I blog for Change…

As I attempt to orient the windy and often treacherous roads that encapsulate life, here are some of my thoughts on the successes, failures and ultimately the hope and positivity in which I strive for a better world. I also hope that I can use this blog as a platform to elevate the social justice issues that are somewhat forgotten in the modern discourse of staying silent on issues that challenge. Sx


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To letting go..

I wanted to compose a piece today on the concept of control and what happens to our psyches when we feel as if we have none. The emotions invoked during times of a loss of control or what we see as diminished decision making power seems to send us down a rabbit hole leading to an inevitable existential crisis. What I have come to learn is that without even realising it we create results and outcomes in our minds for what we expect from our lives. These are usually tied in with supposed wants and desires unwittingly tinged with societal expectations. When these fail to come about we feel as though the ground has caved in underneath us.

The emotional turmoil involved risks a level of spiralling in which we begin to question everything in our lives. We wonder how it could be possible for life to deviate so far from the ‘right path’ for us. We question and resist to the point where we make ourselves physically ill, all the while having no way of truly knowing what is actually destined or best for us.

When I was younger I dreamed of so many things for myself. Most included imaginings of a loved one, a family of my own all balanced with a thriving career. But looking back, I realise that I didn’t really know myself well enough back then to predict such things. The direction that I had envisioned for my life was based on socially ingrained norms and perverted expectations around materialism, ‘coupledom’ and supposed life ‘norms’. What’s obvious now is that I had already pigeon holed my path in life. I’d narrowed the parameters of possibility and given myself absolute tunnel vision without even realising it.

I went on the search of spiritual guidance during a particularly difficult juncture point last year. I was told at that time that my life would take a 180 degree turn and things would change drastically within a very short period. Upon hearing this I remember thinking ahead towards what this would look like. Of course I envisioned receiving my dream job, getting an ongoing and prestigious writing gig, finding my soul mate and just floating through life. I’m pretty sure I also thought winning the lotto was in my destiny…! It’s not difficult to decipher here that not one of these things has happened, and yet my life has changed drastically in the time since hearing this prediction.

It definitely has not changed in the way I would have thought; it’s probably the complete opposite of that in actuality. All of a sudden I have moved into a different home, with different surroundings, my family are relocating without me, my professional life has turned upside down and I’m scheduled for a secondment next year to somewhere completely unfamiliar to me.

A few days ago I thought about the concept of this ‘positive’ change and remember expressing utter horror at how little this has eventuated into. However with time to reflect I now realise that all of this has in fact come into fruition, just not in the way I had initially anticipated. The change I foresaw was a constricted version of what I thought I wanted for myself at that time. I’ve since come to understand that what I want and I what I need are most probably two entirely separate things.

My life has definitely changed significantly. Yes it has left me feeling unstable and fearful of the unknown but surely no point of growth can occur when we are just comfortable. Real change and development does not go to plan, just as life doesn’t. So what if instead of projecting our desires forward and resisting when these aren’t met we opened ourselves up to the possibility of the unknown. While discomfort is a given, perhaps we could channel this emotion into hope for the future and a willingness to adapt instead of dread.

For me personally looking ahead to next year is one of the scariest things imaginable. So much of what I had previously held on to, known is shifting. I am going to be thrown completely out of my comfort zone and tested in ways which I have never experienced before. But maybe instead of looking forward with angst, fear and trepidation I could open my mind up to the possibilities.

Perhaps I could be brave. Perhaps I could admit that yes things are not going according to what I had previously planned, but maybe that was never meant for me in the first place. Maybe I could shift a feeling of purported loss of control, the cracking of the path in front of me to the opportunity to rebuild and pave a different trail. One which is unfamiliar and unknown, but one of my own making towards the unique adventure that my future has to hold.

Sx

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To change, the one and only constant in life.

The past few months have by far been the busiest and most stressful of my life. The good news is I am now a home owner and have settled in to living in my place. The bad news though is that after having repressed my emotions for so long, now that I am able to finally breathe they seem to have come to the surface through the opening of a metaphorical floodgate.

