I have strong opinions on buses

This is not about the recent and disastrous changes to Wellington’s bus systems, although I’m not a fan. This is about my possibly weird personal code of conduct on public transport.

Being on buses has been exacerbating my anxiety recently. Much of the time I spend on buses is spent doing the following:

  1. Worrying that I’ll catch diseases from being in a confined space with lots of people
  2. Worrying that I/my ridiculous quantity of bags am/is in someone’s way
  3. Worrying that I’ll be late because the bus is inching through traffic
  4. Worrying that I’ll pick up the smell of tobacco smoke from the passenger next to/in front of/behind me or formerly in my seat
  5. Wishing I’d walked/run instead
  6. Being annoyed that people are sitting on aisle seats when the window seats are unoccupied
  7. Being annoyed that people are taking up an entire seat for belongings that could easily be accommodated on their lap
  8. Being annoyed that people are standing when there are seats available, thus making it more difficult for people to access said seats and to get on and off the bus
  9. Reading (this is my favourite).

Today, for various reasons, I ended up taking several buses. Thankfully, my anxiety was triggered much less than it has been in recent days.

One of the problems with the changes in bus services has been insufficient bus capacity for people travelling on certain routes at certain times. For the first time in memory on my route home from town, a bus bypassed my stop because it was properly full. No worries, another one was due shortly. And miraculously it arrived as scheduled, and was not full. A few of the people who got on at my stop chose to stand by the rear exit (see point 8 above), and I could see that there were a few seats at the back, so I excused myself past the standees and hastened thither. I swiftly assessed the situation and perceived that a couple was occupying the two seats at one side of the long back row, the next three seats were empty, and a lone passenger occupied the window seat on the other side.

What would you do?

My thought process was as follows:

  • Sitting right up next to the couple would seem to unnecessarily impose myself on their couplespace
  • Taking the middle of the three remaining seats would make the rest of the back row seem less accessible to others, and would force another couple who might hypothetically join us to separate
  • Taking the seat next to the lone passenger was the most considerate choice.

Seriously, have I missed something? I want to know.

Anyway, I sat down next to the lone window-seat-occupant, and it’s just possible that the side of my leg or my bag (I only had one bag! Those who know me will be impressed) might have touched her. I know that Kiwis are big on personal space but I’m sure I would have noticed if I were the only one of us to accept accidental touching as a necessary accessory to peak use of public transportation. Anyway.

“Jesus!” She exclaimed.

“Where?” I responded. We looked each other in the eye for a long moment.

“Not you, that’s for sure,” she finally said, and commenced an opprobrious tirade, in short exhorting me to stick to my own seat*.

“It’s. A. Bus,” I pointed out. “This is my seat, that is yours.” In my view we were both contained appropriately within our seats.


“And nothing.”

Her rant continued. I endeavoured to tune it out and to read my book, but was distracted by the salient points that I was a bitch, she had cancer, I was welcome to it, the last thing she needed was someone sitting on her. Also, I was a bitch.

Knowing that her feelings were nothing to do with me, and wagering that any olive branch of sympathy I might proffer would be steadfastly refused (I know what it’s like to cling to one’s own hurt and anger), I held my peace. Eventually she elbowed the air in front of me, got up, excused herself, explained that she didn’t want to sit next to such a bitch, and barged forward to stand near the rear exit (see point 8 above), whence she performed a sustained demonstration of the raised middle finger in my general direction.

The people seated nearby were very nice and asked if I was ok and such, saying I didn’t deserve that at all, and concurring with my estimation that it was nothing to do with me.

Unfortunately my rules of personal public transport etiquette required me to move into her vacated seat (see point 4 above), it was the least I could do as I had unwittingly facilitated further standee congestion as per point 7.

And I was a little rattled and I did almost cry but not quite, and I did fleetingly think that maybe I could have defused the situation with sympathy, because I do believe I understand how she felt to some extent. But I’m focusing on the fact that I withstood the episode an estimated 50% better than I would have a day ago, and a good 100% better than I would have the day before that, and it’s amazing how much better I feel after yesterday.



*I’m not sure why I’ve started writing like a Wodeshousian translation of Propertius. I blame my friend Little James.



