Friday, 29 April 2016

Age is Just a Number

Age is Just a NumberWe live in a society that makes a big issue of age, and make a lot of judgements and assumptions about people based on how old they are, and it's something I don't understand.

If you want to be taken seriously, you need to be an adult; don't expect society to really pay attention to what you say if you're a teenager or younger, or if you're elderly. Society will collectively smile and nod while you're talking, but roll their eyes once your back is turned. It's atrocious that teenagers are patronised and the elderly are thought past it, as if age is some sort of indicator for intellect or ability to understand, and you're only able to do so once you're no longer a teenager, but before you're - what, 50? 60? 70? What is "old", anyway?

I have two examples of you to show that these ideas, these stereotypes that we seem to take as fact, are complete rubbish. Malala Yousafzai, now 18, was shot at 14, and since recovering, has been campaigning for female education. Yousafzai started to really use her voice, which led to being nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize, before she was shot. The very reason why she was shot. Would you patronise her? On Thursday 21st April 2016, Queen Elizabeth II turned 90. Whatever you think of the Queen and the monarchy in general, you cannot deny how tirelessly this woman works, how informed she is, how her opinion is sought after. I don't think anyone could listen to the Queen speak and think she is past it. Yes, these women are two very public figures, they're not your everyday teenager or elderly person. But that doesn't mean that people in similar age brackets aren't just as smart, aren't just as worthy of being heard. Just because they're not on the TV or in the news doesn't mean they should be dismissed. Teenagers will have fresh ideas and a unique viewpoint for living in this world right now as young people, and older people have experience on their side. We should be listening to what they have to say; their opinions and views are just as important as our own.

I also want to touch on society's obsession with youth when it comes to women and beauty. It's such an incredibly sexist idea that as women age, they lose their beauty. This is something we see a lot with celebrities, with more women having plastic surgery to appear younger, yet it's perfectly ok for men to age, because they become silver foxes. It's a completely ridiculous idea because it simply isn't true. Ageing doesn't make women unattractive. Look at Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Celia Imrie and Julie Walters, for example. These women are beautiful. Not in spite of their age, but because they just are.

Because of the stereotypes and ideas about age, we also make assumptions about people and decisions based on how old we think they are - based on their appearance. I am 29, but most people still think I'm a teenager. I am constantly patronised because I look so young, and sometimes have my opinions dismissed if I disagree - because I'm just a teenager, and obviously, teenagers don't know anything. You have no idea how frustrating it can be. I don't mind so much people thinking I'm younger - except for when people my own age see someone much younger when they look at me, and so dismiss me - it's how I'm treated because of how old people assume I am that really winds me up. I feel like I constantly need to tell people how old I am, but I shouldn't have to; yes, I am 29, but even if I was a teenager, my views deserve to be heard. Don't shut people up because they are - or look - young.

On the other side of the coin, there are those who look older than they actually are. This is an idea EastEnders is currently exploring with Jay Mitchell, in his early 20s, who discovers that his girlfriend Linzi is only 14. This is a very delicate situation, and I'm really interested to see how it plays out on the soap. But it shows how you really can't make assumptions of age based on how someone looks, and how it could be dangerous territory. This is a grey area and a scary situation, and not something I have the answer to.* My point is that you shouldn't just assume.

Situations like this just further prove that a teenager's age doesn't necessarily mean anything when it comes to maturity, and the same can be said about any age. Except when it comes to the law, age simply doesn't matter; it's no indication of personality, intellect or level of maturity. Nor is it really any indicator of intent. There is so much judgement on the intentions of people where there is a bit of an age gap in a relationship. If a woman is going out with a man who is considered old, she's a gold digger taking advantage of the old fool - no matter how much money he has. If a man is going out with a woman who is quite a bit younger, he's a perv. Or possibly going through a midlife crisis, depending how close he is to being "old". If an older woman is going out with a much younger man, she's a cougar - which has an air of sexiness to it - but she's also a fool, because obviously her boyfriend is just taking her for a ride, also wanting to get money out of her. No-one considers that there might be real, genuine attraction on both sides, let alone that they might genuinely be in love.

Age is simply an indicator of how long a person has been living. It doesn't tell you anything about who they are, what they think, what they can add to a conversation, what their presence in your life could mean. So why is it so important? Age really is just a number, and we don't all show our age on our faces. We need to start remembering that.

*As I write, it is the morning of Tuesday 26th April 2016. I don't know how Jay's story has progressed over the week, and so this is not a comment on episodes shown after Monday 25th April 2016.

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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Sweating like a P.I.G

So newsflash; women sweat. I’m not talking the ladylike, flowery-scented, dewy perspiration that some arbitrary voice of societal authority deemed was acceptable for women, I’m talking the “shit-my-deodorant-has-totally-given-up-on-me-and-it-smells-like-something-died” kind of sweating that isn’t caused by a gym session that would make Daisy Ridley proud. Yet I can’t honestly recall a time I had a conversation with girlfriends about sweating and body odour during high school but it was something that I spent a good deal of time panicking about and trying to deal with on a daily basis. It’s something I still have to deal with and spend more time than I’d like thinking about it every day.

It’s a fact of my body that if I don’t shower in the morning or forget to apply deodorant that within about an hour or so, even if I’m doing nothing more strenuous than sitting at my desk I will be sweating and starting to smell. Sometimes I have showered *and* applied deodorant and still found myself dabbing my underarms with tissues before blitzing the body spray to hide the odour that I’m positive everyone else can smell. To make things even weirder my right armpit is sweatier than the left, so that side could be bone dry while the right pit is literally dripping. What the hell biology?


Sweating is a constant inconvenience when you start questioning what colour/material/style of tops you can wear without ending up with enormous dark, sweaty rings under your arms after a few hours of just existing. I’ve had to throw away several t-shirts and vest tops because the under-arms were stained and still had a lingering smell of BO even though they’ve been through the wash several times. I surreptitiously check for stains with alarming frequency if I’m wearing light-coloured tops and it’s not beyond belief that I’ve swapped tops during the day because I’ve effectively sweated myself out of my clothing. That can happen even in winter since my body is stupid and can often sweat more when I’m freezing cold than when it’s roasting.

 It’s not just underarm sweating that causes problems, women with larger than average breasts often have to deal with under-boob sweating which can end up causing soreness when combined with their bras chafing. It’s another sucky card that big-boobed ladies get dealt along with all the things that Jess discussed in her post on Growing up with Big Boobs a few weeks ago. Like thanks Mother Nature. Y’bish.



Taking things even further south, I’m gonna take a moment to put it out there that I’m not the only woman who spends a week out of every month *convinced* that everyone around me can smell the blood that is oozing out of my nether regions. Because surely if I can smell it while I’m fully dressed, SO CAN EVERYONE ELSE?? But since I don’t get people saying “what’s that smell?” while they’re sat next to me (although let’s be real, us Brits would never say that, we’d just tweet about it) I’m guessing that the odour is only really obvious to me because I’m used to my own smells. Right?

This frustration and paranoia also applies to general sweating around your groin and upper thighs. What the hell are you meant to do if you get so clammy and yuck that your knickers are soaked and not in the way we'd prefer them to be. It's not as easy to mop up sweat from your groin while you're sat at your desk as it is to discretely stuff some tissues under your arms, and you'll get some *very* odd looks if someone finds you crotch-first under the hand-dryer in the toilets frantically trying to dry out your vaginal region.


