Disability and employment (here we go again…)

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I’m working from home today after an anxiety-ridden night & vivid, lucid dreams. The dreams were more nightmares to begin with and felt very intense. The last bit of rest i got this morning, however, they’d changed to more pleasant dreams, thank goodness. Still exhausting though!

I searched online for why this is happening. Apparently stress and my medication (Escitalopram) can both cause it. Hopefully as stress winds down in the new year and spring begins I can taper of the medication and it’ll help. I’m on the verge of the winter crazies (S.A.D) though, so no medication reduction for me just yet!

I’ve also found out at work that redundancies are happening – my role is up. There’s another role to apply for, but there’s competition from other colleagues, people I’m very fond of, which just adds to the stress.

My head is just whirling with thoughts around how the hell am I going to get anyone to employ me again? I have to disclose and I need reasonable adjustments. This is the only place that has accepted all of that and let me do my damn job.

After the fuckery I went through at my last job, it’s understandable I’m freaking out a bit about what comes next. After finishing there, I had a long while to find anyone willing to take on someone they view as damaged goods or extra expense.

Just look at the employment campaigns from two major disability charities right now, Scope’s Work With Me and Leonard Cheshire’s Untapped Talent. Look at the stats around disabled people in work. It’s disgusting that whilst the government are claiming they’re helping people back into work by slashing their benefits, they’re doing fuck all to impose greater restrictions on organisations to stop them discriminating based on disability in the hiring process.

I literally wrote a blog for work yesterday (for World Mental Health day) stating that no one I know is aware of Access to Work help, unless they’re a disability rights campaigner themselves or work for a disability charity. Wtf? Talk about a carrot made of more stick.

For anyone reading who is not aware, Access To Work is a fund to help you into work as a disabled person. It can help fund adjustments and equipment you need as a disabled person to level the playing field at work. They assess you and make recommendations then help/completely cover the cost. Cynical me imagines there’s deliberate reasons why that’s not common knowledge.

Anyway, I’m in full on feeling sorry for myself mode, before I need to give myself a kick up the arse and find a new job. There’s a slim chance I’ll be kept for the newly created role, but I’ve very capable colleagues also going for it and there’s no guarantee the same won’t be the case in another 3 months time.

I’ll end on the chirpy note that’s it’s hard not to internalise this shit when your work just keeps going wrong. I know redundancy is no one’s fault but hard not to feel there’s something wrong with me when wherever I work something goes horribly wrong. Just ARGH.

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Return of agoraphobia; with a vengeance

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(This blog was written on the 7th of July.) Stating the obvious here, but it’s been a while. My life was temporarily consumed with my wedding, holding down a job and holding down my sanity around all of that busyness. Wedding was awesome – and I’m back – with AN ESSAY! So get seated comfortably.

Hello agoraphobia, my old friend

Unfortunately so is agoraphobia that has not been this bad in over a year. However it’s not just leaving the house, it’s even needing to face people, friends even. I got dressed and tried to leave for the office last weej (getting the furthest I had during the week to realistically leaving) but I was just filled full of dread and froze, I physically couldn’t.

My OH managed to coax me out on Thursday for 5-10 minutes with him, just for a walk around the corner, which was progress. Unaccompanied or not before that, it’s been since last weekend that I’ve left the house.

Agoraphobia triggers

Partially I think all the people-ing of getting hitched broke me, in that it drained all my mental energy supplies. However the main trigger has been the ongoing situation with our new neighbours (moving in next week) and their builders. They’ve flouted a tonne of laws put there for able people, so someone as crazy as me it’s lead to me being too scared to leave the house.

Laws they’ve broken to date

Firstly they started drilling into the wall between our homes without getting us to sign anything first. They then told us it would be 3 months and most of it wouldn’t be as noisy. It overran to 4 months + without any update. It carried on being work that vibrates the floor and rattles your teeth. That’s not a law they’ve broken, just one of many verbal agreements.

They’ve trespassed into our garden, even when asked not to (looking back I think we were just so stunned they did this when we were in, we didn’t film it and report it, instead took a really bloody English approach ‘oh, er, excuse me, do you mind not jumping over a wall into my garden without checking with me first, thanks awfully?’)

