Lies, damn lies and mental health promises…

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PM Theresa May saying nice-ish stuff about justice and mental health in an almost convincing manner.

Talk is cheap. Something I’m sure Theresa May is aware of as she continues to embark on her programme of saying nice-ish, sensible things whilst backing them up with fuck all.

Today it was all about the ‘shared society’ (very different from the ‘big society’, you understand) and reforming mental health services. Today she uttered the ground-breaking words that will, no doubt, go down in history:

“For too long mental illness has been something of a hidden injustice in our country, shrouded in a completely unacceptable stigma and dangerously disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health.”

Well, thank God a political leader is finally talking about this… If only we’d had someone like Theresa May in a prominent cabinet position for the past six years… Oh wait… Continue reading

You can keep your ‘free’ childcare, I know the real cost: An open letter to George Osborne.

Dear Mr Osborne,

I watched some of your Autumn Statement during my lunch hour today and was filled with an uncomfortable mixture of amusement and disgust. Not towards you personally, I was actually surprised to find that you can be quite funny when you want to be, though I suppose you had someone else write the jokes. But I am angry at the way you very cleverly delivered a speech that appeared to be presenting a generous provision to a ‘prosperous’ nation. I can’t credit you with ignorance, so my only conclusion is that you’re involved in a serious deception.

What larks.

What larks.

Well, Sir, your smoke and mirrors can’t fool me. Quietly announcing 25% cuts to this and following it up with a lively patter on the £6 billion you will be spending on that; I know your game. In fact, while we’re on the subject, could you please explain something to me. Don’t the “£22bn efficiency savings in England and Department of Health to cut 25% from its Whitehall budget” sort of offset that £8 billion you’ve promised the NHS? I mean, isn’t that actually a £14bn cut in NHS spending? #justasking

To be honest, mate, I could go on all day about the many problems I have with the idea you put forward that your government is one that ‘delivers social justice’. I mean, we both know that’s nonsense. I can’t decide which example highlights this better: right now I’m torn between the rather under-played scrapping of grants for student nurses (replaced with loans, naturally) and or a more global issue. For instance, how the denigration of women and routine beheadings don’t bother you so much when it’s the UK arms-buying, cheap oil-selling state of Saudi Arabia doing it.

Nice one George.

Nice one George.

But I digress…

I’m writing this letter because I’d like to make you an offer: you can have my 30 hours of free childcare back, as long as I can tell you how to spend it. Because, Mr Osborne, I know the real cost of your finding money for middle-class ‘hard-working families’ and it’s not a price I’m prepared to pay.

In fact, most of your spending review actually benefits me. I am a middle-class, employed, married, straight, white home-owner; we should be best friends right? Except that we’re really, really not. Because I am not better off in a world that’s going to shit. Your ideological economic agenda will not make me wealthier if it comes at the expense of society’s most vulnerable, such as the poor souls (have there really been hundreds?) who have committed suicide in face of hopeless poverty or abject humiliation due your government’s cuts.

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No, that’s not the world I want for my son and no amount of free childcare bribery will convince me otherwise.

Don’t get me wrong, childcare is atrociously expensive, and many families need serious help. But my family can manage. I mean, as long as we can scrape together the pennies for our weekly delivery of organic veg and a couple of cheeky bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, I think your should have concerns higher on your list. By all means, give free childcare to those who need it, and don’t cap it at 30 hours either. In fact, could I arrange for my extra 15 hours to be transferred to a struggling single parent? Why not? My mum got free child care in the 80s so that she could work full time whilst raising me on her own (and she did pretty well, I got into Cambridge dontchaknow). That’s right, even Thatcher was more generous than you lot in her early days. Even Thatcher. (I am aware that is, to you, in no way an insult, but let’s be clear, it’s meant as one).

