'My Mum has MS: A Guide'

In 2000, I briefly remember my Mum coming home wearing an eye-patch. I immediately asked her if she was a Pirate to which she replied with a chuckle and explained it was so she could focus more on the road when her eye got bad. I know my Mum was struggling with vision in one of her eyes at the time and the fact she had to wear an eye-patch was actually really amusing to me – being only 6 years old. But slowly, my Mum was taking more trips to the hospital for tests and I started to notice something wasn’t quite right. I remember it quite well and to be honest, I’d say the process of my Mum receiving her diagnosis was the first clear memory I have. I remember on one occasion my Dad picking me up from school and bombing it down the motorway – again, as a 6-year-old, I found it so exciting to leave school early to go pick up my Mum. I remember her sat on a wall and struggling to stand up when we pulled in. I asked my Dad why she was limping and he said she needed to have a big needle injected into her spine to see what was making her poorly. I remember so clearly in that moment that my heart started pounding. I became worried and anxious and realised that eyepatches, playing with crutches and speeding down the motorway couldn’t mask the fact that my Mum was really not well. A few days later, she came home with a booklet. ‘My Mummy has Multiple Sclerosis: A guide’. And, that was the start of a very long journey, a journey that would define all of our lives as a family.
More so as a child, whenever anyone asked what was wrong with my Mum and I told them she had MS, they had no clue what it was. As a teenager, more people knew and some people still asked ‘what’s that?’ Now, when people ask, more often than not, they know what it is but I still find myself giving a brief explanation of the condition. So, I’ll give you guys quick snapshot of the illness – which is pretty easy to understand if you read the NHS website - and how is correlates with my Mum’s health.
Multiple Sclerosis (also knows as MS) is an auto immune condition that attacks the Central Nervous System. Basically, the immune system attacks a healthy part of the body, in this case, the brain and spinal cord. It attacks the layer that surrounds the nerves which can cause them to become damaged, resulting in messages travelling along the nerves to become slow and disrupted. It is a lifelong disease with no cure and can cause serious – and sometimes mild – disability. In terms of a cause, it is seen as genetic and environmental but it’s still unclear really. With only 100,000 sufferers in the UK, it is still rare and because of that, completely under the radar. There are 4 main types of MS but I’ll explain the two most common;

Relapsing-Remitting MS – which is the most common form. This is where they experience flare ups and relapse, resulting in new symptoms appearing and becoming permanent. Imagine a roller-coaster for this one

Secondary-Progressive MS – This is where symptoms worsen over time with no recovery. Most of those who experience RRMS develop this. Imagine the roller-coaster dropping continuously with small breaks in-between. 

Like explained above, there is so many more explanations through google for the condition if you want to find out more. So, now that that’s out of the way, lets get straight back to it.

