Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Now its all fixed and tomorrow we are hoping the lane will be melted enough for us to escape.
It has been a strange time. A time, oddly, for reflection, in spite of going out of my mind with stress. A time for considering what is important, and where I want to go next. So I am gathering plans for next year, making a strategy, clarifying what is important to me, what nurtures my creativity, and where I want to go with my writing. One thing I do want to continue with is this blog. I love it, and I love the feedback I get. So thank you to everyone who has been so kind about my work.
It is also weird to be commercially paralysed in the run up to Christmas. Plenty of things just have not got done. It has made me focus on exactly how out of control this whole present-buying, food-consuming, decoration one-upmanshipping season is. There came a point when I just thought - sod it. If it doesn't get done, well, it doesn't get done. There is not a lot I can do about it, so why get in a state?
What I would really like to do as a result is start a campaign for a Present-free Christmas. Okay, maybe not for the kids, but for us adults. I mean, really, do we need it? Lets give our time to one another instead. Let's be together instead. It would be good for the environment, and good for our wallets as well. Maybe I'll set up a Facebook page.....
Anyway, Merry Christmas Everyone, where ever you are, and a very happy New Year.
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
I was talking with my counsellor, R, about this the other day. She writes too, so she understands. She is also fabulously adept at delivering what I might call, quote 'a slap upside the head with the frying pan of enlightenment' unquote*.
She told me a story about a fellow counsellor, who explained to her that though his sessions with some clients were often difficult, painful, maybe even inconclusive, he always felt they were 'perfect'. He said they were 'perfect' because they were the unique coming together of people, place, time and emotions; that somehow, what happened in them was what the clients needed at that point in their lives.
R posed the potentially radical question as a result: what if this is perfect? Whether it is a counselling session or what comes out on the page after an afternoon sweating blood over a scene that just obstinately refuses to work, dammit!, what if it is just perfect? Perfect for that time, that place, that me that needs to learn what that moment has to teach me?
Of course, it is just ridiculous to apply this to every occasion. No one can ever claim that the death of a child in a road accident or from cancer is perfect because of what it teaches the parent. (Anyone who tells you in this situation that it is a learning experience, and 'God only sends us what He knows we can cope with' wants their block knocking off, IMHO.) But what if one were to apply it on a small scale? What if, just for once, I could look at that page of dross I have just written, and say, 'maybe, just maybe, right here, right now, that is perfect'?
This reminds me of Baty's First Law of Exuberant Imperfection**, which roughly goes that you have to write a whole lot of shit before you get something remotely useful, and counsels the writer against any kind of judgement upon their work. Chris Baty is talking about first drafts of course, in connection with the incomparable NaNoWriMo (if you don't know what that is, Google it), but as a recipe for getting going, I can't think of a better one.
Pagans have a very good rule too. They say, do the spell and then act 'as if'. As if it had worked. And it will.
What if I acted 'as if' my work was all wonderful? What if I decided one day that what I wrote was perfect for that day?
Is it at all possible that just doing that may allow me to write something. Anything. Instead of being terminally stuck on this dusty roadside, wrestling with the angel of my perfectionism, and never making any progress?
This all sounds far too absurdly simple to be realistic. The judgemental voices inside my head scream 'what a load o' rubbish!' with great enthusiasm. But the thing is, I have a fifth draft to write, and this weekend I am embarking on the delight of my annual writers retreat, taken with my pals from our writers group. Its the perfect opportunity to play the game of let's pretend. In this case, 'Let's pretend what I am writing this time round is perfect'...
I'll let you know what happens.....
* (I can't remember whether it was Yasmin Galenorn or Dianne Sylvan who wrote this expression, but its so wonderful, and describes Ros's technique perfectly. I recommend either writer's work to Pagans, particularly Sylvan's book, The Circle Within, which is pretty much the best book on Wiccan Spirituality that I have ever read.)
** Chris Baty, 'No Plot, No Problem, a Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days', Chronicle Books 2004.
Saturday, 5 December 2009
Friday, 4 December 2009
One thing that did strike me very forcefully this week was a comment by a friend, Carol, who said lovely things about my blog posts and the way I write, but that she couldn't leave a comment because she was too afraid that she couldn't write nicely enough. Firstly, I want to say, Carol, I am really touched and grateful for your feedback. And you CAN write beautifully, because if you express a feeling, it it is intrinsically beautiful. And secondly, if you are one of the few bodies who visit this site, please, please leave a comment and let me know you are out there! It would be nice to know I am not writing into a black hole!
OK, heres this week's TGIF - Trust-Gratitude-Inspiration Friday:
I am trusting that the small stuff will sort itself out... That the money will come somehow; that the clutter will get tidied; that the house will get cleaned; that the to do list will get done; that next weekend, when I get to my writing retreat, I will actually feel prepared; that Christmas and all its attendant travelling and stress will turn out to be magical after all.
I am grateful for the oasis of time I have had this week to recover and be. Three days of catching my breath and pottering about, resting, making my first batch of mince pies, sitting at my desk, reading, drawing. I am so grateful that I have had time to do a few pleasurable things for myself. Its been bliss.
I am inspired by the season. Yesterday we went up to Bungay, our nearest town, and the Christmas lights had been switched on. Everything looks so twinkly and cosy. The Bungay Christmas Street Market is on Sunday, and we are going - can't wait!!
