nature as an antidepressant

“I have to say”, Professor Howard Frumkin—one of the leading experts on this subject in the world—told me later, “that if we had medication for which preliminary results showed such efficacy, we would be all over researching that medication… Here is a treatment that has very few side effects, is not expensive, doesn’t require a trained or licensed professional to prescribe it, and has pretty good evidence of efficacy so far”. But the research is very hard to find funding for, he said, because “a lot of the shape of modern biomedical research has been defined by the pharmaceutical industry,” and they’re not interested because “it’s very hard to commercialise nature contact.” You can’t sell it so they don’t want to know.

From Lost Connections by Johann Hari

When I hear ‘antidepressant’ I immediately think of a pill. One of those many pills I’ve taken over many, many years.

But one of the best antidepressants I’ve found isn’t chemical, it’s simply spending time in nature. Part of this I believe is that nature makes me feel like my problems are pretty trivial when you put them into a larger perspective: I’m a small thing in a large, complex world part of an even larger universe.

That, and oh, the fresh air.

what is something that you can accumulate that no-one else can steal?

One of the many things I love about my Toastmasters club is hearing stories from fellow Toastmasters; seemingly ordinary people often with extraordinary life stories. Maurice grew up as a poor child in Sri Lanka. He worried about accumulating things as these would inevitably be stolen from him. So he spent his money accumulating knowledge through eduction. This allowed him to eventually migrate to Australia.

Sri Lanka
Elephants in Sri Lanka – Taken during our 2013 visit

anxiety and depression are like cover versions of the same song by different bands

“I started to see depression and anxiety as like cover versions of the same song by different bands. Depression is a cover version by a downbeat emo band, and anxiety is a cover version by a screaming heavy metal group, but the underlying sheet music is the same. They’re not identical, but they are twinned.”

Johann Hari in his new mind-changing book Lost Connections

know who you are; don’t let others change you with their own inadequacies

A recent ‘Vendor Week’ edition of The Big Issue had a section titled ‘Letter to My Younger Self’ where Big Issue vendors from around Australia offered words of advice, reflection, consolation and love to their teenage selves. I found the the letter from Mark W from Adelaide to himself was particularly insightful.

“Dear 14-year-old me, Hi mate, this is your 41-year old self. If you don’t want a life of depression, anxiety and OCD, then listen up.

Firstly, yes, your parents have just divorced, but listen, don’t resent them. The resentment will lead to depression and misery later on. They will always do the best they can at the time, and they will always love and care for you. Love them back. Don’t rebel so much.

If you’re going to rebel, if you’re going to experiment with drugs and booze, that’s okay, most teenagers do. Just don’t let these things rule your life, and change who you really are.

Addiction will lead to anxiety and it will take over. Learn the skill of moderation; you can’t go full steam forever. It’s impossible. But even moderation should be observed in moderation – you can still have fun. The road of excess sometimes leads to the palace of wisdom.

You are special. Remember the unlikelihood of your birth – you are lucky to be here, a true wonder. Be confident, believe in yourself, love yourself. Because a lack of this love will ruin your confidence and your life, and will lead to something called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You are a good person, believe it. Don’t let negative comments get you down. Know who you are; don’t let others change you with their own inadequacies.

Make better choices. If something immediately feels wrong, it probably is. Don’t chase wealth – some of the happiest people are the poorest. Money isn’t everything. Gambling is for suckers, and quite literally, losers.

Live, love and let it be. And if all else fails, and you can’t find love, live and create, and if you find yourself desolate and homeless, sell The Big Issue! It might just save your life.

And you will again learn to love yourself. Love Me, to You, I.

graduation speech

I recently completed the first main Toastmaster’s club achievement and my final assignment was to deliver an inspirational speech aimed at an appropriate event. I choose a graduation speech which I would deliver to a graduating class of 2018.

Good evening graduates of the class of 2018. Tonight you graduate, you finish, but tonight isn’t just about finishing: it’s about new beginnings too. Tonight you begin the rest of your life.