I never really thought about particular methods to combat body odours beyond having showers and applying deodorant but Jess linked me to this video earlier which gives lots of different tips and tricks for dealing with body odour and sweating. If you swap out the use of a hairdryer in a public toilet for the infinitely more likely hand-dryer then you get one of my more frequently used methods for de-soggying my top after I’ve fervently dabbed my pits with tissues. Can’t say I’m really into the idea of chucking vinegar or vodka onto my clothes but some of the hacks she recommends are things I have done myself.

I know that there are some medical conditions which cause excessive sweating so some of the things mentioned in the video might not be of any use. I'd recommend consulting a medical professional on the best methods for managing these conditions. Same goes for if you have sensitive skin or allergies, don't chuck anything at your skin that you know is only going to cause you pain or discomfort.

I'd best be off, I have deadlines looming and I'm cold-sweating like the weirdo I am. Seriously my hands & feet are ice cubes but I'm sweating. What even is my life?



Monday, 25 April 2016

Keep Running Up That Hill

Yesterday I went to watch the London Marathon for the first time. I'm gonna be honest, but I was brought to tears within about 5 minutes of watching them sail past. And it wasn't just because of all the chafed nipples. 

 About a month and a half ago, one of my best friends Caitlin wrote a list of 30 things to do before she turns 30. I thought this was a nice idea, so being the great friend that I am, I stole it. So far my list only has about 21 things on it.

 photo running_zpslbii0cks.png

But one of the things on it is to be able to run 5k. I'm not entirely sure why I put this on the list. I can't run. I've always hated it. I will rarely run for the bus, and that's about the only time I really consider it. But with the giant trend of people doing #couchto5k, and my appalling lack of exercise, it was probably a good idea. 

 And then one of my friends at work started running, and I thought it would be nice to be able to share playlist songs. And it would actually be quite a bonus not to be a sweaty hyperventilating mess everytime I have to climb a hill or go up the stairs.


So I started running. And I've discovered several things about myself in the process:

 - It doesn't matter how fast or slow I run, I'm still convinced i look like a grasshopper with jazz hands.

- Breathing is HARD. I miss one step and I'm suddenly all over the shop. 

- Music is really helpful. When I find the right song I am off and its all I can think about and it feels good! 

- Except when a good song comes on its surprisingly difficult not to sing out loud (sorry neighbours). 

- I'm a total wimp when it comes to getting out of bed. Especially when it involves going outside *curls up under my blanket* 

- I find it quite hard to fit it in around my crazy work hours. 

But its quite satisfying to be able to do something at least semi regularly. Not only am I succeeding at something, I am proving to work that I can have a life. And that's really important to me.

 

I'm currently up to 5 minutes of running constantly, and up to about 3k of total running when I go. Which is why yesterday when I looked into the faces of the people in the marathon I could sense so much emotion. The pain and struggle alongside pure determination. It was just raw. And oh so very inspiring. 

I want to be able to say that I can run, instead of dismissing it as a weakness. I'm not sure I'm ever gonna get to the point of running 26 miles. But if I can achieve my goal of 5k, then that will be my version of the marathon. And I will smash it.

   photo safe space bio_zps8jlgrcn3.png
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Sunday, 24 April 2016

Wonderful Things

It’s been a tough couple of weeks since my last post. Without going into too much detail, I’ve had a lot of stress and sadness going on in my life this past fortnight at work, with my own health, and with some flat troubles too. It’s definitely taken it’s toll and more than a few times I ended up just curling into a ball in bed and wishing that it could all end.

But I’m not writing this post today to tell you all how awful my life is, because, despite everything going on, my life is everything but awful. And so today I want to tell you about five wonderful things that have kept me going and will continue to keep me going.


Supportive, Loving, and Amazing Friends
I owe my friends so much. Without them, I am not so certain I would be where I am today, or if I’d even be here today. Whenever I’m feeling lonely or sad or stressed or down, I know that there is someone that I can turn to. Someone who will give me words of advice, someone who will remind me how wonderful I am, someone who will make me laugh and someone who will simply just be there. I cannot put into words how grateful I am to every single one of my friends for helping to make life just that little bit easier.

My Rock
Metaphorically speaking anyway. My rock is my mum. She is the best person I know. She is the one I always go to when I have a problem or just have something that I need to talk about with. She always sits with me as we talk everything through analytically and logically until we come up with the perfect solution. She literally keeps me together. And she has been incredibly helpful these past few weeks too. I really cannot imagine going through life without her.

Books
It’s no surprise to see this one on the list, right? What with me being a book blogger and a library assistant. But books are just so wonderful. They can help you feel less alone. They can make you happier, and they can keep you in touch with your emotions too. Books can also help you make decisions and are just incredible for taking your mind off of things too. Reading is also really good for the brain. So you really just can’t go wrong with a book.

Television *cough*Netflix*cough*
Netflix has been my saviour lately. When I’m in a really low mood, I find it difficult to read. But I can switch the TV or computer on and dive into one of my favourite shows or find a good film to immerse myself in. The best thing about TV is that it doesn’t take a lot of concentration but it can stop me from thinking too much about other things. If it’s gripping enough, I forget everything but what’s happening on the screen. It’s the perfect way to relax and just ignore everything else.

Letting Myself Feel Sad
Now, this may seem like an odd thing to be on the list but it needs to be here because I never used to do it. Being sad always felt like a weakness to me and I would pretty much force myself to feel better without really looking into my emotions and why I felt the way I did. But now I allow myself to wallow. I allow myself to treat myself to small things to make me feel better (like coffee) but I also just allow the tears to flow. Because it’s good to let it out. And once it is out, you can just get up and move on. Work out the next logical step with a clear and level-head. It is quite wonderful.



So those are just a few of the things that have kept me going these past few weeks. I could also add chocolate and coffee to this list, and cats, and funny videos and twitter… but then the list would just get a little out of hand.

Don't forget to also check out Jess' post, here about how she self-cares her mental health!

What wonderful things keep you going?


Saturday, 23 April 2016

Guest Post: The Rag Doll Disease by Hayley Steed

It was in my second year of university I started noticing my body struggling. The first thing was that I couldn’t use a straw, my mouth just wouldn’t close around it but I didn’t think it was a big deal. Then it was paralysis of my face – I’d be doing my makeup and I just couldn’t move my forehead or make my lips meet. It got worse when my speech started to slur and I began to choke on my food. I went to my university doctor about 5 times in 3 months, asking for help to be told it was stress, anxiety, migranes etc. It wasn’t until I went home to my local surgery that someone realised something was wrong. I was referred to a neurologist but the waiting list was 2 months – in that time I dropped to 6 stone from not being able to eat and I have vivid memories of having to leave restaurants with my boyfriend from everyone staring at me whilst I choked, to physically putting my fingers down my throat and picking out food I was choking on all whilst holding my breath.

My neurologist, Dr A as we like to call him, sent me for MRIs and CAT scans immediately before I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, nicknamed the Rag Doll disease. It’s an auto immune illness meaning severe muscle weakness. Essentially my body’s immune system attacks itself and sends antibodies to kill the messages from my brain to my muscles, so they just don’t receive the message and don’t move. That’s anything from my eyes drooping, to not being able to smile, to my swallowing muscles failing, to my lungs struggling. Dr A wanted to admit me but only let me go home as my Mum is a registered nurse. He told me to cancel mine and my boyfriend’s first holiday together which was just 3 weeks later, and cancel the trip to America my family had planned for several months later in the year, which was when I knew how serious it was. One of the hardest parts still was sitting outside that hospital and ringing my boyfriend to tell him I was ill.

