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Offspring Magazine

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Perth primary school student, Elissa Bolton, was devastated when she saw a homeless man outside of a shop in Leederville, Perth. She shares, “I came home, I went into my bed and I started crying.”  

Soon after, Elissa and her mum, Rachel sat down to formulate a plan.

“We thought of the project Spread the Warmth,” Elissa says, “Where we collect winter gear such as beanies, gloves, blankets, jeans, jackets and other stuff.  

We have some collection points which are at a few places, and then we collect them and take them to Uniting WA in the city. They take it to homeless people in the streets.” 

Uniting WA provides community services and support to those experiencing complex challenges in the Great Southern and Perth Metro area. More than 9000 people are homeless in Western Australia, 58 per cent of which are male and one in five are aged 25 to 34. 

Starting the project in April this year, Elissa took on a workload that kept her busy during isolation. She started by recording a video campaign to connect with businesses and the community. Elissa has now set up collection boxes at 25 businesses in WA, from Kalamunda to Narambeen and Calingiri 

Elissa’s mother, Rachel says, “It gained momentum; it went huge. We had written down four or five businesses, and within a week there were about 15.” 

Elissa and Rachel wanted to involve the community in the project, creating a ripple effect of conversations around homelessness with businesses and friends.  

“We tried to do some research into what it means to be homeless, because for an 11-year-old kid, what is homelessness? So, it’s certainly generated a lot of conversation in our own family, and then obviously Elissa’s taken that to school, Rachel shares. 

Elissa says she loves sharing the experience with her friends, “they ask if they can come over and help me figure out some stuff about it, and then they tell their families, and their families tell other people, so more people know.”  

Elissa’s teacher has nominated her for the Fred Hollows Humanity Award. The award acknowledges Year 6 students around Australia who make a positive difference in their community, following in the footsteps of Fred Hallows. Students embody the values of kindness, compassion and integrity. 

Elissa plans to make Spread the Warmth an annual event, restarting around February next year with some exciting new ideas. 

To follow along or get involved you can visit Elissa’s Spread the Warmth Facebook Page.

Fast fashion is the notion of creating low-cost clothes in a rapid-fire production – and it is a problem which needs to change to lessen the impact it has on the environment. Considered the second most polluting industry in the world by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and more than 500 million dollars of textiles ending up in Australian landfill each year (Ross, 2019), experts say measures need to be taken to combat this issue. Measures include clothes rental, better recycling processes, pollution control technology and the innovation of offcuts.

Other harsh statistics many may not know about the textiles industry include its estimated use of water is around 1.5 trillion litres each year – even making a single pair of denim jeans uses over 10 000 litres! Read it again – that much water for only one pair. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said the fashion industry creates 10 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions every year, meaning the cheap clothes selling off the shelves at a rapid pace, are doing more harm than one may think.

If the notion of reducing your fast fashion footprint has been on your mind for a while, here are some ways to reduce it.

assorted-color apparels

 Shop with ethical brands

 An ethical company is one who treats their workers fairly, in terms of payment and providing a safe environment – all whilst using ethical materials and partaking in honourable practices. Companies with policies in place such as the management of water usage and chemical practices and recycling programs, are all ones you should consider buying from.

Re-use and re-mend

Go through the wardrobe and be surprised at the hidden gems that will appear. If an item has a slight hole or a stuck zip, there are plenty of easy ways to fix or revamp with a simple DIY. 

Charity shopping

With restrictions eased all around the country, have a fun day out by exploring the local op-shops. The sense of giving clothes a new home and purpose is rewarding – and saves some coin also.

assorted clothes in wooden hangers

My Great Grandmother, Dorothy Shoemark, is a 94-year-old living alone in the rural NSW town of Wagga Wagga. Being born four years before the Great Depression and having a husband who fought at war, Dorothy wouldn’t be alone in saying she grew up in difficult circumstances. Growing up in challenging environments is part of the reason the older generation are so wise, making them always willing to locate an ear to be filled with stories of greatness.

The older generation possesses a distinct sense of wisdom that people of today will never truly un tap. Taking in years of helpful anecdotes from these individuals fills us with a sense of hope. Life is short, so satisfy it with colour and advice from those who have experienced walking the path before you.

As I walk up to Dorothy’s back gate on this delightful 27-degree day, I spy her keeping the garden in full bloom and satisfying the belly of the neighbourhood magpie. We settle in for what will be a two-hour discussion, reminiscing on her childhood, first loves and first jobs. 

