All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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Sticks only work on masochists, so why not give carrot cake to the down and out?

In a week that saw the death of Neil Armstrong, the arrival of RU486 in Australia, the opening of the best Paralympics in history and the cancellation of The Shire, the final days of Winter 2012 have been a mite busy. But nestled amidst all this is an issue that keeps cropping up every few months, an issue that is close to my heart, and far and away my…

Issue of the Week

A Centrelink office at Innaloo, Western Australia.

A Centrelink office at Innaloo, Western Australia.

In my humble opinion, the most significant discussion that occurred in Australia this week involved unemployment benefits. In Australia, this is amusingly called the Newstart payment. A contradiction in terms considering once you end up on it your chances of ever receiving a new start in life is minimal. Trust me, I’ve been receiving this payment for the last three years, so I have some experience of trying to survive on it.

Yes, survive, it is impossible to live on it.

By the time I’d worked through the bureaucratic bullshit required to get onto this payment I was living on the streets, unable to afford accommodation. I still had to apply for jobs, attend Job Service Providers, regular contact meetings with Centrelink, prove my income and assets…all whilst living in a park with a blanket my only shelter from wind, hail and rain.

A few facts about ‘life’ on the Newstart payment:

– It has been two and a half years since I could afford a haircut.
– For the last six days I’ve been showering and washing my hair with dishwashing liquid as I cannot afford soap and shampoo.
– The sole of my shoe has been slowly deteriorating for several months; it’s been fixed on a fortnightly basis with superglue but will very soon be beyond repair. I cannot afford a new pair and it is rare to find shoes my size in an op shop.
– I am able to buy clothes once a year; I have one pair of jeans which I wear daily and a rotating set of three T-Shirts and two shirts. I cannot afford laundrettes so wash these clothes by hand.
– Medication – whether it be over-the-counter or prescribed – is a luxury item.
– As are mobile phone recharge, internet access, public transport and underwear.

Yet despite countless research, reports, heartfelt letters and well-intentioned awareness campaigns the vast majority of Australians simply don’t care. Apparently, whatever money I have left from the vast quantity of illegal narcotics I consume every week is spent on alcohol, cigarettes, gambling and fast food.

A few facts to clear up this nonsense:

– The last alcohol I consumed was in July. I drink every year on this day as I have to, otherwise the pain of the event I’m drinking to forget will facilitate a suicide attempt. The same goes for February 26, May 7 and October 11. All other days of the year – including my birthday, New Year and Christmas – I do not drink alcohol.
– I have not taken any form of illegal drug since backpacking (twelve years ago) and have no intention of ever doing so again. For the record, this amounted to a few spliffs and nothing more.
– I have not eaten fast food for over two years. This was a Breakfast meal from Hungry Jacks that cost me $4.95 after going without food for eight days. It is the only fast food I can remember consuming since my episodes in 2007.
– I do not gamble; not pokies, not TAB, not underground Iguana fighting.
– Yes, I occasionally smoke (perhaps 10-20 per week.) It’s an addiction used to alleviate self-harm, stress and  anxiety.

But even if this were to be believed (which, most of the time, it isn’t) the simple retort is that I am just too lazy and have no intention of working again nor undertaking anything to become a contributing member of society.

Sigh, get to know me instead of rushing to judgement and you’ll discover:

– My desire to work has never diminished. Even whilst on the street I applied for employment and on a few occasions was offered a job; all lost almost immediately because of homeless discrimination. I never received a cent for the days of work I did.
– I have been vocal for many years about my desire to return to education. It’s all I’ve wanted for the last ten years!
– Anyone who claims I don’t want to be a contributing member of society knows nothing about me, nor what drives me.

And that is the problem. The people who makes these stupid and generalizing comments know little about the problems that people on the Newstart face. The don’t know what it’s like to sleep in parks. To not be able to shower or buy hygiene products. They don’t understand the toll being isolated from social situations can have. All they care about is their holier than thou attitude and their repeated, uneducated, parroting of ‘get a job’ and ‘stop smoking/drinking/gambling etc.’

Unfortunately, in order to appease these opinions, it was announced this week that a much-needed increase to the Newstart allowance would not be happening. Apparently, even though they admit the current allowance isn’t much to live on, any increase would have a detrimental effect on someone looking for work. In other words, the much wanted $50 per week increase would convince everyone on the Newstart not to bother looking for work because they’re on easy street.

An extra $50 per week would:

– Ensure I could afford hygiene products to keep myself well-groomed.
– Enable me to be able to get a haircut so I could look half-decent instead of people mistaking me for someone attending a cosplay event as Captain Caveman.
– Purchase new shoes so I am not walking around with my foot visible through my footwear.
– Purchase some new clothes so unsuspecting pedestrians don’t occasionally catch a glimpse of my buttocks through unfortunately placed holes.
– Ensure I am reasonably well fed each week.

All things, I would say, are rather important when it comes to increasing ones chances of finding employment. And you’ll notice that I haven’t even included the obvious, which is:

– I could afford medication that would enable me to stabilise my mental and physical health problems!

And none of this takes into account the stress (which leads to both physical and mental health problems) that bill payments, rent, housing affordability, irregularity of nutritional food and continued social isolation has on people.

All very real realities for people on the Newstart allowance.

My final word on the matter…

It’s time Australia started to realise that sticks will only work on masochists. The continuing punishment of people on the Newstart, many with disabilities but unable to access disability payments, has created an underclass  living in abject poverty within a country that proudly proclaims to be the luckiest and richest in the world. Although there is a minority of people who manipulate the system for their own ends, the vast majority are trying to do the right thing. The Newstart allowance needs to be raised by $50 per week with immediate effect! I guarantee you the moment it is you’ll not only see a change in people’s attitudes but a substantial increase in people successfully moving back into employment.

