Monday, 27 June 2016

Proud of Being in Pride

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When I planned out my Safe Space topics, I knew that June was going to be about sexuality. Its Pride month, and it seemed appropriate to shout about. I thought this would be a post about being bisexual, or the difficulties in getting dates, but instead, I want to talk about how Pride month this year has been different. 

For the past two years, i.e. as long as I’ve lived in London, I’ve volunteered at Pride. It has been a great way to meet new people. I enjoy being part of it, and have always had great fun afterwards in the depths of Soho.

A photo posted by Snuggling on the Sofa (@snugglingonthesofa) on

I knew this year was going to be a little different, because one of my best friends joined the Navy, and he was my go-to party friend. I also missed an interview for the role I wanted at Pride, because I had to work. So I dithered and dithered about what else to volunteer for. 

And then Orlando happened. 

I know that America has tons of shootings all the time, but this just really shook me. I don't know whether it was the scale of trauma, or the fact it occurred in Pride month, in a gay club, where people were dancing away. It could have easily been me. I attended a vigil in Soho with my friend Charlie the day after, but nothing really seemed to scratch the surface. 

Not to mention work has been extremely busy and what with all the Brexit drama, my Twitter timeline (i.e. my home) has been so full of despair. I convinced myself on Friday that going to Pride wasn’t a good idea. I just wanted to retreat into the Sim world where there is no segregation. 

And then Saturday morning, I got dressed, and just burst into tears. I don’t know what happened. I can’t even use the excuse of a soppy film. Maybe my outfit was that bad?! Anyway, I trekked into Central London with the view of doing some blogging, and obviously ended up on Twitter, and then I saw this. 
 So yes more tears. But this time of hope, and love, and glad that these men chose this day, this parade and moment to express their love. And my heart burst. And I realised more than ever do I need to be part of it. So I went out and cheered on the parade, and met up with friends, and partied in Soho along with what felt like a gazillion other people.

While my 2016 Pride wasn’t what I thought it would be, it was a step forward in reaffirming my hope in the world, and a future where Love is Love and there is joy in society. Where people can express themselves freely and not live in fear. And even though I didn’t really make things happen this year, just by being part of the crowd, waving that flag and cheering people on, I stood together with people. And above all else, that’s what matters.


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Sunday, 26 June 2016

My Ace Journey

This weekend an army of LGBT-ers and LGBT supporters have been at London for Pride. A weekend dedicated to being proud and being proud to support people who aren't heterosexual. And thus I decided that this weekend was the perfect weekend to share my story with you. Because, I am not a heterosexual. Instead, I belong to the A of LGBTQIA. Not Ally. But Asexual.

*takes deep breathe.*

That's one of the few times I've actually written that down. One of the few times I've also acknowledged my sexuality for what it is. And it is definitely the first time that I have been so open and public about it. 

So I just want to say that again.

I am asexual.

You may or may not know what that means and that is totally okay. It's one of those quiet sexualities. One of the ones that hides into the background, just like I used to do. The wikipedia definition says:

"Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to anyone, or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity."
That seems pretty cut and dried, right? But actually, asexuality is a beast. It has many different forms, sub-forms, etc, etc. It would take more than just a blog post to explain all of that to you so instead, if you are interested in learning more about it, please take some time to look over this website: www.asexuality.org.

But as I mentioned in my title, this is about my journey. Mostly this is going to be a pretty short history because I don't want this post to go on too long, but I feel I should share my experience so that I might be able to help someone in some way.

As A Teenager
I'm going to be honest with you here because I had no idea that asexuality existed when I was a teenager. But I knew that I was different. All of my friends talked constantly about sex. It was on the TV, in films, in books. It was everywhere, basically, and I just never felt interested. I'd watch it and wonder what the fuss was all about. I'd joke about it and join in conversations about it but I never really understood this "primal desire" that people got. I heard people say things like "he is so hot, I'd get him in bed so fast", etc. And I'd be confused. Because I did find people attractive. From celebrities to other people I met but that "feeling" and "need" to sleep with them was absent. I was just able to observe and appreciate their beauty but I never had any sexual attraction.

So being a teenager was hard. I ended up playing a role. Pretending I was interested. I said things I didn't feel. Joked around and tried to act "clued up" when really I was floundering. I just couldn't fathom any of it. Not really. Not on a primal, natural level anyway.

Then I got my first serious boyfriend. He was definitely more experienced than myself but he was also still a virgin. I was seventeen and obviously very inexperienced. I had, until that point, only kissed someone else. And it was awkward, and uncomfortable and I didn't really feel like doing it again. With my then boyfriend, I tried to feel things. I tried to force the butterflies into my stomach and the sexual urges to arrive but mostly, I didn't feel much. I got some natural pleasure when we did some sexual acts but a lot of the time I felt odd and indifferent to it all. I much preferred to make him feel pleasure than actually feel pleasure myself - which he obviously had no issues with.

That relationship only lasted five months and we didn't get much further than foreplay. Mostly because we were taking it at my pace and I, naturally I now realise, never felt ready.

The University Years
University was hard. No longer was there just talk about sex during breaktimes and lunchtimes. Now there was people actually having sex. Night outs where the guys were eyeing up all the girls. Friends that would abandon me halfway through the night to go home with a guy they'd met. Roommates having sex that I could hear through walls. It was everywhere. It was also getting harder and harder for me to deny that something definitely wasn't right with me.

Because the one very obvious thing happening was that I wasn't having sex. I chalked it down to wanting a relationship with someone first. I was obviously still a virgin and I wanted to break that cherry with someone I cared about. This is what I told all of my friends. I just wasn't the kind of person who wanted to have one night stands and I was struggling to find someone to settle down with. This is also what I, myself, believed. I still didn't know about asexuality. So I was certain that when I found the right person everything would just feel right. That was what everyone was telling me too. 

The Blogging Years
In my last year of university I started my book blog. I started reading more, including lots of LGBT fiction. And then I met up with other book bloggers. Formed relationships and was suddenly learning that there was more than just Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans people. That there was a lot of other sexualities too. And then I heard about asexuality. And it was like a lightbulb went off in my brain. 

But I didn't identify as asexual straight away because I still wasn’t sure. I didn’t know enough about it and maybe I still just hadn’t found the right person yet. Maybe I would feel something if I was with someone I felt emotionally attracted too. So I pushed the thought away, kept living my life as I was and left it as it was. There were still parts of me that made me wonder if I was asexual at all – I did fantasize about other people and I did pleasure myself so maybe I was just getting it all wrong.

And then I watched a youtube video of someone talking about how they were asexual. A kind of asexual that fantasizes about other people having sex (i.e. in fanfics) but never wanting sex themselves. And that lightbulb in my head burnt a lot brighter so I started to research asexuality more and realised that this was it. This explained me so much. I do not want sex. Ever. And that is totally okay. I have also learnt that I am not the kind of person that could be in a poly relationship. If I am in a relationship, I need to know I’m the only person with that person.

