Taking time to understand mental well being

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“He says he is suffering from depression” she scoffed. “I don’t know what he would be unhappy about?”

I opened my mouth to respond, to clarify that depression isn’t about being unhappy but I couldn’t find the words to explain it. I just nodded and tried to change the subject. That was a few years ago.

Awareness around our mental health and well-being is improving with quite a bit of funding being provided for awareness campaigns, research and education.

But there is still a stigma and misunderstanding.

I have to admit that I have been in the denial and misinterpreting camp, though I have been willing to know more, understand better. I have read, I have listened, I have wanted to empathise.

Today I had a light bulb flash, a serendipitous moment that made sense. I wanted to share with you.

Why do we talk about our physical health and not our mental health? Why do we split them into two?

If I asked you “how are you?” most of you would think about your physical state like –

“I’ve got a bit of a back ache today” or “the arthritis is playing up, must be a change in the weather coming” or “my shoulders are aching a bit, must have been the way I slept”

And that’s what I expect the answer to be.

What if…we start to think about our wellness as our whole self? Mind and body. They are not separate, they function as one yet we tend to think about them as two separate ‘conditions”.

Our mind is a powerful element that can affect our physical state.

Our physical state, likewise affects our mind.

Did you just go aha? I did. (or you might already know all this and it is me that needed to catch up)

I know that when I am stressed I get headaches, I am tired and exhausted.

Stress is a state of mind – headache physical.

I broke my ankle 2 years ago. The hardest part about that mending was trying to manage the sadness and feeling of helplessness as the ankle healed.

Broken ankle physical – helplessness a state of mind.

See where I am going? They went together to make me.

This morning I attended a short course about Mental Health. In 90 minutes Kate from the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program provided a clear and for me, a different perspective about mental health.

She spoke about mental wellbeing (note I didn’t use mental health!) as a scale or continuum from not coping to coping well. All of us move along this scale, its normal. Where we are on the scale depends on our physical well-being, our ability to manage and juggle what is happening in our life and how much we are carrying the load of someone else, those around us whether family, friends or work colleagues.

Check out this great clip – Mental Health Wellness Continuum – it was another aha moment for me.

The session also included some snippets about how to ask the right questions to help others, where to go to get more help either for self or those we are concerned about.

And then some gobsmacking realities –

  • 25% of what our GPs see in a day is mental health.
  • 8 people a day die of suicide in Australia…eight. 6 of these are men. That is 2.5 times more than people die on our roads. I am still digesting this one.
  • The more rural and remote we get the greater the number of suicides and risk factors. There is also a greater lack of help and support opportunities. Gosh.

My take home I want to share with you is this:

Don’t wait for special awareness days to ask those close to you R U OK?

Don’t dismiss their physical symptoms with a light hearted “I’ve got a Panadol”.

Don’t say “have a few wines or a beer and it will be alright, it will pass”.

Take time to listen. Ask. Show you care.

E V E R Y D A Y.

And make the effort to learn more about mental wellbeing and how to help others. It could save someone’s life. It might save your own. We are all part of the same village, we should look out for each other.

If you are an employer, big or small, make mental well being part of your Work Health and Safety program.

Start by checking out the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program website. There are loads of tools, stories and contacts to get you started

Thank you Kate from RAMHP and the Gunnedah Community College. It was a day of discovery.

Image credit: © Can Stock Photo / focalpoint

Forever Diamonds

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He had snatched her hat as he ran past and hurled it over the convent fence, planting it firmly in the nun’s garden. She risked a week of detention to salvage her school hat and as she tramped back to her friends, planting the hat firmly on her red hair she asked “Who is that horrible boy?”

Her opinion didn’t change for some time, despite the urging of her friend Mary, that horrible boy’s sister. He tried to coax her to the cinema but she went with friends. He offered her a lift home but she preferred to walk.

He was a patient man, he could wait.

On weekend leave from the Army he arrived at the local football game in his father’s jeep. She spied this young man in uniform, his blonde curly hair sticking out from under his hat. That horrible boy was starting to look appealing.

