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Weathering The Storm

Will Davies 24 July 2020

Weathering the storm – 3 tips for not letting lockdown take you down

Change is an essential part of our lives, there’s just no getting away from it and as a counsellor, it’s a common thread that runs through my work. Often a client is seeking counselling to elicit change in themselves or their situation but what’s stopping them is their relationship with change, and it’s this that forms the basis of the work. So, after working as a counsellor for a number of years now, you think I’d be a dab hand at change myself, and being honest, I thought so too, but that was until the lockdown in Leicester got extended.

2 steps forward 1 step back

If you’re not aware, in late June, the government, having identified a surge in cases of Covid-19 in the east of the city, extended the lockdown in Leicester and a number of outlying areas. It happened quickly, announced Monday and implemented Tuesday, with the main message being stay in your home as much as you can. I think it’s fair to say that the fallout of this decision was felt by everyone in Leicester and the surrounding areas. In some cases, there was a feeling that we were being singled out and in others, a sense that the rest of the country saw us as pariahs. My own emotional response to the extension was an overwhelming sense of anger and frustration, specifically at having to take an enforced 1 step back after a very much needed 2 steps forward, (out of county trips were planned, my mother was due to visit that weekend). In addition, I also started to catastrophise that things might not improve and we might never get out of lockdown. Of course, I knew that these responses to the change weren’t ‘mature’ or ‘rational’, but they were real to me and so there was a need to address and try to overcome them.

Nearly a month later, I have found the following three ‘tips’ to be the most beneficial in coping with life in extended Leicester lockdown:

1. What can you change?

In terms of my anger, I identified what I could actually change about the situation myself. Alas, government decision making is out of my control, as is whether someone else chooses to break the lockdown and go on holiday, but what I can do is commit to reducing my negative feelings through regular exercise (yoga and walking) and regular instances of self-care (journaling and cooking comfort food). I also consciously decided to talk openly within my social circle about how I felt and admit that I was unhappy. The release of these thoughts and feelings was met with empathy and made the ‘load’ feel a lot lighter.

2. Dial it down

I made the decision to turn my back on the profusion of lockdown related news, updates and social media that had previously kept me up till the early hours. I’m not an expert on virus transmission, so why was I feeling the need to know everything? What purpose was it serving other than overloading me with unnecessary information? So I dialled it down, took a step away from the town square and instantly began to feel much better for it.

3. Take the smooth with the rough

Lastly, rather than dwell on what I thought I was missing out on due to the extension, I started to refocus on enjoying the benefits of lockdown again. The ‘threat’ of having to do a commute and return to an open plan office for one of my roles, was no longer there. The money I would usually be spending in bars, pubs and cafes is still in my bank account and so for the first time ever July and August are not coming in wildly overbudget. More lie-ins, more Netflix, hello Disney+, more times with the family and now that the school summer holidays have begun, no need to try and dredge up the memory of what a quadratic equation is. You might think I was naively looking on the bright side, but in making myself try and turn the lemon that is lockdown into lemonade, I feel able to keep going, keep working and carry on until the next announcement.

Be prepared

Everyone is different of course, so I realise that some of these tips might not work for you. However, I do think that starting to develop your own healthy coping strategies, for when more inevitable Covid-19 related changes happen, will be time well spent. That way, you won’t be caught on the hop like I was, without an umbrella.

Black Lives Matter: It begins at home

Brunhild Abrahams 6 July 2020

My experience of watching the video of the white Police Officer killing a black man named, George Floyd by kneeling on his neck because of his skin colour was like watching a horror movie based on a real life story, streaming live! I was shocked, emotional and felt sick to the core but knew the importance of watching the video clip to the end and acknowledging my feelings.

I’ve realised that as a South African mixed-race child now an adult, I have become so accustomed to racism in SA, which is scary.  It also makes me feel really angry not just because it exists but because I am still allowing it to affect me. The first memory that popped up was that we could not share a public swimming pool with white people.  On the other hand, whenever the bin Lorries would come around, adults would scare us as children and say the ‘booty’ (a black man) would catch us if we didn’t listen. I must admit since experiencing life in the UK, I felt a sense of equality and diversity and became more confident of my voice as a person of mixed-race.

