Sunday, 5 April 2020

Quarantine and mental health

It's been a long time coming (well, approximately two weeks or so), but I have finally decided to break my 'I am not going to write about mental health during the coronavirus crisis' rule. I've been worn down by the lack of structure, the lack of going outside. I'm as sorry as you are, believe me. I cannot imagine I have anything to say that you won't read somewhere else so save yourself the time...and well, carry on, as you have literally nothing better to do. So, for what it is worth, my two-cents.

Go outside

Obviously, stay away from other people. Only actually exercise. Walking counts. But please don't start sunbathing in little groups with a BBQ and a Bluetooth speaker and then tell the police I said you could do it. But do go outside. It's good for you. The air is good for you. The sunlight is good for you. Trust the British weather to suddenly go really quite nice the moment we have to stay inside. It's wonderfully ironic and given our love of irony, I am sure we can all appreciate it. Outside, whilst walking 2m away from anyone not in our household for at least 30 minutes per day.

I cannot stress this one enough. I know people keep going on about it, but it really can change your mood. It'll also help with temperature regulation, give your muscles something to do that isn't changing the channel or scrolling through Instagram, and there are LOADS of dogs around. You shouldn't go and pet them because #socialdistancing, but you can look at them and they're normally really happy and cute. If you have a dog at home, take it outside so other people can look at him or her. Your dog also needs to walk, but if you have a dog you knew that already.

Go easy on yourself

Twitter is helpfully full of accounts telling us that Shakespeare wrote King Lear whilst in quarantine, Isaac Newton began to come up with his theory of gravity and so on. This is not helpful. We are in the middle of a pandemic. It is okay not to be productive. If you have ideas and things you want to accomplish or write (look at me, I'm writing a whole blogpost. In the lockdowns of the future, I hope to be an example to many) or read, go for it. I really want to learn Ancient Greek. I've not started yet, but I keep saying I will. If you fancy picking up drawing or learning to code then great. If not, or you lack motivation or whatever, then that's really okay too. It does not matter if whenever this is all over you are the same basically mediocre person with no new skills or talents. Don't beat yourself up. Just look after yourself, try and eat three meals a day and keep yourself entertained. It does not need to be groundbreaking or revolutionary. Developing a new skill or writing a novel (or the next King Lear, of course) is a great way to pass the time but then again so are series 1-5 of Mad Men, 1-10 of Friends and 1-6 of Brooklyn 99, which are all on Netflix right now. Sitting in your room for a few hours and watching TV or rereading your favourite books or doodling or whatever it is that you do that you probably think is not productive is perfectly acceptable. 

This is not the time to convince yourself that if you haven't read Plato's complete works, written 32 new plays, learnt French and Russian and run a marathon in your back garden by the time this is over, you've somehow wasted this time and are a bad person. 

Find structure where you can

Most of us have nothing to do. Or nothing pressing to do. Things can be put off, we aren't in work or study and there's just a lot of empty space on our calendars. Having said all that, there are still things we must do. We need to eat. We need to wake up. We need to go outside (see above). We also need social contact (video chat, please). So eat three meals a day at vaguely the same times. Go outside around the same time. If you enjoy reading, set aside time for it and if you can, try and stick to it. Organise video chats and skype calls. Talk on the phone with your grandparents if they are still alive at the same time (they'll appreciate the consistency and contact, as well). If you can say, right, I am going to wake up at 9am or 8am or 6am every day and eat breakfast 30 minutes later, lunch at 1pm, walk at 4pm, phone grandma at 6pm and so on, it'll help your day so much. It won't feel so much like a black-nothingness. There will be things to look forward to. And if there are things to look forward to, you'll be more motivated to do them and keep doing them. And add more things to do. 

Eat properly

This is good advice generally, but even more so now. Try try try and try again to eat regularly and properly. Good meals will help. If you can cook, cook for yourself. It will fill time. If you can't cook, now is a good time to learn (though, no pressure, see above) but still, try and eat properly and regularly. Fresh fruit and vegetables. Etc. 

Treat yourself

Finally, treat yourself. This is a bloody hard time for everyone. We are stuck inside. We don't know when it is going to end. We can't see our loved ones, we can't hug our grandparents and many of us have family and friends working tirelessly for the NHS and other key services, and we're worried about them. We deserve a treat. Regularly. Because, if we are complying with the guidance, and going outside only when we need to and social distancing when we do, then we are doing our bit. And our bit is hard. Yes, it's not hard like working for the NHS is hard. Or being a police officer trying to understand the new regulations. But it is still hard, and it will take its toll. So loads of treats are necessary. Anything you like. Enjoy it. Believe me, you deserve it.

