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Feminist Fatigue

Feminist Fatigue - rockstardinosaurpirateprincess.com

You may have noticed that blogday has been missing for a couple of weeks. I have no excuse for this – I wasn’t moving house (thank goodness – I’ve already done that 5 times since starting this blog) or on holiday or ill or anything special at all.  Well, I had a few exams and was prioritising revision, but if I am brutally honest with myself the revision was a blessed excuse not to write.

I didn’t write because…I had nothing to say.

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Not Not Drinking, just not drinking

notnotdrinking

231386085552BarneyWe’re now in May, so it’s now been 16 (and a half) months since I gave up drinking for, er, three months. While the initial 12 months of Not Drinking were trickier, the last 4 (and a half) months of just not drinking hasn’t actually been difficult at all – there’s definitely a huge difference between Not Drinking and I Could Have A Drink If I Wanted But I’m Not Going To.

I have had a few small sips of a beautiful hazelnut liqueur, a birthday present last year from Mummy Dinosaur Pirate, and I have tasted some organic Cider that my flatmate was drinking. That’s it. I’ve not had an entire alcoholic drink at all – and I am still not missing it much.

I recall six months in saying I wanted to get to the point with my attitude to drinking where I could walk into a bar, see an interesting looking drink that I wanted to taste, or liked the taste of, and would drink it because I wanted that drink and not because I wanted to get drunk, or needed to be drunk. While there have been a few moments where I’ve been out a pub with some friends and thought “I’d really quite like a drink actually” – most often when there’s been a nice looking rosé available or my favourite beer – there’smongozo_cocunut been two clear occasions where I’ve felt that I wanted to drink for the taste, for the experience – and not for the alcohol. It was a powerful sensation – to know that I  had the power to make that choice, to know that I could just  have one and that would be the end of it. To know that i could just as easily not have it, and have just as good a night. On both occasions I chose not to have one – mainly because I’d cycled to the pub and figured cycling home after the first alcoholic drink in 16 months would be, on the list of Stupidest Things I’ve Done, quite high up the chart.

My social life has definitely changed – whether this is due to the not drinking or circumstance (it’s been a crazy few months on Dinosaur Planet) I don’t know; but I go out dancing and to clubs, well, certain clubs, a lot less. There are some places which just aren’t really fun when you aren’t in an altered state. Where you are acutely aware of the state of the toilets, of the floor  being sticky, of a general sense of grottiness. A few clubs I’ve been to I’ve found the behaviour of other drunk people just a little hard to deal with. You start to recognise this unfocused look in people’s eyes, the way they stumble around the club and just sort of barge around or push through you like you aren’t there. I assume this happened before, when I went to these places as a heavy drinker, but that as I was one of them I never really noticed. Being around seriously drunk people does start to get harder, and so my social life has in the main shifted away from late night clubs and more into early evening pub trips with a pack of cards or a game of Fluxx or Love Letter.

The change to my social life pattern as also brought an interesting shift to many of my friendships. I have drifted apart from some of my old party buddies, and grown much closer to other friends. The quality of conversation, and your ability to really listen to people (and remember the conversation the next day) is considerably better, and some nights out have brought me closer to people I thought I knew, people I’ve known for years. There’s been many moments where I’ve been next to a friend in a bar, when previously our conversation would have been “LOL LET’S GET SHOTS OMG DO YOU REMEMBER THAT TIME WHEN WE OH GOD WE WERE SO WASTED” and I’ve said to them ” you know, I’ve known you for 10 years and don’t actually know what you do for a living?”

I’ve had marvellous conversations which have brought me closer to people I care about, and have learned how to tell these friends I care about them with full mindfulness and sobriety – i don’t have to be drunk to take a friend in my arms and say “mate, I love you. You know that?” and they know I mean it, and that makes it so much more meaningful. Even if they do get a little embarrassed and punch me on the arm and call me a knobhead. That’s just their way of saying “mate, I love you too.”

If I do go clubbing, I fortify myself beforehand with borderline unwise amounts of caffeine so I can survive the night; but usually once I am there and dancing alcohol just doesn’t seem important any more. My flatmate, a long time drinking buddy, has also discovered the joys of drinking considerably less of a night out. You still feel rubbish in the morning – today is no exception, as last night was in fact one of these rare clubbing adventures – but that’s mainly a combination of too much caffeine/sugar and too little sleep. It’s rather fun to feel a little wrecked occasionally, I do like the excuse to stay curled up in a blanket and watch terrible films and order pizza over the internet. And feeling a little wrecked due to overstimulation and fatigue is considerably more fun than feeling like if you move you might die.

