Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Passing notes

     Quite a few months ago now, in what seems like a hideously distorted dreamscape of events I’m no longer certain took place; I had a Very Bad Day. One of my worst days, in fact. As bad a day as is possible, to the point that it nearly was my last day. It took someone I’ve never met to make sure that there weren’t local news reports starting with the words ‘A body has been found…’ Yeah. That kind of bad. But, as I say, a very wise man was very wise and very kind (‘and that’s how I got picked up by the Police from Beeston Priory at one in the morning’ is usually how this story ends). So, with no trace of hyperbole, I owe my life to the kindness of that person. He knows who he is. And I hope he knows how his consideration that night kept me going in the very tough weeks that followed.

     There was another stranger that day too. Although I was trying to be discreet during my phone calls with Kind Man (or at least I think I was, my memory is distinctly hazy) someone on the bus to Sheringham (yes, the arse-aching glamour of my life) heard me sobbing and trying to explain why the horror of everything had overwhelmed me and my mind had splintered. And they obviously realised that they couldn’t do much to help, but as their bus stop approached, they got up, took a few steps back to where I sat and handed me a scrap of paper.


     I’ve kept it. Of course I have. I put it in the notebook I had with me, and I’ve kept it there ever since. I carried that notebook with me for months, everywhere I went, although I haven’t written in it since that day because I don’t want to be reminded of the words that were spilt into it. But I did read that note a lot.

     I didn’t take in anything about the person who gave it to me. Male/female, old/young, alone/part of a group. All I remember is a disembodied hand passing it to me. And me snotting everywhere because I was at the point of knowing that these were my last few hours on earth, and there would be no more days, let alone better ones.

     I hadn’t planned to tell anyone about that stranger. It was just going to be a moment between us. But I sort of feel like I have to now. Because the world right now seems a bleak, empty, hopeless place. For family, for friends, for strangers. And I feel utterly powerless to do anything about it. Helpless. But I’m not, not completely. None of us are. We might not be able to change much in a wider, more meaningful sense, we can't change what has happened, nor what will come, but we can each do small things. Smiling at strangers, kind gestures, challenging people when they are casually racist or discriminatory. Stepping in when abuse is happening in front of us. We can even pass a note to someone we know is in distress. We don’t have much else, and even those small things can’t change the terrifying and uncertain present we’re living through, still less whatever it is the future holds for us. But if you see someone who needs helps, offer it. Posturing and pontificating on social media is all very well, but it doesn’t do very much to reassure people that they are welcome, they are cared about, that they matter not because of who they are, but simply because they are. Because they are, and we value that. Because they are, and we want them to be. Ignoring things only makes people feel even more isolated, before we can start to think of a way forward together. And come what may, we need to be together.

     This isn't my usual stance. Normally I'd be shouting and RANTSWEARING and telling everyone just how soul-twistingly angry I am. I have been, doubtless will be again. But tonight I am just sad. Tonight I am alone. Tonight I am despairing that everything I see seems to be a relentless and unforgiving stretch of misery, bad news, and unkindness. 


     So be kind. Be brave. Be thoughtful. And not just to people you know, but to anyone who needs it. It will be appreciated; I can assure you of that. And to you, whoever you were, on that bus … I wish I could tell you what that small gesture meant, and how I clung to it. Because if a stranger cared enough about me to do that, then I allowed myself to dare to believe that perhaps I was worth saving after all, despite everything. 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Memo to Turner

     I get it. He’s your friend, your son, your brother. He’s been accused of doing something terrible. You don’t believe it. You can’t believe it. You won’t believe it. That sweet boy with the blue eyes and blond hair. The boy you knew, no, the boy you know, he wouldn’t do that. You know he wouldn’t. You know him. He wouldn’t.

     There must be some kind of misunderstanding. It couldn’t have happened the way they say. He says it didn’t happen like that. He says he didn’t do it. He says he was there, but it wasn’t like that, despite the evidence. He denies it. You believe him. You accept his version. You don’t question the parts that don’t make sense, the facts that exist. Blindly, you believe what you see, that boy you say you know. You close ranks.

