. Right wing muck rag the Daily Telegraph got very mucky indeed in 2009 when they published a front page exclusive of nude photos of Hanson that, it turned out, weren't actually pictures of Ms Hanson at all.

And yet Hanson has never quite twigged that the nastiness she's received from the Right is emblematic of a bigger problem; that the Right is nasty. It's the ideology of ends justify the means, screw you I've got mine, survival of the fittest, and to hell with facts or compassion...it's the exact opposite of an ideology that would help the struggling Australians that she claims to care so much about. Now I doubt Pauline Hanson can even spell ideology, but despite the fact that it has been adherents of the right who have hurt her over and over again, she keeps lining up for more. She's best friends with Cory Bernardi; inviting Tony Abbott to help flog her latest ghost written "book"; continuing to believe and share the lies of the conservative gutter press despite falling victim herself. Her sworn enemies are the Labor party, and especially, the Greens, who have harmed her not at all.

It's an odd psychological trait of the right, to be loving your oppressors and hating the oppressed, or at least those who, whilst they may be on the other side of politics, have done you no harm. Maybe it's just part of the tribalism of modern politics; yes, these people have lied about me, lied to me, taken advantage of me, threatened my family, thrown me in jail, they're shits, but they're our shits, conservative shits. Maybe we can take solace that whilst the right hates and screws over the electorate, they hate and screw over themselves much more. 

And Barnaby Joyce? Look, I'm not sure the Greens would be rushing to welcome you right now (he's been rightly criticised for saying his six week son caused all the problems, as if none of the extra marital affair, lies to electorate and whiff of corruption would have been a problem if he hadn't knocked his girlfriend up). But for God's sake, get out of the Nationals.

01 June 2018

No, regrets!

I used to hate Mayim Bialik. Well, hate's a strong word. But I wasn't too fond of her, what with the whole presenting herself as a neurological natural parenting guru whilst having a bris ceremony for each of her of her sons. I'm still not on board with that but with the videos she's been posting lately, I kind of wish she was my best friend. Like when she posted this video about hating, or at least envying, the people who say they have no regrets. Cause she has a tonne, and she shared a few.



Mayim encouraged her viewers to share their regrets. And I could get on board with this cause Lordy, do I have regrets. Traveling is an exhausting and expensive affair for me cause of all this baggage I carry around. So here are some of my regrets. I'm not going to list them all, cause we'd be here all day and a lot of it's way too personal, but here's a taste of the car crash of emotions I call my life:




  • I regret not calling out a coworker for the appallingly racist email she sent, which I immediately and furiously deleted, on Sorry Day. 



  • I regret all the drunk dialing. Obviously. 



  • I regret pursuing a business degree I didn't want instead of the dreams of acting and writing I did want when I was young.

  • I regret all the times I didn't speak up for myself, all the times I thought oh well, maybe if I'm nice, the adversary in this situation will be nice to me. 


  • I regret not saving money in my twenties. But I was insanely depressed, so...(a lot of my regrets have caveats regarding depression). 


  • But, and this one has no excuses, I regret the time, at age 27 and on the verge of buying an apartment in Newcastle, I thought "I might give life in Sydney a try and buy property later". But no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, or that property prices would more than double since then. 


  • I regret all the concerts and festivals I missed out on in my youth because I didn't have friends who were interested, and not realising I could just go anyway, on my own.


  • In fact I regret so many of the things I didn't do. I was raised with not doing things as default mode, and it was kind of a pattern I stuck with for too long, thinking everything was too hard and nice to think about but not actually do. So I regret all the times I thought about study, or trips, or events, but did nothing about it. My ex husband cured me of this habit and I'm forever grateful for that.


  • I regret leaving the moulded ceiling fixture I so loved in my first adult house behind.


  • I regret all the books I never read cause I was scared to try anything new.

  • So no, I don't live without regrets. In fact I kind of think that to live without regrets means living without learning, or shame, or growth. (And I'm very familiar with both learning and shame). There's some growth there too, and not just in my waistline; I will now absolutely speak up for myself, complain, demand to see the manager, no more do I just give in. And I try to speak up when I see racism or bigotry. I'm now about to finish (last two weeks!) a degree I love that will give me, I hope, lots of opportunity to write about social justice and the things I care about. And you best believe I just do things now, when depression and money permits, even if that's just taking a ridiculously long trip on public transport to a model railway exhibit in some suburb you've never heard of. And if they throw in a sausage sizzle, I might go twice.

    What about you? What are your regrets?

    17 May 2018

    No more "good blokes": a call for guidelines on reporting murder

    Somewhere in Australia, right now, there is a man considering killing their entire family, and themselves.

    There may, in fact, be more than one. Probably is more than one, in fact. But we know it's a man; perpetrators of familicide, or family annihilation, are almost exclusively male. Maybe he's lost his job, gambled his way into debt, believes the world is an evil and corrupt place; maybe it's for no reason at all. For whatever reason, he's decided that he wants to die. Not only that, but that everyone he loves most should die with him. And why not? If he was to simply kill himself, he'd be leaving them with the debt, with the shame. For that, he may be remembered as a coward.

    But the man planning how he can wipe out his entire family can be sure that if he does so, that act of murder will not define him. He'll be remembered as a good bloke.

    Like Geoff Hunt, who pointed a gun at the heads each of his three children and his wife, and pulled the trigger. He was remembered as a lovely bloke, a hardworking family man, driven to despair over his wife's traumatic brain injury and sparing his family the pain of their unbearable lives. As with reports from the Margaret River shooting that one or more of the children have autism, the mention of disability adds to the redemption of the murderer; the stress of coping with a loved one's disability makes murder all the more understandable. And when the murder of the Lutz-Manrique children in 2017 was described as "an act of love", it tells us that the lives of people with disabilities are not quite worth living.

    Channel 7 journalist Robert Ovadia is apparently angry that people are challenging the good bloke narrative. Ovadia asks whether we need to spell out that mass murderers are bad people, before stating we need to leave Aaron Cockman, who described his former father in law, who'd murdered Cockman's four children, as a good bloke - alone.

    The people who needed to leave Aaron Cockman alone are the media who broadcast the words of a man who was obviously in shock hours after losing his children. But no one was challenging Aaron Cockman. They were upset and angry that yet again, a man who murdered their entire family was being remembered as a good bloke - in one case, described as such in the headline of an article despite no one quoted in the article describing him that way. 

    The NSW Coroner found that Geoff Hunt murdered his family because of an "egocentric delusion that his wife and children would be better off dying than living without him." That is how we should be talking about family annihilators. Not what great blokes they were. The man planning how he will kill his family does not need to know his actions will be rationalised, explained away, forgiven. In the murderous, egotistical scheme he's devising, he doesn't need encouragement to see himself as a hero.

