The Problem With Love Island

I love Love Island. I love the drama, the stupid comments, the recouplings, the challenges full of innuendos. I love almost everything about it. But this has got me thinking. As someone who identifies as being a feminist, does watching Love Island make me any less of a feminist or a bad feminist?

As with all reality television programmes, there has been criticism and controversy over Love Island and we are only four weeks in. Perhaps the biggest or most talked about controversy this year has been the behaviour of Adam, which has sparked warnings from domestic abuse and women’s charities about abusive behaviour and the signs of emotional abuse. Women’s Aid wants viewers to recognise unhealthy behaviour in relationships and to “speak out” against “domestic abuse”.

For people who don’t follow Love Island as avidly as I do, I’ll briefly explain: Adam entered the villa after the main coupling up show at the beginning of the series. He was initially coupled up with Kendall, but dumped Kendall for Rosie, who he then dumped for Zara. Both Kendall and Rosie have now been dumped from the villa due to Adam ditching them at recoupling. Adam also had a brief dalliance with Megan. So, in the space of roughly two and a half weeks, Adam has made his way through four women. Rosie literally slayed Adam over his behaviour towards her, stating that he didn’t like being ignored or like how he was behaving towards her. Adam responded by telling Rosie that she was childish and that he didn’t need to reassure her. It’s hard to portray why his behaviour was wrong, in words, but he actively laughed in her face when she talked about her insecurities and has manipulated situations after betraying the trust of various women in the villa.

But is Adam’s behaviour really a sign of emotional abuse or is he just behaving like a lad? Some people have spoken out, saying exactly that: that he is a lad in a villa/reality show with loads of girls in bikinis and can do what he wants and who he wants. Other people have called Rosie out, saying that she is an embarrassment to women and needs to grow a backbone.

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The simple fact is though, that if you are in a relationship and your partner starts to question your memory of events, trivialising your thoughts or feelings, or turns things around to blame you, it can be part of pattern of gaslighting and emotional abuse.

The level of control that Adam has over women in the villa is concerning and if he was to behave this way outside of an artificially maintained environment, then my personal view is that he needs to take a look at himself and his attitude towards women. Whilst Love Island is, ultimately, a game show, messing with people’s feelings in such an extreme way is not okay and gives a worrying message to viewers. It isn’t okay to gaslight someone, it isn’t okay to manipulate someone’s thoughts or feelings and it isn’t okay to belittle someone’s thoughts of feelings.

But my criticism of Love Island doesn’t end at Adam’s behaviour towards women in the villa. Something that was apparent even before the series started, when the line up was released was the lack of body diversity amongst the contestants. The men are all ripped and full of muscular six packs, clearly having spent hours and hours down the gym. The exception to this has been Alex, who works as an A&E doctor, and therefore doesn’t have the time to spend hours in the gym every day. Don’t get me wrong, he is still muscular but not to the same extent as the other men in the villa and he didn’t enter already sporting a glowing tan. Maybe this is why his coupling up process has been slower compared to other men in the villa or maybe it’s because he can withstand a conversation about Brexit, without worrying that we will lose all the trees and he doesn’t need to ask what an ear lobe is.

The lack of body diversity is apparent in the women as well. They entered the villa bronzed and toned, with no love handles when wearing bikinis and no obvious body “flaws”. If we are going to talk about stereotypical perfection, those women come pretty close. As someone who has struggled with body dismophia for years and years, watching Love Island can make me feel pretty crap about myself. I’m not tall with long legs, I don’t feel comfortable strutting around in minimal clothing and my body has more scars and flaws than I really want to think about and acknowledge. The women are all so very slim and have very few curves between them. In fact, the words of quippy contestant Niall, the girls look “like Instagram”, with criticism lamenting the distinct lack of body fat between them.

It would have been an perfect moment to show that love isn’t just about looks and that being beautiful doesn’t mean a body packed with muscles, being toned and having no space. However, now on series three and the casting remains an encouragement of a one-dimensional view on beauty and body types. Some people are slim. Some people are tall. Some people who have naturally flawless skin, but that isn’t a accurate representation of society and is teaching a poor message to more easily influenced younger viewers, who are being taught that beauty means tall, slim, legs up to their ears and hair down to their waist.

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The average woman in the UK in 2017 was a size 16 with a 34 inch waist and 36DD breasts. Whist the girls in the Love Island villa might have the latter of magazine perfect breasts, why is there not more representation when it comes to the former? Why, when the average body size is a 16, are the five women picked to enter the villa at the start of the series, all four dress sizes smaller than this and not representative of the average woman in the UK?

