Menstruation and Me

My period started today. According to my tracker, it’s 6 days early. So that’s fun. I’m feeling all fired up, so I thought I’d vent some frustration about my relationship with menstruation.

I’ve never had a very good relationship with my period. As a teenager I was desperate for it to arrive. For several years I had spotting, but no actual period. My body grew weirdly, like I was tall then short then tall again for my year. Several check ups with doctors assured me the cramping and spotting without real shedding was ‘normal’ (a word I’d grow to hate from medical professionals in years to come). My boobs didn’t really grow much at all, even after my period started – most of what I have came with weight gain. And then there’s the disconnect I developed because my body didn’t grow *right* (by society’s dangerous standards, anyway).

I was the last in my reg class to start bleeding. I felt betrayed by my body yet again for ensuring I couldn’t fit in, couldn’t relate. Until I could. My 16th birthday brought my first period and I was elated at first. But then the pain started. And the 8-16 days of bleeding. Days of tears and cramps so intense they made me woozy, nauseous, vomit. Pain that travelled down my legs, across my back. Pain that I was told was ‘normal’. Pain that I was asked to consider if it was really so bad. Pain that I had to carry on going to school, lectures, work, rehearsals with.

Numerous trips to the GP have ended with little to no conclusions. I was prescribed Rigevidon as a contraceptive and period regulator for moving away to university aged 17, but the sustained impact on my mental health was too much and after 6 years I decided to stop using it and see if it helped me manage or track my mental health better. It did. But the pain, which was sometimes manageable, became much worse. At first it seemed like one in every 3 periods would be a *bad* one. Then it was every second round of bleeding would make me cry. Now it’s every time.

Going back and forth to the GP, I have been referred for 3 ultrasounds in the last 7 years. One doctor thought the pain was indicative of endometriosis, another considered the pain might be linked to cysts, but the scans haven’t shown any abnormalities. One GP patted my knee and cheerfully decided that I “just have strong muscles”. I don’t have to tell you how well that suggestion went down.

I have no answers. Only pain that winds me, makes me cry and churns my stomach. The cycles also seemed to be sporadic, definitely not the 28 days we’re taught is normal. So of course I turned to technology. There’s an app for that. I downloaded Flo and began tracking my mood, flow, sex drive, symptoms and noting other important things that happened each month like illness and stress which could affect my cycle.

Today I noted in Flo that my period had started (despite it being a week early) and was sent a report looking back over my menstruation for the year so far. The app has taught me so much about how periods work, how medical professionals classify a cycle (starting from day 1 of bleeding until the last day before your next bleed), just how many things can affect them and how menstrual health can affect your sex drive. At 25 years old, with 8 years of menstruation experience, I finally feel like I understand my menstruation process a bit better (although I still don’t really get how being on my period brings out the BIGGEST cravings for chocolate cake, salt and vinegar Pringles and 7Up one day, then cucumber and strawberries the next…).

Tracking my period, flow and symptoms has given me a sense of ownership of my own body. It has also restored some confidence in my experiences – I’ve been made to feel like I’m overexaggerating my symptoms (by medical staff, family, friends and colleagues alike). I now have recorded evidence of the irregularity of my bleeding (heavy AF for 7 days to 3 days barely there) and cycle length (35-49 days). I have noted the spike in anxiety and low mood in the days leading up to my period. This month, I sobbed and panicked that my friends didn’t really like me and only put up with me because they felt a sense of obligation. I’ve also noticed that my sex drive spikes while I’m on my period, which apparently is not uncommon (but reproductively unproductive – so naturally I’m calling it an argument for physiological acknowledgement of vulva owners’ pleasure).

My last ultrasound scan’s results were met with a shrug from the GP and a half-hearted blase offer of exploratory surgery with a reminder that my symptoms weren’t *that* severe so it wouldn’t be considered a priority (which of course I’m glad for, but the minimising of my own pain wasn’t exactly neceessary?). With these tracked and annotated symptoms and experiences, I’m hoping to gain a bit more clarity from my current GP (a brilliantly compassionate man who is good at listening and explaining things well – a rare gem, I know).

So much of my life is tied up with menstruation. I can’t pass the menstrual hygiene section in the supermarket without grabbing pads to save me being caught short. Paracetomol packs litter the flat. On days leading up to my period, I have to consciously remind myself that I’m feeling more vulnerable because my body is producing hormones that are messing with me.

And we’ll end the self-indulgent catharting there, I think. Hot water bottles, tea and easy TV are on the cards for the rest of today. This was a very personal blog post of a different sort, but I think it’s important to talk about these things. We learn through community, especially when the institutions consistently offer no answers or education. My menstrual experiences exist within systems that oppress many who menstruate (often for menstruating – consider medical misogyny, workplace discrimination, period poverty, or trans and nonbinary menstruators’ healthcare access for starters).

As I’m continually saying – the personal is political.

My inability to rest

I’m on holiday. Since starting my holiday I have written 2 blog posts, signed up for an antiracism education course, created a list of my publications to date, and entered numerous in-depth discussions on – among other things – sexual representations in gaming, the impact of lockdown on mental health and body image, queer appreciation and allyship versus appropriation, navigating public spaces post-pandemic.

Not really what you’d consider resting.

I was ill in June with a fairly nasty kidney infection and while still on antibiotics and having only felt somewhat ‘better’ for 24 hours, I went back to work for a full day. That ended in a migraine and my recovery being set back. In reality, I’m still recovering. I lost a lot of strength from several weeks of little activity and eating. My endurance has plummeted – a 4 mile walk on Monday had my hip flexors screaming halfway through and the backs of my knees are still pretty grumpy with me for making them go so far on my first proper trip out in a month.

