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writehandedgirl

Sarah is a writer who is passionate about social justice, feminism, politics, and cats. She is a columnist and poet and currently lives in Nelson. You can follow Sarah on Twitter (@_writehanded_) or read more of her writing at writehanded.org
writehandedgirl has written 316 posts for Writehandedgirl

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Hello! I’m now at www.writehanded.org. See you there.

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Let’s talk about WINZ

This will be my last post here at writehanded.wordpress.com.

Don’t worry, I’m not going away, or shutting up – though, as I’ve discovered in the past few days, there are people who would like me to do so. Here’s a message for you:

sarah-nope

I’m just moving to my new site – www.writehanded.org! I know new websites aren’t really exciting to anyone but those they belong to (I’ve done enough site launches in my career to know that the fanfare surrounding this is usually met with… meh) – but I’m happy about it. It’s a step forward for me. It’s a commitment to the writing I’m doing, to the quality of it, and to the people who read it. This is not just “a blog” to me – though it never really was. It’s work. Important work.

Which is why I’m so utterly amazed by the response to last Thursday’s story. As I said on Friday – this isn’t about me. This isn’t my story, though I’ve become the face of it. It’s the story of many, many voiceless New Zealanders. It’s one that needs to be told.

Today I met with my local Labour MP, Maryan Street, who contacted me because of this story. She’s committed to making change, not just for me – I stressed to her how much I don’t want this to be about my individual case – but real, tangible cultural change.

Call for stories

Maryan is going to meet with WINZ here in Nelson. She’s taking my story as evidence of the repeated systemic failures and mistreatment, not just in the local office, but nationwide.

I have said that I will other collect stories and document them, for her to take. I am considering delivering the document to other MPs. I know that a lot of you have stories, because you shared them on the last post, or you wrote to me, or you’ve spoken to me. I’m especially interested in the Nelson office, but I’m happy to share any experience anywhere – any interactions you’ve had with WINZ where you’ve felt mistreated, or witnessed the extensive issues I’ve discussed.

You can email me your story if you’d like to be part of this, by this Friday please. I won’t be able to reply – I’m too exhausted. But I will collect them all and I will deliver them. I won’t alter them in any way. You will be anonymous. (My email address is on the media page above).

I will just say that I think it’s very sad that I had to close the comments on Thursday’s post due to the nastiness that was occurring, because most of those comments are incredibly valuable, and I hope if you are one of those people, you will contact me. They are other people’s stories, other people’s voices joining mine, saying “Me too. Me too. Me, too.”

As I keep saying, these are not isolated incidents. They are part of a systemic breakdown. They tell a wider story of cultural violence. We’re abusing our most vulnerable members of society. They – we – are subjected to treatment that is fundamentally dehumanising, demoralising, and terrifying – by a government organisation whose reason for existence is providing support. Because we’ve asked for the help we need. Because we’ve become statistics, and the system has twisted to become one that applauds reducing those statistics, instead of actually treating the underlying issues in any meaningful way.

The story is getting spread. The message is being heard. The original post has been viewed close to 30,000 times, which may not seem like a lot, but nothing I’ve ever written has been seen by so many people before. I’ve spoken about it in the media, on Twitter, on Facebook, to friends – and to politicians. Both Labour and Green Party members contacted me to offer assistance and support. I have accepted this. Today I had a call from the regional manager at WINZ, and I intend to meet with her.

This is exhausting, and terrifying, and very scary for me. I am standing up for something, and doing so is getting me attention I don’t really want. It may seem like I love talking about my vulnerabilities – my illness, my inability to financially support myself. I do not. This progress – this attention – means I have to spend energy – going to meetings, talking to people, writing –  and it means stress and anxiety. I’m trying to recover. I want to go back to work. I want it more than anything, and that means sometimes I have to sit still and be quiet when what I really want to do is write and yell, all the time, about everything.

I hope you’ll join me when I can.

www.writehanded.org.

This is not my story

First of all, thank you. Thank you for the support, the offers of assistance, and the huge amount of information I’ve been given around complaints, reviews, and advocacy procedures. It’s incredible.

I certainly never expected such a response.

And you know why I got this response? Because this is not my story. This is not about my terror, my humiliation, and my $40 a week.