They’ve worked through Sundays, Bank Holidays, and late Mondays – Saturdays through this period. (Council rules are no Sundays and Bank holidays and finish up at 6pm the rest of the time.) So there’s been no respite in the noise. They’ve stayed over at the property every night to start early and finish late, so they’ve constantly been there.

The worst bit was going to use the shower at 11pm and having builders up on the roof opposite able to see into the top bit of the open bathroom window. Yes, I was naked and yes the top bit of the window was open. No I shouldn’t have to explain that.

How this has impacted my mental health

As someone with massive anxiety I started to imagine the walls falling down around me and not having any legal case to pay for damages, so we’d be left screwed. When it carried on with no warning, I imagined it would go on indefinitely.

I work from home two days a week partially to avoid noise in the office (as well as people). So this downtime I’d reserved to preserve my sanity and get some uninterrupted work done, has been replaced by hellish noise. This slowly melts away your ability to keep your shit together.

The whole bathroom debacle was the peak of the whole them being en masse in the front and the back of the house shouting loudly at each other and adding to that ‘surrounded’ feeling which ended up triggering the agoraphobia attack this week.

Where did complaining get me?

I’ve had various text conversations with the guy moving in. However, this was only after texting him myself once the builders had set up camp on the roof and had a perfect view into the toilet that night.

Before then, I’d written a letter and hand delivered it to the builders (so no doubt about it, it was from me) saying for the new neighbours to contact us. The male then contacts my male partner. Which instantly causes me to raise an eyebrow.

His response to us asserting our legal rights to protect ourselves from getting screwed over? To turn it around into what I think you can call gaslighting. He’s not trying to screw us over! (With a hint of, how could we think that of this random guy we’ve never met before?) That and the whole approaching the male just SMACKS of privilege. In fact it’s been his tactic from the start – it then moves on to ‘hey, it’s no big deal, there’s no problem, there’s no need to make a big fuss…’ type gaslighting.

The night I finally contact him myself, angry as hell about his drunken builders getting an eyeful, I get condescended, placated & the whole power dynamic of burly cishet alpha males constantly living in and being around my property every time I come and go – and apparently when I shower – is lost. Rage inducing. This is so important because this is absolutely this dynamic that was triggering to the agoraphobia.

He finishes this episode off by coming around our house, talking to us in the same way with a half amused look on his face (like how ridiculous are we?) then ridicules a solution I bring up that he originally suggested. He leaves with me shaking in anger.

Our final episode of texting was after the nonstop drilling during our wedding day, and all weekend after irrespective of law and the verbal promise to cease that weekend. This time this guy ignores my telling him he’s broken the law and to cease work, then claims two things I experienced never happened with the builders. Typical and specific gaslighting of a femme presenting person by a privileged douche. I wasn’t shocked, just fucking angry.

Struggling against internalisation

Despite maintaining my rage and knowing (see all the above) that I’ve had to deal with a privileged ignoramus who at the very best doesn’t get, but more likely knows and exploits the power he has, the agoraphobia it’s manifested as is essentially internalising. I’ve changed my actions to deal with external factors, because I feel I’ve lost control of them.

Also, it took me a lot of courage to write this, because I’d convinced myself that I was to blame, all of my hysteria about this was to blame – and it was because I am broken that I cannot deal with it. That is in some part, what the behavior exhibited was supposed to achieve. Unfortunately, it’s also my go to place. Add in a bit of guilt over feeling shit the week after I got married – et viola! A shit sandwich.

Then this morning I read Mark One In Four’s blog post on how people with mental health conditions have not had the same revolution disabled people have in terms of people realising society is not rigged in our favour – and is in fact rigged against us. We try and fit in, lay low, beat ourselves up, blame ourselves and our glitches – instead of knowing what we need and pushing for it to be a reality. Reading that first made me cry tears of relief, for someone understanding how that feels, then pushed me to realise my first thoughts were right. It helped me write this blog. Please read it, it resonated so much with me.

But how can anyone with mental health conditions protect themselves from these situations?

Shouldn’t there be laws protecting disabled people in this sphere of life? That is exactly what I thought before and exactly what came back to me after reading Mark’s article. Like reasonable adjustments that apply to the people living right next to you? A mediator, so you don’t have to deal with laws unto themselves who have no compassion or understanding – who exacerbate your mental health conditions by using abusive behavioural tactics?