I started on medication and in December 2013 at the age of 20 I had a transsternal thymectomy (they cut open my chest and took out my thymus gland which had a tumour.) I was his youngest ever patient and they told me it had 1/3 chance of making me slightly better, but not curing, 1/3 chance I’d be exactly the same and 1/3 chance it’d make me worse. It’s such a rare disease, they know so little about it. They don’t know what causes it, or how to really fix it. Either way I’d have the scar which runs the length of my breastbone and three ‘bullet’ hole scars underneath from where they fed drains into my lungs, which they took out when I was awake two days later. The only thing I’m going to tell you about that operation is that because my illness is all about muscle weakness, they couldn’t let me have any painkillers before I woke up. Usually they’ve already hooked you up to a morphine drip so you wake up with painkillers inside you – I didn’t have that in case it meant I didn’t wake up. I woke up feeling the full effects of the operation, screaming.


A couple of months before my 21st birthday they found a blood clot in my leg so I was on more treatment for that, meaning I was not allowed to drink for my 21st. I nearly had to cancel my birthday trip to Rome but I pretty much told them that wasn’t happening unless I could die doing so. I went. I’ve had two relapses, one when my eye closed for about 2 months, I’ve no idea why. I had to cancel all my work experience and just stay at home for that time. The other was last summer. I had a week where I kept waking up in the night feeling very phlegmy, to the point I couldn’t lay on my back because I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Then one morning I woke up and I couldn’t breathe standing up. I went to A&E, was met by ICU and strapped up to IVIG, a drug which essentially restarts your immune system. I had that over a course of 5 days which left me exhausted but it worked. That’s the only time I’ve come close to dying from it. (I had to cancel another holiday me and my boyfriend were supposed to be going on).

Something that came alongside the physical illness, was the anxiety. It’s better now, but for the first couple of years of diagnosis, I just wouldn’t go out. I was terrified it would make me more ill, or if I went for a meal, I would choke and either everyone would stare or I’d die. I didn’t like people seeing me when they knew I was ill because I thought they’d be looking for signs of it and I didn’t want to see anyone who didn’t know I was ill and have to explain why I couldn’t speak properly all of a sudden. Now, even though most people know I’m ill and I rarely choke at meals, I still get panicky when I’m going to events or meeting an author that my speech or face will just drop and they’ll wonder why. It’s a vicious cycle because the anxiety and stress makes my symptoms worse. Sometimes I try to joke about it so if I’m with my friends for a special occasion I always take my pills and say ‘if we’re taking photos, let’s do it now whilst my face works’. My worst bout was after my second relapse – I’d wake up every morning in a hot sweat, panicking in fear of waking up and not being able to breathe again like before.

My friends now tell me how snappy I was after being diagnosed and I was – I was angry. I was angry at the hand I’d been dealt, angry that I wasn’t like them anymore, that I couldn’t be ‘normal’ and angry that none of them seemed to think it was a big deal. An illness like mine, one which can’t be cured, brings a lot of frustration with it. It dictates every moment of my life – I decided I still wanted to work, which I do, and to live my life, which I do. But if I have an event in the evening after work, it will tire me out for the next few days. I can’t go to a different bookish event each night like I wish I could, I have to carefully plan. I can’t go to bed late, because if I’m tired, my muscles will be so much weaker. Numerous times I’ll be mid-way up a flight of stairs and my legs will give way – I just have to sit and let everyone walk by me until I’ve rested enough to go again. Most of the day I can’t smile, because my cheeks aren’t strong enough. I frequently look liked I’m mid-stroke and my medication heavily increases my risk of cancer. Rest is the biggest word in my life and it’s so frustrating, as a 20-23 year old to be told you can’t when you have always been able to and that’s always what I’ve struggled with most. If someone who knew me in my pre-illness years saw me now they’d be shocked. I used to love going out, I loved drinking and clubbing, I was loud and brash. I’m still quite brash, but if I go out, which is rare, I don’t drink because it’s a depressant and makes my muscles weaker. Even without alcohol, I can’t do stuff every day like ‘normal’ people can, I always have to consider what will tire me out, what will be too much first. It’s constant.

My scar then and now
Most importantly I think we need to stop putting illnesses on a scale. I had so many comments after being diagnosed like ‘at least it isn’t cancer’ or ‘at least it isn’t a brain tumour’ and yes, I’m so thankful I haven’t had to go through either, but does that make mine any less valid or difficult to live with? My own friends thought my illness wasn’t a big deal, until they nearly saw me die from it. But people can die from depression, from cancer, from Crohn’s, from epilepsy, from anxiety. So many people have a story like mine, of struggle and pain and difficulty. Mental and physical health don’t need to be measured or met with judgment of how bad they are.

This has probably been a quite depressive post so I’m going to list some good bits:
• It’s been nearly 3 years since I was diagnosed and I’ve gone from 40 pills a day to 8. I’m stable and have no signs of relapsing anytime soon *fingers crossed*.
• This was all going on in my 2nd and 3rd year of uni. I’d get extra time to finish my work after my operation and blood clot in 3rd year, and I got a First. I’m damn proud of that.
• I’ve been on several fantastic holidays which I haven’t had to cancel including driving the coast of California with my family and Rome for my 21st birthday.
• My incredible boyfriend has been with me since day 1 and has stayed throughout the most difficult times, even when I was freaking out about my ‘ugly’ scar.
• I’ve never been so close to my family – I had to call my Mum at 3am from my bed after coming home from the op to come and spoon feed me morphine because it hurt too much to move. After an experience like ours, you value everything so much more and we’re pretty much best friends. • I’m really happy – I got a job in publishing and my illness is settled enough to live with. I’ve got used to my life being toned down.
• Since my op I have skydived and abseiled to raise money for our charity – Myaware. This year I’m taking part in an attempt to beat a world record of skydivers and my Mum is jumping with me. If you want to sponsor me you can find my page at www.justgiving.com/HayleySteed3

For more from Hayley follow her

Friday, 22 April 2016

No and No and No and that's OK

I seem to have to answer no to a lot of the random questions people ask. Strangers like hairdressers, people when you first meet, family I don't see often. Usually my answer to polite small talk questions is no.
"Do you work?" "No."  "So you're looking for a job?" "No."

"You married?" "Nope." "Partner?" "No."

"Any kids?" "No it's just me."

"Going on holiday this year?" "No I don't think so."

"Do you drive?" "I'm not allowed due to my disability."


"So did you see Eastenders last night?" "Nah I don't watch it."

I swear the only polite small talk questions I can answer well are the boring British weather related ones. And those "no" answers can shut down conversation.  I ask about the other person but it can feel a little one sided and maybe uncomfortable for them.

 Sometimes the questions are put in a different way and I can answer them - "What do you do?" is easier than "do you work?" because I can talk about my writing and my volunteering.  Sometimes I answer differently - "no, I'm not going on holiday but I've been having a day out a month" means we might talk about where I was and what I was doing.  "I don't have kids but I have a nephew."

But the fact of the matter is that those questions are the ones that society expects me to be able to say yes to most of.  As a woman in my 30s it's expected that I'll have a job or be looking for one, drive some form of car as opposed to a powerchair, take holidays, be in a relationship and either have kids, be planning for them soon or be definite that I don't want them.