Further reading on this topic:

Five things I learned this week

  1. RU486 has arrived in Australia, which is excellent news and a great leap forward for woman’s reproductive rights.
  2. One hundred and one people found my blog by searching for “supergirl spanking”. Good on ya!
  3. The average Australian will spend $28.26 on their dad this father’s day, less than half what they spend on their mum for mother’s day. Confusingly, in the same article all but 1 of the 39 gift ideas are significantly more expensive, with the most being $1,995. Apparently a hug, a conversation or an ‘I love you’ no longer cut it!
  4. Three clues as to what will be featured in series 3 of Sherlock. These are; Rat, Wedding and Bow.
  5. A primary school in Sydney has banned students from performing handstands, somersaults and cartwheels. Sigh.

Five things I plan to do next week

  1. Watch the return of Doctor Who.
    In an unprecedented move, the ABC has decided to tackle illegal downloads by fast tracking Series 7 of Doctor Who on their internet channel ABC iView. This means I will be able to watch the series hours after first screening in the UK without having to faff around with valuable internet time (and money) looking for a streaming service.
  2. Return to a social networking site.
    Having spent much of this week writing posts discussing my anxiety I realised that I need to continue challenging myself if I ever hope to overcome this debilitating part of my life. I am deeply scared of returning as I vanished without notice when this current depressive episode began back in June. So yeah, just somewhat nervous about it.
  3. Continue updating and evolving my blog.
    This, obviously, includes posting every day and not returning to my ‘aaaaarrrrggghhhhhh, I want to die’ state of two months ago.
  4. Begin reading “Stiffed” by Susan Faludi, which I picked up for 50c in a library book sale some months ago.
    As previously mentioned, reading whilst depressed is incredibly difficult for me, and I miss is.
  5. Watch Frasier Season 9, which I borrowed from the library.
    Not exactly taxing or demanding, but with the inevitable anxiety that will be created from returning to the social network and pushing myself to write this blog, I’m gonna need some downtime. Given Frasier always used to make me laugh, it should be good therapy for me as it’s been years since I last saw it!

And finally…

My three favourite photographs of the week:

Sunrise in Portland

piano lessons  6 o'clock

Untitled

Note: I do not own these images.
Click on each to visit the photographer’s Flickr stream.

Until next week, enjoy the weekend :)


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Stop the abuse: why I left Twitter and why I’m returning!

Five months ago, after an eighteen month hiatus from Twitter, I made a return to the social network. I did so for one simple reason; being a socially isolated homeless man, with a history of mental health problems, it was the only outlet I had for interacting with society.

For two months I tweeted the occasional opinion, shared articles I felt important, engaged with other users and received abusive feedback. My homelessness was criticized with comments ranging from ‘get off your lazy arse and get a job’ to ‘why not just drink yourself to death’. My mental health was attacked with comments ranging from ‘harden the f**k up you pathetic c**t’ to ‘just f**king hang yourself, retard’.

With my mood descending into depression, in part from these comments, I eventually stopped logging onto Twitter and once again slipped into uncommunicative isolation; an isolation that prevented me from writing my blog, from reading websites, from having any contact with the outside world.

Throughout this period I often wanted to return. Despite the abuse I enjoyed reading Tweets, I enjoyed having a means to connect with the outside world, I relished the ability to begin communicating again after years of pain, isolation and homelessness.

Now, upon hearing what has happened to Charlotte Dawson, I have decided to return; abuse be damned!

When I was in primary school I was regularly thrown against walls and kneed in the bollocks. I was constantly attacked for wearing glasses, for wearing braces, for being fat, for being in the recorder group. The latter, I believe, out of jealously considering I was the only boy to eight girls (gotta love those odds!)

When I was in secondary school my weight (as always) was fair game, my inability to play sports well (often as a result of being rendered blind) was maliciously used and when my sister’s mental illness deteriorated, it’s not hard to understand this was used against me.

When I was travelling I would find anonymous notes (the precursor to Twitter?) left with my food in hostels telling me I should kill myself because I was fat, useless bastard.

When I was in an abusive relationship, not a single part of my past, present or future was left untouched. Every single aspect of my life – including all the intimate, personal information I’d shared because I trusted this person – was fair game. Everything I had ever thought, felt, said or done was regularly assaulted. I was borderline stalked, cyber-bullied and told to kill myself with vicious cruelty.

Verbal/emotional abuse can be just as horrific as physical abuse

When I began my blog I would receive dozens of anonymous emails and comments  attacking every aspect of what I was writing about. I still do to this day. Mental illness, it seems, is still an accepted reason to abuse!

When I was trying to rebuild my life following breakdowns, suicide attempts and mental illness I was the recipient of a vicious cyber-campaign. Out of nowhere I began receiving emails and text messages of ever escalating length and severity. Always sent in block capitals. Always anonymously.

Selected (actual) highlights:

YOU’RE A DISGUSTING MENTALLY ILL RETARD

BEAT YOURSELF TO DEATH. CUT YOURSELF TO DEATH. JUST FUCK OFF AND DIE.

THE ONLY THING YOU DESERVE TO FUCK IS A RAZOR BLADE

WOMEN VOMIT AT THE THOUGHT OF FUCKING YOU. JUST DO US A FAVOUR, BUY A KNIFE, GO HOME, HACK YOUR COCK OFF. LET THAT MENTALLY RETARDED BLOOD FLOW.

When I became homeless the floodgates opened. I received endless verbal abuse. I had hot coffee ‘accidentally’ spilled on me. I was pissed on. I was physically assaulted by drunken AFL fans – apparently it was my fault their team lost that night. For some reason attacking the homeless is still considered acceptable by society.

As a result of the abuse: I started self-harming. I developed severe mental illness. I attempted suicide in 2000, 2006, 2007 (twice), 2008 and at least once a year since. I lost my chance of tertiary education. I lost every possession I’d ever owned. My social network was destroyed. I became homeless. And there’s a good chance I will never have anything or anyone in my life again.

