Sunday, 29 May 2016

Damp Patch

Today I want to talk about something that I don’t think gets talked about enough: vaginal discharge.

I can remember the very first time I found out about it. I was about ten or eleven and I woke up one morning with soaking wet pyjama shorts. I was so embarrassed and I thought I’d wet myself so I wrote a note to my mum (I used to do this all the time as I was too ashamed to say things out loud) and told her that I thought I’d wet myself yet it didn’t smell or look like urine; it was almost like I’d spilt a whole bottle of water in my lap.

My mum was really great and told me all about vaginal discharge and so I felt a lot more confident that what had happened was normal and completely fine. I sort of just didn’t really think about it anymore for a while; I used pantliners to stop my underwear getting damp (it’s a personal choice as I know some women don’t like using them but I find they help me to feel fresh and comfortable throughout the day) until one day in the playground I started to feel like I should be ashamed of it. A group of friends were sitting cross legged on the grass, some of the girls were wearing skirts, and one of the boys pointed out that one of the girls had a wet patch on her knickers. The rest of the boys made comments about how gross it was etc and suddenly there was yet another thing I needed to be ashamed of.

And I don’t think any woman should be ashamed of it. It’s normal, it’s natural, it’s healthy. Obviously it must be mentioned here that any abnormal discharge or smelly discharge could be down to an infection so it’s always worth getting things checked out if you’re not sure it’s normal. But vaginal discharge can vary in colour depending on your time in the month; it can vary in thickness, in quantity and also in appearance.  Some women just naturally have more than others and it can also vary if, for example, you’re on a contraceptive pill.

I’ve had friends in the past who were ashamed to buy a packet of pantliners in the supermarket or feel the need to hide their sanitary products out of sight. COME ON GIRLS, don’t feel ashamed.

I used to be so shy, especially around boyfriends about my vagina being fucking awesome and cleaning itself. (YAY FOR AWESOME VAGINAS) I would never let them see my underwear if I had a pantliner on and I would try and hide them in my toiletry bag. Now, however my boyfriend is pretty much immune to everything that happens down there! I had a box of pantliners on his chest of drawers when I stayed there often, I would stick them on my knickers in front of him and to be honest, it doesn’t really seem to bother him anymore. And I think he rocks for not caring.

Too often women are made to feel embarrassed or ashamed about normal and natural bodily functions. We’re told talking about periods is gross or that anything coming out of our vagina that isn’t related to how turned on we are is horrid. But I’m proud of my body and proud of my self-cleaning vagina. And so should you!! 

Have you ever been made to feel like you should be ashamed of vaginal discharge? Have you ever had an unfortunate incident....? 

I once went to the beach wearing a pantliner and did all the frolicking in the sea and had a whale of a time. I didn't wear a swimsuit or bikini as I hated my body but I still went in the sea with some fast drying clothes on! I must have been about 14 at the time. 
I was walking back home with a male friend from the beach when I felt something fall out of the bottom of my trousers. When I turned around to look MY GODDAMN PANTLINER WAS IN THE ROAD. Clearly the sea water affected the stickiness of the pantliner and it was no longer stuck to my underwear!! 
I was so embarrassed so just styled it out and pretended nothing had fallen out of my trouser leg...and I walked away and left it there. OH THE SHAME...
I learnt my lesson...never wear them when you're going in water!!! 

Now I've shared my embarrassing story, it's only fair you share yours!! 


Friday, 27 May 2016

Connection Through Snail Mail

Connection Through Snail MailI'm a strong believer in the importance of connection; of working on and nurturing the relationships we have. Nothing beats a face-to-face conversation; sitting down over a cuppa, catching up, and physically being there to offer a hug or a supportive squeeze of the hand. Actually being there, in person, with the people you love and who love you.

But let's face it, that's not always possible. We're busy people with busy lives, and some people might not live a bus ride away. There may be those friends from school we haven't seen since going to uni. Those friends from uni we haven't seen since moving after graduating. Friends from previous jobs we don't get to see so much of now we're working elsewhere. Seeing these people face-to-face can require not only time, but also money, and as someone who has been having some financial difficulties lately, I know it's just not always possible.

And so we rely on what we do have. We live in a fast paced, digital world where a message - whether through email, social media, or various messaging apps - can be sent within seconds. It doesn't require much thought, time or effort to send a message these days, and in my opinion, it leaves a lot to be desired. You're talking, but there's no real connection there. Maybe if you're using FaceTime of Skype. But what if you're not able to?

Laura wrote a few weeks back on her experience of not having access to the internet. What do you do then? Well, you could always make a phone call! It's not perfect, but at least you can make a connection when you're able to hear each other and discern tone and emotion. But it still relies on technology. What if you're mobile breaks, or you run out of minutes, or it gets stolen, or...? And you're one of those people who no longer has a landline, or work is being done on the telephone lines, so you can't use it anyway? No internet and no phone. How do you communicate then?

There is a way. It's relatively inexpensive, but kind of old school, so most people don't think of it anymore. Snail mail.

I'm passionate about snail mail. There's a lot to be said for handwriting someone a letter. Real connection can be made through intentionally taking the time out of your day - making time for this person - and showing them you're thinking of them by sending them a note the old fashioned way. It requires effort, it requires time, and I'm telling you, there's something magical in receiving a letter from someone knowing they set aside some time for you, that they put in the effort to write a letter, go and buy a stamp, and popping it in the postbox for you. Snail mail isn't just a way of nurting your relationships and fanning the flames of connection with the person you care about, snail mail is also a gift.

And you can also give this gift of time and effort in physical form to someone you hardly know. I also think there's something special about becoming penpals and getting to know someone through letters; building a friendship through the written word. There's an excitement to waiting for a reply, and devouring the words of this new friend with relish. And writing back - telling them more about you, answering their questions, catching them up on your life - is it's own kind of exquisite, knowing the person your letter is going to is interested, genuinely cares about what you have to say, and wants to read your words. There really is something uniquely magical about seeing and being seeing, creating that connection, through letters. It's wonderful, and it's also really beautiful.