As a child, I was pretty clueless on what MS and how it affected my Mum, all I knew growing up was that my Mum wasn’t well, was no longer able to work and needed help as and when she could. Daily chores had more meaning now when we knew we were doing them because Mum couldn’t. My mum was first diagnosed with RRMS which has now developed into SPMS. Over time, she deteriorated in many ways and as a family, we accommodated to her needs and helped out. Eventually, having a Mum that was unwell became normal to me and now I can’t even remember a time where she was healthy – but I wouldn’t have her any other way. The only knowledge and experience I have of MS is living with someone who suffers from it and I’ll be the first to tell you that it really isn’t nice to witness. Even more so when it is your parent that suffers and eventually, the roles are reversed and I found myself helping to care for her.
Many of my Mum’s symptoms have developed and changed over time. When she was healthy, she never stopped, she was a powerhouse caring for me and my two brothers and keeping the house going. Her first symptom was losing the sight in her right eye – hence the eyepatch. Then, she began to lose feeling down her right side. Typical stroke symptoms right? Maybe so, but diagnosis was such a long drawn out process for her that I’m sure she’ll agree with me when I say she was relieved to finally know what was wrong. The next 10 years were pretty much the same in the sense that she would suffer a relapse, be administered steroids, perk up a bit and come crashing back down. Because of the steroids, she ballooned in weight which she then lost, which then resulted in another relapse and this became an endless cycle really. I remember on one occasion when I was only in Primary school, where she collapsed for no reason apart from her legs just stopped working. It was just me and her in the house. Instances like that used to – and still do – terrify me. Eventually, my Dad quit his job to become her full time carer – a move that took some serious balls and unconditional love if you ask me. Time passed and Mum needed a wheelchair more often, she needed help with daily tasks and began to struggle with things that you and I would take for granted. I’m not going to go into a huge amount of details, mainly out of respecting my Mum’s privacy, but to slowly lose to ability to do everyday things was heartbreaking to see, and still is. Lets fast forward.
When I was 16, my Mum sat me down and wanted to explain the true extent of her illness and what it would entail for us all going forward. That was the first time I broke down about it. The realisation of what my Mum was going through and what we had to face in the future absolutely terrified me. Me and my Mum have always had a very turbulent relationship all because we clash way too much because we’re so similar and headstrong. But, there's not doubt in my mind that I would be completely lost without her and she really is my best friend. To be told to prepare for carers, complete loss in mobility, becoming a vegetable… No, it was too much for me to handle. So, after 10 years of pushing her illness to the back of my mind, it became the only thing I could think about and focus on. Being told at 16 that my Mum will get worse at a faster rate and the future is unclear, was heartbreaking.
Fast forward another couple of years and I found myself in a place where I accepted what was going to happen and I felt more prepared for it. Hence, coping better. Coping enough to feel comfortable to talk about about with others, the share it with others in the hope that it raises more awareness about the disease. And boy, am I glad I finally got to a stage where I could cope with it because when they say time is a healer, that doesn’t apply the Multiple Sclerosis.
2018, My mum is 51 and has had this condition for 18 years now. Since the dreaded ‘Secondary-Progressive’ development, I have seen a quicker decline, more so now I don’t live with her anymore. Here’s just a brief overview of the shit that lady has been through and I dare anyone to tell me that she’s not a strong lady. Because, god-damn, if I have an ounce of the strength my Mum does then I’m doing ok.
A mini stroke which went unnoticed at first is what led to the diagnosis of SPMS. Stress is the biggest cause of her flare up and the loss of her mum, my lovely Grandma, wouldn’t have helped at all. Along with that came a diagnosis of diabetes, trouble swallowing food, coughing fits – which are like something out of the exorcist I swear - sleep apnoea and a mountain of tablets a day. My Mum is now solely reliant on her wheelchair to get places, even if it’s just to the next room of the house. Spasms galore – honestly trying to paint that woman's toenails is a task and a half whe she can’t help but kick you in the face. Blood pressure checks, blood count checks, eye checks, checks checks checks. Honestly, she spends so much time with her doctors and specialists that she may as well call them friends by now. She need assistance when moving, washing and dressing herself, going to the toilet. Remember I mentioned the day to day things we all take for granted? Over time, we all know as a family that she’s too far advanced now for any treatment to stop symptoms, but rather make life as comfortable and manageable as possible. We laugh about it every now and then because I know if we didn’t, we’d let the sadness of the situation consume us. Whether she’s slurring her words or forgetting names or her uncontrollable leg spasms – you have to laugh.
You could say that because of my Mum’s diagnosis, she is unable to do what your ‘typical’  Mum can. As a child, we could never go abroad, because Mum can’t fly. But, we had the most awesome trips to make up for it and summers were always such a treat. Many women my age are now enjoying a time where they can go for a couple of drinks with their Mum, days out, nights out, holidays away. I, myself, wouldn’t change my Mum for the world – illness and all – but it does sometimes that we can’t do all that stuff. But, instead we have tea together and laugh about life and that’s enough. The one main thing that really does get to me if that fact that my Mum can’t stand for long enough or has the strength in her arms for me to give her a proper hug. But now, we've adapted it where I just lay on top of her when shes on the sofa and that’s our hug. The best hugs in the world.
MS is a devastating illness. Not just for the sufferer, but for those who have to witness the suffering on a regular basis. The main one who does? My Papa. My Dad has literally gone above and beyond for my Mum since she was diagnosed and I’m in awe of what he does every day. The sacrifices he made to be her carer and I tell you something, the man has the patience of a saint because my Mum’s mood swings are like a tornado is in the room – sorry Mum, you know it’s true! For me, I struggle every now and then. Something will happen that makes it all seem a little bit too real and I seem to revert to being a kid again – upset and confused about what’s going to happen. Deep down, we all worry, I know we do and we acknowledge that but I think we do a pretty damn good job of not letting the bad times, past and impending, to ruin what we have now. Sure, I have my moments of ‘why my Mum?’ and cursing the world for being so cruel but spending your life resenting the unpredictable is a waste of time. I sometimes worry I might develop it myself. With it having a link to genetics and more common in women, it scares me sometimes. But, I’ve seen my Mum do it, I’ve seen her power through and get on with life despite all this terrible disease has thrown at her. And at the end of the day, she has a smile on her face and still stands up again – metaphorically because, y’know :) – after every knock back.
In terms of research, well. They’re trying. They’re trying their best to find a cure. Unfortunately, by the time that happens and if it ever will, it’ll be too late for my Mum and many others. But, it’s a step forward and any awareness raised is a good thing. If you’ve read this post and want to know more about MS, that’s raising awareness. If you’ve read this and have a greater understanding of it, that’s awareness. Any awareness helps and I really do hope that one day, a cure will be found in my lifetime and MS is no longer seen as such a debilitating illness.
Thank you so much for reading and making it this far. I really hope you enjoyed this post as it was my most requested when I asked on my social media! I’m thinking about raising money for the MS Society at some point in the near future and aim to have more people talking about and fighting against MS. Mum, you're an absolute superwoman who inspires me everyday. But, Dad - you're the backbone for us all. I love you both so much.