I will ask though, if council’s are so overstretched that they can’t regulate people flouting laws like this, that are supposed to apply to everyone, how the hell under the current system could they monitor anything else put in place for disabled people? It comes back to more funding and systemic change. There’s no quick fix. However the Equality Act should be enshrined in every area of life to protect marginalised people.

I’m not sure how this could work, but let’s start a conversation about it. Do you agree? Do you have have any ideas or suggestions about how this could be implemented? Let me know in the comments beneath and start up a discussion.

My sober 2017 so far…

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[CW: Alcohol, alcohol issues, alcoholism, suicidal thoughts mentioned (non explicit)]

Hey… hi… hello there! I’ve seen there’s been views of the Facebook page for Moody Crazy Lazy and views of the blog, so sorry to anyone checking back here for more ramblings! Life has just been busy, juggling a new full time job with illnesses… (there’s been weeks where it’s been a vicious circle of mental health flare ups followed by pain flare ups) and wrapping up / handing over voluntary commitments… and wedding planning (which is in itself exciting, but some of the admin is as dull AF.)

Last weekend I drank alcohol for the first time in 48 days (so close to 50, annoyingly!) so that feels like a good topic to start up the blog again on. I wrote in my journal the following morning describing the dehydration, anxiety, crap sleep, headache etc that followed as a reminder to my future self of WHY I quit drinking in the first place. I was also reminded that moderation is just not a thing I can do. More often than not, once I have one drink, I just keep going. This has reminded me that I do definitely have a binge drinking issue, even if I’m not the stereotypical view of an alcoholic.

I discussed before my self medicating and self-destructive relationship with alcohol. That in itself has massive stigma attached to it. However if I’m honest I don’t even have that good a reason for yesterday’s drinking. I was just bored of being sober! I guess that is self sabotage in itself, though.

I wasn’t feeling high anxiety or depression – in fact I was having a nice time. It was just that little nagging voice in my head I gave in to. Which I regretted the next day. However I’m trying not to dwell and beat myself up. I need to learn from this because I got away with it this time without any major consequences – and it could have been a lot worse. There have been times where it’s triggered awful depression and suicidal feelings. I have to remember I could have gone back to that place.

Waking up with none of those feelings is massively preferable, obviously. Whilst it doesn’t magic away my mental health conditions, it serves not to make them worse. I’ve discussed this with a friend in a similar situation, and we sometimes trick ourselves into thinking that because it’s not a one stop cure all – and we still feel shit when we don’t drink – we may as well drink anyway. In all honesty, I think that is me trying to make excuses to drink again. But fuck feeling this gross when I have an option not too.

I’ve found my local alcohol services not helpful – I don’t feel they are set up for people who have secondary drink issues (i.e. associated to mental health conditions) which I’ve touched on before in this blog. I get seen once every month or two now and sort of get told I’m doing fine, which doesn’t really offer much advice or guidance. I understand they deal with people who are physically addicted and drink every day from the morning etc, so they see me as low risk. I often feel huge impostor syndrome going there in fact. However it creates a situation where it feels like they are saying ‘there’s no problem with how you respond to alcohol, carry on as you are’. Which kind of defeats the purpose of going. It’s not treated as serious enough when I fall off the wagon – it’s shrugged off. (I don’t mean to sound melodramatic here, I do understand people have worse addiction problems with me and there’s limited budgets, however I do think it’s important anyone who identifies as having problem drinking behaviour should be helped.)

Leaving AA, staying sober – website and talk by Jon Stewart

Yesterday I saw a talk by Jon Stewart about atheist recovery services (or lack thereof) and unhelpful myths AA still runs based on. One of them is this idea of the waking-up-drinking-at-7AM type alcoholic, then everyone else’s drinking is JUUUUUST fine (I’m paraphrasing here a little!) He mentions this is has been disproved – and it’s more of a sliding scale. This is not news to me, which is why I don’t take my binge drinking lightly, however I think it may be food for thought for some. I *highly* recommend cathcing this talk if you can. Here’s a link to Jon’s blog. I found loads of things pointed out and resources listed useful. The talk was fun as well as thought provoking.

