Category: Life


My Dad and I have this discussion every now and then.  It’s silly and serious at the same time, as are some of the very best kinds of chat…

It begins when I tell him what an amazing person he is and how I think he’ll go straight to heaven (without passing Go, without collecting 200!)

He responds with typical humility, firmly assuring me that he is far from being the incredible person I see him as.

True to say, I’m biased but I continue anyway…

“… but Dad! You’re the kindest, most loving person I know… How can it be that you STILL feel as though you don’t love people enough?”

“It’s easy to love your family”,  he says, “even an evil person can look out for their own. It’s loving those we DON’T know that makes us saints”.

His eighty one years, the depth of his faith and his gentle, funny nature mean that I ponder his words long after he’s spoken them. They echo through my mind as I rip open the mystery parcel. A taped up cardboard box of beautiful gifts has interrupted the bleakness of another day in the hospital; a box sent halfway across the world by someone I don’t know, but who reads this blog and has intuited enough about my character to send presents that delight me.

I don’t take any kindness for granted, but I have come to believe that kindness shown by a stranger is a very different kind of exchange, an experience that can’t be replicated or simulated in any other situation.  It’s this type of kindness, love, that is so often woven into classic tales: the mysterious being who appears at the right time; the unknown benefactor in Dickensian stories; the God like figure in folk tales.

Why the inclusion of these characters and their acts of kindness?

Because they move us, they warm us, they melt us.

More than this, the kindness of a stranger possesses  a unique power: that of transformation.  Hence age old stories of Matthew the tax collector, of Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, Pollyanna, Jean Valijean in Les Mis… Literature is littered with bad – characters – turned – good  by an act of kindness, because people love to have their view of human nature restored. How often do we hear someone sigh happily as they use that very phrase? How many times do people use the term ‘heart warming’ to describe these kind of scenarios?

Perhaps it’s the simplest answer to some of the world’s toughest problems. Perhaps the kindness of a stranger can combat some of the hardness and cynicism that grows in secret places; seeds of despair and cynicism sown and planted almost without us noticing. Maybe if we all vowed to impact at least one stranger’s life within our own time here on earth, the world may seem a different place to those who threaten it most.

Guilty of my very own brand of cynicism, sentimentality isn’t a trait I’m most likely to be associated with. The mysterious box of gifts though, was like a torch beam cutting the darkness.

Valorie. Thank you so so much for bringing spring to my hospital room. Thank you for such thoughtfulness and generosity. You act of kindness inspires me to pay it forward… If you’re reading, please know how touched I was by it all.

I wear the earrings even as I type, a cup of Tanzanian coffee next to me.
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There can’t be many instances where your loved ones raise a glass to toast your  mental torment but then again. there probably aren’t that many cases where eating a beef sandwich is an achievement worthy of celebration.

Perhaps those in the loop will actually understand the bizarre situation I’m writing about, but if you’re a ‘normal’ person, you might struggle.

Wait..! Did I just use the term ‘normal’?

I can hear some of the cries of protest. “…But there’s NO SUCH THING AS NORMAL…” Protestations jet from all corners of the philosophical, semantic and *wince* pedantic realm. No such thing. Everyone’s weird. Everyone’s normal. There IS no normal.

But there IS. There IS in the tangled, screwed up world of we Eating Disorder folk. If you disagree, you might want to read on because I’m going to tell you about what normal is, often by arguing the case for what it’s not.  (If that goes over your head, don’t waste mental energy on it. Reading on will give you a clearer idea.)

“Normal” is our friends who happily pick a sandwich in a deli without an onslaught of mathematical conundrums running riot in their brain. “Normal” can actually have ANY kind of drink they like without even a whisper of a ‘value for calories’ haunting their thoughts.

Normal can choose food to satisfy their taste buds and not to keep them as light as possible. Normal doesn’t even think twice about adding one extra raspberry to their (carefully weighed) bowl of lowest calorie cereal.

Normal doesn’t consider black coffee a ‘snack’ or stir-fry an indulgent meal. It wouldn’t cast a suspicious eye over the size of a tangerine, or swear that an apple has the potential to be fattening. Nor would it question the amount of calories / fat / carbohydrate in a carrot. It wouldn’t distrust the carefully stated amounts of these ‘anorexic-life-threatening’ printed on each product, or regard cauliflower as an enemy to be avoided at all costs.

You see..?