So how about it? One day of the week, you set aside half an hour, an hour, two hours - depending on what you want to say - and handwriting a letter to someone you love. Maybe a relative - a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a cousin? - or an old friend - someone from school, or uni, or a previous job? Need some ideas on what to write? Alexandra Franzen has a free workbook One Letter Today (scroll down just a little), with ideas on who to write to, and templates on what to say. Or perhaps you'd like to receive a letter? You might be in luck, as I'm open to letter requests from whoever wants one.

Breath life to connection one sheet of paper at a time.

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Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Coping Methods for Deadlines - My week in gifs

This week I'm afraid I'm rather lacking in nuggets of wisdom - stop laughing - my brain is locked into a battle with my final essay deadline (Thursday HOLY SHIT) so as I'm writing this I'm actively procrastinating it further which does wonderful things for my stress levels. Due to the mushy state of my noggin I thought I'd talk you through some of my less-than recommended methods for dealing with deadline stress - in gif form! I'd like to say that I haven't done all of these things but I'm an awful specimen of humanity with self-control issues.

Ways to deal with Deadline Stress
1. Sleep far, far, more than is healthy
Deadlines can't bother you if you're unconscious! Sleeping in until 10am for five days straight however will start to have a detrimental effect on your sanity. Setting four alarms does absolutely nothing, you can switch them off on autopilot and fall straight back to sleep. But still it beats working on your essay.

2. Develop incredibly poor eating habits.
When left to my own devices I will swing wildly between forgetting to eat anything for 12hrs and going to great lengths to acquire enough food to feed four...then eat it all myself. In the past week I have munched through a shameful quantity of tortilla chips & salsa in lieu of real meals. Also avocado toast becomes the pinnacle of my existence.

3. Have stupidly long showers
Or baths if you happen to have one. When my brain doesn't want to engage with anything, going and spending half an hour in the shower is a wonderful way to dissociate entirely from reality. More recently I've been using the time to sneak in more time singing along to Hamilton so I hope that my neighbour hasn't overheard me too often.

4. Binge Youtube Videos
Whatever your niche there's gonna be some channel that you suddenly find a reason to start mainlining like it's going out of style. I went for trying to catch up with Casey Niestat's channel since everyone & their mother has been raving about his daily vlogs. They're right you know, they're incredible.

5. Read all the books
I don't know if other people do this but when I am meant to be focusing on writing a literature essay discussing set books, suddenly the only thing I want to do is read ANY OTHER BOOK. This month I have tore through an embarrassing quantity of books when I should have been prepping & planning this essay. Why even after I've finished this post I plan to read another book, FIGHT ME!

6. Write a novel
Not a whole one obviously. But I have definitely spent more time than is seemly in the last week thinking about my novel WIP and in the last two days I've scribbled about 1500 words for a chapter in the mornings when I *really* should have been working on my essay. After Thursday I will be free to work on it as much as I want *sighs wistfully*

7. Cry
While I haven't reached this stage of deadline stress quite yet I'm not ruling it out. Check back with me around 9pm and I might be a sodden mess. I might have started to scrawl on the walls with wax crayons. God knows what state I'll be in.

I really wish that this post was a joke, but you should know that it is painfully true. Don't follow my example. For heaven's sake.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Big D

After talking last time about my anxieties, this week I wanted to talk you through my recent journey through Depression.

First of all, I wanted to say that Depression is sneaky. It's one of the worst things about the illness because you may not realise you are depressed, or be more depressed than you first understood.

This is essentially what happened to me, twice.

As a bit of context, I've suffered with Depression on and off since I was a teenager. I don't really know when it started, I just know it was there. And it could stay for months before finally leaving me and letting me get on with my life again.

So I thought I was
  1. Able to know when it was about to strike
  2. Capable of dealing with it when it did.
Turns out, I was not.

Depression snuck up on me in a way I wasn't even aware it was possible it could do.

But I thought I was aware. And that is the biggest problem. It started with an inability to read, and then a lack of motivation to blog. So I took a step back, did what I had to, to let my brain work through it. The way I always did. A bit of self-care. A bit of looking after myself and making myself finally feel better.

And so I got my reading and motivation back and I was certain that I was fine again. Back to my normal.

I was wrong.

This was my Depression lying and hiding from me.

On New Years, I suddenly worked out that I had not cried for months. Many things had happened in those months when I should have cried. When my emotions should have come tearing out of me but I realised that instead I had just brushed everything off. I thought I was being strong about everything. I wasn't. I then realised that as well as not being upset about things, my happiness never stayed for very long either. After I felt happy, I felt numb. The joy of happiness wasn't sticking behind to make my life feel better.

So I realised I was Depressed. And I decided that I would work on getting better. And I did. And I felt better. I felt happy and sad at times. I was on the road to recovery, I was sure of it.

And then I started Citalopram.

And now I know that I was still Depressed. It was still lying and hiding from me. I was feeling emotions but I wasn't feeling emotions. They weren't coming from deep inside of me, they were just there to hide what was actually going on in my brain.

I've now been on the antidepressants for over two months, I am finally aware that I am now getting better. I am now officially on the road to recovery.

I know this because;
  1. People have told me I look and am acting better
  2. I am getting on top of my workload and to-do lists
  3. I feel happy, sad, angry, annoyed, irritated, excited, passionate, etc. And understanding that I haven't felt this range of emotions for a very long time.
  4. I am just aware that I feel different; that everything is different.
Depression is not nice. It sucks you in an makes you feel nothing. You feel numb and empty. And people who have never experienced it may never understand what that feels like. It is also more dangerous than people realise because it can hide even from the person who has it. And if it hides long enough, it becomes harder to deal with. 

