It’s been a while… things have changed… big modifications to my research… hoping it works out bah 🤷🏻‍♀️🙏❤️‍🩹🤙🏻

31st December 2020

And tomorrow is just another day. Spending our anniversary separated by closed borders and alone as has been every day since March 15… 2021 doesn’t appear much brighter from here. Sorry, I know everyone is trying to find hope that the new year will bring better things than this year… some of us are not feeling it.

I miss my partner… my dogs… my life. Please do not think you know what is going on based on FB or Insta images. It is a facade.

Each day brings another day facing the challenges of living in a different country to my partner. With no vision of being together any time soon. It is f@*king hard…

My favourite time of day are those few seconds when I wake up before I realise it is just another day the same as yesterday.

One year ago, exactly, we were about to be married. After a lifetime (and more) together it was agreed and the papers signed in front of friends and family. 2020 brought with it plans to return to Sabah together and reconnect and rebuild our life there.

2021? Hopes of being reunited at some stage somewhere.

With no hope, and now now plan, to return to the country where we are both citizens… because it is next to impossible unless you have around $20000 over to spend… we wait. We wait with the 40000 over other Australian citizens and permanent residents hoping to be reunited sometime… some day… somewhere.

I will not return to a country that abandoned me totally. There is no way to describe how this year has been.. for me… for my partner… for the 40000 over other Australians abandoned by their country. The one place that was meant to be home, was meant to be safe, was meant to protect us.

I am left angry, hurt, and broken. I will rebuilt and recover but I will not and cannot live in country with a Govt that behaves the way the Aust govt has this year. The lies and misinformation has made us out casts and turned Aussies against Aussies.

I hope everyone can find some calm in this storm and find a way to connect with those you love. If you are in the same location gives hugs .. if you are not then please talk and connect however you can.

Be safe.

The ‘festive’ season

This time of year is diificult for a lot of people at the best of times. This year is difficult for a lot more of us for so many different reasons. 2020 has been a challenge in new ways, bringing with it separation from our friends or family (or both). a sense of isolation and anxiety, along with financial hardship and educational disruption and the incessant worry of how we will recover from all this. The internet and online social platforms have enabled a lot of to stay connected at some level with the people important to us. It isn’t the same but we have a found a way, and many of us have been able to build new connections, new collaborations, and even new friendships with people we probably would never have interacted with before and whom we may never meet in person.

Along with thousands of others I have found myself separated by continents from my partner and my friends and family. I haven’t seen my partner since March when we met in Dublin at a conference for 10 days with the plan to relocate back to Malaysia at the end of March. Obviously this never happened. I have been lucky enough to eventually return to Malaysia to take up my position as a senior lecturer there, but I am here alone waiting for borders to reopen so our family can be together again. No-one knows when this might happen and I miss them more than words can express.

This year has changed me. I think it has changed us all in many ways. Hopefully for the better in the long run as we become more aware of the limitations of the human race, the destruction caused though human activity, and the vulnerabiltiy of the way we live. I know I have a new appreciation of the smaller things, the things I took for granted before, the activities I enjoy doing that were taken away for most of the year, and a huge awareness of what and who is important to me and how to hold these things close. I hope I never forget these lessons.

I have witnessed huge suffering in other people, in hearing their stories and doing what I can to help where I can. This is also part of my recovery from the events of the year. I have also needed to ask for help, which is a kinda new thing for me. Shame and embarrassment are powerful things that can prevent us from asking for what we need. I had to put this aside and let people know I was having a hard time, to truly connect and allow someone to see my pain so I could find a way through. I’ve engaged in therapy in a different way, imperative if I want to continue the work that I do. I have sought out a new clinical supervisor who will also help build my professional capacity in new ways and in a new specialty area. I can see my passion again and in a new light, even if I cant feel it all the time yet. I dont know what is at the other side of all this, I’m not even sure there really is another side. I do know that staying where I was mentally and emotionally was not viable long term and that I needed to do something differently. I needed to start moving again on all levels: emotionally, intellectually and academically, and physically.

