Edinburgh Wears Mist

Edinburgh wears mist
Like a diamond necklace
A silver tiara
A white-gold engagement ring…

Edinburgh mist –
No city could wear it so well
Such graceful elegance –
The sea settling like a shawl.
Not here the oppressive shroud
Wrapped around London’s East End,
Smothering the living
Rather than respecting the dead.

Here the wind doesn’t howl
Or cry or moan –
But rushes up to greet you
In a big, friendly, yet cold, hug,
Roughly caressing your face
Absent-mindedly, yet ever affectionately
Messing up your hair…

Here the rain does not drown you
But washes you clean –
It doesn’t mean
To slap you in the face –
Aiming more for the wet, sloppy kisses
Your grandmother used to give.

The weather is Edinburgh’s welcome.
Not as the warmth of the home-fires burning,
Not with nostalgia of freshly baked bread –
But the damp cold that settles in your bones
Is what lets you belong.
Some are sent scuttling to warmer climes
But for others it freezes their hearts
Keeping them locked in the granite forever.

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Listen to the Bees

Listen to the Bees

I’ll take you down to see the water,
As was your dying wish.
To hear the river bubbling by,
To see the silver fish.

I’ll lay you down on grasses green,
Surrounded by meadow flowers,
To smell their sent, to hear the bees,
In your last few hours.

So you can gaze across the valley,
And see the church among the trees,
There your eyes may close, and forever be at peace,
Surrounded by the meadow flowers, and listening to the bees.

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.

 

14th February

This date is like Marmite: people either ‘love it or hate it’. It’s the day were everyone is focused on relationships. My husband and I are approaching our second wedding anniversary, but we hadn’t even met this time two years ago.

Our Story
My husband and I met whilst I was investigating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He was a life-long member, a returned missionary, and I had just started meeting with the missionaries. The timeline is simple.

February
Most people laugh when I tell them the story of how I met the missionaries. All converts get asked their story and mine is not particularly exceptional. They laugh because I remember the exact time. It was 11:50 A.M. on the 4th February 2016. My friend and I were about to deliver graded presentations and had two hours to practice (we were both suffering from undiagnosed depression at this time and had finished them the night before).

An Elder asked me for directions to Sainsbury’s outside the university library. Obviously, he didn’t actually want directions, he wanted to talk about Jesus. I am terrible at disengaging from any form of conversation. It doesn’t matter if it is a sales person, a Mormon missionary or a charity worker, once they have stopped me and started their spiel, I can’t escape. I was desperate to get rid of him because I was preventing my friend from practicing her presentation and I really didn’t want her grade to be affected because I couldn’t disentangle myself from a pavement conversation. To end the conversation I gave him my number. In fact, I corrected him when he wrote it down wrong. This was because I felt sorry for him. His companion (I didn’t know anything about Mormons at this point and didn’t realise missionaries travel in pairs) was standing at a distance and I thought he was alone on a cold day in February. I also imagined (again wrongly) that most people had not been very pleasant about being stopped and asked to chat about Jesus Christ. It turns out this is not an unreasonable assumption, one of my husband’s companions was chased by a man with a meat cleaver! Anyway, in February I started meeting with the missionaries and investigating the Mormon church.

March
I finally attended a Sunday service at the local LDS church. The missionaries told me that they wanted to show me a church film at our next meeting and someone of the same sex as the Elders would need to be present. This was because we would be meeting at the church building rather than in a public place, like a café or the local park. It’s the same principle as adults who work with children not being with a child alone and it’s the same when two Sisters meet with a male investigator. It’s not a lack of trust it is just for security because unfortunately in the past there has been inexcusable behaviour from both missionaries and investigators. The reason that it is a member of the church of the same sex as the missionaries is because it otherwise appears a bit like the worst double-date imaginable. However, there is something that perhaps needs to go on record and be considered.

This was the second time I was going to be meeting with the missionaries at the church and the first time had been dreadful. It was, in my opinion, worse that the worst double-date that I can imagine. I was not in a good place at this time. I had been in an awful, manipulative relationship and a whole host of other instances of sexual harassment and assault had followed. Then I turned up at the church (I hadn’t been to a service yet) and was met by three men. The two missionaries I had met before, the third man I knew was going to be there but I had never met him. They decided to start by giving me a tour of the building but for some reason hadn’t turned any of the lights on… I was in a gloomy building with three men I had met twice or not at all. The man they’d brought along to help teach was silent almost the entire time. When they showed me the font I stood as far away as possible because I honestly wasn’t sure what they were going to do next. I had gone through five months of traumatic experiences involving men and this was not a positive encounter for me. But then along came Samuel.

