Friday, 28 December 2012

No Day But Today

Image courtesy of hot ticket

No day but today. It's a phrase I'm asked about a lot, largely because I have it permanently emblazoned across my chest in the form of a girlie tattoo, and people always want to know what it means.

The idea of 'living each moment as your last' is one that most people I know are fascinated with, and it's often assumed that my love of this phrase means I'm a free-spirited adrenaline junkie. Not so. In fact, I'm pretty much scared of my own shadow and I'm incredibly highly strung. I always have been and always will be.

'No day but today' is a phrase that I fell in love with as a tender fourteen year old watching the musical 'Rent' for the first time. The song that it appears in ('Another Day') is less about bungee jumping from helicopters and more about making room in your life for the things that make you happy. For example, my favourite lyric 'there's only now/there's only here/give in to love/or live in fear' sums up the entire theme of the song beautifully. The story is set in 1980's New York and the two characters in the song are both suffering with HIV. In those days, if you had HIV you didn't have the life expectancy that sufferers have now. They had to make the most of the moment, truly living for the now. The female character, Mimi, is trying to convince Roger to open up to happiness despite the hard fortune he has had in his life.

I loved the idea of the entire song, and I still do. For me, living for today is all about making the most of the love around you and never being too scared to take that plunge. In fact, 'no day but today' brought me and my husband together. We were best friends and it would have been all too easy to put my feelings to one side, scared of ruining a wonderful friendship. The attitude I have picked up from years of listening to that song over and over again finally persuaded me to tell him how I felt.

I've also developed a bit of an obsession with a Darren Hayes song of late, in which he urges the listener to live every moment as though it's the last night on Earth. But it's got me thinking, how exhausting would it be if we actually did live as though there was no future? Thrill seeking and planet travelling aside, what would the emotional implications be of really seizing the moment as though it was the last?

For one thing, those close to us would start to find us a little cloying. We'd feel obligated to hug and kiss our loved ones on days when we'd really rather be alone, leading to inevitable bitterness. Everyone needs days to themselves, moments to put their needs before those of the people dependent on them. Also, would we ever get any work done? Do people claiming to truly live for the now do their own washing up or fill out their own tax returns when they could be gate crashing celebrity parties?

The idea of 'carpe diem' is one that we all throw around at some point or another, but very few people have the resources, or the desire, to maintain it as a lifestyle. Even me with my emotional interpretation of the idea. Of course I've passed up on things that would have made me happy, often through fear or lack of motivation. If I took up every opportunity I was given I'd be exhausted (not to mention very poor) before too long.

Living for the moment should, instead, be about living for those that you enjoy. The ones that you're truly invested in. It shouldn't be about feeling guilty that you're not taking enough risks with your life. Take the ones you want to take, and make the most of the opportunities that they present and never, ever punish yourself for doing what you want to do. Even if what you want to do is absolutely nothing at all.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

PND (or Post Noël Depression)

Image courtesy of Corbis

That's that, then. Christmas is over for another year and all that's left to look forward to is an inevitably anti-climatic New Year's Eve and a scary credit card bill.

For a person with a higher than average dose of cynicism, I thoroughly enjoy the festive season and tend to throw myself into the spirit of things around mid-November. This means that, come the day itself, twenty four hours of Christmas just doesn't feel like enough.

Every family has their Christmas traditions and, as such, it leads to a certain amount of mirthful monotony. A comforting continuity that follows year by year. My own family is a case in point. In an attempt to give my Mum a break last year, we decided to go out for Christmas dinner. What followed was a sombre afternoon of wallowing in our own disappointment. The food was rubbish and it had cost everyone a small fortune. The break in tradition had left us all feeling out of sorts and the day never really recovered. This year, the family elected to stick with what they knew and Mum cooked a full-frill feast for sixteen people. Naturally, she complained about the amount of work that went into it but I know she wouldn't have had it any other way. Eventually, every Christmas blurs into one big joyful memory.

