Body-Mind Quandary

Body-Mind Quandary – by JCStaff

Prioritize your health.20200523_083146
Sounds simple enough.
But it is not. For some,
physical health and mental health
are diametrically opposed to each other.
I developed anorexia nervosa in my late teens,
Then spent a good number of years starving;
nearly to death, on occasion.
Today, I am healthy, physically.
My weight is in a normal range,
my bone density has regenerated,
my menstrual cycle follows the moon.
Though decades later, the anorexic brain lives on,
long after the calorie counting quietens to a whisper,
and average-sized women’s clothing on racks fits again.
Health is the priority, true: but choosing is a daily battle daily,
for those with disordered relationships to food.
Our mental health or our physical health;
Which of them matters the most?
If we eat normally, we feel guilty;
If we feel guilty, we want to restrict;
If we restrict food, we struggle with exercise;
If we can’t exercise, we feel enormous;
If we feel enormous, we over-exercise;
If we over-exercise, we suffer injuries;
If we are injured, we struggle with exercise;
If we can’t exercise, we don’t want to eat;
If we don’t eat, we cannot think straight.
This is not the end, but it gets tedious, doesn’t it?
All the while, quietly observing this tense game
of moral ping-pong is our tattered metabolism,
forever striving to end play, yet frozen
in a constant state of confusion.

Darling Sparrows

Darling Sparrows – by jcstaff

Were the leaves that green yesterday?
There seem so many of them presently,
blossom, fresh growth – like mid-spring.
But this beautiful decade has been tainted,
its hours are passing strangely, so slowly.
How peculiar our world feels, this planet
now foreign to us all; unchanged
only in name.
Outdoors, oxygen feels drenched
with a hazardous cocktail of
uncertainty, contamination.
So, we stay inside, secure.
Do the birds not know?
They sing louder now,
persistently inquiring
why earth is so silent.
Dawn chorus all day,
like the eerie backdrop
of a John Wyndham novel.
Oh darling sparrows,
your palpable fear is
our sudden nomality:
a life we didn’t choose
called 2020 lockdown.

 

Think of a Word….

Think of a Word…..

So, New Year’s Resolutions are kind of passé, right?

I mean you can make them, sure, but lots of us have agreed that actually, we are setting ourselves up for failure when we inevitably can’t keep them. Then we have a reason to be unkind to ourselves. Plus, we shared our well-intentioned resolutions with all those in our lives, and across our top four or five favorite, most-used social media platforms.  So now the resolutions have gone down the pan (mid-Januaryish), they all know we bailed out, given the nature of the digital goldfish bowl which our generation socialises in. Not a good look.

 

Instead, I see people choosing a word.  The word can be anything, and it’s trendily called a “watchword”, a “focus word”, or a “safe word”.  The past few years, I’ve fancied this idea, although as the end of December looms, people start identifying their chosen words, and I’m like “Think of a word!  What is the matter with you?  One word!  Just one fucking word!  How hard can it be?… No, the word cannot be ‘fuck’….”  So after this cute little convo in my mind during the first week of the new year, I’ve just given up.  And the Januarys pass. Until this year.

 

This year is different.  This year, I. Have. A. Word.

I actually have a word!  I will tell you what it is, but first a little context.  Some of my difficulty in choosing is that all the good ones are gone.  Does it matter if I pick a word that one of my friends is using?  Well of course not.  Except, who wants to seem like a copycat, right?  And it reeks of cliché. As well, a few of the words I considered, and indeed, the one I have chosen, are personal qualities, and as a person who lacks any sense of self-esteem, I don’t want to be seen as a braggart.  So, although I think I do embody my word I’ve selected, I also think it is an ongoing challenge to sustain that commitment to it, as situations threaten it on the daily. This helped me choose – it’s a word that I can stake a claim to at times, but actually a personal trait I’d like to aspire to and keep striving for.

 

Okay.  Ready?

