Thursday 28 April 2016

The Addict & Pain

Part One- The Addict

I am an addict. I've probably always been an addict and most certainly always will be. My early childhood is peppered with memories of wanting to push experiences, sensations & feelings further than enjoyment. Whatever we were doing or could do I wanted us to do it bigger.
It is this dangerous & often scary personality trait that has lead me to have some horrific times in my life, and also some amazing ones. The part of my brain that says 'hey, we should definitely stay up for 48 hours taking cocaine with men we do not know on a rooftop watching the sun come up whilst listening to the Trainspotting soundtrack' is the same part that says 'hey, what would happen if we redefined the classic British gangsta film genre by setting it within a firm with only women, omg yes, you should email Bernard O'Mahoney, is Paul Massey still alive? Do you think Frankie Fraser would dig it?'.

The addict in me is the artist in me is the political voice I harness is my refusal to deal with what I am dealt is my rebellion. When you don't give a fuck about normal or average you can see (often more than you'd like) with a harsh sharpness how truly ridiculous and redundant how many of our social institutions are. Being

An Addict polarises. It clarifies. It frees.
For those who need the difference explained having had (or currently having) an addiction does not necessarily make you An Addict. Most people at one point or another experience an addiction. Maybe to cigarettes, or painkillers or some other highly addictive substance. An addiction doesn't always have to be illegal, it may last for a week, it may last for years. If you aren't An Addict and you experience addiction you may walk away from it and live normally for the rest of your life. If you are An Addict, you can become addicted to anything. Drugs, money, sex, exercise, food, TV,  shopping, medication & people are all common ones. They all alter how we feel about ourselves, our lives and our lot, or free us from thinking about it all together.

But for The Addict, our tendencies to over do it & to push the boundaries spill over into seemingly benign behaviours (one of mine was going to Poundland & buying a DVD and chocolate). They are defined not just by how much we do them but how much we think about them and what we will do to engage in them. For us every day is a journey through avoiding our triggers (in this sense meaning behaviours, thoughts or places etc that can trigger our addiction lead actions).

We are not neurotypical. We are Addicts. And maybe we have addictions right now and maybe we don't, but where ever we go we know that our lives are built around transferring behaviours between one addiction and the next. Largely bored, exhausted and depressed we survive by moderating our own thought with an anxious after-voice.  'We could go to Nero's & read a book on the comfy sofa? Nope we did that three days ago and it could become a habit and weren't we in Nero's that time we smoked that joint 12 years ago?' and so on an so forth.

Imagine being barraged by constant messages about how weak willed and useless you are by right wing media sources and clueless non-Addicts on a daily basis when you are literally at war in your own mind. I haven't drank in 5 years 6 months and 14 days. I haven't taken non-medicinal drugs in over 7 years. I am still an addict every day. Still fighting for this life, to be sober through every single horrible moment of it and will be until the end.

Part Two- Pain

Somewhere between having a cold now I have stumbled on a new addiction- lethargy. I have hypothyroidism so I'm used to teeth chattering, bone bristling tiredness but this, this is something new. This is a seductive semi consciousness and it's made the last few months go quicker. Day after day in work, on the sofa, barely breathing and horrifically happy about it. I can only describe it as what I imagine it would be like to drown peacefully, a creeping physical exhaustion that move up your body and switches off your mind. Imagine fainting really slowly. Illness can be addicting too, I've realised. And now I'm in hospital paying the price for going on a little holiday behind the eyes.

They've wheeled me back from having a drain put into my lung where for the few blissful minutes I am deceived by the local anaesthetic into believing that this is going to be easy. There was a ripping pain, a tearing panic in the back of my lung and then I was off back to the ward.

When I get there, the pain rises like that sun rise on the roof, slowly. The pain itself is intoxicating. Every time it reaches a plateau I'm convincing myself that this time it won't get any worse but it does. I tell my partners that I am trying to sleep in my chair sat up with my head on my table, but the truth is I am no longer able to see or feel anything but the pain, it is consuming like the lethargy but not in a peaceful way. I am in a world outside of them, each breath a  tornado of mind numbing fucking agony. (I'm very dramatic, yes.)

The doctor comes from somewhere and we talk about pain meds which is dangerous because a) I'm in the worst pain of my life, b) This will be the third time I've explained to a doctor that I can't have mood altering drugs and c) I know how doctors treat addicts, I've been in A&E on a Friday night for an accidental overdose, semi lucid, listening to the medical team discuss how to teach me a lesson, I know how to read the face of a tired nurse.

Half shouting, or maybe whispering I tell the doctor that I'm in recovery, that I can't have morphine. She suggests another drug and maybe it's called oxycodone and I'm not sure  but I know that I can picture the molecular diagram like from  school on the blackboard and my science teacher is mouthing the word slowly and Nurse Jackie is singing Fleetwood Mac on her back in a rainfall of blue tablets and we're in Little Jay's house & I'm on my back and I can't lift my head up  and he's sliding off the sofa and my laugh echoes around the room and now my science teacher is angry but none of that can be right.

