Daughter

Flung together into the ocean,

some found safety,

some disappeared from sight

and some stayed alongside her

as she clung, disrobed and

white-knuckled, to debris.

The future shrank to terror, of

salt-eyed thrashing through

mountainous waves and needle-sharp rain.

Darkness tore her to unearthly spheres,

ravening lions, bulls of Bashan,

starless, infinite stretching of night.

Hands beneath, above, around, she

gasped at raw morning air and

saw the faint, tangerine-tinged horizon.

Slipping away

You clung to life

like a hunted seal on a rock,

but now your grey-blue eyes are as

faraway as Nan’s were. 

Slack faced.

So tired. 

The rock has become the danger. 

War is rife.  Soldiers swarm into your

home.   Strangers lurk in the street and the

people on the TV are seeping through

but you lost your words and just

on the other side, through the veil,

where your sad eyes linger, is

safety and rest.

May the road rise to meet you,

long-lived child.

May you find peace. 

May you, like your mother before you,

find your way home.

Your personal strength assessment

Clever but pointless, all round average or practical but dim ?

Having spent the last hour trying to figure out how to put a bike onto a smart turbo trainer, I figured that the turbo trainer is smarter than me and, covered in oil, sweat and the filth of all the swear words I uttered, I am writing a blog instead. I believe that I am clever but pointless, and my personal strength assessment will probably prove it. But which one are you? Answers on a postcard.

  1. You buy a turbo trainer so you can work out at home. How do you go about setting it up?

a. Watch a few Youtube clips, figure out that it looks easy, wrestle a bike indoors, hurt your back trying to fix it on, wonder how to fix a puncture, wrestle another bike indoors, get mud all over the carpet, scream, swear and then write a blog, knowing that somebody else will do it for you eventually.

b. Watch a few Youtube clips, mess about with it for a while, an hour later figure it out and then cycle merrily along.

c. Do it straight away as it’s fairly obvious.

2. You are sent an article about postmodernist readings of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.

a. You stop what you’re doing with a feeling of intense enthusiasm, devour the article, exclaim ‘oh yes’ and nod at lots of the points, consider others for a few minutes before forming an opinion, share it with your uni friends and spend the rest of the day thinking it all through.

b. You skim through it with some interest, picking up one or two of the points, and then forget it.

c. Post what? What’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’? A TV series isn’t it?

3. You move house and need to put lots of pictures up.

a. You place them on the floor underneath the place that you want them, consider briefly watching some Youtube clips of how to hang a picture, but realise that it’s pointless to even try, and that the endeavour will end in screaming, swearing and smashed pictures.

b. You faff about a bit, don’t get round to it straight away because you’re not sure where your spirit level is or which types of fixings you need, but then eventually do a five minute think and get on with it.

c. You go to your fixtures and fittings drawer and hang the pictures. Don’t know why anyone wouldn’t.

4. You are driving along and put on the radio, to hear a discussion about the philosophy of Derridas, who said that meaning cannot be confined to words, and that the only real meaning lies in the difference between words. He spells it ‘differance’ to highlight the fact that it’s a new concept.

a. You are so enthusiastic about this idea that you almost drive off the road. You start to apply the philosophy to every book you have ever read.

b. You realise that red is only red because it isn’t any other colour, think ‘oh that’s quite cool’ and change the channel to some jolly music.

c. You think ‘what a boring twat’ and change the channel.

5. You’re out in the middle of nowhere when the car tyre goes flat.

a. You call the emergency rescue people who take an hour but you don’t try and do it yourself because you don’t know if the car has a spare, or how to jack the car up, or what a wheel is.

b. You watch a Youtube clip of how to change a tyre and are pleasantly surprised to see that it’s quite easy.

c. You get it fixed in five minutes.

6. Somebody starts explaining how the crucifixion of Jesus, in Anglo Saxon times, was depicted as an act of power and victory, with Jesus leaping up onto the cross like a warrior lord with his thanes watching in admiration. Only with the Black Death in the Middle Ages did Jesus become dejected, weak and destroyed.

a. You imagine the scene vividly, loving the historical perspectives of the same narrative and how cultural contexts change the telling of an event.

b. You remember watching a series about the Anglo Saxons and you realise that this makes sense.

c. You don’t see the relevance of this fairy tale nonsense.

