Signed Off

It’s a sentence on its own which doesn’t need any explanation. It’s a weird thing, a shameful thing, something not to tell anyone at all. Having a doctor ask you about your problems and then sending you a digital note stating that you’re deemed unfit for work for ‘x’ number of weeks, is quite frankly, awful.

It shouldn’t be awful. In my ideal reality there wouldn’t be any anxiety attached to needing time off work – in this ideal, society has evolved to understand the importance of individuality, and it knows that for a workplace to thrive, the needs of each person must be met without question.

Unfortunately, my imagination is far-fetched, and though most companies don’t explicitly state their unhappiness with you producing a sick-line, the subtext is still there, and an impending sense of consequence clouds the rest period you’re supposed to be having.

Right now, I am signed off work. It is just two weeks but has the potential to be longer. The sick note, while written by my doctor, was requested by me. This is because I am signed off with clinical depression and suicidal tendencies, and instead of an action plan, my doctor asked, “what do you need, what do you want me to do?”.  

During the phone call I was confused. I felt guilty for having to ask for the time off, and I felt as if I were skiving. If I’d had a broken leg or a kidney problem, there wouldn’t have been any questions.

My experience with the GP was upsetting – after telling her I was struggling with my mental health after the death of a close friend, the questionnaire that followed felt dehumanising. I don’t blame her, I blame the systems which have taken away essential funding for care which is needed by the many.

Depression can look like this

I was given a number for counselling and told to call Samaritans if I felt suicidal.

NHS therapy has a two-year waitlist.

Without the care from my doctor, without having the time to sit down and discuss my issues and potential treatments, I came off the phone feeling like an imposter. A large part of me was convinced that the doctor told me what I wanted to hear. I felt this way, because in my head, I needed to work for the sicknote I requested. Without a proper conversation to prove that I was worthy of time off, I was just an attention-seeker, or lazy.

Logically I know this isn’t the truth. I am an advocate for mental health equality and ending the stigma, and I have fought for people who have not been able to stand up for themselves. So why can’t I apply these thoughts myself?

Anxiety looks like this

I’ve been away from work for two weeks, and having had the time to think about it, I’ve realised the fault does not lie with me.

The world we live in is contradictory and focuses its energy on a person’s worth. When it comes to the individual ‘What are they worth to a capitalist society? What work ethic do they have and what can they bring to the table.’ – this question is never extended to encompass what the individual needs to flourish.

We are expected to provide. We are not provided for. This is where the root of our guilt lies. In the inherent notion that we are here to be valuable. When ultimately we cannot be valuable to anyone unless we are looking after ourselves first.

So. Look after yourself. Take the time off you need. Dismiss questions or challenges from people who do not have your individual interests at heart. Rest. Heal.

Was it an experience?

 The recent months have been tough. Mental health has taken a hit, but there is respite in knowing that it is not a solitary phenomenon. Edging toward the tail end of the third lockdown, fatigue is ever-present among friends, family, and strangers I pass on my long woodland walks.

 Without the regular distractions of full-time work and heavy socialising, me and many others have had to find alternative ways to manage the increasing struggle. Pandemic aside, the world is in a period of social transition which shows itself in many forms. One which has spoken to me is the activism and stand against the violence committed by men against non-women.

 International women’s day was followed by a week of disappointing news: Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah once again coaxed Piers Morgan from his misogynists resting place, Sarah Everard was found dead and a member of the Met Police arrested on suspicion of her kidnap and murder, and there was an outpouring of misogynoir and aggression against black women.

It was in the wake of this news week I decided to speak out about some of the injustices which have been committed against me.

Without telling anyone, I turned my Instagram into a temporary platform for me to speak about when I was raped.

 I won’t recount the story here, but it’s available to watch on my Instagram @incredibillies as an IGTV video, though I give you fair warning it is graphic in nature and probably upsetting to watch. Regardless of these factors, I chose to share it because I had made my mind up that rape victims shouldn’t feel they have to keep what happened to them secret. They shouldn’t feel ashamed or dirty, and they should know these are things which happen TO them and not because of them.