Normal doesn’t experience eating as a trigger for a sort of inexplicably acute mental pain. It doesn’t really begin to understand that ‘food’ is merely an assortment of numbers. (Despite our health conscious Food Standards people’s best efforts!) It doesn’t ‘get’ that a carrot is 35, a berry, 2 and if you throw in a spoonful of yoghurt you’ve exceeded the limit. (Scrape half away, then share some with the sink…)

Normal might be conscious of the numbers, but it’s not ruled by them. It doesn’t carefully bite each Malteser in half to ensure it has exactly half the stated amount. It doesn’t have to ignore the body’s cries for rest in order to complete the requisite amount of high intensive ‘burn off’ exercises before or after a calculated amount of food.

Normal doesn’t FEEL fat growing ON them if they eat something frightening. It doesn’t feel the rush of shame and disgust if they slip up and allow too much food to enter the forbidding mouth. It won’t suffer an onslaught of blind fear, the compulsion to induce vomiting or crapping or even the wild urge to cut fat OFF any given part of themselves.

I realise there are degrees of ‘normal’; a continuum even. This illness, any Eating Disorder, defies all concept of normality and in doing so, isolates sufferers in a sadistic and divisive way.

As someone who, for almost thirty years, was pretty ‘normal’ about food, I feel somewhat justified, perhaps even qualified, to attempt to explain that there really IS such a thing as ‘normal’ in the world I, and so many others, inhabit.

The next nine years of my life have literally been stolen from me.

I find it incomprehensible that for almost three decades, I could actually EAT a meal without attaching any feelings or significance to the food at all. Nor can I recall how I might have RELISHED the chance to actually SIT DOWN and watch a whole film without the raging impulse to burn off calories, the torture of that insane edict.

It’s too hard to properly explain how Anorexia has unpicked and rewoven my ‘normality’, but I hope, in some small way, I’ve conveyed the havoc it wrecks upon its victims, some too young to ever have experienced the luxury and freedom of normality

I hope these descriptions may bring some small solace to those who don’t feel understood and information for those who want to understand.

There’s no such thing as normal, but there is ‘abnormal’, and this illness is one example of that.

Someday, I hope to eat again, with the freedom of that first part of my life.

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Doesn’t do a lot for my point, but I do love a bit of Edward Monkton…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redefining ‘Normal’

So it’s got to that point where it’s been so long, it’s embarrassing.

The multi-pack stack of Cola just can’t be tall enough as you dodge that friend you’ve been meaning to text for months.

penguin fishingThis is me breaking the silence.

And here are two penguins (because I love them).

 

world-mental-health-dayOctober 10th 2016: a day designated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of those awareness type days where everyone is meant to have their mind jogged about the existence of mental health and the kind of struggles people can have.

I had no intention of writing, but the surge of mental health promotion that hit me when I turned on my laptop was so ‘full frontal’ that I almost feel I have a sort of obligation to this little gathering of mental moaning and metaphor that is my blog.

The public frequently hear the term ‘mental health’ and, despite the best efforts of organisations like WHO and MIND, there are still a variety of stigmas (what’s the plural of stigma? – Clumsy phraseology, I apologise) attached and often, that stigma either shrinks from it, or tuts at it dismissively, cos who hasn’t had a mental health problem nowadays? Who hasn’t seen someone exonerated on the grounds of ‘ mental health’.

Where am I going with this you ask? (I’m not entirely sure myself)

Thing is folks, we all ‘HAVE’ mental health. It’s true!  The term is used imprecisely (a fine one to talk!) because we often use it to refer to a person’s POOR mental health, their mental ILL health, I suppose.

Many people I know think ‘mental health’ is something they don’t have, because it’s Anorexia or Schizophrenia or any of those crazy things.. Actually though, I’d argue that there isn’t this clear line dividing mental health and mental illness.

Mental health is a continuum. It’s a gauge which can be set higher or lower in particular individuals; higher or lower at certain times in each and ever one of us.

I think what I’m saying, in the most convoluted way possible, is that I sometimes sigh and roll my eyes at all these awareness days… I sometimes tire of hearing ardent advocates shouting and waving banners about one thing and another… (I am hanging my head, a contrite cynic – if you’ve ever heard of such a thing!) BUT, this mental health awareness stuff IS something worth stopping and thinking about. It’s worth it because it is something which affects us all, no matter the extent. Mental HEALTH is something we all possess and something we need to nurture in ourselves and in those around us.

Looking after a person’s mental health isn’t something that comes naturally to all of us. Days like today give us the opportunity to have a quick look at ways we can make it possible to reduce the rising percentage of people struggling with mental illness.

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/world-mental-health-day

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If I wersquirrele a squirrel, I’d never make it through the winter.

I’ve written some notes for a post in a notebook, but I’ve hidden the book so well that I can’t find it. (This is despite ransacking my room which, as a direct result, now looks like I’ve been burgled).

I wanted to continue my thoughts on ‘being normal’, not an easy concept due to its being riddled with both semantic and philosophical potholes.