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This is what the mental health system looks like to me today

Last night I wrote a post titled “this is what feeling suicidal looks like right now”. I didn’t post it because last I heard, talking about suicide made it more likely to happen. Maybe thinking has changed and I should have just posted it because here I am talking about suicide anyway.  But I didn’t, instead I worked through the awesome CBT worksheet that my counsellor gave me and I felt a teensy bit calmer, and I went to bed because I was too tired to do suicide so I might as well sleep.

The hardest thing on my to do list yesterday was to call my dad, and I did it, and I told him I was miserable and I asked him to come to my psychiatrist’s appointment with me. This was today. I woke up feeling sluggish and sad and went to meet dad for lunch. I’m not good at talking about my feelings with my dad. We talked about the news and town planning and the differences between Armenian and Turkish music and cuisine.

One thing that really pisses me off about the stigma that mental illness still has is that my appointment was in this building: IMG_20181029_125609[1]

The non-street-facing entrance is slightly more forthcoming in labeling, but I don’t feel I, a person with depression and anxiety, am covered by this signage: IMG_20181029_125734[1]

Anyway my psychiatrist is, in my opinion, good and likable. It’s probable that his knowledge of depression comes entirely from study and clinical practice, but he does seem to understand how impossible everything feels for me right now. My poor dad had to listen while I described the suicidal thoughts I had last night. And the doctor was very clear about the followup conversations being about two different things: environment and treatment. Environmentally we agreed that I would have daily phone contact with the crisis team, and that the option of going into respite accommodation was there and I could ask for it. In terms of treatment, the first thing we’re going to try is increasing my antidepressant dose over the next week, and if that doesn’t start to make things better we’ll look at other medications.

The things that really gave me confidence were that the approach wasn’t solely medical, and that he talked about reducing the antidepressant dose when I’m better. I’ve never had a doctor differentiate between a treatment dose and a maintenance dose before. There was an emphasis on continuing my CBT/counselling work and learning tools and doing the work on my crappy self-esteem to help prevent a relapse in the future.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so positive after a session, especially in comparison to how hopeless I felt going into it. I’m exhausted though. I’d forgotten that that’s part of it. I prescribe cheesecake and yoga.

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Actually four is the loneliest number

Don’t read this. This is my depression speaking.


I am stupidly lonely.

I flat with a family of three. They are lovely humans. I smell cooking smells on the weekend and hear parenting happening I know I need to hide in my room and cry because I’m not part of that.

I’m dating a beautiful man who has two kids, and the other day one of them referred to me as “not exactly stepmother” and it kind of warmed me, we’d been having dinner at the park and were playing on the swings. It was a rare moment that I could pretend to be part of a family, but really I’m not, because they don’t need a stepmother, exactly or otherwise, they have a Perfectly Good actual mother, and their father and I are just two lonely people who are too hurt to commit to each other.

My sister and her husband have the best one-and-a-half-year-old in the world, and I have to bite my tongue at the way they divide parenting labour because I know nothing of adulting, and when my dad is there all grandfathering I can say goodbye and it seems like too much of an imposition even asking for hugs.

My brother-in-law has a proper family with two parents and everything and they Do Christmas and my sister gets to go and my dad gets to go and I don’t, because I’m supposed to have my Own Family by now, but I fucked it up.

And I should be happy for all these people and the joy and the love that they have but I’m too sad and lonely and bitter and bad.

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Tattoos I’ve thought about but will never get: a rant

IMG_20181024_105819[1]I’ve been threatening for years to get “NO HAWKERS” tattooed on my abdomen, so that when someone wearing a beanie and carrying a stack of books approaches me in the street, I can just lift my shirt up. Maybe after unzipping and unbuttoning any number of outer layers, depending on the time of year.

Are the Hare Krishna crew even hawkers? Should I get “NOT OPEN FOR EVANGELISM” tattooed on one side of my ribcage, and “I HAVE NO FUNDS FOR YOUR RAISING” on the other, in case of the Save the Children/World Vision/Greenpeace types?

Yesterday it was Amnesty International. Full marks to them for making themselves recognisable from a distance in their fluoro yellow jackets. They’d staked out all corners of the intersection by one of my dance studios, and despite my concerted efforts at blanking the nearest chap as I walked by, he zeroed in on me with a cheery “How are you doing today?”, which is a risky question to ask, because I could have told him about how I was really anxious about having skipped my anxiety meds this morning, because I was anxious about running out of said anxiety meds, and that it was the first time I’d been into the city in about three days and everything seemed to be threatening to smother me like a slow-moving avalanche of treacle, but that the slow-movingness was of no advantage to me because I was four times more susceptible to gravity than normal. Luckily for him, I just announced “I’m composing a rant about hawkers in my head”, deftly dodged his colleague less than 100 meters away (OK, he was already enlightening someone about forced child marriages), and walked around the entire block to get to my destination so as to avoid passing them again. Which worked out fine for me because the world and I weren’t really trapped in an overgravitated treacle time warp, and I tend to be pathologically early.

