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Shame, Catholicism, and Sex Education

If I am being honest, my sex education never came from school but from books, film and television – like most teenagers. When the time came for me and my year nine form to have our allotted hour of PHSE sex ed, it felt a bit pointless; this was sex education from a Catholic perspective. This, of course, meant no talk of contraception or the range of contraceptives available, no talk of the lgbtq+ community, and ultimately being taught that sex was purely for procreation. The only privilege of my non-Catholic school friends was being able to put a condom on a banana, but as I look back I realise that in the confines of a Catholic school when discussing sex, it’s what isn’t talked about that creates the most damage.

When writing on Catholicism and its teachings on sex, a quote from the actor Rupert Everett – of all people – comes to mind. Upon being asked about his Catholic upbringing and how it affected his life as a gay man, he didn’t speak of the Catholic belief around homosexuality, but rather the damaging effect Catholic teachings can have on women. I sadly can’t find the exact quote so forgive me for paraphrasing: “When it comes to the Catholic church, women can’t win. The only two female roles models are Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, and the Virgin Mary, who conceived through immaculate conception. Women are being compared to the one woman in history who could give birth without committing a sexual act, no wonder the church attach sin and shame to sex.” On reading this, all my questions on why and how the church view sex, in particular female sexuality, were answered.

After reading Everett’s thoughts on Catholicism, it shocked me that this one way of looking at the world can be perpetuated through schools to teach such an important part of life. It rang true with my own problems surrounding sex and religion, for example, I have never understood why the strict teachings on sex are taught solely by men who have chosen to take a vow of celibacy. In life, the general rule of thumb is that when looking for advice you go to an expert, or a least a person with some knowledge and experience of your problem. However, when I look back on my sex education taught through this narrow prism, the residue that is left is shame.

For most of my teenage years, actually until I discovered feminism and feminist literature, I always felt a degree of shame about sex. As a young girl, the lack of information, and the age-old story of sex for reproduction left me with so many unanswered questions. I felt ashamed of having sexual feelings, of wanting to find out more through books and films. I was scared of the internet for the same reason I was scared of talking to adults; the embarrassment of googling, of asking, being expected to know more. It’s the catch twenty-two of being too naive in front of school friends and growing up too fast for your parent’s liking.

The mix of teenagers, sex and rumours cause misery and years of problems. Teenagers battle enough questions about their future without having to fight off the invasive questions: have you done it yet? Who with? Why are you waiting? Then again the shame that comes with both a yes and no answer. Slut shaming can come in all shapes and forms, from people you would least expect. Teaching sex using Catholicism seems to give people permission to judge a woman’s sexual behaviour, because as Rupert Everett pointed out, the church has the perfect spectrum on which to judge.  

The age-old tale of secrecy being more exciting is never truer than when sex comes into the equation. The Catholic veil of guilt and mystery does nothing to educate teenagers or even take away the fear and shame from the shy and anxious like myself. Most importantly, by not teaching teenagers about contraception, STDs, and how to practice safe sex, you are doing them a disservice. The more people know, the more power they have over their own lives and their choices. If a school must bring in the Catholic church’s teachings, then perhaps it should be one part of a much broader education. Sex education can’t be a cross between a biology lesson and a confessional. It must be taught with the same importance as the three core subjects and with the same enthusiasm and improvisational skills as a drama class.

Teachers, I implore to use every teaching tool in the box. Be brave, be honest, talk about the gory details, the joyous details. Point kids in the right direction and talk about sex’s place in culture. Even take inspiration from Channel 4’s recent documentary on sex education, and give teenagers a sex quiz. Make it competitive, make girls want to know what contraception is right for them, the importance of knowing their rights to their own body. Make boys want to know about a woman’s pleasure as well as their own, talk about the clitoris and masturbation as an important and healthy part of men and women’s lives. Hell, give UCAS points to everyone who acknowledges that NO means NO!

Give them an education void of other people’s shame and uncertainty. Take away the fear and replace it with the knowledge they will need to go out into the world. Give them knowledge they can use.

 

Words by Lara Scott
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

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Sex Drive and Sadness

The side effects and symptoms of depression and anxiety can seep into every nook of your life. They can destroy your confidence, your energy levels, you can lose your social life, and your sex life can disappear. Those who suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can watch their sex life suffer and not understand why. You can sit by as you watch your relationship fall apart, or you can’t quite find your confidence to keep the lights on and remove your clothes in front of someone else. You can think that you don’t feel the same wants and needs that everyone else around you apparently feels, or not be able to pinpoint what exactly in you has changed yet nothing feels the same.

One of the less discussed yet still debilitating side effects of depression is a loss of libido. This can destroy relationships, the sufferer may not feel that they are providing their partner with everything that they want and need and therefore can acquire a sense of guilt and not feel like an adequate partner. This does not come from a lack of love for the partner, but relates to the struggle to enjoy life in the same ways that they used to. This is normal. At a time when they may feel that everything tastes of nothing and there isn’t quite anything that makes them feel strongly about something anymore, a lack of sex drive is perfectly understandable. They can still be head over heels for someone but not feel any urge to have sex anymore, they are intrinsically different things. Discussing this with the partner may make things a little easier for them to understand; communication is important in order for someone to understand what you are truly thinking. 

