Mental health

This category contains 37 posts

Let’s talk about WINZ

This will be my last post here at

Don’t worry, I’m not going away, or shutting up – though, as I’ve discovered in the past few days, there are people who would like me to do so. Here’s a message for you:


I’m just moving to my new site –! I know new websites aren’t really exciting to anyone but those they belong to (I’ve done enough site launches in my career to know that the fanfare surrounding this is usually met with… meh) – but I’m happy about it. It’s a step forward for me. It’s a commitment to the writing I’m doing, to the quality of it, and to the people who read it. This is not just “a blog” to me – though it never really was. It’s work. Important work.

Which is why I’m so utterly amazed by the response to last Thursday’s story. As I said on Friday – this isn’t about me. This isn’t my story, though I’ve become the face of it. It’s the story of many, many voiceless New Zealanders. It’s one that needs to be told.

Today I met with my local Labour MP, Maryan Street, who contacted me because of this story. She’s committed to making change, not just for me – I stressed to her how much I don’t want this to be about my individual case – but real, tangible cultural change.

Call for stories

Maryan is going to meet with WINZ here in Nelson. She’s taking my story as evidence of the repeated systemic failures and mistreatment, not just in the local office, but nationwide.

I have said that I will other collect stories and document them, for her to take. I am considering delivering the document to other MPs. I know that a lot of you have stories, because you shared them on the last post, or you wrote to me, or you’ve spoken to me. I’m especially interested in the Nelson office, but I’m happy to share any experience anywhere – any interactions you’ve had with WINZ where you’ve felt mistreated, or witnessed the extensive issues I’ve discussed.

You can email me your story if you’d like to be part of this, by this Friday please. I won’t be able to reply – I’m too exhausted. But I will collect them all and I will deliver them. I won’t alter them in any way. You will be anonymous. (My email address is on the media page above).

I will just say that I think it’s very sad that I had to close the comments on Thursday’s post due to the nastiness that was occurring, because most of those comments are incredibly valuable, and I hope if you are one of those people, you will contact me. They are other people’s stories, other people’s voices joining mine, saying “Me too. Me too. Me, too.”

As I keep saying, these are not isolated incidents. They are part of a systemic breakdown. They tell a wider story of cultural violence. We’re abusing our most vulnerable members of society. They – we – are subjected to treatment that is fundamentally dehumanising, demoralising, and terrifying – by a government organisation whose reason for existence is providing support. Because we’ve asked for the help we need. Because we’ve become statistics, and the system has twisted to become one that applauds reducing those statistics, instead of actually treating the underlying issues in any meaningful way.

The story is getting spread. The message is being heard. The original post has been viewed close to 30,000 times, which may not seem like a lot, but nothing I’ve ever written has been seen by so many people before. I’ve spoken about it in the media, on Twitter, on Facebook, to friends – and to politicians. Both Labour and Green Party members contacted me to offer assistance and support. I have accepted this. Today I had a call from the regional manager at WINZ, and I intend to meet with her.

This is exhausting, and terrifying, and very scary for me. I am standing up for something, and doing so is getting me attention I don’t really want. It may seem like I love talking about my vulnerabilities – my illness, my inability to financially support myself. I do not. This progress – this attention – means I have to spend energy – going to meetings, talking to people, writing –  and it means stress and anxiety. I’m trying to recover. I want to go back to work. I want it more than anything, and that means sometimes I have to sit still and be quiet when what I really want to do is write and yell, all the time, about everything.

I hope you’ll join me when I can.

Terror and humiliation – just another day with WINZ

I have tried to be fair. I have tried to be understanding of the good work WINZ does, and their well-intentioned policies, and to work within those structures. I have tried to be grateful for the support I do get.

But I have had ENOUGH of the sheer and complete incompetence that ensures that I have suffered, that I continue to suffer. That I suffer like I have suffered today.

Maybe I should start at the beginning, because you may have not been following this story. It’s a doozie so you may as well get a drink now.

