These battle scars

I WANT to tell you a story today, but it’s a bit different from our usual chat.

I think it’s a story that needs to be told, because I don’t want people to feel alone anymore.

Here goes.

My first panic attack occurred a few months after I finished high school.

I was driving at night, lost complete confidence in my ability to be behind the wheel, my vision blurred, my heart was threatening to rip through my chest, I burst into tears and I had the most awful, gut-wrenching feeling of utter fear.

I was on the side of the road, afraid of my car, thinking I was going to die.

Thus began my downward spiral.

I was Alice in freaking Horrorland.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am quite extroverted.

In the days after the incident, I became so introverted that I barely recognised myself.

I became my anxiety.

Initially, I was okay.

I had scared myself, but carried on as normal.

But something just wasn’t quite right.

I became highly irritable and I twitched a lot, at every loud noise or sudden movement.

I was hypersensitive and numb to things, at the same time.

All I wanted to do was curl up in bed or on the couch all day, where I couldn’t feel disassociated or dazed.

I refused to get into a car.

I lost 5kg in a matter of days.

I couldn’t eat, I didn’t want to go out; I could barely function.

I quit my job because I became so anxious around too many people and noise and weird lighting.

My doctor said I was showing symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder.

I trembled the entire drive to and from the doctor’s office.

I endlessly researched my symptoms and discovered all the possible treatments.

I refused to believe I had a form of mental illness, because mental illness could not be cured with a week of antibiotics and bed rest.

But nothing could cure it overnight.

Trust me, with the endless hours I spent online, I would have found a cure by now.

I considered medication, hypnotherapy, a psychologist, brain surgery, and whether I had a physical illness that just produced similar symptoms.

I wanted an instant cure because I was so scared of an illness that was not yet fully understood and cured by science.

The worst part was seeing people turn away in fear as I shook and hyperventilated, trying to breathe with no air.

It took me more than a year to comprehend that the cause of my anxiety was undisclosed.

The sole purpose of me telling you my story is that I want you to be brave.

I want you to ask for help when you need it.

Because it is okay to not be okay.

What isn’t okay is to let it consume you.

I was consumed by my anxiety for months.

Some people are consumed by it for years.

I still get the odd feeling of disassociation in a shopping centre, and get twitchy when I am super tired.

I only started to become myself again once I had acknowledged my anxiety, and decided I wanted to figure out how to cope with it.

No matter how far you think you have fallen down the rabbit hole, there is always a ladder waiting to help you up.

Be that ladder a person, medical assistance, self-help or a combination of a few things, you have a ladder.

You just need to let yourself start to climb it.

As I always say, step by step.

My first step?

My name is Ash and I suffer from anxiety.

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Listen to the money talk

I WANT to talk about money.

Cold, hard cash.

Dough.

The dollar, dollar bills.

Some say invest everything – in real estate, shares, a business or an idea.

Some say save every dime and penny.

Others will avoid the topic all together, which isn’t particularly helpful when you are a 20-something year old and don’t know if you should buy a house or a bigger piggy bank.

Let’s start with houses.

Houses seem super expensive, particularly when you are used to whinging about a $4 takeaway hot chocolate and the $9.95 postage on Ozsale packages.

I saw a house in the paper last week and it was around the $300,000 mark.

Apparently, this average price is recommended for first-home buyers.

I said to my dad, “How am I meant to buy some- thing like that when I cringe at a $25 taxi bill, let alone a real-life, adult mortgage?!”

“Well, Ash, stop buying chicken nuggets and start saving.”

Yeah, easier said than done, thanks Dad.

So as usual, I went on a 15-minute rant about how impossible saving that much money is, and if I tried to save a decent deposit by putting away a portion of my income each week, I would be buying a house for my 50th birthday.

I would really like to buy a house before then.

Instead of freaking out about house prices like I did, I’d recommend talking to an actually qualified person.

There are loads of financial advisors in town who can work out what sort of loan you can afford based on your current income, and how much you need to save for a deposit.

