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Sunday, 30 October 2016

Consented UK "Mental Health Matters" Workshop - Black Mental Health

Consented UK are "a multi-media platform for those who aren’t accurately represented by the mainstream." They are a platform I hadn't heard about prior to finding out about this event they were holding on the subject of Mental Health, but I've developed a huge respect for the work they do and the conversations they create a space for both online and in the physical world. Not to mention their absolutely fantastic Online Library of informative literature. I found this event simply through it popping up as a suggestion on Facebook, and I'm glad I was able to go as the event sold out quickly.
SOAS Main Building

The workshop was held at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) here in London, and featured a set of interactive discussions on various topics regarding mental health, but a) from the perspective of a variety of social groups (ethnic minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, men, women etc.) and b) with an understanding of the role capitalism plays in the general mental health of the population. How unhealthy practices for our mental health like extra-long work shifts, suppressing emotions, prioritizing work over health and avid consumerism are popularized, and the way that things that are meant to benefit our mental health are also commercialized and often made inaccessible to those without the funds to buy into weekly yoga classes or shelves full of books about health fads, spa treatments, and even the popularization of my precious love: Mindfulness.

We started off with an introductory talk by a co-founder of Consented Amit Singh about mental health and capitalism, including the staggering statistics that 1 in 4 adults are currently suffering from some form of mental health problem, and that a quarter of a million children are currently seeking help for mental health related problems. So many of us are suffering, and yet ashamed to let others know at the same time because of that stigma.
He talked about the concept of the "Western Ego" this idea we have that the world revolves around us, and if bad things happen they were bound to because these things only go wrong for us. The argument was that living in a capitalist society that favours egotism, envy, and competition forces us to be quite inwardly focused and spend time in our own heads dwelling on negativity. Unhappy people make for fantastic consumers, because we buy things in order to make us happy, and so the system reinforces this oppressive cycle in order to continue functioning.

Racism and Mental Health: Chama Kay and Nicole Crentsil
Via @ananxiousminduk on instagram stories

After the initial talk, the day was split into four workshops: Black Mental Health, Capitalism and Mental Health, Self-Care, and Refugee Trauma. I opted for Black Mental Health and Self-Care since those were the kinds of things I wanted to attend this session to learn about.

The session on racism and mental health actually hit me quite hard. The whole time we were talking I felt this bubbling pressure of frustration sitting in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to cry, to scream, to shout that it's not fair. For my readers that aren't BAME (black and minority ethnic) people, I need you to understand: I feel that bubbling frustration every time I see a black man killed by police on the news, every time my blackness is challenged, every time someone wants to tell me why blackface is okay for Halloween or cosplay, every microaggression, every time my hair gets touched without asking.

In this session, we talked about that frustration, how it manifests in different ways for black people, and how that can very easily lead to mental health problems. We talked about how one prepares for a job application or interview, and the responses that came back were less about reading up on the company or updating your CV, but about minding the kind of hair you wear, tailoring your CV to remove any black-focused activism or community work, never putting any illnesses or mental health problems, not wanting to fit into stereotypes like the "angry black woman" when really you're just standing up for yourself. One gentleman spoke about his father changing his name to anglicize it more and help with job prospects.

We talked about black people and our relationship with the police, that fear of the people who are supposed to be protecting us, and disproportionate police reactions with regards to different areas of London. All of these things lead back to thoughts of being afraid, feeling trapped, feeling less-than, and, as Chama said in the workshop, "having to dismantle the self in order to eat, pay bills..."

When you are constantly pulling apart who you are, suppressing yourself because you know it makes people uncomfortable, the side-effects of this constant struggle will be stress, anxiety, depression, dissociative disorders, maybe even suicidal thoughts. However, often when we reach out about feeling oppressed we're met with dismissal by people who can't see things from our perspective, only exacerbating those feelings. All in all, a really powerful talk that hit hard. Chama and Nicole also provided a list of mental health resources, a lot of which are BAME-centric but not exclusive, which I have added to my Google Drive should you want to have a look.

Next, I will be discussing the incredible talk on self-care as run by Dorett Jones and the final Q&A! If what I discussed interested you at all make sure to follow the relevant people on twitter:

Chama Kay: @chama_kay

Nicole Crentsil: @NKrystal

Amit Singh: @asingh11189

Consented UK: @consenteduk

Let me know your thoughts via our brand new twitter @ananxiousmind  or in the comments below! 
Final one from Sundays #mentalhealthmatters event at SOAS #Audrelorde #selfcare #mentalhealth #consented Thanks to everyone who came and to the great speakers!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Body Positivity Helps Me Lose Weight

Image found HERE. Quote by Lauren Zuniga
I get very frustrated at the kind of gap in understanding that seems to spring up around the concept of Body Positivity. It's often miscommunicated as promoting laziness, encouraging obesity and allowing people to live unhealthy lives.
It's all fat girls with bright hair and big smiles wearing skimpy clothes because they love what they look like and that's a bad thing, of course, because if you're fat you're unhealthy. If you're unhealthy you should absolutely hate that about yourself.

So I'm here to debunk three things about that sentiment:
  1. Body Positivity is just about fat girls.

  2. You have to hate yourself in order to strive for health.

  3. Someone else's body is any of your business in the first damn place.

Number One

Photo of the "deliciously disabled" Andrew Morrison Guzra via NowToronto
So Body Positivity is literally the Ronseal™ of Social Media movements (i.e: does what it says on the tin). It is purely that: being positive about one's body and the bodies of others, be that in your speech, your treatment of them, the language you use about yourself and others. All of that is included. It's most closely connected with overweight people and public figures like Tess Holiday and the #EffYourBeautyStandards hashtag. But in actuality, when we're talking about body positivity we mean all bodies. Fat, skinny, dark, pale, covered in tattoos, covered in hair, bodies with disabilities, bodies with skin conditions or disfigurements, and all other bodies in between. At its core, the concept is about love for yourself and others, and taking all the things that don't fit the normal standards of beauty or attractiveness and embracing them.

