Life as a Young Carer

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This month’s guest post is written by Alice. This week is carers awareness week, so it seemed only right to hand over to Alice. Alice is ten years old and lives with her mum Chantelle. She has been a young carer since the age of six, as Chantelle lives with ME/CFS, joint hypermobility and pernicious anaemia. You can find Chantelle on instagram.

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Chantelle and Alice (photo belonging to Chantelle)

 

A young carer is someone who helps someone else in their family, unpaid, when someone has any type of physical or mental illness, physical and/or mental disability or misuses substances such as alcohol or drugs. This could be a parent or a sibling. A young carer could help with household chores, help the family member with getting dressed or help lift or carry items. They can help out around the house but also help out when out, for example helping with shopping. I help by mum out by helping around the house by doing things like the washing up and vacuuming. I also help my mum out by making drinks or helping to get her medication.

The best part of being a young carer is knowing that I’m helping my mum out and that I’m making her life a bit easier. I am also part of a young carers group in Gloucester so I have made new friends. As well as this, I also go to a group where I am able to play games and do crafts. It’s nice to be around others who understand what it’s like being a young carers and having a relative who isn’t very well.

The worst part about being a young carer is when other people don’t understand what a young carers is when they don’t understand my mum’s illnesses. People don’t always understand when we can’t go out or do the same things as my friends.

Lockdown as a young carer has been up and down. I’ve got to spend more time with my mum and have enjoyed home schooling but we haven’t always been able to go out as my mum hasn’t been well enough and she can’t drive very far without getting very tired. We have enjoyed doing things at home though, like arts and crafts, puzzles and playing in the garden. When Mum has a rest I like to play with my Lego or teddies or draw pictures of monsters! I know how important it is to let mum rest so this is part of our afternoon routine.

My mum and I are a team and life as a young carer is just normal to us.

If you are a young carer, or know someone who is, and are in need of support, you can find information from Young Minds and The Carers Trust.

Dear 18 Year Old Self

Dear Laura,

You are eighteen and it should be the most exciting time of your life. Unfortunately, right now, you are finding life hard. You are in chronic pain and you don’t know why and you’re spending a lot of time in and out of hospital. But you’re going to get through it and it will make you even stronger (we love a cliche). You think that your A Levels are going to destroy you. Spoiler: they don’t. You won’t enjoy them, you might even cry during them but you’re going to get through them and you’re going to go to university and start the best three years of your life.

Don’t take life for granted and don’t waste time on the wrong people. You will meet the wrong people and part of life is learning lessons from the bad times. Don’t hold on to anger, resentment or jealousy because it will take over. Try not to put your self last, even though doing the opposite seems completely unnatural to you. The things that bother you now will not bother you in the future, trust me on that one!

Hold your good friends tight. The friends you value now won’t necessarily be in your life in the future, but know your self worth and know that it is okay to move on. Laugh and cry with your friends, stay up late and drink bottles of wine. Don’t pressure yourself into going clubbing because it really isn’t as great as people make out.

Believe in yourself! Know your own worth and what you can offer. Don’t be silenced by people who are louder and more confident than you. Try not to compared yourself to other people, everyone is walking their own path and there’s no point comparing your step one to their step five. You’ll get there, in your own way.

Learn how to be independent. Don’t rely on other people for your survival, be happy on your own and be happy with other people.

Dating the wrong people is not a mistake, but staying with them, because you feel that you have to, is. Be your own person and don’t change because a man wants you to. You will make mistakes, in relationships, in life, with decisions but you will learn from those mistakes. Mistakes are okay. Self talk, problem solve and don’t regret what went wrong. It went wrong for a reason.

Asking for help is okay. There will always be people there who are willing to help you. This is your time to learn, but that doesn’t have to be done alone. There isn’t an age limit on success, now is the time to explore, live your life, make decisions (good and bad) and don’t beat yourself up if it goes wrong.

Make memories. Take photos.

Stand up for yourself.

Risk it.

Find and enjoy whatever it is that makes you happy.

Respect yourself and respect others.

Save money and don’t spend all your student loan in one go when you get to university. You’ll be thankful for this when you’re not poor and hungry.

Your mum is [nearly always] right. She will tell you things that you don’t want to hear and she will nag you until the point that you want to explode but she does it because she loves you and cares for you. Never forget that and try and listen to what she says, she is the person that loves you the most and will not turn her back on you.

