World Mental Health Day – Why Social Stigma Still Exists

Like a lot of people, mental illness is something I’ve been well-acquainted with my whole life. Close family members have suffered daily since before my birth and the stigma of societal shame is rooted so deeply that I feel uneasy speaking about it, even now. Some stories aren’t mine to tell; I may be experiencing a climate of mental health awareness but generations before me weren’t as lucky. They have been mistreated by ignorance, mishandled by health services and misunderstood for so long that the damage seems irreparable. I grew up with impossible fantasies of ‘saving’ those around me: if only I did this or said that, or X, Y, Z happened, things would be different. Normal. It took me years to realise I needed to look after myself first. Messages like “You can’t pour from an empty cup” are not easy to internalise. I still get the urge to control the uncontrollable, to ‘save’ people, and I’m still far away from accepting that self-care is not selfish.

My mind has been a sea of fog for too long so I made a choice. I can stay frustrated at injustice or I can use the knowledge I’ve attained over the years to shed some enlightenment. There are only so many times you can lie on your bed listening to The Smiths, after all. (That’s a lie, The Smiths are timeless, and self-compassion is important!).

Until very recently, secrecy around battling with your mental health was advised for fear of prejudice. 1 in 4 people struggle with a mental illness at any time and yet the mental health spectrum is yet to be common knowledge. There’s an unconscious separation between mentally ‘well’ and mentally ‘ill’ as if it were black and white. Several factors play into this:

The Sociopathic Model of Society

From a young age we are taught our worth is defined by material things and that success is a result of being ruthless. Ideas such as “It’s dog eat dog out there” and “every man for himself” are presented to us as ‘facts of life’ so we internalise the script. It becomes our inner reality. We are taught to honour our ego and battle with our emotions: we don’t learn to have empathy for ourselves, let alone anybody else. The illusion that you are solely responsible for every fact of your life corresponds to individuals seeing their mental health as entirely within their control, and therefore suffering seems like a personal weakness. Of course, this is untrue. When we live in a culture that labels unorthodox behaviour as ‘insane/nutty’ etc, we force people to repress their feelings out of self-preservation. The notion that normality equates to a constantly ‘happy’ or well-balanced mind is unrealistic and ignorant. You are not an anomaly if some days are harder than others. That is normal. That is human.

Masculinity and Misogyny

The bogus ‘battle of the sexes’ is indoctrinated into us as children. Gender roles limit us in numerous nuanced ways, from men being told to ‘man up’ when upset to women being routinely objectified. Our society is patriarchal so the fact of gender as a performance is more obviously superfluous and thus ridiculed in women, who are labelled ‘crazy’ as a consequence of ‘othering’. Allegedly, feelings are ‘feminine’. Realistically, all of us are emotional beings. Male suicide rates are high, in part, because the pressures of toxic masculinity – where people are forced to live through their ego and stuff their feelings as though they aren’t there, place an unfair burden on a person. It’s only in the 21st century that we are beginning to change the conversation: to allow people to let their guard down. Again, we have suffered at the hands of separatism. The age of information is allowing us to bridge the gaps and offer support to healthy self-expression but subconscious beliefs are hard to shift, especially when they have media support. The work continues.

A Lack of Understanding

There’s still an unspoken idea that all brains are created equal. We have to seek out information that gives our greater opportunities for self-awareness, such as the fact some people are genetically predisposed to depression or psychopathy, or that a toxic environment in youth can alter the way your brain develops. Likewise, traumatic events can trigger chemical imbalances at any stage in life and it’s necessary to acknowledge how your mind works. The way a person’s brain operates is not their fault and I hope you never fall into the trap of judging yourself for it. It is what it is, and more importantly, it can change. Our brains are incredibly powerful.

These are a few reasons as to why I think mental health has been misunderstood for so long. In a future post I’m going to dispense some ideas of how you can look after your mental health, no matter who you are. Or, at least, I’m going to share what’s worked for me.

May the force be with you.

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How To Simplify Your Dating Life. The First Installment – Does He/She Like Me?

This is the first in a series of posts regarding all things relationship-oriented.