Number Two

Comfort Slut II
"Comfort Slut II" by rupeegroupie via Flickr
It's not about encouraging obesity. For a lot of people, like myself, it does the opposite. The easiest way of explaining it is: if you learn to love your body, love how it looks and how it functions, you'll be encouraged to take care of it. Wanting to achieve a certain weight goal or shape doesn't have to stem from hating the way you look as of right now, and it can absolutely stem from wanting to keep yourself fit and healthy because you want your body to feel as good as possible. You just have to understand that health isn't a one-size-fits-all concept. There are plenty of people that run, do yoga, lift weights, go to the gym three times a week and still don't have a toned or even slim body. There are equally people that eat nothing but junk food, don't exercise, don't have an active lifestyle, and have a slim physique. The first type of person is healthy, the second is not, and size has nothing really to do with it.
Photo of Jessamyn Stanley for SLINK Jeans, Via her Facebook

I haven't been as driven to exercise in my life as I have post-discovering the idea of Body  Positivity. I've lost some weight although my weight has fluctuated over the past few years, but I'm eating better and walking more, and I'm slowly cutting the things that end up making me feel sluggish and unwilling to move out of my diet. More importantly, I'm cutting words like "too big"and "unattractive" out of my diet too.
Today's outfit, with skirt courtesy of @eastendthriftstore and their last pound sale! #ootd #southbank #london #vintage #flowercrown #melanin #blackgirls #denim #redlips On my old blog I remember having a post ranting about what fat girls should and shouldn't wear, and now I wear crop tops and short shorts. If it fits and it makes me look good to myself, I can wear it, and I can look cute in it too. It's difficult when you grow up with this feeling of looking the wrong way and not being "enough" (thin enough, pretty enough, light enough, cute enough...) you get stuck in that world of self-hate. The thing is, that can fester in a person's soul and make them stagnate. Or, worse still, make them approach change in an unhealthy way.
"Maybe all I can be is fat and useless."
"Maybe I'll never be attractive to anyone."
"Maybe I should just not try."
"Maybe I should fix myself as fast as possible, damn the consequences."
I've thought every single one of those things at one point or another in my life, and so have many others. But what if we all just started off knowing that, honestly, we are good enough. Better than that even. What if we didn't subscribe to this idea that health and beauty are narrow slots we all have to jam ourselves into tirelessly until we hurt ourselves or give up on everything?

Number Three

Via ModClothBlog
Honestly, if someone doesn't want to live their life in a way that we find acceptable, that's none of our business unless they happen to be hurting themselves or anyone else. You don't live and die by my approval, and vice versa. If the shape, colour, or workings of someone else's body has such a profound effect on your emotions, maybe assess why it is you care so much before you begin to assess their lifestyle and choices. Because honestly, if you have the time to be so utterly preoccupied with my fat ass on the internet and how much you think it's wrong, you're probably not focusing enough on bettering your own self. I don't think that hate for the body of someone else comes from a place of care, I really don't, and people tend to mask their fatphobia and other prejudices as concern for a person's health/lifestyle.
Take it from me: don't worry. I am perfectly capable of being in charge of the health and wellbeing of my fat self, my skinny friends don't need you to tell them to eat a sandwich, my friends with skin conditions don't need to cover up, my hairy friends don't need to shave, and my muscular friends don't need to "tone it down".
We're all managing just fine on our own, thanks.

Still from new H&M Advert 2016

Monday, 10 October 2016

This "World Mental Health Day", I Was Happy

I was reading a set of journal entries I wrote around this time last year, and in them I was miserable.

I was in the same place I am right now, in a lot of ways. Feeling stuck, feeling lost, and more than anything feeling this overwhelming sense of pressure on my back constantly. I was being crushed by it, though it had no physical form, and all I wanted to do was to lift it off and I couldn't figure out how.
I did a bunch of self-care today!
I've been sad a lot recently, feeling the same way but also feeling different kinds of sadness. There are just too many problems, you know? In the world, in politics, and in my own head. I'm changing as a person, becoming angrier, less patient, but also more self-assured because I'm learning who I am, and that person is someone that cannot remove her own emotions from the way she regards the world. It's like I'm turning to stone on the outside because the inside of me is just soft and afraid and feels too, too much.

I'm surrounding myself with people that make me happy, as a result. Trying to do things that make me happy, and trying to figure out just what it is that will keep the happiness going.

I'm a fan of hug-boxes, the controversial idea of a "safe-space". I think everyone deserves to have a place they can go to feel safe, to feel welcome, and to feel like themselves. I've kind of created one for myself, but I  pull back from it all the time. Why? Because of what somebody else might think.

So tonight, I will be scrubbing off other people's expectations of me with my homemade sugar scrub with sugar, coconut oil, and lemon and ginger tea. It'll all go down the drain, and I will emerge a smiling, lemony princess.

Why lemon and ginger? Because imposing pressure on myself via other people's ideas is a SICKNESS.
Letting go of other people's expectations of me is what is causing that pressure to lift off my back right now. Today, I was happy. I was happy because I placed value in my own feelings first. I did things I needed to get done, accomplished my own challenges, ticked off my own checklist.

Well, most of it. I was going to finish tidying my room but then I started reading this great book...whatever.

Happy World Mental Health Day today. Take care of yourselves, and as long as you're not hurting yourself or other whatever makes you happy. On today of all days.