Thursday, 8 December 2016

the search for self

The search for self is a funny thing:

Who am I?

A more appropriate question might be: who is the I that is asking the question? And why do we need, or at least think we need, to know?

What do I like?
What do I want to do with my life?
What do I like eating?
What kind of person do I want to be?

The list goes on and on. But why question? Why do we want to know the answers to these things? When you look at them in the cold light of day we see, at their core, that they are very selfish. They are self centred. They are all about that mysterious "I". And who is watching the "I"? For there must be a watcher in order to acknowledge that the "I" exists. 

Just like, in our society, there must be money (or the exchange of goods or service) for work to be necessary; like so there must be a watcher of the "I" in order for the "I" to exist.

So who is the watcher?

It could be argued that the watcher is conscious thought. It could be further argued that the "I" is the physical body. What we feed into the conscious thought directly correlates to the judgements passed on the physical body and therefore how we relate to and describe the "I" as being.

I am short
I am curvy
I have a high sex drive
I like food
I work hard, but I am often lazy

These judgements do not tell us who we are. They are merely statements of fact. So, who am I?

I am a woman
I am a sister
I am a daughter
I am a friend

Is who I am dependent on my physical and emotional attributes and how others relate to me and I to them? No. Certainly not. So, who am I?

I am kind but I have a terrible temper
I am a poet
I am a cook
I am a gardener of the mind

But surely these are things I do; not what I am!? So, who am I?

I am an animal
I am a collection of cells and neurons
I am cosmic matter
I came from star dust
When objects collided in space and time they forced new life into being, I am one of those beings
I am 4 billion years old

Ah. So now we see how small you are. How insignificant. And now we see why you search for who you are. You must be more than that. Because if you are star dust, that means everyone is star dust. If you are 4 billion years old: everyone must be 4 billion years old. In sentient beings there exists the ego. The ego is the "I" - the ego strives to be more than it is. It lays down laws and likes and dislikes, it questions our choices, it creates a false version of ourselves and of the people we are connected to. The ego shades everything in the tint of its own rosy glow.

See that man? He is my one true love. He is good and kind and sweet and I love him. Therefore he must love me. Therefore I must have him. Therefore if he does not behave in the way I have imagined him... he hurts me.

So you have hurt yourself.

NO! It was him. He did it. He was false, he was not his true self. I know his true self. His true self resides in my heart.

So you have hurt yourself. Hurt yourself with a construct of a man. A construct of a man. A man who does not exist.

But he does exist. See he is there, living, breathing, laughing.

The man exists yes. The physical body. But that body is inhabited by his ego. Not yours.

The man in my heart is not that man?

He is not that man. He is a construct of that man.

He is my construct. I made him. But he is not real. Only his shell is real. I filled him. Filled him with my hopes. My desires.

He has other hopes and desires.

So now we see how the ego destroys not only us but our friendships also. Constantly demanding. Judging. Claiming truth where there is none to claim. Making false statements based on whimsy.

All that from star dust!

From dust we came and to dust we shall return.

Let not the ego spoil you.








Friday, 14 October 2016

Mental Health in Britain

On Monday 10th October it was World Mental Health Day and many charities involved in mental health care and research took the opportunity to spread the word of taking mental health more seriously. Research charity MQ released figures showing a large discrepancy in research funding for mental health versus more "popular" medical campaigns like cancer research: mental health research receives 22% less funding than cancer. With funding and continued research cancer, HIV and AIDS are all no longer the life/death sentences that they once were: while people cannot shake the illnesses completely they can, with appropriate medication and support, continue to live their lives for many years. The mental health community is urging the public to invest in mental health research with a similar passion and enthusiasm in the hopes of seeing similar success.

As a society we have become more accepting of mental health conditions, we are becoming more understanding of them and more vocal about supporting people who have them. But who are the people who have them? Pretty much everyone!! Mental health conditions are becoming much more prevalent. Statistics suggest that 1 in 4 people have bi-polar, 1 in 5 people have depression, 1 in 100 people will experience schizophrenic episodes. Perhaps mental health problems are becoming more prevalent because as a society we are becoming more open and more accepting and it's actually just a case of more people seeking help and opening up about what goes on in their heads, rather than continuing to maintain the British "stiff upper lip" or perhaps mental health conditions are becoming more prevalent because the environments that are most conducive to mental breakdowns are becoming more wide spread.

Back in 2013 Dr. Ed Mitchell, a clinical fellow to NHS England's Director for Long Term Conditions, wrote that "Mental illness causes almost a quarter of our burden of disease (22.8%), yet receives only 11% of NHS funding. (For comparison cancer causes 15.9% of that burden).  Whilst 92% of people with diabetes are in receipt of treatment, only 28% of people with mental illness get treatment for their problems. Yet we know that people with serious mental illness are at risk of dying 25 years earlier than those without such illness." - see the rest of his article here.

Those are some pretty big discrepancies! And not much has changed in the past three years; in 2014, Heidi Ledford wrote this for nature.com where she explains that "more than 350 million people are affected by depression, making it one of the most common disorders in the world." She goes on to say that "two thirds of people who commit suicide have the condition." Despite this there is a continued lack of funding. If this were a physical condition there would be, understandably, huge public outcry. Yet the silence surrounding the lack of facilities, care, services and research funding for mental health is deafening. For years in western society we have dismembered our minds from our bodies. Our medicine is reactive rather than preventative. We live in a state of exertion to the point of collapse both physically and mentally but when we collapse mentally we are told to "pull it together" and "carry on".

