My favourite internet search terms

I recently realised that my blog has the capacity to see not only which pages people are visiting, but internet search terms they use to find their way here. I normally don’t pay that kind of information any attention, but I noticed a phrase one day that caught my attention and made me laugh. I went through the archives of search terms, and I thought I’d put together this list of my favourites! It will be interesting tosee what kind of search terms people use in the future.

• “australopithecus anamensis” (with over 150 hits leading poor researchers to my blog)
• “psychotic+reaction+to+attending+kairos+retreat”
• “how to knock yourself out” or “how to knock yourself out safely”, and “can you knock yourself out while lying down”
• “this is my sex story wordpress singapore”
• “Kamatz, matsi and lakota”, which fills me with joy. I had forgotten about them.
• “girls camp cold night ‘sleeping in shorts'”
• “poems xin raindrop” (Naww, thanks whoever liked my poem enough to search for it twice!)
• “concussion.write.about.ajahn brahm”
• Quite a few hits for “dark brotherhood” and other Skyrim and Oblivion adventures
• “women hunting in coondle”
• “i don’t want to be a social worker anymore” (Friend, I wish you all the best.)
• “poetic ways to die”
• “manchoon meaning” (My friend’s name is Manchoon! XD)
• “snow fight groin guard”
• “keys to limitless sex”
• “letting go ego and striving” (Glad to see someone’s getting something out of my posts.)
• “poem if i die will any notice”
• “placement at centrelink” and “social work at RPH” and “social work placements perth”
• “livechinesex”
• “Malaysia one liners” (and surprisingly many variations of this)
• “unemployment is killing me”
• “yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahoo”
• “how to look like lord voldemort in skyrim”
• “oei uho u jkifat,” (which means “you are a stupid” in Dino, the fictional language from Starfox Adventures. Yes, I was so cool when I was fourteen that I learned the whole language fluently enough to have conversations with myself.)
• “skyrim astrid hot”
• “depressive humour” Aww… :(
• “how to survive a cold shower” and “martial arts cold shower”
• “english bobby policeman paper mache made in scotland”
• “nietzsche overman”
• “penang sex story” and “penang real gay stories” and “penang hotel seks gay kiss” (Okay, now it’s starting to get a little creepy.)
• “i own his ass pt3”
• “real experience having sex in penang” (As far as I can tell, these are all independent searches. Or one very determined individual who believes if he or she changes search terms, they’ll uncover something in my blog.)
• “how to survive a gashuku”
• “perth sexpo” and “perth sexpo afterparty 2013”
• And my personal favourite, “scottish bobby hats weight”

Living a balanced life

I’ve got all these blog posts I’ve been writing for TINO but I haven’t really written anything for myself  lately. In the past month or so, I’ve only written two blog posts for myself. I love writing for TINO, particularly because I kinda get paid for it (more on that in a minute), but I miss writing for the pleasure of writing. For expressing myself and the strange ideas that I have, without caring about whether the articles are informative enough or well-supported enough or eloquent enough. Ah well. Rather than something personal, here’s another one of the blogs I’ve pre-written!

 

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Living a balanced life

TINO has a really great Topic page dedicated to health and wellbeing. It talks about some ways to live and be healthy, and I recommend the factsheet by Reach Out in particular. But there’s more to being healthy than just diet and exercise (though those can’t be overlooked). I’m sure there are dozens of models you could try to follow, but for me, one stands out as most helpful.

Someone once told me that there are five areas of balance in life. No matter what’s going on in your life at the moment, if these five areas are being looked after, then things in general are better. If things aren’t going so well, the sharpness of the suffering is buffered because everything else is so good. If things are going well, then you positively vibrate with the happiness and joy of how good life can be. I often reflect on how balanced my life is, and whether I’m having my fundamental needs met. It definitely works, so try it out for yourself! The five categories are:

 

Food

I’ve already written plenty about the importance of eating healthy and eating well, but it’s really important to put nutritious food into your body. You can only give as much as you put in, so if you want to be a healthier person in mind, body and spirit, a healthy diet does wonders for improving general health. Normally when I’m feeling crap I’m tempted to buy a big bucket of hot chips, but I’ve found that eating them normally doesn’t change my mood, and my stomach hurts afterwards giving me something more to be grumpy about. Even if you don’t feel like it, try eating well and notice the difference it makes in your life.

