It’s time to stop stigmatising modern medicine

It’s time to stop stigmatising modern medicine

Society can’t seem to get comfortable with modern medicine. There are opinions, day in and day out, telling us not to take too many pills; that natural medicine is the “right” way to go; that antidepressants don’t really work; and that most often, the side effects of drugs aren’t worth it.

Recently, I found a drug that works on my chronic fibromyalgia-like pain…and trust me, it’s feeling pretty damn worth it.

Given that sickness and pain is universal, it’s not uncommon to hear people’s take on the drug debate. However, I’m tired of hearing uninformed blanket statements – drugs are bad, nature’s good; marijuana is and should remain illicit, and antidepressants are a fraud. These bias comments keep patients from exploring potential treatment options. I find this casually cruel.

I don’t understand why it’s so stigmatised to come out as disabled, mentally ill or as a sufferer of chronic pain, but it’s so acceptable for everyone to voice their opinions on whether you’re actually ill, and how you should and shouldn’t treat your condition.

Here are the facts: hundreds of studies have confirmed antidepressants work. Additionally, medical marijuana is helping cancer patients, by taking away the nauseous side effect of chemotherapy. This ultimately allows cancer patients to stomach food, contributing to a better and accelerated recovery.

We need to stop stigmatising modern medicine and “crazy pills.” Decrying something that could genuinely help…well, that’s true craziness.

If you’ve never experienced depression, you don’t get to comment about the validity of antidepressants. If you can’t get to sleep at night due to chronic pain, then you don’t get to remark on the use of Opioids. If you’ve never been to hospital and have had morphine injected into you every five minutes, then you don’t get to lecture someone else on the true nature of pain. If you’ve never witnessed the power of medical marijuana, then you don’t get to condemn it. If you’ve never visited a children’s hospital, you will never know the miraculous wonders of modern medicine and the heroism of the people who tirelessly devote their lives to helping others.

Right now, you may have an unfavourable opinion on modern medicine…but right now, you may also have a pain-free and healthy life.

One day, you might find yourself connected to an IV drip of chemotherapy; or you might be sitting by your child in that children’s hospital that you never once thought to visit; or maybe you can no longer walk and move the way you use to because of the pain that ripples through your body.

When that one day comes, I can guarantee you one thing – you will surely change your mind.

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How to build resilience

How to build resilience

We are not born with more or less resilience than anyone else. Resilience is an acquired skill. Like any skill, it can be learnt and maintained as long as you remember to flex your resilient muscle. Here are my top tips to building resilience.

Allow yourself to feel sadness/anger/pain/grief/confusion

Yep. You read that right. Allow yourself to feel everything that you feel. No matter how shitty it is. Resilience isn’t about masking your pain and pretending everything is fine, when it isn’t. You’re a human, not a robot. It’s healthy to feel these things (if you didn’t I’d be concerned). What matters isn’t how you feel in that difficult moment, it’s how you overcome it. That’s resilience.

Picture this: an ocean’s wave approaching the shore. It’s a steep wave, one that hasn’t crested into a breaker. Imagine a flock of seagulls floating on the water, with the wave looming towards them. These gulls don’t fly away. They simply ride up the ascending slope and drift back down the wave’s curved spine. That’s what you can learn to do with your worries, anxieties and fears. Emotions are wave-like – they ebb and flow. They accumulate, eventually reach a peak, and then drift away. Sometimes they’re a tsunami, other times a mere bump. Either way, negative emotions don’t last forever, even though it often feels like they will. You gotta learn to ride the waves.

Practice self-care & know yourself

In my last post, I spoke about the importance of looking after ourselves for ourselves. This means eating healthily, exercising, getting a good night’s sleep and understanding what your body needs. In essence, resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure. This includes paying attention to the peaks and valleys of your energy levels. For example, I know I’m most productive at work in the morning, before the rest of the crew arrives. I also know that I need to take breaks every 60-120 minutes to refocus. Since I’m a massive introvert, I get easily drained from being around people. I need a lot of time to reflect and be myself. Once I’m recharged, I know I can endure.

However, practicing self-care extends beyond physicality. It also involves knowing your learning style, your strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly your boundaries. To quote Dolly Parton, “I know who I am. I know what I can and can’t do. I know what I will and won’t do.” For example, there are things I won’t do for health reasons. Most of the time they’re simple things but their potential consequences are not worth the risk for me. As a result, I’ve created internal boundaries on what I can and can’t do, and what I will and won’t do. Remember, you don’t have to accept the things you’re not okay with.

Know yourself. Allow people to push you out of your comfort zone but don’t let them push you out of your boundaries. Remember – only you know you.

Find your tribe

You don’t do things or go through difficult times alone. No one does anything alone. Resilient people know how to reach out for help, and tend to surround themselves with other resilient people. I’ve been so blessed to be raised by an incredibly resilient family and have had the support of amazing friends and amazing strangers. There’s an old saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I don’t believe that. I think the things that “kill” you make you angry and sad, hard and numb. Strength comes from good things – your family, your friends…the kindness of people.

