Thursday, October 11, 2018

I signed Do Not Resuscitate papers for my father. I expected to feel guilt, but that didn’t happen. This blog post explains why.


Two days ago I signed Do Not Resuscitate papers for my father. I expected to feel guilt, but that didn’t happen. This blog post explains why.

I don’t usually talk about family because I am quite a private person. However, I had a long conversation with Tom, my husband, last night and we think sharing my experience may be helpful.

A bit of background: my father walked out many years ago. He came back into my life just over a year ago because he had cancer.

It was not a Disney moment.  An attempt to reconnect failed.

This week I got a call from a doctor who informed me that matters are now coming to a close, and could I come for a discussion.

The other thing you should know about me is that back in the late 1990s, I helped my mother nurse a dear friend of ours, Christine, who had cancer. Back then, medicine wasn’t as good as it is now, and her doctors were callous.

Christine died in a lot of pain; so much pain, that her screams still haunt my mother and me today.

So, when my father reappeared to say he was sick, we wanted to be sure he had end of life care. That means palliative care and painkillers.

Luckily, Malaysians are compassionate people. There is a culture here of alleviating pain.

And this is what brings me to the message I want to share:

In modern life, we become insulated from many of the harsher elements of life. Sometimes, we don’t truly understand how much suffering a person can go through. As a result, when it comes to end of life care, we tie ourselves up in knots, wondering if we’re ‘interfering with fate’ or worse ‘killing’.

When I signed the DNR paperwork and then more papers to allow strong painkillers, I did so with gratitude. I felt grateful because I know how ugly passing from cancer can be. Making sure my father will not suffer an agonizing death is my gift to him.

I’m sharing my thoughts because I want to say that if you have to face a similar situation, please do not feel guilty. There is no benefit whatsoever in having someone suffer.  

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Six questions to ask your doctor about medication for depression, anxiety and other mental health issues

Going to take meds for depression and stress? Here's what to ask. Photo: jnittymaa0.

It's impossible to make an informed decision about your health choices when you're processed in a system that just shuttles you from A to B without explanation. Sadly, many hospitals are faced with too few staff and too many patients and there is just no time to talk.

On paper, it looks efficient to batch process  people but it hides all kinds of problems. For example, there's a letter in The Star today that says some people avoid X-rays and CAT scans because they believe in viral rubbish scare stories and doctors simply don't have to the time to debunk the myths. Read the whole things here.

From what I hear, too many of us are seeing doctors about depression and stress, only to come away with pills but very little else.

I am not a doctor and I can't fix the system to magically give everyone more time. But what I can do for my clients is to help them make the most of their visit. I tend to talk about this in short consultations but I thought it would be useful to write it up here.

First, should you be seeing a medical doctor for stress and depression? I'd say a trip to your family doctor for a general checkup is always a good first step. See why here.

Second, if you are depressed or stressed, should you go and look for pills or talk therapy first? My thoughts on how to make a decision that suits you are here.

So, suppose you decide to see a psychiatrist, a specialist medical doctor about your mental health issue. Here are my top tips for making sure you ask questions that will help you make the most of your time.

First, if you can, take a trusted friend with you. Most of us are nervous when seeing a doctor, and so we forget to ask stuff or forget to listen. Having a friend to listen with you can be a big help.

If you're too shy for company, take a notebook with your questions listed and a pen to make notes of the replies so you don't forget what you're told.

Questions to ask your psychiatrist about medicine:
1. What will this drug do for me? (IE, why am I taking it?)
2. How do I take this drug? (IE every day at the same time? Only when XYZ happens?)
3. How long before we know if the drug is working? (Because some drugs like antidepressants can take weeks to kick in)
4. Drugs can have bad effects, too. When do I know something is very wrong and I should come right back to you?
5. Is this drug addictive?
6. If I take this drug, and I change my mind later on, can I just stop taking it? (Because with some drugs, it can be very dangerous to just stop taking them; you need to be weaned off them slowly, with the help of a doctor.)