“Everyone should follow their dreams and do what they want to do. Take no notice of anybody else, don’t get distracted on your journey to success,” my grandmother says at the beginning of our conversation. “If you think you can make it [in a career you love], that’s what you concentrate hard on. Do it and work your insides out.”

Dorothy says she is passionate about telling people they should work hard for what they want, as when she left school in her early teenage years she couldn’t read or write properly. Because she needed to make money to survive, she persisted and taught herself everything she knows by reading whatever she could find.

Following on from this work-related advice, Dorothy also tells me you get what you want out of work from what you put into it. “If you want money you need to go out and work for it, don’t just sit at home and do nothing,” she says with her finger pointing in the air.

“To get anywhere in this world you need to be outgoing, confident and consistent.”

Dorothy’s love advice doesn’t differ much from words in teen magazines today. As we watch the neighbourhood magpie fly back for its second helping, she tells me the key to love is all about respect. “Find someone who treats you well – a person with real respect for you,” she says. Dorothy knew her late husband was the one as even when he was sent off to war, he never forgot to write to her for special occasions, to check up on her or to provide his monthly updates – which to Dorothy, is a massive sign of respect.

In terms of self-love, Dorothy was ardent in telling me that we need to look after ourselves and our body first – as we are only blessed with this one body for our whole being. “If you look after yourself, you’ll live as long as me! In fact, if you don’t get married at all you’ll probably live past 100,” she chuckles. If an aspect within a relationship seems unsettling and you seek guidance from others, Dorothy urges that you need to take good advice when it is given to you, because more often than not they are right.

“Don’t take good advice for granted, if they tell you something that is hard to hear, it is because they care and want what is best for you,” she says.

Focussing on money, Dorothy believes it is important to always have a separate bank account just in case you need it. Keeping a portion separate from your partners ensures you have a select amount of money to keep yourself on your feet, as well as buying the occasional treats to make life exciting. “Some people don’t realise what’s in front of them. You have to rent homes, buy a property, buy or fix new appliances, have money for starting a family – it all gets very expensive,” she says. Making money all comes back to working hard, treating your bosses and employees with respect and never settling for anything less than you deserve.   

If you are privileged in this day and age to have an elderly member close by, go and tell them you love them, ring them up or even better, offer a socially distanced air hug.

“There’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills. It puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible.” – Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist.

Gen Z were the first generation to grow up amidst social media, with the first notable site, Six Degrees, being created in 1997. Rapidly, social media has proliferated out of control, gaining popularity across the well known sites we know today. 

But what effects has this had on generations starting with Gen Z and that of which followed?

A popular documentary released on Netflix called ‘The Social Dilemma’ examines this and the damaging effect that this has had on children’s social skills. Teenagers in particular have been the primary focus and their ability to create new relationships.

“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person whose paying to manipulate those two people. So we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context with the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation.” – Jaron Lainer, founding father of Virtual Reality Computer Scientist

In America, a short survey was conducted to discuss this by The Teen Advisory Board (TAB), and they discovered:

– 75% of teens said social media negatively affected their romantic relationship

– 77% chose texting as one of the popular ways to start a relationship

– 82% said texting is one of the two ways to end a relationship.

As children engage in face-to-face communication, they are developing social skills through vocal and visual cues which brings context to the situation. These communication cues can be portrayed through eye contact, tone of voice, facial expressions and space between individuals (Knapp & Hall, 2010).

But if children are communicating solely through social media, they aren’t learning these non-verbal communication skills that are necessary to succeed in life.

It has become trendy across all social media platforms for Gen Z to joke about their social incompetencies with comments such as needing their parents to book doctor’s appointments for them because they’re afraid to talk over the phone, but to what extent is this going to affect how society will function in the future? 

“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves. That is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.” – Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and co-founder of Centre for Humane Technologies

Perhaps social media isn’t the future, but something that needs to be changed or consumed in extreme moderation.

You don’t have to be Australia’s best chef to make baby food at home. In fact, it is quite simple and the advantages are endless. By being homemade, bub will be eating foods free from preservatives and harmful chemicals. It also sets up your children with a love for healthy eating right from the start, making them appreciate fresh, wholesome food.

TOOLS AND APPLIANCES

The tools needed to make baby food are staples already lying around the kitchen. Not many are needed – minimal equipment will still make delicious food.

Blender or food processor

 Options like the Chicco 4-1 baby blender or Cherub Baby steamer blender are good options if looking to purchase. Otherwise, any blender that makes smoothies or purees food will work. If the blender is older, add an extra dash of liquid to make food a smooth consistency. 

