Monday, 5 January 2015

Mindful resolutions

Lots of us make new year's resolutions. A new calendar, new diary, and a complete change in date is a good opportunity to look over the months gone by, take stock of your life and think about what you'd like to change for the better. Whilst the idea that everyone's doing it can add a level of pressure to proceedings, it can also be a way to share the experience of striving for progress. Thanks to social media, there are more ways than ever to talk about your goals for the year and look for support in the changes you're hoping to make.

Posting about your promises to yourself and asking people to cheer you on is, in and of itself, a healthy and generally positive thing to do. However, it can be easy to get carried away. Posting updates every few days or so is one thing, but posting every day - or even every few hours, as some people seem to do - is a practice to approach with caution. Why? Firstly, it can put a lot of pressure on you to be seen to comply with a self-imposed obligation, which can encourage anxiety and negative self talk. Secondly, depending on what your stated goals are, it can be detrimental to the people around you.

The most obvious example to talk about here is weight loss. Eating disorders and body dysmorphia are often silent. People who live with them, or have experienced them in the past, may not talk about them due to the stigma of discussing mental health issues, or the shame they may have internalised about their bodies. Others may be on the long road to accepting and feeling positive about their own bodies - or, indeed, may have resolved to become more comfortable in their own skin this year without bowing to the pressure to change - and will perhaps not appreciate having other people's weight loss rubbed in their face.

For those who have resolved to lose weight and want to be accountable, consider filtering your posts - by altering your Facebook settings or using specific hashtags on Twitter, for example - and give people a chance to opt in if they want to hear more about your efforts and cheer you on. This gives you the best of both worlds: you get the encouragement and reassurance you need, and those who would find those posts upsetting to read can continue unaffected. (If this is your goal, remember to check in with yourself to make sure your approach is healthy - eating disorders are not at all pleasant!)

Be careful with exercise-related posts, too. Trends like fitspo often employ disablist language and sentiments, urging people to push past their limits in a way that might be unhealthy or simply shaming those who don't exercise a certain way, even if their reasons for avoiding it are valid. Personally, my mobility problems increased in severity over the course of 2014, and I am still in the process of grieving what I have lost. This makes posts from fitness enthusiasts upsetting to see. I am not alone in this.

Similarly, if your quest is to "be happier" or similar, avoid posting "inspiration porn". By this I mean those pictures - usually of mountain landscapes, or sunsets, or women standing on rooftops and staring into space - that come with allegedly motivational slogans. Again, many of these are disablist in their assumption that certain types of physical inactivity, or lack of motivation, or negative thoughts and feelings are due to an inadequate mindset or lack of thought, when in fact they may be caused by mental illnesses or other concrete and legitimate life events. Encouragement is generally best if it's personalised and presented with people's particular circumstances in mind, rather than generalised to the point of cliche. Discussing your personal journey towards happiness or greater fulfilment is a healthy and often brave thing to do, as it can entail admitting to vulnerability; however, it is important in this - and all other things - to be kind, both to others and to yourself.

If you have been coming across material like what I've described in this post and it has made you feel upset or inadequate, know that your feelings are valid and legitimate and that you are not alone.

Whatever you are doing, and whatever your end goal is, be mindful, and be kind.

Friday, 2 January 2015

2014-2015 Admin

I could probably do a post on how to sort your New Year's admin if you like, but if you clicked the header hoping that this post would be it, I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. Mostly because my current approach to it is "hide under my duvet and hope it goes away", so I'm not sure I can help you.

Today I'm here to give you a quick overview of how I see this blog going in the next couple of months and beyond. The worst of the winter holidays is over, for the most part, but I give it about two weeks until the little heart shaped decorations start worming their way into most commercial outlets. Falling in what is often the coldest month of the year, Valentine's Day can be all kinds of difficult for all kinds of people. So rest assured, HOotD will be sticking around at least until then.

After February 14th, the blog will go on a bit of a hiatus. If I get any requests for more posts, I will certainly consider them! But since Easter is much less of a big deal where I live, and we're pretty much out of major gathering type holidays for the time being, HOotD will go quiet from mid-February until the run-up to Thanksgiving. I'll be blogging elsewhere throughout that time.