The people who stand by you are your strong.

Decenter

Similarly to mindfulness, decentering is about responding rather than reacting to a difficult situation or person. It is scientifically possible, with little effort, to literally switch the neural networks in the brain. Decentering is not denying or supressing the fact we feel stressed, confused or overwhelmed. Rather, it is the ability to pause and view the experience from a neutral standpoint (like an outsider looking in), before attempting to solve the problem. Decentering fosters mental agility, by focusing on the observational part of our thinking, not our own inner voice that is narrating our own version of events. Decentering activates the thinking side of our brains, rather than the emotional side. No matter how “emotional” you are, it is quite possible and easy to decenter, if you stop and pause before rushing headfirst into a reaction.

Create art

Whenever I’m scared, confused, sad, angry or happy, I write. The draws of my wardrobe are occupied with more journals than clothes, and I’ve written so many words on my laptop that I could probably produce ten novels (if they were coherent). Creative expression is a coping mechanism for me – a way of better understanding myself, others and the world around me.

I believe art is a window. It allows us to travel to places where we’re fearless in our emotions because it shows us we’re never alone in them. Our longings are universal longings, and our emotions are universal emotions. Art captures this and tells others, “hey, I’m here and I know what you’re going through.”

Writing has been my salvation. I don’t think I would have gotten through the difficult moments in my life without it.

Sisu, the second wind

Sisu is a Finnish term that dates back hundreds of years, and is integral to Finland’s culture and national identity. My mother is Finnish and the term Sisu has always resonated with me, not only because of its cultural ties but because of its meaning. There is no equivalent English translation for Sisu. It is often defined as extraordinary determination, courage, indomitable spirit, tenacity, willpower and resoluteness in the face of extreme adversity. It’s an action mindset which enables individuals to reach beyond their present limitations, take action against all odds and transform barriers into frontiers. However, this definition doesn’t really encompass the true meaning of Sisu. Sisu begins when perseverance ends. Sisu is what you rely on when you have nothing left.

To me, Sisu is the second wind.

In a situational problem, Sisu is often seen when marathon runners are physically and mentally exhausted; when they can’t go any further but somehow continue on. Sisu is when you push yourself beyond what you normally do…when you are spent and have nothing left.

You often experience Sisu when you hit rock-bottom. There was a period in my life where I found it impossible to imagine surviving, let alone living; finishing school, going to university, falling in love, travelling the world, getting a job – all these things seemed impossible to me. This is me at rock-bottom. This is when Sisu came.

Sisu isn’t just perseverance, grit or optimism. It isn’t a thought in your head telling you everything is going to be okay. Sisu is when you decide to run into the storm clouds, even though there may never be a silver lining.

Since there is no English translation, Sisu is difficult to explain. You can only feel it. You’re probably wondering how Sisu relates to resilience? Sisu puts you on the path to resilience. Resilience is a process, whereas Sisu is an action mindset. Sisu is a choice. An enigmatic verb. An action. When you use Sisu, you are essentially taking  steps to achieve outcomes. Sisu is important because your response to a difficult situation translates into other parts of your life, and in the long-run this ultimately leads to resilience.

Fail fabulously

Resilient people are the greatest failures. This is because failing fabulously (aka learning from failures) cultivates resilience. Rather than making excuses for failures, resilient people learn from each mistake. They identify ideas and life lessons from each failed opportunity, and view failure as an essential part of self-growth. Resilient people embrace and celebrate failures. To be blunt, if you don’t stumble, fall down and fail, are you even trying hard enough? I can honestly say I’m decently happy in my life right now. I have fought like a little ninja for that happiness, and I have failed majestically for my little pieces of success. What is happiness without sadness, and success without failure?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

So fail fabulously folks!

Cultivate compassion, emanate empathy

If you want to develop resilience, you need to develop empathy.

I believe in this so much that it’s actually my number one tip to building resilience. The stronger you become, the gentler you’ll be. That’s why the most resilient people are often the most empathetic.

Empathy and resilience are about the little things…like saying hello to your colleagues in the morning. These little things don’t take much effort but they can mean the world to someone. In fact, the most important thing you can do for others is to encourage and inspire meaningful growth. A sincere and positive impact will last a lifetime, even if the relationship does not.

It’s also worth noting that receiving and appreciating kindness is just as important as offering it up. This is because gratitude is an important part of resiliency. Kindness and resilience are boomerangs.

You have to give and receive, in kind.

Pump up your positivity, with 3:1

This doesn’t mean you have to think the world is full of rainbows and butterflies. In fact, realistic optimism is about acknowledging negativity, kicking it off centre-stage and allowing it to sit side by side with your other feelings. One of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve ever received is the 3:1 ratio. A writer once told me he used this ratio when giving constructive criticism to aspiring authors. So, for every negative thing he had to say to them, he’d give them three positive things. I love the 3:1 ratio and use it a lot. It’s an empowering way to motivate and inspire people, whilst simultaneously allowing room for improvement and further action.

