Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Bedtime Story (31/5/2017)

You know that feeling when you should be doing something else, but all you really want to do is curl up in front of the telly?!  Well, I've had that a lot, lately.  So, I decided to shake myself out of it, by writing a story about it!

If you would prefer to listen to this week's story, just check out the podcast!

Telly Addict!

The sun came streaming in through Sophia's bedroom window.  She could hear her older brother Jack, scrambling to get ready for a football game, as she lounged on her bed, with her TV remote in her hand.

It was half term, so there was no school, and every day, Sophia had been able to sleep in a little later and spend her days exactly how she wanted.  The trouble was, not everyone was happy with the way Sophia had been spending her days...

Sophia's brother Jack was twelve and he had a small TV in his room, with a DVD player built into it, so he could watch movies when his friends came over.  Of course, when Jack had been bought the TV, Sophia had been extremely jealous and had begged and pleaded to have one of her own.  But Sophia was only eight and her parents had decided that they'd rather she didn't have her own TV, just yet.

Then, an unexpected thing had happened.  Sophia's Grandad had bought himself a new TV.  It was bigger than his old one and apparently it did all kinds of clever things.  You could go online with it and everything!  But Grandad's old TV still worked and, to Sophia's delight, he asked if she would like it.

Well, Sophia pleaded so hard with her mum and dad to say yes, that eventually, they did.  Sophia was allowed to have her very own TV in her room, but on one condition: she had to promise not to watch it all day.

At first, Sophia stuck to her promise.  She watched a few cartoons in her room before and after school and that was it.  Even at weekends, she preferred running around outside, to staying in, in front of the telly.

But recently, Sophia had started to change.  She had realised that watching TV could fire her imagination.  It could take her to new places and teach her new things.  Suddenly, nothing seemed to excite her as much as watching TV did.  And it didn't matter what she watched!  She was crazy about cookery shows, fascinated by films and delighted by documentaries.  

And so, when Jack popped his head into her room that day, Sophia did not want to be disturbed.

"Come on," he said.  "I've got a football game this morning.  Mum's driving me and she says she'll take us for lunch, afterwards.  You're not even dressed, yet!"

Sophia pulled a face.  "I don't want to come," she groaned.  "Football's boring.  I'm watching this show about monkeys."

Jack frowned.  "Since when have you been into nature documentaries?!"

Sophie shrugged.  "Since now.  They're really interesting.  Did you know that there are currently 264 known species of monkey in the world?!"

Before Jack could answer, Sophia heard footsteps on the stairs.  Jack turned.  "Mum's coming," he warned.  "You'd better get dressed really quickly!"

"Too right," came Mum's voice.  "Sophia, you've been sitting in front of that telly all holiday, so far.  It's time you switched it off and came back to the real world!"

Sophia rolled her eyes.  Her head was aching and actually, her eyes felt rather sore, too.  The last thing she needed was to have the stress of going out into the bright daylight...  She rubbed her sore temples and sighed.  "Football's boring," she insisted again.

"We'll go to the park, too," Mum said.  "And then, I'm taking you both out for lunch.  So come on; the TV's going off right now."

She marched over to the TV and switched it off.  Then, just to be sure, she pulled out the plug from the wall.  

"Muuuuuum!"  Sophia wailed.  "This is so unfair!"

In a huff, she stomped to the bathroom for a wash.  She didn't say a word all the way to the football pitch and she was still grumpy when the game started.

"How are your eyes feeling?"  Mum asked.

"Sore," Sophia snapped.  "And it's because the sun is too bright."

Mum shook her head.  "It's because you've done nothing but watch TV for the last few days," she insisted.  

Sophia ignored her and turned her attention to the football match Jack was playing in.  The other team had the ball and were heading for the goal.  The ball whooshed towards the net, but Sophia cried out: "OFFSIDE!"

Mum blinked at Sophia.  "How on Earth do you know the Offside Rule?!"

Sophia shrugged.  "I was watching a football game on telly the other night."

"I thought football was boring?"  Mum frowned.

"It is, usually," Sophia replied.  "But it's better on TV."  She rubbed her eyes and sighed.

"Your eyes really are hurting you because you watch too much telly, you know," Mum said.  "I'm not sure we should keep that thing in your room."

"We should," Sophia insisted.  She took a deep breath of fresh air and decided to change the subject.  "There's a lovely breeze today, isn't there?  It's nice not to feel too hot, today."

Mum glanced back at her.  "Have you been too hot lately, then?"

Sophia wrinkled her nose.  "Well, I haven't opened my curtains much this week, because the sunlight gets in the way of the television screen.  So, my room's been a bit warm..."

Mum tutted.  "Oh, Sophia, for goodness sake!  That TV was such a bad idea."

They watched the rest of the football match without saying much.  Afterwards, Jack came jogging towards them, with one hand on his belly.  "I am starving!"  He cried.  "Where are we going for lunch?"

