Live for Tomorrow

unknownYesterday was International Suicide Prevention Day. I’d never heard of it before, until a friend liked a link on Facebook. It resonated because two teens have recently committed suicide in the town where I live and, like many people who work closely with teenagers, I found myself deeply distressed by it.

I was helping a small group of Year Ten girls prepare speeches for their English Assessment last week when the conversation briefly touched the subject of the funerals. I didn’t not want them to talk about the suicides necessarily; I just wanted them to get on with their work at that particular time. I was preparing myself to be a professional adult and steer the discussion back to their work, when I heard something I found really disturbing:

‘Don’t worry, Miss. We know we’re not allowed to talk about it.’

‘What?’

‘Suicide. Nobody’s allowed to talk about it.’

‘Who says?’

‘Teachers. Parents. Everyone.’

‘Why not?’

‘It might give us ideas.’

I was perplexed. Can’t talk about suicide? Really?

Later, I asked a couple of colleagues.

‘That’s right. They might find out how to do it themselves. Suicide is contagious.’

‘Is it?’

‘Oh yes.’

Ok. Now, this really needs to be questioned.

Let’s look at the statistics from the Ministry of Health, as they kinda speak for themselves.

Age Differences
The 15–24 year age group had the highest suicide death rate in 2012 (23.0 per 100,000 population), followed by the 25–44 year age group (15.8 per 100,000).

Before the mid-1980s, the age groups with the highest suicide rates were 45–64 years and 65 years and over. However, a progressive decline in the rates for these two groups and an increase in the two younger age groups saw a swap in relative positions in the middle of the 1980s. The increase for the 15–24 year age group was especially sharp (from 10.8 deaths per 100,000 population in 1982 to 23.3 per 100,000 population by 1992). From the late 1990s, the 15–24 year age group’s suicide rate steadily declined. However, the 2012 rate (23.0 deaths per 100,000 15–24 year population) increased compared with 2011.

Figure H3.3 – Age-specific suicide mortality rates, by age group, 1972–2012

source: Ministry of Health                   Note: Rates per 100,000 population

This is the most recent graph I could find, published this year in the 2016 Social Report by the Ministry of Social Development, New Zealand.  Look at the pale blue columns. The graph clearly shows that we’re letting down our youth in New Zealand.

Later in the same report we’re told:

International comparison
A comparison with international suicide death rates for 34 OECD countries during 2009 to 2012 shows that New Zealand’s mortality rate was 13th highest for males and 5th highest for females. Korea had the highest male suicide mortality rate (37.1 deaths per 100,000 population) and female suicide mortality rate (16.3 deaths per 100,000). New Zealand’s overall suicide rate is similar to the OECD median (11.8 deaths per 100,000).

New Zealand’s youth (15–24 years) suicide rate was the highest among the 34 OECD countries, ahead of Finland for males and Korea for females.

It’s hard being a teen anywhere in the world at the moment. In New Zealand a quarter of our children live under the poverty line. Minimum wage is set well below a living wage. Parents who perform lower paid jobs, often have to work long hours and even multiple jobs to try to make ends meet. Even then, some are currently unable to provide a roof over their children’s heads. Family homelessness has reached crisis point in New Zealand, but our government is so out of touch with reality, or pretending to be, that little is being done to help them. It’s frustrating, embarrassing, and utterly heartbreaking.

On top of that, over 5,000 people have just been made really ill by polluted water reaching their taps in Havelock North. That means we’re not even providing clean drinking water to our people at the moment. How about that for making people feel undervalued and mistreated?

I don’t want to get political in a blog post about suicide, but all of this is hardly conducive to a happy home life, and the future must seem pretty bleak to a vast number of our youth.

They’re also under pressure with social media, drugs and alcohol, never mind the usual peer pressure nonsense. Seems to me that dating apps like Tinder and Yellow are hugely corrosive to a young person’s self-esteem. I can’t imagine having to deal with all the pressures of being a teen nowadays.

mikekingMaori are particularly effected it seems. I had the privilege of watching NZ comedian Mike King talk to the teenagers at my school about his struggle with depression and substance abuse. It was brilliant. He was both hilarious and deeply honest. His talk was part of his work touring schools and sharing his story, aiming truths to Maori boys in particular about being too staunch to seek help. He encouraged them to talk and at the end he invited any of the students who wanted to seek help to stay behind and thus the school councillors were able to reach many students who would have otherwise remained silent. Talking about it went pretty well on that occasion.

imagesAll this has prompted me to participate in a 10 day photo challenge on Instagram. It began on the 1st of September and ended yesterday with a ‘hand on heart’ selfie and ran under the hashtag #LiveForTomorrow. Accepting this challenge, even though I’m probably about twenty years too old for it, has made me think about my own experiences and attitudes about mental illness and suicide. Each day I posted a picture according to the prompts. They triggered memories of my how I survived  dark, difficult times. I recalled the loss of a friend to suicide in my teens, and I realised the impact his death had on my life subsequently. It’s also made me resurrect this blog. This blog is a platform through which I am able to express myself (the internet is excellent like that). So, my plan now is to write a series of blog posts about Suicide. Nobody can stop me talking  about it.