Ice cube trays

 If the ice-cubes are calling these home already, check the local op shop to stock up on trays for an inexpensive price.

Steamer basket or insert

 This is needed to steam the food for purees. Steamer inserts can fit more produce but both will get the job done.

 Other tools include:
  • Baking sheet
  • Saucepans
  • Peelers
  • Spatulas
  • Knives
  • Freezer bags
  • Storage containers

COOKING TIPS

Main cooking techniques include steaming, roasting, baking or microwaving until food becomes tender. To preserve the nutrients from fruit and vegetables, opt for steaming not boiling and if ripe, they don’t need to be cooked at all.

Once cooled, transfer to a food processor of choice and blend for one to two minutes. Slowly add water, breastmilk or formula to reach a desired consistency – which ultimately should glide off the spoon.

Enhance taste and your baby’s palette by adding herbs and spices like sea salt, ginger, cinnamon and rosemary.

 STORAGE

Food will need to be kept in airtight containers, freezer bags or ice cube trays. Before transferring to the fridge or freezer, allow food to cool. Ice cube storage allows flavour combinations to be created as the small dosages of food can be mixed and matched.

The storage timeline for baby food is up to four days in the fridge, two months in the freezer for purees with meat and beans and up to three months in the freezer for fruit purees.

Labelling containers with the date and what is inside will allow for no confusion when choosing baby’s next meal.

RECIPES

Recipes from Babyfoode.com

Apple and coconut milk baby puree

Age: 4 months +

Ingredients:
  • 6 apples – peeled, cored and chopped
  • ½ cup canned full-fat coconut milk
  • ¼ tsp cloves
 Method:
  1. Put the apples, coconut milk and cloves in a medium saucepan and cover. Heat over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally or until apples can be cut in half with a spoon. Let cool slightly.
  2. Transfer all ingredients into blender and puree until smooth.

Broccoli and olive oil puree

Age: 4 months +

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups broccoli – chopped into small florets
  • 1 small potato or apple – peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
 Method:
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 inches of water to boil over medium heat.
  2. Place broccoli and potato (or apple) into a steamer basket and place over boiling water. Cover and steam for 10-12 minutes or until tender. Let cool slightly.
  3. Add the broccoli, potato (or apple) and olive oil into a blender and puree until smooth, adding water from the steamer in ¼ increments if needed.

Mango and Vanilla puree

Age: 4 months +

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag frozen mango
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract or a pinch of fresh vanilla bean seeds

 Method:

  1. Put frozen mango and vanilla extract/bean into a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat. Stir often until heated all the way through and tender roughly 3-4 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  2. Transfer into a blender. If mango mixture gets an excess of liquid while cooking, strain mangos and reserve liquid into a bowl.
  3. Blend on high for 1 minute or until the puree is smooth.

Optimum nutrition is crucial for physiological and cognitive development, however evidence shows that diet quality in children has declined. Processed foods, skipping meals and following fad diets may cause children to fail in meeting nutritional requirements necessary for growth and development.

Essential vitamins and minerals cannot be synthesised by the body, so a child must obtain them in adequate amounts from food. Poor intake of nutrients and energy could have detrimental effects on health, and contribute to the onset of low self-esteem, dental issues and decreased academic performance.

Epidemiological data estimates that one in five children are expected to develop some kind of mental health issue before adulthood, with half of adult mental health problems developing in childhood and teenage years. This highlights the importance of early prevention.

An Australian study examining 7114 adolescents aged 10-14 years, demonstrated that teenagers on a healthy diet were less likely to report symptoms of depression. The association exists above the influence of family, socioeconomic and other factors.

1. Calcium

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and is key for skeletal development, bone health and teeth, providing hard tissue with its strength. Due to its importance for growth, requirements are higher in childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and lactation.

Calcium is also necessary for learning, mental capacity, the immune system, nerve impulse transmissions and contracting muscles.

Ensuring intake of adequate calcium helps minimise risk of fractures, osteopenia and osteoporosis. Research connected calcium intake with prevention of colon cancer, insulin resistance, kidney stones, hypertension and obesity.

Absorption of calcium from food is only 20-40 per cent, and bioavailability is hindered in foods with phytic and oxalic acids, such as rhubarb, spinach, chard and some cereals.

