Kintsugi repair heartache and resilience

Kintsugi: a copy of my speech from STOP Domestic Violence

Ive always been encouraged by strength.

Where others may be impressed by a person’s charm or accomplishments (or how many likes one can get on Instagram), I’ve always felt drawn to the silent strength that sits inside us.  I spent my childhood reading books about strong women, the story of Helen Keller and Anne Frank’s diaries; with equal parts horror that the human spirit could be tested so far, and hope, that the human spirit could endure so much.

When my friends cited Madonna as their hero in grade five, I referenced Martin Luther King.  I was born in the 70’s and lived through all of the Superman movies but didn’t know who Christopher Reeve was until he broke his back and became an advocate for stem cell research.

Strength to me has always been something of a mystery and a marvel.  So its no coincidence, that I now work in the area of resilience and post-traumatic growth.

I spent my entire twenties working with people and families who had lost a loved one through homicide. It was a wonderful learning ground, where I could test out the greatest question I had at that time – What is it about those who thrive? Why is it that some fall apart after adversity and some seem strengthens by it?  What is it about those people.

And I had a really personal interest in this because I had that shared experience of losing someone I loved to homicide, both my sister and father had been murdered in the year 2000 when I was just 21 years old.  I knew both perpetrators, trusted both men. It was the greatest violation of trust Ive known.

For the purpose of today I’m going to mention my sister.

She and Kris met in the heat of summer.  She was a young single mum who had recently separated from the father of her child, and he was a charming guy who made her forget her troubles.  He was supposed to be a rebound guy, a fling, but by winter that year when everything else was cooling off their love had raged into an inferno, which now seemed to me impossible to extinguish.

And I did try to extinguish it.  I would throw words out like buckets of water trying to tame their obsession for each other, and when that only drove her further into his arms I’d extend the olive branch only to find that the fire engulfed that too.  Their love was intense, and I felt singed by it, until all I could do was back away.  I was young, and completely ill equipped to deal with someone like him, a man whose weapons of choice was manipulation and control. He never hit her, I never even heard him put her down.

Just four months into their relationship, when she tried to leave his fire exploded when on the 30th July, he stabbed her to death in what police described as a frenzied attack.   He was taken into custody that day, charged and convicted of her murder.  I haven’t seen him since.

When we lose someone we’re told that our lives shatter, but no one talks about how it shatters.  Its not like an immediate bang, like a cricket ball through a window.  Its more like a chip in your windscreen.  You see it, but you kind of keep driving hoping that it wont get worse.  You lie, to others and yourself that everything will be okay and keep forging forward despite the crack that’s now peeling across the glass.  Every time you hop in your car you remind yourself that you need to have that looked at, but there’s always somewhere to be, something more important to do.

When a person you love dies we say that we’ve lost them, but we don’t lose them at once, we lose them in pieces.  The way the phone doesn’t ring for them anymore, their mail stops coming, and their scent disappears from their clothes.  The day you decide not to continue renewing their phone account and their voice finally disappears.

The first rock only weakens your windscreen, and its often the second rock that shatters it.  It’s the chipping away at someone’s strength, their heart, their very being that wears people down.

I wish I could tell you that in my personal experience I was mature and proactive and got the windscreen repair person out to fix my chip, but I didnt.  In the end the lense through which I saw the world was so completely altered I couldnt see anymore, until all I could do was lean back, raise my feet, and kick my windscreen completely out so I could see and start driving again.

But sometimes that’s okay. When something shatters there’s grief and loss, but there is so much more, there is freedom and opportunity.Kintsugi repair heartache and resilience

Earlier this year I wanted to fulfil my bucket list wish of learning the
traditional Japanese ceramic process of Kintsugi.  The term may be unfamiliar, but Im sure you will recognise the end result shown here.

Now, not many people have even heard of Kintsugi, very few people teach it in fact no one in Australia teaches it, I found out I would need to go to Japan to have a lesson in this practice. Few would travel overseas for an art class but as Ive said, Im infatuated with strength and there’s few processes as strengthening and fascinating as that of the Kingsugi process.

And so, I did, and this is me.

Kintsugi involves the reparation of a broken object. Urushi, a lacquer that hardens like cement is applied bonding the broken edges of a piece back together, this process looks simple but requires patience as there are several steps each one taking a day to complete.  Traditionally gold-dust is used to finish the process, an artistic twist that doesn’t seek to disguise but rather to highlight the cracks.  This finishing move incorporates the blemishes of the piece into its broader story.

The Japanese recognise these pieces not as broken or disfigured, but as lived, and experienced and perfect.  The Kintsugi concept is both simple and powerful. That shape and form is dynamic.

The application of kintsugi has some incredible nuances.  Firstly it’s dangerous. Urushi is traditionally made from poison ivy and many if not most artists have deliciously awful reactions to its touch.  The instrument of urushi is powerful, and not for the faint-hearted.