Don’t get me wrong, the women in Love Island are beautiful, each in their own ways. That I don’t dispute, but so are the hundreds of thousands of other body types that aren’t being represented on the show.

 

 

If you want more information about the warning signs of emotional abuse, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline or Women’s Aid. Man Kind is a service for men, experiencing domestic abuse.

June Favourites

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Photo from spoonievillage calendar

 

Welcome to another monthly favourites post, looking at all the things I’ve been loving in June! At the time of writing this, it is exactly six months until Christmas and I’m not sorry to admit that I am somewhat pining for cold weather, fluffy jumpers and evenings with the fire lit. Hot weather doesn’t agree too well with my body. Anyway, on with my favourites for this month…

Books

Last month, I talked about I Am Thunder: And I Won’t Keep Quiet by Muhammad Khan and how much I loved it. It made me realise, however, how little I know about Islamic culture and a lot of what I did know, was based on new reports, which can give a very one-sided viewpoint. So, with that in mind, I decided to educate myself a little bit and find out more about Islamic culture, through the medium of books. After searching on Amazon, I came across Randa Abdel-Fattah, a litigation lawyer and human rights activist, living in Sydney. Her first book, Does My Head Look Big in This, follows the story of Amal, a sixteen year old living in Melbourne, who also happens to be a Muslim, struggling to honour the Islamic faith in a society that doesn’t understand it, following her decision to start wearing this hijab. The book is insightful, laugh out loud funny and at times, a bit of a tear jerker, and I’m not known for crying at books.

The second book by Abdel-Fattah that I read this month is The Lines We Cross. The book has a similar set up to Does My Head Look Big in This: it is set in an Australian secondary school and looks at how society perceives different cultures and religions, with anti-immigration rallies fighting against the raise of immigration into Australia. The flip side of this books looks at the story of an Afghani asylum seeker, who came to Australia on a boat, following besiegement of her home country and faces a negative reception from native Australians. Again, I would really recommend this book, despite it being a YA book, its themes are applicable to adults and teenagers alike.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard was another favourite this month. Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. Put simply, this book was beautiful and I loved the perspective from Rhys, looking at how deaf people feel and deal with the hearing world, as well as how Steffi manages her social anxiety and the assumptions made by people around her.

My final book favourite for this month is Because We Are Bad by Lily Bailey. Anyone who wants to know about OCD, and how to fight back, should read this book – it is an emotional, challenging read. Lily takes the reader deep into the heart of the illness but she is also a deft writer, and even the darkest moments are peppered with wit and wry observations. Having a diagnosis of OCD meant that, at times, this book was a little hard hitting but I appreciate Lily’s honesty and could really relate to aspects of the book.

Films/TV

 

Okay so I only have one favourite from film and TV this month which is…dun dun duuuunnnn…

LOVE ISLAND.

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I am obsessed with this series and the first thing that I do when I wake up in the morning is watch the previous night’s episode on catch up. My life simply would not be complete without the daily debriefs with friends. My standout moments so far are Hayley on Brexit (and trees) and Rosie’s sass towards Adam. I still haven’t got over Kendall being dumped from the villa and I don’t think I ever will.

Spoonie Favourites

 

The Body Shop has come up on top again this month, with their spoonie friendly makeup and cosmetic products. A lot of the time, I don’t have the energy to spend ages and ages doing my makeup of having a long beauty regime, but at the same time, I don’t want to get into a downward spiral of not making any effort. A complete life saver in hot weather has been their mandarin face mist, which hydrates skin and is makeup friendly. Great if you need a quick refresh without any effort.

Another life saver has been their aloe soothing moisture lotion, with SPF 15. If you’re anything like me, putting sun cream on your face will result in claggy and blocked pores and all the spots, so this is brilliant at protecting your skin without breaking out in twenty million spots. It’s designed for sensitive skin and is paraben and alcohol free.

Continuing on the theme of quick and easy makeup products, Soap and Glory Fake Awake has been a recent discovery and is brilliant at covering up my ever growing dark circles, with minimal effort and time.

 

What have your favourites been this month? I love finding out what other people have been loving and would recommend.

 

May Favourites

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Welcome to another monthly favourites post, looking at all the things I’ve been loving in May! I can’t believe how quickly this year is going, I feel a bit rubbish that so far, I’m yet to really achieve anything in 2018, but the additional free time that I have had, has allowed me to discover new things, which I guess is a good thing. As you will have seen by the blog posts that I have been posting this month, May is Ehlers-Danlos Awareness Month, so some of my favourites from this month will be continuing with that theme.