Factors that increase Calcium bioavailability:

  • Vitamin D
  • Fat
  • Proteins
  • Vitamin C

Factors increasing demand for Calcium:

  • Bone fractures
  • Diarrhoea
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • High sugar diets
  • Lack of exercise
  • Magnesium deficiency

Calcium is involved in the following functions:

  • Activates insulin
  • Blood clotting
  • Bone and tooth formation
  • Muscle contraction
  • Nerve transmission
  • Cellular functions
  • Heart rhythm regulation

Food Sources:

  • Almonds
  • Broccoli
  • Buckwheat
  • Dairy products
  • Egg yolk
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Sardines
  • Molasses
  • Soybeans
  • Turnips

2. Magnesium

Cells die without sufficient Magnesium, and it is required for over 300 biochemical processes in the body. Approximately 99% of total body magnesium is found in the bone, muscles and soft tissue, fifty to sixty percent residing in the bone. Magnesium is necessary for strong bones, healthy immune function, muscular and neurological function, blood glucose regulation and energy.

Causes of Magnesium Deficiency in Children:

  • Requirements are higher due to growth and development.
  • Inadequate intake.
  • Cooking methods can result in magnesium loss.
  • Diets high in salt, sugar and soft drinks.
  • Reduced magnesium absorption due to low protein diet, vitamin D deficiency or medications.
  • Active children may have a higher requirement due to loss through sweat.
  • A child who is experiencing prolonged diarrhoea or vomiting.
  • Prolonged stress, worry or anxiety.

Signs your child may need more Magnesium:

  • Twitching muscles
  • Muscle spasms
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty maintaining attention
  • Noise sensitivity
  • Teeth grinding
  • Constipation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Lethargy

Food Sources:

  • Almonds
  • Barley
  • Cashews
  • Cocoa
  • Cod
  • Eggs
  • Figs
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Kelp
  • Wholegrains
  • Legumes
  • Molasses
  • Parsnips

Inadequate magnesium can contribute to poor mood and influence anxiety. Both calcium and magnesium are important for mood modulation, cognition and brain function.

Write a list of your favourite calcium and magnesium foods, and each week ask your child to choose a new food to incorporate into your meals.

Kelly has more than eight years’ experience as a coordinator for an Outside School Hours Care Program and has completed hundreds of engaging and educating programs with children based on the National Regulation requirements. So, to help any struggling parents out there, here are her suggestions for easy and fun activities to keep children engaged during Covid restrictions.

With current Covid precautions in Australia and Melbourne’s Stage Four lockdown still in effect, parents may have gone through every option to keep their child engaged. Children are out of routine and forced to learn at home, so trying to come up with new and exciting activities that are educating can be almost impossible.

1. ‘Spoonville’

It can be difficult to convince children to leave the house for some exercise when they have technology to keep themselves entertained, so why not create a town out of spoon people and get the community involved?

Using old spoons from the drawer, dress up your spoon into a person, animal or character. Every time the children go for a walk, they can see if anyone else in their neighbourhood has contributed to ‘Spoonville’ with their own spoons. It brings the excitement of wanting to leave the house for exercise while also engaging the children into creating a new spoon to add to the collection.

Materials: Wooden, metal or plastic spoon, wool for hair, googly eyes, scrap material for clothing, texta or paint for any additional details.

 

 

2. Toilet roll characters

Instead of throwing out the toilet rolls, turn them into characters!

There are plenty of websites that provide print out templates of different characters to stick onto a toilet roll. These are easy for kids to follow because all they need to do is cut, colour and paste. Alternatively, parents can print off reference pictures to spark creativity.

This also teaches children the importance of re-using materials around the house instead of throwing them out. Use this opportunity to discuss the environment and what they can do to help.

To further build on this experience, the children can create their own puppet show. This will be sure to keep them entertained for hours, build their confidence and encourage their pretend-play skills.

Materials: Toilet rolls, paper, textas, scissors, glue sticks.

3. Gooey slime

Slime can be a great tool for sensory development and is also one of the most popular science experiments with children at the moment. The ingredients to create this slime can be found at the supermarket and is easy to create, but it does get messy. So, make sure the floor, table and clothing are protected.

 

Slime recipe:

240ml bottle Elmer’s white school glue

1 1/2 – 2 tbs contact saline solution

1 tbs baking soda

Food colouring

To make the slime more exciting, the children can add shaving cream (poofy slime), glitter, beads (crunchy slime) or Styrofoam (foam slime) to the mixture.

Materials: Glue, saline solution, baking soda, food colouring.

