I have always struggled with these kinds of questions. I literally have no clue how other people perceive me. My usual answer to these questions is “quiet, a bit weird” or “laid-back, friendly?”.
I recently did an art piece using words to describe me, words that I had come up with and words I had asked other about. When it was finished I was pleased that I had come up with so many words, and I started going through them, but I realised that whilst the words written in front of me did in fact describe me, they could also describe billions of other people on the planet. Yes I was looking at an accurate description of myself, but not one that anyone would look at and guess immediately, “That’s got to be “L”!”.
So what would make someone say that? What could I put onto paper, that wasn’t a picture of myself, that would make someone say, “That’s you, definitely you.”
Is that what makes us, us? The bits in the middle, the bits that don’t seem important but that are unique to you.
I sat staring at it, feeling deflated, and wondering what I was missing. What was I?!
I am a girl woman who refers to herself as a girl when she really isn’t one anymore.
I am a woman who traces facial features, clothing hems and outlines, signs, traffic, and subtitled punctuation with her thumb obsessively, constantly and unconsciously.
I am a woman who drinks weak black decaf coffee and strong green tea. I drink weak gin and tonics and strong commercial beer.
I am full of regret and sadness.
I am full of hope and ideas.
I am a disillusioned Disney Princess who likes a drink.
I am a childless mother.
I am a walking existential crisis.
I am a health conscious smoker.
I am a workshy workaholic.
I am a depressed therapist.
I am the socially awkward life of the party.
I am a walking fucking contradiction, and I still don’t know if any of this is something people would read and say, that’s “L” right there.
What do you think constitutes as making someone “Who they are”?
This is a real bug bear of mine. My tattoos are not for touching. I have tattoos on my back, and today the dress that I am wearing shows some of them. It is not a low cut dress, it simply shows a little more of the back of my shoulders than a cardboard box might. Someone at work approached me and touched one of my tattoos with their finger and said “Ooh what’s that?”.
The fact that my dress may reveal what is below is not an invitation to touch me, nor is the very ink I choose to put on my skin. People have said to me in the past, “Well you put them there, you obviously want them to be looked at.”
I do want them to be looked at…. by me!!
Incredibly, despite me being a woman, I am not put on this earth to appeal to others. My physical attributes, appearance and general being is not for others. I do not choose to dress for others to look at. I do not choose to tattoo my body for others to look at. I don’t want to be touched by random people, who think that because there is something pretty on my skin, it must be ok for them to touch it. It is an incredibly disconcerting feeling to be touched suddenly, on your bare skin, and especially in a place not many people touch, like the centre of your back.
The “touchable” tattoo and dress
Don’t get me started on people who ask me “What does it mean? What does that one mean? Does it mean something to you?” The meaning is for me, not for you. I get people “informing” me, “You are inviting people to touch and ask by putting them on your body.”
No, I am not. No woman is ever inviting you to touch, discuss, or enquire about their body unless they specifically tell you they are doing so, or tell you it is ok. If you receive from me a sparkly envelope with a beautiful invitation inside, proclaiming that I feel comfortable enough being intimate with you to have you touch me, then you may do so. If you do not receive this in the post, you may not.
It still amazes me everyday, the trouble that people have with consent and women’s bodies. I could go on for hours, but I don’t have time, I am sneakily writing this at work whilst my blood boils.
Perhaps tomorrow I will wear something that shows as many tattoos as possible, and every time someone approaches me about them I will bark like a rabid terrier until they leave me alone. Somehow, I still don’t think they would understand….
We all know mansplaining is a thing. Chances are everyone has been mansplained at some point in their lives (yes even men get mansplained, I watch it happen to my O.H.), but the facts are women get mansplained at a lot more often, and with more ferocity.
Well, yesterday I got mansplained at, and I acted shamefully. I smiled and agreed with him. I was so angry at myself afterwards. I thought I was angry with him (I was!), but I realised that I was more angry with myself than anything, for not setting him straight. But my genuine reaction in the moment was…..”I can’t be arsed, it’s not worth it”.
“It’s not worth having this conversation. It’s not worth arguing with this guy who is so clearly cock-sure in his limited (and wrong) knowledge. I just want to finish making my coffee, I don’t want a weird tense thing happening at work with this large intimidating, socially angry man.”