My last conversation with the mental health advisor I meet with at uni went something along the lines of “Your professionalism and work ethic are some of your biggest strengths, but they can also be your biggest weaknesses when you let them become more important than your wellbeing”. It’s safe to say I cried a lot on that phone call.

It’s absolutely true that I don’t know how to rest. My time dealing with the kidney infection was pretty miserable – on top of the pain, nausea, side effects from the medication and generally feeling low, I was unbelievably bored and guilty. I didn’t know what to do that wouldn’t drain what little energy I had. Trying to find shows that weren’t overly energetic, bright or brain-heavy was a challenge. In 3 days I watched 2 seasons of QI. Even then, I caught myself analysing the tired jokes, the (lack of) representation on the panels, just how bland a show it is. Easy watching? Absolutely. An exemplary showcase of comedy talent and diverse panelists? Not so much.

See? Even when I was sweating buckets, vomiting daily and crying pretty much every 40 minutes after I’d nearly drowned myself in another bottle of water, my brain was still picking things apart. It’s exhausting.

There’s also a firm hand of guilt gripping me when I even think about taking time off. Which I recognise is entirely hypocritical because I always preach that rest is revolutionary and it’s impossible to give to others if your own cup is empty. But internalising that, not holding myself to an impossibly high standard because I Should Do Better, seems somewhat unattainable. It’s pretty narcissistic, really. I’m not sure why I consider myself more special. I think it’s partly a worry that I’m not doing enough – that there’s so much more I could be doing to use my privilege and power to support those who need it. I can’t help everyone, but I can surely try – and in doing so reach more people than I would otherwise. It’s flawed logic, but it’s a hard belief to shake. I live with an abundance of privilege. It feels wrong to not do everything I can with that privilege to even the playing field for others where possible. It’s not healthy or the best motivation. I’m working on it – and in doing so, I’m adding more to the mounting pile of Things To Think About, but what’s the alternative?

I don’t know how people do it. Rest, I mean. Enjoy things for enjoyment’s sake. How does ‘switching off’ even work? I don’t know how folks sit and watch a show or read a book and not analyse the creative decisions and characterisation and wider social and political contexts or implications in real-time. That sounds ridiculous and makes me uncomfortable to admit (probably because I’m worried people will read it and take it to mean this is somehow better or more than when I don’t mean that at all), but it’s how my brain works. It has been a long time since I just *existed* without the wheels turning at a hundred miles an hour. Honestly, I don’t remember what it’s like to not think, overthink and get a little dizzy from the constant thoughts.

None of my usual pass-times or hobbies at the moment feel like rest. I haven’t had the motivation to get back into embroidery but I’m going to try and force myself to give it another shot this week. I have a week and a half to get myself to a place of understanding what rest means and how I achieve it. Hopefully it’ll be bubble baths, face masks, podcasts and other grossly stereotypical “self-care”. Honestly, I’m not sure I have the energy for the harder stuff at the moment.

It was important for me to blog about this so I don’t forget how I’m feeling down the line when the stress levels do ease off and my brain calms a bit. I’ll wonder why I made such a drama out of feeling this way. But it’s okay to be realistic and frank about how what I’m experiencing right now, even if it seems small, unimportant, cringeworthy or too self-absorbed later.

The Cost of Kindness

I recently saw a Tweet about compliments:

I responded, saying that I get this a lot, but I also enjoy complimenting others. I also said that I reckon compliments should be free – “don’t expect thanks/gratitude/compliments in return and then you lose nothing by putting yourself out there, just the good feeling of the compliment giving”.

My last comment, I realised later, was a little glib (which I now feel hugely embarrassed about) and it didn’t really consider times where compliments (or kindness more generally) cost the giver a great deal.

How much does kindness really cost?

I suppose the answer to this is context-dependent and a bit complicated.

When interacting with strangers, I guess kindness costs the emotional toll of the potential embarrassment or upset of being ignored or a poor response.

When interacting with loved ones, kindness costs the energy you put into cheering them on or propping them up.

Kindness can cost people physically – by doing something tiring or strenuous to help a friend out. It can be a mental endurance test, too. For example, spending time with a toxic person as a show of solidarity to a loved one. When interacting with loved ones who are emotional leeches, kindness costs a hell of a lot.

Then there are acts of kindness you commit for yourself.

Acts of self-kindness

When being kind to yourself, the pay out is all the more complex. You might weigh up self-kindness against social expectation or cultural norms or external pressures or internal biases. You might pit self-kindness against your own expectations or goals or dreams.

Self-kindness should be a ritual; a habit instead of a fad. Unfortunately, we live in a society of infuriating oppositions.

Be the best – you’re not worth it.

Find your inner strength – you’re meant to be weak.

Be open – vulnerability is unattractive.

You deserve better – you’re the reason you’re not treated the way you want to be.

Nothing can stop you – why would you aspire to be something unrealistic?

It takes a great deal of courage to block out the negativity perpetuated by our society. It’s even more impressive when that negativity comes from the people who are supposed to lift you up.

Lora Mathis (a favourite artist of mine) talks extensively about self-care. I’ve written before about her concept of radical softness as a weapon – whereby living authentically; emotionally, is a form of political protest and you are weaponising your feelings in a positive way.

She is currently writing an essay called “Setting Boundaries as Self Care” (according to her Insta Stories) and I for one can’t wait to read it. Boundary setting is something I’ve been consciously trying to get better at. There are people I love, and those I don’t, who are negative for my wellbeing. I do my best to avoid putting myself in situations where I have to deal with that, now.