Christmas for me started a little differently this year in that I had a hangover. The kind of hangover that leaves you with your held tilted gingerly to one side as 'upright' only ends in one thing. That one thing being vomit. It was also the first of my twenty eight Christmases that I hadn't been with the family in the morning. This year I spent the morning with my husband, my own little family, and we opened our presents, watched the Bude Christmas Swim and ate a fried breakfast together. We then wandered up to Mum's via our local (with rum, a hair of the dog is the only real option), and I think we may have hit on a little bit of perfection.

I've always found that Christmas has its quiet bits. Between present giving and dinner there's usually a strange lull. Everyone's waiting patiently for their turkey and there's never enough sofa to go around, but we missed that part. By the time we arrived, dinner was almost ready and the excitement levels were beginning to build again. It was also one of those Christmases where no one really leaves the dinner table. With wine-a-plenty and the conversation ebbing and flowing between jubilant chit chat and fierce debate, dinner seemed to run right through until the early hours of the morning.

The obligatory Boxing Day buffet ended up being something of a hangover cure all and the wine remained unopened.

And now this. The nothing bit. Most of us are back at work, doing that weird mid-season limbo until the New Year. Work is quiet, the presents are put away and the family are making their way back to their respective homes. It always feels like a very sad time of year to me and the fact that we managed to hit on something like perfection has only made it worse. The hangovers have barely worn off and the run-down feeling is settling in. My throat feels like I've swallowed glass and my stomach hates me more than it has ever hated me before.

I've found myself wondering if maybe I'd be better off ignoring Christmas altogether next year. If there's no day of wonder, then there can be no weeks of misery to follow. There'd be no disappointment and no debt related sleepless nights, but there'd also be none of those perfect moments either. Like the moment that my husband and I danced drunk around our lounge to Slade or having my niece tell me that our gift had been her favourite. Those little things make the PND worth enduring. And I know that, come mid-November next year, the tree will go up and I'll start the whole thing again.

After all, a bit of blues will pass, but the memory of a really good Christmas lasts forever.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Benefit of Blame

A lot is made these days of our so-called 'Benefits Culture', with a lot of anger and hatred being thrown at those who claim benefits for large families, or unemployed individuals who claim housing benefit. Too many times in recent months have I seen the words 'unemployed scum' and 'scroungers' flung carelessly around on social networking sites. I suspect that those using such terms have at least one unemployed 'friend' on their profile. Those words are hurtful, and rarely accurate.

The fact is that we are in a recession and it's taking us a long time to recover from it. Redundancy is rife and many people are out of work through absolutely no choice of their own. In a period of four years I was made redundant three times, and on two of those occasions I claimed job seeker's allowance and housing/council tax benefit. Not because I didn't want to work, but because I wanted a roof over my head. Admittedly, I still had a mobile phone but only because I could not afford to 'buy' my way out of my twenty four month contract. On the third occasion, I was living back with my parents and was fortunate enough for them to waive my rent until I had got back onto my feet. At any point a stranger could have looked upon me as a scrounger and that's really my point. We don't always know the back story of each individual's situation and should not direct such venom at them without knowing the facts.

The hatred toward people with large families is particularly worrying. Of course, there are some people that are happy to swindle the benefits system for all they can get and who would not work if there were ten jobs to each person, but this is not the majority. Just because a person has chosen to have a large family should not mean that they are criticised by society, let us not forget that life is put on this planet in order to breed. It's not a crime.

My sister has five children. She's a mother through and through and has been since she was about eight, reading her young sister (me) books in order to teach her words. She has also been a single parent much of the time and has claimed benefits. Not because she wanted to, but because working would have meant spending most of her money on child care, leaving her far worse off. At no point was she living a life of luxury, but instead one of fear and debt. The reality of a single 'benefits' family is nothing like the picture painted in the media.

She is now with an incredibly hard working man. Last week alone he put in 112 hours over seven days in order to support his family. However, he too was made redundant in the last year and had to claim housing benefit briefly to keep a roof over his family's heads. Can he be classed as a scrounger?

Some women also get pregnant by mistake. This has been the case for hundreds of years and only those who have never once risked going without a condom can cast judgement. I don't know one young mother who deliberately became pregnant in order to 'get a house'.