 

Exercise

Naturally, exercise is hugely important to keeping healthy and balanced. I almost always feel fantastic after I exercise, so I recommend doing it every day if you can! Go for a walk, or better yet a run whenever you get the chance! Not only does it keep your body fit, it does wonders for your mood by burning stress chemicals and releasing endorphins. Plus joining a sporting group is a great way to meet some excellent people, which segues nicely into my next point…

 

Social

Human beings are social creatures, and it’s important for us to be with the people we care about. Going for months without seeing a friend can be sucky, but going for months without seeing any friends in a fun setting can be exhausting. Make sure to schedule in time to see the people that are important to you!

 

Relaxation

Resting and doing something you love is really important. I’ve had plenty of time on my hands lately so I tend to spend quite a lot of time doing this one (I’m probably a little out of balance here, hehe), but even during times when I’ve worked full-time, plus a casual job, I’ve always made sure I’ve had enough “me-time” throughout the week.

 

Sleep

So many problems come from being tired. Think about it- when was the last time you saw someone who was fully refreshed, yet still grumpy? If you get a good eight hours sleep, life is so much better. Some people need a little less, some people need a little more, but I’d generally advise to get as close to eight hours as you can. Although sleeping twelve hours can sometimes feel great, doing it day after day can leave you exhausted. Conversely, sleeping only six hours might save time, but it doesn’t give your body and mind enough time to heal and rejuvenate.

Here are some tips for getting a good night’s sleep:

      Hide your alarm clocks. Waking up to stare at the clock is unnecessary and usually unhelpful. Set your alarm if you have to, but turn the clock the other way so that you don’t watch the seconds tick by.

      Sleep and wake at consistent times. Although it’s hard to get into good sleeping habits and you might find yourself lying awake for ages, set a bed time and stick to it. Eventually your body’s circadian rhythm will adjust until you get into a regular pattern of sleep.

      Don’t have lights or sounds in your room. Even little things like LED clocks can distract you, and as your brain is trying to process the stimuli (“What’s that light? It can’t be a star. Is it dangerous? Better stay on mild alert all night, just in case…”), your sleep is not as deep or nourishing.

      Turn off your mobile, or put it on “Do not disturb” or “airplane mode”. I can’t count the number of times I was drifting off when someone messaged me and the sudden light and buzz of the vibrate would jolt me back into awakeness. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, many phones turn themselves on automatically when it’s time for the alarm to go off- give yours a try and see if it works.

      Avoid eating after 9:30. Most people’s digestive systems begin to slow down around this time in anticipation of eight hours of sleeping. Having a heavy meal and then flopping straight into bed actually draws a lot of energy from your body to your stomach so your sleep isn’t as satisfying.

      Unwind before bed-time. Turn off the TV and avoid vigorous exercise or anything that will get you “pumped up”. Let your mind relax with gentle stimuli like reading or a warm (or cold!) shower.

      If stressful thoughts are keeping you awake, do something to de-stress. As a specific example, I often worry about the amount of study I have to do before an upcoming assessment. But over the years, I’ve come to the firm belief that time for sleep is equally important as time for cramming. That means if I have sixteen hours before an exam, I will deliberately spend at least eight of them sleeping/resting, rather than trying to pull an all-nighter and then being too tired to remember anything the next day.

