Category Archives: My life.

Posts that are about my life and don’t really have any relevance to anyone else but me.

Anxiety Masterpost

I have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and I’ve been managing my condition for three years now. I hate everything about it, of course, but I have finally reached a place where I am happy and anxiety is an annoyance I have to deal directly with up to three times a week (during a good week).

I have several methods for managing anxiety so I decided to make a masterpost about what makes me feel better, what works and what doesn’t work for me. Maybe it will help someone, somewhere.

Note: I am not a doctor or a trained therapist. If you take my advice, please also seek medical help. I am currently taking medication for my anxiety, so it may be that some of this works better for me because my medication is taking the edge off. 

Why are you anxious?

  • Start monitoring the times and contexts in which you feel the most anxious: for me it’s when I haven’t properly slept, when I haven’t eaten at least every three hours, when I forgot to take my medication, when I have too much caffeine, when I travel.
  • Once you know in what contexts you are more likely to feel volatile, you can start coming up with practical ways to counter them or remedy them: take snacks to class/work, sleep a healthy amount, exercise at least three times a week. You’re smarter than your mental illness.
  • If you have physical symptoms that come with your worrying, don’t give in to them. Your chest hurts but it will pass, your head is heavy but it will pass, it feels like you can’t breathe but you can and it will pass.

On avoiding situations that make you anxious

I get it, anxiety is scary and it makes you fear everything. It’s really difficult to overcome that feeling in your gut that something is going to go wrong or that you’re going to die or something as equally scary is going to happen to you if you go and do that thing. I understand because I’ve been there.

But I am told, again and again, by therapist after therapist, that avoidance makes anxiety worse. There’s a lot of research on this. I personally don’t want to miss out on experiences because of this illness, so I’ve started doing things that scare me or worry me more often: I’ve been travelling by train at least once a month, I have been going out with bigger groups of people, I started a Masters degree (I was terrified), etc.

You don’t have to do everything at once: starting small is key, I think. If you can’t handle it, it’s okay – try next time. But always keep in mind that there should have a next time, however long it takes. You can have anxiety and live a full life.

Non-chemical solutions

As I’ve said before, I am taking medication for my anxiety. I feel that it is unmanageable without it, but you might feel otherwise. If you feel that you need medication, do not be afraid to seek it out – it could save your life. If you’re worried about how psych medication gives you ‘fake feelings,’ remember that anxiety also gives you fake feelings – that’s why it’s an illness, your brain isn’t reacting to the outside world like it should.  Being in constant fight or flight mode is not normal.

Another note on this stuff: it’s useless if you haven’t got at least some grip on your mental illness. I know that the media reports that meditation can be as good as medication for depression but I’ve never found that to be true. Trying to cure my depression with meditation while I felt like the worst person on earth was horrifying – of course I failed (which is 100% fine! If you fail, you just have to find another coping method).

Now that these disclaimers are out of the way, here are a few things that help me when I am feeling anxious.

  • Yoga (mostly vinyasa) – I’ve been practising yoga for two years now and it’s pretty amazing. This is my favourite yoga YouTube channel.
  • Meditation – I meditate on an off, to be honest. But loads of people have told me that meditation has been hugely helpful in controlling thoughts and coming down from a panic attack. I usually use the app Calm (I don’t have a subscription).
  • Snacks – This can be a difficult one because anxious people can be over-eaters. I usually buy loads and loads of fruit which means I am kind of healthy about it. I recommend it.
  • Do something with your hands –  Take up a craft, paint something on a canvas, learn how to knit, buy an adult colouring book. These are all things I have done and recommend.
  • Self-help and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – CBT is pretty much a catch-all for anxiety disorders: it’s good for OCD, for GAD, for social anxiety, etc, etc. Reading self-help books that have directions on how to make anxiety less of an issue in my life has helped me immensely. I love The Highly Sensitive Person and this database of self-help workbooks has been super helpful in teaching myself CBT so far.

Online resources

Disclaimer: I will be adding information to this post as I find more useful resources / have more useful advice.

Dear Facebook User

Dear Facebook User,

It has recently come to my attention that Facebook is mainly comprised of delightful documentations of people’s lives. Eating delicious food and photos of incredible travels are what social media is made for, all glossy and edited with Instagram filters that make everyone look younger and happier than they really are.

