(I actually wrote this for a publication – who sought me out by the way – and it was never published. Maybe it was too black for them….)
In light of the conversations around racism that are happening in the context of George Floyd’s murder by police in Minnesota, Shukri Abdi’s murder by her white classmates in Bury, UK, the disproportionate amount of COVID-19 related deaths in the UK within the ‘BAME’ community and the government’s total lack of regard for this, the murder of Belly Mujinga by a corona-infected white man, the relentless racist bullying of Megan Markle by the British tabloids, the “Karens” calling the police on Black people for just having the audacity to exist in their kinesphere (I love that word, I learnt it in A-Level Performing Arts and have striven to find any excuse to use it in a sentence ever since)… I could go on, … but anyway, my point is that in light of current events, you might see this piece as very trendy and topical.
But the phenomenon of my everyday life as a black woman is navigating racism.
I spent my entire childhood and adolescence defending my right to be challenged academically because, unbeknownst to my teachers, I could actually read and write.
I’ve spent most of my adult life laughing off racist jokes by my white friends rather than calling them out, for fear of being accused of making a scene.
I was bullied out of my last full-time job mostly just for being black (and also for being disabled).
And it’s these phenomena that I have taken into my training to become a psychotherapist. Having become sick of pandering to the needs and feelings of the white therapists I encountered as I tried to get myself back to a sane state of mind after everything fell apart for me three years ago, I decided to become the black therapist I had had to search for so long in my own time of need. At present, the only way someone like me can find a therapist of colour, who can hold me in my vulnerability safely and not need consoling by me, is privately through BAATN (the Black, African and Asian Therapy Network).
However, having to defend myself from white fragility hasn’t stopped and I encounter it each time I have to interact with people outside of my well-filtered inner circle of white friends.
For example, when interacting with my coursemates I’ve therefore become this one-dimensional cardboard cut-out of a black person. The people in my class had no idea I was queer until a few weeks into the course because I had been pinned as the strong, outspoken black woman of the group, thanks to an encounter with a racist in the VERY FIRST WEEK of classes. It was noted by one member of the group that they forget that I have epilepsy and am dealing with seizures and side-effects of medication because we are ALWAYS talking about my blackness and how it affects them, never about any other aspect of me as a person
I brought up George Floyd, Shukri Abdi, COVID-19, Belly Mujinga, Megan Markle and the ‘Karens” who have made it into the headlines (there are still so so many who lurk beneath the surface of publicity), because discussions around these seem to heavily centre on how these ‘tragic events’ exist in relation to white fragility. In the UK, many refuse to even speak about racism because it’s too painful for the feelings of white people. Perhaps if my classmates had to finally acknowledge my queerness and disability, they would also have to acknowledge that I am a human being, and perhaps that frightens them.
The otherness of our race overrides everything else about us, ignoring our intersecting identities.
I wonder how many more black and people of colour need to die before white people in general finally see us as multifaceted human beings.
The coronavirus pandemic currently has the UK (and most of the world) in lockdown, social isolation and for some, quarantine.
It seems that everybody is struggling. For those of us with disabilities and chronic health conditions however, it feels like the last straw after a lifetime of setbacks and intermittent isolation when health takes a turn for the worse.
I was eventually diagnosed in 2014 after suffering from undiagnosed focal and secondary generalised seizures for a number of years. A diagnosis meant medical treatment, however, unfortunately, medication has not been able to control my seizures. I was able to work up until three years ago when I lost my job. My physical and mental health subsequently spiralled and simultaneously became intertwined where stress, anxiety and depression triggered seizures, leaving me bed bound for days on end and feeling even more depressed and overwhelmed by loneliness.
Post-seizure, my body goes into a metaphorical state of lockdown – restricted movement and crippling migraines preventing me from leaving the house. Frequent seizures leave me in a constant state of fragmented awareness, which also makes me pretty difficult to communicate with. I’ve also lost many friends and family over the years because of my epilepsy and affected states of mood, leaving me extremely isolated at times. Nonetheless, the friends who have stuck by me, I’ve been able to stay connected with on social media. But the downside to that is being stuck at home watching the rest of the world on social media living their best lives.
So I know what it’s like to want to go outside and not be able to.
Over the past year, although medication has not been able to stop the seizures completely, it has been able to reduce them, which meant that my quality of life was beginning to improve and I was finally able to start living a life outside of my house. It was liberating.
