Thursday, 29 August 2013

Guiding Memories

 Welcome to the planet of Blanket, complete with hand-stitched and lined extensions, hand holes and the all-important gravitational field!

Those people who follow me on Twitter will see me talking about my blanket quite a lot, because it's a huge part of me. I honestly believe that camp blankets reflect our lives in more ways than one - they are a physical accumulation of our experiences but also reflect us in our arrangement of our badges and novelties.

Another thing that I love about blankets is that a good blanket has a story before you even sew on the first badge. For my original blanket (the middle section), I got my uncle's old one from when he was a Scout. My grandparents took off his badges and gave it to me when I was ten, something really special because he had not long died at that point. It belonged to someone else in the family before him too. But not everyone's blanket is old, it may be that it was an official Brownie blanket bought as a gift by someone close, or maybe the act of finding the perfect blanket was arduous. Or it could be that you bought the fabric and sewed the entire thing yourself. I know a Guide unit who went on camp and made their own first camp blankets... a good blanket has a story and a connection.

Because a camp blanket, ultimately, is about love and about you. There are no two identical camp blankets on this planet, and rightly so - because no two people are the same. I often think that dating would be much easier if we all wore our blankets on the first date - we could instantly see what we had in common and it's a great discussion starter!

I wanted to show off every badge on my blanket, because every single one has a story. Even the random swaps and things have connections with those people, even the fundraising badge I bought from the lovely Kirsty was an absolute pig to sew on and sort of became a funny blanket addition for that reason alone! However, realistically, no-one is going to read through over four hundred badge pictures and stories, so I've just chosen some of the most special ones to me. Some are from when I was a child, some from my experience as an adult, but these are probably my most treasured items on there.

 This is my service flash from when I was a Guide. We either had to do forty hours of service in the community or regularly for six months (though I may have got those figures wrong). I don't know quite what prompted me to do it, but I'm so glad I did. I spent a year working every Monday evening in the children's section of my local library, shelving books, recovering them, cleaning them, all sorts of things. It was a wonderful experience for a 12 year old!

 Also a Guide badge, this was the arts and crafts emblem. To get an "emblem", you had to do at least five badges from a set themed list. No-one really got emblems in our unit and I fell in love with this one, so I identified all the badges I could do and went through them one by one. I did musician, band, writer and I'd have to look closely at my blanket for the others. I was so proud of this one and still am!

 It's a set of four badges this time, because I couldn't really choose between them. Our unit leader always laughs at me because when pointing out favourite badges, these are almost always the four I gravitate to. These are the Guide interpreter badges, as were. They used to be staged and I worked so hard to get them. I did different stages in different languages (yes, I was a show off even then) and I used to panic at speaking in front of other people, so it was a fight to gain enough confidence to do this! I still remember sitting in the classroom at school with my teacher who said she'd never heard me speak so much French (or German or Dutch!). I did stages three and four a little later, when I was a Young Leader - the beauty of staged badges was that you could start as a Brownie and finish later stages when you were in Senior Section; real skill progression!

 Not a badge this time, but a McDonald's Happy Meal toy! I have two of them sewn on my blanket and they're a little reminder of my days as a Young Leader with Guides. We had a brilliant weekend in London in 2000, staying at BP House and we even went to the Millennium Dome for the day. We ate at McDonalds twice, and so I still have the toys which I've sewn on. I think they're probably the Brownies' favourite thing on the blanket!

Though I was pressured by my district to leave Guiding in 2002, I sort of rejoined in 2004. But not in the "traditional" way. When I moved to Germany, I was determined to immerse myself in the local culture and improve my German by actually making friends and integrating. So instead of joining BGIFC, I joined the Rovers / Rangers of my local DPSG, and this was the badge. I never got a uniform, but wore a grey necker (because I was over 18). It was a really strange experience, coming from UK Guiding!

 Onto adult experiences now (but not like THAT- heads out the gutter!) and this was a thank you badge from the leader of a local Senior Section unit. She had been messed about and was desperate for a second leader for her camp so it didn't fall through. I was terrified, because I hadn't been camping since I came back from Germany in 2005 and the thought of no lockable doors sent me into blind panic. I survived the weekend and, not only that, but the Senior Section unit is now my lovely group that I took over that September!

