Musical Therapy – P-E #Trump and Pre #Brexit

This is Musical Therapy 101.

First, we take a moment to go ‘What The Fuck?’

Then we mourn.

Then? We get angry.

We get up. And get moving.

Then we Get Shit Done.

For anyone who needs a little musical shot-in-the-arm after recent events.

I respond to music with a visceral, almost physical reaction. These songs mirror my emotions over the last few days. Many of them are purloined from TV shows that you guys should watch, including The West Wing, The Newsroom and Sens8. They are all resonating like clear sounding bells right now.

It’s alright to feel sad. And angry. And let down. Many of us expected a different world to the one we find ourselves marooned in. On both sides of the pond, many of us feel rudderless, without direction, at the mercy of currents, appetites and desires that we do not share and are powerless to affect.

But we are NOT powerless.

We are stronger when we are united. Our voices are louder in a chant. And our feet can shake the earth when we march in step.

Our politicians might not be the ones we chose, but THEY STILL WORK FOR US.

They need reminding of this. Constantly. Consistently. They need holding to account. To be pushed and persuaded. To be told what we want, what we expect and what we request, nay DEMAND, that they do for us, as our employees.

They have a responsibility to listen to us, so we must not stop shouting.

We also have a responsibility to each other. We are in this together, so we need to weather the next four years and survive together. Even those of you who got the outcomes that you wanted should watch out for stormy seas and beware of the “I’m Alright Jack” mentality. We are entering into an unprecedented period of change, and therefore we need to hang on tight to each other. No activist left behind. No citizen left behind. We must ensure that no human being left behind.

We can look out for each other, as well as pressing our government to do what they can for us, as well as taking care of each other – emotionally, practically and socially, and politically.

Don’t forget this. Don’t ever let them make you feel powerless. It’s what we do next which counts.

I am going to take a few concrete actions, and I am looking for more to add to the list.

Starting in January, I will be making donations to Amnesty International and The Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Both sound, tried and tested, practically orientated charities with strong mandates to help protect people, regardless of race, creed, colour, nationality or gender.

I already offer as much tuition as I can, but I will be branching out into teaching IELTS and preparing people for the Life In The UK Citizenship Test.

I’m going to try to do at least one kind act for someone every week. I will try to perform these acts without hope-of-return or agenda, with no strings attached. The world needs to become a little kinder, so I am going to inject some kindness into it.

In the past I have given help to friends who are seeking jobs, looking for work, aiming to better themselves, wanting to pass exams, develop their skills and learn new things. Those offers remain on the table. If you need help with a CV, letter of application, interview preparation or upskilling yourself in an area of English, Maths or ICT, please ask.

I am lucky enough to be a car driver. If you need a lift to somewhere important – a medical appointment, job interview, study interview – please ask and if I can, I will help you. If I can help you to move house, or clear things out of your house, I will. All you have to do is ask.

If the big people won’t change this world for the better, it’s up to the little people to do what we can.

I know that we might be little, but we are mighty. We are legion; we are an army. And we can still change this world.

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To change the world, we must BE the change

The world is changed.
I feel it in the water.
I feel it in the earth.
I smell it in the air.
Much that once was is lost;
for none now live who remember it…

The Lord Of The Rings

So…

TRUMP BEATS CLINTON TO TAKE WHITE HOUSE

SOURCE: BBC NEWS WEBSITE, 9/11/16

This happened.

I wish I were more surprised. I didn’t think it would happen, but somehow I’m not shocked beyond comprehension that it did. We are in for a time of great change. That is the only phrase I can come up with right now to describe where we’re headed.

I’m not a fan of Trump. He has proved himself to be a philanderer, a sexual predator, a thin-skinnned narcissist, a compulsive liar, a terrible business man, a racist, a misogynist, a xenophone and a generally nasty piece of work. But, as of January 2017, he’s going to be President of the United States of America.

There’s been a lot of shock on my corner of Facebook. People saying that they don’t live in the world they thought they did, that the world has gone through an immense period of change. That they are beginning to realise how much of an echo chamber they live in. I sympathise, I do. I’ve been there. When the Conservative Party won the 2015 election here. When Brexit won in the Referendum. And now? Now this. President-Elect Donald Trump.