I am on a ‘Jobseeker Support’ benefit, which in itself is a misnomer. I have a job – I’m too ill to do it. I have multiple medical certificates to prove it. Recently, my benefit, and the Disability Allowance, which is the separate small payment I receive toward my medical costs, came up for “reassessment.” This meant a whole new round of forms and evidence to prove I’m entitled to the support.

Here’s the key points from the post I wrote when this started – February 14.

1. I’ve returned the multiple forms, along with every receipt I’ve kept of doctor’s visits, food bills, and medical costs like prescriptions, plus the form signed by my GP which includes details from him about how often I visit and what for.

2. My case manager rang today to say they “need more proof” which I knew would happen because they always do.

3. Eftpos receipts are now not considered proof of costs. I need to return to all my medical providers and get a signed printout of my annual costs. This obviously takes a lot of time and effort for a sick person. It’s not an easy ask. It causes me a huge amount of anxiety, and physically doing it causes me exhaustion and pain.

4. A grocery receipt is not enough to prove my dietary requirements, I need several week’s worth to show the pattern of food I buy. They said they will then calculate the difference between the “usual” cost and “my” cost, and grant me this. 

5. Until I get all these things, I will live in anxiety that they are going to remove my support. Anxiety and stress make me sick. That’s written on the fucking form I gave them.

Following this post, I got together all the additional evidence they wanted, which took considerable effort. I dropped it in to the office, somewhat gingerly, because they have a proven history of losing things.

I wrote this post a week ago:

My case manager informed me on 14 February (the day before I was going to Wellington for a week) that I had until 14 March to supply new information, or my support would be removed. Getting this new information wasn’t going to be an easy task for me, and it’s fair to say I felt terrified and distressed during that phone call.

My case manager also said she would send a Special Food Grant application form to me, which I needed to provide to them along with at least a month’s worth of receipts to show my grocery expenses.

While I was away, I made phone calls and sent emails in order to get the requested information from my medical providers. As soon as I got back, I labelled them all and took them in to WINZ. That was on 25 February.

Since then, I have sent several emails and left several voice messages, none of which have been returned. My online account shows “no applications pending.” I haven’t received any letters or application forms in the mail. Meanwhile, it’s now less than a week until my support will be removed, and I have no idea if I have provided the necessary information to stop that from happening.

I find it increasingly ironic that WINZ want me well enough to go back to work, yet they consistently subject me to behaviour and systems which stress the fuck out of me, and make me more ill.

Did I say ironic? I meant frustrating, depressing, anxiety-inducing, dehumanising and debilitating.

Yes, WINZ, I agree with you. The sooner I can go back to work, the better.

This week, I realised I still hadn’t heard anything, so I tried again to make an appointment with my case manager. I got no response, so I just made one through the online service.

I was incredibly nervous about the appointment. It’s pretty difficult to walk into this place when you have no idea how you’re going to be treated, and when their role is not to help you, as it would appear, but actually do all they possibly can to get you back into work – even if that’s to your detriment.

Did you know, WINZ has an actual policy to publicly celebrate when people get work? I witnessed this today. A bell was rung, and all the workers stood up and clapped – meanwhile, the poor man who supposedly the happy recipient of this “positive reinforcement” sat still and looked utterly and completely mortified. Apparently WINZ says clients enjoy this.

It was fucking horrifying.

All this, while I myself was sitting meters away with tears of frustration streaming down my face. While I cried, the WINZ worker I was talking to stopped what he was doing, and clapped.

Oops, I’ve skipped a bit. Let’s go back, shall we?

So, I turned up for my appointment. As usual, I was seen about half an hour late. Standard WINZ procedure. Because my case manager had been unreachable (I saw her at her desk across the room), I was randomly assigned.

The person I was assigned to, it’s fair to say, was the single most unhelpful “customer service” representative I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with.

Here’s the key points:

1. He didn’t know what was happening with my Disability Allowance – only, yes, “the system tells me it’ll stop tomorrow.”

2. He suggested I talk to my case manager. When I said I’d been unable to contact her, he said I needed to “make an appointment.” Um, that’s what I thought I was doing right now?

