We place a lot of pressure on ourselves to be all sorts of things. The phrase “I should be…” resounds in our heads all too often. It took me a long time and the end of a terrible relationship to realise that I was not happy. I look back at my 22 year old self and I think about the things I would like to tell her. It’s not so much advice as reassurance and some warnings. I suppose it’s mostly a heads up on what to expect, to 22 year old Abi from 27 year old Abi.
Your hips will get wider.
Your arse will suddenly appear where previously little to no arse was. Do not be alarmed. It’s a good arse.
You won’t be able to do all nighters any more. You’ll think you can but you’ll get to anywhere between 1 and 4am and suddenly it won’t be worth it and all you’ll want is your bed.
It won’t be as easy to get back to sleep if you wake up early, regardless of the time you went to sleep. That one will annoy you. Loads.
You still won’t be tidy but you’ll be better than you were. It will continue to be a constant battle.
You won’t have to work in an office. I mean, you’ve aged 5 years but you’re not a totally different person. You’ll be resourceful and find work where you can to earn enough money to get by. You won’t be rich…yet.
You won’t be living all your dreams but you’ll be working towards them. You’ll know you’re going to keep doing that, slowly and steadily. It won’t stress you out that you’re not there yet.
You still won’t have grey hair nor will you be bald. You should probably stop worrying about going bald. It’s really very unlikely.
Gravity already affects your breasts. It’s going to keep doing that. Increasingly so. They’ll still be big. You won’t get a reduction. The great descent will continue. No one else will mind.
You’ll have different friends but they’ll be better and stronger friendships than you could ever have believed. They’ll be filled with laughter, support and love and the kind of acceptance you don’t yet know because you’re 22. They will be wonderful friendships with incredible people and they’ll be a testament to both you and the people you will choose to give parts of yourself to.
You will make better choices all round.
You will still sometimes make terrible choices. You’re not perfect. You never will be. But you’ll no longer be putting pressure on yourself to be perfect.
You won’t care what people think of you. You really won’t. You will feel so entirely liberated by that.
You’ll still be loud but it will be about things that matter. Mostly. Sometimes you’ll still just be loud.
You’ll be able to spend time alone and it won’t feel like you want to panic and run away from yourself.
In fact you’ll really like spending time alone. You’ll relish the peace, space and quiet.
You’ll find romantic trust and love much harder. It will scare you more.
You’ll exercise. Seriously. Believe it.
You’ll have had 3.5 years of therapy and it will have been one of the best decisions you ever made for yourself. You’ll still be going to regular sessions now. Because of it you’ll understand your own mental health much better and you’ll be more open and empathetic towards others.
You’ll have started to understand what it means to be kind to yourself. How to look after yourself and read the signs of when you’re trying to do too much or running from something you want to avoid dealing with.
You’ll be a massive, raging feminist, amongst other things.
You’ll want to help the world. A lot.
You’ll be more politically engaged and educated and interested in the world around you than you ever have been.
You’ll believe very strongly in adoption.
You’ll believe less strongly in religion.
You’ll still believe in God but how you define that God will have changed and probably will continue to change.
You’ll get to 27 and you’ll have never felt more sure of what you think and how to express it.
You’ll get to 27 and you’ll have never felt more beautiful or attractive or wanted, by friends or partners or colleagues – by people in general.
You’ll like yourself – your personality and your body – more than you could ever imagine at 22.
And even though you’ll know it won’t last forever because stuff just happens all the time, right now in this moment, at this age, you’ll be delighted by life.
22 year old Abi. It’s going to be ok. You’ll see. You’ll get there.
And when you do, you won’t believe how wonderful it feels.
You’ll get to 27 and you’ll be happier than you’ve ever been.
I work really hard.
I love some of what I do. I hate some of what I have to do. Every job has perks, every job has pitfalls. That is the nature of working to earn a living to be part of an imperfect world that functions on money.
I never quite earn enough money because nothing pays me very much. It is one of the pitfalls of the lifestyle I choose to live that my money often fluctuates. I concede that it might actually be more of a reflection on me and my total lack of money management. But unless someone wants to start giving me £70k / year to find out what happens when I have more cash, we’ll never know for sure. (Any takers / givers? No? Didn’t think so.)
We live in a society (capitalist, western) that tells us we must be awake at certain times, asleep at others. It is a world angled towards morning people and not great for night owls. We are told we must work in a certain way, at certain places, we must achieve certain things, even like particular foods and styles. We must conform to be acceptable in the eyes of society. And if that doesn’t work for you? You’d better be prepared to work twice as hard going against the grain.
I’m very lucky that I come from a privileged, middle class background. I have been allowed the time to find what it is that I can do to make myself happy. My parents have mostly been incredibly supportive and understanding during the horrendous periods when I’ve been looking for work.
I tried the more socially accepted route. I really did. I worked in an office for a few months as a temp and though some of the people were lovely and a very good friend of mine worked there too, I was miserable. I was unchallenged, I didn’t care about the work I was doing, I felt no connection to the lifestyle and the possibility of that repetitive drudgery stretching endlessly on in front of me became genuinely too much for me to bear. It made me so incredibly unhappy. I was late almost every morning. It didn’t help that it was winter and I was getting up in the dark, eating lunch inside and then leaving again in the dark. There were no windows where I was sitting. Some days I didn’t see daylight. For me, that is a perfect recipe for sinking into situational depression. And that is what happened.
