Category Archives: ooh! i have a pretty navel

In which I write something for Mental Health Awareness Week

I suppose it’s a great irony that I’ve been having trouble writing something for Mental Health Awareness Week because I’ve been a bit too mental. For most of the week I’ve been bumming around, oscillating between numbness and pretending the rest of the world doesn’t exist which helped significantly. Now I’m trying to write something around the theme of anxiety–this year’s theme–and I am niggled by gnawing worries that what I have to say is probably somewhat fraudulent, that I’m hardly an authority to talk on this, that I’m probably just pretending and and and and

I think it’s safe to say that I get anxiety, and it’s fucking awful. It used to manifest as a collection of largely somatic symptoms in combination with the odd fleeting sensation of “Oh fuck, I’m doomed”. This was particularly bad around the time I quit my PhD. I’d puke. A lot. Even when I wasn’t puking, I could always feel it there, in my guts, twisting them about. I’d also get weirder stuff. Once, every memorable mosquito bite I’d ever had decided to rise back up on my body. It was itchy as all fuck. I remember someone being annoyed by it and handing me an antihistamine. The things went back down before the tablet had even hit my stomach. That was good, I suppose, though it kind of proved to me just how powerful my mind was.

This stopped after I had some mindfulness therapy. I learned, through meditation, to climb into my guts and untie them. Since I had that treatment, the somatic problems mostly went away. Unfortunately, things got worse in other places, because six sessions is nowhere near enough to fix everything.

The symptoms shifted to my mind. Quitting my PhD alleviated some of the problem, because I didn’t have that big horrible insurmountable thing hanging over me any more, but I still have a lot of things to validly feel “oh fuck, I’m doomed” about. And my god, I do. I sometimes wake up far too early, worrying about how I know waking up far too early is really bad for my epilepsy. A lot of the time, a reminder of how economically fucked I am will pop into my head and I’ll end up having every negative thought it’s possible to have all at once. There’s little things people will do that remind me of other things nasty people who did bad things to me did that can ruin my day. I find myself making sure I do things in even numbers because odd numbers make me feel funny and bad.

All in all, I’m not convinced mindfulness worked very well for me, and certainly not in the paltry six sessions I was given.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending. This is all ongoing as I manage the best I can to keep on living. My friends know to offer me two biscuits rather than one. I’m able to do certain things that distract myself: things that require lots of concentration, or things that are fun, or, ideally both. I like to be around people I know as much as I can: if not physically, then digitally. Talking to people about any old rubbish is significantly better than listening to the chattering within my brain.

I suppose if there’s any sort of take-home message, it’s this: anxiety really fucking sucks. It blows. It’s kind of a thing which a lot of people get, often in tandem with other problems too, and the way it affected me is the way it affects some others. The way we talk about mental health often has a requirement to end with the “and then I did this and it got better”, except for a lot of people it doesn’t. It gets tolerable. You find ways to function. You choreograph a dance with your own problems and counter its steps with your own things that work. And I have found mine, sort of.


In which I raise some awareness of epilepsy

Today is Purple Day, a day for awareness and fundraising for epilepsy. In the UK alone, there are about 600, 000 people living with epilepsy, myself included, and it’s still a disability which a lot of people don’t understand. This leads to general stigma, but also a fair few fuck-ups from people trying to help.

When someone is having a tonic-clonic seizure, it looks terrifying. I’d always wondered, upon waking up from one of my own seizures, why everyone was running around like headless chickens and practically snogging me in relief. One time, when I was stuck on an overnight stay in hospital, I saw someone else fitting, and I suddenly knew why. It really does look awful.

Fortunately, a lot of the time, it’s not as bad as it looks. Here’s some really useful advice for what to do, which I’m going to repost here because it’s so important (you should also click the link and watch the video if you can).

