Feels good

Recently I’ve been doing some thinking about what labels I identify with in terms of gender and sexuality, which was sparked after reading The ABC’s of LGBT+ by Ashley Mardell. I’ve made it this far in my life without really questioning my gender or looking too hard at my sexuality, but since coming out of a relationship that’s lead to a lot more freedom and self-development, I feel like I need to get to know myself.

Labels aren’t something that I’ve ever really strongly connected to or questioned growing up- the biggest label I gave to myself throughout high school was identifying as bisexual, and more recently since starting university polyamory was thrown in the mix. But I guess this was because I was pretty certain who I was at that point- a woman who was into guys and girls, what more is there to say? (Oh my naivety…)

At the moment I don’t really feel a strong urge to ‘find my label’, but I think it’s useful for me personally given my set of circumstances. I’m only really starting to date for the first time in my life and I want to be more certain in what I want from other people, and I’m starting to explore more how I view myself and where I sit in society. I’m at a stage where I’m questioning myself a lot and figuring out who I am (which is linked to learning about the world outside the one I experience), and one way for me to do this is through finding what labels I identify with and why. These factors lead me to reading The ABC’s of LGBT+.

Since September of last year I’ve been regularly attending LGBT+ meetups, and I feel like it’s a place where I fit in. I feel more accepted and welcome, no questions asked. But apart from this, I’ve never really learned much about the LGBT+ community and what it actually comprises. Going to the society kind of gave me an introduction to the world of LGBT+, but reading Ash’s book has really expanded my view on what the LGBT+ community comprises and has given me a much broader view on gender, sexuality, and personal identity (and based on this I intend to read much more into queer history and feminism!) 

By reading the book it really highlighted to me how so many aspects of my life have been/are depicted by gender binary expectations; socially, sexually, and aesthetically. From thinking about what society’s definition of a woman is and the choices I make in my everyday life, I realised that non-binary is a word that I connect to. Although I am a cisgender woman, I find that I am not entirely defined by being female/feminine. I go through phases in which I like to dress more femininely, androgynously, and sometimes slightly masculinely. It varies. In the past this has confused me and made me question myself and my genuinity, at points when I was feeling low my mind tended to call myself flaky. But now I know that this is perfectly fine, and that as well as society pushing the rigid gender binary system, there are other people who feel the way that I do. This makes me feel less alone, and less able to internally criticise myself for being me. And I was able to find this through learning the right vocabulary, through learning words that translated my feelings into meaning. I’d never heard/understood terms like non-binary, genderfluid, or genderqueer before, but after learning what they mean it has made me feel so much better about myself. And although I don’t feel a strong draw to a specific label at the time being, just knowing they are there gives me a sense of ease. As I grow and develop as a person I may well drift into feeling more connected to some of these terms, and I feel more okay with being fluid in a way I’ve always been.

It’s interesting to think about how gender doesn’t really play a part when we are children and we do what we want purely because we want to, not because we’re influenced by how we are conditioned to think we should be acting. I think back to when, as a young child, I used to wear trousers with a chain hanging off the side one day, and dresses on others. How I was playing with dolls one minute and dinosaurs the next. Role playing as boys and girls in the play ground. And then I think to when, in high school, I never wanted to wear skirts, yet felt uncomfortable because many other girls did and I felt like I was doing something wrong. How all the other girls wore makeup and I never had the desire to, and  how I felt that somehow this made me less attractive and less desireable by doing so. How I felt attractions towards both guys and girls, and wildly confused because it was only ever taught to me that attraction could be between a man and a woman. I only started feeling uncomfortable in myself when I became aware that there might be a way that I was supposed to act or look. These are things that are all completely normal, yet they caused me a lot of unnecessary worry and stress because I was completely unaware that things could differ from the expectations of the gender binary.

Moving onto sexuality, this is an area I’ve been slightly more aware of than gender. At the very least I was taught that sexuality is a thing during school, as opposed to not being taught about gender at all. I’ve known since high school that I have the capacity to be attracted to both men and women, and I just kind of accepted bisexuality as the thing that I experienced.  I still feel pretty similar today actually, although since learning more about different genders and gender identification I now prefer the label pansexual, as I am not put off anyone based on what their genitals are (although the degree of attraction I experience towards different genders is not equal, there are other factors involved I think [But I don’t want to delve into that too deeply because it’s not something that’s important for me to define {I’m getting too far away from the point here and using too many brackets/parentheses}]). Anyway, so there haven’t been any recent revelations here. It does make me feel annoyed that I wasn’t educated to the full extent I could have been in terms of non-heterosexual sex, and even then it didn’t cover all bases. But that’s an issue that’s related to garbage sex education and well as exclusion of non-hetero sex.