If your doctor is too rushed, unapproachable or you don't understand her, my best advice is to have a chat with the hospital pharmacist. Pharmacists are good at answering them and they often enjoy being consulted, so be prepared for loooooong educational lectures.


Also, go back and see your family doctor.

Should you ask a psychologist, therapist or counsellor about your medicine? No, we cannot give advice about drugs. You need a medical doctor for that.

But there is another question to ask: if you see a psychiatrist and take meds, should you also seek talk therapy? I'd say you should think it over because:

1. Pills can't fix your life. If you are on medication, and your stress and depression are not from a purely physical issue, it can be a good idea to add in talk therapy.

2. Also, pills for depression can take weeks to kick in, so a bit of talk therapy at the start can help you manage symptoms while you wait.

3. If you are stopping medication, and you need support for managing the psychological effects of withdrawal, talk therapy is also useful.

Now, psychiatrists can offer talk therapy too but in some countries there are so few of them that they don't run that kind of practice. If you also want to combine meds and talk therapy, ask when you visit. If they say no, you can always 'add on' someone like me. 


As for getting more info about drugs, should you Google? Honestly, I am on the fence with this. There is so much utter trash out there, that part of me says it's best to just stay away. But there's also some good stuff and if you're lucky enough to find it, then it may be useful. I like WebMD as it's written by doctors and Quackwatch which specialises in debunking popular health myths.

However, I know I don't have the basic knowledge to make really good informed decisions (do you? check this for my take on how to find out) and so when I rick my back, have a fever or some other issue, I go to the pharmacist. If they say I need to move up a stage, I see my family doctor. If she says it's beyond her, I see a specialist.

Basically, I see people I trust and I do what they say. It's a system that suits me.


I hope you found this interesting and that it helps you in some way. The main thing is this: don't be shy, reach out and get the support you need.


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Dear Ellen, "There are times when I'm touchy, feeling empty and unfeeling."


And another entry on the anonymous form. THANK YOU!
Thank you, Comfreak!
Hey Ellen, your content is so helpful so thank you for the time to offer such valuable advice to all of us. My question is: I get bouts of what feels like depression periodically, possibly due to hormones (I'm self diagnosing here). There are times when I'm touchy, feeling empty and unfeeling. I won't feel like doing anything, not even things I liked. This can last for a few days and can affect my relationship with others. Do you have any tips or advice on how to survive the grey cloud that feels like it could never go away? Thank you!

And thank you, too. I’m so glad you’re finding this useful.

It sucks when your body is messing up your mind - and your relationships!- but you have two great things going for you. Not only do you recognise you have an issue but you think you know what is going on. It means you’re not wandering in the dark and that’s awesome.

Now, you say it lasts just a few days, so I’m guessing it’s a menstrual cycle issue?

My advice would be to gather data. Basically, you need to track the days and times when your body is interfering with your mood.

Note that this may be retroactive because on Monday you might hit the ceiling over nothing and it’s only on Wednesday that you realise why.

I suggest you use your phone calendar and use a simple hash tag, like #Mood if you’re feeling gentle with yourself or #EvilWitch if you’re feeling sarcastic.

Track yourself and hopefully, you will see a pattern emerging.

Once you know what’s going on, you plan for managing these difficult times. It’s a two step process: anticipate when it may happen, and have a plan for changing your behaviour.

For example, suppose your bad spots fall on the first Monday and Tuesday of every month, and you notice your temper rises in the afternoons and you get the blahs at night.

First mark your calendar with pink to hint which days might be ‘temperamental’.

Second, on those days, you go into the world with the knowledge that you are not your usual self. So, on those days you do several things:
1.      If possible, restrict yourself from potentially difficult situations on those days. Avoid meeting with toxic people, taking big decisions and so on.
2.      You know you are touchy so when you feel your temper rise, you pinch yourself and say out loud that it may or may not be warranted. Make a conscious effort to step away.
3.      You know you will feel blah at night, so you can either give yourself permission to hang out and do nothing OR you can schedule specific things that you know will give you a boost. There’s no right or wrong: do what works best for you.

