After last week’s post being more on the crazy side I had intended to balance that out with a more everyday post this week. I had planned to write a bit about everyday life here such as our utterly first world problems of how to keep all the restaurants happy (every day we have to walk past loads of restaurants who all want us to come and eat there so we operate a kind of rotation system…) Or what we talk about over dinner, mainly looking up random stuff on Wikipedia as it comes up and we realise we don’t know much about it: Kashmir, the New Zealand Government, the Indian almond tree, bats and do they ever sleep at night, the life cycle of the malaria parasite (complete with diagrams) and my favourite- the Indian house crow.
But as usual as soon as I decided that, I changed my mind and went with something else and so this week’s post is mainly a book review of Turtles all the way down by John Green. This is another Young Adult book by the author of The Fault in our Stars which was made into a film. I took a morning off work once to watch the film at home in my pyjamas accompanied only by a box of tissues. If you want a good cathartic cry I thoroughly recommend it. But I read the book first and cried a lot to that as well;
I’m a grenade
I lit up like a Christmas tree
are the lines that got me the most and which those of you who have sobbed along to the book or film might remember.
Turtles all the way down is about OCD. Afterwards I looked up John Green and mental health on the internet and found that he has OCD. After the huge success of The Fault in our Stars he felt the pressure of the follow up. He started and abandoned several novels (although he did ‘cannibalize some of them for parts,’ which I liked). Interestingly he said that having written a book doesn’t necessarily help you to write future books; each one is completely different.
During this period of trying to write he thought maybe coming off his meds might help release his creativity. It didn’t and in 2015 he got the most unwell he’d ever been. That is a point he makes, that his mental illness does not help his creativity, it hinders it. At his most unwell, his intrusive thoughts were so bad he couldn’t read a menu in a restaurant or construct a sentence.
So he wrote Turtles… about having really bad OCD and anxiety and also getting stuff done around it. The protagonist goes to school, does homework, see friends etc except for when she doesn’t. John Green had times in his life when he was unable to eat or read and just lay on the floor and drank Sprite. When he has to do press he takes a friend with him who answers the questions if he can’t. They relate a story of being in Brazil doing an interview when John Green lost consciousness or awareness for a few seconds, came to and said, I’m sorry I’m having a panic attack, and his friend took over for him.
Turtles all the way down spoiler alert
The book doesn’t really have a happy ending as such. It flashes forward to a future where although the protagonist has grown up, been to college, got a job and had children, she has remained ‘mentally ill’ and has at times been unable to care for her children and been hospitalised, but then come out again. This could be looked at as sad and as a reflection on the fact that John Green still has OCD and anxiety, it hasn’t ‘been cured’.
The fact that someone can live a successful life and at the same time be living with a mental health problem could be seen as sad (sad that they are still suffering or have times when they are suffering) and at the same time it is also encouraging (that a person can live a successful life despite having a mental health problem). As the book says, in life there aren’t any happy endings, it just carries on, some things get better and other things get worse.
My favourite bit in the book (and the bit that encourages me the most because it finds a third way of thinking that isn’t black or white or either or and is more about acceptance than about pushing away) is where they talk about how cities used to always be built around a good strong river for transportation and industry. But in the book the protagonist’s best friend describes a city that was built around a river that wasn’t good or strong. But the city became a great city anyway.
‘You’re not the river,’ the friend says, ‘You’re the city.’
We both got restless at the same time. My husband has booked trains (this involves trips to the train station with passports and the filling out of faded tiny print forms) and accommodation for a night away on Monday in a surprise (for me) destination!
Having this section on the blog really helps me! This week I completed a draft of Goa Part Two (Anjuna, Arambol, Panaji) and my husband read it and gave me suggestions over dinner, which I noted down using paper and pen borrowed from the waiter. I started Kerala! Which is where we are now so feels ‘near’ and ‘easy,’ even though as we’ve been here since the end of April I have tons of material in notebooks and blogs to go through. Still, onwards and upwards…
This Valentine’s my husband gave me something far more useful than flowers.
I could wallow forever in the dirty water where the fish won’t go. I could never get up again. I could say to myself, how can I live. I could rake over and over the past, looking for a possible way things could have been made different. I could cry forever and it wouldn’t change a thing.
I did everything I was able to do at the time. I remember us both going to the dentist in New Zealand and me buying us electric toothbrushes to use out there as we’d left ours in the UK. He was fifteen. Everything was okay then, teeth wise. But not long after, I stopped being able to make him do anything he didn’t want to do.