Okay, so how about this. 30 hours a week… let’s say that’s 4 days. 4 days a week would cost me around £204, so £816 per month, so £9,792 per year. That is a lot of money. Let’s say the government gets a discount – you know, for bulk buying – so it’s £8,000 or something. Then let’s half it, as there’s already 15 hours free. £4,000, can I give it back please?

I’d like to give my £4,000, which you can apparently afford, so someone else. Can I give it to one of the people you’ve deemed ‘fit to work’, and in doing so in such an exacting, compassionless manner have actually made their symptoms worse? Or one of those who has lost their dignity and independence due to you revoking their Independent Living Allowance, perhaps? Or could I donate to a victim of domestic violence, a third of whom now have to court unrepresented because they can’t supply you with the required ‘evidence’?

Seriously, I don’t need your vote-buying money. Of course I’d like it, of course it would make life a bit easier, give us more in choices and even a nice holiday, but if it means you’re taking important, civilised social security and rights from others who really need them then I’d rather not be party to it. Really. I won’t allow you to masquerade as a man of the people while you rob from the poor and turn a blind eye to the ‘victimless crimes’ of those who fiddle our markets and carefully avoid paying their taxes.

This headline demonstrates everything that's wrong with the world.

This headline demonstrates everything that’s wrong with the world.

Of course it’s appropriate for people to consider how the government’s choice affect them, but it’s not right for us to only think about that. So I’m going to ignore the part of me that wants to punch the air when I think about not having to pay my son’s nursery fees, and do the right thing, if you’ll let me.

And if you won’t, will you tell me why you have decided to prioritise the childcare costs of families earning up to £100,000 over the funding of nurse’s education or the proper payment of doctors or the right of every person to dignity and legal representation?

I await your response,

Yours very, very sincerely,

Aileen Few

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Dear Reader, I don’t come out to play much any more, but this has made me need to scream in public. I’m sending this letter to George Osbourne any way I can, and if you’d like to tweet him with it (@george_osborne), or email it to him too, that would be fab, or at least mildly amusing. #KeepYourMoneyGeorge

Cheers x

Mental health services: a matter of life and death

On 4th January 2014 me and my mum turned up at A&E in Manchester. I was afraid of my own mind. I was the most tired I’d ever been in my life but when I tried to sleep by body was tensed with anxiety and horrible thoughts piled on top of me like a lead weight. I had a 10 week old baby to care for, but I couldn’t enjoy this beautiful, bonny boy because I was ill. I was very very ill. 
Without the love and support of my endlessly sensitive and understanding family, and the wonderful mother and baby mental health unit that’s took us in, I genuinely don’t know where I’d be now. I’m sure my boy would be okay, but I do believe those mental health services saved my life.
Even as I write this I feel self-conscious; what will people who didn’t know about it think of me? Will they see me differently? But I’m not ashamed, I’m proud to be a survivor of a condition that is as cruel and unbidden and potentially fatal as any physical illness. And this separation between ‘mental’ health and ‘physical’ health is a false divide; an incredibly harmful one at that.

When I came out of the unit I was still not strong. It was 12 weeks of therapy, followed by an 8 weeks mindfulness for depression group that really changed everything. Now I have the resources to protect myself against further episodes. I am stronger than I have ever been. I am so grateful to live in a country where health care is free at the point of delivery.

But this care is under attack. The notion that a body set up to protect the sick and vulnerable should be ‘economically viable’ when subject to vicious spending cuts is inhumane. But even if we took compassion out of the equation (which it often seems the Tories have already done) it’s utter fiscal stupidity. Without occupational therapy and ongoing support people with chronic mental health issues move from low risk to high risk, when that happens they either need intensive community based care or a hospital bed.

Now, I’m no economist but I’m pretty sure a group gardening class costs less than having somebody sectioned.

So Dear, Dear Readers, please share this post and sign this petition. If you live in Manchester please lobby your councillors and MP.

For some people this will be a matter of life and death.

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Parents: We’ve all gone a little bit mad.