Around mid-October I will be putting out a call for contributors. In 2015 I'd like to give you a greater quantity and variety of content, because I'm pretty happy with how this has gone, but I can't sustain the daily post schedule I'd have liked to put out this year by myself. So if you fancy a guest spot here, let me know and I'll make a note to contact you nearer the time. :)

I'll also be taking requests for the next six weeks, so if there's anything you'd particularly like to see me write about, let me know in the comments or tweet me @theviciouspixie.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

To a new year

This has been a difficult year for me, and for many of the people I love. I'm not going into details here, because this blog is not about me, but I will say that the weight of it all has been bearing down on me over the last few days. There's fear, and resignation, and misery from everything the news has been bringing us.

But for me, there's also hope, and there's relief. I find - and I know others experience this too - that the end of a calendar year is challenging because everything grinds to a halt. Because nothing is working as normal in many countries - shops are shut, transport is disrupted, businesses are closed - it's hard to find a rhythm, especially for those of us who depend on routine. And for those of us who are waiting for things to happen, it's especially frustrating.

New Year's Eve suffers from the same forced gaiety syndrome that afflicts Christmas. We're expected to have a good time. Many of us will feel pressure to drink, and the commercial machine is grinding away at our self-image, telling us that we need to lose weight, to get fitter, to make more money, to be other than what we are. We find ourselves making grandiose plans to be whatever not-us will find more acceptance in the world.

You are enough, friend. You are loved. You are wanted. All this because of the person you are right now, in this moment. If nothing changes between now and this time next year, I will still be here. Your friends and those who love you will still be here. I hope you will be, too.

You might be full of expectation and hope for the new year. It might be filling you with dread. You might be completely indifferent to it. If a change in the calendar is something that brings you power, I hope you have a pleasant night and that your hopes for a better life are realised. If it's not, this is just another day - albeit one that other people are talking about more than usual - and it's OK for you to treat it as such.

And for those who, like me, find this a comforting thought, remember: everything is about to go back to normal. Normal isn't necessarily good, but we know it. It's something we can work with.

Take care, friends. Be good to yourselves tonight.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Coping with seasonal body-shaming

Greetings, humans, and apologies for this unscheduled hiatus - as is somewhat to be expected, the season has been taking its toll on me a little.

I really wanted there to be a post on navigating the fat hatred that tends to rear its ugly head around this time of year, mostly from "well-meaning" relatives, but I'm not really in a position to write that post, so the lovely Hazel Hare (Tumblr | Twitter ) has kindly stepped in. Enjoy, and show them some love if you like the post. :)


I am fat. I am a fat person. I have very small sections of normal clothing shops dedicated to my size. I am the image of a person walking down the street that news reports use to talk in Very Stern Tones about obesity. The reasons for my fatness are complex and interlinked with mental health, early trauma, and an upbringing where I was constantly berated for any food or exercise choices I made.

As I approach thirty years old I am, finally, feeling positive about my beautiful fat body. (Needless to say, opinions to the contrary will be - aha - roundly ignored.) I am fat, I am beautiful, and I hold onto that feeling as much as possible. Unfortunately, it's not always possible in the midst of winter celebrations.

Winter holidays are a time of year when we are socially allowed and encouraged to eat heartily and often; to eat rich, sugary and fatty foods; to drink and be merry. Unfortunately, it's also the time of year when we typically spend time with our [toxic] relatives. They are the people who remember us when we were much smaller, when we were babies and toddlers and teens, who are often unfamiliar with our adult selves.

Yes, I am bigger than I was when I was seven. You're quite right.

"And weren't you supposed to have a career by now? And why are you still renting?" (Assuming we have made it out of their house in the first place.) "And what's with the clothes and the hair and the partner(s)? Didn't we assign you a different gender at birth? Couldn't you just get more fresh air and cure your various mental and physical illnesses?"

There's a whole plethora of ways they can criticise our lives, our behaviours and our choices. I could probably write a lot about all of the above, but this is about my body and my eating.

Eating is usually a social event around the holidays, with family meals and buffets and leftovers, so eating in front of others ends up being the norm. And while your toxic family members can't change your job, house or partner(s) just by complaining at you at the dinner table, they can express their general disapproval by changing what and how you eat.

I usually have quite a hefty "fuck you!" attitude when it comes to people verbally criticising my food choices, ("Ooh, a moment on the lips-" "Fuck off."), but I am reluctant to swear at my relatives. I can't so easily respond to the patronising or sad looks that people give me as I eat food. I even found myself tempted to defend my eating, to invent gym memberships, to highlight the physical aspects of my job, to fabricate recent weight loss which 'allows' me to now eat the food. Sometimes that's what it takes to deflect them, and that's okay.

