On Depression and Suicide

I’m going to preface this with the disclaimer: This entire post is just my own thoughts. Mental Illness isn’t a “one size fits all” issue, and everything I express in this post has absolutely no basis of expertise aside from my own life experience.

You don’t have to listen to a single, solitary thing I have to say. I’m just one more twat on the internet with an opinion, but maybe, just maybe, I can help someone by sharing this.

***

I always find depression and suicide are difficult subjects to address, really. I know I have a great deal to say about both, but generally I steer clear of talking about my own experiences on the matter. That said, seeing my social media blow up after the deaths of both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, reading and hurting for other people coming forward with their own stories, and quietly fuming at others who have no understanding and would rather point fingers than learn anything, I’ve decided today is as good a time as any.

I’ve suffered with reoccurring depression since I was around sixteen or seventeen. I’m not a medical professional, so I couldn’t tell you if there was any specific trigger, but I know that the doctor I was seeing at the time dismissed it as teenage hormones. I was left feeling foolish for trying to talk about the yawning darkness that seemed to threaten to swallow me at any moment, and that if I ever brought it up it was just silly complaining, because everyone dealt with it.

I struggled through for a few years, learning quickly that no one wanted to see how miserable I was, so smiling and laughing, and finding some kind of solace in being the person that my loved ones could come and talk to. I knew how it felt not to be listened to or taken seriously, so it felt good being able to make sure other people didn’t experience that.

By the age of nineteen, I was an insomniac, I had an eating disorder, I’d begun to self-harm, and finally, I tried to take my own life.

I failed, but it was enough of a wake-up for me to finally get help. I changed doctors, I was prescribed anti-depressants and had regular therapy. I managed to claw myself out of the deep, dark hole I’d fallen into, and after a year or so of intense treatment and rehab, my weight returned to normal, I could sleep again, and I stopped wanting to hurt myself.

After that, I noticed each year that while I’d always have good days and bad days, my worst time tended to be from January to May. My doctor diagnosed me with S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and I learnt to recognise the signs early and manage them as quickly and efficiently as possible so that I didn’t spiral downwards to a point I couldn’t recover from again.

Unfortunately, when I was twenty-seven, I had a relapse. I don’t know how it got so bad so fast, but my weight ballooned up this time, I stopped sleeping, I missed work, stopped socialising, and began to self-harm once again. It wasn’t until I took a pair of scissors to myself, sitting alone at 3am, bleeding and sobbing, that I realised I needed help.

I was again prescribed anti-depressants and intensive therapy, and taught an entire repertoire of coping mechanisms that didn’t involve cutting myself to pieces just to feel something.

That’s the thing I feel a lot of people don’t understand about depression and self-harm. I suppose it varies from person to person, but for me and many others, it’s a way to feel something other than the consuming hopelessness and misery. It’s a terrible realisation, but the sharp sting of physical pain is frequently preferable and easier to manage.

For those people who have said to me or anyone that everyone gets sad sometimes, I want you to go back and read that last paragraph again. Because you need to sit down and shut up.

It took me longer to crawl my way out this time, and on some level I can’t help but wonder if I ever fully recovered, but I dealt with it day to day as best I could. Some days better than others, but always fully determined not to let the chemical imbalance in my brain win. I’m a stubborn bitch, and in this instance, that’s served me well.

But I’m tired. I’m now thirty-three, and the past six months I’ve been slipping again.

I’ve suffered tremendous and heart-breaking losses the past three years. I’ve moved away from my family, my marriage fell apart, my writing career has withered away to nothing but the occasional blog post, and I’ve been used, hurt, and abandoned by an entire slew of people who haven’t even thought twice about the devastation they’ve left in their wake. I don’t feel valued or wanted, and I’m starting to feel like my entire worth is just simply based on how useful I can be to others, and what kind of existence is that, really?

On top of that, two of the most important people in my life have recently died, and one of those committed suicide. I miss him terribly, and I frequently feel responsible for not being there to help him through his dark time, and bring him back into the light again.

But I wonder, have any of you noticed? Through this entire narrative, I haven’t once mentioned having a network of support aside from medical professionals, and my own pig-headedness.

Now, that’s not because they haven’t been there. I have people I can call when things get too hard to handle, but I frequently don’t bother unless I’m truly teetering on the edge of a crisis.

No matter how many pretty infographics people share online, the truth is that most will only be supportive of depression through the early stages. After a while, they get sick of hearing how unhappy you are, because honestly? It’s exhausting.