Integrity.  That’s my word – my word of the year, the first year of this new decade (2020, rather a grand and gorgeous name for a year, don’t you agree?)  Now, before we look at the word, I would like to explain my discovery which is part of the reason I chose Integrity. While I was considering it as a possibility, I noticed something.  Another word inside it: Grit. Ha, you didn’t notice that before either, did you? Now, grit used to be synonymous with dirt, perhaps some particles of it inside your shoe.  These days, it is also defined as a sought-after quality.  It is in line with the ‘what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger’ concept (like the Kelly Clarkson song by the same name.)  It’s like grit is earned by surviving adversity and hard graft.  Then I started to think about the analogy of how diamonds and pearls are created (meme about this).  And I thought “Hmmmm…. Yes, I truly have experienced adversity at times.  I’d love to be a sparkly diamond-like person, or a shiny pearl-like person someday.”Image

Then, it all began to make so much sense. Having integrity sometimes means being faced with a shit hand dealt to you, and sticking to your belief system, even though this journey feels hard, and the path uneven.  It can be tough in those situations to do all those valiant things like “rise above”, and “be the bigger person”, but in the end, integrity wins, every time.  This is where the grit comes in.  Occasionally, put up with a bit of grit in your shoe, and grit your teeth through a challenging encounter.  All these are essential ingredients to cultivate solid integrity. They also contribute to long-lasting, unshakable integrity being built.  Just like the grit which helps make the diamond sparkle eternally, and the pearl shine forever.

To test this all out, I thought about friendships which turned toxic, disintegrated and finally dissolved over time.  Unpleasant situations where people increasingly behaved vengefully, spitefully and unkindly. I could have challenged their behaviour with justification, and naturally I felt hurt, betrayed and angry about it.  But even before revenge crosses my mind, the default setting is activated; Integrity, nourished by grit (steadfastness in the face of testing times.)  I walked away with my chin up, free from any responsibility for having caused hurt.

So, yes, I am pleased to share that after a few years of searching, I have found a word to call my own, and joined the “New Year Focus Word” gang, leaving the New Years’ Resolutioners to their disappointment (or not, in which case – well done you!)  The final thought I have on all this, is that given how long it took me (at least 3 years), to pin down a word for myself, please don’t be surprised if I carry it into next year too.  Januaryness is rather harsh, and it’s comforting to know I can weather it with my new focus word. By focussing on Integrity, embracing it and exhaling it, there is actually a good chance that one day, if I find some self-belief along the way, that I too may begin to sparkle and shine.

2020 love to you all! xxx

Definition of Integrity

Definition of Grit

A Guide to the Holidays with Eating Issues

A Guide to the Holidays with Eating Issues – by @jcstaff_
The festive season, yuletide, the holidays.
Days filled with tidings of “comfort and joy.”
A time to “eat, drink and be merry.”

Central to all of the celebrations, partying and gift-bestowing is food.
Food and drink. Food and drink in excessive abundance.
For most, this is the time of year that even those who normally declare “No, thank you – I’m being good” will be tempted and often succumb. Succumb to what, you ask? To partaking in what might appear to be the dark side, the naughty-food camp. This approach towards food is implying is that we must not enjoy the treat foods, that they are there as sinful temptation, and that eating unhealthily is bad. So perhaps applying that theory, then not eating is good….?
It starts to get complicated, as we know.

Now imagine the holiday season living with an eating disorder. Trying to get through each day with a mental illness or the remnants of one, which is keyed into everything that passes your lips. There are many people who were diagnosed with and treated for eating disorders years ago, who appear healthy today but still have the leftover behaviours from those grim days of being in the grip of anorexia or bulimia. I include myself in this category, having recovered from life-threatening anorexia three decades ago, and yet still living with anorexic tendencies to this day. Beyond this, there are countless people who have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, but whose eating is skewed or influenced by the constant pressures to look a certain way, and all the fucked-up messages society impresses on us about our bodies, and our weight.

Living with eating disorder tendencies during the holiday season, November to January, is exceptionally challenging. At times it may feel impossible, trying to manage social occasions and not have a meltdown or eat too much/too little.
This morning, I began thinking about the days ahead and what strategies I have developed over the years to keep my eating and exercise on an even keel during the holidays. This next point is super important: although we may be surrounded by people commenting about laissez-faire eating, and alluding to getting back on track with a healthier diet in the new year, those with disordered eating patterns may not manage this temporary diet, psychologically. Eating out of the ordinary, and indeed, out of one’s comfort zone may set off a string of reactions, like a fishtailing car which rapidly swings out of control.

