Self-esteem and 100 spiders

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had some issues in the past with my mental health. One of the ways in which this manifested was in seriously poor low self-esteem – bordering on the obsessive. I wasn’t able to say anything good about myself. I wasn’t able to even *think* good things about myself. At my worst I felt that something really bad would happen if I ever did say, or think, anything that was even close to being good about myself and so to forestall the really bad thing happening I would have to immediately say something bad about myself to balance it out, or pull an ugly face – or even worse sometimes I physically hurt myself to punish myself for daring to think well of myself.

At one point, I couldn’t even capitalise the letter ‘I’ when referring to myself in a written sentence, because I had somehow got the idea that I didn’t ‘deserve’ a capital letter, and I didn’t want people to think I was so above myself that I would dare to use a capital letter. Of course all it did was irritate my friends who are sticklers for correct grammar who couldn’t understand why I was able to correctly punctuate and spell all other words. I wasn’t able to explain to people why it was so difficult to capitalise the ‘I’.

Compliments were like kryptonite. I couldn’t accept them. I didn’t know how to. I craved them and feared them in equal measure. On the one hand compliments from other people were validation – wonderful validation – that maybe I *was* ok, that I looked alright. On the other hand I wasn’t able to believe the compliment, because that would be to think well of myself and I can’t do that or BAD THINGS will happen, and the other person will think I think I look ok and that would be being vain and there is nothing worse in the world than vanity. Of course, this just made people pissed off that I would never accept a compliment. One friend once just said “you know, when someone compliments you, you should just say ‘thank you’ and move on. Don’t tell them why they are wrong”. It hadn’t occurred to me that rejecting their compliments in the name of my own obsessive low self-esteem could actually push people further away.

It did drive one significant other away. He became increasingly upset by my difficulty in being nice to or about myself, and with my constant putting myself down. “How would you feel,” he asked me, “if someone who looked and acted exactly like me came into this room and started saying really horrible things about me? You wouldn’t put up with it, would you? Well that what it’s like when you put yourself down. It’s like someone who looks like someone I love, being needlessly mean about them. Why do you do it?”

I don’t know quite how I came to develop the conclusion that to be seen to be vain is the worst thing you could ever do, and that thinking or saying nice things about yourself or allowing others to say nice things about you is the path to extreme vanity and friendlessness. I remember Mother RDP telling me that when people complimented her on what a beautiful child I was she used to say things like ‘shame about her ears’ so that I ‘wouldn’t grow up vain’. I suspect that’s part of it. But perhaps the wider context for it is built right into our culture. As was pointed out in the feminism event I went to, women find it extremely hard to be proud of their achievements. Even when those achievements are real and tangible, many women find it hard to say, “YES, I did that. I did it well. That makes me pretty awesome.” So many aspects of our society, our upbringing, the media around us, tell us that you’re not meant to be like that. You must be meek, you must bashfully and modestly accept your compliments, but never compliment yourself.

It seems strange to look back at those times and remember how I thought. Of course, as low self-esteem goes, this was a pretty extreme case. But I am not alone in having felt this way, and the more I talk about it, the more shocked I am to discover how many of us have gone through similar thought patterns as we’ve grown up – if perhaps not taken to such extent as self-harm and refusal to follow a rule of punctuation. We’ve assimilated messages that say be confident, but be modest. Be pretty, but don’t know it. Be strong, but gentle. Be smart, but don’t let people know. It’s so confusing trying to learn to enjoy being yourself when there are so many conflicting messages out there which simultaneously tell you that you are both fine just as you are and that you are inadequate.

There’s an  episode of My Little Pony’s ‘friendship is magic’ all about this exact theme – where Twilight Sparkle becomes terrified of revealing how talented she is to her friends in case they reject her for it, because boasting is bad. Being Friendship is Magic it actually deals with this theme rather well, by drawing a line between making shit up to get people to admire you and just actually being good at something and being proud of that. But I couldn’t help identifying with the message that it can be scary to put yourself and your talents out there, and that sometimes it’s hard to find that line between positive self-affirmation and something that looks like boasting.

All of this has come to mind because of a Halloween costume I put together for a club night last weekend. Regular readers will have been following my body positive journey over the months that I gave up sugar, lost some weight and gained some confidence. I still surprise myself sometimes when I put something on and look in the mirror and am able to go ‘hey, I look good’, even though the days of (literally) beating myself up about thinking I look good are long past. So I surprised myself with this Halloween outfit, which was part Zatanna, part witch, mostly covered in spiders. The outfit pretty much consisted of lingerie with a tight jacket and a top hat. And about 100 spiders.

Since I opened the leotard floodgates I seem to be getting more and more comfortable leaving the house with my body actually visible, and feeling pretty confident that I look ok. That no one is going to point and go ‘fat chick in a leotard’ or ‘your bum is too big for that’ or ‘put it away love’. And even if they do, I have the self-esteem to go “meh, your opinion, my body. I win.” I made a point of telling other curvy women at the club in equally revealing outfits how wonderful they looked, and what a great body they had. It meant a lot to me when people said it to me.

When I saw some pictures of me from the weekend, I had a weird moment. Whereas previously I would have been picking over the picture picking where the jacket was crumpled, my shorts askew, my thighs chunky, my spiders in the wrong place – this time I thought ‘wow. I look great. Look at my waist! It’s so small! I look like I am wearing a corset, but that’s just me. I’ve never had a reaction like that looking at a photo of myself before. Briefly, I wanted someone to ask me if I was wearing a corset, so I could be all NO. THAT’S ME. MEEEEEEE. Then I realised – I don’t need someone to ask me. I am proud of this. Proud of not only looking but feeling good. I can just SAY IT.

