23 Things I learnt at 23 – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Due to unforeseen computer breakage I’ve been finding it difficult to blog recently. However, I will finish this series of blogs. So, here we go… lesson three. Which seems particularly apt given the state of our world at this time.

rebecca_van_ommen_hand_still_life_photography_closeupphoto credit to Rebecca Van Ommen Photography

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – a statement that should be used as often as possible. We grant ourselves far more leeway for our actions than we grant for others.

I am guilty of this, as I would argue are many others. How often have you given yourself forgiveness because you knew you deserved it e.g. when you snap at a loved one because you’ve had a long day at work, or when you lose patience at work or with your kids because of a personal issue like an argument with a spouse or bad traffic or just a tough few days. We then turn around and say “yeah, but I was having a bad day” “they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time” “but they don’t understand what I was going through.” But do we ever ask what they were going through? When someone cuts us up on a roundabout, before we honk our horn and curse them, do we wonder why they were in such a hurry and give them the benefit of the doubt? When someone insults us do we wonder if perhaps they have been feeling insecure and deserve forgiveness? Often, no. This is something I am learning more and more the older I get, I hope one day to master it.

Catch up and read my previous lessons below:

Lesson Two: Do not judge someone else’s decisions

Lesson One: We spend too much time at work to hate it

Living in a Shadow

I dithered for a while on what to call this blog because, really, I want this to be an opportunity for people to share their experiences and advice but shadowed is how I feel and sums up the ultimate issue – so, subtitle…

What to do when your boyfriend’s friends aren’t over the ex?

The number one rule in every relationship, never mention the ex. Yes, they come up in the beginning; the typical ‘magic number’ questions and just general back story that helps you get to know each other, but usually it ends there. So, what do you do when they just keep coming up, like the British Inflation Rate or the price of housing. Annoying right? And what if it’s not your boyfriend doing it but his friends?

Welcome to my current situation and theme of this super personal blog (snaps to my BF for letting me publish this).

As much as I am trying to be okay with the idea of them still seeing her there is a very clear line which should not be crossed, back to the ‘number one rule’, and I’m struggling to find a way to cope with it.

markus spiske             photo credit to Markus Spiske

Part of my struggle is that I know my friends would never sit and discuss exs in front of my current boyfriend, it’s disrespectful both to me, to my boyfriend and to our relationship. I don’t want my exs bought up, I mean I left them for a reason, and he certainly doesn’t want to know about them (human nature makes us territorial and insecure) and our relationship doesn’t need the shadows of previous relationships hanging around. The past is the past. I also know I would never do this, to my friends or to my boyfriend. There’s just no need IMO.

So, I was quite taken a back the first time my boyfriend’s ex fiancé was brought up in front of me by his friends. Particularly when the way it was brought up was with the words

“it’s just awkward you’re not her.”

Needless to say, I was devastated. I think as the new person in a group and as a new partner you worry you’re being judged anyway, and there is a small fear of being compared, but to hear people not only confirm you are being compared but that you are losing this strange competition, it casts a very big shadow over the relationship, over your self-esteem and over your confidence in being around these people.

I have confidence in my boyfriend that his ex is his ex and so our relationship has stayed mostly solid throughout. And, from what I do know, they are different people and are both seeing other people too, so I have no doubts about the security of my relationship. But, it doesn’t make their comments any less upsetting. Particularly when comments such as this were:

  1. The first time anyone had really spoken to me that night
  2. said on my birthday, there’s no better way to celebrate your birth than to be made to feel like your existence is uncomfortable for people. Happy birthday to me…

After the ‘awkward’ comments my boyfriend did speak to them about their behaviour and how I felt, and I have had a few conversations as well. We both assumed the air had been cleared and that things were going to change and after one very good night out with a few of them I really believed things were better and it was just a misunderstanding, the over-consumption of alcohol, or just a case of all finding our footing with each other. I like to believe that, for the most part, people never mean to do bad things.

So, when I was invited to a party with them all yes, I was a bit nervous, but no more so than when you meet anyone new that you want to like you. The first part of the day went well, we all seemed to be getting on and I started to relax, I was happy and felt relieved.

But a few hours in and it started. The ex was mentioned three times within the space of an hour and I began to feel a bit disheartened. I tried my best to shrug it off. She was going to come up, I couldn’t avoid that, and although I felt there were a few times she didn’t need to be mentioned I decided to try and not let it bother me.

Half an hour later we were all sat on the sofa watching TV when two of his friends began talking. That’s when things turned. One of the girls turned to the other and asked how the ex was doing – my heart sank. Not again. Not when I’m sat right here.