Now, I am not clinically trained, just merely someone who has tried over the years to find ways to ensure my eating does not get in a bigger mess during the festive period. The following tips may be of no help whatsoever, and if not, perhaps you can grab a notepad and create your own list which are more accessible for you? The main thing is to acknowledge that this can be an extra tricky time of year to navigate for those of us with a history of eating disorders. With that in mind, having some tactics to draw upon can help us avoid self-sabotage, downward spirals and extra anxiety.blog pic christmas

Tips for Holiday Eating
1. Think ahead about guilt. Those without eating issues will be able to cope with eating a mince pie and the guilt afterwards. “I’ve earned this!” they might convince themselves. They will make it look easy. Then when we try to have one, it sets off the guilt alarm which can cause urges to purge in whatever our choice method may be. Those who have used purging methods know how addictive they are and how difficult it can be to stop. So, on reflection, unless we feel totally cool about eating the mince pie, it may cause us less hassle to skip it and have a clementine instead.
2. Bowing to pressure from those around us, trying to encourage us to enjoy the food might feel the better alternative to the shame we experience around our restrictive eating, but again, it can cause us a raft of problems. Those close to us will understand we don’t need pressuring to partake. The holidays are about so much more than food. Feel okay to say “I ate earlier” if it saves us trying to contain our fear as we eat a thick, calorific slice of Christmas cake complete with marzipan and icing.
3. Drink lots of water. More than usual. Carbonated spring water is even better because it will make us feel full, and perhaps even a little bloated, but it is just water – no calories! This can help stave off the nibblies, so we feel less likely to graze on whatever tasty fare is sitting out on the coffee table.
4. Some of the trouble is that it’s a really busy time of year, and harder to stay in our routine. Mealtimes may be delayed, so it is easy to grab a treat as they are all around us, from pumpkin spice flavoured coffee drinks, to shortbread cookies. Plan ahead, stick to what we know, take snacks with us. Fruit in the car. Crackers in your handbag, grab a cereal bar and a diet cola at the petrol station. Whatever. It’s best to not rely on others to provide food choices we feel comfortable with.
5. Check in with healthy friends who have an admirably balanced attitude towards food and exercise. What are they eating? Follow their example. A friend of mine who is health-aware, thin and fit had a bag of dates one day and offered me one. Now, I buy them to keep in the fridge as a snack because I trust her dietary choices.
6. This might be a time of year to legitimise letting your exercise becoming a little obsessive. Make sure you ring-fence that time for yourself every day. Prioritise it. Normally, we do not want to let our exercise schedule run our lives, but by skipping our regular exercise at this time of year, food and eating can seem even more daunting. I go out for a run on Christmas day around 9.30am. My family support me and understand it is important to enable me to enjoy the day and have some Christmas dinner with them.
7. Be mindful of alcohol. There are two main issues with this – firstly the calories in the drinks. Secondly, once we have had a drink or two, our judgement starts to weaken. This could cause us to eat more than normal, drink too much or feel tempted to purge.
8. Late-night eating can be stressful – parties and entertaining can mean eating at different times, and later than usual, which can wreak havoc with our very sensitive bodies that are used to probably a generally inflexible time-table. Where possible, stick to routine. If we normally have salad for dinner, then have salad for dinner. Even if we are going out to a party where there will be food.  Everyone will be too busy enjoying their egg nog to notice what we eat or don’t eat!
9. Use a side plate, small bowl or ramekin to have portion sizes which we feel safer with. If there is a bowl of nuts or snacks on the table, and we end up eating a few handfuls, it might feel anxiety-provoking. Instead, get a little dish and put a portion in which feels suitable. Being able to visually quantify how much we have can help pre-empt us feeling stressed about it later.
10. The holiday season is full of excitement, anticipation, socialising and other aspects. As well, it can feel overwhelming, nerve-shredding and even depressing for some, for a multitude of reasons. I remind us of all this because bearing that in mind, it is no time to try and work on improving our disordered eating habits. Let’s stick to what we know, avoid pressure from others to over-indulge, focus on our time with loved ones and the all the pretty sparkling lights.

So to sum up, it may help to use an analogy. Picture our disordered eating as a sensitive little child who we are tasked with looking after throughout the holiday season. The child will have tantrums, feel distressed, and begin to lash out if they are put in situations they feel unfamiliar with. The best thing we can do for them to keep the peace, is to give them choices they are familiar with and help them to feel content. There is a new year on the horizon which will be full of many festive-free months. This will provide ample time to address any eating issues if you feel the need to do so. Who knows? Maybe next year, some of us will consume a mince pie washed down with a glass of Bailey’s without so much as even a flicker of panic. There is always hope!

