Wilderness as a place

This is one of those posts that I sat down, wrote and barely edited because I really wanted to get it out there so forgive me any errors or untidy phrases.

Today Robert MacFarlane posted an open question on twitter:

“like many, I have long been fascinated by the complex relations of “mental health” and “nature”. Where, for you, is the most interesting current research & writing (from any time) to be found concerning this broad area?”

I too am fascinated by the relationships between mental health and nature as well as the added dimension of physical health which interplays with both mental health and nature.  I was excited to read the numerous replies but quickly found myself disappointed.  Repeatedly Miles Richardson was held up as a example of current research and writing and he is someone I follow on twitter and have read some of his research.  But beyond this there were numerous anecdotes which highlighted the privilege with which many people view and experience nature.  There was an unspoken assumption in many of the tweets that nature meant somewhere “out there”, away from humans, somewhere that could be described as wilderness.  By creating that distance we not only put ourselves outside of nature but we make it impossible for some people to engage with nature.

Immediately my mind goes to those of us who can’t walk and thus require carefully cultivated paths which inevitably regulate our experience.  Hidden and undiscovered or rarely used places are considered to be more natural than tarmacked or wooden decking paths.  This means I cannot truly experience nature in the eyes of those people but I know that this isn’t true.  I experience nature deeply in my own way, perhaps more so because of my disability and limitations. Other reasons people may not be able to get off the beaten track include where they live, finances, transport, lack of information and so on.

Another common narrative about nature and mental health is that of getting away from technology.  Now, if I am leaving my house I have to either be pushed by a carer or go in my electric wheelchair.  And I am aware that the people replying probably mean computers and phones when they deride technology but my wheelchair is technology and I cannot engage with anything outside without it.  Technology is not antithetical to nature.  Like everything in this world it’s about how we use it.  Technology can help us to identify bird calls or trees, put names to the flowers we’re seeing and in that sense can help to more deeply engage us with the nature we are experiencing.  Taking photos with cameras and phones can help us see more closely and help us to slow down.

A third thread is that of how easy and simple it is to go out in nature and how foolish we are if we don’t.  Again, an example from my own life.  If I have found somewhere suitable to go and be in nature, somewhere accessible, with parking so we can take my wheelchair and not worry about the battery dying.  Say all of those things are sorted and say then it rains.  Just a little rain, no big deal; the words of many people who think nature is easy.  We whip out my wheelchair waterproof, wrangle it over me and the chair and in doing so I’ve got wet.  Assuming no more water leaks in, which it always does, I will still get chilled and probably ill as a result.  The same is true in winter, even on dry days – being in a wheelchair, not moving, means you feel so much colder than those around you and for many people with physical health issues, this has greater consequences.

Beyond that single thread of tweets, this idea of wilderness being true nature is prevalent in society and it gives us permission to ignore the nature that permeates our city, the nature which is literally on our doorstep, or ramp in my case.  Doing this deprives us of experiences but also alters how we think about conservation – it is something out there, not something in our everyday lives.

Privileging wilderness is also insidious because it has traditionally meant that female nature writers have not been able to engage with nature writing, or at least have not been granted the same status as their male equivalents, by virtue of not being able to access those places deemed wild.  The male monopoly on nature writing was challenged in the second half of the 1800s by writers such as Mary Roberts and Anne Pratt who “wrote with humour and insight about native weeds” (The Oxford Book of Nature Writing).

“What sees the stranger in passing by? A small and insignificant looking weed, covering the top of an old wall, or springing from interstices where the mortar has fallen out between the stones.  What sees the botanist in this simple weed?  An object of great interest; formed especially for the place which it is designed to fill.”
– Mary Roberts, 1845

This close-looking at the immediate environment juxtaposed with the drive to exotic and unusual that had driven men up till this point.  Instead of great adventures in search of rare and wonderful orchids, women had to find something to meet their interest nearer to home.  When we look at this through the lens of place, we see the male wilderness and the female domestic environments reflected in their writings.  I suggest that it’s possible these female nature writers were more in tune with nature than the male explorers.  To know a place intimately and deeply gives you a stronger sense of connection than you get from passing through.

