Sinead O’Connor

Cross-posted from: Cheryl SELLOFF
Image from Guardian
Image from Guardian

Sinead O’Connor is reacting appropriately as she faces what happens to gifted, accomplished, generous, tireless, beautiful, courageous, honest, brilliant women as we age. She is demonstrating wild, unfiltered, righteous, completed understandable fury. Having supported everyone all of her life financially — partners, husbands, children, manager — never asking for a penny from any of them (she is currently being sued, in fact, for $450,000 by the manager who discovered her when she was an abused, traumatized kid, fresh out of one of the horrific Magdalene homes), she is now effectively abandoned by all of them, treated as an embarrassment. That alone would do anyone in; in the words of the Ani DiFranco song, “How could you take everything/and then come back for the rest?” She laid bare the entirety of her heart and soul by way of her magnificent music, offering it up to the entire world, holding nothing back, bearing up under endless criticism for her willingness to speak and rage honestly, with a beauty that forced people to listen and hear. The same artistic and intellectual giftedness which created an empire and legacy, or should have, now becomes the weapon turned against her. There is nothing mentally, emotionally or spiritually wrong with Sinead O’Connor that a world that valued the lives of women would not relieve and heal. She did make a terrible mistake in believing the world would forgive her for living authentically once she got old. It does not. The best a woman like Sinead can hope for is a forgiving eulogy once she’s passed. She is a woman betrayed and scorned and brave enough to demonstrate the way hell has no fury like this fury. I wish she recognized all of this with healing clarity, but that’s not the way she’s ever moved or confronted horror in her life. Sinead responds gut and viscera first and devil take the hindmost. As has been true all of her life, she continues to walk in her own magnificent integrity. I am in awe of her courage.

 

Cheryl SELLOFF is a 65 year old radical feminist writer and old school activist who farms 6.5 acres of women’s land in the Pacific Northwest.

 

I DON’T WANT TO GO TO THERAPY. by @thewritinghalf

Cross-posted from: The Writing Half
Originally published: 13.12.16

Your teeth hurt badly, you go to the dentist. Your back’s killing you, maybe the osteopath or perhaps the chiropractor. Some other physical pain: probably the GP. And when your mind is troubling you?

 

carrie-in-therapyNo matter that the Sex and the City girls – and everyone else in Manhattan – were going to therapy way back in 1999, it’s still not a likeable answer for many of us in 2016.

 

Carrie and her friends, just like me, are in the social bracket that generally have a more positive attitude to getting professional help when our minds get ill: caucasian, female, 20s-30s, culturally assimilated, educated.

Just like Carrie and her friends, I’ve done the therapy thing. Four rounds of it to date, in fact. 
Read more I DON’T WANT TO GO TO THERAPY. by @thewritinghalf

The power of words in an age of anxiety by @AliyaMughal1

Cross-posted from: Aliya Mughal
Originally published: 19.02.16

“The magic of escapist fiction is that it can actually offer you a genuine escape from a bad place and, in the process of escaping, it can furnish you with armour, with knowledge, with weapons, with tools you can take back into your life to help make it better. It’s a real escape — and when you come back, you come back better armed than when you left.”

Neil Gaiman beautifully articulates the essence of why reading is such an indispensable pastime in those moments when reality lets us down.

Gaiman was referring to how his 97-year-old cousin, a Polish Holocaust survivor and teacher, had escaped into the world of books during the Nazi occupation. For her and the pupils she secretly read stories to, books, forbidden at the time, provided a soul-saving gateway into a place that for a few precious moments, freed their minds from the shackles of their daily existence.

Liberating the mind can be both a vital and yet seemingly impossible task in the worst moments of mental anguish. Depression, for instance, has the overwhelming capacity to trap people in a vicious cycle of interminable horror.

The question of whether books can provide relief in the context of mental health is one that’s usefully being explored in Future Learn’s latest course, Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing, a surprisingly rare offering that combines a traditionally academic field with the psychological element of the health sciences.

One of the questions posed in the opening survey for learners is that of why and where they read, “to pass the time” being one of the multiple choice answers.

It’s interesting to explore what is meant by this. The act of reading as means of passing the time sounds at first like a passive one, pursued for the sake of just getting through the day.

But for many people who suffer under the “daily rain” of depression, simply getting through the day can be a major victory.

Pause for thought

The social and psychological value of books isn’t a new idea. It was raised in Aristotle’s Poetics, where the concept of catharsis was explored in terms of the impact of tragedy to purge us of emotions, specifically pity and fear. The definition of catharsis is still debated but the essential idea of using the words of others to reveal something of ourselves to ourselves is one that has prevailed through the ages.