He asked to take her home. She hesitated, still.

“Sing me Temptation or I will you take you home” he commanded of her. Their fate was sealed as she climbed into the jeep and a journey of many decades began.

“Tell the little red head she can write to me” he told his sister as he returned to service, with little certainty this would happen. When a letter did arrive several weeks later, simply signed “from your ardent admirer” he did not believe this could be the one he had hoped for. It took several more letters to convince him.

It was a filibuster romance – she nursing in Newcastle, he completing service in the Army. He surprised her with visits, sweet talking the matron into allowing her out unescorted with a soldier. For three years or more they saw each other only occasionally. Each time the attraction grew. They became friends before lovers.

He was a patient man, he could wait.

Until neither could not wait any longer. The approvals were given – Clem agreed to the union and Ellie busied herself with the planning of her daughter’s wedding.

On April 7th 1958 that horrible boy married his red-head. It was Easter Monday, 8 am.

She met him at the altar in a Lilly of the Valley silk and Chantilly lace gown that she had designed herself, her cousins Judith and Rosalie by her side. He only had eyes for her as he waited, bolstered by his brother Pat and brother-in-law Bill.

The autumn sun glistened in the early morning, weaving its magical spell as two became one. Their hands joined to walk together as best friends for the next sixty years.

The wedding was celebrated with a reception in the Town Hall before they borrowed his father’s ute to honeymoon in Port Macquarie. After a few short days of surfing in the ocean waves – which they were never to do again – they settled into wedded life with his parents at Laurella.

60 years later their hands are still joined, their eyes still yearn for each other, their love still unwavering.

Sixty years. Six decades. 720 months. 21 900 days.

A lifetime. Together. Best friends.

They have rejoiced at the birth of their nine children, though life would have been chaotic with 5 under five and only a ute as the family car.

They have celebrated the birth of 25 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren (so far!).

Together they have had the joy of purchasing a new home and filling it with love and laughter til it burst at the seams. The door has always been open to their own children and many others that sought the comfort of the loving family surrounds provided by Neville and Anne.60weddinganniversary_oakstreet

They have shared the happiness of watching their youngest graduate from university, the first for the family.

They support each other in times of sadness, accidents and illness. They share the news side by side, they grieve arm in arm, they journey through the tough united. Their faith the staple rock of support.

Strength, they say comes from communication and talking to each other. Their only advice is to take the time to be best friends and enjoy the same things.

For 60 years each morning is a new day – disagreements are left with the setting sun. They wake hand in hand as those morning sunbeams of their wedding day still weave the magic of love around them. Unconquerable and enduring.

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Congratulations Neville and Anne. Diamonds is most fitting for you both.

Practising Resilience

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Staying cool – me in the summer of 1966/67. It must be on my grandmothers verandah – the pot plant in the corner is a clue!

It was heavenly. To the extent it almost took my breath away. After weeks of heat, the cooling change that swept from the south has been a most welcome reprieve.

If only for a short time.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the demise of our home air conditioner. While I am happy to report (so far) I haven’t had the third white good failure I am still without an air conditioner. It has been brutal and humbling.

Today the temperature has plummeted to a cooling 24 degrees celsius (75 F) at 11am (instead of around 35C/95F). There is even snow being reported in the high country to the south. My head is clear, my energy uplifted and perspective on life has reset to a positive course.

It is astounding how being hot drains one’s vigour and sends your drive plummeting to a level of boiling sloth.

I have tried to remain positive and upbeat, though I think DH may disagree. I kept telling myself that there are hundreds of people who do not have the luxury of an air conditioner, or cannot afford the electricity to run it, I’m not alone. That helped for all of 5 minutes before my resolve took another negative hit.

I remember when I was for pregnant, nearly 27 years ago. We were young and broke and air conditioners were still considered a luxury. I survived without one then, I can do this now…surely?

It has been a learning time as I attempt to be more resilient in the summer furnace. I have learnt or re-learnt a few things about keeping cool over these last few weeks, that I can share with you.