7. A child in the family asks you if they can make a box for their treasures and paint it.

a. You say ‘yes’ and then ask everybody you know if they can make a box with your child.

b. You say ‘yes’ and watch a Youtube clip about how to make a box, then do it.

c. You do it immediately with some spare wood from the garage, your power tools and a very happy child in your workshop.

8. The TV is showing ‘Couples Therapy’ and a psychology expert starts discussing the applications of various branches of feminism in clinical supervision.

a. You consider how TERFS have contributed to the exclusion of many minority groups and write a lengthy letter to J.K. Rowling on the subject.

b. ‘Yes’, you think. ‘Feminism is important but I don’t know much about the various branches of it’.

c. You wonder why couples don’t just go for a walk, watch a film and stop whinging about each other.

9. You keep noticing that the back door glass is really smudged and dirty.

a. You decide to clean it, but whatever you do the smears just get worse and worse until the door looks like an opaque bathroom window, and you wonder why everything is impossible to do.

b. You get your glass cloth and improve it significantly.

c. You put on your marigolds, have a good enjoyable session of cleaning and the windows come up sparkly.

10. The ironing needs doing.

a. You iron a shirt for an interview and keep putting more creases into it that then won’t iron out, and the shirt looks like shattered glass by the time you’ve finished. You spray it all out, then iron it again, and it burns, setting the smoke alam off.

b. You do an OK job of it although you know your Grandma would do it better.

c. You switch on the TV, get the iron steaming away and whizz through the lot.

Well, there you have it. Mostly As makes you a clever but pointless waste of space, mostly Bs makes you a jack of all trades and master of none, and mostly Cs makes you a practical god even though a bit dim. Happy days.

Woman in Adultery

Trigger warning: A poem written during a time of despair, this explores themes of religious judgment, condemnation, gender inequity and divine forgiveness. Not a morning cuppa kind of read as it’s visceral and violent.

The inevitable judgment descends.

Voices in the corridor outside.

Her lover melts into the background.

He will never feel the full weight of condemnation,

 an unfettered, liberally raised male.

The door busts open, battered by blood-lust,

hateful hands grasp the soft skin of her upper arms.

Sobbing, she stumbles down the muted hotel corridors.

‘Take her to that Jesus of Nazareth’. 

‘Yeah, he’ll have to condemn her. 

Him with all his forgiveness;

he’ll have to acknowledge The Law.

She’s guilty and she even knows it. 

Look at her, snotting and snivelling’. 

Tart.  Liar.  Bitch. 

She doesn’t know Christ, she’s never known him.

He died the death that we deserve, they said.

Stretched flesh hung in toe-curling agony,

blotched, weeping face like an over-ripe plum,

a scorching suffocation,

solemnly described every Sunday.

‘This is his body, broken for us.’

‘This is his blood, spilled in our stead.’

And now they’re dragging her along the street…..

Dad once said he’d break her neck.

Now they’re going to break her bones.

She’s seen others, floppy limbed,

brains spilling out on the sand.

Smashing tearing chunks of skin and hair,

and after that, the God

who’d turn his face away:

‘Depart from me, I never knew you’.

Waking up cold with sweat,

Stumbling through darkness to the bathroom,

giddy with the magnitude of nothingness.

A doctrine of violence,

of slaughtered firstborn sons, youths killed by bears,

milk-mouthed,  peachy-headed babies

 ripped from their mothers’ breasts

and skewered by marauding warriors at the Lord’s command.

A gaping eternity of flame that tortures but does not consume.

As a child, padding through darkness

 every night to make sure

Mummy and Daddy

hadn’t been Raptured away

in the twinkling of an eye.

What about Christ?

Sitting calmly there in the sand,

he turns  from conversation.

Thrown to the floor she waits,

naked, miniscule.

They tower above her.

She never was the same as them.

Now they’ve got her and they’re

going to do what they should have done

years ago –

bury her to the neck in the sand.

Her head will be tiny and trapped and

unable to twist or turn any more

they will snuff her out,

til all that’s left is a broken skull

and a mess for the vultures to clean up. 

Quite right, too.

Now just a matter of time.

A lifetime.

She hears their voices staccato sharp.

Jesus, drawing in the sand.

The crowd are silenced.

 ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’.

……………………………………………

Too many fuckers forgot.