So I just wanted to post my journey to show you that Depression isn't just feeling sad. That people with Depression can be happy, but it's just a different kind of happy, a happiness that you may not really be able to tell is different until the Depression goes away.

For me, the light has returned to my eyes. I am a stronger person again. I am a happier person again. And I am so very glad for this.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

A Little Mentally Ill

It takes a lot for me to ask for help. Exactly three years ago, when I had completed my fifth week of working for a mental health charity, having hidden how much I was struggling with my own health, I was admitted to hospital for what would become a ten-week stay. I was 25, with no work history and no relationships to speak of, but I had a recently acquired degree, so I was so determined to do what I felt was expected of me as an adult. To do so, I suppressed my own needs, masking desperation with eagerness. I wanted other people to see that I was a productive human being. I did so at the cost of my mental health.

In the three years that have followed my hospital stay, I have had other, shorter admissions, crisis interventions, two years of therapy and at least fortnightly appointments with my community mental health team. I’m 28. Definitely an adult, but still feeling like a failure.

When I heard my care coordinator was leaving, the me who still has such a desire to appear well and capable decided that I could try to manage without support. After all this time, surely I should be able to manage living? With our last appointment being tomorrow, I was ready to try and support myself. Within days of making this decision, it became evident that it wouldn’t be a good idea. In fact, it would be dangerous. On a daily basis, I still struggle with keeping myself alive. I struggle not to harm myself. I struggle not to curl up into a ball and give up on life. “But you should be able to do this by now.”

In trying to look like what I think an adult should be, I push aside my mental health diagnoses. If I’m not able to work, if I can count my friends on no hands and if I’m reliant on regular support to keep myself alive, I can’t see myself as a worthwhile individual. I tell myself that my poor mental health needs must be hidden if I’m to do anything with my life. But this is where it went wrong before.

This week, I asked for help. I phoned my care coordinator ahead of our final appointment and told her that I need to have regular support in place for the foreseeable future. She told me that my psychiatrist had said he was “concerned” about me being without support. I can’t manage my day-to-day life without the guidance of mental health professionals. I’m not working. I have no salary. It feels like failure.

For the last eleven years, my life has been filled with the ups and downs of mental illness. It has seen suicide attempts, repeated self-harm, disordered eating and desperate sadness. At times, it has been unbearable. I feel so indescribably sad that I’m not able to do what I would like to do. But my decision over these last few days has been to accept who I am right now. I am a person with mental health issues. I don’t want to be defined by them. but they contribute to who I am and what I can do. To accept myself is to accept the state of my mental health.

It isn’t a sign of weakness to ask for help. Though my voice shook as I said I needed support, I felt empowered. It is strength to say that I can’t do this on my own. It’s strength to take who I am right now and still make it through a day. It’s strength to craft a story for my life that includes the challenges that mental illness brings. We are strong.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Guest Post: Bullying in the Workplace by Anonymous

For a few weeks now, ever since the Safe Space team asked me to guest post on their wonderful site, I have been sitting here looking at a blank word document over and over again wondering where to start. I knew what I wanted to write about, but something inside me was holding me back and making me feel physically scared to write words onto the page.

You see, what I really want to talk about is bullying in the workplace. Whereas in reality I am too scared to open up the wounds that I have worked so hard on to heal over time.

This in itself makes me sad. No one should feel scared to write about what they want to write about because of a bully or even have to write a post anonymously. Ever. But sadly this is what has happened.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start so I’m starting with a definition.

What is a bully?

Mr Google tells me that a bully is a noun - a person who uses strength or influence to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. Or a verb - using superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something. I define a bully as controlling, a coward and possibly quite insecure about themselves. But one thing I don’t believe can ever be defined is how a bully can make you feel inside.

Like school playground bullying, bullying in the work place can take on many different forms, but is classified as any intentional, repeated behaviour from a colleague, supervisor or manager often with the sole purpose of degrading, humiliating, undermining or embarrassing a work colleague. It is heart-breaking to go through and just as emotional watching someone going through the pain it causes.

When we leave school and venture into the adult way of life and work the last thing anyone should worry about is bullying. I always thought that all of that immaturity was left behind at school and people grow up and grow out of bullying I guess, but unfortunately some people seem to actually enjoy tormenting and causing others pain.

Let’s face it. We are never going to like or get along with every single person we meet through our long and winding road of life. That’s life I guess. That’s why I feel it’s important that if you feel that you are being bullied in the workplace or anywhere it’s always important to recognise the signs and understand the difference. Some signs I have experienced or witnessed myself with regards to work place bullying are:

• Shouting or swearing at another member of staff in front of others
• Disrespectful comments and behaviour including name-calling
• Nit-picking at someone’s work or overloading them with an unmanageable amount of work
• Purposefully withholding information needed to perform a job efficiently
• Exclusion or “the silent treatment” making some one feel unwelcome.

Any of these can lead to you bringing your work home with you. By this I mean maybe coming home physically upset or worried. Feeling ill from stress and/or not being able to sleep due to the worry you have about returning to work the next day. You may even blame yourself for the things that are happening or going on which in my experience brings on a whole other feeling of worthlessness and self-loathing that can be completely damaging to a person’s self-confidence and mental health.

In my experience, bullies rely on these feelings whether it be in the school playground or the workplace, but I do feel that workplace bullies have a slightly different agenda to that of the school playground bully.

The workplace bully does not tend to pick on a victim who they identify as alone or weak, but normally an employee who they consider threatening to themselves within that workplace environment and even their career. I have learnt over the years to take this as a kind of compliment. You are good enough at your job and brilliant enough for someone to actually feel threatened by you. Go you! You’re awesome! But that doesn’t make things right and it certainly does not make things better when you are the one being bullied.

When we have a job, we spend possibly eight hours a day if not more in that working environment and with our work colleagues so it is so important to be happy. Working in an environment where you do not want to be day in and day out is not good for you or your mental health.

