A girl with a body

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It's taken me a long time to grow into my skin. To learn its dips and dimples, the texture I find on the tips of my fingers, the way it folds round my bones.

And whilst this body has always been mine and mine alone, it has felt too often like a process of reclaiming, taking back, prying out of someone else's hands and expectations.

"Attractive" is a complicated concept.

There is an innate desire to be found desirable, to be looked upon positively, to be accepted.

But possession often accompanies desire.

I want you, I want you, I want you.
I want you.
I want you to be mine.
You are attractive to me.

Too often I found myself claimed by those who found me attractive. Part of me revelled in the attention, the words of adoration, the eager touch and the way eyes flicked over me and stared. But there is a dependency in understanding your attraction only through those who speak it over you. And there is a tendency to shrink into the skin that you find yourself in, moulding into the shape they want you to be.

"In those jeans, wearing that tank top, in that dress, in that shirt."

"With that hair, that lipstick, decorated by those earrings."

That is when you are attractive.

And the reverse. This is when you are not.

Men have scared me this week, reminding me of countless others who have grabbed and pulled and clawed at the idea of my body. I thought I had come to a point of self-belief and strength where I know who I am and what I stand for - and what people can and cannot do to me. But words spoken, casually, so casually, cut me down. I realised that I was still the same, terrified, insecure girl who is desperate for acceptance, who can so easily be exposed and dissected by those who believe they have the right.

Sometimes I want to hold myself close, lose folds of fabric, jersey soft, spun round, encasing this body of mine.

But the space I take up and the shape I am is beautiful and powerful.

Navigating this world as a girl is tough. And I am white, slim, able bodied, and cis-gender. I cannot even begin to imagine the challenges facing those who are not.

It feels like a fight to own your body.
It feels like a fight to present yourself honestly.
If feels like a fight to justify how you move through the world.

It's taken me a long time to grow into my skin.

To grow into my skin.

I am strong and I have made friends with the girl I see in the mirror and I know that I am the only one who can speak truth over myself.

Even as the sound of others drowns out my voice.

And my body is all I have to navigate myself through this world. I cannot give it up or contort it into not taking up any room.

I will not shrink, I will not hide, I will not cover.

It's taken me a long time to grow into my skin.

And I will not stop growing. No matter what you say and how small it makes me feel.

Seasonal

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Sometimes I get anxious when I think about being stuck in England. Obviously, if I wanted to and could afford it, I am free to come and go as I please. But with the decision to study and practice social work came the commitment to a career and life based in the UK.

I have never wanted to stay here. As a child I wanted to work in IT in the American branch of IBM (I had fairly specific aspirations..) or move to Australia with my sister and our family friends. As I got older, I planned trips and sorted visas and collected stamps from many different places, thinking each time of whether this was where I wanted to move and build a life.

England was never on my list.

Living in Pennsylvania for a year, starting from knowing no one and nothing and leaving with a community and a whole other world, was the closest I got to leaving. And whilst I didn't become besotted with the idea of America, it did strengthen my resolve to move away, to discover new spaces and create new lives.

In our discussions of whether I would return to the East Coast, I told Connor that I wouldn't move back for him, that I'd need a purpose, a job I really cared about and wanted to do. That I needed a life I wanted more than a partner.

And I think I have found that. There's just one small catch; it's in the UK.

Training and qualifying in this country enables me to practice here and only here. If I want to be a social worker, at least for now, I am stuck.

It's been hard to accept this, particularly in these past dark and dreary months. It feels drab and grey and draining here, and I itch to get away. I look up flights to obscure cities in Europe, plan road trips across rural Canada, look up opportunities teaching abroad.

But I have this feeling about social work that I can't shake. I am excited. I am nervous about interviews because I really, really want this. I find myself researching and reading, wanting to learn how to navigate our social system and support people as they stumble through situations they never expected to find themselves in. I want to learn. More than I ever wanted to learn about English literature. This feels right. This feels like something I'd be good at and could make a difference in.

So I must stay.
And I think over and over again of this grey country I'm stuck in.

