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Demi Lovato – Mental Illness/Addiction


In academia, they’re known as “narratives of restitution”: tales of recovery that frame personal experiences of mental illness and addiction as past and resolved. They frame illness as something that can be beaten, even though in many cases recovery is a matter of management rather than victory.

Lovato’s latest single, Sober, is about her lapsed sobriety; she released the song on 21 June, a month before her hospitalization, and it’s very apologetic. “I’m sorry that I’m here again,” she sings. “I promise I’ll get help / It wasn’t my intention / I’m sorry to myself.”

But Lovato’s illness is not her fault, and perhaps that’s the most important thing that her story can shed light on: people struggling with mental illness and addiction require empathy, even if they never achieve the kind of recovery that resembles a conclusion.


First days

Adjusting to the UK feels absolutely bizarre, but then I realise that I’m in England, a place where I’ve only ever lived for 3 years of uni in Liverpool.

Here are some weird things:

  1. How English everyone looks – 9 out of 10 people are blonde, with pale skin and rosie cheeks.
  2. Overweight people – there are a few obese people, but generally people are about two clothes sizes bigger than in Bilbao.
  3. The price of alcohol – I had remembered that a drinkable bottle of wine would cost about £7, but trying to find cheap wine for cooking is basically impossible, so I bought vermouth instead.
  4. The money has changed – buying my first pint in a pub, the barmaid handed me back a pound coin, saying the old ones are no longer in circulation. When did that change?
  5. People don’t make eye contact, but if they do, they give a little smile.
  6. When I move out of someone’s way, they say thank you.
  7. Driving on the left again.
  8. Food trucks being in fashion.
  9. Socks and flip flops being in fashion.
  10. High definition eyebrows.
  11. People are polite and friendly on the phone.


Arriving in the UK

Emotionally exhausted by all the goodbyes, I boarded the plane. Was I making a huge mistake? Was I swapping my comfortable life in Bilbao for feeling just as frustrated career-wise in the country where I grew up, without being able to protect my ego from rejection by saying “Oh, it’s because I’m foreign. Poor me! :(“.

Getting off the plane at Birmingham Airport, one I’d never been to before, I found the shuttle (eventually), and was waiting at the train station for a train into the centre to change to Northampton, when I realised to my horror that I had forgotten to pick up my check in bag from the carousel. I almost never check in a bag as I hate paying/waiting for it, and with all the emotional turmoil it had completely slipped my mind to pick it up off the carousel.

I told myself to calm down, that the actual backpack was worth more than the stuff in it, and that I’d just have to look embarrassingly clumsy in front of my extended family, who I was going to house sit for on the other end.

I walked in through the “Arrivals” corridor, and was stopped eventually by the guy who worked on the perfume counter. “You can’t go through there” he said. I felt mildly irritated. Who was this jobsworth to tell me where I could or couldn’t go? Just make an exception just for *me* and let me through for 5 minutes?

I explained to him the silly error I’d made and he was really nice and helpful. He called security for me, and I sat chatting to him, waiting for them to bring my bag. It was weird speaking to someone who was British Asian with the tiniest of hints of a non-native accent; I have one friend in Bilbao who is first generation, but only one, and I’d become used to living in a place where people were either from there, or more recent migrants.

Backpack in hand, I went to the train station again, and when I got the Birmingham Central, it had all changed and I felt really disorientated. I kicked myself about not writing down train times and their final destinations etc. so as to be able to decipher what was on the black and orange screens, but I reasoned that, seeing as my arms had stopped working that morning trying to lift my bag (which wasn’t heavy at all), there was a large part of me that didn’t want to leave and I had done the best I could under the stress that I was under.

I saw two older blokes chatting at the barrier, and I started my question with: “Sorry to bother you but can you tell me where I can get info about the trains?”. I remember this being the way I used to start questions when I was a young woman in my early twenties, but it felt weird (and not entirely feminist) to start a question off like that in a train station. He smiled in a friendly way, and had an indexical knowledge of the system and told me to take the London train from such and such a platform.

I got on the train, checking about 8 or 9 times (thanks anxiety) that it was the one that was stopping at Northampton, and started chatting to a young guy across the aisle from me, much to the probable annoyance of the professional woman working on her laptop across from us. I was briefly annoyed when the train went past the airport station again. I could have just got on there if I’d known! I’d just assumed I would need to get a train to the centre. When we don’t know something for sure we make assumptions from past experience. With the emotional exhaustion of leaving, and the weirdness of being in the UK, I hadn’t wanted to ask, hadn’t wanted to wait in a queue or speak to anyone.

The young guy asked me if I was Irish. I smiled and said that I had lived abroad so long that my accent had gone wonky, that people usually guess that I’m Aussie because of my inflection (going up at the end of sentences), but that I was originally Welsh. “That’s mad that” he said, with a brummy lilt.

I got a taxi from the station as England was playing in the world cup semi-final and everyone in England seemed to be watching it, mispronouncing completely the village I was going to (it’s pronounced “fay-vel”, rhyming with “navel”, not “favel” like “favela”). I noticed the way that all the taxi drivers were South Asian and I felt a prickle of shame; I hoped they earned decent wages to support their families.