In 2015 the BBC reported that mentalhealth services had their budgets slashed by 8%: a reduction reportedly worth £600 million, while at the same time referrals to community mental health teams had increased by 20%. It's not hard to see, with figures and numbers like that, why so many people with mental health crisis's are falling through the cracks and not receiving the treatment and care that they need. If we, as a society, aren't taking mental health seriously then the doctors in our society aren't going to either. I spent Monday in the Accident & Emergency department of Whitechapel Hospital with a friend who has been depressed for almost two years and has been steadily falling into suicidal thoughts yet when she approached her GP months ago and cried in his office while telling him about how suicidal she was he merely handed her a leaflet and told her to refer herself. After a rejection like that it was weeks before she was able to pluck up the courage to call the people on the leaflet, only to be told that someone would call her back within 24 hours and no one did. Later we discovered that instead of calling her back they had called her GP as they had deemed that she needed more immediate help and they had told her GP to call her and provide that support. Her GP never called her. Once again faced with a rejection from the system she spent another few weeks battling suicidal thoughts and fighting with herself to prevent her from cutting herself (so that she could "prove" she needed help). Feeling that what she was dealing with wasn't "serious" enough to warrant a visit to A&E she instead went to her local walk-in clinic who had to tell her that they weren't equipped to deal with such things... At what point does it become "serious" enough to visit A&E? The minute you feel suicidal. That's it. There's no wiggle room or 'maybe I'll feel better in the morning.' If you're feeling suicidal you need to talk to someone about it and you need to talk to them about it then and there. That's why we have the emergency walk in services for mental health. And the more people who use them the better; because talking to someone there and then in that precise moment in time may prevent a suicide or a suicide attempt; because it may circumvent a full-blown mental health condition from occurring later down the line; because the more people who use them the more the need for them will be recognised and the more funding can be secured for them.

Throughout 2016 the BBC have been reporting on various aspects of mental health including diagnosis, care, facilities and underfunding:













We need to start changing the conversation around mental health. Yes, being in a depression is horrible, but it's not the end of the world and you do come out of them. The more you focus on how horrible it is and how much you'd like it to stop the less time you are spending on having a conversation with yourself about why it's happening in the first place. You and only you are responsible for your mental health, if you don't tell people you're struggling they're not going to have any idea and they can't help you. It's not like having a fever or a broken arm - people can't see into the mind and witness all the twisted things that are going on inside. They'll either think that you're having an off-day/week/year if it goes on longer they'll just assume that you're a moody person, that you're an introvert, that you like to keep yourself to yourself. The longer you leave matters of the brain undiagnosed and untreated the worse they become. Imagine you have a broken leg; you splash a bit of cold water on it, maybe go lie-down in a dark room for an hour, cover up the pain with some paracetamol and hope for the best. Eventually the wound is going to become infected, the bone is going to set in the wrong place, walking is impossible, you're in constant discomfort, pain, irritation. You stop going to work, you hide in your room, you don't want anyone to see the horrible mess that is your leg. Eventually you drag yourself to your GP's office and they make an appointment with a specialist and tell you to go home and wait for the letter, they don't know how long it's going to take. It takes 2 months to arrive. You see the specialist, they ask you to make notes about the changes in the colours of the bruising and the weeping of the wound and keep a diary of what your range of motion is with the leg on a daily/twice daily basis... You come back two months later with your diaries and notes and they tell you: you've broken your leg, it hasn't set properly, it's hideously infected because you didn't get it seen to sooner, they make an appointment with another specialist and you have to wait for three months to meet them just to find out if there's something they can do to help you, they say no they can't actually help you but they can send your file to another specialist whose remit you do fall under. You wait another three months to meet this next specialist, they say they can help you but they're very busy and they don't have any spaces available to fit you in at the moment and they'll send you a letter in nine months to one year with the details of your first treatment appointment. They promise that if an opening comes up sooner they'll be in touch. All this time your leg is growing worse and worse, it's a dead-weight latched onto your body that gets heavier and more grotesque with each passing day.

How much easier would your life have been if you'd gone to A&E to begin with? How appalling was the service that you received? Would you stand for it?

Now imagine that instead of a broken leg, an illness has taken root in your mind. Now take yourself through the exact same stages laid out above. That's what using mental health services is like for too many people. This has been my experience of using mental health services over the past eighteen months. I'm still waiting for that last letter outling the details of my first therapy appointment. On average it takes 10 years from initial mental distress for a person to seek help, by the time they have sought help the problem is already deeply rooted. We need to make a change in the way we think about mental health, we need to stop side-lining it and saying "it's okay, it's just in my head, I'll be fine." The longer you leave it the bigger it grows, the deeper it sinks in its claws, the weaker your grasp on reality becomes, the longer it takes to find the right treatment for you, the longer your healing process takes, and, the more likely it is that you will harm yourself while waiting for help.

