Out with the old, in with the new…another year blogging!

I haven’t been very active blogging lately, so in true blogging style, here is a filler-post rounding up my year!

This year I started to get back to writing after a bit of a thesis-writing hiatus. I’ve had a bit more time to think about the sort of direction I wanted to take my writing in. The biggest change I’ve made is deciding to put my own name to my writing on here, linking together my professional/academic work and my personal experiences. I’ve been asked if I found this “exposing” – the reality is it’s made very little difference. Using my own name has facilitated making connections with other people, both other professionals and others who have had similar experiences to my own. I haven’t experienced any negative consequences, and though I can’t rule out that this could still happen in the future, I feel prepared to defend my own openness. This year I began supervising an assistant psychologist who disclosed their own lived experience and asked my advice on managing this disclosure, and I felt well-placed to give them advice on this.

This blog started as a bit of a catch-all for my writing on topics I found interesting. I’ve made it a bit more focused now, so it predominantly covers professional issues in healthcare, mental/physical health, disabilities/rehabilitation and sexuality/gender issues. Cutting away the more “frivolous” topics (less fashion and pages of photos) has led to a decline in my site hits, but I think the content is better quality (though less widely searched!). I’ve been so busy at work that I’ve been online a lot less, so I feel a bit less involved in the community and might now need to work to become a bit more visible.

This year I’ve also written a few pieces for some other sources – the online blog for Things & Ink Magazine, Discursive of Tunbridge Wells Blog and more recently the Guardian Healthcare Network. Writing for other sources encourages me to be more disciplined and also expands the reach of my work. Now that I’ve qualified and given some of the political changes recently I feel even more strongly about public engagement and bringing greater awareness to “hidden” issues.

After a year in my first qualified post I made a change, moving out of neurorehabilitation and expanding into health psychology more generally. I now work with people with HIV, Medically Unexplained Symptoms and long-term neurological conditions, as well as brain injury. I love working in this exciting mental health/physical health borderland, we’re trying to bring mind and body together. I’m learning so much. I’ve also become more involved in my local DCP and hope to continue this. Like many, I often feel frustration and apathy towards my professional body and about my place within the NHS. It’s easy to feel powerless and resentful, and it can be hard to find the time (and sometimes money!) to really be a part of things. But as they say, be the change you hope to see in the world, and all. I am finding my own way to be involved, connect with others and create something.

A few goals for the new year:

  • Blog more often! Finish all my half-written posts
  • Collaborate! I have so many people I want to get projects together with, time to turn ideas into action
  • Pitch more articles to other sources. I’d like to write some pieces for more mainstream places, even if less academic these places get the message out successfully
  • Be more active in my professional body and activism, locally and wider afield
  • Spruce the blog up a bit, maybe even get one of those paid accounts so I can avoid getting awful diet ads on the thing

A few of the posts I’ve not entirely finished but will emerge soon are:

  • Incorporating sex-positivity into healthcare
  • Disillusionment with the trend for “mindfulness” (or how I tried and failed to be more mindful)
  • Meaningful occupation and why just any old job isn’t necessarily good for well-being
  • Narratives about (dis)ability and how this limits rehabilitation potential
  • Community psychology/social justice approaches to rehabilitation (beyond the rehab room!)
  • Planning a feminist wedding and muscle-related body image (or why I love weight-lifting even though it doesn’t make me look “pretty”). If anyone wants to get involved in any of the above let me know and they may yet see the light of day!

Great thanks to everyone who has supported me over the last year, I hope you’ve all had a lovely Xmas and wish you all the best for the new year.

HIV Transmission: No “Good AIDS/Bad AIDS”, just people

HIV-TestingAs a newly appointed HIV psychologist, I’ve been taking some time to better inform myself. I’ve been reading NAM’s Living with HIV and this in itself has provided an opportunity to examine societal (and my own) prejudices. I notice my own resistance to reading the book on the bus. Will people assume I have HIV? Will they assume I’m promiscuous or a drug-user? As a young white woman, perhaps I’ll engender pity, probably the victim of an assault or an infected blood transfusion? Why does it matter to me if people make these assumptions?