    Do we need to spell out that mass murderers are bad people? Yes. We need to say that good blokes don't kill their wives, their children, their grandchildren. We need the next "ordinary decent bloke" who plans to slaughter his entire family to know he won't be remembered as a good guy. We have guidelines for how suicide is reported in the media, to discourage anyone who may think of copying; we need guidelines on reporting mass murder. Of course family are entitled to remember the deceased however they choose; it doesn't mean the media need to report it. When it happens again - and of course, of course, someone killing their entire family will happen again, cause the world is a bit shit - then at least we can know we are trying a bit harder, as a society, to prevent it. 

    14 May 2018

    Quinceañera

    This blog started life from the Xander and Nico pod, so yes I will post to wish my cat a happy birthday. When you have your own blog, you can post whatever you want.

    06 May 2018

    Onward Christian Hypocrites: The strange logic of Trumping God

    I don't think there's anyone who, by now, does not believe that at some time in the last 15 years, Donald Trump had sex with Stormy Daniels. The details of who paid how much when to shut who up about what are all a bit hazy, but it's pretty much agreed by everyone that the President of the United States, weeks after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, had sex with a porn star. 

    (And on that, why is everyone in porn a "star"? How come you never hear of "porn extras" or "porn character actors"? No wonder porn stars have all got about 280 film credits to their names; they're busy having to do all the acting. I digress). 

    Even Evangelical Christians accept that Trump has been up to some shifty business, what with the Access Hollywood tapes, and now this; never mind that the man hasn't set foot in a church since elected. Evangelical Christians still love him. Prominent Evangelical Franklin Graham, son of the recently departed Billy Graham, has come out declaring that Trump's affair with Daniels is "nobody's business". You probably find it a bit revolting, and pretty baffling, that Evangelicals can protest gay marriage and in many US States make it almost impossible for a woman to access her right to control her own reproductive freedom, whilst seeing Trump as doing the Lord's work. 

    There's logic behind it, though. A creepy, weird logic, but a logic nevertheless. You see, God famously moves in mysterious ways. God, in fact, likes to choose flawed and ordinary humans to do his work. St Paul enjoyed torturing the early Christians, before a a funny thing happened on the way to Damascus and he turned to spreading The Word of Jesus. 

    But there's another Biblical figure Evangelicals have in mind when it comes to Trump. Specifically, Evangelical leaders are speaking of Trump as Cyrus, a 6th Century BCE Persian King who, whilst not a Jew, ended the Babylonian Exile, allowing the Jews to return to Israel and build the Temple. Whilst not being religious himself, Cyrus was used by God as a "vessel" to achieve His aims. Similarly, as a "flawed vessel", Trump is being used by God to achieve His aims, restoring America's place as a Christian nation.

    How is Trump doing the Lord's work? First of all, by stopping Hilary. They can't quite articulate why - some furious spittle about gas pipelines, Benghazi, Monica Lewinsky and headbands - but they're convinced that Hilary Clinton is evil, actually evil, an instrument of the devil; and Trump, by selflessly putting aside his own interests to run for President, has saved America from this scourge. 

    Then he announced plans to move the American embassy to Jerusalem; also good stuff. In Evangelical theology, it's all part of the plan to kick off with the end times and bring on the second coming of Christ. (Seeing Ultra Zionists and Fundamentalist Christians happily shaking hands over this when their end goals run at cross purposes is creepy, to say the least). 

    And Trump won't take away their God given right to have guns. (I mostly read an ESV Bible, and it seems to be missing the part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus sang the praises of the AR-15; maybe that's why the fundamentalists tend to prefer King James). They're not worried about their kids getting shot just for going to school, because their kids don't go to school; they're at home, getting homeschooled, not being "handed over to the state to raise". 

    But Trump's real opportunity to do God's work is yet to come. The Fundies are counting on him to stay President long enough to appoint at least one more, conservative, justice to the Supreme Court. There's 9 Justices on the Supreme court, and they've basically had a balance of 4 conservative Republican, 4 Democrat and one Independent for the past few decades; this has been useful in ensuring judgements tend not to fall on the ends of the political spectrum. When Justice Anthony Scalia, a conservative Republican, died in early 2016, normal procedure should have been for Barack Obama to nominate a replacement; but the Republicans infamously held the seat open for a year, refusing all nominees until after the election, when they got their wish of a Republican president who nominated another conservative judge, Neil Gorsuch; keeping the ideological balance. 

    The reason all this is an issue is because, if any of the Liberal leaning justices die or retire, Trump will replace them with a conservative, and the composition of the court will be 5 conservatives, 3 liberals and an independent  - paving the way for the Supreme Court, so the Evangelicals hope, to overturn Roe vs Wade, the judgement that mandates a woman's right to abortion. If Roe vs Wade is overturned, the right to legislate abortion devolves to the States, and you best believe the likes of OhioIowaKentucky and Alabama would be wetting themselves in the rush to make abortion illegal.

    This is the issue Evangelicals care about more than just about any other. Not poverty or schooling or rising rates of maternal death or Presidents bumping uglies (a term that was rarely more apt) with a star of the adult film industry. Trump has been put in office to protect the millions of unborn babies liberals hate so much, and if the man has paid for or provoked an abortion or several himself over the years, well, that's none of their damn business. 

    01 May 2018

    Not a good look

    I felt annoyed, kinda disgusted and above all, tired when I saw this photo of NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham at a Greens trivia fundraiser:



    (I debated whether I should include the actual photo, but decided to because the post won't make much sense unless you've seen it and anyway, with all the stuff I've discussed over the years, this isn't exactly a safe space.)

    I felt disgusted because it sure looks to me like he's making a lewd gesture that refers to cunnilingus. And that makes me tired. I'm sure it would make many other women feel tired as well, because we're so tired of the graphic abusive messages we receive online. Just recently, a man added me as a friend on Facebook. I don't normally accept friend requests from people I don't know or share any mutual friends with, but in this case, I'd seen him commenting on several political posts and he seemed okay, so I accepted this one. Well, he started with messages saying he wanted to meet me and when I demurred, it escalated to vile messages with graphic descriptions of sexual acts. And then again I felt annoyed, but also exhausted by the amount of misogyny women encounter online.