Since he’s been an adult, I have watched his teeth deteriorate, and no amount of encouragement from anyone in the family was able to persuade him to go to the dentist. Realising nothing I said made any difference, for the last few years I have stopped saying anything in case it actually makes him even less likely to go, and also because I don’t want to spoil the times we have together. But every now and again I’d think, am I being remiss, am I copping out, am I wasting opportunities… all the time they are getting worse and worse, and I am not saying anything.
But of course he has mirrors, and eyes. And as I write this I’m thinking, Oh my God, did we do this? Did we make him dig his heels in more by trying to encourage him to visit the dentist? But would a person really do that to themselves, not brush their teeth, not go to the dentist, just to be oppositional to their family?
I don’t talk about any of this to anyone but the night before Valentine’s Day my son messaged my husband and said he was finally ready to go through with the required treatment. This will involve sedation, anaesthetic, and because things are so very far gone, implants. So I ended up talking (and crying) about it until way past my bedtime and the conclusion I arrived at was that there is absolutely nothing whatsoever I can do. A person needs to psych themselves up to face dentistry, blood tests or open heart surgery themselves, no one else can do it for them. They need to be brave and they need to be a grown up. My son is 28 years old and anxiety or no anxiety, the only thing I can do is think of him as an adult who is capable of facing this.
It is time for it to cease being my problem.
The next morning I felt a little better, like the day after an argument has blown over, still a little fragile, but recovering. I still have CDs to go through so I put on The Jesus and Mary Chain album Stoned and Dethroned. Track one is above. It felt like the first day of the rest of my life.
Today, in an ironic twist I went to the dentist, which meant I got to sleep in and go into work late. I came out into the warm sunshine and felt… happy. I bought a birthday card and a box of vegan chocolates for my step grandma, and new spare cat name tags as they keep losing theirs. Getting these things off my list and not having them to do on Saturday when we are already busy gave me a sense of elation out of all proportion.
Walking back through the town, thinking, yes, the post office, the chocolate shop, the pet shop, the cute alleyway, yes, they are all nice, just as dressing nicely for work is nice, but, it isn’t everything. It should have been easier to walk away from our last place which was not pretty and was boring, but it’s been being in this lovely place that has inspired and propelled us to give up everything. Is it because we needed to be happy in order to be able to dream, whereas before we were just surviving?
We have both been unwell for what seems like ages, colds etc, plus last-minute wobbles re vaccinations/not, water purification options, malaria, plus a long to do list, a house to clear and work to finish.
But as I said to my husband, I’d feel really good right now if I wasn’t feeling ill. I had my bloods done and my doctor put my thyroxine up, which feels like it did when I first went on it, like the clouds clearing after a storm, everything shiny, wide awake, excited.
I said re our to do list, it seems as though simplifying our life is actually really complicated. That’s because the matrix doesn’t want you to do it, my husband said. The matrix wants everyone hooked into the complexity of everything, that is why it makes unhooking yourself feel so difficult.
See you on the other side.
I have set up an instagram account for when we are travelling followingthebrownrabbit
Whatever else you do, however hard you work on moving forward, your subconscious beliefs about shame and guilt can hold you back. Internal as well as external work is needed. That said, releasing shame can just as easily involve practical exercises as well as deep reflections.
I only realised I was working on ‘releasing shame’ when I found myself taking and sharing pictures of my messy kitchen. At the same time I discovered the blog Educated Unemployed Indian. This blogger wrote about their realisation that they needed to put their own advice into practice before blogging about it. In this way, WordPress has once again shown itself to be an interesting source of support to me.
After much supportive discussion over email (with another blogger I met on WordPress), I finally decided to share my blog with all my friends and anyone else who seems interested, with the exception of family members.
I have expressed feelings and emotions within my family, as detailed in my previous post. It might have only merited a sentence of my post but it was a significant event within my life.
I have begun to act differently. I have processed some difficult aspects of my family experience. I have been brave enough to be honest with myself, even though, especially though, that means uncovering and looking at the less likeable aspects of myself. In order to do all this, or rather as part of doing all this, I have overcome blocks. I have overcome some of the effects of shame (reticence, self-doubt, emotions being too overwhelming, emotions being shut off) and that in turn has helped me overcome and release the shame itself.
Here I will document the positive effects, noticeable even after the first day or two.
A release of creative energy: new ideas! With less shame taking up space inside me, I find I can do more.
