Moving to Australia pt1: My first time in Sydney

Before I’d ever set foot in this place, Australia was this thing in my mind for a very long time: a sunshine country full of beaches and beautiful, friendly people. In the depths of winter in Toronto, I had this recurring dream where I would wake up on a beach, squinting at the sunlight – the sky unbelievably blue, the surf frothy. The soft sand littered with lifeguards and beachgoers all out enjoying the gorgeous, sparkling day. It was so warm and it felt so real; it felt hopeful and happy and right. I’d wake up from the dream and lie still, eyes closed, trying to hold onto that feeling for as long as I could. I wanted to feel that sunshine…

I visited Australia for the first time in 2012. My best friend Sid and I had always wanted to go ever since a fateful summer living on an island in Greece, where we’d met our first Aussie friends. We spent years after talking about it, but it was one of those trips that seemed like you would need a lot of time and money…and it just seemed SO FAR AWAY. So we let ourselves get swept up in our work and relationships and the trip became a distant dream.

My first pic in Bondi – little did I know this would literally become my backyard in two years.

Then one day, out of the blue, Sid said she was planning a three week trip to Australia and asked me if there was a chance I would come. At the time I was a few months into what I thought was my ‘dream job’ (aka. the thing that was going to make life better, fix everything, give me purpose, etc.), but it had turned into my own personal nightmare – as these things do when you rely on a job to fix your life. I was depressed, anxious and had no idea what to do next. I felt so trapped and I needed an out badly. This was my out.

Quit my job and travel for three weeks?!?! I thought it was crazy at first…three weeks away was a lot in Toronto at the time, but the idea wouldn’t leave my mind. After a month of more misery at work, I realised this was the perfect excuse to leave. I also found out it would only cost $500 return for me to fly with Sid since she was a flight attendant, which basically removed any other worry I had left. Looking back this was all such an obvious sign from the universe – when things start flowing, let the river take you! 

So I gave my notice, threw caution to the wind – with no job prospects for when I returned – and left. We flew to Vancouver, spent the afternoon there (such a good flying break – highly recommend), then took the midnight flight to Sydney where we were set to arrive early in the morning.

When we got out of customs I saw a row of palm trees just outside the gate. The air had a headiness to it. It felt like beach to me. The sky was blue. The colours were different – have you ever noticed that not all blue skies and sun are the same? This sky gave off a bright and warm light. I thought about that feeling I would get when I watched an Australian tv show back home. It was weird to be travelling in an English speaking country – so easy, but still different. We went to buy a bottle of water and I remember being shocked at the $3 price (haha, if only I knew!). We got on the train and headed to Central Station where our hostel was.

When we arrived in the city we were both awestruck. More palm trees. Blue skies. Heat…and this was downtown (or as the Aussies call it “the CBD”). I remember a change starting to take place within me (an awakening really) that I couldn’t yet articulate. The gears were turning. This was an English speaking, first world country – NOT in the US (which I was never a fan of), with amazing weather. We were giddy with excitement.

View from Taronga zoo. I thought it looked like Toronto.

You know those things you put off for awhile out of fear, a purported difficulty, or a myriad of other reasons? But then, when you finally do it you’re like…oh. OH. OHH! And regret immediately not having done it earlier? That was Sydney for me. That was Australia. I had a huge…“How did it take me this long to get here?!” stamped in my brain, on constant repeat. Why would I ever have put this off? Yes, the flight was long, but really – any flight longer than 8 hours is going to take your day and night anyways, right? And yes, it WAS so far away from Toronto, BUT in all the ways that mattered, it didn’t feel very far at all. It was easy to navigate, there was no language barrier and it was familiar – a thoroughly western city. And then on top of all that, it was absolutely, bloody gorgeous. I finally understood what world class city meant. The harbour, the ferry commutes, the luscious park havens right in the CBD (Hyde Park and Botanical gardens), the food and THE BEACHES: white sand, clear water, 20min from downtown – they were everywhere! And the weather, did I mention the weather?! It was Toronto on its most glorious day…every day.

I loved Sydney the minute I laid eyes on it.

Moving to Australia

Written by Alex

What are your conditionings?

