Let’s talk about the Red Poppy

The red poppy is a symbol that we are all familiar with. From political figures to almost anyone that appears on British television, the red poppy has become part of the unwritten November uniform rule. For the general public, that’s me and you, it hasn’t quite got to the point of ‘poppy fascism’ like it has in the media in that we aren’t (often) criticised or even abused for not wearing one (more on this later). We have a choice, the majority respect that choice, and those that I encounter choose to wear a red poppy for a variety of reasons.

The red poppy (or ‘Remembrance poppy’) came about after the First World War and has been worn at the relevant time each year to this day in commemoration of the British military that have died in action. As I was taught from a very early age, the wearing of a poppy was inspired by the resilient flowers that continued to grow on the battlefield despite the bombs and destruction that had taken place there. Starting with the famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, the poppy production grew from a small independent business to what we know today as the ‘Poppy Appeal’.

A red poppy can be purchased via The Royal British Legion’s ‘Poppy Appeal’ website with an open donation. The RBL website states that: “we help members of the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force, Reservists, veterans and their families all year round. We also campaign to improve their lives, organise the Poppy Appeal and remember the fallen.” The money raised through the red poppy donations supports all current and former British military personnel. To read more about the RBL, click here.

Like many others, I choose not to wear a red poppy in November. I have thought a lot about writing this blog post for many years, creating drafts that are never published in fear of saying the wrong thing. In the past, I did not consider that in the First World War, soldiers were conscripted to battle. I did not understand that there are a variety of complex sociological reasons why a person may choose to join the army beyond wanting to kill. I did not reflect on how my words hurt others when trying to explain my reasoning. I was never very good at that sort of thing. I remember being in my form room in secondary school when a group of classmates were collecting donations for red poppies. When they arrived at my table with hands held out expectantly, I looked up from my book and quite simply said “no thank you”.poppy2

The girls responded with: “what do you mean, no thank you? You have to buy a poppy! We are all wearing one.”

I remember my face going bright red (as it often did when talking to ‘popular’ and intimidating peers who were usually in charge of this sort of thing) and squeaking out something along the lines of: “I don’t support war, I’m a pacifist”.

I don’t think I was much older than 14. I hadn’t thought about the whole thing in too much detail and probably didn’t understand the reasoning beyond repeating the arguments I’d heard from other people. I think many of us thought we were a ‘pacifist’ when we were younger, that there was always an alternative to war and death. Nowadays, with everything that’s going on in the world, I’m not so sure. Despite this, I’m proud of my younger self for having the confidence to stand up for what I believed in. Looking back, however, it probably wasn’t worth the backlash I received from my class (which again probably had no deeper meaning beyond supporting what they had heard was the ‘right’ thing to do, i.e. wearing a red poppy). In retrospect, I could have just pretended I didn’t have any money on me.

poppy7

A lot of people say to me: “how is wearing a red poppy supporting the war? I wear the red poppy in remembrance of our soldiers who fought and died for us.

The message of remembrance behind the red poppy cannot be questioned. The thought of these people being murdered and the families and friends who mourn the sudden loss breaks my heart. This is only intensified with my frustration surrounding war; the battles our armies fight today are avoidable and gratuitous, just like the countless deaths.

In my opinion, the red poppy does not hold the same meaning as after the First World War – the pain people felt was raw and debilitating and there was hope that no one would ever have to suffer in the same way again. The symbol has frequently been manipulated and misappropriated to become one of justification rather than hope. Despite my belief that the majority of lay people continue to wear the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance, a corrupt few have taken the symbol and used it as a way to push their own agendas – ultimately associating the red poppy with other UK conflicts.

harry
WW2 RAF veteran who has not worn a poppy since 2013

For me, it is important to remember not only those who died holding a gun, but to give thought to the thousands of defenceless, innocent people that have been caught up in the most pitiful acts of humanity. The civilians that have suffered through the savagery of war outweigh the soldiers that have fallen tenfold. No where on the RBL website do I see mention of the opposing soldiers of other countries and the suffering of the vulnerable and powerless. I worry about the message I would be giving in wearing a red poppy. That some are worth remembering more than others? We mourn the brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives for us and our country and the rest who had no say are nameless, faceless, nothings?

racism

It is almost as if there is a hierarchy of suffering and this mindset contributes towards the acceptance of continuous war today. The most important message that I wish to portray is my despair surrounding the evil that is war and the pain it inflicts on us all. If the red poppy does not above all symbolise this, I cannot wear one. I shouldn’t have to try and ‘find’ a mention of such a significant aspect of war beyond ‘our’ soldiers and ‘our’ people. I didn’t come across anything mentioning ‘the others’. When do we ever hear about ‘the others’? And amidst all the sorrow when looking back is there ever regret? Does the red poppy acknowledge the disgraceful truth of war?

