As The Storm Clouds Gather

This week our storm season has heralded it’s arrival with many bangs, crashes, rumbles and flashes of light. With it, thankfully, has come some rain. Not a lot, but combined with the humidity it’s getting the grass moving.

This afternoon,  from about lunchtime on, massive thunder heads built and turned into wild storms that closed the Pacific Highway and put on a mighty fine light show for hours.

Just on dark, as we walked back home from the dairy, Jess noticed some interesting clod formations. 

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This storm had passed to the south of us, and seemed to be rolling back in off the coast directly from the east.

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This was taken a few minutes later, looking southwest. The clouds were forming interesting ridges and whorls.

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This is the same direction about ten minutes later from 500 metres down the road. Those clouds look a little hail like for mine!

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This last one was taken from The Bight lookout near Wingham.  That dark line to the left is actually a bolt of lightning, but my camera (read Aspera Tradies phone) was on the wrong speed.

These beautiful clouds brought very little moisture with them, but they were lovely to see after so long with bright blue skys.

Misogyny, Equality, Meh.

This week,  I had this conversation with a keyboard warrior hiding behind a fake name.  I find most of the judgemental types on twitter don’t use their name. Not all, but the chest beaters tend to.

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This mysterious person accused me of not doing anything to improve the lot of women,  and selfish because I choose to start in my own industry first.

I wasn’t offended as it’s very rarely anybody else’s own ‘known facts’ offend me. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.

I know I do my part. As do thousands of other women involved in agriculture in Australia.  We do this by being the best we can be. Nothing more, nothing less.

What this exchange did make me do was make me think about my views on equality in the agricultural workplace.

I grew up with two sisters on a beef cattle place. We fenced, mustered, picked sticks up and did everything we could to help the farm run. We also cleaned, cooked , chopped the fire wood and helped keep the house running.  I have no reason to think had mum and dad had a boy, they would have been treated any different. 

It was quite a shock the first time I met full blown sexism. And I fought tooth and nail against it!
A little older and wiser, I’ve learnt the best way to end sexism is to realise you can’t change the thoughts of people,  just give them a reason to rethink their thoughts.

My first job was on a beef and sheep station in western NSW. The manager and overseer were men, as was the head stockman. The other jillaroo and I were the only other workers and no jobs were women or men’s work. We all did what our skills dictated.

I have also discovered, and this is rather controversial,  that what appears to be misogyny from the outside can actually be realism on the inside.

There are some jobs men are better designed for. Physiologically, emotionally and psychologically we are very different.

One job I’m very familiar with that all these differences really stand out is shearing. 

Women are generally more flexible than men. A sports remedial massage therapist I know explained to me what happens to footy players when they overdo the flexibility training.  They become highly prone to muscle and joint injury because it’s the mix of flexible and rigid that cushions impacts. Which is one of the main reasons, in their opinion, women’s contact sports have never been sustainable. Not the whole reason,  but it’s a pretty big limiting factor.

Men also naturally build upper body strength easier.

Which is why as a whole it’s men who shear. I know there are women that do, and I don’t have a problem with that. But men are better suited physiologically than women.

The job as shed hand is designed for women.  Women think differently to men, and attention to detail and the ability to be flexible mentally are great skills when trying to keep a busy board clean and tidy.

Classing, pressing and penning up I can’t see as skewed either way. Though the upper body strength of men is handy to have when pressing and when penning up stubborn sheep.

I’m finding the same in the dairy industry.

The number of times I’ve been told that women are better at calf rearing run into the thousands. It’s not a sexist thing. It’s that women are nurturers, tend to pick up on ill health quicker and are more likely to fight for the calf. A well known commercial calf rearer who does a bit of consulting on the side recommends employers hire a woman for the calf rearing, and target those who have children.

The general concencus is, women are better at the job. That isn’t sexism, it’s realism.

I’m not saying for one minute agriculture doesn’t have more than its fair share of fuddy duddys who believe in the ‘farmer’s wife’ who raises the kids, keeps the house and works the farm. A lot of rural boards are male heavy, with a few with no women at all.

And due to the nature of many agricultural jobs, pregnancy will stop a woman working for some time, taking the opportunity to advance their career away, for some, permanently.

I have zero experience in the corporate world, but I’m sure you could take what I’ve said, change a few job titles and descriptions, same results.