There are also things like SmoothStart, which offer affordable house packages for first-home owners.

Don’t shut down the idea of buying or building a house before you have properly investigated your eligibility.

You will probably be surprised.

The world isn’t totally out to get us young people, believe it or not.

Only sometimes.

A house or a block of land is a great investment, as it can give you a place to live or build on, or even rent out, as well as holding some financial value.

Real estate is a good way of having something to your name; an asset.

It’s something to think about.

Now, budgets.

Working out a weekly budget is a super important thing, regardless of your situation.

Being left with $2.50 of your wage three days from payday is never a good feeling, so be sure to allocate adequate funds to each of your weekly spends.

Regularly work out how much you need for food shopping, rent or mortgage repayments, car maintenance and the array of utility bills that always sneak up on you a day before payday.

One piece of advice I hope you can take away from today is ask people who actually know what they are talking about!

There are people out there whose job it is to literally advise you on money.

Money worries are common amongst people of all ages, and it’s something that can have a negative impact on your life.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be a worry you face alone.

But hey, laying off the chicken nuggets and online bargains may slightly help.

So, go; seek, spend, save!

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Moving on out

Ash update: currently sitting in my ugg boots, pondering why I am still living at home at the ripe old age of 20 (something).

Seriously, I feel old.

People say that family is forever and that you should always cherish your family (which is all true and I am not disagreeing with this), but there gets a point where you need to just break free and get away.

Can you imagine? No more arguing over who gets the shower first, or debating a curfew time despite your friends never getting one.

No more constant whining about how much money you waste on skinny lattes with extra caramel syrup.

You could have peace and quiet and enjoy late night Gossip Girl re-runs without anyone nagging that you are up too late and waking up the household.

You could literally eat cupcakes for breakfast if you wanted to.

Easiest solution? Move out!

Move out… right, should be easy enough.

Get online, choose a house, send in an application and BOOM.

Done.

Yeah, right.

Moving out is actually super tricky when you don’t know what you are doing.

(Prime example is me).

How often do you pay a water bill?

How do you open a tin can that doesn’t have one of those ring-pull lid things?

How long do you cook two-minute noodles for?

How do you boil an egg?!

Honestly, after watching my parents live for 20 years and watching them teach myself and my siblings how to live, you would think I would have everything sussed out by now.

Nope.

Where to even start…

The first thing I did was ask my parents.

After hearing woeful tales of how it was harder back then and ignoring their advice, I spoke to my friends.

They too were useless.

Seriously though, start by deciding how much you can honestly afford to pay per week.

Have a look on Gumtree for people advertising for housemates, or check out realestate.com.au.

Put your dreams of the Taj Mahal aside until you become an anaesthetist.

But remember, you need to be able to afford more than just rent per week.

Take into consideration the different living costs, such as food and utilities.

Assuming you want to have a recognisable social life, consider putting away some money each pay for drinks or a trip to the cinema.

Remember, do one thing at a time.

Don’t try and do step 10 when you haven’t finished step two.

One thing at a time, tiger.

An idea:

Step 1: Choose a rental boundary (location of house and realistic cost per week).

Step 2: Decide whether you will live solo, with your partner, or in a share house.

Step 3: Mock up a weekly budget, to see how much money you would need to allocate to each aspect of your lifestyle.

Step 4: Seek advice from a real estate agency on how to apply for a place and where to find a place that best suits you.

Step 5: Save money while you can before you move out! Big things such as moving out can become really overwhelming if you try to do everything at once.

So, when considering moving out, have a reality check first.

Can you afford to move out?

Do you know how to live independently?

Would it make you happy?

As all advice forums say (I have checked on many late nights while fretting), only you know if you are ready to move out.

Figure out what is best for you first, rather than basing decisions off what other people are doing (literally me everyday).

You need to be perfectly honest with yourself and figure out what is best for you and only you.

Give that a try and let me know how it goes.

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Let’s work it out

WORK, work, work, work, work.

No, not Rihanna. The real world.

Welcome to adulthood, where the pay is never good enough, the word ‘holiday’ is an unfamiliar term and you have to make your own doctor appointments.