Again, a little bit of a cheat as I've chosen a section of my blanket (and not all of it is shown on here). These are my badges from Roverway 2012 in Finland. Well, the official contingent badges rather than random swaps. It became my mission to try and get a badge from every contingent and I pretty much did it. The Spanish contingent had multiple badges and I didn't get all of the variations, the Icelandic contingent ran out of badges whilst on paths, so had none left by the time they got to the site, and the Italians were only given a badge for their uniform and were banned from swapping. I came up with a really productive system whilst serving dinner (I was on catering); If they had badges, they left one of theirs and picked up one of mine. That way, I got to see and speak to everyone! I became a little bit badge obsessed, sadly. Finland was also special as it was my first Guiding international, and had me in the middle of some woods for almost two weeks. And not a proper panic attack at all! Was so proud of myself.

This, again, is not actually a badge as such, but it was a special memory and made of fabric, so it got stitched on. In December 2012, I was lucky enough to be one of 25 women attending WAGGGS Europe's Stop The Violence seminar in Belgium. On the last day, we got to visit the European Parliament in Brussels and have a talk from a female MEP about the Istanbul convention and the importance of advocacy in VAWG. It was a great experience, and I wanted to keep this as a reminder.

This summer, I took part in the Soroco Speak Out blog competition. My entry was about violence against women, particularly sexual violence and based on the work I did in Belgium. It was a difficult and personal entry to write and record, and marked a certain step in both my own journey and the advocacy one. Each entrant to the competition was given a set of the Soroco badges, which are immensely special to me. In fact, when asked, I described these as the most important badges I've ever earned.

This last badge also marks something brilliant. My Senior Section unit had been desperate to volunteer at the local women's centre for a long time now, and we finally got to go and repaint the kitchen and one of the counselling rooms upstairs, used by the Nottingham Rape Crisis Centre. Whilst there, they got a talk by the helpline supervisor and also did several Girls In Action activities to complete the badge. I was so proud of their maturity, involvement and passion, and the ladies at the centre feel the same way. I never thought I'd actually have the strength to go in with them and have these discussions, do this work, but I did and - given everything they learnt that day - I know it was a challenge well faced!

Some people say I couldn't possibly remember every badge on there or the story behind it. Admittedly, I don't remember a lot about most of my Brownie or Guide badges. But my camp blanket is a tapestry of me. It's my friends, my journeys, my camps, my interests and hobbies. For me, my blanket isn't restricted to Guiding, but those are often the memories I treasure most.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Campaign 4 Consent

Yesterday, I was asked to write about why I support "Campaign 4 Consent", this was my rather long and comprehensive response...

Eight years ago, I was raped.

It took me, perhaps surprisingly, quite a while to realise what had happened to me. And even then, I seemed to try giving him excuses – it was my fault because of how I was dressed, it was my fault because I went to his house alone, it was my fault because I should have known better.

The police were just as bad, they reinforced this view and added to it that I was English and everyone knows English girls are asking for it. My mother laughed and told me that I should be grateful that anyone showed any interest in me, because I’m hardly good looking.

This emphasis on physical attraction is harmful to everybody. It often leaves those who have experienced sexual assault doubting their experience (“it couldn’t have been rape – I’m not pretty enough”) and it reduces men to a violent stereotype who have no control over their own bodies. This just isn’t true. Rape is all about control, not attraction, and it is about a minority of men who knowingly exert that control.

The myths surrounding rape are widespread and lead to a culture of victim-blaming and dangerous misunderstanding. If we are going to end this disgusting abuse of power, we need to start by educating young people about the reality of sexual assault.

Despite my experience, or perhaps because of it, two years later I achieved my life’s ambition of becoming a teacher. I was fortunate on my course, as I specialised in counselling and pastoral care, getting a lot of input on how to support pupils in disclosure and their personal needs. But only 1/8th of the cohort did this course and there was absolutely no training on how to deliver sex and relationship education.

In my experience, this lack of training leads to a lack of confidence amongst teachers. Lessons on STIs become an embarrassing joke in the staffroom, as do those on breast cancer, prostate cancer and other such topics. We are increasingly asked to take on extra responsibilities, many of which we don’t understand and often ones where there is no textbook to read up on the night before.

We need access to training, whether that be in school CPD time, or external courses. Training on how to deliver this education in a safe, supportive environment, training on how to deal with awkward questions. We live in fear of disciplinary procedures due to one conversation gone wrong – we need the support of our unions and our headteachers in providing an honest and open classroom where pupils can ask their questions.

