I haven’t blogged for a while. Not for lack of trying, but for most of 2020 I couldn’t get the words out. And then in February 2021 the words flooded out of me so fast that I couldn’t make sense of them all at once.
When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know…
I feel refreshed. Exhausted, yes, but refreshed.
At the start of this year, I started a new role at Scottish Refugee Council and stepped down from the Refugee Info Bus trustee board. The change brought out everything that has been locked in my brain for years. Everything. It was bewildering and overwhelming, euphoric and terrifying. But it needed to happen.
A few months of counselling, writing, not drinking and hard work later, I have found the space to figure out what to share and what to keep to myself. Firstly, a thank you to everyone who has listened to me as I’ve navigated this and guided me forwards, including my colleagues who have supported me to keep working and my flatmates, friends and family who have heard it all.
So where does this leave me?
Working in crisis
I have now been working in a crisis situation for nearly 4 and a half years, and things are getting worse. No matter how hard everybody I know works to try to safeguard and improve refugee protections and migrant rights, rights are being stripped away by an uncaring government intent on causing harm. Despite this, the Tories keep getting more and more votes. This just emboldens them to introduce harsher and harsher policies which impact us all, and it is terrifying.
The hostile environment is racist. It doesn’t care how many families are torn apart, how many lives are ended, how many people fall through the cracks. Where does it end? As Daniel Trilling writes, the Home Office is cruel, paranoid and failing, terrified of being seen as a soft touch. But there is nothing soft about how the Home Office treats people. Watching the erosion of refugee rights, Windrush generation rights, EU citizen rights, protest rights, never mind the cruelty faced by people at our border and in detention centres, hotel rooms and barracks, it’s impossible not to fear how far this government will go in their pursuit of immigration control.
I’m grateful to work in Scotland at the moment. It’s far from perfect, but it’s certainly better than what’s going on down south. People with refugee status were able to vote in the recent Scottish elections, for example, at a time when the Tories seek to disenfranchise people without ID cards. The other week, I felt extremely proud to be part of the crowd at Kenmure Street preventing the removal of two men from the community there, surrounded by good people from all over Glasgow who have had enough of the hostile environment and the Tories. Westminster’s asylum policy is on a downward spiral as the climate crisis worsens and Scotland needs to provide an antidote to that, and pull in a different, more progressive direction. Fast.
Working in this crisis lends itself to panic, as you can tell from my words above, and prior to lockdown I distracted myself from that by keeping myself as busy as possible. Friends, parties, drinks, weekends away, holidays. But in lockdown, I couldn’t, so I froze as everything I hadn’t dealt with caught up with me and locked my brain, whilst multiple crises continued to spiral out of control around me and I tried to keep all my plates spinning. The first few months of this year were a flashing warning sign telling me to slow down and come back to myself, so I’m heeding that sign. I am grateful that my new role is creative and community-focused.
Ultimately, all of the changes I’ve been going through have been positive and necessary. I am creating space to step away from the crisis I work in, to explore my identity and mental health at my own pace.
Exploring my queer identity
“I was terrified that when I came into myself, I would lose everything. Instead, I found myself. I found the connection I had been searching for my entire life: people who loved me for me and not my category; beauty in my individuality, not my obedience…Who knows what the future holds? We should not hold ourselves back for the sake of convention. Instead we should embrace ongoing transformation as a necessary part of what it means to be alive.” – Alok Vaid-Menon
I’d never really had my euphoric coming out moment until this year, despite technically being “out” for almost 10 years. I still felt confused and insecure, and I internalised it as something wrong with me. There’s not. I am bisexual/pansexual, and I am attracted to people across the gender spectrum. I always have been.
And I identify as queer. I remember discovering the word a few years ago, rolling it around on my tongue. It made far more sense to me. I have been trying to explore what this means for me for years but kept getting blindsided by work and external pressures, expectations (my own included) and imposter syndrome and anxiety. No more. I am unapologetically queer. The term gives me space to explore myself at a pace that works for me.
None of this is particularly surprising at all to folk who know me, nor really to myself, but it has also been life-changing and freeing.
It’s taken me years to get to this point, but my writing has reflected this long before I understood it. When I was 16, I wrote a short story for my school coursework about an androgynous character who wakes up in a cell, unable to recognise themselves until they smash a mirror and the colour of their blood brings memories flooding back to them.
The character even had they/them pronouns, long before I knew this was possible (although I had to change this for the exam board as this was deemed to be “incorrect English”…)
I have recently rewritten it to reflect my recent experiences, and might share it here at some point. I’ve been enjoying writing over the past few months – it’s been really refreshing to have my creative energy back.
Exploring my queer identity is a journey, an exciting one, an enjoyable one. It’s already opened up so many exciting and interesting conversations with friends and family and I feel so much more comfortable with who I am and how I express myself. This exploration brings me joy and calm in a turbulent time, and unleashes my creativity, so what’s not to love.
Understanding my mental health
I have been going through a lengthy period of change and growth, with all its highs and lows. I’ve always struggled to make sense of what’s going on in my head, and I don’t need to bare all here, but when I finally reached out for therapy last year, the counsellor I spoke to told me “just remember that others have it far worse than you.” I’m fully aware of that, thank you. It took me eight months to pick up the phone to a counsellor again. It’s been much more beneficial this time round.
However, at this stage in 2021, show me a human who isn’t anxious, stressed, confused and exhausted? We’ve got a long fight ahead of us, so I’m taking positive steps to look after myself. But ultimately I’m a burnt out human working in a traumatic crisis during a pandemic, from my bedroom, figuring myself out. Of course I have off days. I do understand so much more about my mental health and my triggers now than I used to though, and I’m learning to sit with my emotions, which can only be a positive.
Additionally, I see the resilience of the people I work with and support, who have been through things I hope I never have to and come out fighting, with hope in their hearts and that drives me forward too. Having time and space to process my thoughts means that I’m one of the lucky ones at the moment. My counsellor obviously wasn’t wrong when she said that others have it far worse than me, it just really wasn’t what I needed to hear when I couldn’t string a sentence together.
Books, podcasts, etc. which have helped me navigate this period of change
Books: Beyond the Gender Binary | Rainbow Milk | Life as a Unicorn | The Bi-ble | Real Life | Large Animals | Over the Top | The Way of Rest | Braiding Sweetgrass | The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober | Girl, Woman, Other
TV/Film: RuPaul’s Drag Race (obviously) | Pose | Transparent | Queer Eye | Sex Education | Sense8 | Perks of Being a Wallflower (how had I not seen this until 2021) | Big Mouth | Bonding | I May Destroy You | Ginny & Georgia | Disclosure | After Life | The Mind Explained | Russian Doll
The Snuts – Somebody Loves You
The cherry on top of a weird but ultimately positive time for me. Just watch and have a wee cry if you haven’t already.
All views expressed in this blog are my own.