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In bed with Dr Google (and ok with it)


Triggering for mentions of miscarriage, stillbirth and fertility difficulties

I’ve tried a few times lately to blog about this fertility rollercoaster but with little success. There’s so much to write about, and knowing where to start or finish is a problem. Disclaimer: everything I’m about to write about is subjective, and this is a sensitive topic, so if you think reading about someone else’s fertility “journey” or whatever is going to upset you in some way, stop reading now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the feminism of how we think of and talk about women who are experiencing fertility “issues”. Here I include everything from difficulties falling pregnant to finding out you are categorically infertile for some reason through to pregnancy loss, recurrent pregnancy loss, and stillbirth/the death of babies shortly before birth. I also include women who have fraught pregnancies due to complications and disability.

I was finishing up reading J.J Keith’s book “Stop Reading Baby Books” yesterday on the bus while doing that “crying strategically behind sunglasses” thing as I read how she described what it felt like after she’d had three miscarriages before carrying her first babe to term. She talked about how she began to think about doing other things with her life; and about how deeply awful it felt to think that her urge for the motherhood of a living baby might never come to fruition.

I’ve now had two miscarriages, and still no baby has come home with me. It does something to you, that. Everyone responds differently of course, but in my case it has fundamentally changed how I approach life events – that capacity to relax and take good things for granted is completely gone. My counsellor said that something many parents grieve as a result of recurrent pregnancy loss is “the death of the carefree conception and pregnancy.” No truer words were spoken.

Yes, I’ve become the stereotypical hyper-vigilant woman who obsessively checks forums and web.md and knows everything you could possibly know about cervical mucus. I’ve watched youtube videos that demonstrate what egg-white mucus looks like, and I know all about how to thin it (Robitussin, but only in the original variety), how long sperm last in it (3-5 days in fertile mucus; 1-2 hours in dry mucus), what an open and tilted cervix looks like, and I’ve pissed on sticks twice a day for a week to pinpoint exactly when I’m ovulating. The things I could tell you about sperm motility and lubricants! About implantation cramps and spotting! About how HCG works, when you start producing it, how quickly it doubles, what a low or high reading means, and how to calculate your expected implantation date, your luteal phase or the best apps to track symptoms. And let’s not even get started on blood thinners and vitamins and iodine and spinach or the impact of the acid in saliva on sperm.

When I think back to the light hearted young lass who got pregnant all those years ago, in 2009, I mourn the death of that bright and breezy sureness that “things will work out.” I sometimes look at my browser history and it takes a good few minutes of scrolling before I get to any links that aren’t pregnancy or fertility related.

I’m sure some friends and maybe even my partner are quietly critical of this now rather intimate relationship with Dr Google, but I am interested in how images and ideas of the “good suffering woman” are constructed when it comes to fertility troubles.

I think our culture is set up to judge and condemn whatever women do, and fertility is one area in which women are often told they are feeling ‘incorrectly’. Firstly, if you have a miscarriage and you’re not that emotionally effected, this is seen as unforgivably pragmatic – as though you’re a cold individual who is incapable of feeling anything at all towards children or the events of your life. And then, when taken to the other extreme, women who are deeply emotionally impacted are seen as taking it too seriously.

If you fall into the camp of someone planning a pregnancy when you’re having trouble getting or staying pregnant, you may find yourself obsessively reading forums, articles, blog posts, and musing constantly in your own head and aloud with interested (and maybe not so interested) others. Let me tell you now: this is normal. Of course you bloody are. Needing to understand and find some answers among the inscrutable mysteries fertility difficulties throw at you is NORMAL AND OKAY. Doctors give scant support at best; hell, even fertility specialists shuffle you in and out speedily. Needing some control and grabbing for it via information addiction? Yep, taxing. But a part of life. You’re not alone, or strange, and if the plethora of users of online forums discussing recurrent pregnancy loss is anything to go by, you’re far from in a minority.

What I find interesting is that when you express exhaustion or emotional disturbance as a result of the massive head-trip this constitutes, you invariably get a lot of judgement from people about how you’re handling things. You aren’t suffering right. You need to just let it happen and just put it out of your mind and you’re just putting pressure on yourself and you want it too much are some of the tidbits of “advice” people offer.

Women who are embroiled in fertility woes are often painted in the media we consume as the pained obsessives who track every basal body temperature in a spreadsheet (pfft, we have apps now) and stand alone staring at a pregnancy test/ovulation test in despair and emptiness. We are supposed to feel sorry for this figure; to pity her and quietly pass judgement on her for “wanting it too much”. Often these women are painted as shrill, partner-organising/bossing harpies who poke and prod and chart and are somehow deeply insecure. Because you couldn’t just be having mundane, fair enough feelings about difficult circumstances, am I right? It is the same sexist, hetero-normative trope of the nag and the high maintenance, highly strung wife delivered through the lens of reproductive issues. It works effectively to erase the legitimacy of women’s experiences.

