Why we shouldn’t kill our friend…ships

Growing up there were three interweaving families who would spend all their time together; the adults would drink wine and discuss life and the children would play  and make a mess. They planted a tree of friendship, proving that if we nurture our bonds correctly they can flourish into something everlasting.

Anny and I bonded over being the rejects of the group. Our siblings weren’t interested and made us sit at the “baby table” which was basically a table with a highchair and one baby. We soon realised we had much more fun without them (after all, we now had our own small person to bully) and alas, it was the start of a new era.

I was 4 or 5 when I met Anny. Our friendship was unique because she was two years above me in school and unlike my other friends, we began to heavily depend on each other. By the time we were 11 we were inseparable, spending all our weekends, holidays and even weekdays together. When we were apart we would call each other just to sit there in silence and still feel connected.

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Anny and I became each others life reference and loved each other completely. We were constantly getting in trouble for being loud; we would laugh until we cried and make up wild stories. We argued a lot too. I think I dominated the friendship with my loudness, whilst Anny was more shy and reserved. I had no qualms revealing my anger which meant my outbursts caused her pain. This pattern grew followed into adulthood because we never quite learnt how to hear each other; we never got to the root of what was truly bothering us…

Anny went through everything with me: we shared a grunge-phase, urban-phase, our first kiss, first beer, first joint, first fight, first boyfriend, first breakup, first holiday, first rave and even first adult movie (when we accidentally strolled into a screening of Ali G and missed Russell Crowe’s A Beautiful Mind – yessss)!

Over the years we’ve collected so many hand-made cards, filled with private childhood jokes. We went from from kids, to teens, to adults and I honestly can’t think of a single person who knows my history better than she does. And that’s because she is my history. There was even a time when our parents felt we should spend less time together, so we pretended we had other friends to visit (yeah right) and spent the night on the train. 14 years of age, I remember being so tired that when when we reached the last stop my shoe came off and almost left with it.

At 23, Anny found me a job at her workplace and we were practically running the office. To say we took the piss is an absolute understatement. We would bring in so much food into work (having buffet breakfasts and lunches every day) and then spend all our money on dinner and drinks because we still wanted to be together. Some days one of us would keep guard whilst the other went shopping, but mostly we would just watch movies, eat popcorn and plan what we’d be doing at the weekend.

Within a few months of working together we saved for a deposit and moved in to our first flat in Leytonstone. It was initially a magical time, we felt liberated and free, young and independent. Apparently our families placed bets on how long it was going to last, nice! But I guess they were right in having reservations, 9 months later were tense. We were upsetting each other so much and not communicating without shouting or bitching. We didn’t want to be nice or considerate or even share with eachother any more.

There were a several factors which made our house-share unsuccessful: splitting finances, too many visitors, not enough space and even a rodent infestation! It became a living nightmare. Our friendship felt like it’d reached a point of no return. We behaved  so petty towards one another, showing that we could be two-faced and selfish. To be fair it was a brave face to show – one that could only be provoked by significantly deep rooted pain and care.

When Anny and I went our separate ways, we didn’t speak for a year. It was the closest thing I have experienced to a divorce, with people forming their own opinions and naturally picking a side. I guess it makes sense, when you hear one version of an account and feel pain on their behalf. I’m grateful for the people who stayed neutral during that time because whilst everyone was trying to show support, sometimes the best thing to do is take a non-judgemental stance.

Things became awkward, any time our mutual friends were in town we’d see them separately – things were too raw and fragile to be swept under the carpet. Weddings, birthdays and more were missed, based on a dispute between two girls who were once friends. Needless to say, with the right amount of space and time, our ill-feelings subsided and we started to move on.

In 2015 I visited Amsterdam knowing Anny’s sister would be there. I didn’t reach out because I didn’t want to put her in an uncomfortable situation. To my surprise, it was her who reached out to me and we had drinks near Westerpark, at a gin and seafood restaurant. The gesture alone was healing for me; I was so grateful and even now, I’m pretty sure it’s thanks to her that Anny and I were able to rebuild.

I know that things can’t be the way they were, Anny and I can’t be attached at the hip because we’re adults on separate journeys. Sometimes people ask how we’re still friends and I just think, how could we not be friends? If something happened to Anny and she left the world believing I held a grudge, I could never forgive myself. I would much rather have her in my life and shower her with love. Whilst it’s true that we may be responsible for tainting the perceptions others have of each other, one thing can’t be untouched: the permanent place I have for Anny and an everlasting love for our friendship.

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How to be The Hottest of your Friends

Having spent a long weekend with one of the most beautiful girls I know, I started to think about our friendship, how it has changed over the years and the impact of having friends who, despite their individuality, are no doubt conventionally beautiful.

My friends are all gorgeous, inside and out, but, like everyone, they have things about themselves they don’t like. My physical hang-ups have mainly revolved around my body: not being thin enough; being unable to get rid of my stretch-marks, cellulite etc. Now that I’m 26, the lines around my eyes are a reminder that I’m getting older; I don’t leave the house without my concealer.

There is not a single friend who I haven’t compared myself to. I have a round face with full cheeks so the moment I’m next to somebody whose face is more defined, I begin to feel like a chipmunk. Before being written off as a narcissist, I aim to explore what it is that makes many of us women feel discontent with what we have and who we are; our constant need to self improve and be “the best” amid our troop. Indeed, you will have to bare with me, bare with me, the way I bare myself after a night out and three makeup wipes.

