I was lost…

It’s 2.35am. I’ve been alerted via social media posts that it’s World Mental Health Day. I feel bound to write something on the topic. However, I’m a little stuck on exactly what that should be.

We’re probably all feeling stuck in one way or another. Nearly 2 years into a pandemic that has changed everything and nothing at the same time. It is surreal to learn that global crisis is status quo for the capitalist monster. It shouldn’t really have been a surprise, but somehow I thought perhaps we might find a way to rise. We haven’t. The incredibly rich continue to suck the (literal) life out of almost everyone else. Those already in the worst positions suffer the most. The rest of us get sick, grieve, sacrifice, struggle and still find ways to pay the rent. It’s A LOT. Even folk with the most robust mental health have floundered. Anyone who was shaky pre Covid probably found the rigours of a plague made them increasingly sinkable.

I’ve found myself in and out of a strange no man’s land. Not ok, but entirely unable to properly articulate the details of that not okness. I’m generally a bit lost. I feel like the world is crumbling around me. We’re witnessing tragedy after tragedy. Death & destruction abound. Our leaders seemingly with no more clue than the rest of us. Politicians still scrambling for money & power as the bodies pile up. Your boss still wants their 35hrs, tabloids still print trash & people are still sleeping on the streets. None of it makes sense.

We’ve already started packaging the accumulated trauma of Covid as ‘burn out’. People write peppy pieces on how to beat burnout with an aim of getting everyone back to bloody work. Back to the commute & the offices even though people are still dying every day. Why? Because despite working from home actually proving to be more productive the higher ups want you back where they can see you. No comfort for the workers. The Tory government continues to grind their boots on our necks too. Cut universal credit amongst Covid & Brexit insanity. Carry on fucking the NHS and refugees and hungry children. Then they film the PM doing puns of their ridiculous slogan and pretend that’s a solution. I’m surprised anyone is still sane.

It’s not over. No definite end in sight. Always another calamity over the next hill & zero provision for help. No extra money for mental health services. Accessing even the most basic support is more difficult than ever. All the people who were already living on a knife edge haven’t gone anywhere. The problem has just multiplied.

*

So, this year I’ll repeat what I’ve been saying forever. Awareness is great, but to treat mental illness we need money and a different ideology. I can’t see any change in NHS mental health funding or direction until there is a huge change in Downing St. Not merely a change of party, but a shift in the will of power. My heart sinks when I think about how long that could take.

* Buy here.

If I had a little a money…

In recent weeks the cost of disability debate seems to be all over the place again. Mainly able bodied folk rudely telling disabled folk what we do & do not need. It is of course offensive and exceptionally annoying to be on the receiving end of this. Debating your reality us never fun. Hence, I thought I’d do a little run down of the day to day expenses that my disabilities incur. I am far from the worst case scenario, so bare that in mind when you’re processing this.

It feels important to make it clear that sick & disabled people are rarely just given the things they require. There is a myth that equipment, money, human support & treatments are just handed out to anyone asking. They absolutely are not. Any help we do receive is procured through humiliating assessments, long waiting lists & much general fuckwittery. At the end of which our requests are often denied. It’s a special kind of torture to lay yourself bare to unfeeling beaurocrats only to be gaslit & told you’re fine. Or, sometimes even more frustrating, It’s accepted that you need help & such help exists, but it is not available to you for ‘reasons’. We are screwed over time & again, left with the option of paying for the thing ourselves or never getting it. When the thing that must be paid for is essential, that’s not really a choice.

So, bearing in mind that many disabled people’s ability to work full time (or at it all) is impacted by their conditions, how do you think your pocket would deal with this.

Travel

I can’t get around much on my own as I can’t walk very far. During Covid public transport has been even less of an option for me. I have to take taxis everywhere. Using last week as an example, this costs:

  • Hospital App – £11.80
  • Visit Bestie – £11.30
  • Vet – £8.60
  • Pick up Bronan’s Prescription- £8.80
  • Post Office – £8.60
  • Work Meeting – £22
  • Weekly Total – £71.10

Pain Relief

Lots of really effective pain relief options are simply not available via the NHS. These are pain management related items I have had to buy.