In the end I am left to weather the pain on IV paracetamol alone against the advice of the doctor who seems frustrated and confused but empathetic in her frown. That night I am carried out of my bed by two Italian nurses who sit me in my chair to sleep. I have been screaming for two minutes or maybe five or maybe all night, time is hardly applicable anymore.

The day after I can't carry my own oxygen tank to the toilet anymore and have to wait five hours for paracetamol and each minute is like a circle and I think 'Maybe we could just try a small dose of oxycodone? No.' Over and over. And every time a nurse comes to my bed, see me sweating and zoning out with pain  they tell me they'll get the doctor to look into more pain meds and by the end of the day 'No' starts to sound like a word I made up.

When most of the pain has cleared and I'm back home, 7 days later every twinge is a fuck you. I wake in cold sweats every morning. When I'm awake I'm irritable and scared and  detached and angry. In my dreams I am myself in pain, pale and yellow around the eyes, then I am in front of myself watching me sitting in my hospital gown, eyes wide like a trapped animal, hunched over in pain.

Some days I have flashbacks and feel like crying but don't. All I do is picture The Wright Stuff panel discussing addiction and Mark from Shropshire calls in. He tells us that he thinks addicts are lazy and take the easy way out and I think Mark from Shropshire should visit the scene in my mind so he can stare at me, hunched over that table and I can ask him 'is this the easy way out? Is this lazy? Does this look fun to you?'

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Would Jesus let his toes get nibbled by ants in the name of love?

As a child my interactions with the Church of England (via primary school) and the Catholic Church (St. Marie's in Sheffield city centre every day at 7am in the school holidays with my Nan) made me anxious. I was (and still can be when the wind blows the right way) a very dutiful & loyal person. I took things seriously. I tried praying a lot and got really upset when God never spoke back to me. I felt like I wasn't "good enough". I redoubled my efforts and my prayers turned into destructive thought patterns e.g. 'If I hold my breath long enough for ten cars to pass then God will let me into heaven'. Imagine it- my chubby asthmatic body wheezing after holding its breath for Jesus'  love.

In a school assembly they told us that we had to love all of God's creatures so that night when I went home and found an ant infestation, I felt weird. I knew the ants weren't meant to be in my bathroom but they were God's creatures, right? So what would Jesus do? Would Jesus let his toes get nibbled by ants in the name of love? I told my Mum about the ants with a smile on my face (which didn't impress her). She stamped on them. I felt guilty because they were dead...and  because I was relieved I could urinate without ants on my feet.

I was never baptised or christened & this was a constant source of guilt. I deeply wanted the wine and the biscuits and told my Nan as much after church one painfully early morning. She laughed. But it was no laughing matter! I wanted to decide whether to be a chewer or a melter (methods of treating the holy sacrament/biscuit)! Instead I had to cross my arms on my chest (like some kind of self-exorcising devil child). Then when I got to the front of the queue the priest would draw a cross on my head with his thumb. I stopped washing my forehead for a few days to see if I got holier.

 On holiday with a family friend I played with an Irish girl on the beach. She asked when I had my first communion whilst patting out a slumped sand castle. I told her when I was 9 (lie) & felt guilty for the rest of the day. I was confused. I thought your first communion was like getting married to God. I wanted to wear the dress but me and God had already been going steady for years & he never answered any of my prayers. I was writing to a big sky boyfriend who never wrote back.

I put all my pocket money on the collection plate. I scolded myself every time I stared up at the ceiling instead of listening to the priest or vicar. I just wanted one reply, it didn't even need to be anything special. A simple out of office would have sufficed.

I was sure that God wrote back to R_____ in my class. Her Mum & Dad were still together & she had pretty hair. Everyone liked her & all the girls wanted to be her friend. She was always called a sweetie by the teachers.  Yeah, she would scribble on my work, kick me under the table & call me names but I never told the teacher. In Sunday school they told us that whatever we felt, Jesus had felt it before. They said he was with us in our hour of need. That he was all we needed to get through. I wondered which one of the disciples had pulled Jesus' hair. I felt it was probably Mark.

I was confused about Values vs. Practice. I didn't understand why all the Mums at school could bring tonnes of tinned fruit salad in for the harvest table for the 'needy' but act so coldly to anyone who needed anything outside of church. My Mum was 20 when she had me & we were a single parent family. From what I understood my Dad wasn't well enough to be around us so we just went it alone. I was aware very early on that the rest of the Mums did not like my Mum. Not one smidge. Equally early I became aware that the Dads very much liked my Mum. Or at least they liked looking at her. I started feeling annoyed when Mum turned up to collect me looking pretty. Why couldn't she just wear anoraks and comfy shoes so we could fit in?! Here I was staying up late praying (very timid, sycophantic, anxious prayers) to become "good enough" & my Mum could help out immensely by just being a bit more repressed & ugly!

The only person who would speak to my Mum was the only other single Mum, S____. It seemed like the other Mums wanted to show God they were nice when they were in his house, but didn't give too much of a shit in the playground. The vicar with the bald head and the guitar told us God could see us everywhere. He made all the mountains & the birds. He had the power & the glory. Had they forgotten?

