Tag Archives: media

Fanning the Flames

NB: Although I do not know the person concerned here, I was motivated by a strong sense of empathy to write about the situation described in the ensuing paragraphs.I have sought approval from Sabrina Winfield to publish this piece and she has seen it. Therefore, all is sound ethically.

 

Let me ask you a question. What do you think of when you hear the word university? The best times of your life? The place where you might meet your future partner? Where you make friends for life?  Then when you’ve stayed up all night, handing in your essay the next morning like a boss?

For some., that is their experience of University. Lucky fuckers. What about the rest of us?

I’ll talk about my experience more later but let me just say I struggled socially at University. I loved Sociology though, except group work.  Group psychology is king and for somebody like me who prefers a few close friends that’s my worst nightmare. I could hear whispers early on “Oh, they’re a bit weird.”

Film nights and beer were the norm in my flat. Chatter laughter noise and small talk, and being sociable. All my worst nightmares. I’m just not very good at it. I’m deeper. I’d rather talk about important interesting stuff. Art music writing and psychology and feelings. That’s more my bag.

Luckily I had a flatmate who preferred similar and after everyone else had watched the film, I’d often sneak it back to my room and watch it with her instead. I spent a lot of time in my room.

We have recently reconnected on Facebook after a long time apart for reasons which I’m not going to go into here. But we were talking about our University days. We helped each other out a lot mutually. I’m not going to go into her stuff here either. She was in her second year and I was in my first.

She recalls our first trip to the uni bar. She tells me;

“I looked at your eyes. Every time somebody said hello to you you looked as though you wanted the floor to swallow you up!” I rolled them too apparently. She knows me very well.

She was right. The one thing I remember was that one of the tracks on the jukebox was Coldplay’s Yellow. Everybody was chatting and laughing, and I just felt like there was a glass wall between me and them. In subsequent trips to the bar they ended up being rather shorter than they should be. Why? We used to make our own way discreetly back home to my bedroom and talk. I’d rather spend time with a few close friends than a huge group I can’t stand.

Without my friend in the first instance I would have hated University completely wholesale.

What if you don’t meet that ally?

I think it’s fair to say that that was the experience of Sabrina Winfield featured today in Southampton’s local newspaper The Daily Echo.

Sabrina, screamed the headline terrified her housemates with a home-made flamethrower.

Before I get into the issues of the post, I’m not very good with numbers I do words. I asked another friend of mine to go through the article and count for me how many lines and paragraphs it took before we got to any  mention of mental health. The numbers make for sad reading. Mental health was not even mentioned until the 38th line and the 13th paragraph. Put another way mental health was not even mentioned until the penultimate paragraph in terms of the website and on mobile.

Instead we are treated to salacious sensationalist hyperbole. Sabrina went on a rampage. Through a hall, though you would think from the tenor of the article she had rampaged through the entire flat. I have to say at the moment I’m not in a good spot myself mentally, and I have been taking a break from blogging and writing. However, this story made me so angry I had to say something.

I was angered that Sabrina’s housemates were centred in the article.

They were terrified apparently. One tried to climb out of a window during a previous incident.  Whilst I accept that seeing somebody going through a corridor with a home-made flamethrower isn’t something you see every day I thought one thing. What about Sabrina? Let me just repeat that to ram it home. What about Sabrina? What was she feeling? What led her to that point? That’s what I wanted to know. If I was more green and less savvy about mental health I would think that random people just make flamethrowers every day.  It’s what everybody thinks isn’t it? That everybody’s ultimate ambition. It’s what you wake up in the morning and fancy doing. Not reading a book not watching TV, no making of flamethrowers beats all that. But the fact is I’m not green and I am savvy about mental health. I have had mental health problems since I was 16. I’ve still got them.

You see the point is this, the flamethrower, coupled the terrifying of her housemates, that’s the end of the story not the beginning. Nobody just wakes up and decides to make a flamethrower.

The real story is the struggle that led up to the making of this flamethrower.

 

For the switched on amongst you there is another point. Previously police had been called when Sabrina was screaming on the landing and threatening to burn the house down. There was an opportunity here to support Sabrina and get her help.

Instead of squealing about how Sabrina was acting eccentrically why not do what housemates ought to do and look after your housemate? Had Sabrina received appropriate help and care at an earlier stage then my bet is and I think it’s a safe one that the incident with the flamethrower would never have happened.

So why in the name of fuck did nobody try to help then? A hug may have helped, a listening ear or perhaps some empathy. But no people would rather go and have their drink and their dodgy kebabs and ignore the people who are struggling.

