Category Archives: Activism

Bodily autonomy: from birth


It interests me how much right people feel to cuddle a newborn.

The desire to is understandable – they’re cute. They have smooshy, squished up, grunty little faces and they do baby farts and their tiny fingers are delicate and amazing.

But when this desire to hold a newborn tips over into a feeling of entitlement to hold them, I think we see something very different.

When you get huffy or upset or pressure new parents about not “getting a hold” you’re really saying that this baby is an object that exists for your gratification, instead of a person with needs and rights that you holding them may not meet in that moment.

It seems radical to some people to say that babies are people with rights. They are, though. Their bodies aren’t consumables and they don’t exist for our entertainment and pleasure. In fact, babies have no duties to us. Nor do the parents of newborns. Their role is instead to keep their babies safe, and sometimes “safe” means comforted, calm, close to their parents, and not in the arms of strangers (and yes, close family are strangers to a tiny human who has been in the world not long at all).

At 31 weeks pregnant I know I will never feel guilty for denying people cuddles with my baby once they are born if I feel it isn’t right for them to be held by someone else at that time. As their guardian, it’ll be my job to work out when being held by someone other than me is appropriate or not.

As they age, it’s going to be part of a larger patchwork of teaching them that their bodies are their own; and nobody has a right to touch them if they don’t want to be touched. There’ll be no forced cuddles in our house.

Bodily autonomy from birth means that we are our own; and touch should always be invited, appropriate and optional. Until babies can show us – and they do, quickly – who they want to be held by, and who they don’t, it’s our job to watch them closely for cues, and make decisions based on them.


How I know me: A jubilee year of personhood over numbers


TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses eating disorders, body image and exercise and eating habits. Whilst it is positive and hopefully affirming, I acknowledge it may trigger aspects of the eating disorder cycle and difficult feelings. Please read it in a safe space at a time when you feel able (or not at all). ❤

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This year I refuse to be weighed or measured. I refuse to count one single calorie.

The Judeo-Christian idea of a Jubilee period is something I learned about a child from the Bible I no longer believe in, but it remains interesting to me – the idea that at a certain time in a calendar cycle, there was a time when slaves were freed and their lands returned to them and “liberty” was proclaimed. I remember reading the following in Leviticus:

“Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”

I’m not keen to co-opt concepts of Roman slavery in antiquity as a white woman with privilege, because I have zero experience or history of this in my community, yet the Biblical idea of a time when liberty and amnesty was granted is something I found interesting when I was little. It seemed a bit mysteriously wonderful to my young mind (even though as an adult it seems not at all equal to liberty or freedom or social justice. Abolishing all systems of slavery would have been a lot more effective than a Jubilee.)

I wonder in a much more general sense how often we grant liberty and amnesty to ourselves. Specifically, imagine having the state of ignorance of the statistics we all know about our bodies returned to you. Imagine giving yourself permission to say no to this way of knowing about bodies.

Imagine if you didn’t know how much you weighed, and had never known. Imagine your life if scales with the intention of weighing human bodies had never been invented, or used in that way. This may not matter to you, but for those to whom it does matter: just imagine having no concept of your body in numbers. Dwell for a moment on what that must feel like.

We are all weighed and measured at various times in our life, and we often consent to this practice without much thought, or in many cases, with eagerness. The practice of (particularly women’s) bodies being analysed through a numerical lens is something that is so culturally acceptable and preferable that we don’t stop to question it. In fact, we are told that it is part of sound medical science and a keystone to being healthy. But is it?

There’s probably a handful of times when being weighed is vitally medically necessary, but there’s very little reason the vast majority of people need to own bathroom scales. My friend Sarah gave the example of being weighed when she gives plasma (something to do with calculating how much plasma is in her blood, or how much to take, or something!). But do you need this number disclosed to you? What do you profit from knowing it?

Where does our thirst to know our body weight come from? Obviously it’s socially constructed; nobody is born with a burning thirst to know their body weight (except for the little scientists among us who may yearn to know all the things!). I personally think that the urge to see a number and keep track of it over time is much more developed among women (in this I include all women, not just cis-gendered women). In most cases, the urge to weigh oneself and the blithe acceptance that doing so is a good thing is not something seen in childhood often – I work with young children and have also worked with primary schoolers, and in my experience the majority of “weight talk” sets in with almost exclusively girls towards the end of primary school – around 12. By high-school, the process of weighing and measuring oneself and it’s cousin – calorie counting – has become entwined with social success and status, personal knowledge, and self esteem.

I don’t remember when I first began twisting a tape measure around my waist and thighs, or when I first stepped on a scale. I was probably 14 at an outside guess. I grew up in a house where my mother was not very happy with her body, and nor were my female friends, but it was never mentioned by my male relatives or peers. My mother talked a lot about food, nutrition, and the shape of her body – she hated her knees and arms and would go to great lengths to buy clothes that didn’t exhibit them to the world. Later in life she lost a significant amount of weight, and that was somewhat of an extension of the same set of feelings – except once she’d lost the weight she had many emotional processes around feeling free and unburdened of worry, yet still a fixation on numbers (and worry wasn’t far away – it could come back as soon as a few kilos were gained back). My female friends talked a lot about their bodies – mostly from the point of view of dissatisfaction and resentment. Knowing numbers was a very real agent of that – it both acted as a catalyst for bad feelings about the self, and as evidence of complicated disturbances in our psyches in which we could look at a number and see our worth, see it going up and down, betrayed or edified by what the swinging indicator pointed to on the scale.