Do…

  • Protect the person from injury – (remove harmful objects from nearby)
  • Cushion their head
  • Look for an epilepsy identity card or identity jewellery
  • Aid breathing by gently placing them in the recovery position once the seizure has finished (see pictures)
  • Stay with the person until recovery is complete
  • Be calmly reassuring

Don’t…

  • Restrain the person’s movements
  • Put anything in the person’s mouth
  • Try to move them unless they are in danger
  • Give them anything to eat or drink until they are fully recovered
  • Attempt to bring them round

Call for an ambulance if…

  • You know it is the person’s first seizure, or

  • The seizure continues for more than five minutes, or

  • One tonic-clonic seizure follows another without the person regaining consciousness between seizures, or

  • The person is injured during the seizure, or

  • You believe the person needs urgent medical attention

The thing about calling an ambulance is especially important to me.  Most times after I’ve had a relatively uncomplicated seizure, someone has called an ambulance. I have then been carted off to A&E, which is a waste of my time and everyone else’s, because what I really need to do is just go home and have a bit of a sleep because my body is telling me it’s run down.

I also can’t stress enough the importance of putting someone on their side afterwards: I have a tendency to vomit after seizures, and that can be fatal if I’m not on my side. And I have really appreciated having someone around, partly because after seizures I’m usually a bit confused, and partly because it’s nice to have someone around to look after you, because having seizures is really sucks.

All of this is good advice if someone has tonic-clonic seizures and it’s worth reading over and over until it sinks in, because that knowledge could save someone’s life–or even just stop a seizure from ruining their day.

But what if someone has a different kind of seizure? I’ve written before about the other weird stuff my brain does, and how sometimes I get very intense and weird experiences where I’ll zone out for a bit. Partial seizures affect a lot of people, and affect a lot of people in very different ways. With me, I look intensely happy, because most of the time I’m kind having the sort of experience that most people spend a fair amount of money to get drugs to simulate. But other people might do other things, like pluck at clothes, or smack lips, or look not-all-there, or wander around. The general advice here is wait with them for the seizure to stop, and try not to let them walk into anything dangerous while it’s going on. Again, you can find full advice here.

I’ve lived with epilepsy for half of my life: I was diagnosed at 14 when puberty kicked in and my hormones went haywire and I started having tonic-clonic seizures, in clusters, which meant I’d never just have one, I’d be having four or five in close succession. I was in and out of hospital a lot during that year of my life and placed on some pretty heavy medications which made me miserable and slow. I don’t really remember much about the years I was on those meds (Epilim, 1000mg per day), except that sometimes I’d have hilariously dramatic nosebleeds without noticing until everyone stepped away with an expression of howling horror and I’d look down and notice my entire front was covered in blood. On the plus side, it stopped the seizures completely. I came off the meds about two years later, but went back on a far lower dose about three years later, following another cluster of seizures. Again, I didn’t get on well with the drugs, even at a lower dose, and came off them six months later. That year, I went on the contraceptive pill, which seems to have helped a lot: I still get the occasional tonic-clonic seizure, but never in clusters, and the seizures are shorter and I wake up a lot quicker. They only ever happen when I’m seriously run-down, and on the break between packs of pills, so with a bit of self-care and this understanding of seizure triggers, I can manage my epilepsy without meds.

The thing that helps most of all, though, is that people understand. I need people around me to know what to do if I do have a seizure, but also, I need the stigma and the ignorance to go away. Epilepsy can and does affect anyone, and it can affect everyone differently. It’s worth making an effort to learn about it.

Also, since I’ve done my bit for awareness, I might as well do my bit for fundraising. Why not donate a bit of money to Epilepsy Action, who have been a vital source of support and information since I was diagnosed?

While it can probably never be cured, epilepsy can be managed, and we people with epilepsy need your help to make sure we can do it.


Not-Doctor Stavvers, or how I learned to stop worrying and quit my PhD

Content note: this post discusses depression and suicide and disordered eating

Over the last couple of weeks, a discussion has opened up in the media about mental health problems in academia, in particular amongst PhD students. Some point to a culture which normalises mental health problems, accepting them as a feature rather than a bug of the system. Others point to a lack of time, with 60-hour weeks being fairly common. Other factors may include perfectionism, and an environment that just doesn’t care.