This is about the hundreds, thousands, of people who have the exact same experience with the system they rely on to survive.

There’s a reason I’m sitting here writing this, even though I’m exhausted and I’m in pain and I’m feeling pretty damn overwhelmed, by both the positive and the negative responses to my story.

The reason is: we shouldn’t need this abundant plethora of advocacy services and complaints procedures and review processes. 

We need these things because of systemic, consistent and widespread failure in the New Zealand welfare system as managed by the Ministry of Social Development. 

This is not a new problem. It is not a unique problem. You only have to read the comments on my last post to get a sense of how terribly, terribly commonplace it is to be treated badly by WINZ. To have your important, private, expensive documents to be lost by WINZ. To walk in to a WINZ office feeling terrified. To walk out of a WINZ office feeling degraded, defeated, and in tears.

Why? Why is this allowed to continue? Many people have said that if they, in their jobs, so consistently “lost” paperwork and caused customers to cry, they would have been fired. And yet, it goes on. In every town, in every community, across New Zealand.

This is not just a result of the latest welfare reforms. This is a deepseated cultural and political problem that leads to repeated, widespread procedural misconduct.

We can’t respond to every case with advocacy services. The truth is – I might be writing this, but it’s going to wreck me. I don’t have the energy or the fight left in me to enlist an advocate, to research the process, to lay complaints, to ask for reviews. I know that many other sick people will not either. We already have enough on our plates just trying to keep a weak grip on the entitlement we do have.

I also know for a fact that the review and complaints processes are just as broken as the rest of the system. My friend Chris has been trying to get extra help, and a decision reviewed, for months. He’s gotten nowhere. If you think my story is sad, his is gutwrenching. (Click the “welfare” tag on his site and you’ll see).

I’ve had several Members of Parliament (Labour and Green) step forward and ask me how they can help. This is my message to you.

Thank you. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for hearing me.

I don’t need help getting my $40 p/week back. It’s gone. What I need is for this culture of utter incompetence to change. What I need is for all these voices (see the comments on previous blog) to be met with the kindness and compassion and humanity they deserve. What I need is for this to be an election issue. What I need is for it to be talked about in the most important places in New Zealand politics – your house, your offices.

I have contacted my local MPs to hear their thoughts. I would like Questions asked in Parliament. I would like to know what Paula Bennet is going to do about the fact sick people are starving on her watch. About the fact that people go into WINZ offices and are treated like less than human beings.

About giving more support to the WINZ frontline staff, whose time would be better spent getting some customer training than clapping for having forced someone off the benefit. They are clearly underresourced, since my case manager loses my files and can’t find the time to get back to me about the money that is my only lifeline until I literally turn up on her doorstep.

People have said: “You shouldn’t have to talk to a Minister about operational services.” In this case, we do, because the operational services aren’t working.

If they were, we wouldn’t need the Benefits Rights Service, BUWTA, Benefit Education Services Trust, CAB, the Health and Disability Commission, the Privacy Commission, our local MPs, community law and so many other organisations and dignitaries to get involved just so we could get the basic entitlement from the social welfare system.

It’s broken. But it’s not beyond repair.

By all means, use my story as an example. I’ll come to Wellington. I’ll stand in the House, with my cane, and I’ll explain what it is like to try and live like this. This is the human cost. This is what the face of welfare looks like.

Please, if you do nothing else, go and read the comments on the last post. (There are some nasty ones, of course, be prepared). These are real people’s stories. This is the reality. I am not alone.

Terror and humiliation – just another day with WINZ

I have tried to be fair. I have tried to be understanding of the good work WINZ does, and their well-intentioned policies, and to work within those structures. I have tried to be grateful for the support I do get.

But I have had ENOUGH of the sheer and complete incompetence that ensures that I have suffered, that I continue to suffer. That I suffer like I have suffered today.

Maybe I should start at the beginning, because you may have not been following this story. It’s a doozie so you may as well get a drink now.

I am on a ‘Jobseeker Support’ benefit, which in itself is a misnomer. I have a job – I’m too ill to do it. I have multiple medical certificates to prove it. Recently, my benefit, and the Disability Allowance, which is the separate small payment I receive toward my medical costs, came up for “reassessment.” This meant a whole new round of forms and evidence to prove I’m entitled to the support.

