Starting Over

Once again I have left posting entirely too long. I had so many ideas for this blog when I last tried to come back to writing nine months ago, and haven’t followed through with any of them.

In the time since I last posted I: applied to an exchange program and was rejected; transferred universities; started therapy, stopped, then started again; travelled back and forth from Melbourne to Brisbane three times; got back together with my boyfriend; moved home and cut all my hair off. Not quite in that order.

Coming home is probably the best decision I’ve made in a while, along with starting to write again (nothing I’d show the outside world just yet but I’m getting there). I’d like to say I’m settling back in pretty well. Classes start next week at UQ and I’m actually excited about learning for the first time in a long time.

I’m planning a twice-a-week upload schedule for this blog, but forgive me if I don’t manage it when assessment starts up.

Until next time,

Helen

The Medical Profession and Social Literacy

Now, this post is late and it doesn’t fit exactly within my Health category as I’d originally intended it, but that’s still where I think it belongs, if you’ll bear with me for a little while.

I feel like maybe this post may a little bit of an over-share for some people, but so many women go through this that I feel the need to get this out for other people to hear about. I shan’t go into any explicit details or anything, but be cautious nonetheless, I suppose.

I’ve always had incredibly painful menstrual cramps. From the first period I had at age eleven or twelve, I knew I was in for a lifetime of pain. When I was fifteen, I was put on the pill. When that did little to help the pain I was told to use the pill in a way such that my cycle was ten weeks rather than four (that is, I only take the “blank” pills on one tray of three). When the pain was still too much each time I went through it, I was given anti-inflammatory pain pills which were so strong that I can only take one per day when I do take them, and started to use heat packs when the weather allowed for it.

The last three or so times I’ve taken them, these pain meds weren’t working.

At the age of fifteen I was checked for endometriosis, but due to my young age and the fact that I wasn’t sexually active, the radiologist I went to (with my mum) would only do an external examination, an ultrasound like the ones used to take a peek at foetuses/unborn babies. This isn’t a very effective way of checking, as you can’t really see too much from the outside. As there is no family history of endometriosis, and my mum claimed similarly painful cramps without having it, the idea was more or less abandoned and I was left to cope.

When I went to the doctor this time she decided I was ready for the internal exam, or pelvic ultrasound as it’s often referred to. As an eighteen year old who has only just gotten used to going to get check ups without her mum, I was (I think) understandably nervous about having some stranger stick a probe inside me, but I pressed forward, saw the necessity and made the appointment.

Melbourne is still relatively new to me as a city, and if it’s not in the city centre, chances are I haven’t been there and don’t know how to get there. The radiologist I went to couldn’t be gotten to by tram without three or four changes, and I didn’t like my chances of walking there in less than an hour. So I decided to take my bike.

Bad idea #1. I’d not been on my bike in over a year, and it was too much too soon. The migraine I hadn’t yet paid much thought to (my vision goes, but I don’t get a lot of pain) came into full force and upon getting off the bike my legs had forgotten how to walk. I was hot, sweaty and thirsty and I realised I was going to be late, and my bladder would probably not be sufficiently full for the initial ultrasound.

Having locked my bike to a post, I called the radiology to let them know I was running late. I suppose I must’ve sounded fairly distraught as I was stressed and still out of breath. I found a tram nearby that took me close enough and after a huge amount of stress I got there about fifteen to twenty minutes late. I walked in, red faced and sweaty, and the receptionist assured me that they’d managed to move some things around to fit me in still.

“Is this our girl who’s been crying and stressed out?” was the first thing the woman performing the exam said in my presence. No “hi” or “hello”. No “it’s alright”. Just accusing me of sobbing down the phone at the receptionist, something I categorically had not done.

I won’t go into specifics of the things she said to me during the examinations, because bit by bit they don’t sound so bad, and a lot of what was horrible about this experience was in tone of voice, inflection and emphasis. She did tell me off at least seven times for not having a full enough bladder, however, and made several incredibly condescending remarks about giving myself more time to get there next time.

There will be no next time. If I ever need to have a similar procedure done again, I will be taking it elsewhere. That she assumed she knew my circumstances was incredibly aggravating for me. “Leave yourself a bit more time next time”? Screw you, lady. I left an hour before my appointment to get here, and that it took me longer than I thought was beyond my control.