Whenever, I provide written feedback I often transform 3:1 into what I call the ‘traffic light approach.’ For example, when I review someone’s work, I use traffic-light coloured dot points. Green dots points for all the things I love about the person’s work; the ideas that we can build on. Orange points for questions and clarification (the things I haven’t fully understood/or the reasoning behind why something is done a certain way), and red points for the red flags (the things I don’t think will work). When I do this, I always ensure green and orange outweigh red. I do this because I know what it’s like to go to work and hear constant criticism. The reality is, if you give someone too many red lights, they’re going to come to a grinding halt. They’re not going to be inspired and motivated to produce further ideas or to undertake the work you give them. If you want to empower people and push them forward, you gotta give them the green lights. You gotta encourage them to go! Whenever I work with people (regardless of their position), I use the 3:1 or the traffic light approach because I understand and have witnessed the power of its positivity in relation to someone’s performance.

The 3:1 ratio is also important for self-growth. Use it on yourself! Whenever you’re sad about something, list three things you’re grateful, happy or excited about. Many studies have found that 3:1 is the tipping point that predicts whether people languish or flourish under difficult circumstances. This means that for every heart-wrenching emotional experience you endure, you have to experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that will uplift you again.

Shine the spotlight on your silver linings

In order to apply the 3:1 ratio effectively, you need to shine the spotlight on your silver linings. The ability to search for silver linings is the core of emotional resilience. Silver linings can be found in any circumstance, though you may not see them straight away. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I lost the majority of my vision. There have been many silver linings to this experience. For example: I can memorise and learn things pretty quickly; I’m a great listener; my empathy and imagination has increased; I know a lot about the human eye and can understand/speak medical jargon; not knowing what level of sight I’d have each day when I woke up has enhanced my flexibility and adaptability; I have great creative problem solving skills (e.g. I may not be able to do something that conventional way because of my disability, but I can do it this way instead); and I always win pin the tail on the donkey.

This list is by no means exhaustive. In fact, all the best moments of my life have come from the worst moments of my life.

Silver linings are always there. You just have to search for them.

Hang on to humour

Ever had one of those moments when you’re crying so much that you start laughing? Or when something terrible has happened, and all you can do is smile and laugh? Whenever you experience a catastrophic life event, there’s a thin line between tragedy and comedy. I tend to yo-yo between them (how Shakespearean). Either way, you gotta hang on to humour. Bill Cosby once said that “once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” This is because when we laugh, our bodies release endorphins and dopamine, which are nature’s feel-good chemicals. By releasing these chemicals, we can better cope with stress and find hope in the darkest of circumstances. Whenever you laugh in the face of adversity, you are essentially saying “I am bigger than this…and I won’t let this scare me.”

Face your fears, take chances & have hope

Everyone is afraid. I am, you are, everyone is. Resilient people willingly face and move past their fears in order to get where they want to be. I often get asked “how are you not afraid?” The simple answer is, I am. I have never stopped being afraid of things. I’m just not going to let fear stop me. Once you’ve decided to keep moving forward, despite your fears, it often feels like a barricade has crumbled and your path is cleared.

Anytime we step into the unknown we’re taking a risk and fuelling our resilience. What if you don’t like the unknown when you get there? Then you’ll find a way to change it or move past it. You will – because that’s the sort of resilient person you are. That’s how I justified all the terrifying decisions I’ve made in my life. If I made the wrong choice…well…I’ll get over it (eventually)…and I would be proud of myself for taking the chance…for trying everything possible…for being brave enough to never give up.

And what if the unknown turns out to be more amazing than I could ever imagine it to be? There’s only once way to find out isn’t there? You gotta face your fears, take chances and have hope.

P.S My unknowns were more amazing than I could ever imagine them to be.

Apply the tomorrow rule

Resilient people look to the future. This doesn’t mean ignoring your past and your presence. No. In fact, looking back on your past is a great way of fuelling resilience. It allows you to remember times in which you needed resilience, so you can effectively utilise it again. Your past can be a marvellous getaway but you mustn’t make a home there. Resilience is about your tomorrows, not your yesterdays.

When I was 16, I was at my lowest point (having lost most of my eyesight, then my mobility from spinal surgery all in the same month). Despite how depressed I was, I knew who I wanted to be (and it wasn’t a person who sat around in bed feeling sorry for herself). So a week after my spinal surgery, I went back to school. I barely lasted an hour because of the pain. So I went home and told myself I’d try again tomorrow. Tomorrow came and I lasted one hour and five minutes. Then two hours. Three, four, five, six hours…until my tomorrows bled into weeks and the weeks bled into years. I merely focused on improving 1% (or sometimes 0.25%) every day. It never felt like much…but you know what? Small improvements compound over time. The choices you make today will affect your tomorrows.

One day you’re going to realise that 0.25% has made you everything you are.

My mind was in a dark and terrible place but I kept telling myself it’ll be better tomorrow. I’ll try again tomorrow.