Maybe all of it is true. Maybe some of it, maybe none of it. We don’t know, because there is little formal evidence, beyond a few studies indicating higher levels of psychological distress in academics. What I do know is that my own experience chimes strongly with the rest of the anecdotal evidence present. While my experience is squarely in the sciences, I understand that a lot of similar problems pervade arts and humanities research.

Two years ago, I quit my PhD. I was about three and a half years into it, and miles off finishing. It was the best decision I ever made, because it was killing me. I was thoroughly miserable. I seldom ate, and lost a lot of weight, because I had no appetite, just a dull, nagging sense of anxious nausea. Everything that went into my stomach came back up again. I couldn’t sleep, which interacted pretty horribly with my epilepsy as well as my general sense of wellbeing. I pretty much didn’t care whether I lived or died: I took a lot of risks, and my road safety became thoroughly appalling. It wasn’t like I necessarily wanted to be dead, it was more that I didn’t really like being alive at all. I say that as though I had a capacity for liking anything, which I didn’t. I veered wildly between feeling utterly, abjectly miserable and crying in people’s faces; and feeling absolutely nothing except a kind of glassy-eyed ennui. In a way, during that time, I was dead.

Hanging over me were the deadlines. I’d already missed the three years that they say a PhD takes, and so wasn’t getting funded any more. So it was a matter of getting all this shit done while not even being remunerated for my efforts. Even when I was getting paid, it was a pittance. A piddling little cheque which paid the rent, in exchange for my entire life. I’d picked up a bit of marking to do to earn a bit of extra money; on paper, the pay looked all right. In practice, they paid you for how long they thought it should take, rather than how long it actually took. Whoever had calculated that it only takes 15 minutes to mark an undergraduate lab report has clearly never seen an undergraduate lab report, let alone marked one.

Most of the work itself is not fun. Research is heavily romanticised, but in truth, much of it involves staring at spreadsheets, or staring at endless rows of code, or staring at an experiment like a watched pot that never boils. It is tedious as all fuck, and nine times out of ten you are not admiring the pattern that has emerged, but, rather, literally or metaphorically tearing your hair out wondering why the fucking thing isn’t working as it should. The highlight of my days was when I ran Monte Carlo simulations on my data. I could actually take a break for once, letting the computer crunch the numbers while I could spend a few hours sitting outside, trying to remember what my life was like before it became this dull grind.

Everyone I knew was as miserable as I was, everyone I knew was up against the same constraints. We’d keep ourselves going by reminding ourselves why we were doing it: that we were studying something genuinely novel that interested us, and we’d be advancing science by keeping on forcing ourselves into this hellish situation. It rang hollow with me, and I’m sure it rang hollow with the others.

The thing about PhDs is they are a scam. On paper, they are studying a topic that you love, and becoming an expert in it, and generally contributing to human knowledge. In practice, what actually happens is the university gets a research assistant for three years, to work on a project that they want studied that is in some way related to a thing that interests you (but is actually whatever they could get funding for). The university doesn’t have to pay a penny for this research assistant: in fact, they get paid to have you there! I imagine it would be a whole lot easier if everyone just admitted that this is what is happening, but nobody does. And instead, the whole structure gaslights and emotionally blackmails PhD students. It shifts all of the problems we encounter as employees into personal failings: clearly we’re not interested enough in this topic that we supposedly chose, and if we cared enough, we’d want to do the work.

I’d describe a PhD as taking something you love and systematically sucking all of the joy out of it, leaving you a hollow shell forcing yourself to go through the motions. If that sounds a lot like depression, it’s because it is. It’s so indistinguishable from depression, that I am left wondering whether in fact depression is a feature rather than a bug.

The whole system needs radical overhaul in order to stop the relentless march over the edge of despair. Either treat PhD students as workers, and pay them fairly for the work they do and allow them to organise against the litany of occupational hazards they face; or treat a PhD as a topic one loves, and give freedom in how it is researched without the constraints of arbitrary deadlines and appeasement of funders.

Of course none of this will happen, because the problems in our universities are the same as the problems outside of our universities, and capitalism is playing the cunt once again. It demands efficiency, and it turns out what’s in place is one of the most efficient means of producing knowledge.

