I was talking to a darling friend who has depression. We said what a shame it is that some people don't understand mental illness, or are scared of it. Because it's hard enough when you're struggling, let alone when you're too scared to talk in case you're judged.
So, let's talk.
I know a little, just a little, of the bleakness of depression, having staggered through the dark for a year or so after my father died. Life lost its colour. And it wasn't that I felt bad, it's more... that I didn't feel anything. And, eventually, I just didn't want to be alive any more.
Realising that something was desperately wrong, I did try and talk about it, but I chose the wrong person to talk to. This person told me to pull myself together, to get on with it, that I'd been sad enough for long enough.
Unfortunately, telling someone who's depressed to pull themselves together is as helpful as telling someone with two broken arms to do a press-up. Hearing that I apparently wasn't depressed—merely "selfish"—was enough to put me off seeking help anywhere else, which is a shame as I'd probably have recovered sooner with support.
But I did get better, for which I am profoundly grateful. As I say, I know a little of depression, so have nothing but deep respect for my friends who live with it as part of their everyday lives.
So. Mental illness. It's just illness. Let's be kind to each other, life's hard enough as it is. Much love. Xxxx
THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #12
I’d been talking to a man at a Meetup drinks party for ten minutes. In that time, he’d told me about his two ex-wives, why his marriages had broken down and how extraordinarily high his sex-drive was.
I was just looking around for the nearest exit when he leaned in suddenly and whispered hoarsely in my ear: “I’m going to kiss you right now. In front of everyone. It’ll scandalise them”....
He did not actually manage to kiss me, as I immediately ran away squeaking: “I’M TERRIBLY SORRY I MUST GO TO THE LOO IMMEDIATELY”.
On returning, I grabbed my mate Sarah and we moved seats, leaving Mr Overly-Keen on his own. We managed to avoid him for the rest of the night.
The next day, he tracked me down via the Meetup app and messaged me:
“Hi, fancy coffee/tea/meal or a walk in the woods sometime?”.
Classily, he sent the exact same message to Sarah too.
Neither of us replied to him.
Call me picky, but the prospect of walking through the darkest woods, with a creepy stranger, wasn't the most appealing. I wonder what number wife he's on now?
Anyone else feel genuine fear when posting a letter in a post box?
Every time, as I drop a letter in, my brain goes "OH NO I DROPPED MY HOUSE KEYS IN AS WELL" (they were never in my hand in the first place)
"OH NO MY RING HAS FALLEN OFF MY HAND" (I don't wear one)...
"OH NO I ACCIDENTALLY POSTED MY BOSS A RESIGNATION LETTER" (Where did that come from?)
"OH NO IS THERE A DOBERMAN IN THIS POST BOX?" (no, obvs)
"OH NO I THINK I ACCIDENTALLY POSTED MY WALLET"
"OH NO I THINK MY FINGERS HAVE COME OFF" (etc).
Anyone else? Anyone?
The WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #11
I popped into my mate's workplace, and he introduced me to his colleague Rob. I recognised Rob instantly, but apparently he didn't remember me:
Rob: "Hey there, I’m Rob. Nice to meet you."...
Me: "Ah, Rob. You don't recognise me, do you?"
Rob: (somewhat nervously) "Err, sorry, could you remind me?"
Me: "Sure! Two years ago, we had a blind date. We went to see Blur. I don't think you were very impressed with me because, three songs into the gig, you told me that didn’t feel well and had to go home. I never heard from you again. Remember me now?"
Rob: "Oh god."
Me: "It’s been lovely catching up with you again!"
Many years ago, I had a rather intense friendship with a male friend. There was never, ever anything sexual in it (he was gay, and I'm definitely not male) but it was such an intense friendship that it bordered on the weird.
One night, round at his, he asked me if I wanted to check out a chatroom (it was 1998, entertainment options were limited in Hartlepool).
I'll try pretty much anything once, so cheerfully agreed....
He created a new profile for me, said he'd found someone for me to chat to, and gave me the keyboard.
Turns out, it was a cybersex chatroom.
He sat behind me as I typed. At first, it was all giggly good fun, but then I started feeling rather guilty. The chap I was talking to was under the mistaken impression that he was talking to a horny man—thanks to the profile my friend had created for me—and it seemed quite unfair to keep leading the poor guy on. Plus, I felt rather awkward answering questions about my fictional penis. So I turned around to tell my mate I'd had enough...