Until the pandemic forced me into lockdown.
Imagine my despair after finally making it outside my house to being told that unfortunately, I would be moving back inside until further notice. Having asthma as well as a neurological condition meant that once again, I am being imprisoned against my will, leaving my new life behind.
And having a disability that is triggered by stress and anxiety is extremely distressing in ‘normal’ times. We are now living in very unsettling times where nobody knows how long we’ll be socially distancing for; nobody can tell us how much longer we’ll be at risk for; in fact, nobody can tell us how long we have been at risk for.
Most people who are social distancing are still able to go out for daily exercise and go to the shops, but I’m currently having at least one seizure a week which leaves me out of action for days, only for the next week to begin the cycle all over again. Which means that I’m back to living a life I’d hoped I’d left behind.
Once again social media has become my lifeline to the outside world, but a very destructive one. I’ve seen many able-bodied people outraged at the perceived “injustice” of social distancing and the lockdown.
I’ve seen able-bodied friends continuing to meet up with groups of people so that they don’t have to miss out on their Saturday night drinks and just earlier this month, a friend posted a picture of themselves on social media at a local swimming pond that had been closed following the lockdown, having climbed the gates to continue their routine morning swim. While protesting the lockdown, they were also refusing to recognise that doing so was endangering the lives of loved ones as well as strangers. As I tried to appeal to them with reasoning, they accused me of attacking them for living their life the way they chose to and were not going to be told what to do by me.
I felt betrayed.
If you can’t rely on your friends for support during a lockdown, then by golly! Who can you rely on?
To me, it feels like disabled people have been forgotten. The guidelines from the Government are very ableist: the only time vulnerable people are mentioned is when we are reminded how at risk we are. And as people continued to stockpile essential goods, leaving pleas from the government and retailers falling on death ears, I felt even more forgotten as well as frightened.
This entire situation is unfair and is a situation that affects us all, but does anybody care how it is affecting those of us who are disabled with physical and mental health conditions?
Be aware that in no way am I saying that the majority of people in the UK haven’t been forced to make sacrifices. Because they have: people have lost loved ones, jobs, homes, because of the pandemic.
However, there are a minority who choose to ignore the sacrifices that have been made and refuse to acknowledge the consequences of their selfish behaviour.
I wonder every minute of every day how long we will be stuck indoors for and I also wonder for those of us whose existing health conditions and disabilities have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, how long will we be indoors for once this is over whilst we recover? How long will it take my body to recover from these recurrent seizures once the lockdown has lifted and life returns to ‘normal’?
And seeing able-bodied people moaning about the lockdown with no regard to how it’s affecting everybody else only aggravates my condition the more.
The longer our able-bodied neighbours continue to disregard the lockdown to protect society as a whole, the longer those of us who are disabled will be stuck at home with just our conditions and frustrations to keep us company.
Perhaps I’m missing something? Maybe if I was able-bodied I would join them? But then I’m not, so how would I know?
James got out of the car and as he slammed the door shut, it was then that he saw a bunch of sunflowers on the doorstep of his house. He clenched his fists until he could feel his fingernails digging into his palms and he glowered at them, as they rested on the doorstep outside the front door, like a polite but very much unwelcomed trespasser waiting to be invited into his house. He looked down at the card, sitting audaciously amongst the petals, addressed to his wife from somebody else.
My Anna, thinking of you x
In one mighty swoop, he crouched down to grab the flowers, unlocked the crimson front door and carried them like his hostage, into the house. As he stormed through the house, his blood continued to boil, the heat searing through his tensed body.
“Who the hell was sending flowers to my wife?” he thought.
He reached the kitchen, paused at the black granite kitchen island before throwing the flowers onto it and resting his hands on the cold, smooth top; his broad and heavy shoulders rose and descended in resentment. He slammed a fist on the kitchen top, feeling no pain from the violent connection between flesh and hard surface. As the intruding floral scent hit him, he pulled his phone out of his trouser pocket and clicked on the icon with his wife’s smiling face, a spasm of pain making him grimace.