 One of the main spurs for me talking about my rape was the influx of non-men on my Instagram feed imploring people to listen to them. It is difficult to witness hundreds of voices rising in the wake of a tragic event, attempting to share their experiences, only to be told they are lying for attention.

 The other reason was these people spoke gently of what happened to them. Without realising they made excuses for their abusers and refused to go into detail. I wondered why and realised all this must be to ‘spare’ the public from knowing what has happened to us in all the gory detail. This realisation stirred anger within me, leading me to record a video explicitly talking about the four men that raped me and how the police reacted to my situation.

 Since posting the video I have had positive feedback. People have called me brave and thanked me for sharing. I know why they do it, but what I want is to create a norm where people aren’t too frightened or disgusted to tell the world of the abuse committed against them. A world where we talk about it enough to make people uncomfortable enough to make a change.

 I may tell you I was ‘raped’, and you may sympathise with me and forget it a day later, but if I tell you how I was raped and what the people did to me, it becomes harder to make it go away. The more people who voice their story, the more graphic we are with the world, the more we fight for the right to never have these things happen to us.

 Until things change, I will continue to ask my non-male friends to text me when they get home and to be careful if they’re going to be out after dark. I will continue to be cautious of any man in my near vicinity, and I will continue to upload stories of all the times I have experienced sexual harassment. It is hundreds.

Until things change, I will always encourage others to do the same.

Freeform – Home

The concept of home as a freeform is ridiculous – but during a university lecture this morning we were given five minutes on the concept of home. Which, for me, is something that has always been fluid and moving. It is not a place, and it is not always certain people. It is a mood, a feeling, a cup.

What is home, really? I have several homes. Right now, my home is this table, with the cat on the side tucking into the Maoam’s. It is not just this table, but this house. This house with three dogs, one cat, one rabbit, two gerbils, three children, Vikki, and me. Me. I am here, and my place is in this house with the coloured doors and guitar hooks on the walls holding up the blue bass given to me once by Annie. A bass I never learned to play but get told by Susannah that I must. I must so that she can play piano with me. Piano that Vikki taught her.  

My mother’s house is the place I go to for peace – when the screaming chaos of 101 Victoria St cancels out the SSRI’s and overwhelms my imagination into extinction. I put the key in the lock,( the key that always has been, and always will be mine no matter how many other addresses I live at) and walk in. I am greeted by a the akita-bear hybrid animal that is Keisha, and Jo Malone candles, these things familiar enough to make me pause, breathe, and assume the old habit of sitting in the wing chair next to my bookcase. Dad, as usual, is asleep on the armchair.

Sometimes, something weird happens, and I don’t know how to detach the head from the Henry hoover to unblock it of the rabbit hay, so I call my dad and he comes over- he always comes over to help. That home meets my other home and I start to wonder which is which. But they’re both home. Not the physical space, never the physical space, but them.

Tor

The Tor, I am told, is one of the highest natural peaks in Somerset: we climbed it.

Annie is meditating next to me, and there is a kid singing ‘the wheels on the bus’ in St. Michaels tower. Tonight we are sharing the space with many other people. We made the climb so we could watch the sunset up here; it was difficult, and I am reminded of this by a cold sweat bubble joining the rivers down my neck. It seems as if my head might be an infinite source of salt water.

And older Greek woman whispers to a young girl named Maya; they look for somewhere to sit while commenting on how many people are on the Tor.

Personally, I don’t mind how many people are up here, but I feel for Annie as she focuses on the energy work for her crystals. The sky bubbles red and orange ahead of us. The sun is in the West, half of its presence has been pinched behind expansive, smoky clouds. He is not shy, he is just waiting to make his entrance.

The stink of three days of sweat from my time at the rainbow commune makes its way to my nose, but is drowned out by a nearby joint; a scent that has become closer to me than my own blood in recent days.

Two dogs find their way into an argument behind us. I attempt to rehydrate with kiwi and strawberry water. The tang it leaves in my mouth beats the stale tobacco off my tongue.