The current media favourite is to criticise those who keep on luxuries whilst struggling to pay rent. For example, mobile phones and Sky TV. These things have contract terms, meaning that it's often far more expensive to pay an early cancellation fee than to keep paying the monthly tariff. The general belief is that people claiming benefits ought to be supplied with just enough to survive, living on the very edge of poverty. Would the people complaining be satisfied with large families wandering around with holes in their shoes and nothing but bread and water in their bellies?

The fact is that we are all struggling at the moment. Directing vicious hatred at those who are, in your mind, getting something for free is nothing but bitter and ill-judged. Take a step back and consider the personal circumstances of those on the receiving end and how it really affects you. Would you actually be any better off if that family down the street were in a smaller house? No, I thought not.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Flaked Truth

image courtesy of Bupa
I have psoriasis. It's not a total disaster. I mean, I can go on with my life and it causes me little physical pain. In fact, there is no reason that having psoriasis should hold anyone back from doing anything that they want to do. Except, of course, that it does.

Psoriasis is overwhelmingly common and is essentially caused by the immune system attacking healthy skin cells. The body thinks that even healthy skin is damaged and skin cells form at a faster rate, leading the layer that reaches the surface to be underdeveloped. The result is patches of raised, red skin covered in silvery, loose scales. All in all, not very attractive. 

Having psoriasis inevitably holds sufferers back. It's a vanity thing for a lot of people (me included) but can also involve complications like psoriatic arthritis and pustular psoriasis of the hands and feet, leading to limited mobility and even disability. For myself, it's more an annoyance that I can't wear certain clothes without people staring, and I rarely feel attractive when I have skin on show. Black clothes are a nightmare. If you think dandruff is bad, try sitting next to a flaky when you're wearing a black jumper. The worst physical pain for me is caused when clothing sticks to patches that I've scratched, breaking the already weak layer of skin. I'm forever peeling socks from my ankles. It also itches quite a lot. If you see me clawing at the insides of my arms, I assure you it's nothing to do with withdrawal and everything to do with my psychotic skin.

This skin condition has, however, given me some happiness in my life. My first foray into internet social networking was on a forum designed for sufferers. We would moan and laugh about our skin together and I made some very, very good friends. I rarely visit the site now but there are people I will always have in my life as a result.

It also gives me something of a quirk. Picking the scales is terrifyingly addictive and I have been known to let people have a go. They always go away satisfied. It's also something that I know a lot about and who doesn't love feeling like an expert? Knowing the answers to the questions of strangers is a fantastic feeling, and I'm always happy to talk about it - if only because I get sick of people assuming I have sunburn (I'm an SPF fanatic, for the record). Plus, psoriasis means I always have something that I can joke about. At my own expense, of course, but those are usually the best jokes as far as I'm concerned. After all, if I don't say it someone else is bound to!

But, best of all, if you think about it, it also means I'm a little bit like a superhero. My skin heals much faster than the average person's as the cells are forming at a rate of knots. Even on healthy skin I heal much, much faster than my mortal counterparts. Naturally, the healed wounds are usually bound by a thick layer of scales, but that's merely a protective shell against further injury, surely? 

That's right. I'm a flaky superhero. Be careful about disagreeing with me, I might just sneak into your house and fill your bed with dead scales. Trust me, I've slept like that for years and it's not pleasant. Imagine sleeping on a flapjack...

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The End is Nigh (on Impossible?)

Image courtesy of Universe Today
By now we'll have all heard the predictions about 21st of December 2012 (and a sadly large number of us will have seen the movie). The end of the world or the end of social consciousness as we know it? Either way, to a lot of people, two weeks tomorrow is a pretty big deal.

From the theory that the Earth will be sucked into a nearby black hole to the one that involves a shift in spiritual awareness, there are a lot of suggestions as to what the end of the Mayan Long Count calender might mean. Of course, for every apocalyptic theory there is also a scientist ready to step forward and debunk the entire thing.

Personally, I don't know what I think.

