Arguing on the internet (and why you should just be nice, okay?)

Let me preface this with the following:

  1. I had intended to post a ribs recipe today, not something serious (don’t worry, the recipe is coming).
  2. Anyone who knows me even the slightest knows the love I have for social media and opinions.
  3. I don’t actually like having to remind people of basic manners.

Now, with that aside, let’s talk about arguing on the internet and why your opinion, and your right to have an opinion, doesn’t mean you get to be a dick. Continue reading



It gets better

Life can be painfully hard. I’ve written before about my struggles with mental illness and ADHD, losing people I love, bullying,  sickness, alopecia and autoimmune disorder, obesity and my physical health. I’ve even at times mentioned these concurrently, each overlapping and coinciding with one (or several) others. At my lowest point I was chin-deep in undiagnosed Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression, I was morbidly obese and unhealthy, my hair was falling out and I was being bullied at work. But that isn’t what I want to talk about today. I think we can all agree that at some point in their lives everyone will hit rock bottom.

What I want to talk about is how happy I am.

I don’t often go out of my way to discuss how wonderful my life is these days, not least because it’s so easy to get caught up in the stresses of day-to-day living. I also don’t want to brag. Every day people go through struggles I can’t comprehend; talking about how fortunate I am for the things I have seems tacky somehow.

But here’s the real deal: I’m happy. I love my life. It is full of wonderful people and amazing experience. Yes, sometimes stuff sucks. Sometimes stuff is hard. Sometimes I cry. But I am happy. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

The point I am trying to make is that dejection, loneliness, misery, heartache… These things aren’t permanent. They’re transient. They come and go like waves on the ocean and, like my life now, can co-exist with happiness, prosperity, pride and success. I still have alopecia and ADHD. I still have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I. Still. Get. Sad. But there is light and hope and this is what I allow to define me.

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If you feel like you are in the dark, that there is nowhere to turn, that things will never improve then please speak to someone. A doctor, a friend, a family member, a compassionate stranger on the internet, Lifeline. Please ask for help. Asking for help is so hard it seems impossible but I promise you it is easier than carrying on alone. And it’s worth it. Always.

If you know someone who needs help please send this on. Ask them if they’re okay. Talk to them about Lifeline or seeking help. Listen to them. The suicide statistics in New Zealand are horrifying, especially among young people. If this post, or someone who reads this post, can help even one person then I have achieved everything I could hope for.

It will get better. It won’t always be this way. Kia kaha.



Beyond the Schoolyard

Today is Bullying Awareness Day in New Zealand. It’s no secret that most children are bullied at some point. Children (and teenagers) often lack the maturity and emotional intelligence of adults; they act on instinct and say and do things they don’t fully understand. This is normal. But some bullying goes so far beyond the realm of normal it’s soul destroying. And no bullying is okay.

When I was 10 my uncle was killed in a car accident. I had shown symptoms of alopecia (a rare form of stress-related hair loss) before but the accident set it off properly. I lost all my hair except for a ponytail at the back of my head. To cover my bald head I wore a baseball cap with Goofy on the front. I was the only child allowed to wear a hat inside so naturally the others were curious. They resorted to increasingly blunt methods of discerning why when the teachers wouldn’t tell them. One day, after the final bell had gone, I decided to stay late. I don’t remember why now but by the time I left there weren’t a lot of people around. As I walked out the door of my classroom one of the boys in my class ripped my hat off my head.  As I turned to grab it he threw it to a friend. They tossed it back and forth between them while I jumped around in the middle, tears pouring down my face. I can still feel the pain of that day in a place deep inside of me; somewhere the light never touches.

By the time I started intermediate my hair had grown in and I was able to wear it cut short. 2 to 3 times a week children asked me if I was a boy or a girl. They also used to tell me I wasn’t allowed to stand in line at the tuck shop because they didn’t want to catch cancer from me. Cancer.

That year was particularly hard. My English teacher was awful to me and would tell me off and criticise me in front of the class. She enjoyed shaming people publicly. My parents complained to the school. One day my form teacher pulled me aside and told me I was imagining it and to stop causing trouble. In hindsight, I think she had a crush on my English teacher. Anyway, the misery was too much and all my hair fell out again.