poppy8Another reason I have chosen not to wear a red poppy is due to the ‘poppy fascism‘ that I mentioned earlier. Jon Snow coined the phrase in his blog post back in 2006 in response to the public backlash in him choosing not to wear a red poppy during broadcasting. This outrage has appeared in news time and time again in recent years, with Barbara Windsor famously claiming that those who choose not to wear a poppy can “sod off” for all she cares. To me, this sort of ridiculous comment paired with countless public figures who choose not to wear a poppy being shunned will only coerce people into wearing the red poppy as a “me-too” badge out of fear for the response they may get from doing otherwise. I believe that a true mark of respect depends solely on its authenticity. People should feel free to remember and mourn in a way that is true to them. Not everyone will do this publicly or through political symbols and gimmicks. Although I am very much questioning the use of the red poppy in this blog post, I do not think that people should not wear one if it genuinely means something to them.

FA

I can almost accept the wearing of a red poppy as a symbol of everything I have expressed disdain for thus far over wearing it because you think you ‘should’. For my generation, I believe most people wear the red poppy because they have seen others doing so, conclude that it is just ‘what we do’, or are told it is the ‘right thing to do’, and haven’t really thought to question it. For some, the red poppy becomes a strong, family tradition due to personal connections to war. For others, there aren’t really strong feelings about it one way or another.

As the years go by I can see why people may start to get desensitised towards the whole thing; war has been made to feel like a normal part of life. It’s unfortunate that something that originally had a positive message is being dished out in bulk to organisations like the BBC to be pinned on to jackets and worn by people as a nationally recognised symbol of respect, despite it not necessarily being their choice. As John Walsh wrote for The Independent in 2014: “Are these subtle and affecting displays of feeling? Or has Remembrance Day now turned into a variant of Red Nose Day, when everyone is encouraged to ‘Do something funny for money,’ and those who don’t join in are deemed to be tightwads and spoilsports?” Just look at the obscene and expensive variations of the red poppy that are now on offer, ranging from 100% organic wool to diamante-encrusted pieces (of which it is unclear where the profits are ending up).

For me, it is important to wear something rather than nothing, although I respect all those that choose not to wear a poppy in the confidence that it does not define their beliefs. I’m a statement sort of person, donning t-shirts with phrases such as “Godless Commie Scum” and “LEAVE HER TITS ALONE” (which is a vegan message referring to cow udders, in case you were wondering). If there is ever an opportunity for me to make a political statement I will jump at the chance. Alongside activities such as blogging, it’s a way to get my voice heard. I want people to know that I think and care deeply about these things, that I will stand up for what I think is right and fight injustice. And so for these reasons, I wear an alternative.

I choose to wear a white poppy in November and have done so for as long as I can remember. These alternative symbols were created by the Co-operative Women’s Guild and supported by the Peace Pledge Union in 1934 as a message of anti-war. The white poppy has gained momentum recently, often being worn alongside or instead of the red poppy (which has caused a fair amount of controversy). The PPU website states that:

Members of the youth section of the No More War Movement
© Peace Pledge Union Archive

“White poppies recall all victims of all wars, including victims of wars that are still being fought. This includes people of all nationalities. It includes both civilians and members of armed forces. Today, over 90% of people killed in warfare are civilians. In wearing white poppies, we remember all those killed in war, all those wounded in body or mind, the millions who have been made sick or homeless by war and the families and communities torn apart. We also remember those killed or imprisoned for refusing to fight and resisting war. We want to remember British military dead, but they are not the only victims of war. We also remember, for example, civilians killed in the bombings of London, Coventry and Belfast, and in the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, Baghdad and Kabul. From economic reliance on arms sales to renewing and updating all types of weapons, the UK government contributes significantly to international instability. The outcome of recent military adventures highlights their ineffectiveness and grim consequences.”

I wear my white poppy as a call for peace and in remembrance of all the soldiers and noncombatants who have suffered by the orders of the rich and powerful, safe in their ivory towers as they pull only the metaphorical triggers of war. The red poppy has come to represent a glorification or justification of war for many people, as well as failing to represent remembrance of the countless victims that have suffered without guns, without choices. In the end, what you wear or do not wear should come down to a meaningful decision you have made in consideration of the political message each colour poppy represents, which is quite simply unavoidable. Whatever poppy we wear or do not wear, our enemy in the fight against injustice and suffering is not one another.

If you would like to donate to purchase your own white poppy, click here.

Or to read more about the PPU, click here.