A friendship break-up two years back made me realise just how important it is for my wellbeing that I not put myself in positions where I know I’m going to be hurt, made to feel uncomfortable, or be surrounded by toxic negativity. It would wear me down and take days to fully recover from, because trying to make all that negativity bounce off you and not latch on and wear you down is bloody exhausting.

The value of kindness

Kindness is an invaluable, but not unending well. It’s a finite resource and you need to save some of that for yourself. I tried to come up with an equation to estimate the cost of kindness. This is overly simplified and definitely flawed, but in the broadest of strokes, I think the true cost of kindness is this:

the cost of kindness

If you find the toll to be much greater than the energy required to be kind, then you should evaluate whether that act is a necessary one to perform.

Finding ways to cut back on kindness is hard. Prioritising those you hold dearest may not actually reduce your emotional toll deficit by much, especially if a loved one is struggling through something right now.

The best way to ensure you don’t completely burn yourself out is to prioritise yourself. Use up all the energy you need to take care of yourself, first and foremost. You’ll probably soon find that you have more energy to spend on others, because you’re fully concentrating on yourself. We let ourselves take the brunt of our kindness deficit far too often. Self-care is not selfish, it’s absolutely necessary to ensure we’re performing to the best of our abilities as often as possible.

Be kind to yourself, and you’ll find it easier to be kind to others who deserve it most.

Anxiety – In Your Head?

In your head, in your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie
What’s in your head, in your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie, oh

I was really saddened by the passing of The Cranberries’ lead singer Dolores O’Riordan. Zombies was the theme tune of my adolescence.

It’s totally iconic and on listening to it the day after news broke that she had passed away, I laughed (somewhat ironically) at just how much more the song now resonated with me. More and more I’m seeing songs and films in a new light.

Mental illness has a way of revealing as much about the world as it cloaks in times of internal crisis. Go figure.

It’s all in your head…or is it?

I’m none too ashamed to admit just how ignorant I was about anxiety before it sunk its claws in me.

I thought it was a mental health issue. Turns out, that’s not the whole story.

While anxiety may be a psychological disorder, it manifests in a variety of ways – including a whole laundry list of physical symptoms.

I thought I’d go through some of the more common symptoms that I experience on a regular basis. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives a pretty good insight into how anxiety can manifest in physical ways. For more information on symptoms of anxiety, I found the NHS website really useful.

Racing heart

You know in cartoons when a character falls in love and their heart is visibly beating out their chest? I feel like my heart is trying to do the same thing on a daily basis.

My most frequent symptom is a too-fast heartbeat. It’s uncomfortable, it triggers other physical symptoms and makes falling asleep incredibly difficult most nights. Heart palpitations can be really disconcerting, but when I’m calm enough, breathing exercises help to reduce the heaviness of each thud.

Insomnia or broken sleep

Anyone who knows me well will know how much I love my bed. My relationship with my duvet is sacred, if it doesn’t work out with Tam, I know that my second true love is ready and waiting. For me, not being able to sleep is one of the most frustrating parts of anxiety, and only feeds my anxiety further.

Trembling or shaking

This is one of the most disconcerting physical symptoms I experience. For me, this can be obvious shaking or it can be an internal trembling which is as unnerving as it sounds. The only way to describe it is that my chest, or sometimes my entire skeleton, feels like it’s vibrating.

It’s a horrible feeling and can make easy tasks like brushing my teeth, typing, or even just sitting still feel like a monumental effort.

Tension and muscle pains

I don’t think I realised just how tense my anxiety makes me until I started receiving monthly massages at work. Stuart is an absolute saviour for my poor back, neck and shoulders.

I have more knots in my shoulders than a game of Knots and Crosses. It’s painful, but the massages help.

As do regular baths to soothe my tense muscles.

Shortness of breath

When I’m in an anxiety spiral, it can be really difficult to catch my breath. Having asthma definitely doesn’t help. It’s another panic-induced symptom and it really sucks. I mean, all anxiety symptoms suck, but this one is particularly sucky. ASMR videos and guided meditation videos can be a quick fix, but other times it’s just a case of riding it out and reminding myself that it’ll calm down eventually.

You know how when you have a cold all you can do is think about all those times you didn’t have a cold and how easy it was to breathe? That’s kinda what it’s like when I’m short of breath with anxiety. Only it’s harder to remember what it was like being able to breathe. It’s more a case of PANIC STATIONS.

Excessive sweating

Not exactly attractive, but then neither is anxiety. When the panic rises and the thoughts start speeding like a runaway train, I start sweating. It makes me grumpy and super self-conscious which doesn’t help calm me down. It’s a physiological response to stress.

There’s not much I can do about it, except always carry a wee deodorant in my handbag and stay hydrated to help keep my body temperature regulated.

This list is far from exhaustive, and doesn’t even cover all of the physical symptoms I experience, but it gives you an idea of the sorts of things I deal with on a daily basis. Some days are worse than others, and some days I don’t have any symptoms at all.

Anxiety is no walk in the park. There are some handy tools and tips that can help make a bad day better, and a good day great! But, at the end of the day, I’ve found that the most important thing is to remember that anxiety is temporary. I will feel better, happier, stronger. And if that doesn’t work, a couple rounds of Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes or a load of star jumps makes everything a little more silly and a lot less scary.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, or any other mental illness, please reach out to someone you trust. Ask for support – you deserve it.

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Period Products

Beyond the pad

Today, I’d like to discuss periods, because they happen.


I’ve never really had a good experience with my period. I was a late starter and my first year’s worth of periods averaged a fortnight each time. Let me tell you, that’s a lot of blood.