I do admire people who do these public nuisancing jobs, whether for money or conviction. I hope stellar and well-paid careers reward their cheerfulness and thick skin. I’d never have made it as a Mormon. But why they waste their time approaching me is a mystery. Maybe it’s not obvious to the casual observer that I’ve squandered all my money on outlandish hair dye and op shop clothes. Or maybe, God forbid, I look like I might care. I can’t afford to care. Of course that doesn’t actually stop me from caring, that would make far to much sense.

I’m terrible and finishing these rants off with some kind of tidy moral or whatever. The end of the last paragraph is the point at which I got of the bus, went into a friendly local pub with the intention of crafting a final paragraph over some fine craft beer, discovered all the tables were booked out for the quiz, stood at the bar awkwardly, then realised that I would quite like to do the quiz so crashed the team of some kindly strangers and aided their efforts with my knowlege of the Greek alphabet. The end.

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On dipping my toes back in

At the end of my last post you can see the revelation hitting me like a giant bead-fringed scarf in the face: I need bellydance in order to be happy. I’m pretty sure I need ATS®.

Some ancillary revelations have followed in its wake:

  1. I’ve been dancing once or twice a day and filmed some of it, partly so I can see it and partly to post online, because as David Mitchell said, anyone who’s in a vaguely performative art thing has a deep emptiness inside and desperately craves the approval of others. And my revelation has been this: I like my dancing. Or I like who I am when I’m dancing. I have compassion and love for that person. This is a huge deal for someone with as low self esteem as I have. You don’t necessarily see it, but believe me, it is there and it is deep rooted.
  2. So many of my dearest friends or even acquaintances, people who have shown care and understanding of where I’m at in my misery, are people I know through bellydancing.

Here’s a picture that was taken a month after my separation. How could I ever think I don’t need this?

Super 12 Ziva

Image credit: Bruce Poole Photography, 2016



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Another thing to be out if not proud about

TW: mental illness, self-pity, death wish discussion

Hi, my name is Sylvia and I have depression. I’ve been on antidepressant medication of various sorts for 23 years. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes life is doable, sometimes I feel irredeemably crazy.

A few weeks ago I developed anxiety and panic attacks, and while these are different sicknesses they all mash up with my depression and have a stabby party in my being and I do feel irredeemably crazy at the moment.

The last time I was this bad was ten years ago. And quite possibly nine years again before that, if one only goes by my contact with the public mental health system (about which I have Things To Say, but that’s another matter).

In between, I’ve been able to function somewhat. To be honest, holding down a job has always been hard. I have an overactive brain. I get bored. I can be bored and all kinds of stressed at the same time, it’s a neat trick but it doesn’t make good television. I once had a job organising a fundraising art auction, and a very famous artist made me realise that it was uncool to ask the struggling to help the struggling, so I basically gave up. I suffer from pathological honesty and integrity. I can dress up in a suit and straight girl shoes but that can’t hide the fact that I’m a liberal, anti-authoritarian hippie, so I don’t see the point in pretending.

A major trigger for my recent anxiety symptoms has been falling into a poverty mindset. I earn about NZ$36K per year in my current job. It’s the highest salary I’ve ever been on. I’m effectively single and child-free. But I don’t feel I can afford insurance or dentistry and if I have to go to my GP it seriously derails my ability to make it through to pay day. Sometimes having to buy veges seriously derails that ability.

And I feel terrible about complaining. There are people doing more and coping better on less, and the fact that I’m struggling must mean I’m a Bad Person. Right? Thanks brain.

And I can’t even afford to check out, because that would hit my family with a big bill. Apparently funerals cost NZ$6-10K, and if I tried to save that I’d have to starve myself. But not enough to actually kill me before I’d saved the requisite amount.