Society doesn't really know what to do with me.  I'm very disabled, I don't have kids but don't rule it out, I don't work and couldn't manage to do so, I haven't taken a holiday since 2007 and I travel everywhere by train or not at all.  I'm very happily single and don't really want to be in a relationship.  I don't even watch Eastenders!


It almost feels sometimes that those negative answers define me more then who I am.

 My friends and family accept and love me for that and I wouldn't change myself.  That doesn't mean it's always easy or comfortable polite small talk and quick encounters don't always give time to share who I am and make the positive impression I'd like.  I worry that those strangers see my disability and not the girl in the chair.

As I've gotten older I've gotten much happier about that situation.  It is what it is and I am what I am.  If people only want to ask those questions, judge me by those nos and not take the time to get to know me they aren't worth my worrying about (although I can't always help it).

I'm someone whose always going to have to answer no to the questions society expects. And that's OK.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

My Body, My Rules

I’ll call her Diane. I hadn’t seen her for two years. She’s in her mid-seventies and has been a family friend since I was 11 years old, though we’d never been close. When I bumped into her in a cafĂ© recently, the first thing she said to me was, “Give us a hug.” With a new-found confidence and sense of worth, I refused. Whilst she soon left me, unhappy with my response, I felt empowered.

There’s a quote seen frequently on Instagram that says, “Be the person you needed when you were younger.” This person is different for each of us. Perhaps you needed someone who would take you seriously. Perhaps you needed someone to provide stability away from addiction and violence. There were two things that I needed: a voice and control over my own body. These are basic human rights that, as children, we may have lacked and that, as young women, we may even deny ourselves.


Violation of our bodies leaves a lingering mark. A decade after I stopped being sexually abused, a stranger sidled up to me and touched me inappropriately. I stayed silent. I told myself that one more incident wouldn’t make a difference, that other people had free reign over me and I just had to accept it. NO!

An older woman telling me to hug her may seem a world away from the secrecy of abuse, but the demanding of a physical action reignited the anxiety of that time. Thankfully, Instagram’s wisdom struck me, as I thought, “You don’t have to do this.” The powerlessness that I lacked as a child didn’t have to be a part of my adulthood. The voice silenced by men could be as loud as I asked it to be. This is what I now call My Body, My Rules


You can always say, “No.” Even if your voice shakes or you’re afraid of the response you’ll receive, you can say, “No.” I was aware that my refusal to give a hug could come across as stand-offish, but I also knew what self-respect I would gain from it. You don’t have to explain your response (“I don’t appreciate a hug being demanded from me as if it’s an obligation!”) as long as you know why you made it. It doesn’t have to be rape or inappropriate behaviour. You can question anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, I can’t change my past, nor, if it happened today, could I necessarily prevent abuse from reoccurring. Abusers aren’t focused on the desires of their victims and so a refusal would likely have no influence. But for the little girl who had no choice, I will still say, “I’m worth more than that.” For who I am today, a young woman with value and with dignity, I will say, “This isn’t okay for me.”

Our bodies are ours. It is okay to protect them. In fact, it is of paramount importance that we do. You are precious and one of a kind. Your rules. Always.


Monday, 18 April 2016

My Mental Health Treatment Journey Part 2: Therapy

This is the second part of my mental health treatment journey all about therapy. Make sure you check out part one about medication here.


Like taking medication, I was very reluctant to go to therapy. I think I was around fifteen when I went for my first therapy consultation and I was very self-conscious. I was worried that someone I knew would see me go into the mental health section of the hospital and tell everyone I was mad. Back when I was a teenager mental illness was still a very taboo subject that had a lot of misinformation surrounding it. There was no Depression, Anxiety, PTSD and OCD known to my friends, there was just sane and crazy and nobody wanted to be associated with the mad girl.

That first therapy appointment was a bit of a disaster. Back then I didn’t have a diagnosis and just assumed that I was depressed. My GP had referred me to the children’s mental health services at my local hospital and I remember being very nervous. This was the first time that I’d ever told a stranger my story. At the end of that appointment the lady I’d poured my heart out to for the past hour basically told me that she wasn’t really qualified to treat me. You see, what triggered my mental health problems was being in a mentally and physically abusive relationship with a boyfriend. I was essentially a child with a grown up problem that that particular therapist had no experience in handling. After weeks of getting my hopes up and psyching myself up to tell someone, I was sent away and told that I would need to see an adult psychologist. Sorry.

I was on the NHS waiting list for a good six months before a letter came through with an appointment to see a therapist at the big doctor’s surgery in my hometown. The only problem was my mental health problems had gotten so bad at that point that I could no longer leave the house never mind go to a place near where trauma had happened to me. After months of waiting I’d hit another dead end. I remember overhearing my mum on the phone to our doctor in tears begging him for help “She can’t go, I don’t know what to do” she whispered into the phone. He said that if I “refused” to go to the appointment there was nothing more he could do. Even my doctor didn’t understand that I desperately wanted therapy but I physically could not leave my house.

Deciding to take matters into our own hands, my mum found a local domestic violence support group who we got in touch with. They said they could send a support helper to our house for weekly appointments. I was so relieved to find someone who could help me. At the time a lot of mental health professionals had stopped doing home visits because of safety reasons (so I was told time and time again) so I couldn’t believe I’d found someone who not only had dealings with people who’d experienced domestic violence but who could also come to my home so I didn’t have to go out.

A couple of weeks after contacting the group a lady was sent to my home to learn more about my situation. I explained about how I was in an abusive relationship and how that had triggered some sort of depression. I was so hopeful that day but again was left disappointed. The lady didn’t seem to know what to do with me. All of her information sheets she gave me to read were about women who were married or have children and not for a teenager like me. At the end of the session she suggested making an appointment for both me and my ex to talk about the abuse because she wanted to hear his side of the story. The last thing I wanted was to see my ex again after finally breaking away from him. I had a huge panic attack and when she left I spent the rest of the afternoon in my bedroom in tears. I can’t explain how disheartening and lonely it feels to get knocked back time and time again when it comes to something so very personal.

With another road blocked off to me I went to see a new doctor who wanted me to get a proper diagnosis. A couple of weeks later I went to the mental health building at another nearby hospital to get assessed by a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with PTSD, Anxiety, OCD and Depression. It felt so good to finally know what was wrong with me. I went back to my new doctor with my diagnosis and explained to him about what I now knew was my Anxiety and PTSD making it impossible for me to go to places locally that triggered panic attacks and flash backs from past abuse. He was really understanding and referred me to a quiet little practice an hour’s drive from where I live.

Once again I was put back on the waiting list and this time it took eight months for me to get an appointment. By this point with no treatment for over a year I had untreated PTSD, crippling Anxiety, OCD and Depression. I was basically a recluse whose days consisted of debilitating routines and safety checks that could go on for hours. On that first appointment I had to share my entire back story again and was so scared that I would be turned away and told there was nothing they could do for me. At that point I was desperate for help. When she started talking about the type of therapy she wanted to do with me and asked me to make another appointment with her I burst into tears. I was just so relieved that I’d finally found someone who could help me.