How is NOT talking about suicide working for you, New Zealand?

The Great New Zealand Flag Debate

If you should find yourself stuck for ages in a queue to buy food, it’s probably because I’m at the counter trying to decide what to eat. When I do eventually order, I shall change my mind the moment it’s written down because an unbearable panic will have kicked in. It’s a typical Libra trait apparently, and I’m a sod for it, so be prepared to be in that queue for some time, sorry.

Now, poor decision-making is one thing when ordering eggs benedict – no, the muesli, hang on, bacon and eggs, no, scratch that, definitely eggs benedict – but it’s another when you are a whole nation and you’re faced with the option, and thereby a referendum, for a brand new flag.

So, this is the indecisive ditherer’s take on ‘The Great New Zealand Flag Debate’. Gird your loins…

th-6
The current NZ flag

I still don’t know which way to vote, well, obviously. This is because I do want New Zealand to have a new flag. I want one without the Union Jack in the corner, an unpleasant reminder of a colonial past. However, do I want the alternative that we’ve been offered?

In many ways I’m fascinated by colonisation, having closely studied the literature and writers born of colonialism and migration as part of my first MA. Also, I am an English woman who has migrated to a country that not only had to bear European settlers, but where a people lost their land and a shed load of human rights as a result. Therefore, I feel very much part of the aftermath of colonialism; I’m not responsible for it, but my life is steeped in it. My children embody it, being Maori with English accents.

Yet, I’m still kinda sorta proud of being British. I’m proud of British creativity, imagination and humour. I’m proud of the quirky way we do understatement and irony. I love British style, music and drama. I’m proud of a British literary legacy that is broad and far-reaching, from Shakespeare to Larkin to Mantel.

So, on the surface, I should be the sort of person who wants to retain that British emblem, the Union Jack, on the NZ flag.

I don’t. I really don’t.

See, there are loads of things about Britain that are Great, but there’s are a helluva lot that’s …well… not so much. Colonialism and all the evil that goes along with it included.

To many in New Zealand, the union Jack is the mark of a shameful past, one of theft and slaughter, all the trappings of one nation colonizing another. Many argue that New Zealand needs to make a break from that past. In fact, that’s what the flag debate is about more than anything it seems to me, getting rid of the Union Jack and preparing to leave the Commonwealth.

(I became especially keen to sever ties from the UK when they voted to join in with the bombing raids on Islamic State in Syria after the Paris attacks. Innocent people, children and babies are being killed by those bombs. That includes those poor wee souls washing up on beaches in Turkey as their parents go to desperate lengths to find them a safe place, just as I would for my children if our city was being bombed from every direction.)

But back to the flag…

I’m also extremely proud of my New Zealand citizenship. I’ve come to regard this country as home and am making a very happy life for myself and my family amongst people who are generally warm, kind, friendly, good-humoured, innovative and creative. I live in a really cool wee city and feel very safe here. I’ve fallen for a New Zealander and my children have a spiritual connection to the land and its people that I can only stand back and watch in wonder.

So, it should be an easy decision, especially when the alternative replaces the Union Jack with that very Kiwi symbol, a fern – vote for change.

th-4
The alternative design

But it isn’t an easy decision, and the reasons for that is the ludicrous process we’re being put through by the NZ government, what that process is costing us in terms of political distraction and many millions of NZD, and the man behind the process, New Zealand prime minister John Key. In my opinion, he is a man entirely motivated by money, his own ego, and whether or not he gets to play golf with Obama. I’m not going to spend too much time explaining just how awful John Key is as a Prime Minister when Green politician Gareth Hughes does it so eloquently here.

So, let me take a closer look at the aforementioned process:

  • It began with a national competition for flag designs that came up with designs such as th-2 and th-1 . Very funny, but at the same time… yeah, nah.
  • There was a complete absence of a true design ethic from professionals in the field who know what they’re doing. These people are called Vexillologists. No vexillologists have been consulted throughout the whole process, best to my knowledge anyway.
  • A random committee chose a range of flag designs that most closely resembled the sort of flag millionaire egotist John Key wanted – funny that…
  • Then there was a really weird vote where you had to list your favourite designs in order of preference, and then they were counted and discounted in such a way that I couldn’t be bothered to even try to understand because it just seemed so random and I completely switched off at that point, which I suspect I was meant to, because, you know, fuck it, life’s too short and I’ve got a load of laundry to be getting on with, a living to earn and the kids’ dinner to prepare. Somehow the flag design everyone I know openly supported but the PM didn’t want, Red Peak, was voted out in this process.