As teachers, we currently have the option to refuse delivery of sex education – the only teachers required to impart this area of the curriculum by law are biology teachers. Given that 1 in 4 women are said to experience sexual assault in their lifetime, I strongly believe that it is essential to retain this “option”, though all teachers should have access to adequate training and be encouraged to take it. I remember that in my first few years of teaching, every mention of rape, assault, even sex, could reduce me to tears or a panic attack. That didn’t make me any less of a teacher, it just meant that I needed to care for my needs too. Insisting that every teacher MUST undergo this training and must deliver consent education is harmful to the emotional and psychological wellbeing of the professionals involved and would also undermine the basic principle of consent, safety and development that we are trying to instill.

Every year, I head pupils joking about rape, discussing articles in the media, boys saying, “I would have raped her” or girls telling each other, “it was her fault for dressing like a slut”… but the tides are changing and I’m hearing increasing numbers of young people shouting out about the injustice, or at the very least, questioning their own understanding.

It’s time to change, time to support that questioning and challenge our young people to engage with these issues. We need to teach them the reality of consent, that it is an enthusiastic yes rather than the absence of a no, that rape is about control not attraction, that it is ALWAYS the fault of the perpetrator. We need to show them the options available to them, how to go about reporting, what counselling services are available and we need to liaise better with local and national bodies who can support us in our endeavour.

And if you want proof of the power of knowledge and a healthy relationship with yourself and those around you, I will leave you with one more thought. I was raped a second time, two weeks ago. This time, I know where to go, I am not blaming anyone but him and I am still standing strong and speaking out. A little knowledge can change lives.

Friday, 23 August 2013


One of the amazing things about this blog is the reactions and comments that I get. Largely, it's not done in public, but via Twitter or by email to this account. Women who say that they're grateful that they're not alone, that they thought they were strange for feeling like this, or those who are glad there is someone talking about the reality of sexual assault and its impact.

This two weeks have been strange. It feels like so many of the emotions are familiar, and others are completely new as well. The journey I'm on with Nottingham Rape Crisis Centre means that there is more indignation and anger at my situation, and a determination to speak out and share, but then the same journey results in a feeling of shame, that I haven't made enough progress and am reverting back to the "old" me. 

At the same time, the fact that I am still feeling this is powerful. It shows that everyone reacts, that sexual assault is a traumatic experience that affects even the strongest people. It's an experience worth sharing.

My first week was really overpowered by a feeling of numbness, a lasting shock that resulted in crying and physically shaking with no discernible emotions attached. Towards the end of that period, things started to sink in a little more. Like the fact that I never got round to taking emergency contraception, like the fact that I was actually quite sad and lonely and hurt.

I was quite pleased with the way I seemed to be handling things, exploring emotions through art and music, being aware of how I felt and not blaming myself for that. I seemed so calm and in control, and I genuinely felt like that too. Yes, I was upset, but that was okay. I could deal with that. I think I would have been more worried if I hadn't been!

Then something clicked. It was Tuesday night, after the session and it all started unravelling like a ball of wool. First of all was the prospect of pregnancy. How did I feel about that whole can of worms? I mean, the fact that I miscarried in 2005 has played a huge part in my feelings towards that first assault. After struggling to come to terms with the pregnancy and an almost slapstick story of my attempt to have an abortion, I finally decided to have the baby, only to lose her. So this time, I don't know. If I'm not pregnant, will that leave me upset after my previous experience, because last time it was the "one positive"? If I am pregnant, then I face the challenge of either termination or telling those around me what happened - because everyone knows that I'm not interested in men.

I started to worry about how I was going to get through Wednesday, worried about my increasing anger and irritability (I was - and am - snapping at everyone!) and whether people around me will notice that. What am I supposed to say to my family and friends?

And then, on Wednesday, the worst bits came.

A friend offered me drugs. The sort of drugs I used to take, the first time it all happened. I used to take them in conjunction with alcohol to heighten the effect. It would completely wipe my memory, I'd be knocked out and not remember or feel a thing. It was amazing. It got me through that first year or so.

There was a pineapple downstairs in the kitchen. I'm severely allergic, it could kill me. All it would take would be a small bite of sweet, fresh fruit and I'd be dead in minutes. It almost seemed worth it.