But you know what?

I’m still fucking standing!

After years of misery, isolation, judgment, abuse, discrimination, homelessness and pain so intense I’d never wish it on my worst enemy…I’m still standing here, I’m still breathing and I’m still laughing!

All of the anonymous haters that populate these web forums and social networks, venting their spleen at people they’ve never met will never have the one thing that I possess in droves: strength! They inflict pain on emotionally vulnerable people because it’s the only way they can feel better about their themselves. Their lives spent hiding behind unfunny pseudonyms because they hate who they are even more than they hate the world.

Instead of working to improve their lot in life, they just take it out on everyone else and to hell with the consequences. They don’t understand the pain of knowing someone who has taken their own life as a result of being abused. If they did, they might think twice about what they’re doing, for it is a pain that never leaves you.

By staying away from Twitter all I am doing is telling these weak, self-hating, bullies that they’ve won.

Why should I withdraw from the only social contact I have because of these morons?

Why should I take away the only chance I have to get my life back because these selfish prats have decided I don’t deserve one?

Why should I let the abusers who have tried to destroy my life win?

I don’t agree with abuse. I don’t agree with bullying. I don’t agree that a human being has the right to inflict such pain on another. No matter what, no-one deserves to be abused!

I am many things; mentally ill, socially isolated, kinky, unloved, lonely, unsupported, overweight, homeless.

But I am also; caring, compassionate, kinky (it’s a good thing!), intelligent, cute, funny, driven, creative, determined.

I may have had everything taken from me; home, possessions, friends, health, passion, dreams, hope.

But no-one will ever take my strength.

Ever.

You can follow me on Twitter @addylake but please note, due to my situation and lack of 24/7 internet access, tweets are sporadic.


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My top twenty animated films of all time!

This is the first entry in my Top Twenty Thursdays. Every week I (or you, should you wish to offer a suggestion) will nominate a category and present to you my definitive top twenty.

Some of my choices may be arguable, some spot on, others down right laughable, but they’re my choices. What are yours?

Today we have my top twenty animated films of all time; CGI, stop motion, cel…as long as it’s animated and feature-length, it’s allowed to be included.


The Top Twenty…

20. Basil the Great Mouse Detective; a wonderful take on the Sherlock Holmes legend, Disney style.
19. Bolt; a surprisingly brilliant movie, fantastic fun for the whole family.
18. When the Wind Blows; an animated film depicting a nuclear attack, a must see.
17. Monster House; an under-rated, darkly comic masterpiece – complete with an animated Maggie Gyllenhaal. Woo hoo!
16. Toy Story; a modern classic.
15. The Iron Giant; an often forgotten gem, based on the Ted Hughes poem.
14. Up; a beautiful, haunting and intelligent family friendly animation.
13. Paprika; an eye-opening, sophisticated, challenging, disturbing Japanese animation.
12. Pinocchio; a classic Disney film that should need no introduction.
11. Toy Story 2; in my mind, one of the few sequels that betters the original.

The Top Ten…

10. The Land Before Time

It may have spawned dozens of un-necessary sequels but the original The Land Before Time is one of the animated classics of my childhood. Since first watching it in a cinema in Aberdeen I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it since.

9. Monster’s Inc

I infamously (and somewhat embarrassingly) wept whilst watching this film with Louise. She never let me forget it – and I don’t want to – just thinking about that emotional farewell is setting the tears welling.

8. Sleeping Beauty

Just as I’ll always be a fan of the original fairytale. Just as I’ll always be a fan of Anne Rice’s adult interpretation. I will always be a fan of this stylised, beautiful Disney film.

7. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

A relatively recent film, I’ll grant you, but when a film possesses the originality, verve and energy that this does it’s a worthy addition. Until a few months ago I’d never seen it; I’ve now watched it dozens of times and never grown tired of it.

6. Grave of the Fireflies

If you thought When the Wind Blows was dark, wait until you see this remarkable offering from Studio Ghibli. The less you know before entering into it the better, but it’s based in Japan during WWII – and you’ll need lots of tissues.

5. Tangled

Perhaps it’s because the magnificent Zachary Levi provides one of the voices. Perhaps because, in comparison to other Disney Princesses, Rapunzel kicks serious ass! Whatever it is, I adored every second of Disney 50th animated feature. Especially the closing animated titles.

4. Whisper of the Heart

When people think of Studio Ghibli they think of Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and numerous other animated classics from this highly regarded studio. Alas, Whisper of the Heart is not one that comes to the minds of most, but it should be. Simple, engaging, touching and funny. I dare you not to sing along with country classic Country Road.

3. Beauty and the Beast

For over a decade this film rested at the top of my list but over the last several years has been notched down to third place. Regardless, it remains one of the most beautiful animated films of all time, easily deserving its Oscar nod for Best Picture. However, when I watch the film these days, I can’t help but look at it from a more adult perspective. And with Stockholm Syndrome coupled with the abusive behavior of the Beast, I find it unnerves me somewhat. What exactly are we teaching our children?

2. How To Train Your Dragon

The film that drop kicked Beauty and the Beast into second place! I cherished everything about this film; from the wonderful character design, to the inspired realisation of the dragons, to the stirring John Powell score, to the fantastic voice cast, to the ‘Spot David Tennant’ mini-game. If you haven’t seen it, go NOW! If you have seen it, watch it again. And then track down all the spin-off short films and prepare yourself for the Hammerhead Yak!

1. My Neighbour Totoro

Whilst sharing a tub of mint-choc-chip in a hotel room in Glasgow, Sammi and I were nattering away when she nonchalantly stated although she’d heard of it, she’d never seen this movie. On such stunning news, I found myself unable to prevent throwing a spoonful of ice-cream at her! How could anyone not have seen this film? In the few moments of silence that followed I thought I may have pissed her off, until a rather amusing ice-cream fight fed into a viewing of this masterpiece.