Hope you are feeling TGIF too.
Friday, 27 November 2009
Today I am trusting that I will get used to my new Varifocal spectacles! My eyes are getting incredibly tired incredibly quickly from wearing them, and my typing accuracy has gone down from pretty poor to negligible! I just hope that this big change is going to be a huge improvement in the long run, and I will stop cutting my fingers while making the dinner because I'll be able to see the knife! (To all you young whipper-snappers out there - HAH! you've got this to look forward to!)
I am grateful that Pat's auntie, who helped to bring him up, didn't have a stroke after all this week, but some kind of intense migraine episode instead. Enormous relief and happiness.
Heidi Williamson, who always seems to know the right thing to say, and by Nina Robertson (left), who always makes me feels special.
Monday, 23 November 2009
Thursday, 12 November 2009
I stood for a while and looked out across the lake, over the parkland. They are grazing sheep periodically under the limes and oaks at this time of year, and we often drive past their ghostly shapes at night, little green eyes fluorescing uncannily in our headlights. No sheep there today; they must have been moved on to the next pasture in their rotation. I watched the water plunging over the weir for a while, letting the soft roar and the damp, mossy-smelling air soothe me. Then I leaned over the rail to look under the bridge, as I always do, to see what flotsam has been washed underneath.
There was a little whitened body, caught on some twigs in the stream, all fur denuded from its flanks. Some of the flesh was gone too, revealing skull, a hunched backbone, and delicate little back leg bones. It was curled up in that familiar foetal position. I could not make out what it was, a hare or rabbit perhaps, too stripped by the action of the water for a clear identification, unless one was an expert on animal skeletons, which I am not. Those empty eye sockets looked blankly up at me. It bothered me to see something dead in the water like that. The crone stalks the countryside at this time of year, I thought, reminded of the mummified rook hanging by its feet in a barn belonging to a friend, put there to scare away its living relatives from the grain stored inside.
I walked back along the track, skirting the field at the back of the farmhouse where a solitary heifer stalked me, keeping pace with me as I stomped along on the other side of the hedge, its ears akimbo. When I reached the gate at the furthest end, I stood and we stared at one another. It eyed me nervously. When I left it returned to a hoarse moaning, crying out for company. The cows in the shed on the other side of the field moaned back.
Saturday, 7 November 2009
We went to a friend's bonfire night party. There were fireworks, beautiful, whizz-pop fireworks. Trouble is, you have to light fireworks outside, and it was raining. So we just stood there in the garden and got wet. And squealed, and went 'oooo' and 'aaahhhhh' at all the right moments. Like you do. With rain dripping down the backs of our necks. And then we went back inside and steamed while we ate delicious party food. (Many thanks to Dan and Bridget, great party!)
When I got home, I realised I couldn't remember the last time I got wet like that, stood out in the rain like that. I am one of those very English people who is neurotic about the weather forecast and always comes prepared with a plastic mac and an umbrella. I hate getting my hair wet and I hate getting rain on my glasses so I can't see.
But actually, its just a bit of water.
And strangely, it was nice to do something different. It reminded me that I was alive. I was grateful for the rain.
The other day I was listening to a friend complaining. She is a relentlessly negative person. I sat there for about an hour and suddenly looked at her and thought, you haven't said a positive word for at least sixty whole minutes. Not one.
One of the things my ME has taught me is there is always something to be grateful for. No matter how dreadful things have been in my life (and they have been), there is always something to be glad about. It may only be how good toast smells in the morning, or sitting down and putting your feet up with a cup of tea, or the sound of a blackbird singing at twilight, but there is always, ALWAYS something. No matter how small.
My Great Auntie Kitty taught me that too. When I knew her, she was in her eighties, crippled with arthritis, and pretty much blind. She had spent her life looking after others, despite being disabled from childhood. A lifetime of pain and sacrifice. But she was the most positive person I have ever met. She told me that every night, before she switched the light out , she would think of three things to be thankful for. Just three. Some days it was hard to find three, but she always did it, no matter how much she was suffering. I was only about 7 years old, but i have never forgotten this, and always try to do the same. And it works.
It was getting wet last night, and my moaning friend, that made me think how much gratitude has become part of my life. Positive thinking is my life's pattern. That doesn't mean I don't have the usual grumps, moans, dramas, panics. But I have so much to be thankful for, and I am. I really am. Even if it is only the unusual sensation of cold rain running down the back of my neck!
Saturday, 31 October 2009
Thursday, 29 October 2009
I've spent two days this week pretty much flat on my back. Utterly burnt out. 'Malade com paraquette', as they say. Unable to even think straight, let alone read or write coherently. Today I felt a bit better and threw myself back into doing mode. Duh!
Back to square one...
I'm trying to do a rewrite of my novel, which is currently involving a major rethink. Not just of the book itself but of how I work as a whole. Its slow going. Think Plate Tectonics. Moving continents. That kind of thing. I am having to change my whole practice, and that is hard.
I guess I am truly part of the MTV generation because things never go fast enough for me. I want this change to happen NOW! Like, as in YESTERDAY! But major life changes don't work like that. I am too impatient. A Zen Master would have beaten me to death with my broom in exasperation by now. Why do I never listen to myself?
The way to make lemonade out of this particularly frustrating and sour lemon is to sit with it. Let the process happen. 'Be Still and know that I am...' as my Guardian Angel keeps telling me, while He is pinning me to the floor so that I can't do anything else (He is a very proactive Guardian Angel).
