The higher we climb, the harder we fall…

Trigger warning: I touch on the topics of mental illness, addiction and eating disorders in this piece.

Watching Demi Lovato’s docu-series on Youtube ‘Dancing with the Devil’, which chronicles their journey with addiction and their road to recovery, got me thinking this weekend about just how fragile we as humans are. We are flawed, often egotistical yet constantly learning as we navigate each stage of life. Why is it then that we love to put fellow humans on pedestals, elevating them to a standard even they themselves often feel they cannot reach?

This is one of the things Demi touches on during the documentary, as over the years they have become somewhat of a role model for many when it comes to mental health advocacy. However, what no-one knew was that they were battling with addiction on the side lines; making the public perception of them and what the real Demi was like as different as night and day.

I honestly could not imagine the amount of pressure such expectations can place on a person. You have 5,10,15-year-olds saying your art has changed their lives or got them through a hard time and that one day they want to be like you. It would be impossible to shrug that off without feeling some sort of burdensome weight of a duty to live up to this fantasy they have moulded of you.

Humans were not designed to be worshipped (for several obvious reasons.) A key one being we don’t have it all together, we don’t possess the perfection that is exclusively associated with God. Being idolised can definitely build ego but it can also create a quick path to inner destruction. Celebrity worship is often reductive – individuals are often being lauded all the time for a carefully crafted perception of themselves they and their teams have worked hard to portray. Or more simply, it could be because of looks alone or a talent like basketball or singing that makes people all googly eyed. Unfortunately, such talents are fleeting – they can take years to build and be gone in a matter of minutes.

So, in other words, we’re never really worshipping celebrities for who they are because we’ll never be privy to the real them, we’re in love with who we think they are. The unrealistic expectations of others become internalised which can then manifest themselves in toxic ways – for Demi, for example this was through disordered eating. This coupled with the toxic nature of cancel culture means there’s also a pressure to never step over the line. Making mistakes (whether publicly or not) is part of growing up but nowadays, one wrong step and your career is in jeopardy.

Demi isn’t the only one who has recently grappled with mental health in the public eye. Naomi Osaka recently withdrew from the French Open after being forced by event organisers to since they wouldn’t allow her to pass on media interviews for the sake of her mental health. Jesy Nelson, former member of the British girl band Little Mix recently left the band, stating reasons related to the protection of mental health. Similarly, in the past many other celebrities have been open about their struggles with mental illness – Billie Eilish, Kanye West and even Mariah Carey, to name a few.

Of course, fame hasn’t been the direct cause of mental health struggles for many celebrities but it can certainly exacerbate them, especially if they previously existed before fame. For Naomi and Jesy it seemed as if they had reached the point where mental wellbeing and peace could not exist alongside the environment they were working in, so an ultimatum was reached. The fact many people, famous or not, have to choose between their work or mental wellbeing is very unfortunate. It shows – despite or the lovely ‘discussions’ we are having around mental health – we still have a long way to go in properly providing the related support people need for recovery, treatment or prevention.

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Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in reading more on celebrity culture I wrote about some thoughts after watching the Framing Britney Spears documentary which you can read here.

Behind #FreeBritney

I was watching the Framing Britney Spears documentary on a weekend two weeks ago and it got me thinking a lot, so I thought I would share some thoughts. In particular, it made me think of how sad a word we live in where people would start to capitalise of a person’s low points in life. For those unaware of the much talked about The New York Times documentary, its release comes at a time when the #FreeBritney movement is in full swing. Although I am aware of the rough purpose of the movement, I wanted to watch the documentary myself to learn about the wider context of how Britney Spears’ conservatorship came to be.

Conservatorships, from my understanding seem to be legally binding arrangements made when a person is deemed unfit to make decisions concerning their own welfare. The parties these arrangements concern are often mentally ill or elderly. Conservatorships cover different areas of a person’s wellbeing, in Britney’s case the documentary explains that her’s means she is no longer in control of her finances or medical care – theses are controlled by other people, which up until recently has mainly been her dad. This is where things get iffy and become quite speculative – we don’t completely know how Britney feels about the arrangement or what her dad’s intentions have been all of these years. However, the documentary does give some indication to these questions so it’s definitely worth a watch.