Then I questioned what impact could that have had on the mixed and black races of SA?! Well, this is my thesis to the sad and realistic sub-conscious outcome; even though our mothers and fathers (my biological father was one of them) protested against racism, they were still unable to bring changes because of the law.  As children, we might have learned to accept the discrimination and unfair behaviour from white people because our parents had to, which could have made us feel hopeless and helpless. Growing up, we might have internalised that behaviour which might have ‘crippled’ the majority of us sub-consciously, believing that we are incapable of standing up for ourselves or being leaders of any kind etc. Even though I can acknowledge the pain and suffering racism have caused me and my race, there was still a possibility for us to thrive and succeed through education and hard work, where for the black race, it was made nearly impossible.

WHY??!!

It is 2020 and we are still, like we’ve heard so many times on the news and social media, after 400 years+ dealing with systemic racism that is rooted into the psyche of the people?! With the exception of some white people, who gave white people the right to make THE decision to segregate us all as a human race, to treat people unfairly ONLY because of the colour of their skin, to create economic exploitation with slavery??!! It really hit hard when a 36 year old black man was sobbing and pleading to a 16 year old at a protest for their generation to come up with a better way of fighting for justice because his generation and the ones before were unable to because, he said, white people will always try to come up with a better way.  It should be simple right? If white people could learn how to create racism, they can unlearn it because they weren’t born with it = NO EXCUSE FOR CHANGE so let’s have a serious chat and demand that change now, not later! Not just racism but also the impact poverty, Covid-19, lost of employment and healthcare has on Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups including Native Americans and the LGBTQ+ community.

Sadly it was at the cost of George Floyd’s privacy when he passed away for the world, the BAME & LGBTQ+ community to metaphorically see how systemic racism has its ‘knee on all of our necks’.  I’ve read in an article a black man consciously made a decision to never leave his house without his daughters or his dog because that would present to the Police that he is a family man and a good citizen. Is that not an ‘emotional jail’ they are trapped in every single day of their lives and WHY??!! Wouldn’t that be exhausting, painful, cause enrage in anyone if they had to live in fear only because of the colour of their skin?

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!! IT’S TIME FOR A SUSTAINABLE CHANGE!! That is why the world came together to protest and fight for justice and is unapologetically demanding for transformative policy change. Starting with basic human needs (Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs), respect, inclusion, compassion = Equality, Diversity, Justice = Unprecedented reckoning of the ongoing legacy of slavery economic reform for equality. THE POWER LIES WITH THE PEOPLE.

 I would recommend everyone to watch an Anti-Racism Exercise called the “Blue eyes/Brown eyes” experiment illustrated by Jane Elliott, a teacher of 25 years teaching race relations https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebPoSMULI5U&t=1062s. I get emotional and have a sense of relief every time I watch it because it’s the way Jane highlights, as a white woman with blue eyes, how racism is engrained into society.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ― Nelson Mandela

This is an opportunity for every person around the globe to take responsibility and check where we need to educate ourselves on racism and take action with the focus of sustainability and breaking segregation. WHERE BETTER THAN TO START AT HOME? I have learnt so much (a new ‘language’) over the last couple of weeks and realised, even I have some white privilege. Before my son walks out of the front door, I will ask him not to forget to greet, say please, thank you but a black parent has to ask their son to not wear a hoody, to remember the goal is to get home safely and not put their hands in their pockets, etc.  I know I can rely on the Police if I had to call them so I can’t imagine what a black person must feel like if they don’t get a similar fair service.

I am definitely educating my children on racism, equality and diversity because my son has already experienced racism and it can happen to anyone at any time. I will take a page from my parent’s book by the way they’ve brought me up by taking us into a township mainly consisting of black residence.  There, we’ve met a warm, loving, strong and well respected black woman who introduced us to their culture and everyday living. Thanks to them, I am able to look at humanity with an eye of equality, respect and understanding not just by words but first by feeling, emotion and deed.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, so why don’t we put that into action as a human race, look out for one another and form a multi-cultural community.  Uncover the hidden prejudice that shapes what we see, think and do to make sure we, our children and future generations will be treated with justice and dignity because all that we are really seeking for at the end is equality and not revenge.  So, why not invite your friends of different race and cultures to your home or community centre not just for a lunch or a BBQ but with the meaning of educating each other and showing real interest on how rich and valuable our differences are to one another. 