Another consequence of depression and anxiety can be a feeling of low self-confidence and low self-esteem. The thought of letting someone else see your body can be stomach churning, and the idea that they may find you attractive is baffling, but part of the self-care, if you have a mental illness, is to learn to fall in love with your body and to learn to find peace with yourself. If you aren’t currently okay with letting someone else see you fully naked, then build on it over time and learn where to draw the line of how comfortable you are. Never force yourself to do something because you feel like you should be doing it. If you are uncomfortable with something, work out why you feel that way and try to solve it or work around it.

Give yourself time, don’t force yourself into something that you are not comfortable with. You’re not alone in these feelings and looking after your mental health will help ensure that you have a healthy sex life. Don’t forget that every person has a different sex drive; what is normal for one person may be much higher or much lower than yours, having a dip is therefore normal for you. As with any issue discussed this week, if something is particularly worrying you, take time to go to the doctors so that you can talk about it.

 

Words by Beth Farrell
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

The Absence of LGBTQ+ Sex Education

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At the start of 2017, our government blocked compulsory LGBTQ+ sex and relationship education. On reading about this decision, and being asked to write on sex education for Anthem, I realised how lacking my own sex education was in the mid-noughties. It is a crying shame that my friends and I were so ill informed back then, let alone as teenagers are now in 2017.

We were taught about biology, not pleasure, and definitely not consent. It was very male centric, with the attitude that ‘boys will be boys’. Girls were taught to allow boys to experience these new feelings and to be kind to them if they get an unwelcome erection in your presence. Female masturbation, however, was an afterthought; described to us using a video of a woman on an exercise bike (which made exercise bikes very confusing for a time). 

Being taught sex education in a Catholic school meant that the word ‘contraception’ was mentioned once in reference to the use of a condom, but no instructions on how to use one. Again sex was seen as a means to an end, that end being babies. We were not taught about consent, what it is to be in a healthy relationship, porn, sexting, mental and physical abuse, and I never once heard the word clitoris.  

I was taught that sex was all about the sperm fertilising the egg, and a woman’s main role was as a mother. This left no room for discovery or intimacy, certainly not if you identified as anything other than heterosexual. We were taught sex education with the same attitude that my great grandmother had about LGBTQ people. When my grandma informed her that there were lesbians in the WRENS (Women of the Royal Naval Service), her mother replied: ‘”Don’t be silly, women don’t do that”. She didn’t even think it was possible. When I had my sex education, sex seemed a far off thing as the boys at my school either annoyed me or scared me. At this point, an attraction to women didn’t seem to be an option. It was not until I was twenty, and watching The L Word that this part of life would make sense to me. Coming out as bisexual in 2016 put a lot of things into perspective, especially how society views sex, and how culture comments on it. I was looking for representations of myself and found them to be few and far between.

When I had my sex education, sex seemed a far off thing as the boys at my school either annoyed me or scared me. At this point, an attraction to women didn’t seem to be an option. It was not until I was twenty, and watching The L Word that this part of life would make sense to me. Coming out as bisexual in 2016 put a lot of things into perspective, especially how society views sex, and how culture comments on it. I was looking for representations of myself and found them to be few and far between.

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On researching the reasons behind this absence in sex education, the common train of thought behind not teaching LGBTQ inclusive sex ed was the worry behind promoting the lifestyle. This thought process is wrong on many levels, the worst being that like all prejudices, it puts one person’s life above another; it teaches that heterosexuality is the norm. I mean, when was the last time someone came out as straight? I have read many articles and watched many videos on heteronormativity, and can see that this is where the absence stems from. From the government right down to schools and parents, people assume people’s sexual orientation, therefore assuming LGBTQ+ are in the minority. This leads to exclusion, and people feeling devalued. I have never understood why when teaching teenagers about sex and education, you wouldn’t teach them about every colour of the rainbow, no pun intended; it is of invaluable importance to their education. If I was an MP, a teacher, or a parent I would want thought-out, informative, joyful lessons on the subject that required more than just an hour before lunch. I would want young adults to learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships, pleasurable sex, safe sex, attraction, affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community, dating, online dating, and the myth of virginity.

I have never understood why when teaching teenagers about sex and education, you wouldn’t teach them about every colour of the rainbow, no pun intended; it is of invaluable importance to their education. If I was an MP, a teacher, or a parent I would want thought-out, informative, joyful lessons on the subject that required more than just an hour before lunch. I would want young adults to learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships, pleasurable sex, safe sex, attraction, affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community, dating, online dating, and the myth of virginity.

As a graduate of English and drama, I would also discuss how our culture views sex; the difference between a sex scene and sex, the difference between pornography and sex. I would teach people where to find LGBTQ+ representation, where to find feminist representation, and what it means to be a feminist, especially when it comes to sex. When it comes to sex we don’t give teenagers (especially teenage girls) the credit they deserve. Your teenage years can be the hardest as a period of constant pressure, questions and uncertainties about all that life can offer. The least adults can do is give them some certainty, and show them that they understand. School is meant to be a place where we learn about the world, about ourselves, and what we can become. I came out at the age of 24 – a whole decade after I learnt about how a sperm fertilises an egg. I had ten years to read all the sexy books and watch all the sexy films, and I had The L Word to confirm my bisexuality. I still think of the joy I missed out on, the stupid things I could have avoided, the days spent questioning and not acting. I think of that anxious lonely girl or boy who doesn’t have the strength to wait ten years. What if one person telling them their feelings are valid, or hearing that ‘love is love’ gives them the permission to start finding joy?