Apart from understanding your own body and mind, if you’re worried about how those #Mood #EvilWitch moments affect your relationships, you can have a conversation with the people most likely to be affected.  “I know I blew up at you last Tuesday over nothing. I’m sorry, it’s pesky hormones. I’m trying to manage it better.” And you can choose how much to share from that point on.

I’m not saying you’re going to get a free ticket on your bad days, that would be a bit much, but understanding and the effort to manage should get you some Brownie points.

Finally, if you find your hormones are really causing you issues, it is worth seeing someone. If it’s mildly annoying and you just need some hand holding while you figure stuff out, try a therapist.

If it’s more serious, then maybe your family doctor can help but I would be heading to my gynaecologist, preferably one who is very good with things like post natal depression because it means she is used to dealing with hormonal and mood issues.

I do hope that helps!  And feel free to use the anonymous form again.




Friday, September 7, 2018

Dear Ellen "My sister is sick and won't help herself"


We have another question via the anonymous form:

Dear Ellen, I'm writing to seek some advice regarding my sister, who is in her early 30s. She is currently staying with my parents and we're worried about her health.

She is overweight and a body checkup revealed that she has fatty liver. She has an inactive lifestyle and all she does is go to work, then spend the rest of her time either on the computer or on sleeping.

We've advised her to move around more and have a healthier diet but she does not heed our advice.

Could you please provide some suggestions on how to motivate her to change her lifestyle? Thank you!

Oh lord, what a frightening situation for you all.

Okay, first things first. I am sure you’ve read the superb overview by the doctors on WebMD on Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

It’s one of those things that can hit anyone, and the nasty thing about it is that one of the effects includes fatigue.

It is entirely possible that your sister is going to bed rather than the gym because of the disease. 

It is also possible that she’s had a shock from being diagnosed and that she’s down or possibly depressed.

As the doctors advise a change of diet and exercise, you are right in that she must make some changes. But advising her has to be done with great care and compassion.
 
I suggest this:

You cannot force an adult to do things they don’t want to, therefore, you have to recognise that your current communication strategy is failing. Junk it and start afresh.

Prepare yourself for the discussion by throwing away all of your past impressions, thoughts and experiences. You are going in fresh and this is the first step of a negotiation.

Pick a time when your sister is most likely to have some energy. She needs to be in a calm spot where she’s open to talking.

Make sure it’s just the two of you, nobody else. The fewer people, the easier it is to talk.

Start by telling her you won’t be advising her. This is important because she may be fed up with people telling her what to do.

Tell her you love her.

Ask her, what is she feeling about this new situation?

Then listen.

Ask only questions, don’t give opinions. The trick is to aim away from advising and towards understanding. Ask until you are certain you see it from her point of view.

When you get how she feels, you can say, “Okay, sis, I want to help but I need you to tell me exactly how.” You say this because this is her issue and she's the one in control.

If she doesn’t have any concrete ideas, here are some of mine:

Schedule some happiness into her week, every week, in order to keep up her spirits. There’s a blog post here on how to do that.

Everyone is worried and that can lead to endless “How are you?” health conversations that would drive anyone bonkers.  Negotiate how you talk about her health. It may be that she limits you to asking about it only on Fridays, or that you have to respectful and back off when she says, “I’m not talking about it today.”Whatever she wants, do it.

Changing over to a new eating style can be bothersome, so make at least part of it fun. Discover some delicious healthy food dishes together. Either swap recipes or cook for each other. Set up family Healthy Lunch or Healthy Dinner outings.

About exercise. Usually, people suggest that you buddy up for walks and swims. In my experience, that’s usually a disaster because people very quickly find reasons not to go.

