Long time no see

The roseacea now covers my face from eyebrows to lips. You can’t see it – except for my red/purple nose and tendency to flush – but I can feel it. I saw the dermaltology specialist GP this week and took the prescribed antibiotic for the first time this morning. Up until now I’ve been managing with cream that helps prevent the breakouts that accompany this inflammation of the facial skin – and covering up red marks and nose with make-up as much as possible. It’s demoralising and makes me sad.

Since I stopped writing there have been more months walking through depression than not. Attempting to write about Sam last May tipped me into it and I had to up the anti-depressant medication in August and am still at that level. I may be a trazidone zombie in the mornings, but at least it helps me sleep well.

We spent last summer getting out of the country as much as possible – more time away in Sicily and Brittany than here in the UK. After 2 or 3 weeks back here we both felt exhausted with the political heat over Brexit. It was a continuing battle until the December election and winter is a fog of parliamentary votes – remember Mrs May trying to get her deal through? – and the unbelievable majority Johnson’s government won at the end of it. We spent New Year in Italy! This year, 2020, has taken the cake – but then everyone knows that, no need to explain. I feel as if I’ve been hammered into the clay of the heart of England, imprisoned away from sunshine and laughter. Trips cancelled, disappointment, disillusionment – we did escape to France in late August and stayed long enough to make the 2 weeks quarantine on return seem worth it, but it drained all the good vibes away. Here in Leicester we have been subject to continual restrictions since March – unable to have others in our home throughout. Fed up is not a strong enough description. This November during lockdown we’ve been through the 6th anniversary of Sam’s death and burial with a lonelier than usual Christmas stretching ahead. I know other people have it much worse than us, terrible things have happened, children go hungry, jobs are being lost, loved-ones have died – we live in a privileged bubble. Mental illness is no respecter of persons.

This the story I stopped writing. I gave up poetry group – zooms were too long and exhausting. I’ve done a bit of painting – mixed media and collage – and focussed on my garden. Photography has made me happy as well, especially in the delicious spring we had and autumn sunlight: my photoblog continues.

my garden (mixed media)

This week I actually wrote a poem – read it here – and today I find I want to blog again. So I am, for what it’s worth, and here it is, furthering your education on medication. Just one depressed, bereaved 63 year old Englishwoman’s inside story, hot off the press from Leicester.

We all keep going, don’t we, managing as well as we can, putting one foot in front of the other. No more future planning, just dealing with things. As my friend said when I met her for a walk exactly 8 months since I’d last seen her in the flesh, “I just think, what’s the next thing I have to do?” There have been a few highlights: when Lestah was put into Tier 2 in October we were able to have a picnic lunch for 6 in a friend’s garden to celebrate us getting out of quarantine – and it was actually sunny 🙂 We booked a hotel in Bakewell to go walking with friends and amazingly it ended up being the day before Lockdown 2! And again, beautifully sunny 🙂

I may be crumbling physically, mentally – but I have to say I have always found grace for each day and know it will always be there when I need it. When I go deep inside I know I am eternally loved. My husband still adores me (!?!) our daughter brings us joy, we have faithful friends who have made us laugh every week on Zoom, and although the new antibiotic is already making me feel sick (FFS) – it is Advent. The longing and yearning for something better, the underlying cry of all creation, is given a vehicle, a voice:

‘Come, Lord Jesus’

Director’s cut

I’m trying to remember how many months it is since I set my course for 2019.  Certainly by the new year I had a clear theme I was determined to pursue and that goal dictated a lot of the choices I’ve made this year.  I stopped doing the extra classes I’d been enjoying, stopped putting so many meetings with friends in my diary, joined the East Midlands Writing School group that meets weekly in the city. I was finally, 10 years on, going to focus on making the story of Sam and his brain tumour into a book.  Many readers of my blogs and facebook friends have said this should be done and I do know deep down this has to be right.

So I gave myself a timetable. You may have read about it here, because one of the choices I’ve made in pursuing this goal is to start blogging again – about the process, about my life and faith, about whatever seems relevant. What else have I got to say? Every life tells a story, every family is on a journey: I have found my voice through writing and am convinced what I have to share is applicable to others so I make no apologies for all the self-examination – it provides my raw material, it’s what I know.  My question to you is what do you know?! Until we know ourselves growth is impossible, but once we discover the treasures of darkness within we can begin to be healed and to help others find healing too.

And that’s all well and good, but it takes courage, grace and energy.  My focus was clear even as recently as 2 months ago on the anniversary of Sam’s first MRI on 1st April 2009. Although I had to put off actually sitting down to begin, it was definitely all there at my fingertips and I had no doubt that was what I was going to do.  Sunday 19th May at the British Library was the perfect launchpad – it lit the blue touch paper and fired my enthusiasm and determination at the perfect time as I started work that very week.  I was going to actually be a writer and make a book!

I have managed 2 days.  I have virtually given up already. I am in total inner conflict about whether I actually want to do this at all.  The whole idea seems impossible – a mountain I don’t even want to climb. I have triggered the grief all over again and feel sad and tired and ON TOP OF THAT now have to face the self-ridicule of not being a writer after all! So what am I then? What am I going to do with the rest of my life? I feel physically ill and exhausted and lost and depressed.

Welcome to the creative process! Seriously, my project is bound to be extra-hard being so personal and focussed on our bereavement, but all the doubt, excuses, confusion, resistance, are pretty much par for the course… Because I think this is all part of it, part of me doing my book, part of me becoming a writer! (I hope!)