Books

Like last month, I’ve mainly stuck to young adult (YA) fiction this month because I’ve been massively struggling with brain fog, which has affected my ability to concentrate and take in anything where I am required to think.

Last month, I received my first “payment” for writing, in the form of an Amazon voucher. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t massively exciting but I’m pretty proud of myself. After some consideration, I decided to buy myself some books, because you can never have too many books. So, thanks to my Amazon voucher, I discovered Non Pratt, a fab YA author and I have made my way through Second Best Friend, Trouble and Unboxed. Second Best Friend and Unboxed were a pretty easy reads, for me, having only just over 100 pages, so I started and finished them both within the space of one afternoon. Neither of the books were especially stand out, although they were witty in places, but my reason for mentioning them is down to the fact that they are perfect for readers with dyslexia, with yellowed pages and a unique font. Not enough books are published with dyslexia suffers in mind but these books are accessible and age appropriate: struggling with reading does not mean that you should be stuck reading children’s books.

If you’ve read any of my previous monthly favourites blog posts, you’ll know that I am a huge fan of Cat Clarke, so it was a happy coincidence that I stumbled across Non Pratt, as a recommended author for people who love Cat Clarke’s books.

Speaking of Cat Clarke, her latest book We Are Young came out this month resulting in me sending a very excited message to Life of Pippa to inform her. I read the book in one day and I loved it. It’s a close call between We Are Young and Girlhood over my favourite Cat Clarke book. We Are Young was emotional, raw, powerful…I could continue, and I can’t wait until Cat’s next book is out. No pressure Cat!

One of my stand-out books of the year (bold statement, I know) has to be I Am Thunder: And I Won’t Keep Quiet by Muhammad Khan. Put simply: this book was amazing, literally the only fault that I could find with it is that it finished too soon. Despite this book again coming under the YA category of fiction, I honestly feel that everyone needs to read it. Muhammad Khan is a teacher in a British secondary school. He is also Muslim and writes about growing up as a British Muslim in the 21st century, having been inspired by media reports of the three Muslim girls who fled east London to join the so-called Islamic State. I don’t want to go into too much detail over the plot, however I will say that I learnt a great deal from the book and there needs to be more books ASAP by Khan. Go and buy a copy and educate yourselves.

Films/TV

I have finally watched The Greatest Showman, after months and months of wanting to see it. It didn’t disappoint and is now on my mental list of films that I will watch when I’m feeling a bit rubbish.

This month, I feel like I’ve gone back in time to the noughties and am reliving my childhood through films. I’m not ashamed to say that this month I have happily watched The Princess Diaries 1 and 2, Cheaper By The Dozen and Matilda more than once.

Since becoming unwell, I’ve been watching more videos on YouTube to keep me entertained. The Mandeville Sisters are great and I especially like how open they are around disability, mental health and their own body insecurities. The added bonus is that their videos are normally quite short so I don’t lose focus half way through.

Spoonie Favourites

This month, I had been planning on going to my second EDS meet up, held locally to where I live. These groups are run by EDS UK and I honestly cannot recommend them enough. However, my body had other ideas about going to the meeting and I was struck with a bad infection, but I wanted to mention the groups anyway, for people who might be reading this and are unaware of the groups. Living with EDS can be very isolating at times and whilst I’ve “met” plenty of people online with EDS and am very lucky to have my best friend, who also has EDS, the group has allowed me to connect with more people who live close to me. Having EDS is an on-going journey and I think I’ll always be learning about the condition and the best ways of managing it, but ideas and advice are shared in the group meetings and I’ve been given advice and support that I hadn’t considered myself.

At the start of this month, I was officially diagnosed with Gastroparesis. As my list of medical conditions grows and grows, I decided that the time had come for me to purchase some awareness cards, which I can carry around with me, in the event that I should fall ill away from home.

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These  cards are on top of a new medical ID bracelet that I purchased a few weeks ago. Funny story, I was a bit off my face on morphine at the time of buying my ID bracelet,

I didn’t realise that 1) it was an American site and that I was paying in dollars, not pounds, 2) it cost over $80 3) there would be a hefty customs  charge when the bloody thing  arrived in England. Don’t go shopping after taking morphine, kids. Although, as my friend pointed out, I managed to spell everything correctly and write the correct name for myself, so that’s one positive.