Prior to the weekend someone asked me how I was dealing with all the sudden changes occurring in my life. They asked me what it meant that the home I grew up in had just sold, that we were moving out and that my parents were relocating back to Colombo. At the time I answered emotionlessly. I opened my mouth and the words that came out were “I don’t feel anything right now”. I was however able to articulate that I thought that I had unintentionally buried my feelings and covered these up with the urgency of finding a place of my own. Thus concealing my sadness with the busyness of taking on a mortgage and for the lack of a better word, making an attempt at ‘adulting’.

All of this however, came to a head when I sat down yesterday, all moved in and completely on my own. I found myself drowning in a sensation of unease and loneliness that was debilitating. Months of repressing my emotions had led me to this very point and I was utterly unprepared to deal with this gushing wave.

I know so many of us find ourselves in this place every so often and don’t know what to do or how to get ourselves out of that feeling of utter despair. No matter what I attempted to do I just couldn’t rid myself of that black cloud hanging over me. My concentration level was pathetically dismal as my mind just wouldn’t and couldn’t commit to thinking of anything but what was bringing me down.

I kept trying to remind myself that this feeling was due to a combination of things including being in an unfamiliar place and being alone again after months of being around others 24/7. In my moments of clarity I remembered that my home, this space, would eventually be a sanctuary and that I value being by myself and retreating from the world at times in order to recharge. But at that particular moment I couldn’t see through the overwhelming emotion dragging me down.

If I have learnt anything over the years however, it’s that the only way to confront fear is to face it, accept your circumstance and try to move forward. So I sat there, uncomfortably, overwhelmed by sorrow but I didn’t try and busy myself as a distraction. I acknowledged the feeling of discomfort, of unfamiliarity, of melancholy and sat with it. I properly recognised for the first time that I would have leave to Colombo soon with my parents and return alone without them. I understood that my identity would be splintered by the concept of home being spread across 2 locations. I accepted that my heart would always long for the other destination and it would consistently remain heavy.

In saying all of this, I can now comprehend that simply acknowledging these things won’t make them go away. I will still long for my family when I’m in Melbourne and yearn for my home when I’m in Colombo. But life is all is about facing adversity and continuing on. It’s about making adjustments to constant change. Our existence is truly about building resilience and understanding that you can’t have everything but that’s OK. It’s about appreciating your blessings and the sacrifices that your loved ones have made for you. It’s about feeling things and not blocking them out; even if this means being consumed by utter sadness at times.

The truth is, the intensity of these feelings will pass but the love of those I treasure the most will remain with me always. Change is necessary to move into the next chapter of my life. While that will make me uneasy for some time, it will allow me with to be presented with new opportunities for the betterment of my future. Living is complicated and we are consistently confronted with a roller coaster of emotions. But our resilience builds each time we are challenged and equips us with the tools we need to face the next series of trials and tribulations that are the one and only constant of life.

So while I may be a little sad and defeated right now, I am forever guided by the love of my family and the brightness of what is to come in my future.

Sx


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A Letter to my Homeland.

Sri Lanka; I was a mere baby when I left you. Being so young back then has meant that I have no memories of the time where you were a permanent feature of my life. I moved to another nation only 2 years into my existence but leaving you has never meant that I have forgotten you. Your place in my heart is very hard to describe. As is the role you have taken in shaping my identity. Even though I have lived away from you for 28+ years, I still dream of you nightly; your presence never ends and is all encompassing.

I have been lucky enough to return to your shores every year since I left you. Each and every time this happens I am overwhelmed by a wave of emotion that engulfs me. The sense of return, of pride, of love is immense and it always has been. See, you are a land like no other. You have been scarred by decades of devastating turmoil, tainted by blood spilled in the name of hatred and intolerance. But yet you have endured. You have proven your strength, retained your beauty and solidified what you mean to so many of the people who have left you.

Over the years I have watched from afar as you have stalled in your growth and development. My heart has bled every time your existence was placed in jeopardy by those who should have been protecting you. As although you have had a rocky path in your journey since you formed after independence; you have always remained true to the democratic principles in which you were established. As I watch on today, in utter dismay I can see how you are being irreparably damaged by individuals who are more power hungry than adept and patriotic.

