Expecting more of ourselves than others.

One of the first things I remember thinking when I was first diagnosed was “Why me? This isn’t what was meant to happen.” It’s a thought I’ve found myself coming back to recently. It’s a thought I know others also think this when it comes to their health, whether it be physical or mental issues they suffer with.

“This isn’t what was meant to happen.”

Isn’t that just life? Isn’t life just a series of things happening that weren’t what you expected or what you laid out for yourself? My life has various different versions of what “should” have happened, and each one of them contradicts the other. I can tell you that none of those versions saw me as a recently single, nearly 25-year-old who is on a suspension from university on mental health grounds.

When it comes to mental health I think we end up expecting way more from ourselves than we expect from our friends and family. And that’s not because we underestimate them. It’s because we hold ourselves to an unfair, unobtainable standard because it’s us. The more we fail that standard the worse we feel, which makes us fall even shorter of that standard the next time, and so on and so forth.

This idea of “this wasn’t what was meant to happen” is not a helpful one. If we keep dwelling on that then we only do ourselves a disservice. We end up thinking “If I’d done x then this break up wouldn’t have happened” or “If only I’d worked harder even though I literally had no energy to do it then I would have got a better mark on that exam” or “If only I’d made 37 different choices when I was 16 then maybe things would be better”.

If I spoke to people the way I spoke to myself, no-one would want to be around me. And they’d be right to feel like that. Every time I sit and think “this isn’t what was meant to happen” I end up down dark paths in which everything that has ever gone wrong in my life has been my own fault, I blame myself for things I had no control over. If someone came to me with similar thoughts, which has happened in the past, I would not remotely consider blaming them. Because, hey guess what, your depression isn’t your fault. You couldn’t have done something years ago that would stop it. You aren’t weak for experiencing it. It’s ugly and it’s scary and it’s one of the worst things you can experience. The fact you have admitted to yourself that there’s a problem is amazing. If you’re getting the help you need now, that’s a great achievement. If you’re not quite ready to take that step, that’s okay too. The idea that this “wasn’t meant to happen” is meaningless. It’s happening, whether you expected it to happen or not. And, that’s okay.

At some point, I need to believe that for myself. I need to stop expecting things from me that I would never expect from anyone else. I’m getting there. And if you struggle with this too, know you’re not alone.

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Time’s up.

Every time you hear “it’s political correctness gone mad” or “it never used to be like this, people are so sensitive now” when the discussion of rape, sexual assault or sexual misconduct is brought up, remember that you’re hearing people literally say is “it used to be so much easier to sexually assault people”.

It’s 2018 and I turn 25 in 3 months time and I’m bored now. I’m bored of explaining to you what consent is. I’m bored of men who think this discussion about how you conduct yourself when it comes to sex is somehow a war on masculinity. I’m bored of anyone who takes a discussion on consent as a personal attack. If someone telling you that you need to get consent for everything you do that involves another person feels like an attack on you, change your behaviour because it’s clearly wrong.

For those of you who don’t know, I had my consent taken away from me when I was a child by someone unrelated to me and thankfully someone I never have to see again. That was the first time I realised there were people in this world who will take what they want without care or concern for another person. My story is one that I’ve only ever half told and I’ll likely ever tell it in its full state, and it’s one you don’t need to know in its entirety. It should never have happened.

But then again, I should never have been dragged down an alleyway by my hair when I was 17 on my way home from a gig only for the guy to let me go and walk away laughing like it was some joke. I should never at 20 had a job interview where the interviewer kissed me and said it was “for the part” and then later call me at 3am to tell he loved me and would kill himself if I didn’t take the job and play his girlfriend. At 21 I should never have had to involve the police when a person taking my tour threatened to rape me. At 22 I should never have had the groom-to-be on a stag do taking a tour push me against a wall and have to be dragged off me by his group. At 23 I shouldn’t have needed my boss to grab a guy by his collar and throw him off me when this guy kept stroking my costume and wouldn’t stop when I told him to, several times. And last week when I was in Dublin I shouldn’t have had a semi-well known comedian send me vulgar messages repeatedly despite making it clear I wasn’t interested in him because he thought I’d sleep with him because I knew who he was. But all that happened, and the sad thing is that’s mild. There are so many people – women and men – who have much worse stories.