School is meant to be a place where we learn about the world, about ourselves, and what we can become. I came out at the age of 24 – a whole decade after I learnt about how a sperm fertilises an egg. I had ten years to read all the sexy books and watch all the sexy films, and I had The L Word to confirm my bisexuality. I still think of the joy I missed out on, the stupid things I could have avoided, the days spent questioning and not acting. I think of that anxious lonely girl or boy who doesn’t have the strength to wait ten years. What if one person telling them their feelings are valid, or hearing that ‘love is love’ gives them the permission to start finding joy?

 

Words by Lara Scott
Image courtesy of Showtime
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

Let’s talk about sex.

let's talk about sex

If I remember correctly, sex education at my primary and secondary school was brief and severely lacking. I have googled so much. I am 21. I shouldn’t have to be asking the internet questions about sexual health or calling the doctor because I started a new pill and now one boob is bigger than the other (true story). It’s not safe. A lot of research done into the effectiveness of sex education as it stands has focused on unwanted pregnancy and STIs, but it’s not just that people get infections; shouldn’t young people be enjoying sex?

Sex education, or rather proper sex education, has become something of a passion of mine in the last year. I decided Anthem ought to take part in promoting good sex ed to the masses, and since then I’ve been reading, writing, and talking about it non-stop. I’ve learned so much – far more than I ever learned in school, and I’m very excited to be able to bring sex education week to you all, via Anthem. Ultimately, there is no limit on who should receive education, particularly education on life matters such as politics, finance or sexual health and wellbeing. As our goal is to present accessible feminism, we invite you all to learn a little this week, and to discuss so that we might help each other.

Sex education is imperative to all people, worldwide. As already mentioned, I’m not saying this because too many people are getting pregnant or something, I’m saying all this because there is a lot about our own health that can benefit us mentally, that we don’t know. This project aims to encompass as much as possible, so expect posts on periods, body image, healthy relationships and boobs (and so on).

There’s so much to learn, and so with the hope of doing this project annually, please interact with us, and tell us what you love, or what you want to know about next time. Our lovely Anthem writers have done some serious research, and have delved into their own experiences to bring you their pieces this week. These are not easy things to talk about, and we are not experts, but we have been through a lot collectively, and we want to share our knowledge with you.

Personally, I’m passionate about this project because I believe it is worthwhile; I think it can benefit everyone. This is not a project to be associated with embarrassment or stigma, but openness and truths. We want to talk about these things because people don’t, and none of us here think that’s quite right! Let’s talk about things, let’s not be afraid! Lend us your eyes and ears this week, and we’ll try our best to inform you of what we’ve learned, and maybe get you thinking.

We could be very dark and serious and hit you with all the statistics about the consequences of poor sex education (I may still do this later on, it really depends on how I feel), but instead, we want to make this project as positive and inspiring as we can. Take part as you wish: read, comment or even share with your friends. Who knows who we can help, together.

The project officially begins today, but we will be posting at least once a day for the next 6 days, and we implore you to embrace the topics wholly (even if you’re not a fan of blood). Please enjoy, share, and most importantly, learn! We can’t wait to share our work with you, and hope you enjoy the week ahead.

Love Anthem xo

 

Words by Briony Brake
Part of the September Sex Education Week 2017.

Growing Up

I’ve been having a bit of a freakout. I’m nearing the end of my degree, my time at university is nearly over, and soon I will have to get a real job and be a real person and live my life without an academic structure (I know, woe is me).

I think a lot about ‘real life’ and ‘real jobs’ like I’m some sort of infantilised child, but the thing is, it just seems so unachievable. Aside from the student debt, the rising house prices that mean that really I’m just never going to buy a house, the lack of jobs available in the arts, aside from all that, certain people just seem to have their lives together and unfortunately, I don’t think I’m one of them.

And the thing is, it’s very easy to beat yourself up about that.

There’s been a shift, among everyone I know recently. They just seem much more… grown up. They’re dedicating time to working hard and looking after themselves and making dinners and sleeping properly. And I’m starting to do it too, a bit. Sleeping proper nights and waking up before 11 am and leaving the house before 9 on some mornings. Noticing when my mood drops, and assessing why, and doing the right things about it. I even went running. For a week. We can’t have everything.

And I think that’s the key thing – you can’t do everything. You can’t be this person who exercises and sleeps and eats healthily and has a buzzing social life and a healthy mental state and gets good grades. And that’s okay. If I learned anything from a combination of CBT and a very good Simon Stephens playwriting talk, it’s that success does not equal happiness. I thought it did, for a long time. I thought that if I did a million things then that was success, because I was running myself ragged and loudly telling everyone how tired I was. That I had to be the best, making the best things, and having other people tell me how good they were. But self-validation is so much better. Letting yourself fail, or get it wrong, or even, to just doing nothing is one of the kindest things you can do to yourself if you’re happy doing it.

