A little bit deaf

About a month ago I was diagnosed with mild to moderate SNHL which means, in a nutshell, I am a little bit deaf. In both ears.

It is something which normally happens as we get older, it’s just mine was accelerated a bit. Cos clearly at 39 I’m still young! Well according to the Audiologist – who I clearly liked!

But what is, is. It’s not like I didn’t know it, not really. I’ve known I find it difficult to hear people speak when I don’t wear my glasses for years. Like it must be at least 15 years ago I first noticed it. My contact lenses had fallen out at work and I had to get within a metre of young people to understand what they were saying. (FYI that’s a lip reading thing NOT a woah the vibrations through my glasses help me hear kinda witchcraft).

So anyway after Jason telling me I was deaf for years, the hearing test finally confirmed it. Bilateral SNHL.

Basically I can’t hear you if you whisper. And sometimes if there’s too much background noise. I also can’t hear you if you cover your mouth then you speak. Also, apparently I have problems with the letters S and F and th sound meaning I may mishear you and make stuff up in my head. So sorry about that, please bare with me.

Today I’m trialling a hearing aid. I’m hearing sounds that I only just realise now that I haven’t heard for years. The opening of a cigarette packet, the whirling of overhead fans, the mutterings of Jason…

Only around 1 in 6 people who need one will get a hearing aid. I get it, glasses are acceptable; hearing aids aren’t. Many people do not want the world to know that they are disabled. Or old. Theres stigma. There’s not wanting to be treated differently. Or its vanity. Whatever.

Since telling my friends I’m a bit deaf, three people I know have told me their story. We are all around 40. We all have hearing loss akin to people at least 20 years older. So theres more of you. I know there is. We were born around the time the Walkman was invented. We laughed in the face of the warnings that told us to turn down our music. We danced by the bass speakers in drum n bass clubs. We never thought we’d get “old”.

There are so many people hiding their hearing loss so please, you people with perfect hearing… if you are given the option… ALWAYS use the mic.

Show up… but also look after you.

I finally finished watching the third season of 13 Reasons Why and I wanted to pick up something the (new) school counsellor says to Clay Jenkins.

He asks “how do you do your job everyday when nothing ever changes?”

She replies by telling him that he personally helped Tyler change by encouraging him to seek help. She says all she does is show up. Good days. Bad days. She shows up, implying that’s all most people need. Someone reliable they can talk to when things are tough. That and I believe someone who hangs onto the hope that things can and do change for people. That things can get better.

In the show Clay is that person. He is the keeper of secrets, the friend most people turn to when there is a crisis. He shows up. And you can see the weight of what he carries around.

You can also see that without all that weight he would be lighter, happier.

I’m not arguing that you should stop listening to your friends. I am arguing however that if you are a “Clay Jenkins” please speak to someone to offload, maybe someone like me, a school counsellor. You don’t need to tell us your friends secrets, just how you are doing so you don’t take on too much. Counsellors have Supervision to help them deal with everything they hear – use us to help you deal with what you do.

Grief & Living Away

Grief is a funny old beast, usually reserved for loved ones who die, but can also sneak up on you for people who have left, for an incarnation of who you once were, or for a place or time when things were good; different. Living away from home can sometimes seem to be a never ending cycle of grief, renewal, loss & hope.

In many ways we are really privileged. There are reasons many of us came to where we are – usually the employment opportunities and pay is better than in our home countries, for one or both of us. Our Instagram feeds are filled with photographs of far off destinations that we are blessed to be able to travel to because of proximity, low cost and said better pay. Even when we’re not on holiday, we often live in countries where the sun always shines, looking like we’re having a fabulous time. According to our Instagram feeds. And it feels somewhat spoilt to talk about the other side of living away. Because living away is a choice that we make. We are not fleeing war or persecution. We’re looking for jobs, opportunities, adventures… no one forced us here. Even those of us whose employers told them they had to move had the choice to look for alternative employment. Granted the alternative could be unemployment in our home countries, but it’s still a choice and one that lots of people left behind may also make if afforded the opportunities we had.