I’ve reflected a lot on my disordered eating and struggles with body image over the years. In 2012 I engaged in probably the most marked restriction episode of my life. I live with EDNOS or OSFED (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder) that involves components of restriction and compulsive overeating, which present themselves in a cycle that has distinct characteristics that I now understand a lot more than I did as a younger woman. Golda Poretsky outlines this in her brief piece (ignore the sell at the end) ‘Why Portion Control Doesn’t Work and What to Do Instead” with a graphic that sums up how the EDNOS cycle generally works (with variations of course for most people). And there’s a mostly very good piece on Oh She Glows about binge eating (what I’d probably say is the “best fit” for behaviours I have – it’s a misconception that binge eating lacks a restrictive phase. Oh yes it does!).

In that year, that restrictive episode saw me losing a very very large amount of weight in just four months by starving myself and practicing exercise bulimia. I received massive social rewards for this, which were not very critical – nobody except one or two close friends saw through the good game I talked (oh, this is a feminist action, I feel so empowered…by my constant gnawing sense of hunger and fatigue? Hmmm.) And they were afraid to speak to me about it because they knew I would viciously reject their worry, and they were right – I would have. Because the numbers on the scale were going down, and this meant my worth as a person was increasing in the complicated dance most of us, but particularly those of us with eating disorders do. I didn’t want to hear opposing views. I was winning. I wrote an elated post on this blog about how incredible I felt and the restrictions my therapist had encouraged, and how I would never go back. Since then, I’ve gained all of that weight back and more. The cycle continued.

By radically reducing my body mass, I was winning. Unfortunately, this aspect of disordered eating and exercising is almost always met with social acclaim except in the most physically obvious cases of malnourishment, hospitalisation, and a reduction of body weight that is so observably intense that people suddenly go “oh! That’s not good…” But the processes of extreme behaviours are similarly pre-occupying, regardless of how observable your body in the process is, and the defence mechanisms to protect restrictive behaviour from critique are strong. Basically, fat people with restrictive components of disordered eating are mostly rewarded for their restrictions, regardless of the thought processes behind it and their indicators of poor mental health. In my case, that bout of restriction was linked to trauma from violent assault and feelings of being alone when my partner left the country mere weeks after that assault. My mental health took a dive, and with it went my ability to self regulate my emotions and so I went down a path of starving and power walking for hours a day. I was not a well woman.

What part did numbers play in prolonging and encouraging this restrictive episode?

The emotional hullabaloo in me each time I weighed myself on bathroom scales, or was measured by scale and tape at the doctors office was intense. You wouldn’t know from looking, but I felt huge anxiety and fear each time I stepped on the scales – and as the kilos dropped away, that began to mix with excitement and eager anticipation. Weigh in day became a craving for more and more loss. At the doctors office, the receptionist and doctor would beam, congratulating me loudly in front of the full waiting room for my “successes”. My doctor did not once stop and ask me how I was doing it, how I was feeling, and what my thought processes were. There is very little attention paid to mental health when people are clocking up the numbers (or clocking down, rather). I shouted my numbers from the rooftops with pride – on facebook, to friends, and became avoidant of people who didn’t react exactly as I wanted. My partner was bemused at my weight loss and didn’t express approval even once – he was very cautious to comment, and I think didn’t know what to make of it. He certainly didn’t affirm me. I was disappointed, and so sought out the approval of my instagram community and facebook friends – some of the most hearty approval came from other women who themselves had “struggled” to reduce their own body mass. The fixation on numbers is a self sustaining aspect of EDNOS – you will seek out whatever community you can find to feed your habit. EDNOS is a disease and it is a part of you that wants to survive. I think of it like a cockroach living inside me – it will do whatever it needs to in order to remain the last critter standing and it is very hard to root out and crush effectively.

I would like to say that the numbers didn’t matter, but they mattered hugely. Knowing at all times what I weighed was very addictive, and I would often step on the scales every day. I wanted digital scales, I wanted something more and more accurate. I wanted to see even a gram drop away. Perhaps for people who do not have disordered eating this is less intense, but it is still there. The numbers on scales and on tape measures, and the calories you count will, at the end of the day, make you Feel Stuff. And sometimes that Stuff feels good. Critiquing the good feelings, not just the bad feelings, is not something encouraged by most people around us.

A huge realisation I had was that by knowing numbers, I was engaging in not only EDNOS thinking, but in one of the fundamentally most destructive aspects of late stage capitalism – the idea that people are only worth their productivity. As a teacher, I fundamentally reject the idea that my children are only as good as their results, or the pretty things they make. What is beautiful is their learning and that’s all in their process. Their art, their music, their physicality, their cognition – all of their beauty is in their doing and being, not in the sum of their production.

So why is this different for me? In focussing on my body as a product, I separate from processes of wellbeing which can be found in eating well and moving to the best of your ability, and being in these things for their own sake – for enjoyment and vitality and loving one’s place as an alive thriving animal. EDNOS and capitalist thinking fractures my mind from my body and this divide distracts from the beauty of existing as a whole person. Beauty, as they say, moves. Why is it ok that beauty is a trophy with a number on it?

