Good grief.

I’ll never get better at dealing with loss.

In any other capacity, the amount of times you have to do something inevitably improves the way in which you do it.

But death is not something I will ever adapt to. Losing someone is without a doubt one of the hardest things we as humans have to deal with. The helpless feelings of grief and loss are overwhelming and all encompassing until eventually you find the strength to accept it – you don’t move on or get over it, you just learn to live with it.

*

It’s happened again and it pains me to think how many people this now makes it. I’ve seen far too many people, young and old, leave this world in an unfair, cruel manner that makes me mad at the world, at life, at inevitability.

When someone dies, I of course struggle with accepting that I will never again see that person but the part that hurts the hardest and for the longest is knowing and literally feeling the pain of the friends and family closest to the person who passed away. Knowing all too well what it feels like; I hate the thought of someone I love and care about feeling the enormity of grief and despair. Its unrelenting, all consuming and can effect someone so deeply, it can sometimes be just too hard to come back from.

I’ve seen it twice now; the heartache someone feels when losing someone close to them can actually wind up leading to the death of that very same person. Grief begets grief and its tragic.

It changes people, sometimes for the better but more often than not for the worst.

We get so used to things being the way they are. Our routines, schedules and lifestyles become our safety nets. We take for granted the likelihood of change and spend each day merely getting through the day; cliches like ‘live each day like its your last’, ‘live for the moment’ and ‘seize the day’ become a collection of meaningless words that evoke little relevance or reaction. We’re stuck in the ruts of the mundanity of our lives, forgetting the very fragility of them because we’ve not truly had to remember for a little while.

Until, in one fleeting second, everything gets turned upside down. We are reminded, coldly and harshly, that we are all living on borrowed time and are only ever a moment of unfortunate fate away from it all being reduced to nothing.

And suddenly we come to appreciate life and all it’s magic again. We take the time to appreciate our children’s laughter, our parent’s embrace, our friend’s kindness, the glory of the sunset and the beauty of the simplicity of nature. What all were, only a few minutes before, almost laughable cliches, become the things we truly value most again.

You never know what day could be your last. And thats the truth of it. Very very few of the people whom I know to have died in the past 10 years knew when they woke up that morning that that very day would be their last.

That utterly terrifies me.

And of course you can’t live each day in fear that you may not make it back into bed that night but perhaps holding on to that feeling is something we could all stand to do if we ever wish to truly ‘live life to the fullest’. Its just too easy not to. I’m guilty of it all the time.

*

The first funeral I ever went to was a friend of mine’s father. I was 16 years old and I recall being utterly shocked at the speed inwhich the cancer stole his life. Our whole friendship group was. But something I felt the moment we stepped outside of the funeral home after the service, partly due to someone suggesting we get to the pub for a pint pronto before our friend’s father struck us down with lightning, was a visceral sense of love, comfort and dare I say it joy. And it wasn’t just love I felt for his father but for all the people around me. We were all united in our mourning; it brought us closer and made us kinder to one another and ourselves. If only for that moment in time.

Sadly, after that, the deaths just seemed to keep on coming.

Brutal battles with cancer, brain hemmorhages, dementure, car crashes, overdoses, suicides and just downright awfully unfortunate accidents started occuring one after the other, after the other, after the other. Each and every time I was stripped of what I was used to feeling and knowing every other day and came back to being appreciative, grateful and benevolent. As well as miserable, cheated and desolate.

Its odd to say but some of the most incredible occasions I’ve ever been apart of have been loved one’s funerals or wakes. It brings such comfort and peace to see everyone come together, reminisce about the good times and focus on nothing but the deceased person’s best qualities, greatest accomplishments and most defining moments. You leave with a sense of fulfiment and gratitude for having known the individual and feeling honoured to have shared their life with them. You leave feeling thankful that we as people when we come together during times of tragedy, have the ability to truly care for and look after each other.

Last year I went to two services, one for an extended family member and one for a very dear school friend, and at some point during each of those occasions I took the time to stand back and look at the people gathered, feel the palpable love everybody had for one another and shed a tear, for the first time not for the person who’d passed but for the stunning legacy they’d left behind. All of the people gathered there who may not have spent much time with one another in any other capacity, all brought out the best in one another and were banded together in their being touched by the person whose life they were celebrating. What more could you ask for out of life, really?

I do think though that funerals should happen when you’re alive. It seems so sad and nonsensical to me that someone’s favourite people should all get together and say the loveliest things about you, recalling events and moments that you were funny or kind or heroic or smart or selfless, when you aren’t there to enjoy it yourself!

Although, saying this as someone with no belief in religion or afterlife, a part of me really hopes and believes that the person who’s life was being celebrated was always there in spirit. Or at the very least, could from afar see the beauty of what was happening in honour of them.

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*

But before that acceptance and peace can set in, the heartache and remorse has to take hold for a while. Like the ocean, it ebbs and flows; tidal in its’ ability to nearly drown you and leave you completely breathless, until it finally draws back out again, allowing you a moment of reflection and calm. If that restbite is only temporary, its what allows us the strength to cope with the day’s formalities until we can sit back and feel again what it is we need to feel in order to heal.

Having someone who you can go through all that with is everything. Whether they knew the person or not, having somebody to hold your hand, hold you tight and remind you of all the positivity in life is needed in moments of such distress and torment. To all the people who have ever done that for someone they love, thank you. Your strength is truly admirable.

*

To everyone who has ever lost someone; please know that you are not alone and there is no real right or wrong way to deal with your grief. We all know and can relate to those feelings and you should never feel alone or inferior when dealing with them. We are emotional creatures who need to just surrender to such emotions from time to time. I believe its what makes us human.

And though during the thick of it all, it’s probably hard to believe or understand but grief, in time, is a good thing. You wouldn’t love as fiercely, fight as hard, laugh as heartily or be as strong as you are without it. Your determination to overcome and live with your grief is what defines who you are as a person. The person whom you lost would be honoured and proud to know you have felt it and accepted it. Its how they live on inside of you.

In loving memory of Jordan, Dave, Tom, Will, Annie and Calvin, Harry and Doreen, David, Poppa Jim, Uncle Smudge, Mike W, Mike F, Joanne, Andy, Vyvyan, Jake, Kerry, Viv, Julie, Che, John, Jaymie, Leigh, Nola and Chops.

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Me: On Drugs

Addiction is a topic very close to my heart for so many reasons. I think if most people look at their lives objectively, they’ll realise that either themselves or someone very close to them has in one way or another been effected by or experienced some type of addiction. Whether its to sugar, retail, weed, gambling, power, alcohol, cocaine or video games; they’re all as equally destructive and harmful as each other. The very nature of addiction, regardless of the substance, activity or act, is dangerous. To do something in complete excess, to the point that the individual loses sight of all other important values and aspects of life is deeply unhealthy. But addictions are a part of everyday life across the world. What I find both interesting and outrageous is that certain types of addiction are far more socially acceptable than others. And how we’ve been dealing with the most socially “unacceptable” addictions so far is beyond counter-productive. Its downright nonsensical.

For instance the addiction to power and profit is considered normal in today’s capitalistic society. It’s even highly revered and respected. A corporation’s greed for more monetary gain, more land and more ownership is considered an incredibly successful one; even if the aftermath involves polluted countrysides, disenfranchised and disgruntled employees and shitty products. You’re not a force to be reckoned with in the corporate world if you don’t have an insatiable thirst for profit, for power, for more. To be a “shark”, one needs to be ruthless and willing to do whatever it takes to reach the end goal; crushing whatever and whomever stands in their way. One could consider Donald Trump to be addicted to money (as well as an almighty dickhead). Notice though that whenever that addiction has landed him in masses of debt and bankruptcy and destroyed his relationships with his wife and family, he’s never been carted off to a rehab facility in a straight jacket with psychologists stroking at their beards, shrewdly analyzing his seemingly self-destructive behaviour in his bid for higher revenue, more phallic buildings named after him and a credible yet fearsome reputation in the business world.

But when Amy Winehouse deteriorated in front of our very eyes in a truly agonizing and long saga of narcotics, amphetamines, alcohol, self harming, self medicating and seriously unhealthy romantic relationships; we condemned her, shunned her. “She needs to take her own advice and send herelf to Rehab” we said. Tabloids labelled her a mess, a threat to society, an insult to the music industry, a disaster waiting to happen. Anyone with a shred of compassion and decency could see this girl was deeply tormented, seemingly powerless in her struggle to save herself from her own cruel demons. But according to the majority of the public, she was “mental”, “beyond help”, nothing but a “fucking druggie”. I’d argue her battle with both illegal and pharmaceutical drugs was equally as high in intensity and detrimental as Trump’s addiction to money and aggrandizement. But one is considered a tycoon, the other an all out wreck of a human being. Society’s standards.

The same goes for weight and health, our general appearance. The steroid-taking, gym-going body builder, spending day after day, night after night forcing themselves to be the most sculpted, strongest and physically dominant specimen they can be is considered the ultimate sports man/woman. They’re respected for their hardwork and determination. The fact they’ve lost sight of the truth that everyone dies eventually; how you looked during your tiny life-span is really quite irrelevant in the grand scheme of things; you can’t exactly take your perfectly chiselled physique with you when you croak, goes completely unnoticed. They’re Hercules, they’re Kratos, they’re well fucking hard. Never mind the unbelievable amount of strain they’re putting on their bodies, hearts and muscles. Nevermind the things they’ve sacrificed to get to where they are. Nevermind the amount of highly dangerous drugs they may well have taken to get there. Their addiction has supposedly got them somewhere important, somewhere worth being.

The social perception of the addiction to incessant dieting bears within itself a fine line. Beauty magazines vary from page to page as to whether they think you’re too skinny or too fat. According to them neither of these is a good thing. And just being yourself certainly isn’t acceptable either.

“Look at Beyonce, look how much weight she’s gained. Look at how fat Kim Kardashian got during her pregnancy. Look at the state of Nicole Richie, you can see her rib cage. Look at the lengths Holly Hagan went to to lose her belly flab.”

Depending on the nature of the individual’s circumstances, the state of their weight loss/gain can easily be manouvered into being either a negative or positive thing. It depends on which agenda that magazine is looking to perpetuate that day.

Whatever you do, don’t get fat. But don’t be too skinny either. Take these diet pills. But not too many otherwise you’ll get ill and we’ll chastise you for it . Eat this salad. But not everyday or you’ll be criticised for trying too hard. Exercise everyday but don’t go overboard or we’ll decide you clearly have nothing better going on in your life. She’s lost a tonne of weight; I bet she had liposuction, I bet she’s bitterly unhappy, I bet she did it for her boyfriend.

You cannot fucking win. But the addiction to our personal appearance, especially as women, is a perfectly acceptable one. You just have to see ten minutes of daytime TV advertising to grasp that. That is, until it lands you in a troublesome spot. Either you’ve reached gross levels of obesity or a dangerous point of anorexia; either one, you’ve clearly taken it too far and let your addiction to perception get the better of you. Shame on you. But if you’re attractive, of an acceptable weight, always seemingly preened to perfection; you’re doing just gravy. It doesn’t matter that you’re spending six hours a morning, wasting thousands of pounds and exhausting yourself both physically and mentally on a daily basis just to look like that. The fact is that you look like that and that is AOK. Keep it up.

The cultural paradigm of what is an acceptable addiction is a mind boggling one. For instance; smokers in most lines of work are given breaks when non-smokers aren’t. I actually started smoking rollies again a few years ago so that the restaurant I worked in would give me a five minute break every few hours. But if you’re not addicted to nicotine you can bet your ass you ain’t getting no break. Only people with health jeopardising addictions get that luxury.

