Sunday, 31 July 2016

Spending Time with Myself

As an introvert, I have always needed time to myself. As much as I love my friends and enjoy socializing, it becomes exhausting after a while and I have to retreat back to my room and have some me time. But when I dropped out of University and moved back in with my parents, I found I almost had too much me time on my hands. I had no job, no friends in the area as they were all living at University, but I still wanted to go to the cinema, go shopping and do all the things I used to. And so I learned to spend time with myself.

Shopping alone wasn’t something I was unfamiliar with – on my way home from school I passed through my town centre and so if I needed anything I would pop into the mall on my way through. But I had never gone out of my way to go shopping alone before this, and I’ve found I rather like it. There’s no rush, you don’t have to get dragged into anywhere you don’t want to go, and you can spend as long as you like browsing the clothes and trying them on.

Eating alone is a bit harder. I still haven’t quite got to eating in a sit down restaurant by myself (although I definitely want to at some point!) but I’ve sat in chains such as Chipotle, Five Guys and Mcdonalds alone many a time and felt more and more comfortable each time I do it. The trick is to have something to occupy yourself with; I usually opt for a book or catching up with notifications on my phone. This year I’ve even gone to the cinema by myself – I’ll admit this is partially because I get free tickets due to my job and there are some films I simply can’t wait for, but I’ve found it so enjoyable! I definitely plan to go again alone before I leave my job next month.

And I’ve even spent days out in London by myself. I’ve just hopped on the tube and seen where it takes me, exploring my city. When I mentioned that I was going to London alone, my dad thought it a bit odd, and I’ve noticed at work when people come to the cinema by themselves they can sometimes be almost embarrassed. And I’m kind of curious about where this stigma against doing things alone has come from. Some of my favourite days from the past year have been my solitary trips to London, perusing various bookshops, wondering around Soho and getting to know my city like never before. I even spent a couple of days last night in New York City by myself, and whilst extremely overwhelming I was thankful I could take the city at my own pace, eat when I wanted to, and miss out on what I wasn’t bothered about.

This isn’t to say that I hate hanging out with my friends or travelling with other people. I understand that it’s not for everyone, but for me it means I don’t have to miss out on anything just because my friends aren’t nearby or I’m too tired to socialize. Sometimes I just need some me time to relax and take things at my own pace, and you know what? Hanging out with myself can be pretty damn awesome.

Friday, 29 July 2016

You're Braver Than You Know

You're standing on the edge of a cliff. There is a ten-thousand foot drop in front of you. Jagged and sharp rocks are at the bottom. Ferocious waves are crashing against the rocks. Would you jump? 

The natural answer is no. As soon as your body sees the dangers, its natural fight or flight urges come to forefront and will warn you that jumping is not a clever idea because the risk is too high. There is probably a 1 in 1000th chance that you won't hit the rocks, but then you have to hope that you don't die simply from the impact of hitting the water and then that the ferocious waves don't smack you against the rocks. There is probably a very, very minimal chance of surviving the jump.

Now, most people will never actually have to worry about this sort of thing. The chances that you'll be in a life-threatening situation is small but our bodies naturally have this instinct in our bodies. This instinct, when activated outside of a life-threatening situation is called anxiety.

Every single time my anxiety says hello to me, I know that my body imagines the above. It imagines that I have a minimal chance of surviving. To have that feeling and to still "jump" (eat the food, enter the crowded room, sleep without doing x,y, or z), is incredibly difficult. I can't just jump. I need to first tell my brain that there is no danger and that is not an easy thing to do. I often need to do things to make myself feel better about the situation, to help myself feel more in control of the situation. 

When I had my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy a few years ago, my therapist called me brave. The reason for this is because I knew a certain situation was going to fill me with anxiety but I went anyway. At the time I shrugged it away. I wasn't brave, I was just doing what everyone else did. I was just getting on with life. My reasoning for this was that I could avoid what was going to make me anxious (i.e. not eating the buffet food at blogger events) or have a time out if I needed it.

But then Laura posted this post last week and on Wednesday Jess told me that "I was amazing" because she couldn't tell that I was having an anxiety attack about eating some food. Admittedly I actually had a few anxiety issues the day I saw her. And due to all of that I realised that I am brave. It's one of those things that I find difficult to admit (see this post) but I need to because I am starting to realise that it's true.

Bravery is about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. And this is what I do on a daily basis and is something that I'm doing a lot more of now too, to try and battle my anxiety completely. The more I do things I'm uncomfortable doing, the sooner I can remind my brain that I am completely safe and eating that food with my fingers without washing my hands right beforehand is not a life or death situation. And if I can do that, maybe one day I can just go out and be with my friends and not worry... well... at all.

I know there are still times that I avoid things. Times when I throw food away because I simply can't look past my anxiety, times when I cancel social events with strangers or return to my car to double check I locked it but no one said I had to be brave every day. And it's okay to be weak every now and again but that doesn't belittle everything else I've done. This is just another thing that I also need to remind myself every day too.

If you've done something today that makes you brave, I'd love to hear about it so do tell me all in the comments or on twitter!

Monday, 25 July 2016

Do You Remember?

I get asked this question a lot. When I answer no, it is often met with an eyeball or a sigh or an exclamation of disbelief. Sometimes I lie, but that can always be a dangerous move, especially if you are caught out later!

I don’t quite know why I am so bad at remembering things. I’ve always loved a good to-do list, and my calendar is my godsend. But a lot of other people are the same. So what makes me any different?

It’s gotten to the stage where I can’t remember a conversation that happened a few days ago, or what i need to buy at the supermarket. I forget about books I’ve read and am meant to be reviewing, or places I’ve been to. I forget what I ordered last time, and for someone that likes to always try new things, this is devastating news. I also (ironically enough) always forget about blog posts I have previously scheduled, including my Safe Space ones! It is also quite disconcerting when people remember stuff about you that you have no recollection of doing or telling them. 

As many of my friends will know, I also have issues with always being sleepy. I don’t know if this is linked, and its something I’m in the process of finding out! But either way, I need to learn how to deal with my scatter brains. I’m trying my best to adapt to it. Here are some of the things that help me out:

  • LISTS. I already mentioned that I love a list. Except now I have a list for everything. I have made spreadsheets for books I’ve received and want to read, places I’ve been to and want to visit, future events and money I’ve spent. I keep a personal to do list. I also keep one at work, crossing things as I go, scheduling things in for the week to come. At the end of each working day I go through the list from today and reschedule anything I haven’t done for tomorrow or subsequent days. You might think I can look at the previous day, but then things get missed and it causes stress. 
  • REMINDERS. I don’t use these as much as I should. I tend to dismiss them on my phone because the notification irritates me, rather than using it to actually do the thing. Also the reminder always comes when I am busy, but I then subsequently forgot about what I'm meant to have done!
  • BLOG POSTS. Not only do they serve as a good memory of a great time or a favourite book, they are also a reminder of where I’ve been. Me and my friend Stacey use the Swarm app to check into places, and its been really helpful in figuring out whether I’ve already visited somewhere. 
  • GREAT FRIENDS. Quite possibly the most important point. My friends are really understanding when I am constantly asking them for reminders of times and meeting places. It also means I quite often repeat myself, as I can’t remember conversations easily. 