3. They have no record of the information I provided on February 25th. It’s simply not there. He suggested I go back to my doctors (more appointments I will have to pay for), and get the information again. He was totally unmoved when I burst into tears because of the stress this will cause me.

4. He gave me the Special Food application that was promised and never sent. I have to get my doctor to sign it, even though he wrote to them about the food I need in the Disability Allowance Reapplication Form I gave them last month. (Another $37 appointment). Lucky I’ve been keeping all my grocery receipts.

5. The interview ended with him saying blankly “I can’t help you. Ring the call centre and make an appointment” and me walking out in tears.

So: the bus trip, the pain, the fatigue, the stress and anxiety of an appointment – all for nothing. I still don’t have any information about my Allowance. Well, I do. I know it stops tomorrow – even though I have done everything right, and provided everything as asked for, when asked for.

I’m tired. I’m so tired of this. I almost want to force myself to go back to work because trying to stay on a benefit is more stressful than working fulltime with a debilitating chronic illness.

Let’s just say – I won’t be going to those offices alone again.


I guess my presence in the office must have influenced something, because my case manager finally emailed me tonight.

Verdict: My Disability Allowance is being reduced by $40 per week because, on paper, my medical costs have reduced. At least they dated that decision to today, which means I’m not in debt. They could have dated it from the date of reapplication, in which case I would have owed them. They took great care to point out that this was done for me.

Don’t ever let anyone say I’m not grateful.

What helps?

Recently I wrote some stuff about my progress. It’s really hard to see from the inside, but on days when I feel frustrated and sad and sore and tired, it’s good to remind myself how far I’ve come. 

Some people have asked me how I’m doing it. How I’m managing to make small steps forward, both in my physical and mental health.

I’m going to share some of the helpful things, but this come with a caveat: these sorts of things are only helpful when you’re already at a certain point in getting well. When you’re very ill, and/or very depressed, they can be pretty much impossible. It took everything I had to claw myself back from the edge enough to actually even face doing these things. Before that, none of them would have even been possible, let alone helpful. So, before you go telling anyone to reach out and do them (or beating yourself up because you feel like you can’t) – please remember about reaching in.

1. Psychotherapy

I am incredibly, incredibly lucky in that I got unwell enough to be given the opportunity to do psychotherapy. (How ironic.) I could never afford to pay for it, and my therapist is phenomenal. It’s very intense and very difficult work and I spend several hours actively doing it every week, and much of the rest of the time thinking about it. It’s different from any counselling work I’ve done, it’s far more helpful for me. I wish I could share it all because I think it’s life-changing. I’m finally understanding why I am the way I am, and how I can be who I am without being unwell.

2. Being on the right medication 

I also was lucky enough, ha-de-ha, to be referred to a psychiatrist. I was not on the right medication last year. The moment I started reducing it, things began to improve. Even if you can’t get to a psychiatrist, I urge anyone to do lots of research and talk to your GP and listen to your body to make sure what you’re taking or not taking is right for you.

3. Moving house

Obviously your physical space, and the people you surround yourself with, have a huge impact on your physical and mental wellbeing. Moving is stressful, and I had to wait a long time for the right house and the right people, but now that I made that happen – things are so much better.

4. Eating right, including supplements

Cliches, cliches, cliches. But eating right – like, eating at all, in my case – feeds you. Feeds your brain and your body and your emotional system. I have a very difficult relationship with food, but I’m managing three meals a day and I know this is helping rebuild me. I’m also taking a whole bunch of different supplements and I can’t recommend enough finding someone who will help you find out which things you need.

5. Exercising

I know I have poo-pooed exercising in the past – and I stand by that: it’s not a cure for depression. But it does help. Even walking around my garden helps, on days I can’t go any further. It helps me process things, it calms me down when I’m distressed, it helps me sleep. (Which is another thing that is totally and utterly necessary!)

6. Choosing the right relationships

Beyond all our expectations around family and social obligations and not wanting to hurt others: you actually do get to choose who you have in your life. If a relationship doesn’t feed your spirit… find ones that do. I know this is way easier said than done, and I struggle with it constantly. But you have a right to care for yourself. There are many, many wonderful people out there wanting to be a part of your life. Let them. Let those who don’t go.