Cards on the table, I’m not exactly leading by example. My love life has been a continuous cycle of disappointment subverted as life lessons but maybe these adventures elevate my counsel beyond lucky-in-love Larry. As we grow older, we each yearn for more calm than chaos in our personal lives; self-indulgent sad songs lose their pathos and the security of a loving partner overtakes the appeal of infatuation. I hope to be more useful than the usual block of body language cues but like a bad boy with commitment issues, I promise nothing.

Above all, actions speak louder than words.  Make sure you pay attention to what somebody shows you via their behaviour instead of hanging off their words, which can be easily affected. Judge a prospective love interest’s worth in relation to how they treat you: this person might be smart, funny and devilishly attractive, but if they’re not treating you well, they aren’t worth the chase. Often times, once we decide we like somebody, we’re stubborn about changing our minds. We rationalise poor behaviour when really it should make us take a step back.

Sparks and ‘gut instincts’ can lead you towards wishful thinking but you can’t make somebody change who they are, so don’t waste time trying. You’ve got a life to live.

If you have to look for signs that someone likes you, they aren’t that into you. If they were, you’d know about it. Always remember that.

When people give off mixed signals, they usually have mixed emotions, or they’re playing a machiavellian game where your feelings aren’t a priority, which is even more shady. Either way, you shouldn’t be too invested at this point. Until they’ve made their intentions clear, don’t get hung up on one person. I know it’s hard but keep your feelings in check and your options open unless you have the ‘exclusivity’ thumbs up. (Or down). That way, you won’t be a heap of disappointment if nothing happens between you. Think of it as an insurance policy on your fragile little ticker.

All attention comes from attraction. Sometimes the object of our affection will approach us or message ‘how’re you doing?’ and we wonder if they like us or if it’s just nothing. Well…it’s both. If someone asks you questions, talks about things you like and compliments you frequently, of course they like you! Do you spend time opening up to people you have no interest in? No, and neither do they. Maybe it wasn’t cupid’s arrow but there’s some level of interest going on. Don’t get carried away on a love cloud but don’t downplay it either. If you enjoy an interaction without analysing it too much, you’re guaranteed a better outcome. Otherwise you fall into the trap of putting somebody else above you by focusing too much on what they’re doing.

Assume your appeal has been noticed until you’re shown otherwise. Self-worth is not only desirable but absolutely crucial. What about you? Are you enjoying their company? Do you like what’s being said? If not, change the channel. Only you control your life.

Keep your emotional investment balanced. Brain chemistry fizzles like a mentos in coca-cola when we start talking to a person we like. It can become addictive. But this current crush isn’t the only thing of value in your life. You have relations with friends, family and your work that all need maintaining and it works in your favour if you’re leading a well-balanced life. It makes you more attractive and improves your mental health. Make equal time for each section of your life and I promise your love life will only benefit, as counter-intuitive as that might seem. Always remember that even if someone is interested in you…it only matters as far as their actions do. Just because they like you, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get together. Until it does. And that’s the crucial piece of wisdom to remember…take it all one step at a time.

Happy crushin’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taylor Swift Is Defiant In Video For ‘Look What You Made Me Do’

I’m not a huge fan of the Tay-Tay brand but I’m partial to some pop, so when ‘Look What You Made Me Do‘ debuted on YouTube, I admit to clicking the sideways triangle with a little intrigue. The song title reminds me of a phrase an abuser would use but I’m aware that’s something for her PR exec to regret and for me to blithely accept. It’s all so meta that it only requires a surface level viewing. For example, she literally stands in front of a T/cross while previous music video incarnations clamour beneath her feet because she wants us to be aware of how she’s been crucified. If I were a woman of the cloth I would call it blasphemy. But I’m not, so we’re cool. And Madonna did it first anyway.

Musicians are clearly starting to take cues from masters of reinvention such as David Bowie and Madonna, as more of them use chameleon tactics to create a long-lasting career. Taylor’s fierce intelligence is what makes her mini film so compelling – the opportunity for double meaning is both plentiful and plausible. And what does her millennial fan-base love to do more than over-analyse? One devoted ‘Swiftie’ gave a detailed analysis of the symbolism on show, and if I didn’t miss A level English Literature before reading their comment, I sure do now. Those essays were like a free ticket to overthink. I applaud her for standing up for herself because it’s not easy to do in the face of gender stereotypes and covert misogyny.