As the call went unanswered, he looked back at Anna’s face, which continued to smile tauntingly at him. The ringing on the other end eventually stopped so he ended the call before he could hear Anna’s voicemail greeting – to hear her voice would be too tormenting – and he swiftly wrote out a quick message to her:
Some guy sends his love. You better fucking call me back ASAP
He pressed send and overcome with defeat, tossed his phone onto the kitchen island, watching it slide across the gleaming surface and fall off the cliff-like edge of the other side of the island. The crash of the phone hitting the tiles, forced him out of his trance and he began to pace around the kitchen before he collapsed onto one of the black wooden stools at the island. He began to weep.
Through his sobs, he tried to pinpoint the moment Anna might have decided that he was no longer enough for her.
He was recalled back to this very morning. They had argued last night: she always seemed to stay late at work and it angered him to see her spending more and more time with her colleagues and less and less time with him. And when she was at home, she was tired and subdued. He didn’t like to be alone knowing that she was in the company of other people instead of him, her husband, and he didn’t like it that she was too lost in herself when she was at home to need him and give him the attention he so craved from her. She was too independent.
When she had finally came home, it was past 11 p.m He was livid and waiting in the kitchen for her return. They argued into the early hours; she couldn’t understand why he was so jealous and he couldn’t understand why she refused to understand how her attention directed elsewhere and away from him made him feel neglected. As the argument fizzled out and they slept on the opposite edges of the same bed, he lay with his thoughts and soon saw his fault. He barely slept at all, burdened by guilt and fear that this time he had gone too far and he laid on his side of the bed quilted in loneliness. The next morning, he had crept downstairs into the kitchen and proceeded to make Anna an apology breakfast. He wanted her to awaken to the smell of croissants and coffee. He’d also made fresh orange and mango juice – her two favourite fruits – and set everything up on the kitchen island, before perching on a stool waiting for her to descend. He knew that the pleasant scent would entice her towards him, so that he could welcome her into his arms and apologise for his short fuse. He loved the feel of her soft arms wrapped around his thick neck. As he had whispered sensuous apologies into her ear, he had convinced himself that they were over another hurdle and she was his once more.
He was then snapped out of his reverie by the intruding image of Anna’s arms being wrapped around another man’s neck.
“Who was this guy? Where had she met him? What made this guy a better man than me? Why did she prefer to be with him and not with me?” he thought.
He needed answers.
The bunch of flowers still lay beside him on the granite top; he wondered, if he closed his eyes whether they would disappear or not. If he closed his eyes, would he be able to turn back time, before pulling up in his car outside to find this floral betrayal on his doorstep? He took some deep breaths, slowly and reluctantly unclenching his fists with each exhale.
He decided to wait for Anna to come home and remained perched on the stool, at the granite kitchen island, glaring accusingly at the bunch of flowers. His rigid, almost motionless posture hurt every muscle in his body and barely blinking as he continued to stare at the sunflowers burned his eyes. But to him, the pain and discomfort was nothing compared to the pain caused by Anna’s betrayal. The afternoon light slowly gave way to the darkness of early evening, turning James into a looming silhouette.
Hours later, he finally heard the keys in the front door, announcing Anna’s arrival, then heard her soft footsteps dancing through the hallway towards the kitchen.
“Babe, why are you sitting in the dark again?” Anna asked.
She switched on the light. He answered only with a glare, ready to demand the answers he deserved. But then she was distracted by the flowers between them.
Anna walked towards them before retrieving the card from the sunflowers.
As she smiled, he prepared himself for his explosion.
“I can’t believe mum sent me flowers. She’s so sweet!” Anna gushed.
Now that I’ve finally finished my module and have a couple of weeks off, I can FINALLY write a post about my new year’s in Vienna!
We spent our stay at the Vienna Inn Apartments, which we found on booking.com. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best place we’ve ever stayed, however, the location was perfect and it was good enough to lay our heads down for a couple of nights.
I’ll start with NYE, which was our first day (we arrived on the night of 30th).
We woke up quite early so that we could see as much as we could. Vienna is such a beautiful city, with tall, magnificent buildings gazing down upon the pebbled streets and alleys. We took the tram into the city centre (it’s so easy to get around the city!) And travel is also really cheap.
We visited Mozarthaus Vienna (Mozart’s Apartment) (I had heard that it was quite small and on first glance you think that everybody was wrong, however many of the rooms were not actually part of his original apartment; for the purpose of the museum, many of the other apartments had been opened up to accommodate all of his possessions from other places he had lived, as well as all tourists who come to visit. He’s not one of my favourite composers, however you can’t deny how talented he was and it was incredibly interesting to read about how hard he worked to get where he was, leaving the security of his family to chase his goals because he truly believed in this talents, attaching himself to the right people (bit of a hustler LOL), whilst working incredibly hard at his craft to become the legendary prodigy he was and still is today.