Here’s the key points from the post I wrote when this started – February 14.

1. I’ve returned the multiple forms, along with every receipt I’ve kept of doctor’s visits, food bills, and medical costs like prescriptions, plus the form signed by my GP which includes details from him about how often I visit and what for.

2. My case manager rang today to say they “need more proof” which I knew would happen because they always do.

3. Eftpos receipts are now not considered proof of costs. I need to return to all my medical providers and get a signed printout of my annual costs. This obviously takes a lot of time and effort for a sick person. It’s not an easy ask. It causes me a huge amount of anxiety, and physically doing it causes me exhaustion and pain.

4. A grocery receipt is not enough to prove my dietary requirements, I need several week’s worth to show the pattern of food I buy. They said they will then calculate the difference between the “usual” cost and “my” cost, and grant me this. 

5. Until I get all these things, I will live in anxiety that they are going to remove my support. Anxiety and stress make me sick. That’s written on the fucking form I gave them.

Following this post, I got together all the additional evidence they wanted, which took considerable effort. I dropped it in to the office, somewhat gingerly, because they have a proven history of losing things.

I wrote this post a week ago:

My case manager informed me on 14 February (the day before I was going to Wellington for a week) that I had until 14 March to supply new information, or my support would be removed. Getting this new information wasn’t going to be an easy task for me, and it’s fair to say I felt terrified and distressed during that phone call.

My case manager also said she would send a Special Food Grant application form to me, which I needed to provide to them along with at least a month’s worth of receipts to show my grocery expenses.

While I was away, I made phone calls and sent emails in order to get the requested information from my medical providers. As soon as I got back, I labelled them all and took them in to WINZ. That was on 25 February.

Since then, I have sent several emails and left several voice messages, none of which have been returned. My online account shows “no applications pending.” I haven’t received any letters or application forms in the mail. Meanwhile, it’s now less than a week until my support will be removed, and I have no idea if I have provided the necessary information to stop that from happening.

I find it increasingly ironic that WINZ want me well enough to go back to work, yet they consistently subject me to behaviour and systems which stress the fuck out of me, and make me more ill.

Did I say ironic? I meant frustrating, depressing, anxiety-inducing, dehumanising and debilitating.

Yes, WINZ, I agree with you. The sooner I can go back to work, the better.

This week, I realised I still hadn’t heard anything, so I tried again to make an appointment with my case manager. I got no response, so I just made one through the online service.

I was incredibly nervous about the appointment. It’s pretty difficult to walk into this place when you have no idea how you’re going to be treated, and when their role is not to help you, as it would appear, but actually do all they possibly can to get you back into work – even if that’s to your detriment.

Did you know, WINZ has an actual policy to publicly celebrate when people get work? I witnessed this today. A bell was rung, and all the workers stood up and clapped – meanwhile, the poor man who supposedly the happy recipient of this “positive reinforcement” sat still and looked utterly and completely mortified. Apparently WINZ says clients enjoy this.

It was fucking horrifying.

All this, while I myself was sitting meters away with tears of frustration streaming down my face. While I cried, the WINZ worker I was talking to stopped what he was doing, and clapped.

Oops, I’ve skipped a bit. Let’s go back, shall we?

So, I turned up for my appointment. As usual, I was seen about half an hour late. Standard WINZ procedure. Because my case manager had been unreachable (I saw her at her desk across the room), I was randomly assigned.

The person I was assigned to, it’s fair to say, was the single most unhelpful “customer service” representative I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with.

Here’s the key points:

1. He didn’t know what was happening with my Disability Allowance – only, yes, “the system tells me it’ll stop tomorrow.”

2. He suggested I talk to my case manager. When I said I’d been unable to contact her, he said I needed to “make an appointment.” Um, that’s what I thought I was doing right now?

3. They have no record of the information I provided on February 25th. It’s simply not there. He suggested I go back to my doctors (more appointments I will have to pay for), and get the information again. He was totally unmoved when I burst into tears because of the stress this will cause me.

4. He gave me the Special Food application that was promised and never sent. I have to get my doctor to sign it, even though he wrote to them about the food I need in the Disability Allowance Reapplication Form I gave them last month. (Another $37 appointment). Lucky I’ve been keeping all my grocery receipts.