Jack Lankester, an English teacher for whom the sonnets of Philip Sidney provided a sense of fellowship and solace when he experienced heartbreak, describes the restorative power of poetry in a way that reflects this idea of a cathartic experience:

“I believed in my naivety that no one had ever been as heartbroken as I was. No one understood… When I started reading him, the penny dropped in that instant, I felt wildly less alone. And the fact that he had been writing these poems 500 years ago, really did make me realise that being heartbroken or sad or lost is in many ways inevitable. And it’s a part of the human condition.”

Far from being a passive experience then, reading poetry is a means by which we can intimately and consciously engage with the essence of what it means to be human. It’s a precious counterpoint to the modern day fixation on lives that ought to be in continual motion, racing from one day, one achievement, one love, one, one feeling, one thing, one experience to the next.

One of the poems I find myself going back to again and again for this very reason, and for its own wonderfully lyrical sake, is Dew Light, by WS Merwin:

Now in the blessed days of more and less
when the news about time is that each day
there is less of it I know none of that
as I walk out through the early garden
only the day and I are here with no
before or after and the dew looks up
without a number or a present age

As Stephen Fry, who also features in the Future Learn course, says: “There is so much nutrition inside the best poems.”

 

Aliya Mughal : I’m a dedicated follower of wordsmithery and wisdom in its many guises. Reader, writer, storyteller – if there’s a thread to follow and people involved, I’m interested. I’ve built my life around words, digging out the stories that matter and need to be told – about science, feminism, art, philosophy, covering everything from human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, to famine and the aid game in Rwanda, to how the intersection of art and science has the power to connect the disparate forces of humanity with the nanoscopic forces of our sacred Earth. Find me @AliyaMughal1

The Racist and Sexist History of Keeping Birth Control Side Effects Secret

Cross-posted from: Bethy Squires at Broadly
Originally published: 17.10.16

In September, JAMA Psychiatry published a Danish study that found a correlation between the use of hormonal birth control and being diagnosed with clinical depression. The study tracked hormonal birth control use and prescription of antidepressants over six years for over a million women. They found that women who were on hormonal birth control—be it the pill or a hormonal IUD or vaginal ring—were significantly more likely to be prescribed antidepressants.

Since the news broke, many women reported feeling vindicated that science is finally catching up to their lived experience. “I’d used the pill for ten years,” says Holly Grigg-Spall, author of Sweetening the Pill. “One particular kind, Yasmin, had huge side effects —psychological effects, depression, anxiety, panic attacks. I didn’t make the connection between what was going on with me and the pill for two years.”
Read more The Racist and Sexist History of Keeping Birth Control Side Effects Secret

Waves of Darkness at The Not Me

Cross-posted from: The Not Me
Originally published: 25.05.15

A wave of depression drenched me and left me to melt. Not quickly or entirely like the Wicked Witch of the West. I envy her. With her 30-second transformation, she gave everyone happy relief and permanent freedom.

I can’t tell if I’m melting really slowly, or if I will continue shrinking indefinitely, never quite reaching zero, like Zeno’s paradox. I want to believe the people who say things like “It’s only temporary,” or “Surely, it can’t last,” but I’ve been holding on for years now. When my clothes begin pooling around my teeny, tiny feet, will people still tell me to wait patiently?

I don’t feel soaked through every minute of every day. Sometimes, when I walk along the path near my house, I can feel the sun warming my cheeks, and I can see the light shining on the new growth of spring green fields. But when I try to grab hold of the brightness, to carry it with me beyond that moment, it almost always vanishes. Within seconds of looking at that fluorescent glow of spring, I begin to think of the pasty green face of that wicked witch and of all the similarities between us. I don’t believe I am malicious like she was, but I do feel like an obvious outsider coated in abnormal, sallow skin, unable to blend in and function the way good people can. With my cold heart, I too am unsatisfied with the powers that I possess, unable to truly appreciate any of the wonders over or under the rainbow, and, worst of all, always bringing others down. 
Read more Waves of Darkness at The Not Me

The Voice in My Head at The Not Me

Cross-posted from: The Not Me
Originally published: 15.10.15

I would wake up thinking: I shouldn’t be here. Warning alarms in my body and criticizing refrains in my head returned every day to remind me that I didn’t belong and I never would. I tried to shut off the alarms, to refute the refrains, but nothing that came to mind held meaning for me anymore.

Part of me could still imagine that the messages in my head might be wrong, but that thought did not stop the feelings. It didn’t even deter them. No matter what I told myself, regardless of all the medications I tried and despite decades of psychotherapy, the suicidal thoughts kept coming.