Increased sense of humour, increased ability both to find things funny and to make things funny. Me and my husband laughing and laughing about my ‘food blog’ pictures. Him saying apropos of nothing, ‘So last night I was doing some numerology’ and us both finding this hysterical for some reason (I think it just illustrated the randomness of our lives together).
Increased motivation, less energy spent on shame or worry about whether or not to clean the car, meant time and energy to spend on sorting out CDs. Do it or don’t do it, but don’t beat yourself up. I can live with a dirty car, so I have decided not to worry about it. Other things, I feel much better for doing such as booking an eye test and asking the doctors for a travel prescription.
More confidence. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the simplest of things. Having miscalculated the maths re the cat food, I realised I would need to deliver some more before my next scheduled visit. I’m such an idiot! Why am I so stupid?! I said. Why so harsh re something so easily fixed? I was reminded of my manager in New Zealand who could cope with any amount of emergency mental health issues, suicidal clients, AWOL clients, arrested clients, but run up a big phone bill and he’d have a meltdown.
I put it off until the last day of my long weekend then forced myself out of my hermit state. I tend to put things off that involve phoning people, driving and parking if I am feeling anxious. I arranged it so I didn’t need to leave the house until 1 o’clock, thereby giving myself time for tea in bed, breakfast and blogging, time for me, before going out to buy and deliver the cat food. I noticed as I drove there, as I parked, and as I stayed and had a cup of tea: This feels easy.
So, family… I have been processing some family/me stuff. My son had some personal/life problems recently and called up my husband who went and supported him. When I got home from work my husband told me all about it and said, you just need to phone him up and tell him you love him and that you are proud of him. So I did (when I am out of my depth and don’t know what to do my husband gives good advice).
Then on Saturday we went to see a show that my son had curated and exhibited in. All the artists have mental health problems. My husband is at ease at these events, talking to the people from Rethink who sponsored the event and knowing just the right thing to say about my son’s work. I think the work is good and I say so. I know he has worked hard and that he’s come a long way and I recognise his achievements.
But I feel like I am expected to say more and that whatever I say isn’t enough. I dislike the feeling of pressure on me, the fact that what I say is so weighted, so that my words seem to sound awkward. I am not good at dealing with this stuff. Why does it matter so much what I think, I’m just a human being, I don’t mean anything. That’s not for you to say, you are his mother. It’s for the child to come to that realisation themselves. In the meantime, just be a parent, act the role, do what’s needed. Sometimes you just have to give people what they need, and he just needs praise off his mum. Why is it so hard to do that? I noticed my mum was much less forthcoming than me; I was chatty, I gave out praise, even though I wasn’t as at ease as my husband. On the way home we talked and talked until I worked out why I feel uncomfortable at these events.
The people from Rethink might judge me as a bad mother because my son has mental health problems. He might even have spoken about the tumultuous teenage years and said critical things about me. But mainly it’s this:
The whole event revolves around having mental health problems. Everyone’s talking about it, it’s right there. And there on the wall is a series of three of my son’s paintings. Yes they are very good. As my husband said you could see them in a gallery and you wouldn’t think they were out of place.
But they are unsettling/distressing. The paragraph of text beside them explains that they are all about living with a mental health problem and what that feels like. That’s fine when it is someone else. But when it is your own child you are looking at something no parent wants to see.
Yes of course the exhibition is a great achievement, as are the paintings, but it means coming face to face with my child’s suffering. I think this is even worse for my mum, because I think in some ways grandparents can get even more upset. I noticed she didn’t even read the text. I read it, to be polite and supportive, but it was sad. And as the artist’s mother, it was really sad.
This post isn’t about self pity, it’s about playing detective. So that’s why it’s hard, because it’s upsetting. I am expected to give praise and be happy about his achievements, which I do and I am, whilst experiencing distress from having to literally look at his mental suffering.
So that all makes sense now.
That’s why it was so nice going round to his place the week before the exhibition. He answered the door in a paint splattered t-shirt and a lungi, and showed me into the sitting room. He and his girlfriend were working on several huge canvasses, sheets spread over the carpet, creating a makeshift studio. It reminded me of the places I lived in during the late 80s. For a moment, everything just looked exactly the way I would have wanted.
I am very pleased and amazed he got into art school, with no prior qualifications, it is a towering achievement. But what I am most pleased about, even though it hasn’t been easy for him or us, is that he has followed his path. Despite pressure from everyone, including me in the past, he has resolutely devoted himself to being an artist.