I don't really know what lies ahead. My mum is quite forgetful, and I always use to laugh at her as a kid but maybe it is hereditary. Quite possibly when I get my sleep issue sorted out (more on that another time!), I’ll get better at remembering things. For now, I'm just trying my best to stay organised in my own quirky little way! I'd love to hear your organisation tips. 

 photo safe space bio_zps8jlgrcn3.png

Sunday, 24 July 2016


One thing I hate about the way we’ve grown accustomed to living life is to measure it in milestones.
Birthdays, engagements, moving out, getting a job, getting married, having a baby…they’re all huge signposts in life that seem to be what most people strive for. However sometimes it becomes a little overwhelming and the small, more important milestones go by unnoticed by most people.

I wish there was a social media site for those with mental health problems where we could be brutally honest. Can you imagine the status updates?!

Got out of bed today. #winning

Didn’t die after making a phone call. #lifegoals

Managed to go the whole day without binging and purging. #gome

Wouldn’t it be great if we felt the freedom and courage to share such important milestones to everyone else? But it’s hard because to ‘everyone else’ getting out of bed or making a phone call or eating food and then not making themselves sick after it are things they do without even really thinking about it. They don’t see these things as milestones because they’re just normal, everyday occurrences for them.

Instead we have social media where people constantly aim to share their best lives…the best selfies, the coolest status updates about what they’re doing, pictures of an engagement ring, bragging about holidays booked, showing off their relationship, baby pictures…

And we all do it. I do it. I use my Facebook page to share my best life but it’s not a very accurate representation of my real life at all.

This time last year I was in a horrendous place. I couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings without panicking, I couldn’t leave my bedroom – even going to the toilet was enough to send me into a panic attack. I found it almost impossible to walk down the stairs and spend time downstairs in my house. I couldn’t have a bath; instead I’d have to quickly wash at the sink because it minimised the time I had to spend away from my safe place. I was going through an incredibly tough time.

When I compare that to now, I have achieved SO much. I get out of bed every day and get dressed. I can spend time anywhere in the house now without my anxiety become overwhelming. I have a bath every day. I spend time in the garden. Last Friday I went out to my nan and grandad’s house (over 20 minutes away) for dinner and I didn’t die. I’ve walked round the block a few times.

And in my world, in my small little Laura world, these things are fucking giant milestones. But the trouble is because they’re so small’ and insignificant to ‘most people’ in the world, they’re not seen as milestones at all. It’s all just me being lazy or still not having a job yet or not leaving the house.

Because I haven’t shared every single minute of my recovery on social media, people don’t know what I’ve managed to achieve in this past year. They don’t know that I’ve overcome suicidal thoughts,  that I’ve gone from being incredibly frightened to be in the same room as someone else to being comfortable in a room of eight or nine people, that having an hour long bath routine is an achievement after previously being too scared to even put a foot in the bath.

‘Normal’ people take having a bath for granted or not realising that being able to walk out their front door without fear is something I long to be able to do every day. No one congratulates them on doing it because it’s just not a big thing for most people. Whereas marriage and babies and holidays are…they’re the things that people share about their lives on the internet.

My therapist used to call it the compare and despair mechanism. I’d compare myself to someone on social media and despair that my life wasn’t like theirs. She used to tell me that nothing you see on social media is trustworthy. You know that what everyone shares are the best moments…the things they want to show off or get likes for or get validation about to make themselves feel better.

And it’s true. And a lot of the time it makes me wish I could delete Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and just live a stripped back, less technology dependant life. Wouldn’t it be amazing to just go back to speaking to people on the phone or via text when you needed them? Sharing news face to face instead of seeing it pop up on your timeline and ‘liking’ it.

The main reasons I don’t delete my accounts are

1. FOMO (because god forbid something happening that I don’t get to like or react to because I don’t have social media)
2. Communication (how will I be able to interact with friends I only have online? How can I talk to people about books I’ve loved or things I’ve enjoyed?)

And I hate that I’ve become so reliant on social media!!! I hate that I spend my life comparing myself to others. That I seek validation through the number of likes I get on a status update or a tweet. Why have I conditioned myself to care so much about what other people think about me? (I mean, this is a whole other topic!) Sorry I love a tangent.

But, in all seriousness, we need to stop feeling like we are failing because we are not hitting the milestones other people seem to be reaching before us. We each have our own story to write, our own path to take and we all move along it at different times and in a way that suits us. Just because three people have got married on Facebook this week alone, doesn’t mean that you managing to get dressed today isn’t an incredible milestone in itself.

So whenever I see gorgeous people getting married, shiny sparkly rings, baby scan photos, sandy white beaches and skinny bodies encased in expensive bikinis I know that these people are reaching their own milestones. And that’s awesome for them. But I’m also reaching my milestones and I’m growing and learning and getting better every day and that’s what’s important. So what if people think that my life is boring and I’m lazy and whatever crap they want to think…I know the truth, the struggles that I’ve managed to face and overcome. And I’m proud of myself for that.

And you should be too. You should be proud of all the milestones you manage to hit regardless of how silly they might sound to other people.

And, just to make you feel better here’s the Facebook update I’d love to publish right now:

Today was a mix of good and bad. I sat in the sun for most of the day reading a book but I also was really scared the sun was making my head too heavy and that it was going to make me collapse and die because it was so hot. And then I spent a good while overthinking a lot of things and wondering if actually I’m a good person and then I looked at myself in the mirror and thought ‘oh god, I’m gross’. Then I had a bath and got into bed and was going to do lots of productive writing but I was too lethargic to do anything so I just lie naked like a beached whale in front of a fan wondering if I’m living my best life. 

Friday, 22 July 2016

On Body Shaming, Celebrities, and Those Photos

 A flower for all the fucks I don't give about your opinion on my body
Image source: BuzzFeed Style
I'm pretty passionate about body positivity. I think it's vital that we all try and learn to love our bodies as they are, but that's not so easy when we live in a society where shaming people, but especially women, for their bodies is the norm.

But there's thoughtless, I-don't-realise-what-I'm-doing body shaming, where the shamer thinks they're doing the right thing, coming from a place of concern - "You're looking a little skinny, have you been eating?" or "Are you doing ok? I've noticed you've put on some weight, and I'm worried about you." - and then there's the worst kind of body shaming, the purposeful kind where insults and slurs are hurled at people for their own amusement.