I call this my tomorrow rule. And I held onto it like a lifeline.

Whenever I wanted to give up, resilience was the little voice saying:

Go on. Try again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Types of resilience

Types of resilience

We all think about something different when we hear the word ‘resilience.’ If you’re an entrepreneur, you might think about your company’s resilience in the face of uncertain economic environments. If you’re an athlete, you might think of the endurance you put your body through, and sometimes you might think of the people who have inspired you, because they have overcome difficult circumstances in their lives. I used to hate the word resilience but as I get older, the word means more and more to me. Resilience is a word I hear a lot and get called a lot. One day, many years ago, after being called resilient one too many times, I undeservingly lost it at someone who called me that and said “this is not what resilience feels like,” and began to sob uncontrollably at that person for the next half an hour (much to my shame).

I was wrong.

Sobbing uncontrollably on the floor of someone’s office and then walking out and moving on with life is exactly what resilience feels like. It’s not the best feeling in the world.

Resilience is best described as bounce-back-ability. It is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties, adapt to life’s adversities and cope with the mundane stresses of everyday living. There are four types of resilience: physical resilience, mental resilience, emotional resilience and social resilience. These types arise when we face major life problems, situational problems and daily problems.

Major life problems are what most people think of when they think of resilience. Death of a loved one. A major personal health crisis. Homelessness. Tales of survival. These problems are most often traumatic and can scar people for years. They are not problems you can simply ‘get over.’ When we hear inspiring stories of people overcoming adversity, these are the types of problems that are often referred to.

Situational problems are not as serious as major problems, but they can still cause considerable anxiety and can impact upon work, relationships and the way people enjoy life. This may include: working for an unpleasant boss, a rift with your spouse, online bullying or temporary unemployment. These problems often last from weeks to months, and eventually, we get over them with time. I believe nurturing resilience can greatly benefit situational problems the most.

The last type of problem is what I call daily problems. These occur daily, many times a day, and can lead to a negative attitude and further problems if not handled well. Daily problems include traffic congestion, working with rude colleagues, tight deadlines, or just simply burning yourself whilst cooking.

I’m going to apply major, situational and daily problems to physical, mental, emotional and social resilience. In my next blog post, I’ll share some tips for building resilience.

Physical resilience

Physical resilience refers to our body’s capacity to arise to physical challenges and maintain stamina, and recover efficiently and effectively when damaged.

  • Physical resilience + major life problem: I’ve had spinal surgery twice and in both cases, I had to learn to walk again. It took a long time and I’m pretty sure I screamed Brisbane to deafness in the process. It took me 6 months to walk 100 metres, and years to run again. The ability to keep moving, one tiny step at a time, especially when you don’t feel like it or are in excruciating pain, is an example of physical resilience.
  • Physical resilience + situational problem: This may include finding stamina in unexpected and expected situations. Marathons. Hiking. Sports competitions. One of my friends recently found herself in a situational problem that required physical resilience. She experienced a serious case of domestic violence and somehow found the physical resilience to get away from her attacker and run away from the situation.
  • Physical resilience + daily problems: I think physical resilience is most important for daily problems. This means eating a healthy diet, doing daily exercise, managing your weight, getting regular health checks, getting a good night’s sleep and really understanding what your body needs. We need to do these things because they have meaning and purpose for us, not merely because a white coat prescribed them. Each day we require physical resilience for sitting or standing for long periods at work. As a result, exercise is a daily non-negotiable for me. I always make time for it, no matter how I’m feeling. Good health is something you should never take for granted.

Mental resilience

Mental resilience is all about thinking flexibly, being able to weigh your options, considering alternatives, conceptualising step-by-step means to a reach a goal, understanding different perspectives and creatively problem-solving.

  • Mental resilience + major life problem: My parents were both paramedics, so I partially grew up in an ambulance station and got to hear about mental resilience in the face of major life problems. This includes making quick and vital decisions when someone is dying or injured in front of you.
  • Mental resilience + situational problem: I’ve had a decent amount of health problems and at times they have hindered my ability to learn and keep up with my peers at school. During these times, mental resilience has pushed me to continue studying and to keep trying, despite the situation I was experiencing.
  • Mental resilience + daily problems: You are nurturing your mental resilience on a daily basis if you continue to stay challenged. This might mean doing puzzles, playing games, trying new hobbies, learning new languages, reading new books, and staying engaged and inspired by the work you do.

Emotional resilience

I am most intrigued by emotional resilience. Emotional resilience is connected to emotional intelligence, emotional awareness, perseverance, acceptance and optimism. Emotional resilient people tend to accept adversities with flexibility and the attitude that – times are tough, but they will get better. Emotional resilience allows people to find positive things when circumstances seem grim.

