• Week 2-3 Covid! Hooray!

    Oh my god. What the fuck was that?

    So, I was going so well. I was powering out of week 2, ready to grab week 3 by the horns, and took a beautiful sunny Saturday in the garden to regroup and take some downtime for my mind before revving up for the new week.

    But by around midday on the Saturday, I sat down on a metal chair outside my chookyard (where I have a milk crate as an ottoman… it’s my favourite place in the whole world aside from San Diego, basically), and I couldn’t really get up again and pick up a rake to do any more work around the veggie patch.

    I felt very, very strange.

    I just sat there for ages, feeling strange.

    Before long, my husband came loping outside towards me. He lopes. He doesn’t walk. He’s long.

    “I feel so strange,” I said to him. And I reached out to him and held on for dear life, because I felt so wobbly and teetery that I was a little afraid. I’m quite scared of being unwell. The flu has nearly killed me before, and it was so traumatic that now I experience a whole lot of fear at the slightest hint of flu.

    By the next day, I was in the roughest neighbourhood of Covid Town. Coughing, spluttering, headaching, snotting everywhere, and just totally sapped of energy. I didn’t really get up for about 5 days or so unless I needed to use the bathroom or get drugs or do something essential for my husband or child. Thankfully, I didn’t lose my sense of taste or smell. I made chicken soup on Sunday knowing I was about to get really sick. So we just ate chicken soup for a couple of days.

    Seeing as children statistically aren’t as likely to be dramatically affected by covid, I was less worried about my daughter, and this turned out to be a sound assumption. Despite coughing a bit and testing positive to covid-19, she has remained as bouncy, active and argumentative as ever. She’s totally fine and has had a lovely time of her week home from school. As for her parents… different story. For a few days, all we could manage was a dreary tag-team effort in looking after her and ensuring she had meals and varied playtime and learning opportunities and all that. We both suffered hard with severe symptoms, and while my husband is mostly better, I’m still pretty sick. Like the months following my pneumonia, I have unfortunately returned to Ventolin dependence, and my soreness and fatigue are greatly increased. But that’s by the bye. It’s fine. I’m fine. We’re all fine. I’ll recover in time, I’m sure. And we got loads of family time together. We’ve seen a whole lotta Spider-Man movies, and had some lovely conversations about self-control, and taking responsibility. Spider-Man really is such a great family conversation-starter for themes like emotional self-regulation, and decisionmaking, and self-control. Kids need Spider-Man.

    In the meantime, my uni classes have powered ahead without me, and at ECU there’s no mechanism for off-campus students to report their covid-19 positive status. They really only allow for on-campus students to do that. So I’ve been concerned that my absence from the online discussions for the past week have been noticed and that the lecturers will think it’s because I don’t care and don’t try. It’s not that at all. I’ve just been way too sick to sit at my desk until today.

    Online students really are at a disadvantage, no matter which way we look at it. In so many ways, it’s absolutely brilliant that university education has progressed to the point where a single mother or someone with disabilities or very few dollars in their bank account is now able to access a university degree almost 100% online. That’s something that I didn’t have access to back when I did my Advanced Diploma of Music. But if you ever have to make a decision about whether to study online or on campus, try to study on campus, because it is definitely advantageous to do so.

    Today’s lecture was pretty great. When you study concepts like culture and diversity in the context of therapeutic practice in first year and then revisit those themes again at a higher level, something about it brings about new thinking and new reflection for you. Nothing about the lectures and readings I’m doing is new to me, and it’s all written to cater to the people who just have white ancestry or just have no lived experience interacting with people from other cultural backgrounds. Like my lecturer said today, the figures tell us that only 30% of people regularly socialise with First Nations People, but I agree with him when he speculates that the figure is probably little less than 30%. Cultural competence simply isn’t something the community in general has achieved. How do I measure that? Well, it’s not safe out there to disclose to just anyone that you’re Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. I had to listen to a completely ignorant comment about First Nations students the other day from someone who works in public education, and I just despair sometimes. I didn’t bother “going there” with this person, because at that level of ignorance, it will take months of schooling to even scratch the surface.

    It’s good that classes like mine are being offered. I just wish everyone could get the opportunity to get their heads across these super-fundamental concepts. But this is the world we live in. This is the real world. And I have to process the reality that people will come into my therapeutic setting and say things that are incredibly racist and incredibly ignorant… but they will be my clients, and I have to respond appropriately. Racism is something that has bothered me my entire life, since I was my youngest daughter’s age and experienced racism for the very first time. When I lived amongst the Chinese community in Castle Hill, I had no idea racism existed. While other children learn what racism is by having a teacher or parent explain it to them, I learned the hard way. My family moved to an extremely white, extremely racist place, and I learned what racism was by being called words like “gook”, “ching-chong” and “nip” by other children, and then going home to ask my mother what those words meant.

