Fear

I have accidentally stolen a bike because of my fear of embarrassment. There are lots of other things we can fear – shame, pain, failure and conflict, to list a few. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we continue to act in fear, instead of facing the problem. This just compounds the problem, like in my bike story.

When I lived in Japan in 2016, I rode my bike everyday to the train station that took me to school. I locked it where all the others were parked and then when I came back later that day, I went to where I thought I left my bike and used my key… which didn’t unlock it!

I knew that there were plenty of other bikes that looked just like mine, but I was stubborn and adamant that this one was mine. Truthfully, I didn’t want to go to each one and try the lock, because I stood out enough in Japan – I didn’t want to cause more attention and embarrass myself. I felt like doing that would look like I was trying to break into the bikes, or something like that. Looking back, I realise that kind of embarrassment is definitely not the worst thing to happen.

A few teenagers came to help me and after a while of wiggling the key, we decided we’ll take the bike to a nearby locksmith. They all helped me carry it and the locksmith cut off the lock and put on a new one with a new key. Huzzah! After thanking everyone and riding to my host home, a month passed and a policeman came knocking.

From what I could understand, (my Japanese wasn’t very good at that point) it was normal for policemen to check if the number on your bike is the same one on its paperwork. When I heard that the number was different, my suspicion was proven to be correct. I stole someone else’s bike. I still feel terrible about it – bikes aren’t cheap, the person who owned it probably needed it to travel and I can only imagine how devastated they’d be. All because I didn’t want to embarrass myself! In fact, trying not to embarrass myself just embarrassed myself more.

At that time I was afraid of looking stupid, which is a common fear that I have. I’ve been thinking lately about what else I am afraid of. It feels like I have become more scared of things than when I was a child. I loved adventure and I had no fear of death while doing dangerous things. I felt invincible. Now I’m scared of the dark again because that’s when I hallucinate the most. I’m scared of monsters under my bed again because it always feels like the alien and monsters are close. My second time in a psychiatric ward in 2019 lasted for nearly 2 months because of my psychosis. Ever since, I’ve been so scared. A lot of that fear is trauma, disability and mental health related.

There are other fears I have, such as trusting myself, leaving the house, socialising, people judging me, being a waste of space, homophobia, letting my disabilities limit me, vulnerability, losing those I love, loneliness and failure. And the list goes on! I asked Cassandra, my partner, what are her fears. Immediately she said mediocrity, another fear that I share with her, and then said isolation, meaninglessness, people and poverty. There are so many different kinds of things you can be afraid of. Everyone’s fears are unique to them, but also many are something you share with others.

Fears are formed to protect ourselves from hurt. There are different kinds of fears – ones that are helpful and others that aren’t. An example Cassandra gave was being afraid of snakes, which is a built in “survival” way of thinking, and isn’t an important fear to conquer, as it serves us and our safety. However, overcoming a fear of people has benefits such as connecting with others, as well as combating loneliness and anxiety.

I have asked myself the question of “how do I deal with fear” and it’s made me reflect on how I experience fear in my daily life. One of my biggest achievements lately is regularly going outside. In the past, the more I stayed inside, the scarier the outside seemed and the more anxious I became. So how did I overcome (more or less) this fear?

The first thing that comes to mind is that I was compassionate and empathetic to myself. I didn’t beat myself up for not going outside, because that would compound the problem and lead to more fear. There was no rush, there was no pressure, because I find that the more I am “forced” to do something, the more I don’t end up doing it. My psychiatrist recommended to me to go outside everyday. At first that seemed impossible and the first time he told me to do that I didn’t listen.

But it’s a bit more than just being compassionate, understanding and empathetic towards myself – I also need to seize the opportunity on days when I have more energy or I am mentally in a better place than usual. In times like that, I simply took the leap and was brave. Cass said to me the opposite of fear is love and that courage means “whole heart,” which shows how love is brave. Sometimes overthinking a situation can be a barrier against facing your fears. It seems so fucking hard, but it IS possible.

Sometimes you have to put yourself in “uncomfortable” situations (or worse) as to move forward and expand your comfort zone. The first few times it exhausted me to go outside. I was constantly paranoid and anxious about seeing someone I knew, because I was so down about my appearance, as well as my current lifestyle. I was afraid of seeing those who hurt me, with how upset I would be and how having them see that I’ve put on weight would give them the satisfaction of “winning.”