...only to realise that he was happily... err... ahhh... how shall I put it?... entertaining himself.
Funnily enough, that wasn't the event that actually ended our friendship but that'll do for now.
I promised to tell you why I left one rental place after a week*.
It was a huge house in Darlington, owned by an elderly couple. They lived there, and rented out their spare rooms to idiots.
I was one of them....
THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #10
He spent the start of our date complaining about his ex: “She never loved me, she just saw me as a sperm donor!”.
He also spent the middle part of our date complaining about her: “I love my daughter, even though my ex just sees me as the man who donated the sperm to make her!”...
By the end of the date: “My ex is a heartless cow! I’m just a sperm donor to her!”, I was wearing a rictus grin & contemplating stabbing myself to death with a spoon.
I kept a tally of how many times he used the phrase “sperm donor”. Nine times. That’s nine times too many. (And, no, by the end of the evening, I couldn't have been less interested in procuring any of his sperm myself.)
ADVENTURES IN SHORT-SIGHTEDNESS: #2
A friend was crashing over at mine. He was sleeping on my sofa-bed, in the lounge (with a door that was broken and couldn't be closed properly).
It was bed-time, so I said goodnight to my mate and then waltzed off to the bathroom to take off my contact lenses. Then—realising that I'd forgotten to tell him something important—I wandered back into the lounge without bothering to put my glasses on. I really am short-sighted, so my friend was ...just a fuzzy blob.
So, I was chatting away at him, but he was acting rather strangely; not really replying, just acting weird. After a few minutes, I squinted a bit at him and realised that he wasn't just a fuzzy blob, he was an entirely pink fuzzy blob. And why would he be entirely pink? Because he's not wearing any... ohhhhh....! I abruptly stopped talking, and hurried out of the room.
It must have been ever so odd for my mate: he was getting changed for bed, completely starkers, and I'd wander in and struck up a conversation with him like nothing unusual was happening.
He never stayed again. I can't say I blame him.
If you think there's no point in voting—perhaps you live in a safe seat with an incumbent MP that you dislike—then please let me encourage you towards the polling station today.
Wonder why UKIP keep popping up on Question Time and news coverage? Because they got the third highest share of votes in 2015. Yes. Conservatives 1st, Labour 2nd, UKIP 3rd, Lib Dem 4th, SNP 5th, Green 6th. If you support a minority party, every vote is critical; it changes the balance. Even if there i...sn't a party you can whole-heartedly get behind, voting for the least-worst option does more good than voting for nothing at all.
Bonus: opposition parties get a payment called "short money" from every vote cast for them. So, your vote is guaranteed to earn your party a little extra cash which will help them work and campaign harder next time.
It's never hopeless. Your vote always changes something. Your voice always matters.
So, while it's none of my business who you vote for, please promise me you'll get out there and vote.
THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #9
We were in a restaurant. I put the menu on the table in front of me, and leaned forward to read it. As I did so, I rested my hands on my elbows.
Him: “You’ve crossed your arms. You must be feeling uncomfortable”....
Me: “I’m fine. I’m just reading the menu.”.
Him: “But you wouldn’t cross your arms unless you were feeling uncomfortable. I’ve studied body language*. Everything you do means something.”
Me: “Yes, it means that it’s comfy for me to have my arms like this, while I’m reading the menu”.
Him: “But you wouldn’t have done it unless you were feeling uncomfortable”.
Me: “I’m fine, really”.
Him: “Are you feeling uncomfortable?”
Me: “Now I am”.
He continued to comment on my body language and facial expressions (despite me repeatedly asking him not to) until I ended the date, forty minutes after it started.
*This isn't the first time someone's commented on my body language; I once lost a job because of it. Perhaps it's me, after all.
My friend Jane invited a bunch of us round for a house-warming supper. She'd just moved out of her parents' place and into her own flat, and was ever so excited about it. Dinner was brown splodge and rice, and she scooped us all generous portions.
As we hungrily raised our forks, Jane thanked us for joining her: "...and I know you won't believe it, but this is the first time I've ever cooked! Hope you enjoy it."
The rice was raw and crunchy. I've still no idea what the brown splodge was actually supposed to be (entrails stew? testicle casserole? hot misery?) It remains the second-worst meal that I have ever eaten.*
We exchanged panicked glances over our heaped bowls. Jane beamed at us: "Are you enjoying it?"