So there we have it. My journey from teenager to now. Where I feel comfortable with my sexuality. Enough to share it with you and explain what it is like for me. I am still struggling to date but this is because I do not feel comfortable enough to explain that I do not want sex. I am worried that every guy I meet will never understand my not wanting sex and I’ll get attached and then they’ll leave me devastated and alone.

But I am certain that one day I will find someone who will be my best friend and my boyfriend. Someone who will understand my need to sleep in my own bed. Someone who will laugh with me and cuddle with me and kiss me and understand that it may never go much further than that. Because we live in a wonderful world and I have faith.

That or I’ll just have to become a crazy cat lady, eh? 



Friday, 24 June 2016

Listen to Your Body

Head in handsI was umming and aahing about writing about this topic for today, because I have no real answers, no real conclusion. But then I read Faye's post, When Your World Turns Upside Down (which is incredible, do read if you haven't already), and realised that sometimes talking about things even when you don't have the answers can be helpful - for yourself and for others - and maybe I need to admit some things to myself.

Ever since I was a teenager, I have known that my body reacts negatively towards stress, though it only ever affected my periods. If I had a presentation at school, or exams coming up, or, as I got older, had interviews for jobs, I would get nervous. Those nerves would guarantee I would miss a period - or rather, it would be a few weeks late. If, for example, my period was due in the second half of the month, and any of the above was happening, I wouldn't have my period until the first half of the next month. It would be late by two or three weeks. And, really, even silly things like working up the courage to talk to that guy would make my period late. It just became normal for me; my body didn't like being even a tiny bit nervous, and so my periods were irregular as a result. But over the past two years I've noticed my body is even more affected by stress.

As I've talked about before, my Nan died of cancer last year. In 2014, when we found out her cancer was terminal, I was distraught - completely devastated. For a while - until I decided I just couldn't think about it. It was inevitable, there was nothing I could do, so why spend the whole time worrying, fearing, and being upset by it. Of course, I was still upset, but I just decided to concentrate on other things, and enjoy the time I had left with Nan. But, despite not to dwelling on it - and actually genuinely not worrying - subconciously, it was affecting me, and my body paid for it.

For about three or four months, I would have several migraines a month. I was having such a hard time sleeping - not because things were playing on my mind, but simply because I couldn't go off, and even once I did, I would wake up numerous times in the night. More than once I'd go to bed at a reasonable time, and still find myself awake at 5am. I started experiencing numbness in my arms, which was a result, my doctor told me, of me taking quicker, shallower breaths I didn't even notice. And I started having panic attacks.

I got on the bus one morning to go to work, and two stops in, something just wasn't right. I started having difficulty breathing, and I was overly hot. The bus wasn't very busy, but I felt there were too many people on the bus, it was too crowded, I need to get off; something wasn't right with me, and I couldn't breathe! I got off at the second stop, sat at the bus stop for a bit, thinking maybe I was hot and needed to cool down. But no change. I had no idea what was wrong, but something wasn't right, something was happening, and I was so, so scared. Partly because I didn't know what was happening, but also because it was another symptom. I managed to make my way home, sobbing, running to my Mum, freaking out, and her telling me I was having a panic attack. Slowly, she managed to calm me down. Over the next few days, she had to travel in to work with me, because I couldn't stay calm - even though there were no problems at work that were worrying me, as soon as I started to get ready to leave, I could feel the panic rising.

I went to my doctor with all these various problems, and she told me it was very likely down to my Nan's terminal diagnosis. She referred me to a counsellor, but because of clerical issues (i.e. people not picking up the phone) nothing ever came of it. And I didn't really worry about, because by this time, all my symptoms of stress had gone. Migraines were under control, no more panic attacks or numbness or sleeplessness. I was fine.

The migraines crept up again, though, at the end of last year, the beginning of this. Last year was such a terrible year, and all the death and illness had really taken it's toll. And so migraines. Again I saw my doctor, and my medication was increased, and instead of having it when needed, I was to take it every day. And I'm pretty glad to say that on the whole, those pills are miracle workers.

More recently, there have been issues at home. Financial difficulties due to my Dad being ill. My brother and I were covering most of the bills, but I was worrying we wouldn't be able to pay for everything. Would we actually be able to eat? Can you imagine asking yourself that question? That being a genuine worry? The stress caused patches of eczema to form all over my legs for the first time in my life, and - surprise, surprise - another migraine. But that question would fly through my head while walking down the street, and I would feel a panic attack brewing. I'd have to try and slow my breathing and talk myself down; "Joanne, you're ok. You're fine. Of course you'll eat, even if it's not what you're used to, you'll eat. Everyone will eat. You'll all be ok. You're fine, Joanne, breathe." This happened maybe two or three times. Not full blown panic attacks, but still.

I've been talking about these recent events in much more detail with my friend and penpal Caoimhe in our letters. About these almost-panic attacks, about my problems at social events, and even some issues I have talking on the telephone. She has some experience of mental illness, and talking with her, I think I might have some form Anxiety. Possibly. And I think I might need to see my doctor to discuss it. But I don't know; when I'm not stressed, I'm fine? (Except when faced with social situations. Or certain phone calls.)

I don't know if they all tie in together - are migraines a symptom of Anxiety? Or are they both just caused by stress? - but what I do know is that my body is hugely affected by stress, and I really need to pay attention to it. I don't know what the answer is; there are a lot of things that are out of my control - I can't do anything about other people's health, and the stress that can cause. But I do know I can listen to my body, and know when things have to change. I can't stop the symptoms of stress when I can't control what's stressing me out, but I can look after myself a little more when my body is telling me things are just not ok.

Kathy Brown is a writer I really admire who writes such incredibly beautiful, insightful posts. In one of her recent posts, A Little List of Life Savers, she says:
"...I've learnt that there are things you can do: simple, tangible things that you can do to stop yourself from drowning: to take a small level of control over your life when the dark cloud creeps in: to distance yourself from that inherent, daily hum of fear, or the desire to run away screaming, nude and wreckless, because 'OMG, LIFE.' To do something, anything, with the day, because sometimes, that's all it takes."
Kathy reiterates this in her latest post, How to Love Yourself:
"On the days you feel like you're drowning, because there will be many of those, do at least one thing, one small, tangible thing that gives you a sense of control, a sense of something. Brush the knots out of your hair, do the crossword, wander to your favourite cafe and order yourself a slice of that cake you love: the one with the berries the same colour as your favourite lipstick and the fresh cream that lingers, like an unexpected kiss, on the corners of your mouth. It's there, somewhere, that little beacon of light, even when darkness blinds you."
I need to listen to my body, and go to the park by my house and sit by the lake, and watch the water droplets from the fountain dance in the breeze. I need to have a soak in the bath. I need to read a book and get lost in someone else's story. And I need to allow myself to feel, to cry, and to ask for the cuddle. Because maybe being scared and upset is just what my body needs me to feel, even if I think I'm wasting time. Maybe I need to voice my concerns about our finances, and get that reassurance, that actually, we will eat, we will get by, things aren't quite that dire just yet (which I did, eventually).