My son is 28. Christmas 2016, I pretended to go away for Christmas because I couldn’t face us spending Christmas together. He wouldn’t have wanted to come anyway; we’d only been speaking since the September and things were still slightly frosty. Prior to that we hadn’t spoken since Christmas 2015: I had picked him up to bring him to ours for Christmas and he started fidgeting and then shouting in the car on the dual carriageway. I was frightened, exasperated and completely incapable of dealing with it. You work in mental health, you’re supposed to help people, I remember him saying. I stupidly tried to reason with him, to connect with a part of us that was above all this, to explain that I wasn’t the one to help him, because if I had, I would have been. In the middle of a panic attack isn’t the time, and he was extremely angry and disappointed with my response and my inability to respond.
I think what he doesn’t understand is how upsetting it is for me, but then he probably also doesn’t understand why I can’t just be all mumsy and cuddly, and I don’t either, but I can’t. I don’t believe that would make any difference, but I understand why he’d be dismayed and upset that I couldn’t.
I remember one time dropping him off at the walk in centre with a girlfriend and just leaving him there, another time him at the doctor’s clinging onto me and me just being unable to touch him. (This was when he was sixteen or older, in the middle of our relationship being very poor, him having a panic attack).
I used to think there was something deeply wrong with me, that I didn’t love him, or wasn’t able to love him, but then one night in meditation a year or so ago this came into my head: you love him, that’s why it hurts so much.
Before I got pregnant, I wanted a baby very much. When he was born his father and I were super attentive and loving. When he was a young child we had lots of fun times, baking, playing with the dog, painting- there was always an easel and a washing line to hang up the paintings in the kitchen; riding trikes and bikes indoors, having big unruly birthday parties. It’s nice to remember the good stuff. Because there was bad stuff: it was quite hard for me, I was very young, a single mum from when he was one, and he was sometimes very ill with a serious medical condition, so there’s a lot of bad memories around that, hospitals, blood tests, unpleasant tests and medicines. But even so, overall, it was a pretty happy, child centred life with supportive and loving friends and family.
Then he hit 12, 13, went to middle school, and having been very happy at first school, began school refusing, truanting, later at 15, petty criminal stuff and got arrested. He and his friend would just mess up the house and break everything, so the sitting room ended up empty, it didn’t feel like a home…
Refusing all medical treatment, refusing to have baths or change his clothes… at 16, 17, 18, refusing to go to college or get a job or come out of his room. I knew something was wrong but was powerless to fix it. I sought mental health services advice, they said it was behavioural and he wouldn’t engage in any case. I had no idea what to do. The relationship had completely broken down. Everyone gave different advice, I felt like a complete failure as a mother.
I became seriously suicidal. When he was 16 I called the council about housing options for him. The woman who answered the phone said you have to chuck him out and he has to turn up here with his bag and nowhere to go. I can’t do that, I said. She said, well you haven’t reached the end of your tether yet then, when you have, that’s what you’ll have to do. Two years later, sitting at the top of the stairs, my boyfriend holding me, me screaming about suicide and paracetamol and knives, I reached it. I packed up his stuff and called my mum and asked her to have him. He was 18. He actually went to stay with his girlfriend, got a place in a hostel, got given a council flat, couldn’t manage it, and now rents a room in a shared house where he’s been for several years.
I am sure there were a million other ways to handle those years but whether or not the person I was then would have been able to implement them even if she had known. Like a series of random dropped stitches that ultimately cause everything to unravel. Was there something, were there things I could have done differently? Was there another way it could have turned out? I’ll never know, because I can’t go back in time, and there’s no control group for a life.
Relatively speaking, the years up to twelve had been easy. I suppose I’d always thought love would be enough. So when this child who you’ve given so much love to, who had previously seemed so happy in your company, becomes someone who no longer responds to you, it is very difficult. It is hurtful, confusing, and all confidence in parenting abilities goes out of the window. I just didn’t have the skills to deal with this new person.
