Apocalypse Now! How I Cope with Everyday Anxiety

Often it's easy to imagine the worst

Often it’s easy to imagine the worst

When I was little I remember being enthralled with an episode of Sesame Street, where Elmo talked about the wonders of having an imagination. At the time I marvelled at the fact you can create all kinds of amazing worlds with your mind alone. But as I’ve aged, I’ve also discovered that having a powerful imagination combined with anxiety means your mind can jump to all kinds of unpleasant fictions.

For example, I have this amazing ability to catastrophise to the extreme in any given situation. It ranges from the absolutely minute – Got somewhere to go today? Better wake up early and set two alarms just incase one doesn’t work. To the moderate – Got to get to the airport? Better leave four hours ahead of time in case there’s an unforeseen accident along the way. To the absurd – Slight turbulence? Better figure out which God to pray to because I am now facing certain death.

Anxiety can be very debilitating

Anxiety can be very debilitating

Unfortunately my proclivity for fanciful worries is not limited to stressful situations like travelling, but is instead an everyday part of life – Going for a short walk? Better put my valuables out of sight in the house in case I get robbed in the next 20 minutes. Or Going to bed? Better check the stovetop to prevent the fire that will inevitably happen while I’m sleeping. And my favourite – Home alone on a sunny day? Better lock the doors incase a murderer comes to visit. Sometimes having a catastrophising mind can be exhausting.

Anxiety

There are normal worries, and then there is full blown anxiety – if you’re not sure what you’re experiencing, it’s best to go and talk to a mental health professional

Living with worry can be pretty tricky, and becomes exaggerated when things get hectic, morphing from simple stress to full blown anxiety. Anxiety is a real condition that is more than just normal worries and stresses – it’s something that stays with you and is often triggered by ongoing pressures. Unfortunately doing a PhD involves a constant and very low burning level of stress, which tends to exacerbate my anxious tendencies. If you’re like me and suffer the occasional panic attack, you’ll know that having strategies for calming yourself is super important. Given that I’m in the third year of my PhD, and (according to everyone I speak to) am now “in the final stretch”, I’ve had to come up with some coping strategies to get me through the everyday. So, here are my top five tips for keeping calm, and carrying on:

It's simple, but eating well can keep you calm

1. Eat well, exercise and breath
This one is pretty fundamental, and something I struggle with sometimes when things get sticky. If you have a tricky relationship with food, sometimes anxiety can result in things like binge eating junk food, or not eating much at all. Both things can really tip anxiety over the edge, so it’s super important to try and get yourself into healthy eating habits (and get help with this if you need it). I absolutely don’t mean diets (or calorie counters – the guaranteed way to develop an obsession with food), it just means making sure you have lots of fruit, vegies and protein every day. Nutritional deficits can put your body way out of whack and can seriously affect your mood on a very real bodily level. Exercising is also notoriously helpful for staying grounded, and when I’m feeling really overwhelmed a bike ride or a walk helps so much. I am the opposite of sporty, so I have to force myself to get regular exercise, but just making sure that I walk to and from uni for instance, can really help. My mum also always texts me “remember to breath”. And she’s right – taking a few deep breaths when you’re feeling overwhelmed can really help.

FRIEND-HUG2. Surround yourself with supportive people 
My tendency when I get very anxious is to be extremely socially avoidant, which can be quite debilitating. Sometimes it’s good to make sure that you schedule regular catch ups with someone you can rely on, and that way you know you’ll have at least one person you’ll have to chat to during the week, who can keep an eye on you if things get tricky. For example, I see my grandma once a week and she keeps an eye on me, always making sure I’m well fed and have all the things I need. It’s also really good to have someone you know you can rely on – that will believe you when you saying you are having a hard time, and will help you get the assistance you need.

little-boy-at-movie-theater3. Have mental health and Hannah days
My mum was always very insistent when I was a child that I should have “mental health days” when stressed. Sometimes I’d have massive fights with her about it because I felt so guilty about missing school, but she was always right – sometimes I just needed a rest. Another great initiative by my mum was the “Hannah day” experience, which was pretty much the same as a mental heath day, but with more pizazz. Once a year or so, I would get to skip a day of school and go to the movies and buy a bookmark. It was a simple treat, but it made me so happy. My mum’s theory was that it was empowering. I still do Hannah days sometimes, go to the movies and buy a bookmark. It’s a great way to relax, and by naming the day it feels like it has more meaning and legitimacy (by all means, I encourage you to take a Hannah day too!).