Our echo chamber isn’t going away. The only way that happens, that we break out and start to change things, is if we start speaking out and taking (even a little bit of) action. Even though that’s a scary thing to do.

I’m a teacher. Deep down I believe in education and its power to change the world. I know that there are some people who will not be able to accept the things that they are taught, because their cognitive dissonance is so overwhelming that they will go to massive lengths to avoid having their world view challenged, let alone shattered.

Putting out your view point on the internet, or in the world in general, is a difficult and dangerous thing to do when you come up against people like that. Because they find cognitive dissonance painful and they have no qualms or concerns about lashing out – verbally, emotionally, physically even – to make sure that their pain is averted and those who are opposed to their world view are silenced. At best, it’s exhausting. At worst, with the rise in tactics such as rape threats, doxing and stalking… Well, yeah, it is dangerous.

But the world we are being corralled into is dangerous too.

Dangerous for anyone who isn’t cis-male.
For people of any sexuality other than straight.
For people who are any form of trans*.
For people any religion other than Christianity.
For people of any race other than white.
For anyone who does not identify as a capitalist.
For anyone who questions the role of our armed forces on the world stage.
For anyone who isn’t thin/slim/toned in shape and size.
For anyone who is neuro-atypical.
For anyone who has any sort of disability.
For anyone who is struggling to get an education or find stable paid work.
For anyone who doesn’t meet the current conventional standards of Western beauty.

This world is already dangerous for us. And that’s why we’ve retreated to live in our echo chambers. Perhaps we should call them bunkers. Or vaults. They’re safe. But they’re stifling. And our supplies of jokes and humour won’t hold out forever.

So what can we do?

Well …  there are a lot of things we can do. But it might take a while for them to build up enough combined momentum to effect the change we want to see in the world.
Let’s start making a list. And please …  feel free to add to this in a constructive way.
  • Start blogging. Get your words out. Say what you feel. Keep talking. Get onto Tumblr, get onto WordPress. Words have power. Sara knows it. Emeli knows it. Say what you want to say, and let the words fall out. You’ve got the words to change a nation, and you’re biting your tongue.

 

  • If blogging’s not your thing, how about tweeting? Or just sharing something other than pictures of kittens and your dinner on the internet? Not that they aren’t cute and a nice source of feel good, and I do both from time to time – but maybe mix it up a bit with things that catch your interest and will make people around you think a little wider?

 

  • Start double sourcing what you share. Adopt the journalism standard. Don’t take one person’s or one organisation’s word for anything any more.

 

  • Stop sharing links to the tabloids who thrive on sensationalism and divisive behaviour – both the paper ones (Sun, Star, Express, Mail, etc) and the TV ones (Fox News particularly). If you’re angry with them, and want to call them out, screen shot them. Don’t give them the links, don’t give them the ad revenue.

 

  • Seen a meme that’s bullshit? Seen someone sharing something from a hate group? Is one of your friends list unwittingly promoting an organisation like Britain First? Start debunking them.There are plenty of sites that do the hard work for you. Snopes are one of the best, Hoax-Slayer are worth a look too. Call people out on the things that make you feel twisted up with cringe and sorrow, that you KNOW aren’t the case, that you can see are just manipulative bullshit. We have tried the ‘ignore it and see if it goes away’ approach. I think we can agree that this did not go according to anything even resembling the plan.

 

I’m not saying any of these are perfect. But they make me think and give me significant pause for thought. More welcome. I need to keep learning too.

  • Pick a side and chuck in your effort and, if you have any, your monies. I joined the Labour Party this year, because I have been more impressed with Corbyn than any other politician in the last 20 years, and it was worth my money to keep him up at the podium and on people’s watchlist.There are tonnes of charities, lobby groups, activists, political parties and organisations who are dedicated to changing bits of this world. Some of the less objectionable international ones include:

Our only option left is to be the change we want to see in the world. We were getting somewhere. We were! But we’re backsliding in spectacular fashion as a species and unless we manage to call a halt, we’re going to enter into a modern “dark ages”, where everything which fails to meet with a culturally specified ‘norm’ is hounded, hunted and hung out to die.

So be the change you want to see in your world. I promise to try to be in mine.

I promise to keep trying. Keep blogging. Keep sharing. Keep donating. Keep talking. Keep listening. Keep trying. Keep reading. Keep Changing. I have a long time left to live in this world. I’m not giving up on it yet.