Since I started the monthly cycle of doom back in high school, I’ve always used pads. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I tried a tampon once, but I found it uncomfortable and decided pads were the better option for me.

My last period was horrendous. I was curled up on the sofa, clutching a hot water bottle and being reduced to tears with every bout of cramps that hit me. My day’s plans were ruined and I was forced to seek comfort in piglet GIFs and watching Tam build Ikea furniture. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday, certainly, but a flea market and custard tarts would have been better.

So, while wallowing in this period pity party, I’d noticed that my sanitary pads were really irritating me. It’s something I’ve noticed more and more recently. I’ve lost 3 good pairs of knickers to blood stains thanks to pads that have slipped and I’m not willing to lose a fourth pair. Especially not the Disney Villains ones I’m wearing just now.

With that in mind, I decided to research alternative period products and see whether any of them might suit me. It turned out to be an interesting read, so I thought I’d share my findings with you!

The Menstrual Cup

First up is the menstrual cup. According to WebMD, they’ve actually been around since the 30s, but only recently became more popular  (thanks social media!). Much like the name suggests, it’s a small cup that you insert to catch your blood flow during your period. They’re usually made of silicone or latex rubber (so if you have allergies, there’s an alternative option for you!) and they’re pretty neat!


Most menstrual cups are reusable, so they’re fantastic for the environment. They’re also able to be kept in for up to 12 hours (unlike your pad or tampon which need to be changed more regularly), so you won’t be caught out at work by forgetting to pack a couple spares in your bag. You’re also far less likely to suffer from Toxic Shock Syndrome using a menstrual cup than a tampon, which is a huge plus!

Menstrual cups do take a bit of trial and error to find one that fits. Just like condoms, menstrual cups are not one size fits all. They are generally categorised by age, flow and whether you’ve had a child. And if you’re squeamish and get grossed out if the slightest drop of blood hits you as you’re fixing yourself up down below, you may want to stay away from the cup. The clean up and rinsing can be messy. Some menstrual cup makers warn against use if you have an IUD, but according to WebMD a study was carried out in 2012 which found no evidence of a problem. If you’re worried, chat to your GP!

The cup interests me. I know there has recently been a huge push in providing them in impoverished communities and those where periods are currently taboo and a lack of education is causing danger to those who have them. I think I’m going to give this one a shot!

Period Pants

I’m fascinated by the concept of period pants. While I don’t think free bleeding is a viable option for me, the thought of not having my nether regions encumbered by plastic or cotton wool or rubber sounds too good to be true!

At their core, period pants are ultra-absorbent and anti-bacterial so you can wear them all day long. There are lots of brands out there, but I’m most interested in Thinx. They provide multiple shape options for the comfiest knickers that suit your flow.

Reusable, wallet-friendly in the long run and so much better for the environment than any throwaway products currently on the market, I’m totally sold on period pants!

The Menstrual Disc

It looks a bit like a condom, and to be honest it’s not that far off one. The soft cup has a rubber ring at the end and is another insertable product. This fantastic blog post from The Flex Company (they sell menstrual discs in the UK) explains the differences between menstrual discs and menstrual cups really well – I’d recommend a read!

Menstrual discs hold the equivalent volume of blood as three super tampons, and last up to 12 hours before needing emptied. This makes them convenient for those who suffer a heavy flow and a hectic schedule. They do have to be thrown away, but they create less waste than tampons or pads because they last longer.

Une publication partagée par FLEX (@flexisfun) le

The huge benefit of the menstrual disc, which for many women is a huge selling point, is the fact that the menstrual dics lets you have mess-free sex while you’re on your period! For a huge number of women, the horn factor is amplified tenfold while they are on their periods. Period sex can be messy at best, and resemble an outtake from Carrie at worst.

This product revolutionises and encourages women to embrace their sexuality at a time where they’re more likely to want sex, but feel like it’s not a viable option. As a sex positive person, this gives the product huge bonus points in my book!

I’m unsure whether this product is for me because I’m not so keen on insertable period products. My cramps are bad enough and I don’t want to exacerbate them by pushing and prodding my poor downstairs unnecessarily. However, I’ll probably try it out for science.

The Sea Sponge

Sounds like a squelchy critter from the depths of the ocean, and to be honest it’s not far off! They do come from the sea and they’re a great natural alternative to a tampon. They absorb the flow and can be rinsed and reused (they last 6-12 months), so they’re an affordable option as well.


Sea sponge converts really rate them. They’re apparently more comfortable and absorbent than regular tampons, they’re more eco-friendly and they’re free from bleaching (unlike tampons). What’s not to love?

According to Dr Jen  Gunter, a lot.

Sea sponges have not received much in the way of testing. Prompted by an article in Glamour highlighting sea sponges as a great alternative (which is where I first came across them), Dr Gunter felt obliged to do some myth busting.

Sea sponges aren’t “like” bath sponges they ARE bath sponges…they are untested and potentially very unsafe. Oh yeah, they are also filled with dirt.

The concerns about sponges were so significant the FDA contacted the manufacturers of menstrual sponges to warn them of the risks and to require they stop marketing and selling the products.

Yikes.

So as pretty as they can look, and as much as they might answer the age old question of how mermaids deal with their periods, I think I’ll stay away from them for now.

Flow, blood, flow

I’m excited to do some more research and get buying some new products to try out! I’ll be sure to write a review post in the New Year once I’ve had a chance to test drive them and form opinions on how they fit with my lifestyle (and my body!).

In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to hope the period gods are kinder to me and let up on the unbearable cramps and heavy flow.