The fact is that Mayan calender cycles have ended before without any catastrophic repercussions. There were also just a race of people and were as unlikely to have the ability to predict the end of days as you and I. However, like anything, we only know what we've been told. If there was a black hole waiting just outside our gravitational field, the general public would be unlikely to know about it until their insides were on the outside. It's not that I don't trust governments to tell us the truth, it's just that I don't trust governments to tell us the truth. They're not going to want widespread panic, that'd wipe us out far quicker than any freak weather conditions.

Of course, the sensible part of my brain tells me that I'm probably going to see 2013 and not to worry but I know that, come the 21st of December, I will tell my husband I love him and kiss him before I leave the house. Just to be on the safe side.

Then, should the 22nd of December come, I'm going to breathe a sigh of genuine relief and go shopping. Just to watch all of the 2012 doom sayers panic buying Christmas presents...

Monday, 3 December 2012

A Thoroughly Modern Milestone

image courtesy of The Telegraph

Conception. Procreation. Making babies.

You meet your man, you get married, you start a family. It's the next logical life milestone, but the road to it can be fraught with doubt and enormous confusion.

Mr Meaney and I have never made any secret of the fact that we want to start a family and now, with the wedding out of the way, it seems like the perfect time.  But making a baby isn't actually all that easy. In fact, I'm amazed that our species has survived as long as it has. Anyone who has owned a rodent will know that five minutes with the opposite sex can result in entire litters. Human procreation apparently refuses to work with the same ease.

Being the twenty-first century woman I am, I tend to turn to Google for advice on anything I can't do on my own and I chose not to treat conception any differently. After all, it was clear that I needed some tips beyond 'Have Lots and Lots of Sex'.

It was in doing this that I discovered pregnancy and conception forums. Or, as I like to call them, the strangest places within the whole of the Internet (and I've seen some pretty disturbing stuff, trust me). These discussion boards are teeming with women who speak in a different language, take their temperature hourly and monitor their own cervical mucus.

I scanned several boards for an hour looking for something I understood, and instead came away wondering what 7DPO, BFP, BFN, FX and BBT mean. Is there some class that you're supposed to take when your pill prescription ends? Did I miss a memo somewhere? There's a hundred more acronyms that I don't understand and I left the forums feeling baffled and a bit depressed. It also left me wondering about the clinical nature that their sex lives must have taken on. If I asked Mr Meaney to wait while I checked my luteinizing hormone levels, I think we'd have a problem getting him going again. 

Conception should not only be about making a small person, it should also be about enjoying your partner. You are having the most socially acceptable sex there is. You automatically have the blessing of those around you to leave any function early just to have sex, all the while not giving a passing thought to contraception. Of course, advice does help and it's lovely to see so many women offering their knowledge to others.

But it'd be lovely to see that advice in English for the non-medically trained among us.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Farewell to Free Will

image courtesy of Digitalspy

Be dreadfully careful when you look at the above photo. It may just make you start smoking. 

That is the message given across by disgruntled viewers complaining to Ofcom in droves, all because ITV dared to show Helen Flanagan puffing away on cigarette after cigarette during her time in the Australian jungle. Political correctness fanatics claim that it glamourises smoking and encourages youngsters to start. Really? Are we still churning out that old chestnut?

Apart from the fact that Helen Flanagan looks awkward and somehow childish when she smokes is the simple truth that people are perfectly capable of making their own decisions. I have been a smoker myself and sometimes you watch someone enjoying a cigarette and do think "ooh, that's a good idea". But seeing a celebrity doing it has never once made me think "ooh, that looks so sophisticated". As for young people being influenced, the show is on pretty late. I think the real problem here is lack of routine...

The general public aren't quite as influenced by celebrity as the PC brigade seem to think. Britney Spears once shaved her head and attacked a member of the paparazzi with an umbrella. There was not a sudden spate of violent, slightly bald twelve year olds running around. 

Now we have the issue of minimum price alcohol rearing its ugly head again. It is claimed that charging 45p per unit will cut the number of alcohol related crime and hospital admissions. I beg to differ. Prohibition failed once, and for good reason. I foresee a sudden rise in people being admitted to hospital with ethanol related blindness. Cheap alcohol is always available if you look hard enough, isn't it better to regulate where it comes from?