 

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

In memory

Donate to Cancer Research UK

CLICK TO DONATE

In Memory of Lemmy, David and Alan

“Born to lose. Live to win.”
Lemmy Kilmister

24 December 1945 – 28 December 2015

Killed by Cancer

” Q: “Do you practice a form of worship?”
Bowie: “Life. I love life very much indeed.” ”
David Bowie

8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016

Killed by Cancer

“If only life could be a little more tender and art a little more robust.”
Alan Rickman

21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016

Killed by Cancer

Donate to Cancer Research UK

CLICK TO DONATE

In Memory of Lemmy, David and Alan

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

…Always

I cannot believe that I am having to do this again, so hot on the heels of the desperately sad news about David Bowie.

Alan Rickman. Dead from Cancer. At 69. Fuck.

I don’t even know where to start.

 

No seriously, I have started drafting this several times now and ended up deleting it. I can’t cover the characters, the films, the plays, the cameos in one article. I can’t begin to talk about the depth of his talent. Or how amazing he was as a person.

 

 

(Fuck, I am really still struggling to write this, I’m back to deleting large chunks at a time).

I am really finding it difficult to describe this incredible man without delving into cliches.

Because if there is one thing Alan Rickman NEVER was, it was cliche.

With some actors, the minute you see them cast in a film, you know what to expect from their characters.

You know precisely what to expect from actors like Hugh Grant (posh English totty), Angelina Jolie (the tough sexpot), Michael Cera (awkward nerd/geek), Samuel L Jackson (Badass MF), Tom Cruise (Cocky Action Hero) …

You can see the story unfolding before your eyes, because you’ve seen them walk this path before. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, it’s why type casting happens, and it makes big bucks and sells mega tickets.

But you never had that luxury with Alan Rickman.

From period drama to TV comedy specials.

From YA fiction to Sci Fi Pastiche.

From Nerd Culture classics to Rom Coms.

From classic villain to classy villain.

From Shakespeare to Music Videos.

He tackled everything. With grace. With style. With incredible talent. With full investment. He was someone who reached out to every kind of movie/tv/stage fan. Because he was in something that pretty much everyone has watched.

If he was cast in something, you absolutely knew the script would be fantastic and the character would be demanding, fulfilling and satisfying, and therefore the story was probably worth your investment in terms of time and money. But you couldn’t predict where he was going with it, and that made him a joy to watch in every single project.

I will miss that.

I will miss him.

Always.

 

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

David Bowie : There’s a Starman waiting in the sky…

I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of David Bowie as a person, but I absolutely remember the first time I heard his voice.

My Dad was a huge Queen fan. The second Greatest Hits album was one of the first CDs that was purchased for our household collection, and it featured ‘Under Pressure’. I knew that there was a different voice in the mix, which didn’t feature in any of the other songs, and I had to know where it came from.

Dad put that familiar name and distinctive voice together for me.  And my eyes took quite a while to adjust to what I saw.

David Bowie, as well as being a talented singer, was an assault on the visual senses to a conventional teenage girl in the 90s. Being gay was still controversial and nowhere near as accepted in general society as it is today. Challenging fashion and gender norms was even rarer. My early to mid 90s were very conventional, I was raised on a cultural diet of teenage girl mags, top of the pops, boy bands and Tammy Girl fashion.

Suddenly seeing pictures of a British white man, caked in makeup, wearing leotards and jewellry, with dyed hair in lurid colours… my brain didn’t quite know how to deal with that. But during my subsequent exposure to my Dad’s collection of glam metal music including T-Rex, Kiss, the earlier parts of the Queen catalogue… I began to realise that doing things people regarded as ‘weird’ could be ‘cool’ if you carried it off with a sufficient amount of ‘I don’t give a shit and am so much better than you’.

Bowie was everything that was disregarded by my conventional surroundings. Tall, gangly, seemingly gender fluid, fashion challenging, avant garde, a poet, an actor, an artist in the biggest sense of the word. He treated his body, his mind and his existence as a canvas, and he was never frightened of changing direction. He was a revelation.

