Laid Bare

Love Island

Watching ITV2’s popular reality tv show, Love Island, has sparked conversations with friends about the motives, actions and reactions of current contestants. Love it or hate it, Love Island is one of the most popular summer tv shows, affording an hour daily (apart from Saturday) highlighting the action in the plush Mallorcan villa. A bunch of tanned, toned, twenty-somethings looking for love, or at least someone they can stand to be around for 24 hours a day, hoping to win the £50K prize money. If I was 30 years younger and could convince my cadaver-like body to emulate something approaching bronzed, I still couldn’t think of a worse way to look for ‘the one’, or even ‘the one for a few weeks’.

But I still love to watch it. I spend that hour every evening on Twitter dissecting their every move, word and look. I’ve made a fair few Twitter pals through my relentless takes on the banality of a bunch of randoms.

This year, there has been particular focus on the behaviour of certain boys (honestly, none of them can be considered men), primarily Adam and Eyal. Predatory, manipulative, scheming, lying, ruthless boys, intent on winning by any means necessary, or at the very least, ‘cracking on with’ as many of the girls as they deem good enough. Or, the girls who the other boys are attracted to. They show no regard for the feelings of those around them. Not the other guys, and definitely not the girls.

What they attempt to laugh off as ‘playing the game’ is nothing short of the first alarm bell tolling the start an abusive relationship. I’m fairly well-qualified to recognise these signs, having lived through systematic emotional, sexual and physical violence with an ex partner. At first, I had no idea that what I felt was just ‘intense’ was in fact controlling manipulation. The foundations on which he built a means of isolating and abusing me.

As objective viewers, many of us can see these behaviours, and know that they undermine the confidence of those targeted, making them question the reality of their situation. The emotional to and fro, the seeds of doubt planted, this often triggers a belief that you aren’t enough, that you need to do more. It’s how you find yourself unwittingly reeled further into this insidious web of control.

Laura, the eldest of the islanders, definitely recognises these behaviours, and admirably tried to intervene, taking Adam aside to point it out. Obviously, he was completely dismissive and it sadly fell on deaf ears. Most of the islanders seem to accept that these behaviours are normal ‘lads banter’ or simply a means to an end. Maybe £50K in your sights makes you throw all regard for anyone else’s feelings or mental wellbeing in the bin.

Every time they are faced with being ‘dumped’ from the island, I feel a collective holding of breath while we hope that these individuals learn how the rest of the country have seen them. Sadly, their complete lack of self-awareness means they will be wholly unprepared for the backlash when their flight lands at Luton. But maybe their personal appearances at clubs up and down the country, and their insta deals with weight-loss shakes will make up for it.

I would hope that the spotlight being shone on this unhealthy behaviour might open up lines of communication about the red flags we should all (boy and girls, men and women) be aware of, be wary of, and not minimise or ignore. Guys, don’t be that prick.

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Comparisons

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Parenting a child with “special needs” or a disability or long term health problems, has its obvious difficulties & stresses, but I want to try to put into words some of the unspoken truths. 

From the moment that blue line appears on the pregnancy test, you may not realise it yet, but you have begun a new life, filled with comparisons. Which mum-to-be had the worst morning sickness or heartburn. Whose waist thickened the most, or whose odema left them with the largest cankles. And so it progresses. Of course, the nightmare birth (horror) stories – was their tear worse than her episiotomy? Does 36 hours constitute a long enough labour to boast of? Did you manage drug-free or go hell for leather, straight to the epidural? 

And once you’ve brought home your beautiful progeny, the next stage begins – who smiled earliest, who said “dada” first? The sitting, the “cruising” (no, not that), the first tentative steps on Bambi legs. It’s all a competition, the best, the worst, the first, the biggest (poos feature highly, so brace yourself). 

For the most part, you will probably hate it, but secretly fist pump when your child beats your friend from NCT’s little one at sleeping through the night. 

But, parenting a child with differing needs & abilities, you feel adrift in this sea of milestones & checklists, willing your baby onwards, yet biting back that sinking feeling that they never got out of the gates. Will they ever? How late will they be? Will they catch up (you’ll hear that a lot)? You will never be prepared for the burning vitriol you feel towards the mum’s gushing about their baby’s latest achievement. 