Things will get better. People will stop dying and soon we will go outside again and have BBQs and all talk about that time we had to stay inside for weeks without any sign of it improving. We will get married and have parties and move into new homes and make new memories with family and friends. We will see our grandparents again and hug them and love them in close proximity rather than from afar. Friends will be in our rooms physically, rather than as images on a screen. We can go on dates and to restaurants and, yes, shock-horror, we will be able to go back to work and study. And we will all be so grateful for it. But for now, it's difficult and the light at the end of the tunnel is at best very faint. We will get there, we just need to keep going. So look after yourselves, treat yourselves, smile and be happy. We can do this.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Would you stop complaining?

Universities are really really really really bad at mental health. Like really unbelievably bad. They just have no idea, hiding behind their inflexible rules and procedures as they ignore the fact that they are dealing with real people and individual circumstances. Writing things like “we have to apply the rules fairly and equally” displaying a maddening ignorance of indirect discrimination and disgraceful lack of basic common sense. Confusing ‘there’s nothing we can do’ with ‘there’s nothing we want to do’, claiming they mean the former when really they mean the latter because they cannot be bothered to get it right; they cannot be bothered to accept that people are different and therefore need individualised solutions that take into account personal circumstances. That would mean actually thinking what is the best solution in this case and that requires effort. That requires actually bloody caring about the students they teach when really they care about their research and that’s about it. It is alarming how badly wrong they get it, how well-meaning, apparently and supposedly intelligent people, simply do not understand how things they say will be interpreted.

Starting with the brute bureaucracy. The 8 million different departments dealing with seemingly the same topic that never communicate because that would be too easy; that would be too simple; that would make too much damn sense; because otherwise how would universities force students to navigate an impossibly complicated system to ensure that they can never actually ask for counselling or mental health support or disability assistance because not even G_D knows who the hell they should contact. And then when you have contacted someone and sorted out, say, counselling, you’re entitled to four sessions because everyone in the entire world knows that you’re cured after four hours of talking about your childhood and why would anyone need more time, that’s just absurd. And then, you need a letter from your therapist saying you saw him or her but that letter needs to be current if you need to rely on it in an extenuating circumstances claim but how can it be current if you’re only allowed four sessions and they were 6 months ago but you’re anxious now and your family member died now and that’s why you need extra time on your assignment but the letter is 6 months old so it doesn’t count anymore and even though it says you’re not better because you may never be better because what does better even mean, it won’t help you now. So your claim is rejected or a decision is deferred until you can submit more evidence, more evidence that you literally cannot obtain because you are not allowed to see the counsellor again and you've been on the NHS waiting list since you were born. So you email again and there’s nothing they can do or want to do. So you’re screwed basically but it’s okay because every else is screwed or they would be screwed if they were like you or the same as you but they aren’t but anyway shut up and stop complaining. Complaining, because that’s what it is. And then it turns out that you should have contacted the mental health department not the counselling department because they deal with this type of mental health but you never knew this when you applied because you didn’t realise there were two departments because why would there be? And it turns out that they have a 6-month waiting list but that’s too late because you need the help now or well actually last year when you first contacted the wrong department who didn’t tell you to contact the right department, so what’s the point now anyway? But you email anyway knowing it’s pointless and fruitless, hoping for the best and hoping to be proved wrong because you don’t want to feel abandoned and irrelevant and if only people stopped making you feel that way it would be better.

And rules are blindly followed because rules are fair, right? Because if there’s a rule, it exists for a reason and it promotes fairness because then everyone is treated equally so there’s certainty across cases and that’s fair. Except it isn’t fair. Because rules don’t take into account circumstances and this is the criticism of Kant, right, because he’d have you tell the axe murderer where your children are, because never lie, except maybe sometimes, only sometimes, lying is a good thing to do and we should lie because axe murderers do exist. But rules are certain and certainty is fair a lot of the time but not always because some people have individual circumstances like they literally can’t get into a building without wheelchair access and obviously the fact the class has to be in that building is the same for everyone but only one person loses out, and even though there’s a rule, maybe you need to change the rules or soften the edges because people who need a wheelchair need to be able to get into buildings where their classes are. Or, if class had to be on a Friday afternoon and everyone had to attend the rule is fair and equally applied but it’s the religious Jew that misses all those classes so maybe the rule could be changed. But no, because another jew who is less religious will go to those classes so why won’t you, you’re both Jews but only you have an issue so really why should we change the rules, you should be more like this other Jew who has no issues because that’s how it works, you check Jew on a form and you’re all the same and have the same needs so the rules are fair because this Jew can come to class. So stop complaining, because your classes are important too and yes you have a religion but you also have class and this other Jew has religion and he or she is okay. So the rule might be fair and it might be equally applied and everyone might subscribe to the same rules but they can still discriminate against individuals and you need to be aware of that and mental health is no different because sometimes you’re fine and sometimes you have a panic attack and can’t move so you don’t move and other times you can’t speak so you don't speak. So you can’t go to class or don’t want to but you try your best because the rules say that everyone has to go to class, and that’s fine, except sometimes you just can’t and it’s not the same as that other person with mental health problems because maybe they can go to class but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an issue and it doesn’t mean that you don’t either. It means the rules need to be different, to take those circumstances into account so that everyone is catered for and yes that’s hard and expensive and difficult and time-consuming but people are killing themselves because they feel alone, people are hurting themselves because they feel no one understands. And I don’t think it’s true, I think people do understand and you’re never alone but I’ve felt alone and I’ve felt misunderstood and like no one cares so I know how it feels and I empathise and I sympathise and more needs to be done. 

