Monday, 22 February 2016

My Glass Box

Some time ago I had a nightmare that I was trapped inside a glass box, but no one believed it was real because they couldn’t see it themselves and, although I didn’t think much of it at the time, the glass box became my go to metaphor to describe mental illness to those who had never experienced it themselves, because honestly that's exactly what it is. Mental illnesses are a prison, an invisible cage holding your entire being hostage. It isn't romantic or beautiful like teenagers on the Internet would have you believe. It's ugly, it's painful, it's destructive and it's a darkness that consumes you like you couldn't begin to imagine, and the worst part is that it's created entirely in your mind. It is as fictional as your favourite childhood book and yet somehow it is the realist thing I know. 
I’ve found that metaphors are the easiest way to describe how mental illness has affected me because it’s a difficult concept for some people to get their head around, and to be honest, I don’t blame them. I barely understand it myself so I can't possibly expect anyone who hasn't lived this way themselves to understand it. However, there's a special place in hell for the people who reject the concept entirely. 

You see, there are three types of people in this world. There are those who will believe in the glass box even when they can’t see it, those who will question its existence but ultimately take your word for it and those who will never, ever, no matter what you go through, believe in the box. Every single day without hesitation I find myself thanking my lucky stars that I was given the family I have who, although unsure how to handle it at first, have never once pushed against or questioned my illness. I was also blessed with the financial stability that meant I could get professional help when I urgently needed it, to which, in no uncertain terms, I owe my life. My heart breaks for people struggling to get by in families whose belief in mental illnesses is nonexistent, or who have to get by on the minimal help offered on the NHS, usually only accessible when the medications forced on them have failed to complete the job and the six month waiting list has finally gotten round to them.

Around 1 in every 4 people will experience some form of mental health issue each year, and yet, it’s still a topic we’re afraid to talk about and this mostly comes down to the stigma of being “over dramatic”, “crazy” or the simple fact that so many refuse to believe in its severity. My mental illness snuck up on me like a bad cold in mid-summer, eventually forcing me to leave college and put my life on hold at the very age you're supposed to start living. It's understandably hard for people in your life to handle, I lost friends and relationships and opportunities that I’ll never get a second chance at. Despite this, every so often I find myself faced by a person whose mentality is simply that I just need to “try harder” and “stop over thinking it” or even better “take more walks” and “drink some tea”. Promise me you'll never be that person. Your leaf water can't cure this. There will always be people who treat mental health as an option, whose opinion is that it was a choice to allow my life to end up this way, as if it’s not that I have a medical illness that means I struggle to breathe when I leave the house, I'm simply attention seeking. 

It wasn’t until I developed the illness myself that it became apparent to me just how many other people, even some I’d been close to for a very long time, had been struggling too. Of course we keep each other’s secrets; it’s like an unwritten code of conduct among the mentally dysfunctional. You wouldn’t believe how many people in your life have a mental health problem and simply haven’t felt the courage to speak out about it. To those people, I say this, you are not, nor will you ever be alone and you don’t need to feel shame for what you’re going through. 

I wish I could say something like “it’s going to be okay” or “things will get better”, but if I’m totally honest I’m nearly 2 years down this road and I’m still not sure if that’s true. It’s a day-to-day battle and that’s okay, some days you’ll win and some days you’ll lose, hard. What I can tell you is this, the human mind is an incredible thing and on the worst of days I try to remind myself of one simple message, if your mind is powerful enough to create the chaos you're living with now, then it’s certainly powerful enough to fight back. 

Friday, 19 February 2016

Porn vs Romantic Comedies: Feminism or Hypocrisy

I'd like to begin by pointing out that I'd happily consider myself a feminist. I'm the type to catch a glimpse of the Valentine's Day lingerie collection and mutter "misogyny" under my breath, but I also understand that the point of feminism is equality, and that means respecting male issues too. 

Which brings me to a debate I'm full of opinions on: the dangerous effects of porn verses the dangerous effects of romantic comedies.. you heard me..
Let me explain, as a society we're quick to blame porn for the way men treat women, both in the way they expect sex to be and the way they expect women to look. Don't get me wrong, I agree with that entirely. Porn creates pressure on women and especially on young girls whose young boyfriends don't understand the difference between it and reality. However, I've come to the conclusion that there's some real similarities in the way women are treated because of porn and the way men are treated because of romantic comedies. Let's call it the Ryan Gosling Effect. 

I'll be the first to admit I'm obsessed with romantic comedies, I've seen them all and it's unhealthy. Somehow I'm okay with that. I'll also admit that my obsession has affected my expectations of men more than once. I'd be lying if I told you I haven't ever expected a man to pull some sort of large romantic stunt at some point in my life. Of course I was horrifically disappointed as a result because, let's face it, unless you're naked that man probably isn't thinking about you. 

There are countless studies on how romantic comedies have altered our view of relationships, we have unrealistic expectations and I'll admit I'm guilty of holding those expectations too. We expect some form of magic, a cupid’s arrow of sorts, to lead us to "the one" without so much as an awkward first date, a swipe right or an unexpected dick pic (sorry mum). 

They teach us that we could do downright awful things to our partners and they'll probably forgive us if we run across an airport to stop them using their excessively over priced and non-refundable ticket to fly away to something probably very important. They teach us that a man will drop everything at a moment’s notice to have the woman he truly loves, leading us to refuse to believe a man loves us like he says he does unless he makes some grand gesture and the truth is that's just not practical, and it's unfair to assume it could be. 

Let's not forget the wildly inappropriate expectations men have of women's bodies because of porn, right? Big boobs, wonderfully toned and flaw free, with less body hair than a baby seal. My blood boils when I hear a male pass judgement on a girl because she doesn't meet these standards. To be honest for most of my school years boys would comment on how flat chested I was while I pretended it didn't bother me, and yet, do we not do the same to them without even realising? You see, a major part of the Ryan Gosling Effect is wanting a man who looks like Ryan himself. So we judge those who are a little chubby, we turn down those just a little too short, we require chiselled jaw lines and bulging muscles in places we didn't even know there were meant to be muscles (seriously what's a trap and why is it so attractive?). Maybe as females we're a little less vocal about it, but ask any average Joe and he'll tell you he's been made to feel inadequate because he doesn't look like Channing Tatum. I mean really ladies, what do we expect? Some Greek God looking bloke to wander out of the local co-op and sweep us off our feet? I don't think so. 

I cant help but compare these issues to the expectations men hold of women as a result of porn. Most of us have been victims, at some point or other, of a man whose perception of what sex is like has been manipulated by porn. Whether it's how rough he expects it to be, how easy or simply the noises he expects you to make (which to be honest is a concept always lost on me), the majority of men have at least one misinformed expectation of sex. But can we blame them? Are we allowed to be so aggressively dismissive of their assumptions if we treat them just the same when it comes to expecting romance? 

Hypocrisy is a major issue I have with the concept of feminism and a reason I'm slowly losing faith in the movement entirely, we're so quick to pull the trigger when males do something harmful, and yet so easily allow ourselves to repeat the pattern. Take the song Blurred Lines, for example, a god awful song about a man convinced a girl is just teasing him and does in fact "want it". But, if you take the same lyrics, sung by a female, it becomes a song about a boy who's messing this girl around, giving mixed signals all the while the girl is clearly the victim. 

I'm all for women's rights, but sometimes we have to accept when we're not in the right and I'm afraid the porn verses romcoms debate is just one of those matters.