Take one life, cut it open, look inside.  Find the childhood first, identify the traumas and wounds, strengths and weaknesses. Check out the relationships – good ones and not-so-good ones. Discover various friends and relations, which culture, faith and newspaper your subject prefers. See how the years go by and follow the choices made – the sowing of seeds, the faithfulness or lack of it, whether sinned or sinned-against.  Is forgiveness present in the mix or do you detect bitterness?  Sense of humour? Arrogance or acceptance? “Lord have mercy on me a sinner” or “I did it my way?”

Aren’t people interesting? Don’t we love heroes and villains, goodies and baddies, comedy and even tragedy? Of course I want to ‘join the conversation’ – I can’t lose my nerve now.  But my plan, my timescale, my pre-conceived ideas have had to go out of the window. As someone wisely said, you can’t push life up a hill in a wheelbarrow, you have to get into the wheelbarrow and let life carry you. Then wait and see what happens.

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A new start

What has been happening? Looking objectively at 2019 so far, the best thing, the most encouraging event, was having my photograph, poem and beginner’s paintings chosen to be printed in the University of Leicester Yellow Book and having them on display in two art galleries in the city.  The Yellow Book is all about ‘I Feel Better When’ – creativity, colour, light, nature, expression all in aid of mental health. Mental wellness is not just the opposite of mental illness – it’s a foundation we all need. But all I seem to have done since coming back from our Easter break in Brittany is be ill, go on holiday and be ill. Fortunately, it’s time to go on holiday again now!  But clearly this pattern has to change  on my return.

I guess 2019 isn’t quite how I imagined.  I set myself up with a project and it has come back to bite me. Despite the misery of illness, fatigue and sadness, I still have hope that I can learn from and grow through this journey, somehow stay on track and in balance at the same time, pacing myself, living one day at  time.

I have felt like giving up, but I choose to keep going, holding on to my dreams, my cherished memories and hard-won wisdom, treasuring all the gifts and blessings of my life. I’ll try to remember to be kind to myself and lean back in the wheelbarrow. It’s taking me to Sicily for a while.

Track and balance

If you’re a driver you should know all about this phrase.  I do because my 12-year-old Alfa Romeo has such sensitive Italian wheels the tracking goes out of line regularly.  They blame it on the speed bumps on so many residential roads these days.  If I forget to have it checked and altered regularly the very expensive tyres wear on the edges and have to be replaced – not good for the bank balance.

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Argh!

 

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Both important then.  Of course, as a car owner I know this!  But I’m not very good at remembering to get them checked regularly and my choice of vehicle appears to be pretty high maintenance!

All of which is a useful analogy for the journey of life and the vehicle of the soul.  As I get underway on this ‘book journey’ how is my personal tracking and balance?!  It turns out it’s a little off:  I have been encountering vibration and uneven tyre wear.  I should have remembered,  I am high-maintenance too!  I am a bereaved mother writing about my son’s terminal illness and death, diving back into all that anguish and grief and it’s not even that long since it all happened.  Did I think I could just swan along without any emotional effects? I suppose I thought I could cope because I coped so well at the time.  I’ve been surprised by my reaction.

After the massive encouragement of my day at the British Library, I actually DID manage to do a couple of mornings of research on Monday and Tuesday.  I looked through the early blog posts and found some online comments I didn’t know Sam had posted – new insight into how he was thinking.  I then spent the following morning beginning to look for lost photographs, wanting to give myself the overall context of those years. My record of 2009 – 2015 was stolen in the burglary of May 2017, so I’m trying to piece together what I have left in other places – facebook, Google photos, on my iPad, etc.

I started with 2009, the year Sam’s double vision led to his first brain scan but we didn’t yet know it was cancer. 3 years ago I wrote this post about that year. As you see I was aware of the 7 year anniversary and already deciding to compile a book, but aware it was probably too soon, too raw.  It is now 10 years on from that beginning and the 10 year cycle has provoked my renewed commitment to the project.  

But – on Wednesday I was exhausted.  On Thursday I was exhausted.  I talked with trusted friends and my counsellor, who encouraged me. “This is a good thing to do, you can do it! But of course it will be draining: you’ll need at least the same amount of recovery time as work time, if not double. You are facing the trauma again…”  I’ve been seeing it as a mountain to climb – but the good news is, I don’t have to go straight up the incline. The path winds round and round on a gentle gradient. It will take time to get to the summit with lots of rest stops to admire the views.  At the moment I am walking round the base, pushing through thickets of trees and scrub, just finding the path.  That’s OK.

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On Friday I woke up with muscle pains all over! Ah – I’m ill. Again. A virus – probably a cold, causing this fatigue I so often suffer with. Cancel ‘work’ – take it easy over the weekend…

But I became SO angry! I felt miserable.  It’s horrible feeling ill, being hampered by one’s body, but this felt more than that, like a battle within, to do with starting work on the book – because of course the research had made me sad. It seems I have an internal rebellion on my hands!  Emotions I didn’t feel the first time around are making themselves felt – saying sensible things like “I don’t like this! What happened to ‘no more looking back’?!” and “We spent 10 years going through this sadness! Do you really want to spend another 10 years on it?!” This anger and inner confusion has stayed most of the time since then – except when I agreed to totally forget writing a book.  I was peaceful for some hours then, before hitting the vacuum left by aborting my project…

It’s as if I am driving a wagon looking down on 2 horses.  On the left side is Track. She is focussed, pulling steadily forward towards her perceived goal. Her top 4 strengths (according to Strengthfinders) are responsibility,  activator, connectedness, strategic.  She is a go-getter, likes to get things done – sees the big picture and works towards the goal.  She is Sally Ann/Martha (from the Bible story). She has the bit between her teeth!  She can cope – she is famous for it.

