A little while ago someone came through our doors asking for some help. She looked like she’d been roughed up, but was adamant that she didn’t want us to phone anyone for her or get medical help. All she wanted was to use the bathroom to clean up and, if we had any spare, some cash so that she could catch the bus.

Nothing we offered made a difference. She went to the bathroom, came out looking a little less disheveled, took the cash we offered, thanked us and left.

It freaked me out. A lot.

I felt that I should have been able to offer more, do more, help in some way – but had no idea how. It troubled me for weeks – still does, really. What also troubled me was that I had no tools to deal with how I felt about the event or how other people present at the time did. It was awkward and uncomfortable and I found it difficult to understand why I felt slightly guilty about the whole thing.

So when the opportunity arose for me to sign up for a course that would provide an overview of mental health issues and how a non-mental health professional can respond, I jumped at it.

The course is called Mental Health First Aid and it’s effectively the mental health equivalent of a standard first aid course. It was run over two days by the WA Association of Mental Health (WAAMH), who offered it at a significantly reduced cost – which was also a great incentive.

The course objective is to equip participants with the skills and resources to recognise and respond appropriately to someone experiencing a mental health crisis – at least until professional help arrives!

We covered a lot of ground, including:

  • Understanding Mental Health, including diagnoses, prevalence and common misconceptions
  • Symptoms and causes of depression, anxiety, psychosis and substance misuse.
  • How to provide initial support to adults who are experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • Crisis First Aid for: suicidal behaviour, panic attacks, aggressive behaviour, self harm, acute psychosis
  • Responding to the effects of substance misuse

Some of it was heavy going, but it was made very real for all of us by the lived experience stories of people who came in to share those with us. Then there was the added dimension of about 60% of the course participants also having their own lived experiences of mental health issues, many of them still raw and relatively easily triggered. It made for some difficult situations and complicated conversations – but all of those served to inform each of us in different ways about how mental health can and does impact people’s lives.

I hadn’t realised that one in five Australians experience mental health issues, or that anxiety and depression are major players. And yet people don’t talk about it, don’t allow mental health to be just another health issue that can be managed. Why is that? 

Perhaps part of it is fear. But if we don’t talk about the size and shape of the black dog (and his friend the elephant in the room), we won’t ever learn how to recognise it and learn how to manage it.

Having completed this very basic mental health first aid course, I feel slightly better equipped to answer some of the questions. I have facts, stats, a manual, an action plan and a certificate. These all make me feel safer. But what really made a difference was talking to people, understanding a little better how to really listen, how best respond, what sort of help to offer,  and where to find resources that can make a difference in a crisis situation.

I very much hope that if that young woman came back asking for our help again, I might just be able to do something useful for her without being quite so terrified that I’d be doing the wrong thing. And if she still only wanted to use the bathroom and get some bus fare… well, that’s okay too. 

Last week I was presented with the choice of 20+ fridge magnets and an invitation to choose as many as I’d like. The magnets were created by a friend from original photographs that he took, in and around Perth. He combined the images with words to create positive messages for himself – and then decided to share them.

The art work is terrific and part of me wanted to grab all 20 and whack them up all over my fridge. But instead I showed some restraint and spent a bit of time sorting through to see if any of them really leapt out at me and said ‘take me home’.

What I discovered is that, although they’re all lovely, only two of them really resonated with me on that particular day. One because it’s who I am and the other because I need the reminder. 

I must have looked at those magnets dozens of times since I put them up. Whenever I open and close the fridge, there they are. They remind me to take a mental step back from rushing around and be present in the moment  – and they’ve made me smile. Every time.

So thanks, friend, for sharing your thoughts and smiles. They’re greatly appreciated. Smiles are huge and happy and lovely and can totally make someone’s day – especially if they’re shared.

So here are my smiles, dear tea leaf readers. I hope they work for you too – and that you share them around 🙂

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a micromanager (mM), then you probably know just how frustrating and demotivating it can be. The mM blithely delegates tasks and then follows up on them in painstaking detail, seemingly never quite satisfied with the outcomes. Indeed, their responses imply regret at having delegated the tasks in the first place.

The perceived lack of trust that piggybacks on this style of management invariably results in loss of productivity and generalised workplace dissatisfaction. Oddly enough, as often as not, the mM seems not to realise what they’re doing – or the impact they’re having.

