Recent writing: Periods in Yarl’s Wood, and teenage feminist activism

I’ve been a little quiet on social media this month – largely because I’ve had my head down in various commercial and personal projects that I can’t post very much about. I spent a lot of November working on a ghostwriting project for a client who’s one of the most inspiring feminists I’ve ever met. She’s a woman with real strength, courage, and such a fiercely independent spirit, and it’s an honour to play a part in telling her harrowing story.

Meanwhile, my recent journalism work has followed some similarly feminist themes. In my first article for women’s health website The Femedic, I wrote about asylum seeking women’s experiences of having their period while detained in Yarl’s Wood. As I’ve written a million times before, detention is traumatic and unnecessary as it is. For already vulnerable women, painful periods, cheap sanitary towels, and a lack of suitable pain relief can add another layer of misery each month. Many thanks to my friends and sisters at Women for Refugee Women for their support in putting this article together.

25 November was the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) and the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. I remember as a young feminist (and still, often, as a slightly older feminist!) feeling utterly helpless in the face of such enormous global problems: domestic violence, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault, trafficking, and forced marriage. But I’ve also learned that little steps can mean a lot more than you might think. With that in mind, I wrote for Betty Collective about 16 ways that teenage feminists can get involved during the 16 days of activism – from signing petitions to fundraising, and attending Reclaim The Night marches.

This is the trauma of getting your period at Yarl’s Wood – for The Femedic:

“When you’re on your period, at the very least you want a clean environment, you want pads that are comfortable, and you want the freedom to eat what makes you feel better,” says Grace*, a 43-year-old refugee from Uganda.

Grace sought asylum in the UK after facing persecution and sexual violence in her own country because of her sexuality. She now has refugee status and the right to remain in this country, but in 2015 she was detained in the notorious Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre for seven months.

Described by the chief prisons inspector as “a place of national concern”, Yarl’s Wood is a Home Office detention centre run by private firm Serco. It houses up to 400 women, including refugees and asylum seekers, at any one time – ostensibly in order to deport them, but statistics show that three quarters of detainees, like Grace, are released back into the community to continue with their immigration cases.

Continue reading at The Femedic…

16 ways you can help end violence against women and girls – for Betty Collective:

Violence against women has never been more in the public eye, with what feels like a constant stream of allegations against everyone from Hollywood superstars to government ministers hitting the headlines. But, beyond high profile cases of sexual harassment and assault, violence against women is a much bigger, global issue, believed to affect around 1 in 3 women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

As a teenage feminist, it’s easy to feel totally helpless in the face of such massive problems – from female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, to rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence. But remember that every big change starts with lots of tiny steps.

Each year from the 25th November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) until 10 December (World Human Rights Day), UN Women organises 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. Here are 16 ways you can get involved…

Continue reading at Betty…

Recent writing: Fertility, how to be friends with a boy, and is a ‘relationship gap year’ ever ok?

Relationships were a pretty big theme of my work in October – from looking at the minefield of boy-girl friendships when you’re a teenager, to picking apart the complexities of dating, monogamy, and family planning in the modern world.

“What I wish I knew about fertility in my twenties” – for Cosmopolitan UK (online)

Nothing makes you feel old quite like reaching that point in your late 20s when, all around you, friends start to have babies. Gorgeous, gurgling, smiling babies, with soft skin and big, curious eyes you could drown in. But as much as I go gooey over the tiny outfits and the baby powder scent, the fact that my friends – people my age – are producing children also fills me with panic and dread.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of being a mum – one day – but right now I’m still so focussed on everything else in my life: building my career, travelling, getting a bit more life experience behind me. I’ve been happily married for more than three years, which for some people is enough to make me “ready”, but it just doesn’t feel like the right time.

Continue reading at Cosmo online…

Do You Need A Relationship Gap Year? – for Grazia Daily

Most of us know someone who’s had a dramatically transformative breakup experience: left their partner, quit their job, travelled the world, started their own business, taken up an outrageous hobby, got a tattoo, found religion, or some other life-changing new pursuit. There’s something about coming out of a long-term relationship – once you’ve passed the moping with ice cream phase – that really seems to ignite a spark and fuel people’s passions.

But what if you could find that energy for self-discovery without a breakup? What if we took inspiration from the student backpackers and career sabbatical takers, and just had a ‘relationship gap year’ every now and then? That’s just one of the questions posed by comedian and author Rosie Wilby in her new book Is Monogamy Dead?: Rethinking Relationships in the 21st Century. We sat down with Rosie to talk about love, sex, fidelity, and how to fix our troubled modern relationship with monogamy.

