I Used To Be Angry, Here’s What I’ve Learnt

As a former public speaker during my mid-twenties, and something of an advocate for people with disabilities,

I often came across as an angry young man. It didn’t start that way, but for a number of reasons, trying to work as an ally for people who were navigating all the same obstacles both within and outside of the disability community was an exercise resulting in frustration at the best of times. 

Truth be told, I was angry and frustrated.

On deep reflection, I had every right to be as angry as I was, but what I didn’t have the right to do was project that anger onto others. 

So, to start today’s blog, I want to honestly apologize for that. 

I am sorry for projecting my anger, no matter how justified it felt at the time, onto you. I am sorry that some in the disability community may have felt attacked by things I had written or said. 

Trust me when I say, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy being angry about the state of the disability sector, and sometimes, angry about my own role within it. I am sorry for that too. 

Guess what that anger achieved? Precisely nothing.

Was it justified? Yep, probably, and anyone who was involved in the inner circle and prepared to look beyond what was being posted on social media probably understood that. 

That’s the thing about anger, and why we can often be tricked into having those angry feelings on more occasions than we would probably care to admit. 

Anger comes from two very important things.

Firstly, anger comes from injustice. That actually only clicked with me recently, but it’s hugely important to realize when taking a step back to assess your behavior and mood.

Chances are, if you’re really angry about something, it is coming from a place of injustice that you feel, or have felt for some time. 

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that there is a lot of injustice that goes on within disability land, and all of that injustice matters greatly.

I’m a firm believer that it’s our worst stories, the worst examples of discrimination, that should be where we focus because those stories are often buried somewhere near the bottom. 

To build better, you’ve got to build from the bottom up. Being angry isn’t a bad thing, but taking an angry action toward the things that you do (both professionally and personally) will likely always have adverse results, especially if you’re on the ground and a part of that building work. 

The second thing about anger is that it is often historical. The things we get most angry about, and the things that result in us using that anger in action, are often things we have historical experience with. 

So, in my case as that angry disability advocate, there was that deep sense of injustice that had historical meaning for me. 

Again, there is nothing wrong with having a deep desire to make some change in whatever community it is that you feel deeply connected to. 

For me, I didn’t just want to make some change, I wanted to be a leader in that change. For a while, that’s exactly what I did, but what I wasn’t prepared to do was be patient. 

When you feel like you’re doing good work, when you have a real passion for how that work can act as a vehicle for wider change, and especially when you’re young and inexperienced, patience isn’t exactly something that fits into the equation. 

But patience, as the great leaders of our time would tell you, is a virtue you must have. Patience, passion, belief, and a whole lot of room to make the small adjustments needed over time. 

There is no playbook to solving the problems that face our disability community. As advocates, and really as a group of people, we need to have a greater understanding of just why people might feel as angry as they do. 

Anger, as I myself continue to learn, cannot be the emotion that drives the discussions we have in this community, but we can’t attempt to just shut it out either. 

We need to accept anger, understand anger, and give people the real support to resolve that anger and turn it into something that can truly aid what it is we are trying to achieve here. 

Don’t just shut them out and label them angry, negative, and toxic people. Don’t just block them on social media. 

As for our leaders? They need professional development, they need mental skills coaches. 

I know now that my anger within the disability sector, something that honestly did consume me for some time, came from a deep place of injustice with historical roots.

I know I am not alone in that, and what I’ve learned from being in that place is indeed a greater understanding of the things that made me angry in the first place. 

The sense of injustice, the terrible history of blatant ableism. All of that, but what is getting angry about it going to achieve? Not much in all honesty.

Enabling Good Lives? More Like The Untrained Middle Man

First thing’s first. This blog probably won’t make sense. Today I’m feeling depressed, anxious, and more than a little tired.

If there is anything I’ve learnt over the years it’s that feeling down is a genuine part of the human experience. Cliché terms like “it’s ok to not be ok” are so repeated these days that the first natural step to countering the feeling of being down is to tell yourself it’s ok.

In fact, it’s a sentiment that is almost ingrained in us at this point.