  • Emotional resilience + major life problem: Every time something doesn’t go to plan with my health, I am not as upset about it as much as I think I’ll be. This is because of emotional resilience. Sure, it sucks…but my attitude is more “oh, it’s great I know about this [medical issue] so I can get it fixed, get better and get on with my life,” or “Hopefully, I’ll make new friends in hospital,” or “I wonder what new technologies my doctors have discovered.” Emotional resilience allows you to see a million silver linings to major problems, and at the end of the day, it makes you grateful for the experience, no matter how bad it is.
  • Emotional resilience + situational problem: I struggle with emotional resilience in situational problems more than I do for major problems. This is because situational problems usually involve other people, whose actions I have no control over, whilst major problems often occur just to one’s self. I think I find it difficult due to my personality. I am a massive introvert. My Myer-Briggs labels me as severely introverted, falling within the 85-90% range. Paradoxically, I also have high feelings and high intuition both in the 95%-100% range. This means my need to be around people often outweighs my introversion, and leaves me incredibly susceptible to feeling the emotions of others almost as if they were my own. My MBTI is INFJ (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling and Judgment). It’s the rarest MBTI type (1% of the world population) and has been credited as the only type that can truly walk in the other people’s shoes and feel other people’s emotions the exact same moment they are feeling it. INFJs are also the only MBTI type that can use the right and left side of their brain equally. Combining over-sensitivity, rationality and creativity has its pros and cons when facing a situational problem. On a positive side, I find it easy to solve conflict. There are many times I’ve had clients or people in general swear or cry at me, and my empathy has always come to my rescue and  somehow turned a bad situation into an incredibly positive one. However, I struggle with longer situational problems that I cannot fix myself. For example, working in a negative team culture or working for a difficult boss has detrimental effects on me due to my high levels of feeling and intuition. I find it draining and stressful.
  • Emotional resilience + daily problems: Daily emotional resilience is found in our ability to imagine, dream, plan and create. It allows you to regularly reflect and to highlight the positives in your life. This may be done by writing, singing, making art, mediating or simply going for a walk and reflecting.

Social resilience

Social resilience stems from connecting with others socially. It may include catching up with a friend, working in a team, networking or getting involved with your community. Social resilience is built on trust, diversity, tolerance and respect.

  • Social resilience + major problem: Countries and cities are often said to be socially resilient in the aftermath of natural disasters. The way communities and people come together to support each other in times of need is an example of major social resilience.
  • Social resilience + situational problem: Workplace organisational restructures call upon social resilience. It involves learning to work with new people, new teams, creating new processes and establishing a positive workplace culture. Although, it may seem muddled and confusing at first, social resilience pulls people together and allows them to learn to work together in the most effective and efficient way.
  • Social resilience + daily problems: Social resilience involves taking the initiative to stay engaged with people in conversations, to reach out and shake a hand of someone you don’t know, to get up and front of your colleagues and do a speech even though you hate public speaking, to say hello to your colleagues when you come to work in the morning. Social resilience is a simple ‘how are you?’ It involves reaching out to others socially, which we all need to live a fulfilling life.

So, there you have it – the four types of resilience, with examples as major, situational and daily problems. Resilience is not easy. Resilient people are made from the hardest moments of their lives.

In my next blog post, I’ll be looking at ways you can build your resilience.

Til then, be kind to one another.

Let’s embrace our ‘don’t know’ minds

Let’s embrace our ‘don’t know’ minds

Buddhism has great ideologies. One of my personal favourites is the concept of ‘don’t know’ mind. Don’t know mind can be confusing at first. Why shouldn’t we know? Should we be more ignorant? Definitely not. Don’t know mind is something else entirely. It’s what Suzuki Roshi spoke of when he said “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the experts mind there are a few.” In short ‘don’t know mind’ is characterised by curiosity, wonder and awe. It is a mind not limited by agenda, roles or high expectations. It’s just a mind open and free.

Is it possible to look at all aspects of our lives with this mindset? I don’t know about you but I find it hard to do, despite its appeal. This is because our minds are creatures of habit. When I sit quietly for a while, I begin to realise how many fixed views and ideas I have. How much judgment tantalises the tip of my tongue. How much expectation I carry for myself, and sometimes for others. I have to keep on growing, checking myself, motivating myself, telling myself that mistakes are opportunities. Look at them, own them, grow from them and move on. Do better, be better. ‘Don’t know mind’ is an opportunity to soften rigid beliefs and just be more open and authentic.

Let’s face it, it feels good to know what you’re doing. It’s comfortable, a lot less stressful. We all want to be the one who knows. But if we decide we “know” and “are right” and fixated on our own beliefs, we are not open to other possibilities anymore. We get disappointed because we expected one thing and get something entirely different. Instead of thinking, “Wow, isn’t that an interesting or amazing experience”, we think “oh, that not what I thought it would be like.” And that is such a shame. When our minds are instantly made up on the basis of ‘just knowing,’ either because of age or ‘expertise’ it narrows our vision and obscures our ability to see the whole picture, when in turn limits our ability to act or make appropriate decisions.

I got told recently that it’s not cool to say you ‘don’t know,’ especially in a professional workplace. I beg to differ. Didn’t someone once say that a wise person knows that he or she does not know?