So let’s do it. Let’s ask those questions.

Why do you need to know how much you weigh? Does it make you a better partner, a better professional, a better parent, or a better person? What can you possibly get from knowing these statistics? Outside of some very small cases of medical necessity, why do you need to know?

And what happens when you know? What happens in your heart? What do you think and feel? If it is intensely gratifying for you, why is that?

What parts of yourself do you damage by knowing? What parts of you shrivel a little and change with this gratification or devastation? What happens when the number drops into the pool of your selfhood and creates ripples? What do you stop doing, and stop enjoying, and stop engaging with because you know these things?

My challenge for myself is to return to a state of not knowing how much I weigh, what my waistline is in inches, or how broad my hips are. I will not allow a doctor or a personal trainer to wrap a measuring tape around my thighs, and I refuse to do it myself. I won’t step on a set of scales, and I’m throwing the ones I own in the bin. I won’t count calories, and I will avoid reading nutritional panels that indicate them.

I won’t engage in conversations in the staffroom or with friends about kilograms and calories. I will eat my lunch away from them if I have to. And if I have the strength to insert some critique into those conversations, gently and lovingly, I will.

Does this mean I have to stop caring about my health? Actually, I have big plans for my health this year.

I plan on finding a personal trainer who can help me get into routines of moving and eating that don’t injure my personhood, but instead heal the fractures I’ve experienced and help me reintegrate body and mind. There will be goals, sure, but they will be around process and how I feel – for example “look at my thighs and enjoy how they feel in my hands and write down three positive things I do with my thighs” or “see if I walk for a while today and be thrilled for trying!”. “Make a BIG delicious salad and eat it slowly and RELISH IT.” These statements may not be perfect and I will develop others, but I am making a start on moving away from conventional ways of framing successes regarding my health. There will be times I will struggle with EDNOS and I will talk to my PT about those times and involve them – critiquing my urge to restrict or overeat and sticking to moderation and generative self-talk that encourages a disruption of the EDNOS cycle.

Basically, I’m no longer willing to be a product. I see that processes are what create states of emotional wellbeing along a spectrum – some processes need active pushback to resolve their energetically destructive influence, and others that help me and make me feel more whole need a little bit of tending to so they grow and thrive. I wholeheartedly agree with Oh She Glows who has this to say about the importance of changing processes:

I honestly do not think that I could have beat binge eating if I didn’t stop restricting my intake. This took me a long, long time to realize and I hope to be able to save some of you some time too. When I finally stopped restricting my intake, I allowed myself to eat when hungry and I stopped counting calories and weighing myself.

If you leave this article thinking that you couldn’t possibly stop measuring yourself, please think again. I actually think we can stop, as individuals, and we can resist it as a culture and move towards wellness. And I wonder this:

If for a whole calendar year you didn’t once know a measurement of your body mass or size, and asked medical and health professionals to withhold it from you too – or to not measure you in the first place – what would happen? If you simply moved and ate with enthusiasm for moving and eating, with no number known, what would happen?

What in you would grow and expand to fill that place? What could you feel and what could you stop feeling?

It’s an interesting question to ponder. Give yourself a year off – heck, maybe more! – from knowing your body through numbers, if you can.

I’d love to hear about how you’re going and maybe we can support each other.


So Much Water: for Jill Meagher


I didn’t know Jill Meagher, and neither did you.

There’s so few words to say about something like this. But I do know this – though we didn’t know her, it is appropriate for us to grieve.

I grieve her death with a particular pain and horror that only survivors of street violence might understand.

I survived my unknown attacker in a blue hoodie, walking alone at night, and for the last couple of months I’ve convinced myself that it was ‘only’ this and ‘only’ that, but yesterday as I stood heaving in panic over my sink, the knowledge that my survival was not lucky or a result of my actions but just a product of the fickle hand of fate – hit me like a tonne of bricks to the windpipe. I could easily, so fucking easily, have been Jill Meagher.

I think of Jill Meagher and I want to crawl back into my cave and stay off the streets at night. I think of the people blaming her for her own death because she had the audacity to walk alone at night, and I want to throw things at walls, wail – the reaction is visceral because despite all my wordiness, I can only feel a great knot of terror, anger and helplessness rise in me. And it stays there – a knotted cord of despair unable to worm to the outside.

Do you know how many women around this country feel similar right now? I can’t fathom the number.

The world is not safe for you if you are a woman. There are men who want to find you and hurt you. I wish we had another truth but there are people, usually men, who want to make sure we don’t live and breathe in safety.

I’ve given up on thinking we can change anything. I don’t think we can. All we can do is arm ourselves, be vigilant, and know that nothing is enough, it isn’t our fault.

Most of all, let us honour our screams, ignore the world and mourn our sister.

Goodbye Jill Meagher. You deserved so very much more.

Please take a moment to think of her respectfully with Everything’s Turning To White (Paul Kelly).

It was too hard to tell how long she’d been dead, the river was that close to freezing
But one thing for sure, the girl hadn’t died very well to judge from the bruising
They stood there above her all thinking the same thoughts at the same time
There’s so much water so close to home


Did you forget to take your meds?


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This is mostly copy pasta from Facebook but I wanted to share with a wider audience some ruminations on mental health and poverty.

