An Alternative Reality

I’m back in the blogosphere, belated but bearing great news: I’ve been published in The Big Issue!

The Big Issue web banner

Given the magazine’s prominence and its emphasis on social issues (including mental health), I couldn’t imagine a better ‘home’ for my article.

It’s an unusual bit of non-fiction – a snapshot of the weeks I spent in a secure psychiatric ward in 2012. Specifically, An Alternative Reality is my ode to the kind-hearted, gutsy characters I met on the other side of those locked doors.

This article is dedicated to one man in particular: Dutch, the most unlikely friend I’ve ever had.

Big Issue article

You can find my article on page 11 of The Big Issue (No 503, 22 Jan – 4 Feb 2016). Get hold of your copy fast – before my mum buys them all!

Big Issue cover

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I SPENT A WEEK WATCHING B-GRADE EATING DISORDER FILMS

…and lived to tell the tale – just!

'Starving in Suburbia' (2014)

Starving in Suburbia (2014)

Emotional, enjoyable and outrageously exhausting, this movie marathon was the closest I’ll ever come to engaging in extreme sports! You can read the full account of my hardcore adventures here.

Exaggerations aside, I was determined to conduct this experiment because I believe (from lived experience and my feminist leanings) that anorexia and bulimia reveal something very troubling about the state of our materialistic, media-saturated culture. And what better measure of the cultural mood than made-for-TV movies?

In the wonderful words of writer/kick-ass lady Roxane Gay:

“…the need for feminism and advocacy also applies to seemingly less serious issues like a Top 40 song or a comedian’s puerile humour. The existence of these lesser artefacts of our popular culture is made possible by the far graver issues we are facing.”

scales-weight

So, if you’ve ever wondered about the connections between eating disorders and popular culture, this article’s for you. And if you haven’t wondered..?

Now’s the very best time to start. Enjoy!

*I can’t end this post without a shout-out to Hayley Gleeson, the Founding Editor of Birdee. She’s an incredible egg, the kind that eggs others on too, and I’m proud to share my work via the positive, powerful platform she has created.

Unmaking My Eating Disorder

Probably my most personal, self-reflective, simultaneously analytical article to date. It was a challenging story to write – a mini memoir of tough times – but it allowed me to step back and examine not just who I am, but why I am.

I’m proud of the result, ‘Unmaking My Eating Disorder’, which you can read here.

Issue 16 of Psychology Tomorrow Magazine focuses on the theme of ‘childhood’. As I write in the introduction to my article:

“It would be extraordinary for a grown woman to spontaneously ration herself to 300 calories a day or vomit after every meal. Odds are that the skeletons pacing your average ‘Eating Disorders Ward’ have not had a short-term relationship with celery and self-loathing… There’s a process – one that often begins in childhood.”

Featured art: 'Child Innerside' by Boeeuen Choo

Featured art: ‘Child Innerside’ by Boeeuen Choo

Every kid faces certain psychological challenges that, to a lesser or greater extent, shape the adolescent and adult s/he becomes. I had a pretty great childhood, yet there was a confluence of certain internal and external factors that affected me deeply and, in part, led to and maintained my eating disorder.

Tricky terrain, this, and I’m still in the process of navigating it.

But while tackling these complex, painful issues is the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted, I have a feeling it will also be the most worthwhile.

The Original Dr. Karl

“…we must encourage each individual to see himself not as a mere spectator of cosmic events but as a prime mover; to regard himself not as a passive incident in the indefinite universe but as one important unit possessing the power to influence great decisions by making small ones.”

– Karl Menninger, 1963 (The Vital Balance: The Life Process in Mental Health and Illness, p. 399)

Dr. Karl Menninger (1893-1990) was one of the foremost practitioners and advocates of psychiatry in the USA. One of his accomplishments was explaining psychiatry to the general public, challenging the idea held by many that the mentally ill or emotionally disturbed were ‘lunatics’ to be confined to insane asylums.

Menninger felt that psychiatric treatment, in the proper circumstances, was helpful for virtually every emotionally disturbed individual. In founding the Menninger Clinic and Foundation in Topeka, he emphasised creating a humane environment for patients to reside in during treatment.

Dr. Francis Braceland, a fellow psychiatrist, wrote that Karl Menninger saw “patients not as bearers of bizarre diseases, but rather as human beings, somewhat isolated from their fellow men, harassed by faulty techniques of living and making awkward manoeuvres to keep themselves emotionally intact.”

Karl Menninger was clearly an extraordinary man and a pioneer in the field of humanist psychiatry.

You can read more about him and his life here.

On being human and reaching out…

“That we can only be human, no matter what we do, is a hard thing to face; many of us have held very dear the notion that if we tried hard enough, we could be, or could at least appear, superhuman. Perfect. Unassailably good. Without blemish or flaw. This standard to which we have held ourselves has had a very curious, rather contorted effect: we have simultaneously lost all respect for ourselves, judged ourselves lacking, and felt like the most regrettable specimens of humanity around; and, afraid of feeling yet worse, we have also resisted looking very hard – or at all – at ways in which we have, in fact, screwed up.

