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Helping Others

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Helping Others

Respect and dignity

Treating others as you’d like to be treated is an excellent principle, but is the person you’d like to help in a situation that you’ve been in before? Do you know how they’d like to be treated?

If you have young children then you might have some ideas of how to help new parents coping with a newborn baby. If you’re experienced at work then you will have ideas about how to help someone new who joins your business.

But if you’ve never been homeless, or elderly, or suffered from a mental illness, or immigrated to a new country, then it will be harder to guess what assistance you can provide.

Forcing your help on others can be taken the wrong way. At work, a colleague was left confused and upset after she’d bought a sandwich for a homeless man and he didn’t accept it. Another homeless man told me that a nice woman had just bought him his third cup of coffee for the morning, while he was selling the Big Issue outside a cafe. He wasn’t complaining as such, but three coffees is a lot and he would have preferred to sell more magazines to support himself.

These are two examples where good people have tried to help others, and I hope they continue to do so. But it’s important to recognise and respect the agency of others and offer them the dignity of choosing what help they might like.

How to offer help

Asking for help is difficult, even when we need it most. Proactively offering to help can be a powerful way to connect with someone. When offering help, frame the question with a suggestion of what you have in mind.

For example:
“I’m just going into this shop, can I buy you something to eat or drink?”
“Would you like me to send you some books, or perhaps visit more often?”
“Can I come over and look after your baby for an hour or two, or bring you some dinner?”

What help can you provide?

Sometimes all that’s needed is a friendly face and good listening skills. I’ve met refugees who need a specialist doctor, translator or lawyer, and I’m none of the above. What I offer is my time, friendship, and local knowledge. I can research support services, make some calls and send emails reaching out to others who may be willing to get involved. I support others who are new to visiting detention centres, so that refugees can have a friendly local supporting them. None of this is expensive or requires special training, I’m simply using some of my spare time to supplement the great work being done by other volunteers. And you can too.

At the end of the day, honest intentions will cover a lot of accidental missteps. Start by connecting with the person, and finding out if there’s a way you can help. 

How does it feel to take anti-depressant medication?

I recently attended a talk called “All Kinds of Minds: Let’s talk about mental health” at a software testing conference**. My “a-ha!” moment came when Aaron admitted that he really didn’t want to present this topic, and that the only way to reduce the stigma around mental health issues was to start having these discussions. To honour Aaron’s effort, I’m sharing this experience of a time when I switched anti-depressant*** medication.


When I need to change my medication or dosage I try to wait until my next holiday from work, to avoid the side-effects from impacting my career as much as possible. It does take some fun out of the holidays, and it can be hard on friends and family. It also means that I try to make the change over 2-3 weeks rather than the recommended 4-8 weeks. Please note that I never adjust my dosage without consulting my GP.

After almost 2 years my Cymbalta (SNRI) medication was no longer effective, and my GP recommended I switch to Citalopram (SSRI), using Mirtazapine to assist with the changeover. This post is in NO WAY a recommendation for others. I recorded the notes below only to assist in conversations with my doctor. Looking back now, I realise that my notes may provide insight for others when suggesting that somebody “just take some happy pills”, or when wondering why a colleague seems a little vague for a few weeks.

After reading this you may wonder – “Is it worth it?”. Obviously I think it is, and this is what I’m willing to go through for a few weeks per year so that I can feel normal-ish for the rest of the year.


6 days on half Mirtazapine tablet with 1 Citalopram:
Chest pains with anxiety attacks, dizzy

29 Dec: Switch to 1 Mirtazapine and 1 Citalopram
Swollen feet and ankles, anxiety strong, chest pain, mood swings/rage, wind, insatiable appetite, headaches.

31 Dec: Feet & ankles mildly swollen, anxiety, feel slow and heavy like underwater, want to do nothing, irritable (not rage), no wind, no headaches, eating lots and often – need to use will power a lot more than usual.
Chest pains and anxiety during self criticism. Major one when I decided to change dosage without getting doctor’s advice. So I didn’t do it.

3 Jan: less anxiety and hunger since evening of 1 Jan, neither is an issue now. Not irritable etc.
Feet are uncomfortably swollen. Sleep of the dead, I don’t wake until I’m woken.

5 Jan: feet still swollen, left one is slightly worse. Very deep sleep. First day back at work, got more anxious as day progressed.

9 Jan: 1 Citalopram and 0.5 Mirtazapine
Base level of anxiety higher today 5/10. No depression, very swollen all over.

10 Jan: swollen, achy, anxious 5/10, had to lay on the floor for a while, not depressed, still sleeping deeply.

14 Jan: great day yesterday. Today 4-5 anxiety attacks at work. Felt like my family and I would be better off if I moved away. Cried myself to sleep, swollen feet, slept like a log.

