Think of the Children!

Well, it’s a dramatic enough title, for a dramatic enough day in world history.

I’m really not going to go on about my personal feelings regarding the US election. I’m pretty sure that anyone who reads these blog entries will know which side of the debate I stand firmly behind, and frankly, there have been enough dissections. We know.

But what I didn’t know, this morning, was what I would be telling my children. It’s nice, here in the UK, that I technically had the luxury of not telling them at all. But then, America is a very big, rather influential country, and children hear the news no matter what we do as parents (school is handy that way), so I reasoned I really ought to tackle it somehow.

They’re young, and easily crushed. The fact that my son’s initial reaction was “Oh, we’re doomed then. XX at school says that it will mean World War 3,” was not encouraging. Time for an extended metaphor…

Recently, it was Halloween. (You may or may not remember this.) For the first time, I decided we’d carve pumpkins, and like the over-enthusiastic amateur I am, I bought three of the dratted things, and kept all the seeds with the (rather excessively optimistic) intention of roasting them at some point. When that didn’t happen immediately, I spread them all out on a baking tray to dry, vaguely thinking they might want to plant a few.

A day or so later, I noticed that one of the seeds had a little white bit poking out of it. Hot damn, I thought. The thing’s actually sprouted! In November! Possibly I should have thrown it away. Instead, I planted it in a pot and left it in the kitchen, adding a second early sprout when I saw that it wasn’t alone.

Look at those little sprouts go!

There they are. I took the photo just before sitting down to write this. Pumpkin plants, sprouting over winter. If they’d sprouted outside, they would die. It’s the wrong time for pumpkins, after all. You don’t plant them until the warm weather comes back. And maybe I shouldn’t have tried to save those two little sprouting seeds. After all, what’s the point? The odds of them actually growing into something which could flower and produce fruit are so tiny. It will be winter when they get big enough that they really ought to be planted outside.

It would be easy to give up in the face of such odds. To say it isn’t worth it. That it’ll be too difficult to keep them. They’ll need bigger pots, more compost, and I don’t even have a garden! Where will they be planted when (if) the time comes?

But there they are, green and growing, in spite of the time of year. And I know that, if I look after them – if I water them, and feed them, and work to overcome the obstacles – they’ll survive. Even with the seasons stacked against them, care will win over neglect.

So what I told my children this morning is that sometimes, things can seem hopeless. Sometimes, the world can seem like it’s set us up to fail. That everything is going wrong. But as long as people care, there is hope. And one day winter will end, and on the other side we’ll find the spring.

(And Nanny has a big garden, so when it gets warm we can try planting them there.)

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AAW 2016

Well, you know what time it is, folks!

…Or rather you don’t, because honestly, Asexual Awareness Week is a pretty non-major event as far as most people are concerned. Hell, it’s something which slips under my radar at times and I am asexual, so I can’t even blame anyone if I’m honest.

But why? Why is it such a small deal in the wider world? Hell, why do we even bother? After all, there’s coming out day, and pride week, and all that other MOGII/LGBT+ stuff we could take part in. Why do we need our own special snowflake week, yeah?

Well, here’s the thing. I’m pretty sure that everyone’s heard of being gay by now. Much as there are a whole class of bigots who deny that that’s a thing, more or less everyone has heard of being bisexual as well. And yet it seems that, whenever I come out to someone, chances are that my not-so-startling (if you know me) revelation is followed by a question along the lines of:

“What’s that then?”

And I’m not gonna lie, getting that question is always preferable to its cousin: “What, like a plant?” Firstly, it displays a fundamental lack of biology which is frankly annoying. (I mean, come on. Most plants reproduce sexually. There’s this stuff called ‘pollen’ – you may have heard of it, and it’s kinda sorta plant sperm. Yeah. You sniff that flower. Get nice and close. What’s not to love about plant genitalia, right?)

Things are getting a little steamy in here, clearly

Ooo-er…

And secondly, it’s just another way to other asexuality. Like somehow I’m less of a human because I really don’t understand how that whole sexual attraction thing works. I mean, there are many ways in which I consider myself a less than perfect specimen of humanity (I have a faulty brain, dodgy blood pressure, and I was down one organ before I hit 25, for starters), but the fact that I can’t get my head around how the thought of a person with no clothes on means “SEX” really doesn’t seem a big deal to me.

You know what is a big deal? The fact that I spent most of my life having never even heard of asexuality. The fact that I was able to go all the way through my teens, reach adulthood, have kids, get married, and not once have come across it. This, despite the fact that it was no secret among my friends that I was singularly disinterested in the whole concept of dating (seriously, what was the point? All people ever did was stand next to what I saw as a random boy and smoosh faces with them where everyone could see, presumably for the sake of saying you’d reached X rung on the sliding scale of “who is the most arbitrarily attractive/popular boy I can attain” ladder. Having shared interests or doing anything other than stand in public and Be Together was something I saw no evidence of whatsoever), and that I thought the idea of kissing someone was kinda gross. I still think it looks pretty weird, to be honest.

