How to be more lucky!

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Do you ever think you’re a bit of an unlucky charm? Always arriving at red lights, watching the bus pull away or dropping your iPhone on the way back from getting the screen fixed? Sometimes it seems we’re just darned unlucky, and I thought I could give you a few words of advice.

First, I need to tell you a quick story.

Last week I was flying back from visiting my second family in Malaga. I’d had a great week trekking horses out through the Sierra Nevada mountains, drinking way too much wine at my friend’s bar and scoffing Mexican food down my gob with the girls. It had been brilliant.

After a long day’s journey, my bus creaked up to the airport, so I hopped out and went inside to check-in. Here’s the catch. When I got to the front of the queue I realised I’d left my passport on the bus, which was probably hurtling back to Granada as I frantically patted down my empty pockets.

Shit shit shit shit shit.

‘WHY DOES EVERYTHING GO WRONG FOR ME?!’

I sprinted back towards where the bus had dropped me in a futile hope it would still be there. In my stress I went catapulting off in the wrong direction and ended up in an airport carpark for 20 minutes as I went up and down and up and down and up and down in the lift, my hands shaking as they slammed on the lift buttons. My phone was dead, so I couldn’t call anyone for advice.

What must have been an hour after being dropped I made it back to the bus stop and the bus was unbelievably still there… but it was locked and switched off… JUST MY LUCK. Eventually, after running around like a mad chicken and finding someone who worked for the bus company to track down the drivers number, I managed to get the passport back and sprinted through security to get my flight on the last boarding call… how unlucky!

Now I’m going to tell you the same story.

After the most amazing week with people I love, I got the bus to the airport. I hopped off and went inside. Luckily, my phone had died so rather than going through all of security, I realised my passport was on the bus as soon as I went to get my pass printed.

I was stressed and ran to the car park but luckily a nice member of staff saw I was lost and pointed me in the right direction and wished me luck. A little girl smiled at me reassuringly and it touched me a lot. I was so lucky the bus was still there, it wouldn’t have been if my phone wasn’t dead. What’s more, rather than queuing for a long time at the bus company help desk, a thoughtful lady realised I was stressed and let me skip the queue.

I was so lucky the lady working was helpful and efficient and tracked down the driver straight away, and lucky he was kind and helpful enough to get on his hands and knees and scrabble around for my passport with me.

I was lucky a sweet young man called Waldo noticed my phone was dead as I searched and grabbed a charging port out his bag to save me time getting through security, and that he made me laugh and kept me calm when we went through the bus. I’m lucky he did these things out of kindness not wanting anything from me, and I’m so lucky the airport wasn’t busy, so I made it to the plane quickly.

I’m lucky I speak fluent Spanish, so communication was easy and lucky I know the airport well. I’m also lucky it was the worst thing that happened all week, and that even if I hadn’t found the passport I have enough money to have stayed somewhere safe and never doubted that. How many wonderful people and happy chances;  I was so bloody lucky!

You see, there’s no such thing as good or bad luck; your approach to life is what matters.

Keep your eyes wide open to see the wonderful moments and opportunities that practically fling themselves at you every day, or don’t. It’s up to you but I know I’d rather feel like the universe was on my side than that I’m fighting an uphill battle – it’s all down to how you tell your story.

On self worth; am I good enough?

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You are valuable. We don’t tell ourselves that often enough, and sometimes it hurts.

We live in a society which convinces us that we aren’t enough. Not thin enough, pretty enough, clever enough, kind enough. Constant academic pressure, airbrushed bill boards and social media comparison will inevitably make our self-belief waver sometimes.

But what really hurts the most, is when we let other people’s opinion of us hold power. She doesn’t like me… he thinks I’m a bitch… she doesn’t want to hang out with me… The thoughts feel like a stab right in the gut. It is so easy to believe people’s misconceptions of you, and I just want to let you know that you’re doing ok.

Only you know you. Only you know the kindness in your heart, or the compassion in your mind. Only you know the painful feelings and thoughts that sometimes make you stumble, or the small victories that help you prosper and thrive.