With technology as it is right now, this can be a whole lot worse. Now, you don't have to step outside your front door to get abuse, you just have to go on the internet. Trolls seem to be everywhere, and they take great delight in ridiculing people for their bodies, and trying to upset them. We all know this is disgusting, but what's got me recently is seeing the lengths celebrities - or at least people who are "known" - will go to.

Actress Chloë Grace Moretz tweeted on Monday her thoughts on the whole Taylor Swift/Kim Kardashian/Kanye West debacle. Khloé Kardashian responded with "Is this the a hole you're referring to @ChloeGMoretz ???" along with two photos, one of Chloë from the waist up in a red bikini top next to another photo of a blonde girl in a red bikini whose back is to the camera, the guy who was carrying her having accidentally (hopefully) pulled her bikini bottoms to the side, showing her anus. Chloë responded  with "fact check: first photo is me filming my movie Neighbors 2, the second photo is some girl who was wrongfully photographed", with a follow up tweet of a photo of her wearing blue bikini bottoms with the red bikini top. (Read more here.)

And on 14th July, Playboy Model Dani Mathers took a photo of a naked woman in the locker room of a gym and posted it on Snapchat, with the words, "If I can't unsee this then you can't either." (Read more here.)

That we know the identity of the two women in those photos doesn't matter, we don't need to know. What matters is that these women were body shamed, photographs taken without their permission in at least one case, both photos that neither woman would want to be made public. It is absolutely horrifying to me that so called celebrities would do this. I don't give a damn who they are, they are in the public eye, they are sharing these photos online publicly; by doing this, not only are they humiliating those poor women in despicable ways, they are body shaming, and they are pretty much sending out a message to the world that shaming women about their bodies is perfectly ok.

It's absolutely bloody disgusting and I can't even begin to tell you how enraged and absolutely devastated it made me that these women would do such a thing. We don't have to all get along, we don't have to like each other, but Christ, aren't we dealing with enough from the media without adding to it? We should be celebrating each others' normal, real, human bodies. There is absolutely nothing wrong with how we look. Faye posted on Friday about how she finds it difficult to think positively about herself and how hard it is for her to believe her friends who compliment her. Faye isn't the only one, there are so many of us who really struggle with looking at ourselves in the mirror and loving what we see. We don't need the rich and famous ridiculing bodies like our own - in any way, let alone in such a despicable way.

What we need is to celebrate each others bodies. We need to compliment each other when those thoughts of "Wow, she looks stunning!" cross our minds. Tell each other, and mean it when you say it. And we have to, like Faye, slowly try and believe what people are telling us. To look in the mirror and instead of focusing on what we don't like, focus on what we do.

My body has been changing recently, and it's taken a while to get used to. My cellulite and stretchmarks are a lot more visible now, and it has been getting me down. But instead of paying too much mind to that, I try revel in how I now feel more womanly, how, with every day that passes, I love the contrast between my hair colour and skin colour, how more often than not these days, I'm seeing a woman with a pretty face. Who cares about the bloody cellulite and stretchmarks?

We need to learn to love ourselves, and celebrate each other rather than put each other down. We need to not laugh and congratulate celebrities when they do things that are so horrific. We need to stand up and say we've had enough of the body shaming. We need to stand up and say, "We're all different, but we're all beautiful!"

There are some wonderful people out there who are doing so much to try and promote body positivity. I highly recommend you check out Megan's blog BodyPosiPanda and follow her on Instagram, as well as following Paola at Chubbybabe_. Know of any others we should be following? Please leave a comment or tweet us with the links!

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Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Ditching the Under-wiring

This is going to be a considerably lighter post than my last. I still have a lot of thoughts I need to deal with relating to that post but today it is too hot to be grappling with those super-heavy subjects.

So I'm talking about bras instead. More specifically about how for the last three weeks or so I've only been wearing non-wired bras. Monday was the first time all month that I wore an under-wired bra and while it wasn't hideously uncomfortable it was miles away from how delightfully free me and my boobs have felt recently.

It was brought to my attention by Jax Blunt over on twitter that Peacocks had a range of non-wired bras that was pretty affordable so when I got the chance I wandered into town and checked it out. I bought five different bras and they are so fucking comfy to wear it's unreal. The sizing is a little squiffy because it goes by normal clothes sizes rather than bra cup sizes so I might have got a size bigger than I probably needed but frankly I don't mind if they don't cling tight like sports bras because they chafe like a bugger if worn all day.

Part of this decision to buy non-wired bras was fuelled by the fact that most of my normal bras are ancient in underwear years and several are either too small (since I've gained some weight in recent years my boobs have inevitably sized up as well) or the under-wiring has started to wiggle free of the bra. So I need to throw out maybe 75% of my current bra collection. But do I replace them all?

I don't think I'm one of those people who would be able to go completely bra-free. A while ago Caitlin did a fab guest post on Safe Space about her reasons for going braless but there are several reasons why I wouldn't feel comfortable doing the same even though I'd really like to.

I have probably-larger-than-average sized boobs for my chest measurement which means they are hefty enough to require some hand-holding when running up and down stairs to avoid pain. Also one is at least half a cup size bigger than the other so I'm always self-conscious that the size difference would be noticeable without a bra - not that I'd be tolerating people looking at my chest long enough to *see* and *comment* on my boobs of course but y'know.

I'm also not entirely happy with how my boobs sit when not held up by under-wired bras, for many years I've actually worn soft bandeau bras with fabric straps to sleep in so that I have something to secure them without constricting my chest at night. That's kind of what my new non-wired bras are doing for me during the day.

At the moment my new bras don't exactly go with the kind of clothing that I'd like to wear as summer finally remembers what it's meant to act like. Today I wore the "prettiest" of the five with a dress that has a low back and just didn't give a shit that people could see my bra. But I think in the near future I might try to get some of the more fancy-looking non-wired "bralettes" that I can wear under flimsy summer clothes and have them not look as outlandish as it might just wearing a normal bra. Kinda like what Dodie Clark (Doddleoddle) is wearing in this video.

So this has been an oddly long post about my new-found love for non-wired bras. I know I'm lucky in that I'm able to wear them as an alternative to under-wired bras as people with larger boobs may not have sufficient support without the metal-work and heavy-duty straps to be entirely comfortable.

My boobs are definitely feeling more comfortable these days, except when it's roasting outside then only lying very still while naked will stave off unpleasant clamminess. Ugh summer.
 p.s. You do not want to know how many times I typed "books" when I meant to type "boobs".

Monday, 18 July 2016

Guaranteed Smiles

Recently I’ve found myself having a series of bad days. Whether due to my mental health, a loved one being ill or the sadness of current world events, over the last few months day after day I’ve found myself feeling low. Then a few weeks ago, I came to the realization that the things I’ve been feeling sad about I can’t change, not really. So I started thinking about what I could change. If I can’t change the sad things that are currently going on in my life and in the world then maybe I can create more happiness to try and balance things out a little.

