Monday, 23 May 2016

Not all men harass women, but all women have been harassed by men.

CN discussions of sexual violence, including rape, sexual harassment & assault

I really, really love dancing. I am incredibly self-conscious and need a good few drinks before I’ll do it, but when I do, I love it. Especially to music from my childhood or adolescence, in a sticky club with my best friends, dancing until my knees are killing me. I have so many good memories of last minute Friday nights out while I was at university, with good music and dancing for hours. It was one of the only ways I was able to relax or reward myself during my final year, where the stress of finals and degree classifications and my ongoing health problems felt like they could kill me.

I don’t go out dancing very much any more. I realised today that the last time I’d properly gone out has been months ago, at least. I don’t remember when it was. There’s a number of reasons for this — London is extortionately expensive, getting home is a pain, I’m skint and tired and can’t travel very much. But the main reason I don’t really go out dancing any more is because of men.

If you ask any woman or person who is read as a woman in their 20s, they will tell you about the times they were told as a teenager that sexual harassment was a normal part of an evening out, especially a night in a club. Expect to be groped, felt up, kissed, touched without your consent. It just happens. It happens to all of us. Why are you making a big deal? You were really drunk, anyway. Get used to it.

Everyone is told this, because every person has had the experience of a man touching them in some way without their consent on a night out with their friends. Not all men harass women, but every woman has been harassed by a man.

A few nights ago I was out in a city I don’t live in with a relatively big group of people, all of whom would be read as women. As we’d arrived early in the night, we’d managed to secure an area for ourselves where we could sit down and had our own space to dance, alone, without the usual club crowds. It was going wonderfully. 

And then a middle aged man came over to us and said, “alright, ladies?” or something to that effect. I asked him to please leave us alone, that we didn’t want to talk to him. At this, he became affronted. He insisted on staying with us, because it was a free country and he had the right to stand where he wanted, apparently. It didn’t matter that I had pleaded with him to please, please just let us be. It didn’t matter because he didn’t care. He didn’t care because he was so angry that a woman he did not know did not accept his perceived entitlement to a conversation with us, to sharing a physical space with us. We told him no, and he did not accept our unacceptance of his advance. He stood leaning at the bar, looking my friends up and down as they danced, who were unaware of his glances; his eyes lingering on the curve of their calves, the dress tied at their waist, the plunge of their neckline. It made me feel sick and I wanted to cry. 

At this point, I ended up asking a staff member who had been going to and fro from the area we were in to the bar with empty glasses, to ask him to leave. The staff member got security, which is not something I would’ve chosen to do given my own bad experiences with security staff members in clubs. They’re the ones who didn’t believe me when I was in tears telling them I’d just been groped or assaulted by a man, and they’re the ones who then threw me out of their club because I was drunk and crying and I was the one to blame. Oddly, the security staff were good. I could count on one hand the number of times this has happened. But I know they were only good because I wasn’t drunk, I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t slurring my words, I was sober and alert and articulate and purposefully did not let the less sober members of our group talk to them, because I knew they wouldn’t take us seriously. Which is bullshit. I played their game, because without doing so, we would’ve been thrown out. 

It was exhausting. I hadn’t been in a club for months. And this was why. Of all the things to happen on a night out, spending too much money, talking to groups of women you don’t know in the bathroom and being harassed or assaulted by a man are almost all of the guaranteed ingredients, no matter where you are. 

In my first year of university, like many others, I went out a lot. And so I was sexually harassed or assaulted at least once a week, often more. I became so angry, all of the time. I had so much rage inside of me, because men thought they could touch me when I didn’t want them to, and no one thought anything of it. I started hitting back, literally and figuratively. I remember an incident in a club in Belfast, where a man I didn’t know pinned me against a wall and kissed me furiously, one hand on my cheek and one grabbing my waist. I struggled to get free, and when I did, I punched him. And then I was promptly thrown out. At one point, I was boycotting a well known club and bar because they threw me out after I reported that I’d been felt up — they told me I was on drugs and I was causing problems. I remember months later my best friend texting me drunkenly, telling me she was sorry that she was going to the bar because the work party she was out with wanted to, and she felt so guilty about it. She was the only friend to even acknowledge and legitimise the pain and anger i felt towards the club and its staff. Everyone else ignored it as another thing that crazy Aisling was doing because she’s a crazy feminist. 