So this little snippet – post is like a trailer:

‘ Coming Soon To a Blog Near You’

Meanwhile, I’ll continue my search for the missing script!

 

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I don’t really know who Lamott is, or where hope becomes important in her story, but once upon a time I copied this out and popped it in a back pocket where it remained until I fished it out some months ago.

I don’t have too much to say, except that to me, hope is one hell of a risk. It seems to require me to swim against the tide of mental reasoning and learning; perhaps in different seas altogether.

I admit, I find it exhausting. I think that I find it easier to throw my hands up in the air and quit, than to hang on to the cliff edge with torn up fingernails.  Funny that Hope is so often thought to be light, so feathery and fragile, so beautiful, so pure.  Stark contrast then, that the hope in me is a ripped, time worn, tear stained,  piece of paper pulled out of my old jeans’ pocket.

Hope is a risk. It might fail me. It might demand too much, grow too big, get too brave. It might start to grow secretly, against my own will…

… but if I don’t have any, my life will always look the same. The world will always look the same. My body will always feel the same.

Hope is a harbinger of change. Without it, we stop swimming altogether. The only alternative to swimming against the tide is to stand in stagnant pools, or to drown.

I don’t intend to do either.

Re the quotation that I carried round so long;  I’m still here in hospital (I showed up). I’m eating (trying to do the right thing).  I’m waiting and watching and working.

I’m just hoping to see the sun rise as I fight the tide.

Loss – A Reaction

I have an ongoing relationship with Satire. A kind of 'well you can't choose your family' relationship. Which is fine, so long as I keep him to myself and chose not to share his perspective too often. Satire, I've learned, is best applied to matters of a political or sociological nature. Not really appropriate for matters of the heart and soul.
Trouble is, Satire is a quite indiscriminate... I can't shut him up.
And so, as I find myself explaining that I lost my friend last Tuesday, I inwardly cringe at the familiar voice that tells me how VERY careless I must have been, to actually LOSE a friend, in THIS day and age where mobile communication is EVERYWHERE.
Whilst my kin continues to emphasise the absurdity of a whole genre of 'death euphemisms', my listener is looking questioningly at me, poised to offer condolences, dewy eyed as I further explain the tragic circumstances of my friend's death.
And they were tragic. A sudden accident, and the young man who helped me through some really tough years of my life is gone.
Just like that. (I know... I know... I hear Tommy Cooper too)
The news broke over me just like canvas on a tent frame. All in a moment the world was muted and time passed unnoticed.
I stayed in the tent for a few days. The thoughts almost entirely about him and the family he leaves behind. I could hear the noise outside, the people's laughter, other news, frank discussions but none of it seemed relevant.

Sitting there, I think random thoughts.

  • First: how am I supposed to 'be'? - Is my reaction 'normal'? Do my meds keep me numb?
  • Second: How can the world just... carry on? Why doesn't everyone know?
  • Third: My grief isn't allowed because in the wake of the enormous loss his wife and children are facing, my own is so pathetic
  • Fourth: I live some way away. How do I support them? How can I help my god-daughter?
  • Fifth: Sadness and grief are not the same thing. Sadness is only one part of grief
  • How fast death can sweep life away. How precious life is while we have it
It's helpful to make this concrete. Writing it is easier than I thought.
This is the sort of post that might finish with one of those cloying one liners you see stitched on cushions and stencilled on laminate... Vintage schmaltz on distressed furniture.  I'm angry at death for being so cruel. My faith affords me the certainty that my friend is in a FAR better place, and it IS a small comfort. But my heart is definitely a little broken and as always with these things, Satire's hand ensures I go spiky above sorry.

wpid-imag1676_1.jpgA poet like Dickinson has the enviable ability to load a verse with meaning so deep and so heavy you wonder how such simple words can bear the weight.. Her gatherings of commonplace words so often made to shine by their careful ordering, carry a grief so weighty you wonder the words don’t crumble beneath the despair.

This simple little verse almost sags in the middle with the enormity of her existential reflection!

I wanted to put it out there because I think it’s something that every one of needs to have asked and explored. Not in a naval gazing way, more in a back-of-the-mind type of way.

Because I think it’s sometimes good to widen my frame of reference. To briefly place my life on the time / space continuum. It’s sometimes good to feel humbled by the stars. To put my pain and suffering in the context of world history.

And sometimes, it’s good to rethink the areas of my life I can control; and the areas that I can’t. Personally I find it useful to remember that life is short, and wanting control over something doesn’t grant me the right to it. More than that, I know that there are things WITHIN my power, that I need to take control of, rather than deny or disown.

THAT is the hard thing. That’s where Dickinson’s innocent thought is a smack in the face!