4. Pac-man (2 or more people)

Pac-man is a game Kelly played frequently with children at work because it encouraged them to think quickly and increase their general knowledge.

The aim of the game is to stand around the room, the parent will shout out a question and for every question a child gets right, they take a step towards their opposition. Once they’ve answered enough questions and have reached their opposition, they tap them on the shoulder to get them out.

Adjust the questions based on their age and knowledge level, making them easier or harder depending on who is left in the game.

Materials: None.

5. DIY masks

Masks are a part of everyday life with Covid-19, so why not make it exciting? This will not only open the conversation about why it’s important to wear masks but will also teach them how to cut fabric to a pattern and sew it together. This could also encourage a conversation about fast fashion and the hard work that goes into creating clothes.

To further this experience, children could sew more patterns such as cushions, toys or pencil cases.

Materials: Needle, thread, three layers of fabric, scissors.

6. Terrarium

Terrariums are easy to assemble and can be created by things found outdoors. Although it isn’t necessary to build one that grows plants, it can be beneficial for children to learn the importance of a small eco-system and a terrarium is perfect to do so.

Materials: Glass bowl, dirt, sticks, rocks, water, plants (I recommend succulents because they don’t need much water).

 

 

7. Veggie patch

Similar to a terrarium, growing plants can be a beneficial lesson to children, but can be done using scraps from last night’s dinner. There are many vegetables/fruits that can grow from scraps. These are:

Lettuce, celery, avocado, potato, sweet potato, ginger, pineapple, garlic, onion, pumpkin, capsicum, tomato, carrot, strawberry, apricot, cherry, and many more.

Just place these vegetables or seeds in water, wait for roots to sprout, and then plant in dirt. Eventually, a new vegetable will sprout and the kids can eat their home-grown food.

Materials: Vegetable scraps, dirt, water.

8. Patty pan craft

Children can unleash their creativity by creating their favourite animal or character using the left-over patty pans sitting in the bottom drawer. Using either a photo for reference or a printed colouring page, children can cut the patty pan to size and paste. This will not only benefit their fine motor skills but will encourage creativity when it comes to alternative materials and repurposing.

Materials: Patty pans, paint or texta, scissors, glue.

 

As a child who fought more with her two imaginary friends than laughed, I reflect on how real it was for those around me.

Amelia today as she remembers her childhood companions.

“Alright, that’s it!

Tom and Ellie get out of the car now, you’re not coming back home,” I remember my mum yelling.

It was a casual afternoon in mid-2001, I was two-and-a-half years old and the back seat of our forest green Subaru was filled with three children fighting over the last Twistie. I kicked and screamed, not happy with the designated chip outcome, begging the other children to give it to me.

However, I was the only physical child in the back seat. Tom and Ellie were “invisible” fragments of my imagination. Invisible fragments that I fought with so much, I forced Mum to throw them away.

This day was the tip of the iceberg for my mum, feeling like she was the mother to triplets instead of just me. Throwing these “friends” out of the car seemed like the only way to keep the peace and her sanity intact. She was beyond patient with my constant demands. Making sure these unseen beings were properly bathed, dressed, fed and securely buckled into the car before leaving home.

“It was really draining,” says Mum, when asked to reminisce on this stage of my childhood.

“I would have to give everyone a bath each night and when told I didn’t dry them properly, the process had to start all over again.

“As a mum, I knew it was my responsibility to remove a problem that was so obviously agitating my daughter, so ultimately that is what made me stop the car that day.”

Fast forward to the present and I cannot tell you what Tom and Ellie looked like, but when I was a child, they were so vivid within my imagination. They kept me company, forcing me to explore social situations at such an early age. There were plenty of times the three of us were the best of friends, but unfortunately, the fighting outweighed the calm. I knew the playmates I was bickering with over toys, food and personal space were fictional characters within this chapter of my life, however, they were still emotionally and intellectually alive.

My make-believe friends were most likely born out of boredom or the fundamental desire for company, as Tom and Ellie emerged into my life before my little sister was born. Even though we all drove mum crazy, these beings allowed my parents to gain an insight into the creations of my inner world. They noticed what made me shriek with both laughter and anger, my likes, dislikes and inventiveness.

Mum worried I had psychological problems or was meant to be a triplet and had separation anxiety. However, with copious research, she discovered having imaginary friends was a normal part of growing up and developing.

Studies show that imaginary friends are an extremely natural and healthy part of a child’s development. Up to two-thirds of children create make-believe playmates, usually between the ages of three and eight. Dr Psych Mum says these friends are more common amongst firstborn or only children, as they satisfy the need for friendship and companionship, notions in which many only children crave.