I had done all the things that a dutiful patient should. Somehow, though, I was still losing control over my life. As drug after drug failed, the only solace I had was the assumption that if things became truly unbearable, I could find an emergency exit. I reassured myself that suicide was always a possibility —a last resort —so I could feel a little less trapped.
Read more The Voice in My Head at The Not Me

My name is Helen – I have PTSD and am not demon posessed. by @helen_a13

cross-posted from Helen Blogs

orig. pub. 10.10.14

Its been a while since I’ve written, but today is World Mental Health Day – a day in which millions of people have been tweeting using the #worldmentalhealthday hashtag, and under many others too – and I felt compelled to put a few thoughts down.

There have been some amazing blogs written today and I am under no illusion that this is going to be one of them. It isn’t.

This morning, on a rare day off I spent a few hours on the sofa, listening to music and catching up on the online world – on Facebook, twitter, emails, blogs etc. I saw a few tweets and then got into a conversation with some friends/people I’ve been connected with for a long time. And we were talking about it being World Mental Health Day.

And I got thinking about my experience. My experiences. Of mental health issues, and specifically of having mental health issues and being in a church on and off over the years.

I tweeted under the hashtag myself. A tweet that celebrated the amazing CPN I had involved in my life for 18 months, who I learnt to trust and like, without whom I’d have been dead (literally – he broke into my flat when I didn’t turn up for an appt and found me unconscious having OD’d).

And a couple of tweets that acknowledged the pain of churches that have gotten it SO wrong over the years whilst acknowledging that there are some that do get it right.

Then I wrote and tweeted this –

‘My name is Helen. I have PTSD & struggle with depression. I am not a freak and I am not demon possessed. #WorldMentalHealthDay #EndTheStigma’

Why?

Because I am not a freak.

And because my experience over the years has been of being told if I just prayed more, had more faith, or trusted God then I would not struggle with depression, or the issues surrounding the PTSD.

I’ve been told many times that I have demons. I’ve been told I am demon possessed. I’ve been told if I honoured God more/was more in love with Him then He would ‘take away’ the blackness.

I’ve been told by a Pastor that if I was truly a Christian my story would be erased from my mind, and I would not suffer because of it, therefor depression should not be a part of my life.

I’ve been told by another one that I was too much for him, their church, and probably God because the ‘Devil’ really had hold of me.

I’ve been told many things.

And we wonder why people fear being open and honest about mental health issues they face.

We wonder why the last place a person would think about going when in mental health distress is a church.

And we wonder why people end up more hurt and damaged by the responses of people, who not only misunderstand but who are often wilfully ignorant of the wider issues.

 

Not long after I posted the ‘my name is Helen. I have …’ tweet I got a reply.

From a ‘well meaning’ Christian, who firstly started off by joking. It wasn’t massively funny, and I spent a couple of minutes before I replied trying to work out if they were being totally stupid or if behind their words were deeper meaning.

It didn’t take long to find out.

To find out that they believe I need ‘deliverance’.

It didn’t take long for them to tell me I am not experiencing freedom and victory (because they know me oh so well right? As if).

It took a matter of minutes for them to become another one of the very many people I’ve had in my life speaking dangerous untruths. Thankfully I am strong enough to respond/respond/answer back now. A few years ago I was not.

A few years ago, for me personally, someone coming at me with those views were damaging. Damaging to me, to my life, and to my relationship with God, and the church. It contributed to making it non existent.

After our little exchange, and after being told I don’t live in victory I got thinking about what ‘victory’ means. And what it looks like. And how it looks different and unique to every single person.

Victory to me is waking up every morning and being OK that I am alive.

Victory to me is putting one step in front of another and keeping on walking.

Victory to me is not self harming for 4.5 years, and not trying to kill myself.

Victory to me is being 7 years on from the day I was raped.

Victory to me is overcoming each and every battle as and when they come to confront me.

Victory to me is when someone (I know) touches me/gives me a hug and I don’t flinch, freeze, want to cry, or hit them.

Victory to me is in the overcoming of big things, but also in the very small, tiny day to day things too.

Victory to me is looking the world in the eyes, holding my head up high and knowing I have survived.

 

So how dare someone tell me I am not experiencing victory, because I do. I experience victory every single damn day.

And thankfully too, God is now in that victory too.

 

Mental Health Issues are so misunderstood and stigmatised in society generally, and that is no different within the church.

Whether its deliberate or just pure ignorance its not good enough.

And we cannot continue to brush the topic under the carpet.

People like me are everywhere. We are next to you on the bus, in the shops, in your work places. In your schools, your hospitals, your libraries, your Dr’s. Everywhere there are people, are people with mental health battles happening. And that includes in the church. My church. And your church.

If you are reading this I urge you to, if you haven’t already, begin to educate yourself. Begin to assess how you respond and support someone with mental health issues, especially within your faith community.