    So I felt pretty revolted and disappointed by what Mr Buckingham appears to be doing in this photo, and it seems I wasn't alone. There was fairly lively discussion on a (public) Greens supporters Facebook page, with defenders of Mr Buckingham stating that he is simply making an "up yours" gesture at the losing trivia team - and that inner city types wouldn't understand. Now, I'm from Newcastle, and I've never seen anyone give an inverted v salute to indicate up yours. It is always the middle finger. I guess things are different in other, non-inner city parts of NSW.

    But I always try to see the good in people. I know things can be misinterpreted and people make mistakes. I decided to reserve judgment until Jeremy Buckingham had a chance to respond to allegations he, as an NSW MP, is making graphic reference to a sex act in a photo - not a good look. This is the kind of thing I wanted to see:

    I want to apologise for being photographed in what I now understand is an inappropriate and offensive pose. Whilst no offence was intended, I apologise unreservedly to anyone who was hurt or offended by this gesture. I understand we all have a part to play in eliminating sexual harassment and assault from society. The Greens are committed to providing a safe environment free of assault. Anyone who wishes to discuss this further is welcome to contact my office. A link to the Greens Sexual Harassment policy and resources for those needing assistance can be found here:
    https://nsw.greens.org.au/nsw/preventing-and-responding-sexual-harassment 

    That was pretty much what I was hoping for. No blame shifting, no victim blaming, simple, gets the job done, offers help to anyone who needs it. I've cribbed this from John Scalzi's excellent guide to apologies, which lays out what a good apology should and shouldn't contain.

    You might argue that this is all a bit of an overreaction to a simple photo. Do we all have to issue formal apologies for everything we do in life now? In this case, no, it really isn't over the top. Jeremy Buckingham is a Greens MP, a public representative, a group we would hope is held to higher standards of public conduct. He also represents the Greens, a party which stands for progressivism and human rights. I know for me, there's no "confected outrage"; I simply saw the photo, prior to most of the discussion on the matter, and felt disturbed and disappointed, and didn't really appreciate being told my visceral reaction was petty, prudish or over reacting.

    In the case of Mr Buckingham, there ought to be an extra level  of sensitivity to these matters. The topics of sexual harassment and assault have been much discussed in recent times due to the #MeToo movement; in the case of the Greens, these discussions have been the more necessary and painful due to several incidents involving Greens members. High profile Greens member Jarah Crook, a former staffer of Jeremy Buckingham's, was accused of sexual assault by several young women, who allege the Greens failed to take proper action when alerted to the offences.

    There was also the case of the ACT Greens volunteer allegedly assaulted by a senior Greens member, with Greens founder Bob Brown appearing in the media attacking the victim for her public anonymity and not going to police sooner. At a recent "meet the candidates" forum for the NSW State election, candidates were asked about Brown's comments in light of Greens harassment policies; all disavowed the comments except Mr Buckingham, who stated he was unaware of any such comments, which seems slightly disingenuous considering they were the talk of Greens' circles for weeks (I never know anything that's going on, but I was well aware of this). At any rate, I hope that Mr Buckingham took the opportunity to fully inform himself of what Bob Brown said and shared the view that it smacked of victim blaming.

    So yes, I would expect Jeremy Buckingham to be more sensitive to matters surrounding sexual harassment and abuse; and to realise the hurt this photo caused and react appropriately.

    Instead what we got was this:

    “Attributable to Jeremy Buckingham: “This was a light-hearted up-yours and raspberry blown to the opposing trivia team after we won a trivia night. It was not intended to be anything else. I have apologised to anyone who has interpreted this gesture differently and any offense that it has caused.”

    and

    “I am a fan of 1970s punk rock and Rick Mayall from The Young Ones who often used the two finger up-yours as a cheeky gesture.”

    and

    “Hi Chris, Background (not for attribution) the photo was taken of the winning trivia team at a Greens trivia night. Jeremy is giving a light-hearted up-yours and blowing a raspberry at the opposing teams. It was not intended as any kind of sexual gesture. Perhaps it is the camera angle that makes it look like something it is not. It was posted by one of the other members of the trivia team to a private Facebook but then taken and publicised by former Shoebridge staffer Lauren Gillin.”

    Said responses being provided by email to a journalist from New Matilda as outlined here. No ownership, no real apology - it's not I'm sorry for what I did but I'm sorry that you took offence. And all finished with an attempt to paint this as some sort of factional smear in an internal NSW Greens battle I'm not even going to start trying to explain here.

    I was upset and disappointed by this photo, but I was willing to give Jeremy Buckingham the benefit of the doubt here, I really was. Instead, a learning opportunity and a chance to take the dialogue on sexual harassment in healthy directions regarding respect and a chance to link survivors with helpful resources  has turned into a disaster which does nothing to correct impressions that the Greens are a boys' club like any other party, that women can never feel entirely safe in politics, that concerns regarding harassment are not taken seriously or that as a Greens MP, Jeremy Buckingham understands the importance of his role in all of this. The photo was bad, but the obfuscation and cover up are so very much worse. And I'm feeling even sadder and more worn out than before.

    Edit: an earlier version of this post showed an uncropped version of the above photo.

    18 April 2018

    Why can't we have anti depressants that work?

    I had another mental health episode recently. You wouldn't know anything was wrong to look at me; no talking to angels or strangers. But inside, I felt dreadful; an emotional flu, spiritual hangover, psychological gastro. Without going into gory details, in weighing up my options and desperately wanting to feel better, I considered heading to hospital. But I didn't, because aside from not much being in the mood for boiled carrots, I knew there was very little they could do to make me feel better. Sure, they could give me some valium to take the edge off and make me sleepy for a few hours, but that was about it.

    Pharmaceutical treatments for depression are still stuck in the Prozac era of taking some pills, waiting three weeks and hoping for the best in the meantime; yet as I discovered there are other treatments which may well offer longer term cures; but the powers that be have decided we can't have them.

    When it comes to antidepressants, we really haven't moved pharmacology much past the Prozac Nation era of the early 1990s. There have been minor developments, tinkering here and there, but SSRIs and SNRIs remain the fundamental pharmaceutical approach to depression. If someone suffering severe depression seeks medical help, the best they can be offered in most cases is to take these pills and hope there will be some improvement showing in a few weeks time.

    There is some evidence that SSRIs are linked to increased rates of suicide, particularly in the early stages of treatment; whether this is because the drugs elevate energy levels before they improve mood, or due to another mechanism, is still a topic of intense debate in the psychiatric community.

