Contraception Woes Part 1: The Pill

Last year I decided to take a leap of faith and change my method of contraception. I was 22, in a committed relationship and tired of using condoms. Contraception has a unique impact on us all but I hope that sharing my experience can help other women looking for advice…

I was always apprehensive of the pill, the side effects terrified me and though I knew lots of young women who had tried it, I was completely put off.  Acne, weight gain and mood swings were just some of the side effects I’d heard of. Once I spoke to a GP about it I found out the full list of possible side effects (just reading it is enough to change your mind), and that it effects women in different ways. As someone who suffers from bad PMS, I didn’t want that getting worse, but was told it could possibly improve my mood swings.

At the time I didn’t have a steady GP, I just saw whoever was available when I needed an appointment (the wait time is so long as it is). I was cautious of the pill, especially after it was found to have links with depression. But I wanted to be in control of my fertility and my sex life, so I decided to try it.

I had no idea how many different types of the pill there were. If the first one didn’t suit me, the GP said I could simple try another. I was prescribed a combination pill called Levest, made with oestrogen (ethinylestradiol) and progestogen (levonorgestrel). The combination of hormones oestrogen and progestogen in the pill were said to have less impact on PMS symptoms. I had to take the pill at the same time every day for 3 weeks, then take a weeks break to have my period.

For the pill to sync with your monthly cycle you have to start taking it on the first day of you period. After the first week when my period should have ended the bleeding didn’t stop. I waited another week, still no change. Concerned, I managed to get a telephone consultation – with a male doctor – because nothing else was available. He told me it was completely normal and I should continue taking the pill. It was almost a month of bleeding by this point, and he just said that it happens to a lot of women and is to be expected. I’m sure he would have felt differently if he was bleeding downstairs for a month…

Luckily, a little while after this useless conversation, I got an appointment with a very intelligent and lovely female doctor, who is now my official GP. When I explained the side effects the pill had taken she immediately said I should try another pill which may be more suitable.

I moved on to Yasmin, another combined pill made with oestrogen (ethinylestradiol) and  progestogen (drospirenone). The irregular bleeding stopped and I was thrilled. But the high was short-lived as I started feeling more melancholy than usual. This pill made me more emotional and simply unhappy.

The side effects of both pills made me feel down, whether it was purely psychological or due to anxiety over the constant bleeding. My libido dropped and I felt like crap. But this was supposed to make me feel good and in control of my sex life, right?

I was disappointed with the pill, and after speaking to my GP I decided to try another form of contraception: the coil.

*To be continued…

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Advice on travelling with your partner

During 2017 I’ve been on 4 trips with my partner, the last of which was my first experience of travelling. I was anxious before the trip, being together for such a long time and with limited access to our friends and family back home was bound to cause arguments. Who knew if we’d still be together when we got back? Long story short, we did and we learnt more about each other along the way. I’ve made a list of tips based on what I learnt while travelling with bae:

 

Plan ahead

Plan your trip out in advance. Things don’t always go to plan, but at least if you both have an idea of the things you want to see and do before you’re abroad you can make the most of your trip and your time together. Not to mention it will help you calculate the cost of activities abroad, so you’ll get a better idea of how much money to take.

 

Money

Keep your money separate. Two sets of wallets are better and safer than one. Whether you split the food bill, or want to treat each other, keep your money separate. Treat your money the same way you would if you weren’t abroad. Money is a source of conflict, and having two separate wallets shares the responsibility and means there are two pairs of eyes watching the holiday expenses.

 

Trust

If you don’t trust your partner, don’t go away with them. It seems pretty obvious, but think very carefully before agreeing to go abroad with someone. Do you feel safe with them? Are they reliable? Are they responsible?

 

Compromise

There are bound to be things you don’t want to see or do that your partner does, and vice versa. Compromising on holiday can be annoying, but it’s how relationships and holidays work. Unless you’re planning on travelling alone, you’re gonna have to compromise from time to time.

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Check on each other

Something as simple as asking whether your partner has packed their passport can be a lifesaver. Don’t think it will undermine them, checking they have the basic things they need before you fly is considerate and can be a crucial reminder. Basically, have each others back.