All of the above is fear based on possible consequences that might not even happen. Would it really be that bad if someone saw how I currently look like? Would people that matter actually judge me for my lifestyle or my mental health? You should ask what these fears have to show you, because perhaps it will lead to growth and insight. However, the important thing to do is to distinguish what is the kind of fear we need and what fears we have convinced ourselves that we need.

Yesterday Cass and I went for a drive and we stopped at a lookout, I looked down at the road beneath us and remarked on how small a car looked. It looked like I could just pluck the car from the road with my fingers. However, the car was so big when it was close – it was scary and threatening. But when the car drove away far from me, it looked tiny. It’s still a car in both situations, but changing your perspective can help you deal with it.

Pretend that you are looking down at a fear that you have, such as failure. You remember that when it is close-by it feels like life or death. It’s loud, in your face, with passengers that yell things at you like, “You’re worthless!” or “You’ll never accomplish anything in your life!” When it drives past, it threatens to run you over, instilling more fear. However it was an empty threat and soon it has driven away.

When you see this exact same fear below you, the fear of failure seems small and quiet. You hear faint voices coming from it that you can tell aren’t nice, but it’s far away, not personal and not immediately threatening. The safety in distance allows you to look at the fear without feeling and with logic – it is not going to kill me. That fear of failure is the same as the one that’s close-up, so it’s important to not believe its lies. It can’t make you anything less than you are, because you are not your fears.

Usually, overcoming your fears doesn’t mean it’s gone forever, but rather you have it in chains – there’s still a possibility that it can bite if you let your guard down, but you also have control over it. A book called The Happiness Trap talked about the “passengers” on your boat and it’s the same thing – your fears will always be on your boat and you can’t make them disappear. However, it will hurt you less over time if you assert your boundaries AND if you make friends with it.

The “making friends with it” part is the hardest. However, if you stop fighting it and start looking behind the scary face, you just might find things that are useful and helpful. A fear of failure that is a friend may help you stay on top of your work so that you are reliable and diligent. A fear of loneliness can motivate you to go to the social events, where you can meet new people. You might be surprised what your fears may teach you.

It’s okay to be afraid. It’s not your fault and you are not bad if your fears are messing up your mind. But I hope that through reading this you have a better mindset about it. Funnily enough, you don’t need to fear fear. It can help you, it can teach you things about yourself and the world around us, and you are strong enough to overcome it, at a compassionate pace that is best for you. Remember, when you encounter fear, try not to let it be in control with full reign, because that will make the problem worse. Instead, we need to face it. Fear me, fear.

Trauma Unpacked

“I’m bad!” “I’m worthless.” “I’m a waste of space.” Do these thoughts sound familiar to you?

I’ve been having two kinds of intrusive thoughts recently, and the first ones are like what’s written above – thoughts that we latch onto so tight, despite seemingly having little to back it up with. Sometimes we have a lot of reasons though, which are either delusional or correct, but the point is that the thoughts are intrusive.
I’ve also been experiencing a different kind of intrusive thought; memory stabs – a new name that I like to call them. To me it is like a flashback, but instead of a whole scene, perhaps you see a recognisable snapshot. Or one word or sound triggers a whole event in your mind, or a feeling of pain, disgust or fear you’ve felt in the past suddenly overcomes you in the present. Whatever it is, they all usually feel like a sharp shock, which is why I call them a memory stab. At least that is what it is like for me, but I’m certain that the equivalent is different for many.

Most of everything I experienced in 2016 I considered one whole lump of bad squished together, like something that can’t go down my throat, which I usually categorised as ‘Japan.’ That is unfair of me since the country itself isn’t to blame. That’s like travelling to New Zealand, getting mugged and then saying that the whole country is bad because of it. Every country and culture has something terrible, toxic or backwards about it, some more than others, and that’s okay. It’s good, in fact. Humanity is the world’s worst relationship. If we accept that we, no matter who we are and what country we come from or live in, are free to live, then we must also accept that everything that is a product of us are free to live as well.

In a black-and-white perspective, humanity harms the earth and the life it holds and therefore we are bad and should not exist. That is an acceptable perspective, perhaps the most noble one. An optimistic perspective is that humans are needed to keep on living, because we matter – we live and so our love, art and beauty lives on too. This is true too. Pessimistically, none of this matters, we shouldn’t care because everything dies anyway. Another acceptable perspective. And finally, in a “grey” perspective; this all is true, but our flaws or negative traits do not make us less worthy and the good can only exist if there is also bad. Therefore, yes, we are destroying the world by living on it and being its worst relationship, humanity is an incredible source of love and beauty that we should treasure, everything dies so we don’t need to take everything so seriously, and it’s okay to be flawed and to have “bad” traits, because that’s the nature of all life. Should we exist or not exist because of all of that?