“If there’s one thing that underlies the work of many women nature writers, however, it’s a sense of interconnectedness, a dissolving of barriers between nature and culture, wild lands and home.”
Vivian Wagner, Creative Nonfiction, Issue 61 – Learning from Nature

Wilderness also, often, suggests vast plains of uninhabited lands filled with large, strong feature – perhaps a mountain range.  By virtue of having 65 million people living on a 242,495 km² island, there is not much of the UK that could be considered wilderness in the sense that Americans or Canadians experience.   But is that the only kind of wilderness? Wagner cites Annie Dillard as being a wilderness writer but notes that her wildernesses are small, consisting of a wood behind a suburban house, a neighbourhood creek and a field by a busy road.  Dillard has rejected the idea of nature being confined to raging rivers far removed from roads and hillscapes which have never seen telephone poles and has found what many feel as the spiritual power of nature in her own back yard.

“The birds and I share a natural history.  It is a matter of rootedness, of living inside a place for son long that the mind and imagination fuse.”
– Terry Tempest Williams

William’s here illustrates the power of intimacy and longevity. You can be part of a place, part of nature, part of the wild simply by being there and paying attention for a while.

“As with the work of many other women writers, Strayed’s wilderness is not separate and distinct from herself.  Rather, the larger world and Strayed herself are interwoven and connected, one shaping the other.”
– Wagner

The interesting paradox of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, is that the wilderness she escaped to and wrote about is now marketed as a route which you can recreate and experience through her experiences rather than a landscape with which you can create your own connections.

Despite everything I’ve just said about women finding alternatives to traditional wilderness, I am not saying that women do not write of the “true wilderness” but instead that historically, by focusing on local nature, women were able to break into the field of nature writing in a way that perhaps they couldn’t have otherwise.

“Ornithology and botany within the confines of home and neighborhood were considered to be fitting pursuits for woman, but solitary back-country living … and wilderness exploration … were most emphatically not.”
– Lorraine Anderson on Victorian society

I’d like to leave you with an image.

I am laying in bed, incredibly ill.  Every time I move I am violently sick.  But my bedroom window is open and through the net curtains I can hear a blackbird singing.  When I last made it into my kitchen, I saw a female blackbird repeatedly gathering nesting materials and flying up to a vent in a wall.  I do not know, but I like to think, that this is the male who was with her.

A wood pigeon coos the repetitive ‘coo coooo coo cu cu’ and I am reminded of the two, with their soft grey jackets and peach breasts, that perch on my fence, day after day.  Occasionally interacting, often just coexisting quietly like an old couple in companionable silence sitting on a bench in the sun.

I cannot leave my bed, I can barely sit up to look out the window, but I am nature and I am with nature.

Advertisements

Disability and style

I think I’ve written about this, or at least touched on it before, but when you are disabled, there is an assumption that you don’t care about your appearance.  But appearance is about far more than looks, it is a way of communicating to the world about who you are.

I am still working on getting back to my own sense of style in terms of my body.  I’ve cracked it with my flat and one of the nicest things someone has said was that my flat basically looks like my soul!  This is despite the boxes of food for my peg, despite the equipment and the wheelchairs and the bed raiser and the trolley and the… Well, you get the picture.

But my body is harder.  You can’t get around needing to wear splints, using a wheelchair, having a tube in you and needing comfort from your clothes.  What I want to do with this post is share with you some people who are doing this (seemingly) well and my own little hacks that I’ve found to help me out.

First of all, a bit about the importance of style for your mental wellbeing:

This entire post was prompted by an article on Disability Horizons so do check that out as well.

I’ve always had a very individual sense of style.  I was the teenager who didn’t care what other people were wearing.  I loved bright colours and was the only person in my sixth form to have DMs, let alone DMs with epic-ly long coloured laces and over the knee stripey socks.

I lost my sense of style at various points in my life – when I started working for example and when my depression was incredibly severe.  But the most acute and painful lose of sense of style, and sense of self, came when my disability started to interfere with how I appeared to the world.