The taxi went along a main street, with gaudy store fronts for local fast food chains, hair dressers, and charity shops. It reminded me of Smithdown Road in Liverpool. I questioned my decision to move back to the UK.

I got out of the taxi and plonked myself down to watch the match. My family is Northern Irish, but all the cousins grew up scattered. I grew up in Wales, close enough to spit at the border with England, but my cousin grew up in England. It was bizarre to be in England watching the match, bizarre to be cheering England on. I wondered if it was the first time in my life I had cheered for England.

I mentioned this to a friend from school who lives in London now, and she told me that things like that happen to her all the time still, like when people were singing the English national anthem in the pub after one of the match wins, she found herself not knowing the words.

My cousin showed me around the house, pointing out all the essentials for my house sitting role, like cat food, watering cans, bins, and a bike she had borrowed from a friend in the neighbourhood. When we were in the kitchen, she was explaining to me how to turn on the appliances, and she said “oven”, but she didn’t pronounce it in her English accent, she pronounced it like our parents do, with the flat vowel of the Northern Irish way to say it. It reminded me that, even though we had grown up in different regions of the UK, and had only probably seen each other about 15 times, we are different branches of the same tree, with an Irish core.



Moving to and from “Spain”

I haven’t lived in the UK in almost 8 years. I left in 2011, scared that the economic crisis left me minimal job options. I watched the people on my course moan about going home to parents, or listened to their plans to study a masters, do law conversion, or a teaching post grad, and I knew that I wasn’t ready to get another loan, a “real” bank loan, to stumble into a profession that I hadn’t a clue whether I’d like or not. My degree had been more of a way to get a loan to move cities, rather than about studying; in the end, against my parents’ wishes, I had chosen my favourite subject, and studied English Literature. It was an expensive way to heal, to escape my own destructive patterns and being mired in the world of drugs, but I think it was all I could handle mentally at the time and something more practical, more maths based, might have frustrated me too much and caused me to quit mid year again, as I did with the Engineering course.

Time flies. I worked in one school for two years. It took me a long time to realise that the teachers were fascist. I should have twigged when one of my pupils had a family member who was a judge and had been targeted by ETA. I joked that the school had been built on an indian burial ground; I see now I was right in a way. The unresolved conflicts of the violence of the civil war and the retribution doled out by the victors flows beneath the modern façade throughout “Spain”.

My third year, I was going to go freelance, but my mother became seriously ill so I took a job where I could take time off and get paid if I needed to. By the time she was stabilised, I had saved money and went travelling (something she always told me was a waste of time and never to do), helping a friend with a documentary project, seeing the world, and feeling the freedom and loneliness of the open road. Although I went to so-called “dangerous” countries, people were kind and helpful, and apart from my camera breaking or its own accord, getting lost in a dodgy part of town, and unwanted advances from men who “just wanted to share their bed with me”, none of the things they tell you to be afraid of as a lone female traveller came to pass. Thank god.

I moved to Bilbao, and my world was soon on fire, and not in a good way. My mother’s cancer came back and I spent months living two weeks with my partner in Bilbao, two weeks “taking care” of her. I put that in quotes as “taking care” of a woman as independent, strong, and proud as my mother was kind of like trying to take care of a wolf, lion, or other large animal that doesn’t need or want your help at all. I cooked her eggs, as they were the only things she could eat. I watched TV with her. I chatted to her.

Her death is an event that destroyed my life as I knew it, and that marks a before and an after. We had a very, very difficult relationship. When she became seriously ill I had been in therapy for 5 years, when she was dying, 6 years. I’m very grateful for the work that I did that meant that I could forgive her and spend time with her before she died, and show her completely unconditional love, despite a violent argument we had.

I thought that, once she was dead, I would be free, but I felt like I had been literally shot in the head. I had lost everything. My mother, who although for many years had been my nemesis, was someone who had been a constant every year of my life. My home, that I had always run from. My country, the place where I had grown up. My family (as people go absolutely chicken oriental after a death and have stupid arguments that seem very important at the time. This is called “secondary losses” in grief books).

I did a masters, all in Spanish, in Feminism and Gender. It was amazing, and it was terrible. It was like putting your whole life experience into a framework, both historical, sociological, legal, political, with a bunch of dates and stats. I learnt that violence against women goes on a scale, and the more points you have (being poor, black, lesbian, trans…) then the more of a target you are by violent bullies.

It opened my eyes to a million things, and once I had taken a bite of that apple, I couldn’t go back to the garden. It was too much for my then boyfriend. We broke up. I moved out.

I wrote my dissertation. I defended it. And all the while, the people from my uni course who weren’t from the Basque Country left, one by one, even those whose parents were paying for their rent, their uni fees, their food, AND BASQUE CLASS ON TOP (I have a big chip on my shoulder about this. Can you tell? :P). They went home to work as journalists, or social workers; they went back to their parental home to regroup and look for other opportunities in a place where they had the language, the contacts, and certificates.