The situation got more intensely stressful one night when my Mum told me she didn't believe in God. She said she had tried but it just wasn't her so she gave up. A huge bolder sized lump rose in my throat & I squeaked out
'Jesus wouldn't have given up!' Which as an adult I can see is a bit meta. At the time I was scrambling to be a good Christian. It was just another job to do. I had to make my Mum believe in God, convince the other Mums to be nice to her, stop thinking bad thoughts about R____, pray all the time, be one of Jesus' sunbeams, polish my shoes, treat every woodlouse like a long lost friend. The list was endless. I truly believed that if could get all the elements right like plate spinning then suddenly God's warmth would shine down on me. We just needed to fit in, on the playground, at church, in school. We just needed to be "good enough".

 S_____ invited us to her house one day after school & I played with her daughter (dolly hospital, if you must know) whilst she washed my Mum's hands. She'd seen that the nails were bitten and the cuticles red raw. It was a simple gesture. A kind gesture. It was a friendly hand up amongst the dross of daily life. I thought she was a curly, blonde-haired, scouse, Lady -Jesus. She became one of my idols, instantly.

I'd been switching between CofE God's house & Catholic God's house for years. Then, I became aware that other religions existed because some people had to sit outside of assembly in the library every day (A+ for Demon Headmaster vibes). I asked A____ and she said she was Hindu. Another girl said her family went to church but only on Wednesdays. 'Phew, there are even  more?' I thought. I didn't understand that you picked one and got on with it. I thought you had to tune into each like a TV channel. Every new religion was like a new tamagotchi (but much less fun). I struggled to keep them alive.

This sense of anxiety & urgency has stayed with me. I understand now, that the middle class Mums of the world will never like me and my Mum. That we were just too poor, and common, and attractive (in the case of my Mum) & "husky" (Kirkby talk for "fat" in the case of me) to be "good enough" for them. Religion, conformity, guilt, it stays with you long after you leave the playground. It's a reminder that for some of us, no matter how much we play by the rules, how many woodlouse nests we build or 50ps we give to God we will never feel accepted.

I still feel sentimental about church. Especially the Catholic Church, no offense CofE, you just weren't punishing enough. When someone says a line from the service the line after slips out of my mouth before I register it. I don't pray. I always got the same feeling praying that I did when I asked groups of kids with light up trainers 'Can I play with you?' and got ignored. It's okay. The space in my head I used to devote to God I try to devote to my earth based partners, my friends. There is a sense of loss. This presumed standard of spirituality is palpable in my work place, in legislation, in  most educational institutions (even the non-denominational ones). Christianity as a structure permeating our consciences from birth like McDonald's adverts (ba da ba ba ba- I'm lovin' God), offering people around the world food and water as long as they pray right & read the Bible, excavate their culture & plant seeds of ours.

I still get defensive when people close to me shut me down mid Catholic guilt rant, or sentimental Christian monologue. This is my history, my Nan, her friends, good people.  I am still not "good enough", I may never be.  My relationship with Christianity is, like all my relationships- queered. Neo-marxist but stubborn, I want redemption but resent never hearing from God, it's like not hearing back about a job you spent 12 years applying for. 

Smug atheist attacks don't sit well with me. Isn't this whole life malarkey difficult enough already without you looking up Doris from Hathersage online to tell her that the scarf she's knitting to raise money at a raffle for a new church roof is pointless because God doesn't exist? Let Doris knit her scarf. Let Mohammed pray in peace. Let Siobhan do her happiness spell. Let Alex spend Sunday washing their dog. We've all got our own shit to be getting on with. If you're really that bored there's a new season of Hell's Kitchen on Netflix. If you're really so lonely you want to take away someone else's spiritual companionship you could always try talking to someone.

The last time I was in a church 2014-  S______'s funeral. She had a difficult life, after all her Lady-Jesus miracles, and died a horrifically early death. Her family & the women around me are of the strong Scouse Catholic breed not a tear in sight  (apart from my Mum who is the only one to break down crying, like the big Lancashire, agnostic, emotionally present, wool she is).
My best friend, S_____'s daughter is literally unwavering, holding her daughter, at the front of the church after organising the whole funeral. Today, I'm in perfect timing, I am peak Catholic, burying the hurt, wearing black, singing the hymns, getting through. I don't want to do all my mourning now.

The priest seems fixated on the fact that S_____ didn't balance all the plates, tick all the boxes. He keeps reminding us that she'll go to heaven despite straying from God's path. I'm winded by his audacity. Never a holier, more honest, loving person had entered my life. We sing more hymns. The church smells of lilies. It's light and airy, like her.

Mum is still snotting on my shoulder, she doesn't make it to the crematorium. Outside the wake, a large ram packed room, I think  that S____'s  holiness was in her actions. She was a good person so religion showed her goodness. I am an anxious person so religion created more things to be anxious about. At 13 my brief, rebellious flirt with paganism too left me anxiously waiting for my spells to work. My only option is to stop trying to be "good enough" & just try to be good. Even so, I wish I could have tasted the biscuity body of Christ, drank his alcoholic blood and played with the good Christians, just once.