I was offered another 6 months at the place in a different role. I accepted out of fear and desperation. In the new team, no one spoke to me on my first day. When I arrived, my desk was covered in fluff, dust and some human hair. There was still no daylight anywhere near me.
Unsurprisingly, I left in my first week of that position.
It was the best decision I could have made. I haven’t looked back.
Every so often I get tempted to look at office jobs. Jobs that offer me more money and stability than I have now. Jobs that have more career progression options than I have now. But really, “career progression” is just another way of saying “even more potential money and stability”. And those are actually not things I crave.
I’ve noticed a trend among the more conventional of my friends. Caveat: it is well meaning and I know it comes from a good and kind and thoughtful place in their hearts, but I find it incredibly frustrating. They’ll send me a job that has something vaguely related to something I maybe once did, or there might not even be that connection. Without fail it is low paid, or even unpaid internship level. Very, very occasionally it is something that I might legitimately be interested in. But usually it is something completely irrelevant to anything I’ve ever done.
It makes me feel like they see me and think I don’t work hard or don’t work at all.
It makes me feel like they don’t take me seriously, that they look at my life and think it’s a joke or something that needs fixing and that the obvious repair is a stable office job.
It makes me feel like they think childcare and writing and working at a theatre and part time teaching are not legitimate or valuable jobs at all, but are fillers “until she gets a proper job”. It makes me feel like they don’t care or don’t understand that I’ve found a way to balance happiness with the necessity of working. It feels like they want to take that away.
I’ve often thought about looking up completely random, low paid jobs to send back to them with the same accompanying message of “I saw this and thought you might be interested!”
Because their response would then be the same as mine: Why?
When you saw that job, what made you think that I, who have clearly made this choice to live my life in this way, would want to go back to a thing that made me so miserable? Why, when I have not one but FOUR JOBS would you think I’d want one that paid me even less than what I currently earn? Why at 26 years old do you think I’m going to intern for a company I don’t care about doing something I find meaningless? Why on earth do you think I’m worth so little? Do you really think I’m only capable of doing this? Do you know how insulting it is to receive a job suggestion that shows how little you think of me? Why do you see that thing and think of me?
I wonder if these are the same people who see two single human beings and think “Aha! A match!” And try to set them up with literally no regard for either person’s partner requirements. The virtue of being single is enough. Because no one could be happy being single. And no one could be happy outside of the 9am-6pm office life.
There are so many ways to choose to live. I’m not motivated by money. I don’t care about it. I use it because I have to. I earn it because I have to. There is value to it beyond the literal number on the note or coin – financial independence is a huge milestone in a person’s life. But it does not fuel or excite me. It does not make me feel like I’ve achieved something when I’ve earned money. I do not feel like my worth is measured by my bank balance. Far, far from it. I am still finding my way in this choice but in terms of how I choose to live, the thing that’s important to me is my happiness. It’s not as selfish as it sounds – I often achieve that happiness by doing things for other people, looking after them, doing worthy and good things with my time and money.
Sitting in an office strikes me as not worthy, not good and not worth my time or the pittance money I’d be paid. It doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t give me time to follow my passion of writing. It doesn’t allow me even basic things like the privilege of lots of daylight. I love the freedom I have. I manage my own time. And I’m not that far away from saving up a bit of cash, buying a ticket somewhere and going to see the world. I think the life I choose to live means I’m a few steps closer to being able to do that than if I worked in an office, if only because of the attitude that I have when it comes to my freedom. I have nothing tying me down. And I love it.
I often feel that my lifestyle is judged harshly by the more conventional people I know.
To those people I say this: I work incredibly hard. I work long days doing some things you could do and some things you couldn’t. I work with passion and enthusiasm and it is sometimes only bearable and other times downright joyful. I relish the difference and lack of routine between my days. I am never bored. A good friend of mine says “stay busy, stay happy” – I am busy. I am so very happy.
Yours is not the only way to live a life. Nor is mine. You might love your security or money or routine. That’s great for you. I love my life. I don’t judge you based on your motivation.
So please. Don’t judge me on mine.
So it’s my first day in Chicago. I’ve landed and already picked up a middle aged Welsh guy as my new best friend. I’ve not eaten enough, I’ve been awake for 21 hours and I’m jetlagged like nobody’s business. I needed something to keep me awake for the evening and after going for a walk, buying the standard toiletries I forgot to bring (toothpaste. It’s always toothpaste) I decided the only smart thing to do was to find an open mic night in the city that is home to some of the greatest comedy stages on earth.
I read an article in time out that listed the top 10 open mic nights and I went along. It was pretty quiet, nothing too fancy and seemed fine for what I wanted – something light enough to occupy my brain and stop me from falling asleep and waking up at 5am the next day.
I did my set and it was fine but a couple of people after me there was a woman called Bridget who seemed to be in her late 30s, maybe early 40s. She did a set that made me feel really uncomfortable. She stood up and I promise, verbatim she said
“I hate the Jews. Don’t you just hate the Jews? They just celebrated 70 years of the holocaust. IT HAPPENED 70 YEARS AGO WHY CAN’T YOU JUST GET OVER IT ALREADY? They don’t shut up about it. And 70 years ago they keep going on about how 6 million of them were killed or whatever – that was ages ago! You’d think there’d be more of them already!”
