the glass on the table

The liquid in the glass laps gently against its sides as I move. I mustn’t spill it, it must remain intact. It’s my job to look after it. I’ve only just realised I’m cradling it to me. I’m so used to holding it I don’t even see it any more. That’s why I’m always so careful. Funny that I stopped realising why.

As the session goes on I describe this mental image. It arrived unannounced and as clear as day. I routinely dismiss my internal imagery: it never occurred to me it was any more than a frivolity.

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your hand in mine

Tears growing around my eyes, I reach my hand out to seek comfort in contact. Funerals are difficult. Unexpectedly, she takes my hand and I feel warm fingers in mine.

To physically know that someone is present, alive and breathing, is a gift. Gratitude swells within me spilling my tears over the brink of my eyelids. I bring my left hand to rest on the back of my sister’s hand so it is between mine.

Skin catches against my palm: her skin is drier than mine. I want to soothe, make the skin supple and soft for her. Anxiety prickles in my gut: evidence of fragility is difficult to bear. “She probably does too much washing up,” I think.

Guilt washes over me for this interfering over-protective thought and I remain still. Focus on breathing, focus on touch.

Rinsed by emotion after emotion after emotion I am left the impression of a dry hand clasped between mine, the texture a pattern I can see. The warmth and pressure of our folded fingers an indent upon me.

the middle of the forest

In an instant, like the flick of a switch, I am in the gloom surrounded only by thick trunks and still, damp air. No path, neither more nor less traveled, and I am rooted. Black tree filled terror inhabits me and I’m surprised to blink and see the pale walls of the therapy room.

It was real. The forest in my head sprang up in an instant and it was as real as the prose in your mind right now. It gripped me with fear, fear of being lost. Irretrievably. Forever.

That was one of the strongest and earliest experiences of consciously tuning into my internal landscape. It was terrifying and held a deep foreboding. It was also a way to navigate my internal processes: these are the things that stop me dead in my tracks in my normal train of thought.

I’ve become so good at switching out of the fear and anxiety that I didn’t even realise it’s a substantial part of my experience and it stops me in my tracks regularly. Without realising it I switch tack and find something else to focus on. It limits me: limits my creativity, limits my ability to connect with my own feelings and stops me from exploring the extent of what it means to be human, to be me.

If anyone ever thought therapy was easy I can now report, categorically, it is the polar opposite.

At my fingertips

About this time last year I was writing about the importance of corporeality. I’ve never had difficulty with accepting intellectual pleasures, but physical ones present immediate self judgement. Eating, drinking, drifting into sleep, accidental contact with another live being … you can imagine where this list might go, yet even the simplest of these can be a source of guilt and shame.

Approaching the bar of my local pub on NYE, I was pondering how best to get served. Wearing my favourite little red dress with a thick, long teal cardi thrown over and a blousey scarf round my neck to soften the overall effect. I was dressed up for my own amusement much more than anyone else’s.

I smiled at an older man who was by the bar, a friendly and habitual gesture that I’d not have remembered later if it hadn’t set a subtle chain of events in motion. He moved to open up a path directly to the bar for me, a welcome gesture, and I moved into the space enjoying the tiny dance of our interaction. As I did so, his fingers brushed into my space, fingertips gently against the curve of my hip for an instant. I felt the fleeting contact through the thin material of my dress, respectful with an undercurrent of patriarchy. A minuscule dance of communication that, if I’d wished to ward off, I could easily have done so.

Contrast that with the younger man, now next to me at the bar. Without realising it I managed to get served a moment ahead of him and petulance seethed from him as I turned to ask him if the drink in front of me was his (it was not). He perceived me as an equal unlike the older man, but also as a rival. He was taller than me, but I had the edge on him intellectually and in my ability to navigate the other personalities within the environment. I had a suspicion the situational nuances were lost on him.

I am not sure which I prefer. Both had their moments of intrigue and pleasure in the interaction spawned. I am not entirely easy with the brief interaction couched within traditional gender roles. As if I betrayed the struggles of feminism by not only allowing it, but worse, by the brief surge of pleasure at the subtle physical dance of it. At being human, with other human beings.

As a closing thought, I came across this while reading a book on window box gardening yesterday. The tone of the book suggests the author as a brusque, English, matronly character. I can hear her voice ringing with an air of no nonsense as she delivers the last few words. Maybe being in the thick of life isn’t so bad after all.

“[in support of the practice of avoiding gloves while gardening] … this at least lets the hands feel what they are touching, whereas gloves do not, a large proportion of the pleasure being on the other side of the glove – one might as well wear gloves while making love.”
– Window Box Allotment, Penelope Bennett

Let your memory lead you

I am home for Christmas. Actually, this is home and isn’t home. Increasingly since I bought my own place that little flat in Lewes is more and more my safe place to run to. I love visiting Mum, but it isn’t the place I am most relaxed any more. Funny how things change.

I walked past my Nan’s house tonight. She died over 10 years ago now, at a time I was married and not speaking to the rest of the family so I didn’t hear about it until much later. I had not thought about her for a while – I tend not to raise memories of the dead regularly.

It was interesting how it came about. I was walking back from meeting an old school friend for a drink, a thing heavily laden with connotations of past lives and memory as it is, and I idly glanced over the road names as I did.

“Byron road”

tugged at my memory before I had a chance to think about it and the number 98 floated into consciousness. I wondered what the significance could be. Then it gently crashed against the shores of my awareness – a long, long forgotten address. A place I haven’t been since I was 17, before I ran away from home. My Nan’s house. My Dad’s mother.

