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.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

'Productivity'. The enemy of the mind.

About ten minutes ago, I had just finished listening to a Ted Talk about some guy who gave up the internet for a year. I didn't really pay attention for most of the talk, because I was a) balancing my laptop awkwardly over the arm of the chair because my Fitbit was charging in one of the usb holes and Apple obviously didn't think of the fact that many people's laps are actually crossed legs, and b) busy reading one rather graphic Facebook post about how someone's boyfriend didn't know his way around female anatomy. I did hear one word that resonated with me in the closing gambit of said Ted talk - and that word was 'productivity'. I paused for a second, and then I typed 'What's so great about being productive' into Google. 

This probably seems like a ridiculous question, but I hear the word everywhere I bloody go these days. 'Productivity tools' like the Eisenhower Box pepper my inbox from every direction, and this obsession with benchmarking and measuring and just fucking judging ourselves and everyone around us has built up as a knee jerk reaction to the 'jobs for the boys' club who never held anyone accountable or assigned worth based on output. But perhaps Thom Yorke was actually right all these years, and the 'fitter, happier, more productive' human was merely a construct sold to teenagers of the 90s to make us all work harder. It's all '6 effective ways to enhance workplace productivity', 'The 7 drivers of workplace productivity', '4 surprising truths about workplace productivity', and I'm expecting to come across '5 pointless mantras that merely serve as distraction from productivity', '3 little pigs and their house that productivity built' and '1 great idea - how's about we just get on with it?!' pretty soon.

We're so busy trying to not only BE productive, but to PROVE how productive we're being all the time, that we forget that there really is no substitute for doing something really good, really well, no matter how much you plan for it, how long it takes and how well you can describe what you did to make it. This is how art works, and why creative genii are so aloof, nay mysterious. Now, I'm in no way claiming any status akin to genius here, but if you asked me how I wrote any of my last three albums of music (I know, right? A whole three!) I would probably give you one of my stock made-up answers because as musicians one must have something to hand to trot out, otherwise our mystique ebbs away, a bit like that weirdo princess's world in Neverending Story (and yes I'm singing the theme tune right now). I found out during a job interview that if someone asks you how you did something fairly substantial and you say 'I don't know', it tends to count against you. But who cares how I did it? I was vibed out in my creative zone! I wasn't following a project plan and cutting myself off just before I finished a song because I'd overrun a deadline, or documenting each melody line before asking people what they thought before I carried on - I really couldn't give a fuck what anyone else thinks of the music I write, because I just write what comes out at the time - it's not something I have much control over. And that's exactly what productivity is all about: control. More specifically, it's control of the self, and if you've read many of my other posts you may have recognised a theme about self-control - I just don't have any.

Having no self-control doesn't have to be a bad thing though, and this is what I keep coming back to in the multitude of conversations I have with people I work with about this. When you're in that slightly meditative state that happens when you're writing your best stuff, you're completely focused in on what you're doing. You're not doing anything that distracts from that, so in that sense you're doing the opposite of multi-tasking, and recently people have begun to realise that doing loads of things at once, which was once hailed as the 'superfood' of human abilities, might in fact be a bit of a red herring (one that's been in the bin rotting and working up a stink for a while).

In the time it takes me to try and focus my mental chatter long enough to arrange my tasks into order of priority and then importance, I could've easily got some work done. In fact I do my best thinking when I'm just staring out of the window, musing on something at random and seeing where my mental drift takes me. I actually started another post that goes on to talk about this 'thinking time' as I call it so I won't go into great detail here, suffice it to say that hardly anyone is making time for this anymore and that's why we're a bit stifled and everyone wants to work somewhere like Google or Apple, where they've created an atmos of relaxation to promote alpha brain waves, and in turn induce creativity. I actually believe that one of the main reasons I inhabited my own imaginary world for so long into my teens was because ultimately I enjoyed the feeling of being in this state, but it also meant I could generate ideas from things that I orchestrated in my own mind. I'm pretty sure I also get what are known as 'intrusive alpha waves' - which happen during REM sleep - because I frequently have very long and very detailed dreams and sometimes even lucid dreams where I'm aware I'm in a dream but I'm in total control of myself for once.

