A father and football

Most Tuesdays I listen to a podcast called Radio Ambulante; they tell Latin American stories. For a while now, I have been on a journey of rediscovering my Latin American roots and listening to this podcast in Spanish has been a huge part of it. I have a complicated history with Latin America… For a long time I conflated the culture with some of the traumatic experiences I had growing up. I thought they were one and the same. Only in the past three years or so have I started unpicking all of that and understanding a bit more about myself in the process. One of the most difficult things to process is my relationship with my dad.

This week’s Radio Ambulante episode was about football; my dad loves football. In the episode, two people reflect on their love for football and how it was passed down from their families onto them. I remember the first time my dad took me to a football stadium to see a match, I must have been seven or eight. I mostly remember people shouting and how chaotic it was. I barely took notice of what happened on the pitch; the people were so much more interesting. Listening to the people in the RA episode tell stories of their families, and how football was this thing that they shared, reminded me of how when I was little my dad would talk about it a lot and we would play.

The relationship with my dad deteriorated when we migrated to Europe. His behaviour made it very difficult for me to connect with him. For a while, I did not want to have anything to do with him. And the things that he liked also became tainted by the way he acted within our family. I guess I was trying to protect myself so I put aside the things I had learnt from him. He still tried to make a connection by talking about football with my brother and I but I turned away. We didn’t play anymore. I wasn’t a little girl anymore.

I have learnt so much since that time. Moving out and growing up has helped me see my dad in a different light. Even though the things that happened are still painful sometimes, I can see how a lot of his behaviour grew out of his own unresolved pain. I know that, to some extent, he still carries that pain with him. I felt a fierce bitterness once that has slowly melted away and given way to compassion. Football was always a way of connecting with him in some small way so I am following the World Cup this year and choosing to see the man I knew as a little girl. The man who took me to see a football match for the first time and carried me on his shoulders.

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#YoSíTeCreo

Me desperté pensando que debería escribir esto en español aunque me cueste.

Hoy leí los hechos probados en el juicio de La Manada y he estado más o menos pendiente de las manifestaciones en España. Mucha gente no está de acuerdo con la sentencia que han recibido los acusados. Yo tampoco estoy de acuerdo. Sin embargo, no tengo el conocimiento ni la experiencia para argumentar en contra de la sentencia. Lo mío, como escribió Luz Sánchez-Mellado, es más “de andar por casa, o por la calle, o por la vida”. Leer el documento me revolvió las entrañas…y no es porque no sea capaz de soportar leer sobre los horrores que pasan en el mundo todos los días. Más bien es porque lo que le pasó a aquella mujer es algo que le puede pasar a cualquiera. Es porque me he tenido que admitir a mí misma que si yo hubiera estado en una situación similar habría cerrado los ojos y esperado a que pasara y a que se fueran. Porque es mejor que te violen y te dejen tranquila a que te violen y encima te rompan la carne y los huesos o te maten. ¿No?

Al parecer uno de los jueces votó por que los absolvieran argumentando, entre otras cosas, que los vídeos no muestran que ella se resista y que la expresión de su rostro es “relajada”. No he visto el vídeo, ni quiero verlo, pero la decisión de este juez y lo que sé de sus argumentos hace que surjan muchas preguntas. Yo entiendo que el juez tiene que atenerse a las leyes y los hechos pero me pregunto qué llevará en la cabeza y el corazón como para interpretar lo que vio como consentimiento cuando el mismo tribunal en la sentencia dice que aprecia que la denunciante estaba “atemorizada y sometida de esta forma a la voluntad de los procesados”. También me pregunto, si cerrar los ojos y esperar que pase es consentimiento, entonces ¿qué opciones tenemos?

Alguien sugirió que tal vez deberíamos ir armadas por la vida. Si alguien te ataca, pues te defiendes con la navaja que llevas en el bolsillo. Lamentablemente, si le cortas la cara a alguien seguro que es mucho más fácil que te den la sentencia correcta en el juzgado.