Let’s talk about Jeremy Corbyn

Corbyn standing for Labour leader at Open, Norwich
Corbyn standing for Labour leader at Open, Norwich

“Who even is this Jeremy Corbyn? Where has he come from?” As usual, it was on a very drunken night out in Sheffield that I found myself discussing politics with an eclectic mix of people after another unnecessary round of ‘shit bombs’. It can go either way as to whether I will devote my whole evening to pontificating or be incapable of holding a conversation at all. This night was the former and it really got me thinking about why people are so apprehensive to accept Corbyn in to the Labour ranks. I am basing this post around the conversations I’ve had with people who have asked the very questions above; I am by no means an expert on Corbyn but felt I did an OK job at the time despite my inebriation and will attempt to do the same for you now. Maybe with a little less drink-sloshing.

Jeremy Corbyn made his first political appearance about 40 years ago, so let’s set the scene. It was 1970’s Britain: a time of economic downfall and increasing political awareness. Harold Wilson was in his second term as prime minister of a minority Labour government, breaking the Conservative winning spell at that time. Wilson wanted more opportunity for the working class and for the first time in British history, more money was allocated to education than defence. Wilson was said to be part of the “soft left” in that he was not exactly revolutionary in terms of left-wing politics – very much like the Labour leaders to follow him.

Corbyn speaking to journalists outside the Commons after the historic ruling by the House of Lords against the appeal of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.
Corbyn speaking to journalists outside the Commons after the historic ruling by the House of Lords against the appeal of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.

Corbyn was first elected as Labour MP for Islington North in 1983. Soon after he became a part of the Socialist Campaign Group as well as writing for socialist newspaper The Morning Star (click here to find out more about the newspaper) for which Corbyn is still contributing today (click here to read his latest column). Now obviously I wasn’t around at the beginning of Corbyn’s political career, but people that were remember him as someone relatively obscure in terms of media attention, if at all. He was never the type to try and ‘fight his way to the top’ and seemed content with the support of his constituency and the positive work he was doing in spreading the socialist message.

Results of the 2015 general election in the UK
Results of the 2015 general election in the UK

Fast-forward to June of this year, a month after Ed Miliband had resigned as Labour leader after suffering huge losses to the Scottish National Party (click here to read more about the SNP) in the 2015 general election. The opinion polls had greatly underestimated the conservative vote and David Cameron came out with a victory (as I hate to remind you) of 36.9% of the vote. I voted for the Green Party (click here to read more about the Greens) as they were the only party that really seemed to represent my own beliefs. A lot of the Labour voters seemed disenchanted with Miliband and his on-the-fence policies. Coming from a proud left-wing family it was surprising to me when I began researching the party manifestos in the run-up to the election and felt I couldn’t even consider voting for and supporting Labour policies at all. Did anyone else decide not to to vote for the ‘lesser of two evils’ in order to keep the tories out and instead backed someone they truly supported? Let me know in the comments.

Corbyn delivers speech on ditching nuclear weapons that 'destroy your neighbour' to mark Hiroshima bombing
Corbyn delivers speech on ditching nuclear weapons that ‘destroy your neighbour’ to mark Hiroshima bombing

So, things looked a little bleak for Labour after the election. Everyone was disappointed and angry. The position of the next Labour leader was something you wouldn’t want to touch with a bargepole. Who was going to stand as the opposition to David Cameron? Enter: Jeremy Corbyn for the ritual slaughter, because “someone had to do it”. Corbyn had absolutely zero support from the media and even the MPs who were backing him . He was practically a joke, with the odds on at the bookies at 100-1. After scraping up enough nominees to get him on the ballot, with some MPs claiming it was a ‘gesture of goodwill’, Corbyn gathered a small campaign team and began his fight. Nobody expected his landslide victory of over 50% of the vote in the 1st round, knocking out favourite-to-win Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.

I know that Corbyn is a controversial character, but I think he’s a real cool guy. Before going in to what I have to say, I’ll leave a few things here for you to start forming your own opinion about what made him so popular with the 60,000 new members, registered supporters, and affiliated trade unionists:

Corbyn's 'About Me' page, go to http://jeremycorbyn.org.uk/about/ to read more
Corbyn’s ‘About Me’ page, go to http://jeremycorbyn.org.uk/about/ to read more

“Where Jeremy stands” (http://www.jeremyforlabour.com/why_i_m_standing)

  • Economy
    An economy which works for all, rejects austerity and places wealth and opportunity in the hands of the millions and not simply the millionaires.
  • Politics
    Democratic collective action is needed to secure a better country. Government should not be the property of a closed elite circle.
  • Environment
    Our world is under threat as never before. This means we must act in the long term interest of the planet rather than the short-term interests of corporate profits.
  • International
    Britain needs to redefine its place in the world. We stand up against injustice wherever we find it, looking to build a more peaceful world through dialogue, cooperation and democracy.
  • The Labour movement
    Our party must become a rejuvenated, democratic mass social movement again dedicated to bringing about real change.