Bleed on, dear friends, bleed on.

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The Hymen Lie

Your sex ed class probably misinformed you

I recently read this article published on Buzzfeed about the misconceptions of the hymen and virginity and from the title alone I was shook.
buzzfeed hymen lie
WHY IS FEMALE SEX ED SO HORRIFICALLY BAD???? (not even sex ed, but education of our own bodies. Like, that’s just biology. It’s just the bloody meat sack we lump around in our entire lives. No biggie.)
It’s one of many examples of historic misogyny within medicine and science. Female genetalia and sexuality have been massively under-researched for far too long, thanks to a society and research body largely dominated by a group of men who believed it wasn’t important.
There are female bodily functions that remain a medical mystery, even to those who have worked hard to get to the bottom of them (e.g. female ejaculation). Granted, some happy accidents occurred like the invention of the vibrator to cure Female Hysteria (smirk).

Everyday I get more and more upset about the reality we live in. It’s all fucked up, but the way the world treat women is disgusting. The other day I told my friend how horrible is to see the differences between being born a man or a woman and how unfair the achieving process is depending on ur gender. His answer was: ”You are the luckiest, you can get every man to fuck you and get anything you want from them.” How sad is that men think we are lucky bc we can manipulate them with our looks to get their power? Is that the only thing we can do? Take advantage of men’s work? It’s just bullshit that even if I’m fucking smart or such a hard-worker society is gonna see me weaker or worst than some weirdo just bc I have no dick? Tf? But anyway, enough ranting for today, what we need is #POSITIVEVIBES • • • • #storytime #ranting #upset #heartbreaking #reality #patriarchy #society #fuckedup #womenarestrong #lesbian #gay #memes

Une publication partagée par meme queer 👑 (@ursisterscrush) le

And there are those taking female medical research more seriously, like those who conducted the review into the validity of virginity testing that resulted in the realisation that the hymen doesn’t prove virginity. However, even today stories of doctors not taking women’s pain seriously continue to circulate and I’ve just about had enough.

The implications of The Hymen Lie

I have so many issues with this hymen lie.
Firstly – we can finally prove that virginity doesn’t medically exist. For far too long, females have been led to believe that remaining ‘in tact’ is pure, virginal, right. Truth is, none of these things factor into it.
“‘Virginity’ is not a medical term, it is a gender-based social and cultural construct…It has been used to sexually exploit and humiliate women and girls throughout history. Its definition changes depending on who you talk to. We need to change how we talk about virginity. ‘Losing your virginity’ implies that you are not in control of it. No one besides you, not a hymen or another person, can ‘take your virginity away’. You are in control of your body, and no one should define you by your sexual history.”
Rose McKeon Olson (one of the researchers from the above study)

Sidetrack, but important – non-penetrative sex is just as valid as penetrative sex. Just because you haven’t/don’t want to/can’t be penetrated does not make you a virgin. You can still have sex in a number of ways, regardless of what society/religion/education has told you in the past. I think this is really important to drill in.
Next, we have to consider those who didn’t bleed when they first have penetrative sex. Does that make them ‘impure’? Does it mean they’ve previously had penetrative sex? Why are we even asking these questions? Hasn’t anyone heard of body autonomy?

Also, tampon anxiety. It’s real. I’ve experienced it. When I first started my period, my bleeds were heeeaaavy. Like red river of doom heavy. I considered using tampons, but I’d been told it hurt. I was led to believe that using one would break my hymen. That when I lost my V card, it wouldn’t be the same because I didn’t have my hymen. These things were all wrong (apart from it hurting – I experienced that first hand and have never gone near tampons since).

 Now, we have to talk about the more sinister implications of The Hymen Lie. While it’s upsetting to think about, we must consider the brutality that The Hymen Lie has brought about on those who “broke” their hymens?
What about girls who felt forced by their religion/culture to undergo “reconstructive” surgery after assault/rape/just not having one to prove virginity?
Or those whose hymens remained in tact after being assaulted, and so their accusations went unheard?
Reconstructive surgeries, honour killings and other abuses females have suffered from as a result of being considered “impure” because of their lack of hymen are now medically indefensible (where they were only morally indefensible before).
The review I mentioned earlier had this to say about virginity testing:
Virginity examinations are most commonly performed on unmarried females, often without consent or in situations where individuals are unable to give consent.
It’s incredibly upsetting. I’m privileged to have grown up in a society that didn’t put so much emphasis on that small collection of cells. I can’t imagine the stress and pressure put on those whose elders enforce this idea that the hymen represents purity, worthiness and – in some cases – is a matter of life or death.

So, what do we do now?

To my mind, it’s simple really. We educate. We need to get this message out there to those who need to hear it most. Vagina owners everywhere need to understand how their bodies work. I’m not just talking about a Vagina Monologues-style session with a compact mirror between your legs (although I think it’s absolutely a necessary learning curve – does anyone else think it’s weird that women often don’t know what their own vaginas look like?).

We need to get the message out there that hymens aren’t really a good indicator for virginity. Nor does virginity really exist outside archaic, oppressive systems that look to control women in every way possible and that fear women’s free expression of sexuality and personal ownership.
We should also be pushing for more medical research. This doesn’t end here. It can’t end here. We need more answers and we need them now.
Because, at the end of the day, how can we truly know and express ourselves if we don’t have all the right information?

Cícliques* 🌙✨☯️ #empowering

Une publication partagée par Cinta Tort Cartró 🌙 (@zinteta) le

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My Mental Health – A Reflection

It’s World Mental Health Day. More than just a hashtag, for many it’s the one day a year that provides open dialogue they rarely get to experience otherwise about their mental health.

