New Year, Old Labour; plus The Curative Powers of Stephen Hawking

I go on a jaunt to Kings Cross to wave my placard for renationalised railways, plus a visit to hospital for some MRIs and cold comfort.

This morning I was down to Kings Cross for 8am to join the local Labour Party rally for renationalisation of the Railways.

It felt good to be actually doing something, and I got surprisingly few filthy looks for bothering people first thing in the morning on their first day back, although one plummy-mouthed shitbag did come over to make the point that he strongly disagreed with us.

No doubt, like the rest of the Tory party, he believes fervently in the profit motive and the private sector as the means to a fairer society. Without that, how on earth would people motivate themselves to work? He didn’t get where he is today by having the nanny state hand him everything on a plate. He did have Nanny to hand him everything on a plate, but that’s beside the point. A free market is the only way to ensure those who work hard reap the rewards. Like him. Like his father. Like his father before him. Without the profit motive, his ancestors might never have acquired their land, their title and their estate. Yes, we must be insane wanting to intervene in the private sector, he said, stepping over the homeless lady. It’s the only fair way.

I hope to be out again soon.

In other news, I’m at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery today, getting MRIs on my neck and back. I’m not hopeful for a constructive treatment plan, since last time my consultant told me that my problems are minor compared to the children he sees with brain cancer.

Whilst his argument is undoubtedly logical, I’m a bit disappointed that someone so concerned with the treatment of chronic pain cannot understand that chronic illness is entirely subjective. Perhaps his treatment will entail showing me a picture of Stephen Hawking upon which the pain in my spine will disappear. I’ll let you know.

Happy new year.

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These Stories Must be Told

The only thing worse than being sexually assaulted is society’s reaction when you speak out.

#metoo

Friends, I am sick. I am shaking and nauseous. I am terrified and angry and conflicted.

It’s time to speak out.

I have been deeply affected by the Weinstein revelations and the subsequent #metoo uprising. As a political activist and Labour party member I’ve been keenly watching the saga of allegations, denials, apologies and dismissals unfolding in Westminster. I’ve followed the editorials, the opinion posts and even ventured into the murky slurry that lurks malignantly in the comments section.

It’s horrible and yet I’m glad its happening. It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for – when I can speak out about my lived reality and be heard. Until yesterday.

Yesterday I spoke to an old friend and former colleague. Way back at the turn of the millennium, we were recruited as rookies to work for one of the country’s largest trade unions. Together we endured the thrilling insanity of working for a union; the long hours, the victories, the drinking and the sex. There was a lot of sex.

I have no problem with sex, in fact I’ve even been known to enjoy it. The issue I have is when sex is used in a power relationship, by men, to subjugate women. Commenting on Weinstein, Emma Thompson described his behaviour as “a system of harassment and belittling and bullying and interference”. It wasn’t just the sex, it was a system of behaviour.

“One of the big problems in the system we have is that there are so many blind      eyes and we can’t keep making the women to whom this happens responsible. They are the ones we have got to speak. Why?” Thompson asked.

Back in the union, the whole world was fucking blind.

Being 25 and idealistic, this realisation took some time to dawn, but dawn it did. The senior colleague who refused to help me because I’d politely asked him to stop calling me ‘love’. The disbelief when I asked the boss to stop referring to me as ‘one of his girls’. The expectation that we would ‘be nice’ to our predominantly male membership base, which included dancing with old men with wandering hands.

Then I was assaulted.

I’m not going to go into it here, because this blog isn’t about the actions of one man on one occasion (or more accurately, several men, on many occasions). It’s about the devastating reality when you reach out to a friend for help thinking they’re an ally, only to find that they’re an enabler.

I didn’t stay long with the union. I couldn’t turn my blind eye to the internal politics and corruption, and I was soon forced out. My friend remained.

I contacted her this week, thinking the moment would be ripe to speak out about my assault and all the blind eyes that were turned 16 years ago. On many occasions she’s told me that the culture is just as toxic as it used to be; I thought she would be pleased that we could finally confront this issue. I no longer work there so have nothing tangible to lose; I could take the bullet and open the door for others could speak out too! Things would finally change.

But she didn’t want that. Whilst her words said she supported me, her tone said anything but. This isn’t the right way to do it, she said. We need to resolve this internally, she said. I don’t want to damage the movement.