    The trauma and the disruption that racism inflicted upon me and others like me throughout my too-short schooling years cut so deeply that even as a 42 year old student of psychology, it is one of two very great mountains I must (mostly) climb before I can confidently go into clinical practice. Leaving highschool early because I could no longer bear the racist bully was something I’ve never forgiven this country for, and it set me on a path of aimlessness and sadness that I didn’t ever really find my way out of until I was 35 and resumed my schooling.

    But… forgive I must. Today, there’s another 17 year old who needs a grown-up mental health professional to listen to her because she too is experiencing racist bullying at school with violence in her home from the very parent who endowed her with that shining black hair and beautiful almond eyes. She bounces back and forth… bullying at school, bullying at home. She finds her way into my clinic somehow and there she rightly expects someone to understand. Not just know an “approach” for. To really understand.

    For her, I go on.


  • Talking about aged care

    Oh, god. So, here we go. Straight into preparing the research base needed to do an essay, due next month. The first one I’m going to focus on is from a class about providing mental healthcare for older people. Where many students are pretty reliant upon the older members of their families or memories of elderly neighbours for any true lived experience of being with older people, I’ve got a truckload of experience, due to my work in the community as an oral historian and a media professional with a mental health specialisation.

    I’ve met seniors from all walks of life, from countries all over the world, with many varying incomes and families and abilities and homes and social statuses. I’ve sat with them at the kitchen table or walked around their farms with them, recording and documenting their immigration history for posterity and for my column. The learning opportunities granted to me by these families have been endlessly valuable, and forever appreciated.

    I am buddies with a local GP who specialises in geriatrics and he is a passionate activist who inspires us all to become “Dementia Friends” to those in our communities who depend on us to know a little bit about dementia and behave accordingly. My other friend Peter is a “Dementia Coach”; a passionate advocate and educator for my local area and beyond.

    That is, I have no excuse to stuff this up. I’ve had extensive formal and informal education on myriad issues which affect people in old age… mostly informal and self-directed. When you have taken a break from research reports to do a lot of professional writing for media, it’s very difficult to rein in that “education for community entertainment” vibe from your writings, and pull it back to sharply-disciplined scientific writing. My big challenge is to get back into university life and re-learn how to funnel that complex breadth of face-to-face experience into well-written academic work. And now, for bonus fun, in APA 7th! Perhaps that is a big challenge for me as I reach a new stage in my own development; learning anew when I am no longer a young, highly-adaptable and dynamic spongelike creature, and more rigid in my ideas. I am forever struggling against my personality when it comes to writing for university. “Why can’t I just write the way I’d speak to a community group? This is stupid! I sound like a robot! I just want to talk about the issues affecting older Australians as if I’m having a cuppa with you!”

    But… it is what it is. Universities have granted the title of “Dr” to many a rebel. Heck, Tom Morello is my hero. Brian May. Jonathan Miller. Huge shitstirrers, all.

    So I shall write obediently (in APA 7 formatting thank you) about an issue which affects people in older age. I have previously felt I wasn’t an advanced enough student to approach sexology and sexuality in my work, but now that I’m at the level I’m at, I feel I should try to make my first attempt at this.

    And no, not every person will encounter the same issues in their old age. For example, if you are someone who lives in poverty but are referred to a urologist with a large fee, specialist healthcare is going to be something you either struggle to afford and experience great distress over, or it’s something you just cannot access at all; even with a Medicare card. Whether you’ve got prostate cancer or you just need a few consults or minor surgery to deal with erectile dysfunction, the impacts on your life really can’t be reduced to, “Well, this one’s going to kill you and this one’s just going to really affect your enjoyment of sex and your relationship with your partner.” That’s just not how healthcare should ever work.

    If you’re someone living in rural and remote communities and must spend a lot of money travelling to treatment, you may be foregoing nutritious food and medication to pay for that travel, even if the treatment has no gap fee. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families needing treatment such as dialysis, the distress of moving off Country and away from our kinship group is a real, measurable risk factor. End of life care for mob – at the time of my researching the evidence – was mostly poorly understood by the community, and there was a real discrepancy between what the research says is good care and what actually happens at the patient’s end. I am fairly sure this has progressed very little in the years since. I chose to research dialysis and end of life care for Aboriginal communities in an assignment several years ago, and the reading and statistics for this reduced me to tears more than once. I got a great mark for it, but by the time you really immerse yourself in that reading and hear the stories, the mark feels pretty meaningless, and you just want our social systems and legislation to bloody MOVE on it. Racism is costly, and it is a measurable health risk.

    Only last month, an article in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health came out, outlining a clear path ahead in this area. To so many of us – especially advocates who have been yelling the same message for years – it’s a bit maddening to see stuff coming out which states the bleeding obvious, but maybe we need that serious literature to spell it out to some people.

