I’m as surprised as anyone to find out I have really strong opinions about this. I suppose it’s something you don’t really think about until it becomes relevant. But in the wake of the court ruling that the suspension of a male student for having his hair too long (or, technically, for not cutting it when told) was unlawful, people have been talking a lot about what rules schools should be allowed to set.

It seems like the main thrust of the argument in support of the school is something like: Kids need to learn to follow rules. There’s a bit of other stuff mixed in, like it’s not about whether the rule is okay, it’s about the school being able to enforce the rule, and not undermining them, because otherwise kids won’t learn how to follow rules. I’ve seen it said a few different ways, but that basically seems to be the gist.

The thing is, we’re not talking about five year olds, we’re talking about fifteen year olds. If a fifteen year old doesn’t know how to follow rules something’s pretty irreparably broken. Is this kid able to turn up to school on time? Does he do his school work? Is he managing not to commit violence when upset or frustrated? Does he more or less tell the truth? Does he pay bus fares and not shop lift? Is he able to assess how to act around different people depending on where they fall in a social hierarchy in comparison to him? Can he line up when appropriate and wait his turn? Does he follow every single other rule except this one? Congratulations. He knows how to follow rules. It’s just that this rule is stupid. And after fifteen years of teaching a kid to follow rules, I think it’s about time to support them in learning to recognise when rules are stupid and challenge them. There are countless examples through history of rules that needed to be challenged. No, this isn’t a Godwin, I’m talking relatively small things that were nonetheless harmful and oppressive. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my policy classes, it’s that rules can have far-reaching effects and they need to be assessed sometimes to see whether they’re actually doing any good.

In this situation, the rule is not doing any good. There’s nothing wrong with a school saying students should wear a uniform or be tidy. But hair is actually a deeply personal and culturally important thing, and not one that really has any impact on other people unless, I don’t know, you fashion it with razor blades hanging from it or it smells awful or something. The idea that men have to have short hair is by no means universal – in fact I’m willing to bet it’s the case in a significant minority of cultures, and given that we’re making efforts to be a multicultural country, that’s a fairly important point.

The obvious response to that, I suppose, though not one I’ve actually seen, is that schools could make exceptions for students with deeply held religious or cultural views. The problem with that is that a) students shouldn’t have to justify their cultures, and b) when you restrict it to only students with “legitimate” reasons for exception, those students become very visibly Different. They suddenly have to become a spokesperson for their culture and constantly field questions about why they’re allowed long hair when everyone else isn’t while they’re just trying to go to school, whereas if everyone is allowed longer hair it’s just another personal choice that doesn’t need to be constantly justified and explained.

There is, of course, also a gender dimension. I saw a stat the other day that about 40% of non-cis people don’t identify with the gender binary, so it’s not only a case of specifically mtf transgender students. Anyone might want to play with their gender presentation and to be honest when you’re a teenager can often be the best time to do it. (Or at least, it would be if we could make a serious attempt to reduce gender identity related bullying.) It’s a time of life where most people are figuring out who they are – they’re old enough that they’re not so completely under their parents thumbs and they can go through phases, play with styles, try things out to see if they work without necessarily being expected to stick with them.

Let’s be real. With increasing inequality in this country, what school you go to often matters far more than it should. And kids are legally obliged to attend school. It’s not reasonable to just say the market will decide and people don’t have to send their kids there if they don’t want to follow rules, especially a rule that will disproportionately affect boys from non-European cultures or who are gender non-conforming. Courts have always had the right to tell schools that they can’t enforce harmful and oppressive rules, and if we’re going to worry about undermining institutions, I’d far rather undermine the school than the court.

Self-care and loneliness

One thing I really hate about mood disorders is the way the faintest whiff of criticism can send me into an utter tailspin for days. There’s this feeling of complete self-loathing and hopelessness and anger, while at the same time your rational brain is saying “actually, that’s valid, and also not a big deal, I can work on that” (but also “even though everyone probably hates me now”). And you don’t ever want people to realise how it affects you because you don’t want anyone to feel like they have to treat you with kid gloves or be scared of disagreeing with you. Realising you were doing something that annoyed people and they were all talking about it privately but no one wanted to approach you because you were too unstable would be even worse, so you have to keep the emotional reaction to yourself – you can’t let these people see it, and you can’t tell anyone else because you’re so aware that it’s such a tiny thing that even thinking about how to word it feels so stupid you can’t bear it.