  • Heat Pads – £5 per 3 pack.
  • Tens Machine – £65
  • Tens Pads – £5 per 10.
  • Long Hot Water Bottle – £20
  • Microwaveable Heat Pouch – £15
  • Dragon Balm – £2.50 a jar.
  • Lidocaine Patches – £60 per 10 pack.
  • Vape – £35
  • Cbd Oil – £15 per 50ml.
  • Freeze Spray – £1
  • Paracetamol – 56p per 12
  • Massage – £70 per 60 mins.
  • Kinesiology Tape – £5.50
  • Yoga Mat – £20
  • Foam Roller – £12

Disability Aids

I believe some local councils will fit disability aids in social housing or if people meet certain criteria. Unfortunately I do not live in social housing nor meet those criteria. Thus, I had had to purchase any device I require.

  • Walking Stick Ferrule – £5
  • Easi Reach – £10.99
  • Easy Open Food Containers – £25
  • Jar Opener – £5.50
  • Easy Veg Chopper – £20
  • Multi Bottle Opener – £5
  • Auto Can Opener – £15
  • Lotion Aplicator – £8
  • Walking Stick Seat – £25
  • Sock/Tights Aid – £8
  • Bra Angel – £17
  • Hook/Zipper Assist – £6
  • Suction Grab Handles – £28
  • Shower Seat – £35
  • Wearable Tens Holder – £20
  • Press on Lights – £10 per 3 pack.

Services

There are jobs that must be done regularly that I am incapable of doing. There is no support for such things, so I must pay people to do them.

  • Grass Cutting – £45
  • Hedge Cutting – £60
  • Weeding & Garden Tidying – £100
  • Wheelie Bin Cleaning – £8
  • Window Cleanimg – £8
  • Bathroom & Kitchen Deep Clean – £175

On top of the costs outlined most disabled people also report spending more on bills. My gas bill tends to be high as I have a greater need & more difficulty keeping warm. My electricity bill soars with the need to charge various essential aids & technology. My food shopping is increased by the need to purchase lots of pre prepared fruit & veg, free from items to accommodate my dodgy stomach, plus the cost of food waste when I am unable to cook/eat. Having everything delivered incurs a cost as does working from home, which both add to my outgoings. In fact, Scope reports that on average disabled people face extra costs of £583 per month. That’s only accounting for necessary day to day living.

Should a disabled person attempt to do anything beyond the basic there will of course also be additional costs. Try going on holiday, trying a new hobby, undertaking to study a new discipline and you will find that there are always extras/different apparatus to enable a disabled person to take part. Almost every aspect life presents a bigger bill.

We’re all from somewhere…

August’s donation needed very little thought. I obviously felt compelled to help those faced with impossible circumstances in Afghanistan.

I can’t even begin to imagine how anyone deals with their world crumbling overnight. Especially when every single gain has been so so incredibly hard won. Our interventions in this country make this mess our responsibility. We must help those we have left behind. If you can please give whatever is within your power to one of the following organisations.

Refugee Council

Rooms for Refugees

Care4Calais

Refuweegee

IRC

You can also help by writing you MP and expressing how much you care about this issue. We must make our representatives aware that we want them to act to save Afghan lives.

Thou shalt never…

I love a good slogan t shirt. However I’m not really into the sensation of anything too restrictive around my neck. Enter, my shaky customisation skills.

I’ve hardly worn this tee because the crew neck felt uncomfortable. After some chopping & sewing I think it’s going to get much more body time. Add the comfiest velvet trousers, a spot of leopard print & you’ve got a look.

Trousers – Elvi
Vest – Monsoon
T-Shirt – GrlClb

Is it really ok?

‘It’s ok not to be ok’. I can’t remember when it started, but it certainly picked up steam. It’s now the standard social media friendly, I support mental health awareness tag line. I know it is well intentioned, but increasingly, it doesn’t ring true.

Of course, in theory, it is true. It is normal to experience mental health issues. It’s fine to admit that you struggle. It is important to normalise mental illness. If you say it out loud, I am not ok, what happens next? If you’re lucky someone listens; someone cares. Maybe they ask what you need. Perhaps you get that help. The first time. Maybe.