And this, neatly enough, brings me back around to Asexuality Awareness Week. Which exists not only for Ace Pride, but also to let the world know that, hey. We actually exist, yeah? And it’d be great if people could stop with the dehumanising jokes, or the assumptions that it’s some sort of mental illness, or that it comes with a predefined set of personality elements which come as a job lot.

We’re not Borg. As much as I’ve described my asexuality in this and other posts – my experiences, my attitudes to attraction and sex – not everyone who is asexual will identify with those feelings. So it’s a shame that the little representation asexuality tends to get is along the non-sexual robot lines.

It’s alienating again. It’s lumping everyone together, and making an assumption that a lack of sexual attraction – or even a lack of interest in sex altogether – means an absence of any emotions at all, or an inability to understand them in other people.

I can go weeks or even months without especially feeling any strong need to have sex. It’s a nice thing, but it’s not essential to my life. And is there anyone out there who could seriously claim that I’m emotionless? Frankly, the idea is laughable. We’re in a world which is finally (and, granted, slowly in places) moving away from stereotyping all gay men as being camp, or of assuming that all lesbians are butch. Why do we have to replace those pointless stereotypes with new ones?

Because the most amazing thing I learnt when I became part of the asexual community is that there’s no right or wrong way to be ace. Moreso than any other community I’ve personally interacted with, the asexual community has a spotlight focus on validation and the fact that we all experience things differently. And if there’s one thing I want to make people aware of this week, it’s that. We’re not cold, we’re not inhuman, we’re not robotic. Asexuality is an orientation, not a personality – and as such, it’s about time people knew a bit more about it, yeah?

The Asexual Flag

Plus, our flag’s so pretty!

Europe

Yesterday, in a pique of slightly desperate pleading, I said that I voted to remain in Europe as I believed it was the patriotic thing to do.

Today, I woke up to the news that, of the approximately 73% of the population who voted, more than half disagreed with me.

I’ll be honest, I’m feeling pretty emotional at the moment and I think it would be easy for me to lash out verbally. To let my emotions take control and sink into a tirade of despair and name-calling which, I’ll be honest, I’ve already indulged in a little. I’m human. It happens.

But it also happens that I am English. British. European. And that means a few other things as well.

Britain has always survived. It wasn’t easy, and we seldom emerged unscathed, but at the end of all periods of unrest, we emerged. Perhaps we were a different shape. Perhaps we were battered and bruised and almost unrecogniseable. But we were there. We have always been there.

We have a strange history. It’s not a peaceful one, and in a great many places it’s not a proud one either. Whether or not you agree that voting to leave the European Union was a good idea, you cannot deny that a great many crimes have been committed in the name of this green and pleasant land. A great many cruel people figure highly in our history books. A great many countries, past and present, have no good reason to think favourably of us.

But that’s speaking as “we”. It’s speaking for millions, billions, past and present and future. It’s taking the wide view, and right at this moment, I don’t believe the wide view is a lot of help.

What happens now is beyond my control. It’s beyond your control. In fact, the only people who really have a say are a small core of politicians and bureaucrats who very few of us could put faces to, let alone names. Perhaps I should say it’s a bad thing. From where I am sitting, I honestly can’t say I feel very optimistic about it all.

But I am English. I am British. And laying aside the fact that I am also European for a moment, what this tells me about myself is that I hail from a nation of people who cling to stubborn pride. Who, by and large, endure through adversity. Who don’t know when to give up.

I said yesterday that we are United in name, but while that is true, there’s another story running counter to it. We are united, but we are also in constant discord. It’s a knife edge which we have run for centuries – millenia, in fact. Our history as a group of nations is one of ongoing strife and discontent. One of protests, successful and failed. One of dissatisfaction and equality and prejudice.

I look back at our history and I see rotten boroughs and workhouses. I see a class system so entrenched that it has formed a part of our very language. I see discrimination and intolerance at every turn, for every reason. I see political lies and misinformation, and at the heart of it all, I see real people with no say in their lives, who get caught up in the events around them.

During the Roman invasion, Celts marched into battle against an army which outclassed their weapons and strategies. In Tudor times, you could be burnt at the stake depending on your religion. At the start of the industrial revolution, weavers took to breaking the looms which they knew would put them out of work. During the 1800s, thousands were locked up in workhouses for the misfortune of poverty.

