Saturday, 22 October 2016


It's been a while, my loves. I've been suffocating under my depression I'm afraid - and not the kind that drives me to exist as externally as possible but the kind that bullies you inwards, making you examine your own life as some sort of self-indulgent unanswerable existential question instead. I've started to feel the early flutterings of creativity stirring after a long hiatus, but I'm often seduced by this feeling, only to find it a false alarm. Time will tell of course.

Crime has become an obsession - and by that I don't mean I'm hiding lipstick down my knickers or smuggling cardigans out of Topshop (anymore) - I mean I'm experiencing another stint of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from being stalked, raped, sexually assaulted, beaten up and a few more I won't include simply because the first item in my list is enough. My problem is this: I don't know if I have the energy or the thick skin I know I'd need to try and report it again. I'm scared and I'm not used to that feeling. It's been a decade since it happened, and I wasn't believed when I went to the police at the time - after 3 long hours at the Police Station trying to put words to the worst 3 months of my life, which included having to tell them about the horrific sexual violence I endured and the content of the depraved email he'd sent to everyone on my contacts list to shame me. At that time I was told that emails older than 30 days old were inadmissible in court, so it was my word against his. I had no more fight and I left thinking maybe I'd made it all up - If only. Karma is no longer something I believe in.

I have a YouTube channel and when I talk about sexism I'm attacked. I'm hardly going to be keen to deal with a potential court case and the raking up of my past life. I get 'friendly warnings' from men advising me that I'll likely be 'doxxed' (have my private information posted online) for daring to speak out. Because the black and white of MRA (Men's Rights Activists) attitudes sees my championing of women's rights existing to only to go against theirs for the sake of it. They cannot conceive of the idea that perhaps the reason I'm more interested in women's rights is because I am a woman - and because in the bigger picture, if you really look at it, men have a better deal. When we say women are victims of domestic violence, they hear 'men are never victims of DV'. They hurl stats around indiscriminately and turn to anecdotes for evidence, instead of entering into a dialogue and taking into account that the balance must swing in women's favour for a while in order for us to truly become equals.

You only have to switch on the news to see women chastised and vilified simply for being victims of crimes and reporting them. It's insanity and it's getting worse. The male police officer who took my statement questioned me about my sex life. He suggested it was just par for the course in relationships that as a woman you were expected to sleep with your partner - even after he wasn't your partner anymore, and had not only raped you, but stolen money left to you when you'd just lost your mother. He wanted me to prove that the brick through my bedroom window and the break in to my car and the handwritten suicide notes and the blood on the walls had happened at all, let alone in quick succession and with many witnesses. The friends I lived with at the time ALL opted out of backing me up, not wanting to get involved, and in some ways I don't blame them. They saw him hit me in front of a pub full of people, heard him smashing up my room and knew he wouldn't have thought twice about punishing them too. I still believe he would've killed me eventually. I was totally alone when I needed help the most.

When you're in a relationship with someone who is violent and abusive you become smaller almost automatically. You hope that by doing this you'll be a smaller target, harder to hit. You begin adopting a submissive stance, looking downwards, walking softly; trying to avoid the eye contact you know might spark a reaction. Everything you do must be quiet and non confrontational and nothing you say should sound like a question - you're reduced in every way. Stripped to the bone. Ashamed that you somehow let this person into your life. If you break these unwritten rules you pay. Even after that person is gone from your life you carry this list of commandments around in the back of your head forever. They continue to control you years later, through relationships that feel like a world away. The slightest memory you allow yourself to have can ruin even the strongest bond you've built with someone else. You have to learn to check yourself daily to prevent it seeping back in through the cracks and pinning you down in the past forever.

Hands down the worst feeling for me is knowing that the person who did this to me is free to abuse others and there's not a damn thing I can do about it without jeopardising my mental health, and when you have as little control over your feelings as I and other BPD sufferers do, that's too high a price to Do The Right Thing. Every time I get on the London Tube, I see him everywhere, he haunts me. I physically jump every time as I feel the familiar lump in my throat and have to hold on to something solid to stop myself falling. I doubt this will ever leave me - it's as raw today as it was 10 years ago - in fact sometimes more so.  My PTSD only started this year; before that I'd locked it all away because to acknowledge it would be to let him win. How will I tell my son that I wasn't strong enough to fight for justice? To protect other perhaps even more vulnerable women? That I'm ashamed I couldn't stand up against him is symptomatic of how we perceive ourselves as women, and our need to look after the interests of other women we will never know. In fact this goes so far that I've spent endless time considering how my revelations might affect the women in his family, his mother and sisters who have no idea that their loved son and brother is a rapist. So I have to choose. I have to choose whether I do what I know to be right and accept that it will hurt me more than it hurts him, or I simply continue to live with this mental scarring, in a role I never signed up for, because in court I'd have to face him, see the pain on the faces of those who will want to believe him over me, and endure being blamed, tarnished, and emotionally broken by clever lawyers whose job is to rip me to shreds in front of an audience. It's a bloodsport.

To all the victims out there, I believe you. I'm so sorry I don't have the answers.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Turn and face the strain

Ok world - yes, change is in the offing - I get it. I bloody get it.

