Poem: We Are The Bodies That Tell – a poem for #CripTheVoteUK

We are the bodies that tell

Of the lies to us all you would sell;

We are the price, we are told,

Both hostage and ransom

The flesh and the blood,

Yet silence can never be bought, or be sold.

We are the bodies that speak

No matter how seemingly lowly or weak

you perceive, or have beaten us down to become

Our stories are many

And often unsung

Of our dead, we count and sing out, every one.

We are the bodies that value

What truly cannot be bought;

We are the bodies that love and support,

Creating and giving, reaching

stretching, though never quite meeting the end,

Yet still with the strength to stand up, and defend.

We are the bodies that tell

Of a far better truth than the lie you would sell;

We’re not the blame, or the shame, or the guilty –

We’re the flesh and the blood that pay for austerity,

And we’ll give voice even when we cant sing,

We are the bodies, no matter how broken, that never ever give in.

 

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.

Christmas reflection: In the Bleak Midwinter

It always seems just that little more unjust when a terrible tragedy occurs near to Christmas; it seems to bite that little bit deeper that when – as we are being told that this is the season to be jolly, to gather with our family and friends and give thanks – some sorrow dims the bright colourful lights we surround ourselves with.

Any day that a loved done is ripped from us unjustly, prematurely – is  a day that is burnt in to the heart like a brand, whether it is a bright summers day with the skylarks dipping in and out of the blue skies and summer bugs; or a grey midwinter whose only previous duty had been to provide at least enough daylight to get the chores of the day done.

But the enticing presents we are encouraged to buy, that extra rich food we want to treat ourselves and our loved ones to, the constant reminder that this is the time we give special thought to those dearest to us – this is also the season that for those whose grief is fresh and raw; those whose hearts are still heavy with a grief they cannot shake; those whose lives are left discarded and forgotten.. these enticing gifts, colourful lights and glittering decorations serve to throw light on the deepest and darkest of sorrows.

When the days are too short, too cold, too dark, too forgotten we may out of guilt cast a glance in their direction, perhaps given a donation or two, and tell ourselves that – for another year – we have done our duty and given thought enough. But then we forget again – we forget that even the warmest day wont make the cardboard box any more comfortable for the homeless person. We forget that the grief of losing a child does not cut less deeply when the decorations have been put away for another year. We try not to remember that poverty, loneliness, illness’, isolation, exclusion, oppression and violence don’t melt away with the ice in the bottom of the drink at the party.

Winter has always been a time of hibernation, a time of death: the days are too short, the wind bites the cheeks and we reach for the light. But in our reaching – for hope, for even the merest flicker of the slightest flame – for the promise of the renewal that will follow, eventually, we grasp only long enough to warm ourselves against it enough to tide us over. We don’t think to pick up the light and carry it – carefully, thoughtfully, generously – so that others can share in its comfort.

Instead we put it down again, or pack it away with that present you don’t really like from the relative you tolerate for the sake of a quiet life.

The Christ child is born – but for the mother who has just miscarried the longed for child, the sight of such a precious and vulnerable blessing may resemble not happiness but grief.

The Christ child is given – but for the homeless person who sees the bright lights coming from the church at night and knows they would not be welcome, there is no generous joy.

The Christ child is incarnate – but for the trans woman who is treated with disdain and suspicion because how she presents her body is viewed with enmity,  there is only a hollow story that serves her only ill.

Sometimes our human hands hold that tender light too roughly – sometimes we even expend a lot of time and energy into stamping out the spark.

And yet the Christ child is born, the Christ child is given, the Christ child is incarnate: the slightest flicker of a flame, a barely smouldering wick, the slenderest and most vulnerable spark, here for the oppressed, the captives, the prisoners, the weak, the sick; those considered the very least by men, yet raised to speak truth to those same men by God.

In the bleak midwinter, keep tenderly the light

And may the peace of Christs Mass, be with you on this night.

 

 

 

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.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

“Justice, Stretch Out Your Hand”: Living with Rape Culture [CN/TW]

Ashamed, people turned their faces away
from the woman ranting, asking: Justice,
stretch out your hand. Come down, glittering,
from where you have hidden yourself away.

From “Justice, Come Down” by Minnie Bruce Pratt 

 

Gheorghe_Tattarescu_-_Magdalena

Locker room talk – that’s all it is, of course! how foolish of us silly women to think that there was any reason to feel threatened, belittled, commodified, harassed, worried, frightened, angry, fed up, pissed off when you’ve been doing that thing that’s ‘just’ ‘locker room talk.’

Its just ‘locker room’ talk. Your just explaining what you do. Of course your sorry now, when votes are on the line  when its all been made clear to you. Seeing any relationship between words and actions is really just a bit too ridiculous of us.