For me this was a gradual process.  I started wearing wrist splints, then finger splints, then knee splints and ankle splints.  Then came the crutches.  Then the wheelchairs.  And alongside this I was having to wear ever more practical clothing.  My beautiful satchel was replaced by a functional rucksack.  I stopped being able to wash my hair very often.  And I stopped being able to do anything with my hair.  I’ve never worn much make up but that was no longer an option.  And then I stopped being able to wear trousers, tights and leggings because I couldn’t pull them down to go to the toilet.

It was this, the loss of my iconicly me tights, that hit the hardest.  I had a huge drawer filled with all different colours and different thicknesses.  I was known for my tights.  And I lost that.  That hurts more than not being able to wear my beautiful black boots or my much loved DMs.  Even as I sit here, I still feel these losses.  It’s like losing a part of yourself.  My DMs and my tights were so much a part of me and how I expressed myself to the world…

But.  Slowly I am working my way back to myself.  My wrist splints are hidden by arm covers which come in a fantastic array of designs and have the added advantage of stopping the velcro from sticking to everything.  These are the ones I have on today:

s-l1600

To overcome the unwashed hair, I obviously turned to dry shampoo, lush being my preferred choice – it’s more expensive but lasts forever so it’s a good investment and it smells yummy and isn’t a spray which I find difficult to use and also not great for my allergies.  I also turned to hair bands and headscarves.  When my hair hasn’t been cut for a while my fringe annoys me and these have the advantage of a) covering the unwashed hair and b) keeping my hair out of my eyes.  Soft fabric hairbands are really comfy and you can get whatever colour or pattern you want online but I also like the headscarves and hairwraps that cover all your hair and I’ve got mine from ebay.

Jessica Kellgren-Fozard has some great tips for hairstyles when you have limited mobility:

So, working down, we come to clothing and here comfort is really important to me.  I’m either spending a lot of time sitting in my bed, in my riser recliner or in my wheelchair and my clothes must accommodate that.  As I can’t do trousers or leggings I wear a lot of dresses.  I love tshirt style dresses, jumper dresses and knitted skirts.  But this doesn’t mean boycotting style.  What I tend to do is stock up when they’re in fashion or when I find a dress I really like, I’ll buy it in a couple of colours.

And you can always accessorise.  I feel like I’m very unqualified to be telling people about any of this but this is my experience.

Splints… There is no getting round the fact I wear them.  As I said, I cover up my wrist splints but that still leaves fingers, knees and ankles.  I’ve not found a way of making my knee splints any more stylish but my ankles tend to be hidden because I love wearing boots.  I have to buy them a couple of sizes bigger to accommodate the splints and I can’t wear DMs any more because I can’t get my feet in them easily enough with the splints.  What I’ve found works best for me is ranges with a wide option and boots with a full zip down the side.  Unlike putting a foot in a boot, a splinted foot doesn’t have as much give so you need the shoes to do the hard work.

When it comes to my fingers, I was always covered in beautiful silver rings with stones and patterns and then the splints came along and they were replaced by pieces of NHS beige plastic.  You know the colour… And then I found silver ring splints. Mine were from a company which no longer ships to the UK but again, etsy has a wide range and there are other people who sell them.  When I’m out and about, even when I’m in hospital, people compliment me on my rings, thinking that they’re just decorative and that is such an empowering feeling.  They are complimenting me not commenting on my disability.

I am very aware that this post is getting to be pretty long but bear with me…

Next to the matter of my tights, or lack of them… Instead of tights and leggings, these days I wear very long socks.  All the joy of warmth without the difficulty of pulling them down when you go to the toilet.  I get mine from Sock Dreams in the US because they have a fantastic range and, crucially, give you detailed information about length and width at the top.  A lot of long socks assume your legs are the same width all the way up which is obviously not the case for most people!  I also have to wear compression socks from time to time and was very excited to get an email from Sock Dreams this week about their new range.  I’ve also had some great pairs from Compression Sock Shop including a pair of purple spotty ones!  There is no need for compression socks to be boring, let your style shine through them!

I am not always the tidiest of eaters, especially as I can’t always use cutlery… This of course means sticky fingers and I am starting a small collection of lovely, reusable napkins.  I think they are underrated – most of us grab a piece of kitchen roll if we need to – but resuable ones are obviously better for the environment and plus, I’m allergic to paper… Again, I turned to ebay as well as etsy and there are so many great designs out there these days.