Whilst there is still a level of anxiety over leaving the house alone or being with people who don’t have a good understanding over my health, but the combination of the Stickman Communications cards and my ID bracelet has made me feel more at ease, should something ever happen to me.

Odds and Sods

Along with buying books with my Amazon voucher, I also bought a CD. Retro I know, but I prefer to listen to music in the car, as opposed to radio. Since seeing Pitch Perfect 3 in the cinema at the beginning of the year, I have re-discovered my love of The Cranberries, so I bought their greatest hits CD. The result of this is I will drive out of my way on journeys so that I can listen to more of the CD.

Towards the end of last month, I went to stay with my best friend for a few days. She had already introduced me to the wonderful pyjamas at Matalan, so when she suggested that we went on a trip to Matalan, I was not going to refuse. A girl can never have too many pairs of pyjamas. Sadly their pyjama range wasn’t that great but I fell in love with their home wear section and could have bought half the shop, had it not been for my small suitcase and needing to cross London to get back home. The quality of their products is so good and are fairly inexpensive. A quick Google later and I discovered that there’s a Matalan fairly close to me, which I have now visited a couple of times. A definite convert.

It’s been a while since I talked about how much I love The Body Shop, so I should probably rectify that. The Body Shop have recently brought out a new body lotion, which they are calling a body yogurt. I bought the almond flavour, as I’m finding that I’m struggling with sensory overload a bit and the almond scent is very mild and doesn’t invade my nostrils too much. Would definitely recommend.

My final favourite for this month is the general blogging community over on Facebook. Through this community, I have met so many like-minded people, learnt how to develop my blog and writing for an audience and had the space to talk about content and what people want to read about. Big thanks to the people who give up their time to facilitate the groups which allow this to happen.

 

Universal Credit Saga – Part Four

The issues regarding universal credit have been continuing behind the scenes, over the past few weeks.

At the beginning of May, I had another commitment meeting, with my work coach. During this meeting, I handed in my latest copy of my fit note (also known as a sick note), now stating that I officially have gastroparesis. My work coach asked me if I was feeling better, I explained that things were much the same, hence the fit note. He looked a bit confused at the fact that I wasn’t getting any better: chronic illnesses are clearly a complex thing for people to get their heads around. There isn’t any “soon” in terms of me getting well. He asked me again if I could predict when I would be better and able to start work, so yet again, I explained very simply that I have long term chronic illnesses for which there is not a cure. I can not pick a random date and hope to be better by then, because that is not my reality.

So, yet again we went round in circles, with my work coach saying that he needed to in-put a date about when I would be better and he reminded me that on the system, I am available to attend interviews immediately and I am available to start work immediately. The computer did not randomly select these dates, my work coach in-putted into the system that I am available immediately, despite the medical evidence from three different medical professionals stating otherwise and me arguing that. He wasn’t very impressed when I informed him that not only have I not been job searching, but I have not attended any interviews and have not made any process in terms of getting a job.

You guessed it: I explained, for what feels like the billionth time, that I am very unwell. I am being sick every day, I am malnourished, I am exhausted, emotionally I am really struggling and actually, in no way am I fit to be in work. Despite all of this, I still desperately want to be working, to the point that I am now having literal dreams where I have a job. I still feel like a failure and a burden on people around me. I feel like I don’t have a purpose in life and I don’t know why I bother getting out of bed from one day to the next.

By the time that I had finished explaining this to my work coach, I had lost my shit a little bit, although somehow I managed to hold back the tears. I am so fed up of constantly needing to explain myself and being open to judgement by a man who does not know me and patronises me by telling me that he understands. Unless you have actually gone through this living hell, please don’t tell me that you understand because you don’t. Until everything that you have worked towards and aimed for in life has been taken away from you and you don’t know from one day to the next how sick you’re going to be, or whether you’re going to need medical treatment, don’t tell me that you understand.

After saying all of this to my work coach, he promptly turned around and told me that he didn’t feel that he needs to see me again. Naturally, this news delighted me but I was a little bit hurt when he said that he “couldn’t help me”. Maybe start listening and offer some support, instead of making me feel like crap? Just an idea.

So, things were left, I wasn’t sure what was happening but due to picking up an infection, I wasn’t well enough to start chasing a system which is more broken than me. I had received a form, in the post, which I had to fill in to tell people about my disability. Thankfully, it was a similar form to the PIP form so it didn’t hurt my somewhat foggy brain too much. I filled it in and then received an “invitation” to attend a work capability assessment.

