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Counselling and Psychological Services

How Do I Feel Happy Being Gay?

I’ve been out for 10 years now and have helped numerous people over that period find their niche, but I still don’t feel like I have found mine. I actually feel like at home I’m ‘too gay’ and then with my friends, most of whom are straight, I am ‘not gay enough.’ I don’t fit any of the stereotypes which I initially thought is a good thing, but, whenever I am forced to watch Queer Eye or RuPaul I feel like it’s not me, and that everyone around me is kind of disappointed that I’m not that kind of person. I think this has also prevented me from ever having a boyfriend or successfully dating. I’m proud of who I am, but I feel like the community to which I so badly want to be a part, reject me.

Although you mention that you are proud of your identity as a gay person, it sounds as though you are struggling with self-acceptance which may be stopping you from fully embracing your sexuality and pursuing meaningful intimate relationships. Sometimes we can become stuck in narratives, labels or expectations of who we ‘should be’ (such as ‘too gay’ or ‘not gay enough’). We can lose touch with who we actually are, which prevents us from embracing and nurturing our true sense of self. It can be very tiring to keep up with social expectations of how we ought to be, and I wonder if you would feel less pressure if you could learn to ‘let go’ of those expectations and labels, and just ‘be’ with yourself. I’m wondering what tells you that others think you are ‘too gay’ or ‘not gay enough?’ Is this something that has been said or shown in their behaviour? Or is this something that you worry about yourself through comparing yourself with common stereotypes?

You mention helping others with their coming out experiences over the years, which tells me that you an empathic, compassionate person who people turn to for support. It also might suggest that you put pressure on yourself to have already ‘figured things out’ as you have been ‘out’ for some time. However, sexuality is a lifelong journey, of which coming out is just one part. It’s ok to not have all the answers, to fluctuate in your feelings, to change and to grow. Sometimes it can be helpful to imagine a friend coming to you with a similar issue to the one you are facing. How would you respond? Try approaching yourself as you would a dear friend, with acceptance, compassion and love.

Another way of developing awareness of unhelpful expectations and fostering acceptance is to develop a mindfulness practice, which involves paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and without judgement. Many people who practice mindfulness find that, over time and with regular practice, they can develop a more compassionate and accepting relationship to their thoughts and emotions, therefore becoming less stuck in unhelpful thoughts and narratives. There are many mindfulness resources and apps out there – you might like to try Smiling Mind, Headspace or 1 Giant Mind.

If you feel like you would like to discuss your concerns in more depth with a counsellor, our website lists a range of available resources for LGBTQI+ counselling. We also have a LGBTQI+ counsellor at University of Melbourne Counselling and Psychological Services.

Feeling lost

I’m starting my final year this year I still don’t know what I want to do after I graduate. I find most of my subjects interesting but I’m not passionate about my course, and my results are just average. Everyone else seems to know exactly what they want to do and where they’re going except me and I’m finding it hard to stay motivated. I’ve heard that if you find something you love then you’ll never work a day in your life, but how do I find my calling?

Thanks for your question, this is actually quite a common source of stress for many students, and you’re certainly not the only one who feels this way! It can feel stressful to not have a plan in place, and it’s easier to feel motivated in your studies if you know your degree is going to lead you to a career you feel positive about.

Regarding how you feel about your current studies, remember that the experience of studying a subject and the experience of working in that field can be very different. You’ll also often be using some different skills in your degree than you will once you start working. For this reason, it can be helpful to keep an open mind and consider that you will learn a lot more about yourself and your field of work once you get your first job, and this may give you more information about where you want to go next. Many people find they learn more about what they want to do and what options are available after they’ve started working. Sometimes it’s best to have just the first few steps planned and to be flexible about what you’re going to do after that. Try not to put pressure on yourself to know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life right now!

It would be great if you could feel absolutely sure about your ‘calling’ and know that you’ll love every day of your working life, but it sounds like this expectation is making it hard to make any decision. For many people, passion about their work grows over time and with experience, and even people who are very happy in their careers will not love everything about it. Consider some more realistic expectations, such as finding something that is interesting or that has some meaning for you, and use this as a base to improve on.

