Thursday, 14 June 2018

Glad to be Alive

CW: mental health and suicide.

This was the hardest post to write. Mainly because I have day-dreamed about what to say. And the niggling 'event' that took place should not be ignored because I cannot simply move past it.

 Many of you have most probably read my past posts and understand that I have been battling severe depression and anxiety for some time and that it comes and goes. In the last post, I kind of promised that I would not do anything bad, but unfortunately I did try to commit suicide. Even though my beautiful cat saved my life, and even though it has been 7 months, I am at the stage of now feeling shocked that I attempted to die. 

Immediately after, I cried and cried like I had never cried before and it was mainly because I hadn't succeeded. And I regret to a point of making people there for me at my lowest point feel blamed. Most of the time, we're carrying so much within us that unbeknownst to others, what ever they say or do can just be the last straw. And unfortunately what that friend had said was the last straw that broke me.

Thinking back on that day, the reasons behind it, I felt so overwhelmed. I had been holding onto the date of my first counselling session but as I waited for over a month, I tried to hold on as much as I could, but in the end it burst like an atomic bomb. Crying and drunk, I felt like a failure afraid of losing a friend who had broken the last straw and in relation, I had bitten back. 

Weeks leading up to the 'event'. I had been coping. I hadn't isolated myself from friends, in fact things were going really well. I was working in a job I loved,  and I was doing something for others. It was all very positive. Until, of course, I was admitted to hospital twice in a space of 5 weeks for major issues that I hadn't experienced before. I got a warning, even told to resign as the job wasn't for me despite doing well at my probation targets. The manager also told me it was my fault for getting Pneumonia and being ill. 

So the pressure of being told it was my fault and being told to leave crushed me quite heavily. On top of that, I was diagnosed with allergic asthma and all sorts of other things. I couldn't stop thinking of why I was alive, and why this was happening to me. I thought I had struggled enough. And I saw the world as unfair. It all drowned me. The fact that I now could no longer breathe properly and would have to use steroids made me feel very low. Instead of 3 tablets, I was having to take 8 daily.

I thought I had ripped away my old identity where I had back pain for years and was limited in most ways. But now, so soon after I was a kind of an invalid once again. I also thought that the path, I had thus far, carved for myself was deeply flawed. 

It was also difficult to differentiate between my own thoughts and the thoughts the depression created for me. My depression hurt me with dark thoughts, and slowly swallowed me whole. It consumed me so much so that I had to defer from my modules at university, and in the end, I had to take a sabbatical. So once more my identity was no longer the one I valued. The only thing I now had left was the job (which I left on my own terms later).

How I feel now is I have to seperate the past from the future. I am beginning to look to the future instead of always thinking of the past, especially the traumas. I don't think time necessary heals scars. I think it's exploring those experiences and fitting them in a constructive way that really gives us peace. For me, now my journey forward in life is to accomplish peace. It helps that I am doing a degree in Peace and Conflict which I will go back to next year. 

The counseling helped, and so do the anti-depressents. And as my physical health once again has dropped quite a bit, I no longer think of death, but the opportunities the future will offer. I just wish my friends who knew had been more supportive or even just contacted me. There was only one of them that did. 

This is my first time publicly speaking about it. And though I realise we all have different experiences that lead us to make this tragic decision. I hope that in writing about this, you find some hope, or see that you are not alone. 

Sen x

Monday, 11 September 2017

This is Me Right Now Though Don't Worry, I Won't Do Anything Scary***

*** please don't contact me unless you are a trained professional, I am out of fucks to give about how my depression affects your life... Unless you belong in my immediate circle.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Seeing Grey Again

I sometimes find myself thinking that I was not made for this world. I had a good run after my last bout of depression. With help via CBT, I climbed higher than I thought possible. I worked hard and graduated from my undergraduate degree with a respectable final mark, applied and got accepted for a Masters degree in the top 12th university in the UK. I climbed the ladder in a local political party and stood as a candidate in the local elections last year coming 2nd. Became very comfortable speaking and listening to strangers. Made new friends, took down some defences. I even gave speeches publically. But of course it didn’t last... I think I did pretty well.