And then there are the emails you receive. The ‘stop looking for special treatment’ that just means ‘stop complaining’ and the ‘we’ve been very supportive’ which means ‘stop complaining’ and the ‘there’s nothing we can do’ which means ‘stop complaining’ and the ‘this is wasting time and energy’ which means ‘stop complaining.’ So you do. You stop complaining because it’s true, you do want special treatment. But that’s only because you need it because the words jump around on the page when you sit for too long or your grandmother just died and you know what you’re really really damn upset and don’t want to deal with that essay right now because life goes on and is more important than Descartes’ views on mind-body dualism. And you stop, because they did give you that extension last time and you think maybe you’re just being ungrateful forgetting that you had to jump through 23 million hoops just to get that extension and it arrived three weeks late so it was meaningless anyway. And then you think maybe there is nothing they can do, forgetting there’s always something they can do, they just don’t want to do it because that means actually paying attention and helping you and that takes time and effort. And, well, yes it is taking time and energy so you stop, forgetting it takes more time and energy to deal with their system at every turn, the system that doesn’t see a human and doesn’t see a person but a nuisance with fingers that can type. So you go away, quietly, hoping that no one will trample on you and that it’ll be okay but it won’t be because that’s not how life works, you need to speak up but you’re tired and your voice hurts and you’re sick of fighting because it’s really not getting anywhere because they don’t care and they don’t listen. And they keep sending emails that you misunderstand because they’ve made no effort to understand you and emails that make you feel worse and make you feel more anxious because no one stops for a minute to remember that they’re dealing with a real person, not a computer, but a person with feelings and emotions. Maybe we should phrase this a bit more nicely. Because it’s not their fault. No one ever thinks that. And that’s the problem.

And then there's the ignorance. There's the ignorance that says mental health works like physical health, that a broken mind looks like a broken arm and takes a few weeks to heal and being able to use your mind is evidence that it's no longer broken anymore. Except, it doesn't. Sometimes you can't move or breathe or think and sometimes you can and mental health is not physical health, it's different and looks different and works differently but, obviously, if you submitted a piece of work it means you're fine and that piece of work is fine. Right? Well, no. It's not the same, it's different and needs different systems and different fixes. There's the ignorance that you are complaining and, more crucially, you want to be complaining, that you're just obviously a difficult person who enjoys being difficult. So you crawl back under the bed and cuddle yourself, rocking gently as you cry and wonder maybe it is just you, maybe it's your fault, maybe you should be easier if only you could be easier things would be better. And you want to be easier, you wish you could be easier because despite everything, despite the lack of empathy and the lack of sympathy, despite being made to feel like an inconvenience and a nuisance, you can still empathise with them. You blame yourself because you know how difficult it is to deal with mental health because you've been struggling for 20+ years and you haven't figured it out so how could they figure it out, you don't even know what you want so how should they know? So you try and let them off, blame yourself because obviously it's your fault, everything is your fault...except, it's not your fault and you need to stop blaming yourself but that requires other people to stop blaming you as well. But the institutions won't stop. They keep blaming you, stop complaining, stop asking for better treatment, go away. It just makes it worse, and worse, and worse.

it’s an easy fix. Listen. Empathise. Stop hiding behind rules, they invariably ignore circumstances and treat people unfairly. They invariably assume all cases can be treated alike. Employ more staff. Care more about students and less about research. This isn’t rocket science. And even if it were, universities are full of people that understand rocket science. So they should know better. And they should do better.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Feeling

