Wine and Therapy

Last night at Wine and Whiteboards, Penny Locaso said, “to solve a problem, you need a definition.” The idea of these talks is to learn from other peoples perspectives but it’s also a lesson in listening.

We discussed whether happened in America could happen here (general consensus was that it was already - we’re just in a bubble). Could that same Xenophobia, racism, fear of otherness, finger pointing at non white people happen in Australia? Hasn’t it already? Why are we obsessed with the US election yet ignore what’s happening in our own back yard? Why are white people called ‘ex-pat’s but non white are called immigrants? Should we really be surprised by the result in the US?

Babe town in action - Penny Locaso. 

Babe town in action - Penny Locaso. 

We talked about studies we’d read, articles we’d seen, headlines we’d absorbed, the filters that guide our thinking, our assumptions and of course, our perspective based on personal experiences. We talked about how shame, anger, fear and violence are linked and examined our own relationships with shame around money, family, community and the irony of a group of white women talking about these issues on a Friday night over wine, as if we had any insight into otherness, being from middle class backgrounds.

A while ago I read an article in The Guardian about a prison psychiatrist who said said they’d never seen an act of violence not perpetrated by shame. We talked about the link between white anger, poverty, and what happens when you’re in survival mode and you’re taught that everyone is your competition for a job, to survive. How ‘abundance’ is something that perhaps people who can afford brunch think about. How it’s easy for us to judge other peoples hardships, and to make assumptions about them, but impossible to put ourselves in their shoes, or intellectualise their pain, struggles and also their fears, their anger, because it was deeper than them yelling racist slurs, or being fearful of the Other.

If anger really is about shame, and Brene Brown students can help me out here, maybe we’re pissed off about the US election because we’re not doing enough here to help, to change the conversation in our own backyards, and we (I) feel guilty about this, too. But, you know, not too guilty to give up abundant brunch.

A really smart cookie said this at one stage: “I grew up poor. And if you don’t know about how money works, and you don’t know how to look after yourself, you’re fucked.”

This one stuck with me. I know how to (finally) look after myself, but I earn ok money and I still don’t know how money really works.

From the facilitated discussion run by Penny's colleague, Rob.

From the facilitated discussion run by Penny's colleague, Rob.

I didn’t want to use this post to preach about looking after yourself, but it did turn some cogs in my brain. If we’re lucky enough to be able to get money, or be able to look after ourselves, maybe we should stop being so hard on ourselves.

Maybe me, sitting with these other intelligent, well read, thoughtful and kind men and women, maybe this is, kind of, our way of therapy. Because the discussion wasn’t actually about solving the problem, although I did hear some cracker ideas. It was about being heard, listening to each other and saying to one another: you perspective and experience matters, too.

A therapist once said to me: ‘the fastest way to feel better is to help someone else’. And last night, for a brief moment, you know what? I didn't feel any clearer on how to solve that giant cheeto problem. But - I also felt hopeful that by learning more about how the world works, I'd be living in the dark slightly less and be remotely helpful in some little way in future.

Thanks Penny and Rob for a really interesting discussion. More info on their sessions here.

Uber isn't a Bank (Sadly)

“That’ll be $12”, the bearded hipster said.

“Twelve dollars for two coffees?" I said. “That can’t be right.”

But it was right. Some cold brew iced coffee actually more expensive than espresso because blah blah I wasn’t listening because I was too annoyed at having to listen to the explanation and what that meant about me as someone who entertaining (and who did) buy it.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have even listened to how much my designer coffee was costing. I'd blindly tap and scroll my phone. But I’ve been working on my relationship, or lack of attachment, to money, lately. 

Morrissey the Dog  agrees: $12 is nuts.

Morrissey the Dog agrees: $12 is nuts.

"I’m feeling anxious", I told a friend recently.

"I’ve got lots of expensive things coming up and I can’t save to save myself. Every time I get money, I want to give it away or spend it on something. It’s like I can’t hold onto it", I rambled to her.

She told me she’d be my money sponsor. "You’re going to fill in a spreadsheet every day", she said to me, like an addict who knows the first step is admitting you have a problem. "You’re going to keep all your receipts, and, at the end of the day, tally how much you’ve spent each day."

A few days later, dutifully, smugly, I filled out her spreadsheet.

Day One: $600. Day Two: $150. Day Three: $8.50.

"That can’t be right", I thought. "How the hell did I spend $600 in one day?"

Sucked into an Internet Banking loop of last years bank statements, I discovered my greatest weakness. It wasn’t fancy shoes or designer coffee.

It was UBERS. Twice most days, every day for most weeks.

"Fucking jesus", I whispered to myself.

Last year, keeping tabs on my outgoings wasn’t really my #1 priority.

