My husband thought I worked for ASIO

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When I first met my husband (Shanton) he thought that I must have secretly worked for ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation). He also thought that I stared at him a lot. I didn’t find this out until much later, and at the time he told me, I thought this was hilarious and when I share this story to people in workshops or in life, they also find it funny.

Whenever I talk to friends, family and clients and deliver courses, the topic of conversation inevitably turns to culture – this includes many aspects of cultural differences as well as how to show respect and build rapport, and since meeting Shanton nine years ago these are subjects I have learnt a lot about and continue to learn more about as time goes on.

I have written in a previous post about how we do cross cultural marriage, so if you want to read a bit of a back story of how two very different people met, fell in love and make it work, feel free to check that article out here.

So, back to ASIO. The reason he thought this was because of the fact I asked so many questions. I have always been a curious cat, curious in the extreme really, just ask any of my school teachers since the beginning of time and anyone who knows me. I ask a LOT of questions.

In Shanton’s culture however, questions are considered rude. They can’t ask questions of people who are senior to them, they can’t ask questions such as what a person does for a living, how old someone is (this is particularly important if the person is senior to you) you can’t ask about marital status, and the biggest taboo question of all is when a woman is pregnant to ask when her baby is due. I met countless people who Shanton introduced me to as his wife and I never got the name of most of them either and I didn’t ask. One day I asked Shanton what our neighbour James’ mum’s name was, so I could address her properly, he looked at me curiously and said, ‘It’s James’ mum’.

I could fill a dictionary of all the things you don’t ask, so it’s easier to just summarise by saying – don’t ask. My best advice when dealing with anyone from a culture you aren’t familiar with is to be guided by how the person engages with you. Questions such as ‘how are you?’ ‘how is your family?’ and ‘how is your health?’ are usually ok across most cultures. My Mum often laughs when recalling Shanton coming home to bring a friend to introduce to her and mostly he didn’t know their name, so he would say ‘Mum, this is my good, good friend’.

Somehow, in Ghana they get to know enough about each other to not need to ask questions like we do. It boggles the mind of people like us in Australia, because that’s how we get to know people right? Maybe it gets back to the fact that people mostly live in a community setting and already know enough about each other to not need to ask too much?  I don’t know, even after all these years it puzzles me, but one of the things I learnt about living in another country myself and with a person from another culture is to be guided by them when it comes to relating to other people. Showing respect is paramount and if a person feels disrespected you can forget about building any kind of relationship, no matter the culture.

Now the staring thing. In the West, we show respect by making eye contact when someone is talking to us or we are talking with another person. However, in many cultures direct eye contact is seen as threatening, rude and inappropriate. This has variations from culture to culture and there are subtleties about eye contact that can vary between married to single, junior to senior, male to female etc. When it gets down to it eye contact in developing countries and some of our more traditional cultures is more often than not seen as inappropriate. Shanton really felt I stared at him, I saw it as gazing lovingly into his eyes of course. He initially saw it as strange and rude and didn’t know how to respond. We had an interesting conversation about this just today which has led to this post. After so many years in Australia he now appreciates, and values eye contact and it has become the norm for him.

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When he visits Ghana however, he is now seen as odd, and people often ask him why he is staring at them, one man asked ‘Sorry do I know you? Why are you staring at me like that?’. Today he told me something that he hadn’t shared or perhaps realised before. He recently returned from a visit to Ghana, and he told me that his uncle has been unhappy with him, although he didn’t tell him directly. Shanton was told it was because he no longer showed him the respect he previously had. Other people have also commented that he no longer respects his senior family members. The difference between the past and now is one thing – eye contact.

I found this fascinating. The fact that he was in his newfound way showing respect, was in fact having the opposite and unwanted effect with his family and friendship groups back in Ghana.