Sometimes, saying something good about ourselves can actually make us feel better. We all should be allowed to give ourselves a boost. To say “I did this thing. I am proud of this thing. I did it WELL” without fearing that others will think we’re Boasty McBoasterson from Vainville.

I wonder if we’ve not got a twisted idea of what ‘vanity’ means. We use phrases like “god, she really loves herself doesn’t she” or “he’s good looking, but he knows it” as insults. But surely loving yourself is a good thing? We should celebrate people loving themselves, and allow people to talk about their achievements, or things that make them happy, and celebrate that they are able to do so. As Rupal says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?”.

Give it a go. Every day, give yourself a compliment. In the mirror, or to a significant other,  or out there in the world as a tweet or a facebook status. Celebrate yourself. When a friend compliments you,  believe it. Smile and say thank you.  It’s ok to say nice things about yourself, it doesn’t make you a bad person and might make you feel good.

And never underestimate the power of 100 plastic spiders.

Posted in feminism, Me Me Me, my opinions let me show you them, Sugar | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Living in a binary world and I am not a binary girl

I am going to reveal something about myself that you might find it difficult to understand. It something that I’ve known my whole life, but have hidden at times because of the reaction I’ve had when I tell people. Sometimes people react with confusion, sometimes irritation, sometimes downright anger. People tell me I am kidding myself, that I need to just pick a side, that I MUST like one more than the other.

But it’s true: I like both cats AND dogs.

I am neither a cat-person, not a dog-person. I am both.

Yes, both of them. No, I don’t really like one more than the other. I’ve owned more cats over the years, but that’s just been circumstance. If I could, I would love to own a dog.

I am not ‘greedy’, as some people would put it. I am not sure I’d want a dog AND a cat, I think that sounds like hard work. But I would be equally happy with a dog or a cat.

It’s surprising how often people are confused and rejecting of this idea that someone could like both equally. But at times I’ve been in conversations where someone is pressing me really hard – “but you MUST like one more than the other? NO ONE really likes BOTH equally”. Occasionally people have even been quite angry about it and have insisted that I MUST CHOOSE WHICH I LIKE so that they can stick that little ‘dog person’ or ‘cat person’ label on me for their own comfort and convenience. People like to know what you are. And what you are must be specific.

We live in a binary world. A society which really likes people to be either/or, so that we can neatly fit into the world and be understood. You’re a cat person, you’re a dog person. You’re male, you’re female. You’re gay, you’re straight. You’re trans, you’re cis. Transgressions to these easily understood binaries are rejected, feared, and misunderstood; particularly by people who comfortably find themselves occupying the ends of these binaries.

In my opinion, the only thing that truly is a binary is fucking binary. People are not simple computers. While technically our bodies operate like machines made out of meat, we are so much more complex than a computer or a machine. We operate on deep and flexible complexities. We have so many different drivers, backgrounds, responses, emotions, beliefs. And yet we insist on driving down the whole of human experience and desires into rigid opposing boxes that people MUST SIT WITHIN or they are other and weird and strange.

Well, I reject society’s binary obsession. I won’t ‘pick a side’ so that I fit comfortably within someone’s box, or wearing a helpful ‘dog person’ label. It’s not me that needs to pick a side. It’s society that needs to learn to live with grey areas. To accept that perhaps the people that live between the far ends of these spectrums are not unusual or other but in fact make up the vast myriad of beautiful difference in this world.

From a pretty young age I knew I liked both boys and girls. Hitting my teens in the 90s, and being somewhat inclined to the rock/goth/alt side this never really seemed a problem. All of my immediate friendship group seemed to be gender/sexually flexible. We admired Brett Anderson and Skin from Skunk Anansie. I remember when Placebo’s first album came out and I listened to it obsessively and thought that it was oh, so very meaningful and oh, so very me, and oh, only me, no one else can understand – in the way only a confused teenager trying to navigate the horror of adolescence can manage. There was never really a ‘coming out’ moment, unless you count a very drunken house party at the house of a girl called Liz, whose parents never seemed to be home, where almost everyone at the party announced that they were bi, and we all had a good cry, then someone played Nirvana’s ‘Come as you are’ on the guitar and we all passed out on the floor.

For most of my adult life it’s just been an aspect of my life that has been there, in the background. Culture makes it easy to be straight, and when you have no gender preference for a partner it’s easier to just fall in with that. But just because I’ve been in long term relationships with mostly male-identifying men doesn’t take away that fact that actually I do fancy people that aren’t male-identifying. And this is sometimes hard for people to get their heads around.

I can’t say these days that I am entirely comfortable with the term ‘bi-sexual’ for the direct connotation that indicates that I accept there is a ‘bi’ to be sexual about in the first place. My attraction towards people has always depended more on their personality, confidence and sense of humour than to how they identify gender-or-sex wise. That aspect is just significantly less important to me when having a crush on someone. At one point I did so some research, trying to work out a label to give myself, and found ‘pansexual’ which just made me think of 70s dance troupe Pan’s People. So I decided not to have a label.

I am not a cat person, or a dog person. I like both. I can never pass by a cat or a dog on the street without stopping to say “aww, HELLO” in that weird voice that animal people have for talking to animals that they can’t replicate unless talking to an animal. And I am not a boy person or a girl person. If they are funny, cute, interesting, smart and confident I can fall for them however they identify, or whatever body they might be using as their vehicle through life. And if that makes you uncomfortable, that’s your problem, not mine.

A good friend of mine, who experienced the ‘so are you straight again now or what?’ when dating a guy after a long and serious relationship with a woman, has a saying. “Labels are for jam jars.” she says. And people are not jam.

Posted in Me Me Me, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Head Squirrels and Hypermobility (2012)

Another ‘one from the vaults’ – sort of – this week. I have been stricken with migraines (fun) this weekend and am having problems staring at the computer screen. So I’ve gone back to my old blog for this week, with a post I wrote about my HMS and the London Olympics. It has been a little edited for sense/length but otherwise remains intact!


