Category: Opinions and rants

Happy 70th birthday to the NHS

70 years of bringing people into the world, looking after people in need, putting people back together again, fixing bones and scrapes, replacing internal organs, saving lives, making lives better, holding hands in times of need, saying nice things, delivering bad news, staring death in the face.

We should be forever grateful for our NHS, and forever protective of it to keep it as a free service for everyone who needs it. It will be a sad and socially dividing day if our NHS is ever privatised and we’re all forced to pay for care.

When we were in LA a few years back we made friends with a guy, Steve, who had no health insurance because he couldn’t afford to pay for it. He got sick and was put into a coma in order to recover; he was in hospital for 10 days all told. The doctors knew he had no insurance, so at that point they literally had to make a decision as to whether a man’s life was worth saving for “free”.

Steve recovered, thankfully for him. But the debt he accrued from his hospital stay was allocated against his name, his records, so that any time he earned any money, it was deducted at source as payment towards what he owed. Steve had an estimated $50,000 debt from that hospital stay and the treatment he received. He will never be able to fully pay it back and will never be able to get on his feet financially because of it. The treatment saved his life, but will also negatively affect the rest of his life too.

What a horrifying situation to be in.

Of course the NHS sometimes gets a bad rep; sometimes it’s deserved and sometimes it isn’t. People are always quick to point out the negatives, but less so the positives. However, knowing that in times of need there are highly trained doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and surgeons on hand to do whatever they can whether you’re living on the breadline or a millionaire is a comforting thought.

The NHS has given me years of expensive corrective dental treatment when I was a kid, treated me for pre-cancerous cells, diagnosed and continue to prescribe medication for my depression. The care and compassion of the nurses and staff on the day my Dad died will remain with me forever.

Here’s to everyone that is part of the NHS – not just the frontline treatment staff but the receptionists, the hospital porters, the cleaners. Nurses who go above and beyond to deliver not just medical care but hand holding, tissues, compassion and a shoulder to cry on. Surgeons who hold peoples’ lives in their hands. GPs with their extensive knowledge of a whole range of ailments; every day and otherwise, and can write us a prescription to make us better.

Share your NHS experiences with me in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Friday Feeling [33] – Come on Russia!

I’m not into football at all but this is a World Cup related post. Don’t worry though, it’s not about the actual tournament, and it’s certainly not in support of Russia. Well, not in the traditional sense anyway…

All this media and public excitement about the players, the opening ceremony and the matches seems to have forgotten a very important thing – Russia’s antiquated and downright disgusting approach to LGBT people. But do you know who hasn’t forgotten about it? Paddy Power! Yep, the online betting giant – a perhaps unlikely source for human rights activism – has vowed to donate £10,000 to LGBT charity Foundation (created by Attitude magazine) for every goal Russia scores!

Read more about it here – my favourite part is the last reason they quote for doing this:

“[To] wind up a few gammon-headed Russian homophobes – perfect”

With the 8 goals scored so far that’s already a hefty £80,000 in the donations pot, and with the home nation already through to the final 16, let’s all get behind them and hope they hit the back of the net in the quarter finals to boost Paddy Power’s contribution even further.

There’s even a super duper hashtag you can use and follow – #RainbowRussians. A little bit of genuis!

What’s not to like about Rainbow Putin?

Rainbow Putin

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Good things are happening…

Anyone else feeling slightly buoyed by the good results of the last couple of weeks?

Ireland overwhelmingly voted to Repeal the 8th amendment, meaning that women across the country have choice and freedom when it comes to their bodies and their pregnancies. It was positive to see the breakdown of voting numbers, and that people young and old voted in favour of change.

Harvey Weinstein was arrested in relation to the sexual abuse and rape allegations made against him. OK, so he hasn’t admitted to them, but with the overwhelming number of women who have come forward it’s surely only a matter of time until his guilt is confirmed by law.

The British justice system, so often accused (and rightly so) of being too soft on certain criminals, acted swiftly to bring bigoted EDL hate speaker Tommy Robinson to justice; trialling and sentencing him quickly for his blatant law breaking whilst serving a suspended sentence. It’s alarming to see blind and ignorant support for him across social media – people wrongly believing he’s been robbed of freedom of speech while trying to brig paedophiles to justice – but at least putting him behind bars sends out the right message.