If you’re feeling anxious about this, try doing some research on what job options there are with your current degree, and see how much you can find out about the day to day realities of doing those jobs. You may find yourself getting excited about some of them, or be able to rule some options out, and then start to form a clearer plan in your mind that will help with your current motivation. In the meantime, don’t forget to work on other areas of your life that bring you joy or satisfaction, so there is less pressure to find the ‘perfect’ job straight away.

New to Melbourne, what do I do?

I am a first year international student. I’ve recently arrived in Melbourne and I’m finding it hard to get to know the city and find some interesting things to do. I don’t know anyone here, apart from a few students I’m staying with who are also new here. What are some ways of meeting people and finding things to do in my free time?

Living in a new city or country is challenging. It’s useful to move slightly outside your comfort zone while adjusting to a new place or culture – this allows you to establish more interests, activities and friendships. The first step is to be proactive, such as by asking other students what they do on the weekend, which can give you some new ideas as well as open up many socialising opportunities. It might take some time but if you are curious and can set some time to go exploring, it can be a lot of fun. Here are some ideas to get you started.

That’s Melbourne provides ideas on things to do and see in Melbourne – markets, music, events, festivals, and guides to local areas. Lonely Planet also has an online guide for popular things to do in Melbourne.
• There are many activities happening in the University as well as wide range of clubs to join. Melbourne University Sport provides sports and recreation facilities including group fitness, gym and pool, as well as sport clubs to join, or you could find somewhere to volunteer.
Counselling and Psychological Services run workshops on adjusting to life as an international student, check out our website for information.
• Make sure you’re aware of what support is available to international students now in case you need it later.

We wish you all the best with your studies and settling in to Melbourne.

Shy and anxious being around new people at uni

I am really shy and don’t like meeting new people and I don’t like crowds either, they make me nervous and I get really hot and my heart pumps fast. I am also gay and I haven’t told any one yet. I am not really close enough to anyone to be able to tell them with trust. Melb uni is so big and there’s so many people it has made be not want to be here, to stay away from the crowds, even the lectures, and so it has affected my studies a lot. I just don’t know what to do, I don’t want to fail because I just didn’t show up because I get nervous around other people. What should I do?

It sounds like you are facing some major personal struggles at the moment. Well done on persevering with your studies, even though your shyness has made it uncomfortable for you to be on campus.

The physical responses you describe sound like symptoms of “social anxiety”. Anxiety is often very tied up with being comfortable with who you are and taking the risk of being accepted by others. It may best be addressed by finding some safe places and relationships where you can start to build your confidence in relating to others and being accepted. If you would like some more assistance in managing the shyness/anxiety that gets in the way of this, Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) regularly runs workshops on anxiety, social anxiety, mindfulness and creating connections with others. Or you can book an individual appointment with one of our counsellors.

The anxiety you describe is often present for young people who are gay due to fear of judgement and the fact that it can be difficult to feel connected to others when we are holding back a part of ourselves. The University of Melbourne has a Coming Out Support Group if you would like to explore this in a safe place and meet other people who are experiencing something similar.

In the meantime, try out some of the relaxation, meditation and breathing exercises on our website to help you manage the physical sensations of anxiety while you attend classes. Remember that shyness and social anxiety are both very common, but it is possible to overcome them so they don’t get in the way of living your life.

Fantasizing too much?

So I have this crush and I’ve been fantasizing about them for the past year. I make up scenarios in my head and some of them can be quite ridiculous and extreme but I can’t help it. I think about this person when I feel bored/sad/lonely and then I just feel better… And I feel kind of bad because I don’t even know them that well but in my head it seems so real. So I was just wondering if this is healthy/normal?