So I took out my journal and made a list of all of the things that are guaranteed to make me smile and since then I’ve made it a personal goal to do as many of the things on this list as I can when I feel sad. It doesn’t solve any problems, and it doesn’t make the bad things go away but it does steady my mood and helps me to recognise the good things in my life. So today I wanted to share with you my list of Guaranteed Smiles, I’d really encourage any of you to write your own list and put those little rays of happiness into action during those times when life gets dark.

Get Some Fresh Air – Whether taking a short walk, sitting in my garden or simply opening up the windows of my house, getting some fresh air into my lungs helps clear the cobwebs of my mind and makes it easier to breathe when I’m feeling anxious.

Do Something Nice For Someone – This can be something as simple as making someone a cup of tea, paying them a compliment, or buying them a little gift just because. Doing something nice for somebody else makes them happy and in my experience is the most natural way of making myself feel happy in return.

Feel Good Reads- Reading is one of the easiest ways to escape the world for a little while and when I’m feeling sad I like to read something feel good to cheer myself up. Two books that have made me smile recently are You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour and The Plumberry School of Comfort Food by Cathy Bramley.

Pizza – Pizza solves everything.

Surprise Yourself by Jack Garratt – I absolutely love this song and always listen to it on days when I don’t feel like I can cope. The music video for this is incredible, it follows a group of people doing something they didn’t think they could do, if you haven’t watched it yet then you should!

Fresh Flowers – If I’m having a bad mental health day I find it hard to leave my house and so having fresh flowers in my room allows me to bring a little bit of outside in. I usually choose bright colours that will really catch my eye and brighten my space.

Meg – My little dog is such a goofball. She loves life and seeing her play and explore the world always makes me happy.

Pamper Evenings – Sometimes feeling good on the outside helps me to feel better on the inside too. Looking after my body and treating it to some me-time makes me feel great and gives me space to mentally get my thoughts together.

Making Fun Plans – This is a big one for me. Having something on the horizon to look forward to be it a day out or hanging out with friends gives me something good to focus on. Knowing something fun is coming up in the future makes getting through a hard day that little bit easier.

Red Velvet Cake – The ultimate comfort food.

Lighting a Candle – There is something so peaceful about flickering candlelight and if the candle has a beautiful scent even better.

Twitter Favourites – I usually favourite things on Twitter that have made me laugh, have given me faith in the world, or have made me feel valued and loved. Scrolling through a great big list of lovely things that other people have said really cheers me up.

Writing My WIP – I’m currently working on a Women’s Fiction project set in the countryside at Christmas. This WIP contains so many of my favourite things and features characters that I love. Writing it sweeps me away to a place that I love spending time in. It’s also nice to play God and to be able to take control of the world and characters for a while - even if it is only fiction!

Jane the Virgin – This show is a new discovery of mine and it’s so cute I can’t even deal. I recently finished watching the first season on Netflix and am waiting impatiently for them to add season two.

Journaling - Writing in my journal allows me to get all of my thoughts and feelings out in a private place and sometimes just getting them down on to paper is all that is needed for me to feel better and make sense of a situation.

Trying a New Look – Playing around with makeup is one of my favourite ways to get creative and express myself. When I’m feeling down I love trying out new makeup looks and find it fun to switch things up a little (I’m sure this stems from the many teen films I’ve watched where a makeover has solved all of the heroines problems.)

Chatting to Friends – This year I’ve learnt to be really honest with my friends when I’m struggling instead of keeping it all inside. I’ve learnt that it’s okay to lean on them when I need support and that being totally open and honest creates a deeper and more valuable friendship with the people you allow to get close to you.

Making a List of Achievements – It’s easy to look at the people around you and think that they have achieved so much more than you and are in a better place. Instead, when you find yourself thinking those thoughts, turn the focus on you. What have you achieved this year? Make a list of everything you’ve accomplished and take a moment to acknowledge your successes and feel proud of yourself.

I’d love to know, what would be on your list of Guaranteed Smiles?

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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Growing Up Tall

For my whole life, I’ve always been taller than average. In all my school pictures I am in the middle at the top row, beaming away that I still held the status of being the tallest in my class, even taller than the boys. My height was inevitable, given my 5’11 dad and 5’10 mum. As a child I was proud of it – I could reach things other kids couldn’t, adults treated me with more respect than my peers because they thought I was older and I could wear clothes meant for the older kids. And then, the inevitable years of insecurities started.

I would say I only started becoming self-conscious about my height once I got to Secondary School and puberty hit. Being tall and lanky had never really been an issue for me, until all my friends stopped growing at 5’4 and getting curves. I on the other hand, continued to grow until I was about 16 and hit the dreaded height I had never wanted to hit: 6 foot. Those five years when all I wanted to be was ‘normal’ and ‘fit in’ were not helped when I literally stood out from the crowd just by existing. All of the guys at school who I thought I was interested in would show so much interest in my shorter friends and basically ignore me until they needed advice. As a teenager, this lack of male attention really affected me and made me think I wasn’t wanted because I was so tall.

It came to a point where I started to hate my body – it felt so out of proportion and I always felt so unfeminine. Yes, I’m aware in order to be a model you have to be tall, but unless you fit into a specific body type (which I do not), and it had never appealed to me anyway. I think another reason why I disliked my body so much was that I just never saw tall girls in the media I was consuming. All the girls I was reading about in YA novels and falling in love and kicking butt were so often described as ‘small’ or ‘petite’ or their height just wasn’t specified so I assumed them to be average. Over the past few years I’ve seen a couple – Taylor Swift rocks being a tall girl and I recently read Holly Bourne’s How Hard Can Love Be? Which features a 5’11 female protagonist, and she put into words all the issues I had with my body as a teen.

It really saddens me now to think how much my insecurities affected me. I started slouching a lot at school so I didn’t seem so tall when I was surrounded by my shorter friends. I’ve never been much into fashion, but I looked up all the ways in which to make myself look shorter and bought my clothes accordingly in order to somewhat disguise my height. I would refuse to wear heels for fear of looking like a giant (now I just don’t wear heels because I value my comfort above everything else). Even right now, I’m still slouching because I’ve been doing it for so many years, and it’s a habit I’m trying to break desperately.
As I’ve gotten older and left school, I’ve really tried to embrace my height. A combination of learning to love my body and myself, discovering feminism and not letting what men think affect my self-confidence has led to this. I’ve come to appreciate so many of the awesome things about being tall – being able to reach things others can’t and actually being able to see at concerts. My legs, which I used to hate for being so long and not thin enough, are awesome and strong and allow me to stand up or 10+ hours at work and hardly feel any aches or pain.

