Sunday, 30 September 2007

Happy Happy Happy.


(Has been Published on 'The F word' today- a prominent contemporary feminist website. Apologies for lack of blogs here but a combination of getting the above edited, a bad couple of weeks MH wise and then going down with tonsillitis has made me rather quiet! One or two more blogs are in the pipeline though, so hopefully October will be a more fruitful month for Syncopated thoughts.)


Friday, 14 September 2007

Let's Push Things Forwards.

This photo is troubling me:

In case you didn’t realise, it’s of my husband, and a little girl.

He met her when we went camping in the Lake District. She was called Neve. Owen was sat on top of the rock near our tent just doing some reading and thinking. Then he heard a call; ‘hey smelly pants!’, and there was Neve, grinning up at him with a cheeky smile. She poked her tongue out and came and sat next to him.

She was quite a character, about four or five years old and the oldest of her brothers and sisters. Utterly bossy, compulsively cheeky and very playful.

Owen’s heart melted, I could see in his eyes he was won over completely. He played with her for hours, and they connected. They laughed and joked and climbed and ran and explored and giggled and jibed and jived and made each other happy.

And oh, my god. I felt so fucking broody it’s untrue.

I had never realised, up until then, just how much of a good dad Owen would be. I had always, because of the way he generally spoke about children and because of the relationship he has with his own father, assumed that he would be, in his parenting style, very awkward and detached and grumpy. I figured somehow that he would never quite enter into the spirit of a family fully. Then Thomas, my nephew came along and he started to prove me wrong. He is very good with him, reading books for hours and helping Sophie bathe him. That was nice, seeing that, but I’m not really a baby fan. They cry too much and I don’t understand why. I am so scared of breaking them. HHhhhhhHHowever, I do admit to being wholeheartedly a five-year-old fan especially when they’re children who are confident and funny and yes, quite cute. Seeing him react and interact like that with Neve was so intoxicating it was almost primal. I just wanted, for the two or three minutes when this photo was taken to drag him to the tent and make a baby. I wanted to ride him long and hard and have gruelling explosive sex. I wanted…well…sperm rather than cock. My oh my I have never felt anything quite like it.

Now every time I see this photo I get an echo of the same feeling. I want to delete it, but somehow can’t bring myself to.

This is doing my nut for three reasons.

1) I have always stated that I don’t want children

2) We can’t afford one child, let alone the two or three I would want if, hypothetically we did have children.

3) I am severely mentally ill and don’t know if I’m well enough to cope with a family.

Yet, after Neve came into our lives, albeit briefly, something has changed between the two of us. I never mentioned my feelings, but I knew Owen could tell. Also, I could tell that something in him was changing, like the way he was looking at pregnant women and young mothers in the supermarket. Last night it all erupted and we had a funny ‘hypothetical’ conversation that boiled down to discussing parenting styles and school preferences (as in types of rather than specific ones) and the best age for us to do it. It was all very strange, like totally new territory, peppered with phrases like ‘well we never said definitely never,’ and ‘I’m not saying we will, but if we do then what do you think about…’ The whole thing was just very strange and weird and oddly exciting. This is just stuff we have never ever discussed because it was never important to us. I don’t know what’s changed really.

However, we would be stupid if we refused to ever think about the possibility of a family of our own because we are so family orientated already, and I’m never going to be career driven, I’ve accepted that already. I want to categorically state that I don’t have a tick tock sense of time passing. Nevertheless, it would be sad if we didn’t even properly discuss the issue until we were thirty-five and then it was getting on to being too late. Also, for us getting pregnant is going to be a huge, long and dangerous process because it will involve me gradually coming off my medication and proving that I can live drug free- a massive step that could take years- before we could even think about going ahead and actually trying to make a baby.

Like I say, the whole thing is rather troubling. Not simply because it’s a 180 degree turn around from even a month ago, and not only the annoying fact that both of our families told us that exactly this would happen, but because it’s a part of a wider picture.

I am having to really accept that I have a future.

