Pieces of Me

Bits and pieces of my life and of my heart.


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Why Consent Matters.

This week in Ireland, a man in his 20’s received a 7 year suspended sentence for repeatedly raping his live in girlfriend while she was sleeping. A suspended sentence. No jail time, no punishment to fit the crime. Sure, didn’t he admit what he had done. Sure doesn’t he have another girlfriend who testified in his defence. He is nothing but the perfect boyfriend, says she. Perfect, indeed.

I lay awake last night beside my boyfriend wondering what my life would be like if he did not understand the concept of consent. What if he did not know the meaning of the word? What if nobody taught him what it meant? What if he knew but didn’t care?

I tried to imagine what it would feel like to go through my days and my nights knowing that I was someone’s property, to do with as they pleased, whenever, wherever they so desired. The more I thought about it, the sadder I became.

What does anyone of us understand about consent? Did any of us have a class in school on the topic? Did any one of us have a parent sit us down when we first became interested in the opposite sex and teach us that this is the most important bit of it all? That consent has to come before everything that we decide to share with another person? Consent must come first. Did they? I doubt it. Nobody taught it to me.

I never knew that it was OK to say “NO”. Honestly, I didn’t. Nobody took the time to sit me down and explain what consent was. Nobody told me that if something didn’t feel right, if I did not want to do something, I had the right to walk away. To say, “No Thanks”, and to not be afraid of making someone angry, of not giving them what they want, of him writing disgusting things about you on the school bathroom wall, because that was his failing, that was his shortcomings, that they had nothing to do with me. That I was strong, I was entitled to say “NO”, and I should never, ever feel ashamed for this. Ever.

I wish they had.

I am a grown woman now, who has learned to say “NO”. It has taken years and even though it is uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone a lot of the times, I manage it. This may displease the person receiving my “NO”, but hey, call it the beauty of being middle aged, it is not as scary as it once seemed.

Imagine not being given the chance to say “NO”. Imagine being raped while you slept by your boyfriend with whom you share a home, a life. Seriously, try to imagine it. How utterly helpless would you feel? How confused, ashamed, angry, sad? How responsible? I know, right? You are thinking, “responsible”? How on earth should any of us feel responsible for something that we have no control over? Responsible for someone else’s violating actions? We didn’t consent. How are we the ones who should feel responsible?

How on earth can we not? We as women are taught how not to get raped.

Don’t wear “slutty” clothes.

Don’t drink too much.

Don’t walk home alone.

Don’t flirt.

Don’t behave “suggestively”.

I could go on and on and on.

I have lost count of mothers whom I know that have sons yet blame the girls for “leading them on”, because they are arriving to the rugby club discos in short skirts. How very dare they, they cry! The girls are “aggressive”, the girls are the “problem”, poor Johnny is going to be lead astray and it will be the girls fault!

During conversations like this I find myself taking lots and lots and lots of deep breaths. Would it be easier to agree? Sure, it would. I am raising a teenage boy for goodness sake. I would love to blame the girls for his hours on snapchat and the hole in the ozone layer that he is making with his bloody Lynx spray, but what kind of a hypocrite would that make me? Nobody protected me when I was his age. I believed that if I said “NO”, I would be be blamed for drinking too many Ritz, sure wasn’t I drunk? Wasn’t I wearing a short skirt? Wasn’t I gagging for it? Wasn’t I just a slag?

Am I the only parent on the planet seeing the big ass elephant in the room all these years?? Surely I can’t be. Surely other parents can see that we are failing our daughters by not teaching them about consent but even more than that, we are failing our sons?! WE NEED TO TEACH OUR SONS ABOUT CONSENT. We are failing them time and time again when we pat ourselves on the back for giving them condoms, thinking we are being 21st century parents by being so “liberal”, but thinking nothing of what their understanding of a healthy relationship might look like, and believe you me, if you are not teaching them, they are learning it off every porn sight accessible to them on their phones, and from each other who have also learned it off another porn sight and on and on it goes.

We have a massive, mind-blowing responsibility to teach our boys that real life is not what happens in the porn world. This exists only for a profit. It exploits and it hurts. Girls do not look like porn stars in real life, nor should they be expected to behave as such.

We have a massive, mind-blowing responsibility to teach our girls that it is OK not to look like porn stars and it is OK not to feel like they have to act like one. This is where I believe we need to begin. This is where I believe the learning needs to come from. Not by teaching our girls how not to get raped, but by teaching all our kids about consent and demystifying our porn industry for the smoke and mirrors that it is and coming back to real, tangible, healthy relationships and how they and us, and everyone go about being in one.

Maybe this is how we protect ourselves from being in a relationship, loving someone, sharing a home with them and being repeatedly raped as we sleep. That guy didn’t know a damn thing about consent and his girlfriends life is forever changed by this fact.Nobody taught him that being in a relationship does not mean that he had the right over his girlfriends body. While she slept!!! I know for sure that I will not be a parent who does not teach my son about consent. This I believe is the corner stone for teaching him about what a relationship should be like and in keeping any women he chooses to share his life with as safe as he can. 

All of us deserve to feel safe, respected, loved. This is the only way that I know how to achieve this. Lets start the conversation with our kids. Lets do more than the pill and a packet of condoms. Lets teach them about consent so that no person need ever feel unsafe in their bed, ever again.

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Bonnie and Clyde.