As we come to the end of HIV testing week and prepare for World AIDS Day (1st December) HIV is very much in the media. An article interviewing Silvia Petretti of Positively UK really stood out to me

“How did you catch HIV?

I find this question very judgmental. Whether I say that I got HIV by selling sex, injecting drugs, from my husband or my mother in the womb, this puts me in a category.  Either I’m an innocent victim or somebody reckless, who got what they deserved – as the coverage around Charlie Sheen seemed to suggest. It’s the reason so many women living with HIV shy away from the media. It doesn’t matter how I got HIV. It matters how I live with it.”

To me, this quote gets to the heart of our attitudes towards HIV. When we find out someone has HIV we want to know WHY. We associate HIV with sex and sex always gets our attention. Perhaps this curiosity is born out a society that devours salacious celebrity gossip and online rumours, but often there seems to be a darker side to it. Underlying the question is a sense of placing blame. Who is at fault? How did they allow themselves to be infected?

But do we really have a right to know someone’s transmission story?

Although certain groups are at greater risk of HIV, sometimes people just get it and it’s hard to pin it down to something they did or didn’t do. Many people have the virus and don’t know their status and with a late diagnosis it becomes increasing difficult to establish how it was transmitted. Many people living with HIV don’t know how they contracted it, and have to live with this uncertainty.

If a gay man contracts HIV is it easier for us to condemn his sexuality and “irresponsibility” rather than try to understand and relate to his experiences? Perhaps it is easier for us to cope with the possibility that any one of us could catch HIV, by thinking that it only happens to “bad” people.

Petretti mentions the media coverage of Charlie Sheen’s disclosure of his HIV status, which falls a bit too close to the BrassEye’s satirical sketch on “Good Aids/Bad Aids”. In the mock-documentary Chris Morris admonishes a gay man for having “bad AIDS”, the kind that’s your fault for getting.

NB – This is a very dark comedy and could potentially be offensive or triggering. 


Sheen’s disclosure could be a turning point in attitudes towards HIV – an image of a public figure living well with the virus. For many their image of someone with HIV was born out of 80s campaigns and they view HIV very much as a death-sentence. Many people don’t know that with good treatment adherence, viral load can be undetectable (meaning that you can’t pass the virus on, even if you have unprotected sex) and life expectancy is only a little less than that of the general population. Media has instead focused on his lifestyle, making assumptions about how he contracted the disease. With good treatment, many people’s immune system is supported so they don’t go to develop the infections associated with AIDS. In many ways, people can live ordinary lives, aside from regular medication and review appointments.

Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen, the most recent celebrity to speak openly about his HIV positive status

This early newsreel from 1982 is particularly moving, released before HIV was really known about. It describes a form of “cancer” that seems to be affecting gay men. This is before HIV-stigma set in and it was seen as an illness rather than a judgement on someone’s life choices.  As our understanding of the virus has increased, so too have stigmatising attitudes that criticise and exclude.

We have no right to know how people contract HIV, that is their own story to share as they see fit. Condemnation and pity are both unhelpful responses. Attitudes towards HIV limit people from getting tested and disclosing their status, which increases the risk of transmission. Although HIV is often transmitted through sexual contact, in many ways it is comparable to other infectious diseases. It’s a long-term condition and if treated appropriately, it should enable the person to live a “normal” life and not endanger any other person. There is no “good” or “bad” AIDS, no more or less deserving. When we can detach ourselves from our seedy fascination with knowing the hows and the whys, we can allow ourselves to take a step back from our ingrained prejudices. Then we can really see the person.

Summer update & lack of posts

Well, hello! It seems I haven’t written a post in absolutely ages. I have many ideas brewing, but thought I would post a quick update in the meantime.

My time has been quite occupied recently with moving house. I’m now all unpacked, put my prints up on the walls and have settled in. Amongst the luxuries of the new place are a table to eat at, and a desk that isn’t in the same room as the bedroom. It’s pretty lovely and has a small garden that’s just big enough for a BBQ. This afternoon I saw a kitten roaming around in it, I hope he returns.

After much dilly-dallying, I have made a website for my photography. It’s pretty simple, an online portfolio of some of my work to date. I’m quite pleased with it, and it’s motivated me to do some more and add more content. You can check it out here.