Likewise, the change that comes after adversity can be painful. There’s a fear in the unknown, an avoidance of further pain and suffering that can slow us and stop us completely.  We’ve been conditioned socially to believe in the black and white of life.  Good and bad. Love is good, pain is bad.  Happy is good, loss is bad.  Intactness is good, brokenness is bad.

Kintsugi is about the grey of life.  In fact it doesn’t deal in binary concepts at all.  Where life typically is about the boxes we can put concepts in, Kintsugi is about bowls, representing freedom and eternalism.

Ironically, Kintsugi is concerned with perfectionism.  Now, google “perfectionism” and you’ll be met with images for cosmetic surgery.  The word perfection however is derived from the Latin word “perficio”, which means “to bring to an end”.  Perfection literally means “a finishing”. There is a recognition with Kintsugi practitioners, that before an object can be transformed, there must be an end to an original state.  There must be a willingness to let go.

Author and Psychotherapist Mark Epstein tells the story of meeting the Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah, he writes:

Before saying a word, he [Ajahn Chah] motioned to a glass at his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked us. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”

There is an enviable lack of attachment involved in this mindset and one which extends to the practice of Kintsugi.  When we un-tether from our belief that life should be predictable and ordered and even just, we’re left with the reality that the only thing we can control in life is how we respond to it.

Resilience then becomes our inner elasticity, our ability to stretch beyond our comfort zones and still return to who we really are.

The greatest lesson from the Kintsugi process is this, broken objects are not restored to their original position, they are transformed into something else.

There is absolutely no attempt by the artist to return the object to its former state, and actually there is no grief for what was, but an anticipation of what could be.

Without doubt, the greatest struggle that I’ve witnessed in secondary victims of homicide is that of identity.  Ive worked with mothers who have asked. “what do I call myself now” in the aftermath of their son’s death. “Am I still a mother?”

Ive worked with many people who considered themselves happy before they lost a loved one to homicide, and are now struggling to incorporate anger into their emotional life now.  “But Im always the happy one – people wont like me if Im angry, and Im just so angry all the time”.

The philosophy of post-traumatic growth seeks to make meaning from these changing identities.  It aims to retain the parts of a person that make them unique, and yet still build on that through the experience of hardship, transforming a person into someone thats remarkable.

The presence of pos-traumatic growth isn’t an outlier, its the norm.  Studies occurring since the 90’s have found the presence of post-traumatic growth in 65, 75, 80% of those who have experienced trauma.  Returning war veterans, victims of domestic and sexual violence, those who have lived through catastrophic natural disasters.  Maslow found in his very early studies of high achievers that they all shared one commonality – adversity.  Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers cites research that 85% of all American presidents have experienced the death of at least one parent.

Often when we’re working with people in crisis, whether we’re frontline first responders, social workers or academics our perspective is narrowed by the experience of people in crises.  It can seem that the world is full of heartache and injustice and despair but there’s so much more to tragedy. The beauty in working with a support group like the homicide support group which supported people for years, decades, was that I bore witness to the metamorphosis we go through after adversity.

Yes, tough times bring great hardship. But they also bring significant transformation. Incredible hope, gratitude, strength and conviction.  Adversity helps people refine their values, to connect with who they are at their worst and significantly, who they can be at their best.

How do we as workers in the area of domestic and family violence inspire resilience? Two ways: Firstly we simply believe in it.  Beyond the theory, beyond the rhetoric and far beyond quotes like “God only gives us what he thinks we can handle”, we have to believe that people experiencing adversity can not only be restored but can actually transform into something greater.

Secondly we have to offer it as an option.  We need to pull people out of their mammalian brains, activate their pre-frontal cortex and provoke them to start thinking about meaning-making.

Lets not treat a person’s PTSD and encourage them to return to the baseline  – lets be fearless enough to remind them that they’re greater than the baseline.  That their experience, their challenges have the potential to transform them.  Let’s not simply erase the outliers because it doesn’t fit neatly into our data set and instead focus on the average – lets celebrate the outliers that create action through adversity.

When I was very early into my grief I met two professionals, and I’m indebted to them both.  The first one said to me ‘you will never get over this’. I’m indebted to her because she frightened me. I wanted to prove her wrong.

The second worker offered me a quote, I’m indebted to him because it changed the entire way I looked at my loss.  The quote is this: “be my reason, not my excuse’.

These two experiences became the bookends for me in my grief.  At one end I had the choice to believe that life would never be the same, and in fact it would actually be terrible.  At the other I had this highly aspirational idea, that I could in fact use my grief and my experience generally as a motivating force to be a greater, stronger, kinder, wiser version of myself.

