Nasty Women.

On International Women’s Day I want to make a post dedicated to all the ‘nasty’ women in my life who have made me the nasty woman I am today. Why nasty, you may ask. Well, because that’s one of the many ways the current US President has described women. Others being slobs, pigs, dogs. The list goes on.

The women who have raised me have shaped me into who I am today.

My grandma. A woman so headstrong and tough and amazing that she would have looked Satan himself in the face and told him to move because he was getting soot on the rug. A woman who made sure she was heard.

My granny. The woman who taught me that the phrase ‘Excuse me, but I was in the middle of saying something’ is not rude, but the person interrupting or speaking over you is rude. The woman who taught me how to command a room without the need to raise your voice.

My aunts who went after what they wanted in life and never apologised for it simply because someone disapproved.

My sister who taught me that there’s nothing wrong with gender roles as long as you’re the one making the decision that it’s right for you.

My mother. A woman who words simply cannot describe. A woman who tackles adversity head on. A woman who never seems to sweat the small stuff. A woman who can be strong and soft at the same time. A woman you wouldn’t dare cross, not because she is imposing or threatening but because she commands respect just by being.

If these women are nasty, then I hope I’m half as nasty as them.

And an honourary mention to the men in my life who never tried to limit me because of my gender.

And to all those who did, nice try.

Muffin.

I woke at 4am. I was filled with this pain that I couldn’t immediately place. I had to run to the bathroom and I was violently sick. And as I sat there, crying, sweat sticking the hair to my forehead, it all came rushing back to me.

My dog died. And to many, that’s a sad sentence but they don’t understand the pain behind those words. My dog died. My friend died. My constant companion since I was 10 years old died. The dog that I was allowed to name and called Muffin, because I was 10 and he was the same colour as a chocolate muffin. And because I was 10 I didn’t give any thought to the fact that 14 years later it’d seem to some that I was referencing a food item and crying about it. That’s why, at 4.45am, I sit here staring at a computer screen trying to put something into words that I don’t think is possible.

To many, a dog is just a dog. And Muffin was just a dog. A big, stupid, beautiful idiot of a dog who viewed beams of light as some kind of threat that must be eradicated. So much so that he once cut himself badly on a mirror from chasing its reflection. A dog that knew when you were trying to trick him into taking medicine and had an uncanny ability to suss out tablets in his food. A dog who could have been a sniffer dog for chocolate and had been the reason we now know exactly the amount of chocolate that is safe for a dog to consume. And somehow he managed to survive going over that limit countless times. A dog that got cancer and never complained about it. A dog that on his last day when he couldn’t walk or even stand managed to somehow gather the strength to jump on the couch and sit next to me because I was sad. Muffin was just a dog and damn it if I don’t think that’s more than enough.

I won’t pretend I know the mind of my dog. I don’t. I couldn’t possibly. All I know is the effect he had on me and those around me. Nobody who met Muffin thought he was anything other than wonderful. In fact I can think of only two instances where Muffin was wary of a person. Both those people were later jailed for pretty horrendous things.

Am I suggesting he was a psychic dog? Of course not. But he seemed to be a pretty good judge of character. And if I’m half the person that beautiful idiot thought I was, then I’m on the right track.

 

Defending our views, even when we’re wrong.

The culture around the almost immediate disbelief when a rape allegation is brought forward, when someone claims to have been sexually assaulted or when someone is accused of vastly inappropriate relations all show how, as humans, we immediately seek to defend our narrative on the world, rather than accept that we might be wrong. Cries of “they wouldn’t do that, they’re so lovely” or “if they did it, they were encouraged in some way” are perfect examples of this bizarre phenomenon.

Now, you’ll be going right about now “What about those who cry wolf?”. Yes, false accusations happen. Yes, they are awful. Yes, they need to be dealt with severely. But the statistic for false allegations surrounding sexual assault are between 2 and 8%. Yet every single time someone becomes accused of rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, inappropriate behaviour or anything of the like, all too often the cries of “the accuser must be lying” is heard most often, and loudest. Why is it so difficult for us to assume that people might not be the shining beacons of hope we might have expected them to be? Just because someone was nice to you doesn’t mean they aren’t an absolute slimeball to someone else.