I don't know where this will lead for me. Maybe I'll discover I have a mild form of Anxiety. Maybe I'll need to learn techniques to cope with stress so I don't end up getting ill. Maybe this is just how my body works, and I'll just have to live with it. But I know when my head isn't in a great place, my body pays the price, so I need to start being gentle with myself, allow myself to feel, and get elbow-deep into self-care.

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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Do I run or let it be? On Sport & Stagnation

This post has been inspired by some of my favourite female creators on Youtube (also Hamilton because I couldn't *not* wangle a lyric into the title). Although I have yet to read it the book Eat, Sweat, Play by Anna Kessel is the central focus of the videos I'm linking below and is what has sparked this whole discussion on Women and sport and the fractious relationship between them.

A couple of months ago Leena Norms posted this fantastically worded video about Eat, Sweat, Play and how it had made her evaluate when the impetus to play sports was superseded by the pressure to present the unruffled, pristine image of a young woman. In the last couple of days Rosianna Halse Rojas posted her own video with her usual brilliant eloquence that covers a far wider range of topics than I'm going to address below, and yesterday Hannah Witton posted her thoughts about the book and her experience with sports. I whole-heartedly recommend you go watch all three of these videos and if you aren't subscribed to their channels then I suggest you fix that.

When I watched these videos I started to think back to my own experience with sports and what has changed since I was at school. It takes no time at all to notice that currently I do absolutely *no* sports activities beyond the odd bit of walking I do going from my house to my usual coffee shop, a few months ago I even posted on here about how I'd put on weight over the last 18 months and what effect that was having on my self-confidence.

Oddly enough I mention in that post about how when I was younger that I didn't do much exercise to maintain my weight but the truth is I *was* far more active than I gave myself credit for. Over the course of my childhood and teens I did swimming, trampolining and cricket outside of school, and I have a folder full of certificates to attest to that. On top of that I used to play often on my estate with my then neighbour/friend after school and at weekends. We'd play tennis in our end of the cul-de-sac, I was constantly smashing the ball over nearby fences in my over-enthusiasm, we would ride our bikes, scooters or roller-blade around the estate and generally spend quite a lot of time outside.

That doesn't even begin to include my participation in PE over the course of primary and secondary education. My memory isn't that great about whether I was on any teams but I do know that during PE classes I was usually throwing myself into whatever sport we were doing with almost gleeful abandon. I wasn't *The* Sporty Girl (I can still tell you the names of the girls in my Primary & High school who were the "Sporty" ones) but I certainly took PE far more seriously than some of my classmates.

The enjoyment of PE, for me lasted all the way until the end of Year 11. I didn't get on with some of the girls in my class and this may have manifested in my competitiveness in team sports, but I was still weirdly cheerful about whatever sport we were doing in any given term. From what Leena & Rosianna talk about in their videos I know that my experience isn't necessarily the norm.

Yes this is me in 2011, ironically that is my old high school behind me. 

But the participation in sports dropped off sharply after I dropped out of Uni in 2010, I had been playing for Aberystwyth's ladies' cricket team and another ladies' team closer to home but after leaving my enthusiasm for playing slowly dwindled. When I moved in with my other half it became impossible to continue playing for my team when they were based on the Shropshire border and I essentially now lived two whole counties away. That was in 2012 and my cricket kit hasn't moved from my parent's garage since then.

Nowadays I am more likely to groan at heaving myself off the sofa to make another cup of tea, wince as my hips and knees make awful clicky-clunky noises when I crouch or stretch and get worryingly shaky after going up and down stairs several times in quick succession. The thought of going outside to deliberately exercise is laughable and all my sports clothes get used as lounge wear. I do often wonder if the fact that I'm not doing some kind of physical activity is actually making my knees *worse*.

How do I go about digging myself out of this stagnation then? For starters I'm going to get my grubby mitts on a copy of Eat, Sweat, Play and read the heck out of it. Then my next move should be to get my lazy arse up the road to the leisure centre that is almost literal spitting distance from my house and do SOMETHING whether that be swimming or some other sport they offer. I could start running in the park that is right behind my house, or do some damn yoga in my lounge if I didn't want to get that crazy.

I can't keep sitting still forever, so do I run or do I let it be? Get back on my feet and make the best of me? We'll have to see. #Move4Ham

(p.s. If you're not on the Hamilton fan-train I'm #sorrynotsorry for all the Ham references in this post, I'm literally listening to Non-Stop right now. Gotta write like I'm running out of time.)

Monday, 20 June 2016

Big and Beautiful?

I am a fat girl.

I haven’t always been a fat girl. As a teenager I fluctuated between a UK size ten and twelve, it was only when my agoraphobia developed and I started taking antidepressants that I began to pile on weight. At my largest I was a size 22 and as of right now I am a size 16-18. Since putting on weight I have never really been comfortable in my body and have felt that it is something that I should be ashamed of and try to hide. I’ve avoided the bright and fashionable clothes that I wanted to wear in favour of dark tunics that hide my figure, there are fashion trends that I haven’t tried because I didn’t feel like I could “get away with them” and there are jeans that I’ve bought in a smaller size to entice me to lose weight.

Big and beautiful are two words that you never see together in a sentence and this year I’ve been really challenging why that is. What is it about being a bigger woman that is so unacceptable in our society? After a lot of research and questioning it seems there are two main reasons society tells us that we cannot be both big and beautiful.

1.) Being fat is unhealthy 

2.) Fat people are unattractive

Last week I went to see my doctor for a check-up, he asked me to step on to the scales so that he could update my medical file with my current weight. Turns out in the last few months I’ve lost almost a stone. My doctor, a medical professional, praised me for this weight loss and told me to keep up the good work. He did not ask me how I had come to lose the weight and if he had I would have told him that it was through a month of barely eating anything because my anxiety and depression were so bad and because stress would make me physically sick every day. As far as my doctor was concerned this weight loss was good and healthy, but was it really?

There is a lot of misinformation out there saying that fat people are lazy, that we eat too much junk food and are unhealthy but I have come to learn that that isn’t always true. I can’t claim to have the heathiest lifestyle ever but I do eat well and I do exercise. I eat fruits and salad for breakfast and lunch, I don’t drink alcohol or caffeine and every day I exercise when I take my dog out for a walk or run. I am not unhealthy and I’m not the only person who is carrying some extra weight whilst still living a healthy lifestyle - check out Faye’s brilliant post on the subject here. Assuming that every single fat person is unhealthy is like assuming that every thin person has an eating disorder. Bodies come in all different shapes and sizes that aren’t necessarily influenced by lifestyle. So is being fat always linked to being unhealthy? I’m gonna have to say no.