After he moved out, I used to see him and drop off bits of money, always feeling bad for not giving enough whilst at the same time thinking I shouldn’t give much so that he’d be motivated to sign on or get a job… He usually wanted a lift, and it was often difficult, him criticising my driving and us arguing. His council flat was given to him bare and empty, the same as when I’d been given one at 22 when he was 3 years old. But whereas I had bought and laid the cheapest office cord and painted it myself, he did not do anything. His washing up and rubbish piled up everywhere. My mum paid for flooring, my (now) husband spent a day mucking out the flat. I went round one day after work when I had a cold and painted the kitchen but he didn’t help and we argued. He got diagnosed with anxiety. I paid for endless CBT. My husband and I spent hours on the phone giving advice about panic attacks when he called us up. Nothing made any difference. Until I just kind of stopped trying to help as much. He got himself a nice room in a shared house, where he still is. He got himself into college and then university, where he is today.
A Round-Heeled Woman, predominantly about sex but includes a devastating passage about her son, who seemingly ‘punishes’ her failings as a mother by running away, not calling, and living on the streets, in freezing conditions, eventually calling her up on Christmas Day, destitute and freezing cold but refusing to come home.
The only other time I have come across people like me (mothers almost destroyed by guilt) is on an ASD training day where parents of kids with Autism spoke to us. These mothers had kids who didn’t sleep, who flew into rages and smashed up the house. They looked like battle worn survivors. I was in awe of them. But what I remember most is what they said about how they felt as mothers: as a mother, you feel like you’ve got ‘guilty’ stamped on one side of you, and ‘failure’ on the other.
What is the name of the emotion I feel when I see or think about his teeth, which are in a terrible state- I took him to the dentist and made sure he brushed his teeth as a child, but his illness, and poor care as a teenager and adult have taken a severe toll (recently he has said he is going to the dentist and going to go through with what is now major work, and I have given him the money to do this)…
Or when he recently asked for ‘anything from my childhood to remind me it wasn’t all bad because all I can remember is hospitals’… To quote Alice Sebold, well that last comment just ripped me a new arsehole: I spent my whole adult life from 18 to now, 47, loving, caring, worrying, and it was all for nothing, because all there was was bad and nothing I did mattered and nothing I do now makes any difference?
What is the name of the emotion again? Suicidal, if that’s an emotion… despair… anger… panic… paralysis… horror… fear… tension. Mostly there’s a bit of tension.
I used to work in an anorexia hospital and I am ashamed to say we used to judge the parents sometimes, we used to think they were cold. Now I realise they were just wretched, forced to look at something no parent would ever want to see, their child yellow, furry and emaciated. I was afraid of what I saw on my first day; they have to face both the horror and the fact that they haven’t been able to stop it or help with it.
Okay, I’ve felt it. I’ve taken it all out and looked at it. Instead of pushing those feelings away, tightening up and thinking that I can’t bear to look and won’t be able to cope, instead of that I’ve let my chest relax and my arms fall open and I’ve sat here with those feelings. There’s a peace in accepting ‘guilt’, in letting it wash over me, just letting it be, sitting with it without fighting it. Ready to start over… To make mistakes every day. We all do. Start again every day. What else can we do?
Is there anything I can do? No.
There’s a comfort in this calm acceptance, in the moments where I can find it, that feels better than the pushing away or the anxious worrying or the futile attempts at problem solving. It definitely feels better than endlessly going over past mistakes and missed opportunities.
Like a jumper that has unravelled beyond repair, the only way is to remake it from scratch.
And like my mother says re coping with the ageing process, well you don’t have any choice but to cope with it, because the only alternative is not to be here.
Right now, drag my mind into the present. Right now, drag my thoughts and my gaze towards the positive.
So this Christmas, when my son said he’d come over Christmas Eve and stay until Boxing Day, especially as my husband was working and I would need to pick him up and drive him an hour to ours, I was a little nervous. Whatever you do, don’t get angry, or don’t sound angry, my husband said.
The car journey was okay, and once home I made dinner, we swapped YouTube and Netflix recommendations, and the evening passed without incident. Christmas Day we saw my mum, my husband came home, and my son’s girlfriend arrived in the evening and we all played Cluedo. So yeah, I guess my Christmas was okay.
*F is for Family is my third favourite of the adult cartoons on Netflix, along with my second favourite Big Mouth which is a very warm portrayal of going through puberty, a largely neglected topic that has certainly never been covered like this before, and my favourite, so much loved that I wrote a post about it here, BoJack Horseman
Act Opposite is a DBT skill. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) was invented by Marsha Linehan, a US therapist, primarily to treat a particular client group for whom regular Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CBT) appeared ineffective. Her clients were mainly women diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) who frequently self harmed, often severely, made multiple suicide attempts, whose lives were chaotic and whose therapists were frequently burned out.