John Green wrote in his book “Paper Towns” a quote that I may have used before in when writing, but that doesn’t make it any less true. He wrote: “what a treacherous thing to believe a person is more than a person”. Human beings are complex, they are difficult, they are flawed. We can constantly do things we never thought ourselves capable of, both in positive terms and in negative terms. We should never put so much hope or belief in a single solitary person that we defend them to the ends of the earth whilst disregarding the facts.

Something I don’t believe I’ve ever written about on this blog, but don’t quote me on that, is an example I had of just that. Nearly four years ago now, a man who was quite close to our family was arrested and charged with several hundred counts of vile child pornography on his computer. Some of it classed as the worst category, whatever that means, I hate to think. A man I’d known, I’d trusted, I’d spent time with, had eaten dinner at our home. A man who had done something utterly horrendous and we had no clue. I could have defended him. I could have easily said that there must be some explanation for it. He wasn’t *like* that. But in that moment, I had the realisation of how humanity is ugly at times and how people are not always what they appear to be. If I defended him, not only was I wrong but I did injustice to every single child that was depicted in those images.

There are two sides to every story, absolutely. But just because you know someone doesn’t make their side the right side. Just because you know someone doesn’t make them saint like. Just because you know someone doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing horrendous things.

Rapist Brock Turner, Sexual Assault and Consent.

Rapist Brock Turner has been released from jail, after three months. Although it’s technically not legally correct to call him “Rapist Brock Turner” since he was never convicted of rape. He was convicted of “intent to rape” and “penetration of an unconscious person with a foreign object” and “penetration of an intoxicated person with a foreign object”. However, this pos is a rapist and we have folk defending him. We have folk claiming that his victim was at fault. We have people claiming that what he did wasn’t that bad. His father claimed that his life should not be defined by “20 minutes of action”. We have folk mourning his swimming career because he was such a young hopeful.

Can we dial this back a second? What we have here is a man who saw a young lady unconscious and his first thought was “Well, it’s not like she can say no.” and proceeded to rape her. What he has done is take away any control that young woman had over her body. He saw something and took it, regardless of any thought for another human being. But oh he could have represented the USA in the Olympics at swimming so it’s such a shame.

Why are women still second class citizens in their own sexual assaults?

Rapist Brock Turner – and yes I will continue to refer to him as that – served 3 months of a 6 month sentence for ‘good behaviour’. And the scary thing is that this happens more often than people want to believe.

Rapist Brock Turner could be your next door neighbour, your teacher, your dog walker. He is a face to a crime that happens all too often because we can’t officially decide on what rape is and for some reason there are those who believe consent to be a gray area and there are some who believe rape to only be carried out by men. Consent is not to be assumed, especially not in a situation where someone cannot say no. Children cannot consent. Someone who is asleep or unconscious cannot consent. Someone who is not sober – from drugs or alcohol – cannot consent. Someone who ‘eventually gives in’ is not consenting, they’re admitting defeat. Consent is not automatic and is not something that needs to be withdrawn, it’s something that needs to be given in the first place. Given consent can however be retracted at any point during and must be respected. The only person at fault for a rape or a sexual assault is the person who carried out the crime. Victims are never ‘asking for it’ regardless of how they are dressed, how much they’ve had to drink or how much they may have flirted with the perpetrator. Notice there is no gendering in there, these rules on consent apply to you whatever gender you are.

And whenever we have reports on rapes the one comment I always see is “What about those men who are wrongfully accused of rape?! HUH?! WHAT ABOUT THEM?!”. It’s not something I see on murder reports. It’s not something I see on reports on theft or vandalism. The false accusation of rape rate is around 2%. Murder is about 10%. You should be much more concerned about that. Whenever I hear someone being concerned they’ll be falsely accused of rape I have to wonder what they’re doing that causes that to be a concern to them.