The stigma surrounding imaginary friends used to be harsh. Up until the 1990s, people believed they were a psychological red flag, being a sign of loneliness within the child or a reluctance to accept reality. Others also thought these invisible companions were a sign of an evil demonic possession or early signs of mental illness.

However, developmental psychologist Marjorie Taylor said in an interview with The Globe and Mail, that children who manifest these beings grow up to be creative adults, with further links to higher developed social and verbal skills.

Psychologists from all around the world agree children with imaginary confidants – whether that be friends or personified objects – tend to engage more with their peers as they grow up. They also found that these children are more advanced in knowing how to react with imagining how someone else might think and behave in certain situations.

The inclusion of pretend friends within a child’s life fulfils three fundamental psychological needs: competence, relatedness and autonomy. Competence is met by the child assuming a leadership role towards the imaginary friend, an established invisible hierarchy. Relatedness is accomplished by teaching a child ways to connect socially with real-life human beings as they grow older. Autonomy is satisfied by a child gaining a sense of control over their parents, by demanding they complete tasks for their companion.

Imaginary friends inspire children to explore their curiosity in a make-believe world they constructed within their own minds. They provide a sense of comfort, freedom for life lessons and learning curves in the real world.

Looking back and laughing with Mum over these crazy antics with my treasured friends, I am grateful my two-year-old self could invent such precious company. They fulfilled my needs for companionship then, and maybe they fulfil my needs for creativity today.

My life with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder has placed a strain on the very relationships that once gave way to warmth. It holds me close and tight and doesn’t let go until I am left feeling the brunt of its cruelty.

I suffer from disturbing, intrusive thoughts, over which I have no control. These intrusive thoughts can be cruel, and invade my brain throughout the day. With no warning. They threaten the very foundations in which make my life bearable – friendships and relationships.

These destructive thoughts hold me back from enjoying existence. They make me question who I am.

I feel there is something wrong with me.

I have OCD.​

I know the shame that intrusive thoughts bring about. So, I understand that only one-third of the 500,000 OCD sufferers in Australia seek treatment. For a long time, I refused to discuss it with anyone, but it becomes overwhelming and too difficult to keep locked away in my brain.

OCD calls on the demons hiding in the most remote corners of my brain to come downstairs and ruin my optimistic outlook on life. They convince me that I’m a despicable human and a danger to myself and others.

I won’t discuss in detail the context of my thoughts, what I will say though is that they cause such immense grief, I often feel my stomach may very well expel from my body.

The thoughts come in tsunami-like episodes, getting worse as time moves on, leading to one of the most heartbreaking episodes of all.

It had been a long night. I had been locked away from the outside world for just over a week. One could call it a self-isolation of a brain, my brain. It had been occurring for months, years even, somewhat episodically, but this time, it was all too much. I couldn’t handle the strain my brain placed over me. I had called a few helplines who suggested going to see someone but little did they know I was already in the process of finding someone. But as it was approaching Christmas, the wait for an appointment was well over 3-4 months.

My friend and I had planned to meet up for dinner and dessert, however, my eyes, stained red from distress, gave way to crucial evidence. She had been there for me two years earlier when the thought of still being around in 2019 felt like a mere fantasy.

It wasn’t an ideal situation. I sat in my car for 15 minutes trying to calm myself down. Once I felt the air float back into my lungs, I escaped the confinements of my car and made my way to her work. The sun, in its slow process of setting, shone a light shade of pink throughout the plaza.

“Just keep looking at the sunset,” I thought to myself. “It’s going to be a new day soon and this will all be a distant and faint memory.”

When you’re about to panic or on the verge of crying, the best thing someone can do is ask “R U OK?”, but I’ve found that this causes the flood gates to burst open, leading to a tsunami of emotion. The tsunami releases all the negativity trapped inside, explosions and cascades of gasps and tears tearing through the silence of their response. This occurred that night as I waited in the empty plaza outside the department store. Waiting. Breathing. Silence.

“Hey!” she said.

“Shit,” I thought.

Her smile often brings joy and the warm fuzzies, but on this day I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming army of joyless demons crush against my chest. The infection spread from my chest to my stomach as my hands started to tremble. I let out a nasty cry and fell into her arms.

She was the first person I told my thoughts to.

Everything spilt out in a rapid eruption of words and tears. I told her of the thoughts that caved away into the deepest parts of my brain, and how I had no control over them. These thoughts, intruding around my body as if on vacation refused to withdraw.