And the alcohol. Endless amounts of alcohol in the cupboard. So easy just to numb the pain, even if it were just for a little while. Screw D and her insistence that it's "just another form of self-harm".

I didn't do any of those things. I stayed away from all three. But the strength it took to do all that was immense. I used to think that staying alive was the weaker option, that it took more bravery to actually end it and change the status quo. That's how it felt last time. But this time, it's the complete opposite. I know myself, I know why I want those things and I'm trying to stay away.

The truth is, I wasn't quite as strong as I wanted to be. I found another way to cause damage. I tried to reach out and get the help I know I need, but I don't think she realised that's what I was trying to do. So I'm trying to be strong until Tuesday, but it's not easy. I don't think it's ever easy.

But it does get easier. I know it does because I've been here before. Yes, there are temptations and struggles, but you get so used to carrying on that it's not a battle anymore, you don't see it as being "strong". There are still struggles, other challenges, but bit by bit, you conquer each of those things and - when you do - you give yourself a secret knowing smile each time. No-one is going to beat me, not even myself.

I don't think it ever stops being painful. If it does, then I've not got there yet - I'll let you know when I do. I see it like a fizzy drink. The pain is the liquid. When you first open the bottle, especially if it's been under pressure, then it fizzes everywhere and is volatile. In time, it goes flat. It's still there, but it it has changed, somehow. I guess, over a lot of time, it would evaporate and it would really change. The molecules still exist but in a very different form - but left in the bottle would be the syrup, that fundamental part of the pain. So it will always be there, somehow, somewhere.

It does get more manageable, though. I keep having to tell myself this, and remind myself. 

I don't like admitting that I'm less than perfect to anyone, not when it comes to this stuff. But then, it is important to show that I'm not, and that these struggles are a real part of everyday life. The spiteful, irritable little part of me that wants to snap at other people to grow up and shut up. The scared bit that starts to panic at the thought of being left alone in the house with workmen. The part that's still in shock and starts shaking. The sorrowful part that knows in a few short weeks, I'll be on my own again and have to deal with this without the support I currently have. The angry part that hates this man for stripping me of all the strength and dignity I had accumulated through my journey - or perhaps for showing that I didn't have any of it in the first place.

The emotions are dizzying and conflicting, but somehow reassuring. As long as I'm still feeling, I know I'm still alive, still getting through somehow.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Seven Days Ago

Seven days ago, I was raped. Again.

Never thought I'd be saying those words, especially not the "again" part. I bet you didn't see it coming either, did you?

Earlier this week, I wrote a raw blog post that described the whole ordeal in detail, but quickly removed it. As much as I wanted to speak out, that wasn't the way. It was a good release for me, to write it all out and helped me process, but it isn't something the world needs to see.

That processing thing is damned hard, though. I often speak -both here and in workshops - about how different every woman's experience of sexual assault is. What I never really considered was that my own experience would be so different from my first.

The basic facts are different, for a start. This time, I was in a sauna at a hotel (I was speaking on behalf of Girlguiding* at a convention) and it was a complete stranger. Not that I knew Peter well when he raped me, but I knew who he was, knew that he was a friend of a colleague at work. I never imagined that I would be attacked again, especially not by a stranger - like many women, I am very much aware that the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by men known to the victim.

My reaction in the event was different too. I wasn't panicking or upset, I was completely detached from what was happening to me. In fact, the overwhelming thought crossing my mind was, "Ok, so this is happening. How do we move forward from this? Am I going to report it? Where am I going to get help? Do I tell D about it?"

And since? Well, straight after the fact, I just referred to it as "being seriously groped" in a text. I didn't want to use the word rape, because it didn't really seem identifiable or comparable with my previous experience. I wasn't injured, and although there was penetration, he was interrupted very quickly. It doesn't negate the rest of it, and what he did to me before that penetration, but in some ways, it feels like "attempted rape" fits better. But I'm not going to allow myself down that path of denial.

I've been physically shaking at several points during the week, and I keep bursting into tears but there's no real sadness connected. I think, in a lot of ways, I'm still in shock. Or maybe I'm just coping with this better than last time and I'm stronger than I think I am. I've been phoning the helpline for support, even if it's just because I don't quite feel like myself, and I've actually been allowing myself the time and space to feel - a far cry from my usual approach of, "don't be silly". The fact that I'm largely just numb, it's not burying the emotions, it's just that they haven't formed properly yet. But I'm prepared to address them when they do.