I am allowed to eat this food, toxic family member, because I feel suitably embarrassed and ashamed about existing as a fat human being. I have paid my penance.

Fat people, and fat women especially, are supposed to be fighting the fat, beating the bulge, and constantly enacting emotional and physical violence against our bodies until we are not fat any more. We are supposed to be unhappy, restless and filled with a desire to shrink ourselves at all costs. I am supposed to 'be good' by restricting my food and my food choices.

Well. Fuck that.

I exist. I exist as a fat person, as a fat woman, and I am enough. I eat. During the winter holidays I clutch my partner's hand for support, take a few minutes' fresh air, post a snarky tweet or five, and express sympathy with my fat friends when their families treat them the same way mine treat me.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Feeding the needy in London 2014

This post is a round-up of places doing special events for people who are lonely and/or poor on Christmas day. This is specific to London, which is where I live - please feel free to make your own similar post for your local area, or check #freexmaslunch on Twitter for other events.

The Fitzrovia Centre on Cleveland Street (near Goodge St Underground) is hosting an event where the price of entry is a gift for a child.

Cummin Up Caribbean restaurant (branches on Lewisham High Street and New Cross Road) is offering a free Christmas lunch.

Crisis are looking for donations so that they can offer three meals, a shower, a change of clothes, a hair cut and free advice to as many homeless people as possible this Christmas.

Narcotics Anonymous is hosting a free event for its members in Oval, South London.

At the Community Christmas website, you can search using your postcode to find free or low cost Christmas events near you. Many are run by charities or local councils.

The Rotary Club is holding an event for older people living in London Borough of Wandsworth at Battersea Marquee.

Have I missed anything? Comment and let me know! And if you decide to make your own list for your local area, comment and/or tweet me @theviciouspixie.

Black Lives Matter

IMPORTANT: I am white. My thoughts on this are largely irrelevant. If you wish to share this post, please ensure that you also share at least three pieces of writing by black people about Antonio Martin's death.

I debated whether to post this. Halfway Out of the Dark is about support, kindness, warmth. It was not designed to be political. But offering kindness can be a radical act in itself, and I cannot see this happening and fail to speak. Today, I send every ounce of kindness and warmth I have out to the family of Antonio Martin, and to the black communities of the United States.

I will put money on tomorrow's newspapers giving no prominence whatsoever to this image, so I am going to post it here, and I want everyone to take a good, long look at it.

This is the mother of Antonio Martin, yet another black teenager who was shot dead by police in St. Louis last night. Martin was eighteen years old. Police claim that he was drawing a gun, but by now there are plenty of reasons to doubt these assertions.

I cannot begin to imagine the pain the Martin family must be feeling now. I am a white person, and it is not my place to tell black people how they must be feeling right now. So this post is addressed to my fellow white people.

I say this on Twitter all the time, but here it is again, with feeling: our place in this fight as white allies is on the sidelines. We must not raise our voices over those of black people. We must not refocus their pain onto ourselves. We must not redirect images of black suffering to focus on white people. Our task is to listen, to internalise, and to amplify. That is it.

Send condolences if you must. Do not tell black people how they are or should be feeling. Do not presume to know their grief or their fear. We don't. We never will.

Anger is the cousin of fear. Black people have a right to feel angry, and more and more reasons to feel afraid. This is not about us. Do not try to make it about us. Do not police the anger of black people. If you feel hurt by it, sit with that discomfort and take it apart - you will notice, after a while, that the pieces are all tinged with white supremacy.

Do not assume that majority white countries outside the US are free from institutional racism. It has not been that long since Mark Duggan died. Support black people - and other people of colour - by holding the police accountable. Question them. Call out racism where you see it, whether it's from the police or from anybody else. If it's your family, here's another link to that Franchesca Ramsey video.

Hold yourself accountable. Examine yourself carefully for internalised racism. We all have it. I do. You do. Be vigilant. Be self-aware.

If you feel the urge to say any sentence containing the phrase "black on black crime", or to point out instances of black people committing crimes against people of other races, please shut yourself in a darkened room and lie down until the urge passes. There is a time and a place to discuss these things. If you are white, that time and that place is never and nowhere. Do not, under any circumstances, blame Martin for his own death, or his family. You cannot say this is reasonable force. Regardless of whether he was armed or not, there was no reason for police to shoot to kill.

