Welcome to my nightmare…

I didn’t sleep last night (shocker, right). Actually, I did kind of sleep. I was so dog tired by 11pm that I decided to try going to bed like a normal person. I read for a bit and much to my relief, I fell asleep. For about 45mins.

I was awoken by the first nightmare around midnight. By half three and the fourth nightmare I had given up on the idea of sleeping. Nightmares are the part of PTSD that I don’t really talk much about. Maybe because they are an intermittent problem. Probably also because it’s not something that people (in my experience) take seriously. Responses to my attempts to discuss my nightmares have ranged from vaguely dismissive to full on belittlement.

I think when I say nightmares people hear bad dreams. You’re probably thinking of anxiety dreams (teeth falling out, failing exams, getting fired etc) or standard scary dreams (trapped somewhere, being chased, really bad person creeping around your house horror movie type stuff). Maybe you’re even imaging those childhood bad dreams that are terrifying in ways that are incredibly specific to you. All of which are horrid, but not at all debilitating. I suppose I do understand why folk say things like ‘well, they’re not real’ or ‘as soon as you wake up it’ll be gone’; that’s their experience. Oh, how I wish it were universally true.

Creepy face

PTSD nightmares are a whole other thing. They are related to trauma. For me, they often mirror my flashbacks. Sometimes they’ll get creative and go abstract. I’m trying to get some rest and my mind will just be replaying amplified versions of the most distressing moments of my life. My head is a terrible editor; it just rapidly cuts from one horrendous image to the next. All of which are graphic. Blood and dead babies are the common denominators. They’ll begin in a very realistic & upsetting fashion and degenerate into gruesome bloodbaths (sometimes literally).

Blood splatter

As I mentioned the nightmares are a sporadic problem. They almost always have a trigger. That can be a really tiny thing that I possibly didn’t even pay that much attention to until it starts becoming a pivotal detail in my dreams. It can also be a major life event. My nightmares are usually accompanied by & linked to flashbacks in my waking hours. They always come in clusters. I never have just one upsetting dream. They plague me every time I close my eyes. All of which adds up to a significant disturbance.

The torment doesn’t melt away when I regain consciousness. There’s always more to come and it is real. Every scene is drawn from my reality. I end up scared to sleep and just as scared to be awake. I can’t be alone in this because nightmares are close to the top of every PTSD symptoms list. Any psych evaluation or questionnaire will ask about them. Yet, I don’t see much discussion of the topic. I include myself in that. It’s an aspect of my mental health that I feel really uncomfortable being honest about. I don’t know exactly why we’re all so tight lipped, but I’d bet stigma plays a part.

Sleeping ly

It’s always the messy parts of mental illness that we shy away from. Anything that feels uncontrolled or dark or too close to crazy is glossed over. Those who haven’t experienced it don’t want to think about. Those of us who have don’t want to deal with judgement. Where the nightmares are concerned I think there’s also an element of feeling stupid. Kids get frightened of bad dreams. It’s hard to shake off the feeling that you should be able to handle it. Especially when that’s the message the world is giving you.

I’ve yet to discover anything that’ll chase the dreams away. Sleeping pills aren’t helpful because they make the nightmares more vivid. Thankfully they occur less frequently than they used to. Keeping quiet certainly isn’t helping. Perhaps if people knew what I was referring to when I say nightmares they would be less patronising. A little empathy can go a long way, but you have to understand someone’s experience before you can offer that.

Why don’t you mind your own business?

I had an interesting twitter conversation this week. Some people wanted to know how I deal with strangers asking questions about my scars. Unfortunately this is a thing that happens & one the reasons many people feel they must conceal their scars. Fortunately it is not an everyday occurrence & you can learn to handle it. I wanted to quickly share some tips that I hope will help you do just that.

First of all I feel it’s essential that you realise that no one has the right to ask you these questions. It is rude & intrusive. You do not owe these people answers, you don’t even owe them a polite response.

I totally understand that depending on a variety of factors unexpected questions about your scars can strike different chords. Sometimes I feel enraged, other days I panic & sometimes I’m just over it. Thus, my responses can differ. That’s ok. You are entitled to feel however you feel. You are not obligated to be nice or to hide those emotions from ill mannered strangers.