If you are anything like me, a real human being with feelings, problems and a mostly unremarkable daily life, this flood of happiness, fun and realizations can make you feel inadequate, boring and unhappy at times. In a perfect world we would all feel happy enough in ourselves not to consider Facebook a battle of “Who is having a better time?” that often makes young people feel lonely.

This feeling of battle is what leads us to always be searching for the best, most incredible thing to be doing on a Saturday night. We always need to find the better thing to do, the thing that will bring us most joy and with social media and technology surely that event is just within our reach. We have become flaky human beings, always looking for the best night out, the best event, the thing that will make us happiest (or make us appear the happiest). If we were purely doing this for ourselves, it may be acceptable but I often feel like there are times that I look for the best angle, the best view just so I can share it on social media. This can lead to a type of unhappiness that is based on comparisons which I personally don’t think is healthy. Here is a common list of things you might think while you are scrolling down your feed.

– I could have gone to that party, it seemed to be better than the one I actually went to.
– Wow, Janet always travels to such incredible places. I wish I could do that.
– I can’t believe Johnny is moving to New York City, that sounds really cool and a lot better than where I am right now.
– Oh, Lucy got a new job and it’s better paying than what I got right now. Ugh.
– How the hell can Janet afford to travel so much? Why can’t afford to do that?
– Why does everyone else seem to be having a better life than I am?
– Aw, Jenna and Julien just moved in together. Too bad my last relationship came crashing down like a thousand waves.
– Ugh, Julie looks so much prettier than I do in this photo

Technology is incredible and I’ve made and kept a lot of friends through it. But the psychological effects of being on Facebook are real: we always think other people are happier, prettier and more fulfilled than we are. It’s a heightened version of “The grass is always greener on the other side” because we can see much more than the grass. We can see the food, the travelling, the embraces, the kisses and the smiles.

The absolute worst is when we can see other people moving forward and we feel like nothing is happening in our lives or we feel like we’ve gone back a few steps. It sucks, because sometimes there isn’t anything we can do to make our life move forward, we just have to wait until our next move is a possibility. So we sit there, in our modern-day anxiety, unhappy and bored, scrolling down through our friends’ accomplishments.

Because of technology we are unable to live in the present, we are unable to understand that what we have right now will not last forever and that we can be content with it for the time being, even if we feel like we are stuck or unhappy. Sitting with your pain or your boredom or your unfullfilment is necessary so you can one day move forward. Comparing yourself to your Facebook friends’ can make you want to rush through the phase you’re in which can be become destructive in the future.

Facebook User, I am writing this to you in the hope that you start realizing that we all have pain and that we all go through phases where we wished we could just give up. I am writing this to you so that you understand that the photos your friends put up on Facebook are selected, edited and tailored to make them look a certain way. You can be sure that behind the photo of that couple that just moved in there is hard work put into a relationship. You can be certain that behind your friends’ travels there were hours of work and planning and even home-sickness. Everyone has a thing, no one’s life is perfect and we all move at different speeds to achieve what we want.

Late night thoughts on Birdman and mental illness

After watching Birdman, I have come to the conclusion that my mental illness is not Hollywood material. My depression, my anxiety and my panic attacks are not caused by any kind of artistic existential crisis. Rather, my mental illness simply exists and it does not need a reason to be.

Unlike the Hollywoodian type of mental illness, my inner voice makes me lethargic and uninspired. I do not ponder about my reason of being nor do I feel the need to prove myself to the world. In fact, I think about not being at all, ceasing to exist in the most discrete and painless way possible.

It is scary to think that numbness can strike out of nowhere, for no particular reason. In movies, there are always actions and reactions: character A is depressed because of X. That’s the easiest way to understand another human being suffering from mental illness. But what if there is no particular reason for mental illness? What if something starts to go bad inside you and you cannot point to a cause?

Before committing suicide, Robin Williams gave an interview to The Guardian where he talked about him mental state. I always think back on this interview because I resent the ‘tortured artist’ trope: Robin Williams did not kill himself because he was a disturbed artist with too many ideas. Robin Williams killed himself because he was sick and he was in pain, and thousands of people across the world who are not artists or actors go through that every day.

What stood out for me was the following, when he is asked if his alcoholism and drug dependence are about his friend Christopher Reeves’s death.