Until next time, M x

Lifestyle // Becoming 'Stepmum'

I've been wanting to write about this topic ever since I started up my blog again but never really got round to it. It's something that is a huge part of my life and influences all of my decisions and life choices. It's also something that I never would have predicted. And that is, being in a relationship with someone who already has children. Essentially, I'm going to talk about my experience of being 'Daddy's girlfriend' and how my life has completely changed in the past 3 years.

I've known my other half, Burnie, since I was 15 years old. We met through my cousin and hit it off straight away. He quickly became known as the guy who had 'loads of kids' and was often the subject of a lot of laughs and inside jokes - all out of jest may I add! Over time, he would dip in and out of my life and we'd meet up at parties and social gatherings. It wasn't until I was 20 that I started seeing him in a different way. We were spending more time in each others company and I developed what can only be described as a 'schoolgirl crush' on him .As my feelings towards him got stronger, so did the hurdles. First off, he's my cousins best friend. Secondly, he's nearly 9 years older than me. And thirdly - and most importantly - he's a Dad to 4 children. I mean, WHAT? On the surface, it would never work and we'd never be able to have anything more than flirty banter. That's as far as it went really, until we both gave into each other and started dating. In secret.

For 2 months, we snook around and didn't really tell anyone about what we were up to (even though when everyone found out, they were very quick to point out how bloody obvious it was - oops!) We never spoke about introducing me to the children because we've both said now - we never ever expected it to become of anything. As time passed and we spent more and more time together, I completely fell head over heels in love with him. Not what I expected to happen, something I tried to stop happening. Nothing like making it complicated for myself, right?!

Throughout this time, I'd say for around 5/6 months I had a LOT of conversations with myself and my friends over it. I'd fallen in love for the first time with a man who was almost 9 years older than me. That in itself was a bit hard to grasp but I have always been a big believer in age is just a number so it slowly became an invalid argument. What I really struggled with was committing myself to not just him, but his children. 4 of them. Burnie had stopped being the man I joked about procreating his own football team as a father to 4 children. The man that I loved was a Dad. Never in my life did I ever imagine myself to be in the situation I was in and it took a lot of questions and actual pros/cons lists of being in a relationship with someone who is a parent. Because, essentially, I was entering a relationship with not one person, but 5. SHIT.

The first time I met all of his children, it was the spring of 2015. Me and Burnie weren't dating at the time but with so many mutual friends between us, we met at a local event and went over to the pub in the afternoon. Actually seeing these kids who I'd heard so much about was a real treat and eventually, we were all play fighting in the beer garden and I had one of the afternoons I'd had in a long while. Back then, even though it was only a few months before me and Burnie got together, I never ever expect them to be in my life. Over time, he'd tell me stories about his children, recite memories he'd made with them and speak about them with such love and care that eventually I knew - I had to meet them properly.

The most important thing for the both of us was to make sure that the kids would be comfortable with being around someone new, let alone knowing that they’re Dad’s new girlfriend. So, to start off with, we decided to introduce me as a friend. For the next 8 months or so, we would meet up with the kids just to see how we’d get on. I was so so worried that they wouldn’t like me and that I would have to spend a lot of time trying to prove myself to them.  But, straight from the beginning, I felt an instant connection with all of them. I do have a lot of children in my family anyway, so to spend time with them kind of comes natural to me now and the same goes for Burnies children. 

Eventually, I was spending more time with them, seeing them more regular and ended up spending pretty much every weekend in their company. It wasn’t until me and Burnie had been together for 8 months when we wouldn’t avoid the questions of ‘are you my Daddy’s girlfriend? Is Mel your girlfriend?’ anymore. To be accepted into the lives of 4 very different, strong and independent children gave me such joy and happiness and I knew from then that I would only grow to care for them more as time went on. And boy, I wasn’t wrong. It was only just over a year ago, when me and Burnie moved in together, that my role as ‘Stepmum’ really came into play. And yes, I still use quotation marks around THAT word because it’s still weird for me, especially when me and Burnie aren’t married – and even though the kids themselves say that I technically am!

I'm not going to lie to you, playing a part in raising 4 children is really hard work. It's not something I signed up for to start with when I was only 'flirting' with Burnie, but I like a challenge and face everything head on. But my god, it's difficult sometimes. Then again, on the flip side - it is the most rewarding experience and pretty much the best thing I've done with my life. To break it down, I'm going to list - yay! another one - what I've learnt the most from being a 'Stepmum' to Alex, 12, Evie B, 10 (nearly 11!), Harry, 8 and Bethany (aka Betty), 5.