I tend to have ready made responses for the most common comments. They range from just shutting someone down to embarrassing them the way they tried to embarrass me. (Note : most people who ask already know what your scars are. They know their questions are akward & unkind).

So, let’s get to it. I’m going to give my to go to answer to my most often asked questions.

Q/ What happened to your arms/legs/body part?

A/ What happened to your manners?

A/ Shark attack.

A/ Me.

A/ Exactly what you think.

Q/ Why did you do that?

A/ Why do you think it’s your business?

A/ Why are you a nosey bitch?

Q/ Why don’t you cover those up?

A/ Why don’t you mind your own business?

A/ Why don’t you cover up your horrible personality?

A/ Why don’t you fuck off?

All of these responses are blunt & let nosey people know you are not all impressed with their questions. I refuse to pander to other people’s rudeness, but I know there are times when you don’t feel confident or just want to avoid a possible confrontation. I find the perfect answer in those instances is ‘it’s a long story’. It’s vague, but it is also obvious that you have no interest in pursuing the topic.

Whatever you say the important thing to remember is that you don’t need to reveal details to anyone unless you want to. It’s not your responsibility to make strangers feel comfortable & it’s certainly not your job to safeguard the feelings of people who don’t care about hurting yours. Shut them down & live your life.

Something to talk about…

A couple of weeks ago I got in a taxi (not an unusual occurrence) & engaged in the usual polite conversation with the driver. The weather, had I had a nice day & so on. Then he went quiet for a minute & said ‘can I ask your advice on something?’

This is the kind of question that usually rings alarms bells, but for some reason I decided to give this guy a chance. He had talked about his children in our short conversation & came across as a decent person. I’m glad I trusted my gut. He wanted advice on how to help his son, who had been self harming.

The taxi driver never alluded to my scars, but I presume that’s why he thought I might have advice to offer. He explained a bit about his son. How he had changed schools after a move, found it hard to make new friends, become more insular. Then how his wife had discovered their son had been injuring himself & how they were both lost. They’re son didn’t want to speak to anyone about it, they didn’t know if they should force the issue. He was increasingly unhappy, so far their attempts to help had been unsuccessful. It broke my heart. This man clearly loved his child. It was just as clear that he was utterly out of his depth.

So, I told him I had experience with self harm. Explained that it could serve a few functions. That is was habit forming & yes, it was a sign that his son was really struggling. I stressed that I wasn’t a professional mental health worker & that everyone was different, but in my experience it was best to get help as soon as possible. It was also important not to make his son feel forced into anything. Research some options & present them to his son, try to let him make choices. I suggested he make it clear that he & his wife were always available to talk about anything & offered some organisations he could contact for more advice. That was about as much as I felt able to say to a stranger during a taxi ride. I didn’t know any details of what was going on for his son, so I didn’t know what would be best for him. It felt insufficient, but when we arrived at my destination he refused to take payment. He said my words had lifted a load because now he felt like there was help for his son & he had an idea of how to find it. I got emotional, wished him the very best & thanked him for my free lift home. We parted & are unlikely to meet again.

So, why am I telling you this? I’m sharing because the more I think about it the surer I am that this kind of thing should happen more often. I think the reason it doesn’t is stigma. That taxi driver took a chance; he shared sensitive information & asked me to do the same. He dared to break a taboo & admit that he needed help. The result, hopefully is that his family will find that help. How many people struggle with mental health problems and never find the courage to ask for help? How many people just never know who they can turn to?

I’d love to live in a world where it didn’t even take courage to tell someone you’re hurting. It shouldn’t be so hard or so hidden.

If you are experiencing mental health difficulties it is imperative that you seek help right away. Mental Illness almost always get worse & harder to treat when left to fester. There is no shame in not being ok. You deserve any & all hell to feel as good as you can.

Your GP is always a good first step. Take someone you trust to advocate for you if you can.

MIND offer a variety of local services. You can find the in your area here.

SANE offer specialised mental health support. You can contact them on 0300 304 7000.

You can also call The Samaritans 24/7, 365 days a year on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

Things I can’t believe I have to say again… Part 1

It may be a little over optimistic to say that summer is in the way, but I think I can at least say that winter is over. Whilst I can’t wait to enjoy more lazy days in the sun, hot days always give me a moments pause.