Having spent many years trying to be a source of support to other people going through bad times, I want to say that it’s incredibly draining. I don’t blame any of my friends or family for occasionally getting impatient with my teetering moods, for telling me to try yoga, to just get some sleep, to try a different diet, to go out and get some sunshine, to smile anyway. I know that they care about me and just want me to be okay, and I appreciate more than any of them that it’s fucking tiring to deal with depression.

That might sound bleak, but I see so many people saying if you’re depressed that you need to ask for help, but it’s not that simple. Some of us have asked for help, and received nothing but scorn, or worse, indifference. Some of us have gone to people we love and trust, only to watch them slowly back away after a few months.

After a while, you stop telling people. You stop talking about it. You become isolated, and that only exacerbates the feeling of loneliness and self-loathing depression stirs inside of us.

That’s why it’s so hard. It’s very easy to say on Twitter or Facebook that you should talk and feel loved, but in practice it’s not that simple. That’s why I don’t talk about it. Time and experience have taught me that unless someone has been there themselves, they have no concept of what you’re going through, or even how to help. All you end up doing is isolating yourself further.

Depression isn’t black and white. It’s something that each person has to cope with in a way that suits them. My advice? See a doctor. See a therapist. Call a helpline. Go to people trained and capable of aiding you.

Just because depression makes you feel alone, and frequently isolates you just by its very nature, doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence. It just means you have to go to people who understand your needs, and can provide you with the weapons to fight your way out.

Believe in yourself.

Don’t let the darkness win.

***

List of International Suicide Hotlines

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GNU Sir Terry Pratchett

Perhaps this is a huge cliché, but as with a great many “bookish” people I had a very lonely childhood. I didn’t have many friends, I wasn’t good at school, and I never really seemed to fit in anywhere. I found my solace in books, in the school library, tucked away at home on weekends and reading stories about people doing great things and seeing incredible sights. I would open the pages of a book and be transported away from my very dull existence to somewhere infinitely better. One of my favourite escapes was, of course, the Discworld.

It might not surprise a lot of you to know that the very first Terry Pratchett book I read was Equal Rites. I was thirteen (or thereabouts) and I just randomly picked it up at the library because the cover was interesting. I was already very big into fantasy, so anything that mentioned witches or wizards was a sure-fire way to grab my interest, but once actually into the story it was so much more than that.

Even now I find it difficult to explain how I was pulled into the Discword so completely, and so very, very quickly. It was a fantasy book, of course, there’s no denying it, but at the risk of sounding hard on other authors it was also somehow more. Much more. There was a tone to the writing, a humour that I felt kindred to, as well as a dark prod at the human condition I had never seen before. I never have since, either. I believe it was this unique style that captured my imagination, along with the vibrant characters and spectacular world-building, that made me view writing, particularly the fantasy genre, in a very different light.

Terry Pratchett wrote the things I loved, and still love to this day. He wrote about magic and dragons and dwarves and trolls and far-off kingdoms, but very much as his style of writing was, he also wrote more. He wrote about war and prejudice and murder and that very grey area between what is right and what is wrong. What’s more, he did it all in such a way that you didn’t even realise that what you were reading was a satirical commentary even remotely applicable to our own, very real society.

Terry Pratchett made me realise that where so many people had tried to tell me that the dragons flying about my imagination was somehow a sign of foolishness or juvenile interest that would and should fade over time, I could keep them and still have something worth saying. I wanted so much to make a difference in the world, even then, to make people see the evils around us and perhaps make them question their own responses to it. I still want that, and I strive for it in every little thing I write, and I have Terry Pratchett to thank for teaching me with his own work that you can always be more – your writing can always be more than the labels humanity is quick to slap onto anything that dares show its face.

Like millions of others I was deeply saddened to hear of Terry Pratchett’s passing, and even three years on, I still feel as though I have lost a dear friend. Of course, I’m not half the writer he was, and I suspect I never will be. If Sir Terry was Sam Vimes then I would be Nobby Nobbs by comparison. That said, I learnt a great deal from him, and his books will always line both my shelves and my heart.

Slut-Shaming is Alive and Well. Unfortunately.

People are so weird about sex, aren’t they?

Thing is, I don’t want to be disrespectful to anyone’s personal belief system here, but it seems sometimes like that’s very much a one-way street. Someone –like me- who thinks it’s perfectly fine to have sex with whoever you feel like (so long as both are willing participants, to be clear) will almost always be spoken of with disdain by others on the other end of the ideology.

I was out the other night with a friend, and there was a couple sitting on the couch kind of opposite us. They kissed a bit, then he got up to… I dunno, have a smoke or a piss or something. Seeing she was now sat by herself and looking a little flustered, my friend asked her if she was okay. The young woman told us she was on a date and that she really liked him, which honestly was fairly obvious, but very sweet.