Surviving victims of crime have within them an amazing reservoir of resilience, even when they don’t feel that they do, perhaps particularly when they don’t feel that they do.  In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor and Psychologist Viktor Frankl talks extensively about the adversity advantage, and that rather than viewing mental states of depression and anxiety as a by-product of trauma and something to be managed and medicated, we should encourage society to see these illnesses as achievements. A sign of survival, and triumph and conviction and determination.

Im going to finish on a final observation.

A Google search of synonyms for the word “victim” pulls up the following:

Sufferer. Injured. Wounded. Dupe. Easy target. Fool. Stooge. Prey. Object. Pushover. Chump. Helpless. Passive. and Scapegoat.

Its no wonder, victims of violence don’t want to ask for help.  Of course our experience of working with victims probably looks significantly different than this, we see bravery and endurance and courage.  Lets make sure that we take the time to reflect what we see in our clients back to them and start to challenge the stereotype so they too can see themselves as a courageous and resilient survivor.

 

This was taken from a speech I delivered recently at the STOP Domestic Violence Conference in Canberra, Australia.  I regularly give keynote speeches, plenaries and workshops on the topics of resilience and post traumatic growth.  To speak with me about your upcoming event, contact me here.

Creating moments to be present in a noisy world

Creating moments in a world that consumes

Have you ever read a quote that takes your breath away?

When I stumbled on this beautiful quote by Alan Wilson Watts I could feel the world slow down around me.  How incredibly true, I thought.  As someone prone to consuming life I could relate to the words I was reading.

All too often I catch myself saying “done that, tick that off the list” when it comes to things in life that shouldn’t be accomplishments but rather experiences. Moments.  But I work through them efficiently like a mechanic runs through their list of points to inspect in a car.  Reviewing, assessing, ticking … and then moving on in the hope that once complete the whole unit will run smoothly.

But Im never complete.  each time I reach the end of my to-do list I find another one, each one more ambitious than the last, each one more exciting and eye-catching and distracting from things that mean something.  Each one promising a sense of fulfilment to which Im genuinely surprised when it doesn’t.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away states Vicki Corona, and how poignantly true.

Ask me what I did at midday last Tuesday and I couldn’t tell you, but ask me about the last time I belly-laughed, the last time I jumped on a trampoline with my daughter, the last time I cried watching a movie… now those things I can recall and recite as if they happened a moment ago.

So why do we push incessantly, trying to cram more into our days without stopping to think what moments we’re sacrificing in the pursuit of accomplishment.  When we lay our heads on the pillow each night, smug in the knowledge we’ve ’had a busy day’ how often do we stop to think whether we had a meaningful day.  Not me. Not often enough.

Finding the space to slow down is hard.  In a word that baits us to speed up it takes a rare person to swim against the tide and practice saying no.

We’re living in the noisiest time in history,

When even moments of silence are punctuated by iPods, or Facebook updates, where our need for instant gratification is met.

This year is my year of saying ‘yes’.  A year of saying yes sooner, of not doubting myself and of prioritising the things I cant live without accomplishing. Its been an awesome year where Ive gone for things I usually wouldn’t, and tried out things I usually wouldn’t but the sacrifice of creating the big moments often means that the little everyday moments get squeezed out.  It’s a work in progress, but isn’t life?

when everything is broken

When everything’s broken

I remember the exact moment my worldview was altered.

It was during the first twelve months of working with victims of crime – surviving family members of homicide precisely – that I felt the ropes which firmly bound my world-view together weaken, threads individually fraying until finally they snapped altogether.

I was talking to a mum at the time, although now she didn’t know how to describe herself.  Her only child, a son, had been murdered. The boy who inspired her to rise up each day, the boy who gave her the identity of ‘mum’, the boy who carried a thousand hopes and dreams was gone, taken prematurely and violently.

We were sitting together, tears slipping as she recited memories, hoping to keep him alive for just another moment.

She turned and said, “tell me it will all get better.” And I couldn’t.

Snap. I was at saturation point with others’ pain and the unfairness of life didn’t seem to end.

I’d been bought up with the belief that if you’re a kind and gentle person, than good things will happen.  When my sister and father were murdered, that belief was challenged, but I endured.

Surprisingly it was others’ pain that broke me.  Repeated exposure to stories of good people experiencing horror beyond imagine, with no logical way to reconcile it led to a gradual unravelling of the unspoken belief I had that being a kind person would offer a form of protection from hardship.  The day I accepted this wasn’t universally true, hurt.

It took months to work through this. And its with this experience of sitting in the darkness and pulling back together the shattered pieces of my beliefs that I offer the following advice.

Remember who you are

In a world of instability, one of the few things we can control is the person we want to be.  Its not easy, particularly when you feel that you’re being tested, but reminding yourself of the qualities you possess, the qualities that make you you, those that you admire about yourself and others admire about you.  Establishing a firm footing on you will help stabilise a shaky time.