It is so important that if you are suffering at the hands of a work place bully or any type of bully for that matter that you take steps to take action.

This can include –
• Telling the bully to stop in a calm and collected manner (which is sometimes way easier said than done)
• Talk to your line manager or if that is not possible another manager or HR manager. Even talking to a friend who you trust may put things straight in your mind and help you deal with the problem.
• Keep a record of bullying incidents including dates, times and what happened. A diary of sorts. You could also write down how that incident made you feel etc. This may actually help you take that step to talking to a manager as you can show them exactly what’s happening rather than worrying that they will dismiss your feelings as over reacting or not relevant.
• If you have someone you trust who you work with you could talk to them and ask them to listen out for incidents or anything that they feel is inappropriate or bullying behaviour and can be a support to you when it’s time to seek help about the matter.

It is important to note that workplace bullying does not happen within every workplace. Often companies have a strict no bullying policy just like schools and look out for their employee’s welfare as much as possible. Unfortunately, sometimes those bullies do just creep in through.

Bullying in the workplace can be a very upsetting and stressful situation and it is always advisable to try and stay as calm as possible. I admit myself that sometimes it is hard to have something constantly fired at you and let it just slide right off without a care in the world, but I have learnt that if that’s what it takes to beat a bully then so be it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right.

It is not only important to tackle the problem, but also to look after number one which is you. It is not always easy to do this until the situation is maybe under control, but take some time to go for a walk in the fresh air after work, lose yourself in a fictional world and read, listen to music, cuddle loved ones and friends so tightly that you feel all your worry and stress lift from your body and float away or even write a blog post like this that you find therapeutic as you type away. If you feel it necessary, talk to your doctor or start looking for another job. A new challenge. A new start.

You do you. Be you. Enjoy being you. Never let a bully make you feel worthless or like you don’t belong. Always remember a bully is nobody compared to how awesome you are inside and out!

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Counting The Calories

According to the BMI calculator on the NHS website I’m obese. 


I know I’m not healthy and I know I’m overweight but I’ve never ever been able to do anything about it. I’ve never had enough will power or self-control to try and improve my health. I’m the kind of person who says on a Monday morning ‘I’m going to start eating healthily’ and by Tuesday morning I’m back to my old ways because I haven’t lost three stone and got thin in the space of 24 hours!

Over the past few years I’ve become more and more aware of my own mortality and am realising that if I don’t start looking after my  body and health now then I’m gonna be in trouble later on in life. I don’t want to end up with diabetes or high blood pressure and I don’t want to put myself more at risk of cancer and heart disease and all the other nasty things that could happen to me if I don’t look after myself now.

So I’ve started to follow the NHS Choices lose weight plan. It encourages you to eat only the amount of calories you actually need in a day and to make sure you stay active. Simple. And the best way to get healthy.

I don’t believe in all these fad diets or replacing meals with shakes or supplements. The best way to stay healthy is to eat in moderation and to stay active. It’s as simple as that. I’m not going to start banning myself from eating the things I like because then I will end up seriously grumpy and will give up much more easily, it’s just about eating things in moderation.

So instead of having a whole bar of chocolate, have one square. Instead of having a whole cake, have half. Instead of ordering a large takeaway pizza, order a small.

Part of the NHS plan is also to make sure you hit your five a day fruit and veg target which is harder than it sounds! I’ve never really paid much attention to how many portions I eat a day but now I am consciously measuring it, I realise that I don’t eat enough!

Same goes for the calorie counting…

Now that I’m counting the calories in everything I eat, I realise how much I was over-eating before. I would keep eating and eating and normally it wasn’t even because I was hungry. In fact, my body hardly needs anything to keep me going. According to the BMI calculator, due to my weight I need to be eating 1,600 calories a day and I am SHOCKED at how fast I can use those calories up. I dread to think how many calories I would have been eating before.

I’m also making sure I drink at least 1.2 litres of water a day to keep myself hydrated and thankfully water is calorie free so I can have as much of that as I want!!

I’m actually quite excited to be following this plan and I LOVE how the NHS provide you with check sheets for you to measure your progress each week. The whole plan is for twelve weeks and I am hoping to stick to it for that long. I find that I can follow things a lot easier if there are rigid plans and a structure to something. Before when I’ve tried to eat healthily I’ve found that I just don’t have the ability to keep track very well!

This isn’t something I’m doing as I want to be skinny (that would be nice!) but something I’m doing because I want to be healthy and happier and full of energy, rather than sluggish because I’ve eaten too much.  I want to give myself the best possible chance of living a long and healthy life and I know that I’m never going to be stick thin (it’s not in my genes!) and I don’t mind about being slightly large. I just want to be healthy and give myself the best chance of living a long life!

If you fancy giving it a go too then there’s all the information here. Good luck! I shall keep you all updated on how it’s going.


Friday, 13 May 2016

Growing Up With Small Boobs

Woman in a braIt was during the last World Cup. I was down my local pub, watching an England match. A shot of the fans came up on the screen, focusing on a woman. When she realised she was on TV, she raised her arms and cheered on her team. Someone in the pub shouted, "You must be great at giving head, because no-one is going to want you with a rack like that!" Then I noticed that the woman had small boobs, and I was filled with anger and disgust, but not shock. This is the way of the world. Men don't like women with small boobs; women like me.

This is something I have grown up believing to be true. On TV, in movies, at school, at uni, down the pub, even walking in the street, I have heard men talk about women with big boobs, like Jess has discussed previously. Before feminism came into my life, I didn't like what I heard, but that kind of sexism was just something that happened. I was resigned to the fact that this is how men talk about women, and they only talk that way about women with big boobs. This led to two things; 1) Me hoping I never end up with big boobs (bigger maybe, but not big) because I never wanted anyone to talk to/about me like that, and 2) The idea I wasn't attractive because I didn't have big boobs.