I spent who knows how long lying on that bench, naked from the waist down but covered in hospital gowns in possibly the most vulnerable position a woman could be in, while she sporadically told me off and otherwise made me feel like a piece of meat.

Very rarely do I allow strangers to make me cry, but this woman managed. It was no incident in particular, just the experience as a whole (the icing on the cake was when I was told to hand over about $210 for it). I made it outside and called my mum before I properly broke down, and my mother reassured my belief that she is the most amazing woman on the planet by knowing exactly what to say and being appropriately outraged at how I’d been treated.

I know from talking to a few other women around me and my mum that this is not an uncommon occurrence. Women, particularly young and solo women, are treated this way all the time by medical professionals. Mum postulates that this is because they can get away with it. There’s no doubt that the woman who examined me was displaying bullying behaviour, and I truly believe that had I had my mum or a sister (if I had one) with me, or been a decade or two older, I would’ve been treated differently.

I don’t know what it is that makes medical professionals occasionally forget that they’re dealing with real, actual people and not just slabs of meat. I don’t know why it is that some doctors feel the need to treat their patients like they’re somehow worthless. The fact is, it happens, and it’s not okay.

Hopefully this next week will be a little less insane and I’ll get more writing done. I’ll be heading to the pool on Wednesday for the first time (I’m much too saddlesore for any more bike rides for a few days) and after my birthday on Monday sees two pieces of assessment finished and handed in I think I’ll feel a lot freer.

Until next time,

Compliments

So last night (or the night before, now that it’s gone midnight) while eating frozen yoghurt in a food court in central Melbourne, I was approached by a man who was probably between his mid twenties and mid thirties (I’m not very good at judging age… Though neither was he, I suppose). I thought at first he was going to ask me for some spare change. That happens a lot here.

I’ve lived through a similar scenario to this one before. Somehow, however, last time I was able to take it how it was intended, and afterwards I felt bashful but overall pleased. This time, I felt beyond uncomfortable.

“Hi there,” he said to me. He seemed to be working up the nerve to get his next statement out, as well as trying to ascertain whether or not I was paying attention. “Hi. I just wanted to  say, you’re face is really familiar to me. I recognise a lot of myself in you.”

I wasn’t sure quite where he was going with this. Satisfied that I was not going to have to deny him what little change I had, I sat up a little straighter, and frowned at him, a fair amount of confusion evident on my face, I’m sure.

This guy went on to describe how I looked terrified (which wasn’t something I was feeling by any means), and that it would get better. Life would get better. That I’d get out of high school and the people who do well in high school tend not to do so well in the real world. And how pretty I was, and how my life was going to get so much better.

I had to stop him and explain that I graduated from high school in November 2011. He seemed shocked, “but you look so young!”

“I get that a lot…”

He told me I was pretty at least twice more, told me everything would get easier another three or so times, and then after I’d awkwardly thanked him he left me alone, and I shortly thereafter scarpered off to find a tram.

See, I thought when I sat down at that table that I’d been giving off enough “leave me alone” vibes. I was obviously consumed in reading something on my phone, I had earphones in, was sitting by myself having not even taken my backpack off and was hunched over my froyo due to the cold (it’s never too cold for froyo). I simply don’t understand what this guy was intending to achieve by approaching me.

What’s more is he approached me believing I was about three or four years younger than I really am. There’s no way I would’ve been able to handle that situation back when I was that age. I’d have had a panic attack right there in the food court. And what would he have done then? I do appreciate his intentions, but surely he knows, as a person who evidently had a similar high school career to me, that telling someone “it gets better” is not helpful. I don’t know what it was that made him choose me either. Maybe it was the large girl sitting by herself eating less-than-healthy food thing. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it’s taken me about thirteen years to become comfortable in the way that I look, and having someone else come to tell me that I would feel better soon made me feel more like there was something wrong with me than any of the actual insults or the bad photos ever did. Don’t get me wrong, I know my weight isn’t exactly healthy and I could stand to be a lot fitter, but since actively deciding to work on bettering myself (and for myself I might add) I’ve come to accept that my body is my body and it can look however I bloody well want it to.