But after a good week or so of feeling a bit down and telling myself it’s ok to be feeling this way, I haven’t exactly pulled myself me out of the rut in ways I would’ve liked. I actually did some self help on Google by searching how to get out of a rut earlier today – which then led me to spending a solid hour writing a two-page document of all the things I’m feeling, good and bad.

I started with the bad because, naturally, that’s been how I’ve felt as of late.

I then stared at the document, and it didn’t take me long to work out why I’m feeling the way I do. It’s not work stuff, nor is it anything too personal. An inherent realization has dawned on me in recent days, and it’s one I’ve had before.

Here’s that realization:

Enabling Good Lives, as a concept, simply isn’t achievable. Now take that with a grain of salt, because it is just one opinion and it comes from a place of frustration. The frustration is the value part of Enabling Good Lives, because what is the actual value here?

At its core, Enabling Good Lives serves to help disabled people manage their support system, by way of their own budget which pays for said support.

What it doesn’t do, at least in my view, is provide the actual tools to understanding how responsible one has to be in order to do the managing part. From its very conception, I was always told that Enabling Good Lives was a way of removing the middle man and truly taking control of support is a requirement for most who live with a disability.

That support can be mild or intense, but the big mantra is about putting the person at the centre of it all. My question is this:

Do we actually understand what that looks like in practice? Maybe my situation is different to most because I come under the “high needs” category, but I often feel like the middle man at the centre of it all, as if the responsibility for delivering the services has shifted away from others and landed squarely in my lap in some way or another.

Do I like that? No, not really. I’m fully prepared to admit that I strongly dislike having the responsibility. If I am to buy into the values behind Enabling Good Lives, I’m meant to be in charge of it all and be self-determining my own life right?

Wrong. That’s not how it works in practice. How it works in practice looks like this:

You go for weeks, sometimes months, without hearing from anyone who actually works at Enabling Good Lives (or the Ministry of Social Development to be accurate). There is the odd check in, you’re told to just ring if you need anything. Other than that, the silence is truly deafening.

It’s assumed that everything is ok, or at least that’s how it feels.

But as soon as there is a budget issue, like when you overspend for a month because you racked up HR time advertising for and hiring a new worker, you’ll be hearing from someone pretty quickly.

Maybe that’s what triggered all these feelings I am having. I felt guilty for overspending. Typically, I let others manage the budget side of things. That’s what they are paid to do, and yes, when it comes to hiring a new worker, your costs will go up for a period of time on the HR front.

So why does it feel like my fault? Why do I feel like I’ll be punished for it someday soon?

It goes without saying, as a disabled individual with high needs that evolve from day to day, I’ll probably only be needing more support as life goes on. Right now, that makes me feel incredibly anxious, almost guilty, because I can foresee the inevitable conversation about managing my support budget, which really means cutting back not getting more.

This is not Enabling Good Lives, nothing close to it. Last week I had a conversation with a fellow participant who also manages his own support structure, and I asked him how he’s finding the process.

Here’s what he said:

“Honestly Mike, it’s been really stressful.”

I can relate. There are so many cogs to the wheel, and from my experience, it only takes one of them to go slightly awry and the whole thing comes down. It is an inherently stressful exercise where you are the middle man.

As an Enabling Good Lives participant, I’m given the ability to manage my support structure. What I’m not given is the tools to understand what that really means on a day to day basis.

That’s something I have to teach myself, on the fly.

I Can’t Quit Social Media, But I Can Do It Differently

Like a lot of you, the thought of logging out of all my social media accounts and “disconnecting” has flashed through my mind a lot as of late.

Also, like a lot of you I’m sure, I was left somewhat shocked by what I learned when watching “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix recently.

Even if you aren’t on the major social media platforms, or perhaps you are and you don’t feel being on them is a problem worth considering, I’d highly recommend you take a look at the documentary.

“The Social Dilemma” doesn’t necessarily expose these tech giants for their happy willingness to do all they can to keep our eyes glued on the screen, but it confirms what some of us probably already knew if we really stopped to think about it in the first place.  

I certainly don’t like to think of myself as some sort of lab rat being experimented on, but in reality, it’s hard to argue that these social media platforms all largely started out as experiments and took off to heights that even their own developers didn’t imagine.

Sure, any business is an experiment at its beginning, but few have the potential to contribute to the negative impact on our mental health that Facebook, Twitter, and yes, even Instagram can have on our population.

