Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Archive for the ‘Other’ Category

Au revoir

Some of you may have realised that I haven’t been around for a while, either here or on Twitter. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you may remember that back in the summer DH and I were reported to the NSPCC and Children’s Services by a former friend who hadn’t been in touch for over a year but who read this blog. Although we were swiftly cleared of any wrongdoing, the experience has scarred us both deeply. I no longer feel comfortable blogging and tweeting about my mental health, knowing that my words could once again be turned against me. I’ve tried to continue blogging but I just can’t be open any more – I’ve drafted countless posts, and deleted them all because it doesn’t feel safe to publish my thoughts, my distress or my struggles.

It’s the same with Twitter. Knowing that this former friend is probably still watching my account makes it exceedingly hard to see Twitter as the (generally) safe haven that it once was. I can’t be honest and open any more, and that makes it very hard to interact with people who are fully aware of my problems and who are kind enough to care how I am. I tried having a locked account for a while but it didn’t feel right.

Because I no longer have the twin outlets of Twitter and blogging to help and sustain me, in terms of mental wellbeing I have to focus on self-care and looking after DH. This means that although I care about the friends I’ve made online, I don’t have the strength to support them as well as look after my children, husband and of course myself. To those friends I want to say that I’m sorry. I feel hypocritical, for having to abandon you when I’ve been abandoned by so many so-called friends and know how devastating it can be. But my focus has to be on my family and myself right now, because without being able to open up and interact honestly online, my support network has become severely diminished. I wish you all the very best, and hope that you continue to help and support each other. I cannot thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me.

I hope that this isn’t goodbye. I hope that it’s just au revoir, until we see each other again. But for now, although I’m having to type this through the tears, @SamCandour and this blog will lie silent.

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Guest post: To The People Who Laughed

You probably don’t even remember me, but you were the reason I cried myself to sleep that night. You probably can’t even remember what I look like, but I remember how you made us feel. I felt so embarrassed and humiliated that I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. I’m a grown woman, but I wanted to hide myself in a corner and cry. I hope your little moment of amusement was worth it.

We’d had a lovely evening, until we happened upon you. We laughed and chatted with the waiter between courses as we enjoyed a relaxed, romantic meal together on the first evening of our holiday. We held hands and gazed into one another’s eyes as we relished the time alone together; time to relax away from work, and home, and family, and all of the pressures of modern life. We smiled at one another when the waiter addressed us as “ladies”, having the courtesy to correctly gender my partner despite it being obvious she’s in the early stages of transition from male to female.

Transgender. That’s what my partner is. She’s someone who, having been assigned male at birth, spent many years of her life struggling with the feeling that she was being forced to live in a gender she wasn’t comfortable in. Someone who, after having been forced to conform to society’s expectations of how a boy – and then a man – should think, feel and behave, found the courage to be true to herself. It’s nothing to do with her sexual preference, a traumatic childhood or some kinky fetish, it’s who she is.

Stop and think for a moment, you two gentlemen who laughed at us as we were minding our own business. Stop and think how comfortable you would feel stepping out of your front door in a dress, make up and heels. Imagine how it feels to feel that you have no choice but to put yourself out there, in public, with a man’s face and body dressed in women’s clothing. Contemplate how awkward, lonely and potentially dangerous every single mundane task becomes when you have to expose you innermost self in such a public manner, and when you have to dare to be different.  Can you even begin to imagine how crushing it must feel, having tried so hard to look passable and found the courage to face complete strangers dressed in a way that makes you feel both vulnerable and conspicuous, to be laughed at in public by fellow adults? I say “adults”, but really you two were like children in a schoolyard. Children who pick on a child for having the ‘wrong’ trainers, or whose physical abilities are different from yours, or who doesn’t generally conform to your expectations of how other people should be. Please think about what you did: You reduced a grown woman (me) to tears, you tainted our whole evening with your cruelty and you knocked the confidence of two people who’ve spent a very long time trying to develop what little confidence they have. I hope your little joke was worth it.