I wish I had a really good photograph of a lemon to go on this post, because that's how I feel now. A complete lemon. For not working it out sooner. For being too impatient. For not listening to myself. And then for beating myself up about it when I realise what I have done. What a goon. Never mind, onwards and upwards. And off to find a lemon to photograph!
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
It is also Pagan New Year. I am thinking of all the things I am leaving behind as I leave this year, and the new seeds I want to plant in my life for the next. A time of new beginnings. The veil is thin. I am aware as always of mortality, and the cycle of life, death and rebirth around me. Putting the garden to bed at this time of year is the outer manifestation of this process - putting one's life in order before going down underground, into the Other.
Letting go seems to be the theme that is coming up, over and over again for me right now, whether it is the constant nagging memories of failure from my the past, of emotions, of people (including me) who are getting older, of old patterns of ill-health that no longer serve me or just entrenched patterns of tension and stress. I think that even if we are chucking stuff out, it is important to remember that it was once crucial to us, and to honour the part it played in our lives. So I am trying to do that, slowly, carefully, sitting with what I am trying to release, knowing that letting go will lighten the load.
We all need to let go of things so that we can make room in our lives for new, exciting things. What are you letting go of right now?
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
The other day, I took my wedding dress to a charity shop in Norwich that specialises in bridal wear. It will be sold in aid of the local cancer charity, The Big C Appeal, which has raised vast sums so far to set up a support centre for cancer sufferers and their families at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, as well as for other projects around the county.
It was a huge wrench to leave it behind in the shop. I burst into floods of tears. The volunteers are used to this reaction, though. They were very kind. And it had to go. It was huge. It was taking up space and gathering dust. Now it will bring someone else happiness.
It was not until I had sat in the garden in the church across the road and cried my eyes out that I began to realise what I had let go. The wedding dress is a symbol of youth and beauty. You wear it on the best day of your life, when you look your most lovely. By releasing that dress into the world, I was letting go of that young image of myself. But I needed to mourn its passing too.
On that day, in 1996, I became Mrs Barrow. Together, Pat and I created for me (for us both, in fact) a new identity that has progressively allowed me to become more myself. It is because of the love we share that I have grown into the woman I am now, older, yes, but also wiser, thank Gods,and more at peace.
Now I hope that someone else will come along and love that dress as much as I did, that it will carry someone else into the life of love that I have been priveliged to enjoy. And I hope that the money it raises will help someone else to face a threshold, to embark on a journey of release, whether it is letting go of cancer, or coming to terms with letting go of life.
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
You can tell she's going 'What are you doing with that camera?' The nose-crinkle thing is her trying to see the camera through the right part of her trifocal lenses. Actually, I don't think she'll ever forgive me for letting people see this pic. Seventy-eight, and mad as a bag of cats! Go Mum!
I have spent today in our lovely cool study, playing with my beads. And this is what I came up with:
And then this:
(Not a very good photo I have to admit. It looks slightly more even in real life.) But then I made this, and I think its the best...
It's just glass pearls and AB coated crystals on silver wire, but I think it looks quite impressive.
Friday, 7 August 2009
I am trying to remember how to doodle. This sounds utterly ridiculous. How can you forget how to doodle? Actually I think it is something to do with perfectionism. I have a nice sketchbook, but there are only so many pages in it and I want every one to be perfect. So its really hard to just muck about. There can't be one page that is manky and a mess. There can't be one page that looks amateur.
I painted the above pages ages ago when I bought this new acrylic colour. I thought I'd try it out. I was going to stamp and collage all over it, but instead, when I looked at it today, I thought I would try out some doodling. I have been reading this book and found it very inspiring. It's basically about making a mess and trying things out, but I can't seem to do that.
Doing this doodle page took me ages. I just couldn't seem to think what to draw next. I mean how hard can it be? And yet it has made me realise how little I doodle now. I used to do it all the time, at school. Then art got serious and sensible and 'A' level-ish, and now here I am, blocked.
But the only way you learn things is by practising,and the whole point of practising is that it isn't perfect. You get mucky and make an unholy mess and have to do it time and again to get anywhere near what is in your head to come out on paper. I think this month's challenge is to learn how to muck about again. Time to undo forty years of colouring inside the lines.
Friday, 31 July 2009
Having spent an embarassingly large amount of money in the garden centre on Wednesday, planting up is now well under way, in spite of the weather. Its beginning to look like a real garden. All salutations to Pat, who has done all the backbreaking work!
And we have the photos to prove it! He showed great dedication is sifting out stones, which he estimated was about 15 trugs full!
The roses we have bought are going to be excellent. They are all old roses, and include 'Winchester Cathedral', which is the white one we had at our old house (a salute to the sight of my graduation), and 'Geoff Hamilton', a variety I've wanted for a long time because of its fabulous pink ruffled blooms and glorious scent. This one is called 'Eglantine', I think.
It all looks a bit spindly at the moment, but when it gets established I will probably find I have planted everything too close together.This is the border with the lavender hedge. The bottlebrush tree in the corner is having a second flush of flowers, and we managed to find a bush fuschia that is smothered in blooms. When I had finished putting everything in, the whole bed was teeming with bees and hover flies!
