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Poly Means Many: Polywobbles

Content note: low self-esteem, anxiety, disordered thinking. None of these are the focus of this post, but are mentioned or referenced. 

I’m going to take a bit of a weird direction here and write about something which I’m currently struggling with. I know how to get from here to being okay again, but there’s a bit of work to do between here and there.

As well as being poly, I’m actually a whole person! Part of being a whole person, for me, is that I suffer from mental health problems which, from time to time, mean that I need more hugs and talking than normal. One of these funks arrived about three weeks ago and has yet to let me up. I am hugely fortunate to live with three fabulous partners who have made me feel wonderfully supported while my brain takes a holiday from being able to do useful stuff.

So, I hear you ask, where’s the poly bit of the wobble?

It’s in the way I’m responding and the sort of support I’m asking for.

Our family started out as two couples, and in times of crisis, I turn primarily to the person I’ve been with the longest, my legal husband, Tom. He has brought me tea. In pint mugs. He has made me laugh by telling me stupid dad jokes and coming up with wonder/awful puns. He has listened as I’ve talked myself dry with tears falling on his shoulders. He makes sure I keep eating.

And there is a horrid little voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me that this means that I’m not really poly. That my relationships with my other two partners can’t be real. That I’m somehow letting down my partners and the poly community be leaning on my partners in the different ways that I am.

I suspect that much of this is just the natural fall out of my brain’s holiday, and that if I didn’t have more than one partner, it would be telling me I was currently being too much of a burden for any one person, or inventing any number of other things to get worked up about.

But that aside, it makes no sense for me to worry about this. We have chosen to be a family, not a separate pair of couples, but every relationship is unique. The fact is that one of my relationships has about twice as much history as my other two. And as for somehow letting down the community? Our family is ours, and the most important thing is that it works for us. After all, isn’t that why we’re poly in the first place? There’s no point rejecting one set of relationships norms just to adopt or create another. (If you want a long read on this, I can thoroughly recommend Andrea Zanin’s post on polynormativity at her Sex Geek blog.)

Being part of a non-standard relationship can give us wobbles about our roles and how we ‘ought’ to be relating to our partners. We have fewer role models than those in standard monogamous relationships, and it can be hard to truly understand that it is okay for our relationships to look like nothing we’ve seen before, as long as it works for everyone involved. It can also be daunting to have such a sea of possibilities. But the most important thing for us to remember is that the only audience that really matters is our partner(s), and the only metric by which success can truly be measured is whether it works, not how closely it conforms to any given model.

Now, if anyone has a sure fire way of getting that message into my brain past my current batch of brainweasels, I would love to hear from you!

Benefit application

So, if you’ve been paying attention to anything welfare related, you’ll have seen stories like this: http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27796739 The government is seriously backed up on disability benefit applications.

How could they be fucking this up this badly?

Having just completed a PIP application form, I don’t think this is in any way accidental. The form bears a passing resemblance to the qualifying criteria, but is hard to fill in, and helps neither applicant nor assessor to see clearly whether a certain symptom should be mentioned or contributes points towards receiving the benefit.

The government stated that they wanted to discontinue IB and DLA to save money, and I believe them, because the form I just filled in did everything it could to make me feel uncomfortable. The boxes you can tick don’t match the criteria for receiving qualification points, and you’re left with what’s actually quite a small space to try and condense complex and interconnected behaviours, symptoms and challenges to try and say, without being able to say so, “I fit the criteria for 4 points in this section”.

It will probably be a very long time before I hear about the outcome of my application. And I am very lucky. For me and my family, me being awarded PIP takes us from ‘getting by’ to ‘actually doing alright and the back payments mean we can do up the bathroom so I can wash even when I can’t stand up for long’.

We are lucky. I have paid in to the system and am now working towards collecting on my insurance. We are in the lucky position that we don’t absolutely need it to live. Many are not so lucky, and these delays are causing massive suffering.

Just found this in my drafts folder and can’t for the life of me think why I didn’t publish it earlier. It’s not polished, but hey. Originally drafted 11 June.