Hmm… What else did I want to say…  I don’t remember!  And to be fair, I think this is probably long enough…

In addition to the links through out, check out:

Another post about things which make my life easier!

I’ve done a lot of these posts but I am also continually finding new things which make my life with chronic pain and fatigue easier.  And my condition changes so I need to find new ways of coping.  All the info in the past posts is still really relevant and if you’re new to chronic illness or my blog, I would recommend looking back at them.

If like me, you’re stuck inside, I hope my connecting with nature posts give you some inspiration:

A good mattress.  I’ve written before about the value of a mattress topper and they do make a lot of difference.  But I’ve just bought a new bed and mattress and the difference is amazing!  Although now I stop and think about it, my mattress topper was probably over 5 years old… Everyone has different mattress needs but I have gone with a mammoth mattress and bed (there was a deal if you got both).  Because it’s a medical mattress, I got VAT off.  When I was trying out mattresses, I lay on them like everyone else but I also made sure to do lots of wiggling as that’s how I sleep. For me, memory foam was awful – I couldn’t turn over and it was a nightmare to get me off them as I sort of got sucked in…!  Of all the memory foam ones, the ones which were half sprung, half memory foam were the best.  But the mammoth was the one which was best for me.  If you’re mattress shopping and have a bed raiser or profiling bed, make sure to ask for advice.  Some of the mattresses we looked at would not have worked well if they’d had to bend.

Electric hot water bottle.  All of the hot water bottle benefits without having to use scolding hot water.  Mine are (I have two!) from noozie and take about ten mins to heat up and stay warm for a few hours after, longer if they’re in bed with you.

Metal straws. I use a lot of straws for meds and my drinks and when I go out.  Metal straws are cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the plastic sort.  Depending on where you buy them, you can get a pouch to pop one in your bag and keep it clean.  Most seem to come with a cleaner.  NB, don’t use metal straws for hot drinks, you could burn yourself.  Plastic straws designed for hot drinks are the way forward there.

Toiletry bottles.  You know the ones I mean?  They come free in washbags and you use them to take shampoo away with you.  Well, if you’re on a lot of liquid meds, they can be an easier and lighter alternative to taking all your glass bottles with you.

Salt sachets. My lovely friend picks these up every time we go for coffee now so I have a good stash!  I use them to add salt to drinks when I’m feeling potsy and have some in my bag, my wheelchair and on my trolley.

Earphone headband. I hate sleeping with earphones in but I have awful neighbours who can be so loud I can’t hear my audiobook at night.  Enter sleepphones.  They are a headband which has flat speakers inside.  You can feel them but they are so much better than earphones.  They come with a cord or a bluetooth connection.  Whilst I was concerned about strangling myself in my sleep, I tried the corded version as they’re cheaper and I’ve been fine!  The cable is a good length and their customer service is great. I had a little issue with mine and they responded and acted on my email within 12 hours, no questions asked, no fuss.

Beanbag laptray. You can get some really cool ones these days including ones you can add your own photos to.  They are great for eating off but also for using in bed.  I have my laptop on one at the moment.  I also use them for doing little craft things on so that I can lift and move the whole project easily without dropping stuff everywhere.  You can get crafters trays as well if that’s specifically what you’re wanting.

I’m very certain there were more things I wanted to include on this list but that is the nature of brain fog… If I remember I might add them to the comments!

FOMO and chronic illness

It’s not a phrase I use, so in case you’re not familar with it, FOMO is the fear of missing out.

Meg, from That Hummingbird Life, sent out an email recently about FOMO:

Whether it’s feeling like we should have done things in the past, getting caught up in thinking we need to do/buy something because we’ll regret it if we don’t, or feeling like the odd one out, it’s fair to say we’ve all experienced it.

It’s something I’ve had to deal with, although I’m not sure I’ve been especially conscious of the process, because of my pain. There are obviously many things I can’t do and I have to be more choosy about what I do do. Which almost makes it easier because there are physical consequences to trying to do everything and I know I physically can’t do everything I want to do. One, probably less helpful, way I have dealt with it is by mentally blocking out things which aren’t an option. Most of the time I don’t think about me going on holiday, even when talking about other people’s holidays, because it’s probably not going to happen.