Hi there good people. Just a little note today from you’re resident malcontent to say ‘Hey, are you feeling a bit mad?’ Well you’re not alone!

mad parents

As you may have guessed from the general (fucking hilarious) tone of this blog, I’m not exactly okay with the current advice-culture-quagmire we modern day parents have to wade through. And, frankly, I think we’ve all gone a bit mad. Why? Because there are so many bloody ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’. Neuroses about food and sleep and behaviour and development continually pop up on our Facebook feeds and get rammed down our throats in the form of ‘news’ articles and ‘helpful’ books. Seriously, I continually write about how all this stuff is utter BS but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me. It’s like how I get well angry with the general “be thin, be thin, be reeeeeeaaally thin” bombardment women face on a daily basis’ but also hate my upper arms (I mean they are utterly hideous, as showcased above) and read the calorie counts when deciding which sandwich to buy. Bleurgh. Continue reading

“No one knows why the Germanwings crash happened, so let’s not mindlessly blame depression.” (said no media outlet ever)

The crash of Germanwings flight 4U 9525 last week was a tragedy, there is no other word for it. If I were a family member of one of those killed I would want no stone left unturned in the investigation as to how and why this happened. However, I may not want the media who to keep turning those stones over and over to no end other than feeding their 24-hour rolling-news culture, with it’s signature mix of repetition and supposition.

What goes on in the mind someone who crashe Continue reading

I know I’m adult. But am I a GROWN-UP?!?

Sometimes when I’m watching Bubs waddle around, playing and what not, it hits me: I have a child. An actual child. Ergo, I am an actual parent.

Can that be right? Am I really grown-up enough to be a parent? Why haven’t the authorities been alerted?!

When I was 10 or 15 or whenever, I would imagine the things adult-me would do, like, waaaaaaaaaaay in the future. You know, getting married, having kids, living in a family home. Well, guess what? Those things have happened. That is my life now. I am basically living in the future. When did this occur and where’s my bloody hover car???

Okay, I’m 30-years-old, I can accept that this means I’m firmly in the ‘adult’ category. And I’m really okay with that. What’s the alternative? You couldn’t pay enough money to be a teenager again and the twenty-something ship has sailed. But when Hubs and I talk, we often still refer to our parents as ‘the grown-ups’. Because they the real adults, aren’t they? Unlike me, 79% of the sentences that leave their mouths don’t have the word ‘like’ needlessly injected into them. I mean I know all of the words to Fix Up, Look Sharp by Dizzee Rascal, for crusts sake!*

ALERT THE AUTHORITIES

(This photo of me was taken two Saturdays ago. No joke of a lie. I seem to be making gangster-style hand gestures. Heaven help us.)

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“It’s just not good banter”: It’s Time to Talk about Mental Illness

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Today is ‘Time to Talk’ day (if you’re reading this tomorrow, then it was yesterday, and you are in the future, congrats).

What? I hear you quietly mouth at your computer screen. I talk every day, I don’t need a special event. I bet it’s the greetings card companies making shit up again, you know? Like Father’s Day?

No you fools! Time to Talk Day is an actual thing set up by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness to promote openness around mental health issues.  Cos, let’s face it, they’re not the easiest thing to talk about are they? No one wants to hear their mate say they’ve been thinking a lot about suicide, or tell their girlfriend they’ve been hearing voices. Let’s face it, it’s just not good banter.

Plus the world has its fair share of people who think those with mental illness are just a bit sad and need to pull themselves together, like the rest of us! Add to that the millions of people who are sympathetic and baffled in equal measure, and talking about this stuff gets pretty scary for us crazies.

So, the idea of Time to Talk Day is that we all take 5 minutes to talk to a friend/family member/ colleague/stranger(?) about how we’re feeling, or how they’re feeling. Something a bit deeper than the weather, anyway. Or, to put it in artsy fartsy way our ‘internal weather’. I know, right? I am so deep.