I know that being tall for most people seems like a pretty awesome thing, but I’ve always had these insecurities about it that not many people other than the few other tall girls I’ve met understand. Learning to love my height and my body is an ongoing process I’m still working on. There are some days I just want to slouch and curl up to be as small as I possibly can be. But most of the time I try to step out of my door standing as straight and tall as I possibly can, and embrace who I am.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Guest Post: Gender - That Thing We Made Up by C.M. Golding

Someone on twitter recently said that in fifty years we’re going to look back at binary concepts of gender and shake our heads at how silly we were. Well, I’ve been doing that for a while now and I’d be delighted if more folks would join me but I also get, to a degree, why that’s hard. The biggest reason it can be tough to understand is that we constantly conflate gender and sex. Sex is a medical, physical, biological state that has to do with hormones and genitals. Gender is a completely made up set of rules about what it means to be “feminine” or “masculine.” And it’s that made-up part so very many people refuse to accept.

A recent poll of people under the age of 25 in the UK conducted by The Guardian had nearly half say they didn’t care about labelling their sexuality, which is for many inseparable from gender identity because when you boil down gender politics what people seem to be really obsessed with are genitalia and what gets done with it - as though the physical act of sex is all there is to a human being and, as stated before, not seeing that sex does not equal gender.

As a young girl I was often called a tomboy and as a teen a number of people suspected I was a lesbian. Was it because I seemed interested in girls? Nope. It was because I never minded getting dirty, rarely wore skirts, and wasn’t into makeup. It never really bothered me that people thought I was homesexual, but it should have. Not because that’s a bad thing to be but because their reasons were incredibly gendered and sexist. As I got older, people asked less because I was involved in long-term cis relationships. But I was still often asked why I didn’t wear makeup or dress “nicer,” which is code for skirts. And I was told that if I wanted to be happy and also demonstrate my adulthood, I should start being more feminine. To which I rolled my eyes and bought some more jeans.

I started more deeply questioning society’s obsession with gender and sexuality when I was pregnant for the first time and virtually every person’s initial question was - is it a boy or girl? I asked around and every parent I knew had the same experience. Not only that, but if you said you weren’t finding out or you were but were not telling, people got offended, even angry. A friend who kept it quiet had an older relative aggressively pursue her to reveal her fetus’ sex because otherwise she’d “have no idea what present to get.” Blue or pink still dominate infant clothing choices. I had a woman scold me for putting my infant son in purple because she’d assumed he was a she - as though a mistake like that matters at all.

How can you explain to someone whose ideas of gender are rooted in a binary system that’s man-made and completely subjective? First, find a 13-year-old and explain to them why a flimsy, colored piece of paper with the number 20 inked onto it has value and can be exchanged for goods. The answer is that a long time ago a bunch of guys agreed to have papers represent their debts because it was easier to carry around than gold. Everyone went along with it because when men in power make those kinds of choices the rest of us are just stuck with it. This is my new go-to when discussing gender fluidity with people. I explain to them that the binary idea of male and female is a social construct just like money and it’s just as paper thin.

I believe and have personally experienced with myself and my two boys, who like fairy wings just as much a trucks, that gender is just this thing we made up to explain and separate humans based on physical differences. We did it because our brains like to be able to put things in boxes. We think men are all testosterone and women all estrogen when in reality we all have both of those hormones to varying degrees. Eddie Izzard recently said, in an interview with The Times, that he’s transgendered because he’s got some female genetics and he likes high heels. Well, I’m not trans but I imagine I’ve got some above average testosterone and I hate heeled shoes. Very few of us really fit completely comfortably in the man-box and woman-box; so why do we insist, when others make their own boxes, that they can’t or shouldn’t? Fear is no justification for hatred. In the dark, we look for the light - reach out and find a way.

Bottom line, and here I know Eddie agrees, let’s just all be free and equal people and what other people do with what may or may not be in their pants can be their business.

For more from Clare follow her

Friday, 15 July 2016

I am worthy, I am beautiful, I am talented - and so are you.

I jumped around so many times trying to work out the best topic to talk about today before realising that the reason I didn't want to talk about the thing I originally decided to talk about is because I was downplaying the topic. In my mind it wasn't a worthy enough topic to talk about, which, ironically is more or less what the topic was. So I've decided to stick with my original topic and today I am here to talk to you about how I am incapable of hearing compliments and believing them.
I know we did a post similar to this as a group where our loved ones described us and we responded, you can find that here - but today I just wanted to talk about my experiences with this personally.
Recently it's becomming a more prominent part of my life as I have amazing friends in my life who compliment me on a daily basis. Whether it's saying how beautiful I am, how wonderful, amazing, creative or incredible I am. The words are said to me with heartfelt expressions that I should be able to accept. But often, I hear those words and wonder how could I possibly live up to that expectation? After all, I'm a failure. I'm barely keeping my head above water. I keep forgetting everything. I am a clutz. I'm ugly. I am just doing what I've always done. These are the thoughts that swirl around in my head. They tell me that I don't deserve compliments.
This is why when I get heartfelt compliments, I do one of two things. Sometimes I grin widely and get cocky. "Well, you know, that is because I AM awesome." - Or I get quiet and mumble thank you while trying not to cry. The problem of course, is that I don't think these things about myself even though I know, deep down, I should.
So when someone comes along and says something awful to me, instead of defending myself, I just nod and agree. As an example of this, somone has once told me that organising blog tours isn't difficult, it's just contacting bloggers and making a schedule right? To which I just nodded and agreed without defending the hard work and hours that I put into each and every tour I do. And it is a lot of work. It's finding bloggers, getting the schedules to fit, chasing content, collating information about the book for a media kit, e-mailing all the bloggers with all the information they need, tweeting and facebooking, chasing bloggers who haven't posted, collating more data, creating a graphic or two if that's necessary. It is hard work. It is stressful. It requires a lot of energy and passion. But instead of saying all of that, I just agreed. And I am certain the next time someone says it, I will still just agree.
And I wish that wasn't the way. I wish I had some sense of confidence in myself, and my abilities to defend my work, my personalitiy, my achievements.

Because I wish that of my friends too. I watch them deflect my compliments and it hurts so I can only imagine how it must feel when I do the same thing. I want them to be able to see how much they mean to me, how wonderful and truly brilliant I think they are and for them to truly understand that about themselves and to see it as truth. And if I want that for them, how could I not want that for myself?
I think the problem is that if you accept a compliment head on, you can seem conceited or arrogant. "Oh, YOU think you're amazing and wonderful do you?" and no one really wants to go too far. But I think confidence in yourself and your abilities is different from arrogance but somehow I just need to learn the balance. I need to be able to say to myself that I AM worthy, that I AM beautiful, that I AM talented.
And so I am going to try and say this to myself every day until it sticks. And if you too have issues believing in your self-worth, I would love it if you too did the same thing.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Letters To Our Sixteen Year Old Selves

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I’m sure that we all have things we wish we could go back in time and tell our past selves. So today I’ve pitched the question to the Safe Space team:

If given the chance what would you tell your sixteen year old self?

