Tis’ the Season to be Anxious

Christmas. A time of joy, a time of happiness, a time of anxiety. If you’re one of those people that love the Christmas season, you’ve probably never worked in retail. Or had three separate Christmas events to attend on Christmas day. It’s the time of year to overeat, overspend and overcompensate. Once a religious day celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas has now become a consumerism’s dream.

Still struggling to understand how Christmas could be anything apart from enjoyable? I’ll give you a little run down of how I spent my Christmas this year…

Christmas Eve was at my Dad’s house. After working eight hours serving the lovely, festive people that Christmas brings to shopping centres (yes that would be sarcasm you hear) I came home to my house full of family, awkwardly trying to help in our overcrowded kitchen. A few games of monopoly, a two-course meal, and two hours of carols later the Christmas Eve festivities were over – we all needed our rest for Christmas day of course. It all started again at 730am with the annual present giving, my little cousin waking up at 6am to see what Santa brought. With wrapping paper spread across the floor, hugs and kisses are shared, photos are taken and the word ‘receipt’ is whispered as I looked at my hot pink rose twin set. Really? After breakfast is finished – the first of many meals, it is time for lunch with my Mum’s side followed by dinner/dessert with my boyfriend’s parents.

Don’t get me wrong I love spending time with my family, and I love the fundamentals of Christmas; who could not love a day of food, presents and alcohol? But as you get older the holiday season is more stressful than a regular old workday. My brother definitely had the right idea this year, getting his drink spiked the night before and sleeping for the whole of Christmas. Smart kid.

Half my pessimistic view of Christmas can probably be put down to working in retail. Whilst everyone else is on holiday break, I’m working the most hours I’ve worked all year. Then comes the after Christmas sales where the words what the f**k run through my head at last 40 times a day. I swear they call it the silly season because people lose half their brain, bank account and apparently their manners over the two-week period of Christmas and New Years.

Working in retail truly opens your eyes to the money hungry beast that is Christmas. The food and presents is all well and good, but the core of Christmas is undoubtedly consumerism. Wondering through the shopping centre a few days before Christmas, I saw hundreds of red faced people with shopping bags up to their elbows barking over the phone and rolling their eyes at the next innocent shopping assistant that tells them ‘Sorry we are sold out of that size.” I looked at them and thought Wow that was me when I had been Christmas shopping a few days earlier. There is none of the ‘Christmas joy’ people speak about. Just a whole lot of soon-to-be broke people with Michael Buble’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas playing in the background.

I have been known to go a little OTT with Christmas. I spend weeks planning the perfect gift, then finding the perfect gift, and then panicking the next day because it is no longer perfect so I must buy something else, and something to go with it because what if my boyfriend spends more on me? Should he spend more on me because he earns more? I’ll just buy him one more thing… $700 later and I’m too scared to look at my bank account… ever again.

I can’t help but wonder if we have lost the true meaning of Christmas. I’d be willing to bet my next pay cheque (don’t get too excited, it wouldn’t be much considering I am writing this from my holiday house) that most kids would have no clue that Christmas has anything to do with the birth of Jesus. I watched my little cousin rip through dozens of presents on Christmas, each entertaining him for a whole four minutes before moving on to the next. But if you asked him the meaning of Christmas I’m sure his answer would have been “Jesus who?” As I am not a hugely religious person myself, I won’t even begin to enter the religious side of Christmas that has been completely forgotten, but what Christmas seems to have been with in more modern times; family, joy, time of giving, time of thankfulness and all that other happy stuff.

Christmas seems to have become such a lavish affair with each year having to top the next. In a time that seems far far away today, my Nan speaks of getting one present at Christmas – often handmade, often a hand-me-down. Working in retail store that caters for kids I see parents piling up the toys and clothes for “their little angels” who are bashing each other in the corner of the store or screaming “BUT MUMMY I WANT THIS ONE TOO.” Now I know my mum will say this is rich coming from me, someone who has a colour coded Christmas/Birthday list (as my birthday is a few days after Christmas) but this year was the first year where I realised the presents, the money spent – it doesn’t matter. And it’s not worth it.

My thoughts are Christmas needs to come back to basics. I mean what is the point entering a new year broke, stressed and three kilos heavier? I am all for splurging on the ones you love, but there is a lot to be said for meaningful gifts, and a humble day.

Next year I want to avoid the curse of Christmas consumerism. I want to find the joy of Christmas I felt when I was six years old. I don’t want to anxiously await the day, ticking of the presents I’ve bought and calculating how I can buy one more gift and still buy food next week.

Anyone with me? Or am I officially the Grinch?

Being The New Girl

Recently I haven’t had time to blog (apologies to all 10 of my followers who noticed) as I have just started a new job.

After two years working at Lorna Jane I decided to make a change. Not a big change. I am still working in retail but needed a change of scenery – figuratively and literally; the fluorescent colours were starting to give me a headache.