Merry Christmas and love to all for 2020
xxx

Beat Eating Disorders

ANAD American National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

“Elsewhereville”

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Elsewhereville by JC Staff

Daydreams end at the edge of this town,
a place unconstrained by parameters of time and thought,
suspended adrift in this other-dimensional ambiguity.
Prior to entering, gate keys exchanged in agreement:
“All awareness is forbidden, and to be left at the gate.”
But awareness is cultured and bred in mind and body.
Do I choose to enter?
Do I submit to those confines?
Do I rush towards it, without touch or thought?
How did I just arrive suddenly, in this stillness?
Surrounded now by lonely silence, in limbo?
I just ran in, not listening to all those rules.
Body abandoned wherever I was before,
my mind has stayed back too,
because only the Self can slip
into Elsewhereville.

Not Mother Enough

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Photo credit JC Staff,  August 2008

Not Mother Enough  — by jcstaff_
Strangers’ reactions followed the same pattern,
they’d look, stare, then mentally ballpark the ages.
You’ve got your hands full!” then a familiar chuckle.
Did they all think they were the first to declare this?
I’d just smile politely, letting them think they really were.
Three, two and newborn; three babies aged three and under,
all planned, all adored, our little family complete and compact.
Fascinatined, I watched their development flourishing every day.
They looked to me for praise and approval, as they learned to walk,
say recognisable words, use crayons, spoons, come down a slide and read.
Like little ducklings they were, all three in a line.
I was so calm and mothering them came so easy,
I really could do it with my eyes closed.
Though they never let me sleep.
And I never minded.
“It will get easier,” people would say. But I knew they were wrong.
The birth until the baby’s 5th birthday is the simple part, a honeymoon.
Children smell lovely in their drowsiness, their tender breath sweet, gentle.
Glimpses of moonlight through curtain cracks, streaking the wooden flooring,
sitting in the armchair next to their cribs with one cherub or another in my arms.
Surely, that’s why they woke me, to snatch those moments of sensory delight.
I loved those secret minutes in the still of night, soft, warm babies held close.
Days filled with sparkling eyes, watching me with such endearment,
blinking amazed, like I was the best mother in the whole world.
Those were the days – I was right, it is more complicated now.
But has it become harder, or has my belief in my ability to mother, vanished?
It feels like I’m doing it all wrong these days, I’ve lost the map and compass.
Now it’s me looking to my children for their praise and approval.
I mostly raised myself from about nine, navigating my teens alone.
How can I guide our ducklings successfully, with nothing to go on?
Can I do this?  Can I help these young beings grow up into adults?
I have no confidence; I tell them.
“Sorry…” I say, “I’m sorry you got me.”
Then one morning, I arrive home hot and damp after a leisurely run.
I’m stretching on the steps as my middle child opens the front door.
Pleased to see me back, she greets me warmly and says,
“Oh Mum, I hope I can run like you when I’m older!”
Maybe, just maybe, I am doing it. Right now.
Maybe, just for today, I am mother enough.

A “Routine” Procedure

A “Routine” Procedure by JC Staff

*trigger/difficult content alert – discusses medical examinations

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In my twenties, I move up north with my boyfriend.  We have been living in the village less than a year, our days are busy with commuting into the city, working and studying.  I have only been to the doctor’s in the next village a couple of times, once for an ongoing back issue, and another time for my asthma prescription.  It has been a few years since my last routine cervical smear test, and it’s overdue – but let’s face it, life is busy, the test is a chore, and it’s easy to let the time elapse between appointments.  I have been living with my boyfriend for 2 years, and have no pain or concerning issues, so the smear test is low on my priority list. Eventually, I make an appointment at the doctor’s, just to get it over with.

In the waiting room, I sit slightly nervously, staring into my phone and waiting to be called.  The village population is elderly, and a number of coughing/sniffling older people sit chatting to each other about various ailments as they wait.  I hear my name, and look up to see a young nurse.  A very young nurse.  Seriously, she looks like a teenager.  Where is the matronly older female nurse who normally works here?  Oh well.  I follow the young woman into the examination room, and start complying with her monotone instructions to remove clothing.  She’s not very friendly, and seems nervous, distracted – her words sounding wooden and stilted.  I feel a little more anxious now, as her inexperience is already palpable.  She makes no attempt to relieve my trepidation as previous nurses have done prior to the exam.