In a weird way, this week has shown me just how far I've come in the last couple of years. Ok, so I wasn't able to use the word 'rape' on Tuesday with D, but I told her what happened. I kept talking, I stayed with her, I didn't switch off or panic or anything else. When we first started, I would sit in the room saying nothing for whole sessions! And I've not tried to bury myself in work, in craft, I've not tried to hide, not had nightmares or flashbacks... I'm just letting me be me. I'm not giving in to the reckless urges either, which is definitely a positive - I have a tendency to go into self-destruct mode when things like this happen.

I wanted to share this at the beginning of the week. To stand up and say, "look, this has happened and it hasn't broken me!". To say, "this has happened and it's completely different to last time". To show, in a very real and personal way, that actually, different reactions are completely fine and that there is no "normal" way to behave. I wanted to stick my middle finger up at this idiot and say, "screw you. I'm still living my life."

* It has been brought to my attention that this could be seen as detrimental to Girlguiding and to the event. This is not the intention. I was speaking at the event on behalf of Girlguiding, but this attack was after "business hours" and was whilst I was relaxing, in my own time. It is not the fault of Girlguiding, nor the fault of the organisers, any more than it is my fault. It is solely the responsibility of the man who raped me, and both the event team and Girlguiding have been wonderful in offering their support.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Nine Worlds

This weekend, I was privileged enough to speak at the Nine Worlds (London Geekfest) convention on behalf of Girlguiding. In many ways, it was an absolute dream come true, and it was as inspiring and thought-provoking as it was exhausting!

I have been a long-time science-fiction fan, having grown up on the staple diet of Star Trek, Seaquest and Quantum Leap before expanding into my own fandoms. I've been attending conventions as a fan for eight years and have been crewing them for about five. I am no stranger to the convention world!

But this was the first time that I was invited down as a speaker, which was both flattering and terrifying. When I saw my name billed as a guest alongside people I admire (Laurie Penny, Paul Cornell, Robert Rankin, Kai Owen, Chris Barrie, Rhianna Pratchett - the list is endless!), it literally reduced me to tears. The sheer impact of what I was doing was phenomenal.

Me with Philippa Hibbs from NMP3
I arrived at the venue on Saturday morning for a panel called "Take Back The Net", which was all about online feminism and using the internet for advocacy. I was speaking alongside Philippa Hibbs from No More Page Three, Robyn Exton (the founder of Dattch) and Lilli Evans who founded the Twitter Youth Feminist Army. The panel itself was both interesting and challenging, not only asking about what our organisations are doing (if any Girlguiding people were playing buzzword bingo in the audience, full house would have been achieved in 30 seconds), but asking what we thought the current landscape looked like, what we thought the important tools were for change and what the future of advocacy is. Wow! 

It was an incredibly supportive and inclusive environment. Although some of us disagreed on certain aspects, we are all wanting change and social justice. I was very relieved when I got a round of applause after speaking about feminism not just being a female issue - I was a little worried my slightly awkward attempt at non-binary gender identity inclusiveness had just offended half the room!

Next was a non-Guiding break - I was lucky enough to get to moderate (host, for non-geeks out there) a panel on feminism in the Whedonverse. It including discussions on whether strong female roles could necessarily be called feminist, consent and rape culture in Dollhouse, the Smurfette principle in Avengers Assemble, recasting of male roles as female in Much Ado About Nothing and much more. I had thought the Take Back The Net panel was packed, with people sat on the floor and spilling out, but Big Damn Heroines had people turned away - it was CRAZY!

Cake is always a winner!
Back to Guiding after Whedon, and I ran a session for children, looking at gender stereotypes. It wasn't very well attended, but the children I had were also interested in advocacy, so while doing our activities we discussed how they could campaign in their schools back home. We looked at professions and gender, with a whole host of science-fiction characters who break traditional gender roles (Roslin as president, River as warrior, Strax as nanny and Rory as nurse, to name a few) and I was encouraged to see young people thinking more about stance and confidence than gender when trying to match roles to people. We did some construction but also cake decorating, played a game about inclusiveness and generally had a lot of fun!