Have you ever tried to kill yourself? Wondered how you’d do it? Crossed the street without looking, hoping and wishing and just wanting something, anything to hit you instead of life which keeps hitting you over and over and over again? Viewed every knife in your kitchen as a vehicle for sweet release from the pain, the difficulty, the sheer weight of everything crushing down on you? Looked at your wrists, the veins, thought about how much it would hurt and how long before it would stop hurting and how long but then didn’t matter because it hurts now, right now, and you’ve not done anything yet, you’re just looking at the knife and thinking about it but you've not done anything but yet it hurts, why does it hurt? And if it already hurts what’s a little more pain for just a little bit of time and then no pain surely no pain is good? What difference would it make? Maybe none but maybe all the difference in the world because there’s pain and there’s no pain and then there’s the complete absence of pain because there’s no feeling left. Have you ever tried to convince yourself that people would care or sometimes that they wouldn’t and that’s reason enough to do it but how would you know is there any way of knowing because sometimes that’s all that stops you that you don’t know if people would care and you need them to care because otherwise what was the point but would they and you wouldn’t know if they did because how would you know but if you cling on if you accept the pain and work through the pain they’ll show you that they care and then you won’t want to anymore because they’ll care but they don’t or they won’t or they haven’t? Thought about it but not done anything because that would be a cry for help and you don’t want to make a sound or have them notice, you just want to be quiet and be silent and for no one to notice you because then you can pretend you’re not breaking into a million small pieces because if they don’t notice then it isn’t happening and if you cry out then it’s real and you have to face it so you stay still and quiet and silent and motionless and you don’t do anything because somehow that seems easier and less real. So you don’t do it but every single time you go through all of that thinking and wondering and temptation and nearly doing it and nothing changes and it just gets worse and worse and worse and worse because you can't cry out because that would be too loud but you can't do nothing because it's too loud in your head. And you don’t know what’s really stopped you so far but you hope that it keeps stopping you because you don’t want to, you don’t want to end it you don’t want everything to stop because how would you feel but then you remember you feel pain and sad and it hurts and you don’t know if you want to feel at all because maybe that's better but how would you know but surely it is better. So you go back again and you start all over again and you go through it all again and reach the same point where you’re grateful you haven’t but also would but can’t but you don’t so you still feel and you don’t know if that’s a good thing but at least you’re here to ask the question because that’s something right? Right? And you really do not know but you're tired and too tired to keep doing this in your brain and sometimes it takes up entire days and weeks and you are still going and nothing has changed but you don't do anything because somehow that's easier than doing something.

Have you ever sat down and thought about it? Wondered who would find you? What they’d do? Realised you just feel too much and if only you could feel less but you don’t know what that means and you don’t know how to make yourself feel less because that’s not possible right because you can’t stop feeling that’s what it means to be human so maybe you decide you don’t want to be human anymore no one asked you right you just were born and then had to feel things and be human and grow up and do things and you wish you didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t but it doesn’t go away and you keep feeling things and you just don’t want to feel anymore so you think about it because you do not know much about it but you know you won’t feel. But then you remember you just want to feel less and you don’t know how to feel less maybe there’s a way of doing it a little bit and not completely so you just feel a tiny bit less instead of not at all because you want to feel something just not the bad things not the bad feelings or the hard ones or the ones that make you cry out silently to yourself because you still can’t tell anyone because you can’t bring yourself to do it and somehow that’s keeping you alive because death is too loud it’s too messy it’s too much and too noisy so you don’t, you just stay quiet and alive because that's easier. You just want to feel less. How can you feel less? What does it involve? Is there a switch or a button you can press like on a remote to make feeling less intense and less a lot and less there. Not the off switch that’s too much you still want something just less of it like a volume button that you can control and if you wanted to feel more that would be an option but right now you feel too much and it’s too loud but for some reason it’s only keeping you up late at night wondering where the volume button has gone and no one else seems to notice or know because you’re quiet but the volume in your mind is on so high that it’s deafening you from the inside out. Maybe a mute button where everything still works and carries on but it’s quiet and less distracting and just there in the background so you can turn it back up when it’s more interesting or fun or just plain less sad and hard. 