By the time I was getting to know him as an artist, he had moved away from the lurid colours and costumes and personas, and was balanced on such a sharp edge of chic that it was almost painful to anyone else to come near it.  He seemed to walk in black and white through the lurid coloured 90s and 00s and practically parted the seas. His cameos raised the cool value of anything he appeared in, the single line he contributed to the Perfect Day was just that – perfect. His live performances were spectacular and he never seemed to age a day.

He was the first artist who, deep down, I thought would live forever.

All of that ended this morning at 7.15am when my radio alarm clicked on and the first words I heard were ‘…by David Bowie, who we just heard this morning has died after a long battle with cancer.”

It felt like a reality had ended.

Or was it a dream?

I’m not sure, and it will take me a while to process it. I have always know that I will outlive my heroes, because many of them belong to the generation that preceded mine, and even the one above that. My parent’s tastes in music, TV and film were classic and timeless and I adopted them almost without question. I’ve inherited a lot of old heroes. Sometimes that frightens me, more than a little.

I knew that I was going to lose people. But I wasn’t prepared for one of them to be Bowie. Not with that impact. Not now, not so soon. Not ever, really.

I hadn’t figured out how important he was. How valuable he was. How influential it was. How unique he was. Hindsight is, cursedly, 20/20.

And now he’s gone.  And though I hadn’t expected to, I’ve spend much of this day feeling bereft. Lost. Like I lost something valuable before I’d had chance to figure out how much I wanted it to be part of my life.

Right now I am thankful for the legacy he left behind, which I can now explore at leisure, although with that bitter edge which comes from knowing it will never grow any larger.

As of today, there’s a starman waiting in the sky…

He’s told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

 

 

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

A Church Is Burning…

Almost 50 years ago, Simon and Garfunkel performed this song.

It saddens me that in 2015, we are still facing these issues in our world.

7 historically black churches have been burned down in arson attacks in the last 10 days, after a white man walked into a church full of black people, to shoot and kill nine people. The Ku Klux Klan think he had ‘the right idea‘.

I feel sick.

What is this madness? Why have we fallen so far back down the road we had already made progress along? Had we really made progress at all?

I don’t have answers. I’m really sad to have those questions at all. A song from fifty years ago should not resonate so strongly. I should not be able to believe that this song was written in response to this week’s news.

 

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

What is the Human Rights Act?

The newly elected Conservative Government want to repeal the Human Rights Act.

Perhaps we should take a look at which of our rights are protected under that act and see if we can figure out why we shouldn’t be entitled to them, in their eyes.

The Human Rights Act is a long document, not an easy read, but it’s one we should all take a closer look at before we decide whether this is an important issue or not. These are the summaries of what we are entitled to, as human beings who live in the UK, under the Human Rights Act:

* Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. 

It is worth noting that the new Justice Secretary has previously argued for the return of hanging as a justice penalty.

They will be able to pursue this, if they wish, once our right to life is no longer enshrined in law.

The Human Rights Act explicitly abolishes the Death Penalty. Repealing this act would pave the way forward to bringing it back.

What crimes this penalty would apply to have yet to be seen. We might assume that it would only apply to crimes against life, but ‘treason’ was once the worst offence, ranking higher than murder. And who gets to decide what treason is? The government? That’s a worrying thought…

* No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

This prevents the UK government being able to open its own version of Guantanamo Bay. Enough said, really.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

This right gets in the way of the Work Programme. No wonder the Tories want to get rid of that. But it also forms a large part of the legislation which allows for the prosecution of human trafficking.

*  Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.

You have the right to be informed if you are being arrested, to be brought to trial as swiftly as possible, to have assistance during the legal proceedings and to seek compensation if these rights are not observed. This will be gone if the Human Rights Act is repealed.

* Everyone has the right to a fair trial. 

This includes being informed of the accusation in a language which you understand, being allowed to defend yourself or appoint someone to defend you, to be given time to prepare your defense and to cross examine witnesses who speak against you.

* Everyone is protected if they previously took an action which was legal at the time, but classed as illegal now. 

No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed. 

This means that if the law changes, you cannot be held accountable for those actions you took if they were legal at the time.

* Everyone has the right to a private and family life. 

This includes protection from monitoring by the state, as well as protecting celebrities from intrusive paparazzi. This is what prevents the government from snooping through your windows and sifting through your emails.

* Everyone has the right to their own thoughts, conscience and belief.

