Reviewing Sarah Wilson

First, we make the beast beautiful: a new story about anxiety by Sarah Wilson

Pan Macmillan, 2017

I was sceptical approaching this book. I was expecting the hard sell. I’ve read some of the I Quit Sugar content which swings between the tone of an evangelical preacher demanding repentance from your sugary sins, and that of a spaced-out yoga teacher who believes in the healing power of crystals.

This book wound me in, bit by bit. The structure was meandering, and the flow of the writing was juddering; sometimes flowing like conversation and other times obviously inspired by research. However, this is indicative of an anxious mind.

Most of all, it was a clear insight into the mind of an anxious person.

I nearly gave up at one passage in the first chapter where this lovely piece of writing takes place:

You know what else happened in 1980, just prior to anxiety being formally recognised and diagnosed? The first anti-anxiety drugs were manufactured. Which begs, was anxiety ‘invented’ to fit the drug? Just a question, just a question people… (p.19)

Yeah, it took a lot of effort to keep going after that.

Medical studies are referred to in magazine-speak, ala ‘studies have been done’, with little or no reference – sometimes the journal or author mentioned but little else and certainly no reference list or index section.

Supplements are peddled, sugar is demonised and caffeine avoidance is recommended despite Wilson regularly mentioning throughout the text that she does drink coffee.

Of course, being a tale of her own illness, Wilson admits that her own flavour of anxiety means that her own life is one of swings and roundabouts.

If anything, this is a text of philosophy. Discussing thinkers of Eastern, Western and modern-day philosophy, Wilson nudges the reader towards the idea that anxiety isn’t actually an illness but a natural part of life. And instead of trying to rid ourselves of it, she gives some ideas on how to get comfortable with it – and even use it to our advantage.

Some of the tips are difficult or close to unattainable for certain members of society to achieve. Some privilege has been overlooked when considering people who simply can’t take time out of their lives to attend to themselves.

However there will be many readers who appreciate the fusion of simplified science and philosophy, in a package they can understand compared with their own lives. Wilson is good at this. She is relatable, entertaining and sympathetic. She gets a big preachy, but shares the grittiest details of her own mistakes.

I can understand why the general public find it so hard to relate to the instructions of staunch scientists and government representatives on healthy living, yet leave no room for error. And I understand why people like Sarah Wilson seem far more inviting as they hold out their arms, saying ‘let me help you, I know how you feel’.

I read this book with interesting timing. Within days of me finishing it, Wilson announced she was closing her business I Quit Sugar. Having read this book, I was not at all surprised. She seemed just as stressed by IQS as she described her days of working in magazines and TV (which led her to start IQS).

I genuinely think Sarah Wilson wants to help people. I genuinely think she struggles with anxiety, and if you want to know what it’s like to live with anxiety, this is an excellent window into the mind of life with a brain running in all directions, at full pace. I think she’s a human too, and she struggles with the effects of early trauma and has traits that some people will judge her for. I don’t think she is harming people with her work unlike other wellness entrepreneurs.

I do, however think that she could do a better job of presenting the evidence around mental health and non-pharmaceutical treatments. We are at a stage now where we don’t have to be for or against drugs in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Wilson is well-positioned to become an advocate for the wealth of knowledge available in the fields of philosophy, psychology, dietetics and complementary medicine in increasing the general population’s knowledge on better mental health. What she needs is a hard-talking editor to keep her on track.

A Peaceful Weight

Image: Death to the Stock Photo

His toes brushing my foot.
Fingers tickling my ribs.
Warm breath on my neck.
Soft lips.
His hair brushes my cheek,
Head heavy on my shoulder.
Fourteen kilos of pure rage
Only an hour ago but now
A peaceful weight on me.
My heart reaches towards him,
beating out of my chest.
Arms cradle this giant
A baby once more.
A drowsy rustle brings a deeper cuddle
And a contented smile.

Finding the perfect job when you’re not perfect

Image: Death to the Stock Image

This article originally appeared on Womens Agenda in May 2014 and was removed in a recent content clean-out.

Women hunting for part time work to fit around the family schedule know the feeling all too well: there is no job out there that suits me. The oh-so-rare job ad that pops up in our field never quite describes the perfect fit, with a commute that’s just a little too far or skills that haven’t been used for quite some time. The job hunt is so difficult when you’re not just working around your own needs anymore.

Now add to that a chronic health problem. Maybe it’s a visible disability, like the use of a wheelchair. An easy (for others) to understand problem like an injured back. Or one that people know of but very few actually comprehend the reality of living with, like diabetes. What if you have a mental health problem?

How on earth do you find a job that suits you when you have such a long list of requirements before you can even consider accepting the position?

Job ads are scary. Advertisements for candidates who flourish in fast-paced environments; with a positive disposition, eye for detail, excellent relationship building skills; who are adaptable and dynamic (and don’t forget energetic) – at first glance that job that seems perfect for you in the skills department can leave you questioning your ability to perform in the workplace, let alone ace the interview, simply because of what kind of a person they say they are looking for.