An insecure woman can make a very dangerous friend. Which is a shame considering we’re all full of insecurities. I remember being 14 and telling my friends I wouldn’t be joining them at the arcade because that way they’d have less competition to deal with. It’s shameful, but at the time I was fueled with rivalry and self-doubt. I remember being vain and angry; insecure; wanting to prove some kind of point to the world (the world being me because that’s who it revolved around).

Quite recently, I had an awkward encounter with a friend who before a night out kept comparing our features. She went on tell me how good she was feeling about herself and then asked if I was feeling good too, which made me question what her deal was. Was she feeling good about herself? Or was she trying to make me feel bad about myself?

Perhaps she genuinely wanted me to feel good, without wishing to dish out a compliment. Whatever it was, it was a situation I analysed immediately due to my own female knowing. This is a friend who usually rocks out in sweats, with so much intelligence and typically against female objectification. The whole episode surprised me, but I’ve used it as an example to highlight how girls sometimes set themselves apart rather than sticking together. Based on our human complexity, it’s hard to stay awake in a society which celebrates disillusioned exteriors.

When I first visited my German friend, aged 17, I recall how alien it felt for me to receive little admiration. I can pathetically admit that prior to this trip, the majority of self-gratification I received stemmed from being “pretty”. I soon learnt how it felt to feel inadequate; invisible next to somebody regarded “physically better”.

In hindsight, this trip was a big lesson for me. I was finally able to empathise with girls who never feel physically good enough, who are constantly compared and belittled themselves based on not fitting an aestethic mold. It was a wake up call to invest energy into other areas, to reevaluate my substance and stop being so goddam pathetic.

Thanks to the learning, I transformed what was a superficial friendship and realised the corners it had left to explore. In recent years, on the occasions where my friend and I go out, it is no longer about the people around us; our eyes stay focused on eachother because the leers of strangers are irrelevant. We appreciate our true beauty: our humor, consideration, trust and sisterhood. Truth is you can’t always be everyones cup of tea and who gives a fuck? Do you want to be someones trophy? Or do you want to be seen as a whole?

 

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I find men often act as the catalysts for female friends to turn against each other. There have been countless times I’ve witnessed guys throwing shallow & empty compliments at one female whilst ignoring the other. What they are doing is basically saying only one friend is worth engaging with, whilst the other is fine being ignored. It’s an unfortunate truth that humans can be fickle, we judge with our eyes before understanding what we’re looking for. It might be true that we can’t help who we’re physically attracted to, but we can definitely find a more considerate way to connect with strangers.

I recall nights out, you know, the “fun before the fun”, when my friends and I have transformed from “girls-next-door” to “girls-on-fleek”. We could spend a good solid hour gaping in front of the mirror, with a familiar feeling of angst in the air. The elephant in the room, our egos, are never acknowledged. It can be a painful and strained grooming ritual; I feel sad that our strategy to confidence-build requires so much irrelevant effort.

We are all special and unique in our own way – no stranger should be able to dictate whether we’re good enough. When faced with that familiar stab of competitiveness, I now talk about it and laugh it off – there’s just so much more to life. Forget about how you appear to others and dress up for yourself – leaving your ego at the door. We are far from a perfect species and never will be, but we can certainly boost the confidence of those we love on levels more profound than just surface.

Girls

 

 

Bloody War Zones

“Mum, I hate it when my period is due, everything just feels more tense. I hate everything about myself. I look in the mirror and it’s painful. Like, I feel bloated and ugly and then I binge eat on what could easily feed a family of four. On top of that, I feel completely depressed and find myself dramatizing everything.I’ll be on the train and see a trapped pigeon or something and get this sudden urge to cry. I’m at a point where I’m actually beginning to dread my period and the build up to it”.

“Yep. We (women) have been suffering with this for years and have just got to get on with it. You’re lucky you were raised during a time you didn’t get shunned for it. Hey! Maybe you should write about this in your next blog…”

“I can’t, that’s so embarrassing”.
                             
“Most of your blogs are embarrassing”.

“Yeah, but I feel really uncomfortable”.

“It’s good to feel the discomfort. You have a bold writing style, you’ll be selling yourself short if you resist pushing the boundaries”.

“Ugh discomfort, like a tampon which hasn’t been inserted properly.”

“Darling that’s disgusting. But look, I think you could make a
really interesting blog out of this, think about all the women
who’ve been cast out due to something which is completely
natural”.
 
“You’re being really controlling”.

“Oh! Am I?”

“No. I’m just pre-menstrual”.

 

***

 

Before a baby girl is born – at around 20 weeks old – the female fetus already has up to seven million eggs. S-E-V-E-N-M-I-L-L-I-O-N-E-G-G-S. Let that sink in. I was 11 when I first began to discharge blood and mucosal tissue from my uterus lining (hey man, just being technical here). I remember thinking I must have shat myself because strange stains appeared in my knickers and I didn’t know what the hell they were.  After a discreet meltdown, I was relieved to later find my mum at the school gates (by this point I realised that I’d actually started my period). And there she stood: box of Always in hands, a pink candle with a ribbon on it and a sympathetic smile with tears in her eyes.

Oh. Dear. God.