Body shapes and sizes go in and out of trend as much as fashion. In the fifties society thought it desirable to have a fuller curvier figure like Marilyn Monroe. In the nineties a thin straight up and down frame came into fashion with the arrival of Kate Moss and now in 2016 women are paying money to have the curves in all the right places look that the Kardashians are so well known for. What this tells me is that the “perfect body” is always changing, so doesn’t that suggest that there isn’t one superior body type? That every size is perfect and has been celebrated at some point throughout history? Despite Marilyn, Kate and Kim having very different bodies they all have one thing in common: confidence. They have each stepped out into the limelight rocking their body shapes unapologetically. I think that the confidence in their own skin is what’s desired here, not the actual body type and that the two things often get confused. So are bigger ladies really unattractive? Again, I’m going to have to say no.


Upon realising that the reasons most commonly given on why big can’t be beautiful are totally false and inaccurate I took a long hard look at my own body in the mirror. It was like taking off this lense that we’re all conditioned to develop and for the first time I saw myself for who I truly am and I liked what I saw in the mirror. Before, if a stranger was to ask me how I would describe my body I would say "curvy" or "full figured" to try and soften the image of what my body looks like. The F word was big and ugly and undesirable and wrong. But now I am learning to reclaim what it means to be fat in the same way that homosexuals have reclaimed the word queer and made it into this word that they identify with and how nerdy people have shown that being a geek really just means being smart and passionate. I think it’s time that we did the same thing with the word fat. I’m reclaiming it as my own by being unapologetic about who I am showing that fat means confidence, fat means healthy, fat means happy. When being fat becomes reconditioned in your mind to mean all of these wonderful things instead of what society tells you it should mean it suddenly takes away the power that word has to hurt you and turns it into something beautiful.


This year I have been on a journey in coming to terms with who I am and loving all of me, not just the parts that society deems acceptable. I’ve learnt that it’s okay to love the parts of you that society says are not worthy of love. Flip them the bird and show them that a big butt looks awesome in jeans, that you can rock the latest trends no matter your size, show the fuckers that you are beautiful and most of all worthy of love, self-love, the best kind of love that there is.

I am big and I am beautiful and no matter your body type you are too.


Sunday, 19 June 2016

When Your World Turns Upside Down

So a fair few weeks ago I wrote this post about being large and loving fitness and this week, I have a rather opposite post to write. For the last two years, but most specifically within the last six months, I have been struggling with my health - and because of it my fitness has had to be pushed to the side and it has been incredibly difficult to deal with. So today I wanted to talk about what is happening to me, how I'm dealing with it, my hopes and my fears for the future.

I first noticed something wasn't quite right about a year and a half ago when I was training for a 10K run I was doing in June. Whereas once I would go out for a run and afterward I would feel refreshed and refuelled, I was suddenly feeling more deflated and exhausted after the run and for the next few days after it too. From there I started noticing other issues, all minor and nothing I really paid much attention to.

Until I did. Because I started getting hot flushes - and at twenty-five it was pretty alarming to wonder if you're suddenly going through early on-set menopause. So I hot-footed to the doctors and went for blood test after blood test, I was poked, prodded, had to do urine samples, ultra sounds, etc. But they couldn't find anything wrong with me. At first I left it at that. They'd done what they could and it was fine.

But then the pain started. Pain and incredible fatigue. Like my whole body was shutting down on me. I found it difficult some days to get out of bed. Other days I managed to get five minutes down the road before feeling like I needed to stop and give up. Other days were good. And I'd get to the end of the day and wonder whether I was just imagining all the pain from the days before. Those were the days I exercised and would ultimately regret it for the next three to four days afterwards.

So I went back to the doctors. And then I was put on the antidepressants - you can read about that here - because the doctor thought my physical symptoms might be linked to my mental health, which I had been suffering with for a while (though even I didn't realise how much until I started taking the antidepressants). As you know, the pills have been helping my anxiety and depression, but I still feel the same physically - if not worse, than I did when I started them. And now I'm in limbo land. The doctors have referred me to physio - which has finally come through - as I thought it could be Joint Hypermobility Syndrome. There has also been talk that it might potentially be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia. But at the end of the day, I still don't know what is wrong with me.

It could be nothing.

But I doubt that. 

Because I hurt every single day. I never feel awake and I know it's a different tiredness than it used to be. I ache after doing the simplest tasks and I still have days where I am physically incapable of getting out of bed. Even having to wait until my bladder is screaming at me before I can force my limbs to move. That, to me, is not the sign of someone who has nothing wrong with them.

So even if the physio comes back and says there is nothing wrong with me, I won't stop going to the doctor. I will go and get another referral. Another opinion. I will keep trying until I know what is wrong with me. Even if it turns out to be incurable. Because I need to know. Living in limbo is difficult.

Especially as I love being active. I feel lazy when I don't do things. I feel useless when I feel unable to do simple tasks like chores. I feel guilty when I have to spend all day in bed and don't even have the energy to read a book. Because I haven't been diagnosed with anything. So, to everyone else I'm not ill. And in my mind, it makes me feel like I'm making a fuss. I'm just overreacting. So when this happens, I try to remember the days when I've been at my worse - like when I was in so much pain my legs could barely keep me upright, and when I walked too much and my hip hurt for three days afterwards.

But I will re-train my mind. Because even if the doctors never do find anything diagnosable I know I don't feel right and may never feel right and I need to learn to live with that. As difficult as that may be.

I want to end this post to say that if you feel like you're ill but the doctor keeps sending you away, please go for another opinion. Keep going until you find a doctor who actually listens and understands. Because no one knows your own body better than you do, so no one knows better than you if something feels wrong. 



Saturday, 18 June 2016

Guest Post: The Femi-Net by Frances Moloney

In today’s blog post I wanted to write about the relationship between the internet and feminism, in short, the ‘femi-net’. The internet has fast become a space where everyone and anyone can have their voice heard, and whilst that has its negatives with the rise of cyber-bullying, trolling and articles inciting hatred and abuse, the message of togetherness coming from certain corners of the web couldn’t be more positive and has given rise of a wide range of female voices across a huge variety of genres.

There seems to have been a renewed interest in feminism over the past few years with public figures such as Lena Dunham presenting alternative female role models onscreen and books like Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Women, Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism and Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist taking the fore. There is now a Women’s Equality Party here in the UK and the debate surrounding equal pay has reached new heights of publicity with Hollywood stars such as Jennifer Lawrence getting involved. And that’s not to mention Emma Watson’s high-profile He for She campaign that prominent figures like Tom Hanks have gotten behind, with a recent Esquire magazine cover featuring the pair.