Roseanne Barr was immediately held account for her very public racist comments on Twitter about a former aide of Barack Obama. Her TV show was canned by the network who actively denounced her views and any connection to her. Again a great warning that hateful language and beliefs is becoming less and less tolerated, and there will be consequences. Hold those views if you will, but don’t expect them to be tolerated.

Of course there’s still heaps of shit going on in the world (isn’t there always?) but small victories for minority groups must always be celebrated, and often have a domino effect to bigger things.

What are you feeling positive about right now?

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Repeal the 8th

Today Irish nationals go to the polls in a referendum about legalising abortion. Under the 8th amendment, apart from in very few circumstances, it’s illegal for a woman to abort a pregnancy in Ireland. This includes if she is the victim of rape, if the foetus has life limiting disabilities detected in the womb or if the mother herself develops life threatening illnesses for which the treatment will harm the foetus.

That’s right – Ireland puts the rights of an nonviable collection of cells above the rights and welfare, both physical and mental, of a woman.

I’ve made my thoughts on abortion perfectly clear on this blog in the past. I believe that a woman should have autonomy over her body. Not just in cases like those outlined above. But in all cases. Because mistakes do happen. You can be as careful as you like with contraception and you may still get pregnant, even though you don’t want a child. It’s wrong to punish people into a life of parenthood when it’s not what they want. It’s not good for a woman, and not good for a resulting child.

I feel nervous today. “Why?” you might ask. “You’re not Irish, why should you care?”. I care because I’m a woman, and we should all care about women’s rights. It’s abhorrent to me to think of the hoops Irish women have to go through to have an abortion for whatever reason.

Repeal the 8th

I’ve been following the #Repealthe8th hashtag on Twitter all week, and some of the stories I’ve read have been emotionally disturbing, draining and downright disgusting. Women who, short of money to make the trip, have tried to self abort with alcohol, hot baths and hitting themselves in the stomach out of sheer desperation. A woman who found out she was pregnant at 5 weeks but couldn’t get to the UK for an abortion until she was 12 weeks because she had to save up the money to afford it. Women who lied to their families and employer as to their whereabouts. A woman who couldn’t afford the extra cash for an anaesthetic so underwent the procedure with no pain relief. Women making the journey from Ireland to the UK and back in one day, with no rest or recovery time, because they didn’t want to arouse suspicion as to where they were. The fear of sitting in the airport waiting for a flight and praying that they didn’t see anyone they knew. Women who have ended up with a post abortion infection because they were too scared to go to their own doctor when back on Irish soil.

It’s an astonishing and unacceptable truth that a rape victim could receive a longer prison sentence for aborting an unwanted pregnancy than the rapist who sexually attacked her.

These are the reasons that the law needs to be changed.

It hasn’t been all doom and gloom. For every sad story I’ve been buoyed by tweets from people intent on being part of the movement for change. People who live outside of Ireland travelling home to make their vote count (it’s not possible to vote by post or proxy, which the cynic in me thinks is a deliberate move by the government to try and skew the vote). Irish nationals are travelling from far and wide; the UK, obviously, but America, Asia and Australia too – spending their time and money to contribute to the right result for women. People who live in Ireland, not content in just voting themselves, but in helping others to do so – offering free taxi journeys from the airport, lifts to the polling station and donating to Crowdfunding resources who are using financial donations to pay travel costs for people living out side of the country who are eligible to vote but can’t afford to get there. I even saw an individual on Twitter who said, because she couldn’t make the journey herself due to other commitments, she would personally pay, in full, the airfare of anyone who could go in her place.

And then there’s the humorous – a Twitter user’s Dad who was out walking his dog and given a leaflet by someone from the “No” campaign, who replied with “oh good, I’ve run out of bags”, and proceeded to pick up dog poo with the propaganda.

Ireland is in the spotlight right now, just like it was when it held the referendum on gay marriage. It has the chance to do something great; the chance to respect and honour it’s women, the chance to believe that a woman knows what’s right for her.

Abortions will continue, whether the law is changed or not. But a yes vote means that women don’t have to travel unneccessarily, don’t have to lie, don’t have to face financial upheaval and can recover in their own home with professionals on hand should things go wrong.

Also, let’s not forget, the sexual freedom that comes with legal abortion. I’m not talking about screwing around with no contraception. I’m talking about not having the fear that a sexual encounter that goes wrong – whether the condom splits, or the pill doesn’t work – won’t end up in a clandestine visit to the UK or an unwanted baby born as a result of lack of money or information. When I lost my virginity at 17 I felt safe in the knowledge that, if the worst happened, my life wouldn’t be changed in a way I didn’t want and that there would be a legal and safe way out of an unwanted pregnancy. Women should be free to enjoy sex without worrying. Let’s not make sex something to potentially be scared of any longer.

