Friday, 9 January 2015

Give Ched Evans a Second Chance but not as a Public Figure

After Ched Evans was recently released from prison after a two year sentence for raping a young woman while inebriated, a lot of debate has arisen as to whether he can continue playing football professionally.

Sheffield United were looking at signing him until Jessica Ennis, a long standing supporter of the club, spoke out against it. Now, a few months on, Oldham are looking to sign the striker but are receiving a huge amount of public backlash.

The case highlights the public's anxiety about how to rehabilitate criminals after they have done their time. It is important that offenders released from jail should be given a second chance, otherwise, what would stop them from repeating their crimes? Unfortunately, many ex-offenders  find themselves re-offending after being released from prison because they are unable to find re-intergrate into society. Between July 2010-June 2011, it was found that the re-offending rate stood at 25%, with those that had a sentence of 12 months or less more likely to re-offend than not. What criminals do after imprisonment is a highly important issue, and the Ched Evans debate highlight's society's anxiety as to what to do about it.

Ched Evans' rape conviction did not surprise me at all. There is a 'lad culture' that is rife in this country at the moment, especially within a sporting environment, that has bubbled to the surface in the form of Dapper Laughs and others. This lad culture reflects misogynistic attitudes veiled as banter to normalise sexual abuse, rape and the derogatory treatment of women. Myself, as well as many other women, have experienced an attitude arising from this culture that men are entitled to as many women as they desire, regardless of whether they have partners or whether a women wants to get involved.

For Ched Evans to be allowed to return to professional football would be an expression of acceptance of behaviour like this. Footballers, whether they want to be or not, are role models for our young people and what they do, on and off the pitch, will influence them. While Ched's victim is forced to go into hiding and change her name to escape abuse, he is in the process of negotiating a lucrative deal with a League One football club. It's hardly fair. And for future victims of rape, it sends the message that you should report sexual abuse at your own risk. No convicted rapist should be allowed to return to the public eye after they have completed their sentence.

However, I sincerely hope that Ched Evans is able to use the knowledge and skills he has picked up as a professional footballer to develop his career away from the public eye. His rehabilitation will also prove important to the public's opinion on how to deal with ex-offenders and so should be carried out correctly. Unfortunately I fear that this is not the last time we will hear of a case like this.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

What is "Non-Violent Extremism", David Cameron?

On the 25th September 2014, David Cameron presented a speech to the UN about the threat of extremism and what can be done about it. In his speech, he talks at length about ISIL and the recruitment of their members from the rest of the world, noting that already 500 Britons have traveled to the region to help fight in Syria. You can read the transcript of the full speech on the UK Goverment Website here, or watch a video of David Cameron delivering the speech here.

As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. And that is what David Cameron is calling for in his speech. He says:
"The root cause of this terrorist threat is a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism....To defeat ISIL – and organisations like it - we must defeat this ideology in all its forms."
This is the first worry I have - how do you defeat an ideology, which by definition is only a set of ideas and beliefs?  Will it become illegal under international law to believe something? 

So what ideas might you have that pose a threat to the international community? Mr Cameron is very specific here:

"As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by preachers who claim not to encourage violence, but whose world view can be used as a justification for it. We know this world view. 
The peddling of lies: that 9/11 was a Jewish plot or that the 7/7 London attacks were staged. The idea that Muslims are persecuted all over the world as a deliberate act of Western policy. The concept of an inevitable clash of civilisations."

So simply being a conspiracy theorist makes you an enemy of the state? A conspiracy theorist is somebody who questions inconsistent evidence given by the official or widely accepted version of events. These people are actually not causing any direct harm. Simple questioning of those in power is something that I believe is important in an honest, open and democratic society. It is exactly what I am doing here, questioning a speech made by the Prime Minister. How this blog post may be interpreted by my readers does not make me responsible for their actions. I am simply putting forward an alternate view, in a non violent way. 

Islamic Extremists use all sorts of ideas that make up this world view David Cameron is talking about, and take all sorts of information to justify their actions. Islamic Extremists are so called because they have interpreted the Qu'ran, or at least some parts of it, in a certain way that justifies their acts of terror. In the same way, the Nazi's used certain sections of Nietzsche's philosophy to justify their fascist regime and the persecution of the Jews. In my opinion, neither Nietzsche or the Qu'ran call for the actions that a minority of their followers have carried out. So are they really to blame?

The implications of what David Cameron is saying are huge. Simply for having your opinion interpreted in a certain way that condones violence by extremists (even if you don't agree with that yourself), you will be labelled a non-violent extremist, and be treated by the state as a terrorist. 