These are just two of the myriad of cultural differences that I find so interesting. I could write a book there are so many, but these are particularly important, as showing respect and building rapport are the building blocks of establishing a relationship of any kind. It is even more critical when you are supporting someone in a counselling or therapeutic relationship or informally when checking in to see how they are going, perhaps when offering Mental Health First Aid.

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Here are a few ideas I have found helpful so far in terms of building the initial relationship with someone if you are unsure of how to engage and to ensure you are showing respect.

  1. Be guided by the way the other person engages with you, and follow suit. For instance if they make brief eye contact and look down or away, don’t take offence. They may be showing you deep respect. This is hard to get used to, as we have been taught the importance of eye contact but it can be quite confronting for some.
  2. Don’t assume physical contact is ok, for instance don’t shake hands if the person doesn’t initiate it. Better to greet warmly without reaching out unless the person reaches out first. For some people shaking hands is just not ok, and especially between men and women.
  3. Be careful with the use of humour, particularly sarcasm. This is a particularly Western way of interacting but it’s usually lost on someone not accustomed to it. Humour varies greatly and it is tricky to navigate, so tread lightly. My husband still doesn’t get my dry sarcastic wit sometimes, although he now proudly states “this – is going straight to the poolroom” when he gets a gift. Over time he has become a huge fan of some of our iconic Aussie comedy films.
  4. Approach sensitive topics gently and gauge the response before probing too deep. Observe the person’s non-verbal reaction to your question or comment before continuing along that line of conversation.
  5. If you inadvertently do something that seems inappropriate, don’t be afraid to apologise, we are all human, and showing vulnerability and genuine concern is always appreciated.
  6. If you do ask questions, consider the motivation behind them. Before he got used to being bombarded with a gazillion questions, Shanton occasionally asked me ‘what are you going to do with this information?’ a response I found intriguing. When you are working in a supporting role, it is always helpful to check yourself before enquiring and consider ‘for whose benefit am I asking this question?’. We often ask questions out of our own personal interest, especially when faced with something different to us, but in fact when helping someone, questions should largely be for the benefit of the client or person you are talking with. Questions should assist an individual to find the answers within themselves, unlock what they already know or assist them to move forward.

Lastly, and most importantly, enjoy living, laughing and learning from the incredibly diverse, wonderfully rich and beautiful blend of cultures we are blessed to call family, friends, colleagues and community in this great big delicious melting pot we call home.

My life is certainly richer for the experience.

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That question!

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I’ve been having a bit more trouble than usual with my neck and shoulders lately and my trapezius were tight as a drum, which was excruciating, so this week I decided to try Osteopathy. I’m a big fan of all physical modalities and have tried almost everything out there, but for some reason I’d never tried Osteopathy, though I’ve always heard good things about it.

Osteopathy is a bit like a blend of physiotherapy and chiropractic and the result from the treatment was actually really good and I got instant relief.

The reason for me writing about my experience is not to extol the virtues of Osteopathy, although I’m definitely going to go back, it’s more about the conversation I had with David, my doctor.

As usual when attending a practice for the first time, I completed the patient information form. The usual questions were there, along with the lifestyle ones: Do you smoke? No. Do you drink? No.  Then the question I always dread – do you exercise and if so, how often? It’s always no, but I have the urge to write “but I’m working on it” or “I’m about to start” or “I used to, and am starting again soon”.

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Confession time: The truth is I’ve never really had a regular exercise routine. I’ve had fits and spurts and periods where I’m an enthusiastic walker, attend yoga or dance classes, but never anything long term. My best effort was about nine months. How embarrassing. I am almost 51 (though sometimes in complete denial about that too) and I’ve never engaged in regular exercise on a long term basis.

I teach it and preach it in terms of the benefits for mental and physical health. I realise how important it is for all of the reasons we all know only too well – but for some reason I don’t seem to be able to keep that momentum. I go to bed every single night with the best of intentions, only to find excuses the next day as to why I can’t go. I love walking and when I’m out there I always ask myself why I don’t make it a regular habit. When I am overseas I walk all day long. I actually really do love it.