And I beg of you to consider spending time on working out how you effectively support someone.

Because believing we are demon possessed is wrong. And damaging, as I said above.

Learn to love. Learn to accept. Learn to walk along side us.

Learn what we need. And for each and every one of us it will be different. What I do guarantee though is that it won’t be being told we have demons.

We don’t.

My name IS Helen. I have PTSD & struggle with depression. I am NOT a freak. AND I AM NOT DEMON POSSESSED.

 

Helen Blogs:  Its a reasonably new having blogged under the pseudonym of ‘fragmentz’ for 5 years (which is now defunct) I write about things including my own experiences of being a survivor of child hood abuse, and rape as an adult. I’m passionate about seeing an end to violence against women and am on a journey of learning more and more about feminism as each day goes by. I also write about God and my faith. ( @helen_a13)

I’m No Heroine: On Feminism and Strength by Gappy Tales

Originally published: 05.02.14

I have been thinking a lot lately about online identity. As in how we put ourselves across to others through our writing, and the ways in which that can be received and interpreted.

It was a short exchange over Twitter that started me thinking. A #saysomethingnice hashtag was floating around and I had tweeted an online friend to tell her that I thought she was kind and funny, and that I really liked her. She had replied back saying:

“Well then I think you are strong, amazing, defiant and kickass! I am rather envious of you. x”

Which was lovely and made me smile, of course. But perhaps more confusedly than anything because the truth was that I just did not recognise myself in those words at all. Strong? Amazing? Kickass???No, not me. And then a realisation hit me and I thought, my god, is that really the impression I give of myself with my words? Because honestly, it just isn’t true.

And then I got to thinking of a much wider picture, of how feminists are often regarded as “strong” women; stronger and braver somehow than supposed “other” women. I don’t necessarily think that’s true either, nor do I think the idea particularly empowering – not for anyone. We are all of us just women getting by, having a lot of the same experiences, interpreting and reacting to them in our own way. When you are a woman living in a world that does not value women equally, simply learning to survive and thrive as best you can is brave enough.

Defining ourselves as feminists and writing, however passionately, about feminist principles cannot ever make us impervious to the daily grind of male supremacy. Indeed, I think sometimes it is because we are so affected that we become so inspired. We empathise with – and are angry on behalf of – all women yes, but the anger is generated from within our own selves as a reaction to our own lives and experiences. The personal is political after all.

So if I am enraged by the incessant body fascism depicted in glossy magazines, then please know that this is always at least partly informed by the fact that after birthing and feeding three children, I find my own stretched skin so hard to accept without judgement.

And if you read me railing against street harrassment and shouting about the right of women to go about their business without being subjected to the endless staring, cat-calls and intimidation that occur daily in our public spaces, then understand too that the last time I walked alone down a dark street, I was approached by a strange man whose low muttered obscenities frightened me so much I ran straight out into the road to get away from him and was almost mown down by an on coming car in the process.

Know that feminism for me is neither an abstract concept, nor an academic exercise. I can intellectualise and deconstruct and pick apart patriarchy’s every premise, but I will still suffer the same pains and indignities of having been born female in a mans world along with everyone else. My feminism is born of lived experience. Really, it was the only rational response.

And of course it isn’t just me. In fact I was reading an article by Helen Lewis in the New Statesman recently – the article was about intersectionality, but it was this passage that jumped out at me:

“Here are some of the things I know that the kind of feminists regularly decried for their privilege have had to deal with, in private: eating disorder relapses; rape; the stalking of their children; redundancy; clinical depression; the sectioning of a family member; an anxiety disorder that made every train ride and theatre trip an agony. (Yes, one of those descriptions is me.)”

There are none of us immune to that daily grind. Even those feminists who might be considered some of the most successful, celebrated and widely read. Outspoken, vocal feminists in the public eye. Surely they must be the strongest of the strong? But take a peek below the surface and what you discover are ordinary women who can still struggle right along with everyone else.

And no, I do not mean to imply that being in receipt of privilege does not have a significant bearing on a womans life experiences (from a purely personal perspective I cannot remember the last time I could afford to go to the theatre for a start), and nor do I wish to paint women as hapless victims. Certainly not. My intention is simply to draw focus on our common humanity, our common experience, our common strength, our… commonality.

Because there are no “strong” women as set apart from “weaker” women. Feminism is for everybody. The words I write and the values that I hold true do not make me inherently more powerful than anyone else. And with that I’ll leave you with Ani di Franco who invariably says it better than I ever could…

 

Jeni Harvey: Writer, feminist, mother. Likes cake, hates Jeremy Clarkson. These are my principles – if you don’t like them, I have others. @GappyTales or Huff Post