It’s ok not to be ok in orange text with green quotation marks

What happens when the person you tell has no idea how to respond. What if you spill your guts to a doctor who doesn’t take you seriously. Or who does want to help you, but only has waiting lists to offer. Around 70% of those referred for mental health assessment in Scotland wait at least 18 weeks*. That’s a very long time to feel helpless, especially when there is no guarantee of treatment. What do you when the not ok doesn’t go away? Or if it keeps coming back? You try really fucking hard to be ok. You do the therapy and the meds and the hard work. It takes a long time. It’s gruelling and painful. All the time you know lots of people aren’t getting any treatment. You feel guilty that your receiving assistance that others aren’t. Even more so when the help hasn’t helped. You’re aware that the people who love you are scared. Your hurt hurts them. They want ‘ok’ as much as you do.

And you want it for them. When it slips from your grasp it’s harder to say it again. People have their own lives. Sometimes they might be struggling. Or they may be fabulous; enjoying some well deserved happiness. Everyone has stresses and responsibilities. Our lives keep us busy with the good and bad. Everyone must earn a living, manage their relationships, have fun. Who wants to be the person who complicates that? Not me.

When you’ve already done everything you’re supposed to do it’s hard to know how to banish the cloud. If the expert advice doesn’t do the trick how can well meaning friends help? Even when you really want to reach out there’s always an impediment. You don’t want to add extra strain when they’re in trouble. Nor do you don’t want to darken joyous life events. Sharing begins to feel less a problem halved & more a problem spread.

Very few mental health problems are a simple fix. None of the big issues in life are that black & white. When you fall back into the grey it’s terrifying. Especially when you know you’ve already had your shot. Ask anyone who has tried to access mental health services after discharge. It’s almost impossible. Drs will say you aren’t sick enough for referral. The NHS lacks the resources for early intervention. Access to talk therapy is limited. Almost 40% of those who received treatment reported that they did not have sufficient sessions**. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is by far the most frequently offered intervention. Not because it is the most suitable, but because it is the cheapest & easiest to administer. Recovery is hard enough with appropriate support. When treatment is bungled it can do more harm than good. As already stated, re referral is doubly hard.

While you wait or fight for professional help (that may never come) your life is disintegrating. Friends who were initially supportive fade away when you never quite get all the way better. Employers sprint. They’ll talk a good game; train a mental health first aider or make a donation. Test their commitment with sick time or requesting accommodations & watch them run. You are left with the people who care enough to stay. Your predicament remains. You don’t want to worry them. You don’t want to ruin anything or be the thing that tips their bad news scale. It’s never the right time. We all want to believe that catch phrases are enough, but buzzwords will never cut it. What happens after I say I’m not ok?

The truth is, more often than not, nothing. The pandemic has only increased strain on an already buckling system. I don’t have all the answers. I do know that a cute Instagram post during an awareness month isn’t it. We need huge institutional shifts. More money, more training, more oversight. Our political representatives need to know that we want action. 1 in 4 adults will experience mental illness in their lifetime. Telling them that’s ok isn’t enough. We have to be advocates.

If someone in your life is suffering without help you can contact your Mp & express your concern.

Find out how long waiting lists are in your area & ask you Mp what they’re doing about that.

Stop voting for people who are actively defunding our health service.

Be proactive. Ask loved ones what specific help you can provide.

Use your social media to contact politicians directly. Ask questions publicly. Embarrass those whose voting records go against their constituents interests.

Accompany a friend to appointments if they require support. Insist that interactions are recorded in medical records.

We have to demand more of ourselves and of those with the power to make changes. Truthfully, it doesn’t feel ok, not to be ok.

Open shouting mouth with the text your voice has power

* Information Services Scotland ** SAMH

Sisters in arms…

I’m tired. To the bone exhausted. It’s been a relentless year, like everyone else I’ve just kept trudging along. This weekend I hit a wall. I doubt I’m alone.