It's just there, isn't it. Like some sort of mouldy smell hanging in the air during the first morning that feels like spring (in May, because this is England) - incongruent with the rest of an otherwise springlike picture. Or when you're enjoying some ice-cold cider and if you sniff too hard you'll inhale one of those little midge things that seem to congregate anywhere there's a beer garden. Not that I've seen many of those in my 14 years as a Londoner. 14 years, which is coming to an end just as it began - with a literal leap into a metaphorical unknown. Alright, so Milton Keynes is about as far from the unknown as you can get - it's a mini-city that was 'designed' from scratch in a way you don't see anywhere else in the UK, where we do love our history - but you know what I mean. Concrete cows? Yes, I know. You're the fifth person to say that to me just today. I've never seen them so I think it's safe to assume they're not that noticeable.

I was a godawful student. When I started my degree I was on disability benefits for my mental illnesses. I felt weird about that, so I wrote to them to say I didn't want to keep claiming and they said because I wasn't studying for over 16 hours a week they wouldn't stop paying me. That's a Daily Mail headline right there (and if you missed it, here's a previous one about me that you might find entertaining). As is a common theme in my life, I wasn't in either camp - I wasn't a proper full-time student, but I wasn't a total screw-up either. I left Somerset behind, and executed my half of a plan that had included my boyfriend at the time, but then did not (I ballsed that one up spectacularly). I gave up my flat, which was decorated like the seventies and had no heating or double-glazing so one would awake on a cold winter's morning with an icy crust on the duvet/one's face, and where I'd been utterly miserable for a couple of years. Most of my serious self-harm had happened there, next door to a guy who used to beat up his pregnant girlfriend and on the floor above a rapist and some guys who did a lot of cocaine every night and then stuck porno pages on everyone's front doors. There was also a short and elderly italian man who didn't speak any English living there who used to get blind drunk and pass out in the car park. The police visited on the regular. I'm having a strange sense of deja vu writing this, but I'm buggered if I can find another post with any of this in it. Anyway, I certainly had nothing to lose in leaving and I had no idea what to expect. 

Arriving in a new city, alone, is a source of anxiety for anyone, so it wasn't any different for me - in fact my anxiety was off the scale. My ex-boyfriend had moved out (with his new girlfriend in tow from what I'd seen out of the window) and gone ahead to London. He'd been living downstairs in the building so he was tantalisingly close but refusing to respond to calls and texts. Mind you, because I have BPD I'd probably sent hundreds of texts. I may have even listened at his door... I knew I'd have to face him at some point when we showed up on our first day at university and I had no idea how awkward and painful this would be yet. I seriously considered suicide during this time of my life, I just didn't have the tools to deal with the pain I felt, and thought I'd feel forever. 

When I followed two weeks later, my first challenge was to figure out how to fit my stuff into a tiny single room in halls. This meant throwing some of it away, and this was a concept I'd struggled with both times I'd moved before. I was 21, and already this was my third home after I left my mother's house. I had a few boxes' worth of stuff that I'd been carting about since childhood; some of it belonged to dead relatives I'd never met but that I'd imagined in great detail until I felt I knew them; stuff that had sentimental value, but zero use in my daily life. Silver napkin rings with names engraved into them. I was clinging to all of it. So after this first emotional wrenching, I spent the next week psyching myself up for the first day of the course, and for being the only person stupid enough to base my university choice on my relationship. Who the f*ck does that? Someone who dislikes change does. Someone who wants to take 'home' with them when they change where they live.

Do you ever do that thing where you somehow end up in a job by accident? No? Oh. Just me then. Well, it's kind of a 'tough gig', let's say, for the sake of argument. But of course tough gigs are my thing aren't they. Fight to join the school cricket team as the only girl just because already you feel you want to be able to do any sport you want, regardless of your gender? That's fine, but you can't play in the all boys league because you're a girl. No dinkle, No game. Even though you're a great catcher. Sorry Kid. Pub full of old men in Torquay when the football's on? Why yes, of course I'll perform my indie pop/rock hits whilst I also have tonsillitis, that'll boost my band's profile a bit. Definitely our target market. Go to university with your ex-boyfriend doing the same course after a killer break-up? You'd be mad not to. Get a job in a corporate 6 months after you get your hands tattooed 'to mark becoming a full-time musician and never working for 'the man' again'? Yep. Sounds like one of those Cosmo quizzes - score mostly red? You're an idiot.

BPD is devoid of routine. Even the routine of time itself can slip away when things kick off. Eventually you get sick of being perpetually strung out and learn to use it as a coping mechanism. Nowadays I tend more towards repeating the same routine every day, because my mental health depends on it. If I so much as sleep in my brain reacts by operating more slowly. If I stay up late, I start ruminating on the meaning of my life and thinking about self-harming. Nothing bad needs to have happened, it's just my default setting. I know many other people with 'severe mental illnesses' (bipolar, schizophrenia, personality disorders - as termed by the charity I work for) who depend on a strict routine in order to manage their symptoms; for me, it's worth the loss of a social life. 