What happened was this: Somehow in an awkward, small talk situation around the kettle, the subject of my being a vegetarian came up. I said to him that I had been a vegetarian since I was a baby, as my family were vegetarians, (read, this is not a passing phase).
He mentioned that that was ok, because at least I could eat fish. I said that no, I could not and did not eat fish. He said “Ah, so you’re actually more a vegan than vegetarian.”
In my life, I have encountered this a lot. I always get asked if I eat fish. No I do not. I am a vegetarian. I do not eat fish. “Some vegetarians do.” No they don’t. Pescatarians eat fish. Vegetarians do not. If a vegetarian eats a fish, they are no longer a vegetarian are they? It is quite a simple, black and white matter. You do not get vegetarians that “sometimes” eat bacon. You do not get vegans that “sometimes” eat cheese. You do not get vegetarians that “sometimes” eat fish.
I smiled at him in the end and said “Yeah, I guess so” because his insistence that he knew more about the issue than me was frankly quite intimidating. He is a least a foot taller than me and largely built, and has a tendency to undermine women at any given opportunity, so I acquiesced.
But I felt angry, angry that I had backed down, angry that I had allowed myself to be intimidated and angry that I felt powerless to do anything in the situation.
It was a trivial matter, but to have someone insisting that you are something you are not, to the point where they want to hear you say it back to them, to validate the fact that they are right and you are wrong, is a weird and unsettling experience.
I haven’t written for so long, and I recently came across some articles I had written years ago that floored me. I couldn’t believe how eloquent I sounded. They were professional sounding articles, and I could scarcely believe that I had written them. One of them, a scientific report, was gibberish to me! I had a vague idea of what I was talking about, and I remembered doing the article, but a lot of it went over my head. I remember that it didn’t take long to write, and as I sat there reading, I was filled with a sense of longing. I enjoy writing so much, there is something wonderful to me about the keys tapping away, keeping in time with my thoughts, or the pages of a notebook getting filled, marked and wrinkled.
So I decided to create this blog. This blog is not a professional space, I have a (neglected) blog for professional work, this is just for me. To write about what I want, to write nonsense sometimes, but to let the fingers roam free as the thoughts come pouring out.
So I have mentioned to a few people that I have started a new blog, and that I am looking forward to getting back into writing again. I sent the link to a few people and asked for input on colours, layout etc.
What came back to me was all very positive and nice, but one thing kept reoccurring – “Don’t get too personal will you?” “Make it sound a bit more professional”.
Whilst I get where my loved ones are coming from, I don’t want this to be a professional blog. In fact, quite the opposite. I WANT this blog to display my flaws, dodgy grammar, typos, undesirables, emotions and imperfections.
I have a professional blog, where I double check my work, make sure it sounds right and perhaps go through two or three drafts before it gets posted.
This I want to be an out-pouring of words. A stream of consciousness. I have ideas that I would like to implement, I quite fancy interviewing some people, I quite fancy doing a few weekly fun things, but these things are 1) For me, and 2) For everyone else.
I am bound and constricted by society, to be something I am not. In my work I have to talk a certain way, behave a certain way, that does not come naturally to me. I have to remove my piercings, cover up all of my tattoos, and hide the shaved part of my head, by wearing my hair over it. I cannot dress how I want, but instead have trawled through charity shops looking for boring work clothes that won’t make me happy, but that I have to spend money on anyway. I cannot be myself around these people, there is a constant message of “Your natural appearance and being is offensive to us, please disguise it”. Now it might not sound like much to some of you, but I assure you it is exhausting.
I have found myself, in so many roles, not just work related, being bound by limitations that I have not imposed, and I find I rarely have a chance to just be me. Having a mental health issue, I spend a lot of the time trying to downplay, or cover this, which is exhausting.
So this blog is just for me. And hopefully for other people to read and enjoy too. All the flaws, mess, beauty, complication, complexity and wondrousness that makes me, me.
Ever lie awake at night thinking about the times you put your foot in your mouth big time?
Ever lie awake at night wondering why you don’t learn your bloody lesson and keep your mouth shut?
It is hard enough living with anxiety, social awkwardness, undiagnosed “but we all know full well what it is” mental health issues, without making things worse by saying the wrong things at the wrong time.