But yet still. Despite how shiny our lives look there is an undercurrent. An undercurrent of not quite fitting in. Of finding people we connect with, who we love, who become family, who move on. People who inevitably leave. It’s like falling in love then losing that person year after year. When you stay in your home country, your family & your friends (for the most part) remain the same. Abroad we try desperately to make a connection to then find it’s ripped away. We find someone we want to hang out with, then discover they are leaving 6 months from now.

Some of us grieve for who we once were. We might have been someone in a previous life. We may have had a career, aspirations, achievements that other people knew us for. People knew our story. Yet when we move we are a story that hasn’t been read yet. A book maybe people aren’t too interested in. A book that has been placed on a shelf way at the back, that perhaps can’t be bothered anymore to try and be read.

With every move there are gains. And with every move there are losses. Unresolved grief can strangle us into depression and unsurprisingly many people who have moved multiple times can find themselves suddenly and unexpectedly mentally unwell. On top of this can come guilt for being ungrateful for the life you have. How can I be unhappy when I have all this? Why am I constantly angry even though I have all this? Which can send you spiralling further…

It’s okay to grieve and not feel okay. Talk it out with someone if you can. Find a therapist who understands transition and unresolved grief. Make a list of everything and everyone you’ve lost along the way – acknowledge what they meant to you & say your goodbyes again. Give yourself time to heal.

Sentence Starters are…

…great for getting people talking.

I bought these coloured lolly pop sticks a little while ago & finally got around to writing on them today. Each stick has the start of a sentence on it which the young people can finish.

Ideally they shouldn’t think too hard about what they answer. A way to do this could be to give them a sheet of paper & ask them to write down the first thing that comes into their head.

You could do a similar thing if you are into journaling and want random topics to write about. You could write things like – love, politics, family, religion, hope, tragedy, fulfilment etc on them and pull them out at random. You could colour coordinate them as well, so the yellow ones could be internal emotions say, the orange could be about relationships, blue about the world, green about self etc. The questions or topics you devise will depend on who is going to use them and for what purpose.

Mine will be used in counselling with young people so explore a range of emotions, wishes and coping strategies. What will you use yours for?

Thinking about Consent

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“When we don’t consent to flirting, when it’s not reciprocated and it’s repeated, it is harassment. Hissing “slut” at women is harassment. Rape threats online is harassment.”

A contribution by Aylssa Cowell

There are only two legitimate reasons for sex: fun or procreation. I cannot think of any other circumstance for it to be okay if it is not fun. If it stops being fun, then it should stop too, unless you’re desperate and are both consenting to get pregnant.

Sex should never hurt.

Consent cannot be given if the person is asleep, passed out, or if you are threatening or hurting them to comply.

But then most sexual assault and rape is about power, not sex. Assault of the sexual kind is about getting what you want, about getting yourself off, your own selfish wants and desires with complete disregard of the other person or people you’re doing it to.

—–

“No.”

“Stop.”

Both are such simple words, but when it comes to sex, they are sometimes difficult to say. Worried about what will happen if we say ‘no’ and they go ahead anyway, or worse? We’re always thinking three steps ahead. “If I say no, what are the consequences? What about this? If I show them, I’m not into this, they will stop. They’ll have to stop… right?”

But when unable to voice ‘no’, we scream it with our body language. We throw off signs like:

becoming still,

not responding,

turning away,

face dropping,

looking unhappy,

we’re just not into it… you can see we’re just not into it… we are hiding in our minds wanting it to be over,

please just hurry up and let this be over.

“But if they weren’t into it, why didn’t they fight back,” others will judge later, “Surely, they would’ve fought back because that’s what I would do.”

That’s because so many of us do not that that the common response to trauma is to freeze.

—–

Too many of you reading this will have your own stories. That time when…The repeated abuse when…

Please know that you did not deserve it and you are believed. The World Health Organisation estimates that worldwide 20 to 25 percent of women and 10 to 15 percent of men will be victims of sexual violence in their lifetime. More will be sexually harassed. How many of us have been creeped out by someone’s behaviour? When does flirting tip over into harassment?