I harboured so much rage and anger in my body that year, and together with a cocktail of then-undiagnosed mental health problems, it ruined my time in university. When I am back in Belfast, my main memories stem around where and when I was assaulted, at which time, and what I was wearing. I know I am not alone in this, because this happens to most women at some point during their life. Learning this, learning about the politics of structural oppression and patriarchy and feminism helped — I had a framework in which to place my experiences and the thoughts I had. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t any of our faults, even though we all felt like it was. 

What I didn’t realise or expect was the long-lasting effect these years have had on me. Granted, I’m still young. I’m only 23. But a lot has happened, a lot has changed and I have grown hugely since the age of 19. My life is very different now, and I feel older than my years. What I didn’t expect were the flashbacks and dreams that periodically dominate my life these days. I didn’t expect that I would stop wearing certain things, especially heels. I didn’t expect that I’d drastically change my hairstyle, partially in an effort to look less conventionally attractive to men. I didn’t expect that a few words from a middle-aged man in a nightclub in Edinburgh would send me over the edge, anxious, awake and crying till 4.30am, reliving the past experiences I’d had and ending up taking a valium in an attempt to quiet the images and the taunts swirling around my head. I didn’t expect to ever identify with the term ‘survivor’. But here I am. 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Death is not noble.

Content warning for discussions of death, frank discussions of suicide including methods, mental illness.

Death is not noble. 

In so many pieces of writing on mental illness, the diagnosis, the experience, the horror of it all - it's all romanticised as hell. And that's bullshit. Dangerous, dangerous bullshit.

I remember reading these kinds of posts when I was a clinically depressed teenager who kept being told that I was an attention seeking little shit. Because I was attention seeking, because I felt like I was dying. I felt like my mind was killing me from the inside. And so I looked at how to make that inside-dying seem like it was worth something, like it meant something, like it could mean something other than the ending of a life prematurely. I tried to make myself feel better because I could have followed a line of tortured genius artists who lived and died by depression. 

But it didn't. And I am still here, several dangerous suicide attempts later, I am here. 

And in the twelve or so years I have suffered and lived with mental health conditions, the one thing I have learnt most of all is that there is no glory in death. There is nothing cool about being so unwell you want to hurt yourself. There is nothing edgy about drinking yourself to oblivion because you don't know how else to get yourself to sleep. There is nothing epic or romantic or amazing or incredible or noble about death, and there never will be.

I don't know what I believe about what happens when we die. I know that I think about those I've known who have have died a lot, but I don't know what that means. 

I know a lot of young people who have died by suicide. I do not use their lives and their deaths as a bullshit positive means to 'keep myself going', because that implies that there was something good about their deaths. And there wasn't. There is nothing good about parents being left and siblings being left and a life being ended fifty years before it should have been. Every death was in some way preventable and every death was a life on earth ended far too short. 

Death is not noble and neither is depression. Those of us who suffer with chronic depression and suicidal ideation and tendencies will tell you that at the worst moments, there is nothing we would not do to rid ourselves of what we feel. I would trade my pain for anyone else's, because depression makes you a selfish little shit. And if you're reading this and you've never experienced depression, I am glad. I am glad because it is the worst thing I have so far gone through in my (admittedly short) twenty-three years, and unfortunately for many of us it is chronic. People do not see when you haven't showered in ten days, when getting changed makes you cry, when doors and phones and bills go unanswered, and when you're such a horrible irritable little dick that people can barely stand to be around you. Because depression isn't cool and it isn't romantic because it is fucking shit. 

Death is not noble and me dying at the age of 13 would have done absolutely fuck all. It would have broken my parents, my wonderful caring parents, and it would have destroyed my three sisters. It would have scarred my best friends and it would have (metaphorically) killed my grandparents. I was a scared, ill, lonely child, who thought suicide was the only way to end the pain.  

Whether or not there is an after life with a higher religious power isn't important. We can all believe and have faith in whatever we want to believe and have faith in. What matters is that death is not romantic and it is not cool and it is not noble. There is nothing romantic about being found covered in your own vomit, or a train driver having to live with the fact that they hit someone. 