Today I went to buy my script for Lamotrigine – my ‘wonder drug’ that has been the main contributor to how well I’ve been the last few months, and acknowledged by crazymeds.us as the ‘best med on the market’ for bipolar 2. I was bemused to find that even with a concession card it came to the same as usual – $49.50 for 56 doses.

Lucky for me I can kick a luxury item from my budget and still be able to eat. But many meds are expensive, and often people taking them are economically vulnerable due to precarious mental health. The gap between ‘functionally crazy’ and not is hardly as large as many think, and a lot of people are unable to access even minimum wage incomes and rely on the state. Bouts of illness or recurring symptoms take people out of the workplace or unable to report to state required appointments for benefits, leading to greater stress.

Financial pressures generate huge psychic weight for even the most neurotypical of people, so the phenomenon of money stress linked to declining mental health linked to money stress and so on, is common and a huge concern for the non-neurotypical community – especially the most vulnerable. Stress is reputed as the biggest trigger for illnesses of all kinds – as a kid rocking dual diagnoses I can give an amen.

In a situation like this, finding your meds aren’t on the PBS (pharmaceutical benefits scheme – an Australian government initiative that lowers some medication prices) can be a stress trigger and a choice between other basic services and your medication.

To Facebook I opened the discussion also of the worrying strategies used by some crazy folk that I know – including me – to manage medication deprivation when poverty (no matter how temporary) strikes.

The phenomenon of ‘playing with your dose’ due to money being short, or going off meds altogether is far too common. My ex partner and I would often go through cycles of withdrawal and recommencement when we couldn’t afford our scripts. Often I would cut my dose by half, splitting it to make it last.

Stopping medications cold leads to withdrawal which can be terrible to navigate and cause huge behaviour swings, decline in cognitive function and warped emotional states. Then you’re flying free in the wind without chemical help that you need, often crashing back in to severe ill health. Starting them again is the same as starting in the first place – side effects that can be ugly and harsh to endure.

Halving a dose or taking it intermittently can have you idling at a paltry half life level of inefficacy so great that you experience symptoms just as if you weren’t medicated at all.

All of this is happening in the presence of mounting financial stress and a knowledge that if you buy your meds you won’t pay your electricity bill or feed your cat. I have been in this situation before. I have fed my cat rather than buy an already subsidised $10 script and subsequently spent weeks back in hell, unable to get through a day without thoughts of self harm and endless tears.

What to do? There must be solutions and perhaps they are out there. There is likely more to this story than I am telling – services lurking that I don’t know about. The breadth of my knowledge thus far extends to see only that those in my community – the crazies – have less chance at financial stability than the neurotypical, and are as a result more fragile in even pursuing their own wellbeing and recovery.

The issue of affording medication is a burning one and a placeholder for wider access issues that crazy folk face. How our community is responding to these areas of critical, practical concern is of interest, and bears further contemplation – and of course, action.


Got shakes? Living with medication side effects.


I used to write in my Livejournal every day almost. Long entries, and I’d keep handwritten journals too.

Now, I don’t write in LJ as frequently and I actively avoid writing by hand.

I’ve realised why. Typing large tracts of text sincerely hurts my hands due to intention tremors (a side effect of one of my psychiatric medications – Lithium). Writing is painful and looks, much of the time, like the shaky lines of a year three kid.

Intention tremors (the ones in my hands are ‘perpendicular intention tremors’) are tremors of the extremities and limbs that increase the closer you physically come to terminating the movement and relative in intensity to the intensity of the action. So, the smaller the action + the greater pressure = the more marked the tremor.

Intention tremors are found in people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease as well, and those with acquired brain injury (ABI). There’s a range of people who experience life with these kind of tremors. They suffer from the same damage to the cerebellum which is the root cause of ‘the lithium trembles’ or ‘lithium shakes’.

In the brain of a tremor sufferer, the cerebellum sustains damage from either disease, physical injury or toxicity which impacts movement. Since all psychiatric medication is essentially a poison (but often a useful poison), my tremors are acquired from toxicity.

Tremors make it difficult for me to do any task that involves fine motor skills (holding a cup of tea) because they make my movements wild and unpredictable, or I experience pain and soreness in fine motor exertion in performing long repetitive tasks (like typing). I find I am unable now to do the following things properly or at all:

– carry a drink one handed (if the drink is light, like a wine glass, I need to use two hands or have someone do it for me. Quite embarrassing in a pub or at a party!)

– put on makeup, particularly eye makeup and lipstick. I can no longer do eyeliner without risking real injury to my eyes and have quite badly jabbed myself in the eye with liner a few times. I avoid lining my eyes and if I want to I usually need to do a series of stretches and breathing to relax my hands (I learned these from a Parkie’s site about tremors). My lipstick is usually messy and needs to be applied several times, and I can’t line my lips at all.

– put on jewelery. I can’t do up clasps anymore. Well, maybe one time in 100. So I tend to wear things that go straight over my head. Earrings hurt to put on because I find I stab myself in the ears, or get the hook just in the hole and then my hands go WOO CRAZY TOWN and it’s all pain, pain, pain. I have made my ear bleed once. Was pretty special.