Today I have chatted to a friend about mental health but I’m also taking five here: 5 metaphors for depression in 5(ish) minutes. Hope you find them useful, enlightening or hilarious. Preferably all three.
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Attention, Attention! Why all play is hard work.

Did you know that you’re supposed to talk to your baby? Well, you are. You should talk and talk and talk. All the time. At every opportunity you should be spouting forth nonsense in order to stimulate those tiny synapses. Or something.

Seriously, dude. Go and TALK TO YOUR BABY. DO IT NOW! Why are you still reading this? I don’t care if she’s asleep, go and whisper your shopping list into her little ear.

Of course, I jest. But it sort of feels like that sometimes doesn’t it? All the leaflets and webpages and well-meaning suggestions on engaging with your small, and perhaps as yet uninterested, person; it can be a bit daunting. There are pages and pages of this stuff. I came across one article whilst researching this post called ’50 simple ways to make your baby smarter’ (Google it if you like, I’m not going to dignify it with a hyperlink). It’s like, WHAT? Seriously? Make your baby smarter? Your BABY? The implication here is that you can also make your baby more stupid, by not following all 50 ‘helpful hints’. Bleurgh to that.

I kept seeing those articles about making sure your child was getting enough stimulation in the early days. It’s. Really. Important. *hyperventilates* One health visitor told me to talk to Bubs constantly. She used that word. I’m sure she didn’t actually mean constantly, but, you know, I was sleep-deprived at the time. Nuance wasn’t a thing.

So, I endeavoured to talk constantly to my baby, giving him a running commentary on nappy changes, shopping lists and antibacterial wipes. Let’s face it, I haven’t got much good chat these days. But still, we do as we’re told don’t we?  One NHS guide tells us

“When you cook, show them what you’re doing and talk to them as you’re working.”

Cooking is always used as an example. “Now, Bartholomew, I’m just sauteeing these onions and then I’ll tomatoes, thyme and a dash of salt.”  It’s a bit like being on Saturday Kitchen, except without make-up artists, an appreciative audience or getting paid.

Sometimes I just want to make some pasta. In silence. Who’s with me?

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Unhappy New Year?

happy new year

If you are in any way a regular reader of blogs then by now your brain is probably saturated with the new year’s resolutions of people you’ve never met. You will have been given a healthy dose of PMA and guided through the many ways to approach 2015 with all of the vigour and enthusiasm of newly discovered super hero. Congrats.

Now I ain’t no hater, I know these kind of posts are often well-written, helpful and even funny, but what if you are not happy this new year? I’m just putting it out there.

A year ago today I was about 4 days away from walking into A&E and telling them I was afraid of my own mind. Not chirpy, but true. I don’t even remember NYE 2013. I think we went to bed way before midnight, though I was probably up again by the time Big Ben chimed us into the new year, breast-feeding or having some such fun. Bleurgh.

That is a particularly dramatic example of what, in my life, is a general trend: January is crap. The first 31 days of 2015 will most likely be a frosty and damp month in which suddenly gluttony and day-time drinking are no longer socially acceptable. Instead we’re supposed join a gym or give up drinking. In January? If you think I’m going to deprive myself of wine during the darkest month of the year then you can think again, mate.*

Who the hell came up with dry January anyway? Since Stoptober and Movember started every month seems to have to need a ‘thing’. Well, if that is the case then how about reduced-working-hours-January? I feel this would be a popular move. I mean, come on, it’s dark a FOUR O’CLOCK and no one’s saving up for Christmas any more, just let us go home at 3pm. We’ll all be more productive. Promise. (quick, someone start a petition). In fact, I’m with the bears, January is not a month that we should have to be awake for. At all.

Then we have New Year’s Eve itself. Or, as I like to call it, the night of a million disappointments. I’m not saying that I am disappointed in a million different ways each year, you understand. I may exaggerate for a comic effect but I’m not a melodramatic 17-year-old. I am pretty sure, though, that a million people in Britain this very night will endure an evening that does not live up to their inflated expectations. It’s your local pub, just because they charge you £25 to get in and provide sausage rolls doesn’t mean it will suddenly become an arena of exhilaration and delight.