With job advertisements being variably scattered across the internet and the newspaper, finding a job suitable for you can be difficult.

Take me for example. I started university straight after completing year 12.

Any job vacancy I came across either required qualifications way beyond my physical capacity (hard to have a completed degree when I had just left high school), five years work experience or the ability to do handstands.

Safe to say, I have none of the above in my resumé.

That was the other thing: my resumé looked seriously sad.

Do you know what my first resumé included?

The fact I was at uni, I had completed year 12 and I won a dancing award when I was 12.

Ooh, and my name.

It was a pretty empty single A4 page.

However, it was completely unavoidable; I could not make years of work experience and qualifications magically appear.

So, I had to start from the start.

#factforthought moment: research how to build a resumé.

There are a ton of resources out there on what to include in a cover letter and in what order your resumé information should be in.

Did you know that you don’t need to put your age on a resumé?

I sure didn’t.

It is encouraged so as to eliminate any discrimination before an employee has met you (unless you are 15 years old and applying for CEO, then your age is a slight issue).

Once you have built the ultimate resumé and cover letter (I believe in you), the next step is applying.

Apply everywhere.

Literally everywhere.

Did you know you can apply for more than one job at a time?

You increase your chances of getting a job interview if you apply for lots of things.

Yes, this might mean heaps of online applications, or going into every store down the main street, but you need to do it.

No one is going to hand you a job on a silver platter (this is a very rare occasion and should not be relied upon).

So, the day eventually comes; after handing out loads of resumés, somebody calls you for an interview.

Now what?

You need to look and act the part and this depends on what type of job you are applying for.

For example, if you are applying for seasonal fruit picking, a suit and tie may be slight overkill.

If you are applying for an office job, I definitely would not rock the ‘I just got back from the beach’ look.

To be on the safe side, smart casual is my overall recommendation.

Basically, neat and tidy enough to visit your grandparents on a Sunday should do it.

After you have dressed your best and organised a meeting time, don’t be late!

Promptness will determine what kind of employee your potential employer thinks you will be.

No pressure, but first impressions are quite important.

Speak slowly and clearly, do not feel you have to rush your answers to any questions.

Take a moment to compose yourself; everyone knows that people get nervous.

It is only natural.

The rest is up to you.

Let your confidence and best qualities shine and you won’t spontaneously combust upon walking into the interview room – promise.

Now get out there and apply!

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Running up that hill

#CONFESSION: I am one of those people.

One of those people who signs up for a gym membership, with all the promises of going every day and getting fit and lean for summer, and then proceeds to never go ever.

Except that one time I went for a solid two weeks. That was a good time.

Then I got lazy and ate salt and vinegar chips and let’s be real, motivation is not a thing I have in large amounts.

I am literally motivated by food.

Ask anyone. Literally anyone who knows me.

Chuck a cheeseburger in front of me and I will go and win the presidential election for you.

But fitness?

Yeah no.

I mean, I bought a sports bra; does that count for anything?

Yeah, didn’t think so.

This is a bad pattern of behaviour. I repeat: this is a bad pattern of behaviour!

I did my research, and according to accredited people on the internet, physical inactivity is a primary cause of most chronic diseases.

This includes cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity and osteoporosis.

I don’t know about you, but none of them sound particularly appealing.

I really don’t fancy having thin, brittle bones when I’m 70, nor want to develop diabetes when I am still conquering the world at 40.

I’d like to think I will be one of those grannies everyone is jealous of, because I’m still parading around in heels and waving around a full head of luscious hair when I’m ancient.

Plus, I think my back would be nicer to me if I didn’t sit down all day with average posture and, instead, got out and about on my feet.

As I am sitting here writing to you, the upper half of my back is throbbing, just below my left shoulder blade.

This is due to the fact I have been sitting here for a few hours now.

Oh, the irony.

Giving out fitness advice while I am sitting on my bum with no real plans to attend the gym later.

Well, you know what?

That needs to change.

