The other twin – an anxiety story

I know I never used to have the anxiety that sits at the back of my mind, in the depths of my lungs, in the pit of my stomach, until the PhD.

Something that never was and now can never be shaken off. Not totally, not properly. She sits close by, makes the hair stand on the back of my neck, like a spectre twin.


I don’t know what I could have done to prevent her from arriving. 

Sometimes I think it was a perfect storm of difficult people, a hard task, and an overwhelming stuckness. I didn’t lash out at others. I brutalised myself.

All the should’ve.

All the could’ve. 

That I wasn’t anything less than useless, weak, because I didn’t live up to impossible standards that none but a few people I should never have listened to held and where doing the impossible wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. 

I used to wonder which is more of a failure – where you finish but can hardly recognise yourself for all the brokenness or where you give up and find yourself broken but now without any direction?


No matter any of this really. She is here now – this other me in a way – this hungry hag. Not a ghost because she feels too tangible – she makes herself felt so viscerally.


Anxiety brings nightmares with her – where all of the sudden the very worst of a situation will play out in living colour behind my eyes. The worst has hardly ever happened, and I’ve always survived it, but it doesn’t make things any easier. The relief when the worst doesn’t happen is ridiculous only because the weight that sheds from carrying the fear can crush any colour. And I carry it for the people I love too where it feels like constant watching, constant waiting, just in case. And then worrying that I’m not doing enough. 

Sometimes I wonder whether my heart is ever inside my body.


She is the most harmful – in truth no one can say anything that would hurt me more because anxiety knows all my weaknesses so deeply. She knows where the bodies are buried and how to twist the knife just right. She screams, she whispers, she knows the tones that will set my teeth on edge. When she’s loud and heavy, so much clarity disappears into a numb dullness, a fuzzy wasteland of sharp edges. I know better how to talk back now but I still have to find the words, and they can take time, especially when what she says has a ring of truth. There are so many dented, imperfect things – I have to find the beauty in them all to protect myself. I have to defend the difficult things just to get by.


And the worst, when things get bad, when none of my cajoling has worked – it’s not just the racing heart, and the way my breath gets stuck in my lungs, where my body sets itself up to run or die. And because I don’t want to do either – and sometimes can’t because they frown upon you racing out of a plane mid-ascent – all of a sudden this energy takes a physical manifestation. Bursts into a pain in my chest, hyperventilating, where if anyone would touch me I would scream. For those few minutes – that feel like the rest of my life – the end of time – my heart has felt so close to bursting that I’ve wondered if last thoughts can really be so inane. 


The truth is though, these panic attacks hardly ever happen. 

Almost all the time, she is not so dramatic.

Mostly she is just very dull.

And very heavy.


She is worry about things that will never happen but that I have to make contingency plans for, just in case, to settle her down. She is fear of spaces I can’t easily leave, which means I sometimes say no to things because working out how to take the anxiety away is too exhausting. She is being aware all the time of how people are, and how I am, and if everything is OK, and will they be OK.

But sometimes, more often lately, she is quiet and I am still. And the peacefulness is so wonderful that I don’t want to move to disturb it. And these moments don’t need anything dramatic, just safety, and that can come in many forms. Sometimes it is just sitting in the sunshine with a coffee looking at clouds as Laks tries to sing to the birds.

I’ve tried to inscribe the peacefulness in tangible ways as well. All my tattoos are little mantras to remember. A little bit of therapy last year, just when I needed it, gave me points to remember that are now on my phone. 

I can only write about her now because she’s quieter at the moment, less heavy on my shoulders. 


And that’s the thing. All the energy I’ve spent on her, that I spend on her, just in keeping the world from falling apart.

Anxiety makes me positive – silver linings – positive reframing. Because it keeps her settled, more quiet. Helps me find those peaceful moments.

Anxiety helps keep me humble – grounded – where I’m learning to be more openly proud of my achievements but there’s always more to do, better to do. The balance between challenging myself and hurting myself. I know far too deeply the imperfections of what I do and I can see them in other work too but I try not to dig too deeply I case they have their own hag following them.

There are things I’ve learned that I would have missed – and beautiful things too – if I’d not been listening so hard to other people to make sure the worst wasn’t going to happen. 