My friend then kind of winked at her and asked if she was going to take him home, and the woman’s face dropped, her tone flattening immediately. “No. I’m not like that.”

“Not like what?” I laughed, kinda drunk, if I’m honest, because her meaning would have been fairly self-explanatory if I’d been sober.

“Yeah,” my friend jostled good-naturedly. “You like him, he likes you… what’s the problem?”

“I’m not a slut.”

The silence that followed was awkward, as the penny finally dropped. I mean, it was less of a penny, at that point, and much more of a grand piano, but there we are.

How are you meant to respond to something like that? Because while maybe this stranger hadn’t meant to call me and my friend sluts, she did. And honestly? I gave her a pass at the time, because we’d kind of butted in, but on reflection she must have known because of how we’d been talking to her.

“Fair,” I said, picking up my drink and raising my glass to her. “I am.”

“Me too!” my friend laughed.

The woman’s date came back, and the four of us were ushered out almost immediately by tired bar staff who were waiting to go home. We wished her and her date good luck, and out we stumbled into the night, thinking no more about it for the rest of the evening.

Now I could sit here and tell you that my vagina is a fairly restricted area. I could say how many men I’ve had sex with, and believe me, it’s a low number for a woman of my age. I could explain how shitty my sex life has actually been, how inexperienced I actually am, and that when a guy says to me “What are you into in the bedroom” I genuinely have no idea because I haven’t tried hardly anything.

But you know what? None of that is actually relevant. I would sleep with someone I just met, if I liked them enough. In fact, I have done, and I don’t feel any regret for that. I’m not ashamed of it, and it angers me that in this day and age there’s still this culture where women who enjoy and want sex are treated as something disgusting.

I lost my virginity when I was twenty-two, and to a man I was then with for seven years. In all that time, we had sex very, very rarely, and he got me off fewer times than I have fingers on one hand. And the worst thing? When I asked older, more experienced women in my life about it, I was assured that was fine and even normal. When I brought it to his attention, he tried once, then told me he “couldn’t be arsed” to keep doing it.

Women have to fake their orgasms, women shouldn’t masturbate, women shouldn’t have sex on the first date. What is this nonsense? No. No, it’s wrong, and it’s terrible to see and hear it still being reinforced.

I refuse to fake my orgasms, I masturbate regularly, and if I go out with a guy who I’m both physically and mentally attracted to, I’m going to sleep with him. Why wouldn’t I? Having come out of that long-term relationship a long while ago now, I’m absolutely not willing to be with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with me. That’s just practical. It’s just as important to me as knowing he can make me laugh, that we have things in common, and that we enjoy each other’s company.

Now I’m not going to say that my way is the one and only right way, because it isn’t. I know sex isn’t crucial or important to everyone, and it isn’t going to make or break a relationship, but to me it matters. I enjoy sex, and I feel a real sense of attachment to a partner afterwards. I want to be with someone I can enjoy sex with, who wants to enjoy sex with me, too.

If that makes me a slut, fine.

People can judge and scorn all they want to, I guess, because the right ones understand, and the best ones don’t pass judgement on others with such little care.

The Best Date of My Life

It happened a few weeks back, just a chance meeting, and then we decided to meet for drinks the next day. I spent the morning in my usual pre-date panic, figuring out what to wear, how to do my hair, my make-up, building myself up into a state of very unattractive anxiety that I can usually hide from people who don’t know me that well. Thankfully, my housemate can spot my panic a mile off. She helped me look presentable, and bolstered my forever-wonky confidence.

By the time I was finished getting ready, I felt nervous, but much better about the whole thing. She wished me good luck, and just as I was about to walk out the door, my phone buzzed. My date had changed his mind.

I’m going to be honest, it was better to know then than to be sat in a bar waiting, or like that last one who just got up and left, but still. It stung.

I made a joke about it to my housemate, who truly looked as disappointed as I felt, and I sat back down in the kitchen with her. She then told me it wasn’t that there was anything wrong with me, that she knew lots of other women it happened to, and that it was probably just that he had bottled it.

“Uh-huh.” I smiled disbelievingly, then shrugged. “Boys smell anyway. He was probably a douchebag.”

“He was a douchebag,” she told me firmly. “That isn’t the behaviour of a decent person.”

I couldn’t argue with her logic. All said and done, someone who cancels ten minutes before a date is probably not someone I’d want to be in a relationship with, anyway. Especially without giving any reason or apology. I looked at the message again.

“Come on,” She said, standing up. “We’re going out for lunch.”

I was already a little more dressed up than I would usually be, but she went upstairs and got ready, and we went out into the city together. She took me to a cute little shop with a café under it, and we ogled all the pretty things we’d love to fill our little cottage with. We talked about interior design, and jellyfish, and painting, and then we went downstairs and had lunch.