I hope some of this helps. I hope it’s not too preachy. I’m very conscious of the whole “I got better and so now I know it’s possible so I’ll tell everyone else how to get better!” schtick some people do and I don’t want to be like that. Besides, I’m not better. I’m just here. Taking one day at a time.

Why tweet?

People who don’t use Twitter often ask me to explain the value of it. That’s not really an easy thing to describe, especially if they don’t understand how it works on a technical level. But here’s a shot. 

I don’t think it’s being dramatic to say that I probably wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have my Twitter community. When I was very physically and mentally unwell, they were my first port of call. They still are. They’re instantly there. I don’t even have to reach out to them – they reach in. All the time. Every day.

It can take a long time to build the right Twitter community, through following and unfollowing and striking up conversations and putting yourself and who you are out there. I joined six years ago and it’s taken me this long to really do it – most of which has happened over the last year. And I’m constantly tweaking it. I used to feel bad about unfollowing or blocking people that I didn’t agree with, or who made me feel upset or angry. I thought maybe I was surrounding myself with a nice little liberal bubble of people whose opinions I agreed with and would just be kind to me all the time – and then I thought: what the heck is wrong with that??

Sometimes it’s good to be challenged, and I think my community do that for me too. They encourage me, they remind me what I’m capable of when I’m moaning. They discuss difficult issues, and I see those conversations and participate when I can.

Without Twitter, I would have remained incredibly isolated the whole time I was stuck at home alone, battling my illness every day. I would never have met so many others who face similar struggles. It’s amazing because it’s so instant – all I have to do is go “Help!” and there are people right there saying “Sure – what do you need?”

This help is not just in the form of incredible emotional support – it extends far beyond. When I needed new glasses and couldn’t afford them, it was Twitter people who got together and made that possible. When I wanted to get to Wellington – actually I will say needed, because I so needed that chance to have a break and see my wonderful friends – Twitter people made that possible too. I’ve been given books and clothes and food and the most amazing letters. There is little better than opening the mailbox and seeing your name handwritten on an envelope.

Living in a small town can be isolating. Living alone (which fortunately I don’t do any more but I did for the months I was critically ill), living with chronic physical illness, living with mental illness – all of these things are isolating. But Twitter is about connection. It’s about community. It’s about friendship. Sometimes it’s even about love. ❤

No other generation has ever had this much power, right here in our pockets. No one has ever been so instantly and constantly and extensively connected. And I think some people are wary of that, and maybe rightly so. There’s reason for caution.

But Twitter is also about education. You learn as you go. I’ve learned many lessons, many times over. I certainly wouldn’t have the awareness I have now if it weren’t for the people I follow. I wouldn’t be a feminist. I wouldn’t be into politics. I probably wouldn’t have been able to come to grips with and share my own personality and sexuality and the things I really, really stand for. Again, it takes time to build that – you have to opt in. You have to create your world – Twitter is not something that just sits there waiting for you to look at it. You give to it, and it grows and gives back.


I’m a big fan of The Killers. The song Deadlines and Commitments always makes me think of Twitter. “The house” is my community. They always encourage me. They always offer me a safe place.

Deadlines And Commitments

That place we all run to
It can come down on you
The expectation can be great

If you should ever tire
Or if you should require
A sudden, simple twist of fate

Don’t hide away
There’s something to be said for pushing through
We’d never ride on horses that discourage you

If you should fall upon hard times
If you should lose your way
There is a place
Here in this house
That you can stay

If you should find romance
Go on and take that chance
Before the strategies begin

Deadlines and commitments
Every morning
And in the evening
They can suck you in
Boy, don’t I know it

This offer would be standing
All you’ve got to do is call
Don’t be afraid to knock on the door

If you should fall upon hard times
If you should lose your way
There is a place
Here in this house
That you can stay

I’m not talking about
Deadlines and commitments
Sold out of confusion
There is a place
Here in this house
That you can stay

Catch you, darling
I’ll be waiting
I am on your side

This offer would be standing
All you’ve got to do is call
Don’t be afraid to knock on the door

If you should fall upon hard times
If you should lose your way
There is a place
Here in this house
That you can stay

Climbing mountains

I spent the last week in Wellington. It was incredible – not just the city and the food (haha) and the amazing, wonderful people I met – but the fact that I could do it at all. I’m actually making progress -a thought that is both thrilling and terrifying. 