This wasn't just because of the way I heard men talk, but also because of how I was treated - or rather, not treated. I have small boobs, and this means I am mostly invisible. On the odd occasion, mostly during Summer, I will notice the odd random guy checking me out, but normally, nothing. Being ogled, for the most part, is something I've not had to worry about, because I'm not noticed. This could be down to one or a combination of three things; I'm ginger, and there are those who find redheads unattractive, I have a very young face and look a lot younger than I am, and I have small boobs - which might contribute to others' impressions that I'm still a teenager. But while I was a teenager, I was sure it was because of my boobs. Someone I know even said to me once, while drunk, "You're going to have to accept than no bloke is going to fancy you because you have small boobs." When I brought it up since, he doesn't remember saying it, apologised profusely, and swore it's not what he actually believes. But at the time, it was really hurtful. But not anything I hadn't already  deduced for myself.

For a really long time, I was so self-conscious about my boobs, I would try not to draw attention to them, thinking people might notice and think, "Hey, she has boobs, but they're so small!" I remember when my mum first bought me a training bra when I was around 12 or 13. I had just started budding, and so it was time to start wearing bras, I was told. I hated it. I loathed it. I wanted to stay in my vests. Wearing a training bra would only mean that, in the PE changing room, the girls would notice how I had nothing to put in this bra I was wearing, while all their bras were being put to use. I've since learnt from my mum that she bought me a training bra because she was worried I might be teased for wearing a vest. Vests might be for little girls, but I didn't need a bra, and I was so conscious of the fact everyone would be laughing at me.

As I got older, once my boobs had grown, as I said, I'd try not to draw attention to them. I wouldn't wear anything remotely low cut. The little cleavage I have was never on show. I would only wear padded bras if the top I was wearing required it - if it didn't lay right without a little help - because I was worried people would notice my boobs suddenly looked bigger, and would know. I didn't have many tops that needed extra padding for this reason, but finding pretty tops and dresses that weren't made for a larger bust was really difficult. They would just hang wrong and gape, and I would leave shops feeling awful, my small boobs stopping me from wearing nice clothes. Not good enough. And it was because I wasn't good enough that no guys noticed me, that no guys fancied me.

However, once I hit my twenties, I stopped worrying quite so much. My boobs had finished growing, and filled tops a little better. I started to feel more comfortable in my body in general, really liking how I looked. I would buy and wear clothes I felt good in, and some of these clothes were lower cut than I was used to. I felt good in them! I felt more like a woman, and I thought my boobs looked good. And if guys weren't looking anyway, why bother trying to cover up so much? Low or not, they weren't going to notice. So I wore what I felt good in.

Cait Lomas wrote a guest post for Safe Space a few weeks ago about Going Braless, and the idea terrified me. Even though I originally hated having to wear a bra, soon after, I wouldn't be seen in public without one. At all. Ever. Let's face it, as a size 30B, I don't actually need a bra - my boobs aren't big enough to need supporting, nor do they give me backache. I don't need a bra. But I was worried that without a bra the clothes I wore were wither too loose, and so I wouldn't look like I had any boobs at all, or too tight, and would squish what I had into nothingness. I was scared because I thought I wouldn't feel like a woman; I wouldn't look like a woman. I was really inspired by Cait though, and I considered it.

A little before Cait's post went live, I bought a dress with a cutout on the back. Even wearing my transparent-back bra, it looked ridiculous. This dress requited me to go braless, but I couldn't do that! Then I saw Cait's post, and it really got me thinking. Could I? Should I? I bought an adhesive bra and some nipple covers to wear with this dress, see which I prefered, and last week, I gave them a go. The adhesive bra fell off in seconds. Nervously, I tried the nipple covers, put on my dress, and looked in the mirror. And I didn't look awful! My boobs were there - small, but there! And it was such a relief. I didn't have to worry about my strapless bra falling, I didn't have to worry about my bra straps feeling uncomfortable. I felt free, and strangely confident, like I was finally accepting my boobs, saying, "They're small, but that's ok!" It was strange how quickly I forgot I wasn't wearing a bra, how I wasn't feeling self-conscious, how I just got on with my day, leaving the house without a thought. It was wonderful! And though I do still wear a bra, I no longer worry about not wearing a bra when I choose not to.

Also, as the years have gone on, I've learnt that having small boobs doesn't make me unattractive. Sure, my small boobs might mean I'm not noticed by those men who talk about women with big boobs, but do I really want to be noticed by those men? No, I absolutely do not. The ones that have noticed me? The size of my boobs doesn't matter. They don't fancy me because I have small boobs, they fancy me because of the whole package that is me: how I look and who I am.

Having small boobs is no longer something I worry about, or even think about. I'm happy with my boobs, with my body, with how I look, and I don't really care what anyone else thinks.

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Wednesday, 11 May 2016

What are you even doing with your life?

A question I got asked by most people who saw me on my last day at work was "So what are you doing next?", "What are your plans?" I cannot begin to tell you how much those questions fill me with dread and anxiety. Every day I wonder if my mother is going to ring me and ask if I've thought about applying for jobs with that tone of "Why haven't you already got a career sorted out?"

I'm going to be 26 in just under five months and in the 9 years that I have been an employable human I have had four jobs which I did for over a year, and only one of those was for over two years (my first job as a part-time cashier at Somerfield/Co-op). Compare that to my other half who got a job with a company when he was 18/19, switched departments a couple of years later and is still working there as he is about to turn 30 at the end of this month.

He has got his career pretty much figured out. I don't have a fucking clue.

Here is where I feel I ought to mention the career that I'd *like* to have - it's one that 7yr old Rachel wanted to have and it's the one that has kind of being ticking away in some quiet corner of my brain ever since. It's the one that I will never admit to people outside of my friendship group, not even to my family although they will themselves occasionally reference it as the thing I wanted to do when I was younger.