I care deeply about the labour movement, but I care even more deeply for women. In these circumstances, one is the victim and one is the aggressor, and given the choice between the two, I know which side I’ll be on.

You probably think I’m being hard on my friend. How can I be a good feminist ally if I blame other women for their lack of power? Of course I have sympathy with this point. But as trade unionists and socialists we profess to believe in collectivism – that ‘together we are stronger’ – and this isn’t always going to be easy. Doing the right thing is fucking hard.

we must take sides

By maintaining the conspiracy of silence my friend is complicit in the abuse she witnesses yet ignores. She even went as far as to urge me to be quiet. “Rants on social media don’t help anyone” she said. My experience of gendered violence is not a rant, I replied, but thanks for letting me know your position.

I realised then that I was alone and that going forward would not be easy. My mental health is fragile and who needs this? If my friend doesn’t care to do anything, why should I put myself through the mill in the hope it benefits future strangers?

I wish, I really wish I could leave the whole issue and consign it to foggy memory, but it’s too late: can open, worms everywhere. It wakes me in the night and eats my soul.

I know my friend is a victim of patriarchal power and I also know she fears for her job, should allegations become public. I’ve spent a horrific day and night wondering what to do. If I speak out, my friend will hate me, the people I name will hate me, and as I know from reading below the line, society will hate me.

But it’s the right thing to do.

I’ve arrived at the painful realisation that people who speak out aren’t lauded as heroes. They’re threatened with rape, vilified and hated by a world that desperately clings to the status quo. But the status quo isn’t working for me or my sisters and something has to change.

With thanks to @Hannahgadsby for the title inspiration, and for helping me arrive at my decision.

 

 

A Literary Life

I’ve been mentally troubled for a long time and began self harming when I was 13.

My parents referred me to the Children’s mental health service in Sheffield, but despite the psychiatrist telling me I should be admitted to their adolescent unit nothing ever happened. I’m not sure if the referral got lost or my parents quashed it.

I was started on antidepressants at 15 and have been on and off them since. But this blog isn’t about medication, or psychiatry. It’s a journey of my mental illness through the books I’ve been recommended over the years.

My periods of depression  became really noticeable when I began work in about 1995, and after revealing my concerns my GP recommended Overcoming Low Self Esteem, by Melanie Fennell. IMG_6760

It had some useful information but didn’t help with my depression.

A couple of years later I returned to my GP for help. By this time (around 1998) the mania for CBT was sweeping the nation, and I was prescribed six sessions and this workbook:

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In fact, one of my psychologists was so evangelical about CBT that after one hospitalisation she bluntly told me that if I was still ill ‘it was because I wasn’t doing it right’. Not that I had untreated bipolar or anything.

Whatever, the black dog continued to follow me. After a complete breakdown whilst at uni in 2005, I finally received my diagnosis of bipolar, and was given this to read – I would highly recommend, incidentally, both for sufferers and friends and family.

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My (private) psychiatrist was the first person to really treat me as an intelligent equal in our dealings, and as a result he suggested I buy this weighty tome:

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It was pretty pricey as I recall, the flyleaf says $65, but I got a lot out of it. Although it’s written for clinicians, each case study has a ‘takeaway’ summary at the end so you can get the gist. Invaluable for finding different treatment combinations – and if you’re paying a private doctor I would rather be doing the reading on my time than his.

On the subject of bipolar I should also mention this autobiography by Kay Redfield Jamison, who is a clinical psychologist who herself suffers from bipolar. It was one of the first books I read that made me identify with her symptoms and wonder if that was me, too.

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After a few years respite, in 2012 I deteriorated following the death of my mum and the strain of being the sole carer for my grandma. I tried (repeatedly) to commit suicide, and whilst in hospital was seen on a psychiatric ward by a locum doctor. I had never seen her before or since. However, she immediately rubbished my bipolar diagnosis and said I quite obviously had Borderline Personality Disorder. Whilst in a recovery house post-hospital, I read this book, which again I’d recommend:

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It was hard to shift my mindset from believing for such a long time that my mood state was caused by neurological imbalances, to believing that my illness was a series of maladaptive behaviours brought about by childhood trauma.