Sad Pug Puppy4. Try not to worry about being worried 
This is a tough one, but key. Worrying about worry is one of the main things that keeps you in a destructive cycle – so being able to name and then acknowledge that you have worries and that that’s okay is important. If you’re struggling, one thing that can help is either keeping a list of worries and designating a time to worry about them, or dedicating a whole day to worrying. On a worry day, when a worry comes up you can just say “it’s okay, it’s a worry day!” It is surprisingly helpful.

black-woman-watching-television5. Remember it’s okay to relax
I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like to nap, because I get stressed that I’m losing time where I could be productive. Basically, I have trouble relaxing. And the thing is, if you’re trying to be constantly active, sometimes you can actually be less productive because you burn out more quickly. Giving yourself permission to do nothing at all can be very helpful. Reading magazines, watching crappy TV, lying down or taking a bath, can all be great for keeping calm. While you might be able to “legitimise” watching trashy TV because you can critique it academically, it’s also important to remember that it’s okay to enjoy watching trashy TV! You don’t always have to have your brain on.

It's okay to ask for help

It’s okay to ask for help

I’m certainly not a mental health professional, and the ideas listed are just things that help keep me on track generally. But it’s also really important to seek professional help when you’re finding it difficult to cope. Ironically, I always worry that I’m not truly anxious enough to see a counsellor or psychologist. But really, if you’re wondering whether you should go and talk to someone, you probably should. They’ll certainly tell you how you’re tracking. If you’re in Australia you can visit your GP and get them to do a mental health care plan, which means you can access visits to a psychologist via Medicare (which makes it much more affordable, or if you find someone who bulk-bills = free!). Plus if you’re under 25 you can access Headspace, which doesn’t cost anything.

Mental health is real - and should be taken as seriously any other aspect of health

Mental health is real – and should be taken as seriously any other aspect of health

You can also access the Beyond Blue website, which has lots of helpful resources. Or if you are in Australia, in times of crisis you can call Lifeline on 131114. I once called them up because I had lunch with a friend who was having suicidal thoughts. I got help for my friend and made sure they were okay, but was feeling very distressed afterwards. I called Lifeline and they talked me through things, which made me feel much calmer.

Mental health is a difficult thing, because not everyone you will encounter in life will take it seriously. It can be really hard if you have a colleague or a friend who doesn’t “believe” in mental health issues. The most important thing is that you take your own mental health seriously – and when things are feeling off, remember that it is totally legitimate to seek help.

If you have any coping strategies that you would suggest, feel free to share them in the comments below! 🙂

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The Creative Process (with cats)

Before I mired my self in the land that is PhD, I used to be active in the theatre scene, directing and acting. This is a little comic that I drew for the writer of a short play I directed in 2012, about the creative process. It might not have much to do with gender, but I do have it stuck up at my desk at uni to remind me of good times with friends. It keeps me going during the rough troughs of writing my thesis, so I thought I’d share 🙂

cartoon

Soundtrack for Hard Time PhD Blues

Doris will sing your blues away

Doris will sing your blues away

It is fair to say that I have reached the infamous “Valley of Shit” stage that people say comes at some point during a PhD. I decided a little while ago to drop a big section of my thesis that I had planned, as it just didn’t fit. That was a hard decision, not least because it was the bit that involved talking about Doris Day, who I am completely in love with.

Of course dropping this section has made me focus on the other chapters, which seem somewhat threadbare now that they’ve got to be the bulk of the work. And while my thesis is interdisciplinary in its approach (marrying elements of feminist, queer, affect and social theory, in an overall framework of cultural studies) sometimes that can just leave you feeling like you’re doing a crappy job of all the disciplines. haters-gonna-hateMuch like that Britney Spears song, my thesis is “Not philosophy, not yet anything substantial…” All this feeling bad reminds me of this lovely encounter I had with a pair of ass-hats from high school that I ran into when I had first quit my high-level public service job to do a PhD. Sipping cocktails in their work suits they asked me what I was doing with my life, and when I told them, they said “Oh…everyone I know that has done a PhD has ended up on antidepressants”. I left the conversation there.