1920’s, India. My poor grandmother hadn’t a clue on menstruation as nobody dared  educate her. Unlike my own experience, after disclosing to her mother that she was bleeding “down there” she was pushed into a bathroom and told “not to speak of it again”. As a result, her monthly bleeding was something that she simply learnt to deal with. Baring in mind there were no tampons or sanitary towels back then, my grandmother would improvise using cloths and string. Spending her first few years of menstruation in secretive shame, my grandmother believed she was dying from a genetically rare disease. You can hear of this disease within girls locker rooms: “Yo Joanna, got a pad? Painters and decorators are in!”

Victorian doctors previously branded menstruation as a crippling illness, where women were seen as “out of order”, unable to rationalise and focus. They were made to feel unclean and embarrassed of their bodies, not realising that their monthly cycle was (and still is) a sign of a healthy working body. Varying religions have their own views of a woman on her period. For instance, some Hindu’s believe that a menstruating woman should avoid the kitchen as well as temples, bathing, having sex and even sleeping throughout the day. Muslim women are not to pray or perform other religious activities whilst on their period and Jewish women are branded as ritually unclean. Growing up within the Catholic church, there were mixed feelings on whether a woman was clean or unclean but hey – I’m atheist now and I still shower.

As a child, I’d always notice my mum acting a little crazier than usual when that time of the month arrived. For starters, her hot water bottle was a chief indicator to act accordingly: avoid, avoid, avoid.

How was I to know that my mother’s estrogen levels were on the rise? That her shifting hormones caused a sensitive irritability out of her control? Nah, I had no empathy, I just thought mama was super sensitive sometimes and couldn’t tolerate me bouncing off the walls.  It was only when my own period was born (when I found myself sitting on the floor in a heap, sobbing hysterically) that I began to truly understand how women must fight to hold themselves “together”.

I’ve noticed how hypersensitive I am toward the presence of others when I’m premenstrual. A girl who typically surrounds herself with friends, family and co-workers, I go into self-deflection mode and fight the urge to murder someone simply for existing.

I’m aware that our periods are no longer a stigmatized taboo however, I still feel that they get misunderstood and overlooked. As women, we seem to endure these painful cycles and bless each-other with silent acceptance. We carry on as normal despite excruciatingly painful lower abdomens, tender breasts, sore backs, rapid mood swings, appetites of elephants and tempers of titans. It’s kind of weird to comprehend that our “equals” – men – will never fully understand (no matter quite how hard they try) the physical and emotional depths of what we go through literally every….single….month.

 

 

No problem, Muslim

I’m not going to lie, I haven’t exactly felt like writing lately. I thought about posting a really strong complaint letter I sent to Easy Jet but then realized not much good will come from being a first world princess and crying every time I cross an asshole.  I bare witness to my own dwindling dedication, my motivation seeping out of me like a pretentious London nightclub vodka; what is the point of having hopes and dreams in a world where I feel hopeless?!

Dramatic as always, it seems as though the build up to Christmas has been barricaded with bad news. I’ve had to grit my teeth through consumer-clad advertisements implying our privileged kids won’t have a good Christmas ‘less they’re showered with things they don’t need.

One of my best friends unexpectedly lost her dad a few weeks ago; it’s been a little too real and a little too close to home for all those affected. To make matters worse, the backlash of Cameron’s (utterly disgusting) air-strike decision has had some of our cities residents waving flags of ignorance like they’ve actually got something to be proud of.

Just last week, I was having a conversation with a person close to me and my heart nearly imploded when I heard them utter the words “Not every Muslim is a terrorist but every terrorist is a Muslim, know what I mean?” Well no – I didn’t know what they meant and I still don’t know. What I do know, is that our media is doing a great job of miseducating viewers and creating more distrust and hate among the melting pot of our beautiful city.

I found this so, so disheartening – a totally inaccurate statement coming from a person whose heart is essentially in the right place; sprouting dangerous information due to being misinformed; believing the garbage we’re being fed. I had a meltdown comprehending war: living each day as a means to survive, hopes and dreams abolished. I concluded that a world without dreams is simply meaningless and thus, I put my dreams on hold. I wallowed in the darkness of my thoughts and wondered why as human beings, we constantly establish ways to fuck things up?!

Just after the Paris attacks I visited a place called Saas Fee and was gobsmacked when I asked a guy to move out the way so I could get to the bathroom. “No problem, Muslim”. He replied. “Sorry, what?” I asked, convinced I wasn’t hearing right. “No problem, Muslim” he repeated. Stunned, I couldn’t find the right words to cut him down to size. I found my heart overruling my wit and just stared at him like a lost puppy.

Eventually I said  “That’s a disgusting way to address a person” and he replied “It’s just a sentence”.  I should have known better than to be so upset, only an idiot would assume a brown skinned person has to be a Muslim. Had he known anything about anything, he would have known that a practicing Muslim girl would not be in a bar, cleavage out, surrounded by men and drinking alcohol. Nevertheless, it hurt to see his prejudice. I had to acknowledge whether my non-existent faith stemmed from the little faith I have for humanity.

A blog just won’t cut the depths of my feelings on the matter. So I’m leaving you here with a poem I wrote:-

 

13/15

A sombre murkiness hovered in my train carriage yesterday morning; opposite me sat a young Muslim girl with downcast eyes & beside her, a woman clutching a Metro newspaper; its contextual accuracy so ambiguous I didn’t bother to grab a copy. The woman with the paper huffed and moved to the seat beside me, the front page of her paper imaging French fighter jets en route to Syria. How many innocent people will continue to be massacred at the hands of a merciless war?  I thought to myself, as the woman tutted and threw her paper to the floor. I felt an unspoken tension which whispered prejudice and fear, with myself – edgy and paranoid – wishing to give some reassurance to the silent girl before me.

