Thursday, September 19, 2013

Wicked Walks: Kinglake National Park

The last time I went to Kinglake was before Black Saturday. I heard that a lot of changes had happened since, so my sister and I thought we'd pay a visit to Kinglake for a day hike. The weather forecast for the day wasn't great, with a chance of rain predicted and strong winds. But, we were really itching for a hike, so we made the trip up anyway.

Mason Falls carpark has totally changed! It has been rebuilt since the fires, and looks really amazing now, with good barbie and toilet facilities (honestly we were expecting no sewerage, but there was that, and sinks and water and even mirrors!), and plenty of car parking space. There were also good park information on massive boards that you couldn't miss.

We began our walk from the Mason Falls carpark and headed to the viewing platform. Then, we took the walking path straight from the platform to Mount Sugarloaf. Apart from the massive steep hill at the start of the connecting walk between the viewing platform and the main trail to Sugarloaf Ridge Track, the paths were really open or clearly marked, with a slight incline.

While it wasn't the most challenging walks in terms of steepness, it certainly was one of the most beautiful. There were so many pretty flowers, and we saw so many colourful tiny birds flitting from shrub to shrub.

The bridge to Mason Falls over a newly formed gully post-Black Saturday

Mason Falls 

Beautiful flowers 

Interesting red saps from trees

I used to see this a lot while trekking but haven't in a while. I love looking colourful fungi!

Purple flowers

The winds were crazy strong! It was almost impossible to carry a conversation, because the wind would literally carry it away. I had my eyes up to the sky, watching all the burnt black eucalyptus branches for fear that some would break while we were under. Thankfully, I've had enough training on watching the skies from playing Skyrim. :P

We got to the peak of Mount Sugarloaf, but the winds were so strong that we didn't even want to stay for too long to admire the beauty. It was very grey, and visibility was poor but we did manage to see Melbourne's CBD all the way from Kinglake.

Melbourne CBD in the foggy distance

The beautiful valley below

Now for the most exciting part of our hike. We found an echidna!! I have never seen an echidna in the wild before, and I have a crazy obsession with hedgehogs, so I was really, really excited. The cute little thing was sleeping under a bush but we managed to sneak a terrible photo anyway. See if you can spot it!

The cutest animal in the world!

Our legs were so sore by the time we returned to the car. Our total mileage was 11.5km by this stage. We stopped by for lunch at a cute little roadside bakery called the Flying Tart, and then made our way to another waterfall.

This was a much shorter walk, 1.5km return, but it's pretty steep. So be prepared for some burning glutes! 

We were planning on doing more kms but we were so sore by the end of this walk that we decided to just call it a day. Our trip back was via Yarra Glen as we had heard about this new chocolate factory/ice creamery, and thought we'd swing by. 

The Yarra Valley Chocolaterie

I ordered a two scoop cup, but it was MASSIVE. I only ended up having half. 

Beautiful field around the chocolaterie

If you've never been, do pay them a visit. They offer free chocolate samples, and have such a wide variety of chocolates like you have never seen before. Quality-wise, their chocolates are easily better than Max Brenners or Koko Black, and they are competitively priced. And if you're going for a two-scoop ice cream, make sure you have someone to share it with you.

We loved our trip to Kinglake, and we will definitely be back some time in the future, especially to see how the new vegetation pans out. It's a little melancholic to know that the newly formed gully will only be fully vegetated after we're dead and gone and a new waterfall might even be present, but in the next 10-20 years, things will definitely have started changing. 13km has been our longest day hike yet, we're hoping to go for a full day of maybe 20km soon.

Walk difficulty: Easy to Moderate (a few steep hills but they do not go for long)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Priceline's What's Your Health Age Test and Free Health Checks

I am a huge sucker for online health age tests. I've done the Medibank Private one, which is available only to members, the Bupa one, and the Blackmores one. So, when I got an email from Priceline saying that they've launched their own health test, I made a bee line to it.


Truth be told, it's not bad. It's not as constructive as the Medibank Private one, which gives you health action plans, and a wealth of online courses you can sign up to to meet your health goals. But it's certainly much better than the Bupa one, which told me my biggest health risk was death and that I could have better health by having children (nice one, Bupa!).

So, without much ado, here is my health age, according to Priceline.