Honestly, I think part of the problem is that I don’t understand. I tried to understand when she came up in stories or general conversation, I wasn’t happy with it but I tried to be. But to outright sit there and want to talk about her in front of me? No one should be forced to sit and listen to conversations like that. It’s unnecessary. Save it for private messaging, save it for a time you’re not in my company, or just leave the room and talk properly, away from me.

But, then came the real kicker “I should be careful what I say” says the other girl, a glance at me, a readjustment of seating, moving closer to each other… for my benefit, I’m sure. The acknowledgment that the conversation was awkward and inappropriate hurt me more than anything, they knew what they were doing was wrong but they chose to continue regardless. Ouch.

I didn’t know what to do but I knew I couldn’t just sit there, so I left. I wish I hadn’t. I don’t feel I should be driven away but I challenge anyone to sit there, already feeling how I did, after we had both spoken to them about their behaviour before and with the two girls being some of those that made the infamous ‘awkward’ statement that made me feel like I should be ashamed of not being someone else.

At times I feel stupid, I’m secure in my relationship. Anyone that sees us together has commented how perfect we are for each other and we both agree. I have no doubt we are meant to be together. I also know that she’s been around for a long time and consequently formed bonds with his friends, I can’t change that and nor do I think I wish to. But, to me there is an imbalance. I was already made to feel excluded before and outright told as much. She’s still in whatsapp groups with them all, groups I know I cannot be a part of because of her (something that feels like decisive favouritism). Some of them are going away on holiday with her. Yet, I see one of them every week when my boyfriend plays football and he still doesn’t even say hello to me – harsh, dude. There is a distinct and consistent effort to keep her involved and yet a clear avoidance of me. This is my issue and one I can’t figure out how to handle.

People keep telling me that things will get better in time as they get to know me and spend more time with me. But I ask anyone reading this, how I can spend time with people that make me feel uncomfortable, unwanted and not good enough? I like to think I am a strong person, I have faced far worse in my life than this and come through, but I wouldn’t let anyone make me feel how they do and keep coming back for more. It’s masochistic to say the least, and it chips away at my dignity.

Part of me wishes I had said something at the time. Told them that their conversation was unnecessary and slightly hurtful, made a comment that no one else was discussing anyone else’s exs so perhaps best left that way, or messaged them once I left to explain what they had done, but I’ve never been faced with a situation like this and confrontation has never been my strong suit.

So, this is where you all come in. What would you do in my situation? How would you respond? Have you been in this situation and come through it? Or even, have you been on his friends’ side of things? Help wanted. Pay non-existent but appreciation huge. TY!

To end on an empowering note, the almighty Whitney singing something quite apt.

23 things I learnt at 23 – lesson 2: do not judge someone else’s decisions

In the 23 days leading up to my 24th birthday I am writing one blog a day on the 23 lessons I learnt at 23. Here goes lesson number 2.

Just because someone has made a decision that you deem wrong or unethical does not deserve them being judged. We cannot possibly understand the choices of others, so it’s best to exercise tolerance instead.

Sometimes we have an idea in our head of who we are and what we deem to be right and wrong, but this year has taught me that we can never know what is right and wrong either for us or for others. We spend a lot of our time judging people for the decisions they make but at 23 I have truly learnt that if we do we are the ones in the wrong.

I believe now that we can never hope to understand the decisions made by others, because we shouldn’t, how could we? We aren’t them, we haven’t had the life or experiences they had, we do not know their mind and their feelings. So it’s best, where sympathy and empathy fail, to exercise tolerance. To stop judging, as hard as that may be when we feel someone has done something that goes against everything we believe to be right. Instead, we must just nod, accept their decision as the right one for them, and be silent. In the end, if it is the wrong decision they will feel the effect, but we are in no position to tell them they are wrong or to say it serves them right.

This is a lesson I hope stays with me, and one I will remind myself of any time I feel myself placing my ethics above someone else’s decisions.

23 lessons I learnt at 23 – lesson 1

In the 23 days leading up to my 24th birthday, I will be writing one blog a day of 23 things I learnt at 23. So here goes, lesson 1…

We spend far too much time at work to hate our jobs

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(Image credit to Leadership NUGGETS)

Although these aren’t in any particular order, I felt this had to come first as it was one of the most important things I learnt at 23. I spent a year somewhere I was miserable, and it made me realise how much damage being miserable at work does to you. Since I changed jobs and now enjoy it again, I have realised this even more. There is no good reason for every morning to be spent forcing yourself just to get out of bed because you so dread your job.