I hope with every fibre of my being that the antiquated anti abortion supporters are outnumbered and that sense prevails.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Mental Health Awareness Week – do I still have depression?

I’ve purposely stayed out of the MHAW blog posts and tweets so far because I don’t really have anything to add that doesn’t look like bandwagon jumping just for views or likes. But I was inspired to write this by an article written by Fiona Thomas for Metro newspaper.

I don’t have imposter syndrome, by the way. That would be more bandwagon jumping.

I’ve shared my early depression experiences and diagnosis previously. I talked about how I had a wobble a few years back when coming off my tablets without supervision.

Now? I’m not depressed. At all. I have a happy marriage, a beautiful home, a settled job with great work colleagues and an understanding manager. I get to go on plenty of holidays and trips, I have a loving and supportive family and a network of friends who know and accept me for who I am, warts and all.

Me

But do I still have depression?

Is depression like an infection, where you take tablets and then it’s cured? Or is it like diabetes (for example) where it will probably need to be managed for the rest of your life? Everyone is different, I guess. Some people fully recover. Some people will relapse or have recurring episodes throughout their life. Me? I’m scared to find out. After afore-mentioned wobble, which put a deep – if temporary – chasm in my marriage, I’m not really in the market for testing my mental health by coming off my tablets. Maybe that’s irresponsible. I don’t care. I’ve been on them for long enough now that they’re part of me, and I’ve never noticed any effects (apart from the obvious and much wanted positive ones) that have made me feel a need to stop taking them (apart from that one fated time, I know I mention it a lot but it was horrible). Not everyone is so lucky, and I appreciate that. For some people, the side effects of anti-depressants can be worse than the reason for taking them. A lot of people have to trial different variants before they find one that suits them. Not me. Prozac and I got along very well right from the beginning.

But, as I said, I’m not depressed. I can’t imagine ever feeling so desolate and bleak as I did when I first started taking tablets. Sometimes I even wonder “was it that bad?” – it’s such a long time ago, literally and figuratively. But of course it was that bad, at the time. You don’t take 3 weeks off work unable to face real life if you’re just feeling a bit low. You don’t think that it would be quite a relief to not be around anymore as long as you get to say your I love yous and goodbyes to people first.

And yes I still have low days, days where I feel shitty and I want the world to stop so I can get off, days where everything is an effort, days where I’m so caught up in my own thoughts that I want to just be left alone. I don’t class those days as part of my depression. I class them as just rough days, that everybody has, right? Or do they? I also blogged recently about not really knowing who I am because I’ve been on Prozac and the contraceptive pill for such a long time. So is a sad day, a flat day, a can’t be fucking arsed day simply a controlled by pills depression day?

Who knows?! (it’s bloody complex, being a human.)

So, if I’m not depressed but I still take a daily tablet for fear of returning to that space, how do I class myself? And because I’m not actively living it, and haven’t for a long time, is it even worth me participating in the conversation? There are people with much worse experiences than me, in the here and now.

My conclusion is that I don’t need to label myself. It doesn’t matter, right now, to have a category to fit into. The important thing is that I’m mentally stable (in the most part). I had my diagnosis, a long time ago, which put me on a treatment path which levelled me out. Long may that path continue, whatever it’s called.

PS. The lovely Tina from T is for Tina has written a very apt post in relation to MHAW. As she correctly states, “we all have a mental health, and we all need to look after ourselves and learn to put ourselves first sometimes.” Regardless of whether or not you have a diagnosed mental illness or condition, it’s important for everyone to to look after their own mental wellbeing. MHAW isn’t just to acknowledge people who’s brains are a bit wonky (I’m being flippant, not rude). It should also exist to remind everyone to take care of themselves. Say no when you want to, create some me time and indulge in things that make you happy. Your brain deserves it.

Read Tina’s full post here.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Friday Feeling [31] – self improvement and some help from a stranger

My cockles were warmed on multiple levels this week by this story. A man riding the New York subway, re-teaching himself fractions so he could help his son, and in turn being offered help by a stranger.

Why the multiple cockle warming, you may ask? (or you may not!)