“No,” he says quietly, “it’s more selfish than that. It’s just literally being afraid. And you think, oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn’t.” What was he afraid of? “Everything. It’s just a general all-round arggghhh. It’s fearfulness and anxiety.”

Of course the interviewer had to ask what he is afraid of, but this kind of fear is not palpable or definable. I do not know what I am afraid of or why my chest hurts or why I want to sit at home by myself for a few days when I am depressed. It has never been as simple as a career crossroads like Birdman’s Riggan.

Obviously, when someone kills themselves you want to ask: Why? – the possibility of someone taking their own life because of an illness is way beyond our grasp. Why? Was he disappointed with his career? Was he disturbed by one of his parts in his recent movie? Why? How could he? He was so talented! The idea that the crushing pain of mental illness comes without reason is disturbing. The idea that this pain can override everything we have achieved in our lives, everything that we are, is scary. I get that.

I enjoyed watching Birdman: it was interestingly done, the acting was incredible and I wasn’t bored. But as a sufferer of mental illness who has lived with a separate voice from my own in my head, I resent that Riggan’s issues were glamourized in the usual ‘tortured artist’ format. It felt like the subject of mental illness was avoided when it was in plain sight and isn’t that how we already treat it in everyday life?

I would like society to reach a place where depression is understood as an illness, not as a kind of crisis that can be fixed with picking the right path or impressing the right people. It is uncomfortable to stop searching for a reason why our idols or friends or family harm themselves in such a way but I am sick of the tortured artist trope. It’s repetitive and I doubt it has done much to help people who suffer from these illnesses. It means we are constantly searching for what is making us hurt, as opposed to getting treatment for something that is completely curable or in the least manageable.

On misogyny in the gay community

[Content note: mention of anti-blackness slur, misogyny and homophobia]

Sometimes I get asked to go on BBC World Have Your Say, an awesome international service radio program that seeks to cover news and opinions around the world. Right before the World Cup I got asked to speak on the ridiculous World Cup song (and video) by J-Lo, Pitbull and Claudia Leitte.

Predictably, the video was full of damaging images of Brazilian women which I have no doubt encouraged foreign men to harass Brazilian women during the event. Brazil has been capitalizing on the bodies of Brazilian women for decades, particularly marketing the image of the ‘mulata’ as sexual, welcoming and easy. This stereotype is damaging in many ways that I won’t go into right now.

During the BBC segment that discussed the video, I was clear about my position: the cheap, lazy representation of Brazilian culture was extremely damaging, especially for women, who are routinely street harassed by both local and foreign men. After a lot of searching for a person who enjoyed the song to stimulate both sides of the debate, the producers of the show were able to find one guy.

After presenting my case, based on real life experiences of harassment (and again, I repeat: both from local and foreign men) and self-censorship because of my nationality’s sexualized stereotype, the guy broke in and said I was exaggerating. The exchange that followed went something like this:

Me: “As a man, you can`t speak on my experiences.”

Dude: “Bitch, I’m gay.”

Yep, this guy was so entitled that he thought it would be a good idea to call me a bitch on international radio. He had to assert his maleness with his oppression, because his sexual orientation somehow means that he can’t silence women (spoiler: he can, because he has male privilege).

This is why, when Rose McGowan said that “gay men are more misogynistic than straight men,” I didn’t bat an eyelash to defend gay men. It was wrong to quantify misogyny in such terms – I can’t do that, to go as far as to say that one is worse than the other. But this is something I have come into direct contact with.

Even if I could say which group is worse, that’s not the point (and it will never be the point). Misogyny in the gay community exists and it has to be addressed. The worst way to go about it is to say: “Wah! But straight guys are even worse!” That’s just shifting blame and denying that, even though you are oppressed in one instance, you were still raised in a patriarchal society that teaches hatred of women and femininity.

This is not, in any way, to deny that gay men suffer homophobia, prejudice and oppression daily. Part of this is perpetuated by straight women, as well – and that’s something we need to work on. We are all complicit to micro and macro aggression in everyday life but dismissing a genuine piece of criticism as ‘homophobia’ (thanks Stonewall) is not helpful to the deconstruction of these prejudices.