Britain was not the same after these things. Britain could never be the same after these things. And many people simply did not survive these things. But these are some of the events which shaped our nation. Which led, by long, indirect roads (definitely not the Roman ones), to a nation of people who, when faced with wartime rationing and bombing raids, displayed a courage and unity which baffled their foes.

I don’t bring up the Blitz lightly. It is a rallying call for many kinds of people, and it is a period of our history which carries as many shames as it does virtues. But I know it’s a spirit many people recognise, and I think there is something fundamentally British about the everyday attitude people displayed.

As a nation, we don’t expect good things to happen. We view each sporting event as an anticipation of failure, and we work ourselves into a frenzy when we succeed because it is almost always against the odds. We are a nation against the odds. Fractured kingdoms, united by a border of water which steadily eats into our shores; a melting pot of opinions and ideas which froths and simmers and occasionally boils over, for good or ill.

We are a nation of complaints and grumbles and persistence. We delight in self-satire, and if we have a political elite who do not understand us, we are unsurprised – they have been entrenched for over a thousand years, and beneath their towers and castles, the ordinary people labour on.

When we rise in protest, we do not always succeed. We cut off the head of one king, only to realise that we had made a terrible mistake – and eventually offer the crown back to his own son. Wat Tyler marched upon London to fight for the rights of the common people and wound up dead, his revolution meeting a fruitless and mostly painful end. In the immediate wake of the Peterloo Massacre, the government’s response was to crack down on those who campaigned for the rights of the common man.

Times have been hard. Times have been brutal. Times have made us suffer. But I am a child of this turbulent, contradictory nation, where courage and cowardice walk hand in hand. Where progressives and conservatives exist side by side. Where ignorance and education mix and learn from each other. Where the wealthy and the poor must co-habit. Where the constant unrest and upheaval of millennia has forged a nation who do not expect good things, but carry on regardless. Where pride and stubbornness are forged by adversity into endurance.

Where, no matter how bad it gets, no matter how bad it looks, no matter what life throws at me, I look it in the eye and I say I will not lay down. I will not be beaten. I will not give up. I will stand proud and tall for my children and they will not see my fear, or my shame.

And one day, be it near or far, I know that the hard times will pass, and we will still be here. Probably not the same, but here nonetheless. And perhaps the next time, we will emerge as a Britain who is ready to leave the days of empire and isolation as far behind as we did our feudal system and rotten boroughs.

Obligatory Referendum Post

There are so many arguments, so much misinformation on both sides of this debate that I feel for a lot of people it comes down – at heart – to an emotional decision. Do you want to be part of Europe or not?

Now, I value sovereignty, and I love this country, and I can understand the view in favour of leaving Europe for that reason.

But at heart, I look at the UK and I see a nation which has never been closed. I see people from all walks of life; from all backgrounds. We havebeen a cultural melting pot since the Ice Age ended and the waters rose, and the “native” Celts were joined by Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Romans, Vikings, Normans. Waves of migrants since before the start of written history. It’s in our blood. It’s in our myths and legends. It’s in our NAME.

United. We’re stronger as group of four than we were alone. We’re better when we set aside our differences and work for a common cause. And I look at this debate and I see no difference between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

I see elected representatives from across Europe working together to unite disparate people and give us common safety and security. I see solidarity. I see hope for a peaceful future. I see cultural enrichment, as our traditions are passed on an explained to new generations, and have the freedom to grow and evolve with us.

I look at all of this and I think: What is patriorism? Is it a love of who I am and where I hail from? Is it a blind devotion to a set of laws and morals which would be anathema to generations past? What makes a person British? Is it Europhobia and distrust?

Or is it tea and crumpets, umbrellas on standby. Is it cream teas and castles. Green fields and rolling hills. Maypoles and country fairs. Cider, and beer, and ale, and wine. Freedom, and hope, and stubbornness and sarcasm, and a dry, endless pessimism which belies inner strength.

I don’t think any of those things will be lost to Europe. Rather, I believe they are the greatest treasure we hold; one which can only grow with the sharing. I am English. I am British. And I am European and I want to stay that way.

I’m voting Remain, because in my heart, I think that is the most patriotic thing I will ever do.

Fitting In

I spent this weekend at a rehearsal, in the company of people I had never met before, but who shared a few key interests with me. Within a few hours I was chatting and chilled. Now, I don’t make friends easily (thanks, social anxieties!) so to feel relaxed around new acquaintances that quickly is a pretty big deal for me. Needless to say, I arrived home a few hours ago in high spirits.
My children were dropped off an hour or so later, in similarly good moods. We had the usual kerfuffle at the door with shoes and bags, with the only noticeable difference being that The Girl had been to a party at which face-paint was on offer, and had insisted on keeping the painted on Catwoman mask for me to see. Honestly, it was a pretty good job. I could tell who she was before she told me, which is always a plus.
 