What else have I been doing? Mostly quiet, sedentary pursuits. Playing Skyrim (goodbye, academic career…) curling up on the sofa to watch Game of Thrones, that type of thing. I’ve been watching Sky’s Hannibal series, which is pretty good despite presenting a rather unlikely and unboundaried relationship between a psychiatrist and client (ok he’s a killer so maybe it’s the least of the concerns, but that kind of thing really annoys me!). I just finished reading sex-blogger Girl On The Net’s memoir, which is funny, insightful and really rather rude. It certainly brightened up my commute.

Taking on a colleague as a therapy client - generally an awful idea

Hannibal: Taking on a colleague as a therapy client – generally an awful idea

I’m on a learning disability placement and I’ve been helping facilitate a sex-ed group (must post about this soon, very interesting). I’m also learning to do narrative therapy and discourse analysis, so I am pretty much de-constructing everything all the time. It’s a little tiring. I just read Valerie Sinason’s ‘Mental Handicap and the Human Condition’, which is a really brilliant book on psychodynamic perspectives on intellectual disability, full of really interesting case-studies and thoughts. I’ve been engaging in debate and generally grumbling about the new DSM. But that’s nothing especially new.

I’m currently writing a piece for my university’s blog on psychologists working with transgender clients and embracing gender diversity, and a couple of guest posts for other blogs. I have a holiday planned in a few weeks and I look forward to some time to catch up on sleep, lie on a lounger and read and type on my laptop. So there will be more content very very soon… So that is me for now. Blog posts shall follow, sharpish.

Favourite blogs: Mental Health

Something I’ve been meaning to add to my site is a list of the other blogs I read regularly, so I can recommend them. Until I do the re-design, I thought I’d start sharing a few of my favourites.

Here are a few relating to mental health, some written by professionals, some by individuals experiencing mental health difficulties.

  • http://purplepersuasion.wordpress.com/ Also known as BipolarBlogger, Charlotte is a regular writer and voice in the service-user community. She writes candidly about her experiences and the struggles she has experienced with leaving work and accepting how her condition can disable her. I’ve learnt a lot about bipolar from her blog!
  • http://landslidegirl.blogspot.com A bit of a kindred spirit, LSG writes about her struggles with mental health problems and recovery, whilst she pursues a career in psychology. Her writing is at times painful but powerful.
  • http://giantfossilizedarmadillo.com A busy lady, Katie is a trainee counsellor and eating disorders campaigner and advocate, whilst also continuing her own journey with recovery. Often touching and very funny, I love her outlook on life and how she is drawing on her own experiences in her training.
  • http://katcormack.wordpress.com/ Kat works as an advocate and training facilitator for child and adolescent mental health charity Young Minds as well as being involved with other MH-related groups. She blogs about her work and projects she is involved in, and has also spoken about her own experiences of mental health problems.
  • http://psychobabblepants.wordpress.com Lyssa is a marriage and family therapist working with victims of abuse. She writes about therapy, and films, and her cat, and all sorts of things. Her blog makes me laugh pretty much continually.

Those are the ones that come to mind at the moment, I’m sure I’ll think of more! Any suggestions of other blogs relating to mental health (either experiences or working in the field) much appreciated.

Blog Birthday

WordPress recently informed me that my blog is a whole year old! My, time goes fast. One of my resolutions last year was to get back into writing, and to do so I decided to set up this blog.

Fast-forward a year and I think it was one of the few resolutions I’ve actually managed to keep. Though I’ve been quite haphazard in how regularly I blog (ranging from several times a week to once to twice a month), I posted 85 times and clocked up 21,000 hits, which I don’t think is all that bad!

Just to make this entry more exciting, here’s a hilariously inappropriate children’s valentine from the 50s.

Given the variety of topics I post about, I tend to get readers from a variety of camps, with a bit of a split between fashion and mental health. I’ve definitely noticed some patterns in which entries get the most attention:

  • Posts that are almost entirely picture-based get a lot of likes. People have short attention spans and like shiny pictures. 
  • Posts where I write about my personal experiences, especially relating to mental health, seemed to generate the most responses from others. I was really touched by some of the personal comments people wrote.
  • Everyone likes posts about sex.
  • The more often I blog, the more often people read it and come back for me.
  • Everyone likes pictures of cats.