As you can see, its starting to get there. Next year, when the Philadephus, Weigelia and Sambuca Niger start thickening up to form a screen at the back corner, it will really start to look nice. Lets just hope the whole scheme is 'peacock-proof'!
It so nice to have a garden to potter about in, in the evenings. I feel much more at home as a result. It's amazing the sense of wellbeing I get from gardening, even if its only deadheading and watering. Such bliss in the twilight. We still have to get to grips with the section under the windows of the house, which will need digging over several times because it is so full of ground elder and nettles, but we'll get there. I already have ideas for planting there too - a lacy hydrangea perhaps, and definitely a red japanese quince, which flowers in winter and always reminds me that spring will eventually come! Pat wants to cultivate echinacea there. And of course, lots more hollyhocks!
Friday, 24 July 2009
I go out into the back garden to feel the cool air on my skin. To feel the anticipation in the atmosphere. I want to see, really see, this moment before the storm. I want to taste the impending doom.
The sky is the colour of a starling's wing. The ash trees around the pond shiver, shake themselves down like Labradors. A sudden gust of wind comes up from the west, through the oaks that line the track to the farm, rippling the ivy on their trunks. The bullrushes sway. A single dead leaf flips along, side over side, on the grass. The cows in the far field stand with their heads bowed, ears down, oppressed. The chickens are panicking, the cockerels screeching.
Darkness gathers. The pace of the thunder quickens. Now comes the deluge. I run inside, cold drops slapping on the back of my neck, aware of the pressure under my sternum. Not just the drop in barometric pressure, but the excitement too. I hide in the shadows, watch for the lightning flashes, count the miles it takes for the thunder to arrive until the deafening crackles are overhead.
The gutter over my window must be blocked. Rainwater streams in over the windowsill until I come out of my trance to realise the depth of the puddle building up, and pull the window shut. The ducks are quacking frantically on the pond. Good weather for ducks.
Tuesday, 14 July 2009
I love rain. I love to lie in bed at night and listen to it roaring on the roof overhead in winter, hear it glugging in the downpipes. I snuggle down under the duvet with Pat next to me, listen to his steady breath, and then turn my mind, my whole concentration, to the sky. It doesn't lull me to sleep. It's too important for that. I always stop and listen when it rains, whatever I am doing, because to me it is the sound of being safe, warm, and loved.
I've thought a lot about why this is, and I think it comes down to one particular memory. My mother came to collect me from school one lunchtime because I was sick. I'd gone down with a migraine. Not a bad headache, the real thing, with the psychedelic tunnel vision, the numb arms and legs, the vomiting, and the dreadful pain as well. (Anybody who tells you they have a migraine and are still walking around, functioning, does not have a migraine, believe me!) My mother never drove me to or from school so this was a big occasion for me. She had to stop off on the way home for some reason, perhaps to get some painkillers for me. I lay on the back seat, head hurting too much to open my eyes, and listened to the rain pelting on the roof of the little fiesta. I knew I was going home. The sound of the rain soothed me. As I relaxed, the pain eased. I was warm and safe, and I had been rescued. I knew my mother would make me feel better. Even though I felt atrocious, it was a good moment.
This is the reason I like rain. It reminds me of a happy childhood memory. But lately, I've come to think of it another way. I look out at the brooding sky, watch those icy pellets smacking on the path, and think of all those poor souls who are not lucky like me, and have no where to go to escape the rain. I think of them more and more now, when I hear rain at night, huddling in doorways, under cardboard boxes, trying to stay dry, because once you get soaked its so hard to dry out. Unlike me, they have no one to rescue them.
St Martin's Housing Trust
Lets try to do something to help these people that is more than giving a few quid to the Sally Annes or Crisis at Christmas once a year. Lets stop and speak to them, and treat them as human beings. Human beings with crippling problems created by the society in which we live. We are all responsible. Lets make the rain a happier place to to be in.
Wednesday, 8 July 2009
But it still comes to me sometimes. The leaden heart. The sense of wishing I could cry but not being able to. The physical pain of sheer, bottomless sadness.
However, after thirty years of dealing with it, I have some habits that help. Three pages of A4 paper written longhand (Julia Cameron's famous 'Morning Pages') help to leech the poison out. Listening to Monty Python songs (I can't help but smile when I listen to Michael Palin warbling 'Finland, Finland, Finland, the country where I want to beeeeeee'). Singing. Very loudly. (This takes the place of screaming which, for psychological reasons, I am incapable of). Mozart's Magic Flute or Carmen is pretty good for this. And a bunch of other stuff.
Today, after scribbling in my morning pages book, I realised that what was really getting to me was this 40th birthday party we are going to on Saturday. I don't get to go out very often, and that means dressing up is important to me. But I've got no money to buy new clothes. That £55 Monsoon chiffon top would be perfect (except that I'd have to buy jeans to go with it), but its out of my league. I was so miserable about having nothing to wear. Then it occurred to me that we would probably only be there for a couple of hours, so why buy something new for that? What have I got in my wardrobe?
Cue trying-on session.
Out came old faithful, the black jersey dress. Okay, I never wear black these days because I feel like it makes me look about 100. Nevertheless, it makes me look very curvy and goes with everything.
Then, the master stroke. I remembered I had these shoes:
Now, you may say, how can a person forget she owns such a perfect pair of shoes. Exactly. Just look at them. Red satin. Aren't they just fantastic??? And believe me, they feel even better on! How could I look at these and feel gloomy?