I have reconnected to the things I enjoy doing. I have reconnected to my purpose and values. I am incredibly lucky and beyond grateful to have been able to make it to the place I call home, albeit without my partner but hopefully that will change some time in 2022. I have connected in new ways with true friends, found my family and realised who I care about and who actually cares about me. I have let go of people I thought were friends but who were not really. I’ve been able to go diving for the first time in over a year and found the gift of mindfulness and present moment awareness through that. I have connected with a new dive buddy who is teaching me how to play and dance again. She is 13 years old and I am priviledged to have met her and to have reconnected with her Mother after many years. I have been helped to find the perfect home for us in a small village outside of town where it is peaceful and quiet, and even has a small river running by the property. Living there alone will be hard as that’s not how it was meant to be, I just hope it isn’t for too long. I have been hit by the impact I have on the people around me, how much some people really care and how much I care about them. This brings with it sadness as well as hope and I want to embrace both.

My nephew will come and join me when the world opens and I am beyond happy to welcome him to my home for as long as he wants, to introduce him to different way of lving and being, to experience life in a way he cannot see right now. My sister will come visit too. I cannot express how much I appreciate her and the support she has given me during the year. I know I worried some people quite a lot at different times and I hope that the closing of this year brings some calm, peace, and confidence that we will be ok, that we got through this together as we have always done and always will.

Yes, there is a long way to go. This pandemic is far from over. Life is far removed from what I envisaged for myself, for us – my partner and I and our gorgeous 4 legged family. I am so grateful for what I have. For the people who really stepped up when I needed them, for the lessons I’ve learned, for the depth of emotion I have been forced to experienced. As painful as it has been, and continues to be, I have hope and I have purpose and I know it will be ok. Somehow… … …

Sabah bah

I am finally going back to Sabah

I have been granted permission to enter Sabah. Two weeks home quarantine and then back into work and life.. This year has been a hell of a ride and I am hoping this means things are changing and soon life will be ok again. I am not the same person I was when all this started, essentially yes but changed in many ways. I have learnt a lot about what I capable of, my level of resilience and resourcefulness, and a lot about who I want in my life moving forward. I am stronger than before and more confident. Once I put a few pieces of me back together we will see what comes next.. this is clearly a journey over which I have very little control and I am excited for the next chapter… Bring it x x

Shut-up-and-write (SUAW) a lifeline during the pandemic

A lot of you will know me, I am loud, talk a lot, and previously was, and am again now, ever present at La Trobe events in an online capacity. This year has been a crazy ride for us all. In case you missed it, I have been stuck in the UK since March after attending a conference in Dublin, on route to my field work location in Malaysia. I have just come out of hotel quarantine in Malaysia after being granted special permission to enter the country, and after being unsuccessful and unable to secure a flight back to Australia once it became evident this was a long-term pandemic. Anyway, hindsight is an amazing thing.

So here we are, official La Trobe 2020 version of Academic Writing Month, and I’m here to share with you my experience of the amazing lifeline that has been the #LTUSUAW, the RED workshops,  and all the people in those sessions who have been so awesome and tolerant of my, at times, craziness that comes from isolation in a country where I didn’t really know anyone. The last eight months have been something, a journey for all of us in various ways and each experiencing 2020 in a unique way. 

My experience

My experience is all I have to draw on so here it is.

In March, when this all started, I was stranded in the UK. I had my flights booked to go to Malaysia for mid-March but the borders there closed the night before my flight was due to land. The University I was meant to start work with recommended I hold tight and fly once borders opened again and they stayed in regular contact with me following this, assisting where they could to get the permission for me to enter Malaysia. 

I tried to get back to Australia a couple of times and eventually gave up and surrendered to the fact that I was going to be in the UK for some time. This was difficult to stomach. My supervisors were concerned, my partner and family incredibly so and even more so after the flight cancellations. I’ve been told how resilient and strong I am, I don’t see it quite like that. I had no choice. I had to find a way to function in the environment I found myself in. So, I turned to what I know best, which was finding a way to stay connected despite the distance, the time difference, and the fact that you were also all locked down. I have always been an off-campus student, through my Grad Dips, Post Grad Dip, Masters, and now PhD. I knew that I know how to do this. Digging deep, primarily because of the sense of isolation, lack of my established support network and usual self-care strategies, along with the huge time difference and the cold cold UK weather, I attended as many sessions as I could manage.