More helpfully, I sort of approach FOMO in terms of compersion or shepping naches. The first is a term used mostly in terms of poly relationships and the second is a Yiddish phrase. Both essentially mean getting pleasure from seeing someone else get pleasure. For compersion, this might be feeling all full of love when you see your partner is in love with their other partner. For the Yiddish, it seems to be used mostly for the pride or gratification that a parent/teacher/grandparent gets when they see their child enjoying themselves or achieving something.

This can be tricky, but for me it basically means that I don’t get jealous when someone is doing something awesome (well, I do sometimes…). I see it as something that is making them really happy and I am happy when my loved ones are happy. We are a very individualistic society and are socialised to think “I want that” when we see someone with something, even if we don’t actually want it. I think part of FOMO is tied into that. When someone is telling you about something brilliant they’ve done or are doing, a part of us leaps to I want that or I should want that or I should do that. By doing this, we miss the awesomeness of just basking in the glow of someone who feels great.

Maybe my thought process might help explain..

Person A: I have just been on a great holiday…
Person B: Oh, I’m so jealous, I really want/need a holiday (this may be said, thought or internalised somehow)
Person C: Oh that’s great but shit, I should be going on holiday/wanting to go on holiday/all my friends love travelling what’s wrong with me…
Person D: Brilliant, tell me more about it, I’d love to hear the details and see some pics (might have a moment of longing or holiday lust but goes back to listening to person A and living the experience through them. I want to say living vicariously but that, to me, has negative connotations.)

Person B and C are probably going to experience a bit of FOMO and think they should be going on holiday and possibly to the same part of the world because A had a great time and they want to join in.

Person D is getting the magic of A retelling the adventure and seeing A smile and engaging with A. Person D is experiencing something different to the holiday itself but it’s still it’s own magic. Person D, for whatever reason, hasn’t got bogged down in what they don’t have or aren’t doing. They are focusing on what they do have which is a great friend who’s wanting to share, rather than what they don’t or can’t have, namely a holiday.

Person D is probably more like a parent filled with delight when their child comes home from school full of excitment about their spelling test going well and having a great time playing with their friends and having been invited to someone’s house for tea for the first time.

We are so socialised into needing everything for ourselves that when we hear about something we can’t be part of, we sulk and we kick off. Not because we want the thing, but because we are conditioned to want everything, especially if someone else has it and we don’t.

I think, for me, the other important aspect of how I approach FOMO is prioritising! I have limited energy and know that if I do something on monday, I need to rest on Tuesday etc. I have no choice. If I ignore this and book something in monday and tuesday, tuesday’s thing will probably end up a write off. So I have to figure out what I want to do most, and this is helpful in living authentically anyway. So I’m faced with x and y, which initially I want to go to both of. But then I stop and think and maybe x is more interesting or y is similar to something I’ve done recently or actually, I didn’t want to do y but I felt I should. X is the winner! And I will enjoy x a lot more than if I tried to do x and y because I would break myself doing both and would spend all of x worrying about how I would get through y. Essentially, I do fewer things but with more heart. The same goes for friends, I go for quality over quanitity both in terms of the actual people and the way I spend time with them.

And if there’s something that you do really want to do, do it. Or find a way to bring it into your life. Or do bits of it. Like if we’re talking about a party, go for the first hour, really throw yourself into it and then head home. Basically, slow down and think about what you actually want. And be grateful for the things that you do experience. And change your viewpoint. Instead of thinking a half day trip is stupid and not anywhere near as good as a two week holiday, make it a big deal if it’s a big deal for you. Take photos, treat yourself to something as a reminder, make a collage afterwards etc. Treat it with the same respect as a holiday.

I used to spend entire days by the sea, long day trips that I loved. As my pain got worse, I couldn’t cope with it anymore and got grumpy with myself when I had to leave after a few hours. I ended up ruining half day trips with dreams and longings for full day trips. Over time I realised I was shooting myself in the foot and started to let go of what I used to be able to do and focus instead on making sure my shorter trips were great in themselves. I had to stop comparing them to my full days and instead begin treating them as something in their own right. I no longer try and do everything I want to but instead I focus on what I want to do most and enjoy it for itself.