University is a highly superficial and highly artificial environment in my experience. Nobody cares not really. For those of us with mental health problems, we are often told you’re too intense, you text too much, I can’t cope with you.

In the social media age too, friendship is bastardised. Your mate is somebody who you met the night before and tagged you in that really awful selfie you don’t want anybody to see. Your mate is the one who drags you to the pub when you’ve got an essay to do. But what about when you really want to talk? When you’re crying alone in your room? In the middle of the night when you’re staring at the ceiling for the millionth time and you really can’t sleep? I was lucky. I had my friend. But what if I hadn’t? I still can’t sleep now though.

The fact is that those housemates were quite happy to talk to the papers and to hang Sabrina out to dry. She is not a hardened criminal. She was not attention seeking. She needed help. I wish she’d been my housemate because I would have been there for her without any preconditions or caveats.

I said earlier that I would not go into my friend’s stuff and I won’t. When she had problems though and I’m not trying to big myself up, I sat and listened for three hours without even peeing. My feeling is that if her housemates could have listened to and heard her which is a perfectly simple act Sabrina would never have come before the courts and could have been treated with appropriateness, courtesy and empathy.  All the things which society by and large is shit at. I am today emotional because before writing this I had the opportunity to read Sabrina’s own response to the events. I learned two things. One thing she has an ace taste in hats which I like. And secondly I learnt about what had actually happened to lead her to this point and if I was furious this morning I’m even more furious now.

The biggest crime of the whole thing? The doorway people yes the doorway!  We’d better think about its feelings and book it in for some magnolia therapy. Doors have feelings and can get traumatised. Didn’t you know? Nor did I!

The fact is the local newspaper would rather listen to those who want a cheap sexed up story lacking nuance and truth rather than the real story of somebody with mental health problems. Through the whole article my head was screaming what about Sabrina herself?

She was just reduced to bit part status in her own story. Objectified and dehumanised As for the comments below the line I’m not even going there disgusting individuals! Mind you they are generally disgusting and have the insight of an earthworm. In fact it’s probably an insult to earthworms to make this claim.

Some would say Hannah why the fuck you getting so angry about somebody you’ve never even met? Empathy, which according to the Guardian recently we are getting very bad at.

You see my first year was fine while I had my friend there. My second year was a blur because a carer abused me. I’m in a wheelchair and disabled so I depend on 24-hour personal care. Much of that year, I spent not in lectures but in bed or in the bar or crying my eyes out to my GP.

She was ace. Also I got therapy with a good therapist Liz.

I had to repeat the year. My best friends at uni then were Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, Snakebite and weed. But the thing is, I wasn’t like the popular kids, I wasn’t drinking because I wanted to be rat arsed on a Friday night. I was drinking too much. I was drinking to not feel. I didn’t want to think. Other stuff happened too, so Liz and I went through strategies for keeping myself safe. So yes I’ve never met Sabrina, but I feel like I have. From having read her blog, I think that this is why sometimes the best support for mental health issues comes from others who understand. I’ve also been lucky so far with the professionals.

 

It was wrong to describe Sabrina as stupid too. People who have suffered abuse of course are never infantilised and called stupid no. They are listened to and respected as cogent human beings with their own stories. That is of course on some kind of fantasy island somewhere.

 

To conclude then, Sabrina Winfield is far from stupid. She is intelligent articulate, honest and erudite. In her blog which I will place at the end of this article she is honest and frank and doesn’t hold back about her own experience. It is perfectly obvious from reading that what led her to this point.

Her housemates should be utterly ashamed of themselves. I suspect they might feel guilty I hope they do. Let me say that whatever fee they were paid they probably have a nagging feeling somewhere in their unconscious and perhaps in the shadow side that they could have done more because they could.

Mental health should have been contextualised in the beginning, not the end of the piece.

Here’s the thing you see when I saw the headline I knew there was a mental health connection.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Turn the pages. Don’t leave the person to struggle. Hold their hand. Leaving is expected. Staying is revolutionary.

Let me leave the last words with Sabrina. But before I do I think that Sabrina’s housemates should be ashamed. I believe that people who make diagnoses in comment sections should be ashamed. But I think above all incidences like this are a stain on society. The flamethrower was the crisis point in an ongoing struggle. Not the beginning. Starting at the beginning would be better. Less easy to write and less easy to read. But infinitely better.

“Nothing was damaged and more importantly nobody was hurt. This event has had an effect on my life that has caused permanent casualty to my quality of life, my reputation and my mental health. Whilst the students at *** Road have surely swiftly moved on, I have an on-going hell of troubles to deal with, as this entire situation was a huge misunderstanding and unwarranted, I can promise that. I was not looking for attention as the article claims, I know how to get “that” without being a fucking asshole or hurting anybody.”