The job hunt
In case you haven’t noticed, all the job ads sound like that. It can be pretty discouraging. You know what though? They’re probably copying it from another job ad they liked. But here’s a tip: if you are really interested in the specifics of the job and think you could do it if given a chance, go for it. I’m sure you’ve worked with people whose personalities haven’t been the ideal fit for the team. You need to prove you have the skills or transferrable skills to fit that position. So have coffee with your referees, update your LinkedIn profile and start practising your selection criteria answers.

Should you apply?
Well, yes! I’m sure you understand that it is illegal for employers to discriminate based on gender, race, impairment or disability (along with a long list of other things according to the Anti-Discrimination Act). And of course, the point of going to interviews is as much for you to find a company you like, as for a company to find a candidate they like. So apply for that job!

Scoping it out
You’re still worried about the ‘nice to have’s aren’t you? Call the contact person in the listing for a chat. Definitely do your prep work: have your up-to-date CV and cover letter ready to go so you can talk about why you are interested in the job. Have a question ready as the reason why you are calling them. For example, you could clarify how you would like to reflect your volunteer work while on maternity leave or the fact that you took some time off due to health concerns. This method is a good chance for you to scope out the company and your potential interviewer and/or manager beforehand, and a good way to be remembered. Update your cover letter with any extra information you may have covered in your conversation and send through your application as soon as you can after the call – improving your chance of at least having your application read.

And if you get a negative response over the phone then you have your answer – you certainly don’t want to work there.

If you get the interview, you probably want to avoid asking about sick leave straight away but there is no reason to hide your concerns. Drop it into conversation in response to those horrible open-ended questions. ‘I learned early on in my previous position as a project manager that stress heightens my anxiety, so I have developed a working method to manage this which actually led to an increase in performance…’ There are also the usual methods of checking on the company by asking around or doing a few searches – we do live in the internet age, after all.

When you start
Who do you tell about your needs? You should definitely be upfront with your manager or the person you report simply to make life easier when requesting time for doctor’s appointments and tests. If your workstation needs adjusting then it is best to get this done straight away to save on any pain further down the track. Yes, it can be annoying to be the new person asking for all these concessions but again, that is why it is best to be upfront about it from the beginning. They are employing you to get the best out of you – and so they need to support you in your needs. You can tell them as much or as little about your condition as you like, but sometimes the best way to do it is to sit down with your manager in your first week with the sole purpose of informing them of your condition. Make some notes that they can keep – email and hard copy – and don’t try to scare them! State it simply:
-I have (this condition)
-Which means I have (these) symptoms/limitations/impairments
-My triggers are (this)
-If I have an episode, (this) is what you need to do
-Here is my emergency contact information which I have also provided to HR
-I need to visit my specialist/GP/therapist (this regularly)
-My doctor has cleared me to work so please do not worry, this will not affect my capability to do so

You may not need (or want) to go into that much detail. However first aid instructions and emergency contact details are a must. It is also a very good idea to have a shorter, similar chat with those who work around you as they are more likely to have to tend to you in an incident.

If you have a mental health condition you may want to handle this discussion differently. It is advised that you plan the disclosure of your condition to your workplace with your mental health practitioner as they will have advice specific to your situation.

Finding a balance
Balance is definitely achievable, if you are honest with yourself. Rest when you need to. Work as hard as you can. Show initiative. But don’t feel guilty about how you feel you are always asking for concessions. Everyone has needs. You might take more time off than the guy two desks down, but he might work at half the efficiency as you.

However sometimes you have to admit that the pressure of a full time job is too much when you add in commuting, the after-work social expectations and your own responsibilities after work. It’s ok to take a step back and say no to some activities. To be honest with your manager or your team and tell them your health precludes you from taking on an extra responsibilities or projects. You are certainly within your rights to do so. If you have the financial means to do so, reducing your hours to part-time might be the way to go. Can you talk to Human Resources and come up with a plan for relieving some of the pressure?

Considered freelancing?
You don’t have to be a graphic designer or photographer to be a freelancer. Marketing consultants, accountants, makeup artists, seamstresses – whatever they are doing, they’re working for themselves. It’s no secret that freelancing requires a lot of motivation but it could be the answer to your situation. You can work from home, set your own hours, be available for doctors appointments and take time off when you need it. With a delicate balance you can spend the day in bed that you actually need (but wouldn’t ordinarily take when working for a boss) and play catch-up when you are feeling up to it.

If you have the skills you could set up your freelance company almost straight away. As a guideline you should have about 4-6 months’ of savings set aside and expect to live a bit more frugally during the first year. You will need an ABN and it is a good idea to register your business name – even if it is only your personal name – with the ATO. It’s a good idea to register a URL while you’re at it but a simple website can be built for free at plenty of places including WordPress, Blogger and more (do a search).