Seeing the world in a different way to other people is nothing to be ashamed of. I think that that is the biggest hurdle for people with burgeoning mental health problems. They don't want people to think they're 'crazy.' They're afraid they'll get locked up in an insane asylum and that their lives will be over. That they'll be injected with drugs and abused by staff and turned into zombies. So they keep quiet. A lot of us have been raised to believe that there are things that are polite to talk about and things that aren't. Financial and emotional crisis's fall into those categories. It's not 'nice' to ask how much someone makes, or what their turnover is, or if they can afford to feed themselves and their families tonight. It's not 'nice' to pry into people's minds and really and truly ask them how they are coping after the loss of a loved one, or their job, or their house. Being 'nice' basically equates to ignoring your fellow human beings and pretending like we're not all in the same boat, that we don't all have the same issues and struggles. Being 'nice' basically also means that we make everyone around us feel worse because while they're struggling to maintain a façade of wealth and happiness they believe that for you it's not a façade, they believe that you've got it all, that there's some kind of secret to success and that if they work hard enough and put in enough hours they'll find the secret too.

There is no secret.

Everyone is struggling with something. None of us have achieved total health, and by TOTAL health I mean:

1) Nutritional
2) Emotional
3) Mental
4) Sexual
5) Physical
6) Social
7) Spiritual
8) Medical

How healthy are you in these eight areas? What changes do you need to make to your life to make you as healthy as you want to be in the areas that you most want to be healthy in?

Are you currently depressed or do you ever gets bouts of depression? Think about why? What part of yourself are you ignoring or suppressing? Why are you doing that? Keep asking yourself why. And if asking yourself isn't enough, get other people to ask you why. Volunteer as a patient to psychology students, ask your GP to refer you for therapy. Do something about the way you feel. Don't buy into the "Keep Calm and Carry On" mantra.

It is your life and only you can be in control of it. Don't give that control away and don't wait till it's almost or too late. Do something about your mental health now.


~








Friday, 22 July 2016

Embrace Your Shadow Self

For over a century in western society anyone who displayed any level of consciousness or other worldly intelligence that wasn't socially acceptable was carted off to a mad house where they were locked up, drugged, experimented on and generally treated like second class citizens and abnormalities of the human race.

Yet, if you read world history and ancient myths you soon discover that people who were gifted with extra-ordinary mental abilities were generally hailed as seers, oracles, harbingers, prophets, fortune tellers, soothsayers, mediums, channellers, psychics, diviners, clairvoyants, augurs... The majority felt it better to live as hermits or, at the very least, as loners. Seekers would often have to go to remarkable lengths in order to find the desired oracle at their hide-out either atop a mountain, down a cavernous valley or in a distant wilderness. They were scary people; they moved and spoke in strange ways, did bizarre things, lived in unconventional fashions but they were as necessary to some societies as their judiciary systems and water works.

If you rifle through the annals of western history you will come across exceptional thinkers, painters, musicians, writers, all of whom (excerpts from their letters and diaries have told us) suffered heavily with mental strains - depressions, elations. Tchaikovsky said "Life is beautiful in spite of everything! ... There are many thorns, but there are roses too."

Rilke has said so many beautiful things on the subject of melancholia (which we so ineptly call clinical depression), two of my favourites:

1. "How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

2. "You mustn’t be frightened if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you?

Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better."


It is not hard then to come to a realisation that most of us, or at least most of those who have left their biggest mark - either on us or on history, have tumbled to the very depths of their souls and thrashed there in wild torment. How else can they have risen again, and with such words of wisdom and clarity?

Zen teaches us that until we have felt and experienced something ourselves we cannot know it. We can intellectualise, we can surmise and ruminate but we cannot truly understand till our hearts have melded with our minds though that most challenging of tasks; feeling. Feeling all the feels. Sitting with them patiently. Watching how each feeling expresses itself in each part of us, in our physical, astral and causal bodies. And how those feelings loop back again and come to us in words and thoughts that we can grasp and express. Not just to ourselves but in ways that we can vocalise and teach others of our experience.

If you see a mental breakdown you immediately attempt to file it in your brain in a way that you can make sense of it and understand it. That is the nature of humans. If you experience a mental breakdown yourself you do the same. Only it is much harder. Reality has slipped through your fingers, you can't tell what is truth and what is not. There are no signposts. There is no guide. You are all alone in a world you do not understand and have never heard of. There is no logical way to file what you are seeing and feeling, not least because you cannot be sure what you are seeing and feeling is real. And here's the kicker: it is real. All of it. Even the fantasy. Even the not real. It is all real. It is your experience. And all experiences are real. Let us say you have two heads, you know you don't really have two heads, so you refuse to acknowledge the existence of the other head. The other head grows bigger and more demanding it shouts at you and demands you pay attention, you steadfastly refuse to give in. You believe if you give in to the madness of admitting you have a second head then there will be no end to the insanities and non-realities you may start admitting to. So the head grows bigger still, and more twisted and grotesque and finally, you snap. You believe you have gone mad. You believe that is the end of it and you give up. It is never so conscious as all that, but that is the general gist of it. And then you are mad. But you have been mad from the moment you refused to acknowledge that you had a second head. Because it was there. Right in front of you. Talking to you, trying to get your attention. It was there and real the whole time. It was real because you saw it. You made yourself mad by pretending it wasn't there and that it wasn't real. You did not acknowledge it and it grew into a monster that you could no longer control. And then it consumed you. This is the society we live in. We are taught logic and reason and nothing else. If logic dictates that we all have one head then in order to maintain your standing in the society you live in you can't risk admitting even to yourself that you have another head. But if, at the very beginning, you said "Hello second head what do you want?" you might have ended up having rather a nice conversation and learning something about yourself or even the world and then perhaps the second head would have gone away because all it wanted was a chat.