Club Soda

Something that has worked for me better is a group, website… movement in fact called Club Soda. I massively recommend them for anyone who wants to cut down or quit. They have a Facebook group where members support each other through rough times and celebrate alcohol free achievements together. They work towards building a different attitude and culture around not drinking.

Instead of ‘abstinence’ or ‘sobriety’ its choosing to go ‘alcohol free’. It shifts the focus from missing out to making a deliberate lifestyle choice, which feels much more positive. There’s a lot of talk in the group about how drinking is an ingrained societal thing and how it’s normalised – which is problematic. I prefer and agree with this approach much more than the person/addict centred idea that it’s a disease that only some people have. The disease model ignores the fact that an addictive substance is sold to people and marketed as a stress buster / fun catalyst – all of which is hugely problematic.

Anyway, I’m setting a new target to do sobriety at least until the wedding in June. I plan to try my first sober clubbing experience in two weeks time, eak! Wish me luck 🙂

The language around disability

[CW: Ableist language examples & hate crime mentioned.]

It was UK Disability History month between November and December, which I missed publishing this in time for due to being busy on top of struggling with the winter mind worms.

The theme for 2016 was language. Now I know what you’re thinking. ‘There’s more important things than language – like how people are treated’. Or maybe ‘Oh god, here goes another FUN rant about ableism & albeist slurs…’ You folks love it really – it’s part of my charm 😉

Well I promise I’m going to try to NOT make this sound like a lecture and I’ll keep it solutions focused. I’ll explain a bit about why I think language is important and then point towards some small language changes that’ll enable you to talk about disability in a more empowering way for all of us. So guilt trips here about past language slips ups as we’ve all been there and I for one have had less than perfect language and behaviour – and I’m still learning.

So my first point is language is part of how we’re treated. When ableist language is used in an act of hate crime, it is the treatment itself or forms part of the treatment. When ableist things are said as a reflection of held beliefs as part of discrimination at work, it’s very much part of how we’re treated. It’s a false distinction to separate actions and language in this context.  If anything, language is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to societal attitudes and behaviour towards disability.

Scope’s (disability charity) recently published hate crime stats make grim reading. However they paint a picture of the abuse disabled people have to face regularly, that is part of their lived experience. So language does matter – because it affects disabled people – and feeds in to the narrative that their conditions are a negative thing. If I think about some of the terms still used frequently, like ‘retard / tard’, ‘lame’, ‘Scitz’, ‘flid’ etc including people actually doing impressions of disabled people whilst calling each other these things… it’s still rife. Not only are we using words associated with disability to basically mean ‘shit, crap, ignorant etc’ but I always think about disabled people hearing those things said in a flippant way when they’re lived experience is those words being used to insult them.

On a personal note, which I know is going to get scoffs of ‘I’m being ridiculous’ – I hate people using these words ‘bonkers, manic, crazy, mental, psycho…’ etc. What you mean is ‘irrational, illogical, ignorant, hectic/busy’. Or saying ‘I’m a bit OCD’. I get even more baffled and frustrated when social justice organisations use them in public communications, it makes me want to face palm!

Before you get annoyed, I’d like to point out it will mean a *tiny* bit of effort on your behalf to reach a bit further into the corners of your vocabulary and find a more accurate phrase. Use online resources if you’re stuck (like the awesome one by Autistic Hoya here) that provide alternatives to ableist language. In doing so, you’ll help disabled people feel less othered in a world that is often so othering. Is it that much of a big ask? I love the idea your response now may be ‘it’s PC gone MAD’ Ah irony, my old friend.

I think I should point out here that I’m not perfect. Some of my friends and I have discussed how the jokes we’ve made in the past are problematic AF. Becoming an intersectional feminist (one who recognises how the intersections of sexuality, gender, class, race, disability etc impact us in the same structural way being female or femme presenting does) has made me question this behaviour of mine & try to stop it. I still slip up sometimes and my only comfort is I’m trying. My point is that this negative language (which demonstrates attitude) is so heavily ingrained in us that it’s hard to tear away from. No one has to be perfect at it, but we can think about it a bit more and try and harder in the spirit of being more compassionate beings.

Language has such power. Especially emotive language. I can point towards the recent events of Brexit and Trump being elected to demonstrate how, when backed with little or no fact or evidence, someone can just say a load of emotive things and will people to think a certain way. So how can we deny our language around disability doesn’t matter?

