Content Warning: This piece involves depression, self-harm, suicide and eating disorder. Please don’t read it if this will upset or trigger you.Read more
It’s been a long time since I sat down and wrote something. So long that I wondered whether I still possessed the ability.
My life has changed a lot over the last couple of years. I got out of an abusive relationship, found a place to live. Started to live in a very real sense. After years of being who others wanted me to be I began to discover who I was.
I discovered–perhaps that should be re-discovered–a love of art and made the time to explore and indulge this growing passion. Regular visits to galleries and exhibitions punctuated my own creative exercises, drawing and painting, as I quickly realised that my desire was to build up my own visual arts practice.
That continues to develop, and I’m certainly blessed with the most wonderful collection of friends who offer support and advice. As this interest has risen I’ve found that one casualty–the other end of the seesaw–was my long-established interest in programming.
I’m not sure if that reached its natural conclusion and faded after more than thirty years, or if it was affected by the severe mental health problems I’ve endured since leaving the toxic situation I had been in. It doesn’t actually matter.
My life has reached a point where I feel pulled towards a new destination. The road I’m on branches here, and the path I expected to take no longer calls to me. I’m not sure where my steps will take me from now on, but alongside trepidation at the prospect of upheaval I am feeling excited and eager to explore new lands.
Being both impulsive and risk-averse, I feel conflicting urges to simply jump in feet first while also planning every step in careful detail. Because I have commitments I’m taking the careful option and researching my choices. I’m working on keeping my existing career going while I first explore and then build an alternative, and then I plan to transition from one to the other.
It might not all work out, but I’m taking the advice of Neil Gaiman in his book Art Matters. To “make good art” for sure, but also to imagine my goal as a distant mountain and whenever I’m not sure which way to go, to make sure I’m heading towards that mountain.
In the last year I have sold an artwork, and I’ve had work exhibited. I’ve been lucky, but then to some extent we make our own luck. I’d love to exhibit and sell more work, but more than that I want to make more art. There’s joy in seeing my work appreciated, but the most joy comes from the act of creation itself.
Reaching this turning point has been difficult, tumultuous. I’ve struggled to rekindle a sense of purpose, but there’s direction in my life once again and it’s not one I would ever have imagined even just a few years ago. I’ve changed and that change has unlocked the door to a different world, one in which I feel I belong. All that remains is to build a home there for myself.
Funny old week. Funny old life, actually, and no mistake. I mean, it really brings it home to you, brings you down to earth with a jolt that might even knock some sense into your tired old grey matter, my girl.
It’s all so… Normal, I guess. No, that’s not it. Not what I meant. Close but no cigar, as they say. Whoever “they” might be. Did you ever wonder about “them”, wonder why or even how they say so much and everybody knows what they’ve said, but nobody knows who they are?
I did. I wondered. Sat awake nights thinking about it. About lots of the things people say. I bet most of the ones who’ve said things to me over the years don’t even remember half of what they said. Not half. Probably not even a tenth of the words they casually tossed at me. Like you’d throw scraps to a dog.
But that was better than the ones who aimed sharp words in place of stones. Teasing they called it. Horrible word. Dressing up their malice in bright clothes to make believe it was fun. I think it was fun for them. Fun to point at the odd one, make sure she knew she was on the outside.
“Sticks and stones” is what I got told when I objected. “Words can’t hurt you.” Those words right there hurt me even more because they told me I was alone.
Being alone. It is my normal, I’m used to it. Everybody leaves me in the end. Still, on the bright side if I’m on my own then there’s nobody there to hurt me more. Just me and my past, strolling hand in hand down memory lane.
Yeah, a dead-end street, that. Past the gutted wrecks and garbage, scabrous walls with the remains of graffiti. Don’t look too closely at where you’re treading, avoid the eyes that peer from shadows.
I remember when all this was trees, when the sun shone and I would run around, laughing. But that was before. You know they say you can never go back? Them again, they get about. Never go back. You want to know why I can’t go back? Because I never managed to leave.
The old home town, you wouldn’t recognise it. All that time, all those lives, gone. Dark now.
Yeah, funny old week, like I said. Being close to Death will do that, you know? All those thoughts of mortality, all that pent-up grief, all the weight of realisation that you don’t deserve to be the one left.
I should ask them why, next time they’re around. Who knows, maybe this time they’ll tell me.
Anyway, I’m doing fine. Thanks for asking. That’s what I’m supposed to say, right?
A long time ago I wandered down a path, not knowing or even caring where it would lead. One step after another, one day after another, each much like the one before.