I didn’t dismiss the diagnosis – I recognised lots of patterns from the book that had played out in my own relationships. My issue with BPD was then, and has always been, a tendency to pathologise normal behaviours. If someone has a stressful day and comes home and has a glass of wine this is normal, but if a BPD sufferer does the same they are ’employing a maladaptive coping strategy’ to deal with their feelings, and should actually go and sit in a field meditating instead. Humph.

There being no NHS treatment for BPD in Sheffield, the hospital recommended this workbook and thusly discharged me, duty of care completely fulfilled:

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It’s not a bad book and I did learn a lot about using ‘healthier’ coping strategies.

When I came to London in 2014 the debate raged on as to if I had bipolar or BPD. I was ‘streamed’ into the BPD service as I was told I couldn’t be treated for both, it was one or the other. I was told that the Personality Disorder service would offer more in the way of therapy whereas the Bipolar team mainly focused on medication. From experience I know that the NHS relies heavily on older, cheaper bipolar meds such as lithium and antipsychotics, which can severely limit normal functioning and have severe side effects. My psychiatrist told me this week that 45% of the bipolar population have type 2 diabetes (compared with around 9% in the general populace).

So, once I was under the Personality Disorders Unit I endured a year’s wait for my therapy – originally planned to be Dialectical Behavioural Therapy as in the workbook above, but eventually, in about 2015, decided to be Schema Focused Therapy. Here’s my reading list for this one:

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Look at that title. Victim blamey somewhat? So, you’ve gone through trauma but CHEER UP you negative Nelly else it’s your own fault you’re still poorly.

My schema therapist was lovely, and I tried hard. I understood that the one of the principles of psychotherapy is that you have to get worse before you get better, but I got worse. And worse. And worse. After about eight months I was a mess, and we decided to call it a day.

I was referred back to the list for Dialectical Behavioural Therapy.

It’s hard to explain what went wrong here except for the fact that my therapist had the empathy of a block of wood. She was impossible to establish any rapport with, and as a result I found it incredibly hard to open up. When I tried to raise this with her I was told that it was her or no-one, and when I complained to her manager, I got nowhere. The following month, I learned they had both left the service to set up together in private practice.

There followed a year without treatment. With rapid cycling of moods, extreme anxiety, agoraphobia (I booked a trip to Edinburgh to the festival and locked myself in my rented flat, never seeing one show), the only thing that kept me going was my substance misuse worker. I’d originally been referred for help with drinking as I was drinking heavily to cope with my moods and this often precipitated a suicide attempt. After about four months of seeing my worker, she said i no longer had a problem, but we carried on seeing each other because she knew I was getting no therapeutic support.

All the good ones leave, and in June 2017 she sadly she went off to work for another trust. My condition deteriorated rapidly. I was self harming, never leaving the house, not even washing, and having flights of mania within all this. I was (and remain) like a butterfly trapped in a lighbulb.

I took the only remaining option and went to see a private psychiatrist. Within less than two minutes of seeing me (and assessing the questionnaires I’d completed in advance) he diagnosed me with mixed affective state bipolar. I was back where I’d begun.

Mixed affective state bipolar is not the same as bipolar one or two, so I was given further reading to try and understand my condition. Today’s book:

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To be frank, whereas I eagerly attacked most of the other books, desperate to understand the hell I was going through, with this one I just feel tired. I feel like I could see 10,000 different psychiatrists and get 10,000 different answers – each one swearing that their predecessor had it utterly wrong.

But for now, it’s what I have.

A list of shits no longer given

If you read this blog, or even worse, have had the misfortune to meet me in the last few weeks, you’ll know that I am not in the best mood.

I have a washing machine of vitriol churning in my head and a blaze of anger what I formerly assumed was a cold, dead heart.

So I have made some resolutions. Here are some things that I have resolved to no longer do/ignore/allocate any of my precious thought time to.

  • Tits and nipples. We (very nearly) all have them. If you can see mine, and choose to sexualise them, that’s your sweet issue. I realised at the grand old age of 40 that I don’t, and have never needed a bra. The reason I wear a bra (I suspect like a lot of women) is to a) make my breasts a more desirable shape as deemed by decades of media imagery or b) to COVER MY NIPPLES. Why, I find myself wondering? Which imaginary deity deemed that visible nipples were somehow an invitation for unwanted sexual contact or the sign of the sexually promiscuous? If I can see a man’s nipples/moobs through his t-shirt my last thoughts are of sex, believe me. So rule one: fuck your views on my perfectly natural human body.