In summary, self-control and productivity are both slightly bollocksy and should be applied with an awareness of this. 

I found this article, which totally sums up what I think about this - only in a much more succinct and shorter way (giving you that bit of time back to go and pretend to be... productive...?).

Saturday, 2 January 2016

My 'day in the life of a working mum'

I've read loads of them. 

I used to enjoy reading the ones in Stylist magazine of confident women who owned their own businesses and had hugely successful careers already glittering in the dust behind them, juggling multiple children with a Blackberry strapped into one perfectly-nailed hand and never so much as wearing a slightly grey and far less than crisp white shirt with a stain on the front to a meeting with an important client. I've never done any of that - I deliberately don't buy white clothes and I've never had my nails done - my nails are brittle as hell and slowly detaching themselves from the nail beds and I find long nails of any kind totally impractical and a bit creepy. I don't do ironing either, for me, or for anyone else in my family. I aspired to be like these women (in every way other than the nails, obviously) even before I had a child of my own. I just knew I never would be.

My day can begin at a range of times 

depending on several factors; if I'm working and going into the office, I set my phone alarm for 6am. My husband leaves the house to travel to Milton Keynes at 5am so he's not around for this bit of the day. Here's where people seem to score points for being martyrs about what time they get up - the earlier this is, the better parent you are. If I've remembered to put my alarm out of reach of the bed, I'll actually get up at 6am. If not, I'll probably accidentally turn it off and sleep in until my son Albie's shouting wakes me up sometime between 7 and 8.30am (day ruined, frankly). He's 2.7 and still sleeping in a travel cot so he can't escape and do himself any damage. He's very clever at everything apart from danger, and knowing about it, and it frightens me that he might just get up and break into the cleaning cupboard or join a gang or something, so he remains caged for now. If I do get up and he's already awake (I'll listen outside his door for snuffling sounds if he's not already yelling 'MUhmmmEE!') I'll stick him in front of the TV with his toys whilst I shower and get dressed, with a can of energy drink at my side (one of those ghastly huge ones that looks like a beer can when you're drinking out of it whilst pushing a buggy on a weekday morning) and a layer of guilt hanging over my head about a) him being occupied by the television, and b) the fact that I'm spending any of the time he's home with me on any semblance of a beauty regime for myself. 

In the shower, I'll also notice how disgusting that bit where the toiletry bottles sit has become and do some simultaneous cleaning (absolutely never with my husband's awful flannel which I hate), or think about how hard it'll be to sustain myself until 2pm without eating. 

I get dressed in clothes that are right on the cusp between being casual and 'smart casual'
which as far as I'm concerned, is not a thing and therefore I refuse to acknowledge it. I used to wear suits (I say suits, when what I really mean is a jacket, and a completely unrelated pair of trousers), but I realised I wasn't convincing anyone, so I had to stop. I bring my phone into the bathroom and watch BBC Breakfast whilst doing my hair and makeup. Despite how tired I usually feel, this is one of my most favourite parts of the day. That also makes me feel guilty (Guilty).

After this I'll tiptoe around tidying up Brio and dinosaur-shaped debris, put last night's plates and pots in the dishwasher and check Albie's nursery bag to make sure he has two spare sets of clothes and nappies because he's not quite ready to start potty training and I don't feel the urge to foist it upon him yet. We're trying to sell our flat, so I try to leave the place 'viewing-ready' as I call it and this is a total pain in the arse when you have a toddler. I deliberately turn the lights off in the living room before Albie wakes up to try and stop him seeing any of his toys if I need him to get up and get dressed and out the door straight away.

Putting on washing is not something that happens very often on a work day because inevitably I forget to take it out and then discover it again on the weekend, lying in a pool of stinky water. 

If my husband's off (he only works half the days in a year in a 5 on, 5 off, 4 on, 4 off format) he gets up and gets Albie ready for nursery so I don't then have to factor that extra time in. Somehow it still takes just as long either way. Note to self: must think more about this when I have time (i.e. never).