Happiness Concierge went from a fun little project into a business with customers, which meant money started coming in - but I hadn’t switched mentally from ‘awesome hobby’ to ‘actual business’ in my head, or my bank balance.

Truth is, I was still in shock that people wanted to pay me to do something I exploded with excitement to do every day.

It felt like I should have to suffer for it, like I'd done for years, getting underpaid and overworking myself. As a mentor said to me recently when I said how Happiness Concierge was going - and growing - she said "Rach, money doesn't have to be hard, you know."

But I figured, as long as I was moving forward, that ‘one day’ I’d get my shit together and organise my inability to save for a mortgage.

In Sydney this week I tried exercising restraint to see what would happen if I made more time for living frugally.

I public transported my ass around Sydney and stared lustfully at the Ubers that passed me. And I was sitting on bus en route to a meeting when a girlfriend called.

‘I just saw you’re off to Singapore!, she exclaimed. ‘You’re killing it!’

I munched on my complimentary bread that came with the takeaway salad I had with me. ‘Mmm’, I said. 

"I’m actually eating my packed lunch on a bus", I told her. "I’ve been spending four times the amount of cash on Ubers than going to the gym last year so I figured I better get my shit together."

"Duuuuude’, she said. "I used Ubers as my excuse to to run late all of last year."

"God listen to us’, I said. "How middle class is this conversation." 

"Mnyeah", she said. "But at least we’re not boring".

That was reassuring. I mean, my passport was about to expire just before an international trip, my Medicare card was three YEARS out of date, and, as my beautician recently schooled me, apparently my bikini line is out of date, too. 

("Nobody do triangle anymore", she said back then, frowning. "Oval now. Everybody do oval".)

Well, at least I have an Oval bikini line now. I’m not completely boring, I guess. 

I realised I’d spent 2016 thinking I didn’t deserve the money people paid me.

I felt like I was good at what I did, that had the ability to do it, that I was qualified, and so on. But what I didn’t have, until this year, was the inner, sub conscious belief, that inner confidence of: I DESERVE THIS.

I mean, it wasn't luck that created Happiness Concierge, nor did opportunities to speak and travel fall from the sky. It was a series of decisions, I made, based on my belief systems about who I am as a person, my values and what’s important to me, that got me on that plane every other month to a new city. That got me speaking to a crowd completely terrified. That made me write all of my feelings and blast it out to the world.

For the first time since I started Concierge, I started to realise, yes, I had what I wanted, I knew what I was capable of, but I hadn't yet felt like I DESERVED IT. 

That's white middle class guilt for you though, I guess.

I had made a choice to be completely oblivious to money for most of my adult life. 

I focussed on how to get money to pay the bills, but not how to keep it.

I realised I had become anxious that day, talking to my friend about saving cash, because I was realising something about myself that I was ready to address, or change.

I wonder whether our anxieties tell us something about ourselves that we’re ready to tackle head on, before our brains can catch up and tell us we’re about to have a break through.

I suppose it’s kind of like that moment before you throw up. When your brain hasn't yet told you to bolt over to the toilet bowl.

Maybe those feelings of panic, those moments of night sweats, or those subconscious terrors move into our conscious because our brains have finally reached the maturity and confidence to deal with our ugly, uncomfortable shit. 

Maybe the lesson in all this is teaching our conflicted, tired, hard on our self selves that, all the good stuff that comes our way doesn't come for free. Otherwise we would have aced, it - right?

The good stuff as we know, comes because of the small, incremental decisions we make every day, based on our values and beliefs about ourselves. What we want. What we feel we can do. And what we feel we deserve.

What if we looked at anxiety as a positive thing, as our bodies, brain and subconscious all talking to one another. That they're like the awkward teenagers at the disco trying to figure out how to talk to each other. It just comes out as verbal diarrhoea at first.

What if, when presented with an attack of the panics, instead of hiding it inside, we told a friend about it.

What if we felt cool about asking for help and instead, said, "hey, I'm feeling this ball in my chest. Can you help me work through it?"

I do not love spreadsheets.

But what I do love, is the feeling that I have a friend who cares so much she would give me the gift of a very, very boring spreadsheet.

She's not boring, by the way, in case you're wondering. She is very, very, far from boring and SHE has her shit together.

x Rach

Perspective: you rock.

A few months ago, I did a Powerlifting Competition. 

Not because I have aspirations to be a competitive lifter; moreso to give myself a goal, work consistently towards it and to achieve something new. It was motivating slowly making gains every week and I was getting good at it.

When I was training, I felt like the most powerful version of myself. If I could lift many many kilos, I thought, there was nothing I couldn't handle at work or at home. It trained my physical and mental strength.