So, to the point. We were sitting downstairs together before bed, and she gradually started to look a little uneasy. I could see the expression deepen as she told me her friends had Shopkins facepaint. Oh dear, I thought. I know where this is going.
 
Sure enough, the next thing she said was an expression of regret about her choice.
“Don’t you like Catwoman?” I asked.
No, that wasn’t the problem. Nor was it that she preferred Shopkins, or was unhappy about how her face looked. In all honesty, I don’t think she could really articulate what was wrong. And in fairness to her, it’s a challenging concept for a young child to put into words.
 
The crux of it, I think, is that she’s almost six now, and she’s picked up on the fact that in some hard-to-define way, fitting in and being the same is good, and being different is… not fitting in.
She’s in Year One, so I don’t think they’ve yet reached the stage of picking on the kids who are different (and the school is very inclusive, which I think helps prevent that attitude getting too entrenched anyway), but society as a whole has an unerring tendency to guide people into this mindset. Fashion. Trends. Adverts. They all, subtly or (usually) otherwise, guide people to the conclusion that fitting in is good, and sticking out really isn’t.
So when my daughter, aged five, chose to have her face painted as Catwoman, and several of her friends chose to be (identical) Shopkins, she was left with that odd, hard-to-place feeling that somehow she’d done something…not wrong, but not entirely right, either.
 
And it’s awful. A five-year-old girl feeling like she made a bad choice for being a character she loves, because it’s not the same as everyone else. As far as I know, no one even said anything about it. It’s just a concept she has already internalised.
When I was younger, I worried a lot about this myself. I always knew, deep down, that I didn’t fit in, and for a long time this made me panic and try extra hard to mask that fact. Now, I won’t ever claim I tried to fit in with the popular kids (it was never gonna happen), but I certainly did my best not to stand out, either. One of my best friends once described my wardrobe as the sort of thing “normal people wear in films”. I never quite passed for real-life normal, but I had near-as-dammit down to an art. I faded into the background like a movie extra. Never the centre of attention, but still part of the crowd.
I nodded and smiled when the conversation turned to TV shows I didn’t watch, or the attractiveness of actors whose names I seldom knew. I painstakingly taught myself to recognise double entendres and laugh with the rest, and I got used to never mentioning my quirkier interests, or denying them outright if people spoke ill of them. (“Oh, yeah. People should absolutely get more fresh air and not spend all their time playing computer games. It’s not healthy!”)
It took me a long time to have the courage to not care, and before I could be myself, I had to try out various alter-egos. I had my faux-goth phase. My jewellery-as-armour phase. My ostentatious-I-don’t-care phase. The last one still flares up now and then, but mostly, these days I have settled into quietly doing and wearing whatever the hell I want.
Still. The road to get here was long enough that the thought of my daughter setting off down it fills me with sadness. As her mother, I don’t want her to be at the start of a long road filled with heartache and self-doubt. I don’t want my daughter’s future to be a war between enjoying the things she really loves to their fullest, and putting some of her interests aside so she can avoid feeling like a pariah.
We had a conversation before she went to bed. I don’t think she really took it in, but that’s okay, because I’m very prepared to have it again, as many times as she needs to. It wasn’t long, but I made sure to tell her that I thought she looked fantastic with her Catwoman face paint, and that, if there was one thing I wanted her to learn from me, it was to be herself, always. To do things because she wanted to. And if it happens that the thing she wants to do is the same as the thing her friends want? Hey, great, no problem! But if it’s different, that’s not a problem either.
And this time, aged five, there wasn’t a problem. There wasn’t a: “Well why did you pick that.” So part of me feels a little like I sprang the “be yourself” speech early. But another part knows that for it to really stick, you have to either grow up with it or learn the hard way. And the hard way really, really stinks.
When the cliques start (and my memories of what teenagers are like assures me they will), I want my children – both of them, although The Boy has so far shown little signs of noticing what happens outside of books – to have the confidence in themselves to be themselves. Because you know, several times this weekend, I had the passionate wish that I had met that group of people earlier. That I hadn’t spent so many years thinking there were only a handful of people who got me, when it turned out that, all along, there was a place where I could feel entirely at home.
So the message I want my children to learn is this:
Don’t “fit in”. Find the people who fit you, instead. It’s well worth the extra time it might take to find them.

Epilepsy Week 2k16

So, it’s Epilepsy Week once again, and you know what that means! Time for some good old-fashioned awareness! 

I try not to repeat myself too much with this blog. I mean, I know I generally repeat myself anyway, but, along with my growing addictions to Twitter and Tumblr, this is one of the reasons I hold back from posting here all that often. I want to have something to say. To make a statement, rather than babble at a screen so often that the meaning of what I’m writing gets lost.

