Friday, 26 August 2016

Burkinis and Ignorance.

I was in the South of France when the burkini was banned there. I was on a train and reading through the news on my phone and I quietly contemplated what it meant without discussing it with any of my friends. A few days later we were in our room in Barcelona and the article came up again and they expressed their shock and I responded in a way that I'm embarrassed about.

I said: I can kind of understand it, it can be threatening that sort of conservatism.

I've tracked that opinion back to when I was in Turkey on a family holiday 4 years ago and the lovely hotel staff expressed their concerns at the growing level of conservatism in their secular country and the growing number of women wearing full burqas and burkinis at the beach. They felt it was synonymous with an ever oppressive government.

This is what I was responding to when my friends brought the topic up and I didn't give it any thought whatsoever. I immediately regretted saying it because I knew that I was wrong but I was too embarrassed to say so. Instead I internally cringed and tried to telepathically apologise to all the women I'd just oppressed with my own words.

I want to be honest and say how I initially responded because I think that's how responding to something alien to your own world usually works. Isn't it that the first thought is society's ideals rubbing off on you, and the second the thing you actually, truly believe?

So I actually, truly believe that no woman should be told what and what not to wear - especially when it comes down to not showing one's body in public for reasons of belief/faith/insecurity/fear. I don't think I will actually understand why a woman may choose to wear a burqa,  I am not religious and I do not come from a background with those values, but I would never tell a woman not to, because that goes against my own values.

I think I initially reacted to the ban with that pathetic, lowly response because it didn't seem real. I hadn't actually seen a woman wearing a burkini. But then the internet exploded with a terrible story and a terrible image of a group of stern, ignorant looking policemen standing around a woman as they forced her to undress on the beach. Suddenly the ban was real and women in France were not free. Muslim women in France were not free, let me correct myself.

The entire concept of not letting women who choose to wear burqas onto the beach to enjoy the sun and the summer and the sea breeze is just as oppressive, just as dehumanising as an extremist Islamic state. Forcing a woman to undress herself is just as abusive, just as humiliating, just as horrifying.

I'm learning that an ever oppressive government does not just force women to cover their faces and hair and bodies, it forces women to expose themselves and undress their beliefs and values in front of an entire beach of people. In front of mean, careless, insensitive policemen.

Liberté Fraternité Egalité? I'm not buying any of it.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Being afraid.

I have achieved a number of things in the last few months of this year. Some of them more obvious and conventional than others. One of them an extreme emotional challenge for myself.

I became ill with ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) when I was 7 years old. I find it hard to describe because I'm lucky enough not to remember why I was unwell, or how the symptoms affected me. My parents are unfortunate enough to remember that. I remember books that my mum had on the illness, as she tried to understand what was happening to me, and various children's groups she signed me up to, one of which I received birthday cards from, to help me understand what was happening to me. I didn't really go to school properly for two years, from year 2 to year 3, and in the years after that I would miss almost months at a time. I remember two women who would come to teach me occasionally at home, and I think that's how I learnt the handwriting and advanced reading skills that everyone else was learning at school.

The thing I remember most from this illness, the thing I can find most haunting, is the clinical anxiety that came with it and followed me all the way to where I am now. I am not clinically diagnosed with anxiety anymore, thank god, but it still turns up in my mind when I'm vulnerable and attempts to make everything a complete catastrophe.

I have memories of this anxiety that I'm not going to share yet, because they're horrible and they make me sad. Maybe I'll write about them one day, in some fiction where it's easier to describe such painful, irrational fear. Today I'm going to write about a good memory; one of my biggest achievements to date.

Most of my anxiety was about leaving home, leaving the country and being away from my mum. I just spent 3 weeks travelling through Europe without my mum, and I am completely alive and well to tell the tale. I can't really explain to you how cool that is.

I've been extremely anxious this summer, because that part of me will never really go away and will come back in occasional, unasked for waves. I think this wave came because of exam stress, but in any case I felt small and vulnerable as all the helpless feelings from my childhood that I haven't really felt for a few years came back in buckets.

One thing I am now lucky enough to have is the ability to deal with such intense emotion, but that doesn't make it in any way a walk in the park. Some of this year's joyous ball of fear arrived on the plane to Greece for a family holiday, it remained for a few days and waned as the week came to an end. I spent some of the nights shaking and seizing up and crying as random and pointless anxiety crept up on me again. I found it really scary, because the next week my mum wouldn't be there to soothe me and I'd be in an unknown, cheap Airbnb or hostel possibly not being able to deal with it.

But here's the thing, I totally was able to deal with it. And I faced every worst fear I've ever had in one go. And I didn't die.

The three weeks away with my wonderful friends made me feel constantly tense and afraid and it felt like more times than not my chest was tight and the world was like when Alice falls down the rabbit hole and everything floats past her and she doesn't know where she'll end up. I had food poisoning in Split which forced me to deal with everything I've spent my entire life desperately trying to avoid and I now have a great memory of myself on the awful toilet floor of a ferry, crying to my mum on the phone, vomiting every 15 minutes.

But I did it. I did it. I did it. I did it. I had the most crazy, amazing, bizarre time and I love my friends and we did it together. We made it to every train and every accommodation and survived wild nights in strange new cities.

I keep having this strange desire to run back through time and tell younger Mollie what she did, what she will do. For a very long time she is very worried that she'll never be able to travel, that she'll never be able to go to university, that she'll never be able to leave home. She's doing all of those things now. I want younger Mollie to see me because I know exactly how comforting that would be, how exciting, how proud it would make her. I know that younger Mollie would see everything she's hoping to become.

If only an older Mollie would come back and do that for me now, for the future. But that would lose half the fun, and half the fear. I guess I just keep going forwards now, right?