In more personal news

Moving back a bit from the bigger picture I had a big day yesterday with an early doctor’s visit and then a trip to the zoo (always good exercise in Wellington). I had a fairly thorough chat with my doctor with the main topic being finding somewhere other than the Phobic Trust as well as discussion of what else might be useful. I get the feeling he didn’t quite grasp the full impact of me saying I’ve had a rough couple of months and needed a medical certificate for dropping one of my papers because he made the comment that it would be good to consider doing part time study and part time work. Which it probably would be… in the future. Next year, next summer, next semester, I’m not sure which, but right now I’m definitely not up to it. Of course even if I were, it’s not really as easy as all that, is it? He doesn’t want me doing something menial and I don’t want to either (he gave specific examples of cleaning and Muffin Break, where I worked for a while about ten years ago) which restricts the options rather a lot because most of the more skilled jobs require qualifications which I don’t have yet. The absolute ideal would be part time work from home when I’m able – freelancing, maybe – but, really, how many jobs like that are there, and how many other people want them? Because I generally feel that one of the biggest barriers for me is that my ability to work is so unpredictable. That’s why I like doing extramural study, because I don’t have to worry about missing classes.

The other big barrier of course is balancing income – if I drop below full-time study I have to work enough to earn at least $250/week after tax. That means 7 papers over three semesters. I think it would be difficult to argue for limited full-time status on the grounds of illness if the reason I’m not studying full-time is so I can work as well. So to the above requirements you then have to add decent pay because even on $25/hr I’d have to work at least 12 hours or so, plus manage 1-2 (preferably 2) papers, which are all getting towards 300 level now, and that’s a lot more than I’m doing at the moment. And I think the most I’ve gotten at any job was something over $18/hr, which included holiday pay because we were technically casual staff. It would I think be more plausible to maintain the level of study I have planned and do a few hours a week of something, like 4-6 maybe, and get a lower student allowance rate. At that point though it becomes pretty dependant on location, because it quickly becomes not particularly worthwhile if I have to train and bus to and then bus and train from a 4 hour job.

No job for businessmen

There’s this ongoing myth in public discourse that being a successful businessman means you have what it takes to successfully run a country. I see a lot of problems with this, to the point where I’d almost argue that the very opposite is true – that it makes you potentially bad at running a country. Countries and businesses are just inherently different structures on so many levels. A company may not even own the land its offices are based on, whereas a country covers a specific delineated territory. A business’ main purpose is generally to increase profits (though some prioritise doing so in a manner consistent with social justice or environmentally friendly policies – often recognising, however, that doing this is good for business too), while a country usually expects its government to improve the lives of its citizens.

To me the most important feature is embedded in that latter point of difference. A company does not have a fixed population. If it needs to reduce running costs, it can fire people. A country cannot do that. The only act that’s even vaguely similar is deporting people, which requires specific circumstances – normally that they’re citizens of another country who’ve committed a crime, or that they’ve committed a crime in another jurisdiction serious enough for an extradition request, or that they’ve overstayed a visa. In theory people made redundant from a company will go on to find other jobs, but whether they do or not isn’t a concern of the executives. In a country, people who lose their jobs can’t just be ignored. Improving people’s lives and increasing profits are completely different goals with completely different executions, the former being infinitely more complicated as you first attempt to define what improving lives means and then attempt to find policy that will interact with pre-existing conditions in such a way as to provide a good outcome. Ideally reducing beneficiary numbers means creating more jobs, not simply finding ways to get them off welfare.

But that’s what a fiscally right wing government does. They have a disproportionate number of ex-business people or people who expect to take up a cushy director job when they retire from politics or business owners and investors. They know about money, not people. And so we get trains made cheaply overseas that are riddled with asbestos, funding cuts to programs that pay off in the long term, policies aimed at reducing waiting lists for housing or surgeries. It’s all about cutting numbers and it’s not what a country is about.


I’m not sure what wakes me, because I’m already conscious when I hear a noise that could be my stomach or could be a door opening. I decide it’s the latter when it’s followed by footsteps heading for the bathroom, and a few seconds later the baby starts crying softly. It’s not loud at all, she’s only a week old and still before her due date, but something knots up in my solar plexus. Sounds that recur irregularly make me anxious, my body freezes on a precipice every time they stop waiting for them to start again. If they were only predictable it would be okay. I’m wide awake and thinking about the unanswered email from a student support person and the arch lever files of study material on the floor by my bed, and decide to see if it’s worth getting up yet.