It’s particularly easy to not feel good enough when you’re constantly living your life through a screen, constantly comparing your reality to the social media posts of everyone having a nice time, the Instagram stories of what you wish you were doing, those people who are 5 years ahead of you in both career and life-planning and got their play on at the Royal Court aged 21 (I am not bitter, I promise). But comparison is dangerous, because it’s easy to while your days away wishing you were someone else, without fully appreciating who you are, that your hair looks great, and that you are great fun to go to the pub with.

I think that’s being a grown up. Learning to stop constantly punishing yourself about not being grown up. And I’m getting there. I might even start running again.

 

Words by Sian Brett.

 

 

 

I’m tired of fighting.

I’m a 20-year-old woman in her final semester of university, and in my spare time I write and edit for this website that I started almost a year ago. I haven’t posted much recently for two reasons: firstly, I’ve been working on a dissertation among a few other deadlines at university, and secondly, I’m exhausted.

My friends all like to wind me up for being a feminist. They like to tell me about stupid things people have said who claim to be feminist but aren’t (if you hate men, you’re not a feminist, so if you would kindly stop dragging the rest of us down, I’d be grateful). I have colleagues too, everyone enjoys telling me about stupid things ‘feminists’ have done, or how they enjoy taking them down online. Obviously, for them, it’s very funny, but for me, it’s wearing. I always clarify what feminism is and why I believe in it, but it doesn’t stop it. 

“Power to the Girls”

When I see girls, particularly younger girls and teens wearing t-shirts that say anything feminist, I smile. I’m so glad that the work of previous generations won’t end, and I’m hopeful that the future will be better. But I’m also not an idiot. I know full well that some minds won’t be changed. I know that Trump isn’t going to come out tomorrow and say ‘Gee those feminists are on to something’, nor are the Daily Mail going to cover female politicians saying ‘aren’t these women smart and powerful’ instead of talking about their legs (don’t get me started).

I know we aren’t equal. We don’t think equal. And I can’t help but agree with Emma Watson in thinking that we won’t be equal. I don’t see equality in my lifetime. I’d love to, but if it took a woman getting crushed by a horse to get us the bloody vote, I dare not ask what it would take to get where we want to be. 

I’m a feminist. I don’t really care about my personal equal pay because I’m paid the same as my male colleagues, but I care about the statistics suggesting black women lose out on almost 40% of white men’s wages1234. It’s not about me, but I still care about it. I raise an issue with men’s pressure to be manly and unemotional as it leads to dangerous numbers of suicides and mental health issues. I struggle with the international treatment of women such as FGM, truancy because of periods, rape, child marriage, and so on. It’s not something I will experience in this country, so should I just turn a blind eye? No, because I’m not an arsehole. This is deathly important and we’re all just making out like it’s not our problem.

The skirt in question…

I face issues in this country that anger me on a daily basis. It was the hottest weekend of the year so far recently so naturally, I wore a skirt, but with trainers and a long sleeve top. That didn’t matter though, legs were visible, so three different men in cars slowed to shout things or whistle. You can bet that made me feel horrible. I wanted to put my jeans back on and suffer in the heat because I felt so uncomfortable that 3 different cars of men felt perfectly comfortable to make comments on my appearance and sexualise me. It’s absolutely disgusting. It is not a compliment to make someone feel unsafe. I don’t need to excuse myself, that is not a compliment.  

I’m really sick of being called girly for liking pink, watching a lot of Julia Roberts films, and shopping excessively. These things make me happy (plus I walk double my normal steps a day when I shop so at least I’m exercising), but it’s stupid because I’m a girl and girls are stupid. I’m just so fed up. I could honestly just curse for hours and throw things because I’m so damn sick of all of it.

Why should I get stressed out because I care about something that is inherently right? It is moral, and just. It is not that we are asking a lot, we are asking for life as it should be. I should not be less than a man, nor treated less than, because I am not less than a man. I am equal. I am equal to a man. 

The necklace I now wear on a daily basis

I’m so tired of doing this. Sometimes I don’t want to do it anymore. Sometimes I think, like right now, that I don’t want to be a feminist anymore because it’s so much hard work and no one cares in the slightest what I think. I feel as though I’m wasting my time, and annoying my friends. It’s ridiculous. I shouldn’t have to fight in the first place, let alone be questioned for doing the right thing. I know I’ll post this and someone will either question a point I have made, or people will continue to joke about being a woman or a feminist and how I am lesser.

As someone who struggles to keep her head up a great deal of the time, I don’t really need the extra negative emotion that comes with pushing the way I do. I’m constantly down, or humiliated, or angered, or panicked, or uncomfortable and I could cry just thinking about how bad I am made to feel. I just want it to stop.

I’m doing the right thing. So either join me or leave me alone because I can’t leave this fight. I made a commitment, I started a platform to help, and I can’t quit. It’s so exhausting and even if I don’t want to do it anymore, I have to. If you have no support to offer, I’d kindly ask you to leave off, and save everyone the unnecessary negative emotion; there’s enough going around as it is. 

The Guardian: ‘Gender wage gap costs minority women more than $1m in some states
2 National Women’s Law Centre: ‘The Lifetime Wage Gap by State for Black Women
Bustle: ‘8 Startling Statistics That Show How The Pay Gap Affects Women Of Color Differently
4 American Association of University Women: ‘The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap

Words and images by Briony Brake

There’s Nothing Wrong With Being

Recently, I read an article that defended Mandi Gosling’s boobs. Her dress at the Oscars meant she looked great, but all anyone could talk about was her breasts – like breasts are something new and unheard of. Sure she looked great, and yeah she’s got boobs, but really? Like is that all we care about now? We’re not even going to pretend we like her dress first?