    Perhaps the worst aspect of modern antidepressants - aside from the fact that they don't actually make you feel better - are the absolutely horrendous side effects when you quit using the drugs. Symptoms of discontinuation syndrome include dizziness, confusion, fatigue and the brain zaps which will be familiar to anyone who's suffered from them (you know when you're falling asleep and feel like you're falling? I had that happen when I was walking down the street. It wasn't so great). Nearly half of users who tried to quit were unable to because of the severity of symptoms. My current primary medication, Effexor, causes withdrawal symptoms within hours; this is especially grim when I run out of pills near the end of the fortnight and have to wait a few days to afford to fill the script.

    And when people stop taking them, they are still depressed.

    So I kept searching for answers and found myself in forums for people who felt just as bad as I did. People struggling with severe depression, complex trauma, PTSD, able to openly share how bad things were and what they felt were their options. And of course the subject of suicide came up; someone said how they'd been dealing with the fall out from sexual abuse for decades, they'd tried every treatment available and now they were ready to give up. And someone said to them, I understand where you're coming from but before writing life off entirely, please try DMT. It will change everything.

    N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a psychedelic compound found in the ayahuasca and other plants. It's been called the spirit molecule, an experience which cannot be expressed in words (although this very long and odd article from VICE tries). It's been used in South American spiritual ceremonies for centuries, and there's a tonne of testimonies online of people who have used them successfully to treat depression, anxiety and PTSD, but in Australia DMT is a Schedule 9 substance prohibited except for research purposes.

    Many online commenters suggested one should travel to South America for the authentic ayahuasca experience under supervision of a shaman, but if I was able to afford an overseas trip I wouldn't be so depressed, so that's out. There are DIY groups holding ayahuasca ceremonies in Australia, but you have to know they right sorts of people to be invited, which I don't, and anyway it all sounds a bit too much like ponchos and white guys with dreadlocks for my liking.

    What I would like, without having to break the law or learn Spanish or hear bongos, is to be able to take myself along to a nice, clean medical centre and access treatment that would actually make a real, tangible difference in the way I feel.

    The Greens yesterday launched their policy of legalising cannabis for adult use, a sensible move long overdue (and I don't even smoke the stuff and still won't if it's legalised; I just never liked the way it made me feel). But overshadowed in the fuss is the Greens calling for more research amid concerns that Australians are missing out on a global renaissance of psychedelic drugs used in treatment for depression, addiction and in palliative. Australia is lagging behind on use of psychedelic drugs in psychiatry and there are no trials underway, with authors of an article published in Australian Psychologist advocating for the research into their use lamenting the conservatism in academic and research circles (remember when Australia used to be a forward looking, innovative nation? Now we can't even have decent internet let alone medical research).

    Stephen Bright and Martin Williams write in Australian Psychologist that whilst a range of effective therapies have been developed for conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and phobias, current treatments for severe depression and PTSD are not as effective. Psychedelic drugs enjoyed a period of successful use in psychotherapy:

    First synthesised by Albert Hofmann in 1938, LSD [...] led to a paradigm shift in psychiatry as numerous medicines were developed based on this new understanding of the brain. In the context of psychotherapy, LSD itself was also found to be effective in the treatment of a range of mental disorders, including addiction, anxiety, and depression. Just one or two sessions of LSD-assisted psychotherapy were found to produce profound, rapid, long-lasting positive effects with little need for further interventions, unlike psychoanalysis which involved years of therapy sessions.

    But despite little direct evidence of ill effects, the recreational use of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s lead Richard Nixon to ban all use under the guise of the War on Drugs, despite the protests of psychologists and psychiatrists as to their therapeutic value. Moral panics were indulged, risks wildly exaggerated. We know now that the War on Drugs has been one of the largest and most expensive failures in human history, but as the rest of the world begins to wind back the prohibitions on therapeutic use of psychedelics, Australia remains stuck in moral panic mode.

    It seems that there are drugs out there that when you take them, can make you feel better right away and offer some long term relief from symptoms of severe depression and trauma. Can we have them please? The war on drugs has had many terrible effects in four decades, certainly one of which is that people struggling with severe symptoms of trauma and depression cannot access real relief. For myself and others like me, any risks have to be weighed against the risk of the days when I don't know if I should board the train I intended to take at the station or jump under it. Let's get the trials going; I'll be the first one in line. 

    03 April 2018

    The appalling legacy of Jocelyn Newman

    Howard government minister, political matriarch, social reformer and Godmother of Centrelink Jocelyn Newman passed away over the weekend at the age of 80.  Don't go to a Centrelink office to express your grief, though; security guards are trained to surround you if you cry. Instead, I thought we'd take a chance to reflect on Ms Newman's terrible legacy.

    Campbell Newman being interviewed (cropped)
    No, not him.

    When I refer to Jocelyn Newman as a social reformer, it is not a compliment. Ms Newman was architect and engineer of Centrelink, the interface of the Australian welfare system. Centrelink was established on Ms Newman's watch in 1997, combining several previous government departments such as the Department of Social Security and the actually useful Commonwealth Employment Service into a one stop shop of human misery. It's worth reflecting that it whilst the Liberal party claims to be for individual choice and small government, it was a Liberal government who created a horrifying byzantine bureaucracy. They labelled it all under the auspices of choice but for Australia's disadvantaged, the "choice" means submitting to the routine humiliations of Centrelink, or resorting to poverty and potential crime. And for all the rhetoric of a single government agencies reducing inefficiency, duplication and waste, the myriad sections of Centrelink are often completely separate from each other, unable to access each other's systems or even contact other departments.

    A full account of the miseries Centrelink uses to punish those who require its services would be depressing to write and tedious to read. The mainstream media brings us frequent accounts of Centrelink woes, sometimes ironically, such as in this article from the Daily Telegraph about the Welfare Super Bludger, which is not a really shit new children's superhero but a mythical recipient of Newstart allowance with the article highlighting one putative job seeker who stuffs up. (Apparently the guy misbehaved at 99 job interviews. How does anyone get 99 job interviews in a single year, let alone through employment service providers?!). There's little indication of larger issues, such as the cost of all the monitoring, the fact that people with disabilities are largely forced to rely on Newstart (and comply with "mutual obligation" requirements) instead of receiving the disability support pension let alone basic problem the ratio of jobseekers to jobs. 

    It all feeds in to the myth of the welfare bludger, whom everyone seems to know - any facebook post about the low rate of Newstart is flooded with irate commentators describing their neighbour who's been on the dole for years, spending all day playing video games, getting tattoos and going on holidays - triggering endless audits and crackdowns that but never shows up in audits. When there are not enough jobs to go around - especially with the loss of blue collar and unskilled employment - demanding job seekers comply with mutual obligation requirements is a farce. Requiring job seekers to show up at an office for a day a week applying for jobs that don't exist without addressing any of the reasons why they became unemployed serves little purpose other than to punish the job seeker for being unemployed in the first place. It's not at least giving them a chance or getting them out of the house; it is demeaning, humiliating and horrible.