We sat in this pretty little space and talked about food. I’ve been trying to get her to do a cooking channel on YouTube with me for a while now, and we discussed that and what we could do to make it as fun and interesting as possible. We chose a name and a theme, and all the different video ideas we had for it. (Watch this space, guys! It’s happening soon!)

As we sat there eating and chatting, she got a message from two of her other friends to say they were in a nearby pub. I know one of them, but only knew of the other, and she asked if I wanted to go join them.

So, then there were four ladies, drinking in a cute little pub around a fireplace. I say four, but I should mention it was technically five, as I also got to meet Pico the Dog, who was gorgeous and snuggly and let me scratch under her chin at regular intervals. We talked about shitty dates, shittier men, and then loads of funny and positive things that reminded me no matter what, I still have so much going for me. I am, and will always be, in a much better place than I was two years ago.

After a few drinks and lots of dry humour we parted ways, and my housemate took me to a huge vintage shop in the city centre. We wandered around for ages, investigating weird little trinkets and curiosities, laughing at ugly jewellery, trying on all the hats, and just generally having a blast. We talked about the possibility of me attempting to salvage my long-dead stand-up act, and how I could get the ball rolling for that again.

We went around a few other shops, and then headed home. I wouldn’t have swapped that afternoon for anything, especially not awkward drinks with some guys who I luckily found out early had no semblance of courtesy.

It reminded me a lot of a night just before New Year, when my housemate had a few friends over for drinks. I was dealing with a guy who I liked way more than he liked me (as is always the way of things with me) and despite all that, I remember having a small half hour with my housemate and one of her friends, where we discussed breasts and all their varying shapes and sizes. That was my favourite part of the whole night, because it was genuine and fun, and I was with people who valued me.

And this? This was the best date I’ve ever been on in my life, because friendship is the best kind of companionship there is.

Hi, I’m Fat!

I’m 5’2” and I weigh 13.8st. I do not carry my weight well, because I’m short, and my body shape is what fashion magazines refer to as a “pear” because I have a big arse, and my tits don’t quite balance me out in a way that’s deemed acceptable.

Thankfully I live in a society where people very kindly point out my fatness whenever they get a chance. It’s so thoughtful of them, because I would have no idea otherwise. I mean, I certainly never weigh myself, or buy my own clothes, or look at myself in a mirror, so strangers, friends, and family telling me I’m overweight is such a service.

I mean, what fat person is aware of their body? And if we do realise we’re overweight, we can’t possibly feel indifferent about it! After all, outer appearances are far and away the most important thing in a person. Right?

… That was sarcasm right there, folks.

You know, I don’t understand why anyone thinks my body is their business. I live here. This is mine. I own all this, and you know what? If you don’t like it, you can go any time. I don’t need any help with disliking myself, thanks.

Despite that, people seem obsessed by it. My body is treated like public property by complete strangers, who make nasty comments or shout in the street. Society sees me as a “before” photograph, and adverts try to appeal to me by highlighting what parts of my body are problems that they can help me hide. It never occurs to anyone that I might be perfectly content with my appearance.

Then you get the super fun people who try to hide their open revulsion behind the guise of concern for my health. I can say that I eat well and exercise, and they will either smile in that knowing way or bluntly call me a liar. People hide their thinly veiled disgust behind claims of concern, and even medical professionals will not take me seriously. I actually had a therapist tell me my depression would stop if I lost weight, and when I asked if being happy with my body wouldn’t be more helpful, she literally said no.

Along the same vein, the unhealthiest I’ve ever been was at my very lowest adult weight. Between the ages of 18-21, I was anorexic because I was made to believe that being skinny was more important than anything else. It didn’t matter that I was funny, or creative, or caring. It didn’t matter that my hair was falling out, or my skin was basically hanging off my bones, or I stopped menstruating. No, being skinny was the important thing!

And do you know, even years and years on, it’s still so hard not to fall back into that toxic mindset. I didn’t eat or drink all day yesterday because I knew I was being weighed in the evening, and today I’m so angry with myself for thinking that was okay.

I am actively trying to lose weight, but I want to live my life without that being a central concern and preoccupation. Still, it seems like everyone around me is obsessed with my body, and it makes it very difficult to cultivate any kind of self-love or acceptance. When I say that my biggest insecurity about the way I look is my nose, their suppressed urge to point out that I jiggle when I walk looks almost painful.

People act like being fat is the whole sum of me as a person, and it isn’t. Honestly, I think it’s high time society stopped acting like being fat is worse than being cruel or rude or shallow, because it really isn’t.