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On the right side is Balance – Mary/little Sally, my inner child who didn’t have much of a childhood, to whom I have promised some laughter, fun and play in the coming 10 years, a Sabbath rest after 60 years of working hard to do the right thing. She is quiet – has generally kept quiet until finding her voice recently. She pulls off to the grass verge when she is fed up or tired. She wants to drink from the stream, enjoy the sunshine, lie down in the green pastures.  It’s really her who should be the leader of the team – and she was the one having the tantrum!  She can’t cope, it’s all too much and too painful. 😦 So I decided, “OK, I’ll stop – I don’t have to do this…I don’t have to climb this mountain. I’ll give up this stupid idea, no wonder people don’t do this, it’s far too traumatic.”

That was on Monday night/Tuesday morning and as I said I felt peaceful about it – phew. But then came the backlash of disappointment, loss of purpose and the response from Mrs Responsible: “No! You can’t abort this – it’s already conceived!” It is – it’s inside me. Do I kill it? Let it die? Am I not a writer after all? Then what am I? Just a child is fine, but… Back to feeling conflicted! Oh dear.

To BE… or to DO? Clearly to BE wins.  Any doing has to flow out of that. I’ve been such a DO-er all my life it’s hard to change.  But making any major decision while feeling unwell isn’t a good idea – resting until I get better is.  The aches and pains are beginning to go now, though I’m quite low and fed up with having to cope with all this – with my own maintenance!  Do I need new tyres or can I get away with straightening up the angles to the road?!  As my counsellor said – the choice is entirely mine, to stop, to start, to stop again.  Both desires are in there and there is no right or wrong answer.

Thanks for helping me process – this does help. I can’t promise a book any time soon, but the material is all on the blogs anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if it never happens. I have to keep asking myself WHY I want to put myself through this…!?! The answer must be, because it’s there, already in my heart, conceived and growing, awaiting it’s time.

Meanwhile it’s one day at a time, finding the grace to walk the journey. Today I’ll take the horses out of harness and enjoy the freedom of the fields. Let’s see how we go.

How to write a book in a day

I’m on the train.  I’ll probably make myself ‘train-sick’ writing this post like I did on the way… but I’m so full of it I must write NOW! 😉  I’ve been to the British Library – what Stephen Fry calls ‘the mothership’ – today for the Rathbone Folio writers’ day.  I was attracted to the title – above – and the thought of picking up tips from published writers, among them the shortlisted authors for the Rathbone’s Folio prize. I thought it might be much-needed inspiration – even if they did miss out the comma 😉

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How to write a book, in a day.  They were mostly people I haven’t heard of, but now know a lot better since they, along with the judges, had the courage to share their different ways of producing novels, short stories, poetry and non-fiction, ably interviewed by A L Kennedy who was winsome, humorous and honest about her own writing process, reminding me a bit of (a female) David Tennant. Strange but true!

IT WAS FAB.  For me it was perfect. I haven’t sat in a lecture theatre for I don’t know how many years and of course that bit was tiring and impersonal and I had to make a dash for an M&S sandwich and toilet break at St Pancras Station in the short lunch break as that’s where I knew things were. I ended up taking surreptitious bites down behind the seat in front as the next session got underway! But – I was gloriously a student for a day, complete with back-pack, laptop and notebook and actually interested in learning from people who – at bottom – were like me.  A bit.  They had all started somewhere, right?

The day was divided into 3 sessions: The Beginning, The Middle and The End, with different panels for each and time for questions at the end.  Rather than tell you about everyone and everything that happened – thank goodness you say! – I’ll just tell you why I’m so excited that I’ve paid £4 for East Midlands Trains wifi so that I can blog NOW.  Partly, it has to be said, because I discovered on the way my iPhone’s personal hotspot isn’t reliable enough on the train with all those No Service holes in coverage.  I bet Samuel Johnson didn’t have this problem!

One: finding your voice. Kate Clanchy, poet, writer and teacher and one of the judges, started off by saying that so much of the issue with writing is the validation of one’s voice – the sense that there is an ongoing conversation which each writer is entitled to join.  So many of us lack confidence but as Coldplay sing, “You just want somebody listening to what you say (it doesn’t matter who you are).” Hearing the ongoing uncertainties of an accomplished woman who still struggles with ‘what I’ve just written is absolute rubbish’ was somehow really helpful!  And I loved that she is a poet.  It reminded me that form is just as valid as prose or fiction. Kate said she gets her ideas in the shape they want to be – short or long poems or longer pieces: it is apparent that once we start to write it takes on a life of it’s own, and the individual gets to say it in his/her own voice.

One example of an extraordinary voice was a young, Jamaican-British poet, Raymond Antrobus, who had achieved the 8 book shortlist with his collection called The Perseverance.  He has been writing poetry about his alcoholic father and living with deafness “since he was a kid”.  His excitement at discovering open mic nights and a whole community of others writing and performing and as a result of that finding an editor who believed in him made me want to cheer.  His moving story of being given the sermons, poems and short stories of the grandfather who’d died the year he was born and realising he’d inherited something silenced the room. His conscious emphasis on bringing together his mother’s Jamaican oral tradition with his father’s favourite poet William Blake to create a new flow – it was well worth giving up a Sunday just for Raymond!

