Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Breakdowns Can Lead to Breakthroughs

Me in October

I did it again - I never thought I would, I thought I knew the signs, but I did even so. I got addicted to exercise. 

The mad thing is, over summer I was deep in Melanie Tonia Evans' Quanta Freedom Healing and dealing with my eating problems, which involved peeling away no end of hidden layers of self-hatred. But even as I was up-levelling, I didn't notice how I was punishing my body.

It happened so subtly, but looking back, the start of it was my love of Insanity Max30. I adored the whole 'push yourself harder every time' thing - so much so that I began applying it to every workout I had. I had to get further through each time, or lift heavier each time. But there wasn't enough time to keep up my cardio fitness at peak, whilst also keeping my strength at peak too. So the workouts grew longer - half an hour cardio and half an hour weights in the week, then an hour cardio and an hour weights at the weekend. I stopped going out walking so regularly, because it felt like I was wasting time I could be 'pushing myself'. If a day passed when I didn't 'press play', I felt overwhelming guilt - even if I had a headache, or a cold or something. 

So all the parts of the Beachbody ethos that had once motivated me were now tools of my oppression. Meanwhile, my body was failing. 

I'd originally taken up exercise to ensure I was fit enough to work. The original aim was to not feel like an old lady when I woke in the mornings, and to be strong enough to continue working as a physio into my 80s and beyond. That aim was now lost, and there was no aim in sight. No achievement was going to be good enough. I now had an ever-moving 'better, stronger, faster' goal that was always two steps beyond what I was achieving. 

My performance - in fact my entire life - began to suffer. I began to have joint pain on getting out of bed again - every morning. I found I was exhausted by the end of the day. Sometimes I was dreading getting home because of the workouts ahead. I'd end them shaking and feeling faint. I had constant back and neck pain, even in bed, but I couldn't admit this, not least to myself. My body was screaming, but I had closed my ears. I was emotionally in such a good place that I was able to refuse to pay attention to my physical feelings.

Then on Halloween I got ill. And you know the mad thing? I had so lost touch with my body, that I didn't recognise I had a tummy bug, or food poisoning or something. I went into work with diarrhoea and feeling nauseous and feverish because I had decided that I was having - wait for it - a PANIC ATTACK.

I ended up with colleagues telling me to go home, and me just crying and saying I was being stupid and weak. Then I threw up. It was actually a relief, because even I couldn't deny that I was ill. I went home.

When I came out of the fuddle of fever, I looked back at what had happened, and realised I had been punishing my body - because I hated it for being fat. So I've QFHed on that (and on all the pains), and am coming to terms with that whole fat thing. Again, a whole new bunch of hidden self-hatred. But immediately I realised that I wanted to start listening to my body, so I ditched the workouts for a week and began doing yoga, specifically Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.

This is Adriene, and she's sorted me out - for now

I cannot believe how much I love yoga, and how much I love Adriene! She is so personable that she makes me feel happy even when I am contorted into positions that make it difficult for me to breathe. At which point she will usually say 'we'll stay here for three breaths', blithely disregarding how those three breaths are so shallow for me that they take about three seconds. 

After that week, I re-introduced my other workouts. But I don't look to see how far I got last time, or how much I lifted last time. I listen to how far I can go now, today. My weekday routine is now 20-40 minutes of cardio and/or weights, then 15-40 minutes of yoga, to make about an hour a day. At the weekend I go for a walk, or I don't exercise, or I do some more yoga, whatever I feel like doing. If I feel tired in the week, I just do the yoga. It's about listening to me and paying attention to me. 

The neck and back pain has gone. I am more supple already, and stronger on those chaturanga things than I was at the start, which has really surprised me given how many push-up variations I used to do. My energy is back - and it's nearly Christmas! Hooray! New Year, New Me - a me who listens to myself, my Inner Child and my own Body. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

How the RCM Stance on Abortion Could Be A Covert Attack Upon Women's Rights

A 31 week old foetus. 

