Sydney Month 3: Spring is Coming

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These words brought a smile to my face, which was far from my expression when my doctor suggested I go on Zoloft; and nothing like the looks my co-workers had when I arrived at the office in thongs, with a smell emanating from my feet as a result of that morning’s plumbing problems.

I left my housemate with a mop in hand and feet in sewerage water as I hurried to work. But not without first returning with a fresh muffin from the cafe down the road. It wasn’t much, but it was what I could do.

When I got here 3 months ago, I didn’t feel the same way about making it through winter. I honestly thought I would crumble; break; snap – or one of the many physical depictions of mentally giving in.

It’s been a challenge. The transition from a slow island in the South Pacific to Australia’s biggest city isn’t easy – or easily explained. To many it’s all ‘just another day’, but I can’t help being put off by the overpowering cold, cement surroundings, and presence of consumerism.

So understandably, there have been many nights where I’ve been left asking myself: “Why did I come here?” But truth be told, a few months ago, there were just as many sleepless nights spent keeping company to the thought: “Why stay here?”

But as my new housemate rightfully stated:

“You can’t run.”

I feel it’s important to mention that this experience has introduced me to what share housing is really like. Previously, I’d only lived with close friends. I’ve since learned that differences are to be expected, but also traversed through honest conversation. In this instance – despite our differences in where we’ve come from and going – we discovered a rather unexpected mutual understanding. It’s that wherever you go, so will whatever you’re trying to escape.

I know the importance of properly addressing ‘issues’ rather than avoiding them. I work for a non-profit organisation that promotes positive mental health… yet I’m having trouble staying positive – and worse, staying me. Bascially, failing the advice of one of my inspirations, Robin Williams:

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. Don’t lose it.”

Though various books, I’ve been exploring the idea of life itself being comprised of many instances of dying and being born again. The one requiring the other; letting go being the only way to have our hands open to receive. I don’t feel like the person I used to be (especially at work), but I’m holding onto the belief that it’s a natural process in the same way that a snake sheds its old skin for the sake of new growth.

Vivid, but the thought gives me comfort in what I’m doing: leaving home for the second time to  ‘start again’ and hopefuly figure out myself and my place in the crazy world. Sure, it could be me that’s ‘crazy’. But that would make days founded on coffee, cigarettes, high costs of living, and long crowded commutes… normal.

Maybe it is, and maybe this just isn’t the lifestyle for me. I’ve been exploring the ideas of minimalism and other alternative ways of living. The central theme being that one is encouraged to evaluate their obligations and desires against what they truly need to be ‘happy’. (Whatever that means, it should be defined by the individual, not marketers).

Without a doubt, these are all questions that first emerged last year while I lived in Tonga – a place where people had much less, but smiled so much more. There are Ted Talks on the topic as well as blogs from people like Lauren who are living their answers. (I’ll be Skyping with her shortly!)

It does seem that whenever we leave – and wherever we go – we run the risk of finding more questions than answers. Some settle, and some keep seeking. I don’t think either is particular the wiser. There’s many ways to live this thing called life. I had no idea about most of them until I stepped off the ‘road most traveled’ for the first time in my life last year.  My remaining commitment here in Sydney is 9 months, but I have every intention of making this place my permanent home if I can. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I promised myself I would try.

Before going on medication, there’s certainly things I will try… like following the advice that I spend 40hrs a week ‘giving’.  That means doing things like eating and sleeping well; and getting enough exercise, sunlight, and social engagement. I’ve also found getting enough ‘me time’ to pursue my hobbies to be essential to my wellbeing.

These are all things that definitely make one feel better. Except, ‘feeling better’ seems to be the prerequisite for having the energy and motivation to attempt these things in the first place. It’s kind of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, so we’ll just have to see what hatches. In the mean time – as I have through every dark storm that I’ve weathered over the years – I know that I can find solace between the pages of books.

Philosophy’s main task is to respond to the soul’s cry; to make sense of and thereby free ourselves from the hold of our griefs and fears.  – The Art of Living

It’s possible I might just end up passing through. But then, just like Tonga, I’ll hopefully leave with this place, and myself, being that little bit more better off.

Boy Off The Bridge

Just seeing the words “bungy jump” on the tour itinerary made something in my stomach turn like the disoriented tourists we had passed during our New Zealand road trip (which was in the wrong direction).

Thinking it was just my equally misguided imagination,  I visited the website of the event provider to be unfortunately reassured of exactly how scary the idea off jumping of a bridge was.

I knew there was nothing logical about the idea or shameful about my fear. We are hardwired to be scared and fearful of certain things. Mostly dangerous things.  It originates from a deep primal intuition and responsibility to reproduce… and we can’t do that if we’re dead.