Today, I thought I’d share 6 things I learned (sometimes the hard way) about depression, anxiety and self-perception.

Until I started experiencing it, I had no real clue what depression was. I had friends who’d lived through it, or who were experiencing it there and then, but I never really understood it. I certainly wasn’t prepared to face the embarrassing truth that I believed much of the stigma and prejudice and stereotyping that I hated in other people’s uneducated rhetoric.

Happiness

This is probably the most ridiculous one, but I didn’t know that I could be depressed and happy. I didn’t understand that depression could still allow me to genuinely enjoy things. I didn’t think the anxiety tearing my brain apart would give me time for laughter.

Looking back, I’m pretty ashamed to see how deeply ingrained some serious prejudices were in my understanding of mental health. Hopefully, with more open discussion and better education on the subject, others won’t have this realisation smack them in the face the same way I did.


(credit: Veronica Dearly, one of my fave artists on Instagram)

Sex

I didn’t know that I could be depressed and horny.

Despite feeling trapped in a pit of despair and emptiness, I could still want and enjoy sex. That took some getting used to. It does make sense, though. There’s a rush of endorphins released during sex. That feeling is addictive.

I was definitely not prepared for my anxiety to kill my libido, though. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t orgasm because my brain was too busy running so fast I could barely understand all the information it was throwing at me. I couldn’t switch off and just enjoy being in the moment. I’m lucky to have a boyfriend who is incredibly understanding and who refuses to let shame enter into that mortifying conversation.


(credit: Gemma Correll)

It’s not a conversation many people are comfortable having, but it needs to be talked about more. Like every other aspect of your life, mental ill health will very likely affect your sex life. Coming to terms with that can be frustrating, embarrassing, upsetting and a million other things. Give yourself time and allow your mind to catch with the horn your body is throwing down. You’ll get there. And then you can get back to doing the sex.

(I would apologise to any family/friends/strangers who feel weird about this section, but I’m not sorry. Sex happens. We’re adults. Your discomfort feeds into the lack of discussion. It’s time we get over our discomfort around sex and get honest.)

 

Energy

I’ve been tired before, but depression doesn’t make you tired. Depression leeches every iota of energy from your being and leaves a husk of a human behind. A human who still has to get up in the morning and function and go to work because there are bills to pay. Depression left me feeling empty a lot of the time. Spoon theory can apply to mental ill health and sometimes this accurately explains how my days go when I’m not well.


(credit: Gemma Correll – a brilliant artist with endlessly relatable Instagram uploads)

Filled to the Brim and Endlessly Empty

I didn’t know I could feel more than just depression. I didn’t know that I could feel nothing but depression. I didn’t understand how my head and heart could be a cacophony of emotion and feeling and mess and noise that would overwhelm me to the point of tears.

The way I describe it is a runaway train where you can hear and feel all the passengers’ thoughts and feelings, while your heart keeps in time with the ever-quickening wheels. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.


(credit: Gemma Correll)

Self-care

It took me a while to get to grips with self-care. Understanding that calling devouring a tub of ice cream is not necessarily self-care, but it’s also not something to agonise over for hours after. Finding healthy routines to practice as self-care took a while and I’m still bad at keeping up with them. There are days where getting in the shower seems so arduous the thought reduces me to tears. But I know that taking the time to wash and condition my hair and use my yummy-smelling body wash always makes me feel better. I have to push through the fog and continue the routine.


(image source)

Cross stitching, reading, adult colouring in books. They all give me a little time to be productive while also contributing to self-improvement in some fashion, reducing the guilt I’d otherwise feel for not spending my time doing more “worthwhile” things.

Getting back into musical theatre has been incredible too. Pushing me out of my comfort zone again, forcing myself to socialise and surround myself with music and activities I love.


(credit: Gemma Correll)

One thing I wasn’t prepared to have to do, though, was to step back from friendships that weren’t good for my mental health, no matter how much I loved the people. It’s hard accepting that someone is bad for you, but you have to make yourself the most important thing. Toxic relationships only work to undo the effort you put into your wellbeing. Assessing the health of your relationships is difficult, but can be incredibly freeing when you are able to lessen the strain that relationship had on your health.

Love

I wasn’t prepared for the good days to feel so damn incredible and my heart feel like it could burst because it was so full of love. I certainly couldn’t imagine that people could still love me despite me not loving myself. It can be hard not pushing those people away in a fit of shame and anger – how do they see something worth loving when I can’t? I’m learning that my perception of myself and the world can be skewed by depression and anxiety. That, no matter how real it might seem, Tam is in fact just sleeping and not silently fuming at you for not saying “I love you” 9 times instead of 8 that day. That, despite the many niggling thoughts of unworthiness I have, I am really worth people’s time. I actually do have a lot to offer. I’m a lot more capable than I sometimes give myself credit for.


(credit: Veronica Dearly)

While I don’t always feel like I have fight left in me, I don’t want to be this way forever. Especially when there are other, far more important things in my life I’d rather focus my energy on.

At the end of the day, regardless of the state of my mental health, I’m still me. And I think that’s the thing I was most surprised to learn.

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Personal Space – The Importance of Self Care

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week and social media was abuzz with hashtags, conversations and motivational memes on the subject.

Be kind to yourself every day 🤗💗 #MHAW17

A post shared by The Young Women’s Movement (@youngwomenscot) on

With my hyper-active brain, neverending list of projects to get stuck into, reliance on lists to keep some semblance of order in my life, whacky sleeping pattern and a bunch of other quirks you all associate with my kookiness, I often get run down. Like last week, which put publishing this post on hold until today. Kinda ironic.