 

Sabrina blogs at http://emptybiros.blogspot.co.uk/

 

NB: If you are struggling with mental health problems at University and don’t know where to turn for support, a guide has been produced by the charity Young Minds. This is available at http://www.youngminds.org.uk/assets/0002/7042/Uni_Zine.pdf (Adobe Reader required).

 

 

Advertisements

For me, the real row on Channel 5 was not about benefits at all. It was in my own head.

 

So anyone tuning in to Channel 5 last night at 9.00 pm  and expecting some form of high calibre debate of the kind offered by Question Time on the BBC or The Agenda on ITV1 would have felt short changed, I expect.

A show entitled The Big Benefits Row is instructive in itself. Rows imply conflict, not a cup of tea and a cosy chat. Substitute the word row for conversation and you may end up with a more productive debate useful to everyone, audience and participants alike.

For me the first paragraph of this piece from the social commentator Laurie Penny is very telling and typifies the end result the programme makers wanted from last night’s debate. Laurie says, almost prophetically;

“The producer knocked her fists together in the dark backstage. “We want you to, you know…” She made the motion again, smiling sweetly, as my hired nemesis and I were strapped into radio microphones for a five minute debate on the evening news. It was clear what she meant. She wanted us to scrap. She didn’t want us to talk sensibly and work out our differences. She wanted blood on the floor.”

In part, this is understandable as all television wants to be noticed. It wants to create those so-called watercooler moments and talkability. Not talkability that lasts for a day or a week. More like a year. Programme makers want to create a programme in current affairs that makes you pick a side. You’re either Team Hopkins or Team Currie, for the bad cops, or indeed you may be Team Jones or Team Monroe for the good cops. As a viewer and a participant you are left in no doubt that you must pick a side. For the duration of that program you must pledge allegiance to either team. Indecisiveness or dissonance is not available to you. It is survival of the fittest: dog eat dog and we must buy into it for current affairs debates to work.

Now for me I was originally a refusenik. I had planned purposely not to watch the debate. Anything to me which gives Katie Hopkins airtime is not a productive use of a platform that many people would relish not least me.

What prompted my renewed interest in the debate, was the fact that Sue Marsh the renowned, ardent and brilliant disability campaigner had been dropped from the panel at the last minute.

Given that a sizeable number of those with disabilities depend on benefits to exist I was disgusted that they were left without representation on this debate. I still am. In fact I am seething. I have read through the commentariat’s responses today to the programme and only two have picked up on Sue Marsh’s bumping from it.

You see the thing is I know roughly what Owen Jones will say about benefits. I know roughly what Jack Monroe will say about benefits. The latter put in a sterling performance last night taking on Edwina Currie over her barbs towards her family and may have dropped an F bomb on Channel 5. Meanwhile Owen Jones compared the possibility of debating with Katie Hopkins to having a cheese grater rubbed in your face. I should confess at this point I do have a love for cheese and I want to be able to eat a cheese roll again without thinking of her.

But I find myself thinking as a person with a disability who eviscerated Katie Hopkins spectacularly in this blog for disgraceful comments she made about the former Paralympian Lady Grey-Thompson, I would welcome the chance to debate with her. I wouldn’t want to be placated and told I did not have to on the grounds of my own foibles. I would instead relish the chance and grab it with both hands. I don’t want this post to turn into a Hopkins themed diatribe.

I am always amazed by the paucity of diversity within the media. There is nothing the media relishes more than talking to itself about itself.

I am concerned about is there is a huge swathe of the population that is being excluded from this debate. That is those with disabilities. It is telling that the producers saw fit to drop Sue Marsh from the debate, allegedly because space needed to be made for other contributors. I put this question to you though. Which contributor could be more important than many of those who depend on benefits to live? I make no secret of the fact I would like a media platform across all media, television and radio and online. Why?  I have the qualities, I have the confidence and currently, somewhat regrettably I do not see myself represented.

The comedienne Ava Vidal was also ignored, despite pointedly shouting Matthew Wright’s name for at least enough time to induce laryngitis (maybe!)

When I switch the television on I see  nobody like me is telling my story. It is nothing short of a scandal that a programme about disability benefits had limits on the numbers of people it could take in wheelchairs.

I don’t want this piece either to be too hyper focused on one debate, because there is a wider debate to be had too.

You see I am also transgendered. But, in an affectionate nod to the words of the Natalie Imbruglia song I often find I’m torn.

Trans representation on screen is increasing. Paris Lees has been on Question Time, which commands huge audiences and is the premier political programme. So the trans community is understandably very happy about this.

