Reflections On Our Welfare System

When I try and think of the place where I have felt least respected in my life, the strongest image that comes to my mind is on the other side of the reception desk at Centrelink, or by extension, the job network providers.

 

I get it. There are lots of angry, unpleasant clients to work with who treat staff disrespectfully. Day in and day out, I totally understand how hard it would be to keep treating people kindly, respectfully, trustingly, only to have them (sometimes literally) spit in your face.

I would become guarded too, no doubt about it. I would become calloused and inured, and assume the worst while doing my best to remain courteous on the surface.

 

But it still sucks to be on the receiving end of that barely concealed disdain. Disdain that yet another person has walked through the door in need of something, and they’ll probably ask for it none-too-politely.

It makes me feel small. It makes me feel worthless. And I don’t like it.

 

I see an gentleman in his 50’s wearing a smart business suit approach the reception. He’s a client, and he asks for someone’s email address. He tells a joke and the receptionist laughs, playfully calling out after him as he walks away. When she turns to see the next client her face falls, and she snaps at the young man with dark skin, telling him with a passive-aggressive mutter and increasing bluntness to go sit down and wait.

 

I try and distinguish myself from the other clientele. I lay it on thick, being charming and polite, using big words to give the impression of intelligence and casually mentioning my qualifications so that the staff will treat me like something closer to an equal. I see the moment when they go “Oh, but you’re more qualified than I am. You could be doing my job, or my manager’s job.” I work so hard to give the impression “I’m not like the others”.

And I’m ashamed. Because it means that I’m willing to push other human beings down in order to stand on top of the pile, and be treated slightly better than them.

 

It’s a shitty system we’re part of, that de-humanises people who are looking for work. And I know that when people treat me like I’m worthless, not only do I feel worthless, I want to act accordingly. Because it’s exhausting trying to convince them that I am nice, that I am intelligent, that I am worthy of respect. And honestly, even when I try really, really hard, it doesn’t often change the way I’m treated. I guess a few polite exchanges can’t undo years of being treated badly, and so no matter how hard I try I’m still likely to elicit a care-less response from someone who’s deep in the pits of compassion fatigue.

 

And I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m the educated, qualified, not-quite-white-but-certainly-not-black one. I’m the one with a family wealthy enough and supportive enough to have bought me a car when I needed one, so I didn’t have to ride a bike to my appointment. I’m the one with a smart phone with internet connection, so that I can find what I’m looking for instantly. I’m the one with a USB dangling off my car keys so I can take the files easily. I’m the one with a folder to keep my documents from being creased, and access to a shower so I don’t have strong body odour. I’m the one that grew up in a safe family where I was never exposed to drugs, and who found themselves in a stable and healthy relationship. I’m the one that grew up speaking English, as a male, currently in the prime of my adult years.

I have privilege coming out the wazoo.

And I still found it hard.

 

It breaks my heart to think of all the people I passed today who will not have such an easy time as I did.

And I don’t have any answers.

My 2003 Diary

2003 was one of the hardest years of my life, and I didn’t much relish the thought of going back through my diary to see what sort of person I was back then. I’m glad I did though – I learned a lot of important things about the way I used to think, and about the sorts of things that were important to me. It was also the year I grew up – for the most part, I put less faith in fantasy and accepted my grim reality. They were dark times.

***

Like the two years previous, I pretended my diary was a human girl I could share my secrets with as I searched desperately for safety, companionship and affection in the world. I was quite obsessed with romance and intimacy, until half a year of high school led me to abandon this childish fantasy and bleakly accept my diary as an unfeeling book to record my thoughts and feelings in.

***

My relationship with my brother was at its worst. There were constant violations of privacy, trust and safety. For instance, he set up bugs in my room so he could listen to what I was doing -they didn’t work very well, but I felt like I was under surveillance and had to be very careful not to bring his wrath down upon me. I felt the exuberant happiness of freedom whenever he was away, and discovered the safety of isolation. I lived in fear of him, and thought he was trying to ruin my life to the point where I committed suicide. However, at the end of the year I recognised that he wasn’t always terrible, I just tended to write in my diary when I was feeling awful about him. Things with my parents weren’t great either – there was much fighting and fear in the house.

***

I turned even more religious, if such a thing were possible. As well as striving to be an officer and a gentleman, I was obsessed with sin and salvation, and was convinced that God was punishing me for thinking about sex. Eventually I came to believe that challenge wasn’t punishment but God’s way of making me grow stronger.

***

I felt outcast and alone, and suicide was often on my mind. To get through these dark times, I believed if I could just will myself to do something then I could do it. Sheer willpower pulled me through the huge amount of pressure I put on myself, to literally “be perfect”.

***

I learned how to read and write ancient runes, largely to hide information from my brother. (Fun fact: runes pop up from time to time, like the Moon Runes in The Hobbit, and I greatly delight in being able to read them.)

***

OCPD was getting its hooks in. I got up regularly at 5am so that I had enough time to “get ready” for school. I was always playing catch-up, and desperately wished to avoid being held accountable for not meeting my ridiculously high standards.

