Deep Fried Mars Bars (5): On The Experience of Discrimination In The Workplace Because of Mental Health Illness and Disability.

This post discusses direct discrimination and trauma: and whilst I share this because I want other people who deal with discrimination to know that its not normal, not okay, and that they are not alone – self care matters more than clicks for me. 

 

I’d been jobless for 3 months when I began working at my last place of employment. It was a casual contract at first, and was never meant as a career move; most of the staff, except for a small handful in the office, were there on the same basis – it was work, it was January, and it paid cash weekly.  That was in 2009/2010, right before the Equalities Act came into place.

Eventually, I was taken on full time – finding other jobs had been difficult, and by then there were a core group of us who pretty much looked out for each other, and largely got on. When the work you do is repetitive, and your role is to deal with angry people on the phone, getting on with your co-workers makes even the most unpleasant day in the job more bearable. And it had counted for a lot, a little later on, that my then manager had gone out of her way to help me, when caring for my late sister became so difficult in the months before she died, so that I could keep the job. I was a single parent with teenage children and I couldn’t afford to be out of work.

Near the start of 2015, something happened outside of work which had a direct impact on my mental health. Whilst I did not know that I was, in fact, dealing with the onset of PTSD, I had dealt with depression most of my life and to start with I thought I just needed to more actively manage that side of things. But over the course of that year, increasingly there were symptoms with my mental health which I had not dealt with before,  although I wasn’t truly conscious enough of them to articulate what was happening to me.

Nevertheless I advised my employer that there was an issue outside of work which was impacting my mental health, and that I had spoken to my doctor about being referred for counselling.  The waiting list for that (because I cannot afford to go privately), was quite a long one. But as the situation which had triggered my PTSD progressed, it became harder and harder to get through even the most uneventful day.

My physical health (which for a while hadn’t been right) was also getting worse. I was struggling with constant migraines, eczema (which had become an issue for the first time a couple of years previously) all over my face and scalp, and a recurrent bladder infection which persisted for months. It wasn’t exactly great but my doctor said I just needed to get my mental health under control.  I wasn’t convinced that my physical health issues would be resolved by my simply ‘calming down’.

By May 2016, I barely knew which way up I was standing. Having told my employer – at every monthly performance review – that I was struggling, I was at a loss as to how to keep coping with work. At that point I was effectively talking to myself: my team leader noted it (and did whatever she could God love her), but otherwise it didn’t flag anything up further up the chain, because nobody who was supposed to, was looking; and even if they had, there were no policies or procedures in place that could have been utilised. 

There were days I had to keep checking the calendar, to make sure it wasn’t suddenly the 1970’s again or something. Perhaps I could get another job, I thought.

All of that went out of the window over the course of 3 days in May 2016, when I attended an anti-fascist demonstration (in my own time). Afterward I was doxxed online, and several hundred right wing extremists made rape and death threats. The extent of the doxxing became apparent when I got a call to go and see the HR department at work on the Tuesday afternoon.

I remember knocking on their door, I remember being asked to come in. I remember being told that the company had received telephone calls from people who had told them that unless I was sacked then ‘certain violent threats’  had been made. (The police confirmed to me the nature of the threats). I was advised that the recordings of the calls (all incoming calls to the company were recorded) had been sent to the police. I was then advised that I was to be investigated for bringing the company into disrepute.

There isn’t much about most of the rest of the next few days I remember. The police told me the threats were credible. The investigation of me by my employer happened. (They decided I hadn’t brought the company into disrepute).

A couple of weeks or so later I made a mistake at work which cost a couple of hundred pounds.

Most of those weeks are a blank in my memory. Every time the phone rang (and my job was customer service via the telephone, in the main) I was triggered into what I now realise were flashbacks, and that I had been suffering with them for some time by then. Especially the telephone line that those calls had been made on, because whilst I had not actually taken the calls directly, I took the telephone line which the calls came through on. And the online threats had involved hundreds of people.

After a few weeks, I begged to be taken off that one telephone line. But I was told that if it were really a problem I would have asked sooner, and anyway it ‘shouldn’t be a problem for me’ because I had never taken the calls. Oh, and by the way you’ve made the mistake and we going to have to discipline you.

I fell apart. I crawled to my GP on my day off, and unspooled in her office. She signed me off work for 3 weeks and told me to get out of my employers clutches as soon as was humanly possible. I was given more drugs (yay!) and a referral to the local mental health crisis care team. A week later I had a telephone appointment with them, and they and they referred me to the team who deal with complex mental health care needs. I was formally diagnosed with PTSD a few weeks later.

