Mental health awareness week should be mental health acceptance week.

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It’s mental health awareness week – I think the main issue is that everyone is well aware of mental illness, it’s being accepting of it that’s society’s issue. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing more reassuring to see your friends post about how they also struggle with poor mental health, or those offering an ear to listen to your problems. But this means very little if everyone has fair access to mental health services, or if there is still a stigma surrounding the ‘ugly’ aspects of mental illness. It’s all very well and good that we have this week, but it’s not making enough of a change to help those who are suffering. Only £9 per person is spent on mental health per person who is affected by it. The fact that this equates to two coffees from an artisan coffee shop in the West End, proves my point that these mental health awareness days/week/month are nothing unless they’re bringing about significant change.

This year’s theme of kindness really epitomises how shallow this week is. It’s like people show that they care about mental health for this one week, but then after that they just don’t give a shit. And it’s the same with the government; they back these mental health awareness weeks, but won’t give those suffering with the proper help. The thing is, mental health help shouldn’t be coming from your friends and family. That doesn’t mean that they’re not able to supplement the recovery process, but there needs to be a core psychological support system in place. And people aren’t getting that, unless they’re paying for it privately. I feel that by supporting the week, the government feels it has done its bit.

There is no doubt that the way that we view mental health has changed – there is more of an awareness, but I think that this just isn’t enough. For a start, society might be more open to talking about depression and anxiety, but what about borderline personality disorder or bipolar? What about the symptoms that are more than just being sad, but instead it’s an eating disorder, or an attempted suicide?

I’ve always had problems with mental illness – even when I was young, I had compulsive thoughts about all the different things that could kill me, and I would obsessively check doors were closed, hair tongs were off, and the gas cooker wasn’t on (checking each of these five times as part of a ritual when leaving the house). After being assaulted nearly four years ago, it all got worse – I started to self-harm, I didn’t sleep properly, and when I finally got help, after sitting on my window ledge, ready to jump, I was prescribed a cocktail of drugs, but no counselling. After waiting for nearly two years, I received the counselling I needed, but after a perfect storm of shit situations, I tried to take my own life last year. I was kept in the hospital for two days, and then I was diagnosed with complex PTSD.

I’m in a very privileged position – I have an incredibly supportive network of friends and family, as well as having access to counselling. But so many people suffering don’t have this in place, so what needs to be done? The coronavirus pandemic has not only highlighted the issues with the current system in place for those suffering from mental illness, but the restrictions of lockdown will generate a whole new cohort of people experiencing poor mental health.

I’m very open about my poor mental health, and some may argue that maybe I’m too open. There’s nothing more awkward than slipping into a conversation that I got completely overwhelmed to the point that I tried to end my life, but it shouldn’t be. I’m all for supporting each other through poor mental health. Some of the best friends I’ve made came from being open about my mental health, and bonding over similar struggles. I’m not shitting on the concept of a mental health awareness week, but it needs to have substance, more than people supporting this for a week, and just accepting that contribution is fine.

It shouldn’t just be those with poor mental health that need to advocate for change – everyone does. Considering mental health affects one in four people, someone you love will suffer from it – so fight for that person. Don’t just be kind – campaign for those who are struggling.

Bekah x

Bekah @ TEWP x

A-Z of Being Female: C is for Careers

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“’What’s your favourite position?’ ‘CEO’” – Lauren Conrad

My first ever job was a cameraman. I was about six years old and it was to assist the aspiring director who trained me on the job – my 8-year-old brother. It was a challenge; we had limited props and an under-qualified cast member (my Dad), so the films were not exactly going to be plastered all over the box office. After being sacked due to lack of skill, I tried my best at being a goalkeeper during the summer for Dad and Rob’s football league, became a pilot for Plane Bunk Bed and practiced my surgical skills during heated games of Operation. Of course, I did most jobs in my Mum’s high-heels and sent any admin to my Furbee; I couldn’t manage my work diary alone.

When I went to secondary school, I was taught about the ‘glass ceiling’ – a name for the invisible barrier in the world of employment, stopping some high-achieving, working women from reaching the same level of hierarchy or salary as men in the same career. It appears there is a ceiling that women can look up to and gaze at the stars; the stars being men, doing the same jobs as the women but with the recognition and larger payslip. If the men look down at the glass ceiling beneath their feet, they will see a lot of under-paid women wearing the same uniform as them, sticking their fingers up at them no doubt. Despite this happening a lot more in the past than today, it seems it does still exist – the glass ceiling has been smashed, but not completely destroyed.