My best advice is that your sister hires a personal trainer once a week. With a personal trainer, you get proper routines and as it’s a business, you turn up on time and there’s no nonsense. Tell that person what the doctor said, and figure out a custom action plan.

Also, get her signed up for one class, in dancing, swimming, yoga, pole dancing - whatever. You can go with her if you want, but it has to be a regular group and it has to be awesome fun. Any kind of movement will do.

Most importantly, she will need an advocate, someone who can help her stand up to family, friends and complete strangers who will be drowning her in unsolicited advice. Worse, there will also be people hoping to cash in by selling her miracle drugs from overseas.

Be totally on her side, and work out between you how you deal with kindly but meddlesome types, rude imposing types and scummy swindling sales types.

Important: this is about how your sister wants to manage her life, and so she makes the decisions and you are her enforcer. Don’t let anyone bully you.  Be a tiger!

And finally, talk to her about the possibility that she may also be suffering from depression. If she is, and the symptoms last for a fortnight, being assessed might be a good idea.

Making lifestyle changes is not easy, so expect setbacks and obstacles, but do know that it can be done. 

Your sister has you and your parents, so start with that and gradually build up her support network. Again, there’s a blog post on how to do that here.

I hope this helps. If you need more, do use the anonymous form again. I’ll be thinking of you.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Dear Ellen "I have it all but I'm still depressed"


Someone filled out the anonymous form and so we have a question of the day:

What is your advice for finding true happiness inside and out? I’m sure I’m an undiagnosed depressed soul. I’m educated, employed, mother of 2 with a great husband of 22 years. I never feel happy and I’m sure I’m negative to my friends and family. I want to break the cycle. I’ve tried medication in the past but it was ineffective.

I’m sorry to hear you’re having a bad time and glad you’re reaching out.

You have a lot of blessings but as you note, depression can hit you regardless of what your circumstances are. That’s what makes it so difficult. 

Somehow or another, we have talked ourselves into thinking that's it's only okay to be depressed if you have a solid reason. But the fact is that depression can hit anyone at any time.

Don't worry about whether you've 'the right' to be depressed. It's just an issue you have to deal with, like having spots or sore feet.  

Also, you’re not alone!

The 2017 National Health and Morbidity Survey found that 29% of Malaysians suffer from depression and anxiety disorder - that’s more than double the 12% who reported having these issues back in 2011.

So, giving it's a really common problem, let’s start with the how you should approach tackling depression.

Ideally, you:
1.      See your family doctor to rule out physical issues like thyroid problems. More on that, here.
2.      Talk to a therapist to see what stresses are in your life and to get an accurate picture of exactly what is going on.
Only at that point do you see if you want to explore medicine or therapy or both. Some more thoughts about that here.

I don’t know what you did or how long ago it was but if it’s been a while, please adopt that approach.  

Everyone is different so be fully informed first and only then take decisions that suit you and your needs.

Also, a thought about the medication. NOTE: I am not a doctor and only medical doctors can discuss this properly. However, may I ask how long you took meds? Because a lot of antidepressants take several weeks before they start working. Doctors sometimes forget to explain that, and so people pop a pill for three days, expecting instant results, and then quit.

If you did that, then factor that into your decision making.

What would I suggest you do right away? Rule out physical stuff and then talk to a therapist, starting with your workload.

I say that because, from your short description, it sounds like you have a lot of roles and responsibility. Are you perhaps overworked? Is everyone around you pitching in or are you somehow bearing the whole load?

Also, what about your self care? Do you do things that are fun for you?  A little happiness scheduling may be of benefit.I wrote a blog post on how that works, here.

Then, work on your communication. You recognise you’re a bit negative, and that is a habit you can change. Get some help with that, and learn to tweak your responses a little. A good strategy for that is cognitive behavioural therapy. And yes, there's a blog post on that too, here.

I hope this helps you start your journey to happiness. Do write again if you like and we continue the conversation. The form is here.


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Ask a counselling psychologist. Free, anonymous Q&A.