Also, always drink some water before bed after a night out. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

You’ve got this,

Laura x

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Emily McDowell

 

 

Volunteers’ Week 2020

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The first week of June marks Volunteers’ Week across the UK, a week to say thank you to volunteers for giving up their time and celebrating work which is done by volunteers. I have been volunteering off and since since I was 15 and I personally think that it is one of the most rewarding things that you can do. You’re able to contribute time and skills to help people, often who are vulnerable, as well as gaining new experiences and opportunities, whilst making a huge difference. Not only that, but at some of the toughest times in my life, I have been able to hold on to the fact that I volunteer: it has given me a purpose and something to focus on when everything seemed impossible hard and has also forced me to think about something other than my wonky body or spiralling mental health. Put simply, I genuinely think that volunteering has saved my life.

As a teenager, I volunteered with Barnardo’s, a children’s charity, before being offered a paid position as a play and support worker. It gave me an escape from the reality of exams, applying to university and instead gave me confidence, new friendships and an escape. It was really tough at times, I was working with disabled children and young people, frequently people who were the same age as me and I was having to do intimate personal care, amongst other things. I very quickly learnt the importance of dignity and putting aside disability and treating service users like “normal” people. Most of my friends worked in retail, but I knew that retail wasn’t the job that I wanted to do. I would go to work and be having to restrain children for their own safety, if they became violent, I would have handfuls of my hair pulled out, I was urinated on and had sperm wiped in my hair (I wish I was joking) and I was dealing with medications and tube feeding and complex health conditions like it was nothing. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life, other than being really interested in working with people and this job was my first paddling into the world of supporting young people with additional needs and I loved it.

I stayed in this, now paid, role for six years, working around university and living 200 miles away and gave as many hours as was possible in holidays. It’s only now that I look back, ten years on, do I realise how vital this volunteering position was. When I started, I was deep in the grief process, after losing a friend to suicide. I was struggling with my own health and being bumped around different hospital departments to try and figure out what was happening and I was unhappy at school due to the pressure of exams. My confidence was low but I was welcomed with open arms by a fantastic team of people: little did I know that my initial enquiry about volunteering would see the dark clouds above me start to fade away and bring new light into my life. Not only had I made a difference to people’s lives, I had also made lots of new friends and built my own confidence as well.

Fast forward to September 2018 and I started volunteering with Girl Guiding. In January 2018 I had been offered my dream job, working in children’s social care, but my declining physical health meant that I had to turn it down and instead forge a life on universal credit because I was too ill to work. I sent an enquiry to Girl Guiding to see if there was any volunteering that I could do. Initially this was purely because I was thinking about my CV and was forward planning for when I would be returning to work. The atmosphere in Girl Guiding has made it one of the best places I’ve worked. Everyone is awesome, and I don’t say that lightly.  Everybody goes into Girl Guiding with their own story and reasons for volunteering but one thing is certain, you cannot beat the passion and positivity from everyone you meet. The two hours when I was helping to run a Rainbow group (five to seven year old girls) quickly became the highlight of my week. It gave me my smile back when I felt very lost and without a purpose.

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Girl Guiding Killamarsh

My health deteriorated further over 2019 and I had a few months away from volunteering when I was in hospital. I remember being so anxious about returning and potentially having to face difficult questions. But yet again, I was welcomed with open arms and unwavering support. I didn’t face any stigma or discrimination, maybe because the other leaders had their own stuff to contend with too, I don’t know. It makes such a difference working with people who have a shared understanding, there was a mutual respect that we all had stuff going on in our private lives and sometimes we talked about it whilst always focusing on making the sessions as fun as possible for the girls. The diversity of the role means that even if you’re having a bad week, there is still a role for you. You can be sat dealing with the admin side of running a group or be actively playing with the girls and having fun with them.

Without a doubt, choosing to start volunteering as a teenager was one of the best decisions that I could have made. Continuing to volunteer throughout my twenties proved to me such a strong protective factor in my life that I now can’t imagine my life without volunteering in some respect. So whilst volunteers’ week is about saying thank you to volunteers, it seems only right to say “thank you” to all the people who saw the potential in me and allowed me to volunteer in the first place. You’ve made my life better because of it.

30 before 30 – An Update!

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A few years ago, in 2016 to be exact, I wrote a blog post about 30 things I wanted to do before the age of 30. I am now two and a half years away from the big three-oh (OHMYGOD) so I decided to look back on those goals and do an update.

1) Complete a masters degree.

I have applied for a masters degree and if all goes to plan, I should have finished by the age of 31, so I’m counting that as in process.

2) Work in a role which supports young people with mental illnesses.