Mum shrugged.  "Where would you like to go?"

Sophia clapped her hands together.  "Ooh, I'd like to try that new sushi place!" 

Both Jack and Mum stared at her.  "Sushi?!"  Jack exclaimed.  "You don't even eat fish fingers!"

"But fish contains Omega 3 and it's really good for you.  Besides, I've decided I want to go to Japan, so I ought to get used to sushi."  Sophia gave them both a smile.

"Where has this idea come from?!"  Mum asked.

"I watched a documentary about Japan," Sophia grinned.  "See, Mum; TV is good for me.  It's teaching me stuff and it's making me want to try new things!"

Mum smirked back at her.  "Well, maybe we'll go somewhere else today and we'll buy one of those sushi snack-packs from the supermarket on the way home, so you can try a small amount before we go all out at a special restaurant."  She paused and eyed Sophia closely.  "How's your head feeling, by the way?"

Sophia chewed her lip for a moment.  "Lots better, actually," she confessed.  "And the fresh air really does feel nice."

Mum smiled.  "How about we make a deal?"  She suggested.  "You can keep the TV in your room, seeing as it is teaching you things, but you have to promise to just an hour or two a day.  And plenty of fresh air and playing outside, the rest of the time.  Deal?"

Sophia nodded.  "Deal!"

With that, Sophia followed her Mum and Jack back to the car, as they prepared to find somewhere for lunch.  Sophia suddenly realised that she had missed being outside in the sunshine.  And although watching the TV could make her feel like she was visiting new places and trying new things, it was no substitute for actually doing it, herself.

"You know, Mum, I watched a show about cars, the other night.  Did you know that this model of car can go from 0-60mph in just over eight seconds?!"

Mum chuckled to herself.  "I didn't," she replied.  "But I do now."

After lunch, Mum asked Sophia and Jack whether they wanted to go to the park for a while.

"Yes, please!" They cried in unison.

"Isn't there something you want to watch on TV?"  Mum asked Sophia, chuckling to herself.

Sophia smirked back at her.  "I think the best thing to do is have a balance," she replied.  "I'll spend some of my time outside playing and some of my time watching interesting TV programmes.  That way, my eyes won't hurt so much, my head won't ache and I'll get lots of fresh air, but I'll still be watching and learning cool stuff."

"Sounds like you've got the right idea," Mum smiled.  "So, we can go out more often!"

"Yes, we can," Sophia agreed.  "Besides, if I want to watch something, I can always record it for later."

Mum frowned.  "But, you don't have a recorder..."

Sophia grinned.  "It's my birthday next month," she reminded her.  "And now I've got a TV, I should definitely have a recorder and probably a DVD player, too..."

Mum chuckled to herself.  "What on Earth am I going to do with you, Soph?!"

Sophia smirked.  "There's a programme on tonight about a lady who goes round to people's houses and helps them with their kids...  Maybe you should give it a watch?!"

And with that, Sophia went rushing off to the park, to play in the sunshine, with not a screen in sight.


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Bedtime Story (24/5/2017)

This story has kind of been written in my head for several weeks, but in a variety of different forms.  It's only today (and I'm writing this ahead of time, in April!) that it seems to have organised itself into something that feels right.  I hope you enjoy it!

If you'd like to listen to this story as a podcast, just click here!

The Big Day Out

William, Luca, Alex and Dev,
Were the best friends you could meet.
They'd known one another since they were babies,
And they all lived on the same street.

Now that the boys were getting older,
They were allowed to play further away,
Rather than staying in their street,
They could go to the park or the fields to play.

And so, one bright and sunny morning,
The boys planned a big day out.
Luca, William and Dev went rushing to Alex's house:
"Are you ready?" Came their excited shout.

Now, Alex was the organised one;
The best prepared boy in their crew.
And so the other three depended on him,
As friends sometimes tend to do.

Alex had planned ahead for their trip,
And he'd packed a bag, full of things they might need.
When the three others arrived at his house,
He had his backpack sat on his knees.

"I've packed our supplies," Alex told them,
As the boys gathered round, with wide eyes.
"Before we go, I'll let you see!"
He opened the bag to show them inside.

"There are crisps and drinks and chocolate bars,
Plus bananas, because they're good for you.
And I've put a couple of pounds in a wallet,
So we can buy more food if we need it, too.

There's sun cream for us to put on if it's hot,
And a blanket to spread on the field.
And I've packed us loads of toys to take with us;
I'm so excited!" He squealed.

The boys were rightly impressed with their friend,
And they stood around, nodding their heads.
But then: "I don't like bananas," Dev said.
"Could you pack some apples, instead?"

So, Alex added apples to his backpack as well,
But before the boys could go:
"What toys are we taking?" Luca asked.
"Did you pack a ball we could throw?"