I  was feeling a little stronger, when I went back to work: I needed to get my employer to understand that I would go through with the disciplinary (if they insisted on having it, given that they had received my doctors note, which used words like ‘depression’, ‘anxiety’, ‘stress’ and ‘insomnia’), but I needed time for the meds to kick in, time for the diagnosis process to complete, and for me to be taken off the phone line, so that I could cope a bit better.

They insisted on the disciplinary procedure continuing. They were provided with the information about why the last 18 months (at least, by then) had been difficult*. They had the sick note from my doctor advising them of (some) of the symptoms I as dealing with: I was, nevertheless, told that unless I could provide proof of my PTSD (which was formally diagnosed a couple of weeks later), the assumption was that I was not being truthful about my mental health. Again they reminded I never personally took the calls. But they took me off that phone line, and agreed to wait 2 months before beginning the disciplinary process.

[*This was extremely personal information, which they not only failed to record and take into consideration – they also tried to persuade me that I never advised them of it, in order to cover up the fact that they had not recorded it or taken it into consideration. They made my manager sit there and tell me I had never said it. There’s a word for that: its called gaslighting].

I was isolated from my colleagues. Not in a physical sense, but in every other sense. I was under suspicion – and I was now very angry about it. The slightest thing would result in me becoming snappy, and for a very long time, I felt afterward like the kindest thing I could do for my colleagues was never come back to work. Shame is horrid and the idea that I was making their lives harder filled me with it.

The disciplinary happened: somehow I was able to make them see, without using the words ‘constructive dismissal’, that it would better if I wasn’t sacked. If this seems like a very few words to describe what was a hugely traumatic process, you’d be right. I had to explain how trauma works to them, effectively putting my own on show, and describe what a flashback was like. I needn’t have worried about that bit though, because I suffered a flashback during the meeting, which had to be held in two stages. They insisted it was my responsibility to provide all the resources, education and information that they would require (if I was telling the truth).

I remember listening back to the recording of the first meeting later (some days later): I could hear myself, straining to explain that I was trying to highlight the institutional nature of the problem – almost apologising for the inconvenience I was probably supposed to believe I was causing. And I heard a reaction I hadn’t registered properly in that room: It was as if the words ‘it’s institutional, I want to resolve this amicably’ were translated into ‘you’re all terrible people’ in their ears. Expressions of personal offense were made to me, as if I my disability (and their failure to manage or support me because ‘proof’) was an inconvenience for which I were personally responsible.

Having succeeded in demonstrating to my employer that I had a leg to stand on legally, I hoped (for reasons more to do with utter exhaustion then naivety) that my employer would see the sense in putting into place to the type of measures they are supposed to, in terms of mental health disability and the Equalities Act. I mean, they had wheelchair accessible toilets, so its not as if they were unaware of their own obligations.

It became apparent very quickly that I might have saved my job, but my employer had made themselves only as acquainted with the Equalities Act as they needed to, in order to pour as much oil as possible on what were some very troubling waters. (My HR Manager, at the second stage of the meeting, had proudly produced a good number of information leaflets from a certain well known mental health charity in a bid – I assume – to avoid my doing anything expensively legal).

But I was still expected to provide ‘proof’ my mental health disability (since being signed off, and having flashbacks at work, was otherwise assumed to be some enormous ploy on my part not to have to work); they never once were able to comprehend that this was the foundational discrimination from which all else flowed. Not even when they put that to me as a reasonable request, on the grounds that ‘other employees had lied about having mental health issues in the past’ (or more likely couldn’t meet the employers unreasonable standard of ‘proof’) did they seem to realise just how egregiously they were still actively discriminating against me.

And I was ostracised still further from my colleagues.

Whilst my mental health wasn’t getting any better, my physical problems also got worse. Getting to work on time, and then completing a full day, got harder; the physical pain increased and the fatigue was unbearable. I would climb out of the shower before heading to work, and then have to lay down to let the fatigue induced nausea pass. The manager did their best, I know – but it came down to the same thing, every time: if I was struggling to meet the hours, well then maybe.. and if I wasn’t performing up to speed then maybe…  The points racked up on my Bradford Score; the ‘maybe’ [we might have to let you go] was left constantly hanging in the air. I would stare at every ‘position vacant’ ad I could dig up, applying for as many as was possible.  (At some point before I left I was told that I shouldn’t let my growing Bradford score cause me stress, that they weren’t planning to use it against me… for now… but provided I ‘proved’ I was telling the truth of course…) My monthly wage (I was paid hourly) got to barely covering the rent.

By May of this year, I could no more complete a full day of work than I could recite a Greek play. Nearly daily, multiple, flashbacks, and constant pain and exhaustion resulted in my being signed off for 3 months. 2 weeks later I was hospitalised with a serious cardiac crisis –  which at least had the happy side effect of making it clear that my physical symptoms were because my immune system was screwed.