Journey of an overactive thyroid

Plus the sad state of the NHS

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I wrote a few weeks ago about my crazy overactive thyroid, which is now within range. What this means is that the 40mg of carbimazole that I’ve taken daily for the past four weeks has drastically destroyed some of my thyroid tissue thus rendering it incapable of excess T3 and T4 production. The TSH hormones that drive production of the T3 and T4 that circulate around in my blood are still ‘switched off’ but other than that I am ‘normal’. I feel fine, although a little tired. I have gained back the few pounds that I dropped, and it will be difficult to stop eating so much, as I got used to whole days of grazing, non-stop, on carbohydrates, just to hang onto the weight I was at. The downside as that I’ll need to be ‘titrated’ now which means staying on exactly the right dose of carbimazole to maintain the correct range. I think it can be tricky and can go under, in which case I’ll need thyroxine, and my private endocrinologist has still got me on 30g of carbimazole for another four weeks, although by that time I’ll have seen an NHS endocrinologist who might say something else entirely.

The other downside is that my liver function is now borderline. It was borderline at diagnosis, which was due to the toxicity of all that excess thyroid hormone floating about in my bloodstream, causing the liver to work harder. Either that or it was the borderline wine addiction but to be honest I don’t think so. It’s only ever been 2 or 3 glasses at a time and often none at all for weeks at a time, so probably not that. I’m now off alcohol completely and will be until I’m off carbimazole, because the liver function has worsened and is now causing my skin to break out and probably some of this fatigue. I don’t know whether the NHS endocrinologist will try a different medicine but I’ll ask at the appointment. I also still don’t know what the cause is, because the test for Graves disease that the private endocrinologist asked for was messed up by the lab, and my GP cannot request the test as it needs to come from a specialist.

This whole business of going private is sad. Not for me. It cost £200 and it was money well spent. But the fact that so many are having to wait five months to get seen. If I hadn’t have gone private, my condition would’ve worsened and the symptoms would’ve been really unbearable. I’d have had to give up work and be signed off sick, and had no income because I am classed as self-employed and don’t get sick pay. If I hadn’t have had the wherewithal to research my condition and realise what I needed, and discovered that GPs are not experts in endocrinology, and would be unable or unwilling to prescribe carbimazole in the doses that I needed, I would have suffered so much more than I did, and for longer. If I wasn’t the kind of person who makes a decision to get things sorted, and then acts like a bull in a china shop until they are sorted, nobody else would have conducted that fight for me.

I’m an intelligent woman with a will of iron and, although I’m genuinely kind and caring, I’m not gentle when it comes to getting what I need or getting what my family needs. In the past I advocated for my daughter by regularly bombarding the CAMHS unit and reminding them of the NICE guidelines. I contacted my local MP who also advocated for her. I got her treatment earlier because I kept on. My letters were well-informed, articulate and medically accurate. But how unfair is this? I’ve realised more than ever before in my new job how much the system is screwing over the most vulnerable members of our society.

How are these people supposed to get help? There are those around us in situations which are festering, problematic and downright unsafe. A single parent with severe mental health difficulties who cannot see a psychiatrist for months or even obtain the medication that would help them to find some space and calm. A child who can’t sleep because their routine has become completely upside down, who has missed so much school that they can’t tell the time, a child who is out all night and in all day, whose parent has learning difficulties and doesn’t really know how to parent, despite all the love in the world. A clinic where nobody answers the phone. Informative leaflets emailed out to people who don’t have the capacity to understand them and nobody to advocate for them. Local councils with social workers so snowed under with enormous caseloads who, through no fault of their own, are unable to support these families. GP surgeries with locked doors and phone queues over an hour long. Single mums haven’t got the time to wait over an hour. The baby’s crying, the washing needs doing, the cat needs feeding, the kids have to be fetched from school. They’ve got jobs that they need to pay the bills. They can’t get any help from anyone.

It’s a horrible speculation but is the NHS deliberately being run into the ground so that we can all go the American way and buy into lucrative personal health insurance schemes where the rich get richer and the poor just suffer? Where poor people with diabetes can’t get insulin because it’s not covered on their insurance? Where self-employed folks have no incentive to carry on and they have to go back into the corporate world? Or are we already there? I know that the families I work with are suffering because the NHS is no longer fit for purpose – which was to provide healthcare to every single person in a timely manner regardless of socio-economic status. If we are going the American way can we just get on with it then? Because what we’ve got now is neither here nor there. It’s a half-way house where people like me can badger, bombard and be heard, or pay the odd £200 for some timely treatment, and other people can just fall through the cracks in a ‘survival of the fittest, every man for himself’ kind of Trump-esque dystopia.