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There was literally nothing about Mandi that didn’t mention her cleavage. When I did finally find this article in defence of her boobs I was overjoyed, until I got to the end of the piece. The article started to talk about how we should be grateful that Mandi wasn’t like all the other ‘stick’ women on the red carpet that night.

Using the word ‘other’ when talking about women is outrageously problematic. Don’t defend someone by putting someone else down, that’s not how it works. Mandi Gosling isn’t ‘different’ because she has cleavage. I have cleavage for God’s sake, so do half my friends, so do members of my family, and strangers I pass on the street. Cleavage is just boobs. Boobs are just boobs. Get over it. Don’t call people out and say they’re different for having boobs, and don’t call them out for not having boobs.They’re just women, and they’re just people.

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Take a look at this picture of Ashley Tisdale. She looks great. It’s a great dress. She turned up to a charity event wearing it, which was quick to be followed by Twitter users writing that she looked pregnant (and most of them weren’t nice about it). To me, she doesn’t look pregnant, she looks like she usually does. However, when people say female celebrities look pregnant, they mostly just mean it looks like they’ve put weight on. Again I can’t help but think, why the hell do you care?

All these articles always get me a little stressed out because I can never understand why anyone gives a shit about who has a bit of flab, or who had a nip-slip, or who got botox. I do not care. I never have, and if I ever do, I hope you all slap me round the face until I snap out of it. Just because they’re celebrities why should it mean we’re allowed to bully them? Famous men and women are both subjected to this kind of treatment, but it does seem to come part and parcel of being a female celebrity as opposed to some of the male celebrities who we don’t seem to criticise, for example, the wonderful Chris Pratt whom we love on the left, or on the right. But then double standards are also inbuilt with this whole issue.

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At the end of the day, my point is that we shouldn’t be so hard on people for being the way they are. It sounds obvious, and it sounds like something we should already be doing, but it isn’t. We talk about celebrities for being fat, thin, breasty, flat-chested, pregnant-looking, old, flabby, or whatever, but what’s arguably worse is that we even do it to people we know. We talk about people we used to know, or people in our classes, or ou jobs, and talk about them behind their back. I’m not necessarily saying w should all be nice to each other all the time (mostly because it’s impossible), but there’s just no need to criticse people for being the way they are if they can’t help it, or if they’re happy. If Mandi Gosling wants to wear that dress to a televised event, she probably couldn’t care less what you think about her boobs.

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If Mandi Gosling wants to wear that dress to a televised event, she probably couldn’t care less what you think about her boobs. If I wear skinny jeans and a crop top on a night out, I know it doesn’t look that nice when I sit down, because as a human who doesn’t exercise, I have a belly. I’m only 20, but I’ve had plenty of photos taken of me when both my friends and I have laughed about how ‘out’ my boobs are. Let me tell you, I will wear what I want, and what makes me feel comfortable or nice, and if you want to talk about it then go ahead, but frankly there’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being comfortable and happy in yourself. There’s nothing wrong with wearing v-necks if you have big boobs, and there’s nothing wrong with wearing things that show off something you’ve worked for, or something you’re proud of. Wear what you want for god’s sake.

You do you xo

 

Words by Briony Brake
Images from Maxim, Romper, GymViral, NY Magazine

Blue Monday, Blue Winter, Blue Year.

Blue Monday is not the most depressing day of the year, nor is it any more or less depressing than any other day of the year.

January can be a difficult month as we tend to pile even more pressure onto ourselves with sweeping New Year’s resolutions that often force us to think we should be fitter, stronger, or better than we already are. My New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to watch more films because I keep watching the same ones over and over .

I do not plan to get smarter, thinner, or better at riding my bike because I have as much control over the year as I do the weather. This year I’m going to try my best to look after myself while I attempt to embrace the mess that is life after uni.

I don’t believe I will be happy all year. I don’t believe I will be healthy and happy for the next New Year because I don’t know what life will bring. My attitude differs to the popular resolve I’m sure, but it seems fair to me.

As such, I know people will think I’m being negative by saying that Blue Monday is as depressing as any other day. I feel I should however remind you that Blue Monday is false, has no scientific backing, and was made up by holiday company Sky Travel in their 2005 press release. Blue Monday is pseudoscience, and an angle for marketers. So all of this (see below) is bullshit.

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My point with this piece isn’t to mock you, or to tell you how foolish you are to buy into all the companies and newspapers telling you to be depressed every January 16th. My point is to tell you that for many people, the entire month, season or year can be so awfully blue, that one day won’t make a difference.

We should not see Blue Monday as a day to feel bad about ourselves unnecessarily, but as a reminder of how much work we need to put into looking after ourselves, as often as we can. Whether it’s a seasonal affective, or year-round depression, it’s important to focus on the good.

Articles from the Daily Mail (*cough* trash) telling us why things are terrible and ‘more depressing than usual’, should be replaced with good news, and things to be happy about. We should not feel bad for being upset, and we should definitely not feel bad on behalf of others when we are sad. It is a human right to feel. It is a part of living to cry and feel down, as much as it is to laugh and feel joy.