These were women who had grown up in invalidating environments. Just being told they needed to change was often experienced as further invalidation. Enter the paradox: DBT says, yes, the current situation is untenable and you do need to make changes, but given your circumstances it is completely understandable that you feel and behave this way. I am going to support you in making the changes you need to make but I am also going to accept you just as you are. And however difficult I may sometimes find this to do, I am going to hold fast to the belief that you are doing your very best.
That’s quite a long explanation; when I am in a hurry I just say DBT is like CBT with Buddhism.
There is also a very tight framework which supports the therapists in delivering high quality consistent therapy, this is important as many therapists working with this client group can’t cope and end up abandoning their clients, who have often already been abandoned by previous therapists, friends, etc.
In DBT, the client has an individual therapist who helps the client to talk through their week, focussing on the most dangerous incidents first, in a strict hierarchy, using chain analysis to see what triggered the event and where the client could have employed alternative skills and strategies. Separately the client attends a skills training group, where they learn the skills of interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation and coping in crisis. That way, even if individual sessions are dominated by chaining suicide attempts and self harm, the client is still getting protected time to learn the skills that will help them in the long term. Oh and there’s lots of mindfulness.
I trained in DBT and learned all the skills myself. So when on Sunday I found myself in a slump, groggy, no energy, slightly depressed, feeling kind of incapable, I knew what to do: Act Opposite.
I wrapped the Christmas presents and actually didn’t hate it. They look very pretty all together on a shelf in the dining room, surrounded by fairy lights, wrapped in brown paper and bright pink metallic ribbon. I cleaned the bathroom, all of it, including the black and white lino floor. (A word of advice, you might think a black and white checked floor will look nice, but it shows every mark, every piece of fluff, every strand of hair…) I vacuumed everywhere. All three of these tasks I dislike intensely, but I did them- with sensible breaks for food and smoothies and cat cuddling- and afterwards, my slump was over. By the time evening came and I put my feet up on the sofa to read and write, I felt much, much better.
So what caused the slump? Well, it was the weekend and at the moment that means sex: Saturday night, early dinner, a roaring fire, the floor of the sitting room covered with rugs, blankets and cushions…
It was so good that the next morning we were hungover even though we’d only drunk tea! In bed in the morning, we weren’t going to come, but then we did. Afterwards we dragged ourselves out of bed and went for a hazardous walk in the ice, and about halfway back we both just felt the energy drain out of us. Yes, it really is a thing, orgasms drain your energy. Plus, we’ve both been slightly ill with colds. Then at bedtime I realised my period had arrived. I don’t follow a lot or read a lot, I manage my media and sensory input, and I don’t like much stuff. But what I like, I really like, and I remember. I remember this tweet from when I was on twitter about eight years ago: ‘Do you ever get your period and think, wow, that explains a lot…’
I’ve got a perfect body, though sometimes I forget
I’ve got a perfect body cause my eyelashes catch my sweat
We went a week without having sex after getting back from Marrakech. The sex we had in Marrakech seemed to be some kind of unlock, releasing things/me. It felt like healing had occurred. When we had sex again my husband took me to another dimension. It was as if I had been waiting, searching, all through the intervening years since the first sexual encounter, until now. I feel like I finally worked out how my body works. Or rather, like I finally remembered how it works.
Because I used to know, and then I forgot. It became layered under peer pressure (actually from my female peers this was often anti not pro sex), my mother saying about me: where is she, whoring around again. Relationships, unrequited love. There was no place, no mirror I could find that supported or reflected my own particular brand of feminism.
Anyway, this is a personal not a political blog so back to the other night, in bed with my husband: He took me to another dimension. I feel like I’m in a special place, I whispered. And there we were, both tripped into somewhere else. I often go somewhere else during sex but I often go there by myself: drifting in and out of tried and tested fantasies that help me relax enough to come. Like I’m avoiding just being present. But that night, I thought to myself: here you are, having sex WITH MY HUSBAND.
WITH MY HUSBAND. I realised, of course, we are designed so perfectly. He puts his penis into my vagina, it touches me just there and I… Yes, I come, I come. Oh my God, I came and came, without stopping, one orgasm rolled into another, began as the previous one was ending, as if the sensation of one ending was enough to trigger the next one. And even just laying there afterwards, the slightest brush, the slightest movement, the slightest thought started it all off again.
FYI we weren’t doing anything unusual, we were in the missionary position which is good for sensation and touching the right spots inside. But like everything, sex is really a mind game.