So, Alex added a ball to his backpack,
And cried: "Let's get going, quick!"
But William wanted to know what crisps he'd packed,
Because cheese and onion made him feel sick.

And so, Alex added a few extra packets,
So they could all choose a flavour they liked.
The bag was getting heavier now,
He didn't fancy carrying it as they hiked.

"Did you pack any water pistols?" Dev asked.
"It's sunny enough for a water fight!"
So, off Alex went, to add them to the bag,
Which definitely no longer felt light.

"What if it rains, whilst we're playing outside?
We need an umbrella," Luca said.
"That way, we'll have something to shelter beneath,
If the rain comes down on our heads."

So, Alex fetched his mum's pocket umbrella,
And he stuffed it into the bag.
But when he tried to lift the bag up,
His whole body started to sag.

"Before you do the bag up," William said,
"Did you remember to pack paper and pens?
We could use them to make paper aeroplanes,
Or to write signs, if we want to build dens."

Alex added paper and pens to the bag,
Then said: "There's no room for more!"
But when he tried to pick the bag up,
It just stayed right there on the floor!

He tugged and he heaved with all of his might,
Until his cheeks were a rosy red hue.
The three other boys exchanged glances,
And suddenly, they knew what to do.

"Wait for us," they told their friend.
"We promise we won't be long!"
And just like that, they disappeared,
Alex wondered what could be wrong.

Just a few minutes later, the boys returned,
All carrying bags on their backs.
"We can each carry something,"
Dev explained.  "For example, I'll take the snacks!"

And so, the fruit, crisps, chocolate and drinks,
Disappeared into the bag Dev had brought.
And already, Alex's bag felt much lighter.
He could probably carry it now, he thought.

But Luca pointed to his empty bag.
"Give me the ball, umbrella and more,"
He told his friend, opening his bag wide.
"I can carry a lot, I'm sure!"

"The water pistols and blanket can go in my bag,"
William suddenly cried.
"Then yours will just have the wallet, sun cream
And the paper and pens left inside!"

Suddenly, Alex's backpack felt light,
And he picked it up with great ease.
Not carrying such a great load
Made Alex feel rather relieved.

"We shouldn't have made you pack everything,"
William said.  "That was mean.
Besides, everyone knows that life's easier
When you work with your friends as a team!"

Alex nodded his head and gave a smile.
It was true, he had no doubt!
And sharing the load, each friend helping the other,
They set off on their big day out.


Music, Love And Manchester...

I was fourteen years old when I went to my first, proper pop concert.  I had seen live music before that, but never a group I had truly hero-worshipped.  911 - a typical 90s boyband, for those of you too young to remember - were my world.  I can still vividly recall walking into Birmingham NEC, seeing thousands of excited fans, smelling snack foods and body spray, buying an overpriced tour programme, just to stare lovingly at Lee Brennan's face before the show started and he'd actually be there, on stage...  So much of that night is forever imprinted on my memory.  It not only strengthened my adoration of a band who put on one heck of a show, but it kickstarted my enormous love of live music, which endures to this day.

I went with my eleven year old sister.  She wasn't even much of a 911 fan, but she'd gone along, just the same.  Two young girls, on an exciting night out without their parents.  

Mum and Dad dropped us off at the venue and promised they'd be waiting for us at the end.  I can still remember the lights coming up, music still ringing in my ears, my face all hot and sweaty.  I was so excited to tell my parents all about it and to thank them for the tickets.

On Monday night, a similar scene would have unfolded for thousands of young pop music fans.  Saying goodbye to their parents, who'd be dutifully picking them up later.  Rushing to find their seats.  Screaming, singing and losing themselves completely in the unbridled joy that live music can bring.

It should have ended just like my first pop concert; with excited stories on the way home.  Kids unable to sleep, because the songs were still swirling through their heads.

By now, we all know that the unthinkable happened, instead.

More than twenty people - over half of them children - lost their lives when a cowardly terrorist detonated a bomb as the concert-goers were leaving the arena in Manchester, causing a blast that also left more than 50 people with serious injuries.

It's unbearable.

It's unbearable, because these were the most innocent people in society - children, teenagers, families sharing an exciting night out, together.  

It's unbearable, because music brings us so much joy, which is in stark contrast with the pain, suffering and anger so many families must be experiencing in the wake of such a tragedy.

It's unbearable, because yet again, the need to place blame has led to Islamophobia, fear-mongering and hate.

And you can't kill hate with more of it.

What this horrendous individual (I won't type his name here; he does not deserve that dignity) did on Monday was not a religious act.  What this sick, twisted little perpetrator did was an extreme act of terror.  And ISIS, who have taken responsibility for this cowardice, want us to be fearful and to spread hatred towards innocent Muslims as a result.  Why?  Because that is how they indoctrinate "soldiers" to their pathetic "cause."