It changed who I was, I became frustrated easily, I lost my general positivity, and most frustratingly, I lost my confidence in my abilities and in who I am as a person. However, this lesson also triggered a series of others that have been a positive learning experience for me.

I learnt how determined and driven I am, how ambitious I am, and how strong, because despite my daily struggle just to get in to work I lasted every day, I did not cave, I continued to work, and work hard, because I knew where I wanted to get to and I knew giving up wouldn’t get me there. I spent each day going in, trying to prove myself and although I don’t think I ever did, what mattered to me was that I walked away from that job knowing I had tried my utmost to make it work. I have been able to start a new job knowing my strength, and knowing that I am capable of getting through. It has also made me realise what I cannot do too and made me surer than ever that third sector comms is my passion above all.

My Body is not a Fashion Statement

I read earlier this week that the latest ‘trend’ to hit the world is small nipples, this is to such an extent that many women are getting plastic surgery to reduce the size of their nipples in the hopes of staying en vogue.

As we grow our skin stretches (if it didn’t puberty would have been a much worse nightmare, see Freddy Kruger for inspo). Small nipples on big boobs are a fashion statement as feasible to achieve naturally as me being able to pull off padded shoulders or flared jeans (I’m short and broad shouldered, need more be said?).

But, this is brought me back to another article I read a few weeks back, claiming that for the first time in years it is more desirable to have a large bum than large breasts, but, fear not, big boobs are still a close second.

It seems that the small nippled, large breasted, big bottomed women are the must have fashion statement of year – I’ll add that to my wish list of wardrobe updates for 2017, shall I?

Fashions have a great effect on how we style ourselves and a profound effect on our self confidence. We have all looked back at one time in our life and thought ‘good god, I used to wear that/do my hair like that’ just because it was the fashion and we were ‘on trend’.

I remember as a teen having the biggest side fringe on a side parting (the emo fringe) until one day realising that I was very much out of fashion, deciding to swap to an a-line fringe on a middle parting, far more in fashion. Some fashions can make us look back in embarrassment, other fashions can make us feel embarrassed at the time.

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I also recall getting my hair cut shoulder length with a full fringe, a huge mistake as not only did I look awful, shoulder length hair went out of date way before I was able to get my long hair back. I remember feeling downhearted when I began university as all these girls with super long hair strutted around whilst, against my will, I was still modelling hair that refused to grow past my shoulders.

As everyone that has been through a similar thing will know, feeling uncomfortable with something like that can make a huge difference to your self-esteem and confidence. I can look back now and laugh, feel stupid that I cared so much. When what you’re being told to change is short hair to long hair, skinny jeans to mum jeans or flares, or stiletto heels to platforms, in the long run it’s a minor change. Fashion changes all the time, if it didn’t shops wouldn’t sell nearly as much.

But, when suddenly your body is unfashionable; something difficult to change, sometimes naturally impossible, it reaches a whole new level of self-esteem crushing objectification.

I am a petite woman, brunette, I have large breasts and the standard nipple size that comes with that. I have always had large hips and an hourglass shape, I have never quite had the bum to go with it. I have been both in fashion and out of fashion.

As a kid thin blondes were all the rage, as an adult it was hourglass brunettes. My large boobs constantly saw attention throughout my teenage years, and now my butt seems to draw judgement.

Like my short, fringed hair was a fashion statement that went out of fashion many perpetuate that so is my hourglass shape or larger breasts. But unlike my hair, I cannot wait until my waist grows out, or hide away my breasts until they’re back in fashion. I can work months on getting a more peachy bum, but by the time I achieve it will I have to cut the carbs and stop the squats?

In a week where we have seen thousands of women across the world march in protest against things just like this, I can’t help but feel consistently disheartened by our world, and by the constant struggle we face to be who we are without judgement.

We are women, our bodies are our own. Whether you’ve got large nipples, a flat bum and small boobs, whether you need to breastfeed in public, whether you need the right to an abortion, your body is your own and only you should be able to make the judgement on what is acceptable and what isn’t, what is fashionable and what isn’t.

A cliché, perhaps, but I sincerely hope that one day tolerance, acceptance and love will be the fashion, even if for as brief a time as I hope the return of platform shoes will be.

Other blogs like this:

An honest look into gender equality

NB: I am aware this this is not a wholly female issue, and that men struggle with the ever more exaggerated images of masculinity, huge muscles, abs of steel, etc. this took the stance of women because 1. I am one 2. Articles relating to the creation of this blog were targeted at women 3. I am not a man so cannot speak for one.

