A Note About Hope

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Hope reveals itself in mysterious ways.

A final gasp for air, the first drop of rain, the step away from the ledge, the hand that picks up the phone, the improving blood test results, the stern lips that crack to reveal a smile, or as the light creeping through the shades against every self-loathing desire to remain in the dark.

Last week I fell quite sick. Each night I found myself drenched in sweat with the feeling that a pick axe had been delivered to an unreachable point inside my skull. I was already down – so this was the ground breaking away to further my fall and add depth to my despair.

In the same week, a friend’s baby passed away at 7 months, and another found out his dad has cancer and that one of his friends had also recently died in a car crash. News was also given that a close friend of my parents had passed away after being ill.

Today, someone knocked on my door to explain the inhumanities going on in Syria. He was hoping I would donate to the charity he represented. I said I wasn’t in the position to – but I empathised with the fact he was walking door to door in the heat, to which he was quick to state, “it’s not about me.”

Of course not. It’s about all of us. And how as conscious individuals, a community, a country, a chunk of rock floating in space – we hurt, so much and so deeply at times… But we also hope.

Hope is an unwavering desire which becomes the belief that no matter what happens; how much we take or lose, and no matter the odds; we still have something to clench dearly in our hands.. as well as the strength to swing back.

I’m now feeling much better. I know those torn by the tragedies I mentioned will eventually recover in due time. I also know that unfortunately, not everyone makes it; some people lose hope. I know that not all damage can be repaired. But as fractured as our lives become, we do find a way to move on and piece together some new meaning of our existence, and, persistence. In his powerful Ted Talk, Andrew Solomon refers to this process as ‘forging meaning and finding identity’. 

I’ve written about situations I’m close to, but such stories exist all over the world and throughout history. That’s another way Hope reveals itself.

Whatever Hope actually is, I’m glad it exists … and I hope you can find it.

It’s going to be all ripe

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The post that started this blog had something to do with a banana.

I was sitting on a park bench during my lunch break, sunny as it’s ever been, yet as grey as I’ve ever felt. Tears rolled off my cheeks as I stared into emptiness, weighed down by a sense of hopelessness. Dramatic or truthful, the feeling was real – real enough for me to seek professional help for the first time.

I did a few sessions with a psychologist which consisted of breathing and visualisation exercises. What scared me the most was the future and the uncertainty surrounding it – but for some reason I clearly saw myself overseas working with a group of youths. Somehow, I was right. I was offered a one-year position at an educational institute in Tonga a few months later. While it was a wonderful and unexpected opportunity and experience, it eventually passed.

1.5 years later, I’m again in the same boat, on the same bench.. scared, doubting myself, comparing myself to others or how ‘it should be’: all the same shit.

But this time I have a sense of optimism that I didn’t have before. I know such sharp variations in feelings and experiences are as commonly experienced as the heat of summer and the chills of winter. Like a loose leaf, this realisation that “I’m not the only one” fell upon me while sitting in the waiting room before my first psychologist appointment in 2013. The fact was always there, I just hadn’t noticed.

This time, I also have a sense of confidence in myself and in the world that I didn’t have before. I’ve made it through many tough times and I will do so again. My recent travels have allowed me to see more of the world and understand how vast life and its possibilities can be.

Looking back, I understand how tunnel vision can be exceptionally dangerous – especially when we think of any light at the end as an oncoming train. A correction of our own train of thought can allow us to rather see it as an opportunity – and to notice all the wonderful things we’re passing on a second-to-second basis. These things are unfortunately often hidden behind walls that we’ve built or had built around us – but thankfully, they’re also walls that can break, and there are a range of tools to help us do the job.

I guess the whole point of this post is just share one simple thing that I’ve learned since I first accepted something wasn’t right:

We’re all in our own cages, tunnels, cells. Regardless what the circumstance that makes us feel like a prisoner is, getting out all starts with the same thing… thinking knowing that it’s going to be all ripe right.

Challenges in Coming Home

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Men dream more about coming home than they do about leaving – The Alchemist

I still remember being in the kitchen with my house mate, casually dicing ingredients of our dinner, when he cut through the silence… rather bluntly.

“You don’t want to go, do you?” He cared not about offending me, certain in the fact that he knew me. A sign of true friendship.

“Of course not,” I replied. Relieved to let out some honesty like the kettle and its steam. I wanted to stay. I didn’t always like what I had, where I was; but I felt safe in the familiar.

After an initial culture shock, Tonga – where I spent 2014 – also became familiar. It was only when I returned home to Australia, that I realised that Tonga, once dreaded and unknown, had also become a place I felt safe.