“The time is always right to do what is right” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Book suggestions:

  • Biased – Jennifer Eberhardt, PhD
  • How To Be An Antiracist – Ibram X. Kendi
  • Our Time Is Now – Stacey Abrams

Considering Online Therapy?

Tracey Thomas 25 June 2020

For many years a small number of clients and therapists have been working online while the majority of therapeutic relationships have been conducted face to face. A short while ago that flipped in the UK, with most clients and therapists switching to working together online to support the reduction of the spread of COVID-19.  This means that more therapists than ever before are available for online work. But what is right for you?

Some clients have always appreciated online therapy because it allows them to attend when they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. For example, people who work away from home. Others have accessed therapy online because they want a therapist with a particular skill set that can’t be found in their geographical area.

Some clients have regular face to face therapy and access therapy online or by phone occasionally when away from home.  Others would rather take a break from therapy when away from home as for them, the therapy room, the journey to and from the room and the experience of having a break are important parts of the therapeutic process.

Many professional organisations are saying that many people would benefit from mental health support as a result of the stress and anxiety that they are experiencing due to the response to COVID-19. At the same time, there are fewer face to face sessions available while many therapists continue to work only online to reduce the spread of the disease.

So what might be helpful to consider if you are weighing up on line therapy now versus waiting to have face to face therapy?

  • What is it that you need just now?

Were you generally happy with life “before” but the stress that many are currently feeling means that you could do with some help just now? Will waiting be unhelpful?

  • What is it that you want in the longer term?

Do you have a long term difficulty that you want to address that the current situation has highlighted in a way that has led you to realise that you want help now? Would one or two sessions at this time be helpful so that you can deal with what is most pressing? Could you then leave the therapeutic door open to come back to the longer term difficulties when you have more energy and can meet face to face? Will tackling the difficulty once everything else has calmed down be more helpful?

  • How do you feel about online interaction?

What has been your experience of online interactions before and during lock down? How comfortable do you feel interacting with people online? To what extent have you noticed yourself interacting differently one to one online than you would in person? How have your recent interactions left you feeling about meeting people online? To what extent might working with a therapist online, help you with your day to day online interactions or hinder you from building a relationship with your therapist?

  • How free will you be to speak?

Where will you have your online conversations with your therapist? How safe does that space feel to you? What concerns do you have about being overheard?  What will be the impact on you if you are not able to speak freely to your therapist? How might you overcome this? Where could you go safely with sufficient Wi-Fi signal or data coverage to have these conversations?

  • How will you transition back to your household role?

What will happen immediately after the end of a session? Where will you be? Who else will be there? What will you expect of yourself? What space can you give yourself if you need some time to collect your thoughts? How much freedom will you have to be sad / angry / self absorbed if that is what you need for a little while? To what extent can you park these thoughts and feelings until later in the day? Could you take a walk straight afterwards to give yourself some time to think?

In stereotypical therapist fashion, I am giving you lots of questions but not many answers. I hope that some of these questions might be helpful in developing your thinking and moving you towards making a useful decision.

JK Rowling’s open letter

I have some thoughts about the recent media row between JK Rowling and some trans activists…

Fear seems to be at the heart of the argument; fear of difference, fear of the unknown, fear of harm and fear of erasure.

In the initial Tweet, Rowling takes umbrage with the inclusive language “those who menstruate” which includes trans men and non-binary individuals who are not women but who may still menstruate. It’s hard (for me) to see why the inclusion of these groups seems to undermine a sense of ‘woman’ for those who were assigned female at birth and feel that’s the right category for them (cis-gender).

Rowling has clearly had some awful experiences in the past but she seems to be confusing all trans women (those assigned male at birth) as predatory and male as though these are linked. They are not. People of all genders can be predatory and abusive. Rowling talks about being ‘triggered’ and it sounds like she might need some additional support for that so she isn’t assuming all men are evil or trans women might want to harm her. One point she seems to miss completely is the vast majority of trans women feel shame around certain parts of their bodies; the last thing on their minds is to expose themselves others.