Rapist Brock Turner is a sex offender, he is a rapist. He will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life if he remains in California… unless he applies for a Governor’s Pardon so that he no longer has to register. Rapist Brock Turner served 3 months in a county jail for a violent sex crime and may never have to register as a sex offender if the pardon is granted. Since he wasn’t convicted of penetration by his penis, if he successfully completes his probation he also may never need to register as a sex offender. The victim of this heinous crime will however live with what he has done for the rest of her life.

Now every survivor of a sex crime will experience different things in regards to their mental scars. For me it takes an incredibly long time to trust men, any man, who is new in my life. I’ll be incredibly quiet and nervous around them, especially if left alone with them for any reason. Learning to drive has been an entire learning experience – and my driving instructor is one of the nicest men I’ve ever met! Now, my experience happened 16 years ago and every day I still battle with the repercussions of what happened to me and how it continues to affect me.  The 3 months that rapist Brock Turner has been behind bars will be of little – if any – comfort to the victim. I refuse to call her ‘his’ victim because that would imply he has some ownership over her, which he does not. He does however have entire ownership of that entire abhorrent crime which I hope rapist Brock Turner remembers for the rest of his life.

The day anxiety lost.

I don’t know when it happened but at some point over the last few years the ‘anxiety’ part of my ‘depression and anxiety’ diagnosis became the more prominent issue I was dealing with. Today, I feel like I’ve won a battle against it. The war isn’t over but always celebrate the small wins.

Today I got home from a two week archaeology field school in the Orkney isles. I lived by myself in Kirkwall for two weeks and worked Monday to Friday both weeks at The Cairns archaeological dig on South Ronaldsay. Two weeks where I lived by myself for the first time. Two weeks where I was doing something I’d never done before being on site. Two weeks where I worked with people I’d never met before and two weeks where I was forced to trust strangers day in, day out. And I loved it. I will be honest and say sometimes it was overwhelming. I had an anxiety attack on site. I made myself rather ill last weekend with the feeling of being trapped. But I went out on both Friday nights. Me, the girl who normally loves it when someone cancels plans last minute because I’d been dreading it. I went out to the pub with my new friends and had a great time. 

Then today happened and today could have ruined all my hard work. I’m a planner. I plan things to manage my anxiety. My plan was to phone the taxi and leave the place I’d been staying at, at 10am. That’d have got me into the airport about 10.15am and I’d have breakfast and read my book for a couple of hours til my flight left. At 9.30am I phoned a taxi, no answer. I googled another taxi company, no answer. I waited 15 minutes and called both again, no answer. I waited 10 more minutes and tried again, same issue. I needed to check out by 10am at the latest. So I decided I’d take the bus because I had no other option. I made the 15 minute walk to the bus station with my giant suitcase filled with 2 weeks of muddy clothes. I saw the bus arrive and my heart sank. I’d left my laptop in the bus terminal and I was at my bus stance. Never have I ran so fast in my life. I retrieved the laptop and made it back to the bus in time and we were on our way. A minor hiccup but the rest of my plan was still in place.

I checked in at the airport and checked my baggage and went to the cafe. I sat down with my food and relaxed a little. I’d had a blip and I’d dealt with it, I felt good. Then over the tannoy I heard “Could passenger Smith going to Glasgow please make their way to baggage reconciliation”. Odd, but I ignored it. 

By 11.15am 5 more people had been called to baggage reconciliation and there was only about 30 folk on my flight. By 12.30pm more than half the Kirkwall to Glasgow flight had been called to baggage reconciliation. The flight should have left at 12.45pm. The board then showed a 20 minute delay. No big deal, what’s 20 minutes? Nothing really.

Then over the tannoy “All passengers travelling to Glasgow please note that your flight has been delayed by approximately one hour. The flight that should have arrived from Glasgow has been redirected to Aberdeen for some reason. We have a replacement aircraft on its way.” Argh! The plan has been well and truly derailed now. But no matter, I’m here so that’s the main thing. Half an hour passes and again over the tannoy we hear “All passengers travelling to Glasgow we regret to inform you there has been a further delay. However the replacement aircraft has been dispatched and we hope to welcome it shortly.” That word “hope” is a dangerous one to someone with anxiety when dealing with real life situations. Hope isn’t a guaranteed thing.