Rosie’s book is the end result of her trilogy of comedy shows exploring just how complicated dating and relationships have become. ‘I think monogamy is harder these days,’ she says. ‘Dating, monogamy, marriage, even the labels people give themselves in terms of gender or sexual orientation – it’s all so complex now. There are so many different ideas about who we are, and I think ultimately we’re in quite complex times for settling down.’

Continue reading at Grazia Daily…

How to actually be just good friends with a boy – for Betty

Let’s talk about boys. Honestly, sometimes it can feel like they’re on a totally different planet but, the older I get, the more I appreciate the loyal, funny, caring (and occasionally totally stupid) guys in my life.

My first ever best friends were both boys, so I guess I had a bit of a head start. As soon as you start school though, the gender stereotypes kick in hard. You’re told “girls do this”, “boys do that”, and so neat little same-sex friendship circles form around netball vs. football, dance vs. cricket (what a load of BS, we know).

By the time you’re a teenager, those separate groups are pretty well established – and then being just good friends with a boy gets reeeeally complicated by silly gossip, hormones, and unfortunate crushes.

But the thing about boys is they’re not actually as different from us as they might sometimes seem. Forget pretty much all rom-coms, and the rubbish you’ve been told about how boys and girls can never really be “just good friends”. They totally can, and why the hell shouldn’t they?

Continue reading at Betty…

Balance: October 2017

Another month, another belated update. But I’m going to keep this one short and sweet, because frankly October’s been too good to ruin by trying to put into words.

My plan for the month was to finally reconnect with the real world, after nine months preoccupied by my own little bubble of stuff. In reality though, October passed by in a fairytale of DIY, gym classes, and cosy evenings in. Okay, perhaps not your classic fairytale – but it really has felt like a whole new world.

October was a month of family and friends; fresh air and green spaces; spa days and DIY days; making the most of our new local leisure centre; and enjoying the peace and quiet of our new life. Outside of all that, the real world has felt too grim, too overwhelming, and too traumatic to engage with – and so I haven’t, really.

Shutting out everything from Weinstein to Westminster, I’ve quite happily sunk into the warmth and comfort of suburban grown-up life: cooking and yoga classes with my 17-year-old sister, tea and cake with our lovely new neighbours, and a long weekend at Center Parcs Woburn Forest with the family.

I’ve crunched my way happily and aimlessly through the autumn leaves, I’ve loved finally having a workspace all of my own, and I’ve relished watching my cats eagerly explore the freedom beyond our back door.

After months of attempting (and miserably failing) to run before I could walk, my body is finally strong enough to get back into the exercise regime that I’ve so badly needed. There’s been swimming, badminton, yoga, Pilates, Body Balance, aqua yoga, spinning, so much walking, and it’s made the most enormous difference to both my mental and physical health.

I’m more energised, more motivated, and everything just feels easier. Who knew that a life of herbal tea, gentle strolls, and lunchtime Pilates classes would suit me so much better than the gin, takeaways and self-pity that dominated the first half of this year? Sure, reality probably beckons again in November, but October was absolute perfection.

 

Recent writing: My Mad Fat Interview With Rae Earl

7 things Rae Earl wants you to know about mental health

I recently had the opportunity to interview one of my heroes: author, feminist, and badass mental health advocate Rae Earl.

Rae’s iconic memoir My Mad Fat Diary , and the TV series it inspired (both brilliant – do check them out if you haven’t already!) have been so influential in shaping pop culture discussions around teenage life with mental illness.

Her latest book for teenagers,  was published in August. It’s an absolute bible of teenage mental health issues, covering depression, self-harm, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, drugs, alcohol, relationships, and absolutely everything a young woman might need to know about keeping her mind well.

I interviewed Rae for teen magazine Betty, and we had such a giggle together. You can read an extract below, or click to read our interview in full.

7 things Rae Earl wants you to know about mental health

Now, ten years after letting us all read her teenage diaries, Rae’s latest book is part memoir, part guide to all things mental health. It’s packed full of everything she wishes she’d known when she was your age, with medical expertise thrown in by Radio 1’s Dr Radha.

We sat down with Rae to get the lowdown on It’s All In Your Head: A Guide To Getting Your Sh*t Together, the book she describes as “a brain beanbag, to have as a reference by your bed, and flop into whenever you want”.

So what are the top seven things that she hopes you’ll take away from It’s All In Your Head?

Everything can be survived

“Basically everything can be survived, and you can get through it. Just give yourself time,” Rae says – and she’s living proof. “As a teenager I was very embarrassed about being on a psychiatric ward, and mental health issues don’t usually get better over night. Most conditions have to be managed throughout our lives, but I’ve reached this age now where I’m fine to talk about those things.”

