Saturday, August 29, 2015

That whole maddening refugee thing

A few months ago I went to a meditation gathering. It was a shame that it was advertised as a mindfulness meditation gathering when it was more of a shameless attempt to sell the organizer's own brand of transcendental meditation ,and that at a price that was in my opinion outrageous. But we all have to make a living and who am I to judge? Wait! I just did and yes, it's born out of a tiny jealousy seed that makes me ask why I have to be stuck in the corporate world making a living while this guy has created a whole business around a brand that is him teaching meditation out of the box. I obviously have a lot to learn.

Anyway, at this gathering a woman in her 30s of Vietnamese decent spoke about the struggle her family had gone through fleeing Vietnam in 1976. They had, unlike most Vietnamese refugees, taken the route by land through a Cambodia that was under Khmer Rouge control. They walked through the jungle to end up in a refugee camp in Thailand. Eventually they made their way to Australia as refugees where her parents had worked several jobs to keep the family afloat and while their children worked very hard at succeeding in this new world. It was a sobering story to listen to.

I came across an Australian documentary a few weeks ago on, I think, Netflix. It's called Once upon a time in Cabramatta. It tells the story of Vietnamese refugees landing in Australia at the same time as this woman's family and most of these people had arrived by boat, and a lot of these refugees ended up in Cabramatta because it was a very cheap suburb back then. There was virtually no support for these families when they arrived. Australia had set aside the white Australia policy (taking only refugees from countries with white population basically so they would fit in better) to accommodate the Vietnamese refugees specifically. Wile they were welcomed into the country there was no support structure in place for them at all and a lot of Aussies weren't happy about it.

Cabramatta in the 90s after I had just arrived in Australia was famous for one thing: gangs. If I had been given a map of where to go in Sydney it would have had a big fat red cross over Cabramatta; it was a definite no-go-zone. I actually never wondered about the mechanics of why this suburb was so bad but when I watched that documentary it became clear. The Vietnamese families that settled there were poor and the parents worked several jobs to support themselves. The kids were raised by siblings and had very little parental support. One young man who was interviewed was one of those kids. He spoke no Vietnamese and his father still doesn't speak proper English so to this day they can't actually have a conversation without his older sister acting as an interpreter. (And before you think it, that the father should have learned English, he probably would have had he not worked three jobs to support the family or had there been a structure in place to help him do so.)

The result of these kids not having parents and a proper family structure to rely on was that they started to hang out in gangs, and it was the other kids in those gangs that looked after them and that they could rely on for support. The gangs made money through stealing and selling drugs. It's not hard to see how it all happened once you start unpacking it all.

I work with people of Vietnamese decent and I can't help looking at them in a totally different way now. These people are mostly the right age to have been either refugees as kids or be first generation Aussie born. All of them would have stories that to some extent would be like the once I touched on but these where the lucky ones; they managed to get educated in engineering and they didn't end up in gangs.

If you know me at all, you know that the whole boat people and refugee thing in Australia (and the world!) drives me crazy. I keep saying that no one gets on a boat that's barely sea worthy to cross an ocean in the vain hope they'll make it and maybe be welcomed in a new country. No one! The ignorance that surrounds the refugee boat people is staggering and the lack of empathy breaks my heart into tiny little pieces.

I'll tell you one reason for why it hits so hard for me. I'm an immigrant. I moved here in all my Caucasian glory and I have never, ever been told to go back home. I was only criticized for not getting my citizenship a few times but when I explained my country of origin didn't allow dual citizenship it was met with understanding. I was never told that I wasn't supposed to be here or I had no right to benefits. Nothing ever happened to me that would have made me feel unwelcome. I was never discriminated against for not being an Aussie. I've been a curious and welcome addition to this sunburned country for decades now and I've been happily enjoying all the benefits that come along with it.

And, there it is my friends, the blatant discrimination that we try to hide. Being white is easier than being any other color variant. It's just how it is. I can scream and rant and rave about it forever it seems, and most of the time I will be told that I'm a leftist boat people hugger because of it. But it's not hard to see how it really works, it really isn't.

Just because I'm white and I came here for love doesn't give me more right to be here than someone a shade darker fleeing from oppression (on a good day) and certain death.


If you have any doubt about how bad the situation in the world today if you're a refugee, just google "Mediterranean refugees" and look at what comes up. Just look at it! We have the means and we have to money to help these people, and in my mind we have the bloody responsibility to do just that or we're just being hardhearted and selfish.

I'm just saying.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

That whole Ashley Madison thing

I find that I'm almost always on the hacker side. The only thing I feel that could possibly change that would be if somewhere I'm using my credit card online would be hacked (heavens forbid, Paypal!) but even then I kind of feel like I may actually think it was my own fault for shopping online.

I don't like sites like Ashley Madison. Actually, I don't like Ashley Madison in particular because it's a site O used and how I busted him trying to cheat on me. I have, you might say, a very sore spot when it comes to Ashley Madison.