It appears she is also operating from a binary male/female perspective in terms of sex which is long outdated and incorrect. Whilst the two most common categories for sex characteristics and chromosomes are male/female, there are also a number of intersex categories. This is aside from any sense of gender identity which is more of a felt experience rather than something that can be ‘tested’ for. What it immediately highlights is that sex and gender is not a binary system, much as it might be safer to think in these terms.

Far from eroding the category of woman, supporting equality for all genders adds weight to equality for women. First we need to widen the legal definition of sex so that intersex individuals are included rather than excluded. This will undoubtedly complicate areas of research where so much focus is placed on the binary sex marker. I have no doubt that what we’d see is simply variation within any given category.

Rowling voices concern re safeguarding children as though by being more inclusive of trans rights we somehow make children less safe; this is simple scaremongering tactics based on her own fears. We are all entitled to our own opinion; we also need to understand the emotion behind the position. It’s no wonder Rowling feels so strongly given her early experiences. Trans individuals feel equally strongly because of the oppression they face day after day.

Rowling talks about de-transition rates. There will always be people who find it wasn’t the right approach for them. Many of these might be non-binary rather than trans so the more support we can give these individuals the less regret we might see, though the de-transition rates remains very low. Currently the system still favours those who transition from one side of the binary to ‘the other’ rather than enabling the freedom to simply be whoever they are with all their complexities. Rowling also talks about people transitioning rather than living with the oppression of being gay/lesbian. Surely our efforts need to focus on making it OK to be gay/lesbian rather than to further oppress a particular group?

Is it OK to disagree with Rowling? Sure. Is it OK to be hounded with death-threats? Quite frankly, no! She is entitled to her opinion. Whilst it’s one I do not share, behaving in an abusive way towards her simply feeds the negativity and confirms for her that trans women are indeed scary beings who want to harm her. As someone with such a high profile I do think she has a duty of care to better educate herself and to be more aware of the impact of her comments on those who face oppression; her books have given many people the hope that love and respect will win in the end.

Rowling speaks about being concerned about the increase in people seeking transition. It is inevitable that the numbers will increase as people see that it is a possibility for them. Surely this is a positive step; to know that people previously desperately unhappy are now able to receive the support and interventions they require.

Rowling suggests she might have become a man herself “to turn into the son her father always wanted”…like that’s the reason people are transitioning and would be supported by the health care system. The suggestion is that transitioning is an easy process! Perhaps she is not aware of the incredibly lengthy, and oft times humiliating hurdles that need to be overcome to arrive at a point of transition, particularly if medical and/or surgical interventions are required.

So, I’m left wondering what the way forward might be. We have a situation where some women are deeply frightened of being attacked by someone they have placed into a non-woman category and we have trans and non-binary people needing safe spaces to go to the toilet and use changing rooms without being attacked either. Instead of attacking each other, how can we work together with an understanding that both groups feel the terror of oppression and abuse? I’m back to thoughts around fear and erasure. The way forward is surely in ensuring visibility and equality for all? In terms of equality, it might be difficult for women to think of themselves as both an oppressed and a privileged group; oppressed by men and also with privilege that trans and non-binary individuals don’t yet have. With greater visibility for women (including trans women) and non-binary people, there’s a greater sense of empowerment for all. It’s important to know where we have privilege and where we experience oppression. Together we are stronger.

Past, present or future? A way of coping during lock down.

Will Davies  May 19th 2020

Since lockdown started I’ve consciously been thinking about things related to my past; friendships from childhood, songs I used to dance to and previous jobs that made me feel like I had the world at my feet. These things remind me of good, perhaps simpler more optimistic, times, that sit in direct contrast to the (necessarily) regimented and more restrictive way that we’re all presently living in. It’s as though thinking about the past has become a coping strategy, a way of protecting myself against the stresses of the current situation, until a time when I feel I can engage with it more in the present and think about what my future might look like post lock down.