Have you ever tried to kill yourself? Because I have and it didn’t work because I’m writing this and yes it was some time ago now and yes I’m glad I didn’t and yes I was sad at the time and wished I was capable and yes I’m still alive and feeling but I tried. And I failed and somehow that was worse because living is difficult and messy and hard and noisy and loud and dying should be easy but I couldn’t even manage that. So I had no choice but to carry on even though I didn’t know if I wanted to, I just had to because I couldn’t kill myself because I was so useless or maybe because I didn’t want to and then I felt better because maybe I wanted to live and even if I didn’t feel like it my body or my brain or my mind or my subconscious or all of them wanted to live and didn’t let me die and then I realised it would be okay because I was alive. I was sad but alive and as long as you’re alive there’s hope and a chance and something that can be done and a way forwards into feeling less because after all, that was all I wanted just feel a little less but still feel. So as long as I was still alive things can change no matter how much I felt they can’t they can because that’s life and feeling and being alive so maybe it’s okay. So I clung onto that thing that kept me alive and I still don’t know what did but it doesn’t matter because I’m still here and I’m so grateful I’m still here because I can feel and now I feel less sad and just less. I still feel and sometimes it’s too much but I’m still here and I’m better at feeling less and I promise you you can feel less and I promise you that you can do it because you can control feeling less and you don’t need to take control by dying or hurting yourself because you can take control by feeling less and maybe you can’t take control by hurting yourself because I couldn’t but eventually I felt less and felt better. Just a bit better but better and it’s working and helping. 

I’m still here and I still feel and I’m glad I do.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Endings

As Julian Barnes tells us, you never get the ending you want. Perhaps because we never want things to end. More probably because we cannot control everything. Things left unsaid that perhaps should have been said, things said that perhaps were better left unsaid. Acts, once done, that cannot be undone and opportunities missed to do things that might have made things different. Not better, perhaps, just different. As I close the door on seven years of university study, I am thinking a fair bit about endings. Not just the end of another degree, but perhaps the end of my academic career. I've been thinking about what, if anything, I wish I had known when I turned up at Warwick nearly 7 years ago. And, thinking about it, I don't actually know if there is all that much. Maybe it was not the ending I expected or thought I wanted, but it's the ending I got and in many ways, that's enough. Nonetheless, I have a few thoughts. Things that I wish I had known as a fresher. Take them with a pinch of salt, the musings of someone searching for things to do.

Find somewhere on campus/in town you like that's quiet

University is a busy mess. There is so much going on. It does not matter whether you’re on a campus university or in a town/city, university can be very full-on. There's always something you could be doing; a book that needs reading or an event that you signed up for in a hungover haze during freshers' week. You'll need a break. Find somewhere quiet that is not your room, somewhere you can sit and think and do whatever it is that you enjoy. Just a breather. Away from everyone and everything else.

When I was at Warwick, I used to sit in the Arts Centre from 7pm onwards on nights there was not a show. I used to walk there from my room, with a notebook that I wrote in and just sit and write for an hour or so. Sometimes I would read. Others, I would just sit. But there was virtually no one there and I could just be with myself, worries, thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears...anything I wanted to think about. I think it helped me. It might help you.

You, no matter what anyone tells you, are not unique

This was something a friend said to me a few years ago. It's been part of an important journey for me. In my university time, I have had 4 relationships end. None of them ended in a way I expected or thought possible, they just did but they shared similarities in that I struggled to cope afterwards. Whether it was not eating, isolating myself or losing my voice, they all took their toll in different ways. However, through it all, one theme kept repeating itself: I felt alone; I felt as if no one understood; I felt as if no one could possibly have a clue what was going on. I felt, to put it bluntly, as if no one had ever had a relationship end before. I obviously knew that was not true. But it was how I felt. So I was stuck, I felt a certain way and no one could help because they could not possibly understand. Clearly, I was wrong. Other people knew. Understood. Could help. Because I was not unique. And when I realised this, I let people in. I found friends who were compassionate and empathetic and loved me and tried to help and, ultimately, succeeded. I was also better at helping, at being a friend and being there.

Your parents may think you are unique. They may even tell you that you are. But there are seven billion-plus people on this planet and the chances of you being 1 in 7 billion are...well, that. This is important though. This means that every time you feel down or low, someone else has felt that way. Every time you feel worthless or lose your voice or wonder how to go on, you're not the first. Other people will succeed just like you, and other people will fail just like you. This realisation will humble you and help you. People have struggled through difficult times before, you can as well. People have done as well, if not better, than you so you should always keep trying hard. You are, in good times and in bad times, not alone. There will be people who can empathise with you at every step. Realising that your achievements are not unique will make you more compassionate. Realising you are not unique will help you make friends. Everyone joins uni nervous, worried about doing the embarrassing thing that labels them for the next three years. Embrace it. Make friends because of it. You're all in the same boat.

I wish I had more appreciation of this when I went to university for the first time 7 years ago. I think it would have helped.