I aim to be leaving by 7am and this should be perfectly possible in theory, but it tends to be more like 7.30, latest 8 (disaster/Guilty). I walk at a fast pace and I track the journey with my Fitbit and try to beat my times each day because I've come to the conclusion that racewalking (this does exist, it has a hashtag and everything) is the only cardio exercise my body will tolerate without breaking for the 2km to nursery. I was once catapulted into the road over the top of the buggy (Guilty) when I was walking so fast the front wheel caught in a pothole as I pushed it off the kerb. White van men had to ask me if I was 'alright love?', and the woman who almost ran me over also stopped, thankfully. I wonder why I don't see more people experiencing this seeing considering every other child in the world has a Maclaren buggy with quite small wheels, as far as the giant unpruned forest of them at nursery would suggest.

I'll then walk the remaining 3km to work in Canary Wharf, via the foot tunnel, which really winds me up because people cycle at full pelt through there and I want to stick an umbrella in their spokes to teach them a lesson. I just tweet angrily about it instead and nobody cares. I listen to lectures from Stanford University for this leg of the journey because I hate 'dead time' when I could be learning something, but often I forget to pay attention and end up rewinding the same parts over and over again. This bit of the day is almost Guilt-free because I'm not only exercising, but also learning - or at least pretending to. Once I arrive at work - anywhere between 8.30 and 9.30am - I load up on more caffeine and try and capitalise on the post-exercise focus to get through emails. Once this is done, I try not to look at them again until the afternoon. Believe me, everyone would be hugely more productive if they did this. People often tell you to do this, but as soon as it's their own emails you're ignoring they almost always get shitty about it and feign ignorance.

I would say I'm lucky to have an employer who allows me the flexibility of turning up whenever I want, but frankly it shouldn't matter unless it would be detrimental to them in some way. 

I work harder because I have that autonomy and I'm thinking about work so much (Guilty) that I can go a bit bonkers, so I'm definitely not a slacker. The sooner we all get out of this mindset where value is determined by hours spent doing something, the better. More on that later.

I use noise-cancelling headphones (Parrot Zik 2.0 - highly recommended) to block out the open plan office irritants because I have several people with very annoying voices around me and I have a stand-up desk to stop my chronic pain building up. During the morning if I need a break from something I'm working on, I'll check my personal mails or facebook, load up Buffer with tweets for both of my accounts, or build some more of my new site for parents with eating disorders. If I didn't manage all of my work emails in the morning, I'll have another crack at about midday whilst munching on some roasted chickpeas and a Quest protein bar, which sees me through until 7pm ish. 

If my husband is finishing early or off work that day I'll probably stay at work until at least 6pm whilst he does nursery pick up, but if not I leave at 5pm and walk back across to collect Albie at 6pm. We might stop in at Waitrose on the way home to spend money on crappy Thomas magazines with the same shitty plastic trains on the front that we already have in droves at home buy anything we need, and then we normally get back at about 6.30pm. Bath time is only every other day, so the routine tends to be TV, whilst I battle him to get into pyjamas and clean his teeth (although I admit that I forget that bit quite a lot - I'm trying to do better) and snacks like live yoghurt and milled linseed (Lidl bought, so not at all posh), before bed at 7pm. We sing the CBeebies bedtime song even though he doesn't really like normal TV these days, and he gets a dummy (Guilty) and pretty much goes straight to sleep. I will say I'm lucky for that part, because it's true - and long may it continue, else my sanity will surely not. I normally miss bedtime if my husband's home which really upsets me. 

Such is the power of an eating disorder that I will deliberately avoid working from home because I'm afraid of the lack of structure - and more importantly the availability of 'unsafe' food in the house. 

Albie has all three meals at nursery so that really helps, although I do worry that we haven't established 'dinner time' as a family (or at all in my case), which means on weekends he just snacks all day. Anything food-related is problematic to me, but people don't like you talking about that because we're all meant to be sitting up to home-cooked meals at 5pm around a dinner table, even though no adult I know eats a meal at that time. 