But then, after a low day swallowed by my bed, overwhelmed by interview prep, the sun comes out.

I stand by the window and feel warmth.

I walk outside and bask under the blue sky.

I trek through the countryside with my mother, laughing as the sun shines and we are pelted with hail and it is cold and sunny and beautiful.

I curl back up in bed when we get home, look at my applications again.

And I remember that this country isn't all that bad.

Growing into my own shoes

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They say that your twenties are for discovering who you are. That you feel more settled at thirty, more grounded. But before that its a blur of expectations, attempts and crashing and burning, with tiny snapshots of the person you know you are and will be.

I suppose that's where I am now, in the messy purgatory of post uni, pre responsibilities-and-roots life.

I could leave my job if I wanted to. I could settle half way across the world. I could have a child. I could write a novel.

The choices I'm making now will lead me to the life I will live, whether its the life I want to live or not.

And I'm getting to know myself pretty well.

I know that my room will always be strewn with clothes and books and cameras and half cut out collage pages. I know that I will always be awful at doing my washing before I run out of underwear. I know I am awkward and shy and slightly abrasive when I first meet people, but when I unfurl I am kind of funny, kind of silly, kind of passionate; I am kind. I know that I have no self control with food, whether that be a pile of Christmas chocolate or a bag of pre-cut carrots. I know that I am care about peoples' lives and thoughts and fears and childhoods and family traditions and sexual fantasies and political beliefs. I know that I am blunt and bold and write in winding sentences that I just can't seem to pack all I want into. I know that I have a burning desire to help people, to fix things and change things. I know that I will never remember to pack tampons. I know that I will always tell the changing room attendant that I'm going to get at least one item and then put it back on the way out so they don't think I've wasted their time. I know I watch and listen to music and films over and over and over. I know that when I watch films on my own I will always perform an interpretive dance to the end credits. I know my skin will always be shit. I know that people still like me when I don't wear makeup but that it will always make me more hesitant. I know that my medication helps me function like a human being. I know that I will always create, always write lists, always talk too much and too readily. I know I share more than I should. 

Getting to know myself is exciting. I am learning how to rein myself in and how to push myself.

And this girl that I am getting to know is fucking great.

want to be her.

want people to know her. Crazy chipmunk grin, wonky glasses and all.

Sometimes I catch myself and I am just so happy to be who I am and what I'm doing.

It makes all the other things I'm wrestling with seem manageable, seem workable. This life that I lead is good. This thing I'm becoming is good. Even if that "good" is not how someone else would define it.

I'm growing.

I've grown.

I'm growing.

And isn't it great? 
And scary. 
And great.

Recovery

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For the first time in years, I bought myself a pair of googles. I didn't exactly splash out, I think they cost £2.50 from Decathlon, a quick purchase on my lunch break. But when I put them on and slipped into the pool after work, I couldn't stop grinning. I had forgotten the delight of swimming as I had when I was a child and found myself taking part in competitions with myself as to how far I could sink down, how long I could stay with my belly pressed against the tiles, how long I could hold my breath for before spiralling back up to the surface with a gasp. Remembering days with my sister pretending to be mermaids in the local recreation centre children's pool.

It was far from the normal memories stirred by the rhythmic strokes up and down the regimented lanes.

In my final year of university, I swam every week on a Thursday morning at a pool filled with old women who would talk to me about politics in the changing room as they dried their sagging breasts and vaginas.

I told people how much I loved swimming. Raved about the morning sessions and how lucky I was to go each week.

And I was lucky. But not because I loved swimming.

Last year, exercise became part of a terrifyingly delicate coping system that allowed me to almost function.

As I swim now at the bougie gym on the business park, I find myself thinking about the Thursday mornings spent doing rigid lengths as I ran through every thing that I had done wrong that week, every social situation I had been too much or too little in, every situation back home and in Canterbury that I had aggravated or evaded. And with each stroke, I'd feel my chest slowing even as my breathing quickened, beating out each thought curled around the dark part of my brain with each windmill arm.