The more we struggle and push against things that we don't like, the more stressful and overwhelming they become. Every human has the capacity to completely and utterly lose all sense of reality. Genetics plays a big part, as does environment. But even if you have no genetic predisposition to insanity, anxiety, depression it does not mean you are immune. Even if your environment is conducive of peaceful, loving and caring thoughts and feelings, again, you are not immune. I believe that the universe sends us challenges and obstacles to overcome only when it feels you are ready for them. Or, to put it another way, I believe that we ourselves do not see the next challenge or obstacle till we know we are ready to take it on. Sometimes we freak out, even if we are expecting the challenge, we think we're not ready, we're not strong enough, not prepared enough, whatever, but that negative cycle of thinking is what disables us from succeeding. As soon as we've got to the point where it is make or break most human beings will end up making. They will put aside, temporarily, all the doubts and feelings of inadequacy and take the challenge on, because there is no alternative. They have to. And they give it their best shot and 9 times out of 10 they pass. Which gives you a feeling which is a little like a power boost: I did it! I can do anything! Like a character levelling up in a video game - their health bar increases, their power bar increases, they have access to better and more powerful and more interesting items and areas of the game. Game makers take all that from life.

What then about mental health? Those of us who have mental health challenges are at a disadvantage in our society. Our society deems that there is something wrong with us. Something that needs to be fixed or taken away or stopped. We need to be made 'whole' again. And because this is the pervading thought process we ourselves begin to think it too. We have an episode and it debilitates us, we shout and curse and wish it would go away, we swallow their pills because they say it will make us 'better'. We live in shadow states, not quite mad, not quite sane. We feel like we are half a person. We are not. And it is shameful for society to make us think along those lines. We are whole people, we are just whole in a different way. We need guidance and acceptance for who we are as we are. Not as society thinks we should be. The more society teaches us to rail against our conditions and aberrations of mind the harder it is to sit with and converse with those episodes when they do occur. If we are told there is something wrong with us we are naturally going to push against it and wish it gone. If we are encouraged, on the other hand, to have a conversation with ourselves and sit with and explore those episodes, however hard it may be, we may see, as Rilke suggests and I know from personal experience to be true, 'that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.' It is very hard to be  both patient and doctor but that is what you must be in order to fully understand and learn from what is going on in your mind. No one knows you better than you and if you are feeling at a loss and like you don't know yourself at all then perhaps that is why you are being sent these mental challenges: so that you can get to know yourself and become all that you were meant to become.

Imagine then my horror when a well known mental health research group emailed me a short while ago to ask for feedback on their proposed new advertising campaign to be launched later this year:


"We swear to stop it, if you swear to help"


Mental health is not something that can be stopped. It can be supported, accepted, nurtured, alleviated, but it cannot be stopped. No amount of drugs or therapy or research can stop mental health. Each individual needs to find their own best preferred and effective method for them, but even then it does not mean they are 'cured' - it does however mean that they have come to an agreement within themselves that it is part of what makes them who they are and they have accepted that within themselves. All society needs to do is come to the same level of acceptance, and thus facilitate and help those who are struggling to accept themselves.

The above type of marketing lies at the core problem of society's attitude to mental health: that it is bad and that it needs to be got rid of. If you take away all the nasty bits of life then you cannot enjoy the roses. For without the endurance of misery there is no real appreciation for the beautiful. If life were entirely a bed of roses the roses would lose their beauty for lack of a contrast. It is the contrast that makes life beautiful and ugly. Both are necessary. Both must be embraced.




Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Touching Lives

It is quite amazing how deeply and despairingly we can fall into a "depression" - such an ineloquent and unexpressive word for so profound mind altering feelings. A far more apt word would be "melancholy" there is something graceful about it; and suggestive of more obscure and vastly tangled roots. Which is what it is like when you are in there. Thrashing wildly, desperate for release from the oppressive stifling darkness. Methodically ruminating over each root and trying to find, in the tangled web, some meaning, some logic, some reason, some escape either to the light - a lifting of the melancholy - or an escape to the darkest of the dark places; an everlasting escape by spilling blood or suffocating breath. Which to choose? What way to turn? It is not a choice. Not in that place. There are no choices there.

Life. It goes on around us endlessly in ever decreasing, repeating, increasing spirals. On and on and on. Relentlessly. Even in the quiet still of a desolate field there is a relentlessness about life. Standing on a bridge in a busy city centre watching the waves as they lap at the supports. Never ending, never ceasing. There is no end game. There's just is. It is what it is, we are what we are, they are what they are and, ultimately, we are all one. Passersby rushing to and fro trying to get somewhere, to do something: rarely if ever taking the time to simply breathe and notice. Notice. Not change. Not modify. Notice. See. See what there is to be seen, acknowledge and move on. And still the little waves smack, smack, smack on the bridges feet. The birds fly over the desolate field. There is quiet all around. There is noise all around. The hum of traffic burning in our ears. And still the little waves smack, smack, smack on the bridges feet.