Facebook and the implications for sad people

As you probably know by now, Facebook have been manipulating user’s newsfeeds in an effort to study and affect their moods

There are a whole load of hooks in this story, but one I haven’t seen so far is asking the question, if Facebook have been manipulating what people see in an effort to make them sad, might this be a precedent or excuse for them hiding sad people altogether?

I am a sad person. I struggle with anxiety and depression, and my body is limited in several ways that would make anyone sad to have to deal with. I draw great comfort and strength from the ways in which I engage with my friends over social media. I also like the fact that, although I am not around often in physical locations, and hardly ever bump into people by accident (all my interactions are planned), I can, through social media, spot if someone is having a rough time and offer them support.

This research proves that you can filter out the sad posts from people in your social group, but what does that do to the people making those posts? 

I wasn’t born yesterday. I know that there are times when the sadness of others is overwhelming. I know that, from inside my own body, there seems so little I can do to make things better, so it must be hard for others to read that too. I limit the posts I make regarding my disabilities for exactly that reason. I know that there are only so many times someone you haven’t managed to have a pint with in two years can say ‘That sucks’ to you over Facebook before they wonder if they even know the person they are offering sympathy to anymore.

Being sad sucks. Needing support from other people because you are so sad you can’t just pull yourself up sucks more. But asking for support and being met with silence because the platform you are using to do so has decided that it wants its users happy and spending money? That would suck the worst.

PSA: Snapchat and penises

So, the first time I put my Snapchat name out on my Twitter feed, I asked for dick pics. I did this mostly as a joke, because I didn’t really believe that people would honestly send pictures of their reproductive organs to me, a complete stranger on the internet, for no other reason than they could. Also, I figured that if anyone WAS going to send me dick pics, they would do so regardless of what I said, merely by virtue of me having given out my Snapchat name on an unprotected Twitter profile. At least if I asked for it, I reasoned, then it wasn’t actually sexual harassment, just a joke.

That time, I got sent three dicks. And it was kinda funny. At least until one of these dicks kept making itself known for a further month, once the joke had gotten really very stale indeed. Much like their cock cheese.

Today, I was Snapchatting away and thought to myself that I’d quite like to have more people to chat with. I sent out another tweet, this time asking for ‘people to Snapchat my face, dog and yarn to’.

First pic was a dick. It arrived within 3 mins.

This time, I didn’t ask.

My Snapchat name is fearlessknits. I would love to send you pics of my face, dog and yarn, and see bits of your life that you’d like to share.

But no dicks.

If you send me a picture of your penis, I will tweet out your Snapchat name, comments on the pic, and a grade, from A to D. If I can be bothered.

Please don’t send me dick pics. I’m far more interested in your craft projects, pretty faces, and whether the weather is being particularly beautiful round your way.

Thanks!

PIP descriptors self-logging template

So I started looking into whether I could claim PIP, and it turns out that because I have a fluctuating condition, the answer to this question is actually quite hard to work out! On my very worst days, I would qualify for both parts, and the higher payment for the daily living activities bit, but on my best days I score no points at all. Also, the rules around fluctuating conditions seem to be really complicated, and require you to know really quite precisely which category you fit into for how much of the time.

Also, the information I found from the CAB said, for fluctuating conditions, that it could be useful to keep a diary for a week or longer to gather evidence about how your abilities change over time, and how the different percentages work out.

Because I’m on a monitoring kick at the moment, I thought hey, this would be really useful to know, it’d only take me an hour or so to knock up a form to record it all, and only a little longer to make it into a template others can easily copy.

So, I did a template which can easily be copied. Here’s the description text from the beginning of the form, so you can see without clicking the link where I got my info from, and what the steps are to copy this over for your own use:

This form is created to help with repeated daily information gathering that is necessary for some PIP applications for fluctuating conditions. If you only need to complete these descriptors once, then it’s unlikely to be worth your time setting this up.

>>> SOURCES <<<

PIP descriptors copied on 13/02/14 from http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/personal-independence-payment-pip/pip-points-system

Information on fluctuating conditions: http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/wales/benefits_w/benefits_sick_or_disabled_people_and_carers_ew/benefits_personal_independence_payment_e/benefits_the_pip_assessment_e/pip_if_your_condition_fluctuates.htm

Information on carrying out activities reliably and the use of aids and appliances: http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/wales/benefits_w/benefits_sick_or_disabled_people_and_carers_ew/benefits_personal_independence_payment_e/benefits_the_pip_assessment_e/pip_the_disability_conditions.htm

The general CAB page on PIP with more information is here: http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/benefits_e/benefits_sick_or_disabled_people_and_carers_ew/benefits_personal_independence_payment_e.htm

All questions are marked as required, to help you avoid accidentally missing some descriptors and ending up with incomplete data.