Now this didn’t get laughs and there was a feeling of awkwardness in the room and she eventually asked “What? Why aren’t you laughing? Is one of you Jewish or something?”
So I replied saying, “I am.”
And she stared at me and said “What? Are you offended?”
I opened my mouth and said, “I’m not offended but I am disgusted.”
And she faltered for a second and then told me to get over it.
I’m not sure if I did the right thing or not. A woman was literally standing there saying how much she hated me, my family, my friends, my community…an entire race of people. I don’t know if there is a right way to respond to that. On the one hand, she’s entitled to her opinions, free speech exists for a reason and whether I agree with her or not is irrelevant. That’s the beauty of the free world.
But I don’t think it is OK to stand on a stage and declare your baseless hatred for a group of people and then mock the greatest tragedy in their recent history. I don’t think that’s acceptable. And it’s not because it’s offensive.
I recently discussed this with an academic whom I greatly admire – being offended is a total waste of time. It doesn’t make you seem more intelligent and it’s not a valid argument in a conversation. To be honest, it feels a bit pompous, like hot air and ruffled feathers. You have the right to be offended, sure, but it doesn’t mean anything. It’s a lazy way of articulating a feeling of affront. I feel like people say that something is offensive when what they really mean is they think it’s wrong but don’t want to take the time to explain why. Something offensive might be said because someone is ignorant and don’t know better, or because they want a reaction for attention or because they just don’t care about anyone else. But getting offended doesn’t teach that person anything.
Bridget disgusted me but she didn’t offend me. I didn’t sit there thinking, “Well I absolutely never, how dare she?”
I sat there thinking “I wonder if she realizes that what she’s saying isn’t acceptable? I wonder if she’s thought about whether anyone in the audience is Jewish? I wonder if she cares. I wonder why she thinks these things about people she doesn’t know.”
I don’t have a generalized opinion about any group. I don’t presume to think I can cast a judgment on anyone like that. It doesn’t feel right to me. I can’t make my brain think like that. But some people appear to be completely filled with baseless dislike and hatred and more than anything that saddens me. Imagine what life must be like viewed through those eyes.
I also found that I’ve learned something from this experience. I’ve always wondered what shock comedians like Frankie Boyle are trying to prove. He seems to hate everything and everyone. He makes jokes about anything. But really that’s it – he makes jokes. They’re carefully crafted and they poke fun at things but it’s really just fun. This woman had no craft behind what she was saying. She hadn’t structured her thoughts to say something funny. The only actual joke in there was that she’d said “celebrated” instead of “commemorated” about the holocaust. She must have been so pleased with herself to come up with something so entirely intellectual.
I’m very lucky. I have rarely felt like I am in the presence of anti-Semitism. But last night, for one of the few times in my life, I really felt it. I think we in the UK on the comedy scene are incredibly lucky and we don’t even know it. I truly believe that if someone in London got up and baselessly said they hated a specific religious group or a nationality, not in a character or with any real joke to make, they would be asked to leave the stage. The comperes I am lucky to know and have experienced wouldn’t let it happen. I’ve seen a lot of comedy in London and in Edinburgh and it really doesn’t seem to happen.
So thanks Bridget. Your anti-Semitism didn’t offend me. Your anti-Semitism made me appreciate how lucky I am, how good I have it, how excellent the people I’m surrounded by are, and what it is that Frankie Boyle does. I am not offended by you. I pity you.
Imagine being told by everyone you know that you’re not as popular as your sibling. That your sibling is better looking, cooler, more enigmatic and confident than you. Well of course they are – you’re uglier, slower, never got the girls or guys, never quite as witty or smart or fun. Nobody likes you as much.
This is not the blog post I thought I was going to write tonight. I sat down at my computer and had every intention of writing about Passover. I wanted to write about how easy it is to complain about things when we are stripped of our usual comforts, and how I was thinking that actually we should use this week to think about how lucky we are the other 51 weeks of the year, and not about how this week we’re slightly less satisfied.
But instead I sat down and wrote a post about how I’ve been feeling over the last few months. It must be the right time for me to have done this, because it just happened, without warning.
It was unplanned and is unedited and if self reflection isn’t your thing, then feel free to stop reading now and go and look at something about cats instead.
This may come as a surprise to some of you who may see me as a positive person, who see me as someone who laughs a lot and likes to make others laugh, who can be good natured and as someone who is full of energy. But the last few months have been very hard. I’ve found the winter we just had to be particularly challenging in a lot of ways. I found I wasn’t entirely able to get a grip on my emotions, and try as I might I simply could not pull myself up from where I felt I was – an incredibly low point.
I don’t exactly know what it was that I went through. I haven’t been diagnosed with depression and I don’t know if I’m feeling better now because I’ve come through a rough patch or because I’m in an up phase of mental well being and it’s just a cycle that works in peaks and troughs. I don’t know if I’ll sink again in a few weeks or if I’ll be fine for the next few months or years.