Perhaps you’ll feel less ashamed or even vindicated when you hear that you weren’t the only people to treat us so badly. Perhaps you’d try to justify your behaviour if you knew that are others out there with similar prejudices, and a similar lack of respect for feelings of others.  Your contemptible behaviour was amateur compared to what we experienced the following evening, when a family of six fellow diners in a restaurant not only mocked us, but took and shared photos for one another to laugh at. Good work, people. This is the monster that a culture of laughing at people who are different creates.

The strength and courage my partner shows on a daily basis amazes me. She faces the same fears, the same prejudices and the same humiliation every day. Every. Single. Day. And yet with each new day, she puts on a brave (and beautifully made-up – I like to take the credit for her excellent make up skills) face and does it all over again. Why does she do it? Because after forty years of feeling forced to pretend to be someone she’s not, she’s finally free to relax and be herself in a way you and I probably take for granted.

She’s brave, my beautiful girl. She’s brave, and funny, and wise, and kind. She shows a generosity of spirit that you so clearly lack; a tolerance and respect for others that you would do well to learn from. She’s not asking for your approval or for your support. She’s simply asking for the respect we all owe to one another; she’s asking to be left to go about her life without being humiliated in public and treated like a freak show. She might, in your eyes, be a man in women’s clothes. She might be different to anyone else you know, and she might have made choices in her life that you cannot even begin to understand. She might be all of those things, but she’s not a coward or a bully, and so I’d rather be her than you any day of the week.

Signed,

Me

No More Skinny? No More Scrutiny!

This week the Sun, that proudly misogynistic excuse for a newspaper, launched a campaign called No More Skinny. Fronted by 3 supposedly famous men (I haven’t heard of any of them but then I’m not really the Sun’s target demographic) it claims to be demanding that model agencies and fashion shows stop using models who are “stick-thin”. Now, the idea of campaigning to stop the promotion of generally unattainable thinness & the normalisation of disordered eating is one I could definitely get behind. But I’d that’s the case, why not call it “No more skeletal models” or similar? Well, because No More Skinny is all about men’s perceptions of women’s bodies . I shouldn’t be surprised, really, seeing as this comes from the “newspaper” that considers soft pornography suitable for a supposedly family-friendly title. The intentions of the campaign’s apparent founder, Dan Wootton, may have been good (he writes in this article that as a gay man who struggles with his weight, his concerns are genuine) but the result is not.

Mr Wootton’s co-campaigners are Olly Murs and Professor Green, and their attention seems focused on the attractiveness of the women concerned. “Sometimes skinny women can look attractive – but it is too dangerous. It is ridiculous when you see size-six, even size-four, girls on stage” worries Mr Murs. Professor Green (real name Stephen Manderson) chirps helpfully that “The most important things are health and happiness” and frets about women (he calls them girls but I assume he means women) who crash diet and have unnecessary cosmetic surgery. At some point Marilyn Monroe is cited as a desirable body shape.

And this is why the No More Skinny campaign is so useless. It’s not about discouraging the use of skeletal models, it’s not about encouraging girls and women to be body confident whatever their shape, it’s not even about the dangers of restricted eating and excessive dieting. It’s about what men find desirable. Let’s ignore the fact that female bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes – some naturally thin, some naturally podgy, most somewhere in between. Let’s ignore the objectification and othering of women that the Sun encourages on a daily basis. Let’s instead focus on what men find desirable in a female body and campaign for that.

For years women have been given conflicting messages about what men find attractive. There are two main points I wish to make about this. Firstly, men find a variety of body shapes attractive, they’re not a legion of robots programmed to admire only one type of figure. Secondly, and far more importantly, women and girls are far more than merely a lump of flesh for men to judge as aesthetically pleasing. Women run, walk, rest, have sex, dance, bear children, climb, work and many other things – and at no point is the superficial appearance of our bodies relevant, only their function.

Body confidence is just that, having confidence in your body. It doesn’t necessarily mean loving every inch of it nor ceaselessly working to maintain it. But it does mean finding the strength to ignore what society says is desirable and focusing on what works best for you. Ignore No More Skinny, ignore “real women have curves” (which always makes me wonder if non-curvy women are imaginary or maybe holograms) and use the body you have. Tall, short, fat, thin, hourglass, apple, pear, taut, wobbly, buxom, athletic, whatever your body looks like the only person whose opinion about it matters is you.

Not all men!