When I was sick with cancer I had this fear that took up residence inside of me. This fear kept me awake at night for months not being able to sleep without the light on. I couldn’t breathe. My heart would beat wildly and I would allow my mind go to the places that none of us like to visit. What if I died? Who would love my boy? Would I be missed? Have I been happy in my life, really happy?
The further I got from my first all clear scan, the less I felt this fear. Life is good that way. Time does heals most things, you just have to wait it out.

Last night this fear returned. Full force. My heart is still racing, my light is still on and I feel vulnerable. My sleep was broken, my dreams scattered and as much as I love to run, I just cannot make my legs work.

Fear is a bitch. Anxiety too. Together they are like the Bonnie and Clyde of my feelings. All go, all passion, driven, focused, never giving in. Even in the light of day they stay, taunting me, laughing at me, filling my head with all kinds of nonsense.

When I was sick I wrote. Blog after blog. It was the only way that I could calm myself, purge myself, help myself. After I was sick life happened and I needed this purging less and less. Why is it now that this fear returns? Someone close to me is sick. Sick how I was sick. Maybe her fear is becoming mine? Maybe the all clear bubble has burst? Maybe this is normal? (God, I pray to be normal, whatever that means). Last night sucked. It sucked big. My Bonnie and Clyde causing all sorts of trouble. To me, to my head, my heart, my soul. “Just breathe”, I keep telling myself. Whatever you do don’t forget to breathe…

Writing helps. My heart beats a little slower. Breathing too, it calms the nerves. I know exactly what it is I am afraid of. I have always known. Maybe a post for another day. Today I just want to ease the fear. Today I wish it to take a back seat so that I can be loving, kind and patient with those I love. I wish to get the most out of my day, and somehow get these legs of mine to work so I can do the best thing I know to rid myself of these feelings. I need to run. I need to move. I have been able to outsmart Bonnie and Clyde before. Why not today?


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Two Years Cancer Free.

When I was sick and having my treatment I often had days like today. Days where I sat and thought about things and days where I spent most of it on my own. I like being on my own and then I don’t. It depends on how I am feeling, what is going on in my world and what it is I need to get done. When I was sick, on days like today I would spend a lot of it sitting on my couch and looking out my living room window watching the world go by and hoping against hope that all the poison pumped into my body and all the surgeries and all the days spent in isolation would be worth it. 

And they were.

Two years ago today I got my clear scan. I got lucky. Lucky with the kind of cancer I had and lucky that the treatment for it worked. That’s all it really is you know. Luck. A throw of the dice, a crap shoot, fate. Whatever you wish to call it I got it and I am and will be forever grateful for that in honour of those who weren’t so lucky.

In the movies people who get cancer and whose treatment works always have some kind of revelation. Some massive Oprah Winfrey light bulb moment. They have it, and it fundamentally changes who they are. It makes them eternally happy. Eternally kind. Eternally brave, unselfish. They seem to no longer have a care in the world, and life as they know it has been changed for the better. When I was sick on days like today I thought this would happen to me too. I fantasised about the future new me and I was awed by her magnificence.

Real life, as we all know is nothing like the movies, so I am sad to say that magnificent me does not exist. I have not been transformed into a patient, humble, benevolent being and for a long time this made me sad. Like finding out there is no Santa when you believed there was for so long. Like Dorothy discovering the Wizard behind the curtain. The disappointment was palpable, and then it wasn’t.

When you have cancer and then when you don’t it takes a really long time to free yourself from the fear of it. It seeps into your bones and gets comfortable. It isn’t going anywhere until it decides too and absolutely nothing at all that you can say to it will make it go away. For months afterwards I slept with my light on at night because I was afraid of dying in my sleep. What a light would have done to prevent that is anyone’s guess but it made me feel less afraid. Every twinge, cough, pain, splutter was a death sentence. Somedays I could not breathe. This fear made me irritable, uneasy, impatient and I would imagine difficult to be around for those who love me. Where was my Oprah moment I wondered, and the more I did the sadder I became. I felt guilty for being the person whose cancer went away. When someone I loved lost a loved one I cried for them and then I felt relieved that it wasn’t me, and then I felt guilty for feeling relieved and the fear came back. For a long time my cancer free life was rife with these feelings and the more I tried to stop them the worse they became to the point that I thought I was defective in some way as I seemed to be the only person not grateful for not having cancer anymore. The after bit of having cancer? For me, in a lot of ways it was harder than the having it and that was something I was not at all prepared for.

Luckily, like most things all it takes is some time. Time away from whatever it is that stops a person dead in their tracks. The more time further away from it, the less it hurts. The less it confuses. The less it angers, the less it saddens and I am happy to say that I am just like everyone else when it comes to this. My time is healing me and on days like today I can really feel it.

My life is not perfect today. I would like a lot of things to be different. Some in my control and some not so much. On days like today I can feel the difference that having cancer has made to me. I am quieter in myself. In some ways nothing short of a miracle as I never really did quiet well before. I have a trust in something that I didn’t have before. In what I couldn’t tell you except to say that it’s like a knowing that all will be well. Like I have enough, or I have exactly what I am meant to have for now, and on days like today when I have worries it is a lovely feeling. I try to be kinder, more patient, more loving. I don’t always get this right but I am always aware now when I don’t, something I missed on a regular basis before. The fear is leaving me. I sleep with my light on very little. I breathe deeper. I smile more. I try not to push myself and I try not to fight. Two years on and I feel like I am coming around. I am different. Not in the way I expected to be but in a better way. A softer way, a quieter way and on a days like today the difference between now and then makes me smile.

So. Here is to many more years being cancer free and to many more years not having to sleep with my light on.