16 (and a half) months without hangovers – and I cannot emphasize this enough – is FUCKING GREAT. I never want a hangover ever again. My time off from hangovers has given me a clarity that as much fun as drinking can be, it’s absolutely not worth the hangover.  Weekends are longer. You get so much more done with your life. The thing I miss least of all is that horrible sense of anxious foreboding and vague unspecified shame; where you are quite sure that you did something horribly embarrassing and that you are a terrible awful person who can never show her face again in public. I really don’t miss that. I hadn’t even realised that was a drinking/hangover thing. It took some time before I realised I wasn’t feeling like that every morning after a night before when the night before was a sober one. That waking up with waves of shame and fear wasn’t just part of waking up after a night out. I now wake up after a night out feeling like I probably should have drunk more water, less Cola and slept more, but that I had an awesome night and that my friends are awesome people and that as a person I am pretty ok actually.

tumblr_mkp8zkiay11s1txd3o1_500People  have asked if I miss drinking. My answer 6 months ago would probably have been that I don’t miss drinking, but I miss the sense of going on a shared journey with friends who are drinking. Now, I don’t even miss that, and am generally able to tap into that sense of fun an adventure without it. It helps that because I barely even mention it these days (it’s not new and exciting and a Big Experiment any more. I’m not a Not Drinker, I just don’t really drink. It’s a subtle difference, but a meaningful one) that often people don’t even really notice or pick up on it. Half the time I am clumsy and dorky enough for people to think I am drunk anyway. I am not entirely sure whether that’s meant as a compliment, but I am going to take it as one anyway.

What is most exciting is that at no point have I felt like I need a drink. Well, apart from briefly when I woke up on the 8th May and discovered the result of the UK general election, and had the fleeting notion that I needed to drown my sorrows – but I am pretty sure I am not alone in feeling that way and that for any lefty social justice warrior type finding out you’ve another 5 years of a right wing austerity mad government is perfectly justified in wanting to drink themselves into oblivion for a little while. But anyway, apart from that, I haven’t needed a drink, or felt like I had to have one. I’ve looked at drinks in the supermarket or at the bar and wanted a soft drink. I never dreamed when I embarked on this experiment 16 (and a alf) months ago. It’s rather wonderful and surprising.

I am fairly sure that at some point this summer I will have one of those coconut beers. It will be a momentous occasion.  My friends will probably take the piss. I will almost certainly selfie the moment for posterity. And it’s exciting that I am absolutely confident that I will be able to have one. Which is all I ever really wanted to achieve.

Paladins and Paradoxes

paladins
M&Ms and Doritos are compulsory I believe
“You have to have a motivation – think about it. What’s the source of your hatred?” “PATRIARCHY”

I remember once, when I was quite little, back in nineteen eightymumble, finding a red box with some books inside, with pictures of dragons and monsters. I think there were also some dice, a map and some picture cards. My memory is hazy as it was a long time ago. I don’t remember where the box came from, but it did end up amongst my other games and occasionally I’d take out all the contents and try to understand them. I have a vague memory of asking MummyDinosaurPirate how it was played, but I don’t remember the actual answer, just a vague sense that it was ‘complicated’ and ‘for grown ups’.

Fast forward several decades to last night – I played my first ever actual game of Dungeons and Dragons. It was confusing, but an awful lot of fun. I took pictures and posted them online to the shock of some of my friends. The overall reaction was along the lines of: NO WAY this was your FIRST GAME? WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU DOING as a child? Continue Reading

Epilogues and New Adventures

wpid-wp-1420367879737.jpegJust as my last post of my booze-free year was posted  appropriately on New Year’s Eve, the first post of my new year is on the anniversary of my first ever post; where I stated my intentions for the year. My list was small, but ambitious.

I wanted to learn to sew, to learn British Sign Language, to write regularly and to see if I could ultimately go a whole year without alcohol. I’ve never stuck with any new year’s resolutions before, let alone four.

When I embarked on this scheme I had no idea where this journey would take me. I hoped perhaps I’d develop some writing skills, learn creativity, deal with a few fears, have fewer hangovers, reset my relationship with drinking so that I could go out and just have one.