I want to be an author. There, I said it.

I want to be able to walk into a bookshop one day and see a book on a shelf with *my* name on it. I want that so much I do often think about it before I go to sleep, imagining weird little scenarios that would make you side-eye me in the street. I don't necessarily want to be some international best-seller (although seriously who'd bitch at that?) but just to know that someone other than my close friends had read my book and felt something would be so incredible.

But there's a large part of me that believes that it won't ever happen. For a number of reasons; my writing is not good enough and never will be, I don't have enough ideas, I'm scared that no one would ever want to read my stories, I'm scared no agent will ever want to represent me, and on and on ad. nauseum.

I had this ambitious hope to spend the summer after my current OU module ended working wholly on my book (which I talked about recently here on my writing blog & I waffle about it all the time on my Twitter) trying to get it a good deal closer to a point at which I wouldn't feel utterly appalled at the idea of querying an agent with it. Between the start of June and the start of October when I'd need to start my next module I'd have over 150 days to just *write* without worrying that I'm neglecting my studies.

However the closer I get to June the more I feel the pressure to get a job instead (even though I have no ideas what kind of job I'd want to get) and not be a sponge on my other half's goodwill and income. To be very clear that statement is not directed at *anyone* other than me, there are multitudes of reasons why someone might not be working and that doesn't make them a burden or a sponge IN THE SLIGHTEST. 

Of course my brain doesn't make that exception for me. Even though Le Boyf has said explicitly on multiple occasions that he supports my writing and will not mind if I spend the summer working on the book, my mind is still throwing bricks of guilt at me for having the audacity to want to be so selfish with my time. How dare I dream to do such a thing?

I don't know yet if my plans will go how I'd like them to go. I don't know if my mother will amplify my own guilt and fear of being a burden by asking "Have you looked at any jobs?" until I finally relent to just to stop the feelings of self-loathing for a while. I just don't know.

I'd really like to figure out what I'm doing with my life before I go totally fucking bananas.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Safe Space Talks Journeying Into Feminism

Today the Safe Space team are sharing their journeys into feminism. Unfortunately we’re not all born feminists and many of us are brought up on societal ideals. That turning point where you identify as a feminist is a special one and everyone has their own story to share, here are some of ours.

Jess: Looking back I’ve always had feminist views. I remember being fourteen and thinking that it was wrong how the boys at school would harass the girls about their bodies and their sexual experience. When I was sixteen I was in a violent relationship with my boyfriend and I remember thinking it was so unfair that if I went through the ordeal of going to the police nothing would likely get done about it. I remember being eighteen and being called a slut and a bimbo because of my blonde hair and big boobs.

I’ve always noticed sexism and have always considered it to be wrong but I didn’t link my views as being feminist until I was in my early twenties. Growing up, feminism always seemed like something from the past that was no longer needed because women were now equal to men. I heard this said as a fact time and time again but it didn’t feel true. If it was true then why were boys still using “pussy” and “fanny” as a synonym for weakness? If it was true then why were women still getting paid less than men for doing the same work? If it was true then why were victims of rape and abuse still being told that they were asking for it? Where was the respect for women that men have by default? Why did we have to fight for everything that much harder?

Things started to shift for me when I started seeing women I look up to in the media talking about feminism and identifying as feminists. Feminism has become more and more accessible to young people over recent years and each time a young woman spoke up I found my views and beliefs aligning with what I was hearing as I related to their experiences.

I’d been learning more about feminism for a while but it wasn’t until I read Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates that everything changed for me. It’s sad to say this, but I’d never identified with a book so strongly before. I realised that the things I went through every day as a woman were in fact sexist and shouldn’t be tolerated. A lot of the topics covered in the book like street harassment and body shaming I hadn’t even identified as being wrong before because they were so common and accepted by society.

Reading Everyday Sexism made me so angry but it also ignited a fire of hope in me because if sexism was the disease then feminism was the cure. From that day on if someone asked me “Are you a feminist?” I would answer automatically with “Yes.” Feminism is a movement that has become a huge part of who I am. Being a woman is hard but knowing I have an army of intelligent and inspiring people behind me makes it easier to shut down sexism when I see it and keep on fighting the good fight towards an equal future. For the girl I was then, for the women who’ll come after me and for those who fought before me, I fight on.

Joy: My first real exploration of feminism came when I was studying Sociology at A-Level. We looked at the beginning of Germaine Greer’s public life in defense of feminism and explored what it meant for men to now do some of what women have long been expected to do, such as the housework or the cooking. However, in the way that this educational approach was presented, it seemed as if feminism was something from the 1970s; a time when women were house-bound with expectation and men were the breadwinners. Not only that, but we were also taught about it in a way that indicated feminism wanted women to have be in control, just as men were. With this being far away from equality, I didn’t consider feminism any further.

It took coming to terms with my experiences of sexual abuse for me to begin to explore feminism again. For as long as I was blaming myself for the abuse, I wasn’t able to see the way the world needed to change. If I’m blaming myself for being abused, then I’m not going to wonder why there is such a victim-shaming culture around rape or any sexual assault. As long as I believe there is something wrong with me, I won’t consider why men think it is alright to honk their car horn at women or make comments about the way women look or what they want to do to us. It has only been in the last year, I would say, that I have really tried to educate myself, to gain different perspectives, and eventually, I have become able to call myself a feminist. It has been really cathartic and empowering. I can’t change what has happened to me in the past, but I can let it fuel an anger in me for what women have to go through in their daily lives, and then use that to campaign and stand up for others.

I’ve loved reading different feminist texts over recent months and I’m encouraged that there is still so much for me to explore. I’m currently reading Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism, which is crammed full of statistics and personal experiences from numerous women, and it’s opened my eyes to what is happening without much consideration. I’ve also been reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman, Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny and I Call Myself a Feminist, which is an anthology of different young feminist voices.