Done, since leaving university, all my jobs have been supporting young people with social and emotional needs in some capacity and it continues to be my plan for the future.

3) Travel the world.

This hasn’t been so successful. I have traveled in the past four years but nowhere near as much as I was hoping. As I became more unwell, my priorities changed and I realised that as much as I want to explore new places, I also like being near an English speaking hospital or somewhere with a good healthcare system. I’ve realised that owning my own house is also higher up on the list of priorities so when I’m able to save money, it goes towards that.

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Copenhagen, Denmark 2016

4) See the Northern Lights.

See above. Although I do plan on going to Iceland one day because I think it is a beautiful country. Maybe when Rona has stopped ruining everyone’s lives.

5) Marry.

I am literally the most single person you could find. I am happily a cat lady and not sure how my cat would cope if I started sharing a bed with someone else. That said, I would like to marry and probably have children, just right now that’s not something I’m focusing on. If it happens, that’s great but equally, I’m not actively looking for Mr Right.

6) Have children (hopefully).

As above. I wrote a blog post recently, about frequently asked questioned that people with EDS get asked and I touched on the baby and child thing in that. In short, yes, I would like children, but I have to consider the risks to myself, but more importantly my child. EDS complicates things a bit. I’ve said more about the whole thing here.

7) Have my own house.

Twenty-three year old me was very naive about the cost of Adult Life. I’m in the process of saving and am considering selling a kidney to fund a deposit. Joking, joking. I like to torment myself by looking at Right Move and to admire all the houses that I can’t afford (aka so all the houses) but I really hope that by thirty, I will be in a better financial position to be able to afford my own little abode.

8) Be financially stable.

To be fair, I would say that I am fairly financially stable. I was on universal credit for two years and it really taught me about the importance of budgeting, although even before that, I was pretty good with money. I don’t take money for granted and I love the feeling of satisfaction when I’m able to buy something that I have saved a long time for. Right now, I’d much rather save money than spend it, however that doesn’t include buying books or anything from the Body Shop.

9) Sing on a West-End stage.

As if I’d ever really have the confidence!

10) Sky dive.

I plan on doing this, as soon as it is possible! As I’ve said in other posts, I spent over six months as a psychiatric day patient in 2019 and I really want to give back to the day hospital to say thank you. The building is old and the interiors are more than a little run down and I would love to be able to contribute to a more cosy atmosphere, making it feel even more like a safe place. Watch this space!

11) Bungee jump.

I think I was being a bit over-optimistic here. This would probably break me.

12) Complete a half marathon

Really, Laura?! I have no desire to do this.

13) Complete a triathlon.

I haven’t completely ruled this one out. I found out that there is a Superhero Triathlon which is specifically for people with disabilities and I think I’d to complete it.

14) Raise £1000 for Blue Skye Thinking.

I raised just over £500, so I’m happy with that.

15) Write a book.

Ahhh I don’t know about this one. So many people have said that I should write a book and there’s part of me that would like to, but the thought of it also fills me with so much anxiety.

16) Publish an article for Huffington Post.

Done! And I have also had articles published on The Mighty.

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17) Meet some of the people who I have met online and thank them in person for all they have done for me.

This list is ever growing but I have been able to meet so many people, who I originally met online, including trekking up to Scotland and meeting friends there.

18) Cuddle an orangutan.

I’d love to do this, but I’m more aware about conservation and actually, cuddling orangutans isn’t good for them.

19) Complete the North Wales zip wire.

I’m still desperate to do this.

20) Teach young people to not be ashamed of who they are.

I’d like to say that I try and do this in day to day life, it’s something I’m really passionate about and I will forever be people’s biggest cheerleader.

21) Become and MP and fight for what I believe in.

No and right now this is not part of any plans. I am interested in politics but I’m more comfortable contacting my current local MP and having a rant on twitter.

22) Learn basic Polish.

This hasn’t happened, but I have self taught myself British Sign Language and Makaton/Sign Supported English.

23) Thank every single person who has made a difference to my life.

I probably haven’t thanked every single person, but I do make a point of thanking people regularly.

24) Go to a festival and not spend the entire time grossed out by the toilets.

Let’s be realistic here, I can’t think of anything worse than festival toilets. I’ve gone to festivals on a day ticket and that’s enough for me.

25) Visit all of the the seven wonders of the world.

See above for why travel is complicated.

26) Live for a week without internet, TV, phones etc

I haven’t done a week, but I have spent a long weekend away from social media/TV/my phone, when I was visiting a therapeutic farm and living in a therapeutic community. I was not a fan.