– hold a spoon or fork without mess or being stared at. Certain foods are better, but I prefer to avoid eating with utensils if I can. I get anxious if I go to a party and somebody is serving soup. Soup has maximum tremor action because fluids markedly reflect movement (unlike a solid bit of carrot or bread) and are light, so there’s nothing to provide any counterweight to stabilise my hands. Usually I have to keep my head close to the bowl and deal with having a messy front at the end. It’s funny some days; other days it’s just humiliating.

-stroke hair or skin in fluid movements. This sounds like an odd one, but if you’re trying to express the exploration of (non sexual or sexual) intimacy with someone, it often tends to be through extended touch. I cannot move my hand along say, the side of someone’s face, their arm, or their back etc, without my hand juddering and jumping which interrupts the smooth, languid nature of the movement. This is a ‘small but big’ thing that I miss. In my most tender moments, I feel utterly disabled, and more than once have lain or sat beside someone I care for with my hands balled or tucked away, thinking of how I’d like to just place my fingers on their shoulder blade and stroke downward. But the fear of feeling and looking disabled is strong.

-hold hands. When I hold hands, my whole arm and hand trembles noticeably. While this is not such a problem for partners/family/friends, I work with children whom I frequently need to hold hands with. They dislike my shaking, and comment on it.

-do any kind of handicraft. I can’t paint, draw, sew, crochet, do needlepoint, or knit anymore. They’re probably the worst kind of activity for me. I tried to learn to crochet because my ex-partner was into it – I gave up after one foundation chain because it just plain *hurt*. Trying to make a loop was ridiculous – my hands flapped like wild moths, jumping and twitching until my crochet hook clattered to the floor.

There’s more, but those are the main ones. Having tremors also leads to invasive questions, staring, dropping things, making messes and being seen as incapable or frail.

A big issue I have with tremors is that they are so visible, yet my disability (bipolar) is regarding as ‘invisible’ and therefore ‘not debilitating’. I’m currently wrangling with Centrelink for the DSP, and I really dislike how physical illnesses are separated from and mental illnesses – even that terminology is fraught and the body/mind divide is, overall, punishing.

There are many physical symptoms of mental illness (fatigue, chest pain, breathlessness, physical panic, short term paralysis, self injury, blackouts, visual and aural hallucinations, dysphoria). Many of these symptoms are cyclical but persistent.

Further to this, the physical problems that occur as a result of vital and *non-negotiable* pharmaceutical treatment of ‘invisible’ illnesses such as mine, become secondary features of that disability which not only render the disability more difficult to live with in different respects, but more visible.

The logic seems simple to me – if you can’t dispense safely with the medication, then the persisting side effects become a marked disability in themselves. You do not have the choice to live without them, and as we know – many disabilities are acquired. I feel ongoing side effects from psychiatric medication fall within this category of ‘acquired disability’.

For many these side effects decrease over time, but they’re actually gradually increasing for me. I’m going to seek, at some point in the next few months, participation in a trial of high dose B vitamins which has been administered to those with Parkinson’s Disease. High doses of B vitamins have been shown in some cases to precipitate a marked decrease in intention tremors and other types of tremor. It’s worth a shot.

I’m grateful to friends and family who help me live with tremors as best I can. Thank you to the people who fasten my jewelry and carry drinks. Thanks to the people who tread the fine line between mocking me and helping me laugh at my shakes. Thanks to the other non-neurotypical medicated folk who provide solidarity when I want to punch a wall (which I’d probably miss, due to tremors).

Thanks mostly to my cats, who have had quite a bit of wine spilled on them and suffer the fate of being generally underneath me whenever I carry a drink. I love you, my ground-dwelling sponges.


How you do it: navigating mental health services in NSW


*In this post, I am talking about experiencing mental illness/craziness/non-neurotypicality as someone who works within the medical model. I am not discarding the importance of the experiences of those who choose a different path. I am also using the word ‘crazy’ to self describe as it is shorter to type and is how I identify.

This is a rough guide to accessing crazy-services in NSW.

I’ve been diagnosed as crazy since I was 19 – almost ten years – so I’m at a point where I’d describe myself as an ‘old hand’ at navigating the NSW mental health care system.

I’ve never been admitted, so I can only speak about how to navigate services pre-admission.

WHO IS THIS FOR?

To the pre-diagnosis, or ‘pre-treatment’ crazy person, it can be overwhelming to try to understand how to go about getting help. It can be tiring when you’re already so tired, so ill, so worn down. Maybe you avoid seeking help because it all just feels too daunting. This is for you.

Quite possibly you don’t and won’t identify as someone with an ongoing health issue – you’re just having a rough time in your life and need some support while you get through it. This is for you too.

I am sorry you feel horrible. I hope this helps you feel better soon.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING

Do NOT listen to friends or relatives or the media who tell you that the ‘system is fucked’ and there’s ‘no help out there’. This is actually bullshit.

The system is deeply flawed, but there are lots of (often free) services waiting for you. They are not perfect but the most important thing to remember is that they ARE there.

If you’re feeling unwell, it can be super easy to focus on all the pitfalls of any action you take. If you can, avoid thinking about how services will fail you before you’ve even started.

THE EARLY STEPS TO GETTING HELP 

If you are in crisis or immediate danger

If you are in crisis: (suicidal, extremely unwell to the point of being debilitated/dangerous to yourself or others or just not coping) contact your local Crisis Team. Each area in NSW has a Community Mental Health service, with an attached Crisis Team.

