The view from under my bed

On a Tuesday in July, at 10.15am, Laila put on her coat and favourite scarf as a defence against the bitterness of the day outside, walked through her front door – locking it behind her – and quickly walked the 100m to the corner of the street.

At 10.45am, after standing at the corner for 26 minutes, frozen with an irrational fear of stepping onto the crossing, Laila turned around and quickly walked the 100m back to her house, unlocked the door and went inside.

The same morning, Howie’s alarm woke him at 5.15am. While dressing, he put his left sock on and then his right sock. Then he took off his left sock and then his right sock. He then put on his left sock and then his right sock, took them off again in the same order and put them back on again. He left the house – locking and then unlocking the door three times – got in his car and drove to work.

While these situations may sound far-fetched, or even comical, to those in the community suffering from mental illness they are neither. I don’t profess to be an expert by any means. But in my own social circle I have friends who are affected by anxieties, breakdowns or depression. Probably more than I know about. What about you?

Mental illness can affect anyone. Your neighbour, brother, workmate. Just ordinary people, trying to get through the day. For some, it’s just an underlying feeling of unease, of sadness, of confusion. For others it can feel like drowning on dry land.

According to Headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, around one in every ten young Australians aged from 18-25 will have problems with anxiety. For those aged between 13 and 17, the figure is about one in 25. As a nation, we have a responsibility to provide resources for anyone suffering a mental illness. As community members, we have a responsibility to show compassion, tolerance and caring. As the statistics show, the reality of mental illness is that, if you are not directly affected, someone you care about probably is.

Illnesses do not discriminate. What if Laila were your sister, or Howie your best friend. Or if you were the one filled with a deep and weighty sadness, withdrawn and isolated – forced to view the world from under your bed.

“When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘We’, even illness becomes wellness.”




Let your light shine

What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s the question we often ask our kids. And if they’re under 10, the answer is usually something along the lines of fireman, policeman, vet, ballerina or princess. Which, of course, are all noble professions!

I wanted to be a teacher.  

I also aspired, at various times, to be a private detective, a truck driver, a writer and – more than likely – a princess. Mostly, I wanted to be a wife and mother.

Sometimes we achieve these things. Sometimes we don’t. Often, between childhood and adulthood, our ideas, realities and capabilities evolve. Or sometimes we grow up and become a fireman.

How do you want to be when you grow up?”

Kids might look at you with a puzzled expression if you ask them this question, but fortunately it takes us a long time to grow up – if ever. So there’s always time to work on ‘how’ we want to be.

Faced with this question, I’m willing to bet a fair amount of us would say things like ‘kind’, ‘loving’ and ‘generous’. And I think often we believe that somehow these things are hard wired into our genetic makeup. You either have ‘em, or you don’t.

I’m not so sure. I definitely think some people are predisposed to certain character traits. But if we approach developing our character as we would career skills, there’s no reason we can’t strengthen our character resume. We can identify ‘how’ we want to be – whether it be tenacious, independent, adventurous, creative, caring, gracious…the list goes on – and work every day on strengthening those traits.

Who do you want to be when you grow up?”

This sounds like a sillier question than the last one. Unless you’re still set on becoming a princess, that is.

In today’s society we – and particularly our kids – are bombarded with illusions of Hollywood happiness and the power and privilege that come with money or celebrity. Social media provides in-your-face updates of the supposedly perfect lives of our friends. Our lives may seem boring or insignificant by comparison.

But the reality is that often, when you scrape the surface or look behind the carefully created image, there will be flaws and failures, just like anyone else.

The only person you should really want to be is you.

Being you is something no one else can do. Not one person on this whole planet. That makes you incredibly special and unique.

You can choose ‘what’ to be. You can choose ‘how’ to be.

And even better, you do it perfectly.

Marianne Williamson wrote:

“We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Let your light shine.