Getting out was difficult for me, because I had internalised the lies about what a PhD is. It was difficult because when someone walks away from something that is killing them, outsiders sneer, say that they cannot hack it, rather than criticise a system set up to destroy people. It was difficult because I had been in academia for all of my adult life up to that point, and I didn’t have a fucking clue what else I could do with my life, and I’d accumulated very few transferable skills.

But getting out was the best thing I ever did. Yes, I’m still depressed, but I’m eating normally and sleeping all right, and my epilepsy is more under control now. And, most importantly, I’m alive.


Rescue me! An open letter to carceral feminism

Dear carceral feminists–or, whatever you want to call yourselves,

You all say that you are against exploitation of women, so I am dearly hoping that you can help me with the predicament I’m in–and, to be honest, I’ve been in for much of my adult life. See, I’m fucked. Completely and utterly fucked.

In front of me, I have my latest payslip. I work four days a week–eight hour days (with an unpaid hour-long lunchbreak)–at London living wage. The mathematically-minded of you may have noticed that living wage is calculated based on full-time employment, and therefore a 28-hour week on living wage is kind of unlivable. For the last year or so, I’ve just about made ends meet, because untaxed it averages out as just under a grand a month which can cover my bills and rent and food and travel. Not this month. This month, you see, I have hit the point where the government decide you have earned enough to start nicking a cut of your money, and therefore, with NI and income tax, I’ll be taking home less than £700 to cover my bills and rent and food.

The sharp-eyed among you might have spotted that the second time I listed my expenses, I didn’t list “travel”. This is because this problem has conveniently gone away–in the most inconvenient way possible. See, tomorrow is the last day I’ll have this job before my contract expires and, being unable to afford to keep me on in this horrid economic climate, I will be boarding the merry-go-round of unemployment once again.

I was unemployed about a year ago, just before I got this low-paid and precarious job. Do you know how much being unemployed sucks? Have any of you ever been on the dole? Because let me tell you this: the less-than-700-quid a month I have is significantly better than the 70 quid a week you have to jump through hoops for. And I’m one of the lucky ones, because at least I’m old enough to claim the stuff that might just cover my expenses if I’m incredibly creative and don’t mind not eating much more than baked beans out of a bowl. That way, I should be able to afford the bus to the JobCentre.

Did you know, in my line of work, the number of applicants could be up to triple figures? I’m considering putting a gender-neutral name on my CV so I can at least increase the chances of getting a job interview. I already use a more traditionally-British sounding surname because research shows that that improves your chances. Perhaps I just need to work on making myself prettier: apparently that helps, too. I have my own style, but I’m desperate. If it helps, I’ll gladly fluff myself into patriarchal ideals of beauty. I have to eat, and apparently this is what the industry wants from me.

I suppose I could go back to what I was doing before I got into campaigns work, but I am loath to do that. The work was poorly paid and truly exploitative; they played upon gaslighting us into thinking we wanted to be there. Sometimes, the work would take such strain on my body and my mind that I would have seizures.  I got given a pittance, but I had to pay to be there! Imagine that, paying a fee to work! The whole ideal had been sold to me on a lie, and I was trapped in their by the continued lie, and it took every ounce of my effort to exit.

And now I am an exited academic. I warn people like me, fresh-eyed and eager, bouncing with the romantic myths about that line of work. I tell them the truth, that nobody could be happy doing that (if they say they are, it’s probably false consciousness stemming from brainwashing into liking a line of work valued by patriarchy). It’s exploitation, pure and simple.

So what can I do?

Sometimes I consider journalism. I can write quickly, and I can write well, and I have a good follow-base already. As I understand it, I am above and beyond the level of qualification for a comment journalist. The thing is, I really don’t want to do that. I don’t want to sell the most intimate part of me to the highest bidder. My mind is the essence of me, far beyond my body, and it is not for sale. I don’t want my thoughts and feelings to be transmuted into my bread and butter, forced to write and think and compromise myself lest I starve. Sure, some defenders of the industry might say people can consent to doing that, but I’m not so sure myself. How can anyone consent to selling a soul?