For funsies, lets imagine you’ve started your new job and your manager’s showing you the ropes and asks, with the intention of informing you of your right to frequent breaks, “Are you a smoker?” You respond; “No but I’m a very frequent intervenous drug user.” You can bet your ass you ain’t getting no break. What’s more, you’re probably getting fired. And a courtesy visit from your local law enforcement officer to verify this claim and stop you from participating in your somewhat illegal past time.

Similar scenario; you make a new friend at University and they promptly ask you at the end of your Friday lectures, “Fancy a beer?” More often than not, especially in a University atmosphere, ‘a beer’ will lead to twelve more, some wild and crazy dancing, some poorly made decisions involving the boy whose been giving you “the eyes” during Philosophy, a badly judged comment aimed at a stranger subsequently leading to a somewhat heated and violent confrontation in the street, an embarrassing spat of public urination, a battered kneecap thanks to a fruitless bid to walk in a straight line down the high street, a seriously questionable kebab, a ridiculously expensive taxi-ride home followed by enthusiastic vomiting outside your front door, a shitty nights sleep and a head splitting hangover (you know, alcohol poisioning). Good time all round, most would say. You’re a freak if you don’t want to do that, a lot would think. But if instead of accepting that fairly innocent invitation to cause serious harm to your liver and brain cells, you say “Nah but I’d be keen to smoke some crack” most people would give you a pretty unsure look and back away rather timidly. You’d then be branded a “crack-addict” and more than likely struggle to make any more friends, let alone someone whom you can rely upon for the answers in the next exam.

Internationally, tobacco is responsible for over 5 and a half million deaths every year (thats a holocaust every year) but it is welcomed with open arms, legal in most countries. Smoking is accountable for over a quarter of all cancer related deaths in the UK. To name but a few chemicals, there is carbon monoxide, arsenic, formaldehyde and cyanide in the average cigarette. But tobacco companies bring in BILLIONS of pounds worth of revenue each year, so ya know, every cloud and all that…

Alcohol is THE MOST harmful and socially destructive substance on the planet. But we welcome it too with open arms. It is legal in most countries. A terrifyingly high amount of rape and murder cases involve the use and abuse of alcohol. Your average police man’s Friday and Saturday nights are made a living hell because of alcohol consumption. In 2014 the UK alone there were nearly 9000 recorded alcohol related deaths. Per year, alcohol consumption and abuse is responsible for over £21bn worth of needless healthcare and criminal costs. Superceded only by smoking and obesity, alcohol abuse is responsible for an unfathomable amount of diseases. I personally, can confidently and safely say, two of the worst things to have ever happened to me would NOT have happened if myself and the person/people involved had not been drunk. It clouds your judgement, dulls your senses, slows your reactions, heightens your (mostly irrational) emotions, makes you physically and mentally unwell in both the short and long term, costs an insane amount of money when consumed regularly and turns perfectly nice amiable people into argumentative, arrogant, contemptuous dick heads. But its perfectly legal. And acceptable. And cool might I add.

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I’m not going to counteract the aforementioned points by singing crack’s praises. I’m not saying smoking crack is better than having a fag break or a few drinks with a Uni mate. Crack is whack yo. I am merely pointing out our society’s somewhat illogical standards.

Then there’s marijuana. Has ethanol ever been recorded or observed to have cured cancer? No. But cannabis oil has. Have you ever heard of someone smoking illogical amounts of marijuana then raping someone? No. Whereas that happens A LOT worldwide under the influence of alcohol. I personally (and I’ve had a lot of experience to back up this point) have never encountered someone to get so ridiculously stoned to then suffer such a drastic change in personality and temperament that they literally become repulsive to me. The amount of times its happened to me involving over-consumption of alcohol I’ve genuinely lost count of.

JESUS CHRIST. IT GROWS OUT OF THE GROUND, PEOPLE.

When high; you eat a lot. You laugh a lot. You theorize and analyze the planet as you know it. You look at the stars and feel the full magnitude of the universe’s enormity. You fall asleep. And sleep bloody well I might add. You have a pretty innocent and all round fun time. Yes, it’s rather counter productive when used in excess. Stoners are renowned for being utterly useless and unreliable. There’s been studies and tests that hypothesise that the abuse of it can lead to mental health issues (there’s also been a lot of case studies and tests that complete discount that theory too). But all in all, again drawing on my own experience here (as that is all I really have to go off at the end of the day), stoners are a lot more likeable, safer and friendly characters than alcoholics. Call me biased, its fine. YET alcohol is the legal substance that is always readily available to be purchased from almost anywhere anytime. In a city you are pretty much never more than ten feet away from a pub, bar or off-licence. But Joe Bloggs down the road who sells and smokes a bit of ganja whom has a very quiet and unremarkable existence. Well he’s a fucking criminal.

I could SO easily make this blog entry about how nonsensical and unfair I think it is that weed is the illegal substance and alcohol the completely legal and seemingly acceptable one but I have a point about addiction I hope to eventually make. Seriously though, look into it; its fucking barbaric. Watch ‘The Culture High’ – fascinating documentary on the political and financial benefits of the criminalizing of weed.

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Whether its poker, caffeine, sex, food or prescription drugs you’re addicted to, you’re ultimately suffering from addiction. Agreed? Agreed. Well, I personally believe ‘addiction’ is a disease. That can get very easily minsterpreted when you say ‘alcoholism’ or ‘heroin addiction’ is a ‘disease’. Some would get enraged and say cancer is a disease, schizophrenia is a disease, tuberculosis is a disease, an addiction to wine or heroin is not a disease, its a choice. But ‘addiction’; the condition of being dependent on a particular substance or activity, is in itself a disease, a mental illness.

 I cringe and become engraged when people say addiction is a decision or lifestyle choice. I genuinely think its no more a ‘choice’ than being gay is. When I hear that, aside from feeling offended on the behalf of many people I know and love, I want to ask the idiot saying it to look at the average addict’s day to day struggle: the health impacts both physical and mental, stress and depression, insomnia, inconsistency in emotional stability, financial issues, turbulent and fractured relationships and friendships, self-loathing. Its really quite hard to believe that that person has happily ‘chosen’ that way of life. All those factors are inconvenient side effects of a perilous battle with their own addiction. An addiction that myself and many others (a lot more informed and educated in the field) believe isn’t their fault.

Case studies and experiments have been carried out for years and years to prove that a predisposition to addiction can be determined as early as in utero. For example a British study concluded that pregnant women whom suffered great deals of abuse whilst pregnant developed high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This coritsol was prevalent in the child’s placenta after birth. The existence of such a damaging hormone, one that has been proven to physically change the shape and operation of someone’s brain over prolonged periods of time, can genetically develop within the child’s brain a predisposition for addiction. It could also cause a genetic predisposition for violence or schizophernia for example. The effects that stress, depression and anxiety can have on a pregnant woman and thus her developing baby can be catastrophic. The creation of an addict can start as early as conception.

Carrying out such an examination is obviously a controversial one, as I’m sure you can imagine. Few women are willing to become test subjects or ‘guinea pigs’ when growing their beloved son or daughter inside them. I know I wouldn’t be jumping at the offer. But when the opportunity presented itself in the 80’s in a small town in Canada, a particular psychologist felt compelled to examine the unpleasant conditions around the pregnant women in that town and the toll they could take on a developing foetus. The town had been struck with an incredibly bad snow storm, one of the worst for centuries and found itself for over 2 months being cut off from the rest of the world. Public transport was inactive, commercial food transportation both in and out had to be cancelled so super markets were rapidly running out of stock, schools and places of business were closed so people were frustrated, bored and aimless let alone unable to make money; life as they knew it had to come to a temporary stop as they dealt with the implications of such a dramatic meterological disaster. The women who agreed to take part in the study were monitored from the beginning of the storm all the way to labour, to the point where their child had reached 18 years of age. The main knock-on effects the horrendous storm had had, meant that the women were spending prolonged periods of time hungry; rationing had become mandatory. They were tired, over-worked and over-exerted due to constantly shovelling their driveways, walking everywhere in less than perfect conditions and constantly looking for means of keeping their homes warm as many lost power and therefore their central heating. They weren’t sleeping well due to (aside from just being pregnant and uncomfortable) the sheer stress of the situation and the physical and emotional toll it was having on themselves and the rest of their families. They were anxious, cold, stressed and scared for the future. All of which the babies inside them were detecting, feeling and absorbing. Upon publication of the psychologist’s findings, she discovered that of the 90-something children that were monitored, almost all of them went on to develop either some sort of mental health issue, social interaction issue, learning disability or most commonly, an addiction of some type.

Now I’m not saying anyone who has a stressful pregnancy is going to give birth to a drug addict. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who probably had a far from ideal time in the womb yet still went on to live healthy, fruitful, stable lives. But many experts theorize that environment too has a great deal to do with it; if your early neuro-development gave you a genetic predisposition for addiction and you then went on to live in an environment that was unstable, unsafe, physically or emotionally painful, grief-stricken or uncertain the chances are pretty damn high that you’re going to develop some form of addiction.

Take a look at the drug addicts you know. I can imagine most if not all of them had a pretty hellish upbringing and/or endured an emotionally testing time; be it divorce of their parents, death of a loved one or physical/emotional/sexual abuse. These have all been recognised as factors that can contribute to the making of an addict. Most serial killers; aggressive, psycho-sexual serial killers were abused as children or grew up around death and violence. Very few of them just decided on a whim one day to screw and then throttle a prostitute. My point being that both nature and nurture play their part in the making of someone with a predisposition for addiction, violence or mental health issues.

That’s not to say everyone who has an abusive upbringing is bound to inflict on their children the very same fate they endured. My dad was beaten as a child and has never raised a finger to me. I know people whom have had very traumatic upbringings and gone on to live perfectly functional and happy lives. But a predisposition is not the same as predetermination – just because someone is predisposed to develop a habit, addiction or compulsion doesn’t mean that they are bound to. Especially if their environment has not negated as such. Similar to that of the cancer gene; of 100 women whom have breast cancer, only 7 of them are likely to have the breast cancer gene, the other 93 are not. And those 7 with the gene aren’t actually guaranteed to develop breast cancer. Its a biological likeliness and possibility but not a categorical certainty.

I had this conversation with my mum a while ago whom disagrees somewhat with the theory that addiction is an illness and therefore not a choice. She like many others, sees the ‘genetic predisposition’ as a means of absolving responsibility from the individual. When the term, “its genetic” or “its hereditary” is used thesedays, its used as a way of relinquishing any responsibility for any wrong doing. “I was raised by smokers so it was inevitable I become one.” That isn’t completely true. But it’s not completely false either. When you consider the susceptibility a child has to impressionable behaviour, its pretty darn likely that child is going to grow up to be a smoker if all they saw all day every day was most of their family fagging away; especially if their mother smoked while pregnant with them. But they might not either. I think that outcome is down to the individual. Some people are more gifted in the will power department than others. Some people have naturally higher levels of seratonin than others. Some people are better at dealing with stressful situations than others. Some people are just downright better emotionally equipped than others. Some people may never know the nature of an all-encompassing addiction.