***

In this turbulent sea of hurt and pain, the internet was my life raft that connected me to friends across the world. One of those friends was Ivy, a girl a year younger than me who I recognised as someone who would soon outgrow me in wisdom. I spent a lot of time in the early morning reading Zelda fanfics (including a certain Forest whose url I can recite to this day), playing games on newgrounds and eventually finding RuneScape. Truly, if not for the internet, I might have died that year.

***

After many months of this pain, Beki, a girl I met on MSN, helped me realise that I had to face my problems in real life, not fantasy. It was the start of everything changing.

A Hard Task-master

Over the past year I’ve put on ten kilos, and lately it’s increasingly frustrated me that my pants are tighter and that I’ve got a bit of a belly going on. I still love my body (this big ol’ bag of meat and juice), and I’m still quite fit (though not quite fit enough for black-belt standards in my school – my max rep is now 45 pushups and a few crunches short), though I’m frustrated that I’m moving further away from the body I’d like to have for my wedding. I think mainly my problem is that I keep eating when there’s food in front of me, even when I’m not hungry. It’s a fine line I’m treading and I don’t want to dip into unhealthily depriving myself of food, though I definitely need more discipline around how much and what I eat.

 

Yesterday I used this pent up frustration to go for a run, the first in many months, in attempt to slim down and to regain some sense of control over my weight. I pushed myself pretty hard, doing some long sprints mixed in with my half hour of straight jogging. Then, pouring sweat, fingers tingling, I ran back home and did three sets of 20 push-ups. Staggering and stumbling now, I climbed the stairs to the bathroom and sat on the bathroom floor while I had a cold shower. I barely had the strength to wash myself, and by the time I was semi-dry and in the bedroom I collapsed and couldn’t get off the floor no matter how determined I was. It was about an hour of lying in the cool dark room (which made me miss Christmas dinner with my family) before I was able to stay upright again, and a few hours later before I felt better. I had given myself heat exhaustion, I think.

 

I push my self much harder than other people push me. I’m scared of pain, and I often avoid it when exercising. When things start to get too hard, I make excuses so that if I fail, it’s because of an injury or because I’m tired or because my fitness is a little low. I also push myself through the pain, to make myself do things that are hard and unpleasant just to prove to myself that I’m stronger than my fear. In this way when I start to flag, I push myself harder, I make myself do more. In a way, I punish myself for being scared and then I absolutely dominate my fear to show it how much stronger I am, how incredibly powerful my will is. Sometimes this allows me to achieve great things (like getting my black belt), and sometimes it causes me to push myself so hard I throw up and shake so much I can’t stand.

 

It’s amazing to me that I still have so little idea of what my limits are, when it’s good to push and when it’s important to back off. Since the last time I gave myself heat exhaustion in 2012, it seems that I haven’t really learned all that much and that my stubbornness is just destructive. Still, I’m taking this as a learning opportunity to get to know myself better. The lessons I learned from yesterday include not doing endurance running in the middle of a very hot day, slowing down when my fingers start to tingle (does anyone know why this happens?) and to stay well-hydrated during exercise. Now to fuel my determination into a healthy way of growing myself rather than beating myself down.

Metaphorical babies

Just wanted to mention quickly that I had that metaphorical baby and it was totally worth the metaphorical labour pains. When I faced the fear and did the scary thing, I couldn’t find anything to be scared of. I can totally grow into the sort of person who can do said scary things regularly, and by stepping out of my comfort zone, I’ve expanded it a little. A lesson worth remembering!

Ramblings on anxiety

Today has been one of the worst anxiety days in recent memory. It has felt to me like everything is too hard, and that all I can focus on is surviving another few minutes. I re-read this post I wrote on all the things I learned in group therapy (an absolutely golden read, by the way), and it reminded me of how strong I am, and how many tools I have at my disposal if only I can muster the strength to use them rather than flinch away from that which threatens to overwhelm me. Many times at work today I very nearly went home, or felt incapable of staying to try and care about other people as I fell into a whirlpool of anxiety. I stayed with it though, forcing myself to at least try to stay in the centre rather than get caught up in the current. It’s been hard though, so hard.

I have yearned for comfort today, so much so that it’s physically hurt. When I got home and started playing Dragon Age, I went from “just trying to survive” to realising that I was not well, not even remotely well, that I had utterly lost track of my sense of wellness.

I didn’t stay in my comfort zone for long. I put down the controller and I went to taiji for the first time since I broke my finger. To my surprise I could feel my anxiety before and after the class, despite all the fun and exercise I had during the actual lesson. Tomorrow I plan to continue moving past my comfort zone, away from that which I am craving. In a way, it’s not dissimilar to my colleague who used to use drugs, or smoke when she was trying to deal with trauma resurfacing. I am watching my yearning for comfort and video games rise, and I am trying to be okay with it.