5. The interview ended with him saying blankly “I can’t help you. Ring the call centre and make an appointment” and me walking out in tears.

So: the bus trip, the pain, the fatigue, the stress and anxiety of an appointment – all for nothing. I still don’t have any information about my Allowance. Well, I do. I know it stops tomorrow – even though I have done everything right, and provided everything as asked for, when asked for.

I’m tired. I’m so tired of this. I almost want to force myself to go back to work because trying to stay on a benefit is more stressful than working fulltime with a debilitating chronic illness.

Let’s just say – I won’t be going to those offices alone again.

Update:

I guess my presence in the office must have influenced something, because my case manager finally emailed me tonight.

Verdict: My Disability Allowance is being reduced by $40 per week because, on paper, my medical costs have reduced. At least they dated that decision to today, which means I’m not in debt. They could have dated it from the date of reapplication, in which case I would have owed them. They took great care to point out that this was done for me.

Don’t ever let anyone say I’m not grateful.

More milestones

Last night, while I was brushing my hair and watching strands of it drift to the floor – sorry, gross image, but yes, it falls out – I suddenly realised I had missed the one year anniversary of my almost dying. 

Today it’s a year and three days since I was admitted to hospital. I confess I don’t remember much about that time. I’d been sick for months by that point, but by January and February things had gotten much worse. I was still trying to work, mostly from bed so I could go between the laptop and throwing up into a bucket. I don’t think I have ever thrown up so much in my life. One thing I do remember is the sheer relief when I was admitted and they put intravenous painkillers and antinausea drugs into me, and for the first time in months I felt nothing. No pain, no intense need to vomit. The first proper meal I had, the next night, may have been revolting hospital food, but after weeks of starvation and just not even being able to smell food, it was the best thing I ever ate. (It was a spinach tart with mashed potatoes. I remember because I ate it with my fingers because I was too weak to use utensils or open my eyes).

The time in hospital was pretty terrifying – they speculated about what was wrong with me and I was misdiagnosed with a more serious chronic condition than what I actually have. I cried a lot. I felt totally defeated. It felt weird, after months of insisting I was fine, that I’d be getting better really soon, to finally admit that wasn’t the case.

Still, I was still relatively optimistic, looking back. I remember applying for the sickness benefit, which would be valid for three months, and thinking ‘Oh good, three months is heeeaps of time, of course I’ll be back at work by then.”

Haha, year-ago-Sarah. Good one.

But no one expects to get sick like I did, and no one realises the toll that it takes on your body. This last year has been a pretty incredible journey, learning to live with being chronically ill, fatigued, and in pain. I am making progress, as I’ve said in recent posts. But recovery is nearly always two steps forward one step back, and I’m in a step back stage at the moment (writing this on my laptop in bed. This feels hauntingly familiar!)

So I guess I just wanted to share this new milestone, and take a moment in my mountain climbing to appreciate how far I’ve come. It sure doesn’t feel like it some days, but I have. I can see change happening. I have hope.

I even use a knife and fork these days.

Quick WINZ update

As you may remember from this post three weeks ago, WINZ is currently “reviewing” my disability allowance. 

The disability allowance is the portion of my benefit that helps towards costs directly relate to my illness – doctor’s visits, medication etc.

My case manager informed me on 14 February (the day before I was going to Wellington for a week) that I had until 14 March to supply new information, or my support would be removed. Getting this new information wasn’t going to be an easy task for me, and it’s fair to say I felt terrified and distressed during that phone call.

My case manager also said she would send a Special Food Grant application form to me, which I needed to provide to them along with at least a month’s worth of receipts to show my grocery expenses.

While I was away, I made phone calls and sent emails in order to get the requested information from my medical providers. As soon as I got back, I labelled them all and took them in to WINZ. That was on 25 February.

Since then, I have sent several emails and left several voice messages, none of which have been returned. My online account shows “no applications pending.” I haven’t received any letters or application forms in the mail. Meanwhile, it’s now less than a week until my support will be removed, and I have no idea if I have provided the necessary information to stop that from happening.

I find it increasingly ironic that WINZ want me well enough to go back to work, yet they consistently subject me to behaviour and systems which stress the fuck out of me, and make me more ill.

