The Menstruation Myth

Period, period, period, period, period. Are you comfortable with it yet?

When I was 17 years old I tried to send my brother to the local pharmacy because I needed tampons. Before he could step out of the door I could hear a mumbled conversation and then a resounding WHAT, before he was loudly told to get upstairs and my father stormed into the living room to give me a piece of his mind.

 Little had I known that my insensitive request had nearly turned my brother gay, or worse, transgender.

I was astounded by the ignorance flowing out of the mouth of someone I respected. A well educated, well read individual, and one who had no problem discussing fashion and makeup with me, hardly the manliest of conversations.

The line was drawn at periods.

The attitude towards periods he had experienced growing up was one where they were treated as a curse, a sign of uncleanliness, a burden women had to endure as discreetly as possible without tainting any innocent men with it. In the later years we managed to educate my father away from the fears borne from menstrual ignorance; he no longer handles a box of tampons at arms length, nor washes his hands compulsively afterwards.

My mum remains quite sheltered on the topic, like many Indian women of her generation. It was something whispered behind closed doors. Uttering it too loudly may cause your uterus to explode. She was taught that it was something to be ashamed of, something women suffered.

Maybe it was a good thing that she wasn’t around to give me the talk. I had to rely on my sister and PSHE for my information. My dad’s only recognition of the event was adding sanitary towels to the shopping list and then promptly reminding me I had to help him buy them, else he be considered a pervert by the rest of London. By the time she came home, my dad was now privy to my cycle, and I was using tampons.

Revelations that garnered an “Oh lord, the shame!” and an afternoon of praying.

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“They attract bears”

The ignorance surrounding the menstrual cycle used to really anger me as a young woman. Periods make women ‘unclean’ in my culture. You are not meant to enter a holy place when menstruating, nor are you meant to touch a man about to pray, or give offerings to god, and a whole other list of things you can’t do because you are tainted by your own biology. The most embarrassing part when I was a young teen, was you would be asked whether you had your period. I could understand this from a doctor, but not when all I wanted to do was step into a building. My mother would discreetly inquire if I had my period and if I did I didn’t have to go to temple, or religious events, or partake in religious ceremonies.

Needless to say, I was always on my period during such occasions.

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Yeah, he’s not convinced

For some of the men I dated ‘that time of the month’ was a punchline and an inconvenience. Periods meant sex was now a hassle. Ignorant fears of fathering a brain damaged baby, or seeing tampax in the bathroom were too much for a minority. In fairness these comments were made by the Bricks of this world who believe periods opened them up to bear attacks.

Most men my age aren’t that ignorant.

But that isn’t to say they are well informed, or that they want to be. An ex once asked me how I was able to be in the swimming pool of our local gym if I was on my period. Confused, I replied tampons. He continued to look at me awaiting an explanation. Why would he know the difference between a sanitary towel or a tampon? Why would he care? The Bodyform woman’s roar was obviously a signal to put the kettle on for him. What he could do though was wipe the terrified look off his face and stop scanning the water for Sharks.

A uniquely female experience doesn’t have be seen as a curse, or unclean, or a negative.

 Man up. It’s just a little blood.

 

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My So Called Life

Life, or something a lot like it

Last month on My Life: I got a job. I started a course. I downloaded Tinder. Again. I quit the job. I finished the course. I deleted Tinder. Again.

Despite the boring summary, I feel like things have changed. Albeit microscopically.

Instead of putting the same effort into a CV as I did into making pencil cases out of Pocky boxes, I chose to play narcissistic date roulette again and hone my use of the ‘How you doin?’ GIF.

Normally, this would distract me for at least a month before I got fed up of the superficiality of it all, and returned to binge drinking for entertainment.

Not this time: It lasted 16 days. And I’m not drunk right now.

It’s not because the internet is rife with sexual deviants who have decided to use their opposable thumbs to tug themselves off and video it simultaneously. Nor is it because it has become acceptable to ask a stranger for a blowjob based on the fact they liked your picture. Although, let’s face it, neither of those guys are doing men a favour in the dating stakes.

The reason is that for months my entire life has been conducted through screens.

I say it like it isn’t the norm. Update status, Snapchat your day, IG your food, Whatsapp your genitals. It’s modern life for many.

Much more of my time has been invested in a virtual reality. I work remotely and rarely have to speak to colleagues beyond emails and online chat. I date remotely and have ‘conversations’ via text. I don’t have to spend any ‘real time’ with people at all.