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  • Smiling at strangers on trains. I am a sociable bean, and also from Yorkshire, so my automatic response upon meeting someone’s eye is to smile at them. This is nice and I don’t want to stop doing it. But I was one the tube yesterday and looked up to catch a man letching at my aforementioned rack. I was literally halfway through my automatic smile when rational thought intervened and I realised that I was smiling at this man because I somehow felt like I owed his unwanted sexual attention a friendly response. So rule number two: from now on, stinkeye for letches. Speaking of letches…

 

  • …those guys who slide into your DMs at quarter to twelve on a Friday night. The kids are in bed, the wife has followed and they are sitting alone, deep into their collection of craft ale. The messages begin innocuously enough, perhaps with a tenuous link to a mutual friend or a shared interest. I used to wonder ‘why are you messaging me? I don’t know you’. But being a nice person, or at least a shadow of one, I would reply. I would engage, because that’s what I was brought up to do; be friendly and polite. The only difference here is this is not a civil exchange such as one you might have with the elderly lady or gent at the bus stop. This is a highly gendered phenomenon, because it relies upon two of the great pillars of patriarchy: men’s entitlement to women’s attention, and women’s obligation to grant them this. It took me a good few months of messaging back and forth with randoms before I saw the pattern emerge: the lateness of night, the alcohol, the fact that it was never, ever women getting in touch at 1am ‘just for a chat’. The crunch came for me when one of these Facebook buddies decided in his drunken state to send me a meme that amounted to ‘show us your tits’. I realised then that these guys wanted neither friendship nor sex, what they wanted was a bit of a diversion, some idle flirtation to bolster their sagging self images. I also realised I was gaining nothing from these transactions, and they were taking up a whole load of emotional energy.  So from then on, rule three: I don’t accept ‘chatty’ DMs from men anymore, instead just telling the sender that I’m happy to be Facebook friends but I don’t chat with people who I haven’t met in real life.

manspreading tories

 

  • Taking up space. I refuse to apologise for occupying my 68kg 160cms volume of space. Take a look at the picture above. the four women in the front row clasp their legs together, cramped into a small amount of space, while the seven men have spread, relaxed legs, occupying as much of their own sweet space as they wish. OK, its a picture of a load of Tories who by their very nature are bound to be a bunch of cunts, but the pattern is repeated everywhere. Theatres, trains, airplane seats. Rule four: without needlessly encroaching upon other’s space, I will take up as much as I need. If that leads to a battle of wills with the fella sitting next to me, so be it. I am more than capable of giving passive aggressive kneeing when required.

 

  • Rule five: I will not apologise for myself. My education (hard fought for – I got a first class degree but it took eleven years of interrupted study including dropping out of Cambridge to get there), skills, vocabulary and what my mate calls ‘grit and determination’ can often be perceived as a threat by people in authority. I was brought up to have an enquiring mind, which goes down like a lead balloon when you’re sitting in a psychiatric ward at 2am asking for the NHS policy on voluntary admissions before you sign anything. Frequently this has brought me to blows with medics who view this as a personal attack and as a result, become upset and defensive. Whilst it is absolutely not my wish to hurt or disrespect another human being, I’m resolute in my belief that professionals need to be impartial and open to questioning and, at times, criticism. It’s really not personal.

 

  • Rule six: I’ll try my best to give love, appreciation, support and credit where it’s due. In a world filled increasingly with dangerous bell ends, I will hold close those dear to me, thank them for their care, seek to make connections with other good people and show empathy and support to those people going through their own hell. I’ll use what little I have in the tank (mainly lying like a lump on the sofa writing blogs or going on Facebook) to support new artists and creatives, to challenge cuntiness, and to bring good people together. I will try.

 

  • I will pace myself. So instead of lying on the sofa feeling overwhelmed by the chores, I will do one thing each time I get up. So I go for a wee, and put a wash on. I water the plants while I boil the kettle. I am aiming for three chores a day, anything else is a bonus. The prospect of unpacking my suitcase from the crisis house is a faraway fantasy. Leaving the house alone still a long way off. But rule seven seems do-able at the moment, which is the best I can hope for.