(P.S. This is a blog topic so I’ve kept it brief. However as I’ve said in the past this subject obviously isn’t more important than other disability issues like cuts to PIP & ESA.)

It’s OK to not be OK…

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My mood has dipped and I’m not feeling like doing anything. Not leaving the house, not doing the work I need to do, not doing anything in the house, nothing. I hate this. I’m on increased meds and I’m looking after myself on the whole, but I think the shorter hours of sunlight are getting to me, despite using my SAD lamps religiously.

It’s annoying as I should be happy. Many of you with mental health conditions know this feeling. The ‘Why the hell am I feeling miserable when I have nothing to feel miserable about?’ feeling. Then the beating yourself up about it because you can’t be happy and grateful, beaming from ear to ear swinging around lampposts and singing. ‘OH THE JOY AND WONDERMENT OF LIFE!’ This is how sometimes I feel I’m expected to feel by constant positivity propaganda. I’m vary wary of it at best and other times it makes me want to spew.

Well aren’t I a little ray of pitch black? My friend sent me this image macro used in this post recently and it did make me chuckle. I think it’s important to remember sometimes that we don’t need to positive ourselves out of feeling crappy, we are allowed to just feel crappy and sit with that rather than glossing things over.

‘It’s OK to not be OK’. In fact an image macro of just that is something that helps me when I feel rubbish rather than overly motivational thanks-giving claptrap on days like today. I am trying to remember today instead of beating myself up for rainbows not beaming out of my ass.

I got great news, which is that I have landed a job with a disability charity who I disclosed to and who have taken all of my reasonable adjustments on board. Which is why I’m feeling extra guilty for feeling rubbish. It’s like I’m not allowed because I have this great news. Which sounds ridiculous now I type it. Great news doesn’t change the fact I have mental health conditions which means to an extent I can’t control how I feel. Sometimes typing this stuff out help me realise this. Still that voice says ‘Why can’t you just be happy about this and enjoy the moment?’

I’m also really scared about it. After my last hideous experience of employment, who can blame me? It’s hard not to have reservations and expect the worst. Also, it’s been 10 months since I’ve had to deal with people in a small noisy office and despite my reasonable adjustments to help that, I’m really anxious about it. So yeah, that’s what’s going on in my head about all of this. ARGH.

Also a large chunk of it is fear of the unknown. Wish me luck.

 

World Mental Health Day: why just talking about stigma isn’t enough

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[CW: mental healthcare crisis, disability allowance cuts…]

I know I’ve talked about this before, but you know what? When 4 people per day die after being declared fit for work by the DWP (1) and benefit sanctions against people with mental health conditions are up 600% it needs to be shouted from the roof tops.

TALKING ABOUT STIGMA ALONE DOES FUCK ALL when people are dying from having their life support lines removed. I talked about it before here, and reblogged an article about it here. Since then things have just gotten worse.

That’s why it’s massively disconcerting to see charities reeling out the same old tosh about ‘talk to someone’, ‘seek help’, ‘you can speak up’. Yeah, breaking stigma is one element of helping to make life easier for those with MH conditions, but alone it’s an empty gesture. I mentioned in a previous post I went to the doctors two weeks ago and was literally told to go help myself (by being referred to self-help books.) I had to laugh, or I would have cried.

Anti-stigma campaigns won’t help people afford food, help them cope day to day or do anything to oppose the ruthless cuts to NHS mental healthcare and disability benefits. I’m disillusioned that big charities keep harping on about this rather than focusing on less socially acceptable ‘protest’ campaigns against cuts that really affect us.

Grassroots organisations like Mental Health Resistance Network and Disabled People Against The Cuts (DPAC) are doing this type of protest work. However they obviously don’t have the media coverage or budgets of the bigger charities (I’m thinking about MIND, Re-think etc – who do some amazing work, but are ultimately subject to campaigns concocted by well-meaning well-paid office staff who are ultimately out of touch with the everyday struggles of a tonne of mental health service users.)

Another element to consider is bigger charities funding streams and them not wanting to be seen to be ‘too political’. So they focus on employability and stigma instead of not upsetting donors.

However, in my book, if you focus on the fluffier, personal and individual side of things and totally gloss over the political and economic factors, then criticism in inevitable and justified.