This follows recent threats by UK Police that by watching the beheading of James Foley on Youtube etc. you could face arrest over Terror Charges. However, this proved to be an empty threat after over 2 million Brits watched the video online.

From what David Cameron is saying, soon it could be left up to the government to decide whether or not you are a terrorist based on your beliefs, regardless of any harm you yourself may have caused. He has already given Teresa May the power to refuse any Briton access into or out of the UK, and now could more powers be given to sanction so-called 'Non-Violent Extremists'?

It seems that they are already being prepared

Friday, 15 August 2014

Banter is Fine if You Take Women's Rugby Seriously, Naimh

We're fast approaching the final of the Women's Rugby World Cup, and it has been a phenomenal competition. It has been a hard fought contest, with reigning champs New Zealand knocked out in the group stages. France have been playing some fantastic rugby themselves, and their matches have been aired on terrestrial TV to an audience of two million.

But the real stars have been the Irish. Although being knocked out in the Semi Finals by England, they have triumphed with historic wins against both Kazakhstan and the Kiwi's. And rightly so, the Girls in Green have made front page news in the Irish papers, attracting a serious amount of notable attention.

Yet there's always one draconian journalist who hasn't quite been able to keep up. This time it's the ditzy Niamh Horan who was assigned to write a piece about women's rugby at grassroots level. In order to write the article, she and a photographer went down to Railway Union RFC to join in with the girls at training. You can read the resulting piece, entitled 'Niamh Horan on Women in Rugby: 'I never play a game without my tan'' here.

This article had great potential to promote the women's game; persuading new girls to give it a try and helping to counter some narrow-minded attitudes. At least it could have done, if it was taken seriously.

Believe it or not, women who play rugby are just your normal women. Some like to wear make-up, fake tan and hair extensions, some don't. Some are curvy, some are slim. Some are gay and some are straight. As with anything in life, you don't have to fit into one of these categories in order to be able to do something.

However, the focus of this article was on the superficial gender stereotypes that female athletes constantly battle in their fight to be taken seriously.

The article is inappropriately sexualised throughout, with the talk of touching women's thighs and threesomes, it reads like an erotic novel. This tone would never be used in an article written about men playing sport, so why should it be used when referring to women playing rugby?

The content of the report was not focused on rugby, but the clich├ęd topics of beauty and impressing the boys. Surprise, surprise, one of the lines that came out of this fantastic piece of journalism was 'Does my bum look big in this?' when Horan pulls on her rugby shirt for the first time.

It's a massive shame because there's so much that can be said about the Railway Union's women's rugby teams. After a small amount of research (just checking out the club's website), I have found that this club is a real advocate of women's rugby. They field 3 senior women's teams, have two girls' age groups at youth level and a women's sevens academy. As a player myself for 13 years, I have never come across such a large club for women to join. There are whole counties in the UK can not offer that many teams. What Railway Union RFC is doing is seriously impressive.

The Railway Union RFC are taking the girls seriously, and have high hopes for their players. Their 1st team compete in the All Ireland League, the highest league possible, equivalent to England's Premiership. These women are the best of the best, and often scouted at this level for international rugby. Not only this, but the club have two more senior teams below that promote enjoyment and development in the game.

The Railway Union are an impressive club who are real advocates of women's rugby and that should be something that is celebrated. Instead we have to make do with a sexist, badly researched piece that somehow got published.

Some people have supported the article saying that the artificial focus on make-up and men was light-hearted banter. And I'm not saying that we shouldn't have a bit of light-hearted banter when talking about women's sports. But the problem is that is all we get - as if women playing rugby is one big joke.

The Railway Union RFC take women's rugby seriously and so should the journos. Having a bit of banter in an article is fine, as long as it is backed up with some meaty substance that promotes women's sports.

Women's rugby has come a long way, especially since I started playing over 10 years ago. This World Cup has done a lot to prove that. In the UK, the girls have had top billing on Sky Sports 1, and in France the girls have made it onto terrestrial TV. I've noticed we have started to get more column inches, but pieces like these are still holding us back.

The Women's Rugby World Cup final is on Sunday 17th August between England and Canada, and can be watched in the UK on Sky Sports 4, KO at 17:45.

Come on England!!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Depression Can Kill The Funniest of People: RIP Robin Williams

As a kid growing up in the 90's, we literally had no choice but to watch films with Robin Williams in. He was in every kid's film produced in that era and just before. Thankfully for us, they were funny.