     You close ranks, and you absolve him of any wrongdoing, any responsibility, any guilt. You don’t make him look at himself and what he did. Easier to blame someone else, everyone else, but not the boy you know. You weren’t there, but you believe you know what happened.

     Do you think you helped him? Do you think that your refusal to accept there might be some truth in what other people said was wise? Do you think that maybe if you’d considered that he wasn’t the innocent, ill-treated victim, he might have thought about what he’d done? Have you thought that people don’t often want to let their masks slip, that they lie about what they’ve done? Or are you always going to stick to your belief in the boy you know? Never doubt him, never question him, always defend him.

     Never allow him to consider that what he did was wrong. What he did, no one else. No one else did it. It wasn’t a big boy who ran away. It wasn’t a series of events that went wrong. It wasn’t a misunderstanding. It was what he did. But no, in your world, your family are entitled to behave as they wish, and if anything goes wrong, you’ll bleat that it wasn’t your fault. Nothing to do with you as parents, nothing to do with you as people, nothing to do with the boy you know.


     It is, though. And all you are doing through your misplaced sense of loyalty to your son is reinforcing that he is always going to be that golden haired, blue eyed boy who is never in the wrong. And because he’s never in the wrong, he’ll never have to apologise, never express regret or remorse. He won’t even be able to do the right thing, even now. Will you ever accept being in the wrong yourselves? Because if you don’t, he can’t. And if he can’t grow up and accept the blame, he’s always going to be that stunted little child who lies his way out of trouble every time. That selfish and entitled man who puts his needs and wants before anyone else. He will stay that boy, I promise you. That boy you know. Except that you don’t know him at all. 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Daughter of time

     Happy 8th birthday, my delightful daughter. Happy birthday, my darling.

     I got it wrong, didn’t I? I’ve always said you’re tough, resilient. I never worried about you in the way I did about your brother. You’ve always been the strong one; the one who shrugged off upsets and insults, the one who didn’t need reassurance.

     But you do.

     The problem is that you don’t like to admit it, and so I’ve missed out, so many times in recent months, on being able to give you the time and words that you’ve needed. Sometimes it’s been because I’ve just been too caught up in everything else that’s going on, sometimes it’s because your brother has got in first with his feelings and need for cuddles, but mostly it’s because you hide your feelings too well. Your real feelings, I mean. You’re never quiet, we always know when there’s a triumph or disaster unfolding, but you don’t often open up to me. And that’s my fault.

     I have always believed that of the two of you, The Boy is the one most like me. Quiet, shy, reserved, so I’ve always given him more attention to encourage his confidence. He gets my time because he’s always asked for it. You never do. It’s taken me a long time – too long – to realise that you are more like me than he will ever be, because you have that sheer bloody minded refusal to depend on other people for help, and an iron will to Just Get Stuff Done. Remember that time on the climbing frame a few weeks ago? When you got stuck and panicked a bit? And I said to you, in exasperation ‘Why do you always have to go on it, when you always get stuck?’ And your reply was ‘Because I was determined I could do it on my own.’ Sums us both up…

     It doesn’t have to be like that, though. Honestly, sweetheart. It’s probably a bit late for me to change too much. But you’re so young still, even as you seem to be racing through the years. It is ok to tell me when you’re not ok. I’m your mum. I want to make the world as easy for you as I can. Sometimes I won’t be able to help, but I’ll always listen. I can’t bear it when I see your face crumple with disappointment and how you turn away to hide that from me. The times when I see that you're upset, but you tell me that whatever's happened doesn't matter. You don’t have to live a life where the only person you can rely on is yourself, please believe me. I will almost certainly let you down without meaning to, because I’m just as human and fallible as everyone else, but I am here, I love you, and I will do anything for you.

     I treasure every moment I have with you. The hours we spend in the grotty pub next to school, waiting for your brother to finally traipse out of whatever after school club he’s doing. The times you come with me to the shop in the evening, and carefully buy sweets with your pocket money, the pride showing on your little pearl of a face. It touches me even more that you always buy something for your brother too, unasked and unprompted. I am honoured when you give me your notebook to read a story you’ve been writing. You are a writer, my beautiful, precious girl; you have an almost unnatural talent already. I know that one day your words will change the world of other people, not just me. I am so proud of how you are, who you are, and what you will become. I’m sorry that I cry over you as often as I do, but I don’t always have the words to tell you how happy you make me.