" ... it cannot be communicated by words or mental concepts but by subtle insights, gradual glimpses of the wholeness and connectedness of life. There is a quiet grace under all this ..." ~ Carl Faure

Why do we exist? We know that life goes on around us regardless of our participation in it therefore what difference does it make if we are active, inactive or simply no longer exist?

We have no answer to that. Life is experiential. We exist to experience.

If we do not participate in life then the lives of others are poorer for not having been touched by us. If we actively participate then the lives of those around us are profoundly richer, as are ours, for the mutual exchange. To no longer exist? For some an unthinkable thought, for others a part of their daily lives - do I stay today or is today the day I leave? But to no longer exist makes us the poorest of all. We rob our future selves of future experience no matter if it is good or bad. Out of the bad comes the good out of the good comes the bad. There is no bad, no good. There is no free, no trapped. There is only experience and what we make of it. To no longer exist robs those whose lives we have touched of future exchanges. It robs from and impoverishes the lives of those we would have and were destined to touch had we not left.

To live is a burden indeed. To die a greater one.






Thursday, 26 March 2015

Those Two Little Words


People: What are those lumps in your pockets? What do you have in there?
Me: Baby mice, I'm looking for Cookie (farm cat) to feed them to him.
Me 2: Lemons, courgettes, random other vegetables and groceries.
Me 3: An amber brooch worth about £10K
Them: Of course you do!


My Aunt: It's raining here, be safe cycling over, are you wearing your waterproofs?
Me: I've got my shorts on.
My Aunt: Of course you have!


People: Why aren't you wearing shoes?
Me: I couldn't be bothered to put them on.
Them: Of course you couldn't!


People: What are you knitting?
Me: 50 egg cosies for my neighbour.
Me 2: A bra for a client's runway show.
Me 3: A pair of boxers for a friend to have a laugh with his Mrs.
Me 4: A giant bonsai cherry blossom tree.
Them: Of course you are!


People: What's that funny bump under your jumper?
Me: My hot water bottle.
Them: Of course it is!


People: Why are you wearing a bright orange dress and reindeer antlers?
Me: Because I'm going to my friends funeral.
Them: Of course you are!


People: Why are you lying on the floor under that desk?
Me: Because I was sleepy so I decided to have a nap.
Them: Of course you did!


Person: I don't think I've ever seen you wearing lip-gloss Rachel?
Me: It's not lip-gloss. It's German nappy rash cream.
Person: Of course it is!


People: Rachel, what are you doing?
Me: I got cold!
Person: So you decided to cook yourself? How long did it take for that idea to go from logical to bat-shit insane?






...

Friday, 20 March 2015

A Question of Sexy

About a year ago I got into a conversation on twitter with a fashion magazine about what sexy  is and how and who defines it. We agreed that I would write an article for them, but in the end it never got published: so now I get to post it on my own blog!

*     *     *


‘Sexy’ is many things. It’s a look, an action, a thought, but mostly it’s a feeling. ‘Sexy’ is pretty much anything that illicits sexual reactions whether physical or mental. By its very nature it is wholly subjective and, as such, a one-size-fits-all formula for what sexy is cannot be defined. It’s not enough to say “you are” or “you are not” sexy, for no better reason than what rings one persons’ bell may not even jingle anothers’.

Sexy as an image is what drives common understanding and use of the word. Sexy as a concept is much more intangible and harder to comprehend. Take, for example, a man playing in a park with some children, four straight women observe him: one wonders where their mother is and why that man is playing with them, she worries he is a paedophile and keeps a wary eye on him and her own children. Another admires the active role the carer or father is taking in the care of his charges. The third finds him mildly attractive for his obvious fatherly and husbandly qualities. And the fourth simply can’t take her eyes off of him and can’t stop thinking about how great sex with him would be. A fifth woman is completely oblivious to his presence. If you substitute the women for gay men or the man for a woman and the straight women for men/lesbians you will still observe the same basic reactions; some people are interested, some more so than others, and some are oblivious, not interested or actively turned off.

When we meet someone that we are attracted to, two thoughts invariably shoot through our minds, 1) “Wow! That is the most dreamy/sexy/gorgeous/fuckable person I’ve ever seen!” followed quickly by, 2) “How do I look? What am I wearing? Do I have anything on my face/in my teeth?” Sadly, the second thought invariably includes “I’m so ugly/plain/boring, there’s no way that heavenly creature would ever look at me” along with a wish to look more like a favourite actor, musician or idol. This is the legacy of years of saturation that we are not “good enough” the way we are. The fashion industry has turned human bodies into instruments of sex appeal. If you don’t look like what’s in vogue then you are not sexy ('good') enough. “But that’s okay,” whisper the fashion intelligentsia, “You can buy this and that product and these or those clothes and all will be okay. THEN you’ll be sexy enough.” In fashion, sexy has become an ambiguous word coined as a generic term for whatever is in season but even in the urban dictionary, users describe the term to mean: ‘the whole package, including that certain something you can’t put your finger on: it may include the persons attire, voice and attitude.’