Death is so often the premature ending of a life that should have gotten grounded at some point for staying out too late, that should have gained their college qualifications, that should have grown as an adult and developed political beliefs and went on demos and yelled at Tories and had their faith in the world broken and torn down and rebuilt by the people around them. That should have fallen in love, which is the best and worst thing a person can have happen to them. That should have gone in and out of periods of being a dick, because we all do. And that then should have wised up.

I am currently going through a rough patch. I have tried to kid myself that if I died, I would be doing it for a higher cause. Right now, that the DWP would have another person to add to their list of people they've denied benefits to who have then committed suicide. That the mental health services in my area are stretched to breaking point and the lack of care results in patient suicide. That trying to live a life in London on barely any money eats away at your head, and your heart, until it's too much to live with and you can't do it anymore. But none of that would have mattered. Because even if all of those things were true, my poor sister would still have to identify my body, and my parents would have to arrange for it to be flown home. People would have to organise a funeral. My room in London would have to be packed up, my bank account closed, the posters on my wall taken down. And none of that is romantic. None of it is cool. None of it is heroic. And no matter how much incredible poetry or music I could have written, or lives I could have touched - it wouldn't have made it any less terrible. 

I came across this PostSecret postcard years ago, when I was a depressed teenager. And unsurprisingly, it always stuck with me. I don't know what the answer is to chronic suicidal ideation. I don't know why some of us suffer with this. But we do, and the least we can do is make sure that we keep talking the romance out of it. There is no romance in suicide and there is no beauty in death. 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Being worn down by sexism.

I am worn down by sexism. I am worn down by the word sexism. I am worn down by the thought of sexism. I am worn down and try not to think about it, because I find it so draining.

Last week I attended an event run by the Centre for Feminist Research in Goldsmiths. The centre is run by my tutor, Sara Ahmed, and runs events in Goldsmiths throughout the year. This event was on sexism, and the speakers all focused on sexism in higher education.

The first speaker talked about a 'bloody document' she has carried with her for 30 years. As a young graduate student, she wrote an essay and her professor covered it in red ink, 'correcting' her 'mistakes'. When I saw each slide, my jaw dropped. I imagine jaws dropped across the room. She is now a professor and head of a department at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Her old professor is still teaching. She has kept this essay for 30 years. 

Here is the paper she wrote.

I thought,

This feels strange, but I can't think of a time where I faced institutional sexism while at this university.

I thought,

I've never had a lecturer or professor treat me the way this speaker was treated.

I thought,

Maybe it's because in Goldsmiths, I've only been taught by women. And mostly black women. My course classes are very different to what they used to be. There's occasionally one or two men in the classroom. 

I thought,

Queen's wasn't like that. In Queen's I was often the only woman in my class. I was taught almost entirely by white men. I was surrounded by men. I became a feminist killjoy. I was angry, all of the time.

But I still can't think of a time where my tutors or professors sexually harassed me. That feels strange.

But then I thought,

Hang on. 

I have spent a lot of time arguing with Goldsmiths as an institution about being disabled. 

I thought,

I spend a not inconsiderable amount of my time explaining to other students how to navigate disability bureaucracy. 

I thought,

I sat with my friend and the staff member who approves assignment deferrals, as she sat in tears, shaking with anxiety, and he visibly did not care. He did not offer a tissue. There was no empathy in his voice. My friend and I left the meeting and she cried for a while. She was shaking with the ferocity of her sobs. I was furious. I wanted to complain. I was so angry at how she had been treated by a staff member who was responsible for supporting disabled and unwell students. 

I have sat opposite men members of staff who have rolled their eyes at the hysterical angry woman in front of them.

I have sat in the disability room in the library while a male staff member stood over me, making me explain why I was in the room. Why I was allowed to be in the room. In front of a room full of students I didn't know. Afterwards, the shame burned my face and I felt like a child. 

I thought,

This is sexism repackaged and combined with disablism, entwined with racial and class dynamics in the case of my friend's experience. 

After the event, there was a wine reception and I talked with a few of my classmates. I talked about how lucky I felt to have had such incredible teachers during my time here. 