On the flip side, my eating disorder demands routine and reacts badly to change for a different reason - if I eat exactly the same things every day, I know exactly how many calories I'm consuming. They have to be contained in portions I can't change, like a carton or a bag so I don't have to worry about the possibility of eating more than I want to allow myself. Doing that removes the anxiety for me. This is also where being vegan 'feeds' (no pun intended) into my disordered eating, providing a set of rules that keep me accountable and that I have no trouble sticking to. If I know cake has dairy in it I find it easy not to want to eat it, where the omnivorous me would be overwhelmed by the mere presence of cake in the same building. I'm not ashamed of admitting this when so many others won't, but it comes with a caveat: vegan diets are not disordered or abnormal in any way. Whilst I find cutting out meat and dairy helps me stick to low fat, low calorie options that reduce my anxiety, eating vegan is extremely healthy and definitely not a disorder. It really p*sses me off when people assert that it is. 

Part of me loves the excitement of change, that feeling of knowing anything could happen, a gravitation towards things I know might hurt me, but that part is slowly shrinking with age. I've grown content with certainty, replacing excitement with the unremarkable, so leaving London felt terrifying. This terror built up over the weeks leading up to the move and caused me to have a meltdown so severe I became physically sick and mentally defective. I lost my grip on reality in a way I've never experienced before. I lost my cognitive function almost completely, and all of this simply because of change. 'It's all relative', so they say, and it does seem perverse that one person's sick is another person's dream. God knows I feel guilty for that. I'm so close to madness that even something as covetable as buying a much bigger house somewhere in a lovely, peaceful area can tip me over the edge both physically and mentally. 

A change is a good as a rest for the neurotypical. And for me? Well, I'm a creature of habit so I'd like this to be the last change for a bit. Maybe once I feel invincible again I'll start smelling that mouldy air  full of midges once more. 

Friday, 1 April 2016

Veganism - the unthinkable gets thunk

Historically I've been the kind of carnivore that demanded my steak freshly killed, dripping with blood, as blue as they come. It was worn as a badge of honour, a sign that I could compete in the arena of testosterone-fuelled eating. I would wax lyrical about how I could stomach a faggot; I would hurl myself upon any haggis that rolled my way. I was a vampire, a tigress - a brute of a woman. Of course, all of this applied only when I was in 'normal' eating mode. During any of my eating disorder relapses meat was completely off the menu - far too high in calories and especially fat.

I ate one of these on Burns' Night back in 2012

I began thinking about meat pretty soon after my pregnancy and you can wipe that smile off your face right now you dirty-minded so-and-so - what I mean is that eating my previous dietary staples, like prosciutto or bresaola, started to gross me out a little bit. As the weeks went on, it actually began tasting like blood even. Not exactly the pleasant appetiser you had in mind, eh? And it really wasn't. Here's where other writers might say something like 'many an evening soiree was ruined by a foul-tasting bruschetta', but since I haven't been to one of those since before my son was born, I'll stick with just saying that many a time when I opened the fridge and went to shove a handful of parma ham into my mouth, whilst attempting to multitask and trying to stop my son from pelting face-first into the nearest piece of furniture, was marred by the unpleasant association I had begun to make between meat and blood. Just typing that sentence makes me cringe that I'd ignored reality for so long - it sounds completely ridiculous and i feel as if it makes me appear a little bit stupid. But there it was. The thing I least expected to get from childbirth - a dislike of meat products. Stuff does taste funny during pregnancy, normally benign textures suddenly become game changers and cravings kick in, and I did crave sushi almost the entire nine months but afterwards although all cravings were gone, my desire to eat meat just didn't return. 

I grew up in Somerset, and I spent a lot of my childhood on farms run by families with small amounts of land, who understood that caring for the animals they made their living from was a good bet. I never saw any obvious mistreatment going on, so I thought this was how all farming was. I did a lot of helping herd sheep from one field to another, and playing with a baby ram called 'Rambo' (obviously) who we knew was going to 'disappear' once he was big enough. Somehow we just accepted that humans ate meat and that was the end of it. I got it. There was, however, one thing I saw that stayed with me. We'd gone to watch a calf being born - I must've been about 6. At the beginning we were just watching the cow groaning in labour and nothing much was happening. You remember how much longer any amount of time felt when you were little, right? An hour when you were a child is equal to a full day once you're an adult - it seemed to go on for days to me. The farmer was trying to feel for the calf inside the cow (yeah, just exactly as you're imagining it) to help pull it into position, but after what seemed like a really long time of doing this repeatedly he realised it was breech and had got stuck. Calves have long back legs that are hard enough to birth as it is, so when they're all the wrong way around it's a major problem for both cow and calf. Having given birth to a soft, malleable human baby, I can speak with some level of authority on this. My boy's head jammed against my spine right in the middle of my labour and I sounded not unlike a cow every time I had a contraction, so I know that pain. But for this calf, with its four long legs and pointed hooves scraping their way along the birth canal, all without pain relief? Unimaginable, but something cows do the world over millions of times a day. I have a vivid and enduring memory of blood just pouring out of the cow, on to the floor and over the vet - and I mean what looked to my childish mind like torrents of blood, both vet and farmer wading around in it as the scene unfolded. They were so focused on saving these animals that they forgot we were still perched up on the wall watching all of this happening. 