 

Head squirrels are invisible creatures that gnaw on your niggly brain thoughts at night and make it hard for you to sleep. Tonight I have appear to have a veritable infestation of them, so I decided to give up on trying to sleep and try to do something else for a little while so that the head squirrels get bored and go and nibble on someone else. The best way to make them bored, I decided, was to try to get all the brain thoughts out of my head and onto a page and then maybe there’ll be no niggly brain thoughts circulating, and thus nothing to attract the brain squirrels.

A number of events have precipitated the niggly brain thoughts of this evening are, mainly,  some broken bones, lack of exercise, the opening ceremony of the Olympics & the Paralympics themselves. My thoughts are still niggly, and somewhat chewed-upon by the afore-mentioned sneaky fluffy rodents of the mind, so please bear with me if this comes out jumbled or even completely nonsensical.

I fractured my hand in February (playing roller derby) and 8 weeks later in April, a week after coming back to practice, I fractured my rib (playing roller derby) which put me out for another 10 weeks. During this time I ate ALL OF THE FOOD and did no gym. This meant that not only did I put on a whole bunch of weight, but I also started to experience more pain and difficulties with my joints & muscles.

I am not sure if I’ve mentioned this much – it’s not something I talk about a lot because I am never really sure how to. I always worry that I sound like I am making excuses, and it’s a complicated thing to explain. I have a condition called HMS which stands for Hypermobility Syndrome. It’s not the same thing as being hypermobile (or double jointed, as it’s more commonly known.) If you’re hypermobile, you have (for whatever reason) very flexible joints. If you have Hypermobility Syndrome, that flexibility has started to cause pain or problems in your joints, muscles and/or internal organs. It’s not very useful as a descriptor, to be honest. You could fill 10 football pitches with HMS sufferers and all of them could have completely different problems, symptoms, difficulties and variations on how it affects them. Some people have occasional pain and twinges, managed by painkillers or careful exercise. Other people can barely move, walk or sit and stand without serious dislocations. It’s a condition as varied as the British weather.

When I talk about what hurts, or what I’ve injured, people often go “oh what is it THIS time? You’re always doing something to yourself”. Well, the vast majority of the time, my problems are related to HMS. For me, personally, my affected areas are:

- My shoulder-blades. They can slide in an out and hurt a lot if I don’t keep the muscles around them strong.
– My hands, wrists & carpal tunnel. I have difficulty gripping things, I drop things a lot because I lose grip. I can’t place my hand flat on the floor or rest my bodyweight on my hands. On very bad days, I can’t hold a mouse, or type, or hold a toothbrush or hairdryer. Thankfully it’s been a while since I’ve had a day as bad as that.
– My hips. My hips & pelvis sit slightly in the wrong position, so it can get painful if I walk much, and if I get very tired my posture goes and I start walking funny.
– My shins. The fascia between my shin bone and shin muscle is so completely damaged I have permanent shin splints. This means I can’t run or jump much and sometimes the muscle gets stuck on the bone which hurts like a mofo, and I have to have a horrible painful massage to get it unstuck.
– My ankles & feet. This is probably the one that gives me most trouble! MY ankles are very weak & over mobile, they are really unstable and give way easily. They roll in when I walk. My feet have no instep and I overpronate when I walk to the extend the outside of my feet don’t touch the floor. I have bunions on both feet over the toejoint. The ball of my foot and the large toe joint have fused in a weird way which means my toes don’t bend backwards – I can’t stand on tiptoe. This means when I walk my ankles twist round.

All of my joints are prone to “subluxing”, which means they don’t stay in the socket well, and can slip out. When I walk long distances, even in my NHS orthotics, the walking action can make my big toes sublux, which is incredibly painful. I can’t wear heeled shoes for more than about an hour, even low heels, before the toes start to sublux.

What has happened is that my muscles are all working overtime to stabilise the joints; but they aren’t working in the direction or in the way that muscles are strictly meant to. This means that in addition to my joints being a dislocation risk some of my muscles are overdeveloped, and thus weak and prone to injury. My muscles are tense all the time, and I find it hard to relax them.

Many HMS sufferers (and I am no exception here) also have problems with migraines, IBS and proprioception (spatial awareness). That last one means I walk into door frames a lot and often have weird shaped bruises on my shoulders. In addition, because HMS sufferers muscles are all working so hard all the time, we can get fatigued more easily.

It’s a condition not an illness. There’s not a cure and due to its very nature it is degenerative, getting worse as you get older, unless you really look after yourself.

So, in short; I injure easily, am in pain most of the time, and if I eat ALL OF THE FOOD and don’t exercise safely & regularly, everything goes to shit.

Ironically, if I hadn’t started to try to get fit in the first place, I might not have discovered all of this. In around 2006 I went on a health kick. I started going to the gym and cycling loads, something I’d never really done before. After a few months of yoga & street dance I started to get really bad pain in my hands and legs. This started years of tests & diagnoses and re-diagnoses, via RSI to arthritis through ME/CFS & fibromyalgia, finally arriving at the not-very-descriptive “HMS”.

Suddenly so much clicked into place. The difficulties I had at school with any sport that involved holding things (tennis) or running (long distance). My hatred and fear of “long family walks”. I just assumed as a child that everyone was in as much pain as I was, just that I was the only one complaining about it, and I was therefore rubbish. When the diagnosis finally came it was a revelation. I actually cried at an early physiotherapy appointment at the realisation that I’d been living with this pain all the time and it *ISN’T* that everyone else feels like this all the time and doesn’t complain, and I am NOT rubbish.