A family friend told me a story years ago that I’ve never forgotten:

One year she went to both her company’s Christmas parties, one was in Toronto and one was in Vancouver. In both places she was asked “What do you do?” and both times she responded the same way “I’m in marketing”.

In Toronto this started conversations about projects, teams, roles, etc., but in Vancouver when she started talking more about her job they would interrupt her with, “No, what do you ‘do’ do…like snowboard/ski/etc.?”. 

Same party, different cultural perspective. This story stuck with me, but it wasn’t until I went to Costa Rica for the first time that I experienced it for myself.

There was no way I was spending Christmas at home. View from my bedroom (December 2012, Toronto)

I was 28 when my life turned upside down. I needed an escape from the turmoil, and Tory being the good sister that she is, said there was no way we could spend Christmas at home. We looked for cheap, last-minute flights to anywhere hot and Costa Rica was the winner.

We left the freezing, dark, wet, concrete metropolitan that was Toronto and arrived in Jaco: a touristy beach town that’s also a sunshine on crack, lush,  tropical, living, breathing surf and reggae heaven.

Calle Bohio, aka Sunshine on crack

If that wasn’t enough to jolt us out of our former pale, city-dwelling selves, there was so much more to come (but I’ll save that for another time and post…).

One of the things I noticed right away was that when I talked to someone new no one would ask me:  “What do you do?”, which is what I was so used to back home. Instead, the questions were along the lines of:

Questions
  • Where are you from?
  • How long are you here for?
  • Where else are you going/have you been?
  • Do you surf?
My answers
  • Toronto
  • One week
  • Home/nowhere
  • Not yet

This shook me up. I was so used to relying on my job as the main way to identify myself (even if I didn’t really believe it) that when it was taken away as an option I felt like my current situation did not and could not describe who I was. I wanted to say, “But really…I’m interesting! I’m exciting! I’m so much more than this! And…I LOVE TO SURF!”.

But I couldn’t. I wasn’t. And I didn’t know how to surf, even though I’d desperately wanted to learn my whole life.

Why was I so triggered by this? It’s easy to see why in hindsight. I was confronted with the fact that I was not living my life the way that I wanted and that most of my choices up to that point had been based on what was expected of me and the society in which I grew up. I was 28 and on paper I found myself boring.

I realised that the things that were important where I grew up were not universally important.

The deprogramming begins (Jaco beach, December 2012)

My inner life was and had always been rich (in anxiety hah, amongst other things), but my outer life was not a reflection of the true me. This realisation shocked me to my core and set about a series of big changes (hello Saturn Return).

I realised that the things that were important where I grew up were not universally important. That if I went somewhere different, a different set of values and rules applied. And that in all of these instances, none of them had to apply to me. In the end, what mattered was what I held true for myself.

I was deep, deep down in a well of conditioning and I had just seen my first hint of light. What’s followed since has been a series of lightbulb moments where I’ve realised that there are a lot more of these assumptions living in my mind.

Here is a base list of assumptions I’d been conditioned with:

1.

Doing well in your school/job is the key to success. Success = fulfillment

I was taught that being the best at everything was the only way forward (tiger parents, before the term existed). Growing up, I was never allowed to step back and examine if the thing I was about to work tirelessly towards was what I actually wanted, needed and if it was even worth it. This caused many periods of depression in my life, where I blindly followed paths of “success” (new school programs, job offers, etc.) with the faith that once I achieved these things happiness would follow. It didn’t (surprise!) and once accomplished I would feel so much loss, disillusion and despair, often asking “What’s the point?”. I never thought about the journey, only about the final outcome and that outcome never lived up to the hype.

2.

Being with someone is the key to happiness

I dealt with frequent bouts of depression and existential crises from a very young age. Anytime I was in one of these periods my dad would always counter it with “You just need to meet someone and then you’ll be happy”. Then I did meet someone and was in a relationship for my entire 20s. And I WAS happy…for a time. It was a balm to my achy soul, but eventually the same ‘demons’, came back. Love is happiness – so much happiness, but unless you’re solid in yourself it can also be used as a distraction of sorts. We seem to often use our relationships, not to mention our responsibilities (mortgage, kids, etc.) as an excuse to not take those scary steps forward that let us grow. Relationships (even friendships) are one of the big excuses we use to stay stagnant.

3.

