My latest article for Counterpoint magazine explores the idea of sleep (or lack thereof) as a commodity in our modern world. It's beautifully illustrated by Ollie Silvester and is hand-printed by Out of the Blueprint in Edinburgh, using a risograph machine - meaning each copy is unique. You can buy it here.
Here's a Twitter thread showcasing some of the amazing illustrations for the issue.
Award-winning novelist, Ever Dundas, and Robin Spinks, Innovation and Technology Relationships Manager at the RNIB, discuss access for disabled people to technology in the current face of austerity.
Dundas opened with a powerful reading from of her freedom paper, What Is To Come, fittingly set against an atmospheric backdrop of drumming and eerie sounds, which raised the tension of the audience to the level of the topic in question. “Freedom is a world without capitalism”, she read, “I will not be your martyr, I will not die on this capitalist cross.” Her articulate and deliberate words, were delivered with the expert control of one well-used to fighting for their voice to be heard: in this instance, above the din of the current capitalist regime of a conservative government. Words which were received with tumultuous applause.
Dundas shared her experience of the welfare system, having applied for both Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) due to her disability, fibromyalgia. Dundas feels the system is completely broken, serving only to punish and humiliate disabled claimants. “They were surveilling me through my entire assessment, to the point of noting on file that I was able to stand up from my chair, and lift half a cup of water from the table.” And deciding, ultimately, that she is not ‘disabled enough’.
Spinks agreed that there is no room for nuance in the current welfare system. He highlighted that disability exists on a spectrum and that our government neglects to address that, only perpetuating and reinforcing stigma. “We should not be peppering our disability assessments with assumptions, but instead make it an assessment of disabilities but also aspirations.”
Both agree that the narrative needs to change and that it must be more complex. The RNIB are running a campaign, #HowISee, which aims to address the misunderstanding of the general public on the nuance of sight-impairment, pointing out that technology is helping us to reform the narrative. “Tech is a great liberator, but understanding must be nestled alongside it – not bureaucratic questions.”
Our current system puts people off at the first point of call, and access to work becomes the first blockade to those looking to get support in going back to work, says Spinks. Yet, technology has bridged the gap for many, when it comes to living with disabilities. He and Dundas shared their own moving accounts of times when technology has done so for them, demonstrating the power of tech to do good in our society. But even good tech must re-evaluate and consider the needs of its disabled consumers, by making adaptable devices. Accessibility is also a major issue, with many adaptable devices costing too much money for those who need it. Dundas emotively described how her world shrunk when she became ill, and how something as simple as an electric bicycle would expand it enormously. Sadly the cost is simply too prohibitive.
Spinks believes that all tech developers should be legally bound to advance life for disabled people, and that the narrative would be changed by having a rolling programme of “embedded understanding” in these companies. Dundas firmly believes that raising awareness in the public sphere is the first step to changing the narrative, and for her, that’s writing about it.
The last lines of her freedom paper – a calling for the disabled to unite against austerity – resonated the quiet but determined hope of the audience, at the end of this bolstering discussion (if not a debate.)
“We hold our idealistic dreams in our hands like flames and we will raze capitalism to the ground. Out of the ashes: rejuvenation ripe with possibility, the freedom of a new beginning.”
Comedian and best-selling author, Ruby Wax brings her sharp-witted humour and a degree in mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) together to the Book Festival via her latest book, How To Be Human: The Manual, chaired by Jackie McGlone.
True to form, Wax heavily relies on the self-depreciating humour we’ve come to expect, in order to share her message with the audience in this hugely engaging discussion. Introducing the idea of mindfulness and what it means to her personally, Wax was quick to point out that she is a prime example of the very neuroplasticity she speaks so highly of, saying “I have literally changed my brain by thinking differently.” As a follow-up to her last book, A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, her latest title serves to reinforce the positive message of the first book, using the latest evidence.
This is largely provided by Wax herself, who in pursuit of truth, found herself sharing her home with a monk and a neuroscientist. She wanted to find out, if practising daily mindfulness, could actually change her brain, which she argues is still stuck in the cave-man era, whilst the surrounding world is racing ahead. “It’s like you have a Ferrari for a brain but nobody gave you the keys.” She aims to suss out how to make your ancient brain work for you without dragging you into madness. She has condensed their experiences into this book.
Calling herself a “late-bloomer”, Wax told the audience how trauma had “locked her brain” and that brains and genes can change. More than that, they can be passed down generations, something she strongly believes we should be shouting from the rooftops. In a world that exacerbates the biological feedback loop; she stresses it’s important to exercise our thoughts in order to protect ourselves from an over-stimulating world and the resulting heightened cortisol levels – which lead to many diseases. The mind is a muscle, described by Wax as a “pile of sand; shifting in whichever direction you look.”
She tells us that self-awareness and understanding are the keys to mindfulness. “I looked at my rage, my fight, my shame, and I saw that it all came from my parents, my aunt.” It was this understanding which eventually led her to compassion, then forgiveness – and finally the point where she could gain distance from those behaviours.
She believes the need to medicate for mental illness has risen so drastically because our brains can’t keep up with our over-developed world, and told the audience that the next evolution would come from the realisation that our thoughts change our brains. In a bid to promote mindfulness and provide a safe-space for frazzled folks, Wax has set up a Frazzled Café initiative across the UK, in partnership with Marks and Spencer. You can find out where your nearest café is here.
Publications, thoughts and reviews
On themes of mental illness, disability and YA.