What I feel right now is as though I am once more on a dinghy somewhere in the middle of an ocean, surrounding me is not salty water but heavy, sticky oil, and it has managed to cover almost everything around me and it will get to me, no matter how hard I try to avoid it. The inevitability of it all is starting to make me feel hopeless. I know that rather than avoiding it, it is a waiting game.

Through this dark time, what I have managed to accomplish is get help- within a week of self-referring, I have managed to get an initial appointment with a therapist to go through what’s happening and the best way to help me. It doesn’t really matter about who or how I got here, the best thing I did was get away from the catalyst or the root of my anguish, and I recognised that I was going off the deep end.

It isn’t easy to accept that you’re mental health has deteriorated once again, especially if you have had help in the past. It really doesn’t matter what other people think, because we will never truly know what they think. This idea of bringing shame and feeling shame should not be connected to our mental well-being- something we have little control over, especially when put in pressurised and stressful situations. Learn to recognise when the black dog starts to show, ask for help, don’t ignore it for too long. And definitely don’t medicate on alcohol- it makes things worse (been there, done that). If you feel too scared or embarrassed to go alone, get someone to go with you. I self-referred myself online on Sunday afternoon, I got a call today to have an initial appointment on Monday. It’s that easy.

Sen x

Get in touch with me:
You can find me on:
Twitter: @senlanoire

Saturday, 21 January 2017

A Speech that Never was

So I got asked to give a speech at the Cambridge Stand Up To Racism event which was earlier today called Celebration of Diverse Cambridge. Unfortunately, due to feeling unwell, and my throat hurting, I realised after practicing out aloud, that I would not be able to give the speech. I went anyway and still marched alongside the people who were there, though feeling flushes of hot and cold and faint.

I feel so down for not having made the speech, and curse the cold for making me unwell to do so. But I still want to share the words that had I been well, would have said them with gusto and all the power I could muster. Having shared it on my own personal fb account, I think it only right to share it in this space that I have always tried to be honest in.

"Last year it was my first time standing as a candidate in the Cambridge City Council elections. It didn’t take long before a public figure said that I was there just to get minorities votes... as if I was some kind of a ploy… or that because of my heritage, only one section of society would vote for me. In that moment I felt so boxed in…. Not once had I thought that I was in anyway just representing one group of people… because not once in my time living in Cambridge had I been made to feel different.

When I spoke to people from different ethnic backgrounds, they said to me they didn’t always vote because they didn’t feel their councillors cared about them, they didn’t feel represented by them and they didn’t feel that they could relate with them…. And yet I was the one who would only get the minorities vote because of the colour of my skin and my heritage.

During my campaign, I also spoke to people who were hell-bent on convincing me that immigrants were the reason that everything was going wrong. When I would ask why… most of the time they would tell me that they read that in a newspaper or that they just knew…. They blamed immigrants for the long waiting lists at hospitals, and the NHS for falling apart. Of course, as per usual when I told them ….that my parents were immigrants- they would say- “O, but we don’t mean you”.

Thinking about last year… and all the things that have happened, I have come to realise that it would be easy to blame people or groups for their actions. But the real enemy in this situation is the establishment that has created policies that work against certain groups of people… the establishment that lets the media get away with hateful and discriminatory reporting… and the establishment that has created an education system that lies about the real history of the British Empire.

It’s the government that has created an education system that teaches children about World War 1 and 2 but not about the sacrifices of Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Gurkhas, the Polish and the many more. It is the government that has created a criminal justice system that is unfair towards Black and minority ethnics. It is the government that lets the media get away with their horrendous reporting of certain groups of people, blaming them for a whole hoard of things that our own government is too ashamed to admit is due to their own wrong doing.

When somebody says that someone like me can only represent one group of people, they are creating a division, making them all the more real. But if councillors are largely ignoring certain groups of people, they are responsible for the divisions they have already been created.

Now is not the time to shirk from uncomfortable subjects. We need to face them head on. We need to challenge concepts like, what does a typical Brit even look like? Rather than just blaming racists as if it’s just down to people and groups, we need to challenge the establishment and their irresponsible policies.

No one should be made to feel like they don’t belong here. For every racist attack… we need to ensure our status quo of living in harmony stays intact. I’m proud to live here and call Cambridge my home. We need to ensure everyone has this positive experience, no matter what their mother tongue is, what their struggles are- we have one common identity- to feel proud of living with each other.