On the weekends I sleep until I hear shouting and then my son comes into my bed and cuddles whilst watching something on the iPad (Guilty) and I half go back to sleep. Same for my husband if he's at home (he stays over at work quite often to avoid the 5am start and lack of trains at that time on weekends). I might shower if I can be bothered, or if not we go straight into the living room to watch more TV (Guilty) and I give my son weetabix and cheerios for breakfast. I'll sit down and try and work for a bit, or at least as long as I can before I completely lose concentration and Albie gets bored of playing with trains. We don't usually have set plans on the weekend, but we tend to go for a walk mid-morning in Greenwich Park for a couple of hours and if a nap doesn't happen we watch a film and generally mess about for the rest of the day, with the odd supermarket trip in the car thrown in. I could pretend we go swimming or to soft play but we don't (Guilty)- getting to the park is often about as much as we manage and just getting dressed in order to do that can take several hours. Albie's much more verbal than his peers so we avoid some of the drama caused when children can't say how they're feeling, but sometimes he'll just not want to get dressed to go out to the playground, and also not understand why showing up in just a nappy wouldn't be a good idea. After a few times round the argument, I'll just think 'fuck it' and settle in for the day. 

Albie and I enjoy fake-dancing and saying silly words, or out-shouting each other in silly voices, which is not an activity my husband particularly enjoys us doing. I've always done it, it's sort of a steam valve for when my brain goes offline for a bit. It's also a bit of bonding. Ideally I'd choose to do this bonding over playing the piano or something, but if I pick up any of my musical instruments or start singing I get told to 'shut up mummy'. 

I enjoy the unstructuredness of the weekends, but I can only do this for a couple of days before my head begins to melt. Luckily, that's all a weekend is.

I might eat microwave popcorn or some veggie concoction I have to make myself with weighed out veggies at about 9pm and watch something on the Amazon Fire TV box, maybe a US series or one of the original Amazon pilots, whilst working on my laptop. I don't know why I do this, because I know I cannot multi-task between writing and the TV. I'll go to bed at anywhere between 9.30 and 11pm. My husband usually goes to bed much earlier when he's working, so the whole day is sort of run on sometimes overlapping but largely unmatched schedules. The only time we watch something together is when he's off work on the weekend, when we can actually have our evenings running on the same timings. 

We don't have any family nearby so all of this stuff has to happen between just the two of us; there's nobody to pick up any slack. If one of us is ill, the other has to keep all the balls in the air solo. My friends would say I often bang on about this and they're right - it's really effing hard work to keep going and going without a break. 

I'm only ever off work when Albie's not at nursery, so I have to get all the projects I'm working on, or anything that's just for me outside of work sorted in the evenings, when I really just want to lie horizontal in a dark room (as my mum would say). 

I reach breaking point usually just before a scheduled period of time off, but before I know it I'm locked back into that battle with all of the food I hadn't planned would be there and keen to get back into some forced structure. If I know there's something lurking in the house that I don't allow myself to have, even if it belongs to someone else I have to eat it, just to make it not be there anymore. Otherwise I can't concentrate on anything else. I don't want to be chained to the food in my cupboards, so when I ask my husband not to bring home things like chocolate or sweets it's not me using reverse psychology at all - I really mean it. Christmas is hell for me for that reason, and I still can't actually get these words out to my extended family or friends because I'm embarrassed, and because I know they'll just laugh and think 'Oh, she means DO buy loads of sweet stuff and food she likes!'. 

If I said I had type 1 diabetes people would get it, but this is mental illness, so nobody believes it's a real request. Mental illness is still a joke. 