Who can we rely on to educate us? I remember being taught about the Holocaust in school and it was all numbers and figures – I felt nothing. Nobody dared to communicate the true devastation of war, the horrors of ethnic cleansing, the helplessness of a brutal occupation. Nobody explained innocent citizens, just like you and me, have been endlessly terrorised and murdered for reasons that are beyond comprehension.

I don’t believe since then the state of the world has evolved, it’s falling apart, mostly in corners where we don’t have to look. At least now, when Western land is targeted, great coverage is received and suddenly, the world is alerted to empathy and outrage: we are the chosen ones. Chosen, in the sense that we are overfed, overstocked, pacified and left to consume a range of mere “things”. We are the true SIMS, living in a robotic society and playing dutiful roles; we’ve “evolved” and therefore have no clue when it comes to instinctive survival. We’ve turned our backs on natural living and have been placed into a society which says “You are more important than those who born into poverty and war, enjoy it”.  We continue with our busy lives, dreaming about how to make more of ourselves and forgetting the ones who dream of an escape.

I am the product of Western vulnerability and realize that my only true “grief” lies in the palms of self-discovery and learning. I am privileged and thus far in life my problems have been either solvable or avoidable: “Oh, I need to lose weight”, “I need more money”, “I’m so afraid of death – how do I avoid it?” I wonder, if I had to wake up in the morning to an empty fridge, the sound of bombs, a falling ceiling or worse, the eye of a pistol staring into my forehead – would I have the time to worry about trivialities?

As mankind we’ve let ourselves down; every person in a position of power has acted as a war puppet, enabling injustice and destruction; spinning us a web of lies. How have we allowed ourselves to get to a place where money rules everything? Money, a self-made piece of flimsy fucking paper, dictates a humans honor and intentions. If only we could turn our backs on such a way of living, escape to an place where we could fend for ourselves, no dictatorship, no corrupt government and just start all over again.

A girl can dream right.

We’ve developed a very unhealthy attachment to things and as a result we question very little. We go with the motions, coveting possessions;  a means to an end in keeping us quiet and controlled. How can I continue with my usual desires? To wish for nothing more than to enjoy life, to eat the good food, drink the good wine and love the right people. How can I go on with the knowledge that the world is falling apart? What are my options? Why is our government happy investing murder weapons and death machines when there are countries suffering from malnutrition, starvation and scarcity? How can we fight with our fists when our opponents fire bullets?

I discuss such topics with loved ones often and so why only now, have I decided to write about my anger towards the world? The ugly truth is, it’s easy to give empathetic sighs from a distance, knowing bits and pieces but keeping research to a minimum in order to avoid a nervous breakdown. I could sit here and list countless countries enduring devastation but I’m not sure what impact it would have.

Prior to the 13/15 Paris attack, I’ve felt more comfortable seeing life as a dramatic film. I’ve been ignited but stayed passive. I’ve kept silent and wanted nothing more than to remain in a bubble protecting only myself and my loved ones. Collectively, we have settled without even figuring what it is that we desire. How do WE want to live? How are WE going to help? Are we happy to pay this much rent? Are we happy working for industrial companies? Of course we are, so long as we have enough money to continue being a culture of consumption; comfortable and with a fine roof over our heads.

The Paris attacks have merely reminded us that we are not invincible; we can try to segregate ourselves from the real dangers of the world but it’s only a matter of time before the glass shatters. I’ve been clinging on to the hope that there might be something more godly out there, but current times have pushed me to the doorstep of atheism.

I write this article for those who dream of a better world, for my Muslim friends who have offered me nothing but friendship and hospitality over the years; who are now being racially branded as “terrorists” despite only ever demonstrating peace. We need to stamp out the ignorance and unite because things aren’t going to improve unless we make a collective change. Let us keep seeking out the fairness in the world, questioning everything, becoming bolder, pursuing knowledge and starting to speak up.

Too cool for a condom, too smart for a smear test

I’ve been procrastinating when it comes to shedding light on this next subject however, I feel a sense of responsibility in spreading awareness. Warning: this is personal, this is recent and mostly – this is a reminder to be cautious when it comes to any form of sexual-contact.

I’ve approached my (few) physical relationships in two ways, realizing that love has made me careless and time has made me responsible. A few months ago I received some bad – but not the worst – news and felt frustrated that nothing was available to console me. I found all the online information cold and clinical, whilst forums described uncomfortable procedures without any kind of reassurance.

My most recent relationship was complicated. Whilst I would have preferred to use condoms, my ex-boyfriend detested the idea as they gave him no feeling. I found this the typical male reaction when using condoms – male friends have compared them to wearing latex gloves; saying they’d rather not have sex if compromising pleasure. To compensate, girlfriends of mine have given the whole “he takes it out before he ejaculates” thing – two of which ended up pregnant and the others alone with dirty sheets. Nice. But this is not to blame and shame, condoms are renowned for being a moment-killer, transforming spontaneity into something awkwardly mapped out.

In my last relationship I did what I thought would be most sensible; I went for an STI test and my then-boyfriend did the same. When all was fine, I went on the contraceptive pill Microgynon and felt that we were good to go! I have to emphasize that I really, really didn’t want to go on the pill – I just wanted to please my partner. Typical.