And I feel this is one of the problems with raising awareness. I see it with so many things. I want people to know, and to understand, but how do you do that? Awareness runs a risk of being: “Hey, there’s this thing called epilepsy, and it’s kind of a pain so it’d be great if you could all just, well, know about it, okay?”

…I mean, I’d rather that people know about it than not know, but ultimately, just knowing that it exists doesn’t really achieve much. And to educate people on what epilepsy actually is, and what impact it has? How do you do that in short enough chunks that people don’t get bored?

I recorded a ten-minute interview about epilepsy this morning, which will broadcast on BBC Radio Kent this week. Ten minutes, to talk and explain. Ten minutes of awareness. At one point, I was asked what impact it has had on my life.

How do you answer that question? Where do you even begin?

The truth is, I don’t know. I didn’t then, and I still don’t, but the best I can do is to start by saying I have had epilepsy my whole adult life, so I really don’t have a “before” and “after” to hold up and point at saying: “There. There’s the difference epilepsy made.”

30 days' worth of anti-convulsants in one not-so-convenient box

Let’s be honest though, taking two of these a day is part of it.

Sometimes I look back at my life, and I wonder to myself what it would have been like if I hadn’t developed epilepsy. Because, there’s no doubt in my mind that things would have played out very differently.

If I had never developed epilepsy, I would have stayed working full-time, and plodded along with my books alongside that. Maybe I’d have finished something by now, maybe I wouldn’t.

If I had never developed epilepsy, I would have kept my driving license, and done all my writing sessions up at Bluewater, meaning I would never have met my ex-husband, and my children wouldn’t be here.

If I had never developed epilepsy, I would have been an independent woman in my twenties, in full control of her life and with plenty to be confident about. I wouldn’t have had the twin bombs of losing my mobility and losing my ability to be out and about and feel safe dropped on me at the age of 18.

If I had never developed epilepsy, there’s a whole different life which would have rolled out in front of me, ripe with its own opportunities and pitfalls. Would it have been better? I don’t know. I never got to live that life. I never got to see where it would lead me. 

Yes. The perks of epilepsy for me include "an excuse for wearing awesome wigs"

I think it’s fair to say it would have featured fewer purple wigs though, which would have been a shame.

Now, I’m not in any way bitter about how things played out, for the most part. While I have my regrets (who doesn’t?) I have a lot to be happy about in fact. Some things just can’t be helped or predicted, and epilepsy is one of them. But you know, I don’t think that’s really what the question was about. I don’t think it meant “how has epilepsy changed your life?” so much as “how has society’s way of dealing with epilepsy changed your life?”

Because I’ll be honest, on a day-to-day basis, when left to my own devices I’m lucky enough that sometimes I forget I have epilepsy at all. Even on days when I have a seizure, when it’s all over and I’ve dusted myself off, I just get on with things. I’m so used to it at this point that during NaNo, I keeled over amid a sprint, and then got back up and started writing again where I’d left off halfway through the next sprint.

The biggest problems epilepsy has caused haven’t been because of the seizures themselves – they’ve been because of the people and structures in place around me.

When I started having seizures, several of my then-colleagues went out of their way to avoid me in case they had to “deal with it”. Others went so far as to accuse me of faking, because they didn’t know epilepsy can start out of the blue later in life.

I also lost my ability to drive, and there was no sufficient public transport in place to get me to my place of work. I had to leave my job at the time because my commute was as long as my shift. Travelling anywhere is fraught with expense and inconvenience and severely limited my independence.

Then, too, I became duty-bound to inform potential employers about my condition – at first because mandatory health questionnaires were still a thing, and then because if you want accommodations such as flexible working to be made for you, you have to explain why. It’s quite astonishing how many people can’t make those accommodations, or turn out to be looking for someone “with more experience” when you tell them this. Small wonder that a majority of people with epilepsy would rather conceal it from their employers if possible. (I didn’t have that option because my seizures were so frequent that there was no use hiding it, but you can bet I would have kept quiet if they were under control.)

I worry about having seizures while I’m out, not so much because I might injure myself – although I have done in the past – but because it’s an absolute lottery as to how the people around me will react. Is someone going to freak out and try to pin me down, causing me to spasm and hit my head? (Check. A well-meaning PCSO did that one a couple of years back.) Or will I get the well-meaning person who is determined to try and call an ambulance even if I have someone with me who explains that it isn’t necessary? (Check. People who know me well have had to insist that I’m fine on multiple occasions.) Will I get worried stares and parents hurrying their children away from me? (Also check. The irony here is that of everyone I’ve met over the years, children really do panic the least. They haven’t learnt to be scared of it yet, so generally they take it in their stride.)