I miss real people.

I think a lot of pressure was taken off my awkward social skills in the advent of growing social media. I didn’t realise how distant it had made me. I’ve favoured Whatsapp chats over phone calls. My phone is always on silent. I express myself through sarcastic updates  and my last two relationships have been mainly conducted remotely over Skype.

This year has changed me though.

In the spirit of personal development, I told a guy I was texting that we should have a chat, get to know each other properly.

His response was to text me diary entries of his day until I asked him to kindly stop.

Maybe switching my phone off and going outside more is a better start.

Rebel Rebel

I clearly do not like being told what to do

A paramilitary tried to train me for a cross country run once. I thought running with someone else would be fun.

Wrong.

The clue was in the fact he was paramilitary. As a result, he thought barking at me to run faster, run backwards, slow down, go faster, would motivate me. I stopped about 2k in and said I wasn’t going to do anymore. He did the whole, “Don’t quit on me now!” soldier bollocks that might get a different person hyped up and grunting like a frat boy.

I just stopped turned around and started running in the opposite direction.

“I know you’re type.” he said when he caught up to me. “Don’t like being told what to do.”

He was right. I don’t like being told what to do. I don’t like being yelled at. I definitely don’t like the combo with the added stress of an increased heart rate when I am covered in sweat.

Before I could wheeze something offensive at him he pulled out some ninja death stars and a butterfly knife, and said we could go and practice being ninjas in the park instead.

Funnily enough I didn’t mind being told how to throw a knife.

My dad says I always have to be difficult. Do things the hard way. Or the weird way.

Maybe he’s right.

It’s unfortunate we seem to be so diametrically opposed in our approaches to life.

I never considered the tattoos, piercings, short hair, red hair, late nights, drunk nights, or any of the rest of it an act of rebellion. I was just doing what I wanted to do. It just so happened there was someone on the opposite side telling me not to do it.

Is that what makes it rebellion?

Discussing the topic with a friend she told me of her own rebellion: joining the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It was a bizarre situation.

Her parents thought she needed spiritual guidance. Unfortunately it’s rare to get a Hindu priest knocking on your door.

Cue the change of religion.

I’m still not clear what they hoped to achieve by having the nice Watchtower ladies talk to her once a week. Maybe they thought they would calm her down enough for Hindu control. I bet they didn’t expect her to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses though.

It took two years before she felt her point had been solidly proven and returned to being a happy agnostic.

Was this a completely necessary point to prove?

Probably not.

But when you’re a teen there’s the need to assert who you are. Followed by the notion you will slow down, calm down, or grow out of it.

Now that I’m older, I feel somewhat obliged to behave in a sensible moderate way. But the need to assert who we are isn’t something confined to our hormonal teens.

There’s no one really telling me what to do anymore. Only my brain.

What do

Well brain, I do what I want.

 

 

 

Year of the Monkey

It’s good to be impulsive. And occasionally life threatening.

It’s the year of the monkey. Naturally, I was born in the year of the monkey. Witty, sociable, easily bored, stubborn.

Sums me up perfectly I think.

No better time to get harnessed up and back on the face of a mountain.

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Coconut thief

It’s been a few years since I went boulder climbing. It used to be  a regular thing, but after my hand injury I didn’t trust my wrist to support my weight.

I didn’t know what to expect on the half day climb with The Rock Shop. I’d signed up for a beginners course because I was worried.

Climbing had been my way of dealing with my fear of heights. I don’t like to be scared, or limited. My way of handling fears is to throw myself into them. More than often the return is something beautiful. The views from the top. The reward of an isolated spot. It’s a risk, but one worth taking.

When I floundered on the first climb our guide grinned at me

“You can be good or bad, but you must have fun!”

He was right. Once the pressure was off, it was more fun.

After the day’s climb, the rest of the group wanted to grab food and see some of Railay. We were all keen to find the lagoon for a relaxing swim to end the day. We deserved a break.

Little did we know.

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Only 10 more metres…

We had assumed that it would be a calm walk, a couple of dips and then back to Tonsai.

The warning signpost and the exhausted faces of people scaling down from a point up into the mountain, should have been our first indicator this wasn’t going to be easy.

The route had ropes set up along the way. All you had to do was find your feet and hoist yourself up. Easy enough. I decided to pop my flip flops into my bag and go barefoot.

My feet still haven’t forgiven me.