As you can see with the images below, the media don’t tend to favour Corbyn (even with me purposefully overlooking every Daily Mail article) and have contributed towards all the doubts surrounding his mission. Whether we like it or not, we get a lot of our opinions from what we see on the news or read in the papers. And why wouldn’t we? Unless you go digging for yourself, that’s all you know. I could go in to a huge rant about the evil of the mass-media, but that’s a whole other blog post. My point is that he’s quite the likeable ol’ chap if you see past the headlines and stop to think about the actual important stuff, like, um… I don’t know… what he’s planning to do as a leader to create change?

jnews3

jnews2

A popular argument now that the initial buzz has died down after his success is that Corbyn is going to ‘destroy’ Labour and their chances of ever gaining enough votes to surpass the Conservatives. And I suppose your stance on that will depend on what Labour means to you. If Labour to you means New Labour (something similar to Ed Miliband’s fence-sitting policies and represented by a man who could not at all connect with what he’d had written for him beyond all the speech choreography he had to remember) then yes, I can understand why you may think Corbyn will ‘destroy’ Labour. The ‘Labour’ that is Miliband and Kendall and Blair. For those of us that truly believe in the fundamental ideology of left-wing politics, social equality, we should await the extinction of New Labour with breath that is baited.

Corbyn speaking at Prime Minister's Questions
Corbyn speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions

Corbyn is not at all like the churned out Oxbridge, suit-and-tie wearing politicians with millionaire families and obvious personal agendas. Why are people scared of a real man standing up to represent real people? For me, Jeremy Corbyn wants to do the right thing for not just this country, but all the people of the world. He has returned as a true representation of Labour. I support the MP who is the country’s lowest expenses claimer, who wears knitted jumpers made by his mum, who answers the questions he is given and who has not once strayed from his core beliefs for the sake of his own popularity.

If the brief overview I have given you has sparked some interest then please go and do some research on what more he has to say. Hopefully this post has at least cleared up a few questions people tend to have around him. I could have gone on for hours writing about everything he stands for, but I don’t know enough to do him justice. I’d like to finish with something that Jeremy Corbyn himself once said, which links very much with my previous blog post: “when is it ever a waste of time to put forward a view you believe in?

I had a go.

Let’s talk about Politics

Before I get in to this blog post I just need to make one thing very clear: I am not, and do not think I am, an expert in politics. I have studied political party manifestos for the upcoming election, watched “Cameron & Miliband Live: The Battle for Number 10″ and the ITV/BBC Leaders Debates (click the links to catch up on these) and follow party leaders on social networking sites to keep up to date with any news in the run up to the election in May, but in the grand scheme of things I don’t really know much. Politics very much interest me and I have definitely formed my own opinion based on the information I’ve accessed. So that’s basically what you’re reading here.

Politics don’t have to be this scary, unknown territory that we aren’t qualified enough to have an opinion on. I can’t decide what the bigger shame is: that people are scared to talk about politics or back a party that interests them in case they say something or think something ‘wrong’, or that people have no interest in the subject whatsoever. I’m aware that the whole thing is designed to confuse normal people in order to keep us from having a real say in anything that goes on around us – but that’s a whole other blog post. There are ways to access information that pretty much translate the scripted rubbish politicians come out with and break it down in to something a bit more informal and easier to understand.

The only question you need to ask yourself is: what do you want for you and the country you live in? If you can answer that, your voice matters. And every vote counts. The people that don’t think they can answer that question are the exact reason why I am blogging today. Statistics show that only 44% of 18-24 year olds in the UK voted in the last general election. The chart below shows just how close the number of voters are between the two ‘biggies’ – Labour and Conservative.

The Guardian, 20 April 2015 – “Tories still ahead of Labour in latest Guardian/ICM poll”

The latest opinion polls are not going to be completely accurate representations of the party people vote for on the day, but it does give us some idea of what people are thinking. Based on this, the 56% of young people that did not vote in the last election have the power to determine the results in this one. The 6.8 million of us under 25 really do have a say in what happens. We are basically Batman.

The typical things I hear from people when I have this conversation with them are:

  1. “My vote won’t change anything anyway.”
  2. “I’m just not interested in politics, it doesn’t affect me.”
  3. “I don’t understand what any of them are on about.”
  4. “I’m not voting because they’re all a bunch of corrupt d**kheads.” (An excuse that I myself am guilty of saying about a year ago).