My thyroid condition will probably be well-managed and I’ll cobble together a path through it in a combination of self-management, education and professional input. But I’m sad for the NHS and all the amazing people who work in it. I hope against hope that this government really does put in some considerable funding and keep it going. I’ll never give up hoping that they really mean it and something will change. I don’t want to become the next state of America, driven entirely by consumerism, corporations, power and heirarchy. I want to live somewhere where every body is seen, valued and cared for with the same ferocious drive to thrive that most of us extend to ourselves and our own.

Teaching, time and money.

An alternative to teacher burnout

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A facebook entitled ‘Exit the Classroom and Thrive’ has in excess of 39,000 members and is growing at a rate of over a thousand members per month. A quick join and visit would reveal scores of distressing stories of stress, overwhelm and leadership bullying. One member revealed that her SLT send out an email every day with a list of who is off sick and how much this costs the school. Others relate, every day, how their job is making them anxious, sick, exhausted, overwhelmed and burned out. The latest craze hitting the news recently is for students to put recordings of teachers on TikTok in order to mock them.

I was a teacher in state secondary schools for fifteen years, starting in 2006 and finishing in July this year. I did experience some of the toxicity that has been related by members of the facebook group, although, at the time, I felt that I could deal with it. My first difficult experience was with a line manager who regularly accused me of missing deadlines and generally not being any good as a second in department. Without any idea what she meant, I asked for examples and she was unable to provide any. She lied about me to a member of SLT, who believed her, and I subsequently got ‘moved sideways’ eventually proving myself and my ability through a different route. Many others in the school experienced her as a bully and her effect on me was terrible. I experienced anxiety so severe that I became dizzy with brain fog whenever she approached me and had panic attacks in the staff toilets.

Later, as I was due to be reviewed for the highest pay scale, UPS3, I and others in the school received a shitty letter in out pigeon holes saying that we weren’t eligible for the pay rise, in my case because some A level results weren’t good enough. With the support of a line manager, I laid out a folder of evidence to the contrary, asked for a meeting and received a pay rise and an apology from the head. The experience, however, seems to be repeating itself in schools across the UK, with far worse outcomes. UPS3 teachers are being observed, put on ‘support plans’, reviewed and criticised regularly and effectively bullied out of the profession. They are taking time off with stress, sitting behind closed curtains, crying daily and questioning what has happened to the profession that they loved and worked all their lives to enhance. This is unfortunately what happens when a government consistently underfunds a profession for more than ten years and SLT are forced to make cuts wherever they can.

For myself, I thought I was OK – that the niggling squirm of anxiety in my stomach, every morning, as I walked to school, was something to observe, using mindfulness techniques, and simply learn to live with. Later, in another school, I thought that some anti-depressants would get me through the first difficult winter, with classes who shouted, rolled about on the floor, threw bottles and covered the ceiling with glue sticks. I thought their behaviour was my fault, my lack of behaviour management skills and my ‘too nice’ personality. My anxiety was confirmed by some other teachers who muttered about the noise the class made, or boasted about how they would never tolerate bad behaviour. This competition is another toxic part of schools. Don’t get me wrong – there were plenty of teachers who supported me until I got control of the situation, but there’s a lot of really nasty, snidy comparison in schools. Why? Because SLT encourage it, with favouritism, special mentions, requests from ‘outstanding’ teachers to lead briefings and training sessions, and ‘support plans’ for teachers who are struggling. They are not supportive, by the way, from what I have heard.

I kept telling myself I was OK even as I started to dream of escape. There were many wonderful things about teaching. The happy look on a student’s face when they grasped a concept, the hilarious comments, the flow of a great lesson and the enriching class discussions that made me feel like punching the air. I would never have stayed for fifteen years had it all been awful. But there’s an 80% rule – if the happiness is less than 80% of the total, then it’s not enough, and mine sat at around 75%, consistently, for years.

