Stopping Youth Violence: Life Lessons from ForJimmy

Saturday, 27 October 2018

London is vast. You would be forgiven for thinking that in one of the largest and most populated cities in the world, where real estate is gobbled up by Eastern tycoons, the idea of ‘community’ may be lacking. However, it could not be further from the truth.
Nestled amongst London’s glittering West End is something that looks much like any other bougie street food market, but Jimmy, one of the operational managers of Street Food Union, assures me this is not the case. “There are some people,” he tells me, “that just want to see profit when they think of street food. We don’t want to be associated with that, we like to build and develop businesses.” And that they have, the market boasts foods from the Yorkshire Burrito – a sunday roast (and other things) rolled up in a yorkshire pudding wrap, to Papelon’s delicious traditional Venezuelan arepas and cachapas, and both come highly recommended by me.
Street Food Union on Rupert Street is their baby, with the support of Westminster and Soho estates they have built something which is more than just food. They have worked with ex-prisoners, and are currently working with overqualified Syrian refugees, helping them to get into something better. Since their arrival in 2013 they have created such a buzz in the area that anti-social behaviour, like drug-dealing and stabbings, have been on the decline. Jimmy says that they, along with other great causes like the Brixton Soup Kitchen are about realising there’s more, helping the disillusioned go further.

On Suffering and Loss

Monday, 15 October 2018

I remember being scared that something must surely go wrong if I were this happy – and then it did. Despite having been prepared I was not truly prepared. I look back and I say “in a way I guess I sort of knew”. I did, I didn’t. I thought maybe.

Every time I left him in a room I panicked. I left to make a cup of tea and while the kettle boiled I would look in on him, suddenly afraid. He must have stopped breathing, my mind said, for what other reason would one be told not to leave a baby alone? It never happened like that, but I was afraid it would. A whole world of new fear now that I am a mother.

What had I done to deserve this kind of happiness, I thought. Happiness is earned, not just simply given. Everything in life is earned. I had done nothing and so his position seemed precarious. Because I had done nothing I had no real claim to him, as it were. It wasn’t as if I had made him with my own two hands, and so I had ownership, it wasn’t as if I had put myself out or I had bought him, so should he be taken away, well, what then? I didn’t have a receipt. He has been bestowed upon me as if a grant, a gift but that came with conditions I didn’t know about. 

One minute he’s there and the next minute he’s not. As easy as that. As fast as that. Time, as a concept, ridiculous, because a matter of minutes could change a life; in this case: end one.

People ask what happened and I say "SIDS." And most people don't know what that it immediately, then they say "cot death", and the word Death hurts me a bit because I feel like I'm the only person who's allowed to say it, even though I never do. Some people think that it is a taboo, death, we don’t want to talk about it for some reason, but that we should. I think, in reality, what those people want is the freedom to talk about the dead without awkwardness, not about death. Death itself is painful for those left behind and that is why we don’t talk about it. We are a species of self-preservation for the most part and see no need in hurting ourselves when there is no need to, but it’s funny because it’s just a word. It’s funny how words without intent can have such an effect, like Dead, or Death, or Dying, or Infant Body Bag.

I envied the ill for their time to say goodbye, to come to terms with the inevitable. Much easier on the heart, I thought, than the unexpected was – though later I decided that this was unlikely to be true, the loss of a child at any stage, in any way, sickening, but a thought that still lingers.

I can’t believe it’s been a week. (Yes, I know, I Know.)
A strained grunt in response.
I can’t believe it’s been two weeks. Three weeks. Four weeks. Every day, much like in pregnancy, dragging, but for entirely different reasons. Every day suddenly without meaning, without anything, and yet seeming to take me further and further from the only happiness I had known. 
Wine in hand, no response to any of it. Like a shark, I moved through dark water, dead eyed and on autopilot. Perhaps they have an emotional depth we don’t know about, grieving for their crippled and murdered kin. 

They tell you to keep an eye on a dog when they go off their food and get lethargic. I was that dog: dragging my feet, constantly nauseous, the feeling so physical and heavy that it stuck in my chest and throat and stopped me even from speaking. My breathing was shallower. Everything some kind of reverent and unintentional quiet.

Maybe Grief will make me skinny, I thought (unable to muster the energy, the drive, to chew - I had cuppa soup for every meal for weeks), spoiler alert: it didn't. 

Maybe Grief will make me a better writer, I thought, it didn't. 

So what good is it?

It isn’t. No good at all. No silver lining. 

It's only human to look for one, isn’t it?

Perhaps a ridiculous thing to think at all but rarely can we control where the mind goes with out us. I tried hard not to think at all for thinking made everything worse. If I could have silenced it entirely, I would have. Likely permanently.  