The NHS gave me 24 appointments with my psychologist and she decided to treat me with CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) a type of therapy used to stop a cycle of negative thoughts and create positive associations with things that scare you. Having CBT is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I constantly had to face my fears and challenge myself. I described the fear I felt to my family as feeling the same way they’d feel if they were put in a cage full of lions. We focused most of my sessions on treating my OCD which was probably the most out of control at that point. It was incredibly difficult and I didn’t enjoy it one bit but I slowly noticed myself getting better and started to find things easier. I’m pleased to say that as I type this my OCD is now pretty much completely under control.

I was so disappointed when my 24 sessions were up because in that time I’d managed to tackle all of my little fears and was now ready to move on to the big stuff and we hadn’t even begun to treat my PTSD. I was advised to take a break from therapy for a while and put the new strategies I’d learned from CBT into place on my own. Both my psychologist and doctor thought that I’d really benefit from some counselling which at the time I wasn’t ready for. I knew that counselling was going to involve talking about the past and I’d just got to a point where I was starting to feel better and build a new life for myself. The last thing I wanted to do was to look back to where I started. I wanted to move forward and was determined that I could do so and I did. I spent a few years out of therapy putting the things I learned from CBT into practise in real life situations and continued to move forward on my own with the help of medication.

Last year I got to a point where I felt like I’d got as far as I could go on my own and now I needed some more help. I’d started to build a solid new life for myself and felt strong enough to look back. My doctor said that what I’d been doing was putting a plaster over the wound which fixed it for the moment and stopped it from getting worse but it was now time to take the plaster off, go in and clean it up and stitch it together properly so that it could finally heal.

Going to counselling was one of the bravest things I’ve ever done. I managed to find an excellent private counsellor. I didn’t want to have to be put on the NHS waiting list again, this time I wanted to do treatment my way and be able to have as many sessions as it takes. She knew my financial situation wasn’t great and so she very kindly charges me half her usual rate. Her house is in the middle of the countryside it’s so peaceful and I love going there. Together we’ve looked at my past and how that affects my present and how my PTSD being left untreated for such a long time made it dangerously worse. I trust my counsellor completely and have started taking my biggest steps in treatment under her gentle guidance.

For me, timing with counselling was everything. I think you can have the best counsellor to talk with who gives the best advice but unless you’re in the mind set where you’re ready to put the work in and be uncomfortably honest, you won’t get the most from it. It’s hard work and it’s so easy to miss an appointment or to hash over the truth. I know that if I was to start counselling back when I’d finished my CBT I wouldn’t have opened up in the way that I have now and said the things I needed to say. I was like the person who desperately wanted to be thin but didn’t want to do the diet or exercise to get there, it just seemed too hard for me back then, I wanted immediate results and none of the hard work. With therapy, unlike medication, the hard work is ultimately down to you. It’s difficult and leaves you feeling like your heart has been scrubbed raw some days but my god is it worth it.

If medication is my shield then therapy is my battle plan. It’s knowing what areas are going to be difficult so I can prepare, it’s knowing my strengths and putting strategies in place to get through the hard times. Now I’m at a place where I have my shield in hand and my battle plan in the forefront of my mind. The war inside my head is not over but I’m in the midst of it now and I’m not alone. I have trusty allies by my side and confidence in knowing that when the battle is over and the dust has settled I have a future waiting for me on the horizon and it’s one worth fighting for.


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Sunday, 17 April 2016

Turn It Off


During the middle of March my internet stopped working. One minute I was surfing the web and the next I was filled with fear as the google chrome dinosaur told me he couldn’t display the page.

The whole family couldn’t connect to the internet either so we did the whole trouble shooting thing; unplugging leads, checking phone connections were OK, blowing dust off of things…alas the internet still wouldn’t work.

At this point I was a little nervous. I need the internet.

The next day, with the internet still not working, dad took one for the team and spent an age on the phone to someone in America who was following a script and was about as much help as a chocolate tea pot. She told him to plug different things in and take other things out and she ran some tests which all came back as ‘inconclusive’. Hurrah. Then she dropped the bombshell…an engineer couldn’t come out and fix it until the FIRST OF APRIL. TWO WHOLE WEEKS AWAY.

Like, fo real?

To cut a long story short, we switched broadband providers but still had to wait over two weeks until the swapping was complete.

So, my friends, what would you do if you didn’t have internet for two weeks?

Cry?

Yeah, I nearly did. See, the internet is my life. The first thing I do when I wake up is check social media, the last thing I do before I go to bed is check social media. I talk to friends on social media. I catch up with TV online. I order the weekly food shopping online. I download books online. I use the online library. MY WHOLE LIFE REVOLVES AROUND BEING ONLINE.

I felt like I was suddenly disconnected from everything that I needed in my life. I had a small amount of phone data left and so rationed it to be able to check social media a few times a day, because, god forbid, I couldn’t miss out on anything.

But as the days started to move along, I realised that I have a seriously unhealthy relationship with the internet. It’s like my backbone. I would find my hands instinctively reaching for my phone to check Twitter or thinking ‘let me just google that’ and I couldn’t. I couldn’t do anything online.

Instead I had to find other ways to fill the never-ending days. It hit home, during those two and a bit weeks, how much of my day I waste online. I suddenly had all of the time in the world and it was a daunting experience.

I started sitting at my desk, listening to the Wicked soundtrack and colouring in a children’s garden colouring book. I started watching TV when it was on, instead of on catch up. I spent time with my parents. I did a lot of gardening. I read. I wrote a lot of my novel. It was actually a very productive time for me and as the days passed, my fear of missing out reduced and I began to find life without the internet was actually pretty cool.

There was no stress and pressure to tweet all day long, there wasn’t the need to keep up with my blogging, I didn’t have to take lots of photos for Instagram. I didn’t care that I was behind on my YouTube subscriptions. I felt so unburdened and SO relaxed. Instead of checking social media when I woke up, I looked out the window instead, I watched my fish swim around their tank, I read a bit of a book.

And I realised that the internet has taken over my life. I am a self-confessed internet addict. If I’m not online I get really intense FOMO, if I’m doing something I have the urge to tweet about it, when I’m thinking about things I write blog posts in my head. My whole world revolves around the internet. And, sadly, I don’t think I’m the only one.


When we got the text to say ‘your internet is working again’ I was excited beyond belief but as we followed the instructions and plugged things in and turned things on, I actually didn’t want to have the internet back. I wanted to prolong my internet free time because it had been such a calming and relaxing experience.

I finally got back online and wasted no time catching up on all the things I’d missed out on. It was an almost euphoric feeling, being able to sit with my laptop and explore the whole of the internet again.
 
But, like an addict who gets a high, I very quickly came crashing back down to earth and felt suddenly really really really under pressure again. And it was horrible. Suddenly I needed to think of witty tweets again, I needed to update my blog, I had to keep up with everything that was going on and to be brutally honest, I didn’t give a fuck about most of it. Being away from the internet made me realise what is actually important in my life. And social media, blogging and YouTube and all that stuff…well, it isn’t important.

What is important is having ‘you’ time, spending time with family, relaxing, not feeling under pressure to update people constantly on your life. It’s important to spend time not looking at a screen, to actually talk to people in real life, to spend time connecting to the real world around you.

And for a long time I haven’t been doing enough of that.

But I hope that will change. I am going to start spending less time on the internet, less time blogging less time trying to perfectly craft a tweet. Less time caring what people on social media think of me, less time watching videos of people that present unrealistic versions of real life.