Judging by all the video calls, social media and news stories that are doing the rounds at the moment, I’ve noticed that other people are doing things a bit differently.  For some focussing on the present seems to be helping them get through, whether it be developing skills they previously never had the time to do or setting up and hosting various Zoom chats and quizzes. For others, this focussing on the present is a necessary means for them to just get through the day, blinkers on, heads down as it were. And then there are those who are choosing to invest in the future as their coping strategy; fixed, and in some cases banking, on a time when this is all over and ‘normal service’ can be resumed.

If you’re finding living in the lock down hard, maybe consciously choosing to safely think about your past, present or future, as a form of coping strategy will help. For example, if the future seems scary, perhaps try to ‘stay’ in the present for now or if the present feels intolerable, how about harking back to more enjoyable past times or do some planning for a future when things will be more bearable? Whatever your situation, if it helps you get through these difficult times and you stay safe doing so, there’s no shame in consciously withdrawing to a more comforting past, no guilt in choosing to just survive day by day and nothing wrong with wishing the time away and planning for tomorrow. You don’t have to do all three, all of the time.

So for me, right now, I’m happy to live in the past. Now please excuse me whilst I go and get my ghetto blaster from the loft.  

Find out more about coping strategies during Covid-19 here:

10 tips to help if you are worried about the coronavirus – https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/coronavirus-covid-19-anxiety-tips/
COVID-19 – coping techniques – https://www.saferplaces.co.uk/blog/covid-19-coping-techniques
Weird and wonderful ways to get through the covid 19 lockdown – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/23/weird-and-wonderful-ways-to-get-through-the-covid-19-lockdown

Why self-care isn’t selfish in these difficult times…or ever.

Will Davies  April 28th 2020

Prioritising self-care is a topic I discuss a lot in my counselling room and often clients associate the idea of it with being selfish and uncaring. Sometimes this belief is inherited learning from an external influencer such as parents, friends or their community and other times it’s more internal, often stemming from a sense of low self-esteem. Whatever the reason, for them to put themselves before others just doesn’t come naturally.    

For me though, prioritising self-care has the potential to do a lot of good, not just for the individual but for their networks too. For example, something as small as scheduling in some exercise or watching your favourite movie and making sure it happens is proven to have a beneficial effect on your mental or physical health, which in turn makes you better able to juggle all the other aspects and responsibilities of your busy day.

When Covid-19 turned the world upside down, I realised that in order to best get through it, I needed to ‘practice what I preach’ and make sure to prioritise self-care in order to best look after my family, my friends and neighbours and my livelihood. Amongst other things, this has meant; taking the pressure off myself to achieve work-wise, sticking to my morning yoga routine when the kids want their breakfast, taking time to Zoom friends regularly and for once having a long bath instead of a quick shower.   

And so far, so good. The work still gets done, the children and garden are fed and watered (eventually) and I’m able to read the news without thinking the end of the world is nigh. In fact, there’s a part of me that is starting to see the current situation as an opportunity to maintain more of a consistent self-caring approach to myself, once the lock down has ended and some sort of semblance to normality has returned.

I know for a lot of people it is difficult for them to put themselves first. Caring for their families, the upkeep of their houses, the education of their children all seem to take precedence, but as a suggestion of something that might help you get through these difficult times, why not schedule some mandatory time in your day to exercise self-care? Putting yourself first isn’t selfish if it helps you keep going during these difficult times.

Find out more about self-care here:

What does ‘self-care’ mean and how can it help? – NHS blog

How can I help myself? – Mind website

Baines-Ball & Associates blogs

Three little things

Tracey Thomas  March 25th 2020

Over the last two weeks most of us have spent a lot of time hearing, thinking and talking about our worldwide, local and individual response to COVID-19. It can be anxiety provoking for many, for all sorts of different reasons and in all sorts of different ways. With social distancing and “stay at home” can come the feeling of having to face this either alone, or at least without our usual resources.

If you want to lower your own anxiety here are three little ideas for things that you can do to help.

Focus on gratitude.

Make a list of what you have that you are especially grateful for just now. This might be having radish seeds to grow in your window box, a neighbour who has offered to fetch your shopping if you need to stay at home or the fact that your parents have Skype on their tablet and you can have regular chats with them. Focusing on the good things that you do have can help the challenges seem more manageable.