 

Language

Take some time to learn basic phrases in the language used at your destination, and encourage your partner to do the same. It’s useful for both of you to be able to speak to locals; it’s fun, you’ll learn something, and won’t be so isolated. It can also get you out of sticky situations e.g. if you’re lost or if one of you gets sick.

 

Don’t over do it

Literally. There’s no better time to have sex than when you’re away with your partner, but it turns out there is such a thing as having too much sex. Doing it everyday is great but will leave you both feeling sore after a while. Don’t expect more of your partner than is physically possible and don’t feel pressured to do it if you can’t one night. Take care of your body first, pack: lube, condoms and body lotion.

 

Arguments

Arguments are bound to happen, let’s be honest. Don’t blow it out of proportion or think your trip is ruined. Couples fight at home and abroad. Trips with your partner aren’t all romance and fine-dining. Travelling is a real test of your relationship, be prepared!

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Other than that, remember the basic rules of relationships:

  • Listen to each other, be considerate of each other’s feelings
  • If things go wrong, don’t blame each other, remember you’re in the same situation and can get through it together
  • Take some down time if you need to, travelling can be exhausting, but first and foremost it’s meant to be fun!

Keep an open mind and enjoy yourselves!

 

Reflections on 2017: Shortcomings & Goals

New Year’s Resolutions aren’t for me. I can’t remember the last time I made one, or know anyone who has ever stuck to one. This year I’m setting myself some goals based on what I think are the most important and realistic areas I’d like to improve on. When we reflect on our shortcomings it’s easy to be overly critical and diminish the things we’ve achieved. Be kind to yourself, take some time to accept any shortcomings you think you’ve had this year and turn it into something more positive. #personalgoals

 

  1. Mindfulness

My temper has become even shorter this year and it’s something I have been trying/failing to tame. I want to work on being more peaceful next year and stressing less. Mindfulness has been proven to lessen stress, aid mental health and physical well-being. It may be the thing I need to find my zen. I attended a mindfulness session at work and really loved it. Everyday stresses, especially surrounding work and my commute are things I can work on for next year. I am scheduling in meditation once every two weeks in 2018 as a step in the right direction.

 

2. Learning how to:

  • Ride a bike
  • Ice skate
  • Speak Hindi

These are 3 things I lack confidence with. I can’t ride a bike and was scared of falling off when I tried earlier this year. I’d love to ice skate but have no balance and am embarrassingly clumsy. As much as I want to, I’m worried I’ll hurt myself. I need to overcome my fears next year and just go for it, though that’s easier said than done.

My family speak a mixture of Gujarati and Hindi but my knowledge of it is pretty basic now. I told myself I’d visit India once I had a good grasp on the language. As Hindi is the most widely used language, I’ll start there. I surprised myself with how quickly I picked up Spanish phrases once I took the time to learn before I went to Cuba. As with any goal, it’s all about determination. This is a goal I’ve been struggling to achieve for years. I gave up learning Gujarati as a teenager, as an adult I need to persevere. Alternating the weeks of meditation sessions I will practice Hindi for one hour every fortnight. I know it won’t make me a master of the language, but every little bit helps.

 

3. Doing more of what I love

A number of hobbies have fallen by the wayside this year as my work and social life got busier. Next year I hope to have a better balance between work/friends/love/family and me-time. I’ve stopped reading. I am always thinking of things I want to write about but never find the time. I’ve stopped going to the gym. I’m creative but never draw anymore. All of these little things that make me happy have been sidelined but I plan to make them more of a priority next year. So shall it be written, so shall it be done.

As a minimum…

I will blog every fortnight – once I get an idea it has to be written that week or else be scrapped.

I will read one book per month, and write a following review.

I will exercise twice a week.

 

There’s no point in getting down about what we haven’t done this year, accept your shortcomings and set yourself some goals. My ultimate goal is to have a healthier mind and body. I want to learn and continue to grow as an individual. Whatever your goals are, be honest and kind to yourself. Look forward to the new year and all the things you can achieve.