You cannot be arrested for what you think, what you believe or for your practice of religion (provided that practice does not endanger the life or rights of another person). Big Brother might be on the TV, but the Thought Police cannot come and arrest you.

* You have the right to express yourself freely.

Although, the Human Rights Act does stipulate that in the interests of national safety and security some of those expressions may warrant consequences.

* Everyone has the right to assemble and associate.

The act explicitly stipulates that this includes the right to join a Trade Union. It also covers peaceful protests.

* Everyone has the right to marry.

This act does not stipulate the bounds of marriage, it merely states that it is an entitlement (ie it does not specify that you can only marry someone of a different gender).

* Everyone is protected from discrimination.

I’m just going to quote directly from the act on this one:

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

 

* Restrictions on political activity of aliens

…I’m struggling to paraphrase this, so again I am going to quote directly.

Nothing in Articles 10, 11 and 14 shall be regarded as preventing the High Contracting Parties from imposing restrictions on the political activity of aliens.

The Human Rights Act actually allows the government to restrict the political activity of suspected and actual international terrorists. You think that repealing this act is going to make it easier for us to combat these people? Perhaps it is time to think again.

* Prohibition of abuse of rights

Nobody is allowed to take action which will deprive others of these rights. You might think it is in-keeping with your religious beliefs to keep slaves, but that would deprive them of their rights. You can think it, but under the Human Rights Act you can’t actually do it.

* Limitation on use of restrictions on rights

The Human Rights Act can’t be used as an excuse to take action against people for any other reason than those prescribed. For more information, I suggest reading the act itself rather than relying solely on my summaries.

* Everyone is entitled to enjoy their property and possessions peacefully. 

You are entitled to live in your house and enjoy your own belongings.

* Everyone is entitled to an education.

You are entitled to go to school and learn and study for qualifications, regardless of any personal characteristic (class, gender, faith, etc)

* Everyone has the right to hold free elections by secret ballot.

Having read them through, I am at a loss to understand why the Government think we should be stripped of these rights as human beings.

Perhaps that’s the key.

They don’t see us as being human.

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Being a Horrible Person is Not the Same as Being Mentally Ill

Came across this tweet in following up on yesterday’s post about Hopkins:

Let me say this loud and clear.

Katie Hopkins has not been diagnosed as mentally ill.

But even if she were, this would not excuse her behaviour.

Being a bitch is not the same as being sick.

Being a horrible person is not the same as being sick.

Being cruel to others is not the same as being sick.

When I was 20, my best friend – who suffered from some of the most intensive bouts of depression I have ever seen – gave me a small and simple mantra to follow when judging his behaviour. He said:

Having a mental illness is not an excuse for behaving like a douchebag.
Although, if you could wait until I’m having a better day before bringing up the times I fall down on this, that would be appreciated.

That has been my guiding approach, throughout life, when dealing with people who are mentally ill and judging my own behaviour during my relapses. Being mentally ill is not an excuse for behaving like a douchebag.

This misattribution is one of the reasons why I wanted to run the call for submissions for Mental Health Awareness Week.

People who suffer from mental illness do NOT deserve (or need!) to be tarred with the same brush as Hopkins.

Stop calling her mentally ill. She has no doctor’s diagnosis, and the only thing that suggests she is mentally ill is (quite frankly) the fact that you don’t like her behaviour very much and you’re searching for a convenient box to put her in to account for the fact that you don’t understand it.

It produces the idea that someone who is mentally ill must be a horrible person. And we are battling enough of that discrimination shit already.

The vast VAST majority of us are good people, doing our best to live good lives and be good to the people around us, while at the same time struggling with the fact that parts of our brains don’t work at optimum levels. Sometimes we need drugs to replace those chemicals that are missing, boost those that are low or tamp down the ones that are in overdrive. Sometimes we see counsellors to learn coping mechanisms, or re-learn things we have forgotten that you take for granted.

We are not like her. We do not want innocent people to die just because they are a different colour, or speak another language, or happen to have been born in a different corner of the world.

The minute a doctor diagnoses her as mentally ill, I will listen to such claims. And still continue to hold her to account for the appalling and disgusting things she says. Because being mentally ill is not an excuse for behaving like a douchebag.

But stop slapping that label on her just because you find her distasteful and need something to blame for that.