I hated a lot of people in those early months. Years. I hated their children too. I didn’t get as far as wishing they shared my son’s struggles, but I bloody well screamed inside “why him?” The unfairness of it, the random lottery of genetics. You rail against it all. And you feel an overriding, overwhelming guilt. You grew this precious, innocent being inside you, therefore any “defects” or anomalies must be a direct result of either something you did, or didn’t do, or just because you’re a fucking useless mother. 

You grieve, for the life you had fantasised for your baby, and it tears at your heart seeing other children gaily bounce towards it. 

You feel anger, rage, in fact, towards well-meaning friends, parents of children without these needs, doctors, God, and yourself. 

You feel a failure. Everyone else left the hospital with balloons & an entourage & a perfect baby. Your shiny new life feels tarnished by the harsh new vocabulary of medical diagnoses. 

As much as you love your child, and I could not imagine loving my son more fiercely than I do, you feel ashamed. I willed my son to speak earlier than all the other babies, as he lagged behind so obviously with the physical milestones. When he was a late talker too, I took it as a personal affront. 

Being a mother has been the most precious gift, the toughest challenge, the most fulfilling journey and the most exaggerated of emotional rollercoasters. Being a mother to a child with the complex medical history my son has, has been all that, full volume, non-stop, white-knuckling all the way. 

There have been horrifically dark times, and looking back I don’t recognise the woman who battled through them, but I’m glad I gave up on those comparisons, except of course, for my son being, hands down, the greatest human being who ever lived. 

My own personal hell

I’m in the midst of a really bad depressive episode & thought if I could write down how it feels, it might help. Me, or others. Those who suffer & even those who don’t. 

The days are too long. Hours stretching ahead like those pictures of American highways, horizon warped by the heat. It’s too bright. Everything’s too loud. All I want to do is shut my eyes & sleep. Sleep until it passes. This heaviness dragging me down. I’ve described it before as being like treading porridge. Right now it’s gripping round my neck, threatening to pull me deeper & suffocate me. 

I can’t pick up the phone. The energy it takes to talk is overwhelming. I read a text message & hours later still haven’t formulated a reply. I’m not ok. I don’t know how to express how I truly feel right at this moment. So I put it off. 

I cancel any plans. Everything that usually helps to structure my day, only serves to stand between me & my bed. I got dressed yesterday as I had to attend a mental health assessment. It was exhausting, gruelling, humiliating. And after all I wanted to do was “fix”. Which of my many addictions would make me feel better? Alcohol is out of the question, although the thought of it made my mouth water. I resisted shoplifting too, though the pull was so strong. And I didn’t blow cash I don’t have on shit I don’t need. Self-harm was out too – I don’t want my son to see that. So it was food: the lesser of all evils. 

I know this will pass, I have been here many times before, but every time it feels like the worst time. It feels hopeless, insurmountable. 

But, as in my early days of recovery, I’ve got through another day. I hope tomorrow the chemicals in my brain align themselves in a less chaotic, painful fashion. I just want some peace. 

To those suffering, just hold tight. Get through today. 

Legal Aid Reforms & Domestic Abuse

I wrote the following a year ago (7th Jan 2014), for People.com.

16 years ago, I extricated myself from an abusive relationship, with the father of my son, after having endured horrendous physical, emotional & sexual abuse, all while pregnant. Somehow, I did get out of that relationship, and started a new life for us, however my ex-partner’s demands for contact with our son, meant that I could not cope alone. I contacted a local solicitors who were specialists in family law, and outlined the background to our relationship and my concerns about contact with our son. I had no idea about the legalities, I was just living in fear of further abuse.

My solicitor advised that we arrange contact at a local contact centre, which would be staffed and I would not have to be in the same room when my ex met with our son. This sounded like it would be easy to arrange and gave me some peace of mind. I wasn’t to know that this would mean hours of meetings with the solicitor, letters back & forth and phone calls between solicitors. Luckily, my solicitor was able to apply for Legal Aid funding to cover all of the costs incurred, which meant that I could maintain a distance from my ex & was able to keep the contact strictly monitored.

Fast forward 16 years, and now the government are proposing such stringent changes to the qualifying remit for Legal Aid, that from their research, Citizens Advice suggests more than half a million victims of domestic violence are too terrified to come forward and report their experiences.