However, modern man – and this brave boy – has a different agenda and set of responsibilities (or lack of them). I knew about the transformative effects of facing our fears; I knew what it’s like to cross that line drawn in the sand to spell “I can’t”; and I also remembered this quote from Walter White, the main character from the TV series, Breaking Bad:

“I have spent my whole life scared, frightened of things that could happen, might happen, might not happen, 50-years I spent like that. Finding myself awake at three in the morning. But you know what? Ever since my diagnosis, I sleep just fine. What I came to realize is that fear, that’s the worst of it. That’s the real enemy. So, get up, get out in the real world and you kick that bastard as hard you can right in the teeth.”

So when the morning came where I found myself on the platform – although I was looking at the most appealing naturally flowing water I had seen in my life – as far as I was concerned, I was hurling myself into fear itself: the pure root of all unappealing emotions. And just like the cool air that stood between my free-falling body and my destination, my fear proved to be just as quickly vanishing and almost non-existiental.

Despite the anxiety involved in clicking the website’s “book now” button, and the fear experienced while standing in line – and more so on the platform – it only took a few seconds to completely change how I felt… as well as how I think. Because after those few free-falling seconds, I now understand how our fear itself can really be the worst of it. I also now plan to throw myself, not just specially off more things… but at more things. Especially  if I’m scared of doing them.

Up High & Down Low: Bridge Life

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I almost killed a child.

Sorry, I’lll elaborate. I almost killed off my online persona, ‘Boy’, and deleted my blog.

I foolishly thought that closing this outlet would rid myself of the strange impulses, feelings, and thoughts I have. Wrong. It would just keep them trapped in the last place I want them to be: inside me.

It was in this latest ‘episode’ of mine, that the realisation finally hit me. This isn’t normal. I’m not normal.

A few days ago, I was loving the sight of the moon on a sunny day, I was feeling accomplished and fulfilled following the completion of the latest project, and things were good.

Today, I spent the last 6hrs looking at my bedroom wall – worrying about things already done, and thinking about the things I should be doing – but desperately scraping every thought to find the actual energy or motivation to act. Considering I had spent the last few days happily working non-stop while even forgoing eating, I know this melancholy feeling is arising from a place more primal than that of my stomach… perhaps my soul?

I also know that next week, I’ll be grinning and going again.

This is how life is at the Bridge.

It’s not just a physical place I visit, it’s a metaphor for how I seem to live my life, from two drastically changing perspectives: on top of things, or under them; up high or down low.

A doctor might say the Bridge is just a bridge, but I on the other hand, am possibly bipolar.

Recently watching Stephen Fry’s documentary, The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive, I learned more about bipolar and other various conditions as well as their varying degrees of impact. I’ve never put my put my foot through a window or been a risk to anyone, but I know what it’s like to often feel drained and immobile, with a sense of tunnel vision best described by Van Gogh:

“One feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless”

 

Like the others featured in Fry’s documentary, I also know what it’s like to have sudden surges of energy, creativity, spontaneity, and optimism. I realised this is the reason I’ve resisted seeking help or medication; I don’t want to lose this part of my personality.

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. Don’t lose it.” -Robin Williams

 

Since his passing, the above quote by Robin Williams now sadly makes another point: there is more to lose that just one’s spark, there’s more important things at stake. For me, it’s not my life, but it’s the experiences of living: the things outside of one’s room; the things above the rut you’re in; the things behind the clouds that are following you; the conversations I’m too anxious to have with people.

So what am I going to do?

Fry puts this hypothetical question forward to a few of his interview subjects: if there was a button that they could press to instantly remove the lows, taking all the highs with it – would they press it? Fry’s own answer can be summed up in his Memoir, Moab is My Washpot: 

“It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”

I know this still doesn’t clarify what I’m going to do. Because I honestly don’t know. But it starts with getting out of bed, making a cup of tea, and sitting in the sunshine.

 

I had

Aside

I had a poem that was forgotten.

Was it..
lost like an echo turn soft
or tossed like fruit turned rotten?

Change happens.

And unanswered is the question
Does it..
bring hope like the last drop of snow
or sorrow for the hours i’ll have to plough?

It matters not of then or tomorrow.
Because here’s a poem
that at least I know.

Writing My First Book – My Experience

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“I don’t know what the soul is, but I’m pouring it into this book”

Something I had written in my journal six months ago. In contrast to now, it was back when I was losing sleep out of excitement. Back when I was springing out of bed with energy. I was in the process of writing my first book.

I’m not sure what I exactly wanted or expected. It was like I was consciously in the backseat and a mysterious creative impulse of mine was driving. Despite all warnings about getting into cars with strangers – I never questioned it or asked ‘if we’re there yet’ because I was too busy enjoying the ride. I was bettering my writing ability, and becoming an author. Regardless of the context, these are two truly worthwhile human experiences.

Becoming viral or even obtaining a single sale definitely wasn’t on my mind. But success was. That’s because success is subjective. Beyond the sole personal achievement of writing a book, the other metrics I wanted to measure were based around “meaning”… and maybes.