Did you like this post? Like my blog on Facebook or follow me on Twitter to keep up with future writing! Learn more about how you can support my work to change the narrative around Brazilian women here.

The Dismissal of Womanly Pain and Pressure to be the Strong Woman

When I was thirteen, my fellow classmates made fun of my moustache and bushy eyebrows. The feminist woman I have become would like to say I ignored them and wore my facial hair with pride, but that is not what happened. I started waxing off the hairs on my upper lip and shaping my eyebrows – two things I continue to do today.

There is absolutely nothing remarkable about that. Women all over the world wax, shave, bleach and laser body hair to look smoother and more feminine. As a feminist, I have nothing against women who choose to remove body hair – after all, I do it myself – but it’s important for me to think about why I submit to the pain of waxing every month.

As I grew up from my moustached thirteen-year-old self, I started waxing other places too: my legs, my bikini line and even my toes. And it hurts. Oh, how it hurts. Why do I have to do this every month?

When I recently complained about this, someone told me: “Just don’t do it anymore, then.” That sounds pretty simple right? Just don’t obey the patriarchy. Just go to the beach with a hairy bikini line. Just look unprofessional with your bushy eyebrows. Just wear shorts and let your hairy legs show. Just make your body into a political statement.

The simplicity of that statement made me wonder about female pain and how it is often dismissed as unimportant. Both sides of this situation would bring me pain. If I own up to my body hair, I will be judged by a sexist, misogynist society. If I continue to remove it, I will have to deal with the pain of waxing and shaving and the medical issues that come with it.

This dismissal happens when going through pain to achieve smooth legs is considered normal and even required.

It happens when women are told street harassment is something they have to accept, even though women who are victims of it say they feel uncomfortable, objectified and afraid.

It happens when nine women accuse a man of abusing them, but we are still told to ‘hear both sides’.

It happens when nine out of ten women feel pain when their uterus is contracting to get rid of its lining but talking about periods and period pain is considered gross or ‘making a fuss’.

It happens when women are told they should’ve thought about the consequences of their actions when seeking abortion, even though all kinds of birth control can fail.

It happens when women are paid less but people argue that the wage gap is actually a myth.

It happens all the goddamn time.

While men are taught not to show their pain, women are routinely told their pain is not important. Women’s pain is normal because women are more emotional and hormonal, so why pay any attention to it? Often, women hide their pain away so as to not be annoying or be perceived as weak or too feminine.

We are asked to be the Strong Woman, which is an image I truly resent. No one ever says “He is a strong man” because men are presumed to be strong because of their masculinity – or the societal enforcement of said masculinity. This necessity to be a Strong Woman reinforces the idea that not being feminine and being more like men is better.

And let’s not forget that being the Strong Woman can be dangerous, speaking your mind, as a woman, can be life-threatening – on the internet or otherwise (Mary Spears was definitely strong when she told a man “no” and was killed for it). I see women who are perceived as Strong Women being harassed on the internet every day. Not to mention that a Strong Woman is often mistaken for a Bitch.

Women cannot win either way.

On happiness after depression

[Trigger Warning: mental illness, suicide]

rock in rio

If you read my blog regularly you will know I have struggled with depression and anxiety for about two years now.  This blog only has a few really personal posts and this is one of them. I don’t like posting personal blogs because I am supposed to be a ‘serious journalist’ who works on reports and opinion articles and ‘grown up’ things. But I guess I can be that and a blogger with feelings.

In the last eight months of my life I have seen a steady improvement in my mental health. I always hesitate when saying ‘now I am happy’ though because it implies I wasn’t happy for most of these two years which just isn’t true. It is hard to talk about happiness after depression because the default antonym of ‘happiness’ is ‘sadness’ and that’s not exactly what depression is.

Depression is pain and walking through a hazy life. It’s trying to see through a fog that seems impossible to dissolve.  What I’ve come to learn is that in the hardest parts of life, happiness is certain moments where you feel better. Looking back to the last two years I can remember many lovely moments that I would define as ‘happy’. I treasure them dearly because they contrasted so vividly with my daily numbness.

But in the last eight months the numbness has been fading, and I’ve been happy (or at least not numb) most of the time. I am looking forward to the next few months, as good things are coming up in my professional and personal lives. But it’s not just that the future looks bright.