They will triage you (ask you questions to find out what treatment you need) over the phone, come to your house to check on you, send an ambulance to get you if necessary and also provide follow up care. There are links and numbers at the end of this post.

If in extreme danger to yourself or others call an ambulance – DIAL 000

If you are unwell but not in immediate danger  – welcome to your GP appointment!

If you are unwell but not in immediate crisis: make an appointment with a General Practitioner (GP) to get the ball rolling. Follow these steps.

Book a ‘long appointment’ with your doctor. The first time you make contact with your doctor will take a long time due to paperwork and their taking a ‘history’ of your condition.

If you feel extremely unwell/unable to articulate your needs and condition, take an advocate. This is a friend or family member who can chat to your doctor on your behalf, and provide moral support.

Tell your doctor ‘I am feeling unwell and I need to get help and make a mental health plan’. Make sure you fully describe your symptoms. Try not to leave things out because you are embarrassed. At this time, if you have wounds from self injury that need attention/stitches etc, ask your GP. They are more likely to be gentle with you than ER nurses/doctors.

What’s a mental health plan? This document includes a general description of your situation, and a path forward for treatment. THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT DOCUMENT. You need the mental health plan to access monetary rebates from psychiatrists, psychologists etc and to keep track of your medication and how you are going.

Psychologists and psychiatrists and meds, oh my!

If you are very unwell and need to see a psychiatrist, your GP should find you one in the public system so it will be either free or less costly. If you need a psychiatrist appointment and your GP doesn’t offer to connect you with one, ask for this.

Psychiatrists are there to fiddle with medication and keep a very general track of your progress. Psychologists are there to help you discuss problems, issues and feelings and work on strategies to overcome them.

Your doctor will look up a psychologist for you in their database. This person will be recorded on your mental health plan. You can ask for one that is queer friendly, or a woman, or a person of colour and so on. This is your right. Ask for a psychologist who is within easy travel distance from you, if you are low on energy.

You pay for each psychologist session up front and get a substantial Medicare rebate back. You need to take your psychologist’s paper invoice into a physical Medicare office to get your rebate. There are a few psychologists who bulk bill, but they are quite rare.

Each appointment with a psychologist runs for about an hour. Try not to be late, because you will still be charged for the time, and psychologists are often quite busy. Ask your psychologist how much notice you need to give to cancel an appointment. Some will still charge you if you don’t give enough notice.

Your mental health care plan allows you six initial sessions with a rebate. Then, your psychologist has to send a letter to your GP reviewing your situation and saying if you need more sessions. At the moment you get another four, then another six after that. The number fluctuates based on changes made to Medicare at a state government level.

Your doctor will give you the psychologist’s number. If you feel unable to call to make an appointment, tell your doctor and they will do that for you. You can also ask your advocate to help you.

Your doctor will want to discuss medication options if appropriate. They may prescribe something for you. The ‘medical model’ is psychotherapy + medication = best general treatment approach. You do not have to take medication prescribed for you, but it may be in your best interests to do so, even if only short term.

Most psychiatric medications take about six weeks on average to ‘kick in’. Don’t expect to feel better after the first pill. It needs time to build up in your body and work.

You have the right to ask your doctor about side effects. Make sure you ask how to use it properly – how often to take it, if you can drink alcohol, if you need to drink extra water and so on.

Make sure you tell your doctor about any other medication you’re taking to avoid clashes with new medication, and to taper off any existing medication if you need to before starting this new one.

Once your mental plan is completed, you should receive a paper copy and your doctor keeps one on file. The mental health plan is usually reviewed once your Medicare allowed psychologist sessions expire.

Make sure you book in to see your GP about six weeks after starting new medication to check on how it is going and if is starting to work for you. You can discuss any problems you are having with it or request a medication change.

Now you should have:

  • access to a psychologist that should hopefully only cost you $40 an appointment or so after a rebate
  • access to a psychiatric appointment should you need it
  • access to some start up medication should you need it
  • access to crisis services should need them
  • a clue-by-four and less confusion!

IMPORTANT NUMBERS AND LINKS:


Talking to kids about Queer.


*please note that all names have been changed in this post, for privacy of the children concerned. Also note that I’m not using “gay, queer” etc interchangeably, nor am I trying to define them.

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Ally is eleven, and sidles up beside me. I’m sitting on the couch, making beaded bracelets with the girls (and one boy only, alas). We’re cosied up, chatting, reflecting on life as only a bunch of kids hanging out in OOSH care can. Justin Bieber is a hot topic, as is the fact that Joseph’s stylus for his DS is gone and we all know who stole it, don’t we. Hmmm.

We’re all stuck in this heat together – so why not craft and natter? These are my afternoons – conflict rich, delightful, learning heavy (on my behalf) and giving of an easily borne yoke of watching 70-odd growing bodies blossom with curiosity and dissent. I work in child care.

I’m also Queer.

Ally notices my bracelet. I made it yesterday at home. It says, in coloured letters, ‘Queer Femme’ and it stands out in an aesthetically provoking way on my wrist. Kinda pretty. Ally fingers it and asks “what does ‘queer’ mean?”

At first I’m surprised she doesn’t ask about the femme part, but I suppose the word must be so similarly spelt to ‘female’ that she doesn’t note it. Then I pause before answering. She’s the only child here who has said anything about it. I shrug, cock my head and say “it’s kind of like, when you feel different from most people. Queer is a word for all the different people.”