Eventually, the vet pulled a dead calf out of the broken and exhausted cow and it fell to the floor. Both men were doing all the usual clearing of its airways in an attempt to bring it to life, but it had died, probably long before it was finally born. The cow, unaware of this was licking the membrane from her dead baby to stimulate a breath. Even as a child I knew that birth shouldn't end that way at all, and I ruminated (no pun intended) on this for a long time afterwards. We'd always had animals around us and some of them had died, as pets do, so we'd developed an awareness of loss and death already, but we weren't really old enough to be thinking over the big questions like mortality and trauma and I don't remember anyone talking to us about it either. Now I'm not for one second saying that children should be protected from death, but they definitely should be protected from unnecessary death, death that comes as a result of something someone does purely for their own enjoyment. Whilst we enjoy not talking thinking about death until it's right there in front of us, children elsewhere face it daily as they lose family and friends over money, religion and power. I find it bizarre that our species survives, as hellbent are we on killing each other in pursuit of the unattainable. 

Since I'd begun thinking about all of this again and still not coming up with an answer as to why we seem to feel ok about killing some animals, but others induce a feeling of grief not unlike when we lose a member of our human family, I'd not been eating meat. I just couldn't separate my mind from the reality that every sausage in the freezer not just represented, but actually was part of a corpse. I felt disgusted about it. Of course I know exactly why we feel ok about it - it's pretty fucking obvious that we'll feel ok about something we've grown up doing and had ingrained in our collective conscious through generations. We also felt ok about women not having a say in politics, or forcing women who got pregnant into institutions and removing their babies. Once you realise that things are not morally right just because we've always done them, the world becomes a terrifying place. Hence all the attacking of veganism, which I was just as guilty of as anyone else. It's hard to suddenly have to face the fact that doing things we thought were ok is actually wrong. About ten years ago a friend whose opinions I really respected, and who'd been vegan for ten years already by then tried to explain to me that milk isn't actually good for us. I refused to listen, despite the fact that he was a person I knew had critical thought well and truly mastered. The TV said milk was good back in the 80s, right? Well, hello 2016, where we've already started learning that not only were all our childhood role models paedophiles, but we now have hard evidence of gravitational waves in space, changing the face of physics and astronomy forever. The only difference being that none of us walk around with guilt about gravity. 

When you're talking to an audience where 1 in 4 (Americans) believes the sun orbits the earth, it's no wonder we can't assume everyone has the ability to think rationally; people never blame themselves for their own ignorance, they're more likely to blame whoever it is that they believe should've told them that the body of a dead animal they ate last night was the same sort of body their cat would leave behind. Only one gets to lead a nice life sleeping on the feet of a human who cares for them and an expensive cremation, and the other has their death planned before they're even born. We already know that people consume far too much fat and sugar, resulting in rising rates of heart disease and diabetes, yet as soon as you mention that veganism tends to automatically result in weight loss, people start crying eating disorders. As someone with some authority on that one let me assure you that veganism is not masking my ED - firstly I'm very open about the fact I've had anorexia, secondly veganism actually makes me feel more in control and therefore I'm inclined to eat more, and thirdly I got malnutrition eating a non-vegan diet. 'Recovery' sometimes means maintaining a diet in as healthy a way as you feel comfortable in your mind. What it really doesn't mean is being forced to be a weight that makes you feel stressed out and eat things you don't actually need for good health. If you want to maintain a slightly lower weight than others and take supplements and keep an eye on your vitamin and mineral levels, fucking do it. Funny how people are more suspicious of people who they think are too thin than they are of people they think are fat. Somewhere in ourselves we know that western diets are not the answer to our main health problems.

An 'Authority Nutrition' writer published this article listing umpteen reasons she thought vegan diets were bad for us in 2013, only to change her mind by 2015 (see '2015 update at the bottom). Read the whole stupid thing here. There'll be people out there who read it before the update and will now lead shorter, fatter lives because they now think veganism is bad for them. Kind of important, no?
The way I approach research on anything I'm interested in is to find as many studies done by reputable people (i.e. scientists) that contribute to one side of an argument, and then search for anything that claims to debunk it. Then I look for things to debunk that debunking, and so it goes on. I must've read every single article on both sides in order to find scientific evidence that humans simply must eat meat and dairy (because I thought I'd find in favour of milk), but all I found were things seem obvious looking back - like that the calcium we get in milk comes in a package with a load of other crap that's bad for us. I realised that maybe in a society where we don't educate on nutrition, children are growing up without basic nutritional needs met, so getting calories and calcium into them so they could grow was favoured over providing them with long-term health. Cows' milk is certainly full of calories so it does indeed make children grow in size, which is how we judge their health, right? Hmmm... 

There are so many myths that I'd not only bought into but actually perpetuated, arguments I'd thrown at others and ingrained beliefs that now seem utterly unfounded and yet for the most part pass us by unchallenged. Most people know that keeping, loving and protecting one type of animal - to the point of prosecuting people who mistreat them - whilst simultaneously killing many other species, isn't the right thing to do, but we don't want to think too much about it because then we'd have to face up to our guilt. Guilt is one of the biggest reasons people hate vegans so much. They know that when it truly comes down to it, killing animals just because we like how they taste, is not ok. Meat eaters seem to conveniently forget that since most people's social lives revolve around food, they actually talk about how great meat is quite often, but if someone who doesn't consume animal products dares say so, they're 'pushing it down our throats'. And then there's the whole fucking protein thing, which is getting so old now I can barely bring myself to type the word.