L-R: Betty, Alex, Burnie, Evie, Harry

  • Your are allowed to discipline - Now before I get into it, you have to earn this. I was sitting on the side lines to start with when the children misbehaved because I didn't get the green light from Burnie that it was ok for me to chip in. And not just that, I didn't feel comfortable with it. As time went on and I asked Burnie his thoughts about it, we both knew that it was within my right as an adult - not a 'parental figure' - to discipline the children. Before, it used to be Burnie putting the discipline in place and I supported him from the sidelines. Now, we both do it, and chip in for the other when it gets a bit too hard. We've found a good balance and now I see it as 'they're in my home, I'm in their lives for the long haul, I have the right to as well'.
  • Discipline is bloody hard - Telling the children off is never a fun thing to do. Sometimes, they do things that completely shock you and you have no idea what to do with it. You don't know the right thing to do and it's just a learning curve. You learn as you go along and I'm grateful that I can confer with Burnie whenever I think I'm doing something wrong. The actual act of discipline is awful though, and it never gets easier. It can leave you exhausted and I definitely have stages of 'what the bloody hell am I doing this for? I'm not even their Mum'.
  • Even though you're not their parent, you're still an influence - We all know what it's like to be a kid and get so tired of your parents breathing down your neck. I've found many a time - especially with the older ones - that knowing they can come to me about things that they don't necessatily want their parents knowing - is a comfort for them. Of course, I always tell Burnie anything I'm told by the children and they know that too, but sometimes talking to me shows them that there's still always someone to talk to, parent or not. As well as that, they look up to you, and you begin to try and be the best you can for them. Because of that, you become a more well rounded person - funnily enough.
  • You'll never shake the feeling that you're actually not their parent - Now I don't know if this is just a personal one for me, but sometimes I really do struggle with the fact that I'm not their Mum. I don't have any right or place, or any reason for them to want to be in my company. I don't come into play when it comes to more formal arranges e.g. parents evening, doctors appointments. And that is always a stark reminder that I didn't birth them - even though sometimes I do wish deep down that I did. But, not being their actual parent means they see me as 'Fun Mel' rather than 'annoying parent' - Sorry B!
  • There is no one more understanding and caring than a child - And sometimes, all you need is just a conversation with one of them. Or you need reassurance. For example, when I suffered with a panic attack in front of Alex, Evie and Harry, they just got it. They didn't judge me, and actually still wanted to hang around with me. That was really, really cool.
  • You grow as they grow - I'm learning about parenting every single day. In a way, they are teaching me how to be a parent for when my time eventually does come. Some things shock me, good and bad. But I'm learning so much from being an impartial person in their lives and it's so rewarding. In a way, I'm lucky to help bring up children now because I know I'm at least capable. It's when they're teeny tiny babies that I'd freak out!
  • You cannot control the acts of others - When you're a 'Stepmum', there is always another woman in the children's lifes that affects your family. Rightly so, they are their Mothers. But sometimes, they can take a heated turn and it's important to keep your cool. I'm not going to lie, I don't think either Mum (Yes, two mothers and 4 children) were particularly happy at first. Again, understandable. Thankfully, I've managed to gain the respect of one Mother and we now have a healthy relationship - I hope! But, you can never predict the actions of another - and only be ready to react in a way that it best for the children. 
  • Patience - Now theres something I never had until I was made to have it. Children teach you patience, and without it, you'll go bat shit crazy - trust me.
  • Some people just don't get it - So many times I've heard 'but why would you? You're only in your twenties, you should be out there partying?!' It's hard for some people to understand why you would walk into the lives of not just 1 person, but 5. Hey, I didn't ask for it but it is for damn sure the best decision I ever made. And so what if I'd rather spend my Satruday evenings watching films with Burnie and the kids than going out and drinking my life away? It can get really tedious hearing the same thing but it's also one of my favourite things in the world to tell people. The faces I've seen when I say my partner has 4 kids is genuinely hilarious.
  • Sometimes you want to tear your hair out - Scream at them, slam doors in their faces, want time away, feel so frustrated that you just aren't getting it right. You realise that when you care so much for a person, they frustrate you just as much when they just. don't. do. as. they're. told.

  • Rewarding and heart warming - Being a 'stepmum', you have to earn everything. A child automatically bonds with their parent right from being born. The parent grows as they grow, sees all their firsts and guides them until they no longer need guiding. I walked into their lives when I was 21 and the thing that will always bring me joy and happiness is knowing that they all love me, for me. Not because I'm their mum, or dad, or auntie. I have bonded so much with all 4 children, in very different ways, and I can say with my hand on my heart that they are the greatest things that have ever happened to me. they bring me so much love, joy, laughter and memories and I only see it as a privilege that I get to see them grow. I love that they love me and their Dad being together - although to consistent pestering of when we're getting married and having babies may be enough to turn Burnie grey quicker! I love that they choose to spend time with me, that they choose to play games with me, that they choose to speak with me about anything.
  • They've changed me for the better - Before being involved in the kids lives, I never really knew what purpose I had, I never knew where my life was going. Yes, I never expected to be a 'Stepmum' to 4 kids at the age of 24, but I also didn't expect those very kids to make me the happiest person in the world. Watching them grown and trying our best to lead them in the right direction is one of lives simplest pleasures. Seeing them play together, care for each other and care for the world. Laughing with them - and I can tell you they're the funniest/craziest kids I've ever know. They make me feel like I have a purpose and they make me feel so loved. They really are just the best people to be around, no matter how much I want to tear my hair out and get down about failings, I wouldn't change my lifestyle for anything. All 5 of them filled a space in my heart that I didn't know was empty. 