It seems that now is a great time for female voices, and the internet is creating a space for these voices to be heard, and to reach wider audiences than was possible before; not only women but men and young adults also. Online magazines such as The Vagenda and The Standard Issue create spaces for feminist voices and this has started to filter down into the everyday superstars of the moment; bloggers and vloggers.

The recent rise of the superstar blogger and vlogger has created a new voice for a new generation of consumers. There doesn’t even have to be an explicit feminist message in their content but just by occupying cyber space, females see a rise in airtime. Zoella has 10 million subscribers on Youtube, and popular blogger/vlogger Tanya Burr is educating an audience of 3.5 million about #globalgoals, a campaign to create equality around the globe. You don’t need someone else’s validation to be a successful female star anymore, you can create it yourself.

There are the fitness bloggers, such as Zanna Van Dijk who promotes healthy body image and strength to women everywhere through the #girlgains campaign. And the women talking about beauty and homeware and fashion? This may seem vapid to some but they are still occupying this space and getting more female voices into the mainstream. Never has there been a better time for speaking your mind, getting your voice heard and listened to, and promoting solidarity amongst your peers.

I feel as though the internet has created a great space for female voices, from Emma Gannon’s recent podcast series Ctrl Alt Delete which features a range of prominent women’s voices all with successful, non-traditional, creative careers. If the mainstream has a lack of space for female voices, the internet has given rise to a new area for women to be heard, and the range and scope of material is wide and prolific.

So it seems like now is a great time to get your voice heard on the internet. Why not try setting up your own blog or joining an online community of like-minded people, there really is space for everyone.

For more from Frances follow her 

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Friday, 17 June 2016

The Value of Self Care

I've had a difficult few weeks.  My powerchair broke so I spent the better part of three weeks stuck at home.  I went from going out independently at least once a day to going up to a week without leaving the house and not being able to do without struggle and help.  And it needs to be replaced. I've got a loan chair now which helps a bit but I feel a bit in limbo.  We had a death in the family too, an elderly relative whose death was expected so whilst it wasn't a huge shock it's still  tough to deal with.

And the news is full of atrocities too from the attack in Orlando to the murder of MP Jo Cox yesterday.

Bad news and difficult things wherever I turned.  It's all a bit overwhelming and upsetting and I could feel my mental health slipping.  I got rather irrationally angry about a few things that I knew would otherwise have been simple frustrations for one thing.

Now, to be completely honest I have coped with the powerchair situation much better than I could have done.  It was the whole of everything all at once and the fact that few over a week there was no sign of situations resolving that was the problem.

There is now a plan, I have a new chair on order and it's going to be better than the one I had before.  It's also going to be the colour of my choice - black! (My last chair was only available in red. It was a nice red but I would never have chosen it).  I have a loan chair so I'm getting out a bit again.  And I'm moving away from the immediate things are tough survival mindset I was in to one of self care.

Self care isn't an easy place to be because it's hard to put myself first.

I'm making plans for when I've got my own wheels.  I've decided that I need things to look forward to so I'm making sure I get them.  Plans are very rough but it looks like I'll be off to London at least twice and having a day out with my Dad somewhere else (we've decided what we'll do but where and when is up in the air).

I'm avoiding the news today because it's stressing me out.  That feels particularly wrong because I'm studying journalism, I'm supposed to be keeping abreast of the news. But it's what I need.

I'm spending long periods away from the Internet because social media especially is making my mental health worse.

I'm taking naps. Naps are good.  They feel unnecessary but I always feel better after them.

I'm trying to read or knit or do one of my hobbies everyday.

And as tough as it is I'm trying to accept that people want to help and take those offers of help up when I need to.

But I still feel that self care is something I struggle with, perhaps don't even deserve and I need to get better at it.  If anyone has any tips or tricks, they would be most welcome!
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Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Not Counting the Calories

A few weeks ago, Laura wrote about how she had begun counting calories as a means of losing weight. I was really interested in this piece as calorie counting has often been employed by me so that I can try and lose weight or at least maintain a healthy weight. However, since the beginning of May, I have neither weighed myself nor actively counted calories.

“I am an eater of numbers. I prefer packaged foods, foods with a bar code, because they make the math simpler in counting calories and that gives me a sense of peace. It’s just an illusion of control, really, but that illusion is everything.” – Melissa Broder


As someone who has very polarised views, as well as being wholehearted and putting my all into everything I commit to, I could probably rightly claim to have an addictive personality. This clearly has its downsides. If I’m trying not to worry about what I’m eating, I might eat too much and put on weight in a short period of time. The biggest problems for me come If I’m intent on losing weight, however. 

I will weigh myself daily and count every calorie that enters my mouth. I become obsessive. I have been in tears if the final meal of the day puts me seven calories over my recommended daily allowance. I will avoid any packaging that shows food that contains a large portion of a particular food group. I will spend ages in front of a supermarket chiller, trying to find the lowest calorie sandwich. If, after all this deliberating, I have still put on weight, I will reduce my intake the next day. My meals, in those moments, have become about numbers instead of nourishment.

I’ve been overweight and in that period of time, I really didn’t like the way I looked. I was desperate to look like I thought I was supposed to, forgetting that at 5 foot 10, I’m unlikely to ever be a size 6. I was appalled at myself and yet, even then, I knew that losing weight wouldn’t change the way I saw myself. Alas, now within the healthy range again, I still dislike what I look like. I’m learning that weight doesn’t equate with happiness.

So what does this mean for me?

 I want to be healthy. This is so that, as Laura said, I reduce the risk of disease later in life and my body works well. I want to be eating a balanced meal, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t have the occasional cake or a tub of pick ‘n’ mix if I feel like it. I want to treat myself respectfully and this means both not overeating, but also not under-eating as well. Food is meant to nourish us and give us the energy to live our lives. I want to know that I have the capability to do what I want to do, without being hindered by myself. I want to be happy because who I am is enough, whether that person fits into a smaller pair of jeans or has a little bit of flesh overhanging.

The more I practise eating in a way that allows me to keep fit and still enjoy food, the easier I hope it will become. I think I will gradually continue to adjust to what works for me in terms of portion sizes and the food I eat, but I don’t want weighing or numerical values to be a part of that. Having my happiness decided on by something as changeable as a digit means my mood and my self-worth are likely to be all over the place and we all know that’s not helpful.


I'm excited to try and find a place where food isn't another addiction for me. I’ll let you know how I get on in the months ahead!

Monday, 13 June 2016

How Loved Ones See Us

Holding HandsIn general, people don’t see themselves very clearly. We put ourselves down, suffer with self-doubt, or just don’t think very highly of ourselves. But when this happens, our friends and family rally behind us, feeding us positivity and encouragement. This is because they can see us for who we truly are. They see us, whereas when we look at ourselves, it’s through the reflection of a distorted mirror, like at a funfair, that our negativity becomes.