Here is what I do know:
I felt exhausted and miserable and lonely. I felt like I couldn’t tell people that I was really struggling. I felt like I was lost and no one would find me. I felt like I wanted desperately to ask for help but genuinely didn’t know how. I didn’t know what to ask for. I didn’t want to go out – I couldn’t, I didn’t have the energy – but I didn’t want to be alone. Nothing made me feel better. I kept crying and couldn’t remember what happy felt like. I felt paralysed by anxiety and fear and sadness but with no rational clue about what was making me feel any of these things. The energy that went into faking being OK was utterly draining and left me exhausted. I haven’t written a blog post for ages. This is probably why. I couldn’t sit down and do it. I didn’t have the brain power. It was taking every ounce of everything I had simply to get through work every day. I was going to bed at 8pm some nights and if I’d made arrangements that I actually kept to, it was a relief if they were cancelled and it was mostly too hard for me to stay very long at anything.
I don’t feel like that any more.
As I said, I don’t exactly know what made me start to feel better. I hit a very low point a few weeks ago and considered asking the doctor for antidepressants. After consulting with a therapist that I currently see on a weekly basis, it actually didn’t seem like the right decision after all. But I did consider it very seriously and would consider it again if it turns out that I’m heading in that downward direction again. I don’t want to feel like that again. If medication is going to help me retain a grip on things then I will happily take it.
I’m writing about this because I think a lot of people feel scared to tell others that they’re not OK. It’s not a stigma thing for me. It’s the fact that I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I almost wished I could tell someone I had something concrete, a label, a name of an illness to give. I didn’t know what to even call it. I just felt awful all the time. And the voice in my head that does me nothing but damage told me that no one wants me around when I’m no fun. No one wants to talk to me when I’m sad. No one wants to hear the negativity that’s raging in my head. Why would anyone want that? “Your friends only want the positive, happy, energetic version of you that makes them smile,” it said. “No one wants you as you are.”
This is absolute bullshit. This is an unhealthy thing that gets into my head when I’m too scared to show vulnerability. This is an isolating thought process, built entirely on an image that I think other people have of me. It wasn’t for me, but it can be very dangerous to think like that. I’m not writing about this to have a pity party (though I’m sure some will read this and say “Ugh, that Abi – she is so self indulgent and she is such a massive over sharer” and those people are entitled to their opinions but respectfully, those people can also fuck right off).
I’m writing about this because I know that if I felt this way and felt so entirely alone during that time, maybe there’s someone else who feels like that too. Maybe there’s someone who also feels like they can’t talk to anyone about how they’re really feeling, who can feel the weight on their chest growing and the panic in their stomach rising and the sheer overwhelming size of everything pushing them down. Maybe there’s someone who just wants to know that they are not the only person who ever felt like that. I’m writing this to let them know that it is OK to talk about how they feel and that it is not as scary as you think it’s going to be once you start.
I’m very hard on myself. I don’t think I realised how hard I am on myself until the last few months. If something goes wrong, whether it’s within my control or not, I feel like it’s my failure. Once that happens, that damn little voice in my head tells me that means I am a failure. I’m an intelligent person and academically, I know that’s not true. I know that even though I have a bunch of “you should have…” sentences in my head, even though society’s bizarre levels of acceptable life progression dictates that I should have achieved certain things by the age of 26, these are not necessary truths of life. But that’s not how it feels in that moment.
I read a really good article recently that advised we shouldn’t compare our inside lives to other people’s outside lives. In other words, what we show on social media or tell our friends is not always true to what is going on inside our heads. So why assume that’s what everyone else is doing?
I thought about it and realised that I frequently look at my friends and think how together they have it, how happy they must be, how happy I would be if I had something like what they have.
I’m 26, I’m single, I don’t have a set career going, I have 2 degrees that seem to be predominantly useless when it comes to getting a job, I’m always broke because I live from payday to payday and although I know I want to be a writer, I don’t know exactly how I want to be a writer and I don’t push myself to put my work out there. At times that feels pretty pathetic and for the last few months I’ve felt ashamed of my life choices, of who I think I am.
I’m 26. That’s young.
I’m single – that means I’m free and unattached and only one step away from meeting someone that might be excellent. I’m always in a position to make new friends without complications and I can basically up sticks and travel whenever I want because I have no one else to think about in that regard. That’s not sad, that’s liberating.
I don’t have a set career going, but that’s because I’m pursuing my dream and that takes time. I want to be a writer and I haven’t sent loads of work out to people…yet. I still can. There’s nothing stopping me but me. I don’t push myself, but I can and will because I’ve realised that now. All I have to do is sit down and do it. It’s OK if I don’t immediately succeed. I highly respect those who have worked hard for their success and I would be honoured to one day be counted among their ranks.
I have 2 degrees because I love learning. I learned about books and theatre and those are things that make me happy and fulfilled my thirst for that knowledge. I then learned how to be a better writer and that might not immediately serve me well as a career move but it’s a step towards making me better at a craft that I not only love, but need. I would do another degree in something equally career-useless if it made me happy and if it was what I wanted to learn about.
I’m always broke…well let’s not run before we can walk. Maybe one day I’ll get better with money. But I might never be rich and that’s OK. Money isn’t what makes me happy. That’s not a bad thing. I fricking hate money! I don’t really want to be one of those people who is only motivated by money.