I resigned from work on health grounds after I got out of hospital. At least now I can put it behind me, I thought. And for a few blissful weeks, I didn’t think about it at all. The number of intrusive thoughts and flashbacks began to subside a little. Being under orders to do absolutely nothing created space, out of which came the unexpected pleasure of discovering that I could crochet like a demon. (I’m cack handed Lil with a pair of knitting needles).

But I couldn’t escape it forever. Seeing social media posts from former colleagues a couple of months later, (speaking of my now need of a wheelchair to go anywhere as further ‘evidence’ of my need for attention), slapped me hard in the face and reminded me that leaving my employer did not mean that the culture of discrimination had left with me: that had never, ever been my fault. (I’ve kept the screenshots of that of course. I’m not publishing them because its the culture that needs to change, and personal attacks help nobody).

I even have a letter from my employer, from during the constructive dismissal process, in which the HR Manager implicitly states that they are not in compliance with the 2010 Equalities Act (y’know, the law), by explicitly stating that they will be seeking to put those policies into place. I have debated whether to include a picture of that in this blog post – but this isn’t about revenge.

I have not named the company (though not as a favour of any kind to them), because the point of this post is primarily to be able to say to other people – if any of this is happening to you, it is not okay; it is not normal or acceptable to be treated like that; your employer really does have an obligation under law to make reasonable adjustments to your disability. There are people you can contact about that too, if you need legal advise (and if you feel able).

Discriminatory employment practices also leads to people internalising a culture where it becomes the norm to make pejorative, derogatory assumptions about disabled people , and no part of that is okay either.

All I ever wanted was for my employer to do the right thing: I told them my house was on fire. They demanded I provide proof that I was burning.

I want to put this all behind me. But I don’t know if my old employer will ever put the procedures for employees with mental health disabilities into place – for all disabilities into place (They still hadn’t when I left. They still hadn’t, and had no intention to, the last I heard).

Having, or developing, mental health disabilities and illness’ IS NOT A CRIME; putting an employee under suspicion of lying from the moment that they say they have a mental health problem is basic discrimination. Refusing to provide support because the employee hasn’t met a wholly unreasonable standard of ‘proving’ they are telling the truth is discrimination. Treating employees with mental health issues like an easy target for dismissal so that you can massage your KPI‘s when touting for other  business, is discrimination. An employer who does that, and keeps doing that, and assumes they can get away with it – is an employer whose practices are discriminatory and abusive.

And it has to stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poem: The Evidence of My Eyes

Above the raucous, above the clashing

crashing, ever raging din

there is a softer

quieter song

that yet does soar

– i hear it sing

it will be well, it will be well

it will be well, let faith come in

 

And though the claws that rip me,

do not concede, do not desist,

that song so sweetly

calls me up

i could climb up

– I could insist

it will be well, it will be well

let hope like smoke, inhaled, be well

 

Song, sung high and sweet

above the woes

and cares beneath

that lifts me up

i will climb up

– high above, and clear, complete

it will be well, it will be well

and I will tell of all love speaks.

 

 

Who Are Your Acceptable Victims and Who Do You Choose to Believe?

It is some time since I last wrote anything in long form – and whilst it has been mere months in reality, I look at the glare of the blank white screen, eagerly consuming the the letters I type, and I smile at it like a long lost and much adored lover. I have missed writing intensely, but for many reasons it has been a long way down my list of priorities.

But I’ve had some thoughts crystallising in my mind of late.

I was at my PIP assessment today and I wanted to scrub myself with a wire brush after.  I’m sure the chap who conducted the assessment is nice to his old Mum, and he seemed like the type of bloke who has a muscular, slightly ugly mutt at home he adores, and he wasn’t… unpleasant as such.  Its just that he hasn’t had to sit on my side of the table and would probably be personally offended if I had told him I found the whole process utterly dehumanising. Because it wouldn’t matter how nice the person conducting the assessment is (or how truthful they may, or may not, turn out to be).

When you go to these assessments (or – if you need one, and have jumped the endless hoops you are required to jump through to get one – had a home visit), you go as the person with the disability/disabilities, and/or chronic illness, and/or mental health issues. Your physical/medical/mental health has prevented you from working for a whole host of reasons, the vast majority of which are not your fault. Nobody asks or wants to be disabled, chronically ill, depressed, addicted, be involved in life changing accidents, or the (repeated) victim of crime – or whatever unexpected life altering thing it is that you couldn’t possibly have seen coming. You sure as hell don’t want to be in that office discussing whether or not you wet yourself, or cannot with the best will in the world fill in a form without hyperventilating.  And you would rather gauge your eyes out with a rusty spoon that sit there hoping the assessor will decide you are sick enough for some small amount of help, but you hope for it anyway because the alternative is being told you aren’t sick enough and should be working, and you’ve probably half killed yourself working for longer than you should of already, because you anyway live month to month and the roof has to stay over your families head.