To put it bluntly, it is flawless.

To put it not so bluntly, it spanks the ass of all animated films and sends them to bed to think about what they’ve done wrong.


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Social anxiety disorder and its impact on building relationships

The reason that I have no friends is simple.

I’m just not a good enough human being to have people in my life. I am, amongst other things; selfish, ungrateful, narcissistic, uncaring, weak, worthless, grotesque, uncompassionate and evil. My voice inflicts pain on everyone I talk to. My body makes people want to vomit. My mind is that of a repulsive freak that brings pain and terror to people’s lives.

Or at least this is what my abuser convinced myself, and others, was the reason I should live an isolated life.

The real reason that I have no friends is slightly more complicated.

I suffer from social anxiety disorder; arguably the least understood anxiety disorder.

Social Anxiety Disorder (in a nutshell)

“Social anxiety is the fear of social situations and the interaction with other people that can automatically bring on feelings of self-consciousness, judgment, evaluation, and inferiority.

Put another way, social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.”

Source: The Social Anxiety Network

The most common feature of social anxiety is a constant, intense anxiety that does not go away. An anxiety that manifests itself physiologically with symptoms including: intense fear, racing heart, turning red or blushing, excessive sweating, dry throat and mouth, trembling, swallowing with difficulty, and muscle twitches.

Like most people who suffer from anxiety disorders, someone suffering from social anxiety knows their anxiety is irrational. But knowing something is very different from believing it. Deep in my heart I know I’m none of the things my abuser called me, but her relentless, repetitive abuse made me believe that everything I listed above is who I am. Her words persist in my mind regardless of what I do to counteract them, in much the same way that social anxiety persists, despite facing the fears on a daily basis.

There are seven situations in which someone suffering from social anxiety will experience significant emotional distress. I have, throughout my life, experienced each of these on multiple occasions – each leading to a reduced level of functioning, especially in the arena of building friendships and relationships.

1. Being introduced to other people

Any childhood memories of being introduced to new people have dissolved into the sands of time, but when I was a teenager – when meeting new people is a prerequisite to be accepted – it was immensely difficult for me. When I joined my new school after moving from Scotland to Wales it took me a long time to start talking to people, with the difficulty increasing to the point of avoidance after my mental health issues took hold.

A similar situation arose when I began backpacking in 1999, with many evenings spent quietly observing the other residents of the hostel, both envious of their ability to engage and angry at my own insecurities. Only when they started talking to me did I begin to communicate, for as with every friend and relationship I’ve ever had, I’ve never had enough control of my anxiety to make the first move.

As with many areas of social anxiety, this inability to communicate often translates to those who don’t understand as a form of snobbish behavior, with many people deciding I thought myself ‘too good’ to be talking to such ‘peasants’ – when in reality it’s the exact opposite. My anxiety drives me to believe I’m not good enough as a person to be around such vibrant, wonderful individuals.

All throughout my life – being introduced to Louise’s friends upon arriving in Australia, various parties attended throughout those years, having to meet new contacts or prospective employees in various jobs, joining social networking sites in the hope to make new friends, contacting organisations to assist in mental health and/or homelessness issues – whenever there is the threat or reality of meeting new people I withdraw into my shell like a terrified turtle.

2. Being teased or criticized

Ever since being bullied at school, which I believe to be a fundamental cause of my anxiety, this is my second biggest fear in the world. I know only too well that words can hurt – at times, far more than sticks and stones.

Although it is something we all fear – being social creatures, we want people to like us – this becomes a major issue when someone actively avoids communication over fear of the perceived inevitable criticism. With this in mind, it shouldn’t be too difficult to realize how it can affect building friendships and relationships.

Unfortunately, as has been written many times in the past, just as I was beginning to get a handle on this irrational fear and open up to both friends and strangers, I ended up in an emotionally abusive relationship.

And that is the worst thing that can happen to someone with social anxiety disorder!

3. Being the center of attention

Given that I’m a rather pointless human being who has achieved virtually nothing of note this has never been a huge issue for me. The thought of being the center of attention scares me to the point that I tend to deflect, play down or hide my achievements.

For example:

One of my few moments of pride was the work I produced managing a backpacker hostel many years ago. Although my abuser erased that pride with numerous vicious comments regarding this period (and what I believed to be achievements) I’ve always remembered being the center of attention at my leaving BBQ and the increasing panic that grew in the lead up to my inevitable speech. My words became muddled, my mouth dried and I made myself look like a twat in front of management and staff.

Also, when I had my short story and opinion piece published in 2009 I wrote both under a pseudonym and sent copies to only one person. I never told anyone else for fear of, momentarily, being the center of attention.

4. Being watched while doing something

My first girlfriend became increasingly frustrated that I’d never write when she was around. She thought I was being elusive and hiding something sinister, where in actual fact, I just can’t write when people are watching me.

The same goes for other areas of my life. I wrote recently of how my fear of being watched on stage ultimately led to me turning down Theatre at A-Level. When I was at a college, I would often head to the darkroom outside of hours as I functioned much better when alone. Even work I undertook at the hostel was easier when people weren’t watching me.

The downside to this is that it leads to all sorts of problems when trying to form relationships. Such behavior makes me appear to be a weird loner, secretive, unable to work as part of a team, and untrustworthy – whereas in reality, the opposite applies.

5. Meeting people in authority (“important people”)

Meeting or being in situations involving important people are guaranteed to freak me out. The usual suspects apply:

Police: although I have never committed a crime nor been arrested in any way shape or form.
Judiciary: again, despite never having encountered them, anyone associated with the law freaks me out.
Management: I will explore this in more detail in a later entry to the series.
David Tennant: never met him – would probably pass out if I did!