Every single human being has got positive and negative sides to their personalities, and both these positives and negatives help you on your life journey to develop and grow. The only thing that matters is that your heart is in the right place, and if things go wrong sometimes and people misunderstand your intentions, that does not mean that you are not valuable and good.

Every single person has something about them worth loving and celebrating, and no one apart from you has any permission or right to make you believe less of yourself. You are doing so well, and you should be so proud of yourself.

A couple of quick ideas to help you with your self-worth:

  • Try getting a little diary and writing down one thing everyday that you are proud of, even if its tiny like, ‘I made the effort to smile at people in my class today.’
  • Try meditating – particularly check out guided meditations which relate to self-compassion. The free app Insight Timer is totally fantastic and has transformed my life.
  • Spend time with people who make you feel good. If spending time with some people makes you feel less secure and valuable, then step away and redirect your time and attention to people who help you to glow and thrive.

Found this useful?

Why not check out some more of my blogs:

A tablet a day keeps depression at bay

What should I say? How to support a loved one with depression

Meditation as an alternative to therapy?

Have I had sex with too many people?!

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Navigating the social politics around sex is confusing at the best of times. Still a virgin? Oh, you prude! Having regular sex? What a slut! (Unless you’re a man, in which case you’re a legend.)

Are one-night stands liberating or humiliating?  How many can you have before you’re just easy? How many people should we have had sex with by now?

Fear not my friends, the wait is over.

You have not had sex with too many people. You have not had sex with too few. You have had sex with just the right amount of people because you did what you needed to or wanted to do at that moment in time. Think of yourself as Goldilocks and your sex life as baby bear. No. Actually, don’t.

If you are reading this article because you feel anxious or unsure about your number of sexual partners, you can take a breather for a bit whilst you work out what you want. But the number of people you have gone to bed with has absolutely 0 reflection on your worth or value.

Worry about your family and friends. Worry about being compassionate, kind and authentic. Worry about politics, the environment and global injustice… Worrying about the number of notches on your bedpost deserves a pretty low place on your list of concerns.

Some of us like to have one-night stands, no strings attached and do whatever feels natural. Others want to take things slow and wait until you feel the right level of trust and love. Both are fine, and the only person you have to prove anything to is yourself.

Another thing. If you started off wanting to have casual fun and then began to feel weird about it, its OK to change your mind. You don’t want to do hook ups anymore? No problem girl, I’m glad you gave yourself the experiences and time to figure that out. How is anyone supposed to know what they want without a few false runs.

Not of all us like waking up after a night out with a blonde guy you’re pretty sure is called Alex. One-night stands are a drunken fumble at the best of time and I’ve never heard a friend raving about how fantastic their night with the guy from pre-drinks was. Its usually a little bit awkward but kind of okay, nothing to write home about. (Thankfully for your parents)

But if you like to have sex and it makes you feel good, don’t stop for some distorted sense of what you should be doing. Life is short and sweet, so meet judgement with a knowing smile and live your life for you.

If you have sex with 1 person or 1000 people in your life, both are absolutely fine. Check in with your subconscious and if you feel comfortable and good about what you are doing then don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Mental Health and Racism; the West is getting it wrong

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Credit: visionsteen

Earlier this year I went to a talk about Black Masculinity and Mental Health and Leeds Uni.

A couple of interesting points worth sharing:

 

The British approach to mental health is intrinsically racist

As we know, police disproportionately target young black men for stop and search. In the 80’s, when legislation made it more difficult for police to stop black men without a reason, the mental health act was widely used in order to justify unfair targeting of black people. An official police reason for stopping black men in the street was suspected ‘ganja psychosis’. Not kidding!

The mere fact of being black was ‘enough’ reason to stop a black man in the street for fears he might be psychotic as a result of the devil’s lettuce. If you look through records around this time you will not find an example of a white person being diagnosed with this ‘disease’, also named RASTOFRANIA. Seriously, this happened.