Once I had a plan to leave and work as a tutor or a supply teacher whilst looking for other work, I felt the beginnings of an enormous weight lifting from my mind, but I couldn’t explain exactly why. Children’s worsening behaviour was certainly one reason, an arrogant twerp on SLT who visited my form group and hectored me about the fact that a boy was scooting on a wheeled chair (whilst I was listening to a gay student telling me about how he had been the victim of hate speech), and stale, boring schemes of work that made me want to run away from my own lessons. The lack of creativity, autonomy, fun and laughter. Students in rows and seating plans, post Covid, at one point even masked up, led to such apathy and resentment of school that I dreaded going in.

I am now out. I am working for my local council as a one to one special needs tutor. I’ve taken at least £500 a month pay cut, which worried me enormously when I started, but I’m beginning to realise something that I would previously not have dared to dream of. Time away from that environment is slowly cleaning my mind of clutter and worry, washing away my anxiety, smoothing out the furrow in my forehead and gently massaging the knots in my shoulders and back. I have time to walk to the allotment, my work up to date, my time my own, and I owe nothing to anybody. I’m looking forward to Christmas without wondering how I’ll have the time to get everything done. My lack of anxiety makes me feel a bit confuddled. I’m not sure who I am without it. It’s been a constant companion for so long that I am now left with a sense of freedom so huge that I don’t know what to do with it. The fact that I’m happy is difficult to comprehend. Why did I put up with that shit for so long? Security.

Teacher pension, a steady income, holiday pay and the promise of regular work are all the things that keep us stuck in jobs that we don’t even know are strangling us. I have so much compassion for teachers who need every bit of their income to pay the mortgage, bills, children’s clothes, groceries and all the expenses of family life like I did during my time as a single mum. Even with the considerable maintenance money that my ex had to pay, I still needed the regular £2500 a month on UPS3 with a couple of TLRs to be able to have days out, holidays, a car and some savings for birthdays and Christmas. But, for those teachers who want to get out and currently can’t, you can start to do what I did and make a plan. My plan got me through the last four years.

Going part-time is an option. I took a pay cut and went down to £2000 a month working four days a week, which helped a lot. I got my weekends back and got to see my elderly parents once a week. This was my halfway house and also freed up time. My kids had left and become financially independent, so without university costs the pay cut was affordable. There is supply teaching but I think the money is pretty bad. Leaving in July is a good shout because there are six paid weeks to find alternative income. On ‘Exit the Classroom and Thrive’ there are hundreds of suggestions for other jobs that ex-teachers can do. Private tuition is an excellent option as it’s in such demand right now. There’s a video on there entitled ‘The Pit Pony’ where several experienced ex-teachers give excellent advice on how to set up a tutoring business.

My good friend Rachel has also left – we went at the same time. We both experienced considerable worry about how we were going to manage on less income. She is currently working as a private tutor and doing some supply for agencies. She spends less money and more time with her three dogs. She is beginning to trust that she will be OK. My final point is this: time is also a form of income. It’s powerfully enriching, used wisely. It gives benefits that money cannot: mental health, time to exercise, get out in the fresh air, cook healthy meals and talk to your kids.

More time can mean planning a cheaper way of life, seeking out bargains, selling all the crap you don’t use any more and living with less. I know we need money but do we need everything we buy? I’ve pretty much given up regular coffees and that saves £30 a month alone, as well as less paper and plastic waste. There are so many ways to live a meaningful life that don’t involve spending a lot of money. A walk in the park, a telephone call, listening to music at home, having a home spa, podcasts, makeaways, film nights in, taking own food to the cinema, not going to the cinema. The time is so much more valuable, we have only so much of it, and it’s worth spending with intention for the absolute maximum benefits. To all the teachers out there, still plugging away in schools: if you’re happy, that’s great. If you’re not, please do whatever you can to get out. You are worth so much more, and it can definitely be done!

Programmed to spend

The capitalist propaganda that we need to deconstruct

From the morning’s news where Dominic Raab attempted to justify Boris Johnson strolling around hospitals, insulting hard-working NHS staff by breathing his hot air all over them without a mask on, while they stood graciously by, masked and probably pissed off, to almost being obliterated by a lorry emblazoned with ‘Prettylittlething’ and ‘Buy Happiness’ on its side, I had a very unwelcome capitalist start to my day.