After 30 minutes of ugly crying, my friend thought it best that we call a mental health crisis helpline. Another 30 minutes went by. My ugly crying grew stronger and my friend performed her duty as a translator, relaying information onto the mental health officers.

I was too busy attempting to breathe. By 9:30 pm we were in the hospital’s mental health ward. Unfortunately, not my first time sitting in an emergency department due to mental health complications. What felt like a 30-minute wait turned into a 6-hour wait.

A lengthy couple of months ensued. I saw several mental health officers including a psychiatrist who put my mind at ease, informing me that these thoughts weren’t me. Asking me a very important question:

“If these thoughts, in any way, represented the type of person you were, then why would they cause you so much distress?” He said. “So much distress that it caused you to question your place on this earth.”

I finally had the answers, I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It was a relief when I finally had an answer for the thoughts. These maleficent thoughts were so overwhelming that I questioned my place on this earth. And for the week leading up to that night, my brain spun into what felt like a never-ending cycle. Continuing to ask the same three questions:

Why are these thoughts in my head?

Why are they coming back with more ferocity than the last time?

Should I still be alive if I have these thoughts?

The truth is, at that time I wasn’t sure why I was having them; I didn’t realise that OCD could bring about such nasty thoughts. Thoughts that made me feel physically sick. It was as if a hand had made its way down my throat, stuck these ideas in my gut then withdrew in a hurry. Scurrying far away, leaving no evidence it was once there. It left doubt in the pit of my stomach. I asked myself – Am I this sick? Am I capable of these ideas? Is this me?

If these thoughts did in any way portray the kind of person I was, then in no way did I want them to be true. This is why that night I was in such distress. Once I was suffering from this “episode” it felt as though the thoughts would never end. With my previous episodes, I had managed to force the ideas to disappear after 2 or 3 days, but I couldn’t this time.

When I realized I had no control over them a wall of shame crashed into me. This was the moment I decided to lock myself away. Fortunately for me, I had already planned that dinner date with my friend. My stomach wanted to stay locked away, but my brain saved the day. My body activated the “Save Sarah Mode”, hoisting me up, out and into the car. On my way, I went.

Luckily for me, there are be people in my life I could and still to this day can trust. You can spill your guts to them, metaphorically that is.

Even if you feel like you are alone, stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean, someone will eventually turn up, even if they are also stuck in the middle of the ocean, maybe in a dingy. Together you will form an unbreakable bond, forced together by the wildest of fears and thoughts and anxieties that crash against you like the wild, unpredictable waves they are.

 

My friend, that night, was my lifeboat.

There is this misconception that OCD only encompasses cleaning, organising, washing hands or turning light switches on and off. Now, even though these are common compulsions, it doesn’t represent everyone who has the misfortune of living with OCD. And for me, it made it difficult to speak up about my diagnoses.

Since experiencing this terrible uncontrollable episode, I have found peace. I am now able to open up to people regarding my OCD. I am able to accept that these thoughts aren’t me. And I am not able to control some thoughts that come my way.

 

If you or anyone you know require assistance in relation to distressing thoughts and/or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Precautions taken by medical staff left new mum, Jess Bowen, feeling traumatised, “diseased” and excluded during her first birthing experience.

 “I felt like I was diseased. The doctor would whisper to the nurse that I should have my mask on like I had the Corona Virus. It felt awful.”

Credit: Jess Bowen

Melbourne mum and hairdresser, Jess Bowen, gave birth to her first baby on the 28th of March this year, when the pandemic was beginning.

“My pregnancy was wonderful. I didn’t have any complications and I was excited to give birth,” shares Jess.

At Jess’s final appointment with her midwife, protein was found in the urine indicating pre-eclampsia, whereupon she was admitted into the hospital and immediately induced.

Jess laughs about not having enough time to gather her things, pack a bag or worst of all, “put on fake tan”.

Being a new mum is stressful without the added pressures of a global crisis. Jess describes her experience at the hospital as “traumatic”. She says the nurses were cold and “on edge with Covid happening. This made them short and abrupt.”

Once admitted, Jess was induced using a Foley Bulb induction, commonly known as the “Balloon Method”, where a Foley catheter is inserted into the cervix and is inflated, with sterilised water or air, over a period of time to help the cervix dilate for birth.