Its okay to grieve for what you’ve lost

Society doesn’t always do a great job of supporting those who’ve lost something, urging us to ‘move on’ and ‘look on the bright side’. There is a grief process which kicks in when something we value is lost, including our long-held beliefs.  Having our beliefs tested or broken is significant!  Taking a moment to acknowledge and nurture yourself through that will help you process the full impact of your loss before moving forward.

Notice what you’re feeling

Grief of course is an process containing a whole bundle of emotions that pour out when something we love is gone.  Being able to notice and name your emotions is a form of affect labelling, a therapy which helps us identify our feelings without feeling absolutely caught up in them.  Hurt, despair, regret, anger, vengefulness, hopelessness, fear, guilt…. there are a number of valid and acute feelings that fall within the grieving process, being able to name those may feel painful but its the door through which recovery can begin.

Look for positive learnings

We all like to look for the learnings in challenging times.  Being able to make meaning from an experience is critical to eventually moving forward, and its important also to focus on the positive learnings.  Many people Ive spoken to about this will describe things like ‘I’ve learnt never to trust anyone again’, or ‘Ive learnt to just simply not expect things to go right’.  When we’re clouded by sorrow its hard to see the bright side, it will take work on your part to actively reframe these into learnings that will help and support you moving forward.

Managing anger positively

Reversing our relationship with anger

Its a scene often played out in public. The stage may be a supermarket, a sporting ground, the schoolyard… the actors are typically a child and an adult whether its a parent, teacher or someone else in authority.

The scene involves the censorship of anger, usually where a child is reacting angrily and the adult is responding with something along the lines of “calm down, don’t be silly, don’t raise your voice at me, stop that or you wont get xyz’.*

I was young when I was taught to censor anger.

I realised early that becoming agitated only resulted in my parents ignoring me, refusing me or yelling back, it never resulted in feeling heard or understood, and it certainly never resulted in getting my way.

The problem however, was that whilst I learnt what not to do, no one ever showed me what to do with anger.  Whilst I learnt anger wasn’t a useful social response, I never quite learnt what I do with that big ball of rage and frustration that filled up inside me.

So I dealt with it to the degree that my six year-old self could.  I stuffed it down inside.  I solemnly stewed, or I would whisper to myself scripts that would later turn out to stick (I hate you, they hate you, no one listens, no one cares).  When I got a little older (and really angry) I would punch my thighs, scratch myself or pinch my skin until the pain drowned my frustration.

It was only years later that I learnt I wasn’t the only one using self-harm as a method to soothe (until then I just added my scripts to my growing list of inner critiques “oh my god what have I done’, ‘there’s something wrong with me’, ‘maybe I am crazy’)

It doesn’t take  a Psychiatrist to work out that I’d developed some pretty maladaptive ways to manage anger.  In fact the relationship I had with anger went something like this:

Burying anger

 

Yep, let’s just bury this sh*t down and hope it doesn’t come back as some awful zombie-fied version of its former self!

It was, ironically, only when I had something to really feel angry about that I learnt how to cope with anger.  And, what a powerful and motivating force it could be!  It was only when I experienced an anger so overwhelming that I decided to roll up my sleeves and find a new relationship with anger.

Read on to see how that worked out…

Let go of blame and forgive

Break the blame hypothesis

I have a vivid memory of blame…

I was in early high school, an awkward time made worse by attempts to form new friendships with a particularly bad / cool  group that I knew would cause my parents to die if they found out what they did.  And for this same reason I was desperate to win their approval.  I would flank them at lunch, trying to join in the conversation where I could, laughing where I felt I should and trying to master the easy flip-of-the-hair move that the other girls seemed never to struggle with.

I clung like a barnacle to a ship, never really part of the group but doing my best to blend in and escape being scraped from the side.

I remember going home upset, frustrated and dare I say… angry… that I wasn’t more popular.  That I wasn’t funnier, more attractive, more carefree, more anything other than the person I was.  I’d search my developing brain for someone to blame, and settled finally on my parents.  If only my parents were more popular, wealthier, had funnier friends, or more interesting careers then I would fit in.

I of course didn’t realise it then, but this had become my first blame hypothesis.  The first place I could shift blame away from myself and onto another.

The blame hypotheses was coined by Frederic Luskin who specialises in forgiveness.  He deliberately calls it a hypothesis as its a guess really.  Often when we’re upset at something going on in our life, something inexplicable, we search for an answer for our emotions.  Of course we may never really know why we feel like crap, so we settle on the best approximation we can make.  We hypothesise why we behave a certain way, why we cant break a certain habit, or why we can’t attract something into our life.

In matters of the heart, its hard to find precise answers but its what we as humans crave.