     So, today, on your birthday, I’m sorry I haven’t been able to buy all of the presents you asked for. I wish I could have done. But I can offer you something I haven’t been too good at doing up until now. I promise you that I will be a better mother to you, in that I will make sure you know that you don’t have to do everything on your own. And I hope, in time, you will give me the gift of telling me honestly your truth, and asking me to help you.


Friday, 27 May 2016

The canary

     There is a bird that lives inside my chest. I call it my canary. It’s the first warning sign to me that a situation is potentially dangerous. When I feel the first flutter of wings against my ribcage, I know. This is what living with anxiety feels like.

     It’s not ‘worrying’. It’s not ‘oh dear, hope things will be ok’. It’s not even an ‘be careful’. Anxiety becomes a physical entity that takes hold of my body. I have problems walking properly. The muscles in my legs tense and I end up taking odd, stiff legged little steps, knees unyielding. I feel as though I’m tottering along the street, about to trip at any given moment. And because I’m scared that I’m going to fall, I become more nervous, more tense, and I usually do stumble, and my brain flicks a V at me and says smugly ‘See? I knew you were going to do that.’ Brain wanker.

     I stop eating too. My throat closes up and to consider swallowing anything vaguely solid causes a ripple of panic. It’s not so much not wanting to eat as being unable to contemplate eating properly. Small nibbles, possibly, if I have a few minutes of feeling calm. Three or four wine gums, one at a time. Half a biscuit. On an average day, two crumpets with cheese. But because my body is locked into an overwhelming surge of adrenaline, the food goes undigested, and within half an hour, I’m uncomfortably full, feeling sick, and have to puke it back up into the toilet to have some relief, for a little while. I have no idea why, but it does help.

     When you have anxiety, every sense is heightened, every threat magnified, every potential for danger is laid out in a detailed risk assessment, including bibliography, references, and acknowledgements. Absolutely everything is something to be feared. We have a fourth floor balcony with solid concrete walls that are at least four feet tall. But if I find a Blondie standing near the ledge that is pretty much nipple height, I freak the motherfuck out. ‘GET AWAY FROM THE EDGE’ I shriek, in quavering tones, somehow convinced that they will manage to vault over the wall and hurtle to a splashy death below. It’s even as simple as walking past a spiked railing and automatically thinking ‘bloody hell, if one of us tripped we might fall in that direction and accidentally hit that and HOLD MY HAND BLONDIES BECAUSE WE’RE ABOUT TO DIE.’

     It’s bloody ridiculous. I expect every situation to have the worst possible outcome, so I am perma-primed against disaster.  Everything braced for impact. And the worst part of it is dealing with people. And the worst part of dealing with people is disagreement. Which is stupid, because I’m gobby, opinionated, and I don’t give a toss what people think of me. But I’m not good at confrontation (some of you may be breaking off from reading at this point to scoff incredulously. All I’ll say is that I’m good at hiding my feelings sometimes). And I was a bit taken aback by some of the responses to a (now removed) blogpost I wrote last week. More than a bit, to be honest. I felt under attack. One comment was deleted by the writer almost as soon as it was posted – wisely, as it identified a few people in it – I left the others up until I deleted the post, because I generally have a halfarsed policy of allowing discussion on posts, no matter how upsetting I find the things that people say to and about me.

     Maybe because I’ve become used to people being kind to me for the last few months. Maybe because I’m not as robust as I used to be. Maybe because for the next few days and nights I was on my own, and didn’t have anything to distract me. But those comments – both here and in other places online – really scored into my head. There are ways of making your point without being unkind. I doubt those people would have said such things to my face, and the fact that the worst comments were made anonymously pretty much sums them up. But it’s set my anxiety off in a way I haven’t experienced for a few months, and I feel ashamed.