If I rewind my life by 16 years and I imagine myself sitting just like you in the audience here tonight, I realise I’ve learned so many things in that time. Tonight I’ll share some of those things with you.

The comedian Wil Anderson says you either spend your life running from things, or running to things. Up until I graduated I spent my days running away from my childhood. Since then I’ve spent my time running towards a better life, for myself and my wife and three children.

There’s an old saying “no grit; no pearl”. It’s a perfectly succinct way of stating the benefits of adversity. You will all suffer in various ways, the key is to use your suffering to your advantage.

They say life is like trying to swim down the middle of a river – there are two riverbanks: on one side is the riverbank that represents chaos – this will pull you in at various times of your life, like for example when you have young children. The other riverbank represents rigidity. It’s almost too tempting to swim to that riverbank, especially when you’re on the chaos side, but rigidity can be just as bad for you as chaos can be. Your goal in life is to not get drawn in to either side of the river: go with the flow and float down the river, otherwise you’ll spend your time fighting against the currents pulling you to either side.

During the times of your life that will be chaotic you will have a great deal of stress. Don’t avoid stress, deal with it and use it to your advantage. William James once said “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another”.

There’s also a good chance you’ll get addicted to things, if you’re not already. This may be something as simple as Instagram or Caramello Koalas. Addiction isn’t a disease: it’s not something you can recover from. To overcome your addictions you’ll need to develop through them by changing your desires and establishing human connection.

Someone one said that to be successful in life you need three distinct hobbies: one to make you money as we all need that to live. Another hobby to keep you active and fit, as that’s a really important part of health, and finally a hobby to express your creativity that we often bottle up inside us.

To be successful in your hobbies and life focus on systems not goals. Examples of goals are to lose weight or get a promotion. An example of a system is establishing a regime where you’re active everyday and you crave healthy fresh foods. Another system is making yourself so valuable to your employer they have no choice but to keep you around.

When you’re successful you’ll become passionate about something. That’s right, passion comes from success, success doesn’t come from being passionate about something! There are plenty of passionate people who are unemployed, on the dole, or have started failed businesses and are bankrupt.

When you are successful, resist the urge to outsource your life and hard work. We alienate ourselves from our true lives when we do this. Sweat pays us back with meaning.

You’ll have days when you’re so anxious you don’t want to do anything or even leave your house. During these times you need to ask yourself whether you would rather die doing something you love, or lead a comfortable risk-free life that you hate?

You don’t need to be happy all the time. Happiness is a fleeting state and that only happens sometimes! Aim to be emotionally healthy instead of always being happy.

In the end a great life is just a series of great days, so ask yourself what will make today great?

Some of the oldest teachings in the world focus on the theme of personality reactivity. No matter what happens in life, no matter what is thrown at you, no matter how much chaos or uncertainty there is, the only thing you can fully and always control is your reaction. Choose your reactions.

I’ll leave you tonight with a story.

Once there was a farmer who had a beautiful horse. One day the horse ran away. The farmer’s neighbours leant over the fence and said to the farmer: “oh, that’s very unlucky” to which the farmer responded “maybe”.

The next day the farmer’s horse returned to the farm and it bought with it three of the most beautiful wild horses one has ever seen. With the horses on the farm the neighbours visited and said “you now have four beautiful horses, that’s very lucky’ to which the farmer said “maybe”.

The next day the farmer’s adult son was taming one of the wild horses when the horse bucked him violently across the paddock where the son landed on his leg and shattered it to pieces. At the hospital the doctors told the farmer his son would never walk straight again. When the neighbours heard about this they said “oh, that’s very unlucky” to which the farmer replied “maybe”.

A few months later the army was coming through town conscripting all the young adults to serve in war. They had a look at the farmers son and said he couldn’t possibly serve in war as he walked with a permanent limp. The neighbours overheard and they said “oh, that’s very lucky about your son” to which the farmer answered “maybe”.