I don’t care what anyone thinks; it’s time I started caring about myself, because no one is going to do that for me. Maybe if we all did the same thing, the world would be a much better, happier place.

The Joys of Dating

Dating is scary at the best of times, particularly if you’re someone –like myself- with very little experience in the subject. In fact, I have very little experience in any kind of “romantic” sense. I’ve only been sexual with two men in my life, and always somehow manage to disgrace myself whenever I attempt to flirt. I’m not a sexy or sensual woman. I’m not a particularly attractive woman, either, and between that, my questionable sense of humour, and my unfortunate inability to string together a coherent sentence (verbally, at least) it’s no wonder my own reaction to somehow embarrassing myself in public has become the dry and self-deprecating: “How the fuck am I still single?”

Meeting someone via the internet seemed like a gift to silly, awkward me. At first, anyway. I met this one guy via my most commonly used social media platform, and at first, there was no expectation except a little light conversation and a few jokes. After a couple of weeks of back and forth, I was incredibly shocked when he asked me on a date. Perhaps it was the fact that I’m not great at social cues, or perhaps I just have no expectation or understanding of anyone wanting to date me, but “shocked” really is an apt word.

I liked him, honestly. He made me laugh, and he seemed friendly enough, plus we had things in common and good conversation. After a little bit of incredulity and heavily resisting the urge to respond with “Are you taking the mickey, or what?” I decided to go for it.

We arranged a time and place to meet, and I did that inevitable thing where I went through every single item of clothing I own trying to come up with an outfit that made me look nice, but not like I was trying too hard, which I almost definitely put way more thought into than the skirt and cardigan number deserved –especially considering I’m wearing the exact same clothes right now, and all I’ve done all day is housework.

That done, I did my makeup the same way I always do, and even resisted the urge to do anything particular with my hair. I wanted to be myself. At least, as much myself as I ever am when I’m meeting someone for the first time.

I was a little late as I headed to the designated coffee shop, so when I got there I had a quick glance around, and not seeing him, sent a message to let him know I was there. Surprisingly, he answered fairly quickly that he was also in the coffee shop, so I looked about again and spotted him tucked away in a little corner I’d missed in my earlier haste. I recognised him from his profile picture, smiled and waved, and picked up my coffee to go join him.

He didn’t seem particularly pleased to see me. He didn’t smile as I sat down opposite him, and immediately nervous, I kind of blustered away for a moment about why I’d been late before I even realised that he looked mildly irritated.

“You’re not what I expected.” He said, rather bluntly.

“Oh?” I blinked. I had no idea how to respond to that.

“Your profile picture…” he began, then cleared his throat and looked away. “It’s a good photo.”

“I… guess…?”

Part of me wanted to laugh. Yes, of course it was a good photo. I wasn’t going to use a crap one, was I? In fact, I can tell you it’s the profile picture I use on here, too. No filter, just good, natural lighting, and a morning where I felt nice about myself, so could smile for a selfie without looking painfully constipated.

“Yeah…” He said slowly. Then sighed, and stood up from his seat. “Sorry.”

Without a single word further or a backwards glance, he left, and I sat in stunned silence as the two women on the next table over tittered into their cups. I won’t lie, it took me a long moment to realise what had happened, and when it hit me I wanted to take out my phone and show these complete strangers the photo, just so they could see I wasn’t some bizarre cat-fisher.

I felt fairly humiliated, but I forced myself to sit there and drink my coffee, and read until there were different people sitting on the tables nearby. I couldn’t tell you why, but it seemed important at the time.

All the while I was running through the situation over and over in my mind. Was it really the photo that had been the problem? Because it seemed ludicrous to me to think so; that is my face. That’s what I look like. Perhaps it was something else? Perhaps it had been because I was late and hadn’t messaged him to say so? Perhaps I’d used a perfume that reminded him of his year nine maths teacher? Perhaps my eyeliner had smudged? Worse still! Perhaps it was the cardigan?

To this day I couldn’t tell you. He blocked me, and I was torn between being indignant at the insanity of his reaction, and guilt for somehow pushing him to make such a drastic move. But I didn’t know what I’d done, and confused as I am, it does seem rather silly to beat myself up for something like… well. I don’t even know. Using a profile picture I look nice in?

My housemate has been trying to get me to sign up to proper dating sites, and I came very close the other day. Then it wanted a profile picture and I spent almost two hours scrolling through my photos, growing increasingly hysterical until I was having an existential crisis over every single one and thinking: “Is ThIs My FaCe?!?!”

All About Dem Metaphors

Did you know that grapes are toxic to dogs? Just one of those little things could kill your canine friend, or at best make them very, very sick.