     Ashamed that I have hardly eaten this week. Ashamed that I’m finding it hard to leave the house just to take the rubbish out. Ashamed that my face feels strained. I know this is a temporary panic, even I can’t maintain this level of catastrophising for too much longer. But since last week, I have been braced against disaster, expecting something terrible to happen at any moment, waiting for it to happen, constantly on edge, constantly expecting the worst, seeing everything through hyper eyes and feeling that everything is personal, every action and word is just one step away from someone launching a full scale attack on me. It’s fucking exhausting.


     There is a bird that lives inside my chest. I cannot release the canary from her cage, as hard as she beats her wings. If I could let her fly away and never return, I would do it in a heartbeat, I would do it without ruffling a single feather ever again. But the canary is always here. She is just as much my prisoner as I am hers. 

Starving

     I am fucking starving. Absolutely fucking starving. Literally, starving.

     I don’t eat much, these days. In the early days of What Happened, I managed, a bit. Then Mum came and took over cooking. I managed to eat the dinner she cooked, most nights, trying to set a good example for The Blondies. It felt tasteless, though. Lumps of food, sitting in my mouth, chewing endlessly until they became mulch that had to be forced down, then sitting heavy in my stomach, feeling as though it was gaining mass as my body gave up on the whole process of digestion, my stomach feeling distended. Sometimes the bloated, stuffed feeling would pass. Sometimes it wouldn’t, and I’d end up puking secretly in the toilet.

     Unsurprisingly, I lost weight. I wasn’t huge to begin with, and I’m far from skeletal now, but I’m smaller.  The weight kind of fell off without me noticing. It’s stopped now, because even though I don’t eat much, my body’s worked out that food is a rarity, and jealousy guards the slim pickings afforded by two crumpets a day and a fuckload of coffee.

     I should eat, I know that. This isn’t a healthy diet, and my body’s not going to thank me long term for the lack of vitamins, fruit, vegetables, fat, water etc that it’s being denied.

     But I can’t eat. I don’t feel hungry; don’t have those pangs that tell me I need to eat. I have dizzy spells. I feel weak. I get tired easily. But I can’t eat. My throat has closed. I have to force myself to swallow the bites of crumpet, and I feel sick. Sometimes I am.

     And the thing is, I loved eating. Loved food, cooking, feeding, snacking, stuffing my fucking face. I used to eat a whole baked Camembert with four slices of toast. And now I can’t. I wish I could. But I can’t.  And if I’m entirely honest, I like not eating. There was a prolonged period when my life was completely out of my control. When I lost every secret I had, every vestige of privacy, and my distress and vulnerability were exploited, scoffed at, dismissed, even used to attack me with. I could not control anything that was happening to me, and I was blamed for that loss of control. The only thing I still retained any power over was what I ate.

     Not eating becomes a pattern. You don’t eat because you can’t. You feel a misplaced sense of pride about not eating. Your appetite shrinks. You don’t eat. Then, things improve, you eat a bit more. Things slide, you revert to the coping strategy that is not eating.


     This isn’t a good week. There have been a few too many days when I haven’t eaten. When The Blondies aren’t here, it seems pointless. But I’m not feeling in control of things at the moment, so I suppose that for now, so until I feel better, I will be starving.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Udderly unthinkable

     A couple of people have suggested to me recently that I ought to start dating. Hang on, sorry, you’re not going to get much sense out of me for a bit, admire the view, talk amongst yourselves, have a three course meal and go for a walk, because this fit of hysterical laughter will be prolonged.

     I’ve never dated in my life, and I’m honestly not about to start now. No, nope, nup, not happening. The reasons are LOTS.

     To kick off, I’m not ready. Not even ready to think I might ever be ready, despite being born ready. It’s less than six months since I ended a 16 year relationship, and the post-mortem in my head is still inconclusive. Awaiting test results. Lab analysis incomplete. But the one firm conclusion I have reached is that cause of death is unlikely to be established by embracing some other stiffie. Nah. I need to live with myself for a bit. As easy as it would be for me to distract myself with fun and bounciness, it would be the equivalent of having two pints to treat terminal heart disease. Not healthy. Fun at the time, maybe, but it’s not getting to the root of things, even if I entered into it with my eyes pinned open, loins girded, and a grim determination to have fun.