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Kent, England

27) Go to Wimbledon men’s final

Maybe one day.

28) Leave a note for a stranger in a public place.

I’m not sure if I’ve done this or not, but if I have, I’d like to do it again.

29) Learn how to take a compliment 

I’m getting there, slowly. It still makes me feel uncomfortable and like I want to hide under a stone but there has been progress.

30) Fall in love, deeply, properly and unequivocally.

I have fallen in love but not romantically. There’s plenty of time.

How to Talk to Someone With Depression

Depression can really change how a person thinks and perceives information. It can cause friction between friends and family members and often lead to a person feeling even more isolated. Depression is a mental illness that can affect anyone. It is not something that you can simply snap out of or a sign of weakness.

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Mental Health Foundation

Below are some ideas around talking to someone with depression and questions that might be helpful.

Ask if they have had anything to eat or drink. If not, suggest having a glass of water and have something to eat if they can manage it. Talk about healthy and quick options, to avoid carb-loading which is likely to only give a quick burst of energy. Foods that are rich in protein are good. The thought of cooking for yourself when you are deep in depression can be too much to even consider, so offer support in buying healthy and nutritious ready meals that can be shoved in the freezer and cooked easily.

At the risk of sounding like someone from a crisis team, asking someone if they have had a bath or shower when they are feeling awful is sometimes an idea, providing the person is able to keep themselves safe in doing so. Self care is terminology which is thrown around by crisis teams very readily, but there’s no denying the fact that feeling clean is going to make you feel slightly better about yourself than being unclean. I get it, I really do, the energy and effort involved in having a bath or washing my hair means that it’s the last thing I want to do when I am depressed, but I try to remind myself that I deserve to be clean and I deserve to look after myself.

Again, at the risk of sounding like I am regurgitating snippets from the crisis team, encouraging someone to stretch their legs and move from their bed or the sofa is a way of showing that you care. I am not for one moment suggesting that you need to be walking miles in the picturesque countryside or be running a half marathon, but a quick walk around your immediate local area is enough to get those endorphins zipping around. Gentle exercise in the home is an option if you can’t face leaving the house, you can find lots of simple home exercise routines on Youtube, if you can’t face watching a highly positive and energetic fitness blogger and the NHS has home workout videos which are easy to access and follow.

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A big part of depression is shutting yourself away from people and not engaging with friends and family. This is definitely something that I do and I am fortunate to have a really support group of people around me, to check in with me and talk rubbish to distract me from the mess inside my head. Encouraging people to talk can be with friends or it could be with a medical professional. Ask if they have had any medical input and find out when the next planned contact will be. You can work out if you should be encouraging them to make contact with a professional sooner, or, if it can wait, suggest writing things down, to share next time there is contact. Don’t be afraid to offer physical contact, like hugs, but know that this doesn’t suit everyone. Whilst I love a good hug or cuddle, I know that for some people, this is their idea of hell, so knowing what works for the individual person is important. Pets are also a value source of companionship and support.

Ask if they have had any changes in medication and if they are taking their medication are prescribed. New medication can really mess with your head, especially in the early days when withdrawal is a risk and side effects of new drugs are more prevalent. Make sure that they are safe, as some medications increase suicidal thoughts and ideation and then wait it out with them. If things don’t improve after a few weeks, suggest contacting their GP.

If you don’t know what to say, just say that: tell your friend that you are there for them. As a humans, we want to immediately have the answers and be able to solve every single problem that we are faced with but sometimes, that isn’t possible. Let them know that you’ll be there, don’t accuse, threaten, blame, or make light or joke about how they might be feeling. Reminding a person that you care is one of the most important things that you can do. Knowing that you’ve got someone holding you up and fighting the beast alongside you is less isolating and is a reminder that you matter.

It’s worth remembering that what works for one person might not work for another. Asking how you can help and if there is anything in particular that would be useful is another way of showing that you care. Not everyone is open to the offer of help, not everyone knows what help they need and what you think is helpful and what they think is helpful could be two very different things.

Even if you can’t relate to a person’s problems or they seem insignificant, don’t belittle how they are feeling. Try to resist solutions that might seem simple to you. Most importantly, don’t make judgements on how they are feeling. Everyone’s feelings are valid and we all react in differing ways to situations. That doesn’t make us wrong, weak or defective, it makes us human.

