Resilience

I am a child of the Earth
Ever adapting
You can hurl meteors at me
But I will keep on going –
Tear out chunks of me
And I will make the scars beautiful
Like the moon.
I can be volcanic or cold
It depends which part of me
You decide to behold.

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Why Does the Ice Cream Van Drive at Night?

Well I said I would give free writing a go. It’s been long time since I have tried this prewriting technique. It was fun although I’m not sure how I feel about the outcome. What I have actually done here is termed focused free writing. It is as liberated as free writing but is based on a specific topic rather than seeing where your thoughts take you.

Last night I really did let the dog out into the garden, hear an ice cream van and decide for to focus on a question that has puzzled me for a very long time.  I must confess though to still not having an answer.

Why does the ice cream van drive around at night?
The air is cold and draughty,
The wind pinches with frost
It blows the promise of snow from the sea.
I open the door and let
The dog out into the garden.

It is cold and icy outside
The spring flowers are quivering
Snow is expected any day now
But the sound of Greensleeves
Comes gliding over the fence.
Why does the ice cream van drive around at night?

It’s dark outside
The lights are on
The children are in bed
There’s no one around to buy ice cream
They’re indoors with hot chocolate instead.

Greensleeves slides around the neighbourhood
Past the garden, round the back
Leaves rustle, a fox barks
Far away an owl hoots.
Why does the ice cream van drive around at night? 

The Only Thing We Learn From History, Is That We Do Not Learn From History

The quote from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel reads: ‘We learn from history that we learn nothing from history’. I first encountered this quote during Sixth Form when I had the privileged opportunity to be part of the Lessons From Auschwitz project. The poem I am posting today came out of participating in the project and the reflective questions I asked (and haven’t stopped asking) as a student of history and archaeology.

Historian

Historian,
Do you ever think?
Stop and take the time to wonder
About all those people
You reduce to textbook figures?
Put yourself in their shoes
Worn through by the ‘Trail of Tears’
The ‘Long March’
Until Death passes them on.

What can it be
To take your wife and children
And hide for 2 years in an attic?
A small space in the house of spiders
Is of little comfort even to butterflies.
The ‘Great Leap Forward’
4 million Tibetans dead
But we fail to look at the individual,
The demographic population –
Instead all heaped together
In piles of politics.

Focusing on little time capsule bubbles:
American policy in the Cold War,
Allied actions in the Second World War,
The Western Front.
We fail to look at the bigger picture
The other side of the story –
How the world lives together.
The fear of Stalin, Hitler, Chairman Mao
Being power-driven and hungry for land
Are not valid reasons for so much destruction.
Stop looking through a clouded lens
At Allies vs Nazis
Green vs grey
West vs East –
See instead the men, women, children.
80, 50, 30, 20, 10, 5 years of age
Blues eyes, green, brown, grey.
They were the same – we are the same
Although we may speak with different tongues.

Look instead through the glasses piled in cabinets
At Auschwitz- Birkenau –
Broken and bent,
Creating one big body of wire.
6 million Jews
Lead to abattoirs like cattle –
Have we learnt history?
Tell me historian,
Have we learnt?

Thought Spirals

One of the most predictable triggers for my depression is my period. Typically it showed up in time for Valentine’s Day and I spent most of the morning on an emotional rollercoaster. I woke up feeling lethargic but was perked up by breakfast. Then I did the washing up and sat down to do some writing and lost all momentum again. I had to leave for a meeting in town in the mid-afternoon which was adding a layer of anxiety on top of my low, hormone-laden spirits.

I walked the dog which again elevated my mood and tried to focus on the smaller things, that the sun was shining, that the crocuses had started to bloom heralding the next phase in Spring’s arrival. I take great solace from my dog enjoying her walks, running around the park or local woods, chasing her ball, her tail flying high. This high can be infectious, as long as I keep focusing on the dog and the small details of my surroundings.

I returned home more motivated and ready to start all sorts of home renovation projects but my mood kept dipping. My thoughts wouldn’t focus on the task in hand and instead entered into the downward spirals that sufferers of mental illness are all too familiar with.

For instance, when I was assessing which tasks I had checked off my daily list and which I should do next, my initial thought was ‘Great, I’ve done the dishes, walked the dog and cleaned the bathroom, on to the next household chore!’ But my mind focused in minutely on the dishes, pointing out that yes I had done the dishes, but there was still a huge pile of laundry waiting upstairs.

My brain started to get anxious.

Was there enough space to hang up the next load of washing?

Was the last load dry enough to be put away to make space?

Did it even matter anyway as the laundry upstairs would take at least three loads to clear as there were whites, darks and lots of bulky items like bedclothes and towels?

How had the laundry caught up with us so quickly?

I must have failed to keep up with the laundry.

As I was clearly such a failure at a simple task such as laundry how could I ever hope to do anything more complex?

If I can’t complete simple tasks then I must be useless.

If I am useless then what is the point of my existence, I’m just taking up valuable room that could be being used by someone else far more effectively.

Maybe everyone would be better off without me…

This is a very typical spiral for me, and from my experience volunteering with mental health and wellbeing organisations, for many others as well. I also know from people around me, that these thought spirals that can start to interfere with daily tasks, personal hygiene and physical health, are one of the hardest aspects of mental illness to understand.

When I started blogging a month ago, I was aware of the benefits that it could hold for me, but not those that it could provide for those closest to me. Of course that this personal writing project has instilled a renewed sense of purpose, is something that I enjoy doing and has elevated my emotional baseline to somewhere nearer to where it was before two years ago, is a great relief to my husband and family. But I have learnt that my posts can also assist those who are trying to better understand mental illness.