Ever since I had to leave my OT course because I wasn’t well enough to cope with it, and then the suicide attempt, where I gave up on life altogether, I have refused to face up to the fact that I could have some semblance of a future ahead of me. I have constantly frustrated my Doctors, nurses and shrink by remaining bleak about my prognosis. ‘Ten percent of us die from this fucking illness’ I said, again and again. My death wish is so strong at times I just knew I would be one of them. Despite the fact that I am happier now than I have been for years, and genuinely healthy and loving life, there is so much of me that thinks each day that passes like that is a fluke. Sure, today was fun, and I enjoyed it, you could even say I’m doing well but how long until the next breakdown, the next relapse? For months after my hospitalisation I refused to even think about my options, and every time my CPN, Nick, would gently prod me about my future, I would laugh in his face. ‘I have no future.’ I would say. ‘Haven’t you read my diagnosis, haven’t you read my notes? I’m totally fucked. I’m doomed to go round and round in this eternal mood swing cycle of elation and depression. I will deteriorate further and further. The illness will destroy my functioning and relationships until one day I will crack and it kills me. That is my future. I am resigned to that. Now just leave me to my fate and go and spend valuable NHS resource on someone who actually has a chance of getting better. Someone you can actually help.’

They would sigh. And disagree, in the strongest terms. But I wouldn’t listen.

Now, something is shifting within me. I still have bleak moments, and I am still resigned to the fact that I have bipolar disorder and my life is never going to be the easiest.


It doesn’t have to kill me. I don’t have to be one of the 10% who wind up swinging or jumping or slashing themselves into an early grave.

It doesn’t mean I have to be housebound, or dependent on my husband for everything.

It doesn’t mean I can never work.

It doesn’t mean I can’t be happy on a long term basis.

It doesn’t mean my marriage is doomed because he will get sick of me eventually.

And, I suppose:

It doesn’t mean that I would inevitably be an awful mother.

That’s the scary thing about seeing Owen with Neve. That’s why it has been playing on my mind so much. Because in a way, it’s all about me facing up to my potential and doing the brave thing with my life. I don’t mean whether or not we have children. The point is I have to face the fact that unless I get hit by a bus or develop a malignant tumour etc. then I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. I have to accept that deep down. I can’t afford a repeat of last October, and I know that now. It’s about realising that, yes, I love life and also about realising I am worth something. Not just to other people but to myself.

Neve was a symbol more than anything else. In some senses a symbol of hope, yes. That I have come a long way and have a future, a life ahead of me that can bring me a lot of fulfilment and happiness, in whatever form I choose. But she was also a symbol of the fact that I am now tied to this earth and along with all the happiness comes a shitload of pain. I will lose people close to me, I will have relapses and crises, and other illnesses and heartache. Neve is a symbol of the fact that now I can’t deal with that pain by drowning it in booze night after night or jumping off a bridge. Not anymore, that time is passed forever. I’ve moved into another phase, one with much more happiness but also much more risk. I have to process the pain, I have to feel it, I have to let it go.

Also, with this idea of a future comes the responsibility to make the best of what I’ve been given with the talents I have. I can no longer use my illness as an excuse. I have to face up to the fact that I am a talented, loving human being with a lot to say who can really contribute to society be it through writing, teaching, working, campaigning, or… you know… raising three kids in a radical way. Or a combination of the above. I have to face up to the fact that I do have some control over my moods, they do not just come out of nowhere. My lifestyle, attitude, honesty and compassion for myself are key to my happiness rather than just pink pills and ‘the luck of the draw’. It’s all about taking control and my responsibility seriously.

I didn’t expect to be alive today. Now I’m thinking about in ten, twenty, fifty years time.

We are talking about the future again. Houses, kids, countries, jobs, ideologies, dreams, golden wedding anniversaries and book ideas. That’s simply something we didn’t dare to do for a long time. It’s a testament to Owens faith in me that we have got to this stage, but also to my own determination and hard work that I’ve got this far so quickly.

I’m half excited, half terrified.

Thank you, little Neve. You’ve opened my eyes to what could be and helped me and Owen more than your five-year-old brain could ever possibly comprehend.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Life Under Canvas.