The first NYE I ventured out on the town was 1999. I do not feel we lived up the the promise of Prince’s lyrics in seeing in the Millennium, however. My night largely consisted of dragging my heels around the chilly South London streets looking for a party, whilst counselling a lovely boy who was completely besotted with my best friend. Meanwhile, she strolled 5 paces ahead at the centre of a group of lads to whom I was pretty much invisible. Sigh. My only fond memory of that night is the dark purple feather boa I rocked. Aw yeah.

I accept that it is likely my attitude towards NYE was slightly coloured by this early experience (not that I’m bitter), but I have found since I stopped giving a shit about New Years Eve and started refusing to spend any money on entry fees or extortionate taxi fares, it has been a much more enjoyable occasion. Top tip.

So perhaps you are full of cheer and optimism as 2015 approaches. But you may also feel a bit like you are staring into a sleep-deprived abyss. Or, somewhere in the middle, just not particularly enthused by another year of the same. Maybe you’re a bit sick of things but don’t feel like writing a, frankly unrealistic, list of the ways you are going to change in the next 12 months. You just can’t be arsed.

If I’m honest, I’m probably dangling on the more positive side of my moody pendulum at the moment. I’m thinking I’ll give this writing lark a bit of a try and, unlike this time last year, I’m mostly enjoying parenthood (you, know when it’s not stressful and/or boring). So huzzah for me! But I’d like to think if I didn’t feel like this that would okay too. Because at the end of the day there is no ancient magical curse put on 31st December in which anyone lacking a genuine smile at midnight is doomed to a year of failure. There just isn’t. Many very interesting, attractive and generally nice people will not enjoy new years eve at least 5 times during their lives. Fact.*

So, have a drink, or don’t. Go out or stay in. Stay up or go to bed at 9pm with a good book. Make 12 resolutions (one for each month) and laminate them; or don’t make any. Who bloody cares? It’s your life, I hope it’s a happy one at some point, in fact at most points, this year.

*Yes, I know reducing your alcohol intake is very good for your mental health, but, you know, gin.

* This fact is 100% made up. Fact.

Parenting: It’s actually a bit boring.

 

an average day's parenting - Word 15122014 205030.bmp

As a parent, you will experience more contradictory emotions than ever before. This little person that you love most in the world will, in all likelihood, also drive you to complete and utter distraction (destruction??) on multiple occasions. You may be infinitely happy that your baby was born whilst still remembering actually giving birth to them being the worst. The absolute worst. But that’s parenting for you isn’t it? It’s just a roller-coaster. From the sublime to the ridiculous and back again, all in one afternoon.

Well, no, not quite. That would leave out one important detail.

In Hollywood movies mothers usually either the embodiment of all that is kind, wise and maternal or a hot mess. You know those films, with the friend who has six kids (yeah, that’s pretty much all the character development you’re going to get love, sozzers) who is always arriving late with her hair a complete mess and a child on each nipple? Oh what larks! But most of the time parenting is not an extreme sport. You aren’t either completely nailing or basically dead: there are other options. Day to day, it’s more likely to be just a bit dull. Parenthood is so dramatised at the moment that it’s often these normal experiences that trip us up.

Picture the scene: It is mid afternoon. A child, surrounded by an array of educational and expensive toys, sits playing with an egg carton. A few feet away his mother sits on the sofa. She is staring into the middle distance, her eyes are glazed over and her expression is lifeless. What is happening here? Perhaps she’s got post-natal depression, or has she just received some bad news? Maybe she’s just a neglectful mother.

Erm, no. She’s bored. It’s 3 O’clock in the afternoon and she’s been attempting to entertain her children for the past 8 HOURS. She has prepared two meals (one of which was scraped into the bin and replaced with toast). She has picked umpteen bits of crap from the floor. She has embarked on 3 nap attempts (two failed, one successful). And now, just run out of steam, and ideas. So she’s just sitting there.