As I lie back on the bed, naked from the waist down, with the paper sheet crinkling against my skin, I am immediately shocked.  On the ceiling, directly above me is a poster.  It looks like the ones which come in the centrefold of pre-teen pop music magazines, and features the popstar, Robbie Williams.  Jeans seductively unbuttoned, he is naked from the waist up, tanned, and rippling his six-pack abs with a smoulderingly sexy look on his face.  “Just relax” says the child-nurse, with a robotic tone, as though she would rather be anywhere else in the world, but in this room with me.  “Snap”, I think, feeling exactly the same way.

I lie there, my feet in the icy cold, metal stirrups, feeling incredibly vulnerable, and trying to take in the poster and process its incongruity.  Why?  What is its purpose?  Is it implying women will feel aroused by the sight of that man, staring down at them, and will be more physically compliant with a gynaecological examination as a result?  Surreal.  A poster featuring a meadow in the Swiss Alps, or an image of a seascape with an empty beach, a bent palm tree and an inviting sunset may have eased the tension a little.  But this?… I am unable to make sense of it at all.

The procedure begins and is immediately extremely painful.  I take my breath in sharply in response, entirely unprepared for the pain having only experienced mild discomfort on previous occasions. “Sorry”, says the nurse, sounding feeble, retracting her equipment.  My tension increases now, as cervical smear tests have never felt this uncomfortable in the past.  The nurse apologizes again weakly, making another attempt.  The pain is all-consuming.  I won’t go into any further detail, but needless to say, the procedure feels very wrong.  It is not supposed to hurt like this.  The Robbie Williams poster suddenly feels very irritating, like I’m being watched by the singer, mocked, as I’m enduring a difficult and painful examination.  Feeling sexy is the very furthest thing from my mind right now.   The young clinician now quietly apologizes once more, aware of the physical discomfort she is causing.

In a blur, she finishes, and I am distantly aware of her offering me a tissue – inadequate is an understatement.  I hear her saying it’s “all done”, and telling me I can get dressed again.  I don’t remember the rest, and drive the mile or so distance home in a daze.  As I stumble into the house, feeling shaky, I go straight to the bathroom.  I am bleeding heavily, and my dress is already stained.  It was a favourite.  I throw it out – even if I had got it clean, I wouldn’t wear it again as it would remind me of the experience.  I get changed and lie on the sofa; I am feeling delicate, tearful, and the pain is acute.  I take some pain medication and call my boyfriend, crying.  He leaves work straight away and comes back to the house.

I spend two days on the sofa recovering.  When the ordeal has passed, my feelings shift from feeble and injured, to angry and indignant.  Why was the test carried out by someone so inexperienced?  Why is there a poster of a half-clad male pop singer on the ceiling above the very spot where women are being investigated for possible signs of cervical cancer?  How exceedingly inappropriate is that?  Is the sight of a famous male celebrity meant to turn women on?  Who feels turned on during a vaginal examination, for God’s sake?

I write a lengthy letter of complaint to the practice manager of the doctor’s office.  I highlight that it seemed clear the young nurse was inexperienced and should not be left alone to carry out invasive, gynaecological tests which she clearly lacks confidence in doing.  As well, I ask who thought it a sensible idea to put the poster of a half-dressed male pop star above the examination bed?  It was utterly offensive, in my opinion.  One in three women on that bed will have survived sexual trauma, and do not need a photo of a man staring down at them when they are lying there, trying to clutch tightly to shreds of dignity as they undergo a pelvic examination.  I suggest others may feel the same but are too embarrassed to raise the issue. Surely gone are the days when we are to be subject to that level of patriarchy.  (I think Robbie Williams is ugly anyway.  And conceited.)  Seriously, a half-clad male celebrity, striking a pose, conflated with a sexual health procedure is entirely inappropriate.

Finally, I state in the letter that I was only aware of the incompetence as I had prior experience to compare it to.  Any young woman who may have endured that as her first experience of a cervical smear test, would have likely been far too traumatised by the ordeal to ever go for another one.  This, in itself, is very concerning, and potentially dangerous, as cervical cancer, like others, is most manageable when detected early.  It is essential that women’s sexual health care is accessible and sensitive to women’s needs.

I received an apologetic letter in reply, from the manager of the doctors’ office, and the poster was taken down.  Gratefully, we only lived there for two years, and smear tests I have undergone since have been routine, carried out by skilled medical professionals, with only run-of-the-mill mild discomfort.  I would always encourage any woman who experiences sub-standard healthcare to speak up, challenge poor practice and expect high standards of quality care where your physical and emotional health are concerned.  You are likely not the only one who feels that way, and might be raising an issue that affects others, too. 