I can only assume that Johnson refuses to wear a mask because he is all for personal freedoms in an Arthur Birling-esque ‘every man for himself’ kind of way. I find him excruciatingly annoying but I’m not against capitalism per se. It’s the way our economy works and, as I’ve never lived under any other regime, I’m used to it. I understand that businesses need to thrive if we are to thrive as a nation. Going completely communist would surely be worse. I would like the last surviving bastion of former socialist glory, our NHS, to survive, but I fear it’s too late for that, as thousands flock to private hospitals for lifesaving treatment because otherwise they’ll perish on the waiting list. I exaggerate, I know, but only slightly.

Within this ‘money makes the world go round’ paradigm, though, advertising slogans are true indicators of how much we are being brainwashed into supporting the economy, at the cost of our autonomy, the developing world and the actual planet. ‘Buying happiness’. Really? I know that particular slogan was deliberately cheesy and exaggerated, but when I see people on the news flocking to Primark and Next for the Boxing Day sales, it’s clear that there’s some belief in the possibility that buying exactly the right shoes, boots, hoody, phone, jumper, winter coat or shiny lipstick will make a positive difference to our lives. We are buying and driving massive cars that are polluting the environment, hundreds and thousands of toys that kids play with for a week or so, chairs, tables, TVs, laptops and, by the looks of IKEA on a Sunday, millions of household items. I know it’s all been said before, but why do we continue?

I’m not talking about essentials or even items that we love but don’t strictly ‘need’. I’m talking about wardrobes stuffed with clothes that wear out after six months or go out of fashion and sit on a hanger, only to end up in landfill. Or stupid things we buy thinking that we’ll use them – in my case a Shakti mat. For those not in the know, it’s a spiky mat that feels like hell for two minutes and then becomes strangely relaxing, but who is really going to lie on a spiky mat every day? Clearly not me. I sold it on Ebay and now wish I’d bought it there, too.

The reason we buy stuff is because we’ve been conditioned to do so by the propaganda that we see all around us every day. Smiling happy people, delighted that they are driving the car, or using the face cream, or wearing the fashion. Adverts use a ‘problem-solution’ structure – it’s a discourse that is taught on copywriting courses and studied in A Level language. In order to sell a product, a copywriter needs to present the audience with a perceived problem. Bad skin, problem areas, stained teeth, no time. Or more subtly, the problem is implied. We are made to feel that our cars are not modern enough, that our vacuum cleaner isn’t technologically advanced enough or, as happened to me recently, that my penis isn’t big enough. Some problems with the marketing there. Just a quick look through my Instagram reveals that my tights don’t fit, my bras are uncomfortable and my garden is plain and needs a metal bird. As it happens, the Snag tights do look great and I’ll probably try them when my current tights actually don’t fit. My bras are fine thanks – they’ve mistakenly assumed that I actually have boobs – and the metal bird is not as nice as the actual robin that I see every day at the allotment.

I would like to think that when I buy things it’s because I choose to, not because I feel compelled to. What do I really need? 3 jumpers, 4 tops, 2 skirts, 2 pairs of trousers, one winter coat, 50 running outfits and 3 pairs of shoes or boots. That’s it. Might vary from person to person but no I am not going to queue up outside Primark on Boxing Day because I probably already have all that I need and, if I need more, I’ll buy responsibly. It’s not even expensive. Ebay has amazing finds when it comes to good quality clothing and ‘White Rose’ in Newark is my favourite pre-loved clothes shop ever. I recently watched ‘The True Cost’ on Youtube and, after learning about the hundreds of Bangladeshi factory workers who have suffered as a result of awful working conditions and poor safety measures, I really feel that enough is enough.

If we are to survive as a species, which is a questionable goal given what we’ve done to the planet, we need to change willingly before we are forced to by circumstances beyond our control. Yes the economy matters but we have to slow down and buy less and buy more responsibly. The propaganda, once we see through it, becomes meaningless jumble, and if you can see an ad on my WordPress, that’s because I chose not to spend the money for the option to remove it!