For today’s group post, the friends and family of Jo, Jess, Faye and Ray will introduce you to the people they see, know and love, with our responses; compared to their description of us, how distorted is our view of ourselves? And how does it feel that these people they see are actually us?

Jo’s Best Friend Adam (who calls her Red due to her hair colour):

Red is a very close friend of mine. She's smart, funny and a lifelong reader. She loves the occasional drop or two of tequila. Always there if I need to rant a little, or a lot, and doesn't judge.
She's a cool geek and we can talk about everything from Doctor Who, to classic literature. She puts herself down a lot. But I suppose we all do. I've always thought she has no reason to, though. She's kind and loyal and I don't hold the fact that she's English against her [Jo: He’s Irish *eye roll*].
Mainly though, she's my friend. I trust her with anything. And I can't imagine life now without her in it.

Jo’s Reaction:

So I read what Adam wrote and mostly smiled. The tequila, the cool geek, the English comment. Things we've joked about quite often in our six year friendship. I was surprised to read I put myself down a lot. I actually thought I was doing pretty well in how I talk about and view myself. Perhaps I put myself down more than I actually realise, unconciously, without even thinking. Perhaps it's becoming habitual, that I don't even consider it putting myself down, and rather just something I do - or something that's not considered at all. That's really, really sad. I intend to be more aware of how I talk about myself, the words I use, and my thinking behind them. It might be hard, but I really think I need to do better.

But... that very last line made me pretty emotional. And I guess here is where I see Adam's point about me putting myself down, because, well, I've always considered that in our friendship, I benefit more than he does. I've had a tough time over the previous couple of years, and to be honest, I don't know how I would have got through them without leaning on Adam. I've leaned on him a lot. I've had a lot to cry and rant about, and a lot that scared me. It left me feeling our friendship was unbalanced, that Adam wasn't getting as much from me as I was from him. I put down my ability to be a friend, and although I knew Adam valued our friendship, I couldn't help worrying that maybe our friendship would peter out when he got tired of me leaning on him and having to hold me up. So reading that last line... it made me super happy, but there was this huge sense of relief. 'He does want to be my friend!' I thought. It sounds pathetic typing that (there I go again, eh?), but it's what I thought. I had no real reason to feel our friendship was rocky, but that last line reassured me of how solid our friendship is. But even without how I worried about our friendship, that last line is pretty amazing, huh? 

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Jess’ Best Friend Ray:

How do I even begin to describe Jess? Eight years ago we were two Twilight fangirls who started mutually stalking each other on various bookish threads and now here we are – best friends, soul twins, Threadsisters (ask me about that reference), two peas in a very weird pod who can’t imagine life anymore without the other. I could reel off an enormous list of superlatives that still wouldn’t cover who she is to me. Kind, generous, whip-smart, passionate like you wouldn’t believe, supportive, loyal like only a Hufflepuff can be, STRONG AS FUCK- I’m not messing she is cuddly and wonderful on the outside but ruffle this Hufflepuff’s feathers then you’re in some serious shit and you’ll know it.

Jess pours so much of herself into her work online and sometimes when doubt creeps in and makes her question whether all that time and effort is worth it, I want to snatch those thoughts away so they won’t bother her because she works incredibly hard and *so* many people love and appreciate her for what she does. She hauls me back up when I’m feeling crap and I do everything in my power to do the same for her. Jess will also boss me around like a long-serving spouse in such a way that I can’t ever get mad at her. Which she totally knows and is proud of because she is living that Hermione Granger life like a BOSS.

Jess – you know me better than I know myself half the time and I am endlessly awed by your magnificence. You are magic.

Jess’s Reaction:

Wow, reading this was very emotional and by the time I reached the end I had tears trickling down my cheeks. I’m going to have to get this printed out and framed to put in my bedroom so that I can look at it on days when I’m feeling sad or doubting myself. I think that what I love most about what Ray has shared is that as well as all of the good things she sees and loves about me, she also loves the not so great traits just as much (I am bossy as HELL) because they make me me, her best friend. It’s so nice to know that I have someone in my life who sees me so clearly and who loves all of me not just the good parts.

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Faye’s Best Friend Michelle: 

I met Faye through twitter when I started my book blog at the end of 2014 and we have become good friends ever since. I feel like I have known Faye for years and years. All my life. This is a credit to her kind, caring and welcoming nature. I see Faye as loyal and loving to her friends and family. She is always there to listen and to give you a hug when you need it in real life or a virtual hug. Faye listens and gives good honest advice when needed. To me Faye’s smile and laugh brighten up any room and her snuggles make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I also know Faye in a professional capacity. She is organised and enthusiastic about everything she is involved with and her ideas are always bright and imaginative. I also see that sometimes Faye can lack confidence in the things she does, but everything she does is amazing so I am going to take this opportunity to say Faye, you are a brave and wonderful human being, believe this and carry on being you! I love you very much!

Faye’s Reaction: 

First of all, I have to say that this paragraph about me made me cry. Because I would never have said any of those things about myself. I know that I care deeply about others and that I’m loyal, it almost physically hurts when someone I love is hurting and there’s nothing I can do to help. But I would also say I’m hard to get along with, shut off from the world, and can be a very infuriating person. I also feel like I go over the top with enthusiasm and that my laugh and hyperness is annoying and I’m so self-conscious of how awful my laugh sounds. But I do admit, I love big bear hugs. She definitely has it right on about my professional self, I definitely lack confidence, and even as I read those compliments I am still sitting here doubting they’re true but appreciating that she sees me that way. Maybe one day I’ll believe that it’s true.

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Ray’s Boyfriend Mark:

Rachel is a person of two halves.

The first, a backseat driver. Happy to stay in bed late; put things off as long as possible; avoid responsibility whenever possible; and downplay her own achievements.

The second, a practical superwoman. She reads at the speed of light; is incredibly intelligent; absorbs knowledge like a basking lizard; and picks up new skills first try, aiming to master them instantly. She is incredibly empathetic to those in need around her, always ready to lend an ear and shouldering the burdens of others. She can be incredibly active; happy to go on long walks, camping, swimming, climbing (potentially) and generally open to wacky and wonderful activities such as indoor sky-diving.

Rachel's biggest flaw is that she has a tendency to leave her superwoman costume in the closet, happy to take the path of least resistance. With a little dusting of the costume she could achieve pretty much anything she could ever want. A little more confidence and faith in her abilities and she could have her own army of fans.

Ray’s Reaction: 

Hoo boy, there was a few emotions leaking from my eyes just then. Wow. I would be the first person to agree with everything in that first paragraph, there is no denying how much I love my sleep and if my tweets from the last year were used as evidence I’d be convicted of extreme procrastination in a heartbeat.
The second paragraph is what got me misty-eyed, I have never entertained the notion of me as some kind of superhero so having that said about me is incredibly moving although I have to work pretty damn hard to stifle that voice that seeks to deny every wonderful thing mentioned.
I’d like to try wearing that superwoman costume more often, I might just need a reminder every now and then that I still have it.