She was one of life's genuine sweethearts, a thoroughly lovely person. It would have been like kicking a puppy. "It's delicious!", we enthusiastically lied in unison.
Being a well-brought up type, I forced down every last rancid mouthful. My friend Matthew later confessed to having tipped his bowlful into a pot-plant.
We all declined seconds. "So delicious! So full!"
I didn't even let her make me a cup of tea after that
*I'm still Facebook friends with the creator of the third-worst meal that I've ever eaten, so I won't be telling you about that one. But at some point I will tell you about the worst-ever meal that I've ever eaten. Because I made that one. (I'm usually a pretty good chef, honest.)
THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #8
“The thing is, I’ve got a girlfriend. But you live quite close to my parents. Maybe, whenever I’m visiting them, we could, you know, casually hook up?”
THANKS! BUT NO THANKS!
Steve: "Hello, it's Steve from ScottishPower here. I understand you're thinking of leaving us for another utility company because they've offered you a better price?"
Me: "I'm not thinking, I've already switched. And it's nothing to do with price, it's because your customer service has been terrible."...
Steve: "But the price must have had something to do with it?"
Me: "Really, no. I've had a number of problems with my account since I've been with you, and the people at customer service have been friendly enough, but totally incompetent with it."
Steve: "Can you give me a few more details please?"
Me: [there follows 10 minutes of me detailing numerous incidents where Scottish Power have totally failed to sort out problems]
Steve: "Fair enough, I totally get why you'd want to leave us. But, if I offered you a really good deal on your fuel, would you consider staying?"
Steve: "A really really good deal?"
Me: "Seriously, this isn't about the money. It's about the customer service."
Steve: "Is there anything I can do to make you reconsider your decision to leave?"
Me: "No. There really isn't."
Steve: "But it's my job to stop you leaving."
Me: "Steve, I'm sorry. It's not you, it's your company's customer service."
He said he understood, and we hung up. But still, I hope Steve is OK. I hope he goes on to find other customers (and that they get treated better than I did). I hope he learns to love again, or whatever.
I was so pregnant that I waddled. Everything ached. Although exhausted, I was still looking forward to supper with friends.
As I reached the restaurant, a man stopped me. He was lounging against the wall; later, I realised that he was probably too drunk to stand up straight.
"You're pregnant!", he slurred....
"Yes. I'm pregnant."
I tried to walk past him, but he grabbed my wrist and started telling me how he'd never wanted kids, that he'd make a terrible father, that he wished he'd loved someone enough to have children with them, that he always wanted to have a son; the sentences clashing, contradicting and bumping against each other. He talked and talked at me, while I thought of my friends sat inside, and wondered how to get myself free. He held my wrist, talking and talking.
I suffer from extreme politeness. I stood there and nodded, horribly aware that in being polite to this man, I was being rude to my friends as the time got later and later. And then:
"I have to touch your bump."
Now, I'm not comfortable being touched at the best of times. My skin is quite sensitive and it can be rather overwhelming.
"Really? Do you have to?"
"Yes. Let me touch your bump and then you can go."
Today Me is typing this with shame and anger. Today Me wants to go back in time to that moment and shout at the guy, leave her alone, let her go. I wish I'd handled it differently. But I didn't, I muttered, "OK". I was desperate to go and it seemed like a decent trade-off.
He let go of my wrist, but grabbed my top and started trying to put his other hand up inside it.
Enough polite. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
"I want to touch your bump."
"OVER MY CLOTHES."
"No. It has to be your bare skin or it doesn't count."
"NO. I NEED TO GO NOW."
I forcibly removed his hand from my top.
"Fine. But take my email address. You need to tell me when you have the baby what sex it is. But don't bother telling me if it's a girl. I only want to hear if it's a boy."
I waited, furious, humiliated, hot-cheeked, while he scribbled down an address on a scrap of paper and handed it to me.
I joined my friends at the table, apologised for being late, and waited to stop shaking.
Anyway. I had a girl. I didn't email him.
THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #7
We’d been seeing each other for a while. One morning I awoke to find two texts from him.
The first was sent the previous night: "Just to tell you how beautiful you are, and how much I love you."...
I was thrilled to read it.
Then I read the second text, which had been sent a few hours after the first:
"I sometimes send texts in my sleep. If you've received any other texts from me in the last 12 hours, you should ignore them, I didn't mean anything I said."
I was no longer thrilled.