Why ‘healthy’ is a stupid concept

The truth about what ‘healthy’ means

We are a society that thinks in polar opposites. Man or woman. Black or white. Good or bad. Maybe I am more this way than most. As the product of a fundamentalist upbringing, I was taught about good and evil, us and them, Heaven and Hell, God and the Devil, and everything seemed so simple. But now I’m officially grown up, at 50, I find it glaringly obvious that the world doesn’t consist of polar opposites. We aren’t either a man or a woman. We might be male or female, although that’s not the case for intersex folks, and many people with bits of chromosomes that muddle the issue, and as for gender – well that’s a whole confuddling mess of cultural norms which many just don’t get. Even happiness isn’t that clear cut. Why do we have to be either happy or unhappy. For me, I can be 80% happy most of the time but there’ll be a small element of irritation or worry about some aspect of my life and that doesn’t make me unhappy – just a bit of a mixture.

So why do people still insist on saying that they are ‘trying to be healthy’ or comment on others being ‘so unhealthy’? People aren’t either healthy or unhealthy. What is meant by the word ‘health’ anyway? It is NOT used by most people to signify an absence of sickness. We all get colds and coughs but can still be considered by those around us to be healthy. Some people have chronic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis or even Stage 4 cancer but are deemed to be ‘healthy’ and people raise their eyebrows in confusion as to how they became so sick. ‘She/he was always so healthy’ and I find this quite pernicious as though the person somehow failed and nobody knows how. I was asked by a good friend if I would be really pissed off to get cancer. Well, the answer to that is definitely yes! But not for the reason that she asked. She was alluding to the fact that I’m a vegan runner and therefore shouldn’t expect to become seriously ill. But people do! I’d be pissed off because it’s a vile illness, not because I didn’t deserve it. Nobody deserves it.

So ‘healthy’ is not used in our society to signify an absence of illness. If this were the case, we would not discuss our plus-size friends and acquaintances in terms of them being so ‘unhealthy’. Are they sick? Probably not. So why are they ‘unhealthy’? Oh, the risk of heart disease? Well, in that case, we are using ‘unhealthy’ to allude to risk. But lots of risk is genetic. My Nan and my Dad had heart disease so therefore I am at risk. But nobody calls me unhealthy. A friend in Leicester had a double masectomy because women in her family were 90% likely to get a hereditary and aggressive form of the disease. Did this risk make us think of her as unhealthy? It did not. There is a massive risk of heart disease from being sedentary. But 39% of British adults are failing to meet the recommended quota of weekly exercise, but we don’t know who they all are and have no way of knowing who they are, and I’m pretty sure that if we see them eating a salad every day and they are thin, we’ll think of them as ‘healthy’.

If health isn’t used to signify the absence of illness, then, for the purpose of this blog post I will assume that it refers to a long, good quality of life. The chances of having such a blessing is determined by so many things that we couldn’t possibly know who was healthy or not without a PhD in long term health and its causes and many many case studies from different social groups and countries. For example, the biggest indicator of good quality of life in old age is socio-economic status. Yes, money. Why? I suppose having enough of it results in less stress and better quality fruit and vegetables, more information and opportunity regarding exercise and social opportunities as well as the gift of time – time that can be used in the pursuit of meaningful hobbies and interests. Another indicator of good quality of life in old age is social contact: laughter, friendship and the knowledge that there are people who have your back, always. People in happy loving marriages have better health outcomes. I can’t reference all this because it’s not an academic essay but it’s easy enough to fact check on google!

What are the indicators of poor health, early death etc? Being poor, being unloved, being part of a stigmatized group such as a gender minority. These are the things that make a difference and our focus should be on making a world of greater equality and acceptance. A world where a bearded person who wants to be called Annabelle is just fine. A world where a hairy person wearing a lace dress is just fine. Just another person in the street or, even better, the room. A world where people can be addressed using the pronouns that they choose, and where they can express their identity and be with the person they love, without fear of violence, ridicule or death. We are so far from this in the world as it is that it beggars belief. People are still being killed for being a minority and that’s not just in some far-flung, desert country that, deep down, we think of as barbaric and backwards. It’s here in the UK.

The real reason for this rant is the way that people seeing me lately, perhaps after a long time, comment on my appearance and, in particular, my weight loss. I started losing weight last year and put it down to marathon training although I had trained before without getting quite so thin. Comments have ranged from how much better I look, to whether I’ve forgotten to eat, to how ‘healthy’ I am. I’m not healthy. I’ve lost weight because my thyroid went berserk and my body is flooded with thyroid hormones which, untreated, are literally toxic. My skin has broken out in spots, I am exhausted from the carbimazole and I still need a betablocker at bedtime to stop my heart from attempting to escape my body. But I look healthy, apparently. Which leads me to the conclusion that ‘healthy’ means ‘thin’.