So a few years ago it really surprised me when I read this article in the Guardian. What struck me was the complete sadness of the man and how strongly it came across. It is not often I read an interview that so strongly depicts such melancholy. Of course, celebrities talk about their struggles all the time, but they always seem so distant. This was the first time I really caught a glimpse of a celebrity's real life personality.

As the interviewer says, only a few weeks before he was being his more well known, zany self on the Jonathan Ross Show

At the time, I'd never realised how, if you were depressed, you could put on that much of a face. It is only now I'm struggling with depression myself that I understand how it can be done, and actually how frequently it is done by so many depressed people. Many people I know would be surprised to find that I am struggling with depression myself.

In this interview with Jonathan Ross, Robin jokes about his drug and alcohol addiction like it's another hilarious celebrity anecdote. That's what I do. When people ask me how I am, knowing about what's going on, I laugh it off. 'Oh I'm fine...' I'll say, brushing it off like its nothing.

The problem is, Depression isn't nothing. While we don't know yet whether Robin did try to commit suicide, it certainly consumed him for a large part of his life. It takes over you, often crippling you in such a way that you find it hard to do the simplest of things, even maintain a relationship with you friends and family. And most of the time, it goes completely unnoticed. But he lived with it, pushing it to the corner of his life to make way for his jokes and laughter. If only the jokes and laughter could have won.
You're Free, Genie

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

CBT Review - Aha, Progress!

Today I had my CBT review session, in which we looked over how far I've come since my first session way back in March, how I've been finding it and what the plan of action is from now on.

I've been really pleased with my progress throughout the last 5 months. Group CBT was really good for learning some coping mechanisms, and my levels of anxiety reduced massively after the 5 sessions I had. I would say now that anxiety is not really something that gets in my way. While I still have pangs of worry from time to time, I am able to deal with them using the breathing techniques, challenging my thoughts or by changing my focus of attention. And the results have shown up in the mood assessment questionnaire I fill out before each session (similar questionnaire can be found here). My anxiety score for my first assessment was 17 out of 18. This was a huge score, 9 points above what would be considered to be a normal level. In today's session, my assessment score was 7. That's a massive 10 point difference, and now I am considered to have a healthy level of anxiety!

After Group CBT, I've had 6 one to one sessions to tackle my depression and low mood. I feel that these have done so much to really target the cause of my low mood and break it down from its very core. We've established my core beliefs and how they affect my thought processes, and challenged my thought processes so I've started to think more rationally again. I'm not quite there yet, as my core beliefs are so strong they will take a bit of extra work, but already I am much less down. Again my assessment scores reflect this; I started on 17 out of 21, and has now been reduced to 10. Below 9 points and I would not be considered to be depressed, so as you can see my low mood is much more mild now.

It's so good to see all this working. I've made some huge changes to my lifestyle this year; I've started eating more healthily and exercising regularly again, I'm seeking help on polishing up my CV and I've continued to blog no matter how hard it's sometimes been. As a result, I've lost weight, got much fitter, improved my online presence, picked up some new skills, learned so much about myself and become much happier.

I have three more CBT sessions left, in which we will concentrate on tackling the 'I am not good enough' core belief, and then hopefully some relapse prevention. For the first time in a long while, I'm feeling hopeful.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Challenging Negative Thoughts

Throughout the last month, my CBT sessions have focused on challenging the negative thoughts that I have, and coming up with alternative, fairer thoughts to ease my negativity.

I've always tried to challenge my negative thoughts. I know that they're there, how overwhelmingly negative they are, and that they are adding to my low mood. So when my therapist said we need to start challenging my negative thoughts, I thought it was going to be a futile exercise because I was already doing that and it wasn't working.

First of all, we recognised some common thinking errors that might be causing my low mood (all of which can be found here). I've found that over the years I've developed many of these unhelpful thinking habits, most commonly thoughts that come under the critical self, compare and despair, shoulds and musts, and mind reading categories.

Once I had recognised the negative habits in my thinking, it was time to challenge them. My therapist gave me a 7 column thought record sheet, in which I had to record the unhelpful thoughts, the trigger and the emotion I felt. Then I had to provide facts that support and oppose my thoughts (facts being evidence that would stand up in a court of law!), then alternative, balanced perspectives to replace my negative thoughts with, and finally I would have to re-rate the intensity of the emotion my negative thoughts originally made me feel.