Firstly the Dad, obvs. I have to be honest, I’ve forgotten most of what I learnt in school maths lessons (trigonometry, anyone?) but the fact that he was taking the time to get to grips with it to help his son is lovely (I know it’s basic good parenting, but I guess a lot of folks would pass the buck to someone else instead of taking the time to re-learn something from many years ago).

Secondly, public transport is a pretty inhospitable place generally, where most people go out of their way to avoid eye contact, much less be nice to someone. So the fact that the older guy acknowledged the situation is in itself a wonderful thing. But to take that a step further, and offer help, is a lovely lovely thing.

Finally, that the Dad accepted the offer of a help as a genuine kindness rather than getting all defensive or dismissive, is probably all too rare in itself these days.

Ex professor helping Dad

The kid learning fractions isn’t the only winner here. My guess is that both the Dad and the older guy went away feeling pretty good about themselves too.

What do you think? Would you accept help from a stranger?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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How speaking to your local MP can make a difference

When I went to a Dignity in Dying meeting in Parliament back in January, it was quite clear from the MPs who attended that there’s still a hell of a lot of misconception about what the charity and it’s supporters (myself included) are fighting for. On that basis it’s clear that, when there is another vote on the issue in Parliament (as there was in 2015), those MPs won’t understand what they’re voting for, which will obviously affect the outcome.

To be clear, Dignity in Dying are fighting for a change in the law that allows mentally competent, terminally ill people with less than 6 months to live, the legal right to end their life in the UK with medical assistance. Mental competence would be assessed by an independent psychiatric professional. This would end the need for people to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland or other countries and organisations where assisted dying is currently legal. It would mean that people could die at home, in comfort, surrounded by family. It would mean they didn’t have to skulk away like criminals and worry that anyone who had helped them to make the journey overseas may face prosecution.

My Dad’s wife’s MP is Tom Watson, Member for West Bromwich East and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. He didn’t vote in favour of changing the assisted dying law in the last vote three years ago. As a constituent, she and another local resident Jim, who took his partner to Dignitas because the UK law didn’t allow her to end her life in her home country, requested a meeting with him to discuss the issue. They both shared their stories and experiences with him, and presented him with the latest research from Dignity in Dying.

Mr Watson was very moved by both of their stories, and surprised at the difference in treatment at the hands of their doctors (Dad’s doctor refused to give hi the paperwork he needed to be accepted by Dignitas on legal grounds, whereas Jim’s partner’s doctor helped them to collate everything they needed. Ironically they were both under the same GP surgery). He was visibly emotional and his opinion of assisted dying changed during that meeting. He pledged to publicly declare his support.

True to his word, Mr Watson was interviewed by the Daily Mirror newspaper, and an article was published this weekend. He acknowledges that meeting with my Dad’s wife and Jim changed his opinion, and has gone on record as saying the law needs to change

You can also read the full article detailing the difference in experience of Jim and my Dad’s wife here.

I’m sharing this message to prove that you, me, all of us, can make a difference. Not just specifically to Dignity in Dying, but with anything you feel passionately about. Maybe your MP is like Tom Watson – doesn’t understand your issue or has never really given it any thought. Maybe the thing that you want changing has never been on their agenda. Maybe you’re the person to make them understand and make them think about it.

Be the change.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A grumble about charity

As I sat watching coverage of the London Marathon on Sunday, I was struck by how many people were running to raise money for charity, which is obviously an amazing thing to do. Charity is an important part of our society, supporting needy causes that don’t get public funding.

It started me thinking, again (I’ve been thinking this for a while), about how wrong it is that some needy causes have to be supported by charity. That there is no government money for them.

Look at Cancer Research UK, for example. 1 in 2 people are now expected to get cancer during their lifetime. Shouldn’t there be more government funding available for something that affects half the population? What about sight loss charities? People who are born blind often have to rely on donations in order to get adapted equipment for the home or work – how is that right?

The thing that really got my goat during the marathon though, was the firefighters running to raise money for the community affected by the Grenfell Tower fire last year. I’d heard them interviewed on the radio on Friday, and then saw more interviews on the TV coverage. 18 firefighters who attended the fire, from North Kensington and Paddington boroughs, who’ve already done so much to rescue survivors during the disaster, were running in full gear including breathing apparatus (an additional weight of approximately 30kgs per person) in order to raise funds. But millions of charity donations already exist, and sit in the hands of the UK government who haven’t fully or correctly distributed them to survivors and those affected. Huge pots of money, donated in good faith by the British public who were saddened by the tragedy, not making the difference it should to the people who need it.