It’s 3.35.

I settle back down. My flatmate goes back to bed and the baby goes quiet. Now the noise really is my stomach – I’m a grazer, eating small amounts throughout the day, and it’s been a while since dinner. Inexplicably, hunger makes my back hurt. I made biscuits the day before and they’re still in a tupperware container nearby, so eventually I grab one to tide me over until breakfast.

I close my eyes and drag the top of the duvet into the hollow between my head and shoulder. I’m not sleepy at all now but I try to clear my mind and hope it works. After a while I concede it does not.

It’s 4.17.

Outside, a ruru hoots. True morning is a long way away.

Happy Arbitrary Gregorian Date 1/3 Through Summer

Best way to see in the new year: playing Civilization V, drinking cider and listening to mash ups. And now suddenly we’re in a countdown to the election and me doing most of the rest of my BA. And, hopefully, dealing more with the mess that is my brain. With any luck in a few years I’ll be able to look back and see 2013 as a turning point where things started to improve, but there’s still a lot of work. For starters, WINZ still hasn’t put my disability allowance through so I can afford to see a psych, but because of the holidays I’m going to wait until next week before getting onto them about it.

I also have to consider realistic housing options if I’m not able to appeal the Supported Living Payment decision. That would likely consist of a choice between share house, flatting, and attempting to get subsidised housing through either HNZ or one of the third sector organisations, though waiting lists for those are incredibly long and there are only a limited number of places for only one person.

As for money, that will improve when I’m done with therapy. At the moment my disability allowance form lists me as needing 10 fortnightly sessions, so roughly halfway through the year if I don’t need to extend that I’ll be able to get the allowance for other costs instead.

I’m not going to make any resolutions. I don’t know what’s going to happen this year and if the last few have taught me anything it’s that the world is really good at throwing a spanner in the works. But hopefully I’ll end 2014 at least as well as I’m starting it, having also eaten a lot more delicious things, learned a lot of stuff, and said some smart words.

Book rec

Not the usual sort of thing I post about, though I suppose you could make links between activities like gardening and cooking and their positive impact on mental health. It’s definitely something I find good, especially when you first see the shoots coming up out of the ground all tiny and green.

Normally I get my gardening information from the internet, because why wouldn’t you? General information is easy to find and books are expensive. So a book has to have something extra to it to be worthwhile, which I think this one might do. It’s called The Grower’s Cookbook by Dennis Greville & Jill Brewis and as you can probably guess, it’s a book both about gardening AND cooking! For me, this is one of those things that I struggle a little more with – I didn’t grow up experiencing a wide range of vegetables or ways of cooking with them, let alone herbs, so when it comes to figuring out what’s easy and practical to grow, combined with what I know how to use, I get a very short list.

The Grower’s Cookbook has three main sections: vegetables, herbs and fruit. Each plant in the section is listed in alphabetical order, with a good quality picture, summary, how to choose which variety/ies you want to grow, how best to do so, what problems you might have, the best ways to harvest and store, how to prepare, some tips for serving, and 1-2 recipes. They range from dips to salad dressings to full meals, and there’s also advice at the start on making jams and jellies and the like. It places a fair emphasis on companion planting, which means it tells you which plants have what benefits, what they should be planted with, what they should be kept away from, and if any come down with a disease not just what to do about it but whether you need to change what you plant in that soil.

When I have a place where I can have my own garden, I’m thinking it would be really useful to make a card for every plant that looks interesting and colour code them eg green for the ones that are really helpful for surrounding stuff, write down the most important things, and use the book to plot out what I should be growing. Since it says right in each section what sort of things I can make with the various veges and herbs and what else they go with, it should make it quite a lot easier to know what’s going to be the most useful for me, rather than going “Hmm, lamb’s lettuce? I guess I can do something with that… Oh, I like peas, chuck some of those down….” And unlike a regular cookbook, that means also that I’m more likely to find an interesting looking recipe and go, “Yeah, I have that in my garden, I can totally make this.”

The price tag at Whitcoulls was $13, though they’ve just had a big sale on that included 20% off books. (If you’re quick it might still be going on the website.) Being as that’s Whitcoulls, though, it might well be cheaper at other places, online or brick and mortar.