     Jumping into something new would be cowardly, it would be me trying to avoid thinking about what went wrong, what that says about me, about how I contributed to the failure. Being happy and flirty and having fun is all very well, but not when you’ve destroyed a family. Putting on my fancy clothes and going out might give me a boost, but it’s immature in this situation. It would be avoiding responsibility, and absolving myself of any blame. I’m not into relentless miseryporn, or self flagellation, but neither do I want to be the type of person who has chocolate smeared across their face, hair, hands, says 'Chocolate? No... I haven't seen any chocolate... Although actually I think that A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away.' No. I’m supposedly a grown up. For all that I twat about, I should at least have the grace to accept blame, not avoid it with ‘you hang up, no you, no you hang up’ teenagery twatting about.

     And then, awkwardly, there’s the physical matter. The last time I did the whole ‘WOAH I’M NAKED WITH YOU FOR THE FIRST TIME’ thingy I was 19, a size 10, lithe, lean, and toned. Now I’m 36, I’ve had two children, and I’m (briefly) a size 8. I am, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit withered. I have stretchmarks, and scars, and sagginess. Recent weight loss means I no longer have a comfily rounded little Buddha belly, but I do have the skin to prove I once did. If I go down on all fours, my stomach neatly cleaves in two from my bellybutton downwards to give me udders. Seriously. Like fucking jowls, but on my stomach, actual fucking udders, freely swaying like the unravelled old socks my teeny tiny tits now resemble. I look like some kind of sodding rare mammal, four teats on display, dangling swags of loose and empty skinnage, a sort of dried up once doubly efficient wet nurse. The thought of revealing this too, too solid flesh to anyone is enough to want to make me seal myself into a frogsuit for all eternity, never mind all of the other loose and freewheeling parts of me.

     The real reason though is Them. Yeah, The Blondies. Because of decisions that I took, and choices I made, they have had their lives turned upside down, inside out, dribbly arse cheeks over saggy tits. And what they need now is security, stability, and the knowledge that I’m not distracted by anything else. They need to know that they are paramount and that I won’t fail them by devoting serious energy to anything other than them. I have friends, interests, I have writing, and that’s enough, more than enough. I have a charmed life these days, and the magic of the charm is sharing my life with them. Beautiful, bewildering, bewitching Blondies. I don’t want to share this with anyone else, because it’s entirely mine. No one else has any right to it.


     I’m not saying never. Maybe, one day, when the storm clouds have been chased off the horizon, when this sea of troubles becomes a millpond once again, when this little ship is ready for haven, I will be ready to think about a new relationship, perhaps, maybe, possibly, with caveats. I might let someone close to me again, and be a bit selfish, a bit selfindulgent, and perhaps I will rearrange things in my life to suit me, not automatically cleave to what other people ask. But not now, not yet. And certainly not for a long time (and definitely not until I've worked out how to rid myself of these fucking saggy bastard UDDERS).

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Relay race

     For S, who is running her own race

     I’m not, never have been, never will be sporty, athletic, or even especially healthy. I skived off as much PE at school as was humanly possible, and the idea of willingly joining a gym is an alien to my mind as a day without coffee and cigarettes. I don’t do fit.

     I have, however, just completed an especially personal endurance event just lately. A really fucking long endurance event that’s taken quite a toll on me physically (lost 15kg, since you don’t ask). And you lot have been through it with me. The ridiculously laboured analogy that occurred to me this morning is that whilst I’ve been running this marathon, you lot [extends arm to encompass blog readers, tweeps, facebook peeps, Mum, friends, The Blondies, and most of all you, yes, you. You know who you are] have run parts of it alongside me, keeping me company along the way as I ran down the miles. Some of you pretty much dragged me over the start line in the early days, and then kept pushing me on when I dropped to my hands and knees and went into reverse. Others have handed me bottles of water as I’ve passed, or given me a bit of kitchen roll to blow my nose in. Some of you have pointed out where the portaloos are. You’ve cheered me past milestones as onlookers, and dragged away those who were trying to sabotage my progress.