Stay in the present

The human mind is really good at imagining disasters that haven’t happened yet and we can accidentally end up facing more and larger challenges in our imagination than we actually need to handle just now. It’s helpful to plan for the future and take some practical steps to be prepared. However, we are often overwhelmed when we try to solve tomorrow’s imagined problems today. If we just try to solve today’s challenges we stand a much better chance of success, calm and happiness. So focus on what it is that you need for today and give your energy to that.

Michelle Seabrook has written a blog which covers a number of helpful practical responses to the situation. http://www.laurabainescounselling.co.uk/blog/post/d1549e2f-1e10-4522-b61b-17f253f3a59f

Help someone else.

One of the best ways to reduce our own feelings of helplessness is to help someone else. Can you offer to pick up your neighbour’s prescriptions? If you are self isolating at home, can you entertain your grandchildren by playing “Frustration!” with them over Zoom? Is there a volunteer organisation in your area where you can help? https://valonline.org.uk/covid-19-coronavirus-support-volunteers/

These are just three little ideas but I hope that they will lead you to have a lot more.

The ‘look’ of contagion

On one of my daily walks during the lockdown a villager struck up a conversation (keeping the required distance) about how she felt like a leper during the lockdown because people were moving away from her and viewing her with something akin to suspicion, a fear of potential contamination. I empathised with her and went about my walk but it got me thinking…that ‘look’ she was describing is similar to something I have experienced most of my life.

As a non-binary, gender non-confirming individual I am all too familiar with that look. I experience looks of questioning, hostility, judgement, suspicion, derision, disgust on a daily basis. Whilst I’m aware it absolutely does have an impact, it’s so frequent it almost feels ‘normal’. What this person was describing was something that felt different (for them) during the restrictions. For me, it feels more like a deeper connection with society as I’m suddenly part of the ‘majority’. So strangely, it’s feeling more positive for me.

I count myself in a fortunate position during the lockdown. I have a home to go to; a place I consider my sanctuary – a place where it’s safe to simply be me. What about the people who have to be isolated or restricted living with those who do not accept, support, embrace or, even worse, deride those different to themselves? The isolation, the shame, the fear they will be facing will no doubt be difficult to comprehend by those who have never had to think about it before.

What about the people who are victims of domestic abuse? The terror and fear, knowing those small moments to escape have been removed during lockdown.

What about the people who have no home at all? With no shops, churches, pubs, restaurants open, there is virtually nowhere a homeless person can take refuge or go to the toilet. Basic needs simply not met; the humiliation of having to defecate in the street.

We all have our anxieties about COVID-19; some about contracting it, some more about the financial implication of contracts stopped or on hold, some the fear of the loss of loved ones. I’m aware of another group: those gloating that they have enough money, enough food in the freezer to last so they’re not only OK but enjoying seeing others suffer. Isn’t it interesting what this pandemic evokes in people?

Whatever your position, however you are impacted, I encourage us to look at the ‘how is this impacting me?’, ‘how can I help myself?’, and ‘how can I help my fellow human?’ to maintain a balance of self-care and appreciation for those in a different situation to ourselves.

Holding onto “ordinary life” in extraordinary circumstances

Michelle Seabrook  March 18th 2020

1.The mixed bag of feelings.
Everyone will be experiencing a different emotional reaction to the current situation, such as fear, anxiety, distress, denial, loss, anger, or hope; either in isolation or as a rollercoaster ride. Remember, this is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Life as you know it has been turned upside down. So, whatever you are feeling, that is okay. Others around you may be in a very different emotional state, and that too is okay. Try and keep some perspective that both your feelings and others’ emotions will change, and it is normal to feel differently to others at different times. There will be peaks and troughs and this is all to be expected. Express yourself: write, draw, or speak to others about how you are feeling. If you need a professional ear, many therapists are offering online sessions, so it’s worth seeking these out.

2. Fail to prepare?
If you have to self-isolate when you are well, preparation will be your best friend! It can be really important to your well-being to have a plan of things you can do, such as:

· Continue with existing things you enjoy at home and access new skills you can learn, there are many ways you can expand your mind from your armchair, it doesn’t all have to be about binge-watching boxsets.