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Slacktivist Reposting

This was originally written as a facebook note in 2012, but it seems the internet still needs a reminder of these things…

There is far too much passive agression and too many poor attempts at mental manipulation on facebook at the moment.

The worst offenders are all those good cause photos and statuses.

You know the ones. Post this on your status if you lost someone to cancer, illness, whatever. Let the world know that special needs kids are special in a good way. Let’s remind the world of every sickness that exists.

Those are bad enough. What good does it do other than giving you an insight into the suffering of your friends list and a second hand method of proclaiming your personal issues to the world? Reposting these pictures doesn’t raise awareness or money or actually do anything useful. Often they’re not even connected to charities. They’re just constant reminders of the fact that there is suffering in the world and a form of slacktivism.

Then there’s the ‘repost if you agree’ ones. Now admittedly, I do this sometimes if something strikes a particular chord or if I’m feeling all melancholy and I happen across a post which sums up how I feel when I can’t find words. But if I reposted every single one (repost if you hate animal cruelty, hate children cruelty, want a pay rise, think the lib dems should tell the tories to stuff it, etc…) I would do nothing but repost these statuses and pictures. My timeline would be full of them, with no original thought or input at all. And indeed I know some people’s timelines that are exactly like that. Underneath all those posts, I don’t actually have a clue who they are any more, because all I see from them are second hand platitudes.

However, the ones that *really* bug me, to the point of making me do the opposite, are the ones that have a line like this in them:

“90% of people won’t repost this. Will you be one of the few who does?”

These, in the most shameless and guilt tripping way, latch onto people’s sense of inadequacy and playing on people’s egos. They imply that those who do not repost the image do not have a heart or are in some way deficient as human beings. They imply that by reposting the image/status, you are marking yourself out as different. Better. An individual. A worthy human being. “Go on, show the world how awesome you are.”

Really.

Go on, show the world how awesome you are for falling victim to mental programming and doing exactly what a facebook picture tells you to do, because you feel so inadequate that you need to prove to the world that you are a good person every opportunity that you get.

There are several of those pictures that I do like. I do find some of them touching, or funny. Some are connected to causes that I do think should be publicised. But every time I see that sort of statement, I bristle.

Reposting a facebook picture does not make you a better person.

And choosing not to does not make you a lesser one.

I don’t like these sorts of guilt trips on any level. They’re no better than playground crap.

“X would do this for me, they’re an awesome friend, why won’t you do the same thing?”

Sound familiar? I bet it does. And that’s exactly the sentiment that is being played on whenever you see one of those pictures or statuses. It was the same sentiment which was played upon by some of those ‘Cancer Selfie’ posts.

“I’m doing this. Look at me. I’m such a great person. Now you have to do it. And if you don’t, you’re not a good person at all. What’s the matter, do you want Cancer to win or something?” 

If a cause is important to me, I do practical things for it. I worked for Cancer Research for several years as a volunteer. I donate unwanted stuff to Scope, because I want them to keep Beaumont College running. That’s just the tip of the iceberg and there’s tonnes more that people can do to actually help causes such as the fight against Cancer besides plastering Facebook with inane slacktivist cutsie posters.

Whether or not I repost a facebook picture says nothing about me as a person.

And it says nothing about your own value either.

Either positive or negative.

The only thing that increases or decreases your value on social media is your input of original thought and expression.

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Song Of The Week: Drive by Incubus (part 2)

I love living in the UK, for many reasons. One of which is the NHS. I love that I can access medical help when I am financially in difficulties and that I am not dependent upon insurance to be able to seek the help I need. I was diagnosed with Asthma as a child and mental health difficulties in my twenties – I would be a nightmare in terms of pre-existing conditions, but none of that matters on the NHS.

I also love that I can access contraceptives – including hormone based ones as well as condoms/diaphrams – through the NHS free of charge. Family planning is part of the service, free of charge, to anyone who wants it, and while my country might have a national religion, our approach to such matters is completely secular. Over the years I’ve had women tell me that they have encountered difficulties accessing what they want through the NHS though, which if I am honest has always surprised me. Not any more though, because last week it happened to me.