As I stood on the bank of the pond at midday on New Year’s day, preparing to get into 4 degree water, replaying my year in my head and reflecting on all that has been in 2014, I was almost overwhelmed with emotion. Continue Reading

Journey's end?

drawn by a 35 year old
dreams of a 5 year old

I can’t quite believe it’s been 364 days ago that I decided to see if I could give up drinking for 3 months. Maybe, if i could do 3 months, I’d go for another 3. And here we are, 31st December and I haven’t had an alcoholic drink – not even a taste of one  – in the entire year.

Some people might say, so what? Lots of people don’t drink. Or, so what? If you want to stop drinking just do it without making a fuss or going on about it. Or, why bother? Just cut down if you’re drinking too much. Or why  bother? Life will be devoid of meaning or fun without it. Well, I say people “might” say this. Actually, they did say all these things. In the early days I had people offer to spike my drink so I could get drunk without breaking my resolution. I had people angry with me for even daring to suggest that perhaps my drinking habits weren’t healthy. I had people be personally offended by my decision, as if my choice, and determination, to do this reflected badly on them. I had people nearly shouting at me they were so offended. I was told “don’t be so ridiculous. You can’t not drink. What’s the point?”.  I was told my social life was over. I wondered if it was.

364 days later and honestly? With no hyperbole, no exaggeration, my year of sobriety  has been one of the best things I have ever done.

I’ve lost weight and feel healthier. I’ve done more with my life – weekends are so long when you don’t waste hours being hungover and while I’ve not saved any money I’ve got loads more cool stuff, taken part in more things, taken evening classes and not had to worry at the end of every month like I always used to. I’ve worked through my issues with self-esteem and discovered how to have fun, be confident and make mistakes while sober.

What I haven’t done, as I look back over my blog documenting my journey, is come fully clean over the extent of my drinking before. And if I am going to move forward in 2015 with a healthier attitude to drinking, I am going to need to address this. And I can’t address it without explaining a little more about my issues with anxiety.

I have always had problems with anxiety and panic attacks, as long as I can remember. The earliest panic attack I can remember that I can  clearly identify as  a panic attack was when I was around 11 years old. I can’t remember what upset me in the first place – something very minor I am sure, but I remember crying – screaming even – in bed, desperate for comfort and desperate for someone to tell me it would go away and that I wasn’t dying. I remember my Dad and Stepmum at a complete loss as to what to do – perceiving it as a tantrum from a child old enough to know better and chosing to not give me any attention. I understand why they did this, and in their situation I may well have done the same. But I also remember the all-consuming terror and being totally out of control, unable to calm myself down. I think I screamed until I fell asleep of exhaustion.

It wasn’t for many many years – almost 2 decades in fact – that I understood this as a panic attack and began to learn ways of managing them. I now recognise that I manage anxiety in a rather backwards way. I cope with  big problems, like being stranded, or a family member going into hospital, really well. I turn into this calm practical person who looks for solutions and just Gets On With Things and Is Supportive To Other People and says things like “well, getting angry isn’t going to help” and  “we’re all in this situation together”. But if I have a small problem, like, I can’t find my keys or my Oystercard or my glasses, I go into absolute meltdown. It’s the end of the world. I am become a puddle of tentacle waving rage, accusing inanimate objects of conspiring against me to ruin my life. To try to prevent such meltdowns I have 3 sets of bike keys, 4 spare Oystercards and several pairs of glasses kept in different places around the house, just in case.  I still have the occasional panic attack, but now that it’s been diagnosed I  have learned to recognise them, learned how to calm myself and have medication for it which helps enormously.

But at one point in my 20s, anxiety nearly destroyed me. I couldn’t leave the house for long periods of time. It affected my job, my relationships, and of course my social life. Most of my social life was conducted online, via LiveJournal, where I struck a balance between honesty about my depression and yet a carefully constructed image of myself as the fun-loving and outgoing person I knew myself to be, were it not for the waves of anxiety that prevented me from being that person all the time. I was a fun person, a party girl. People were often saying “you seem too bouncy to be depressed”. I needed to be that person. I needed people to see that person, and experience that person, so that I could experience her too, even if I didn’t always feel that way. Enter, from left, possibly pursued by bears, Vodka. And Rum. My props on the days when I needed to be fun. When I needed an excuse to be an insane mess, dancing on the dance floor like I didn’t care. Sure, I might end up a sobbing mess later but that’s the ALCOHOL. Not ME.