Anyhow, I didn’t start this blog to write a review of “The Social Dilemma” or try to convince you that social media is bad, I want to talk about why I’m going to make a consolidated effort to lessen my time on the socials and what that could look like.

I Can’t Quite Social Media, But I Can Do It Differently

It seems somewhat disingenuous to make bold claims of lessening my time on social media, whilst at the same time writing this blog and sharing it on social media for you all to read. How else would I share it? Send a link out via an email? Maybe text it to my closest friends and family?

No, quite honestly, the only place to share a blog is on your respective social media timelines and I can guarantee that it’s on social media that you came across this in the first place.

This blog is probably one of a few things you’ll read online today, so no, the answer for me (a freelance journalist and experienced blogger) is not simply disconnecting and walking away because I’d effectively be putting a bullet to my career.

Social media is here to stay, it’s likely only going to increase I’d imagine, and it’s definitely going to be a requirement for those of us who work in the information/news/distribution spaces.

So, I’ll be sharing the content, monitoring feedback to it, and doing by best to respond to intelligent comments, but I’ll also be finding a way to utilize mass sharing using services such as Buffer or Hootsuite to do the distribution part.

But why? Why, for me personally, is limiting time on these services scrolling up and down such a bad thing? Surely, as a journalist at the very least, I need to be connected and up to date at all times?

I hear and take your point, and this is the very reason why this “experiment” to reduce time on the socials isn’t exactly knew. I’ve tried before and failed.

For me, and I wonder for a lot of you who may either be in similar situations or are considering taking on the challenge of less time on social media, it’s not a matter of disconnecting altogether but radically changing up your time on Facebook, Twitter, and especially, Instagram.

Maybe it’s just me, and let be completely honest for a moment, as someone with diagnosed depression and anxiety I’ve noticed that Instagram is a major trigger for a meltdown because it visually shows me what is often the “best” of what others are doing or the “best” of what they have going on.

So, I started this “experiment” by logging out of Instagram and I’ve promised myself I’ll only check in once every other day. That feels like a good place to start as its Instagram which seems to trigger the most.

This morning, instead of checking Twitter and endlessly scrolling through my lists (in my case, curated lists with the latest in politics, rugby, gaming, and disability) while having breakfast, I decided to just use my screen time looking at the actual news apps to see what was breaking.

There is something odd about using Twitter, a platform that is becoming more and more clouded with mis fact and division, as the first place to get my news each day. Ok, granted, I’m fully prepared to admit that using Twitter will often take me to the same official news outlets anyway because I come across a story that I need to read (both out of curiosity but also because of my profession).

It’s just the other stuff that I could so without at this point in my life. I don’t need to hear about everyone’s reaction to the news, I don’t need to see why you agree or disagree with something that Jacinda Ardern said today or why NZ Rugby is a monster organization in desperate need of change.

What I do need is time to breathe, room to concentrate on my work which as a journalist, blogger and part time communications assistant, requires discipline that clouded, information overload with a side of some 1000+ live reactions flashing across my screen simply doesn’t provide.

I’ll start here. It isn’t about disconnecting, I won’t do that, I will check in a few times a day and continue to share my latest yarns, but I’m certainly not going to be scrolling up and down trying to find ideas for the next thing or using these platforms to latch onto others who can increase my professional cred.

Everyone, it seems at least, is an entrepreneur on social media these days, myself included in large part. Our thoughts have become the primary driver behind it all, and it’s what creates so much division, because how can we disagree and still respect one another when there are no parameters to what we can share?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be on social media. I’m saying we all need to put more time, and more value, on something that is beyond that screen that almost never leaves our side.

When writing this blog, it’s a beautiful sunny day outside. I spent my time between pages by taking a stroll down the street and enjoying the fresh air. Nothing happened, my career didn’t suddenly end. It felt great, maybe because spring is here and I’m feeling different.

Feeling Undervalued As A Journalist?

Do you have a shutdown ritual? Do you even know what a shutdown ritual is? According to a blog on mediacurrent, a shutdown ritual is a set routine of actions that you perform at the end of each workday to finalise your day and signify that your workday is done. Many of us need that full stop to end proceedings, and for many of us, it’s also the first step to beginning the next day.