Are you feeling equally bummed out with your study/work/life? Here’s a playlist of songs to try and get you through the hard times, a few go-to songs that are always playing in the background as I write.

Playlist in full:

1. Don’t It Get You DownDeadstar
From a time when it seemed like there were a lot more lady-fronted alt rock bands.

“Well don’t it get you down…It’s like the heat that burns you /  The knife that cut you / The heart that broke you / Just like the first time”

2. Where Is My MindPixies
This one just really sums it up sometimes.

“Your head will collapse / If there’s nothing in it / And you’ll ask yourself / Where is my mind”

3. The Golden PathThe Chemical Brothers
One of my favourite all time songs. I used this as a text in my year 12 exams back in the day. I think I analysed it as a “journey”.
“And I gained control of myself / And I decided to press on / And as I walked along the supposed golden path / I was trembling with fear all the lions and wizards yet to come”

4. HyperballadBjork
Bjork was the first person I saw live. When I was eight years old, my mum said to me, “it’s time you saw a concert”. And it was great. This song haunts me in difficult times.
“Every morning I walk towards the edge / And throw little things off / Like car-parts, bottles and cutlery / Or whatever I find lying around”

5. Suspended in GaffaKate Bush 
When I discovered Kate Bush for myself a few years ago, life changed. I think I was reading Wuthering Heights and then found the song. That was a good day.
“Suddenly my feet are feet of mud / It all goes slo-mo / I don’t know why I’m crying / Am I suspended in Gaffa?”

6. Adore YouMiley Cyrus
Given my first name, I have often been jokingly called “Hannah Montana”. But it’s only recently that Miley has really come into my life. I am pretty obsessed with her to be honest.
“Wondering where you’ve been all my life / I just started living”

7. Buffy Theme Song
Look, if you’ve never watched Buffy, PUT EVERYTHING DOWN AND GO AND START RIGHT NOW. People have been telling me for years to watch it, and I only started in June this year. It is literally the greatest thing of all time. ALL TIME. TRUST ME ON THIS ONE.

8. Party in the U.S.A. Miley Cyrus
Another Miley song, in here because it is such a great pop song. Guaranteed to make you feel a bit better about feeling out of place.
“Too much pressure and I’m nervous / That’s when the D.J. dropped my favorite tune / And a Britney song was on”

9. I Make Hamburgers The Whitlams 
I may be vegetarian, but that doesn’t mean I don’t dream of making hamburgers to get all the girls.
“My fourth customer was Sandy / She came in for nothing I could see except me / So it was I too, was eating a hamburger of sorts within an hour”

10. This Charming ManThe Smiths
My mum gave me the Smiths Singles CD for my fifteenth birthday, after I said that I really liked the intro song from Charmed. In this video, Top of the Pops insisted that they play a pre-recorded track. So Morrissey came on with gladioli instead of a microphone. Classic.
“I would go out tonight / But I haven’t got a stitch to wear”

11. UndergroundBen Folds Five
BFF were arguably one of my favourite bands as a small child, and this song in particular. I remember sitting in our old Toyota Corolla, listening to it on Triple J as a kid. Still relevant.
“I was never cool in school / I’m sure you don’t remember me / And now it’s been 10 years / I’m still wondering who to be”

12. Hair Lady Gaga
I saw Lady Gaga when she was on tour in Australia last year. Dressed as a unicorn in the monster pit, I feel in love with her. Before that I really liked her as an icon, but after the concert I couldn’t listen to any other music for about three solid months – she has some pretty serious pop voodoo going on. I like this song as it reminds me of a key part of my research. Hair is such an important aspect of identity for people, which is really interesting.
“And in the morning / I’m short of my identity / I scream Mom and Dad / Why can’t I be who I wanna be?”