Friday 4 March 2016

Women, Femmes & non-binary siblings- unite and praise the fuck out of each other.- a note on praise hijacking

Hey men & masculine privileged people,
We need to have a little chat about the way you treat women, femmes & non-binary people's work* & how you co opt our praise.
I'm so tired of trying to talk about the amazing work women & gender oppressed people are doing only to have one of you interrupt me to say 'Yeah (name) AND ME do work really hard'. Or
'I did (project) too/in a different place' (You're not fooling anyone with that). We get it, you want recognition. Everyone deserves recognition. Everyone deserves to have their effort rewarded but not everyone needs it, right now, this instant- from me. The reason I go put of my way to praise women, femmes & non-binary people is that the work they do is devalued in the big bad patriarchal world. Yours isn't (at least in this space).

It may be that you only have masculine privilege in this setting for a couple of hours once a month. It may be that the rest of the time you don't feel you hold power in the same way. I understand that you may want to flex the ol' privilege muscles whilst you can but that action isn't necessary or fair. When you tear down, intercept or manipulate the praise or recognition of someone else what you're doing is being complicit in gender oppression. Yes, you can experience oppression on the basis of your gender AND perpetuate someone else's gender oppression too. The truth is that there's actually no shortage of praise to go around & there are more appropriate ways to receive it than hijacking someone else's. So I've put some tips together as a loose guide to not hijacking praise off those of us who trying to support each other.

1. When you feel like you want praise from people in your life in general take these three steps
- Consider
Consider what you have done that you feel deserves praise. Is it something specific? Is it a project? Who does the project serve? Are any of those people around? Have you done the bare minimum? Have you piggybacked someone else's achievement? Did someone else facilitate you doing the work with reminders or resources?
- Critique
Think critically about your need for praise. Is it coming from a place of privilege? Is it a feeling you can placate by working on your own self esteem? Do you definitely need these people to praise this achievement?
- Communicate
When you feel like you deserve or desire more praise for a task, project or achievement try actually just asking for it. Then the person you're talking to isn't trying to interpret meaning from your words. It saves them time and you effort. It's less coercive than just leading them down the path of your ego & guilting them into ringing the bell.
E.g. 'Hey I did this thing, I feel really proud of myself, but I'm feeling insecure, can you tell me that I did well?'

2. Be willing to accept the fact that women, femmes & non-binary people may not want to praise you.
It takes a lot of work to exist in a world where your achievements are underrated & ignored. Being bullied into praising someone whose achievements DO get recognised definitely makes me feel resentful. Learning to take 'no' or 'not right now' as an answer helps everyone. The more we accept a 'no', the more women & gender oppressed people feel confident saying no, the more energy we can all put into performing crucial labour when we want to. No isn't a dirty word, it's one that helps us demonstrate our boundaries.

3. Practise praising yourself
I like to make pictures and give them to myself as a reward. E.g. 'Getting through a shit day' crown. I am rewarding myself for doing a thing. I can post it online and talk about doing the thing. Then my friends can respond if they feel like it by celebrating my achievement with me instead of feeling like they have to praise me & support me.
Try looking in the mirror & thinking 5 things you have achieved (not appearance based). Acknowledge them, praise them.
Be a friend to yourself. Service your own self esteem.

4. Seek out & celebrate
In a society where women, femmes & non-binary people's work is ignored, overlooked & devalued it can be quite easy for masculine privileged people to pretend we don't do any work. You can't expect the people doing work from any oppressed group to just pop up shining like a brilliant example for you to praise. Seek out the work of working class non binary people making poetry, disabled femmes running support groups, black women lifting up creative communities, trans women of colour leading resistance, fat femmes organising in their workplace, lesbian artists etc. Ask questions about people's art, tell people how and why you appreciate their work, let them know you understand when their work isn't meant for you.
Praise is not a one way street. It's an exchange.

5.  Understand us
When you see women holding each other up, or femmes praising femmes or non-binary people shouting and cheering for each other- think about why. Think about why we have created support networks, why we send each other care packages or help each other out. You might find that if we don't do it no one else will.

I'm sure in spaces where masculine privileged people interact in masculine communication styles there's a different attitude towards support. A different attitude towards praise. Maybe it's a scarcity? (I genuinely don't know)Maybe you see us praising one another and think 'I want that'. If that's the case then it's 100% legitimate to create friendship groups and foster nice political communities where that exists for you. Doing so is helpful emotional labour for yourself and others. These dynamics are precious & important to us, they are how we survive & that's why we build them & why you can't snatch them away.

In love & solidarity,

* Work in this sense is the broadest most inclusive meaning of the word. Paid, unpaid, academic, emotional, domestic, political, support, social, self, community, friendship, relationship, voluntary, creative, organising, self care. Literally any action taken by people to further the wellbeing, progress, survival, existence, thriving, or expression of themselves, their community, their friends,  partners, their family, their comrades, strangers or acquaintances.