Whilst I understand most men prefer to go bare-back, we need to be more careful with how we protect our bodies. Around 80% of my friends have said their boyfriends “just won’t use condoms” or that “they say they will but then just slip it in”. Seriously?! Guys, if you care about your woman, or better still, women in general, perhaps learn to embrace the latex cling-on: wear it, own it and revel in the knowing that nobody is getting pregnant…or infected.

The amount of times I’ve caught urinary-tract infections due to unprotected sex is staggering. I have tearfully sat in warm baths, not knowing what’s happening to my body, enduring agony. I’ve visited A&E multiple times and had nurses accuse me of not rinsing out the sample bottle as bacteria-ridden skin has been floating in the liquid.  It isn’t pretty, it isn’t fun and I can only compare the experience to pissing razorblades.  As a result, I live with interstitial cystitis which no amount of scans, fluids and antibiotics can clear.

And that’s not where my story ends. In May 2015 I went for my first official smear-test and didn’t think much of it. It was only when I spoke to my nurse a couple of weeks later that I found myself at the brink of heart-attack.  “WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE HIV??!!” I cried in a canteen full of co-workers. Luckily, I’d misheard her and had actually picked up a sexually transmitted infection called HPV (human papilloma virus) as well as having an abnormal cell count.  With no physical symptoms, I had no idea where the virus was from or that it even existed. It was never picked up in my previous tests because it was found on my cervix and also:-

MEN CANNOT BE TESTED FOR IT.

It’s all well and good when guys say “I’m clean – I’ve been tested”. But the truth is, unless they’ religiously use condoms, they could never really know. To top it off, there is no official cure; our immune systems fight off the infection naturally however, having already been single and alone for 6 months prior to the smear, it seemed my body was failing me. It’s also worth mentioning that Big Brother’s Jade Goody died from was cervical cancer and HPV was a trigger for this. Sigh.

The NHS weren’t able to provide me with a colposcopy for 6 weeks – which would have meant 6 weeks of sleepless nights (I’m a hypochondriac and suffer from chronic health anxiety). In the end my mother paid £1500 for a piece of my cervix to be removed along with an internal scan. Despite the cost, we felt it necessary due to myself having no awareness or knowledge of a virus I can only cure alone.

Loads of girls have HPV, even in my social circle. My friends kept it a secret because they felt embarrassed and ashamed. Think about the girls living under poverty-stricken conditions, who don’t have the luxury of smear tests, contraceptives, vitamins and immune-boosting foods? We need to talk about this, it’s not embarrassing, it’s essential.

We can avoid the risk of disease by using condoms and going for smears. Your partner should also support you on this, your health is more important than a sexual preference.  We should be stronger. If you want your man to use a condom – make him use a condom. Don’t be ignorant by thinking you’re safe because you’re not.

I felt so low finding out I had HPV; let down by the partners I’d trusted with my body. I just wanted to be left alone in every sense. All potential suitors were held at arm’s length: ”Hey buddy, don’t shake my hand unless you’ve put a condom on it” – ha! Luckily, results showed my HPV to be the weakest type – my cells aren’t in fact abnormal. The relief was great, but taking care of myself is now top priority the way it should have always been.

 

Friends with Benefits

Have you ever stumbled across somebody who’s had an impact on your life, regardless of how big or small their interaction? I recall both drunken nights and sober moments where I’ve crossed strangers who’ve stricken a chord, shifting my mind-set or doing something which resonates.

I must have been 7 or 8 when my parents separated; it was difficult to see them in pain, especially being a child adjusting to change. My mum bought her first house in Greenford and my brother and I were traipsing back and forth between homes, coming to terms with a new dynamic and trying to find a happy medium. At the time, there was a lot of ill feeling between my parents and the atmosphere at home was quite tense –strange to recall as they’re actually friends now. Being part of what I call a patchwork dream, things are now the way they should be. It’s taken a lot of patience, acceptance and even forgiveness to get to where we are as a family.

So, back to the 90’s: my dad immersed himself in work (no different from the norm) and being a “mans’ man”, didn’t sit me and my brother down to discuss how we felt about the separation.  My mothers approach differed; she encouraged us to talk about our emotions and get everything out in the open. I’m not going to lie, I felt a bit lost. I missed my family being unified and was trying to digest two separate methods of parenting.

But we found calm amidst the chaos; the events of my life have always seen things fall into place, regardless of the twists and turns. When I was 9 and still moving back and forth between homes, my dad had a lodger move in to one of the top floor rooms. Her name was Dawn: a tall, slim, blonde lady with short hair and sparkling eyes. She befriended me with kindness and I liked her immediately. She was a part of the change I was willing to embrace. The greatest thing about Dawn was that she liked children and we’d play together; healing during a time where there was animosity flitting about. She encouraged me to do painting, plays, reading and cooking – all of the things my mother would do in our home away from home. I was taken under her wing and we established a bond – an unmotivated kindness with no gains – a beautiful thing to recall.

One year later Dawn fell pregnant and moved to Brighton.  I visited her once or twice but with the busyness of life we lost touch naturally. Just some months ago my dad mentioned her and I began to reflect – it was the first time as an adult I acknowledged her place in my life. After sifting through twenty different Facebook profiles I managed to find her and sent a message. As somebody who worries a lot, I felt embarrassed to have reconnected and provided myself with all sorts of negative reasons as to why she may not reply. Well, I needn’t have worried; she did reply and after touching base a little our connection wasn’t lost.