This Blue Monday, I ask that you stop reading articles about the bad in the world and to instead watch a film, or have dessert or a hot chocolate. I don’t want you to feel bad because you’ve been told to. I ask that you look after yourself as well as you should every other day of the year, and to do your best to keep it up from now on.

Blue Monday isn’t real, but your health and feelings are. Look after what counts, and be kind to yourself.

 

Words by Briony Brake

Caring About Self-Care

I’ve been learning a lot recently. I’ve been at a school, for the mind.

I’ve had a bit of a revelation about life, the universe, and everything.

Ok, are you ready? Listening? Ears tuned to Sian frequency? Eyes ready to be widened in shock?

Here we go:

It’s important to look after yourself.

I KNOW. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure.

It turns out, that it’s quite important for your mental and physical wellbeing to care about yourself, and your body and your mind. It’s makes a difference if you shower, and change your bed sheets, and give yourself evenings in to watch Netflix. Eating proper meals makes you feel better!

And not just in the obvious ways. It turns out that doing nice things for yourself means that you start to believe that you’re worth those nice things (or not even nice things just normal looking after yourself things) and then you feel better and give yourself more of those nice things and then you feel better and then-

Wait… you guys don’t look as surprised as I was hoping. Oh you… you already knew? Who told you? You just knew? How did you just know? Oh. Okay yeah, fair enough. Common sense. Yeah.

For me, this is pretty big news.

Here are some things I have done since I learnt about self care:

  • Got a job
  • Bought myself fresh flowers
  • Did my washing more regularly
  • Bought nice shampoo
  • Wore clothes that made me happy

I thought that self-care was just showering and sleeping. But, it turns out, it’s so much more than that. It turns out that if you make yourself feel nice, then you’ll feel nice. And that if you look after yourself properly and dedicate time to thinking about the way you feel, you’ll actually feel better.

I’m in about week 6 of therapy. I’m trying so fucking hard to undo negative thoughts, and feelings, and relearn what happy is. No, not even what happy is, just what okay is. And that alone, that act of making myself go and talk to a lovely doctor every week about why I feel the way I do, is a kind of self-care. Because I’m learning to value myself, and what I need. And that’s so important

I can’t believe I didn’t know it was important! Why did no one tell me it was so important! Why aren’t we taught it in schools – why don’t we have sex education, and drug education, and then mental health education about how the world is big and scary but you are valid, and real, and how we are all just blobs of being and we are what we make ourselves and we should look after ourselves because it’s so self-validating?

I wish I had been taught that I am worth looking after. I wish everyone got taught that, because you are, you so so are.

 

Words by Sian Brett.

 

Q&A: Laura Pettitt’s Gap Year

Hi Laura! Thank you so much for speaking to Anthem about your gap year. I definitely feel like a gap year wasn’t seen as an option as I never found out anything about them, so I’m hoping speaking to you might help other people see it as one!

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BMP Farmhouse on Elephant Care Day

So to begin, you’ve been back home for a little while now, what’s it been like settling back in after a 3 month trip?

It was crazy how quickly I adapted to being back actually. I’ve been home for just over 2 months but within a few days of being home I’d settled back into old routines and full time work. I was really worried about getting proper post-travelling blues and even cried on the plane coming back, but as much as I loved travelling, there is something so comforting about being home that you can never properly replicate in a hostel, especially as I spent the last few weeks travelling on my own. I don’t think I’d realised how much I missed my friends, but the second I look back at my photos or someone mentions somewhere I went, the prospect of booking a flight for the next day becomes very tempting.

 

Is there anything you miss?

Ah so much! Probably the most prominent thing was how cheap travel is over there; we did a couple of internal flights in Malaysia for £8. I’d pay that for a 20 minute train journey here. Obviously living costs are cheaper in the parts of Asia I visited but even relative to that travel was seriously cheap, and it makes it so easy to do and see more. Asia especially was so chilled and laid back. You run to get a bus that’s due to leave and end up sitting on it stationary for 2 hours. In India we asked about paragliding and 2 hours and £25 later we’d been driven up a mountain in a Jeep to paraglide off the Himalayas. It’s weird because it felt like life was moving at a much faster pace while we were travelling but it was also like the calmest and most stress-free time of my life.

 

Is there anything you’re glad to have back?

It is so nice to not sweat all the time. Honestly between landing in Bangkok on March 2nd and flying to Singapore at the end of May I’m pretty sure there was just a constant layer of sweat on my skin (which resurfaced a month later when I returned to Asia). The heat was great when lounging around on the beach but it was borderline unbearable at times so I don’t miss that. Although there’s obviously poverty in England, it’s so much more blatant in parts of Asia that it’s almost nice not to see it. That’s the most awfully privileged sentence I know, but it becomes depressing seeing all these people living in unimaginable conditions who you just can’t help. Sure you can buy them some food or sponsor a child or whatever but it just becomes a bit depressing knowing you can’t sustainably change their lives. You kind of have to detach yourself from it after a while or you’d just spend the whole time deeply depressed over it

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Halong Bay, Vietnam

Could you walk us through the trip?

