70 Years

‘It seems all the stories we heard about the concentration camps in Germany were almost all true. But the only people in these camps were Jews and political prisoners. We both agreed that the Jews should be exterminated and the political prisoners were just fools.’

Garfield, 2004: 509, Our Hidden Lives, Random House, London.

Yesterday marked 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, to mark the occasion this week’s Wednesday post is going to be an insight into post-war Britain… and it’s probably not what you’re expecting.

I read a book recently about writing historical fiction, the book emphasised the importance of giving your characters era appropriate attitudes. When you’re writing characters that lived many years ago you have to understand and accept that they’re not going to have 21st century attitudes towards equality and discrimination. They’re probably going to be sexist, racist and xenophobic.

After the First World War Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles, one of the conditions of this treaty was that they would take on all responsibility for the war, this also included financial responsibility. As a result of this Germany soon found itself in a desperate state.

If you transported yourself back to the 1920s and 30s you’d find that anti-Semitism was rife, especially throughout Europe. Germany had been left broken and bankrupt by the Treaty of Versailles and the German people were angry and let down. They needed someone to blame, and who better than the group of people commonly stereotyped as secretive and rich?

We’ve had some tough financial times in the UK recently, this has seen the rise of right-wing parties such as the UK Independence Party; eighty years ago a humiliated and broke Germany watched the rise of a right-wing party… the National Socialist German Worker’s Party.

A combination of factors lead to the popularity of the Nazi Party; at its core was a racist ideology that tapped into the anger of the German people. Jews were widely blamed for the failure of the First World War, and therefore for the state that Germany had found itself in.

So, where am I going with this?

We see anniversaries such as yesterday as opportunities to stress the importance of challenging prejudice and standing up for minorities.

I think that we’ve been taught so much about the Holocaust that we (rightfully) see it as an atrocity that was horrific beyond what we can imagine. However, we mistakenly think that everyone in the 30s and 40s felt this way. Anti-Semitism was common in this time period, as were many other attitudes and beliefs that we would now label ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’. Most people didn’t think that the correct thing to do was round-up and murder thousands of people, but they were deeply mistrustful and resentful of the Jewish community.

Germany wasn’t some strange island of anti-Semitism; it was felt all over the world.

I recently read a book called ‘Our Hidden Lives: The Everyday Diaries of a Forgotten Britain 1945-1948’ this is a collection of diary entries from ordinary British people detailing their lives and thoughts following the Second World War.

This period also covers their reactions to the Holocaust and the Palestine issues; when I first started this book the introduction warned that there were some anti-Semitic comments in the diaries. I wasn’t quite prepared for how bad they were. The one at the start of this post is the only one directly about the Holocaust, the others all stem from the Palestine situation.

There were a few milder comments, but nothing positive and nothing openly decrying the actions of the Nazi party and the horrors of the concentration camps.

The reason that I’m writing about this and using those examples is that I want to highlight that it’s too easy to demonise the German people. History is written by the winners, we all need to take responsibility and make sure that situations like this never happen again. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or how you’ve been brought up, it matters how you chose to live your life.

The Holocaust didn’t automatically change the attitudes of everyone in the world; it didn’t end anti-Semitism, the recent attacks in Paris show that. We shouldn’t assume that these attitudes are a thing of the past, they’re still present in our society and we need to fight them.

’til next time,

Wren x

 

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‘Talking Therapy’ for Teens?

Puberty is a rough time for pretty much everyone. I can only speak for 50% of the population, but it feels as though you’re taken over by some strange force, pretty much every emotion you can identify (and some that you can’t) sweep through you and take over.

That’s why it’s so difficult to diagnose and treat teenagers who are suffering from mental health problems. It’s hard to know where puberty ends and mental illness begins, it’s not a box that we can put people into- it’s a spectrum.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t diagnose mental illness in teens, it just means that it should be regulated carefully. If someone is experiencing things that have a significant negative impact on their life they need to be addressed. I think that having a diagnosis is incredibly helpful, it allows you to know that you’re suffering from an illness that can be treated and fought… not that there’s just something wrong with you.

As I came to the end of my time in therapy I had to learn the line between my own inherent characteristics and emotions and what my depression made me do and feel.