I spent a weekend with Dawn in Brighton a couple of weeks ago and she was exactly as I’d remembered: full of warmth and life and fun.  It was interesting observing her from an objective perspective and also pretty cool drinking our first glass of wine together! I discovered that she’d remarkably beat cancer and did so without chemo – using alternative remedies such as healthy eating, stillness and meditation. Amazing.

There’s something uplifting about Dawn’s appearance in my life, as a child it was the unspoken emotional support and now it’s continuing the friendship.  When the ones we lean on are recuperating (and let’s face it, we can’t be available 100% of the time – otherwise we’d have no energy left for ourselves) life advocates a surrogate. A few months ago a friend of mine told me that she sees me as an angel – to which I cried with hysterical laughter. But I know what she means – being supportive and present without feeling obligated is a selfless act. Perhaps the willingness of those who give unmotivated help and support – marks them as our angels on earth.

            dawn

Roadman Can

I have a distinct memory of being nearly abducted and that’s no exaggeration. I was 11 years old at the time and happened to be walking home from school, unsupervised. It was perfectly normal for kids to be on their own back then; we would knock for each other to play outside and then walk home independently – any time before dark was fine.

On this particular day the friends who I left school with had already gone home, I must have been at an afterschool club or something. The sun was shining and I was wearing grey tracksuit bottoms with a cardigan wrapped ‘round my waist. Despite only being 11, I had developed a little earlier and at the most could have passed for 13, which is still extremely young.

The walk home took me about 10 minutes and consisted of three main roads. On this day, I’d just reach the end of the first road a car when two men  in their mid-thirties began to holler at me. “Hello Miss. Oi, OI! What’s your name baby?” Being a child I fell straight into an unfamiliar panic, ignoring their attempt to engage. Rather than driving off, the men slowed down and began to drive at my walking pace. They continued talking inappropriate nonsense until I honestly responded with “You’re scaring me”, to which they erupted in impudent laughter.

5 long minutes passed until I found myself at a zebra crossing where I was allowed to cross; heads turning to watch where I was going. I arrived at North Ealing Station – literally 2 minutes from my family home – to see that they were STILL following me. Using initiative I practically flew into a corner shop just a few feet away. My eyes filled with tears as I explained to the owner that I was being followed. My dad (who’d been contacted by the shop keeper) turned up about 30 seconds later. When we left the men were still waiting for me. My dad, cursing obscenities, jotted down their license plate number and phoned the police, who said there was nothing they could do. They didn’t make a note of license plate number. They didn’t record the incident. The were inactively negligent.

Over the next 6 months I was picked up and dropped literally everywhere and was no longer allowed to play outside without a trusted adult present.  I didn’t feel particularly traumatised by the event – although – my heart rate would increase rapidly every time I saw a similar looking vehicle. Needless to say I was still naïve, I  felt like a grown up and therefore didn’t realise the severity of the situation. I know now looking back that the outcome could have been unimaginable.

I was lucky.

Time passed and the incident was forgotten. Primary school was over and by the time I was thirteen I began to take an interest in guys. I no longer attended a mixed school and had forgotten what it was like to have male friends; I didn’t know how to engage with them and would feel grateful for any kind of male attention. Boys would approach me with what can only be determined as “swag”, colloquial slang spilling from their lips like dribble and I accepted there method of approach: “Sup babes you give shiners, yeah?”, or “Psst!” were just a couple of the romantic notions I received. Thank god for the blessing of time, when I learnt to avoid ill-mannered pursuits and that not all attention is good attention.

I see parallels between the way young boys target girls with the car-following predators. I’m sure not all the males who’d approached me  over time were necessarily dangerous, they just had no idea how to engage.

A couple of years ago I was on the way to a walk-in clinic (being a hypochondriac routine check-ups are my thing) and I remember a guy sitting in his car, looking like a cross between a mole and John Leguizamo. Crossing the road, I low-key noticed the thirst of desperation in his eyes and thought: “Fuck”.

Before I was able to exhale my next breath, the mole-guy u-turned his car and parked up beside me. “You alright babes, you got a second, yeah?” “I’m 3 months pregnant and off to a scan so I can’t talk!” I snapped. Of course I wasn’t, I just needed the right kind of excuse to be left alone.

Some young men don’t understand that their style of approach is intimidating. And it’s not me being conceited; I haven’t met a girl who hasn’t experienced this unwanted kind of attention. Forcing connection, hollering at someone in the street or driving up to them is harassment and needs to lessen. It’s a problem.

Once a guy wearing a colourful hat walked over surrounded by 5 of his friends and I kid you not I thought he was going to rob me. Having invaded my personal space with our noses almost touching and gazing at my phone in hand I started running – like literally – running. I sprinted all the way to Holborn station and didn’t look back. His friends erupted into laughter and I realized the poor guy was actually “on the chirps” as opposed to desiring my smashed up Blackberry.

More recently a guy in North London popped over my shoulder like an irritating wasp and buzzed: “Wassup miss pretty pretty?” It was so unexpected that I practically jumped out of my skin as he starting walking alongside me.  Turns out he was quite a bubbly and warm character, just utterly clueless. I gave him the old “I’m pregnant” speech and rather than being deterred he asked “What? So is your man taking care of you babes or can I still take your number?” Oh. Dear. God.