And the most dangerous thing about the blame hypothesis it that it can feel so damn good.  Its comforting to be relieved of responsibility.  Its simpler to not accept the power to change.  The long term consequence however is that we’re left feeling frustrated, disempowered and often angry at others and with a strong dislike of ourselves.

Now I feel like a reformed smoker!  I can pick a blame hypothesis in people a mile away and I find the barb in a person’s blame stinging. I’ve learnt to catch myself mid-blame, learnt to question the wording I’m using either aloud or in my mind.  I’ve learnt to reframe my messages to sound something like:

“Irrespective of XYZ, I am going to…”

“Although this has/hasnt happened, my plan is to”

“I can see this occurring, and rather than wait for that I’m going to head it off by…”

I’m still not the funniest person I know, but I can bring a smile to my loved one’s lips and I’ve learnt that that’s more than enough.  I never learnt to flick my hair, which is fine because now I’ve cut it off I dont need to bother.  I’ve learnt to accept who I am without the pretence and importantly without the blame.

Luskin’s book Forgive for Good is a great read and is available on Amazon here.

Belle Gibson public speaking Cosmopolitan

How Belle Gibson flourished

Over one-million Australians tuned in to watch Belle Gibson get grilled by Sixty Minute’s Tara Brown on Sunday night.

Despite rumours of boycotting the show, many were curious, mesmerised and then dumbfounded by the contradictions and stunning lack of insight and empathy that Gibson showed during her infamous interview.

I was one of them. Although not a fan initially I became aware of Gibson ironically during her fall. I was hooked not on her ‘story’ of survival, but on the stark reality of what one person can do if they continue to run unchecked.

Belle Gibson meme
One of the many meme’s now circulating on Instagram. Source: @butcher_insta

During the past five years as a speaker and writer Ive regularly been presented with Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion in Outliers, that practicing something 10,000 makes you an expert.

This statement of Gladwell’s seems to have become the bloggers doctrine, extending it to say that if practicing something for 10,000 hours makes you an expert, and you write several posts a week then over time you’ll reach expert status.

And of course once you’re an expert then you can write a book, conduct news interviews, get on the speakers circuit…before long the world’s forgotten that you aren’t actually an expert, what you are is someone who has written a lot about a particular subject.

Do you have an interest in the subject – sure. Are you knowledgable – absolutely. But an expert – well, maybe not!

The ease at which we can setup a free website still stuns a Gen X’er like me. Anyone it seems can start typing and with a bit of training on SEO and some social media know-how can find an audience starving for an alternative position on almost any topic.

And I would know because I guess Im one of them. I am what Becker would call a Moral Entrepreneur. Okay, let me back that up.

So during the 1960’s Sociologist Howard Becker observed a number of people organising themselves into lobby groups, and using those groups to apply social pressure for people to behave a particular way. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was one of the early pioneers in this. When I kickstarted the One Punch Can Kill campaign I joined these ranks also, convincing people that violence is never a solution.

Belle Gibson also falls into this definition. She may not have overtly been telling cancer patients to refuse medical intervention, but certainly she implied that a healthy lifestyle was curing her when medical intervention had proved insufficient.

Moral Entrepreneurship is nothing new, but unlike the 60’s we’re now in an era where anyone can find a public space for their opinion, and where audiences are hit with so much information we’re struggling to find a way to censor and scrutinise.

Think I’m over-exaggerating…then how do you explain people preferring the views of ex-supermodel Miranda Kerr on anti-vaccination over medical and scientific research?

I recently launched an online program encouraging those with a personal message to take it to the stage. Even that there is a market for this demonstrates how audiences are yearning for compelling stories from everyday people. People who may not necessarily be experts in their field, but who can break down some complex issues into a story that is relatable and meaningful. Human’s are optimists, programmed for survival and sometimes that emotional pull to survive overrides our own common sense.

We ‘moral entrepreneurs’ are obligated to remember that. We’re obligated to treat a person’s following with care and respect, and to know when we’re stepping into territory we shouldn’t be messing with.

The myth we tell ourselves about purpose

The myth we tell about Purpose

I have such a love hate relationship with the word purpose.

Such an emotionally heavy word, we attach so much meaning to having a purposeful life, a purposeful job, a purposeful relationship, it goes on until all I can think is that perhaps my purpose is to find my purpose (perhaps its hanging out in a bar waitlife-not-twerk-quote-pics-quotes-picturesing for me).

I remember when I was the CEO of a victim support group, people would remark that I had ‘found my purpose’, like it was something out there hidden to be discovered. I would nod and agree, desperately wanting to reassure them that I actually had some idea what my purpose was but actually the truth looked more like “I am in a job that I love right now, and when I stop loving it I will find another one that I love, and on that will go”.