So I am going to wear these, and my black dress, and I am going to go out this afternoon and buy myself a big red silk rose to go in my hair. 'Simples'.
Which brings me to my point. When I am sad, I find something that I really, really like, to look at, to contemplate. Something that makes my heart sing. Like the shoes.
I take a leaf from my niece, Amelia's, book. Last year, when we were moving house, and I was having my 'mini-breakdown', I got a parcel from her, out of the blue. Inside there was a label, which said 'No one can be sad with pants in the post'. And when I opened the tissue paper enclosed, this is what I found:
How could you not laugh? Every time I feel blue now, I look at my 'Pants in the Post'. They please me. Right to the roots. Not just because of her thoughtfulness, but because they genuinely are fantastic things. What fun. Red frilly pants. And then life seems just a little bit easier.
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
It's ages since I've contributed a post to this blog, but somehow daily life has been getting in the way. You know the stuff. The laundry. The gardening. The washing-up. The diary gets full and I wonder what is happening. Where did all this STUFF come from?
Well, I've reached a hiatus. It has come about as something of an accident. My counsellor was going to be away, and offered me a four week holiday from our usual appointments. It's a great chance for what we have been working on lately to bed in. And what we have been working on is, strangely appropriately, 'Being Still'.
Being still. Listening to my body. Listening to my life. Accepting where I am, every last detail of it. Even the bits that hurt. Being mindful. Just stopping and standing still occasionally to really smell, to really look, to really taste or hear. To imprint that single, unique moment on my brain, to really experience it, because I will never have it again.
For example, right now. The window is open. The study is full of cool air and the damp, mossy smell of the woods after rain. The cockerel is crowing round the corner. I can see light rippling on the pond below me, and the tail of a duckling bobbing up and down as it trawls through the mud. The warm softness of my cardigan sleeve on the skin of my arm. The stillness of the house around me.
Life at the moment seems to be a procession of perfect moments strung together with frenzied blur, periods so busy I don't have time to be aware. This came home to me the other day when we went up to Ditchingham Hall for the open gardens event in aid of the NSPCC Full Stop appeal, one of our favourite charities. The gardens are spectacular, as I hope the pictures in this blog testify. But I found I spent the whole afternoon rushing round taking photos in a frantic effort to capture the garden for later, instead of experiencing it in the moment. If I had only sat there and looked quietly at the rose gardens or the peonies, I would have seen them, really seen them. I came away feeling cheated, as if the afternoon had been wasted. I wanted to go back the next day to really look. But of course, I shall not have the opportunity to do that until next year now.
As I get older, I am becoming aware that time is finite. I have only so many of these moments left. Not that I am ancient, but you get the idea. The point of these few weeks is to try to be present, to be aware, to accept what is real, right now. Not to always be thinking about what has happened, or what the future might bring, or how it ought to be.
So I am busy Being Still. And it's okay.
Monday, 15 June 2009
Now, this is a good one. Ask any ME patient, and they will tell you that in the midst of a relapse they can hardly remember their name, let alone a comprehensive list of all the myriad symptoms they suffer. Usually, if I expect to be questioned on this, I make sure Pat is with me, as his memory is better than mine and he has a far better idea of what I am capable of than I do. Unfortunately, he wasn't available, and I had to go on my own. If I'd only known... but never mind. In such cases, I always end up coming away with a sense of frustration and spend the next week thinking up all the useful things I should have said. (Hindsight is a regular companion of the ME patient.)
If this locum had had access to my medical records, which of course had not yet come through from our old practice, he would have had a better chance of understanding my case. If he'd had time to read them, which seems unlikely seeing as it is such a huge practice. He certainly did not understand that this was my first visit, and he was supposed to be taking a detailed medical history as a matter of course. And, how could I, sitting there like a startled rabbit in a car's headlights, explain my situation to him in ten minutes?
The problem with the way the medical establishment sees disease, and mine in particular, is as a series of isolated 'itis-es' that are stuck together with glue. They are scientists who are trained to break problems down. It seems they struggle to conceive of the human body is a complex system of systems, a complex, holistic ecosystem of interdependencies. ME is a collapse of that interdependent system. It is a whole bunch of things that break down. Hence the long list of symptoms. And if you treat only one thing, you fail to understand the knock-on effect it has on other systems. You fail to understand the collapse of the whole.
You can observe the failings of this method in pretty much every British person over seventy. They have tablets for their arthritis, which have the side effect of upsetting their stomach, so they have tablets to control that. These knock out their blood pressure or make them depressed, so they have more tablets for those problems. Maybe they have trouble sleeping so they have more tablets for that. Which creates ever more side effects, and so on and so on. When I see how many medications my mother-in-law is on, for instance, though she has very poor health, I can't help feeling that the medicine is half the problem. She practically rattles! I certainly know from my own experience that taking a painkiller will upset my guts, which upsets my eating, my teeth, my sleeping, and which requires me to take something else, and on and on in ever decreasing circles.
Hello? It doesn't take a genius to work this out!
Human beings are such complex creatures and there are so many factors that need to be considered in a diagnosis. What a person is eating, whether they are drinking enough water, how much stress they are under, whether they are exposed to certain agricultural or industrial chemicals, how they have been effected by past medical treatments which may have caused more damage than they healed, and so on - all of these factors need to be considered and more. So how can you tell me that a complete stranger without any medical history of me can tell me that I only have ME if I have been diagnosed as such by a consultant?