I hate walking home after a night out because I feel feel threatened. A friend of mine suggested that I ‘walk like a nutter’ by “swinging your arms like golf clubs, keeping your legs wide apart and occasionally shouting at yourself whilst twitching”. I’ve considered carrying the pepper spray my mum bought me 10 years ago, but I’m not sure the bouncers at the club wouldn’t appreciate this form of ‘weaponry’. As young women we should feel safe within our communities, we should be able to have an element of trust for our surroundings; regardless of place, time and gender.

My advice for guys who haven’t quite yet mastered tact and respect, wait for eye contact and a smile before you choose to ambush a woman. Be mindful when it comes to things like personal space – sometimes we don’t wish to engage and shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. Once I was in Paris and a man stopped me on the street just to say “Sorry to bother you – I just wanted to say that you look very elegant today” and left it at that. This was a gesture I could appreciate because he didn’t make me feel sexually objectified, nor did he hold the expectation that I owe him a conversation.

Following, hollering  and sneaking up on someone you’ve never met before is creepy as hell. I’ve been yelled at, stalked and even hissed at and can’t say I’ve enjoyed any of these mediums. If you want a girl to notice you, google ways to make a good impression and do so without expecting reciprocation. We don’t owe you anything, so stop pressuring us.

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Do I Be the Pweddiest, Pweddiest Girl?

As we currently live in the prevalent “Selfie-Era”, it is safe to say that my views on the subject are conflicted; if I were to count how many pictures I’ve taken of myself in the last few years I’d be able to plaster the walls with MyFace-Wallpaper.

According to the BBC – not that I can vouch for their reliability on statistics (or anything else for that matter) – 23,000,000 photos were found with the hashtag #Selfie and #ME attached. It’s apparent that the majority of social-networking users have consciously or unconsciously used media platforms to project a specific image of themselves. I must stress the word image here; as that’s all our lives in pictures will ever be: a depiction of a lifestyle or persona which we’ve shared with an audience.

This is a culture of self-invention: where we knowingly leave ourselves open to stereo-typical judgements and condemn the “lifestyles” of others. We tread shallow waters as we covet, compete and compare ourselves to falsified representations. I have a friend who’d spend hours admiring various women, sifting through Instagram profiles and obsessing over women who held no place in her life.

The fascination is no different in how we approach celebrity culture only, we appreciate  celebrities based on their talent not their outer shell, right? It’s clear that young girls feel an amounting pressure to appear a certain way by adapting their looks through the mediums of of filters and beauty apps. It can’t be healthy for anyone to feel such immense gratification based on a number of Facebook ‘likes’.

Numerous people have commented how photogenic I am. I feel sad when I compare the relentlessly manipulated images with the girl behind the lens – I know that one is real and one is fake. The self-gratification received from Facebook and Instagram ‘likes’ has boosted my ego for a lengthy 3 seconds and then evaporated into further dimensions. An attention which is superficial and shallow does nothing for ones personal growth, if anything, it does the opposite by reinforcing hype.

Picture-taking can be addictive. I remember my first ever ‘Myspace’ page and the pleasure I felt being considered “beautiful”. In later years, dangerous beauty apps, Instagram filters and particular angles have forced me to scrutinize and pick myself apart.  I’ve manipulated my face and body to the point that I am unrecognizable. And in the end I’ve just felt ugly.

My obsession with selfies became so intense that I started to see all things “wrong” with me. I feel into the Media’s trap of  de-racialization and cloning; even contemplating cosmetic surgery…

Chelsea Before and after

To provide real insight, the before picture is untouched. My face is as it should be – left alone, no alterations. In the after picture, I’ve removed the bags from my eyes, refined my nose, jaw; enlarged my lips, brightened my eyes and added a filter. Wow. What a way to go from a seven to a ten.

I remember asking my mother what she thought about me getting a nose job and she burst into tears. Her words: “If you ever get your face done, I’ve done something very, very wrong”.

Sometimes when I look at my face I see all the ones I love: my dad, my grandfather, my aunts; my mother. Why on earth would I want to “fix” that? If the lines around my eyes or the shape of my nose map the history of my genetic roots then I guess the media can fuck itself. If I’m a ten it’s way beyond the mere surface of skin and no filter is ever going to change that.

Blue

During my first blog I’ll be addressing things which I feel require more attention; the aim is to create awareness around extremely sensitive issues. There have been few times (but times nevertheless) where I’ve shut people out based on the fear of being judged. With this said, I began to educate myself and realised there are many who have experienced similar demons; who could have done with more support. Trust me, there millions of us and the more we begin to talk, the sooner we’ll find the light.

I was seventeen when I met my first boyfriend, Lyle*. At the time I was inexperienced regarding love and didn’t know what I was searching for. He was attractive and seemed polite enough; more than anything I was excited to finally have a boyfriend. The first six months were great – we were kids and life was naturally easier.

As time progressed, Lyle became increasingly possessive. He would call me at all hours of the the night, asking why (male) friends were writing “Hey, how are you?” on my Facebook wall.

Some nights I would wake up startled, recoiling from a punch in the stomach or hands around my neck. This was unintentional, Lyle suffered from night terrors and I realised years later that we were not in the best mental health.

We stopped being friends. He’d play Playstation whilst I stared at my phone in silence. The possessiveness increased, along with being aggressive and dismissive  –  I felt constantly on edge. Taking in to account the contributing factors of mental illness, some of his behaviors I’m sure were unintentionally harmful.

Still, a young girl being in a mentally abusive relationship is extremely dangerous waters. I constantly felt irrationally guilty and began to avoid eye contact with people, staring at the floor as I walked. I stopped partying and began to ignore all my male friends – I even blocked a few of them.