The Royal College of Midwives' position statement on abortion calls for the decriminalisation of abortion at any stage.

On the face of it, to me it is a madness that defies comprehension. Abortion is already available pretty freely (and in practice, on demand) up to 12 weeks. It is available with further safeguards up to 24 weeks. It is available for medical reasons up to full term.

What IS illegal is self-induced abortion, and abortion by someone other than a registered medical practitioner. The only prosecution I can find anywhere of self-induced abortion outside of Northern Ireland is of a woman who used medication bought online to induce her own abortion in the third trimester, so after 28 weeks.

So what will legalising abortion up to full term, and by anyone, achieve? I think to answer this, we also need to look at attitudes to abortion.

As I was growing up in the 70s and early 80s, if a teenager got pregnant, the assumption was that she would abort the baby. It was one of those things that went unspoken but was known. Having a baby in your teens was frowned upon, and so it very rarely happened. Then this happened:

In 1985, 16 year old Michelle Fowler became pregnant on Eastenders. Against all the odds and expectations, she refused an abortion and went on to have her baby. I don't think it is any exaggeration to say that this was the point where everything changed - the point at which having an abortion as a pregnant teen began to become the frowned-upon option. The time when this attitude began to spread to all abortions, so that 'you've had an abortion' became some sort of shameful abuse you could throw at the 'enemy' on Jeremy Kyle, whereas going through with the pregnancy and struggling to cope with the baby was something that the audience would cheer.

In my own experience, women of the generations that followed my own have become less approving of abortion. The expectation now is that a teenager getting pregnant would be expected to have the baby rather than the abortion - an expectation reflected in soap operas nowadays too - no-one would be shocked at Michelle's decision today. It's almost as though a woman has to have a 'good reason' to not have a baby. Attitudes are hardened in a way the law isn't.

My personal view, if it matters, is that I think we need to get rid if the pussy-footing around and make abortion on demand legal up to 12 weeks. Otherwise I think the law has it pretty much right, although there is a case to be made for lowering the 24-week general limit to 22 weeks, given technological advances. To allow unrestricted abortion up to term is nothing short of legalised infanticide, however you dress it up.

To decriminalise late abortion and abortion outside of medical supervision - well, just who are we trying to help? The mentally ill? The under-age? Those with learning disabilities? The otherwise vulnerable? All of these groups would be treated sympathetically by the courts - IF they were prosecuted. The situation seems to be that if these cases are happening, they are not being brought to court. The potential back-street abortionists and online drug distributors? Surely every woman deserves protection from those? That only leaves the cruel and psychopathic - and of course, everyone likes to think that such people don't exist, but they do. The We Trust Women campaign blithely disregards their very existence. There are women I wouldn't trust with a cat's life, let alone a baby's. Infanticide is rare, but it doesn't mean it should be legal, and so surely the same applies to self-induced late-term abortion? 

So what would happen if this decriminalisation were to take place? Someone like me, who is pro-choice, could no longer enthusiastically take that stance. I would no longer feel able to speak up against the pro-lifers, because I could not justify a law that was allowing abortion of a child. It isn't a foetus if it is capable of surviving birth - it's a baby. It isn't abortion if it is at 38 weeks - it's murder. It's one thing if two doctors say there are good medical reasons for that murder to take place with the mother's agreement. But for a woman to be able to decide that without safeguard or consequence? 

I won't be the only one to feel this way. So what this campaign is doing is fighting for a change in the law that would ultimately harden attitudes AGAINST abortion. That isn't good for women, and the consequences could be frightening, because pro-lifers have a startling propensity to throw the baby out with the bathwater (sorry). What seems to be a stand for women's rights could turn out to be the first step back to the dark ages. 

I can't help thinking it would also be detrimental to the fight for women's rights over their own bodies in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The old 'look, you legalise abortion and it will be a slippery slope down a mountain of dead babies, like in England' argument will be all the more powerful. 

