There were so many things this past year I had no choice in and couldn’t change, and at the very apex of a difficult time I became very ill. I’d just moved out of London, finally, after breast surgery had gone well, I set up a new home and a new start with the help of my wonderful friends and fellow writers. It was set to change for me…and then I began to black out regularly. It happened a lot at first, and I felt perpetually exhausted, an exhaustion no amount of activity could explain. I could be exhausted for no apparent reason, a dragging heaviness in my limbs that forced me to stop immediately and have to lie down. Things just became steadily worse and more complex and I’m still undergoing tests after my life has been completely overhauled by chronic pain and illness. I’d had such successes as a writer, but with no work, too ill to find any or be able to continue even with my writing projects or tuition everything came to a standstill. I couldn’t pay the rent, I had a tough time applying for benefits and was forced to wait months with no income being plunged into inevitable debt and so, I looked at what I might be able to sell. Thankfully, anyone who knows me will be fully aware of what kind of elaborate and eccentric wardrobe I have. I sold my clothes. I figured I didn’t need many anyway, and with the money I made I bought vintage and new stock and set up my shop, Tigress. It’s the only thing that keeps me in fuel and electricity and half-decent food. It has saved our lives.
I want to get well, and get back to writing, but when sick and faced with months upon months of being bedridden, immobile, in agonising pain and struggling at times to talk, eat, think…writing seems so low down the list of priorities when there’s so much to pay for. Bills, rent, caring for my son, my partner. We don’t splurge money on anything, but it’s still so hard to make ends meet on sickness benefits whilst I’m praying they will be able to get me back on my feet when I see the neurologist for the first time in August (nine month waiting list across the board to see one due to cuts). I’m proud of my little shop and the work I’ve put it to find us something sustainable to be able to cope and not end up without a home. Some days I can only just get up to take the pictures, with huge effort, and even sometimes have to keep an installation in my room just feet from my bed to work. Tigress has gone from strength to strength and I’ve had so many beautiful messages from happy customers that make my day. I love popping little treats into the packages, and my partner Robbie does the trip to the shop to take the parcels. My house is like a walk-in boutique but I kind of love the swathes of dresses and boxes of neatly packaged up coloured clothes. I find it all comforting to have around me. It’s a real bit of joy and prosper in our otherwise pretty difficult lives right now.
None of us expect to become ill. But most of us will. It’s amazing what a chasm you can be catapulted into when something major hits – things you took for granted, abilities, the strength and energy to do even the most ordinary things like walking down a street, climbing the stairs – they’re suddenly gone. And you can’t expect the government to help – waiting lists, endless hour long phone calls on hold, being forced to humiliate yourself at work capability assessments, enduring shouts and abuse from strangers as they pass you in your wheelchair you have no choice but to sometimes turn to just to get out of the house, sanctions in your benefits making you feel like a criminal, not someone who needs help because they are ill, appointments after appointments that exhaust you just to be able to get less than you need to live in the house you currently live in, the dread which accompanies rent day, bills day, every single day. A feeling of sinking as a human being underneath the rest as your body also lets you down. It’s a low, low time for people who were on a low income, to go onto below the breadline when the fact is you need a bit more coming in when you’re ill, not less. You need more assistance, more help, the struggle is incredible. There’s a whole country in despair right now, sick and disabled people living in far worse circumstances than I ever envisaged. No choices, no options, no compassion, no help. As you wait for desperately needed appointments that are so far away you fear you may not even live to make them, completely aware of what Tory austerity has done to your life and the lives of millions of others, making you have to make intolerable decisions – toothpaste and toilet roll or council tax so I don’t have to go to court for the £14 I couldn’t raise – a day without gas and electricity for a decent meal – I see no real depiction of the real lives of those suffering in the media. ‘Benefit scroungers’ does not describe the professional and educated and kind and compassionate and clever and brilliant and talented people I know who cannot get up each day and go to work like many take for granted – not because they don’t want to, but because they literally CAN’T – can’t walk, leave the house, cope an hour without medications, can’t even wash on their own – to be left high and dry at the loneliest and most frightening times in our lives by this government then be subjected to the disgusting abuse of strangers because of the despicable media spin on the disabled and those claiming benefits is so appalling I can barely manage to take any of it in. The scope of it is immense. The prejudices. And so many must think they would never get ill, bad luck could never befall them, when in fact we are all just mortal beings, only ever steps away from losing – anything – everything – nothing is safe, and I’ve never felt that more so than living under this terrible government. No safety net, not a chance. The impact it has on a person’s already troubled mind and sense of self can be completely devastating. When the Independent posted an article yesterday on how 120,000 deaths are reported to have been linked to austerity cuts, they called it ‘economic murder’. The deaths of so many poor and vulnerable people – so many? I call that genocide.
So anyway, I thought I’d explain a bit about how the shop came about for all those friends enduring Tigress spam and wondering how I was one minute winning awards for writing and the next so far down I was selling my own things to eat. Well. It’s just the way it is. And I am still working to the best of my rather impaired ability to keep going.
If anyone fancies a shop, the idea is to provide a shop full of clothes which you can put offers on if you can’t afford a price, which I usually accept, all brand new clothes with tags are hugely discounted from the RRP – you don’t need a lot of money to look great, and looking great and feeling great are wonderful things to be able to achieve in pretty dark times. I love helping people feel fabulous. I give free gifts and treats to people who spend £20 or more, and you get something beautiful to unwrap in the post which I so miss from the days when I posted my girlfriends endless letters and gifts and received them with such tremendous glee – nothing gives me more pleasure, and indeed sending the parcels off makes me feel extremely happy too.
I’ve been struggling very much with language and speech. It’s obviously not the best thing to happen to an articulate writer whose life was based around her ability to use language. Even writing this is hard. But I want to keep going and work towards a time when I can slow down for a bit, and breathe, and the words come back at full force…I live for that day.
Shop Tigress for brand such as Monsoon, Stay Sunny Chicago, Three Floor, Glamorous, Juicy Couture, and fabulous vintage and pre-loved unique garments. Looking good is not about having money and expensive things, it’s about being savvy with your cash, knowing what you love to wear and going for it, and when you wear the thing you love it shows.