I’m very lucky to have the people around me that I do, and seeing so many of you in Wellington was so great. I think I met about 100 new people – which, for an introvert who has been in hibernation now for almost a year, was pretty overwhelming!

I really want to brag about each of you individually but there’s just too many and I’m terrible afraid I’d miss someone. So I just have to say thank you to everyone. Thank you to those who made my trip possible. Thank you to everyone who took the time to meet me and make me welcome. Thank for you the conversations and the food and the massive amounts of encouragement that got me out of the house every day and continue to do so.

It’s hard to see progress when it’s your own journey. But I just have to compare now to a few months ago – physically and mentally. Then, I would not have been able to go. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to traipse all over the city, and up the hills at Wellington Zoo, and meet so many new people and do new things every day! I wouldn’t have even contemplated it. It’s hard to believe that it was just December that I was in Respite, because it seems like years ago. Now, I don’t wake up every day wanting to die. I wake up with hope. I’m still an emotional seesaw, don’t get me wrong, and I’m still in pretty much constant pain. I still have to have my cane, I still suffer from nightmares and insomnia, I’m still a mess of anxiety. But I have so much hope. I didn’t have any before.

I don’t really know what’s next for me. For a long time I was so focused on trying to “get back” – trying to regain what I’d lost. Now, I just look forward. There won’t be any going back. I can’t have that life, and I don’t want it.

My friend Jem talks about recovery like it’s climbing a mountain. I really did go pretty far down into the valley, so I’ve got a way to get back up. And you can have a tendency to keep only looking up and seeing how far it is to the top and lamenting that. So this is a pause, I guess, to admire the view. To rest my legs. To have a long look out and see that, yes, there might be a few hundred more metres to the summit, but I already got this far and that valley looks pretty far away now.

I’m getting all silly and emotional, so I’ll just say it again: thank you. If you’re reading this, you’re part of my journey. And that is really, really important.


“Reaching in”

I walk with a cane. Not all the time, but most of the time, because I’m weak from being ill for so long and it makes life much easier if I have something to lean on. 

Since I started using my cane, I noticed how much the attitude of strangers changed. At first, I was embarrassed. What were people thinking of me? Often, they would ask outright what was wrong with me, and I’d have to haltingly explain my illness. I felt weak, and needy, and like a fraud, because I’m not “properly” or permanently disabled.

But what I mostly noticed is this: people are kinder when I have my cane. Cars will slow down and let me cross. Strangers will hold open doors. They’ll talk in softer voices. They’ll offer to carry things. If I complain about something, they’ll listen more closely. I find this a bit disturbing, a bit wonderful, and very interesting.

Physical disability and mental health challenges are not the same thing – but they can have a very similar debilitating effect on us and our lives. It’s just that only one of them is always visible.

Last night, I had a nightmare that someone was chasing me. I am acutely aware that my physical disability, and my mental health challenges, make me a vulnerable member of society. I’m the weakest in the herd. I’m the most likely to be picked off. I dream about being attacked often. It’s a very basic response to my illnesses.

My cane is one way of asking people to be gentle. They don’t always listen, but 99% of the time they respond positively to the visual cue.

If everyone who had a mental health challenge carried a cane – how would we treat them? Maybe this is a stupid thing to say. But the response to Charlotte Dawson’s illness during her life, and the response now to her death, shows in incredibly stark relief the systemic misunderstanding and total lack of compassion many people have for mental health challenges.