That’s just life / There are some things you just have to do

This kind of acceptance has its place, but it’s often used to brush over things that make you unhappy and that should be addressed. Once upon a time I was told that pretty much everyone has to work 9 to 5 (I grew up in Toronto) and that you have to be born rich or win the lottery to experience a different fate. Already, in the last five years especially, we’ve seen how not true that is (as I sit from a cafe in Canggu, Bali, with money in the bank writing this post). This statement is almost the basis of this whole site hah, so I can’t really cover it all in one bullet point!

4.

You can’t have everything

Said to many who dared to dream big! But really, what is “everything”? It can mean very different things depending on who you ask. And if it’s different for each person, then maybe you, YES YOU, can have your version of “everything”. My mother’s version of everything is dependent on winning the lottery, which has always made her “everything” very difficult to achieve. My version of everything (the truncated version) involves living by the beach and having a good work/life balance…something I’ve already cultivated and work at everyday to improve.

These conditions are pretty prevalent where I come from. I’m still trawling through them, one by one and actually get so excited now when I uncover a new one. Each time this happens the world gets a little lighter and I feel a piece of my freedom, a piece of myself, come back to me.

Do any of these resonate with you? What are your conditionings?

***Update: I just went to see a talk with Sarah Wilson the other day and had a chat with her after. We were mid convo when she asked “What do you do?”. For a moment I blanked…I couldn’t actually remember! I’ve been doing so much creatively the past year that I feel represents me, but none of it is in my main paid work. When the words came to me I realised that there was a huge disconnect between what I’ve been doing with the majority of my time and who I am now. What I do for the most part at the moment does not represent who I am. I had a lightening bolt realisation that  I need to bring the two closer together. So onwards and upwards! Very excited to start figuring this out.

Tory and the sunset (Jaco Beach, December 2012)

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Written by Alex

The mystery of diet pt1: aka what the f*$k am I supposed to eat?

I haven’t written my health story on here yet, but suffice to say the last three years have been a bit of a witch hunt on my body. I read everything about everything in an attempt to find the magic diet that would cure my hypothyroid condition and Hashimotos (an autoimmune disorder). Spoiler: I never found it.

I tried many a diet: pescatarian, vegan, keto, gluten-free, sugar-free (including fruits and starchy veg), paleo, and an assortment of hacks I read for dealing with thyroid issues (i.e. no eggs, celery juice in the morning, no pork, etc.). All the diets sounded good when examined in isolation. They were clear, concise and promised a body that would feel the same. The problem was that I like to comparison shop…so I tried them all! I would research one heavily, try it, not see improvements, then go back to see what I had missed and go down the rabbit hole once again. I’d find another diet that would suggest the exact opposite and I kept hoping that one of them held the magic key that would make me feel like a healthy person again. 

When you’re ill, all you want is for someone to tell you “Do this and you will be better”.

The food witch hunt was not a success. I didn’t find my way out of my thyroid problems with any of these diets, but I did find myself with a real eating disorder. Almost every food can be ‘bad’ if you read the right article – I was paranoid of spinach at one point, then broccoli…seriously! I felt paralysed when choosing what to eat. I also felt intensely deprived. The stress and isolation of feeling like I wasn’t allowed to be free with my eating took a huge toll on me and added to the stress of my existing health conditions.

So here’s my hit list of foods that I’ve been told at one point or another not to eat:

Alcohol
  • Too much sugar
  • The mental effect: I always get a slight depressive, end-of-the-world feeling the day after that can linger for a few days. I have to constantly remind myself that I’ve had alcohol and that it’s not reflective of my true reality
  • Wine is so inflammatory for me and it makes me so sad! The social ritual of having a glass of red with friends was one of my favourite things, but I get hives and horrible hangovers. I didn’t have wine for almost a year and then tried ONE GLASS of biodynamic, organic Merlot and still had that tightness in my head feeling the next day (like an oncoming headache) accompanied with mild depression and anxiety. Just not worth it.
Corn
Cruciferous vegetables
Dairy
  • Full of hormones, allergens, and generally not good quality.
  • I recently had a convo with a girl who did her farm work  at a dairy farm that was an expensive, well known brand. She explained how everything was super clean and regulated, but the lives these cows live…it’s like watching a movie set in the future where humans are grown as body parts for other humans. No way for any living being to exist…even if its a ‘good’ farm. How can the milk they produce be of good quality to consume when they aren’t really living? The equivalent to eating vegetables grown in a garbage dump.
  • Even when I wasn’t a healthy, conscious eater (one of my favourite things to eat way back when was chicken fingers!) I knew I couldn’t have milk. The day after having it I would immediately breakout and have that onset allergy feeling.
Dried Fruit 
  • Aside from the fact that this is basically an addictive candy for me (another issue altogether), most dried fruit is made with canola or some other not-good-for-you vegetable oil and preservatives. Even the organic ones – they’re sneaky like that.
Eggs
  • Eggs also cause inflammation and allergies; feed viruses, bacteria, yeast, mold, Candida and other fungus; and trigger edema in the lymphatic system.(page 281)This book  lists eggs as a thyroid stressor (explanation of why is in the book), saying they feed viral infections and that viral infections are the underlying cause of autoimmune diseases. They were my main source of protein before (at least two a day), but after reading this I stopped eating them for months. I’ve since reintroduced them back into my diet, but always, ALWAYS organic…
  • I once went on a date with a guy from the RSPCA (animal welfare organisation in Australia) and he said he would never, ever eat chicken or eggs because they are treated horrendously, even when the label says otherwise. I think unless you can find the chicken that laid those eggs and see for yourself that it’s happy, the chances are probably pretty low that what you’re eating is nutritious.
  • Like corn, soy, and wheat, eggs are one of those things that are in a lot of processed foods. So you may be consuming more than you think – and they most definitely wouldn’t be organic.
Fish
Fruit
  • Supposedly not good for insulin resistance because they have too much sugar (I am NOT ok with this, hah). The problem is that they’ve been bred over time to be sweeter and this has had some huge effects, like with these poor monkeys.
  • Some are worse offenders than others. I’ll never forget watching an episode of Dr. Oz and hearing him say grapes are just little packages of sugar – that statement has haunted me for years…the things the mind holds onto. Berries are generally less sugary and more fibre, whereas melons, bananas, pears, and grapes (!) are sugar-ific.
Gluten
  • Creates an inflammatory response, even if you’re not coeliac. This is also like corn, soy, wheat, etc. where gluten is found in so many things that you are much more exposed to it than you probably know. The overexposure is what causes the sensitivity. 
  • If I ever eat bread ‘too much’ (like more than once in a day or multiple days in a row) I feel a distinct hungover effect, even with artisanal, organic breads. I can’t handle plain white sliced bread or french bread (sob) AT ALL and have immediate allergy flare ups.
Grains
  • These can also be like corn, soy, wheat, gluten, etc. where the general overexposure when it’s used as filler leads to sensitivity issues. There’s also this
Legumes (peanuts, beans, etc.)
  • I definitely have a reaction to too much peanut butter (but how do you stop at one spoonful???), my skin breaks out and I feel sluggish the next day.
  • Lectins and phytates are the big no-no associated with legumes, said to cause inflammation.
Nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, etc.)
Nuts
Pork
  • Called a virus aggregator by Medical Medium.
  • My whole body has a weird reaction every time I eat pork products. I knew this, but I didn’t actually piece it together till I read the Medical Medium thyroid book…probably because I loved bacon so much. RIP pork.
  • Bacon was just listed as a known carcinogenic by the WHO…eek. 
Refined sugar and other sweeteners
  • Duh, right? This includes honey, coconut sugar, brown rice syrup, stevia…I do believe that the less we use to make things sweeter and the more we get accustomed to the natural sweetness of things as they are the better off we’ll be. The sweet high is the sneakiest addiction!
Soy
Vegetable oil, canola oil, palm oil, etc.
  • I haven’t used these to cook in probably a decade, but they’re probably what’s used every time you eat out, buy a snack (hi dried fruit), etc. 

It’s almost everything, right? At some point or another I have not eaten each of these things. It messed with my head, which in turn messed up my body even further. The result was that I became even more disconnected with myself. I didn’t know up from down, everything seemed like the enemy and I developed a lot of food related anxiety. It’s still there, but I’m very slowly trying to find my way back to myself and strengthen my intuition around eating.

So what do I eat now? How do I navigate this minefield? Well that’s for part 2…

Written by Alex

Are you living in the wrong place?