On my phone I have a routine app that features the core daily tasks I have to ‘tick off’ each day. Many of these tasks are personal, things like taking a shower and setting aside 15-minutes for meditation, while other tasks are designed around giving my brain the information ‘fuel’ I need to keep myself updated with the world around me, like reading the news for 30-minutes and checking Twitter.

But one routine focuses on prep – aptly called the shutdown ritual.

Part of my personal shutdown ritual, and one of the core tasks I try to complete each day, is setting out exactly every work task I need to complete the next day. It’s not just the task I write down on a separate ‘to-do list’ app, it’s the exact requirements of the said task.

For example, I frequently write down “write Chiefs feature in 800 words or less” if I have a story due the next day or “research stats on disability employment” if I am preparing to pitch a project to an outlet. If I need to get guidance from an editor or talk through ideas, I’ll write something like “call newsroom to discuss angle X”.

The shutdown ritual also touches on personal appointments or tasks. Does my partner need something in particular from me on this day? I’ll write down exactly what she needs and the steps I need to take to deliver.

It’s all about the detail and the pre-planning is a crucial part of both executing these tasks. It’s also a core fundamental for my own sanity. Almost always, and trust me it happens a hell of a lot, when I don’t have a productive day (or even a productive week), it’s because I haven’t taken the time the day before to list out the agenda for said day or week.

You might read a task such as “write Chiefs feature in 800 words or less” and think that it’s fairly clear cut. But for me, the 800 bit is crucial because it gives me parameters, I now know the ideal word count so can begin thinking about its scope.

My list will also set out the exact time I will submit the story – usually an hour before deadline if possible.

I believe that the same idea can be applied to just about anything you do, whether written down in an app or not.

Want to know why so many people don’t execute on their work or don’t take that next step toward something bigger? It’s not so much that they fail, it’s the lack of attention to the how. For that, I have to give credit to a former mentor of mine and fellow disability advocate Jade Farrar, during our working relationship I marvelled at just how much time and energy he put into the small things that many of us overlooked.

I also have to credit some of the professional rugby players and coaches I speak to on a weekly basis. Their amount of thought and planning on game plans, physical shape, recovery and much more just makes the mind explode when you hear about how it’s all being put into action. A guy like Anton Lienert-Brown is a fine example of that, a deep thinker about his craft and the impact being a man in the spotlight can have on those around him whilst also knowing how to switch off and get away.

Cool Story Mike, So What’s The Point Exactly?

During these ever-increasing times, particularly in our work, it’s crucial that we allow ourselves to check it all at the door but not forget our value by underselling.

This may mean different things for different people, but for me, recent times have really forced a lot of reflection on the motives and value behind what I do, particularly as a freelance journalist. Just this week I went on Reddit and asked other freelancers about their approach to drawing a line in the sand and saying no when you start thinking your hard work is being taken advantage of.

Just a bit of context. The media business is short on money right now. Newsrooms are downsizing not expanding, journalists who were previously employed are now being asked to work as contractors and pitch stories on an individual basis.

It’s a tough industry at the best of times and, sadly, many of those who only care about the spreadsheets are putting editors in extremely tough positions by forcing them to let some of their very best writers go, or at the very least, take a hefty pay cut.

But for me, I didn’t actually understand how much time, energy and effort I was putting into my work for these different outlets until I did a bit of a google on myself. When you google ‘Michael Pulman Journalist’ it should take you to a site called Muckrack which pulls together all the clips that I’ve written for the various mainstream media outlets in the past year or two.

Turns out, I’ve done a fair bit of work. Then I began to think back to the process of writing those pieces that went on to be picked up by outlets and published in print.

It came down to the work, obviously, but it was also the quality of the process that was put around those particular articles. Few of those articles were rush jobs, looking back at my to-do lists from those particular dates showed me that I had taken the time to perform that shutdown ritual where I had the patience to map out, 1 what the task was, 2 when it was due, and 3 what the parameters for it all were.

Being a freelancer in an ever-competitive media space often makes you feel like you’ve got to be on the button constantly, ready to pitch a story at a moments notice and do it before anyone else, then get it written and out the door within an hour or two so it’s timely.