Everyone is struggling, and you don’t have to do it alone

“Everybody thinks they’re a freak, everybody’s struggling, even the people who seem to be swimming through all cocky; everybody’s having a crisis. Nobody’s perfect or got it all together. I was going to say it’s that age, but actually it’s just life – I’m 46 and I’m still winging it!” Rae laughs. “When I was at school, we never had that conversation. But if we’d had that chat, that feeling of intense alienation and loneliness could have been alleviated,” she adds.

“I think if I’d felt able to have those chats with my friends, I would have felt far less lonely, and far more able to make change, because I wouldn’t have felt so disabled by the fact I was on my own. I denied myself so much, and absolutely invalidated myself from life – it was all such a waste. Having that chat would have been so important to me, I think I would have said yes to a lot more.”

Be careful about over-sharing online

“It’s a cliché, but the biggest thing that’s changed since I was a teenager is social media,” Rae says. “If I imagine putting social media into my life at that point, I don’t think I would have managed that well at all. I would have over-shared and that would have left me vulnerable. I think it would have exacerbated my problems with my body more. But then, on the flip side, perhaps seeing other people share their experiences would have helped me accept it,” she adds.

“My diary was private, it was a place to vent everything I felt in a perfectly safe space – so I think I had more freedom to make enormous mistakes without it going viral. Now we share so much, but you do still need to have somewhere private and safe.”

Continue reading at Betty…

Recent writing: Egg freezing, and periods on the pill

A couple more sexual/reproductive health pieces from last month. My latest for Grazia Daily looked at everything you need to know about egg freezing – from the cost and success rates, to the risks involved. September also saw my first three commissions for online teen girls’ mag betty.me, including an article on everything you need to know about how going on the pill affects your periods.

What Is Egg Freezing? – for Grazia Daily:

Egg freezing, or cryopreservation, is a fertility treatment used to collect, preserve and store a woman’s eggs, so they can be used to make a baby later on in her life. It was originally developed for women with certain medical conditions, or who are undergoing particular treatments (such as chemotherapy), which can damage your natural fertility. By freezing their eggs before treatment, patients have the opportunity to try for a family once they’ve fully recovered from their condition.

These days, ‘elective’ or ‘social’ egg freezing is also increasingly used for lifestyle reasons, if a woman isn’t ready to have children straight away but wants to keep her fertility options open for the future. Fertility naturally begins to decline around the age of 35, so having your eggs frozen while you’re young means they’re better quality and could help prolong your fertility if you plan on starting your family at a slightly older age.

6 things you need to know about periods on the pill – for Betty:

Gone on the pill because your skin is playing up, or your periods are reaaaaally heavy? It can be a bit of a lifesaver, tbh. But if you’ve still got a load of questions about how it affects your body, or what happens to your monthly flow when you’re taking it, look no further. Here’s everything you NTK…

The pill stops you ovulating

The most common way the pill works is by stopping your ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation). You’ll probably remember from biology that periods happen each month if an egg is released but not fertilised, so when the pill stops your ovaries from releasing an egg each month, it technically means you don’t get periods at all.

There’s usually still a bleed though (sorry!)

Even though you don’t get a real period, you’ll still experience monthly bleeding that’s similar to having your period.

Continue reading at Betty…

Balance: September 2017

New chapters

I’ve always loved September. There’s something a little magical about that back-to-school feeling: new pens, fresh notebooks, new opportunities to explore, and the chance to start over. The new academic year has always felt ripe with possibilities for reinvention and discovery – and, as my birthday falls in September, it also marks a new year in my life.

So, it’s always very much been a month of new chapters for me, and this year was no exception. Instead of a new school or university year, what September 2017 had in store was my biggest new chapter to date: moving from our little east London flat – our first home together – to a proper grown-up house with stairs, a garage, a downstairs loo, and a garden, and settling into our brand new life in the suburbs.

Of course, in keeping with the theme of MY YEAR SO FAR, not much about that new chapter actually worked out according to my plans. But we got there in the end!

Moving and leaving

September was stressful, beyond all the usual stress of moving house, and probably also my least balanced month of the year to date. I worked like a Trojan, and I spent virtually every spare minute packing up the flat, or chasing the solicitor, or crying in frustration. I did very little else. There was no reading, except Sue Perkins’ delightful memoir Spectacles, which was wonderful company once I finally managed to relax. There was no exercise, except anxious and irritable pacing. And I stress-ate approximately seven million calories over the course of the month.