The opening and closing of doors and curtains around the house has become a daily ritual. Open in the cooler times of days to allow any zephyr of breeze to flow through the house, close in the peak of the day to shut out the brutal heartbreaking heat that rides on the summer westerlies.

The routine of each day also changes. I have become a walking temperature forecast and can recite what the temperature is going be each hour, having studied 3 weather apps for the day and week ahead. I plan my day around the what needs to be done in the cooler (not cool, just cooler) parts of the day versus what does not need to be done until about March when this summer will come to an end, or my air-conditioner is fixed.

Between about 3 and 8 pm little is possible as the living area turns into Satan’s boudoir. The better options are reading a book or watching the tennis and cricket – but that is what summer is all about isn’t it?

I had to search for a different novel to read. While I was comfortable under an air conditioner a story about the struggles of country Victoria in the summer drought of the late 1800’s was an interesting read. It became a little to close to my own experience post mouse-in-airconditioner and a novel set in the Arctic circle has been a worthier escape.

Dining outside in the evening is a pleasant experience. It has been a necessity for us as the house is like a mini fire of hell from about 6 pm. I tried to make light of it by saying “we will dine alfresco tonight, by the fountain” where in actual fact we have dined on the shady back lawn with the garden sprinkler cooling our feet.

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Keeping cool outside – January 1963 style

In my search through family photos I even found a pic of my grandmother, father and aunt escaping the heat near a water tank – outside was always cooler than in. the look on their faces says it all!

 

 

Wet towels are currently a necessary part of the wardrobe. Some respite can be felt if you wet your hair and then sit in front of the fan with a wet towel across your shoulders and/or your feet. In the heat the towel is dry in about 10 minutes but the short respite welcoming. Wet and repeat.

Buying an expensive fan does not provide you with better cooling. When its hot, its hot and no fan on this planet will be better than another. The fan that offered an additional misting function along with “new technology” cooling effects for about $150 did not blow the hot air around the room any better than the $20 pedestal fan from the reject shop. This has been an expensive lesson to learn!

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I have discovered that its OK to break out your inner child and run through the sprinkler on the back lawn. I have many childhood memories of playing in the yard with a sprinkler, or a home-made slip and slide.

When we first moved to the farm at Curlewis we had an above ground pool. It was bit of makeshift pool, with no fencing or landscaping, it had no filter or cleaning mechanism so after about a week it was time to drain and refill.

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Our pool. It must have been hot as my dad is in this shot – he rarely ventured into the water.

Water was abundant and cheap in those times and the routine of emptying overnight and filling the next morning became part of summer fun. We whiled away many summer hours in that pool, plopped in the backyard for easy access. Others around us all seemed to have similar in the yard – one friend had an old iron water tank cut off at about a metre, another used her dad’s fishing tinnie as a useful ‘pool’ to lay during the summer afternoon. We were inventive and unrestricted by today’s safety regulations.

Over the years my children discovered the joy of a hose during the summer months. Being held hostage by the air conditioner inside is not an enjoyable experience for a band of energetic children or the parent – a simple hose, sprinkler and large container can provide hours of fun.

I have survived, so far. It has given me time to search through old family photos to find past glimpses of fun under the sprinkler, but maybe that was just an excuse to sit longer under my mother’s functioning air conditioner!

I try not to call Air Conditioner guy Dave every day but I search for hope that the beast that taunts me from my living room wall will be functioning soon.

I wish that ‘soon’ will be this week, cross your fingers for me

Happens in threes…

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I love front loader washing machines. I know others that don’t – DH even prefers twin tubs.

Yes you can still buy the twin tub washing machine. On a recent trip to the local electrical store with Miss22 we spotted one – she had to ask what it was. When I explained that you wash in one side then manually take the clothes out, put them in the spin side, spin, rinse, spin, repeat she was a little gobsmacked at the idea of it! Really? People still do that?

It is quite manual work but less things break, though I do remember overflowing my first twin tub a few times as I chased the sock pairs around the house.