I hope you all enjoyed this little - well, long! - explanation behind something that really plays the biggest part in my life but I never really mention. If you'd like to read more family orientated posts, let me know! It's been quite refreshing to not talk about mental health for once! Although, if you'd like an update on that too, feel free!

Love, M x

Therapy // The First Step To Recovery

Reflecting // You Did Your Best, 2017

#MeToo // It's Time to Talk

I’m pretty sure by the title of this blog post, you’re probably aware what the topic is. If not, let me just explain. #MeToo is a hashtag that became popular amongst social media users, both men and women, when talking about their experiences with harassment and abuse. In a way, it is an outlet for those to open up and share without fear of judgement – knowing they’re not the only ones. The main aim, is to spread awareness about how much of an issue it is in the world. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a really long time. I’ve had many internal arguments with myself over it and weighed up the pros and cons. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been silenced for too long and now that I have the freedom to speak up, I goddamn will.

As a woman who has grown up in this generation, it will come as no surprise to most of you that I have suffered from harassment on a daily basis. Cat calls from men in white vans, unwanted advances from drunk lads in clubs, inappropriate comments from those old enough to be my father. That’s to name a few, and I’m pretty sure it’s all so relatable. Sadly, it’s something I’ve gotten used to. It’s something I expect. Thankfully, I’ve realised now that it is well within my rights as a human being to stand up for myself and voice to those who commit such lewd acts that they are – basically – trash. I used to smile coyly whenever anyone made me feel uncomfortable or made advances on me. Now, I flip them the finger and politely tell them to ‘f*ck off’. Again, something I’m sure many of you can relate to. But, there is one part of my life that has been filled with abuse and harassment and absolute terror. Do you remember when I mentioned that at the beginning of this year, I went through a really tough time? You can see it briefly in this post. It’s also where I say I don’t want to talk about it. It’s time to change that. Now, it’s my time to talk.

It started when I was around 8/9. I can’t put a definite time on it because hey, it was over 10 years ago. But what I can do, and seem to have done very well, is remember very specific instances where I’ve felt terrified, attacked, vulnerable and victimised. When I was 8/9, I started to become scared of living in the family home, going home everyday from school and knowing what was potentially waiting for me. Even to this day, I still don’t understand why it was me. I still sit and think about anything that could possibly point the finger my way. I’ve tortured myself until I couldn’t take it anymore and just fell into a heap on the floor. Why me? I still don’t have the answer, but I know that it’s not the question that needs to be asked. The question is; how does he sleep at night?

I grew up in a house overruled by men, so to speak. Myself and my Mum were the only females living in the family home. There was my Dad (well, technically, my step-dad) who was the big protector of the family. There was Tom, my little big brother as I like to call him. Then, my eldest brother. The abusive, manipulative and nasty piece of work. As I like to call him. So, unless you haven’t guessed already, this is about my brother. Now, I’m not going to name him. Not for his sake, but for mine and my family. So, lets refer to him as ‘J’. If you know me, you may know him. It’s taken all of my willpower to not do this post. The consequences of it, I’m still unsure of. But, after keeping my mouth shut for nearly 2 decades now, there is nothing that can silence the need I have inside to tell you all about it. To raise that awareness. To make you all aware that sometimes – and really, more often than not – the abuse can be a little too close to home. To warn you all, even if someone seems like the nicest person in the world, they can have the darkest motives.

Ok, I’m going to say I was 9, just for my own point of reference. But, I’m not going to start from the beginning. Because the way it all started only came to light in the past year. So, to make this easy to follow, I’m going to do my favourite thing and bullet point. I’m going to touch on as briefly as I can the physical abuse I was subjected to. Ok, here goes…