But she is heavy, and she is exhausting. 

I am strong, but I am exhausted. 

And so I am careful. I trust the universe and do my best to keep her still. I write out the fears because they lose their grip when transferred to a page. I hold the peacefulness to my heart to settle it. I try to breathe…

And I sit with Laks in the sunshine, with a coffee in hand, and enjoy every peaceful moment. 

Realising adulthood

The morning my Pa told me the doctor thought he might have Parkinson’s Disease, the sunrise stained the sky with pinks and reds. It was almost as though paint had been knocked over which really is darkly apt. As I FaceTimed Hyde Park with my parents, as we discussed potentials and possibilities, we talked around the fears rather than about them. Too soon to articulate them before we knew anything definite. No point bringing the fears to life if they end up not being something you have to be afraid of just yet.

But it was the first time, they had seen the Italian Gardens. Geese had flown low over us as though showing off for their international audience.

I make a strange dance with adulthood. My life doesn’t look like I thought it would as the age I am, but then I couldn’t tell you what that life was meant to be, not really. I am dented and wonky and anxious. But I am living in a city I’ve finally made friends with, working in a job I love with people I admire enormously, and have surrounded myself with people I would fly to the ends of the earth if they needed. I may not own anything to speak of, may have made more rashly emotional decisions than sensible ones, but I am loved and I don’t regret anything of the chances I jumped into. And for that I really do feel lucky.

What I realised though, what I remembered listening to Pa, was that, for me, adulthood didn’t properly hit until my parents became vulnerable. Watching them grow a little frailer. Being more aware to send cards every month because it makes Ma happy and I’m not sure now they’ll make the trip to London – so I post London to them. Making all the moments I can count, despite being so far away, because it’s all we have. And as things like this happen, the trite becomes reality where every moment counts with absolute clarity.

Maybe as well being properly adult is also being peaceful with who I am. Knowing that I’ll be anxious anyway, I now have folders of articles about medication and progression and future research. My anxiety lessens when I know more about what I’m meant to be worried about.

The evening my Pa told me his results were back and he was starting Parkinson’s medication, Laks was on my lap. As Pa and I quarrelled about taking probiotics – at least that feels somewhat nicer than arguing about politics – Ma sent kisses to Laks while she meowed back. We made plans for a trip back to talk through everything in person – plans and contingencies and just-in-cases. There’s plenty of years left – that’s not in question – but rather making sure that I am as helpful as I can be over here. Being an adult by being able to sit with my parents in whatever capacity they need as they grow older too.

Winter and spring, hope and love

I’ve always loved Sylvia Plath’s Ariel – her version, the one she set out before she died.

I think we forget sometimes that she was so much more than the tragedy of her death. Because Ariel has so much hope in it. It begins to with LOVE and ends with SPRING.

Plath slogs through the winter in her work. She doesn’t shy away from the cold and pain and loss of it. The fury and the burn that can seep into the dark and cold.

But still – before and after – LOVE and SPRING – like bright punctuations of light guiding between the storms.

Because to me, those words, those feelings, those experiences, are so much hope.

They bring sunrise because it’s easier to feel hopeful when it doesn’t seem like the sun is hiding away from you. As the darkness shortens, there’s less night for things to go bump in.

They bring comfort and safety – a place to breathe when everyone else feels harder, scarier.

It doesn’t mean that they don’t have their difficulties.

Spring brings hayfever where beauty and discomfort mix in blurred vision and itchy noses.

Love means letting someone else see all of your deep and dark and trusting they’re as OK with it as you are with theirs.

It doesn’t mean that, even with the promise of light in the future, sometimes the winter feels too cold, too hard. It’s end seemingly impossible when all you can see is frost. The darkness feels too long. The promise of warmth may not feel terribly useful when your fingers are frozen.

Sometimes you have to walk through the cold for what feels like forever – when you see sunrises burning in the distance but can’t yet feel their warmth.

But for all that it may seem trite sometimes, we are surrounded by LOVE and SPRING more than we know. Even as it lies dormant during the harder times.

Just as spring can bring unexpected flowers, love can bring unexpected kindness.

Even in the cold, LOVE and SPRING are always waiting for us.