13. PerfumeBritney Spears
I was tempted to post an oldie from our good lady Britney, but I really like this new song of hers. I also take a queer reading – obvs she wants her lover’s girlfriend to smell her perfume because that’s really who she desires. Remember Sedgwick’s discussion of the Ménage à trois? Yeah, it’s like that.
“I’ll never tell / Tell on myself / But I hope she smells my perfume”

14. You are the Music in MeHigh School Musical 2
If this isn’t the best cheesiest heartwarming song ever, then I don’t know what is.
Also, Zac Efron.
“When I hear my favorite song / I know that we belong / Oh, you are the music in me”

15. Secret LoveDoris Day
I used to skip school sometimes as a kid just to watch Doris Day movies that were on during daytime television (this was before the internet you guys). Well, my love’s not so secret – Doris Day 4EVA xox
“Now I shout it from the highest hills / Even told the golden daffodils / At last my heart’s an open door / And my secret love’s no secret anymore”

I hope you enjoyed this mix tape. What songs get you through the hard times?

Judith Butler Explained with Cats

Following hot on the heels of Foucault Explained with Hipsters, here’s JB’s Gender Trouble  explained in Socratic dialogue style. With cats.

B1

B2

 

All page references from Butler, J. (1990 [2008: 1999]). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York; London: Routledge.

Got any more ideas for philosophy/sociology/gender theory you’d like to see explained in comic form? Let me know in the comments below.

Foucault Explained with Hipsters

A comic I made for a second year gender studies course I tutored for in 2012, to help students understand some of the themes from Foucault’s The History of Sexuality Vol.1:f1

f2All page references from Foucault, M. (1976 [2008; trans 1978]), The History of Sexuality: Volume 1., R. Hurley, [trans], Victoria: Penguin Group

Stay tuned for Judith Butler explained with cats!

 

Cultural Citizenship, Identity Politics and Spaces of Belonging

Music brings people together...and I'm not just talking music festivals

Music brings people together…and I’m not just talking music festivals

A few weeks ago I came across this article on “cultural citizenship” as discussed by a recent panel at Harvard University. What fascinated me was the focus on conceptualising citizenship as not simply related to national identity or civic activity, but to the artistic creation of spaces of belonging with others. More specifically, this article considers how shared creative activities can engender inclusion that isn’t simply about enveloping the other in a predefined space, but is in fact about creating a new space with the other. As panellist Colin Jacobson is quoted as saying, “In order to play with someone else, you have to have a shared common ground on which to stand”.

Notably it seems that cultural citizenship is also explicitly connected with ideas about minority expression, and as this article also discusses, the importance of being able to perform significant traditional forms of music in new contexts. However, the broader theme of creativity as key to emergent spaces of belonging that does not take identity, simple “pluralism”, or assimilation as centralising concepts par excellence for notions of belonging,  I think has relevance to potentially imagining new possibilities of gender and sexuality beyond binaries like man/woman and gay/straight outside of the problematics of identity politics.

painting%20as%20universal%20language

Perhaps we could see painting together as creating a space of belonging too

To test this idea, I racked my brain – could I think of an example where artistic expression is being used to develop such as space related to gender and sexuality? Then I realised, the queer choir I was part of last year does in many ways function as a model of artistic inclusivity in the Canberra community. Though the Qwire (as it is known) is also sometimes called the “Canberra Gay and Lesbian Choir” this is perhaps due more to its sexuality-politics historical roots in the 90s, than its current member base. Qwire was one of the first places where I felt very welcomed in the queer community “despite” identifying as pan/bisexual. There were of course a few people who I felt maybe weren’t so keen to chat to me once they heard I had a boyfriend. But aside from the individual-to-individual differences of orientation and opinion, the point is that as a whole Qwire is a place for singing together and thus creating a space for (literally!) expressing oneself in harmony with others. In choir I was more than just a funny sounding alto line – I was part of beautiful and complex chords.

The possibilities of artistic expression are endless...

The possibilities of artistic expression are endless…

This year I’m meant to be focusing more on study (blogging counts right? *cough*) so I’m taking a break from Qwire and enjoying being on the receiving end of many of their public performances. But when I think about my time there, the more it strikes me as a great thing to have been a part of. Often the Qwire performs at events where there might be a lot of problematic identity politics stuff going down – where questions might be being raised about only a narrow proportion of the queer community being represented, etc – but then Qwire will step up and sing, and for a moment at least those political tensions are put aside. Because Qwire is a veritable alphabet soup, and there’s a lot more joy and playfulness than there is policing of identity boundaries. And it seems to me that even if you’re just listening, you’re part of a new shared space.