When I put the aforementioned research and own opinions to my mum she asked about people whom have had a perfectly lovely, healthy, safe, fulfilling upbringing – say celebrities for example, who grew up well with adoring, nurturing parents, went on to become successful and financially well off, achieved everything they ever wanted and yet still developed crippling addictions. I first of all, would like to know who this person/these people are (which is exactly what I said to her). I then brought up the age-old question about the girl who got everything she ever wanted; what happened to her afterwards? She felt pretty low and empty inside is what. The man who conquers the world will more than likely look down at his bountiful empire, examine all his marvellous accomplishments and accolades and think, ‘Right… Well… What now??’ That yearning for more, that vaccuous vastness that has the potential to be inside all of us, that can’t quite seem to be filled with love, work, hobbies or money can over time turn into a desperate and relentless pain. One that some people when presented with the opportunity can only seem to fill, albeit temporarily, with drugs. Just ask Russell Brand.

I then put to my mum the example of Dr Bruce Alexander, a Canadian experimental psychologist whom conducted a study in the 1960s on addiction and the environmental factors that can both positively and negatively affect it. He, quite arguably inhumanely and controversially, put together a group of rats, kept them in small cages with meagre amounts of food and drink, no social interaction – not even with the rats in the cages adjacent as they were fenced with sheet metal, no opportunities of sex or indeed procreation and all round very little stimulus or opportunities to occupy ones self. They were hooked up to a contraption that, should they push on a lever, would inject them with either heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine or morphine; the substance varying from experiment to experiment. All of them tried it and most of them continued to do it, some more times a day than others. Many went on to become fully fledged drug-addicts and several eventually died; prioritising their “fix” over food or drink. The media at the time was hysterical; the ‘War on Drugs’ waged by President Richard Nixon was viable, necessary and justifiable. This experiment supposedly categorically proved that drugs are dangerously addictive and downright detrimental. But Dr. Alexander decided to further the test’s findings by switching up the factors that influenced these rats decisions. He took a different set of rats and set them up in what he and his colleagues called ‘Rat Park’. This large plywood facility encouraged social interaction and sex as no boundaries or confinement existed within the park. They had ample food and drink. They were given toys, apparatus and exercise equipment designed to engage and occupy them whenever they wanted it. They were given naptimes and ‘recesses’ to encourage relaxation and ‘me-time’. They were in fucking rat DisneyLand. They were then hooked up to the same contraptions and although many pushed the lever and therefore tried the drug a la carte, very few of them returned to it. They instead preffered to spend their time exercising, sleeping, socialising and eating. They then switched up the method inwhich the drugs were administered; offering them a choice of pure water or heroin (or cocaine etc) laced water in their bottles. Most of them tried the heroin laced water, few returned to it; almost all of them by choice drank from the pure, un-drugged water. They then went on to switch up the sucrose levels of the drug laced water (they had to sweeten it with something to begin with or no fucker would have drunk it, can you imagine how bad cocaine water would taste?… Oops. No…. Me either…) to see whether it was in fact the drug itself or indeed the sugar that the rats who continued to return were being attracted to. Findings showed that given the choice of sugary heroin laced water and just sugary water, most of them just had a sweet tooth (What’s that? – Sugar’s more addictive than heroin? But its legal!!). They then added to Rat Park the previously caged rats whom had had a pretty shitty and limited life in solitary, drug-addled confinement. In their new fantastic surroundings, many of them recovered fully from their addictions. Most fought hard and long to overcome it; supplementing they’re penchant for sugary heroin-laced water with just sugary water or sugary heroin-laced water with a lower amont of heroin in. All in all Rat Park was a resounding success. Or not, depending on how you looked at it.

Stuart McMillen’s comic strip break down of Rat Park.

The point of Rat Park was to prove that given the right environment, social and physical stimuli, very few have the need to turn to drugs. If you put that into modern day, non-rat context you can envisage a healthy, happy, well socialised, well sexed and well exercised individual in a safe suburban area; give him the opportunity to test his emotional and mental wellbeing not to mention his physical health with intravenous drugs, chances are he’s not going to want to oblige. Take a bored, unhappy, poorly educated introvert, who has suffered great amounts of physical and emotional abuse and associates general day to day life with pain, suffering and hardship; offer him the warm embracing hug that heroin so apparently provides, chances are he’s gonna wanna take it. He has little else going for him. Look at drug use in ghettos, slums and favelas (and all other internation you’re given a cheap and easy method of numbing your pain with a drug that makes all the uncertainty, fear and pain disappear, especially when almost everyone else around you is doing it, there’s a high chance you’re gonna take it. Look at the average homeless person in your hometown. There isn’t much point in them purchasing himself a CD rack, foot stool or even a nourishing meal with the measly £20 he’s managed to save up over time from kind stranger’s donations when his abode is the stoop of a bank and his blanket is a newspaper; he’s probably gonna wanna smoke some crack to get himself through the night. Especially if you consider the adversity and misfortune he endured that caused him to be living on that freezing cold step in the first place.

Cos thats what people forget. Drugs make you forget. Even just smoking a doob can simply put your day’s problems at bay; let you detach from the incessant buzzing of your hard working brain, provide you with the semblance and positive attitude necessary for facing up to the shit that wound you up in the first place. Can you imagine what crack or heroin does for you? I bet its like going from sitting on a freezing cold curbside with barely any clothes, money or will for life, to being in the bosom of a warm fuzzy rainbow, surrounded by warmth and glitter and positivity and unicorns or some shit.

fucktheworld

What Dr Alexander’s experiment also provocatively questioned was the now nearly century-old myth that drugs are inherently deeply addictive. Dr Gabor Maté; a specialist physician and expert in the field of addiction (also an author and teacher) doesn’t just have an incredibly therapeutic voice but believes that the drug/activity/object itself isn’t what is addictive. For instance a deck of cards on their own aren’t addictive; it is the gambler whose addicted to them. If, like according to most Fox New broadcasters, the “devil’s lettuce” is just so damn addictive, due to its supposedly highly dangerous and enslaving THC content, then how come so many people can smoke it and never touch it again? Or dabble in it for a few years then ‘kick the habit’ when they so wish to? Why can some people play an Xbox game just once and never so much as think about it again whereas others find themselves constantly glued to it? Why can some people use a slot machine once in their lives then never feel compelled to do so again? The term ‘addictive personality’ hasn’t just come from nowhere. The act of sex is not addictive. The process of shopping is not addictive. A donut is not addictive. And Dr Maté believes that heroin, crack, weed, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine – all the substances that mainstream media and our parents and teachers have us believe are the most addictive things on the planet, are not in fact addictive at all. Sex, shopping, donuts and heroin maybe addictive to you but thats down to you and your personality/psyche/genetic make-up. It is the individual whom has the addiction.

I’ve often puzzled over the fact that if the substance itself isn’t addictive; its the individual who bears the addiction to it, why are drugs illegal? Its completely and utterly irrelevant to a drug addict that what they are doing/taking is in fact illegal. They’re ADDICTED, they don’t care. As Russell Brand so candidly points out in ‘Messiah Complex’; a junkie, whose entire existence circumvents around his need for heroin and how he’s next going to get it, isn’t exactly going to stop mid-needle-injection when someone informs him that what he is doing is infact a breach of the law.

“What do you mean its illegal?? I’ve been doing this for ages!… Shit, well I better find a new hobby then!”

Not likely. The prospect of being penalised, punished and incarcerated is a mere inconvenience to a drug addict when they’re in the throngs of addiction. A theoretical notion, an off-chance, a risk considered to be far smaller and of less importance than the actual addiction itself. Show me one addict who will happily, easily and voluntarily give their addiction the boot when you remind them they face a hefty prison sentence if caught under the influence or indeed selling or buying it. Bet you won’t find one. I for one, when supporting my £50-£100 a week weed problem, never once felt the gravity of what I was doing hit me in its full capacity in a legal sense. The prospect of a criminal record or if caught a second time an indefinite fine and likely jail term, at the very least community service, never even really occurred to me. All I cared about was getting the weed. It can be argued that a stoner’s life; surrounded by fellow stoners, operating and acting in a normalised and care-free environment, has little room or time to consider the legality of the activity, given that its become second nature to them. Unless of course your mind has allowed you to descend into complete and utter paranoia and the fear of being reprimanded is all you can think about. In which case I think its time you gave up the ghost. Paranoia is nobody’s ally.

My point is; in the depths of addiction, the main thought at the fore front of the addict’s mind is surprise surprise, their addiction, whether they’re actively aware of it or not. How they’re going to fund it, when they’re next to going to satiate it, how all-consuming it is, if and when they’re ever going to give up. Never does the thought “I should probably bop this on the head given the whole illegal thing” occur to them. If it does, its a fleeting moment thats pretty much always followed up by a deep inhale on a spliff/crack pipe and the thought that the war on drugs is a farce, a conspiracy, a con and a complete waste of government spending and time. Or that its bloody unlikely to ever actually happen to them.

So with this in mind; surely the course of action when solving the international epidemic that is drug addiction i.e investment in rehabilitation, therapy and day by day recovery makes far more sense than criminalizing the activity? Filling the world’s prisons with addicts whom desperately need help, caring and understanding does not solve the entrenched problem of addiction. Investing money into the “War on Drugs” as opposed to “Attempting to Cure Those Whom Are Addicted to Drugs” seems complete ludicrous to me. Many prisons in the USA are given quotas they need to fill; a certain amount of inmates they need in order to receive funding and keep their private investors happy. In turn, law enforcement officers are given targets they must meet in the amount of drug-offendors they catch and arrest each month in order to meet the prison’s quotas or receive a decent pay packet. Certain states have even brought into fruition ‘Mandatory Minimum Sentences’; meaning if you’re apprehended committing a drug offence once; you’ll more than likely be slapped on the wrist, fined, given community service or serve a small jail term. Get caught a second time (which is likely cos you know, you’re an addict) committing a ‘drug offence’ and BAM! straight up 25 year prison sentence. Even if that second offence is being caught trotting down the street with a handful of ganja in your pocket. NOWHERE in any of those rules or practices does it seem that anyone cares about aiding the issue that causes addiction in the first place. All I hear is profit, profit, profit.

War-on-Drugs

  How we do things does not work. It is not working. Imprisoning someone with deep seated emotional issues manifesting themselves in addiction to the point where they’ve deigned to commit theft, burglary, sexual/physical assault or even murder will not fix the deep seated issue. If anything its going to exarcebate it. On what planet does providing someone already under an immense amount of stress and pressure with even more stress or pressure, solve anything? Especially when all the money invested into their imprisonment has gone on their incarceration and term spent inside, not their aftercare once the sentence is served. Instead, upon release, they’re known and treated as a criminal, given an ugly permanent record, scorched with an identity as a delinquent; untrustworthy, un-hireable, a menace to society. What hope does someone have, should they by some unworldly miracle decide or manage to get clean during their time in prison if they do indeed survive, of integrating back into society when they’re sent back to the very home they used to take drugs in, near to the person they used to buy the drugs from, surrounded by the very people they used to do it with. When they can’t get work, they can’t move on, they can’t get the help they need, they can’t shake the perception they’ve been labelled with, they’re doomed to fail. Because ultimately help to come off drugs is contingent upon one of two things;

1 the kindness of strangers which is far and few between when it comes to dealing with addicts

2 money

Neither of those things come easy when you’ve just done a 25year stretch. Unless the individual is Pablo Escobar, in which case I don’t think they’re planning on coming off drugs anytime soon, they are more than likely living in poverty and barely have the funds to pay their rent, let alone pay for the privatised healthcare and rehabilitation they need to come out the other side of addiction. And like I said, kindness when it comes to addicts is more or less unheard of. Only ex-addicts seem to be nice to addicts.