La otra opción que se me ocurre es menos violenta pero triste. Es un mundo en el que yo como mujer hago mi vida más pequeña, empiezo a asumir que las calles son peligrosas, que no debo salir por la noche, que si veo un grupo de hombres mejor tomo otra calle. En este mundo cada hombre que veo es un violador o acosador en potencia y entonces no les hablo, ni me acerco, ni les dirijo la mirada. En este mundo solamente me siento segura cuando salgo con mi pareja, porque obviamente si ven que ya estoy “tomada” me van a dejar tranquila. Ahora en serio. Si empezamos a comportarnos de esta manera todos salimos perdiendo. ¿Por qué he de asumir que los hombres son peligrosos? ¿No pone esa actitud a todos los hombres en una jaula? Como alguien que tiene un hermano y una pareja, me parecería injusto que las mujeres los trataran como pestes solamente porque son hombres. Pero aquí estamos…si confías que un grupo de chicos te va a acompañar a tu coche una noche de fiesta en Pamplona, te violan y luego los jueces no creen que te hayan violado. Y si no confías…¿eso en qué te convierte?

Sé que hay matices en el asunto. Sé que tu nivel de seguridad en la calle muchas veces depende de la zona en la que estás y de lo bien que conoces el lugar. Lo que he descrito arriba es una reacción a la sentencia y a todas las veces en las que cuando pasa algo no te creen, o creen que es tu culpa, o se habla de “responsabilidad” cuando en realidad te están diciendo, “¿por qué ibas así vestida?” o “¿por qué no dijiste no?” o “¿por qué no te marchaste?”.

Debo confesar que a veces tengo miedo. A veces al volver tarde a casa me pongo las llaves en la mano, con una llave entre cada dedo y hago un puño, por si pasa algo. En alguna ocasión he llevado el móvil grabando mi trayecto desde la parada del autobús hasta la puerta de mi casa. Si pasa algo, por lo menos quedará grabado. Me pregunto cuántas mujeres han hecho lo mismo. Y también pienso en aquellas que en cambio sienten el peligro dentro de sus casas…cuando escuchan los pasos en la escalera y las llaves que abren la puerta y de pronto la seguridad se esfuma.

En fin. Todo esto es mi forma de decir: yo sí te creo.

Madrid in poems

A month ago I travelled to Spain for a few days to visit family. I often feel the need to travel during winter and Madrid is beautiful in the winter. I wrote some poems while I was there.

Madrid

It is like stepping into a different world 🌎
where people say it’s cold when it’s 16°C
and shops are open at 21:30
Teenagers are out and about
loud and happy and young
very late into the evening
There are mariachi in the square
And small shops
around the corner from
my mum’s house
where people still know me
Being here is at once
an escape
and a homecoming
I belong in the warmth
of the February sun
but I also belong

elsewhere

El concierto

A red-haired woman and
a bearded man kiss passionately
Among strangers
*Probando sonido*
I sip my gin and tonic
whilst some tall people pose for selfies
with a giant glass of beer
There will be music in a minute
and I will dance with my latin hips
like nobody is watching
but like everyone is watching
at the same time
Because that is how I dance anyway

 

In the middle of it.

I read somewhere that people find it easier to read about mental illness when it’s over. We like the “I was in a difficult place but came through” kind of story.

I think it’s also easier to write when you’ve come out the other end and you’re in a better place.

I am in the middle of it now; not the way I was a few years ago, when I was doing some pretty self-destructive stuff and people around me were worried and I rushed to the doctor’s because I didn’t know how to manage it. I came out the other end; I went to therapy for 2 years and was on medication for 3. But I am afraid it doesn’t really go away. It’s not “cured”. It doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that you remove and throw into the medical waste bin and recover from and don’t think about anymore. It’d be so much easier if this thing; this fog of the mind, this pressure on the chest, this weight…if it was more like something ugly you root out and less like the sea, with its depth and its waves and its rage…

January started full of hope but then turned painful. Some of that is due to things that have happened; news I’ve received about illness in people that are close. I spent a lot of time contemplating mortality; what if they don’t make it after the operation? what if he dies? do I buy a plane ticket and fly over, just in case?

My mind has been flooded with stuff. I have half thoughts; one idea pops into my head and another one races in before the first one has finished. There are many overlapping sentences and words and things I don’t want to think about. I start to think ugly thoughts. Travel well-known paths; they would be better off without you. You’re a bad person. You’re a bad person. You’re alone. Challenging the voice is hard. There’s little energy. There’s half-thoughts. There’s a knot in your throat and tears because the voice is mean and you don’t want it and you don’t want to believe it…you know it isn’t true but speaking up is difficult.