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Although I give credit and thanks to all my family, friends and boyfriend who were my incredible support system during this illness, I am proud of myself.

I picked myself up from the ground when all I really wanted to do was dig deeper and bury myself alive.

Dusting off the dirt after you get up can be hard in itself: I had to learn how to walk again. Professionally, I had to start from nothing and build myself up as a freelance journalist because of the lack of jobs in my city. Personally, I had to relearn how to be a whole person because my personality and psyche were broken into little pieces. I stumbled through and I cried a lot. Sometimes I walked straight, others I just sat down and waited to feel better.

This week I lowered the dosage of my antidepressants. In two months I will lower it again, as it’s a slow process to go off really powerful medication like the one I am taking.

I feel happy. I feel fulfilled. I feel proud.

And after a year and a half of not feeling, of crying, of feeling intense pain in my chest I value a smile, a laugh so much more than I used to. Happiness is often taken for granted – when we are sad, we are conscious of it while happiness seems to be just a given.

Happiness after depression feels stronger because I no longer take it for granted. I am submersed in it and I often remind myself of harder times.

I hate saying ‘it gets better’ because to many people it doesn’t. Many people suffer depression for years and even decades, I don’t want to be dismissive of that. I’ve been really lucky in my recovery and although I know that’s not the case for a lot of people I hope this blog gives you a bit of hope. Even if your depression doesn’t get better, maybe you can notice the little moments of happiness I used to feel and grab onto them.

Who wore it better?

Who wore it better?

 

The flat stomach and other expectations that bring us down

[TRIGGER WARNING: eating disorders and vaginal cosmetic surgery]

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I’ve been working out a lot lately and I’m proud of it. Unfortunately I still have a belly with which I have a strained hate-love relationship. Sometimes I love it because it’s kind of curvy and nice and makes me look real. Other times I really hate it and wish it would go away so that I can look like Britney Spears. I am not overweight (and there is nothing wrong with being overweight as long as you are healthy about it!) but somehow I am still subject of fat shaming. Some people often point out my belly (how is that even allowed?) and make me feel insecure about it.

Which leads me to ask – does any woman have privilege when it comes to their bodies?

When women have muffin tops they are told they are fat. When men have a little belly they are given a pass – women cannot have any fat on their bellies! Ever! They have to be flat and perfect.  (Although someone pointed out to me that – at least in Rio de Janeiro – if you are a gay man beauty standards dictate flat bellies too).

Another problem is when women get told off for being too thin. Some people’s dispositions are like that and as long as there is no eating disorder involved it’s completely fine.

So, no, women don’t get a break either way.

So I want to claim my muffin top and love it (and if you’re a thin, healthy woman, claim your flat belly and love it!). I run, walk and do yoga so I am healthy and in no way sedentary. But the belly is still there and it irritates me at times but maybe it shouldn’t. I can’t be perfect and if I am honest with myself I don’t want to be.

Beyoncé’s video Pretty Hurts says it all (though some might argue that Bey is beautiful but let’s be real, she probably waxes her legs, works out like crazy, and I don’t know what else – and that’s painful) and when explaining the video she revealed that she herself is obsessed with having a flat stomach. And this is Beyoncé, someone who is in tip top shape right after having a kid. I especially like the line “Shine a light on whatever is worse” – which I think is something mostly done by women. Fat shaming is mostly done by women, women make each other feel bad. And it has to stop.

What other myths that are photoshopped into women’s bodies in magazine covers can we renounce and reclaim with our imperfections?

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WHO HAS HAIR LIKE THIS???

1. Crazy, impossible shiny straight hair

My hair is super curly, rebellious and frizzy. It took me so long to love it though. I even tried to straighten it permanently with hair relaxers. Sometimes I straighten it but just to mix it up. Also if you look at any advert for hair products you will see incredibly shiny hair, it’s so shiny I wonder how hair product companies are even allowed to use that much photoshop to publicize their products.

Me? I’m just whining though. I can only speak for myself here but I have noticed that black women also suffer because of this ridiculous beauty standard because their natural hair is considered unruly. Just last year a 12 year old black girl was almost expelled from her school for daring to own up to her gorgeous African American hair (Oh, also the school claimed this wasn’t racism so um, okay). Not cool. In the book Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie (BUY IT NOW / SPOILER ALERT), the main character, Ifemelu, is terrified of going to a job interview without relaxing her hair for fear of seeming unprofessional. She then straightens it but later owns up to it, freeing herself.