Your safety matters.  Your voice matters.

You matter.

Reaching Catharsis

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courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

Reaching Catharsis by @jcstaff_

While they are sleeping,
I switch off my mind
making thinking stop.
While they are sleeping,
self-hatred flourishes
self-despising glows.
While they are sleeping,
I want to vanish
I wish I could – and
sometimes, it hurts.
While they are sleeping,
purging my sorrows
until emptiness returns;
strange comfort consumes me.
While they are sleeping,
the satisfaction settles me
as cleansing washes over.
Catharsis reached, once more.
Then I can sleep.

F*cking Do Your Homework

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Photo copyright JC Staff

 

Fucking Do Your Homework — by JC Staff

I’m prefacing what I’m about to say with this: I am not perfect.
In fact, I am the furthest from perfect of just about every person I know.
I get parking fines, I am late picking my children up, I lose keys and phones with complete reliability, I forget to pay bills, I leave my clothes on the floor.
I could go on. Yeah. You get the drift.
That said, I read. I read a lot. I read online, too. A lot. I use social media, and I like to make sure, damn sure, my opinions are well-researched.
The world is a fast place. It’s spinning quicker that it seemed to when we were kids.
We are all “swamped”, “snowed under” and “bogged down”; I get it, believe me.
Work, marriage, motherhood – I’m busy, too. But do you know what?
People are getting lazier.
These days, we all have instant access to more information than our grandparents, with their shelves proudly full of Encyclopedia Britannica, could have ever dreamt of.
Our phones are the portal to an infinite amount of detail on any subject we choose.
Google is now actually a verb, as well as a noun.
But some of us, for some reason, unfathomably cannot be bothered.
Some have their opinions on the tip of their tongue, and let them slide instantly out of the tip of their finger onto their smartphone’s surface, without a millisecond’s pause for thought.
There they sit, with a self-righteously satisfied sigh, dusting their hands off “that’s that”-style, having “put someone straight” about something.
No thought given to clarifying what the person had said, or whether they have misinterpreted it, or even if their response to it is actually correct.
Sometimes, it might be worth not even commenting. Yes, you do still have the option to keep your opinions to yourself.
Like when people yell at the TV, but no one on the TV can hear them. That.
It seems on social media, hiding at home where no one can see them, people feel freer to comment on anything and everything, with whatever lack of civility they wish.
Worst of all, some people comment without having read the background, the thread, the hyperlink, or read up on the person they are responding to.
They spend no energy taking time to read around the subject.
Three times this week, strangers replied to me directly on social media in response to things I had written about. Each time, the respondent was snide and evasive.
Smug is not a good look on anyone, seriously.
And guess what?
Each one was coming from an uninformed standpoint.
People. Come on. Do you think you know what you are talking about?
You spout misjudgements, you cause hurt and distress, you often don’t know who you are really talking to, and what their life or career is about.
Frighteningly, you are also planting the seeds of another 5 minutes of hatred in a world that already has more than enough of its noxious vines strangling the human race.
So, I ask you to stop. Stop; think; read. Check the subject out, verify the claims you make.
Be certain about what you are about to type.
Know your game – because that matters.
Do your homework, people.
Fucking do your homework.

A New Kind of Fall

Preface

I only follow politics minimally – it does not interest me.  I never write about political issues and have no experience writing op-ed type pieces.  The following piece is borne out of my sorrow and frustration at the recent weeks’ events in American politics, and my desire to help society escape the oppression that patriarchally-induced misogyny creates.  Addressing patriarchy and misogyny without mentioning a particular current politician, a world leader who embraces and even personifies the two concepts, is challenging, and near on impossible.

 

********

 

As the final days of September 2018 unfolded, fall imminent in the air, it felt like déjà vu.  This was not just about leaves turning.  One year on from the revelations exploding in the international press about Harvey Weinstein and the growing throng of women coming forward with stories of sexual assault and rape at his hands over the decades, followed by their decades of trauma, isolation, mental ill-health and destroyed careers in Hollywood, we seemed on the eve of an instant-replay, of sorts.  As fall approached, the curtains went up on a new horror show surrounding another public disclosure involving another successful woman alleging sexual assault perpetrated by another powerful American white man.  Another revelation which would, in the space of a few days, mobilise the masses and enrage women (and men) around the globe.  Again.