It seems that nowadays every dating site happens to have its own tribe of cheaters. How do I know? I've kept my account on OKCupid open. OKCupid is where I met O but I'm not keeping it open for old time's sake. I think it's more of a case of perverse curiosity. The online dating site landscape has changed enormously in the half decade since I shacked up with O and I'm not particularly fond of how it's shaping up to be honest.

I've crafted a difficult and picky profile that makes no bones about what I want. I want long term and I want a great relationship. Bigots, racist and misogynists need not apply. I have specified an age range that's pretty narrow. I'm pretty clear on the fact that I want any men messaging me to be living in Sydney; that whole long distance thing doesn't interest me. Who contacts me?

Men within my age range in the US. They're polite and can hold a written conversation. They're very prone to ignoring my plea for no messages unless they live in Sydney.

20-somethings (some are not even 20!) professing to want to get to know me. I can't even be flattered by it. That whole cougar-cub thing and that whole MILF thing seem so boring to me that I feel like screaming. Plus, they obviously have trouble understanding numbers because they're so not in my age range. I seriously worry about these guys though; do they have issues connecting emotionally to women?

Men too old to be in my age range. These men puzzle me. They have some spunk, I'll give them that, but as some 60-70 year old messages me for "some fun" I wonder what the hell they think would attract me to them. Did I mention that these guys haven't done the work to keep well but who cares when your ego has taken care of that little issue for you? I care, that's who.

Men with no picture of themselves in the profile, the married guys, who just want to have some fun and who get awfully pissy when you tell them that they should go home, talk to their wife, make love to her, and if that fails do her a favor and be honest enough to end the marriage. A lot of anger issues there, it seems to be a touchy issue working on your current relationship.

Never, ever do I get any guys in my specified age range messaging me to meet up. I'm told the guys in that range are particularly bitter about being rejected by the hot chick in high school and now takes vengeance on women by dating younger hotter chicks. Good on 'em. I would date younger guys too if they weren't so immature and lacked life experience leaving them hard to relate to for me. I'm just not looking to adopt, you know.

Seriously though, that whole cheating thing has me a little beat. I don't quite understand why you would cheat on someone you promised the opposite to and why the hell you wouldn't end a relationship if you felt that bored with it, and you couldn't be arsed to put some effort into it to turn it around. I'm thinking that the effort it takes to find someone to get a little extra curricular fun could probably be better put into the relationship you're in. I'm just saying as I generalize. (I did ask O about this but he seemed a little incapable of explaining it to me.)

Back to Ashley Madison. I find it distasteful that a whole business is built on a platform that essentially makes it easier for people to lie and cheat, and that has the potential for being a vehicle for so much hurt. Being cheated on is bloody awful (understatement of the year). I kind of feel that if you're going to play that game you deserve to be exposed or at least you should expect it to be part of it. That whole thinking we have nowadays that you deserve to have it all (no matter the cost to others) is more than a little warped, I'm thinking.

So many articles this week have tried to separate the cheating issue from the issue of people having had their details exposed publicly. What the hackers did was illegal and that somehow makes it worse than the rather nasty business of lying and cheating. These are two separate issues. One is covered by the law. The other is covered by morality and common decency. I'm just saying. Let's not compare apples and oranges because we all know how that ends.

I don't know if it's just more out in the open or if it's just becoming more common, the rise of more open polygamy and polyamorous relationships. I don't care if you want to have 20 partners as long as you're all agree and it works out fair. I've seen enough to know though it's often not and that there appears to often be only one partner pushing for it making it a kind of open cheating that still in a lot of cases hurt partners. Not in all cases but a lot, or some at least. The real kicker for me comes when people try to use polyamory as an excuse to cheat. You've got your wires crossed my friend, they are both lifestyle choices but one is founded on honesty and openness, and the other is founded on lying and being secretive.

More and more I think we're seeing people not being able to connect to others properly, and it seems to be that in some kind of desperate attempt to feel connected they seek out casual affairs. I read the other day that a staggering 50% of young men in a study in the UK couldn't get an erection with a real partner, they had to use porn. Maybe it's a habit to seek your thrills online and the cheating sites are an extension of that. (I just don't buy the boys will be boys argument, don't even open that kind of worms in front of me!)

If anyone feels the need to tell me that we all have a right to do what we want please feel free not to tell me, I know, and I will very quickly remind you that the person getting cheated on has rights too. I also feel that if you have a need to cheat perhaps the first person you need to start thinking about getting to know is yourself, and the first thing you need to figure out is why you really have a need to cheat.

As for the people who got exposed after using Ashley Madison, I find it hard to find it in me to feel sorry for you or to feel that you were really wronged in any way. I don't believe in karma as such but doesn't it just feel a little like it's at work here?

I'm just saying.

Depression

Depression was part of my life for a long time and it was particularly strong in the years 2011 to mid 2014 at which point I found a great therapist and the courage to face it head on.