I love camping. True, there’s a lot of hassle; the rooting around for the insect repellent in the pitch black whilst you shiver in your midge infested, postage stamp- sized tent. The early mornings where you wake up clammy and cold, then trip over numerous guy ropes as you stumble to the toilet block. Then when you get there you find that there’s no toilet paper and there’s a daddy long legs the size of a small child’s head hovering just above the toilet bowl. When you lift the seat there is a poo that smells like everything that has ever nauseated you in your whole life all slopped together, glistening in the morning light; the texture of peanut butter with a slight green tinge (what do these people eat?) On top of that, there’s the tinned food, the dishwater tea, the fact that everything is ever so slightly damp and the fact that you only remembered to pack one jumper then spilt wine all down it within five minutes of getting there. Loudmouthed children, dogs that shit outside your tent, matches that stubbornly won’t light the stove for your morning bacon. These are the delights that life under canvas provides on a daily basis.

Yet I am not being sarcastic when I say, wholeheartedly, that I love camping. So much. This weekend I went away for a few days in the lake district with a couple of close friends. I genuinely had the time of my life. Not despite the above. Because of the above. What can I say, I like a little bit of discomfort once in a while. Yes yes, I know I sound horribly middle class, but getting ‘back to nature’ is actually a lot of fun. I enjoyed the rugged outdoors and the beautiful scenery. But I also enjoyed the lack of creature comforts and being at the mercy of the good old British weather, that sense of being connected to the world around you rather than being bubbled off from it. I liked getting up in the morning, looking up at the sky and trying to work out what I should wear. I can’t remember the last time I did that. I liked planning our days around the lay of the land and the rhythms of nature rather than the so often arbitrary wristwatch/calendar combo.

Most inconveniences didn’t bother me and some even made me smile. By the end I was almost playing join the dots on my legs from all the bites and I thought I was going to go crazy from all the itching. It was funny, though, comparing bites with my friends and even scratching each others to see if that would make them itch less. Or frantically rubbing them on a variety of inanimate objects when we had both hands busy making hotdog sandwiches on our rickety stove. Hours of amusement from one hungry parasite! Also, I can’t say I physically enjoyed walking up killer mountains for three hours. In fact, at one point when we got to what we thought was the top, only to discover we were not even close I did actually collapse on the ground, roll around melodramatically and say ‘Please God NO!!!’ But eventually I came around. I am not one to be defeated by a lump of rock. Oh yes, I took a long gulp of lukewarm water, rubbed my calf muscles back to life and clambered up to the summit. The view from the top was AMAZING.

I also enjoyed the company. It was the first time I’d seen my friends in a while and I had missed them so much. The chemistry between us is really good. I don’t think we stopped laughing the whole time. I have not seen Owen look so relaxed for months. Usually he’s so wrapped up in his work that even after I pamper and treat him with a back massage or a long, lingering blowjob he maintains a bit of an ‘edge’. Here, he just melted completely. The pills probably helped. As did the endless supply of BBQ meat and luscious red wine. Honestly though, it was the company that did it, the constant mucking around and singing silly songs and taking the piss out of each other. The camaraderie and bickering, the hugs and the dancing, the in jokes, constant mishaps and the all important laughter. I was a bit nervous about going on holiday with another couple, even one so close to us. O and I are a tight knit couple and we need our space. Yet, we never felt claustrophobic, maybe if we had spent much longer together it would have been a different story, I don’t know. Still, it was really great to see our friendship still flourishing after all this time.

Which brings me on nicely to my next ‘item’ that I want to talk about.

I feel kind of smug. This holiday increased my smug levels from ‘about tolerable’ to ‘sickening’. Just ask Owen.

I know that probably makes me a bad person.

I am feeling smug because I am starting to become a better friend. It really hit me this holiday. Becoming a better friend was one of my 43 things before I deleted my list because I got way too obsessive. But I’ve plugged along with that particular goal and I’m starting to feel like it’s paying off. I’m far from perfect. I still almost pathologically forget birthdays. Sometimes when the phone rings in the middle of a movie I look at caller ID and if it’s a ‘big’ call I’ll sometimes not pick up. I still have very bad friendship habits, you mark my words. However, I’m getting there. For one reason or another, (the main ones being the advent of facebook, friends getting blogs; basically other people finally catching on and becoming as internet obsessed as I have been for the last twelve years) I have started to emerge from my antisocial shell. And although I’m utilising the internet, I’m not hiding behind a computer screen like I have done in the past.