And we are going to do it together.

Yes, I mean you and I.

You and I, favouring MKR re-runs instead of real runs; snacking on potato chips instead of kale chips; choosing the sugary drink over diet option, because who cares, sleep deprivation is a thing.

We are going to change that.

In my whole two consecutive weeks of fitness many moons ago, I did feel more lively after a workout sesh.

Even if it was just 30 minutes on the tready, the release of endorphins (happy hormones) makes a difference to how you feel.

As always, I will leave you with some advice.

Do make the effort to find some time each day to get active.

Be it standing while on the phone at work, walking to the photocopier instead of wheeling over on your chair, going for a run around the block or joining a fitness class.

I know how daunting it feels, just trying to motivate yourself to walk through the gym doors and walk in front of all those attractive fit people, but hey – they all had to start somewhere.

We all have to start somewhere.

There are plenty of options out there to keep active; you just need to find what works best for you.

You have to find it in yourself to say you know what? I want this.

Let’s work it out.

(Like my pun? Okay, I’ll leave now).

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Reignite the spark

I WANT to talk about Albany.

Albany has been dubbed many things; a tourist hotspot, a retirement village, a backwards country town.

I for one, thought the best thing I could do for myself after high school was to leave Albany in the rear-view mirror of my car and head towards the promises of the big smoke.

Recently I met someone who is convincing me of Albany’s beauty, after I complained there was nothing here for me (sorry Mum).

They aren’t doing this consciously, but their efforts to show me beautiful things around Albany have been noted.

Last weekend, we drove to a secret spot out near Frenchman Bay (maybe it’s not a secret anymore).

We watched the most stunning sunset dip below the horizon, the tracks of our footsteps the only evidence of human presence.

I had a Nicholas Sparks moment.

You don’t get that in big cities.

A few weeks ago, we explored a 4WD track I had never seen nor heard of before.

Panoramic ocean views, fresh air and crystal waters made me feel a newfound sense of peace.

You don’t get that in the hustle and bustle of big cities either.

Albany gets a lot of lip from people, particularly young people.

We say Albany doesn’t give us massive shopping centres, or grand food halls, or big festivals and events.

#confession: I say this sort of stuff a lot.

I constantly complain there is nothing to do, everything is the same, nothing exciting happens.

But I’m looking at the negatives, aren’t I?

Am I bothering to look at the positives?

Nope.

Albany is a unique place and I think if we take a more positive approach to it, we can make it better.

So instead of just complaining all the time, I pledge to actually go out there and explore.

Albany is renowned for its scenery, and that’s what it does best.

Albany knows how to put on a heart-melting sunset, a beach with clear turquoise waters, a warm spring day that requires only a light cardi, not a jacket or coat.

Have you ever taken the time to look at the Torndirrup National Park coastline?

It is rugged and dramatic, dangerous and beautiful.

You can walk through bush full of wildlife and escape the noise of town, whilst listening to the crash of the Southern Ocean against the peninsulas.

There are stunning lookouts and walking trails at Jimmy Newells, Stony Hill and Bald Head, to name a few.

While the weather has been quite horrific, technically spring is on the way.

Did you know there are more than 50 places in Albany alone, to get something to eat or have a coffee?

50! That’s insane!

That doesn’t even include all the cool little places throughout Denmark and Mt Barker, which really aren’t that far away.

These places are always changing their menus too, so really, we have more than 100 places to eat, as some places are just like new after you haven’t visited in a while!

All you need to do is stop and take in everything around you.

Albany has a lot of known and hidden beauties within its town lines.

My challenge to you is this: find an untouched spot of nature or a place of special meaning to you and take a photo.

Stick it to your bedroom wall or mirror and when you next go to complain about how lame Albany is, take a deep breath and look at that photo of serenity.

Remember Albany’s beauty.

Let me know how you go.

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Time to reach out

OK guys, serious hat today.

Yes, Ash the crazy, nugget-and-cheeseburger- loving “adult” is being serious today.

There is something we need to talk about.

Have a read, yeah?