Eventually we go through security as it’s a tiny airport so you don’t go through until your called and my bag is searched. It’s re-xrayed and scanned again. The lady then has me take everything out of my bag and scans it once more. Then she looks at me and asks me what I have hidden in the lining of my bag. I feel my heart racing and my stomach churning. I’ve hidden nothing yet there’s an issue. I suddenly remember there is the smallest vial of perfume in a zip pocket which I point out they hadn’t checked. I’m told to not be “smart” and they take it out and rescan it. Eventually I’m allowed to go. 

It’s now 2pm. I’ve been sat in a tiny airport for nearly 4 hours and my nerves are feeling very frayed. The plane arrives and someone comes to the gate and says the plane is going nowhere because it’s overweight and they need at least 2 people to switch to the 5pm Edinburgh flight. Nobody wants to. One man in crutches starts getting very angry. Another man hands the attendant his phone to explain to his wife what is happening because he speaks little English. A couple are getting rowdy because they’ve missed their connecting flight and through all this a tiny little old lady speaks up and says “Well I’ll do it. It makes no difference to me where I end up.  I’ll still make it home.” They arrange that a taxi will take her from the airport all the way to her house. A couple of other people then volunteer to also switch and then we are boarding. Surely this is the end of this ordeal.

We are on the flight and seats are all messed up because it’s a smaller aircraft. Crutches man starts screaming at the flight attendant because he wants to sit next to his wife but there’s a “foreigner” in the seat. Remember the man who didn’t speak English and was really quite concerned in the airport? Yup. He’s now the target of this man’s rage. Almost as if his delay is more important than the rest of us even though we’ve all been delayed the same amount of time.

We get in the air and I think well that’s that. Until the time we should be landing and I notice the plane is descending then ascending in a circle. For the next 40 or so minutes it does this. We’ve got to wait for a landing slot. But “Don’t worry,” jokes the captain, “We shouldn’t run out of fuel. I hope!” There’s that word again that fills me with dread even when I know it’s a joke.
Eventually I land at 3.45pm, nearly 2 hours later than scheduled. And I was just contemplating the day. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. And I didn’t have an anxiety attack. I didn’t even feel like one was coming on. I was stressed but that’s hopefully an understandable reaction to a day like today. I had mild anxiety when things were going wrong but I dealt with it.

Today anxiety lost. Today I feel myself starting to creep back up the scoreboard.

The Politics of Mental Health Care

It’s been a while, folks. I hope you’re all well. Since we last spoke a lot has happened. I’m currently a parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in the upcoming Scottish elections. As part of this I attended a hustings last night. This involved myself and representatives from other parties being on a panel and having members of the audience ask us questions about our manifestos and what we would do if elected to the Scottish parliament. In discussion with folk afterwards I had one individual come to me and tell me they were particularly sick of “politicians like you[me]” politicising mental health and using it as a way to point score and make empty promises to gain support from the electorate.

I’ll be honest with you, it floored me. What this individual couldn’t know was that from that event I was heading straight to a friend’s house to spend the night because she was having a really bad day with her depression and asked if I’d come to her because she needed someone who just “got it”. I had two emails waiting for responses from people asking how I’d maneuvered the current mental health system because they were struggling and I had an ongoing facebook conversation with someone requiring support causing my phone to silently go off in my bag the entire evening.

They couldn’t know I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety after leaving school at the age of 18, after having gone to the doctor repeatedly since I was about 15. Having missed more days of school than I should have for feigning other illnesses because the reality of ‘I don’t actually want to exist right now’ wasn’t enough to warrant a permitted absence from the school.

I developed a self harm addiction after my diagnosis because the current system left me to my own devices and I couldn’t find a safe coping mechanism.