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Thanks for my ticket, Martin!

Two.  “This is what I should be doing” In the first session, The Beginning’ (how does inspiration come, what drives the process?) Guy Stagg, a young man who has written The Crossway, about his journey from Canterbury to Jerusalem made as a ‘healing’ after mental illness said “I had the feeling that this was what I should be doing. I had a story to tell and I was the only one who could tell it.”  I feel like that. I’ve known for some time but it’s the practicalities and emotional investment that prove difficult.  As a journalist he talked about the sort of writing that ‘keeps yourself out of it’ – that he’d tried to write his account that way – but got to a point where the manuscript was demanding something more personal. In the end everyone agreed that the best literature is personal, that it is important to avoid evasion and let yourself be on the page. An injection of emotion, the revelation of the “I” that is telling the story brings human passion to the narrative and intensifies the story.  Guy did say that the confessional impulse can be overwhelming, and that doesn’t always make good reading, but being devoted to honesty and raw vulnerability myself I was much encouraged by this part of the discussions 😉

Three. The process.  Everyone who spoke had a slightly different approach to making/sticking to a plan – which is good because everyone works differently. Making a plan is good, but later it will probably have to be thrown out as the thing comes alive and develops it’s own direction.  Listening to novelists describe how their fictions come to life was fascinating.  One woman said she just ‘throws paint at the wall’ for the first 3 years before taking bits of paper with ‘scenes’ on and fitting them together in the right order, tidying it all up in the 4th year. She said it is like putting together all her jewels into the right pattern.  This helped me realise I already have many of my jewels ready to be placed.  They all agreed on a time scale of 3-7 years to produce a book! One lady had written hers without any idea it would ever be published, which gave immense freedom – but then she had way too many words and had to cut a lot out.  AJ Kennedy herself refuses to call the first 3 years writing at all: it is all ‘notes and ideas and research’ until the 4th year when she just writes from beginning to end on the keyboard, barely stopping to eat or sleep!?!

The main helpful tips on practically keeping going were to

  • set aside regular ‘work time’ and stick to it – avoid delay, set a timer: DO IT.  “Be present to the page” Start writing something! You don’t have to start by writing chapter one!
  • “writer’s block” is not really a thing – just WRITE through the judgment (ie that this is rubbish!”) Or don’t call it writing (like AJ). Call it blogging! (like me!)             “Writing is an exercise in overcoming the fear that you are not a writer”
  • writing is a solitary activity –  it happens in your head. “You are talking about thousands of hours in another world – one you have to make attractive to your reader, somewhere they will want to be” (Guy Stagg).  Also “Don’t compromise yourself, You are all you’ve got” (Janis Joplin) – basically it’s up to you, no-one else!
  • it is crucial to maintain the momentum and routine
  • Samhaving breaks, going for walks, listening to music, eating and drinking – keep thinking, stay focussed.  Work will not always be writing/self-maintenance is important.
  • research is also important but you can be writing at the same time, don’t use it as an excuse to put things off!
  • Keep believing in what you’re doing!

I am both encouraged and sobered by what I have heard. I am glad I am not writing a novel but I still have to give my characters depth and integrity. I certainly have a plot and know the ending, but knowing the end from the beginning means the story itself has to hold people’s interest.  I waffle a lot so probably have too much material, but I’ll also need to write some new bits.  I have a vague but flexible plan and some work time set aside – but the routine part is going to be hard to stick to with our various travel plans. I will have to be strict in order to make progress!

Considering the amount of time it takes, the huge personal investment and the eventual production of something solid, an object that can be held by another person – someone you may not even know, someone who isn’t even born yet – producing a book is surely comparable to childbirth.  A book is an inheritance of human creativity, a shape that a writer makes with words, a shape that in it’s turn holds it’s readers. What a privilege.

It is a long journey to take and when it’s done will anyone publish it? I can’t see that far. All I know is, I’ve got a story worth telling and only I can tell it.

With thanks to those who have gone before.

 

 

Living the dream

What can beat a week in the sun? It’s what we all dream of – an escape, rest, time to ourselves away from the daily slog of life. We think of paradise islands with white sandy beaches and blue sea, lying on the sand watching seabirds gliding on the gentle breeze overhead, skin warmed by the sun, total relaxation… Maybe the Caribbean, Mauritius, the Maldives, Florida – somewhere far away from it all.  Bliss.

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We’ve just come back from our annual pilgrimage to our own dream island and it had all those elements – but it’s in Britain! 😉 We are in love with the Isles of Scilly – as are most people who go there – for all the right reasons.  The east wind was cold but we didn’t catch the rain that fell on the ‘mainland’ – as islanders call the rest of the country – except for one night that left everything green and sparkling.  It’s the perfect rural setting for spring with beautiful views on all sides.

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We never want to come home.  We want to live there! On a tiny island of less than 100 residents and isolated, stormy winters which can cut off the supply ship for weeks at a time.  We dream to be found among the winter narcissi, the sheep and old boats, to hide like the abandoned tractors covered in bracken, blinded by thick pearlescent fog.  We yearn for days of silence, waves splashing gently, swallows darting over the long beaches – stepping into a boat and pushing offshore to cross the channel to the next island.  We frequent the island pub, talk to the locals and listen out for news of houses for sale.  Soon, soon – but not yet…

It’s a dream.  It’s a distraction. It was a wonderful week, as always, but it’s done my headIMGP4148 in. I come ‘back to reality’ – back to work – and I can’t remember where I was, what I was doing.  Did someone say they were going to write a book? It was me.  Have I made any progress? Not really.