Maybe the people I know will take the time to read it and understand who I really am. Maybe someone I don’t know will read it and want to get to know me. Maybe they’re going through a difficult time, and my book will tell them the kinds of things that I once so desperately needed to hear.

When you give with less expectations to get, sometimes life surprises you. And this is what my ‘may’ came to ‘be’.

My book not only brought current friends closer to me, it brought new people into my life.. founding new friendships. From both sources, I’ve received plenty of kind comments which i’ve treasured. True to Jim Carrey’s 2014 MUM Graduation Speech where he states

 

“The effect you have on people is the most valuable currency there is.”

 

Just like Jim also describes his discovery of comedy as ‘something worth his time’, I’ve realised that writing is worth mine. I never would have considered myself the type to give advice since I’ve got so far to go personally and professionally. But the way I see it now, is that writing and sharing gives new meaning and value to every experience I go through. Particularly my f*** ups. People also say that I have a ‘gift’. If I do, then it’s only good manners to unwrap it.

Here I am still going on that. Surrounded by crumpled paper like a kid on Christmas – months after Christmas morning. I’ve learned that gifts also don’t always come easily.

Since releasing my book online, I’ve found grammatical errors, fixed them… and despite reading over the same pages many times – I’ve found more.  I’ve set up an automatic email system, then realised that 50% of my subscribers never got the book because the campaign paused itself. I sent out an e-mail apologising .. but so hastily that even it had some embarrassing typos. Uggnnhhhhhhh! That’s not another one – it’s the actual sound I remember making. Much much louder than it was just in your thoughts.

Banging my head against the wall would only break the instrument I need to keep this thing going. The fact that I’m posting this means that I didn’t throw my laptop out of the window either. Perfection is a process. We f*** up – then we get up. But sometimes it’s with our faces in the dirt that we find our lucky nickel, or we ourselves, are picked up as a diamond in the rough.

If I never got fired from my previous job, then I wouldn’t have ended up overseas with the spare time and motivation to write my book in the first place. That was my nickel. As a diamond, I’ve been picked up and polished by the generous friends I’ve recently made.

One is an experienced writer and editor, she’s given me assurance in the worth of my work and assistance in making the required final touches. Another friend, who I actually made through my book, is even willing to help me cover the costs of getting it onto the Amazon Kindle store.

Going from a self setup soap box to a shared stage is a scary thought.

But then I remember that how I was once worried about just uploading my book on my private Facebook profile. The photos of myself half naked and covered in ice cream weren’t my worry. It was how vulnerable and exposed my writing made me. But my experience since has given me faith that fortune does favour the brave. So I’ll definitely be making the strides to share what I’ve created with more people. Maybe it will help more people, or maybe, create the opportunity for more people to help me.

I’m so thankful for the support from everyone who has read my book. And even to those who haven’t, but provide inspiration through their own pursuits. Such as the author Kamal Ravikant, who honestly shares this about his book Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It

“[I] published it on Amazon, expecting to sell ten copies, max. It took off and became a success. Word of mouth, blog posts, tweets. The book has a life of its own, spreading around the world.

 

If anything, the book was a gift to me. It made me cross a threshold, showed me that my voice mattered. Sharing my truth mattered. My life mattered.”

My plan is to have it on Amazon’s Kindle store by my birthday (October 27). Maybe I’ll hit ten copies. Maybe more. But it doesn’t matter. Because – I already know I matter.

 

 

 

Identity

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Having a sense of identity.

These are a group of youths that know it means more than having a social media profile. Through an 8 week program founded on religion, creativity and expression, they learned to recognise their their worth, values, and direction in life.

In a culture where obedience and social hierarchies are heavily engrained, what may be considered common thought in the west, is a change facing several challenges in Tonga. Luckily, the leaders of the ICON Youth Group have the commitment and courage to take them on.

I had the chance to observe these weekly workshops take place. Being older, I was also able to share some of my own experiences, but I definitely learned more than I could contribute.

I learned that no matter where you grow up in the world,  a big city, or small country, being young is still a strenuous journey marked with many cross roads. Right turns and wrong decisions are everywhere, which is why it’s important that youth programs and other initiatives are just as widely available, and recognised for the directions they provide.

The workshops all led into a final exhibition that I also had the privilege to attend. This was the chance for the youths to preform individually and as a group, addressing the question of ‘Who Am I”.

Individually they where from different backgrounds and had different interests, but what brought them together was their desire to express themselves in a positive way. Through outlets ranging from dance, fashion, singing, rap, music, art, to drama, they provided their answers and were well applauded.

In response, the crowd was reminded that the exhibition wasn’t just for entertainment, it was to deliver a message.

What I’m taking away is the importance of pursuing positive things you’re passionate about, if not for where they will take you, then for how they make you feel. It can mean the difference between a right turn and wrong decision, something that we never get too old to make.

So here I am writing and sharing my experiences, thoughts and ambitions, because regardless if it gets read, it’s who I am.

Malo