If you hadn’t quite decoded my cryptic third-person, hypothetical, throw-em-off-the-scent nonsense, then I shall just clarify that she is me.

Yes, Dear Reader, I too get bored. There, I’ve said it. I love my son, he is great company, but spending all day every day with a one-year-old gets a tad repetitive. I love children’s books, but after the 50th reading I feel I have entered into the subtext of the narrative just about all I can. The suspense is gone. I know it’s not your duck. I know where baby’s belly button is. I know which pet the zoo sent you. I know it all. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll keep reading those classics of modern literature, because it makes Bubs happy and it’s educational and all that good shit. But every now and then I’ll be doing it on autopilot.

I do try to mix it up.  I even venture onto the internet for inspiration, even though Pinterest usually makes me want to vomit with jealousy and the creativity and energy some parents seem to have. ‘Today tabatha and I made a fully functioning space rocket using only the contents of our recycling bins and some small pieces of dowelling. #thrifty #ecomum #recycle #educational’ Hashtag keep your parenting successes to yourself, knobend. Ahem, motherly solidarity and all that. Let’s move on…

Honestly, we get all of my scarves out and do lots of wafting and giggling. Or we build towers out of various toys. The other day I actually made corn flour paste and added different food colourings to make a sort of messy play scenario. Of course, Bubs was only interested in eating it and consequently got high on e numbers. The thing is, Dear Reader, that however long I spend coming up with these activities, whatever effort I put in, they only ever last about 10 minutes. 15 max. You look at the clock, you eyes wide with pleading hope, but it was 10.25am when you started playing and now it’s 10.35am. That’s basically the same time.

Then are the excursions. We’ll head off to play groups. I do have some nice chats with mums some of the time but it’s mostly just following Bubs around, making sure he doesn’t poke any babies in eye and that no toddlers step on his hands. Play groups are an absolute life saver, but they aren’t necessarily a particularly social experience for the parents. And what is it with the ones that don’t give mums a cup of tea? I mean what is the bloody point? 

When you have a child, parents of older children will constantly encourage you to ‘cherish every second, it goes so fast’. I have previously expressed my thoughts on saying that to parents of newborns here, but I do think the general principle is absolutely right. Of course you could spend your child’s first years only half-present, scrolling your Facebook feed looking at other people’s kids instead of giving full attention to your own. Of course that would be a terrible shame. I’m not a frickin’ monster! But the idea that every moment, of every day you can be fully engaged with your child, watching their every move and storing it all up as treasure in your heart? Jog on, mate! I’ve got a life to lead.

In all seriousness there are ways I could probably help myself. Bringing some mindfulness into my parenting would be one (there’s a parenting on that, but we all know how I feel about the books). Buying in a massive amount of craft supplies would be another. And I might do one or both of those things, time shall tell.

In the mean time I’m not going to stress. You know that thing that people used to say when you were a kid? Only boring people get bored. Well, that’s crap. Everyone gets bored sometimes. Just because you’re getting bored in the presence of your child it doesn’t mean you we need to have an existential crisis. I imagine train drivers, or accountants, or nurses, often get a bit bored doing repetitive tasks. But it doesn’t mean they suddenly become paralysed with shame and think ‘What have I done? I never should have become an accountant, what if I’m no good at it? Oh my God, I’ve ruined multiple lives!’ Being a parent is a job, and all jobs getting boring for time to time. I bet Beyonce wakes up some mornings thinking ‘Oh damn, another makeover a photo shoot? How dull‘.

So, yeah, just be bored for a bit. There’s no shame in it. Your child will inevitably doing something funny, adorable, stressful or a combination of all three, and that’ll soon snap you out of it.

bored

What bores you the most about childcare? Do you feel guilty about the duller days? Or maybe you think I should shut up moaning? Whatever your thoughts let me know. Comment below, go to my Facebook page or tweet me @aafew.

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