People are worried that medication and diagnosis can harm teenagers, they say that we shouldn’t medicate or ‘label’ children who are still growing- but what they don’t realise is that therapy is harmful too.

I ‘grew up’ in therapy. I saw a counsellor from the age to 14 to 18. These were important years for me, but constantly exploring, talking about and questioning my thoughts made me concerned that everything going through my head was wrong. I walked out of therapy when I could, deciding to live my life and face the challenges that it brought on my own terms.

The teenage years are hard and full of change. Mental illness, self harm and suicide are all big issues amongst teenagers. We need to take them very seriously, this means giving them the diagnosis and treatment that we would offer an adult; yes, we do need to factor in puberty and the emotional changes that come with it, but simply putting a teenager with mental health problems in therapy for an indefinite amount of time with no diagnosis or other treatment options just leads to confused and unhappy patients.

If we do choose to prescribe therapy for teenage patients we need to decide on an appropriate psychological approach, (for example, CBT could be used for some forms of anxiety disorder) it shouldn’t just be a ‘safe’ option.

Getting teenagers to ‘talk about it’ just isn’t enough.

’til next time,

Wren x

Menstruation: The Incapacitating Pain that ‘Doesn’t Exist’

Feminism Fridays, anyone?

I’m still dithering about picking a theme for Friday posts, I’m thinking about having two and alternating… but until I actually commit to something I’m just going to post what I feel like.

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Menstruation. It’s something that happens to women of a certain age. There are lots of factors that can affect it, and it varies a hell of a lot from person to person. What I want to talk about here is period pain.

This is something that has appeared in the news recently- more specifically, in the world of tennis.

Period pain is something that almost all women experience. It varies a lot from woman to woman, some experience very little and others are almost completely incapacitated by it.

Sadly, I’m one of the latter.

When I first started menstruating I was thirteen and my periods were few and far between- they were also relatively painless. As I got older this started to change, gradually they became more and more painful. The most drastic change came at about 3.00 am on New Years Day 2011.

I woke up suddenly in the early hours, because it was NYD I’d only just gone to sleep and so was a little disoriented. I remember being hit suddenly with the worst pain that I’d ever felt.

It felt as thought someone had taken a red-hot iron band and wrapped it around my womb. Pain usually comes in waves… this didn’t. It was one constant, burning, squeezing pain. I got out of bed and crawled across the landing to the bathroom. I remember feeling very panicked and scared.

I called out for my Mum who came and basically did nothing (tbf, there wasn’t anything she could have done…) the pain started to get worse- I should also point out that for all this time it hadn’t faded, not even for a second- I ended up being violently sick and passing out a couple of times. This went on for around two or three hours before it finally started to fade.

That was the first time that I had an ‘episode’ as I later nick-named them. I was fifteen and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve them. I think the worst year for them was 2013, but I don’t want to tempt fate by thinking that I’ve seen the back of them.

I’ve had them in the middle of town, in the shower, even in the middle of a dress fitting. They come on suddenly and there’s nothing I can do to stop them or make them any better. I’m usually sick and pass out. They last around an hour. I even needed an ambulance once.

Of course I’ve been to the Doctor about them, they gave me the strongest medication they had- which works great… for my ‘normal’ period pain. It has zero effect on my episodes. Both my Mother and Auntie went through exactly the same thing as me, they grew out of it as they got older- something that (touch wood) seems to be happening to me too.

Having these things has made me really understand the devastating impact of period pain, it’s something that I can’t talk about. I’m a very chilled and open woman, I talk very bluntly about most things… but I can’t talk about my period pain. I’m sure my friends and colleagues must think I have some terrible disease because of my vague descriptions about ‘passing out’ and ‘collapsing’ and ‘being in pain’ when I have to call in sick/cancel plans.

To the rest of the world the pain that I suffer through doesn’t exist, I’m not supposed to talk about it or even mention it… it’s such a stupid thing. We live in the 21st Century, yet we’re still too fragile to hear about ladies menstruating?

To all the women out there who suffer when ‘that time of the month’ rolls around; you’re not alone!