Moderation may be key, but only if whatever it is you're moderating. The thing is, people struggle to moderate themselves - we need a structure, a set of rules, something to keep us accountable. In the vegan 'community' (I hope you can detect the slight note of sarcasm there) just as in the meat-eating world, there are as many fabricated diets that purport to be the only way to eat! The answer to obesity! The only way to stay vegan! Whether that's Rawtill4, where you eat mostly raw fruit in the day and a cooked vegan meal in the evening, HLCF (High Carb Low Fat) who tend to eat fruits as a staple too, 'Just Vegan' (the latest push back against the first two I mentioned) or any other diet complete with ritual and routine, we need to believe that our way is the right way. There are people all over Youtube who follow all of these various diets and routinely bash each other for doing anything differently. Veganism is a 'lifestyle' simply because you do have to change and adapt from what you were doing before. Yes you do have to check labels, buy a bit of different food and find people who make cruelty-free toiletries, but most people would be all over that if they were sold it by decent marketing telling them it would help them lose weight and live longer. Our biggest problem isn't obesity, it's stupidity, fear, laziness and apathy. No diet or lifestyle can remove your human condition, unfortunately. And that condition doesn't 'do' moderation at all.

Friday, 25 March 2016

A bit of a grizzle

I come to you fresh from the glory of telling a room full of hundreds of strangers at the Health and Wellbeing @ Work 2016 conference in Birmingham that I had (have) a huge problem with self harm. Well, I am nothing if not grisly (I call it satisfying) in a chewy sort of a way... You know to bring popcorn to one of my shows, right? 

Alright, so maybe I wrote that last part over 2 weeks ago and then ran out of steam once my adrenaline rush petered out - so let's just pretend we're in the past and none of this has happened yet. So, I was invited to be on a panel, next to the wonderful warm Lisa Rodrigues, CBE no less! feeling like the proverbial cat among the pigeons as I always do when presented with such situations. I'm the token 'SMI' (that stands for 'Severe Mental Illness', for the uninitiated) in any line up. Somewhere, in the shitstorm of chaos I increasingly keep trapped inside my smaller-than-average skull, is a confident and self-assured speaker with the power to command a room, just dying to get out. But first she'll need to do away with this wretched fool inhabiting her withering old body, or at least convince her to pop out to the shops or something whilst the real work is done. What I'm trying (and likely failing) to convey is that it went pretty-fucking-well-thank-you-very-much. I got up on stage having done very little preparation (other than the 35 years of living my life) and I told my story, which I now have almost perfected. My odd speech impairment tried to scupper me a few times but I got the words out, and I didn't blank once. I even remember that whilst I was talking you could've heard a pin drop in the bits where I usually see people visibly shudder. I got laughs! But that's because this is still a novelty - you don't find many people with good enough luck to stumble into jobs where your illness somehow becomes your USP, and where people actually want to listen to you talking about yourself. I knew I had a calling somewhere. 

There's something magnificent about seeing your name on a tent card next to a jug of water. My first thought when I was shown to my seat was that those glasses were awfully tall and slim and probably very easy to knock over. So I'm sure you can guess what happened as soon as I sat down, triumphant after my speech. The terribly professional-looking black tablecloth turned out to be not so great at soaking up liquid, and instead a river of water was repelled and therefore propelled in a long globule that shot off the front of the panel's, erm, panel. Couldn't just let me have that, eh, universe? 

After the session I met lots of people just as keen as I am to make a difference in the perception and treatment of mental illness - two of whom actually worked in centres dedicated to the treatment specifically of personality disorders, and one of those was looking to get those service users back into employment. It seems I'm no longer the only one trying to fill the gap between unemployable and a flying career. I have to admit I was surprised that such centres even exist, because my view is so tarnished by the embittered memory of my own battle to find anything that could cater for me back in the late nineties. Deemed high risk (i.e. no drugs prescribed in numbers that might be used to fuel the fight against oneself) and likely to 'take on the characteristics of other patients', I was packed off to London where legend had it there was one solitary professor who'd invented a diagnosis for troublemakers who refused to conform to the DSM criteria. I know everything has moved on, but when you compare mental health with other kinds of disability you can clearly see that we're only just beginning to find tools to crack open the nut instead of simply hurling the whole thing away in frustration. There are now places out there that actually consider a person beyond their diagnosis - as someone who has the same right to be a functional member of society and not only contribute, but also get something back.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

9 things I hate about me, and one thing others probably do

One - I've fallen into the trap.

I wrote a title promising a predefined number of things to the reader in order to lure them in, thinking it'll be short and instructive in some way and make them feel better about themselves. I hope my entrapment meets at least some of those imaginary requirements. If it does, feel free to leave a comment. I love to hear your voices (in my head as I read. You'll likely take on the voice of someone I know in real life, complete with whatever accent they have). 

Two - I stay sick on purpose. 

I do this because I'm afraid that I am sick. It's my identity, the one thing I know how to do really well. I talk about it, I write about it, I moan about it, I think about it. There ain't a lot else going on in here y'know. It's my MO, it's my deal, my bag, my jam yo. I'm shit at writing fiction, and it's hard to think of a decent storyline when you have so many other thoughts vying for attention at the same time. I thought everyone had a constant barrage of intrusive visions playing on a dodgy cathode-ray computer screen off to the right hand side of their mind, but when I dropped it into conversation people seemed to react less than favourably. It's not even an illness anymore, it's just how I am. That's why I love neurodiversity as a concept so much, because it really does apply to me.