Sharon M Smith is a mother living with epilepsy, anxiety and depression. She once suffered a partial seizure during a job interview and still got the job. She has found working part-time as a freelance journalist and digital copywriter has given her the flexibility she needs to manage her family, health and career – all with the support of a very hard-working husband. Read more of her writing at

How can a biotech company own a cancer gene? Myriad Genetics and the BRCA1 Patent Ruling

You have almost certainly heard the news by now: in October 2015 Queensland cancer survivor Yvonne D’Arcy won an extensive battle against US biotech company Myriad Genetics. The Australian High Court ruled that the BRCA1 genetic mutation patent could not be owned by Myriad or any other company, allowing breast cancer sufferers access to diagnostic tests without exorbitant fees from private companies.

What you’re probably wondering is how this could happen in the first place, and why did it have to go all the way to the High Court? Let’s just put it down to good lawyers and complicated (or overly simplistic) laws.

Simply speaking, cancer is not the natural human state but rather a mutation in the gene. When the researchers at Myriad identified the the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which caused cancer — and were able to replicate the mutation in them, this was viewed as an intervention and therefore legally, a invention.

Section 18(1)(a) of the Patents Act 1990 grants a patent to inventions that produce an “artificial state of affairs that has some discernible effect”.

Did Myriad’s work in identifying the BRCA1 and BRCA2 and replicating the mutation occuring as cancer fit this definition? Well, yes. Myriad Genetics was granted patent for isolating hereditary mutations to the BRCA1 (in 1997) and BRCA2 (in 1995) genes, which increase the carrier’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The patent filed covered access to the genetic information in certain countries including Australia, and so clinicians requiring the information would need permission from their own country’s legal system. Enter the Australian courts.

Darcy had taken her case to the Australian Federal Court in 2013 — where the court had dismissed Darcy’s appeal against a judge’s finding that the invention fell within the concept of a “manner of manufacture”. The proceedings had focused on the structural nature of the gene, citing the differences in chemical structure between its ‘natural’ and mutated state were enough for a patent case.

Myriad fought many battles in the US over their patents. In 2013 the US Supreme Court ruled that “A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,” referring to Myriad’s work in isolating BRCA1 and BRCA2 however the work they had done in synthetically reproducing the mutation, or production of c-DNA was still eligible for patent protection.

The 2015 Australian High Court decision was similar, ruling that an isolated nucleic acid, coding for a BRCA1 protein, with specific variations from the norm that are indicative of susceptibility to breast cancer and ovarian cancer was not a “patentable invention”.

Where to from here? More work needs to be done in challenging the legal industry, particularly in the field of intellectual property law. While originally the US patent law was created to seek a balance between creative “incentives that lead to creation, invention, and discovery” and “imped[ing] the flow of information that might permit, indeed spur, invention,” there is obviously a commercial aspect that is being exploited for monetary gains.

What happened to advances in science being motivated for the betterment of mankind? Admittedly, investment equals innovation for these companies, but rather than life-saving tests costing in the range of $40,000 these tests need to be affordable and accessible in order for progress to occur.

This originally appeared on Australian Hospital and Healthcare Bulletin.

Digitisation of patient health records: first do no harm

There is a lot of resistance in organisations considering integration of informatics into their systems; whether it is electronic health record management systems, telehealth or medical devices. Resistance takes the form of red tape and budgetary restraints but more prevalent is the attitude that digitisation of the healthcare industry will bring more harm than good.

Young clinicians are driving reform. They are noted disruptors and innovators, and want change to happen in the health tech space. They see a lot of resistance to change as a basis of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of risk, fear of failure. As one Health Informatics Conference (HIC) 2015 delegate pointed out, to err is human — but for a machine to make a mistake is unacceptable.

When it comes to setting standards for e-safety and privacy regulations in healthcare settings, it is important to consider the risks involved in setting up an integrated health IT system.

But what are the risks of doing nothing?
Are we going to continue resisting change because we have always used a system with paper files? Because we are scared of job losses? Because we don’t understand the new technology?

What about the positives? What about instant access across the whole hospital (or health network) to a patient’s entire health history, without a doubt as to medication they have been prescribed? Or new jobs emerging from the health tech market? And just as we would trust another specialist from outside our own medical field, why not trust a software specialist?

Security is a concern, and rightly so. Young clinicians take their approach to client privacy as seriously as their older counterparts. Just as healthcare workers should not be discussing patients’ conditions in public or leaving files around for others to see, neither should emails with test results be copied to dozens of unneccesary parties, or social media be full of sensitive information. Yes, we may be dealing with internet security these days but it is the same principle as it has always been: first do no harm.

A passionate HIC 2015 panellist noted that these innovators are happy to share personal information on the internet but have different standards for patient security and privacy. They do not want to be discounted as having no regard for privacy or safety simply because they want to bring improvements to a struggling system.

Australia is lagging in both the consumer uptake of digitised health records, and in clinicians’ willingness to use and train in the systems. Our concerns about our government’s ability to handle our citizen’s data is not out of place given recent fails with the 2016 Census and Centrelink debt collections.

Perhaps we need to take a leaf out of the UK’s book and establish an independent body similar to the Wellcome Trust’s Understanding Patient Data portal.

wellcome trust.png

Funded by the Medical Research Council, the Department of Health, Public Health England and the Economic and Social Research Council; however, reportedly run ‘independently’ of funders by a London team at the Wellcome Trust.