I’ve talked about waves of anxiety before. To use the analogy of a tidal wave coming on the beach, my body instinctively runs away from it in search of shelter or higher ground. Yet for reasons I can’t explain, I know that if I let the wave hit me I will discover something great, like I have the ability to breathe underwater. So I drag my screaming body back to the beach and sit down and make sandcastles or something to pass the time. Every now and then I freak out and run away, and each time I catch myself and gently bring myself back so that I can face the wave.

To use another analogy I just thought of in the car, I feel like I’m giving birth. Not literally of course. But I’m scared, and I’m sweating, and I’m hurting, and I’m tired, and it’s just so hard. I don’t want to keep pushing, I just want to lie down and be comforted and have it stop. But if I do that, I have a feeling that whatever I’m birthing, this metaphorical baby, will die. If I can just muster the strength to push a little longer, to keep trying despite this brickwall I’ve slammed up against, the breakthrough I have will be something unfathomably valuable and beautiful. And as hard as it is, I think it will be worth it.

Note to self

Dear Xin,

I know you’ve been having some bad days since you left your job. That’s a pretty reasonable response to what happened, considering your expectations that you’d be there for a long time, and that you’d be able to use the car for a long time etc. It’s a shitty thing that happened.

Don’t beat yourself up for having anxious days my friend. They’re totally understandable. And stop beating yourself up for not looking at other work yet – I know how hard it is to imagine a positive future when you’re stuck in an anxious mind-set. Rather than focussing on surviving your wave of anxiety, instead take a moment to breathe and then centre yourself. I know you don’t always realise when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, but when you do, be mindful of where you are and all the beautiful things happening around you. You don’t have to just weather the storm, you can be an active agent in it, drawing yourself back to the ground and going for a stroll in the sunshine. Focus on what makes you happy and well, and everything else will fall into place. And not just movies and books and stuff, but things that genuinely light up your life, like serving other people and playing the piano.

You can’t always snap yourself out of an anxious wave, and that’s okay. You don’t have any control over when and how the feelings come into you. But you can choose what to do when they’re there.

Love,

Xin

Busyness

It is perhaps a tad foolish to be blogging at 10:45 in the evening, when my new resolution for a bedtime is between 10 and 10:30. Since starting my new job, sleep has become priceless to me, and I find that without eight and a half hours of it I become drunken with exhaustion or nauseous with fatigue. Yet write this blog I must in stolen hours just such as these, or else it will never be written.

I have never understood people who claim to be bored. Certainly I have experienced moments where there were things I would rather be doing, but I have never been at a loss for things to do. All of my life I have found things of interest, books to read, games to play, topics to research and so forth which have piled higher and higher beyond my capacity to complete them. Once in high school, fearing the long hours of the break between terms, I wrote a list of things I might like to do on that holiday some 15 items long. I did precisely none of them, so preoccupied was I with the general course of living.

My point is that I have always had many things that I wanted to do, and not very much time to do them in. It was particularly fiendish in high school as I balanced my piano lessons, chorale practice, vocal ensemble rehearsals, school sports, debating, classes and homework with socialising, gaming and my other interests. I had so many obligations that I often scheduled my days into fifteen minute segments, so tightly was I wound.

I find myself in a similar position at the moment. Since the onset of full-time work I am struggling somewhat with managing the rest of my life. I continue to train about three nights a week in karate and taiji, leaving me Tuesnights free for catching up on emails and taking care of online obligations and interests (such as for the Youth Brains Trust alumni that I am part of). Friday I go to Bethwyn’s house for the weekend, where I spend Saturday either working or training, and remnants of Sunday in her esteemed company.

I am certainly not the only one to find myself running short on time. (In fact, I wrote a rather amateur poem about it once.) My counsellor once told me that she works 6.5 days a week, often coming home at 8pm and doing laundry overnight, and that she loved her life. My esteemed friend and teacher seems to spend hours every day researching and sharing articles on politics and martial arts, as well as having a full-time job, two kids and classes to teach. Another good friend of mine works part-time, studies part-time, has a newborn child and a full-time job as a martial artist (involving training twice a day whilst helping to run the dojo). It boggles my mind how such people can fit so many obligations into their lives and still enjoy it. For me, I make daily choices not to wash my hair, release tension in my body or read a book I borrowed months ago. These are all things that I love and are very dear to me. And when I do make the choice to do such things it cuts into my sleeping time, which as I have said is tremendously valuable to me. Do my friends just thrive off coffee and adrenaline? I cannot do the same.

The only conclusion I can reach is that for me to be enjoy the things that I do, I have to do less. Maybe this means training less frequently – I can certainly think of several friends who train once a week. That would afford me an incredible luxury of free evenings. I would like to enjoy baking bread, and writing blogs, and watching Good Game. And the only way I can think of enjoying these things is not to cram more into my too-full days, but to empty my days a little, taking out things I love to replace them with other things that I love or need to nourish myself. It seems a shitty trade-off.

I am too tired to re-read this blog post and see if it makes any kind of sense. I’ve still got a few things to do before I sleep tonight. Alas.

PS: I recall reading this article a few days ago which address this issue, but I’m too tired to read it again now. I think it’s relevant. http://zenhabits.net/pushing/