Ten things which bring me joy

I start with this track because this morning, this song is the one that I enjoy most. And that is what I am looking for today or trying to remember today. The things which I enjoy. The things which place me in-joy. So here’s my list.

  • Music: specifically at the moment, South African House music. Simmy’s track above is my track of the day. It’s hard to listen to it and not move my head or body or feet. I am also finding out that it is the best kind of music to cycle to, which brings me to number 2 of things which place me in joy. Other artists I enjoy are Robert Glasper, Hillsong tracks, Anthony Hamilton and pretty much anything which is jazz based.

Cycling: yesterday, cycling was the only thing that gave me some joy. Albeit temporary but I’ll take temporary for the time being. Normally, I also enjoy watching cycling races (the Grand Tours, small tours, any kind of tour as long as it is on 2 wheels and manual). My favourite cyclists are: the Yates brothers (Simon won La Vuelta last year and this year Adam is killing it),  Peter Sagan (built like a monster – in a good way) and Mathieu Van der Poel (anyone who can beat Julian Alaphilippe in a sprint gets my attention. I’m lucky that cycling is my only form of getting myself from A to B at the moment since it helps me retain my sanity.

  • Swimming: it’s been almost a month since my last swim and it is really hard to get out and it is harder to get out and swim at the moment but I do know this is something I have enjoyed in the past.
  • Watching dance videos such as the following https://youtu.be/FfPBi_xUID

5. Beating my brother at Monopoly: these raucous sessions are always guaranteed to make me laugh. And bring some true joy.

6. Blogging and reading non-fiction: does something for me on some level. Sometimes joy. So I will add this to my list. At the moment I am doing it more often because I need to rather than because I want to but whatever the reason, it is helping. I do love reading about other people’s lives, their challenges and how they have navigated the murky and clear waters of life.

7. Being in nature. Especially by the sea.

8. Walking out of the barbers with a fresh hair cut. Again, this is something I am struggling to do but I do remember that I always feel great after a good hair cut. This is one of my favourites. Simple but beautiful. #shorthairdontcare

 by @stepthebarber #naturallyshesdope

9. Spending time with good friends and especially spending time with one of my friends and her little kids. I do love kids and being in their company always makes me laugh. Kids always make me forget me. Kids remind me of joy, pure joy.

10. Watching comedy. My top selection is below. Some is intentional comedy and some is unintentional in its comedic element.

 

Writing this post has given me pleasure because it reminds me of joy.

 

The strange thing about depression…..

Is that yesterday, I was able to do so much (contrary to what we’re told depression is) and today just getting out of bed was a struggle. My jack in the box, I’m ready to take on the world morning routine of yesterday was today replaced by a long drawn out wrestling match with my mind over whether or not the day was worth the effort. How can the things which I do without thought suddenly turn into a mountain right in front of my eyes? I do recognise that this is what depression has been for me for a long time: weeks of struggling interspersed with days where ‘I get shit done’. I eventually made it out of bed thanks to something I’m currently using to combat the slowness of my brain and body at present – South African House music. Music really has helped me over over the past five months. Here’s one I prepared earlier.

Is that yesterday, I read an entire book in a day and today, the thought of even opening up a book is giving me a headache. I read a book called Mind on Fire by Arnold Thomas Fanning which is a memoir about depression, delusion and mania in essence.

Image result for mind on fire

It grabbed me because there was so much I could relate to in terms of the link between grief and depression, the manner in which the interchange between joy and sadness can be so swift and most of all, the fear of facing the fact that it can and does take a long time to rebuild one’s life after a breakdown or a long struggle with mental illness or unwellness or distress or whichever term you prefer.

Is how I struggle to read or write fiction. I have read 2 books in the past 2 weeks. Both non-fiction, both memoirs, both dealing with what it means to be human. I have no patience or capacity for fiction when I am in this place. The words do not connect enough to make sentences. It’s weird. 

Is how zoned out I can be at times, how absent I can be at times when my body is most present. In the past week, I have pretty much given up on television as a way of helping me through this period. My eyes are on the screen but nothing is going in. I am not conscious that I have drifted until 5 or 10 minutes later, I regain consciousness and realise that I am not there mentally. I have in the past used TV to help me get through moments of intense distress but I feel positively bored by it at the moment which is no bad thing, I guess. The same happens at times when I am in the presence of others who are conversing and I am there one minute and totally gone the next. It is kinda funny at times but not when I think about the effect this thing is having on my brain, memory, concentration etc.

Is how yesterday, I was able to crack a joke with my dentist and today I am struggling to open my mouth to have a conversation. Depression is by no means a one-trick pony. Depression does not mean an inability to laugh or converse. It just means that sometimes, you come out to play for a bit, to be a part of the world, to be an acceptable face, person, but in private, you know nothing has really changed or is changing. I enjoy the company of others for the most part except when my mood is extremely low and I lose the desire to engage in conversations. At times, it comes across as sullenness but it is far from it. I have in the past had days where it is as though I have been stripped of my voice. It is the strange thing about depression. I love to laugh but sometimes, I don’t have the energy to do it. And when I am like this, the last thing I wish to do is inflict myself on others.

Is how much I still struggled with it when I was working as a teacher and when I was volunteering. I often recommended volunteering to my students and value what people can get out of being active, productive members of society but I realise that for me what happened was that I was able to care about others even when I cared little for myself. That is not a good thing. Eventually, it rendered me incapable of helping others, something which I continue to value. I don’t think depression is cured by exercising or working or any one thing. I do think it is a combination of things which can help. I guess I am still not at the point of believing one day I will not experience these episodes but what I do believe is that depression is not a sign that a person is only self-serving or self-seeking. I kind of feel the need to say this because of something I heard someone say which was basically along the lines of depression gets cured when you start serving others. I felt somewhat shamed when I heard this but then I know that we all have different experiences and that the person who said this sounded like he had no personal knowledge of what it is like to be depressed. If only ‘service’ was the answer to depression, then no doctor, teacher, nurse or other ‘servant’ would ever experience depression.

Is how the DSM which basically lists all ‘mental disorders and illnesses’ fits the human experience into neat little packages. Yet there is nothing neat about the human condition.

Is how quickly it can creep up on me. Like within hours.

Is how in the past, I would run for miles just to get away from it. Yet at present, I have little energy to fight even though I am not being particularly active. In the past, the combination of the eating disorder and depression meant I had an addiction to the one thing which helped me deal with the depression (or at least temporarily manage it) but which also put my physical health at risk since I was far too emaciated to be running at all. Now, I am physically in a different place but mentally too tired to use exercise (which is often touted is the magic which cures all) to combat it. I just want to sleep for a hundred years and wake up when it’s all over. I guess the other thing I have learnt over the past year is that for me, exercise has become a way to beat my body into submission in the hope that my mind will be too tired to linger on depressive thoughts. Sure, there are happy endorphins but there are also punishing regimes which in the end trigger another depressive episode because over-exercise is a one way road to insomnia for me.

Is how slow my brain and movements become once it sets in.

Is I’m really bored of it.

Is I’ve kind of forgotten what life was like before it.

Is that sometimes I just wish I would change the bloody record.

Is how much of my life it consumes so that it is as though I am nothing but my mind at its worst.

Is how I used to see it as a kind of laziness when I first started teaching and how short I was in compassion for my students who were experiencing depression. My own experience of it was what made me a more compassionate, empathetic person.

Is how I start to lack compassion for myself at these times and how shame and embarrassment begin to set in once more. The thing which helped me most in getting to a stage of being able to say, I am truly in recovery from the eating disorder was the compassion I showed myself and the compassion others showed me. I have worked with professionals who have been full of compassion and some to whom compassion was like dirt under one’s finger nails. I have always fared much better when I ‘llow myself. When I tell myself, ‘it’s okay’ rather than ‘you’ve wasted/are wasting your life away’. When I am mentally strong, I am more able to be compassionate and tell myself, ‘it’s okay, the past is in the past’ or ‘it’s okay, you’re just having a bad day’. When I am feeling more fragile, I am more self-critical. I am less a work in progress and more one constant and very hot mess.

I didn’t know I’d write this post today but I am finding that writing about this is the best way to keep myself going at the moment. The more I write, the more I process things and the more I hear my true voice, not that of an afflicted mind.

Today, since I am struggling with the basics, I will just practice and keep repeating to myself, ‘It’s okay Funmi, it’s okay.’

 

 

One year on from life and two years on from death, this is what it feels like.

This month marks a year since I started recovery/weight gain/living again and next month will mark two years since my mum died. Recovery has been like a kind of rebirth. It should be called ‘The Learning to Live Again Season’ since that’s essentially what it involves – learning to be/reconnect with myself and others, learning about myself and others and learning to live with the highs and lows of life.

I should (??) (I don’t tend to believe in ‘shoulds’ in life), I think, feel a sense of pride about how far I have come with my eating (not as dodgy as it was) and my recovery in general but the overwhelming emotion is sadness which then bleeds into an already fractured appetite – for life, for sustenance.  I guess the sadness is that my mother is not here to enjoy any of this – the good me/the better than I was me/ the less disordered me. This is why the end of my first year in recovery was filled with tears rather than celebration. I’m still glad I chose recovery and still grateful for those who have helped me make it this far but celebrating is the last thing I feel like doing.

Everytime someone tells me how much better I look now or how well I’m doing now, it stings and it hurts like hell because all this, my ‘betterness’ was meant for her, not for them. And everytime I’ve achieved something or done something new, a ‘hollowness’, a sense of emptiness, has been the accompanying feeling. Even my laughter has an echo.

Those who say time heals, are not speaking to me. I don’t think time heals. I think it simply shifts the shape of things. It turns circles into squares and then into triangles or rectangles or hexagons or your shape of choice. Whatever the case, the length of the thing still stays the same.

Save for one post (which I highly recommend to those whose parent(s) are still alive), I have avoided writing about or speaking about my mother’s death because it feels like this:

A failing heart

A herd of elephants sitting on my chest

I’m starving but have no appetite

A lifetime of writer’s block, a permanently blank page

Screaming but hearing nothing back

A permanent echo reverberating inside of me

A silent earth

There was no Before, only After.

Sometimes, I watch something on TV and a person is at risk of death and I hear them say ‘I don’t want to die, please don’t let me die’ and someone says, ‘don’t worry, you’re not going to die or we won’t let you die’ and I laugh because the truth is, we are all going to die at some point and so will the people we love. It’s a sad truth.

Death is not new. Grief is not new. I am not unique or immune in this sense but I guess this experience still feels very new. Uncomfortable. More than uncomfortable. It feels like strangulation. But some days, the hands around my throat release their grip and I feel just fine. And on other days, that grip is tightened once more and I am struggling to breath. I am never sure when those hands will loosen their grip or finally let go. Or when I will distance myself from those hands and let go or break free.

The death of a loved one, our own eventual death is part of the process of life. It’s something we all have in common or will have in common at some point and yet it is so hard to speak about. I can comfortably speak about death in an abstract manner but speaking about it on a personal level is still very difficult for me to do.

 

The myth of the ‘strong Black woman’

Image result for serena williams crying

I have been wanting to write about this topic for a while but it is a challenging topic for me to write about.

I want to explore the myth of the ‘strong Black woman’ and call it out as a myth because the possible foundations and consequences of this myth are both tragic and brutal.

The origins of the ‘strong Black woman’

Slavery

I think back to the suffering that Black people endured as slaves. The list looks a little something like this:

rape, torture, separation from homes and families, beatings, babies being forcibly taken from them, having to carry, deliver and then love a baby born as a result of rape, forced labour, abuse and constant dehumanisation…

Listing it like this does no justice to the reality of what Black people and in particular, Black women must have endured. All those crimes were inflicted because the perpetrators were able to cast Blacks as sub-human/savages and Black women as mere sexual objects.

In all the above cases, save for committing suicide (which some would have done – I highly recommend the fictional book, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan) Black women had no choice but to endure. There was no chance of escaping these brutal conditions and even when Black people were eventually ‘set free’, they were set free oftentimes with nothing but the clothes on their back.

Imagine if you can, what it would be like to endure 30/40 or more years of slavery and then to be released with no home, no money, no assets, maybe a couple of children in tow. What would your answer be? Breakdown, cry, say you cannot do it anymore?

For many Black women, strength has been and is nothing more than the result of the fact it feels like there is no other choice than to ‘get on with it’. You either give up and die (starve, kill oneself) or you keep going irrespective of the difficulties.

Maybe I am simplifying this? Maybe some will wonder why I am talking about something that happened ‘so long ago’. What I am trying to do is show that strength is not so much in our DNA as it is in our story. We are strong because we have had no choice but to be strong.

But let me take this away from slavery and come to more recent times.

The search for a better life/answering the call of the ‘motherland’

There is no doubt that one of the consequences of mothers and fathers leaving homes in the Caribbean and West Africa in search of a better life was the widespread separation of families. Even temporary separations resulted in permanent damage. Children would be separated from their mothers/fathers.

It happened to me and it has happened to countless other Black people. The shock of going from a two-parent family to suddenly being in a one parent-family and having to carry the load of so many children, certainly took its toll on my mother.

Sometimes, temporary separations became permanent. Oftentimes it was the mother or grandmother who was left raising children. Sometimes the woman would come to the UK to work and the kids would later follow. At other times the man would come to the UK to work and later send for his wife and kids. Whatever the equation, the result is that families were left battered and bruised by separation.

Children and parents reunite after may years but are now strangers. None truly aware of what the other has gone through during that period of separation.

The culture of Black children being fostered was prevalent in the 70s and 80s. Some, including me at one point, were sent to live with White nannies outside of London and this also affected the relationship that these children would subsequently have with their own parents.

Imagine being separated from your child and seeing them perhaps monthly or fortnightly because you felt you had no option but to put the need to earn over the need to nurture.

This is about truth not judgement.

Again, if so, private tears might be an option but the need to just get on with it prevails.

I know many Black women, of my mother’s generation who worked numerous jobs to provide for their families and never took a day off.

They were ‘strong’ because they had no choice but to be strong. Provide or your children suffer. It’s a false choice. It was a necessity, not a choice.

Dehumanisation/Super-humanisation

In popular culture too, there is sometimes a myth of Black people being superhuman or more able to endure. The Kenyans can run longer and faster than others, Blacks are stronger, more built, our heavy bones given as the reason for our supposed inability to swim etc.

This super-humanisation does the Black race no favours in the long run. Kenyan top athletes are just that – Kenyan top athletes. Not every Kenyan is a top athlete, not every Black person is fast and not every Black person is built.

Sometimes, what betrays us are not popular theories but our own skin colour.

I remember when my mum was ill in hospital and a doctor coming up to her and telling her that she looked a lot better. What this man seemed unable to see was that my mother’s skin was a funny purple-black colour. If she had been white, the changes in her skin would have been more visible and he would have realised the severity of her condition.

This doctor did not think to ask what her skin normally looked like because he likely had no idea that this funny shade of black was not at all normal for her or for Black people in general.

Sometimes, we betray ourselves as Black women by saying we are okay when we are not okay because we have learnt that it is not okay to say that we are not okay. Sometimes, this is about religion. I know that words are considered powerful in Christianity. Many a time have I heard a Black women say ‘praise the Lord’ when they are struggling or suffering. I heard my own mother say she was okay when she was far from it. I too in the past spent years saying I was okay and in the meantime deteriorating mentally and physically,

Dealing with double-invisibility: you’re not visible until you’re visible

As a Black woman who is familiar with being in majority or wholly white spaces, and having experienced both overt and covert racism, I sometimes, have no choice but to get on with it. What I would rather do at times is scream and shout in the room and rail against blatant biases or the fact that human beings have a tendency to embrace the known rather than the supposedly ‘unknown’.

For those of you who do not believe that racism or prejudice exists, consider the work colleague who told me that ‘Croydon was okay until the Blacks came in’. Consider the kids who thought that it was perfectly fine to throw stones at me because of my race. Consider the university worker in France who told me that I was entered for an easier exam (which I then aced) because they thought my level was not up to the standard to pass the exam which the other white students were taking.

These are more obvious examples. Now consider the fact that the White woman in the Croydon example had worked with me for over a year and had shown no evidence up to then of bias or prejudice. Consider that those boys who threw those stones on another day may just have passed me by and smiled. Consider that the lady in the university may just have kept her reasons to herself and I would have been none the wiser.

Now consider that as a Black woman and person, if you cannot give proof of racism or bias then you are considered to be just making something out of nothing or ‘always going on about racism’.

Consider that last week in Twickenham, myself and a white woman were approaching the start of an alleyway. She looked at me briefly and began walking down the alleyway. I walked behind her. Consider that it was broad daylight and that after about 30 seconds, she stopped walking, waited for me to pass and then resumed her journey with me now ahead and her behind.

Now consider why sometimes, I wonder if my paranoia or hyper-vigilance is well-founded and why I oftentimes feel like I just need to get on with it. Consider that at times, the weight of all these small acts of racism or bias or prejudice begin to weigh on me physically or mentally and that I no longer feel as comfortable in all white spaces as I once may have.

Consider that I have no option if I am to make it in the UK than to ‘get on with it’ and challenge the obvious and sometimes play down the less obvious so I can get on with my day.

It is not that I am strong. It is just that sometimes, I just want to get on with my day without having to consider whether certain acts are based on my race or not. Or maybe I am strong but I don’t see it as strength because it is just my normal.

The consequences of the myth of the ‘strong Black woman’

I recently read that there is limited research in the area of Black mental health in the UK (Fundamental Facts About Mental Health 2016 by the Mental Health Foundation) and I am oftentimes wary of stats. I have never taken part in a survey. Have you? So I will use stats only once.

a) There is sometimes an assumption that we have a greater capacity to endure pain and there is sometimes an inability to recognise when a Black woman is in pain. Sometimes because we do not use our voices enough and sometimes because those treating us do not believe or recognise the depths of our pain.

Black women in America are three to four times more likely to die during or after delivery than white women. A clinician in the article I took this stat from said, “The common thread is that when black women expressed concern about their symptoms, clinicians were more delayed and seemed to believe them less.” Serena Williams’ experience is also mentioned in the article (please click the link).

b) I come from a long line of ‘strong Black women’ and at times, I too have felt that I have no other option but to be ‘strong’. In the long term, it meant that I struggled with my mental health for almost two decades before I ever admitted how bad things were. In fact, I only admitted how bad things were mentally when my emaciated body began to betray me. There comes a time when denial is no longer an option.

c) It means that sometimes, we do not reach outside for help. Sometimes we are loath to get professional help. We feel we need to keep it together.

d) When we bear our burdens alone or with very limited supported, it eventually takes a toll on our physical and mental health. This means working oneself into an early grave, speaking in coded language about our mental health and never receiving help.

e) What some consider hardship, we consider normal.

The way forward

I truly believe that we as Black women need to stop perpetuating this myth of the ‘strong Black women’ by:

a) allowing our vulnerability (with the right people, in spaces where we feel able to be) to be our superpower.

b) not telling one another to ‘be strong’.

c) not allowing those who deprive us of help because of their own ideas about us, get away with it. This means stating our needs and demanding it.

d) not taking it as a complement when are told we are strong. I have to my memory no knowledge of being told I am strong by a Black person but I know it is possible for a person of any race to tell a Black woman they are strong as a complement. Perhaps it is not linked to race but and whilst I know it may sound like a complement, I have seen the damage done by this image, I would much rather not be called strong thank you very much. I am human. Fullstop. I bleed, shit, cry, love, hate and have desires like every human being.  I feel pain too like every human being. My threshold is no higher though I may have been conditioned to or learnt to endure pain.

e) we as Black women ought to speak more about our pain in a purposeful way. As a way of opening up the conversation and letting one another know that we are not alone.

If you got to the end, well done. You made it.

The final thing to say is, I can only speak about my experience as a Black woman. Sometimes I will speak generally about Black women but this is not done with the intention of stating that there is a universal ‘Black female’ experience. We are unique individuals who have shared and diverse experiences of life.

Sometimes, my race and therefore my culture is the least interesting thing about me and at times, it is the most interesting thing about me.

I’d love to hear your comments/thoughts.

 

Shamima Begum: why being British is a question of race

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGAxm6KJTWE

Let me make my position clear from the outset.

I am not going to defend Shamima Begum‘s action in going to Syria to join ISIS. I am not going to use her age as a defence nor am I going to use the possibility that she was groomed as a defence. I am not going to use the fragility of new mothers to defend her interview remarks and nor will I mount any other defence for her. That is for others to do should they wish to.

I do not know if Shamima Begum’s return to the UK will put the country at risk. I do not know if she intends to come back and start wreaking havoc about the place. I do not know if there are sufficient resources to monitor her if she did return to the UK. I do not know if she should be in jail or if she has committed serious crimes. I do not know if she was brainwashed or if she truly holds the views she espouses. That is for others to decide.

What I do believe is that the Home Secretary’s decision to ‘strip’ her of her British citizenship is downright dangerous, a threat to the rule of law and a threat to all non-whites (in particular) in the UK.

The Home Secretary’s decision is not surprising

Last year, I spent a couple of days in Croatia. What a beautiful country it is. In Dubrovnik, I was approached by a white American man in his late 70s/early 80s who asked me where I was from. I said that I was from London, UK. His reply to me was the following ‘you don’t look like someone who would be from the UK.’ His assumption that I was not from the UK could not have been based on anything other than my race. My accent is British, I was not wearing any garms which could be said to be particularly non-British and nor was I speaking in any other language but English. He later added to his question by asking me where my parents were from. When he told me he was American, I did not ask him whether his parents were actually Italians, Greeks or Scots. I did not make any other assumption. I was not able to and nor did I choose to.

And whilst I consider myself to be both British and Nigerian, truth is, I have spent most of my life in the UK and was born in the UK and am pleased to say, I consider it my home. Nigeria is in my heart and in my blood and if anyone dares to put down Nigerian jollof* or tells me that traditional attire is not beautiful and that the Yoruba language is not full of wonder, I will mount a strong defence. I may not do the same when it comes to Nollywood though. Jokes aside, the UK is the place I call home.

The Home Secretary’s position on Shamima Begum reflects something that many Blacks and non-whites experience in day to day life.

  1. We are asked where we come from as though the default thought of the person asking is that we are not British because we are not white.
  2. Our race is one of the first things highlighted about us when we are ‘losing’ in life but when we are ‘winning’ in life our Britishness is the first thing that the glory hunters set upon. We are claimed as one of them, a Brit.
  3. We are expected to be grateful for being in the UK as though it is only by grace not right that we are British.
  4. It sometimes feels as though non-whites are tolerated in the UK rather than accepted as being just as British as those who are white.

 

Why the Shamima Begum decision threatens the security of non-whites and second generation Brits in the UK

The decision of the Home Secretary is dangerous for the following reasons:

  1. It means that anyone who has a parent born in another country outside of the UK,  can be deemed not British if they are deemed a threat to national security.
  2. It means that irrespective of how long you have lived in the UK and irrespective of whether or not you were born or brought up in the UK, your right to be called British is not a given.
  3. It means that a white British girl in the same position as Shamima Begum would be allowed back in the UK whilst non-whites and those who are second-generation Brits (plastic Brits- let’s say) would not be accorded the same right.
  4. It means that there will be one rule for White British folk and another for non-White British folk and whites whose parents were not born in the UK.
  5. It means that we as non-whites are simply here by the grace of the UK government. We cannot assume that our British citizenship will always be guaranteed to us.

 

Why the Home Secretary’s decision is a threat to the rule of law

Shamima Begum was born in the UK and is a British citizen. No-one disputes that. But, the Home Secretary has decided that since Shamima Begum’s mum is Bangladeshi, Shamima will have claims to Bangladeshi citizenship through that, meaning that she can be stripped of her British citizenship.

The UK Immigration rules, Part 14, 401 states that:

401. For the purposes of this Part a stateless person is a person who:

  1. (a) satisfies the requirements of Article 1(1) of the 1954 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, as a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law;
  2. (b) is in the United Kingdom; and
  3. (c) is not excluded from recognition as a Stateless person under paragraph 402.

402. states that:

A person is excluded from recognition as a stateless person if there are serious reasons for considering that they:

  1. (a) are at present receiving from organs or agencies of the United Nations, other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, protection or assistance, so long as they are receiving such protection or assistance;
  2. (b) are recognised by the competent authorities of the country of their former habitual residence as having the rights and obligations which are attached to the possession of the nationality of that country;
  3. (c) have committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provisions in respect of such crimes;
  4. (d) have committed a serious non-political crime outside the UK prior to their arrival in the UK;
  5. (e) have been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

My reading of 401 means that even if Shamima’s mum is from Bangladesh, at present, Shamima herself could not be considered to be Bangladeshi because she has not made an application to be considered as such. So at this particular moment, she cannot be considered a Bangladeshi national. It seems to me that the government have taken advantage of the fact that she is not in the UK to make her, in fact, stateless.

But, if I skip to 402, it seems to me that if she has committed a crime against peace or a war crime etc,  the British government may well be within their rights to exclude her from recognition as a stateless person. 

To my knowledge, Shamima Begum has not been tried in a court of law so it has not been proven that she has in fact committed any of the crimes which may mean that she is excluded from the rules about statelessness. That said, she has been tried in the court of public opinion and deemed a threat. Yet, I firmly believe that the rule of law must never give way to the court of public opinion.

Finally……

The Home Secretary made it clear after the first Shamima Begum interview was aired, that he would do everything in his power to make sure that she was not able to return to this country. He has made good on his word. Well done. A round of applause to you fine sir.

Unfortunately, what he has also done is threaten the rights of all British non-whites in this country and made the ground we walk on feel just a little more unstable today.

Weight gain may just be the least of your worries when it comes to recovery

Image result for mount kilimanjaro climbing

I see a pattern emerging in my writing.

I write (blog not creative writing) when I am struggling – really struggling. But I also write when I am trying to process what is going on/process my thoughts.

And so it is that I write today on what has been a very difficult day.

I can feel myself slipping in quite a few ways. Slipping in my eating, slipping in my sleeping and therefore the clarity of my mind and slipping in terms of my motivation for life and the things which are about life.

I think I realised over the past few weeks that weight gain just may be the easiest part of ‘recovery’. I touched upon it in another post. I said that recovery is mainly about learning to live again and reclaiming your mind. It is the latter which I am struggling most with which inevitably affects my ability and sometimes desire to live and thrive in life. When I say live, I don’t mean staying alive so much as I mean getting involved with life.

I have found the process of eating over the past month and a half pretty difficult for 2 reasons:

  1. I tend to feel more down when I eat and when I feel full
  2. I have had to attempt eating alone quite a lot over the past three weeks.

Time for some HONESTY

If I cannot be honest with myself then who can I be honest with?

My eating has been abysmal over the past month and a half. It started with a very bad day with my thoughts and emotions which led to a complete shutting down of my stomach and the complete absence of hunger. For a while, I tried to eat in spite of this and with the support of my brothers, seemed to make some progress over Christmas which helped me sleep better. But then Christmas came and went just like my hunger, again. So I went from making myself have something, anything, to allowing myself to miss a meal here and there because I was not hungry. And finally and the thing which concerns me most is that even on the limited occasions when I have felt hungry, I have either ignored it or recognised it but still not responded to it.

I think what I have noticed is the old disordered thoughts around food/body image/preoccupation with weight/body checking starting to reemerge.

I have tried to combat it by adding in things which I am not inclined to eat like chocolate and today (a Bakewell tart) just for the heck of it to remind my mind that there is nothing to fear when it comes to food. I don’t think I fear the effects of food on my body so much as I fear the effects of food on my mind. One feels like an eating disorder and the other feels more like disordered eating but perhaps this is simply semantics.

The other thing I have noticed is my increasing reliance on exercise to keep my mood stable. Most professionals say, ‘it’s great that you’re exercising. It can really boost your serotonin levels.’ What they don’t seem to understand or perhaps acknowledge is that for someone with a history of exercising until the point of not being able to walk, it is not a good thing. It is a dangerous sign. I know it. And I know that my mind will demand more and more of me and my body in this respect. I need to learn to take a break from exercise and not to wait until injury strikes for me to do so.

Bottom line – I need to sort this out.

Eating Disorders are simply a distraction from a bigger issue

I realised a long time ago, many years ago that I feared my own thoughts so much that I chose the devil I knew. ‘Better the devil I knew than the one that scared the shit out of me’,  I thought. Now, I know that all this approach did was to delay the inevitable and rob me of time with loved ones. I think that is what pains me most about all that has happened over the past two plus decades. I missed out on quality time with the people I love.

Weight gain is the start of the journey not the end of the journey

At the point at which I decided to choose recovery and stopped purging, I realised how much I struggled with worry. Constant worry and panic. It is something which has become more heightened since I dropped my old coping mechanism.

Weight restoration is a bitch. Don’t get me wrong. The effects on one’s body, especially if you go for the ‘my body will settle where it bloody well wants to settle’ approach can be pretty horrific at times. But, when your weight is restored and your brain is able to function better (which is not always the case when you struggle with depression), then you might be in a better place to get involved in life and the business of living again.

Having one’s body and brain function restored can bring forth feelings of regret about time lost or spent in the ED. It might also bring challenges in terms of interacting with others (which can be a challenge when you have spent so long isolating yourself or avoiding others), returning to employment (i am still not reconciled with this one), learning how to deal with the normal stresses of life in a way which does not return you to ill health (physically or mentally), having intimate relationships with a partner/spouse, finding confidence in yourself again, learning to make decisions and dealing with the anxieties which likely landed you in the ED in the first place.

These challenges as well as those related to discarding the ED (eating regularly, challenging negative body image issues, being flexible around food etc) can make life feel more challenging in recovery than it ever did when you had an eating disorder.

Feeling overwhelmed

I guess what I struggle with most is the thought that restoring my weight is like climbing a tenth of the way up Mount Kilimanjaro, thinking that I am at the summit and then looking up and realising that I am just 10% of the way there.

I know that I have to deal with grief, social interaction, depression and the link between my mind and my body.

I know I still have a long way to go but boy is this shit tiring.

I think the thing I realised today after another night of three hours sleep is that when I feel overwhelmed by life, I tend to react by driving myself even harder. It only results in a breakdown and I can see what is happening.

I am lucky enough to be receiving some support which I might talk about in another post. Having this support today meant I was able to say what was going on, be honest with myself and try to thing about the best way forwards.

I can see what is going on. My job now is to do something about it. That feels like the toughest part given my indecisiveness. But, I feel like the alternative (slipping back into the eating disorder) is like wrapping yourself in a sleeping blanket which is so old, worn and tattered that it offers you zero protection from the cold.

 

We need to focus our fight on the eating disorder and not the ED professionals

Summary: I totally support everyone who campaigns for better professional support for those with EDs but I also know that sometimes, we wrongly focus our attention and anger on what we cannot get from those institutions rather than what we can get from the rich and diverse community of the recovering and the recovered.

************************************

After reading yet another story about someone who was turned away from receiving eating disorder treatment because their weight was not low enough, I am convinced that we the recovering and the recovered need to focus our fight first and foremost on the eating disorder rather than fighting institutions and professionals who can’t or won’t adopt new approaches.

The NHS is dying people. Money is scarce. There is no new pot of money to enable all sufferers to be treated. Should we linger in misery whilst we wait for the NHS to be resuscitated? Our lives, future, wellbeing are too precious and fragile to be left on waiting lists.

Even if and when you do get NHS/private treatment in the UK, it veers from being full of compassion to being totally devoid of compassion. It veers from superb advice to awful advice. It veers from encouraging starvation or undereating in inpatient units to forcing lots of food down people’s throats who are not mentally ready for that level of intake. It veers from saving lives to watching others worsen. It veers from saying ‘I/we care’ to saying ‘you are on your own’.

What is your bloody point?

My point is that in the UK, there is so much inconsistency that we, those with EDs, often end up wasting time looking or waiting for professional help which may or may not be the key to our recovery. In the interim, our condition worsens or we lose our focus because our energy is spent fighting people and institutions rather than fighting the ED.  We end up no closer to recovery.

I am tired of hearing the desperate stories of people told their weight is too low or too high to receive treatment.

I am tired of professionals who have become so immune to suffering that they only take notice when a person looks like they are at death’s door or on the verge of suicide.

I am tired of we the recovered and the recovering looking outside for help and not receiving it.

I am tired of wasting energy looking for answers outside the ED community when there is such wealth inside it.

I will add a caveat at this point to temper this post. I was fortunate enough to receive both daycare treatment and inpatient treatment, although fortune is a strange word to use when the process of refeeding feels so tortuous.

I say this because I know that there are some who are desperate for this kind of treatment. The truth in my case was that I did not recover with this help. I and many others did not and have not recovered with professional help. You and I have heard about some of those people, who are constantly in and out of IP units or who had professional support but are now languishing in ED misery. I was one of those people. If IP or daycare or therapy was a panacea then all those who had ever had such treatment would now be recovered.

Professional help can be an invaluable aid to recovery. I support people who choose to use it. I truly do. But, I also support those who choose not to. I support those who believe that their energy is best spent on seeking solutions within themselves and the ED community. I also value and appreciate the work of professionals who do their best to help those with EDs. But, I decided to stop looking outside for my recovery. I chose a professionally UNPROFESSIONAL RECOVERY.

Why chose an unprofessional recovery?

I chose to recover in this way because after the way that my time in treatment ended, I was quite frankly, fed up of dealing with professionals. More importantly, I realised that the only way to get better was to start doing it, start eating. No amount of talking was going to cure it. In fact, that is what is wrong with therapy to some extent. You can spend months talking or not, about your feelings, but never having to face the fact that what you have to do is eat and eat shitloads of food for quite some time.

I appreciate all the help that I was given. I will never forget the compassion of those who did all they could to help me. But, truth is, it was not a perfect process and I was not a perfect patient. The best thing treatment did for me was save me from the depths of depression. It also at times,  worsened my ED symptoms because of the things I learnt to do which I had no knowledge of prior to treatment. It is for the most part, a one size fits approach but that dress did not fit me. I honestly believe that the true work of recovery begins outside of the treatment environment.

Inpatient, daycare, therapy, none of that will cure you of an eating disorder. Some people who are professionals give the wrong advice because they have not had an eating disorder or had to recover from an eating disorder. At points in inpatient treatment, I was bloody starving and begging for food but told I had to stick to the meal plan. This only fed into the restrictive mindset which fed into the purging. How can you tell someone who struggles with restricting that they need to simply tolerate that hunger. They are professional hunger tolerators for goodness sake.

At times, I was also too full and that was a huge struggle. At times, I was told that the way to push through this was to distract, distract, distract but how long can we distract ourselves from painful memories or feelings? At some point, we need to confront it. Cry through it, scream through it, write through it. Whatever will help you tackle it without resorting to unhelpful behaviours.

Professionals don’t know it all. Or if they do, they sure as heck don’t tell it all. These are the things professionals never told me about ED recovery but which I learnt from the recovery community and from my own refeeding:

  • extreme hunger may bite you in the butt during ED recovery. Do not be alarmed. It is not binging. It is just the body taking back what we took from it. It will pass. Be still.
  • oedema can last months not weeks.
  • you may suffer from severe joint pain which will take months to settle down. I struggled to walk for months after I started refeeding and my feet are still not the same.
  • you may find yourself needing to urinate frequently in the first few months of refeeding, especially at nighttime
  • you might put on lots of weight around your stomach but this will eventually settle
  • you may go way past what you thought your normal weight was but the body is just taking an insurance payment. When you prove yourself trustworthy, you may get a refund.

In the end, I found my way to ‘recovering mode’ by listening to those who had fully recovered.

Some choose not to go for full weight restoration. I couldn’t do that and nor did I want to. I had spent too long on this shit already. If I held onto just a little bit of the restrictive mindset, it would have led me down the rabbit hole of death. I am still working on my recovery. I know that my recovery is dependent on my ability to keep eating irrespective of my weight. I am at the highest weight I have ever been but I cannot get complacent.

In IP and daycare, you may reach a point where you are told you can now maintain your weight. For me in IP, that weight was still a low BMI. What kind of message does that send out to people with eating disorders? That it is fine to maintain a low weight. How will that help us live a full life? In IP in particular, the aim is oftentimes to get a person to a safe BMI even if it is still an anorexic BMI. This fact will never sit well with me. I know it must be hard for professionals working with people who seem determined to kill themselves slowly but surely they ought to aim for more than we do. Surely their job is to keep faith and hope when we have none left.

So what did your unprofessional recovery entail?

  • Making the decision not to wait any longer for professional help before beginning recovery.
  • buying books from people who had recovered to see how they did it.
  • eating seven or more times a day without ceasing for 4 months.
  • eating way more than the daily recommended calories for men and women put together and way more than I ever ate in IP.
  • not listening to a doctor who told me not to go too far the other way (into obesity)
  • relying on a family member for practical support rather than professionals for support because the latter support is from 9 to 5 only.
  • Using my GP’s support. She has been a fantastic help to me and encouraged me to keep going without professional help because she could see that I was doing way better without their input than I had ever done with their input.
  • learning to live with massive weight gain during those first few month
  • completely stopping restriction and purging
  • telling myself out loud, even at the height of the purging, that I was going to recover
  • KNOWING THAT ULTIMATELY, MY FIGHT WAS NOT WITH SERVICES BUT WITH THE EATING DISORDER
  • spending some days in tears, hiding under a duvet or watching movies to deal with the bad days
  • following blogs of people who had recovered and reaching out to them for support.
  • asking for help for the depression when it started to affect my eating again

Are you saying we should not fight to get better support from ED professionals/institutions?

NO.

What I am saying is that what put us in this shithole of an ED was a mindset and that the only thing that will get us out is a shift in mindset. For some, professionals can help with motivating and encouraging us. I know that for me, especially in IP, there were some amazing staff members who kept telling me that ‘I could do it’. I didn’t believe it for myself and that was my biggest obstacle to recovery.

What I am saying is that we need to look for more answers within the eating disorder community than outside of it. I totally support everyone who campaigns for better professional support for those with EDs but I also know that sometimes, we wrongly focus our attention and anger on what we cannot get from those institutions rather than what we can get from the rich and diverse community of the recovering and the recovered.

Some may be upset by the content of this post and it may only be read by a few people but I’m not bothered. If this provokes even 1 debate or gets 1 person, professional, carer, sufferer or struggler to think again about the recovery process, then so be it.

Finally, I need to state that there are some ED professionals and recovery coaches out there with first hand experience of recovery.  Their knowledge and support can be life-saving. I know. I have such a person in my life as a friend.

What would you recommend?

1) Let your GP know what you are doing so they can monitor you medically.

2) Check out some of these resources:

Emily Troscianko –  https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/hunger-artist

Tabitha Farrar – https://tabithafarrar.com/eating-disorder-recovery-podcast-2017-feed/

The Bulimia Help Method by Ali Kerr et al

Eliza Oras (Follow the Intuition) – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxWY-0as5iyX36Uy7gPLyBg

@hllylzbth shares her recovery journey on Instagram which she did without professional ED support and really inspired me to just get on with the inevitable weight gain.

Alternatively, you can ignore all of my suggestions and find your own way to recover and then share those with others in recovery.

Whatever you do, just remember who the enemy is.

I am not a convert: the problem with gender-neutral toilets

I recently went to see a play called ‘The Convert’ at the Young Vic in Waterloo. For reasons which will remain known only to me and the person who accompanied me, I was not really able to focus on the play and did in fact sleep without shame at points. This will therefore not be a review of ‘The Convert’. I’m sure the play was great. The reviews tell me so. However, the thing that really grabbed my attention were the gender-neutral toilets.

Gender-neutral toilets are a tokenistic concept

In reality, there was nothing new or neutral about the toilets. What was formerly the women’s toilets was now designated as ‘gender-neutral: cubicles’ and what was formerly the men’s toilets were now, ‘gender-neutral: urinals and cubicles’.

The reality of gender-neutral toilets 

Before the play began, I made the following observations. I saw 3 men come out of what were essentially the women’s toilet but saw no woman leave what were essentially the men’s loo.

In the first interval, I heard a woman in the women’s loo exclaim how wonderful it was to have gender neutral toilets and how much she loved it. I then wondered why she still made the decision to use the women’s loo if it was all so wonderful.

In the second interval, I saw a long queue outside the women’s loo. I saw all the men enter the men’s loo and I saw only one woman use the men’s loo. Good for her given that both loos were available for all to use. Personally, I have no desire to visit a men’s loo. I don’t care how long the women’s loo queue is. More fool me you may say. That’s just fine is what I’ll say.

So the question is, why are most women still choosing to use the women’s loo and why are most men still choosing to use the men’s loo? I think it is because we do what we are most comfortable with. For the 3 men who decided to use the women’s loo, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. But, in this new world, I have the feeling that the people that will benefit most from this change, will be men, not women.

Why do I care so much?

I made another observation as I queued outside the women’s loo in the second interval. I saw at least 3 men leave the loo and then do up the zips on their trousers. I am not sure if this is normal or a guy thing but it is certainly not something I wish to be exposed to which may have been the case if I had chosen to use the men’s loo.

As a woman, there are times when I want to change outfit or do something which exposes a part of my body that I will only be comfortable doing in front of other women who have breasts and a vagina just as I do. That is my prerogative and my business. I should not have to worry about whether a man who has the right to enter this ‘gender-neutral: cubicles’ loo will enter just as I am about to take my top off or put it back on. Of course, this would not be an everyday occurence anyway but what is wrong with men and women having safe spaces?

I think that what this trend to neutralise the distinction between men and women does is that it risks us no longer being able to acknowledge and celebrate our womanhood and manhood.

I remember a talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in which I asked her what it means to be a woman. Unfortunately, I cannot remember her answer. But when I posed the question to many of my other friends, what I realised is the following. It is definitely about biology but it is also about who we are on the sliding scale of ‘womanness’.

I know some may say I am confusing gender with sex and that is just fine for me. I don’t mind putting the two together because I am a woman who hates clothes shopping but loves book shopping. I love football and UFC but I hate violence. I hate cooking but love to cook for others. I am also a woman who believes being a woman does not mean an iron is an extension of my arm nor does it mean that a hoover is my best friend or any other stereotypes that may exist of how I should be because I am a woman. My hair is short which means sometimes I am mistaken for a guy. I am not offended since I am secure in my womanhood.

Being a woman is like being on a sliding scale. I hate make-up but will go nowhere without earrings. My body is curvy but I am athletic.

So how does all this relate to gender-neutral toilets?

Womanhood is not one thing. But in my opinion, being a woman is first and foremost about our biological difference.

There are biological differences which mean that one person is a woman and another a man. This is irrespective of our opinion about who we are. Surely in the place where we we need to use those biological tools, we should be able to have loos which are for those with penises and loos for those with vaginas. Surely we should have spaces where we can feel comfortable dealing with needs related to menstruation or milk-filled breasts or anything else that affects us because of our female biology.

Surely we can have a gender-neutral loo without disposing of men’s and women’s loos.

 

 

Silence kills: the reason I write openly about the state of my mind

Quotefancy-4690973-3840x2160

They say that bacteria needs seven things to grow*. Well, I believe that mental illness/disturbance needs just one thing to grow – SILENCE.

Those who know me know that I tend to be a very private person. I do not have a deep need to be heard. I do however have a desire to encourage others not to struggle alone. Writing publicly about my mind took me a long time to do and to some extent goes against my nature. But, what I realised is that all silence ever did for me was:

  • allow my shame to grow
  • make me feel alone
  • make me feel like there was no way out of my problems
  • result in the deterioration of my mind
  • prolong my suffering
  • allow me to lose out on life

I decided to write about it and write publicly because:

  • I know that when I die, if I do nothing else in this world, if I achieve none of my other dreams, at least my words might help others confront their struggles/seek help/know they are not alone
  • I would hate for others to lose out on life in the way that I did. If my writing helps someone seek help quicker or speak sooner, then this blog is worth it
  • people need to know that no matter their experience, they are not the only ones to have suffered from mental illness/disturbances
  • my mother encouraged me to speak openly and she also encouraged me to stop writing during times of relapse so that I could focus on getting better
  • I come from a long line of ‘strong’ women. I thought I was weak because I could not cope with all that was going on in my mind and in my world.  I now realise that strength has nothing to do with mental illness. It is not a weakness to struggle or to become ill. The weak/strong dichotomy just resulted in more self-loathing which didn’t work out well for me. I now prefer to consider things in this way: each human being has differing levels of resilience and I can grow mine just like others can grow/have grown theirs.
  • I want others to know that mental illness does not have a face, a race, an age, a profession etc

I write because my silence almost killed me. I write because silence kills.

Thirty signs that you are progressing in eating disorder recovery

IMG-20181024-WA0069

This list is not exhaustive and each sign is an indication that you are heading in the right direction. If you are not yet there with any of them, this list is only meant to indicate some things to aim for. Wherever you are at with it all, keep going and please be gentle with your mind and body.

  1. You realise that recovery has everything to do with food
  2. You realise that recovery has nothing to do with food
  3. You don’t completely flip or punch someone in the face when they tell you how ‘well’ you look
  4. You prefer the non-emaciated version of you to the emaciated version of you
  5. You find yourself eating without overthinking
  6. You don’t avoid social occasions involving food
  7. You don’t generally flip out at people because your brain is less malnourished
  8. Cooking does not provoke the terror of God in you and or leave you in a cold sweat
  9. You don’t feel the need to compensate for eating
  10. You are able to laugh without a care in the world
  11. You are no longer hiding your recovered body from the world at large
  12. You know that the answer to difficult equations in life is not weight loss
  13. You no longer have to go to the toilet every 10 seconds at nighttime
  14. Your body is no longer painful to touch/the oedema has gone
  15. Your waking hours are not consumed with food or thoughts of food
  16. You are less interested in Man v. Food/Great Cake Bake Off and more interested in whether Brexit means Brexit and what is happening in the world beyond you
  17. You are not deluding yourself or others about your eating habits and compensatory behaviours
  18. You eat regularly whether you are hungry or not because you are still in recovery
  19. You are weight restored but you keep eating nevertheless
  20. You are no longer having serious body checking sessions
  21. You are able to take a shower without self-loathing
  22. You are accepting of your body irrespective of BMI. You take pride in your body, you rub your growing tummy, because you know how bloody hard it has been – this recovery journey
  23. You don’t give a shit how much you weigh, how much your food weighs or how many calories you have had today
  24. You are honouring your extreme hunger – both physical and mental – without punishing yourself thereafter
  25. A flat stomach is no longer your life’s purpose. You exercise for pleasure, not for pain
  26. You are able to see the evils of an ED and want to shout it out loud to whoever will listen
  27. You are interested in helping others recover even though you are still in recovery
  28. You do not feel the need to play the ‘lose weight, gain attention’ game because you know your voice, not your body, is your most powerful weapon
  29. You keep eating even when and even though you feel like shit. Basically, you continue eating in spite of your other mental health struggles.
  30. Living with you is no longer hell on earth for those around you and you are able to be present and enjoy the company of others

Personally, I struggle most with 8, 18 and 29. I think I’m cool with 16 and 21.

Now, over to you. I leave you with my recovery anthem.