Some of that might be true, but a lot of it is also complete bullshit. Being timely on a piece doesn’t make it good, keeping up appearances might help forge good relationships, but the real work is often done in isolation where the outside influences don’t help deliver the final product.

You deliver the product, nobody else really holds you accountable if you are a freelancer. If you do deliver and hold yourself accountable to everything that’s involved in doing something of quality, you’ve got to understand that there is some real value in that.

When I posted on Reddit I asked a very simple question to some fellow freelancers.

Would you do all this and not expect to be paid? Would you provide that scoop and a quality, thought-provoking read for little more than thanks and handshake?

Sooner or later, you’ve got to flick that switch and stop beating yourself up over the things you cannot control. Speaking purely from the media landscape for a moment – you’ll likely have a hundred doors closed on you before one eventually opens a bit.

Guess how many times I had to work for free before any doors opened? I estimate that I’ve worked for free for well over three of my six years working in the media industry.

The doors started to open when I focused on the story, not the number of stories. As a freelancer, I’ve so often been guilty of focusing far too much on volume as opposed to value. If you’re motivated by volume and nothing else, you have no room to improve. I want to improve, I want to be the very best I can be at what I do, and yes, I want to feel valued by the outlets I write for.

So if you’re out there and you’re in a similar boat to me, please know you’re not alone. If you know you’re doing all you can then there is your value right there. Please do all you can to ensure your work is valued.

Our COVID-19 Lockdown Lessons Were A Good Thing

Almost a week has passed since New Zealand lifted itself out of COVID-19 alert level 4, bringing with it a slight reprieve from the most restrictive times our nation has ever seen.

Never before, and maybe never again, will an entire population come to a standstill in the way it did throughout the month of April. Never again will the majority of us with the smarts required have the opportunity, perhaps even time, to think about how we really feel about the crazy thing we call our lives.

So what does it all mean for the future? Whilst times are still uncertain, if the state of national lockdown taught us New Zealanders anything, it should be just how lucky we’ve always been. 

Access to the environment, to our friends, to our work. Most of it wasn’t given a second thought by most prior to all this. Those same old roads, footpaths, lakes and parks, places of work, coffee shops and the people outside of our little circle that we spend the majority of the time trying to please or convince.

Oh, and those glorious takeaways! We sure as hell missed those!

We missed it all during the course of the national lockdown. It tested our mental health, our relationships, perhaps even our very lifestyles. And honestly, it’s about damn time.

The ones that were quick to try and break the rules were class examples of selfish, immature and ignorant. The ones that complained to all that would listen on social media about being stuck at home with nothing to do suddenly realised how meaninglessly frantic their typical day-to-day lives were prior to lockdown, you know the lives where social commitments and keeping everyone in your outer circle matters most? Yeah, those ones. 

It all kind of makes me feel happy to be a socially challenges introvert with a very small circle of friends. I didn’t have to miss a whole lot during the lockdown, I had what I needed right there with me (partner, cats, food etc).  

Thankfully, the smarts of most shone bright and we managed to do enough to have the restrictions eased somewhat, allowing us to now enjoy some of those basic pleasures like getting a coffee or going out for a quick fish. 

The easing of lockdown also allowed some of us to see close family for the first time in over a month, something I personally am very thankful for. 

The tone of this blog may bring out a rolling of the eyes depending on your viewpoint on the world around you. But I do implore you, if you couldn’t use this time to take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself some important questions, you’re probably missing the bigger point here. 

The point is, the majority of you reading this are privileged, you really are.

I know, it sucks to have that pointed out, but I’m not talking about privilege in the terms of materials. I’m talking about privilege in terms of the options you have in the world around you, many of those options were taken away during the lockdown and it forces you to deal with, and make the best of, the things you actually had on hand and not the things you could get. 

Do you feel me? I guess in a roundabout way, what I’m really trying to say here is use the experience of COVID to appreciate the little things in life a little more. If you don’t appreciate those you shared your bubble with, ask yourself why.

COVID should have taught us all a lot of things in all honesty. If it didn’t teach you anything, you’re proving my point.

But don’t worry, there is still time.