No, I’m actually tackling my ‘social phobia’- getting out there and meeting people, like, face to face. I’m phoning people, mostly when I said I would, on a regular basis, going for drinks with old friends, new friends, and forever friends. I’m taking trips to see people, travelling on trains and busses and not letting my fears of getting lost or social awkwardness get in the way. I’m starting to say ‘yes’ to social invitations, even when, shock horror, strangers are involved. That in itself is a minor miracle. On top of that, when I attend these functions I am not arriving drunk, then drinking a further two bottles of wine within half an hour and falling asleep in corner, having said two words all night. No, I am initiating conversation, having the odd glass of wine but staying firmly in control. Hell, sometimes I even find myself ordering a J2O.

I am laughing. I am not spending the night feeling like I’m going to have a panic attack or burst into tears. I am talking, joking, singing, smiling. I am, in effect, BEING NORMAL. And, my God, I can’t believe this is actually ME who’s writing this, it just feels so nice even to be able to type the letters in this order! I keep expecting myself, when the phone rings for the first time in the morning, to run and hide under the covers until it stops, then delete the 1571 message before I’ve even listened to which disappointed friend I have let down this time. Like in the old days, like I did for years of my life. But lo and behold, these days I pick up. I talk. I laugh. I connect with people. Not just any old people, but special people. My friends and family who have stood by me all these years. (well, and the occasional double glazing salesman). As a result I now have what I can call friends. Not just one or two friends who claustrophobically take over my life or I cling to like a limpet, but lots of actual, balanced, real life, lovely people to talk to and share my life with. And that is making me so, so happy.

No, I am not ‘Miss Popular’. I never will be one who social networks or goes clubbing once a week and has seven hundred and fifty myspace friends. That would require a personality transplant that I do not desire, not even for a second. But for the first time in a long time I do have a lot of people in my life that I feel comfortable with and happy to ring at any time and confident that if I do dial their code I won’t clam up. In fact, I can feel pretty sure that I will have a giggle or a frank chat. My friendships these days are giving me such pleasure, when in the past they have been at best a source of paranoia and frustration and at worst things that have made me feel guilty and worthless for being such a pathetic friend. So, yes, I am feeling smug. Because although I still have a way to go, I’m over half way there to conquering this social phobia shtick for good. And even a year ago, those were words that I never thought I’d type.

Anyway, the holiday’s over. We sang songs all down the motorway and I’m back in York now, rubbing savlon into my bites and having a normal cup of tea from my favourite china mug.

I saw some stunning scenery; mountains, lakes, forests and waterfalls. I ate homemade scones in quaint tearooms, drank fruity Shiraz under the stars and had a morning wee in the smelliest toilet in England.

However, these things are not what linger on in my mind now the bags are unpacked, the tent deflated and even my bites are fading away. The memory that stays with me is the feeling of warmth that bubbled in my blood as I felt the embrace of my friends holding me tight before we parted. Then the beautiful words I heard whispered in my ears;

‘We love you sweetie, and don’t you ever forget it.’


Thursday, 23 August 2007


I’ve heard it argued that you shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ too often. The phrase loses it’s power, they say. The words become meaningless, hollow. They don’t send shivers down your spine like the first time they were whispered in your ear, the impact is lessened, and soon the phrase becomes bland, like saying ‘what would you like for tea?’ or ‘it’s raining again, it’s supposed to be summer.’

I am here today to testify. Me and Owen say ‘I love you’ to each other at least fifty times a day. That’s no exaggeration. If anything, it’s a conservative estimate. On days where he’s at work sometimes I pick up the phone, dial his desk, wait till he answers and say ‘I love you’ then hang up.

He usually rings back:

‘I love you too’

It is something we do, something we have always done.