You are only at that assessment because, metaphorically, your house is burning and the flames won’t go out.

But the benefit system as it is now is based on this simple premise: you have to prove you are on fire.

Its archaic – literally. The powerful, demanding that the powerless (who cannot conform to the prescribed behaviour set out by the powerful) prove their truthfulness/need for assistance by performing the claimed ‘weakness’* to the satisfaction of those with the power to help.

(*In this context, it is the powerful who perceive and promote the disability/illness etc as a weakness in a negative context. The idea of illness/disability/sexual and/or gender difference as a weakness or failing, is promoted by the powerful to maintain control).

Yet no matter how archaic it is – and to some extent, irrespective of the ideologies attracted to this method of achieving and maintaining power and control – it perpetuates, re-invented in some new form every few decades, but surviving largely intact and otherwise unchanged no matter what century it is.  And there is an uncomfortable truth at the centre of that.

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When I was writing more regularly about my experiences of rape culture, I was then – and remain now – utterly perplexed by how normalised it is for victims and survivors not to be believed.  There are those who would tell you that its simply hysteria to suggest that sexual abuse, assault, and rape are as much of a problem as they are. And whilst it means that those who should be taking responsibility are not, it is not the expected intransigence, arrogance or duplicity of a system that will of course seek to protect itself, that causes most perplexity. Or even, arguably, is the most difficult thing to resolve.

There is an extraordinarily simple reason why a rape victim needs to hear the words “I believe you”.  If you believe them, then (setting aside, just for a moment, the positive impact on the victim), you have acknowledged that there is a problem. If you have acknowledged the problem, you are more likely to accept the problem needs to be resolved. If you accept the problem needs to be resolved, you are more likely to look positively at what will resolve that. Because whilst prevention is better than cure, you still need the cure.

But since prevention is better than cure – what happens if you believe that most people would rather swallow a bottle of castor oil than lie about being raped or abused, and that (however uncomfortable it might make you feel), the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual violence are telling the truth?

What happens when we all acknowledge that? And what’s stopping that?

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The thing is – it isn’t just rape victims who need to be believed. That’s not the only systemic abuse problem. For disabled and chronically ill people the benefits system is inherently abusive, predicated as it is on the presumption of guilt. For Black/of colour/LGBTQ+ disabled and chronically ill people the problem is still more pronounced.  The politics of belief around chronic illness and hidden disability is a minefield. You are reduced to someone who has to permanently prove yourself innocent of a crime that never occurred, far less was ever committed.

But if we accept that most people would rather work than put themselves through the Dickensian benefits process, and we believed disabled and chronically ill people, then would we really continue to tolerate and normalise the thousands upon thousands of disabled and chronically ill people dying, every year?

What happens when we believe black people and people of colour about racism, and about how we as white people, need to address our internalised racism and do something about it?

What happens when we believe trans women and trans men, believe that they are who they say they are and that they receive the abuse and discrimination they are telling us they receive?

What happens when we believe the refugees who tell us of the brutality and wars they are escaping?

What happens when we actually do think of the children, and believe them when they say they are being abused?

What would happen, if we chose to believe them all?

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The uncomfortable truth is this: we choose to believe the victims we are comfortable believing. And we choose to acknowledge the oppression’s we are comfortable enough to acknowledge.

And whilst its the system that sells the lie, it only keeps working because people keep believing it. And all of us do, at one level or other: some people will believe disabled people about the how the benefit system is killing people – but not a person of colour when they say that something is racist, and won’t believe the refugee escaping war and brutality; and some people will believe disabled people and people of colour, but won’t believe that trans women are women and trans men are men . Or they will believe a person can be gay – but not bi. Or accept all that, but won’t believe that the respectable man up the road with the good reputation could possibly be an abuser, and will tell you how terrible it is that he has to live with that accusation…

And the still more uncomfortable truth is this – because we choose to believe some people are living under oppressive systems, but do not, cannot or will not believe the same of others – the cycle of abuse across the multiple layers of society continues. It might be chipped away at, in piecemeal fashion – but you only have to look around you to understand that the foundations of that system remain as strongly entrenched as ever, and that all we have successfully and systemically managed to do is disbelieve black people, rape victim, the disabled, trans people, LGBQ people, women, the sick and refugees.

We believe who we are comfortable believing. We believe those who don’t challenge our world view – and we definitely don’t believe those who challenge more profoundly our view of ourselves. We believe those we perceive as being acceptable to believe.

And we can choose to ask ourselves why we don’t believe the black person, or the disabled person or the trans person, or the refugee – and then answer that honestly, or not.