There is no way round it, when you have a chronic illness, you are going to miss out on things. But by focusing on missing out, you miss out on what you can enjoy.

#30dayswild

I wrote an introduction to #30dayswild at the beginning of June which explains the challenge and how I’m approaching it.  As we’ve reached the end I want to share some of my highlights.

Day one: I saw a huge bee exploring my bird feeder which was exciting because no birds have been by… It’s been up for a few months now and I think it’s just a bad location but I don’t have a better one for it. I had the window open so despite being stuck in bed, I was able to hear the birds. I also emailed various organisations about disability and nature (I’ve been meaning to for a while) to ask for their suggestions, recommendations and to see if they could share my blog posts.  And I wrote up some long overdue reviews on euans guide:

And my copy of BBC wildlife magazine arrived!

Day two: Using the magic of the internet, I identified a blackbird from its song that wafted through the open window.  As I said above, I don’t really know any bird calls and I’d love to learn more.

Day three: My 30 days wild pack arrived and I wrote about snails and ladybirds.  I scattered wild flower seeds in my yard and made butterflies from clay as its butterfly education and awareness day.  This was a good day but I was in a state health wise at the end of it.

_20170603_150102

Day four: Day three was a bit much for me so day four has been a bit of a washout.  Basically mostly spending it in bed watching netflix and reading about the seasons:

_20170604_150414

Day five: I felt worse than day four so very little done at all and not really even up to reading.  I did however get a great response from one of the emails I sent on day 1 about access to nature when you have limited mobility.

I feel like this entire year is just passing me by as I bounce from one phase of illness to another…

Reads: As I lay ill, inside, trapped by my body, the seasons turn and turn and turn
Reads: As I lay ill, inside, trapped by my body, the seasons turn and turn and turn

Day six: There was supposed to be a walk but there was also exceptionally heavy rain so we postponed.  I did get out to go to the not very wild supermarket where I bought a couple of nature focused magazines.  I also, amongst other things, saw a happy little snail on the pavement outside my flat.  Whilst not a plant, it put me in mind of the following quote:

Reads: I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It's so fuckin' heroic - George Carlin
Reads: I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so fuckin’ heroic – George Carlin

Day seven: Resting up for a day out on 9th.  The sun is dancing with the clouds, alternating my bedroom between light and dark in a matter of seconds.

Day eight: Awake at 3.30am but being serenaded by a blackbird calling in the day.

Day nine: A day trip!  We went to The Deep in Hull which was very accessible and has very detailed information about access on their website.  I was impressed.  As we drove over the weather was a bit patchy, sun and clouds.  And then the heavens opened.  It was like giants were pouring buckets of water over us.  The window wipers couldn’t keep up, the drains couldn’t keep up, we could barely see the car in front.  And then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped.  It turned out to be a very strange day for weather.  When we stopped for lunch at Hornsea, it was really cold.  Once we’d eaten though, it was glorious sunshine and lovely and warm.  But after a short walk, the sky turned black once more. The weather was certainly wild!

I realise that #30dayswild is more about plants and animals and such but the weather is an important part of nature for me.  One day I will learn more about it. But for now, how about some pictures from The Deep?!  It was hard to capture them because you can’t use your flash and it’s quite dark and the animals move around a lot!

From here on out though, things got a bit patchy. My health went squiffier than normal and I’m not committing to any more thing a day challenges because they always seem to coincide with me feeling rubbish…

Day 10: Woken by a woodpigeon in the early hours and the day finished with a musky, golden sky.

Day 12: A little walk.

Day 18: Went to the park.  Saw ducklings and also baby blackbirds which I’ve never seen before!

Day 19: A really hot looking pigeon glared at me from my garden fence.

Day 20: I did some drawing, including a picture of dandelions:

dandelion

Day 21: More art, the summer solstice and a post about sunflowers.

Day 22: Saw a starling in a car park with a huge beakful of food, looking very pleased with itself.  And crows or ravens ruling the roost on the top of the butchers.

