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.