While we're getting much better about talking about mental health, but there's still a lot of stigma to overcome. So, if you've ever wanted to ask a question but been too shy to ask, here's an anonymous form. Ask anything you like and I will do my best to answer.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Can you eat your way to happiness?


 Serotonin is associated with mood and it’s present in certain foods, so can you eat your way out of depression and into happiness?
Will this dish clear your depression?
 If Google it up, you’ll find lots of articles pushing the idea that depression can be fixed by adjusting your diet. One of the common suggestions is that you should be looking out for serotonin. Is it true, a Facebook rumour or a marketing scam?

Here’s what you need to think about before you decide.

Serotonin and depression, what’s the link?
In the 1950s, scientists discovered that a treatment for tuberculosis had an amazing side effect: it relieved depression and anxiety, too. The key to the magic seemed to be a chemical called serotonin.

Today, serotonin is associated with mood but also physical good health.

What exactly is serotonin?
Serotonin is a chemical whose job involves passing messages around the nervous system.  It is a neurotransmitter.

Where do you find serotonin?
It’s in your brain as well as your digestive system, in your blood and your central nervous system. In short: pretty much all over the place.

What does serotonin do?
Here are some of the things serotonin is involved with:
o       Mood, especially happiness, depression and anxiety,
o       Bowel movements,
o       Bone health,
o       Blood clotting,
o       Sex drive,
o       Sleep.

Okay, sounds good. So, I want loads of it, right?
The really annoying thing about the human body, is that you can’t simply whack up your serotonin levels and think it’s all good.

For example, if you boost serotonin in the brain you can help fight depression, but the higher levels can have a bad impact on your sex drive.

Think of your body as a complex machine like a car: oil is an important ingredient that keeps it all going, but immersing your ride in it wouldn’t be too wonderful.

So, how about I eat lots of serotonin food and let my body figure it out?
Exactly what the scientists have been thinking. In all the research, some are asking, “If we boost serotonin in the gut, can we boost happiness in the brain? Can we eat our way to happiness?”

Of course, being scientists, they argue over the best way to test that theory, too.

Some researchers said, “Look, we’re going to get volunteers, feed them a load of food that’s high in serotonin: plantain, pineapple, banana, kiwi fruit, plums, and tomatoes and see what happens.”

They did this, several times, and results were mixed. Some thought it was a good thing, others said it did nothing for depression.

Other researchers said, “Okay, instead of serotonin let’s focus on food high in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is involved in creating serotonin, a kind of a precursor.”

They fed their volunteers food high in tryptophan, like: meat, shellfish, fish, whole oats, wheat germ and also chia seeds, cashew nuts, soybeans, cheese, and eggs.

Again, results were mixed. Some thought it made a difference and others said it didn’t.

So, what’s the thing I need to take away from this?
Although serotonin does seem to be play an important role in mood, science doesn’t have a solid answer on whether eating specific foods will help relieve depression or not.

However, if you’re down or depressed, I suggest that you incorporate this pineapple, banana and kiwi fruit salad into your diet.

Think of it this way:

It can’t do you any harm - unless you’re allergic.
People who are depressed often don’t eat properly.
Eating delicious food is a cheerful activity all by itself.
Also, eating fruit = a huge whammy of vitamins.
Finally, talking about bowel movements: having excellent digestion is a happy thing.
Fruit will help with that, too.

Why are there strawberries in your salad?
Because I like them and my local fruit shop buys them from a small organic farm in the Cameron Highlands. Whenever I eat them, I love the flavour and I feel as if I’m helping a small business.

And you are...?
I’m a counselling psychologist. I have a degree in psychology and a masters in counselling. I use talk therapy to help my clients.

I am not a genius researcher or neuroscientist, so if you want to dive into the subject, you need to talk to a specialist.

I wrote this because I worry about unscrupulous marketing people who will tell you all kinds of crap just to make $$$ out of you.