When I decided to move to Australia, my dad told me he was worried I was running away and warned me that “the grass isn’t always greener”. This warning haunted me my whole first year in the land down under. I found myself always waiting for the other shoe to drop and constantly questioning my choices. What if I was just escaping “reality”? What if I was just being unrealistic? I may have left Toronto behind, but I made sure to take my anxiety with me…

Emma and me, five years post-farm (Crate Cafe, Canggu, Bali)

While working on a farm in Australia (see why here), I met my Swedish friend Emma whilst packing cucumbers. We were talking about the differences between Australia and where we came from and if we would go home or stay. I still clearly remember when she said: “Alex, just because you were born somewhere doesn’t mean you’re meant to stay there.” Then she proceeded to list off all the reasons why Australia suited who she was: from allowing her to be outside all year long to abundant sunshine to the fitness-first, active culture. Something about the way she stated it so matter of factly, struck me deeply because it rang so true.  Just like ‘1+1=2’, Emma was saying that ‘you’ + ’where you live’ should also = something. It should add up.

There’s the place you were born and then…there’s the place you were meant to be. For those who were born in a place that has always felt like home – you may not get this sentiment, but for those who have always felt a little off, this could be for you.

I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, but something never felt quite right. Growing up I didn’t know how much of that was attributed to my place of residence, but looking back the signs were all there.

Here is my very non-scientific, very personal “Are you living in the wrong place?” checklist.

When at ‘home’ do you:
  • Feel like an outsider for no obvious reason?
  • Fantasize and/or find yourself living your whole life for your next vacation?
  • Find it hard to be motivated by what’s ‘”supposed to be” important in your life, but your friends/coworkers/family seem to have no issue doing so?
  • Feel like your outlook, emotions, opinions, etc. are often different than the general sentiment?
  • Feel like you’re limited in the ability to do the things you want to do based on your surroundings?
  • Feel like the way people go about things is unnecessarily difficult?
  • Feel like the way you’ve been living doesn’t make sense to you?

Obviously these questions can apply to a wide spectrum of things and should be taken with a HUGE grain of salt (and context), but bear with me and let’s continue with this exercise…

Have you ever been somewhere else and:
  • Felt immediately at home (and not just because you were sipping a daiquiri/lounging in a luxe hotel room/etc.)
  • Met people who you have more in common with (and not just other travellers, but locals)
  • Felt like the way people live life there makes sense
  • Felt like you could see yourself living there beyond the honeymoon period of travel
  • Felt like your values were finally being met

If this all sounds too familiar then you probably also have a home away from wherever you grew up. I carried around a lot of guilt about leaving Toronto – “Why did I have to move across the world when I lived somewhere so great?” was a question directed at me many times by many people.

But it wasn’t great – not for me.

And just because something’s not outright awful doesn’t mean you have to stay and spend all your energy trying to make it work. I was always taking on new projects, activities, etc. (sewing classes, running groups, soccer…to name a few) to try and turn things around. I kept thinking that if I just found the right thing somehow life would start to make sense. I thought if I found that thing I would all of a sudden “get” what everyone else seemed to – the invisible force that kept them motivated and excited about their lives. And yes  – contentment is found within and equanimity is the goal, but if you have to spend more than 20% of your day just dealing with your circumstances (-30 degrees outside with a nice icy slush to shuffle through/horrible transit/a very serious corporate culture) then maybe it might serve you better to be in an environment where you can free up that energy to be spent on more positive and productive pursuits. Have you ever heard that quote about how you need to fill up your cup first before you can fill up anyone else’s?

In this day and age, especially if you’re born in a first world country with the means and resources to choose your fate, make sure you honour that privilege by making a choice. Remembering to choose consciously and with purpose.

So one year into my Australian journey, my parents finally came to visit. We took a ferry across the water from Circular Quay to Manly (sidenote: best public transit commute in the world). The water was sparkling, the sun was shining – Sydney was turning it on. My dad stood at the front of the boat, very still and quiet as he watched the cliffs fly past. He turned to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said: “I can’t believe it. The grass is ACTUALLY greener here…I wish I had moved to Australia when I had the chance.’’

Are you where you were meant to be? If not, where is that place for you and why?

Written by Alex

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