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I think all four of us learnt something about ourselves through this experience. How about you take the leap and ask how your loved one see you, too? If this is something you'd like to do, but feel nervous or don't know how to approach it, take a look at Danielle LaPorte's Ask-a-Friend Survey, and maybe send the questions on to someone who loves you. I hope you learn to see yourself in a better light, just like we did.

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Sunday, 12 June 2016

Pink Power

This week has been a shit week but has reminded me how much Elle Woods is my hero.

She is one badass woman who gives every other woman the chance to feel empowered when really all they want to do is curl up in a ball and cry.



I thought today I’d share my favourite Elle Woods quotes from the movies and musical that might give you a little boost when you’re feeling down or give you some extra motivation when you need it most. I must admit I am a HUGE Legally Blonde fan. I know the movie off by heart and I may have seen the musical twice…

When representing her Delta Nu alumni client, Brooke, Elle brings up a very important fact about exercise:

I just don't think that Brooke could've done this. Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't.

Lesson learnt here: exercise makes you happy AND can also keep those feelings of hate at bay.
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When a scheming saleswoman tries to sell Elle a dodgy dress for her engagement dinner:

It's impossible to use a half-loop stitching on low-viscosity rayon. It would snag the fabric. And you didn't just get it in - I saw it in the June Vogue a year ago. So if you're trying to sell it to me for full price, you've picked the wrong girl.

Lesson learnt here: don’t take shit from no one. Stand up for yourself and trust your instinct and own intelligence.
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Being true to yourself never goes out of style.

PREACH DAT GURL.
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When Warner realises the error of his ways and comes grovelling back to Elle:

Though I dreamed of this day long ago,
Now my answer is thank you, but no.
Look, I've barely begun; I'm hardly through...
I was living in ignorant bliss,
'Til I learned I could be more than this! (Gestures to her hair.)
And, you know, in a way I owe it all to you!
I though losing your love was a blow I could never withstand...
Look how far I have come without anyone holding my hand.
I had to find my way.

Lesson learnt here: always remember that things will get better; even if it hurts at first, you will find that in time everything falls into place again and you can learn to live a new way. Heartbreak doesn’t have to equal misery.



Basically if you’re feeling shit, get a duvet, a bar of chocolate and watch Elle Woods kick some ass. Cos it’ll make you feel a million times better. Fact. 
I'm off to do exactly that. 

BEND AND FUCKING SNAP. 


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Friday, 10 June 2016

Learning The Value of Money

MoneyI've always been quite good with money. I'm not on to splurge on really expensive things, not unless it's something I need and/or will use regularly. I'm not interested in the latest "thing" - whether it's clothes, shoes, bags, mobiles, other technology and so on - because it's new and everyone else has it. If I don't want it or don't need it, I won't get it.

My brother and my dad say I'm tight, but I consider myself to be careful. When out shopping for clothes, if you're in my company, it's quite common to hear me say, "Oh, I like that!" before going over to take a closer look at whatever caught my eye, look at the price tag, and then say "Not that much," and walk away. I just really don't see the point in spending money on expensive things, when, in my opinion, there are better things I can spend my money on. I always end up thinking, "I could buy that single top, or I could by several books, take my mum to the cinema, or buy several other, cheaper tops..." I like value for my money, and I'm not going to by something just because it has a logo or a name on it.

Despite being careful with my money, I've had my eyes opened recently to how frivolous I can be with money, too. We've recently been having some financial difficulties at home, and money has been extremely tight. Food needs to be bought, bills need to be paid. A day out shopping just to get out the house on a day off wasn't feasible. If I was going out and might be thirsty, I'd have to take a bottle of water with me instead of buying one, things were that bad. Every penny was needed. I couldn't just buy things because I wanted them.

Unfortunately, our financial difficulties just as I started putting on weight. I went up a dress size, and most of my clothes no longer fit. I had already started to replace the clothes that needed replacing, when we started having problems, but I wasn't done. There were certain things I simply needed, but I now had to be extra careful with my spending. I could no longer shop for just what I wanted; I had to think carefully about what I was buying. It meant turning away from clothes I would have liked, but simply couldn't afford right now. As well, I have two weddings coming up, and I no longer had any wedding-appropriate clothes that fit. It was so stressful; trying to balance buying the things I needed along with making sure I had enough money for our basic necessities.

There were so many things I had to say no to myself about. I had just got myself to the point where I wasn't going to let fear stop me from doing the things I wanted to - but then not having enough money stopped me. It's so disheartening to have worked up the courage to go ahead with something that has scares you, and then not be able to do it anyway. But on top of that, I wanted to take my family on holiday this year. I wanted days out to see and experience things. Even thought things are a little better now, I honestly don't know if I can save enough now to make these things happen.

I think money is something most of us take for granted - whether we splurge, save, or are careful with our spending. It's just there for us when we want it, to buy the drink, or the chocolate bar, or the bag of crisps. But when life happens and suddenly money is scarce, you really come to realise how much you spend on nothing. That £1 I would normally spend on a bottle of coke was now needed to buy four pints of milk, or to go towards buying a loaf of bread. Scrimping and going without isn't fun, it's actually damn stressful, but I now realise I'm not quite as careful with money as I originally thought. It's made me look at money in a completely different way. Of course I will spend the odd few quid on things I want as a treat, but now I really know the value of money, and will make more thoughtful decisions on my spending in future.

Jo's signature

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Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Fandom Connection

Now you may have realised that I rather like Harry Potter.

In the nearly 20 years (dear lord that's basically three-quarters of my life) since I first read Harry Potter along with an entire swathe of my generation, those books and that world have become so utterly ingrained in my life and personal identity that I *LITERALLY* could not imagine the kind of person I would be now if I'd never read Harry Potter.



Who in the world would I be if I hadn't grown up wanting to be Hermione Granger (I related to her big front teeth woes like crazy & obvs the bookish obsession was a given)? Who would I be now if I hadn't spent a worrying amount of time creating a mock-up Hogwarts letter for my original character (I believe I called her Natalie Parker) who I may have written stories about or at the very least did a lot of imagining about. I am damn near certain that I still have that letter in a folder somewhere in this house. I have drawings in a sketchbook that are Harry Potter-related and you should know that I am *not* an artist and my art skills are damn near zilch. Would I have been making up stories to roleplay in the playground in primary school if I hadn't read Harry Potter? Quite possibly, I was *that* kid.

None of these expressions of fandom ever made it to the internet like happened for a lot of people in the Harry Potter fandom, I was never on the fanfiction or fan-art sites so it wasn't until I was a lot older that I really engaged with other fans outside of my real-life friendship group - believe me not many of the folk I was friends with in high school were on the same level of obsessed I was.