In December last year, a few days before I went into a Respite house and during a time when I was self-harming routinely and openly talking about ending my life, the NZ Herald published a column by Bob Jones in which he prided himself on having encouraged a man to commit suicide. I wrote a response about the human cost of the lack of understanding of mental health in New Zealand – What is the Cost?

Please read it. Everything I said then stands now. The cost is life.

The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2020 depression will be the most significant illness in the world, accounting for 15% of the global burden of disease.

Based on Ministry of Justice statistics, we lose approximately 10 New Zealanders to suicide every week. The latest figure (for June 2012 to June 2013) was 541 people.

The most significant illness in the world541 people. And one of our major newspapers publishes a column by a man who gloats that he encouraged someone to kill themselves.

Unfortunately, the Herald learned nothing from this and continues to host columns filled with the sort of gross vitriol and total lack of compassion that reinforce the stigma that causes so many deaths.

On Saturday I saw many people online encouraging others to “reach out” for help if they needed it. I’m very very glad for such vocal support. However, I have some issues with this statement.

1. It implies it is easy to “reach out.” This is absolutely not the case. Asking for help is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, and it’s not something you do once. You do it every time you tell someone you have a mental health challenge. You do it every time you ask for compassion. You do it every time you go to a doctor’s appointment, a psychiatrist’s appointment, a psychologist’s appointment. You have to ask over and over and over and it does not get any easier, because by asking you feel like you are “admitting” that you are “broken.” The stigma tells you to keep silent. The stigma tells you it is wrong and unattractive and needy and weak to ask for help. This is socialised stigma you have to fight every step of the way. It is not easy to reach out.

2. It implies you know you need help. You may not know. You may think that these are just “your demons.” (Ugh, horrible phrase). You may think you should just, or can just, “tough it out.” You may have an illness that is so strong it convinces you that you are fine. This is incredibly common.

3. It implies you want help. When you are very depressed, it can become almost a comfort blanket. Fighting for good mental health is hard. Letting it rule you can be easier. Sometimes, you don’t want help. The illness tells you you don’t deserve it, that it’s not worth the effort. How can you “reach out” if you are so ill you don’t want to, or feel like you can’t, change?

4. It puts the onus on the ill person. What would it mean if we talked about “reaching in”? What about if we stopped blaming people for their brain chemistry, and offered them support?

5. “Reaching out” does not necessarily mean you will get help. Mental health services are massively underfunded and oversubscribed in New Zealand. If you’ve never needed to, or asked for, help, you may not realise this. You may think that, as soon as someone puts their hand up and bravely says “Me. Yes, I need help” – they get it. No. They don’t. I know, because I’ve been that person. I have several friends right now who are that person. First of all, you have to be an acute case to access any services. I told my doctor for months that I was seriously depressed. It took me walking into his office and saying the words “I want to kill myself. I’m going to do it” to finally get the referrals I needed to survive. I know people right now who need those referrals too, and they can’t have them, because the services can’t provide.

You know what makes me even more furious and devastated and totally, utterly dismayed than suicide itself? The response –  to people who share their struggle, and to death if that’s what happens . The complete lack of understanding and compassion. If people can understand that I need to use a cane to walk, and treat me with respect because of that (even if they have never experienced my illness) – how can they not understand that brain chemistry can be just as debilitating and fatal, and act as gently with their words as they do with their hands? Words hurt. Words are abuse. Words may be the one thing that change the journey for someone who is suffering.

Think about yours before you use them.

Latest from WINZ:

As I mentioned, I’ve just found out that my benefit, and my Disability Allowance which is a separate assessment, have to be reassessed. WINZ appear to be making every effort to remove my Allowance, which is the thing that helps towards my medical costs and items such an nutritional supplements relating to my illness.

1. I returned the (3) forms, along with every receipt I’ve kept of doctor’s visits, food bills, and medical costs like prescriptions, plus the form signed by my GP which includes details from him about how often I visit and what for.

2. My case manager rang to say they “need more proof” which I knew would happen because they always do.

3. Eftpos receipts are now not considered proof of costs. I need to return to all my medical providers and get a signed printout of my annual costs. This obviously takes a lot of time and effort for a sick person. It’s not an easy ask. It causes me a huge amount of anxiety, and physically doing it causes me exhaustion and pain.