  • ·         I wanted to spend time with my other brother, Tom, which was always difficult because he shared a room with ‘J’. I went into my brother’s room and sat on Tom’s bed. Tom was playing a video game and I was watching him. ‘J’ made it very clear from the start that he didn’t want me around. I protested with him and tried to stand my ground. Eventually, he dragged me by my legs whilst I kept my fists firmly gripped on Tom’s bed frame. I refused to let go, refused to be handled in such a way. Instead, he started to lift my legs up and down, banging my shins on the metal bedframe every time he forced my legs down. I was 11, he was 15.
  • ·         I was at home, in the living room with my parents and two brothers. We were playing some sort of quiz. I can’t quite remember how it escalated so quickly but before I knew it, ‘J’ grabbed me by the throat and pinned me against the wall. Nobody did anything. I couldn’t breathe. I was 9, he was 13.
  • ·         I was downstairs, arguing with my Mum and Dad. ‘J’ heard what was happening. He came downstairs and proceeded to put me in an arm/headlock. The sort of headlock security learns to restrain someone who is drunk/acting erratically. I pleaded with him to let go off me, I tried to struggle and all he did was whisper in my ear ‘fucking calm down you silly slag’. I dropped my whole body weight until he finally let go. Nobody did anything. I was 17, he was 21.
  • ·         I was upstairs. Tom was no longer living in the family home. I asked ‘J’ if he could turn his TV down. He stood up, beckoned towards me and was not even an inch away from my face. Goading me, saying such awful things. I froze, he pushed, I fell. Nobody did anything. I was 19. He was 23.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know we can argue with our siblings, I used to with Tom. But this was different. ‘J’ terrified me. As well as all of the above and more, I was subjected to emotional abuse on a daily basis. I was called every name under the sun, I kid you not. All from my eldest brother. The person who should have been my number one protector was the one I was most terrified of. I was called a slag, a whore, a pervert, a prostitute, a dirty bitch. You name it. I was told I was going to be killed. I was told that my head was going to get bashed in. I was told that I should never have been born.

Throughout the whole time that all of this was going on, I protested with my parents to help me. To support me. To back my corner. I was met with the same response every single time. ‘Stop winding him up Melissa, you know he’s got an illness’. Oh yeah, disclaimer for you. ‘J’ has Asperger’s Syndrome. The reason I haven’t mentioned it until now is because it is so irrelevant to what I’m going through with you that I didn’t want anyone’s judgement to be clouded. I don’t want ANYONE to think that his behaviour can be excused because he has a mild form of Asperger’s. I don’t want ANYONE to try. What I do want you all to know is that if nothing is done, the abuser walks free and the victim is the one who suffers. I’m living proof of that. Now, let’s fast forward to April 2017. The month that really started to fuck with my head.

I have to be really careful with what I say now. Not because I want to hold back and not because I’m scared of doing so but because as far as I’m aware, it is still an ongoing investigation with the local police. So, I’m going to try my hardest to explain in the best way possible.

In April, I saw something that shook me to the core. I was exposed to behaviour committed by ‘J’ that literally made me feel sick to my stomach. It was something I’ve always deemed one of the worst things a person can participate in. And, it was something I was expecting. I knew, as soon as I saw, that I needed to take action. I reported my brother to the police for the safety of everyone. Whether that be me, my family and his kids. It was the best thing to do for everyone. Although, it wasn’t that simple. When ‘J’ found out that I was the one that reported him, the harassment started. To put a long story short, I received numerous message from ‘J’calming he was going to ruin my life, he knew where I lived, he was coming for me and I was fucked once he got his hands on me. I’m not going to put it lightly. I was absolutely terrified. He knew my address despite me not having contact with him in over a year. So, with encouragement from Burnie, my partner, I reported it. I wasn’t willing to put my life in danger but also the lives of Burnie and his children. It wasn’t just my house, it’s theirs and I didn’t want to risk anything. Cue the chaos.

For nearly 2 months, I was backwards and forwards with the police, TRYING so hard to prove to them the sort of person he was. To back my argument, I told them all about the violent outbursts that took place when I was a child and I revealed to them something I never told anyone. Not even a soul.

The reason I kept it so secret for so long is because I wasn’t 100% sure it happened. It was that faded in my memory that I really had to think whether it was real or a dream. But, something in my gut told me that it did. When I was 8/9, I remember my brother getting into my bed and asking me to kiss him. I obliged, I gave pecks to everyone in my family. I knew something was wrong the minute he stuck his tongue in my mouth. Again, I obliged. ‘J’ always had power over me and he knew that and used it to his advantage. I forgot about it, pretended like it was ok and moved on. Until it became a regular thing, that’s when I knew something wasn’t right. Tom wasn’t making me do this, so why was he? Then, came the moment that I knew in my gut that it was completely unacceptable. He guided my hands to his crotch. I remember immediately batting my hands away and threatened to tell Mum and Dad if he did it again. Then, it never happened again. I was 8/9. He was 12/13. Only now have I made the link with everything else that went on. He was ‘accidently’ walk into my room just as I was returning from the shower. He would never knock and walked on me numerous times when I was undressed. It made my skin crawl, to the point where I made my parents get me a lock for my door. Only then did I feel safe and comfortable in my room. There were signs everywhere, not only did he disrespect my privacy as a young woman, but he also didn’t privatise his actions either. On many occasions, I was exposed to things I shouldn’t have seen, the sort of things teenage boys do very well to keep hidden. I think that’s as much detail as you need.