The nurses monitored her during the process by checking her dilation using their fingers. “It felt awful,” Jess recalls. “There’d be no warning. Just enter the room, stick their fingers in and would be disappointed because I wasn’t dilating fast enough. They weren’t reassuring me so it would just make me feel anxious.”

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

Eventually, the doctor arrived to examine her.

“He was really quite abrupt and rude. He basically told me that I had a disease (referencing her pre-eclampsia). I’m a new mum and it’s not really something that I want to hear. He just said I have a disease and we have to get this baby out.”

Jess says at one point she coughed to clear her throat, and the doctor immediately pulled the nurse aside and whispered, “she should have a mask on”.

“It was horrible to hear that. I felt so excluded and was already feeling disgusting from when the doctor called me diseased earlier.”

Jess can’t help but think how her experience may have differed if she wasn’t giving birth during these unprecedented times.

Jess rarely saw the doctor after this. Any interactions from the medical staff were limited until she was ready to deliver. After a day of the Balloon, she had only dilated one centimetre and needed to try another method.

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

 

Jess speaks highly of her head midwife, Jenny, throughout this process saying, “She was out of this world amazing, overall an experience from having that doctor, she made it so much better.”

She was then induced through the use of Oxytocin, which is a synthetic hormone that is administered through a drip in the arm to start the contractions.

Jess describes these contractions to be the most painful thing she’s ever experienced before.

 

“Immediately I felt anxious. I felt really depressed. They basically said to me that I needed to try, because at this point, I was feeling deflated and wanted to have a C-section.”

A few hours after starting the Oxytocin, Jess felt a sharp pain to the right of her stomach and had the urge to go to the toilet. The head midwife checked her and told her that she was three centimetres dilated. Jess immediately asked for an epidural, which was a 15-minute wait. During that time, Jess says she dilated 10 centimetres and was ready to deliver.

Jess went into shock and was crying through “the worst pain of her life”.

“Throughout the pushing process, I didn’t opt for any gas or pain relief because I was in such shock. It was a traumatic experience for me with everything that was going on and the treatment of the staff with Covid-19. It was frightening.”

Jess finally gave birth to her beautiful girl, Isla. Fortunately, she had her partner with her through this process.

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

“No one else was allowed to visit me in the hospital and my partner was only allowed during a small time-frame in the day, so during the inducing process and after giving birth, I didn’t have support from my family to get me through this. I just wanted my mum there.”

Hours after Jess gave birth, the nurses continued to monitor her bleeding through a weighing process to ensure there weren’t any further complications. Jess explains being “on a high with adrenaline” throughout this and wasn’t paying attention to the rising concern from the nurses as she surpassed a litre of blood.

After 20 minutes from her last check-up, Jess had sat up and explained the sensation of her “water breaking”. Jess lost 1.8 litres of blood and the head midwife called the surgeon. She recalled nurses accidentally dropping blood on the ground and described her room to be a “murder scene”.

During emergency surgery, Jess says they put a plastic box over her head. “It made me feel really small. The surgeon felt bad about it and was trying to reassure me that it was just protocol with Covid-19.”

After this, Jess was relatively okay. She had spent the last remaining hours after surgery with her partner and her new baby girl, but at 5 AM, her partner was told to leave.

“My partner was annoyed but I was still running on adrenaline, so I was less upset. I was happy and messaging my family about the good news and it was just one of those situations where ‘it is what it is’.”

Credit: Jess Bowen

When Jess was finally able to go home, Victoria’s first round of lockdown’s was in full effect and she spent her first weeks as a mother trapped in her home alone with her partner. Jess was suffering from the baby blues and wasn’t able to lean on her family for help.

“It felt like everything I was doing was wrong. I was barely sleeping, could barely walk because of the blood loss. I just didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t a single day during the six-week lockdown where I didn’t cry.”

Jess speaks about the importance of seeking help. The moment lockdown ended, she went to her psychiatrist and was put on anti-depressant medication.

“No one ever warns you about the way you feel after you give birth. I felt like it was unusual to be experiencing this level of sadness and anxiety when I have the most perfectly healthy baby girl who was gaining weight. Everyone else seemed so happy after their birth that it was hard not to compare myself to them.”

Isla is now five months old and Jess is feeling tremendously better. The lockdown had lifted so that gave her time to introduce her new baby to her family and friends.

“The medication is really helping. I’m starting to feel like myself again and my partner is seeing the improvements too.”

Even though Melbourne has gone back into lockdown again, she’s sad that her family don’t get to see Isla during some significant milestones, she feels much more prepared and stable to tackle what comes next.