“Like who? What kind of different?” Ally asks me. She waits patiently. She’s a pretty cool kid, this one. Patient but hungry for answers and she thinks them over. I swear I can see my words going in like chunks of change, and while I’m not always sure what’ll vend, it’s usually intriguing and awesome.

“Well, like…like, some gay people like to call themselves Queer in a happy positive way, and some people who have boyfriends and girlfriends call themselves that and some people who get called a boy when they’re little but they grow up feeling like girls instead. And heaps of other things like that.”

“Oh. Ok, yeah. Cool. My mum has friends who are gay. And Violet has two Mums.” Ally nods towards Violet across the room, a curly-haired six year old playing with clay. She looks at my bracelet a while longer. “It’s really pretty. I like it.”

And then we go on in silence, smiling and collegial, no more said on the subject. I want to talk to her more about it – about how Queers own the word, about how to use it, about trans* folk in the community, about gender play, what ‘femme’ means and a million other things – but I don’t want to push, so I leave it, let it drop. I guess she’ll raise the topic when she wants to speak more on it and I’m ok with that.

You just need to plant the seed, not grow the whole damn tree yourself. Stick the seed in the ground, hang around for sprouting and hope to hell some other adults will come by with watering cans later.

The next day I posted a question to Facebook, curious to see what other queers and caregivers would think about talking to kids about Queerness, and all the manifestations of it in our community (though not everyone GLBTIQA identifies within the community or with the Q word).

There were a variety of reactions. The one I naively didn’t expect was from my father (and then my mother, who called me to argue at length on the point. I feel sorry for the people riding the 418 bus that morning. Sorry guys…). His point was that you should avoid the matter altogether.

My parents were, primarily, concerned that I keep my job. Fair enough, they’ve seen me in and out of work. I’m not that worried – I have two jobs and my childcare position is not the one that pays the bulk of my bills, so whoa there, worry horse.

My centre is also situated in the inner west, has many GL (gay and lesbian) staff who are openly out, and progressive(ish) management. A couple of our kids have same sex parents, and a range of backgrounds. We have one kid who is gender-fluid.

There’s no guarantee that I’m safe from a queerphobic kneejerk by a parent – but it is a calculated risk I gladly take as a form of honesty, decency in my role as an agent in childhood development and of course, activism.

Are they right though? Are carers and education providers at risk from public backlash if they speak to kids in an upfront way – hell, any perceivable way – about Queerness, or in a more focused example, gender and sexuality?

Yes. They really are. Move outside of the inner west of Sydney and your odds of being cast as an agent of diabolical political incision into the delicate consciousness of childhood is likely. Predictable even. For many, childhood is a precious, fixed, traditional state – which, by most adult renderings, is nothing like what kids actually experience.

In May of 2006, an article appeared in the Australian newspaper The Daily Telegraph – reknowned for being a conservative and right wing source of ‘news’. The article told of how Tillman’s Park Care Centre, based in Queer-heavy ‘burb Marrickville, had designed a curriculum that was friendly to gays, lesbians, bisexual, trangendered folk, and intersex people. Most notable was their use of ‘Learn To Include’ books.

Marrickville Mayor at the time, Sam Byrne, was not backward about coming forward in supporting the programme. Far from being a passive, ‘sunshine and puppies’ curriculum, it sought to take head-on already developed notions about GLBTI people and change them. The word ‘challenge’ was used.

“At Marrickville we believe in offering children and families an inclusive program based on social justice,” he told The Saturday Daily Telegraph.

Not only was he slammed, the centre was accused of ‘brainwashing’ children. Andrew Stoner, National Party leader at the time, said that the decision to teach the curriculum was ‘crazy’ and that children “that young have no concept of these issues of sexuality”.

“Whether it is heterosexual sex or homosexual sex, it is the choice for parents to talk about it with their children – not for an institution to start some political correct campaign.”

Wow, those words are sounding pretty familiar. Filter them a little, and they sound like the freaked out words of older educators and policy makers, inured to self-censorship and afraid to even begin to grasp the sides of their boat to rock it any more.

In Sweden we see a more recent example of a centre radically addressing the concept of gender. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald appeared in June telling of ‘Egalia’ childcare centre in Stockholm. Here, staff work overtime to obliterate traditional gender roles and equally value, or disrupt, genders.

Children have gender neutral dolls that display only emotions, are addressed in gender neutral pronouns – ‘hen’ rather than the Swedish ‘han’ or ‘hon’ for him and her – and are referred to as “friends” rather than boys or girls.

They cook together, construct together (and if you think those activities aren’t socially gendered anymore, stop and think which of those activities you associated quickly with ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ and if you even bothered to associate another gender with them. Yes, there’s more than two genders.)

The centre has received mostly a positive reception, but you can always rely on the worried psychologists and moral alarmists to interfere. In the article, we’re given this charming insight from Jay Belsky, a child psychologist at the University of California, Davis.

”The kind of things that boys like to do – run around and turn sticks into swords – will soon be disapproved of,” he said. ”So gender neutrality at its worst is emasculating maleness.”

Perhaps it was the snippet chosen by the paper, but I find it interesting that Belsky is more concerned about the emasculation of those assigned as boys than the possible ‘defeminisation’ of those assigned as girls. He doesn’t mention them.

