I haven’t blogged in ages, it seems. Even K tells me this, somewhat reproachfully. I have been away a few times and I guess in these modern times, lthis is how she keeps tabs on me. But I have felt very low and run down and life has been hectic. I have driven up and down the country at weekends as well as during the week, catching up with family events, such as my mother’s birthday, Mother’s Day, my brother’s leaving party and then keeping up with all those other chores. L is stuck in a nowhere place at the moment, all her intentions to reach her target weight are not being realised, while her new braces make things more difficult, she shows no sign of changing her habits or challenging herself and is entirely resisitant to my efforts to help. When I am here, of course. Consequently, I feel depressed and unhappy, as well as dealing with yet another viral infection.
What do I write about? Sometimes I have fixed ideas and others, I have no idea. At the moment there are an assortment of seemingly unconnected thoughts in my head and this post may be like the meal you have from the fridge contents at the end of the Christmas holidays – a collection of thoughts that will have to do, until payday. International Womens Day and Mother’s Day come and go – two days apart, presumably so we have the rest of the year to get on with earning money, doing housework and caring for others without expecting a card or flowers for our troubles. And slowly, ideas form in my head about what to write – based on these random events.
Firstly, a therapy sesion with L. We talk about identity issues – who she will be when she is recovered. She shows me a flipchart with a circle showing the different groups of girls in her school. They are:
- Pretty girls who have parties and get invited to them
- Hard working girls
- Girls who have problems and are unhappy
I want to weep – is this the menu of options for 15 year olds? L is in the middle of all three and accepts my view that perhaps nobody is really solely in one group, or that there are other possibilities. We talk about who L wants to be and are there new identities, unconstrained by these groups. L talks about her need to please others and how hard it is for her to tell others she is angry or unhappy. I tell her that this is because it is hard, but offer some suggestions, which focus on speaking from the ‘I’, a classic assertiveness technique. None of us can ever really know why others behave in the way they do – which is why telling people “You are unreasonable or unfair” provokes a reaction. But we can say that ‘I am unhappy, I am angry’ and offer as well that because we care about the other person so much that we want them to know how we feel. L listens to this and I think it makes some sense. But I also consider – when did it become so wrong to be angry? And in a generation which is supposed to be so self-absorbed and individualistic, how come so many young women are seemingly obsessed by self loathing?
What I mean by that is the constant narrative amongst L, her friends, young women online, on Twitter, on Facebook, where there are two predominanat themes, namely:-
You (people out there, friends, followers etc) are all amazing, inspiring, beautiful, incredible and you need to stay strong, believe in yourself etc
I am a pile of crap. No really, I am, thank you so much for saying that I’m not, but I really I am. I’m fat worthless and hopeless. But you, you are awesome, I am so inspired by you. Except not inspired enough to stop hating myself.
What is this all about? Firstly, let me state really clearly, I am not criticising self criticism, especially caused by anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. But whereas some symptoms of mental illnesses make the sufferer ‘weird’ – eg hallucinations, voices or shouting out – other symptoms such as self-loathing and despair actually seem wholly apposite in a world in which self-hatred is developed by young women as a fine art. If it were an Olympic sport, we would be producing world champions. On Facebook amongst my daughter’s friends, I have seen this type of exchange.
Girl A posts glamorous photo of herself.
Girl B Comments: Wow hun, you’re stunning and soooo pretteee
Girl A: I am so, so not, but thanks anyway, if only I was as gorgeous as you
Girl B: Whattt!!! Don’t be crazzzeee – I am gross, babe!
Girl C: You are gorgeous, babe.
Girl A: Thanks, but you are so wrong
You get the picture, I haven’t the strength to keep this up. Female solidarity amongst young and not so young women is based on this premise, that I must support, celebrate and encourage the women around me while beating myself up. And that perhaps beating myself up is almost a form of support – by telling others that I am so rubbish, this in turn flatters them? Except it doesn’t. What it does instead is reinforce the idea that women must not be too uppity. They must know their place or face the accusation that we are full of ourselves, too big for our boots or that we fancy ourselves. How do we promote equality when we can’t even practice it within a you and me context. If I am a woman and my beliefs are: All women are brilliant, talented individuals who are strong and powerful. Except me. I’m useless. How does that work. Except to send a message to every other woman – be bold, be strong, but above all be self effacing and humble. Nope, it’s just all wrong.
So, I’ve written before about walking the walk, on coming out about depression. And this is what I intend to do here. I regret bringing my daughters up by telling them how wonderful and lovable they were every day while simultaneously regularly weeping with self-hatred. And yes, I am still struggling with depression and this is really really hard. But breaking a mould and challenging a paradigm generally is. So here goes, this is me, walking the walk.
I am a good person. I am clever kind and funny. I am a great mum. I am good at my job and other people respect me, like me and/or value me. They cannot all be wrong. I am also beautiful, not in a socially constructed Grazia way, but in a ‘Woman who has lived a life’ way. I have stretch marks and laugh lines, my face is best when it smiles and my body has borne and fed three children and for that it is amazing. My arms wrap my children up and keep them safe and when my children hug me back, this body is what makes me familiar and safe. I am good enough. I am better than that, I am a woman, doing her best and deserving of love from my family, warmth from my friends and respect from my colleagues. And you, and you and you are all those things too.
That felt harder than anything I have written recently and the thought of saying it in a crowded room makes me feel sick and scared, because somehow it breaks every rule. But the rules are wrong and will continue to oppress us, until we write new ones. I will always believe in the collective over the individual. But I need to remember, that includes me and I will never get others to practise self belief if I continue to model the opposite