Why I Blog

As you might recall from my blog post celebrating my 1000th entry, this blog started off as a place (indeed, not a journal to write in but a domain to live in) for me to process and share my thoughts and experiences, and to hide them in plain sight. Thirteen years ago there was a little bit more anonymity – it wasn’t quite so easy to find information about other human beings on the internet yet, and so this was my quiet corner where I could pour my heart out to the void. I loved that idea of sharing my thoughts with someone, but I hated the risk of doing it in person. Blogging for me, then, became my safe space.

 

Things didn’t always work out. There was that disastrous leak, where my blog began circulating my high school and I was abused and threatened for sharing my inner-most thoughts on the web. It didn’t stop me, though. Over time it grew boring, I think, to keep teasing and bullying me, and the world moved on. And I kept learning and sharing and growing, writing all the while.

 

As I get older, I’ve realised that the internet isn’t quite the safe haven I hoped it would be when I was fourteen. I’ve learned that if you know how to look, you’re able to find. That where once I sought anonymity, now there is more data about me than ever before. And most importantly of all, I’ve learned that the internet never forgets. I couldn’t eradicate this place even if I tried.

 

Therefore I’ve learned to be a little more careful with what I share. Somehow the message finally sunk in that this “void” I’ve been pouring myself out to is not quite so empty as I wanted to think. It is a beautiful thing to be open and aware about onesself, but it is a little foolish, I think, to be open at all times to all people. For that reason, very few of my blogs are public these days, and they’re more for me to come to understand myself than they are for me to share with others.

 

No big announcements here. Just… thoughts.

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Activating Super Zen

For a long time, I believed “If you just get into the right mindset, everything will be easier.” If you remember to practice gratitude, if you become deeply mindful, if you step into your heartspace, if you choose optimism instead of pessimism etc. etc., life is better.

I have only recently realised that sometimes it isn’t a matter of choice.

Sometimes, no matter how determined you are to think positively or to be mindful, it’s impossible until the prerequisites are met: safety, security, peace etc. If you’re on fire, you just won’t have the ability to be mindful until the fire is out. I liken it to getting enough resources to activate an ability: you can’t become Super Zen without first obtaining 200 Quiet and 300 Peace.

Just food for thought.

My Values

In my work, the word values is thrown around a lot. Everyone has them, and they define what things are important to us. Through my education and reflections, personal and professional, I’ve spent a long time thinking about my values but not really being able to figure out what they were. I had a rough idea about what was important to me but I could never really define or understand in beyond a vague sense.

And then one of my mentors gave me a list of values and the challenge of picking just a handful of ones that were important to me. I found it much easier to go down a list and tick ones which resonated with me rather than trying to figure them out for myself, I ended up ticking 97 out of the 400 listed (with a few that I’d added). Of those I picked twelve which were very important to me, and from those 12 I selected my top three. My key values are:

  • Courage
  • Fitness
  • Frugality
  • Gentleness
  • Honesty
  • Intelligence
  • Introspection
  • Order
  • Sexuality

My top three are:

  • Discipline
  • Helpfulness
  • Solitude

 

What do you think? Sounds like me, or not at all?

It’s an exercise I really valued (doubtless the introspective side of myself), and I learned a lot about Beth who did it too. If you’d like to give it a go, we used this list, but there are plenty of others on the interwebs.

http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2004/11/list-of-values/

On Being Second Best

Something that’s been on my mind lately has been the realisation that I’m not the best at a lot of things, and I probably never will be.

 

This bothered me immensely for many years – I thought that my value was being the best at something in a particular group of people, and then being the guy that did that thing. I’d “specialise” in groups at work so that I could run group activities, or I’d be the guy to turn to about hearing voices, or fixing computers, or having a caring and insightful ear. Imagine my horror to discover that there were other people at work who were better group facilitators, had worked with voices for longer, knew more about computers and were far wiser and more profound in their insight than I could ever imagine.

 

It made me feel redundant. I felt like a slightly less delicious cake at a banquet of exquisite desserts. Why would anyone choose to eat me when all around me were superior samples that I was only a poor shade of? Thinking along these lines made me seriously consider handing in my resignation and just find somewhere else where I was the best at stuff so that I could be valued.