     I kind of see you lot as being relay runners, passing the baton on and around, keeping me company and always keeping me moving onwards. And I’ve ticked off those milestones in my head as I’ve passed them. Ending a relationship. Making it through a day without crying. Fighting for what had to be done, telling The Blondies, kicking the motherfucking shit out of Maisie, and navigating the obstacle course that was moving in (it’s six weeks later, and I am becoming increasingly attached to my sofabed). At least one of you has been with me every day, even when I was taking a breather from always running uphill. And you helped to keep me motivated and focussed as I’ve approached the finish line, my eyes finally able to see the prize.

     And the prize is this. Being able to write again. I need to write. It’s not simply something I enjoy (although fuck, YEAH, I do, I love writing, even when it’s painful). No, I mean I need to write, to ease my mind. Something that was hard in the early days was not being able to blog freely. I ended up with a private blog instead, which helped, and no, there is NO way that anyone else is going to read that. I have to write, and I need to. I love to write, and it helps me, and sometimes it helps other people too, maybe if they think something is funny, or honest, or it tells them things they didn’t know, or is just a little reassurance that someone else feels the same.

     I’m not being Bessie Big Bollocks when I say that I don’t write for an audience. That’s not me being wankily airy fairy and pretending to be above nice comments or replies. I honestly don’t write thinking about who might read it when I blog, because if I did, I’d feel too inhibited. But in the days just before this race began, I was, very tentatively, starting to write for other people. One of those is Outline, a local magazine that’s fun and sassy, and cool, and all of the things I’m not. You might have seen me squealing a bit last night that for the very first time, something I’ve written isn’t just words on a screen, but actually physical print. It might not sound much, but to me it’s a small, but important step.

     The other magazine, to which I owe so much, was Standard Issue.

     Yes, the one started by Sarah Millican. I’m part of the gang that is the fairly eclectic, varied, and engaged group of women who contribute articles, and quizzes, and round ups and just… generally write about real stuff like mooncups and being the other mother and home schooling, and [cough] why I love Norwich, an article that gave me an odd mini fame for a few days.

     And as much as you lot have been here with me all this time, so has Standard Issue. The reaction that I had to the article I wrote about Norwich has been another one of you in some ways. It was a reminder that I can write, that I can get my message across with written words, that things I write sometimes resonate with others, and as I focussed on the finish line, the reminder that soon I would be able to write again gave my feet wings.

     I love Standard Issue. I love the ethos, the woman’s mag that is no bullshit, no advertorials, no circle of shame. It’s straight up, feisty and empowering writing by women for women. It’s a fucking inspiration to me, frankly. Principled, passionate and proud, as it deserves to be. You can pretty much sum it up with this video  

     And you know there’s a but coming, because you know there has to be. This stuff doesn’t come for free. It costs money to keep this show on the road/magazine on the internet. And if you don’t accept vast sums of moolah in exchange for your editorial policy soul, then it’s always going to be a struggle. I’m not going to twat about. Standard Issue needs money, to keep going. To give women like me and not like me, a magazine that reflects us as we are in our infinite variety, not the way we’re told to be by the other magazines out there that will tell you the top 10 key aspirational coat themes for this season to make you feel rubbish about yourself.


     And because Standard Issue is just as much about the readers as it is the writers and the articles, this isn’t a one way street. Give them your bloody money and they’ll give you something too (depends how much you can spare, see here for details) But you won’t get something purely in material terms. What you’ll also get is a website that features the best, most brilliant, boldest writing to devour. And now that my endurance event is over, now that you can take my stabilisers off, it’s time for me to take the baton myself and thank you all for getting me here, to a place where I’m not just writing again, but being able to take writing more seriously than I ever could before. You lot did that, just by being here. I’m not good at asking for help, and even worse at accepting it. Plenty of you have offered in the last six months, and I haven’t taken many of you up on your offers. But if you wish you could do something, then please think about joining the Standard Issue gang. You’ll be giving writers like me and not like me a real platform, and more than that, you’ll be giving readers the magazine we all deserve. My race is run, but writing is just beginning.