Thank you."

Even though I could not give this speech, I am thankful to Cambridge Stand to Racism for giving me this great opportunity. They helped to explore this issue further and though I don't go very deep into any of the topics in the manuscript, I researched and explored them thoroughly to come to these conclusions.In many ways, I feel like though I will continue to explore my identity, I have found some answers to some of my questions.

Until next time,
Sen x

Get in touch with me:
You can find me on:
Twitter: @senlanoire

Monday, 9 January 2017

Thinking Out Loud: Identity

Recently I have been thinking about my identity, and where I stand in the grand scheme of things. I am not the first person to explore this and I won't be the last. It is especially an issue for people who are 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc generation children of immigrants. On the one hand, we have our identity at home that is very much based on our ethnicity while on the other hand, outside of the home and away from our family we have another. Normally, people can juggle both and while some may have qualms about the interchanging identities, mine is a little bit different to that.

I fully understand that 'I can be whoever I want to be'. I have been wrestling with this for a while but feel things have changed recently. In some ways I feel that the day I ran away from home (fortress) was also the day I lost my identity as a Punjabi. I mourned for it for a very long time. It was a few years back that instead of letting it slip away, I realised that despite what I may think of myself and humiliate myself by calling myself a 'coconut', others would always see that just because of my skin colour I am always going to be different. I also realised that my family did not have the keys to my identity, that I did. Throughout this time I struggled to find my place, and in some ways, thanks to my mother, I became the hermit within my relatives, who though I hardly ever saw, still asked after me. This in a way created a space for me in that universe. This also meant that I could be a Punjabi again, and I was able to decide what that meant for me. I was so lost for such a long time, surrounded by people who did not know who I was that even I forgot who I was. It was the most bland point in my life.

Now I look at my identity and think that to some extent, the foundations are already laid- my skin colour already gives me some sense of identity, though I don't carry a mirror around to see or notice that I am different to other people. But I can't help but think that some people have it easier that others- in regards to identity- than others. What is a typical British person? And what is a typical Indian person? What do they look like?

For years I thought that I had to assimilate myself into the British culture (whatever that is), that for other people if I pretended to be British, they will be at ease, but then I realised that I am also Punjabi and by trying to put others at ease, they have not bothered to learn about the beautiful culture I come from. When I was in Punjab over a year ago, though my punjabi was very well received and I was complimented for it, my outlook and perception of the world were accused of being too British. Some of those close to me haven't bothered to learn a single thing about my Punjabi culture. They may be doing this because they don't want to come across politically incorrect but by ignoring someone's identity is a huge problem too. The other day I was told that if I am British then I have to respect the Queen! I think that's when I decided to break away from the charade once again.

I am meant to be giving a speech on Celebrating Diversity in Cambridge on 21st January and realised that I really need to figure out quite a lot of stuff before I can do that.

So hopefully this can mean that I can now work out other things and before I know it- I can be that little bit more wise and clear on the message I need to give come the day I stand in front of people. I hope to give a message of hope and something constructive. Let's hope I do that!

Until next time,
Sen x 

Facebook Green party Campaign page:
Twitter: @senlanoire

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Byproducts of Racism

One of my earliest memories is of when my family lived in Harlow, Essex. One of the things that is still clear to me is how scared, no- terrified my parents and grandparents were. I was only about 3 or 4 at this point, and to see older people so alarmed was terrifying. Our house had been egged- but from what I've been told it wasn't the first time this had happened. But that is the only time I remember it happening. I also remember men shouting, "P*#i, p*#i p*#i!" and "Go back" at the door as they threw the eggs. I remember my parents saying something about them being 'skinheads'.

Another time, I remember our garden fence been spray painted with that horrendous word on it and another time, it being smashed. I remember my father and grandfather painting over the fence and fixing it silently, as quickly as possible- the fence was what kept them away from us. Just thinking back to those days makes my chest tighter, and only recently have I realised how this affected my parents and now me.