 

If you have any suggestions for rules for living in this difficult world, or thoughts on mine, I’d love to hear them. I moderate all comments and will happily post critical comments but only if they’re constructive and non-abusive.

I can forgive, but forgetting’s the bastard.

Like everyone, bad things have happened in my life. Some have been done to me, and some, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve done to others. Yes, at times in my life I have been a complete cunt.

Years of therapy (man) have helped me move on from childhood shit, from blaming parents for omissions, for the lovers who cheated. There’s a couple of things, however, that I just can’t move on from.

These two betrayals are insidious by the cloak of mystery that surrounds them, because although completely different in nature, these offences have in common that they were carried out by an anonymous aggressor. And no matter how much you try to move on, it still rankles in the wee small hours that someone hates you so very much that they would intentionally hurt you.

The most recent of these occurrences was the absolute charmer who took advantage of the Tories’ ‘shop a scrounger’ anonymous benefit fraud telephone line. Up to then, I had been fortunate to have avoided the perils of ATOS and their heartless and senseless assessments, and had been automatically awarded fairly decent levels of disability benefit. This award was no doubt largely down to a letter from my long-serving psychiatrist who explained that due to my complex, severe and enduring mental health problems I would not only be unable to hold down a job, but (and I have to admit this bit brings me to tears a little) I would ‘never be able to live a normal life’. So, lucky old me with my fucked up brain, at least I got the princely sum of ninety quid a week from the social with which to live like a Queen (in my abnormal life).

However, my nameless adversary knew better than any medical professional. Sitting on the phone, very possibly masturbating with joy, they gave the DWP a full rundown of my appearance, previous married names, height, weight and hair colour. The crux of their analysis, though, was that I am able to leave the house and ‘obviously lead a full life’.

How that phrase rankled my agoraphobic brain. My best mate is my carer and drags me our once every few days, without which I remain inside, often in my pyjamas, sometimes rarely able to shower. God forbid we should put a photo on Facebook of a rare moment of fun, because that obviously means THAT I AM FINE AND DESERVE NOTHING.

Well, dear reader, it’s 1-0 to my nameless Daily Mail reading wanker because my benefits were stopped and now, well I get by in the only way I can. And I can’t pretend that it’s good for my mental health.

My second beef that burns brightly dates way back to university. I studied at Cambridge as a mature student, after a less than illustrious schooling and adolescence. I was aged 29 and I remember the date because it was Burns night, 2005. I attended an all-female college and was invited to the neighbouring mixed-sex college for the Burns night dinner. The booze was flowing and I remember having a silly tiff with one of the male students, who was well known for fancying himself somewhat. Later that night he handed me a drink, and that’s the last thing I remember.

I came to about 14 hours later, having been attended to by paramedics; my friends had seen me become suddenly floppy and completely out of it, and had called an ambulance. The paramedics didn’t do anything except observe me, and lord knows why they didn’t test my blood, but I was subsequently ill for two whole weeks; I couldn’t look at light, I had a blinding headache and was constantly throwing up. I felt like I’d been physically assaulted.

Again, the sense of not knowing is what makes it hard to move on. I have no doubt that someone spiked my drink, but I have no way of knowing who it was, regardless of my suspicions. In the days that followed (because naturally the event had shocked the college; they immediately ran a campaign to raise awareness of drink spiking), several students came up to me independently with suggestions of who the perpetrator could be. For the record, their suspicions matched mine.

This would all be ancient history, an unpleasant anecdote but something that I’d write off as ‘one of those things’ were it not for an unpleasant twist in the tale. The person I suspect assaulted me in this cowardly and pathetic way is still part of my life, and keeps popping up due to mutual friends and interests. I’ve tried blocking on Facebook, and even unfriending people to avoid seeing his image, but he is physically present at places I go to.

There’s nothing I can do. I one thing I refuse to do, is absent myself. No matter how someone chooses to be a bully, their aim is to remove you from their domain. Sometimes just existing in a time and place is a radical act.

 

So these are my confessions. I’m not proud that I can’t forgive, forget and move on from these horrible events. I’d be a better woman if I could. I’d love to hear from anyone who has found that peace.