"Look how hated you are by these infidels," they whisper into the ears of naive and often very young men and women.  "It's time to teach them a lesson."

Don't give them what they want.

Don't look at a minority of violent losers and allow them to represent the whole of Islam.  There are 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet and the vast majority of them are decent people.

Like the Muslim taxi drivers, who were offering free lifts home to stranded concert-goers on Monday night.

Like the Muslim doctors and nurses, working around the clock, trying to save the lives of innocent victims caught up in the blast.

Like the Muslim Mancunians, attending the vigil for the dead, missing and injured, yesterday.

Each of those people shares your anger.  Your hurt.  Your heartbreak.  But unlike you, they also too often face the brunt of it from others, purely because these sickening attacks are carried out in the name of "Islam."

The anger we all feel at what happened on Monday is justifiable.  The fear we might experience as the UK's terror threat level is increased to "critical" is understandable.  The demand that terror cells are weeded out and that those who threaten us are properly punished is understandable, too.  I want that.  Every Muslim I've spoken to online, since the tragedy in Manchester took place, wants it, too.

It's important to direct our feelings to the right places.  If every single one of the 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet was a violent murderous terrorist, I would almost certainly not be alive to write this blog, right now.  1.6 billion people is an extraordinary army.  But the fact is, only a very minimal percentage of those people have been indoctrinated into the kind of extremism that promotes terror.  Our justifiable anger - hate, even - must be directed to that minority.

But, as I said earlier, you don't kill hate with hate.

It's love that is proving that terrorism will never win.

It's the people opening their houses to let those who were stranded after the bombing, find a place to stay.

It's the people comforting one another in the streets.

It's the strangers, offering money for taxis, hotels or food.

It's the people taking bottles of water and food to hospitals, so that the parents whose children have been critically injured, don't have to leave their bedsides.

Yesterday, someone I follow on Twitter commented that we have to let life continue, because anything else is cowing to terrorism.  Almost immediately, he had racists telling him he was "an Islamist snowflake," or that he was "dismissing the memory of those killed."


By living, we cherish the memories of those lost.  

By playing the music they loved, by reminiscing over concerts we attended when we were young, we are celebrating the joy they felt, before their lives were so cruelly snuffed out.

By wrapping our arms around each other and supporting one another, we are showing that love is stronger than hate and always will be.  By refusing to smear innocent people, simply because they belong to a religion that has been taken and twisted to fit an extremist agenda, we show that we are better than the terrorists could ever hope to be.  And we show them that their ideals have no place in our world.  We condemn them not only with our words, but more importantly, with our actions and reactions.

Love will always outshine hate.  And it's fair to say that love and music have always been closely intertwined, in my life.  They always will be.  

And it's with love for those lost in my heart, that I will play my music a little louder, today.  Because terror can never take love away.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Bedtime Story (17/5/2017)

As this story is going live on our family dog's 5th birthday, I could hardly write about anything else, could I?!

You can also listen to this story as a podcast.

A Day In The Life of Rusty

It started as a normal morning.  Rusty the Labradoodle stretched his legs, yawned and opened his sleepy eyes.  He blinked at the sun, streaming in through the patio doors.  Yes, it was going to be a bright, warm day; perfect for lazing in the garden.

Rusty could hear footsteps on the stairs and he scrambled out of his bed, with his tail wagging wildly.  He grabbed the cushion from his bed and held it in his mouth, ready to offer as a gift to whoever opened the door, just as he did every morning.

But today was no ordinary day.  Today, Rusty's family seemed even more happy than usual to see him!  He seemed to receive even more cuddles and even more fuss.  He could have sworn there was more breakfast in his bowl than there usually was, too.  What on Earth was going on?!

Rusty's morning walk seemed longer than it normally was - what a treat!  But why?!

And on his return to the house, there was a present for him to open.  Rusty liked few things more than shredding the wrapping paper from a present.  He tore off the paper and was thrilled to find a new chew toy, inside.  But why was he getting presents?!  He wracked his brain, trying to work out what was going on.  

It couldn't be Christmas, because the extra members of the family weren't there, and the people in the house weren't opening presents, too.  But why else would he be getting so many treats?!

Rusty just didn't have a clue, so he went out into the garden to lie in the sun, whilst he tried to figure out what was going on.  Maybe he was just being rewarded for being such a good dog?!  Hmm, but yesterday when he tried to eat Mum's gardening gloves, she'd told him off, so... Maybe it wasn't that.

Then again, he was a good dog.  After all, he always barked at any birds that landed in the garden.  Or any cats he spied, nearby.  And he was certain that meant he must be a very good guard dog.  Oh, and he was always on standby to catch any food that fell from the kitchen table at lunch and dinner.  That meant he was ensuring there was no waste, surely?!

Yes, Rusty was sure he was just being a good dog.  He trotted back to the house, with a wag of his tail, feeling rather proud of himself.  