Lockdown and Mental Health

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Staying indoors has become the norm in the UK, with the country adapting to life in lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. The government imposed the lockdown on the evening of Monday 23th March, meaning that we couldn’t leave our houses, except for permitted times such as one outing for daily exercise and essential travel, like going to work if you’re a key worker and going to medical appointments. The way of life in the UK changed very quickly, we couldn’t (and still can’t, at the time of writing this) visit the houses of friends or family, use leisure facilities, visit attractions, gather in large groups spend time outdoors, unless it was for exercise.

Whilst lockdown in the UK hasn’t been as strict as in other countries, it has been completely different to life as we usually know it. As someone who thrives on routine and structure, suddenly not being able to work despite being a key worker, see my friends and extended family or use a leisure centre was incredibly difficult and I know that I’m not alone in feeling like that. I started isolating before it was enforced, due to underlying health conditions and I am now on week ten of isolation/lockdown and whilst it was hard towards the beginning, I am getting used to this being my normal. Sometimes it feels like a bit of a slap in the face, after spending over two years out of work and effectively very isolated because of my health, to now being forced into isolation again, when my physical health is pretty good and I was back in a working environment.

We are now at a point where lockdown restrictions are easing but it is going to take a long time before we are back to normal. Social distancing is set to last months and restrictions could be put back in place if cases start to peak again.

So how am I staying sane?

I didn’t cause COVID-19 and I can’t take it away. As much as I joke about my frustration about it being caused by someone eating an undercooked bat, there is so much more to it being a global pandemic than that and it’s can’t be simplified. I like to be able to control every single aspect of my life and going through lockdown has taught me that sometimes, I can’t be in control and that I need to just go with the flow. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to work, I don’t know when medical appointments will resume and return to normality, I don’t know when I will next be able to hug my friends, but everyone is in the same position. I could make myself unwell, stressing over things that I can’t change, or I can accept it and deal with things as they come along. No one can easily fix the situation we are in, sure people can stay home, wash their hands, social distance, use common sense and not go round licking lamp posts but that isn’t going to change things over night. Life will be very different for everyone as a result of COVID-19 and we will need to adjust to that new normal.

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My support system changed rapidly as infection rates spiked. I still have therapy but it’s over Skype and I still speak to my GP but it’s on the phone. As lonely as isolation can be, I know that the support is still there, just in a different format. I’m not having any physio which is hard and I’m not seeing my support worker, as the service she is attached to has temporarily closed. I’m not going to lie, some days are hell: I get angry and I’m probably not a very nice person to be around. Some times I am an anxious mess. Other times, I plod along, doing what I can to make the days easier and taking little steps to keep my brain occupied. Asking for help is not selfish, it is normal to be finding life hard to deal with right now, so we need to show ourselves a little kindness and compassion. And if someone is in a bad mood and is more snappy than usual, or cries over something stupid, don’t take it personally. Give them a virtual hug and remind them that they’re not alone.

One of the biggest things that I’ve come to realise is that I need to be realistic. Like I said above, some days I feel like I can take on the world, other days, I would happily stay in bed and tell everyone (but mainly BoJo) to fuck off. Reading has been the one thing that I’ve been able to fall back on during lockdown, I can happily spend day after day reading, but I accept that shutting myself away in a fictional world isn’t always what is best for me. Or my eyes. That said, I do have days when I’m not in the mood to read and I’ll be honest, initially, I would beat myself up for that, as though reading a book in a day was the marker of success. Trying to stick to some form of routine has been hard, but as much as possible, I make sure I’m up at the same time every day, I do some exercise, read, talk to friends, do some of the endless adult or medical admin and go to bed at a sensible time. I keep my room as just somewhere to sleep and make sure I spend daytimes in other rooms of the house, or the garden, to try and vary my environment as much as possible.

I’m not saying for one moment that I have completely got this whole lockdown thing sorted. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll probably be fed up because I want to go swimming and because I can’t see my friends, but actually, I’m doing okay. This isn’t forever.

Mental Health Awareness Week

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So as I said in my last post, my May favourites: lockdown edition, it has been well over a year since I last sat down and put pen to paper. The main reason for that is because 2019 was a really awful year. Towards the end of April 2019, I was admitted as a day patient at a psychiatric hospital, near to where I live. Things had got very bad, very quickly and I plummeted into crisis point without much warning. The care, compassion and support that I received from hospital staff was amazing. They genuinely saved my life and that isn’t something I say lightly.