I was in denial. I would boast A LOT to friends and family about my happiness, how lucky I was to be in such a wonderful relationship. I think the trickiest part was becoming attached to his family – they were extremely loving which made it harder to detach.

As time went on, things became inevitably worse. Within the space of a year I’d began to self-harm; in hindsight nothing but a cry for help. My words were muted constantly beneath hollers of abuse. I wanted to scream but feared nobody would hear me.

Things came to a head when I visited my stepmom and accidentally rolled up my left sleeve. Naturally she was devastated and within hours I was being bombarded with visits and phone-calls. My families worry helped me to acknowledge the severity of the situation. I didn’t want to cause them any pain.

My dad, who reacted the least dramatically, guessed straight away that I was having relationship issues.  I grew up in a liberal household where everyone was kind to each other, far from perfect, never abusive.

Lyle smoked a lot of weed; I’d say he went through an eighth of skunk a day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to bash weed-smokers, there are people close to me who have been doing it for years and they’re some of the most level headed people I know. Trouble is, if you’re already struggling with your mental health, weed can become an enhancing contribution.

Lyle and I were sinking together. He began to develop obsessions with UFO’s, fascinated with the prospect of channelling aliens and becoming an extra-terrestrial human vessel. During this time I was also smoking daily – I was attending university and working part-time but regardless, I too was unknowingly tripping out.

In 2010 the relationship came to an end. I’d just come back from my father’s wedding, where I had been surrounded by fun and stability. It gave me a chance to meet people and remember that life doesn’t have to be so bleak. I remember sobbing, mostly out of relief, and felt free to be myself without worrying there’d be a consequence.

I went back to being the person who shouldn’t have been compromised in the first place.

I wish I could say the ordeal had ended, but on the contrary I had a new battle to fight. I’d spent so much time suppressing fear and anxiety that everything was still simmering beneath. A family friend later described me as pressure cooker: with so much building up, I needed to release the steam to avoid exploding.

I began to have panic attacks, although I didn’t yet know what they were. Every time I tried to sleep I’d feel my heart beating at an increased speed, my thoughts went astray and I couldn’t breathe – if felt like someone was pressing on my head.

As a child I worshipped the Catholic Church and so I passed the symptoms off as possession. My irrational thoughts worsened the disillusioned reality – I began to hear voices (which I now understand were my own) and saw shadows transforming into demons – I was terrified.

When I eventually managed to fall asleep in those days, I would dream that the devil was shaking my bed, spending the rest of the night awake, with the lights on.  I began to suffer from sleep paralysis, which occurs when the mind wakes up before the body. It paralyses you so that you can’t move or speak, despite having a conscious mind. A lot of people describe this as demons possessing the body – I was also a believer of this concept at the time.

Thank god for the internet. The day I typed my symptoms into Google is the day I realised I was suffering from panic attacks and night terrors – I was definitely NOT being possessed. I visited a nurse, who didn’t have a clue in hell. She raised her eyebrows at me in judgmental distaste and booked me an appointment with the Doctor. She said that he’d prescribe me “appropriate medication”.

I did not need medication; I needed someone objective to talk to.

I decided to take matters into my own hands: farewell marijuana. I didn’t inhale another puff for two years straight. Don’t get me wrong, these days I can have the odd toke here or there via trips to Amsterdam – but it’s not a habit to incorporate into my everyday life. Everyone has their own vice and it just stopped being mine.

I began to watch lots of upbeat films: romantic comedies and feel-good musicals. I was still struggling due to developing insomnia, and I spent a lot of time feeling detached from reality. I couldn’t concentrate or feel happy about things. I missed having “normal issues” i.e. Will I ever find a nice boyfriend? or I need to lose a few pounds.

I didn’t feel normal anymore. One night I became so scared that I had to sleep on my parents floor with my four year old brother in the bed. I should be embarrassed but it pays to have a family open enough to offer support when asked.

Friends also helped, one friend came over just to pat me to sleep; another would talk to me ’til early hours of the morning. It was around that time I received some crucial advice, advice which I accredit to reshaping my life. And it was this: “Don’t be afraid to fight with your mind. Stop sleeping with the lights on, turn everything off. Retrain the way you think and feel. You’re experiencing a battle with self”.

Funny isn’t it? Just a few simple words and suddenly I remembered that I’m the one who controls my mind: it does not control me. I clung to those words religiously: It took six months post-breakup to sleep with the lights off. Six months until the panic attacks, night terrors and sleep paralysis stopped. I received no medication or counseling, I retrained my brain and used the help of good people around. In six months I was able to do all of the things I had stopped.

If you find yourself down a black hole, use this blog for the light. There are so many people suffering with mental health issues or stuck in abusive relationships – the degrees of severity vary.

Had I not left Lyle, or continued to smoke weed; had I not questioned my delirium – I would have found myself eternally stuck. I remember a time when I didn’t want to leave the house, when going out and enjoying myself was more of a chore or challenge.

Take it from me, there are numerous ways to self-heal. If you find yourself battling with mental-health or post traumatic stress, try every alternative method before accepting the drugs. That’s my advice. Change your diet, change your scenery, start challenging your thoughts of fear and see if you’re able to reverse your condition. We are all warriors in our own right, sometimes it just takes the support of a few good people and a strong dose of courage to finally see the light. Like me, I promise you can find it.