Did I say ironic? I meant frustrating, depressing, anxiety-inducing, dehumanising and debilitating.

Yes, WINZ, I agree with you. The sooner I can go back to work, the better.

Unlocked

The last tendrils of sun slide off the sand into the sea
We pull in when the road gets rocky
and watch the cold smudges of mountains fade in the distance

The front doors rattle with the southerly
Your hands rest on the wheel
I fold up my legs in the passenger seat
We rock gently with every gust

You turn the key enough so we can listen to the radio
It’s stuck on the concert station, has been for months
I don’t know why you don’t get it fixed
we don’t like opera.

Should probably go for a walk, I guess, get some fresh air
Well, you should, at least. I don’t, anymore.

It’s dark now, but you’re going anyway
I remind you that the handle is broken, so
when you leave
please leave the door unlocked.

For Display Purposes Only

A couple of days ago I was driving in Nelson and I saw this ad in the window of a local coffee house. Not the world’s best photo, but hopefully you get the idea.

Zumo

I made a comment to the man I was with, about how sick I am of these sorts of sexualised, stereotypical, airbrushed images of women being used to sell product.

Presumably feeling personally attacked by my statement, he protested. He said “But I don’t even see the woman. I just see a coffee.” (I guess his point was to argue that she wasn’t that sexualised, because if she was, he would have noticed that. Like this is somehow a worthy counterattack to my point).

I replied: Precisely. That’s the exact problem. You are so used to this sort of image in advertising, you don’t even see the person in it, you just see the product. That’s how socialised this is. That’s how much women have been made into props in order to sell empty ideals to fish eyed consumers.

The “I don’t see it that way” argument is what makes feminism such a constant uphill battle. Responses like:

1. I don’t see the problem

2. I do see the problem, but it’s not me, I’m not like that, I’m different.

3. I’m trying to see the problem from your point of view, but I don’t see why you’re so worked up about it.

When I was in Wellington, I saw this billboard.

LiptonTea

I literally stopped dead in the street in disbelief. I can just imagine the marketer’s thought process, coming up with this one. “Oooh, how edgy! How self-referential! We’re really pushing the boundaries with this one!”

NO. You are fucking not. You are enthusiastically reinforcing all the bullshit women have to deal with every day, the implicit sexualised coding that makes men shrug and say “Don’t see a problem.”

Why would anyone even think that the model was also for sale? Because that’s how advertisers represent women. At best, another product. At worst – and usually – an agreeable, pliable prop to whatever the product actually is.

Not only is this everyday sexism at its finest, every single time a woman is used like this, it recreates and strengthens the existing code of what “a woman” is and makes it even more difficult for people to live outside of that.

Take me, for example. I’m actually amused at the way some people (usually men men in the street), struggle to respond to me. I’m amused because if I don’t laugh about this I will cry.

1. I’m not an agreeable prop. The first thing they always notice about me is my short skirts and high heels. They have a coded response to this.

2. Then they see my cane. This is when I start laughing, because the actual, noticeable doubletakes make their thought process ridiculously obvious. Their first reaction is to look because I’m wearing a short skirt. Their second reaction is their response to the fact that I’m disabled. Many don’t seem to be able to compute that. It doesn’t fit the image they want. They’re uncomfortable with it. Well, sorry and – fuck you.

No, I’m not “for display purposes only” actually. I’m a real person. I’m not “for sale,” either. So next time you look at an ad for a drink (or any other foodstuff) which includes a sexualised, airbrushed woman sucking on a straw or a spoon or making an expression that simulates orgasm (believe me, you’ll see one today) and “don’t see the person” (sure) maybe then is when you could do a doubletake.

How To Not Be Creepy on Twitter

This is my Guide for How To Not Be Creepy on Twitter. It is a response to my own experiences, and includes notes contributed by others. The Guide is mainly aimed at men, but can apply broadly.

I wrote this because, as with most online spaces, Twitter can be a difficult place to feel comfortable and safe. My vulnerability is increased because a) I’m a woman, and b) I share a lot of my personal experiences, both on Twitter and on my blog.