Sometimes I don’t know I’ve said them, which makes me feel weird. To me something might be perfectly logical, and make sense, but others react with “*GASP* I can’t believe you said that” or even worse still when they just gasp and say my name incredulously. That just makes me feel bad! I wish people would point out the exact thing that was inappropriate and tell me why so I can avoid making similar mistakes.
Recent example – my new boss (I started this job in January) is pregnant. She announced this recently via email. I congratulated her via email, “congratulations :)”, and left it at that. She then, later that day, came back to the office I was working in. After a while I realised that it was probably the done thing to mention it again. So I went into her office and said “So, having a baby! Wow. Was it a happy accident or were you planning it?”
To my boss’s credit, she smiled and said a bit of both, but apparently this was not the right thing to say. I had mentioned it in passing to someone, who started peeing themselves laughing, and said “I can’t believe you said that, that’s hilarious”. Confused, I smiled and said “Mmm”, wondering what was so hilarious about it. So I told a few other people what I had said, and got the same reaction from all of them, although not all of them peed themselves laughing.
Now, what was wrong with what I said? It was a valid question. Only 55% of pregnancies in the UK are planned. I myself was an accident. Two other of my 3 siblings were accident, so that means out of the four of us, only one was planned. So I thought it was perfectly valid to ask that. Obviously not! If any of you can explain the gentler side of human interaction beyond the “she’s going to be excited to have a baby, you can’t ask her that”, please feel free to do so in the comments.
Other times, I know pretty much as soon as it has come out of my mouth that it wasn’t a good thing, and that it is now going to make things awkward.
A few minutes ago, one of the partners of the firm came up to me at my desk, and asked me about a mutual acquaintance of ours. I put my foot in it massively, and now am convinced that he thinks I am some sort of idiot, and is going to stop all his attempts at small talk with me, (which I would be secretly grateful for!).
Write me off as socially useless, and chuck me in the bin, I am so done!
There is a reason I live alone with a cat, and share my weekends with my equally socially awkward O.H. We can be as awkward as we want in our own home.
I have suffered from Panic Attacks since I was 15, and I was an anxious kid before that. My first Panic Attack was terrifying, I thought I was dying. I got rushed to the hospital, where they dismissed me because I told them that, at the time, I sometimes smoked pot. My Panic Attack had nothing to do with the pot that I sometimes smoked, but in less than 30 seconds I was out of the room and on my arse outside the hospital, still feeling like I was dying, but crying on top of everything else. I only smoked pot for a year or so, before quitting, but the Panic Attacks remained. I discovered that they ran in my family, and that family members were referred to as “suffering with their nerves”. Then one day I had a biggie, that made my first one look like a mere wobble. It was horrible, I didn’t know what to do, or what was happening.
Since that day, I have spent a significant portion of my life investigating, studying and researching Panic Attacks. I was determined to find a way to stop them, cure them or at least manage them. They have come and go throughout my life, currently, I haven’t had one in what must be a couple of years, which feels amazing, and speaking about them now is like trying to remember a nightmare once you’ve been awake for 30 minutes.
There have been times in my life, however, where I haven’t been able to sit on my couch at home and just be, because everyday is just one long prolonged Panic Attack, and after months of this, you are so exhausted that you end up at the out of hours doctors at the hospital at 2am, going out of your mind, pacing, willing time to stop, wishing you could go to sleep, but at the same time not wanting to miss a second of anything because you can barely trust your own senses and you have to be on high alert.
After one such trip to the hospital at 2am I was in the cab on my way home, having been turned away again for having “nothing wrong with me”, and I was suddenly done. I couldn’t take another person telling me there was nothing wrong, when my brain was lit up like a Christmas tree, and every day was an agonising, terrifying 24hours of misery and madness, when I was sobbing on the phone to the Samaritans outside a church somewhere, because I couldn’t be at home and I had nowhere to go. When I realised that I had been sat outside that church for hours, not moving, and wasn’t sure what time it was, or what I was even doing there. You can’t tell me that there’s “nothing wrong”. People who have nothing wrong with them, don’t often act like that.
So that night I went home and, as I always did, threw the sleeping pill they insisted I take with me in the bin, and sat on the internet for the rest of the night. I googled my fingers to the bone, determined to find someone out there who knew what was happening to me, or who could relate. I found a man from The Netherlands, who had had similar experiences to me. He too had had a moment where he realised that no-one was listening to him, and if he wanted to get anywhere, he was going to have to do it himself.