Like I said, I’m pretty good at campaigning. I can turn this stuff around quickly and I’m bloody good at it. Fuck it, if any of you want to hire me, I’ll strategise your campaigns until they’re something even I’d participate in. But, unfortunately, even that wouldn’t help at the moment. Because that’s the thing, carceral feminism. You’re blinkered at the moment, not opening up your campaigns to the linked struggles. Sex work isn’t exploiting women, work is. The worker-employer relationship is always exploitative. And it goes double for women, and then piles on the second any of us face intersecting oppressions. Ultimately, I’m better off than many: I have no kids, I have white skin, and I can hide my disability until the ink is dry on a contract.

I think, carceral feminism, that all of these women can be saved. We want to be saved. We need support from you, with all of your resources, to focus on all work, to support all struggles, and to strive towards the complete destruction of capitalism. Let us be. Let us grow. Let us not have to break ourselves over and over.

I am asking to be rescued, and I hear you like rescuing women. So please, please rescue me.


Another milestone post

Well. This is apparently my 500th post on this blog, so I felt like I ought to mark the occasion somehow. It’s been almost three years since I started blogging, and in that time I became more powerful than I could possibly imagine. Lightning started to flare from my fingertips, and by merely whispering the word “cis” I could summon a mob of flying monkeys which can eviscerate entire newsrooms within the blink of an eye. I learned I could communicate telepathically as my horns began to sprout (they boost the signal, you see), meaning, as everyone knows, I could get my army of followers to do anything I wanted. I slowly started to assume my true form, as beautiful and terrible as the dawn, sustained by the oceans of male tears that nourish me.

Or not.

Anyway, I am not the person to really assess my own impact. How can I know? How can I judge? What I know is this: I’ve evolved over these three years. Sometimes I want to go back through my blog and scrawl “THIS IS NOT WHAT I THINK ANY MORE” in letters a thousand feet high on old posts, because my eyes are opening, ever-wider, to my own complicity in this fucked-up system, and my understanding is evolving and I realise just how blinkered I had been.

And I don’t doubt that I will continue learning, continue with all of this.

I want you all to know that I don’t see myself as a leader, and I never did. I see myself as documenting a journey which it seems resonates with many of you. I understand that I have a gift for putting things into words pretty quickly, and this is how I use it. But I’m nothing special. I’m just another angry woman.


My white privilege

My skin is white. This means I have white privilege.

I face a bit of crap in my day-to-day life, because I’m not the nice kind of English white that people prefer. My name comes from my father–he is Greek Cypriot. Poor Cyprus, it only managed a decade and a half of independence after being passed between various empires, before the chunk of the island my family happens to be from got itself invaded again.

My surname is not English. Stavri. It’s six letters long, and if you were to guess at how it were pronounced by shoving together each sound phonetically, chances are, you’d get it right. Despite this, I am perpetually asked how one would say it, or finding my name mashed into something that English tongues find more recognisable.

I get asked where I’m “really from” more often than I care to count. The answer to this is London. I was born in London, raised in London and have lived in London for almost all of my life. But where am I “really from”? What flavour of foreign am I?

This is all profoundly irksome to me, but do you know what? I still have white privilege. I have it in spades, because my skin is white.

It means that when people look at me, there isn’t a whirling mass of stereotypes activated. I am not judged for the colour of my skin, I am not considered a representative of white people. People do not look down on me with disgust or patronising pity because of the colour of my skin. There is a whole world which can be invisible to me if I choose, because I have white skin. I benefit from white supremacy.

There’s no turning away from it. Despite these things that annoy and needle, I will never experience discrimination because of the colour of my skin.

I have white privilege. I cannot pretend it away. I cannot point to the microaggressions I experience for not being some sort of English rose and pretend that this treatment is in any way on a par with what is experienced by people of colour, because it isn’t.

And perhaps conversations about British colonial history and a general nagging xenophobia are necessary, but they cannot be had over discussions of white privilege, because it is something completely different. To suggest otherwise is a derailing tactic.