A new word for a new year

More and more I’m drawn to the word ‘peace’.

I’m not big on New Years resolutions but I try to pick a word, a mantra, for a new year to summon up some power. Try to magic some good energy for the year ahead. Remind myself that things can change in an instant – respect and honour the good times because they won’t last and work through the bad times because they will also end – to trust in all the colours life brings.

And this year, I’m centred on peace.

Last year was a trash fire in so many ways but towards the end it felt like my mind had undertaken a revolution, softly softly. Things felt quieter, I felt quieter – and I felt so much stronger for it. I could hear myself better than I ever had before, hear others who I loved more clearly. It felt – still feels – wonderful.

And I want to protect that feeling for as long as I can.

In that quiet is strength and creativity without losing my breath and feeling like I’m about to fracture into a million pieces if one more idea is suggested.

In that quiet is peace.

And so this year I want peace.

This year already has its challenges. It has its lingering ghosts and shadows.

Every year does.

The difference is in me this time.

I feel more certain that the path ahead of me is absolutely where I should be, even if it still has rocks and wobbles.

I feel more certain of my whole even with my dents and scars.

I feel more certain, with no question or doubt, that I can be afraid of things and still work them out. And that sometimes I can even make the fears disappear. Sometimes I can make them beautiful.

And that feels exciting.

Peace is a comfort zone from which I can do the uncomfortable things.

Peace is where I can sometimes just be comfortable and breathe.

Because things shouldn’t be difficult all the time. They shouldn’t exhaust you and make the world around you lost its colour.

Sometimes things can just be sitting in the sunshine with a small cat snoring on your lap, with nothing at all planned for a little while longer.

And I’m OK waiting for the sunshine…

The practice of gratitude

Gratitude for Ffiona's panckaes and love

Grateful that I couldn’t initially think of anything to write today because I’ve just submitted two grants and a few short stories and my brain is tired.

  • But how exciting to be tired because I’ve been given chances to be creative and write projects and stories that feel meaningful and useful. Those words felt like they needed to be written, even if they don’t get accepted or published.
  • And it’s OK to not have all the words now. They’ll come back again.

Grateful to have just been looking outside onto a street in Kensington on an ordinary Saturday morning because I love this new normal. And ordinary is wonderful.

  • A restaurant I love, run by a woman I adore and admire.
  • The best pancakes and coffee!
  • Warmth from the grey and rain outside, but then the grey suits London somehow – the way the tops of the buildings look against the sky. I’ve learned to always look up!

Grateful for being given the space to fall down when I needed to this year.

  • Where I could be honest and vulnerable and broken-hearted. And where I could shake that grief off and open my eyes again when I was ready.
  • My wise women, my amazing friends, across boroughs and oceans, continents and time zones, near and far. I am blessed.

Grateful the the universe brought a small tortoiseshell cat into my life. She is my heart.

  • Admittedly, she is also one of my wise women. She’s the bravest of the two of us.

Grateful to feel more clear-eyed, my mind feels quieter, than I’ve ever known.

  • I don’t know how I got everything done when things were noisier. This feeling is more peaceful. Not perfect – there are still dents and wonks and days where everything feels too uncertain – but it’s more peaceful underneath.

Grateful for messages that don’t always need a reply but just show someone was thinking of you.

  • And I love sending those messages too.
  • Given all the time zones and general need to sleep though, I think all of us are grateful for being able to turn our phones onto silent at night.

Grateful for warm socks and fuzzy blankets and hot water bottles with squirrels on them.

  • Because I live in almost endless winter now.

Grateful that even though I’ve not posted on my blog for an age – and at times didn’t post because I didn’t like what I’d written enough – there is still time to shake those feelings off and start again.

  • To remind myself that I’ve still been writing – for work and creatively – and sometimes I only have so many words.
  • That I can recreate this blog into something new that might incorporate everything else.
  • That there are still options – there is still time – nothing is set in stone.

Grateful for all the doors that still may open, and the ones I’ve walked through already.

For the people already in my life, and those I’m still yet to meet.

For all the small beauties that sneak into my everyday, every day.