    And today we won't even get started on the changes to granting of the disability support pension with insanely restrictive criteria forcing thousands of ill and injured people to deal with the job search system and providers with no understanding of disability - again, all to catch out the mythical bludger:


    "The best form of welfare is a job" is the homeopathy of social services. It doesn't work and it makes no sense, but its adherents cling to it with religious fervour and become defensive and angry when challenged.

    Jocelyn Newman cannot of course solely be blamed for the sorry state of affairs for Australian job seekers today, just as Centrelink cannot really be blamed for the policies they are forced to enact, like denying dying people the disability support pension. It's takes an entire government, and their mindset of the disadvantaged as a societal evil writ in policies punishing the poor for their very existence, for that. (Not that Labor is ever much better; witness the Gillard Labor government turfing single parents, regardless of training or childcare or anything else, off single parenting payments and onto Newstart).

    In truth, it's been decades of bloody minded adherence to neoliberal policies in spite of all evidence that has created the whole welfare hell; but in creating Centrelink, Jocelyn Newman opened up a corporatised, centralised portal to that hell.

    It's worth examining how far the current Australian welfare system has strayed from the ideals under which it was established in the days after World War Two: 

    "The moment we establish, or perpetuate, the principle that the citizen, in order to get something he needs or wants and to which he has looked forward, must prove his poverty, we convert him into a suppliant to the state for benevolence.

    That position is inconsistent with the proper dignity of the citizen in a democratic country. People should be able to obtain these benefits as a matter of right, with no more loss of their own standards of self-respect than would be involved in collecting from an insurance company the proceeds of an endowment policy on which they have been paying premiums for years."


    Which raging lefty socialist uttered these words? Why, it was Robert Menzies. Now there's a legacy I'd like to see revived.

    24 March 2018

    The only guide you'll ever need to the Reserve Bank of Australia Museum

    Some people mark the end of their treatment for cancer by going to Disneyland or swimming with dolphins. I celebrated the end of my treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome by visiting the Reserve Bank of Australia museum. Don't hate me cause you ain't me.

    You may not even have known there was a museum at the Reserve Bank of Australia HQ, which is on Martin Place in the Sydney CBD, bucking the trend of Australian government entities being based in Canberra. I didn't know there was a museum there, until I happened to be walking past after completing treatment at the Sydney Hand Hospital and saw the small sign proclaiming the existence of a museum. I decided to go in and take a look. I figured somebody should.



    I neglected to take a camera to capture my experience in the full, rich detail it deserved, so photos are from the Reserve Bank Museum website. It was less busy when I visited. Considerably less busy. In fact I was the only person there, and the nice but not overly friendly lady behind the desk look slightly startled to see me (although people often look slightly startled to see me, once including John Cleese. But that's another story). She walked me in, explained the layout and exhibits, and told me there was a university group visiting from Sweden I think it was? and I was welcome to join there tour if I wanted, but I'm sure none of you will need smelling salts to learn that I decided I'd have a look around for myself.


    The museum is dedicated not to the economic history of Australia in general, with all its panics, crashes and housing bubbles, but to the history of Australian currency manufacture, a very specific and odd focus, considering Australian money is printed elsewhere - at Cragieburn in Victoria, for those of you playing at home - and one that may well be rendered completely redundant by technology in a few years. They do not give out free samples, although I'm sure every Dad whose ever visited asks.

    Image showing a £20 note

    For history buffs or those who like to reminisce fondly about old money, the museum is interesting enough in a low grade sort of way, with chronologically organised displays ranging from a brief and unsatisfactory paragraph about the barter system in traditional Aboriginal society; through rum currency; shillings and pence, the introduction to decimal currency (Menzies wanted to call the Australian monetary unit the Royal, I learn with very little surprise) and on to the bragging rights to our world leading polymer currency. I never did find the Swedes, but I did run into a class of bored and unhappy 12 year olds being lectured by a museum guide about the introduction of polymer currency, with the new $5 featuring a portrait of the Queen "...of course this was in 1992, when she was considerably younger". "Well, we've all lost some bounce since then", I chimed in helpfully, but receiving only blank looks, I decided it was time to call a halt to my brief new career as assistant docent, and moved on.

    I was pretty much done with the museum after about fifteen minutes, but didn't want to leave quite so soon. When I visit these niche museums, I'm always worried that if I leave too soon, I'll hurt the staff's feelings. You walk past the guides on your way out, and feel you've let them down somehow. "I'm sorry, you've got a great little museum here, but it's just not what I'm looking for right now." But I was hungry and tired, and decided I was going to have to make a break for it. Luckily on my way out the nice guide lady was busy with actual Reserve bank staff, so I was able to leave without upsetting anyone, unless they read this guide, and I'd like to think I'm actually encouraging people to check it out for themselves.

    The Reserve Bank of Australia Museum is located at 65 Martin Place, Sydney, and is open from 10:00am to 4:00pm Monday to Friday excluding public holidays and NSW bank holidays. The author traveled on an Opal and has this weird itch on the back of her knee.

    20 March 2018

    Cruising



    It's coming up to autumn in my corner of the world, and my friend Ridge* and I have been discussing going on a cruise. I know - I know! - I can't afford it. But I've been through kind of a shite time, what with all the custody stuff, and maybe if I save real hard... I know cruises aren't everyone's idea of fun - someone on Twitter described them as going on holiday at a Westfield mall - but I like the all inclusive aspect; you just get on the ship and switch off your brain for six days. My brain is always whirring to dark and uncomfortable places; it needs a rest. And above all, at less than $100 a day if you get a good deal, covering travel, food, accommodation, activities and sightseeing, they're cheap.

    Anyway, it's fun to day dream, although slightly unsettling. Once you've been searching for cruises, the logarithms dreamed up by the boffins of the internet keep showing you stories about cruises, nearly all of them bad

    Cruises have been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. A ship was forced to return to Sydney last month after a brawl broke out after a toilet queue (I bet it was rice on the buffet. Everyone assumes it's the seafood, but did you know rice is actually the leading cause of food poisoning in Australia? See, read this blog, you learn something). That same week, another ship  returned to dock early and nine passengers removed after claims of repeated brawls and trouble allegedly started in a fight over a thong (the kind that goes on your foot, not your butt).

    If you die on a cruise, you want a bunch of other people to die too. If you die with other people, then you're part of a tragedy. The Prime Minister will make a statement, flags with be lowered, you'll get your name on a memorial plaque. If you die on your own, then you'll forever be just the idiot who fell off a ship.