Disability’s Leadership Achieving Mediocre Outcomes

We in New Zealand’s disability community desperately need something to change because the frameworks in place are clearly not having the desired outcome that our leaders say that fight so hard to achieve.

Yet another damaging report into the state of New Zealand’s health and disability services sector was released last week, highlighting a sorry trend of underfunding and a lack of leadership across the board to address it, amongst many other things.

What’s worse is that no disabled people were involved in the official Health and Disability Review Panel that conducted research and produced the 300-page report, confirmed to me by various sources.

Nothing new for a major disability issue then, just more non-disabled people talking the talk.

What a sorry state of affairs it is, what a poor reflection of a disability community that has so much more to give than what it appears to be giving. This poor reflection is a symptom of many wrongs, but don’t just blame it on that big buzz word popularly referred to as ableism, take a look at what the report actually says.

The lack of decision-making frameworks and subsequent lack of accountability due to the confusion isn’t just a flashy sentence in this report, it’s true to one of the biggest issues present in the current system.

I hear your counter-argument, “oh but the ignorant non-disabled designed it so it’s ableist”. Incorrect, you’re attempting to simplify a truly complicated problem.

The inequity of outcomes in this, a system that strives to “leave nobody behind”, sure has left many behind and has been consistently under-resourced and poorly managed for years.

Just as it was in the 90’s and early 2000’s when the powers that be realized there wasn’t enough support workers, housing, or funding resources for the hundreds of disabled people formerly in institutions such as Kimberly, the last few years have presented similar challenges as systems have tried to reinvent themselves.

What we’ve steadily seen is that the capacity to deliver on the promises of greater choice and flexibility has been seriously stretched, now at a point where it’s becoming impossible. Take the small portion of disabled people and families lucky enough to be experiencing the best of new person-centred support trials like Enabling Good Lives and toss it to the side, we are talking about a drop in the ocean.

Those are the cold hard facts and don’t let the flashy dressed insider’s tell you any different.

Disability’s Leadership Achieving Mediocre Outcomes

As I wrote back in April, serious accountability needs to be put on the self-elected leaders who represent the voices of the disability community. What exactly are they saying in the ears of ministry officials? Are they actually getting the chance to say much of anything at all?

When I spoke with the Disability Rights commissioner back in May, she urged the sector to come together and figure out what it really takes to cost out and design the system it’s hoping to deliver for disabled people. Those comments might be obvious but they are in themselves a solution because some of the poorest outcomes delivered in a system that is currently not resourced adequately are in some ways indicative of the wider problem.

My guess would be that Ministry agencies deal in dollars. After all, it’s the financials that drive all areas of Government, or are we still stuck in the old mindset that a marginalized community simply presents its case and the resource to deliver on its needs suddenly appears like magic?

The kicker to all this is that here I am writing this piece as a self-identifying disabled person. That’s relevant and let me tell you why.

I’ve had my faith in this system and our leaders for a long time.

Do I get any other choice? No, actually I don’t. For me and many like me, the average every-day disabled New Zealanders, we the rely on professional, flexible and adequate support that hasn’t been effectively costed out due to rushed and conditional guidelines in its design.

I can tell you that a lot of us have no choice but to bend to the realities of that system, and whilst it is better, it’s entirely unthought out.

The caregivers pay equity deal being a fine example. How many disabled people do you know being impacted by this? We didn’t choose to give support workers such appallingly low pay rates to begin with, because we had more faith in the importance of the work that these people did.

Yet here we are in the reality that staff turnover is still high, perhaps even higher, and here we are in the reality that uncertainty is really the only key expectation for the disability support system.

Sound familiar? If our leaders were doing what they are tasked to do, we would at least have some clarity about what’s next. Then again, maybe a few out there are lucky enough to have such information.

My Mental Health: Knowing YOUR Role

The musings of a 27-year old battling his mental health demons in therapy every other week. 

When I look back at my journey with depression and anxiety, I see it as one of consistently broken promises. I broke promises to my friends and family, but most importantly, I broke a ton of promises that I’d made to myself.

I said I would do a lot to tackle my “problems”, but in actual reality, I only managed to do a little bit.

When you’re depressed and anxious, you’ll kick yourself for only doing that little bit and you forget one very important thing, that you actually did that little bit.