I’m 32. I’ve had hormone trouble since I was a teen (extremely painful periods, dark hair growth on my face, occasional bouts of acne). In my 20s I got fed up of dealing with this and was put on the pill. It was magic, but much like the Borg, my body adapts. So after 5 years on the standard pill, I got switched to another type – one called Dianette. Dianette is great, but fuck me it is strong. It took care of all my issues, but once you have been on it for a set time, the health risks associated with it go up. The max time is supposed to be about 5 years. I was on it for about 7.

After looking at the options and discussing things with Mr Shandy I decided to switch to the implant. I travel a lot for work, so this would be more convenient for me and would still contain a hefty dose of hormones to keep me steady. It will also be a more reliable form of contraceptive. I made an appointment with my practice nurse, who agreed with me. She checked me over and sorted me out with a docs appointment, as only a doctor can insert the implant in our practice. There was a female GP qualified to do the procedure. I decided to go see her.

That appointment was quite possibly the worst experience I have ever had on the NHS, in terms of being bullied into things I didn’t want, denied access to the things I did want and having my wishes and statements about my life totally ignored.

First the GP tried to convince me to use a barrier method instead.

I explained that this is not what I want. I am married, I have been in a monogamous relationship with my husband for seven years now, neither of us has ever had an STI and we are looking to make our sex life more interesting, with less faffing about with barrier methods, which we have used up until now in addition to me being on the pill.

She ignored me and tried again. I stood my ground and told her I was here to discuss the implant.

She went through my case history and suggested I might have PCOS (Polycistic Ovarian Syndrome).

I explained that my regular GP had through this and sent me for blood tests a couple of years ago. They came back negative.

She wasn’t happy with this and started insisting I should have an ultrasound scan.

I became concerned. The nurse hadn’t picked up on this, neither had my regular GP. Was this something to do with the implant.

“Well,” said the GP, “the implant lasts for three years.”

“Yes…?”

“And you’re 32 now.”

Confusion.

“Yes…?”

“So if you want to start trying for a family, it can take longer if you have PCOS, so you might want to start now.”

I was floored. At no time had I mentioned wanting to have a family during this appointment. If anything, I was here to PREVENT getting pregnant. Where was this coming from?

I explained that my husband and I have decided that this is not the right time to have a family for us, regardless of our age. And the nurse had explained that I could have the implant removed at any time.

She starts trying to change my mind.

“Oh I know it can be off-putting when other people’s kids cry and scream and they poop and vomit everywhere, but it is different when they’re your own.”

Feeling more than a little insulted, I decided to throw some more details into the mix, although the warning lights were already on for the fact that I had to. This was supposed to be a routine appointment, a check over to confirm the nurse’s findings and a discussion about a date to have the implant inserted. Why was this suddenly so difficult?

So in an attempt to open up to this GP I have never met before, I start talking about some of the details of my life. About the fact that my husband and I both have mental health difficulties. That he’s self employed in a successful but newly established business, where he sometimes works seven days a week to keep up and encourage demand. About how I am on a career high, working for a national company, travelling frequently, staying away overnight. In addition to this I am setting up my own business, working towards establishing myself as a writer and trying to run my own home. This is not the right time for a baby and it would not be fair to bring a child into this chaotic life which we are still trying to make sense of.

What happened next floored me. This woman sits there, looks me dead in the face, pointedly looks at my wedding ring, looks back at me and says:

“And what does your husband have to say about this?”

It wasn’t a comment. It was an accusation.

Not to be outfaced, and primed by my feminist reading in the last eighteen months, I was ready for her.

“My husband is in agreement. And more to the point he supports MY wishes to do as I wish with MY body. Now can I have this implant, or is there a medical reason why you are denying me this?”

“I am just saying you might want to consider starting a family if it is going to be difficult. What it you can’t later?”

“That won’t be a problem.”

“This is just my assessment of your situation.”

I lost my shit. This woman wasn’t listening to my situation. She had just taken one look at me and sized me up as a baby-making machine in waiting.

“Then if we can’t have a baby, we can’t. Not being biological parents will not break our marriage. Having a child at the wrong time might do. This is an informed decision. And your assessment of my situation is flawed. So, can I have the implant?”

“I want to send you for an ultra sound first. If PCOS is identified, you should know about it as quickly as possible. Then you can make…” she looked at me “an *informed* decision.”