Will people I have known for years suddenly freak out and not want to be around me any more? It’s happened before, and there’s a good chance it will happen again. I’m upfront about my condition because I’d rather not have people suddenly reveal their true colours further down the line, but how people say they feel, and how they turn out to feel when put to the test are two different things, sometimes.

And finally, just getting a diagnosis in the first place took two years. Two whole years of my life without knowing what was wrong with me, because my GP at the time took one look at my age and assumed I was just having panic attacks. Because the person responsible for my health decided that the results of a blood test ruled out the need to conduct a full investigation into the fact I was having seizures, and I knew so little about epilepsy and how it presents that I didn’t even question it.

When I look back, if there was one thing I could change about everything, it wouldn’t necessarily be to not have had epilepsy. It’s a bugger, sure, and I know my opinion would be different if I were having a seizure right now – they’re the exact opposite of fun, and they’re responsible for most of the bruises and minor injuries I’ve had in the last ten years.

But epilepsy itself is something I can live with. It’s something I do live with, and I’m so used to it now that I’m not really sure how I would feel if someone told me they could wave a wand and scrub it out of my life.

Frankly, if I were given the choice between not having had epilepsy, and the world just getting on and not freaking out so much that I (and millions of other people) do, it wouldn’t even be a difficult decision.

For good or ill, epilepsy is a part of my life. And it’s a part of the lives of people who know me. And it sucks, and I rail against it at times, but the biggest problem is not the seizures. When I’m at home, or around family, I have seizures and really it’s no big deal. A nuisance, sure, we’re all used to it by now. We get on with it. The problem is that so many people don’t seem to know what to do about it. So many people freak out and assume the worst, or write people off before getting to know them based on one word. And changing that doesn’t require a magic wand.

We just need some awareness.

When the Cracks Show

I’ve been quiet recently.

Not that people would necessarily notice – I’m something of an introvert at the best of times, and I’ve done my fair share of laughing and geeking out at Things On The Internet(TM), so you’d be forgiven for thinking that all is well.

But here’s the thing.

A large contingent of my health comes down to stress. I know this, because every time I am in highly stressful situations, my seizure frequency rockets. And this means that I cannot afford to spend all my days stressed and worried, because if I do, I’ll end up having multiple seizures every day and being unable to take care of my children properly.

So instead, I laugh. I read a book; I write something; I listen to very loud music, and I sing “lalala I’m not LISTENING” to the news because if I don’t, the illusion that I’m fine won’t hold up. And given that I work really hard to maintain this illusion, I usually figure it would be a waste. It’s bad enough when I keel over on the school playground once. If I do it the next day as well, or even the next week, people start to comment.

In the last few weeks, the British government has rolled out a succession of bills and proposals and now a budget which will, all told, decimate the lives of a great many people in social brackets I fall into. How badly will I be affected? Honestly, I don’t know. I haven’t dared sit down and crunch the sums. I’ve done my best not even to read the news, really, because even from the headlines, the news is bad enough.

I wish I could say I was shocked. I wish I could say I was horrified, or appalled, or terrified. But really, I just feel a little numb. Detached, thanks to the weeks of blindly telling myself that it’ll all work out somehow, even though I knew that things stood a good chance of going this way from the moment the election results were announced. All my bare-faced denial couldn’t change that.

So please. Don’t think I’m ignorant or uncaring when I share stupid videos, or geek out about anime and video games. I’m just trying extra hard not to let anyone see the cracks in this mask, because if it falls apart, I think I might as well.

Silent Soldiers

I have felt conflicted for some time about Remembrance Sunday. On the one hand, I think it is important to provide support for those affected by war, and to acknowledge those who lay down their lives and health in defence of their country, both now and in the past. I think there are few families who don’t have stories about those who fought and died or were permanently affected in the two World Wars. The scope was too vast for it to be otherwise.

Of my own family, my great-grandfather fought in the army and spent most of his adult life in an asylum as a result, suffering with shell shock. One of his older brothers never came home from the Somme. On the other side of the family, another great-grandfather was a naval engineer, and sailed on the HMS Ark Royal. We have photographs he took of its sinking. I grew up hearing stories of my grandmother’s seven uncles who went to fight and all came home (although not unscarred), and the woman who lived down the street never getting her only son back.

My grandfathers were both too young to see active service in the Second World War, but one was a parachutist and the other joined the Air Force – until he was injured and invalided out. At this time of year I remember them, and many others. I am aware of the sacrifice made by so many, for the sake of those at home.