    th-3
    Red Peak
  • Now there’s going to be another vote where we choose between the winner of the first vote and our current flag.
  • If only 51% of the New Zealand population vote for a change, we’ll end up with the alternative, even though it is a massive decision effecting many generations to come. Wouldn’t a higher percentage be more appropriate, representing a firmer consensus?
  • This is all costing New Zealand $26 million. That’s just the consultation process and the two referendums. If the new flag is voted in, it will cost further millions to make all the subsequent changes, even if this is done over time.
  • The new design lacks any kind of imagination, beauty, real significance and has already earned itself the name ‘The Tea-Towel’.
  • New Zealand remains a member nation of the Commonwealth, so we may be separating New Zealand from the emblem of its colonial past, but not the roots of its colonial past (ffs).
  • This whole process has been pandering to the whim of a rich white man, who wore the alternative flag on his lapel on Waitangi day – meaningless – it isn’t a flag.

    they_re-not-giving-the-government-any-opportunity-to-explain-our.hashed.9e84d2ff.desktop.story.inline
    JK – wearing a flag design with a fern that weirdly resembles the shape of a ponytail…

 

If we waited, kept the old flag with its multiple flaws this time round, we may find ourselves voting in a more important referendum later on: that is, becoming a republic. Seems to me that the removal of the Union Jack from the flag of New Zealand would then hold real meaning. And that’s a referendum worth 26 mill of anyone’s money. Actually, isn’t that the debate we should be having now?

I’ve decided then, definitely Eggs Benedict and a vote to keep the current flag. I want to wait, see a design that is both elegant and significant, and one that doesn’t remind me of the prime minister who turned New Zealand from the largely egalitarian and caring society I shifted to a decade ago, into the corrupt capitalism-rules-ok country that New Zealand has become.

giphy

New Zealand


I remember my last week in England before emigrating to New Zealand. We spent it at a friend’s flat in London. On the day we were leaving, I went for a walk alone in random London streets and tried to soak in the feel of the air and the smells of an English morning. I tried to remember everything. I almost succeeded.

There were some kids playing in a playground. There was a busy, bustling street market, I ate a full English fry-up in an unhygienic café, and the temperature was chilly even though the sun was out.

Completely disregarding a three month tour of Asia en-route, we landed in Christchurch on a day very similar to the London day we’d left behind. My new boss picked us up at the airport, and took us back to his house for a ‘welcome to New Zealand’ cup of tea.

Our possessions were still on a ship in a container, and our rental property was in an isolated town about two and a half hours North of Christchurch. We stayed in a hotel on Cathedral Square, bought a Toyota Camry and some clothes for me to wear in the classroom. We bought sheets and pots and pans, enough to tide us over before our container arrived, and loaded them into the boot of the new car. Then we headed North up State Highway One, blown away by the beauty of the landscape, the fact that we shared the road with so few, and the slow pace and friendly warmth of Aotearoa compared to the UK.

That was ten years ago and I’m applying for New Zealand citizenship at the moment. I’ve returned to England for visits twice since then and each time I’ve itched to get straight back on the plane and fly back to NZ.

It’s okay to look back at that morning walk in London and remember, but there’s no going back.

Z

And so the A to Z Challenge comes to an end. Phew! I’ve learnt so much through both writing these posts and discovering other blogs this month. I really want to thank everyone who has visited, liked, commented and kept coming back. I’ll post sometime in May reflecting on the process. In the meantime, I have at last thought of a name for this blog – Fecund – and I’ll be redesigning the site accordingly while I rest from writing posts for a couple of weeks.

Thanks again everyone.

Becca X

Yeti

images-1When you are taller than everyone else and can’t quite coordinate your long limbs, when you have teeth too big for your face, and when you have out-of-control long blonde frizzy hair, you get called names at school. One of those names, for me, was Yeti.

It only lasted a year or two, this name-calling, and it was only from a few kids, but I suspect the effects are still being felt in those moments when I’m feeling far too conspicuous in a crowd – and ugly.

I’ll change the name of the main bully, not to protect them, but because I’ve got it ear-marked for a novel I want to write in the future. The character with his name is vile.

So, let’s call him ‘Dick Bully’ for the purpose of this blog.

Dick Bully, at primary school, lived just up the road from me, which meant we took the same route when walking home. Dick Bully would follow me, occasionally spitting at me, sometimes pushing me, but always calling me names. He was a year older than me and, whilst not taller (no-one was), he was bigger and stronger.