On a whim I elected to vary my route and walk down the road to see if my subconscious had pulled the right thing out of my brain on seeing the street sign. I walked down the road, in the dark and the rain. It got rainier as I walked and I cursed my sentimentality. The number plate on the house is still the same. I felt the recognition as I looked. I stood and gazed and a memory of being in the living room with my Nan, my sister and my Dad tore through my mind, gone again in an instant but leaving an impression. Like a shape burned on your retina after staring at a filament light bulb for too long. It was a sliver of a moment of utterly clear vision, gone before I could consciously take it in. What then lingers is emotional, tactile, bodily experience based. Enough of it remained as a shadow on my mind’s eye to spawn other memories. Things I’ve not thought about for a long time.

This evening I didn’t give myself a hard time for not being there when Nan died. I followed my memories and it was fine.

Happy Christmas all 🙂 Hope you’ve enjoyed it in whatever ways matter to you. Appreciating all the love in my life, even if the memories have sadness attached to them, matters to me.

Lift up thy voice …

Last week I had the honour of singing Evensong at Chichester Cathedral with my choir, the Paddock Singers. It was truly thrilling, from travelling on the train from Lewes to Chichester as an excitable group (it has been a couple *ahem* years since I went on a school trip), to rehearsing in the beautifully quaint music room, to actually singing in the quire stalls in the Cathedral with a handful of friends and family as well as general Evensong goers.

It never ceases to amaze me what can be dIMG_0974one with the human voice and hearing the chant-like singing of the senior clergyman as he intoned the blessings was rather wonderful. Responding, as a choir, with the relevant responses was also pretty special. Even singing the Psalm (something that had been a struggle to get to grips with in rehearsals) was brilliant. My absolute favourite was the anthem we chose – ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’ by John Rutter. If I had a choral hero, it would be he and the arrangement we sang is hauntingly beautiful.

The photo to the right is the view from the quire stalls – right above us was this beautiful and utterly imposing organ. Yes, we got to sing with a proper church organ as our accompaniment. Wow. And, bonus amazing light fitting too. At no point did I want to get a picture of the organ alone, I loved and couldn’t take my eyes off the juxtaposition of the two.

The Lord Bless You and Keep You by John Rutter

Fascinatingly, Chichester Cathedral manages to be both a huge, beautifully constructed, spacious building you can feel your soul soar up into as you stand within and also to feel entirely and soothingly intimate all at the same time. I have no idea how that works, but I will remember the feeling of being and singing there for a long time.

I must say a huge thank you to The Paddock Singers and our conductor Ruth Kerr – I have been a member of the choir for at least 4 years now and I enjoy it so much. When I dropped almost all social engagements in my life due to a crazy work/travel-non-life-balance singing with the choir was one of the few things I kept up with. We have sung as part of some amazing performances and in wonderful places. Singing in a group helps me create a sense of peace matter how anxious I feel and working towards a performance together is fun and brings me out of my own petty concerns.

More pics from me here – I was joyously snapping with my little camera in such a beautiful place: https://www.flickr.com/photos/30586296@N05/sets/72157648512813008/

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We need to talk about depression

Me, in a room full of therapists, to talk about depression. That was how I spent an evening the other week at a talk hosted by @Leilanimitchel at The Link Centre. Not intimidating at all … except actually, it wasn’t 🙂

I was by no means the only person there with a personal interest or an interest stemming from personal experiences of depression. And I over-exaggerated above, there was one other non therapist in the room with me 😉

My (circuitously made) point: depression affects a lot of us and I am as much a part of the conversation about it and how we as a society approach it as anyone else is. By creating an informal session that allowed for contributions from all those attending as and when points that resonated for individuals arose, that was exactly the feel and teaching of the session run by the lovely Leilani.

Have a read of Leilani’s blog on depression to understand key points from the presentation on what depression is and how we can treat it

So many things came up in a short session (2hrs) both from Leilani’s presentation and from the discussion that ebbed and flowed around it and I became aware just how much talking about depression we have ahead of us over the next 30 years or so … all I can do here is highlight the points that stuck out for me and invite thoughts, responses and interrogations in the comments below.

The symptoms of depression are as diverse as are the ways that individuals experience it, therefore it is easy to misdiagnose.

As a group we found thinking and talking about depression in terms of levels or layers useful. We found it useful to recognise layers of experience that are not depression, but may be part of a journey toward it. Also that recovery is unlikely to be a straight and quick journey back to full health.

Some people experience depression as a numbing of feelings or an inability to tune into your own feelings. I identify really strongly with this, but I know others who don’t recognise that in their own experiences of depression.

That, as mundane as it sounds, is the biggest thing I took away from the session. When we talk about depression, we are not clear what we are talking about and the term is likely to encompass a number of different mental states. Diagnosis relies on the diagnostic criteria, which are ambiguous and have a great deal of overlap with other defined medical conditions. Of course a diagnosis is useful and allows us to put a thing in a box and know what it is. We can’t talk about (much less secure money for research!) for things we don’t have a well defined concept for.

Having the label ‘depression’ is a really useful thing therefore. However, it may also get in the way of further exploring the nuances of depression and the best ways to manage and find ways to ease the ways different people suffer with it in their lives.

So what do I think might help? More discussion, like the event at The Link Centre. We need as many perspectives on this as possible. I’d like to see further clarifications and distinctions of mental being and, ultimately, to dispense with the label of depression as we learn to differentiate, accept and discuss more of our emotional and mental health needs.

Ultimately, I want to see happiness and structures to support long term sustainable mental wellbeing (to include happiness) as a priority for humanity. We all experience pain and suffering. That doesn’t mean either physical or mental pain should be a way of life for anyone. It certainly doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to make it better.