To help let go of generally unhelpful thoughts that keep you up at night, try meditating (that is to say, focusing your mind on something other than your stressful thoughts), breathing deeply, counting sheep or consciously letting your body relax. This last one in particular works pretty close to 100% of the time for me- I’m usually asleep before I’m halfway through it. Try repeating “My left arm is heavy” three times, feeling it grow heavier each time, then “My right arm is heavy… Both my arms are heavy… My left leg is heavy… My right leg is heavy… Both of my legs are heavy… My arms and legs are heavy… My left arm is heavy and warm…” etc. These “progressive autogenic exercises” are based on the idea that as your body relaxes, your mind relaxes. Feel free to look up other ones on the internet!

      If you’re still having trouble sleeping after all the above (and you’ve been trying for a couple of weeks to give your body time to adjust), get up and do something completely different for a while. Sometimes lying in bed can help you to relax and fall asleep, but if it’s not working for whatever reason, don’t get frustrated about it and keep going. You can’t order your body to fall asleep any more than you can force yourself to relax- it’s a paradox to even try. Whenever I’m suffering from insomnia, I like to get up and read a few chapters of a book, or if I really can’t sleep, I’ll load up a game for an hour or two and then try again.

Life gets busy, I know it does, but stop making excuses. If you haven’t been taking good care of yourself, you can start any time you like- there’s nothing stopping you! All human beings have the same amount of time, we just have different priorities. So if you think “I don’t have time to sleep eight hours a night”, change something so that you do. I once told a friend of mine “I don’t have time to [do some task during a busy time in my life]”, and he told me “If it really mattered to you, you would make time.” And he was absolutely right. Time can be created in small pockets all over the place, and the world doesn’t fall apart if you schedule a time-out for yourself.

 

So get out there and get balanced!

How to be unemployed

Not a lot of original posts lately it seems! Ah well. A blog I wrote for Tune In Not Out!

 

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HOW TO BE UNEMPLOYED

 

I studied for about eighteen consecutive years before I decided that I would take some time off. Study had been all I’d ever known, and for the most part, I was pretty good at it. But in my fourth year of my degree, I realised that (for various reasons) I was no longer passionate about studying, and I didn’t know whether I wanted to continue with the course I was taking. So I took some time off to think about it, and things were great: I went travelling, I played video games for eight hours a day, I spent heaps of time with my girlfriend and I enjoyed the pleasures of not having to do anything in particular all day. It was like an extended holiday!

 

But that was the problem; holidays are meant to give you a temporary break from study/work. They’re that short reprieve meant to recharge you so that you’re ready to head back into life and give it another crack. (I fancy that’s the idea behind the five-day working week and the two-day weekend.) In the same way that you can’t understand cold without understanding hot, you need work to appreciate rest. Oswald Chambers said it well, as illustrated in the following comic.

 

For most of us, holidays are not meant to be the norm. All that rest and relaxation was great at first, but after a couple of months, I started getting bored. Not just idly bored, but seriously, desperately bored. I found that I didn’t enjoy video games as much (an unthinkable occurrence for me), that I felt restless even when I was with my girlfriend, even when I was training in martial arts for hours every day, and that nothing really got me excited anymore. The boredom and dispassion soon became the focal point of my life, and I became quite obsessed about how desperate I was to do something meaningful with my time. I had no idea what that meaningful activity was, and most of my feeble attempts at discovering it were no more than distractions from how frustrated I was really feeling.

 

Long story short, it’s still a process I’m working out as I go a long. But I’ve learned a crucial lesson, which I am compelled to pass on to anyone who is experiencing unemployment: find something that matters, and do it. You need to do things that are meaningful to you every day, in every moment. What you find meaningful is up to you, and is something you can actively choose: if you find watching every episode of a TV series is a great way to spend your time, then do it. But if you’re only doing it to pass a few hours, I suggest you find something better to do.

 

As I said before, I have always operated on the assumption that there is nothing I enjoy more than playing video games, but even chocolate can lose its flavor if it’s all you eat for weeks on end. Let go of all your assumptions of the things you think you enjoy, and really ask yourself what you want to do, right at this moment, no matter how ridiculous it is. And go do it! Take a walk for no reason. Read your favourite book for the umpteenth time. Learn Spanish off the internet. Just free yourself to really enjoy your time, not just survive from day to day. Mindfulness (which I’ve spoken about before) is an excellent way to draw richness and appreciation from life’s many experiences. Furthermore, being able to bring your mind back to the “right here, right now” is an important skill in not getting caught up in the unhelpful cycles of anxious or depressive thoughts.