Flash forward to the 90s. Malcolm, the black mental health worker who explained this to me had worked for the ‘upstairs project’ in London for 5 years, where suicidal or mentally ill people could get referred over for emergency treatment from a London hospital. In these 5 years, EVERY SINGLE PERSON referred to the project was white. Malcolm explained this stems from the idea of a black person as a threat needing to be detained, versus a hysterical white person needing understanding and treatment. People of color have less access to resources and treatment.

When Malcolm studied human psychology at Leeds University (admittedly over 30 years ago) racism was intrinsic to the curriculum. Of 8000 students at the time only 4 of them at the uni weren’t white. What’s more, he had to sit through classes in which lecturers explained the innate inferiority of black people compared to white people, which could explain why black people are suffering more pressures like poverty, unemployment and mental health problems.

We aren’t talking hundreds of years ago, we’re talking the 80s.

The West Can Learn a Lot from Africa

Western approaches to mental health are unique in ignoring the spiritual world. African approaches to depression and anxiety are more likely to acknowledge that when all is said and done, human beings are searching for meaning in our lives and relationships. This search for meaning is intertwined with mental health problems.

Traditional African approaches acknowledge that mental health and well being are about so much more than measuring serotonin levels. Of course, medication and psychotherapy can be useful to many, but white culture has broken the issues down in such a way that depression is more and more a scientific problem to be fixed in a sterile hospital room, rather than considering holistic approaches such as meditation, reflection, nature, yoga and lifestyle changes.

Thank you so much for reading – hope you found this an interesting conversation starter!

Mansplaining, womansplaining, or just plain rude?

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credit: Kaye Blegvad

‘When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression’

I first heard that quote a couple of weeks ago and it really spoke to me. You see, I am a person who thinks a lot about women’s rights and I am occasionally met with quite hostile responses by some men.

I write about why we need feminism, the structural nature of violence against women, and I ask why only 12% of women think they are attractive (irish times) (and why we are made to believe our ‘beauty’ should even matter!)

I recently read Solnit’s ‘Men explain things to me’ in which she spoke about the concept (that she coined herself) – mansplaining.

Solnit was telling a gentleman about a book she had recently written and he smirked at her smugly ‘did you know a very important book was written on that exact same subject recently’

Yes. It had. It was her bloody book you patronising moron.

You know what hurts the most? That Solnit hesitated. An educated, experienced woman who had spent years researching for a book and she didn’t immediately realise this trollop would be talking about her book. She thought ‘oh god how did I miss that a similar book has just come out.’

You see us women are very good at doubting ourselves. In Jess Phillips’ fantastic book called ‘One women’s truth about speaking the truth’ she explained that a woman wouldn’t feel qualified enough to apply for a job even if she met more than 90% of the requirements. Men on the other hand characteristically apply for jobs where they don’t even meet 50% of the criteria.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Confidence is key and there’s no shame in being bold. But there is a reason why women are less likely to put themselves forward, and it comes from the structural ‘shushing’ and underestimation that we receive from a minority of our male peers, which hammers in the ideas that we are ‘frauds’ in the work place and don’t feel we have a right to ask for more, or even want it.

‘Mansplaining’ is a big part of this. Lily Rothman of The Atlantic defines it as “explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman”

Mansplaining isn’t the same as being patronising or rude. It is called ‘mansplaining’ because it is specifically gender-related, ‘rooted in a sexist assumption that a man will normally be more knowledgeable than a woman.’

The patronizing manner of mansplaining crushes any further dialogue.

This phenomenon is something that millions upon millions of women can identify with. It is something that women experience daily. We are constantly faced with the decision of biting our tongues to avoid conflict, or to speak up against the routine silencing of women’s knowledge, which is literally going on all the time.

It doesn’t matter about our age, wealth, career, experiences: women get mansplained to all the time. It is about gender and we have experienced it for thousands of years.

Recently, someone commented on one of my blogs, complaining I was tarring all men with an unfair brush and said he experienced ‘womensplaining’ all the time at work. I’m sorry someone has been rude to him, and it really could be linked to gender, but I would argue that the term ‘womensplaining’ is laughable, and insulting to the millions of women going through mansplaining.