See I know your potential. It is evident for all to see. However those who should have been assisting you, working for you on your journey to success have instead looked to line their own pockets. They have compromised your identity, your standing to those around you and pushed you to a precipice which could signal your demise.

But I am here today, along with many others who belong to your shores, to reaffirm our commitment to you. We are fighting to protect the values, principles and standards in which you were formed on. We will not allow for a dictator claiming to be your saviour to be your ruin. We are fighting for you and for the future generations who will belong to you. We are trying our very best to hold those in power accountable to protecting the sanctity in which you exist on; that of democracy, of equality and justice, of constitutional fairness.

Our blood is tinged with your soil. We are products of your lands. Do not let others convince you that our fight is not on your behalf. Do not listen to those who whisper lines to you about how their selfish actions are for the best of your future.

To my beautiful, resilient homeland, we act for the love and betterment of you, our nation. We fight for justice so that you may prosper. We speak and lobby and write so that our cry of protecting the democratic processes that guide your existence are not tainted by those who are drunk on power and greed. For they have lost their way, their vision is tainted. But we see you, we seek to protect you. We will not turn our backs on you.

My motherland, my heartland, Sri Lanka, we will fight for you. Do not lose hope.

Sx


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Recovery is hard, but I promise you it’s worth it…

A while back I published a post in which I gave a name to the illness I had been battling for some time. To be honest it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. See we live in a society in which admitting something about ourselves which might be perceived as negative is a huge no go. At the time, what people didn’t understand what was that I did it for my own survival as much as attempting to motivate others towards honesty. That proclamation, on such a public forum meant that I was able to spread the accountability towards my recovery out to others also. I was finally admitting that I needed help and support and took that step towards actually letting my loved ones in for the first time.

People now often ask me about my recovery. As uncomfortable as it is, I welcome the questions because it means that we’ve taken some of the taboo out of speaking openly about eating disorders and mental health in general. In having these conversations I notice how people tend to realise things about their own thinking. They begin to understand that constantly focusing on how a woman looks, commenting on her appearance and glorifying ‘thinness’ is enabling a collective disease which is ravaging all of us.

The other thing that has come out of my declaration has been the ability to speak to people openly about the need to preserve our mental health and normalising the concept of seeing a psychologist. For my part I try not to shy away from this during everyday life and I hope that people find comfort and seek help based on the example I and many others are attempting to set.

What I have realised most of all is that no matter how uncomfortable it makes me, how much it hurts to look in the mirror each day or how hard it is to for me to eat normally and well, I must do this. For myself yes, but also for those who are struggling around me. I have to live out the example no matter how difficult it is.

There are days when I wake in the morning and my mind reverts to the thoughts around control that plagued me at the height of my illness. Every time I go the shops, try something on and it doesn’t fit right I find myself slipping down that slope again. It’s difficult to explain the guilt that comes with enjoying food because women for so long have been told that sacrifice is the key to life. We’ve been misled to believe that the smaller we are the more we will be valued. But this is simply untrue.

It breaks my heart at times to look around and see educated, strong women diminishing themselves down to measurement of their lives based on a number on a scale. I want to scream at them that this is a useless point of comparison, that they are so loved and that what they have to offer the world is beyond this. I want to hug them and tell them that it’s hard, that it will always be hard but that risking their life for the purpose of simply being skinny is not worth it. I want to admit to them that as much as I speak openly of my disease I continue to struggle with it each and every day. That I slip up and hate myself, but that I get up and try again the next day.

I want to tell them that they are not alone but that in order to live a life worthy of their best selves they have to fight. I need to tell them that I know it’s hard and that society will continue to tell them that they looked better before all the while not understanding the depths of illness that drove that appearance. See what matters the most is how we view ourselves. It’s how we love and accept ourselves; not based on our appearance or whether or not we fit into an impossible mould.