With this in mind, I think this year I will focus on more frequent, shorter entries. I do have a tendency to churn out massive stream-of-consciousness essays but I think smaller pieces are more digestible. I’m still thinking about how best to use my personal experiences and will be thinking about topics to include, though I don’t want the blog to become more of a ‘dear diary…’ type account of my life.

In the last year I really enjoyed being involved in writing for an online magazine and I’m hoping (time allowing) that this year I can do some more writing for other places, be it guest posts on others’ blogs or some more magazine articles. My university has asked if I’ll write something for their applied psychology blog, so I’m looking forward to writing something in a slightly more formal style too. Any tips or suggestions on places I could write appreciated!

Also I have hopes of sprucing the blog up a bit, giving it a layout makeover and making the whole thing a bit prettier and easier to navigate.

Thanks to everyone who has read and supported my blog in the last year! It really means a lot to me knowing that people enjoy reading what I write.

Spreading The Cheer

I’ve once again been rather lax about blogging, but I’ve now got a bit of time off for Xmas, so hope to do a bit of catching up. I thought I’d just post something to everyone who reads my blog wishing you the best at this time of year, and thanking you all for your support!

I’m not a Christian and tend to celebrate Xmas in a pretty typical, secular fashion – spoiling my relatives, eating far too much and curling up on the sofa to watch the Downton Abbey Christmas Special (can’t wait!). I’ve taken a bit of time off work for the holidays, which seemed convenient given the bank holidays, and often people don’t want appointments at this time of year. I go off with a little guilt, knowing that this is often a really tough time for people with mental health problems (Christmas can be stressful enough for those who don’t!) and feeling that I’ve just buggered off and left them to it. But I also know I need a break so I can be at my best at work, and it isn’t possible for me to be continually available (I don’t think anyone ever can be!).

There are some really great organisations that have put out some advice for managing with Xmas, so I’ll link rather than re-hashing what they’ve already said. There are a few good posts on Mind here and here

With such a focus on food, eating and indulgence, Xmas can be particularly challenging for people with eating disorders. Charity B-eat has some good advice and resources for individuals and families here.

Most of the helplines will be running over the Xmas period, though they are often busier than normal. Don’t give up if it takes a while to get through! A list of numbers is on the Re-Think website here.

My own advice would be (if possible) not to get too preoccupied with how Christmas ‘should’ be, and what other people are doing. Everyone celebrates in their own way, and it’s no personal failing if you don’t have masses of people to go out to celebrate with, if you can’t afford to buy a lot of presents, if you burn the turkey or if your family bicker all the way through the meal (and most do). I think all families have their problems and coming together for occasions like Christmas seems to push things to a quick boiling point. It’s good to know when to take a bit of time out for yourself, even if that means just going for a little walk to clear your head and get a bit of space from everything. And it’ll all be over for another year in a couple of days!

So much love and festive cheer to everyone! xx

25 Years Later: A psychologist in the end of days

The Road.
What does it take for the human spirit to survive?

Recently I was asked to contribute to an article on where I saw myself and my profession in 25 years. This seemed a very daunting prospect. Though I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to train as a psychologist, for much of my educational and working life I’ve been very focused on my next steps, the next couple of years, just finishing this qualification, getting the next job. 25 years on feels almost unimaginable.

And there’s another issue. Some people say that in the coming years the NHS might not exist. I’ve got greater concerns. I can’t say I’m overly convinced that in 25 years the world, as we know it today, will really exist. Maybe I’ve watched too many zombie films and read a bit too much post-apocalyptic fiction, but you only have to turn on the news to hear daily about nuclear weapons, natural disasters and outbreaks of disease – things aren’t going well. And in 25 years… I fully expect that those of us that are left will be living in bunkers underground, following some kind of large-scale disaster that will wipe out the world’s cities and most of the population.

So our modern world is probably coming to an end. But I think I’ll be ok. I may be rather lacking in survival and combat skills, I’m not sure I could decapitate a Triffid or shoot a zombie, but I think as a psychologist (I’ll be qualified by then, not that it’ll matter a lot when universities, the BPS and the Healthcare Professionals Council cease to be) I’ll have some essential skills to help in rebuilding a shell-shocked world.