Not that I even want a funeral, but I suspect my family would. I just want to be disposed of, and to have enough forethought to dispose of all my physical baggage beforehand so that my family doesn’t have to deal with it. And pay a couple of months’ rent in advance to compensate my flatmates for the inconvenience.

I’m not suicidal. I literally can’t afford to be. Plus, today I bought a 2019 diary, so I guess that’s some kind of commitment.

These are not the thoughts of a sane person. In the past fortnight, I’ve seethed with anger because I thought I saw a colleague going through a bin, when in reality he was balancing his takeaway on it while he waited for the bus. I’ve hallucinated mean post-it notes in the shower. I’ve walked out on dinner with my boyfriend because I thought he was saying I was stupid (would never happen).

I’m in my third week of sick leave and I can’t see how I could go back to sitting in a windowless room while juggling five conflicting demands and trying to do my core work, which feels like an ever-increasing rubbish heap that’s trying to suffocate me. Most days right now, I need a nap. Especially if I’ve had any kind of therapy, and I need therapy.

One of the big reasons I feel I can’t go back is shame.

The irony is, I’m spewing out all this stuff about my illnesses on social media because (a) it’s therapeutic for me to write it down and put it out there, (b) people tell me it’s good to read because they can relate to it, and (c) people need to know it’s a Real Thing. But in Real Life, I participate in the stigma. If I see people I know, especially from work, my reflex is to pretend I haven’t seen them, because I’m ashamed. And I don’t know what to say, and I don’t want to make people uncomfortable.

The dumb thing is that I know that I’m only responsible for my own shame and awkwardness. And one of my tasks needs to be to shed them in real life as well as online.

What would it look like if I were unashamedly crazy? If I answered “how are you?” with “my depression/anxiety’s been playing up”, because it would be fine if I said that about sciatica or something, right?

That’s actually been a good thing about developing anxiety, because I can’t hide from the fact that it’s a physical affliction. Chest pain, throat constriction, nausea, breathing problems. Not fun.

The other task I need to undertake is, what is an appropriate job for my kind of crazy? And I think right now I’m too crazy to engage with that. But I’ll have to soon.

Postscript: I was looking back at this blog and a scary thing came up, about how my doing less bellydancing seems to have coincided with my being more miserable. And I thought, it’s cold and I have the house to myself so why not dance along to a FCBD® drills video before I go to bed? And I did and I realised that I need SO MUCH MORE of this in my life and now I’m sobbing and my heart is literally hurting because I CAN’T HAVE IT. Sweary sweary swears.

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It’s not you, it’s me


I did something scary today. I announced that I was taking a break from teaching dance.

This has been a long time coming and I don’t know how long the break is going to be. I still love dancing but I don’t love the work of teaching class every week and doing troupe admin. But that only feels like part of the truth. I imagine this is what it feels like when you’re in a long term relationship with someone you love, but for reasons you can’t fully explain you know that you need to separate so that you can figure out what you really want for yourself.

I’m proud that I’ve always had an open relationship with ATS® – I’m not good at monogamy and it feels so much better to be honest about that. And yes, I’ve been seeing other dance styles, most recently swing and ceroc. But it’s not like I’m in love with any of them the way I am (was?) with ATS®.

That’s one thing that makes this apparent breakup so scary: there’s nothing obvious to fill the void.

A wise friend and fellow dancer told me that when you separate from a partner, there’s a them-shaped hole in your life, and it doesn’t work to fill it with another person, because they won’t fit – they’re a unique puzzle piece. You need to fill the hole yourself, with yourself. And you’ll meet someone or someones else, and they will carve out unique them-shaped spaces to fit into your life. This helped me a lot when I was freshly separated from the ex-love-of-my-life.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I told my troupemates that I’d love to come to their classes if they were to teach. I would love someone with a true passion for ATS® to keep it going in my area. But right now I think it’s better not to have ATS® classes than to have them taught by someone whose heart isn’t in it.

I just want to dance with my mates. I want to wear a turban and false eyelashes and harquus occasionally. I want to keep getting excited when I see your dance pictures and videos and live performances. I want a reason to raise my arms over my head and smile with joy and gratitude.

After I taught my last class for who knows how long, this song came on and I felt moved to dance to it by myself.

This isn’t goodbye.