This is where I confess that I’m something of a control freak (!). I like having things around me organised, straightforward and on track – and preferably done my way. I don’t enjoy having things random and disorganised – at home or in the work place. It’s a thing.

On the upside, my EQ has developed sufficiently with time for me to self-manage this personality ‘feature’ reasonably well. I’ve come to accept that even if I have a preferred way for a task to be accomplished, once I’ve allocated the task to someone else, whether at home or at work, then I need to step away from the process and let things take their course.

Sometimes things don’t pan out the way I’d hoped – but, in general, most things work out most times. Tasks are conquered, the responsible parties achieve job satisfaction and I haven’t had to do whatever it was that needed doing. Communication and pragmatism are key elements.

An example of this was when I suggested handing the catering arrangements for Christmas lunch over to DaughterDearest, BoyChilde and their partners a couple of years ago. To my surprise they agreed with a fair amount of enthusiasm. Time passed… Then, about a month before Christmas, just when I was starting to have some doubts, they let me know they’d scheduled a get together to plan the menu and to allocate tasks.

In due course I was presented with a shopping list (my agreed contribution to the process) and informed that everything was on track and that I should just sit back and let it happen. So I did.

On Xmas Day, I armed myself with a good book, settled down in a hammock next to the pool and left them to it. I admit that at some level I was itching to get in there and be involved, but it was their gig – so I kept out of it. Their collaboration produced a fabulous spread for 20 people – and they’re now officially in the catering chair for Christmas events. A win all round.

In a work situation, things are sometimes less straightforward. Perhaps it’s the lack of hammocks, but micromanagement is ubiquitous in the work place and can wreak havoc. Poor communication results in task lists getting longer rather than shorter, promoting a perception of worker incompetence. The mM often exacerbates this by stonewalling, subtly or overtly withholding resources and information to a degree that can make workdays frustrating for individual staff members and for the team as a whole. Overall it hampers productivity and increases staff stress levels as people fell unable to do their job effectively. These frustrations often mount when micromanagement escalates to loosely disguised bullying.

It occurs to me that this style of management may be based on fear. Perhaps the manager fears a loss of control and associated status?

From the subordinate’s point of view it really doesn’t matter. Finding any sort of rationale for the negative behaviour is well nigh impossible, reminiscent of trying to wade through marshmallow – messy and unsatisfying.

Industry advice suggests prioritising tasks, devising request lists, scheduling meetings and setting limits on direct contact hours. And all these work-arounds can help to off set the impact of the micromanager to some degree. But they can also result in an escalation in all the existing passive-aggressive behaviours, along with a few new ones for good measure. To stay ‘in control’ the micromanager may well start to actively interfere, send prescriptive text messages and introduce delaying tactics of various sorts.

The quandary for the micromanaged often comes down to trying to figure out how to resolve the situation with the least damage to all concerned. As it seldom self corrects, grievance complaints, mediation and even staff losses are not uncommon.

Perhaps management training should include a greater emphasis on the difference between ‘managing’ and ‘micromanaging.’ Or perhaps some sessions on how to improve your EQ might do the trick.

Being super busy wasn’t the plan. It just sort of evolved that way, sneaking up on me with each new commitment I’ve added to the existing glom. But trying to fit all the things and all the people in all the time has gradually resulted in days being largely indistinguishable from one another in the flurry of work / life / dog-wrangling, etc.

In the past, periods of self-inflicted busyness of this sort ended up with my best creative work being done in the wee smalls… those times when the rest of household is generally asleep. But this has fallen by the wayside over the past months, largely because I’ve simply been too knackered for many 4am gigs. Those I have managed haven’t been unduly successful, since one or both pups usually decides they’re sooo lonely (aka needing attention) and hunt down some quality lap-time. At my desk. In front of my computer. Cute, but not productive.

Lately this means creativity’s been reduced to what I make for dinner and/or how much (practical) productive activity I can manage to magically squeeze into my complicated work/life arrangements. Not ideal, but – eh – life.

Then, this week, I spent a day doing data entry down the coast. Although it’s not my usual day job, the morning started off pretty much the same as any other: puppy chaos, a wild scramble to be ready on time and a hasty goodbye kiss at the door. Then I headed  out to brave the back-to-school early morning traffic.