Because belief is a choice. So the perplexity remains.

 

 

Deep Fried Mars Bars Pt 4: The Strangers in My Head [CN/TW]

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10 (NIV)

This post discusses intrusive thoughts associated with PTSD. Intrusive thoughts are also associated with other mental health issues including (but not limited to) OCD,  Body Dysmorphic Disorder, depression and ADHD.  

It has been a really difficult couple of weeks dealing with a bombardment of Intrusive thoughts.  It started a couple of weekends ago at work – a comment made by a customer on the telephone: a nasty, unnecessary comment which maybe some people would be able to ignore, and which I don’t doubt some people would excuse or justify in some way.

It was enough though. More than enough, and it is only in the last day or so that the severity of them has started to lessen again.

It is hard to describe what it’s like. The best analogy I have found so far is that it is like waking up in the morning to find a stranger in your kitchen, offering you a cup of coffee and an image of some appalling awful thing happening to someone you love. Worse, this stranger is telling you that this awful thing is something you are going to do. (No, it does not help to know that you would never do it).

Then you find another stranger in your bathroom, and this one offers a different image of something really horrible, being done to you by someone you love.  (And no, it doesn’t help to know that the person you love would never ever do such a thing).

And as you walk around your home you find that your house is full of strangers, all offering up different grotesque, vile images until there is nowhere you can go; even closing your eyes and pulling the duvet up over your head does nothing except make you feel totally alone with all these strangers, who seem to really really want these awful things to happen, because they wont shut up about it.

Those strangers steal everything: energy, emotion, sense of self, feeling, words – until inevitably, you break down, melt down, screaming and crying in a desperate effort to purge yourself of these … well, for want of a better word, demons running around your head and your house wreaking havoc.

Which, of course, doesn’t work, and all the demons are still sat around your table, eating your food, making a mess and plastering those horrid images everywhere you look.

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Those images – all of them, every single last one of them – are lies. Black, twisted ugly lies whose power is rooted, not in their falsehood, but in the veneer of truth that they steal from the past trauma(s) which have given birth to them.  These lies are not just meant to rob me of life, and of love: they are meant to steal those things away from the ones I love too.

For if I were to believe those lies, (and sometimes it is very hard not to), then I would tell my children I could not be their mother. I would tell my family I could not be their daughter, sister, niece, aunt. I would tell my friends that I was no good for them, I would tell my lovers that I am bad and a waste of time. I would live my life in hiding – and in fear.

I would (and sometimes have) push my friends, my family and my lovers, as far from myself as I possibly could, because the single biggest lie those intrusive thoughts tell me is that pushing them away from me is the only way to protect them.

But of course, by pushing them away, I am doing the very opposite of protecting them.

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Some days, most days, faith is all there is: not even religious faith – just a basic, hanging-by-a-thread-faith, that somehow, one day, or one little step at a time, there will be one less screeching demon with its vile images running around my head tomorrow.

Music helps – if music be the food of love, the play on (and on, and on please). Books don’t help (I love to read but simply can’t focus), but writing can – not poetry though: I need a quiet head for that. Increasingly, looking at paintings and photography helps. Anything really, that takes me out of my own head and takes focus off the thoughts and images that so belittle and undermine me.

Anything that stops me being so afraid to love.

On @PiersMorgan and The Power of Ignorance About #PTSD [CN]

Piers Morgan, who "fears [PTSD has] become the latest celebrity accessory".
Piers Morgan, who “fears [PTSD has] become the latest celebrity accessory”.
I was accused of witchcraft once. As in an actual, the-spirit-of-Matthew-Hopkins-is-alive-and-well, genuine “I truly believe you are witch who suckles at the devils teet” accusation. It went on for a good few months – I got followed by people in town saying it loudly and pointing at me, for all to hear, on occasion.

I was okay, eventually. Took me a good few years not to get twitchy around that particular religious community, although truth be told I withstood that particular bout of spiritual abuse because I decided, in my own slightly… idiosyncratic… way, to embrace the role to which they had ascribed me. And, having ignored and ignored their ridiculously medieval brand of misogyny (and trust me, the women were way more vindictive about it), I turned round just one single time to see what would happen, if they thought I was about to actually (in whatever way they imagined it) cast a real (in whatever manner they interpreted it) spell.

And I never saw them again.

*********

Piers Morgan is what happens when the opinion of the journalist becomes more important than the news the journalist is supposedly reporting. Piers Morgan thinks he is the news.

So now that you have a pretty clarified idea about what I think about Piers Morgan, let me get to how that plays out, in the context of his recent tweets about PTSD, and the possible interview with the Lady Gaga, whom he had essentially accused in those tweets of being (at best) dishonest.