 

It took me several weeks, maybe months, to recognise a few flaws in my thinking.

 

Firstly, I compared it to a game of Fire Emblem. Just because Ike or Titania are the strongest doesn’t mean that the other characters aren’t useful. Sometimes while the General is blocking off a choke point, you want lieutenants guarding the flank, healers in the back line, archers on the ridges and so forth. Yes it’s true, some units aren’t great at anything and they’re best left in the base or not brought at all. For the most part though, you can’t win a battle with just one soldier, no matter how strong they are; it’s the team with its many strengths that pulls through. And it doesn’t matter if some of these strengths overlap – sometimes you want three tanks in a squad, other times you only want cavalry. They’re all useful in different scenarios.

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Secondly I came up with this hypothetical: If I was the second-kindest person in the world, would it be worth being kind at all because I wasn’t the best at it? Of course it would be. Kindness is never wasted. Just because someone is better at something doesn’t mean you’re not worth it too. Like, just because someone donated $10 million, doesn’t mean a donation of $9 million won’t be sincerely valued.

 

Thirdly, I realised that even if you are the best at something at a given time in given company, it doesn’t make it your job to take over. If a friend is cooking me dinner and they’re not very good at cooking, it is absolutely not my responsibility to take the knife out of their hands and do it for them. It’s more important we all get along than we do something “the best”.

 

At the end of the day, each of us does our best to meet our needs in everything we do. It’s more important we celebrate what we do rather than compare ourselves to those around us.

EDIT: Or, to put it in the words of my teacher: “Do your best to be your best. Comparisons with others is meaningless.”

The Balancing Game

So much of life seems to be a balancing game between two crucial resources: time and money.

When I first started working full-time, I earned so much that I didn’t know what to do with all the money. Going from the sufficient income of $250 a week to  $1000 a week was mind-blowing. I found ways to spend it of course, a creeping sense of entitlement that I had always hoped to avoid when I was living comfortably enough on humbler means. “Why yes, I have worked hard this week, I do deserve that cup of coffee from the cafe rather than the instant stuff.” “Why yes, I am working more now, and that means I can definitely pursue a third martial art while I practice the other two.” “Why yes, I am having a bad day, I do deserve to buy myself a new video game, because gosh-darn it I’ve earned a little treat.” And so, in a short span of time I had cancelled out much of the extra income I was making to keep myself happy amidst all the stresses of working full-time. And that wealth that I did not spend accumulated, waiting dormant in my bank account for whatever long-term investment, grandiose holiday or material whim I could throw it at. When I told people honestly that I didn’t know what to do with it all, they joked that I could give it to them. My mother, a passionate believer in saving every cent, was happy that it was accumulating for the day I might need it. I found it so hard to fit in housework, relationships, video games, martial arts and every assortment of errand around my new work schedule. In short, I was working so much that I didn’t have time for anything else in my life; I didn’t have time to live.

This pattern has played out before, when I was working as a youth worker and a library assistant simultaneously. I found I was too busy and resigned from one of my jobs (the wrong one, perhaps), and I suddenly had a wealth of free time to pursue every pleasure in life, and not very much money to do it with. All those things that I’d been neglecting were suddenly available to me, those books and games and friends and hobbies and passions and interests that I’d always wanted to dive into… And yet no long-term goal, nothing beyond “enjoy the pleasures of today and make sure you earn enough to do the same tomorrow”. And enjoy them I did.

I face the same dilemma now. At my current workplace, I work three days a week. I’ve been offered a fourth, possibly a fifth working in another (highly stressful) team. In truth, I think three and a half days is about the right amount for me in terms of enjoying my life and managing my wellness without slowly breaking down over time. I’m sorely tempted to leave it at those three days, and yet that fourth would add an income that I am finding myself needing for the first time in my life. Yes, all my material needs are currently being met. And now that I have that much financial stability, I long for the next big expense: a house of my own. To afford such a luxury would require me to work more than I want to. And that’s the age-old problem: we work not because we want to but because it gives us money in return. If we loved our work so much, would we do it for free?