Being “pretty” or “beautiful” was never a particularly big deal to me. It wasn’t something I worried about. “Fat” was a much more prevalent insult than “ugly”. I don’t want you to think I’m arrogant or narcissistic, I don’t like myself very much about half the time, but I quite like the way my face looks, and even when I think maybe I could look more feminine, no one has ever made me feel ugly.

I don’t want to say that people shouldn’t compliment strangers. I think it’s lovely to receive a genuine compliment from somebody completely random. The day as a cashier that became so much better after being told I have “the most captivating eyes” by this little old couple was one of the best I spent in that job, and after being told by a boy who would probably have been a little younger than me that I was “really gorgeous” after picking up coffee in my break last April I didn’t stop blushing from the praise for about three hours.

Compliments are lovely, but they should be given out with caution.

Some things to consider before approaching a stranger to tell them how nice they look:

  • Does the person look like they want to be approached? If they are giving off vibes that say “leave me alone” you interrupting them (making them take out earphones to listen to you or come out of a book etc.) will probably annoy them, and you could come off as more pervy than complimentary. Your aim in complimenting someone should be to make them feel better, not more uncomfortable.
  • Does the compliment you intend to give them require any explanation or expansion? Leave it out. Seriously. Give the compliment. Leave. It’s that simple, and way more effective if you don’t stick around to chat. Don’t expect a thank-you or a compliment in return. That’s not the point here. The person will likely feel a bit taken aback by you, and you shouldn’t prolong the interaction unless they obviously indicate that they want you to stick around.
  • Be careful about the nature of your compliment. Especially if you are a man complimenting a woman, words like “hot” and “sexy” will tend not to put you in their good books, and will more likely make them feel wary than good about themselves. There are of course women who are exceptions to this rule, but even so, avoid compliments that are sexual in nature. Complimenting someone isn’t about getting in their pants. It’s about making them feel good. This rule does of course apply to everyone of every gender, posing it to anyone of any gender, but the man to woman is the most common scenario and I have little to no experience with other gender combinations in this situation.

I’d really love to know what other people think about this. I’m obviously writing from my own experience and these are simply my opinions, but would love to hear alternative views and and insight on these kinds of situations.

Until next time,

A Rough Guide: First Time Europe

That’s what the guidebook my Dad bought me before we left Australia is called. I will confess that I didn’t really begin to read it until I got to Greece in September. I probably should have, perhaps I would have been cleverer about what I needed to pack. It may surprise people that the answer is not less. Certainly, no more would fit into my pack (“oh, I thought you were bringing the BIG one,” exclaimed my father when I showed him the trouble I was having getting my clothes alone into the pack for a week’s trip to the North of England), but I discovered upon arrival in Greece that the weather was not at all the mild that both myself and my boyfriend/travel partner had expected. No, rarely cooler than 30ºC, it was decidedly hot in Greece in late September. I have since been assured that this is an anomaly, however that is little comfort when you have a single T-shirt among many long sleeves, and two pairs of jeans next to one of shorts (plus skirt and dress). This made the last week and a half uncomfortable at best, seeing as we spent most of our time walking, often up big hills (Lykavittos, Filopappou and the Acropolis being the big ones)

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On the Acropolis September 22

I sat on a train in Italy to Caserta the evening of the day before yesterday, telling myself not for the first time and in all likelihood not for the last that this is the most stressed I have ever been. My boyfriend and I saved for the best part of a year for this three-month trip around Europe, and a significant portion of the money we raised went on 3 month, global continuous Eurail passes. These cost nearly 1000EUR each. A lot of money. We used these passes to buy discounted ferry tickets from Patras to Bari, we arrived this morning. The day before, when we had gone to check in to the boat, we showed the girl behind the desk that our passes had not yet been activated (“and can you do it here?”). She looked at them, and took them off us. She wrote in the start date, and the end date. Both were wrong. We pointed this out to her, and she simply wrote over the top. We thought very little of it.