A woman can explain things and she can do it patronisingly. A women can be annoying and rude. A woman can be a pain in the arse.

You know what else? A man can be kind. He can be supportive, uplifting and inspirational. The vast majority of men are wonderful people. But the difference is that the small minority of men who do mansplain and underestimate women, are having a huge impact on so many people through their behaviour.

How many women have avoided using their voice because they knew they’d be laughed at and silenced? It chills me to think.

I believe that ‘womansplaining’ is an inappropriate term that goes to console men who don’t like hearing criticism and shoot back a counter word as a protective shield. Ironically, the men who are less able to accept the idea that women are disadvantaged in society, are the exact people that need to understand the reality.

Us women naturally question ourselves and doubt ourselves more than men, because society has taught us to do exactly that. A little boy will be told he’s showing leadership qualities when a little girl acting the same way will be called bossy.

A woman demanding justice in government is more likely to be called hysterical where a man would be called passionate. There is a systematic ‘shushing’ of women’s voices that needs to be addressed. It’s not just about a person being a bit rude, it’s about illegitimating women’s knowledge and structural disempowerment.

According to the Independent, ‘mansplaining’ can lead to men earning more than women and getting more promotions, and that’s something that all reasonable people want to avoid. (Independent)

The gender pay gap continues to thrive and that isn’t ok. This is largely because society has taught men to ‘overestimate their intelligence to a much greater extent than women” (American Psychological Organization)

I’m not blaming modern men, society has developed to silence women over thousands of years and many men are up to fight this just as much as women and LGBT+ people.

I am saying it’s not ok.

High status politicians and business people continue to be majority men, women continue to take on the majority of caring roles at the expense of their career and free time. We need to acknowledge that there is so much progress still to make, and that mansplaining is one of many means used to disempower and undermine women.

If this article has interested you, why not read:

Modern Slavery; an interview with a diamond dealer and the truth about your tech

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credit: weddingbee.com

I’ve always said if someone proposes to me with a diamond ring then the answer would have to be no. It would show that the person doesn’t know me at all.

2 reasons:

  1. For me, a diamond represents capitalism at its worse. Diamonds are bought relatively cheaply from the mines, and it isn’t until they are cut that they are worth so much. And where do diamonds get cut? Generally, in the West. So, as is classic with capitalist markets, the people working to get the product are paid next to nothing, the West buys it cheap then sells it for huge profit, making a few wealthy people in the West richer and richer whilst people in the mines have a daily struggle to survive.
  2. Then comes the slavery. Many of us have seen ‘Blood Diamond,’ a fiction film which explores the world of the diamond mines in Sierra Leone. It deals with very real and very serious issues. Blood diamond workers, also known as conflict diamonds workers, are slaves who work in diamond mines in areas which are controlled by rebel forces, who are against the legitimate government. The profits made from selling the diamonds goes towards weaponry and furthering their agenda of war, therefore leading to wide spread bloodshed. What’s more the conditions for slaves in mines are horrific. Many are kidnapped and tortured, beaten, raped, drugged and murdered. Many children are enslaved to dig for diamonds, particularly in African countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and the Republic of Congo. According to the World Bank and the United Nations approximately 3 million people have died in relation to conflict diamond mining. To me it seems gross that a man, woman or child has bled, sweat and despaired over the sparkly gem that so many of treasure on our finger. Seems weird that it’s a symbol for love and commitment as the classic engagement ring.

So. I was surprised on a recent flight from Brussels to Madrid when I got chatting to the man next to me. We spoke about society, environment and politics and we had had similar views on a lot of things. He was educated and seemed kind and concerned about equality. After a while, he mentioned that he is a gemmologist, and sources diamonds for European companies..

‘Oh.’ I said. ‘How do you find a place for your social and political beliefs in an industry that’s so heavily linked to slavery and the abuse of the developing world by the west?’

Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but I do like to jump straight in…

Juan took it in his stride and smiled thoughtfully. ‘I guess they never made a Hollywood film about your iPhone?’

He had a point.