Congratulations on your graduation and all the best in your lives ahead!

this part of the ride always creeps me out

On my home office desk sits a calendar of cartoons from The New Yorker.

I enjoyed this recent cartoon:


It reminded me of this Bill Hicks quote:

”The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”

Like all my favourite cartoons it works on so many levels.

lost connections

“Professor Andrew Scull of Princeton, writing in the Lancet, explained that attributing depression to spontaneously low serotonin is “deeply misleading and unscientific”. Dr David Healy told me: “There was never any basis for it, ever. It was just marketing copy.”

I didn’t want to hear this. Once you settle into a story about your pain, you are extremely reluctant to challenge it. It was like a leash I had put on my distress to keep it under some control. I feared that if I messed with the story I had lived with for so long, the pain would run wild, like an unchained animal. Yet the scientific evidence was showing me something clear, and I couldn’t ignore it.”

From an extract from Johann Hari’s new book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions. I’ve ordered it from my library.

this is the end

“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

It might sound like something straight out of a horror movie, but for 38 minutes terrified Hawaiian residents thought the world was going to end.

At 8:07am on Saturday (local time), locals and tourists on the small island woke up to a message that many have feared amid North Korea’s development of a ballistic nuclear weapon.

Panicked residents gathered family members, ran out onto the streets and desperately sought shelter as they awaited the attack.

Cars were reportedly abandoned on highways and people who were outside at the time hid in the homes of neighbours as others prepared to flee.

Those watching television also had their broadcasts interrupted by the ballistic missile threat alert, according to NBC.

I can’t stop thinking about this and what people did during those 38 minutes where they thought it was the end. I imagine phone calls reconciling broken relationships, and millions of messages of love.

Last year I was reminded that that any one of our lives could end at any time, and therefore to cherish every moment. Hopefully this message is realised by those who unfortunately had to be part of this unfortunate technological blunder.

the biology of desire

9781925113914“If the brain region that allows us to imagine the future is synched with the brain regions that propel us toward our goals, and if that linkage is practised and reinforced, so that synaptic highways become smooth and efficient, then addiction need be no more than a stage in the development of the self. And that often seems to be exactly what it is. Despite the misery they may have experienced, quite a few former addicts have told me that they wouldn’t be who they are now without the struggles they endured while trying to quit. As a neuroscientist, I view this passage the way a city planner might recall the construction of an overpass to relieve snarled traffic. As a developmentalist, I see it as a vivid instance of the role of suffering in individual growth. And as someone who has known addiction personally, I recognise it as the bounce our lives can take when they hit bottom once too often.”

from The Biology of Desire by Marc Lewis, a fascinating book that explains addiction as a part of regular human development and desire. 💯

2017 in review

We moved house in May to save on rent and to continue spending as much time as possible with the boys. Clare contracted necrostising facisitis during our move which meant she was suddenly fighting for her life in intensive care. During the longest time we’d ever spent apart, looking after our boys who’d she’d never spent a night apart from, I thought it was the worst year of my life. But it turned out to be the best year of my life because we got to keep Clare. Everything else became unimportant. Started meditating. Somehow suddenly stopped biting my finger nails for the first time in my life.

Time meditating: 86 sessions 13.5 hours
Trips abroad: 6
Countries visited 4: NZ x 2, Malaysia, Singapore, USA x 3
Books read: 37
Books abandoned: 4
Mountains climbed: 22
Firsts: 4 (saw my first red-sunflower, first time looking after the boys myself without Clare, first time meditating, first time not biting my finger nails everyday)

a midlife “unravelling”

“People call what happens at midlife “a crisis” but it’s not. It’s an unraveling—a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live. The unravelling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.”

Brené Brown – The Gifts of Imperfection

just say no

“Just say no” (to drugs, gambling, eating, sex etc) is the least helpful advice that you can say to a human being caught up in any addiction. If they could say no, they would. The whole point of addiction is that people are compelled to it by suffering, trauma, unease, and emotional pain. If you want to help people, ask why they are in so much pain that they are driven to escape from it through ultimately self-harming habits or substances. Then support them in healing the trauma at the core of their addiction, a process that always starts with nonjudgemental curiosity and compassion.