First of all, the numbers above make it clear just how much potential influence the under 25 year olds (and in fact any of the age groups, as none of them have 100% of people voting) have right now on the outcome of this election. The Green Party are currently favoured by about 5% of people, but those 56% of young people and the others that aren’t planning on voting could have them steaming ahead of the familiar faces of Cameron and Miliband. We should all be evil-cackling at what we could do here.

politics1

Secondly, how can you ‘not be interested’ in what happens to the organisations and services (schools, hospitals, the beloved NHS etc.) that affect you, your loved ones and everyone around you every single day?! Before the year of 1918 women were not considered worthy to vote, and after all the relentless campaigning for equality only 64% of women voted in the 2010 general election. Only 66% of men did the same. As I mentioned before I am aware that the political jargon can be very confusing and intimidating, but there are ways round it to help you understand. If any of my readers want me to do a blog series on each of the ‘big 7’ political party manifestos and what they really mean (to my understanding), let me know in the comments below.

‘Vote For Policies’ is a fantastic site that lets you ‘compare policies from each party in their own words, and make an informed decision about who to vote for at the 2015 general election’. You don’t know who any of the policies belong to until the end, when you are given your results in percentages and can see which party best suits your ideas and beliefs. This is a great way to overcome your preconceptions of each party based on the person standing as party leader. The whole idea is to promote voting for the policies, not the personalities or faces of each party. If you’d like to have a go at the survey, click here.

Number 4 was my way of thinking for a very long time. When you see the corruption and lies that go on constantly in the world of politics, it’s hard to have any faith in the system. I do understand that. This time last year I was adamant that I would not be voting in the 2015 general election. How could I vote for and support a person that I did not trust?  How could I back a party that I don’t completely agree with? Could I ever live with myself for going against everything I believe in?

In the end I realised that I had been dragged in to a trap way of thinking that was exactly what the political leaders had planned for and wanted. It’s so easy for us to be controlled if we let ourselves, and the more we distance ourselves from our positions of potential power, the easier it is for someone to be leading our country in a way the majority disagree with. We need to stand up and let our voices be heard – and with fresh faces such as Natalie Bennett (Greens) and Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) snatching voters from the bigger parties that have let us down time and time again, NOW is the best time to think about making a vote for what could possibly be a real change.

To register to vote, click here.

Let’s talk about Mental Health

I am writing this on World Mental Health Day 2014, “Living with Schizophrenia”. It’s almost 3am and I’ve seen less than 5 people post or share something about this cause on Facebook, which hasn’t really surprised me. Isn’t it weird how there’s still so much stigma attached to mental illness in this open-minded day and age? In the UK, the same-sex marriage legislation was passed over a year ago and we are an ever-growing multicultural part of the world inhabited by various ethnicities. So why are people walking on eggshells when it comes to talking about well-being?

I think the thing that scares us about discussing mental health is our lack of knowledge and understanding. As we’ve proven with our intellectual enlightenment that surpasses many obstinate parts of the world, it’s not that we don’t accept mental illness – we just haven’t got the hang of it yet. With enough discussion this issue should become obsolete, and that is what I hope to contribute towards with this blog post.

A mental health issue can be anything that is affecting how we think, feel and behave. For thousands of years things like melancholia and hysteria were treated with potions and lotions just like a physical health problem. It was not until the 18th Century that a differentiation was made between a ‘disease of the mind’ and a ‘disease of the body’, and that these things needed to be looked at and treated in different ways.

We’ve all seen the commonly used statistic that 1 in 4 people will suffer with some form of mental health issue in their lifetime.
That’s one of these:

The Obamas
The Obamas, a perfect representation of the nuclear family.

and one of these:

The Beatles, one of the most well-known and influential 4 piece bands of all time.
The Beatles, one of the most well-known and influential 4 piece bands of all time.

and one of these:

Me and my friends.
Me and my friends.

When you put it that way, 25% is a really scary figure. And when you see the long list of disorders that fall in to the ‘Mental Illness’ category, you can kind of begin personalise the issue.  We’ve all heard of anxiety, panic attacks, depression, paranoia, phobias and low self-esteem and have either suffered with one or more ourselves or have someone close to us who has.

Then there are all those big, intimidating wordsy-words like Body Dysmorphic disorder and Hypomania and Schizophrenia and we start to go “nope, not my area”. If you take a minute to stop and look up these mouthfuls you’ll find they actually represent things that we experience day-to-day just like depression and low self-esteem. All they mean are worrying about your appearance, fluctuating in mood from energetic to irritable and being delusional – except to a level that make living out a normal day extremely difficult or dangerous. These disorders are a lot more complex than these simple definitions I’ve given them of course, but breaking them down and making them relatable should make it a bit easier to get your head around.

So now we have a better idea of what constitutes Mental Health, what’s the big deal? As it’s something very close to my heart, I will use depression as an example.