A classmate has taken an elective module with another department, and has had a tough time. She is taught by a man who, within the first two classes, she knew she couldn't stand. She knew it was going to be difficult to get through this term, being taught by him. 

We talked about the way that sexism has worn us down to the point where we think we do not encounter it. 

When we encounter sexism in class, from male classmates, we are exhausted before we put up our hand to tell a man why what he has just done was incredibly sexist. We feel the weight of the response our response will get. And we decide in that moment whether or not we have the energy to respond to the response our responding to sexism will receive. And more often than not, we decide the effort is too great, and we don't put our hand up. 

Monday, 8 February 2016

Changing Minds Fest

At the weekend the Southbank Centre in London held the #ChangingMindsFest, a weekend long festival dedicated to mental health. I had seen it advertised and thought about going, but that was before I started to become more ill in December and stopped really organising things to do.

As part of A Day In The Life, they invited contributions answering the questions:

"How was your day, what made your mental health better and what made it worse?"

I decided to submit the speech I made at the TUC Mental Health & Austerity event that day, and just found out that it was included. The slideshow played for 36 hours on a loop at the Southbank. 

My answer are slides 11 - 24, with a content note for suicide.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Calling in and calling out.

This post is inspired by conversations I've been having recently with people, mostly offline, on how we feel people should respond to criticism, critique, and call outs, particularly in relation to privilege. It's a conversation I've been having so often I thought I should properly write about it.

When I first got involved in liberation activism, I had no idea what privilege was. I didn't have a very good understanding of the structural inequalities that exist in the world, even though I thought I did. I had experienced sexism, misogyny, ableism, queerphobia - but probably wouldn't have been able to name those experiences as being part of a wider structural issue. I looked at those experiences as a series of one offs.

The first time I was called out - for using stigmatising language in relation to mental health - I was appalled. I was disgusted. I was beside myself that I, someone with mental health problems, could ever possibly misuse words that can be seen as derogatory. The person who called me out did it - in a way I would now say - incredibly politely. They sent me a short email, off the email list, explaining that the language I used was problematic for A, B & C reasons, and were perfectly pleasant. And I still felt like I'd been wronged the biggest wrong to ever happen in the existence of the world.

Fast forward five years. I have wised up. I have changed a lot, my politics have developed, and I've grown up. I'm not 18 years old anymore. I still slip up, I am still called out on things, and I am still trying to grow and develop my politics around liberation in particular and I know I will continue to slip up and will need to keep reflecting on my behaviour and actions as I get older. And the way I look at call ins and call outs is radically different.

It is quite a human reaction to be upset or anxious or panicked (especially if you suffer with mental health problems around anxiety) when someone calls you out, no matter how respectfully or politely they do it (and they're under no obligation to be polite or respectful about it). You worry about who you've upset, and how you've upset them, and what the affect of whatever you've done/said has been. 

But, if you too believe that being called up on your privilege is a very useful and helpful process during which you are able to learn about an aspect of something you overlooked, or hadn't considered, then you must continually remind yourself that you want to be called out. You want to be a better ally to marginalised groups you do not define into. And that means listening whenever someone calls you up on your shit, and acknowledging that in all likelihood they are coming from a place or experience that you may not know as much about.

No matter how emotional your reaction, or how poor your mental health, the person who is giving you their time and labour to call you out should not have to calm you down, or console you, or reassure you that they understand you didn't mean to do whatever you did. 

They have no obligation to be polite when calling you out. In all likelihood they have a reason to be angry, and that reason is legitimate. They should not have to bear the responsibility of dealing with your emotional reaction. It's not up to them. They're doing you a massive favour by calling you out - recognise this. Recognise that you are incredibly lucky to have someone take time out of their day to tell you that you fucked up. You are not the injured party here, even if your initial reaction is to be upset.

It is important to develop coping mechanisms for immediate emotional reactions to call outs. When my anxiety is particularly bad, a message from someone telling me I've done something shit and oppressive can make me have a panic attack. And I have begun to accumulate skills to deal with this, including (but not limited to) breathing exercises, reminding myself that this is something I value and appreciate immensely when people take the time out to do it, reminding myself of how I wish people would respond when I call someone out on something, and as someone who can slip into black and white thinking and catastrophising quite easily, reminding myself that the world is not over because I fucked up.