And yet… in the middle of that week away came Sunday 12th May and that would have been Sam’s 32nd birthday. It was a beautiful Sunday, the wind had dropped and it was like summer.  We went to the island church for the morning service and found encouragement in the words and promises of faith.  We’d booked lunch at the Karma hotel, where it was warm enough to sit outside and enjoy IMGP4087crab salad – roast beef just seemed wrong in the heat. Although the underlying sadness, the hole left by our lost son, was and is always there, I felt really happy that afternoon, just sitting looking at that view, wanting for nothing.  What a gift.

However, anniversaries have repercussions and the emotions run deep.  Despite – even because of – the visit to our dream island we’ve both been quite up and down.  I guess my flirtation with antidepressant withdrawal syndrome has also had a physical effect.  I am hitting levels of anxiety and doubting that I have the wherewithal to excavate our history of trauma and ultimate tragedy – whether it is wise, whether I am pushing myself too much…?  But how will it ever get done unless I set a goal and work? How do I find the balance between taking care of myself (rest, take it easy, be gentle) and GETTING ON WITH IT!?  Haven’t I been through all this before?

Despite the interruption to my writing progress, being outside the situation did actually help provide a more objective view.  As well as remembering Sam’s birthday we started thinking about previous years in Scilly, our family history there through the decades, the progress of the years – I realised I need to look at the big picture and set the context in my own mind before plunging into the old blog posts.  Usually we do this by looking back at photos to pin down what order things happened in, but I have a big hole in my documentation since the loss of my old MacBook (and back up) in a burglary in May 2017 which happened while we were in Scilly!  I’m going to need to do some work on the years of 2009-2015 before homing in on Sam’s story, a bit of background research to set the scene. That’s what writers do, isn’t it? 😉

Ha ha – the crazy cliff-edge balancing act of self-motivated deadlines: I can set ’em and I can knock ’em down and no-one will end up dead.  However, I am going to stick to my plan of setting aside mornings to focus on this project, starting on Monday.  Today is Sunday, so that’s tomorrow morning 🙂

Wish me luck!

 

 

 

Holistic living

IMG_4711I haven’t got time to write today – there’s too much else to do! It’s a 3 day weekend with lots of unstructured hours for enjoying the May sunshine and some peace and quiet – or whatever else you like to do on bank holiday weekends 😉 I was up early for a Sunday morning – having my tea, feeding the cats and generally pottering about in the upstairs kitchen that combines breakfast, laundry, cats and painting. The joy of a good sleep and the tidying up impulse had me unpacking a bag of art materials to put away – with some ‘help’ from Scamp! – and filling the frames that had been sitting there waiting for the four pages from the Yellow Book I wanted to display on the wall. Perhaps I could do some more playing with colour today? One of my many options!

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the four square frames hold the Yellow Book pages and most of the colourful paintings are mine

I was fortunate enough to get some artwork, a photograph and a poem into the recent Yellow Book produced by University of Leicester.  It was a joint project with the charity rethink your mind which promotes mental health through creativity under the hashtag IFeelBetterWhen.  The books have been produced with various organisations including an NHS partnership trust, a college and most recently a primary and secondary school.  I ‘won’ 4 hardback copies of the book my pieces were in (the soft back versions are given away free) but they fell apart because the binding process hadn’t been done properly – hence my loose pages being available to frame.  Plus I got my 4 hardbacks replaced, of course, so I’m swimming in reminders of my success in being chosen to go into the book 🙂

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Unexpected Owl on far left and My First Flowers 4th from right (underneath) in the George Davies building, Uni of Leicester

It certainly made me feel better!  As did having my beginner’s paintings exhibited at the University and my photo in New Walk Museum and Art Gallery. How many absolute amateurs can say that?! I’m not even a good painter – though I have been taking photos for years and do post regularly on A Lover of the Light.  It’s nice to share good photographs – and I have hundreds waiting to be edited and organised…

I’ve been writing poetry for some time as well.  I started when Sam was first ill and turned to it in earnest when I became fed up with ‘too many words’, all the outpourings of my blogs, endless detail and explanation, blah, blah, blah. Poetry is about condensing all the words, taking away the extra stuff to get to the essence and convey feeling, meaning, story, insight in a special way – from heart to heart, mind to mind.

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New Moon in the Yellow Book gallery at New Walk Museum: what an honour!

It is of course a discipline – 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration, as they say.  But I do love it and I hope I’m improving. I belong to an over-55 poetry workshop with an excellent young teacher and have done some classes with East Midlands Writing School.  In addition my poetry blog partner is prolific and extraordinary and very good at nagging me to write.  It is too easy not to, especially when emotions are challenging – far less painful to push them down and ignore the prompts.  But since I’ve been blogging regularly again the juices must have started flowing because I actually wrote a poem on Friday – and even posted it!

IMG_4720So I am pulled in different creative directions before even considering the laundry, cooking or housework. The cat wants playing with and the garden is definitely calling for more water on those new grass seeds and some bedding plants for the pots. Or there’s the call to go back to bed and just read my book –IMG_4724 bliss. This weekend is about doing whatever comes next – and on Tuesday we’re going to our favourite island in the world* where not very much of anything will be done!  My version of holistic/wholesome/holy living would seem to be trying to balance all of these things and enjoy it at the same time – while not drinking too many gins or eating more toast than is wise!