And then, on the 23rd May, everything changed with one single phone call. I had contacted my local MP the previous day, so let her know that I was still awaiting a reply from the DWP, regarding the letter that I sent to Theresa May and she replied, letting me know that she would chase it again.

I received a phone call from the Department of Work and Pensions, attached to parliament. I was given a formal apology for how I have been treated in regards to my universal credit application and for any “undue and additional stress” that my treatment has caused. All of my work commitments have been stopped: I no longer have to be spending two hours a day job hunting, I don’t have to keep updating my CV, I don’t have to attend interviews and it has been agreed that I am currently too unwell to be working.

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At last, someone with some common sense! I want to cry with sheer relief that finally, someone has listened to me. I’m also incredibly grateful that Layla Moran MP has given her time to fight on my behalf because I’m 99.9% sure that the common sense has prevailed due to her involvement.

think that I still need to go through the formality of the work capability assessment, but I’m not totally sure. Either way, I’m not too worried about it now. Prior to the phone call, I knew that I would be attending the assessment with my work coach having said that I should be working and I knew that it would have been a tough job to get the assessor to think otherwise. But now that it’s been recognised that not only am I genuinely ill but also too unwell to work, my understanding is that the assessment is more of a box ticking exercise, a bit like PIP assessments.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop fighting. There is still so many things wrong with a system which is [in theory] designed to help people. But instead, it’s failing people. It’s making people feel worthless and that is what needs to change. A work coach’s opinion should not outweigh medical evidence. Medical fact. If you are presenting with three different types of medical evidence, all stating that you are unfit for work, it is not down to someone without a medical degree to decide otherwise. I’m not sure what training you need to adhere to, in order to become a work coach, but I am fairly certain that it is not five plus years in medical school. Maybe it’s time that the knowledge and expertise of medical professionals is trusted, in the cases of people presenting with chronic, long term medical conditions.

Universal credit still has three major flaws, and until they are addressed, my experiences will be mirrored in other people, which is not okay. People are waiting up to 12 weeks for their first payment. That is three months without any income, potentially risking rent arrears, debt, financial insecurity, missing mortgage repayments and not being able to buy essential daily living items such as food, gas, electricity and water. Universal credit is also bloody complicated. People don’t understand it. I don’t understand it and the majority of the time, I have not had a clue what is happening and if I have been entitled to money. Because of this, people are not getting the help that they need and deserve because the system is failing them. It is failing the most vulnerable people in society, the people how don’t have a voice.

That is why I’m using my voice because I refuse to be silenced by a broken system.

 

 

Let’s Talk: Mental Health

May is a busy month when it comes to spreading awareness. On top of it being Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome awareness month, it is also mental health awareness month. May 2018 marks a decade of me suddenly plummeting into a world whereby I am all to aware about mental health and mental illness. and I’ll be honest, I have been dreading it.

In May 2008, a very close friend committed suicide. I’ve spoken about the suicide of Nicola and another friend in another blog post, but given that it’s mental health awareness month and a decade on from Nicola’s death, I wanted to touch on it again.

Nicola and I met at nursery, she was confident, sassy and clever. She took me under her wing and made me feel better about being forced to learn French and German and having to eat quiche for lunch. Her sassiness only grew as she got older, she stood up for what she believed was right and was fiercely loyal and caring to everyone in her life.

I found out that Nicola had died shortly before leaving for school, when I was in year 10. It didn’t seem real, I can remember telling my friend, who I was walking to school with, and there was a level of disbelief from both of us: considering the news that I had just received, I was incredibly calm, stating that Nicola had died as though I was announcing that the sky was blue. My day carried on as normal for a few hours, before I crumpled and the news really hit. It seemed impossible that my sassy and fiery friend was no longer alive.

Nicola hadn’t said anything to anyone in her life which would have given us a clue of how low she was feeling. This remains that hardest thing for me, ten years one, I maintain that I should have seen something, I should have picked up that she wasn’t happy.  I spent weeks and months analysing our saved conversations on instant messenger to see if there was something I had missed. It reached the point where I made myself ill analysing these messages and I convinced myself that I was an awful person for not picking up on subtle changes on Nicola’s behaviour in the weeks leading up to her death.

Prior to Nicola’s death, I am not ashamed to say that I was fairly oblivious to mental illnesses. Yet, all of a sudden, I was thrown into a world where suicide, depression, anxiety and self harm became every day language.