My parents, especially my father, tried to ensure we were always safe, the house that I last lived in with my family had a big gate, no one could get into the grounds very easily and our parents always knew where we were. It was surrounded by overgrown bramble and hawthorn bushes, all 2 acres of it. It looked like the big spiky bushes from Sleeping Beauty that the witch created to keep people out. Ours was left like that for a similar purpose.  He bought that house because it was on a private road; no one went there without reason. We had guard dogs- they should have or could have been pets but they were trained to kill. My father had an arms license, and had trained me in using a shotgun in case someone trespassed or worse- attacked us while he was away on business. At night, big lights came on that shined all the way around the grounds. It felt like we lived in a compound. All the exterior doors were checked 3 times at night before bed. The house was in the middle of nowhere, away from fascists that might attack us, but I think that the days in Harlow really affected him. By trying to keep us safe, he almost shut us away from everyone; we lived so far away from our relatives that we hardly ever saw them.

This need for remaining safe became part of my life too. This same almost paranoid safety issue means that I cannot sleep with my bedroom door shut. I cannot walk with someone behind me, and I cannot sleep until I have checked that my front door is shut at least 3 times.

The skinhead element has also played a big part in my life. Of course, now I know that there were 2 different streams of skinheads, and it was only by speaking to a skinhead, who bless him, was shocked that his appearance scared the hell out of me, for me to learn about the history from him and then doing my own research that I started seeing people who wear Dr. Martens boots in a different light. But for many years I associated these people as racists. In the same way I get told, ‘But you’re alright, we just mean other immigrants,’ line, I too held similar thoughts.

I was bullied at school and racially attacked all the time throughout in Year 9 and 10. With only 5 BAMEs in the entire school, my teachers were ill prepared in taking action, thus I was left to defend myself. It affected my performance immensely. It was when I reached Sixth Form and saw south Asians only hanging out with other south Asians that I realise now, was their form of creating their safety net.

We know that we learn our values and morals from our family. Mine was so scarred by their treatment in the 1980s, that it had ensured its safety by creating an impenetrable fortress. My views changed and developed because I ventured further, spoke and started dialogue with people. We found common ground. But there are so many people out there scarred by their experiences who have never opened up to the idea of even trying to break away from their safety net, to see that there are good people out there, on both sides. And now with another surge in racist incidents, I wonder whether these incidents are going to create another generation of people, who feel untrustworthy of creating friendships with people from other backgrounds. 

Until next time,
Sen x

Get in touch with me:
You can find me on:
Twitter: @senlanoire

Monday, 30 May 2016

The Time I Stood Up

Late last year I decided to stand as a Candidate for the Green Party in the ward that I live in. Being a candidate was a real eye opener for me in dipping a toe in local public life. I was very lucky though to have the support of my friends and the party around me. I had an overall positive experience, though there were times when I wish I hadn't stood. In this post I will be just talking about a few of those points and experiences. Just as a precautionary, in case someone decides to use anything against me or the party, these are my opinions, not the party's.

My Hopes:
I went in with this thought that maybe other councillors worked together despite the pressures and cuts from central government. I thought that perhaps in local government people worked together to solve the issues facing their people, in this case, the residents of Cambridge. I was so wrong. But, the beast that reality is didn't show itself until about a month before the election. I may sound naive with my preconceived ideas of how the city councillors worked. I had been to a couple city council meetings a few years back to watch as a member of the public. Both of the meetings went without incidence. But I think my notions were very much based on the workings of Cambridge Green Party. I was made to feel very welcome from Day 1 and got involved in many aspects of the party. At every meeting I went to I felt so included; everyone was nice and really just amazing to me and to each other. I don't think I thought things outside, as in within the council would be different. I was wrong, obviously.

The reality:
I was shocked when I saw a video clip of a Lib Dem councillor insulting a Labour councillor at a local Homelessness Strategy meeting. I felt sick. Here were councillors meeting to find better ways to help one of the most vulnerable group of people but instead they were behaving like Westminster oxygen thieves. As you will know already if you have read my older posts, I experienced homelessness when I was 18 until I moved into my current home. To have these people that we voted for wasting time really made me question what I was really standing for. Because I would never become them, but if I was never going to become them, then who would I be? When Oscar Gillespie, the Councillor from Green Party told us about the poor behaviour amongst the councillors, I realised that it perhaps didn't matter if I won, because perhaps even then other councillors would probably shout me down. Would I be able to enhance the daily lives of my residents with all the politics and shenanigans? I also realised that there was a reason why Trump was doing so well in USA. As much as people love to hate ''Career Politicians'', it’s only a certain type of people who do well in politics. None of this stopped me from trying to win. I wanted to win. But I also worried about how this would affect my life financially. I am currently finishing a degree, and seeing that city councillors get such a low allowance worried me about how I would be able to carry on paying the rent. It also made me realise this position really is for the rich or the retired. You see, even though it is meant to be a part-time, I can't see how anyone can be a good, competent councillor as well as work full-time.