Once I was asked, after hopelessly trying to get rid of frizz, why people even cared about frizz. That’s a good point. Stop caring! Claim it. (if you have straight hair own it too though!)

Image2. High heels

Emma Thompson went on the Golden Globes stage barefoot, holding a Martini and her high Louboutins in her hand. She said: “This red? It’s my blood. When receiving the envelope so she could read the winner she just threw her shoes behind her – and I cheered.

Emma, it is all of our bloods.

Those looked painful. I have tiny feet so high heels are an impossibility for me. I usually stick to kitten heels or plain flats. I’m owning up to my height, I don’t care if I am made fun of. When women do manage to wear high heels I am pretty impressed. Hey, it’s a feat!

Impressive, but doesn’t work for me personally. So I’m not going to sacrifice a night of good dancing trying.

3. Breasts and genitals

You GUYS! Come on. In 2013 there was a sharp rise in women seeking to make their hoo-has look like the ones they see in porn through cosmetic surgery. This is why girls need a talking to about sex and they need it desperately more than boys do: vaginas are not supposed to be the same. Different looking labias are fine! And so are big nipples, small, nipples, big boobs, small boobs, different sized boobs (everyone has them. My left is smaller than my right.)

Can I just say how painful I imagine vaginal cosmetic surgery is? It’s one of the most sensitive bits of the body.

If you are insecure about your vagina you should check out Jamie McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina project. McCartney took five years to make 400 molds of vaginas from all over the world and put them together to form a nine-meter long wall. If your reaction to this is “ew!” SHAME ON YOU.

The great thing about it is the diversity of vaginas. None of them are the same and there is no such thing as a perfect vagina.

McCartney said, about the project: “I realized that many women also suffer anxiety about their genitals and I was in a unique position to do something about that… If this sculpture helps just one woman decide not to proceed with unnecessary plastic surgery on their genitals then it will have succeeded.”

4. Thin upper arms

I’ve noticed my upper arms have become so thick. How does fat even go that way? How am I supposed to lose fat that’s on my arms? I don’t want to have toned, body builder arms! So how else?

But look at Mindy Kalling and Melissa McCarthy (Ey up, Sookie!). They have thick arms too and they’re gorgeous.

5. Thigh gap

ImageGet up from where you’re sitting right now and put your feet right next to each other. They have to touch. Are your thighs touching as well? Yes? Good.

If you are unfamiliar with thigh gap it basically means that you have to be thin enough so that your thighs don’t touch. This is dangerous because, like upper arms, thighs are so hard to keep thin. Thigh gaps have been famous for their appearances in #thinspo hashtags (short for thin inspiration) – the hashtag inspires and motivates people to lose weight and more often than not the people who use it bond over throwing up and starving themselves.

I think not having a thigh gap is pretty beautiful. I embraced my chubby thighs a long time ago. (But if you DO have a natural thigh gap and aren’t starving yourself to get one, yay! good for you :D)

6. Beauty standards = perfection myth

Actually, I don’t need to pick and choose what I will adhere to. It would be awesome if these standards didn’t exist, period.

“You will never get a man if you don’t lose weight/wear makeup/dress up/have a porn vagina” – this is complete bull crap. I know many, many women, on Twitter and real life, who haven’t lost weight, wore makeup, dressed up or changed their vaginas and they have meaningful relationships with men.

So maybe, to some people, beauty standards aren’t important. If only that was the majority of people.

The problem also stems from a necessity of perfection. If you’re not perfect you’re not good enough. But what if you’re happy with a body that doesn’t fit the standard? What if you own up to frizzy hair and say you’re proud?

Isn’t that the bravest attitude of all?

Edit: edited to add that thin women also get criticised when they are too thin as that also seems to imply an unhealthy lifestyle.

‘Hey beautiful’ is the same as any other street harassment

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Source: http://leftycartoons.com/street-harassment/

It was a sunny day so I was wearing my shades, shorts and an airy blouse. I was already late so I hurried without taking the usual care of avoiding the dirty bar right in front of my house, where fat hairy middle aged men were already getting drunk at one in the afternoon.