 

Wishing you a very happy and successful new year

x

Reflections on 2017: Personal Growth & Accomplishments

2017 has been a struggle. It’s been the most difficult year of my life but at the same time it’s been a year of personal growth. As the year ends there are bound to be things we wish we could have done, or regret doing, but we can’t change the past. All we can do is learn from the year and look forward. I’m taking this time to reflect on my achievements and encourage others to do the same.

Things I’ve achieved this year:

  1. Leaving my family home.

The biggest and most significant change in my life has been my living situation. Those closest to me know what a struggle it’s been, and those that don’t don’t need to. I’m incredibly thankful that after years of living in a toxic household, scared for the safety of my mum and distraught over what felt like a hopeless situation, it’s finally over. Though the move has been a massive adjustment with its own set of problems, having a home that I feel safe in and where I know my mum will be sleeping soundly without any disruption from my father is a huge step for my family. Last December I wanted to kill myself because things had gotten so bad it felt like there was no way out. It wasn’t easy, but we’re here and I’m truly thankful to be here.

 

2. Securing my first real job!

At the start of the year I was working part time at a job I hated and was desperately looking for work. We’ve all been there. I had just graduated from my Masters and I could’t even get an interview, just rejection after rejection. I was recommended for a job by a close friend and at the time I was so depressed I had no self-belief when it came to the interviews. I had 2 tests and 3 interviews before finding out I got the job! I was shocked to say the least. I’ve been at the company for 8 months now and I really love my job and the people I work with. I was lucky enough to attend my first conference abroad in October and the experience gave me extra confidence in myself and my professional expertise. Work can be stressful but I’m really looking forward to the new year and a new set of #careergoals.

 

3. Taking a chance on love

At the start of the year I did something I never thought I would do, I went away with my partner. This might not sound radical to some, but for me going away with someone was a big deal. Not only does it require an extreme level of trust, it’s also a big commitment. For someone who is pretty uncomfortable with commitment, it was kind of scary. Relationships aren’t all roses, and neither are holidays. I went solely on instinct and feeling and I’m so glad I did. Not only did I get to visit a beautiful city (Budapest), I did so with the most amazing partner. He brought out the adventurer in me and we’ve had so many incredible trips this year it doesn’t seem real when I think about it. With crazy strict parents I was never allowed to sleep round friend’s houses, let alone leave the country. Going away with my partner allowed me to grow as an independent adult, and as a girlfriend. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and my relationship through our travels together. I can’t wait to see where 2018 takes us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What writing means to me in 3 words

For as long as I can remember, all I wanted to do was write. I’ve had writers block recently and as the year ends I recall a list of topics I should have written about months ago. In an attempt to get myself writing again I’m challenging myself to blog for 12 days of Christmas. On the first day of Christmas I thought I’d share 3 things I love about writing, and what it means to me:

 

1. Education

Writing is educating. In it’s simplest form it’s informative and not just in a school setting, or news reading kind of way.  Creative writing also teaches us about ourselves, about others, society and experiences we may or may not have had. I’ve learnt so much through reading, and love writing that teaches others about society and culture. Good writing teaches us something.

 

2. Emotion

Writing is tied up with emotions. Most of my writing comes from experience, and I find myself most motivated to write when I’m angry or upset. Writing can be sharing pain or pleasure. It brings joy to others reading it and can move them to tears. Sharing your story with others, exposing yourself to criticism, judgement or praise. It’s opening up a wound in order for it to heal. It’s putting your heart on paper knowing it could get broken. It’s motivating yourself and others to keep going. Language is a powerful weapon we all share. It’s cathartic in the best way. Through writing you can reveal things you never knew existed within yourself and release the emotions wrapped up in them.

 

3. Development

With catharsis comes growth. We grow through our experiences, and the same applies to literature. Whether we write publicly, or in a private journal, when we put pen to paper we open our minds for exploration and personal growth. Whether you’re more of a reader than a writer, writing is integral to your development. We also grow through consumption. Our reading moulds us, challenges us to think bigger and do better. We each explore and decipher words uniquely. Our relationship with language is as important as our relationship with ourselves. Every year we grow, learn and move on to a higher level of understanding ourselves and the world we exist in.

A Question of Marginalisation: Where are you from?