 

 

But as well as enjoying daily life, moment by moment, I encourage you to use the time to grow and nurture yourself to be the best person you can be. Something I’ve done for this is spending time every day doing a “morning ritual”. I practice t’ai chi, meditate for a while, write affirmations, drink tea and/or read books on spiritual development, philosophy or self-improvement. I spend time trying to get to know life, myself and the human condition a little better. It’s been time well spent, and I fancy that I’ve observed that over the past year or so I’ve matured and expanded my understanding of existence in a profound way.

 

 

Something else I’ve just started is volunteering. This is an activity I’d highly recommend to everyone, because as I’ve said before, giving to others feels amazing, especially if you’ve got nothing better to do with your time. I wasn’t too sure where to volunteer at first, but I was eating lunch at my favourite (vegan) café, and it suddenly struck me that they were mostly staffed with volunteers. So I walked up to the counter, asked if they needed a hand, and organised a time to come in next week to give it a shot. If volunteering is something you’re interested in, try and find an area of life you’re passionate about. Maybe your school needs a hand, or perhaps your local council is organising a day of tree-planting or picking up rubbish. If you have no idea how to find start, hit up google for volunteering opportunities, go through your phone book and call a jobseeking agency, or speak to your school/uni’s career counsellor.

 

 

The important thing to do is not resign yourself to doing nothing all day, every day. Get up in the morning, get dressed, and face each day with the attitude that anything could happen. And if you’re ever tired of being in that perpetual state of holiday, getting a job is a great way to improve your life and mental health. But more on that another time…

Thoughts on the Perth Sexpo

In a veritable flood of posts, Beth and I hit up the Perth Sexpo this weekend previous. I wrote a blog on my experiences for Tune In Not Out, which I’m reposting here! Mine is a lot more link-heavy because TINO wasn’t able to post a lot of them due to inappropriate images etc., so take note, this blog has adult themes.

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Today I attended the Perth Sexpo, the annual sexuality and lifestyle exposition held at the Perth Convention Centre. I wasn’t really sure why I wanted to go – I’ve always liked the idea of embracing the idea of humans as sexual beings, and I liked the idea of being okay to explore my own sexuality a little further in a public convention. What did I mean by “explore my own sexuality”? Honestly, I didn’t know. But I liked the sound of it, so I talked to my partner Bethwyn about it and we bought two tickets.

Despite having a good look around the website, I still wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I knew that there would be porn stars there, people dressed as humongous penises, and probably people walking around in various states of undress. I feared the whole thing might be an excuse for people to be blatantly pornographic, disrespectful and derogatory to women, and treating sex as a way to buy popularity. On the other hand, I was hoping it would be a place where people could come together to collaboratively celebrate and explore their sexualities in a respectful and safe forum. I anticipated it would be somewhere in the middle.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was that there were an awful lot of flashing lights and loud noises in a confined area. When we walked through the door was a man holding a fleshlight walked up to us and invited us to touch it, telling me about how it could improve my sexual stamina. We disengaged the conversation as politely as possible and moved on, only to see “Pricasso“, a man who painted (admittedly impressive) drawings using his penis in lieu of a brush. Not knowing where to look, we staggered away down the corridor only to be surrounded by stalls and stalls (and stalls) of sex toys and lingerie. They were almost exclusively variations on dildos, and while Beth and I weren’t closed to the existence of sex toys, there were literally thousands of them. I had no idea so many adult stores existed in Perth, each of them trying to attract us (some by literally reaching out and touching us with vibrating gloves). Poor unsuspecting Beth and I were pretty overwhelmed.