But, when he went inside, he suddenly came face to face with his arch enemy.  He couldn't believe it!  Mum was getting out that big, noisy thing that Rusty hated.  The thing that made a big noise and was dragged around the room, sucking dirt from the floor.  He thought he'd heard it called a "hoover," but he couldn't be sure.  Rusty's ears pricked up and he took a few careful steps backwards.  Before long, Mum switched the thing on and WHOOOOOOOOO, it made that big, loud noise that Rusty was so scared of.  He darted back into the garden to hide!

Outside in the grass, Rusty was not happy at all.  The family couldn't think he was a very good dog, after all.  Not if they were prepared to scare him with that noisy thing, when they knew he didn't like it.  After a while, Mum tried to call Rusty into the house, but he wouldn't budge.  He was too fed up to go back inside.  What if the thing that sucked dirt from the floor was still making noise?  And what if it sucked him up?!  Besides, he was sure that nobody thought he was a good dog, anymore.  No, he didn't want to go inside.  He dug his paws into the grass and stared at Mum until she gave up and closed the door, again.

Rusty stayed outside for what felt like hours.  He got tired and wanted his bed.  He got hungry and wanted to check his bowl.  But he couldn't go back inside.  He sighed.  The day had started so well, but now it didn't feel like a special day at all...

Just then, the door opened once more and Mum stood, holding his bowl.  Rusty sniffed.  He could smell meat!  Freshly cooked and looking delicious - it was right there in his bowl!  Gingerly, he took a couple of steps towards the door.

"Come on, you silly thing," Mum said.  "You can't stay outside all day.  Not on your birthday!"

Rusty's eyes widened.  So, that was why it was a special day!  He hurried into the house and wagged his tail with delight, as Mum placed the bowl of delicious food on the mat for him.  He wolfed it down in no time.  "Good boy," Mum told him.  "You're a good dog!"

Rusty was delighted.  He licked his bowl clean and, when he was sure that the noisy thing was safely back in the cupboard, he snuggled down in his cosy bed, to chew on his new toy.  It had been a very exciting day, for this very good dog.


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Is it ever "ONLY" words?!

I woke up to a really nice message, today.  That message came from someone who, a couple of years ago, had read a blog I wrote on here (about a certain book series I despise) and had disagreed with me to the point that she'd felt the need to attack me personally, in the comment section.  This person had contacted me to apologise and explained that she'd been going through some awful stuff and had taken her anger out on me and was wrong to have done so.  I told her that I had no hard feelings towards her whatsoever (because I genuinely don't), and I wished her well for the future.  I know that it's not always easy to own up to a mistake and to say "I was wrong," so I give her absolute credit for having the courage to have done so.  I really do hope that she will be okay and that she will have the wonderful life she deserves.

The trouble was, I didn't remember the comments she was apologising for.  And the reason I didn't remember them, was because there were so many abusive comments on that particular blog post, from so many different people.  When it feels like dozens and dozens of people are throwing stones at you, it's hard to remember which cut came from which rock.

And that's the thing: each and every nasty comment on that post was like a tiny weapon, sent to cause harm.  And whilst the person who messaged me to say sorry is completely and unreservedly forgiven as far as I'm concerned, I can't understand why the other people in that comment thread never stopped for a second to think "I shouldn't have said that."

People say "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me."  And that, dear readers, is utter rubbish.

I've written about the fact that words can hurt just as much as a physical blow before, but it never ceases to amaze me just how much damage they can cause, or how many people seem to think that words are simply meaningless things, to be tossed out with no thought for their effect on the person hearing or reading them.

I've known how much words can hurt, from a young age.

From when I was twelve years old, being told on the school bus (every single day) that I was so hideously ugly, that nobody - not even my parents - could possibly love me, and I ought to do the world a favour and kill myself, I knew the power that words had.

Because those words didn't just come out of the bully's mouth and then evaporate into nothingness.  They stayed.  They seeped into my brain and whispered to me, at night.  They played over and over in my mind, like an irritating song on the radio.  They clung to my clothes, so it felt like everyone who looked at me could see them.  They enveloped me until I became them.  And they hurt.

They hurt so much that it was like being punched in the stomach, or kicked in the chest.  I felt them.  I felt every syllable, slicing through me; a stabbing pain that left me utterly breathless.

But, according to some people at the time (a few of my classmates and even one or two teachers), what was happening to me didn't seem too big a problem, because it was "only words."

That's not a new thing, Ed.

Fast forward a few years, and 27 year old me found herself in love with an abusive man.  And this time, once I'd finally found the strength to walk away from him, it was me minimising my own experience.  Despite everything he'd done to me - every time he'd screamed in my face, or told me I was "weak and pathetic," or refused to let me touch him, because I made him feel "repulsed" - I found myself using the same phrase: "It was only words."