Gratutide for Laks

The new intimacies

Yesterday I took a train to Liverpool to meet the editor of a blog I used to work for. We had never met in person before and it's only since I moved to London that we've even been in the same hemisphere if not the same time zone. Before yesterday, she'd been someone on the other end of a computer screen via Skype or email – and that computer screen was at times pretty wonky when I was on the island with all the internet issues that entailed.
But she's a friend who became a friend as we talked over Skype and email.

We didn't stop talking yesterday when we met. It was as easy as meeting any one of my other friends who I've known for a long time in real life.
We just simply realised what the other looked like outside of a computer screen.

It got me thinking though about how friendships work now as all of us have jobs and lives that – in their varying precarious and wonky and sometimes-even-strategic ways – take us away from places we might have considered home and from the people we love most in the world.

This is not to say that we move and hole ourselves away never to meet anyone new or do anything differently. We make new homes, and we find some new people of our own as well.

But the ways in which we keep our old friendships burning and bright has changed. The ways in which we meet new people and stoke the beginnings of those fires.

And they take work and they take adjustment, especially when you're on other ends of the world.

Texts and emails aren't enough for some people in my life so it's a less regular FaceTime or Skype; but for others it's how we communicated before anyway because we were on other sides of the country. It's small, regular check-ins to see how the other is going. For a pretty segment of my life, Instagram helps as well.

We work out the new rhythms of our friendships. But the fact that this does take work in some ways changes the fabric of these old friendships. I've seen it in mine as I've moved about the place – and I've seen it in the friendships that others have told me about.
These changes bring two things:

  1. The friendship becomes stronger because you're both committed to making it work and you forgive each other the wonks of it all when wonks need to be forgiven. There's an ease that comes to these friendships because they know who you are (the real you) and can see how you can navigate your way through the new space without losing your way too much. One friend gave me de Certeau's 'Walking in the City' to read as I moved here and it has entirely and beautifully coloured how I find my way around London.
  2. The friendship falls away because something in it isn't strong enough to last the distance and last the changes. I used to mourn these losses badly, blame myself, because friendships shouldn't fall apart. Now my grieving period for these losses is shorter. Sometimes friends come to you for a season and that's enough and is what's meant to be. Sometimes friendships look nice and everything that is said is nice, but it's not enough. And that's the way of things sometimes. Moving helps you let go of things you might have otherwise held onto for no other reason than you had it.

And the friendships that stay – the intimacy they bring – are remarkable. And this is where ideas of intimacy are changing – and should be changing. If intimacy is that trust in someone – a space that is safe and authentic and true – where you are accepted entirely as yourself – why does that intimacy only have to be limited to romance? I want that safe, authentic, trusting space throughout my life.
Romance can flicker away – flowers die and earthquakes are never eternal to badly and poorly paraphrase poor Byron – but wonky-friendly intimacy is much more lasting.

That's what matters at the end of the day.
Its what matters at 2am when things are dark.
And it's what has mattered here on one end of the world as I realise more and more who my tribe are and how much I love them entirely.

Letters and my lost words 

I am terrible at keeping in contact with people.

I have good intentions – such good intentions – but they somehow always come apart. 

I am the person who constantly begins emails apologising for being a million years late in replying. 

My Ma, on the other hand, is incredible. She buys cards for people and writes letters to everyone she has ever met. She still writes to people she met as a child. 

It’s this beautiful, special thing. 

When I first moved out of home, she would write every week. In the midst of all my moving, I don’t have these letters anymore. In all the many moves since first leaving home, and having to cut and cut down possessions, they were lost. But Ma has kept all of the letters sent to her. They are kept in boxes in cupboards, to be taken out when needed. To be kept simply because they are special and they can.

Moving to London feels like a new start. And why not? It’s a whole new country on the other side of the world, in a new job, with the fewest possessions I’ve ever owned. 

Why not start a little afresh?

And so I am trying to be more like Ma. 

I keep lists of who I need to email now. Technically this is so I don’t forget. So I don’t do that thing I constantly do whereby I start an email, get interrupted, never finish it, and then in my head assume I’ve replied. It’s a work in progress. Lots of my emails still begin with apology. But it’s a start of trying to make my marshmallow lala brain a little more accountable.