The convergence of Mother’s Day, police violence against women & the flood of abuse/harassment stories that women have been sharing was overwhelming. Especially when I realised how many similar cases of missing or dead WOC I had never even heard of. Women the mainstream media had little interest in. Women who in some cases haven’t even had their death investigated. I’m not shocked by any of this. I know this is the world we live in. The abstract knowledge doesn’t make each individual case less painful. When you combine one’s own pain with the agony of the collective it’s crushing. It never stops. It never changes.

I’m aware that I’m feeling all this from a position of privilege. I have more space & safety to process. The police would likely pay attention to my family if I disappeared. I know my exhaustion is relative, but god, it’s heavy. I wish it were possible to ease the heavier weight I know many are carrying.

I don’t have any new answers. I’ll keep writing to MP’s, protesting, amplifying marginalised voices, putting my money where my mouth is. It’s a struggle to feel hopeful at the moment. So, I’m going add to taking care of myself to that list. I don’t know what that care looks like yet, but I’m working on it. I urge you to take whatever time you can & give yourself a little TLC too.

Illustration of horse, boy,Fox & mole from Charlie Mackesy
Charlie Mackesy

Red Alert…

The discourse around Sarah Everard’s disappearance has been horribly familiar. The tired victim blaming about where she shouldn’t have walked. The same sinking feeling as the days go by. Duplicate faux shock from men when we recount what life is like for women. The self-same chorus of ‘not all men’. Year after year. Case after case. Victim after victim. It is always the same. None of this is new or surprising. It’s just horribly sad & terribly frightening.

Women aren’t under any illusions about the world we inhabit. We know that we aren’t safe. We’re scared when we walk home alone from the train station. We calculate the threat of each interaction with a man we don’t know. Fashion make shift weapons from handbag contents. The rules are ingrained; no headphones at night, carry your keys, shout fire instead of rape, call me when you’re home! We have been absorbing the message that we are in danger since childhood.

There is no poor decision making. We are simply living our lives. Avoiding all risk isn’t possible. No matter what complex precautions we take, we are exposed. If the journey from my bus stop to my house is along dark, quiet streets then I have no option but to regularly walk alone on dark quiet streets. We don’t have personal escorts, we can’t control who will sit next to us on the train, taking taxis can be cost prohibitive & most cab drivers are men anyway.

Dark,  foggy residential street

We know that ‘not all men’ are dangerous, but we don’t know which ones are. From childhood girls are bombarded with harassment. It never stops. Teachers & drs & bus drivers & our friend’s dad & policemen & strangers on the street & priests & guys in bars & colleagues & friends & lovers. Lots of women aren’t even safe in their own homes. We all have stories of close calls and false alarms. Most is can tell you about the encounters we couldn’t escape too. It is not a revelation that most guys aren’t going to murder us. Knowing that doesn’t change our real fear because often it’s the one you trust who will. The worst case scenario is a reality and we’re reminded of that every single time a man stands too close or lingers too long. We are adding up where this is headed when a creep makes a crude comment or gets aggressive when told no. Here’s the thing that not many men will admit, you know it too. You all know men that you wouldn’t want alone with your sister/daughter/girlfriend. You see those scary men shouting at us on the street and grabbing us in bars. Every time you tell a woman you care about that you’ll see her home or to her car it’s because you are fully cognisant if the threat. The more insidious of you get a kick out knowing you can frighten us without losing plausible deniability. Not all, but definitely enough.

I read a story recently about a guy who got a big cash in hand payment & had to take public transport home with the money. He was on high alert for the whole journey. Everyone looked suspicious. He second guessed his every move. When he relayed how stressful the journey was to his wife, she replied ‘ now you know how I feel everyday’. The solution to this problem isn’t changing female behaviour. Our awareness is at code red. Let’s tackle the predators not prey.

Instead of rushing to shout ‘not me’ men need to listen. They must examine their own complicity & learn what would actually help others feel safer. Challenge your gross friend. Know when your voice is helpful and when it is silencing. Let’s begin to have real conversations about getting more women into key positions. Our criminal justice systems approach to violence against women still needs an overhaul. Perhaps most importantly we all need to think about how we raise our children. The cycle must be broken. Too many women have already been lost.

Stone wall with protect your daughters scored out & educate your sons

Not to blame…

As this pandemic continues to wreak havoc there is an increasing need for a scapegoat. Predictably, fat people have become a convenient target. Navigating this strange new world is hard enough without all the finger pointing.