As a British Asian woman one of the most recurring questions I’m asked when I meet someone new is: ‘Where are you from?’ At this point in my life this question infuriates me. It is mostly asked by men, and usually white men. In the UK this question is filled with racial tensions bubbling beneath the surface of our society. However, when I go abroad I get asked the same question even more. Sometimes it can be harmless, as a tourist people wonder where you’ve travelled from, and all tourists get asked that question. But the responses are another problem. It can be difficult trying to explain to foreigners how I am British and Asian at the same time. Awkward conversations about race, nationality and ‘where my parents are from’ become even more tiring when language barriers and ignorance come into play.

When brown men ask me where I’m from its one thing. I don’t like it, but I know it’s more about curiosity than difference. My London accent and brown skin are something they might not be familiar with. But when white men ask ‘where are you from?’ they don’t consider how it can marginalise others. More often than not, the one question quickly turns into an interrogation session, with people trying to trace my ancestral roots to parts of India they’ve never even heard of.

I recently started working as a corporate journalist, and was lucky enough to attend a work conference abroad last week. Before the trip I worried that the people I’d meet would ask where I was from, and had some great advice which separated the two categories in that question: nationality and ethnicity. I went to Berlin, a pretty diverse city, and was asked where I was from 3 times in the space of 3 days. Each time was different; the intent, the way it was asked, and how it made me feel. I know this is a shared experience between POCs, and thought I would share my most embarrassing experience of marginalisation with you.

Let me set the scene, I’m out at a fancy Italian restaurant in Potsdamer Platz, Berlin. There’s about 12 of us at the table, a large group of men and women, from various places. I wasn’t the only ethnic minority at the table, but I was the only one without white skin.

As such a large group, and unable to speak German we drew attention in the restaurant. While waiting for the main course one perky waiter came over and asked us:

“Where are you from? You all look different?”

No-one replied, so I said, “We’re from Britain.”

No response.

“We’re from London.”

“Ohh London,” he said. “But you look like you’re from India!”

There was silence at the table, I could feel the heat rise to my face. Unable to think of a response I said,

“No, I’m from London.”

I felt embarrassed, and honestly didn’t know what to do or say.

Luckily my friend/colleague sitting next to me stepped in and diverted the conversation to the waiter, asking him about his name and where he was from.

“I’m from Albania”, he said.

Once the waiter walked away the silence stagnated, leaving all 12 of us to sit in my embarrassment.

A few moments later the white male sitting opposite me goes, “Well, that was awkward…”

We all felt awkward. But it was worse for me.

I hadn’t realised I stood out in this group of people so much. My colleagues, who I see on a daily basis and senior members of management sat around the table and bared witness to the waiter, who was a migrant himself, single me out. Clearly I didn’t look like I belonged in this group. Which is something I hadn’t thought of until he pointed it out.

Funnily enough, just last month I had tried to explain to my colleague why he shouldn’t ask strangers where they are from. He didn’t understand, and I didn’t have the energy to argue with him. He wasn’t the one singled out in front of his colleagues, but he was the one to say it was “awkward”. I replied, “this is what I’ve been saying”.

So, white men of the world… please think before you ask someone where they are from. Think about why you want to know, and how you’re going to pose that question. Personally, I don’t think there’s any need to ask a stranger this question. You have no right to ask me where I’m from, like I don’t belong. You have no right to comment on the colour of my skin, or ask me why I don’t have an Indian accent. Have some common sense, but more than anything have some respect. Just because you’re not put under a magnifying glass every day of your life, it doesn’t make you any better than POC. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes for once and stop being so ignorant.

Slut-shaming in South Asian communities: Reputation and Dishonour

Puberty is a confusing time, and as young adults become sexually active it gets even harder to navigate male-female relationships. In the present day the pressures on young people to be sexually active is merely growing. In an era where smartphones are a first world staple, snapchat, instagram, and video chats make sharing sexually explicit material even easier, and are an active part of young adult’s social life. In sharing sexually explicit material there is always the fear of being exposed. But for young women there is an additional concern, a fear that we didn’t know was there until society told us so, and won’t go away no matter what we do or how we behave.

Getting a bad reputation.