The reason for my second guessing is our old friend shame. As much as strive I to love my body there are still so many people who’d rather I didn’t. My body does not fit societal standards of beauty. Scrap that, I don’t even fit societal standards of normal. The fact that I refuse to hide my fat, scarred flesh rocks the normality boat even more vigorously.

It has taken me years to be able to celebrate my form. My ability to wear whatever I please & shed layers in the heat is a hard win victory. I won’t lie I often still have to steel myself to step outside in a vest. Not because I feel ashamed of my a scars or my past or flab or peely wally complexion, but because there are tonnes of folk who really, really want me to.

Staring is a given. Staring combined with nudging a mate & directing them to also have a gawk is also fairly frequent. Less common, but still occuring more than you would think is the person who thinks they should actually comment on my body. Oh & I give them so much to work with. Strangers just love to get angry, sad, concerned and curious about my body. Sometimes I can just shrug that off. Often I will snark back & think these strangers pathetic. However, there are times when for whatever reason, I’m just not up for the judgement of unknown members of the general public. Their stares, nudges & comments ruin my day. I do momentarily feel ashamed and scared and like I should never leave the house again. And, my friends, is not ok.

So, here’s a little advice.

OTHER PEOPLE’S BODIES ARE NOT YOUR BUSINESS.

Your thoughts on other people’s appearance are not important. Strangers do not want to hear them. Your moral judgements are your problem, don’t make them anyone else’s. Likewise your hang ups.

STARING IS RUDE.

Always. There are no excuses. If you find yourself accidentally staring, stop. If you see someone you think looks weird, bad, crazy just remember plenty of people find your visuals unappetising too. Oh & don’t oggle them.

In short, don’t be that person. Don’t be the one who spoils someone’s lovely summer day. You do you & let the rest of world do them.

Fat Slut, you said…

So, hello, brand new year. Unfortunately it’s also hello to diet talk overload. Yup, it’s everywhere. The diet industry goes crazy in January. Over the years  I have managed to switch off from most of the weight watcher ads & gym discount flyers. I basically make it my business to mute the diet industry; I don’t buy magazines that tell me I’m not good enough, I don’t follow social media accounts that constantly talk about weight loss & I shun brands that use body shaming in their advertising. Of course, I also actively participate the body posi community. This works well for me. However, more and more I am realising that I simply cannot escape the notion that fat is just awful. The problem is that lots of the people I really like & choose to have in my life are, to be frank, fat phobic. 

I understand that everyone will not share my views on body positivity. I also accept that other people are free to do whatever the choose with their own bodies. In fact I am delighted when people find a way to love themselves. However they do it, finding genuine peace with yourself is a wonderful thing & I applaud anyone who gets there. What I don’t appreciate is having to listen to all the fat phobic crap that others believe in. I will never understand why people think it is ok to express their revulsion of fat people to me, a fat person. If you had brown hair & I repeatedly made negative comments about brown hair, you’d probably feel hurt, or pissed off. Well, surprise, surprise, fat people have feelings too. 

You can feel however you like about your own or other people’s bodies. If you want to do slimming world or Atkins or eat raw, knock yourself out. Run & lift & body pump until your heart’s content. If your internal voice mocks & degrades others based on their physical appearance that probably needs investigation, but it’s still entirely your affair. Once you voice those insults out loud, they become my business too & the truth is, I don’t want to hear it. 

I do not want to hear how terrible you think celebs looks when they gain weight. I don’t want to listen to your jibes about naked fat bodies in movies. When you talk in disgusted tones about your own fat, you are telling me what you think of me. Your talk of how your own much thinner body is not fit to carry a child or how being fat makes a person a terrible parent, you are commenting on my abilities. Every time you comment ‘I’m a fat bitch’ on picture of food you ate or tell me what is ‘bad’ about every item on a menu you are pushing your issues on me. 