I know it isn't black and white, and I'm fully aware that we have an incredibly overstretched NHS, but where do we draw the line? 

Will the woman who had unprotected sex once at nineteen be less deserving of treatment for cervical cancer because she contracted HPV? Will the child without sunscreen on now be a burden on the NHS when they're an adult suffering with malignant melanoma? That woman eating more chocolate than she knows is good for her, should she be bullied by the press when she needs diabetes treatment in the future?

Almost any ailment can be traced back to a choice made somewhere in our lives. The NHS is there to treat the consequences of living, we should not be warned away from it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Instagram and Body Image

* Please note: This has previously been posted on my Tumblr blog Little Heathen Designs *

First things first, I love Instagram. I use it almost everyday and love its mix of the brilliant, the barmy and the bland happening every day all around the World. 
I am no photographer, and I use the app as little more than a visual Twitter. It has, however, proved invaluable in my battle against the bulge, getting me back on track when I’ve slacked off by reminding me not to throw all of that hard work away. I take photos of my tummy/shoulders/legs when I’ve worked hard and want to focus on what my goals are. When everything starts to feel a little wobbly again, one look at those photos reminds me how much I put into losing the weight and not to throw it away for a cake.
However, I’ve started to wonder if Instagram users aren’t taking this little function a touch too far. I follow a lot of ‘fitspiration’ profiles. They’re good for recipes, workout ideas and just for plain motivation. There’s nothing quite like looking at another woman’s rock hard six pack to make you want to do something about your own beer keg. 
These women are incredible, and so dedicated, but I’ve also begun to find the whole thing a little depressing. Their entire feed is made up of discipline and measurements and I wonder if their real lives revolve around their waist line as much as their online personae. For instance, one girl I followed put a post up telling of her planned Thanksgiving feast and how she intended to throw all of her eat-clean philosophies out of the window in order to enjoy munching to bursting point with her family. Fantastic, I thought, it’s nice to see that these women can still enjoy themselves when they really want to. After all, they work hard enough to be able to enjoy a blow out every now and again. That was until I saw the caption on the picture. It said “the meal isn’t over when I’m full. It’s over when I hate myself”. Well, there goes that positive message then.
That said, strict lifestyles aside, the fitness fanatics are still the healthy end of the scale. Their lifestyles may not be my cup of tea but it’s a lot less distressing than some of the other profiles I’ve stumbled across during my hashtag hopping.
One profile is dedicated entirely to healthy eating and nutrition. It’s fantastic for ideas when lettuce isn’t really appealing and the pictures certainly get the appetite up and running, but the pictures that the page’s admin is ‘liking’ also show up in my feed and there is nothing nutritionally sound about them. Pictures of emaciated young girls tagged #thinspiration #anorexic #dyingtobeskinny pop up with alarming regularity. Admittedly, they’re also tagged with words like #diet #progress etc and I expect the admin of the healthy living page isn’t really looking at what they’re clicking ‘like’ for. It’s a general rule of Instagram that the more images you ‘like’ the more followers you get in return. Their diet obsessed followers, however, certainly will be looking at these pictures.
Doing a little bit more page jumping, I found the profile of one girl/boy (anorexia had removed all traces of gender and I genuinely couldn’t work out which the person was) that was so painfully starved that, after two days of them not posting, their (some 2,000) followers assumed they had died. This was celebrated among the little community the profile had created with comments such as ‘you finally became thin enough to fly away’. The Instagrammer had not died and responded the following day that they had slept for 3 days due to exhaustion. They could not have been more than 4 stone and I would be surprised if they hadn’t since expired.
Pro-anorexia sites are consistently removed from the internet. Impressionable young girls (and sometimes women/men) need to be protected from triggering images. It’s the same as self-harm which, for the record, there is also an abundant supply of pictures of on Instagram, and I can’t help feeling that this social network needs to protect its users. There is a warning message that crops up when you click the more serious hashtags but what teen/adult, already suffering, is going to pay the blindest bit of attention to that?
Not just pictures of last night’s dinner and cats, Instagram could be having a truly damaging effect on vulnerable users. I think it could be time they had a serious look at their posting guidelines.