Day 28: Two little blackbirds hopped around outside my bedroom window making me smile.

Day 30: The woodpigeon, in all his plump and puffed up glory, returned to tightrope walking along my fence.

As I said above, I’ve not done well because of health and even though these all seem like little things, they bring a smile to my face when I notice them.  Having learnt the sound of a blackbird calling at the beginning of the month, I now pay more attention to his song.  It is more meaningful to me because I know which bird is calling.

Me and my period

Note: this post is going to be explicit and possibly more detail than you want.  You have been warned.

I’m reading a lot of spiritual feminist stuff at the moment and the idea of menstruation not being a shameful thing is coming up repeatedly.

Society has issues with any kind of bodily output but as something that only women* experience, periods are considered especially icky. It’s a “curse”, it’s something that we talk about in euphemisms, it’s a taboo.

When was the last time you heard someone refer to blood when talking about periods (another way of avoiding saying menstruation).  You might hear pms, bloating, that time of the month.  You might hear reference to it as a way of explaining why a woman isn’t happy with something or is standing up for something.  As a way of undermining women.  But you are very unlikely to hear about blood.

The idea of menstruation is one that is associated with unnatural things, despite it being so incredibly natural.  It is considered disgusting despite it being the very reason that you are alive today – without it, your mother couldn’t have carried you.

There is so much I want to say about periods and the different ways that they are experienced in different parts of the world.  There are some girls out there who can’t go to school because they can’t access sanitary products.  There are some people out there who are forced or coerced to take birth control so that their periods stop.  There are people out there who really struggle with their periods and are brushed off when they try to seek help for their pain or their moods.

But this post is entitled me and my periods.  So, back to me.

I have never liked my periods.

I remember wanting my period because I thought my mother would treat me differently.  I thought, because it would connect the two of us and not my sister, she would love me.  Obviously this was not the case.  But I clung to it.  And getting your period was grown up and like most young people I was in a rush to become an adult.

But once I got my period (on a canal boat… eugh!), everything changed and nothing changed.  My relationship with my mother was exactly the same.  But now I had to contend with potentially unpredictable bleeding. A mother who blamed any acting out or standing up for myself as hormones.  Everything was blamed on my hormones.  And I was expected to use tampons, because my mother did.  But what no one tells you is that inserting a tampon isn’t supposed to make you cry in pain.  That it shouldn’t be like forcing your hand through a brick wall.  See my post about vaginismus for more metaphors and similes on the matter of inserting anything into my vagina.

And when you are 13, you are already so scared that you aren’t right and I had no sense of self esteem and then to top it off my vagina seemed to be broken and I had no words to explain this.

Fast forward a few years and I am now experiencing horrific pain with my period.  It also comes with an unpredictable and quite inconvenient dose of diarrhoea.  To the point I missed a number of lectures.  And didn’t feel I could tell anyone why.  Sharing two toilets with nine other people didn’t make this any easier…

I went on the pill.  Yay, my periods should be manageable, whoop!  No.  Yes I knew when I was going to bleed each month but on the odd occasion I tried to skip my bleed, I would instead end up with a month long period.  On the plus side, there was regularity and it was lighter.  Although actually, I’ve always been pretty regular with my periods.  My body loves them.

A few years later and I lost a lot of weight because of anorexia.  Periods stopping are a sign or symptom of anorexia – at the time I was thinking at least some good would come from this.  But no.  My body loves its periods.  Despite being incredibly underweight, I still had them.  I only missed 3.

A few more years and my body still loves to have its periods.  I am not going to have children, I can’t have children and my periods are heavy and messy and humiliating.  Any shred of dignity is lost when my carers have to shower me when I’m bleeding.  They have to wash blood out of underwear, out of pjs and out of my bedding.  At times they have to change my sanitary towels.

Even when I am physically up to changing my sanitary towels, I still have other issues.  I love that some people find their period empowering and a way to connect to their body.  For me, it is about lack of control, lack of dignity and the mess that comes with it.  Other than blood stains, you also have to contend with the actual bleeding.  Guys, I bet you’ve not thought about this – there are times in my cycle where the blood is continuous.

I’m trying to decide how explicit to get here. F*ck it.  