I see friends posting and talking about their gym, runs, workouts, practices and I’m so inspired, but nothing seems to push me out that door into doing what I know I need to do.

When I was in the appointment with David, he went through my health background and then came the question again about exercise. My answer – I always plan to but I never make it happen. He asked me the most simple yet profound question in just two words “Why not?” I couldn’t really answer that, I really don’t know why I don’t do it. I said I just supposed I was lazy. I don’t really believe I’m lazy, but it’s all I could think of. He challenged me to exercise the next morning and asked me to get out my phone so we could both set our alarms together. Nothing like a bit of pressure and accountability, which I actually respond really well to.  Oh I can’t possibly do that was my reply, I’m working tomorrow, starting at 8:30. So was he, starting at 7. He set his for 5:30, I set mine for 6:30. He said he would be up doing weights, I said I would be up walking.

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You can probably guess who succeeded here and who didn’t. Can I use the shitty Adelaide once in a 50 year event storm for an excuse? Yes I think I can get away with it for today and tomorrow, but after that I think it’s time I began to adult.

I am writing this post as an accountability check for myself. I know better, I teach better, it’s time I do better.

So here goes. I will start walking regularly starting Saturday. I will walk for at least 30 minutes at least four days a week. I will also resume yoga classes on my return from Ghana.

Watch this space as I finally get my shit together and walk my talk – literally!

Who wants to join me?

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Boundaries

 

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I often read of people talking about the need to have healthy boundaries, and while it comes across as a bit new-agey to some, in reality it is actually one of the most important self care strategies we can employ.

What do we actually mean when we talk about having healthy boundaries? Well everyone is different and what is a boundary for some might be a restriction for others. When I think of healthy boundaries the word that comes to mind for me is respect, for myself, my time, my energy, my health and for others.

What does it look like when we don’t have that self respect/healthy boundaries? We can wind up being over committed, saying yes to things we really don’t want to, constantly pushed for time and energy, doing things we don’t enjoy and sometimes engaging in relationships that no longer serve us.

If we don’t learn to say no and put boundaries in place, ultimately we can burn out physically, emotionally and mentally, and we wind up disappointing ourselves and others anyway. What is it about saying no that we find so difficult and uncomfortable?  My feeling is that at our core, whether we admit it or not, we all basically want to be liked and want to feel included and valued and so we engage in people pleasing. Sometimes the relationship may be such that there’s a fear of disappointing someone to the point that there’s concern that the friendship might not survive the distance. I used to get all worked up over that, but I won’t people please anymore. I’m a fiercely loyal and loving friend and anyone close to me knows that. However I’m far from perfect. I have really crappy days, as we all do and I will not do something that pushes me too far any more. My mental health must come first these days and while I’ve only recently starting talking about it, I want to be respected enough by people to know that if I say no, it is with good reason, without having to go into a War and Peace declaration and explanation.  I’m not talking about copping out or intentionally disappointing people here, I’m talking about honouring myself first. A good friend will and should ALWAYS understand and respect that.

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I have a friend who often calls last minute that she can’t make a catch up and she knows I can do the same, we have an understanding. There is zero bullshit between us and it’s always that way. Sometimes she doesn’t have the chance answer calls or reply to my messages and I never take offence. She has a life and so do I. We have established a friendship that is based on healthy boundaries for ourselves and our respect for each other is huge. While I never lie, if I was invited to her house and really could not be bothered, I can actually call and say that very thing. There aren’t many people in the world we can do that to. We might say that we are tired, run down or flat and that is true too, but to her I can say “you know what Angela – I can’t be fucked so I’m not coming” and the same goes for her. I LOVE that!

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Healthy boundaries not only apply in relationships. They are important in the workplace, in community and social commitments and families as well. In fact healthy boundaries should be in place wherever and whatever you do.

What are you doing to protect and maintain your boundaries?