I still think a lot of my friends have an awful lot and are lucky. There is a part of me that envies my friends who are able to go to a stable, office job every day. My brain just doesn’t work like that and I’ve tried, but I can’t do it. But I don’t envy them their jobs. And I try very hard not to envy the happiness they have with a partner. It’s hard, because I want that and might not have it for years and there’s nothing more lonely than being the only single one in your group of friends, surrounded by the romantic happiness or contentment of others. But that’s OK. I’m slowly making my peace with that. Don’t get me wrong, feeling lonely is really shit. And sometimes it will get the better of me. But that’s OK too. Because I hope that I’ll win the majority of those little voice in my head battles.
It’s OK that I am not yet where I think I want to be. It’s OK that I’m not sure what I want or how to go and get it. It’s OK that I’m not sure what or who I want to commit to. It’s OK that I’m still building up the confidence to take risks and allow myself to be vulnerable in different areas of my life. All of these things that might feel like negatives are actually fine. I don’t need to keep justifying myself to the expectations of others. And neither do you. Conventions aren’t necessarily good things.
There may well be entire months in the future, like the last 3 months, where I am unable to see anything positive, where I sink and feel like I’m drowning, not because I don’t want to swim but because I can’t remember how. But right now I know that I am very lucky because my friends and family were incredibly patient with me. No one shouted at me for cancelling on them even at the last minute. No one abandoned me because I was sad. Even in moments where I was terrible company, the people that I love and trust stuck around. I don’t know why I think they won’t. I would do the same for them.
And that’s something that’s really important to remember – these are people that you love and trust, that in some cases you’ve loved and trusted for years. These are people who turn to you when they’re in crisis. If you are able to tell them that you’re in crisis, you absolutely should. I can’t guarantee it, because I don’t know your people, but I would bet all the money I have and triple the amount that I’m in debt (that is so much money guys, you don’t even know) that however you imagine them reacting, that’s not how it’s going to go down.
I received more love and compassion and kindness than I ever would have imagined and I am exceptionally grateful for that. The friends and family that allowed me to work through the last few months in my own time, with all the stumbling blocks and tears and difficulties…those are the people I want to keep around. Those are the people who make me feel very, very lucky.
So maybe this isn’t so far away from the post I wanted to write after all. OK, for this week of Passover I have to think about every stupid morsel that goes into my mouth (insert rude joke here) and I may feel full but I will feel entirely dissatisfied after almost every meal. Breakfast has to be some kind of magic trick every day and the toothpaste is weird so my teeth never feel properly clean and my God if you ever need to combat diarrhoea eat a couple of matzahs and you’ll be sorted for at least 3 days. Seriously, it’s like swallowing a cork. This week, what I don’t have is the food I like and I’m used to or the freedom to eat said food, even though this whole stupid festival is about having freedom in the first place.
But I do have a huge amount of other things and for those I am extremely grateful.
I hope that this wasn’t too preachy and that it encourages people to talk about things to someone if they feel as unbearably low as I did until about 2-3 weeks ago. If you can’t talk to a friend or family member there are lots of wonderful organisations that have freephone numbers and take calls at any hour of the day or night.
Chag kasher v’sameach (happy Passover) and happy Easter to all. If you don’t celebrate either of these, enjoy the days off work.
It’s not Mental Health Awareness week. It’s just January 24th 2015. It’s Saturday. Today is not significant.
I’m on the tube and it’s not very crowded. I move towards the middle bank of seats. As I get on, I hear a high pitched noise being emitted from the bank of seats to my left. I sit down. As I do, a man moves from that side to the seats on my right.
I look to my left to see who made the noise. I can’t tell. It could have been any of the 5 people there I can see. I get out my book. I hear the noise again.
I look. I can’t tell who it is.
We get to the next stop. Someone sits down near whoever is making the occasional strange noise.
Another person moves away from those seats.
Finally I see the guy making the noises. They vary from groaning and a sort of heaving sound to woops and shrieks. He’s youngish I think, curly brown hair, pale skin, kind of a big mouth, open face.
I get panic attacks on the tube. Almost every panic attack I’ve ever had has been on the underground. They feel completely random. Maybe they’re linked to stress levels but I can’t consciously tell. It’s horrific when it happens. I get sweaty and hot and I feel like I’m going to pass out or maybe die. My heart pumps faster, I shake, I can’t breathe. It’s like my whole body descends into mayhem for literally no discernible reason. And the fact that there’s no reason doesn’t make it better. It makes it worse. Because I want to rationalise it but I can’t. I can’t explain it to myself or anyone else.
And when I’ve had panic attacks, when I’m shaking and sweating and pale and clearly not ok, mostly no one says a word to me. Twice people have offered help. But one time I’d already fainted so I’m not sure it counts. And I’ve had significantly more than 2 panic attacks on the underground. But I’m not having one today.
So it’s Saturday and I’m on the tube and a third person has moved away from this guy and all I can think is that for every person who moves away from him, I want to move closer. I don’t know his mental state. I don’t know how much he comprehends of the people moving. Does he know they’re moving away from him? He might have Tourette’s and have perfect comprehension of what’s going on around him but find himself unbearably trapped behind tics and noises and overwhelming compulsions. Or he might have something much more serious than that and not have any idea that the people on the train are made so uncomfortable by his presence.
Why is it so uncomfortable? Why have we cultivated this culture where we run away from someone who is different, feeling tense and scared until we walk away to sit two blocks of seats down the carriage where we can breathe a sigh of relief?
I think about it and I wonder if I feel uncomfortable. I don’t think I do.