What winds up happening I’ve found is that many women flock to online forums because here, at last, they can somewhat lay down their burdens and be with their people – other women who are also struggling. Because of the endless judgement and platitudes, stigma and discomfort of others, they address their isolation by finding a  flock online to share information and feel understood – and this is kind of beautiful (while also being kind of problematic and filled with flaws).

While I’ve gotten quite a bit of support from within my immediate friends and family, I’ve still been judged by some I considered close friends. When it happens – when you are told you are suffering wrong – you shut off, go inward, and wind up reading 15 articles on egg quality before crying yourself to sleep wondering if you’ll ever have a baby and then wake feeling guilty for the reading and the tears. You start to buy in to the idea that you are doing this wrong. Cue more worry and anxiety you don’t need.

As I grow more and more aware of how “struggling correctly” with fertility issues is a fundamentally misogynist way of viewing this experience, it is helping me to let go of some of my apologist feelings and encouraging me to keep toxic people away. I’m getting better at just feeling my feelings, obsessing about what I need to, and being ok with my resting smartphone scroll reflex.

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Snarling #12wbt: veganism, eating disorders, orthorexia and the culture of food policing


This post involves discussions of eating disorders and veganism, which may be triggering for you depending on your circumstances. Please read it in a safe space and access support people if you think it will trigger disordered thinking or behaviours for you. Negative comments on this issue from friends aren’t welcome and are actively triggering of ED, so please refrain from that if you know me personally.

This is not an easy post to make because it discusses aspects of my life and identity that have underpinned some of the most important bonds I’ve made in my communities, and who I see myself as. It is a complicated, long post, but I think some of the things I’m going to discuss are important to talk about.

As I’ve been embarking on building a realistic, settled and balanced relationship with my body and food, I’ve discussed a bit about my history with disordered eating here. I’ve posted here about my how my relationship with food has been fractured and dissonant from a very young age.

I remember having compulsive eating behaviours from the age of about eight. I was a compulsive emotional eater, and engaged in covert or “sneak” eating – a mountain of mugs built up under my bed from quiet gorging on icing (frosting) that I would make and eat with a closed door. Sneak eating is still something I do, though I try to minimise it. I can’t remember if I ever saw covert eating modeled for me, though I think all of us have seen compulsive overeating in our communities.

Disordered eating, even if it doesn’t develop into a diagnosable disorder, is really common and was very observable in the interactions of the microsystem I grew up in, particularly with my parents and siblings (holler ecological systems theory and Bronfenbrenner) – and I think that’s influenced by and tied up in lots of non-medical social stuff, particularly around gender from our macrosystems. Hiding food is something I think lots of women do, or at least, I’ve known lots of women to do it. And fixation on food and dissonance around how we think and behave is not the fault of the individual in a wider sense, because our culture encourages it in everyone, especially women.

So, my baseline throughout my life has been to have a very quirky relationship with food – I have reflexively used it to service every emotional state. Celebration, sadness, shame, self hatred, joy, feeling ill. My thinking around food has tended to be historically very extreme – food has been good vs bad, and eating certain foods has by extension made me good or bad.

Food is interwoven fairly inextricably in how I process my feelings and identity. Untangling that is not totally possible, though taking steps to minimise the entanglement is positive for me.

When I was 20, I discovered a lot of things about animal testing and the way that animals are treated in food production that disturbed me (and still disturb me) and my response to this information was to exclude animal products from my diet, very strictly. I went vegan. This conversion happened over a period of a week. It was pretty sudden and pretty dramatic (like a lot of things I’ve done in life!) I think that my response was a rational and positive one.

Veganism can be a rational response to cruelty. It is. I believe that. I believe everyone has the right to choose to distance themselves from systems that they observe as harmful. I think veganism is pretty rad as a way to disengage and also engage with systems that are often unspeakably awful.

I became more involved in the vegan community online, and made lots of friends in the Sydney vegan community, who now remain some of my deepest, most meaningful friendships. I love these people. They are honestly some of the kindest, most gentle and caring folks I’ve ever known, and they’ve been there for me through thick and thin. I don’t think it is their veganism that makes them awesome, but I think their general disposition towards being concerned about justice and kindness informs their veganism. They want the world to be fairer and kinder, and this is how they go about it.