I’m going to focus on real things that make me happy. Like my writing and reading and spending time with people I love and doing yoga and colouring in and just being more in the moment. Rather than wasting hours sitting on the internet wondering why I feel so depressed.

Are you willing to take the challenge? Could you last two weeks without the internet? Do you think you’d find it as hard as I did?

For me it was a blessing in disguise. It gave me a much needed reality check and I can’t tell you how much I wish everyone could go through it too. I want everyone to reassess their relationship with the internet and realise that it’s not the be all and end all.


Go on. Switch it off. I dare you... 


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Friday, 15 April 2016

On Sexual Assault & My Triggers

Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, rape and the triggers of, are discussed in this post.

On Sexual Assault & My TriggersAs I've mentioned before, I was sexually assaulted on my way home from school when I was 11. It's something that has affected my life in numerous ways; for years, I was constantly scared. My attacker was maybe 16 or 17, and so not only were men possible threats, but the boys at school, and so I would mix with very few of them. The assault made me scared to go out on my own, so I wouldn't unless I absolutely had to (for school, etc), which led to not only a lack of a social life as a teenager, but also missing out on numerous experiences that I either didn't have until later on in life (I didn't have my first kiss until I was 20) or have yet to have at all (I've yet to have a boyfriend - these are just two examples, not all are boy-related), and also means I now find it difficult to make friends.

These are the long term affects of an experience that, in all, lasted maybe 10-15 minutes on my journey home. I can look back on my life since it happened, and wonder how different it might have been if it hadn't happened, how much I've either lost or never got the chance to have because of the fear. It makes me angry, so angry that my attacker was in my life - in person - for such a small amount of time, but has affected everything that followed. There is a part of me who thinks it would be good to be able to confront him, to rage at him about how much he took from me. Yet I know I could never do it. I know, because of one of my triggers; on occasion, I will walk down the street, and there will be a guy in front of me walking in the same direction, and for a moment, I'll think it's him. Even now, 18 years on. The debilitating terror I feel in those moments as I freeze in my tracks, and the relief so immense I could cry when the guy in front turns slightly and I realise it's not him, make me absolutely certain I cannot face him, even if I was able to. I simply couldn't cope.

Which is why I filled with an incredible amount of awe when I read on Wednesday of how Carmen Aguirre confronted her rapist in prison. This is an incredible edited extract from her recently published book Mexican Hooker #1: And My Other Roles Since The Revolution, and it covers not just her experience of meeting her rapist, but also the details leading up to her rape. Reading it, I found it astounding how Aguirre found the strength to sit across from this man who violated her. Aguirre is an enormously brave woman. I got goosebumps - the bad kind - reading her story, and imagining doing the same, meeting my own attacker, and I was triggered, though on a smaller scale, again. The idea made my blood run cold. The dread of just thinking about being anywhere near my attacker, I can't even begin to explain.

I'm not generally easily triggered into remembering my assault. When it comes to movies and TV, I get very emotionally involved if a character is sexual assaulted or raped. I know it's fiction and not real, but this happens, and so I watch and keep myself watching, so the character isn't so alone. I know that might sound strange, but I'm not there while people are actually assaulted or raped, so there's a sense of solidarity, a sense of shared experience, to watch a sexual assault or rape storyline played out over several weeks or the course of a two hour movie. I have been hugely invested in Linda Carter's storyline in EastEnders for well over a year for this very reason. But I'm not triggered, mostly, by what happens in movies or on the TV.

Until recently. At the moment in Emmerdale, Aaron Livesy is going through the court case to get his father, Gordon, convicted for raping him as a child. Most of the storyline has not been triggering, but what I found was, surprisingly, was the scene where he was giving the details to the police of what happened in a room that looked much like a front room with sofas and a table, with a camera on the wall, filming the whole thing. I was brought right back to when I reported my assault and had to do something similar in a front room setting, being filmed as I gave the details of my assault. Despite the fact that watching the confrontations Aaron had had with Gordon and how he finally told people the truth of what happened didn't have any affect on me other than being emotionally involved in his story, that scene in that faux front room was deeply upsetting. I sat watching with tears falling down my face, knowing exactly what that moment was like, knowing how Aaron was feeling. It was shocking, having such a vivid flashback. I'd never been triggered by TV before, but this small scene brought back that moment for me, when I, a 11-year-old child, had to go over the most horrific experience of my life.

When Lady Gaga's performance at the Oscars of Til It Happens to You, a song about experiencing sexual assault and rape, was all over Twitter, I looked it up on YouTube. I was profoundly moved by the song - that being the first time I had heard it - and the survivors who stood around her at the end with self-blaming and victim-blaming words written on their arms. I was talking about it with the other Safe Space team members on Twitter, and Jess mentioned how powerful the actual music video was, and so I went to watch it. It has got to be one of the most incredible, powerful pieces of acting and performance I have ever seen.


This video can be triggering. Please look after yourself and do not watch if it's going to hurt you.
It was also massively triggering. It didn't trigger the assault itself, but the emotion of that day and the days that followed. I was sobbing while watching, reliving the fear, the anger, the sadness. All these emotions rushing through me all at once - for me, for those who have also been attacked. Again, I didn't think I would be triggered when I watched it. As I've said, things acted out aren't normally triggering for me, so yes, I chose to watch, but I didn't expect to be triggered.

And that's the whole point about triggers, of any kind: they're not something you can control, nor will you necessarily know what they will be until they're right in front of you. I know Stephen Fry has apologised for the remarks he made about trigger words and safe spaces, but I feel the need to respond. If you know your triggers, and can create an environment where you can avoid them, doing so is not self-pity.

I've been lucky that my triggers are few and far between, and I don't necessarily have to avoid much, but what I have learnt from being triggered is you can't control what triggers you, and you can't control how you react. It's not self-pity that has me freezing with fear, makes my blood run cold, that has me reliving events or emotions. It's not self-pity that has people wanting to avoid things that debilitate them, but "an example of self-care," as Harriet Williamson said in a recent article for The Independent.

Trying to cultivate a life where triggers are few isn't self-pity. It's survival.

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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Make-up as I go along

Last Friday looking fine
Something you might not know if you don’t see my face in real life (Instagram pics are not exactly true representations of my appearance) is that I hardly ever wear make-up. In a month I might only put on make-up once or twice and that will inevitably be for some kind of occasion like last Friday when Jess and I went to a book launch in Nottingham. I was actually wearing foundation, eyeshadow and mascara that day which for me is quite a lot, I only bought the foundation a month or so ago on a whim because it seemed like it might look less weird on my skin than foundations I’ve tried previously (fair warning, the last time I owned foundation was probably around 2004 when that Dream Matte mousse stuff was all the rage so I’ve got rather limited experience).

I have fairly dry skin (probably need to drink more water that hasn’t had a teabag in it), so when I tried foundation when I was younger it looked super flaky and awful so I just stopped wearing it. I wasn’t all that taken with the idea of coating my face in a layer of foundation and powder when I was in high school and if it meant I had to get up 30mins to an hour earlier in order to apply it all I was like “nah”. If you don’t know – I am *big* fan of sleep and my bed, it would take a much bigger incentive than having a superficially flawless complexion to get me waking up at 6am or some shit like that.