 

Brett Kavanaugh, a man the majority of the world perhaps had not heard of before, was skyrocketed to notoriety when a woman called Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who would become the latest “poster-girl” for speaking out about sexual violence, accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party in the early 1980s.   While she was still a child.  Worth saying here that Brett Kavanaugh’s profession is relevant in this scenario.  You see, Brett Kavanaugh is a judge.  He was nominated this summer by the President of the United States of America (yeah, him) to become a Supreme Court Judge.  So, of all people, he needs to be squeaky clean in terms of his past and his behaviour.  And his attitudes towards sexually violent crimes.  He also needs to be completely honest and trustworthy.  And non-judgemental.  Right?…..

 

Back to the deja-vu, the pattern was the same:

Woman accuses high profile male.

High profile male vehemently denies and publicly decries the claims.

Sides are taken, lines are drawn in the dirt.

Then ensues a frenzied debate of which one is lying – a debate played out the world’s socio-political centre stage, captivating the attention of both mass media and social media for endless days and nights. Everyone has an opinion, people come forward with corroborating accounts, and further allegations emerge.

 

As this is happening, simultaneously the backlash starts.  The people speaking up to defend the woman are barraged with offensive, insulting and sometimes non-permissible comments.  This is especially rife on social media.  Interestingly, there are few complaints about the defenders of the man being ‘trolled’ in the same way.  Dozens of articles appear as everyone and their dog have an oft-polarized viewpoint to share on “what happened” and “what now?”  As if they were all present in the room during the assault the woman speaks of, and have since lived the trauma she has carried.

 

Photographs, often ugly ones, some with facial contortions to show them in the worst light are shared of those involved.  Last October, a steady stream of such images of Harvey Weinstein appeared in my feeds on social media.  As if his face alone is not scary enough.  Now, the face has been replaced by Brett Kavanaugh looking his most conceited, aggressive and arrogant self.  The photos are very powerful and the faces of the two for me, and possibly for other women who have been sexually assaulted, symbolize sexual harm and have a physiological impact linked to the trauma of it.   We feel these photographs in our bodies.  The words in the post/article we can choose to read or not, but the photographs register as we are scrolling through our social media, whether we want them to or not.

 

Re-framing Their Photos

Ultimately, I want to rewire my mind so that when I see a picture of Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump and whomever will be next on this growing list in the Hall of Fame of sexual predators who are slipping through the net of the law and of society, I will not feel that tension in my stomach, that sick taste in the back of my throat, that cold chill on my forearms while my breathing goes shallow.  Instead I will stand up a little taller, with my shoulders pulled back and smile a little, knowing that men like them will soon have a metaphorical “fall” of their own.

 

So, what can we do?

The helplessness of waking up the morning after Brett Kavanagh was voted into the Supreme court of America is a horrible empty feeling, like a burnt-out shell of a building after a bombing.  It is more essential than ever that we find ways to help us keep the energy up to keep going when all seems truly lost.  What follows is a list of ideas that I find helpful.   They are not rules, they may not even be helpful to you.  If not, please try to create your own.  Your story matters, YOU matter, the future matters.  It doesn’t really matter how we achieve it, but we must find a way to feel hopeful in these times of fear, intimidation and recklessness.

  1. Speak to children – any children, your own, your nieces, your nephews, your friends’ kids. Have the conversations, explain it to them, simplify it for them, help them to understand.  It’s so important that children are part of this conversation if anything is ever going to change.
  2. Support each other. These are such upsetting times, especially for women who have survived sexual trauma, which let’s face it, is really a very large number of us.  Be there for your friends and let them be there for you.
  3. Take breaks; it is easy to feel immersed in the news, it’s everywhere and we want to know what is going on, what is going to happen next, but it can be emotionally flooding. Know when to pull back and watch something non-taxing on TV, pour a glass of wine or paint your nails.  With the news off.
  4. Use your voice; find ways to speak out in conversations with others, do not feel too intimidated to talk about your views. Give others a new perspective to consider.  It’s not “talking politics”, it’s “talking humanity”, and it matters.
  5. Hope: lastly, and probably most importantly, keep the hope. Look at the teenage girl at the bus-stop you are driving past, staring into the screen of her phone.  Look at her as you pass.  And change the future for her.

………She deserves so much better than this, don’t you think?