’til next time,

Wren x

Life Lessons

As of earlier this month, I have been alive for twenty years. In the last twenty years I have done many, many things and learnt a lot of life lessons. In honour of twenty years of life I thought I’d list twenty different important lessons that I’ve learnt.

  1. Education is important, once you have a qualification, no-one can take that away from you. If you want to invest in something, invest in learning something that you’re passionate about.
  2. Nobody actually knows what they want to do with their lives, all of those career advisors are running a scam. You spend your life working this one out.
  3. Love yourself. If you can’t do that, then just accept yourself. It’s not something that happens overnight, but it can happen.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  5. Know when you’ve been a dick, and apologise. That way you also get a good sense of when you’re right and the other person is being a dick.
  6. Accept that people in your life will come and go. Someone who means the world to you know might not be in your life in five years time. That’s hard to accept but it’s okay, love them now and let them go when it’s time.
  7. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It’s so simple, but it can cut out so much nastiness. Get used to doing this, do it frequently with shop assistants, teachers, friends, and you’ll become a more empathetic and tolerant person.
  8. If you don’t know the answer to something, look it up. We have Google and other search platforms at our fingertips, you can learn anything you want to. Just look it up! Learning is never a hinderance.
  9. If s/he doesn’t call back, it’s not going to happen. It’ll take you about twenty years to learn the signs of when someone doesn’t like you as much as you like them; it’ll take another twenty to accept it.
  10. Violence doesn’t solve anything. Stirring up hatred also doesn’t solve anything. All it does is make sure that people won’t want to be near you.
  11. No-one’s going to notice the pimple on your forehead. Or your wonky eyeliner. I’m not bull-shitting here, I studied this kind of shit when I did psychology. People won’t notice the tiny imperfections that you stress out over.
  12. Don’t be scared of your emotions. Accept them, embrace them, and work with them.
  13. If you are a woman: don’t read women’s magazines. They are full of shit and judge women’s lives on two numbers; how much they weigh, and how many men they’ve slept with. That’s total bull-crap.
  14. Romance isn’t how it’s shown in the movies/on TV. It takes effort every day, things aren’t just magically perfect forever when you find a wonderful partner. (Yes, it’s amazing and 100,000x more fun, but it’s not rainbows and sunshine and perfect hair.)
  15. Don’t be afraid to change your opinions. You might have always been a staunch Pacifist, but now you’ve had some experiences that have changed your views. That’s okay!
  16. Don’t waste your time on people who make you feel like crap. It’s hard when they’re family, or you’ve been in a relationship with them for years… but if they’re making you unhappy then it might be a good idea to put some distance between you.
  17. You’re stronger than you think. Even if your world is turned upside down, you’ll find a way through. It might take a long time, but you will make it.
  18. Look after your body AND mind. Try to take good care of yourself in every little way that you can. Eat well, drink water and get lots of sleep. Exercise some days, relax on other days. Be kind to yourself.
  19. Learn when to say ‘no’ and when to say ‘yes’. Know what your limits are, know what limits are sensible to push and what are there for a reason.
  20. Find a (positive) way to express your thoughts and feelings. Write, draw, act, dance, sing, walk, run, take pictures… value your unique view on the world.

’til next time,

Wren x

How To Fix CAMHS: Helping Children and Teens with Mental Health Problems

The General Election is coming up in UK, I mean- it’s still a while away but it’s dominating every bit of media that I can get my hands on.

Recently the Labour party and the Lib Dems have been talking about mental health and how they would improve care and waiting times. In particular, the Labour party have been talking about targeting the children’s mental health services.

I’m actually quite amazed that someone’s started paying attention to the fact that there are glaring, potentially lethal problems with our mental health services… but hey, miracles do happen.

(That and the fact that there was a 6% rise in suicides from 2012 to 2013.)

I’ve written before about my experiences with CAMHS and the mental health services, but I want to break it down and examine exactly what could be changed. I’m sure that the people who work for CAMHS are doing their best, but the system is screwed up and it’s dragging them down with it.