4. A grocery receipt is not enough to prove my dietary requirements, I need several week’s worth to show the pattern of food I buy. They said they will then calculate the difference between the “usual” cost and “my” cost – for example, I eat gluten and dairy free. They calculate the cost of “normal” milk and the cost of “my” milk (soy) and then I get granted the difference, which is like $2 a week so it’s hardly even worth the fucking effort. They also do this with bread – I asked how they do this, because gluten free loaves are round $7-8, whereas they could consider a “normal” loaf anywhere between $1.50 and $6 depending on what sort of bread they think “average” people buy. How they fuck do they decide that? WINZ had no answer for this question.

5. Until I get all these things, I will live in anxiety that they are going to remove my support. Anxiety and stress make me sick. That’s written on the fucking form I gave them.

I’m totally demoralised. I try to do everything right, to keep records, to be grateful for the help even though I’m entitled to it, to spend carefully, to force myself to work when it hurts me so much just so that I can keep myself going. None of it makes any difference to The System. The System invades my privacy, steals my dignity, denies me any security.

So much my welfare, huh.

Wellmeaning salespeople: the shadowy nemesis of the anxious person

You may have followed my recent drama, in which, in a fit of anxiety, I purchased a dress I hated and then proceeded to have a breakdown about it.

I know how ridiculous this sounds. I know for many people, something like this just wouldn’t be an issue. But it happens to me more than I’d like to admit.

It begins the moment I enter a store.Oddly enough, I actually like shopping, but I prefer to do it alone because it takes me forever to make a decision. I want to be very sure that I’m getting the right thing. If I’m going to actually spend money, I want to be certain I’m spending it in the best way possible, because every cent counts. Every cent means I will miss out on something else.

So the moment a salesperson says “hi” to me, my pulse goes up. I usually try to avoid going near the counter, so they won’t notice me. If they do, I squeak “hi” back and try to scurry away before they engage me in further conversation. If I’m not successful, and they start with the “Are you looking for anything in particular?” – then I’m a possum in a trap. My mind goes blank. I can’t find the polite thing to say to make them go away.

So I end up with them trailing about after me, trying to find me the “right” thing (which, trust me, no one else will be able to find the “right” thing for me. Most of the time, I can’t.) The more awful things they bring me to try on, the more I can’t say no, because they’ve already put in the effort, right? They’re trying to help me. Why am I so selfish? Look at their eager little faces. I’m the worst person in the world if I don’t buy something from them.

I know how absurd this is. Believe me, I’m aware that my life, viewed from the outside, is farcical. But in the moment, it’s impossible for me. I just cannot find the ability to say “No, thank you.”

Thus, I end up in Wednesday’s situation, where I impulsively spend money to please the salesperson and because I feel like I can’t escape, and I get home and promptly burst into tears because I’ve gone and bought something I hate and now I have to not eat to pay for it.

Luckily, I had friends who supported me to exchange it – the mere idea of which filled me with choking terror. I assumed that the salesperson would look at me like I was crazy, and I had ruined her life. I assumed that they’d fight me and say I couldn’t exchange it.

Of course, none of these things happened. They not only allowed me to exchange it – that same salesperson was very kind, and gave me equal measures of space and advice to find something I was happy with.

So, some lessons for myself, and anyone else who makes Anxious Snap Purchases They Later Despise.

1. Don’t shop under time pressure. You’re more likely to make a decision that doesn’t feel right.

2. It’s totally ok to tell salespeople you’re “just looking” or “don’t need help” or, even (those words of horror): “No thank you.” You’re not insulting them personally. They’re just doing their job.

3. Ditto for if you want to take something back. They’re just doing their job – they’re not going to hate you for it. It happens all the time – you’re not unusual, they’re not making fun of you.