One of the things I learnt during therapy was that I need structure. That means sleeping at a regular time. Eating nutritious meals at regular intervals. Exercising regularly. The thing is that many of those things go out the window when depression hurts the way it has for the past few weeks. It’s not just in my head but in my body. The pressure on the chest is not a metaphor.

When it feels like this you have to fight. At least I do. I have to fight to convince myself that the mirror isn’t lying to me and that I look…well…normal, rather than believing whatever distorted view of my body I have in my head. I have to convince myself that eating is good and I need nourishment. I have to convince myself that I am not stupid and that I am valuable and that I am loved. I have to convince myself that asking for help isn’t shameful.

You also need people. You need people who are in your corner. People who will listen to you when you need to let out whatever’s on your mind. People who will encourage you to not let the thoughts take over. People who will reason with you and help you see things from a different perspective. I don’t know where I would be if I were alone in this. I am incredibly grateful for the people who supported me back when I first got diagnosed and the people who support me now. Especially my partner, who is patient and kind and very practical.

I have this thing called depression but depression doesn’t win. If you’re struggling, know that there is hope. Know that asking for help is courageous.

Today is #TimeToTalk Day so I thought I’d share a bit about my journey. I worry that many people don’t seem to have anyone to talk to about their problems. You see, I believe everyone needs to look after their mental health and having someone to talk to is crucial. Connecting with other humans is crucial. I understand that we live in a society where people are reluctant to get personal.  All over the country people go:

“You’re alright?”
“Yes, thanks, you?”
“Good, thanks”

I’m not suggesting you interrogate people about their state of mind but that we can all aim to have more genuine conversations with one another. Those kinds of conversations often start with listening.

This article offers great insight into how to support someone who is struggling.
Here’s an article about how to cope with loneliness and how it affects mental health.
Click here to see a range of mental health helplines.
Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash

 

Some thoughts on #MeToo

When the #MeToo stories started flooding in, I watched horrified like many others. I felt for those who had been assaulted and abused but I didn’t think about me in this context. It was about other people and their stories. I read articles that were thought-provoking, like Bari Weiss’ The Limits of ‘Believe All Women’I talked about it with people but always looking on, not including myself in it because I haven’t suffered any serious assault. I know that it isn’t just about that. I know but I probably just didn’t want to delve into it too deeply. I thought: I have never experienced sexual harassment or assault in the workplace so I will empathise but I cannot see myself in this. That is what I thought until I read this: I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.

Grace’s story about her date with Aziz Ansari hits a lot closer to home. So much so that reading it this lunchtime triggered an anxiety episode that left me drained for most of the afternoon. This is very difficult to write, actually. I don’t think I can go into much detail but I can recognise this experience. I remember feeling pressured into doing things I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to do. I remember being in a situation where I asked someone repeatedly to let go of me and he didn’t. I remember walking home in tears and feeling unsafe. But what I remember the most are the experiences I had with this guy I dated, a nice guy by all accounts; a guy who was respectful, polite, a guy who was very funny and talented…a guy that everyone loved. The reality, however, is that he treated me like shit. And people still loved him. Many of my friends still loved him. (My housemate warned me about him but I didn’t listen.) I recognise Grace’s confusion at seeing this guy celebrated and congratulated. He’s there enjoying life, thinking that because he gave you some half hearted “I’m sorry” everything is okay, while you sit here with your pain thinking about how much of a fool you were, thinking that you let this happen. Thinking that maybe if you’d been more forceful, maybe if you hadn’t gone to his place, maybe if you had broken up… Maybe if you weren’t as sexual, you wouldn’t have invited this kind of behaviour.

For a while I felt confused about my experience with this guy. I felt hurt but I also felt responsible. I thought I’d given way for him to treat me the way he did. I accepted his apologies while the relationship lasted, which wasn’t long. The guy emotionally dragged me through the mud and his actions and words and my miseducation of what a woman should expect in her relationships resulted in me feeling responsible for what he did. I felt guilty. I thought that because I was making out with him, I was effectively obliged to go further even if I didn’t really want to. The time when he wouldn’t let me go, there came a point when I just stopped struggling.

He didn’t rape me and we never actually had penetrative sex. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I didn’t think about my own experiences when all these stories were emerging. I also have no interest in bringing this to his attention any longer. Another part of Grace’s story that resonates with me is that I’m pretty sure this man thinks that his actions were okay. There was a time when I wanted to expose it all; I wanted all our friends in common to hate him. I wanted him not to be invited to parties. I wanted him out of the fucking city. The anger came back today.