A stellar example of the ineffectiveness and pointlessness of criminal action against addicts is Lamar Odom. His mother dead from cancer by the time he was 12 years old, his father a drug addict; he was raised by his beloved grandmother. He worked hard and trained to become a bold and formidable professional basketball player. He had a lucrative NBA contract and all the money he could ever need. He married the love of his life and became a reality TV star. But he is only human. He gave into demons that long affected him; lost many a dear friend and family member and fell into an expensive and dangerous crack addiction (interestingly the same path as his father). He lost his NBA contract and sponsorship after being slapped with a DUI. His marriage fell apart. He was named and shamed in the media. After years of being a drifting nobody, unable to get his life or his marriage back together, he wound up overdosing in a brothel in Vegas. As a result he found himself teetering on the edge of death having suffered multiple severe strokes, brain damage and organ failure. Still comatosed, receiving dialysis for his failing kidney while family members and friends stood by facing the likelihood they’d never again see him open his eyes; the Nevada police arrived and issued a search warrant. He was facing criminal charges for posession of cocaine. A brief look into this guy’s life story tells you straight away, he has seriously suffered enough as a result of his addiction; punishing him for a drug offence is going to do pretty much fuck all. Whilst having blood samples taken for the Nevada police force to test for drugs, nobody even thought he’d survive yet the most important port of call was to apparently reprimand and punish him for using cocaine in the first place. I learnt last month the District Attorney assigned to the case decided to in fact drop all charges. I seriously seriously doubt had the person lying in the hospital bed not been a wealthy and world renowned sportsman, this would have been the case. Things like this happen every day. People’s addictions drive them to the near point of death and the judicial system focus their attentions on punishing the person lying in the hospital bed. We care more about imprisoning people than helping fellow man; looking at what it is in our every day environment’s that leave people with what they feel is no other choice than to embark upon a crippling, soul-destroying, life-ruining addiction. The “War on Drugs” has created an ideology that addiction and mental health issues are a punishable failure, not something we as a society need to take responsibility for. What it in fact has created is a never ending cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies.

And you don’t even have to take my word for it. Just watch this and prepare to have your mind blown and your heart broken. “The House I Live in” – a documentary based on the disastrous consequences of the war on drugs in America.

I know its controversial and maybe to some even “new-age” to view addiction the way that I do. Its taken losing a few people from my life to see things this way. In the past I’ve spent a large period of time getting angry upon receiving news that yet another beautiful soul had been snatched from life too soon by their dependence on drugs. “How could they be so selfish as to put their loved ones through this trauma? How could they not see how loved they were?” And most commonly “Why didn’t they let themselves be saved? Why couldn’t I save them?” But I realised the anger is wasted. I think it was losing one person in particular last year, whom no matter how hard I try I will never accept or come to terms with their absence, when it really properly hit me; we’re all just people trying to do our best, trying to make the best decisions we can. Sometimes our hearts and heads don’t allow us to see clearly. Sometimes we just can’t be saved. This doesn’t deserve anger. It deserves compassion and support.

What we should do, on the back of these unfair and untimely losses, is try and do the best with the life we still have; offer help to the ones who are still struggling. Since losing my dear friend last year I’ve helped and supported another friend through their long-term addiction. I’ve not done much, sometime kindness is all it takes. Just letting someone know, despite the things they may have done in the past that has caused people in the present to turn their backs on them, that you’re there for them. Give them the faith and confidence they need to believe they can do better and be more. Be empathetic…              Its far from easy. More often than not an addict by nature isn’t an easy person to help. They’re consumed. They’re lost. Many have committed reprehensible acts of betrayal to support their needs, maybe stabbed people in the back, done things that can be downright hard to forgive. But if they want to change, doing it with support is a lot more acheivable. Turning your back on them is going to solve nothing.

I’ve been around a multitude of addicts. I’ve actually had 3 partners whom suffered from various addictions. And I have to be honest; helping a friend get off heroin was easier than having a gambling addicted or alcoholic boyfriend. Perhaps it was the close proximity, the intense emotions, the unpredictability and inconsistency, the directness of how their actions affected me and ultimately our relationship. I, again, spent a lot of time angry. And very sad. But I can say safely, having learnt from trial and error, that nurturing, supporting and understanding one was a lot more successful than shouting at, punishing, guilt-tripping and giving ultimatums to the others. Again; its no fucking picnic. It takes a strong person to get over addiction but an equally strong person to support that person. Addiction is selfish. Its ugly. Even more so when it has gripped someone you love because it feels personal. But, I’ll say it again, offering that person compassion and support will be a lot mroe fruitful than any other approach. Johann Hari explains it beautifully:  Ted Talks – Everything you think you know about addiction is a lie.

I hope its a perspective that will be more commonplace in the future; that addiction isn’t going to go away on its own and the way we’ve been doing it up until now hasn’t done a damned thing to help, somethings gotta give. Progress in countries like Ireland, Canada, Portugal, Uruguay, Netherlands etc give me faith that both politicians and the public are starting to wake up and change their ways. The results speak for themselves; the decrease in usage, deaths and illnesses (like HIV) in Portugal for example since the decriminialization of drugs is staggering. Look into it; the sense of morale and community, the increase in life expectancy as well as decrease in crime showing in the countries that are changing their approach to drugs is something that shouldn’t be ignored any longer. And while we wait for our Government to catch up with this seemingly simple approach maybe its up to as a human beings to get the ball rolling…

Label me this…

They’re everywhere. Labels, titles, categories.

Mild, spicy. Manual, automatic. Right-Wing, Left-Wing. Rich, poor. Gay, straight.

When it comes to my spice rack, I’m appreciative. Knowing the difference between basil and oregano, asafoetida and fenugreek is integral in the whole cooking process. Useful.

Labelling my son’s possessions for pre-school. Got it, convenient. Don’t want some other kids stuff coming home with us… Although on the odd occasion, despite the labelling process, I do tend to take home the wrong Spiderman lunch box.

Categorising parking spaces? Fair do’s man, disabled people deserve to have better access and less distance to travel. Helpful.

They organises our lives, simplify things and cut unnecessary corners. Labelling has become part and parcel of everyday life. But it reaches a point where the labelling, titling and categorising process can become both harmful and detrimental. It can even reach a point of being a burden where we fear other people’s perceptions; the speed at which other people jump to put you in a category and just exactly what category they’ll put you in. Eventually it becomes compartmentalising not categorising.

Example; its been ten years since I left secondary school and some fellow pupils have organised a school reunion this summer. I instantly got excited at the prospect of seeing old faces, hearing other people’s stories, seeing how much everybody has changed; both physically and mentally. Then the fear set in.

I didn’t finish Uni. I’m 26 and already have a three-year old and am 3 weeks away from having another child. I’m not married, nor am I currently working. I then began envisaging all the people whom did finish Uni. Who did their masters. Who went travelling. Who are married. Who have the 2.4 family and all the rosy, shiny perks that go with it. Who realised their dreams and pursued them.

I felt instantly inadequate; timid and apprehensive at the prospect of the question, “So what have you been doing with yourself since school?” A question that a couple of my friends have said to me they too are dreading. I comforted those friends telling them they were silly to think in such a way, that they have plenty to offer and be proud of.

Then I got annoyed. And really quite mad at myself… And what about me? Why can’t I apply that to myself? I have a BEAUTIFUL son. I am less than a month away from having another. I have the fortune of being able to be a stay-at-home mum. I have a fantastic and gorgeous partner who makes me feel loved, grateful and lucky every single day. I have a lovely house. I’m healthy. We’re not rich but we’re not living on the bread line. I have a car. I am privileged in that when I am done with the whole stay-at-home mum thing, I have the freedom and support to decide which direction I want my life to go in, job wise. Since school I have been lucky enough to visit quite a few countries and experience different ways of life.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan to sidle up to my old school peers, embrace them and recite the aformentioned list of accomplishments, think I’d look a little strange if not desperate. But it certainly helped to remind myself of all of that. And all of that aside; I’m a relatively eloquent, intelligent, interesting person. If I feel inadequate in a room full of people whom I once considered friends or at the very least acquaintances and they judge me because I didn’t marry the father of my first borne, am having a second child with a different man, I don’t own my house or have a job at the moment; isn’t that their problem and not mine?

personeye

You’re damn straight it is. I’m great. I am me.

That’s when I got thinking about labels. When my ex and I split one of the biggest struggles of mine was processing the prospect of being a “single mum”. I grew up thinking that was one of the hardest, most thankless, most demeaning and shameful things there is to be. Exactly why I’m not sure. Let’s not beat around the bush; it’s fucking hard work, testing and thankless. But it’s also incredible, heart-warming, makes you feel proud and accomplished, not to mention stronger. But why is it a “label” we should instantly feel ashamed or embarrassed of. Like “divorced”, “broke”, “single”, “unemployed”. These are all just adjectives. Words used to describe a small aspect of our lives. Most of them are temporary, none of them are intrinsically definitive of the people we are. “Gay”, “religious” “ill”, “on benefits” – all characteristics seemingly fundamentally linked to our social standing.

I have definitely in the past been embarrassed to admit I worked behind a bar. Friends of mine have been pained to admit that they left school, didn’t bother with college or Uni, went straight into a job and have stayed there ever since. Someone I know used to outright lie about what he did for a living, petrified that people would instantaneously think him boring and uninteresting for being an accountant. Accountants are smart people. In my mind, crunching numbers (correctly nonetheless) is an incredibly challenging thing to do on a daily basis (me and numbers do NOT get on, give me words all day everyday). It’s what he always wanted to do, he went through 7 years of training and unrewarding apprenticeships to get to where we wanted and quite rightly deserved to be. And he made a tidy wage. Yet when meeting women, did everything he could to steer conversation away from the topic of careers through fear they’d then become uninterested.

I used to work in debt collection and as merciless, cut-throat and corporate as one had to be to excel in such a job, it was also very rewarding at times as the company offered debt resolutions formulated to ease someone’s crippled finances, ultimately make their lives a little easier. Yet I was always very hesitant to mention this to people through fear of what that would then make them think of me. I’d occasionally make the joke about being soul-less and money-grabbing myself in order to stay ahead of the curve even though I knew damn well I am neither of those things. As it happened, I didn’t last all that long there because I was not designed to work in an office environment; discussing financial jargon and climbing the corporate ladder but why the shame?- The atmosphere was great, the people were lovely (for the most part) and it was a skilled profession. And again, it earned a tidy wage.

Which brings me right to my next point. A lot of the unease that comes with admitting to a part of your life that you’re not overly proud of or at least don’t think people will take too kindly to is inherently linked to money. The having of it, making of it, using of it. The label “single mum” screams “broke” and/or “on benefits”. Single motherhood is an ongoing battle to be seen outside of the social confinement it brings with it. Realistically though being broke and/or on benefits isn’t and shouldn’t be anything to feel ashamed of. VERY few people I know are doing well in the old dollar department right now. And being “on benefits”, urgh. Don’t get me started. The stigma associated with those whom claim benefits is such an unfair, inhumane one it makes my heart hurt. I am aware there are people who abuse and manipulate the system; we’ve all seen the Dispatches, Panoramas and Benefit Street programmes designed to perpetuate the ideology that all benefit claimants are scrounging, lazy, heartless and feckless. We’ve all read the newspaper articles condemning the “welfare state”; blaming this country’s demise on the people who “can’t be arsed” to get a job and unless you’ve been living in a box under the stairs for the past 6 years, we’ve all heard the hateful vitriol that David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith spew on the regular about the importance of eradicating the benefit system and giving those whom are good-for-nothing a taste of reality. But these few bad eggs are not indicative or representative of the majority. You don’t blame the creation of Music when One Direction release yet another teentastic assault on the eardrums; you blame One Direction.