My aim is to present information so that you can make up your own mind. I do it as best I can but it’s simply what I think. Like everything else you read on the Internet, don’t take it as gospel. Read critically and double-check everything.

I need to read these studies for myself
Awesome! A good start is
How To Increase Serotonin In The Human Brain Without Drugs
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/  It’s not the latest paper but it has a really good literature review and it’s easy to access. If you want to read more, go to Google Scholar and look for serotonin depression diet and see the latest papers.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Be Your Own Therapist: Support System Mapping 101


There are some common techniques and practices in the mental health professional toolbox that anyone can (and should!) use. Here’s one of my faves: the support system map.

We are very social beings, and when we don’t feel supported, we feel lonely and this fuels depression and stress.

As a first step to happiness, it makes sense to know how you stand in terms of support. This is why it is one of the very first things I tend to suggest in sessions.

Now, the support system map is dead simple to set up. You sit down with a sheet of paper and ask yourself, “Who makes me happy? Who can I call, visit, or see when I need support, advice or just a giggle?”

Some clients resist this exercise, saying, “I know who I can go to, and don’t need to write it down” but when they start, they inevitably discover it is incredibly useful because it highlights support strengths you may have overlooked and identifies areas you need to beef up.

This is one of the fundamental principles of therapy: just applying structure to the chaos can be enlightening.

Blog posts work best with examples, so I’m going to share my support system map.

Do note I work very hard on my connectivity because I work from home, and I live very far away from my family in a culture that I wasn’t born into. That’s a triple whammy (my choice!) and I love my life but I’m aware I need to be super careful.

So, here’s what I have

People I can say anything to at any time, and call in the middle of the night in an emergency
Tom, my husband
Ian, my brother
My mum
Plus four friends I’ve had for over twenty years, and two close friends I’ve had ten years

Friends I have a ‘mutual moan’ pact with whom I can Skype or Message anytime without an appointment
Two

Author friends I have a ‘mutual moan’ pact with whom I can Skype or Message
Seven

Therapy friends I have a ‘mutual moan’ pact with whom I can Skype or Message
Problem area: up until six months ago I had two but they left Malaysia. Needs beefing up.

People I’d trust 100% to give me solid advice and counsel on either love or career
Seven friends

Friends in the neighbourhood I can go for a quick morning coffee with
Two friends

Lunch friends who always inspire me
Too many to mention

Friends to go to the pub with in the evening
Problem area: five years ago that was over a dozen people, but most have moved away and one passed away. Needs beefing up.

So, if you’re stressed and you’re not at the point where you need someone like me to talk to, create your own support system map and beef up all the bits you feel are lacking. Honestly, it’s a great help. Also, if you are unhappy at work, here’s a post onhow to use this together with self determination theory.

I’m off to see my mum for my annual holiday. I will be seeing my present clients but I won’t be taking on new clients until July 1st. 




Tuesday, May 22, 2018

On being a personal cheerleader, because we all need to hear it, “You can do it. You are also a hero.”


I realised last week that when I was little, I read fantasy books that were rich with strong, interesting and capable heroes and where female characters were one dimensional caricatures.

As I said in my sweet romance blog post, it didn’t bother me at the time. Ever since I wrote that, I’ve wondering why. I think I’ve come up with the answer and curiously, it has a lot to do with my therapy work.

I grew up in Amsterdam in the late 1960s and early 1970s (yes, I’m THAT old!). The Netherlands has been an egalitarian society for a very long time, and all the adults around me were solidly supportive.

When I didn’t do great on my schoolwork, my teachers didn’t scold. I was told, “If you’re trying, that’s good enough. It will come.”

My ambitions to be a pilot, or maybe a vet, elicited an, “Awesome!”

No matter what, it was dinned into me, “You can do it.”

When we moved to Scotland in the late 1970s, that support was spotty. My parents were rocks as were some of their friends and some of our teachers, but there were a lot of others who, frankly, were absolutely toxic.

