Wednesday, December 23, 2009

So This Is Christmas

It's been a bit dreary on this blog lately I know, and I'm afraid things aren't going to improve any time soon as far as I can tell.

I'm still not really having a good time with things. It's got to the point where my doctor has given me a medical certificate to present to Centrelink declaring that I am unfit for work for the next three months. She also advised me to take 3 weeks off immediately.

The certificate will give me some respite from having to look for 10 jobs a fortnight. I'll still look for work, I have to, but as working on just one application for the past two days has made me realise, I am genuinely not capable of one per day. That application utterly exhausted me. I wanted to sleep forever after I submitted it. And then I wanted to burst into tears.

The payment that I will eventually receive from Centrelink won't be enough to even pay my rent. I worked out that even with the bits of research work I might get I'll be able, perhaps, to have around $100 per fortnight left over.

Obviously I have to find someone to move into the room that is currently my study, so I can eke some more room into my budget. I'm not worried about giving up the room, but since my last disastrous attempt to share accommodation, I'm gun-shy about potential flatmates. Repeat to self: 'Your last flat mate was not representative of people in general'. I'll need to prepare a good list of questions for interviewing applicants. I'll need to remind myself not to dismiss my intuition when a passing comment indicates potential incompatibility.

On Christmas eve, I'm going to a friend's place for dinner. I'll enjoy that.

For Christmas, I'm spending the day with my sisters and niece. I'm looking forward to that.

Then between Christmas and New Year, I'm going to Coochiemudlo for a couple of nights to visit some friends. I am dying for that.

In the first week of the year I'm going to use the free tickets to a day session at the Brisbane International that someone I know from Twitter so very generously sent my way. That will be fun, as I've never been to a professional tennis match before.

So, things aren't wonderful--I am scarily broke--but there'll be a few lovely moments with some friends and family that, hopefully, will go some way to restoring me for the year ahead.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

An Observation

Often, when people are discussing the poverty of postgraduate students, special mention is always made of how particularly difficult it is for those with families to support.

I don't want to deny this. Yes, it would be difficult, impossible, to support a family of even one child, with only a scholarship for income.

But what maddens me about this often-repeated assertion is that it imposes a hierarchy of need, where single people are apparently less in need of financial support, any other special consideration or, indeed, compassion, than those who have children and partners.

I'm entering difficult territory here. It's not my intention to contribute to the op-ed-fuelled battle between parents and single women (for it is always single women who are problematic). I am not against children or the desire to have children or those who choose to have children. One of my favourite persons is, in fact, a child, for whom I would do almost anything. ☺

What upsets me, however, is the assumption that it's easier for single people to get by in conditions of poverty or with a low income. Actually, it's difficult for me to know whether it is easier or not for single people, since I've never been a parent. Let me attempt then, to step outside of what seems to be a particularly unhelpful binary opposition between those who are coupled (with children) and those who are not, and tell you about my experience of postgraduate poverty.

The first thing is that poverty is not simply about money, it's as much about isolation and a lack of social support. In fact, this might be the only item I go into right now, for I am consumed with it.

I have a family into which I was born, but it's a difficult one. Sometimes I've had the opportunity to witness the various kindness that friends' families do for them and I'm astonished at such generous, unreserved giving. It's not simply material gifts I'm thinking of here but a generosity of spirit which reassures my friends that if they were in any trouble they could call on their family and be guaranteed support in all its forms.

I don't have this grounding and so it should scarcely be surprising that I haven't been able to create such a family for myself.

There are many people who strive for the myth of self-reliance and although I am clearly not self-reliant in terms of growing food in order to feed myself, I am self-reliant to the extent that anyone in a liberal democratic society can be. Again, this is more than financial self-reliance, although that is great, it is also emotional self-reliance. It is self-reliance from which there is never any respite. It is self-reliance that must be the basis for achieving the same things that those who don't have to worry about shelter and food on a daily basis are achieving with the love and support of others who are in this life with them.

This is my observation: it's hard to do a postgraduate degree when you don't have anyone to share the burdens, financial and emotional, of everyday life.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dear Food Diary

I ate kangaroo three days in a row. The same meal in fact: kangaroo bolognese with zucchini. On the first night I served it with penne. On the second night I had it without pasta; just by itself with cheese. On the third day, I had it for lunch--to introduce some variety, you understand. This time I had no cheese with it. I had a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice to accompany it instead.

I had the same breakfast two days in a row: a peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwich with my daily dose of plant sterol spread. Did I mention the bread was multi-grain with oats? Simply by virtue of doing this diary exercise I felt compelled not to have a peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwich on the third morning. Instead, I toasted my bread and filled it with ham, tomato and cheese.