I had no real cares and I suppose that means I was happy. I never had a plan, you know? Never could picture any future except as a continuation of today. So I’m left to wonder at how I somehow got from there to here.
A tenuous thread of fallible memory is all that connects the grown woman sitting here writing these words to that child: how do I begin to explain the path I took? So much time was spent simply drifting along on favourable currents.
Parents and school didn’t prepare me for my life. Nobody handed me a map with my route helpfully pencilled in, or planted signposts to guide my steps.
Nobody taught me what it means to love somebody so deeply that you feel your heart torn asunder every time they hurt, or that you wouldn’t trade that pain for anything because the joy that comes with it lifts you to such heights.
Nobody taught me that there is an emptiness inside that you carry every day following the death of a loved one. That all the things you wish you could have said and done would continue to haunt you down the years. That missing someone so much kicks the breath out of you and leaves you gasping for air through your sobs of anguish.
I know now, as a parent, the strength of the drive to shield your child from the pain and hurt. To protect them from all the things that have hurt you. But I also recognise the futility of that. Indeed, I understand how such experiences are a normal part of life and open us up to much greater empathy for others.
Not the trauma though, never that.
That’s one life lesson I’d have happily played truant for. While joy and love and sadness and, yes, even grief all form part of the richness of life, trauma has no compensations.
So much wasted time, spent in fear and being made to feel that I was to blame. Spent in insecurity because I was more afraid of the unknown I’d face if I left, afraid that I couldn’t cope on my own. Spent believing that I was alone because that’s what abusers do to you through gaslighting and insidiously isolating you from potential support.
It’s so incredibly hard to come back from trauma. The effects–the scars–run deep and heal slowly if at all. My mind was reshaped by it, leaving me much more susceptible to anxiety and depression, and less able to cope with some everyday situations. In a very real sense, I’m not the same person I was before.
Recently I found myself in a church. It wasn’t planned: my particular friend and I were doing the tourist thing in Montréal, took the Métro to Côte-des-Neiges and walked up to St. Joseph’s Oratory. In the crypt church there we sat in contemplation, and as I reflected on my life I found my tears were flowing.
Not a religious moment, but certainly a spiritual one: I felt a release as if a weight had been lifted from me. When we moved on to the adjoining crypt with its ranks of votive candles I found myself in front of a board on which I noticed a single word: forgiveness.
Feeling a resonance within that moment, I decided to light a candle as a way of marking it. When talking it over later with my friend, they said something that seemed to fit: forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, not for the other person. I wasn’t forgiving the person who subjected me to emotional abuse; I was forgiving myself, absolving myself of blame for what was done to me.
I have other things I carry with me: the burden of bad choices. Times when I acted out of anger, frustration or selfishness. Times when I didn’t live up to my own moral and ethical values. Hopefully in time I will be able to forgive myself for these too.
The lessons of life hopefully teach us the knowledge and skills we need to survive and grow. I have learned no hidden secrets, no mystical arcana. What I have learned is that making the world a better place most often comes down to small kindnesses rather than grand gestures, and an important part of that is being kind to yourself.
Yonder is one of those words that I love for the memories and feelings it evokes. For me it has ties to childhood and family, to places heavy with significance, and to lost loved ones.Read more
I’m contacting you as one of your constituents [address redacted] because I have grave concerns regarding the handling of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
My daughter is [age redacted] and has been living in Sweden for about 18 months with her Swedish partner. [Personal details redacted] the continuing uncertainty regarding her status as a UK national living in a EU country after the 29th March is causing her immense distress. Nobody, not the Swedish authorities and certainly not the UK government (it seems) are able to provide guidance as to what will happen to her.
I also have concerns regarding the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement in the event that the UK does not manage to avoid coming to the end of the withdrawal period without an agreement in place. I remember all too well the IRA mainland bombing campaign, the bombings in Manchester and Warrington especially since I grew up near Wigan and my father worked in the city centre of Manchester in a street that saw damage from that blast. I rightly fear a return to those days if the peace agreement that has lasted half my life is not protected.
My feelings about the unutterable folly of Brexit aside, I urge you and your colleagues in parliament to seek a rapid conclusion to this sorry episode so that we can all finally have some stability in our lives. After promising strength and stability, Theresa May triggered Article 50 without any clear idea of what our future relationship with the EU would look like, and she has led the UK into some of the most turbulent times I’ve experienced in my 45 years. I am watching in dismay as our global reputation sinks below the waves that surround us.