For the first year, the bullying was stellar. In the school I attended, the teachers encouraged the kids to throw stones at me because I didn’t speak the language or share their religious beliefs.  

After I switched schools, the bullying disappeared. However, sexism was rife. One moment that really crystallized that attitude for me was the deputy headmaster who advised me that I should be a shop girl “because careers are for boys.”

So, what does this to do with my enjoying fantasy novels that have great male characters and few or no females? Just this: because of my early experience, I never associated strong and capable with being male.

From my earliest days I was taught that anyone could be a hero.

So, when I read Lord of the Rings, I was Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn as easily as I was Galadriel. Reading the Rift War saga, I was Pug and Arutha as happily as I was Anita (although TBH I preferred the Valheru over all of them!)

And this leads me to my therapy work. I’m aware that my early training gave me the confidence and resilience I needed to reach for my happiness. It’s not always easy but that foundation has been a tremendous help.

Not everyone is as lucky. There are those who aren’t treated well by their parents, their families, their bosses, or their communities.

When they have a personal crisis, they feel they can’t open up because they would be judged.

“I’m supposed to be stronger than this.”
“If they knew, I’d lose respect.”
“I just need to talk through this, without being lectured.”
“It’s embarrassing, I don’t want anyone to know, but I need a second opinion.”

Back when I first signed up to do my Masters, I thought practice would be all about helping clients work through and manage issues. But over time I’m beginning to learn that for some people, it’s about needing temporary support, a personal cheerleader, if you like. Someone whose professional code means she will never tell.

I’m okay with that. I think we all need to hear it, “You can do it. You are also a hero.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Cultural Appropriation, Cats And Anger


Keziah bought a prom dress and naturally showed it off to her friends on Twitter. Hours later, the young American girl was inundated with by mobs of haters screaming at her. Why? Because she was wearing a cheongsam.

What constitutes good manners is very much a matter of time and place. When I first went to Indonesia, back in the 80s, my good friend Mr Toebe gave me a dress from his native island, Savu.

“Wear it when we go to dinner,” he said.

I thanked him, and the next time we went out, I put it on.

Now, Savu ladies are petite and I’m a hulking great big European.

The dress was gorgeous, and Mr Toebe had taken the precaution of having two skirts sew together so it would cover me properly, but I looked as if I’d been stuffed into a carpet.  Fashion fail was putting it mildly.

Mr Toebe met me in the lobby of my hotel, took one look, and said, “Absolutely lovely.” Then, just as smoothly, “Better get changed. The restaurant is a little cold.”

Told you he was a nice man!

The thing is, over the years I have been given saris, kebayas, and a tonne of tops, hats, shoes and other fashion items. I’ve been grateful for the gifts and I’ve worn them to make my friends happy - whether they suited me or not.

I know that manners and customs change, and that’s fine, but I’ve been watching the spread of ‘cultural appropriation’ with dismay. 

“You can’t wear that dress!”
“You’re not allowed to get that haircut!”
“That coat is only to be worn by my people!”
“How dare you look the way you do!”

When I hear these sentiments, I think of my cats. When they’re in a bad mood, they start fighting over who gets the big comfy chair, over who gets the corner sofa seat, and who is entitled to getting lap time. 

They’re cats and they’re territorial because they can’t help it. But we are people and we should know better.

I get that anger is a problem. We're all frustrated by bad economies, by unmitigating unfairness, and by constant overcrowding and stress.

But I don’t like this trend. Policing how others look is the tool of controlling bullies. It’s not nice.

As for the mental health aspect of this, let me say this: if the sight of someone feeling beautiful and happy enrages you, there is something very wrong. And not only does that rage hurt others, but it's going to hurt you, too.

Note: I am a private counselling psychologist helping my clients manage stress and depression. I work online via Skype and Facebook Messenger. Email me via happy@lepak.com. My current charges are RM100 or US$30 over Paypal per session. The first 20 minutes are free.