And I’m buying cards to send to people for no other reason than the cards seem right for whoever is in my head and I have heir address. Obviously I’m now also trying to get people’s addresses. 

There’s something nice in receiving unexpected mail that isn’t a bill and is actually for you. 

I guess – in finding myself in this huge city around me – and in making a new life with more lists – I’m also making sure to not lose my ties to the ones I love who are now far away. I want to make sure they know they’re loved. 

I want to make sure I say all my words to them, as much as possible. That none are lost. 

And so I’m writing lists and writing to people in all the forms I can, even if the love is a little delayed.

Sometimes it needs more than a like on Instagram. 

Laks (and me) in London

Six weeks ago today I moved to London. A little longer than six weeks today, I would say things like ‘I have a job in London’ or ‘I just signed a lease for a flat in London’ and it felt strange and unreal. Distant. Like I was talking about someone else’s real life, or making up stories for myself, like ‘one day I really will open up a cake and whiskey shop and Laks will be in charge of the till’. 

And then it became real. Properly, vividly, seriously-why-is-there-no-kewpie-mayonnaise-here real. 

And I’ve loved it. I have. Even the wonky bits. I have discovered the gluten free sections of various supermarkets – I have been to various supermarkets. I have walked in all sorts of directions from my flat, usually with one location in mind (more often than not coffee-related) but with everything else flexible. I have got so lost. So so lost. I have almost walked past Kensington Palace thinking it was just another lovely big house in London because there were no obvious signs from the direction I came – and what else is a palace but a lovely big house at the end of the day? 
Did I mention how lost I’ve been? 

And how much I’ve loved it?  
I love how busy London is – that it doesn’t matter if I miss one thing because there will be another thing later. I do my best, but I don’t have to do everything. Also, it’s only been 6 weeks, there are still directions I haven’t wandered from my flat, let alone just getting on the tube and seeing where it will take me…
In the aftermath of the terror attacks that have happened since I’ve been here – one just last night not too far from where I live – I am in awe of how people here just keep on keeping on. I don’t have the right words for it but, as an outsider still looking in, there is such a a strength in this city that not many other cities necessarily have. 
London is incredible. 

And after a year of working on Nauru, having to leave Laks behind in Australia – with beautiful foster fathers no question but being without Laks for a year – my tortoiseshell girl is with me. Sitting on the windowsill that leads to our terrace as I write this, telling me that we really should go outside. Laks makes London home. 
She arrived on the Wednesday after me. I learned about cats and jetlag, and just exactly how adaptable Laks is. One wobbly night and then by the next, she had sorted out her favourite places and started a territory dispute with the tom next door. 

It’s funny – as I am finding things to love here, to make me feel tethered when absolutely everything is new – so is Laks. And I love discovering the things she decides are precious as she navigates her new world.
Her hot water bottle – obviously – has been a long time love. And so obvious a love that I brought it with me. Just as I brought her other toys, especially Monty mouse. 

Laks’ love for her hot water remains undiminished. But she hasn’t played with monty mouse since she arrived.

First, Laks decided she loved my little woollen cat brooch and started taking to sleep with her, along with the hot water bottle. Fearful of either cat or hot water bottle being pierced, I removed the pin of the brooch. And then all of a sudden, Laks’ love seemed to lessen. Maybe the pin, and the danger connected to it, was part of the attraction.
Now, Laks has found a new love but one that seems to come with a hierarchy. A few years ago, on a visit to London, I went to Hampton Court and bought handmade dolls of King Henry VIII and his wives. Obviously. I love them to pieces – they are brilliantly kitschy and actually beautifully made. Laks has attacked Henry several times in the past and he is now missing an arm. My tiny feminist cat obviously exerting some anger at his treatment of women. In the past few weeks though, Laks has been stealing some of the dolls to curl up with against the hot water bottle. I have come home to her sound asleep with a paw protectively over Catherine of Aragon. At one point, Laks hid all three Catherines behind the radiator, which felt a little mysterious, especially as she’s never moved Anne Boleyn or Jane Seymour. She occasionally takes Henry and puts him with a little Day of the Dead bride figurine, which feels strangely apt.
All I know is that I am never quite sure what I will come home to in terms of where Laks has put things and who is sleeping with who. 
What I love though is as I carry around my phone and journals like security blankets to keep on touch with people and to start my own routines here, so is Laks. We are both figuring out our spaces, our good lives.
I just wish I could see into Laks’ head and see how she is making these decisions. It would be deeply entertaining. 