To take an example - I am middle class. I have a financial safety net, I have parents I can borrow money from if I needed to. I did not grow up being shamed for getting free school meals, my parents were able to afford to buy my school uniform brand new, we went on family holidays, we always had food in the fridge. I am skint, but I am not poor. I am not working class. 

And so when someone who comes from a working class background decides to take time out of their day to tell me that I fucked up - I said something shitty (e.g. 'Omg, I'm so poor, this is so shit, you all have no idea how poor I am right now'); I didn't consider an aspect of something (e.g. 'We should totally all go to this event/club/bar/dinner/restaurant! Are you coming? Why aren't you coming?', forgetting that not everyone has disposable income and can afford to spend a fiver on a pint); or I behaved in an oppressive way - I need to sit down and listen. I need to consider my behaviour, and reflect on what I did. I need to appreciate that this person was willing to call me out on my behaviour, and recognise the fact that they may have an incredibly different life experience on this issue than I do, because I come from a privileged position. 

I see 'calling in' as something that people with privilege should do to other people with privilege - it's my job as someone who is white to educate other white people about racism and the impact and effect of white supremacy. I should 'call in' the fact that they may have done or said something racist. I am responsible for educating other white people to look inwards at our experiences of whiteness, how our whiteness is reflected everywhere in society, how we benefit from a system built on white supremacy and racism. I am also responsible for constantly reflecting on my own white privilege, looking inwards at my own experiences and questioning why they are the way they are.

I see 'calling out' as something that marginalised people have a right to do to people with privilege. As previously mentioned, I believe marginalised people are under no obligation to be polite with their call outs - if you're calling someone out on their oppressive behaviour it can be a very upsetting, frustrating and angering thing that they have done, and you are under no obligation to be kind about it. 

Here is a post about being a better ally in general, here is one about being a better ally to people of colour and here is one about being a better ally to disabled people. If anyone has any articles about being an ally they would recommend, please let me know and I'll include them in here.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

On welfare reform, and those who matter.

Content note for suicide

These last few months have seen some good campaigning, particularly from all sectors around the proposed tax credit cuts. Whilst they weren't reversed in their entirety, I do believe that the work from trade unions, Labour, and other charities and campaigning organisations definitely helped this.

But take ESA cuts.

What is ESA? It stands for Employment & Support Allowance, and is the disability benefit for those of us who are too unwell to work due to disabilities and long-term health problems. When you apply for ESA - an incredibly stressful, over-complicated and difficult process, you usually are called for a Work Capability Assessment. 

Initially brought in under Labour, the coalition government outsourced the WCA to ATOS, a French IT company. ATOS were so bad at their job - to assess ESA claimants to find out if they were fit for work or not - that appeals skyrocketed, costing the government (aka the taxpayer) a shit tonne of money in processing appeals and eventually backdating lots of claims. There were many headlines detailing tragedy after tragedy of people who had died by suicide, usually after being found fit for work and being overcome by despair at their (sometimes inevitable) homelessness and poverty. Some claimants aren't put through a WCA, but this is rare.

Once you have your WCA, you're assigned a group - the work-related activity group, or the support group. The idea behind it is that those who are in the work group may have limited capability to work, but will be able to do some form of 'work-related activity'. The support group is for people who are less likely to be able to return to work in the near future. 

A few months ago, the Tories announced they were cutting the benefit for people in the WRAG group by around £30, to bring it in line with current rates of Job Seekers' Allowance. In April 2017 the rate for those in the WRAG will go from £102 to £73 a week. This will reduce the yearly income of a person in the work group from £5,000 to just £3,500. The government's reasoning is that the money given to someone in the WRAG isn't a good enough incentive to get back to work. Of course it has nothing to do with an overstretched NHS, local authorities being stripped of their funding, and mental health services under resourced about to collapse. Of course those things have nothing to do with why a disabled person may not be able to cope with employment.

If this wasn't bad enough, more shit has been announced in relation to Personal Independence Payments, which were brought in under the coalition government to gradually replace Disability Living Allowance. For more information on what that's been like, read this (by Liam, on what applying for benefits is really like), this (by Liam, what it's like dealing with ATOS) and this (by Becca, and what pushed me to write this post).