The simple answer is consent. When we don’t consent to flirting, when it’s not reciprocated and it’s repeated, it is harassment. Hissing “slut” at women is harassment. Rape threats online is harassment. Being touched without consent is assault. Are you aware the Brunei Penal Code protects you from this? That there are actual laws in place to help you should you choose that route?

It doesn’t matter what your relationship status is, no one has the legal or moral right to demand any sexual contact without your full & enthusiastic consent. Lack of consent = sexual assault / rape.

Sexual consent should be given freely, it should be informed, reversible and it should be enthusiastic. And it is up to you, regardless of gender, to ensure that your partner consents fully. Just because we agree once to something doesn’t mean we have to do that same thing again. Just because we do one thing doesn’t mean we have to do the next.

So, what does enthusiastic consent look like in real life?

It looks like enjoyment.

It looks like smiles and laughter, and pulling closer.

It sounds like ‘yes’.

It considers all forms of communication – the words that we say, how we say them, and our body language. It checks that all of these are in alignment – that they all are saying ‘yes – this is fun’. It takes into account that a slight push away of the wrist or a turning away of the head means ‘I’m not into this’.

It verbally asks, ‘is this okay?’

____

First published by the Songket Alliance here

Training RSE in Asia

Relationships & Sex Education was a massive part of my previous work history. Until I moved to Brunei in 2014 I trained professionals in the UK in loads of different courses freelance or in partnership with the NHS. Since I’ve been out here I haven’t done much sexual health training at all. Maybe once a year.

Today I had the absolute privilege to facilitate training with professionals from Thailand, Singapore & Hong Kong looking at comprehensive sexuality education. It was a hilarious, laughter filled day discussing serious issues and ways we can help young people navigate the complexity of growing up.

I wish all the best to the participants & hope they go back to their respective schools with ideas & the momentum to inspire change.

And it has renewed in me why I am passionate about this subject and being an alternate source of education than the internet for young people.

Navigating Tech and Relationships

I worry sometimes about young people and technology. No not for the reasons you might think of straight away. Not the sexting. Not the access to explicit content. Not the bullying. Not the myriad of horrendous people online. I’ve seen young people take down and deal with all of that spectacularly – its a world they’ve grown up in – most of the time that’s the easy stuff. No what I am worried about is the inability to turn off the tech from  friends and within romantic relationships.

When I was young – the very sentence makes me sound old – I went to school and saw my friends. I ‘played out’ – I saw my friends. I went home and over-analysed every minute detail of the day over the phone with my friends, until my mam or her mam screamed at us to get off the phone… the phonebill!! blah blah blah. Same with my boyfriend. I saw him for a couple of hours a day max. There was always a period of the day where we were alone or with my brothers, probably arguing about something someone had stolen off someone else.  I left my friends and my boyfriends behind physically, and often mentally. I just watched the TV, listened to music or, perhaps wrote out song lyrics which completely expressed my unrequited love (true story).

Whatever drama was going on, I got a break from it.

Now this is important. When we are worried about someone or something our stress chemicals flood our brain. We need time where we are distracted, doing something, anything, that helps reset this. If you walked into your house and your bathroom was flooded, what would be the first thing you’d do? Hopefully it would be to turn off the tap. Same with stress and anxiety. You need to be able to turn off the tap. In my job as a school counsellor I ‘prescribe’ fun activities as an antidote to stress. You need to be able to switch off.

Now I think this is where the problem lies. The tech has given young people access to each other 24 hours a day. When a friend leaves them ‘on read’ they get angry, or anxious that they’ve done something wrong. Moreover there is no getting away from each others drama. Or if someone is having a really tough time – of course as friends you want to support them. But where does it stop? I have heard stories of young people acting as mini-therapists to their friends until 3am, sacrificing their own health to help their friends. I know of young people – absolute heroes – that have talked other young people out of suicide in the early hours of the morning. The weight of this lies heavy on the shoulders of the helpers as anyone who works in the helping profession knows. But young people don’t have supervision. They don’t understand the meaning of self care and shutting off. And one by one they become more stressed and anxious, but unable to pin point why.