And yet, I can’t help but wonder how well we as a nation still do remember. The message was “lest we forget”, and yet this morning, I sat and watched young children returning home from a parade, decked in poppies and cheerfully waving their Union Jack flags. Do they remember? Do they even know why the soldiers march? Why poppies are found on almost every breast at this time of year – a splash of bright red which will never be so dark as the blood which was spilt. Spilt by those who never got a chance to grow old. By soldiers who returned home, and tried to find a life for themselves in a world which could not comprehend what they had seen. By innocent civilians, caught in wars which touched every corner of this world. Wars whose after-effects lingered and festered, and laid the foundation for so many of our modern conflicts.

Lest We Forget, millions were sent to their deaths by generals who seldom left the safety of their bunkers.

Lest We Forget, innocent people were mown down by invading armies, or sent to die in horrific concentration camps, far from home and their loved ones.

Lest We Forget, soldiers returned home –still return home – with their minds and bodies torn apart by war, to a country which glorifies the dead while bypassing the living.

Lest We Forget, those soldiers, so long ago, did not all choose to lay down their lives. Enlistment left them with little or no choice. Their country loved them less than they loved it back.

Lest We Forget, celebration is not remembrance. Pomp and circumstance is not remembrance.

Lest We Forget, we fall silent to remember those who will never speak again. To remember the countless lives which ended too soon.

This is not the day to fly flags and remember that we were the “good guys”. This is not a day for patriotism and glory. This is a day – and the eleventh is a day – to remember the death, and the injury, and the lives which ended or were irreversibly changed in the name of war. To remember the lives which are ending even as we speak, and the lives which will never again be the same.

As I type, in the wake of the Remembrance Parade, I am surrounded by people with poppies and flags. Flags. Whatever your view about the poppy in modern times, there is no denying that at least it began life as a symbol of remembrance. But our flag did not. Our flag – any flag – has no right to be waved right now. I don’t want to celebrate the continuation of conflicts people died to bring an end to. I don’t want to celebrate national pride and jingoism. Especially not today.

AAW Words of Wisdom (I hope!)

So! It’s the second day of Asexual Awareness Week, and the theme for today is Words of Wisdom. I’m not an artist so I was a little hesitant for yesterday’s theme of art, but I am a writer. If I can’t come up with some at least passable Wise Words then clearly I am a bigger slacker than I’d previously given myself credit for.

Well. Wise words on the subject of Asexuality. It’s tricky really, because a large part of me is keen to stress that it’s no big deal, that hey, I’m not trying to intrude on anyone or be an attention seeker, or invalidate other Queer people by claiming a space for myself in the MOGII (Marginalised Orientations, Gender Identities and Intersex)/LGBTQIAP+ community.

But really, isn’t that part of it? Part of the problem? Asexuality is the new kid on the block, orientation-wise. It’s only just been recognised as an orientation and not a condition (and about time!), and frankly, most people haven’t even heard of it. So, much as I don’t want to stand up and claim to be some sort of special snowflake, another part of me feels that I have something of a duty to be Out and proud, simply so that another teenager out there maybe escapes the teenagedom I had.

I’ve probably mentioned before that I had a pretty sheltered childhood. I never did get out much – mostly I stayed at home reading books, playing computer games, and writing.

Boy, that writing though. I’ve never been a poet, but teenage me was blissfully ignorant of that fact, and wrote heaps of the damn things. Heaps of kinda rubbish stories, too. And you know what? A whole bunch of them might have been about being lonely, or death, or being different, but oddly enough, love and crushes weren’t a feature. It was a running gag among my friends that I’d skip over any scenes like that in books. I felt (and still feel) distinctly uncomfortable even watching people kiss.

And yet, for all that, I knew that I wanted a family (naturally, wanting children has nothing to do with orientation, and neither does someone’s fitness to be a parent). Which meant that I knew that someday I’d end up with a man, even if for a long time I was adamant that I could still adopt, and avoid the whole icky kissing-and-more thing. The thought that maybe I didn’t have to? That it wasn’t an inevitability? That wasn’t on the table. I went to an exceedingly hetero-normative school, and in those pre-internet days, there was no one to tell me that what I was feeling was normal, or that there were others like me.

For years I was the odd one out; the only one who really didn’t understand the point of boy bands (I still don’t understand the fascination with manufactured pop groups, btw), or who didn’t have a crush on an actor. Instead, I told myself that clearly this crush or infatuation stage was just something I’d skipped somehow, and boy, wasn’t I lucky? After all, adults didn’t go all gooey over boys or men (or women) the way my classmates did, right?