Unfortunately, a lot of people hear a word like “depression” and give it as much thought as a house with a door. “It doesn’t mean anything”. “Everyone gets depressed”. “You’re just being a drama queen!” The thing is, the vast majority of us DO feel depressed. It’s horrible to admit, but with the media and social norms of the Western world it’s kind of difficult not to grow up without feeling inadequate or useless or meaningless at least once. Depression being a common feeling or disorder does not make it any less difficult or important – especially for the people that can’t cope with it.

People throwing around the word “depressed” for when ASOS doesn’t have that dress in a size 8 is understandably part of the reason why the term isn’t taken seriously. Depression is always a big deal, don’t get me wrong. But the thing that separates I-don’t-have-a-dress-to-wear-to-that-party-now depression from medically diagnosed and treated depression is the impact it has on the person living their life. Or in terms of depression, NOT living their life in a way that is deemed healthy and ‘normal’.

I previously mentioned mental and physical problems being looked at in different ways. This ground-breaking revelation that began the extensive knowledge and understanding Psychologists and Physicians have today of mental illness (and why to treat it with SSRIs and therapy rather than aspirin for example) has now also become one of the reasons we don’t want to talk about mental health.

The distinction between mental and physical health has the positives that we’ve discussed… and a huge negative too. In my opinion, mental health is just as important as physical health problems such as Cancer and AIDS. This may seem controversial and difficult to understand, but mental and physical health problems have levels of severity and in extreme cases can both result in death. Surely this makes them equally vital?

I don’t want to go in to too much detail about my personal feelings on the matter, but I hope that statement will give you something to think about. Lack of knowledge, understanding and regard for mental health issues creates a stigma on the subject that makes it even more difficult for people suffering them to come forward. We would never expect someone to be ashamed of admitting they are undergoing chemotherapy. People should not be ashamed of admitting to attending counselling sessions or whatever specific treatment they need to get better.

Because that’s the thing: all we should be concerned with is people getting better. Whether the problem is affecting the body or the mind it is equally unplanned and unwanted and can be equally difficult to overcome. All health issues need treatment in order to create positive change, and if we openly make it clear that we understand that, we could make the world a lot less terrifying for the people that are in any sort of pain.

Click here to read more about bridging the gap between the importance of physical and mental health.

Let’s talk about Ciretta

Here are 10 things that make me happy, just because:

1. Those Tesco Value knock-off custard creams that are like 40p for a pack. I also kind of hate these though because you don’t feel bad for eating the whole lot in one go seeing as you get them so cheap and then you feel really sick because all of the sugar and need to make yourself a slice of buttery toast. Then you get the urge for something sweet-tasting again and the cycle continuous that like of the sun rising and setting each day.

2. The colour green. It’s always been my favourite colour. I think when I was younger I just wanted to be different to all the girls wearing pink and thought I was über-cool and original to like green. Now it reminds me of nature and vegetables and the carpet in my old house.

3. Notebooks. My ex-boyfriend would wake in the dead of night to find me still tapping away on my laptop in the dark shopping for beautiful notebooks online. There are so many god damn varieties that I have a huge collection of unopened notebooks that I just like to look at and dream of what could be filling the pages one day. Notebook shopping is one of very few shopping experiences I can tolerate.

4. Friendly strangers. In some villages of Yorkshire when I’ve been doing the walk-of-shame home from a party at 7am there will be those early risers (usually old people) walking their dog or whatever in those hats that look like something a farmer would wear. We all know what I’ve been doing. I am clearly in yesterday’s dress. Every so often this is overlooked and I get a genuinely friendly stranger conversing with me, just because I’m there. “Hello dear. Bit nippy this morning isn’t it?” People are always so weird about talking to strangers, especially on public transport and that. To be honest I find it odd sitting on a bus surrounded by people staring into the distance in silence as if they’re the only people in existence. There are so many people in the world we completely ignore who might have a million things in common with you or really need your help if you gave them a chance.

5. Writing. I had the privilege of a ‘Social and Literary Studies’ graduate as a father who was my original inspiration for wanting to know about everyone/everything and then write as much as I could about it. When I was little I wrote loads of stories in between the tiny spaces of the lines in newspaper articles. I think that was because my parents spent a small fortune on printing paper for me to write on and it eventually had to be rationed.

6. Clothes with owls on it. Now, this is a HUGE issue for me. My family and I support Sheffield United FC, fondly known as ‘The Blades’, and the nickname of our rival team (Sheffield Wednesday) is ‘The Owls’. I have this real cute jumper with an owl pattern printed on it which I’m not allowed to wear in the house. I understand. I have to suffer for my disloyalty.