After three weeks in hospital, I was transferred to a step down provision, which is jointly run by Mind and the NHS and I was there until July. It was, undoubtedly, one of the hardest things I have gone through. Having struggled for over ten years with my mental health, I never expected it to get to a point whereby I needed to be in hospital for my own safety. It was new and scary but made so much easier by the fact that I was treated with dignity throughout and made some wonderful friends. We laughed together, cried together, despaired together, rolled our eyes at other patients and ultimately, supported each other through a horrible time.

I was discharged in July and for a few weeks, it felt like I could take on the world but it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t yet ready for the world (and the world wasn’t ready for me) so at the end of August, I was readmitted and remained a day patient until the middle of December, when I was very suddenly discharged from all mental health services.

Having spent over six months in some form of day patient provision, to suddenly be faced with going it alone was a terrifying prospect. I soon worked out that it would be sink or swim and that I would have to work very very hard in order to stay out of hospital and to try and rebuild my life.

A year on since my first admission, I think I’m doing okay. Things are different, but good different. I have a job that I love, I’m working with the best people who make me cry with laughter and I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by endless support and understanding from my line manager and senior staff. Juggling a job, mental illnesses and chronic illnesses is hard at times, but I’ve never been made to feel inferior to other members of staff or like an inconvenience.

Obviously it hasn’t all been plain sailing. The past few weeks have been challenging, not because of covid or lockdown, more because it hit hard when it got to a year since being admitted. I’m the first to admit that I am hard on myself and there was quite a lot of beating myself up behind the scenes because I’m not where I expected to be or where I want to be in life. I was referred back to the mental health team, however the referral was refused. At the time, I was angry and felt let down, but a few weeks on and I think that the referral being refused was the best possible outcome. I don’t want to be under the mental health team and constantly be having to prove that I am sick enough to warrant their care: I want to get better and I want to get better for myself, not so services can put a tick next to my name and say that they’ve cured me. I don’t think I’ll ever be cured, I think I’m always going to struggle to some extent with mental illnesses, but I am learning to live my life along side them, instead of them dictating my life and my choices.

It’s a really cliched thing to say but my experiences last year changed me, but they changed me in a good way. It made me realise how passionate I am about mental health and the link between mental and physical illnesses. It taught me that sometimes, the only way out is through. Sometimes there isn’t a quick fix and you’ve just got to ride out the shit times and catch that bear.

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There’s so much I could say about it being mental health awareness week. But the simple fact is that we are aware. There is so much awareness, what there isn’t is adequate support for people who are struggling. We are told, time and time again, to reach out and ask for help, but so often that is ignored, or you’re made to wait an inexcusable amount of time, or you’re given the most basic input because it’s deemed to be the most cost effective. This country has a problem and that problem is that mental health is not seen as a priority. One in ten children and one in four adults will suffer from some form of mental health problem at some point and quite frankly, being kind is not enough to stop that. There needs to be more funding, better research into best treatment methods, more early intervention, less silencing through medication and more treating people are individuals. Until that happens, sadly, I can’t see much changing.

April Favourites

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A slightly delayed monthly favourites blog post for April, if you’ve read my recent post about depression, you’ll know what’s been happening in my life and where I’ve been. Anyway, that aside, April has been and gone and it feels like 2019 is flying by, or is that just me?

Over to what I’ve loved in April.

Books

My standout book from April has got to be Internment by Samira Ahmed. I’ve been telling anyone who will listen to me to read this book. Set in a near future United States of America, seventeen year old Layla is forced into an internment camp for Muslim-Americans along with her parents. Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards. This book is chilling and powerful in equal measures, mostly because the plot could become a very real prospect if social divisions escalate. The real terror of Internment is how close it is to the present-day United States, with the narrative making it clear how few additional nudges are needed. In addition, there is a deep-running theme about complicity and about how not standing up to something can be the same as letting it happen. This is not only how non-Muslim people either allowed or actively voted for the laws and internment camp seen in the novel, but also how people can turn on those who rebel.

Another bookish favourite from April is My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. The title makes the book pretty self-explanatory. Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in “self-defence” and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. This book was addictive, leaving the reader with the question of who is more dangerous? A femme fatale murderess or the quiet, plain woman who cleans up her messes? I never knew what was going to happen and I love that in a book. Highly recommend, although the Nigerian language intertwined throughout the book got a little confusing at times.