So I flew out to Bangkok with 2 of my best friends from school on March 1st, we spent a couple of days there looking around markets and temples, and then got a night train to Chiang Mai. We spent about a week there, did a 2 day jungle trek and an elephant care day (it was so great we got to feed them and swim with them), and then spent 20 hours on buses to Laos. We stayed in Luang Prabang for a few nights which we loved, right on the Mekong River where there was a really good night market and waterfalls. They also randomly did such good baguettes in Laos! Then we got a bus to Vang Vieng, also in Laos, the most bizarre place with loads of “happy bars” and everyone goes tubing (going down the river in a massive rubber ring). Just a really bizarre place! We then had a 32 hour adventure on buses (on my birthday so that was fun) to get to Hanoi in Vietnam. It was the craziest place which was just constantly loud and we almost got run over so many times.

We spent about a week there and then flew to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for a week. There was so much to do and see and we went on a lot of day trips to places like the Cu Chi Tunnels, and Halong Bay. It was really cheap, and a nice mix between traditional and western, and the street food was incred. Then we got a night bus to Cambodia where we stayed in Pnomh Penh. We went to S-21 and the Killing Fields and learned about Cambodia’s horrible history (would definitely recommend a quick google or a watch of the film The Killing Fields to learn more) which were so shocking and sad but definitely worth learning about. Then we went to where there are loads of temples, the main one was Angkor Wat, and we went to them at sunrise. After Cambodia we headed back to Thailand, this time to the south islands. We went to Phuket, Krabi and Ko Phi Phi which were all idyllic honeymoon type places where I went scuba diving. Then we headed to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. We basically booked our main flights in England so we just knew we had to be in Singapore by the end of May, and so ended up with a couple of weeks in Malaysia. I knew nothing about it but ended up loving it! After a few nights in KL we got a bargain internal flight to a little island called Langkawi. We spent a few days lounging on the beach and then flew to Penang, which is described as Malaysia’s food capital. It was amazing and we ended up missing our return flight (it was only £12 to be fair) on purpose because we weren’t ready to leave.

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Monkey Island, Thailand

From there we got a coach to the Cameron Highlands which were so much cooler (in temperature) than everywhere we’d been previously, and we spent a couple of days doing a bit of walking and visiting the tea plantations. We got a coach back to KL and after a couple of nights got a coach to Singapore. We spent 3 or 4 nights here, looking at the quirky little shops, food halls and a trip to Universal Studios before an overnight flight to Melbourne. Here we had a week in a vile 16 bed dorm but spent the days looking round the city before being joined by my friend from work, Abi. We then picked up a camper van and set off on a 2 week adventure. We went to Great Ocean Road where we saw koalas up close (they’re so soft!) and then drove to Sydney. We made a spontaneous decision to go all the way to Byron Bay which made a couple of long days of driving and some nights parked at the side of the road (and one in a stranger’s back garden). We only stayed in Byron for 2 nights but all loved it and then headed to Sydney. Abi flew home and we went to spend a week with Lauren’s (one of the three original travellers) family friends in a place called WoyWoy. We had a really nice week living in a proper house eating home cooked meals exploring the little town and also spent a night in Sydney and one in the Blue Mountains before the others flew home.

Originally we were all due to fly back together on June 2nd but I wasn’t ready to leave so flew back to KL, spent 2 nights there, and then went to Delhi. I was met at the airport and spent 16 days volunteering, helping women learn English and helping slum children with their English and Maths, and the evenings and weekends visiting Delhi, the Taj Mahal, and an amazing place called Dharamshala. The whole thing was incredible and so surreal, we were followed round a water park like celebrities, asked for photographs by virtually everyone we met, and I went paragliding in the Himalayas. Sadly after 16 days it was time to leave, and I had 2 flights to get to Bali. This was my first proper extended solo travelling, and I spent a couple of nights in a place called Ubud. I saw lots of monkeys, did some yoga, and ate a lot of green vegan food. It was so chilled out there, but I spoke to virtually no one and it was all just a bit surreal. I then got a mini bus and a boat over to Gili T, possibly one of the nicest places on earth. It’s such a small island that the only public transport is horses and carriages. The sunsets are amazing (though I never witnessed them properly because I got lost). It’s beyond beautiful and I spent a couple of nights there, went out with people from the hostel I was staying in and also got practically adopted by a lovely Indonesian family I met on a snorkelling trip who kept taking me out for food and said I was welcome to stay with them any time. On June 25th I had to head to the airport which I was very sad about, and had my final 2 flights to get home. I finished off my 4 month adventure on a trusty national express coach driving through rainy England.

 

How did the idea to travel these places begin?

I’d always had a strange fixation with India and Vietnam (which ended up being among my favourite places). India became a bit of an obsession after a year 8 Geography project, but I remember discussing Thailand/Laos etc in the common room at school in year 12. A couple of my brother’s friends had travelled a similar route a couple of years before, and then we spoke to people at STA and came up with a route, but pretty much everyone does the same thing. Everyone you speak to out there has stayed in virtually the same places as you – it’s almost funny.

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Torquay, Victoria

 

Did everything go to plan?

Amazingly yes! I was constantly expecting to miss a bus or a flight, be scammed out of all my money and so on, but everything was fine! I feel very lucky because a few things could have ended in disaster; I left my card in an ATM in Bangkok and someone shouted after me and gave it back, I left my passport in a hostel in Singapore and managed to just hop on a bus to get it back. I even managed to get on the metro in Delhi and have the doors close before my friends could get on, but even during rush hour when it was packed, nothing bad happened to me.