When we finally reached the clearing at the top it dawned on us that we’d have to climb deeper down into the mountain to reach the lagoon. Unless there was an off chance this was a magical lagoon at the top of a mountain that defied gravity.

The downward descent to the lagoon was a little more than “strenuous” as the warning at the start of the ‘hike’ suggested.

We were lowering ourselves through slippery sharp rocks, climbing through narrow holes with back packs on and at times reaching around for a foothold, or handhold when we couldn’t see behind us. After my first slip and near fall onto craggy rocks, my faith in my wrist was completely restored.

It was a precarious climb to the bottom. But it was completely worth it. Photos don’t do it justice.

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Take the risk, reap the rewards

It’s the things we really work to get that bring us the greatest satisfaction.

I’m quite impulsive in the risks that I take. God knows how far this ‘All or nothing’ attitude will get me in Vegas in a few weeks.

Maybe it will get me out of student debt.

Cleanse

Colonic irrigation is about as fancy as it sounds.

The room was small, incense burned, a jazzy tune played, but the roar of the ocean could still be heard in the background. I stared hard at the long wooden plank leading to the toilet in the middle of the room. Above it, a bucket filled with coffee infused water and a system of tubes. I listened carefully as Mun acted out how to carry out your own colonic, occasionally eyeing up the plastic bottle filled with olive oil that I would be using to ‘lubricate my anus’

Maybe the juice fast had me deluded.

This had seemed like a much better idea after a clay shake. I am very suggestible and mildly violent when hungry. I had wanted to purge any residual negaitivity I was storing up mentally. Why not physically? Start afresh: body, mind and soul.

I hadn’t imagined a new start would look like a 6 by 4 propped up on cinder blocks and an open toilet.

I’ve never been one for diets or health fads.  I attempted Beyonce’s Maple Syrup diet 7 years ago. Well I say attempted, I drank herbal tea for 5 days and chased them with  short stacks drowned in, maple syrup.

The Sanctuary is an amazing place to satisfy your curiosity for detox and cleanse programs. It is possibly the cheapest place in the world to have a colonic, or carry out a cleanse. Its staff are friendly, and well informed. There are also ongoing classes in yoga, pilates and meditation, as well as massages, a spa and steam room.

The whole environment encourages you to live and eat well, and fills you with a sense of well being.

I was intoxicated. Which is probably why a Juice fast sounded good.

I love juice. All drinks in fact. The more beverages the better. A day of juice sounded easy. Anyone who has seen me wolf down an order of tacos, or observed me eating my three lunches, knows I won’t fade away after a day fast. What I didn’t know was that all cleanses ended with a colonic.

I had a vague understanding of how they worked thanks to an episode of Jackass where Johnny gets a colonic. It didn’t prepare me at all for what it would feel like. It didn’t feel as hilarious as Johnny’s looked.

As I returned to the wellness centre, I looked visibly traumatised.

I won’t lie, when I decided to come out here I had been hoping to get in touch with myself. Just not via my anus with a tube I inserted myself. But you can’t predict what turns the game around.

I thought the emotional elements I couldn’t shift were with me for a reason. But just like a physical cleanse,  it takes time to flush out the more noxious parts of us.

They can be shifted though.

It won’t be pretty, but as I lie swinging in this hammock with a massive smile on my face and not a care in the world, I’d say it was worth it.

So this is Christmas

 

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Not this year it isn’t…

John Lewis and shiny stuff would lead most of us to believe that this is the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas can be pretty wonderful: friends you haven’t seen in years, time with family, spreading joy, giving and receiving, great food, the list goes on. This year my attitude, normally on a par with Buddy the Elf, is a bit more like the weather: lukewarm.

Christmas comes but once a year. At least that was my mantra in past years when I forced a smile when being nagged by my parents about when I was going to meet a nice boy. Or when I was being nagged about when I was going to move closer to home. Or when I was wincing at drunken shouting and trivial arguments. Or when I was joining in on the shouting. I still managed a smile because a week down the line I would be back on a plane and far away. Future conversations could be tolerated. Or at least muted.

This year Christmas feels like it is building up to be Wrestlemania. All the previously small bouts that have taken place lover the last four months will now culminate in this one off spectacular event.

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All things festive

There is no tapping out.

A chair may be employed as a last minute act of desperation.

My plan to hide in the gym was thwarted. I may no longer have any idea what day of the week it is, but most of the normal working world have been counting the sleeps until they could go out, get battered, safe in the knowledge there was no getting up at 7 am the next morning.