I wanted (and still want) that too. Unfortunately my disordered eating – cycles of binging and restriction and very polar thinking about food that has distinct mental health outcomes of depression, anxiety and physical health symptoms (starvation, overeating, swings in weight and blood sugar) – was worsened by veganism. It’s really easy to develop an even more extreme set of rules (and ways to rebel from these rules) about food when you’re following an ethical framework that sets out, very clearly, “good” and “bad” foods. The labels are a bit different – “ethical” vs “unethical” but the thinking is so close as to be the same. For a person with ED, separating disordered eating from veganism is close to impossible. I’m very proud of people who through therapy and lots of personal work are able to do this.

The problem for me became that my ED both caused ‘lapses’ from veganism because of it’s nature and my veganism caused behaviours with my ED, because of culture of the framework.

When you’re vegan, you feel the weight of the suffering of all animals on every meal, on every bite (and many vegans would argue you should, and that this constant gnawing guilt is positive. I personally think that’s a bit fucked up.) Every choice you make takes on global, massive, heavy significance. And let’s be honest here: many (not all) vegans scrutinise each other and everyone else. They just do. They scrutinise others in the same way people do on thinspiration/pro-ED forums. They do in the way hardcore paleo people do. The organic crew. The no-sugar people. They do in the way any group others people outside the club. And I know what vegans say about other people when they’re 100% sure no other non-vegans are in the room because of how long I flew stealth because of shame, before awkwardly admitting in a few calculated safe-risk situations that I wasn’t as pure as my friends.

I went away for the weekend with a girlfriend/partner back in the day, who was vegetarian but pretty accepting/non judgemental of most folks, and at the time I was pretty seriously vegan. I remember sitting down for a buffet breakfast at this fancy, lovely hotel and agonising over eating the mushrooms (which may have been fried in butter, but I didn’t know either way and it was killing me). Her gentle, kind words (which I’m kind of paraphrasing here because it was a long time ago!) have always stuck with me: it’s just a plate of mushrooms. You eating these mushrooms doesn’t make you a good or bad person.

If there’s one thing you know how to do as a person with fucked up eating, it’s hide things and worry about what everyone will think. The thing that is sad about veganism and some other frameworks for eating, is that the fear of social exclusion is not ill-founded, and being on the receiving end of abuse and hostility is a real thing that happens (especially online – like many other folk, vegans are some of the worst keyboard warriors I’ve met). I think it’s a bit more intense with veganism though than say, organic eating, because it can go to the core of how people see themselves in their world. I was intensely worried about what eating those mushrooms would mean for my friendships, and my whole sense of self. Who was I, if I ate the mushrooms? Was I bad or good? Was I worse or better? It was deep ED land, compliments of veganism.

I know that’s not a nice thing to hear, but it is true. Vegans need to stop and think about how what they do and say may be actively triggering and harming people in their ranks (and outside of them. And I’d argue that distinction is heaps more murky than people like to acknowledge). And while veganism doesn’t cause eating disorders, it can make them worse without heaps of support and critical reflection, and I’m not sure that kind of support and reflection goes on in these communities enough. I really do believe people with ED are attracted to things like veganism and say, paleo or low carb eating as well, because of their strict rules. I know I was.

It’s all very muddy and hard to pick apart when you really sit down and look at how it all interacts. I would engage in sneak eating of forbidden cheese because it was “bad” and doing bad things felt good (and then bad again very quickly) and I would then renounce cheese and engage in ritually shaming myself (mostly in my head). I would also engage in shaming and criticising others (sometimes on this blog!) for eating non vegan foods, mostly online (because hiding behind a keyboard and sneering at vegetarians/omnivores is a lot easier than doing it in person at a dinner party, where you have to deal with the social consequences of the actual rudeness of saying these things to another person’s face). Shaming others for food choices is a pretty classic ED behaviour which I don’t do any more because I am aware of it, and check it. It makes me sound like a dick and it ruins connections with others. There are other ways to talk about veganism that are more positive and helpful for everyone (who doesn’t love a vegan cupcake stall, or vegan cooking blog, am I right?)

And I am not vegan at the moment. That’s really hard to type. HARD, PEOPLE. I hide my non vegan things (see how I say “things?” rather than naming the actual items? Yep) in the opaque vegetable crisper drawer of my fridge because I am just so fucking ashamed and terrified of my non vegan friends seeing my dirty shameful food. In my head, no matter what I do, I can’t separate the eating of an egg (though a painstakingly researched free range, low concentration of hens per hectare egg) with being an evil person. This may sound bonkers to you, but it isn’t wild thinking in the context of the vegan community. The answer isn’t as simple as not eating the egg either, because the underpinning psychological tic just lays dormant, waiting for another object to affix itself to. And I need complex conditions under which I can stop feeling the guilt and shame (such as being abroad, where making vegan choices is way way harder, therefore being vegetarian is less of a transgression. Welcome to the merry-go-round, guys!).

All of my instagram photos obscure or hide elements of my shop or cooking that involve non vegan products. Is this positive behaviour? No. Is this culturally influenced? Yes.