We so often look at issues with mental health as things that need fixing or changing.

It’s the classic case of being in a bad place and wanting to get to a better one, but not really knowing how to do so, or especially, why we want to get there.

Two failed attempts at legitimate therapy and six sessions into my third go, I still can’t answer either of those questions, so sorry to disappoint.

One thing I do know is that this time it feels different, almost like it’s a case of now or never. I quite like having to look at it in that way, even though I know that all hope isn’t lost if I fail again this time.

Another strength I’ve developed (one I sincerely wish I had before) is the ability to accept that it’s ok to not be ok. That phrase is used a lot in advertising for mental health, but it really is true. Once you accept that these things you’re feeling aren’t A) negative and B) your fault, you’ll be able to take a much deeper look at where it all originates from.

I’ve learnt the theory behind how the heart operates from a person’s past experiences. Again, another wishy-washy sort of thing to try and understand, but if you’re able to look at the current objectively, it makes perfect sense.

Logic can often go out the window when you’re in a dark place. It is NOT logical to just say you’re depressed and want those thoughts and feelings to go away, because you haven’t considered how. It is also NOT logical to just go to the doctor and get anti-depressants prescribed. As someone who’s been on these anti-depressants since 2014, I can safely tell you that whilst for most of us they are necessary, these tiny little pills are just one part of the puzzle.

Solving that puzzle doesn’t mean you aren’t depressed or anxious anymore either, again I am sorry to disappoint. Use your logic, ask yourself what else you need to do on top of taking any medications.

The answer you’ll tell yourself will probably go something like this… “I don’t know”.

If you don’t know, ask someone else, because remember that you’re likely being illogical as you’re still coming at this question from that same dark place.

My Mental Health: Knowing The Role

A demon that I’ve tried and subsequently failed to tame is the mental ability to “switch off”. I’m told that advocates, activists, and those passionate about making a change to their community, often struggle in this space more than most.

I can certainly identify with lying in bed and watching television but being drawn to my iPhone simply so I can check if there are any “updates” to the issue I might be writing about that particular week. I can also identify with the urge to log onto Facebook and see if there is “just one more comment” on that blog I posted.

A turning point for me came when I started to turn down that desire a little.

It’s something that will remain one of my main challenges moving forward, that ability to “log off” at the end of the day and tell yourself that enough is enough.

I can tell you that for most content creators and journalists, two things of which I am, that is an extremely difficult skill to master because social media is where both your community/engagement is and where the news is breaking. Both have very short attention spans, so you’ve got to be “quick to post” more often than not.

The logical way of doing things is to plan out your time better. Know when you’re “on” and when you’re “off”.

When I was in that dark place I willed myself to always be on but all I ended up doing was being off. That means that I slept, a lot.

Sleep is an integral part to better mental health in my view, but it needs to be done right.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that these mental health issues have presented me with is the very real threat that sleeping more than you should presents. It can, and will, start to take over your life. It is one of the most common signs to depression and various other mental health issues, and one I know first-hand.

Don’t Be Someone Else’s Scapegoat

To close out this blog, I want to offer you two pieces of advice. The first, be very sure about what your role is in the different situations you’ll come across in life.

For example, if you are a persons’ manager but also their friend outside of work, be very clear about how you make decisions that could impact that person. You can be friends with the people you work with, honestly. But look at things logically and from the perspective of what’s best for business.

The second you step into that friend role and advocate on their behalf, as the manager, you set yourself up to be the scapegoat. People love to shift responsibility for their misfortune, and if you put yourself in that position, it will impact your self- esteem and make you depressed in a second.

Know your role, ask yourself who owns the situation at hand. If you own it, do something about it. If you don’t own it, realize it’s that person’s responsibility to make the change.

The permission you give will have a direct impact on the emotions you feel. When you are depressed, anxious, frustrated, or sad, how can you possibly think that you yourself are owning these emotions?

My final piece of advice is to realize that perfection doesn’t exist.

Striving to be the perfect person in a world and one that can help everybody will leave you with nobody. In other words, stop thinking about what other people want you to do, and do what you think you should do.

As the saying goes, imperfection is only measured by what we perceive to be perfect. What would be perfect for you right now?