16 things I learnt in 2016

With only two weeks left until Christmas and the fast approach to the end of 2016 I’ve reflected on some of the most important things I’ve learnt this year. 16 of them in fact!

  1. Take time to pee. Your kidneys will thank you and who doesn’t want an extra few minutes away from work, for health reasons of course
  2. Sometimes good people do bad things. It doesn’t make them bad people
  3. There is no point staying in a job you don’t love, we spend far too much time there for that
  4. There is no place like home. Every year I learn this more and more
  5. You can never be grateful enough for all the things your parents have done and sacrificed for you but it’s worth trying
  6. It doesn’t matter if you only have a handful of friends, what matters is how great a friend they are
  7. Set crazy goals with no time limit but work hard to set new records constantly. For instance, it’s more fun to focus on how far you can run compared to last week than how fast you can run by next week
  8. You cannot control how you feel about things, no matter how much you wish you could so don’t beat yourself up
  9. Food is to be enjoyed thoroughly, not consumed mindlessly
  10. If you have feelings which are positive and kind don’t hold back from saying them out of fear. Life’s too short and the worlds too sad to withhold anything good
  11. Being stubborn is not a bad thing – within reason – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise
  12. Be thankful. No matter whether the favour is small or large make sure they know you appreciate them
  13. Say goodbye to people who no longer make you happy, it doesn’t matter if they’ve been around for one year or one decade
  14. I will always love country music and I don’t even care
  15. You don’t need meat to make a meal good
  16. Long hair is annoying and will get all up in your business – it’s almost worth it

Medical professionals must take notice of mental health conditions during chronic illness diagnosis

It’s been all over the news today, Diabulimia, a condition in which a Diabetic person stops taking their insulin to prevent weight gain or fuel weight loss, this can also include bulimic symptoms such as purging.

Newsbeat, BBC Radio 1’s news channel, highlighted one case in particular, diabetic teen, Lisa, whose struggle with Diabulimia ultimately lead to her death. Her family claim that in the years after her diagnosis of Diabetes her Diabulimia appeared, or bulimic tendencies became apparent*, getting increasingly worse over a ten year period. They are therefore linking the discovery of her condition and its subsequent management to her mental health condition.

This case in particular, as well as the condition itself, expresses a deeper issue within healthcare systems. Going through a diagnosis of any long-term or chronic illness is very distressing for the patient and it is unsurprising that mental health issues surface as a result.

It doesn’t take being a medical expert to realise that the discovery of any health issue can cause patients to feel afraid, alone, weak, out of control, or worthless. It can also lead them to feel they would be better off dead, whether due to the stress of managing their condition, or the stress they feel they cause others as a result.

And yet, the treatment of health conditions does not include mental health checks, and I think that is a grave mistake.

 
I struggled greatly when first diagnosed with Medullary Sponge Kidneys back in 2013. The diagnosis of my chronic condition was enough to put me into a very dark mindset, which not only took me a long time to accept I could not manage alone, but an even longer time to come to terms with and manage.

 
At no point during my treatment was I asked how I felt, mentally. I was asked what my pain was like, physically, relating to my condition, but no one ever asked whether I was coming to terms with it, and coping with the fact it would change my life, forever. Even when one doctor noted I had lost quite a large amount of weight in a short period of time, nothing was flagged, no one asked if I was struggling, or how I was feeling.

This isn’t just damaging for the mental health of patients but also the initial illness.

Mental health issues can cause the original health condition to worsen, and this becomes an almost perpetual cycle until, unfortunately for many, it ends in tragedy, such as was the sad case with Lisa. For me, the constant bad diet and vomiting was causing me to lose a lot of water and important nutrients, which I needed to prevent the constant Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) caused by my condition.

 

Not only this, but I was also now struggling to cope with two health conditions and I felt weaker and more alone than ever, I felt completely out of control of my own life and health. And guess what, this made me even more depressed. Go figure.

 
I am pleased to say that I did seek help and I stuck with it, not only that but getting over my mental health problems helped to realise I had to manage my kidney condition better too. This year I have had a better grip on my health than I have for long time and I manage both my mental health problems and kidney condition like normal people would manage household chores. I know it has to be done, it doesn’t always make it easy and I’m not always motivated to do it, but if I didn’t I’d be in chaos and now it’s just routine.
But, that isn’t the case for many people, and as Lisa’s case shows if it isn’t dealt with then the consequences can be tragic.

*I have avoided the claim that Diabulimia is a direct result of diabetes, as this is a reductive statement. The reality for many people is an underlining mental health condition brought out or worsened by e.g. the diagnosis of a health condition.