Setting the tone for the mini film, Taylor literally rises up from the dead (honey I do it all the time) from a gravestone emblazoned with ‘Taylor Swift’s reputation‘. If I had to transcribe said Swiftie’s analysis into a Sparknotes webpage, my first sub-heading under ‘THEMES’ would be ‘Re-birth’. I imagine the theme will run throughout her new album. If only there were some clues as to what the album name is…

 

IMAGERY: Snakes. Just before the video release, I read a compelling argument for Taylor Swift to be heralded as a Slytherin as her hallmark traits are ambition, cunning, self-image, loyalty and revenge. And here she is, representin’ in full bloom. The ‘Kimye’ feud shrouded Taylor in suspicion: Kanye called her a ‘bitch’ in his song Famous. After Taylor expressed her discomfort, Kim released a secret recording of T.S giving Kanye permission to name-drop her in this way. Vilified for changing her mind in what many saw as a tactical move, snake emojis appeared everywhere. This is her wearing that criticism like a badge of honour:

 

heart ts
A reference to ex Tom Hiddleston

The ‘I love TS’ top is an allusion to how everyone thought she orchestrated her relationship with Tom Hiddleston for publicity; as though her love life is merely masterminded in order to advance her career and the men she dates are innocent victims. Unlike Calvin Harris, there’s nothing vengeful against this particular ex-boyfriend as they didn’t have any bad blood between them. #katyperrytho

Maybe my favourite throwback is to her ‘squad’. Dressed as though she’s making another Victoria’s Secret appearance, a legion of scantily clad robots line up before her. Their identical clothing and ‘thin white female’ bodies highlight the criticism she received for ‘setting a bad example to young girls’ as it appeared to many that she was trying to create a clan of ‘mean girls’. Once again she plays into the insults thrown at her: the Regina George that Katy Perry labelled her as being; the conceited girl who only hangs out with models.

 

Much of Swift’s power lies in her ability to poke fun at herself: she seems familiar with the idea that if you own your flaws, they can’t be used against you. In essence, she’s taking control of her reputation. Hierarchies permeate society from class to race to gender, and as the ‘other’ gender, we disallow women (especially in the media) to be multi-faceted individuals. When they defy the labels given to them, they are seen as fake. Hence the dialogue at the end, where she echoes the put-downs leveled at her before screaming at herself to ‘shut up!’. She’s used her smarts to hint at the way women are silenced and berated for almost anything outside of quiet complicity with however they’re treated. I’m happy that in 2017, people still make music videos that challenge our perceptions. It’s all performance anyway, right?

“I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me

I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams”

tstststs

5 Highly Recommended Female-led Films

Thanks to the unreliability of movie marketing, our understanding of what ticks our proverbial boxes is often unreliable. How many times have you thought you’d love a film because it has X Y & Z, only to walk out feeling short-changed? Or dismissed a perfectly good comedy the first time around because the pink colour-blocking and female strong cast made you believe it was a cliched rom-com? (I’m almost exclusively thinking of Bridesmaids here).

This is where I come in. A long time believer that women are just people, I’ve compiled a list of female-led films anyone can and probably should watch, since well-rounded characters are infinitely more interesting than reinforcing stereotypes. Plus, the imaginative process inspires our empathy in a way that factual storytelling simply cannot. Please be aware the main criteria is ‘films that are good and happen to have women in them’. If it’s not got credentials, it’s not getting in.

Most of these I saw as a teen’ but still consider timeless for the screen.

Thelma and Louise

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Ridley Scott directed this early ’90s classic. Sociopolitical and visually stunning, with an ending so iconic it still gets referenced in popular culture today. Mix with ingredients like Susan Sarandon, 1/4 of the cast of Resevoir Dogs and a shirtless Brad Pitt, and you’ve got a hearty 130 mins of craft mastery in front of your peepers. Essentially a road trip gone wrong, two women grow tired of their suburban housewife roles so escape in search of freedom, only to be met with the inevitable misogyny they sought relief from. Its tone varies from light-hearted sentimentality to heavy-hitting wisdom, mostly from the wise Louise, so you learn as you laugh.

Erin Brokovich

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Based on the true story of an ordinary woman who managed to build a legal case in protest against contaminated Californian drinking water without any technical expertise, this is a rags to riches story where success stems from one woman’s compassion rather than self-serving greed. History was made thanks to Erin’s courage and resourcefulness. It’s inspirational to watch a person succeed despite the odds in a noble crusade because her goals are philanthropic and really, what’s more badass than defying expectation to fight for what’s right?