Then there’s romantic relationships. Leave me on facetime while you sleep. Connected all night. Expectations to be supported and to be there for each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Expected instant replies. Expected password sharing. Expectations that were not there 20 years ago.

To young people I say this. You are absolute superstars and the support and help you give each other is tremendous. However you cannot drink from an empty cup as they say. Please, please, please consider setting some boundaries. Think about turning your internet off at 10pm. Get yourself some rest. Spend some time on you having fun. Get out into nature. Laugh. The world will  be there tomorrow. Self Care is not selfish, and anyone who tells you it is, is.Continue reading “Navigating Tech and Relationships”

Talking about consent & pleasure is essential to safeguard young people

In light of the renewed interest in the allegations against Michael Jackson, I thought I’d post this discussion from back in 2013 when I was interviewed for a Brook project on talking about sexual pleasure within Relationships and Sex Education. As Steve also says, children and young people who are sexually abused or exploited do not have the words to say, nor sometimes even understand what is happening for them. Comprehensive sex and relationships education for all is essential in this regard to safeguard young people from abuse.

Surfing Brunei

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I can’t surf. Pretty much because I lack confidence mainly due to my utter dislike of water up my nose and behind my contact lenses. So every year I have a go, then 10 goes into trying to stand I go off in a huff and don’t do it again for another year.  My partner surfs though and there’s a pretty nice surf scene in Brunei which is devoid of many of the egos and ‘locals only’ bravado you get at some other places. Because I don’t want to get in the water I often take photographs instead (when I’m not hiding from the sun). These were taken on New Years Eve when he traipsed me through the jungle to find a (not so) secret surf spot.

 

Challenge 2018 & Looking to 2019

2017 was a very difficult year for me – I learnt a lot from almost falling down a very dark hole and the struggle to get back out. So when 2018 came along I found myself in the first couple of months trying things I’d never done before. Now whether this is a direct result of 2017 or if it’s an age thing (hurtling towards 40 at what seems like warp speed) I’m not sure but it turned out to be a great year. I decided early on to try new things each month and report back on them. I can’t say I was particularly good at reporting back each month but it was great fun. So in 2018 I tried the following:

January: Poetry Slam. This was petrifying and it’s really hard to write poetry!

February: Stand-Up Comedy. I did a 10 hour course with Bruhaha and performed for the first time in February. In total I have done 4 shows this year. Great fun.

March: Staff Dance Troupe.We performed in front of staff & students. Good fun and I didn’t forget too many steps but not interested as a long term activity.

April: Build a Website. I built this one. It still needs a lot of work but its a start.

May: Illustrated Lettering. Good as a mindful activity but I don’t have the patience for calligraphy.

June: Graduated with a Hat! Swish Swish!! And I cannot rock a graduation hat.

July: Dance Photography. Not as glamorous as I expected.

August: Grow Vegetables. I had high hopes but come Dec only the Chinese leafy vegetables and my herbs have survived. Replanting & hoping for a better 2019.

September: Sailing. We nearly capsized. I was glad I wasn’t in charge.

October: Join a Sports Team! The Womens Rugby Tournament was fun & I scored!

November: Clay Modelling. Fun but too messy – can’t see me getting a kiln anytime soon.

December: Make a Dessert. Nutella Cheesecake which was so tasty I made it a second time!

So for 2019? I’d like to get better at Photography and at Stand Up Comedy. I’m enjoying taking photos of surfing and of sports fixtures. And animals. I’d like to perform stand up outside of Brunei so the censorship restrictions aren’t there and I can talk about way more things that happen to me in everyday life. I’m going to carry on trying not to kill plants.

Other than that I think I’ll still try new things as I’ve enjoyed the purpose of this year. I hope your 2019 is full of life and adventure, and lots and lots of laughter. As Gretchen Ruben says – the days are long but the years are short, so pack as much as you can in there. Goodbye 2018. Hello 2019.