Up here we toe the line between organic and inorganic. A car alarm rails below us, but simultaneously a skylark ups into view, calling for a mate. Shutters and flashes from a hundred digital cameras light up our sky, and in that same sky is the sun, sinking down with gradients of purple and luscious pink, the kind you want to kiss.

As father sun is swallowed up by our open ceiling, a child sucks down snot into the back of their throat and a Nokia ringtone rolls through the circle of hippie folk.

For me, the most natural thing I can do is to share this evening with everything existing in our world: a Chinook, a cool breeze smacking off the back of a plastic bottle, or a mushroom the size of my palm. Whatever it is, to me it feels as if it is all the same.

Newborn Lepidopterist

We are sitting approximately 12 feet apart. I am on top of the dragon, and he is down in the shade of a plum tree. We are listening to my Spotify ‘discover weekly’ playlist through a Bluetooth speaker placed awkwardly between us, and we are both working on our respective creative vices.

I used to keep the Wolverton apple orchard to myself, but in the era of social distancing, I’ve realized that more people need access to the fragrant plumes of apple mint and lemon balm, and the gentle healing that comes from walking the aisle between the young apple and pear trees.

I am sweating factor thirty, relieved only occasionally by a breeze that is accompanied by the distressed chattering of a house sparrow; it seems her allotted tree branch doesn’t hold up well against the eastern element. Distracted by taking amusing photos of each other, Finn and I find our attention drawn back by a painted lady butterfly. It doesn’t stop to acknowledge us in return, but continues on its flight path to the adjoining allotments.

 The uncomfortable and unrelenting trill of our dying Bluetooth speaker is promptly put out of its misery by Finn.

 It seems as if today has become an accidental day for butterfly spotting. An Orange Tip followed by a Red Admiral brings our total up to three, not something that I remember happening since my early childhood. Both of the butterflies sizzle with confidence, but the striking silhouette of a Red Kite against the sun takes our breath away easily.

The grass is soft on my palms but scratchy on my bare thighs, and I think Finn is getting uncomfortably warm. I pause and indulge myself in the sweet smell of the cherry tree behind me before standing up and shaking myself off in preparation of my reluctant walk home.

Sun death

I persist regardless of what they do. I mean, I wish they wouldn’t, but in truth it doesn’t matter.

 A war, another war. Another war and then a disease. A disease and then another disease. A disease that they brought back with them. Plant another, next to me. What was it my mother said as she put me in the ground? “Shade” a single word lulled into loose earth scratched up for my bundle of roots. It was then, in 1667, that I learnt I was here for human convenience.

 Convenient I was. Conveniently tall and “wow, so beautiful”, and I stood there and listened to them awe at me holding paper cups of my brothers torn down, hands wrapped round them sipping at the foul brown, and I thought “well if only you fed some of that to me, you have no idea how well I’d grow.”

 Ancient they call me, only because I am the proud survivor of Dutch Elm, Ash Dieback, Anthracnose and… there were more but I can’t remember. If only you could feel the anger I feel, being a surviving witness of the endless human violence. The ability to self-destruct again, and again, but somehow to pull themselves back by a thread. A thread, usually, that’s tethered to us, strung around our roots and cast deep into soft soil and plump earth that they wish to make hollow.

Oxygen, take it. We make enough to feed them all and will continue to do so long after they’ve been swallowed by icy floods. Hot Amazon, hot Bush, hot heat hardening hearts of my slain family over the world. We prepare ourselves to face the massive sun death – just because they won’t be here to enjoy it, why shouldn’t we? We have accepted our place in this, to fund consumerism, capitalism, communism, however they want to wipe themselves out.

Plant your guilt, seed by seed. Build new forests of shame and slavery. It’s too late to stop what you’ve done, just try to treat the next ones better.

Millenium

“Don’t drop me, granddad!” I’m sat on his knees, nervously anticipating the fall as he dunks me low to the floor, my matted almost-black hair scraping the carpet. He dangles me there for a second or two, my sweaty hands gripping his in fear of my life. He hoists me up as quickly as he let me down. The trust is restored.