PERSONAL: The Importance Of Focusing On How I Contribute

The only things in life that you can control are your words, actions, and feelings, but you can also influence a lot of outcomes with your ability or inability to think critically about what you do and don’t do in certain situations. 

Sometimes a choice isn’t within your own control, ask a large majority of the population working in careers they despise if you don’t believe me. A lot of the time, we may have to act in a situation where the choice has been made for us and this can lead you to a situation of attempted influence or actioned ignorance.

That’s a very technical term to describe a simple concept. How you choose to react, deal with, and respond to a situation where the choice isn’t always just in your hands, as you’d prefer, can often reflect whether you’re prepared to rise to, or have settled to accept and ignore.

The truth is, you can do both, but the latter will leave a far more negative taste in the mouth of those around you, particularly the ones you will have to answer to.

Being Clear, Concise, And Patient 

Like you, I find myself in situations that challenge my thoughts and decisions multiple times every day. Perhaps that’s a reflection on me because I haven’t worked out the powers of command and control as yet.

But that raises the question, would I really want to live in that sort of world?

As much as challenging situations can be stressful and lead to all sorts of emotional responses, it’s important to do two things during that. One, be analytical about how you handled that situation when reflecting, and two, realize that you were probably a big part of the reason that situation occurred.

For example, last week I texted one of my support workers with a very vague message that led her to believe I wanted immediate action. If I had been more specific about what I was actually asking and saying, then she wouldn’t have thought I was demanding for a response right there and then, and thus, she wouldn’t have felt annoyed and that I had suddenly changed my plans at the last second, with the direct implication being that I required more work out of her.

That’s just one example of many lessons I’ve learnt recently involving how my own direct action, inaction, or lack of clarity can lead to confusing and annoying situations.

I’d have saved myself, and her, a lot of anxiety by simply being more clear, and perhaps a little more patient.

Focusing On How I Contribute To The Wider We

The events in Christchurch recently sparked a lot of conversation about the acceptance of different cultures and religions.

I’d like to see the same conversations happening around how we interact with one another, the things we say or not say, and how we deal with conflicting viewpoints because it’s not too dissimilar from the current unity being shown on that front. Like this example, we shouldn’t have to wait and experience such tragedy for the glass ceiling on these other important conversations to finally be blown off.

Some may say that leaning on the notion that accepting so much is beyond our control may be of defeatist thinking.

That’s where the power of conversation comes in. As an entire society and especially in the online spaces, we need to slow down, think, evaluate, and encourage ourselves to not let frustrated or bitter emotions get in the way of simply having a conversation about the issue/issues at hand. The same goes for non-issues, those positive points in our lives where we think everything is great and not in need of any further evaluation.

Everything needs evaluation, ongoing clarity,  and systematic acknowledgement that we ourselves are always half of everything. We aren’t the whole 100%, our virtues and beliefs may be right and working for us, but that doesn’t mean they are correct and to be followed by all.

It’s a simple concept, but it can often take a lifetime to understand. For me, it’s taking 27-years and counting.

Mike Kings’ fight against Government is music to the ears

Mike Kings’ stance against the Government’s suicide prevention plan is exactly what New Zealand needed in a time where politicians sit on their hands.

King, who says suicide prevention is a responsibility for everyone, has attacked the Government over what he calls a ‘deeply flawed’ plan to cut down on suicide rates in New Zealand.

The comedian and mental health advocate is on of New Zealand’s well-known faces, and his stance has gathered a lot of attention in recent days.

As a direct result of a recently released draft strategy, King resigned from his role on the Governments board working on suicide prevention after two years in the role.

King has revealed, publicly, a fact that many people already know but don’t speak up about.

In New Zealand, young people are not being treated appropriately for suicidal thoughts, and in some cases, are sent back into the community within as little as two hours of arriving in medical facilities.

“People have to actually attempt suicide before they will get some action”, King said.

It is another reminder of how poor the health system is in New Zealand. Cost saving appears to be the priority, not quality of live for New Zealanders. King’s stance points to a bigger picture of the overall problem – and more prominent people need to start speaking out.

Currently, New Zealand has the highest rate of teen suicide in the modern developed world. That is a major black mark against this country’s health system – and one that needs to change fast.