First time wielding the liquid liner
Inherent laziness is a massive contributing factor to my bare-faced ways but there’s also the simple truth that I don’t really know what I’m doing. I never had someone showing me how to apply make-up, I literally only tried liquid eyeliner just before last Christmas and considering how naff the eyeliner I had was I thought I did quite well. My mother hasn’t worn daily make-up for more years than I can even remember so I never had the whole “stealing Mum’s lipstick and smearing it on my face” experience. The only thing I figured out to do was plonk eyeshadow on my eyelid and run a mascara wand through my lashes. I was also rather fond of taking a black kohl pencil to the lower waterline and I’ll be honest it worked for me so why do more?


While I was in high school I did wear eyeshadow & mascara most days but after I moved up into Sixth form I drifted away from wearing make-up and I’ve never really got back into it. I still prefer that extra time asleep and rely on some moisturiser to save my face from looking truly awful when I go to work. I don’t have great skin, my cheeks have a fair bit of redness to them all the time and my jaw and chin are a goddamn mess and are not showing signs of clearing up any time soon. I’m aware I could mask all that with foundation and concealer if I really wanted to but I just don’t like the feeling of a full face of make-up.

My god that eyeshadow O_O
The only time I’ve had someone else apply make-up for me (other than that time I was in a theatre production which we’re not talking about) was for my Year 11 Prom and boy, did I hate it. I was deeply uncomfortable that entire night, not just because my face felt like it was caked in make-up. My hair, which had been curled at the hairdresser’s had dropped by the time I got home, I was wearing a stick-on bra thing because the dress was backless and these ridiculous tummy-tuck knickers that stopped on an awkward part of my hips and were so fucking visible under my satiny dress. I wanted to strip it all off and hide.

I’m now in a weird kind of limbo where I’d *like* to wear make-up to even out my crappy complexion but at the same time I don’t care enough to spend time and money applying it every day. For years the idea of buying products to essentially throw it away one day at a time just didn’t make economic sense to me and now I’m so ingrained in this mentality that it’s hard to cast it aside for the sake of feeling better about my appearance. It’s not even that I have outside pressure to look more aesthetically pleasing, no one in my life is telling me “oh you’d look so much prettier if you wore more make-up” but they will compliment me when I do wear it.

From following a lot of very cool women on social media I see some of the most bitchin’ make-up styles which frankly makes me super envious. I’m not brave enough to try attempting massive eyeliner wings, pastel lips or filled-in eyebrows without some kind of friend nearby to help me fix it when it invariably goes to shit. I also am in serious need of someone to properly assess my skin and say definitively what kind of products I ought to be using and what sort of make-up styles are just gonna be a no-no on my face.

That’s where Jess is gonna come in. Yes *that* Jess – Safe Space creator extraordinaire and my bestest friend nugget in this whole world (if you didn’t know, well now you know). We’ve talked about her helping me experiment with make-up and work out what suits me over the next few months. I have even given permission for her to do my make-up at some point, so look out for some hella awesome insta-pics in the future.


It’s a weird journey I’m on with make-up that keeps changing and evolving so maybe in a year or so I’ll feel more comfortable applying and wearing make-up or maybe I won’t. Who knows? We’ll have to see. I'll probably be back with another post about it if I have a break-through.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Safe Space Talks Contraception

Deciding what kind of contraception to go on can be tricky and different women prefer different things. Today the Safe Space team are bringing you their contraception stories sharing what did and didn’t work for them so that you can make an informed decision about what you might like to try out and what might work best for your body. Please note that this is just our personal experiences, we aren’t medical professionals and it is always best to speak to a nurse or your GP before deciding on a contraception method.

Jo: I suffer with really severe period pains. After one type of medication failed to help, my doctor prescribed me the contraceptive pill Cerazette. Cerazette is a mini-pill, or a progestogen-only pill (POP), as opposed to a combined pill, which contains progestogen and oestrogen. I was prescribed a mini-pill because I also suffer with migraines, and my doctor believed a combined pill would affect them.

The mini-pill is a pill that you take every day, as opposed to stopping for a week with a combined pill to have your period. The mucus at the neck of the womb is thickened when taking the mini-pill, which makes it harder for sperm to make it’s way to the womb to fertilise an egg. Cerazette contains desogestrel, a synthetic progestogen, which stops ovulation in 97% of periods, meaning in most cases, an egg won’t be released, so my periods, for the most part, will stop. There may be some irregular spotting when you first start taking it, but this is perfectly normal. Although I’m not taking Cerazette for contraceptive reasons, it is a 12 hour pill; you’re supposed to take your pill around the same time every day, but if you forget to take a pill, you must take it within 12 hours of when you were due to take it. If you take it within that 12 hour period, you will still be protected and no other form of contraception will be required, including emergency contraception. However, if you don’t take your pill in the 12 hour window, you should take your pill as soon as you remember, and then as normal, but for two to seven days you won’t be protected, and should use a condom for that time, while using the pill.

I’ve now been taking Cerzette for five weeks. It’s around now, when my next period would have been due had I not been on the mini-pill, that it’s likely I’ll see some spotting, but this has yet to appear. Of the common side-effects of Cerzette, I’ve only really experienced getting a few spots. The leaflet that came with Cerzette actually says “acne” is a common side-effect, so I was thinking I’d get really bad skin with obvious, very sore spots, but that hasn’t been the case. My spots are very faint, more something I’d notice than anyone else, and they’re gone after about a day, with maybe some new ones in other areas of my face. I’ve not even had to bother with medicated concealer, the spots are really nothing to worry about.

It’s around now I would normally start suffering with PMS and sore, swollen boobs, but Cerzette has put a stop to both. So far, so good! I’m really happy with how Cerzette is working for me, and if I have a similar experience with it as Faye (see below), I’ll be a very happy lady!

Debbie: Like many of the others, I was first put on the mini-pill Cerazette when I was about 14. I’d just been diagnosed with polycystic ovaries (PCOS) and it was meant to help relieve some of the symptoms I’d been suffering with, such as period pain and body hair. Which it did, a little. But I dreaded having a period every 4th week, and it seemed to come around far too quickly.

I can’t remember exactly when or why my doctor suggested it, but about 4 and a half years ago they suggested having an implant. An implant is approximately 4cm long, and inserted into the back of the upper arm, and works by slowly releasing progesterone. It’s said to be more than 99% effective against pregnancy. The main bonus for me is not having to take a pill everyday. Thanks to my weird work hours and London life, it was getting harder to remember to take them, especially at the same time. Furthermore, I rarely get periods anymore, usually just under a lot of stress, which I guess causes a hormone imbalance. This is a side effect that a lot of people experience, though some may have heavier periods instead. This was a huge relief to me as period pain is the worst. The implant lasts for 3 years, and I didn’t hesitate at all in getting it replaced last year. While it’s not really an option if you are considering having kids, for me it is the perfect solution right now!

Ray: I was only on the mini-pill Cerazette that Jo’s already talked about for about 5-6 months so this’ll be rather a quick segment. I started taking Cerazette shortly after getting together with my current partner in June 2012 since I’d been single for 18 months prior to that so I thought if I was going to be sexually active again it might be worth giving it a try. The lack of a period break was also a nice incentive to try this pill. I didn’t used to be able to swallow pills but if I was going to be on a contraceptive pill it was kind of important that I did actually take it so I figured out how I could get the pill down (dry-swallow a la House with water to chase it) and phone alarms to remind me what time I should have it. I have to be honest my memory is pretty shoddy about how things were while I was on Cerazette but I vaguely recall that my periods never properly stopped and I spent a lot of time grumbling and cursing that I was bleeding longer and more randomly than when I wasn’t on the pill. Whether this would have eventually stopped I don’t know because unfortunately I ended up having what is probably an uncommon reaction to taking the mini-pill in December 2012.