No matter who we are and what country we come from or live in, we were born and therefore continuing our legacy of goodness, shittiness, a mix or both, neither one and everything else that perhaps I’ve forgotten to mention. The differences between countries, cultures, groups and individuals are necessary, because nothing is categorically “bad,” or “good.” Our morals, codes and values are personal and are not universal. To create one true mindset that is “The Right One,” is to create an impossible God. Everything is flawed, including the country I am talking about, Japan, but the same experiences could happen in many other different countries. I just wanted to make that clear.

Almost every night for the last couple of weeks I’ve been having nightmares about being trapped in Japan and being unable to leave, and about an ex I had, either hurting me in the past or in new ways in my dream. I’ve been having these kind of nightmares for years now, but for some reason I’ve been having them almost every night recently. Like I said before, it is unfair of me to name the trauma I experienced as “Japan.” The reason why I use that word is because I do not want to think about the specific situations I experienced in that time of my life.

In 2016 I stayed in Japan as an exchange student for 9 months and I must admit that even though I am talking about the bad experiences I had, there were also lots of beautiful times and kind people I met during that exchange too. I am grateful for those good memories and I’ll treasure them forever.
I believe that the trauma from the whole experience was from a lot of different things, bunched together as if it was one. It was the harmful experiences I had, some of the toxic people I met, the loneliness I felt in a room filled with people, being in a culture that looks down on emotional expression, my limitations not being respected or cared for by me, my situation back home and my mental health at the time, which all tainted the whole experience.

I find it really hard to think about the details of each situation that hurt me. It feels like I’m reliving it if I try. I’m working on that. When I first came back from Japan in 2017, the year that everything changed for me, I had a lot to process. I did not want to admit to anyone that my exchange was traumatic to me, not even to myself. People asked me about it, not caring and not having the time for a truthful answer, and so I hid behind, “It was a great experience!” Which is true about some parts of my exchange. I travelled to see beautiful places, I met some wonderful people, I experienced new and exciting things and the food was fucking fantastic. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, because I truly am lucky to have those memories.

The problem is that it was too much. I have autism and I have limitations, but I did not respect that. I told myself that the only thing that mattered was that I get through the whole exchange, to prove to others and most importantly to myself that I am just as capable as anyone else. I wanted to prove that I was good enough, strong enough and normal enough. I was ashamed of being autistic, and I treated it like it was a dirty secret for my whole life. It made me feel like I was bad or dumb or like there was something terribly wrong with me.

It still feels weird accepting that my autism affects some of the things I can or cannot do, without feeling ashamed because of that. It’s okay if I need time and space to recover after situations that take energy, that I struggle socially and that my limitations of what I am able to do without falling apart is different than others. That doesn’t make me weak or bad. But in 2016 I felt like it did. It certainly didn’t help that I didn’t take my medication at the time. I’m not sure why I didn’t. Perhaps I was being unconsciously self-destructive.

Back to the memory stabs. I think that the reason why I keep getting sudden snapshots in my mind about 2016 is because my brain is trying to tell me that I need to finally start unpacking my experience in Japan. I am definitely not a detail-orientated person. I’m good at looking at the overall big picture, but when situations come that require me to look at the details, I feel not in control. It doesn’t help that I have big chunks of memory loss about 2016, which I heard could be a result of having mental health issues. And it also doesn’t help that as soon as I try to remember things my mind instantly wants to reject it and run away. It’s hard work processing memories.

I’ve had a few therapists in my life, but for most of them, I only talked about the now, such as what happened last week. I never really delved into specifics about things in my past. I really am in need of a therapist as of now, but I have a fear that being unable to articulate and communicate what exactly happened in Japan will make me feel invalidated. My mind says they won’t understand, they can’t help and that they will secretly judge me. After being hospitalised three times since 2017, (for nearly 3 months overall) I am tired of feeling like I need to prove myself. It’s like I am fighting for my life to just be validated. I have all these fears, but still I want to try to get help. I want to heal.

I hope that people in a similar boat as me will feel understood by reading this. I feel sad, because there was so much I loved about Japan and how beautiful it is and I want that back. I want to be in control of my hurt, to be able to live fully despite the harm. I hope that for you too. Facing the details of your trauma is incredibly hard, but whatever you are experiencing, big or small, you are always growing, even when your branches are cut short.