The term “benefits” in general pisses me off, let alone the judgement the claimants receive. The fistfuls of cash handed to the Toffs in the Houses of Parliament for their lunch breaks should be called benefits. The tax breaks for giant monolithic corporations should be called benefits. The opulent, luxurious living quarters Prime Ministers and Presidents are given for being Prime Minister or President should be called benefits. Receiving money to help bridge the gap between your earnings and your mortage payment isn’t a benefit, its a neccessity. Receiving money to pay for your care because you are physically incapable of looking after yourself isn’t a benefit, its integral to your survival. It’s what the welfare system was developed for. It’s what people who can and do work full time without issue pay tax for. That the single mum who can’t work because she can’t afford a car and no job will accommodate the hours she has outside of her children’s school time and is subsequently labelled indisciminately for claiming the benefits she deserves is disgusting. Yet, that mum, I can guarantee, (I know because I was one and know many) feels humiliated when meeting new people and having to discuss her personal life. All because of the blemish on her social status associated with not being particularly well off. She could be funny, intriguing, charismatic, knowledgeable, beautiful and brave yet all of that falls by the waist side because then and there, she doesn’t work. She doesn’t earn a proper wage. She doesn’t have numbers on a screen. She doesn’t have completely meaningless chunks of metal in her pocket. She has a piece of plastic in her purse but it beeps violently and accussingly anytime she inserts it into a special machine. What money she does earn isn’t really hers and that in turn makes her feel grossly unequal, despite the fact that ALL money EVERYWHERE is owed to someone else. Despite the reality that most of the money in the world is a theoretical notion and has no physicality let alone palpable worth.

So why the intense importance invested in our financial and therefore social standing? Why does Lord Alan Sugar deserve to be treated with more respect than your postman? Because ultimately therein lies the crux of the issue. With money, comes respect. If you don’t have have much fictitious currency, a huge house and a fast car, why do you deserve to not be listened to, valued and ultimately respected? Why should the street sweeper whose wife can’t work because of her deteriorating health, working all the hours the Universe gives him so he can afford their rent, not receive the same level of respect as the man in the corporate suit who crushes the underclass beneath his Gucci loafer everyday at London’s Stock Exchange? I personally would have a lot more respect for the man who sacrifices his time, health, happiness and sleep so as to make his wife’s life as comfortable and manageable as possible than the business man who shouts down the phone and moves quantities of imaginary money from one account to another for a living. Caring about your loved ones, doing good deeds, being kind and a decent citizen is more deserving of respect than any other capitalistic practice in my book. But Capitalism calls for a completely different outlook.

uncle sam respect

It’s not just the social labels we’re branded with. It’s the titles that are common place in the UK that segregate us that are in my mind incredibly unneccessary too. Like Lord Alan Sugar. I appreciate very much he came from a humble background, started from nothing and worked his way out of the modest environment he was born in. People who work hard non-stop, day after day have all my admiration. Entrepeneurialism is nothing short of commendable. But these people thinking that because they chose to focus their time and efforts on their careers and bank balance (as opposed to the many many other ventures there are in life) that that somehow makes them a greater, more superior or worthy type of human being, is something I seriously begrudge. I’m a fan of ‘The Apprentice’; I’m a fan of any reality show that involves watching everyday people and the way they operate; I’m a people watcher. It bothers me though when Al (if I met him thats what I’d address him as) whips out the old, “you don’t know shit because you’re not sitting where I’m sitting” attitude. Perhaps someone didn’t graft on the market streets of Essex for as long as he did if at all, or they received a somewhat different upbringing than he did; I don’t feel that then makes Al more entitled. More superior. Privileged, yes; in that he enjoys certain privileges his choices brought him. Maybe a bit harder working. But a better person? No. We’re all different. We all have different qualities and ideas to bring to the table. That’s why I think the whole ‘Lord, Baroness, Lady, Earl, Duke, Duchess’ business is a hazardous one. So you were spat out of a certain vagina; one different to the one I was, does that mean you’re better than me? You were born into wealth; money obtained generations ago probably on the backs of people less fortunate than yourself, does that mean you’re better than me? Are we not all born naked and screaming? Of course some people make better use of their opportunities; some make opportunities for themselves full stop, but to let that define your importance as a human being and therefore the amount of respect you’re “entitled” to is both unfair and problematic.

In his book ‘Revolution’ Russell Brand talks at length about the importance of abolishing hierarchy. A well oiled, democratic, equal society is not based upon the principles of Capitalism and in his mind ridding of all titles, whether it be with regards to the Royal family or the “honourable” ladies and gentlemen in the House of Commons, is a good place to start. Make everybody equal. Have self sustained, autonomous societies within a country that operate on the standards and principles that they as a group have deemed suitable and applicable to them and their needs. Sure, some people are leaders by nature. Some people are sheep by nature. Some people crave direction, others are better suited to be the ones to point out that direction. But that’s the point; let everybody work to their very best potential, utilise their skill sets in order to contribute to society in a positive and beneficial way. Establish this “order” but don’t let it influence the way inwhich you treat each other or respect each other. The person mixing the cement is just as important and valuable as the person stacking the bricks. Neither of them are deserving of a title because they are both equal.

I think good old sexy bum Russell is on to something.

… I guess instead of ridding of all titles, you could just give everybody one… I might do that, start calling everyone “M’Lord and M’Lady.” Get a trend going.

I had the conversation about equality with my partner a while ago and he argued it wouldn’t work because people need order and direction; it’s within our nature to have a pecking order, its prevalent in the animal kingdom, he said. And I agreed to a degree. A pride of lions has a male ring leader whom ascertains which unsuspecting animal will be dinner that day. A pack of wolves has the wolf mother who organises the group and initiates the attack. Ants have a queen whom spawns all the workers and oversees the kingdom. But aren’t the lionesses who actually take down the wilderbeest, the wolf mother’s pups who chase the deer down and the thousands of working ants who carry the materials and build the underground empire all equally as important; integral to the machine that keeps their way of life going? Don’t they all deserve respect?

That and you know, this isn’t the animal kingdom. We’re civilised, established human beings with Ids, Egos and SuperEgos not to mention tools, resources and technology; I think we’ve advanced past the old caveman days. Its about time we acted accordingly.

“Respect’s not given; it’s earned.”

See, that phrase bothers me. Unless you’ve done something already that’s downright disgraceful or immoral; shouldn’t everyone just automatically be dished out an equal level of respect? Shouldn’t we treat the guy behind the till at McDonalds the same way we would our child’s English Teacher? The very same way we’d treat the Queen or our Grandmother? Don’t we all just as human beings deserve to respect each other? Whether we’re “immigrants”, “working class”, “transgender”, “lesbian”, “atheist” or “Liberal”? I don’t feel like its too much to ask.

To quote the timelessly relevant, moving and beautiful ‘Sunscreen’ by Baz Luhrmann:

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the ‘Funky Chicken’
On your 75th wedding anniversary
Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much
Or berate yourself either
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s…

Happily Ever After?

My son was given a giant book of fairy tales for Christmas. I leafed through it the other night; curious to see what old classics they kept and what strange Brother’s Grimm stories they adapted and revamped (because some of them are seriously downright disturbing) and I found, true to form, pretty much every single one of them ended with:

And They Lived Happily Ever After…

I loved that when I was a kid. It was vague yet succinct enough to leave you with the comforting, warm and fuzzy knowledge that those guys were gonna be AOK, no matter what fate awaited them.

Looking at it now with the eyes of a somewhat cynical adult whose had her fairshare of let downs, break-ups and heart breaks, I can’t help but feel it’s a little cruel and misleading. Yes, its just a bedtime story, I KNOW. But isn’t it our job, as parents, to prepare our young ones for the brutality of reality? Of adulthood? Of bills, mortgages, marriage, responsibility and obligation? There’s no “Prince Charming; his crippling debt and four illegitimate children”, “Snow White and her Asshole Boss”, “Sleeping Beauty; her sleeping pill addiction and brutal custody battle”.

snow white

Perhaps they’re all a little severe, I’d certainly have my reservations about reading such stories to my three year old but surely you get my drift – teaching an adolescent (more specifically a young girl) that once they’ve met their significant other, been swept off their feet and rescued from their peril, that the rest of her life will turn out just tickity boo. It’s not realistic. Is it fair?

I am all for preserving innocence. It’s one of the most important aspects of my attitude towards how I parent my child; I wish him to remain innocent for as long as possible. I feel for many reasons my innocence evaporated at a very young, too young an age; therefore find it oh so important that children remain children for as long as possible. But I think that in itself has its limits. For instance, my son during my second trimester, pointed towards my growing stomach and said, “Where’s the baby going to come out?!” My partner took it upon himself to say “Mummy’s belly button.” I swiftly corrected this. Childbirth is a fact of life. Something most people in some way or another experience; its nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by. I certainly don’t think its anything my son should be fearful of. I certainly don’t intend on having him in the delivery room with me just as his little brother is crowning but I’m not going to dance around the finer details of how his sibling comes to be – aside from anything else I don’t want him growing up a moron. I don’t feel I am robbing him of his innocence by speaking the truth about the means inwhich a baby exits its’ mother. In my mind, his innocence was still very much intact.

Death I struggle with. Thanks to other children, TV programs and no doubt over hearing certain not-so-subtle conversations, my son has recently become quite familar with the term “died”. I know he doesn’t know what it truly means. For him it’s gravity is limited to his avatar on the Lego Ninja game he’s recently started playing or the unfortunate (and truly harrowing) demise of Ellie in Pixar’s ‘Up’. The logistics and absoluteness of death I can say confidently he does not yet know. And when it comes to one day explaining that I really don’t know how to approach it. I have no religious beliefs and feel very strongly about not impressioning him with any; when he is mature enough to understand religion and possibly wishes to indeed practice one, I’ll be one hundred percent supportive, but until then no thankyou. So the notion of a ‘heaven’ is a no go. I agree it does its duty in preserving one’s innocence and providing comfort but, much like the damaging fairy tales in his book, it is not realistic. If when his Great-Grandfather passed away he were old enough to question his passing; I’d said “Well he’s died but never fear, he’s gone to a place in the sky among the clouds, along with all our other deceased loved ones and he’s waiting patiently for when you and I join him. We’ll be there together for all eternity – happily ever after.” I’d have felt like a massive con artist, a fraud, a phoney. A liar, essentially. Because I believe in my heart of hearts that that simply is not true. I think too, if he’s anything like me (and indeed his Father) he will reach an age where he too concludes that the notion of heaven is a ridiculous one. I consider myself too realistic and dare I say it, smart, to believe in the fantastical realm that is heaven. I believe he will be too.

So with that ruled out, where do I go? The cold, formal and at times very disturbing truth of death would be the epitome I think of jeopardising his innocence. You can’t explain the functionality of a heart just to follow it up with “And then for an assortment of reasons it one day just stops and your essence, what makes you you, essentially disappears but leaves behind your body which in time begins to rot and decompose. Whether that happens before or after you evacuate your bowels I’m not sure, but basically, you sleep. FOREVER.” It’s hard just writing it, how could I look into his enormous blue eyes and say that? No. Innocence stolen.

So there forms a grey area. How do I explain that doozy??

And here ties in my conundrum of whether or not, when we’ve finished reading one of these famous stories, do I say (like Carrie Bradshaw to Charlotte’s daughter, Lilly in my beloved Sex and The City), “You know that this is just a fairy tale right sweetheart? Things don’t always happen like this in real life?”

happilyeverafter

Innocence stolen or intact? At the very least I could be seriously disrupting his much loved bedtime routine. But would I, in the long run be doing him a favour? Cruel to be kind kinda thing? I’m torn.

