Lessons from Taxi Drivers

This morning on the way to the airport I met the loveliest man. He is a taxi driver who has lived in Australia for 17 years but originally hails from Iraq. We talked of little things, but he uplifted me with his conversation and his kindness. Every word he said carried his gratitude and joy at his circumstances. He praised the weather for something different, celebrated the 4am start because he could choose his own hours, he forgave drunkards and thieves who tried to offend him. He spoke of his travels, and how Perth is his favourite place in the world, where he once witnessed strangers stopping to jacklift a broken car. In Iraq, they would have just been killed and their car stolen. He praised the existence of the welfare system, where elderly citizens get wages from the government and have a superannuation so that they won’t starve and die without family support. We parted as friends and I wished him the best.

Unfortunately he dropped me off at the wrong terminal (due largely to my lack of specificity). I caught another taxi to the right location, and the driver was a harsh juxtaposition. His strong Australian accent barbed me as he complained about other drivers, the internet speed on his phone, the road design and the airport layout. He was polite enough in exchanging jokes, but his attitude was condescending and he capitalised on the mistakes of others.

I would rather be like the first man, grateful for the air I breathe and the sky I see. More and more I think that the greatest happiness is appreciating what you have.

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Fantasy Life

I may have become just a tiny bit addicted to Fantasy Life. Through the 100+ hours I’ve spent on my 3DS, I have honed a very fine appreciation for the nature of various jobs (“Lives”). I’ve reached Legendary rank (that is to say, I’ve done every possible quest in the game for these particular professions so I know them inside out) of the Woodcutter life, the Paladin life and the Angler’s life. I reached Heroic rank in the Carpenter life before I was limited by resources that I needed other high-level professions to access. I’ve since started a Miner’s life, in which I somehow reached the rank of Adept despite only doing the introductory quest. (The game appeared to glitch and gave me kudos for mining a bunch of gemstones I apparently gained from bounties.)

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Of the various Lives, I have this to say: each of them is appealing in its own way. I know it’s obvious, cheesy even, but the twelve Lives are so distinct that they each have their own charm and flavour. At first the idea of being a woodcutter repelled me: logging ancient forests for profit! But the game won me over by framing it in such a way that it was actually giving new life to old trees, transforming them into furniture. (It certainly helped alleviate my guilt when they all mysteriously grew back the next day.) And speaking of Carpentry, I find something indescribably charming about wearing a headband and sawing wood. The mini-game is pretty dull and simplistic, but it has its own satisfaction. The attitude of the Miner is not to look to the clouds to dream but rather to work hard and toil in the earth to find success. And the Paladin Life! Ohhh, the Life of my heartsong, defending the townfolk as a stalwart shield, slaying monsters as a champion of justice!

Every time I finish one Life, I think about which one I want to take up next. Although the land of Reveria is shared equally, only an Angler takes any notice of the fishing holes, and I find myself looking at the world in new light with each change in profession. Although there are some Lives I would rather avoid (*cough* Tailor *cough*), I can hardly decide between which adventure I want to set on next. (After mining, I’ll use that ore as a Blacksmith. And then perhaps after that I’ll fund my wizardry through becoming an Alchemist, master of potions.)

I am Snape the Potions Master

“I am Snape the Potions Master”

There is no better expression for the world of Reveria than the introductory movie they play at the start of the game:

Each of the lives are intricately linked, interdependent on one another. And there’s something just so gawsh darned wonderful about the childish message of “Work hard in Life and achieve greatness! Find what your heart wishes for and pursue it in everything you do! Shape the world for the better with the power you claim for yourself!” You just have to do it one tree at a time.

UPDATE: Before I stopped playing due to my crazy hardcore addiction, I became a legendary woodcutter, miner, blacksmith, paladin, carpenter and angler. I was a master tailor, and I was on my way to becoming a legendary mercenary and alchemist as well. I don’t think there was any reward for completing all the lives (apart from Bliss), and I realised that repeating the crafting mini-games for several dozen hours just didn’t appeal to me enough to keep playing.

How Martial Arts Has Changed My Life

l_366d2555331aa370f6b96cd2d5010405I was idly wondering this morning what would have happened if I hadn’t swung by that Taekwondo place in 2006 and tried a lesson. I often fantasised about fighting and martial arts, a passion I was often in trouble for as a kid. (Miss Barrett absolutely hated how often I was reported to her for “play fighting” when in actuality I was choreographing complex fight scenes.) Throughout the past eight eight years I’ve trained very regularly, usually around 3 times a week for about six hours in total, but at one stage I was training six days a week for around fourteen hours. Why have I trained so much? Well, because I love it.