First, lets just recall for a moment, what happened when Mr Morgan interviewed Janet Mock – and then what happened where constructive and genuine criticism was met by a rousing performance of Piers Morgan, the aggrieved white liberal man, without whom we could not possibly do without.

I only mention it because, whilst Lady Gaga wont have to deal with Morgans brand of racialised transphobia dressed up as ally-ship, she will be dealing with a man who will frame the interview as a ‘debate’; ostensibly on the ‘hook’ of PTSD being treated too lightly by celebrities, but in reality because women who don’t report the abuse, assault or rape are laying themselves open to suspicion of lying, and that therefore the claims they make about having PTSD must automatically be considered equally dubious.

Because woman = liar is a pretty hoary old trope, and Morgan’s interviewing style can be pretty accurately be described as the journalistic equivalent of “if she sinks, she’s innocent, if she floats then she’s guilty.” Its a nasty little trick that can be made too look like justice (or in the this case ‘journalistic balance’) in the hands of a self important showman, and the eyes of the frightened and gullible.

It’s not witchcraft, to be able to see Morgan’s argument for what it is: misogyny, dressed up as entertainment, presented in the guise of liberal tolerance. And just for kicks, let’s make it a ‘debate’, because another humans life and reality is supposed to be ‘debated’. Or something.

Whether or not the interview with Lady Gaga happens, I am willing to put money on it being a dumpster fire: and even more money on Morgan refusing to take any responsibility for that afterwards.

I could be wrong.

But I doubt it.

Deep Fried Mars Bars (Pt 3): Battle Scars [#TW/#CN]

This post includes references to flashbacks, and how I experience them. I am finding writing therapeutic again, but reading what I write may not necessarily be so helpful, so please take care.

At least once a week, on or offline, someone will ask me why I ‘claim’ to have PTSD, since I have not served in the armed forces.

To start with, the question bugged me: we live in a society that deems people ‘scroungers’ for the least sign of ‘weakness’. The assumption in the first instance, systemically, is to disbelieve. If you own up to a disability, its because you want a way out of work. In an of itself, that’s a brutalising system under which to live, so on first glance, accusations of lying because you haven’t been on a battlefield, a battleship or war plane, is just another form of disbelief.

What really rankled, however, was the sexism, misogyny and homophobia behind the question.

I am perfectly capable of taking a step back from my anger and seeing the moving parts of the bigotry: sexism, misogyny, homophobia and abelism are all present and correct; but I have also noticed that the men who accost me with the question (and its been exclusively white men so far), have never themselves served in the armed forces either.

Not a one of them.

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In the grand scheme of things, fools who will not stop and think before speaking are merely an annoyance. There are days when all the various forms of bigotry that are encountered when you live in a body that is not so valuable, do sometimes pile up. At times like that it is important to see something as clearly as possible, lest your vision get so narrow that you fail to acknowledge some of the many other burdens to which you are not subject.

This condition to which I am subject – with its various attendant symptoms – is not something I need to justify, in either its cause or effect. I will – in the right context – share about how some of those symptoms manifest and how they impact. Flashbacks, for example, are a full body experience and not simply something in my head: the trauma’s (and that is the right word) did not occur on a literal battlefield, but the impact on the pysche and body was still very real. When your whole self finds itself jerked back in to that trauma, repeatedly, that is not the result of ‘weakness’.

We live in flesh and blood bodies, imperfect ones that are not built to withstand the kind of violence to which we subject each other when groups of people (and so often those people are white), try to assert dominance over another group of people because they do not meet with some ideological dogma about what a body should look like.

When your identity does not match that dogmatic ideal, that identity is suspect and subject to erasure.  Where those who assume I am lying about PTSD do so ‘because I haven’t served in the armed forces’,  it is not ignorance of the impact of violence that drives the question. Were that the case, then they would instantly recognise refugees (so often escaping the actual battlefields they claim to be the only place one can be exposed to something which would cause such a condition) as being traumatised people.

But refugees are often not white, and certainly not Western or Christian enough to be deemed worthy of such humanity.

Hence the question is – at heart – racist to its core: and whilst I am not subject to the racism at the heart of the question (or its colonial context), it is important to challenge it.  The world in which we live has become a much more dangerous place, and to be black, brown, Muslim, LGBTQ, disabled or a woman (or any intersection of those), means the horizon, never that welcoming, looks a lot more intimidating than it did.

Populism, nationalism, White Supremacy, Nazi ideology – all these things suffuse the air we breath and it is all too easy for it to infect those of us who aren’t black, or brown, or Muslim, or transgender, even if you are disabled and queer and a woman. It matters not to lose sight of that, because that’s where the trap is: its how you end up on the side of the Sith Lord, instead of the rebel alliance. Anti-trans feminists, for example, long ago failed to recognise just how easily they have found themselves in bed with Trump supporting bigots who are about to take control of the most powerful country on earth.