We are in a time where there is so much knowledge at our fingertips and also ways in which we can take a stand. I’ve joined the Women’s Equality Party in order to be a part of a collective movement and I will continue to read as much as I can. Whilst there is still a lot of sexism at play in our everyday lives, there are also numerous women prepared to call it what it is. It is through opening my eyes to the world around me that I have no choice but to call myself a feminist.

Jo: It took me a long time to understand what feminism actually is. I believed it was directly correlated to misandry, and just couldn’t get on board with that. There are many men in my life who a hugely important to me, and a lot of feminist rants I had come across at the time were full of anger and vitriol towards men. Even now, I strongly disagree with those rants. I disagreed, I didn’t feel that way, so I wasn’t a feminist.

Around two years ago, though, feelings of unease were stirred. I can’t remember what started it off, but something wasn’t right… I just couldn’t put my finger on what. And then I read Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill, and it was like a someone had flipped a switch. It was through O’Neill’s book and various articles she had written, that I finally started to understand. I finally got that feminism was about equal rights for women, and started to realise just how unequal things were, how bad things are.

I did more reading. Following Louise O’Neill on Twitter (@oneilllo) brought many articles to my attention. There soon started to be a number of YA novels being published with feminist themes; Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, 5 to 1 by Holly Bodger, What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie. The more I read, the more I learned, and the more I noticed sexism and the gender imbalance in everyday life; on the TV, in the news, in movies and music. I was now aware, and I was horrified of all I had been blind to previously. Disgusted, I felt a desperate need to learn more; what else was there that I still didn’t know about? How are women’s lives - how is my life - being affected by gender inequality. I needed to know. I needed to talk about it. I needed to do something. And educating myself further seemed the first step. And so I started reading feminist non-fiction. Girls Will be Girls by Emer O'Toole was the first, and the second game changer for me. It made me question not just society, but myself, and how I lived, acted, moved in a misogynistic world. This was the book that really cemented things for me.

I still consider myself a newbie feminist; there’s still a lot I have to learn. But my eyes are open now, and there’s no way for me to shut them, even if I wanted to. Every day, I see the inherent sexism in society, or another example of how women are worse off than men. It’s everywhere. And I can’t keep quiet about it. It’s important, and something we need to address.

A couple of weeks ago, I realised how far I’d come. In response to the title of the book We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I heard a woman say, “We should never be feminists. Ever.” And I felt such anger, thinking that the life that woman lives is so much easier now than it would have been, because of feminism. I was angry because someone felt negatively towards feminism, and then I remembered it wasn’t that long ago that I felt the same thing.

We still have a long way to go, but my voice will join all other feminists. Because I am a feminist.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Life Changing Medication

So the topic of antidepressants has been approached twice on this blog. The first time was by Jess in this post about her mental health treatment and the second time was just last Sunday by Laura in this post about how she loves her antidepressants. So today I wanted to write a response post to that.

I’ve just recently been prescribed antidepressants. I’m actually on the same kind as both Laura and Jess, Citalopram. Before being prescribed antidepressants, I was actually incredibly anti antidepressants. Not in general. But just for myself. In some stupid way, my brain told me that having to take medication to treat my anxiety was like losing. It meant that I couldn’t control my mental health myself, and my anxieties stem from having a lack of control so it was a really difficult thing for me to deal with.

Before being prescribed antidepressants, I did CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This was just under a year ago and it did help. But it also didn’t. It meant that I knew why I was anxious, it meant I could determine when I was having an anxiety attack but I still really struggled to get past it. I then developed habits to help me control the anxiety. Habits such as washing my hands, which has now turned into routine and has become progressively worse as time has gone on.

Then I went to a new doctor for a completely different reason and it was decided that I should try antidepressants to help control my anxiety. I stared at the doctor with a wave of anxiety running through me. Without medication I could control certain aspects of my anxiety. I could walk away from someone ill, I could wash my hands before eating, I could choose not to eat or drink something. But in taking medication, I feared that I would lose that control. That the antidepressants would take away the anxiety and the control and it would be hard to deal with.

Of course, this was also my anxiety talking to me. My anxiety telling me to be afraid of the unknown and I had no way of knowing what the Citalopram was going to do to me. The doctor warned me that the first few days would likely cause me to feel more anxious. This only made me more anxious about taking the pills so I had to wait until I had a few days off work to take them.

The week before that was to happen, I had no control over my anxiety. I knew why I was anxious but instead my brain was telling me I was anxious about other things and I was just crippled by it. Which, in a way was a really good thing because I suddenly wanted the pills. I wanted them to stop me from feeling this way, I wanted them to help make me better. Turns out I was actually fine for the first three days on the pills, but on the fourth and fifth day I had crippling anxiety again. Fortunately I was still off work. And that was the last time I’ve felt that anxious. And that was about six weeks ago.

And I cannot tell you how amazing that is.

Before taking the meds, I was overrun with anxiety and it has only been since taking the meds that I’ve realised just how much my anxiety was overruling my life. It was winning and I didn’t even know it.

I have now had my medication increased from 10mg to 20mg a day because while the meds are helping, I think there is still more that can be done and I’m looking forward to seeing if I’m right. Of course, I also had some anxiety about upping my dose but there was no need for that.

But what I really wanted to end this post with is that while I was worried, fearful and vehemently against antidepressants a year ago, I am now incredibly grateful for them and feel that it is likely I will be using this medication to help me for the rest of my life. Taking antidepressants doesn’t make me weak, it is treating an illness. Just as a diabetic has to be on insulin or someone with chronic pain has to be on painkillers, being on antidepressants is just a medicine that is treating an illness and it shouldn’t be looked upon in any other way. Because, at the end of the day, mental health is an illness. If you broke your leg and someone looked down on you for wearing a cast, it would be completely immoral and wrong. And that is how I feel about antidepressants too.