Fast forward to July 2012. I was in the opening ceremony for the Olympics. The Danny Boyle one, which was pretty much universally acclaimed as pretty bloody good. I was in the NHS section, as a roller skating nurse. You never actually saw me, but I was there. The rehearsals and the skates they gave us were pretty hard on my feet – I spent most of the rehearsals in pain but just trying to bear it as it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was icing my feet when I got home as sometimes the balls of my feet were so swollen I could barely get my shoes on. I was fine until we got to rehearsing in the stadium for real, when we found our cast holding area was a mile and a half walk away. Not wanting to make a fuss (at first) I tried to do the walk. However after doing it twice, and spending 5 hours in the skates, I was in agony, and was worried I wouldn’t be able to walk back to the station. I cried at the cast co-ordinator, and explained about my subluxy toes and foot & ankle problems. He was very understanding, and arranged to add me to the list of people who could use the little transport carts that could take people with mobility issues between the stadium and the cast area.

This helped a great deal – but felt like a fraud. There were other people who I thought were much more in need than me. And I was a SKATER. What sort of a fraud was I, wearing skates and skating around, but unable to walk a couple of miles? I play roller derby for goodness sake. I can walk (albeit not far!) I can sit and stand. I can go to the gym. Ok, I can’t wear heels or do plyo or play squash, but loads of people every day don’t do those things. What business do I have saying I am disabled when I can do most things that I need to do to get by?

And there’s the rub; the word disabled. The baggage it carries. It’s a label. An albatross. A dis-ability. It’s something I’ve rejected ever since I was first diagnosed. As my condition gets worse though (and despite getting new orthotics which are even more corrective than my old ones, my feet in particular insist on getting worse) it’s something I’ve had to face more and more lately. I still can’t bring myself to tick that box “do you consider yourself to have a disability?” when filling in forms. It feels like too big a thing to say yes to.

Compared to other people I know of with HMS, I am actually bloody lucky to be able to do as much as I can, and so while I can do all of the things, I will keep doing all of the things. My feet/shins could stay as they are for years, or they could deteriorate. I don’t know. But then a perfectly healthy person could be hit by a bus tomorrow. You just don’t know what will happen to you.

I can’t give you an answer to that “do you consider yourself to have a disability” box. It’s not something I’ve let myself think about, and it wasn’t until the opening ceremony that I realised how there really are some every day normal things – like walking a mile, or holding on when standing on the tube – that I really struggle to so. If I am honest, the answer to the “do you consider yourself to have a disability” question is “sometimes”.

I have been watching the Paralympics with awe. The Olympics were impressive, sure. Watching anyone compete in an event they’ve been training for for 4 years, being in their peak condition, achieving amazing things – it’s been inspirational. But the Paralympics somehow mean something else to me. These are all people that have technically ticked that disability box. And they’ve all had to go through rigorous testing for the classification system that determines exactly how “impaired” they are in their event. Some of them can’t hold a toothbrush, or use a tube without an elevator. But, just as with Ennis, Bolt et al, they are achieving incredible things. Cockroft, Simmonds, Weir; these are people in top physical condition, who are able in ways that many able bodied people aren’t. And they all, technically, tick that box. Do they consider themselves disabled? Perhaps their answer is also “sometimes”.


 

I was reminded of this post today by a conversation with lovely flatmate, who is experiencing very similar symptoms to mine. It made me realise how much I have started to accept my difficulties over the last two years, and accept that they are irrevocably a part of me which I need to work with, not fight against. So many things have become second nature which reduces the daily pain I am in, whereas in the earlier days I kept trying to do things I probably shouldn’t have done. I’ve adapted the way I live on a day to day basis which has resulted in me finding it easier to accept that ‘dis’ label, whilst also being much less affected by it. Perhaps this is all part of my journey this year – becoming a more ‘whole being’ and not a collection of – slightly broken – parts.

Posted in From The Vaults, Me Me Me, Roller Derby | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

My way or the highway

Copyright Jeff Krouwel 2014I love going to the cinema on my own; especially to a movie that’s been out for a while that everyone else has seen, and thus I get most of the cinema to myself. I pick a seat slap bang in the centre, take my shoes off, spread my scarf over my knees and settle back with my sweet & salted mixed popcorn that I paid for by selling a lung. I like being able to concentrate entirely on the film without worrying that I am breathing too loudly. But what I like MOST about going to the cinema on my own, is that afterwards, if I really loved the film, there is no one to disagree with me about it.  I can happily cycle home thinking about all the things I liked about it, composing never-to-be-written blog reviews in my head.

If this sounds dysfunctional to you, that’s probably because it is. I have always, ever since I can remember (and Mother DinosaurPirate would probably confirm from before I can remember), had a problem with people disagreeing with me.

As a child, I suspect this manifested in being willful and stubborn. I recall one argument when I was very small about Top of The Pops, and how if a number one single was number five in the charts last week, then really it should be described as having gone DOWN to number one, not UP to number one because ONE is a LOWER number than FIVE. I can’t remember how my exasperated Mother RPD dealt with this. I am pretty sure I had one as a teen with Mother DP about pelican crossings and whether they had stripes like a zebra crossing that resulted in me being ejected from the car and having to walk home.

You could put this down to two similarly made identically wilful women butting heads, except this pattern didn’t stop after I’d grown up and moved out and started having relationships. I suspect all of my exes would without hesitation describe me as ‘argumentative’. It’s not a label I enjoy. I actually really hate arguments – I hate being at odds with people. I hate falling out with people. I hate that scrunchy hot feeling inside you get when you’ve upset someone and the world falling apart feeling of having a big row with someone you really care about. And yet, I remain argumentative.

Part of this I am sure does come from the Mother ship, whether it’s in the DNA or learned behaviour I couldn’t say; but we both certainly have a burning need to correct the other person, and make them see exactly how they are wrong and why.