Women’s Aid, Gingerbread and the Women’s Institute, have written a manifesto for family justice, including the following crucial points:

“The proposed reforms to legal aid in the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill are likely to leave more survivors and their children at risk because they will be unable to access legal aid for representation in family court proceedings, and we know that a majority of survivors experience post-separation harassment especially via child contact. Our main concerns are as follows:

As a single mother, with a child born with congenital disabilities, I was unable to return to work. Without recourse to the funding via Legal Aid, I would not have been able to maintain a distance from my ex, nor have the continuing threats of abuse and attempts to abduct my son documented and used as evidence to finally stop all contact & again move home. I did not have to fear my solicitor saying she could not help, or rather the pot of money had run dry. For many women, who do not work as their partner is the main breadwinner, the implications of not having Legal Aid funding mean that their partner can continue the abuse, while she is helpless, with no legal remedies enabling her to leave.

These suggested reforms to Legal Aid will impact hugely on women & children trying to start new lives, safe from abuse and will mean that many will not get the legal help they need. It will not only force them to have to “prove” the abuse suffered, despite many women never reporting it to the police, but might mean that their hopes of legal support & advice might be out of reach, leaving them vulnerable to further abuse.

According to Refuge, 2 women in the UK are murdered each week by a current or previous partner. Knowing that women experiencing domestic violence will be hardest hit by these proposed changes, these statistics may well get worse. Surely all of this is enough to stop these proposed cutbacks and ensure that women & children can live safely, protected by the law. Were it not for Legal Aid, I fear that the safety of my son & I would have been in jeopardy. I might have added to those sobering statistics.

Feeling worthless

They say in AA that if you want to know why you drank, stop drinking. I’ve mentioned this before on here, but this is one of those times. Again.

I always know when those emotions & thoughts & beliefs are bubbling up, as I get a feeling of having a lump in my throat. The kind you have when you try desperately to hold back a torrent of tears. The one that makes you so uncomfortable watching Marley & Me. *gulp*

I’m having nightmares still (it’s been a few months) about my abusive ex. Last night he had found our house & when I arrived home I *knew* when I found the window wide open. In last night’s dream I also couldn’t find my son. That’s another recurrent anxiety dream. I woke up, soaked in sweat, heart pounding, so disorientated that it took me a few minutes to get back to reality. The horrible thing is, when I wake, my son’s still missing & I feel bereft, even after I realise it was a dream. Part of me is still bereft.

I’ve carried around this feeling of grief & fear all day & the lump is still firmly stuck in my throat.

There’s other stuff going on too: diagnosed with an eating disorder last week (even though I’ve known this for years, hearing someone confirm it has felt quite depressing); don’t have “bog-standard depression”, rather “maladaptive personality traits” and issues from earliest attachments; plus apparently I have “a bad attitude” and nobody wants to be around me (this by a non-professional).

Basically, I’m a cunt. And it’s no surprise I’m as fucked up as I am.

Who needs friends, eh?

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More TMI overshar(t)ing

I will never forget where I was when it happened. In the vegetable aisle of Asda superstore in Watford. I was buying healthy food, for fucks sake. I was filling my trolley with kale and broccoli and giving avocadoes the side eye. I turned to my little boy, terror etched on my face and told him to come with me, abandoning our trolley. Looking for signs to direct us, and walking in a pained, desperate, shuffling gait, I sweated my way to the opposite end of the aircraft hangar sized store, and located the toilets.

I rushed us in as quickly as I could safely manage, apologising to my son for diverting him the toys. Once safely locked inside the toilet stall, I braced myself. I had little idea what to expect, despite having been warned.

It was worse than I had anticipated. That fart I thought was escaping back by the cruciferous vegetables, had in fact turned into a major sharting incident. Luckily, I was wearing “big” pants, and baggy jeans, but the pants were beyond salvation.

Once I had recovered enough composure, and what I hoped was full control of my bowels, we left the store, left that trolley abandoned and I drove home, sitting tentatively on three bags for life.

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[backstory: About 3 years ago, I was starting to be bothered by my weight, and thought of different routes to a svelter physique, many of which just seemed like too much hard work and no fun (ie. eating less crap & exercising). I had heard about friends having tried the prescription wight loss pill, Orlistat, and knew that there was a lower dosage form available over the counter. I decided to try it, despite being forewarned about side effects such as “anal leakage”. The medication works on making any fat you take in in your diet, exit your body rather swiftly, hence you are advised to avoid fat in foods. Clearly, the idea is it scares you into eating well. Rather it scares you into avoiding fat, whether that is healthy or not is quite another story…


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