Gradually my ability to attend the sessions declined, as the length of time I was stranded lengthened and my mood declined.  I think there was a few months where I totally lost touch with La Trobe, other than on Twitter. The priority became survival mode to be honest. Much less than ideal. In maybe August, it was suggested by my supervisor that I take leave from my PhD as I wasn’t able to do anything to progress it.  This time I did as suggested. I continued to engage when I could with the La Trobe researcher community and so many people have been so amazing along this journey. I am incredibly grateful for the support.

Then, to my surprise, I was granted permission to travel to Malaysia. This is where my research is based, and where I was meant to be arriving in March. Some hope returned and I reengaged with the La Trobe community.

On arrival in Malaysia I had to undergo 14 days mandatory hotel quarantine, the same as if I had returned to Australia. This is where the daily, often twice daily, #LTUSUAW sessions became a lifeline for me. Malaysia is in a more amicable time zone with Melbourne and throughout the two weeks quarantine I attended every #LTUSUAW session I could manage, often joining two or three a day. 

I also found #SUAW sessions run through other institutions and some days found myself just moving from one to the next. The collegiality and support from my fellow SUAWers was nothing short of amazing. I was scattered, focus was difficult, and I talk a lot, yet these people where happy to see me and embraced me back into the fold. Maybe even missing the slight crazy I bring as part of my package. 

I have ADHD and as such, these sessions are the only way I have been able to focus. Prior to COVID-19 I had little access to this kind of support, yes there were SUAW sessions but they were less frequent and less people attended. The lockdown has been really hard for us all I think, but the RED team and my fellow Grad Researchers have been one of the things that have got me through. If you’ve never tried it, come join us. It is a warm and welcoming environment. I started a couple of my own SUAW with friends while in quarantine to help fill the time. Honestly, without the availability of these sessions I have no idea how I would have survived two weeks in a hotel room alone. I have never met any of my SUAW buddies in real life, and I don’t need to. These are my peers, my academic supports, and my cheer squad when I need it. And I really hope that at the end of this pandemic we keep this network going. Sign up to every session you can during Academic writing month, take the opportunity to try out different groups and see if this works for you, it has been the thing that has helped me survive the past 8 months. 

There really are no words to express my gratitude to everyone behind the scenes who works so hard to get all this up and running, and keeping it going!

Stay strong and stay healthy. If you are reading this you are already a rock star!!!


Sandi James is a La Trobe graduate researcher. You can find out more about her research here

Re-set and restart…

In March, when this all started. I had packed up my life and was on route to build my new life in Sabah. I stopped in Dublin on the way to attend a conference and planned to start life again and work back in Sabah, Malaysia late March. While I was in Dublin the world changed. Yes, I was called back to Australia by the Govt, as well as by my university. I had nothing to go back to, nowhere to live, no job, nothing really. And yes, my family was in Australia, but I am 51 years old and independent. I am a Psychologist, a PhD Candidate, a Senior Lecturer and researcher, an athlete (of sorts), and all the other things I am. I have lived and worked in South East Asia for about 6 years and wasn’t really planning on coming back permanently for some time. I had finally found my space, the place where I functioned best. And no-one knew the extent of this pandemic. No-one anticipated a year of lock-downs and border closures. And no-one anticipated the Australian Government introducing a cap on the number of international arrivals into the country per week. I booked a flight in April to fly July. The caps were introduced before I could get the flight. I did get offered a second flight and was given less than a day to get ready and fly. In the circumstances I was in, my increased and severe anxiety and stress, and knowing I had little to return to, I didn’t take it. We still hoped that the border to Malaysia would open enough and I could head to where I had friends and support, and a job, or to Thailand where my partner still is.

I am back in Malaysia. Not quite Sabah but close, and able to start working. First classes today was so good. Yeh, it’s the honeymoon period but lets take what we can get right?