The streets outside in the city decorated in lights, truly magical. It was during these celebrations I realised that for the first time in ages, I was smiling at people in the street. I felt so comfortable around these strangers, which is not a feeling I experience in the streets of London; London can be a fairly isolating city anyway, but it can be incredibly intimidating when you are a minority or “look different”.
After leaving Mozarthaus Vienna, we popped into this lovely coffee house called Café Hofburg, for coffee and pancakes. It was incredibly luxurious and I felt rather underdressed in my ripped jeans and doc martins!
Every year the city holds a massive street party that begins in the day and goes on into the early hours of the New Year’s Day. (They also hold a masquerade ball for New Year’s but unfortunately it’s so exclusive that the tickets were a little bit out of our price range!) The party includes stalls with food and drinks – including mulled wine (which was actually probably the best I’d EVER had!) – and live music. Around the city centre there were about three stages with bands playing. Another one was playing waltz music on a sound system and had a dance floor attached for people to join in some ballroom dancing (there’s nothing like hearing the Viennese Waltz in the streets of Vienna!).
After drinking too much mulled wine and still hours away from midnight, we realised that we were freezing and in need of shelter. We found a lovely restaurant called Café Rathaus, a welcoming restaurant with a 1940s décor and incredibly welcoming staff. The waiter who served us asked the chef to cook us a vegetarian meal of cheese toasties, fries and salad as there wasn’t any veggie options on the menu. We spent HOURS in here, staying warm, eating an incredible amount of food and getting even more drunk on red wine. So much fun!
We managed roll ourselves out of Café Rathaus just before midnight! At midnight, there was the traditional countdown followed by an insane fireworks display; I think we actually came into 2019 a little late because the announcer on the stage messed up the countdown and it fell out of sync with the fireworks setting off, so everybody in the crowd was like whaaaaat is going on? LOL. But we all had fun welcoming in the new year regardless. Again, I guess being drunk influenced this, but everybody was in merry spirits, happy to be around people, dancing with one another and greeting each other – even before the clock struck midnight. I’ve spent new year in the streets of London and again it is a very different experience.
We got back to the apartment incredibly late but as New Year’s Day was our last full day in Vienna, we didn’t want to waste it so even though we were hungover, we got up relatively early to make the most of the day. The problem was, although we wanted to do some last minute sightseeing, we needed to refuel first and unfortunately because of the holidays, many restaurants and cafes were closed. Which shouldn’t be surprising when you think about it, however many had forgotten to update their websites so were advertised as open on New Years day, only for us to rock up to a shut building. We eventually found a Vapiano’s which I’m pretty sure I’d heard lots about so suggested we eat in there, opting to choose it over the alternative option which was Maccy D’s. I will regret this decision for the rest of my life: Not only is the food awful; as this was our first visit to a Vapiano’s we had no idea how it worked and nobody explained it to us. You know how every time you rock up to a Nando’s they always ask if you’ve been before? Because if not they’ll explain the process of ordering food to you? Not at Vapiano’s. We were thrown this card and moved along, so we had to Google what to do with it and what to do from there. The perk is that after you’ve stood in a queue for 30+ minutes to order your food, if you’re having pasta they cook it for you there and then at the cooking stations, but this means that the wait is just even longer and you end up watching your dinner companions eating two pizzas in the time it takes just for you to get your one bowl of pasta. The pizzas are also freshly made and cooked to order and they use a similar device like many big chain restaurants in Central London where they give you a device to alert you when your table is ready, but in this case the device tells you when your pizza is ready. And boy is it cooked! So much so that the crust is inedible and the rest of it tastes like cardboard.
There’s just no logic to the service; there is absolutely nothing on the tables so you have to search the building for stuff – no signs and no staff to point you in the right direction either. Needless to say, it was a stressful experience and we will NOT be going back!