Thanks for your question; the short answer is yes, fantasising is normal. People have daydreams about various scenarios that they’d like to happen,often about relationships with people, winning the lottery or achieving great things.How often they occur will depend on a person’s personality and situation. For example, people who are creative and open to experience may be more likely to have a rich fantasy life. You also don’t need to know someone well to fantasize about them; many people have very strong crushes on celebrities they’ve never met

Perhaps you’ve been using fantasies to cope with some negative feelings, or just to add some excitement to your day. As coping strategies go, this one can be healthy if it’s not likely to lead to any negative consequences and can help you to explore your own dreams and desires. However fantasizing should not get in the way of real-life experiences, become a way to avoid anxiety, or lead you to withdraw from your day-to-day life. If you feel you are continuing to live your life in a fulfilling and engaging way and still take risks when you need to, then your daydreams can be a pleasurable pastime.

If you would like to get to better know the person you have a crush on, but are finding this hard due to anxiety, have a tendency to feel sad or lonely quite often, or your fantasizing is getting in the way of you living your life, it might help to talk this over with a counsellor at Counselling and Psychological Services. The service is free of charge, confidential and counsellors are experienced in helping students manage similar situations to what you describe. You may find that your tendency to fantasize decreases as you feel better and more engaged with your real life, or as you develop a fulfilling romantic relationship. Either way, having unrequited feelings for someone is always tough, so don’t make it harder on yourself by worrying about being abnormal.

Can you give me some advice about dating?

I’m wondering whether you can provide some advice about dating – I’m in the last year of my degree and I’ve realised that I’ve been neglecting the relationship side of my life for a long time! The last person I ‘dated’ was in high school and since then I’ve had pretty much no experience with guys, which I’m really embarrassed about. I would love to put myself out there, but at the same time I’m worried my lack of experience would show. I’m not sure how I should go about tackling this issue.

First of all, well done on reaching the final year of your degree! Your question raises an important issue faced by many students, that is, now that your study career is drawing to an end, how to begin focusing on other important life areas, such as intimate relationships.

Clearly you are worried about lack of experience in dating. However, successfully dating and then building a relationship usually has more to do with how two people relate to one another than the amount of previous experience they have had. Even someone who regularly dates may find the experience awkward or difficult with someone they have nothing in common with, while someone who has never dated may have an enjoyable and relaxed time with someone they naturally connect with.

Try not to think of dating as something completely new that you have little experience with. Remember it’s just another way of getting to know someone and seeing if you enjoy each others company, which is something you will have done many times in your life. Take the pressure off yourself and enjoy the process.

Finally, what are your interests, hobbies, passions in life? If you are not so sure, it might be time to broaden your horizons. Taking up an interest is also a great way to meet new people. Enthusiasm is infectious and people are often attracted to someone who is really passionate about a hobby or interest. By focusing less on your ‘lack’ of experience, and more on the positive attributes you can bring into a new relationship, you will be more likely to relax, be yourself and approach dating with an open mind and a sense of fun, which is really what it should all be about! Good luck and all the best with your studies this year.

Unsure about going back home

I have changed a lot in the last three years. I am very independent and have a lot of freedom, have many good friends and like my life here. I am feeling quite sad because I have to go back home after 3 years here. I don’t know if I will be able to live up to my family expectations, they want me to get married and look after them. I don’t know if they will understand that I have changed a lot, I worry that will miss Melbourne and all my friends, that I will not be happy at home.

Many of the things you are worried about are related to reverse culture shock. Think of the time when you came to Melbourne, the initial worries and difficulties, periods when you doubted yourself, moments when you wanted to go home. That was related to culture shock while adapting to living in Melbourne. As you have adjusted well and grown more independent it is quite normal for you to be concerned about going back home. It is good that you are thinking about adjusting to issues you might have when you go back home. All of this does not have to be negative, there will often be many positive reactions as well.

Some things to do and consider:

• Give yourself time to relax and consider what is going on around you, how you are reacting to it, and what you might change. Ease in to the transition. There will be much “catching up” to do, with, social, economic, entertainment and current events (and may also include new slang). Give yourself some time to adjust to what has changed at home since you’ve been away.

• List different issues and devise strategies and solutions, key things you need to do before going home and in the first few weeks immediately after you arrive so you don’t feel too lost.