Dick Bully called me Goofy, Bugs, Monster, but he called me Yeti the most. I turned round and tried to fight him once. He legged me over and wouldn’t let me get off the ground. I remember him pushing me down onto the muddy grass verge by the road, him and his mate, and laughing at me. I had to wait for them to get bored and walk away before I got up and made my way home. Mum asked what had happened after seeing the state of me, and I told her that I’d fallen over.

I had respite when Dick Bully went on to the local Intermediate school. In that year, I suspect some physical changes took place for both of us. When I got to Intermediate, his reaction was very different and so was his bullying.

It must have been during the first or second term when it happened.
I remember bending over and rummaging in my school bag for some reason in the cloakroom, a space full of benches and coat hooks off the main corridor of the school. Dick Bully came up behind me and grabbed my bum and hips, making obscene noises and rubbed himself against my bottom, while his mates looked on laughing. This, remember, is the guy who thought I looked like a yeti and had spat at me, calling me all kinds of ugly only a year before.

My reaction was pure instinct. As I stood up, my fist was ready and the punch turned into a blow with motion and more power than I realized I was capable of. I caught Dick Bully on the chin, knocking his head back and he stumbled against the wall. In my memory, the back of his head hit a coat hook, but as I write I can’t see how that’s possible. He was hospitalized though. I gave him a concussion that kept him in overnight and caused a problem with the parents and the school.

I know that punching Dick Bully and putting him in hospital was wrong and that violence is never the way to deal with what life throws at us. I know that.

But, oh my goodness, it felt fantastic.

Y

How to Rescue a Cheesecake

Xmas represents my ‘X’ post as part of the A to Z Challenge, and why reinvent the wheel? This is a very early post on that very subject and reading it again brings back many memories. Also, I look back on xmases in England within this post, so it fits in with my theme of ‘Memory’ beautifully.
This coming xmas, I won’t have my children with me for the second time. I’m hoping for less of an emotional roller-coaster this year…

Becca Joyce

This Christmas, I made my first ever cheesecake. This was also my first Christmas without my children since they were born.

In the days leading to Christmas, I planned ahead so it wouldn’t be shit without my girls. Being on the other side of the world from my family, I was invited by a South African friend to share Christmas Day with her, her husband and some of their friends who were also far away from home. I gratefully accepted, and she asked me to contribute dessert: cheesecake.

I baked it on Christmas Eve, after dropping the girls off to their father. I’d found the recipe on the internet: “Eric’s best ever cheesecake”. It was a baked New York Cheesecake, gluten-free with no base. I have no idea who Eric is, but his gluten-free cheesecake recipe is excellent. Here it is: allrecipes.com/recipe/ericsbest-new-york-style-

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Waves

WOn a hot afternoon after college, with another hour before I had to pick up the kids, I drove directly to the beach from Wellington, and slipped on my swimsuit in the parked car. I walked barefoot along the hot sand path through reeds and grasses down to the shore, dropped my towel as I went.

I waded in, sucked my breath as the cold hit my tummy, then dove under the surface. When I surfaced, I lay on my back, floating in the waves.

There were only a couple of others swimming further along the shoreline, and two or three people throwing sticks for their dogs on the beach. Two Maori guys were digging around in the wet sand for something or other. Large white gulls floated nearby.

I focused on the sea, and how it cooled and soothed after sitting in heavy traffic – how the waves lapped against my skin, the salt water in my ears and nose, and the refreshing cold wet of my tangled hair. There was a moment when I realised that I was making weird noises as I swam, sighs and groans.  I was much relieved that there was no one in hearing distance, and did it louder.

The Vatican

michelangelo-creation-of-adam-590x474We honeymooned in Rome. Just four days. We visited the Colosseum, the fountains and steps, and explored ornate basilicas. We ate mountains of pasta and pizza in gorgeous cafes and restaurants. We caught a good long look at Brad Pitt filming Oceans Twelve. And, of course, we visited the Vatican.

The Vatican was a highlight for me, but kinda bizarre at the same time. We waiting in a queue that snaked in the street around the building for an hour or so, then a large crowd of tourists as good as carried us through one of the most opulent places on the planet.

Visiting the Vatican is a feast for the eyes, but not necessarily for the soul. I found that everywhere I looked there were too many stunning priceless artefacts on display to take in; my eyes didn’t have a chance to rest on one before I was swept along by the crowd to the next amazing room.

The Sistine Chapel is a crowded, silent, beautiful place. I remember standing breathless in the middle of it staring up at the image of Michelangelo’s Creation of David, not quite believing I was actually there and I was finally looking up at it. The place was packed, standing room only, but you could have heard a pin drop.

It was just so hard to understand that the Vatican is a holy place. All this wealth so extravagantly displayed, when there’s so much poverty going down, so many in need. It felt like one of the most un-Christian places I’ve ever visited. I know expressing that irony is a cliche, but really, something is very wrong about the Vatican.