We should be emotionally flexible enough to welcome not knowing. Potential is always at hand if we begin to see life from the not-knowing vantage point. Look around you. Listen to others but also listen to your own inner voice. Trust your intuition. Learn to look with fresh eyes.

It’s okay to admit you don’t know.

Besides, in this life, you can’t be certain of anything anyway.

 

My 5 ‘non-negotiables’ of mental health

My sister and I are self-confessed workaholics. We got our first jobs fresh out of primary school (mine was as a wedding table decorator – how cool’s that?) and we both managed fast-food teams during our teenage years. Even though we’re both in our early twenties, we’ve been working for a decade, in many jobs, most often two jobs at once, whilst studying. Nowadays, for the first time in my life, the brakes have been slammed on my work and educational life…and maybe that’s a good thing. And maybe it’s not. Even when I was studying fulltime and working fulltime, I felt content with my work/life balance. This is because I have established some non-negotiables, which have warded off stress, increased my happiness and boosted my motivation. Here they are:

Exercise

I love exercising. I realise I might be one of the few people who says this…but it’s true. Walking is my ritual and exercise is my religion. I do it every day, seven days a week (unless I’m sick). I don’t always exercise ridiculously hard. Most times, I just plug in some music and get moving. Daily physical activity is so important. Not only does it reduce the odds of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes but it also prevents depression and improves your memory and thinking skills. Whenever I have a problem or am searching for an answer, it usually comes to me whilst I’m exercising, without intentionally seeking it.

Writing

I’m not much of a talker. I often find that my thoughts translate better through the written word, which in return supports my growth and mental health. In fact, the practice of writing is so powerful that it has been proven to improve the psychological and physical health of cancer patients. I am such an avid writer than I have dedicated one whole draw of my wardrobe to journals instead of clothes! I write everything from fiction, poetry, blogs to articles of scholarship. There is much written about the power of journaling. However, I’ve never had the patience and dedication to keep a daily journal. However, I am lucky enough to take advantage of transactional writing by writing letters to a pen pal. Megan, my pen pal, lives in Melbourne. Although, we’ve never met each other, we have been writing to one another since we were ten years old. It’s such a liberating experience to write and share your life with someone else, without fear of judgment. Whatever genre you prefer, writing has undeniable benefits on your mental health, including:

  • It helps manage stress (by pinpointing what’s going on internally, or by allowing you to vent to a blank page)
  • It enhances emotional intelligence (by allowing you to make sense of your emotions)
  • It improves communication skills (including verbal communication)
  • It helps set and achieve goals (by organising your thoughts into words and prioritising them e.g. the lifesaving to-do lists)
  • It assists in problem-solving (just like exercise, new ideas tend to pop up without seeking them)
  • It creates empathy (because writing allows you to see from other people’s points of view)
  • It enhances creativity (we learn to be creative in dealing with pain, difficult relationships and challenging emotions)

writing

Photo: There’s nothing like green tea and a blank page (photo my own)

Change the scenery, travel

Work, at times, can make you feel like you are stuck in a rut. Taking a vacation or just changing scenery, even if it’s just down the road can work wonders. Just one trip away could help change your outlook on life for the better and recharge your mental state. I’m not merely talking about grand internationally voyages (though I have no complaints if someone offered me a free trip). I’m talking about little things like exploring your local national park or visiting an art gallery. Most weekends, I try and do something. Last weekend I was at the Gold Coast, whilst this weekend my girlfriends and I spent a day at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in the bucketing rain. Travel can be a kind of monasticism on the move. On the road, we live more simply, with no more than the possessions we can carry, and surrendering ourselves to chance. I think what gives value to travel is fear – disruption or emancipation from circumstances and all the habits behind which we hide in our daily lives. Here is some of my changing scenery across the last few months:

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Photo: Brisbane at dusk, after a day of shopping and enjoying GOMA & the Queensland State Library (photo my own)

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Photo: Roadtrippin somewhere between Alice Springs and King’s Canyon (photo my own)

Hang with your friends and family

Put your friends and family first. They are the ones who will be there for you when you need it the most. Your friends and family love you for you; not for your job title, or your reputation, or your adversities or triumphs. These trivial factors will soon bleed together. Your friends and family are going to be the ones sitting beside your hospital bed, time after time, not your clients nor your managers. The times I’ve walked straight out of hospital to hand in a resignation letter have been countless. I’ve never regretted these decisions. Each time, I awake from some sort of surgery, my perspective is cleared and I am reminded that no job or opportunity is ever going to replace my friends and family, nor my health.

Notice and appreciate the little things

Appreciating the little things in life means focusing on what is positive and nurturing in our lives. It means practicing gratitude for those everyday things that are easy to take for granted or missed altogether. Adopting this outlook won’t stop negative events from occurring, but it may help prevent exaggerating their importance in our lives. Little gestures and tiny happenings will make your heart swell, lift your mood and make you a better person if you give them a chance. Some of my small pleasures include watching milk disperse in coffee or raindrops trickle down a window pane. Others include receiving a nice email from someone or a really good hug.