But I feel conflicted. For disabled people are virtually invisible on-screen and I think this is wrong. I found it hard to celebrate when the trans community  were extra happy about Paris Lees  appearing on Question Time.

Essentially I feel torn between two minorities. Extensive progress on one hand and zero progress on the other. But I don’t intend to give in. I think it would be fantastic if for example a person with a disability was giving their viewpoint as an invited guest on Question Time or on the newspaper reviews on Sky News. I keep across the news agenda every day. I am a newshound if you like. I am also news hungry.

Radio is slightly more progressive in this regard. With the use of telephone communication, ISDN lines, and Skype of course, there is less need for people to appear directly in a studio environment. But on the other hand, why shouldn’t we appear “in quality?” Why shouldn’t that be an aspiration for radio producers?

I have no doubt that the commentariat as it currently stands make many well-meaning contributions and interventions in the disability debate. But in terms of people like Sue Marsh, it is not the same and cannot be equivalent to hearing it from the horse’s mouth ever. It is not good enough and the boat needs rocking.

I am perfectly capable of writing articles. Therefore I am perfectly capable of translating those articles and opinions into articulate speech. I should stress that I recognise fully that this is a privilege that not all of my disabled colleagues have. Therefore I feel it is incumbent on those of us who do have that privilege to use it for maximum effect and benefit.

I have to say too, I have enjoyed the few media appearances I have done. For LBC as a caller, and another for BBC Radio 5 Live for the Eastleigh by-election debate.

But just as some of the media has a race problem I think it also has a disability problem. I would applaud the efforts of Samantha Asamadu for her consciousness raising initiative Writers of Colour which gives people of colour the opportunity to write and have their work seen by thousands and embedded into people’s consciousness. Sam was inspired to start this campaign after noticing that there was a trend for all front pages to be white, as in stories related to white people.

But also, I wouldn’t just want to be pigeonholed into a disability slot. I have views and opinions like the rest of the commentariat, I wouldn’t just want to talk about disability. Indeed panel shows require versatility and people have to be well read and briefed on a number of subjects.

But by excluding one of the most important groups from a panel about benefits last night, Channel 5 failed as a broadcaster. Of course, the terminology specially invited audience implies some level of segregation from the outset.

People like Owen Jones, Katie Hopkins and Jack Monroe are panel show veterans. Media appearances are something they do regularly and often. I’m not asking that the able-bodied commentariat is and zapped and rendered invisible from our television screens by Team Disabled. What I would like to see is parity. I would like to see disabled people welcomed into the media sphere and their views sought. Not just on disability but on the multiplicity of issues a globalised world presents.

I would like the media to cast its net wider than the usual contacts book. Current affairs could learn a lot from the soap world in this regard.Coronation Street has the character of  Izzy Armstrong, played with aplomb by the actress Cherrylee Houston. Her disability is incidental compared to the rest of her character. The scriptwriters do not dwell on a disability, but rather they integrate it into her overall character.

Inevitably there would be initial shock at perhaps seeing the sofa in a different position on Sky News to let the paper reviewer in. But that would dissipate over time.

I knew what Katie Hopkins would say. However I did not know what Sue Marsh would say and I feel somewhat cheated because of that.

I am fed up of turning on the television and never seeing myself on it. Perhaps 2014 can be the year that changes. For my perspective is just as valuable as Owen Jones or Paris Lees. Sue Marsh’s perspective is just as valuable too, but programme makers will not realise this until they take a risk particularly producers.

Equally, we need more with disabilities involved in television, radio and journalism. Otherwise, programmes will never be shaped by us either. The input and who crafts it has a dramatic influence on the output. People with disabilities need to be a part of this at both ends of the spectrum, and I certainly want to be.

Also, I saw many friendly photos on Twitter last night after the debate. I was saddened not to see a disabled person in a single one. Producers, widen the scope of your guests on television and radio, and widen the range represented in your specially invited audiences. That will make for a much higher quality, less segregated debate. It is great for those like Paris, who are achieving greater representation for themselves. However, I still feel invisible. Five, four, three, two, one, run titles, and now it really is time for action. Yes producers, I fancied a drink in the pub after the debate as well. Mine’s a Malibu and Lemonade.

Whether people are still scrapping today or not, disabled people were underepresented. Maybe the media as a collective should think about that.

LINKS

  1. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/benefits-row-live-jack-monroe-3111253#.UvE_LGLudfR
  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/owen-jones-on-the-big-benefits-row-the-hopkinsisation-of-political-discourse-9106227.html
  3. http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/the-big-benefits-row.html