But what would have happened to all that passion and energy if I didn’t have the martial arts? I know that no matter how busy I was I always made time for training, and it has been an island of stress-relief in a sea of troubles. I think it’s fair to say that I probably would have broken down a lot sooner, maybe in the first years of uni and just stuck with what was familiar and convenient. I might be still working at Coles, a very scary thought. If I had stuck it out in social work, I don’t know how great I would have been at coping. I certainly would have struggled most days and I’m not sure if I’d be able to manage any job. (Even with martial arts as a coping mechanism, PICYS was still a really hard experience for me.)

Sensei RaveyI’ve made some of my closest friends through the dojo, and I’ve met many great and inspiring people. In particular, my teachers Dan and Nenad are among the very best men in the universe, and I am learning to be a better person because of them. Another important but unspoken element of training with others is that I am practicing being social in good company. I’ve always been a little quirky and I’ve found it hard to connect with others, but having friends forged through a shared passion is one of the most valuable elements of community. In all honesty, without the dojo I’d be supremely socially awkward and probably highly reclusive. (As it is I’m still a little awkward and enjoy time by myself.)

I’d probably be of less-than-average fitness. I don’t really consider myself especially fit, but compared to many other people I have to acknowledge that my physical abilities are fairly advanced. A huge part of how I understand myself is in terms of my flexibility, my strength (what little there is), my ability to fall over and land safely, and the hope that if I’m ever engaged in a fight that I’d be able to defend myself and avoid injury. If I hadn’t learned martial arts, I think some of that confidence and sense of identity would have remained because it’s just always how I’ve seen myself, but it might be muted. It’s kind of unfathomable for me to imagine not being able to touch my toes.

625550_10151904391393158_261813344_nI’d probably not have very much self-discipline. As it is I still eat copious amounts of junk food and can’t quite will myself to sleep early or leave the house with time to spare. Without the tough sessions at the dojo where I push myself to keep on going, even though I’m shaking and staggering and feel like throwing up… Without the gashuku where I confront my fear of pain and cold and hunger and tiredness… Without my morning runs where I voluntarily get up early and push myself physically, I think I’d probably live a more comfortable, sedentary lifestyle. But discomfort is good sometimes because it makes you aware of what you’re capable of surviving, and reminds you to enjoy the comfortable things you have. I daresay without training I’d be surrounded by comfort food (which I kind of am now, but at least I work it off) and have low self-esteem.

I’d probably have quite poor foot-health. As it is, I’m oddly proud of how strong my feet are in terms of twisting and turning and lunging and striking in the dojo. On my runs I wear vibram five-fingers which are essentially gloves for my feet so I still exercise barefoot muscles without stepping directly in duck poo. My feet do a lot for me, and I am grateful for their strength.

It’s hard to say what other changes to my life might have developed if I’d gone a different path. But whatever might have happened, I am so grateful for what has been and what is still to come.

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Hearing Voices

Another blog I wrote for Tune In Not Out, and one which I feel is especially important for people who have never learned about mental illness and schizophrenia.

Throughout history, every culture has had a small group of people who have experienced things that no one else was aware of. Sometimes they heard a ringing in their ears, a buzzing or other annoying sound (ala tinnitus). Sometimes they saw visions of ghosts, angels or animals. Most commonly, people have heard voices in their heads. Sometimes the voice was their own, or that of a family member or friend. Other times it belonged to someone they’d never heard before. Generation after generation, these have all been common experiences throughout human history. For the purposes of this blog post, I will refer to all of the above experiences and more under the general term “hearing voices”.In today’s day an age, many of the people who hear voices are often described as having schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental illness whose symptoms commonly involve seeing or hearing things that other people can’t perceive. It’s a psychotic disorder which, let me make it clear, does not mean having multiple personalities or being prone to violence. Psychosis refers to an altered perception of reality. Indeed, some of the best and brightest minds of human history have produced masterpieces by virtue of their unique perspective, including nobel prize winners, musicians and writers. But I digress. As I have said previously, the word schizophrenia is just a label, and it may or may not be useful to an individual as a way of understanding themselves and their experiences.