Recently there seems to have been a lot more discussion of feminism, sexism and misogyny online than usual. This is partly due to stories in the press; these include the trial of Oscar Pistorius for killing his girlfriend, the rapist Ched Evans reportedly being offered a £3m contract with Sheffield United Football Club before he’s even released from prison and the murder of numerous individuals by Elliot Rodgers after posting hate-filled and misogynistic videos online.

It’s also due to more and more women speaking out about their experiences. The Everyday Sexism Project has shocked a lot of people, featuring as it does the uncomfortable, unpleasant and often harrowing experiences of millions of women and girls across the world. In addition to this, several recent hashtags on Twitter have also been eye-opening for many – I suggest you have a look at #Grabbed and #WhyIDidntReport in particular.

According to the World Health Organisation over a third of women (35% to be exact) worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. A third. In some countries girls are more likely to be raped than they are to attend school; whatever country you live in I can pretty much guarantee that you know at least one woman, probably more, who has suffered rape, sexual assault or physical violence.

When I started university I shared a flat with 4 other women. Of the 5 of us, aged just 18, 2 of us had been raped and 1 had been sexually abused by a family member. And we’re not unusual. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in England and Wales an average of 85,000 women are raped every year while over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted. Of course, these figures are only for those cases where the victim reported the attack; it is widely understood that there are many more cases that go unreported, as this well-known graphic shows:

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In addition to this, 2 women per week in the UK are murdered by their male partner; in the first 4 months of 2014 over 50 women in the UK had been killed by men. That’s one every 2.5 days, roughly. In addition to this there’s the harassment – being groped, having comments made about our appearance, verbal abuse when a man’s advances are declined. It’s not just adult women who experience this either; a survey for Girl Guiding UK found that 70% of girls aged 13 and over report sexual harassment at school or college.

So why am I writing about all of this again? It’s because I’m increasingly seeing the phrase “Not all men!” cropping up in discussions about male violence against women. It seems that many are insulted by the perceived implication that all men are violent, evil, rapists and murderers. It’s those people that I really want to read this post. Because you see, when we’re talking about issues like male violence and I refer to “men” (and obviously I can only speak for myself) I’m not saying that all men are the same. That would be ridiculous. What I’m doing is referring to men as a sociological group, in the same way that I might refer to the middle-class or the white population. And men, as a class, are a threat to women, as a class. What I’m not saying is that any individual man is a threat. With me so far? Good.

When women talk about instances of misogyny, their experiences of rape, sexual assault and harassment, the “not all men” should be implicit. Obviously not all men rape, assault, grope or harrass women – do we really have to say it every single time? Seriously? Because the fact is, although the men who abuse women are the minority, they are the ones under discussion. Not the good guys. And if we have to qualify every single discussion of misogyny and abuse with “Not all men” for fear of offending someone, then the discussion may well stall and be stifled. And it’s a discussion that needs to be had by everyone, whatever their gender.

Some men find it hard not to feel personally insulted when “men as a class” are being discussed. I get that, I really do. I sometimes feel the same when I see discussions among the trans* community about how they’re treated by cis people, or discussions by people of colour about their experiences at the hands of white people. But do you know what? It’s a group of people relating their experiences at the hands of the dominant group as a class. It’s not an attack on me personally. Similarly when we’re discussing misogyny, abuse and male violence against women, it’s not an attack on any of the good guys either. So please stop yelling “Not all men!'” and join in the conversation instead.

Move the misery magazines

Taking my 4 year old daughter shopping has become a bit of a minefield lately. Not because she doesn’t behave; she’s always good and enjoys helping to choose what we’re going to eat that week. It’s not because she pesters for things either (although sometimes she does, of course – she’s 4!). No, it’s because of magazines like this:

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And this:

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Although she’s not yet 5, my daughter is an exceptionally fluent reader and these magazines are almost always placed at child height in supermarkets. Not just in the magazine section either but also at tills. Is this appropriate? No. I don’t think any reasonable person would consider that this kind of trash magazine should be placed where children can see them, yet in some shops not only are they at child height but they’re right next to the comics. Soft porn magazines like Nuts, Zoo, FHM and their ilk have been covered in shops for a while now, so why not magazines that gleefully publish misery porn?