The day after the competition, I thought I’d take a few days off. Then, after that, I thought 'I’ll take a week off'. And the next week, I did exactly the same. 

And so it went for the next three months. I didn’t go to the gym at all. 

After training consistently and eating pretty much the same thing everyday for six months, all of a sudden I didn’t have a goal to work towards anymore. I just didn't have the mental capacity.

When I did return to the gym, I was weaker and I was bummed.

Experience had taught me prior if you take time off training, you can’t dip back into it straight away and expect to be in peak performance, so not being able to lift the weights I used to was a bit depressing at first, but nothing I hadn’t anticipated.

But, despite logically knowing it was sensible to avoid injury to move slowly back into it, and understanding from experience taking a break means your body needs time to get back to where it as, returning to somewhere where I used to slay and then feeling rusty was a bit of a downer.

It’s like when you leave a job where you are the big fish and then you start a new one and all of a sudden you need to learn all these new systems. You feel like you have no idea what you’re doing and all of a sudden you start to doubt whether you should have gotten this new fancy job in the first place. You know you'll get the hang of it eventually, but for the first few months, you feel unqualified and unproductive

Despite me routinely telling myself it would take time, using logic not emotion to get back into lifting, there were a number of times I felt like giving up because it felt like I wasn’t good at it. 

But to be good at something shouldn’t be the reason you do it (although it is a lovely side effect to doing something consistently). 

As a number of flexible types have told me, leaning into an uncomfortable yoga pose actually paves the way for you next time. Feeling uncomfortable - and being ok in that uncomfortable space - tells you you're improving your physical and mental resilience.

In his book The Way We're Working Isn't Working, Tony Schwartz suggests that if the definition of physical fitness is how long you take to recover, perhaps the definition of mental resilience is how swiftly you can perform after an emotional setback. 

Schwartz suggests the ability to think rationally and clearly under stress relies on the individual being able to regularly recover, rest and rejuvenate their mental, physical, emotional and spiritual selves. Without rest and rejuvenation, the individual can't perform in a way that is constructive, insightful or helpful to others. Individuals under stress, without rest and perspective, are more likely to act out of line in other words.

It made so much sense. Coaches had sent me home before if I turned up without eating or sleeping enough prior to training. One coach had ordered me to sit in the corner and stretch because I was too tired and was going to injure myself. I could only get stronger, if I ate enough and slept enough, they had all said. Without rest or food, I might as well be throwing the money I was paying them down the treadmill.

So when I stopped training, instead of mentally resting, I filled in my space time with all things not rest. Work, writing, speaking, socialising, eating (lots), and well, mainly more work.

I did it because that's what I knew.

For so many years work (or feeling "busy" or "productive") defined me. Performing at work became so ingrained in my identity I lost perspective and ultimately burned myself out three times. So let's just say flicking the switch from training for a competition or nailing a work presentation to popping along to an art gallery hardly came naturally to me.

Operation Fun.

Operation Fun.

So, over the last few weeks, I've been testing out ways to rest my mind and find pleasure outside of work. I bought an alarm clock to (attempt to) ban my phone from my room. I asked friends for book recommendations and took those to dinner instead of checking my emails over a curry after work. I took myself on dates to the movies.

I felt the impact of all this when I went back to the gym just recently.

With rest, sleep and perspective on my side from the New Years break, lifting those smaller weights didn't bother me so much. In fact, I felt kind of thrilled to be able to just want to go to the gym again and to enjoy the feeling of not staring at a screen or checking my emails.

And I thought of something a trainer had told me last year, after coming into the gym mentally exhausted from a massive week.

"I don't care how you perform when you're feeling good, Rach. I want to know how you respond when you're having a bad day. All you need to do is pick that weight up and put it down."

"All I need to do is pick it up", I smiled to myself this time. "All I need to do is pick it up."

What do you want?

Every year I give myself a theme.

In 2015 it was Listen (to myself, to others, learn how to be a good listener. Listening has never come naturally to me - I had to learn it and still am!).

In 2016: Joy (do things that make me feel joy like public speaking, making time for excellent friends and family, try and inject joy into other people's lives).

This year is all about pleasure.

For so many years work (or feeling "busy" or "productive") defined me, so it's going to take some practice to attune my thinking to "what will make me feel fab right now?"

If you asked me what makes me feel fill up my tank and feel goooood - apart from watching Netflix eating a Magnum, which as we all know is awesome - I'd struggle to tell you what (aside from work) feels insanely good.

So, this year I've decided I want to feel more pleasure and my baby step towards that is making the time to discover what exactly, that is.

There ain't no wrong way to explore, folks - the important part is that we all just try. 