I can recall various scenarios at school, where girls were slut-shamed behind closed doors and to their faces. But the truth is, no matter what a woman does or does not do, the threat of developing a bad reputation is always there. A woman only has to breathe to get a name for herself. The extent to which societal judgement branches out for women means that we are labelled for the smallest things, whether it be the way we dress, or do our make up, to the company we keep and the amount of time we spend socialising at night. The word slut has always been a social construct, along with every other name used to degrade women. Derogatory language used against women is as old as time itself. The way these terms are freely used, and hurled as insults at women are attempts to subjugate and restrict female freedom, as well at curb their ability to love themselves and their bodies.

This is one of many double standards that women suffer. But the added pressure on women from South Asian communities complicates this dynamic further. Growing up, young South Asian men are mostly free to do what they please, whilst South Asian women’s bodies are policed with the utmost vigilance. It is this cultural, sexual double standard that liberates men and confines women. In the most extreme cases, the penalty for female sexual freedom is death (honour killings are less common in the UK, but they still occur).

The perceived crimes aren’t crimes at all, but the policing of female bodies is perpetuated through everyday occurrences. In South Asian culture women are raised to be fearful of being caught outside with men. They don’t have to be doing anything to be shamed, they don’t need to be touching, just being seen on the street with a male is enough to be seen as ‘up to no good’ and have an aunty inform your parents of what you’ve been up to. If a young South Asian woman is seen kissing her boyfriend on the street – that’s a problem. If she’s seen with a man from a different race that’s an even bigger problem. We don’t need to be caught in bed with men to face the same reaction that we would get if we had been. Holding hands with a black man? Shame on you and your whole family – what will people say?!

Almost any interaction between a young South Asian woman and a man is perceived as an instant threat in the female’s family. The blame is almost instantly placed on the woman, and she is labelled a slut or whore, often by her father, though mothers are also complicit in slut-shaming their daughters.

I don’t give a damn about my reputation.

You’re living in the past it’s a new generation.

Although there has been progress within South Asian cultures in Britain, the role of women remains intrinsically tied to honour and shame. We are raised as the honour bearers of our families and once that becomes threatened we are shamed, branded with a bad name forever more.

This is one of the reasons why young South Asian women have to live double lives, where they can engage in romantic relationships behind closed doors, without their families knowing. We learn to cut off a part of ourselves, of our female sexuality, happiness and right to enjoy our bodies. This in turn teaches us unhealthy methods for navigating patriarchal society, and often leaves us in positions of suffering. For example, if we endure abuse in our relationships, we are left to bare it alone or else let others know our shame, and our secret lives. This is a problem. The structures that teach us to be fearful of being seen as sexually active women are the same that stop us from reporting abuse.

We are taught to fear female sexuality. That it’s dirty, unspeakable, and abnormal. In this way South Asian parents unconsciously teach their daughters to loathe themselves. When you are an expert at self-loathing you are more likely to believe that you deserve to be abused, should it happen to you. You are more likely to believe it’s your fault and stay quiet about it. Or else face the shame of being seen as sexually active, and ‘damaged’.

The sexist practices within our families are complicated, and I’m afraid I don’t have much advice on how to deal with it. All I can say is try not to let it fester in your mind. The name-calling and insults are rooted in something very dark within our culture, and are tied to the male need for authority and control. It isn’t a reflection on who we are, it says much more about those using this language than about the ones on the receiving end.

So what’s in a name? Slut. Whore. Bitch. These names were chosen for us before we were born. They have nothing to do with our actions. Whether you are a virgin or have slept with every man you have ever met, you will still be called a slut at some point in your life. Regardless of your actions, sexist ignorant men will still look at you with this lense. So there is no need to fear being called it. Being disowned is still a real threat in modern South Asian families, including my own. But there comes a time in our adult lives where we have to choose whether to continue hiding and being ashamed of our bodies, or be honest and proud of our sexuality.

As women we face hard choices in life. It isn’t what is done to us that defines us, but how we deal with it. It’s not how others feel about us, but how we feel about ourselves. This is why self-love is so important. If you are true to yourself, and firm in how you feel about yourself, it doesn’t matter what society names you. What’s in a name anyway?