Pause on PhD to run an impact study on the Aussies Abandoned by the Aust Govt

Executive Summary:
During the unprecedented pandemic of COVID-19 and subsequent restrictions on travel, the Australian government implemented restrictions, or international arrival caps, on the number of people able to enter the country. This also included a cap on the number of Australian citizens able to return each week. These caps were announced by the National cabinet on 13th July and came into effect on Monday 20th July, thereby limiting arrivals into all Australian states to 4000 people per week. In part, this was in response to the outbreak in Victoria and the closure of Melbourne international airport on the 2nd July. The closure was initially temporary. However, it was extended to 24th October. The announcement of this extension overlapped with the announcement of the 4000-person cap on international arrivals effective 20th July, thus creating an even higher demand for seats on international flights. It was not until September that the National Cabinet raised the caps slightly by 1500 in a phased manner starting 27th September. From the 4000 individuals able to enter, it has been reported that less than 40% of these arrivals were Australian citizens or Permanent Residents. This study aims to explore the impact of these flight caps on Australian citizens and Permanent Residents using a narrative analysis of people’s experiences collected through Focus Group Discussions and Individual interviews. The outcome is anticipated to inform recovery and support options for this cohort, to inform public health and future Government Policy, as well as to provide an avenue for participants to be able to discuss their experiences, to feel connected to others enduring a similar experience, and to assess the impact over a two year time frame.

Eco- Grief: managing life in an uncertain world.


How to deal with anxiety and grief in an uncertain future


The world has never been in such a dire ecological state as it is today. Scientists have called our time, the Anthropocene, as the 6th Mass-extinction event since the beginning of life. Species are going extinct at unprecedented rates due to human-caused activities. On top of the species die -off we have been facing climate change catastrophes. Australia has lost over a billion animals in the bushfires from 2019. Water has become a scarce resource and many people have lost their homes due to flooding and droughts. The environmental imbalance and the ever growing encroachment of humans into wild spaces has made new headlines with the COVID-19 outbreak; a pandemic that brought the world to a stand-still leaving many people in fear of contracting this respiratory disease and many families in financial turmoil. With catastrophic news chasing the next, it is little surprising that many people suffer from severe depression, anxiety and eco-grief. 


Eco-grief Definition:

“The grief reaction stemming from the environmental loss of ecosystem stemming by natural and man-made events” (KrissKevorkian), or “the grief felt in relation to experienced oranticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.” (Cunsolo & Ellis). 


Eco-grief has become and more and more recognized psychological issue, especially for people who work in environmental protection, conservation, climate research, and many first responders and rescue teams who witness bushfires, flooding and pandemic outbreaks. It is natural to be overthrown by a sense of hopelessness and apathy when faced with environmental degradation but it is crucial to be able to keep up the fight for the environment. Dr Sandi James and Dr Miriam Kunde have partnered up to develop a study investigating eco-grief in countries where the environmental destruction is visible, such in Bornean Malaysia where many people witness the forest conversion into oil palm concessions or in Vietnam where locals have witnessed the “empty forest syndrome” (the forests exist but poaching has eradicated almost all wildlife). In contrast, we are interested in eco-grief in the Western world, where many have already lost the direct connection to wildlife but are concerned about climate change developments and the potential future for their children. Last we are interested in studying eco-grief and the effect on productivity and magnitude in professions that are dedicated to the protection of biodiversity and the climate. We aim to gain a better understanding how eco-grief is impacting these target groups in order to develop a therapy and treatment plan for sufferers of eco-grief. 


Who we are

The eco-grief research and initiative is founded by :


Sandi James is a registered psychologist from Australia. She worked at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) until 2017 when she returned to full-time research and clinical practice in addiction treatment in Thailand. Sandi continues to be involved in a number of research projects looking at alcohol harm minimization in Sabah with her graduate research exploring traditional alcohol in Sabah. She is planning to return to Sabah to take up a new academic posting at UMS in 2020 and to work with the development of a world class psychiatric inpatient unit in Hospital UMS, a new teaching hospital currently under construction. Sandi has presented research and case studies at numerous international conferences with many more planned for the future.


Dr Miriam Kunde is a conservation scientist who has first-hand experience with eco-grief after working in species conservation for over 10 years in several different countries and continents. She is well connected to communities and conservation scientists in first, second and third world countries. In her last position, Dr Kunde was the Scientific field officer and carnivore conservation officer for the DanauGirang Field Centre in Borneo, a research centre dedicated to research projects for species conservation. She has experience in a variety of research disciplines (e.g. phylogeography, genetics, forensics, reintroduction biology, spatial ecology, restoration ecology, zoology, environmental psychology, ethology, anthropology). She is currently expanding her research expertise into conservation marketing (and behaviour change) and holds a Master Degree in Wildlife Documentary productions. Dr Kunde is interested in studying eco-grief as well as developing a therapy plan with Dr James. Once this is achieved, Dr Kunde and Dr James would like to provide eco-grief counselling to all different target groups and sufferers and to invite the discussion about eco-grief and how to handle it through publicising it in scientific journals as well as broadcast media. 