You want a piece of me?

People spent years taking photos of Britney Spears. But did they ever  actually look? | The Independent

“I’m Miss American Dream since I was seventeen
Don’t matter if I step on the scene
Or sneak away to the Philippines
They still gon’ put pictures of my derriere in the magazine”

– Piece of Me by Britney Spears (2007)

One magazine editor admitted that at the time of Britney’s well documented breakdown, paparazzi photos of her were going for $1 million apiece. Yes, you read that right. Can you imagine? Naturally, this has caused a frenzy over the years with blood thirsty paparazzi seeking to snap Britney in compromising positions. There were disheartening scenes of Britney’s breakdown being the question on a family game show – something I found highly shocking and distasteful.

It’s interesting that we seem to often detach the idea of personhood from celebrities which makes it easy to criticise and cuss them. They often feel so far removed from our lives that their feelings don’t seem to matter too much. We are living in a different time (supposedly) but I don’t think it would take much for this to occur again – another celebrity being hounded and pushed to breaking point by the media. We could shrug and argue that is the way the cookie crumbles but consumers are arguably the most important part of the media machine. Yes, tabloids create the horrendous content but we never fail to eat it up! They rely on us buying magazines and engaging with online content in order to create demand and make money. So, we may play a much larger part than we think in all of this…

Holding On to Hope

What does the future hold for Britney? Well, we don’t know. But I’ve been careful to not use the word ‘downfall’ since the connotations are of a point of no return. Yet, I feel that is far from where she is at the moment – she’s fighting her conservatorship and has a very loyal following behind her as she does. There’s been a recent victory in her legal battle as a professional co-conservator, Bessemer Trust has now been appointed by the courts, meaning Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, no longer has sole control over her estate. Not quite total freedom, but a small victory to celebrate in an on-going war.

Your Work & Your Worth

When you find yourself out of a job you suddenly have access to 1000s of resources and benefits stripped away; from software to exclusive networking events. Even deeper than that you find yourself violently shaken from your routine. Suddenly, people, you considered friends who you may have worked with for years are gone. Sally your manager who loved Friday pints at the pub after work no longer calls so you find out the hard way you were only friends out of convenience. On top of all that you find that due to lack of money you have to start declining social events, you would have happily attended – or even have organised – when you were working. These things all tend to slowly knock your confidence and erode your happiness.

It, therefore, can’t seem surprising that your job can become entangled with your perception of your self-worth. I noticed this in the little things once I quit my role earlier this year and was looking for another. For example, when I would introduce myself to new people it felt weird that I couldn’t jump to the topic of what I do and the industry I’m in. It’s a classic icebreaker topic although I now realise it doesn’ reveal as much about a person as we may think. Another instance was when I went to an industry panel event and the sign-up form required me to fill in my place of work – which was nowhere of course. I ended up putting something to that effect in the field just to fill it but it did annoy me that that was even part of the form, therefore technically ruling out people like me from coming. That is people who are looking for work and still want to go to such events to network and stay informed on industry trends.

Anyway – moving on…

marten-bjork-rH8O0FHFpfw-unsplash
Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

As we find ourselves in mandatory lockdown, unexpectedly confined to the walls of our homes, it’s easy to put pressure on ourselves to be productive. It’s after the all the currency we use to measure our days when we’re out and about. Being able to tick tasks off our physical or mental to-do lists also gives a little dopamine rush; thus making us want to get even more done. We’re seeing a lot of things from various articles and social media influencers of things to do during a lockdown or a showcase of things they’ve managed to do. Learn a new language. Read 11 books. Become a master of coding and video editing (because one skill clearly isn’t enough.) In all honesty, I am not guilt-free when it comes to failing to listen to this pressure. Recently, I decided to try and increase my proficiency in WordPress and get better at promoting my blog content a bit more.