Although I dealt with the depression, and the agoraphobia, and to some extent the anxiety, the reliance on alcohol to be Fun Party Person  (TM) never really went away. It took the best part of this year off alcohol  for it to click that I don’t remotely need it. Maybe I did once, but it’s a habit I fell into I didn’t need. And it was a habit that few people knew the true extent of. For every big social occasion, I would need to be drunk before I got there. I would usually polish off the best part of half a bottle of vodka, or an entire bottle of cheap wine (or worse, Lambrini…) while getting ready. I would have empty water or cola bottles in the house so that I could take a drink with me on the way to the event. If I had any left on arrival I’d down it before going in. I told myself I was doing this to save money, so I wouldn’t need to buy drinks out; but once I was there I just wanted to keep being as drunk as possible and by that point you’re also not making wise decisions, so I’d not only keep drinking but buying drinks for other people all over the place. I’m relatively lucky how few times I’ve been at serious risk, but there are enough occasions that I look back on and feel sick at some of the situations I got myself into.

Why was I drinking like this? Was I really trying to cover up anxiety? Was it habit? Or was this just what I thought was normal? Probably a lethal cocktail of the three.

It was certainly this cocktail that led to the incidents of New Year’s Eve 2013. I can’t detail them in their entirety as I don’t remember all of it. The facts I know, either from dim memory or from being informed about them afterwards (occasionally while holding my hands over my ears going please, please don’t tell me)

  • I tried to fight someone. I took off my (borrowed) coat, threw it on the ground and said “come down here and say that to my face”. I don’t know why I was so angry with this person.
  • I somehow threw my makeup out into the road and ran out in front of a  car to get it
  • I got a little bit too into character – I was dressed as Cruella De Ville and at some point would not stop being Cruella De Ville. I was being her all night. Apparently this stopped being funny really quite early on to everyone but me.
  • I tried to drink some really expensive bottle that didn’t belong to me (it was rescued at the last minute)
  • I drank something random offered to me by a stranger in the street
  • I was vile to the then Mr RDP, who at one point looked at how long it would take him to walk back to London (at 200 miles, approximately 65 hours).

The thing that saddens me most, more than my awful behaviour, is how little I remember of the good things. I don’t remember the fireworks. I don’t remember my Dad opening his briefcase at midnight to reveal it was full of confetti, which we then all threw over ourselves. I see my family so rarely, and I wasted this wonderful opportunity because of my mission to be as drunk as possible.

My resolution to not drink for 2014 – well, for the first 3 months of it and more if possible – came entirely from this night. Out of a desire to prove how sorry I was to the then Mr RDP and my family for my behaviour, and out of  a desire to not ever feel that hungover again. It wasn’t until the year started to tick by that I started to realise my problem with alcohol was bigger than this one night, and how big a change this really could be.

I can’t claim my anxiety is gone as that’s something I have struggled with from long before I discovered alcohol  (although in the interests of full disclosure I had already been drunk, and hungover, once, before I was 11 and had that panic attack; I and another small child climbed up to the first aid cabinet and drank all the banana flavoured children’s medicine and then danced naked around the garden singing “we’ve drunk the mesydin we’ve drink they mesydin”. On being told the next day the headache I had was how grown ups feel when they’ve had too much beer and wine I replied that I was “NEVER going to drink beer or wine EVER”) but the aspect of anxiety that prevents me from participating in a social life without a boozy safety bubble? That is a demon which has been well and truly sent packing, with no forwarding address and a permanent restraining order. I won’t ever feel the need to be drunk to enjoy myself, to be drunk to go to a social occasion or to be drunk to be a fun person.

The next stage, is, I guess, to see whether or not I am able to approach alcohol in a moderate manner. As someone who has only ever seen alcohol as a means to a drunken end, am I able to go out and have one drink? It used to be the case that if I wasn’t going to get drunk, I wouldn’t bother drinking at all (and therefore not bother going out.) Have I been able to reset my relationship with alcohol to the extent that I will be able to enjoy one drink for the taste, for the relaxation? Do I want to?

At midday tomorrow I will be standing on the bank of a freezing pond in my swimming costume, cup of mulled wine in hand, contemplating all that has been in 2014, and all that could be in 2015.

With less than 12 hours to go I still don’t know whether I want that to be my first drink, or my last.

 

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.

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.

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.

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. Continue Reading

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? Continue Reading