The reason I wanted to write about this is because what happened with this guy and what happened to Grace is probably quite common. These people will not appear before a judge. There won’t be anything other than feeble apologies. He apologised to me for the way he treated me but to me it seemed more like he wanted to make himself feel better. He wanted me to say “Yes, I forgive you” in order to reassure himself that he was still the nice, respectful guy everybody knew. There were other guys; an adult who thought it was okay to hold me against him and rub his erection on me when I was 8. I thought that was my fault because I had a bright pink skirt and I had worn lipstick. It was my first time wearing lipstick. I felt pretty that day. That day I also felt like looking pretty was dangerous. There was a classmate who thought it was okay to unzip his trousers and show me his penis after gym class; he did this a few times. He was one of the coolest guys in school. He was also an idiot, everybody knew that but I felt confused/excited. There was also someone a few years ago who, after making out with me, said “I could rape you, you know”. He also said it was a joke. I smiled awkwardly. We were alone in his house. That night I grabbed my things and left and never took another call or answered another text from him.

Speaking out is important. But we also need to start unpacking what’s underneath. It’s easy to look at men like Harvey Weinstein and Louis CK and distance ourselves from them. In the words of Emily Reynolds:

Someone committing multiple, serious sexual assaults and rapes is easy to characterise as a predator, a monster, and a thousand miles away from the lives and behaviours of the often well-meaning men who are trying to engage with this cultural moment. Ansari’s alleged behaviour, however, is likely to hit much closer to home.

I believe that all of us have to ask ourselves why we think that behaviour like Ansari’s is perceived as okay. Women: how did you come to the idea that you just have to put up with it? Start there. Start asking yourselves why it is that we seemed to be programmed to crave male attention to the point of thinking that this is just part of relationships. Men: ask yourselves why you believe that it’s okay to keep going after someone tells you they’re uncomfortable. If a bodily cue seems unclear to you, ask for clarity. There is no shame in admitting you don’t know something. It’s just part of being an adult.

We must shed the years of miseducation. We must look at the culture and where it promotes ideas about relationships that are harmful. We must challenge those ideas. We must learn to have respect, real, deep, respect for ourselves and others. We must do this for the sake of the people who fought so we could have choices. We must do it so we can have healthier lives. And we must do this for the generations that follow.

Unlearning insecurity

I have a confession; I feel insecure rather often.

After having a conversation with someone, I sometimes have this crushing feeling that all my ideas are just wrong or my knowledge incomplete. And that I would be safer and feel better if I just kept my thoughts to myself because everybody else knows better than I do. Recently I had a conversation with two other people and one of them wanted to talk about misogyny. He asked me what I thought about the #metoo campaign. I didn’t have a clear-cut answer. I think there’s something valuable about sharing experiences but I can accept that there are pitfalls with hashtag campaigns. He was very respectful of my opinions and seemed curious about what I thought. I walked away from the conversation feeling like I’d gained something from it and interested in looking up some book recommendations. But it didn’t take long for the insecurities to set in. “Why did you say that? What will they think? You don’t know enough to talk about that…” I hate that feeling and I have a suspicion that it’s something I picked up along the way. Surely it isn’t something one is born with. If it is something I learnt, then I would like to know how to unlearn it.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is one simple fix for it. I guess in this particular situation, one of the things I can do is go out and have more conversations and be willing to be challenged on my opinions. I can also learn how to thoughtfully and respectfully challenge others.

Insecurity, however, goes beyond conversations with acquaintances. I think it shows up in my close relationships, in my work and in the way I see myself. I’m not sure that by learning how to behave in certain situations I will be able to root out what’s behind the unpleasant thoughts. I want to deal with the feeling as well as learning to improve in situations where I feel inferior.

It can be difficult for me to let go of thoughts that are critical. After that particular conversation, I couldn’t shake this feeling of dread on the tram on the way home. I kept thinking about what I should’ve said and about how I need to read more and learn more and listen better. Sometimes the thoughts take hold and I feel like a hurricane is tearing through my mind. Years ago, before I was diagnosed with depression, those thoughts were a lot bigger and wilder and scarier. I didn’t know what was happening to me. My inner voice would go on tirades about how bad I was or how fat I looked or how hideous my soul was… I would have awful dreams and imagine the most terrible things. Therapy helped with a lot of that but I have noticed that some of my insecurity remains. It seems to have morphed into something smaller, less threatening, less dogmatic. It’s not “You’re fundamentally evil and don’t deserve love” but “Your ideas aren’t refined enough; you need to learn more and before you speak/write/share”. It’s more of an invitation to retreat rather than a statement about who I am. It’s like my insecurity takes on the disguise of a helpful suggestion. It’s sneaky like that.