As I got older though, rather than growing out of it, it got worse. I had a huge argument with my first serious boyfriend about the fact that he was watching Waterworld. I thought it was a terrible movie with no redeeming features. He thought it was a terrible movie but fun to watch. The row that ensued as I tried to make him see how completely wrong he was was terrible to behold. Years later I became furious with a significant other who suddenly, after a blissful 6 months together, announced that he “didn’t like Tim Burton films. Or cartoons”. I couldn’t let that one slip by, and spent a significant portion of our precious time together (it was a long distance relationship) trying to show him the error of his ways through the medium of shouting and insults to his intelligence. He just put up with it, secure in the knowledge that after my initial shoutyness had gone, I’d feel all bad and scrunchy and apologise for being a massively unreasonable angermonster from mars.

No, I am not proud.

But it took that last row, the one about Tim Burton, and that particular significant other (who remains my closest friend to this day) gently pointing out that I had a problem when people disagreed with me, and wondering why that might be. He pointed out that when I was happy and chilled and relaxed, I didn’t have these sorts of fights. That they tended to happen the day he was due to go home, or when I’d had a bad day, or when I was hungover, or otherwise feeling a bit down or lost.  It was one of those hooooly shit moments.

In all the preceding 30 odd years of my life, even knowing I was argumentative but hated arguments, and always wondered why they kept happening around me, it had never occurred to me to connect the dots between my inability to allow other people to be wrong have a different opinion to me and my bouts of low mood. But he was right. When I was down, I needed people to agree with me. When I was feeling anxious or unsure, I wanted – no – I needed validation. And if someone disagreed with me, that must mean I was wrong. Or I’d chosen the wrong opinion. Or that my very values and sense of self were being picked apart.

I have suffered from low self-esteem for much of my life – back to at least puberty if not younger. This became most marked when I suffered from a breakdown which led to years of poor mental health. I think during those years was when I was at my most difficult and argumentative because it only took the teeniest-tiniest disagreement to make me question my entire being. My need for validation and my desire to be understood actually had the effect of making me come across as self-important, vain and conceited – when the truth was entirely the opposite. It became a downward spiral where my attempts to seek validation by wanting people to support my opinion pushed people away which made me feel even lower, and need even more validation. In the end it got to the point where I could barely even discuss anything of any importance with anyone, ever. Just in case I made myself worse.

I wish I could say “but I am all better now! I am brilliant at debating now. I learned how to tolerate difference and now I am totally a chilled out and cool dinosaur. I’m totes a chillasaurus rex.” But I can’t. Because that would be a massive lie. I still find living with a difference of opinion difficult. And often, I am mid-way through a huge row before I even notice that I am doing that thing again.

The survival strategy I have developed to get around it is to walk away the minute I realise I am doing the no you are wrong and I must show you that you are wrong because if you are not wrong then everything I know is wrong and I am a bad person thing, I just walk away. I take myself off into another room. I go outside. I lie face down on the bed. Anything. As long as I am away. 5 minutes in, I will realise how ridiculous I am being and that it’s perfectly fine for the other person to have a different opinion. That nothing bad will happen if they disagree. That we are still both good people. That the stars will still burn and the seas will still have tides and bunnies will still be cute and it’s all ok.

Of course, there are some things this doesn’t work with. Really fundamental differences of ideological opinion, for example. If, at some point in the future, I want to start looking to have a relationship which is going to be in any way functional, I need to  make sure that on the really big issues we match up. That the other person, isn’t, for example, a tory. Or with a strong religious belief. Or an anti-feminist. But if I can’t deal with having a relationship with someone who maybe prefers Alien to Predator, or ninjas to pirates, then I have serious problems and will be alone for the rest of my life.

While I *am* much better than I used to be – and this year of being hangover free and developing more confidence has helped hugely – I am still learning how to have conviction without needing validation.  I am learning to put in rules to prevent, or soften, arguments. For example, if I am tired or hungry I am more likely to NEED TO BE RIGHT, so I have a ban on discussions before breakfast. I warn people that if I walk away mid-heated-discussion it’s because I am aware I am becoming unreasonable and inflexible and that I need to cool my brain down. I write long replies to angry facebook posts and then delete them, walk away, have a cup of tea, and then write them 30 minutes later with less swearing. And I go to the cinema on my own.

 

Posted in Drinking, Me Me Me, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Nine months in – return of The List

2014-09-21 15.17.55Wednesday 1st October marks the 9 month point of my booze free experiment, and so it’s time for the regular tri-monthly debrief!

Previous installments:

When the idea for this project first began to ovulate in my brain, in between the bouts of dry retching and wishing I was dead, it seemed like the best idea I had ever had literally in the whole entire history of time ever. Of course, at that time I was both still drunk and horrendously hungover all at the same time. We all know that we make poor decisions while drunk (and sometimes have to make those decisions leave in the morning before they realise we don’t remember making them) and we make poor decisions hungover (pizza topped with paneer tikka masala, BRILLIANT) so decisions made under the influence of both at the same time must be SO terrible that they go past the point of ridiculous and cancel each other out and make some sort of sense. Right?

A week in and I had stated my intentions to the world. I am quitting drinking. And once I’d said it, I had to stick to it. I am far far too stubborn to be derailed when I’ve not only made a decision but told everyone I know, and some complete strangers I randomly met, about that decision. It becomes not only a personal journey and meaningful mission but an act of bloody mindedness. No one thought I could do it. *I* didn’t think I could do it. So I was bloody well going to prove everyone wrong.

The first three months were a struggle. The following three were a revelation. Now we’re nine months in, the changes in my life have been almost unbelievable.