A man shouted in my direction, it was something rude, but I brushed it off, making a mental note to avoid the place when I made my way back home.

Relieved to have passed the bar I continued to make my way to the metro station, but I hadn’t even walked half a block from my house when another middle aged man sat with two of his mates harassed me.

“Hey, beautiful”

I turned around and told him to f*ck off. I was absolutely livid. I work from home so I don’t go out as often as most people but that week, the three times I had to run errands I had been the target of some kind of disgusting comment that reduced me to a piece of meat.

He yelled back at me saying it was a ‘compliment’. The stupidest thing is that I started feeling guilty and like I overreacted, maybe he was just complimenting me, trying to be nice, right? Maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt and be nicer in the face of street harassment.

I was out to cover a festival for a known online magazine and was mentally planning how I would write it – I was concentrated, focused on my work. And then a disgusting middle aged man feels the need to point out that my exterior features are ‘beautiful’, completely throwing me off and making me jump. And there comes the feeling of vulnerability and the submission that feels mandatory because the man might lash back at me if I respond.

Don’t think for a second that I would be happier or more comfortable if the man had been young and good-looking though – street harassment makes you a disgusting human being no matter what you look like.

It makes me angry that certain men think that I am some kind of object to be looked at just because I stepped out of my house to go to work. And no matter the context it is always the same. I might be wearing a skirt, a hoodie, sweatpants, jeans, shorts, anything and I will still be harassed.

It makes me feel unsafe and worthless. Women are people – is that so insane to grasp? I am a person filled with dreams, intelligence, plans, ambitions, likes, dislikes, love, hate, anxiety. I am so much more than my face and my body.

Why do I have to write a blog post saying that I am a person?

Many people will tell me – wait a second, ‘Hey beautiful’ isn’t as bad as the other things he could have said to you. Maybe he really did mean to pay me a compliment and maybe he was just being nice. ‘Beautiful’ is a good thing. I should be flattered! After all that’s all women are good for: being beautiful.

Have we really come to the point where the best I can hope for is being treated as an object in a ‘nice’ way as opposed to not being harassed at all? Do I really deserve to feel unsafe, objectified and angry just for walking down the street because some creep’s choice of word ‘could have been worse’?

The use of the word ‘beautiful’ doesn’t fool me. It’s just a pathetic attempt to veil objectification. It’s the same as any other obscene comment directed at a woman walking in the street alone.

It’s not so difficult to figure out if a woman will welcome harassment: did she ask you what you think about her body? No? Then keep it to yourself.

And another thing I will never understand: what reaction do these men expect to get?

“Oh my gosh, sir, thank you so much. I absolutely needed the validation of a sad old man getting drunk on the street! Thank you so much for salvaging my self-esteem.”

I mean thank God a man told me I am beautiful! I was starting to think I am worthless since the last time I was harassed had been less than a minute before.

I am a person. Don’t forget it.

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Click on the photo for an awesome comic about street harassment.

Lessons from mental illness

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Depression and anxiety are hidden wounds many of us have to live with. I have written about my struggles with mental illness before, but I had never thought about what these obstacles have taught me. For almost two years now I have been trying – and thankfully succeeding – to get better, which means the long road is full of lessons. So here is a list of the things I have learned.

1)      If you feel lonely when you’re alone you are not in good company.

This is not an absolute truth – of course we all need human contact – but if you can’t stand being by yourself for a day or two you probably don’t like yourself. The thing about depression is that you hate yourself whether you are with a group of people or alone. In all situations you are boring, uninteresting and numb.

Learning how to be on your own and giving yourself value is probably one of the most important things in life. As we grow older and get lives, jobs, etc there will be less people to hang out with. Now I can spend long periods of time on my own without driving myself crazy. Of course I go out with friends and such but liking myself has helped me do that.

2)      The difference between being sad and numb

When my condition was very serious I was either numb or in pain, those were the only two states of emotion my body and mind could process. There was nothing else, though I cried and I cried. But I wasn’t sad, I was numb. I knew I liked my life so in paper I should be happy but the numbness wouldn’t let me feel good things. And that’s what caused the pain.

Today I can tell that crying and sadness shouldn’t consume you. Sadness isn’t a constant state, and neither is happiness. In a way my perception of feelings and emotions has changed for the better.