Because he never hit me, because he never raped me, it was somehow less awful.

Of course, it wasn't.  It was just a different kind of awful.  I know that, now.  But the very fact that I could minimise my own experience in that way, made me realise how common it is to think along those warped lines.  It's an excuse we make as a society too often: 

"They're just words, get over it."

"You're being way too sensitive."

"You really need to toughen up.  Just ignore them; don't read the comments if they upset you."

But words have a massive effect.  How many victims of bullying have to take their own lives, before we're prepared to accept that?  

A harsh insult, delivered with the intention of causing hurt to the person on the receiving end, is a weapon.  It may not look like a knife or a gun, but its impact can cause damage, all the same.  And it completely blows my mind that the people who post hateful words online, or who bully people in person, either don't think about the enormous damage that their words could - and often do - cause, or that they just don't care.

The person who messaged me, asked if I would mind finding her comments on the aforementioned blog post and deleting them for her.  She didn't stand by them and didn't like the thought of them still being there.  I completely appreciated that and I agreed to try to find them and get rid of them.

But, I had underestimated how difficult doing so would be.  You see, that blog post (Fifty Abusive Moments in Fifty Shades of Grey) has been read more than 1.3million times.  It's had 877 comments on it.  And, whilst some of those comments had been really lovely, supportive words from people who agreed with the contents of the post, there were many comments that were... Less so, shall we say.  In fact, there were so many that were hurtful, rude or downright abusive, that I had stopped reading any new ones, several hundred comments ago.  Finding this person's specific responses was going to be tough.

I won't lie to you; I didn't find them.

I did find a man calling me a "disgrace to writing."

I did find a woman telling me I was "utterly f*cking stupid."

And I did find one girl who told me "you should feel lucky that my phone cut off mid-rant, so you're only getting some of what I want to say to you," followed by a dismissal of the idea that I'd ever experienced abuse ("a real abuse survivor doesn't talk about it all the time - you're an attention seeker who just wants traffic to your pathetic little blog"), along with the charming end to her post: "YOU ARE A WHINY, SELFISH, PATHETIC, LYING, NASTY, CRYING LITTLE BITCH."

I Cribbins cried.

For context, let's just remember that the reason for all that hate?  Was because I was highlighting abusive moments from a so-called "LOVE story," and referring to my own experience of abuse when explaining why I think romanticising abuse in fiction is so dangerous.  Yes, what a bitch, I am.

Like I said earlier, it boggles my brain to think that the girl who wrote that despicably nasty comment, either didn't consider the effect her words might have on me, or genuinely wanted to hurt me with them.  And it's made all the worse by the fact that she also mentioned in her comment that she was a "real abuse survivor," so surely, she of all people should know what it feels like to be verbally attacked in such an awful way?!  She was probably angry, because I - a fellow survivor - was in a place where I felt able to talk openly about my experiences and I had regained the confidence and strength I lost, enabling me to firmly call out abuse for what it is.  Perhaps she wasn't there, yet.  Maybe she was still struggling to come to terms with her experience of abuse - I know I certainly misdirected a lot of anger and frustration, during my own recovery process.  But it's not an excuse to talk to people like that, without thought or apology.

I'd never noticed that girl's comment before, because, like I said earlier, I'd long since stopped reading the comments by the time she posted it.  But, once I read it, the effect was the same as it would have been, had she written it five minutes ago.

I felt that gut-punch sensation, that physically hurt as it took my breath away.  My head went light and nausea enveloped me.  For a few, horrible but brief seconds, I asked myself: "Am I just an attention seeker?  Was what happened to me abuse, or am I just calling it that to make people feel sorry for me?" (that was another of her claims).

But then I realised that all this had proved, in her apparently toned down comment, was that words have far more power than we can imagine.

They have the power to build people up.  To make them feel loved and safe.  But they have the power to break people down, too.  To make them feel frightened and isolated.  To make them feel worthless.

When a person is capable of doing that with their speech or their writing, it's not "only words" and it never will be.  Words can be used as weaponry, just as easily as they can bring comfort.  And it's not up to us to "toughen up" or "stop being so sensitive."

It's up to people to think about what they say, before they say it.  Or, like the person who messaged me, to think about it afterwards and offer an apology.

Words are wonderful things.  I just wish people considered their effect, before they use them to cause harm.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Bedtime Story (10/5/2017)

This week's story is all about that feeling we all get, sometimes, that our problems are the WORST EVER and that nobody has ever felt as sad as we do... 

This story is also available to listen to as a podcast.

Sadie Feels Sorry For Herself

Sadie didn't know what to do;
She had rarely ever felt so blue!
Mum said: "Others have it worse than you,"
But Sadie just felt sorry for herself.

You see, Sadie wasn't feeling well;
Her nose had a sniffle and she could barely smell!
Her eyes were red and you could easily tell
Why Sadie felt sorry for herself.