April
This was the month that I got baptised, on the 21st April 2016. I already had a belief in God when the missionaries stopped me in February. What I had never had was the spiritual connection that I had heard people talk about, when people say that they were in conversation with God. I did find that with the LDS church which is why I became a member. As I mentioned in a previous post my conversion was not complete at this time, but I was convinced that this was where I was supposed to be, perhaps because I had found someone I wanted to be there with.

I didn’t join the church for Samuel, but there is a possibility that I wouldn’t have joined if I hadn’t met him. When I was in my baptismal interview, I was asked whether I believed that the gospel had been restored to earth. I responded that I wasn’t sure. In short, I wasn’t convinced. I knew that I was finally in a good place and that I was beginning to feel spiritually good once more (I hadn’t been to a church since I left home for university and I had begun to feel disconnected with my faith which truly saddened me). The Elder conducting the interview was very concerned by this, the interview that usually took around fifteen minutes took about two hours for me. It’s safe to say that despite popular belief I didn’t join a cult. The Elder asked me what would happen if I decided that the Book of Mormon was not true (if it were a cult they wouldn’t have been willing to have members who didn’t believe core parts of the doctrine) and I told him it wouldn’t matter. Now we are at the part where most people get confused. How can you be part of the Mormon church and have doubts about the book the church is named after?

For me the answer is really simple. The lifestyle that comes with being a Mormon: going to church on Sunday; not working, shopping or going out to dinner or the cinema on a Sunday; not drinking alcohol, tea or coffee; not smoking or taking drugs, was going to be my lifestyle now. Samuel and I were engaged to be married.

It was not the whirlwind romance that you might be expecting. I really don’t know how this man did it. He met me at the lowest point in my life (between his proposal and our wedding day I had almost dropped out of university, was given the opportunity to postpone my dissertation and final exams for a year and had seriously considered suicide). I had almost completely lost my sense of humour and believed that there was no part of me that was worth loving. Samuel and one of his brothers lived together at this time and I was living in their living room because if I was left alone there was a significant chance that I would cause myself harm. For me, that he could fall in love with me and give me constant care when I was almost incapacitated by my own mind makes him very special. I should also mention that we had discussed and agreed that we would get married even if I never joined the church.

What prompted me to say ‘Yes!’ when he proposed three weeks after we met, was the conversation we had when we decided to risk entering into a relationship. I say risk solely from my perspective. I had been through a lot in a very short amount of time and had not had a positive relationship in over three years. The last proper relationship I had been in before the disaster of 2015 ended with a broken engagement. Before you panic, I had known this man a lot longer and we had been in a steady relationship for a lot longer as well. But it all ended in tears. The man I walked out on in 2015 had cried too, hysterically (but I’m not sure about that as he raped me a few minutes later). Anyway… the point was that I was worried that I was going to take the heart of the lovely man I’d just met and metaphorically jump up and down on it until it was pulp. That was how I saw myself – a relationship wrecker and heart destroyer, unworthy of love.

What changed everything was his quiet acceptance of how I was feeling. That he was willing to give me space and time to heal. He still does. This was a huge contrast to what I had experienced over the past few months. A friend had asked me out and started sending hurtful text messages when I politely declined. A fellow student and I had dated briefly, but I decided it wasn’t a good idea two months before our dissertations were due and we broke up a few days after going out. This student then proceeded to message and call me. One night I was at the house of one of the youth from the church with a lot of other investigators and new converts watching Disney movies and he called me seven times in a row. This was about a week after Samuel and I first met. With all that was going on I guess I needed to offload to somebody and he was kind and close enough to listen. When we were sitting in my flat a week later, talking about whether or not we should risk dating, he told me that he’d wanted to ask me out earlier, but when I had told him everything that was going on he didn’t because he could see that I didn’t need anyone else telling me that they liked me; that I just needed a friend.