All of my instagram photos obscure or hide elements of my shop or cooking that involve non vegan products. Is this positive behaviour? No. Is this culturally influenced? Yes.

There’s a name for this manifestation of ED, and while it isn’t a diagnosable condition, it’s pretty spot on (and I didn’t know about it until a friend mentioned it in passing to me today and I was pretty much like WOAH and that prompted this post). It’s called ‘orthorexia’ and you can read more about it here, and here, but basically it is “righteous” eating. To quote:

Orthorexia is a term coined by Steven Bratman, MD to describe his own experience with food and eating.  It is not an officially recognized disorder in the DSM-5, but is similar to other eating disorders – those with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa obsess about calories and weight while orthorexics obsess about healthy eating (not about being “thin” and losing weight).”

I believe that orthorexic thinking is, at least for me, something that can crop up for people who are trying to overcome restriction and binging. It’s a nifty little side step in which ED can hide. I’m not counting calories! I’m eating healthy! I’m not logging my food, I’m just NEVER EVER EATING SUGAR. I’m not obsessively exercising, I’m just religiously having a green smoothie every day and excluding gluten (even though I’m not gluten intolerant or coealiac). I’m not weighing myself, I’m just feeling like a saint because I’m only eating organic food. I’m better. I’m healthier. I’m good. You might not be pathologically orthorexic, but I bet a lot of us “good feminists” (hello, more purity politics) recognise these thoughts!

There’s been some famous cases of orthorexia and people being honest about their food habits, such that of Jordan Younger – and some heavily oppressive flack they’ve copped for that honesty. I get grumpy at the coverage of this – you’ll notice a distinctly anti-vegan, pro-meat tone in some of the articles (hooray, this silly person now eats meat again just as they should! Down with vegans!) or a pro-vegan subtle weight loss message (do we really need to include before and after photos of the person who had dramatic weight loss due to their restrictive veganism? Who is that useful for? So basically we’re still ogling and approving of the skinny, right? Fuck off.) Personally I think Jordan Younger is really fucking brave to do what she did. 

I should be really clear in writing this post that I think our politics around food need to start functionally omitting discussions of blame, “total” behaviours, or polarity. If I could encourage myself and others to have one personal affirmation, it would be “I am not my food, and my food and habits do not determine my worth.”

That is super challenging as an affirmation because many vegans and healthy eating gurus (including, let’s face it, me still) just Do. Not. Believe that. Or preach it. The subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) message is: your food DOES make you good or bad.

My friend Cassie, who is vegan, is probably one of the most legit excellent vegans I know because when I nervously talked to her about this, she just didn’t judge me (or if she did, she didn’t do it out loud, even if that was super hard for her). I think she saw my anxiety and decided somehow that being a good human was more important than being the vegan police. That giving me a space in which I could be my whole integrated self, and not triggering my ED, was more important that insisting I meet a standard. For that I’m grateful, and even if she doesn’t realise it, I felt closer to her and less fucked up in that moment.

I am facing a new health challenge at the moment that I’m still mulling over, and trying to be critical of when fitting it into my knowledge of myself as a person with “food issews”. My fertility doctor just told me I have the compound heterozygous MTHFR gene mutation, which has implications for how I absorb folate (I don’t do it well, and need to supplement with folenic acid), and has links to recurrent pregnancy loss as well as other health concerns.

There’s a raft of information about eating and living with MTHFR, but my friend flagged with me that it could prompt orthorexic thinking and eating, which is a legit concern. Some of the advice given to people with MTHFR (particularly compound heterozygous MTHFR and single or compound homozygous MTHFR genes) is pretty extreme and I’m not sure yet how scientific some of it is. Some doctors with information online about MTHFR genes recommend excluding dairy and gluten, but the rationale for that I’ve yet to discover.

I’m not feeling triggered by the (so far small) changes I need to make to diet and supplementation because of MTHFR so far. I know I’ll need to monitor that, though. There is always within me the potential to find just another new way to limit or alter my behaviours for piousness. And the potential for that around making babies? Huge, because of how huge the stakes are emotionally. There’s few things I want more than to take home a healthy baby at this point, so I need to be reeeeally careful I don’t unthinkingly use that to support making wild choices. 

The #12wbt probably does provide a holding space for people with orthorexic thinking and behaviours, I don’t doubt. Loads of it is triggering of those thoughts in me. There are messages around altering your social ties, avoiding or altering social situations and creating defence mechanisms for eating “unhealthy” foods that definitely cater to orthorexia.

But on the other hand, Michelle Bridges does preach balance. She talks about the whole journey being important, not the destination. There’s lots of contradictions in the message, but she does try to encourage people to be real about their eating and not judge themselves for what they eat, instead being consistent and generally nutritious, not perfect. There’s so many competing ideas in the #12wbt but I think an effort is made to navigate away from extreme eating, and to include a range of foods. There’s no eschewing of sugar or carbs or fat. There’s a little bit of everything, and I like that.