 My mum is on the sofa soothing my brother and sister and explaining to my younger cousins what the Millennium is. I can’t hear what she says over my own shrieks. Adrenaline bounces through my ears and I know I’m going down again. “Don’t drop me, please.” The fear seizes me. It’s too much and I cry for Nana. Arthritic fingers pass me over into wobbling arms that hold me close, and her talcum powder skin blooms in my nose to bring me peace.

 My dad wanders over and warbles something in my ear, a rhyme about fishes and fairies, but I wrap my legs around my nan and pretend he’s not there. “You’re too old to be held.” He’s persisting, the green bottle in his tattooed digits winks at me, beckoning me to join the adults that are smouldering in their own drunkenness. I ask my nan to put me down.

I go outside and clutch at the cold earth with grubby fingernails. My chest is heaving with tears that won’t come, but cousin Ollie finds me, he has a plate full of scotch eggs. “Countdown is in an hour.” It’s been a long day, so I take an egg and melt into the dark grass instead, picking blades until they weave me into my sleep.

The company we keep

Why do some Midges mosey about as if they’re drunk, while others are indefatigable? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer for you. But it is the most pressing question on my mind, sitting underneath this lime tree.

 I watch them for a while and think about their ambition. Why have they gathered here? They’re using the space well, spread thin across several metres, like a ration of butter on your morning toast. Perhaps they are here for the company – I only speculate this because apart from colliding with each other they don’t appear to be doing much. I am distracted by a bug that lands on my chest. It is considerably ugly. It has mulchy wings that taper off, and an alien tail protruding from underneath its abdomen. A second one hovers nearby. They leave together.

 The sun is setting on my left, though it’s still high enough to throw a fine-looking variegation over the grass; green and yellow are friends, and they’ve always been a favourite colour combination of mine. There are three minuscule red spiders on the seat next to me. I suspect they must be up to something as two of them keep retreating to their secret world on the underside of the bench. They’re the sort of red that you see at the end of a fire, once everything is done burning, but they move too much for that comparison. For me, this colour means ‘leave me alone’.

 The midges are leaving in groups of ten or more, they must have a buddy system. Everybody here appears to have a friend. I begin to think of my own solitude in this moment, why I brought myself here alone. But I don’t have time to finish that thought because the clouds have journeyed over, and it starts to rain.

Sahara

 Four years ago, I laid down in the Sahara Desert.

 I closed my eyes for ten seconds and convinced myself I was floating on water, but eventually Berber heat cut through unbelonging high street polyester and I was forced to move onto a rug. Cracked camel skin and Turmeric stained wool stopped me from falling through sheets of silken sand and into the pips of Africa.

 A fat, slate blue sky beckoned me, and I remember taking a handful of sand to chuck up at it, hoping to leave a mark. By the time my hand left the floor most of it had gone, slipped back to its indistinguishable family. I knew then that the moment would never come again.

 Today, I lay in a local dog-walking field, cradled by damp moss and thick mud that slaps back when I throw my palm down on it. My clothes are damp with yesterday’s rainwater and piles of burnt charcoal clouds tell me that it won’t be long before they soak my world again. There is a panic, briefly, for the winter insects that may surface from the curly dock or dandelion leaves, but today they have stayed in their marshy camp-outs – our soggy earth can provide for them better than I ever will.

  I close my eyes and try to exist in a passing moment. But it is England, and a cold, ashen raindrop appears on my face and rolls, unpleasantly, across my cheek, telling me that it is time to go home.