I think about the people I know who struggle with depression, anxiety, addiction, mania, anorexia, low self esteem…I think about what they look like when you can see those things manifesting themselves and I think about when you can’t. Arguably, that’s more sinister. Because you never really know if someone is OK or not. We have no idea what’s going on behind the faces of all those people we see every day. The ones we talk to and the ones we don’t. But mental illnesses and struggles are not contagious. Why are we so scared when we see them? What instinct is it that tells us to be afraid?
I wonder if it’s because they’re too different to how people see themselves. We are, as a species, notoriously afraid of things that are “other”. Or maybe it’s the opposite – maybe they’re too close and people are afraid that if they look they’ll recognise all too clearly what they see. Perhaps it’s too painful to admit that the guy we call crazy is only one bad day, one life step, one change away from where we are.
There are things that I really don’t like. I don’t like sick, for example. If you’re puking, I’m not going to hold your hair. A 3 year old kid I was looking after had his first ever puking experience from a stomach bug, and when I told my sister about it I said “I was really good and only leapt away from him twice.” She said she was proud, but only after she’d laughed at me. I know why I don’t like sick. It smells bad and it comes from inside you and I have a visceral reaction to it that makes me feel like I’m going to be sick too. Maybe fear of mental illness is the same as that? I don’t know.
It’s a bit more crowded now. I move a few seats closer. Just in case. But by the time I’ve moved through the people and sat down again I realise he’s gone.
I wish I’d had the conviction to move closer more quickly. I wish that I moved when the first person did, not after the third. I wish for him not to have anything too serious, but I also wish that he doesn’t know that he’s the reason people moved on the train.
I’m not afraid of other people’s problems when I’m OK. I’m afraid that there’ll be no one to help me when I’m struggling. I’m afraid of people turning away because I’m sad and can’t make myself be happy and they don’t want to see me when I’m feeling like that. I’m afraid of becoming disconnected from everyone because they’re scared of me. I’m scared of being the person people move away from and I’m terrified of not understanding why I’ve been left alone.
I hope that if I’m in a situation like this again that I can act with kindness, that I can look at the person, whatever his or her struggle, without staring but without seeing through them, like I’d look at any stranger. I hope that I can smile at them without it being forced or patronising. Like I’d smile at any stranger. I hope that I can manage not to define people by the struggles they face, internal or external. I wish, perhaps naïvely, for a society in which, when we see people struggling we move closer to them to help, motivated by compassion, not closing our eyes or running further away because we’re inexplicably afraid.
The ever-important context bit – I’m allergic to alcohol. It comes up a lot as a conversation topic because we live in a culture where drinking is a huge part of socialising and people get weird when you tell them you really won’t be having even one drink. It comes up a lot on dates because we rely on alcohol to loosen us up and get through that initial god-help-me-this-is-so-fricking-awkward-why-won’t-it-end stage. I went on a first date with a guy and the not drinking thing came up.
The next day I got these messages, apropos of nothing. We weren’t chatting about my socially unacceptable allergy, just out of the blue this arrived:
For those of you wondering what comes after what the size of my iPhone screen allows in one shot, that last message reads:
Now slow down with all this rape talk. Its putting me off a bit….It’s totally not rape if you agree to drink it.
Unsurprisingly we haven’t been on a second date.
(Side note: At this point I ask you to excuse my misspelling of rohypnol. It’s not a word the iPhone likes, whichever way you spell it and I wasn’t really focused on that element of the conversation. That being said, grammar and spelling are always important.)
So this was December 23rd and I’ve been thinking about it since then. Wondering whether what I said was enough, if I should further explain why I feel so strongly about the situation. I’ve gone over and over it, wondering if I’m making too much of a stupid comment, doubting my gut instincts and then wondering why I’m tarring myself with the “hysterical woman” brush I hate so much. So before I change my mind, I’d like to speak it.
If I were brave enough, if I thought it would do any good, if I thought it would change anything, this is what I’d like to say:
I wanted to talk to you about the last time we chatted. I thought about doing it at the time, but I didn’t think I’d say the right things and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to say anything at all or if I would be wasting my time.
I don’t know why you thought it was OK to make a rape joke. We even had a conversation on our date about how a guy had made rape jokes on a previous first date I’d been on and how unacceptable I found it and how it was weird and a turn off for me. So that’s why I thought you just didn’t want to see me again and said “if you didn’t want to see me again you could have just said so.” Because I couldn’t think of a reason why you would decide that was a good line of conversation, why you would think that after making those jokes, I’d want to see you again.
Aside from that, there’s the much more important fact that you don’t really know me. Let’s be clear – I don’t have a blanket ban on joke topics. Adrienne Truscott had a whole hour of jokes about rape, naked, and did it so brilliantly, making such a blatantly necessary point that she won an award for it.
But you met me once. You don’t know me. You don’t know what might have happened to me and yes that’s true of everything before you know someone and you could put your foot in it with anything…but rape? Really? I made it pretty clear that I wasn’t finding it funny but you kept going with it anyway. And maybe I’m reading too much into things, but why choose to ask me if I’m allergic to rohypnol – a drug pretty much entirely known for its use for rape? Why not any of the other hundreds of drugs you could have chosen that don’t have rape connotations?