Yet the words have more power now than they ever did the first time: spoken by nineteen year old Jen, my nervous laying down of the cards before I even knew what those words really meant. I knew that by saying them, I crossed a line that would shape us forever. It was a week into the relationship. I said them once. It took Owen three months to respond. Maybe some people would have taken that as a snub. I didn’t. I knew very quickly that this would go the distance. But Owen is more tentative, more hesitant. He likes to be sure about things. He likes to think before he acts. I knew this from the first day we met. I had to accept him for the way he was. So for three long months I waited for the answer I wanted to hear. When I finally heard the words, I knew they were heartfelt. I was curled up on his lap. I had been crying. I don’t remember why. Owen was stroking my hair. His hands fell gently on my scalp, weaving patterns among my follicles. Nick cave was singing softly in the background. ‘Into my arms, my love… into my arms.’ I still don’t know if that was deliberate. He said ‘Jen, I think I love you too’. I fell to sleep with those words ringing in my ears. I smiled and dreamed about us holding hands, our ringed fingers interlocking.

Now its seven years later, we are married. We have said those words almost a million times. They have acquired a history. They have become a ritual. They are a part of us. There are stories I can tell about those words. Some of the times we spoke them stand out. Like the time Owen sang them to me drunkenly on our wedding night before he fell asleep and I felt happier than I ever have in my life. Or the time I said them to him when he had taken his first pill and he looked back at me in sheer delight and awe, like I had given him the secrets of the universe in one single sentence. But mostly when I think of the phrase it is almost as an invisible thread, weaving in and out of our lives, binding us tighter together, strengthening the bond between us.

It can mean different things. Rather than simply being a statement of devotion, these days there’s a whole art form involved in interpreting the sentence.

‘I love you’ can mean, amongst many other things:

‘Shut up’

‘That joke wasn’t funny but you still make me laugh.’

‘I want to have sex.’

‘I’m going to cum.’

‘That food was nice.’


‘Thank you.’

‘You’re annoying me.’

‘I can’t imagine life without you.’

‘You rock my world.’


‘Stop being silly. God, you’re a plonker.’


‘I’m proud of you’

‘Good luck.’

‘I’m with you.’

‘Happy birthday.’

‘Don’t leave me.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Get on with some work!’

‘That’s so typically you.’

‘Do you promise?’

‘I promise.’

‘I want to be with you forever.’

‘Do you love me?’

‘I love you. I mean really, truly, so much I’m going to explode.’


So the list goes on. We never define what the sentence means at the time. We just say the words and we both understand. It’s a language within a language. It is comforting and inspiring and reassuring and challenging. It’s sometimes a little stifling but mostly utterly utterly freeing.

Has the phrase lost it’s impact since the first time?

Well, yes and no.

The words are just words. Their power waxes and wanes with the force that moves them.

When they are said out of habit they are meaningful and nourishing but not knee knocking. However, even now after seven years, and I would hedge a bet that even after twenty seven years we will still be able to pull a mind-blowing ‘I love you’ out of the bag. It’s all in the context. The power is in the chemistry between you at the time. ‘I love you’ is the product of a reaction, a winning formula. I savour the words, I roll them round my mouth and taste them on my tongue. I have never found a more potent mantra to help me through this life. It might be a cheesy line to finish a rather cheesy entry, but ‘I love you’ is the most important thing I have ever heard, or will ever say.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Fructose Intolerant

Why is it I can look into somebody’s eyes and tell if they’ve been there?

To the place where the air is too heavy to breathe, time sticks to your shoes like treacle and the pain burns brighter than the sun in the midday sky.

I read people like a book, I decode their suffering like a secret language. I can tell its depth, its duration, it’s lasting damage. From looking into their eyes I can see the scars in their history, how far they have fallen and how fast. They could be telling a joke, they could be giving me a hug or dancing on five pills. If its in their eyes, I know. There’s no escaping, no need to hide. I read it in an instant, it transcends body language or clothes or the silly words we all say. If it is there, it’s all in the eyes and I will see it. Don’t ask me how but I can just tell if they’ve ever sailed that ship. I can tell if they haven’t come back yet; if the air in their lungs still feels like steam in a pressure cooker. Sometimes I think I can see that they will never return, but predicting the future is the only thing I wouldn’t swear to. Everyone can change, after all.