Quarantine Diaries

 People may joke about the people with mental health drastically tampering with their physical appearance during lockdown, but by day two I’d bleached my hair twice. My newfound Fluoxetine fluidity has meant that the Corona virus quarantine hasn’t been as endangering as it would have been two weeks ago.
 I want to elaborate on that last part a little, because this is a scary situation. Corona virus (and everything that is happening because of it) is unfamiliar and frightening. If you are a millennial, like me, you’re used to keeping up with fast paced change with an ease not often found in other generations. Perhaps now you are isolating with your family and you must listen to constant war-time comparisons and dismissals of your anxiety. Maybe you’re lucky enough to be with people who are more delicate in their approach to your concerns. Perhaps you are alone.
 I have struggled myself. In my last post I spoke briefly about my coping mechanisms. One of them is making sure that I know what’s going on around me. Even if I can’t have complete control over my life I must maintain control over work, social circles and hobbies. But what happens when the world is seized by a flu-like virus which renders a third of the world in lockdown? I try not to complain, because after all we must stay home and save lives… but how do you adapt to a completely new lifestyle when it is almost certain to doom your mental health?
 That’s not a question I can answer. What I can do is give you all the lowdown on my quarantine week and hope that you find something that makes you smile or relate in some way.

Billie’s quarantines diaries

Day 1: Work is closed and it’s Monday 23rd, the day that Boris starts to implement the lockdown. I don’t do much today except bleach my hair and contemplate staying ginger, make pancakes and obsessively scroll Twitter trying to find the UK Corona virus updates. I have a long chat with my hallucination George before bed and pass out.

Day 2: Thank God for small mercies, my sister is isolating with me because she doesn’t need to be back in work until April 13th. I make pancakes again and Grace bleaches my hair. I have a houseparty group chat with my friends in the evening and it makes me so overwhelmed that I almost pass out. I obsessively scroll Twitter and wait for the daily Boris update. Nice chat with George and then bed.

Day 3: I don’t want to get out of bed, but I do. Today Grace and I go up to the allotment (it’s allowed as daily exercise thank you very much) and spend an hour trying to dig up the ground while being spectacularly outshone by our dad who once spent six years as a landscape gardener. Twitter. Cry. Chat with George. Bed.

Day 4: Useless. I am a depressed and neurotic mess when I wake up and George is nowhere to be found which results in me throwing things around my room until I’m stressed enough to conjure him. Another day at the allotment and it’s so sunny that things feel bearable again. My mum is off work for the next four days so there’s considerably more cleaning than there has been Monday-Wednesday. Grace and I decide to get drunk and watch Twilight, it’s hilarious. I go to bed and realise that I didn’t check Twitter all day.

Day 5: I am eating EVERYTHING, but it’s okay because I’m already fat. My friends and I have a group chat that keeps me sane. My green hair dye arrived in the post so Grace sets to work on turning me into a goblin. Today I wish I could go for a walk for the sake of doing it, but I know I need to be sensible. I spend a lot of time in my room speaking to George and trying to process how I’m feeling. Grace and I watch the second Twilight movie and get drunk again. I regrettably spend an hour checking Twitter before bed.

Day 6: My brother is home, my dad is home, my sister is home, my mum is home and I am home. We are all adults and things are getting a little tense. I try to stay out of the way of everyone and do my own thing. Grace and I kick everyone out of the living room to do a bodypump class on the TV. The day is frustratingly long, and bed doesn’t come soon enough; not before the third Twilight movie, though.

Day 7: My mental health is hanging on by a thread and there are lots of arguments in the house today. It takes a lot of effort to reassure myself that it’s natural and not to overthink it. Grace and I watch the fourth Twilight movie and I feel concerned for it being Monday tomorrow – I make up for this by eating so many carbs. Carbs upon carbs. I’m too full to sleep.

That brings us to today, day 8. I’m okay today and I’ve been productive, despite feeling achey from my television gym class the other day. After enduring a week of reading posts and watching videos telling me to keep a routine and wake up at a certain time to exercise and to separate my workspace from my living space and to eat a certain way, I have realised that some people just can’t do that. If you’re one of those routineless people, please don’t feel bad when you see these posts. I have now concluded that they’re not a personal attack, but somebody else’s coping mechanism.
 I have spent a lot of time this week reassuring people that none of this makes sense, and it probably won’t make sense for a long time. Be brave and expect the unexpected, and when it’s too much reach out to people. Isolate yourself physically but not emotionally. Receive and give love in whatever way you can and remember that this is a time where more people may be relying on us than ever before. It is up to us not to see it as a burden.