You see iPhones (all smartphones and laptops in fact) contain a mineral called coltan. Meanwhile, in the last 20 years, 7 million people have died in a civil war in the democratic republic of Congo. Today, members of rebel forces as well as corrupt government soldiers enslave children in the Congo to mine minerals essential to smartphones and other technology. (Huffington Post)

With Apple, it doesn’t end there. Once the raw materials reach Asia to be processed in factories the workers’ rights are just as disgusting. Apple uses a Foxconn plant, a factory which has been described as a ‘labour camp’ by local media. Here, so many workers were trying to commit suicide by jumping out of windows, that the factory responded by putting up suicide nets to catch them as they fell. Instead of reducing working hours that are 3 times the working limit or raising pitiful wages. Workers often sleep on factory floors and never get to see the sky. But we very rarely criticise Apple for that disgusting treatment of workers, even though the CEO Tim Cook has received $570 million worth of stocks in a single year alone. (Huffington Post)(Telegraph)

Then there’s your clothes. How many were made in sweat shops? I for one don’t know where all my clothes have come from. The convenience of cheap clothes off the high street is hugely integrated into my lifestyle.

Next? Food. King prawns are hugely linked to slavery. A recent guardian investigation found that supermarkets such as Tesco, Walmart, Carrefour and Costco has sourced Cheap Thai ‘king’ prawns which have been supplied by the work of violent slave labour. (Guardian)

Juan pointed out that though he condemned any slavery within the diamond industry, and elsewhere, that I was unable to criticise his choice to work in the diamond industry whilst I owned an iPhone and ate many common types of food, and shopped in many high street stores. Sadly, slavery is as integrated into human lifestyle now than it has ever been.

In fact, slaves are cheaper now than they have ever been. We can work this out by comparing the price of a slave to the price of land, grain and livestock throughout human history. Slavery is illegal in every country in the world but there are currently more slaves right now than there were in the entire history of the transatlantic slavery. (BBC) This can be through human trafficking and sex slavery, domestic labour, and people who are tricked into ‘jobs’ in farms or factories and then are not paid or permitted to leave.

Do you ever get your car cleaned at a hand car wash? Did you wonder why it costs only 4 pounds when you have up to 5 people simultaneously working on your car? And they’re mostly foreign, right? Passports stolen, without papers or with family threatened back home, they may not have another option.

Juan explained to me that in his professional opinion the diamond industry has evolved positively in recent years. With the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia all the biggest companies agreed to monitor and create policy for the rough diamond buying process. They now evaluate possible human rights violations to try and ensure companies aren’t involved in illegal activity such as money laundering. He told me that around 95% of diamond dealers and companies now completely refuse to work with blood diamonds. If they do, they are subject to strict international policy. This process is called the Kimberley process and you can read more about it here.

He thinks that the industry has a bad name due to Hollywood blockbusters like Blood Diamond and although it is never acceptable, there are so many industries in the modern world that violate human, animal and environmental rights. Industries such as the pharmaceutical, food, wood, mineral and textile industries have all got a lot to answer for. Juan tries to work within the second-hand market which gives him more peace of mind, and when he buys and sells within this market he feels he is contributing to create new jewels, meaning more jobs and good business for colleagues.

The conversation gave me a lot to think about, as I have always been so very anti-diamond, whilst checking my emails on an iPhone and popping to high street shops to cheaply update my wardrobe. Clearly, slavery is deeply integrated into modern society and we must do more to try and tackle this. Will it come down to governments tightening restrictions for big companies, or consumer choices forcing unethical companies out of business?

I suspect a balance between the two must be found. If you would like to know how many slaves are involved with your life you can do a quiz on slavery footprint, where you fill in some information about things your diet/lifestyle and it calculates how many slaves are working for you. Check it out here.

Currently, I’m feeling overwhelmed by all this information! If you have any ideas on how to reduce the slavery involved in your lifestyle, please write a comment on Facebook or below!

The masculinity of violence

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photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/685462005754608020/

I just popped into the bank to put some money into an account, and it ended up being a bit of a weird and uncomfortable experience. I breathed a sigh of relief as I left the hot July streets of Madrid and felt the cool whir of the air-conditioning touch my sweaty little face. I walked up to the machine.