At first I found this really hard. Having recorded the unhelpful thoughts, and the facts that support the unhelpful thoughts, I looked at the blank 'against' column and didn't know what to put. 'Of course people think I'm fat, my BMI was over the healthy weight category' is what I thought. I filled in a couple of points in the against category; 'too self critical', 'people might not be as mean as I am about myself' etc. And then into the alternative perspective category I put 'I should not worry about what people think of me'.

I didn't feel any better about myself. This wasn't going to work.

I returned to CBT with my thought record sheets and went through them with my therapist. She noticed that I wasn't really challenging my negative thought processes, instead actually adding to them and making myself feel worse! She noted that while yes, my BMI might have been over the healthy range, a BMI score was no evidence that people thought I was fat, which was my original unhelpful thought. She also pointed out that my alternative perception was itself a thinking error; the 'I should not' bit shows that I am setting an unrealistic target for myself. She said that being aware of what other people think is not always a bad thing, and it is common for people to worry about it. Telling myself 'I should not worry what others think' is an unrealistic target and one of the unhelpful thinking habits that we recognised earlier on.

My therapist and I revisted my notes on the thought record sheet, focusing on each negative thought and pulling it apart. As it turned out, I had no evidence that would be accepted in a court of law to support the thought 'People think I'm fat'. Soon enough, the evidence against column was overflowing onto another page; 'Doctors are not concerned about my weight', 'I would not think of friends my size at fat', 'People's perceptions of fat vary' etc. My new, alternative perspective was amended to 'Most people probably don't think I'm fat'.

I felt so much better. My feelings of shame, that I had originally rated at an intensity of 80% (hide-under-the-duvet-&-cry level of intensity) had been reduced to about 10% (slightly-ashamed-but-not-letting-it-get-in-my-way intensity).

I've been challenging my thoughts in this way for a few weeks now and it has made a huge difference. Being able to break down each negative thought methodically instead of challenging it in my head has been so effective. Before, I was thinking I was an 'idiot' for being so negative, and for now clear reasons that did not help in overcoming my negative thoughts. Who'd have thought a little worksheet with some columns on would be so helpful?!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

I Am Not Good Enough

The last couple of months have been difficult. I became completely crippled by self-doubt, and was unable to blog and even tweet for a while. It became super hard to find anything enjoyable. Group CBT fell through due to work commitments and I had to return to my summer job. Even though good things were happening and I was still able to carry on with life, I just felt miserable. I was so miserable that I didn't have the energy to feel anxious at all.

As I could no longer attend the group CBT sessions on Monday afternoons, I arranged to have 1-1 appointments that fit better around my work schedule. I knew that I still needed the help, now even more than before, but in our sessions I felt like my therapist didn't understand why. From an outsider's perspective I was doing really well. I had made changes to my life, such as eating better and working out most days. I was applying for jobs and going to work. Usually, being so proactive about getting better helps people feel better, but I was feeling worse. My therapist wasn't getting it and I felt like CBT wasn't going anywhere.

A couple of weeks ago my therapist gave me some 'homework', which consisted of writing down what I did every hour for a week, and a mood rating. I also had to write down every negative thought I had. It was a huge peice of homework, which was a nightmare to keep up with. I used an app called Talking Progress to remind me every hour to record my mood and thoughts and keep my notes safe from people seeing.

This week I returned to my therapist and we talked through the homework. We discussed all of my negative thoughts, some of which included: 'I rely on other people to much', 'I don't like my voice', 'I am wrong'. In amongst these was 'I am not good enough'. My therapist asked me what I felt I wasn't good enough at, and I said everything; I'm not good enough at my job, at blogging, at things I'm interested in, even at buying cool clothes. She then asked me how long I had felt like this, to which I replied 'always'.

My therapist told me she thinks that 'I am not good enough' is one of my core beliefs. A core belief is usually developed as a child or teenager and becomes fundamental to the way we perceive our lives, usually going unquestioned. For me, when lots of things start to prove that 'I am not good enough', I get depressed. So because at the moment I haven't yet found a way into my chosen career, I strongly believe I am not good enough and therefore feel down.

My mood and activity diary now made sense to my therapist. I felt the most depressed when something affirmed my core belief of not being good enough, like after applying for jobs or after a hard work out where I've struggled to keep up. I feel like I should be doing everything perfectly, and so when I don't feel I have, I become miserable. Just getting things done doesn't make me feel happy, they have to be done perfectly if I am to feel content.

A Posh Diagram FYI :)

Challenging my core belief is going to be no easy feat, but I feel that half the challenge is over now my therapist has identified what's been going wrong. And this would never have been identified if I hadn't have done the homework. So if you do CBT guys, make sure you get the homework done like I did!