My mum has a terrier. His name is Kero and he’s about fifteen years old now. He runs into walls, barks when someone walks past the front window, wakes himself up when he farts in his sleep, and loves to play fetch probably more than most people have ever loved anything in their lives. He likes to have his chin scratched, he has a tail that could wag for Great Britain, and if he sees you eating grapes he’ll beg and whine and want one with his whole being.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Kero will beg for literally any food. He’s a porky little chap who would probably eat until he passed out if he could, which I can honestly relate to as much as running into walls and waking myself up when I fart in my sleep.

Thing is, he doesn’t understand that the grape is bad for him. He’ll watch me with those big brown eyes, licking his chops, tail wagging away as he sits and shuffles his butt around in uncontainable excitement. I’ll tell him no, but he’ll just try and give me a paw (as that generally works), so I’ll tell him more firmly, and he’ll just lay down and continue to watch and wag his little tail at me.

“Kero,” I’ll say, very patiently. “You can’t have this. I’m sorry, dude, but it’s bad for you.”

Alas, Kero is a dog, and has no fucking idea what I’m saying to him. All he knows is that he wants the food, and that Lorna is a soft touch, and if he’s very good and waits patiently, she’ll probably let him have one.

Of course, we all know I won’t, because he can’t have the grape. The grape will make him sick. Possibly even kill him. And he’s my buddy, so I’d never want to do anything that could hurt him, no matter how adorable he is, or how patiently he waits, or how many times he tries to give me a paw.

By comparison to my small, hairy friend, I am not a dog (well… depending on who you speak to, I suppose) but sometimes in my life, I can’t help but think of Kero and the grapes. Sometimes I’ll want something for myself, and I’ll want it so badly that it’s all I can focus on. I’ll convince myself that I’ll get it, that it’ll work out, that it’s meant to be, and I’ll do everything in my power to try and obtain it.

“Lorna,” The Universe will say, very patiently. “You can’t have this. I’m sorry, dude, but it’s bad for you.”

Alas, I don’t know that, and I have no understanding of it. All I know is that I want the Thing. I don’t know why it’s being withheld from me, only that I’m certain it’s coming my way soon, if I work hard or wait patiently enough. Until, like the grapes all being eaten, there’s nothing left for me to have.

Rather than getting disheartened now, though, I try and think of the Thing like a grape. It’s not meant for me. It’s not going to be good for me, and that’s why the universe won’t let me have it.

Sometimes, if Kero has been very good, when I’ve finished my grapes I’ll go and get him a biscuit. He’s allowed these, and it makes him sublimely happy.

I’m just here waiting for my biscuit.

You’d Have Loved “Drinking of You”

Grief is a funny thing, isn’t it? I don’t mean funny like “ha ha” but more like funny “I really couldn’t say how this is going manifest itself”.

When I was told my Grandma had been given only two weeks left to live, I completely crumbled. I wailed like a child and I didn’t care who saw or who heard. I was at work at the time, in the staff room, with one very uncomfortable onlooker trying to pat my shoulder reassuringly and another two out on the shop floor, lingering around the doorway. It was visceral and undignified, and I did it all over again at her funeral for everyone to see and hear, because I simply couldn’t contain it. I didn’t even want to try, because the pain was so terrible. I was thirty-one years old.

This week I heard that a very good friend of mine died. A close friend. He was the same age as me, and he took an overdose. The last message I sent him was “Stop being such a fanny-apple and answer me!”

This time my grief has been quiet. Heavy. Still as painful as when I lost my Grandma, but without any outlet. There hasn’t been a tidal wave of tears, no body-shaking sobbing fits; just early nights, difficult mornings, no makeup, and lots of dry shampoo. I’ve been weak and clumsy and stuttering all my words, but trying to keep all of my focus on each task in front of me at that very moment. I caught sight of myself in a mirror today and realised how utterly haggard and ill I look. It struck me then how very different my reactions were, and for a moment I started to wonder why that might be.

There are always people who try to rationalise these things, I suppose. Like if we can make some sense of it, maybe it will help us recover? But I realised today that much like the guilt I feel for my friend dying hopeless and alone, I can’t do any more than simply feel what I feel.

I’ll have to come to terms with it. I’ll have to come to terms with the idea that he won’t be coming with me to Pride this year, that I won’t ever be able to listen to Kate Nash without remembering him, that we’ll never have drunken poetry competitions again, that he’ll never finish teaching me all the moves to Poker Face, and that all of our inside jokes –which used to make me laugh until my ribs hurt- are forever as gone as he is.

I have to feel it and accept it, and as I’m sitting here right now, my heart tight and painful as I will the tears to come, I remember how he used to roll his eyes at me and tut.