But in my mind, there are others:

Librarians: being the guardians of knowledge, librarians have always been intimidating and prone to cause me anxiety.
Academics: a recent comment on The Conversation stated that an interview from an academic was less ferocious than an interview from a journalist. Personally, I would choose an interview from a journalist any day of the year, as I fear whip-smart academics far more than journalists!
Psychiatrists: Arg! Why can’t they just understand I get tongue-tied and confused because I’m being placed in a vulnerable, potentially humiliating situation? If they did, I might not be insane as I am!
Doctors: see psychiatrists above!
Dentists: ditto.
Editors: perhaps because my grasp of grammar would most likely cause even the most kind-natured of editors to spank and send me to the naughty corner, perhaps because I simply envy them, editors are the supreme authority figure to this aspiring writer and therefore…runaway!

6. Most social encounters, especially with strangers

When most people think of social encounters they think of parties, or meeting up with friends, few take it the next logical step to be any encounter where social interaction may occur.

There have been times in my life where I have deliberately starved myself rather than walk to the supermarket to buy food.

One time, whilst homeless, I saved for months to secure a motel room but, because I couldn’t bear speaking to the receptionist on that particular day, lost my money by simply not arriving.

As for pre-arranged social encounters, nothing compares to the anxiety surrounding these. If I go I usually end up being so anxious I can’t tell the difference between a Bordeaux and a Claret and spend the entire evening saying nothing but the occasional, incoherent, gargle. If I don’t go, it’s because the anxiety has become so severe I suffer a crippling panic attack and spend the evening flagellating myself for being so weak and worthless. Either way, the chances of meeting new people, are non-existent.

7. Going around the room (or table) in a circle and having to say something

I hated this at school. I hated it at work experience. I hated it at training seminars. I hated it at first aid classes. I hated it at college. I don’t think I will ever not hate it.

When I had to do it at school I’d become tongue-tied and confused; the resulting mumble, oft ridiculed for months afterwards. At work experience (at the age of 15) I was so nervous I admitted – long before Eccleston, Tennant and Smith made the show must-see television – that I was a Doctor Who fan; the laughter still haunts me to this day.

By the time I began training seminars I hated this moment so much I would ‘accidentally’ miss my train or ‘accidentally’ get a flat tyre purely to arrive late and avoid this cruel hell. Ditto for first aid classes.

As for college, I tried for days to talk to my girlfriend about my fear of this moment in the hope I would receive some understanding, but whenever I did she attacked, knocking my self-esteem so much that on the first night I fumbled my way through my introduction, mixed the names of my favourite film directors (annoyingly, David Fincher and David Mackenzie became Fincher Mackenzie and David David) and accidentally told the class my name was Mitchell. I still don’t know where that came from!

In a world where first impressions are the only thing that matters, fudging this moment immediately puts me on the back foot. Rather than making an impression that creates ‘I want to get to know this guy’ feelings it becomes the other way around.

This, for the most part, is the story of my life.

No matter what effort I make to overcome this aspect of my life I never seem to be able to get a proper handle on it. It is possible to overcome social anxiety disorder – as I mentioned, I would have got there had it not been for an abusive relationship – but the surest way of doing so is through cognitive behavioral therapy.

Unfortunately I’ve never been able to access this particular holy grail of anxiety therapy. My aversion to psychiatrists (I have yet to meet one who seems to grasp the impact this anxiety has on me) means I am left fighting this without support; my anxiety too severe and my life too isolated to navigate the system to obtain effective treatment.

This isn’t to say I’ve given up.

However hopeless and difficult social anxiety may be – it is beatable!

Previous articles in this series:

Tomorrow: Anxiety and its impact on employment >>>


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032. Musical Memories (via Britney Spears, The Fratellis, Nick Cave and Spam)

Thankfully, today’s post for the 365 Day Challenge is on a lighter note than recent writings. However important it is for me to write the heavier self-analysis posts, sometimes I just want to do something a little silly.

When it came to this prompt I was worried. My music collection is nowhere near as extensive as it used to be (at one time bordering on a quarter of a million tracks across 90ish genres!) These days it consists mostly of sentimental songs that I put on an MP3 player many years ago that I recently re-obtained courtesy of my parents and the postal system.

Hence, the majority of the ten that are about to be played will come with dozens of memories of better and happier times. Not a bad thing in itself, may even put a smile on my face!

So, let us begin!

Track 01: Right Out Of Your Hand (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; from the album Nocturama)

Before I met Louise I had absolutely no idea who Nick Cave was and my only knowledge of bad seeds was the paranoid fear I used to have of an apple tree growing out of my stomach should I accidentally swallow an apple pip.

After Louise played me the classic Into Your Arms I became an admirer then, with each successive trip through his back catalogue, a lover. By the time the album Nocturama was released I was a bone-fide fan.

Memories that come whenever I hear Nick Cave: Louise (obviously) given she introduced me to him in the first place and an old friend who was a huge fan of his work. Also, the handlebar mo I grew for Movember one year!

Track 02: Are You F*cking Kidding Me (Kate Miller-Heidke from the album Live at the Hi-Fi)

With the possible exception of My Friend the Chocolate Cake, Kate Miller-Heidke is my all-time favourite Australian singer/songwriter. My introduction to her came courtesy of the Port Fairy Folk Festival in 2006. I remember being completely blown away by vocal range and the sheer brilliance of her lyrics.

Memories that come whenever I hear Kate Miller-Heidke: sitting just behind her whilst watching Colin Hay play at the festival in 2006 and taking my parents to see her at the Spiegeltent in Melbourne later that same year.