Friday 15 January 2016

New Year Same Shit- thoughts from the fatosphere

My new years resolution this year was to unfollow people who post about their diets on social media. It is going so well. I feel lighter, happier and less anxious. I don't feel guilty.

'Look how much weight I've lo-' *UNFOLLOWS*
'Been at the gym since 6am #eatcle-' *UNFOLLOWS*
'Look at this Jamie Oliver article about how poor people are fat and stupi-' *UNFOLLOWS*

Why am I doing this?
-It took me years to unlearn the idea that it's okay to judge other people's bodies. (FYI- you should never criticise people's bodies in the street, especially not around children)
-It took me years to learn that I do not deserve to be judged, ridiculed or bullied for my body. (Because of the normalised aforementioned public shaming I'd witnessed)
-It's an daily fight to treat my fat disabled body with compassion & love rather than hatred and fear.
-Some of us don't have have a middle ground to rest on. Diets lead us to crying over orange segments because we don't know exactly how many calories are in one. They damage our health even whilst making us look thinner.

Unfollowing people who aren't there yet isn't me not liking other people's desire to look or feel a certain way, it's me not being up for reading about how they strain their bodies to get there. Lets be honest, lots of people (even fat people) get feelings of superiority when restricting their food. Judgement becomes second nature and rather than making subjective reasonable decisions about what they feel like eating- they eat a meal that they don't enjoy in order to deprive their body into losing fat. Now sat, unhappy, at a table amongst the people they love, they are preoccupied with their second salad of the day. And of course, when other people begin to tuck into carbohydrates they get annoyed and resentful and judge the choices and bodies of those around them.

I know, I've been there. And I'm not a terrible person so I know it's not just me who falls into that kind of behaviour.

In real life situations this becomes more difficult. The other day I was in a local shop buying food for a night in front of the TV with my partner (don't tell Jamie Oliver guys, we know how much he dislikes working class people having TV's and junk food). The sales assistant separated my items into two piles pushed the first towards me and said
'This is not healthy' then pushed the second towards me and said
'This is healthy'.
I know. Fuck him, right? Anyway so I'm stood there looking at this man and I see my options as
a. Challenge him by trying to convince him I am not an evil fat but a good fat.
b. Challenge him by telling him that he is wrong to lecture fat people he doesn't know about their food.
c. Do nothing.

To my shame, I picked c. He took this as an invitation to explain to me that chocolate is bad for you and whilst I frowned at him, stood in silence and stonewalled him as he patted his flat stomach and said
'Look at me, nice and thin because I don't eat so much chocolate' it struck me.
The reason the social media resolution is so beautiful and simple isn't because I'm in denial. I know who I am, what I look like & what people think. I get told (sometimes literally told) everyday all day in situations where I can't simply walk away or ignore the person telling me.
So accessing a fat shame free social media space is the least I can do to take care of myself.

This isn't selfishness.
It's self preservation.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

A queer review of 'More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory'

I've been actively polyamorous for about five years, before which I was not having relationships for a couple of years, and before that I was having standard monogamous relationships with men and not so standard…interactions (shall we say) with women. I have had unhealthy monogamous relationships. I have had unhealthy polyamorous relationships.
    If I had to say up front why this book is the one I would recommend to people (literally all people, from queer relationship anarchists living in hippy communes in the Arizona desert with seven partners and three date mates to Ian and Sharon from South Ribble who have been monogamously married for seventeen years) it would be- its barefaced honesty.
   I have educated myself on polyamory a lot. I read articles. I read academic papers. I read books, blogs, listen to podcasts, attend events and obviously have my own relationships. I observe the polyamorous relationships around me. I talk about polyamory to my friends. I discuss polyamory with my partners. From the theoretical to the practical. From the amazing to the awkward. I’m part of several large international groups online where people dicuss polyamory. I’m out at work. I’m out to my family. I launch into social interactions like a pro
   ‘One of my partners works there’ I say smiling and nodding at the embarrassed party guest in front of me. Or maybe I say
   ‘Wow, my boyfriend’s girlfriend bought him this exact model’ and act calm and cheerful all the way through the weird questions, giving them my spiel.