This is where I am going to be really honest. I’m struggling at the moment and in the interests of transparency, I’m admitting that, although I find it hard to. I am open and honest about my mental health: I talk to my GP, therapist and physiotherapist about it and I talk to friends and family. But I normally do the talking after the blip/crisis has passed, not during the moments of feeling rubbish.

A lot of this is probably circumstantial. On top of the on-going issues relating to EDS, gastroparesis etc, I am normal person sick. It’s not the end of world, but it has made things considerably harder and physically, I have felt crap.  Lying in bed with all the time in the world has given more too much time to think. Turns out that being malnourished adds a lot of time to the whole recovery from illness thing. Who knew?

I just feel sad. And it’s okay that I feel sad. I am allowed to feel sad. Three years post-EDS diagnosis and I have more or less got my head around the genetic monster that has invaded my body. It’s still hard, sometimes it’s really hard but I’m used to it. It’s my normal and I am used to dealing with that normal. Throw in gastroparesis to the mix and yet again I am feeling like I have been chewed up by life, vomited back up, chucked around a bit and chewed up again.

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Illness has changed me as a person. I don’t mean that in a philosophical way, I mean it in a literal way. Before I became ill, I was punctual, social, confident and fairly carefree. Now that I am ill the best way that I can describe myself is flaky. I cancel plans more often than following them through, leaving the house alone makes me so anxious because I don’t trust my body and it feels like a military operation if I do manage to walk out of the front door.

I cancel plans because I’m sick, not because I don’t care or value my friends. I hope that my friends understand this, cancelling plans isn’t easy and I will often need to psych myself up to send that text because I hate letting my friends down or making them sad, annoyed or whatever. We are currently half way through May and this year I have missed birthdays, theatre shows, meet ups, planned days out, events and meetings all because I am too sick to leave the house, or I am exhausted, overly anxious or simply without the mental willpower to actual deal with adulting.

I have had enough. I have had enough of this life. I didn’t ask for this. No one asks to be ill but right now, I am struggling with huge and unexpected lifestyle changes that I’m having to go through. I feel so so isolated, more than I can put into words. Which is obviously going to impact on how I’m feeling.

I’m an anxious, sad, tired mess and I want to run away and escape for a while. Although the irony of that is that I’m not well enough to do that. Eye roll. I think the fact that the weather is improving is another factor which makes things harder.   I want to be outside, drinking gin in a pub garden, going for walks by the river, having day trips to the beach or enjoying the countryside around where I live. None of that is possible.

Much like chronic illnesses, you can’t see mental illnesses but it is something becoming more and more prevalent in society, however that isn’t something which is reflected by the government’s mental health strategy.

When given the choice between being right or being kind: choose kind.

R.J. Palacio, Wonder

My message here is simple: be kind to people because not being able to see their suffering does not mean that they are okay. Give your friends a hug because they might really need it. Ask your friends and family how they are and give them the time and space to talk. Text a friend who you haven’t heard from, for a while. Reach out, care and be kind.

 

 

EDS Awareness Month: Stupid Injuries

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Prior to being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, I had a bit of a reputation of being a clumsy child. When I was in secondary school, my mum used to challenge me, at the start of every school term, to try and stay out of the local minor injuries unit and A&E majors and the trauma unit. I never succeeded. My PE teachers would despair each time I sustained a new injury, the school matron was sick of the sight of me and I’m fairly sure that I had my own supply for ice packs, because I went through so many.

Now that I have been diagnosed with EDS, the catalogue of injuries has grown but people are a little bit more understanding, although I do have to remind people that actually, I’m not clumsy, my body is just a bit wonky – I’m more prone to joint dislocations and broken bones – and sometimes, I’m simply very unlucky!

It would be a physical impossibility for me to go into all of my injuries. The nature of EDS means that I suffer from dislocations or subluxations every single day, often by doing nothing. I asked my mum for help when writing this because my memory isn’t the best at the moment. Her reply was “God. I don’t know, Laura, there is. So. Bloody. Much!” Instead, I’m going to explain some of the more memorable injuries that I’ve experienced in my twenty-five and a half years on planet earth. Looking back on my collection of injuries makes me incredibly grateful for the NHS and all of its fabulous staff.

I snapped the tendons in my little finger moving a piece of drama equipment in an after school drama club. I have no idea why, but I swear finger injuries are some of the most painful that I have sustained. This was my first finger injury and I found it pretty traumatic! I showed my friend my very very wonky and misshapen finger, whilst trying not to faint, she got the drama teachers to help and all I can really remember after that is being carried out of the drama studio, with my drama teacher singing songs from Oliver! as I continued trying not to faint. A senior member of staff offered to put my finger back into the joint, which I declined.