People on the internet, in our sad, quiet club, say that the grief only shows how much love there was. I still don't want it. I wonder sometimes if, if I could, I would go back to before I was even pregnant, to spare myself this. But then I think that's selfish because this didn't happen to me. It happened to him, I am only a bystander.  My grief is, as such, in part, unwarranted, I think. It is like being comforted by the dying at your sadness at their dying. I think it's selfish because I would deprive him. Then I remember that I'd give anything to hold him again and so why would I wish away the time that I'd had. But then it still hurts and I have to distract myself and think about something else, lest it envelop me.

I drown anyway. It’s easier. 

Am I a bystander? When an adult dies there is a sense of that death having belonged to said adult, as well as to those around them, but I have found that babies and children do not get ownership of their deaths. I think that this is because it is hard for us to imagine anything happening to them. And so it is I who has suffered. I suffer his loss but I did not suffer the death, that is his. His death is his loss, it is he that misses out on life and on the world. I suppose, however, can you miss something you had hardly known? Or never known?

And yet I am the one who suffers.

This is exactly why I had not, I thought, publicly basked in my pregnancy, why I had not allowed the world to see how I'd immediately, completely, wholly, fallen in love with this boy. I knew it wasn't going to last and so I wanted to save myself from that hurt. Obviously I couldn't, and I didn't. I cried a lot in public. And I still do. Still, I couldn’t really have known.

On television there is always a certain look of the grieving and the depressed, we see dark bedrooms with the light shining just so on the face of the sad, the tears glinting a little in that light. And then miraculously some time passes, and by the next episode that grief doesn’t really matter anymore, the death is no longer central to the story as those around the grieving move on with their lives.

And this is how it goes. The world continues to spin while yours remains stationary, everything moving around you and yet you, stuck, watch on. There is sadness, there is envy, there is anger, there is resignation. These things do, as the steps of grief tell us, come one after the other but what you are not told is actually how all of these things come at once too. A barrage of emotions [and for someone so used to not acknowledging them] is all encompassing. It is what some may consider selfish, but it is not selfish, not at all. It is entirely necessary. 

Life After Baby Loss by Nicola Gaskin

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

I believe that the problem with many self-help style books is, as Nicola puts it, i
 “the great gift of hindsight”. It is very easy to tell other people what’s going to happen, what has happened, how things will get better. In fact when it comes to death and sadness there is no shortage of ‘things will get better’, and much of the time this is exactly what literally no person ever wants to hear in that moment. 

What I like about Nicola is her as person (obviously, as we’re friends), and her personality comes through in her book. She’s kind and she’s caring, she holds the hand of the bereaved and gently takes them through what they can expect, or have already been through.  

She encompasses, to the best of her abilities, every type of baby loss, from early miscarriage to older children (though she does stop at “neonatal” as a title the sentiment is still there and is clearly there through the writing – healthy and those with illnesses included) which is not the easiest of tasks. When we move onto heartbreak Nicola touches on what one can do in the early stages of grief, and it culminates in, pretty much, do what feels right. Each chapter ends with a small bullet point list of helpful tips that act as a summary. They are helpful reminders that one can pop back to when things are getting particularly heavy in life.

At some points I felt as if I was too much being told what I was feeling, and it would have been nice for Nicola to have used her own emotional experience more and allow the reader to relate to it themselves. However, her use of her own experience is blissfully far from gratuitous, it is very much a book to help rather than a book to talk about herself under the guise of helping which so many seem to be. To read this book you do not need to know who the author is. 

I appreciated her outlook on grief and the grieving processes, especially in the chapter entitled Everlasting Grief, a part of the book fitting for those having experienced a loss and those supporting others through it. “I don’t really believe in a ‘grieving period’, in fact I think we should rub this phrase out of the Western dictionary” she says, and emphasis on the Western because, if you didn’t know, Nicola is a practising buddhist. To see more of this side of her, to get this perspective on her journey and overall outlook, would have been nice. 

Nicola follows this with an in-depth dissection of jealousy in grief, something which we can all say we have felt, whether we admit it or not. This I think is one of the more difficult parts of grief and one of the more difficult to understand as an outsider. To be given such validation and such emphatic Yes, Me Too! I Know! will help others reading it without a doubt. During my own early months I think this was where I wanted the understanding - I wanted someone to let me be angry and jealous but to help me rein it in. 

Her chapter on trying to conceive, I think, embodies what I would have loved the entire book to be like. A little more grittiness, more rawness, and yes perhaps a little more bleakness, if baby loss is not bleak then what is? All in all it is, as described and advertised, a gentle companion. It gently talks one through what to expect, what you may feel, how best to feel and act upon it (spoiler: literally any way you feel like). 