• Just as you had to keep an open mind when first encountering the culture of a new foreign country, try to resist the impulse to make snap decisions and judgments about people and behaviors once back home. You may need to act like a ‘tourist’ just like you did when you first came to Australia.

• Showing an interest in what others have been doing while you have been on your adventure is the surest way to re-establish rapport. Be as good a listener as a talker.

• Making comparisons between cultures and nations is natural, try to see a balance of good and bad features and avoid the tendency to be an “instant expert”.

• Keep as many options open as possible. Attempting to re-socialize totally into old patterns and networks can be difficult, but remaining aloof is isolating and counterproductive. It’s good to catch up with old friends and find out how they are doing. You may need to take the first step but it will go a long way in re-establishing old connections. Make sure you also keep in touch with friends you have made here.

• Seek new support networks while re-establishing old ones. There are lots of people back home who have gone through their own re-entry and will understand your concerns. University study abroad and foreign student offices are some of the places where you can seek others who offer support and country-specific advice.

Do I have a drinking problem?

Recently I’ve realised I may have a drinking problem. I drink at least 3 drinks a night and suspect they are more than ‘one standard drink’. I think I’ve become dependent on the drink to get me to sleep. I don’t get drunk and have no problems due to the drinking. I’ve moved this year into a share house after 2 years in College and my house mates don’t drink as much as I do or as much as my college friends did. I don’t feel comfortable talking about this to friends as most drink as much, if not more, than me. Do I need to do something?

Well done for thinking about this and for having the courage to ask about it. The National Health and Medical Research Council determined that for a healthy adult, an acceptable drinking level is 2 drinks a day with a couple of alcohol free days each week and drinking no more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion. This level is deemed to reduce the risk of alcohol related harm. For your information a stubbie of full strength beer is 1.4 standard drinks, a can of premixed spirits is 1.5 to 2.1 standard drinks, 100 ml of wine = 1 standard drink and I doubt many people at home measure the amount they pour. That’s the technical stuff.

Of more concern to you is possible problems that are caused by drinking, even if they’re not obvious. It’s very likely that your drinking is affecting your functioning at home and during the next day while you’re studying – even without a hangover you will have ‘dulled’ your brain. Click here for a self-assessment tool to test the impact of your drinking. Regarding your concerns that you depend on drinking to sleep, while it can cause you to fall asleep, it isn’t a good quality sleep. You are more prone to waking and snoring and don’t feel as rested when you wake, and as the body is dealing with the alcohol in the system, it may not have done all the other work it needs to do to keep you functioning at your best.

Trying to take some time off from drinking can be a useful way of determining how different things are when you’re not drinking, consider taking a month off to see how you feel. Another option is to start measuring and recording your drinks to make sure you’re accurately assessing your alcohol intake, and to slowly start reducing the amount you drink. Get a shot glass if you drink spirits, only drink two stubbies of light beer a night [equals 2 standard drinks] and try to have a couple of alcohol free nights a week. Drink water between each of your drinks to help the liver out. Stop drinking well before you go to bed. Click here for some more tips on drinking responsibly.

You can also download audio recordings from our website on relaxation, guided imagery to aid sleep and other useful topics. Talking to your mates could be good if one or more have the same concerns as you and are also afraid to discuss it but be aware they might also be scared of the idea and so not be very supportive. It might be useful to come to Counselling and Psychological Services to get support for your efforts and tips to help you along the way – especially if you feel unable to talk to your mates.

Cripping assessment anxiety!

What are some “emergency” strategies for coping with sudden and crippling anxiety or panic during an important exam or presentation when there is no time to use breathing techniques?

Exam situations and oral presentations are very common sources of anxiety for students. During any situation where you are experiencing a sudden burst of anxiety, your body goes into overdrive – you may notice yourself breathing more quickly and becoming short of breath, you may begin to sweat more, feel like you are going ‘blank’ and have difficulty remembering what you were planning to say. Whatever your particular exam stress reaction, we do know that generally it is a combination of thoughts and feelings that contributes to our anxiety response, and this can occur within a very short time frame, and sometimes without us being fully aware of it. The following tips might be useful in learning ways to cope with anxiety.