When I reached the first set of traffic lights, I leaned over to press play on my audio book. Shock-horror-gasp! I’d managed to leave my beloved travel companion behind. Rats! And I was so ready for next chapters in The Rivers of London saga by Ben Aaronovitch. Without Kobna Holbrook-Smith to keep me company on my drive, the day suddenly felt drab.

Even so, I prefer silence to morning radio and I resigned myself to letting the parts of my brain that would otherwise be listening to the adventures of Police Constable Peter Grant do as they wished. And what they did was notice things.

I found I was looking around, observing, categorising… and ideas were popping up. This was familiar ground. A few years ago this was my standard route to work. I’d drive to the coast in early morning traffic contemplating something I’d seen or heard, putting it together with other mental notes and turning them into new puzzle pieces to niggle at. In point of fact, I used to do this whenever I drove anywhere on my own. More often than not,  the puzzle pieces would shape themselves into blogposts, writing projects, outings and social events, craft craziness and so on.

This brought Murdoch University’s new Free Your Think advertising campaign to mind. The catch phrase in the ad (free  your think) shapes think as a noun, rather than a verb, and it occurred to me that my (creative) think has actually been, if not imprisoned, at least hibernating somewhere for far too long – and definitely needed freeing.

No wonder I’ve felt as though I’m flailing around in a fog… my think was trying to find its way out into the light of day!

By the time I reached my destination, we (my think and I) were well on the way to getting reacquainted. We’d given each other the once over, received tentative nods of recognition, spent some time reminiscing and even elicited promises to to get together again soon.

So: hello Think – I didn’t know it, but I missed you. You’re formally invited back and your place at the table is assured. Turn up whenever you’re ready. I’ll be here.

Some years ago a delightful young man I know asked if he could photograph my hands for a piece he was writing for a ‘zine.  Now, I’m all for the creative process but, even so, I was suprised that anyone would be interested in my rather weathered appendages. Since I can’t be bothered with manicures, acrylic nails, etc., my cuticles tend towards scruffy. As a hands-on sort of person, I also prefer to keep my nails short to make cleaning them after gardening, painting and the like easier. So the best that can be said for them, really, is that my hands are utilitarian. Definitely not beautiful.

So why photograph them?

Well, this particular edition of the ‘zine was entitled Attrition – and perhaps that says it all, really. Like everything else, hands age. Given enough time they transition from the most beautiful soft little baby bits to worn and wrinkled crone hands. What do they see in that time? What experiences do our hands have? What do they say about us?


Whilst my hands weren’t crone-like quite yet, they definitely had stories to tell – and Mike took a number of shots from various angles to capture some aspect of that. Although he’d assured me that the photo he used wouldn’t be captioned, that my hand/s would be anonymous, I found myself inordinately self conscious during the photo shoot. It was as though I was seeing my own hands for the first time, thinking of them as independent of me rather than part of me.


The identifying (and rather telling) crescent shaped scar on my left palm was acquired when I was about six years old and playing chasey (tag). I ran straight at a fence and hurdled over it by bracing my hand on the top strands. The rip, the blood and the ensuing drama come to mind whenever I notice the scar. It should have been both a lesson and a salient reminder to look before I leap. If so, it’s one I’ve managed to steadfastly ignore 🙂

What brought all this to mind was at least partly as a result of having developed something called trigger finger. This sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is, bringing to mind as it does (at least for me) cowboys and shootouts at high noon. Instead, I unexpectedly found the index finger on my right hand inexplicably locked in place against the palm one morning. I turned a kitchen tap off and my finger simply wouldn’t straighten out, no matter what I tried. I massaged it, put ice on it, tried gentle pressure – nothing helped.

As a writer, crafter, gardener, sometimes-kitchen-goddess and bike rider, the loss of one of my hands – even for a short a time – was frightening. Gradual loss of dexterity due to ageing and arthritis is one thing… this was a whole new ballpark. I finally resorted to soaking my hand in the warm washing up water, wriggling my fingers gently and hoping for the best. This all really (really) focused my attention on the 101 (and more) situations in my life where hands – both hands – are needed.

When the warm water finally did the trick – and my finger finally snapped audibly back into place, the wash of gratitude and relief was overwhelming. Isn’t it interesting how the value of something is so very often only perceived when it’s at risk or lost?