Have you ever been ignored? I definitely have.

Happens all the time.

By my parents, if I am whinging about the internet stream lagging. By my friends, if I am complaining about not getting my hair done before a big night out, or about a lack of nugs at the fast food outlet just up the road.

But have I ever truly been ignored? Like I wasn’t worth the effort of looking at or talking to?

No. I haven’t.

Every morning, I wake up and mumble to my fam. I go online and engage with people with likes and comments and tags and tweets. When I walk into work, people will wave or nod as I lope to my desk.

I am visible. I’m not ignored. I get to go home to a warm, safe house where I have ready access to a meal, a bed and Netflix.

I don’t have to worry if I am hungry, because I know I have money to buy lunch.

The people around me are pretty much all the same. We are happy (relatively), we have family and we have each other.

We are pieces from the same puzzle.

That isn’t the case for a lot of people in Australia, including those in little ol’ Albany.

Homelessness is a serious issue and we can’t continue to sweep it under the rug.

I visited a working port city a few months ago and was shocked by the number of people taking refuge in café corners and alleyways.

I saw grown men covered in old newspapers, dirtied by the dust and muck of the street.

One came up to me and asked for the scraps on my breakfast plate.

I didn’t know what to say or how to respond. I mean, what is the right thing to say?

Having homelessness look you straight in the eye is confronting.

We hear all the time from charities with age-old phrases like ‘how would you feel if…?’.

Can we comprehend what it means to be homeless?

What does it actually feel like to crawl through the day, knowing you don’t have a warm place to sleep on those disgusting wintry nights?

Living with the pang of hunger as a numb and constant reminder?

What happens when you’ve worn out your welcome couch-surfing?

The harsh reality is no – we as part of society generally struggle to comprehend the challenges of homelessness for those on the fringes.

We live in a consumerist world where having the best for ourselves has become a priority.

Granted, I am simplifying here, and I do not mean to imply all people are selfish in nature.

But it seems to be the general gist of humans.

Our default setting is to survive, and in doing so, we tend to focus on ourselves.

We may try to help others by dropping an extra coin in the charity box or donating a couple of tins of soup, but how far are we really reaching out to those in need?

The thing is, a lot of people can’t break the cycle of homelessness and they are crying out.

So, for Homelessness Awareness Week and any week in the year, don’t just donate and walk away.

Realise how lucky you are to be in a position where you can apply for and hold a job, have access to clean water and hot food, and be a visible part of society.

Don’t let homelessness become another issue placed in the ‘too hard’ basket. Start with a simple smile.

Face it. Don’t fear it. Let’s fix it.

#together

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Get your adult on

THE day I became an “adult”, I spent the afternoon choosing between a six-pack of iced doughnuts and a tier of profiteroles for dessert.

I feel like I didn’t quite understand what being an adult meant.

I mean yes, I get to make the decision between the iced doughnut and the profiterole, but is it the right thing to do?

Adulthood, which sometimes coincides with your 18th birthday, also means the ability to choose to simply eat cake for breakfast. This is a dangerous power for just anyone to possess.

My point here is that there are way too many decisions you have to start making when you turn 18, and to be perfectly honest, it is quite overwhelming.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time in the magical land of Ash World, there was a girl who turned 18 and was expected to have some clue as to what she was going to do with the rest of her life.

(Spoiler alert, she totally did not know what to do.)

After many nights spent having an existential crisis on repeat and pondering how much money she could make creating lame slogan t-shirts from under the comfort of her electric blanket, the girl finally decided to do the one thing she had absolutely refused to do: ask for advice.

Hours of talking with her mum and best friend (sounds clichéd yes, but it’s true) helped her kind of figure out what she wanted to do.

She decided that instead of sitting around and moping all the time, she would finally get it together.

How that was going to occur, was still a mystery.

Being an adult means taking hold of being entirely responsible for yourself.

This means that you get to decide whether you tackle a tertiary education, try to save for a deposit on a house, move across the country, backpack through Guatemala, buy a cat or decide to live without Netflix.