I don’t think anything is off limits to joke about on a stage providing it is done to make a point, with at least some semblance of an original take and in the right way. I also think this no limits thing applies to long-standing couples or old friends who know each other well enough to understand what issues really mean to each other. Context is everything right? But you continuing to make light of the idea of raping me after I’d clearly expressed discomfort…? Somewhat aptly, forcing the joke on me anyway? To me that is horrible and insensitive at best.
That’s really not a great best.
You seemed kind of OK when we met and maybe it was just a bad judgment call on your part. But even when you apologised you just said you were “sorry for making me feel uncomfortable”…but you didn’t say you were sorry for making jokes about raping me. Like the problem is me being upset, not you making the joke. Just another woman overreacting to a harmless joke about rape right?
No. Not right. I’m not overreacting and it isn’t harmless. Because it’s indicative of a wider attitude, that these things are totally fine to casually joke about in any context. And to me at least, it’s indicative of what might be at your core. Do you also make racist jokes? How about the occasional homophobic pop? I’m speculating of course, but suddenly these things that I loathe, these ideas that stand against equality, that silence people or belittle them or their experiences, their very real, hateful and violating experiences…they’re brought into the light and mocked and I have to tell you, they’re not funny. Rape is not funny. And your apology isn’t good enough.
What you should be apologising for is the fact that you persisted with a line of conversation that went beyond disrespectful and became creepy, bordering on threatening. What you should be apologising for is your attitude to something that is a horrible ordeal, that more women (and occasionally men) face than should ever have to. Oh, what’s that? It was “obviously a joke”?
Of course! Because the way to make me laugh is to talk about a horrific violation that you could commit if only I’d agree to take rohypnol. You’re right. That is just *hilarious*.
Someone pointed out to me that you clearly have no actual intention to rape me. I know that. I’m not an idiot. It was a bad joke in poor taste. But we let casual racism slide and incrementally, without us noticing, it becomes racism. We let casual sexism slide and slowly, without us noticing, it is sexism. We let jokes about rape slide and I dread to think what they actually become.
There were 22,116 recorded rapes in England and Wales from June 2013 – June 2014. This is 29% higher than the year before, despite a general fall in crime by approximately 16%. This could well be down to people feeling more able to come forward and report that they’ve been a victim of rape, but that’s still a shocking statistic. And those are just the ones that are reported. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29642455)
In 2005 the U.S. Department of Justice conducted a study called the National Crime Victimization Study. The results showed that approximately 2/3 of victims / survivors (however you want to think of it) of rape knew the rapist.
My worry is that maybe you’re the kind of person who one day won’t take no for an answer, who’ll think that some women are asking for it, who victim blames and who thinks casually misogynistic thoughts and secretly (or not so secretly) believes those thoughts to be true. My concern is that if we were together you’d expect me to put out when you want it even if I don’t, you’d ignore it when I’m uncomfortable because it suits you. You’d apologise for how I feel, not what you’ve said or done. You won’t open your mind and reevaluate your opinions or why you have them. You won’t question the effect society and ingrained attitudes to women have on you. You won’t ever fully respect me or how I might feel about something.
You said something on our date that made that ringing alarm bell thing happen for me. You said that women are physically built less funny than men. I don’t think that’s true because boobs are clearly hilarious and also because it’s a ridiculous thing to say as a generalisation. Ultimately there are lots of reasons why you might try to veil your “women aren’t as funny as men” opinions when faced with a feminist woman who does comedy. But I guess that conversation should have tipped me off. In at least one societally reinforced area, you think women are less able than men. In your eyes that must make us less than men. And that means you won’t respect us as much as you should. You’ll be surprised when we succeed but not pleasantly. You’ll enjoy it less – not more – because it proves you wrong.
I’ve done that thing that I do where I’ve over analysed something someone has done. I know that. But my gut instincts are pretty good about people and they’re telling me I’m onto something here. I can’t ignore that. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could comfortably see you again. Because you made a rape joke at my expense. Because you showed something true about yourself when you thought it was safe. Because you made it not safe for me.
So for future reference: rape jokes? Not OK. Apologies? Need sincerity. And women? Women are your equals and deserve your respect. It shouldn’t have to be said. It shouldn’t be allowed to slip under the radar and it hasn’t slipped under mine. You’re 35. You have no excuse. Grow up and start treating us better.
Initial reactions to Emma Watson’s #HeForShe launch speech at the UN Conference last week were fairly positive. Then a bunch of 4chan lowlives threatened to leak naked photos of her and made a countdown to her death (whether that was meant as a metaphorical death like the death of her reputation or as a real thing is unclear. Either way it was shamefully horrible, creepy and nasty) and support for Watson and the campaign soared.
For the record, I support the campaign and think it is a positive step in the right direction for achieving gender equality.
Main Point / Argument:
A friend of mine told me she was disappointed because she watched the speech after seeing it hyped up and shared a lot on Facebook but expected more from it. I agree with her assessment – the speech was good but not the most rousing, amazing thing I’ve ever seen. But here’s why I think that’s ok: it didn’t need to be. It wasn’t meant for me. It wasn’t meant for my friend either. It wasn’t a speech for the interested and engaged feminist. It wasn’t really a speech meant for women at all. It was relatively mild and it was measured and it didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. It wasn’t that inspiring to us female-women-lady-folk because it wasn’t aimed at us in the first place. It was a speech for men. It was an introduction to feminism for men, particularly men who are afraid or ignorant of it. It was a baby step for those who cannot yet confidently walk in feminism’s equality based corridors. And it was exactly right to be so.