This post from Disability Rights is pretty informative - a judgement has recently been announced, meaning that if someone with severe psychological distress cannot leave the house or go somewhere unassisted (for instance, due to severe agoraphobia, or panic attacks), they'll no longer be eligible for the mobility component of PIP, which currently stands at £55 or so a week. 

So what's the point of this post?

Firstly, to give an explanation of (some aspects of) ESA, and an insight into how difficult it really is for people to survive on this benefit. Most people don't know the intricate details - and why would they? Unless they know someone who receives it, it isn't a great surprise.

And then there's the issue of stigma. 

Who would you tell that you're trying to live off less than £5,000 a year? You'll probably receive some housing benefit, but that won't be enough to cover your rent anyway, especially if you live in London. You might get DLA or PIP, but you live forever in fear of new reforms being announced and the small benefit you get (which, rather than being spent on the extra costs of being disabled is probably spent on heating your room and paying your water bill) being cut. If you've kids or people to care for, you probably worry about making sure you can feed them, too. If you don't have anyone to care for, like me, you're one of the luckier ones. 

When someone asks me what I do, I generally tell them the truth. Or a half truth. Partially because I think that I have a duty to, because it's so shameful. I need to make it less shameful. I need people to look me in the eye when I tell them I live off the state. And for the most part, they don't. They glance sideways, awkwardly, look down at their feet. They don't know what to say. And I try to continue the conversation as if nothing has happened. But it's hard. And it's exhausting when this happens frequently. And it does, because I try and do something social at least once a week, and that inevitably leads to meeting new people who ask what I do.  

What is most difficult about being in this situation, is how isolating it is - both on a personal and a national level. When tax credits were being cut, everyone was up in arms - including almost all of the media, which felt like a first. And I was glad, I really was. 

But when it comes to disability benefits being cut, we don't get much. We get a few Guardian articles, a few MPs ask questions on a Wednesday, but it doesn't go anywhere. It's accepted, passively. It's not worth the fight because we're not worth the fight. Our lives are not as valuable as the lives of people who can contribute to the economy, the people who pay taxes, the people who teach and educate and heal and work on our public transport and in our banks and in our shops and our taxis. Of course, the government is currently trying to dismantle the hard-won rights of those working in the public sector, but my point still stands.

We need you - the activists, the politicians, the councillors, the workers, the trade unionists - to fight for us, because so often we can't fight for ourselves. We want to, but we can't. So much of our energy is taken up just by trying to survive. And when it comes to the end of the day, we don't have much left to give to activism, even though our lives depend on it.

So please, in 2016 make the conscious decision to try and raise the profile of issues like ESA reforms and housing benefit cuts and PIP changes, and give us a platform when we have the energy to talk about it. Please make a commitment to fighting for the right of every disabled person in the UK to be able to live a life with access to healthcare, safety, and dignity. Because we can't do it alone, and as each day passes another disabled person loses their fight, and it feels like soon there will be none of us left.  

Monday, 11 January 2016

I am still trying to choose life, but it's hard.

CN suicide, eating disorders (specifically mentioning purging - but just a mention) 

It has been almost two years since I've written a post on this blog.

Tonight a status from a Facebook friend on university, isolation, loneliness and mental health made me think I should try and find some words to talk about what's going on with me right now.

I'm supposed to be finishing my master's degree in August. I moved to London for this. I uprooted my life and got on a plane to go and do a degree. But I had to defer every assignment last year. I haven't even started an essay that was due last week. I wanted to finish on time, but I don't know if I'll make it. At this point, I just want it over with. Depression sucks every little bit of joy from the things in life you care about. I don't want to write about feminism, and I don't want to write papers and go to classes and have debates and think about Life After University, again. Like with my undergraduate, I have few friends in university. The false sense of security and hope I began to accumulate last year has broken into pieces now. I feel like an outsider on my own campus. 

I am on a steady diet of painkillers, anti-depressants, mood stabilisers and benzodiazepines. I make myself get out of bed, at least three or four days a week, before 10am. I eat meals regularly, for the most part. I spend most of my time alone. I tell the voice in my head that there are no such things as safe foods and unsafe foods, that all bodies are good bodies, and that I will not put my fingers down the back of my throat even though it's all I can think of doing. I don't eat a varied diet, but at least I'm eating. Most of my meals are cereal or pasta and pesto. I spend too much money on food out.