I have learned that depression wears many masks but the standard physical and psychological symptoms of depression broadly include:a continuous low mood or sadness
  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • feeling tearful
  • feeling irritable
  • intolerant of others
  • having no motivation or interest in participating in life
  • inability to make decisions
  • lack of concentration
  • feeling overly worried or anxious
  • feeling angry or having angry outbursts
  • feeling guilt-ridden
  • trouble remembering things
  • unexplained physical problems like back pain or headaches
  • weight loss or gain
  • loss of sex-drive
  • talking/moving slower than usual


While I would call the above symptoms I call the following traits or causes of depression:
  • lack of self-love
  • little to no self-worth
  • poor self-esteem
  • addiction to things like refined sugar, alcohol or certain drugs (antidepressants are not one of them).
  • feeling disconnected from life, community and other people
  • lack of purpose
  • struggling to care about life around you including plants and animals
  • thinking that you’ll ever find or deserve love

Depression is on the rise in the first world and with one on four now suffering from it at some stage in their lives we shouldn’t ignore it. If one in four is now diagnosed with depression at some stage in their lives there are many more that are not diagnosed while suffering from it, and it seems likely that you may at some stage have been or will be affected by it in some way even if it's through others.

Depression is preventable, it really is, and while I’m not going to go into prevention here and now, the above bullet points give some indication.

I have really struggled with finding meaning in my own depression, especially this year after having made a significant dent in the power it has over me since mid last year. I did what a lot of people do, I began looking past reasons and causes wanting it to have arrived at my soul’s doorstep to infect my mind for some sort of higher purpose; I found none. What I did find though that it was a continuous disregard for my own emotions and feelings, and a very pronounced lack of self love that had left the door wide open for it. I’m not saying it’s my fault I suffer(ed) from depression; I’m saying I wasn’t taught the simple but very important skills needed to prevent it.

I often wondered, especially in the past year, if depression taught me anything, if it had brought me any life enhancing skills. I was already at odds with the whole grateful movement so trying to find even the slightest good in what I had gone through was hard. It was in the process of trying to though that I found in the end that what it had taught me wasn’t unimportant:

Empathy
Empathy is the power to experience what others feel and while I think that there’s a huge difference in how we choose to express our knowing it's a kind of super power. We often express sympathy (“oh, you poor thing”) when encountering someone else’s suffering while feeling empathy affords us the opportunity to be able to crawl right in there with them without being swept away by what they're going through. The power of empathy is the ability to create a safe space in which the suffering person can work through things, and in which we show up bringing a toolkit to help them do just that while supporting them.

Change 

Depression isn’t weakness; it’s a huge signpost that pops up in your path telling you that you need to change. It calls for re-birth, and re-calibration of your mindset, thoughts and your lifestyle. When we’re stuck depression is the spark the calls for creation, movement and change, and this at a time when you’re more than likely is already in the powerful claws of apathy. It’s a last ditch attempt made by your soul to call you into action, to build a life raft and to courageously save yourself (of which seeking help is the most important effort).

Vulnerability

Vulnerability isn’t a negative reflection of our own trauma, grief, shame, guilt or deep sadness. Vulnerability is the seed for life changing authenticity, an opportunity to become real with yourself and to become courageous in the face of your own fear. It’s when you overcome that fear of allowing yourself to be vulnerable that you find an incredible amount of strength and you grow resilient.

Presence 
Depression thrives on past regrets and worries about the future, and it fixates on them. The most obvious and effective way to stop that is to become present. Depression lives in your head and its power ends there. Depression has no dominion outside your head even though it likes to make you think it does with its physical pain manifestations. Grounding yourself in your body can bring immediate relief (and I suspect that’s why exercise is such a powerful healing tool when it comes to depression and anxiety). Practices like mindfulness meditation can bring about the awareness that we aren’t our thoughts or feelings, that beyond them lies something far wiser and calmer, and that at any given moment you can tap into it if you look the past regrets and worries that generally cloud your mind.

I find it hard to say that I have "cured" my depression because more and more it really feels like depression was just a symptom of much deeper wounds that needed to be healed. I know that sounds so quasi psychological or even new age but that's where it's at for me.

To have a chance to keep it at bay and to leave it behind I had to sit and listen to myself, and what I found was a pretty sad and misunderstood person. I had looked for the remedy and salve in all the wrong places, and the solution was in the end painfully obvious: I had to start listening to myself, and I had to start paying attention to myself. I had to dig deep and I had to invite my demons to the table and I had to face them and listen to them. It was only when I did that, when I began to accept them and the messages they had for me, and actively tried to even love them, that I started having some progress with digging myself out of the quagmire i was in. It was only then I realized that the only thing that was going to get me out of it was that superbly annoying notion that I had to begin loving myself, ALL of me.

Am I grateful for having suffered depression? Hell no! I still doubt I will ever get to that point but I have learned that I can work my mind, I can change it and that there's probably no limit to what you can actually achieve in that area. And, I have learned that if there's one thing that protects you pretty much against anything it's loving yourself and ALL of you. It's hard, I know, but it's a fun work in progress!

I'm just saying.