It almost seems a backward step to go back to the list given all the other unexpected outcomes of my 9 month gestation of the twins of sobriety and blog writing, but that is where I began so back to it we go. It’s a somewhat longer than where we began – and perhaps that’s as it should be. I am sure I am not alone in making a huge list of unrealistic New  Year’s Resolutions and breaking them all within the space of 2 weeks. Making a short list at the start of the year and expanding it as you achieve the smaller successes is much more sensible, and less terrifying, and less setting yourself up to fail. So…

The (ever expanding) List

Learn to sew. Start with cushions, end up with dresses

Result:  EPIC FAIL. The sewing machine is still in my friend’s house. But there’s still 3 more months of the year. I doubt a dress will be an achievable goal within that time but there’s still wiggle room for me to at the very least get over my sewing machine phobia.

Unexpected consequences: None. Still scared of sewing machines. The fact that every time I tell someone that the reason I am scared of sewing machines is that people always tell me stories of people putting a needle trough their own finger, that person tells me a story about the time they/their mum/their best friend/sewing teacher put a needle trough their own finger. Yeah. NOT HELPING GUYS.

Learn Sign language

Result: A clear win. I found out a few weeks ago that I had passed my BSL level one with flying colours, and was encouraged to continue to level 2. I have paid the deposit and start in November. I appear to have a natural flair for the expressive quality of the language, being naturally given to flail and gesticulate and make faces a lot.

Unexpected consequences: Learning more about deaf culture, and realising more aspects where I have hidden privilege. Despite what some quarters of the internet would have you believe, checking your privilege is not a bad thing. We should all do it more often.

Start writing again – and document my attempts to do all of the above

Result: Well, I am still writing – and hopefully you are still reading!

Unexpected consequences: I have had some amazing responses to my writing, both in comments, on twitter/facebook and in person. Every time someone connects with something I’ve written, or shares it, or tells me how much they enjoy my blog, it makes me feel fantastic. I don’t always enjoy writing or find it easy – and some Sundays (particularly today, when I got back from a night out at gone 6am…) I really don’t want to spend hours staring at a screen making my brain do words. But my promise to myself to write every week is inextricably linked to my promise to give up drinking, and the two must go together. In that way, they both support each other, and make my resolution stronger. And in the long run, this is improving me and making me healthier.

Get back into volunteer work in children’s theatre

Result: The school term started last week – and I joined the local branch of Chicken Shed. I used to volunteer at a different branch BRD (before Roller Derby) and left because I couldn’t do both. I had forgotten how much I enjoy working with young people, and helping children experience and learn through theatre and performance.

Unexpected consequences: I was much less confident when I volunteered previously, 9 years ago. I hadn’t realised how much I’ve grown and changed as a person until I joined the first session last week – I almost felt like a different person. 9 years ago I remember looking at some of the other practitioners and wondering at their confidence and their easy manner with the children. Now I’m one of those confident people. I am not entirely sure how that happened. But I like it.

Keep writing about feminism – do not give in!

Result: I am still writing, I  haven’t given in.

Unexpected consequences: I have learned to never, ever, EVER, read the comments on a Guardian article about feminism. Nothing good is below that line. Which is a shame, as most other subjects have very interesting comments sections from which I learn a lot. Articles about Feminism however tend to re-establish Lewis’s Law over and over and over (repeat to fade…)

Get singing again

Result: I am working on this. I have no music writing ability and very much need collaborators to achieve this one. I  haven’t really sung live, apart from the odd drunken karaoke, for nearly 10 years. Rather than waiting for someone to over hear me singing and go hey, you’ve got an ok voice and seem like you’d have reasonably good stage presence, owing to you being naturally given to flail and gesticulate and make faces a lot. Would you like to do some singing with me?” I’ve actually started approaching some of the music people I know and asking them if they know of anyone interested. Putting myself forwards like this doesn’t come naturally, and I suspect I wouldn’t have been able to do this pre-sobriety. I simply wouldn’t have had the self-confidence.

Unexpected consequences: Too early to tell. But you can bet I’ll report back…

No drinking for 3 months – re-evaluate in 3 months time whether to go another 3

Result: Given that this is what started it all, and how difficult it was in the first few months, it’s amazing how this has become one of the easiest and most straightforward aspects of my life. I don’t worry about wanting a drink any more. I don’t worry about what people will think of me – it hardly ever comes up in conversation any more. I know that I made the right decision, thus proving that most decisions made while both drunk and hungover at the same time are actually good ones. I survived an all night club night with absolutely zero alcohol. Ok, there may have been a couple of cheeky Monster Rehabs, but I’ll take being somewhat overly wired on caffeine over falling-down-drunk and a crushing hangover any day (although tomorrow when the sleep deprivation kicks in perhaps I’ll have changed my mind.) I am sure this goes without saying, but I am going to go for one more round  of three months to make it a full year with no alcohol.

Unexpected consequences: Where do I even begin? If I hadn’t quit drinking, I’d never have come to terms with my actually rather serious sugar habit. The cold turkey sugar blitz was so successful that even though I do now enjoy the occasional sweet treat, it’s occasional. I genuinely can have one biscuit and not need another. I no longer eat milk chocolate or cheap chocolate. I make better choices when eating out. As a result I feel healthier, happier, sleep better, look better, and the weight fell off me without any effort at all.  I look better now after a few months controlling my sugar intake and cycling to work more often than  after over a decade of diets and gym routines that bored me.

My increasing confidence in my body has made me re-evaluate how I even see my body, which has made me so much happier and more at peace with myself and my body shape than I ever dreamed it would be possible to be. It led to me going swimming  which not only made me fitter, but has added to my confidence of my body shape – just as it is –  being visible. I went out to the club last night wearing a spandex hotpant playsuit and felt amazing. I’ve never had so many people  – both acquaintances and complete strangers – complimenting me on my body. I’ve never been able to even accept when a compliment about my body might even have some truth to it. To have someone say “I hope this is ok, and I don’t expect anything from you, but I’d like to tell you that you have a really banging body” is weird to someone who’s spent their entire life beating herself up for being curvy. (Just to forestall any accusations of double standards – this wasn’t random street harassment. This was in a club full of people all wearing clubby outfits, and it was a guy I’d been bumping into at the club on and off and with whom I had already established a mild flirtation. Context is important, yo.)