Yeah, wrong. I think I managed to miss the fact that I was deluding myself by reading over and over accounts of people who fell in love through adversity, or over time. I wanted a partner – and in my head, I always made that distinction of “partner” over “boyfriend” – and that was just what fantasy novels offered. Relationships built on friendship and trust, with any physical affection nudged to the background or off-page. When I finally entered a relationship, I had no idea that I wasn’t experiencing sexual attraction because I had no idea what it even was. It’s not as though we live in a world which encourages women to be open and honest about their sexuality, after all.

The first time I encountered the term “asexual” was in the webcomic Girls With Slingshots. I was…perhaps 25? It didn’t register, because the asexual character in the comic did not engage in sexual activities, whereas I fluctuate between indifferent and favourable. (For those unfamiliar with the terminology, this describes my willingness to engage in sexual activities myself, and not my view of sex in general. I am also sex-positive, in that I believe people should have as much – or little – sex as they want, without being shamed by anyone.) I had been surrounded by a hetero-normative society for so long that I was unable to divorce the concept of sexual attraction (and acting on it) from love. It has taken me the last two years to unpack that, and to grow into a space where I feel comfortable to state that I am Asexual, with a capital A. I arrived via the label of Demisexual, because for a while I was unable to accept that the attraction I feel/have felt (to only a very few people throughout my life, it has to be said) was romantic and sensual, not sexual. It was a huge shift to really think about what I was experiencing, and not try and make myself conform to what society told me I should feel.

Nowadays, the more I look back on my teenage self, the more obvious it is. I start to wonder how I ever missed it; from writing a fantasy series about a reproductively asexual race of people (so I didn’t have to include romance, because that inevitably led to kissing); to my conviction that I wanted someone to sit quietly with and talk to for a partner; to my squishes on classmates which I knew couldn’t be crushes because I never wanted to kiss anyone; to my utter blindness to anyone flirting with me up to and including the point where I went on a date without realising that the other person wanted to kiss me until they actually kissed me.

And the common thread through all of it, the one single, solitary thing I wish I had known through it all? That hey, it was okay. There was nothing wrong with not wanting to have a relationship, and I didn’t need an excuse like “I’m too busy writing”, or “I’m just awkward”. I’m not awkward at all. I’m just not sexually attracted to people, and after almost a lifetime of teaching myself to pass as straight so that I didn’t seem so odd, I’m a little muddled up inside still. For example, I have a tendency to point out innuendos all the time simply because for years I never saw them and was the butt of jokes in that regard. Now I over-compensate.

Another, less healthy example, is the fact that I had huge self-worth issues as a teen because guys only seemed to notice my breasts, and people would compliment my hair, and I didn’t see the purpose of either of these types of comment. I have moderately large breasts – did that mean people were only interested in those, and my value in their eyes derived from my appearance? I have shiny, thick hair – did that mean other women would judge me based on how my hair looked? I had no measure of what was “attractive”. I still don’t, really. I judge my appearance based on how society tells me a woman should look, because I had to learn what “sexy” meant from books and television. I don’t have a metric for what attractive is. I look at myself and I see….a body. I look at other people and I see…also bodies. It’s something humanity as a whole has in common; isn’t that great! But beyond that? Nope, not a clue.

I’m rambling now, because frankly, there is so much I could say on this subject that I’m pretty sure I could write a book. Honestly though, the one thing I come back to time and again is the wish, the passionate wish, that somehow I had learnt about all this sooner. That I hadn’t spent my entire teens and a chunk of my adult life feeling that I must be strange or weird because there was something out there which other people all seemed to understand and which I didn’t. And now, here’s a week about awareness, and I can take a step to make that wish come true for someone else. I can be visible for another teenager who feels kinda weird and different and out of the loop with all the kissing nonsense going on around them. I can stand up and say “THIS IS REAL. YOU ARE NOT BROKEN.”

I am not broken. I am not wrong. I’m just asexual. And I’m not alone, either.

Little Victories

Today called for a celebration. For one of these:

This is my favourite mug, as it happens. Keeps tea hot for ages and ages and holds a lot of tea, too.

What am I celebrating today, you ask? What deserves this wonderful mug  of chai tea with whole milk (not semi) and a dash of honey?

Today I made it home before the seizure. Today I did not collapse on the pavement. Today I did not need help.

I made it home. I made it up the stairs. I made it to my living room and then I keeled over. Not before. Not while I was out. Not crossing the road. Not on the path outside. Not when I was struggling to unlock the door. Not even when passers by gave me odd looks because I couldn’t walk straight.

I made it home. I fought to keep my head straight and as far as I’m concerned? I won. I might have had a seizure anyway, but I didn’t drop until I was in a safe space. So, now that I’m upright again – with a fair old headache, and snuggled in my dressing gown because I have the shivers – I’m celebrating. Here’s to small victories. Here’s to something I wish I could take for granted. Here’s to walking all the way home.