   What I need you to understand, my beloved reader, is that I am not a quitter, fair weather lover, cop out, or polyamory sceptic. I have chosen this ‘lifestyle’ (as my grandma calls it) as the best, most loving option for me and all my ‘friends’ (as my co-worker call them). But that doesn’t mean I am always good at it.
   Yeah, I’ve pushed relationships into primary/secondary hierarchies (ew, I know), I’ve been the trusting service secondary, I’ve been the person who allows crappy people to treat me in a crappy way and yeah, I’ve been the crappy person. We all have. That’s the point. Often polyamory resources are written on the premise that we’re all perfect all the time.
   The reason this resource is good because it doesn’t fall into the trap most other polyamory resources do. It doesn’t pretend that polyamory itself is a way escape the shit you have to own to have successful relationships. It doesn’t presume that all of us are ‘naturally’ polyamorous (whatever that means). It doesn’t divide polyamorous people up into ‘poly gods’ and ‘failures’. It doesn’t make it a competition of who can act the least emotionally invested in the most people.
   Here are some of the things it does do
·        Provide you with a toolkit for communication between yourself and partners
·        Provide you with a good moral and ethical framework for your polyamory
·        Address the (incorrect) idea that polyamory is never coercive or manipulative
·        Advise the reader on how to navigate relationships without coercion or manipulation
·        Guide you through all elements of polyamory with care and sense
·        Discourage the harmful and isolating measures we’re taught to put in place to protect our relationships.
   This book is Polyamory 101 and 201 and it's the text book you come back to in your first week in the job, and after a few years, and then again a few years later. This book is a helping hand on those days when you want to run away to Berlin & get a mullet. If you’re polyamorous you need to read this book (despite how long you’ve been polyamorous). If you’re monogamous you need to read this book. You need to read this book if you’re single. You need to read this book if you are mono-poly. You need to read this book if you are struggling. You need to read this book if everything is going perfectly. You need to read this book if you will never have a romantic or sexual relationship EVER.
   One of the mistakes we make in polyamory is thinking ‘Oh, well my relationships are radical and mutually respectful’. The truth of the matter is- we all have shit we need to address. Yes, you too. My advice is- read this book with your partners, discuss each chapter, ask questions, use the questions in the book. You deserve to have the best relationships possible your partners deserve the best relationships possible because as the book says ‘The people in the relationship are more important than the relationship’. 

 You can find out what others think and decide where to buy it here (including audio-book and kindle options).
You can find the website here
Follow the authors here @everickert and here @franklinveaux 

Good luck. x

Saturday 10 October 2015

20 Things I've Learnt about mental health in 20 months of working for an NHS mental health trust

1. Mental health is misrepresented to make it more palatable. Anxiety & depression are often the only mental health problems discussed and are often reduced to "being a big worried" and "feeling a bit sad". These conditions are presented in such a manner that makes them easier to accept. This is damaging to people with these conditions and those with other conditions that aren't mentioned.

2. NHS services categories are often damaging. The NHS uses the following categories to provide services
- Adult Services
-Child & Adolescent Services
-Forensic Services
-Learning Disability Services
-Older Adult Services
-Substance Misuse Services
-Eating Disorder Services
 So essentially if you are a fifteen year old person with an eating disorder and a learning disability your treatment is decided by a clinician deciding which service you will use. It may be that you're stuck in the learning disability service, the only young person there, or that you enter treatment for your eating disorder only to find barrier to your treatment due to your learning disability.

3.  Anti-medication rhetoric is empty rhetoric. "People with mental health problems need support not meds". This is far from true and often contributes to the erasure of huge groups of people. Having been on psychiatric medication for my own anxiety & depression (whilst having a supportive partner and friends around me) I know for a fact that medication allowed me to live my life. In fact some people's medication alleviates symptoms like psychosis & delusions of grandeur that no amount of chatting about with friends would stop.

4. There is no shame in seeking treatment. Just like there is no glory in recovering from a broken leg without the appropriate treatment of a cast, there is no glory in "getting through" mental illness without treatment and treatment includes medication. If medical professionals, family or friends try to pressure you out of using medications with the shame argument they are using social biases towards non-disability to do this. You should consult (further) medical professionals who don't use this kind of argument for less biased advice.

5. Treatments aren't usually to cure. For most of us, the treatments we receive via the NHS or other avenues are mostly to help us exist with our condition rather than to "cure" us.

6. Treatments include (I've put some loose examples after each.)
 -Self help (practising breathing exercises for anxiety)
-Hospitalisation (being put under a Section to prevent suicide or harm)
-Peer Support (an assigned Peer Support worker assisting with everyday tasks such as filling in forms)
-Neurosurgery (surgery used to treat conditions not aided by other treatments, very uncommon)
-Social Care (a social worker to help someone leave an unsuitable housing situation that is causing stress)
-Medication (someone with bipolar disorder using the mood stabilising drug lithium)
-Psychotherapy (a child attending play therapy or a person with OCD being referred to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)

7.  Since 2010 many local authorities have been forced to cut their social work budget increasing strain on NHS services (especially in dementia care, where people who were functioning in the community find their condition deteriorates due to reduction or removal of social care and support for their carer's or family).

8. Forensic mental health services should be more funded & prisons should be abolished. Forensic mental health services are those that cater to inmates of prisons. With statistics showing that 9/10 people in prison have mental health problems, it's clear that prisons aren't a suitable treatment to social 'ills' or to mental health problems. Now if 9/10 of those inmates would be better placed in a a mental health setting the population of prisons would essentially render them useless.

9. The reported statistic that  1 in 4 people experience mental health problems is actually much higher. ('Obviously!' I hear you groan).