If you are currently serving in the police force, please examine that choice very carefully and ask yourself whether you want to play a part in upholding a racist, authoritarian, and increasingly abusive institution. Ask yourself whether the police force you are part of is the same one you thought you were joining. And if you decide to stay, raise your voice in solidarity with your black and PoC comrades.

My heart goes out to the family of Antonio Martin, and to the black parents who are clutching their children ever tighter this Christmas, and to the black boys and young men who will be keeping their heads lower and looking over their shoulders in case they are next. I am so, so sorry. As a part of the institution that's keeping you down, I vow to do my utmost to help you dismantle it. I will follow your lead.

At the time of posting, I haven't found any blogs or articles by black writers about this specific incident, so I will come back and add them (and feel free to comment with links). In the meantime, I'll link to some black writers:
Jay Smooth (videos), DJ and video journalist.
Franchesca Ramsey (videos), comedian and video journalist. In particular, this video about being a white ally is relevant to this post.
Colorlines (news site) - their post on the shooting of Antonio Martin can be found here.
Black Girl Dangerous (blog)
Ebony (online magazine)
Mikki Kendall (Twitter), novelist and journalist.
Zahira Kelly (Twitter / Tumblr / website), writer and artist.
Jamilah Lemieux (Twitter), journalist.
Jude Wanga (Twitter), journalist.
Musa Okwonga (Twitter), journalist.
Bim Adewunmi (Twitter), journalist.
Reni Eddo-Lodge (Twitter), journalist.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Difficult families

November onwards seems to be the time of year where everyone gets misty eyed and nostalgic about their childhoods, conveniently forgetting that not everyone has a good relationship with their family. Christmas and New Year can be particularly stressful for anyone whose family is abusive, or whose family members struggle with substance abuse, or who have to return to a conservatism they have managed to escape for most of the rest of the year. If you're someone who has a difficult family, for whatever reason, this post is for you.

If you're LGBT and not out to your family, stay safe. If you feel like you want to come out and that your family will accept you, that's great; if you feel this would put you in danger, assess the risk. If you decide it's worth it, more power to you! If you decide against it, that's OK. Some high profile LGBT activists are in favour of everyone coming out no matter what, but it's far more important for you to come out of this season alive. No one important will think less of you if you choose to keep certain information to yourself for the moment.

If you're a survivor of abuse, I hope you can find the kindness and compassion you deserve. Don't let anyone make you ashamed for doing what you need(ed) to do to survive. If you are surrounded by your abusers, my heart goes out to you. I hope you can reach out to people on the outside to keep you safe and grounded. Be extra kind to yourself before and after the main event. You are loved.

If you suffer from seasonal depression and/or the noise and expectations of the season are adversely affecting your mental health, please remember that it's OK to not be OK. This can be a particularly difficult time to be around family, especially if your family doesn't understand your illness. You are not your illness. You are a whole and complete person, and the people around you cannot reduce you to medical words on a diagnosis sheet. Take time to yourself if you need to, whether that's a walk in a nearby green space or just an extra long bathroom break during the meal. Hang in there. The best thing about Christmas is that it's temporary.

If you are spending Christmas with in-laws you don't get on with, I hope you can find a team of people who love you to rally around once the difficult family meal part is over. Even if they can't be with you in person, consider scheduling a group Skype call with friends. I hope you can find the time and space you need to get yourself together.

It is not OK for people around you to comment on your eating habits or food choices. Blogs like Captain Awkward are a treasure trove of advice on dealing with intrusive questions or "concern trolling". The link specifically addresses a person with diabetes who is struggling with insensitive diet talk, but much of the advice is applicable to other health problems or being fat, and Captain Awkward is one of the few places on the Internet where it's worth reading the comments for validation and more advice. If you are fat, bookmark a blog that reminds you you're fabulous. My personal favourite is Arched Eyebrow - while you're there, have a look at her post on being fat around the New Year.

If your relatives have a tendency towards bigotry, the inimitable Franchesca Ramsey has just put out a new video on her YouTube channel about comebacks for your racist relatives. Most of them can also be applied to other flavours of bigotry. Check it out!

As always, this is a discussion. If you like, feel free to share experiences in the comments, and I'd love to hear any advice you have about navigating the choppy waters of complex relationships. Remember, above all, that you are loved. Stay safe, and keep swimming - it's almost done.