Weirdly it was Twilight that brought me into the online fandom experience, with my meteoric rise & fall of love for that series back in 2008. If you are in the handful of people that have known me and Jess for a long-ass time then you might have heard the cute-yet-hilarious story of how we met and became the inseparable & slightly eerie double-act we are today. But pretty much from that time I spent ignoring work at Sixth Form to spend hours on the computer trawling the Twilight Lexicon for god knows what reason, I have run to the internet to find people who love the same things I do and talk about them.

Is this scarf all now a LIE??
Harry Potter is such a normalised part of my life, a staggering portion of my clothing is from Primark with it's ever-changing array of fandom stuff to collect like a fiend, it is not a weird thing for me to mentally sort people and characters from other book series into Hogwarts houses, I will make judgements about people I meet, especially if they are of a similar age to me and HAVE NOT READ THE BOOKS, even though I suppose it's unreasonable to expect everyone in my generation to have done so. The fact that the updated Pottermore sorting quiz recently put me in Gryffindor after I identified as Ravenclaw since I was probably about 10 was enough to rock my entire sense of identity.



But thanks to this fandom I'm friends with people who also don't find any of those things I just mentioned strange! I can say to someone "I think so-and-so is such a Hufflepuff" and that has meaning even when a word processor will be side-eyeing me with red squiggles. Harry Potter has created a whole language and value system that transcends the pages that J.K. Rowling wrote and has been absorbed in the cultural mindset of my generation and God how I love that.

I know there are other fandoms which have a similar importance in other people's lives as Harry Potter has in mine and if the internet has been able to bring a fraction of the awesome friendships & life-changing experiences to those people then I am ecstatically happy for them.

We all should be able to surround ourselves with the like-minded people who share our passions and strive for the best future we can imagine ourselves being a part of and connecting to those people through fandoms is often a brilliant stepping stone to deeper & lasting relationships that will exist long after the source of your fandom ceases to supply new materials for you to obsess over.

Obviously in the case of the Harry Potter fandom, 2016 is the year we all power back up into ultimate Potterheads and lose our collective minds in the joy of NEW SHINY STORIES. I for one, will be sobbing unashamedly the entire time I'm watching the Cursed Child in August and also probably during the Fantastic Beasts film in November. How about you?


Monday, 6 June 2016

My Breast Cancer Scare

You might have noticed that I was pretty MIA on Safe Space last month, and if you follow me on social media then you’ll probably know why.

In May I had a breast cancer scare.

I knew that I wanted to write about this experience but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about exactly. It’s all still pretty raw for me emotionally and I don’t want to go into the ins and outs of what happened. I’m sure you can all imagine what it entailed: a lot of doctors and hospital appointments, a lot of tests, a lot of waiting for results and a lot of anxiety.

Thankfully a story about being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a story that I have to share with you today and I have now been given the all clear with no further tests required. So I suppose that what I want to talk about is how this experience has changed me and what it has taught me because it has changed me, significantly.

For the past year I’ve been working on battling my anxiety and fears with my therapist, this usually involves taking small but steady steps one after the other over a period of time. When I found an unusual change in my right breast it forced me to abandon the baby steps that I’d been working on and run up onto a whole other staircase right at the very top of the anxiety building. Me, the girl who struggles to leave the house alone, suddenly had to go through a very real and terrifying situation that most people would find hard to deal with never mind someone with severe anxiety. I definitely felt like I’d been chucked in at the deep end and I was petrified. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t function. I spent most of May watching mind numbing daytime TV, seeing my counsellor and just trying to get from one doctors appointment to the next without breaking down, everything else went out of the window.

When I was given the final all clear, no further tests required, I was ecstatic. I’ve never experienced such pure relief and joy. Over the past month it felt like weight after weight was being piled on top of me and I was shaking and struggling to hold that weight, certain that the next weight added would be what made me crumble. Now I could finally put those weights down and it left me feeling strong. During this time I really got to know my own strength and just how much I can cope with so it suddenly became easier for me to pick up similar fears that carried the same weight and deal with them. I’ve since started to conquer some of my biggest fears like they’re a piece of cake.

When I was entertaining the very real possibility that I might have cancer the thought that kept running circles in my head over and over was but I haven’t even really started to live yet. I’ve spent so many years trying to protect myself from any harm coming my way by not leaving the house, carrying out OCD rituals and avoiding what my brain deems to be scary and unsafe places but in building a protective bubble around myself it didn’t keep something bad from reaching me but it did keep a whole lot of good things from touching my life.

Having this scare made me realise that the bubble I built around myself for protection hadn’t worked. I wasn’t immortal, I wasn’t immune from illness, and the safety precautions I have painstakingly taken for years hadn’t worked in keeping me safe. Danger had still found me, it had still worked its way into the bubble and in that moment the bubble popped. It was like being told that this miracle safety drug that I’d been taking was actually a placebo and with that knowledge the anxiety and depression came rushing back in waves.

After speaking to my counsellor I realise that at that moment when the bubble popped I had what they like to call “the breakthrough.” The reason why I was suddenly feeling my anxiety and depression so strongly again was because the usual unhealthy way I used to cope with it before like avoiding leaving the house and checking a switch was off a certain number of times wasn’t working anymore and so suddenly the anxiety and depression that I could usually contain and control this way was now flying around all over the place creating havoc in my brain.

My counsellor told me in our last session that now comes the hard part, now I have to learn to manage my mental illnesses in a healthy way and find new ways to cope now that the illusion that the bubble brought me has been broken, which is scary but also exciting. I had the realisation that I couldn’t protect myself from danger, that it’s actually out of my hands, that it doesn’t matter what I do to feel safe it actually doesn’t keep me safe and in knowing that there is fear but also a greater sense of freedom. Because if something as scary as cancer can find me in my own bubble then heck why not do what I want to do if I’m going to be in danger anyway? Why not go for a walk in the park? Or go shopping? Or try something new? If keeping myself safe is an impossibility then why not make my new priority doing what I want to do with my life so that next time I’m faced with my own mortality the first and overwhelming thought in my mind isn’t but I haven’t even really started to live yet because if this experience has taught me anything it’s that life is too damn short and I’ve already wasted so much time on what ifs? I’m one of the lucky ones and it is my duty to myself to make the most of the time that I have on this earth. To love deeply, to talk loudly, to live fully and to never let fear of the unknown hold me back again.

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I wanted to end this post by highlighting a brilliant campaign called #FeelitontheFirst started by young breast cancer survivor Nalie Agustin that encourages people to check their breasts for any changes on the first day of every month. This allows you to become really familiar with what your breasts look and feel like so that you will notice any unusual changes if they should occur. Breast cancer can happen to anyone of any age, any gender and any lifestyle and is highly treatable if caught early. There is a lot of false information about breast cancer on the internet so if you find a change stay off Google and talk to your GP, you will never be wasting anyone’s time.


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