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You are NOT welcome

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You are NOT welcome

 

You visit uninvited day and night

Filling me with fear

Holding me in your clutches

Invading my mind

You are not welcome

 

You interrupt my happy days

Filling my gut with nausea and pain

Putting terrifying thoughts into my mind

Making me miserable

You are not welcome

 

You keep me awake all hours of the night

Making me want to scream, cry and sleep

You take me to the darkest of places

Thoughts so intrusive, so black and so very wrong

You are not welcome

 

Anxiety you have been with me since I was a child

Visiting when and where you please

I cannot stand the thoughts you bring

Thoughts so terrible, dark and scary, thoughts that can never be discussed

You are not welcome

 

Every day I try to keep you away

Positivity can take me only so far

Some sleepless nights, that time of the month, a hurtful word taken hard

Extra pressure, stress and overwhelm, too many negative things seen

Bring you flying right on in, knocking me flat, paralysed, unable to move

 

Anxiety you are not welcome

It really is time for you to leave

I want to live in peace and quiet

Will you please just let me be?

 

You are NOT welcome

 

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Anxiety and me

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Anxiety can be all-consuming, overwhelming and completely paralysing. At its peak it renders me incapable of even the smallest tasks and I find myself wanting to run and hide, hoping to avoid anything and everything. When it’s really on fire and in control, it brings it’s two best friends along for the ride; self-doubt and depression. The three of them together can really mess with my head and my ability to enjoy life.

I have lived with anxiety all of my life. Some of my earliest memories of anxiety are of me standing at the back window of our house at about the age of 3 or 4, screaming hysterically while everybody else was having fun swinging on my Hills swing set. Why? Because if they went really high on the swings, the front legs of the frame would lift slightly out of the soil. It terrified me.

I was always scared.

Of everything.

I had an overwhelming fear of being abducted from my bed when I was sleeping. Of being abducted by strangers in cars. Illness, injuries, accidents and death terrified me. Drunk people were scary as hell to little me. Fears too many to mention in just one blog post.

Fear has always been there in some form or another.

I have rarely admitted it to anyone.

Raising my kids was the most beautiful experience of my life, but also the most anxiety producing. I can’t even begin to explain the fears that went along with motherhood, the terrifying intrusive thoughts I experienced every single day, and the rehashing I go through on a regular basis. Maybe I will write about that another day.

At the moment my biggest fear is ageing and facing my own mortality. It absolutely terrifies me, and I don’t have the words to express the feelings it gives me.

Anxiety presents itself to me in a very physical way. I have fortunately never had a panic attack, but the feelings are just awful. My anxiety sits in two main places in my body. A massive lump in my throat and an aching sensation of dread deep in the pit of my stomach. Think of how it feels when you are really distressed about something or incredibly scared, or have just had an argument with someone, or have been given some awful news. Yeah that, add a big bunch of queasiness as if you have eaten something not quite right on top and you are getting close. Now multiply it by 10, no, 20.

That unsettling, gut wrenching empty yet full, gnawing feeling in the belly – that’s how I feel my anxiety. I also get dizzy spells and extreme fatigue when it all gets too much, but fortunately these are less common for me.

It took me until two years ago to actually admit that anxiety was a part of my life. Very few people know about it as I am yet to really speak openly about it, until now. This is the first time I have ever written about it, but I know from experience that if I feel this way, that perhaps someone else can know that they are not alone.

The best thing I did for myself was to accept it, then seek help and learn how to manage it. There are some great professional options out there for people and I highly recommend anybody who feels as if they are experiencing it to speak with their doctor in the first instance.

I have always known the importance of self care and in fact I teach it for a living, but I have not been so great at following my own advice or walking my talk in this area. There is a saying that we teach what we most need to learn, and I feel that it is very true for me.

I expect anxiety will always be part of my life, but I am learning to live with it and manage it, so it won’t always be the life sucking beast it has been.

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