Logically I know all that. I guess I’m just stuck at the moment between working harder than I want to so that it enables me to live a more comfortable and luxurious life later. That is, if I don’t burn out from the challenge of trying to sustain more than I can handle. It may just be temporary, but I find myself slowly collapsing under the weight of this new opportunity for dosh in exchange for, it seems, my health, my wellbeing, my life. Is life worth the cost of money? Maybe. I think I’m being a touch dramatic because my mental health is not the best today. Well, I guess we’ll see how things are going a week from now.

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

The Kinsey Scale

At last, I’m very happy to publish this blog which I wrote for TINO. I consider it one of the more important posts I’ve ever written, because these ideas can break down much of the fear and discomfort around homosexuality while promoting greater understanding and acceptance of differing sexual orientations. Please read and consider sharing!

 

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Did you know that sexual orientation doesn’t fall neatly into the categories of “gay” or “straight”? Sexual orientation (that is, the gender that a person is attracted to) is often conveniently thought of in binary: you’re either one or the other. You either like boys or you like girls, and depending on which one you like, it means you’re either heterosexual or homosexual. In actuality, there are many different ways that you can classify sexual attraction: there’s bisexuality, pansexuality and asexuality just to name a few. But for the purposes of this blog post, I want to talk about the two most common forms of sexual orientation: heterosexuality and homosexuality. And for simplicity’s sake, I’m also going to make the generalisation that people either identify as male or female (although in reality there are a large number of people who identify as neither).

 

Alfred Kinsey is widely considered the grandfather of modern sexology. He had some pretty radical ideas which are well summarised in the excellent film Kinsey (2004), starring Liam Neeson. For me, the most valuable idea that Kinsey put forward was the idea that human beings are not exclusively homosexual or heterosexual. That is to say, he rejected the idea that you are one or the other. Instead he proposed that there is a scale, ranging from 0 (Entirely heterosexual) to 6 (entirely homosexual), and that most people are somewhere in the middle.

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So what does that all mean? Let me break it down a little further.

Someone who identifies as 0 on the Scale would have no sexual interest or attraction in members of the same sex, none whatsoever. They are exclusively attracted to members of the opposite sex.

Someone who identifies as 1 on the Scale would have “incidental attraction”, meaning they might be surprised to discover they find a member of the same sex to be cute, or they might not immediately look away if homosexual porn popped up while they were browsing. Maybe being gay isn’t really their thing, but they’re kind of curious about it.

A person who identifies as a 2 on the Kinsey Scale would be mostly straight, but also intentionally pursue experiences with members of the same sex as well. If they hadn’t already had direct sexual experiences or relationships with members of the same sex, they probably wouldn’t mind trying it.

3 on the Kinsey scale is perfectly in the middle, where attraction to males and females is about equal.

Someone who identifies as a 4 would be mainly gay, but have experiences of heterosexuality as well. Maybe they don’t mind members of the opposite sex, but they prefer members of the same sex.

People who considers themselves a 5 on the Scale would be mostly homosexual with the occasional interest in members of the opposite sex. They might be curious, or have tried relationships, but they’re really just not into it.

Someone who identifies as 6 on the Scale is exclusively homosexual, only interested in/attracted to members of the same sex.

 

Holy shit right? That explains why sometimes you find yourself attracted to members of the same sex. That explains why sometimes you don’t mind watching lesbian or gay porn. I don’t know about you guys, but I spent a lot of my teenaged years questioning whether I might be gay just because I felt an attraction to other boys. Kinsey’s Scale helped me to understand that it’s perfectly normal to be “somewhere in the middle”.

 

What’s more is that Kinsey wrote on the idea of sexual fluidity. That is to say, once we identify as a particular number on the scale, we don’t have to stick to it. I might be a 2 right now, but who’s to say that next year I might not be a 4? Sexual identities are fluid and can change over time. Just as we change and grow and mature as people, who and what we like can change too.

 

So what do you guys think? Where do you sit on the Scale? Have you always been there? Let me know in the comments down below, and talk to someone else about it! Topics like these aren’t often talked about in our society, but I think we can all agree that for most of us, sexuality is a fundamental part of who we are. Spread the word! Start having more conversations about the Kinsey scale and educate other people as well. For more information about sexuality and gender, I recommend hitting up websites like ReachOut, watching videos by esteemed youtubers such as Ashley Mardell and Laci Green , and checking out books on sexuality in your local library/book store.

 

Stay awesome everyone!

 

-Xin