Her breath came out with a funny wheeze,
And all she seemed to do was sneeze.
She cried: "I'd like to be better now, please!"
And she felt very sorry for herself.

"Oh goodness me, this isn't fair!"
She stuck her nose up in the air.
She folded her arms and tossed her hair,
And went on feeling sorry for herself.

And whilst she felt so very blue,
All her other little troubles got bigger, too.
Soon, there was nothing Sadie could do,
Except feel sorry for herself.

"My favourite colour pen ran out,"
Came Sadie's miserable, frustrated shout.
"And I don't feel well enough to run about!
Oh, I feel sorry for myself..."

Soon, she didn't want to play with toys,
And her favourite songs just became noise.
She didn't want to talk to other girls or boys.
Sadie just felt sorry for herself.

"I can't find the dress I want to wear!
And it hurt brushing the tangles from my hair.
And worst of all, nobody seems to care!
Only I feel sorry for myself."

Sadie moaned and groaned all through each day,
Waiting for her cold to go away.
And there was nothing anyone could do or say
To stop her feeling sorry for herself.

But soon enough, a week had passed,
And Sadie was feeling better at last!
Thankful that she'd recovered so fast,
Sadie felt pleased with herself.

But now, Sadie's brother was feeling unwell.
It seemed he'd caught a cold, as well!
He had a wheeze and no sense of smell,
So Sadie went to see him.

He was in his room, sipping a mug of tea.
"I have some advice," Sadie said, casually.
"You should put on a brave face.  You know, like me!"
Sadie told him, feeling proud of herself.

"Your cold won't last forever," she said.
"So don't just lie around in bed.
And try wiping that frown from your head.
You know...

You really must stop feeling sorry for yourself!"


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Enough is ENOUGH!

At the start of every new working week, my colleagues will inevitably ask me: "How are you?  How was your weekend?"

Sometimes - by some kind of miracle - I'd had a good one and I could say "great, thanks.  How was yours?"

But, over the last seven months, more often than not, I would have to either lie and say "yeah, fine" (when it was anything but), or, more recently, I've actually taken to simply rolling my eyes and saying "honestly, you're better off not asking," before asking about theirs, by way of changing the subject.

At first, it was grief.  A stupid argument that got nasty and ended up plastered all over Facebook, lost me two of my closest friends.  I had to go through that whole process of anger, acceptance, forgiveness etc.  My moods were up and down like a yo-yo; I didn't even know which way was up, most days.  

When I finally reached the point at which I thought: "You know what?  That argument was stupid.  One of us has to make the effort to say 'let's sort it out' and I'm ready to be that person," I sent a heartfelt message, acknowledging my role in things, but being open about the fact that none of us were blameless and that we all made things worse by not just trying to fix things at the time and we lost a beautiful friendship in the process.  I said how much I loved and missed them and that I was hopeful that we could somehow sort things out.

I received the above response...

And so, the grieving process started all over again.  Because, despite not having heard from either of them in six months, the realisation that they were still clinging to this idea that I alone was the "bad guy" and I was not to be spoken to, cut me to the quick.  It's not true.  It was never true.  We all made mistakes.  I had poured my heart and soul into sending a message that tried to be balanced when apportioning responsibility for what happened and, much more importantly, I had talked about putting all of that behind us; learning from it and moving on, stronger.  Because I firmly believed that the friendship we had was a beautiful one, which was not beyond rescue.

It was crushing to realise that they don't share that view, and I took it hard.  I needed some time and space to handle my feelings and I wrote about that right on this very blog.

Because, whilst all of this was going on - whilst I was utterly consumed with the grief of losing these people I adored - I had someone I loved very much, who was also dealing with serious mental health issues.  I was desperately worried that I was going to lose her in a much more permanent, irreversible way.  I kept trying to force my growing feelings of depression away, so that I could be there for her.  Until I couldn't, anymore.  I realised that if I didn't spend time trying to fix myself, I couldn't possibly help anyone else.  I just had to try to put myself first until I felt stronger, or I would break, completely.

What actually broke, when I took a few steps back, just to work on myself for a while, was our friendship.

I wasn't even searching for this gif, but it feels horribly appropriate.

I'm not going to write about what happened, because that wouldn't be fair.  All I'll say is that I know - hand on heart - that I tried.  So hard.  When you love someone who is struggling, you desperately want to support them, even if you're struggling, yourself.  So, you do whatever you can.  You call, you text, you try to accept things that hurt, because you remind yourself that the person isn't in a good place and isn't trying to make you feel bad. You panic, you cry, you lie awake at night, wondering whether they'll still be around in the morning, because you've almost lost them, before.  You push your own stuff down as far as it'll go, because you're aware that it's less important.