This post is not designed to say that veganism is bad, because I don’t think it is. I would love to somehow find my way back to being vegan and not feeling fucked up by it, I’m just not sure that will happen any time soon – and I carry daily guilt around about that. I would like to get rid of that guilt (even as some people think I should feel it even more keenly, I’m sure) and reclaim my humanity from the intrusive “not good enough” feeling that always comes from somewhere. Veganism is not bad because ways of eating can’t be inherently bad – but it is complex, and it is made up of flawed humans who sometimes make not very kind choices in how they treat people. In the end, there will always be the vegan who doesn’t give a shit about how people feel because they’re a warrior for animal rights, and then there will be the ones who make you soup and celebrate the efforts you do/can make. The ones who remember that veganism was originally designed to be about what is “practical and possible”. 

At the moment my focus is just on eating balanced meals that have a bit of everything (and by everything I do mean sometimes chips, chocolate and beer) and becoming a person who is generally thoughtful about food but not compelled to act by an internal script of goodnes/badness.

I really want to be able to display chilled out, balanced behaviours around food for my children and minimise purity politics in my home. This probably means they won’t grow up in a home that is 100% vegan and with a Dad that sometimes eats meat (and a Mum who doesn’t feel totally comfy with that choice, but tries not to be a dick about it). I mourn that a bit. I don’t want them growing up thinking veganism is bad though and I want that to be a choice they can make if it is made feeling whole, and empowered, and happy. I recognise that will probably be complicated for them, just as it is for me.

Most of all, I want my kids to know that I will love them no matter what they do or don’t put in their mouths. That their worth isn’t defined by what they eat. While that seems to have skipped my brain, I want to work hard on it being installed in theirs from the beginning.


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:


Roller Derby coverage is a feminist issue (but not like you might think)


Media coverage of Roller Derby, most of the time, sucks.

In one way, it is interesting, because you see the complex sexual politics of society writ large in terms of phrase, choices of focus, and what is omitted. Mostly, though, it just winds up being annoying. Even when coverage is trying hard, it usually fails hard too.

Pretty much the only coverage of Derby I can stand to read is that written by players, or that comes from within the community.

There, the writing is sport-focused, the theatre is handled with the sense of fun and irreverence and fierceness it embodies, personality is part and parcel and not drooled over, it just…is. There, it is extremely rare to see ugly misogyny and weird falling-over-self attempts at inverting stereotypes that just terminates in the enforcing of other ones.

This is because people in the Roller Derby community have their heads screwed on about their sport; for a start, they get that it is AN ACTUAL SERIOUS SPORT, and they’re living the respect it is due. No, members of the Derby community are not always politically correct and there’s work to do, but the deep sense of celebration of as-many-as-possible is there, and their feminism is a lived one that doesn’t have time to scratch itself because it is too busy empowering women on the ground. Yes, that’s a cliche some outside of the community are sick of hearing. And yet, it is still true.

This week has brought an exciting time for the international Derby community, with the first ever World Cup being played in Toronto. Team Australia is there, in all of it’s scary bruised and bruising glory. Sydney, Newcastle, Canberra, Adelaide, Victoria and Brisbane all have players representing them, and I am quietly squeeing my pants because my derby wifey Susy Pow (TOP5) is there, kicking ass and taking names.

So far, we’re doing extremely well, having moved through to the semi finals by this morning putting the boot into the admirable Swedish side. Next we face off with the US team. Nerve-wracking, but delicious, and so well deserved. Australia is a nation of polished, deeply skilled skaters.

But what of the coverage of this event, or Derby in general? This, and one other example I’ll be talking about, brings to light the following recurring issues when people outside of Derby, write about Derby.

1. Skaters are conceptually sexualised in ways that are not their choice, or necessarily reflect their play or personality. Further, any expression of sexuality is usually appropriated through the lens of male-gaze bullshit, rather than an autonomous, self driven thing that has pretty much *nothing* to do with dudes thinking they are hot. Just like the Starfire kerfuffle with DC comics, Derby girls regularly have their images and personas hijacked by leery media unsure how to frame them – and resorting to wank-bank terminology and phrasing. I’ve observed how actively Derby grrls hate this and how self-conscious and grossed-out (then, righteously angry) it makes them.

A great example of this is a pretty gross blog article on Total Pro Sports that cropped up this week and was widely flamed on social networking sites by people in the derby family. A slide-show of “sexy roller girls”, it contained both images of porn models in derby gear and pictures of non-consenting skaters whose images had been used to create an unabashed page for dudes and their tissue time. It was, in a word, fucked. And pretty much anyone who has anything to do with derby that I know, was disgusted by the bizarro appropriation of derby identity.

