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

Relationships // The Third Wheel(?)

Having suffered with Anxiety for as long as I can remember, I think it would be fair to say that it has affected every single relationship I've ever had. It’s affected them in good ways – I've formed stronger bond with people through it – and unfortunately, more often than I like to admit, it’s affected my relationships in a negative way. One way or another, my anxiety has been a dull cloud over every aspect of my life.

Knowing me can be, in one word, really frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, I know I will always strive to be the best friend, partner, daughter, sister, auntie that I can be. I will always go out of my way to make sure those I love are cared for and appreciated. But, sometimes, I suck at it. Whilst living at home with my parents, my anxiety caused me to be really isolated. I didn't want to sit with my parents every day and socialise, I didn't want to have to come home everyday and explain what I’d been doing. I was constantly tired, irritable and tense whenever my anxiety was flaring up. This, in a way, made me a nightmare to live with, and it’s still something that happens now. Every time I felt anxious, I’d lock myself up in my room and not want to talk to anyone. My parents had no clue about my anxiety, I kept it very well hidden for a long time and sometimes I think that if they knew, they would've understood my feelings rather than assuming that I was just a ‘moody adolescent’. Now, they know about it. They've seen me having a panic attack a handful of times and they know when to prepare. I know now that I can tell them that I feel a little anxious and that's all I have to do. Let's be honest, your parents can read you better than most.

In terms of friendships, I am really bloody lucky. I have only a handful of friends who have stuck by throughout this whole process and it’s something I will cherish for my whole life. They know about my disorder, they understand and they don’t judge me for it. I feel like I can be completely open and honest with them when it’s bad. Before my anxiety became apparent to anyone, including me, I would cancel plans and make excuses to rearrange. I didn’t want anyone knowing that the reason I couldn't come out was because my anxiety wouldn't let me. I didn’t want to take the risk of my friends knowing because I feared so much that they would judge me, something I've experienced in the past. I thank my lucky starts that I have a small – but very significant – number of true friends who understand me, who get what it feels like for me and don’t hold it against me when I cancel plans because my anxiety is bad. They don't hold it against me when I rant for hours on end about how bloody shit it can get. They push me to better myself, they give me so many words of encouragement and remind me daily that I'm a strong woman. Although, this hasn't always been the case. 

Unfortunately, my anxiety has lost me friendships on many occasions. Most of the time I was ok with it, I saw it that they were doing me a favour – that I didn’t need their toxicity in my life. But, one day, my supposed ‘closest and oldest’ friend decided that my anxiety was a good enough reason to cut all ties. Looking back, it was the best thing she ever did for me. Our friendship had always been extremely up and down but she was one of those where you just got used to the fact that they would always be in your life. But in the moment, it broke my heart. It broke my heart because she used my anxiety as a REASON to not be friends with me anymore and it cut me in two. Not because I was losing her friendship, that was sad yeah, but because I thought my anxiety caused her to walk away. You get moments like  that, where you think it's because of your illness that people walk away, but believe me, it says way more about them than it does about you.

Now I know that being open with my anxiety around those I love is so important. The ones who walk away aren't – and never were – worth your time. At the end of the day, my anxiety is a part of me, whether it’s active or not, and those who cannot accept you for who you are and love you in spite of that, are of no use to you. I'm incredibly lucky now to be surrounded by so many lovely friends who support me, love me and most important of all, accept me the way I am. Whereas, it's a bit more tricky when the relationship you have with your significant other is the one that has been affected the most by your anxiety, something I'm sure those of you in relationships will understand. Let's talk about my relationship with Burnie. My better half. 

Me and B have been together for just over 2 years and have been living together since February this year. Even before we joined forces as a pair, he was made aware of my disorder. B has known me since I was 15 and we became really good friends when I was around 19. My anxiety at the time we were just friends had become to unravel and it was a time in my life where hiding it wasn't as easy as it used to be. I remember the first time I had a panic attack in front of him. We'd been having a few drinks that night with my cousin and I walked into the kitchen, pacing, hyperventilating. I tried my damned hardest to keep it hidden. He and so many others knew me as the fun, bubbly, carefree student and I didn't want anyone see me have an attack. But he was there, straight away, calming me down, telling me to breathe and eventually, I came round. I ended up going home and received a message from him, one that I still remember now, 3 years on. A message of surprise that I suffered with it but more importantly, a message of complete support. And he hasn't stopped supporting me since. 

When we became an item, panic attacks were just a 'thing' that we got used to, something we both endured when it happened and moved on. We never really spoke about it, it did sort of become a taboo subject with us and it was something we could deal with and forget about until the next one. Neither of us really followed any techniques to calm me down because to be honest, they weren't at their worst then. It was a sort of 'let's just ride it out' situation. All we really focused on was getting me through it at moving on. My anxiety and where it stemmed from was never a conversation we had - which came to be a mistake we both made in the first year of our relationship. It wasn't until February this year that my anxiety became the 3rd person in our relationship and the effect really took hold. I didn't want it to be a part of my life, never mind a part of my relationship. But we had to start talking about it, working through it because at this point, I was having a panic attack every day. It started to affect thoughts towards B and what his intentions were. My anxiety was questioning everything.. including my relationship with him. 