    It’s difficult to keep our spirits up without spending time on Country and with our family and loved ones. (OR)

    Going back to the bush is good for the heart and mind. (VR)

    Many people come from home communities where we are leaders and have important roles and responsibilities. When we have to leave that behind to access treatment in the city …, we feel like rubbish, and we are treated like [these things] are unimportant. (MC)

    We moved here to support my uncle, but we need just as much support to know what we should be doing. (VR)

    (Kelly et al., 2022)

    In gerontology, it seems like such a basic thing, but the wee undergrads are first reminded that those in old age (generally understood to be those aged 65+) are people, like us, and that as we age, we never stop having the same rights, hopes, wishes, sensitivities, needs and wants as anyone else. And you’d think this goes without saying, but when you look at all the news headlines this week, you can see that as a society, some part of us is perfectly alright with putting our elderly away into substandard care, and never fixing that situation until truth-tellers remind us about our responsibility to the aged population. From many corners now, Australians are calling for a cultural shift on aged care.

    And that population is growing. Nearly 8% of the world population is over 65, compared with only 2% a century ago. In Australia, the percentage of our population over 65 is 13%, with that figure set to rise still more.

    New conversations, such as the above, are beginning to project a better potential future for aged care; not just for today’s government to claim credit for, but for the diverse, older, healthier service users aged 65+ over the next three generations. Who are these ageing populations, and what can we do to better provide for them?

    “I live in an incredible amount of fear about my future. Not just as an older person. But as a gay older person. Institutions, they’re very straight. My god, I hope I don’t have to go into a care home, I really do . . . When I think about it, I find it quite scary. It frightens me that I am just going to be invisible, a nobody; that I am just going to be lost. And what I would want to do is just die.

    May, aged 64, ‘Finding Out’

    (Westwood, 2016)

    This incredibly impactful quote is out of a publication called “Ageing, Gender and Sexuality”, by a researcher called Dr Sue Westwood, who’s from the UK. I can’t even begin to list all the magnificent work she’s done; she is just a very busy bee and you can click here to have a look at all the research she has done on the intersections between sexuality, ageing, religious organisations, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the successful delivery of community mental health services given these variables and populations. I’m in awe of her. Importantly, she’s not just a social scientist; she’s a lawyer. This brings into all her work an authoritative human rights perspective with a firm pointer to where the law or public health fall short.

    As stated by the author, “Ageing, Gender and Sexuality focuses on the experiences of older lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals, in order to analyse how ageing, gender and sexuality intersect to produce particular inequalities relating to resources, recognition and representation in later life.”

    This is the sort of work that busts apart our tendency to categorise older people as simply “old people”. It acknowledges that like the rest of our care over our lifespan, aged care must meet us all where we are at. It must recognise our differences and cater to groups whose health needs and protective factors intersect with our communities – our sense of belonging.

    I imagine that work of such cross-disciplinary spunk brings the old guard a well-deserved headache from time to time. When I consider the future implications and recommendations listed in the Kelly et al. paper (the one about Aboriginal patients driving kidney and healthcare improvements) I can’t help but wish that all research out of the social sciences could always have that sort of legal clout. Too often, arts and humanities faculties and psychological science research is given nothing like the consideration it deserves by governments who refuse to see any relationship between humanities and economics. Heaven forbid they just start where they should; by caring.

    Having spent a good deal of time with older Australians, I’ve seen with my own eyes how much someone’s health and wellbeing is impacted by a transition to under-resourced, under-prioritised aged care. Arguably, nobody wants to spend year upon year in a place like that. Have you ever heard anyone sound excited to go into aged care? Me neither. And happy anticipation of comfort and happiness with folks we feel are still our community should be the standard we’re reaching for as aged care reform continues. No less.



    Kelly, J., Stevenson, T., Arnold-Chamney, M., Bateman, S., Jesudason, S., McDonald, S., O’Donnell, K., Pearson, O., Sinclair, N. and Williamson, I. (2022), Aboriginal patients driving kidney and healthcare improvements: recommendations from South Australian community consultations. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. https://doi.org/10.1111/1753-6405.13279

    Westwood, S. (2016). Ageing, Gender and Sexuality: Equality in later life (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi-org.ezproxy.ecu.edu.au/10.4324/9781315691961

  • The trip so far…

    Acknowledgement of Country
    I acknowledge the Darug people as the Traditional Owners of the land upon which this learning journal is informed and written. I recognise that I live on stolen land. I embrace the learning opportunities that I've had the good fortune to be given in the years leading up to today and into the future by the Elders and friends from the Booroberongal People, whose relationship with Mother Country, water, sky, and the Animals and Plants of this Country endures.