I will say though that the current feminist view of this situation, which is the same no matter what your chosen career path is not, in my view, constructive.

I find it abhorrent that quotas are being asked for let alone considered in political parties and commercial circles.

Women have always been a downtrodden group. We are over represented as victims in family and criminal court. Current Australian studies suggest one woman dies every day on average from a domestic violence assault. In the USA, it’s 3.5 women a day. Sexual violence is used in war zones and private homes world wide to control women and female children are sold into marriages even now. We are forgotten in history books and folklore.

To think a quota system will change these and all the other ways men control women cheapens the whole problem in my view.

For this to change, culture needs to change. And I think it is. Social media has opened the world to women from all circumstances and countries. It’s showing the world in real time what is happening to women and the call for action is getting louder. It’s a slow process, but with every new generation of women comes more freedom and opportunities. I nevertheless fear for the lives of girl children and women in those countries targeted by the likes of IS.

In the meantime, instead of focusing on equality and quotas, how about we focus on the skills and passion we have to offer our chosen industries.

Women need to do what they can to be noticed in the workplace or industry, and men should see potential as it presents itself. It’s kind of up to men to lead this charge, because they hold the majority of leadership roles. But as a woman, if you have a goal, you need to make connections and get some skills and experience to help you present a good case too. It often means you need to do twice as much as your male colleagues, and the challenge shouldn’t be taken lightly. I know many women who’ve been chewed up and spat out of the testosterone filled environment of their chosen career.

But don’t let any of that put you off. The more women who try, the more the barriers come down. The only failure is an ambition not given the light of day.

A friend and mentor said to me recently, don’t let your perceived lack of skill and experience stop you chasing your goal, sometimes it’s good to bite off more than you can chew, then chew like crazy! But you may need a street parade and a marching band to get noticed and a chance at that first bite.

Don’t be frightened to apply for that position because you or anybody else thinks you don’t have what it takes. Nobody ever goes into a job knowing everything.

I think we should stop focusing on equality and start ensuring the women in every workplace receive to training and mentoring required for the top jobs. Put the focus squarely on skills and recognition of talent rather than gender. And more family friendly work environments wouldn’t go astray either. The most important job of any parent’s life, that’s dads too, is to raise the next generation. Women are generally (again, not always) tasked with this as their jobs are likely to be the lower paid one, and of course, tradition.

We should also stop trying to make those men who do legitimately succeed feel guilty for all their hard work. That’s just not fair.

Am I selfish as my mysterious heckler suggests? I don’t think so.

There will always be more women tending crops and livestock than will ever be CEO’s.
They’re the ones who are truly underpaid and undervalued.
You get that right, the whole world will change.

Compromised Immunity

Updated version…..

Its the end of mental health week 2014.
I was listening to Macca – a national program aired every Sunday since forever on ABC radio. A woman called the program from a mental hospital. I’m sure there’s a more PC name, but that’s what she called it. The woman, a solicitor, was in there on a detox from all the prescribed drugs she is on to figure out what side effects went with which medication.
The woman rang because it was mental health week, and because it tends to be non or recovered sufferers that talk about it. Not those in the thick of it.

She had a point. If we can’t tell our story as it’s happening, the truth about mental illness won’t get told. And it won’t get told because of the stigma associated with mental illness.
I thought maybe relating mental illness to something less difficult to accept might create a different understanding and show how ridiculous this stigma is.

Your immune system. You do everything you can to keep it healthy, but because its continually bombarded by germs, occasionally a gap appears and you get a runny nose or headache. Mostly that gap closes before the next gap appears. When multiple gaps appear, that’s when you get really sick. Most of us wouldn’t hesitate seeking help with such a compromised immune system. Most of us wouldn’t hesitate to help those who get really sick, and their families, due to a compromised immune system, without judgement.

Your brain is the same. You can do everything in your power to keep the germs from taking over, but you can’t always win.

Sometimes, leaving a germ filled environment for a more sterile (supportive) place can compromise your immune system. When you go back, the germs are stronger than your immune system.

Some people and events are like shopping trolleys, covered in things like staph that get into your blood and stay there, leaving a permanent gap in your immunity, bubbling to the surface in puss filled lumps when you least expect it, causing complications when you’re injured.

Sometimes, all of this combines to cause you pain nobody else can feel, see or understand. Some even believe its attention seeking.
And, like the ultimate in compromised immunity, cancer, it sneaks up on you, taking you by surprise.