The doctors tell me I am Coping Very Well. That there is nothing they could tell me to do that I don't do already. I take my medication, I eat, I sleep, I get out of bed, I shower, though not as much as I should. I see friends. I have a partner. I am close to my family. I have interests outside of my degree and I am about to start long-term individual psychotherapy. They are uncomfortable when I talk about the impact that being poor has on my mental health. My DLA plus my housing benefit does not even cover my rent. Over two thirds of my income goes on my rent. They do not like talking about money and they know very little about benefits. 

I continue to burst into tears at inappropriate moments. I've cried too many times to count in London Bridge station, when staff have been rude and dismissive and I'm in such agony that I can barely walk, never mind take the stairs. I've had panic attacks in bars full of people enjoying their Friday night, I've left events early because I'm suicidal and I've cursed the Jubilee line for being safe and having tube barriers at every platform. 

I am exhausted and I am anxious. I am in need of a higher dose of my sedative, but need to wait to see a psychiatrist. I keep committing to things, and then hiding in my room for a few days instead. I have started to avoid looking at my emails. I always have twenty tabs open, always have a list of things to do. 

I need people to be patient with me. I'm forever needing people to be patient with me, but I really mean it this time. Living with depression and anxiety is an experience common to many. But living with complex and severe mental illness, combined with a chronic pain and fatigue disorder, is different. 

My world has been grey for quite some time, and I don't know when the colour is going to come back into it. The cliched phrase 'you never know what someone is going through behind closed doors' comes to mind. 

I am still trying to choose life, but it's hard. I cannot see the end of the week, never mind the end of the year. When I turned 23 a few weeks ago, I sat awake in bed at midnight in disbelief. When I was 17 and returning to my A Levels after several months off, I told myself I would be dead by my own hand before 20. I simply did not want to be alive for much longer than that. And while I'm still trying to keep myself alive, I cannot express in words how difficult a task that is. 

Someone I follow on Twitter posted a graphic a few weeks ago, with the caption 'I imagine that this is what people who experience anxiety & depression must feel like'. I don't know this person, but they're a good few years older than me, at least. And I could not get my head around the fact that they had made it to that point in their life without experiencing any kind of depression. I cannot imagine a life like that. I daren't, because if I had lived a life without anxiety and depression, I cannot even begin to imagine the different place I would be in. 

Rather than ending, as so many posts like this do, by telling people who feel horrific what they should be doing, I'll give a few suggestions of what you could do to better support your chronically ill and depressed friends.

- Mental illness and ableism is part of a wider system of structural oppression in society. Do not forget this. Do not divorce this from your understanding of mental illness, stigma and treatment. There is a reason more black men are given medication rather than therapy, are sectioned at a much higher rate, and often given incorrect diagnoses of schizophrenia. White supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia play a massive part in why those who are unwell are prevented from getting better. The world is not built for people who are mentally ill, and it is doubly not built for those who are mentally ill and queer, mentally ill and black, etc. 

- Make it a regular part of your routine to tell the people in your life who you love that you love them. Normalise it. 
- Check in regularly with your depressed and disabled friends, and cut them some slack when they snap at you, or turn down your invitation out for the tenth time. Leaving the house is difficult.

- Ask what you can do in general to help someone. For instance, I rarely forget to take medication. But many people find taking medication difficult to remember to do, and so a daily text to remind someone to take their pills can be a massive help. 

- Be kinder to one another. So much recent unnecessary cruelty directed my way has had a much huger impact on my mental health than those responsible would imagine it would have. Next time you go to write that passive aggressive tweet, or that insulting Facebook comment, ask yourself if it's really necessary. 

- People with severe mental illness do not expect you to be able to make it better. Nor are you expected to understand. Personally, what I would like, is when I tell someone I'm incredibly anxious, that they do not leave me to it because they are scared of getting it wrong. Tell the person that you are there if they need anything, ask what you can do to help. You'll build up trust, slowly. If you're scared of trying to cope, imagine what they feel like.