But that "stuff" doesn't leave.  It just starts to manifest itself in different ways.  And so I developed painful cramps in my abdomen (which I spent yesterday morning having scans for, only to be told it's most likely stress).  I had to increase my asthma medication, because I was getting shortness of breath and chest pains almost every day.  I wasn't sleeping properly, so I was stumbling around like a zombie, with huge, dark circles under my eyes.  I kept suffering nausea.  In the end, I knew, with my hand on my heart, that I had to step back from literally everything else in my life and take time for me.  I was falling apart and I was no good to anyone.  And that's when I wrote my blog, saying I just needed a little time to fix myself.

I don't regret that.  I don't regret taking time to look after myself.  Because if I hadn't recognised how bad I was getting, and how much I needed to get myself back on track, I would have gotten worse.  Much worse.  And then what use what I have possibly been to anyone?!

I knew it was a risk.  Self-care can (wrongly) come across as selfishness, to some.  So, I knew that openly saying "I have to put me first" might anger or upset people.   And that's exactly what happened, in this case.  Before I knew it, I was watching myself being replaced in the life of someone I had actually wanted to get better for.

But I wish her well.  Just like with the girls who never responded to the olive branches I sent, I don't have feelings of hate,  resentment or anything like that.  I wish them all nothing but happiness, peace and whatever else it is that they're looking for, in life.

I was once accused of using my blog to "slag off" people in my life.  That's never been what I use it for.  I use it to de-clutter my mind.  To express how I feel.  To try to untangle the events of my life and make sense of them, as openly and honestly as I can.

What I am is sad.  I'm exceptionally sad, right now.  

But I've also had enough.

I've had enough of saying "I'm sorry" when talking about depression and needing time for myself, which is something I should never have to apologise for.  

I've had enough of trying to reach out to people who've left me in the past, shrouded in blame that is not all mine.  

I've had enough of sitting here, trying to make sense of a life that depression is slowly sucking the joy out of.  

I've had enough of asking myself what's wrong with me, as though everything is always my fault and only my fault.

I've had enough of self-blame, self-doubt and the constant need to swallow my feelings, because I think I must be being paranoid, selfish or in some other way wrong.

And it's time it stopped.

So, I'm making changes.  

I don't want to be sad.  I don't want to be beating myself up for not being good enough, or for needing to put myself first, now and then, in order to come back stronger for the people I love.  

I want to have fun with friends.  I want to laugh.  I want to plan trips and go on them.  I want to write, make videos and be creative.  I want to eat meals out, be sociable and try new things.  But I want it to be okay for me to be quiet, reflective and solitary, if I need to.  

I want to live my life with the door always open to the people who've chosen to leave.  With my feelings of love and friendship almost certainly always there - because love doesn't just evaporate in an instant, when you've felt it for years.  But I want to live without the sadness I feel at their choices overwhelming my existence.

I want to go to work at the start of a new week and be able to say: "It's been a lovely weekend, thanks.  How about you?"

No more stress.  No drama.  New me.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Bedtime Story (3/5/2017)

I live in Britain.  And if there's one thing everyone knows about Britain, it's that our weather can be... Changeable at best.  So, here's a funny little story about the changing weather and one little boy's desire to go out and play!

Fancy listening to me read this week's bedtime story as a podcast?  Just click here!

A Week of Weather

There was one thing Charlie liked to do each day,
And that was go outside to play.
But Charlie had lived in England forever;
his play depended on the weather!

So when it happened, that in just one week,
Charlie lived through all the weather you could hope to seek,
It didn't come as a great surprise,
As sun, then rain appeared before his eyes...

Charlie woke on Monday morning,
To a bright and sunny, warm day dawning.
The weather was lovely; hot and dry!
And Charlie spent the whole day outside.

But Tuesday morning was a different tale;
The temperature dropped and it started to hail!
His little fingers were as cold as ice.
Being outside too long was not very nice.

So, it was a relief when Wednesday came,
And instead of hail, Charlie just had rain.
He didn't mind that the weather was in such a muddle,
When he could put on his wellies and splash through puddles!

Then Thursday arrived and it brought a storm.
The weather was scary and not at all warm.
Charlie fetched a blanket to stay under.
Safe inside, from the lightning and thunder.

By Friday, the storm clouds were finally gone.
Charlie could go outside, with his coat and hat on.
But the wind had picked up, that particular day;
Charlie went out, but his hat blew away!

On Saturday, a thick fog began to descend.
Charlie went out to play, but couldn't see his friends!
The fog was too dense, you just couldn't see through,
So staying inside was all Charlie could do.

Finally on Sunday, the sun came out once more,
And Charlie could skip back out of the door.
He ran in the sun, finding paths he could follow,
For who knew what the weather would do, tomorrow?!

But rain or shine, cold or hot,
There was one thing that Charlie never forgot;
If you're planning a trip to the beach, park or wherever,
Just never rely on the Great British weather!