He taught me about the fight or flight response, how what my brain was doing was perfectly natural, just a bit misguided. He taught me how to handle things better, how to prevent one, once it had started happening, and how to regain control of my life.
And now, sitting here, they are like a distant nightmare. I know I will have one again, and I know there is no cure, but I am so glad that I found people on the internet, who knew what I was going through. They saved me and did more for me than any medical professional had even tried to do. I don’t want be negative about the doctors, but not one of them ever listened to me. They would look at my vital signs, conclude that I was fine, and send me on my way, their job being done.
I urge anyone, whoever experiences something that they are getting no help with, to find an online community. In the 21st century, finding solace in online members is as common as having physical people in your corner, but you just might find a bit more understanding.
It can be difficult, when you are cooped up in an office, doing work that is uninspiring, to find motivation and inspiration. It is hard to maintain an ignited flame, with the stifling, stuffy office environment suffocating it. In times like this, where I feel my soul being sapped away with the tapping of the keyboard, I look to other people for inspiration. I sneak off for a quick 5 minute phone break, and devour stories of women achieving, their utter bad-assery, against the odds, doing what they believe in, making a difference. Not always women, but their stories are somehow greater to me.
It is people like this that can re-ignite that flame. People who’s own flames are burning brightly, they light up that stuffy, suffocating darkness, and call to your inner flame, willing it to be relit, willing you to get up and do something. Sometimes I feel as though my creativity has up and left and may never come back, but I know that it just needs nurturing, encouraging and letting out.
I often talk about feeling like a caged animal. Stuck inside a building all day, stuck at my desk all day, frowned upon for leaving it, maintaining an unnatural posture to prevent posture problems when I am older, nothing about my working day is natural. I feel as though my creativity comes from that natural place within, so it is no wonder it feels stifled and trapped, unable to burst free and express itself.
I feel tempted to start a creative meetup, where all people from all walks of life can meet and bounce off one another, allowing the creativity to zoom about the place igniting all the flames that struggle to keep burning through the dogmatic ideas of modern life, working to live, in order that you can die with no debt to your name. We are born into a debt, that we spend the rest of our lives paying off, and at what cost. Who might we all have been if we hadn’t been forced to forgo creativity and concentrate on bill paying?
I should try and do one creative thing each day, no matter how small, as long as I have totally devoted myself to doing it, and let my creativity free. I’ll post each day, my little thing, and keep the little flame burning.
In the journal entry I wrote about how I was prejudiced towards those who had prejudices. I realised that there is so much hatred in this world, I don’t want to add to the hate by hating those who may be causing pain right now. I don’t know what to feel towards them, to be honest I can’t stretch to understanding or forgiveness, but I will not add to the hatred.
Trump is the President of the United States. (Repeat again if it’s hard to say the first time round). he is going to leave a legacy, as he is now part of the history books. So let’s try and make the legacy he leaves behind a legacy of love. Let us love each other more fiercely than we did before. Let’s stand up for strangers more than we did before. Let’s not add to the hatred and the prejudice.
Living responsibly is something I am passionate about. Brought up in a less than wealthy home, I had hand me down clothes from the neighbours and was used to living frugally. It never bothered me, I never felt ashamed or less than anyone else, and it is something I have embraced in adulthood. I buy my clothes from charity shops and carboots, not because I can’t afford to shop for regular clothes, but because there are awesome things to be found! I don’t tend to follow fashion, I have my own sense of style (or lack thereof!), so normal clothing shops don’t always cater to what I want. It extends beyond clothing though, I like to reuse, re-purpose and repair. I don’t paint chairs green and sand them, I mean using old, battered clothing for dusters, or reusing packaging until it is no longer usable.
There is so much waste in our society, and whilst I may shop second hand and re-purpose a lot of things, there are still ways I could cut down.
So I have chosen that as a bit of a mission for this year. Try to reduce my waste output and try to be more conscious of what I can do to help the environment. We recycle, we try our best without putting too much thought in it, so perhaps it is time to put some more thought in it.
Here are some little ideas so start you off, if anyone is new to Living Responsibly!