I did already mention this in my Liveblog your Period post, but for anyone who might not have seen that - I had a bad reaction to Cerazette, my legs came up with a dozen or so weirdly swollen lumps which really flipping hurt. It was so painful to walk and bend my knees that I had to use crutches and in the end had about 6 days off work because I just would not have coped working at school all day. The doctor diagnosed me with having Erythema Nudosem and since I wasn’t on anything else which could have provoked a reaction my Cerazette pill was deemed the culprit and I came off it. I’d rather have the periods. Since then I’ve not tried any other form of contraceptive pill or implant partly from the worry that another method might still cause the same reaction. For me this isn’t too much of an issue as my periods are manageable but one day if I do decide to try some other form of contraceptive I would probably need to consult a doctor first to make sure I found an option that would work for me in the long-term.

Faye: I first started taking a pill when I got my first serious boyfriend at 17. It was only after I was on the pill that I realised how frustrating and irregular my periods were. I was put on Microgynon and sent on my way. This is just one of many combined pills and it is the first pill that doctors are likely to try you with. It has been so long with this pill that I don’t remember why I changed to something else but I know I did. The second combined pill I was on, I’ve already forgotten the name of but that also didn’t work. I was then put on Femodene. For a long time this pill worked for me. It regulated my periods for the first time ever and I had very little, if any pain. I was, in all honesty, over the moon. But then my body started to reject the pill. That’s the only way I can describe it. My periods became heavier, the pain came back tenfold and I started to have the worst mood-swings in history. On top of that, I had a three-week pain cycle and just one week of relief every single four-weeks. It was not a good way to live life. But when I came off the pill, it was still awful. Really painful, really heavy and completely irregular. After lots of trips to the gyno and some tests, the doctor finally prescribed me Cerazette, which as you know now is the mini-pill and I am back in heaven. I haven’t had a period in two years. I have had no pain in two years. I have had no mood-swings in two years. I feel like a normal human being every single day. There have been a few side effects, such as headaches, but I’m prone to them anyway, and I’ve had some “mini-periods” as I call them, when I miss pills (because I am super forgetful) at the wrong time in the cycle, but honestly, I cannot describe how pleased I am not to have periods and period pain anymore.

Joy: We never talk about what a “normal” period is, so it wasn’t until I was 21 that I knew I needed to do something. Every time my period came (which varied between every three and seven weeks), I was in agony to such an extent that I could do nothing. I bled so heavily that I would need to change sanitary towel every hour to begin with, I couldn’t get through the night without leakage and I would have to postpone any social activity that coincided, which was difficult given my periods were so irregular. As I was due to go to university, I needed something that would make my monthly experience tolerable and a Google search indicated a GP may prescribe the pill. After a short appointment where I explained my problem, that was indeed what happened.

The first pill I was put on was, like Faye, Microgynon. It was a miracle cure! I immediately went to four-weekly cycles, absolutely no pain and a manageable amount of bleeding. I only wished I had done something sooner. This pill worked for five years without a problem. Occasionally I would experience a little bleeding mid-cycle, but I was assured that this was okay. However, after those five years, Microgynon was no longer effective. I started to bleed a couple of weeks before I should have and for far longer than usual. My GP told me to keep an eye on it, but indicated that Microgynon is usually prescribed to people early on and it may be that I required something with a stronger dose of hormones. After three or so months of continued problems, I asked for my pill to be changed.

I can’t remember what the next pill I was prescribed was or, indeed, the one after that. Changing my pill a couple of times failed to ease the problem of bleeding too early and I was growing worried that there was something sinister happening in my body. However, I was then prescribed my current pill, which is Lucette. I take this for three weeks and then have a week’s break before starting again. It is in this break, theoretically, that I bleed. I have had a couple more occasions of bleeding early, though to a lesser degree than with previous pills. When I mentioned it to my GP she said that wasn’t the norm, but it does happen and it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong, which was a relief to hear. As long as my periods are fairly regular and lack the immense pain and heaviness of before, I’m grateful. Taking the pill really has made a difference.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Being Large and Loving Fitness

One foot. Another. Breathe in. Breathe out. You can do this. You've got this. You're nearly there.

These are the kind of thoughts that rattle through my brain when I go running. Sometimes other thoughts get in too, sometimes I just count, one, two, three, breathe, one, two, three, breathe, and sometimes I sing along to the music blaring into my head. When I swim, I count my lengths as I go and sometimes count my breaths but often I then just think about what I'm doing or just about life in general. But mostly, I focus on what I'm doing. I can easily let worries escape me when I'm exercising and it's one of the biggest reasons that I love it.

Another reason is that I just love being active. It's hard to describe but there is something so freeing about exercising. A release of endorphins. A build up of muscle. A wave of emotion. I can't really describe how it feels when I finish a run with a personal best, or if it's a run I'm struggling with, how good it feels to push through until I feel satisfied. I love so much about exercising. I have always been a very active person. Even as a child. I was always the first one to run off, to climb the monkey bars or do the hop scotch. I loved PE, especially Netball and Rounders. Ironically I used to hate cross-country running when I was a teenager, but that's mostly because I was always the last person across the finish line.

And I still feel that way. Because no matter how much exercise I do, no matter how hard I push myself and beat my own personal bests, I have never been the fastest. I've never won a race or a swim, I've never been able to go to gym classes and do everything for the whole hour. It does not matter how much I do, I have never been better than other people. But I'm okay with that because despite that, I still love it. And it's probably why I'm one of those odd sport lovers who is the least competitive person ever.

But the problem I really find with exercise is that no matter how much of it I do, I find it incredibly difficult to lose weight. This essentially means that I'm a fit individual* who can run without stopping for over an hour but I still fit in the "obese/overweight" BMI category. It means that I feel, ultimately, self-concious every single time I walk into the gym or an exercise class because it feels like everyone is judging me. It means that I, essentially, hate the way I look. I hate that I can't seem to do anything about it either.

The biggest way I feel insecure while exercising, aside from feeling like everyone looking at me and thinking it must be my first time in a gym, is the fact that it is very difficult to get exercise clothes in the right size for cheap. Apparently when it comes to fitness clothes, they only make clothes for people who are already skinny, not for those who are just trying to shed a few pounds. I have never been able to find clothes larger than a size 16 and this is completely demoralising. And it sends out a horrible message as well. I really hope that one day soon this changes because everyone deserves the chance to workout in clothes that actually help you exercise because they're designed that way.

And then there's that look I get when I tell people how much I exercise. That dubious look. Because surely there is no way I look the way I do and still go to the gym three times a week. I can't possibly be honest when I explain that I have an active job that has me going up and down four flights of stairs for the majority of the day. Because if that were the case, I'd look slimmer. I should be slimmer. But I'm not. And I've come to the stark realisation that I also probably never will be. I do fluctuate in weight and I know that at the moment I'm more on the heavier side than I have been, but it means I will probably never have a flat stomach and look model-thin. And I'm okay with that. I just wish other people could be as well.



*This may not be entirely true any more due to currently not being as active as usual for personal reasons but I'll be talking more about this in a few months. Let's just pretend it's correct for now. ;)