*********************

When living in or with a body and/or mind that is considered dysfunctional, how clearly we understand the prejudices that entails we face, matters. And whilst it matters that I take care of myself for my sake and my loved ones, self pity is dangerous.

It is inevitable that someone else will – because of bigotry and ignorance – accuse me of claiming a condition for myself which (they will insist) I have no right to, and it will be important that I see what is behind the question as clearly as possible.

It matters.

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Deep Fried Mars Bars (Part 2): Let Me Be Weak [CN]

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 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Matthew 11: 28-3

As I adjust to the parameters that PTSD imposes – physically, mentally and emotionally – it is in navigating the responses of others which offer some of the greatest challenges.  I am very blessed – with so many friends in the disabled community, I am fortunate that those who have walked this or similar paths are ceaselessly generous with their love, and give freely of their hard won wisdom about surviving practically and emotionally within a society geared toward the able bodied and mentally ‘healthy’.

As a woman, and a parent, the intersection of disability and gender is brought in to sharp relief: in the patriarchal system under which we live, the ‘women as the weaker gender’ trope is an implicit standard, yet there is a perilous dichotomy under which we live. Women are constantly punished for any perceived weakness – disbelieved when victimised, yet parodied when performing ‘strength’.

In parallel to this, the ‘man as the dominant gender’ remains explicit, and males who do not conform to crude masculine cliches, or experience dysfunction emotionally or physically, are shamed: ‘man up’ is a phrase I loathe, carrying a toxicity which too easily grows to abuse. I have 2 sons, one of whom battles depression, who both bear the scars of a world that tells them they are ‘less than’ for being something which they are not.

It is a reality of living under capitalism that only those who can produce, sustain themselves, and contribute financially, are valued; as such, sexism and misogyny throw a sharper and more brutal light on those whose bodies and minds are perceived as ‘taking’.

Disability = weakness = burden is the equation that gave ‘austerity’ –  do not underestimate the brutality of the word ‘scrounger’. The writing, activism and creativity of the disabled is most usually treated with disdain – unless, of course, it is deemed to ‘inspire’ and even then, the price of inspiring others comes at a cost which is ignored.

From those outside of the disabled community, the reaction runs along a spectrum between assuming me a liar and a scrounger, offering pity, to expecting survival as though weakness were not an option.

Outright discrimination has been daily: for now I continue to work full time, but have been exhausted by work practices 20 years or more out of date. Whilst that now improves, it has taken its toll, particularly physically.  No doubt someone will think this reflects some degree of self pity on my part. It is not. It is a simple statement of reality.

There are still frequent indignities – having to sit on the floor of the toilet cubicle at work whilst having a flashback, because these things are no respecter of time and place, for example.

Other prejudice’s mask themselves as ‘reasonable questions’: why would I ‘claim’ to have PTSD when I have never served in the armed forces? (Discrimination is never more blunt when delivered in wilful ignorance).  The suspicion that I would prefer to absent myself of life’s responsibilities is odious. It is like sandpaper on the soul.

At the other end of the spectrum, are those who expect survival because, even where there is some degree of compassion, weakness is treated as a transitional state. My ‘brokeness’ is accepted on the assumption that I will be strong enough to overcome it, and return at some point to being ‘fully functional’ and ‘whole’ again.

Whilst I do not shun ‘strength’, I do not accept it in the form I am supposed to. On the days when I am weak, when my body, mind and spirit are battered by a flashback, strength is not an option. Acceptance of such weakness is all that allows me to survive. When my intestines and bowels constrict with the spasms brought on my IBS – a physical manifestation of the rigours of flashbacks – acceptance of my bodies failings is what prevents the corrosive bitterness  of genuine self pity from tainting my spirit. When intrusive thoughts mount another invasion, all I can do is wait until it passes.  My resources are not finite. My ‘strength’ is not endless.

As a society, we are collectively ashamed of what is perceived as weakness – and yet weep, pity or deride those who then feel shame when their body or mind cannot ‘perform’ as we are told they must.

Were my body also black, of colour, presenting as a gender other than that which had been ascribed to me – this perceived ‘weakness’ (through white supremacy and transphobia) would come with an even higher price.

Prejudice and discrimination is rooted is wanting to suppress (or erase) what is considered weakness, and that pressure is exerted financially, culturally and systemically, interwoven through white centred, patriarchal norms that demand binary bodies which meet some idealised notion of strength, and minds that conform to a ‘healthy normality’.