The truth is, recovery is hard. It slips up each time someone tells us that we’ve put on weight and asks what we’ve been eating lately. It wanes every time someone asks us when the last time we got to the gym was. It’s threatened again and again when people comment on how good we looked before and ask us what happened since.

What people don’t understand is that their words matter. But in truth we can never change this. I cannot control what others choose to say to me. All I can do is continue to speak openly about my own battle, call people out when they promote toxic rhetoric about women’s appearances and remind them that recovery is a journey and that our bodies will change because of it.

At the end of the day I value my existence and have hope for the future beyond what the scales below me read. I truly hope that my commitment acts as an example for those out there struggling alongside me. I want them to know that I waver too but that I keep going because I believe I am worthy of more than the disease that once controlled me.

Sx


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Life of a Development Worker – for me, it’s a calling..

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People often ask me what it is that motivates me to do what I do for a living. The question itself often perplexes me to begin with. Because as for me, being a development worker, an activist and humanitarian, this is not a choice at all. It represents something so much more to me and instead takes the form of a calling or better yet, a lifetime commitment to justice, equality and change.

To understand this a little more clearly I have to dig into my own background a little more. See, I was born on a small island nation in what is considered the Global South. My family and I immigrated to Australia when I was just a baby but my parents vowed to consistently remind me just how lucky I was compared to so many others. To illustrate this they took me to discover other cultures through steady travel within my childhood. When I was young I couldn’t quite understand why they dragged me around so much. The places we found ourselves in to me made no sense, but looking back now, it’s all too obvious that these endeavours were to remind me of my inherent privilege.

The one poignant memory I have from these years was when I first visited India at the age of 14. We were at a prominent tourist destination in the nation’s capital and had just stepped out on to the street in front of this place. As soon as I looked up I saw a child no older than 10 in brown tattered clothing, carrying her baby sister begging on the street. She was barefoot and the look of utter desperation on her face plagues me even today.

I remember walking away from that encounter wondering why it was that she had been dealt that fate in life and I had been lucky enough to have another. I thought about what dreams she had for her life and what she could achieve if her family were assisted to raise themselves out of the crippling cycle of poverty that meant she had to beg on the streets just to survive.

It is evident to me now just how stark of a comparison that day would have set. While I was affected by this child’s lot in life and it saddened me greatly, I was able to walk away and back to the safety and privilege on my own life. It didn’t seem right, it didn’t seem fair.

I am haunted by the image of this young girl even today. The look on her face, the desperation, the despair, the vulnerability will stay with me for a lifetime. But it forms the backbone for the reason why I do what I do. From that day onwards a seed was planted in my psyche. It formed a deep commitment in which I knew I would ultimately dedicate my life to.

Years later, I would hope I can say that I mirror this commitment in my life. I work each and every day to ensure that people who are marginalised and vulnerable are assisted with the opportunities to better their own lives.

I draw on the understanding that each human being is born with dignity and capacity with their own individual strengths. The only difference between myself and that child in the street is that I was privileged enough to access an education, provided with adequate health care and supported to achieve my dreams.

My role as I see it is to try and influence change towards transforming systems which keep people entrenched in poverty. As I head to work each day and into the field to visit communities in India, I am reminded of what holds my commitment to poverty reduction and equality and justice firm; the circumstance of that young girl and so many others like her.

For me, this isn’t a choice; I have to act, that is my responsibility; that is just who I am.

Sx


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Life of a Development Worker – Influencing change through community mobilisation.

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It was my first visit to Bihar which is located in the north-eastern part of India and borders the neighbouring countries of both Nepal and Bangladesh. The state in the past has been infamous for slow rates of progress out of poverty and unfortunately lags behind the rest of India when it comes to economic development, health and educational outcomes.

My visit itself however coincided with the end of the monsoonal rains and therefore the countryside I was travelling through was laden with lush green paddy everywhere I looked. Interestingly, 80% of the state’s workforce are engaged in agricultural activities however the majority of these are landless farmers; basically meaning they do not own the land they tend and therefore are engaged as daily wage labourers who benefit little from sales of produce. Knowing this, I was keen to understand how this dynamic worked and interested to find out how people with disabilities fitted into this already complex equation.