15 Jan: down to 0.25 Mirtazapine and 1 Citalopram.

18 Jan: good, swelling basically gone. Easier to wake. 1 anxiety attack yesterday, none today. Feeling positive.


** WeTest Weekend Workshops 2015 in Auckland #www15
***Antidepressants are useful for anxiety and depression, and a bunch of other things

From Oz to NZ: 1 year later

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A year ago I moved from Sydney to Auckland with my husband and two young children, aged one and three at the time. We had always lived in Sydney, and we knew nobody in Auckland…
For anyone considering a similar move, here’s a short summary of my past year.

1. Missing family and friends
This is clearly the hardest part of moving overseas. To help with keeping in touch, most mobile plans here include calls to Aus as if they were local calls. Then there’s Skype and FaceTime. In the end there’s always trips back to Oz for holidays, and we’ve been extremely lucky to have family visiting us here. It’s such a great feeling to have familiar faces around and have a chance to really catch up.

2. Making new friends
All four of us have made new friendships in the past year, through work, daycare and neighbours. One week after arriving we celebrated our son’s first birthday in our hotel room, with just us. For his second birthday we had some close friends over for a proper backyard party, and I really felt that we had settled in. We were also honoured to be invited to a friend’s wedding recently, where it was hard to believe that we’ve only known them for a year.

I’ve found Kiwis to be very friendly. There’s also a large immigrant population here in Auckland who understand what it’s like to arrive in a new country, and are happy to help each other settle in. Check out the wide variety of local Meetup groups.

3. Expanded vocabulary
We have lots of Kiwi friends in Sydney, so I was surprised by all of the new words which I’d never heard before.
Waitangi, pukeko, tui, bach, pohutukawa, whānau, marae, Shortland St – I’m now able to use all of these words in conversation.

Saying ‘chilly bin’ (chully bun) seems way too hard compared to Esky, and I’ll know I’ve forgotten my roots if I ever call my thongs ‘jandals’ (jendels). pukeko4. That accent
We ate a lot of fush n’ chups on arrival, just for the fun of saying it. Twelve months later I still can’t help but order fush n’ chups and have an internal fit of giggles, even when other options on the menu look more appetising… If you think that turnabout is fair play, try booking a restaurant table for six!

Inevitably our children are developing Kiwi accents. I thought I’d mind but I really don’t. What I hadn’t expected was that they’re also picking up a Pommy accent for some words, due to the large number of British immigrants in our area. As for me, I find myself saying hid instead of head and bid instead of bed.. It’s especially noticeable when we have visitors from Oz, or when I first land back in Sydney.

5. Ours vs Theirs
Pavlova is not from Australia! I’m scared to even ask about lamingtons, meat pies and Vegemite.

Pavlova6. Rugby
Unless you’re a die-hard Wallabies fan, be prepared to follow the All Blacks. They’re local heroes, their faces are on lots of billboards, they’re always on the radio and TV, and the Silver Fern flags are flying year-round. And they do win a lot of games, to be fair. It’s only a matter of time before you succumb.
All Blacks7. The Rain
The Auckland Summer weather has been gorgeous. It may say 24 degrees on the thermometer but it honestly feels like 29, perfect for a swim. The water’s not even that cold once you’re in 😉 All of the local pools are heated, and they’re often free for kids aged 16 and under.

Then came the rain, and the locals told us it was the ‘Autumn showers’. That was a bit misleading, because in Winter we were told about ‘Winter showers’, and guess what happened in Spring? Yes, ‘Spring showers’. Sometimes it only rains lightly for an hour, while the clouds loom all day and you’re never quite sure when it will rain next.

Some advice we had before arriving proved to be useful – “Don’t change your plans based on the rain, just get out there and do it anyway”. It helps that the museums in Auckland are free for local residents, and that the main attractions (zoo, aquarium, MOTAT) have season passes available.

8. Getting away
In Auckland you can drive for an hour North or South and be well out of town at amazing mountain, farm or beach locations. If you’re from Sydney and used to driving an hour each way to visit friends on weekends, you’ll think nothing of zooming down the motorway for a day trip most weekends. There are also lots of excellent camping sites and a wide variety of holiday houses available in every town.

9. Public transport
It pains me to say this but for now just forget about it, buy a car. There are a few exceptions, particularly if you work very close to Central (Britomart), but for the most part public transport can take almost as long as walking. As in many major cities, there are improvements to public transport “coming soon”.

10. Exercise
Locals seem to be jogging, cycling, kayaking or sailing all the time. Eventually even I had to start exercising, just to fit in.


Our plan was to live in Auckland for one year. That quickly became two years because of the hassle and cost of moving. Now we’re enrolling our daughter in primary school, with no plans of moving again any time soon.

Paying It Forward

Last year I received generous donations from the global online testing community in order to attend Let’s Test Oz.

As promised, I’ve started paying those funds forward. Wow, it feels good!

$50 per month is going to Oxfam NZ.

Also, so far $200 (of $900) has been paid forward to Per Scholas.

Both of these organisations run life-changing programs and have a huge impact in their community. It’s an honour to be able to support their work.

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