This is my life.

Maybe that’s why my cheer isn’t as cheery. The biggest factor in my love of Christmas was desperate relief. The winter term was the longest one at school. After seven weeks of crowd control, marking, observations and prising kids off windows and walls, I wanted to sleep for two weeks. It’s like the Eddie Murphy joke about the cracker you get offered after weeks in the desert.

Christmas was the best cracker I had ever eaten.

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Christmas Hip Hop Carousel

Every day is like Christmas now. In the sense I get to stay at home watching bad television, balancing my finances and drinking anything mulled. All I’ve been missing over the last four months was a festive hat at a jaunty angle.

The traditional Christmas dinner is also a festive selling point.

Roast potatoes, Turkey, Christmas pudding, even sprouts, there’s something about that Christmas spread. It warms the heart.

As I sit staring at the swede that will be the crowning joy in vegan Christmas, I find it hard to get excited.

My brother is an excellent cook. It will be a Vegetarian/Vegan delight. But it’s not quite Christmas this year.

I nearly went full Scrooge when Facebook asked if I wanted to see what 2015 looked like. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The Ghosts of Facebook Statuses past have helped me to gain some perspective this Christmas Eve.

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Still smiling. Kind of

This hasn’t been my worst Christmas. Not by a long shot.

There was the Christmas Air France lost all my luggage. The Christmas I lost my phone in a taxi on the way to the airport. The Christmas I nearly lost my hand and had to have surgery. Last Christmas, when  I was sent blow by blow details of how my then boyfriend liked to get down in the bedroom, and then had to spend the day comforting him.

This has been quite an uneventful festive season in retrospect.

Christmas has it’s good points. I get to make it magical for my nephew.  I stay up watching cheesy movies and playing board games with my siblings. It’s the only time of the year when I can hit reset with my parents and start afresh. I also get to see friends I love and laugh. Drunkenly.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. If I let it be.

So I’m going to get me some wine and listen to Jingle Bell Rock until the spirit of Christmas, or Christmas spirits restore me to my normally hyperactive Christmas state.
Happy holidays. Get merry. ’tis the season.

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The Great Escape

Distance can really help to gain some perspective on life.

In the last month I have been making a more concerted effort to find a job. A friend of mine pointed out to me that if I actually made an effort and a plan, rather than planning to escape as I always did, maybe I would get where I wanted to.

Fair point.

I am not the most patient person when it comes to my goals. If I haven’t made it work in a month it starts feeling like failure. The panic sets in and I start looking at the international teacher posts on TES, or escort work.

I get desperate.

In comparison, I am far more functional in a foreign country alone, with limited funding and only the clothes in my back pack. After 10 years of travel and living abroad I have grown to have more faith in that version of myself.

The woman stuck in her parent’s house isn’t to be trusted and is a proven flight risk.

After the last four months I needed to get away. Recharge. Try again. I needed Brazil.

My days would start with the view of Mount Corcovado and coffee. I visited The Selaron Stairs, Christ the redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, and relaxed on Ipanema and Copacabana. In the evenings I would have conversations with friends, grab a drink, have a laugh and make the best of my time in town.

I was pretty proud of how well I had managed on my own, a feeling that I’d forgotten after months of rejection emails and depressing bank statements.

In my short time in Rio I visited Paraty and Ilha Grande. My Portañol (Spanish/Portuguese mash up)  was getting me through the day and I was able to have conversations where I would normally be taught how to pronounce things, (that r is a killer) or how to swear.

Add to this the fact everyone in Rio seems to be a walking gym advert, and that they advocate for teeny bikinis and no tan lines, then you’ve got a city I can get on board with.

After talking to a few people, I found out that it might be possible to get a teaching job for the new year. So why not move there?

I’ve never had more reason to leave London. Everyone would understand if I gave up. If I went back to Mexico. If I went back to teaching. But things had changed and an escape plan, though great for the short term, would not get me where I needed to be.

On the way to the airport Nelson, my taxi driver, explained the meaning of the word saudade, a word unique to portuguese. He said it was the feeling of missing something you hadn’t felt or experienced in a long time. Like sadness and nostalgia, a longing for something that you didn’t have anymore. Though bittersweet it didn’t always have to be sad.

He then serenaded me with Girl from Ipanema before telling me all the beautiful girls lived in Rio, and I should come back.

I promised that I would when I had a job.