The little Liz in me was horrified; you mean, in theory, Rob would’ve been given more pocket money than me, even though we both flew Plane Bunk Bed? And he probably would’ve been promoted to captain, even though that bunk bed was in MY room? Piss take.

In my early 20’s, I watched ‘Made In Dagenham’ on screen and on stage. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend. It is based on the true story of the female sewing machinists working at Ford. They made the car seat covers and there were four rates of pay: a skilled male rate, a semi-skilled male rate, an unskilled male rate and a women’s rate (which was only 87% of the unskilled male rate). The female machinists demanded equal pay and actioned a strike, stopping production for three weeks. As a result, not only did Ford agree to pay them equally, but their actions led to the Equal Pay Act of 1970. I’d bloody love to meet those Dagenham girls.

Now, in my late 20’s, I see more women smashing gender stereotypes in the workplace than before – my boss, my colleagues getting promotions, my mates handling their own businesses and me, I suppose! All women and all climbing up the hierarchy, deservedly so. It’s nice to see that things in the world of work are changing, so all genders have a shot.

So, here’s to the female captains, directors, chiefs and CEO’s, but also to the males who have achieved the same. At least now, most people who have worked their way to the top have earned it through their ability and skill, rather than whether they have a dick or not. Hopefully, one day, we can all party on that glass ceiling together and it can be something under women’s feet, not over their heads.

The more us women strive to smash through the glass ceiling, the quicker it will shatter and make way for our daughters, nieces and their daughters and nieces. Let’s raise little leaders, baby bosses and managers in the making. Whether it’s a hard hat, a helmet or a hairnet, wear it like a crown!

Liz @ TEWP x

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What Normal People teaches a Survivor.

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Normal People premiered on BBC iPlayer this weekend, and it is no surprise just how much people love it already. I read Sally Rooney’s novel back in 2019, and finished it in one sitting; I was in love with it all, the plot, the setting, the characters. I could easily dedicate a whole piece just to how beautiful Connell’s eyes are, or how the backdrop of Dublin was perfect for the evolution of both characters and the relationship. Instead I wanted to discuss Marianne, and how, as a trauma survivor, the lessons she has taught me.With Marianne as a focus point, the show tackles the difficult topic of trauma, and how this intertwines with self-opinion, and how we all allow others to treat us, especially through intimacy. Marianne is lonely. She comes from a family where her father hit her mother, her brother is manipulative and emotionally abusive towards her, and her mum takes a very passive position to it all. Always there, but never reacting.

And this undoubtedly affected the male treatment – such as accepting to be Connell’s secret.

Her compliance translates into the intimacy of her relationships, often being hit, or being an actual submissive, but always showing how detached she is from the situation. This isn’t the same kind of trap James fell into when writing Fifty-Shades; that an abusive past is the only reason you would enjoy a domination/submissive kink. Instead, Rooney highlights the link between the treatment of the men in her life, and what she thinks she deserves, but she doesn’t become obsessed with the idea; it’s more nuanced than that. Although not resisting the submissive position, Marianne is shown to be vacant, like she’s there for the benefit of the guy, not for herself. So when she asked Connell to hit her during sex, and become embarrassed when he declined, I wept.

I was always very lucky with my family life, my parents were always kind to me and loved me. So it’s not the same situation as Marianne, but after I was raped, I didn’t become a submissive, but I became submissive. I never did it for my own enjoyment, even with guys I thought I loved, and would just prefer to get it done, like it was a contractual obligation. I disassociate, and that was something that I did when I was raped, because my body can’t deal with it. Sex is meant to be whatever you want it to be – casual, a way of assuring someone you love them, but like Marianne demonstrated, it is never something you think should be inlficted upon someone. Her love for Connell is one of the only things she is sure about, so when she thinks that the only way she can be intimate with him is by him ‘punishing’ her

By the end, even though their story is left to be imagined after deciding to part ways on their boxed-up, living room floor, Marianne is happy to get on with her life, she isn;t tied to Connell with the fear that no-one else will love her, she’s confident in the belief that she will carry on her own path. When I first read the book, I was in a relationship with the guy I thought I was going to marry. This was a guy that I got into a relationship with, a mere month after being assaulted, so he was my safety net. Someone I would never separate from, because without him, how was I supposed to carry on with my life? Someone wasn’t going to love me because of how damaged I was.