3)      Dogs keep you sane

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you probably know that I have a lovely Golden Retriever called Luna (pictured above). She is my sister and we look out for each other daily. Dogs can be emotionally soothing not to mention distracting.

Luna can tell if someone is in distress and if I felt really, really crummy I could count on her being there, if only to be stroked. She doesn’t talk – but the thing is that she doesn’t have to. Sometimes all I needed was company and not a conversation about my feelings.

4)      Sleep is poison, water and food are antidotes

I sleep a lot. I hate it, but I am really bad at getting out of bed. But when I was at the height of depression it was much, much worse – I wouldn’t get out of bed for days. I just couldn’t, I didn’t see the point. I didn’t have the strength to go to university, or to feed myself, or to even talk to my friends so I felt it was better just to sleep.

I was also never hungry or thirsty. But since then I have been sleeping a lot less, drinking a lot more water and eating a lot more food (I even gained a few kilos which, you know what, is great because I used to be underweight). I try to always have a glass of water near me, it’s comforting to know that water cleanses your body.

5)      It’s the little exchanges

It’s not that I used to be rude but being socially anxious resulted in a lack of social decorum for me. If I was pressed to say hello, I probably would but averting my eyes, looking down, feeling a bit trapped. But today I try – and I try really, really hard – to always say “Hello”, “Good morning/afternoon/ evening”, “How are you?”, etc etc.

It seems silly but small talk like this is important to practice. Even if I feel awkward I try to do it because most of the time the next encounter won’t be so odd. Also I find that most awkwardness is in my head due to social anxiety.

6)    Jealousy isn’t necessarily bad

I am jealous of people who can deal with social situations with ease. I am also jealous of people who have jobs I would like or who live in the same country as their significant others. And I used to think that was a bad thing because it feels so rotten and mean to want what some one else has.

But jealousy can be flipped into a positive instrument. It can be converted into motivation. It is only genuinely bad if you sit crying all day feeling sorry for yourself and not doing anything about getting what you want, just moping what other people have. So seeing people act ‘normally’ in social settings helped me try harder. So jealousy isn’t necessarily bad – and maybe other bad feelings like it can be flipped around.

How about you? Has your mental illness taught you anything?

Read my piece about depression here.
Read my piece about anxiety here.

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A book that changed me

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“What?! You don’t know how to ride a bike?!” He seemed genuinely incredulous. “What did you do in your childhood?”

“I – er, read books,” I say, thinking of the hours I spent reading during recess, after school and during bedtime with a torch I kept hidden under my pillow.

It was all because of my mother. I loved to read, to escape from the real world. I don’t regret a moment of it even if it meant that I would learn how to ride a bike through some lovely green fields or something of the sort.

Up until I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone I was only a reader, a child who loved different worlds. But as I saw Dumbledore setting down baby Harry on the Dursley’s doorsteps it slowly downed on me that writing something so wonderful, so captivating and enthralling must be one of the best things one can do with their life.

I was, from that moment on, stuck in the world of wannabe writers – a group of nervous perfectionists who will likely know the meaning of rejection, misery, scarcity and pain all too well. Just like Jo Rowling did.

Her work was life-changing to me in many ways and it marked defining moments in my existence. My mother tongue is Portuguese and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the first book I read in English. It was a gateway to a whole new world of literature – English literature. I could finally discover all sorts of other worlds, breathe in another culture.

And then there was England. It might sound awfully cliché but Harry was the reason I wanted to visit London in the first place. It sounded so old, so cold, and different, distant. When I was 15 I finally made it to King’s Cross.

I decided I would come back. All the while I read and re-read the books, always finding something new and falling in love more and more with the wonderful characters Jo thought up and gave life to. I marvelled at the depth and felt like they were real people, people I cared about, people I might bump into in the streets of London. That is the power of Rowling’s words.

When I returned from London I was resolute: I would go back to England, get a degree and be a writer. I started working towards that and somewhere in the middle the series ended. I wept because it was – and still is – such a huge part of me. It was like losing a best friend.

Today I am on a saga to become a journalist and a writer. It is difficult and I am sure I will receive a million rejections before I am able to be a little bit successful. But Harry is still with me, filling my Gryffindor heart with courage and motivation.

An excerpt of this was published on Guardian Witness.

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