10. Mental health services are a gendered experience. 'women more likely to receive treatment than men' & 'men three times more likely to commit suicide than women'  (no evidence about non-binary gendered people or even current statistics on transgender people's experiences in contrast to cisgender experiences)

11. Mental health services are incredibly institutionally racist. Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic people are 'less likely to report their mental health problems' & they are 'more likely to be turned away from services'. (

12. NHS Staffs' mental health is impacted negatively by cuts. Now this is not absolute evidence, but as the person who coordinates the staff mediation service for a mental health trust that had £8 million cut from its budget, I noticed that after the announcement my case loads had basically tripled in comparison to my pre cut caseloads. Which means that for some reason (fear for their jobs, stress, etc) staff began arguing more.

13. You can see if NHS staff would recommend the mental health trust they work for (a very telling indicator) by looking at staff surverys.

14. The majority of violent crimes are committed by people who don't have mental health problems. (So you can stop using the word psychopath or schizo to describe behaviour of violent people, now, thanks.)

15. Everyone has the legal right to NHS mental health care in an accessible language. This means whether you communicate in English, Urdu, British Sign Language or German, you are entitled to have letters, instructions, questions and results communicated to you in an accessible language. This is the same for all public sector organisations and is often a contentious issue for right wing pressure groups in the U.K.

16. Addiction services should be preventative services. Often in the U.K addictions are presented as something that puts a blame or burden of "cure" at the hands of the individual addict. The media (press & social media) tells us that addicts are weak and criminal. This is wrong. Addiction is a mental health problem that can be helped with mental health treatments such as therapy and medications. But importantly addiction is best treated by reform of drug laws, fully funded & appreciated social work & education. When I was 17 I found myself needing to enter treatment for addiction. I received help from addaction that I believe saved my life. When addiction is seen as the fault of individuals and not a societal problem addiction services are more likely to be cut which is dangerous.

17. Your employer has a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for you mental health condition. (e.g. Allowing a person with PTSD to work in a quieter office)

18. Specific diagnosis's aren't always useful. Although often a necessary key to open doors to treatment, for many, the broad, changing and varied mental health symptoms they experience aren't always usefully diagnosed. Having a term to apply to something say 'anxiety' may mean medical staff don't always know to factor in symptoms outside of anxiety.

19. Even the government acknowledges that mental health problems can be disabilities.

20. Given that mental health and physical health are for most an intertwined state- our healthcare system should be able to treat both. It is exhausting, expensive & frustrating to have to traipse around to seven different medical appointments a month at different hospitals, in different towns and be treated as person who is purely defined by their need for psychotherapy one day  and a person who is defined by their need for physiotherapy the next. Many mental health services are working on making physical health more of a priority and I for one have my fingers crossed this works and is reciprocated by other health services.

Sunday 13 September 2015

"I turn a lot of heads, I turn a lot of stomachs" what it's like when you're not the object of desire

A friend on Facebook posted this article by Sarah Einstein and my response to it feels bigger than I could reasonably call 'a status'. In the article Einstein talks about her experience of being an older, less physically attractive wife to a younger, more physically attractive man. The two speak freely about their situation- he is not attracted to her body and she is working through her negative feelings about this. He is however attracted to her mind and she feels good about this. 

Like Sarah Einstein '(...)beautiful has always been beyond me. If people find me so, it’s only after they’ve come to know me. (...) I minded this quite a lot in my teens, when it seemed that only beautiful people mattered, that it was a prerequisite for a good life.' But more than her writing about how she doesn't turn heads or has always been plain, I find I turn plenty of heads. I have always repulsed people (especially men) and can't walk down a street without an extended look. Hardly go a day without comments being made  about me. On my first day of my current job my boss gave me diet advice. I get comments about my unattractiveness online a lot (A LOT). And why is this? Well, it's not because I'm plain, I wish I was plain! Plain would be a godsend.

 By conventional standards I am deeply ugly (in part due to my being a fat person, in part a hairy mixed white/arab woman, I have a heavy brow, a giant chin and a strangely cartoonish look). I also have large disfigurements on my body. I can say these things. I can say them and know that they are true to society's standards but not absolute fact. I spent many years feeling like it wasn't my job to be beautiful, I rebelled against beauty, wore sexy clothes on Wednesday mornings without waxing my eyebrows. I took a few years out to readjust what I expected of my body and myself. 

Somewhere down the line I began to feel my subversion of norms was actually, very attractive. I am not easy on the eyes, my presence requires space and attention & work. It always has, but importantly I stopped trying to make myself smaller & I started occupying space in my own life.

When I was seventeen a (frankly mediocre) man once said to me 'I think about us being together. Usually I go for good looking women but you've got this intellect'. 
but you've got this intellect.
He's married now, to a beautiful woman, a friend actually. And I hope at least for her that he has let go of the abstract standard beauty he had decided it was his job to enforce on women. 

Though this statement stung (stings, even after eight years) I can see where he was coming from.I can see why she is his wife. I can see why I am not. I can see why Sarah Einstein is doing herself a favour by working through her feelings on her desirability.