    But genuinely terrible things can happen on cruises, and with issues over jurisdiction, justice can be hard to come by. There's an organisation called International Cruise Victims who are not, as one might first assume, a bunch of Baby Boomers complaining about the wine service, but the victims, families and friends of crimes on cruise ships - murders, sexual assault, disappearances. I spent some time reading around on the site; many of the stories are truly horrific.

    And you'd think any or all of this would put me off, but no. I want to go on the damn cruise. 

    So there's the question of what kind of cruise to go on. Ridge and I want to avoid: families with small children; schoolies; the  elderly; Baby Boomers; bucks and hens tours...that doesn't actually leave very many people we would actually want to be stuck out at sea with for eight days. We discussed going on a gay cruise, but a gay cruise is not without its issues; whilst Studs n Suds night may be fun at night, it's not so much fun when it's ten am and you just want a cup of tea and you have to step over two guys fucking in the corridor.

    Food, wine and comedy cruises sound like fun, but they only go out to sea for a few days and back again. We want to actually go somewhere, even if its just for a bit of wading and buying a t shirt that seems fun on Mai Tai island and looks ridiculous in Sydney Central Station. And a bit of sun would do me good. How does an Irish person end up with Vitamin D deficiency in Australia, cause I did (my iron stores are too high, though, if anyone's running a bit short). This is all right in the inner west, where every natural skin colour is considered all right, but is very odd when I go to the parts of Sydney where white people don't like brown people even though they spend all their spare time trying to get as brown as possible.

    David Foster Wallace compared the cruise experience to being in the womb; a tranquil, pampered nothingness. I think my first time around was marred by osmotic resentment, so I'm keen to have another go. Who wouldn't want to be born again? Yep, a cruise is just what I need. I'm ready to float on warm, tranquil waters and emerge red, screaming and covered in goo, counting myself lucky to have survived. 

    * He picked his own pseudonym. So don't blame me. 

    03 March 2018

    The Best Church in the Whole Wide World

    I need a new church. As I've mentioned, I moved house recently. My old church wasn't perfect and I certainly didn't agree with them on many doctrinal issues, but they were a sedate enough bunch and served my spiritual needs adequately. In inner Sydney moving 5km might as well be moving to a different state though, and it would now be a pain in the arse to get to Sunday services in time on public transport, so I've been looking for a new church.

    My quest for a new church could be summed up pretty well in this comic from Berkely Mews:


    But I'm going to prattle on about it for another few hundred words regardless. Evidently, churches have decided a big reason people don't go to church anymore is not feeling welcome when they get there. And what churches have decided to do, pretty much all of them, is to assign parishoners to stand at the door of the church in the manner of greeters at Walmart and welcome newcomers, except it would be like if the Walmart greeters then followed you around the store. Be a first time attendee at most reasonably sized protestant churches these days and there will be someone at the door wanting to know who you are, where you're from, if you're from the area, do you go to church normally and which one, what do you do...there's no chance of slipping past them and quietly taking a seat waiting for the service to begin either, as they'll insist on sitting next to you and, very likely, introducing you to people on the way. Now, I'm sure some people really appreciate this welcome to a new setting. But if you're shy, awkward or going through a hard time - in other words, people who may well be seeking spiritual comfort - it is a nightmare. 

    Feeling a bit low, I went to the evening service - which, given it was advertised as a "fun, informal community!", was probably my first mistake - at a local, mainline protestant church. There was the usual "HI HOW ARE YOU WHAT BRINGS YOU HERE?!?!" when I walked in, but nothing too bad. The service was pretty okay; I liked the music, the guy playing the guitar could really sing. But then there was after. Oh god. I wasn't allowed to leave. Every bloody person there had to be introduced to me. Beverages were shoved in my hand. I only just avoided being forced into table tennis. But worst of all was the incredibly nosy person who wouldn't leave me alone, asking question after personal question, seeing my reticence as a sign to go in harder. In desperation I even mentioned that the social thing is a little off putting for introverts in a new church and she's like "well, we won't leave you all by yourself!"

    At length I managed to leave, feeling a little upset, even a touch violated. When I left, the pastor noticed, and started off a chorus of about 30 people yelling "BYE NICOLA! - this was awful. I felt obliged to acknowledge it though, so I turned around and stood there grinning awkwardly.

    All this made me consider going back to the Catholic Church. Oh, I still disagree with them about... Well most stuff actually. But the Catholic Church is a lot like McDonald's. You walk in, no one cares who you are, you do your little ritual (whether it's the Eucharist or ordering a big Mac), you walk out. No awkward chit chat, and no matter where you go in the world you know what you're going to get. No one wants to know where you've come from, your faith background, if you're new to the area or if you want to be introduced to everyone. In fact, chatting at all in a Catholic church is forbidden, particularly in the Irish Catholic tradition I was raised in. In a Catholic Church in Ireland, the closest you might talk to someone is if, say you saw your brother across the pews for the first time in a year after he'd been missing in a war zone, you might just nod your head slightly to acknowledge each other. Even that might earn you a reproachful "Ah-HEM" if there's a particularly diligent nun nearby.

    In the end, I couldn't quite go Catholic but I think I've found the right church for me. They follow all the beautiful and complicated liturgical traditions I love, without the bit about the Pope; but the best bit is no one talks to you. There's a brief thank you to the person who hands you the hymnal, but that's it. The only discordant note was when I went to use the washroom; as I emerged, I saw one of the priests pulling up skirts of his voluminous robes, to save time before using the facilities himself. But that's okay. Frankly, I'd rather he defecated in my hand than go through the bestest church in the whole wide world again.

    FWIW Going to church occasionally doesn't change anything my feminist and democratic socialist beliefs (and if I'm challenged about issues such as a woman's right to choose, I just like to say "I'd like to concentrate on getting the Christianity in Acts 2 right first before we worry about things that aren't even in the Bible"). Yes, the Abrahamic religions are inherently patriarchal and some would say sexist. But there's massively sexist dirtbags in atheism as well.  I'm feeling like the problem might be letting dickhead men run things unchallenged, not religion or the lack of it. 

    01 March 2018

    Moving

    Posts have been a bit scarce lately because - I don't even want to know how many times I've posted this in the fourteen years since I started blogging - I've been moving house. Again. What can I tell you. Luckily, with so many moves under my belt, I've got the whole thing down to a fine art: starting two weeks ahead of moving day, I pack one beautifully organised box full of books, clearly label it "BOOKS", stick it in the corner of my lounge room and do nothing else until the day before the move.  