Me Mam. Me Dad. Me. by Malcolm Duffy is a humorous and heartbreaking debut novel with the fresh, funny, honest voice of a 14-year-old Geordie lad recounting the trials and tribulations of family life and finding first love. The literacy ward nominations alone for this book speak volumes: Waterstone’s Children’s Prize 2019 Shortlisted, Sheffield Award 2019 Shortlisted and Carnegie Medal 2019 Nominated to name a few. Danny’s mam has a new boyfriend. Initially, all is good – Callum seems nice enough, and Danny can’t deny he’s got a cool set up; big house, fast car, massive TV, and Mam seems to really like him. However, cracks begin to show in Danny and his man’s new life and they cannot be easily repaired. As Danny’s life spirals out of control, Danny does the one thing that he can think of and find his dad. Malcolm Duffy has done an amazing job with his book which will appeal to so many readers on so many different levels.

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Films/TV

Having spent the majority of my time at home (in pyjamas) you would think that I have loads of film and TV recommendations. However, I am a creature of habit and will happily rewatch Happy Valley, Line of Duty and Silent Witness, to the point that I know the plots of by heart. That said, I finally finished watching Broadchurch, which I started watching last year but then never finished. Honestly, by the time I got half way through series three, I was a little bored but it still provided plenty twists and turns that I wasn’t able to predict.

I also sat down and finally watched The Hate U Give, based on the book by Angie Thomas, of the same name. I loved the book more than I can put into words, I very rarely cry at books or films, but both the book and film has me crying in sadness and anger at the unjustness of the situation being played out. Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping film about one girl’s struggle of justice and equality.

After a lot of deliberation, I watched The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, after a number of people recommended it to me. I’m not sure how I feel after watching it, it certainly showed various things in a different light and it gave a balanced account of what happened. That said, it didn’t offer any new facts or insights. Unsurprisingly, The McCann family refused to take part in the series and asked those around them not to either, which leaves me feeling that the documentary itself wasn’t a necessity, more recapping of an awful situation that doesn’t have an end.

Spoonie Favourites

I’ve been really struggling with restless legs/arms/body and muscle spasms, due to some of the medication I’m currently taking. I was given a couple of suggestions of things to try, aside from the midnight baths and diazepam which I had been relying on (not an ideal combination…I don’t advise it!), including a weighted blanket and various prescribed medications. However the suggestion that came up the most was magnesium, specifically magnesium oil spray, which you spray on the soles of your feet. It hasn’t completely cured the spasms but it has made a difference.

What did you love over April, I love hearing your recommendations!

 

Things I’ve Learnt: 2018 Edition

I’m not exaggerating when I say that 2018 has been really tough year. I went into the year high on the news that I have been offered my dream job and my main aim for the year was to buy my own house and live independently. The reality has been very different. By the end of January it was becoming clear that I was very unwell, meaning that I had to turn down my dream job because I simply was not well enough to even get out of bed, let alone work in social services. With my sudden unemployment, I was forced to take on the benefits system, which was utterly soul destroying. My dreams were shattered further when I realised that not only was I too unwell to move out, I also couldn’t afford it.

 

  1. I know my body better than anyone. The NHS is fantastic and I wouldn’t be alive without it, but the nature of living with rare conditions and being medically complex means that I need to advocate for myself and education medical professionals, because very often, they aren’t taught about the conditions I have.
  2. I have got to fight, even on the days when I’ve lost all hope. Don’t get me wrong, there have been days when all I’ve wanted to do is hide in bed and that is okay. But things won’t ever move forward if I don’t speak up and demand the treatment that I need.
  3. Friendship is a two way thing. Toxic friendships aren’t helpful and I’m better off without some people, as painful as that is.
  4. Not everyone will understand. The nature of invisible illness is that you can’t see it. A lot of the time, I look pretty healthy but that doesn’t mean I am well. People often say that I look well and therefore assume that I’m better or cured. Unfortunately, I’m never going to be cured and just because you can’t see what’s going on inside my body or the amount of pain I’m in, it doesn’t mean that I’m well. Over the years I’ve been given well-meaning, but quite frankly stupid advice about how to make myself better, ranging from eating quinoa, to drinking beer, to following a clean and plant based diet. It takes a lot of effort to not roll my eyes to these suggestions.
  5. My hopes and dreams will change. Unlike most healthy twenty-somethings, I don’t dream of traveling the world or getting a promotion or having an amazing holiday. My hopes are simple: to stay out of hospital and for my other sick friends to be as okay as possible.
  6. I can never have too many books. At the beginning of the year, I set myself the challenge of reading 52 books over 2018. This is one thing that I succeeded with and my book collection is slightly growing out of control.
  7. It’s okay not to be okay
  8. I’m allowed to be terrified. This year has thrown many new things at me, that I never expected. My new normal has taken a lot of adjusting to and I’m still not fully there. Having numerous illnesses that can’t be cured and are likely to worsen is scary.
  9. There will still be good days.
  10. I can’t face things alone. I need people to support me, whether they are family, friends or medical professionals. I can’t fight the shit stuff alone.
  11. I have got to pace myself.
  12. I’m allowed to miss being healthy and I’m allowed to be resentful.
  13. As much as I hate it, medication keeps me alive.
  14. Never underestimate the power of a pair of comfy pyjamas.
  15. My body will change and I won’t always be in control of that.
  16. Being as healthy as possible requires work.
  17. Medical professionals who get it are incredible and I need to appreciate them.
  18. I’m a lot stronger than I give myself credit for.