As I squat with kettlebells at the gym above the pool, I am swept back to evenings spent at a sweaty kettlebell class up three flights of stairs where I fought and punished my body for an hour until the pain of the weights and the steady counting of reps was all I could hear and feel. Lingering after the class too long, putting every chair back in place, slowly, slowly so I didn't have to get the bus back to myself and that cold flat that didn't ever belong to me.

In daily life, in recovery, I find it hard to picture the girl who felt the cage of her body so acutely and, frustrated with its durability and longevity, thought over and over of how she could break it. I can't imagine thoughts so thick with phrases of suicide that even the lightest image held for a moment too long became woven into the unending narrative of I need to leave, I need to leave, I need to leave.

The thought of living and continuing to live became frightening, became something looming, something to be endured.

I'd wake up in the morning, look at my clock and sob, terrified of the amount of hours I had to fill, terrified of the time I had to spend thinking and doing and being.

I have never been so scared in my life.

When I stood at the top of the stairs of the library and imagined which of my bones would break if I threw myself down, I knew that I had to get help.

I didn't want to try medication, had resisted for years, not wanting to remove the last option, not wanting to admit that, this time, I hadn't been enough for myself.

Starting Citalopram was horrific. I refuse to sugar coat it. As my body tried to work out what I had forced into it, I stopped sleeping, waking up every hour just to reassure myself that I hadn't died, that these tablets weren't killing me. Sleep deprived and my levels fluctuating constantly, I stopped being able to function at all.

It was tough. It took ten days to start to steady. But oh, it was worth it.

I had no expectation of what the medication would do, prescribed over the phone with very little explanation about what would happen. I thought it might make me calmer. I worried it might make me feel numb. But with the constant agitation, I knew dullness would be preferable.

I came home at the weekend after around two weeks of taking it. When the thought of killing myself slipped its way to the surface of my conscious mind, I was shocked. Not because of the thought itself, but because for the first time in months, it was the first time I had noticed it because it was the only one I had had all day. My thoughts were just my thoughts. They weren't being choked any more.

I had thought that the agitation was, on some level, normal. That the anxiety and stress of being on my own was a perfectly expected response to being lonely, to feeling socially excluded.

But when I came to write my next set of essays, spending hours in the library on my own, I found myself able to breathe. The library sessions that had previously become so much I had considered throwing myself down the stairs, that had elevated the agitation that crept into my bones and had become so unbearable that I would climb on the top of a cupboard behind the toilet, curl up, and cry; I suddenly found these library sessions annoying. I know that sounds odd. But it was incredible. Suddenly I found myself bored of writing essays, rolling my eyes at another article trying to claim an original thought about Victorian literature, angry with printers that wouldn't co-operate, laughing with other final year students with tired eyes pretending that they didn't care about their grades. I could feel what it was like to write an essay. I could get stressed as a university student gets stressed.

Citalopram didn't stop me from feeling anything, didn't dull my senses, didn't stop me being me, it brought me back.

Last year was not easy, even on medication there was a lot that broke me. But I wanted to be alive, wanted to be living every stressful, messy, rollercoaster bit of it.

I still have anxiety, I still have triggers and behaviours I have to watch and be wary of. But I am in recovery.

So as I move through this new season of work and saving and learning, sometimes feeling like I have become old and boring, its important to have little reminders at the gym or the pool of how far I've come. To show me, when I feel guilty for stability, for having my life together when so many people don't, that this is what I need right now. That this period of calm and stillness, this period of resting and recovering is important. Last year damn near killed me. This year isn't going to come close.

I get home, watch Eastenders (don't even ask...), talk with my mother and brother, take my medication and go to bed. It's not glamorous. But I'm learning that this is what recovery looks like. This is what being content feels like.

One day I'll break into the rollercoaster world again, but sometimes you just need to breathe. To let yourself laugh like a child as you pin your legs together as you swim and pretend your mermaid. Sometimes you need to let yourself revel in the fact that you've been given a body and a life and you are going to do and be so many things.

Because I fucking am.

And that's the power of recovery.