I'm not Sarah Einstein. I'm a queer, fat, disabled and working class person. I'm also polyamorous. I work really hard to undo the messages society has taught me about myself (in the full knowledge that not everyone I sleep next to has bothered to do the same). I try my best to avoid toxic media messages, I look at myself naked in the mirror even on the days I don't want to. I read books written by other fat people. I shout at men who harass me in the street. I call out abusive behaviours in the queer scene (usually to my own exclusion and suffering). I take myself on decadent dates. I eat in public. I talk about sex. I care more about Janelle Monae than Jeremy Clarkson. I have several sexual and romantic partners. I cut toxic people out my life (where safe and possible to do so). I do most of my online interacting in explicitly queer femme spaces and the people whose opinions I listen to are mainly other fat working class femmes.

But something is rotten in the state of Denmark (my life). On a daily basis I feel my relationships (despite my attempts to work against it) have been/are still highly impacted by the thinking that my body is unsexy, undesirable and that my merit (smash merit tbh) is based purely in how much I can perform the role of funny fatty and clever prole.  I know lots of other people I know feel the same. And I want to tell you- it is not your job to fill in the deficit others consider your body to make with with, intellect or entertainment. Beautiful, thin, young people are allowed to be vapid & so are you.

The other day I was thinking about polyamory and the very real and harmful way in which people stack, hierachalise and demote their romantic/sexual partners. Polyamory is supposed to an alternate method of loving and dating to the typical white heterosexual nuclear family of Western economic creation. It's not a massive surprise that it ends up reinforcing a lot of the really shitty dynamics that already exist. I can't tell you how many times I found myself pushed out of relationships by people who were more conventionally attractive than me. You see in our relationships there's no need to break up, we can just invest more time in the people we think gain us more social capital. And slowly us uglies fade away.

And I'm sorry Sarah, but I'm just not as strong as you, I can't make peace with being the person who is the last resort date (or friend, femmerades, let's not pretend we aren't stuck doing the dishes whilst the cool andro and masculine people gain queer points by misquoting Marx). I can't make peace with my body being a barrier or a hurdle for people to love me. 

Me stating this doesn't mean it isn't something that effects me. If only acknowledging this shit meant it went away. I assure you, I'm well aware that all my relationships are subject to my partners not finding someone more attractive and thinner. And yeah, I spend a lot of my time stuck in scarcity mentality (warning on this link for discussion and take down of dieting).  Reading Einstein's article I felt deeply emotional at the passage 'In our early days, before my husband could articulate the ways in which he both did, and did not, feel desire for me, we sometimes fought about our sex life. I’m tired of always having to be the one who makes the first move, I’d say, and do you think I’m ugly, and of course are you sure you love me? (...) And we’d make love that night because he’d reach for me, and then not again—sometimes for weeks—until I reached for him.' because man, I know those feels. And it's not just about sex because as other people who are reminded daily by the behaviour of partners, friends and family- we all know that it's difficult to feel loved by someone who to all intents and purposes feeds our self-loathing. I feel like we (fat femmes, working class women) wake up every day and exist, fight through family meals and obnoxious men and horrible media messages about ourselves. We are strong. But your oppressive body politics are your issue and something you need to work through to be safe to date us. It's not about education it's about work. Your pseudo sex positive 'preferences' don't exist in an apolitical vacuum. 

A while back a friend who was having a difficult time read me this article by Derek Sivers entitled 'No more yes. It's either HELL YEAH! or no' (warning there for overly enthusiastic straight dude). We need to be 100% clear that being fat doesn't make you unsexy and being older doesn't make you undesirable and being attractive in a non-conventional manner isn't an excuse for a lack lustre approach to us or our bodies. Equally, the kyriarchal bullshit that slips out the mouths of your partners and family is no excuse for a half-arsed approach to loving yourself. It will hurt when the person you were filling in time for (shout out at this point to Samantha Peterson for writing this amazing poem) comes along and they are thinner, and funnier(although funnier is unlikely) than you. They are literally you lite. It will hurt and then it won't. It is not evidence. It does not confirm anything other than the person who pushed you aside is a grade A trumpet. You do not have to spend another moment being pushed aside or undesired. I could tell you that I will always find beauty in the piece of you that they recoiled from, and I will, but the most important thing is that we find ourselves worthy. Even when how we feel about ourselves is negated by someone we love. Sarah Einstein's article registered with me in several ways, and I know that what she is saying is important and true and sad and beautiful. But for me, it's not the end of the story. 

If nothing else- it is a lot of work to be the person holding up both (or all) sides of a relationship. Call me an entitled millenial (or whatever bullshit term people are using to describe young women who they disagree with these days) but I'm not willing to hedge my future happiness on an Ann Summer's catalogue & the hope that I find someone who tolerates my powerful, exciting body.

 You cannot validate yourself through other people. And if they leave you in the fruit bowl in hope of finding less bruised fruit, then- fuck them. Or rather, don't. They are not your safety.

Lately I have been writing things down to make sense of them, I have been reading more in order to improve my writing and in my reading I found these words. I repeat them to myself when ever I feel devalued by someone I love, or am invested in

'you can't make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful 
something not everyone knows how to love.' 
-Warsan Shireh
For women who are difficult to love