Monday, May 28, 2012

When is the right time to open up about your depression? (and my social anxiety)

Humblebrag: People have commented on how 'brave' I've been opening up about my OCD and anxiety here and elsewhere, but generally I shirk that compliment. Not always, sometimes I quietly bask in it.

Talking about your own experience with depression or any personal struggle is a whole lot easier when it's in the past tense though. No shit, right?

At times I've used past tense when I should really have used present, but that's tough - that takes real courage. You feel more vulnerable and sensitive to a perception of weakness, to become a victim of stigma.

Still, it ain't easy at any time and I found letting my long-held secret out of the bag to be incredibly liberating. It put it in a context of the reality outside my head, I don't feel 'alone' anymore and don't get sucked into an inward downward spiral of self-judgement so much as a result. 

However, as much as I'd love everyone with any kind of mental illness to stand up and declare it tomorrow - showing the world just how prevalent it is and the different kinds (all) of people it affects -  it is important when baring your soul to do it carefully, with the right people, especially when you're vulnerable.

It's a paradox. People struggle to talk about it because of the stigma, and the stigma exists because of a lack of discussion and understanding.

To quote a Batman film: 'People fear what they don't understand'. Too many people still don't understand mental illnes and, in some cases, fear it. It's not their fault - they may not (be aware that they probably) have dealt with someone with mental illness, and general education is lacking despite good work by a number of organisations. Some people don't really want to hear about depression because it's, well, depressing. But it's so important because too many people with depression don't understand what is going on or what to do.

That was me for a long time. I didn't talk to a sinlge person about it for over ten years until I figured out it for myself (thank you internet!). For a long time only my doctors, parents and then-girlfriend knew. A few years later I told a handful of trusted friends. A few years after that I put it out there for anyone to find. I don't go telling everyone in the 'real world' - I save that for here and Twitter - but I don't hide from it and it's not that hard for people to find me here.

If we all spoke up, we could help them understand. But for individuals, 'going public' is not necessarily the best option. Hopefully everyone has a trusted person to talk to though.

General understanding is improving though, and I still dream of a day that we can all say I do/did suffer from a mental illness, I'm happy for you to know but it does not define me!
Or something like that.
It's no coincidence that this blog started as I finally started to break the shackles of depression, and I wrote more about it as I felt better about my progress. That's not an entirely bad thing - if I'd been writing in my deepest despair the posts would have been unbearably self-pitying and at least as self-indulgent.
But I was ready because I felt comfortable - safe. Also impassioned and bloody-minded - I was, and still am, fed up with stigma. I don't raise the topic much socially, but I genuinely don't care who knows. It's a nice place to be, I am lucky.

So, it's pertinent I suppose, to mention here the recent realisation that I have one more element of my anxiety to confront: social anxiety.
It's always been the quite pervasive, but I figured it would diminish with my general anxiety - and to a large degree it has over the last ten years. Friends who knew me in my teens say I've 'blossomed' #shucks. It also helped me with other fears in a perverse kind of way - I let go of them where I absolutely had to if I feared how I would be perceived socially.

But it does show itself in a number of ways that I need to address. For example, too often I:
  • am utterly self-conscious;
  • avoid making phone calls to people I don't know well, preferring email/text where possible; 
  • actively avoid conflict and placate people at the expense of my own interests too much (yet am a natural-born antagonist!?); 
  • am horrible with small talk, wasting energy frantically thinking about what I'm going to say rather than really listening; 
  • use caveats and words/phrases like 'but', 'whatever you think/want/are doing', 'that's cool...', 'if that suits...', 'I don't mind', etc far too much;
  • Rarely say 'no'; and
  • am indecisive and over-polite - a tendency that runs through my family and frustrates the hell out of me.
Obviously - and most crucially - these behaviours haven't helped my book-worthy romantic life. I've had to rely on my humble charm and good looks.

But this shy thing doesn't suit me - i like people! If anything I talk too much among friends.

Anyway,  it's no biggie, I just wanted to put that out there for myself really because I've never done it before - you know, said 'I am dealing with this ... like, currently'.

I'm actually ridiculously excited about it, which is strange for dealing with anxiety but should help I suppose. It's like I have a renewed sense of purpose or found a new point of focus to keep improving myself. I'm feeling a child-like eagerness.

And no band speaks to my enthusiastic, eternal inner-child than Arcade Fire, so this is I kinda how I feel (if you speak music):

So there it is. I better not fail, huh.

Ps. I'm planning on attending the launch of The Emerging Writer at the Emerging Writers Festival on Friday and realise there may be a couple of tweeps there who read this. If so, try and find me and test me out on the whole talking to 'strangers' thing!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Song - 'Dog Eared' (piano version)

A song myself (guitar) and my collaborator and friend @therealisation (iPiano) put together.

The calm innocence of an Australian man's mind as the colourful organised chaos of Old Delhi swirls around him.