    I hoped that maybe this time, though, things could be different. Looking online for boxes, a major retailer's website promises me that I can  "Take the stress out of moving with Officeworks handy moving guide". Excellent; who doesn't need to destress when they're moving house. So I read the guide, which seems mostly to consist of suggestions to purchase Officeworks products. However, they are a big smart corporation and I am just a people, maybe they know something I don't; and anyway the fact I'm moving all the fucking time clearly indicates I'm in no way qualified to make decisions regarding my own life. Anyway, I head to Officeworks.
    Officeworks has gone down the Walmart path of having a greeter at the front of the store, which is kinda weird. I mean, it's okay if you're walking in with a spring in your step, and can respond to their "Hi, how are you today?" with a cheery "I'm excellent! Thank you. I'm so looking forward to purchasing binder files.". But if you're like every other person who's ever gone to Officeworks and you're just trying to get the materials for the class project on food groups then get out as fast as you can because it's late and your child only told you at bed time the thing is due tomorrow morning and you know you'll be up until 1am doing the damn assignment for them even though half of you wants to strangle the little shit darling child, well, the perky welcome seems only to poke fun at your gloom. 

    In between all the packing, you've got to find removalists, unless you've got friends willing to help you move, and I don't. Pretty much every removalist firm also promises to take the stress out of moving. Look, if everyone could just get together and designate one of you to stress out of moving, because it's not happening at the moment with everyone fighting over the job.

    Moving day arrives, much too soon. Removalists have ridiculous start times. I'm not at my best in the morning, partly cause of medication I'm on and partly cause I'm a lazy bludging lefty that's everything that's wrong with this country. Can we kick off around ten, I ask when I make the booking. No can do; the morning slots are 6am (6am!) and 8 am. I pick the latter. At any time of day, it's not great having strangers in my house, touching my things. I know that these are technically my employees, and I shouldn't feel guilty for needing to sit down in front of them and not lifting boxes myself - that's a big reason why I needed to hire movers in the first place. Nevertheless, it feels weird sitting down in front of guys lugging my stuff, and I make sure to sit on a hard surface on an angle of at least 20 degrees to the perpendicular, whilst adopting the facial expression I normally assume on thinking about Sydney property developers, to let them know that whilst I am reclining, I am not taking any enjoyment from the experience and am not just sitting around like a pampered princess whilst others work for me.

    Not that the removalists didn't hesitate to let me know their feeling that I was Marie Antoinetting the move. My new flat is up several flight of stairs, which was explained when making the booking, but I was still treated to a litany of complaints about every last one of them, as well as the company they move for, the heat, and that Donald Trump is just trying to do his best. (I can't help but feel they'd find the stairs easier to manage if they'd given up on the chain smoking, which they did, lavishly and with gusto, whilst handling my soft furnishings). They even complained to me, on their seventh or eighth trip down to the truck for more cartons, that I have too many books, and I'd have flung them off the balcony if there weren't a bunch more cartons to go. Saturate my nearly new pillow top mattress with disgusting Marlboro smoke? I'll smile politely and let it go. Disparage my books? You are not getting a tip.  

    Finally, my stuff was in my new house, the movers left, and I had the opportunity to really take stock and organise my possessions in a way to bring me comfort and happiness and help me live my best life, so of course I set up the TV, got put the kettle, and shoved everything else in a corner where it can stay for the next several months.

    There was a minor issue with my power supply, and I had to ring the power company. On the third ring, without my pressing anything, the IVR said "please hold while your call is being transferred". Corporations are getting in early with transferring calls these days; they do it pre-emptively to everyone.  When I was transferred through to the right department, the hold voice said "Moving house is stressful. And while we can't carry the boxes for you, we can at least ensure the power is on the day you move in." Finally some honesty, not another corporate entity promising all but to assemble your bed then give you the best sex of your life on top of it. Now that would be moving.

    19 February 2018

    The Hollow Woman



    I read Lena Dunham's article about her decision to have a hysterectomy at the age of 31 with a great deal of interest. I've never been a big fan of Ms Dunham for all of her clunky clueless white feminism that leaves those of us who are white and poor, queer and disabled on the outer, when there's a heap of white feminists who are poor and pissed off and trying to make space for ourselves. but of course it's impossible not to feel a great deal of sympathy for Ms Dunham having to make such a heart breaking decision. Even so, I find myself second guessing the choice. Maybe it is human nature to think we know better, stemming from a subconscious need to protect ourselves, thinking that it, whatever it is, can't happen to us because we know better. If she wanted a child so much, why didn't she have just one and arrange the hysterectomy at the same time as the c section?

    This post isn't about Lena Dunham though. It's about me, and the other women like me. The mothers who don't have primary custody of their children. Except it's not called custody anymore, someone will tell you, sometimes after you've just poured out your sadness to what you thought were sympathetic ears. You don't have custody because no one has custody any more; we now call it being the primary carer. It should be legal to slap those people.

    Don't even get me started on men's rights groups, the ones that claim women are favoured in custody cases. Very few Australian custody decisions end up in court, and of the ones that do, the courts nearly always leave the children with the parent they're already staying with. No matter if that's the mother or the father.

    The next thing people want is to know to why. It's still so unusual, after all. As much as we give lip service to the notion of shared care, most people still believe, deep down, that a mother should be with her young children, and they wonder if something is wrong with you - is it drugs? Violence? I've written about my struggles with mental health, is it that? Actually, in the end, my situation is pretty simple. My ex husband and I were living with his mother when we separated, so remaining separated under one roof was never an option and I was the one who had to leave. I wanted to bring my son with me, of course I did. But my ex decided that it was better if Mr G stayed where he was, in the neighbourhood he was used to and I couldn't afford to live in. I had to leave without him.

    Maybe you think you'd never give your kids up without exhausting all options, without fighting to the end. Maybe you would. If you ever find yourself in this situation, drop me a line and let me know how you're getting on. You might find things are a bit different than how you imagined, if it ever happens to you and I really hope it doesn't.

    It's happening to me though, and I can tell you it's horrible. Maybe we should be beyond biology, past the stereotypical gender roles that women belong with their small children; but I am not. I feel the pain deep inside, of the child I bore being taken from me, I am the hollow woman, I am the cat going crazy when her kittens are taken away, I am Medea, I am Rachel, refusing to be comforted. I am not there to feed my child dinner, give him a bath, read him a story; my little boy goes to bed without his mother to tuck him in and kiss him goodnight. I have missed a thousand hugs, drawings, imaginary cups of tea served from toy kitchens. Divorce is one thing. It's very sad, but it can in the end be dealt with. But this? All my pretty ones? Did you say all?

