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.

September

I threw open the balcony doors, first thing, to feel a rush of crisp September air over my skin. It was glorious. I have always loved the bright almost Autumnal mornings where the chill in the air prickles my skin out of complacence. I love having my skin surrounded by the warmth of a sunny midsummer morning, precious because only for a few weeks of the year is it even possible we’ll have that in the UK and even then it is contingent upon ever changing air pressure. Nearly autumn, though, brings a clarity and an awakening that I find delightful. Summer heat is relaxing. Autumn is stimulating.

I recalled another recent experience of sensation that thrilled me. I was in the Grange gardens craft shop and stumbled on beautiful glass coasters made by an artist whose name I cannot remember (sorry!) They were so beautiful I wanted to touch one. I chose one made mostly of clear glass, rounded and smooth like a sea tumbled pebble and not cut smooth like window glass.

I was captivated by gold leaf within the glass, slightly wrinkled, creating a texture I could imagine feeling. A shock ran all the way up my arm as I touched the object and felt smooth, organically shaped glass instead of the crinkled metal. Of course I should have known, but what I saw was so clear, the invitation of the gold leaf to a landscape of such depth and tonality that I had imagined the sensation of exploring it with my fingers and was thrown when I felt something different.

It was a fantastic example of cognitive dissonance perfectly crystallised in a few seconds of my life. This has left me wondering if the sensations I enjoy most include some dissonance. Perhaps only the sensations I find most stimulating, because being enveloped in the warmth of the sun or the arms of a loved one is also a cherished sensation for me and precisely for its lack of dissonance.

Ah, this journey of being a human being! Touch and sensation is so important, it is when and where I am happiest and most alive.

My father

We are very different, my father and I.

I am emotional, empathic, impulse-driven and passionate. Everything is grey area, everything up for interrogation and exploration. He is rational, reasonable, logical and business headed. The world is black and white and he knows his place in it. I declare war against the world’s injustices. He calmly bends it to his will or declines to pick a fight.

We are very different, my father and I.
I’ve struggled for years with this.
I’ve struggled with the aftermath of my parents’ broken relationship.
I’ve struggled with the belief that I am wrong for not being more like him.
I’ve struggled with the fear that I’m not loved because I am different.

Today I felt an unexpected, overwhelming affection for my Dad as we did food shopping together for dinner. It was unbidden, creeping up on me with a slow warmth within my chest that made me smile.

I observe the judgements he shares of the people around us – I always fight my own impulse to do this. For once I don’t feel uncomfortable hearing his thoughts. With a jolt of realisation I understand why he is doing this and it is okay. And it is okay that I choose a different path. And that he is good at some things that I am not so good at. And the reverse is almost certainly true.

We are very different, my father and I.
We are not so different, my father and I.

Alive, living, beauty

I held a big, furry moth in my palm today as it quivered its way out of life. I made a point of appreciating just how beautiful it was in its perfect imperfection as I felt something within it pulse ever so faintly against the flesh of my hand.

It mattered to me that this little creature had a warm place for its last few seconds alive rather than being forsaken on the pavement.

It mattered that someone, somewhere appreciated the beauty of it being alive and vital while it lasted.

I cried, a little, at how lonely and impervious to my grief the world sometimes feels.

Of course, this isn’t really about the moth because it is and was always oblivious. The above tells you much more about the architect of the words than anything else, as the things we say and do and write always do.

One life long conversation about ourselves.

Easy Fantastic

I’ve only just stopped to consider the title of the album I’ve borrowed to title this blog post. I’d not heeded it, more interested in absorbing the music or in figuring out which of Tom Williams and the Boat was Tom, where they’d come from and what they were all about.

http://www.tomwilliamsandtheboat.co.uk/Tom_Williams_%26_The_Boat_%28Official%29/HOME.html

It precisely describes my experience of getting lost amongst the music, which is always my favourite thing about listening to music (and many other things I enjoy, for that matter). I was lured in by hearing their Cover of Dancing in the Dark on 6 Music, where our lead vocalist’s voice is shown off to fabulous, sultry effect.

“I ain’t nothin but tired and I’m just tired and bored with myself …”

The intensity ebbs and flows throughout, pulling me in during the more intimate moments of the track, almost straining to make out the words at times, aware of my need to hear every last syllable. As it builds I am eventually aware of what is going on beyond voice, the accompaniment of guitar, drums and piano so perfectly part of the whole, despite my inattentivity to them, that to use the word accompaniment is insulting.

And then I sought out their albums, which are an absolute joy. Listen either loudly or on headphones so you can be surrounded by it and get lost in the textures conjured by, for example ‘Little Bit In Me’ or ’24’, and listening to the words becomes secondary to just being in it.

Even better, though, go to a gig. Go hear them live. Experience how that intensity is ever present, ever an intent, more so even in the quieter, slower moments. My favourite part of the gig was hearing Satellite, apparently the first time they’d performed it live. It made me drop my head back, soften my posture, brought me to the brink of tears and kept me there.

Go listen 🙂 And if you do, let me know what you think. I’m curious.

And, the bit I am proudest of – It was a small gig at the Hope in Brighton and I was brave enough to go collect signatures on my copy of the album from some of the guys afterwards. I had to steel myself to do it, but they were absolutely lovely about it, found me a better pen and made me feel glad I’d asked. I have 2 of 5 signatures still to collect, so I’d better go see them again …

Thanks you lovely, talented people, for an amazing night. Count me a massive fan 😉

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Impression and impact

Finally, I come to writing up the last small thing that made a difference from my holiday back in April.

Saturday’s (Sat 12th April) little thing was a casual observation made by someone I don’t know very well. They* introduced the conversation topic so it was also completely unexpected.

I’d been at the University of Sussex Physics & Astronomy department student ball that evening, which was wonderful. In conversation, I was asked how long it had been since I left my job at the university. The observation from my conversation partner was that I am still greatly missed. What this description leaves out is the emotional resonance behind the exchange of those few words. When I answered, the strength of genuine surprise from the other party crashed into my awareness and caught me utterly by surprise. Apparently I answered with a time period much longer than they anticipated. It has, in fact, been two and a half years.

I protested a little and my conversation partner asked me if I noticed the way ex-colleagues faces lit up when they saw me again. I had and this is a wonderful part of meeting up with old friends and acquaintances. It has been always been that way with the communities I’ve been a part of in the last six years of my life. Maybe I take it for granted a little?

I feel like I’m boasting but on the other hand, this is my attempt to give an honest account. My learning is that building relationships, networks and communities with people is what I do, what I love to do and what I will always do. It is lovely to know it has a positive impact and is missed when I am no longer in a position to be a part of a particular community.

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The pic is from Friday, when I stopped by the Uni to say hello to ex-colleagues after promising myself I’d not leave it as long before saying hi again this time. I love the fact that they’re colour co-ordinated and I promised them social media fame 😉

*I’ve just introduced the person in question to my blog, so if you are reading this and recognise the conversation above … erm (1) hope this isn’t too weird and 2) know that it had an impact on me. Thanks for reflecting something back to me that I’d never have seen from that perspective all by myself.