Magnified image of covid virus

If you’re feeling hounded, I get it. I’m fiercely fat positive & always prepared to fly the body liberation flag. Even I am finding the constant barrage of fat phobia exhausting. With our feckless PM giving credence to a BMI/Covid link and the tabloids eating it up it is understandable that we feel attacked. When the government makes weight stigma policy it absolutely feeds the trolls.

For the record, losing 5lbs will not make you less likely to contract covid nor will it effect the severity of the virus if you do. Like much of the Tories covid 19 response it is not rooted in science. In fact, it is too early for any studies to provide reliable data on the impact of covid on fat bodies. Especially when the intersections with poverty, disability, poor medical care etc are often not factored into research.

Fat phobic newspaper headlines

You are not irresponsible for living in a fat body. You are not a burden on the NHS. You are deserving of the same care & respect as anyone else. If you need help reinforcing these facts or dealing with others who refuse to accept them I highly recommend checking out the resources below. I have linked to their Instagram accounts from which you can find all their links/books.

Jess Campbell (haes_studentdoctor) is as her insta implies a student doctor with a Health at Every Size approach. She shares excellent information in a really straightforward manner.

Dr Natasha Larmie (fatdruk) is a GP in the UK who campaigns to end medical weight stigma. She shares her own experience along with insightful analysis. Definitely a must follow.

If you aren’t already aware of Dr Joshua Wolrich where have you been? He is an NHS surgical doctor who promotes HAES, debunks junk weight loss science & has a much anticipated book due very soon.

Lindo Bacon is a body liberation author, speaker & researcher. Their first book, Health at Every Size completely changed my understanding of how my body works & the effect of dieting. I cannot recommend their work enough.

Image of book,  health at every size lindo bacon

I only recently discovered HPWAS (Health Professionals Against Weight Stigma) and I am so glad. As a fat person it can be difficult to deal with the medical community. It is therefore very reassuring to know there are professionals trying to change things from within. They are currently collecting lived experiences of medical fat phobia. Please do consider sharing if you feel able.

Big fat love to everyone struggling.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down…

Are you losing the plot yet? I fear I’m getting there. Lockdown is getting harder. If like me you already have less than perfect mental health, you may be closer to the edge than most.

I’m with you. I’m finding all this time alone is churning up lots of issues I would prefer remain undisturbed. The isolation is leaving far too much room for pondering big issues. Existential questions that I couldn’t answer before the world went mad & are even more confounding now. I swing between Groundhog Day dread and being on jangly high alert. Trying to break the monotony of another day home alone by sorting your underwear drawer is a tiny bit depressing. My already racing heart attempting to burst right out my chest every time my noisy neighbours thump really isn’t fun either.

Am I doing anything that matters? Am I running out of time & is this pandemic melting huge chunks of what is left? Can I continue to makes ends meet? Am I doing enough for those who can’t? Can I get a Tesco delivery slot or my prescription? Will I ever get rid of long covid? Will all my loved ones get through this unscathed and will we ever be permitted to be in the same room again? This shit is only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface are all the intrusive thoughts and fears of catastrophe.

Image of iceberg above & below waterline. The sea is vivid blue.

I say this with the knowledge that I am in a privileged position. I have security & a support system that many do not. Too many people are living in situations that are perilous in every possible way. Accessing even the most basic of assistance is getting harder. Half a carrot, a handful of tuna & frubes will not feed hungry children (if you don’t understand this ref, read this & try to control your rage). When you can’t rely on the system to ensure kids don’t starve you can bet that mental health services are in distress. A fact that has been keeping me awake at night as I worry about my own mental wellbeing.

With that in mind I wanted to share some resources. If you don’t feel you can wait to reach the top of an nhs waiting list one of these may be helpful.

Theses organisations offer reduced cost therapy.

Arbours Association

Frontline Therapist

Problem Shared

The Guild of Psychotherapists

Dedicated to Change Project

The Spark

Sandyford Glasgow

Most universities & colleges offer counselling services. If you are student it’s worth checking out what help your institution can give. Many also offer low cost therapy with students training in psychology disciplines.