It took me around 6 months of therapy to realise that, although I love the Basque Country, I had grown all I could grow there. I had done my best to put down roots, but they had encountered rocks, and could only be shallow. The Basque language must be protected, but seeing as I’d worked my arse off to learn Spanish for 8 years and still had to think quite a lot about it before I opened my big gob, I thought that my chances of being able to invest thousands of hours in a language, day after day of being the “lemon” at the party who no one wants to speak to, and not becoming even more insane than I already am, were quite low. Having a foreign accent and making small errors in Spanish makes me basically kind of linguistically disabled in Spanish, and Spain isn’t an economy like the UK that relies on the brain drain of other countries to feed it with bargain skilled labour. Also the güiri stereotype was really getting me down, as my butt had been fondled non-consensually by one to many an old sleaze bag.

It was time to sell, give away, throw away, and generally let go of all my possessions, in order to take the leap of faith back to the UK.

Hannah Gadsby

Original article here.


We only have an existing narrative framework for a stranger doing violence to you.”


The idea of “stranger danger” persists in the collective psyche, but we now know that sexual offences against children are the crimes least likely to involve strangers. Most children will be abused by opportunists in adult relationships: the married relatives, the family friends, the pillars of the community, the good blokes. “A lot of people who have experienced trauma at the hands of people they’ve trusted take responsibility, and that is what’s toxic,” Gadsby says.

“Shame has its place,” she says. “Shame is what you do to a kid to stop them running on the road. And then you take the shame away and immediately they’re back in the fold. You should never soak anybody in shame. It’s the prolonged existence of shame that then flips out into destructive rage. We can’t exist in that. It’s like treacle.”

The burden of talking about complex issues usually comes down to the most marginalised people. On the rare occasions that a white, heterosexual man steps up – Louis CK pointing out, for example, that “there is no greater threat to women than men” – they are hailed as heroes.

“A joke is a wank, but a story is intimacy,” she says.

It wasn’t until she was in her late 20s, around 2006, that she tried her hand at comedy, and she credits the newfound creativity with saving her life. “Comedy is great in that it’s accessible to someone like me, from a low socioeconomic background, struggling in life. The gatekeepers are a lot stronger in other art forms.”

“He’s obviously an unwell kid and there’s a lot of that in comedy,” says Gadsby. “It’s often young men trialling their philosophies on life, and we’ve got a generation of young men who believe that they are victimised, because they’ve been promised the world. That’s a poisoned chalice, because now there’s a gap between what the cultural narrative is and what their experience is. Looking back, I think it’s done me more good than harm to be promised absolutely nothing. I was always told I didn’t matter to the world, but the world still matters to me. That’s why I haven’t responded to the more brutal aspects of my life with violence or bitterness.”


Why we should learn to embrace failure

Original article to be found here.

The rise of social media means we now live in an age of positive curation, where Instagram feeds and Pinterest mood boards are designed to give the most glowing impression of our lives. In this context, failure doesn’t get much airplay. But, I thought, wouldn’t it be refreshing if we stripped back the carefully crafted layers of our supposedly perfect selves, and revealed ourselves to be vulnerable?


If motherhood wasn’t going to be part of the future I had always imagined for myself, where else would I find fulfilment?

Life crises have a way of doing that: they strip you of your old certainties and throw you into chaos. The only way to survive is to surrender to the process. When you emerge, blinking into the light, you have to rebuild what you thought you knew about yourself.


And, actually, if I looked at the failure in a different way, it could also double up as an opportunity: I was free of responsibility. I was no longer living my life in a misguided attempt to please other people. So I could live in a more agile, flexible way. If I wanted to move to Los Angeles for three months and live in an Airbnb, then I could (and did).


Besides, no failure is all-consuming. A nice woman in Shropshire bought my wedding dress on eBay and I put the money into funding the first couple of episodes of the podcast. As I folded the dress into a box, wrapping it carefully in layers of tissue paper, I thought to myself that this wasn’t a failure at all. It was a part of my life. I had learned from it. And now I was letting it go.

My Three Failures

  • Not getting a 1:1 in my undergraduate degree.

Was one mark off getting a first. Didn’t as for the final essay I overdid it at a party with some drugs and was not feeling my best the next day.

  • Not saving my mum.

Feelings are illogical. Of course I wouldn’t be able to “save” anyone from their mental illness and eventual cancer, but I still blamed myself for my mother’s suffering and death. My head said: If you were a better (prettier, cleverer etc) daughter, she wouldn’t be so sick. Notice how I put “pretty” in front of “intelligent”. I’ll leave it like that, as that’s the way it comes out of my head, and shows how in spite of my best intentions I’ve absorbed these ideas.

  • Not being able to get a stable job in “Spain”

I am a writer and producer. I love podcasts, theatre, film, series, languages, stories, interviewing people. Of course I wouldn’t be able to get a job in Spain, where few people speak English and resentment towards us is so strong.