Thankfully the rest of the places we went to for food were miiiiiiiles better! On our first night, we got into the city quite late and decided to pick up a pizza from a takeaway place on the way to our apartment, which was much yummier than the Vapiano’s version. The following morning, 31st, we found a great café for brunch. On our final night we found this amazing Japanese restaurant, Restaurant Kosu, for dinner, where the staff were so lovely and accommodating to my very limited German (I did manage to get by for a lot of the trip, but had to rely upon my German girlfriend to help me remember certain phrases). The food was incredible and the restaurant has a lovely ambience. Speaking of learning German, I actually used Duolingo in the months running up to the trip to learn (it’s a great app, you do a bit every day and it keeps track of what you’ve learnt and sets goals for you to achieve based upon you progress).
I did get a cold on the final day; although it is a beautiful city, it’s also a VERY cold one! I actually had to by a new winter hat on our first day there, because my one from home just wasn’t cutting it (probably didn’t help that I’d just had a buzz hair cut done, leaving the back of my head exposed to the winter winds, even through a woolly hat!) and was quite proud of myself for being able to communicate with the shop assistant, which is an improvement from my visit to Berlin a few years ago.
After our disastrous Vapiano’s brunch, we took a walk to the Mumok, a modern and contemporary art gallery with some incredible abstract pieces. One of my favourite exhibitions was Film and More, a history of Austrian film using the work of Kurt Kren and Ernst Schimidt jr. in contrast with each other to explore the language of film, which was actually one of my modules during the first year of my undergrad studies, so it was great to revisit that theme. My other fave was Photos/ Politics/ Austria, an exhibition taking you on a visual journey through the history of Austria using photography and mainstream media items. It was especially fascinating to see how history repeats itself around the world. Of course, the gift shop was a hit, however it’s quite awks to carry loads of stuff back home (London) with you when all you brought along was a carry-on bag 😦 so I opted for self-control over splurging.
Vienna, is by far one of my favourite cities. I was actually really sad to leave and not because I don’t like London (as much as it seems like I’ve been bashing it quite a bit in this post, I will probably grow old in London and draw my last breath on the tube in London (LOL), that’s how much of a “ride or die bitch” I am for this city. But, Vienna really did take my breath away.
Since the new year chimed in I’ve been incredibly poorly and trying really hard to get better, whilst battling seizures and juggling assignments and volunteering. Have I mentioned how much I hate winter? Like seriously, I feel like every winter I age another ten years. Earlier this week during my therapy session, we used dolls for play therapy and when I had to choose a doll that represent me, I picked the oldest lady in the bunch, because that’s how I feel!
So I will blog about Vienna soon, but firstly I want to talk about my first gig of the year, which was Ben Howard at the O2 Brixton Academy. Brixton Academy used to be one of my fave venues until last year when I went to see Feeder, since which it’s unfortunately been a venue that makes me incredibly anxious. However, one of my new year’s resolutions is to have “Big Dick Energy” LOL. It’s a term we use a lot on “Black Twitter” for having insane amounts of confidence and while walking around Vienna, I realised that I was no longer walking using long strides and had my head down a lot, probably projecting to passersby that I’m not only not very confident, but also a target for pushing around. In a city like London, you cannot show any weakness, especially when walking through the streets and Underground stations, otherwise you get picked off by the fittest.
So, since I’ve been back, I’ve been experimenting with my hypothesis and I think I’ve proven it true! People tend to not push you out of the way if you’re walking down the streets with long strides and a fixed stare facing your front.
Anyhoo, I digress; since the Feeder gig I’ve been too anxious to go to gigs on my own and have felt extremely vulnerable, exposed to the elements of victimisation. (In December I went to see Razorlight on my own and not only did I ensure to arrive late so that I wouldn’t have to stay long, I also stayed at the back to ensure that I was around as few people as possible.) However, having booked the ticket to see Ben Howard a while back, I’ve had ample time to prepare myself mentally and was very much able to protect myself. Going to a gig is very much like a battle: you must stand firm and protect your territory and people become almost fearful of disrupting you! For the first time in ages, I had people apologising for bumping into me, and asking permission to pass me by, basically treating me like a fucking human being. For the first time in ages, I also felt safe in a crowd again. Giving off “Big Dick Energy” I guess also gives off the impression that you belong in that space, just as much as everybody else.