I think that labels can be pretty useful to explain yourself to other people in an efficient way so they can quickly get what the deal is. I kind of want to find labels in order to help me describe myself to myself first, though. Because once I have the language to understand and describe what’s going on with me, then I can tell other people what my deal is with or without the use of labels, using the right language in the most appropriate situations. I think this will also help to give myself affirmation in that what I’m experiencing is absolutely okay and that others experience it too. Labels aren’t always useful, but they can be good. So the plan for me is to try out some different ones in terms of gender, stick with what others I’m comfortable with for now, and maybe get rid of them later if I’m not! I’m also pretty excited to see where gender studies go in the future and see how such a fluid subject will evolve. But for now, if anyone asks me, I’m gonna tell them that I’m a non-binary, pansexual, gender-questioning, polyamorous individual that uses she/her pronouns. Whew, that’s a mouthful. Feels good to say though.

-H

If you’re confused/questioning your gender identity or sexuality, or just want to know more about LGBTQIA+ then I’d highly recommend The ABC’s of LGBT+. It serves as a great starting point to give you the right vocabulary to find out more. If you can’t get the book, you have the whole internet! Start exploring!!

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This is fine

Hey there peeps! So as I’ve already established the reason I’m here is to talk about my life in a way that’s constructive, and hopefully gives a takeaway point. What I want to talk about today is a problem that I’ve been facing on and off for the past few years that’s related to anxiety. Keep in mind that this is just my experience and it cannot be broadly applied to everyone who has to deal with anxiety! But maybe you’ll find yourself doing something similar in other situations.

I don’t know any names to refer to this by, so here I’m going to refer to it as stacking. What this means is that I can experience a situation  or thought that brings me anxiety, and instead of going through that anxiety and overcoming it, it sets a new baseline. This means the next time I experience anxiety it gets stacked on top of the last one, which can lead to lots of stress. I’m absolutely certain that other people have experienced something similar at some point in their lives, it’s a ‘the straw that broke the donkey’s back’ kinda situation. Look, I especially made some graphs to illustrate it:

  1. How I’d ideally experience anxiety
    normal

    An event/thought happens which causes anxiety. It could vary in how long it lasts, or how much anxiety it causes, but it’s only temporary.

  2. How I experience anxiety when stacking
    stacking

    An event/thought happens which causes anxiety, and every time another thing happens the anxiety is added on top. This way it’s a lot easier to reach high stress levels.

  3. How I feel when anxious
    aghh

    Regardless of how anxious I feel, I always feel that internal panic and dread.

So this is something I’m actually going through at the moment. On Monday I was feeling pretty good, but now it’s Friday and I’ve accumulated lots of anxiety over the week. My mind has picked at things and proposed many questions to me. Most of them are along the lines of “Hey you know this thing? What if it doesn’t work out?”, “So this thing you have to do, why aren’t you doing it now?”, and “Oh look at this thing you’re doing, surely you’re not good enough”. Clearly there is some overlap with other areas such as self confidence, and it’s tailored to what’s going on in my life at the moment. And that’s why it can be so difficult to deal with, it’s personal. Anxiety makes you question your decisions in the most personal ways possible, and it usually has the biggest effects when you’re going through some other feelings/events at the same time. This is why it’s important to take into consideration what other factors could be contributing at any one time. These can sometimes be obvious, for example you might have a big workload, or have just gone through a breakup, but in other cases it can be a bit harder. And when it’s harder to see if there’s an underlying cause/contributor to anxiety I find that it’s easy to let it sit there and progress into stacking. In order to deal with this the first step it to actually realise that things are building up, and once you’ve realised that, you can start to look into what’s going on in that big tangle of anxiety. I find it helpful to think about the questions my anxious mind is asking me, and work backwards from there. So I’m actually at this stage at the moment, and I’m going to go through my thoughts and aim for a positive outcome:

  • The anxious thought: “You’re never going to get a job in the field, you have no experience and you’re not good enough”. The cause: anxiety around uncertainty after graduating. Can I do something about it? Yes. Action: focus on looking for experience, this is the next step after graduation.
  • The anxious thought: “You don’t have any friends, and nobody wants to talk to you”. The cause: anxiety around the thought of being alone, low self confidence, having gone through a recent break up. Can I do something about it? Yes. Action: reach out and make more friends, talk more to existing friends, focus on doing things that you enjoy you build up your self confidence.
  • The anxious thought: “You’re being irresponsible every time you spend money on yourself, you don’t deserve it and you’re only going to get into money troubles”. The cause: having recently spent some money on myself, having grown up with the idea that money is only for the absolute essentials, not keeping a strict budget. Can I do something about it? Yes. Action: re-evaluate my budget and see what extra money is free to spend.

Just doing this right now has given me some instant relief, and I feel like I’m unstacking. Instead of feeling like I’m under a crushing pile of undoable tasks, I have an action plan to work on and I feel more in control of the situation. Feeling anxious a lot of the time for me stems from worries, so evaluating the anxiety when certain thoughts come across my mind can help me trail back to the underlying worries. Putting them under pressure makes them crack when they don’t hold any ground. I tend to find that my worries are actually quite useful, like above, they can help point me in the right direction. That being said, worrying and feeling anxious still sucks ass. And I know that even though I’ve tackled some of these worries, I will still feel anxious in the future, worried or not. And that’s okay. When that happens, I’m going to try and not criticise myself and give myself a little time to recompose. I find it’s helpful to try and have a positive inner voice (when possible), which gets easier to use with more practice. Next time I feel like someone is staring at me in public, I’m going to consciously think “Oh hello there! Are you looking at me? Because I bet I can look at you harder, I would totally beat you in a staring contest. Or can you not handle my dashingly good looks?”. This helps me to recover from anxiety faster, or in some lucky cases avoid it altogether! It’s hard work though, and it takes a lot of mental effort. But practicing using a positive inner voice makes it a little easier over time. Personally, I like to give my inner voice a lot of sass. Heck, if you wanted you could have Alan Rickman as an inner voice.

 

To summarise: don’t beat yourself up, be kind to yourself, and hone your inner voice.

– H

DogFire.png

Comic by KC Green

Dancing in the rain

Hi guys! So in this post I wanted to talk about anxiety and making friends because it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve always considered myself to be a bit more secluded than others ever since the start of high school. And that worked out well for me at the time, I didn’t feel like I needed loads of friends. Being at university forced me to move away from the friends I had made and start living independently. It kind of forced me into making friends (as living with 9 other people would), and now I have another best friend as a result! So far I’ve made friendships when they come along my way, which has gotten me this far, but now I feel the need to seek out people to connect with. This might not seem like a big deal, in fact you might be thinking “good for you, so what?”, but for me this marks a change in my life- from going it alone to outreaching to others.

I feel like anxiety has played a big part in how I’ve made social connections in the past, and it would be an understatement to say that it’s limited who I talk to. Anxiety is very good at getting you to think about things in a certain light, and it’s a master of coming up with any excuse available to talk you out of doing something. For some individuals this revolves around people, for others it crops up in everyday situations. For me, during high school and the start of university it was clearly related to interacting with people. If I talked to anyone my mind would masterfully come up with 20 negative opinions that the other person could be thinking. Over time this essentially convinced me that nobody liked me, and so I didn’t try to make friends and generally avoided talking to people when I didn’t have to. As of the past few weeks I feel like I’m moving away from these thoughts, for now at least, and my slowly growing confidence is making it easier to reach out and form connections. This past week I’ve talked to over 10 new people and spontaneously asked someone to coffee (!!!). That’s more than I’ve done over the past year, and in all honesty it’s felt exhilarating. Right now I feel like a completely different person and it’s so bizarre to me. I always had such an anxiety around talking to people and fearing their judgement of me. Now I’ve been doing it with such ease and it’s a lot easier than I ever expected it to be. And to be able to do it without the anxiety feels absolutely amazing, to put it lightly.

