Content note: mental health, mental health services, CAMHS, mental health slurs
When I told the pastoral care team at college that I was having auditory hallucinations, one of them said to me "it might not be that, it might just be earwax." I spent weeks laughing at how ridiculous it was for somebody in a position of care to say that to me. It wasn't funny. The bottom line was, I knew that I was ill, and I knew that I needed help, and I knew that she was wrong. So I laughed to get through.
It was the first time someone thought they knew better than I did what was going on inside my own head, but not the last. When I was 17, I was referred to CAMHS - the Child And Adolescent Mental Health Service. I can't name the number of counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, who have not listened to what I feel like I know about my own condition. The problem with telling people that you're mentally ill is that they don't believe you. We have this stereotype with mental health that one of the conditions of suffering is not knowing that you're suffering. We associate mental health with being unaware, out of control, "crazy". But this stereotype is just another way of dehumanising people with mental health stuff - taking away our ability to say for ourselves how we're feeling and what we think is wrong.
It's always seemed like a bit of a catch 22 to me: if you tell people you have mental health stuff, they don't believe you, because awareness of your problems is a sign of "sanity". If you don't tell them anything, and say you're fine, they prescribe you with mental health stuff, because making a judgement that you're okay when other people don't think you aren't is a sign of "crazy". It's ludicrous when you think about it - just like when I broke the bones in my foot, I could feel that something wasn't right, I can also feel when things aren't right in my head. I might not have been able to diagnose broken bones, and I definitely can't diagnose my mental health conditions - but I know that something is wrong.
When I talk about mental health, I can see how people's reactions differ when I'm calm and rational about it, compared to when I'm in a state of anxiety. But just because I'm calm about it a lot of the time, doesn't mean that it's not happening. And just because I panic sometimes, doesn't give people the right to then take away my autonomy and place their own judgement on "what's best for me." Yes, I have mental health stuff - but I also should have the ability to decide what is best for myself, just like any other person would. I don't need everybody suddenly jumping to tell me what I should be doing and how I can "fix" my head. i don't need someone to save me from myself.
Last week I made a decision as to what was best for myself at the time - and I took a week off from writing this blog. I was feeling messy, and I decided to look after myself, because self care really is radical in a society that wants us to "keep calm and carry on". The thing is, sometimes I can't keep calm. So I took time out, and I wrote myself a list of things I like to do for self care.
1) Take a bath
2) Climb some trees
3) Go for a walk
4) Read something (non-feministy!)
5) Chat to someone I love
6) See friends
7) Play guitar/uke
8) Write it all down
9) Talk to my cat
10) (In mental health emergencies) Leave London for a bit
This is my self-care post, and a reminder to myself that I need to treat myself like I would treat a friend or family member that I loved or cared about. It's a reminder that I don't have to always be happy, and that everything I feel is valid and okay. And it's a reminder that nobody knows more, or can know more, than I do about what's going on inside my head.
I'm not saying that therapy doesn't work, just that it didn't work for me at that point in my life, and being able to do these things did. I can't always take care of myself, but I try to when I can. And when I slip up, I need to remember not to punish myself - and just go back to this list again. It's as big a part of activism as anything.
Monday, 16 May 2016
In the summer of 2013, I overheard some girls talking in the school toilets.
"You don't think anyone would wear a suit to prom do you?"
"I was thinking about wearing a suit, but I would look like a complete lesbian"
"It would be quirky, but it's not worth it"
"Yeah you don't want anyone thinking you're gay"
I stayed locked in the cubicle, my back against the wall, until I heard the bathroom door click shut as they left. A few minutes later, I pulled back the latch, marched over to the sink, and stared confrontationally at my reflection. I prodded my jaw and run awkward fingers through my boyish hair.
It was a few weeks earlier that I'd been shopping with my best friend for our prom outfits. We'd gone to Oxford Street, of all places. I already had a suit I'd bought years ago. I found a £6 shirt in New Look, she found a dress, and we spent the rest of the afternoon trying on designer clothes and sarcastically putting on posh accents, laughing at how ludicrously expensive bits of fabric could be.
Then it was a few days before prom, and I was in the toilets, having an inside battle over other people's words. I glared at my tearful reflection, thinking that maybe if I hated myself hard enough I would change my mind. Those girls made me ache like they were scraping a spade down my insides. I never wanted to be "normal" for them. But I wanted people to accept my "abnormal". I wanted to go to prom in clothes I felt right in. I didn't understand why that had to be so painful. I still don't.
I felt like prom was a bit silly. I think a lot of people felt like prom was a bit silly. This whole palaver of finding a date, and spending money, and getting dressed up. I just wanted to spend time with my friends and I didn't want to have to consider the social pressure that came with it.
I was the only girl in my year who wore a suit to prom. It was nothing fancy, just a grey suit with a white shirt, black tie, and converse shoes. I stuck with my mates, they made me feel safe and unextraordinary, and completely appreciated and loved, which was everything that I wanted, and needed. I worried that everyone else looked at me like an anomaly - that girl. That lesbian who didn't fit their tick box of what a woman "should" wear to a special occasion. They probably didn't think any of that - but it didn't stop me from worrying that they did.
I thought, everyone here probably thinks I'm a lesbian. I wasn't out at the time - I was asexual, although I didn't have a label for it. I didn't think that I liked girls, and at that point I genuinely don't think that I did. But why was I so scared of people thinking that I did? Why was I so scared of a judgement that was never a negative thing?
At the end of the night I was grateful. I had friends who loved me and supported me and didn't treat me like anything was wrong with me, or even different about me. I was lucky. But it sucks that my story is the exception. My friends were wonderfully supportive, but there are still too many queer girls who are only confronted by those girls in the toilet. And that's not fair. Because us girls who look ourselves in cubicles and wear trousers even though we're not supposed to - we can be beautiful too.
Monday, 9 May 2016
I'd never worn make-up before today. I've worn face paint, but that hardly counts - I mean real make-up: foundation and blusher and mascara and a load of other things I can list the names of, but have no idea what they actually do. Earlier this week I decided I want to do drag. Naturally, I turned to youtube, like most of us now do when looking for tutorials to support our life choices. They were all talking about real make-up, and I was really confused! So I've started off with face paint, and this is what I've got so far:
Drag King no.1: Big brows
Drag King no.1: Big brows
This was my first attempt ever at doing drag. I used black paint for the facial hair and for the shading (I think that's called contouring?!). I added shading along my jawline, around my eyes, along the sides of my nose, on my temples, under my chin and under my lips. I quite like the facial hair arrangement, especially the little moustache. I definitely need to work on the eyebrows.
Drag king no. 2: 90s throwback
I basically did the same as attempt number 1, but this time I changed the facial hair up. I'm not the biggest fan of the goatee, and I think I look like one of the Backstreet Boys. I thought I'd made the eyebrows smaller, but from the pictures they look even bigger! I rubbed dark paint into my lips to try to make them less red, but it doesn't look like it's worked. I also put gel in my hair, but it only made me look like tin tin!
Drag king no.3: The hipster
I felt like a beard. Looking back, it probably wasn't the most aesthetically realistic choice. I finally sorted myself out with some dark brown face paint, the eyebrows are looking much better. I also used *real* make-up for the first time ever. I put concealer on my lips to make them paler. I think overall this is a better look, but I need to lose the hipster facial hair and go harder on the shading.
(My normal face for reference):
So there it is, my first attempts at drag. I don't think I'll be entering Man Up at The Glory anytime soon, but I might go watch it as a king, who knows...