After years of top loader machines, I find front loaders are easier on the clothes, create less pill and use less water. Sure, you need to change your washing habits as once that door is locked you cannot open to throw that last minute find into the mix.

Or as I recently experienced once that door is locked it may not open again.

It is a terrible sinking feeling when the machine beeps its completion, you nonchalantly bend to open the door…and it doesn’t budge.

I check the lock light has gone off and try again

I turn it off at the wall, count to 60 and try again

I turn it back on, jiggle the controls and try again

I run a short rinse and spin cycle thinking it just got itself confused – I know how that feels – and try again

I rock the whole machine and try again

I pull on the handle and realise how plasticky and fragile it is and try again

I walk away, have a coffee and try again

I start to list all the pieces of clothing now a prisoner in the machine and try again

Nothing, nadda, zip. No offer of bail, no small sign the damp prisoners will be released anytime soon, they are locked up tight and starting to sweat.

A phone call to the local washing machine repairer puts me at ease

“Oh it happens a lot, Paul knows how to unlock it, I will get him to call round. Wait for him, don’t be like the guy last week that had his children’s school clothes in there and took to it with a crowbar. Just wait for Paul”

I was beginning to know how that poor guy felt! At least I have other clothing that I can use.

Washing machine repairer Paul bailed out the clothes with a bit of packing tape – yes highly technical stuff. A replaced part, a week of waiting and we are back on track.

Washing wise.

I froze as I glanced at the bill stuck to the fridge this morning. Things happen in threes – especially with household white goods.

Number 2 struck last night.

I had enjoyed a slow relaxing summer day in the cool of the air-conditioned lounge. It was a Netflix day as the summer January sun makes anything outdoor unbearable.

At about 7 last night, when it was still high 30 degrees outside I could smell something burning – crispy, electrical, smouldering burning. I smelt the stove, nothing. Turned off all the power points, nothing. Checked the roof outside to see if there was any smoke coming out, nothing.

Then there was a loud bang and a flash of red and orange from the air conditioner.

Oh crap

If you think having your clothes held captive in the washing machine is heart stopping imagine what the thought of no air conditioner at the peak of our inland summer feels like.

It is dead…and so is the mouse that thought camping on one of the internal power boards was a good idea.

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Thank heavens air conditioner guy Dave came to the rescue first thing this morning. I only hope the factory that sells the parts has returned from their Christmas break, though it might be a long, hot week ahead.

 

I now look at the weather forecast with different eyes, scanning for how hot it really will be rather than an inquisitive view to see if we will break more records this week.

A funny weather app that I discovered isn’t so funny when you need a wet towel around your neck while sitting directly under the fan.

I usually shop in the morning – I am now planning for the hottest part of the day and I will take my time.

I am starting to plan car trips – at least the car is cool.

I am scanning movie times – a second rate flick in an air conditioned cinema is worth the few hours of comfort, mid-afternoon.

I am listing friends and family to visit, in the afternoons.

I am hoping air conditioner guy brings the parts by the end of the week.

I am dreading number 3.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image credits:

© Can Stock Photo / dumayne;

© Can Stock Photo/godruma;

© Can Stock Photo/stuartmiles

WTForcast app

Almond Bread

Time moves on.

Lives change.

It is inevitable.

In the blink of an eye Christmas is with us again.

Christmas time seems to bring with it more memory clouds that most other months of the year. Im not sure whether its because I realise another year has past me by or whether it’s a time when family traditions are bought back to life.

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Our Christmas tree still has marks of my children growing, ornaments lovingly made at preschool and school still adorn the tree. Their childhood stockings are laid beside the tree, now in readiness for their home comings soon.

 

A visit to my childhood home is filled with many memories and now a touch of emptiness. The same Christmas door wreath welcomes all visitors, family and friends. The heights of the grandchildren and their pets, marked along the door jam remind us of the years, evoking glimpses of the past and stories starting with “remember when…”.

 

We are guaranteed these remain the same. It is with some comfort that I know this.

And Mum’s Almond Bread.