Mermaids

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Fun and frollocks. That’s the perfect way to describe this flick. Superstar Cher plays the effervescent Mrs Flax, while a young Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci entertain alongside her wily ways. It’s a defiant nod in the direction of independence juxtaposed with the coming-of-age need to fit in. The dialogue and direction of this film is whimsical and yet entwined with a wholesome aura that says ‘accept yourself for who you are’.

Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion

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Off the walls (but firmly on the ceiling), Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion is the zany 90s comedy we don’t get blessed with enough nowadays. If I wrote the copy to advertise it, I’d convey the central message: it doesn’t take itself too seriously. One of my favourite elements is the use of flashbacks because character backstory gives us a chance to vicariously cringe at universal high school experiences. Afterwards we’re left with the maturity of realising our enemies are “a bad person with an ugly heart and we don’t give a flying fuck what you think.” That’s about as deep as the film gets since it’s mostly silly irreverence and flat-out fun.

Heathers

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The original Mean Girls but with black humour and a young Christian Slater. Veronica is the part-time badass you identify with as she navigates tricky high school dynamics and the allure of sociopathic men with dimples…we’ve all been there. Every line is memorable and you’ll be saying ‘fuck me with a chainsaw’ in the face of crisis for decades afterwards. ‘Sass’ levels are off the charts so if you want more savage insults at your disposal, Heathers has got you covered.

How To Be A Better Writer: Edition One

Nobody’s perfect; I’m sure even the Dalai Lama himself has a few character flaws left to work on before 2k18 rolls around. Improvement is always possible, no matter how skilled you are in a particular field. If you feel your way with words needs a tweak or two, here are some morsels of wisdom I’ve picked up as the years have ticked by and my pen has evolved into a QWERTY keyboard.

Let it flow. Like a menstrual cycle or a riverbank, your words should ooze out as organically as possible. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to pen something for somebody else? Naturally this is because you’re not invested in the results. Even if you care second-hand, if the words aren’t a reflection of you than the pressure is no way near your shoulders. Relax into your writing. Remove your judgement. Ignore the outcome. I guess I’m advocating ‘mindfulness’ here, which is just a buzzword way of saying ‘be in the moment’. A lifelong battle for all adults but one that pays off, particularly in the realm of wordplay.

Kill your darlings. Egocentricity is a habit of humanity. It seems ludicrous to the self-proclaimed writer that any element of their literary alchemy should be omitted from a paragraph because it might be a mis-match in tone, intent (etc.) but sometimes this is the case. Accepting that is the first step on the road to getting over yourself and producing more coherent texts. You can always save a killer line if it’s truly too poetic to dispose of entirely. That’s the beauty of CTRL+C.

Do it. You can’t be good at it if you never do it. So do it, a lot.

Narcotic abuse ‘Worked for Bukowksi. While I think it’s crass to present an image of yourself as a drinker who writes, rather than a writer that drinks, I will acknowledge the inspiration that uninhibited thinking and serotonin-depleted pondering brings. I’ve had inebriated states that enable me to stop procrastinating and continue wording, along with morning-afters that turn me into Socrates for a few hours on account of my philosophical word-vomit. Choose your poison wisely and don’t over-indulge. I’m not going to let my flippancy take the burden of your poor willpower, reader.

 

 

 

My Brother Julius

I come from a big family. My immediate family contains several generations, ranging from my folks; born in the 1940s, to me, a 90s kid. I’m the youngest of 5, which is a fortunate position in some ways. I’ve been blessed with the wisdom and support of my older brothers and sister over the years. My eldest brother is 19 years older than me. (A crazy big age gap, I know). Like any milennial blogger, the necessity of gratitude is just as familiar a concept to me as it is to Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love. And as such, here is a list of reasons as to why I’m grateful to Julius.

Useful and Kind things Julius has done for me

Awoke nightly to feed and comfort me when I was just a weepy baby.

Let little me watch Beavis and Butthead with him, thus making me a punk-ass metal child \m/

Took me to Elhap, an adventure playground where I could play all day with other kiddies.

– Took me on memorable trips with said adventure playground, like the time I had my face painted like a ‘multi-coloured butterfly’ and stayed on the swings for literally hours.