Because thats just it… purpose is not some stagnant object that once found can be ticked off a list.  Its not ‘out there’ waiting for you (damn, I was slowly working my way through every bar calling its name).  Its not a destination that you arrive to and stop, and its certainly not a particular career.

The reality is that purpose is dynamic, and there are moments we’re really in the ‘flow’ of life, times when we’re living in awesome alignment to our values. And there are times when we feel like we’re losing our way, but to quote Chris Martin “just because we’re losing doesn’t mean we’re lost’.

Making the decision to resign from my CEO job was one of the hardest things I’ve done (yep, one of the hardest!)  I’d worked there for eight years, and loved it for seven.  In the eigth year, despite the fact that my career was at an all-time high, I didn’t feel connected to the work anymore.  I kept myself going by telling myself lies, that this was my ‘purpose’ but that sinking feeling in my stomach grew each day.

I asked a friend of mine, if I’m not the CEO of this organisation, if I’m not this crusader for victims’ rights, then who am I..?  Her response was beautiful. And in ten simple words she’d convinced me to resign:

“I dont know,” she said “but aren’t you curious to find out?”

The day I walked away from that job I realised that I decided what my purpose would be.  Not some random twist of fate, not a happy coincidence that I fell into the right job, and certainly not someone else’s notion of what it was I should be doing.

That was the day I started to worry less about ‘what’ I would be when I grew up, and started to care more about ‘who’ I was going to be.

RU Ok?

This week’s must-have conversation

RU Ok?

 

 

 

 

Thursday September 11 is RUOK day, the day where its Ok in fact encouraged to reach out to those around us and ask if everything is “OK”.  Its a simple enough premise yet many of us would rather sit through a repeat of Big Brother than utter those five words, “so, how’re things going with you?” (okay that’s six, but you get the gist).

Who knows why Australians are the way we are, why we view asking about the wellbeing of others as prying, why we’re encouraged to mind our own business, but the consequence of such impenetrable boundaries is both clear and grim.

Depression affects one-million Australians and continues to increase.  The World Health Organization reports that death from suicide accounts for more fatalities than from armed conflicts globally or the number of people dying from traffic accidents.  There are approximately 900,000 suicides a year world-wide, and around 2000 Australians die from suicide every year (source: White Cloud Foundation).

Concerned about whether someone in your life may be suffering from mental unwellness?  Well crane your neck 45-degrees and look beside you to see the main culprit.  Men comprise almost eighty percent of all suicide deaths in Australia, and I think those of us who have a male in our lives in some capacity could relate when the typical post-dinner debrief goes like this:

Me:“So I saw you talking to [insert name of another male here]”

Him:“Aha”

Me:“So how’s he going after [insert relevant life problem here]”

Him: “Huh?  I dont know”

Me: “Well did you talk about it?  Did you ask him anything?  What did he say?”

Him:“No.  We didn’t talk about it”

Me:“Didnt talk about it?  What did you talk about then”

Him: “Well, you know… [insert relevant boring and predictably male-sports-oriented topic here]”

 

Insert open-hand-slap to forehead here.

 

Enough of the why don’t we talk about this and lets get to the obvious how do we talk about this question.

The RUOk non-profit is one organisation helping us have those awkward yet life-saving conversations.  This Thursday’s RUOk day gives us permission nationally to ask how others are.  RUOk offers a simple four-step process that I know even my partner could tackle.

 

Step one:  Ask Are You OK?  Be yourself.  Recognise that it can be difficult to open up and so a casual “how’re things going” may be less confronting than “you’ve been looking terrible lately mate are you alright?”

Step two:  Listen.  And in my experience this can be the hard one, most people fall into the traps of interrupting, comparing or trivialising.  Silence is precious in today’s noisy world, give the person silence and space to talk (its liberating to realise you don’t have to have the answers).

Step three: Encourage.  Try to help them find at least one option available to them, open-ended statements which summarise and then present a question can help, such as “you’ve mentioned that you’re worried about your job security (just as an example), is there someone at work you can talk to about that?”

If you’re concerned they should be seeing a Counsellor then perhaps, “I’m glad you’ve opened up to me today, and I wonder if you’d find it helpful to speak to someone else about this?”

Or “you sound really clear about what some of the issues are for you, how would you feel about taking those points to a professional to talk through?”

If you’re really stuck, be honest, for example; “I care a great deal for you and I’m worried that you’re not in the best place.  Can I help find a professional for you to work through these issues with?”

Step four: Follow up.  Make a note in your diary to touch base with them a week later and see how they’re going.  Have things changed, have they followed up on actions you’d agreed on.  If things haven’t progressed is there something you can do to help?

Commonly when I’ve spoken to people who are suffering either from depression or a depressive episode, there’s a real sense that people have their own lives to worry about and wont have time to worry about them.  Its important to remind them they are important to you, they’re cared for and that you want to help them.