So watching the series, nearly a year on, after breaking up with my boyfriend of three years was never a position I thought I’d find myself in. And it was watching Marianne choose her own path, that showed me just how far I have come. It shows to any survivor how far they’ve come, if they have confidence in their

own decisions. Did that mean I didn’t bawl like a baby when they decide to go their separate ways? Nah, cried for twelve hours, but I understood it.

Demonstrated perfectly in both the book and the TV adaptation is the reality of carrying on with your trauma. It tends to be polarised; either your trauma is an indefinite burdening weight, or you use your experience to completely change the world. Marianne demonstrates the reality that both go hand-in-hand. Trauma will always linger, mine tends to appear whilst I sleep, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot harness it to drive you forward. Marianne chooses to live her life the way that she wants to, it doesn’t have to be this big announcement, but just chooses to get on with her life the way she wants to be.

I think, as anyone who has experienced trauma, there are days being ashamed of it, and days of wanting to be this big middle finger to the world, and those that hurt you, but it’s okay just to live.

Bekah @ TEWP x

A-Z of Being Female: B is for Bodies

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“Girls have got balls. They’re just a little higher up, that’s all” – Joan Jett

I was on my bed; half curled up in my sunflower duvet, half leaning on the windowsill cluttered with photos of my school friends and half-eaten Pic N Mix bags. I was pretending the raindrops streaming down the glass were in a race to get to the bottom. I was bored, moody and feeling extra sorry for myself. All that was missing were the violins in the background, or a whole orchestra. I was only thirteen; why suddenly did my boobs feel like they were stuffed with balls of steel and why did I have a sudden urge to shit? I got up and there was the answer. I was dying. The Grim Reaper had found me and was making me bleed to death. And giving me the shits at the same time. I went downstairs to say goodbye to my family.

“It’s just your period, honey!” Mum laughed.

Fucking fantastic. So, in a nutshell, I was going to bleed every month for the foreseeable future, accompanied by wet farts and menstrual rage. I felt like a caged beast.

Mother Nature. She’s a funny woman, isn’t she? Throughout my adolescent years, she really pissed me off. I hated being a woman; half of my knickers got ruined (Always Ultra don’t Always Absorb), my boobs suddenly went from being ‘cute’ to ‘WATCH OUT’ and I briefly considered star-fishing in the garden when my step-dad mowed the lawn, because hair was sprouting out of me like a wild bush that couldn’t be tamed. The worst part? My friends appeared to hit it off straight away with Mother Nature; they always seemed to have legs as smooth as a wet dolphin, symmetrical breasts that sat perfectly in their pretty bras, and the lightest of light periods. Of course, this was most likely untrue, but thirteen-year-old me was convinced she had been hit the hardest. Cue the violins.

One day, I was moaning (again) to a girl from school about being a woman. I can’t remember who it was, but I remember vividly their response.

“Don’t you get it? All of this is great. Mother Nature loves ya!”

And there it was. A well-deserved slap in the face from Mother Nature. Was I looking at this all completely wrong?

In hindsight (what a wonderful fucking thing), yes, I was. As I grew older, instead of pure hatred and disgust, I formed a love/hate relationship with my two bouncy bumps on my chest; I even named them (they are called Phil and Grant because, like them, they do what the hell they want but are loveable all the same). I got used to my periods, however they never regulated normally so I took the magic pill (amen!) to manage them better. The other shocks of puberty, such as suddenly sprouting out hairs from everywhere, seemed to calm down and now my worries are revolved around the colours of my hair strands (not even grey, think more shiny silver you can spot from a mile away), and how long I can avoid shaving my legs and pits until someone notices. Overall, the current grown-up me thinks the female body is nothing to despise; in fact, it’s a miracle worker and a fucking genius.

Mother Nature doesn’t spring periods on most of us to be a bitch. She is giving us fertility – something that is taken for granted. Every month, our bodies get ready to cosily nest a baby for nine months, in case one of our eggs gets fertilized. Periods are just our bodies way of releasing any tissue that is no longer needed, if we don’t get pregnant. If we do get pregnant, the female body is even more transformative and impressive, and childbirth is a biological miracle alone, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time! I used to feel so sorry for myself during that time of the month, but now I realise it’s a gift. Mother Nature hasn’t given it to all women, and, for some, this is heart-breaking.