Picture 1

We found enough time to check the program and realised that Tamra Mercieca was about to run a workshop on Sexual Kung Fu. As a martial artist, I was keen to see what her interpretation of “kung fu” would mean. I’m heartened to say it wasn’t a seminar on sexual positions, but likened to the true definition of gong fu – an achievement or skill acquired through diligent effort. Tamra normally facilitates a lot of discussions about healthy sexuality, mentally as well as physically, and all the hurt and pain and stuff that stops us from enjoy our sexuality. This particular session focussed mainly on how to achieve stronger control of the pelvic floor muscles in order to promote healthy sexual energy and genital health, with the bonuses of increasing orgasm length, frequency and strength. I found the exercises fascinating (including the use of jade eggs, and I really love the work she does for promoting the joys of sexual health.

After that, things went much more smoothly. Back when I studied sexology, the first thing we did at the start of semester was spend an hour and a half watching a desensitisation video. It was basically a series of movie clips of people having sex – men masturbating, women masturbating, multiple partners, bi-racial couples, gays, lesbians, elderly couples, partners with disabilities and so on. Once we got over the “omg sexuality is exciting and taboo and not something to be expressed in public ever” phase, we all opened up and had some really great conversations. We’d been exposed to all kinds of sex for long enough to feel comfortable talking about it.

And the same thing happened as the Sexpo, and after being exposed to it for a while, it became less overwhelming. At one point I ran into a friend (Beth also ran into someone she knew. We got “Perthed”, as the saying goes) and glanced up to see naked cowgirls strutting around on stage with comedian Russell Gilbert. (I could tell they were cowgirls from the hats and boots, the only articles of clothing they were wearing.)

All kinds of people were in attendance – couples, groups, individuals, older people (maybe 55+?), young people and different ethnicities of all descriptions. It made me smile to realise how diverse we all are, and how each and every one of us is a sexual being worthy of acknowledgement. There were also a surprising number of people in wheelchairs about, and it was great to see them being represented as important sexual beings. For those who don’t know, even people who are paralysed from the waist down still enjoy sex, even if they are limited in what they can feel or what positions they can be in. But it doesn’t stop them from enjoying sexual stimulation with their partners. Remember, sex isn’t just penile-vaginal intercourse, it’s any action of a sexual nature, and so it’s constructed differently by everybody.

Picture 2

As well as the huge number of adult toy stores, there was a surprising variety of groups represented. I saw stalls for paintballing, tea, massages, psychics, some truly spectacular body painting and even Information Technology. I stumbled across the Australian Sex Party (whose quite brilliant policies aren’t entirely about the right to have sex all the time, as I initially thought when I heard of them). Beth and I also found the Western Australian Sexology Society, an organisation dedicated to the study, understanding, education, enhancement and acceptance of the diversity of human sexuality. I’m definitely considering getting a membership! They also introduced me to this great app for learning more about women’s sexuality, including how to turn them on – check it out at www.brightfire.com.au!

Picture 3 Picture 4

There were other attractions and events on at the expo, but Beth was feeling pretty overwhelmed so we left soon after. But early on a Friday afternoon probably isn’t the best representation of what the Sexpo is actually like, but I suspect things get a bit busier at night for things like the amateur strip contest and the laporium. Other things we stayed away from (but I’m glad other people can enjoy) include suspension bondage, bloodplay and “deep massages”. All in all, a great experience, and perhaps something I’ll try again some time. If you somehow manage to read this before the end of the weekend, it’s on until 8pm, Sunday 16th June. Check it out if you get the chance, otherwise, there’s always next year!

You Are Not Your Body

This is a blog I wrote for Tune In Not Out which I thought I had posted a while back, but it seems I was mistaken. In light of my recent post on beauty and self love, I think this one’s quite important!