What am I going to do about it apart from moaning? I’ve contacted Mental Health Resistance Network offering to start up a local branch, but they’re snowed under and quite small so I’ve not heard back. So the plan is when I’m feeling mentally stronger and have less voluntary stuff on my plate I’m going to look into starting a grassroots mental health / wider disability campaign group that tackles political and economic factors.

Because fuck playing nice. We’ve tried that. Time to be a thorn in their side.

 

  • This was quoted at the recent Psych Benefits event Friday 7th of October, a conference where those who work in psychiatry and psychology were openly criticising benefits cuts. Agenda can be viewed here.

**UPDATE** A few days after I posted this, MIND have announced they’re working with the DWP. Proves my point about charities cosying up to government to win contracts. Disaster for those they claim to support: http://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/statement121016/

Fat and body acceptance

(TW: Fatphobia, ableism & I specifically mention gym statuses – so if you post them and you’re going to get upset with me disagreeing with them, I’m pre-warning you now.)

What does this have to do with mental health? Everything. Underlying or accompanying a lot of lack of feeling of self-worth is low self-esteem. It’s a vicious circle. We presume our low self-esteem is there because we suck and changing those things we don’t like about ourselves is the only way to move on.

Ever feel like you’re still not happy when you change those things? Like when you get more buff (presuming you can – that you’re able bodied) but you’re still miserable? Could it be there’s too much focus put on how you look rather than actually taking care of how you feel – your own sense of self?

I’m finally beginning to understand the things people say like ‘it wasn’t until I began to love myself that I lost weight because I was focusing on taking care of myself instead of crash dieting’. Although I’ll go on to say this is BS as the focus inevitably still comes back to weight and some of us can’t magic up self-love that quickly.

We’re taught to value ourselves by how we look, if we fit in and if we look like X aspirational person. As someone who dresses alternative, the alt scene is just as culpable for this – modelling clichés about skinniness or muscular types being more attractive – just like the mainstream.

What do we think this is doing to our mental health? Half of us will never looked like whichever airbrushed image we’re desperately aspiring to. Not only is it unrealistic, but it’s harmful. Perpetuating this bullshit that the beauty, health & gym industries shove down our throats is harmful. It often comes off as fat shaming and ableist.

For instance, it’s insensitive to post a picture of your workout/you at the gym when people viewing your feed may be too sick/disabled to make it to the gym. It’s backing up the idea that what you’re doing is virtuous and something to be congratulated, which therefore sends the message that not doing workouts or exercise should be shameful. Or that fat people should lose weight otherwise they’re bad in some way.

As well as being tactless, it comes off as fake body positivity. My guess is if most people were happy with their bodies, they wouldn’t need to share those posts. It’s to illicit a response (i.e. approval) from everyone else. People who have defended themselves by saying that they are keeping a track of their success and improvements in the gym – why haven’t you chosen ‘me only’ FB posts or kept it in a spreadsheet offline? Point is, to fat and/or disabled people who will never achieve those levels of fitness, it feels like those posts are designed to elevate yourself above us.

If you’re one of these people and you feel attacked right now, I urge you to have a think about why you do and the effects of it. I will obviously never tell anyone what to post on their social media accounts that is up to them. But I think a bit of self-awareness and reflection is no bad thing.

In terms of defending myself, I’ve unfollowed all social accounts that repeat offend. I do go the gym, yoga and this clubbing dance class. I go primarily because of my mental health, to make me feel better. Secondarily, I go to look after my physical health. However it’s my own personal journey I don’t want to share with others because of the reasons above – and because it’s a personal journey.

Finally I’ve been working really hard at looking outwards in the terms of why I hate my body. I watched an awesome webinar by The Body Is Not An Apology (which I have done so much reading on to help me) on radical self-love & fat acceptance. It talks about how we’ve been totally brain washed to hate ourselves so we buy products and surgery etc to come closer to this ideal. It shares the idea we can reject all of this by practising radical self-love. Which is a fuck you to a society that tells us we’re worth less if we’re fat, as well as a fuck you to capitalism.

In terms of radical self-love, I’m trying. It’s hard when you’ve had anxiety and depression for more than half of your life. It’s also hard when even your own feeds on social media are full of fat shaming shit like the above, or more obvious versions of it. I’m working on body and self-acceptance for now though.