But our time in self-examination has allowed us, finally, to take that long hard look. Now comes the next step: we speak.

At this point, many of us are tempted to ask why. Why on earth should we open those old wounds? we ask, as if we do not scratch them open ourselves all the time. Why should we tell someone else about all these things only we need to know? Whose business is it, really, but our own?

What we mean is, What will they think of me? Will they respect me? Will they forgive me? Am I allowed to have failed? Or does that cost me my place in the human race?

…We are not seeking forgiveness by some external force; we are seeking truth and clarity in how we move ahead in our lives. That truth provides us with the guidance we require as we look over the things we’ve done and the people we’ve been. It provides us with the map for how we can take action from now on.”

Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power, Marya Hornbacher, 2011 (pp. 64-65)

Ladies, Torch Your Spanx

Keen as always to blend my passions for feminism, pop culture and better body image, I wrote this article as a wry and informative rallying cry: “Ladies, torch your Spanx!”

I’m super proud to have it published by Birdee Magazine, an online hub that encourages young women to be clever and witty and strong – to stand up for what they believe in and feel good about themselves for doing so.

Here’s a little taste of my article:

I have a confession to make: I bought Spanx. Not one pair but two, of the ‘super-duper butt and thigh trimming’ ilk.

I know, I know – feminist cringe. The horror, the hypocrisy, the materialism, the vanity…

The humanity.

I’ve had some lovely feedback about the piece so far including one awesome woman’s vow to turn her Spanx “into decorative snowflakes with a pair of scissors right now”. Right on, sister!

So, happy reading. I hope you find the article thought-provoking, giggle-worthy and maybe a wee bit inspiring…

Closed for Business

I’ve always enjoyed journalling and creative writing. Unfortunately, when I’m especially down I lose motivation to do anything much at all – including the things that usually bring me the most joy. Just one of many reasons why depression is heinous.

I decided to reflect on how depression made me feel using my own metaphor; one that’s a little fresher than ‘the black dog’. So I whipped out my journal, got scrawling and ended up with this baby: Closed for Business.

Depression, for me, is like a vacancy. An absence of thought and emotion, of concern, ambition and desire.

There’s a ‘Closed’ sign dangling in front of my eyes and no saying how long I’ll be gone.

I feel hollow, like a shopfront in disrepair. There’s grime all over the stoop and nothing but dust on the shelves. No reason for anyone to stop by.

It feels like the place will never be bustling again; that the ‘Closed’ sign will hang in the window forever.

The artwork that accompanied my article.

The artwork that accompanied my article.

The article fell more in the ‘mental health’ rather than ‘feminist’ space, so I conducted a good long Google search for media outlets that would find my musings a good fit. I landed on Psychology Tomorrow Magazine, which focuses on the intersection between art and psychology.

Psychology Tomorrow banner

I was stoked to hear that my piece would be included in the PTM blog. In terms of freelancing, it seemed I was very much open for business!

Eschewing the Skeleton Crew

In late 2014, working hard at uni and in therapy, I decided to combine my scholarly feminist research with a good deal of self-scrutiny. What came out of it was this: a feature article (and personal manifesto) entitled Eschewing the Skeleton Crew.

Yep, this is me with my birthday cake, age 7. Background art by Maria Tort.

Yep, this is me with my birthday cake, age 7. Background art by Maria Tort.

It’s pretty confronting but hey, that’s the ugly truth of eating disorders. For example:

As a 22-year-old who has spent irrecoverable hours slumped over splattered, rancid toilet bowls, I would do anything I could to prevent others from experiencing such virulent self-loathing. That’s what this is about. An eating disorder is a severe, disabling, sometimes fatal mental illness. It’s also a choice. I want to explain what it is that you, your daughter, your best friend, your mentor stands to lose by nibbling the occasional lettuce leaf, downing the bottle of ipecac.

Among other valuables, your self.

I wanted to share my experiences and insights so that others struggling with anorexia and bulimia might not feel so alone, and so that people who don’t know much about eating disorders could become aware of their complex, devastating realities. I also wanted to offer hope.

In searching for feminist media outlets that might publish the article, I came across Bluestockings Magazine. A student-run publication based at Brown University (USA), Bluestockings affirms marginalised voices and examines contemporary women’s issues within larger historical and socio-political frameworks. In other words, it’s incredible.

Bluestockings Magazine banner

The editorial team picked up my feature and the rest is history.

Raccoon Dog Film Reviews

RDTV screenshot

From 2012 to 2014 I was an online contributor to Raccoon Dog TV, an awesome non-profit Australian online media syndicate that promotes the work of innovative and emerging artists in music, film, fashion, photography and more.

As RDTV’s resident film reviewer, I shared my thoughts on everything from Lauren Greenfield’s exposé of material excess in The Queen of Versailles to the sublime sweetness of Her and the consciousness-raising horror/triumph of 12 Years a Slave.

I checked out plenty of less acclaimed movies too, such as the controversial ‘good Disney starlets gone bad’ Spring Breakers and the redundant but fun Total Recall reboot.

You can find all my Raccoon Dog reviews here. Enjoy!

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