Recently, I came across a dandelion that was shining in the morning sunlight. I stopped to appreciate it for a while. The person I was walking with told me it was “just a weed.” I guess when some see a weed, others see a wish.

Either way – I hope I never stop feeling this way.

I hope I will always stop and appreciate the little things.

Romania – the little Paris of the East

I always imagined that for my first time “flying solo,” I would either be gazing wondrously at the colosseum with a triple-flavoured gelato in one hand and an Italian dictionary in the other; or I would be spending all my moolah in Paris, pretending for one blissful moment that my Aussie boganess had miraculously evaporated and I was now a sophisticated Parisienne with new-found wit and a Louis Vuitton handbag. I did none of these things (well, I did see the colosseum eventually) – however, for my first solo trip, I picked up a travel book and told myself I would open a random page and visit the country I landed on – which happened to be Romania, the little Paris of the East.

With a bold capital city and a plethora of quaint medieval towns, Romania is a country of startling contrasts. Its memorising history and culture gives travellers an unexpected mixture of natural and cultural gems, balancing between the worlds of industrialisation and that of a fairy-tale. The deeper you go into the majestic mountains and Transylvania forests, I realised that the country who birthed the vampire mythology, was a far-cry from the dark connotations that the world thought it to be.

Romania is a uniquely beautiful country and it’s a pity that it tends to fall off the travellers’ radar.

Here are some of my highlights:

Climbing almost 2000 stairs to reach Poenari Castle

Even though the castle isn’t really a castle anymore (just ruins) the view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking. The castle ruins once belonged to Vlad, the Impaler, the man who inspired Dracula, not to mention the foundation of the vampire mythology and the thousands of paranormal stories that captivate our world today. Upon reaching the mountain’s peak, you can see everything – the vastness of beautiful Transylvania forests, the winding river where Vlad’s wife jumped to her death to avoid being captured by the Ottomans, roads weaving through bucolic lands, and a giant Romanian flag soaring over the neighbouring mountains. The pictures I took at Poenari Castle do not do the view justice. It’s one of those places you have to see for yourself to realise how beautiful it actually is.760 flag

Partying in a Transylvanian Castle

Every Halloween, the best Halloween party takes place in a Romanian castle. The castle is gothic and gorgeous, decorated with dim-lit candles, artificial fog, blood-red roses and ancient scrolls. The party is hosted by a Dracula impersonator and the costumes are out-of-this-world. The night is full of wonderful entertainment, both traditional and modern and there is complimentary alcohol and a buffet of Romanian cuisine. Not only was the party the best Halloween Party I’ve ever been to, but it’s also the best party I’ve ever been to. Period. Some of the party was video-recorded, check it out below:

Sighisoara (aka the cutest town ever)

Sighisoara, the actual birthplace of Vlad the Impaler is deemed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and rightfully so. Its cobbled streets, secluded squares and pastel coloured houses creates a magical atmosphere. The 14th century clock tower, is a truly symbol of this 700 year old town.

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Sibiu

Sibiu was named the European Capital of Culture and was ranked 8th as Europe’s most idyllic place to live. When I was in Sibiu, I had this euphoric moment of liberty, wondering the streets at night by myself in these large open courtyards with streetlamps that sent a warm orange glow to the sky. The architecture is incredibly cool. Most of the buildings have windows that resemble eyes. A walk along the cobbled streets of the Upper Town might give you the feel that you are being watched. Sibiu is one of those rare beautiful cities where you experience true travel without being too touristy.

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Peleș Castle

Peleș Castle, bordered by the Carpathian Mountains, is often referred to as the most beautiful castle in Europe. It was built by King Carol I of Romania between 1839 and 1914, and it was meant to serve as the monarch’s summer retreat. The cost for this incredible undertaking was quite enormous, since the construction project required approximately $120 million in today’s currency. Nowadays,  Peles Castle is an important museum that houses a vast collection of arms, armor and art pieces. Some of the most notable rooms in the castle are called the Honor Hall, the Imperial Suite, the Arsenal, the Playhouse and the Florentine Room, each housing its own unique treasures. Please note that Peles Castle can only be explored via a tour guide.

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Transfăgărășan

If you happen to rent a car and drive around Romania, one of the most impressive roads to discover is Transfăgărășan, also known as Ceaușescu’s Folly. This section of road travels through the Carpathian mountains with dramatic scenery and an even more dramatic road route. The road stretches for 60 miles from north to south, and it runs through some of the highest peaks in the country.

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Brasov

Brasov is the most visited city in Romania, after Bucharest. And for good reason. It’s really, really pretty! It has a privileged location, fringed by the peaks of the Carpathian Mountains, with lots of hiking trails through the lush green forests surrounding it. The old Town Hall Square is a the heart of the city, but it is far from being a bustling place. Life has a slow pace here. People are relaxed and the terraces serve great food and drinks. Not to be missed is the Black Church, the largest Gothic church in Romania. It burned in the Great Fire at the end of the 17th century. The smoke blacked the walls, giving the church its current name.