Eating a Magnum in Bali by the pool. #goals

Eating a Magnum in Bali by the pool. #goals

So my challenge to you this new year isn't what goal you want to achieve this year but instead, ask yourself: what do you want to feel this year? What do you want to have? What would you like to achieve?

And if you could put one word on that which could help guide your thinking - what might that word, or phrase, be?

Navigating change in a relationship

 

"You have all this energy for work - but none left for me", a loved one said to me once.

That always stuck with me, because it was true. I showed up for her - but I was a total zombie, having maxxed my charming hours out with clients.

My acupuncturist told me when you ‘expand’, when you're learning new things, meeting new people and doing things that ‘stretch’ you - you physically and mentally need more space to process it. 

‘How is it that any relationships survive this’, I thought, reflecting on my own experiences and marvelling at friends who's partnerships had endured (and thrived) throughout change and challenging circumstances.

Not only is it a miracle two people (or more depending on your preference) manage to get along in the first place, I thought, but how do they survive when people find their jobs loathsome, when they don't feel fulfilled by the work they're doing, when they even question what they should even be doing with their life.

Feeling genuinely happy for someone as they stretch themselves - it doesn't always come easy, does it. While you want to feel like someone who is comfortable with change - let's face it, no one likes feeling uncomfortable and no one likes conflict. Conflict is bred from feeling uncomfortable.

I wondered whether it is possible for a partnership to be equally supportive, when one person is going through a massive mental shift and needs more space and time to process it. I also wondered what it’s like being the support crew, watching someone you love feel so unhappy and wanting to help them, only to have them somewhat deaf to your suggestions.

I think about this a lot because until recently, I was the unhappy jerk needing space to figure my shit out, pushing others away who had loving intentions.

They say you love the way you want to be loved.

And doesn't always make you compatible to the person you're attracted to.

I'm an 'away' person, I learnt in therapy. Someone who needs space and solo time to think. I feel claustrophobic if I'm around people all the time. I hide in the loos at events between conversations. My dream night includes not seeing anyone but Morrissey D Woofington and the guy at the 7/11 who smiles politely as I buy a Magnum.

I learnt I'd long been attracted to 'towards 'people. People who had a routine. People who were emotionally consistent. It had balanced out my highs and lows, having someone who was consistently calm and measured. When I was exerting myself and exposing myself to the world in new, uncomfortable and exciting ways - they were always there to reassure me I was on the right track.

The problems always came when I needed alone time to think, to work on a new idea, or to just not be around them for a few hours, like any normal human being.

Back then, I didn't have the skills to know how to articulate I needed down time. And so, to our demise, it came out as me distancing myself from them. It was hurtful to them. It wasn't personal - I needed space to regenerate, like many introverted people do.

But, back then, I didn't have the language for it to come out like it needed to. They didn't feel like they were coming along for the ride with me - so they held on tighter.

I wonder whether the behaviours we find challenging in others are the ones that tell us something about ourselves.

Do they trigger a memory, an experience. Do they remind us of something that feels uncomfortable. Do they remind us of the values we’ve been taught not to celebrate, explore, validate. 

Maybe there’s a common thread for all of us in believing, to some degree, what other people say about us.

Change can be confronting and scary. It can reveal something about yourself you didn't know mattered to you.

When one person is doing something different - that can be jarring, challenging, frightening for both parties, just as much as the person instigating the changing.

When you change your job, your lifestyle, your way of doing things - you're not the only person it affects. It can alter other peoples access to you, how much time you have for them and what mood you're in when you do see them.

Change can also piss people off.  What feels exciting and stimulating to you can make someone feel left behind. Because maybe it means you have less time to see them, or your energy reserves are lucked out having given them away to your new, exciting thing.

 

To those people considering making changes in your lives:

You might feel like your closest humans don’t understand what you’re going through. You might feel isolated and not sure if it’s a sensible decision.

If your closest humans freaking love you and want you to be happy - they’ll help you create that space so you can meet people who are going to help you grow, or at least be open to learning to how they can help you do it. Be mindful, it might not come naturally to them. It might be a new feeling to them. It might be confronting at first.

Friends, family, loved ones - the are capable of surprising you. When you grow, evolve, try something new, it also gives them an opportunity to go on a new ride with you. 

Pose the question and give them time to digest. And if they don't, over time, you might consider editing a little further.

Regardless if you're with someone, solo, seeing a ton of people, at the end of the day, YOU decide if you want to continue feeling the way you do now.

When you articulate what you want, you are telling the world something about you. You are giving people clues to the type of person you are and what's important to you. Traits that others find attractive.

Let the world edit themselves around you - not the other way around. 

And, although tempting, not through ultimatums, screaming matches or sulk-wars, but through grown-up conversations involving actual words.

Patience is a virtue, after all. I can't say it's my fortė - but I'm definitely trying.