Now I face a new series of tests and medical corridors and strangers prodding and poking me and diagnosing me without looking into my face like I am human being instead of a monkey. Oh, joy. I just love the medical establishment. Almost as much as I love the Tory party....
Saturday, 6 June 2009
I've said before that I don't normally make political statements, especially since it's sometimes got me into trouble, but the current climate is worrying me a lot.
Thursday was polling day. We always vote. I feel very strongly that many thousands died so that I could participate in a democracy, and I don't intend to let them down. But this time round, for the first time, I felt I could understand the people who said they had decided not to vote, not because they were apathetic but because they couldn't see any difference between the parties. They are all as bad as each other, they said. Pat and I went off to vote after a great deal of thought, and a complete nightmare trying to find our polling cards ( that's another story which will make another blog post on its own!). I stood there in the voting booth and looked at the acres-long ballot paper, and thought, 'hell, what do I do?'
Let me tell you that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Labour voter. I voted for Neil Kinnock's Labour in 1992, absolutely certain that we would get in. I even had my photo taken with my polling card on the doorstep as I went out to vote (above), utterly certain that my world was going to change. The disappointment was bitter.
For local elections I vote Liberal, simply because I think they are the best party at local level. They listen to local people and they have moral integrity. I would vote for them in a national election if they had any chance of getting in, but with our crap, first-past-the-post system, they haven't a chance of making a difference, especially since I always seem to have lived in staunch Tory areas.
I voted for Tony Blair, even though I though I had concerns about some of his policies, but I figured at least he had a heart. I still think that he did what he really believed in, what he thought was best for the country, despite the Iraq war.
But now we are facing a new Tory government. I remember what it was like the last time round. I remember the heartlessness of Mrs Thatcher, the sheer cruelty of her regime. I remember the horrors of the miners strike, and the misery her years in power left carved in the hearts of many British citizens. It has taken a long time to exorcise those ghosts, and frankly many still remain. While I agree that the Unions needed reining in, and I didn't agree with Arthur Scargill one bit, she still created a society of callousness, and I dread its return. The thought of Cameron, no matter how 'caring' he pretends to be, getting in, is a horror to me.
I remember the day Maggie Thatcher was elected, how I sat at my desk at school and wept. Somehow, even at 9 years old, I sensed what was coming. All I can do now is hope that the dark shadow of fear creeping up on me each time I watch another Gordon Brown disaster on the news is just an old reflex, and not a harbinger of divisions and and heartlessness to come....
Thursday, 4 June 2009
I tried on this dress. Anything from Coast is usually a winner for me, its all so fabulous, but this was something else. Normally I would never dream of wearing anything with ruffles, especially around the neck. Too flouncy. Makes my boobs look enormous, and they are big enough already. Makes me look like Barbara Windsor. Etc. You know the routine.
This dress was different. Have you ever had the experience of putting something on and realising it makes you look exactly the way you'd always dreamed and hoped you might look in the best of all possible worlds? That's what this dress did for me. In that changing room, I experienced a kind of Annunciation - a 'This is who you really are' moment. It was, to quote Big, 'unbe-fucking-lieveable'.
There is a school of thought in psychology called Gestalt. It is very complicated and I don't understand most of it, but one of the ideas it posits is that we have inside us everything we need, that we are already whole, all we have to do is to get our 'stuff' out of the way, and access that wholeness. My counsellor always reminds me that I keep on about how everything will be better when I have more money/better clothes/the right haircut/get well/publish my novel/come to terms with my childhood/etc etc etc. You know the drill. Everything will always be alright when I am something else than I am right now.
The dress showed me what my counsellor was trying to say. It is a message from the Universe that says, 'you are already all those things you want to be. And you are beautiful.'
All I have to do is try to shout down my inner critic and hold onto that thought.
If you are wondering about the title of this post, it refers to a spell from a fascinating book, 'Embracing the Moon, a Witch's Guide to Ritual Spellcraft and Shadow Work' by Yasmine Galenorn. It uses the visualisation of a gown made of garnets to make one feel beautiful, and therefore to enhance self-esteem. It's a lovely idea. Next time you are feeling fat and frumpy, imagine yourself in a sparkling gown made of precious gems and see how you feel. Or maybe you will be lucky enough to find your garnet gown hanging on a hanger in House of Fraser, and, even if, like me, you can't afford it to buy it, you may have the wonderful realisation that what you are right now is enough.
Tuesday, 2 June 2009
I live in an intensely beautiful place. Here in the country, the passing of the seasons is far more marked than in the towns, or even in the semi-rural suburbia of our last home. Every day we see wildlife that many people will see only once or twice in their entire lifetimes. Yesterday, a pair of herons taking flight in the meadow by the river. The day before, a pair of hares loping across the lane. The day before that, a kestrel hunting in the margins of the field beside the copse. An enormous hornet flew down our chimney only last week. (I'll spare you the photos we took of it. Suffice it to say it was jolly big.) We caught it under a pint glass and set it free in the garden. Outside my study window, by the pond, the ducklings and goslings are growing apace. But why does all this make me so sad?
It's not that I am ungrateful for all the beauty around me. It's just that I am clinging onto it, afraid to lose the moment.