So when you are trying to wipe yourself clean after using the toilet, you have not only got to deal with the diarrhoea, you also have to keep wiping the blood until you think you might get your knickers and hence sanitary towel up round your waist in time to not get blood all over the place.  This involves a lot of wiping.  And my hands struggle at the best of times**.

There is the matter of dry, crusty blood that arises because I still only get one shower a week regardless of whether I am bleeding or not.  There is the matter of being allergic to the sticky side of sanitary towels.  There is the cramping and all the other stuff that comes with a period for most women.

So I do not like my period.

I wish I did.  I wish I could enjoy it or at least not hate it.  But at least I am hating it as a conscious choice.  We are socialised to not like our periods – they are messy and they are reminders to the patriarchy that however powerful men get, they will not be able to create life.  We are socialised to be quiet and hide ourselves away when we are bleeding.  We are socialised to pretend there’s no blood involved.

So feel free to love or hate your period, or feel indifferent if that’s how you feel.  But examine your reasons. Is it because you do get awful pain or is it because that is how you’ve been told you should feel?


*not all people who menstruate are women, not all women menstruate but i’m using the word woman here anyway for ease of language and am speaking in generalities.

**I have a toilet topper which does have a wash and blow function but I find it useless for periods, advice is welcomed from others in similar circumstances!

Things which make my life easier

I’ve already written about this twice but my condition changes and so does my life and what I use to help me get through the day so I wanted to do another update.  You may also want to check out the following posts:

Things which make my life easier: Post 1

Things which make my life easier: Post 2

Reading with hand pain

  • Having carers makes a huge difference to my life
  • Home adaptations through the council:
    • Electric door opener for the front door – I have a fob button which opens the door so I don’t damage my shoulder or hand when I try.  It also means I can let people in without having to get up.
    • Electric curtain and window openers
    • This all results in a lot of remotes which I have tied on to my trolley so they are always to hand.  I also use remote controlled plug sockets for lamps.
  • Understanding friends
  • Twitter
  • My electric wheelchair, manual wheelchair and crutches
  • My diary – not only does it keep track of appointments and carers, I use it to track the things I need to do to maintain my health eg exercise, seeing people, using my brain, being creative, getting outside, getting rest etc.
  • Connecting with nature
  • Frozen meals; I often get my carers to do a batch of macaroni cheese or similar and we put it in takeaway style tins.  This means I can have comfort food on nights when we don’t have time to cook from scratch.
  • Riser recliner chair
  • Chewable toothbrushes and baby toothbrush.  The latter is lighter than most electric toothbrushes and has a smaller head.  I struggle with the vibrations causing hand pain but because it is smaller, I can just about cope with carers cleaning my teeth for me.  When my jaw pain is bad I use mouthwash and if my legs are bad, the carers leave the cup of mouthwash on my trolley by my bed along with a plastic cup to spit into.
  • 4Head is a roll on headache treatment which works by slightly numbing the area and thus breaking the tension cycle.  I use it when my shoulders are painful as this causes me neck pain which causes a headache and results in me holding my shoulders badly.. So I rub it on my neck and shoulders to help me relax them a little and interupt that cycle.
  • Hot rox for keeping warm.  I rotate mine between my hands and my legs when I’m in the wheelchair.
  • I drink a lot of juice and in the winter it was getting far too cold when I went out so my juice bottle now has a very thick, snuggly sock for it to live in.  This keeps my juice a little more drinkable in winter.
  • Slippers you can sleep in mean you aren’t having to put them on and off and on and off, especially helpful if, like me, you curl up in chairs.  Note, whilst I love having slippers I can sleep in, my physio insists I should wear ones with more structure.  I don’t because each time I sit down with my legs raised (which is basically every time I sit down) they fall off.
  • Portable foot rest.  I used this more when I was on crutches – it is portable and means when you’re in meetings or on chairs where your feet don’t quite touch the floor, you can rest them and reduce the leg pain.
  • Label maker
  • Wheelchair cosy and blanket
  • Prepaid prescription card.  I’m not eligible for help with prescription costs but the prepayment card means I only pay £100 a year rather than the £80-100 a month it would cost me otherwise.

What makes your life easier?