Professional Identity

Given everything that’s gone down, some of the niceties of the professional will probably be going out the window. I’ll be taking psychology out to the people as and when it’s needed, so I’ll be out of the clinic and getting a bit grubby. Smart trousers and sensible shoes will be out; I see myself as dressing somewhere between Tank Girl and a character from Fallout. Probably carrying some kind of weapon. There’ll be a bit of scrambling around. As a psychologist, I’m used to working in a team and taking on a variety of roles and being a spokesperson for mental health, personal development and identity. Now I’ll also be taking on roles as something of an educator, communicator, mediator and support worker.

Trauma, adaptation and survival

Living in a post-apocalyptic society, loss and death will be even more a part of our lives than they are now. I think I’ll be taking a key role in helping people in the community to come to terms with thing, accepting what has happened and adapting to a new way of life. There are likely to have been a lot of individuals who have had traumatic experiences and complicated bereavement and there will be a place for education and individual and group-based targeted interventions. People may have to live with some longer-term medical conditions (inc neurological conditions) and difficulties that there won’t be the resources to support, as there once was. We’ll all need to adapt to survive. This might sound like a lot of misery, but I think there’ll actually be a lot of room for post-traumatic growth and developing resilience. Many people will have shared difficult experiences and I think this could bring people closer together in supporting each other and overcoming adversity. Sometimes these kind of experiences can really shake people up, but also make you appreciate what you have and give you a refreshed perspective on life. In a world where money and material possessions hold less weight, I think people might actually find themselves happier living a simpler kind of life and taking up meaningful occupation in supporting the community. It might be useful to think about the level of depression (and PTSD-type symptoms) in communities around the world where death, disaster and poverty are common-place; people find a way to live through and grow despite extreme adversity. Viktor Frankl will be essential reading for everyone.

Continue reading

Celebrations & Procrastinations

I’ve been neglecting my blog. Shame on me. I have so many scraps of paper with article ideas written on, and several drafts of pieces begun and lying unfinished.

What have I been doing instead?

1. Hitting the books. Sort of. I have fallen into deadline season. Except I fear that this season may stretch over the next couple of years. IT NEVER ENDS. Ahem. Science, science will be the death of me.

2. Leaving the house. It’s apparently something like summer and I have been ‘going places’ and ‘doing things’. Highlights recently included a wedding where the tables where named after different Pokemon (I got Charizard, hell yeah!) and sitting on the beach at the Southbank, having a drink with friends and watching fire-spinners perform, that was a wonderful London moment.

3. Writing things. Ok, I don’t do this nearly as often as I should, or would like to. I have a couple of new bits up on Stylenoir that I’ve had some nice feedback on. One’s on furry dead things, other’s on bisexuality and bi-phobia (a fleshing out of a topic I wrote about on here). I did a piece on knickers (etc) a little while ago too. On that topic, it’s Stylenoir’s third birthday! I’ve been writing with the team since February so I’m still relatively new, but I’m enjoying being a part of it all. Tomorrow we’re throwing a rather spectacular birthday party, which if you’re in London, you should come see!

Oh, and I’m about 50 hits of 10,000 views! Which I think is pretty awesome (especially given my failure to update regularly), so thanks to everyone for coming and looking at what I have to say!

On Hedonism

I’ve recently been re-reading one of my favourite books, Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History‘. I fell in love with it as a teenager because it reminded me so clearly of the sensuous decadence and lyrical lushness of one of my other all-time favourites, ‘Brideshead Revisited‘. Tonight I’ve been invited to a Bacchanalia-themed party, which brought me back to the classical debauchery of Tartt’s dark and evocative story. I plan on dressing in a long white flowing dress, with flowers in my hair, and I will be drinking wine from a bowl and revelling with the gods. Here’s to hedonism, indulging the senses and being alive!

“It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are powerful mysteries. The bellowing of bulls. Springs of honey bubbling from the ground. If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.”

(unknown, unknown, Waterhouse, Brideshead Revisited, David LaChappell, Paloma Faith,  The Great Gatsby, Le Divan Rouge, Erwin Olaf, Mert & Marcus, unknown, Manko Honey, Annie Leibowitz)