About a week ago my mother asked if she could read my blog. It’s on the internet so of course doesn’t contain anything that I have concerns about sharing, but my family are no well adapted to sharing feelings. I have never even hugged my grandmother, so it was daunting to consciously expose my mother to the more intimate aspects of my mental illness. In honest truth we have had very few productive conversations about it in the past. There was also a lot about what happened two years ago that I hadn’t made her fully aware of, the events were in the past, there was nothing to be done about it, and until very recently I have not been inclined to open up about them. The #metoo campaign gave me the nudge I needed to express what had happened to me personally and feel that it was ok to talk about it, even though there are others who have endured more traumatic and dangerous experiences. For me it was a lesson in being able to own my story, rather than giving the memories of the event itself the power and control over me.

Blogging has helped me own my story, gain back the control I lost though someone else’s brutal actions, and at the same time, share those experiences. I mentioned before about hoping to create an atmosphere of empathy and solidarity and in the case of my mother that has led to her beginning to share some of her own experiences as well as gain a better understanding of mine and the ways it affected me personally. I have fortunately always been very close with my mum, but our relationship was put under strain when I slid into severe depression two years ago. For the first time I went for weeks without calling to her, I started lying to her and I didn’t even tell her I had met Samuel. My blog has reopened the channels of communication for us and in the words of my mother: ‘reading and digesting [the blog posts]… means I can quietly contemplate what you have experienced and what you feel now… without feeling I need to support with wisdom I don’t have’. I wasn’t sure exactly what my aim was when I started blogging, but I don’t think I could have hoped for a better outcome.

 

New Year – New Month

As I posted yesterday, I have been in a bit of a slump the past few days. To gain the additional exercise that is widely encouraged in such moments, today I walked to the station in the next town over from our house.

The sun was shining and the sky was a clear, bright blue. The weather, too, can have a huge impact on how you feel, and today had a real spring feeling about it. There was no wind, which so often makes up a coastal Scottish winter and there had been no rain or frost the night before. So instead of being a crisp, cold, frosty winter morning, the air was soft and the ground underfoot was spongy, but no longer muddy.

Instead of a sharp chill that can take your breath away, scents other than fire-smoke filled my airways. It had that start of spring smell, of warm earth and grass just beginning to turn sweet as its filled with sugar by the sun.

Last Thursday had the spring sky and I found the first snowdrop shoots in the garden (but we have had snow since then). The weather will undoubtedly turn again; Scotland is famed for having  all four seasons in one day. But it is clear that a new season, the signal of a new lifecycle, is starting to fight through. It helped me feel more invigorated too.

A new month in a new year, a new season and a new resolution – my husband and I have finally transitioned to a vegan diet and have just started trying for a baby.

 

Overwhelmed

The words seem to have dried up. Having just written a post about how much I was feeling the benefit of posting everyday, I have skipped quite a few. I was beginning to get worked up about it, but my husband, ever supportive, pointed out that writing this blog was meant to be a fun activity.

The other posts have effectively written themselves. They are streams of consciousness that have been edited and touched up as I wrote them out. But over the last few days, writing has been a struggle. I’ve started a couple of posts and either not finished or not liked the outcome. Part of this might be because I’m not sure how I am feeling, or am possibly not really feeling at all. I’m not quite experiencing the numb sensation familiar with depression but I have been gradually getting  overwhelmed this week. I find this really frustrating. I used to be able to do a lot more without it having such an effect.

I’ve had some new challenges to face this weekend, the biggest being taking over the responsibility of the nursery at my church. Despite it being an uplifting experience, since my first Sunday in Nursery (yesterday) I have noticed a reluctance to communicate, usually the first sign that my mental wellbeing is not as high as it could or should be.

Yet I believe the biggest cause of my apparent writer’s block is the fact that I have a partially written post on my mind. Since I wrote the ‘Habits’ post, I have been trying to sit down and write about the bleakest period of my life thus far. It feels like the next part of the story, and the next part of the healing process. Whilst I feel that blogging is truly helping me engage with past emotional experiences, perhaps I’m just not ready to explore that one yet. I think that despite what I wrote in my last post, I’m going to have to take sometime to write the next one. It can’t be a quick writing session at the end of the working day, or something that I squeeze in between dog walks, church activities and date night. I need to sit and think, to become fully engaged with the events and emotions that I remember; to absorb them, write them out and then publish them. Hopefully once published, they will no longer prey on my mind anymore. Or at least, not as much.

 

New Blogger

I am having a lot of fun! Probably too much fun. You see, I am very much a technophobe. Or technically illiterate. Basically, very uneasy and easily confused by technology. I used to have to write a blog to track progress for an award I achieved at university. I couldn’t work out how to post entries or even how to view the page itself. All I could access was the text box…

Today, I discovered categories!! And tags!!! I’m so excited I’ve used a ridiculous number of exclamation marks and started a sentence with ‘and’. Terrible.

In the past, a few of my friends and relatives have kept blogs to promote businesses, to keep far-flung family members in the loop or to track their travels. I really can’t believe that I have started one myself. What will I write about? Really. I’m not sure I have anything worth sharing. I have no burning thoughts or desires that I think someone else should hear or pay any attention to. But I do have questions. Spiritual, academic and familial. I don’t intend to get deeply personal but as I have mentioned before, this is me talking to myself. Mulling over these questions, writing up my thoughts and letting them go by publishing the post. It’s not very relevant but I am hopeful that it will help me work through some of my anxieties, and if someone else finds it useful too, then that’s wonderful.