The year away presented me with so many different experiences: Good times, bad times, better days and worse ones. One thing that kept me going was knowing that I was coming home. So why aren’t things as great as I envisioned?

It’s explained online that some  of the negative experiences of returning home may include:

• Feeling like family and friends don’t understand how you’ve changed and have tired of listening to your stories
• Feeling like you don’t have anything in common with your friends anymore
• Rejection of your own culture, particularly consumerism and affluence
• Constantly comparing practices in Australia with those in your Host Country
• Uncertainty about the future
• Difficulty making decisions
• Feeling misunderstood
• Boredom
• Loss of identity
• Feeling overwhelmed or disorientated

The technical term is “reverse culture shock.”

The most shocking – rather scary – thing to me is how easy it is to fall back into old routines; to be the same old person. Forgetting all those promises I made about changing as the sun would set over the ocean – a shared treasure in Tonga, but a luxury here, reserved for those with water-front homes.

And here I am back in the suburbs, surrounded by things I now know I don’t need, while uncertain about what I need the most. I’m making changes though: no longer going to the gym as much, focusing on development, speaking to a psychologist, spending less time with certain friends, spending more time with my family. So it’s definitely been good to be back – but not as great as I thought it would be.

I guess the truth is that we can’t run – from ourselves or from our responsibilities. Sure, I’ve come back – but with all intentions of going forwards.

 

 

 

 

Month 10 in Tonga

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Rather than tasting the batter, let me first describe how I beat this post out.

  1. I flip open my journal (not to be confused with a diary).
  2. I find the start of the month just past, and read my way to the current day.
  3. I make all sorts of facial expressions and sounds (not to be confused with my coming toilet break).
  4. I experience an array of thoughts flavoured from, “I’ll always remember that” to “f*** that sucked.”
  5. I close the lock on my journal with its matching glittering plastic pink key, snort four crushed up valium tablets and fall asleep to Jamie Oliver’s audio cookbook (not to be confused with a serious statement).

But on a serious note, the process can either be hectic, easy, or a well-suited challenge. But I still do it, regardless. I do it because, to understand the world, you have to first understand the filter which you perceive it through: yourself. I do it because, when all I see is pieces, writing helps me put the puzzle together – to form and gain clarity on the bigger picture – which is my life.

As Hemingway said, “Writing is a lonely existence.” So as much as I would like company, it’s not expected. But when I come back to this page in a few months, finding another set of fingerprints in the digital dust, and maybe a kindly left comment, certainly wouldn’t deter me from the habit.

So, let’s get into the month, starting with the little things.

I rode close to 50km on a trip (a lot for me). I volunteered at Tonga’s only international school, answering the many questions eight-year-olds have. I organised a fashion show for my institute’s students at a popular local bar. And I also joined another fashion committee which is hosting an upcoming show. I’m not particularly a ‘fashion’ person, but I’ve enjoyed the insight into their challenge of introducing contemporary clothes into traditionally conservative culture. To illustrate, one of the girls had her family say that they felt ashamed after seeing a photo of her posing in a bikini on a beach.

I had an experience of freakish serendipity. I went to the local flea market and just happened to find the exact book I was looking to download a few days ago; a book of famous poems, which I also wanted; and a jumper of a favourite band, where I only needed something to keep me warm in my upcoming trip to New Zealand.

I got a few postcards from home and had a great Skype call with someone I hadn’t seen in over 1 year. Someone who I only met in person once before I left for Tonga. Someone who I only met because of this blog. It was great to hear about his travels to Asia and tell him about my journey so far. Both experiences reminding me of the value and importance of longstanding relationships as well as like-minded company.

Now, the bigger things.

I had an early farewell at the technical institute where I volunteer, crying more than they did. I’m not sure why. Possibly from a volatile mixture of emotions, from missing people back home, the anxiety of returning, to my own doubt in my effectiveness of being here. So when a particular teacher said that I’ve made a “dream come true” for them by organising their cruise ship tours, it was enough to catch my manly mannerisms off guard, and to tip the ‘tea’rs that I knew were filling, but I was trying not to spill.

The farewell also helped me accept that I won’t have the same kind of impact as some of the other volunteers, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that I’ve had an impact.

Now, the biggest thing.

I finally completed by first video project! After standing at the cliff for a while, eyes shut, using my imagination to visualise the possibility of what I could create – I dove… well, I was pushed. Attending a recent community film festival where new video makers were showing   their creations, was the push I needed. It’s true what they say about inspiration: it’s contagious.