My friend dislocated and snapped the tendon in my index finger in a year 11 French lesson. I have talked about this injury in a blog post already and I can confirm that my poor friend is still teased endlessly about putting me in hospital and I still remind her of this injury when I want her to buy the first round of drinks in the pub.

More recently, I snapped the tendon in my index finger again, by picking a towel off the bathroom floor. You can imagine the looks that I received from medical staff in the minor injuries unit when I explained to them how I sustained this injury. Because picking up a towel from the floor is a very very dangerous exercise. The injury was more complicated than initially thought, meaning that I needed my whole hand splinted as it was the main tendon that I snapped, not the tendon at the tip of my finger. On reflection, I’m lucky that it has healed as well as it has done, because the injury wasn’t treated quickly, meaning that surgery was likely. As always, I like to prove people wrong!

A couple of months ago, I caught my little toe in my duvet and it dislocated. Not only did I managed to dislocate my toe, I somehow sustained a hair line fracture in my foot at the same time. I honestly have no idea how this happened.

Last year, I went to see Russell Howard on tour with one of my close friends. He was hilarious, I love that man. And I laughed so much that I dislocated my top rib on the right hand side of my body. It wasn’t especially painful but it put quite a bit of pressure on my lung. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough sense to see my physiotherapist as soon as possible after this happened, so my rib ended up moving and sticking up, underneath my collar bone, which made relocating it difficult.

Speaking of ribs, there was also the perilous massage, that I experienced a few weeks ago. Never. Again.

Three years ago, shortly before my EDS diagnosis, I damaged the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), which runs down the outside of the knee. This resulted in me needing to wear a hefty leg brace for around three months. I’ve had issues with my knee since the age of ten, but this injury wrecked my knee pretty badly and I now need to have on-going physio treatment on my knee to keep it working as well as possible. How did I sustain this injury you ask? I was moving my bed side table [not heavy!].

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On the same theme of The Right Knee, I dislocated my knee, standing up, after sitting weirdly on the floor for a long period of time. From memory, I think I was w-sitting, which is a sitting position which many people with EDS find comfortable. It’s also very bad for the joints!

Shortly after I came out of my knee brace, I went to Portugal with a friend. I decided to make the most of being injury free and we went on a high ropes obstacle course. The end result of me living wildly was that I somehow damaged my shoulder badly and needed surgery in the summer of 2015 to repair the rotator cuff and tighten the muscles, ligaments and tendons to stop my muscle from popping out of the joint.

Last summer, prior to being diagnosed with vasovagal syncope and mild POTS, I fainted whilst walking upstairs and hit my face on the bannister. The following day, I was rushed to A&E with a suspected fracture in my cheek bone and potential damage to my eye. Thankfully all was okay! My poor cat was also squashed during this episode and it stopped him from being my little shadow for a few days. Poor puss.

Linked to me being a little bit fainty: during a PE lesson in my GCSE years at school, we were having to do shuttle runs, starting in press-up position. My body couldn’t cope with the change in gravity, resulting in a blood pressure drop and me falling to the ground, via my shoulder and breaking it. I was banned from shuttle runs after this.

I’ve talked a lot over recent months about on-going gastrointestinal issues and how this has resulted in me being sick numerous a day. This has caused various issues, as you can probably imagine, not least numerous dislocations of my jaw and damage to my “sick muscles” as my physio very scientifically called them.

As I said at the beginning of this post, this is by no means all my injuries, I’ve missed out the broken bones and other operations that I’ve had and I’m sure there are other injuries that I have forgotten about. EDS doesn’t just affect my joints, it is a multi systemic condition, affecting all the connective tissues in my body, from my head to my toes. Life with EDS can be hard and it’s often very misunderstood by people, but when it comes to injuries, I have the attitude of “if I don’t laugh, then I’ll cry.” It helps that my way of dealing with pain is pure hysterical laughter, which can be confusing for the medical staff when they treat me.

If you want more information about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, you can do so here.

 

 

 

 

Universal Credit Saga: Part Three

It’s approaching three months since I first started the universal credit process, after being medically signed off work, on long term sick leave. In that time, I have had two commitment meetings with my work coach, which destroyed my confidence and made me feel like a failure and a burden on society. I have been told that despite medical evidence, written from my GP, who has known me 10+ years, stating that I am unwell, with suspected gastroparesis, I am available to have interviews immediately and I am available to start working immediately.  According to the NHS MUST Tool which measures malnourishment, I am at high risk of malnourishment, increasing my risk of sudden death. I’m sure that you can understand that hearing this information has been, in itself, traumatic.