Looking in the bathroom mirror I saw myself as beautiful. For a few precious moments I understood why he doesn’t like me wearing any make up on my face. He wants to see me.
I don’t feel amazing ALL THE TIME. I am not in control of my thoughts all the time. I just spent 48 hours plagued by a cocktail of shame, panic, anxiety and OCD type thoughts and all the time the phrase ‘your thoughts create your reality’ was playing in my mind like a threat, a warning, or at the very least, a taunt.
The trigger was an everyday event that could happen to anyone: a decision you make, then afterwards wonder did I make a mistake? Do I need to check on that? Can I check on that? If something goes wrong because of what I did… Shame, and panic ensured. So no, I’m not immune to difficulties. Why did it happen? Engaging in ‘low frequency activities’ probably didn’t help and was maybe even the entire cause. However, coming up close against my own mind like that wasn’t an entirely wasted experience. I saw my thoughts for what they were. Unpleasant as it was, I knew what was going on. And strangely enough, when after 48 hours I was able to check in and found, of course, that everything was absolutely fine, that my worst fears had not actually been realised, I didn’t actually feel that different. Even through the 48 hours, I went to work, I stayed reasonably calm and positive and I kept in touch with my awareness, unpleasant though some aspects were.
More letting go of furniture and objects around the house. Thinking of old people whose homes haven’t been decorated for years and who have had the same things around them for years. As they do less outside the home, and spend more time in it, maybe the wallpaper, the furniture, the ornaments, maybe they all loom larger. Because those things are given more attention and are all tied up with the memories they hold. People say things are important because they hold our memories. People say when they customise their homes they put something of themselves into it. Yes, they do: they put in energy from the present moment. Just having things takes your energy, either if you believe in things being created by your own mind; or else via the emotional resonance of the object; or just simply by the energy involved in dusting, cleaning and noticing it.
So if you didn’t have those things, that same energy would remain in you (or go back into you if you get rid of the things and cut ties to them). Let’s think about it for a moment: where would you rather your life force, your energy, resided; inside you, to make you as strong, as powerful and as full of energy as possible, or in an old starburst clock?
Is this why people get old? Not only do they stop moving, they also let their energy drain out into things, houses, wallpaper, curtains…
In the garden today, noticing the stone white goose the old person left behind, the earthenware pots… I fell in love so easily, I loved it just as it was, I didn’t want to change a thing. Yet today, pulling up the vegetables, much of them planted and left untended and uneaten, I’m okay, I’m ready to leave. As if, that was nice, or, that was strange, but it’s over now. I thought about work: I’m leaving before I go insane. Or perhaps I am insane, that’s why I am leaving. I’ve been doing this fairly conventional job for twenty years- I have no friends at work, no ‘people’; I get anxious every morning before work, even after all this time. Why? Why have I been doing this to myself? Until recently, I thought I was happy there. As Jung says:
*As in energy- don’t put it into Things. As in sex- keep it in your pants. As in don’t- sometimes it’s best to share what’s going on.
To find what is interesting about my life, past and present
To add interest and purpose to my life via the writing of it
To see patterns or a purpose via the process of reflection, noticing and writing
To work out solutions or
To document solutions/changes/resolutions as they occur and develop
To overcome depression and anxiety
To make peace with the past
I am increasing realising that it takes lateral thinking to interpret the signs from the universe. My mum gave me a children’s book she had found when moving house. She said, you liked this, I mean youreally liked it, that’s why I am asking you if you want it. So I took it and read it and tried to remember it, but I just couldn’t. But a year later I realise, it wasn’t about remembering the book, it was the message I needed to remember. The book was about doing drawings that came to life, drawings that came true… So it was about me being reminded that the act of writing can influence the future, like magic, writing literally spells for me.
If there’s nothing I want to change and nothing I need help with, or if I’m simply integrating new insights, growth and awareness, then I won’t be writing. I will go in and out of writing and day to day life. Like going underneath the water to look at the fish, and up again to breathe and feel the sun on my face.
It’s a science experiment, it’s a memoir, its personal therapy, and for others, maybe it’s at least validating if not actual self help…
…Take a fearless moral inventory, as they say in AA. I am such a shameless student that I even looked up online to see if there is a template you can download for doing this.* But all I really need is this, my fingers tapping on my keyboard…
*There is, of course
Orlando: The writing, the looking, the process of writing, leads to something else, and it is the something else that it is all about.