The many variables that make up the fashion industry have a vested interest in making (and then keeping) people dissatisfied with themselves and feeling inadequate. Just imagine what would happen if everyone in the developed world realised that they were good enough, just the way they are. If we all woke up one morning and said “I’m pretty damn satisfied with the way I am.” … It would be conglomerate apocalypse! What most people come to realise, at some point in their lives, is that it’s all a big farce: physical appearances are not what matters. Not to mention the massive waste of time, money, energy and resources that go into creating, marketing, buying and applying the latest fashion must haves.

The clarion call for ‘sexy’ has been sounding for a long time, but it has been so perverted in recent years that conscious Gen Y’s and disenchanted Gen X’s are actively fighting back: ethical consumerism and realism are part of the new sexy. The ugly sides of the fashion industry (such as animal testing and the fur trade) are steadily being sidelined; the modern consumer does not want to be sexy at the expense of another creatures’ discomfort or life. Although non-photoshopped images are being demanded, and released, the doctoring continues and the “sex sells” mantra is still widely, if not solely, used in all aspects of the fashion and beauty machinery. ‘Sexy’ should not be a commodity. What is the point of having millions of people thinking that a select group of individuals (and only those individuals) are the epitome of sexy? The vast majority of their fan base is never going to meet them, even less engage with them on any meaningful level. ‘Sexy’ is part of what keeps a species growing; sexy, is all about having sex. What good does it do you if the person you desire not only does not know you exist but is never going to? Being a geek and having a crush on one of the most popular kids at school is one thing; you actually have a chance, you are at least in the same locality. Having a crush, sometimes to the point of obsession, on a famous person (living or dead (eek)!) is entirely fruitless. They will never know you exist, much less reciprocate your feelings - especially the dead ones. You’re setting yourself up for loneliness, and potential partners up for failure.

The number of social media sights dedicated to hook-ups speaks volumes of the desire to meet and sleep with ‘sexy’ people. Sex will, of course, always be extremely relevant, and as a society we are working on better communication between lovers as well as creating more, and better, user-friendly devices to bring the amazing benefits of a healthy sex-life to more and more people. That being said, the new wave of Gen Y is fast moving away from current attitudes of sex for the sake of sex. They are far more interested in socio-politic affairs than personal sexual gratification; the very existence of A-Sexual Awareness Day is a small hint to changing trends and what to expect in just a few years. Gen Y are looking for connections on a deeper level than the purely physical can provide.

But what of 'sexy'? What is it? True sexy is four fold: visual, chemical, ideological and emotional. On first attraction (which is usually visual and/or chemical) what we find sexy is what we perceive the other to be, and how much pleasure we think they will provide for us or that we think we can provide for them. In other words, it’s all about individual gratification. When and if secondary (ideological and emotional) attraction comes into play the desires become about us. And that’s when the sexy really hots up. It’s no longer about the singular. It’s about what we can do together to create something great. Whether that’s in the bedroom, at a protest or in a boardroom, when you work together to achieve a common goal, and you reach it, the euphoria released by a climax that has been achieved by connected parties is the most sexy thing you will ever experience.

The only known formula for individual sexiness is being true to who you are: you know that feeling when you’re happy and float on top of the world? When you are oozing confidence and aren’t even thinking of whether or not you are ‘sexy’ – that is when you are at your most sexy. And if you need some help turning it on, you can always try “breathing through your genitals” as they say in the theatre...!



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Thursday, 19 March 2015

Socially unacceptable conversations

"You shouldn't be talking about those sorts of things in front of Charlie, Rachel!"

I am often told that I shouldn't be talking about "those sorts of things" sometimes it's because really they don't want me talking about it all, and at others, as in this instance, it's because of a gender difference. I was talking to two female colleagues and one male colleague about a new self-love device that tracks the reactions of the individual user and then adapts and makes suggestions based on the data that it collects during arousal. A female colleague came into the room, quickly gauged what the conversation was about and immediately condemned it because there was a man participating in it. My reply to this (as it always is) was: "It is precisely because he has different bits that it is so necessary to have him included in the conversation! If the opposite sexes talked more about sexual pleasure and shared more information with each other there would be a lot less confusion around." 

Why is it that talking about the most natural part of being a human is so frowned on in so-called "polite" conversation? We all think about sex, if not all the time at least a great deal of the time. We all play with ourselves, some more than others, some with societal guilt attached, some with social stigma attached - for a large sector of society masturbation is not just a dirty word, it is also a dirty deed. Why? I mean, okay, so depending on how you like your syllables to roll off your tongue it's possibly not the prettiest of words, but it's definitely a beautiful thing to do. Beautiful not only for how it makes you feel in the moment but also for how it makes you feel the next day and the day after and the day after... The more often you do it the better you feel, the less stressed out you are by day to day life, the more irrelevant that office crush is, the more casual you can be about asking out the cutie at the local coffee shop, and, much more importantly: you will have better sex. If you know your body and know what you like and when and how, in all your different moods and times of the day, the better you will be able to communicate those needs and desires to your sexual partners.