I’d never been able to accept a compliment before, especially about my body, as I’d always felt that if someone offers personal compliments  you have to immediately point to something that’s wrong with you. But as I learned from Stella Creasy, it’s perfectly fine to discuss – hell, even shout about – your own achievements.

It’s ok to be proud of yourself. It’s ok to think good things about yourself. Nothing bad will happen if you feel good about yourself – quite the opposite. The better you think about yourself, the better you’ll feel. It’s a beautiful circle of body positivity. Give it a try. Stop buying beauty magazines and watching shows that reinforce the idea we should be constantly criticising ourselves and each other. They do that so we will buy  more things. Give yourself some compliments in the mirror. Don’t make a face or pick a negative to balance it out. Do it every day. I bet you’ll feel the difference.

 

Posted in Drinking, feminism, Me Me Me, Sewing, Sign Language, Sugar, The List | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Single girl, who would want to be a single girl

I have now been single for one month. It’s gone by in a flash, and even though it was the right decision it still feels surreal, as if it’s not really sunken in. As if I’ve just pressed ‘pause’ somehow, and am spending the frozen time doing something else until I get back to my life.

It’s not that I’ve been sitting around staring at the wall, or moping. I’ve got right back to doing things I do when I’ve been single before – paying slightly more attention to my single friends, volunteer work, cycling the long way around to things just because, going to the cinema on my own (holy crap you guys Guardians of the Galaxy! It’s really good, right?) I am filling my days with activities I enjoy, trying new things, saying ‘yes’ to adventures even if I am a little nervous. People ask me how I am doing with that sympathetic head tilt and it feels kind of wrong to say that, actually, I am pretty good. I am really enjoying having my own space, my own time and not having to compromise or share things. I grew up an only child of single mum who is basically me but older so never really got very good at having to negotiate, where negotiate means not doing exactly what I want and other people  going along with it.

I’ve always enjoyed being single and have never seriously looked for relationships – I’ve usually just ended up in them by accident after a drunken night. The Dinosaur formerly known as Mr RDP was one of the exceptions where we actually went on dates before we started a relationship after a drunken night. Not to say I don’t like being in a relationship too – I do; but it doesn’t come as naturally to me as doing my own thing.

This weekend I was honoured to be part of my friends S and P’s 10 year anniversary celebration, where they renewed their vows at a big old fun party. It was pure joy to see how happy they still are together, and how if anything they are stronger now after 10 years than at their ‘real’ wedding. I haven’t stuck at anything for longer than 10 years. Not a home. Or a school. Not even a hair colour. My longest relationship remains 4 years – less time than I have been at my current workplace. My relationships have ended for all different reasons, including, but not limited to,

  • Falling out of love
  • Realising we love each other but not in that way and actually can be we be just best friends and that way we can stop pretending we want to have sex
  • Living too far away from each other
  • The relationship just fizzling out until we were essentially just flatmates

Not long after The Former Mr RDP and I broke up I read a wonderful article about how sometimes ‘love’ in of itself isn’t enough to make a relationship work. This was certainly true in the  case of Mr RDP. As much as we cared about each other, and as much as we wanted it to work, that simply wasn’t enough to compensate for the other problems we had. In a relationship like that you have to either accept that you’ve tried your best and set each other free or get married to try and fix it. And I have seen the latter fail too many times to want to try it myself.

And yet, even knowing all of that, and knowing that all of my relationships in the past have ended for very good and sensible reasons, and knowing that I like being on my own, and knowing that my life is full of things I enjoy doing and is pretty full and well lived; EVEN WITH ALL THAT, I still have moments when I look at myself in the mirror, and say look at you. Thirty*mumble* and single. What are you doing with your life? Where are you going wrong?

But am I going wrong? Really? Why do I, a relatively successful and relatively happy young(ish) woman with a place to live and a job and lots of fulfilling hobbies and fabulous friends, feel like in some way I have ‘failed’, simply because I haven’t coupled up with someone and ‘settled down’ and got cats and dogs and babies and one of those steamer things that cleans ovens? Especially when I am really not entirely sure that’s even what I want out of life? Although apparently those steam cleaners are really good.

It’s a powerful message – that there is ‘someone’ out there for you. That when you find ‘the right’ person you will be complete. And that completeness should last for always. And that the older you get, if you don’t have this, you are failing. That you MUST want to be with someone. That *the entire point of your existence* is to find one other person and that’s it, well done.  You win. The rest is epilogue.

I am not saying I don’t want that ever. Just that right now I am struggling to separate what I really want from what I think is expected I should be wanting. Am I pottering around with my life on ‘pause’ until I am ready to carry on, or is the pottering around what I really want to do?

Facing this at my age, after having so many changes and emotional lessons this year, and alcohol free to boot, feels both terrifying and exciting. Like going on a new roller coaster for the first time – you don’t know what it will be like, where the twists and turns are, where the drops and shocks are, whether you’ll love it or hate it or both at the same time. It’s almost so nerve wracking that the temptation to not ride at all, stick to familiar ground, is incredibly strong. But you have to ride, or you’ll never know.

I don’t know were the next few months will take me. I don’t know what I really want out of my life. But maybe, as long as I am honest with myself over the coming months, maybe I can unpick the societal expectations of what drives a thirty*mumble* years woman from  what actually drives me, and what really makes me feel content and complete.

And I really really like roller coasters.