I’ll keep this one short and sweet.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions; if there is a person at your work or the lady who makes the best coffee at your favourite café that looks like they have it together, ask them how they decided everything.

Figure out what would make you happy.

Do you enjoy learning? Consider tertiary education.

Do you work well with people? Consider looking towards a job in customer service.

Do you often hurt your knee playing footy on the weekend? Maybe it’s time to look for another sport. Do you have a passion for exploring and travel? Maybe check out travel warnings for Guatemala (or maybe pick somewhere else).

Working out when you need to start making decisions and figuring out what decisions you actually need to make is hard.

I decided one day that I wanted to organise a passport, sort out health insurance, apply for cross-institutional study and fix my tangled necklace rack.

All at once.

#mentalcrisis

To be perfectly honest, things will come to you when they need sorting out, and you will figure it out along the way.

No, that’s not an excuse to let everything slide and put off until later.

Just don’t let it overwhelm you. One step at a time.

Adult away my little adultians! (See. Short and sweet).

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Remember…breathe!

Hey, I’m Ash. I’m just a regular twenty-something year-old Albany chick and I’ll be letting you see the world through my eyes over the coming weeks. I love pink, pizza and know every word to Ice Ice Baby. Intrigued? There’s plenty to talk about…

LATE nights, several packets of carbohydrate-packed lollies, an extra sugar in your RedBull… sound familiar?

Yes, it is that time of year again, where year 12 students are gearing up for the scorch trials that are mock exams, before the final WACE (Western Australian Certificate of Education) exams in a few months.

Now the first thing any parent or friend usually tells you is ‘don’t stress out, just focus, make sure you get fresh air and eat healthy.’

Or you could hear the complete opposite, which is usually along the lines of, ‘quit your whining and go study!’

I can honestly say that I received both types of advice.

Predominately the latter.

Many types of dietary and behavioural advice are handed out during pre-exam time; make sure you go out for a walk for 30 minutes a day, eat your two fruit and five vegetables; some of these things just don’t happen during a high stress study sesh!

I graduated from high school a whole three years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

So, when I say I understand how you are feeling, I really do understand how you are feeling.

You feel like the weight of having to know what to do after graduation is pushing down on your shoulders.

If I can suggest one thing, let it be this.

Breathe.

Without sounding like super over-dramatic advice, normally delivered by your hippy aunt, it is okay to feel stressed at this time.

Preparing for up to six WACE exams is intense and sometimes you won’t be quite sure what to do.

For those not preparing for exams and who are just focusing on coursework, assignments can pile up quickly too.

When that happens… just breathe.

It’s easier said than done, but it works.

Let those drooping lungs fill with air until they feel like bursting, and then let it all out slowly, one little tiny bit at a time.

Remember to enjoy year 12.

If there is one thing I could go back in time and say to my year 12 self, it’s just to enjoy it.

Enjoy the next few months of wandering around the auditorium or canteen, watching the year sevens squirm as your six-foot frame parts the crowd like the Red Sea.

Soak up the sunshine on the lawn while munching on a sausage roll. Enjoy every last bit of that extra tomato sauce that you busted out 30 cents for.

Year 12 races past in the blink of an eye and there is not long to go, so put your head down and smash it.

Focus on that assignment you have been ignoring for the past three weeks.

Recite those anatomy terms and be confident that the mitochondrion is the powerhouse of the cell. Remember the function of the centriole. Know the difference between fascism and nationalism. Memorise quotes from that novel you had to read.

Practise the different algebraic formulas and create the best notes pages you can.

Remember, fourth quarter, you’re nearly there.

Year 12 is a crazy time, whether you are taking the ATAR pathway, a VET course or getting an apprenticeship.

There are constant forms and applications to fill out, a million questions about what university you want to get into, what job you are going to apply for during your gap year.

All before you have even sat down in that uncomfortable chair in the freezing exam room sandwiched between a kid with the sniffles and a State champion pen clicker.

So, to sum up:

Breathe.

Enjoy.

Study.

Now hop, skip to it!

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