We need to break CAMHS apart and look at it again:

  • I had a quick referral to CAMHS, probably because I broke down in the middle of my school and started screaming about the fact that I thought my Mother was trying to kill me. Obviously, the more resources (*cough money cough*) that we put into CAMHS, the better it’s going to be.
  • I wasn’t told what was wrong with me. I can understand that it can be stigmatising to have a ‘label’, but it’s really confusing to not get a diagnosis. As far as I was concerned, I was just ‘crazy’ and that was ten times more damaging.
  • I was only offered one hour-long sessions once a week where I talked about my problems. A week is too long for someone who is depressed. I remember sitting on the floor and sobbing into the carpet by the feet of the mental health worker I was having sessions with. I begged and begged her to kill me, to let me die. There are few memories that stick out for me from my time in counselling; but this is one of them. This is an issue that would take a lot of effort to fix, it would need more staff and money… but it’s not impossible.
  • I wasn’t offered medication. I don’t know if this was the same for everyone, this is just what happened to me. I know the arguments against medication, I was very against it myself for a number of years… but I never had the chance to even talk about it. It could have saved me from years of misery.
  • No-one acknowledged that I was hallucinating. I had a lot of scary episodes involving hallucinations and strange thoughts, I did some weird stuff (taping up my windows?) that I told my ‘counsellor’ about and no-one said or did anything to help me- they didn’t even give me advice on how to deal with the episodes I was having! This could have been fixed by someone doing their job properly.
  • When my ‘counsellor’ was sick there was no-one to fill in for her. I can understand that getting someone else up to speed with my case would have been time-consuming, but the alternative was leaving a vulnerable adolescent to fend for themselves. Not acceptable. There needs to be support available to pick up the slack when support workers are sick.
  • I was ignored when I told my ‘counsellor’ that I was going to kill myself. I told this woman very plainly that I was going to kill myself. I sat in sessions singing and talking to myself, when she asked me what I was doing I told her that the Angels were talking to me. She did nothing. 24 hours later I tried to jump off a roof because I thought I could fly. Great job CAMHS. It’s probably horrible to recommend that a young person be put into an over-crowded, under-funded ward but if they’re telling you that they’re going to kill themselves then maybe it’s step that needs to be taken???!! At least tell someone!!

Those are the main things that I have a problem with, there’s probably quite a few more that I’ve forgotten. I have a few friends who’ve used the services and they’ve all said similar things to me. My GP (who was wonderful, helpful and patient when I was suffering from depression last year) has a very low opinion of them as a service. Essentially there seems to be a huge flaw in the way that CAMHS operates, and I think this needs to be addressed ASAP.

’til next time,

Wren x

2015 Reading List

DSCN0861I did this last year, it’s happening again this year. Hopefully I can actually make some good progress through this stack and I’ll be able to give you some good reviews come winter 2015.

GI BRIDES by Nuala Calvi and Duncan Barrett: a look into girls who married American soldiers during the Second World War. I can’t really say anything more about it than that, I love this kind of history and I’m hoping that this will be something to plough through when I’m not feeling up to reading about Eastern European politics.

THE SILENCE OF ANIMALS by John Gray: I got this from my partner, it looks like a series of essays on philosophy, apparently it’s anti-Humanism, so that should be pretty interesting to read.

THE SPY WHO LOVED by Claire Mulley: this is a biography of Christine Granville, I’m hoping that it’ll be as amazing as the biography of Vera Atkins that I read last year. Christine Granville worked as a spy during the Second World War and was murdered in 1952 in a London Hotel.

IRON CURTAIN by Anne Applebaum: I’m really looking forward to this, one of my favourite topics is Poland in the Second World War, but I have shamefully poor knowledge of what happened in Eastern Europe after the war.

WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION by Marina Oliver: most of the stories that I want to write are set in the past, so it can’t hurt to actually read a bit about writing. I’ve always been too scared to actually start a novel-sized work of historical fiction, it just seems too daunting for me. Hopefully reading up on the subject will give me some confidence.

GULAG by Anne Applebaum: As I said above,  I want to expand my knowledge of Eastern Europe under Communist control. One of my characters gets sent to a Gulag, so this is a subject that I really need to research.