Haha, apparently my stress levels have aged me 4 years. While I think that's rather harsh, my stress and anxiety levels have been very high over the last month or so, particularly with juggling uni and full time work. I've felt overwhelmed multiple times, which was why I rated my stress levels a 4/5. Since I'm 'fessing up, nutrition hasn't been great for me either. I've been so time-pressed trying to keep everything together (work, housework, study, exercise) that I've had to cheat with food a little, and I've resorted to using some sauces out of the jar and packets, and some oven-ready meals. I figured it's only a temporary sacrifice while I complete my studies, so I'm ok with that.

Now for the great bits about the test. Until January 31st 2014, if you complete the survey, you can stand to win a $200 Priceline voucher! How great is that?

And another surprise bonus, Priceline and Revive Clinic are also holding free health checks at selected Priceline venues throughout Australia. The health check will comprise of blood glucose checks, blood pressure checks, BMI measurements and discussions about your health and lifestyle plus individualized recommendations.

So, check out the test, and let me know what your health age is!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

R U Ok?

It's RU Ok Day tomorrow. RU Ok Day was created to remind everyone to check in on the friends and family that they care about. Admit it, the best of us take their welfare for granted - when was the last time you asked someone if they were ok?

So, to celebrate RU OK Day, I thought I would share my story. Most people in my life know that I've struggled with depression and anxiety, but not many people know how it all began, and what it was like. I will also share some tips on how to notice and support someone with depression, and if you have depression, how you may try to beat it. You can scroll to the bottom of this post to see those if you want to skip the sentimental bits.

My Story 

I moved to Australia at the age of 18. I came and completed my Year 12 in Bendigo, and did very well academically. But socially, it was a pretty tough ride. You see, I had grown up in a small country town in Malaysia, where everyone in my first grade class ended up graduating in my Year 11 class. Ok, that may have been an exaggeration, but it wasn't far from the truth. I had the same group of friends from age 7 and a social life wasn't high priority in my family. We were discouraged from attending sleepovers, and just even from making social phone calls to friends after school. What was the point, our parents asked, when you see them again at school the next day? 

Back to Year 12... it was tough trying to start over, alone, especially in Year 12 when social cliques had already been established at school. For the most part of the year, I felt really isolated, but in time I made a small group of friends.

Then Year 12 ended. And I had to move again, this time to Melbourne.

The thing about Bendigonians is that they kind of stay in Bendigo. So, I had to start all over again. You'd think doing it the first time around would have set me up for the second, but it was harder. I was living in a residential college, so you would think it would have been easier socially. But it wasn't. I was really introverted, and suffered from low self-esteem. To make myself feel better, I got into a relationship and that was when the seeds of depression began to sprout.

It began with the contraceptive injection. As you probably know, chemical contraceptive tools may cause depression, and this caused a massive change in me. I became needy, I would cry all the time, and I became so paranoid that everyone was talking about me... about how much of a loser I was. So, I began to withdraw even more into my already closed life. My then boyfriend wasn't too understanding either... all he said when I told him how tough I was finding life... was to "get a hobby". Eventually, he got tired of my clinginess, and we broke up.

I think that breakup was what pushed me over the edge. My depression got really bad. I started to have suicidal thoughts, and to escape life, I would sleep. I slept on average, 18 hours every day, waking up only to eat, and to socialize just enough so that no one would know my little secret. I had stopped going to uni. If I woke up in the middle of my 18-hour sleep, I'd reach for my stash of alcohol that I kept by my bedside, to knock myself back to sleep again. During this time, I became a very different person. I craved attention, and did everything I can to get it. I tried as hard as I could to make life "meaningful" again, by seeking new relationships, but my efforts backfired and I plummeted myself deeper into the hole I had dug.


This went on for an entire semester. The most amazing thing is... hardly anyone knew or picked up on the fact that I was absent from uni. One lecturer emailed me to find out what was wrong, and helped me pass her subject. I've never forgotten her, or what she did for me that year.

I don't even know what made me realize things had to change. At some stage, I realized I was failing uni, so I went to the doctor and got a prescription for antidepressants, and a special consideration form. Amazingly enough, I got through uni that year. The antidepressants did make me functional, but I was still as needy and as paranoid as ever, and my emotions were fragile.