Anxiety isn’t a rational thing, unfortunately, so it’s hard to behave rationally when in you’re anxious. But I’ll try to remember these things next time. (For what it’s worth, the fact that I didn’t avoid the situation that made me anxious paid off. I ended up with two dresses I love, for the same price.) So maybe:

4. Avoidance may seem like a good solution, but you don’t learn skills if you do it all the time. So instead, I’m going to try and be this girl (albeit usually more polite, except if I’m dealing with idiots on the internet) more often.


I’m not your “problem”

Time To Change is a UK organisation operating under the tagline “Let’s end mental health discrimination.”

Ok, cool. No issues with that. On February 6, they’re running an awareness-raising campaign called #TimeToTalk. Their angle is: the more we talk about it, the better.

Yes, I agree. But it’s not just the talking that matters. It’s how we talk about it.

Here’s the Time To Change website.


Here’s their Twitter:


And here’s the tweet that first got my attention:


NO. No, no, no, no, no, NO.

1. In every single piece of their media – website, print, social media – this organisation refer to mental health as a “problem.” They say they’re here to battle stigma. Well, perhaps they could start by not suggesting that people with mental health that differs from what is considered the norm have a “problem.”

2. Please do not thank Metro Mag (which is an absolutely revolting publication – have a look at their Life&Style section online if you dare) for printing a paid promotion that actually contributes to stigma. This is an advertisement, not a supporting article.

3. I also love the addendum at the bottom – “Turn the page for your regular life&style section.” In other words: Don’t worry! This is an advertisement, not part of your regular programming! You can get away from it, quick!

I’m really, really sick of mental health awareness-raising campaigns that reinforce the stigma they claim to fight. I see the same thing happening in New Zealand with those TV advertisements about how people “stuck with their friends through mental illness” – like they deserve a medal for doing this. If nothing else, they’re awkward and weird and make those of us who live with mental illness feel like burdens on our friends.

You want to actually help? Several of my friends have got together to run Round The Bays in Wellington (they are far braver than I), and are raising money for Casper, a suicide prevention and education organisation.

You can donate to The Wounded Gazelles and Casper via Givealittle. Please contribute if you can. I’ve talked about suicide in New Zealand before. Last year there was over 500 preventable deaths. This will make a difference. Donate now.


Rant over.

More on Spoon Theory

I woke up yesterday with an odd thought, a phrase in my head. I think it might be a bit ridiculous because it was completely subconscious but here it is: spoon shaming.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Spoon Theory. It’s a concept, a terminology used by people who have chronic illness or disability to communicate their experience. 


Spoons by Jeanne Illeneye

1. Here’s the original Spoon Theory piece, written by Christine Miserando.

2. Here’s a great piece by my friend Scuba Nurse about Spoon Theory being used in contexts other than illness and disability, and how that can be upsetting – Feminism 101 – the spoon theory.

3. Here’s what I wrote about it a few months ago – The Importance of Understanding.

While I was clearly very fragile and very deep in the experience when I wrote that piece, I still feel a lot of it. I still feel very strongly about Spoon Theory as a positive and practical way of communicating illness and/or disability, both within communities and to those who haven’t experienced it.


Ring made from antique silver spoon, by dankartistry on Etsy

So this idea of “spoon shaming” – what I basically mean is associating a feeling of shame with my inability to do things because I have no spoons. I keep pretending to be a healthy person – going out when I shouldn’t, eating things I shouldn’t – because I can’t face that shame. It makes me feel inadequate, abnormal… less than human.

And 99% of the time, it’s not other people doing it. They’re not spoon shaming me. They’re not comparing their number of spoons to mine and finding me lacking.  They’re not judging me, or feeling frustrated with me – I’m doing that to myself. 99% of the time, people are kind and gentle and if I just have the courage to tell them I’m not coping, to face the reality of my illness, they’ll support me in that.

My friend Coley gave me some lovely spoons last Christmas. Obviously, I only have a limited number of them. But they’re very pretty, aren’t they? And they mean a lot to me. So I’m going to try and on focus on how great they are,(and not chastise myself for the ones I don’t have) – because I have more than I had a few months ago, even if I’m a long way from a full dinner set – and I’m so very grateful for that.


Wonderful present from @coleytangerina


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