It heralds Christmas.

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I have never attempted to bake it, and I haven’t for this article. I am not sure I can fold the love of a grandmother’s hug into the loaf as much as my mum can.

But I can share the recipe with you.

There are a few steps and you need to plan ahead to allow the loaf to cool for a few days.

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The loaf, allow 2 days for it to cool

But it is so worth it!

It also makes a great gift, wrapped and sealed with a Christmas bow.

 

ALMOND BREAD

3 egg whites                      1 cup plain flour

½ cup castor sugar          125 grams whole unblanched almonds

and then….

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form.

Then gradually add sugar, beat until dissolved.

Fold in sifted flour, then almonds. (I think this is where the grandmother love is added too!)

Spoon into greased 20cm x 10cm loaf tin

Bake in moderate oven 30-40 minutes

Cool. Wrap in foil & set aside for 2 days.

Using a very sharp knife cut into wafer thin slices

Place slices on oven trays and bake in a slow oven for 45 minutes, or until lightly toasted and crisp.

Store in an air tight container.

TIP: My mum adds extra almonds, as she likes the slices packed full. The recipe may work with pistachios too?

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You are welcome 😊

And happy christmas

 

WASH

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She stands at the sink overlooking the rice fields as the panicle, packed with grain sweep in a cooler morning breeze. The sun starts to colour the sky.

It had been a long night for her.

Her youngest had twisted in pain, his arms wrapped across his stomach, his eyes as big as saucers brimming with tears begged her to make it stop. Yet another night of little sleep for the family as his cries perforated the night in between short moments of fitful sleep.

The number of sleepless nights were becoming too many. Her family could not survive much longer. Her husband could not continue to work long hours in the field with little sleep.

She spied the pamphlet on the floor. It was stained with mud that had been carried into the house on little feet as they had darted outside in the rain to go to the toilet. She hoped they went a distance from the house, but she could hardly reprimand given the amount of rain that fell last night. She will check that later.

For now, she just needed to recharge.

And think.

As her tea brews she can hear the thump of coconuts falling outside. Husband is picking a few for her to take into the market. She wipes the pamphlet and slowly turns it over in her hands, looking with envy at the picture of a woman standing outside a freshly finished brick building. She recalls what the man from SAMIC told them.

“We can offer you a loan to build an outside toilet and install a water filter to give you clean water as well. It would cost you about $30-50 US dollars a month to repay. It will be a declining loan. The money is offered under the WASH program, to help provide water and sanitation. You could be the first in your village.”

Could they earn enough from the sale of the coconuts and rice to repay this and keep the family? She could take the buggy and find rubbish to sell if they needed more money. Her eldest was nearly old enough to help too.

Her breath stops suddenly as she contemplates her children getting sicker. Too many in the district had died already from stomach complaints. They say it’s the bad water and no toilets that is doing it. They had no money for hospitals, yet it seemed only a matter of time before one of her brood fell too sick to recover.

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There is yelling from below as the chickens scatter. The cow is off its chain again. She puts her dreaming aside and heads downstairs to save the animals from her husband. The lack of sleep is showing itself already. Its going to be a long day. Not the day to try to talk about a new toilet.

 

6 weeks later:

It is so shiny! The water so clean you can see the bottom of the tub. There was even enough money to install a path so there will be no mud being tramped across the rugs inside.

She is now running late to market as the neighbours called in to view this new building, quiz  husband on the cost. Some even wanted to give it try, it has created quite an interest. The people from SAMIC have become quite busy now.

Her smile is one of relief. Her children are better, she sleeps at night. They all have renewed energy to face each day.

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She climbs on the bike beside her husband. Today she is making her first repayment at the SAMIC office. As her children run ahead on the path, with energy levels tripled she knows she has made the right decision.

Maybe she will ask her husband if she can learn to read soon. A better world awaits her and the children, with a little help. She nods at the Spirits as the bike weaves to market, her smile beaming in the midday sun.DSC04353

 

**Inspired by experiences while travelling in Cambodia with Good Return and Xplore.  If you wish to know more, especially the WASH program also see SAMIC.