So, I embrace it all – the tits, the hairy pits and the monthly period shits (don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean). I love our hurricane of hormones and our viva la vagina’s. Most of us are blessed with the ability to carry a tiny egg inside us, as it grows and develops into a mini human, and then magically deliver a baby nine months later. If you aren’t, you may care or you may not, but you are still a woman so own it! Let’s face it, the female body is powerful and something to rave about, not be angry towards or ashamed of.

You’ve all got it, so all go and fucking flaunt it. You’re a woman, after all.

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Liz @ TEWP x

A-Z of being female: A is for Appearance

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“When you judge a woman by her appearance, it doesn’t define her, it defines you” – Steve Maraboli

I remember the first time I wore a pair of heels on a night out. I was wobbling down the road to the bus stop and, quite frankly, resembled more of a foal walking for the first time than a sophisticated woman out on the town. As I got closer to the bus stop, I could see the double decker charging down the road. Shit. Do I run, I thought, or do I wait for the next one? It was evident what choice I made when I turned up to the bar with blood pouring out of my knee and a twig in my hair. However, all the other 18-year-old girls were heeled up, so I had to wear them too, right?

I decided the next day, after throbbing feet, a grazed knee and seeing video footage of me trying to dance without toppling over, that I wasn’t a heel person. Goodbye to the left heel, which was sticking upright out of a drain when we were last together. Hello to my Ugg slippers, who carry me to wherever I want to go in the house and never let me fall. I will always love you.

The truth is, it’s not just heels. I’m not really a make-up person, a hair person or a ‘dress to the nines’ person. I’m a scrape-your-hair-back-in-pyjamas person at home. If I go out, I put on minimal make up, straighten my hair at best and usually wear the classic outfit we all know and love – jeans and a nice top. For me, the best nights are when I’m comfortable.

No one really bats an eyelid; all my friends and family have different styles and looks, each to their own. The people that seem bothered are, surprisingly (although not really), strangers. When you go on a first date, when you have a job interview, when you go to the gym – your appearance is mainly judged by those who don’t know you or have just met you. Take celebrities for example. They get judged the most by the media, trolls on social networks or people they don’t know on the street. All our lives, we have been bombarded with headlines such as, ‘What is Selena Gomez wearing?’ or ‘Look at Jennifer Aniston without make-up!’ or ‘Britney Spears has piled on the pounds’. I would place a bet that their parents, friends or even acquaintances probably don’t make the harsh comments strangers do. What I find the biggest shame though, is this mostly applies to one half of the population: people with vaginas.

You don’t tend to see men discussing whether they should get implants in their arse cheeks. You don’t usually see men panicking if their hair is going frizzy in the rain. It’s simple; the pressure of appearance is mainly applied heavily on to women.

Now, this isn’t to say men get away with it. This is not a bitter rant against men. I know lads who hate the fact their bodies are all out for everyone to see, if they are around a pool or at the beach on holiday. Guys still worry about styling their hair or wearing the right outfit. But I have to say, the pressure on women seems so much heavier.

Therefore, I don’t obsess over my appearance. Don’t get me wrong, I like to wear nice clothes and I love the feeling of leaving the salon with a new hairstyle. However, I refuse to let the way I look control me. I’ll wear whatever I want and, if people judge me, so be it. I rarely wear heels and I don’t care. If my hair gets wet in the rain, oh well. I just can’t be arsed to get down over the appearance of something. There’s more to life.

So, fuck it. If you want to do a Lady Gaga and own it in an outfit made entirely from raw beef, do it. If you want to rock up to your wedding in pyjamas instead of a white dress, BLOODY DO IT. People who feel comfortable are way more fun than people who look the part but feel incredibly insecure. Be you. Be fun. Appear however you like. Ignore the pressures and do you. As Lizzo advises, do your hair toss, check your nails and feel as good as hell!

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Liz @ TEWP x

 

Quarantine thoughts.

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It’s been a LONG time since I’ve written anything on the blog so it’s nice to be here and feeling motivated to write and share.

The Empowered Woman Project has now been in existence for over 2 years but in that time, it’s become so much more than just the blog itself. It’s a community. A loving community of womxn who want to share ideas and support each other to learn and grow.