When I was 11, he took me to the cinema one summer to see lots of different films, including Pirates of the Caribbean, School of Rock, Lizzie McGuire movie etc. We saw LOADS of films.

He used to walk me home from school, often buying me crisps and chocolate to treat me. Some slight rule-breaking going on here as my parents weren’t as keen on the sweets.

In the 2000s, he took me to Amnesty International meetings and encouraged my empathy for those seeking asylum at a young age.

Every year he buys me extravagant birthday cards and presents. Always huge cards and thoughtful gifts.

As a young whippersnapper, he gave me books on astrology because I enjoy indulging theories about the universe and spirituality, as does he. Not many people are so open-minded so that’s a stroke of luck.

His poetry circle is vast and he invited me into his online poetry community so I can attain feedback on my words if I so wish, as well as reading other contemporary poets.

Lastly, and perhaps most cruicial of all, he tells me vital pop culture information, like the fact R.E.M refused to play ‘Shiny Happy People’ because it got too popular maaaaan, or that Elvis has the same birthday as David Bowie.

There is obviously more but I have to cut the blogpost off somewhere eh?

Thanks, bro. 

How To Attract Someone Based On Their Zodiac Sign, Part 2: Scorpio – Pisces.

Scorpio

Scorpio.jpgAs a wise and noble man once said, “Oh oh oh oh oh, mysterious girl, I want to get close to you.” – This is the mating call of the Scorpio. While game-playing is a HUGE no-no, acting slightly nonchalant will intrigue them because they are natural investigators. While you’re busy socialising with friends, their piercing gaze will be sizing you up from the corner of the room. If you’re a stickler for small talk, you’d better start opening up about all things taboo – pain, sex, politics etc. Someone who displays emotional strength appeals to the sensitive Scorpio as they would like their intensity to be soothed by a reliable partner. Despite outward appearances, they are hopeless romantics who are determined to preserve love for all eternity. And they love a good shag.

Above all, have depth.

Sagittarius

SagittariusLook good. Shallow but true, physical admiration is a key ingredient in this ‘love me’ recipe. All the usual social beauty standards apply because you won’t be the only one this sign has their eyes on! That said, they’re savvy communicators who will just wander off in a daydream if you bore them with a narrow perspective. If you aren’t afraid to get philosophical when you don’t have a vodka in your hand, you’ll be entertaining enough for these wacky individuals. A sense of humour is a must because they tell jokes a lot and sometimes misjudge how appropriate they are – a non-negotiable part of their personality. Dramatics turn them off because they really don’t want to know about your problems (in fairness, they usually have enough of their own).

Above all, be carefree.

Capricorn

CapricornAre you a respected member of the community with a social conscience and a steady career? Naturally introverted and shy, you’ll have to prize them out of their protective shell gradually. The best way to do this is not with words but by showing them the receipts of your moral decisions. Rather than becoming obsessed with their hidden depths, engage them with the deep and meaningful chats you have when you first befriend somebody. Their ambition knows no bounds so they want to be partnered with the best of the best. If they can trust and respect you, not only are you a part of a select group but you are also on your way to becoming cared for by one of the most trustworthy and reliable people around. 

Above all, be accomplished.

Aquarius

Aquarius.jpgIf you want to learn 100 things you never needed to know about clean living, conspiracy theories, and why all other people are rubbish, you’ve found the right sign. Nothing inspires the Aquarian like the unconventional so make sure you let your freak flag fly and be your unique self. If you get a weird impulse then follow through with it, it’s sure to impress them! Intellectual conversation that lasts for hours is the biggest turn-on for these social scientists.

Above all, get weird.

Pisces

Pisces.jpgJon Bon Jovi is a Pisces. That gives you a clue as to how much these folks romanticise love (and everything else, actually) so I hope you’re not looking to hit it and quit it with these guys. If you have a spiritual side, let it show from time to time. Arty and imaginative types attract these daydreamers because they’re feelers more than they are thinkers. Opening up to them is not only easy due to their empathetic conversational skills, it’s recommended as a surefire way to have them hooked. Unless they’re evolved beings, they also treat people as projects who need to be fixed or changed so if you’re worried about your emotional baggage, rest assured that it matters not. 

Above all, brood in front of them.