 

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What’s more important: who you are, or the way people see you? What do you value more: a healthy body that doesn’t look particularly “attractive”, or an “attractive” body that’s quite unhealthy? Although the answers these questions might seem obvious in isolation (generally speaking you’d want to pick the healthy body, right?), in this complex society we live in, they are not always easy to answer. We live in a world where we are pressured to maintain appearances, sometimes at the cost of our health. We might see this manifesting in choosing to wear a short dress on a freezing night, depriving ourselves of food in order to avoid putting on weight, choosing shoes that kill our feet but look fantastic, and other such markers of appearance before practicality. But when we struggle to lose weight or gain muscle, to appear taller or look curvier, what are we really trying to achieve?

 

The world is in a constant state of composition and decomposition. Every moment of the day, some of the cells in your body are dying, and new cells are being created to replace them. Almost every part of your body is literally being replaced every couple of months. And unfortunately, your body is going to break down and stop working one day: it’s part of the package deal of life. Why then do we cling so desperately to the image of something that is constantly changing? When you look at it like that, being attached to your body seems to go against the nature of life itself!

 

There is more to you than the body you’re inhabiting. Quick exercise: point to your consciousness/soul/identity. You can’t, right? Who you are, your sense of “self” does not exist inside the brain, or the heart, or anywhere in the body. The brain might be a tremendously complex information processor, but there are many schools of thought (including the neurosciences) that believe that the “mind” (consciousness/soul/identity etc.) exists separate from the brain. Buddhists believe in reincarnation- that your body is like a car. You own it for a number of years, taking good care of it so that it will last a long time, but you can get into accidents or it can break down with age. It’s nothing to worry about: the driver can get out of the car and buy a new car when the old one stops working.

 

Taoists believe that behind the material world there is an immaterial world that cannot be seen, touched or sensed physically. Because the material world is in a constant state of destruction and renewal, life and death, yin and yang, only a fool would cling to it. The wise person instead realises that nothing that matters can ever be destroyed, and therefore lets go of his or her attachment to the material world. Personally, I believe that all life is fuelled by energy and that when we die the energy is transformed, not dissipated. Basically, I believe that who I am is not what I am, and that the who is infinitely more important than the what.

 

At its essence, the body is just a bag of flesh to help you move through the world! In Paul Jennings’ story “Clear as Mud”, the people of the world get infected by a strange disease that turns their skin transparent. Imagine that when you looked at your best friends and loved ones you could see their organs- it’s hard to look “attractive” when your bowels are showing! And that’s exactly what our bodies are: meatbags. But what wonderful meatbags they are! From my studies of human bio, I have been constantly amazed at the incredible complexity of an organism made of billions of unique cells, functioning in remarkable harmony. The closer I look at the human body, the more awed I become at its genius and miracle. But it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s constantly changing, and that as we grow older it deteriorates. Rather than resisting this change and being obsessed with physical appearance, it’s so much healthier to focus on being a good person rather than a good looking person.

 

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t feel good about the way you look, or that you shouldn’t try to look attractive to other people. You’re on the earth, and you have a body, and you may as well enjoy it. Humans are social creatures and are drawn to connect with one another. But a friend of mine once said “Looks draw people in, but personality makes them stick around.” There’s more to you than just your appearance!

 

And besides, “attractiveness” is highly subjective, and there is no perfect model of a human being. TV, magazines, our friends, our societies, and the world in general might seem to promote a particular type of look or style, but in the end it’s all artifice. There’s no reason to take my word for it, but please trust me when I say that your idea of “attractive” is not universal. For every part of your body that you want to change, I guarantee that there is someone in the world who wants you to stay exactly as you are because they love you. And really, if someone is going to judge you for the way you look, they have such a shallow insight into what’s really important and they’re really not worth your time and company. If you’re lucky, you’ll have people in your life who see you exactly as you are, without veneer or facade, and who accept you unconditionally. If you don’t have any such people in your life, start looking, because it’s not worth lying to yourself and others in order to feel accepted.

 

So next time you get on your bathroom scales, or you suck in your stomach when you take your shirt off, or you pick clothes that show off a certain amount of skin, remember that what you are is not the same as who you are. There’s more to you than just your body, and once you accept that, how wonderful it becomes to be alive on the earth! Stay healthy everyone- I hope you’re all around to enjoy life for many years to come.