To be thin, in this culture, signifies obedience. We were trained up, us 50 year olds, to look after our figures, to battle the bulge, to not pinch an inch. We had Slimfast and the cornflake diet, now 80/20 and intermittent fasting. We still have Slimming World and Weightwatchers, and a hundred ways of losing weight that just stubbornly clings to our thighs, tummies and ‘problem areas’. Our bodies are a battleground of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and in order to be ‘good’ we must appear to be ‘healthy’. This means either losing weight, being thin or talking about losing weight. We must denigrate ourselves in order to fit into the ‘well-behaved’ group or women who, heaven forbid, must never eat cake with unrestrained pleasure or let their tummies flop out with happy abandon.

I’m tired of it. Now I’m on the right dose of medicine I am gaining weight again and hallelujah for that because it means health! Real health! I am a naturally curvy woman with thighs that touch and a rounded tummy, sturdy arms and quite a big bum. I want to be healthy again and that includes eating cake with friends, spending time with family, laughing, loving, moving with freedom and joy and trying to make the world a genuinely healthier place for every body of all colours, genders, sexuality, size, shape and socio-economic status.

On the wedding of an ex

The weirdness of a second marriage

I was four happy years into my second marriage when my first husband, to whom I was married for 21 years, got married again. I could get bogged down into a hundred and one reasons why this shouldn’t be an issue (I’m happy now, I left him, we were not close any more, our marriage was a disaster area) but it was an issue. I felt apprehensive as the day approached and it bugged me immensely that it was on my mind so much. I sent him a Whatsapp saying that I hoped he’d have an amazing day, and that I was excited for him, and that was true. But it was still an issue.

A happy day on my second wedding

I’ve had counselling to help me to work through my turbulent emotions, several times over, and I’ve got better at it, but it’s so hard sometimes to know quite what the emotion is. About his wedding, I felt uneasy. Troubled. When he first met his partner, a few years back, and it became very apparent that she was ‘the one’, I was angry to the point of fury that he had changed. Without going into boring, pointless details, I had wanted more from him for years and had tried a gazillion ways to make it happen, some of which were downright damaging for all concerned, but it didn’t happen.

And now he has changed. When I occasionally see him at the children’s birthdays and hear him talking about her, I can see it, hear it and feel it. This made me spitting, hopping mad. But the anger turned to sadness when, one day, I acknowledged to a wise woman that he hurt me very badly and I cried uncontrollably for hours. When I blinked away those tears of grief and loss I realised that I’m free of all that rage, now, and it was not anger that consumed me when he re-married. So what was it?

Here’s what it was. It was the irreparable, far-reaching rupture of the family. It was not about him and me; it was about a community of people that I am separated from. Our three children dressing up and going to a wedding where they would see their grandparents, their aunties and uncles, cousins and old friends. I knew, when we broke up, that this would hurt, and it does. His brother came over from Canada, the brother that lived with us for one summer when he worked for the post office in his twenties and we chatted, every day, in the kitchen, as I cooked for the kids and he helped with the washing up. We got to know each other well and since the split I have not seen him or his lovely family. He called once to say he wished he’d done more to support, when things were tough and we were living separately through the week. There was nothing he could have done. He was a great brother in law and I miss him.

I loved my ex’s parents, too. His mum has had a heart attack and I wished I could have seen her but distance has grown between us. I miss his sister. We were good friends. She is wonderful and her kids are adorable. I still think of them as my nieces. I never saw his other two siblings as often but always loved catching up with them and had such a laugh with his youngest sister.

So we move on. I’ve met lots of other people through Tim and now have a whole other extended family, a lovely mum-in-law, brothers and their wives and partners and good friends. But these first people, my children’s grandparents, Aunties and Uncles – these still feel like family. I love them and miss them. When we break up with a person, we break up with all of the people who come with them, whether we intend to or not. Sides are taken, sympathies are shown. The break up sometimes feels like the amputation of a limb that, although I’ve learned to live without it, still aches at times.

When an ex re-marries, it might mean nothing and that’s fine, but if it hurts, for whatever the reason, I really think that’s normal. What’s the answer? I think it’s to acknowledge the pain, live with it a while, know that it will pass, keep in touch with the people who matter enough, and be kind to yourself.

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