I always grew up with this faded memory in my mind but never let it affect me as an adult because I actually convinced myself that it didn’t happen. It wasn’t until recent events that I actually decided to open up about it. I was taking a huge risk because I didn’t even know if it was true, but I knew I had to tell them. It wasn’t until I heard back from the police that ‘J’ admitted to everything. Everything. All the things he venomously denied when were growing up. He held his hands up and went ‘Yeah, that happened’. Then, I crumbled.

All them years I thought I was in the wrong. I thought what was going on was normal. I wasn’t in the wrong, I had every right to feel the way I was. It wasn’t normal, it was predatory behaviour. It was harassment. It the biggest eye opener of my whole life. It opened up the floodgates and absolutely everything from my past that I had done so well to keep locked up tight had burst open. What resulted was the worst time in my life in regards to my mental health. Looking back on it, I had a mental breakdown. I was off work for almost 6 weeks. I became an absolute nightmare to be around. I shut myself off from everything and everyone and at one point, contemplated suicide. It was all too much for me, I couldn’t get my head around everything, and I don’t just mean my relationship with ‘J’. Nothing made sense anymore and I fell deep into the biggest hole I’ve ever fallen into. I never faced what happened to me, I was very aloof about it too. It wasn’t until my therapist said to me ‘Melissa, you do realise that what happened to you is one of the most traumatising things anyone can go through? And you act as if it’s nothing. It isn’t. It’s something’.

I’m now on my 9th week of therapy, I haven’t heard or seen of ‘J’ since and I never wish to. I’ve been back at work for nearly 7 weeks now. I’m slowly, trying my damned hardest to get my life back on track. Actually, I’m trying hard to start my life again. Start the life I want to live without the burden of anything on my shoulders anymore. It’s the hardest battle of my life and I know I’m getting there but there’s always something, y’know?

Now some of you reading this know me personally. Some of you don’t. Some of you reading this may know ‘J’. I don’t know, but what I do know is that I want this to be known. I was silenced for over 10 years, not speaking out because I wouldn’t dare speak against family, no matter what they do. But, my god, it is SO important to speak out. If I spoke out those who I knew would listen, things could’ve been different. It’s taken me a hell of a long time to come to terms with a lot of things in my past. I’ve spent so much time torturing myself with questions about what happened, thinking there was something wrong with me. I know now, that I was the victim and in all honesty, I am sick of my name being dragged through the mud by my abuser. Because that’s what he is. He’s not my brother, he was my abuser and I was the victim. The saddest thing about it is no-one else saw it whilst I was growing up, and I could go on all day about everything that’s occurred throughout my childhood but I want you guys to think about it. Think about what might be going on behind closed doors, think about how important it is to step forward and say ‘Yeah, me too’.

Whether it’s a parent, partner, friend, sibling or stranger – abuse is abuse. Harassment is harassment. Either way, it’s not right that they get to walk around living their life and pretending to everyone that they’re the innocent one. It’s not right that they’re manipulating everyone to believe them, manipulating them into thinking they’re a good person. I really hope some good comes from this, and if not, that’s fine too. If I’m going to receive a shitstorm, that’s ok too. I’ve waited too long to speak out and I’ll be damned if that man has anymore power over me. I’ve made it this far now and made a life for myself that I’m proud of. I’m proof that there’s strength there.

Thank you so much if you’ve read all the way through, just that itself means so much. Thank you to everyone who believed me when I spoke out. Thank you to everyone who understood why I kept quiet. Thank you to Burnie, again, for being my constant support and making me see that what happened to me wasn’t deserved. You helped me find the strength inside to speak out and I love you so much. And lastly, but by no means least, thank you to Tom. My little big brother. You were my protector when I needed you and made me realise just what a brother should be. I will never ever blame you for missing the signs because I kept it well hidden, and you shouldn’t either. When you were there, you protected me. You’re what everyone needs in a big brother and you will always be my best friend.

Until next time,

M x

Body Shaming // It's All The Same

Just a disclaimer before we start: I know that this post may anger some - well maybe a lot - of my audience. I mean no harm and really trying to avoid self pity on this matter. Ok, here goes...

I have recently read that when a fat person is body shamed, it sticks with them but when it comes to thin shaming, they can ‘walk away with their thin privilege in tact’. One quote of this article stood out for me and really struck a nerve. ‘And while your internal struggle is real and significant, the point is: You might hate your body, but society doesn't. That’s thin privilege. It was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase thin privilege, so I googled it. And, to be quite frank I was disgusted. So, I've decided to put my experiences and opinions out there. That quote alone pushed me to write this post.