Things are never as simple as they seem. Call me paranoid, but it doesn't mean the establishment isn't out to get us.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Grieving is an Empty Room and an Empty Day

This is Oscar, and on Monday I had him put down. Oscar was 21, and as people who know me will know, he has been a complete arse of a cat for the last 8 years.

Put something on the floor, and he'd piss on it. Shoes, bags, clothes, whatever. He was confined downstairs for that very reason - nothing was safe. In the last few years even putting things on a table was no guarantee - he managed to balance on top of a Vicar of Dibley box set to wee over my sister's Christmas present one year. And of course, there was the famous incident that really needed a cat-shaming photo:

But I've had him since he was a kitten. As my sister likes to point out, 'he lasted longer than your marriage.' He was like a beloved relative that becomes infirm - you don't just abandon them because they piss (and poo, towards the end) everywhere. Even if that means you end up with a litter tray in your living room, right next to the door. Nice.

His passing wasn't a shock - I'd been worried he wouldn't make it to Christmas, and had prepared Son for that fact. But he carried on, despite his thinness. Then last weekend I realised he was really poorly - his breathing was laboured and his paws were swollen. I was half minded to call the vet to put him down then, but Son really didn't want me to, so I didn't. Instead, we had one last weekend, where all he wanted to do was sit with me. This was not the usual Oscar - normally given the choice between me and Son, Son will win every time, because I'm the baddie who shouts at Oscar when he wees on the cooker (for example).

He couldn't jump up onto the sofa so I was having to lift him up. He couldn't support himself on his back legs when he was pooing, so he would lie in the litter tray and get a pooey arse that I tried to clean, but never quite managed. 

On Sunday night, as I lay in bed, I heard him crying. So I spent the night with him. When I left the living room even to go to the loo, he would cry again. 

Monday morning Son said goodbye to him. I took the day off work and called the vet. An hour before the vet arrived, he got off the sofa and drank and ate - up to then I'd been bringing him his water and food, so I wondered if he was somehow recovering. But when the vet arrived, she said no, he was a dying cat. His heart stopped before she finished the injection. 

It was a lovely death really. I was stroking his head, the nurse was rubbing his chin, and he was purring. Then he was gone, bar a bit of twitching, which is apparently just the nervous system dying.

When they had taken him away, I just broke down. I had no idea I would feel that way - I was worse than when my Dad died. 

And now, I just feel so empty all the time. The next day, I really felt like 'what's the point' when I woke up - even though I have a Son, and a great life.I could cry at any moment. 

Every day is just one huge litany of reminders he is gone, from the minute I go into the living room (don't have to push the litter tray out of the way as I open the door) to last thing at night, when I don't have to feed him and drag the litter tray behind the door from the other side of it.

For the first time, I am alone at the weekend when Son goes to his Dad's. The weekends, that was when Oscar would sit with me. I would put the heating on for him, even though I didn't need it, because he was an old chap, and he felt the cold.

I woke up this morning to snow, and I began to rush down to tell Oscar - but of course, he isn't here. Although sometimes it feels like he is - I feel as though he is sitting next to me, or is waiting for his food. 

When Dad died, I found I had a lot of extra time on my hands, because visiting him had taken up so much of my time for a year. With Oscar gone, so has the entire routine of my day, for the last 21 years. No body fluids to clean up, no food to put down, no one to chat to, no one to argue with (we often had our disagreements)

When he was twitching, after being put to sleep, the vet said, 'don't worry, it's just his body remembers what to do and it's going through the motions. It happens a lot with old cats especially, their bodies have so much memory.' I feel like that - he was here for so long that even now I still expect to go through the motions of caring for him daily. The grief feels so raw because there are constant reminders that those actions are pointless now.

I feel like I'm being an idiot because he was 'just a cat'. But he really wasn't. He was my Baby Cat, a constant companion, the only 'person' I would talk to for days at a time, sometimes. He was always there. Without me realising it he had become an intrinsic part of my routine and my life - and my life feels as empty as his chair now he is gone.

RIP Oscar Cat. You git.