I think this must be the latest of all the monthly updates I’ve posted this year and, for all the same reasons, I’m also going to keep it the shortest. We ended up completing on the purchase of our house at 5pm on my birthday, after roughly three weeks of stress and delays. We had just enough time for celebratory pizza, prosecco, and negligible sleep before – less than 12 hours after moving in – we had to leave for Gatwick at 4.30am.

In all fairness, we had a lovely week in Italy with my in-laws, staying not far from Venice and enjoying plenty of wonderful Italian wine, pasta, pizza, and gelato. But the timing really could not have been less ideal. For the first two days I found it completely impossible to relax. I sat on the beach, registering for council tax and ordering appliances on my iPhone; I text my brother, who was house sitting, requesting updates on the house and the cats roughly every ten minutes (neurotic, me?); and I continued my pattern of not really sleeping for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Coming home

Then I crashed. On our third night, I slept for ten blissful hours and, having caught up on sleep, I did manage to chill out a bit and enjoy myself for the rest of the week. We had a beautiful day exploring Venice, several days doing as little as possible, and then got back to our new house, ready to start our new chapter, with just five hours left of September. It was exactly as we’d left it – full of boxes and chaos – but I’ve never been so pleased to come home. Bring on the next chapter…

World Mental Health Day: Perfectionism, financial anxiety, and what it’s really like to be sectioned

Today, 10 October, is World Mental Health Day. This year’s WMHD has a theme of workplace wellbeing, and also sees the launch of Natasha Devon’s latest campaign, The Mental Health Media Charter, which I’m proud to support.

Here are a few of my recent articles on mental health – exploring perfectionism, the anxieties around financial uncertainty, and what it’s really like to be sectioned…

Following on from my MHT article on the Mental Health Act, in September I wrote for NetDoctor about what it’s really like to be sectioned as a psychiatric patient under the Act. Many thanks to Andrea, Kate and Alika for speaking to me so candidly about their experiences, and to Rethink Mental Illness for connecting us.

For The Debrief, I wrote about a recent study into perfectionism as a risk factor for suicide. Perfectionism is particularly associated with young, high achieving women, so I looked into the impact it can have on mental health – from anxiety and depression to eating disorders and OCD. Thank you to self-confessed perfectionists Lizzie and Sam (not her real name) for chatting to me, and to psychologist Dr Nihara Krause, who shared her expertise in clinical perfectionism.

Finally, I wrote for Nationwide Building Society about the links between money trouble and mental health problems, and what customers can do to tackle financial anxiety.

This is what it’s really like to be sectioned – for NetDoctor:

Mental Health Act

Mental health is on the agenda more than ever before. While there’s still plenty of work to be done, many of us now feel increasingly comfortable talking about common issues like mild to moderate depression and anxiety, and their impact on our everyday lives. But more complex and severe mental health conditions remain heavily stigmatised, particularly when they involve patients being detained and forcibly treated under the Mental Health Act – known as sectioning.

47-year-old Canadian Andrea has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and has been sectioned several times since moving to the UK when she was 23. The first time, she recalls: “I had been given antidepressants, ignoring the fact that a proportion of us with bipolar cannot take antidepressants. I became psychotic within 48 hours.”

Continue reading at NetDoctor…

Is Your Perfectionism Affecting Your Mental Health? – for The Debrief:

‘Perfectionism affects every aspect of my life in some way or another. I have to be perfect in every way, shape or form,’ says 23-year-old Sam*. ‘I set very high standards for myself, and if I don’t reach them – which 99 percent of the time I don’t because they’re impossible – I then attack and belittle myself over it.’

Sound familiar? Perfectionism can affect anyone, but it’s particularly associated with young, high-achieving women – whether it’s a constant need to look flawless, or staying hours late at the office to tinker with that one piece of work that’s not quite spot-on.

We might think of it as a fairly harmless personality quirk – just ‘being a bit anal’ – but perfectionism can actually have a pretty sinister impact on your long-term mental health. The Journal of Personality recently published the most comprehensive study of its kind into perfectionism as a risk factor for suicide, concluding that ‘self-generated and socially based pressures to be perfect’ make people more susceptible to suicidal thoughts.

How to cope with financial anxiety – for Nationwide Building Society:

For a long time, mental health has been associated with serious, long-term mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But we all have mental health, and it’s affected constantly by the pleasures and stresses of everyday life, from money and work, to family and relationships.

Financial uncertainty – whether it’s the threat of redundancy, or an out of control debt – can take a huge toll on your mental health, leading to common issues like stress, depression and anxiety.