To be honest, the pressure feels quite burdensome and the demands stemming from it unrealistic. It feels like we’re worker ants constantly scuttling, never knowing when to be still and rest. This Guardian article which covers similar ground makes the interesting point that these pressures, coming primarily from the ‘hustle culture’, don’t actually benefit us. Rather, it benefits the Capitalist structure we are engrained in; that worker ant mentality drilled in us from childhood (i.e. school) is only done so with the endpoint being too make us ideal employees. And it does. It makes us great, efficient employees but can also spill over into our private lives causing unnecessary stress because productivity at home will never look like productivity does at work.

Why should it be a bad thing that my to-do list just consists of blog writing and shows to watch on Netflix? The time for such things may as well be now because once we’re back to normalcy, it will be like we had this moment to pause and recuperate. Overall, it is not a bad thing to decide on a personal endeavour like earning a language or instrument etc. Just know two things:

  1. Do it because you want to; don’t do it because you find yourself bowing to that external pressure I referred to. Be driven by interest and passion, not because you want to be able to cite a long list to people post-lockdown of all you accomplished.
  2. Your worth will not change even if your productivity levels do; you may be busy and buzzing some days but not on others and that’s perfectly fine.  This is a stressful time for everyone but in different ways; so we are all dealing with it how we can.

That last point also applies to those like myself who are reading this and are in the middle of a job search. I encourage you to keep going, know that you’re not alone and always have value – with or without a job.

 

 

 

 

The World as We Know It

I told myself I wasn’t going to write a post about COVID-19 but I think that would be a disservice to the extent of the situation if I didn’t. With the exception of this post, I will try to post minimally about the topic simply because I’m sure everyone is a bit overwhelmed with information – possibly to the point of fatigue. As I sit working from home each day; I switch on the news on the radio and hear about COVID-19 for several hours straight, so I for one can testify to this.

It’s a weird phenomenon we are currently experiencing where it feels like we are receiving too much information, yet at the same time, we know nothing at all. From what I’ve seen it’s clear this ‘being in the dark’ feeling extends all the way to political leaders who are primarily acting reactively to the situation with the little information they have. We are still learning about the virus and each day it seems something new is revealed.

Deaths in Britain have reached over 28,000 which is just astonishing to even think about. My heart goes out to families having to currently grieve during this ordeal. Many report their loss is magnified by the fact they didn’t get to stay with their loved one during their last moments because of the safety measures currently in place. Similarly, many who may have wanted to attend the funerals for those now passed could not due to number restrictions on who could attend.

We have witnessed the pandemic bring out the best and worst in people as the nation has experienced feelings of fear, panic and sympathy all at once. Initially, people started to panic buy in droves with items such as hand sanitiser, toilet roll and dried/tinned goods proving most popular. It was all well and good for individuals who managed to get what they needed but their selfish buying, unfortunately, was disproportionately affecting the elderly and NHS workers who would go shopping for groceries – only to find most of the items they need are gone. This led to several heartbreaking scenes being shared on social media like the one below:

Luckily, this behaviour has died down in the UK now due to the excellent response from supermarkets who decided to implement measures such as rationing in order to ensure as many people as possible could purchase what they need.

On the other hand, we’ve also seen undying acts of generosity and kindness. Big brands are donating goods, offering NHS worker discounts and manufacturing high demand items like PPE and ventilators. And to balance that we also see individuals and charities working to feed those that may have been forgotten through all of this such as those in homeless shelters and elderly individuals living alone. Additionally, I’ve seen people cook homemade meals for keyworkers and school kids, as well as landlords, offer accommodation rent-free to NHS workers. Lots of heartwarming stuff really!

 

I remember reading on my Instagram this weekend a post that said ‘The World as we know it has changed.’ In other words, there is no ‘normal’ anymore. Returning back to business is not a choice because the definition of ‘normal’ has changed from here on. But the post went on to say we should embrace this change – because the way we were functioning before was flawed and in need of adjustment. I think this perspective is a useful one to adopt – it allows us to look forward and be filled with hope, as we should.

From the way we communicate, spend our leisure time to the way we work  – this pandemic has opened a new way of doing things that may become a new normal. I’ve seen everything from IG streamed concerts, pub quizzes and weddings over Zoom to virtual conferences and church services.  I look forward to seeing how this manifests but I personally will be taking a well needed from Zoom calls and webinars of all forms – post lockdown!