7. Reptiles. As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts I am not a massive fan of animals. Anything cute and fury usually just secretes their fluff all over my clothing as if they’re saying “don’t you dare forget about me you horrible excuse for a female”, or I convince myself there’s something in their eyes telling me they’re hatching a plot to take over the world. However, I do own two beautiful leopard geckos which I love more than any other living being. They remind me of dinosaurs and I love dinosaurs. Cats and dogs are so 2013 – REPTILES are the pet of the future. Also when I went to the zoo last year there was a humongous Komodo dragon that I felt some weird instant connection with. Everyone else ran off to laugh at the monkeys and I just pressed my head against the glass of his enclosure and stared at his beauty. Did you know that when Komodo dragons attack their prey, say a deer, they go for the feet first to knock them off balance? THAT’S SO CLEVER AND EFFICIENT.

8. Going out to eat. I sound like a middle-aged professional here but sometimes I genuinely do prefer getting dressed up and going out for a meal with friends than anything else. I love takeaways. I love home-made food. Sometimes it’s a nice change to sit and have everything done for you AND it not taste like heart disease. Devouring a meal with a glass of wine is also an excuse to people-watch. Sometimes I like to sit and make up stories about the people sat on tables around me. That couple on my left are on their 3rd date and they’re going to get laid tonight. You can tell because they ordered oysters.

9. The blissful naivety of children. I have a 4 year-old sister and a 2 year-old brother who are the apples of my eye. I’m not really a “kid” person but when they’re related to you and can’t pronounce your name properly you’re gonna be biased. I learn a lot about myself in just watching them play or during conversations with them. So many simple things fascinate them. They can be entertained for hours on end by the same tedious game. If I change the tone of my voice they can find something previously dull extremely interesting and it really makes me think about the simple pleasures of life we all overlook as adults. Scarlett and Jude are never bored. They can pick up a crayon and create a whole fantasy world in their head about King Crayon and his quest to find the people of his kingdom over Pencil Case Hill. It’s inspiring, really.

10. Elves. I’m not really sure where my obsession with elves came from. It could have been when I was dragged to the cinema to watch Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers back in 2002 (which was the start of all my love for LOTR) or when I created my first ever Wood Elf character on the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind back in 2003 when we first got an Xbox. A rogue elf character with a bow and arrow and x1.5 sneak damage for a ranged critical hit? Nothing cooler.

Let’s talk about Affluenza

We all remember the reputable opening line to the Pokémon theme song despite probably not sitting through an episode in years. I’d hazard a guess that at least 5% of readers will have the tune on their iPod for those moments when it’s “just necessary” to put on. Although perhaps not the most dignified example of the point I’m trying to push, it does underline the importance of “being the very best” as something drilled into us from an early age and staying with us through to adulthood.

Striving to achieve great things has always been seen as something positive and healthy; the motivation a parent gives their child to win the race in sports day or get the certificate at the end of assembly being the unquestioned foundation for a successful life to come. Having dreams and even daily goals is our reason for getting up in the morning, if you don’t want anything it is easy to slip into a seemingly pointless routine of get up, eat, sleep, repeat.

Question is: to what extent is wanting to be the very best a good thing for our emotional well being? How do you find the balance of a driving, competitive nature that pushes you to your limits in order to succeed and satisfaction with one’s self?

It’s interesting to hear people’s views on the term “being competitive” and how different childhood experiences can lead to it being either a good quality to find in someone or an undesirable characteristic. A lot of people simply settle with “it depends” because, fair enough, it’s all about striking that balance.

Have you noticed that if you’re working or get on with a competitive person you’ll usually accept that it’s ‘in their nature’ and substitute words such as “spirited” or “hard-working”? Put in a position where you’re working against or already have a negative predisposition of such a person the terms “bloodthirsty”, “aggressive” or even “psycho” get muttered disapprovingly.

Think again back to Pokémon. Not too soon after his 10th birthday, Ash Ketchum sets out into the big wide world to travel across the land, searching far and wide for the substantial selection of Pokémon he can battle, catch and train in order to become the best Pokémon trainer there ever was. For such a young boy to have this driving force inside him means his competitive nature is seen as a positive thing that we all wanted to relate to. Then consider Team Rocket, the bad guys obsessed with capturing and selling rare Pokémon for profit no matter what evil routes they had to take, (usually involving Ash and his friends in some way). Their motivation was money, but think about the pickles they got themselves into. After being thrown off cliffs, drowned and “blasting off again” on numerous occasions you’d have to class the double trouble team as competitive too, right?

The reason I got thinking about all this was after reading “Affluenza – How to be Successful and Stay Sane” by Oliver James. The comparison to Affluenza used by James himself is the HIV virus. “Just as having the HIV virus places you at risk of developing the physical disease of AIDS, infection with the Affluenza virus increases your susceptibility to the commonest emotional diseases: depression, anxiety, substance abuse and personality disorder”.