Three - I take drugs... 

When I a) don't really need to, and b) should be trying to reset myself because I have the digestion of a sloth and I pay someone to get me back to health whilst simultaneously doing things that don't fit with that objective. When I say 'drugs', I don't mean the kind you can purchase over the bar in some East End pub where people lose entire weekends and acquire injuries and STIs as frequently as they do other people's coats, bags, wallets, money, saliva and underwear, I, of course, mean prescribed medication. Here's an example of my most recent psychiatrist (named as one of the top 150 doctors in the UK by Tatler in 2005), who had a 'pet drug', which he foisted upon me, without having any knowledge of my physical medical history whatsoever. He only ever asked me about my mind. He sold this drug to me with stories of patients with spinal injuries who were able to live pain-free because of this drug, and others whose anxiety had vanished as if by miracle, allowing them to lead full lives again. Now I have no idea about the validity of those patients' experiences, but I can tell you that I've had no miracle cure, and if anything it's just another drug added to the list of things that are hard to stop taking once you start. I also take co-codamol, which is the only thing that actually works on my pain. Codeine and I have a long, colourful history together, comprising of heroin clinics, enforced buprenorphine use and stigma the size of a small country. I take 6 tablets a day that are meant to be split into 3 doses, but I take 2 in the morning, and then 4 all at once when the pain starts up again in the evening. I know they also contain paracetamol and that I've been technically overdosing every day. I've been doing this for over ten years now. It's utterly feckless.

Four - I listen to the voice in my head. 

I know when I'm doing something that will fuck things up, but I just do it anyway. Self-awareness, I'm told, is the beginning of changing this pattern of behaviour, but I've always been self-aware and it only makes things worse. Knowing you're going to do something dumb and then doing it = double-dumb. Dumbledore, if you will.

Five - I can't put anything out there unless it's perfect. 

This applies to my blog (as any regular readers can tell you) and to virtually anything I do. Crafting an email can take days, yet it may actually achieve very little. As soon as it is 'out there' I stop caring almost instantly. I never learn that fucking lesson.

Six - I want to 'be on the internet', but I can't 'do the internet'. 

Refer to five. I'm tardy, unproductive and just bollocks at doing what one must in order to succeed in engaging as many people as possible. I start something and then forget what I'm doing halfway through, so it would be totally arbitrary to say 'I write a new blog every Tuesday'. It just wouldn't happen. 

Seven - I can only be productive when I feel like it. 

Remember that cathode ray computer screen I mentioned in number two? That needs to be turned off for a bit for anything to happen. That time may come at anytime, and it's not that I choose to be, or not to be. I don't deliberately sit around doing fuck all, in fact I hate it. It depends on my mood, and whether I give a shit about the thing I'm trying to achieve. Sometimes I need to be drunk. It might be the middle of the night. I have no control over this pattern; none whatsoever. I'm a terrible employee but I also have moments of genius. I've written music I could never have imagined. Many of those times I can't even remember what I did, or how I did it. I don't even want to control this - I think this is how it should be. Give me one moment of genius over constant mediocrity any day.

Eight - I have no space left in my working memory.

It's all jammed up with song lyrics I learned in my teens and every instrumental line of a piece of orchestral music I love. We might have a conversation about something, but when you later refer to something that was said during that conversation, I'll just be pretending that I remember what the hell you're talking about. I literally have to record everything on an app so I can replay it and maybe rehearse it until it gets lodged in there. Most people, and definitely employers, expect you to be able to do this in a neurotypical fashion as part of the capability requirements for a job. Well, I would challenge that notion - we have technology now my dears! Why miss out on the moments of genius that I might have on your time over something as silly as that? You're welcome.

Eight - I've lost my train of thought... Oh. I did number eight already? Moving swiftly on.

Nine - I'm a terrible parent. 

I can't be consistent, I struggle both with routine and without it, and I try so hard not to be as tough as my mum was on me that I've become the parent that gives in, for an easy life. I'll soon have a 3 year old who still needs a dummy when he's tired to prevent situations where I have to sprint through a supermarket, leaving my wallet and a stunned cashier plus a line of people waiting in the queue, to knock innocent shoppers left and right out of my path and rugby tackle my child to the ground before he escapes into the road. I can't imagine how people have more than one child - and not because of how bloody hard it is to be a parent, and especially so when you're neurodiverse - but because I can't imagine loving anyone as much as I love my boy. 

Ten - and this is that 'one thing' I mentioned in the title of this post.

I refuse to 'play the game'. Even when I know it would be easier for me, I'd probably be richer and I just might not be a 30-something stuck in an entry-level job in the very same 'system' I set out to fight against. I'm still able to see the hypocrisy in myself, and cringe whenever I type something like this. Others find this frustrating because I moan a lot, about this, about everything really. When I die, nobody will say "she was such a happy soul, always smiling, never complained", and I'm glad about that because I think it's wrong to mourn someone on the basis that they put up with a lot of shit and never expressed that it sucked. Even shitty people don't deserve death. I used to berate the stroppy teenager in me that prevented me progressing through life the way others seem to do, all nice and smooth and in sequence, but I've come to realise that my refusal to change myself to fit into things I have always believed are fundamentally wrong isn't a bad thing. Without an awkward and belligerent someone around, the really good ones among us have nothing to about which to say 'Now I definitely don't want to be like that!'. I give people the opportunity to learn what not to do, without ever having to do it themselves. For God's sake don't follow my example, just carve out a you-shaped hole wherever you want to. Do not take any of my advice. Now, fly my pretties!