If you're not careful, having anxiety can destroy your relationship. Even now, I still think it can but that's just it - that's my anxiety telling me that my anxiety can ruin my relationship. Bit messed up right? I've thought that B was cheating on me, that he didn't really love me, that he was just with me for the sake of it, out of pity. I've thought that B couldn't cope with my anxiety, that he was tired of having to put up with it, that he wanted to escape it as much as I did. I've screamed at him until I had no voice left. He's screamed back in frustration. We've spent hours in silence, we've spent hours talking everything through. All of these reasons - and so many more - could have easily destroyed us if we let it. But we didn't let it because we did what we knew was the best thing for us. It's something that has saved ALL of my relationships with everyone in my life. Something I advise you all to do if your anxiety is having a detrimental effect on your relationships. We communicated. 

I opened up about everything. I laid my soul bare to him, and spoke about things I never wanted anyone to know and he listened - my God did he listen. It felt like therapy in a way. I told him ways to help me during a panic attack, what to do and what not to do. I apologised for all the times I've lashed out at him whilst in the middle of one, I explained to him every single thing that made me feel anxious. I've told him everything about me. Past me. Present me. He's seen me at my happiest, and he's seen me at my absolute lowest. He's picked me up when I was rock bottom, he's reassured me when my anxiety was completely destroying me, he's made me see the world in a completely different way. Then, on the flip side, I've seen the way that this disorder has affected him. I've seen him sob his heart out when my mind tells me I need to go and I try to run away. I've seen the panic in his eyes and know that he really doesn't know what to do. I know that he worries about me all the time and that breaks my heart. I've seen his frustration that I have this disorder, I've seen him get angry that he can't do anything to get rid of it. Only since February have we accepted that my anxiety is a real thing, and it's a part of our lives, just as much as anything else. Even acknowledging that helped up build a plan - a method - to help us battle through it. 

Another factor was of course, his children. It was my biggest fear that they would find out about my anxiety. We have grown over the past two years and become our own dysfunctional family and I have grown to love them as if they're my own, hence why it was so daunting thinking that they would ever find out. Myself and B did our best to keep it from them, to protect them from what I was - what we were - experiencing. I would disappear for an hour when they were around to make sure they wouldn't see me having an attack. I didn't want them to see me that way, to them I was the fun, bubbly and carefree woman who loved their Dad. But, inevitably, it happened. Almost two years into our relationship, I was sat in the tent on our Summer family holiday in Whitby, having a panic attack. Obviously sharing a tent with the kids meant that there was a huge risk that they would realise that I was missing and something wasn't right. I was terrified that they would find out, which just added to the anxiety I was already experiencing. Mid panic attack, I heard Evie crying, B's eldest daughter. That on its own brought me straight out of it. Shit, I don't want this to upset the kids. I brought the eldest three into our side of the tent and explained the best I could to them about my anxiety with a racing heart and shortness of breath. All I can say is how much of a relief it was to finally be honest with them. They understood and proved to me why they're the most caring bunch of kids I've ever met. They all hugged me and reassured me that it was OK. They're kids for god sake and they understood more than some grown adults do. Then, we went outside and watched the stars, like nothing happened. And in that moment, nothing else mattered. To this day and until the day I die, it will always be one of the best nights of my life. 

We've been through so much as a couple in 2 short years. Things that would've broken many, but not us. I don't know why or how I got so lucky to find him, it's something I still can't get me head around. I don't know why he sticks around, why he puts up with it because I'm the first person to admit that I can be a nightmare. But he does and I will always be thankful to have him because really, he's saved my life. 

The most important part of keeping relationships healthy and a place for love and laughter is communication. I can't stress it enough. Through communication, I've kept and somehow managed to evolve my relationships. Through communication, I've bonded and made friends with people I never thought would be in my life. I've learnt to not let my anxiety overflow into my personal relationships. Through the communication, came the understanding. Through understanding, I have found friends for life. Through understanding, I know my family will always support me any way they can. Through understanding, I've found the love of my life who I know will love me for who I am, flaws and all. 

At the end of the day, we all encounter friendships and relationships that just aren't healthy for us and it's usually when they leave your life that you're made aware of it. If there's one tip I could give you all, it's to communicate. Open yourself up to those you think you can trust and if they walk away and decide they can't - more fool them. Honestly, it's their loss, and it's a real shame that some people, even now, can't see past the end of their nose to really love and care for the person and not their mental illness. If they stick around, help you, support you and love you then please hold onto them. They're the people you need to cherish and be there for. One day, they could be your lifeline, they could be the ones who bring you back. Without the love and support of my loved ones, I know for sure I would be a complete shadow of the person I am now. I can't finish this post without crediting Burnie one last time. B, you brought me back to life and I will never forget just how much you do for me. I appreciate you every single day and everyone would do well to have a man like you in their life. You're one of a kind, a rare diamond. I love you more than I could every explain. 

I hope you all enjoyed this post, and if you ever need someone to communicate with, you know where I am!

Until next week, M x