Listen earnestlyThe Aussie way of having a teaspoon of cement and hardening up is both a tired and dangerous mindset.  We’re impatient with the trivialities of others lives and then quick to state ‘they should have asked for help’ when we hear that a friend’s hit crisis point, when they’ve been hospitalised or their marriage has fallen apart.

There’s an implicit assumption that people know the difference between troubles we can talk about and troubles we should just get over, and many of us are confused about who, where and when to go for help.

RUOk Day is an awesome initiative, I’m really excited that we’re going all out this year in my workplace (think Chai tea, movies and conversation), but it doesn’t have to be excessive.  Virgin mobiles are encouraging their customers to pick up the phone and call someone they care about on Thursday by offering free calls within Australia, but really the cost of a phone call shouldn’t dissuade us from reaching out to those we love.

So on Thursday turn off Big Brother (sorry Sonia Kruger), turn that 45-degrees and have the single-most important conversation you’ll have this year.

 

If you or a loved one need help, please take a look at the following websites:
Lifeline Australia for crisis support and suicide prevention: click here.
Beyondblue, for depression and anxiety: click here.
SANE, the national mental health charity: click here.
Moodgym, for free online cognitive behaviour therapy: click here.
Headspace, for online counseling: click here.
Kidshelpline: click here.
PANDA, the post and antenatal depression association: click here.

 

The Fun in Falling

I was only ten steps away, but those ten steps were a great enough distance to not catch my fifteen-month old daughter as she toppled down an inflatable slide last week at an indoor playground.

 

The slide of terror!  Sheer and beautiful terror.
The slide of terror! Sheer and beautiful terror.

The world stood still, long enough for me to catch the glance of another woman – one eyebrow raised – as she sat reading her magazine whilst still at the required far-enough-to-not-look-crazy—but-still-far-enough-that-I-can-seize-you-the-moment-you-flinch distance from her son.

 

As my daughter tumbled I raced to the bottom of the slide waiting for the wail, but nothing.  In fact she was laughing and raced back to throw herself headfirst down the slide again.  I paused and thought hang on a sec, when did we start becoming so afraid of falling?  When did we start associating a fall with pain, injury and embarrassment rather than joy and when did this fear leap into a psychological context resulting in us repeating the same safe and predictable patterns.

 

In his now well-promoted article Positive Risk Taking: An idea whose time has come, Steve Morgan outlines how risk can be incorporated into public health approaches and in doing so reminds us that risk is commonly associated with behaviours like “aggression, suicide, violence, drug taking and neglect”, and completely overlooks concepts like “growth, strength or innovation”.   Boo.

 

Yes with risk comes the possibility of something going wrong.  But isn’t it worse if everything goes predictably to plan?  What then have we learnt… how to replicate something that already exists?  Which I guess is fine if we’re trying to recreate a chocolate mud cake but when we’re talking about something as significant as our life’s experiences shouldn’t we yearn for experiences a little richer?

 

Our history is littered with examples of people who took risks, failed, fell, picked themselves up again and (sometimes failed again, and again got back up and then) succeeded!  We hold onto these examples of shining lights of what the human spirit can achieve if we’re brave enough to dream and fall and try again, and yet so many of us really struggle with taking risks.

 

Like any behaviour, learning to push the boundaries is one of those habits which feels uncomfortable at first but if we persist and learn and try again and survive (and woah, actually do okay) then its a habit which becomes easier and even enjoyable in time.

 

A quote from one of my favourite philosophers, Socrates, says “the way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear” (yes, you may have to read that a few times!)  There’s few feelings greater than being the person you wish to be.  If we all are drawn towards those who are brave, courageous and not afraid to fall, then lets stop watching from the sidelines and start being that person ourselves.

Tamara Robertson is one brave lady

Courage Creates Change

As a survivor of extreme domestic and sexual violence perpetrated against her by her husband, Tamara Robertson is one courageous woman. So when she launched her business Courage Creates Change, you know that she can back up what she says.  I was blessed to speak with Tamara recently and feel confident that her words of lived wisdom will inspire you to explore the edges of your own courage!

 

Tamara Wenham at her Geebung home near Brisbane who is a qualified social worker and speaks to new police recruits about how important it is to deal sensitively with victims of marital abuse.

J:  Tamara, yours is an incredible story of both survival and persistence.  Where do you think your drive for justice came from?

T:  A number of different places!  I started volunteering and then working at a women’s refuge in Brisbane.  Every day I would hear horrible stories of abuse, witness women and children entering refuge traumatised and often with absolutely nothing to call their own, and never seeing any consequences for the men who had sent these women fleeing in the first place.  It became very frustrating, and started to fuel my own desire for justice.