On beauty and self-love

I’ve spent quite a bit of time deliberating whether or not to write this blog post, and if I did, how much to write. In the end I decided that I wanted to, because ultimately I’d like to live in a society where it’s okay to have these conversations publicly, without judgement. I’d like these ideas to be acceptable, without being subject to discrimination. And I’d like to share an important part of who I am with people who are interested in my life (i.e., you guys). So here goes.

A few days ago, I had just finished one of Trevor’s tremendous Circus Conditioning classes. I had worked really hard that morning, pushing myself until I was glistening with sweat, yet smiling in my heart. I got to Beth’s place and jumped in the (cold) shower, and when I got out to dry myself, I was caught aback by my reflection. In all humility, I had never seen myself look so beautiful in all my life. I stood there for a long moment, amazed at how young and fit and healthy I was.

Let me say that I know very well that the body is just a bag of meat that carries our consciousness around. I know that some day, probably soon, my fitness will start to decline and I will not be so healthy and beautiful. I could get hit by a car today, become horribly mangled, and then watch as all my muscles atrophy during a slow convalescence. So I can say with some degree of honesty that I am not attached to this body.

But that does not stop me from loving it.

 

I don’t know how this entry is going to be received. In truth, I’m scared of being perceived as vain, or that too many people with body-image issues will not understand why I’m writing this. But hell, there isn’t enough acceptance of self-love in the world. Too many people look in the mirror and see faults, their mind full of criticism and rejection. I want more people to realise that it’s okay to love yourself, exactly as you are, regardless of what shape your body happens to be in. Although I consider myself very fit, and even beautiful, I think I would love my body just as much if I were overweight or had characteristics this society deems as unattractive. I might be sad that my body was unhealthy due to my lifestyle choices, but if I was born a certain way beyond my capacity of influence, then I would love and accept myself for being the lovable, deserving person that I am.

I asked Beth to take a photo of me after the shower. Not because I’m especially vain, and not because I’m particularly attached to my body, but because I looked beautiful and I want to remember that. I am also highly conscious that I’m posting a picture of myself mostly naked, but I don’t want to let “fear of rejection or humiliation” stop me from loving myself, and sharing the important message of self-love with others. Plus I’ve always admired people who have the courage to publicly share intimate pictures of themselves. It’s a bloody scary thing being so vulnerable, and it takes great strength of character to not fear the judgements of others. So here’s a picture of me in a towel.

Peace out everyone.

Labelling and Mental Health

One of my favourite blogs that I wrote for Tune In Not Out. Hope you enjoy it!

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I recently wrote a blog article on the power language has of shaping the world. But I’d like to have a closer look at a more specific way that people can unwittingly limit other human beings, or worse, themselves.

In the very first verse of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says that if you can name something, you limit it in the naming. For example, if I think of someone as a “cleaner”, that’s all I’ll ever see them as. Yes, they clean things, but I’m excluding all the other dimensions of their person, and all the other kinds of relationships I can have with them. No person can ever be described with a single label, yet often that’s how we operate as a species to make sense of this overwhelming world we live in.

Life is too complex to understand every aspect of every idea and object- if we’d try, our brains would explode, especially as children who have little structure for organising their knowledge. To make it easier to process this incredibly complicated world, we divide things into bigger and broader categories. For example, a two-year-old might think that all things with four legs and a tail can be described as “dogs”- it’s only as they grow up and process more and more information that they start to differentiate into smaller and more specific categories. Schemas (for that’s what such categories are called) are a useful and necessary function for humans to organize their knowledge of the world.

But they can be extremely unhelpful and limiting, especially when applied to people. In particular, I find them incredibly frustrating when talking about mental illness. Recently I was diagnosed with a mental illness (though I struggle to use even such a term as that- I think the word illness implies a sickness that needs to be cured. I prefer to think of it as a characteristic of my personality that’s neither good nor bad, but helps make me who I am). Let’s say I have schizophrenia. Are you concerned that I’m delusional? What if I said I had depression- would you be worried about my emotional state? How about bipolar? Multiple personality disorder? I haven’t changed at all, but has your opinion of me?