Track 03: (You Drive Me) Crazy (Britney Spears; from the album …Baby One More Time)

Told you…eclectic! Even though I should be ashamed to admit it, I’m a huge Britney fan. Her music makes me smile, and brings back all sorts of memories of drunken evenings in the late 1990s. Plus, I always want to dance (badly) when I hear some of her tracks.

Memories that come whenever I hear Britney Spears: stripping in the cage of a nightclub during a wild drunken evening, stripping in a pub during a different wild drunken evening and the endless teasing from people with musical tastes much better than my own whenever I tried to defend her music.

Track 04: A Girl Who’s No One Else (Emma Tonkin; from the album The Anchor and the Alabatross)

An album I purchased many years ago for one reason and one reason only; that I knew the singer. She was a friend of Louise who I barely knew but out of some random sense of support purchased the album. Without wanting to sound biased, it has been a particular favourite of mine for coming on five years now. Proven by the fact I have held onto it despite years of nothing.

Memories that come whenever I hear Emma Tonkin: sitting in the middle of the Ness Islands listening to this album on an MP3 player reminiscing, a brief Alexander Technique lesson Emma gave me once when her client didn’t appear and Louise.

Track 05: Love You All (Cloud Cult; from the album Feel Good Ghosts (Tea Partying Through Tornados)

This just reminds me of sleeping in the Kings Domain wishing every minute that I were dead. I used to spend my days in the Melbourne City Library sifting through their CD collection picking up random albums and listening to them during my one hour a day internet session.

Most were uninspiring garbage that didn’t resonate with me in any way shape or form but this album got to me, big time, and in the years since has become not only an anthem for that period of my life but also an album that, even though it was lost long ago, shone a tiny beacon of hope into my soul.

Memories that come whenever I hear Cloud Cult: losing hope whilst homeless.

Track 06: 3 Sheeps to the Wind, Part I (Martyn Bennett; from his self-titled album)

Martyn Bennett is one of the great Scottish musicians of all time. A truly gifted soul who tragically lost his life to cancer in 2005 . A true one of a kind, and a man I greatly admire in so many ways.

Memories that come whenever I hear Martyn Bennett: travelling around Scotland in February 2008, sitting in an alley off Little Bourke Street after being so blown away by one of his tracks I had to sit down.

Track 07: Harvard Blues (Count Basie; from the album Basie Blues)

I became aware of Count Basie whilst concocting a play list for my then friend/future abuser’s 21st birthday party. Over the course of several days she threw nearly 10,000 tracks of music in my direction and expected me to whittle it down to a three hours playlist. Part of this included transferring nearly thirty CDs onto my computer that she’d borrowed from a friend, several of which were Count Basie.

I worked on that playlist from 7pm until 5am, and then woke myself at 6am to continue working on it until 11am, all because I wanted this person to have as wonderful a 21st as people had given me.

Memories that come whenever I hear Count Basie: spending those fifteen odd hours trying to make a cohesive playlist that went from 20s era jazz to naughties top 40 classics and the old friend whose CDs introduced me to such wonderful, beautiful music.

Track 08: Chelsea Dagger (The Fratellis’ from the album Costello Music)

Following two weeks in Scotland in 2008 I flew from Glasgow to Gatwick to spend a long weekend with my brother and future sister in law. On the Friday evening they whacked on Singstar, cracked open the alcohol…and forced me to sing. This was the song my brother and I nailed with absolute perfection. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

Memories that come whenever I hear The Fratellis: that Singstar session!

Track 09: Diva’s Lament (from the musical Spamalot)

There are no words to describe how much I love this song. In fact I love it so much I’m tempted to undergo a sex change, learn how to sing, spend months working out so I’m a sizzling hot piece of ass, trawl through an audition process and overcome my anxiety – all so I can sing this song in front of a full theatre audience.

Track 10: Naked (Louise; from the album Naked)

This was the first single I ever purchased, much to the chagrin of my music loving father. Whenever I’m asked the question ‘what was the first single you ever purchased?’ I tend not to answer. Unfortunately, the follow up question is usually ‘ok, what was the first album you ever purchased?’

Ummm…ditto!

Look…she was hot, I was a hormonal teenager, the album was called Naked…I’m allowed to have one moment where I bow to malicious corporate marketing ploys aren’t I?

Memories that come whenever I hear Louise: you really – really – don’t want to know! :p


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Anxiety and its effect on body image

Author’s Note: I would *love* to include photographs of myself in this post to illustrate a part of my body image anxiety, which is that I do not see myself properly. People tell me I’m handsome and attractive, with a 34 waist and fair muscle definition but I see myself as a grotesque animal with a bloated size 44+ frame that makes people vomit upon glimpsing me. Unfortunately, my anxiety over my appearance prevents me from photographing myself either clothed or naked, let alone posting them online for all to ridicule. Hence the pixellation whenever I do post an old photograph of myself!

When the issue of body image arises people tend to think it the exclusive domain of the female gender; the sexualisation of young girls, the teenager struggling to accept herself, the woman instantly disbelieving her boyfriend the moment he says ‘no’ to her doubts over various body parts.

Rarely is body image seen as a problem that men struggle with. Over the years I’ve been in Australia, a country obsessed with appearance and physical shape, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard comments like: “men don’t care what they look like”, “men don’t see that they’re morbidly obese, they just believe themselves to be perfect” or “men don’t worry about how chubby their arse is”.

The simple fact is, some do; and I’m one of them.

Once upon a time I purchased a new pair of jeans. They were a pretty awesome pair of jeans, easily the most expensive I’d ever brought, and I thought they made me look pretty darn hot. Upon arriving home and modeling them for my then girlfriend I asked her the question she’d asked me approximately 38.6 times in the four months we’d been together: “Does my bum look big in this?”

She said, “Kindof, but then you only have half an arse anyway,”

“Half an arse?”