The following year I wore my first wig. I was teased a lot for having unrealistic looking hair (children are remarkably perceptive) but life was quieter. Until my best friend became the first person to join the I Hate Stephanie club. That one cut deep.

High school went well. My hair grew back then fell out again when my first boyfriend broke up with me but I had good friends so I coped. Something changed in seventh form, though, and my friends started being unkind to me. At lunch, when I was talking to one of them, they would turn mid-story, ignore me, and starting talking loudly to someone else. They told me I was imagining it. It was insidious but it stuck.

My first year of university my flatmate started emotionally manipulating me while my boyfriend was overseas. No one believed me. When my boyfriend got home we moved out but the damage was done. I become co-dependent and needy; I didn’t have a shred of self worth that wasn’t tied to my relationship. We broke up 2 months later.

At the age of 22 I started working full time. My team leader didn’t like me and would set me up to look stupid in front of my team. I complained to HR and my manager, her best friend, got involved. She told me I was imagining it. I left that place with depression and anxiety and no one in my team even said goodbye.

People always say bullying is more about the bully than the victim. But when you look at a list like this, when this is your own personal history, the line becomes blurred. How do you lay the blame at other peoples’ feet when the only common denominator is you?

You never forget your bullying. The worst bits stay as stories but it all stays as scars; your brain, your heart – nothing escapes. Becoming an adult doesn’t change anything. The fear, the anxiety, the emotions: It all sticks around to haunt you. It sabotages your best efforts and intentions and undermines your confidence when you least expect it.

I haven’t escaped my demons. They comes as little voices in my head telling me no one loves me. They tell me the whole world is in on some sick joke where they all pretend to like me but secretly all laugh behind my back. They clap their hands with glee when friends cancel plans and convince me that the best thing I can do is stay home instead of going out. They cancelled my birthday last year when three people couldn’t attend; they told me it was because no one wanted to spend any time with me. They told me I wasn’t important enough; that everyone had better things to do.

It’s only in the last couple of years, with the help of friends and  family (and strangers on the internet; thank you, Twitter) that I have begun to heal. I fight back when I can, tell the voices to shut up. But they’re still there, lurking in the corners of my mind. Some days all that keeps them at bay is the knowledge of how far I have come.

We all know how important it is to teach children courtesy and respect but I worry we don’t model the behaviour we try so hard to enforce. We come home from work and moan over dinner about our work colleagues. We insult people who cut us off on the road. We criticise people in the public spotlight whom we’ve never met. Then we remind our children to always be kind.

For this Bullying Awareness Day I decided to tell my story. It isn’t much, but it’s mine and it’s at the heart of so much I do. If it can help one person then it was worth the pain and the tears.

 

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Why I don’t respect your argument

I recently had the benefit of attending a regional conference for a political party I support. I’m not going to say which one because frankly it is irrelevant to this post. Sufficed to say, it was my first time attending any political event and I found it both overwhelming and engaging.

During my time at conference a photograph surfaced of me and several others with a prominent politician. The photograph was originally posted to the politician’s social media pages but was then taken and shared to other locations.

It came to my attention, some hours after the event, that several people who knew me on social media (but hadn’t connected the dots) were tearing strips off the people involved in the photo. Their argument? We don’t dress like real people.

We. Don’t. Dress. Like. Real. People.

Oh, and we’re ugly. That’s also important. And relevant. Obviously.

Let me be clear: I welcome anyone who has a different opinion to me. I want to hear your thoughts, your well reasoned arguments and your scientific/economic evidence. I want to hear your stories of times things didn’t work for you and times they did. We cannot work together to make NZ a better place to live if all we do is argue. Democracy, at its heart, is about compromise.

But how I am to respect the opinions of people who fundamentally hold that my beliefs are wrong when the best counter argument they can come up with is body shaming and bad puns? If you truly believe in something, if you truly want to make a change, put your money where your mouth is and get involved. Join a political party. Become a voting delegate. Have an opinion in a forum that makes a real difference. Make it count! But don’t sit at home in your cosy echo chamber playing the part of an aggrieved keyboard warrior. That makes you no better than the trolls. And quite frankly it makes you no better than the politicians you so vehemently dislike.