WRITER’S GUIDE TO EVERYDAY LIFE IN REGENCY AND VICTORIAN ENGLAND by Kristine Hughes: I found this on Amazon and picked it up because I thought that if would be useful to have around. I basically view buying books as ‘building my own reference library’. There are loads of great books that I pick up purely for reference.

LAST POST by Max Arthur: this is First World War veterans talking about their wartime experiences, I picked this up because I thought it would be interesting to see what they went through and their thoughts on it.

WE WERE YOUNG AND AT WAR by Sarah Wallis and Svetlana Palmer: this is a bunch of accounts from children talking about what they experienced during the Second World War. I have no idea why I bought this… it was most likely because I’m an obsessive book hoarder… but hopefully it’ll be interesting.

NOAH’S ARK by Marie-Madeleine Fourcade: this is an account of the Resistance movement in France during the Second World War from someone who was at the heart of it. Ms Fourcade is a bit of a hero of mine and I managed to snag this copy on Amazon for a couple of quid, it’s now selling for about £50… so if this is amazing, I’m really, really sorry!

REPEAT OFFENDERS:

These are books that were featured on my ‘2014 Reading List’ but never got read…

THE VICTORIAN CITY by Judith Flanders: an exploration of Charles Dickens’ London, focussing on the lives of everyday people and poverty.

THE EAGLE UNBOWED by Halik Kochanski: put simply, this book details life within occupied Poland during the second world war.

FORGOTTEN VOICES OF THE SECRET WAR by Roderick Bailey: Another one in the ‘Forgotten Voices’ series, this focusses on the work of SOE during the second world war.

TESTAMENT OF YOUTH by Vera Brittain: for those of you who don’t know this is a pretty famous book written by Vera Brittain, a nurse during the first world war about her personal experiences. I’m waiting until I’m in a better mental place before I delve into this one.

TRUE WORLD WAR ONE STORIES foreword by Malcolm Brown: a collection of stories about life in the trenches, in 1930 the editor of Everyman Magazine requested accounts of the Great War, this is what he got.

BLIND FURY by Lynda La Plante: I’ve seen the rest of this series on TV but they don’t seem to be making the last one so I picked it up in a charity book shop for about 99p, I’ve never read any of her writing before but if the TV series is anything to go by I should love it. This is the only fiction book I have to read this year!

’til next time,

Wren x

Freedom of Speech?

I don’t really know what I’m writing tonight, which I’m sure is going to entice you to read this post.

I want to write about what’s been happening in Paris, because it feels like the elephant in the room- but apart from fear and despair I don’t know what I can really add to the conversation.

What I think has really frightened people is the attack on freedom of expression. In the West we’re so used to being able to say what we like that something like this feels personal and terrifying. Anyone who writes, or draws or creates content (like me, writing this blog) must feel like they’ve had the rug pulled out from under their feet.

I’m a passionate historian and former performance artist, this means that I am no stranger to restrictions and dire consequences for people exercising their freedom of expression. One famous example is Vsevolod Meyerhold, a theatre practitioner in the Soviet Union who was arrested and killed in 1940. Meyerhold is one of hundreds of people who have paid the ultimate price for art.

Charlie Hebdo was a satirical magazine that poked fun at all religions, it pushed the boundaries as satire is supposed to. I might not agree with what they said, but I would defend their right to say it- as I defend my right to say what I like here, on this blog.

There are a number of groups in the UK that promote views that I disagree with, strongly. I think that they are intolerant and promote hatred. I may hate what they say and do, but I try not to hate them personally, and I hope that if it came down to it, I’d defend their right to say it.

The Conservative government say that if we re-elect them they’ll clamp down on groups who promote hatred. They’ve promised stronger laws… but that’s hypocrisy. Everyone has different opinions, different world views and different beliefs. We can’t just uphold freedom of speech for those we agree with- if we don’t have freedom for everyone then it’s not true freedom.

The one way to ensure that something flourishes is to ban it. Instead I think we need to bring things out into the open and challenge them. The world as we know it is changing, the statistical possibility of something like the Paris shootings happening to you or I is tiny, but it’s still enough to frighten us.

We’ve now been shown, with startling clarity, the very worst that can happen when you say what you want. I feel like the weight on the shoulders of writers, artists and bloggers has increased.

’til nest time,

Wren x