It is the automatic reaction of most people to think differently of a person just because they are aware of the label. This prejudgment is a totally understandable and necessary function of human understanding. Psychologist David Rosenhan used this to his advantage by conducting a study where several of his students submitted themselves to psychiatric wards by pretending they could hear voices, that they were delusional and other symptoms of schizophrenia. Once they were admitted, they stopped pretending they were mentally ill and behaved as normal, and they waited to see how long it would take before the staff let them return to the community. They stayed in the psychiatric ward for nineteen days on average before they were finally allowed to leave.

When one of these psychiatric hospitals discovered the hoax that had been played on them, they were outraged. They put a challenge to Rosenhan to send out as many actors as he liked, and they would correctly identify them in order to prove that they were accurate in their diagnoses. Over the next few weeks, the hospitals identified several dozen people they suspected could be accomplices in his experiment. When the time came for him to reveal how many pseudopatients he had sent out, he surprised them all by saying “Zero.” The hospitals had been unable to tell whether their own patients were mentally ill, or ordinary people with ordinary problems.

I need to clarify at this point that I’m not saying mental illness isn’t real. For many people, there are serious and recognisable symptoms that indicate they are struggling with issues perhaps beyond their control. Many of these people will find their lives improved with treatment, psychological, psychiatric, or pharmaceutical.

But I know from my experience of the mental health field that having a mental health diagnosis can be extremely limiting. If a medical professional is reading your medical file and they see “depression” on there, it’s quite likely they’re going to treat you as if you’re a depressed person. Or a neurotic person. Or a potentially psychotic person. Worse, colleagues, acquaintances, employers and friends can start to treat you very differently if they discover that at one point in time, one person once described you with a mental illness label.

Don’t get me wrong, diagnoses can be tremendously helpful. In my case, I was so relieved to realise that the quirks that make me who I am, but also cause a fair amount of distress in my life, are partially attributed to a mental health disorder. But I also don’t want to be bound and limited by the nature of my disorder, and I certainly don’t think of myself as ill. I’m exactly the same person, but now I’m more aware of my nature and I’m better able to care for myself as I relate to my disorder.

In my personal opinion, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM – the massive book that mental health workers use to diagnose and differentiate mental illnesses) is far too big. It gets really, really specific about symptoms and diagnoses, to the point where normal human behaviour might be interpreted as a sign of mental illness. For example, if a person has been grieving for more than two weeks, it might be justifiable to say that they have major depressive disorder, even though what they’re experiencing could be perfectly natural.  The DSM is remarkably useful, but only to a certain extent – after a while, I think the boundaries start to blur. Trying to separate and categorise the broad spectrum of the human condition into a manual of illnesses just doesn’t work.

Having said that, I also acknowledge that some mental illnesses really do benefit from being treated as if they were illnesses; medication can make a huge difference to people’s day-to-day lives, so if you have a mental health disorder and your medical professional has prescribed you something, don’t stop taking it. If it helps you, do it. If it doesn’t help you, find something that does. Again I stress, if you’ve been advised to do something by a mental health professional, don’t just stop doing it because of something you read on the internet. But really take a good hard look at your relationship with whatever diagnosis has been applied to you. If you think your current treatment might be improved by more socialising rather than more pills (or whatever the case may be), ask your mental health worker to give it serious consideration. People are human, even the ones it labcoats, and there’s a startlingly high rate of misdiagnoses in the mental health profession. So if a label helps you understand and relate to yourself, that’s fantastic. But if you don’t think a label suits you, don’t let it define (and therefore limit) you.

Above all, remember that you are a person, not a disorder. You are exactly as much as you think you are, no more, no less. So whoever, wherever you are, be the best person you can be.

Xin.