I will relate a very recent experience of mine using this immune system analogy.

If I’d been diagnosed with cancer last week, I’m sure I would have received the care from those closest to me I needed. Including me. There is far less stigma associated with cancer. It is not my intention to belittle cancer. It, like mental illness, can be deadly if not treated. And even when treated, some never recover.

My environment had become infected with negativity and aggression. There has been little immune support. From any of us. Gaps in my immunity would appear, I’d work hard at closing it.
The last six weeks seemed worse than normal.
Evil thoughts of causing myself pain slowly became a daily occurrence. Like a runny nose dripping away.
Events that bordered on full on panic attacks occurred more frequently. Think of these as a fever.
I kept telling myself I could handle it.
I had reason last week to be in a sterile environment, where immune support was prevalent. My immunity fell. I had to return to my infected environment with my compromised immunity.
And so it happened Friday that the last defense of my immune system was compromised by a barrage of bad news germs.

My runny nose and headache were symptoms of a much larger problem that, when ignored, became far worse than it should have been.

I have spent the last two days locked in my bedroom, trying not to spread my disease or make it worse.

For some reason, every man and their dog decided Saturday was the best day to come visit. Had it been any other sort of illness, my weepy red eyes and disheveled look would have been acceptable. The stigma kept me locked away. Some members of my family told the visitors I’d lost the plot and was just chucking a tantrum. An opinion I’m sure would have been different if my problem has been even a cold.

I don’t like the fact I didn’t have the guts to stand up and tell everyone what was going on. This perpetuates the stigma in my opinion.

I realised toward the end of day two that I have a history of these ‘tantrums’ this time of year – my own stay in the mental health ward of the local hospital happened in October – and put what was left of my mind to figuring out why.
It occurred to me my beloved Nan died this month. Its amazing what a search engine will tell you. October 3, 1990. I loved my nan. Her and I were very close. She understood me and the only reason I didn’t follow the usual path of Borderline Personality Disorder sufferers is her. They say BPD runs in the family, and I think she had a sister with it and could see my future. She taught me how to live, and made it OK. In short, she was my rock.

I was 16 when nan died. By then BPD had taken hold. Because any trauma felt by me was internalised, people thought I didn’t care. And I was treated badly because of it. I really didn’t get to grieve. I was made feel like I wasn’t acceptable to others. It was brought up during screaming matches for years after.

Nans death wasn’t a one off sadly. A bit more of a search reminded me of David Wall, a classmate who was killed when his motorbike ran into a truck. That was June 15 the same year. That death was handled very badly by the grownups in my life too.

So, there’s the staph infection, completing the circle.

How I deal with that knowledge, to make it less likely I’ll have another episode like this next October, I do not know. I think I need to let the dust settle here first. Maybe I need to try to mend the family rift that widened with this ‘tantrum’.

I don’t blame people for thinking the way they do about me and my mental illness. They know not what they do.

Another quick point I want to make is this.
I had absolutely no desire to call any of the phone numbers given out in case of mental illness emergency’s. None at all. Or to talk about it with my friends. Some of whom I feel I may have frightened this weekend and for that I am very sorry. I’ve told nobody of my suicidal thoughts. What I’m trying to say is don’t ever feel guilty you didn’t see the signs. Its not your fault. It worries me a little that there’s a huge emphasis on seeing the signs.

And if you know me and you’re reading this, don’t worry. I know what I need to do. And I don’t need to cause myself any more harm. Suicide is not on my to do list. Like a flu, two days in bed have done me the world of good.

I hope this has given you a new perspective on mental illness, and maybe changed the way you think about those around you going through this.

UPDATE
After reading this blog with some clarity, I thought I should clarify some things.
1. Hubby was absolutely beside himself. He had no idea what to. He wasn’t sure if he should call someone or let me be. That wasn’t my observation but that of a couple of friends. On top of that, he still had the farm to run.
2. It certainly wasn’t hubby being so horribly negative about it all.
3. The negativity that has been growing quietly here has been discovered and we have taken steps to fix the problem.

I saw this meme yesterday

How to improve the culture at your office
Rule 1: Be happy
Rule 2: Be awesome
Rule 3: Help others with 1 & 2

This will become a mantra on this farm….

Thanks Greg for that one.