The article has been taken down now, I believe (at least, I can’t find it). But remaining on the site are patronising and offensive bullshit like “Spank That Ass”, an ‘article’ that has gems like the following –

“Roller derby may be just as fake as WWE Wrestling. However, when it is the women who are front and center in the action, it seems to be just as entertaining. Whether it is two females showing off some rather incredible flexibility, or just another spanking session, these babes and their skimpy tight uniforms are enough to spark interest in just about any heterosexual male.”

I mean, just…goddamn.

2. The flipside to this, of course, is the de-sexualisation of the sport by others. You know, when everything in the article is falling over itself to basically say “look, I know they’re in hotpants, but they’re not sluts”. Derby girls don’t consent to have themselves purified, either, and I think the effort to clamour actively away from the theatrical, glamorous and babein’ elements of the sport (which are fairly enmeshed) is actually the other side of the Madonna/Whore complex media seem to have when they write about Roller Derby. And don’t even get me started on second wave feminists and how they write about players. I mean oh my god, if you wear fishnets, you must be supporting patriarchy, right? Wrong.

A good example of this is in an article by The Guardian entitled “The Roller Derby World Cup: not your average bid for world domination”. It made me distinctly uncomfortable (and I couldn’t place why, until I wrote this post.)

The article is mostly good, but then I grew uneasy reading “This world of pseudonyms, quarterback stripes and hotpants can seem at odds with a serious sporting endeavour, but it all adds to the unique experience of watching and taking part in roller derby, and is in no small part responsible for its success and appeal.”

Why do we need to say that? Why can’t we just…cover the sport? The article has a clear anxiety about the ‘seriousness’ of derby, and if you troll internet forums and actually ignore the tenet ‘don’t read the comments’, you can find gems that reflect this anxiety in a more boiled down way. “Why do all derby girls dress like sluts?” and so on.

Ugh.

———–

One of the things I enjoy most in this world is seeing shit like this get shut down, though. Here’s a nice example, from an exchange between a derby girl on Reddit and some foolish person.

Fool: Check it out, dude! It’s a fun time, cute girls in fishnets (drool), and after about two rounds you will really get into it if you’re a sports type.

Derby girl: Fuck off.

——-==

In the end, all of this amounts to one thing for me: Derby is doing something right.

That people often don’t know how the hell to cover this sport means that people are uncomfortable. They stumble and stammer because they don’t know what the hell this is or how to handle it. Roller Derby is a sport that operates entirely outside of the box (except perhaps, the penalty box) and inverts, subverts, queers and fucks with every notion of woman-hood. Most skaters don’t think about it on that level and probably think this level of analysis is navel-gazing wankery (because you could be skating, man). And you know….exactly! That’s what I mean.

Derby, a sport run by the skaters and for the skaters, and most of those people being women-identified, is a clearly, boldly demarcated clearing circle with absolute boundaries. That boundary is thus – this is ours and we own ourselves and we love each other.

That, I think, is the terrifying challenge that Derby lays down. Derby Grrls are gender outlaws on skates (or off, for the vollies and NSOs and jeerleaders), doing feminism, and busting out fierce, self-possessed sexy (or not), athleticism, dork-antics, self care and care for others, skill sharing, taking hits, fundraising and fighting. Imperfect and varied, it is a full, coarse, punch-in-the-gut experience of what it is to be human in league with other humans.

Perhaps it is that – the uncompromising proud humanity of the skaters – that scares people most of all.


Femmes are friends, not food.


*pre-amble note: in my view of the world, the identity of femme is not conflated with cisgendered women. Femme is a gender identity that is embodied by people who ID in every which way. I also believe it is not our job, as queers, to police who may identify as femme or not.

For a while I’ve been contemplating what it means to have femme friendships.

I’ve never really had a lot of success with this. Without mincing words, I’ve found a lot of femmes really competitive, often snarky, and often hard to get to know. A bunch of them already have their friendship circle carved out, and if you’re not totally suave and up on the lay of the land they can eat you alive – or have a little gnaw on you and spit you out. And yeah, the stereotype of the ice queen alpha femme who bitches out your shoes and politics in the same breath isn’t prevalent without reason. They aren’t fauns. They do exist, and people do worship them (not my scene).

This trait – of fierceness – can be totally useful when turned against those who intrude uninvited and damage our loved ones, but it can be terrifying to come up against as a fellow femme. Especially when you just want to play nice and have tea. Oftentimes it is so damn intimidating that you don’t even approach.

Around the time of Camp Betty, I said to a Melbourne femme that I didn’t think I had any good femme friends. This was probably exaggeration – who doesn’t amplify self pity when talking to someone in a sibling community? – but it wasn’t so far off the mark.