Find two or three meals you can make easily

Eating at university is obviously important. In my first couple of weeks of complete freedom and ownership over what I would eat, I ate, pretty much exclusively, cereal. In the two months after my second breakup, I ate pitta and hummus if I ate at all. In my second and third years at Warwick I ate out three or four times a week before becoming more religious put a stop to that and made my Father's bank balance much happier. Not because I cannot cook (I love it) but because I could not be bothered to think of exciting things to make. Pouring milk over cornflakes was far simpler and more convenient. This was despite the student cookbook the lady who sits next to me at Old Trafford bought me on hearing that I had met my offer. The first proper meal I had at university was made for me by a flatmate who decided cereal was insufficient and kindly made extra chicken for her fajitas.

Cooking at uni need not be a drag or difficult. But it can be. Uni is busy and full-on (see point 1 above) and cooking takes a backseat. The solution is having quick, easy and tasty dishes that you can make fairly easily. A pasta sauce you especially like. A favourite chicken dinner. Those tasty videos that use one pot but instead of having 35 little glass dishes for ingredients just put it all into a pot directly from the original container like a normal person. You need to eat. You need to look after yourself. Make it easier.

Don't be scared of needing a therapist

Therapy was the best thing that ever happened to me. I needed it. In fact, I think everyone needs it. No one is so strong or secure or confident or comfortable that they won't benefit from it. All universities have free services. Use them. Make contact with them. Write them down. Share them with friends. Anyone can be your therapist. Speak about your feelings. Men, especially, men. Too many of us kill ourselves because we grow up in a world that tells us we cannot be sad, that it's unmanly or a woman's domain. We are not too "cool" to have feelings. Being sad does not make you a loser. Being emotional is not something women do. It's a human thing. Embrace your feelings and talk about them. Find friends that listen. You're always allowed to talk about how you feel.

When I lost my voice, I refused therapy initially. My Father persisted, I emailed her, told my Dad she was an idiot and just did not understand. I told him that it was pointless speaking to a therapist because, well, I could not speak. Seemed fair. She got round my inability to speak by asking to WhatsApp me. One of the first things I did was complete a set of forms about how I was feeling. One question sticks in the memory: "On a scale of 1-5 how much do you want to kill yourself?

It sticks in the memory for two reasons. First, how do you possibly quantify such a feeling? The other was my answer: 5.

I got there because I was too proud to speak about how I felt. It's all too real. I got through it because I spoke about how I felt, because I saw a therapist. Too many people do not get through it because they are scared or unable to find someone to talk to. It does not need to be a professional. Anyone can be a therapist. Be enough of a friend to sit and listen when someone reaches out. Be enough of a person to accept you cannot and do not need to do it all yourself and reach out to people, speak about your feelings. And be attentive to those who may need to reach out but have not found the voice to do so yet.

We're all in this together.

Enjoy yourself

This one is self-explanatory. I enjoyed my university experience so much I did it three times. I'll be doing it a fourth if you count Bar School. Try new things. Sign up for whiskey and chocolate society even though you've never had whiskey before and you're perfectly adept at eating chocolate alone by the box in your room did I mention alone. Go to that talk that looks interesting or stay in if that's more your thing. Whatever you do, make sure it's something fun. Student life is quite unlike anything else. Use it wisely, enjoy it.

If you're off to university in the next few weeks, good luck. Try hard. And, of course, read my blog.

Monday, 3 September 2018

The Jewish community has a problem with Muslims

Whisper it quietly, but the Jewish community has a racism problem of its own. Recently, I was expelled from the Facebook group Jewish Britain. My 'crime'? Arguing that the Jewish community should not be a home for Muslim haters. Arguing that it is possible to call Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour party out for antisemitism without resorting to Islamophobia. Essentially, my crime is that I do not hate Muslims and I don't think you should either.

Unfortunately, this is not a view shared by at least a noisy minority in the community and what seemed like the vast majority of the Facebook group. Certainly, its admins were Islamophobes and/or tolerant of it. And then there are the justifications. I don't hate Muslims, but Islamophobia is a term created by the PC media to prevent criticism of Islamic extremism. Or, I cannot be an Islamophobe, I am not scared of Islam and/or the fear is rational. Or, but Islam is not a race, so I am not racist. Or, there is a serious problem with Islamic extremism so it is not Islamophobic to say that Muslims are dangerous. And so on, and so forth. The excuses are as plentiful as they are pitiful. Then there is the 'other'-ing. Defines Muslims as some sort of different species but denying this can be Islamophobic. It is in some way justified.