Because I certainly think had I not had the experience of being a child of divorce and subsequently growing up witnessing the formation and breaking up of MANY a couple around me; had I just been left alone with my TV programs, films and stories; I’d have developed into one of these hopeless romantics who genuinely believe their happy ever after is just around the corner and it rests upon the shoulders of a chivalrous and dashingly good looking knight in shining armour. As it happens, until recent events, I think I grew up on the complete opposite side of the scale where I was more, “Yeah, you just TRY and make me happy, I dare ya! You’ve got about a year until this relationship ultimately runs its course anyway and then I’ll just go about my life in the same bitter and pessimistic way that I always have. Good luck to you good sir.” Neither of which, I’ll admit, are a very healthy outlook on love or life.

But I still see it at the relatively ripe age of 26; there are many women around me who are still waiting, somewhat impatiently, for their happy ever after. Too much TV? Too many adult equivalents of children’s fairy tales; romance novels? One too many films with old Johnny Dicaprio Butler Depp Affleck picking up Jennifer Diaz Winslet Swank Bassinger and carrying her off to the nearest perfectly organised wedding to commence their marital and financially well off bliss?? Because there are plenty of them. I used to watch ‘She’s All That’ when I was a teenager and think the possibility that not only the most popular guy in school was also good looking, kind and intelligent was plausbile, but that he could genuinely develop an interest in the geeky, smart, shy introvert because, brace yourselves kids, she was beautiful on the inside. Hell I used to think it conceivable that Freddie Prinze Jnr himself could very well find me in humble old Threemilestone, whisk me off to Hollywood and we’d live the most perfect of lives together. That was until I witnessed my mother and detestable Step Father break up (and I am NOT exaggerating) for the 34th time and realised the chances of any of the above occurring were slim to none.

Sadly there are douche bags out there who believe a happy ending begins with a massage and ends with a generous tip but we won’t go there…

So should we ladies relinquish the thought that our happy ever afters are just on the horizon or should we pin our hopes and dreams on something a little more realistic? Because life and at the very least, my five year relationship with the father of my son and the relationship I am now in, has taught me – love is FAR from perfect. Its actually downright ugly sometimes. It’s overdue loan repayments, passive aggressive comments, obligatory kisses, nightmare in-laws, placentas and making dinner when you truly can’t be assed. It’s knowing when to hold your tongue, knowing when to give them what-for; finding the right balance between letting them make their own choices but indirectly shaping their decisions so that it properly and sufficiently benefits you both as a couple. Its teamwork, squeezing spots, early mornings, tag-teaming nappy time, holding each other during the depths of their despair when there truly is nothing you can do to fix what hurts them at that moment in time. None of that involves a pumpkin carriage, really really long hair, castle turrets and a bewitching spell to break.

But when you do find that person who makes all that worth doing and putting up with, like I have – maybe that is the happy ending? Maybe its not even an ending its just a happy knowledge that you’ve found the person who you’re not only willing to go through all the shit with but who you know without a shadow of a doubt, is truly worth it. The person who when they’re shouting at you just because they’re tired or getting jealous because your friend is remarkably attractive or is feeling extremely territorial because the dreaded ex is dining at the same restaurant, doesn’t ever consider severing all ties and running for the hills because NOTHING is a good enough reason to give up on what you two have. Could that be the happy ending?

I’ll admit, I’ve been waiting for that new car smell to disappear from this relationship. My partner and I had what I’d describe as the best first date ever and have more or less been inseparable ever since; to the point where it actually made me nervous and uneasy. Its gotta go tits up at some point. How many toes does he have? When’s he going to admit that he’s actually a serial killer. Or worse; a Tory.

But it kinda never did. And I don’t think it will. I think the impulsive way inwhich I hopped on a train to where he lived on his day off and the easy and carefree hours we spent chatting, drinking and playing ping pong followed by a camp fire and spontaneous midnight swim on a deserted beach surrounded by summer moonlight and phosphorescence (I know right, where was Steven Spielberg and his crew?) and later on what I’m not too prude to admit was mind blowing sex; set the precedent for the rest of our lives together. Nothing too flashy but nothing short of amazing, new and somewhat lovely. We’ve argued, had an unexpected pregnancy and moved house, all of which were at times very stressful but none of it has dulled the shine of our togetherness… Oh god, happy ever after???

So should we hold out for these things?

What I think we should hold out for is perfect imperfection. Know that there will be times of laboriousness, times of frustration, times of dullness and times of unadulterated rage. But bear in mind too there will be times of passion, uncontrollable laughter, a tingly sensation at the end of your fingertips when they smile at you and falling asleep spooning each other, that will cancel out all the crappiness or at the very least, make it all worth while.

And if who you’re with doesn’t give you the confidence that your forever will be spent together but instead makes you fell that all the shit is just that; SHIT, no joyful consellation prize, then maybe its time to search for that greener grass.

I hear Prince Charming is single, you know…

.Selfie Worth.

LET ME TAKE A SELFIE. DUCK FACE. YOLO. ON FLEEK. LOTD. POUT IT OUT. SORRY NOT SORRY.

A lot of that there could very well have gone right over your head. I had to cruise through some hashtags on my Instagram Activity to get a little inspiration for that load of nonsense, I tell ya. But I can’t lie either, I think I may well have used the “LOTD” one (no, not not Lord of the Dings; Look of The Day) at sometime or another.

The “Selfie” is the little black dress of the noughties. Or at least “the tens”, “the teens”, “the tenners”?! Oh I don’t know what this decade is referred to as?! What do you call this era? Maybe it hasn’t been named yet. I’ll leave that one to the younglings.

Anway, the Selfie is the equivalent of flower power in the 60s, saturday night fever in the 70s, material girlism and shoulder pads in the 80s, flares, spaghetti straps and the solitary beaded braid in the 90s. But unlike those fashions and movements I feel like the Selfie is very much here to stay. Its already been capitalised on with the invention of the Selfie Stick (lord help us) and appears to be becoming more and more of an acceptable occurrence in both real life and social media.

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And I think there are very few people exempt from it’s narcissistic, self-obsessive grasp. Hands held up, myself included. I have witnessed people whom I’d NEVER expect, like my ex and even my aunt for example, to succumb to it’s self-ingratiating welcoming embrace. It’s conquered the most unlikely of victims.

NOBODY IS SAFE.

But lets not lie; it existed long before the creation of the word “selfie” came to be. People have been holding out cameras before them; turned inwards, taking photos of themselves and their cheek-touching friends for years now. Its only now that the conception of a title worthy of a spot in the Urban Dictionary has been established that it has become the worldwide sensation that it has. It’s very hard to avoid. FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram, TV, on the street, in magazines, even a product feature of new children’s toys, its god damn everywhere and people are becoming less and less ashamed to do it. I for one would feel beyond mortified to interrupt a conversation with my nearest and dearest to whip out my smart phone and take a candid snap of my own mug. But I witnessed it happen the other day outside McDonalds. I’ve seen Kim Kardashian do it during a conversation with her mother in the back of a taxi on an episode of the dreaded KUWTK (Yep, I watch it. Thats another blog, another time. It needs much explaining). Like I admitted a moment ago, I’m not above the Selfie taking trend but I have more dignity and pride than to impede on a discussion about my friend’s decision to be a stay at home mother with a “let me take a Selfie” moment. Above all I think its pretty damn offensive and rude. Not that the teenager outside McDonalds seemed to think so. Kids today, jeeez.

Also, what comes with the Selfie, seems to be a whole new universe of vernacular. Words come and go; ebbing and flowing in their coolness (cool will always be cool though) and can be quite incredible in that they’re representative of the era inwhich they were spawned. The word groovy for example instantly puts the peace symbol and bell-bottom jeans into people’s heads. And so along with the Selfie has come a whole smorgasbord of incomprehensible terminology that’s first language to some; mindless gibberish to others. Its thus created a sort of Selfie club.

  • Membership: taking photos of yourself.
  • Password: any of the bizarre choices of lingo at the top of this post… and more. Don’t forget to hashtag it.
  • Congratulations, you’re officially a member.

I can’t help but feel that the accompaniment of its’ very own language is designed to perpetuate its’ very existence. You can’t doubt, disparage or argue with something when its been officialised with its’ very own jargon. You don’t question “super-sizing” your McDonalds meal. Nobody blinks an eyelid any more at the concept of being “fraped”. In Starbucks you’re judged if you DON’T know what a ‘macchiato’ or a ‘frappuccino’ is, yet all of these terms were created for no other reason than to promote and authenticate their product.

My interest is behind the psychology of all of it. I’m certainly not the first to investigate and scrutinise the Selfie phenomenon and I know I won’t be the last. Especially if this epidemic carries on the way it has.

The physicality of taking a photo of oneself in a perfectly normal, standard, maybe even boring backdrop is quite a confusing concept to me. If you’re stood on the brink of the Grand Canyon, hanging out outside the Taj Mahal, sharing a handshake with Hugh Jackman or sitting underneath a road sign for Route 66, then fair enough, you snap away. Its a modern-day-way of cementing a prominent event or time in your life, fair fucking doos. But when you’re slumped up against a taupe bedroom wall, sitting in an armchair or (the old classic) standing in a public toilet, where’s the necessity to eternalise that moment in time? Is it because you’re particularly *ahem, “feeling yo’self” at that point in time? If so, then isn’t that the way you look most of the time, do you need a picture with random people’s public bog graffiti peppering the backdrop? Are you afraid your face could drastically alter over the course of the day and you may well NEVER EVER look the same again?!

I need to reiterate. I HAVE DONE THIS MYSELF. I was flicking through a catalogue of photos only a few hours ago trying to find examples of myself with varying hair colour so as to send them to my friend (we were discussing options for hair dye) and I was actually a little shocked and disgusted at the plethora of Selfies. Smiley ones, sexy ones, stoic ones, sassy ones, silly ones. Some barely altering in visual appearance from the previous one. Pointless.

So why?

What I instantly realised was the majority of these were taken nearly two years ago in the wake of the break up with my partner of five years. It doesn’t take a trained psychologist to explain the motive behind them now does it. Insecure, lost, anxious, low self-esteem, nervous, confused about my future. Remedy? Selfie. What better way to boost one’s ego, improve your mood. So is that the prevailing agenda behind everybody’s Selfie-taking??? Reality is there’s MANY a healthy, productive and nourishing means of improving the way you feel about and look at yourself: Exercise, charity, seeking out a new talent and putting that new found skill to good use. But the culture of today applauds this egocentric action. It has formulated a generation of vain sheeple; exploiting people’s desperate need to keep up with the person adjacent and their outward appearance. It’s spawned a status quo where focusing on our looks is an acceptable and integral practice. You only have to look at a beauty magazine to corroborate that. Referring to a previous blog of mine; it appeals to and endorses the lowest and worst aspects of our human nature.

But are these photos of generic expressions with their expertly applied make-up and perfectly preened hair hiding a much more deep and meaningful story? I’m of the firm belief that the time period in which my highest volume of Selfie taking took place was because I was feeling a lot of inner turmoil and upset. Despite the instigation of the break up landing at my feet, it still left me feeling a little dejected and flummoxed. Who was I now? What was I going to do with myself? I was, shock horror, officially a single mum and that’s a badge I always told myself I’d never have to wear. Where would I go from here? Would anyone even want me now? So I started having sun beds (not promoting them people- they’re cancer-tastic, remember that), when possible putting more effort into applying my make-up and wearing clothes that showed off my new “revenge body” (a term I heard the other day and thought was just genius. Girls do that – we break up and we get hot. Even if its unintentional like mine was – I find it very hard to eat when I’m stressed and upset and my increasing the amount I was going to my boxing classes wasn’t to look good or even get fit, it was to release built-up tension and rage.) and proceeding to take photos of the end product.