One day, tired of having to take the antidepressants and how ill they made me feel, I decided to quit cold turkey, and had a bit of a meltdown. To calm myself, all I remembered was walking down Lygon Street, and stopping by a New Age store called Crystal Heart. I browsed the bookshelf for a while, and was drawn to a few books. Robin Norwood's Women Who Love Too Much, Iyanla Vanzant's Yesterday I Cried, and Louise Hay's You Can Heal Your Life. Those books were a massive turning point for me, especially Louise Hay's bestseller.

Maybe the books really helped, or maybe the stars were right, but I came out of my depression shortly after, and was depression-free for about three years. It was during this time that I discovered my love for yoga, and began to soul-search, trying to find answers to the last few years that had seemed so hazy to me. Then, as a result of being in an abusive relationship and from contraceptive pills (I tried a few, including the controversial Yaz), I sunk back into depression again. I was lucky this time around to have a my sister living with me. It was also the first time I decided to see a clinical psychologist, and we worked out a mental health plan to help get me back on track. With the aid of antidepressants and regular yoga, I got my depression under control, and as result, became strong enough to end the abusive relationship I was in.

Just for the record, I'm currently depression-free, and haven't been on medication for a few years. I'm always monitoring my emotional wellbeing, and exercise very regularly for fear of a relapse, and also for good physical health of course! Over the last eight years, I lost many friends and relationships to depression, but also forged many more. In a strange way, I credit it to helping me grow as a person, and to be more in tune with myself than ever before.

How to notice a friend/family member with depression

1. Behavioural changes
This is a lot harder than it sounds. Someone who's depressed may not just be sad, they may also appear to be more "attention-seeking", or clingy. These changes often just get brushed aside, or go unnoticed. If you are a close friend and notice these things, it doesn't hurt to ask "Are you ok?"

2. They stop hanging out 
If your friend starts to avoid social situations, chances are that something's up. It never hurts to stop by to check in on someone.

3. They talk about death/suicide and have really low self-perception 
Always take suicide talks seriously. Often, these talks get brushed aside as "attention-seeking" behaviour. If you think about it, if someone is so "attention-seeking" that he/she needs to talk about suicide to get it, something isn't right.

How to support a friend/family member with depression 

1. Listen without judgement
Sometimes, all a person needs is to have an outlet. You don't even need to offer any advice, in fact depending on the seriousness, it's probably better if you don't, unless you have experience in counselling. Also, your advice could sometimes appear to sound as if you are trivializing your friend's troubles, even if you aren't. So, just lend your ears and a shoulder to cry on.

2. Tell someone 
If you aren't a person who can closely monitor your friend, then tell someone who can, particularly if they are high-risk.

3. Be patient 
Supporting a friend with depression is tough work. It requires so much patience. Often, you may feel your friendship is taken for granted, particularly if your friend becomes less social or communicative. Or, perhaps you are annoyed that your friend can't just take steps to get over it, such as seek medical help. Just remember that for someone who is depressed, life is overwhelming, and the simplest solutions are distorted to be giant gargantuan steps.


You have depression. What can you do? 

1. Seek professional help 
I'm not saying this to be preachy. I'm saying this from personal experience. While it is possible to ride through mild-moderate cases of depression, it never hurts to seek professional help from your GP, or a counsellor. I found the most effective treatment to be a combination of a GP that you trust and like (who would prescribe the relevant meds), and a clinical psychologist. If you are at uni, you will probably have access to uni counsellors who are free of charge. If not, there might be community counsellors around your neighbourhood. Google is your friend.

2. Don't close yourself off 
As hard as it is, try to let friends into your circle. It'll may seem like a huge effort, but it is worth it. Know that you are not alone, depression is a very common affliction.

3. Self-help 
Not the best option if you have severe depression, because you probably won't even have the will to read. But if you can read, the self-help section of a book store is amazing. I harp on about Louise Hay all the time, but she really did help me to heal my life. So, check her out.

4. Read all about it 
Find out more about depression via online resources such as Beyond Blue. Beyond Blue now also offers a basic online counselling service. You could also try Lifeline, but I haven't had a good experience with them.

5. Exercise if you can
If you can exercise, do some outdoor walks, or yoga. My personal opinion is that anything outdoors or in a group situation is more effective, so aim to do some group yoga sessions. In any case, any exercise is better than none.

Disclaimer: I am not a health professional. The advice above comes from personal experience. Please seek proper medical help for your situation.