And where have we heard all this before? Oh yes, the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite. The majority of his top team are antisemites, the NEC is populated with antisemites. And then there are the MPs that are antisemites and the noisy minority (we are repeatedly told its a minority, but it feels, as a Jew, to be a scary majority) of the party's members. Sound familiar? What about the excuses? It isn't antisemitism, it's a smear because Jeremy is pro-Palestine and/or, what counts as antisemitism is merely fair criticism of Israel that you're trying to shut down. Jews aren't a race, so it can't be racism. Jews aren't the only Semitic people so I cannot be an antisemite. Israel does terrible things, so this is not antisemitism. And on and on and on and on.

There have been some wonderful things coming out of social media. Rabbis and Imaans standing together against the hatred targetting their respective communities. Jews condemning the Tory Party's Islamophobia problem and Muslims condemning the Labour Party's antisemitism problem. It's heartwarming and we need more of it because we are stronger together. Hatred against one community, discrimination against one community undermines our democracy entirely and must, absolutely must, be considered hatred and discrimination against all. You cannot claim to be anti-racist if discrimination against one community is ignored or okay. If you're Islamophobic, you may as well be an antisemite for all I care. Jews, then, need to face up to what is happening in our community. It is absolutely correct that Labour is a cesspit of antisemitism and we correct to be scared. Jews have seen this before. We know where this goes. Don't tell us we're being dramatic or exaggerating. It is instilled in our DNA. Jew hatred, wherever it has manifest has led to dreadful, dreadful things for Jews.

But that means we must be more vigilant when it comes to discrimination against Muslims and other communities. Precisely because we know how it feels to be demonised and othered and attacked just for being Jewish. We know better than anyone else where it leads. So it pains me when I see Jews so easily being Islamophobic as if it is somehow different. It destroys my soul when I read Jews attacking Islam and claiming not to be racist using excuses that Corbyn and his cronies use when they are antisemitic. It sickens me when Jews use rhetoric against Islam that the Nazis used against Jews in the 1930's and that Labour now uses in a painful throwback. It upsets me when I call people out on Islamophobia and receive hatred in return as if I am somehow less of a Jew for believing that antisemitism and Islamophobia are both wrong. And it disgusts me when I get removed from a group for calling out its admins for tolerating Islamophobia, being Islamophobic themselves or endorsing Islamophobes.

But it strengthens my resolve because I refuse to let us disgrace our values and traditions. We disgrace the memory of the relatives we lost in the Holocaust when we are Islamophobic. We disgrace the memory of never again, we undermine its meaning every time we defend or justify what is a blind and disgraceful hatred of Muslims. Just because the Labour Party is doing its best to recover the rhetoric that the Nazis used does not mean we have to stoop to their level. Just because Jeremy Corbyn refuses to accept that he is an antisemite that endorses Jew-hatred and supports the genocidal maniacs that wish to see all Jews across the world dead, does not mean we need to reject another community's struggle against discrimination. Just because the Labour Party has become a safe space for antisemites; racists; conspiratory theorists; terrorist, Iran, Putin, genocidal Jew-hater and Assad apologists does not mean we should deny Islamophobia. Just because the Labour Party has undermined its values, destroyed the party and lost its soul does not mean we need to do the same.

We should know better. We do know better. Let's be better.



Thursday, 7 June 2018

The Positive Spin

Having something stolen from you is never fun. One's phone is one of the more inconvenient things that can be stolen, given so much of our lives are centred around our phones. So, to force me to look at my phone's permanent holiday to pastures new more positively, I have decided to list a few things I have learnt in an attempt to deflect from the annoyance of it all with (albeit poor) attempts at humour.

1. Radio stations really don't play much music, do they?

On the drive back home to borrow my Dad's old phone, I had to endure one of humanity's greatest (trivial) stains: the radio show. Who do these Radio DJs think they are? Shut up and play some bloody music, I don't care what you were thinking about this morning. Although, given the quality of the music that is played when they eventually tire of the sound of their own voices perhaps I should have gone with the total silence option. There must be a gap in the market for a radio station funded by exclusively good radio adverts (the dearth of which is a sad indictment on the quality of our advertising industry. At least in America, the adverts are so utterly ridiculous so to be quite amusing) that actually plays decent music.

2. My Dad's own humour also knows no bounds.

Here is an excerpt from our email exchange:

Raphael: My phone has been stolen.

My Dad: Have you reported it to the police?

Raphael: How?

Dad: Ring them.

Har har, bloody har.