The last time I saw Ben Howard was at Citadel Festival in 2015. I barely remember his performance to be honest, because by then I was absolutely wasted, but I do remember it being beautiful (he was headlining so it was night time) but being extremely annoyed by the people around me screaming out the lyrics to his “hits” and then talking loudly during the songs they didn’t know the words to. It just kinda ruined the atmosphere for me (I’m a snob get over it). His last album Noonday Dream is incredibly atmospheric, so I was glad to read that during his first night at Brixton, he played it in its entirety. Many critics and “fans” however took this as him snubbing his true fans who wanted to hear him sing his classics from his debut album. So, I Forget Where We Were came out almost five years ago, this is his current album tour, so is there not a clue somewhere that he might be promoting his latest album as opposed to first hits? In 2008, I went to see Radiohead in Victoria Park for their In Rainbows tour and was not disappointed that the majority of the set contained songs from that album! It wasn’t a greatest hits tour! I knew what I was getting myself into!
So many critics accused Ben Howard of refusing to play his hits and “getting too big for his boots, forgetting his roots and the people who put him there”. When did musicians become such public property?
I know that Ben Howard has struggled with his fame and growing up in the public eye, which has had negative effects to his mental health. The public tend to struggle with the concept that people do grow as artists, hence their art grows too; some people perceive artists as Peter Pans who never age and I’m sure that this has a lot to do with our connections to certain songs, for instance Ben Howard’s “Keep Your Head Up” played a significant part in my mental health journey while I was still living at home when I was 27. However, just like musicians, I’ve grown too; I’m not the same person I was when that song came out and I love when artists grow with you. It almost feels like they continue to be a part of your life because you’re both changing and moving forwards, sometimes in similar directions both mentally and psychologically.
Many people online also commented that although he’s very much a studio performer, he should alter his performance to accommodate for bigger venues by interacting with the crowd more. However, interacting with the crowd is asking him to change his personality and why should he be forced to do that just because he’s famous? Secondly, to me he’s a poet who also sings (in fact, he took a break from music to focus on poetry and came back with the STUNNING Noonday Dream), so I would expect his performance to focus on lyrics as opposed to stage presence.
Finally, he did adapt his performance for a bigger venue by having two drummers and an orchestra for sound, and lighting and imagery for production! And even if he did apparently did “take 40 minutes to say hello to the crowd” (he didn’t), at least he didn’t call us a bunch of c*nts like he apparently did a few years ago!
For me, last night’s gig was beautiful: Atmospheric, mesmerising, heartwrenching – everything I needed and expected the gig to be.
It’s just a shame that so many others failed to appreciate that. There was A LOT of talking within the crowd – which I always find incredibly rude anyway (who the fuck comes to a gig to talk?? That’s what bars and social media is for!) but it was clear from the talking on and off social media that people found the set boring.
This might be a controversial post for some, however it’s a question I often ask myself when I look at the people around me, observing their behaviour and the way they interact with the world around them.
So the question is:
How far can somebody go with using their mental health issues as an excuse for being abusive towards others?
In other words, can you excuse somebody hurting you because they have mental health issues?
The reason I ask is because although I know and through volunteering have met some amazing people with various mental health illnesses and disorders (in fact, these are people who I have come to highly respect), on the other hand I’ve also met and witnessed people who treat others appallingly: Making racist remarks, being homophobic, being verbally abusive, physically assaulting people, committing sexual assault and even murder, and society tends to excuse the behaviour as mental instability.
Last month I was physically assaulted and it was racially motivated. The perpetrator is mentally ill and many people were divided because of that, some excusing the behaviour because of his mental health issues, while others felt that although he suffers from a mental illness there is no excuse for racism. My trauma was also minimised by some because as the perpetrator has schizophrenia he was seen by them as the victim.
What do you think?
Where I volunteer, there’s a member of our team who can be extremely abrupt and rude, even to the service users. At first, especially because I’m protective of the people we look after, my first reaction was to think of him as a dick, however I then wondered if he was perhaps on the spectrum: Because he struggles with communication and becomes very unsettled when there are interruptions to the daily schedule perhaps causing him difficulty in expressing his emotions. However, considering that the people we work with are vulnerable too, does that excuse his rude behaviour towards them?
I come to recognise (through the thankful help of therapy) that I tend to get ahead of myself in making assumptions about a person’s behaviour when actually I have not right to.
This can also be applied to us as a society.
We often excuse criminal behaviour for mental instability. Very often if a white man commits mass murder, society is very quick to label him and assume that he is mentally unstable and in need of help rather than judgement. However, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, many young black men who have suffered horrendous trauma might commit acts of violence, yet society very rarely shows any understanding or sympathy towards them.
Those of us in the UK remember the incident earlier this year, where a white man verbally abused a black woman whose seat had been allocated next to his and because he didn’t want her to sit next to him, he shouted offensive racially abusive things to her (including calling her a “monkey” and referring to her as “that“), just because he didn’t want a black woman sitting next to him. Many white people who read the story excused the man’s behaviour because he was old and “probably had mental health issues”, but clearly the guy was a dick with no respect for women as well as being obviously racist.
I personally feel that there is a thin line between mental illness and hurting people. I’m not perfect and although my mental illnesses may not as severe as the people I come across while volunteering, I have definitely had moments of spontaneous emotion where I’m not thinking clearly about my actions and hurt people in the process. My personality issues make me extremely impulsive where I act before I’ve even had time to process the thoughts behind it. However, I am extremely remorseful afterwards, sometimes immediately, sometimes a little bit later on, sometimes longer. But I do show remorse which is very much genuine and very much off my own back.
This is important to note.
Last week while volunteering I had a conversation with one of the service users, who while in a fit of rage made some homophobic comments. He had been accused of hitting someone and in the process of saying he wouldn’t hurt anyone, he then said “it’s not like I’m going around beating up f****s“. I told him he couldn’t say what he was saying because it was offensive. He walked away but then a few minutes later came back with his head hung low and apologised; he explained that he was upset and struggling to express his feelings and sometimes when that happens he says things he doesn’t mean, however he had not meant to say what he had and was deeply ashamed. He also has schizophrenia and can struggle to sort through his own thoughts and beliefs. Being a queer woman, I had every right to be upset with him but to me, that was a blip for him; in my opinion he showed genuine remorse and he’s proven himself to be a kind soul. That conversation was actually our first real encounter and it could’ve had a negative impact on how I saw him, but he very quickly proved himself to be a kind-hearted and genuine person.
Unfortunately this isn’t always the case.
I think we really have to be mindful of how we’re using the term mental ill-health, because excusing bad behaviour as a symptom of mental illness only intensifies the stigma surrounding it, penalising the many people who are struggling to be seen as real people as opposed to monsters.
And these are my final thoughts for 2018! I’m going on the short mini-break to Vienna and I’ll be back on 2nd January, so when I’m back I’ll post about my trip as well as my highlights for 2018. Happy New Year to all of my readers and subscribers 💋 your support has been a lifeline for me! See you in 2019!
Filled with sadness, anger, violence, disappointment, and desperation.
This year I spent it with my girlfriend, just the two of us in our flat.
My fourth Xmas without my mother and sister. I tried really hard to get into the spirit of it all, wrapping presents, spending more than I could afford on food to cook a great (vegan) Xmas dinner, decorating the tree, obsessively buying more and more “little things” to make the flat more Xmas-sy.
This year, I’ve also been volunteering with the recovery centre of a local mental health charity. I started a couple of months ago and it’s been an amazing experience. However, talking to the service users about their feelings towards Xmas is difficult.
A couple of weeks ago, a tweet by Sonaska a writer and designer fell into my timeline, retweeted by someone I follow:
It was retweeted in relation to mental health at Xmas.
It’s tough being without family, watching everybody else excited to spend the holidays with family, eagerly buying loads of presents for everybody. It’s also tough when people send you messages hoping you have a great xmas with your family, unintentionally sending you back into that black hole of loneliness.
Considering Xmas with my family was always so unbearable, if you think about it really, I’ve had a lucky escape. There’s no pressure for me to be anything other than myself, I’m spending it with somebody who genuinely cares about me and I don’t have to anticipate having a breakdown.
I also have to consider that I am blessed to have at least somebody to spend it with. Although the charity will be hosting a Xmas dinner at the day centre for the service users (and also arranging transport to the centre and back home), so that they won’t have to spend the day alone, it is still a reminder that there is no alternative for them (other than spending it alone), which is heartbreaking.
Therefore, although I spent most of Xmas eve sobbing into my pillow with multiple glasses of Bailey’s (yes I know you shouldn’t drink while on medication!), I worked to be thankful for what I do have: A home, a partner, friends, a career-plan and my sense of self.
I’m extremely happy; yesterday I met up with a friend for coffee and each time we see each other, it’s just fun and chilled and time just flies. I can be myself; I can struggle to get out of bed because I haven’t had a good night’s sleep, or my joints and muscles are aching, I’m feeling lethargic from the side-effects of my medication, but it feels worth the struggle; I don’t have to pretend that I’m feeling superb but still have a great time because I with a friend I can open up to.
We’ve known each other for about six or seven years now and up until this year we would only see each other when I went to one of his gigs (he’s the lead singer in a band. It wasn’t until summer of this year I realised that not only was he now my oldest friend, but we hadn’t really hung out 1:1. So since then, we’ve been meeting up to have coffee and a catch up regularly and I feel like I’m ending the year on a positive.
I may not have any family, but I have an amazing girlfriend who I’m madly in love with and a friend that I can rely on and be myself with.
It is petrifying though…
Each time I get close to somebody, they hurt me.
They want me to be somebody I’m not, they want to be able to forget my blackness so that they can say shitty things about black people and people of colour, they want to forget about my disability, they want me to give my life and everything I am to accommodate them to the detriment of myself.
In the past four years I’ve lost an entire family (both immediate and extended), best friends from school and early adulthood, and people I formed intense bonds with only to realise that our friendship had been built on sand (I still know my bible references!).
So, I am frightened of getting close to people. I’ve been rejected by both of my parents, of course I have abandonment issues!
It’s only natural right?
I’m also incredibly impulsive which leads me to make intense relationships with people I realise I hardly even know (which is actually a symptom of personality disorders). For instance: My BFF from Bumble, I had no idea where she even lived yet I truly believed I’d made a best friend for life! And I told this gal eeeeeeverything like we’d known each other for years. Which she then used against me because that was the kind of person she was and I’d failed to see it.
I guess I wear my heart on my sleeve.
So I’m scared.
But at the same time, I’m not one for standing still. I’m one for trying to pick myself up and move forwards. Therapy has taught me that not everybody is going to hurt and abandon me. Human beings are not a monolith. I’m also becoming really good at checking my judgments with others, particularly my girlfriend, just to check that I’m reading situations right and not being too impulsive with my relationships with other people. Sometimes it’s just good to check in with people you trust to protect your heart and mental health.
Last Friday I went to see Razorlight at the O2 Kentish Town Forum.
I actually bought the ticket while drunk in an Uber months ago (lol) and when I saw it coming up in the calendar, I was like hmmmm this might have been a mistake…
This year has been a big year of musical reminiscence. There are many bands I’ve loved since my adolescence but could never afford to see them live at their peak. That and also my mother wasn’t big on my music tastes (she thought that rock music was devil music and hip hop was violently demonic).
Since turning 30, I guess I’ve been on a journey of rebellion which has included finally seeing the bands/artists I craved to see as a teenager! Now two years later, I have five tattoos, three piercings (excluding my ears) and quite a few ticket stubs stuck to my wardrobe door (that’s where I keep them as my memory box is too chockablock).
Razorlight were a huge part of my early adulthood. Being from London and moving away for university I was constantly homesick – not for my family but for my city. I loved London but I felt like I had to leave to escape the clutches of my home. Many of Razorlight’s songs tell stories about the city which really spoke to me. I didn’t even care that the lead singer Johnny Borrell was a bit of a douchebag (Andy Burrows, one of the original band members actually came to my uni to do a DJ set, got really drunk and bitched to me and one of my friends about how awful being in a band with Johnny was LOL. He left the band quite soon afterwards).
So on Friday, I dragged myself to the gig after downing a coffee and got caught up in the memories of my long distant youth.
The greatest thing about it was that although I hadn’t listened to them in god knows how long, I still remembered quite a lot of the lyrics to their songs! My epilepsy affects my memory and this is something that has been pretty heartbreaking for me; I’ve always loved singing and I used to pore over the lyrics of my favourite songs, committing them to memory (I used to buy Smash Hits for the lyrics cards). But since starting medication almost five years ago, I’ve been struggling to remember a lot of the lyrics I could once sing in my sleep.
Going on my own also was a huge step for me, as my anxiety has been preventing me from doing that. But one of the best parts of a gig is the vibe from the audience, as you’ll see in this video!
So, last gig of the year was a huuuuuuuuge success and I’m looking forward to loads more live events next year!