But since Camp Betty I’ve been doing two things. I’ve been ever so slowly making tiiiiny advances into friendships with some of the femmes I regard as People to Know. Not because they are well placed (fuck social climbing) and not because they are the cleverest, the shiniest, the most well groomed. They are people I’ve sought out because they are kind, witty, and welcoming. They seem to get that you can be fierce and be accessible as well.

The second thing I’ve done is get over myself, stop being a blinkered git, and realised that there’s a bunch of femmes and femme-curious people within my reach. I’ve started giving them a lot more love. It’s a little rich to complain about a lack of connection, when you’re not even reaching out to what’s within your grasp.

I’d like to see a lot more femmehood among us, though. We have the capacity to link across our community instead of becoming these distorted symbols who are fetishised and worshiped and ultimately isolated from each other. I know it feels nice to be the centre of mystery – I mean damn, can you even really define femme? I know I can’t – but mystery can get kind of lonely.

And everyone knows loneliness is for suckers. Leopard print hugs are so much better. Scented leopard print hugs.


Empty Chairs: tips for acknowledging a silent Mother’s Day


Death generally makes people one of two things: silent, or awkward. We clothed bipeds find death pretty confronting, after all.

Now take death and stir in some child death. This escalates the level of standoffish charm to something approximating a total communication blackout. In fact, you get up, leave your chair and exit the metaphorical room because it is all. too. hard.

On Mother’s day, other women are being showered with flowers and breakfast in bed and cards and calls from relatives and outings. But because of what I like to call “The Empty Chair Syndrome” women who have lost children in early or late pregnancy, stillbirth and childhood, receive a whole lot of fat nothin’.

Well, not nothing. If they’re like me, they’re lucky enough to have one or two friends who remember. Remember who the child was, their name, their intended life, the swirl of love felt when they were present. These friends validate it.

In the May of my first year without my baby, after having carried her through her first trimester and then having her leave me, I experienced my first mother’s day. August died in February, so it was only a couple of short months later. The proximity was terrible. Still morbidly depressed and teary at every prick and annoyance, I feared and longed for the day to arrive.

I held my breath, wondering what would happen, but I was sorely disappointed. No calls from family – from either my husband’s side or my own. The phone didn’t ring. No flowers, no gifts, no cards. I ended up having imaginary conversations with them, thinking what they would have said, what would have felt nice but didn’t happen. I was surrounded by a sea of empty chairs.

Well, one card. The one and only card I received was from my friend Erin, and despite the now large distance between us, the memory of this kindness and the enfolding hug that accompanied it moved me deeply. The card depicted a bird making a nest, and the nest had an egg in it. Inside, she’d written such warm words about motherhood and the enduring spirit of it – and that to be a mother is not dependent upon the immediate presence of the child. Mother once, love like that once, and you’re always a Mum.

I felt seen, I felt heard, and I felt real. Being a silent mother makes you a ghost having conversations with the dead. Acknowledgment, even now, adds flesh to the rigging of my ribs, to make me whole and moving through a world more tangible.

I still have the card. It helped me get through the day and focus on my own experience, rather than have it obscured by anger at the lack of emotional dexterity or remembrance from those nearest and dearest to me.

Another random act of love happened last Mother’s Day. My beautiful flatmates Cassie and Andrew gave me a custom made necklace engraved with a lemon tree, and August’s name engraved on the back, along with a sweet card patterned with baby elephants and gentle messages written inside.

I wear it on special days that I associate with August, so she’s sitting close to my heart. I’ll be wearing it tomorrow.

I’m grateful for the ways in which those around me have tried to help me make sense of Mother’s Day by their participation. I know, though, that in many instances this would not have happened for women quieter and less outspoken than me. It is partly because I speak of August often that I receive love and care; when you agitate for something, it is bound to happen.

But this post is not for myself, this year. This is for the women too quiet, still too tender, forced to be too ‘polite’ to talk about their little lost ones. For the women who have had miscarriages that their community has treated as ‘par for the course’. For the women who have made a choice to have an abortion but still grieve, despite knowing it was the right thing to do at the time. For the women who are surrounded by people who think talking about dead babies is inelegant and gauche. For the women who are given plenty of support at the time, only to have it evaporate in a month or two.

If you know a woman who has miscarried, had a late term loss, a stillbirth, or an abortion you know they grieve, here are five simple tips to marking Mother’s Day so they are less a ghost.

1. Give your fear it’s due but get over it. Yes, it feels strange and scary to talk to a woman about her dead child. But you are a grownup. You push through fears about plenty of things – push through this. They’re not going to think you’re rude; they might be quiet and not say much, but you’re not doing it for feedback.