But I don’t want to stop sharing. And I don’t want to feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or abused when I receive what I consider to be a ‘creepy’ response. I make sure I take some responsibility by being as mindful as possible in what I say. However, that need to be mindful is in itself problematic – it hails from the same victim blaming culture as ‘You got raped because you wore a short skirt.’ I’ll give an example later of something I said that did not invite or absolve the response I got.

doing2much-on-twitter

Image from InterruptMag’s version of this post.

I also often don’t want to reactively block the people that make me feel uncomfortable, because many just don’t seem to know they’re doing it. And if I just block them with no explanation, that doesn’t give them the opportunity to learn.

Here’s a relevant precis – ‘Schrodinger’s Rapist‘ or ‘A Guy’s Guide to Approaching a Woman Without Getting Maced.’ Basically it outlines how, as women, we are always on our guard.

This is an extreme, and physical example, but it sets the scene for my Guide I think.

Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.

“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”

Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is… My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?

So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?

This is a very similar process to the one that happens in my head when somebody I don’t know – usually male – approaches me on Twitter. That may seem extreme, but it’s instinct based on experience. En garde!

How To Not Be Creepy On Twitter. 

1. Before you even send a tweet to someone, consider your relationship with them carefully. This is especially important if it’s a DM, which is immediately more private and personal. Have you met IRL? How long have you followed each other? What sort of things do you discuss? Does she/he actively respond in conversation with you? Is he/she in a different position of power to you (for example, you’re an older man she hasn’t met, and she’s a younger woman?). What dynamics are driving the conversation?

2. People will make comments about their own bodies on Twitter. They will use nice pictures of themselves in their avatars. This is not necessarily an invitation for you to comment on their physical appearance.

Example: One day I tweeted: “I wore short shorts today, and anyone who judged my scars [on my thighs, from self-injury] can kiss my ass.”

I got many male responses regarding my ass, and the act of kissing it.

Creepy. Not OK. NOT the point of the tweet.

3. It’s usually a good rule of thumb to avoid commenting on someone’s physical appearance, unless in response to a direct question – ie ‘Is this dress right for this occasion?’ or ‘What do you think of my new haircut?’ Even then, ask yourself how they might feel about your reply, and if you do choose to comment, focus on the question and be polite.

4. Be considerate of your use of endearments, unless it’s someone you know really well. Again, consider the dynamic. Two women who’ve been tweeting each other for a few months using “hun”? cool. Any other sort of unsolicited over familiarity or affection to someone you don’t know? – NO.

5. If the conversation starts in public, don’t move to DM without checking if that’s ok. In fact, any use of DM needs to be considered very carefully. It’s the equivalent of talking to someone at a party, then moving them into an empty room and closing the door. Do they want you to do this? Are you sure?

6. If you publicly offend someone and they call you out on it – publicly apologise.

7. Replying to things that were tweeted several days ago will indicate to people that you’ve been stalking their timeline. This is probably going to make them feel uncomfortable.

8. Don’t ask for personal details like addresses. You can do this only if you know them well, if you request the information publicly and allow them to reply privately, and if you are happy with the request being turned down.

9. DON’T FAV OR REPLY TO EVERY SINGLE TWEET FROM ONE PERSON. Seriously, it’s not cute, it’s creepy.

10. If you constantly reply to a person, and they constantly do not acknowledge you (particularly if they don’t follow you, either) – that probably means they don’t want to interact with you. Let it go.

11. Don’t ‘White Knight’ if you see a woman having an argument with a man. We’re strong women. Most of us are very well rehearsed in these sorts of conversations. We don’t need you to jump in and save us. (Caveat- see comment below regarding extremely abusive behaviour).

12. There are very, very few situations where it’s going to be ok to proposition someone on Twitter, so you can probably safely assume that your situation is one of the Not Ok ones. Don’t do it.

13. If you don’t know what constitutes creepy, you may not know what constitutes harassment or abuse. In some cases it can be a pretty fine line. Again, think before you tweet. You might not just make someone uncomfortable – you might be seriously crossing that line.

(Please let me know in the comments if you have points you feel could be added to this list.)

Recently I asked Twitter if just plain old platonic friendship between men and women – both online and IRL – is actually possible. The answer is yes, of course, but it comes with caveats. I’ve had men tell me that: almost every man I am friends with will think about having sex with me, regardless of if they actually have any intent on trying to follow through with this or not. This makes me highly uncomfortable. It creates anxiety that results in me being easily easily trigger, and easily creeped out, in both Twitter and IRL interactions.