“Yep. Half is pretty sexy. The other half…ick,”

If I’d answered along those lines I wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near her splendiferous backside for many moons. But as men aren’t supposed to be hung up on body image, I wasn’t supposed to take it seriously. Unfortunately, I did, because I’ve been hung up on what I look like since I was but a young bairn rolling around in the mud in some distant Scottish village.

The Early Years

An overweight child at school will always be a prime target for bullying. If you don’t believe me, check out any news article published on the issue of obesity and take a stroll through the comments fields. The insulting terms that get thrown around in those adult forums are nothing compared to what goes on in the school yard. During those long school bound years I was called every name you can possibly think of for fat people; from the obvious (Lazy, Fatty, Fatso, Pooh, Michelin Man, Stay Puft) to the not so obvious (Feltzy, Dr Eggman)

It’s not unreasonable to suggest that it was during these formative years my issues with my weight and body began, especially when you consider my sister’s reaction. Diagnosed with anorexia at age eleven, her illness manifested itself into believing my fat was contagious, and thus, she could not have anything to do with me. No contact, no talking, no being in the same room or vicinity as her.

To say I became focused on my weight is an understatement. To be honest, I’m surprised I didn’t develop an eating disorder myself! But my issues manifested in the form of a severe anxiety – borderline hatred – of my body.

Throughout those years I made several efforts to address the problem.

When I was a child I attempted to join an after school football group, given at the time I was a staunch supporter of Aberdeen FC and loved the beautiful game. Unfortunately, on the very first day, the coach informed me I was too unfit (thus not good enough) to play and was promptly informed never to return.

In my early teens I undertook several paper rounds that saw me lug several kilos of newspapers around the town I lived in both before and after school. I also rode my bike wherever and whenever I could.

Even though I hated Gym class growing up I always gave it my best effort – not always easy when the Gym teacher would confiscate my glasses for fear of them being broken. Being a fat kid playing sport is bad enough – being a blind fat kid playing sport was agonizing; especially when cricket balls I couldn’t see were hurled into my goolies or I ran into the wall whilst trying to grab a blurred basketball. All such uncoordinated behavior earning more insulting comments and verbal retaliation; especially when I would miss open goals in football because I couldn’t properly make out the ball!

By my late teens (when most people had begun experimenting with the opposite sex) I had become a virtual recluse; unable to go to the swimming pool for fear of people laughing at my trunk clad frame, unwilling to exercise in public unless under cloak of darkness and solitude. I would wear clothes that were too large – thus reducing the amount of clinging material – and began showering in a T-Shirt with a towel placed over the bathroom mirror to reduce the chance of glimpsing my naked torso.

The Backpacking Years

My first morning in Edinburgh I was desperate for a slash. I leapt out of my bunk bed and hobbled down the corridor to the bathroom, passing a girl who was packing her pack in the hall. She had a very wide, somewhat embarrassed grin on her face, an expression that confused me until I arrived at the toilet and realized my left bollock was hanging from my boxer shorts.

Only then did it occur to me that the excitement of embarking on my quest had overruled my strict rules of remaining clothed at all time. That woman, though she didn’t realize it at the time, holds the esteemed honor of being the first woman to see my left testicle!

Throughout the remainder of my backpacking – as per the reasons why I’d embarked on such a quest – I pushed to challenge my anxiety and self-confidence issues. When I went to Aberdeen I visited the leisure center to ride the flumes as part of a nostalgia kick to my childhood! A trip to Aviemore, in the desolate isolation of a forest, I stripped nude for the first time in public just to see if I could. On a visit to Glenfinnan I skinny dipped in Loch Shiel. Ditto, during a private visit to Loch Ness!

None of this prevented people aiming snide abusive comments or offering me ‘well intended’ advice on how I could lose weight and stop being so lazy and unattractive.

In spite of these comments and advice, by the time I arrived in Canada, I was stripping off whenever the opportunity presented itself. In fact, a couple of days after first meeting Annie I had zero problems stripping down to my shorts to swim in the springs nor doing the same to leap into a snake populated lake. Neither activity being something I’d have done a few months earlier, especially in the presence of such a ravishing, beautiful woman.

I’ve never been able to adequately explain why my body image issues lessened in Canada. Perhaps because I was so happy and relaxed, perhaps because I was in a foreign country and thus free to be a ‘different’ person. Possibly, and most likely, because the hours, days and weeks of hiking and exercise I’d undertaken since lugging my 20kg rucksack around the world had reduced my waistline to the second lowest it’s ever been.

The Australia Years

By the time I arrived in Australia I was back to my podgy, overweight, former-self. Months of depression and low mood had seen many comfort binges that had done my waistline no favors! Thus, upon arriving in the most appearance focused country on Earth, my body was far from what Aussie’s consider ‘acceptable’.

Every morning, on my walks and rides along the beach during those early months, I would receive condescending comments from complete strangers on how I should just ‘keep going’ and sooner or later I would ‘get rid of the spare tyres I carried’. Those arrogant prats probably thought they were doing something encouraging, whereas all they did was stop me from exercising and bring back the comfort eating to ease my bruised anxiety.

Over time I just learnt to accept I was never going to be anyone’s idea of male attractiveness. Despite cycling upwards of 20-30km a day my weight and physical appearance leveled off in the chubby camp and would never budge. My girlfriend consistently talking me out of joining a gym didn’t help given I’d worked so hard on my gym issues to even go there in the first place.

The Abuse Years

Oh. My. God!

I’ve written in the past how abuse does not go down well with a socially anxious person. Consider the comment from yesterday’s post where I mentioned my innate, crippling fear of being scrutinized and humiliated. All an abuser does is scrutinize, criticize and humiliate, in whatever manner they can to receive maximum impact.

As well as increasing my existing issues over my excess weight with regular references to me being fat, ugly and lazy my abuser created complexes over things I had never given a second thought in my life.