Knowing what’s happening to you is important when you struggle with feelings of insecurity. Being aware that I have this helps me catch the thoughts early and I do manage to stop them. Sometimes I get there late; when I’m tired or have period pains or something negative happened during the day, it can be a lot harder to get myself out of the thought spiral.

Writing this made me realise that I’ve linked depression to feeling insecure. I’m not sure if these two can be separated. Perhaps feeling insecure is part of having depression. Life is mostly good these days but these insecurities remind me of the more fragile, more obscure parts of my mind.

I have picked up so many unhelpful, inaccurate and damaging thoughts and beliefs and somehow made them my own. I know that the process of unlearning deeply rooted beliefs can’t be easy or quick. But I am hopeful and willing to do the work.

Why I don’t share more often…

Every couple of months I am utterly amazed at the amount of time has passed since my last post on here.

So here are my reasons:

I am skeptical about the amount of sharing we do as a society. 

A lot of it is noise. Some of it is even state-sponsored noise designed for a specific purpose.

I share pictures on Instagram fairly regularly, though. It’s my way of saying to the world: Look, there are beautiful things everywhere you go. In everyday life. There could be something beautiful or interesting or touching anywhere. You just have to know where to look.

I want to make my contributions to the world meaningful but the reality is that I’m not sure how to measure that. Part of my day job is to share content on social media on behalf of the organisation. So I wrestle with this every day: is what I’m sharing helpful? Is it meaningful in any way? On a personal level, those questions become even more important. Who wants to just add to the noise?

 

The format of much of the content available just gets boring after a while.

I consume a lot of content online. And whether you like it or not, it seems like in order to get people to read what you write your piece has to fall into a certain category, follow a certain pattern. It has to be a listicle or be a how-to or answer a specific question. Doesn’t it just get boring after a while?

I’m not sure I can conform to the patterns and that may just be a lack of practise or skill. What makes me uncomfortable about much of the content available to us is its lack of depth. A listicle about what to do about your depression can be helpful but it doesn’t look beyond to all the complexities of the illness. One can argue that that isn’t its purpose anyway but the size of the audience and the amount of times we share this kind of content ought to matter.

Listicles and how-to’s and very narrow questions also inform the way we think about our lives; they reinforce the idea that things need to be solved if you follow certain steps, that a little information is enough, or that there aren’t other questions to be asked.

A lot of the content we create, consume and pass on seems to stun rather than encourage curiosity and creativity.

The stuff I want to share is messy and uncomfortable and it stirs too many emotions (mainly mine). 

Recently I read a piece called The African Enlightenment. It is a great piece. Reading it made me think about an ongoing conversation I have with my boyfriend: what ideas underpin racist beliefs? How can we move past them? How do we challenge people? And ourselves?

Talking about something like racism is never easy. Anyone who’s ever stood for something they believe in online knows how it can backfire.

Some of the things I think about a lot include:

Mental health; does depression every go away? Will mine? Are people really as reluctant to talk about it as they seem?
Sexism
Domestic abuse
Religion
What makes a healthy relationship? A real one, not a film-friendly one, not an Instagram one, not a “we-have-everything-in-common-and-have-so-much-fun-all-the-time” one.

These things aren’t comfortable; they aren’t comfortable for me, mainly. They cut deep into places I’m often afraid of going. At least publicly.

I haven’t yet learned how to write (or think) in little bits. In my mind, and for lack of a better expression, everything is connected. I haven’t learned how to keep to the 500-800 word norm of the internet. Maybe it’s lack of skill. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid of the response. Maybe it’s lack of confidence: whatever I say, someone else has said it or will say it better.

So in the spirit of the New Year (and because this will be the last year of my 20s *gasp*), I want to challenge myself to learn how to write better. I want to challenge myself to share my thoughts and hopefully contribute something meaningful in the process. I can’t really confine myself to a single topic or a single format but I will try to bring something interesting. I hope you join me in the journey.

Happy 2018!

Yessica.