 

What was it like travelling with friends?

Most of the time it was great, but I just think being with the same people all the time is always going to cause a few minor disagreements. We never really argue at home but obviously you’re not spending every moment together. I mean, we shared a room for 3 months, and sometimes you just won’t all agree on something, or someone will just be in a bad mood. I definitely argue a lot more with my family at home. It was really nice to be able to experience everything together, and laugh at funny stories both at the time and now. I did enjoy the little bit of travelling I did on my own, but I’m really glad I was with them for the bulk of my trip.

 

Could you tell us about the preparation for your trip?

So I told my family I wanted to take a gap year back in about year 11, no one took much notice and just kind of assumed I’d change my mind. When it came to UCAS and stuff suddenly they all got a bit like “is this a good idea, should you be doing it” but I’m very stubborn and I think they probably realised I was going to go regardless of what they thought. In August after year 13 we went to STA and booked our flights to Bangkok, from Singapore to Melbourne and Sydney to home (I ended up changing my last one) and started discussing stuff like budgeting. My summer job let me stay on and I worked until February with the goal of saving £4000 to spend out there plus the initial £1500 for flights and loads of other little costs. We had to start getting vaccinations about 4 months before. We needed Hep A (and a booster after we flew home), 3 Hep B ones (they’re meant to be around £100 but for some reason I wasn’t charged…), and a typhoid vaccination. We also had to get malaria tablets – you just book an appointment with a nurse, tell them where you’re going and they advise you on what to get. You can get other optional vaccinations like rabies but after a bit of research I opted against it. Also just a tip for anyone going travelling; malaria tablets are about half the price of high street pharmacies if you go to the ASDA pharmacy. Don’t pay double for the same drug!

I didn’t start packing until a couple of weeks before, and I basically bought loads of back up stuff for my phone and camera because I was so paranoid about not being able to take a million photos of everything. With packing it’s definitely a case of less is more, and I wish I’d taken less clothing, especially as a lot of what I packed was too warm to wear. You just need a couple of thin cotton tops, dresses, and shorts. We took a lot of medical stuff though you can buy everything out there. I would advise anti-sickness and Imodium just because you don’t want to find you don’t have any on a long bus journey, trust me. I also really recommend a portable phone charger for the same reason. Packing isn’t too difficult because everything is so cheap out there that if you’ve forgotten something it doesn’t matter.

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Taj Mahal, India

 

Were there any surprises?

I was surprised by how western everywhere is! Walking down the road in Cambodia and coming out of the airport in Delhi to see Costa Coffee or Domino’s is so surreal, and that took some getting used to. Also nearly everyone we encountered spoke such good English which I kind of expected but like crazy good! It was so impressive and made me feel a bit stupid!

 

What were the highlights? What wasn’t as good?

Oh God I can’t narrow it down! I did some crazy things like seeing the Taj Mahal, scuba diving in Thailand, paragliding in the Himalayas. All of those were so amazing, but just lying on a beach with friends and even just bus journeys through such interesting landscapes were fun too. Getting street food in Vietnam and the curries in India also just stand out in my mind. But it was just so good. Night buses are definitely not something I miss, though. They’re cheap and convenient but honestly after spending a couple of hours trying and failing to find a comfortable position, and the one time my friend was sick all over my stuff at the start of the journey… That I wouldn’t mind skipping. I also found the heat difficult to deal with, it made it hard to do things during the day and I was tired a lot as well. It was great again for beach days but that was about it.

 

Would you do it again? Where would you like to go next?

It’s practically all I think about! I would love to go back to where I volunteered in India to see the children again, and stay for a longer time, but I would also love to revisit Vietnam and Malaysia. I wouldn’t turn down a trip to anywhere I went though! Eventually I would like to travel around South America but I don’t feel like I’ve seen enough of Asia yet!

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Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

What’s next for you now that you’re home?

I’ve spent my summer working full time at my old job, now I’ve just got a couple of weeks left and then I’m off to Bath to study psychology.

 

Do you feel you learned anything from travelling that’s affected you or changed you?

I have definitely relaxed with money a lot. I used to kind of fuss over spending but I’ve just calmed down and realised that spending a bit more for something fun is worth it. And after you see the conditions some people are living in you realise how fortunate you are to be able to do stuff like go out to eat and plan holidays. I haven’t gotten crazy generous but definitely more so. I also feel more appreciative of pretty much everything. Even just appreciative or the place I live, and having a house, and healthcare system. It isn’t until you see first-hand what it’s like not to have those things that it hits you how lucky you are.

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Penang, Malaysia

Finally, do you think it was worth the money you spent?

I really do. I know we could have done things for cheaper and in future I would book flights myself, and skip the luxury Contiki holiday, but I still think we budgeted well. I was very fortunate to be in the position of living at home, not paying bills or having financial obligations which meant that almost everything I was earning could go towards travelling. Although the 12 hour shifts in the run up were a bit hellish, it was so so so worth it when we were out there. It’s easy to limit yourself, and not do expensive activities but I definitely think it’s important to find the balance between travelling on a budget and missing out.

 

You can read even more about Laura’s travels on her blog: http://the-perks-of-being-laura.blogspot.co.uk/ 

 

Words by Briony Brake and Laura Pettitt
Photos by Laura Pettitt