I’m not expecting this to last forever, there’s no guarantee my mental state will stay this way, but there’s also no expectation for me to stay socially anxious forever. For now at least, speaking to people is giving me confidence, and I want to embrace that.  Now that I’ve experienced social interactions with no anxiety, I will be able to sit comfortably with the knowledge that any future anxiety is not forever. But further than this, I want to be able to experience anxiety and become more comfortable with experiencing it (as much as one can be). When feeling anxious, it’s very easy to listen to the voices in your head that tell you something is wrong with you. When I went Brighton for New Year’s, there was some text on the front of a beach hut, and it read:

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain.

I think sometimes it is best to wait out the storm that is anxiety, it can be absolutely exhausting. Now that I’ve experienced this new confidence, I think I’ll be able to chill a bit more when talking to people (dancing!). I don’t expect this to be true for everyone- people feel different things at different points of their lives, or in different situations. But that’s okay. And accepting that is a big step. It’s okay to not dance in the rain. The point to aim for is to be comfortable, no matter how much anxiety is happening, it’s okay.

– H

Flowers

Hello world

Hi there internet! So this is where I’m going to start writing about myself, my thoughts and feelings, and just generally what’s up with my life. I feel like a lot of the time I have thoughts come across my mind that I think are worth writing down, BUT I NEVER DO! So this is an homage to that. Also, I think I’m learning a lot at the moment about myself which would be cool to document and look back on in the future. Who knows, maybe it could even help somebody else out!

Where I’m at right now: I feel like I’m about to change a lot as an individual (for the better) and undergo a lot of personal growth. I’ve recently gone through some major relationship changes that have made me reevaluate myself and who I want to be. I’m pretty sure this is normal for every 20-something-year-old as it’s an important in life and you get to find out who you are! And that’s what I’m going to start doing, I want to know myself better through the process of ‘self-dating’, and invest in myself to make myself the best version of me. That concept actually really excites me, because I like who I am right now, but I could be even better. I bet I’m going to be fucking awesome (not to put pressure on future me, or anything).

Even in the past week I’ve made some major changes in my behaviour that will benefit me in the long run, I think. I’ve been more confident in myself and portraying myself as me. Basically, I’m becoming unapologetic, and I want to completely own my labels. Woman, feminist, bisexual, polyamorous. These are the things I want to wear proudly, and the more I put them out there, the more people in life I will find who are similar to me, and that like my genuine self. I’ve alway thought that’s it’s scary to genuinely put yourself out there for who you are for the fear of being rejected. But if you don’t put your genuine self out there, then how will people know who you are and get a good sense of you? You’re depriving them of your amazing self! I mean, I’d wanna be friends with me. On top of this, feeling accepted for who you are is the best feeling. It’s a reward for being brave: you do this scary thing, and then if all goes well you get wrapped in an invisible big warm blanket. If not? Fuck them, because your opinion shouldn’t matter (and you’re still amazing)! Using my labels I’m going to seek out people who also use these labels to describe themselves (or not at all, labels aren’t necessary!). So far I’ve gone to some of my university LGBT+ society events with the hope of bringing more queer people into my life, and become proud of my bisexuality. I think up until this point, I’ve been trying to figure out where I fit in with a lot of things like sexuality, gender, and political views, but now that I’ve figured that out, I need to do something with them. It’s like suddenly discovering you have a little flower patch in your huge garden that you haven’t fully explored yet. I’ve come across my little bisexual flower patch- and it’s great! I mean I’m glad that it’s there, but what do I do with it now? If I leave it there then it will stay there and maybe grow a bit over time. But if I start watering it then it will grow faster, and bigger over time, and I can put time and effort into making it something to be proud of. I’ll even show it off to people, if I want.

I really like this garden analogy, so I’m gonna stick with it. Aspects of who you are can take all different forms to grow in your garden. Some things need more care, and some take more time to grow. Some get really messy if you don’t give it the attention it needs. So for me anxiety plays a big part in my life, and sometimes depression likes to pop in and say hello. These are plants that grow in your garden too, but I imagine them more to be like bramble bushes that can be prickly and slowly overtake your garden. It’s all well and good to tend to the flowers, but it’s important to keep the weeds in check too. I might spend some time in the future talking about anxiety and depression in the future in a different post, but I don’t think now is the right time. I mean, for me it’s still a slightly unknown species and I’m still figuring out what it is and how it works!

I’ll definitely come back to this analogy when I talk about owning my labels in the future. I’m really good at overusing analogies and completely killing them. I’m not going to apologise for it though.

– H