First gig as an invited speaker … and 2 weeks until the next chapter of this adventure … people have been so amazing. I’ll do a post specifically dedicated to the awesome people who have helped keep me afloat throughout this last 4 chaotic and scary episode in this series … but for now I have to get back into Aust and survive 4 weeks quarantine on my own … feel free to make contact. I’m up for coffee chats, wine chats, venting chats, anything… I am eternally grateful to everyone who has been there to help prop me up while I find my new centre of gravity 🤞🏻

It is official 😁

ORIGINAL ARTICLEEffects of Alcohol towards Quality of Life in the Indigenous Groups of the West Coast Division, Sabah, MalaysiaAsong Joseph1*, Helen Benedict Lasimbang2, Sandi James3, Chua Bee Seok1 (May 2020)

Webinar- Decolonisation


The Executive Committee of the DEI SIG Presents:Introduction to Decolonization: A 3-Part Webinar Series Part 2: Decolonising Drug Studies: Victorian Aboriginal Women’s

Narratives on Healing, Drug use and Drug recovery. Presented by : Dr. Stefany Brajanovski and Sandi James

Date : Wednesday, June 24, 2020 Time: 7 pm to 8:15 pm (Melbourne- AEST)

To sign up : please click here

I was invited by La Trobe to write about my last couple of months… I’ve missed out some stories but always have to save something for later right? Have a read below about my adventures in the UK.

COVID19 adventures in wonderland

Pandemic lockdown when not at home.

This is the weirdest situation I have been in, ever, and I have been in some weird situations before. Originally, I came to the UK for a conference and a short 10 day visit to Ireland. That was the 8th March. Its now the 28th April and I am still in the UK. The plan was to return to Malaysia where I was going to take up a posting as a Senior Lecturer in the Medical Faculty of a University. So that is on hold for now as I couldn’t get into Malaysia before they closed borders, so here we are. 

Originally, I relocated from Dublin to Belfast to stay with a friend of a friend. My partner was able to get to Thailand and is still there taking care of my dogs. Another layer of complexity to the situation that many people are facing with partners being stuck in another country or location.

Being unemployed now and unable to access any financial assistance other than the financial grant through La Trobe, I am rapidly running out of money. So couch surfing the new norm. But I couldn’t stay there anymore and after 6 weeks I chose to relocate to London to stay with someone I know a little more and who wanted to help. So here I am, now in London waiting to be able to go home to Malaysia.

Belfast was fun for a while. Farmland… cows and horses to chat to, a sheep with a bucket on its head (my friend got upset when I didn’t help it… I’m a city kid… I’m not going near a sheep with a bucket stuck on its head). And George the Beagle who was very helpful. When the cows (Gertrude, Udder Madness, rumproast, sirloin, and bacon) and the horses(just called big horse and little horse) started to run away when I approached, I figured I was really losing my mind and needed to get out. I think they had had enough of my constantchatter to them. I have now decided the proper rural countryside is not conducive to my mental health.

Flying to London was extreme and surreal. I haven’t found words to adequately describe that experience yet. But on arrival to my new home I quickly became aware how much I missed sounds. The sound of a child creaming, people talking in their yards, cars going by. Being with someone I know more is amazing, like actually have a hug, despite how weird that feels right now… I’ve made friends with Alex, a guy who sits at his apartment window. I am in a courtyard kind of thing one house over, but it’s cool. We just talk loudly.

My routine has changed beyond imagination. The writing I am focusing on has also changed dramatically. I have been working on COVID related papers, a mental health survival guide for Malaysian front line and other staff and individuals, as well as the lit review and methods chapters for my research and a bunch of other things. Operating across 4 time zones have proven challenging and sleep is erratic, but I need to stay connected to people so am doing things at weird times. 

It is difficult being so far from everyone I know. I am connecting online with everyone and every platform I can find. Creating zoom meetings to help me and others, attending as many Uni team sessions as I can with the huge time difference, providing some free online counselling for people across the world, and attending Zoom dance parties with my friends from Thailand. So, all in all, despite the significant hurdles and few battles with staying sane, I am doing well. I am happy for anyone to reach out if you need a chat or anything.