It is not that I don't love this season, but every year it becomes more demanding. It makes me feel desperate because it is all over so quickly. All this beauty is generated, and yet it so quickly dies. And more: I am becoming ever more aware that there are only a limited number of these marvellously fecund moments that I will ever see. My life is finite, just as is that of the tulip or the cornflower.
This probably seems rather over-dramatic to you. Perhaps it is. I can expect another forty years of life, if national averages and family health patterns are anything to go by. Why panic now?
Perhaps it is just that as we get older, we cling onto life ever more tenaciously. We want to get the most out of every juicy moment. We become more aware that life can so easily be taken away. My religion tells me to celebrate these life cycles, to rejoice in Mother Nature clearing her decks for the next generation. I'm not sure that's so easy when yours is the generation that is getting swept away.
The other day I watched a programme about Alzheimers sufferers. The superintendent of a very progressive care home commented that all patients were aware of was the present moment. Their memories have been wiped and they have no capacity to imagine
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
The Speaker of the House of Commons has resigned, forced out, for the first time in three hundred-odd years. Which the MPs seem to think will make us all much happier about the fact that they have been defrauding us for years. It has taken some of the media pressure off them, I suppose, but not for long.
What amazes me is that the ones who have been so greedy are sitting in front of the cameras telling us that because what they did was entirely within the rules, they have done nothing wrong. DONE NOTHING WRONG????? What ever happened to ethics? Just because you obeyed the rules, doesn't mean the rules are right.
And then there are Michael Portillo and others sitting smugly on TV sofas and saying how they never took a penny and are whiter than white. Yeah, right.
I am not sure which is worse, the MPs stamping on one anothers heads to prove they stuck to corrupt rules, or the campaign being waged by the Daily Telegraph to bring down the government.
The biggest thing that has struck me through all this is that it is just another example of English arrogance. (And I mean English, not British, leave the Scots and Welsh out of this, since they have kept their houses VERY clean.) Just as we expect the world to speak our language, we assume that we are the only nation to have an uncorrupt political system. Corruption is something that happens in Italy or Argentina, or the USA. We don't do that sort of thing. Its simply not cricket. We don't do it because we are English and we are right about everything. We invented democracy (er, no...) and we are the only ones to do it correctly.
Only the English could think this about themselves. And now we are having our noses rubbed in our own arrogance. Until we get ourselves out of this historical mindset that makes us think we are better than everybody else, courtesy apparently, according to Dr David Starkey, of Henry VIII, this Fortress England attitude, we can never truly be part of the 21st Century. It just goes to show how deeply entrenched our national identity, or xenophobia really is. And if we don't lose it, we shall be left behind.
Dear England, This is not the 19th Century any more. You do not have an empire. You are not a major industrial nation. You have no real leaders in science and engineering. You are just a little tinpot island on the fringes of Europe clinging onto a Disneyland of a heyday that is nearly a century and a half out of date. Grow up and get real.
And reform Parliament. Quick.
Wednesday, 13 May 2009
- DISGUSTING: A dog ate my afterbirth. No seriously, its true. Great title for my memoirs, though, eh?
- ROMANTIC: I asked my husband to marry me at the salad counter in M&S three months after we met.
- ARTISTIC: My favourite historical artists are Matisse, Rothko, Frida Kahlo, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, Clare Leighton, Edward Seago and J-L David.
- LOCAL: My favourite contemporary artists are Garry Pereira, Serena Hall, Celia Hart and others
- ECOLOGICAL: I love bats. I think they are magical and marvellous creatures. They make me as excited as a three-year-old in a sweet shop.
- PROBABLY PRETENTIOUS (!):I love talking about philosophy with my friend Sally.
- UNFORGIVABLE: My 'A' Level graphics teacher told me I would never get into art school because although I was a good draftsman, I didn't have any originality.
- SCOTTISH:I have this thing about Scotland. Or more accurately, Scottish men. I think its the accent. I have a total crush on the author Iain Banks.
- LITERARY: The last book I read was 'Eat, Pray, Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert.
- JUST PLAIN WEIRD: One of my favourite movies is 'Mean Machine' with Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham. Its about football. Mad, eh?
Oh, and did I mention the shoes? And Neil Oliver? And....
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
So here’s the thing. My friend Heidi (Heidi likes this blog, may endless blessings be upon her) sent me this email about possible scholarships for Arvon courses. If you have ever done a creative writing course, you will know how important Arvon is. It’s like the ultimate success badge. Gold standard. You don’t get anywhere near being taken seriously as a literary writer, never mind getting published, unless you have been to Arvon.
Well, I haven’t.
It’s incredibly expensive. I mean I’m on benefits, for Gods’ sakes! I can’t afford £575 for a week’s residential, no matter how good it is! That’s just way out of my league.
We were at a writers meeting earlier in the year and Heidi was trying to persuade me that I really should go to Arvon. Why not? She said. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
So I’ve been sitting on this email all weekend. I looked at the brochure that I sent for after Heidi encouraged me (I’m not going to say nagged). I’d already figured out what courses I wanted to do – I thought if I chose two, I would have a better chance of getting on one. The one I really wanted to do is at Lumb Bank. The first thing the brochure says is that it’s a ten minute walk from the car park down a very steep hill. Accessible it is not. And it’s in
The clever ones amongst you will have already spotted what I am doing.