When we move all of this will go up in smoke I'm sure, and we'll do it all differently. Or maybe we won't - maybe we just like it this way. As I write, Albie's eating sugar-free muesli and dried fruit with fig and honey yoghurt and he just turned around to me and said 'Hmmm, sweet crumble'. Well yes my love, yes it is.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Brain/Brian Molko

I find one of the worst parts of my mental illness is a combined effect of three things that together are most likely to be the reason that I often have a sudden flash of genius... and then in the time it takes me to try and unlock my iPhone and decide whether to try and type it in whilst walking with my awful finger control, or do a voice recording that actually works, the inspiration has gone. It used to be the time it took to find paper and a pen, but I'd likely just put that down and forget about it just as quickly. I regularly find such bits of paper I've held on to for years, but the point I was trying to make has been lost in the passage of time. 

Just like with British weather, where unless you carry around an umbrella, waders and a sun visor in a rucksack that if you sat down when worn would prevent you from getting up without assistance whilst on your holiday to Devon 'just in case', you're unlikely to be prepared for it. 

20 years of medication is an achievement, isn't it? Shouldn't I be dead by now, or at least eating through a tube, surrounded by loved ones all preparing for the inevitable? Both the prescription kind and the kind that gives you 'wet brain' are usually only tested on rodents, who barely live long enough to fart, let alone long enough for the long-term effects of most of the drugs we now have to hand to be felt. The revolving door of uppers and downers. 
Drugs that make you calm, remove pain, stop your heart beating too fast, help you sleep. I drink a 500ml can of energy drink first thing every morning so I can wake up enough to function. I've given up alcohol because I kept waking up in my chair with the TV blaring at 2am with a crick in my neck. I only had 3 glasses of Prosecco in the whole day of my wedding - unprecedented for me - I've been a drinker since I was a teenager because it allowed me to actually feel something, which felt good even when it felt bad. All of these substances are making physical changes to the brain, in ways we don't yet understand, and there's just no way of knowing how these changes will end up, This is thing number one. 

Thing number two is simply the day to day of your brain having to fill in the gaps left by the bit that should regulate emotions using other, already over-taxed parts of the brain. This whole thing of operating 'normally', in a way others expect you to, gets harder and harder the older you get and I'm beginning to wonder if that's why people appear to get more eccentric over the years - they just find it less easy to reconfigure.

I'm famous for having the same conversation - and I mean word for word - twice in the same evening and even with the same person (my husband usually - I don't get out much these days), but having no recollection of the first time whatsoever. Because when your wiring's a bit off and you're also exhausted and not giving your brain enough calories to run, your short-term memory just grinds to a halt apparently, to run other more vital processes, like... oh, I don't know, breathing? I'm effectively a hard drive at capacity but without a time machine to roll back to the last working system so I keep metaphorically crashing. 

If I want to commit something to memory now, I have to walk around whispering it to myself at least 20 times so it knocks one of the older and largely useless bits of information learned in early life off the bottom into the recycling bin. Try explaining all of that to your boss when you've started making mistakes doing the simplest of tasks, things I had down as autopilot and this is the first time in my life that I feel I've hit the ceiling. If I'm going to progress any further in life, I'm going to need to do something dramatic. 

By the end of every day I have a thousand thoughts and new ideas buzzing about very loudly in my mind, and no time to think any of them through to conclusion. It can take me days to write one of these posts simply because I'll write something that starts me off imagining whatever it is I'm writing about, and then a whole story kicks off until I find myself imagining some situation of another where I need some bit of key information - so I dutifully go off opening new tabs to Google it, and begin this whole big loop that hopefully will lead back around to being reminded of the blog post again in about 15 minutes. 20 new tabs, a couple of Amazon purchases, 3 Wikipedia entries and a new Tumblr account later, I may have lost my train of thought somewhat. 

This is all ok, as long as you don't have a deadline the next day. And more importantly, as long as you NEVER TELL ANYONE. If you happen to mention let's say, to your boss, that you're as likely to stay on task as you are bareback on a horse, they perceive you to be incompetent. This was big news to me. I was genuinely surprised when I was told this because until now I'd ticked along quite happily both having these experiences and still getting everything done on time - although they always came out best when there was absolutely no planning involved and when executed in the absolute last possible second. This was how I passed my GCSEs with no revision. I could just pull it off somehow. I never thought there'd be a time when this no longer worked. I trusted my intellect to carry me through, but I was wrong. 