And look – look! This guy’s been way ‘worse’ than you, so you’re going to trot out these victims that you are using momentarily to distract us from what you did. Because you have a right to do that, don’t you? This is your precious reputation on the line, and its so bloody unreasonable of us to object to that, isn’t it?

Oh, wait – whats that? It was childish. Oh, I see – well that all makes perfect sense of course. Little boys do silly things and nobody picks them up on it, so really its our fault as mothers, because how can fathers and uncles and friends possibly help pick you up on it when its not their fault for being childish either, right?

Nooo, there’s ‘nothing creepy’ about inviting your little brother and his mate to gawp whilst you do some girl who must have been up for it, because they all are, right? And anyway, you couldn’t help it that you were being childish; and how can there be anything even remotely rapey about receiving a text from a friend that he’s ‘got a girl’ and heading down to meet them because that’s the same thing as invite from her?

Hey – if you are ‘childish’ you can’t possibly be expected to understand that’s not the same thing as consent, can you?

And you cannot possibly be expected to take any responsibility at all because that’s the most unreasonable thing of all, isn’t it?

Its just talk – you were just being childish. Nothing really…

 

But you know what really, really pisses me off, when you get right down to it?

Society buys that crap. I guess it’s easier to convince yourself that the wrong is excusable, when putting the injustice right is too much like realising how much you played a part in the injustice in the first place.

Lord, there is nothing more systemically and outrageously lazy as those simply cannot be bothered. And the cruelty of it should make you spit fire.

But I’m  just some silly hysterical woman who should shut up an put up because anything else is so darned unreasonable of me.

 

 

Ashamed, people turn their face away…

 

 

 

 

Shadows and Ghosts and Deep Fried Mars Bars: on living with PTSD [CN]

What my brain looks like.
What my brain probably looks like.

 

I have been quiet for a while. Over the last couple of months I have stayed away from twitter and Facebook, and spent most of my spare time at home, avoiding people and life as much as I can. I am no longer a happy introvert. I am an unhappy hermit.

I have PTSD.

It’s very early days – diagnosis is recent. Assessments are being done, what treatments and support will be required are being evaluated.  The path to recovery has barely started, but at least now I know there is a path.

So I hang on, between the appalling sleeplessness, the incessant noise in my brain from flashbacks I cannot control, that tight constriction in my gut from the anxiety and fear, the mind numbing worry of how I might cope financially if I have to stop working, and the nerve shredding panic every day as I keep working. My short term memory is non-existent. Processing information and communicating is non-starter. The world appals me.

My brain might as well be deep-fried Gouda. Or perhaps a deep fried mars bar.

It was triggered initially last year, and I was only barely coming to grips with the fact I might need some serious help when events in May this year triggered a whole new episode. Now my thoughts ricochet like a pin ball, backwards and forwards between one shitty memory or other, drenching me in images that leave me shaking like a bad Bond cocktail.

I have never been more grateful for the wonders of modern medicine – the little white pills that are starting to provide some measure of calm in this storm, and oh! the joy of actual sleep. I crave sleep. If I had the choice right now I would curl up under my duvet and sleep through this whole damn thing.

So I hang on. I am not the first to walk this path – there are many (too many) out there who walk, and have walked, this way before me and I tell myself that this is something I can survive, because others have survived before me. This is a land filled with too many shadows, too many ghosts, too many memories that I would rather fling out to the farthest reaches of space and never, ever, have to live with again.

The threads that hold me together right now are not as bare as they sometimes feel. Hope holds on, however worn.

My sons, full of love and care and concern, keep my feet rooted to the earth. My faith keeps a flicker of hope and love alive in my breast. Prayers escape from lips like wisps of smoke, and I try and recall that these are the most precious of all prayers. Friends and family who have coped, and continue to cope, with so much, inspire me: you have such courage, such faith!

For those who have been kind enough to stop by and read this blog for the last few years – thank you, and please be patient with my silence.

I haven’t left. I am not leaving.

“I know that the whole point—the only point—is to
find the things that matter, and hold on to them, and fight for them, and refuse to
let them go.” ~ Lauren Oliver

 

 

 

When the EDL Came to Colchester and What Came After – Reflections on 22.05.2016

“So many people forget that the first country the Nazi’s invaded was their own.”

Abraham Erskine, Captain America: The First Avenger

In a real sense of course, it is not strictly true: after all, to suggest that the Nazi’s invaded their own country requires you to ignore 300 years of history. From the Enlightenment that brought a new wave of racist anti-Semitism, to the increasingly anti-Semitic nature of mainstream media in Germany at the turn of the 20th century and how all this helped pave the way for the growing influence of Hitler in the 1920’s. His first failed attempt at a coup in 1923 with General Eric Ludendorff didn’t prevent the formation of the Brownshirts (SA), his eventual rise to total dominance, and the building of Dachau, the first of the concentration camps, in 1933: it was less an invasion than it was the collective failure of a societies moral compass and its loss of humanity for the lives of others.

