Hi. You’re being sexist.

Over the last few days, since Jo Swinson announced that she will not be standing for leader of the Liberal Democrats (since Tim Farron resigned and that’s a whole other blog post in itself) the sexism from party members has really started to surface.

And unfortunately, from what I’m seeing, the majority to be coming from those who call themselves feminists.

There has been disappointment directed at Jo Swinson for not running because we need a female leader. Almost as if her gender matters more to these critics than her skills, intellect, abilities and characteristics. This is sexism.

There have been calls for her to reconsider her position or suggestions that people will write-in her name on the ballot paper. Almost as if these critics don’t accept the decision she has made herself and think they can make a better decision for her than she can. This is sexism.

The anger at her for not wanting to lead the party after having just been re-elected after the SNP unseating her in 2015 doesn’t make sense either. She’s got to readjust to this way of life and is suddenly being hounded with tweets and facebook messages and emails telling her she *must* stand. Because we say so. Because the Liberal Democrats have never had a female leader and she just so happens to have the right gender identity and parliamentary experience, regardless of the fact she doesn’t want to do it. Attempting to force a woman to do something against her wishes is sexist, please stop it. 

Layla Moran wasn’t even on people’s radars for leader until Jo Swinson ruled herself out. That speaks volumes to me. We have people with such internalised misogyny that we think we can force women to do things because it’s what we want them to do.

Jo Swinson, Layla Moran, Christine Jardine and Wera Hobhouse are all intelligent, talented, skilled MPs who will work wonders for their constituencies. They are not your token female leadership candidate.

By all means, support these ladies if you feel they’d be great leaders and I think they all could be. But supporting them means accepting their decisions. Accepting they know best. Accepting that their decision is the correct one. Accepting that women are people in their own rights and have no obligation on them to do something just because of their gender.

Do you really want to be responsible for forcing a woman into a role you know she doesn’t want?

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)

Decide for yourself.

Last night the Buddy Project posted on Twitter the reasons why you shouldn’t go and see the new horror film “The Forest”. The Buddy Project is something that operates out of Philadelphia and pairs people as ‘buddies’ for support and awareness of mental health issues. Now, I have a lot of love in my heart for projects and organisations like this. If it wasn’t for a non-government support organisation I’d have probably been in a much worse place mentally than I am today – if I was here at all. However, I’m struggling to understand why they would try and take the decision away from sufferers on whether or not they go and see this film.

The Buddy Project says that you should not go see this film because it’s profiting on the long string of suicides at the Aokigahara Forest in Japan. This forest has been nicknamed the “suicide forest” because for years people have gone there to take their own life. It’s vast and if you stray from the marked paths you will soon find yourself lost. Now, this is a tragic area with a lot of lost lives there. Many of whom never had their bodies recovered because they simply couldn’t be found. It’s the perfect basis for a horror film. Myths and legends have floated about around this forest because of it’s fateful history and continuing use. The Buddy Project then says it’s disrespectful to make a horror film from that and you wouldn’t make a film based on the Jonestown Massacre. Only in 2013 that’s exactly what happened. It was called The Sacrament.

Horror films profiting from real life events are not a new phenomenon. Hell, even Dracula has its base in reality. “The Zodiac Killer”? A film and a real life event. “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”? Yeah, that was based on a real girl called Anneliese Michel who was subjected to an exorcism that lasted 10 months because she was believed to be demonically possessed. Even “The Hills Have Eyes” was based of a 16th Century story of a Sawney Bean, the patriarch of a cannibal family in Scotland! Cannibalism, murder, exorcisms. All real life events. All horrendous. All something which if we were to apply the same logic to shouldn’t be used for profit. Part of a horror film’s psychological thrill is that it’s based on real events. You can tell yourself over and over whilst watching it “It’s not real, it’s a film.” but at the same time in the back of your mind you know that it’s at least inspired by real life events.

I hate to say this because it sounds cruel and I’ll most likely get a lot of flack for it but unfortunately the world is not going to bend to you. I’m aware that for a lot of people The Forest would be a highly triggering piece of cinema but if that’s the case of course use your judgement on whether or not it’s a good idea for you to watch it. The storylines of Game of Thrones are something I’m aware would be particularly triggering for me which is why I avoid it. I don’t try and prevent those around me from watching it however. I also don’t prevent people who’ve had similar experiences to me from watching it either. The Forest is no different to any other horror film based – even loosely – on reality. Horror films are something that people enjoy – although maybe that’s the wrong word – and just because you disagree with the content doesn’t make it wrong.

My main concern with the likes of the Buddy Project putting this out there is that it’ll only reinforce the stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide. Complaining about something that doesn’t fit your world ideals doesn’t open up the channel of communication about it. It shuts it down. You complaining about the themes of The Forest only adds to the whole “suicide is something we shouldn’t talk about” notion that we seem to have in our world. You putting out that feeling will make someone less likely to want to talk to you about how they feel.

I’ve titled this post “Decide for yourself” but I’m not talking solely about whether or not you go and see this film. I’m talking about not letting organisations make your mind up about something, your ability to think for yourself is one that is important. It’s important in general but it’s incredibly important in your mental health recovery. Take the control back, don’t just pass it to someone else.

Also I’m aware a lot of people find my blog in search of mental health coping strategies and for help with suicidal thoughts. Here are helpines for the top 3 countries that visit my blog on a regular basis

UK – 116 123 (Samaritans)
0800 838587 (Breathing Space)

USA – 1-800-273-8255 (Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

Australia – 13 11 14 (Lifeline)