You're welcome.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

I must, I must, I must I must adjust

So much value is lost when irregular shaped people have to try and fit into regular shaped holes. 'Organisation' is meant to be something that aids us, not something we use as a stick to beat ourselves with, and yet we (or I at least) seem to have a natural talent for fashioning it into a metaphorical broom handle. I get very angry when I see situations where someone I know has brilliance in them, and yet they haven't found whatever success means to them and their skills are being wasted.

I meet a lot of different people. I've worked some bizarre jobs in my time, too. Ten years late to the party all the grown ups were having; I could hear the bassline of Lionel Ritchie's 'All Night Long' through the floor as they all shared fondue and breathed red wine over each other and when I tiptoed down the first few stairs in my nightie and peered through the bannisters I could hear the raucous laughter and bad chat up lines and I just knew I wasn't ready for their world. 

At college for my second time around, a mildly sleazy tutor told me I'd 'grow out of my rebellion' and dress like everyone else if I wanted a good job. I was 22 then and I already felt my age was all wrong. I had become that guy who shows up to do pottery A Level just as a bit of a hobby and tries to come and hang out with you and your mates over lunch. He's wearing a zip-up fleece and Merrell walking boots even though college is all concrete and linoleum floors. Sometimes he'll wear a funky shirt and maybe his glasses are slightly quirky. He never really graduates, he just moves on to the next art history or glass-blowing course they'll let you on when you have O Levels instead of GCSEs.

Of course I didn't grow out of dressing like a teenager because emotionally I will always be a teenager, and I told him I wouldn't at the time - he scoffed at me in the same way I often find myself doing internally now when talking to my younger friends. He was a twat really. On a base level I find it much easier to talk to people in their twenties because I just identify with how they feel about life - that anticipatory sort of haze that makes things look a little twinkly (a bit like when you take ecstasy for the first time) where you're still just waiting to find out what actually happens in your life. Plenty of research shows that animals will press levers in study situations just in anticipation of reward, and that's a pretty accurate reflection of me. I've pressed the goddamn lever a million times. 

Today a friend asked me a question: Of all of my symptoms, which would be the three I'd get rid of if I had a magic wand? For some reason, even though this isn't really a 'symptom' in the usual sense, I said I'd want to be able to feel like I'd arrived. Not like I was always waiting for real life to start. Stop fucking around already and live now. I know everyone says they feel like that, but sometimes when I'm saying this to another person I can see a slight flicker of sympathy flicker across their face. There's usually a bit of a loaded silence, before I realise I've lost them completely. This happens most when I'm pretending to be corporate, because I don't have a 'professional self' - I don't even really understand what that concept means either. To me it makes no sense if honesty and integrity are so important when it comes to business. I have no capacity left to role play after basic functioning, and aside from that I just don't subscribe to what I think is a very outdated way of conducting oneself. I sort of just expect honesty rather than viewing it as a newfangled way of working and conducting oneself, as ground-breaking as that seems to be. 

I'm irregular in that I really believe that the only reason I've never been suicidal for very long is not just that I want to know what's coming next, but I don't want not to know. Sometimes I force myself to watch TV programmes I'm not enjoying just in case they get better and I miss it. Of course that doesn't explain why I tend towards staying home during all my free time with my comfortable routines, safe foods and soft feeling clothing (my hands are so dry that anything feels soft in comparison), wearing noise-cancelling headphones to shut out the sound of anything around me (it's only taken me 2 weeks to finish this post) and only venturing out to walk 5k around the same park or go to work, but my life is cyclical so it's probably going to change pretty soon, as least I hope so. I'm an irregular person.

For a while when I went back to work from maternity leave I tried to become a yummy mummy and wear the 'professional' uniform chosen for some reason to become the outward signifier of talent and commitment in offices across the globe, but it was so obviously false when I wore it. I felt like I was wearing another flesh suit over my body - I was playing the part of me. I want to work. I don't know why I want to work really, because work is also my nemesis - it becomes obsessive to the point when I realise I've only spent 6 hours of a week with my child when he's actually awake, because I feel I have to be seen to be at my desk to make sure I don't get overlooked for that promotion that may never come. I hate getting up in the morning in a fog of chronic pain and caffeine hangover from the day before. I have a set routine I must execute otherwise my whole day will be a write-off.

Some of the worst times of my life, and of my illness, were when I was unable to work; when all I had in my day was a trip to the local psychiatric unit to have 'slow release' medication injected into my gluteus maximus, before driving home with a dead leg to climb the walls for a couple of days until the effects wore off and the valium kicked in. Mouldy plates piled up in the sink whilst I stared out of the dirty windows at my view of a grey car park, and occasionally summoned the police to either tend to the elderly and belligerent alcoholic who'd fallen into the road again, or deal with the crackhead smashing up his own furniture and hurling it down the stairwell before assaulting his heavily pregnant girlfriend, all to the soundtrack of happy hardcore playing at top volume. If I was brave and awake long enough to venture out to top up the electricity meter, I might have a brief exchange with my neighbour who explained to me that every time he took out the rubbish, it seemed to need taking out again only a few days later. That's some high quality conversation right there. I had no shape, I had no reason for anything. Time was just sloping along with no form.

