Distance

I wrote this many years ago about a long-distance relationship, I hope you enjoy it.

A dull, constant ache
A hole in my heart. 
Emptiness in my arms.
A great gap
Between them.

Cold air – 
An oversized room
A space waiting to be filled.
Empty frames
Hearts waiting to be healed.

How can I love a ghost
Of a face I never see?
How do I keep going
When you’re nearer France
Than me?

How can I say I know you
When there’s a void between us?
With this missing link –
How do we close the distance?

The more a metal is heated
The stronger it becomes;
Steadfast under pressure
Another test of patience
It doesn’t matter about the distance.

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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.

Productivity: Elusive and Blissful

Regaining a sense of productivity can be one of the hardest aspects of recovering from mental illness. When we are physically sick understanding and patience are more widely available. If a physical illness is long term then it can be very emotional, frustrating and life changing for all involved. But one of the biggest challenges with mental illness is that it is invisible.

The Effect of Mental Illness on Work and Everyday Life

When we have good relationships with friends, family and colleagues they can pick up on even small changes in our behaviour, body-language or voice that can indicate that something is not as it usually is. But everyone has their own struggles and if the earliest indications are missed then the individual may have already distanced themselves to the extent that there is not that closeness with which to be aware of the more drastic developments with ill-health and it becomes invisible.

Some individuals, such as myself, may have to get sick leave from work when the illness prevents them from successfully completing assignments, interacting with people, or even getting out of bed in the morning. Severe mental illness can inhibit individuals from effectively completing day to day tasks such as washing up, laundry and even aspects of personal hygiene.

The hopeful outcome is that even those of us who hit rock bottom will find the strength and light within us, assisted or unassisted by medication, professionals or loved ones, to regain full health, awareness and maybe eventually return to work. Sadly, this is not the case for all but I am one of the lucky ones and can only write from my own experiences.

Return to Work

I still have wobbles about work. I have just completed my annual review and it was tough for someone so self-critical and pessimistic to focus on successes and find things to be ‘proud’ of. When I returned to work I didn’t feel ready at all. I felt drained and groggy as if I had crawled out from hibernation and it took a lot for me to be able to face my colleagues again. I wasn’t confident about performing stories and still didn’t even like going beyond the front door. There are still days when I can’t face leaving the house and catching the train into the city feels overwhelming even though it a direct line.

It is difficult when you are effectively at war with yourself every time you try to accomplish something. Everyone has self-doubt and negativity from time to time and lots of jobs are very stressful these days. But when you have mental illness these periods are not temporary. The voice of self-loathing is constantly bullying you from within your own brain. You spend twice as much time worrying as actually doing and each worry makes the task seem so much bigger. Then there’s the agonising you do once the task is completed. Worrying about whether it was good enough and beating yourself up for not having done it sooner or quicker and all the while preventing yourself from moving on to the next task.

Have Patience and Be Kind to Yourself

We are our harshest critics. We will tell others that they should slow down, take a break, stop being so hard on themselves, but we are (for the most part) useless at taking this advice ourselves. I volunteered for a charity that supported those with mental illness. I sat at the end of a phone listening to others tell me about their experiences and I would see all the warning signs. It was part of my job to spot the triggers and ask the difficult question: Are you feeling suicidal? To try and help others give words to how they were feeling. 

I missed all the signs for myself. I told myself that what I was feeling wasn’t real, it was all in my head, that I was attention seeking, pathetic, weak. But I have to be patient with myself. I have to give myself permission to slow down, to take a break, to heal.

I am not the same as I was before I was suicidal. I don’t have as much energy, my memory isn’t as good and I can’t take on as much as I could before. This makes me feel like I am not achieving as much, that I am not productive.

Loss of Perspective and Regaining Productivity

As a result, I seem to have lost all perspective on time. I am no longer assigning reasonable, achievable timescales to the tasks I am hoping to complete. If the goal is designed from the outset to be unachievable, then the feeling of failure will creep in before you have even begun and snuff out all your motivation. This is how productivity can become elusive.

But when it happens, productivity can be blissful. The same way that unachievable goals, which are only that way because they have not been fully planned out, accurately time scaled or suitably prepared for, can lead to a tailspin of negativity, anxiety and depression; the completion of even the smallest, simplest task, can buoy up, motivate and brighten.

Moving Forward

There is a lot of advice out there on how to be productive. There’s a lot of stipulation about what time to get up in the morning, when to go to bed, how much to drink, what you should eat; endless lists on how to be successful. Yet, everyone is different. I feel most productive when I get up early because I work best during daylight hours, but my husband works best later at night because it is quiet and there are less disturbances from emails and the like.

Does it matter? There is so much emphasis on changing everything about your routine, your diet, your exercise pattern to become better, more, to be successful. If you are recovering from any form of mental illness that is immediately going to be overwhelming and you will have your head under the covers again waiting for it to go away. I know because I did just that.

So don’t change. At least, not all at once. Just reach out your arm to the nearest writing materials you have. You’re phone is probably in arms reach so type a note or a text to yourself and list 5 things that you can do that day that will be an achievement. Whether it is getting dressed, brushing your teeth, having a shower, it doesn’t matter. Being able to check, cross or delete things off of that list will make you feel stronger, it will let you be able to move on to the next thing. Start as small and as simple as you need to. Then build it up.

 

Dreaming of the Temple: Part 3

Dreaming of the Temple. I have mentioned before the associations these words conjure for me. The temple is a literal place, it represents calm and tranquillity with oneself, surroundings and circumstances. However, I’m not just dreaming of one day going to the temple and being sealed to my husband, that is not were the dream ends. There is a huge emphasis on family in our church, and especially at the temple. We have the belief that families are forever.

When my husband and I are sealed any children we have will also be sealed to us. This is not just children born following the sealing ceremony, but children who were born before, and if a convert’s parents choose to join the church years later they also have the opportunity to be sealed to their children and future grandchildren.

For us, dreaming of the temple represents our hopes for our family. We have not been married very long and as a result currently have no children. We have been discussing starting to try and conceive and, I’ll be honest, it has thrown up more questions than we thought it would.

Call me naïve, but I really thought that once we had told each other that we both wanted to have children and we felt like we were in a good place to do so, that that would be it. We both knew that this is what we wanted, it’s one of the reasons we got married when we did and we even bought some baby books we saw in the window of a charity shop that we passed on the first day of our honeymoon (as a joke gift to ourselves).

But since that initial decision we have been going round in circles. I created this blog as a thinking space, and that is what it is going to be over the next few days.

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?

All We Are and All We Have

Actors

All we are
Just actors
On the stage
And the show
Is just beginning…

We are pushed out
Before the glaring lights
Blind, dumb and deafened
By applause for nothing
But expectations.

Eventually
We will learn
To walk and talk
To run and play
To interact
With other actors along the way.
All of us heroes
In our own stories
Extras to everyone else.
Reflected again and again
In the endless chain
Of cracked dressing room mirrors.

Some of us will forget our lines
Others exit early (stage right)
Unexpected entrances are always the best
But there is relief on the final night.

And what how shall we leave them,
The few observers of our play?
Laughing or wiping tears from their eyes?
Shall we relish the drama
Or slip silently away?
Only one thing is certain –
We have a single chance to get it right,
There is no dress rehearsal.
There is no encore.

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.