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Adventures in swinging the other way #stilladanceblog

God, I haven’t posted anything here since March. A lot has happened since then and I’ve had a lot of thoughts and written a lot of stuff, most of it is stream-of-consciousness processing in paper journals, some of it draft documents that may or may not ever be ready to see the light of day. I’ve been making space in my life, giving things up and not knowing what I’m making space for. Now I know some of the things. I’ve given up one of the weekly dance classes I was teaching and am being a dance student again.

Girl on a Swing by Winslow Homer, 1897

I could quite easily write a blog post that reads as an advertisement for Full Swing (standard disclaimer, no formal association, I make no money, just go to their classes, &c.). Firstly, their setup and languaging defy the heteronormative/binary-embedded stuff that has, in the past, led me to walk out of partner dance classes. They never use “man” and “woman”, but always “lead” and “follow”. Follows can initiate. Beginners are encouraged to learn as leads or follows to start with, but all the teachers can and do dance either part. Even the toilets at the studio defy the gender binary: they just have pictograms of the facilities on the doors so you can choose whether you want the one with the urinal.

I know that once I get past the gender squickiness, I really enjoy partner dancing. I really enjoy ATS® duets. This is different. In my experience so far, it’s definitely more geared at participation than performance, and I like that. Where ATS® has the joy of lifted arms, these dances have the delight of physical contact. The social dance focus and the culture espoused by the studio mean that I feel like I make new friends every time (also aided by the fact that Wellington is small and don’t I know your parent’s boyfriend’s flatmate? &c.).

This is why I started taking swing classes: in ATS® I’m a teacher and a lead hog. In swing I’m learning to follow. Admittedly I have that Byrds song on repeat in my head a lot. But it’s fun. It’s liberating. My teachers told me about this mind-blowing concept called “goldfish ninja brain”: as a follow, you only need to think within two counts. Not four. Not eight. In a recent class we did six count combos and my eight count control freak side really struggled, and sometimes I don’t trust my lead to be on the phrase, but I’ve got to give that up because otherwise I don’t get to dance, and dancing is way more fun than not dancing.

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Snapdragon nostalgia

I went on a road trip around the South Island with my Dad. I took a holiday from all my routines, except for writing every night. This is one of the few things I wrote that’s remotely fit for public consumption.

Richmond, 5 March 2017

There are still snapdragons growing on the street border of my grandmother’s garden. They are still bright pink but they’re smaller than I remember them being when I was six years old and played fascinated with the moving parts of their jaws, when my baby sister slept in a box and we fitted our family of four into the caravan where now there’s a garden shed and a washing line and grown-up fishtank pebbles for me to feel under my bare feet.I was always like this, my mother told me, taking my shoes off to feel textures wherever we went.

I was upset with my grandfather that time with the snapdragons and the plums, because “he treats me like I’m a baby”, and my mother gently told me about Alzheimer’s Disease and what that meant. I asked my father yesterday what his father died of, it was pneumonia or influenza or something that, without the underlying condition of Alzheimer’s, meant as little as “heart failure” on my mother’s death certificate when we all know she really died of cancer.

Tonight I’ll sleep in the little dining room with the net curtains where a cicada flew up my nightdress when I was a little girl.


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I am here with you

Lately I’ve been practising metta meditation, and “I am here with you” has come to be one of my lovingkindness mantras: for myself, for people I love, for neutral acquaintances, for people I have difficulties with, for cats.

Today I read this post by my amazing friend Clare, which introduces an exercise for meeting an emotion as a being. Then I wrote this:

The story of Grief

20170120_1943301I am in a room that is not dark but is not sunny. The door to my room is open. Grief comes in with a hunched back, his face is white, his nose is long, his cheeks are hollowed. I pat the low cushion next to me and he sits down with difficulty. He puts a bony hand around my shoulders. He doesn’t look at me until I look at him. His eyes are pale and wide and open. His mouth is small and shows no expression.

“What do you want?” he asks.

“I don’t know. I never seem to know what I want. Certainly not in the long view, often not even moment to moment.”

“That’s ok.” He starts massaging my shoulders and I relax a little beneath his bony fingers. After a while he leans his head against my temple and I can feel the slight movement of his temporomandibular joint. I can hear his light and vulnerable breathing. I don’t want him to go away. Our silence together is companionable. I feel an openness in our quietness.

“Are you lonely?” I ask.

He is quiet in thought for a while.

“Not when I’m with you,” he says finally.

I need and want to make space for him, to be with him.

And then I was reminded of this post by my wonderful friend Verdant.

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