That’s what we are. Best friends. We both collect rocks, are academic geeks who love their respective subjects and Star Trek. Samuel is good at maths and I’m the one who reads and writes all day. We have the same attitudes, hopes and dreams. He is the only man I have ever met who put my needs before his own desires. That’s why I married him three months after we met. We don’t suggest others rush out and do the same, but it worked for us. We eloped to Gretna Green and since that day I have started to get better. It has taken a really, really, really long time but with the support and love of a very patient man, I know that my tomorrows will continue to get brighter.

 

 

Journey into Writing

Yesterday I posted the first poem I ever wrote. The rhyme scheme is really simple, as you would expect from a 9 year old, but the language as well is painfully basic and the way the subject is discussed is very bland and insensitive. Despite how much it makes me cringe as an adult, I am also very sentimental about it as it marked the start of my journey into writing poetry.

Today I thought I’d keep with the trend and post up another of my early poems. As my first poem formed part of my homework for a history lesson on the Blitz, the second poem I wrote was about the end of the Second World War. I am not going to post that up as there is no significant improvement from the first, although I think it is more sensitive to the events it describes.

The poem I am posting up is one from a few years on, when I was about 11 and I my last year of Primary School. There’s still a cheap rhyme in the middle that I’m not particularly pleased with, but this is the poem that I am most proud of on behalf of my younger self. It is the one poem, before I became a teenager, that actually tells a story and contains some historical detail. It accompanied a homework task about the Trojan War and I hope you enjoy it.

THE TROJAN HORSE
There once was a wooden horse,
Which was built for a certain cause.
30 men hid inside,
The rest rode off on the tide. 

Sinon was left behind,
Telling the Trojans they’d won,
They celebrated with fun.

That night the Greeks crept out,
They opened the gates and gave a shout!
They killed the Trojans with a spear,
And rescued Queen Helen,
The Greeks gave a cheer!

Back to Greece they sailed,
The brave King Menelaus was hailed.

First Efforts

What a great way to start a Monday! Logging into my Facebook this morning a quote came up on my newsfeed from Anne Lamott: ‘Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts‘.

When you have just sat down at your computer to start a hopeful day of writing, this is an empowering thing to read. It doesn’t matter if you have an idea that you feel confident about, the bare bones of a concept or whether you have no idea how your piece is going to begin or end. The important thing is that you have sat down to write something. That’s the other half of the quote: ‘You have to start somewhere‘.

One of my posts last week was about free writing, a great place to start if you have sat down with the intention to write and suddenly your mind has gone blank. It’s all about getting the ideas in your head into words, then getting those words out of your head on to the page. That’s why free writing with old fashioned pen and paper is still my favourite. I really feel connected to what I am writing then, and I have a mental image of the words flowing from my brain, down my arm, through my hand and on to the page.

Reading this quote this morning got me thinking about where I came from as a writer and storyteller. Like a lot of creative folk I started when I was very young. I was fortunate to have one of those grandfathers who would sit you on his knee and tell you stories. He set my friends and I in the centre of traditional fairy tales and suddenly we were the heroes of our own stories. I’m surprised that I never thought about were my interest in storytelling came from until now.  For as long as I can remember, and for as long as I have been able to write, I have been scribbling short stories. I  added illustrations too, but I was (and still am) a terrible artist. So I started writing long pieces of description, I suppose hoping that the words would paint the picture as I was persistently unable to do so myself.

I really came across poetry quite by accident. Of course I knew lots of nursery rhymes and made up a few myself, but they lacked any form, style or structure. Another girl in the village were I grew up went to a primary school near mine and our parents would car share. One day we were discussing our various homework assignments and my friend had been told to write a limerick for her history class. She wrote one on Anne Boleyn (it was very good) and I decided that I wanted to write one too for my history homework on the Second World War. After that I was hooked and most of my future history homework landed on the teacher’s desk with a poem attached.

I thought in light of the quote I read this morning I would share my terrible first effort. It is about Adolf Hitler, looking at it as an adult understatement does not cover how I described him as a character or the conditions and atrocities of the war as a whole. I hope that you will bare in mind as you read it that I was 9 when I wrote it. But as awful a poem as it is, it is the very first one I wrote and it sparked a love for poetry and writing. Therefore very significant and sentimental to me.

Hitler
Hitler was mean,
Hitler was bad,
He made us very
Shoddily clad.

He marched into Poland,
He marched into France,
He led the whole of Europe
In a merry dance.