There’s hope on the horizon with several talks of vaccines being tested and countries like Italy and China slowly relaxing lockdown regulations as deaths decrease. The UK itself is likely to follow suit in a few months now that we have experienced the peak of the curve; meaning deaths from here on should steadily decrease. That is of course as long as people KEEP THEIR BUTTS AT HOME!

Lastly, to those reading – stay strong and hang in there!

 

An Honest Review: The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez

 

Trials of Gabriel Fernandez poster

TW: References to child abuse, neglect, physical abuse and domestic violence

I write this review with a heavy heart. In all honesty, I haven’t even finished this docu-series – I started today and am on episode 5 out of 6 – but I feel so strongly about the content that I will write a review of my thoughts so far anyway.

I myself wasn’t aware of the case of Gabriel Fernandez before this series. However, the UK is not a stranger to such cases, with the case being reminiscent of the ‘Baby P’ case in London that received heavy media coverage and exposed numerous flaws in our social system services which helped to enable the abuse. In summary, Gabriel died at 8 years old in 2018 after several months of abuse at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend. The case covers the trial of the perpetrators but also looks more widely at systematic flaws that prevented the abuse from being stopped. The series covers so many themes I could not possibly do it justice or unveil all my thoughts; however – I will try and do my best!

One thing that was different about the reaction to this case was that the District Attorney of LA decided to prosecute the social workers who were aware of or working on the case. Initially, when I heard about this I applauded in my head – the logic behind it seemed straight forward; they were made aware of the chain of incidences which clearly indicated removing Gabriel from his home was necessary but yet they failed to act accordingly. However, as the series progresses it seems that prosecuting the social workers seem insufficient in comparison to the size of the problem. One of the colleagues of the tried co-workers states she thinks they are scapegoats in this case and I suspect she might be right. After all, several members from the sheriff’s department also visited Gabriel’s house – the site of the abuse – and failed to intervene or detect such abuse was happening. So why weren’t the visiting police officers arrested? If you’re going to use that same logic to arrest certain parties then use it consistently and arrest them ALL. It does indeed seem suspicious that law enforcement received such immunity.

It is also quite annoying that systematic issues within large organisations are highlighted but never dealt with. By arresting and firing different staff within bureaucracies the problem doesn’t automatically disappear. If the system is inherently flawed then those staff will be replaced by people that will only continue to enforce the flawed system. Authorities need to put it in the leg work into changing work cultures, changing legislation and conducting appropriate reviews on their operations. Systematic change won’t happen overnight but if the failures aren’t properly addressed another tragedy could strike until it happens.

Something that struck me throughout was that not a single person – his teacher aside – thought to speak or interview the victim himself, Gabriel. If the police or members from social services wanted confirmation of details or verification of Gabriel’s welfare or state of mind – they asked the parents. This fact frustrated me because Gabriel was eight. Of course in some cases the children are too young to adequately express themselves but that wasn’t the case here. If Gabriel had just been given the chance to speak confidentially to someone things may have been different. Abuse typically thrives on secrecy. If the parents themselves are the perpetrators then, of course, they would say whatever’s necessary to ward people off the scent of their crimes. And that’s just what they did. The failure to consult Gabriel or actually listen to his cries – he was actually quite vocal about his abuse -indicates a wider problem. Where in the midst of everything the children are ironically forgotten; or the adults around them make the decisions affecting them but they themselves are never consulted. In this case, prioritising Gabriel’s mums right to custody of her child over Gabriel’s safety/welfare and right to live ultimately cost him his life. If predominately dealing with children such services need to adopt models with children and their rights at the centre.

Although I would recommend this docu-series, I would definitely warn that this is by no means an easy watch. It will make you feel uneasy, angry and frustrated. On the plus side, it does dig deep into the wider issues that Gabriel’s case highlighted. They also interview a wider range of experts and people involved or affected by the case – from a journalist that broke the story to one of Gabriel’s classmates who continues to mourn for him. Not many stones are left unturned and this is helped by the fact it a docuseries. If you feel it may be intense, simply take it one episode at a time but definitely do give it a watch.