>>> HOW TO COPY THIS FORM TO YOUR GOOGLE DRIVE AND CHANGE THE SHARING PERMISSIONS <<<

You need to complete two very simple steps to copy this form to your Drive folder and change the sharing permissions to ensure that your data are as secure as is possible on a Google server.

1: Make sure you are logged into the Drive folder that you want this form to be saved on. Open up the File menu and select Make a copy… Don’t check the box to share the copy with the same people that this form is shared with.

2: Check and if necessary change the sharing permissions by opening the File menu and selecting Add collaborators… In the pop up box you will be able to alter who can see the form however you want. If you will be doing all of the data recording and analysis yourself, then set the form to private. If a carer will be filling it in some or all of the days, you can either add their email to the list of approved collaborators, or set the form to Share with link, and send them the link by email.

>>> PLEASE BE CAREFUL WITH THIS TEMPLATE <<<

The way that Drive works, the only way that this can be made available as a template to be copied means leaving it open for anyone to edit or submit responses. I will not be reliably or regularly doing upkeep on this template, but if I see that any responses have been submitted, I will delete them, and if I catch any changes, I will try to change it back to it’s original design. So please, be careful to only make changes and submit responses once you have copied this over to your own Drive folders.

Here is the link to the form:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1J1pG1f1BbbhbWmvsFWKBcQwvIHbd8yOhcEohzVnyy50/edit

I hope this is useful :)

I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before. FAO #spoonies

So, I have a lot of symptoms to manage on a daily basis. I’ve been completely failing to do it, and any of the solutions I’ve looked at, like android apps, don’t seem to have had the particular things that I wanted to record.

For a while, I used the same app I was using to record my periods to record symptoms, but it was far from ideal. Really, I needed something bespoke, but the thought of putting something together always seemed like such a mountain to climb. It seemed impossible.

And then I had a brainwave, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before.

I’ve made myself a form in google drive using their fabulously simple WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) creator. I can fill in the form from my mobile browser and it dumps all the data to a spreadsheet it automatically created while I was making the form. It automatically timestamps all the entries so I don’t even have to fill in the date, and means that should I create another form for specific events such as my dissociative seizures, I would just need to fill them in ASAP after the event and I would have a complete history of the seizures and their timings without having to think about it much.

It may be that other people have already had this brainwave, but I’m putting this up here just in case.

Drive does some pretty basic analytics on its own, but obviously you can do more by digging into the data yourself, or exporting it to a friendly geek who understands the Ways Of The Graph and How To Data.

If you want a bit of an idea about what’s possible, I’ve screen-capped my form here:

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Nerd alert: Because I’ve quite a few things to monitor, and I wanted a way to be able to compare days easily, I’ve worked it so that there are 10 items that measure on a scale of 1-10, and 1 is always best, 10 is always worst. This means that if I want to spot patterns, I can go to my spreadsheet, add up those 10 columns for every day, and then I have a score out of 100 for every day that I completed my form. There are much better ways of using this data, obviously, and I’ll be able to identify trends quite well from this, but the 1-100 scores should be able to very quickly help me see if my gut instincts are right or not, without having to dig through masses of data.

As I said, this may be old news, but it’s something I’d not thought of before. I hope it’s useful to at least someone out there :)

Edit: Loads of people have been asking me if they can copy my form or use it as a basis for their own monitoring systems. I didn’t know how to do it, but I had a bit of a poke about, and found a way. Below is a link to a copy of my form, which includes instructions on how to copy it to your own google drive folder. I’m not going to be maintaining it on a regular basis, so try to be careful that you just copy it for yourself, and don’t put any private information on it.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1OX81Zyzd3XolWxiDTeLJQXPIXppK0QevauR73jZzZlY/edit?usp=sharing

Best of luck, and if you have any issues, give me a shout on twitter, and I’ll see what I can do to help!