And if you are in the situation I was, worried about taking the step to antidepressants, please try not to worry but also talk to someone. Someone you know, a doctor, or even just someone you know who is also on antidepressants, talking to Jess before starting my meds was incredibly helpful. Also, please remember that while one antidepressant helps one person, it may not help you but don’t give up, there are many different antidepressants out there as well as many other treatment options. It is your body, do what works best for you. So don’t suffer in silence. Get the help you may need. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

Friday, 6 May 2016

On being realistic

I often describe myself as being an ideas person rather than a practicality person. And I'm not very grood at always following through on my ideas.  I am trying to become better at the follow through because I get very annoyed with myself at times for how often I don't do that. I tend to view it as a failure and beat myself up about it.

The trouble with that is that I then get very stressed about how much I have to do, everything I need to fit in and the fact that I'm on the verge of another failure.  I think part of it comes from my having had bouts of depression and anxiety for so long.  And another part probably comes from being disabled.  Many people who don't know me see my chair and have low expectations of what I'll be able to do and who I am.  Hell, even some people who know me but not well have those.  It makes me uncomfortable and like I need to prove them wrong.  I'm more than my disability and I remember as a teenager telling someone that the best way to get me to do something was to tell me I wouldn't be able to.  I'm not quite like that now but I do still hate when people make assumptions.

Lately I've been trying to do something different.  Trying to be realistic about what I'm doing and how I'm doing it and everything else that's going on around it.  Having an idea and planning to do something is great.  But is it realistic?  If it's not realistic and/or life intervenes and something doesn't happen that doesn't mean I've failed.  And more importantly is it important?  What's the worse that's going to happen if I don't manage to follow through on those big ideas?

If I don't manage something important then that's a problem and I need to look at how to prevent that happening again. If I don't manage something I'd like to do but isn't necessary it's not a problem and I need to chill out about it.

If I don't read as many books this year as I planned then who cares. It's much better to really enjoy fewer books this year then push myself to read a large number for the sake of it (I've actually recently drastically reduced my Goodreads challenge for that reason and should probably delete it).

If I decide to update my blog everyday for a while but only get it done a couple of times because life got busy that's fine. It's my blog. I don't get paid for it. I get a lot out of it and I enjoy it and that's what's important. I'm writing and really nothing else matters.

Except it's not really fine because as much as I'm working on being realistic and not beating myself up it's not an easy thing to do.  More often than I'd like I'm beating myself up still.  And I find myself frustrated at yet another thing to add to my failure list.  Even when it's not, actually, a failure.

I wish I could end this entry with some form of magical tip on how to cope with this and what to do to stop it. Life doesn't work like that and I can't. But I know from talking to other people that so many of them feel like this too and so I wanted to share this to at least we know we aren't alone.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

When You Think You Can't... You Probably Can

I have had a really difficult couple of weeks. I’m coming to the end of two years of therapy and, as someone with tough past experiences of endings, I’ve been dreading it. Then, after my psychologist and I were slowly beginning to put plans into place as to how we would spend our remaining weeks together, my care coordinator announced that she would be leaving. I sobbed and sobbed. This was less because of sadness and more because I didn’t think I could cope with it. I had already told myself that I wouldn’t manage the end of therapy, so doubling what I would have to deal with surely meant catastrophe. But, you know what? I have proved myself wrong.

The endings I’m so anxious about are still to come, so I can’t predict exactly what I will be like when they happen. However, what I have been able to do is put strategies in place that allow me to cope in the moment. In spite of initially thinking that the future was enough to tip me over the edge, I told myself that I would cope. I honestly believe that, in life, we generally have a say over whether we cope or not, as well as what we use to do so. That’s not to say that we manage without the help of others or that we don’t become recluses for a time when we’re wracked with anxiety. But in my choice to cope, because the alternative was a downward spiral that would mean hospital admission or worse, I took back some of the control that I felt I had lost. I couldn’t stop the NHS from limiting my therapy to two years or my care coordinator getting a new job. I can choose to live my life though and to make decisions that make that life worth living. I can tell myself that I can turn my future into what I want it to be, whether that be having a career or a family or going travelling.

Two days after I was told of my care coordinator’s imminent departure, I was due to meet fellow Safe Space writers, Jo and Faye. I haven’t been in a social environment where I would be meeting and chatting to people in two years. Anxiety has grown so big in my mind that I had convinced myself that I would never again be able to meet people: they wouldn’t like me, I would say something stupid, it would just be too much for me. Perhaps it’s because I felt I had nothing to lose after the week I was having, but I went to London and met Jo and Faye and… it was brilliant! I was without a doubt that meeting people was never something I was going to manage and, once again, I was proved wrong.

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If the last fortnight has taught me anything, it is that even when I am utterly convinced that something is impossible, that it’s not something I can survive and that I’m not resilient enough to cope with it, life so often has other ideas. There is very little that I can’t do. I won’t be Queen of England, nor will I be an international athlete. But when life hits as hard as it can and often in unexpected ways, I find a strength that I didn’t know I had and I become creative in discovering ways of coping.

This isn’t a post for me to big myself up and say, “Look what I can do.” It’s to say, “Look at what we all can do.” I have put off so many opportunities because of the messages of fear I was telling myself. Perhaps you’re doing the same – avoiding meeting people who could become great friends, not going to an interview because you decide you would never be good enough for the job, dreading the future because it looks so much bigger than your limited emotional resources. But I truly believe that you can.

Sometimes we need the support of others, whether it be friends or therapists; sometimes we need to take time to cry because a relationship is ending; sometimes we may feel terrified when we try something new. But that’s okay. It doesn’t matter how we get there. It just matters that we get there in the end. So as I dare myself to take greater leaps of faith and to trust in my own capacity to cope, I wonder if you will join me. What do you tell yourself you can’t do? Maybe it’s time to see that you can.