~ Dr Gabor Maté

bookshelves arranged by colour (for conference calls)

Quite often I will be on a conference call and one of the participants will have bookshelves arranged neatly by colour behind them as they participate. This inevitably gets favourable comments: it’s a good way to impress your colleagues and acquaintances!

I thought about doing this, but I have a few issues:

  1. I don’t own enough physical books to fill a bookshelf: Marie Kondo says I shouldn’t own a single thing that doesn’t spark joy and there aren’t enough physical books in the world that will continually spark me joy to justify a dedicated bookshelf.
  2. Even if I did own enough physical books to fill a bookshelf I’d probably not have enough colour diversity in the spine of the books to be able to neatly separate them into colours – so I’d definitely be buying books I didn’t need, or even want.
  3. Even if I did have enough colour diversity in my books I would be hesitant to actually sort my books by their colour as that would mean prioritising form (colour) over function (subject matter): I find it much easier to find a book amongst a section of ‘business’ books than to find a book by remembering what colour spine it has.

I want the end goal of impressing my colleagues with my colour arranged bookshelf without the hard work and struggle of owning and organising a collection of books by colour.

So what I thought about doing is starting a Kickstarter campaign for a large photo-printed canvas blind with colour arranged bookshelves on it that you arrange behind your desk so each conference call people can see all your fancy colour books arranged so lovingly.

Or I could just stop caring what people think of me; that’s a much easier option.

(image via Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table)

the three a’s of apple support

the 3 A’s of Apple Customer Support:

A – Acknowledge that their concerns are valid.

A – Align with the customer, agreeing that you would feel the same were you in their shoes.

A – Assure the customer that you will be able to solve their problem to their satisfaction.

via John Saddington


“These digital alerts continuously disrupt our activities through instant calls for attention,” said researcher Dr Eiman Kanjo.

“While notifications enhance the convenience of our life, we need to better-understand the impact their obsessive use has on our well-being.

“It is clear that social notifications make people happy, but when they receive lots of work-related and or non-human notifications, the opposite effect occurs.”

So that’s why turning off all work notifications on my phone was such a good idea: a study has shown that one third of the notifications on our phone cause a downturn in our mood – particularly work and non-human ones.

land of the remembered

Growing up I went to church every Sunday with my family including ‘Sunday School’ which included learning about what happens when you die. I found our religion was good at defining what happens when someone dies—as children we learnt about how according to our religion that good people would go to heaven when they die and bad people would go to hell (you should be good!) But we had a traumatic event associated with the church so our family disassociated ourselves from the church and we haven’t been to church or consider ourselves religious since.

Fast forward to today we have three young kids we are raising in a non-religious household where we didn’t (until recently) discuss what happens when you die.

During the period where Kitty was hospitalised earlier this year we were encouraged by people providing support to our family to have a clear story/shared belief about what happens when someone dies and discuss this with our children.

But we didn’t really have a clear story or belief about what happens when someone dies! As a non-religious person I thought death was just a finish – a lights out – end of the show – when your life just becomes nothing. But that’s just depressing – especially to a kid. We realised you don’t need to be religious to believe in the afterlife.

So we borrowed an idea – it comes from a great film about Day of the Dead called The Book of Life.

When someone dies their spirit lives on in one of two worlds: the land of the remembered, or the land of the forgotten. By focussing on helping people and human connection you’ll be remembered past your death and your spirit will live on in the endless fiesta that is the land of the remembered.

The Land of the Remembered in The Book of Life film

We like this idea as it’s not only easy to explain to our children but it aligns well with our family values and mission statement.

We have created a yearly ritual which is to watch the film as a family on Day of the Dead (2 November) and discuss our beliefs about the afterlife.

What do you believe happens when you die? What do you tell your kids?

Happy Halloween!