It’s morally and financially wrong.

Of course, some charities themselves are not above reprehension either. CEOs on 6 figure salaries, mismanagement of resources – it starts to add up to a really badly organised use of public cash which was donated in good faith.

It’s maddening.

Not to end on a bad note though, I salute every single person who put themself through 26.2 gruelling miles of running, in the hottest London Marathon temperatures ever recorded, to raise cash for a cause they believe in. They’re all amazing. I just hope their donations get used in the proper manner.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Wise words from Stephen Hawking

I’ll be honest, I don’t know an awful lot about Stephen Hawking. I know that he was an incredibly intelligent man with a capacity for knowledge, analysis, understanding and comprehending the world and the universe that most people will never come close to. I know that he never allowed himself to be defined by his disability, and overcame physical limitations to be able to share his incredible brain power.

But, in the wake of his recent death, these are the things about Stephen Hawking that resonated and will stay with me.

Stephen Hawking quote

This. Always this. Never stop learning, questioning, reading and wanting to know more.

Stephen Hawking assisted dying

And this.

If one of the most intelligent men of our time can understand the need for assisted dying, and the need for the taboo and secrecy behind it to stop, then why can’t our government?

I would suggest that they adhere to the first quote and read more about the process, the people involved, public opinion, and the heartache of individuals and families denied the right to choose death instead of prolonged terminal suffering.

Read more about why I support UK charity Dignity in Dying and a change in the assisted dying law here.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Who am I, really?

This isn’t a confession post, where I tell you that Ive been blogging under an alias or anything! But it may strike a chord with anyone who’s been on any hormone based contraception or anti depressants for any length of time.

I’ve been thinking recently, for a while actually, that I’ve been on “potentially mood altering” prescribed drugs for so long that I don’t know who I am without them, if that makes sense?

Let me explain.

I first started taking the pill – Microgynon – when I was 17. Far from an adult (certainly in mind), not experienced in the world and not really properly mature. I was living at home with my parents, still at school studying A levels, working a Saturday job in a clothes shop. Life was pretty easy.

I was lucky with my pill, it suited me from the off. No spotting or breakthrough bleeding, no bad skin or mood swings, or any noticeable change in me. Or so I thought. But what if the hormones changed the future me? What if they blocked something in me that would have become apparent as I matured, started working, became financially independent? What if the change was subtle enough for me not to notice it, but it did make a difference somehow?

I had to change my pill a while back, because of my age (urgh), so I’m now on the mini pill which I take daily, instead of having a 7 day break (you can read what I found out about hormone based contraception as you get older here). Again there was no discernible difference. But lately I feel tired and not interested in going out. What if I’m blaming that on winter, and getting older, but really it’s the effect of the pill and I just haven’t put two and two together?

Similarly, with my anti-depressants (read my depression story here). I have come off them a couple of times, without my doctor’s supervision (don’t do that, by the way), and at those times I’ve returned to Mrs Angry-with-Everything-and-Everyone but that makes me wonder then, is that the real me? Are the anti-depressants just masking my true aggressive nature? Or did the depression make me that way and the anti Ds just put me back to my normal level headed self?

What if my pill was the trigger for my depression? What if, had I never taken the pill, I’d never have had depression and almost 20 years of being on and off medication for it?

The point is, I’ve been putting hormones and SSRIs into my body for such a long time, and from such a young age, that I don’t know who the real me is. Stripped down, no medication or contraception, me. What would I be like? Would my personality change? Would I hate myself? Would other people hate me?

And in that respect, my thoughts start to run away with me, and at times I wonder if I’m living a lie. Which is crazy!

It’s too late for me to ever find out, obviously. But I know that there are thousands, probably millions of people out there, like me, who’ve followed their doctors advice for many years and now blindly, repetitively, habitually take what they’ve been prescribed “just because”. I’m not saying that doctors have acted irresponsibly. Just that it’s something worth thinking about.

I’m too scared to take myself off my anti-depressants to find out what would happen, but at some point as I get older I won’t need the pill anymore, and it will definitely be something I take note of, to see if there are any changes in reverse that I was too young and naive to notice at 17.

I’d love your thoughts on this! Am I overthinking things? Have you seen big changes from long term medication? Leave me your comments.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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