Posted in Drinking, Me Me Me, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged | 3 Comments

Mirror Image

A few weeks ago I wrote about body positivity. Since then I have been making a concentrated effort to filter out the negative messages about size, weight, and shape that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. I’ve been trying to pick clothes to wear based on what I feel like wearing, not on what I think I look like in them, or whether they show parts of me I’ve historically been unhappy with. I  have been making an attempt, when looking in the mirror, to look at *all* of me. To not just look at my stomach or legs, to not just look at parts, but to look at my whole body. To look myself in the eye in the mirror and say “do you feel good? Ok. Let’s leave the house”.

It’s been really hard work. But something weird has been happening. Emboldened by my leotard experience, and after failing to be talked out of the purchase by my friends, who are a bunch of total enablers (that’s what friends are for, right?)  I bought something for an upcoming club night that I wouldn’t even have looked twice at a couple of months ago. Well, ok, I would have looked twice because the material is covered with UNICORNS, but I wouldn’t have even thought *once* about buying it. It’s tight. Really tight. It’s short. Really short. It’s entirely figure revealing. There is no way to hide thighs. No way to hide a stomach. You can see it all in glorious unicorn technicolour.

I tried it on yesterday morning. I looked at myself in the mirror from every angle. I tried some experimental dance moves. I tried a comedy twerk. I tried some Tyra Banks style ridiculous poses. I did that thing where you try to slump and breathe all the way out and then try to stand normally and then try to catch a glance at yourself sideways so you know you aren’t cheating yourself by secretly breathing in. And I found myself confused. Because I was happy with what I saw. 

The same weird phenomenon happened later that same evening, when getting ready to go to a gig at a pub. I put on a top and a skirt I hadn’t worn for ages because they were so tight.  I say ‘a skirt’ so casually. It’s better than a skirt. It’s a fucking BATMAN SKIRT. It’s awesome. I bought it because BATMAN SKIRT. But then felt totally unable to wear it, ever. After my experience of the morning looking in the mirror and not hating every thing I could see, I figured I’d give it a go. And once again, despite them being tight, and my body being there, in the mirror, all of it, I was still happy with what I saw.

How could this be? There are all the parts I’ve spent my whole self-aware lifetime hating, and trying to exercise and diet out of existence. They are all still there. I’ve lost a bit of weight recently, what with the no sugar and the no alcohol and the swimming, sure, but not *that* much. I am still ‘technically’ overweight. But despite all this, I was perfectly happy with what was in the mirror. What was this aberration? Am I delirious because I haven’t had breakfast yet? Maybe there’s something wrong with my eyes. Perhaps I am not actually seeing what’s really there. Perhaps my eyes have some weird issue where they are warping my body shape.

Or perhaps that’s what’s happened in the past, and now I am finally able to see what’s really in front of me, now that I have worked really hard on crowding out those voices that are telling me to slim down, take up less space, diet to be a size 10, don’t wear that because you’re too big, you’re not ‘the right shape’. Maybe, now that I’ve stopped looking at the tiny range of body shapes shown to us by the mass media and accepting them as ‘the norm’, and started to deliberately seek out representations of bodies of all sizes and shapes, I am no longer comparing myself to some random idea of the ‘ideal’ body, and just accepting that what is in the mirror is me, and that me is perfectly ok. 

The really crazy thing is, I am not even that fat. I am ‘technically’ overweight, and have a decent about of body fat, but I have to acknowledge that in terms of ‘size privilege‘ I totally pass. I have a slim face, narrow shoulders, a small rib cage and a defined waist. If I wear something flared under the bust, no one would ever even think of me as large. In any conversation about weight, most people are shocked at how much I weigh. At health appointments even the doctors are usually surprised at my weight and rarely make more than a cursory poke at the idea that my BMI makes me obese, because I just don’t look it. Unless I wear something revealing, or tight, and you can see my larger bottom half. But even then, I rarely get abuse in the street for being fat. If I do, it’s usually a guy that has “oi darlinged” me, been rejected, and then said something along the lines of “I am not interested in you anyway you fat bitch.” But in the past in those situations I’ve also been called “frigid cow”, “ugly crack whore”, “dirty slut”; so they are hardly giving me an honest critique.

I am, and have been for most of my life apart from about 6 months where I got lots of compliments but fainted on a nearly daily basis, an ‘in between’ sized person. Slightly too large for your average high street clothing store, slightly too small for plus size places. But I have always accepted the label ‘overweight’ and ‘fat’ and applied it to myself and beat myself up about it. Perhaps more so, being in-betweeny and thus feeling that somehow it would be easy to be thin if only I could just stop eating so much damn cake. It’s kind of screwed up that as someone with what is actually a perfectly average sized body that I should have spent so much of my adult life beating myself up for being ‘fat’ – as if ‘fat’ is some kind of horrific thing that no one in their right mind wants to be.

So what weird phenomenon has happened to me in the last few weeks? I am pretty sure I haven’t suddenly dropped  four dress sizes. For one thing, my clothes all still fit. For another, I am not fainting all the time. I am eating less cake, it is true, but I do still treat myself. I’ve not been to the gym in months (swimming in ponds, it turns out, is cheaper and significantly  more fun.)

I think what has happened is that the layers built up over the years of messages from every conceivable corner telling me that women should and must be as tiny as possible no longer penetrate my confidence. The concept of ‘fat’ as something bad and wrong has dissolved away, leaving me with a greater appreciation for bodies of all sizes and shapes. I now care more about whether I am healthy, and being kind to my body. The idea that my body is somehow separate to me, and is made up of different parts which are wrong or unacceptable has been firmly rejected in favour of me seeing myself as a composite whole, with beautiful flaws which tell the story of me.

I’ve not changed the skin I am in. I have changed how I think about the skin I am in. I accept the skin I am in. And that one change is more revolutionary than any diet could ever be.

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