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So long Greece! Taken on the ferry, October 3rd

We discovered on the train that this was a problem. A big problem. A big problem that would cost us 156EUR. Thankfully, in the midst of trying to find a bilingual person to translate for us (we do not speak any Italian, and the conductors no English) they found a very kind woman with a passion for the English. Feeling sorry for us she convinced them to “look the other way” and allow us to dash off at the next stop in order to purchase tickets to the station at which we could change to get to Naples. The Eurail pass, they said, was not valid. We would have to go to a travel agent and get it replaced.

Ok, that was fine. We will get to our hostel tonight later than we had expected, that is okay. We will have to delay our trip to Pompeii by one day. Also fine, not a big deal. Finding a travel agent who speaks English? Could be a problem. Luckily a browse through the pass guide helped us find a Eurail aid centre in Napoli Central Station, a 10 minute metro ride from our hostel (also the train station we arrived into tonight, however we arrived a couple hours after closing and having not slept much on the ferry and still wearing the clothes from the day before, all we wanted was a shower and bed).

We visited the Eurail aid centre yesterday morning. Except it was actually just the Trenitalia ticket office, and instead of printing a new pass for each of us they wrote over the top even MORE, and put a new stamp on them. We haven’t tried to use them since, but we will find out tomorrow. Here’s hoping all goes well.

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Exploring Pompeii

We had a full day in Pompeii today (I definitely recommend an audio tour if you cannot afford a full guided one, there is very little signage through the city and the information is great—they also give you a map for free and the more tours you buy the cheaper they become, 1 for 7.5EUR, 2 for 10EUR, etc.) and we will go to the archaeological museum tomorrow, after checking out of the hostel. In the afternoon we will get a train to Rome.

Exhausted, vaguely frustrated, but happy overall.

Until next time,

Running Out (of time, space, energy)

So I leave on my trip around Europe on Friday. That’s really close. Super close. Scary close, even. It’s been so far away for so long it still hasn’t sunk in.

I’ve been in the UK now for about three and a half weeks, staying in a tiny apartment with my Dad and brother between visits to family and friends. It’s been a busy month (hence the lack of posts).

I’m now a legal adult, for one thing. That’s not quite sunk in either. I had a lunch with more people than I thought possible, cut my hair even shorter and restyled my graduation dress so it fit more comfortably. Here’s the before/after:

Before

After

What do you think? It’s got a full circle skirt, which isn’t obvious in either photo. The problem with the original design was that the seams repeatedly came undone around the arms, and thus was difficult to wear.

I got to experience the horror of using a different sewing machine this afternoon when I took in the legs of a pair of baggy jeans (they were meant to be straight legged, however I am the unfortunate owner of thunder thighs and muscular calves. Short legs combined with this led to jeans comfy around the hips but altogether unflattering otherwise). My Yiayia’s (grandmother) sewing machine has seen better days, and there’s something wrong with the bobbin, which led to lots of spinning the wheel on the side by hand (sore wrist–owwie), snapped threads aplenty and one broken needle. It also took me about half an hour to figure out how to get a simple straight stitch–disastrous.

The week before last I had a bit of a practise run in terms of packing for my trip, when I got a train up north to spend some time with a couple of girls I went to nursery school with, which was not altogether as awkward as I had expected. What was awkward was that the hiking pack I brought with me was not as big as Dad or I had believed. About 20L smaller, actually. Cue frantic purchase of space reducing bags (like vacuum bags without the vacuum).

The trip in itself was great. I got to reconnect with two girls I’ve known my whole life, but in the same breath it was a huge relief to return to Cambridge.

Sunset at Blackpool Beach before the Illuminations

The above photo was taken after fish and chips (proper ones, my Dad says) and before driving along the prom through the Illuminations in Blackpool my last night up north.

I’m getting tired-er and more frantic as the grand backpack tour draws nearer. I spent more money than I had intended today, all on necessities, and that has made me anxious, I must admit. That said I’ve got more of my spending money left than I had expected. Probably due to birthday money that I hadn’t expected to get 🙂

I’m leaving you with the overwhelming feeling that I’m going to forget something important, but in order to end this on a happy note, have a close up of my birthday cake, which I made myself. This was one of my first forays into cake decoration, so I’m pretty pleased with it. It was a chocolate mud cake with chocolate ganache and marshmallow fondant.

Until next time (from Greece, unless I have time sooner :D)