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Feeling powerless? Don’t worry, we all are: Lucy Mangan on fighting a feeling of helplessness


I am doing Sudoku while I watch nothing but box sets. When I’m not doing that I am re-reading Sweet Valley High books from my youth (literally those. Nothing from beyond 1987, when my school craze ended as suddenly as it had begun). I stay in bed as long as possible (which is a long time, given that my job is typing and I can type anywhere).

These are all things I do to try and make myself feel better when I am stressed, unhappy or feeling vulnerable. I’ve never found myself pressing them all into service at the same time. Normally one or two will provide enough shelter from whatever storm is passing over me and then I pull myself together and get back to normal.

But this growing feeling I have of moving increasingly unprotected through the world will not be beaten back by my usual methods.

The Ched Evans case – in its new iteration, in which he was found not guilty of raping the woman he admitted he had not spoken to before, during or after sex – has sent me reeling, even though I was obviously aware and have been for Quite Some Time that rape laws, cases and juries are not fully fit for the purpose of trying cases only on their legal merits. They are not flexible, nuanced tools capable of controlling for prejudice, dismantling assumptions or explaining complicated motives, states of mind, and definitions. And they are not wielded in a well-funded system with uniformly competent professionals. I know all that, yet still there are cases and headlines and reports capable of coming along and suckerpunching me regardless. And then of course come other people crawling out of the cyber-woodwork to crow about the victory and insist that it proves the victim was lying, all victims are lying and so on and bleakly on, more blows landing on your tenderised psyche.

Smaller hits keep on coming too. The police chief who reckons they shouldn’t have to investigate burglaries caused by windows left open and other moments of carelessness. Doctors who would like to refuse treatment to the obese or smokers. The examiners who strip recipients of benefits any one of us is just a few bad breaks away from needing. And so on, and bleakly on.

Underneath all that, lies Brexit. Even if I had voted to leave, even if I didn’t worry that women particularly stand to suffer from the loss of an institution that supports their equal pay and maternity rights, I suspect I would not be enjoying the sensation of a massive change being underway without any sense of a plan yet forthcoming. And whether the headlines are scare stories or matters of fact, the simple proliferation of them is disorientating and adds to this feeling of powerlessness. Meanwhile, we wait and see what the US election will deliver us in November.

And I’m speaking as someone white, able-bodied, technically Christian and all the privileged rest of it. How much more naked and vulnerable would I feel without all those accidents of birth still working in my favour?

My friends report similar sensations, which means we must all try and develop the same callus on our souls to stop it all from wearing us through. I do not want to be hiding in Sweet Valley. I haven’t got the wardrobe, for one thing. I am enfeebled, for sure but I must insist to myself that it be temporary and start mustering the strength for rage and action. A few more layers of hardened skin and I’ll return to the fray. See you there, I hope.

Image: iStock



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