At least the presentation
looked professional!
There was plenty of free time on Sunday to look around and do what I wanted, before going to my final workshop. This time, I was running a workshop on advocacy. Although I used a Girlguiding format (as the more recognisable brand for people), it drew on WAGGGS seminars and methodology. We looked at the three part process of advocacy (speak out, take action, educate) and the WAGGGS eight step methodology for achieving that. We worked on how to engage men in feminist advocacy, the importance of using media and how to create partnerships. I was blown away at the insight of the participants and flattered that people like Lili and Josie, who are working on large-scale advocacy campaigns themselves, came to the session looking for inspiration and advice.

But although those were the formal bits of my presence at Nine Worlds, a lot of the interesting impact happened outside that time. Conversations about Girlguiding and inclusiveness (how many times have I used that word today?), people who thought we were only open to straight, white, Christian girls. Conversations with people who would love to get involved but felt alienated, conversations with people who didn't realise the advocacy work we're doing as an organisation. It really challenged people about how they thought about us, and made a lot of people see that we are normal people behind the uniform!

One wonderful example of this was a chat I had with Philippa from No More Page Three, who admitted that when Girlguiding first signed up to the campaign, she was was worried and dubious. It was when she went and did some real research that she got on board with it, and said that she hopes more people will do the same this weekend, because Girlguiding isn't what people seem to think it is.

I honestly would encourage people to get out there and speak at events. Obviously, it needs running by the relevant commissioners or whoever, but the more we reach out in arenas that aren't traditionally seen as our "domain" and we show what Girlguiding is REALLY about, the more impact we will have.

Thankfully, Nine Worlds want me back next year. As long as the lovely folk at CHQ are alright with that (and probably even if they're not!), I will be there with bells on. In the meantime, I want more opportunities to get out there and talk - bring it on!

Thursday, 8 August 2013


"I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason,
Bringing something we must learn and we are led
To those who help us most to grow if we let them
And we help them in return.
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true,
But I know I'm who I am today because I knew you."

"It well may be that we will never meet again in this lifetime.
So let me say before we part, so much of me
Is made of what I learnt from you; you'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart.
And now whatever way our stories end,
I know you have rewritten mine by being my friend."
Endings have been playing on my mind for a little while now. I blame D, my wonderful volunteer counsellor. It is, apparently, important that I get used to the idea. I can see the logic, but it's still painful. I know she feels it too - I'm not the only one who gets tearful every time it's mentioned!

I've never liked saying goodbye to people. Not just as an adult, but as a child too. I've always felt like it's yet another person disappearing on me, that I've finally grown to trust someone and then suddenly they're no longer around either. It's only really since coming back to Guiding in Nottinghamshire that I've realised there are people not going anywhere and I'm stuck with them! It's kind of reassuring after being surrounded by people who are on the move or constantly moving around myself.

Goodbyes are part of the package, really, for someone like me. The four years I've been back here in Nottingham is the longest period of time I've spent in one place as an adult. I went to university in Southampton, but was jokingly referred to as a flight-risk, due to my worrying tendency to jump on the nearest plane / coach / ferry and find myself somewhere in Europe. My summers were spent working in France and third year in Germany. I did my PGCE in Gosport, Portsmouth and Salisbury, taught in Salisbury whilst commuting up to Durham at weekends, then moved to Luton, moved to Nottingham and commuted up to Manchester every weekend.... I'm not a person to stay in one place for long. But it also means that relationships don't last either.

I often joke that my habit of getting attached to people is a real hindrance to my job as a supply teacher. I hate leaving the staff and pupils and never fail to get teary at the end of a post. My last head of department very kindly told me, "it's a bad quality in a supply teacher, but a great quality in a human being." As a result, I tend to avoid goodbyes and just disappear quietly on people. They'll just not see me again. Easier for everyone.

But then, is it? We need room to express that sadness. By running away, I'm robbing myself of that opportunity and not allowing the other party to express that either.

There is a big part of me excited for this ending. On its most superficial level, it does mean that I can get back to my Guide unit full-time. I was never supposed to leave Guides - I specifically waited for a Monday night slot at the centre! But it's more than that, because it marks a different phase in my journey and a shift in my relationship with Nottingham Rape Crisis Centre. I will still be around there and doing things, but I will be doing them as a volunteer with Senior Section, as a sort of liaison point. I will still be around, but as an outside party, making change rather than being changed. Or perhaps an element of both rather than just one. I'm no longer crushed by my experience but empowered by it, it's something that I can use to benefit and challenge others.