The Allies won the war,
The Nazis lost,
50 million lost their lives,
It was a terrible cost.

(Age 9)

 

Debates within Poetry

Poems that speak directly to each other, or address a specific individual are amongst my favourites. I find them to be the most powerful, probably because the writer was so driven when they were written. I took English Literature for A Level and one of the texts was The New Oxford Book of War Poetry. Our course focused on the First World War. Not only is the poetry of that time incredibly moving, direct and blunt, the majority was written with a distinct purpose: revealing the brutality and futility of conflict. It is therefore necessarily graphic and emotionally charged.

Rupert Brooke and Charles Sorley

Edited by Jon Stallworthy, War Poetry begins with Biblical narratives and the epic war poems of Ancient Greece, and continues through time to poems penned during the Cold War. The anthology marks changes in warfare and attitudes to it. Before the outbreak of the First World War warfare was predominantly celebrated, romanced and glorified. By 1915 the poetry from the trenches was making sure that attitudes changed. The graphic imagery made it impossible to romanticise. Two poems that mark this change are The Dead by Rupert Brooke and Millions of the Mouthless Dead by Charles Hamilton Sorley. Both of these poems are sonnets, Brooke wrote several sonnets, taking the traditional form of love poetry and using it to demonstrate love or romance of war. Sorley’s sonnet is a response to the style of Brooke’s poetry. In The Dead, Brooke speaks of death making ‘us rarer gifts than gold’ whereas Sorley’s opening word is ‘Millions’ emphasising that there is no glory and that ‘is [it] not curses heaped on each gashed head?’ Brooke says: ‘Honour has come back’, whilst Sorley writes: ‘Nor Honour. It is easy to be dead’. Sorley’s rebuttal of Brooke’s poem is evident.

Wilfred Owen and Jessie Pope

One of the most famous poets of the First World War is Wilfred Owen. In one of his best remembered works Dulce Et Decorum Est Owen addresses a now obscure contemporary female writer, Jessie Pope. It should be noted that her war poems are not included in the anthology, although they would have provided contrast to the (12) female voices who give a less romantic portrayal of war. In her poem Who’s For A Game?, Pope pens: ‘Your country is up to her neck in a fight, And she’s looking and calling for you’. This echoes the sentiment of the Odes of the Roman poet Horace from whence the title of Owen’s poem is taken. Translated from Latin to English, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori means: ‘it is sweet and right (proper) to die for one’s country’. Owen accuses Pope of lying to children, ‘If you could hear [the effects of gas]… My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children… The old lie…’. The motif of a game is a common device in patriotic poems to encourage young men to sign up for war, for instance in Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem, Play up! Play up! And play the game!

A Poem of My Own

As I am posting on a Sunday, something that I wasn’t sure about doing having joined a church that advocates strict observance of the Sabbath, I thought I should post something relevant to scripture. (In an effort to put any concerned minds at rest, I wrote the majority of this post yesterday). This poem presents two sides of a debate, representing a teenager’s struggle with the law of chastity (premarital sex).

Be with me, my darling love, until the waters cover the sea

I

Aren’t devout servants wished by our Sovereign Lord?
How obedient is marked rebellion?
Then why this reluctant chastity, so fraud?
I wish to admire but one Creation
And in so doing – worship its Creator.
Too young for marriage are we, by elders, deemed
Intent to be a dusty room’s curators.
Now it is less important than it seemed
This white band of metal is freely given.
If this law’s to prevent promiscuity,
Then know that my desire is by love, driven.
Be assured that I shall love you faithfully
I have vowed that I will know no other thus,
And by this act with you – I display my trust.

II

It’s considered an outdated tradition,
Yet still one that resonates in my heart
It’s part of my faith – making it part of me.
By understanding, my doubts, your worth is proved:
Respecting, conserving and even loving
My decision – despite your own frustration.
My heart is set, I’m yours ‘til death us do part
Even if yours changes, mine will constant be.
None can take your place, nor make my heart so moved
By a single touch, word or by saying nothing.
Dead would my heart be without you, my sun, my star;
Our parting, my heart, would permanently scar.
So Love, don’t leave me but come away tonight
Forget the world – for together, we are right.

This is one of the poems that I am the most unsure about. As I have mentioned in previous posts I don’t usually construct poems or consciously use literary techniques as I have here and I would really welcome any comments about how the poem presents.