Secondly, I have a very important rule that I try to live by whenever possible.  That is to not live with regrets!  I’ve witnessed women in my family become older and have so many regrets in life. For me that seems heartbreaking.

“I swore that I would do my best to reach a ripe old age, look back over my life and not have regrets”

I knew that as hard as it would be to press charges (for the drugging and rape), it would be so much harder regretting that I hadn’t done what I knew was right.

I think lastly I have a strong sense of right and wrong and the notion that when we choose to act a certain way there will always be consequences as a result. I knew that my ex-husband was never truly remorseful for what he had done and instead minimised and made excuses. Having him go to court and be read the acts of violence he had perpetrated in a public setting was more important for me than the actual sentencing, he could no longer ignore what he had done and for me that was justice in itself.

 

J:  You must have had moments where you paused?  Where you felt like giving up and walking away?

T: Not really.  I was fortunate that my ex-husband plead guilty and therefore we didn’t have to go to trial.  I was also lucky that the whole process from start to finish only took a year.  For me that felt like an eternity but I have heard that this is fairly quick compared to many other criminal proceedings.  Once the ball got rolling I felt like there was no turning back.  The hard part for me was over – having him arrested, having to tell my children – I would have felt like he had won if I dropped everything and that was never an option.

 

J:  In my experience, life often presents a moment when we’re challenged to step up and we realise just how strong we are.  When did that moment occur for you and what that was like?

T: I think I’m still having those moments!  There have been so many challenges that I often don’t realise how strong I am until other people say so.

“For me it’s just a matter of survival, you just have to keep moving forward because really what other option is there?”

I think if perhaps I wasn’t a single mother (of two sons whom have special needs) then perhaps I would have piled into a heap, but when you’re a mother you really can’t afford to do that, unfortunately!! Starting my very first business, The 3C Program, with limited support and no financial assistance, and having such a positive response has definitely been a moment where I’ve felt like I am strong enough to do anything I set my mind to, especially if it’s something that I’m really passionate about and believe can truly make a difference.

 

J:  Working in the area of domestic violence is confronting for anyone, let alone a survivor of domestic abuse.  How did you mentally prepare for and continue your career in this area without burning out?

T:  I believe I was mentally able to work in this field because I had made the commitment to healing myself before trying to help others.   I had ongoing counselling for about four years, read and listened to people’s ideas and stories of healing, pushed myself outside my comfort zone to gain my confidence back, and became good at using personal and professional insight to monitor how I was feeling.  Unfortunately due to my own experiences with DV I have become fairly unshockable (if there’s such a thing!)  Meaning that the horrendous stories of abuse that I would hear from women coming into refuge did not seem to affect me the way in which other workers could be upset by them.

aboutusProfile-262x300I was also able to keep the boundaries between work and home very separate, and would not dwell on the days event when I was home with my children. I believe it’s important to realise that you can only do so much, ultimately you’re there to provide the support and information…..the client is completely in control of their own life and the choices they make.

 

J:  Breaking out and starting your own business can be terrifying.  When did you make the decision to start the 3C Program, and what has the journey been like since then?

T: Since December 2011 I have been speaking for a number of organisations such as the Qld Police, Australia’s CEO Challenge and White Ribbon Australia.  At first it was terrifying but then I started to realise that increasing awareness and education on the issues of domestic violence, and particularly intimate partner sexual violence, was my absolute passion.  I also believed that the work I was doing could really make a difference to how these issues are perceived, and also the quality of the work offered by service providers, and for me that was something to be proud of.

Towards the end of 2013 I was accepted into the ‘New Enterprise Incentive Scheme’ (NEIS).  It’s been a really exciting, stressful and nerve-wracking time, and I’ve certainly had moments of self-doubt, but overall I’m really looking forward to how The 3C Program will develop in the future.

 

J:  How important do you think goal setting is, and what experiences are you most looking forward to in the next ten years?

T:  I think goal setting is really important however, I also feel that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to reach these designated goals by a certain time or else we’ve somewhat failed.  I think that goal setting is extremely subjective and depends on a person’s situation at the time.  For some people just getting through the day without crying is a goal, but for others it’s earning a certain amount of money this week.  Personally I haven’t put any time frames on my goals.

“One goal (I have) is that The 3C Program will be utilised by as many service providers as possible so that women will have positive rather than negative experiences when trying to gain support and assistance.”

 

Another goal is that more work will be done focusing on educating our young people on intimate partner violence, and that as a community we understand the plight of the victims, and we demand harsher penalties for the perpetrators. Personally, my two biggest goals are to travel as much as possible for as long as possible, and to raise my sons to be happy, healthy, loving members of society who care about others and take their responsibilities as husbands and fathers as extremely important.

*****

The 3C Program aims to educate organisations and the community on issues surrounding domestic violence, contact details for the program and Tamara can be found on her website.

 

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