On my first day at my new job I arrived early, sporting an outfit that had taken me only an hour to put together. My hair was straight and my nails freshly painted. With 2+ years experience in retail, I was quietly confident I knew what I was doing. How different could one store be to another? I realised quickly that the two years passed since my first day at Lorna had faded the memory of what it is like to be “the newbie.”

A person new to a game, concept, or forum. Not to be confused with n00b, a stupid person. Newbies are just new.

Forget about confidence. Forget about experience. No one wants to be the newbie, or in my case “the new girl.” Essentially you’re entering a preexisting dynamic and you’re the outsider. No matter how put together your outfit, people will still make superficial judgements before they get to know you. I know I’m guilty of it. You won’t know how to clip the pants the right way, or the hierarchy of who has lunch first. You’ll begin to miss your old work team who knew you and could see when you needed a hug or just a chocolate brownie.

Starting a new job brings with it a lot of things; hopefully more money, new skills and a new experience. But it also brings with it new insecurities. Do they like me? Am I talking too much? Am I talking not enough? Do they think I’m too young? Too blonde? Why does no one else bring their lunch to work?  Really wishing I didn’t bring my hot pink Lorna Jane lunch cooler…

It’s human nature to want people to like you. It may be vain, but I want my co workers to like me. But thinking back to my first weeks at Lorna Jane, I know it takes time. For me it takes me a while to warm up to someone, and I have a feeling I’m the type of person you have to warm up to. Fast friends hasn’t happened for me since 2011. Partly because on meeting someone I instantly think they hate me. But you couldn’t tell that from this article, right?

After another shift fretting if my manager hates me because I hung a shirt back to front, I asked myself why do I care so much? Why am I so concerned with people’s opinions of me when I barely know them myself? Is it normal to seek approval from strangers or is it a recent phenomenon; a product of our generation of ‘Like’ validation? Take posting a photo to Instagram, if it gets 50+ likes I know it’s a good photo. People have taken the time to tap their finger not once, but twice. Or even a few times to write a comment. But in real life there is no instant validation, no instant approval, it is all a mess of mixed messages which are harder to decipher.

So for now, I have had to accept being the new girl. My last manager once told me, “We sell clothing, we’re not surgeons saving lives.” Whilst it was one of the only logical sentences that she put together in my brief encounter with her, it has stuck with me. It is something that I had to remind myself a few times last night whilst replaying all my encounters with my co workers, or rather sitting in bed pulling petals of a flower playing they love me, they love me not.

I have to remind myself that retail is a stepping stone for me. It’s not my career. Another six months and I’ll be finished uni and hopefully entering full time work for the first time. I’m thankful for what working in retail has taught me; customer service, patience, how to fit a sports bra to a brand new set of boobs… It has also given me the utmost respect for people who work full time in retail – I don’t know how you do it. But more importantly I have to remind myself that the people that you can’t please everyone. There will be people who don’t like me for whatever reason and that is life. And even if my new found (soon to be) friends do not immediately fall inlove with me, I already have amazing friends.

The only instant validation I need is via Instagram. Joking. Kind of.

Boys don’t cry. They commit suicide

Last week I learnt of another tragic teen suicide. Jayden Arnold committed suicide in the early hours of Sunday, the 9th of November. No one saw his suicide coming; Jayden was attractive, he was a leader, he was a “normal” guy. Yet he suffered so deeply he felt he had no other option but to take his own life.

Six months prior to the suicide Jayden’s school counsellor disclosed to his family that he was struggling with anxiety. He saw a psychologist and his family thought his anxiety was being handled. Unfortunately, the scope of Jayden’s suffering was deeper than his friends and family could have ever known.

Suicide is the leading cause in men aged 15-44. Men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. It is a silent killer. Silent because no one is talking about it.

It blows my mind that we live in one of the most developed countries, where opportunities are endless and quality of life is high, yet suicide rates continue to grow. Australia places 49 out of 110 in the list of countries with the highest suicide rates. Coming before countries that live in poverty, that live in war. So why are as many as five teens attempting suicide everyday? And why are three out of those five male?

Mental illness is actually higher in women; one in five men experience anxiety and one in eight will have depression, whereas for women one in six experience depression and anxiety affects one in three. But only 27% of men seek help, compared to 40% of women. Jack Heath, SANE Australia chief executive offer says this is because “there are notions of masculinity and what it means to be a man that prevent them from getting help.”

“There’s a belief that the very idea of being a man is that you deal with stuff and you don’t reach out or connect. Untreated, the problem snowballs. The combination of that and the notion of having to deal with it alone, is the reason behind high suicide rates”, Jack says.

Being depressed or suffering from anxiety does not make you less “manly” or “weak”, it just makes you human. It means you have true feelings, true feelings that we all feel; just some cope with better than others.

Like that of cancer, depression is a disease. Whilst it may not have any physical markers, it’s there and it’s life threatening. My heart aches for those that suffer in silence due to the stigma society has created about mental illness. If we want to prevent further deaths of our teens who haven’t even experienced life yet, it is our responsibility as a nation to break down the stereotypes and create a public discussion where everyone feels free to contribute.