Sure, you say. You recognise intense suffering. Big deal. Who in their life has not known that? You could see it in everyone if you tried. It is true, there is a lot of pain in a lot of people’s lives. But there are some people who remain untouched, more than you think. Call it water off a ducks back, call it numbness or ignorance or luck. Whatever your label; I meet them in the street, they are in my family and amongst my acquaintances and I can’t relate to them. Not the happy people, the ones who know true joy. I don’t mean them, I spend a lot of time being in a very good place with a lot of very happy people. I mean the people who even when bad things happen, they have never engaged with their pain, who have never wrestled with their dark side, who shrug off depression as easily as tossing the damned black dog a stick when it is their turn to walk him in the park. I don’t wish them harm, it’s a wavelength thing; I just don’t understand how you can exist in this world without having a relationship with pain, with this darkness.

When I look into someone’s eyes and the pain’s not there I feel a moment of panic. It’s like a woman who falls in love with the guy in a cubicle opposite her at the office and then one day on her way to the coffee machine she glances downwards and sees a ring on his finger. The future comes crashing down there and then. If I’m talking with someone and then I look into their eyes and it’s like looking at a blank slate, if I’m getting serious vibes that this person ‘hasn’t been there,’ I tend to make my excuses and leave. It’s not that I want my friends to be a big bunch of depressives to hang out with and all slit our wrists together in one morbid jamboree. I just need people around me who understand, who have had a taste of the darkness, no matter how big or small. This black dog plagues me, I need people around me who are experienced animal handlers and it’s very rare you get an dog trainer who hasn’t got a dog himself at home.

Of course, having suffered yourself doesn’t automatically make you an empathetic person, that’s where other clues come in; conversation, history, body language etc. But having been there yourself: it’s definitely a starting point. Life is a journey. I need people in my life who, with empathy and understanding, can help me wrestle my demons and find inner freedom. I promise all my friends I will do the same for them in return, as best I can. But if, as a friend, your reaction to seeing your first Jen demon is being so shocked you hide under the bed or run away then what use are you to me? And believe me I have known people like that. I haven’t always been so adept at reading suffering. There have been people who in the past when I let them into the big bag of crazy that is my inner world, they can’t handle it. It short circuits their wiring, it scares them, they don’t know what to do. The black dog can be a scary beast with all its teeth bared. To this day, there is only one man who knows everything about me. It took a long time for me to be honest with him and sometimes I think even he is frightened by it all. He is a brave man, trust me. To befriend someone who is shackled to a beast is true courage. To marry her, well that’s just plain dumb.

The hidden code was something I had to quickly master. I learnt to know, without asking, who to trust and who would understand. There’s nothing worse than giving someone a big slice of your home baked crazy pie only to find out they are fructose intolerant. Why then, give it to anyone? It’s a valid question. My answer is simple. Call it selfish, call it needy, call it whatever you want, but I always believe that a problem shared is a problem halved. I try not to burden people unnecessarily but when it hurts too bad sometimes you don’t have a choice. You say something, you reach out, or you die. It’s that simple.

Sometimes in the throws of the darkness the very worst of you surfaces; the real nasty, twisted, horrible, ugly parts. When, (not if), you find there are people; friends, good friends, who can’t cope with this side of you and run for the hills it’s important that you don’t hold a grudge. You must understand; people have their own shit, sometimes a big black dog barking in the room is too much for them to deal with. These are not fair weather friends, give them some credit; the kind of problems that fair weather friends abandon you for are things like a lack of money or drugs, a change of musical taste or a bad haircut. Then there’s the shit I put my friends through: visiting me for the second time on a locked ward, having to spend a whole night talking me out of cutting my arms to ribbons in the toilet with a carving knife during the fresher’s Christmas ball, or spending hours on a mobile stopping me jumping in front of the next train. It’s just a different league. I mean, if people don’t want to be a part of that, you mustn’t hold it against them, you mustn’t think them fickle or callous. Think about it, they just have their own shit, really they’re just being sensible. You wish them well, you smile when you see them awkwardly coming down the high street towards you, you send them a Christmas card at the end of the year, but ultimately you move on.

