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

 

 

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.

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.

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.