So when I hear of men and women taking a stand against sexual misconduct, no matter what it is. I’m incredibly in awe of the strength it takes to do that. When I hear you say “People are too sensitive” in response I hear you say that everything I’ve experienced is totally acceptable and should be allowed to continue unchecked in society.

We constantly dehumanise women when it comes to sexual assault. We say things like “This is someone’s mother, sister or daughter” as if women only exist in relation to someone else. How about don’t assault a woman because she’s a human being? How about be an adult and wait until you have the green light to go forward with anything?

How about we realise that consent means permission? When we change the word consent for permission, it’s so evident that it’s a ridiculous thing to question. Can a child give you permission to have sex with them? No. Can someone who is drunk give you permission to have sex with them? No. Can someone who is unconscious give you permission to have sex with them? No. If someone says “No” when you ask permission, does that mean anything other than no? No. If someone says “Actually, I said yes. But I’ve changed my mind” when you ask permission, does that mean continue? Funnily enough, no. Is it appropriate to just assume you have permission to touch, kiss or have sex with someone? Absolutely not.

There are likely other consent scenarios that I’ve failed to include there. So don’t assume I think that’s the definitive list of when consent – or permission – is important.

It’s 2018 and I’ve had nearly two decades of people thinking my bodily autonomy is worth less than their own wants. Time’s up.

Giving yourself credit.

As is so often with my posts I’ve been listening to Fall Out Boy and that triggers my want to write. 

In their song ‘Champion’ they have a line that says “If I can live through this, I can do anything.” It made me think about how much I’ve done in the last 6 years. If you’re an avid reader of this blog or you know me personally you know the last 6 years or so have been rough. Leaving school with subpar qualifications and a nasty breakup seemed to be what opened the gates on what was to become one hell of a rollercoaster. 
I ended up on a handful of different medications, each one a rung on the rope ladder extending down into the pit I’d fallen into. But it wasn’t enough. I ended up in crisis counselling with a counsellor untrained to deal with my specific issues. In my sessions with her I’d learned what I’d put down to being a shy person were actually panic attacks. In those sessions I learned that the brain can suppress horrific events. Those sessions ended with her saying “I’m sorry but I’m not trained to deal with sexual abuse victims.”

That word rang in my head. Victim. It stuck in my throat, choking me when I tried to speak out. Who wants to associate with damaged goods? It was around that time my aunt Jennifer passed away and I felt the cycle starting again. 

I muddled on. I got into NHS psychiatric sessions which were starting to help. And then a family friend was arrested and jailed for over 600 counts of child pornography. At that point the rope ladder began to snag and seem to lower me again, despite the effort in climbing that far. 

I got into university and my psychiatric counselling ended and I was passed to student services. Where, in creating my personal learning plan, they detailed my sexual assault and made it a document any of my lecturers could access. A lecturer then told me I needed to fight harder as a woman with my life experiences to be taken seriously. Unprompted. At the end of semester one of my first year of university my uncle Graham died and I checked out mentally, and sometimes it still feels like I’m waiting to check back in. 
My second year came and went and everything seemed to be on an even keel. I was doing well. Life was “normal” for once. If such a term exists. 

Then third year happened and all my exam provisions were removed. I almost failed because I had my arrangements changed and was not told until walking into the room and had no time to prepare. Then I was diagnosed with endometriosis and PCOS. Both conditions that limit your fertility significantly. Mid 2nd semester my dog died and then within a matter of weeks my uncle Chris died.

The rope ladder seemed not to be getting any shorter. It would sway and seem unstable. It would get caught and twist. It made it feel like I wasn’t meant to be climbing it.

The last few weeks before I enter my final year have been weird. I’ve had my diagnosis removed and left with chronic pain and no answer. I’ve been anxious. I’ve cried for no reason more times than I can count.

But in all this time, on the ladder, I never dared look down. For what reason, I’m not sure. But when I did, I noticed that I’d been focussing on not being out of the pit yet. When I looked I noticed that the bed of pity and despair and depression and self hatred that I lived in is nothing but a tiny dot, almost undetectable. I haven’t resorted to self harm in nearly 5 of the last 6 years, despite wanting to on countless occasions.

So what I’m saying is give yourself credit. Any small accomplishment is a win. So take it as one. Recovery isn’t a magic “Boom, you’re cured.” It’s tiny little steps that seem insignificant. But when you look back on 6 years of them, it’s a huge distance covered.

And if I can live through this? Well I can do anything. 

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.