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Despite all of this, I have been told that I have to think about how I’m planning to get back into work. Being off work is not a lifestyle choice, however it would appear that being unwell isn’t a valid reason to not be in work. I’m meant to be job searching every day. I’ve tried to do this, but the reality is that I am not well enough to be trailing through websites to find work and I also find it an incredibly demoralising experience, looking at all the jobs that healthy me could do, but are an impossible task for me when I am this unwell.

I’ve also been told that I need to be prepared to travel up to 90 minutes, when job hunting. When I was informed of this, I questioned it, due to the fact that I cannot travel for three additional hours in total. I have a car and I can drive, however, due to EDS, I experience joint dislocations daily. Driving long distances puts more pressure on my joints and I refuse to put myself or other road users at risk, by driving for longer and potentially experiencing joint dislocations. Can you imagine the potential danger if I was driving on the M40 to London and my knee or hip dislocated?

When I saw my work coach last week, to hand in my latest sick note, I had made the effort to look a little but more presentable, as in, I was wearing something other than tracksuit bottoms and had washed my hair. My work coach told me that I “looked better”. That’s the beauty of invisible, chronic illnesses: you can’t see them. It’s like being an idiot, you can’t always tell that someone is an idiot by sight, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are an idiot.

When I first started the Universal Credit application, I have no idea how difficult the process would me. It still makes me so sad and angry that disabled and vulnerable people are being failed by a system which is meant to be helping them. As I have said in previous posts, the whole application has had the affect of making me more unwell and dealing with the feeling of being such a failure has been hard to adjust to. The support that I have received from people has, honestly, been overwhelming. The Mighty have published my original open letter to Theresa May and I have been approached by other agencies and I am still deciding the best way of moving things forward in that respect. I know that I am just one person, except what I have experienced are not experiences that are isolated to just me. The system is broken and I am determined to fight the unjust nature of a system which should be helping, not penalising people. I’m not just fighting for me, I’m fighting for the people who are unable to fight themselves.

But I accept that I am just one person and I don’t have the power to make the changes that I desperately want to make.

So, where do I go from here?

As well as sending Theresa May a copy of my letter, I also sent a copy to Layla Moran, my local MP. I received a reply from the prime minister’s communications offer, telling me that Theresa May appreciated my letter (I think not), it had been passed onto the DWP and that I could expect a reply from them. As of the 24th April, I am yet to have a reply from them.

I had a more positive response from Layla Moran and would go as far as saying that her support and overall kindness made me a little emotional. She was very honest and fair in her responses to me: it is incredibly unlikely that the Universal Credit system will be abolished due to the fact that the Conservative government have invested millions and millions of pounds in the implementation and the rolling out of universal credit, as well as investing further large sums of money into “fixing” the problems that arose as a result of the system. However, oppositional parties have succeeded in managing to secure changes to the Universal Credit scheme, to hopefully make it fairer and less traumatic for genuinely disabled and vulnerable people who are in the process of applying. As well as this, I have been assured that all Universal Credit problems are noted. Stephen Lloyd MP leads on social securty benefits for the Liberal Democrats in Parliament and he routinely questions Government ministers about Universal Credit implementation. Layla is also in the process of chasing up my reply from the DWP.

Layla Moran also validated the fact that I’m unwell. I hadn’t actually realised that the demoralisation from the commitment meetings had resulted in me feeling like a fraud and not sick enough to not be in work. My work coach does not have a medical degree and has next to no medical knowledge, but his attitude, combined with the system in general, has made me question on more than occasion if I had the right to be trying to claim benefits, to financially support myself at a period of time when I am too unwell to work.

I am unwell. In fact, I am really unwell. I did not ask to be in this situation and more than anything I want to be working.

Today I received a questionnaire asking me about my health conditions and my answers on this will depend on whether I need a full work capability assessment. It’s a similar form to the PIP form, which my life slightly easier and I’m hoping that a combination or my answers and medical proof will be enough to evidence to show that right now, I can’t work.

It remains a slow and somewhat painful process but people are fighting to make the system more just. I’m still fighting and dare I say it, members of parliament are fighting too. It might not be front page news, but it is happening and I’m not giving up.