The Future You

At school, teachers at some point ask us, “Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?” or, “What is your dream job?” My dad and I have been preparing for my future for years. When I was little, I wanted to be a pop star like Miley Cyrus, but after realising I couldn’t sing, dad said I should go for a career that guarantees a job. At some points of my life I’d dreamt of being an author, an artist, a game creator, a script writer, or a movie director. I mainly kept these dreams hidden, because I really wanted to impress my family, others and myself. I had no doubt that I was going to finish high-school and I believed I definitely would go to university. I was going to have an impressive job like an engineer, doctor, lawyer, optometrist and the list goes on. I love my dad – I know he wanted me to have a good life without worrying about money and he believed in me so much that he thought I could get any job.

As much as I wanted to impress myself and others, my heart just wasn’t in it. I didn’t dare to try to be an artist, because people told me that art could only be a hobby. It was when I was 16 that everything changed. After my attempt I was in a psychiatric ward where I was extremely self destructive and I didn’t want a future at all. All I wanted was to die. That experience changed me – I was afraid of leaving the house, because I would be overwhelmed and have panic attacks for a long time after coming home from the ward. I knew that I couldn’t go back to school, because of fear and anxiety, so I felt crushed when I became someone I’d never guessed I’d be – a high-school dropout. I was in the Boxhill ward when when my family said they would support me if I wanted to be an artist. I was so emotional when I was given this support to be someone I always wanted to be inside .

5 years ago I would never expect that my life would be the way it is. It is so scary to think about the future. People focus so much on what career we have and not who they are as a person. When thinking about the future, you can be so obsessed with the outcome that you never end up doing it. I find this particularly hard since I’m impatient and I often have my head stuck in the clouds. I write down so many goals of what I’d like to do and because my vision is always looking at the future, I end up not doing it in the now. The thing about being in the now is that you can see our current status. Our morals, values, beliefs and identity can be pulled apart and analysed. Are you satisfied with who you are? Do your actions reflect your values or what you find important? What parts do you wish to accept? What parts need to grow or change?

I know that picking yourself apart isn’t always kind. In fact, it can be extremely hard to accept it or see it. If you are not ready to do this, that’s okay. But when people ask you, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I believe what is more important than your job, status in society or how much money you have, is who you are. Five years is a long time and people change. What kind of person do you wish to change to? Someone who is more generous? Kinder? Someone who has broken through hating yourself to loving yourself? Rather than asking, “What is your dream job?” we should ask, “What do you dream to become?” Loving yourself and who you are as of now is important, but the moment you don’t want to change at all is the moment you stop growing. Growth is so important and we should all open ourselves to it.

I ask myself, “What do you want to be in the future?” and my answer is to be more mindful and loving. What about you? What do you want to be?

Body Positivity

Here is an excerpt of something I wrote not too long ago.

I’m still wrapped in blankets, at nearly 4 pm, and I am finally ready to do something productive, which is this – writing. There are so many stories about today that I can run with, especially since it’s nearly dinner time and I have not moved an inch or done anything with my whole day. Our nasty “leaches” like to tell us that resting and recovering are not allowed for us, even when our illnesses debilitate us. But if we see someone else in the same boat, we would probably understand and recommend them to take the time they need to recover.

We are always so much harsher on ourselves than we are on others. I look at myself and want to claw out my skin and guts because I have what I deem a disgusting body. I pull and pinch and scratch at the skin under my chin, because my jawline isn’t as sharp as it used to be and now it seems like in my head that I now no longer have a chin – it’s just face rolling down to my neck. But when I stopped to think, I realised that if I saw an exact copy of myself in front of me, I would celebrate that person for the body they have. I would reassure them that they are beautiful.

I’ve always been a body positive person, but only for others. I know its not any of my business to judge others based on their appearance, and it’s not okay to assume someone’s heath. I think plus size people are absolutely gorgeous, along with any other body shape. I’ve always been attracted to body shapes like mine, or bigger or smaller. People argue that they look down on fat people because “it’s unhealthy.’ You can’t know someone’s health or background just based on their appearance, and even if they were, how is that any of your business? People that are happy and confident in their own body are not affecting you.

Even though I believe all these things, I started believing them when I was skinny. I’ve always been fairly slender growing up – my family nicknamed me ‘tweaka’ as a kid, because I had twiggy limbs. I have always been very body positive, but now that I am the heaviest weight I have ever been, I realised that maybe I am only positive towards other bodies, not mine.