And part of me just wants to curl up and cry. It's not fear. It was fear at first, but I'm pretty sure I'm strong enough to cope (at least with the help of various support networks around me). It's not even a sense of abandonment or loneliness. I'm just really, really going to miss D. 

Since working together, we've seen
every month of the calendar. Most
of them twice over!
When we first started working together, I couldn't for a second believe that I'd open up to her or be able to work with her. Everything she said and did grated on me. She was still a trainee back then and she was very.... textbook. I pulled her up on it, she pulled me up on things that I did and really challenged me. When she told me she was pregnant, I had just started to open up and I was distraught, especially given where I was personally. I resented her for allowing me to open up, knowing my background and knowing she was going to leave. But we stuck through, and her maternity leave coincided with last summer's Finnish and Essex adventures. Since September, we changed nights meaning I had to miss Guides, but it's been worth it in so many ways. She's supported me through the advocacy work I've been doing, she's managed to (somehow!) find the right balance of caring for me and giving me a swift kick when I need it.

I'm going to miss her. Going to miss the jokes, the tears, the Tuesday night hugs. I'm going to miss having that person who doesn't think I'm useless or that it's my fault, who is supportive of the work I'm doing and believes that I have the strength and ability to do it and to make a difference to other people. I'm going to miss the smiles, the teasing and someone I feel comfortable enough around that I don't flinch when she reaches out to touch me.

The thing that scares me most about all this ending rubbish is not the end of the sessions, but the fact that I won't see D again. She's been such an important part of my life over this last couple of years and we've come so far together that the thought of her not being there... it just isn't right.

Desk calendar in its
undecorated display stand
So I'm dealing with all this in the only way I know how. Well, apart from floods of tears (I'm sure my laptop didn't ask for a bath!). I'm creating, making, having fun. Doing something I love for someone I love. 

There's a fine line between destruction and creation and I love to dance along that line, pulling together different threads and experiences along the way. This time, it's all because D commented on my creativity and it got me thinking.

You see, way back when, in our very first session, D asked me to draw a tree to represent me. I couldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. In my head, I was going through all the things that she would read into a tree that I drew (size, position, colours etc) and it stopped me. I also couldn't get my head round everything I wanted to do with it.  So she asked if I would do it at home. My answer was to construct a huge, 60cm papier maché tree. The bark was made up of words; people, places, hobbies, adjectives, everything that made me ME. There were beautiful coloured leaves and, hanging amongst the branches were items; my second engagement ring, the necklace and one of the earrings I wore the night I was raped, a gift from one of my first pupils, a Doctor Who figure. She didn't know what to make of this tree, and we used it as a starting point for discussions for some time.
The tree still lives on my 
bookshelf & is the first thing
 I see in the morning

Trees have been significant in this journey. Right from that first task, but also because of my own fear of trees and woodland, the dizzying panic that a canopy causes me. There's something significant about trees, wood, woodland; it signifies life, a journey, endless possibilities. And I wanted this creation to be made from wood and reflect that.

Whilst thinking of journeys and endings, one of my favourite songs came to mind. I've quoted two verses at the top, but it seems somehow appropriate. In the musical Wicked, Elphaba and Glinda first meet and hate each other. They are forced to work together, even though they can't imagine ever having anything in common. Everything they say and do grates on each other, but they become so incredibly close over their journey and this is their last song, saying goodbye to each other. They talk about the mutual impact of their relationship and how that will carry into the future, and both characters sing about woodland as a metaphor for how they themselves have been changed. It seemed fitting.
In addition to an extension,
my blanket is getting some
special new badges!

So I started a project in wood this week. The medium itself signifying a change in the tree's life, a different future, but also the decorative theme being one of contrast between nature and glitter, a melting of two worlds impacting each other. The item - a desk calendar - is a gentle joke, given that she managed to forget a couple of appointments due to not having a calendar by her diary on her desk. It's also pretty. I just hope she likes it!

The ending itself is still a few weeks away yet. We've planned to make camp blanket badges and sew them onto my blanket as a lasting reminder of the journey. I know it's going to be difficult, given that I'm already feeling this way now, but endings are there so we can move onto the next part of the journey. Or the next journey.