Why is it, then, that I can look into somebody’s eyes and tell, right away, if they’ve been there? To the place where the air is too heavy to breathe, time sticks to your shoes like treacle and the pain burns brighter than the sun in the midday sky. Why is it, that if they haven’t, I give them a fake phone number and walk away?

Because I’ve lost too many friends who just didn’t understand. Each time it happens, it hurts like a bastard.

And I don’t want it to happen again.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

No Ripple

I have grown to like being still.

I have taken to sitting in silence, especially in the daytime when Owen is away. Sometimes I play a record on softly in the background, usually an old favourite: Nick Drake or Leonard Cohen. Often even that is overwhelming. I dislike too much noise. I sit, with my thoughts on mute; sitting, breathing, just being.

I can do that for a long time, sometimes hours. I can’t explain why, or how but I find such beauty, such depth in silence. I feel a stripping away of the layers, a crumbling of the barriers until all you’re left with is a pure and calm stillness. Sometimes, my body rebels. It gets bored and restless, it longs for the shiny, for the new. I persevere. Still I sit, still I breathe, in and out, in and out. The boredom, too, eventually melts away.

I focus on the breath. I count to ten like I’ve been taught. One to ten and back again. Just me and the breath. Everything else disappears. I count to ten. I breathe in and out. Until the thoughts are still and all is quiet within.

Sometimes, when I am feeling this calm, I take out pad and pen and let myself write. This is a true joy. I write spontaneously. I have never done this before. I don’t know where the words come from, but I don’t think them first like I usually do. I do not edit, I do not delete. They sometimes make sense, they sometimes don’t. I don’t care what happens to them. They are not my words, they do not belong to me. They are pure: free from ego and competition and paralysis. I like writing this way, although it feels more like channeling than writing. When I read
the words back though, I can tell they came from somewhere inside me. I am no medium, except of my own subconscious. It is so different when you let the words form on the page without worrying about them. You learn that they usually take care of themselves. It’s like a mother finally having the courage to let go of her child’s hand as they cross the road. It’s all in the act of letting go that things become pleasurable, really pleasurable and that you become free. The stress disappears, the knots unravel. The words on the page do not belong to me, nothing belongs to me, hell, there is no me! It’s just all good. Really good. And it makes me smile.

But that’s the writing. I do that because I can’t not write. I’ve never been able to live a life where I don’t write. But the day is long and mostly I just sit. I sit on my stool or I sit on the sofa. I sit on the park bench, I sit by the river. The water flows like time passing. You never put your foot in the same stream twice.

Home again: I stare at the white wall. I see so much peace and beauty there. I walk into the garden. I smell a flower. For a moment, that flower is the universe. I watch the bees and wasps fly around the garden. I wish them well. I breathe, I breathe, I breathe. I go inside. I brew a cup of tea in my old china cup. It is white with a golden rim, and a chip in the top. I pour the water slowly, watch the leaves diffuse. I blow. I sip. I swallow. The tea becomes part of me. Water becomes blood. Hydrogen and Oxygen along with everything else. I wash the cup, the soapy bubbles pop on my arm. I rinse. I dry. I place the cup back in the cupboard. I am aware of every movement in my hands, the feel of the rough tea towel against my moist knuckles. I walk back to the sofa. I sit. I stare at the white wall. I see such beauty there.

Later: I smile. It is colder now. I pull my blanket round me. I don’t know the time. I don’t want to know the time. He is not here, but will be back. Until then, I sit. I make Nick sing some more. I don’t listen to the words, just the melody, the sound of his instruments; his guitar and his voice. That’s how it’s always been with Nick and I. The sun sets, I watch it on the horizon through my window. I do not ignore the building site opposite. I try to see the beauty in the cranes and the scaffolding. It is not difficult, although it was at seven o’ clock this morning. I yawn and stretch my arms into the space above me. I sit, I light a candle. I stare into the flame, I don’t know how long for. Soon, I don’t hear noises, not even Nick. I stare at the candle, I stare at the flame and its many different colours. My eyes softly, gently close.

There is a smell of smoke. I open my eyes. The candle has blown out. Its plumage spirals towards the overhead light. I lick my fingers and pinch the wick. It fizzles but does not burn.