When I watch my 2.5 year old going about his day, it's a bit like watching my own thought processes happening as a live show - he doesn't need to keep them hidden because people expect children to be crazy. Anything that pops into his head comes straight out of his mouth, with accompanying actions and random dancing thrown in for effect. He'll suddenly grab my face and forcefully kiss me until it hurts, or throw whatever's in his hand across the room, or throw himself off the furniture whilst visibly gritting his teeth and growling. As I write I'm watching him eating cereal and doing what looks like lunges across the room. He's definitely my boy. 

Finally on to the third prong. BPD has been described to me as a condition with a genetic basis in the brain's make up, plus early experiences that combine so that whilst your IQ develops as normal (and sometimes more than normal, although I'm not claiming this applies to me even for a second), your emotional intelligence is stunted and you get sort of stuck around the time those experiences happen. I'd estimate that I'm between 9 and 12, and I spend a lot of time reminiscing about this time and trying to recreate things in my environment that remind me of then - which at the time I swore blind I'd never do. Even though it was an emotionally painful time, it feels increasingly more comfortable with age. 

Maybe the 90s is fashionable now, but it'll move on to another decade soon enough and I'll still be wearing Cobain cardigans and listening to Brian Molko's plaintiff serenades, re-feeling everything I felt about life and the world when I first heard it. I remember what pyjamas I got for Christmas in 1993 with the rabbits printed on them and pink (I hate pink) trim, and the CD walkman I got in 1998 with a Marilyn Manson's 'Mechanical Animals' CD. I spent the whole day blocking out my family with it, plugging the music directly into my brain and shutting out the background sounds. This is how I experience it - when I listen to something through headphones it sounds like it's coming from inside my head. Brian's words were my thoughts. The music becomes not music - instead it becomes silence. This one is probably especially hard to relate to; it sort of takes over the job of the aforementioned deactivated bit of brain that should be feeling so I no longer 'hear' the music, it's become a cognitive process. 

After I do this I can't stand having to come back into the world where there's just so much distraction and noise coming from everything. If anyone reading this has access to an MRI machine I will gladly offer myself up to know what is actually happening with my biology when this happens - it could be the key to so many unanswered questions.

I still use music to block out feelings that get out of control and often it really helps. I have to continually come up with ways to control my emotions because my brain doesn't have the wherewithal to do it for me, and these things can become obsessions themselves. Every time I get a new one I believe it's the answer I've been looking for, and then it stops working and I have to move on. Often they have rigid routines attached to them. Some of the ones I can think of right now are going to the gym (always the same calories burned on the same machines in the same order), making soup, dehydrating fruit, ASMR, buying stuff... and yes I know many people have similar coping mechanisms. The difference is that I cycle through them in a way I don't see others doing. And I can just change without warning - I'll suddenly feel like doing something else having been seemingly controlled by the previous activity to the point of shutting out anything else. For months I had a strict cooking routine which stopped me taking part in any kind of social activity in the evenings. Then one day I just didn't have any dinner.

There have been times when my emotions have become so huge and scary that I've shut down completely, but it's not a conscious choice. My brain simply can't carry on trying regulate something so all-consuming so it shuts down the parts responsible for feeling and I'm left not feeling anything. That includes joy, or pleasure of any kind. I can't even feel love when this happens. Anger is the only thing that gets through and nobody seems to know why that is. I react with anger every time I perceive an injustice, or something unfair, and it doesn't even need to be happening to me to trigger it. I can get angry on behalf of complete strangers. This state of emotional shutdown can last for years at a time. Sometimes therapy is required to relearn how to feel. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it. 

It's not easy to keep all of this in check; It actually hurts a bit sometimes - the kind of pain you get when you have restless legs and you're trying not to move them. I enjoy the anger because being numb is horrible. Funny, considering that being numb to pain is usually so desirable. Anaesthetic is nice and people seem to want it mostly. 

The result of this trident of a disorder? Feeling is painful. Not feeling is horrible. Not being able to remember what you were not feeling? Well that's worst of all.