Aren’t they great?
And I have the best one of all. I’m ill. I can stay in my little bed and never let that scary world hurt me again.
Of course, I am not as clever as you lot, and I’ve only just worked this out. Duuuhhrr, as my nieces would say.
I was reading this great new book I got in the post yesterday, Gail McMeekin’s ‘The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women’, and thinking about one of the Challenges in the section about Taking Risks.
‘How does your Inner Patriarch hold you back from taking risks or following through on your creativity?’ page 51.
I thought about the Arvon thing and I wondered why I wasn’t doing anything about it. The answer came back, as clear as day. Nice little Inner Critic voice (what I call my Nigel voice, I don’t know why). It said:
‘Its too scary. What if you get there and you aren’t good enough? Or you can’t keep up because you are too tired. What if you collapse with the effort and anxiety of it all? You aren’t one of the clique after all. And anyway, why ask. They will only turn you down. And you don’t want to be hurt and rejected. So just stay quiet and use being ill as an excuse not to try.’
Good old Nigel.
And I thought, bugger that.
It’s worth noting that I may not get the opportunity. All the places may be gone already. Or I may have to stump up some money towards it, in which case I can’t go (although the ad says it’s a full scholarship). But it’s not till the Autumn. I’ll be lots better by then. At least I hope so. And it’s a great opportunity. And last time Heidi sent me something. I ended up getting a free consultation with The Literary Consultancy (yay for them, they’re great!). So what do I lose by asking?
So tomorrow I am going to ring up Arvon’s London Office and find out. Honestly, I promise. Really really.
Saturday, 9 May 2009
'When we tell our stories, we change the world.' Brene Brown
I never wanted this blog to be about living with chronic illness, but that is what my life seems to be about at the moment. My counsellor is always telling me that one of my biggest problems is that even now, after over ten years, I have failed to accept that I am ill. I suppose she is right. I keep thinking I ought to be better by now. I ought to be able to pull myself together, to control it. But it keeps creeping up behind me and jabbing me in the next with a tazer.
Take this week. I have been 'confined to barracks', trying to get over the journey home from Scotland. Eleven and a half hours with a nasty cold coming on. Even without ME, that would have been a nightmare. A friend who lives in Edinburgh is upset we didn't go to visit. Three hours in the car when we only have six days holiday and an eight plus hour journey either end? I couldn't face it. Why, then do I feel guilty? And why do feel feel guilty that the floor hasn't been hoovered in weeks and the house is a tip? Its all I can do to keep up with the cooking and the laundry.
I'll think I am okay and then it hits me. I can't hold my head up. I can't hold my hands up, so I can't hold a book. If I try to read, I can't remember what the beginning of the sentence was when I get to the end, never mind what the previous sentence was about. My eyes feel sticky all the time. My shoulders and neck are a constant source of pain. My feet throb, and when I walk the soles feel as if they are heavily bruised. And don't even get me started about my guts!
Can you tell me why I still think I ought to be digging the garden?
On Friday it was a beautiful day. Sun out, stiff breeze, the leaves on the trees thick, and the blossom gorgeous. Pat seemed melancholy. A friend had posted his photos of a visit to Banham Zoo on Facebook. That's a good idea, we said. Why don't we go too?
So we went.
Never mind that I had been out for the first time in a week the previous day, had driven for the first time in a fortnight. I just assumed I was better.
You have to walk a long way to get round a zoo. The tiger enclosure is a long way from the meerkats. Okay, maybe not so far for someone in good health, but for me it felt like doing a marathon. By the time 5 o'clock came, time to go home, I was so exhausted I could no longer speak. We drove home in silence. Even so, I stumbled round the Co-op getting food for supper. By the time we got home, I was all but catatonic. Pat offered to cook. I have rarely been so grateful. I went to bed.
He is tolerant, my husband. And kind. But I don't think either of us have really got our heads round this thing. It's wretched and I hate it. The harder I try to recover, the longer it seems to go on.
So now I am back to square one. A week of resting, and I'm no further forward. But the meerkats were lovely.
Monday, 4 May 2009
And today I've had the Black Dog. I get days like this, especially when I'm ill and confined to barracks as I am right now. Usually there is something else going on underneath it all. Today its anger. So I kicked the damned dog into touch by painting a big messy mess on a canvas that I'd prepared a couple of weeks back for a Kelly Rae style painting that I wanted to do because I've got her book. So here's this canvas and I want to splosh some paint about. Only here's what happens. I end up with a green heart. GREEN. What does green say to you? Envy, that's what. Turns out I am angry because my house is a tip and I can't do anything about it because I get exhausted just thinking about tidying it.
Result: very angry art journal entry (see below)
I cut a picture out of an old copy of '25 Beautiful Homes' magazine (why do I buy this bleugh?) and drew on it, drew what it would look like if real people lived there instead of it being a dressed setting. Piles of newspapers and books, cold mugs of tea and postcards on the mantel, remote controls and the Radio times on the sofa. THIS is what LIVING really looks like.
So why am I giving myself a hard time that my house doesn't look like Kelly Rae's?
Now if I had some money I would get myself a cleaner and not have to care, but I don't. So how am I going to solve this problem. No idea. Watch this space. But it just goes to show that the art therapy stuff works.
And now I think Pat is going to buy me a Chinese takeaway from Bungay so I don't have to cook...