Talking ’bout stupid things
I can’t be left to my imagination
Let me be weak, let me sleep and dream of sheep
Ooh, their breath is warm
And they smell like sleep
And they say they take me home
Like poppies, heavy with seed
They take me deeper and deeper  Kate Bush – And Dream of Sheep

I am tired. I am weak. It is enough for me today.

An Open Letter to @EricBristow on Your Harmful Attitude to Abuse Victims [CN]

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Dear Eric Bristow

It is hard to know where to start in describing just how harmful your tweets  – expressing your attitude toward former footballers like Andy Woodward and Steve Walters who have so bravely talked about the abuse they endured – are.

In your interview on television this morning, you chose (eventually) to apologise for ‘offending’ people.  Let me be immediately clear – what you (and many of your followers in response) expressed was actively harmful to victims of abuse: whatever ‘intention’ you may claim to have in wanting victims to come forward, your attitudes will be doing exactly the opposite. Your view (shared by so many) is part of the reason systemic abuse continues. Let me explain.

Homophobia

Whilst your tweets are not newsworthy, and should not have been treated as such, what they express is a very real homophobia that permeates attitudes toward both victims of abuse, and their abusers.  However, as a public figure, your comments are bound to garner attention, and should therefore be addressed.

Your reference to abusers as ‘poofs’ (which you clarified after originally referring to them as ‘paedo’s’) illustrates both an ignorance of abusive behaviour and abuser dynamics: homosexuality plays no role in this.  It may surprise you to learn that abusers are not primarily seeking sexual gratification, which is a by-product of (not the driver for) abuse. What abusers seek is power, and control, and children are easy targets for such people.

Similarly, the sexuality (or the perceived sexuality) of the child is not why the child is targeted by the abuser – but a child who is gay and is being abused will be suffering not only the terror of abuse, but the scorn of people like yourself because here too, you reveal your homophobia toward the victims themselves. LGBT children are particularly vulnerable to bullying and isolation. More than half of LGBT children and teenagers report being bullied for the sexual orientation. 96% report hearing homophobic comments like ‘poof’ (a word you are happy to use publicly) or ‘lezza’. 99% will hear comments like ‘that’s so gay’ in reference to something which is broken or defective.

Think about that for a moment, wont you?

By invoking so strongly a reaction to abuse which is rooted in false notions about sexuality, what you are really saying is ‘I am not an abuser, I am not a victim because I am not gay‘. You are distancing yourself from a perception of homosexuality because you are homophobic.

You did not ‘mis-speak’ when you used the word ‘wimps’ Mr Bristow.  Your meaning was entirely clearly in the full context of what you said, and you seem happy to let the word ‘poof’ remain unacknowledged.

How then, does this encourage a child who is terrified for their life (and almost certainly the lives of their loved ones, given the type of threats typically made by abusers), to come forward?

Victim Blaming & Shaming:

There are simply no circumstances whatsoever in which the victim of abuse is ever responsible for the abusers behaviour – and this absolutely includes any past and future abuse perpetrated, whether the victim reports the abuse or not.

Many victims take years to report what has happened to them, precisely because there is an insidious belief that victims are ultimately responsible both for the abuse the suffered – and any future assaults perpetrated by their abuser.

Many of the following beliefs were clearly stated by you, or re-tweeted by you, in the last 36 hours:

  • “If they hadn’t been hanging around smoking/drinking/with the wrong crowd…”
  • “They were too sexually knowing for their age…”
  • “They should have spoken up sooner…”
  • “If they don’t report it, why should they expect justice?”
  • “If [male victims] were ‘real men’ they would have [insert ridiculous notion here]…”

In your particular case, being that the focus was on the male victims of a predatory serial abuser, the aggressiveness with which you expressed your view that they should ‘spoken sooner’, or sought out a chance to beat up the abuser, told those victims (and children currently suffering abuse) that it was, simply, their fault. The implicit and explicit assumption is that ‘real men’ don’t get abused.

What the hell is a ‘real man’ anyway?

Particularly for male victims, the context of what you both said and encouraged with re-tweets was so toxic in its expression of masculinity that I have to take really quite a deep breath at this point, because you clearly have absolutely no idea how abusive this is – or how it helps to enable both abuse of boys, and prevent help and healing being given.

Have you any idea what it is like to watch your sons agony and distress when they get told to ‘man up’ because they are expressing emotions or attitudes not considered ‘manly’ enough? Because they dare to be something other than a crude stereotype of ‘masculinity’? To watch the men that we love struggle in relationships, with mental health problems, because they feel shame that they might need help?

Do you know what the suicide rate is for men and boys?

 

Your attitude, (and it is not just yours) will do the exact opposite of encouraging victims to come forward.

It will silence them further.

And that benefits nobody but the abusers.

Sincerely

Ali