But at least I’ve made time to write today. Time to get the hose out – or maybe Scamp will prove more attractive after all…

Until the next time!

 

*I’m not telling you where it is or you’ll all come!

A quiet morning

It’s not often that I wake up first, but last night the large sleeping companion was out until 3am saving someone’s life. That happens when one is a doctor – though it hasn’t for many, many years because we’ve made the necessary adjustments to avoid it as age and weariness have increased.  But last night it was ‘Prof to the rescue’, bless him. So at 7am  I snuck out quietly, so as not to disturb him…

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Link and Scamp

…and nearly tripped over the cats! One lying and the other sitting right outside our bedroom door – even though it was slightly open. Ha – I’ve trained them at last! No more swiping at his face at 4am! 😉 Ah – they’re so sweet… manipulative carnivores that know where their food is coming from.

I stumble to the kettle first – obviously I have to make my own tea this morning.  We have an upstairs kitchen left from the days when this house was 2 flats, so at least I don’t risk falling downstairs in my sleepy state. But there are no large cups – all in the dishwasher downstairs. I’m not going there. I find a largish medium-sized one on the bottom of the rack and stick a teabag in it.

The cat-feeding routine starts with their tablets. We’re fairly well-automated now: open this bottle, cut in half with knife, save half til this evening – (Link’s steroid for anaemia). Open this bottle, half each. Press out this pill, half each (both have heart weakness). Take rolling pin and grind up (there is a Scamp and Link labelled end so the steroids don’t cross over) and mix with creamy salmon paste. They lap that up and if there’s a delay replacing those bowls with their food ones they come to find out why!

All this is achieved without glasses and I can’t see at all clearly without these days. But it’s a case of ‘I could do this with my eyes closed’ (as well as half asleep) so not to worry 😉 My brother who is coming up to 60, continues to squint at small print – you know, the ‘my arms are not long enough’ scenario that creeps up on us at around 40 years old? He refuses to get specs because they make the eyes lazy, the lens hardens and stops adjusting and then we lose what long vision we did have.  I had perfect eyesight until I started with reading glasses – now I pay Specsavers vast sums to keep me in eyewear that matches all my outfits.

It is an image issue.  Obviously short-sighted kids have to wear glasses from early on and that’s who they are (plus getting old improves their vision!) but it still makes me nostalgic to look back at photos of red hair and no glasses now I’m grey and bespectacled. I’ve tried contact lenses – the existence of which is proof that we generally prefer our faces without something stuck on the front – but dry eyes make them uncomfortable and they’re nothing if not a faff.  I’ll put them in for special evenings, to look my best, but I can’t see very well with them, need extra reading glasses for menus and can’t see at all to drive – it’s hardly worth it.  I have had to accept I am a different person – less beautiful in some ways, perhaps more beautiful in others – hmmm.

So I do my morning cat duty – usually done before I am up – in a daze, screwing up my eyes and making my cup of tea in between grinding and scraping out slimy fishy packets.

and it’s wet outside and quiet and all is well and the cars moving though spray sound like the waves of the sea and even though there’s no sunshine today it’s OK, I’m rested and I don’t have any pain anywhere. The cats’ noses are buried in their bowls and I can hear soft snoring and the first sip is the sweetest

Negotiating the stairs, I now empty the dishwasher, carrying all the mugs, plates, cutlery, glasses that we use for breakfast back up to put away, tidying both kitchens, emptying bins and recycling, putting clean laundry and discarded coats away, bending to stroke a passing cat who is following me around looking for second breakfast please! I’m like one of them, stalking round my territory, marking the area as I move things about, making my home how I want it to be, ready for another day

and I feed the cats again and make more tea and sit down in my swinging chair in my own special room. Putting my bare feet on the table, looking out at my garden that we worked so hard in yesterday in the rain and the always stunning view of the Museum with a few morning people walking past,  I find a nearby spectacle case and open the computer.  I check messages and notifications and having done everything,  open up a new blog post to let my thoughts run free

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I am grateful and at peace. Happy (bank holiday weekend) Friday.

May BE (maybe not)

It’s rather like Brexit.

Today was going to be Book Start day, but like March 29th… like April 12th… like June 30th…  Oh Mrs May.  Or should we call you ‘Mrs May-be not’ now?  My own unfulfilled promise dates were April 1st, April 29th and May 1st.  I didn’t have to negotiate with anyone to move it… all the way back to May 20th.  This week is quite simply a write off and next week we’re away again, so I wasn’t planning to work then anyway.

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New month!

 

I woke up this morning knowing I’m not yet 100% well again (wishful thinking and hoping doesn’t make it so!) and it’s simply stupid to add extra stress. Unlike the country, my life isn’t actually a democracy – it’s actually a Theocracy! That whisper in my heart didn’t say ‘get on with it’. He said, REST.

Have you noticed how REST and STRESS are anagrams of each other with added SS? It reminds me of about 15 years ago when I was preaching at a church service in Preston, Lancashire and I used the city’s name as pRESTon.  The p was for piano as in music, meaning ‘to be performed softly” and the point is that to press on one must ‘rest on’.  Counterintuitive I know, but it’s like the instruction to have a ‘sabbath’ day of rest: it says “I can’t do this in my own strength, I don’t have the power to make anything happen, I’m going to trust and go with God’s way.”  That was always the point of God instituting the Sabbath: to make people depend on Him, not ourselves; it said ‘Don’t work today, I will provide’. It was never because God is a mean killjoy, but because He knows we have fragile flesh and physically need a day off!  Just as Jesus said,  “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” was always the Way. To take it a step further, one of my favourite aphorisms is “I rest, God works. But if I work, God rests” (as in Ishmael being born through Abram and Sarai’s own efforts)  I’d rather write a God-inspired book than a flat, repetitive, ineffective, naggy Sally Ann one!