But now, I’m feeling brighter and more on top of everything, I’m going to take a bit of time and run through my self care routine.

Self care is something I started intentionally practicing about eight months ago. Far from a social media soundbite and tool to get more love on Insta, this has become a necessary part of my health routine and often saves me from slipping down the rabbit hole and ending up in a dark spiral leading to exhaustion.

The usual candidates in a self care checklist do exist on mine – a decent amount of sleep, an abundance of vegetables (I love making myself a Greek-inspired mezze platter of raw peppers, olives, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and a variety of dips when I feel depleted and in need of a clean, fresh boost to the system) and an indulgent shower or bath.

Some of my other self care activities are maybe slightly more obscure, but important to me nonetheless.

Firstly, I cut my nails. It’s a chore I am forever pushing down on the to do list until my poor nails can take no more and snap painfully close to the nail bed. So, when life is starting to get on top of me, I make sure to spend some quality time giving myself a speedy mani.

Usually just cutting them down, a quick file and a thirst-quenching moisturiser. One of my nervous ticks is picking at the skin on my fingers, but pretty nail polish is a great incentive for me to leave the poor skin alone.

This self care technique requires enough concentration to distract me momentarily from any outside stresses and is a productive use of time so I don’t feel guilty for procrastinating from the ironing pile. Double win.

I also write. It might be teen angst inspired, embarrassing awful poetry, a to do list or an overview of what I’ve done that day.

As my blog posts indicate, I’m a good rambler. I purge my thoughts until I cry, sigh or reach some other state of release. It’s incredibly important for me to get my thoughts and feelings out in the world by writing or typing away until I have fully purged.

Usually I reach a solution by writing, or can reach a place where my rational side negotiates my emotional mess down from teetering on the edge.

Another self care love of mine is colouring in.

While my doodles don’t tend to end as violently as Deadpool’s, I do own 5 adult colouring books, 3 sets of colouring pencils and a steadfast opposition to venturing outside the lines.

Snuggle puddles are also a total self care necessity.

Teddy (original, I know) and Piglet have been with me since birth, Alaska Bear was a slightly later addition.

Bunny, Toothless and Rocky flopping after a long day of whatever it is toys do.

I am currently sharing my bed with 9 teddies of all shapes, sizes and animal types. Some are as old as me, others are more recent additions. All are equally adored.

Apart from my raccoon, Rocky, who has been through the best times and the worst times with me. A dear friend of mine who understood my trash panda obsession gave me him when I was 16 and have rarely gone a night without him in my bed ever since. He even comes with me to my boyfriend’s sometimes.

Rocky and a lizard friend he made at Tam’s, along with Mr Fox and an equally foxy hot water bottle.

This bunch of cute and cuddlies are the perfect counter-offer to human contact, when I just want to be left alone but am in dire need of affection. They are the real deal.

Sidenote shout out to my boyfriend who makes a great substitute to the snuggle puddle on nights that I do want human contact. That boy is a hot water bottle load of snug – seriously, his body temp runs higher than most saunas.

Finally, the most important ritual of my self care routine is self-acceptance.

I often find myself buried under a mountain of guilt, frustration and a slew of other negative feelings when I start to get run down and feel low.

Reminding myself that the low point isn’t going to last forever and that the world will not end if I can’t make myself smile once that day is really important.

As a perfectionist, I get caught up in my own head, obsessing over everything, especially my perceived shortcomings and what I think others expect of me. I take this time to acknowledge that I’m not feeling 100% and realise what I expect of myself.

Whether that’s getting myself into the shower, socialising or just enjoying my own company; it’s a vital exercise I need to keep myself feeling more grounded and less like the world is slipping through my fingers.

Self care is exactly that – for yourself. You might read my list and scoff. You might run or bake or cry or knit or host a dinner party as part of your self care. Those are all legitimate forms of looking after yourself.

We all have different aspects of ourselves that need a little more attention than others. Recognising, accepting and acting on those needs are what keep us happy, healthy and able to live our best lives.

Look after yourself, you deserve it.

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I have cried at every yoga class I’ve been to so far

Since accepting that I am less than happy with my body and general well being, it has been something of a conscious decision on my part to start exercising.

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Healthy eating has gone right out the window since I found out I needed to start job hunting again. I’m a comfort eater, so sticking to vegetables and cutting back on carbs hasn’t quite gone to plan. All too often I’m binging on pasta and garlic bread and ice cream and chocolate and maybe a packet of crisps later on in the evening. It’s not healthy, it’s not helping and it’s got to stop.

In terms of exercise, then, yoga seemed like a good place to start. I’ve done it before and enjoyed the deep stretches. It is one of the few forms of exercise that doesn’t trigger my asthma. There’s a class round the road from work that’s 2 hours of Ashtanga practice which offers a good workout as well as meditation. The meditation seemed like a good thing to try and get into the habit of too, for maintaining good mental health.

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But yoga isn’t helping. If anything, so far it has only succeeded in making me feel even more self-conscious and defeated by my body’s inabilities and limitations. Despite my teacher maintaining the mantra that “yoga is a practice that can always be improved upon”, I can’t get past the shame and the upset of the situation here and now.

Now I am overweight, I have a belly I can’t stand the sight of and thighs bursting out my jeans. My double chin is back and I don’t look or feel like me. What I see in the mirror isn’t what I see in my mind. I expect something different, something more.

Changing, becoming a better version of myself, is such a big aspiration for me. To see myself and think Yes, I am happy and comfortable in my own skin. Getting to that point seems to be impossible though.