The canine gardener

Just because sometimes we need a little levity, I’ve been watching out the window as my flatmate’s dogs made an exciting discovery: FOOD IN THE GROUND. Not my food, luckily (though I harvested my first couple of lettuces today to put in some vege stuffed bread, which was excellent), but some of the random potato plants that are just randomly growing places. This site happens to be in a planter that Daisy likes to lie in, which is presumably how she found them, but the first I noticed was frantic digging followed by her running off with something in her mouth. I’m not sure how many potatoes there were there to start with but by the time I finished laughing my arse off I managed to rescue two – both Daisy and Bailey had a check for more after I’d come back inside so I know I was thorough! Poor Daisy wasn’t too impressed with me taking them away, I don’t think. When I grabbed my diggy-weeding-fork she started walking in front of me making her funny talking noises. “Wo-wo-woh!”

I got a bit of a video of the action, too.

Making things happen

I would have to go back and check to find out how long I’ve been trying to get in with mental health services up here, but I finally have an appointment tomorrow for a psych assessment. I’ll have to put it on my credit card, but then hopefully I can claim it back from WINZ as a special needs grant. This is both a relieving and terrifying way to end the week, which started on Sunday with me almost calling Lifeline (I ended up emailing them instead and haven’t had a reply, which I assume is indication of how underfunded they are, because they’re a mental health charity in New Zealand and the government doesn’t give a shit), poking my head up on Monday evening to wonder which gang rape everyone was talking about, avoiding Twitter for half the rest of the week, then getting a call on Tuesday to book this assessment. I have no idea how it’s going to go, despite having had psych assessments before, once for a service like this one and once after a suicide attempt.

I guess the trick is to present myself as urgent enough to bypass waiting lists but not urgent enough to need inpatient care. It’s funny, if you look for crisis mental health services, almost all the results tell you first off to call 111 and remove dangerous objects. Which, I mean, is good advice, but you get the idea looking at them that the only kind of mental health crisis the professionals acknowledge is a suicide (or homicide) attempt. I’ve heard dozens of stories about people who were turned away from urgent care because they said they weren’t going to kill themselves, whatever the reason for that (eg a solid promise to someone, deeply held religious beliefs, no effective way to do it and too much knowledge of what can go wrong if you don’t do it right). It’s similar in that sense, I guess, to my experience with Housing New Zealand.

Incidentally, on my contact course for Mana Māori, our kaiako told us a story about a class(?) she’d taken where they were discussing a kōrero tahito in which a character i whakamomori. The class was shocked – surely the preceding events hadn’t been bad enough to warrant suicide?! The speaker had to explain that whakamomori did not always mean committing suicide, but also, or perhaps rather or originally, to withdraw. These days we don’t have many options to withdraw. You have to be pretty independently wealthy, really, to be able to take time away from a job without having to justify it to the government, to have somewhere to retreat to, to supply yourself with food and whatever else you might need to sustain you. Anyone else gets hounded and harassed with demands to just get back to work and stop being lazy. You have to have appointments and meetings and assessments and run around collecting documents. It isn’t much of a withdrawal and it’s no wonder that so many people give up just because the hoops are too small or high to jump through and it’s easier to give in to the Protestant work ethic (tellingly typoed at first as worth) and keep dying a little inside. The first time I tried it it ended in a nervous breakdown. We’d do well to listen to other cultures sometimes.

“Presents well”

I managed to get to see my new doctor today, and he seems pretty good. When I asked about a referral to DHB mental health services he said that they don’t do as much in the area that would be helpful to me and instead wrote me a letter for Phobic Trust, but if that doesn’t work out we’ll try DHB instead. He also clarified some points in my medical history and checked how things were going at the moment.

The letter for PT describes me as “presently presenting well”, which apart from the duplication (which is actually even funnier – it came directly after “both anxiety and depression present,”) makes me laugh a bit because it’s so “duh!” for me. When you’ve had depression your whole life you learn to hide it. If I wasn’t capable of “presenting well”, I would not be sitting in a doctor’s office, particularly one I’d never met before. I wouldn’t have left the house. I’d probably be in bed, like I was for four days last week after the DHB told me I had to find $85 to see a GP and gave me a phone number in case I wanted to kill myself. It would be easier to kill myself than to call a hotline in that state. I probably don’t “present well”, over the phone, when I’m suicidal, but I wouldn’t know. Avoiding presenting badly is instinct now and I can’t find a way to turn it off.