The tingly feeling when you feel like you are writing your life into existence, or delving into your subconscious: It’s all about the present moment- although that is fleeting. Past, present and future all exist at the same time and the ‘aim’ if there is one, is to integrate them into a whole. Into the present moment (I accidentally wrote, integrate them in the present moment, which is also true).
Ok, so this is how the magic happens: At the end of a piece about the past, I intend to type the word boring but mistype it. (After all these years I’ve never gotten good at typing and I think too fast for my fingers so that when I pause for breath every paragraph is littered with red lines.) I click on the misspelt boring and the word ‘bemiring’ comes up. I didn’t know what it meant so I looked it up on the online dictionary- and it wasn’t there. Just as had happened before (documented in my previous book). But just as had happened before, the ‘word of the day’ on the dictionary home page was something significant- sticking out in bright red this time: Goth*. Just as I’d been back in the past. Reminding me that it’s the Fairytale Past. It has no more relevance than if it had never existed. I am so far away from someone who sits around thinking about the end of the world and death (not in a gloomy kind of way anyway). Teaching me that funny spell checks and the word of the day are spells that work for me. As I write this my fingers are tingling, they are writing by themselves, my eyes are pricking, the inside of my nose is tingling.
And lastly, and most importantly: if I hadn’t stopped writing, I wouldn’t have been able to write this.
*goth: a type of rock music that often has words expressing ideas about death or the end of the world
There’s a big book by Christopher Booker called The Seven Basic Plots. I bought it when it came out in hardback, very unusual for me, for £20, but I didn’t actually start reading it until about twenty years later. Even then (now) I only read enough to get me here before I left it and moved onto something else. (This is the same way I have treated religions, spiritual practices, etc etc.) The idea is that there are seven basic types of story that are repeated in all genres and all over the world. These stories seem to appear even in cultures that have no apparent links with each other, via the collective consciousness or archetype explained by Jung. Once upon a time there was a… and then one day, something happened. A hero, a villain, obstacles, things getting worse to crisis point and then an untangling, a resolution.
It struck me that I could work out which plot I am in and then as a result identify where I want to go and what to do next. I could look for characters and work out what questions to ask to illuminate my journey. Maybe my plot is The Quest, or Voyage and Return. Certain conditions have to be met before any story can come to a fully resolved ending.
I googled therapeutic writing and found a study that found that participants’ mood went up as the agency in their storytelling went up; and they were connected; and the writing came first! They wrote a story in which the protagonist had more agency in their lives, and then their lives picked up!
Of course, we have free will, so we can choose. More than likely, we will see several plots or possible plots within our lives. The expression losing the plot. Had I lost the plot both metaphorically and literally? I had stopped writing for a year. Christopher Booker took 34 years to write plots… Maybe I was just sharpening my axe?* Which plot am I on? We’ll see whether or not I finish this book… and what else will I do? I can decide….
*One of the psychologists (Beth) at work told me this lovely story: When she was in the middle of doing her PhD she had got herself exhausted and super stressed and was taking it out on the house, frantically cleaning and about to set about vacuuming. Her boyfriend, concerned, tried to get her to stop and have a rest. At first she refused, but then he wrapped his arms around her, walked her to the sofa, got her to sit down, put a blanket over her and said I’m going to tell you a story: Once upon a time there were two woodcutters. One chopped wood all day without a break, and even though he began to tire and his axe got blunt and he was hungry and thirsty, he did not stop chopping wood until night fell. The other wood cutter chopped until it was lunchtime, and then stopped to eat a lunch of bread and cheese, and took time to sharpen his axe and to rest his tired muscles. After his lunch he returned to his work until night fell. Which woodcutter do you think ended up chopping the biggest pile of wood? Beth, her boyfriend said, you need to sharpen your axe.
I am my own obstacles. I am the villain of my story**. ‘Normal’ society is too; it constrains us, other people constrain us… and what makes people like this is the lives we live, what we do to ourselves, everyone individualised, worrying… It’s not obvious like if we were living under ISIS occupation, rather it’s a quiet suffering that goes on and on.
**The amount of things I do to myself, even now, to knock me off my path, or just to spoil my present moment: beating myself up for not having painted the entire kitchen this weekend, getting so far into something on YouTube that it completely freaked me out, not eating properly, getting over tired. (However, I also know how to fix all those things and so today I cooked a super nutritious vegan feast, had a nap in the afternoon, unsubscribed from a YouTube channel, and painted a bit of the ceiling and was happy with that. And wrote this, of course.)