It’s no secret that still, even now, men and women are judged and ridiculed for the way they look. Some would say that there is more understanding and acceptance these days but that doesn’t eliminate the fact that its still happening. In my opinion, thin shaming is something that does get swept under the carpet by society and isn't seen as ‘important’, but I need to talk about it. I need to talk about shaming those who are slim. It’s frowned upon to shame someone who are classed as overweight, and those who are an average size in fact, but what about thin shaming? Why isn't this being seen as just as damaging? Societies norms is one of the biggest issues we all face. Whether we fit, whether we don’t, how we can make sure that we do. The constant pressure that is put on us, especially growing up, can be and is damaging. But at the end of the day, what is ‘normal’? What isn't normal in my eyes is the way fat shaming and thin shaming is seen differently. So, let me tell you about my experience growing up and as an adult.
Growing up, to my family, I was always referred to as ‘boney bum’ and  ‘skinny minny’ to name a few. I always laughed when they called me them and in all honesty, it wasn’t the nicknames or the comments that affected me as a child, it was the fact that I was different. Genetically, all of the females in my family are overweight. It’s something that has always been apparent to me growing up because essentially, I was the only one who wasn’t, I was the polar opposite. I always wondered why I wasn’t like my Mum, my Grandma, my Auntie, my Cousins. I didn’t understand why I was so ‘skinny’ compared to them and it bothered me. I felt sometimes that I wasn’t a part of the family because I looked different physically (facially – I’m the double of my Mum and Grandma so we’re not talking about me thinking I was adopted here haha!) and yes, it was hard to grasp sometimes. I did ask on a few occasions why I was so slim and it is because of my genes. On my Dad’s side. Ah, I thought, so I’m not the odd one out, I just picked up more from the other side. And that was it really as a child – growing up. My family knew I could eat like a horse and not really gain weight and I can understand why some would see this as a good thing. But, it wasn’t until my late teens that the thin shaming really came into play. When I moved out, people didn’t know my eating habits, and I did lose the ‘puppy’ fat I gained throughout puberty. That’s when it started, and it is still happening. Let me just tell you some of the many things that have been said to me regarding my weight.
‘Oh my god, are you even eating?’

‘Melissa, be honest, are you anorexic?’
‘Jesus, where the hell have your boobs gone?’
‘You don’t look healthy, you’ve definitely lost weight’
‘You get skinnier everytime I see you’
‘Oh my god, why/how are you so skinny?’

Note – some. These are only SOME of the things that have been said to me about my weight. Now, to really help anyone understand how thin shaming is on the same spectrum as fat shaming, lets rephrase.
‘Oh my god, what are you even eating?’

‘Melissa, be honest, are you binging?’
‘Jesus, is that why your boobs are so big?’
‘You don’t look healthy, you’ve definitely gained weight’
‘You get fatter everytime I see you’
‘Oh my god, why/how are you so fat?’

This is me trying to get society to see how thin shaming is real, it hurts and it really isn’t different to fat shaming. First off, when people started commenting on how slim I am, I laughed it off. ‘Don’t be daft’ I’d say and just move on. But they became more frequent as I entered my early twenties and that’s when it really started to have an effect on my self confidence and contributed to the way I see myself now.
I’m 5’10, around 9.5 stone and my BMI is perfectly healthy and yet, these comments that I’ve been subjected to have made me question my health. And the worst thing about it, they’re all said by family and friends and I’ve been told I’m too skinny by customers at my old job. All because my genetics mean that I am slim. That’s not my fault. It’s not my fault that I have this body and it’s definitely not my fault that some people feel the need to make comments. I’ve been told that I should take it as a compliment. Why? Take it as a compliment that people think I’m too skinny and I don’t conform to the social norm that you can’t be slim without having some underlying health reason.  Don’t get me wrong, having anxiety and being under huge amounts of stress has affected me physically, and I am well aware of that. I also know that I continue to eat like a horse and completely unable to gain weight. But, then again, why do I feel like I should have to explain myself every time someone comments on my weight?
Because of the comments, I’ve stood in front of the mirror countless times and really thought about my body image. Am I too skinny? Is there something wrong with me? I’ve asked Burnie whether he thinks I’m too thin, I’ve asked my best friend. I’ve questioned the way my body is. A body that I was born in, that I grew up in, that I live with. Slowly, but surely, I started to hate the way I look.
‘Thing privilege’ is where people believe that thin shaming isn’t as damaging because thin people fit into what society deems as an acceptable weight. How ridiculous does that sound? ‘Oh because you fit into the average weight of a person, these comments cannot hurt you lol’… I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve felt envy towards those who have fuller breasts, hourglass figures and bigger bums. Something I know that bigger women will have felt too. So, tell me the difference?
At the end of the day, we were all born to be different shapes, sizes, weights. Inside is where it matters and its sad that it still has to be said. No matter how you look on the outside, the people we are on the inside is the thing that shines through. Sometimes, we cannot help the way we look, it’s something that you learn to live with and slowly, learn to love. How are we supposed to do that when we’re under constant scrutiny to look a certain way. The sooner people realise that commenting on the way that someone looks – whether it’s criticism or meant as a compliment – can have more of an effect on them than you can ever realise.
It’s not ok to call a person fat, it’s not ok to call a person skinny. It is not ok to comment on how anyone looks - you don't know what they're battling with on the inside.

Until next week, M x