By this point I was so angry, I could have slapped her, but I have excellent levels of self control. She fills out the referral, which needs my weight. So she asks me to hop on the scales.

My weight is not dangerous, but I am not a svelte skinny minx. I am a UK size 16 at the height of 5’7, so my BMI is slightly on the high side. She looks triumphant.

“Well I’m glad we checked that,” she says. “It can take longer for your fertility to return to normal if you weight is on the high side. So that’s another factor that might influence your decisions about when to have a family.”

I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“If you had listened to what I just said, you would understand that I don’t want to have a family. Not now, possibly not in three years time even.”

She settles back at her desk, looks at me and says

“Well, you might want to lose some weight, regardless. Have you through about improving your diet and exercise?”

I had one last shot at some dignity before I got out of the room.

“Everything I eat is fresh cooked. Lean meat, fresh fruit and veg, homemade sauces with ground spices and herbs. I eat mixed grain bread, fresh yoghurt, very little is fried. I have cut down my alcohol intake and I have never smoked. I swim four times a week, use an exercise bike at home and my holiday activities include camping and walking and canal boating. But then you would know that if you’re thought to ask me rather than make assumptions about me.”

She looked me up and down and said:

“Well … keep it up then. I’m sure you’ll see a change soon.”

**

I am not a weak person by any means. I buckle under extremes of pressure, but that just makes me human. But it has been a long time since I was made to feel so unimportant, undervalued and inadequate by anyone. I have always had a positive experience of doctors appointments before. I make the effort to be informed, I take notes, I ask pertinent questions, I listen to advice and I don’t have to go with the ‘just ignore it and hope it goes away’ approach that so many of my American friends are forced to adopt by circumstances.

I arrived home feeling extremely low and incredibly angry. How dare anyone, even a health professional, dismiss my input into an evaluation in such a way! I am my own person and I will make decisions about my life as I see fit. I have never been ready to be a mum at any point in my life so far. I am not ready now. I might still not be ready in three years. I fail to see how any of that pales in comparison to the ‘but you might not be able to later’ argument.

We still live in a world where women are assumed to be lacking if they don’t reproduce. This has been my first experience of this, even when I am cared for by a health service which is supposed to respect my choices, my rights and my options.

I am not a child hater. I love children. True – babies make me nervous, because they’re so tiny and fragile, but that’s the case for everyone before they have one of their own and get a bit more practice. I am a teacher, I love being around children, I love seeing them learn, watching them grow and knowing that they’re going to grow up to be awesome human beings. That does not mean that my life is the right fit to be a parent right now. This is not a selfish decision. It is a selfless one. I will not bring a child into a chaotic life and inflict two stressed out, not-completely-financially-stable, sometimes-very-ill, workaholic parents onto it. Into a house which has no spare room, where we are renting rather than paying a mortgage and where our employment and therefore means of support is far from dependable.

My choice to not have a child right now is far from selfish. Bringing one into the middle of this mess under the ‘it’ll all be fine in the end’ banner would be a stupendously bad idea. For me, for my husband and for the child itself. No matter how much love I might have for a child, this will not negate any of those factors.

I might never be in the right state to have children. Thanks to advances in modern medical care and the NHS in particular, this is a choice that I can make, that WE can make for ourselves without having to embrace celibacy, without having to sacrifice the idea of partnership and marriage. We are a strong couple in a brilliant marriage and yes, one day, we might choose to have children, but that will be as much an informed choice as our decision not to have them right now.

And if we never have children…? We will still have a marriage built upon love, upon a range of ideas and dreams, things we want to do, ways we want to grown. Children might fit into that one day. But they are not the be all and the end all, not the sole reason we chose to marry and certainly not the sole reason why we are together.

I chose Incubus’ ‘Drive’ as the Song of the Week, because the lyrics show how easy it is to be led astray be the crowd, by the loud voiced, by someone who thinks they know better. I’ve never been much of one for following the crowd, no matter how loud and large they might be. Not when it comes to my life. Especially not when it comes to another life which I would have a prime responsibility for.

“It’s driven me before
And it seems to have a vague
Haunting mass appeal
But lately I’m
Beginning to decide that I
Should be the one behind the wheel. 

Would you choose water over wine?
Hold the wheel and drive…
Whatever tomorrow brings, I’ll be there
With open arms and open eyes, yeah”

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