Relationships are all about communication. Your relation with your genitals is a very deep conversation that not enough of us are having in a truly meaningful way. Going to your room or the bathroom to knock out a quick one is only half the conversation. Sometimes a quick she-bop is definitely what the doctor ordered, but too much dynamic masturbating can lead to all sorts of physical as well as mental blocks and injuries. You need to balance out the fast and furious with a bit of the slow and gentle, to really feel into what you are doing with your body and how it is stimulating your mind and where it is telling you to go next to get to that all important orgasm. If you don't feel comfortable doing that 'thing' that your body is screaming out for you to do, then you're not going to feel comfortable asking your partner to do it either and both your body and mind suffer for the lack of fulfilment in that area. All for want of a tiny, but loaded, and often overlooked question: "What do you like?" it's not a hard question to ask, really. What makes it hard in our society is the perceived judgement that we attach to our answers. That is the key. The answers are what freaks us out, not the question. The question is simple. The answers are anything but. One woman might need clitoral, vaginal and anal stimulation to have a really good time, another might need gentle (or firm) choking to reach climax, still others might only need vaginal stimulation but their partner might have to be dressed as a fire-fighter. There are so many, many ways to turn a woman on. Not just because there are so many women and our sexual wiring is always unique and individual to us, but also because each woman is different every day, at any given point during her cycle different stresses and hormones will trigger different sexual needs. If we don't know how to use our own bodies or how to ask our partners for what we want, we are not going to have as fulfilling a sex life as we are capable of. If we can't have these conversations with ourselves or with our friends (regardless of the sex or sexual orientation of those friends) how can we explore these intimate topics fully and comfortably?

I'm so sick of being told that I shouldn't discuss these things with my guy friends, with my married friends, with my teenage friends, with my friends mothers or fathers, with my friends who are mothers and fathers, with my friends who are grandmothers or grandfathers - there is such a wealth of information to be tapped amongst all those groups of people, so much information sharing that can be used and handed out to everyone else. I have girl friends who have been sexually active for decades and have never climaxed, I have guy friends who have just started on their sexual journeys and are trying to figure out how they can keep it in check to last a bit longer with their partners, I have friends of both sexes who are completely disinterested in sex, and also friends of both sexes who find that they've got to a state where they can no longer find any mental relief or let-go when their bodies are ready to orgasm and so the orgasm leaves them feeling empty and unfulfilled rather than on cloud nine like it did when they began their sexual journeys. At some point we've all had that one amazing night or nights (mine was two years ago: seven times in 15 minutes, and before that it was six times in 40 minutes) and we've all had those really shitty nights where it was boring, stale or just plain hurt - and we didn't come. With all our cumulative knowledge and experience we can answer all our friends queries, we can give advice based on proven results, we can help that friend climax for the first time, last a few minutes longer, find interest or satisfaction in sex again, or for the first time. Sex is great! We all know that sex is great. Usually when we find something amazing we try and share it with our friends - our favourite restaurant, perfume, clothes shop, hair stylist - when we find something good we share the knowledge so that more people can benefit from it. Let's bring sex into that category of sharing. It's by far and away the best thing on that list of good things when it's done right.



Thursday, 5 March 2015

That Nasty Little Voice

"Do you have a voice in your head?"
"What sort of voice?"
"I don't know, just a... a voice. That says stuff..."
"What sort of stuff?"
"Just silly stuff, like 'you're not good enough' that sort of stuff."
"No. I don't have one of those."
"Oh."
"Do you have one of those voices?"
"You're lucky not to have one of them."
"I said, do you have one of those voices?"
"I suppose so."
"What do you mean, 'I suppose so' ? What does that mean? Either you do, or you don't. Do you?"
"Well, yes, if you want to put it like that, then I do."
"What does it say to you?"
"That I'm not good enough."
"You said that already. What else does it say?"
"... that nobody likes me..."
"Oh."
"..."
"Who does it sounds like? The voice. Is it your voice?"
"I think so."
"You're so tiresome. Either it is or it isn't. Is it your voice?"
"Obviously it's my voice! Whose else would it be? It is in my head, remember."
"Well I don't know do I. It could be your mothers voice."
"Why would my mother say I wasn't good enough?"
"Why would you say you weren't good enough?"
"I don't know. That's why I asked if you had a voice in your head."
"I suppose I do have a voice in my head."
"What do you mean you 'suppose' - either you do or you don't. Do you?"
"Well, yes. I do. But not one like the one in your head."
"What do you mean? What's your voice like?"
"It tells me to eat things that I don't want to."
"You can't blame being greedy on voices in your head. That's not fair."
"I am NOT greedy!"
"You ARE! You ate all the sweets that my mother made, for me, and you ate them."
"But that's exactly what I mean. I didn't want to eat them. I knew I shouldn't. But the voice egged me on..."
"Really?"
"Yes."
"How did it egg you on?"
"It just said how nice they were, and how good they'd feel in my mouth and before I knew it they were all gone. I am sorry."
"That's all right. I'm glad you ate them as it goes. My voice just tells me I'm too fat and it laughs at me when I eat, especially sweets, so I'm glad you ate them."
"Your voice sounds horrid!"
"It is horrid."
"What do you say to it?"
"What?"
"What do you say to it? You must say something to it? Mustn't you? You don't just let it say all those horrible things do you?"
"..."
"You DO! You just LET it say that you're fat and that no body likes you!? Why?"
"What can I say? I mean, it's in my head, it's me isn't it? I can't tell myself off!"
"Of course you can!"
"What!?"
"Try it! Next time that horrid voice says anything nasty to you, tell it to, tell it to... tell it to Fuck Off!"