Older and wiser maybe now we have the perfect advice to give to our younger selves now that we know the outcome of the experiences that we were struggling to navigate at sixteen years old and perhaps there is somebody out there reading this in a similar situation looking for some guidance too.

~ Jess ~

Dear Jess,
If I could travel back in time and give you a massive hug right now I would, because I know you could really do with one. I know you feel scared and alone, the wonderful boyfriend who was so lovely to you at the start of your relationship has been not so wonderful lately. I’d love to be able to say that things will get easier soon and that it’ll all be over but you’re going to have to be brave for a while longer. I can promise though that the right time and perfect opportunity will come for you to leave this relationship and you’ll do it safely without ever looking back. These dark times will end. 

The friends in your life who you think are so important now won’t be ten years down the line. Don’t worry so much about what they think and say, they’re not part of your future. At this moment in time you’ll find yourself wanting to be independant from your family but don’t push them too far. Family is more important than you realise right now. Try to let them in more. As grown up as you feel you don’t know everything about the world and still need your parents.

Soon a big, beautiful, black dog will be joining your family. You have no idea how much he will come to help you in the years to come. This furry bundle of joy will become your closest companion, he’ll make you laugh every day and will cuddle up to you when you’re sad. Give him a big hug from me. Treasure the time you have with him.

Your love of books will literally save your life, on some days being able to escape to another world will be all that keeps you going. Keep reading, writing and sharing your passion for books. Following that path that you love will lead you to the brightest parts of your life. You will literally meet the best people you know because of them including your best friend who will understand you in ways you can not begin to imagine a person ever could.

At the moment you don’t feel very strong. You feel panicky, afraid and sad all of the time. Talk to your family, go to the doctor, fight for your right to be seen by a mental health professional. You’re not crazy and although you’re in denial about how you feel right now I promise that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that with the right help you will start to feel better.

Take time out to reflect and think, in doing so you are rebuilding yourself to be the best version of you. From this very young age you will come to learn what you do and what you don’t want from life. You will learn empathy and compassion because of what you’ve been through and it will turn you into a kinder person who just wants to make the world a better place than when you found it. You will get to a point where you are proud of who you are and will love the life you have built for yourself because it is one that you have chosen and not one somebody else has told you that you should want.

Instead of looking down and being certain that if you jump you will fall, believe that if you spread your wings and take a leap of faith you will fly.

Stay strong, stay safe and stay hopeful.

Love, Jess x

~ Laura ~ 

Dear Laura,
It’s future you writing to past you…nifty huh?! I guess I have so much I want to say to you about what the future holds, what you have to look forward to, the things you’ll learn the people you’ll meet the experiences you’ll have…but you’ll get to those in good time.

What I really want to say to you is this: don’t ever stop loving yourself. You are one of the strongest, bravest and kindest people. Think of everything you’ve had to endure over the past few years and look how you’ve come through the other side. I wish I could lie to you and tell you that the future is perfect but it’s not. There will be plenty of heartbreak thanks to some rubbish men, there will be moments when you don’t think you can keep going, there will be many tears shed, many moments spent wondering why life isn’t going the way you thought it would. But the best part? You never ever give up.

Because there are some amazing times to come too. Some beautiful moments that you’ll never forget, nights spent in the arms of someone you love, days spent enjoying the simple pleasures of life, there’ll be books to read, songs to sing, friends to make and lessons to learn. But you must remember to keep loving yourself. Don’t let other people make you feel less than you are. Don’t allow someone else’s happiness to come before your own. Be selfish sometimes, take time to love yourself, make people aware that you’re pretty damn awesome.

And most of all stay kind. Keep smiling at strangers, help those less fortunate, take time to listen and remember everyone has their own battles to fight.

Stay strong and believe in yourself. Make mistakes, learn from them. Make beautiful memories, treasure them. Fall in love, enjoy it. Follow your dreams. Be brave, take chances, enjoy every second.
Life is never going to go the way you think it will but that’s ok. Life is unexpected and crazy and amazing and you’ll rock it.

Keep smiling gorgeous girl; never let anyone dull your shine. And on those days when you feel worthless or you don’t know what anyone could ever see in you, remind yourself that things will get better because they can and they will.

The future is yours to write so make it whatever you want to be. I’m so proud of you and of who you’ll become and I can’t wait for you to experience all the things you will.

Never regret anything that once made you smile.
Keep rocking it girl xxxx

~  Faye ~

Dear Faye,
It’s Faye here, from 10 years in the future. I’m writing to you today to help you get through this year, and the ones to follow it - because you do get through them.

This year you’ve made a big leap. You’ve left school and are heading to College with no friends but that’s okay because on your first day you’ll meet Jen and she will introduce you to an amazing group of people including your best friend, who is still your friend today.

College is going to be tough. I don’t want to scare you but you will lose your secondary school friends but that’s okay. I know you will hurt and feel replaced and it will make you feel useless and worthless but you are not these things. She wasn’t worth your amazing friendship and she is not worth your tears.

Over the coming years you are going to be faced with a lot of challenges and heartbreak but also love, happiness and hope. Because that is life in a nutshell. Swings and roundabouts.

This moment in your life is hard and scary but it is all worth it because at the end of it all you have a pretty good life with amazing supportive friends, an exciting business and living away from home. It’s still not perfect but because you’ve had experiences of hard times, you know you’ll get through this too.

So stay strong, keep smiling, and don’t let life knock you back too far.

 ~ Lily ~

Dear Lily,
It’s you, 5 years from the future! Pretty cool huh?! And boy do I have some things to say to you. First of all, I want to give you the biggest hug, even though you probably don’t want it or think you deserve it. You have been absolutely incredible in the past year. Don’t even doubt it for a second. Mum would be SO proud.

First things first, I know you’re nervous about starting a new sixth form. You know that group of friends from scouts you sometimes talk to? They’re going to take you under your wing and be the best friends you’ve ever had. It might be awkward at first because you haven’t known them as long as they’ve all known each other, but give it time. Get to know them, let them listen, and don’t be afraid to be who you are with them. You’re still all talking today even though you live all over the country.

Be kind to yourself. When it’s all too much, get out of school and make sure you pamper yourself. I know therapy isn’t the right answer for you right now, but in a few years it will be. And it will help you so much, you wouldn’t even believe. Don’t be afraid to rant to your friends, especially those who you talk to on the internet. They are some of the kindest, most wonderful people you’ll ever meet.

Keep an open mind at school. The subject you think you hate right now might just be the one that you end up wanting to study. Oh, and that gap year you want to do? PLEASE take it, and don’t feel pressured to go straight to University. You’ve been through so much these past few years and you need to take some time to go through it. Get through your A Levels, and then have a nice rest. You’ve earned it.

I want you to know that you’re about to embark on some of the best years of your life. You’ll get to watch the sunset by a Welsh lake with all your friends, you’ll get to travel all over Europe and climb up a Swiss mountain. Those Camp America websites you’ve been looking at? You get to do that too. And it’s one of the most eye-opening experiences you’ve ever had. Keep an open mind though, and work bloody hard when you’re there.

And above everything else, I want you to know that it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel sad and anxious and scared and nostalgic. It’s okay to miss her. I miss her too. Never feel like you have to hold in your emotions for anyone. You’re going to realise something about yourself soon, and everything will make sense. Embrace it and love it, I know it’s hard. You are so brave and wonderful and you have so much to look forward to. Be brave and take chances, but when it’s all too much don’t be afraid to say no. Remember to look after yourself.

Keep smiling and keep going. It gets better, I promise.

Love, Lily x

~ Louise ~

Dear Louise,
I’m here to tell you not to panic. Everything feels like it’s not going to plan at the moment doesn’t it? You know you have something that makes you different to all the other girls your age and you feel alone and afraid but it does get better. You’ll find out soon that this is a common problem and treatable; so very treatable. Worrying about the future – the kind of future when you get dizzy from thinking it’s so far away but it’s going to come around so quickly – isn’t healthy. Focusing on YOU and being happy is a much better use of your energy.

Please don’t push away those people who care about you. They will leave – albeit temporarily – but it will take many unnecessary years and more pain to get them back; to build the relationship and friendship you’ve always wanted.

You’re now 28 and twelve years have gone by so fast and being sixteen with these problems pale in retrospect. You will become a great survivor and will endure so much more than you think possible. But don’t panic. You have it in you, even when you’re in the depths of depression and doubting your every fibre. You have got this down. This is just the beginning of the adventures... You’re going to love them!

Love and hugs,
Lou x

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Life Turns On A Dime

There’s a saying: ‘life can turn on a dime’.

And in the past few weeks I’ve never understood this phrase more. I got dumped. I suddenly fell in love with exercise. My diet is literally the sort of diet I used to think was grim as hell. I am pushing myself to deal with my anxiety. From where I was a month ago my life is completely different in so many ways. And it shocks me how fast we can change the direction of our lives, whether it’s through our own choice or someone else’s.

And it got me thinking. If you could change anything about your life what would it be? Would you be healthier? Would you be braver? What would you change? What’s something you desperately want?
And then think about this…

What is it that is stopping you from doing it?


Now think again, if you take away the boundaries that YOU set for yourself. The boundaries that people who know you set around you. The boundaries that society sets…

NOW what’s stopping you?

I’mma guess nothing.

Because the only reasons we stop ourselves from doing the things we REALLY want to do is because we allow these boundaries to act as immovable walls.



Want to be healthier? Teach yourself self-love, self-compassion and treat your body like the temple it fucking is. People telling you that you’ll fail? You’re not good at sticking to things? Tell them to get out and go and sort their own problems out before they start passing judgement on you. Society telling you you’ll never be as hot as all the sexy women of the world? Even if you’re healthy you’ll never be like them? SCREW THAT.


So often we think we can’t do things because we tell ourselves we can’t and then people we know and society help validate those feelings of inadequacy. And then we think ‘I can’t do it so I’m not going to even try.’

For YEARS I’ve thought I’d NEVER be able to lose weight and that I’d just have to accept I’d always be fat. And people just sort of perpetuated those feelings…’you’re not very good at sticking to healthy eating’ etc. But I got an exercise bike, some weights and started to eat less processed food and suddenly I realise that I CAN lose weight. I CAN get fitter, stronger, healthier. And that’s because I smashed through the wall. When I was using my exercise bike, looking like a fat whale, sweat dripping off me and a red face I was like ‘this is gonna be pointless because I’ll never be sexy or thin or strong’ and then I was like ‘NO WAIT. I WILL BE. I CAN BE.’ And I kept pedaling and that was my metaphorical wall that I knocked down. I realised that the only thing that EVER stopped me from achieving what I wanted was ME. And my fear of being laughed at or failing or never getting there.

But you know, isn’t it worth trying? Isn’t it worth failing than never trying at all? Isn’t it worth taking a hammer to the wall? You might not get through to the other side first time but every time you try you make those bricks looser and soon you’ll find you get through that wall.

Make a decision, let life change on a dime for you. Do something you never thought you could.

You’ll surprise yourself. 

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Power of Compassion and Empathy

Never give up on someone with a mental illness. When I becomes we, illness becomes wellness - Shannon L Alder quote For a while, there was a strong chance there wouldn't be a post from me this week. I was considering asking Jess if I could give it a miss; I'm going through a really hard time at the moment, putting the effort in to write any kind of post seemed impossible, and the thought of trying almost brought me to tears. But then a moment of inspiration, a gratitude post that required no real effort, only love.

There have been a lot of terrible things happening around the world lately; Orlando, Istanbul, Baghdad, and not too long ago, Paris. There's so much hate in the world, and it's leading to death. It can be all too easy, in our sorrow, to lose hope and wonder where our humanity has gone. But what we must remember is, there are so many wonderful humans in this world too.

In the two weeks following my last post, Listen to Your Body, my fears over my mental health have become stronger, with more mini/mild/almost panic attacks (whatever they would be called). After writing that post, our very own Faye sent me a message full of support and encouragement to see my doctor, as she could see similarities with her own anxiety. She became a huge help when I was struggling last week, telling me about Ieso Digital Health, a website for self-referral.

Without really thinking, I picked up Under Rose Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall to read, which is about 17-year-old Norah, who has agoraphobia and OCD, and frequent anxiety attacks. At first it seemed like a bad idea to be reading it when I was struggling, but I kept at it, and found it to actually be really helpful. In my review, I wrote about how it had helped me, and Louise Gornall ended up tweeting me - again, offering support and understanding. She told me she was proud of me for being honest about what I'm experiencing, and she told me to drop her an email if I needed anything.

I was supposed to be going to a book launch this week with the lovely Kathy of I am Kathy B, who invited me to be her plus one, but because of how I've been struggling, I cancelled, explained, saying I didn't think it was wise right now. Kathy was absolutely amazing, sending me a message full of raw honesty about her own anxiety, telling me she completely understood. She gave me so much advice, including recommending Anxiety For Beginners: A Personal Investigation by Eleanor Morgan, as well as support and yet another person for me to talk to.

And then there's Caoimhe, my penpal and very good friend, who opened my eyes in the first place. Because of the things I had written about, she gently told me she thought I might have anxiety, which prompted my last post. And have been told her next letter will include the things she does that help her with her own anxiety, on the off chance they might help me, too.

Because I was honest about what I'm going through, to individuals and to the readers of Safe Space and Once Upon a Bookcase, several wonderful people reached out to me in solidarity, offering support, empathy and compassion. Because I chose not to stay silent about what I'm feeling, I've found people who have helped, and have made my struggle a little easier. My reason for being so honest is because, even before my own struggles, I believed that talking about mental illness can only help remove the stigma. But in doing so, amazing, beautiful, incredible people reached out to me, and have helped keep my panic at bay. They've helped me to breathe. They showed me that I'm not alone, that I'd found my people.