A few of you know that the last year or so hasn’t been easy for me personally for a variety of reasons. Since January 2019, I have felt wildly existential and have been questioning the meaning of life pretty much constantly. If it’s not on my mind then it isn’t far away from thought. I think it when I look at buildings built by people who no longer exist, I think about it when I see an elderly person and wonder if they are aware of their own mortality. It’s constant. It’s not even a sense of dread any more, it’s more like a constant low level pessimism. Why try to achieve anything when none of it matters? We all die so why bother? It’s weird and the gravity of it and what it does to me is terrifying.

But for some reason, the current circumstances we find ourselves in is helping me in a weird way. As much as the pandemic is scary and we are losing thousands of lives to it across the globe every day, I think it’s mother nature’s way of asking us all to slow down. To pause. To spend time with our loved ones. To practice gratitude for all of the things we were taking for granted. The planet is the master of us, not the other way around. Being stuck indoors at the request of our government due to the ongoing pandemic has made me realise just how much I’m grateful for. I’m grateful for yoga stretches. I’m grateful for the space I get to call my own. I’m grateful for the health of my friends and family. I’m grateful for technology so I can stay connected. I have paused. A pause which I feel was long overdue for many of us.

What are you guys feeling grateful for?

Mandy @ TEWP x

Mirror Image.

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Recently I’ve noticed a peak in comments about how we see ourselves when we look in the mirror and – spoiler – it ain’t good. The constant hope for beauty to look back at us when we pluck up the courage to stand in front of a mirror is a daily struggle for so many of us. So in the month of spring, of new beginnings and the promise of birth & growth, I’m going to tell you something that you’re probably not expecting: you are under absolutely no obligation to think or feel beautiful when you look in the mirror. In fact, you can believe 100% in the message of body positivity, without putting pressure on yourself to feel flawless every time you see your reflection. If that’s thrown you off a little bit, let me explain…

If we’re talking about the journey to making peace with our own bodies, it is completely unrealistic to expect people who’ve spent a long time at war with themselves to find body positivity, wake up the next day, look in the mirror, and suddenly think they’re hotter than Beyonce booty shaking in a frying pan.

You are in the process of unlearning a ​lifetime ​of negative conditioning about your body. The lessons that we’re all taught about weight, and food, and beauty are so deeply ingrained in our sense of the world and of ourselves, it’s unfair to expect anyone to shake them off after discovering a hashtag or reading some inspiring quotes about self love. This process of unlearning is bloody hard work.

It’s tirelessly digging into the hardened landscape of our beliefs, unearthing the seeds we thought were truths, realising that their roots have been poisoning us all along, tugging them out and then ​still ​having to discover the REAL truths to fill that space with. These truths will nourish us and allow us to blossom but our landscape, so scarred by the marks the old lies made, will not accept them easily.

Not to mention the fact that while you’re doing this unlearning, you’re still existing in a sexist, fatphobic, diet culture drenched society, which is ready to squash any flowers you cultivate the minute they start to bloom. In short: do not beat yourself up for not being able to magically erase every negative feeling you’ve ever had about your body since the very first time you thought that it was wrong. And give yourself credit for how far you’ve come, you’re already miles ahead of where you once were before you even considered body acceptance as an option.

 

Like I said: you are under absolutely no obligation to think that you’re beautiful when you look in the mirror. Because ‘beauty’ has so little to do with what body positivity is all about. You don’t have to feel beautiful to believe that all bodies are worthy of respect. You don’t have to feel beautiful to recognise that those old lessons about our bodies are lies and that we deserve better. You don’t have to feel beautiful to fight against the prejudice and descrimination that certain bodies face in our culture because they’re deemed less worthy. You don’t have to feel beautiful to know that you are so much more than what you look like on the outside, and your value in the world isn’t dependent on being visually appealing according to our culture’s arbitrarily designed beauty standards.

Would we all love it if we were able to see ourselves as beautiful when we look in the mirror? Of course. But it’s not the be all and end all of your journey or this movement. And if setting that as your end goal is only making you feel inferior then forget it. Aim for body neutrality. Or body acceptance. Or body respect. Or stop seeing this as something that has an end goal at all, and just work on unlearning, bit by bit, every day, giving yourself credit for all the work you’re doing along the way. Body love is not a requirement. Beauty is not a requirement.

We are all doing better than we think we are!

Love your ever loyal bopo warrior, Lauren (@missmethven) @ TEWP x