Working is my version of the armed forces I suppose - it gives me much needed structure and a reason not to wallow in my own filth and self-pity. Back in the days when I worked 13 hour shifts in a supermarket at 16, I was a great employee. I didn't need telling to be polite to each and every customer and not look bored even though at times I prayed for death as I sat behind the checkout, desperate for the loo and in constant fear that someone from my school would want serving some alcohol and I'd have to call over the supervisor. Time goes much more slowly when you're young, and 60 minutes split across 3 breaks isn't much. I didn't even have a phone to check, I just sat in the locker room on my own staring into my cup-a-soup and thinking of the £3.50 reward for every hour of joylessness. It wasn't until my mid-twenties when I began to realise that the structures of the working world just didn't seem to work for me - or I didn't work for them.

Before you even get to work we have the much overlooked (when it comes to including people with mental illnesses) job advert. There's this word that comes up in every job advert you'll find anywhere: 'experience', and I think it's safe to assume that they don't mean experience of the kind I'd been having. Everything people describe in an ad is geared towards the neurotypical. Those of us who've had periods of being unwell are penalised because we have to disclose our disability even before we've had a chance to prove we can do the job when we're asked why there's a 2 year gap in our CVs that wasn't filled with volunteering in Africa, or starting our own business.

Then there's the capability tests you do before you ever even meet anyone from the company you're applying to join. Here I am, with my 12 year old brain, and I've got to try and function like everyone else does - even though I'm heading tentatively down the side of a cognitive cliff face just as a nice complement to my immature emotional mechanisms. Navigating through a bizarre set of multiple choice questions, where I'm expected to demonstrate that I'm 'normal' isn't going to go well. And also, maths. 'Nuff said.

At work, this is where the Equality Act comes in - according to that, a long-term condition that affects my ability to function on a daily basis = a disability. Lots of people with mental health conditions object to that word, and I'll explore that in future posts (about 3 of which I've already started writing and then got stuck in the loop as I described the my last post), but for now let's just say that I welcome anything that underlines just how debilitating this disorder can be, and aims to prevent me from being punished for having it. The law says that because of my disability, employers have to make adjustments to enable me to work just as anyone else would. Right. Easy as that.

I'm aware that this next bit might invite some understandable criticism, but please take my word as someone who has worked in the field of disability advocacy for ten years that I'm fully aware of the issues people still face when getting society to do even the smallest thing to even accept disabled people and not bully them out, let alone support them. This is not about comparison of disabilities - it's about bringing mental health and disability together as a superpower of influence and making people understand that it's us now, but it could be them tomorrow. I'd like people with mental health conditions to ask for help instead of denying their health status because it's so stigmatising, and I'd like mental health activism to be part of disability activism. Intangible adjustments that would enable people like me to thrive instead of just survive can be just as vital for other disabilities so it's in everyone's best interests to get our act together. Of course I don't know what it's like to be blind, but it's just a fact that it's more straightforward to make adjustments involving physical stuff than it is to figure out how to adjust for someone's inability to concentrate for longer than 30 seconds. With the best will in the world, even if my employer asks me what I need (which is touted as best practise for obvious reasons), I don't have a clue. I don't know what would make things level - unless I ask for things that go against the very fabric of 'work' as we know it. 

I'll give you an example: 

Employers are busy knocking down walls, bringing people out of private offices and encouraging 'collaborative working', so how can I ask for a quiet space to work? I'm not important enough frankly. This is probably the biggest issue I have at work. I have a TV visible from the corner of my eye, who knows what it's there for because the sound's off so we're reliant on the dodgy auto-generated subtitles to get the news. The most hilarious mistakes seem to happen on the most serious news items, and laughing out loud (LOL) is frowned upon when the news is about tragedy and awfulness.

If you've ever wondered why your favourite brands are the ones that only bring out new products once in a blue moon, then look no further - I'll just tell you, right now. It's because the people working there HAVE TIME TO THINK OF THEM. Seriously - no bullshit. 
None. The old faithfuls churn out the same old claptrap of glorified, fanfared, built-up bollocks dressed up as 'cutting edge', but really only as dressed up as a sad-eyed chihuahua in the Playboy Mansion. The whole of the 'little guy' population in mainstream industry is just frantically scratching around for seconds and minutes of thinking time surrounded by the crumbs of an old vending machine and doing a half-arsed job of it all because we seem to be of the belief that we can do it aaaaaaall!.... *cough*.... but, we can't. 

My 'to-do' list is never done, and now I feel obligated to allocate time to every Tom, Dick and Harry that rocks up to my desk at 8.45am on a Monday morning with "some great news!". Well to them, I say HIGNFY! (non-UK readers - Google it) - and the news is that I may look like I'm saying yes, but actually, I'm not. And if you've managed to concentrate long enough to get to the end of this post then bravo. To those who, like me, have had to allow for several attempts, thank you. 'Work' needs you.