The past two and a bit years since the referendum have been truly awful. I’ve felt constant anxiety and I’m not sure I feel like I belong in this country given the isolationist direction in which it is heading. I have ties of friendship and family across Europe (and beyond) and having my EU citizenship taken from me against my will feels like a betrayal, and not one I think I can easily forgive.
Alexandra Forshaw (Miss)
I’m very attached to this scarf. What a strange thing to say! After all, it’s not tied to me or glued to my hand. Except…
Even without looking at it or touching it–if I appear to ignore it for days at a time–it’s here with me. It’s connected to me, attached by invisible strings of memory and emotion to my mind and my heart, to my very soul.
I look at it with eyes that span decades, seeing it adorn my mother in far-off places and times. The threads of the fabric are intimately woven with the threads of my memory, inseparable.
When I hold it I am holding my own history, holding a piece of my mother close to me, holding her even though she’s been gone all these years. Gone from life perhaps, but still very much alive in me.
Objects and memory are entwined, carefully packaged, wrapped in each other so that they will be protected and preserved.
Of course it’s still a scarf, not a museum piece, and I wear it often when winter’s chill is in the air. With its gorgeous crimson, russet and bronze, and the silky sheen of its fabric, it whispers seductively to my sense of beauty and I love it in its own right.
It would feel wrong to let it languish in a drawer, unseen. My mother was very sociable, having a wide circle of good friends, and enjoyed being around people. To see and be seen. And so it feels fitting that I wear this scarf, let it be seen.
Objects can be cherished and cared for while also being used. To me their value comes not from being pristine, but from having a history. Each association, each memory, each attachment adds some intangible value beyond price.
In the case of my mother’s scarf–now my scarf–the value might only be fully apparent to me. Others might admire it as a desirable accessory, but its deeper connections are mine alone. To me it’s unique, priceless, irreplaceable.
I could never let it go, except to my daughter in her turn. It represents a family bond back through time. This object is tied in to my fondest memories, embroidered with the love between my mother and me, and I’m far too attached to part with it.
Food is my best friend and worst enemy. Few pleasures compare to a good meal, and few leave me as wracked with guilt.
I’ve always liked to eat. As a child I rarely had to be encouraged to finish my plate; indeed I would often go back for more. My parents encouraged me, praising my appetite, and I have long sought to feel accepted and secure through praise.
Food became a source of comfort, making up for a dearth of friends. Reliable: a sure rush of pleasure and a slow come-down in the warm afterglow.
I might often feel lonely but I can always rely on eating to take my mind off that for a brief spell, fill the aching void and dull the pain.
As I gnaw my way through the pile of food, gnawing back at me from inside comes my guilt. Guilt at overindulgence, guilt for my lack of self-control, guilt for my obesity, guilt for my weakness.
So I purge. Put my finger down my throat as far as I can reach to trigger the gag reflex, make my stomach spasm and eject the food I just ate and that weighed so heavily on my mind.
I keep going until I am dry retching, nothing left, red-faced and struggling for breath. Eyes blurred by tears. I blow my nose, clean up, rinse out my mouth and wash my hands. Realise that the emptiness remains, that the aching remains, that the guilt remains and was not voided along with the food.
My thoughts turn to food again, my desire for comfort warring with what remains of my will. I choose emptiness this time and sit in melancholy silence while the void inside feeds itself on the remains of my tattered soul.
I stare accusingly at the blank page in front of me. It doesn’t flinch, but returns my glare with the knowing mockery of one who has engaged in this battle of wills many times before only to emerge triumphant.
“Damned if I’m going to be beaten by a glorified scrap of wood pulp,” I mutter to myself, oblivious to the irony that I am succumbing to its challenge by raising the stakes.
The empty page doesn’t dignify this with a response. Instead it continues to flaunt its unblemished face while mine grows increasingly furrowed by the effort of remaining in this unequal contest.
“To hell with planning!” I cry, grasping my pencil with what I hope is a keen sense of purpose. I move to sketch a bold line, firm right up to the last moment of failing nerve. I hesitate; I am lost. My nemesis sits untouched.
At this point I would usually resign, metaphorically topple my king and step away from the field of combat. But not today. With the vow, “Today will be different!” echoing in my mind I take up arms and head once more unto the breach.
“Aha! Got you!” rings out. I raise my arm in victory as I regard the new mark adorning my erstwhile foe. Phlegmatic in defeat, the page simply accepts its fate without comment as I bask in the glow of success.
As a child I used to imagine having a mental breakdown, a bout of insanity as an escape from what on the outside might have seemed a wonderful upbringing but which wordlessly forced me into a shape designed by others. But my mind remained stubbornly rational.Read more