I’m hoping more than anything that 2019 is a little bit kinder to me and doesn’t throw any more illnesses at me.

Happy New Year to all, keep fighting and know that you’re not alone.

This Is Not Consent

Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the past few weeks then you will have heard about how a girl’s underwear was used as evidence in court, during a rape case. In the trial, the defence lawyer told the jury “you have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”

The 27-year-old man was found not guilty of rape shortly afterwards.

This case then led to a series of protests about how wearing a certain type of underwear does not equal giving consent.

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As a teenager, I was sexually assaulted. If you want all the explicit details about what happened, then you’re in the wrong place, because this is not the place to share them. I find it hard to speak openly about what happened, I have spent years blaming myself and analysing events, trying to work out how it happened and what I could have done differently.

But here’s the thing: I did not consent and just to make it really clear, my underwear did not consent on my behalf. When I was at university, someone said to me that I needed to consider how my behaviour and actions and what I was wearing will have encouraged him. That broke me and it was confirmation of everything that I had tormented myself with. However, I’m now at a point whereby I can recognise that my clothing did not play a part in what happened, I was wearing jeans and a jumper and even if I had been wearing a short skirt or a top showing my cleavage, that would not have been consent either.

Likewise, I know that my behaviour did nothing to encourage him. But again, had I been performing a strip tease and then changed my mind and firmly said “no” my behaviour still wouldn’t be consent.

I was not drunk. I had not been taking drugs. I was stone cold sober, fully aware of my surroundings and I was not wearing a thong. Using the argument that someone is wearing a thong and is therefore consenting completely bypasses the fact that you can’t see a person’s underwear until their clothing has been removed.

Some people would like to think sexual assault is just a result of miscommunication, especially if the victim has some tie to the perpetrator and believe the perpetrator to be incapable of doing such a thing. Let’s put it very simply: unless a person clearly says “yes” to any form of sexual contact then you can’t assume and go ahead with sexual acts.

Likewise, asking a person if they were under the influence of alcohol doesn’t then mean that the assault was justified. By asking if someone was drunk, you’re asking if they were openly making themselves more vulnerable and therefore “asking for it.”

Anyone who has experienced a sexual assault knows how damaging victim blaming can be. Being asked what you were wearing or how you were behaving or even worse, why you didn’t fight back is so harmful. Only last month, women in London were being warned not to wear headphones or use mobile phones because of a number of sexual assaults. Yes, you need to be aware of your personal safety, regardless of gender and sexuality, but the only people who are responsible for sexual assaults are the perpetrators. Headphones don’t rape women, nor do their outfits or undwear or dark streets or clubs or alcohol and drugs or parties.

Don’t get me wrong, the people are carry out sexual assaults are in a minority and it is not a case of all men are bad. Women can also be perpetrators but we don’t see men being warned against wearing headphones. The reason that rape culture remains such as issues in the 21st century is because rape is still prevalent and sexual violence is normalised and excused in the media and popular culture: a women’s underwear being used as evidence in court is a perfect example of this. Women’s rights and safety are being disregarded by the very people who are meant to protect.

Women’s rights are human rights, and the blame has got to be shifted from women who suffer sexualised violence  or assaults to men who inflict it upon them. People are told that they wouldn’t have been attacked on the street if they weren’t walking alone, almost as if it was an inevitable event. That isn’t okay.

In the years since I was sexually assaulted, I have swung from blaming myself to being able to acknowledge that it was not my fault and then back again. Sometimes I feel utterly repulsed by myself, other times I feel repulsed by him. I’ve spent years in counselling and therapy, trying to come to terms with what happened. I can talk about the facts, but not the emotional side of events. But the thing is: I did not say yes and fundamentally, that was not respected.