I didn't drink any alcohol for the whole three days. I had 6 cups of coffee; 2 cups of Caro; 4 glasses of Peach Tea flavoured cordial; 1 glass of milk; and two glasses of orange juice.

I ate three nectarines; 130g of blueberries in natural syrup; and 150g of frozen raspberries. The last was blended in a food processor with 1/2 cup of yoghurt and 1/4 cup of sugar to make home-made frozen yoghurt.

I ate out twice: a chickpea salsa and a pasta salad from a shopping centre food court on the first day. On the second day, from the same food court, I had 2 cinnamon donuts and a coffee. That was lunch.

On the third and final night of this record keeping, well and truly over kangaroo for the week, I made fried eggs with spring onions and oyster sauce. I served them with steamed rice, bok choy and more oyster sauce.

There are a couple of things I consumed over the three days that didn't make it into the official diary. One was a stick of celery that I ate while I prepared dinner on the third night. I forgot to record it and then I didn't want to make it look like I ate a stick of celery after the frozen yoghurt I consumed for dessert. The second item was the 30 or so mixed cachous that I snuck from the cake decorating supplies when I wanted a guilty, sugary treat in a house otherwise devoid of sweets. I had no idea how to explain that, dear diary.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Guinea Pig

Today I began filling in a food diary.

It isn't the sort of diary that proponents of the CSIRO or the GI diets advocate, although that certainly wouldn't be a bad reason for me to keep one. (Yes, you must cast aside any vision you may have of me as a tall, glamorous, svelte being and replace it with a considerably more padded and homely type).

No, I've started to keep a food diary because I'm required to, for three days, as part of a medical study for which I volunteered.

Yes, I'm surprised that I signed up for such a thing too.

Normally, I just cast my eye over the weekly update and news emails that I receive from the University. Towards the end of each email there's always a list of calls for volunteers. They tend to ask for people within fairly narrow age groups who've never experienced back or shoulder pain, or who are hikers who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a week from the left side of their mouths; strange little subcategories of people that immediately allow me to dismiss, 'Oh well, I wouldn't have volunteered anyway'.

On the occasion that prompted me to volunteer for the study I'm participating in, however, the age range was from 18-80. Lots of room there. The second requirement was related to waist measurement; it had to be over what doctors and public health campaigners deem to be healthy (Remember, you adjusted your vision of me to the roundish sort).

Alas, I fulfilled the final requirement for diagnosed depression too.

I suppose if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably already knew this information. Or perhaps if you're sensitive to these things, you've picked it up. Either way, writing that, saying it out loud, as it were, still feels like a revelation, like I've just trusted you with my vulnerable underbelly.

Usually I just admit to a thyroid condition--which I do have. But in public I tend to blame any wayward behaviour on a thyroid that was zapped into hypo-activity by radio-active iodine. It's easier, a whole lot less awkward in polite company, to admit to a physical deficiency rather than a mental one. It's obvious I couldn't do anything about my thyroid going haywire, but well, admitting to long-term depression, that's quite possibly just me wallowing in self-pity and not getting on with it.

Anyway, I volunteered for this study being run by researchers in the medical school, not only because I matched all the inclusion variables, but because they're seeking to evaluate the effects of a specially designed Tai Chi program for people with depression who are at risk of developing cardio-vascular disease.

It's the Tai Chi that hooked me--I've done it before and liked it--but it was the prospect that the exercise regime I'd be required to undertake might help me wrest control over my depression that rendered me so willing to sign up.
"'You have no idea how tedious and unremarkable madness can be.'"

I have remarked before about the truth, for me, of this quote from Sophie Cunningham's Geography. I think I could probably write an entire essay on the depth of meaning there is in this short sentence, but I'll be a whole lot briefer and just focus on the frustration of living with 'madness' that it imparts.

The tediousness of depression that I experience is related to the limitations it places on my ability to achieve what I would like. I've been feeling this a lot lately. I haven't finished my thesis and I still have a lot of work to do. I hate that I have spent days incapable of getting out of bed or feeling dizzy because I let my prescription lapse while my scholarship has drifted by. My scholarship has come to an end and I need to find a job but I feel utterly incapable of getting a job. I feel qualified for nothing. My education is an albatross of over-qualification on the one hand and a lack of 'real-world' experience on the other. I don't think anyone will want to employ me even though I feel I have a range of valuable, if not directly vocational, skills. Although I think I could tell anyone how I could apply my skills, I'm convinced they won't admit any merit in my abilities.

You see how boring this all is? I wish I could get over it.

So that's what participating in this study is all about really. I want to feel capable, and this is a tiny step towards achieving that. In this instance, my depression and my risk factor for cardio-vascular disease are like assets for me to trade with. In return I'll get Tai Chi lessons three times per week and, potentially, better mental and physical well-being.