The shock:
One of my actions created a mini Twitter storm, and looking back at it now, yes I did feel like standing down, mainly due to fear, but also the abuse. I didn’t do anything hugely bad, I corrected a mistake as soon as possible. I put a poster up in public property; a bus stop by Pizza hut on Mill Road. It had a QR code to my video that a local hero- Antony Carpen had made, and it also contained my name and saying to vote for me. I didn’t think to add the imprint on it (don’t ask, I’ve already had a hard time with it as is).I took this poster off as soon as I realised my mistake- the very same evening, I also put a poster in a local shop- they accepted it, and it was also missing an imprint. Now, if I had known I was doing something wrong, I would not have put it on Twitter. That would be silly. But anyhow, someone retweeted it and it opened the floodgates. Another political party got hold of it and told me I would get my agent fired and the usual scaremongering. They also threatened to fine us. We didn’t have a lot of money anyhow and it really scared us. Friends came to my defence and one friend even wrote a blog post about it here. While this was all happening, another party member added me on Facebook, I thought to myself that people were adding me to show their support, but I was completely wrong. I was in a panic, and wrote a Facebook post about it, and being reassured by friends to not stand down. This person added me to just spy on my personal account and then write a scathing email to all the campaign team- which maybe they didn’t realise that I was a part of- something I really didn’t need it at that time. Perhaps other parties are different in not having such a close knit family feeling, but we certainly do so that made the shock even more real and it really hurt to see that. But to see friends and one other candidate putting themselves in the firing line was greatly astonishing. I also went to the shop the next day and put in the imprint. The photo I shared on Twitter included the photo of the poster with a smaller QR code with a message written in English but phonetically in Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. Thinking back on it now, I feel like maybe the other party people were just angry that I was trying to get people involved that they largely ignored: the ethnic minorities. During my campaign, I spoke to a number of people who are not white, and they all said they felt disenfranchised. I think that says more that I need to. I will write a post about that soon, one day.

The Accomplishments:
Since December, I have I feel really become an active member of the party. Obviously standing as a candidate would do that, but I’m also a part of the Campaign Committee and Co-Chair of the local party. I initially decided to stand because I was pretty depressed. I was going to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy sessions every week, and had a very bad year; I had had a break down earlier that year. My close friend Ed had cancer and it was very difficult to come to terms with his illness, and then in October he passed away. All in all, including other things, I was having a very shitty year, and part of the CBT is to make changes to your own life and to really work at getting better. I thought by standing I would be able to combat a lot of my issues surrounding depression and anxiety. I did and I feel tons better. But I really don’t think I would have been able to come out of the Twitter storm stuff and the horrible emails without the help of everyone at the party and my friends.

My other achievement was writing the Homelessness policy for the Cambridge Green Party Manifesto 2016. I sent a copy of it away to 2 prominent charities in Cambridge and received positive feedback from them. It has a seal of approval from people who work with homeless people every day. For me, that is a great achievement. I feel like although I don’t know where my career is headed at least I have done something with my degree even before graduating. The very short version of it can be found here ( pp.15-16). I guess a minor achievement was not embarrassing myself in front of Natalie Bennett who came to our fundraiser in April. I was star struck- we all have our own heroes- she’s one of mine.

A Long Day:
On the day of the election, we were out before the sunrise and got in the next day at sunrise too. It was a long day; I spent a lot it walking back and forth from our headquarters to the Polling Station to leafleting. We even had Natalie Bennett come to see us and give a speech! By the time it came to going in for the count, we were all pretty exhausted.