I’ve been learning the way of rest for a  few years now. This desire to DO something, produce something, could so easily undermine the place of ease I’ve reached, the living from within and not the demands from outside. I have to listen to the still, small voice or it’s back to the lists and exhaustion!  ‘Martha’ must give way to ‘Mary’ – if you are familiar with the Bible story of the sisters. At certain times it’s the other way round, life must be lived and responsibility taken, but I’m developing a better balance, putting right what has been out of kilter for most of my life. It is such a relief to be learning the more spontaneous, plan-changing aspect of the Myers-Briggs Perceivers, letting my Judging impulses relax. The Myers-Briggs types are supposed to level out with age as we develop our weaker side.

I do realise I set myself up, telling everyone this would be happening NOW 🙂 It’s a good way of being accountable and how else does one set a deadline when there is no external pressure? But isn’t it great, I can cross the line and not be dead?! I can get myself off the hook because I’m the one that put myself on it! Glass half-full, I am actually writing, so that’s part of the way there 😉

The timing is everything.

 

Three good neighbours

“Why oh why did I try to get out of Leicester on the inner ring-road at this time in the morning?! I’m already running late and this is dreadful! I should have gone the other way…”

All the traffic was squeezing into one lane, slowing everything down so that only one vehicle at a time could cross the lights before they changed again.  I remembered last year when I’d come this way and run into the back of someone at the same lights.  It was all down to stress and worry about being late that time. Not wanting to repeat the performance I decided to relax and be patient, tuning into Classic Fm instead. It hardly mattered if I was running late for a lunch date with friends, did it? When in the Midlands drive like a Midlander, not a speed-crazed Southerner!  When we all got to the reason for the jam it was amusing enough to make the delay worthwhile – someone had pulled out of a junction and hit a police car… Whoops!

Slowly, slowly along the A47 – Google Maps you don’t usually lead me astray so I have to trust the alternative route would have been even worse! Ah, look – a Wilko.  (Our printer has stopped working and it has been suggested that the fuse in the plug might be the answer to nothing happening, so getting a packet of fuses was top of my list). There was a space in front of the Baptist church so impetuously I turned up onto the pavement and backed in to borrow it for five minutes, hoping no outraged Baptists would spot me. I was very pleased that I wouldn’t have to make a special trip across town on my bike to get the wretched things.

Fuses in hand, back in the car, ready to rejoin the queue of cars heading out of town, I pulled out across the pavement and waited for someone to let me into the line of cars.  A lady came up pushing a wheelchair with a disabled young person As I was completely blocking their way,  the rear of my car still in the church grounds, the front on the kerb, she now had to wait as well. “Sorry! I’ll be out in a minute, if someone will let me in.” 

“It doesn’t matter”, she said, “we’re not in a hurry”. “Oh so sorry”, I said again, as nobody let me out of this embarrassing situation, and, “Hey you lot, what about ‘Do for others what you would like them to do for you’?!”  “It really doesn’t matter, she said, we’re not in a hurry” – and she smiled at me and at the cars continuing to flow past without a gap. She meant it, happily standing on the pavement with her charge, relaxed and friendly,

Fortunately, just then a Sikh gentleman put his brakes on to allow me to bump onto the road and as I called thanks to him and to the patient woman, she said “It’s alright. I’m only a carer”.  Only a carer? I thought. What is more important than that? What else are we humans supposed to be?

***

I had a nice day out in one of the pretty villages in the sunshine with my friends – a painting party with much laughter and a good lunch, just what I needed.  It was a far cry from the lady on the pavement’s life, I’m sure. Really, what have I got to be stressed or anxious about, driving home via Sainsbury’s in my big posh car, wandering down the aisles at my own pace, with no-one to push or carry?

On arrival at the yard where I park, I met my neighbour, keen to help me carry the bags of food and art materials. I could have managed but there were five – it would have been a struggle. “Come through my house, it’s easier. I’ll bring it to your door, no problem” Don’t you just love kindness – those little extras people do, going out of their way to help? It is so rare and beautiful.  Plus he insists on coming on Thursday to help me rake and re-seed my front ‘lawn’ (more moss and weeds than grass) which is a job too far for me at the moment, the thought of which was really getting me down. I am so grateful!  (and you know who you are!)

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Thirdly, there’s an amazing woman who does my ironing. She collects and delivers it back and it is aways beautifully done, hung or folded as I choose, and not very expensive. I am so happy to employ her as she is a single-mother with six children running her own business to survive. People like me need people like her and vice versa.  What’s extraordinary about Leila is she wears a full burkha for her trips around the city. She strides along New Walk all in flapping black with my colourful summer dresses over her shoulder and blue laundry bag in the other hand – an amazing sight, even in Leicester!  I love it! What courage, determination and grace she has, being herself out in the world in which she’s been forced to be self-sufficient. And she is fun, and laughs and likes me – even though I have never seen her face. She probably feels safer underneath all that – and it’s certainly warmer in those winter winds. Though she did give m a fright running up the path the other evening (yes, running!)