Maybe it’s more important than you think

So, in what I very much doubt will be a surprise to any reader, I’m a bit queer. My primary relationship is with three people.

Recently, my psychotherapist, whom I presume to be straight and monogamous, told me that they thought that my sexuality appears to be a very fundamental part of my personality and conception of self. And yes, I suppose it is, but I very much doubt that this is as unusual as they implied.

The straight monogamous assumption exists for a reason, I know that. The majority of people are straight and monogamous. Fine. Go for it. Have your straight monogamous fun. My parents are straight and monogamous, and it’s from their example that I learned so many of the relationship skills that I now use daily with my partners to build and maintain our lifelong commitment.

If you’re straight and monogamous, then trying to NOT be straight and monogamous probably isn’t going to work that well for you.

I’m not either of those things though, and thus neither of them worked particularly well for me. As it happens, I have a whole worldwide community of people I can look at, most of whom are in straight monogamous relationships, that show me that even though the straight monogamous model doesn’t work for me, it evidently does work for other people. So, not my relationship, not my problem. I can just sit on the sidelines and watch your wonderful love, and be happy seeing how happy y’all are with your straight monogamous partners.

I just wish you’d extend the same courtesy my way.

Because straight monogamous people get to talk about and celebrate their relationships all the time. There’s the initial teenaged explorations, often euphemistically referred to as ‘spreading wild oats’ or ‘growing up to be a lovely young lady’. There’s the high of a new relationship, telling friends, family and colleagues about this fantastic new person you’ve met. Sharing photos and stories. Receiving congratulations and being wished well for the future. The first meeting with each other’s parents, and the various embarrassing comments from people who are glad you ‘finally got laid’, or are thinking of ‘settling down’. Moving in together. Making them your emergency contact at work or in your medical records. Getting married. Having children. The process of growing together so that it no longer seems like you have very many friends who belong to either one of you alone, but all are shared.

For straight monogamous people, these life events are almost always shared and universally celebrated.

How about me?

Last week I got a haircut, and the hairdresser asked me if I was up to anything interesting that weekend. I answered, honestly, that I had a date the next day, where my new lover was coming over for dinner to meet my husband and one of my boyfriends. The woman who was cutting my hair checked that I had actually said what she thought I’d said, and then did a kind of ‘some people juggle geese’ shrug. The man at the front desk though, who had prior to this come over to chat politics quite a bit, blatantly checked out the third finger of my left hand, made a face like I was the dogshit on the sole of his shoe, and then conspicuously ignored me until I left.

This is not unusual. I am used to these reactions. I didn’t make a fuss because I just wanted to get my damn hair cut, and at least the person who actually had their hands on my head didn’t appear to think I was the Antichrist. At any given time, I can probably tell you an anecdote like that about something that has happened in the last month.

It takes it’s toll. And it can make you a bit defensive.

So yeah, my identity and sense of self do feature quite prominently the fact that I am not straight and that I am not monogamous. I don’t, for example, spend an awful lot of time thinking about the fact that I’m white, because I’m white in a predominantly white country in a predominantly white city where most of my friends are white. My whiteness is not routinely challenged. It’s not something I often have to think about. It just is.

(In fact, my colour-blindness is something that I was made aware of (although I now can’t recall how) about a year ago, and I’ve since made a conscious effort to follow more non-white people on twitter to help mitigate my lack of IRL contact with people outside my own ethnic group. Also hopefully learn some shit, and be less of an asshole white feminist. Can you believe that once upon a time I didn’t even know that it was black women who invented intersectionality? I have been proper schooled over the last year on this one.)

We tend not to notice the things about us that are least challenged. I know I’m white, but it’s never been made into any kind of a deal to me, so it’s never been made to be important. I’m into maths. That’s just a thing about me. It’s not the first thing I’d think of if I had to describe myself to a stranger, but I’d definitely miss it if it were gone.

And I get the feeling that if you take anyone and attack the most important relationships in their lives, submitting them to the routine scrutiny, disbelief and dismissal that I experience around mine, then they might suddenly discover that their relationships and sexuality are actually a whole lot more important and fundamental to their personality and sense of self than they previously realised.

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