4 or so years ago I had an eating disorder that involved not eating for days, throwing up as much as I could and doing exercise when I had no food or energy in my system. I had cold baths because shivering burns calories, I would subscribe to blogs that told you that you were a fat piece of shit as a way of “motivating” me, I counted the calories of everything I ate, even not allowing myself to eat fruit and vegetables sometimes, because they still had calories.

So I got to my lightest weight I’ve ever been as a teenager and still I felt fat, ugly and unsatisfied. That all was happening right before my suicide attempt, so to me, my unhappiness with my weight is connected to my suicidal tendencies. This meant that every time I put on a bit of weight since then, it played alarm bells that told me I needed to die.

So here I am, with my first stretch marks and a body that does not feel like mine. I want to tell myself that I’m beautiful just like I would tell a friend who weighed the same they are beautiful, but I can’t. I want to one day be able to be supportive of myself no matter how I look, but right now that feels a bit impossible. At least writing about this helps.

  • Looking back at this piece of writing, I have changed in certain areas and have stayed the same in others.

I recently went to Kmart and target, which are infamous for their mirrors that make you feel awful. The target dressing room had mirrors in every direction, so you could see yourself in every angle, which played alarm bells once again for me. I got so upset, but since then I have been trying to be kinder to myself.

I have been somewhat eating healthier and bike riding every second day with some walks, but it doesn’t feel the same as when I tried to “lose weight” in the past with my eating disorder. I want to be body positive, so I am learning to treat my “healthier lifestyle” as just that – a healthier lifestyle. I’m learning that the goal of me doing a bit of exercise is not to lose weight or be skinnier, but to do something that makes me feel good.

My worth is not equal to how healthy I am either – I am allowed to love my body in any state. Showing self-love when you don’t have the “ideal” body is not a criminal act, and in fact, I think it’s pretty bad-ass. I and I’m sure many others, will continue to be on our journey of self-acceptance of every part of who we are. I am happy and proud that I’m trying my best, despite the leaches and illnesses that try to tell me otherwise.

Everyone is going to have step-backs. Some days it might feel like you have gone backwards, but that’s okay. Be gentle, be understanding. We are allowed to take up space and fight for our right to love ourselves, however long it takes. You are doing a great job and perhaps I am too.

Thank you for reading.

The heART Project

Hear, read, watch, play.

Those four words embody the massive project that I am creating called The heART Project – an experience that is a wholesome and honest blend of art and mental health. It will be expressed through many different mediums, creating a whole experience that you can hear, read, watch and play. It’s a love letter to art, a hand that reaches out to support people with mental illnesses and an experience that I am putting my whole heart into.

It will be an art book, show, game and soundtrack.

  • The book is filled with words, comics, poetry, short stories, art, puzzles, mindful and grounding exercises and more.
  • The show has episodes featuring animated stories, drag performances, short films, artwork tutorials, original theatre productions, etc.
  • The project will have a game that involves different kinds of gameplay such as a 2D adventure game, 3D puzzles, a RPG, therapeutic point and click, real choices that influence the story and more.
  • And lastly, the soundtrack will have songs about mental health and art, a podcast featuring different kinds of artists and activists, an audio book of The heART Book, grounding exercises, spoken word, meditative music and the list goes on.

This is not a tiny task. This is going to be worked on and created over many years as I grow as a person and artist. It will face scary walls, bumps on the road and many obstacles, but that will make it all the more valuable – at least to me. I really hope that someone will get something out of this project – my goal is to give my heart to those who need it, because two years ago I really needed someone to do that for me.

I want you to be part of this process, so I have put up the current first-draft version of my book here. You can read it, give me some feedback or just look at the pictures and layout concepts that I will gradually add more of over time. On The heART Project page you can see all updates about the project’s progress. After some thinking, I’ve also decided that I will create mini magazines that will feature the growth of the project, including things like concept sketches and journal notes. I am not sure if anyone would actually be interested in reading the magazine, but it will serve as an in-depth art journal for me and will be published digitally. (I might make physical copies one day)
I think it would be really valuable to see how the heART project progresses from the ground up! If you’d like to actually read these mini magazines, email me and I’ll let you know when a new magazine issue is out.

There is so much to say about this project and how much it means to me. I want to make it as spectacular as possible, but I also have to be realistic. This is going to be a fuck load amount of work and an incredibly massive challenge, but I need to do it. I hope you want to join me in the making of The heART Project, because I truly believe that one day it will be something important.