Despite this, I enjoy being friends with men, in both worlds. I combat the anxiety by always trying to be up front about who I am and where my boundaries are. But sometimes the message doesn’t get through, which is another reason I created this Guide. Because I don’t want to tone my personality down. I shouldn’t have to. I’m warm, and I care deeply about people. I don’t want to stop being that way because I’m afraid – if I do, rape culture wins.

I hope that this Guide can save a few of us from situations that can be avoided – men and women alike. I hope it can, at the very least, act as a divining wand to show where the boundary lines are.

Additional note:

I’m aware that this piece is hetero focussed. As I said, I’m mainly writing from my own experience. I’m bisexual but I just tend not to get creeped out by women. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s gender-based behavioural differences, maybe it’s heteronormative cultural assumptions – and maybe it’s just my own history causing my anxiety about male agendas.

Maybe you all might have some ideas…

Over to you!

– SW

Update:

Interruptmag reposted this piece on their site and they also added some great illustrations, for example:

doing2much-on-twitter

and also:

looking-good-creep

Still my response…. (by @jemyoshioka)

sarah-nope

What helps?

Recently I wrote some stuff about my progress. It’s really hard to see from the inside, but on days when I feel frustrated and sad and sore and tired, it’s good to remind myself how far I’ve come. 

Some people have asked me how I’m doing it. How I’m managing to make small steps forward, both in my physical and mental health.

I’m going to share some of the helpful things, but this come with a caveat: these sorts of things are only helpful when you’re already at a certain point in getting well. When you’re very ill, and/or very depressed, they can be pretty much impossible. It took everything I had to claw myself back from the edge enough to actually even face doing these things. Before that, none of them would have even been possible, let alone helpful. So, before you go telling anyone to reach out and do them (or beating yourself up because you feel like you can’t) – please remember about reaching in.

1. Psychotherapy

I am incredibly, incredibly lucky in that I got unwell enough to be given the opportunity to do psychotherapy. (How ironic.) I could never afford to pay for it, and my therapist is phenomenal. It’s very intense and very difficult work and I spend several hours actively doing it every week, and much of the rest of the time thinking about it. It’s different from any counselling work I’ve done, it’s far more helpful for me. I wish I could share it all because I think it’s life-changing. I’m finally understanding why I am the way I am, and how I can be who I am without being unwell.

2. Being on the right medication 

I also was lucky enough, ha-de-ha, to be referred to a psychiatrist. I was not on the right medication last year. The moment I started reducing it, things began to improve. Even if you can’t get to a psychiatrist, I urge anyone to do lots of research and talk to your GP and listen to your body to make sure what you’re taking or not taking is right for you.

3. Moving house

Obviously your physical space, and the people you surround yourself with, have a huge impact on your physical and mental wellbeing. Moving is stressful, and I had to wait a long time for the right house and the right people, but now that I made that happen – things are so much better.

4. Eating right, including supplements

Cliches, cliches, cliches. But eating right – like, eating at all, in my case – feeds you. Feeds your brain and your body and your emotional system. I have a very difficult relationship with food, but I’m managing three meals a day and I know this is helping rebuild me. I’m also taking a whole bunch of different supplements and I can’t recommend enough finding someone who will help you find out which things you need.

5. Exercising

I know I have poo-pooed exercising in the past – and I stand by that: it’s not a cure for depression. But it does help. Even walking around my garden helps, on days I can’t go any further. It helps me process things, it calms me down when I’m distressed, it helps me sleep. (Which is another thing that is totally and utterly necessary!)

6. Choosing the right relationships

Beyond all our expectations around family and social obligations and not wanting to hurt others: you actually do get to choose who you have in your life. If a relationship doesn’t feed your spirit… find ones that do. I know this is way easier said than done, and I struggle with it constantly. But you have a right to care for yourself. There are many, many wonderful people out there wanting to be a part of your life. Let them. Let those who don’t go.

I hope some of this helps. I hope it’s not too preachy. I’m very conscious of the whole “I got better and so now I know it’s possible so I’ll tell everyone else how to get better!” schtick some people do and I don’t want to be like that. Besides, I’m not better. I’m just here. Taking one day at a time.

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