A lot of people seem to think the campaign sends the wrong message, but we’re painfully naïve if we think everything will change in a day or with one campaign. The message the #HeForShe campaign sends is not that it’s a boys’ club at all, rather that it’s a boy’s way in to a girls’ club – very much a reversal of the stereotypes we’re used to (also check out my navigation of that complex, correct apostrophe usage. All hail good grammar! God I hope I got it right.) Historically, the boy version of a club comes first and the girls are allowed in later via a sometimes patronising, watered down version, e.g. scouts and brownies. This campaign is a magnificent idea. It’s providing an entry point (snigger) for men into feminism.
This is not about giving feminism legitimacy by asking the men to be in it. This is about demystifying feminism so they stop being afraid of it. It’s not a perfect version of the message nor a perfect message, but hey, guys? News just in: it’s not a perfect world. The same aforementioned intelligent, feminist, woman friend of mine who was disappointed by the speech said:
“It shouldn’t be about their mothers and daughters and wives and sisters. They should just understand that we’re equal humans and that should be enough to make them feminists.”
And she’s right. It should be enough that we’re people, and to treat us with anything but equality is mistreatment. But it’s not like that. It has been demonstrated time and again throughout history across the world that it is not enough. And all the “but it should be” in the world doesn’t seem to change that.
So we have to take our strategy back a few steps and think practically.
Perceived gripes / problems / some true things:
*Yes. The campaign is a fair bit behind where a lot of thinking women are today.
*Yes. The campaign is being marketed for men – something that seems counterintuitive for a movement that is about equality for women.
*Yes. It absolutely sucks that we apparently cannot effect the change we want on our own, that for there to be progression we must have male support.
Or we could look at it this way:
*If you’re one of those thinking women then, yay and congratulations, not everyone is as smart as you. You’re a progressive thinker, ahead of the curve, you’re correct and the bloody UN says so! Hooray for you!! You believe we should all be equal because we’re human regardless of gender, race, religion or culture – and so with this knowledge and human understanding and international support, you have the power to educate and do good things. So be active, make a difference and use it wisely.
*The campaign is being marketed for men because they’re behind. They’re the ones who need to catch up. The male marketing isn’t a negative, it’s a positive. We’re making it accessible. It’s being marketed to the feminist minority. Isn’t that kind of amazing? Plus I remember reading about a psychological study years ago (apology for lack of reference – it was in a psychology magazine from maybe 2009, so literally years ago) that posited that if a woman tells her friend that she thinks a man is good looking, the friend won’t necessarily also think this man is attractive. But if a man tells his friend that a woman is good looking, his friend is likely to agree with him and they all go “yeah mate she’s well fit” together. The upshot of this was a conclusion about group mentality and how men are more likely to agree with each other about good ideas and attractive people. So if men are more likely to do that, doesn’t it make sense to get a big group of them into feminism so more of them see it as a good idea and follow suit?
*Political campaigns know full well they need the female vote as well as the male vote to win. This is like that. Feminism is the presidential candidate and so we have to get the male vote as well as the female vote, because men are also people and we need and want them on our side because we’re the good guys and why would we not welcome more good guys? We want to win. So let’s get more good guys on board.
Feminism is not about isolating ourselves or elevating ourselves to so far above men that they feel they cannot reach us. Feminism is about equality. For women. And, by definition of equality, also for men. It’s about equality between the genders / sexes. And we need both of those binary bastards to be on board if it’s going to work.
This is a campaign to raise awareness. It’s not for you – the one who is already aware. It’s not for you because you’re already there. You’re already involved by the virtue of being female and thinking and feminist and we’re not just preaching to the choir now. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be the minority asking for equality but then complain when we’re treated like the majority. We started this club. And now we’re opening the doors to new members. If you’re already a member there’s no need to reapply.
I’m terrible at maths and I’m slightly scared of it. I couldn’t attend a degree level maths class and I wouldn’t want to. Furthermore, if someone invited me into a beginners maths class and I saw on the sign up sheet that loads of experts were going to be there I’d be terrified and embarrassed by my lack of knowledge and would probably be put off signing up. We learn gradually. We don’t jump in at the deep end of knowledge. We can’t expect to effect change and teach people about feminism if we’re not willing to give them the time to learn. It’s not patronising, it’s understanding. And yes, we may be impatient for them to catch up but we have only just properly, publicly asked them to join. We’re trying to overturn an ingrained mentality that has been present for most of humanity’s existence. Old habits die hard and this – prejudice – is one of the oldest habits around. Give the newbies a chance. Because sadly, it’s not enough that we’re all human and deserve equality.
So here’s what I suggest to my fellow wonderful, intelligent, feminist women: be happy that we’re on an internationally, publicly supported road to achieving gender equality. Realign your expectations of this campaign. Stop thinking about it in terms of what belongs to you. Feminism / equality is for everyone. And in lieu of being able to sign up on the website for yourself, ask a man you know to sign up (link provided below) and educate him. Open the door, welcome a new member to the club, share the knowledge and help the world change to be better.
Gentlemen! Sign up here: