Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Burkini Ban: Misogynistic, Islamophobic Nonsense.

The picture that has been seen all over the world, of police officers forcing a Muslim woman to remove her "burkini."

We all know that France has, in recent times, been subjected to some horrific terrorist atrocities.  In the last twelve months alone, 219 people have been killed in various incidents, most claimed as the handiwork of the Islamic Extremist group, ISIS.  

Our hearts have broken for France on a frighteningly regular basis, as the country has witnessed stabbings, shootings and bombings, all supposedly in the name of Islam.  We've wept for the men, women and children lost in the most terrible of ways.  We've held vigils, we've changed our Facebook and Twitter profile pictures in support and we've offered our thoughts, prayers and consolations.  That feeling of empathy and solidarity is only right in the face of the atrocities France has suffered.  

But my heart has broken not only for the victims of these warped "soldiers," but for the billions of innocent Muslims who, time and time again, have been forced to remind us that the noisy, violent minority does not speak for the religion as a whole.  We've seen Mosques attacked in the wake of terrorism, as though harming peaceful Muslims in prayer somehow makes the situation "even."  We've seen people who may not even be Muslim, but, to the ignorant, simply look like one (whatever that means), having abuse shouted at them in the street.  It's worth reminding ourselves - countless times, if necessary - that the vast majority of Muslims are just normal people who have shed just as many tears over the acts of barbarism carried out in the name of their faith as anyone else has.  

And yet, the Islamic backlash continues and now it appears to be reaching a new level.

Getty Images

Several French cities have now imposed a ban on the "burkini" - an outfit that allows Muslim women to remain covered up on the beach, in accordance with their religious beliefs.

France is a secular country and views religion as a private matter.  In an incident which has now been seen all over the world, a Muslim woman on a beach in Nice was recently forced by armed police to remove her burkini and appeared to be issued with an on-the-spot fine.  A second Muslim woman has come forward to say that she was also issued with a fine for "not wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism."  Witnesses to this incident claimed that people nearby began shouting "go home" at the woman and her family, and applauded the officers involved.

A tribunal in Nice recently referred to the burkini ban as being a "necessary, appropriate and proportionate" response to the terrorist threat the country has been under for the last few years.  


The burkini was invented in Australia as a means of Muslim women being able to adapt to Australian beach culture, without sacrificing their religious beliefs to do so.  And yet this ban on the garment (which Germany has also apparently adopted) is only going to make the Muslim community feel more like outsiders.  The very opposite of what it was created for.

France has already issued a ban on women and girls wearing headscarves in schools and there are proposals to extend this to the country's universities as well.  Again, how does this stop terrorism?

In France, their secular system of government is supposed to ensure equality, yet over there, it's illegal to collect data about ethnicity or religion.  That means that there are no official statistics concerning the Muslim population over there, including with regards to jobs, police searches, or anything else.  At a time when a minority community are being stigmatised, they have nothing to back up the way they are being treated.  All that does is further ostracise those people, who then believe that nobody is interested in how their lives are being affected by the sanctions imposed on them, or the judgements made against them by those who ignorantly tar the entire religion with the same brush.

And that is exactly what ISIS want.

One of the easiest ways to brainwash people is to see them being badly treated - or at least, treated differently - and to convince them that it's because they are hated.  That those in power and the people they meet on the street hate them.  That they are the enemy.

By banning a garment that was created in order for Muslim women to feel comfortable enjoying the beach alongside their religious and non-religious counterparts, we are further stigmatising a group that has been stigmatised enough already.

Clothing alone does not make a terrorist. 

And it's not even only Muslim women who are wearing these outfits, anyway.  Nigella Lawson famously wore one whilst on holiday in Australia, saying that she wanted to ensure her skin was covered and protected from the sun.  Indeed, the original creator of the burkini, Aheda Zanetti, claims that 40% of her customers are not Muslim.  They're simply women (and indeed, in a few cases, men) from various religious backgrounds, who want to remain covered up on the beach.

And that brings us to a whole other argument.

Are we really, seriously, in 2016, still quite literally policing what women are allowed to wear in public?!  I mean, really?!

Women have, throughout the ages, been told what they can and can't wear.  A few decades ago, we were chastising women for not wearing enough on the beach, because it was deemed unseemly and unladylike for women to wear bikinis.  Now, we're slapping them with fines for covering up too much.  Can anyone else see the blatant hypocrisy, or is it just me?!  Please tell me it's not just me...

The literal policing of women's bodies is not acceptable.  It is not acceptable for Irish women to have to travel to the UK for abortions, because they're not allowed to have them in their own country.  It is equally unacceptable for a Muslim woman in any country, to be told what she is and isn't allowed to wear.  What a woman puts on in the morning is entirely up to her.  

Many women wear the burkini because it makes them feel safe.  Whether that's because it provides religious safety, or simply because it covers their body and makes them feel safe from the over-sexualised and too-often-critical gaze women's bodies are subjected to doesn't matter at this point in the discussion.  The fact is: if a woman chooses to cover her body on the beach, it is never, ever anyone's right to dictate otherwise.  Forcing a woman to take off layers of clothes, with everyone watching (some jeering) and issuing her with a fine for not being "appropriately dressed" is the kind of misogynistic nonsense that should have been dead and buried last century.

Banning the burkini is not going to end terrorism.  It's not going to make Muslim women feel safe, or accepted.  It is going to force us to look at ourselves and the way we treat others.  I can only hope we learn from this ridiculousness and aim to change the situation, before we make it even worse.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Bedtime Story (24/8/2016)

At the time of writing, I have a nasty Summer cold.  So, obviously, I thought I'd share it with you, in the most germ-free way possible... ;-)

Want to listen to this story as a podcast?  Just click here!

What Is A Girl To Do, When She's Got Summer Flu?!

Outside, the sun was shining.
"I should be on the beach!"
But Josie Brown was ill in bed
And fun seemed out of reach.

"Who gets a cold in Summer?"
Josie sadly cried.
"I want to be in the sunshine,
Not on my own, inside."

Josie slunk beneath her bedsheets
And let out a sneeze: "ATCHOO!
Oh, what is a girl to do,
When she's got Summer flu?!"

Josie's skin turned hot, then cold.
Her nose was fiery red.
When she moved, it made her dizzy;
A pain banged in her head.

Her neck hurt, so did her back
And everywhere else, as well!
Was she ever going to feel better?
Only time would tell.

Her open bedroom window
Let the Summer air breeze through.
But what is a girl to do,
When she's got Summer flu?!

Josie's eyes were puffy and red,
Her skin was clammy to touch.
And her throat was far too sore
For poor Josie to eat that much.

The skin beneath Josie's dripping nose
Was sore; all cracked and peeling.
All she could do was lie in bed
And stare up at the ceiling.

She really wasn't happy.
Poor Josie felt quite blue.
So, what is a girl to do,
When she's got Summer flu?!

"Get some rest," Mum told her.
And since Mum was quite wise,
Josie lay back on her pillow
And she quickly closed her eyes.

She slept for hours and hours,
Dreaming of the sun
And playing in the park with friends
Until the day was done.

For the next day or two,
Josie slept away the day,
Dreaming of exciting places
She could explore and play.

She woke to take her medicine,
Then she closed her eyes once more.
And dreamed about the world,
Beyond her bedroom door.

All that sleep worked wonders;
Josie woke as good as new!
But from her Mum's room, Josie heard
A very loud "ATCHOO!"

"Oh no," Josie groaned.  "Poor Mum!
I gave my germs to you!
Oh, what is a girl to do,
Now her Mum's got Summer flu?!"

Josie nodded her young head.
"It's time you got some rest,"
She told her mother, anxiously.
"I know that's for the best."

"With sleep and medicine," said Josie,
"You'll be fine in a day or do,"
I know that's how you beat Summer flu."

And now you know it, too!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Learning To Be (Positively) Selfish

I've always hated selfishness.  I hate it to the point that I've been known to wear myself out, trying to be unselfish, probably to a ridiculous degree.  When my original plans to celebrate my birthday fell through and my friends started asking how else I would like to celebrate it, my stock answer was: "What would you all enjoy?"

I'm not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination.  Sometimes, we all do things that others could interpret as being selfish, even if it's completely unintentional.  But, whilst I have a long list of personal flaws (for starters, I am liable to cry over everything), I do try to ensure that deliberate selfishness isn't one of them.

So, it struck me as being odd when, after a sustained period of stress in my life, someone told me to "be more selfish."

I basically replied with this:

But the more I thought about it, the more right I realised they were.  There's a massive difference between negative selfishness and positive selfishness, and it's one I'm still in the process of learning.  If I was asked to sum it up as simply as possible, I would say this: "Negative selfishness is about putting yourself first, to the detriment of others.  Positive selfishness is about putting yourself first, to ensure you're in better shape to help yourself and others when they need it."

"Selfish" is a word with such negative connotations, that it almost doesn't seem fair to use it when we're actually just talking about taking time for yourself when things get rough.  And let's face it, things get rough for all of us, at one time or another...

It's good to try to be there for our families and friends when things are going badly for them.  In fact, it's not only a good thing, it's the human thing to do; to try to empathise with and give support to someone you care for, when they're having a hard time.  And sometimes, being there for other people almost inevitably means putting yourself further back in the metaphorical queue.  That's fair enough.  When someone is ill, or exhausted, or going through something major and needs support, putting them first feels like the right thing to do and we do it willingly.

But whilst we're pushing our own needs to the back of the queue, we can't abandon them, entirely.  Doing that is to take a shortcut to Misery Town.  Do not pass "Go."  Do not collect £200.

When you put yourself last one too many times, you start to notice the negative impact that doing so can have on your well being.

To counter that, we need to find the balance between putting ourselves last and putting ourselves first, for a change.

If you feel like you never have time for yourself, there is nothing wrong with taking some.

If you feel as though you're always there for other people and you're taking on their stresses as your own, there is nothing wrong with turning your phone off for an hour and having a bubble bath, or lazing around watching YouTube videos, or whatever else makes you feel relaxed.

If you're dealing with a situation involving a family member or friend who's having a hard time and is leaning on you, there is nothing wrong with arranging to meet for coffee with someone else and talking things through, so you don't keep it all inside.  After all, if you're listening to someone else's worries on a regular basis, how else do you stop yourself from internalising their pain, other than by letting it go in some way?  Sharing the burden helps.

If you need time away from a situation, take it.  If you need to do something nice for yourself, to counter the stress you're going through, do it and don't be ashamed about it.  Your loved ones will never want you to be putting yourself last, all the time.  Your friends will understand if you need a bit of "you" time.  And if they don't understand that, then frankly, they're not very good friends.  The people that are good friends will get that to be at your best - for yourself and for them - you need to take some time to put yourself first, every now and then.

I feel like I'm finally getting to grips with the idea that positive selfishness (even though I still don't like using that word) exists.  And that deciding "you know what?  I'm turning my phone off for a while, I'm watching a film and eating a big bowl of popcorn and I'm not going to think about stressy problems - mine or anyone else's" is not a bad thing to do.  On the contrary, it's good for you.

We should all remember, that whilst it's nice to put other people first, we must never continually put ourselves last.  It's okay to be "selfish" now and then.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Bedtime Story (17/8/2016)

This story is one that I hope will remind everyone to take notice of things as they happen - make the most of every moment.

This week's story is also available as a podcast.

Looking For Happy

Bobby wasn't the most cheerful of rabbits.  He kept himself to himself and didn't have many friends.  He spent most of his time at home, all alone.  He thought it was better that way; if he ventured too far outside, he might bump into a fox, after all!

One afternoon, Bobby was collecting baby carrots from his garden, ready to make a delicious stew, when he saw another rabbit, rolling in the grass.  The rabbit hopped, jumped, skipped and rolled, laughing as he went.  Bobby wrinkled his nose.  "What silly behaviour," he tutted.  "I hope he doesn't bump into my garden fence."

But the longer he watched the other rabbit, the sadder Bobby began to feel.  He had never really frolicked or played in the meadow.  Not since he was a tiny bunny, anyway.  Seeing the other rabbit, with his eyes glinting in the bright sunshine as he jumped about, made Bobby feel upset and a bit cross.  He waved a paw.  "Hey," he shouted.  "Who do you think you are?!"

The rabbit flashed him a smile as he bounded past Bobby's house.  "I'm happy!"  Was all Bobby heard.

All afternoon and long into the evening, Bobby kept thinking about Happy.  He felt sorry for shouting at him, when all he was doing was having fun.  And even more than that, Bobby wanted to meet him again, to see if maybe - just maybe - he could join in and have fun, too!

Bobby thought about it all night and by the following morning, his mind was made up.  He was going to go out and look for Happy!  Maybe if he found him, Happy would teach him how to have fun, instead of feeling so lonely and cross all the time.

Bobby left his house and began his search.  The first creature he came across was a starling, with beautiful, freckled feathers.  "Hello," Bobby said, a little shyly.  "I'm looking for Happy.  Do you know him?"

The starling lifted a wing as she shook her head.  "No," she replied.  "But if you want to, you can swoop and fly with me, for a while."

Bobby frowned.  "Rabbits can't fly," he insisted.

"But they can pretend," the starling said.  "Sometimes, the little bunnies jump off that tree stump over there, with their paws outstretched.  And they have so much fun, pretending to soar through the air!"

Bobby wasn't sure it was a good idea.  After all, he was supposed to be looking for someone.  But he decided to give it a try and to his enormous surprise, the starling was right; it was a lot of fun!  After several jumps, he was out of breath, but he gave the starling a big smile.  "I'd better keep looking," he said.  "See you later?"

The starling nodded.  "See you later," she called, as she beat her wings and disappeared up into the clouds.

Bobby decided to carry on with his search.  After a while, he met a squirrel.  "Excuse me?"  He called, as the squirrel darted up a tree.  "Do you know where Happy is?"

The squirrel glanced back down.  "Can't say I've heard of anyone called Happy," he admitted.  "But I do know a lot of bunnies.  They come to play and we have races up and down this tree.  Fancy giving it a go?"

Bobby would normally have said no, but he was still feeling really good after pretending to fly with the starling, so he nodded his head.  "Okay," he said.  "Just for a while."  

He spent several minutes, scampering up and down the thick tree trunk with his new friend, giggling as the squirrel overtook him.  "I think you win," he said at last.  "I'm not sure rabbits are supposed to climb trees.  It was fun, though!"

He waved goodbye and set off to search for Happy once more.

He hadn't gotten very far, when he bumped into a badger.  "Hello," he waved.  "I'm looking for Happy.  Do you know where I can find him?"

The badger frowned.  "I don't think I can help you," he said.  "But if you've got time, I'm in the mood for a game of hide and seek.  Would you like to play?"

Bobby really wanted to find Happy, but he was starting to have a lot of fun, meeting the other creatures who lived nearby, so he decided a few more minutes couldn't hurt.

The badger rushed off to hide, whilst Bobby counted to ten.  Then, Bobby darted around, searching for him, until he finally found him, chuckling to himself under a bush.  "Is it my turn to hide, now?"  Bobby giggled.  "Because I've just thought of a really good place!"

He and the badger carried on playing for ages, until Bobby suddenly remembered what he was supposed to be doing.  "Oh, I'd better go," he said.  "I've got to find Happy!"

"Okay," the badger replied.  "Maybe come back tomorrow and we'll play again."

"I will," promised Bobby, as he hopped on his way.

Bobby carried on searching for what felt like hours, but he couldn't find Happy anywhere.  He said hello to lots of different creatures and played all kinds of games, but eventually, he decided it was no use.  Happy was gone.  He turned for home, feeling tired.

Just as Bobby was in sight of his house, a bundle of brown fur came shooting past, rolling through the grass.  Despite how fast the bundle was travelling, Bobby recognised him right away.  "Happy!"  He cried, bounding after him.  "I've been looking for you!"

The rabbit from the day before stopped rolling through the grass and gave him a funny look.  "Happy?"  He smiled.  "My name's Brad!"

Bobby blushed.  "Oh..."  He mumbled.  "I'm sorry..."

"Don't be!"  Brad insisted.  "I mean, I am happy.  It's just not my name."  He paused, dusting himself off.  "Why were you looking for me?"

Bobby sighed.  "Well...  Yesterday, you looked like you were having so much fun.  I wondered if you could show me how."

Just then, a voice called out to the rabbits.  "Hello?"  Bobby glanced over his shoulder to see the badger heading towards him.  "I hope you don't mind, but I had such a great time playing with you, I thought I'd come over and ask if you found Happy in the end?"

"Um..."  Bobby began, but before he could say anything, the squirrel from earlier came scurrying over.  

"Hello again," he said.  "I wanted to invite you to a little gathering I'm having tomorrow.  We had such fun earlier, I couldn't hold it without you!"

Bobby beamed back at him.  "Really?!"

"Of course!"  The squirrel replied.  "Did you ever find Happy, in the end?"

Suddenly, a beating of wings distracted everyone and they glanced up to the bright, blue sky.

"Don't forget to come and fly with me again tomorrow," the starling called down to Bobby.  "And I promise I'll keep a lookout for Happy, for you!"

Brad smiled at Bobby.  "You know... I don't think you need me to teach you how to have fun," he told him.  "I think you always knew how.  And I think you did find Happy, today.  It just wasn't what you thought it would be!"

Bobby smiled at all of his new friends.  "I'm happy," he said.  

"Being with friends makes everyone happy," Brad agreed.

Bobby nodded.  "Would anyone like some carrot stew?"  He asked.  "There's plenty to go around!"

After that, Bobby stopped being so grumpy.  He learned that he only needed to be alone when he wanted to be.  He had lots of fun with lots of new friends.

And he never needed to look for "Happy" again.


Monday, 15 August 2016

Nerdy Life Lessons!

This morning, whilst I lay in bed, pondering the truly horrifying thought of having to get up, I ended up browsing Twitter.  There, I spotted a frankly brilliant blog post by Lauren Laverne, on the life lessons she gained from musicals.  My first thought was "OH MY GOD, I could have written this!"  And then I grumbled to myself about how I tend to either have ALL THE IDEAS for blogs, or literally none at all.

And then it struck me that there's another genre that taught me a whole heap of valuable life lessons.  Nerdy TV shows.

Yes, I am a nerd and proud of it.  And so, here's my little list of life-lessons, gained from an entire existence spent watching nerdy TV shows.  In reverse order, because I like to save the best for last...

Knightmare taught me the importance of being CLEAR when talking to people...

My love of slightly nerdy TV shows goes right back to my childhood.  Many hours were spent, sitting in front of the telly, watching a group of kids try to guide a friend through a maze of relatively terrible CGI.  And when I wasn't watching Knightmare, I was playing it, by wrapping a scarf around my face (or pulling a big hat down over it) and asking my friends: "WHERE AM I?!"  Don't judge me...

But in all seriousness, it was that show that made me realise - very early on in life - the importance of clarity, when talking to others.  Okay, in reality, a muddled instruction probably isn't going to result in your mate being eaten by a monster, or falling to their doom, but it is important to make sure that what you say to people is easily understood.  Yes: simple, clear intructions are important in certain practical situations.  But more than that, have a think about how many misunderstandings and subsequent arguments could be avoided if we just chose our words more carefully?!  Our words have the power to affect other people enormously, so we should be choosing them wisely.

I can trace my belief in trying to always be clear in my meaning, either through the spoken word or the written - right back to Knightmare.

The X-Files taught me that it's okay to allow someone else their beliefs, regardless of whether or not you share them...

There were many reasons that I wanted to be Dana Scully, when I was younger.  Snogging David Duchovny was high on the list.  But I was impressed by almost everything about her.  She was strong, she was brave, she was intelligent and she held onto her beliefs - or, in certain cases, lack of them - with an iron grip.  It may have been ridiculously frustrating to watch Scully encounter aliens and monsters and yet somehow stubbornly refuse to believe in either, but hey, at least she was consistent.

And yet, as the series went on and Dana continued to grow as a character, we saw - more and more - that she was able to accept (however begrudgingly) Mulder's greater willingness to believe in the paranormal and, crucially, we saw that she was able to love and accept him, despite not ever entirely sharing his belief system.

In short, Dana Scully taught me that we don't have to have beliefs - religious, moral or political - in common with someone, in order to get along with them, or even love them.  Everyone is entitled to believe - or disbelive - in anything they want.  Our job isn't to adapt our own belief system so that it matches theirs.  It's simply to accept that person, regardless of differences.  Which leads me nicely on to my next point...

Red Dwarf taught me that unlikely friendships can form between people who would otherwise never give one another the time of day...

Okay, let's be real: the characters in Red Dwarf kind of hate each other.  There's no disputing that.  But, in a bizarre way, they kind of love each other, too.  And that's what makes this show so good.  Lister may spend half his life bitching about Rimmer, but when Rimmer's in danger, his crewmate usually comes through for him.  Rimmer himself may be a spectacular coward, but even he has proven himself to be able to muster up some kind of defence for his unlikely buddies, over the years.

Thrown together, with no option but to work as a unit, the "boys from the Dwarf" are quite literally, the most unlikely friends in the universe.  And for the most part, they might shudder at the thought of even being referred to as "friends."  But, whenever they get themselves into trouble, they're capable of working together as a team to defeat a common enemy.  They're able to support one another when it counts.

To me, watching this as a kid, it was a valuable lesson in accepting that you don't have to be best friends with everyone, in order to be able to work together.  And just as importantly - if not more so - it taught me that we shouldn't just surround ourselves with carbon copies of who we are.  If we can learn to accept that not everyone is going to be 100% on our wavelength, and if we're prepared to get to know those people anyway, it can lead to unexpected friendships - and a greater understanding of others, too.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer taught me that your friends are the family you choose for yourself...

I truly feel that there's something amazing about having a close circle of friends around you.  Nothing cemented this belief more (aside from Friends) than Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

In every situation Buffy finds herself in, she has an incredible support network behind her, in the form of her friends.  Willing to put their lives in danger in order to protect their friend, the Scoobies prove their dedication time and time again.  And it goes way beyond fighting demons, too.  When Buffy needs emotional support, her friends are there.  And vice versa.  There's an incredible level of closeness between the Scooby Gang, especially the three core members, Buffy, Willow and Xander.  Yes, they fall out, yes, they disagree, yes, they sometimes keep things from one another.  But in the end, they come through for each other when it matters the most.  

After (SPOILER) Buffy's mum dies, her friends truly become family to Buffy and her sister, Dawn, with Willow and Tara moving in to the family home and Giles assisting with practical issues, such as money.  Indeed, in a lot of ways, after Buffy's dad disappears from the scene, Giles acts as a father figure to the slayer.

Watching this in my teens was pretty amazing, to me.  I was from a military family; I had spent my entire childhood moving around from place to place and had never had that one, consistent group of friends that I could rely on.  But Buffy made me believe that I'd find them, someday.  And when I finally did, I cherished them all the more.

Good friends - best friends - love you unconditionally, not because they feel a compulsion to do so out of family loyalty, but because they choose to.  They come to you as strangers and end up being like family.  Sometimes closer.  

Buffy also taught me that sometimes, you can find the strength to support the people you love through unspeakable things.

Okay, so none of my friends have - thankfully - turned into evil witches and started flaying people alive, or trying to end the world.  But when (SPOILER) Willow does that in Buffy, Xander manages to stop her in her tracks - and save the world in the process - just by reminding her that he loves her and is willing to help her get through the pain she's feeling as a result of (SPOILER) the loss of her beloved girlfriend, Tara.  When it would have been really easy to hate Willow, and when being unable to forgive her for her actions would be completely understandable, Xander (and later, the rest of the gang) realises that her behaviour has come from a place of complete and utter grief and that what she needs is to be supported and loved.  I can barely watch that scene without going a little misty-eyed...

Obviously, in reality, there are times when you have no choice but to walk away from someone - please remember that if you're being harmed physically or emotionally in real life, it's not your responsibility to "fix" the person hurting you - but Buffy teaches us that when the people we love behave in a manner that's out-of-character, rather than simply giving up on them right away, we should find out what's causing the difference in their behaviour and try to work out how (and if) we can help them through it.  That was always an incredibly powerful message to my youthful ears and it's one I try to stick by, today.

It also goes hand in hand with...

Doctor Who taught me that you don't just give up on things/people who are important to you, nor do you shy away from doing the right thing.

So, I said I was writing this blog in reverse order and I very much am, because my top two nerdy TV shows will always be Buffy and Doctor Who, with the latter in first place.  My abusive ex once said to me that "everything you'll ever need to know about life and love can be learnt from Star Wars." Well, I feel that way about Doctor Who.  I'm a nerd.  Deal with it.

Doctor Who has taught me never to give up when something is truly important.  You need only look at how long Amelia Pond waited for her "Raggedy Man," or how long Rory was prepared to wait for the grown-up Amy Pond (literally thousands of years), to know that this is a show that encourages you to do the very opposite of throwing in the towel.

Having the guts to stand up and say when something is wrong, to vocally defend those in need and to keep reaching for a dream even when it seems out of reach are all things I passionately believe in.  And you can learn all of those lessons from Doctor Who.

In every episode - no matter how fantastical the plot line - that integral message shines through.  The Doctor himself, for the most part at least, possesses a belief that things will be okay in the end.  That nothing is insurmountable.  There is no evil that cannot be countered when you have the right team around you and good will triumph in the end.

Even the Doctor's ability to regnerate could be seen as an example of this unshakeable belief in not giving up.  He "dies," only to start over again.  We all have moments where we feel like our dreams are "dying," or that we're not going to win in a certain situation.  But we can always change the way we're doing things, or alter our outlook, rather than give up altogether.

And probably the most valuable life lesson of all...

Doctor Who taught me that EVERYONE is important.

The Doctor frequently travels with humans.  Regular, everyday people, with pretty normal lives.  And he never fails to let them know how spectacular they are capable of being.  

It's not just his regular travelling companions, either.  The Doctor takes great pains to ensure that nobody - however insignificant they believe themselves to be - ever walks away from an interaction with him without knowing how important they really are.

And isn't that the greatest life lesson we could learn from a nerdy TV show?!  Everyone out there in the world - no matter who they are, where they're from and what they believe in - is important.  And should be made to feel as such.

If we keep that in mind, we begin to realise that we all deserve to be taken seriously.  To be cared about.  Respected.  Nobody on this planet is unimportant and therefore nobody should be made to feel that they are.

In fact, every single other lesson nerdy TV taught me over the years leads up to this one.  If we remember that everyone is equally important, then we think harder about the way we speak to people.  We consider that we don't have to share beliefs with everyone, but we have to respect everyone's rights to their own views.  We start to understand that even if we seemingly have nothing in common with someone, that doesn't mean we can't work alongside them and try to get along.  And those people we choose to keep closest to us become people whose importance we don't want to ever forget.  We stand by them and we hope they'll do the same for us.  We learn not to give up on those people unless we have no other option.  We learn that we - and they - should stand up for what is right and vocally defend those who can't defend themselves.  

Because we are ALL important.  Every single one of us.

So, thank you to my favourite TV shows, for teaching me so much.  

Long may we learn from the things we love.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Bedtime Story (10/8/2016)

If there's one thing people notice about me almost as quickly as they notice my unruly curls, it's my height.  Or lack, thereof.  At five foot nothing, I'm pretty much the shortest person I know, aside from children (and my sister, who had the good grace to stop growing at 4'11.5" - thanks, sis!).  So, this week's story is, essentially, the story of my life!

Click here for a podcast version of this week's bedtime story.

"I Want To GROW!"

Cassie was shorter than all of her friends,
Even when she stretched, on the very ends
Of her toes, they towered above.
It didn't seem fair and she'd had enough.

"I'm going to have to make myself tall,"
Cassie announced, one day, to them all.
"You can't do that," her friends started to snigger.
But Cassie was determined to make herself bigger.

That same day, she went off to the park,
Planning to stay until long after dark.
She hung from the monkey bars, until her arms ached,
Vowing to save herself from her short fate.

"I'll hang here until I stretch," she declared.
Nobody answered, but she didn't care.
Still, hanging so long was causing her pain.
Eventually, Cassie slumped back down again.

"Never mind," she groaned. "I'll find a new way!"
And she darted off, leaving her friends to play.
Back home, Cassie filled her shoes up with earth,
Ignoring her parents' obvious mirth.

"When you put a seed in the ground, it grows,"
She explained, wriggling her toes.
"So maybe I'll grow if I stand in this soil?"
Mum frowned.  "Or maybe your shoes will be spoiled?!"

"You can't just make yourself taller," Dad said.
"Some people are tall, some are shorter, instead."
But Cassie sighed, still wracking her brain.
"Ooh," she cried.  "It's started to rain!"

Cassie ran, muddy feet and all,
Out to the garden, straight into the squall.
"Rain makes the plants grow," she happily cried.
"It doesn't grow children," Dad snapped.  "Come inside!"

Cassie grumpily did as she was told.
She was wet, she was angry and terribly cold.
But worst of all, she was still petite.
She stared down at her muddy, wet feet.

"I just want to be bigger," she said, her head sadly bowed.
"When you're short you can't see when you're stuck in a crowd.
And you can't reach anything on a high shelf.
You're like a pixie; a small little elf."

She let out a sigh, with a shake of her head.
"And all my trousers are too long," she said.
"Nobody notices you when you're small.
I hate being tiny.  I want to be tall!"

Mum and Dad smiled at their daughter.
"Life's not that bad, just being shorter.
We notice you.  So do all of your friends!
Your height's not where the sum of you ends."

Cassie looked her parents up and down.
"What do you mean?"  She asked, with a frown.
Mum grinned. "I mean there's no need for you to be stressed,"
And she held her hand against Cassie's chest.

"So, outside you're small, but I think you'll find,
It's more important that you're helpful, loving and kind.
And if you're those things, then goodness knows,
Who cares about the distance from your head to your toes?!"

"Besides, even though you might think it strange,"
Dad added: "We actually don't want you to change.
You might not be tall, but you're our little girl.
To me, you're as big as the whole, wide world."

Cassie grinned, as pleased as could be.
"I'm short," she admitted.  "But that's just me.
Besides, it's only on the outside.  Because, you see...
Inside, I'm sure I'm seven foot three."


Sunday, 7 August 2016

Five Years FREE - What Have I Learnt?


Five years ago today, I wrote a Facebook status.  It said simply:

"Deleted him from my friend list.  And my phone.  And my life."

It could have been just a random post break-up status, but this was much more than that.  This was me parting company with the man who had abused me for well over a year and a half.

Sure, there was contact after that point.  An emotionally confusing phone call in November, which took me straight back to square one, in terms of healing, plus the odd compulsive glance at his Facebook page (until I did the sensible thing and blocked him).  But this was the moment that I realised that I had to wrench myself away from him, no matter how hard it was.  It was time to rebuild my life again.  Time to rebuild me again.

I would have been disappointed in myself had I not made a Sims reference, here.

Five years later, I am a different person.  I may look pretty similar, but a whole heap of things have changed dramatically - and there's no going back.  99% of those changes are positive, too.  Not only am I free from the guy who manipulated, controlled, threatened and emotionally drained me, but I'm a new and improved version of me, to boot.  Win-win!

I wanted to celebrate this milestone in some way, but I struggled to decide how, for a while.  I mean, firstly, I panicked that by even talking about it five years later, a few people would wrongly assume that I was somehow holding onto my victimhood.  Then, I realised something important: by focusing on the positive changes I've made and the lessons I've learned in the last five years, I'm very much throwing my victimhood under the proverbial bus.  I'm okay.  I'm improved.  I'm not clinging on to anything sorrowful and I haven't been for a while.  More importantly, the people who might think that I was clinging on to some kind of victim status - that just by openly talking about abuse, I might be expecting everyone to get their imaginary violins out and weep profusely for me - are exactly the kind of people who probably know very little about abuse in the first place and have no sense of tact, whatsoever.  

Even more importantly, I realised that talking about the lessons I've learnt in the last five years could actually help people who are still travelling the difficult road I walked to get here.  I know that I appreciated the words of fellow survivors hugely whilst I pieced my life back together again, so if I can help anyone else, I very much want to.

So... What have I learnt, over the last five years?

1. Recovery is a LONG journey.  And there are no shortcuts.

Thankfully, where we're going, we don't need roads...

There comes a point - any time from a few weeks to a few months - after leaving an abusive person, where you think: "This has to be it, right?  I've done the whole five stages of grief thing, I'm over it now, aren't I?!"  And then, something - often something seemingly insignificant - triggers you and makes you realise that you still have a long way to go.  

Let's not forget, too:  Even if you think you've been completely honest with yourself about what you went through, there is a very real chance that a part of your brain has been keeping the worst of it from you.  And it can keep those memories under lock and key for as long as it takes for you to be strong enough to deal with them.  I can recall having horrific things come flooding back to me as long as a year and a half after leaving my ex.  I couldn't believe I'd "forgotten" such awful experiences, but in actual fact I hadn't; my subconscious brain just knew I wasn't ready to reminisce over the very worst of what I'd been through, just yet.  Once I was, the memories I never even realised I was suppressing came back.  And yes, with them came the emotions, the crying, the anger, the fear, the self-blame... All of it, in a big whoosh of the very worst kind.  And after that, I had to "get over it" all over again.

There is no set time frame for getting over abuse.  It could take months.  It could take years.  The fact is, it's not something you can predict, nor is it something anyone in your life can impose on you.  I had people I love say things like: "It's been two years, you should be over it, by now."  The fact is, you're not over it until you know you're ready to say you are.  And that's going to take as long as needs to.

2.  Actually, you don't entirely ever "get over it."

I know, right?!

Okay, so I know I said that recovery is like a long journey and that implies that there's an end to that journey, but...  Well, there is, but imagine that before setting out on that journey, you got a tattoo.  When you reach wherever it is you want to go, you still have that tattoo, right?  It doesn't rub off, you just get used to it - so used to it, in fact, that sometimes you barely know it's there.

That's what recovering from abuse is like.  There's an end point, at which you feel like you're over it and you're stronger and can move on with your life.  But that tattoo hasn't gone anywhere and neither has the experience you went through.  You're always going to have the odd moment where a song, a place or even a smell triggers a memory, or occasionally, you'll recall something and feel angry or sad about what you went through.  That's okay!  You know you're where you need to be when those memories or feelings don't set you way back (at least, not for longer than a day, if it's a really bad memory).  You'll still have a reaction to them - that's totally normal - but you won't go through the whole "it was my fault, I should have tried harder, maybe I deserved it, I will never be happy again..." routine.  Your reaction to the memory or the event will be different.  You'll be mad not at yourself, but at the person who abused you.  You'll be sad for yourself, but you'll know that you didn't deserve it and you'll be pleased when you remember what a good place you're in now.  

When you go through abuse, it inevitably changes you in some way.  The person you are afterwards might not be exactly the same as the person you were before.  You carry those changes forwards in whatever you do next.  That's the tattoo you got, before you embarked on the journey of recovery.  It might be the kind of naff inking you'd get at a dodgy parlour that accepts drunk people going under the needle, but it's a permanent reminder, nonetheless.  There's no removal procedure.  

You can get over it, to a degree, but it'll always be a part of you.

3. Some people just DO NOT GET IT.

What are you gonna do about it?!

People are, on the whole, a pretty decent bunch.  But there will always be folk who think of tactfulness the same way they think of Donald Trump's over-the-top spray tan: ridiculous and unnecessary.

I discovered this early on, when I went on a date, just a couple of weeks after leaving my ex (big mistake; I wasn't ready and the guy was weird in a BAD WAY).  I wasn't using the term "abuse" for what happened to me, yet, because I was still in that very early stage, during which I blamed myself for much of what happened and parroted my ex's excuses for his behaviour to anyone who'd listen.  On the date, the guy asked me how my last relationship had ended and, conscious that my ex's behaviour had been very bad and self-aware enough to know that I wasn't really to blame for it, I went with: "He told me he loved me, couldn't live without me, needed me in his life and so on... But then claimed we weren't in a relationship and he could sleep with anyone else he wanted and I wasn't allowed to feel jealous, because I was just a f*ck buddy."

I won't lie, I was kind of hoping for my date to scoff about what an asshole my ex obviously was.  Instead, he shrugged and said: "Well, some guys don't want to commit and you can't force them."

And at that point, as far as I was concerned, we could quite cheerfully have gotten the bill and called it a day.

Since then, I've actually spoken to people - for a wide variety of reasons (it's not exactly my go-to conversation-starter) - about what really happened to me and have been shocked by the responses a minority have shown.  They've ranged from: "Yeah, but it wasn't proper abuse unless he beat you as well," to: "I'm sorry for what you experienced, but I think you need to get over it and accept that you maybe just didn't love him enough for him to treat you better."

Over the years, as I've  continued to recover and grow into a stronger, better person, my responses have calmed from: "F*ck you AND the demonic Hell beast you rode in on" to: "I don't think you can judge my situation, having not lived it.  Asshole."  It's a work in progress.

Look, some people are just going to be tactless, morally superior and arsey.  That's just a fact of life.  Having actually experienced something horrific isn't, sadly, enough to protect you from those idiots.  They're going to listen to what you have to say and scoff, because they are the centre of their world and they're not interested in you or your past, particularly if you meet them online, during any kind of argument that touches on the subject of abuse.  Because, as we should all know by now, the Internet is the place in which the worst trolls live.

Just remember that their lack of consideration for anyone's feelings but their own doesn't magically make them right.  The majority of people you're brave enough to open up to are going to be kind, helpful and supportive.  The people that aren't are not worth your frustration. 

Be like Elsa.

4. There will be people who think certain aspects of abuse are somehow "sexy."

Four words, guys: Fifty Shades Of Grey.

Regular readers already know how utterly gross I find EL James' atrociously-written love-letter to abusive men all over the world, so let's just leave it at this: there will be books, films, fan-fiction, music and other forms of art, in which stalking is portrayed as "passionate."  In which an excessive level of control is portrayed as "protective," regardless of whether the person on the receiving end wants to be told what to do, eat, wear or say.  There will be fiction in which consent is coerced (or the lack of consent is ignored altogether) and there will be fiction in which a person's abusive behaviour is "excused" with a plethora of unsatisfactory reasons, such as "a sad childhood," or "a passionate, volatile personality."

You'll reach a point in your recovery at which you realise that there is no excuse for abuse.  Ever.  Say it with me, everyone: THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR ABUSE.

The "sad childhood" bullsh*t was my own abuser's excuse of choice and it took me years to realise that actually, as a grown adult, living independently, holding down a job, with friends who were from healthy backgrounds and who were in healthy relationships, he had every idea of how he was supposed to behave, he just chose to behave abusively.  And he also chose not to acknowledge his own abusive behaviour, meaning he was (and more than likely still is) incapable of change. 

Fiction will also tell you that "true love" means sticking around and working through the abusive person's violent, threatening, manipulative or controlling behaviour, until you magically love them into wellness.  Which is going to feel like one heck of a kick in the guts, seeing as by this point, you'll probably have spent a lot of time trying to accept that nothing you did was ever going to "cure" your abuser.  They have to recognise their own behaviour and want to change, which, sadly, many don't.

If you're anything like me, seeing your experiences romanticised and being accepted as "twu wuv" by millions of people is going to hurt.  Like, seriously a lot.  It might be "just a book," or "just a film" to some, but to you, it's your worst experience of your life, being treated as though it's something to aspire to.  You'll feel sick.  And you'll get angry, which is good, because nothing will change unless more and more people stand up and call these dangerous tropes out for what they are.

And yep, the fans (and authors) of fiction that romanticise abusive characters and harmful behaviour are all-too-often also the kinds of people I mentioned above:  THEY JUST DON'T GET IT.  They will protect their precious fictional characters at all cost, even if that cost is insulting an abuse survivor and discrediting their lived experience.

Just know when to hit the "block" button online and when to walk away in reality.  You won't win over the most deluded people and there's little point giving yourself a hernia, trying to.  Just keep highlighting the truth about abusive people, keep shouting back against dangerous tropes and really, really just don't read Fifty Shades.  It's not even worth buying as toilet paper.  Trust me.

5. You are under NO obligation to forgive your abuser.

I've talked about this on my blog, before.  People insist that forgiveness is a crucial part of moving on, but you know what?  If you're talking about abuse, it's really not.

You do not have to forgive a person who purposefully hurt you, whether emotionally or physically.  It is perfectly possible to move forwards with your life and reach a point where you're happy, free and stronger than you were before, without having to feel any kind of forgiveness for the way your abuser treated you.  Anyone who tells you differently is a moron, trust me.  The only person you need to forgive in this situation is yourself, because God only knows, abuse survivors are harder on themselves than most, especially in the first few days, weeks and months after leaving the abusive person.   "I shouldn't have said that," or "I could have tried harder," and "maybe if I had been better..." and several variations on that theme will rattle around your head and there comes a point where you have to silence those voices and realise that you were NOT at fault.  The abuser made the choice as to how they treated you.  You did not bring it on yourself and nothing you did differently would have changed the situation, because abusers will always move the goalposts, to ensure that you can never win.  Your slightest "foul" on them will always result in a massively over-the-top and unwarranted reaction.  Abusers truly are the Christiano Ronaldo's of the relationship world.

So, don't feel like you have to forgive them for the way they chose to behave.  If you reach a point where you can move forwards happily with your life without doing so, that's fine.  Nobody should ever tell you otherwise.

Of course, if you want to forgive your abuser (especially if yours is a rare case in which the abuser has recognised their behaviour and actually apologised for it), that's up to you as well.  Just please don't put pressure on yourself to try to forgive, if it's something you don't feel comfortable doing.  

Forgive yourself.  Nothing else matters.

6. You've got a clean slate, on which to write WHATEVER YOU WANT.

Abuse can, and all-too-often does kill.  If you're someone who has survived a relationship with a person who abused you and are now in a position to rebuild your life, you are massively fortunate.  Not because of what you experienced (obviously!), but because you have the chance to start over.

Yes, there's going to be a long and difficult road ahead, but my God it's one worth travelling.

You're going to reach a point at which you realise that you're free.  Completely and utterly.  Free to start over in any form you want.  You can choose what sort of person you want to be, without anyone controlling you.  You can decide if and when to start thinking about romance again and what sort of person you're looking for when it comes to future partners.  You can re-brand yourself physically - get a drastic haircut, a tattoo or change the way you dress.  Or, you can simply change your mindset, as you get stronger: know what sort of behaviour you will and won't tolerate in a relationship.  Understand what warning signs to be looking out for.  Realise your own worth and know that you're deserving of being treated properly.  Learn - albeit probably slowly - to trust again (yourself and others).  

What lies ahead of you are endless possibilities.  The world is yours, once you're free.  

Let's enjoy it!