As a white woman, I own and acknowledge my white privilege. I attempt to mitigate it as best I can, and I try to learn what I can about something I can never personally experience. I try to advocate for women of colour, and I’m open to criticism when I fuck up, because I know my white privilege makes me ignorant as all fuck about these things.

The feminism produced by women like me–white feminism–has failed far too many women by its repeated negligence in analysing structural racism and this must change. I don’t want to be part of the problem. I don’t want to be complicit. And yet, because of the colour of my skin, I can be both of these things.


Lucifer, literally. Or, yes, I am jealous. Yes, I do want to drag you down.

Content note: this post discusses rape, transphobia, disablism, racism and abuse. 

There are a lot of women who I can say make me feel jealous. And there are a lot of women who I would like to drag down to my level of misery.

I envy the women who think a few tweets with four-letter words in them telling them they’re wrong is abuse. I know abuse, both online and offline. Online, even the death and rape threats, the sustained harassment and the attempted doxxings fade into insignificance next to what has happened to me in the meatspace. There’s only one thing that happened to me that I “count” as rape, because it was violent and it involved the word “no” being ignored a lot, but I wonder if internalised rape culture myths have left me discounting other very coercive sexual experiences. There was the emotionally abusive relationship wherein my head was being so fucked with I couldn’t even consent. There were the attempts to somehow correct me. I’ve been manipulated into sex I didn’t necessarily want more times than I can count.

And beyond the physical stuff, there’s all the verbal assaults, the slutbitchdyke stuff which is supposed to keep me in my place, and keep me down. I am simultaneously frigid and fucking too much. These slurs based on my sexuality and on my femininity serve to support and enable the sexual violence.

So yes. I’m deeply jealous of anyone who thinks that a couple of rude words on the internet are in any way comparable with all of this.

I envy the women who believe certain oppressions cannot possibly exist. The ones who believe biphobia isn’t real, so can’t possibly hurt. The ones who believe that I cannot possibly have a disability because I have a job and am capable of articulating my opinions, blissfully ignorant of the fact that if I didn’t have the former I’d starve and die, and if I didn’t do the latter the silence would gnaw away at my soul, and that I’d rather be able to focus on taking care of myself than grind away to survive and defend myself.

I envy those who think transphobia isn’t a real thing, or those who think it’s just a little intellectual squabble, a petty parlour game. I have held someone I love in my arms more times than I care to count, comforting against the vicious assaults. I have dried tears of people I care about as their very existence is questioned, and spent long hours reiterating that mere existence does not make one scum, or a rapist.

I find myself in similar situations with my sisters of colour, talking through racism that has been too often denied, providing support where I can, because there’s a lot of lucky women out there who believe that the only manifestation of white supremacy is a KKK hood or an EDL flag.

I find myself wishing I could be like those other women, the ones who don’t have to see this, the ones who can sit comfortably and believe that nothing is wrong. It must be so nice, having so little to worry about. It must be lovely, not having to check oneself at all, with no knowledge of one’s own complicity in this oppressive power structure. It must be absolutely fucking brilliant, being able to feel like they can actually do things and achieve things because the magnitude of the problem is largely invisible.

And it makes me angry, and it makes me want for them to see what I see. It makes me want to prop open their eyes with matchsticks and scream “LOOK AT IT. FUCKING LOOK AT ALL OF THIS.” It is a miserable thing, seeing all of this, and I want them to be down on my level of misery so we can actually begin to maybe solve these problems.

I am Lucifer, literally. The light bearer, illuminating the injustices that they do not see. And it’s not just me, it is all of us who see it, all of us who have had enough and want to point it out. We shine a light in the direction of just how deep the rot goes, and just how much of a battle we have left to fight.

And of course, this is not a popular position. Nobody wants to see it. I sure as shit wish I couldn’t, but because I do, the only option left open to me is to oppose it, fight it, hope that perhaps one day it will shift and do all that I can to help this on my way.

I want you to see what I see. I know it will hurt. But you need to see it to destroy it.

__

Thank you,  @veidtlemania, for calling me Lucifer. <3


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 18,205 other followers