And here’s the thing, I can’t stop you. You are free to say & feel whatever you please. You can hate your body & my body & Rebel Wilson’s body & Cameron Diaz’s body too. You can laugh & be rude. You can continue to say right to my face that you find people like me to be entirely undeserving of respect. I presume that often you are oblivious. I get it. Sometimes we are blinded by our own internal struggle. Everyone has moments of complete, but unintentional insensitivity. Sometimes, though, you know. You know that you are degrading fat people in front of a fat person. Mostly, we’ll let you get away with it. I know I do. I excuse & ignore. I tell myself you did not mean to be cruel. Well, no more. This is me giving notice. In the future I intend to point out that the body you’re mocking is just like mine. I will tell you that I don’t want to hear about your diet. I will mute you on social media if your timeline is toxic because I can do as I please too. I choose not to engage in anymore bullshit. I wish you well with your own self love journey, but I will no longer be party to my own debasement. You do you. I am going to do me.

You can’t change the way she feels, but you could put your arms around her…

I dreamt about an old friend last night. A friend who is no longer living. It was a lovely dream that I was sad to wake from. As I tried to commit the dream to memory I realised that whilst I thought of her often, I hadn’t spoken out loud about my dear friend in a long time. Too long a time, which is something I need to rectify. I need to talk about her. Tell her story. Share how she changed me. And that is exactly what I am going to do.

Let’s start by saying I met J because we were both ill. I was in my early twenties & struggling to deal with undiagnosed PTSD. I was trying to hold together a life that was increasingly unsatisfying with a self harm habit that was spiralling out control. J was dealing with similarly unhappy circumstances and a self harm problem that becoming, frankly terrifying. We both found some comfort in a community of sick people who didn’t know where else to turn. We were people who couldn’t ask for help or had asked without receiving the sort of assistance the we needed. No one talked about self harm then. Except maybe in the odd film where it was usually portrayed as something a trouble teen might do or a suicide attempt. Even the mental health professionals treated us like shit (sadly, some still so). If our attempts to hide the problem had failed, our families & friends were frightened ( & in some cases cruel). We were dealing with real problems; rape, abusive relationships, miscarriage, escaping from cults, drug dealing parents & a multitude of other big, scary problems. We were of course also living with mental illness. Some of us had a laundry list of labels and others had not a single clue what the fuck was wrong. But there was absolutely something going very wrong for all of us. This is where I met J. Amongst this this group of desperate people I also found a salvation of sorts. These broken people offered each other a kind of support that we couldn’t find anywhere else. We dragged each other through the kind of darkness that most will never understand. And J was kind of our leader.
J was living with pain beyond what would be considered durable. Her mental anguish was compounded by the physical horror she was compelled to inflict upon herself. J was not ok. Every solitary moment of life was a battle hard fought. And, yet, she always had time for us. She had love and support and encouragement for her damaged flock. J lived in a different time zone, but she still called day & night to remind me to keep breathing. She wrote letters and sent care parcels. She compiled lists of all the things that just might offer one us a couple minutes respite from our own fucked up heads. She replied to every ‘ I can’t do this anymore’ with such kind & convincing entreaties to keep trying, that we did. Her words worked because we knew, that she knew. We were all able to help each other because we shared a world that most people didn’t know existed. For me, j was the ultimate inspiration. If she could do this with such grace, I owed it to her and all the others who loved me to at least not give up.

Kelvingrove park

It’s such a cliché, but this goodness expanded beyond our group. She was studying to be a nurse because she wanted to help people. Everyone in her life adored her. J was that person who offered succour, but she wasn’t a martyr or a goody goody. She was fun. Her sense of humour could be wicked. Most of all she was strong. J fought to live. She engaged with mental health services that let her down over and over and over. She was still working and studying at the peak of her illness. She endured the brutality of her self harm and the callousness of those supposed to treat them. She did it all with dignity. Life beat J black and blue. This world committed an almost constant vicious assault on her. She fought back hard. She battled with and blood and heart and care and tears and wonder. She did not win.
J succeeded in taking her own life in a sad and awful way that left no doubt that she meant it. I wish with everything in my being that I could have changed how her story ended. Both the circumstances & the prematurity of her passing, but I don’t blame her. I understand that life was no longer a viable prospect for J. I hate that, but I do not begrudge her some peace. I am still angry at the professionals who failed her and the people who’s actions caused her so much pain. I will never be angry at J. She gave life her very best shot. Her suicide was neither selfish nor weak. It was just the only option she had left. It kills me that someone so beautiful was left with a choice so ugly. I understand it, though. Whilst I know it may be an unpopular opinion I can accept it. I can respect that it was her decision to make.