As our vehicle wound through the streets it eventually came to a stop at the front of a community centre. Looking up my vision line was engulfed with a sea of orange as the community members waited to greet me with beautiful garlands of marigold, their traditional welcome to guests visiting their village. I was immediately aware as we sat down for a discussion with the community members that it was the women who sat in the front and spoke up most confidently.

They told stories of how the local Partner in the area had gone on a journey with them to facilitate a better understanding about their own rights. They spoke of how they had been assisted to mobilise and organise themselves in groups in order to lobby for change and demand their rights as equal citizens.

CBM’s approach in communities is to assist with the formation of local community groups such as Self Help Groups (SHGs) and Disabled Peoples Organisations (DPOs). Members of these groups work together to address their needs and promote change through collective action. This works on the strengths based model which purports that all people have the inherent capacity to contribute towards bettering their own lives. The approach thus buys in to the concept that an external NGO or charity’s role is simply to support people to identify the skills they have, mobilise them within community support mechanisms and facilitate links with vocational training centres, banks and also to members of their local government.

For the people of this village, with the support of the local Partner, that then meant as a group they were able to go directly to their local government officials and ensure that all people with disabilities in their communities were provided with a disability certificate. This certification then means that they can access pensions and schemes to assist with meeting their health and rehabilitation needs.

A leader of the local DPO was present during one of the community meetings which I attended during this visit. He spoke openly and with confidence of how the project had worked to empower him and others on many different levels. He spoke of first having his and his community’s awareness raised on the rights they possess as equal citizens. To then, the facilitation of linkages towards vocational training and opportunities for income generation that enable people with disabilities towards economic empowerment. He also identified how the Partner had worked to form strong, inclusive collective groups that aim to hold duty bearers, such as local government accountable for ensuring equality and development for all. This includes providing guidance around how to spend budgetary allocations for spend on disability and inclusion.

When I asked why it was so important to form and build the capacity of such groups he answered with clarity by stating “so that we can access opportunities which are linked with our human rights and try to raise ourselves out of poverty just like everyone else”.

Sx


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Dear Body..

Dear Body,

I have to admit that my relationship with you is one which has been extremely strained for the last few years. I have not been kind to you, I have treated you with the opposite of respect and strived so hard to force you into being something that you are not. I have chastised you for not fitting in to that dress, for not appearing ‘flawless’, all the time not realising that my criticism was never about you or your form, but instead about a lack of love and respect that I had for my being.

I wouldn’t say that I harboured hatred for you, but I certainly didn’t like you for a very long time. In my intent to change you and mould you into something you were not I lost sight of the beauty that you naturally possess. I abused you so inextricably to attempt to fit into a mould that was never for you in the first place. I saw past the strength and splendour that you exhibit in order to be less, to appear to wither away all in the pursuit of an end result that was never enough.

I want to tell you today that I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for starving you, for purging you, for always telling you that you were not enough. That you were ugly or unattractive and that everyone saw you in such a negative and untrue light. For back then my view was tainted, I couldn’t see how beautiful you were and are in your natural form. I couldn’t see that you are unique and that you don’t have to be anything but that.

I was inundated with distorted images which made me believe that your appearance was not worthy. That somehow there was something wrong with you because you didn’t look like that and that I had to therefore force you into submission in order to validate my existence. It was as if I truly believed that I could not be in society as I was. That in spite of my intellect, of my drive, that I could not exist in this world until you were a certain way; a way in which you were never made to be, in which I almost damaged you irreparably.

Forgive me, because back then I could not see. I was subverted to believe that to be successful and happy in this life meant to hurt you, to torture you each and every day in order to pursue something that was never supposed to be in the first place. I lost my sense of self, my sense of worth and attached it instead to a superficial and unhealthy product.

I am sorry.

I will never again force you to be something that you are not. I will from now on appreciate and respect you. For all the elements that I deemed as flaws are nowhere near that. I want you to know that you are worthy, you are enough. From this point on, I will treat you with all that you deserve; kindness, compassion and love.

Sx