“Alright, Emo-Queen, that’s enough of that shit!”

Negging

Negging is best described as a very specific type of pick-up, where the initiator will prey on the victim’s sense of self-worth –or lack thereof- in order to lower the victim’s expectations accordingly and settle for whatever they’re made to believe they can get.

This is a fairly vicious explanation, but in my opinion, it’s a fairly vicious tactic. It’s become incredibly prevalent since Neil Strauss published his rag “The Game” back in 2005.

I feel particularly vehement about it, because it seems to be the ploy most frequently used by men when attempting to get me into bed. I’d like to say I have no idea why (and on some level that’s true, but only because I have no idea why anyone would be so deliberately horrible in the first place) but the facts are these: I’m attractive enough that a guy in a pinch would sleep with me, but unattractive enough that they’re certain I’ll have low self-esteem.

They aren’t wrong, per se, but thankfully for me, as low as my self-worth can sometimes plummet, my sense of pride is fucking indomitable. I’m perfectly happy to have casual sex, but not with someone who wants me to believe they’re doing me a favour.

My most recent experience of negging was this weekend just past, when I was having a quiet drink by myself in my local pub. I was ensconced in a comfy chair, tucked away in a quiet corner, glass of wine in one hand, book in the other. I should imagine that to the casual onlooker I appeared quite content, and very clearly occupied.

One man, however, seemed to think otherwise, and despite the many empty tables and chairs in the bar, plonked himself and his pint down at my table without a single word. I jumped a little (a remnant of relationships past, I’m afraid) and glanced up at him in surprise. I don’t think he saw me look up, and as there was no eye-contact made before I quickly hid behind my book again, I decided it was safest to ignore his presence entirely. I hoped he would do likewise, but it wasn’t to be.

“I don’t understand why women put all that black around their eyes like that,” he said loudly. “You’d be so pretty without it!”

Clever, isn’t it? Nasty, but you have to give it to them; it’s clever. The subtle emotional manipulation behind those few words, undermining my confidence with a backhanded compliment so that I’ll try to seek his approval. It almost worked, I won’t lie. It tugged at some part of me that was ready to explain away my makeup choices, to placate him with excuses in order to win some favour. But in half a breath, the urge was gone.

I nodded once, slowly, then looked back at my book again. I was very conscious of the fact that most responses would be seen as encouragement, and the fact that I’d read the same paragraph at least four times without taking any of it in.

“Why do you do it?” he pressed, apparently unperturbed.

“I like it,” I said. I didn’t look up. I kept my voice flat. I wanted him to leave, but I was too afraid to say so.

He scoffed, but said nothing further, and I read the same paragraph for a fifth time with a level of concentration I generally only reserve for feats of mathematics.

There was a heavy silence that followed. I hoped he understood my disinterest and that he would leave soon, but once again, I was disappointed.

“I don’t like pink wine.”

I looked at the glass in my hand rather than at him, but felt myself tense up as he pulled his seat closer to mine.

“It tastes like paint-stripper,” he continued. “It’s a frilly drink.”

Some small corner of my mind wanted to ask him how paint-stripper was a frilly drink, but then he moved his leg so it was touching mine. I jumped back from him immediately and felt my face go red as I looked up at him. A combination of panic, anger, and years of bickering with my little sister supplied my brain immediately with, “Your face is paint-stripper!” but thankfully I ignored the urge and instead went with: “Well it’s a good thing you’re not drinking it, then!”

“Don’t be that way,” he wheedled, smiling at me despite my clear discomfort. “I’m just being friendly.”

For a split second, I felt guilty for my reaction. Was he just being friendly? Was I overreacting? But no. No. I didn’t seek or encourage his attention –his so-called friendliness- and I certainly hadn’t given him any reason to persist. A friendly person, whatever their gender, would have asked if I’d minded them sitting there in the first place (to which I’d have likely replied “Go ahead” and smiled at them) rather than helping themselves to my time and my space. They certainly wouldn’t have opened the conversation by criticizing the way I looked.

No. This was another ploy, often used socially to coerce someone into submission. It’s designed to shift the blame, to make you question your emotional response, and to make you seem like the rude or over-sensitive party. Naturally submissive I may be, but necessity has taught me how to keep myself safe despite that.

“I’m reading,” I told him, making certain to hold his gaze as I did so. I wanted to make sure he understood, and I saw the exact moment he realised I wasn’t going to budge.

“Fine,” he sneered, sitting back in his chair at last. “But I was just trying to help. When you don’t care what people think of you like that, it throws up a red flag to guys like me.”