Considering how much had to happen for Hitler to take control, it is far more accurate to say that at the very least it took a great many people to look the other way – and to keep looking the other way – for the Nazi’s to come to power.

But if you are naïve enough to assume that everyone is going to stand up to white supremacy and fascism, and challenge it every time they see it, then I think I understand the sentiment.

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Last Sunday, 22nd May on the third anniversary of the brutal murder by extremists of Lee Rigby, the English Defence League had what they called a ‘memorial’ and wreath laying for the 3rd year running at the Colchester War Memorial outside the Castle Park, despite the Rigby family repeatedly calling on the EDL (and similarly Britain First and any extremist political group using the murder for their own agenda), to refrain from doing so.

Local groups, who have recently organised to help to actively welcome refugees, arranged for a friendship picnic for that afternoon and during the morning local people, unions and other groups stood in defiance of the EDL’s racism, bigoted rhetoric and the utter disrespect shown to the memory of Lee Rigby and his family.

The morning went as was expected: the police kept the 2 groups apart (13 EDL and 50 locals): the locals chanted and speeches were made. The EDL did their thing, and then were escorted away: some locals – myself included – walked over to the memorial and one of them picked up the wreath the EDL had lain, and talked about how it would be more respectful to remove it. The police asked the person who had picked it up to put it down (which they did). Unforunately that incident was reported in the local press rather inaccurately.

During the friendship picnic that afternoon, the EDL (who had been escorted out of town) returned to try and intimidate the many families there, knowing the police would not be present.  A good summary of the day can be found here.

EDL wave flags at children in Colchester Castle Park 22.05.2016
EDL wave flags at children in Colchester Castle Park 22.05.2016

 

A number of local people since then have been subjected to online and offline abuse, intimidation and harassment: for reasons I cannot discuss at this time, I am all too well aware of it. And whilst the threats and intimidation (which have also been targeted at people who were not in attendance at either event that day) is appalling, without justification and (of course) rampantly misogynistic in much of its practice, what is important is what those of us here in Colchester who seek to stand up to the racism that comes from outside of (and within) its Roman walls, learn from it.

Firstly, the abuse that has been metered out to local people – almost exclusively from people who do not live here – is, whilst frightening and unpleasant, not as violent or as relentless as that which our Muslim neighbours, and the families who have come as refugees in need of shelter, are exposed to every day.  The dominant narrative, that Muslims are dangerous and that refugees are invaders who will steal our homes, lives and identities, is a lie that is meant to dehumanise and demonise; it is meant to frighten our neighbours who are Muslim, our neighbours who have escaped bombings, depravation and fear: it meant to set them apart from us.  We might think that the intimidation of the last week gives us a flavour of that: it doesn’t. Being treated as traitors is not the same as being treated as not human.

Second, the abuse and intimidation, online and offline, (and which has been orchestrated by people almost exclusively from outside of Colchester), is a silencing tactic: the message is clearly – shut up, be quite; if you stand up to our racism and bigotry in your own home town, we will try and shut you down. Whilst the EDL (and similarly other extremist right wing groups) are very practiced at presenting a ‘respectable’ face to the police ahead of any organised event, this cloak of respectability in reality drags fear and violence in its wake. During the demonstration in September, plastic pigs heads were waved, and lots of chanting called openly for the burning of mosques – at the very same time that a mosque in London was under attack from arsonists.

Thirdly – Colchester has been increasingly targeted by right wing extremists for a few years now, and we as a town and community must confront this and recognise without flinching that there are reasons for this. Whilst much of that attention is coming from outside our town, there are many within it who believe that refugees should be feared, who think that we as a town lose by providing sanctuary to others, who cannot even believe that refugees have any real reason or need for that sanctuary in the first place.  If we can stand up and say no to the most violent and extreme of racists, then we must not be afraid to say to our friends and neighbours: we are never so impoverished that we cannot share what we have with people who have less.

Because whilst it is tempting to see the right wing extremists who come to march through our streets as invaders (and when they mostly come from outside the town, I certainly understand the inclination), they exist not because they lack freedom of thought but because people are willing to look away and say: ignore them – they will just go away if you ignore them.

But that is not true. History teaches otherwise, and whilst the conditions that allow for unchecked Islamophobia are specific to the era, the use of scapegoats by those violent extremists who wish to dominate society unchallenged, is not.

If the local authorities allow the threatened march in July (and I believe absolutely that they would be very wrong to do so), it will feel less like an invasion if we – as a town – stand up together and say: your violence, your hatred and your bigotry are not welcome here.