More importantly, hearing voices is not a sign that you’re going mad. It’s not even necessarily a sign of mental illness. It is an experience that has been often celebrated throughout history – one need only look at prophets, shamans, telepaths, psychics, mediums and anybody who has claimed to see God or angels or spirits. And it’s a surprisingly common experience. It’s difficult to get exact numbers due to under-reporting, but recent research indicates that between 4-10% of the population hears voices at some point in their life. That makes it even more common than left-handedness.

There are many different reasons why we hear voices. It’s often associated with trauma, but some of the other causes include:

This is not an exhaustive list. But it goes to show that there are a range of reasons why people might hear voices. It’s also worth noting that voices are just one symptom in a host of very complex life circumstances, often featuring trauma, guilt and shame. Given this, it becomes very understandable that people experience some pretty intense emotion and they deal with it in different ways.

 

And each voice hearer has a completely unique experience. As I mentioned earlier, the voices might be just a single person they know, or a whole group of people they don’t know. They might hear their guardian angel. They might hear the ghost of their mother. They might overhear telepaths communicating with one another. They might hear demons. They might hear a radio chattering incessantly in the background. They might just hear one jerk telling them over and over how stupid they are (and other worse things besides). They might hear people giving them advice or being kind to them (or even giving them the answers to exams, as in Eleanor Longden’s video below). They might have a huge group of people arguing with each other. For some people, the voices are a one off experience for a second or two. For other people, they are a life-long experience. In some cases, the voices are 24/7 and can wake people up at night. In most cases, they come and go. Like everyone, people who hear voices have good days and bad days: days when their voices are loud, or mean, or relentless, and days when they are quiet, supportive or silent.

 

So. What happens if you (or someone you know) does hear voices in some form or another? Well, breathe a sigh of relief because now you know it’s a normal experience, that you’re not alone, and that you’re not crazy. However, not everyone is aware of this. Unfortunately the stigma of being a voice hearer is often worse than hearing the voices themselves. If you do decide to tell someone close to you about what you’re going through, my best advice would be making yourself as informed as possible about what you’re going through beforehand. Saying to a friend “I hear a voice in my head telling me not to leave the house” is a pretty intimidating conversation for someone who’s not expecting it, so you might want to break it to them gently. It would probably help to explain what your experience is, how common it is, what you think is causing it, what services exist and what you plan to do about it. Having an informed conversation like that takes the responsibility off the other person to do something because they’re worried for you or scared for themselves, and hopefully they’ll become your support and ally.

Depending on your individual experience, it might be that you would benefit from professional mental health services. Medication has proved very useful to many voices hearers, though I will say not everyone agrees with me. I’ve met many people who have said the side effects and emotional dampening of their meds has prevented them from enjoying life with all its ups and downs. This is a very individual issue because there are many different types of medications, some of which might be helpful and some of which might not be. In many cases, medication isn’t needed at all – as long as you are able to have a good relationship with your voices and continue to live the sort of life you enjoy, you might not even bother with the mental illness label. The medical model of diagnosis and treatment has its limitations, and mental health services (particularly those working with a recovery model) offer a very different way of working with voices.

 

For more information, check out Tune In Not Out’s topic of Psychosis. ReachOut also has quite an extensive page of information. Other websites that are specific to voice hearers include the very practical http://hearingvoiceswa.org.au (with quite an extensive section on what you can do if you are a voice hearer). Intervoice also has a very detailed website, with an equally impressive practical guide for voice hearers. And for anyone wanting to talk to other people having similar experiences, they might like to check out this very active forum and read other people’s stories or perhaps even share their own.

 

For help offline, there are a large number of mental health organisations that work from a base of non-judgement, understanding and support – a quick internet search into “mental health services in [your area]” will probably turn up helpful results. Being connected to an organisation for help, advice, counselling, treatment and support can be invaluable. And what’s more, meeting people who can understand your experiences without judging or discriminating against you can be life-changing. Let me say again: you are not alone.

 

Finally I really recommend checking out this amazing TED talk by Eleanor Longden, who eloquently describes her experience of first hearing a voice, and the subsequent challenges she’s faced on her recovery journey. It’s a really inspiring video, and she does a much better job than I do of breaking down this issue and talking about it. Please give it a watch!

That’s all from me. Stay safe everyone!

-Xin