3. We really do rely on our phones for a lot, don't we?

As I went to cancel my sim, I realised I had no idea where the nearest 3 store was. I reached into my pocket to nothingness and it hit me how much I take my phone for granted. As I spent the walk trying to figure out what I had really lost beyond the material value of the phone that I was sure the insurance would cover, it struck me. Reminders, calendar events, email, communicating, music, checking if things are Kosher and, of course, google maps to name but a few things. They really are a wonderful creation. We should be grateful. It's a barren wasteland without them. I exaggerate but you get the point.

4. I truly am an idiot.

I was fooled by two guys trying to sell me Mother's Day cards. Good luck to them.

5. Sometimes, it's nice to have a break

I spent the walk back to my room undistracted by music and messaging and checking Facebook. The barren wasteland is remarkably pretty and exciting, especially in the sun.

6. iCloud is bloody brilliant, isn't it?

The main stress, for me, was that I was now going to have to replace my phone and its contents and given 3 above, this is particularly annoying. You'd think, but no. I plugged in my Dad's old phone, hit restore from iCloud backup and 10 minutes later everything was back on my phone down to the reminder to book a Chinese for Sunday. The order of my apps was the same, I had all my texts and whatsapps and emails and photos - even the weird photo with my Dad that I can never even find in my photo library was my lock-screen. It was almost as if nothing had changed.

7. People suck but it's okay.

Whether it be the two guys that repossessed my phone or the cyclist (truly the bastians of morality of our age) who felt the need to follow me and ask if it "was okay if he submitted [to whom I still don't know] the footage of me driving forwards at the red light when that lady was trying to cross." First, I have little to no idea what he is talking about. Second, I fully intend on suing him if he 'submits' this footage of me given he does not have my consent to do so. The bastard. Anyway, back to my point. Some people suck, but perhaps we can see it as an opportunity to think a little bit about why they might do and empathise or respond without anger or blame. It won't change the situation - indeed, nothing will - so we may as well try and use it to our own benefit, to improve our empathy. As Tim Minchin says here, compassion is intuitive but it is also something that can be taught and learnt. I'm not giving a time reference because the whole video is worth watching.

Why did those two feel the need to steal my phone? Have they got children to feed? Are they really just petty criminals, bad to their core or are they driven by a need for money, out of desperation and poverty? Their need is, probably, far greater than mine and if I spend time being grateful for that, maybe I can learn a valuable lesson. My phone will be replaced. It's inconvenient and unideal but I am more concerned about the two guys driven to walking around coffee shops pretending to sell Mother's Day cards months after I bought one for my Mother in the hope they might steal something worth selling. Perhaps I have the luxury of that opinion - which I am further grateful for - but it must be more productive than sitting here fuming.

Why exactly does the cyclist feel the need to cycle up to me and tap on my window to create drama? What's going on in his life that prompts such a reaction? Maybe he needs a cuddle or someone to tell him it is going to be alright. I am not sure, but who knows. I don't know his life story and what prompts him to get involved. The fact he chose to without knowing my head was a little all over the place worrying about my bank account being hacked or barristers' chambers I've applied to being emailed with rude messages to sabotage my career says more about him than it does about my driving.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Greg Miliband does Movember

The world, it seems, continues to go down the proverbial plughole. The President of the United States is not fit to lead us out of a plastic bag; Theresa May could not negotiate the sale of coats to the Eskimos; actual Nazis are in parliament in Germany again; #MeToo is dominating social media because basically every single woman I know has a personal story about sexual harassment and/or abuse; an EU member state is brutally repressing an independence movement; North Korea could, at any moment throw its toys out the pram and launch a nuclear strike; and the majority of Puerto Ricans still do not have power and there are severe drinking water and food shortages. As if that was not enough, it's getting darker, climate change means our weather is becoming more volatile and stupid people still have access to social media.

It really isn't going well, let's be honest. Which is why we need a saviour. Someone who can turn this all around and make it better. Someone who has plenty of actual work to be doing and therefore plenty of procrastinating to do. The hero we need. The hero we deserve. Someone with a striking similarity to Ed Miliband but who would never get caught eating a bacon sandwich and lose a bloody election that basically led to Brexit and Trump (don't @ me). That's right, we need everyone's favourite Miliband brother, Greg. Greg cannot solve all the world's problems but after his unsuccessful election campaign (still won as many UK parliamentary elections as Nigel Farage) he's back. And he has a plan.

In order to bring a little bit of joy to the world, I am going to be doing Movember this year. To give you a little bit of context, I will be starting Movember this Wednesday, a week early, because, frankly, I need the headstart. I cannot promise that you will be able to tell the difference but either I will look comical with my awful "beard" or my distinct lack of facial hair will be relatively amusing. I can promise not to constantly post photos of my unshaven face though I may post my justgiving link every so often.

Please donate if you can.