Now this is where I get a bit conflicted because, intentional or not, I did manage to quite effortlessly shed my baby weight. The sunbeds (and sunshine, it was Summer and as surprising as the prospect of sunshine in Cornwall during Summertime may be, there was actually a little bit of it) sorted out my poor complexion. I dyed my hair which is another go-to for post-break up victims: “new hair, don’t care”. I had a back-full of fresh tattoos and boxing had given me a killer set of abs and guns. But simply having accomplished all of that clearly wasn’t enough. Why did I need to broadcast those images on Instagram and Facebook? (Instagram more so than Facebook, I’m a lot more conservative on Facebook than I am on Instagram) Was I, despite my better knowledge, looking for approval and self-ingratiation from people I pretty much never see let alone know all that much about? Or was I just proud of my efforts and image over-haul and looking to share the fruits of my labour? With regards to the former; WHY did it take me physically looking good to start to feel better internally? And was really feeling better internally? If I did, would I be taking such regular photos of myself? Who was I taking those photos for? Did I really care if someone I used to work with or went to primary school with ‘liked’ the photo of my new hair-do? I hadn’t changed the colour of my hair for that person, I hadn’t even done it for my ex’s benefit. It was for me, all of it was, so why the deluge of Selfies? Had I, in the wake of this transitional time, morphed into someone whose self-worth was intrinsically tied up in other peoples’ opinion of me? A quality I have always identified in others and disparaged them for. Was I behaving in a way that most people do during such circumstances? If so, to what end? Where was the finish line? Did I have the potential to transform into a full blown narcissist who only left the house when every aesthetic aspect of themselves was in their mind flawless; whom interrupted interesting discussion with her friends to take a pissing Selfie (thankfully that never happened)?! Had I been more aware of it at the time I could well have spiralled into a whirlwind of self-addressed questions and cutting character assasinations – if I didn’t know who I was before, I certainly didn’t fucking know now!

But then it stopped. Or at least stalled. I met someone who threw me way off track. The man I am with now, who is without a doubt (apart from my darling child) the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Suddenly the compulsion to take a picture of my face before I left the house for a night out completely slipped my mind. I was now a lot more interested in seeing and speaking to this fascinating, beautiful, clever, funny, endearing, complex man. This man who yes, found me attractive, but made it clear from the get-go that there were many more qualities about me that drew him towards me. Qualities that you can’t pick up on in a Selfie.

Now I’m not saying that his interest in me “completed” me. I am of the strong belief that you can’t love someone else in their entirety until you’ve truly learnt to love yourself. And cynics could say his confirmation of my good looks and likeable personality making me feel better was just as bad as the posting of those Selfies on social media; with the intention of getting ‘likes’ (because lets face it thats the only reason people upload those things isn’t it? Isn’t it??) from complete randomers. But it pretty quickly stopped me caring what other people thought. I started only caring about what he thought. My hairstyles, clothing choices, make-up etc was for him and no one else (well ok yes and myself. I think the person girls ALWAYS do those things for is ultimately themselves). And any photo I did take of myself wasn’t for the purpose of social media, it was for his eyes only (switswoooooo). And now pretty much every Selfie I do take; he’s in it because I’m only interested in preserving memories of the two of us living our lives together not the moments when I’m having a good eyebrow day or wearing a killer outfit. Because he has become my everything, the value I once placed on my appearance and thus the perception other people had of it, really doesn’t fall on my radar any more. If I do look good its because I want to for myself and for him. Sceptics can call that unhealthy, obsessive, whatever. I think its part and parcel and symptomatic of love. I think there’s a lot of women out there who can relate to that. Shouldn’t you want to impress the person you’re in love with?

Now, in fear of offending serial Selfie-takers who maintain a consistant Selfie record even when they’re in a relationship, I wish to state that this is only me. And I am by no means judging or belittling those people. I am surmising and critiquing myself. A little self-exploration.

What my thesis hinges on though is my question about those serial Selfie-takers; cos I know quite a few of them. Are you indeed taking those photos because, as some of you have taglined those photos, you “love and appreciate” yourself? If so, excellent. I love a woman who loves herself (giggidy) – its a rare and very attractive, honest quality. But is compulsive narcissistic behaviour truly an aftermath of loving oneself, really? Or is it a crying out for attention from a very lost individual? Because pretty much every serial Selfie-taker I know, I believe to be a very aesthetically attractive person and I think they know that. What I’d find to be more attractive is if they accepted, realised and admitted that instead of seeking validation in other people’s perception of them. Because whereas I find a woman who is in touch with and embraces her beauty very attractive; I find a woman who YOU KNOW knows they’re beautiful but fishes constantly for compliments and approval from anyone and everyone, ridiculously unattractive. Not to mention really fucking annoying.

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Like those guys who take pictures of themselves pre, post or during their workout at the gym. Do you need people to know you go to the gym? Because judging from the size of your arms, pecs and calves, thats pretty damn obvious. And are you going to the gym just so you can take a photo of you doing so and prove it to us? Wouldn’t it just be easier to come to our house/places of work/places of study and work out right infront of us? It’d be a bit annoying and inconvenient but it could very well save time and cyber space.

What is this insatiable need to quantify our activities with visual proof? I ate dinner today, here’s a picture of it. I had a Starbucks today, here’s a photo of me drinking it. I got a manicure today, here’s a picture of my hand to prove it. I went to a concert today, here’s a photo of my ticket stub.

Again, not judging. I HAVE DONE IT. I know and love many people who have done and still do it. It does by no means mean you are a shitty person; merely a product of our environment and generation. I am just very curious as to what has shifted culturally in order to enable the manifestation of this modern paradigm. The inception of social media in general has certainly aided and abetted it, thats undeniable. But I guess I’ll never really know. One could theorise and speculate for hours, days. And the outcome could very well vary depending on whom you are examining. The reason one person loves and takes a Selfie could and probably is very different to the reason someone else does. I just don’t think in a thousand years time when modern days scholars are picking through the wreckage and rubble of what was once our seemingly so advanced civilisation; they’ll find scores and scores of pouting, kissing, squinting faces; the photos all taken by the very people in them and think, “These guys. These guys here. They were on to something.”

emPATHETIC?

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”  Henry David Thoreau

Empathy. It’s a quality little known to some.

‘Empathetic’ is a personality trait I use regularly to describe myself. That only came to fruition lately though; until I discovered the term “empath” and the article ‘Empath Traits: 22 signs you are a highly sensitive person’ (the link to which I will include in this entry if I can figure out how), I thought of myself as simply an overly sensitive, dare I say it, overly feminine kind of person – the type who has a serious inward battle with myself not to do the same when someone talking to me begins to cry or whom has to reach for a tissue whenever the WaterAid advert comes on. Discovering that it is a recognised and categorised personality characteristic (definitive enough that it can be used to describe a person, not just an aspect of their personality) was a palpible relief for me. I instantly shared the article with a few friends and family members whom I knew would feel the exact same relief that I did. And that they did.

“We’re not alone, its an actual thing!”

If for some reason you’re devoid of a conscience, only just learning the english language or managed to skip that part of school where basic vocabulary was touched upon, here’s the definition of ’empathy’ according to dictionary.com:

  • noun
    the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
    It’s the thing that physically tugs at your innards when a loved one is in pain or the driving force that causes you to donate whenever Children In Need is on. In my opinion its one of few qualities that separates us from animals; we civilised folk from the primitive; we nice people from the utter bastards in life. I believe the inability to practice or indeed feel empathy to be, correct me if I’m wrong, a defining trait of a sociopath. So that said, surely its a positive thing – right?

I’m inclined to say no, according to modern day’s standards, not right. Wrong.

Once I discovered what an empath was; I began to realise that we are living in a society that increasingly discourages the existence of such a virtue. It’s unabashedly prevalent in today’s Conservative Government; resonating mostly from the pitiful, loathsome toad that is our Secretary for Working State and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith (you know, the arsehole who looks like what you’d imagine a modern day macabre Humpty Dumpty to look like) and his “it’s the poor’s fault they’re poor” attitude and constant downtreading of the underclass and their rights. And it’s sneakily masquerading in our everyday product advertisement; “don’t pay attention to world events or the struggle of your neighbour; let alone someone suffering on the other side of the world – buy this iphone/laptop/car and tune into the placated white noise that is mass consumerism”. It might as well be written in giant bold capital red letters on the front cover of every newspaper controlled by the Murdoch Empire:

DON’T FEEL SORRY FOR ANYONE. BLAME IMMIGRANTS, HOMOSEXUALS, HIPPIES AND ANYONE WHOM ISN’T WHITE FOR YOUR OWN PERSONAL STRUGGLES.

AND FOR GOD’S SAKE DON’T CONSIDER WHAT THOSE REFUGEES MUST HAVE EXPERIENCED IN ORDER TO HAVE TAKEN THAT PERILOUS, LIFE-THREATENING TRIP ACROSS THE MEDITERRANEAN – JUST BE MAD THAT THEY DID.

It’s an attribute that is more commonly associated with weakness, failure, susceptibility and irritiation rather than the profound kindness, love, compassion and sensitivity that it truly stems from. I know this because I’ve been made to feel that way more in the last 2 years than at any other time in my life.

It was roughly 2 years ago; after a drawn out, very painful and traumatic split from the father of my beautiful son, that I realised being left to my own devices wasn’t necessarily such an unnerving, terrifying and lonesome experience after all. It opened me up literally (sharing custody of our child meant I had newfound free time on my hands) and emotionally (that old cliché of being able to discover ones self all over again) to learning more about the world and everything that was going on in it. So I did what many people of my generation did/do.

Turned to Russell Brand for guidance.

(I know he’s not everyones cup of tea; he’s certainly a Marmite kind of a guy but if you intend on utilising the comment section of this entry just to tear into him and myself – save it. There is very very little you can say about him that I haven’t already heard and absolutely nothing you can say to make me change my mind or how I feel about him.)

Apart from fantasizing about what it’d be like to be married to him whilst watching ‘The Trews’ (something he’s taken a break from of late but what used to be his YouTube show dedicated to picking apart what is covered in today’s mainstream media – if you’ve not seen it for crying out loud get on it pronto: Russell Brand’s YouTube Channel – The Trews) I realised that his, at times convoluted but nevertheless inspirational and educational witterings, ignited in me a real yearning to know more, learn more, be more. The conclusion he so oftenly reached at the end of his short videos was not to listen to what Fox, CNN, BBC News, Cameron, Murdoch and all other deliverers and creators of evil had to say but to pay attention to and more importantly, live life in harmony with, the very best parts of your human nature; love, kindness, altruism, forgiveness, acceptance, EMPATHY. Thus creating a more tolerant, functional, peaceful society. I know, I know; its a little white-robe -wearing, granola-eating, incense-burning, utopian-“peace and love man”-tastic but its true if you ask me. Be the change you want to see said Gandhi and by gum it makes sense.

And upon deciding that was a bloody good point bloody well made, I thought to myself, ‘what more can I personally do to exercise those aspects of myself and thus help make a more likeable, liveable world?’ From then onwards I started attending and helping organise anti-austerity, anti-Tory, left-wing, pro-democracy protests (something I’ll focus more on I’m sure in future blog entries), donating more to charity and looked further into current events from more trustworthy independent news sites; something I suggest everybody does. And from THEN onwards, mainly from the evil beauty that is FaceBook, I unearthed what appears to be the common mindset of most people of today and that is that if it didn’t happen directly to you, it’s really not your problem or worth your time. In VERY rare cases I’m sure that mantra is indeed a sensible one but I’m of the firm belief that that very attitude is what is contributing to the downfall of humanity and all that makes us pleasant, helpful, amiable human beings.