Recently Natasha Mitchell, presenter of RN’s Life Matters and an ambassador for the ABC’s mental health initiative, Mental As, questioned if we have lost the language to talk about despair. And we have. But we have the power to claim it back. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to future generations, and we owe it to the families of those who have committed suicide. We need to find a way to speak about the unmentionable.

Depression is to suicide as obesity is to diabetes, and it is killing our children. At the very least, can we please start talking about it?

As we learn about a balanced diet and safe sex in school, it is time to learn about mental illness. Knowledge is power; and hopefully the knowledge of mental health will have the power to stop tragic deaths in the future, like that of Jayden Arnold.

RIP Jayden Arnold 

I’m Depressed… Now What?

Driving home on Monday afternoon after a beautiful day at the beach with my boyfriend I was reminded that two years ago my life wasn’t so easy. The words mental health, depression and anxiety resonated through my radio. I stopped mindlessly changing radio stations and starting listening… Really listening.

“1 in 2 people will suffer a mental health illness”

“Young people have the highest right of mental health programs”

“It was after a year that I actually realized I have depression”

 This was the beginning of the mental health segment on Triple J’s hack program with Tom Tilley. From Sunday the 5th to Sunday the 12th Triple J and ABC are going ‘Mental As’, focusing on our nation’s mental health in support of Mental Health Week. Mental Health Week coincides with World Mental Health Day that is held on the 10th of October and aims to promote social and emotional well being to the community.

Unbeknownst to most of my family and friends I suffered from depression two years ago and still suffer from anxiety from time to time today. Depression and anxiety came into my life in one joyful little bundle. Looking back the change from school to university was the trigger to both of my mental health problems. The graduation of school brings with it significant pressure for any student; not because of the HSC but because of the question, “So what do you want to do now?” For me it was this question that sent my life into a downward spiral. I was desperate to be successful at university but I couldn’t picture how I was going to make that happen. In my mind I saw it best to quit whilst I was ahead, to not attend class or let anyone know what I was going through. For a smart girl I was making some dumb choices. But that’s the funny thing about anxiety; it doesn’t give you any choices. It renders you powerless and takes control of your life.

I remember driving to class and as I got closer I would be hit with an undeniable sense of panic; a feeling that I had to escape and I had to do it NOW. At the time depression and anxiety were foreign terms to me. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone how I was feeling or even admit to myself the severity. I tried to blame my depression on anything I could deem ‘normal’ – hormones, lack of sleep from binge watching episodes of “House”, a new relationship… These were all contributing factors just not the causation. It wasn’t until I became crippled from even attending class and would rather sit at my computer for hours crying than write a simple essay that I realised that there was something else going on and decided to seek help.

I don’t remember mental health week or an R U OK? Day two years ago. They definitely existed but only recently has the stigmatisation of mental illness been reformed to allow a healthy public discussion within the community. If I had heard that 6% of Australian’s would be diagnosed with depression this year and 15% with anxiety I may have come forth earlier with my issues. As a community we have an obligation to work together to break the stigma and transform perception to recognise mental illness not as a weakness, but as a life-threatening disease. Individuals particularly youth should not suffer in silence as I did. Depression is not a cry for sympathy; most of the time people are too ashamed to even cry for help, rather crying into their pillow at night pondering the questions of life. But no one should feel ashamed by his or her sadness. After all mental illness is an uncontrollable and unavoidable force.

As a nation we are beginning to take steps in the right direction towards awareness of mental illness. This week ABC’s mini series “Changing Minds” has premiered in coordination with mental health week. The show provides a radical insight into the truly confronting lives of patients suffering from mental illness within an Australian mental health unit. The show has been described as a zeitgeist for mental health awareness and understanding and it is obvious why. In one of the opening scenes Dr. Mark Cross says, “Mental illness is one of the very few illnesses in the world that doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can become mentally ill”. The show follows three very different patients, all of different age and different types of mental illness. It personifies the perception of people suffering from mental illness and shows the personal ambition to achieve a state of emotional well being not normally associated with people of mental illness.

Celebrity influence has been at the forefront of mental health awareness. In the tragic deaths of Robin Williams and Charlotte Dawson the serious consequences of mental illness were given a much-needed spotlight and dominated social media. There has also been a recent wave of celebrities coming forth in the media to talk publicly about their experiences with mental health issues, think Demi Lovato and eating disorders or Catherine Zeta Jones and her bipolar disorder. Through utilising media platforms such as radio, television, magazines and social media mental health issues are becoming less taboo and more talk-able.

Luckily for me I have amazing family and friends (and therapist) who helped me through my period of darkness. In my experience it only takes telling that one person, for me it was my Dad, to seek help from another but also to help yourself. Just having that first conversation is taking a step towards recovery. With Mental Health Week upon us it is so important to continue to spread awareness and educate ourselves so that conversation CAN be had as a nation. Even if mental illness does not affect you on a personal level, it will affect someone you know and love at some point in your life. Help break the stigma, show your support as a nation and if you need to know more watch Changing Minds, visit http://www.abc.net.au/mentalas/ and read yourself into acceptance.