· Stay in touch with people, you may need to think creatively about how you can maintain a connection with others. For example, if you attend a regular social group this could be conducted remotely by using an online platform. Agree to talk at regular times. Use whatever tech you can to keep in touch.

· Exercise is essential, but you don’t need to don the lycra! Think of exercise as ‘movement’, whether that is having a kitchen dance off with the kids or gardening, there are many ways you can get your body moving. Getting fresh air really will make a difference.

· Timetabling these home-based events is key. Try stick to the plan as much as possible and include all of the household in your prep, so that everyone is on board and can contribute to what will help them too. In this time of uncertainty and lack of control, developing a sense of agency can really help.

If you need to self-isolate due to illness, again planning can be really helpful. Reach out to close neighbours or friends who you can ask to run errands or supply you with everyday needs. Local communities may have already set up ‘isolation plans or teams’ on social media so these are worth seeking out. Please, ask for help when you need to. Helping each other is the key.

3. Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go…
If you are now working from home for social distancing measures: set up your home office to be as practical as possible. Follow your normal working routine and keep your boundaries e.g. start and finish at your normal time, and take your usual breaks. Context markers can be very helpful: wear what you would normally wear for work (however tempting pyjamas are!) and have items around you that remind you of your usual working environment, such as paperwork, folders, cups, stationery etc.

4. Last thoughts:
Remember, what helps in these uncertain times is when people pull together. A sense of community is about fairness for all, so no hoarding. Developing a ‘we’ or ‘community’ stance during these difficult times is far more helpful than an ‘I’ stance. Keeping the most vulnerable at the forefront of your mind can help put things into perspective.

Let’s hope that when ordinary life resumes, we will emerge out of this extraordinary situation with an increased sense of community and hope.

Stay well, Michelle

#covid19UK

Gender Neutral School Uniforms

I’ve been reading about a school who has introduced a ‘gender neutral’ uniform; much to the frustration of pupils and parents. I share their frustration, not because I am not in favour of gender neutral uniforms but because I am not in favour of imposing gendered clothing on anyone. Essentially what this school has done is remove skirts from the uniform, allegedly in support of trans students, so all must wear trousers originally allocated only for boys. Perhaps what would be truly inclusive would be to have a set uniform with items being selected by individuals as required. This would enable any student who wishes to wear a skirt to wear one, including trans students. Similarly regarding trousers.

As a society, what is so frightening or challenging about a boy, someone who is non-binary, trans or is exploring their gender identity wearing a skirt? Might it be a thread to an era where male dominance was more visible? When and why has it become acceptable for girls/women to wear trousers but not acceptable for boys/men to wear skirts? During and after the war, women were drafted into roles traditionally held by men and so it became acceptable for women to wear clothing more appropriate for the role. Men haven’t been drafted en mass into roles historically assigned to women so the equivalent in relation to clothing hasn’t happened. Also, it might be that society can tolerate the idea of a women ‘wanting to be or be like a man’ but struggles to comprehend why a man might ‘want to be or be like a woman’. 

Gender is much more nuanced than simply assessing genitalia and we could better support our young people by modelling inclusivity and respect irrespective of identity, race, religion, disability etc. Approximately 1.7 – 2 % of the population are intersex (replicated within the student population) (Hines & Taylor 2018). To not include intersex students would be statistically akin to saying all pupils with red hair have to assign themselves to a blonde or brunette category because we don’t cater for ‘red’. In addition, at least 0.4% of the UK population identify as non-binary when given a choice of male, female and non-binary (which included a number of specific identities) (practicalandrogyny.com). 

For some, the gender assigned to them at birth simply doesn’t fit. For some, it’s clear from an early age and for others it takes time to reach a conclusion. There are many possibilities regarding gender identity but it’s important to include non-binary and intersex identities for whom trying to fit into a binary category simply doesn’t work and these are groups that get further marginalised and erased by referring only to binary trans identities. At worst this has the potential to generate internalised shame and subsequent mental health problems. At best it can make school life far more challenging than it needs to be. 

True equality is about facilitating choice/preference rather than imposing our choices/preferences on others. The latter is called oppression. 

Is Gender Fluid? Sally Hines and Matthew Taylor 2018