For me its as simple as, something we very often scold our children with when they improperly interact with other children; ‘how would you like it if that was you?’ Because the reality is that could so easily be you. I try, morbid as it may be, to regularly remind myself that we are all only ever one bout of ill-health, a natural disaster, an overdose, a redundancy, loss of a loved one or a trip of a fuse in the intricate circuit that controls our volatile brain away from being that very person we walk by knelt begging in the street. Or indeed worse. If the answer to that question is ‘well I wouldn’t bloody like it at all’ then how about making it your duty/obligation/mission to try and imagine what its like being that person and helping them? Its good to be good.

Now before you go getting all cynical and judgey-wudgey on me, let me be the first to say I’m no motherfucking Mother Theresa. Being a better person takes CONSTANT time, energy and maintenance and sometimes its a little too easy to lose sight of that worthwhile battle and slip into the drone-like state that capitalism so desperately requires of you. Sometimes you can reach the end of the day, having completed your daily routine and realise, “Shit – I didn’t do much of anything that’s positive/constructive/productive/helpful today”… I believe doing just one good deed a day is a direct assault against that capitalistic state of being and is by far better than doing nothing at all. Even if its choosing to capture and set free a spider instead of killing it, buying a Big issue or offering the old biddy in Tesco’s a hand to the car with her shopping; it all means something. Its things like that I try to accomplish on a regular basis. Some days are more successful and fruitful than others but Sssh! – Its not a good deed if you talk about it.

Being this empathetic person is no easy feat. Not just because of the aforementioned conscious effort it takes to not eminate the Camerons, Duncan-Smiths, Osbournes, Murdochs, Hunt’s, Thatchers, O’Reillys and Hannitys of today’s society but because, well… being empathetic is exhausting. It really takes its toll. It actually hurts sometimes.

Just ask my sister.

She’s the only person I consider to be more of an empath than myself. And it physically affects her on a regular basis. The poor thing is incapable sometimes of reading her go-to news site’s latest worldly developments without bursting into inconsolable tears. I know many a person who would call that pathetic (heeeeey thats where the title comes in!), unnecessary and probably sad but ask yourself – isn’t that better than being a heartless, cold, unfeeling robot? I know what kind of sister I’d rather have. I know what kind of person I’d prefer to contribute to our society and live in our world. I too have found The News so moving and upsetting at times that I have found myself in a fit of guttural tears, especially now I have the addition of joyful pregnancy hormones. I personally don’t know how you could view genuine footage of petrified Syrian’s fleeing for their lives amongst the pitiful remnants of what used to be their village as planes fly over head and bomb the living shit out of what they once deemed familiar and homely, without crying your heart out. Or at the very least feeling SOMETHING. I was traumatised and subsequently had my phone taken away from me after seeing that video; it was understandibly no fun for my partner to see me in that state… Whereas me bursting into tears whilst watching ‘Hugh’s War on Waste’ is apparently hilarious… A family-ran parsnip farm was forced to shut down after Morrisons, the purchasers of their product, refused to alter their ridiculous and unachievable food standards and requirements. Subsequently, on camera, the mother and son broke down at the terrifying prospect of losing their livelihood’s; something generation upon generation of their family had built up. I was essentially crying because people were crying over parsnips. Alright, it’s a little funny.

Anyway, the trauma the footage of the Syrian’s plight caused me to make a conscious decision (for the remainder of this pregnancy at least – I have an undeveloped human being inside me after all and the little guy’s pretty darn susceptible to my drastic changes in emotion) to not engage in every single tragic, disastrous bit of news that came my way. I am only one person. I cannot cure world hunger, war and poverty on my own; especially just by sitting on my sofa watching the Al Jazeera news channel and weeping like… well, a pregnant person. Direct local action; donating to foodbanks, recycling, giving clothes to charity, staging protests and sit-ins, raising awareness and indeed writing blogs is a lot more accomplishable and I like to think a good building-block in the making of a better world. At some point you have to assign yourself (if your circumstances and attachments, like mine, dictate so) to the reality that doing just that, at the moment is all you can really do. I guess, in the least selfish sounding way as possible, it is about self preservation. Your loved ones, significant other and child/children are not going to appreciate or benefit from you getting violently upset everytime an appeal for vaccinations in Africa comes on the TV or everytime an extremist nut-bag decides to take “justice” into his own hands. Feel that, yes. Be against it, please. Discuss it, sure. But maybe not let it dictate how the rest of your week turns out?

For some that is easier said than done, I know.

I have a friend that up until the recent massacre in Paris, was more or less completely unaware that the world is as fucked up it is and indeed on the very brink (if not slap bang in the middle) of total political and imperial warfare. Don’t get me wrong, she knew ISIS existed and she knows they’re pretty shitty as far as humanity is concerned, what with all the over-throwing, kidnapping, executing and desecrating of sacred monuments but as for current, sociopolitical goings-on, ISIS related or not- her knowledge was really quite limited. Until she went into work on the 14th November 2015 and heard the concerned utterances of debate and information exchanging between her shocked colleagues I’m not sure she even knew what had occurred the previous evening. Being a decent human being, she decided to do a bit of research on the internet. Plus she’d inevitably be expected to contribute constructively to the conversational topic of the day at some point. Appalled by what she found, she then proceeded to visit me that evening and enquire as to what I knew about the subject. She was shocked, yes. Intrigued, but not in a sick way. And angry at such depravity. But she didn’t let it ruin her night.

I wish to state, she is no stupid person; she’s an incredibly open minded, quick-learning, adaptable individual – she just chooses to live, most of the time, in voluntary ignorance. And do you know what? She’s really very happy. Blissful you might say. She doesn’t listen to the radio when in the car and if she does, tends to avoid any news broadcast. She’d never bother to buy a paper or (unless expressly advised to) check out a news website. She’d certainly never think to watch the 6’0 clock news, even if it is to pad out a tedious advert break. She is, by her own admittance, pretty much totally unaware of what our staple news distributors would deem “worth-knowing” and she lives a perfectly carefree, untroubled existence. To quote the formidable Tina Turner, a little bit out of context but still;

“Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”

In a way I envy her of this. Afterall, until my (I’m dubious to call it this but don’t know what else it could be referred to as) conscious awakening a couple of years ago, I was pretty close along side her. I would actually intentionally go out of my way to avoid knowing anything remotely political. I’d never be able to pick, say Ed Balls or William Hague out of a line-up. I couldn’t tell you who ran the Liberal Democrat party during the coalition… I wouldn’t even have been able to properly tell you what a coalition was. I couldn’t tell you what or where the Gaza Strip is. I couldn’t tell you what the IMF does or indeed stands for. What does monolithic mean? What the hell is Neo-Liberalism??? Nope, nothing. But I think its safe to say, I was a little bit more positive in my outlook of the world. Naive, yes but that’s commonplace when wearing rose-coloured glasses.

Saying this though, I wouldn’t change it. Knowledge is power after all. And there’s always more to know therefore more power to be gained… I mean brainpower not; mwahahaha I’m-going-to-conquer-the-world kind of power. But a thirst for knowledge twinned with an empathetic mindset means you always stand to feel a little burdened. When a doom and gloom headline flashes up on the computer or TV screen, you’re going to get the horrendous internal plummeting feeling. But if you can handle it then soldier on I say; the world needs more people like us. If for no other reason than to counteract the toxic poison the Conservative Government is leaking all over this country.

I for one feel grateful that when watching a David Attenborough special on Indian rock monkeys, my 3 year old son cried because a mother foolishly decided to temporarily loan her baby to her monkey friend whom promptly decided to dispose of it by flipping, twisting and running at great speed while it clung to her chest for dear life (for the empath’s reading this: don’t worry the baby survived). It of course broke my heart to see him show such brazen emotion at such a tender and innocent age but also made me feel epically proud that I am raising a son capable of living vicariously through others for both better and worse. That’s the type of person society now needs. That’s the type of person most likely to make a difference. Empathy in my mind is not a luxury; its a neccessity that stops the guy in the street with the big charity bucket being ignored, the drug addict being villified and the class geek being bullied.

So empaths: I say, follow your emPATH (bahahahaaa). It’s hardwork but know you’re not alone and know that your existence is appreciated more than you know by more people than you’d think.

22 signs you are an empath.

“Writing is a struggle against silence.” Carlos Fuentes

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I’ve always found the hardest part of writing to be knowing where to start. This is particularly challenging because there’s no real beginning here; just the commencement of the musings from my own meandering mind. Do I write myself a little bio? I don’t really think I’m interesting enough to do that. Perhaps elsewhere…

Writing for me is a very therapeutic process. Whether its a list to organise my day’s chores, a facebook status ranting about the world’s most recent abomination or a short entry in a pregnancy journal – its a form of release that I don’t get from anything else. And I’ve been writing and feeling that feeling for as long as I can remember. I can actually recall with real lucidity, being of an extremely young age observing my mother write (probably a shopping list) and feeling overwhelming frustration that I didn’t yet know how to pen a sentence together. The same feeling I’d get when I’d observe her typing at a computer (back when the standard word processor was a black screen with flashing green text and a gigantic cursor) with such speed and purpose; “Why don’t I know how to use one of those fascinating keyboard thingies yet?”. When most other children were drawing potato people with their legs and arms coming out of their heads (don’t get me wrong, I did plenty of them too), I’d often sit at the dining room table with sheets of paper and doodle line upon line of illegible squiggles, finding that only made me feel more frustrated because both myself and everyone else around me knew that they ultimately meant nothing.

I’m not able to pinpoint when exactly it was that I could properly formulate a sentence on to paper but I know that once I’d learnt, there was no stopping me. I still have folders EXPLODING with short stories, poems, songs, wananabe-novels and diaries (pretty much every single one of them unfinished) from years and years ago. You can tell from my handwriting that over time began to develop into less crude and more decipherable text that I enjoyed the physicality of writing too. I still do. I found a fountain pen the other day that I was given for my 21st birthday and you’d think the ecstasy I felt from inserting an ink cartridge and writing my name a few times was akin to that of a recreational drug taker.

But its remarkably easy to lose touch with that passion, interest, relationship, hobby; whatever you want to call it. The same way friendships, seeds and pets need regular attention and nurturing; one’s yearning to write must be constantly worked on. Life just has a tendency of getting in the way. Life being: romances, children, jobs, heartbreaks, house moves, holidays and great vast expansive periods of nothingness. And it can do that for years at a time. This may actually be the first bit of writing I’ve focused time and energy on that wasn’t for job application purposes, a lengthy entry on my social media page or an email of complaint to an incompetent company since I bailed on my first year of university. And I think that is perhaps why I don’t quite know where to start.

I’m a little out of practice.

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I know I want to write a regular blog. I know I want more freedom to express myself than I get from voicing my opinion on facebook (plus I think I should do my best to hold on to the few friends I have left who have proven themselves immune to my occasional indignant outburst) but I can’t really say that there is a consistant theme to this blog. Today I could be venting about the trials and tribulations of young motherhood, tomorrow it could be outrage and disgust with our seriously out-of-touch Tory government. One day I could treat it as my own journal; cue an outpouring from the swirling vortex that it is my overactive brain (I apologise in advance for those days), the next entry could be an account of my never ending failure to cook rice quite right.

So if you don’t like sporadic spontaneity or a random mish-mash of talking points, move on amigo, this ain’t for you.

And if you do? Well bear with me. I’m still finding my feet. Or fingers, as it were.