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It all feels so hopeless sometimes. I have no motivation to get myself to a place where I’m happy, but I’m desperate to already be there. I suppose it doesn’t help that my hormones are running haywire just now and I’m exhausted from a week of less than stellar sleep (read: next to none).

This leaves me in a place of real confusion. I am a firm believer in body positivity, but feel like a fraud because I struggle with my own body image. I champion people everywhere to love themselves the way they are and accept themselves, but am a hypocrite when I cannot do the same.

Yes, body positivity is a journey. It is a mindset that can only be achieved through hard work and tenacity and love. Keeping up with that can be exhausting and it can feel unattainable. For someone who can be a bit of a perfectionist and hates hypocracy, this can make my dealings with and understand of my own body image all the more difficult and confusing. But body positivity is an empowering force in my life and I do desperately want to arrive at a point where I can happily stand up and appreciate my body for all its flaws and deviations from societal perfection and constructed beauty ideals.

I suppose I felt the urge to share my experience because I know I’m not the only person in this position. I’m not alone in feeling unhappy with my body and frustrated with its limitations. Shameful of the lack of breath climbing stairs, embarrassed when I squat down to the bottom shelf in a shop and struggle to get back up. Mortified when a pair of jeans a size bigger than I’d normally buy won’t button over my belly.

Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and the rest of them are filled with motivational messages, success stories and aspirational healthy lifestyles. Like what was highlighted with the See Me “My Unfiltered Life” campaign, what people rarely show is the true struggle it can be to get to that place and just how difficult it can be to maintain long-term.

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Where are the selfies of red-faced, tear-stained men and women who have left a gym session early because their bodies couldn’t cope with the “beginner’s class”? Where are the Insta photos of the unhealthy meals – sans #cheatday – instead captioned with the truth, that sometimes you just can’t ignore the cravings or the need to hide behind junk food or not having the energy to prepare a healthy, filling meal after the day/week/month you’ve had.

Yes, these are all excuses for unhealthy behaviour. But we’re all human. Even the healthy stumble along the road. They just dress it up as a cheat day or a treat or over-emphasise the slip up to the point where it just feels fake.

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Finding motivation doesn’t really seem to be enough. I’m not too sure yet what is enough, but when I find it I will be holding onto that thing for dear life because serious changes need to be made. I will, however, remain real about my situation and realistic about my expectations. No more searching how to lose 3 stone in as many weeks, no more lemon and salt water fads and definitely no more obsessing over social media accounts.

I’ve cried at every yoga class I’ve been to so far. If I cry at every yoga class I ever go to in the future I can at least be proud that I’m still going.

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Me and My Brain

Brains confuse me.

I mean, they’re great. But I don’t understand how they work. I’ve studied them to a certain extent in relation to how they handle language, but that’s just one tip of one iceberg in a world full of Titanic-sinking lumps of frozen water.

They’re extraordinary and mind-boggling and scary. They control us, and we control them, but we also have no idea just how powerful they can be sometimes.

I get on with my brain most of the time. I’m kinda thankful for it, because it makes sure I carry on breathing and living and thinking and doing the things I like to do.

It lets me sing and fail at dancing and concoct recipes from a countertop full of random ingredients that shouldn’t really go together. It helps me think up presents for people and create art projects in my brain that will likely not translate well in the real world, but it’s the planning that I enjoy the most. It lets me laugh and love and surprise myself with things I remember and things I forget.

It also makes me obsessively try and learn the last 4 digits of every car’s reg plate I pass. It sometimes forces me to count my steps in 10s. Lists become a necessity in my daily life when I feel like I’m not completely in control. It convinces me I’m a burden and too difficult for people to want to spend time with me. It tricks me into believing that I have done something to upset people, unrelentingly convincing me until I’m suffocated by the guilt and I feel their frustration hang tangibly in the air, even though it doesn’t exist to them. Every so often it lets my imagination run so wild I struggle to leave my flat for fear that some unknown thing will happen to me and it will be bad.

My brain is a fickle friend. It’s always there with me, but I can’t always trust if it’s working with me or against me.

I have lots of good days. To read the above you’d think I was mostly unhappy and a bit crazy. Crazy, yes, but not unhappy.

I feel happiness the majority of the time. And joy. And love. I am able to appreciate the little things and have a heart so full it feels like it could burst.

But when I’m not feeling those things, when I am sad and low and scared, I get frustrated.

See, my brain doesn’t just cloud my judgement and pull wool over my eyes. I am kind of aware that I’m being tricked. I just don’t have the power or energy to fight it. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming, I am completely convinced that I am being rational in my beliefs and that person really doesn’t want to spend time with me because I know in my heart of hearts that I am being annoying.

My brain is an extraordinary thing. Even when it’s working against me, I’m in awe of it. I am aware but not aware, I believe but I’m incredulous. How can one small organ have so much control? How do I regain it? Maybe I don’t. Maybe that’s the way everyone’s brains work. Or even just some people’s brains. But how will we know that until we start talking about it?

How can we learn about what’s okay and when to ask for help if no one will talk about their personal boundaries and breaking points?

Talking is a gift my brain allows me. It’s a gift I want to use to help myself and anyone else who needs it – reassurance that brains are the weirdest, most frustrating, most brilliant things we could ever have. And we can still get angry with them for tricking us and tripping us up and upsetting us.

We can get pissed off that we still have to sleep with the duvet over our shoulders and no limbs hanging off the mattress because it’s so good at convincing us that monsters live under the bed even though we’re too old to believe in ghost stories.

Because where would you rather they lived? Under the bed? Or in your own head?

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