I stand, fully awake. Nick has long stopped, the disk ejected. Outside there is darkness. I shut the curtains, turn on the light. The stillness remains within me, unshakable. My stomach rumbles. I walk into the kitchen, open the cupboards, ponder quietly what to create for us today. Whilst I am thinking, I hear the front door slam. He is home. I smile: another day over and not a ripple in the pond. What joy I have known today, what more could I want for? The door opens, he is wet with drizzle and his nose is red. He kisses me, throws his arms around me, says; ‘It’s good to see you, it’s great to be home.’ Here, you see, I have everything I need. Here, you see, I want for nothing. After all, this is my home. Not this town, not this house, not this man, not even this body. Home is the stillness, the rich beautiful stillness that lies here: deep down inside me.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

More Poems from the Archives

The following poems were all written in the second year of my university course in Lancaster. It was a tumultuous time for both me and O, with my mood being all over the place and although we had some really good times we also went through some of the toughest times in our relationship to date. I do not claim that the following poems are some of my most technically competent or well written, but I am publishing them here because I think they have something to say, and capture something of this part in my life.

Pregnancy Scare

He sits in his cage
day and night.
A small box
full of his own shit.
I'm scared of him:
scared of his teeth,
scared of his tail,
scared of his potential
to run away from me.
More than just an impulse buy
guilt on legs.
If I am too scared to love a rat
then how can I
love a child?
Brittle bones
and tiny hands
she will break into pieces easier
than the cornflakes
on the kitchen floor
underneath my feet.

The Truth of the Matter.

Having a mental illness is not about slashing your wrists and rocking backwards and forwards whilst grown men hold you down in four point restraints.
It’s wearing knickers that are fifteen days old.
It’s your jealous friends not being jealous of you, but full of pity.
It’s realising you can’t do something that you could do when you were five, like eat a sausage roll without thinking you were going to choke and die.
It’s being full of self doubt twenty four seven.
It’s not being able to ever participate fully.
It’s not being able to remember a film you watched last night.
It’s cringing with shame for the next week when you get somebody’s name wrong.
It’s cutting your leg with a screwdriver because you haven’t and will never finish that essay.
It’s ruminating for hours about what the last thing you eat will be before you die.
It’s going around in circles and recycling old epiphanies again and again and again.
It’s knowing in your heart of hearts that you are boring.
Its knowing you are a cliché, so clichéd you can’t even write a book about all this one day.
It’s not ever being able to think as clearly as you did the day before.
It’s over idealising yesterday and fearing everything about tomorrow.
It’s never being able to live in the moment.
It’s eating a whole chocolate cake without even feeling guilty.
It's killing time watching “A Place in the Sun” when the sun is actually shining and you sit in your gloomy living room.
It’s not being able to enjoy a kiss because you’re obsessed with the way your chin looks.
It’s not being able to think of anything artistically except illness and death.
It’s watching torture victims on the news and feeling nothing.
It’s wanting to die and being terrified of death.

Born Lucky

Right now
in this, our beautiful world
someone is taking their last breath,
someone is doubled up in agony,
someone is crying, but more than that
millions are crying at this very second.
People are starving.
People are burning.
A man is hung on a rack in a torture chamber,
A woman is spread legged on the gravel
being taken, foreign hand over her mouth.

A boy’s balloon pops.
An old man is having his teeth removed.
Some poor nurse is having to say the terminal words
I’m sorry you’ve got cancer,
I’m sorry there was nothing more we could do for him,
I’m sorry, you’ll never walk again,
Would you like us to turn the machine off?
And I look at my trainers
I think of brown hands stitching
the child at the machine
the beads of sweat along their brow.
A gun is being aimed to kill,
a needle is sliding into a vein.
Vomit is hitting the ground with a splash,
a woman is fondling herself alone in her bathroom.
Brakes fail,
hearts fail,
rain fails,
appendixes rumble.
There is mud and dirt
and endless hunger.
People are thirsty
desperately thirsty
yet on this Tuesday morning
over elevenses
you snap your head up
from your grainy cup of coffee
pick up your cupcake and growl
“What the hell are you
grinning for?”