Another quirky attraction is the Rope Street (Strada Sforii). Some say it is the narrowest street in Europe. True or not, you can comfortably touch both its sides if you stretch your arms. Not for the claustrophobes, but definitely fun to walk up and down a couple of times for everybody else.

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Bran Castle

Also known as Dracula’s Castle, Bran Castle can be found in Bran, in close proximity to the city of Brasov. This majestic structure is commonly regarded as the home of the famous Dracula character brought to life by Bram Stoker, but its history is much more comprehensive than that. Actually, the first written mentioning of Bran Castle dates all the way back to 1377, when Louis I of Hungary allowed the Saxons of Brasov to build their own stone keep. In 1920, the Bran Castle was an official royal residence and ended up being the favorite retreat of Queen Marie.

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Bucharest & the Palace of Parliament

Romania’s capital Bucharest is not particularly the safest city on Earth, but hey, this big, bursting town is full of interesting quirks. It has the good, the bad, and the ugly of any former European communist capital, but beyond the communism side there is a spectacular yearning for freedom and novelty. This is seen through the architecture of the city, which is a striking mix of eras and styles, with grand boulevards, medieval cobbled streets and more modern pieces, which bring life and colour to the dull grey blocks that Bucharest is known for. One of the most magnificent pieces of architecture within Bucharest is the Palace of Parliament, also known as the Parliament of People. The Palace of Parliament is a construction that cost over $4.1 billion and currently holds the record for most expensive administrative building.

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Happy Halloween folks!

 

All images my own, except:

Peles Castle by TiberiuSahlean used under CC-BY-SA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

Brans Castle by Clay Gilliland used under CC-BY-SA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

Transfăgărășan by Anthony Stanley used under CC-BY_SA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

DBR proposal, feedback please

DBR proposal, feedback please

Hi all,

So I’ve been slowly piecing together my DBR proposal on a digital literacy intervention. This is what I’ve got so far. Could you please let me know if it seems logical? Feasible? Have I missed any considerations? Thanks! Nikki

Statement of problem

I decided to use the following questions on the main NGL blog to flesh out my ideas.

  • What is the problem/challenge/focus?

Many students and teaching staff do not have basic digital literacy skills, ultimately contributing to digital exclusion. More particularly, the low levels of digital literacy of students stems from a teacher’s competence in the area.

  • Why is it a problem?

Because digital exclusion results in unequal opportunities, social segregation and the deepening of the digital divide (Wilson and Grant, 2017).

  • Who says it is a problem?

This problem has been identified as a solvable challenge by the NMC Horizon Report, meaning that there are potential resolutions (Adam et al. 2017). I also have some statistics that confirm it is a problem

  • What has been done so far to deal with this?

People have established digital literacy frameworks, professional development opportunities, library tutorials, and student and staff partnerships

  • Who tried and what were their results?

Sharp & Beetham (2010) originally proposed the Seven Elements Model of Digital Literacies framework, which encompasses media literacy; communications and collaboration; career and identity management; ICT literacy; learning skills; digital scholarship; and information literacy. This model evolved into JISC’s (2014) Digital Capability Framework, comprising of ICT proficiency; information data and media literacies; digital creation, problem solving and innovation; digital communication, collaboration and participation; digital learning and development; and digital identity and wellbeing.

Research questions

  • How can NGL support digital literacy improvement?
  • How can librarians support academic staff in building their digital literacy skills?

Literature Review

I’ve decided to split my literature review into two main categories. Firstly, I’m going to talk about the challenges of digital literacy adoption in higher education. This will explore the problem in more detail. Then I’m going discuss the potential solutions to digital literacy adoption in higher education. My three potential solutions include:

  • Inclusivity (embedding digital literacy within the curriculum)
  • Personalisation (benefits of personalised learning, connectivism and the toolbelt theory)
  • Collaboration (where I discuss PLNs and PKM)

Intervention

My two suggestions for an intervention are stronger partnerships between librarians and faculty, and the creation of a digital hub that connects academics to resources, professional developments opportunities and personalised support.

References

Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Davis, A., Freeman, A., Hall, Giesinger, C., & Ananthanarayanan, V. (2017). NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

JISC. (2014). Developing digital literacies. Retrieved 15 October, 2017, from https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/developing-digital-literacies

Sharpe, R., & Beetham, H. (2010). Understanding students’ uses of technology for learning: towards creative appropriation. In R. Sharpe, H. Beetham & S. De Freitas (Eds.), Rethinking learning for a digital age: How learners are shaping their own experiences (pp. 85-99). London and New York: Routledge.

Wilson, G & Grant, A. (2017). A Digital World for All? Retrieved 10 October, 2017, from https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/carnegieuktrust/wp-content/uploads/sites/64/2017/10/NotWithoutMe.pdf