All photos are my own

Local Volunteers

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Volunteer numbers in small country communities is declining. Many clubs have folded as there are not enough people to fill not only executive positions but to come along and be part of the Club, including fundraisers, events and activities. This is a trend across Australia as a whole.

Volunteers can still be found, quietly working within communities. I have come across such people, in my own backyard.

While visiting my mum – who is recently widowed – I enjoyed the company of two astonishing local ladies who regularly check on mum just to make sure all is OK. They live just up the road, but if you are looking for them you will rarely find them at home. You will find them helping others in the local community.

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Just up the road…main entrance to Curlewis

They might be keeping an elderly person company or gently coaching another to take a few steps after an operation, organising a vehicle for a family so they can drive to town for food and appointments or feeding someone else chooks and ducks while they are in hospital. Our community might be small but there is always someone needing assistance. This mother and daughter seem to know who and seem to know when.

Glenda is a trained nurse. Up until a few years ago she had her own business where she would visit people in their homes and care for them. Her daughter Phoebe jokes when we talk about this. Her mum always went over and above what was needed to be done and there were many days she stayed with the client or did that little extra, making her late home for dinner or to help with homework. For Glenda, it wasn’t a 9-5 job.

I asked Glenda “Why do you do it? What motivates you to help people” thinking this was an easy question. She hesitates, sits back in her chair and ponders her answer. “People need help and I can help them. I work with them so we achieve something together. It’s teamwork and gives them back confidence. One small achievement for them helps take away a lot of self-doubt”

There are also other wonderful people supporting this community. A few years ago the local church surveyed the community by door knocking on the 120 residences and asking what people thought the community needed. Not surprising the biggest issue was something for the youth to do. Curlewis is about 17km from its larger country centre Gunnedah, situated in north west NSW about 5 hours inland of Sydney. While many of the youth travel to Gunnedah for high school there are very little other activities to fill their time outside those hours.

Youth drop in

What started as Kids Club through a church has grown. Phoebe and her sister Crystal, with the help of others could see the youth needed not just an activity or two in school holidays but a regular place to go, to mix with others in a safe environment.  With the help of others in the community they have established the Curlewis Youth Drop In Centre. The church has provided them with a building that is decorated with lounges, bean bags and provides a welcoming space one a week.

Over a quiet cup of tea we reflected on why there are less youth offering to volunteer in the community, or regional NSW as a whole. Phoebe has observed that the more willing volunteers are young adults who have lived away from the community and returned or have experienced a life elsewhere. We wondered whether these see the community from a different angle and appreciate the positive aspects rather than being caught in the monotony of their own world. It can be easy to lose perspective and get caught up in the day to day micro happenings of a small town. Becoming independent and living with other cultures and strangers can help people appreciate their own community and potentially bring back newly learned skills and confidence. It will be a challenge to break this cycle. The Youth Drop In Centre is doing this in its own small way.

Each week the centre has 20-30 youth attend. At first the number of adults that came along to help were the same ones that started the centre. Over time others became interested, just helping prepare food or work in the background. Now there is a roster to share the load. The adults enjoy the banter with the youth and vice versa. The young love hearing stories from the elderly volunteers. It’s a win-win.

Many articles highlight the value of volunteering for young people. It looks good on a resume and can help get a scholarship. It also builds teamwork and organisation skills, supervisory or communication skills and confidence with working people outside their home environment.

As a parting question I asked Glenda how does she feel when she has helped someone? What is it like when she sees a glimmer of hope in their eyes and a smile of achievement beaming back at her?

I was expecting emotive words like warm, happy, joyful, proud or delighted. Instead she couldn’t respond; the question was too hard to answer.

Why? Glenda volunteers her time to help others. That is all. No self-gain, no feeding a personal need, no recognition required. The sign of a truly wonderful person who Gives.

 

**Article originally written and published for The Australia Times GIVE Magazine. Publishing here to celebrate International Volunteers Day