When ‘normal’ shouldn’t be normal

On the island, for six weeks at a time, I live in a little studio apartment that is part of a larger building. There is no space to hide and not a lot of room for dancing like no one can see you, but it has become a safe space for the cleaning ladies who work in the building. It’s not unusual to arrive back for lunch in-between classes to find two or three women sitting on the available seats and debriefing about the world. Every so often, they’ll stay and chat as I make lunch and listen to their stories.
Some of their stories have been shocking.
Lack of access to medical care here means that many of these women are dealing with physical pain that a doctor back in Australia could deal with in a second. They are used to being told that it’s all just “women’s issues” and “normal”.

And so I drive them to hospital when I can and try to say comforting things and listen to their home remedies.
And I check my privilege because I am so fortunate to have a very marvellous doctor who has never, and would never, say something like that.

I have a cleaning lady allocated to my room and I met her my very first day here. She is the most gorgeous woman who comes in every morning saying that “everything is good today Kathy, everything is good”. If I’m here, we chat as she cleans and I make cups of tea that are never sweet enough for her. She’s taken to leaving her bag by the side of the couch here because it’s safe. She has decided to be like a big sister to me here – and she is – I utterly adore her.
Except the other day, as she put more sugar in her tea, and we sat in the cool of the air-conditioning (just for a minute because I’m always scared I’ll get her into trouble), she told me about her night. How her boyfriend had been trying to call her the day before but her phone battery was flat (which it was as she checked if we had the same phone). The boyfriend was waiting when she got home – enraged that she’d not answered her phone – accusing her of all sorts of things including wearing “the short pants”. This seemed to be something terrible because my cleaning lady promised me that she’d never worn short pants. I told her that short pants are not a crime and that she could wear whatever on earth she wanted. Then, in the same voice, continuing the story without missing a beat, she explained how he had grabbed by the hair, yelling and shaking her, in front of her friends, screaming that he would kill her. That he had stopped and left and the situation had ended. And she had gone to bed and come to work the next morning and was now drinking tea in my room.
She was surprised at my shock – “he really shouldn’t do that?”; surprised at my upset for her – “He makes me pain [pointing to her heart] but I am OK”.

I don’t know what to do or how to help – how to balance the differences in cultural expectations. But I rage when people justify abuse as “just how it is” because that just means these stories get told in the same way as any other story and that should never be the case. It shouldn’t be just normal.

For all the small bits of good I try to do here in teaching counselling and casework, I am just putting a tiny bandaid on a wound that is much bigger and more infected than I can imagine.
I feel like I am just yelling at the sky sometimes.
I feel useless that all I can offer is tea and a safe space for tiny parts of her day.

I think the thing I struggle with most here is knowing that I will leave and that my ability to make decisions about my future is very much based in that privilege. I got to choose this job for reasons beyond a fear of poverty, and I am able to make decisions for my future outside of that basic need. Not everyone does. I worry that my advice is very much borne from privilege but then I refuse to tell her that “it’s just the way it is”.

But I don’t know what else to do, other than to be shocked and upset for her, to give her safe space when she needs, to agree wholeheartedly when she raises the possibility of leaving this man. To learn how to make sweet enough tea. To be a friend.

Any and all advice is welcome.

Why it’s brave to be vulnerable



A long time ago, a friend translated a Brazilian poem for me called ‘The Almost’. I have no idea if it’s a famous poem in Brazil or something that barely anyone has read. I can’t remember what the poem was actually called in Portuguese. I have no idea if my friend actually translated it all correctly.

And I know I could google the answers to some of those unknowns but that’s not the point really.

The point is – I have a poem called ‘The Almost’, translated by a friend, that speaks so clearly to me, and has always spoken so clearly to me, that I carry it everywhere. It’s on my fridge. In my office. On my laptop. On several USBs.

It feels so important because it reminds me to be vulnerable. And it reminds me to be brave.


If you are vulnerable, you will always be brave.