    I get to see him once a week. That's if I'm lucky, at the moment, because that separation has made him so attached to his Dad that he doesn't want to leave. Do I give in to my own broken heart and insist he comes stay at my house, or do I try to make my child happy by saying he doesn't have to come with me this weekend? What do I do in this awful situation? What on Earth do I do? There have been times where I've insisted, and he cries for his father at bed time. There have been times I've walked away from scheduled pick ups, gone home alone, collapsed on the floor sobbing, closed the door to his room because it hurts so much to see his things, to see his toys lined up forlornly waiting for him, thrown out the kids' yoghurt and crumpets he likes, that I could hardly afford to buy, because they've passed their expiration dates, uneaten.

    Time marches on, months turn in to years, and the gulf between us only grows. I am told how lucky I am that to have so much time to myself, how good my ex is for stepping up. Yes, it is good that the man I share a child with is able to capably handle parental duties. You know what would be better? If my child lived with me.

    "I couldn't stand it if that happened to me. I'd just die!". Here's the thing, though. You don't just die from pain, no matter how bad the pain is, you don't just stop existing, as much as you might wish to. And you still need to eat, drink, sleep and ablute. You try to take pleasure in the ordinary details of life, and I do, most of the time. But then you've some painful reminder how how skewed and chaotic life is. This isn't what I signed up for. You see and hear children everywhere, and they're not yours. Sometimes you see children being hit, pinched, sworn at. Other people mistreat the children they do get to live with. There are children brought into the world unloved and mistreated. The bitter unfairness of it all, and there is no where to put your pain and rage.It's not like your kids going away to camp. Please don't tell me how sad you were when your kid went to camp.

    There are things you can do to try and bear it, and I do try. I lived next to the beach for a year, went on long walks in nature, and the loneliness drove me mad. I have exercised, with tears running down my face as I wracked up distance on the rowing machine. There are at least the wonders of modern psychiatry to rely on. There's a delicate chemical balancing act in my body with the rainbow of medication I taste every day. It's not quite perfect. My legs and feet are swollen to the point the only shoes I can wear are some ugly old men sandals; this is merely a fashion problem in a Sydney summer but it will be an issue as the weather cools. I'm reluctant to upset things by changing medications. There are legal avenues available. I know the ins and outs of the system.

    So if I don't want your advice and I don't want you to tell me how you wouldn't cope, what do I want? I understand the desire to fix things, I do. But I'd like to be able to speak up without feeling judged or derailed. Decisions made years ago brought me here, and there's no easy fix. I'm still a mother. But that means something different to me, something my darkest thoughts could never have imagined.

    08 February 2018

    Barnaby Joyce, Parts I & II

    Yesterday saw the establishment media finally break the story every politically attuned social media user in Australia has known for months; that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was carrying on an extra marital affair with one of his political staffers, contributing t the break up of Joyce's 24 year marriage and with said staffer now pregnant with his child. The story finally hit mainstream circulation in the most salacious way possible; a Daily Telegraph front cover featuring a paparazzi shot of Joyce's former staffer, highlighting her pregnant belly.

    The affair has gone official, and those of us aware of the many long standing rumors surrounding Barnaby Joyce are now waiting for the other shoe to drop. If the affair has been confirmed, will the much darker stories surrounding Barnaby Joyce get an airing as well? 

    The Telegraph story came as a surprise to no one who follows the Australian politics hashtag #auspol on Twitter. The story of Joyce, his marriage breakdown and affair has been widely known since at least last October, when Independent Australia broke the story, based on their own investigative reporting, ahead of the New England byelection made necessary because Barnaby Joyce can't even get his citizenship right let alone a marriage. News Ltd journalist Sherri Markson at the time stated that Joyce was "battling vicious innuendo"; Markson being the one to bring us the Telegraph story yesterday in an act of astonishing chutzpah. Independent Australia did the work, assessing the mood in Tamworth at the time of the byelection, reporting that a female had taken on of the Joyce campaign utes and was driving around town shouting from a loudhailer that he couldn't be trusted - we now know that this woman was one of Joyce's daughters. Vicious innuendo, indeed.

    At the time, Barnaby Joyce was not only facing voters in New England but taking a role speaking against marriage equality to support the "No" campaign at the time of the same sex marriage plebiscite. Joyce defended himself last night on the 7:30 Report, stating that just because his own marriage broke down doesn't mean that marriage isn't worth defending. Joyce claimed that his marriage had broken down like 40-50% of all marriages, which is a slur on most couples who end their relationships honourably, without carrying on affairs; but Joyce acted like his marriage was over because of some sad accident, a wide eyed innocence which rings as hollow as that of the the press gallery journalists claiming they couldn't break the Joyce affair story last October because they didn't have proof.

    Well, the traditional news media runs on speculation all the time - and would the outcome of the New England byelection have been different if voters weren't able to dismiss rumors about noted family man Joyce as vicious gossip? We'll never know, but the media haven't exactly covered themselves in glory here, nor of course has Joyce himself, painting himself as the victim, as though his marriage breakdown was something sad that just happened and not the result of deliberate actions made by him to start a sexual relationship with someone twenty years younger and who he was in a position of power over.

    And that is just where the worrying aspect of this whole mess gets started. In the IA piece from November 2017, they listed a suite of rumors involving Joyce, including a long standing report, allegedly attested to by witnesses, that Joyce committed an act of sexual harassment at a Canberra pub in 2011, which reportedly left a young woman in some distress. True Crime News Weekly has expanded on the allegations, with multiple accounts of Joyce's behaviour stretching over many years; and it is looking a lot like Barnaby Joyce, Australia's Deputy Prime Minister, is not simply a madly in love man guy anticipating a new lease of family life with a new partner, but a serial sexual pest.

    And at the time of  course the whole lot was dismissed as vicious rumors by the mainstream media and the political parties. Well, now that the affair has been rumoured true, what about the allegations of Joyce's predatory and menacing behaviour? Are they, too, needing proof of a publishable standard before mainstream reporting? Will the media at least mention this aspect of the whole sorry matter? What more is yet to come out? If the mainstream media let the public down by not airing the Joyce affair allegations last November, then they are compounding the failure by not exploring these allegations now.

    We've only heard the half of it, I reckon. We'll see when and where the other shoe drops. But next time you're considering buying a newspaper - in store or through online subscription - consider giving a few bucks to Independent Australia, True Crime Weekly or other independent media instead.

    Disclaimer: I've never been published by Independent Australia or True Crime Weekly and am not connected to either publication in any way.