Nice of him, though, to also re-inscribe the idea that boys are innately gendered, and in a hunter/aggressor way. Hey all you peacenik friends of mine who identify as male, please stand up. You’re not really a boy, so you better get yourself a sharp stick, quick.

So these two examples – one from Marrickville and one from Stockholm – show that even in the most conceivably progressive, Queer peopled districts, you can have opinion leaders upset and angered and ‘concerned’ by Queer programs. Interestingly, few parents were cited as angry in these articles.

Now try working a childcare centre in Tamworth and see how far you get with your conversation about how gay is ok, and actually awesome for many. Discussing trans issues? Forget about it, unless you like being othered and eyed with suspicion.

The problem with my parents argument that I’d best not talk to kids, is twofold, despite how correct they may be about what possibilities currently exist within the policy making, care-taking and teaching frameworks of education and care providers.

Firstly, in their submission to practical concerns (which I do not share) they failed to discuss directly whether we should talk to kids about queerness. Forget whether we can. Is there a moral imperative at work here – or two competing ones?

I believe so.

In the one instance where I was able to talk to kids in a non work environment (my four year old cousins), my mother reacted with the same amount of repressive force. In that instance she criticised my use of queer slang around my cousins, saying they were “too young” and that this was something their parents should talk to them about.

The imperative in my mother’s case was very much based in the concept that parents own children, their experiences until they graduate the home, and their moral/social education.

However, if we look at this idea for even a moment, we can see how completely ridiculous it is. Children are instructed directly at school, in youth groups, in churches, in sporting groups and clubs. Most of these institutions take on some of the job of rearing childrens. With perhaps the exception of home-schooled kids, moral and social education is happening everywhere, all the time, and often without the consent of children or parents.

So we can teach kids direct positive messages about race, bodies, food, culture, ethnicity from toddler-dom in care centres and again in schools, but I shouldn’t talk to my family members about an aspect of my identity – or even reference it in passing?

If I said something that referenced my ethnicity or my disability or my gender, I wouldn’t have been taken on. But saying the word “lez” – that’s somehow extreme, right? Riiiiight.

Personally, I think if we dug at the scab of that for long enough, the blood of implicit homophobia would come oozing through. Queerness is a taboo topic, but we don’t want to say that out loud.

We’d just like the pesky Queers to respect parental rights to educate.
But what of the moral imperative to educate? That segues innately with the second flaw of their argument.

The second wobble is that it completely obliterates the role of the Queer community in education as both clients, carers and parents and fails to conceptualise of why their concerns and the need for not just an anti-phobic but a Queer positive environment may be vital.

The fact is, Queers have been parenting for a long time, and will keep on doing so. We people childcare centres with our kids, pay fees and have a right to expect safe places for our children. I shudder to think of what will happen for my little ones when they need group-based supervision – I hope somehow I’m in the position to offer them more than centre care like ABC or my mother’s vision of a political vacuum.

Our kids deserve more than putting up with kids heckling each other with the word ‘gay’ and being tiredly corrected in an “oh this is so PC, but I’ll do it anyway” manner by staff. We deserve more than tolerance. We deserve celebration.

Children are resilient, yes, but they learn how to mould to their worlds and what to expect of it from a ridiculously young age. Cordelia Fine’s recent bestselling book ‘Delusions of Gender’ illustrates in an alarming fashion how children are relentlessly gendered from the smallest of ages, and how this deeply carves ruts of expectation and trajectory into their tiny existences despite our tokenistic efforts at providing (half hearted) gender neutral parenting.

So too are they impacted if we decided to just not raise the whole Queer thing. If we pause awkwardly when the topic arises, they notice. If we say Queerness is sinful, they notice. If we shuffle from foot to foot when we see two men kiss, they notice. If we tell them not to stare at a trans woman – for our comfort and speedy moving on, not the comfort of the trans woman – they notice. Are you getting it? They NOTICE EVERYTHING.

From that they draw their own conclusions, and if their modeling of implicit messages around gender are anything to go by, they aren’t good. An awkward backhander of acknowledgment in seventh grade PE is too little, too late.

If, as adults, we fail them in this most important of regards, then we are responsible for who they grow into.

Many of my queer friends spent some of their teens homeless, in dire mental health, in conflict with their families, in conflict with their peers. Not all, but too many. Suicide statistics in teen gay youth and trans youth are alarming, and the high incidence of violence queers experience is some damn huge fallout – a direct result of our failure to promote radical positivity around queerness.

I’ve been street harassed for holding hands with a female partner. I’ve been called a dyke and a lezzo in a menacing fashion. I’ve had my sexuality held up for amusement, titillation and disdain. I’ve been teased for having short hair, hairy armpits, been vilified for loving multiple people. I’ve had shithead Christians “pray for me”. None of this had to happen if adults had over time, made an effort to change the world for me and celebrate difference.

All kids want to belong and feel ok. How can we do that without mentioning all kids, all families, all kinds of people?

Here’s the thing: we can do it differently, we can start, we can try. If we all just accept that yes, it will be hard, we may have to alienate some people and risk our jobs and crappy interactions with DOCS and faculty heads and family members with agendas – if we accept this, and just move forward with the business of speaking an honest, cheerful, embracing truth…

We can change things. One Ally at a time, and for my kids. Stars in the sky though they are.


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