The thing that sticks out the most for me, however, is the intensity on which the book focuses on loss, grief and you. There is little to no mention of reliance on a partner, or on family and friends, it is not uncommon for those three relationships to break down under such duress and to be constantly reminded is hellish. This book aims to make one look inwards. Focus on yourself, take care of yourself, and all will begin to shift back into place.


The Stigma of the Single Mum

Saturday, 18 August 2018

When you are young parent a lot of things are assumed about you, mostly that you were stupid, irresponsible, and reckless, and with that that you are single. Being single and a parent is a sign of immaturity. Being in a relationship decent enough to survive having, or even to plan to have, a child is seen to be beyond the reach of youth. 

The idea is that being a single mother is somehow shameful, and the fact that shame is placed at the door of the mother (when so often in fact it is the fault of the father, cough) is wildly unfair. 

Being a single mother is incredibly difficult and there are very few that choose to go down this route, it’s not that you don’t want a relationship, it’s that you don’t want a shitty relationship, or it’s that time and circumstance has not permitted one that you see to be fit.

So what is the stigma, how do we all perpetuate it, myself included, and how do we begin to change our mindset regarding that in the modern age of parenting and motherhood. 

The Philosophy Of Slimming World

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

When I posted this photo on the left I said how it was probably the only photograph of me in shorts since I was a child because I actually just never owned any. I thought, first, my thighs were too fat, and then I registered that I actually don't have ankles at all (cankles, hi), and then it was that my knees were too fat. It wasn't a case of me thinking I was like ugly fat overall, I was generally okay with my size. It was just the pesky legs that stopped me from, well, a lot. I blamed the flat feet (they're pancake flat!)

I have lost 8kg. It's not a huge amount, certainly not going to get me on the cover of any magazines, but it's significant. I have polycyclic ovaries, and I used to have the syndrome that accompanied. This is an imbalance in hormones which is difficult to address, for many the resolution is to lose weight which is all well and good except for the fact that PCOS hinders your ability to lose weight greatly, and makes it very easy to put it on. In my worst times I was going to the gym and working out for an hour minimum a day, cutting calories at every turn, and I did not lose a pound. Not a single one. My work at the time depended on looking good and the longer I don't tone or lose the harder that was because my confidence plummeted. 

I have said as of late that it is not my size that I am concerned with, I am fully aware that I am in a position where I can buy clothes that fit in every shop I go to. My issue was with being comfortable, and more specifically being comfortable in summer. I was tired of sweating so much, of feeling so tired and run down, of avoiding certain clothes because I didn't feel good in them. It's easy to tell someone not to mind it but that doesn't solve the problem. One much change, inside, mentally and emotionally.

So onto Slimming World. 

I have tried every diet known to man. At 17 I dropped to 44kg with endless exercise and near on starvation, at 18 I gained everything back and then some, I did diet after diet. Most recently I tried Keto which I had heard was good for PCOS and breaking through the plateaus. It worked for a little while, and then I fell pregnant with Ezra. 

Two babies in two years is tough on the body, and I am incredibly lucky in that despite my eating and the hormonal changes I did not gain any weight from the pregnancies. But this left me at the point I'd started at where I wasn't very comfortable anyway. 

TOMMY'S – I won't relax until I have the baby home in my arms

Sunday, 29 July 2018

I won't relax until I have the baby home in my arms

It’s hard to give up so completely, even if you want to. In reality, hope is stronger.

Supporter Story by Farrah, 
Had I a pound for the times I'd heard that, I’d be rich. Miscarriage is common, stillbirth a tragic event but not unheard of. When your baby has been born and you are back in the comfort of your own home, unless you are told otherwise, you have nothing to worry about. Out of the danger zone. Now, you can breathe, and now you are safe.
I watch on. I watch those around me and I think, “But even then you won’t relax,” because they won’t, whether the deaths of babies are on their radar or not.

Sharing Raw Loss

Friday, 6 July 2018

I share, I believe, quite openly about my losses. I also believe that words very much have a sort of healing power, and ridding yourself of them can be therapeutic. However, sharing raw loss, sharing thoughts and feelings so soon after a loss, I believe, can have a detrimental effect. 

In the first weeks after I lose Ezra I wrote a lot. I wrote constantly. It was a way for me to get down in black and white what I was feeling, to get it out of myself and launch it into the world, but it was less about into the world and more about out of me. I had thoughts and I had feelings and experiences that I didn’t want to have, and by putting it down I could see what was going on and I work out what it was I was feeling and fuck it off. I could stop thinking about that particular thing because by the time I’d worked through it enough to write coherently about it it was done with.

I did not get a huge amount of responses to these things and, in all honesty, responses were not what I wanted. Responses and interaction and understanding were not what I wanted. I wanted relief.