    So, today, as a student of Psychological Science who is quite near graduating, I resume my university learning. The coffee’s hot, I’m on NO sleep, my husband – my sweet, delightful, delicious, debugging, de-lovely husband – is in his bedroom office working away at his job as a software engineer, and the dogs are piled like saggy cushions on their putrid “dog couch”, being useless, as usual.

    It would appear that I have won life-lotto.

    It didn’t come easily, and the gamble was undertaken almost entirely by my husband, who beat my ex-husband with his own ridiculous lawsuit (tra-lol! Suck eggs!), fought to be allowed to enter Australia during an almost total international lockdown for everyone (except Chris Hemsworth), funded his own migration to Australia after living an American life as a mature age student of engineering for six years (that is, with hardly a dime to his name he worked his arse off to save enough to come to Australia for a new-life-new-wife-new-strife sort of deal), to finally sweep into my driveway with his little bags and marry me.

    Anyway, aside from the obvious shock that I married again and that it was a man (and pretty much the loveliest one in the galaxy), I’ve suddenly found myself in this situation where all the roadblocks I had previously encountered in life have been swept aside. I’m free of Centrelink. I’m free of misogyny and abuse in my home. I am over forty, and suddenly learned the word, “no”. And I have learned not to let PTSD run me ragged; my biggest, most perpetually-present danger lies like a ditch running alongside my days. It is the compulsion to help others so busily and so frantically that I have no time or resources left for myself. My O.D. of choice is always burnout. In 2018, it nearly killed me. Yet, I remain prone to it. Living with someone who cares if you’re healthy and happy is such a protective factor in that area. Somebody notices that you’re letting people enslave you to their relentless Facebook messages and phone calls and neurotypical need for many coffee dates and objectiveless meetings. They notice that you’re sick because of it. They love you enough to tell you. If they love you most, they’ll prompt you to ask yourself why you’re always doing things that make you sick.

    I am free to make goals again. Not just goals like, “Find a safe place to live”, or “find enough food for my children this week with only $4 to spare after rent and bills”… they are esteem and self-actualisation goals. Before 2022, I really only lived my life blundering around on the two bottom stripes of Maslow’s Pyramid.

    Source: https://www.thoughtco.com/maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-4582571

    By the way, if you’re new to the hierachy of needs and have often wondered why so many in your community don’t progress through life the way you have, have a look at the video I linked to in the previous paragraph. Anyone working with children and families in particular must understand why it is wrong to use terms like “dole bludger” and they must begin to start thinking more in terms of risk factors or protective factors. Trauma-informed practice is a big learning curve which should immediately follow.

    There’s so much more to my story but you shall have to wait for my book. I continue to work on that book, in a way that I don’t enforce any sort of time pressure on. I work on it when I feel I’m able to, and it may take another five years to actually finish it, because I am waiting for a little bit of hindsight perspective to come, now that my domestic violence and religious trauma has largely completed its sequence. Some part of me also feels that the story of a domestic violence survivor is probably best authored under a name that precedes a string of those silly little letters. I remain determined to obtain those letters; not the easy way, but the hard way. The slow way. The way that makes you a better therapist, rather than a speedily-qualified therapist that was good at exams but still can’t talk to families or deliver a real-world service to the community.

    My reading and self-directed experiential learning, since 2012, has sought to accumulate “slow” knowledge and harmonious skill in the area of autism. The diagnostic skills are covered via university learning, but the knowledge for what is best said and unsaid is founded in experience. The knowledge of how to have a two-way conversation with someone who does not use their voice the same way as a neurotypical client is something that you have to work on over decades; not for “credits” or “recognition of prior learning” or even for some sort of “good for the resume” boxticking exercise… but because you want to be someone who can cut the crap and deliver for families who have gone begging from door to door for years and been let down, only to be faced with a long waiting list to get into your clinic. We’ve got to be the best doctors we can be.

    Fuck the Lexus. Build a sensory room for your clients. Take a year off and write a book that actually uses real terms that families can understand and put into practice the following day. That takes time. It takes unpaid time. It takes collaboration with families, researchers, clinicians and community based workers. Above all, it takes patience.

    If you get something out of reading my learning journal, that pleases me. However, this online journal’s primary purpose is for enriching my learning, making informal records of references and pop culture and conversations, and more formal critiques of the readings and viewings and research I’ve been prescribed at Edith Cowan University. For someone so determined to graduate at a high level far beyond undergrad, I sure don’t know what I’m doing. For an academic, I make a pretty good dishpig. As a dishpig, I’m good at motivating, comforting and listening. One day, I’ll remember that I was once a professional musician, and bring my quals and experience of musicanship to my clients as a Registered Psychologist and play-obsessed helper who supports families. I want to support those families affordably and with the sort of care they’re really after.

    Follow along. Or don’t. Whatever.

    Also, I swear. Deal with it, Stacey.


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