But I let her down tonight – and this is about the fourth time 😦  I forgot she was coming.  Again!  Oh dear – how rude of me! And last time she was so worried, she thought I’d been taken ill inside the house because I’d said I’d be in not twenty minutes before… but forgot and went to the pub.  Tonight I was at a meeting with mayoral candidates when an Asian lady stood up to speak – and I remembered Leila! And there were three missed calls. (Oh no!)  I texted and she was still outside the house, so at least she doesn’t have to come back with the heavy clothes… I told her to hang them on the trellis. But I’m embarrassed, apologetic texts, etc. Another one who says ‘it doesn’t matter…’

If it was me I’d probably blacklist myself – but she won’t. She says six children have taught her to be patient… And I am so glad I know this woman and can help support the life she leads and that she forgives me and hasn’t become bitter.

Good neighbours – gentle, kind and patient – the extra-ordinary people of Leicester, among whom I live, who help make my life here easier and happier.

***

By the way, the new fuse didn’t fix the printer problem… hmmmm

Don’t try this at home

Screen Shot 2019-04-29 at 10.43.48On the scale of ‘great idea!’ to ‘what on earth were you thinking, you idiot?!’ this sudden stopping of my Venlafaxine after 3 years (7 years Prosac before that) rates as around minus 597.  Oh God, I feel ill today! The headaches are the worst, but this morning it’s nausea as well and actual cold turkey! This is what it means – covered in sweat and freezing cold!  (well, partly what it means anyway!)

Another thing to put down to experience. Another experience I’d rather not repeat – like being the only white people in the middle of a restless and suspicious Haitian crowd on the verge of riot… oh sorry, that is another blog entirely! Like being informed your son has a grade 3 anoplastic asterocytoma or holding his hand while his heart stops beating 😦 Maybe not as bad as that… but why choose something that’s really going to hurt when you don’t have to?

It was all pure laziness and wishful thinking really, probably tied in with the recent fact that every Spring I stop taking the extra boost of Trazidone that gets me through the difficult months of November (anniversary), December (Christmas) and the dark winter, when sleeping patterns go awry and tears rise easily.  Trazidone is an old fashioned drug taken at night – mostly replaced by Mirtazipine these days, but that renders me a zombie whereas with this version I only feel badly hungover until around 10am until the morning caffeine hits.

I absolutely love it because I sleeeeeeep – and when one is sad the escape from pain is everything.  Gone are the Zopliclone days of early diagnosis – looked forward to eagerly each night, so very, very hard to give up…  This drug actually adds to the therapeutic anti-depressant levels. But that emotional addiction is there – a true panacea, making bedtime a relief at the end of difficult days.

Come the Spring I want to be awake and get on with life more than sleep, so Trazidone has to go.  Plus the doctor wants to keep it in reserve to counteract the effects of next November. While in Brittany, it was time – and the only way is just stop and have a few sleepless nights while the physical dependancy wears off.  One night on one off is hopeless, constantly resetting the levels.  Actually after two nights my sleeping patterns had re-established – piece of cake.

Screen Shot 2019-04-29 at 10.59.04So this probably gave me the subconscious idea that I could do the same with Venlafaxine – make a clean sweep, return to factory settings. I want to be better now, I feel better now, I would love not to have to cope with the side-effects of the drug.  I was simply ignoring the fact that my brain has got used to those friendly and helpful neurotransmitters!

Anyone of you who knows anything at all about mental health will have spotted my schoolgirl error and I’m amazed I didn’t myself. It took our daughter on the phone this morning – she of more experience and wisdom in these matters than almost anyone I know with long, hard years of mental health battles behind her from before her brother died – to point out that I’m probably well because of the medication and to shoot my naive approach down in flames.  Mum, you really need to be careful with that drug… Apparently these effects can last for months not just a few days and the rapid reduction in neurotransmitters makes Venlafaxine one of the worst!

Screen Shot 2019-04-29 at 10.50.35What actually brought this about was running out of tablets just as we returned from holiday and not getting the prescription organised before the weekend. I could have done, but I didn’t bother. We’ve changed our provider from Boots to Pharmacy2U so that the drugs will just come through the letter box.  Another modern convenience – what’s not to like? I don’t even have to go to town and get in line! But I didn’t give quite enough notice so they didn’t arrive on Friday as planned. I’d taken a couple of half-doses to get me to Friday which became my attempt at ‘reducing gradually’ when there were none to take at all on Saturday.

If I’d been thinking straight I could have gone to the weekend surgery at the ‘healthcare hub’ in the city for some to tide me over – too blinkered/deluded/lazy and/or already compromised by the negative effects on my thinking of two days of half doses? In my defence, my eminent doctor husband was supportive of stopping – ‘why not try ‘suck it and see’, you seem to be thinking differently on less and that’s good…’  But neither of us had researched the facts – me because I was in denial, didn’t want to know, blinded by my own agenda.  The ultra-vivid disturbing dreams, like when I came off Prosac, I could take those in my stride. Not being able to stop crying on Sunday morning, well ’emotional lability’ is on the list. But these other things are not bearable and if they’re not just going to pass in a few days… argh. In this case ignorance is definitely not bliss!

I think my doc will be upset with me when I see her – whoops.  But she’ll mostly feel sorry for me and want to find a good way forward – Dr Shah is a star.  Meanwhile I’m sitting very still in bed,  processing it all by blogging and actively waiting for the postman!

We live and learn