– A couple of moles I have on my back, and have done my entire life, I attempted to cut off with a knife after dozens of comments about how disgusting and grotesque they were. Seriously, don’t try that at home!

– A slightly hairy shoulder that I now shave religiously following dozens of comments about it, including twice when she informed me it made her want to vomit. I have, at times, reduced this area to a mass of bloody raw flesh by endlessly shaving given how aware of its ugliness I’ve become.

– Although never being the most fashionable human being on earth – I much prefer shopping in charity shops to assist the needy than spending hundreds of dollars on a single garment to help the already rich – I am now, and have been ever since the abuse, acutely aware that I am a deeply ugly person no matter what I wear. Until the abuse, I always felt comfortable and confident in whatever I wore.

– At one point in our relationship, as we were writhing naked in the lead up to a horizontal tango, she literally pushed me off of her as she’d become aware of a hair growing out of a freckle on my arm. After finding her tweezers and yanking it out she proceeded to give me a twenty-minute lecture about how disgusting it was, as if I had deliberately encouraged the hair to grow to annoy her. Now, much like the shoulder, I religiously excise this hair on a daily basis to the point that the skin is either removed completely or becomes infected.

I became so obsessed with my physical appearance during that time I’ve never fully recovered from it. As with all areas of my anxiety, the abuse has skyrocketed my body image issues to unparalleled levels.

The Post Breakdown Years

During the months after my breakdown I returned to my never-naked youth. Showers were taken in T-Shirts and swimming shorts, sleeping was always clothed (even on 30+ degree nights) and I would dress with my eyes closed to prevent any accidental nudity glances.

Only when my mood escalated to mania did I stop caring about what I looked like. Hence my ability to undertake the oft-mentioned streaking incident, stripping down in front of numerous women and roam around the hotel fully nude for hours on end. All things I would never consider under normal circumstances.

Upon the inevitable collapse back into depression, my anxiety over my body returned and remained. I returned to the techniques refined since my youth, as well as the new routines I’d developed as a result of the abuse. Although I would pretend otherwise, I never felt truly comfortable being naked in front of my next girlfriend, not because of anything she did but because of all that had happened in the past.

The Homeless Years

As with all aspects of my mental health, the anxiety concerning my body has increased ten-fold since becoming homeless. Sleeping in a park does not facilitate fuzzy bunny feelings over ones appearance. You feel constantly dirty, even after showering, body odors become difficult to contain, even after using deodorant, and clothing is often whatever you can afford and to hell with whether it suits you. Throw in the difficulty of getting a haircut, accessing razors to shave slightly hairy shoulders and eating a healthy and balanced diet, it becomes impossible to view yourself as an attractive human being.

With the vast majority of the world treating you as a feral animal, it doesn’t take long before you start seeing yourself as one.

Now

My strict protective strategies are deeply embedded to the point they are now second nature; the disrobing and putting on my ‘showering’ clothes, the changing clothes with my eyes closed, the endless removal of shoulder and freckle hair, the constant self-criticism over my lack of decent clothing, my inability to go to the gym in fear of scrutiny and humiliation in front of the sizzling hot people who tend to populate these facilities.

Although not receiving as much attention as female representation. The way males are depicted on-screen has also had an increased negative effect; the endless parade of ripped, shirtless males with perfect abs, six packs and v’s amplify the thoughts that I’m insignificant and unlovable; the demoralizing depiction of overweight males being lazy, unintelligent, beer swigging, morons; the repetition of the myths that men always see themselves as handsome, never see their physical flaws and that body image anxiety is solely the domain of women.

Throughout my life I’ve never really spoken of these body image issues with friends, girlfriends or psychologists in fear of the inevitable laughter, ridicule and emasculating comments. Men are supposed to be confident, assured, strong…not caught in the cycle of self-hate that body image issues create. Given I already feel emasculated as a result of the abuse and rape, increasing this would only do more damage to my fragile self-esteem, so I merely keep quiet at all times.

In recent months I’ve noticed articles begin to appear discussing male body image, all of which are sorely needed. But as with other areas of life (abuse, mental health, rape) the emphasis in mainstream society is still on female body image issues with little advice to men other than the standard, and insulting, “just harden the frak up” or “man up”.

Male body image issues are real, debilitating and humiliating. If you cannot love yourself, what can you love? Society needs to take this problem more seriously, instead of resorting to the tried and true stereotypes that reduce men to emotionless, arrogant, morons. Continuing to ignore the issue will have devastating consequences including, in some extreme cases, death.

Note: I would *love* to include photographs of myself in this post to illustrate a part of my body issue anxiety that isn’t clear, which is that I do not see myself properly. People tell me I’m handsome and attractive, with a could-be-better 34 waist but I see myself as a grotesque animal with a bloated size 44+ frame. Unfortunately, my anxiety over my appearance prevents me from photographing myself either clothed or naked, let alone posting them online for all to ridicule. Hence the pixellation whenever I do post an old photograph of myself!

Tomorrow: Anxiety and its effect on friendships and relationships >>>

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Teaser Tuesday: Searching for the Beaumont Children (August 28)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

My inability to read whilst locked into a depressive episode is infamous. Whilst trapped in this mindset the best genre for me to attempt to read is ‘true crime’, inparticular, a book I have read many times over the years as I have been fascinated with the case since the first time I read about it ten years or so ago.

So, today’s Teaser Tuesday, is Searching for the Beaumont Children by Alan J Whiticker.

Anyone can play along with Teaser Tuesdays! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


“The mere mention of the words ‘the Beaumont children’ brings so many memories of that time flooding back. For those who have come after, and know only the half-truths and the urban myths, there is a yearning to know more – to understand the unimaginable and try to answer questions that may never be ansswered. For over four decades now, we have all been searching for the Beaumont children.”

from Searching for the Beaumont Children by Alan J Whiticker