I wanted to tell him I didn’t want his help, and I certainly hadn’t asked for it. I wanted to tell him to take his sanctimonious nonsense and stick it up his arse. I wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as I could so that I’d stop feeling nauseated and my heart would slow down again.

I didn’t do any of the above, and instead, I returned to my book without a word.

He stood abruptly, snatched up his pint, and left with the parting shot “Bitch” tossed over his shoulder, loud enough that people on other tables quietened, and the man behind the bar look across in clear concern.

I tried to reassure him with a smile, but I imagine at this point my discomposure was beyond hiding. I was incredibly anxious, my pulse roaring, my chest tight, and sweat prickling my forehead and up the back of my neck. I was shaking fairly violently, too. I wanted to leave, but the man had sat right up by the exit, and I didn’t want him to follow me out.

The barman came over and asked me if I was okay. I motioned to the man who had cornered me and said I wanted to leave. The barman nodded his understanding, pointed to a fire exit out of sight, and told me I could go that way. I thanked him quietly, not wanting to draw attention, and I left safely.

When I went back into the same pub a few days later with a friend, the barman recognised me and asked what had happened. I told him, and he said he unfortunately saw things like that all the time. He was very kind, and told me in future he’d keep an eye out, but also cautioned me that perhaps I shouldn’t come in by myself.

But why? How is that fair? Why should I not be able to come out to have a drink and read a book by myself without fearing harassment? And it is harassment. He invaded my space, my time, and my peace of mind. He deliberately tried to break me down and intimidate me to get his way.

Worse still, the next morning I woke up to find my social media full of finger-pointing and cries of “women should be more obvious” when they’re uninterested. But look what happens. Look what happens when we (and I’m sure it happens to men and gender-fluid people, too) refuse someone’s advances. We’re cornered, we’re bullied, and then told we ought not to leave our homes alone for fear of what could happen.

I don’t know, it just seems so wrong to me. I didn’t do anything to encourage this stranger, but I still came out of it badly somehow. I don’t know what the answer is, except perhaps to toughen up. But should I really have to do that just to go sit in a quiet pub by myself? Should any of us?

The Issue of Consent

I am what my therapist frequently refers to as a people-pleaser. It’s a pretty self-explanatory term, but the long and short of it is that I struggle to set boundaries for myself. Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that this trait in me means that I don’t know how to say no, but that’s not the case; I do know how to say no, but past experiences and trauma have taught me that my refusal will almost always be met with hostility, disdain, and even violence.

Today on Twitter I watched as people argued back and forth about issues of consent. I’ve made it sound trivial. Let me be clear right now and say that this isn’t a trivial matter, not to me nor to many others.

Not for the first time I saw blame laid at the door of victims in the guise of “Just Say No” and the idea that people should be more vocal about their lack of consent. Well, I thought I’d take the time for those people who apparently don’t seem to understand basic social nuances to clarify what consent is, and most importantly, what consent is not.

First of all, no means no. No means no. My three-year-old nephew understands this, so fully grown adults have absolutely no excuse. If someone is brave enough to give you a flat refusal, you ought to respect that. And believe me, it is bravery, because people-pleaser or not, we’re all frightened, and that alone should horrify, not offend you.

“Mixed signals” is something I saw thrown about a lot this morning. I can tell you with absolute certainty, a mixed signal is not consent. At best it’s a maybe, which should be met with patience and respect, not coercion. A maybe is not a yes. It’s a maybe. It’s far closer to a no than a yes.

One act of sexual intimacy is not consent for another. A kiss is not consent for a blowjob. A blowjob is not consent for intercourse. We’re people too, you know. Sometimes things move too quickly and we need time to evaluate the situation before we are comfortable moving further. Sometimes we just want to stop.

A smile is not consent. I smile at people without thinking, because I’m being polite. It’s not an invitation for sex. Shockingly.

Do you want to know what consent is? It’s a yes. A flat yes. Without a shadow of a doubt yes. And if you’re not sure? Ask. Ask! Do it for yourself as much as for your partner, but please, just ask the question. Can I kiss you? Is this okay? May I…?

And for those people throwing their toys out of the pram and saying it takes away from the passion of the moment, just you sit your ass down and listen: If you honestly believe that talking to your sexual partner, whispering into their mouth, moaning against their skin what you want to do to them, and making them beg for you, making them say how badly they want you, is passionless? Lordy. You are missing out.

Consent is sexy. Communication is sexy. Both of you having fun is fucking sexy.

But you know this. You all know this, really. I’m not saying anything revolutionary over here. We were all socialised the same way as my three-year-old nephew, who understands when he isn’t allowed something, and that no amount of screaming and crying and being cross will help him get it.

It just seems like some people think the rules don’t apply to them anymore, and that is the real issue here.