There’s also a truth about the creative process: its possessive. In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield explores the Ancient Greek myth of The Muses. In summary, there were nine daughters of Zeus who each governed a specific creative art form. And when a mortal set out to create something in one of these forms, he would be guided and inspired by its Muse. Truth aside,  I think it’s beautiful. It also reflects my experience of writing my ebook so I was glad to be under a kind of ‘creative spell’ once again.

“The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” – Steven Pressfield

Once I just started my video project – even without a set plan – everything just fell into place. Editing and filming over 3 days, I couldn’t slow down nor stop until I had finished it. And finished it I did.

Like the short films I had watched at the festival I attended, my goal was to capture and share a certain unseen side of Tonga. I also chose a subject that really resonated with me personally – and I did it in a way that reflected my personality. The feedback has been great: many current volunteers have used it to show their friends and families back home what Tonga is like; the soon to arrive volunteers have been thankful for a chance to see what their new home is going to be like; and other people around the world now know about this tiny island they never knew exited. My favourite remark however, was, “I can’t help but smiling the whole way through it.” As such was my goal..

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.” – Steven Pressfield

Then came the worst thing: man down.

Out of nowhere, my enthusiasm’s gone – like someone tripped on the cord, pulling it out and taking all my energy with it. Everything’s a drag, I even consider deleting this blog. I won’t elaborate like I did in this post – but this particular time, it was bad enough for me to seriously consider how these seasonal states effect the quality of my life, what triggers them, and most importantly, what I’m going to do about them when I return home.

“You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is a place where you’ll get any work done.” – Cheryl Strayed

I guess, there is a lot on my mind. There are a lot of forks in the road, and the uncertainty is as threatening as a knife.  But to quote Strayed again, “Self-pity is a dead-end road.” So here is something more optimistic out of my own mouth..

“Life may not be a piece of cake, but you’ve still got to bare your teeth and take a bite.”

So I’m going to spend my last 2 months here chewing: doing what I have to do. There are also still many experiences to taste: people to meet, things to learn, sights to snorkel, coconuts to drink.

– Boy out.

PS – Neat song

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.

 

Depression. What works

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Normal isn’t 9 , 6 or 3. It’s whatever volume you ‘normally’ watch tv at.

Normal isn’t a particular channel, it’s whatever channel you ‘normally’ watch.

Can we say the same about our types of thoughts and the intensity of our feelings?

I read symptoms lists, and don’t think anything is out of the ordinary, well, because that’s how I’m used to feeling. With the loss of Robbin Williams, I’ve come to seen how feelings are such a personalised matter – and a lonely one. It’s easy to look at someone in his position and say that you don’t understand how such a tragedy could come to be and happen. And that’s exactly it. You don’t. I don’t.

No one can say a particular approach will certainly work, but one thing I’ve identified that does, is making a commitment to getting better, identifying a supportive community, and making choices when I reach particular neurological crossroads that lead to depression’s dead end.

I choose to believe there are many things out of my control, but I’m pressing the most important buttons, like purpose, vision, hope, faith, passion. I can also hit mute where I need to.

I choose to remember all I’ve fought through to be here.

I choose to respect and pursue what I love & enjoy, not let anyone or ego turn me around

I choose to remember life has no structured pathway and it’s shared by dangerous drivers and dropped dollars. I can be pleasently surprised the same way I’ve been unexpectedly disappointed.

I choose to see the beauty and strength in the bland, ordinary and daily. I don’t need to google motivational pictures.

I choose to be inspired by those standing on peaks I seek to reach.

I choose to remember tomorrow won’t come before today. Serving the other first is bad customer service.

I choose to collect my moments of joy, love, hope and strength in writing or memory for when they are sparse. I’ll hand them out like candy to a crying child.

I choose to learn from everyone and every experience. I’ll graduate when I’m dead.

I choose to see life as giant canvas, each day as a fresh page. Art is subjective, so is success.

 

Helping Hands, Hindered Feet

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Today was a day that I know will stay with me for a long time. But I hope it says with me forever.

Joining the ICON youth group on their charity day, I got to see parts of Tonga that I potentially would have missed otherwise. I would have returned to Australia with a checklist consisting of all the ‘sights and scenes’, but void of the vital experience which is understanding what life is like for the people behind a country’s curtains.

This is especially important in developing countries, as with the spotlight kept on glamourised tourist attractions, there is a large portion of people and areas also in need of attention, that remain unfortunately unseen. From experience, I can say that my original google image search of Tonga presented a different reality to what I’ve encountered since my arrival.

And since my arrival, today brought me closer to a sad truth. It’s the circumstances and conditions that many people find themselves in. I won’t dedicate this post to identifying the political, economical, and cultural reasons of why, I’ll just describe what was.