Here are some more examples from the last couple of days:

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Are these really the messages that our children should be exposed to?

“My toddler, killed as she watched Peppa Pig”
“Drowned in the bath by his killer gran”
“My brother raped me but I still love him”
“Paedo uncle abused me: little girls always lie”
“Burnt at the stake by jealous mum-in-law”
“I threw my baby out the window”
“Forced to kill my dad”
“Rapist lover snatched my sick baby”

Don’t these headlines just sicken you? It’s a constant barrage of misery and pain. Personally I find these magazines extremely distasteful and repulsive. But to a child they’re just utterly bewildering, with concepts that they’ve never heard of (“Mummy, what does rape mean?”) or shouldn’t have to consider (“Mummy, was the toddler killed because she was naughty?”). I don’t want my children to know about these things until they’re considerably older. To be completely honest, I really don’t understand why anyone would want to read these magazines. But there seem to be more and more of them these days, so presumably a large swathe of the population finds them simply delightful. Each to their own, I suppose. Whatever your opinion on these publications though, I doubt that there are many who would disagree that it’s wrong for children to be exposed to these horrific headlines.

When the UK group Child Eyes started out they were campaigning against sexualised images being displayed where children can see them (magazine covers, newspapers, billboards etc). Now however they’ve also begun to campaign for this type of magazine to be stocked out of a child’s line of sight. One British supermarket, Morrisons, has already agreed to take steps towards this; I really hope that other retailers soon follow.

And the nominees are…

As the eagle-eyed among you will have noticed, I have a new badge on the blog. That’s right – I’ve been nominated for “Best New Blog” in the MAD blog awards! Before any confusion arises, MAD stands for “Mum And Dad”, it’s not a comment on my mental state. 😉

Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you to the people who nominated me. I’m extremely flattered (not to mention utterly gobsmacked!) and although I feel completely undeserving I’m very happy that people think so much of my writing. Thank you.

Confusion in Cymru

I love Wales. I went to university in Cardiff aged 18 and lived in south Wales until I was almost 30 (apart from 8 months in Sheffield while I studied for my MSc, and even then I spent a lot of weekends visiting friends and my now husband in Cardiff!). I met DH in Wales, he proposed in Wales. My daughter was born in Wales.

We moved away extremely reluctantly at the start of 2011 following our bankruptcy and the repossession of our home. DH and I were both desperately unhappy at having to leave but promised ourselves that we would return soon, even if it was only for a visit. Circumstances conspired against us however, and it’s only now that we’ve been able to come back for the first time, having saved up for almost 2 years in order to afford it.

So here we are. I have been unbearably excited for weeks, ever since we booked the cottage we’re staying in. I even cried as I drove across the Severn bridge for the first time in 3 years and in a lot of ways it feels as though we’ve only been away a few weeks. But in other ways there is a yawning gulf between who I was when we left and who I am now. We have an extra child, for a start! DS was conceived and born in England; although this beautiful country was home to DD, DH and I, he’s never seen it before. As well as this I feel like a completely different person, just a shadow of the confident, sociable woman I used to be. My physical appearance, my mental health, my path in life – these have all changed and none of them for the better.

Yesterday we met some old friends, most of whom DH and I have known since university. Although I was really looking forward to seeing them I was also dreading it because I’ve changed so much. I’m ashamed of who I am these days – an obese recluse who only seems able to engage with other people through blogging or on Twitter. In the end it was actually a great afternoon but it brought home to me just how different I am now and how I feel about myself.

This trip, this holiday, our long awaited return to Wales, was supposed to be a joyous occasion. DH and I have both suffered from hiraeth, that heartsick longing for home and Wales for which there isn’t really an equivalent in the English language. I hadn’t foreseen that being here would be so confusing and upsetting, that it would strike at the heart of who I am and how I perceive myself.

I am so unbelievably happy to be here, to have returned home to Wales even if only for a week. I’m enjoying taking the children to places that we used to go and it’s good to meet up with people that DD doesn’t remember and DS has never met. But I’m also sad because already I’m anticipating having to leave again; most of all I’m grieving for the life we used to have and for who I used to be. And I’m feeling all of these things at once.

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