The impact of this can be huge, not only on your personal and family life, but also on your career. Work-related stress accounts for 45% of all working days lost to illness (This link will open in a new window) in the UK – and struggling at work is a sure-fire way to sink into the vicious cycle of financial anxiety.

But there are simple, practical steps you can take to cope with financial anxiety and regain a sense of control.

Continue reading at Nationwide…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: Pay rises, travel visas, and women’s jobs in the Army

In August and September I worked on a project with Closer magazine’s online team, sponsored by the Army, exploring the experiences of four women with jobs in the forces. Opportunities to travel and the lack of a gender pay gap stood out as big career perks for all the women I spoke to, as well as an impressive range of sports and adventure training.

Sticking with the themes of jobs and travelling, I also wrote a couple of ‘how to’ pieces for The Debrief – one looking at how to get a visa for various popular travel destinations, and the other asking: ‘how the hell do you negotiate a payrise?’

Ask An Adult: How The Hell Do I Ask For A Payrise? – for The Debrief:

Talking about salaries is an absolute minefield – whether it’s sussing out if the guys in your office are earning more than you and your female colleagues, or trying to plan a holiday with friends who are all on totally different incomes. And when it comes to negotiating a pay rise, many of us feel completely clueless about the etiquette. Is there a right or wrong time to ask? How do you even start that conversation? And how the hell do you persuade your boss to say yes?

Young women in particular typically lack confidence when it comes to this kind of negotiation – and the odds may even be stacked against us. Research published last year found that while men and women are equally likely to ask for a pay rise, women are less likely to be successful than their male peers. So just what is making it so difficult for us to get what we’re worth at work?

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Everything You Need To Know About Getting A Visa – for The Debrief:

If you’re anything like me, the absolute best bit about travelling outside of Europe is collecting passport stamps from each new country you visit. Sadly though, the flip side of that is remembering to check entry requirements and sort out visas before you fly – and who hasn’t had that last minute, ‘shit, visa!’ panic three hours before leaving for the airport? To make sure you’re organised and prepared well in advance of your travels, here’s our guide to getting a visa for some of the most popular holiday destinations.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Being a woman in the Army – for Closer online (sponsored by the Army):

Being a woman in the Army: From joining the Reserves to travelling the world

Just finished school and don’t fancy uni? Well a job in the ARMY could be for you! Here’s why…

Being a woman in the Army: 10 years of adventure and opportunity

Being a woman in the Army: Raising a young family


Recent writing: the London floristry project helping refugee women

Bread and Roses: supporting refugee women

I’ve had lots of work published in September, including writing on sexual health, mental health, work, and lots more. But I wanted to share this article separately, as it’s one I’m especially proud of. After writing for The Guardian about my godson and his refugee mother back in July, I went on to write a feature for them about an incredible project, Bread and Roses, which I also discovered through my work with Women for Refugee Women (WRW).

Bread and Roses is a social enterprise that teaches refugee women floristry and employability skills, helping to boost their confidence and get them back into work. I’ve seen firsthand the difference it’s made to the lives of women from WRW’s network, so it was a real privilege to chat to them and some of their newly trained florists. There’s a snippet below, and you can read the article in full at The Guardian.

One of Bread and Roses' refugee florists

I’ve never had the chance to build a career. I was a student when my traffickers brought me here and then, as an asylum seeker, I wasn’t allowed to work,” explains 37-year-old Monica from Ghana. “Now I’ve got leave to remain, I’ve felt anxious about throwing myself straight into full-time employment,” she adds.

It’s a challenge facing many refugees in the UK who, regardless of their professional backgrounds, often find themselves up against language barriers, loss of confidence, CV gaps, and a lack of UK work experience.

But one all-female social enterprise is aiming to overcome all that, providing refugee women with the practical and emotional skills to blossom in the workplace. Hackney-based Bread and Roses offers a seven-week floristry programme, teaching trainees how to create everything from floral bouquets to Christmas wreaths.

It is inspired by the principle of Rose Schneiderman’s 1912 feminist speech of the same name, which argued that low-paid women need more than just practical necessities to survive, but also dignity, respect and the opportunity to flourish.

For women such as Monica, its benefits go far beyond the practical skills: “I loved working with the plants, particularly calming lavender and stimulating eucalyptus. But I also learned social skills like networking, working as a team and not being afraid to ask for help,” she says.

“I was already interested in floristry, but I’ve never been green-fingered so I didn’t think I’d have the skills. Building my knowledge, and being prepared to make mistakes and learn from them, has made me realise that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and have the right support network around you,” she adds.

Continue reading at The Guardian…