The world is not full of terrible people. There are some absolute bloody diamonds out there, you just have to find them. And perhaps honesty may be the key to helping you find yours, too.

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Wednesday, 6 July 2016

That Miserable Little Voice

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This is not the post I was going to write. I had made the decision a week or so ago that I was going to write a completely different kind of post after reading Faye's brilliant post, there were several things that I wanted to reflect on and talk about.

But I'm not doing that today. Not because I no longer have anything to say in relation to that post but because since deciding to write that post this nagging little voice in the dark corner of my brain has piped up questioning "Why? What have you to say that anyone cares to read? What can you possibly contribute to the discussion after Faye wrote such a fantastic post? The only people who would care what you have to say already know so why bother?"

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has those kinds of thoughts but I've noticed more and more how often I have them. How frequently that voice talks me out of an idea, a tweet, a post, expressing a thought. Talks me out of it by snidely whispering things like; "No one gives a shit what you think", "They'll just think you're weird", "Why does your opinion need to be shared? "You have no valuable experience to impart", "You're such an attention seeker". And on and on ad. nauseum.

So many fucking times that voice silences me.

But I can't stop listening to it and obeying.

I now don't feel confident in sharing that other post even though I could probably write 1000+ words on the topic, that voice has convinced me that no one wants to read them, no one outside my close friends even cares so why bother sharing my thoughts with the internet? Just keep it to yourself.

Even writing *this* the voice is telling me that I'm crying out for attention and that my problems are so minor that they verge on whiny so shut the fuck up already. But someone needs to know because I'm not telling anyone that I'm feeling like this and that isn't good.

I don't know if that voice is depression or anxiety or some awful conglomeration of both. But it's shouting pretty loud these days and holding me back from doing a lot of things.

Most recently being saying hello to two writerly people I know from Twitter when I saw them in a bookshop because that voice told me not to bother them, they don't need you & your awkward lemon self mucking up their day. So I kept my mouth shut. (That is a thing that I have mentioned to no one since it happened on Saturday and I'm inwardly cringing even typing it).

I should probably say that this post is likely to be surprising to more than just strangers who don't really know me, because there are at least three very important ladies who will be wondering why I haven't mentioned any of this to them. And that's because I didn't want to burden you with my silly little problems when you all have far more serious worries of your own to deal with. And I'm sorry.

That miserable little voice is making a lot of things suck right now and I don't know how to shut it up. So this is me calling it out. For all the good it might do. I don't even know.

Monday, 4 July 2016

The Man in the Alleyway

Trigger Warning: This post contains references to rape, abuse and domestic violence.

“Don’t wear that outfit” 

“Take off that makeup” 

“Don’t leave your drink unattended” 

“Stay with your friends” 

“Text me when you’re home so I know you’re safe” 

Beware. Beware. Beware. 

There comes a time in every girl’s life when they are taught to beware the man in the alleyway. Seemingly overnight we go from being little girls who are afraid of fictitious monsters hiding under our beds to being grown women afraid of a very real kind of monster: the abuser, the rapist, the man in the alleyway.

Our mothers, sisters and friends dust us off before a night out like a soldier going into battle, their eyes scanning for anything shiny that might catch the monsters eye. We are given the cautionary tale, warned of dark alleyways, strangers, monsters without faces. Inhuman beings that beat, rape and kill.

Imagining abusers as fictitious monsters that lurk in the shadows of alleyways and exist only with the intention to hurt is somewhat easier to stomach. It would be simpler if not wearing a short skirt or avoiding a certain area at night would be enough to keep the beasts away, but those monsters that we are taught to fear are actually people just like us. Abusers can be the men who we love and admire, handsome men with bright futures ahead of them, our bosses, partners and friends. Men who make us laugh and smile and feel loved. This is a fact that I think many still find hard to swallow. It would be so much easier to stay clear of harm’s way if abusers really were monsters who we could easily spot and identify but the sad truth is that the men who hurt women are all around us. They are the man in the alleyway we’ve been taught to fear.

There have been two recent cases in the media that have proven to me that society still believes in the mythological abuser. There is the horrific Stanford rape and the abuse actress Amber Heard suffered at the hands of her husband Johnny Depp. Both cases were presented in the media as a mistake instead of the crimes that they in fact were. Society would have us believe that if you’re handsome, successful and privileged you are incapable of being an abuser. That there are monsters in alleyways and then there are valued members of society who happen to have made a mistake. If Amber Heard was married to a balding middle aged man with a beer belly and a job outside of the public eye, when she bravely stepped forward to talk about the abuse she suffered she’d have become the medias darling, but because her husband happened to be Depp she was labelled a liar and a gold digger.

Statistics tell us that you’re more likely to be abused by someone you know than a stranger. This isn’t always the case, but I happened to fall into that majority. I have a story similar to Amber’s but on a much smaller scale. I was in a blissful relationship for 6 months; I was the envy of all of my friends. My boyfriend and I were the golden couple and he treated me like a princess, until he didn’t.

He was a master manipulator managing to not only manipulate me but also those around me. He’d polish his crown and play the part of prince charming in front of my friends and family only to become the beast behind closed doors. After years of abuse and one of many attempts on my life, I managed to safely end the relationship and find the courage to tell my friends and family. Sadly, there were people who I called my friends who did not believe me.

“But he’s so lovely!” 

I’d hear them say behind my back.

“She’s probably doing it for sympathy” 

They’d whisper to each other.

“He just doesn’t seem like the type” 

I’d hear them say repeatedly.

When the people around me said that they didn’t believe me, when it had taken everything I had in me to tell them, it was like they took mud with sharp stones and jagged glass and rubbed it into the wounds that my ex had already created. The only thing more dangerous than an abuser? A society who isn’t willing to believe and is ready with an excuse.

When we don’t believe reports of rape and abuse whether close to us or further away in the bright lights of Hollywood we are sending out a message to women everywhere saying: if you speak up you will be ignored. When the media use words like “alleged” and “supposed” it is conditioning us as a society to question by default instead of support. If there is evidence in court that points to a conviction and instead the abuser is let off with a lecture and a slapped wrist it teaches men that treating women this way is okay. As of right now this is the society that we live in, it is one where who the true victim is often gets confused.

For a safer and more just world it’s important that we become more familiar with what abuse looks like. For the young men in our homes who we raise it’s important that we teach them about consent and respecting women and for the victims who we haven’t been able to protect it is important that we listen and that we believe.

Words of warning silenced, judgments cast aside, it’s time we shone a bright light into those dark alleyways and look our monsters straight in the eye so that we can better recognise the face of an abuser.

Disclaimer: It's worth noting that women also abuse men and other women in LGBT relationships. This post is just based off my own personal experience with abuse.

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