September 30, 2010

the road up ahead...

Being at university and studying behavioural science has become very important to me - more important than I could have ever imagined. 

There is an immense sense of satisfaction that comes with figuring out one's 'calling'. 

I really do get the strongest sense that I am travelling down the right road and equipping myself with the right tools in order to meet a better version of myself on the other side of this divide. 

Finding my niche has given me the well-needed self-confidence to believe that I can actually make a living out of something that I find both stimulating and fulfilling, something that comes naturally to me and something that I will feel blessed to be a part of for the rest of my working life. 

After wandering around like a lost bunny rabbit slash writer/waitress/sales assistant/cleaner for my entire twenties and early thirties, it has surprised me to discover that the path I have now chosen to travel, is the same path that I have always been travelling - in one way or another.  

Do what you love and the money will follow... right?  

I guess for a long time I was just focussing on the other thing that I loved..... writing! 

When I first attempted the behavioural science degree at Swinburne in 2004, I found it hard to cope with the juggling act of single parenting, work and study. Chilli was only three-years old and still in kindergarten at the time, and Jaiden was still a dependant little nine-year old boy. 

I knew then as I know now, that both of them needed my time and commitment, more than I needed to study. Looking back, I am grateful that I withdrew from the course, because I would have definitely struggled to pull it all together. 

Now however, the children are older and more independent and I am less guilt ridden about focussing on my own needs, after 16 years of being committed to raising babies. 
As it turns out, I have come back to the place where I left off and where I feel most at home.

Ever since I was a little kid, I have been preoccupied with caring for those people on the fringes of society; those people who have been disadvantaged through no fault of their own. Despite having a compassionate mother and father, helping people is not something that I was taught or encouraged to do, but rather, it is something that just came naturally... much like writing.  

I think it all started in grade one, when I brought Mark Honeyset home from school for a home cooked meal. Mark was the only Aboriginal boy at my Catholic primary school in Preston, and he got picked on because of his Indigenous heritage. 

It didn't help that Mark and his family lived in the commission flats in Reservoir, or that he came to school most days without anything much to eat; Mark's socio-economic status became another factor that led to him being bullied. 

I liked Mark, even though he was a rough kid who was always getting in trouble with the principal, but even as a child, I could see that Mark was a lonely and isolated little boy, hiding away beneath a tough exterior. Even then, I understood that the tough act was just a defensive response to his environment. 

In grade four, I befriended the new girl Keira, and invited her back to my house for her first ever sleepover. Keira had dyslexia and in those days she was forced to use a typewriter and wear these ginormous bright pink glasses that were supposed to assist with her disability. 

Needless to say, Keira never stood a chance in the playground, and because she was new to the school, she had no friends (apart from me) and was bullied regularly and intensely. 

The bullying, which ranged from hitting, spitting, punching and kicking, took its toll on Keira, and in 1984, there were no anti-bullying policies, like there are in place today. 

In light of this fact, I felt like I had to stand up for Keira, to protect her from the physical and emotional abuses - and stand up for her I did. I wrote letters to the principal, walked her around like some sort of pint-sized bodyguard, and one lunchtime I actually pushed an older boy to the ground for calling her a 'dumb fat retard'. 

Eventually, Keira and I became good friends and she started inviting me over on weekends and school holidays to swim in her in-ground pool. 

Nobody else had an in-ground pool in primary school and when the other kids heard that I had been swimming over at Keira's place, they quickly befriended her too. I knew they were just using her, but I didn't mind so much. It made her feel popular and she went from being miserable to being happy. 

In year seven, I was drawn to a likeable, tough girl called Jane, who kept threatening to kill herself. Although it was obvious that Jane had emotional problems, I am not sure if she was ever actually serious about taking her own life, because she turned out to be a pathological liar. 

At the time however, I was terrified that one day I would arrive at school to find that Jane was dead. 

I can still remember writing poems for Jane, about how much she had to live for, and crying to my mother about how sad she must have been to want to take her own life. I stayed friends with Jane until I was in my early twenties - long after all of her other friends had left her behind - but when she developed 'pretend' aids in 1998, I made the decision to let her go. 

In 2003, I spent a year visiting detainees at Marybirnong Immigration Detention Centre (MIDC). Each Tuesday evening I would visit with one of the many detainees on my 'friends' list and listen to their heartbreaking stories. 

Rather than choosing to protest with my friends outside Woomera or Baxter, I found my way into the local detention centre, and for many of the detainees - most of whom were suffering intense psychological trauma - I was their only visitor and effectively, their only connection to the outside world. 

At the time, I became so overwhelmed by the devastating situation, that I felt there had to be more I could do than just sit and listen and play games with the children. 

But I was a waitress and a mother - not a lawyer or a judge, a politician or a psychologist - and I had no power in a system where power is the currency. This caused me to feel an immense sense of helplessness and frustration. 

I was studying writing at the time and so I decided to write an expose on the psychological impact on detainee's at MIDC. 

Despite having this piece rejected by six different publications, I was convinced that the only way I could change the system was to write about the way in which it was broken. 

For whatever reason, my own lack of self- belief was preventing me from realising that I had the potential to work directly with asylum seekers, in a professional capacity - those people for whom I cared deeply; the helpless victims of circumstance and environment. 

But it was not until one of my closest friends had a nervous breakdown and was subjected to the appalling state of Australia's public mental health system, that I reached a profound realisation, or what Oprah would call a full circle moment

Suddenly, it occurred to me that I was being drawn into all of these similar situations; into all of these broken lives, and in each situation my heart was staking its claim. 

Suddenly, I understood that I could be of more use to people on the frontline, or inside the system so to speak, (as I had been to some extent in the detention centre), than I could be writing pieces about the broken system that nobody wanted to read. 

That was my lightbulb moment, and that was when I decided to apply for the bachelor of behavioural science at Swinburne.

One of my favourite quotes by Rumi states: Everyone has been made for some particular work and the desire for that work has been put in every heart

As I stand here now, in the middle of my literal and metaphorical journey, one thing seems abundantly clear... Like every journey, this one began with a single step and I am almost halfway there... 
I don't know if we are born with a purpose, or if our purpose becomes known to us as a result of our experiences. 

I do know that every experience in my life, especially the most difficult experiences - have prepared me for the road that I am currently undertaking. It is my choice to make these life experiences count for something, to use them as tools for empathy and understanding and as a way to connect with the human condition. 

Though I did not choose the dark, painful experiences, they have inevitably shaped my life, and they will continue to serve me and support me along the way.  

I may not have been 'destined' or 'born' to do this work that pertains to human suffering - I do have a little bit of trouble with that analogy - but through a series of connections and stepping stones, I have been planted on this road and I can see now that it has always been stretching out before me. 

Perhaps it was first paved a long time ago, when I was still a little girl, trying desperately to make everybody better. As an adult and a counselling/ psychology student, I know better than to think that anyone can be saved or rescued - that in itself is dangerous and messy territory. 

What I do know, is that this time I am moving forward in search of my true- soul- self and although I could not see it before, I can see now that the road up ahead is paved with possibility... and that my name is written right across it. 

1 comment:

Barry Carozzi said...

Hi Mish,
Really enjoyed reading your blog - it's a fantastic moment when the patterns that have been there all along, patterns that you've not really been aware of ... currents in the stream of your life if you like - and suddenly, they come together, you SEE them, and out of the chaos of experience you see the patterns...
Your 'voice' is becoming clearer and clearer - a strong, unmistakable, assured voice.

Talk agian soon.
barry c