There were a lot of tears and emotional stories, but all sadness subsided in the wake of the gratitude that was shown for the single bags of groceries we were donating. Gratitude that I had never shown when I would push a trolley full of them to my car each weekend.

Amongst the rust and dismantling housing, I discovered that there are some things that better stand the tests of time. Faith in God, music, laughter, the support of those close to you, and a genuine appreciation for the little things, when you have very little at all to begin with.

As an individual, I can do my part to help because of organisations like ICON Tonga and my Australian Volunteer program, that seek to unite individuals to address bigger issues. However, making a start can be as simple as showing more appreciation in our daily lives at home, and a deeper interest in the countries we visit while traveling.

I learned that to lend a helping hand, you don’t have to reach out too far, and you certainly don’t need to be holding much.

 

 

Sunset. Someone. Someday

 

Something Sunset

Sunset. Someone. Someday 

It’s hard to leave that someone.
It’s harder to say goodnight.
The something about the sunset,
is the same thing in their eyes.

Promise.

There is a promise of another date,
but never guarantee of another day.
The same direction to take but in a different way.
A choice to be better or refusal to stay the same,
the only promise we can make is that at least one novelty will stay.

Potential.

Weeping clouds and different shades of blue,
colours blend the same way as the truth.
Well spent or hardly used,
today never parts with a clue
of how tonight will be coloured without you.

 

Finding Purpose

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On this screen it looks like an easy equation. But in my head, there is chalk dust, crunched up pieces paper, and deserted rough drafts everywhere. Finding purpose isn’t easy. There is no computerised device to answer the question with definite accuracy, or can you sneak the answers from someone else. It gets lonely too. A feeling similar be being held in detention, watching as the other kids who completed the task at hand play outside, enjoying the sunshine and the feeling of optimism that comes from knowing what you want to do with your life.

I haven’t got the answer yet, but what I needed more than anything, was a break from trying to figure it out. Hence why I was so keen on getting out of the country on the volunteer assignment that I am on.

Here in Tonga, I’ve learned how large and expanding the areas of non-profit, welfare, development etc are. ‘Helping people’ isn’t just something you do on the weekend or between jobs, if it is something you are motivated to pursue and personally find rewarding, then there are endless opportunities. Makes me wonder why I spent a year working in the soul leaching automotive industry. Now I’ve got the awareness, knowledge and what I’d love to call a ‘foot in the door’, I’m determined to stay in the non-commercial / profit industry.

Talents. Hmmm.

I used to find self-praise very difficult. Since recently writing my first ebook, I’ve been grateful to have other people to come forward, and with their help, I’ve been learning to take pride in my accomplishments.  While writing my story about my discovery various hobbies & talents, I also had the obvious realisation that while my story doesn’t have the grand ending that  a biography of someone famous would have, it still has the very humble beginnings.  In addition to hard work, talents take time to prosper and develop.

So this is where I’m up to in solving the puzzle. I’m sorry I can’t provide the answers you’re after, but in all fairness, I’m not asking you for them either. It’s ok not to have the answers, it certainly doesn’t mean a life is void of purpose. For me, my current purpose is to discover my purpose, my interests, my skills, and the opportunities available to use them in a rewarding way. And hopefully, to stop banging my head against my desk so hard.

Helping Words

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Chatting to a friend the other night about the year of 2013, we were reflecting not only on our accomplishments but our scars.

Our struggles are not always visible, and often once reaching the end, we don’t want our scars to be either. We’re all trying to run this race which has no finish line, and the last thing we want anyone else to think is that we are not fit for another lap.

I often felt I would be left behind if I told people what was going on at times. Surrounded by high achievers, I wanted to feel I was a worthwhile contribution to the team. Never burden anybody with my worries, negativity, fear or anything else I was unfortunately feeling at the time.

There I was wrong. Friendship or any team isn’t just about success, it’s also about support.

Half way into the conversation he stated something along the lines of  “You never told me you saw a psychologist, when I asked you about work you said it was ok”

I thought about this and questioned why I didn’t.I guess I didn’t need an answer to my problems, to feel better, I just needed to be asked.To know someone cared and was concerned.

From there the conversion would often turn to frivolously random topics and inside jokes, but I was laughing, I was smiling and I actually felt better.

I’m definitely not recommending turning blind eye or denial as a means of coping. I sought the help I needed, and I got it. It inspired me to do what I do now.

I’m encouraging everyone to think about the positive impact their words can have not matter what they are, and never underestimate their ability to help another person. Even if you feel you never know the right things to say to someone,  a simple hello, hope you’re ok, or lame joke can still be that helping hand.