2. Remember that your fear and awkwardness is less than the sadness and loneliness of being ignored at a really important moment in your life. Cover the distance between those points with action informed by love.

3. Acknowledge them with words. A card, a letter, an email, a phone call, a visit. Even a wall post on facebook or a tweet. Speak and affirm them just as you would any other mother.

4. Make your affirmation positive. This is Mother’s Day, not death day. You’re affirming all that they did for that child in the time they were here. For instance, maybe you could include a specific memory of admiration if you knew them when their child was around. “I remember how hard you worked to keep healthy when your baby was with us, and that makes a great Mum.”

5. If you can’t speak to them or write to them because you don’t know what to say, act. Send flowers, or a small gift, or take them out to dinner. Offer to help with some chore to make the day easier. Offer to keep them company. Bake them a cake.

No matter what you do, remember that ‘making someone cry’ by speaking their truth out loud is actually a good thing. When people talk about August, I often cry. It feels good to do so and I’m grateful for the people who are more than their programming and let me be that vulnerable with them (and they, in turn, make themselves open to me).

Just be present, in some way. It lets a little light and love in. Be brave enough to take a stake in a whole park bench and let us sit beside you to just…talk.

Or even just to sit in the weight of the day. Together.


Our Lovely Bucket: hangin’ with the square pegs.


Claiming the identity ‘Queer’ for myself is among some of the smarter things I’ve done. I didn’t know that at the time though.

When I first came out to my parents at 19 – not that this is some universal marker of claiming a realised sexuality – it was as a lesbian. They were pretty calm about it, really. I’m thankful for that. I wholeheartedly dived into the world of being a dyke, and maybe I was one for that short time. Sexuality, I’ve learned, is pretty fluid and can change.

I know there’s a lot of people who find that idea confronting, unacceptable. Essentialism – that belief that we must be ‘one thing’, at our core, that we must reduce to basic parts that don’t continue to dissolve – caters to the vigorous yearning we all have that the world be stable. A need for stable boundaries around our own sexualities, and that of other people, can manifest as a destructive force. I think that wish for surety, though, comes from an understandable insecurity and fear.

Understandable until you try to fuck with me and legislate my existence. Right up until then.

Later, as I grew into a twenty something, I decided to march under the banner of bisexuality. I still wanted to have sex and relationships with male-identifying people. At that time, my understanding of the world was that ‘male identifying’ and a traditionally male-bodied person were the same thing. Now I know better. Now I know that gender is a complex, personal, political, beautiful, painful, dynamic playground that has no rules.

Again, fluidity. Learning.

When I started participating in student life at the University of Newcastle I ran across the term Queer for the first time. I’d had some inkling of it; it had tripped my radar when I was really young. But I had never investigated it.

At first, I thought Queer was a word for other people. I was still happy to call myself bisexual. Then as time trickled on I thought I could maybe claim it for myself. I wasn’t sure why, I wasn’t sure what it would mean for me, but I tentatively tried it on like a new and fabulous hat that seems different to every other hat you’ve come by so far. I thought at the time that you couldn’t be both bisexual AND Queer. Yeah, I know better now.

It felt ok.

At that time, I still though the word ‘Queer’ applied only to sexuality – who we fuck. But as the saying goes, Queer is not about who we fuck, at all – it is about how we fuck. And how we fuck with the world. And how it fucks with us.

I’ve now spent a little more than a year participating in an active, thriving Queer community in Sydney. It isn’t perfect; like every community, it has major flaws. But oh, the strengths too! I’ve learned more than I thought I could about gender, sexuality, love, consent, kink, relationships, etiquette, work, money, equality, dissent, resistance and mobilised anger.

I’ve learned that sex workers are fierce and amazing and mundane people, not cliches and punchlines. I’ve learned about rope and saying yes and saying no and standing firm and giving way. I’ve learned that personal pronouns are sometimes everything. I’ve learned to admire the muscles of a friend taking a scary, amazing journey with T and to stand with support and love beside those who don’t want to go there. I’ve learned about privilege, hugging, chai dates, strapping, packing, piercing, snuggling, melting, laughing, bad fashion, why bows and beards belong together, flirting, and dragging pretty girls into public restrooms. I’ve learned what pansexual means, and what genderqueer means, and why they are who I am.

I’ve learned that lipstick does not a lipstick lesbian make. And sometimes it does. And you can’t tell by looking, sorry, you just can’t.

I’ve learned that for me, being Queer means being fuck-you different, in some way, and how you deal with that. It isn’t always fun. Sometimes it is ugly and hard but sometimes it is glorious and hilarious.

I have so much left to absorb and internalise and work out. I don’t know the fullness of what it means to be a square peg in our round hole world, but I do know that I’m in good company.

The best, actually.

 


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