1. Although you may not have time to do a full 20 minute breathing technique (though these are helpful to do prior to your exam), there are some brief strategies which you can learn to use and practice in your exam or presentation. For example, when you begin to feel panic rising, remember to breathe! Part of the problem with panic is that our breathing gets very short and shallow, and our brain then interprets this as ‘something wrong’, which of course makes us panic even more! Taking a couple of moments to take a deep breath in, and a slightly longer breath out, can help the body to calm down at times of stress, and also can help to focus our attention on the task at hand. Click here to read the Calming Technique.

2. Be aware of any of your negative self-talk. For example; thoughts such as, ‘I can’t do this’, or, ‘I’m going to fail’, can increase anxiety and panic. Try replacing negative thoughts with calming and encouraging thoughts, such as; ‘This is just anxiety, it can’t harm me’, ‘This too will pass’, ‘Relax – everything will be OK’, and ‘Everyone in my class is in the same boat’. By thinking more positively our confidence to engage in the task is boosted and we feel better about our abilities to complete the exam or presentation.

3. Before the exam, it is important to feel adequately prepared by knowing your subject. Be mindful of getting enough sleep and nutritious food – give your brain its best chance. Expect and accept you’ll be nervous thereby not getting nervous about being nervous! Do your Breathing Techniques on the way to the exam or arrive with enough time to do them there, and have realistic, positive self-talk. Taking a few minutes in the exam to do some slow deep breathing is well worth the time it taken to do it.

4. Click here, here and here for more information about preparing for exams.

5. If you find that you’re frequently stressed, consider practicing relaxation on a daily basis. The aim of these techniques is to bring down your overall anxiety level. The Counselling Service webpage has a range of applied relaxation and breathing audio tracks you can download and listen to. Practicing mindfulness can also assist you to check in and let go of negative emotions. Exercise can be a useful way of relaxing for some people. Counselling and Psychological Services also regularly runs workshops throughout semester on a variety of topics including stress management, so check out our website for updates.

Best of luck with your exams!

Loss of motivation

I feel lack of motivation, I know there is lots of things I can do, but I just cannot think and focus. I forced myself to library everyday however I cannot focus on study. My brain is just not working, but I have lots of things need to catch up, what should I do? I always want to sleep during studying, and as a result I eat a lot but I don’t want to. And at night, I always spend a long time to sleep and I wake up earlier and earlier these days, what can I do?

This can be a very common problem, but the good news is there are a number of things that can help increase focus and motivation. Initially it can be useful to attempt to remember the initial motivation for approaching study. Whatever motivated you then is being tested by the daily grind of long hours, and sometimes it’s important to remind yourself why you’re doing this.

Sometimes motivation decreases due to fatigue and a lack of self-care, and it sounds like your diet and sleep schedule could definitely be contributing to this. Click here for some sleep hygiene tips to help improve your sleep. Oddly enough, we learn when we are asleep, so taking the time is better for your studies anyway! Planning regular meals and snacks can help keep you energised and less likely to eat mindlessly, and making sure your diet is filling and nutritious will also help you focus. Regular exercise will help both your sleep and your ability to concentrate.

Anxiety about our workload can also cause our minds to wander, as it feels like there’s so much to do we don’t know where to start. Planning your time effectively will help you feel more confident and productive:
• Establish a routine as if you were in the paid workforce – go to bed, rise and go to uni at the same times most days.
• Select very small, meaningful, achievable goals that flow into each other.
• Try to achieve a balance, and focus on what tasks you have completed, not just the tasks you still need to do. Energise yourself with scheduled downtime, relationship time, recreation time, and enjoyment with friends. The aforementioned will leave your brain readier to work at a high level for longer, rather than blankly staring at a screen.

Finally, Counselling and Psychological Services and Academic Skills Unit run regular workshops on a range of topics that can help with motivation and focus. These workshops not only give practical skills, but attending them in person around other students who are having similar struggles can provide a much needed boost in motivation. Good luck!

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