Prohibited 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

Film review - Under African Skies

[Film review for, full article at their website]

Under African Skies tells the controversial story of Paul Simon’s African-influenced, critically acclaimed album Graceland, and reunites him with the South African musicians who contributed to the album 25 years on.

In the mid-1980s Simon got his hands on an album by South African band, The Boyoyo Boys. He was so taken with what he heard that he saw a potential new direction for his own music.

From the outset Simon portrays a certain amount of political naivety about the situation in South Africa that swings between disappointing and endearing throughout the film.

Although aware of the tensions in the country and encouraged to replicate the sound he wanted in a New York studio, he insisted on visiting the South Africa in 1986 to start work on new songs. Given the international cultural boycott, American singer and social activist Harry Belafonte suggested he seek the approval of the African National Congress before going. However, Simon refused the idea that he should be required to ask permission from any group to pursue his artistic venture.

Artists Against Apartheid founder Dali Tambo believes that Simon’s timing was “not helpful”. But others, like Graceland producer Koloi Lebona, saw an opportunity to promote South African music in the mainstream, so that it would no longer be seen as third world music.

Cont... Full article on RightNow website

Friday, May 11, 2012

The people who light up the dark, and why I adore them

My favourite people are the ones who aren't afraid of the dark. Life is fucked up, and so am I; thank god. We all are at least a little bit and that's what makes us beautiful creatures. It's the so-called 'normal' people who are boring (or in denial).

John Darnielle bared his soul on a stage in a corner bar in Richmond in front of a few hundred people, as he has on countless records, but seeing it live is something else. I realised just how many of his songs are about depression, alcoholism, death, abuse and the strange things people do to get by when their life is truly fucked up - all with an uplifting undertone of love. It was by no means a sombre mood; it was a celebration of making it through, happier and stronger. There's something special and instinctively perverse about a crowd cheerfully singing "I hope we all die". Because we will, and I don't know why so many people think it's 'depressing' or strange to talk about life's only inevitability.

Life begins at the acceptance of death.

Modern existence can so easily feel like a cave, artificially lit by distractions on TV and in shop windows. It's not ideal, but getting out into the sunshine often requires delving the depths of your own darkness. When you're ready to go though, music is an amazing companion.

Maybe we should consider ourselves lucky, those of us that have been forced to expose the darker corners of our mind to give the black dog nowhere to lurk. I admire those who simply do it out of curiosity, a yearning to experience life to the full without the constraint of fear or bitterness.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that so many of the most creative, open, humble, honest, loving and happy minds have stared down demons in their life. I guess that's why I feel so disappointed every time I see Andrew Robb playing petty, superficial politics after his public battle with depression.

These are the people I want to populate my existance with. In a world increasingly full of people and shallow competition for our attention, I'm blessed to have people in my life that inspire me to live it. I'm grateful to the strangers I've connected with on Twitter who are open and honest without being self-absorbed about their own journeys through the darkness. And I'm happy every time I'm in a room full of like-minded people smiling, dancing and singing about how fucked up this life can be - cos it's even more fucked up if you can't face up to it.

Who cares about the people don't get understand and make their misjudgements - there are too many people in the world to give a fuck what they all think. It's awesome to share those unshackled, joyous moments of not giving a fuck about any of that shit with the like-minded; and to show anyone still struggling to look into the darkness how much fun it can be.

(I saw The Mountain Goats at The Corner Hotel in Melbourne on 10 May. It was awesome)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

'1.4 Billion Reasons'

This article was written for human rights website RightNow

Could you live on $2 a day?

Given a single morning coffee costs around twice that much, it is almost unimaginable for most of us. Yet 1.3 billion people – that’s almost 60 times the population of Australia – currently live in extreme poverty, on less than AUD$2 a day.

On Tuesday 1 May, at the Monash University Law Chambers, Paul Mason delivered 1.4 Billion Reasons, presented by Global Poverty Project in conjunction with the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law. Although the World Bank recently lowered the total number of people living in extreme poverty from 1.4 billion to 1.3 billion, Mason insists the new data doesn’t lessen the need for engagement and action. Indeed, as people rise above the poverty line we should be even more inspired to see the possibility of a world without extreme poverty.

And while great progress has been made across Asia – helping to halve the rate of extreme poverty since 1981 – the number of people living below the line continues to grow in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mason is a young, but experienced and well-travelled, activist who exudes a fine balance of urgency, hope and empowerment. He traces his own interest in social justice back to his childhood in South Africa when, as a nine-year-old, he queued with his parents for hours while they waited to vote in the country’s first democratic election in 1994. The man elected President that day, Nelson Mandela, is an enduring inspiration for Mason, who summed up his view of this global challenge by quoting a speech Mandela made ahead of the 2005 G8 Summit in Gleneagles: “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”

Cont... Read the full article at RightNow