And I don’t think enough people realise that. I think there are some people who equate vulnerability to weakness – and then stomp all over you or take you for granted. I think there are some who think they are the ones being brave or “honest” while doing the stomping.

But they don’t get it. Being vulnerable takes a strength that these stompy people may never understand. They also don’t realise that I will always get back up after any stomping – I always have. They are never as strong (or as hurtful) as they think.


As an aside, though, when did someone claiming honesty all of a sudden come to mean that are about to say something nasty? When is self-proclaimed honesty a justification to be an arsehole? At the beginning of my academic career, I made a decision to never become the kind of academic I had seen who never gave a positive comment, never supported the wonky days, who would yell or demand the impossible. I made a decision to be the kind of academic who was actually kind, or at least tried to be. I’m allowed to have wonky days too. A lot has been written about this – a beautiful piece at The Thesis Whisperer and I wrote something on it for piirusacuk just the other day.


Ask any of my students and they’ll tell you stories of the drafts I have give back to them dripping in track changes and comments, when track changes and comments were needed. Ask any of my colleagues the same thing. I’m not afraid to pull apart things that need to be pulled apart in order to make something better and stronger. I’ve picked up the pieces if my own work and done just that too. But I still have people telling me “You have to be honest” when they hand me their work and it always leaves me wondering – what do they think I’m going to do? Let them fail because I don’t want to tell them they haven’t answered the results section? Have a paper with my name on it go out with a mistake in it because I’m too scared to point it out to my colleagues?


I think though that because I always try to add something good in one of comments that people ignore everything else and think I’ve not been thorough enough. I always try for everything I read to try and find at least one positive comment to make – and sometimes it’s been really hard – sometimes the only positive comment is “well at least you’ve put a draft together to see what doesn’t quite fit together yet, let’s work together to find what does work”.

Sometimes I think because I’m not all fire-and-brimstone all the time, I’m not always taken so seriously.


But, here’s the thing – I think any writing, any research, even the hardest of sciences, is creative. We create something that didn’t exist before us and bring it to life in a paper. We are vulnerable when we do this – our creativity makes us vulnerable. We put this brand new thing in front of assessors, peer reviewers, examiners, other researchers, for them to tell us whether or not this new creation can go into the world – screaming for all its worth. We are vulnerable in this but we are brave in this as well – we trust that this new creation is worth it.


So when someone brings their work to me, I respect that this their vulnerability. Showing someone a first draft is an act of absolute bravery – and trust. I refuse to be someone who squashes the vulnerability out of them. That’s not to say I’ve never banged my head against my laptop reading someone else’s work but I’ve done that with my own stuff too – and I have no doubt other people have done that with my wonky first drafts. Or my wonky fourth drafts. So I take a step back and acknowledge the bravery and vulnerability that comes with every first draft, and I work out how to make this creation shine more brightly, in whatever form it takes.


It’s too easy to be critical of other people’s work – to stomp on it – to ignore what it takes to bring a new creation into the world. It sometimes feels frighteningly good to read someone else’s work and tear it to shreds, all the while thinking “I can do better than that”. And who doesn’t want to occasionally feel that they are good at what they do, better than someone else?

But it’s a short-lived thrill. If you give into it, you enjoy it for a moment, but someone else might be devastated.

I think sometimes the people who stomp gave into that thrill a long time ago – it’s become an addiction, their only validation.


Writing is a vulnerable thing. Research is a vulnerable thing. It is a brave thing to put your heart and soul (metaphorically but I don’t know your work, maybe tangibly as well) out into the world and see if the creation stands up on its own.

All of us would have had times when someone has tried to squash the vulnerability (and the bravery) out of us. It is hard to come back from. It is not as hard to come back from reviews that acknowledge what you have tried.


Being vulnerable and brave researchers gives us power. It makes us braver still to try new things – to discover more. And it also makes us return that recognition, to nurture the other researchers around us.


‘The Almost’ argues that the only way to see colour in our lives is to shed our fear about being vulnerable. To show people our work. To press submit. To create. If we don’t, we live in greys forever – we will never be at risk of failing or being rejected – but things will never change either. Being vulnerable opens a bright new world. You just need to be brave enough to step through the door.