Hey’ an angry voice said a couple of inches from my ear. I looked up in surprise to see a man of about 40 years old staring directly into my face. ‘I was here first.’

‘Oh,’ I said, genuinely surprised. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t see you’

He scoffed and elbowed me aside to get the machine.

Hey’ said a less angry and more bewildered voice, also male. It was another customer in the bank. ‘There is another machine right beside her.’

Clearly, I hadn’t pushed in after all. Man 1 mumbled something inaudible with his back to me. I repeated, ‘there’s another machine just there.’ Man 1 looked me up and down and raised his eyebrows, to show me he didn’t give a toss whether or not there was another machine, and he started using the machine he had pushed me away from. I stood there for a couple of minutes in surprise before I walked to the second machine.

Man 2 opened his mouth to say something but I shook my head at him, and smiled to show it didn’t matter. I didn’t want to ‘cause a scene’ as us women are so often accused of doing when a man exerts power over us.

Man 2 and I left the bank at the same time and he looked quite upset. ‘He was just a dickhead.’

‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘but I don’t think that would have happened if I wasn’t a girl.’

This is a small example of a man who belittled me and made me feel I had to back down, even though the tension was caused completely by him and was not my fault. He created a problem, and then made me feel that I had to keep quiet in order to keep things running smoothly.

But you know what? Billions of women are biting their tongues and smiling at a billion stupid little things every day, and it really does get quite tedious.

What’s the big deal? Perhaps you might ask. This guy was rude, but has it really got anything to do with gender?

I would argue that yes, it absolutely does. You see, I am reading a book at the moment called ‘Men Explain Things to Me,’ by Rebecca Solnit and it is really helping me see the big picture when these small aggressive acts take place.

In her chapter called ‘The longest war’ she explains the masculinity of violence, something which no one really seems to be talking about. For fear of being called a feminazi bra burner? Perhaps. Solnit explains that there are many lovely and kind men who are allies to women. For example, Man 2 could see that something wasn’t right and he spoke up and tried to help me.

However, there is a very clear and serious link between masculinity and violence against women that needs to be addressed. Solnit explains that there is ‘a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked’ and that ‘violence doesn’t have a race, class or religion, but it does have a gender.’

She explains that nearly all the perpetrators of violent crimes are men. That doesn’t mean that all men are violent. Most aren’t and many also suffer violence, though it is generally at the hands of other men. Of course, women also can be violent but the statistics do tell us that in the cases where women are involved in violence, particularly that against men, the consequences are not as grave and it rarely leads to serious injury or death. What’s more the majority of men who are killed by their female spouses are actually done so in self-defence

As Rebecca explains violence is all about exercising control over another person, showing them that you are more powerful than them. So, it is a serious human rights issue that a woman is beaten by her husband every 9 SECONDS, in America alone. Of the 2 million women that are beaten every year, 145,000 require overnight hospitalisation.

Violence is a form of control, and murder is carried out by men a shocking 90% of the time.

Like I explained, not all men are violent. Most men are kind are good and allies to women. However, it cannot be denied that violence is intrinsically linked to masculinity and if we don’t address this head on I don’t see how we can ever make progress towards a safer world for all people.

It does matter that the man in the bank pushed me away from the machine, because he was taking my power away. And, like society has taught me to do, I bit my tongue and smiled to avoid conflict, rather than recognising what he was really doing to me. He wasn’t really being rude in the bank, he was really showing me that he believed he had the right to control me and hold power over me.

Solnit explains how this kind of toxic idea that has been created in our society leads to the same death toll as for 9/11 every 3 years. But the women being murdered by men is a war on terror that we aren’t having. What’s more, this is a trap that not only disempowers women, but also traps men. We cannot really be free until we address this structural power dynamic which is effecting us all.

Thank you so much for reading. I really recommend reading the book ‘Men explains things to me,’ which was very enlightening, accessible and short. You can get it on amazon here