The trailer for the Netflix docu-series can be found here.

 

Weekly News Roundup

For those of you that don’t watch the news, or weirdly, watch it on mute- I’m here to save you. Here’s my weekly news roundup.

The media have been going wild since Donald Trump announced he would enforce a ‘temporary measure’ where all Muslims would be banned from entering the country. He said the measure would be needed until government officials figure out, I quote, ‘what the hell is going on.’ I’ve seen the footage of him saying this quite a few times and I think what scared me most was that there was no heckling or booing; anything that sounded like a sign of disagreement.

I’m sure these comments were fuelled by the recent shooting that took place where a Muslim couple shot people in a centre for people with developmental disabilities. However, Donald Trump is forgetting that most of the school shootings (including the Batman cinema shootings) were committed by white disillusioned Americans. The problem is not that of Islam or race for that matter, and making it appear as if so steers public debate away from the true issues at heart. The problem is guns- that is gun laws and the second amendment; which I believe is out of date and is in need of reform. I was talking to my flatmate who was in agreement and she said she doesn’t know how many shootings are going to have to take place for the government to realise this. This is sad, but true.

Britain voted to send airstrikes to Syria. Something, I (and millions of others) did not agree with it. However, it was pretty much a damned if you, damned if you don’t situation. Although much of the Labour Party voted against it, just under 160 MPs I believe, 66 voted in favour. The bombs are said to be over £100,000 each- which is simply, just ridiculous. I think it’s around 6,000 people that sleep homeless in London each year, a figure that is much higher if we include the rest of Britain and the government choose to spend all this money (they supposedly don’t have) on defence and the military. Priorities need to be re-evaluated if you ask me.

Other events

The global climate summit finally came to an end, after being extended. It’s been heralded as historic, as it’s the first time, the majority of the world’s countries- developed and developing- have reached a consensus on how to tackle the issue. Floods have been taking place in the North of England and the government has set aside £50 million for aid. Saudi Arabia has allowed women to vote in regional elections- there was an 80% turnout, compared to the 44% turnout for men. Tim Peak, a British astronaut has shot off into space! Lastly, Louisa Johnson has become the UK’s youngest winner of the X factor, at the tender age of 17. How Charming.

 

Solidarity with Paris

I know what you’re thinking- ‘yet another post on Paris’, but give me a chance to get my thoughts out on the table first.

I feel stung by the recent events and this is despite not even having much ties to France in terms of relatives (although, if I am correct, a few friends were there at the time.) The ‘sting’ comes mainly from the fact that France is so close to the UK, and it could have been us. I know, it’s selfish thought in some way, but I’m pretty sure most British people thought it too. So do I feel solidarity with Paris? Yes, I do.Paris Peace logo

Artist: Jean Jullien. A refershing change from the tacky Facebook filters.

However, I do not feel changing my Facebook profile to the tripartite filter will adequately display my sympathy. My tutor correctly pointed out today that doing so seems to have a narcissistic tinge it. After all, people can like your photo. In my opinion, it also gets to a point where it’s just an act of compliance. You can’t really tell if it’s genuine now or people are doing it BECAUSE they’re worried they won’t look sympathetic if they don’t.

In regards to the criticism regarding the media coverage- I do agree on one thing; their is a heavy Western bias in the media. This event has opened eyes much more to this fact. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware there was coverage of the Beruit attacks, but I feel it was deeply improportionate compared to the events in Paris.Nevertheless, I do understand France is very close to the UK politically and geographically. Yet, I can’t help suspecting though, that France’s power, wealth/ global position also play a big part here too.

Unlike some people on social media, I disagree with the idea that this issue should force me to pick a team in terms of where my solidarity stands. They’re my emotions and I choose to feel compassionate towards the people affected in both locations- it’s really that simple. At the end of the day, lives are lives and my political views do not dictate my emotions.

Lastly, this is a war on terrorism and islamic extremists- not Islam or it’s many followers. I hope, governments as well as civillians always remember that and are careful not to blur the lines.

Well that’s enough of me for today,

Good night folks 🙂