James used the term Affluenza to describe one’s obsession with becoming an affluent character as something like a virus. “It is a set of values which increase our vulnerability to emotional distress. It entails placing a high value on acquiring money and possessions, looking good in the eyes of others and wanting to be famous.”

Although it’s common and accepted that many people in the Western world strive to be wealthy or famous or admired, James attempts to highlight why this isn’t such a good thing for our emotional well-being.

Many of you, as I was before reading this book, might be wondering why wanting the best for yourself is possibly a negative thing that could develop emotional distress. Those few people that settle with a job that pays just about enough to live comfortably are viewed as lazy and having no aspirations. Surely we should use what we have to the best of our ability rather than pathetically drifting through life accepting we’re not good enough to be the best?

Fact is guys; we AREN’T good enough to be the best. No matter what mummy and daddy or that motivational character in most television programmes that comes out with a line similar to “you can be whatever you want to be if you put your mind to it” told you, no matter how hard you work you are never going to be the best.

It all started when our pushy parents forgot the meaning of unconditional love and “motivated” us to be the best in class. Whether they were living vicariously through their children or thought their child having this title would show the world something about them as parents, majority of them are guilty of it. Any parent reading this, or James’ book, would retaliate with “I only wanted the best for my child”. Exactly. Read on.

So, once you’ve won the title of being the best in class and achieved the top grades in your exams, you can move on to one of the best secondary schools in your area. Without top grades in your exams in the best secondary schools you can’t get into the top universities, and without the top grades in your exams at one of the best universities you can’t get into the best jobs. Scary to think that such young people are under so much pressure, isn’t it? Once you’ve secured a place in one of the “best jobs” your next goal is to get to the top. Something like a managerial position perhaps? And why wouldn’t you; your whole life has been spent working towards being the best so far.

Say you succeed and are earning a six-figure salary in one of those swanky offices where all the walls are made out of glass, the bin men and teachers and other ants of society scuttling around on the pavement in clear view 47 floors below you. Are you going to stop there? Of course not. Why would you settle with what you have when there’s always more to get? Once you become comfortable with your standard of living that voice inside of you that’s been constantly pushing you to get more starts niggling away. Why settle with this salary when I can have more? Why drive a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa when I can cruise the streets in a Ferrari 250 GTO? Why live in a flat in London when I can relax in a detached country barn conversion and commute to work with my personal driver?

If you live your life always striving to be the best your mindset becomes flooded with ways in which you can have more. “Needs” are confused with “wants” and you will never be satisfied with what you have because there’s always, always more. You can tell yourself “this won’t happen to me, I’ll get X amount a year salary and live in Y and be happy” but you’ll have already contracted The Virus. Affluenza will reside in you subconsciously and the tiniest of mistakes or missed opportunities will develop into emotional distress.

The cure? I’ll let James tell you that, (wouldn’t want to ruin the book for you, I know you’re all dying to read it now).

Of course I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try your best or want to achieve great things. I simply believe that the pressure we have to compete from such a young age affects us in ways we don’t even realise. Where do you think the jealousy for your best friend’s iPhone comes from? Why do you feel ashamed when you give out your postcode to a family from Mayfair?  Why do you sit in the dark thinking “why am I still single?” when you receive the invite to the wedding of someone you went to school with? We as humans are said to be naturally jealous and self-loathing creatures – why should we accept that and carry on slowly destroying ourselves? We can live in a world where we’re happy for our friends and family for succeeding and not let it doubt our own position in society.

People want everything, and they want it yesterday.

I wrote this blog post to give my readers something to think about just as the book made my mind go into overdrive. Think about Affluenza as a concept, and consider how it might already be affecting you. Statistics show that 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year – how much of this is Affluenza-related in the Western world?

Why are we so obsessed with succeeding? The media poisons our perception of being happy with characters in good jobs and living in houses on the beach. We all want to leave our mark on the world – life is short and it’s normal to want to achieve what we can in the time we’re given.

In my opinion, we should learn to be satisfied with the simpler things in life. Think about all the people’s day you make better just by turning up, complementing their shoes or even taking out the time to read their blog (wink nudge). If you weren’t around, who in your life would it effect negatively? For example, I doubt my baby sister Scarlett appreciates me for who I am for getting good grades in my A level exams, but for rolling around in the grass with her when I get home. Work hard, do your best, but don’t push yourself to the point where succeeding only leads to negative consequences in yourself. Succeed for personal pleasure, not to prove a point.

I suffer from Affluenza just as much as everyone else. Understanding does not necessarily mean overcoming. Leave a comment below and tell me your view on being the very best and how this natural human instinct can be conquered.