I was diagnosed in September of 2011. I was put on a waiting list for psychiatry shortly after that. I was seen for the first time by a psychiatrist in February of 2013.

I was told by the psychiatrist I needed to see the psychologist as well as regular meetings with him. He also told me the psychologist had no space so I was seeing the community psychiatric nurse. The CPN who told me I ‘failed’ every day I didn’t get changed out of pyjamas. Who gave me weird homework as part of cognitive behaviour therapy and screamed “THIS WILL WORK FOR YOU. YOU AREN’T TRYING HARD ENOUGH” when I told her I didn’t find it helpful. The CPN  who then asked if she could discuss my ‘lack of co-operation’ with my mother because she knew my her. I eventually saw the psychologist when I told my psychiatrist that I would not see the CPN again after how I’d been treated.

I have lost count of the times I seriously contemplated suicide. I was taken to hospital because of self harm. I phoned 999 because I knew I’d attempt to kill myself if I didn’t get help in that moment. I got taken to A&E where I was told I was a drain on the NHS.

I’m passionate about this and it’ll be a very long time before I’m quiet on the issue. I don’t want my future children to grow up in a world where any mental health issue is considered anything less than on par with physical conditions. If I had tonsillitis I could go to the doctor tomorrow and if the situation warranted it get medication to help. I wouldn’t need to wait until my tonsils were necrotic and posing a threat to my life. Yet I waited a year and a half to be seen by a professional for a condition that gave me compelling urges to kill myself. If I can help even one person have a less horrible time then I’ll have done something important. Is this a political issue? Yes. Is that the only reason I talk about it at length and will continue to do so? Absolutely not.

The thing is we can’t wait. Mental health funding in Scotland falling every year since 2009 and the Scottish Government’s mental health strategy expiring at the end of last year it’ll be months before a new plan is in place.

The other day my dad said to me “The thing is most people aren’t as vocal as you are on mental health” and I was reminded of Willie Rennie’s speech to Conference in February. He said “We cannot wait any longer for change. For thousands of people who are crying out for help and for the many who cannot be heard anymore because we were simply too late.”

 

(Also because I’d be a bad candidate if I didn’t mention it, if you’re interested in exactly what the Scottish Liberal Democrats are proposing please check out http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/manifesto. If you’d like to email me to discuss anything you can do so at r.l.plenderleith@gmail.com)

Women in Politics

(Before we get started I’d like to point out that I’ve not censored myself in terms of my language in this post like I normally would.)

I don’t think I’ve ever been more angry than I am just now on such a topic.

We talk constantly about “How do we get more women interested in politics?” And we get thrown answers like “All women shortlists!”

How about we get more women interested in politics by not boiling them down to their sexuality and their body and their attractiveness? How about we see things like this and shut it the fuck down.

Frankie has done a wonderful job in defending herself and I don’t see the need to continue further. If there’s one thing Frankie Leach does not need is help in speaking her mind. She’s wonderfully eloquent in that respect. But I can’t not say something.

The idea that Frankie got anywhere by performing sexual acts on older gentlemen – like one commenter put a lot more graphically than that – is entirely the reason we do not have more women interested in politics.

Frankie got somewhere because she’s an attractive young lady, heaven forbid she has a brain. Whilst we’re at it… why HASN’T Nicola Sturgeon had children? I wonder how much Liz Kendall weighs. Psst… did you hear that Ruth Davidson is a lesbian?

You want more women in politics? You want a more representative parliament instead of it being heavily male dominated? Then don’t stand idly by when things like this happen. Don’t sit and think “Huh they have a point…” when you hear any of these things or the much worse levelled against women in politics in any capacity. Or if you do then start to ask the same damn questions about our male counterparts. Let’s question Jeremy Corbyn’s weight or why Alex Salmond has no children. I wonder who Tim Farron had to blow to get the job… or does that sound utterly ridiculous? Because it should do. It’s the exact same when you ask these questions of women.

You exist because of women, it’s damn well time you started respecting them.