So, why I am writing this? What am I left with? Actually what remains is so much more positive than I could have ever imagined. Losing J was soul destroying, but life does go on. I go on and so do those other sad people that she cared for. I don’t want to disrespect those wonderful people by not acknowledging that they too saved me. We all helped save each other. In hundreds of big and small ways. After J’s death we continued to care for each other. We laughed and cried and screamed and swore together. We stayed up nights and called ambulances. We sent Xmas cards and made hospital visits.
From that group I maintain friendships with some incredible people. Some of us are entirely recovered, some still walk the tight rope; we are all still alive. We have partners, careers, babies, hobbies & passions. We all do our bit for mental health awareness. Whether that’s through writing, organising, working in the field, donating to MH charities or just supporting loved ones with their difficulties. I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to prevent others falling through the cracks. I will fight for everyone to have more choices than J. I know I am not alone. That is her legacy. She lives on through the people she touched. We endured. We succeeded. We survived.
WE LIVE

1 in 4 adult in UK will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. It is incredibly likely that you or someone you love will have to fight this battle. You can help improve the lives of suffering in a number of ways. Please do what you can to make sure more people survive.

Add mental health education to the national curriculum

Donate to Samaritans

Donate to SAMH

You an also make a massive difference by writing to your elected representatives an telling them mental health is major issue for you. Let them know that how they vote on mental health related issues matters to you. You can find your representatives here.
Find my MP
Find my MSP

 

Do you want to know a secret?…

I have a secret. It could be argued that keeping this secret makes me a bit of a hypocrite. For all my body positivity, there is one thing about myself that I cannot learn to love; my facial hair. 


Until about I was about 30, I wasn’t a very hairy person at all. My body hair was all fair & fine. As such it wasn’t something that I gave much thought to. To begin with I had a little bit of fine hair on my neck, which I put down to getting a bit older. The hair quickly progressed to my chin, then to my upper lip. I started waxing it & so began my facial hair war. 

As the hair got thicker I consulted my gp (as a person who had crazy periods, sometimes 1 a year, sometimes lasting 6wks) PCOS should have been any easy diagnosis. In actual fact it took 6yrs to convince a dr to even investigate. Blood tests revealed increased hormone levels & that was that. I was prescribed medication to regulate my periods, which thankfully worked. The beard, however, remains. I’m too pale & fair for laser removal and nothing else really does the job. The hair continues to get worse. I’ve tried waxing, hair removal cream & even a No!No!; none of which keep my face smooth for more than a day or two.


I can love my fat & my scars. I don’t even care what others thinks about my often hairy legs. I feel no compulsion to remove my pubic hair other than when I feel like it. I don’t wear make up daily & my hair is most often to be found in a very messy bun. I have skin tags & moles & birthmarks that it has never even occurred to me to feel self conscious about. I am almost entirely impervious to societal demands upon my body. Expect it seems when it comes to my increasingly hairy face. 

A hairy face appears to be my line in the self love sand. I cannot get past the notion that it renders me repugnantly unwomanly. As I write those words I know how stupid & misogynstic & backwards they are. Yet, none of my strident feminist views prevent me from being utterly ashamed of my stubbly chin. 

The fact that I have internalised this patriarchal bullshit makes me so angry. I know I don’t have to measure up to some nonsensical notion of femininity, but part of me still wants to. I hate that. I hate how much energy I waste on getting rid of this hair. I hate that despite my best efforts I have bought into such a narrow definition of what being a woman is. 


Maybe part of this is the same as any other stigma, no one talks about it. Well, not outside hushed, unhappy tones with our closest ones. Or whispered exchanges with professionals who might rid us of the dreaded hair. I know other women who have PCOS, but none of them have visible facial hair & I’ve never asked. Are they too constantly removing fuzz? I wouldn’t know because I’m not sure if talking about it would be rude or even out right offensive. So, I just carry on feeling like the only person who could have a side job in Victorian freak show. 

Until now. I’ve decided to come clean. Yup, I have a beard. I may not ever be ready to let the world see it, but at least I can start talking about it. It’s just hair, right? Fuck it. Girls can be furry too. What’s the worst that can happen? Someone might even have a good tip on how to get rid of it!