You can find online support here:

Samaritans

Mind

Calm

Age UK

Women’s Aid

Beat

The Mix

Childline

There are also local services across the UK, a bit of google research may lead you to affordable (or free) help in your area. I know that none of these options are perfect, I wish I had the answer. In the absence of a complete solution I hope these options might be helpful.

As always when discussing mental health it is important to state that I am not a professional. Please seek advice from your GP in the first instance and contact emergency services if required.

When you take you gotta give…

I’m going to begin this post with a disclaimer; my brain fog is currently set to victorian horror film. The covid has made my thoughts oh so murky. Please try to factor than in if I don’t reach my usual standards.

As a fat positive activist I am naturally drawn to lots of bopo & fat spaces. Unfortunately I have increasingly noticed a slide away from the radical in some of. I’ve been mulling this topic over for a while and I really want to talk about it.

We all know that the body positive movement has been corrupted by brands & individuals trying to cash in. The centring of slim, white bodies has neutered the original message. Body image issues are not the same as the same as the systemic discrimination of fat bodies face. It is infuriating to see people in socially acceptable bodies play at being fat by contorting themselves to make rolls. However, at least that problem is acknowledged & challenged.

I find the move away from the origins of body positivity much more upsetting when it occurs in supposedly fat friendly places. Body Positivity was created by fat (mostly black) women. It’s purpose was to fight the stigma & discrimination that fat people experience in all aspects of life. Self love & positive body image have been an offshoot of that. Personally, I am very much in favour of those ‘spin offs’. I think learning to accept & eventually love your body can be revolutionary. I champion breaking down the toxic things society has taught us about our bodies, but I still recognise that body liberation is not solely about loving our bellies.

Fat activism should put the most marginalised front & centre. We must make room for those who are least often seen or heard. We should focus on making sure that those individuals feel comfortable discussing the issues they face, sharing pictures & asking for help. Sadly, this is not always what happens. Many groups in the fat world are so intent on being all inclusive that they do not realise who they are excluding.

A drawing of a medicine bottle labelled cure with the text ‘self love can’t cure fat phobia’

I see too much time spent on body confidence. Straight sized people taking up space in fat groups because they feel bad about their bodies. Brands whose sizes stop at a 20 are praised & promoted. Descriptors commonly used in fat activism ( super fat, small fat) are labelled insensitive. Bigger people are sidelined. When they try to discuss how they are being pushed out they met with hurt feelings and all the reasons less marginalised people have it hard too. It’s beyond disappointing.

It seems the fight for fat equality has been forgotten. Body liberation is not about making everyone feel great about themselves. It’s about ensuring access to medical treatment, housing, employment for fat people. Challenging inaccurate measurements of health, sizism in public spaces and fat politics should be prime discussion points. We should be listening when people tell us they feel pushed out of a place that is supposed to be for them.

I believe that too many in the fat community are taking their eye off prize. We have become consumed with being welcoming & positive. Both great traits, but we have to prioritise. If straight sized and smaller fats want to be part of the movement we have to accept our privilege. Our voices should not be the loudest. We can be welcoming to allies. Those who are respectful and want to learn can included. We all have blind spots. It is ok to make a mistake or not to know something. It isn’t ok to not want to learn. If your response to uncomfortable truths is to play the victim, there isn’t any room for you in fat activism.

Graffitied wall with poster saying ‘acknowledge your privilege ‘

There are so many amazing resources available for anyone who wand to educate themselves. Instagram accounts with bite size information. Books, podcasts & blogs for every stage of learning. It isn’t fair to rely on the emotional labour of fat people who may not always have the energy to teach. It is especially unjust to plead ignorance and then object to the manner in which you are provided information. Discomfort is part of the process.

Plus sized woman faces a sandstone wall wearing top with multi coloured fringe. Text says  ‘growing is supposed to feel uncomfortable’

I know I have lots to learn. I step on toes without intending to. I hope I listen when I’m told I’ve caused pain. I am trying to be better. I am happy to acknowledge the privilege I hold and I aim to fight alongside those with less. I want a better world. The middle of the road is not the way to get there.