Monday, 29 December 2014

A Very Special Cushion

On the last leg of my Aussie adventure I stayed at The Witches Garden in Mitta Valley. There I stayed with the delightful, charming and sometimes (hilariously) lewd McDonald family. They were the best part of my trip. The love, warmth and inclusivity in their household and amongst their friends and family is something I have hitherto never experienced. They are the sort of family I  have always dreamed about but never really believed existed, much less that I'd ever find one!

As a parting gift I knitted them this cushion cover:


front

back


I designed it so that it would hold the cushion much like a pillow case does: an inside pocket that you tuck the top into. The F and L are their first initials, the cables are round and bubbly because the McDonald's are well rounded, warm, happy and bubbly people: the ones opposite F are more curvy and artistic because she is a free spirited painter, who has a big heart and reaches out to encompass everyone into the fold, the ones opposite L are almost like ripples of laughter, but they are neat, precise and compact because he is a very together individual, and a pillar of strength and amusement.

Thank you so much for being my fairytale. The love, warmth, joy and happiness injected into me from your hearts and home will always stay with me.




Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Indian Pacific Train and Beyond

Within a day I was fully recovered, mentally speaking, from the tooth ordeal. A gaping hole in my left jaw that I couldn't help but continually stick my tongue in to explore the cavity plus a sharp pain whenever anything solid went too close to it and still not being able to fully open my jaw,  served as the only reminders of my trip to the dentist.

Never one to sit still for too long I became impatient to leave the sleepy town of 600 inhabitants. Various lifts offered to me by the locals who had befriended me over the course of my week and a few days in the little harbour town fell through one by one. I decided to make my own luck. I upped sticks and started trudging along the only road in and out of Denham waving a thumb and flashing a dazzling (or so I hoped!) smile at all the cars and caravans that sped past. The sun grew hotter, the cars sped by faster and I began to loose heart. Doubt, that ever creeping, niggling little bastard, snuck into my skull and whispered that I should have stayed were I was, that I should have waited till the next day for a lift that might not have materialized, that I shouldn't have been such a tightfisted miser and ordered a taxi to take me and booked a coach and all manner of other unhelpful nonsense. With a forced cheerfulness I waved all these aside and told the doubting voice that fate was waiting to send me the right car, the one that would be most useful. And, sure enough, as a long train of cars swept by one by one and I flashed a beautiful smile imploringly to each and every driver the last one in the caravan suddenly broke off, after having swept by with the rest, curved dramatically across the road and came back. Without saying a word a tall,  tan woman with enormous blonde wavy hair jumped out of the drivers seat, opened her boot and started thrusting my bags into the space therein. Then she said "Hi, I'm Sally, this is my daughter Kate, she's six. Where are you headed?"

During the six hour drive Sally introduced me to Help Exchange and we decided that I would stay with her and her family in Geraldton and help paint the new ceilings that she'd just had installed. Once that was done another passing acquaintance of Sally and husband Stick's passed through overnight on her way to Perth. I got a lift in with her and upon arriving quickly made plans to jump on the train to Adelaide across one of the most desolate and remote areas of not just Australia but also the world.

The train ride was a long and tiring forty three hours. Forty three hours of bush, vast horizons on either side, desert, and the gentle slow trundling clackity clack of the train as it meandered at a leisurely 85 kilometers per hour to its destination. We stopped for half an hour at Cook Town, once a bustling hive of train related activity it is now classified as one of the most remote spots in the world: on a par with an orbiting space station as one of the train hands joked. One family now lives in Cook Town. All the old school and community buildings and homes still stand. All are condemned and all have signs around them restricting access and warning of imminent danger should you cross a threshold. What a place to live. You could easily picture a 'silent hill' type scenario taking place amongst the deserted streets and shacks.

A whirlwind three day tour of Adelaide ensued when I finally stepped off the train, dizzy with tiredness and travel fatigue. I met up with friends of friends of friends, with cousins and soon to be cousins, and hung out with fellow backpackers from the YHA before taking the Overland Train to Melbourne. Another 10 hours of train travel and I was happy to know that I wouldn't be getting on another for quite some time! Or so I thought.

Things in Melbourne didn't quite go according to plan. Within a matter of days I had caught a cold and a chest infection from the friend of a friend who I was staying with and had fallen out with the friend who had arranged for me to stay there... I had however made friends with my host in my own right by this point so although I was keen to leave to get to warmer climes I was, happily, not in any rush. As soon as I could stand up without getting lightheaded I said goodbye to Sophia and Lorissa and jumped on yet another train. This time to Sydney for what turned into a nine hour lay over before finally arriving in Brisbane, Queensland. Getting into Queensland proved tricker than one might originally have suspected. According to the train operators a deep seated dislike between the NSW and QLD agencies leads to NSW passengers being routinely asked to disembark and jump on coaches to cross the border as the QLD operators refuse to let the NSW trains through. This is not so un-understandable as it might at first seem. You see, the NSW trains have a nasty habit of being ridiculously late! My train left Sydney over two hours past its scheduled time. We were all kicked off at Casino at four in the morning where two coaches picked up the passengers who had connecting flights to catch. The rest of us hung around for over an hour while another coach was found to take us the rest of the way to Brisbane.