An Incident:
At the Guild Hall, a few of us were in the Petersfield counting area and next to us was the Queen Edith’s count. I had heard of a certain other candidate standing there but hadn’t met him before. Then around some time after midnight, in between the next batch of counting, he approached me and started asking me about my parentage- I told him where my family are from in India. I thought perhaps we could talk about something we had in common- he is from another part of India himself- something he told me as a reply. I asked him about how it was looking for him and he told me it wasn’t good and about how many “resources” the national party put into his campaign and how Lords had helped him with canvassing- very much showing off. And I said it was a shame, and that local politics was different to central politics and asked what he stood for. He started telling he was a businessman and also made certain comments about ‘working hard is the only way to make it’. When I tried to tell him about recent research that says social mobility is no more. He told me to shut up as he hadn’t finished. He said it in such a way that was rude and also in a way that he thought that we were in India in the 1950s, and to be quiet. I decided to overlook that, mainly because I didn’t want to muddy the name of my party by saying what I really should have said and I was also very shocked. He then carried on telling me how he came to England with not a lot of money and made a lot more by working really hard, and that with hard work anyone can be rich. He then asked me if I was married, I pointed out my fiancé who was helping us the whole day since 4.30 am and was now helping with the counting. He looked shocked and was visibly 'disturbed', as my fiancé in his eyes and my mother's eyes is unacceptable because he is an English, white male. He quickly realised this and just said, ‘Oh! O-kay!’

He then asked me, ‘Can I ask… I don’t understand why second generation girls always sleep with goras?’

I mean shocking right? I really didn’t want to speak to him anymore. He was trying to embarrass me, trying to 'cut my nose'. I told him I loved my fiancé and just tried to be pleasant despite that. He asked me about my family and I was honest with him. Though when I told him a little bit about my childhood, he did start showing me more respect- mainly due to telling him what my father did for a living, even though it has nothing to do with me. He then also went on to tell me that next time I visit India, I ought to go to his state, as it’s clean unlike ‘Punjab which is very dirty’ and not very nice, that I should see ‘the real India’, that has ‘educated people there’. Luckily, a fellow party member came and sat between us and it kind of ended the conversation. But in our first ever meeting, he tried to embarrass me and insulted me, made sweeping generalisations about a whole group of people- of Punjab and 2nd generation British Indian women. On top of that, he showed off how much the national party threw money at him. I really don’t think I would have come out of it not feeling shame- had I not been so tired and feeling happier in myself as a person. Shame and honour are 2 things that are very important to many people from South Asian communities, I am confident that he knew what he was saying- he was trying to bring shame upon me and question my honour. We also discussed integration of communities and trying to get more ethnic minorities to vote and stand, and we also spoke about other things- we didn’t agree on a lot of stuff and we agreed on other stuff, but what he said to me personally is what I’ve highlighted the most here.

Also another incident took place as I was going into the main hall for the results- a lady who was from another party observing the Petersfield count decided to come up to me and patronisingly told me how great it was that I tried unlike the 2 other parties. It was said in a bitchy way and, having already suffered from remarks by someone else, I really didn’t need that too.

So, we didn’t do so well, I came second. I didn’t really knock on doors as much- mainly due to having 2 bad experiences from residents who were really rude- it really scared me. I also don’t think we as a party realised how much Jeremy Corbyn would affect our votes. But we live and learn, next time, I’ll be even more confident. I did my best, and I will stand again. We as a party will improve and learn from this. I personally feel that I have grown as a person, and next time I will make sure I work on door-knocking but also I hope people will be nicer too. Just because we are standing in local elections doesn’t mean we don’t have hearts. If we’re meant to take crap then we have to become heartless- do people really want people with tough skins to stand for them or do they want people just like them? Career politicians or everyday folk? Which is it?

A really amazing feeling was walking down the road on the day and people just stopping me and telling me that they had voted for me. It was a surreal feeling, people had voted for me and they believed in me. 321 people voted for me, and though it’s a fraction in the grand scheme of things, for me it’s 321 individuals who believed in me. I am most thankful to you. I am also thankful to my friends both old and new, who despite their ill health and or busy schedules came out and helped me by leafleting. My special thanks also goes my fiancé who helped put up the poster boards around the city and got sun burnt as a result. He also leafleted with me come rain or shine, and walked over 18 miles on the election day delivering early morning leaflets, telling at the Polling Stations, going home to feed the Chairman Meow (I will write a post on our cat soon), and then helped with the count as well as doing his own life things.

Until next time,
Sen x (aka Sharon Kaur)

Facebook Green party Campaign page:
Twitter: @senlanoire