Wednesday 26 December 2018

Seven Things I’d Quite Like to Do in 2018 — How Did I Get On?

Back in January I posted a list of seven things I’d quite like to do in 2018. I shared a mid-year update, but how did I get on overall?

1. Read Two Books


The two books I originally selected to read (actually to reread) were Talk Like TED, by Carmine Gallo, and Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard.

I didn’t finish the first and haven’t started the second but I did reread Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, and Fran and I recently finished A Fatal Obsession, the latest thriller by Maine author James Hayman.

2. Bring My Weight Back under 180 Pounds


As I reported back in June, I’d had very little success through the first half of the year, but I finally found the motivation to do something about it.

I brought my weight down from 192 lbs to around 178 – 180 lbs, where it has remained for a month or so. My intention is to press on again to reattain the weight I was at a few years ago when I first brought myself down from 200 lbs. Watch this space!

3. Have One Weekend Away From Home


This one sprang from the lovely weekend I spent last year attending a mental health event organised by Talking FreELY. I envisioned something similar during 2018 and almost got my wish when the opportunity arose to be one of the guest speakers at a Let’s Talk Mental Health event in Leeds in November. Unfortunately the event had to be postponed, but I look forward to attending next year if and when it is rescheduled.

I did, in fact, have one weekend away from home, but not in the way I anticipated (“Be careful what you ask for”). As I reported in my mid-year update, my mother died in early March and I travelled down to Liverpool with my family at the end of that month for her funeral.

4. Attend Two Speaking Engagements


As I just mentioned, one speaking opportunity had to be rescheduled, but I haven’t done too badly over all. I was proud to take part in the Laughing Lasses pantomime in May as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. I read two of Fran’s poems, A Wild Hair and Urgency, and excerpts from our book High Tide, Low Tide.

I performed some of my own poetry for the first time in February at the Newcastle Literary Salon’s event on the theme of Love and Loss. I read at the Literary Salon again at the end of October, and the following month at Bar Loco’s weekly open mic event. It meant a lot to me to perform my poetry, all of it written many years ago, to very appreciative audiences.

I have also recently presented at two work events, talking about the mental health initiatives we are putting in place within the company (BPDTS).

5. See Three Movies at the Cinema


I began the year well, seeing Darkest Hour at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema, but never seemed to find the time to watch anything else. On the other hand, Fran and I have watched a lot of movies together courtesy of Skype and Netflix.

Two stand out for me. PS: I Love You moved me far more than I anticipated. Fran and I both felt Before Sunrise, which is an achingly beautiful depiction of new, almost accidental, love.

I’m not a huge Jim Carrey fan but we watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas last week. I’m man enough to admit I was in tears at the end as the Grinch and all the Whos of Whoville unite in finding the true spirit of the season.

6. Find a Use for My Standard Midori


I have carried my larger, Standard, Midori around with me for much of the year. I have used it to draft many of the articles I have written for our own blog here at Gum On My Shoe and also my articles for bp Magazine.

I love the lightweight paper insert (insert 013) which has 128 fine blank pages, compared to the regular inserts which have 64 pages. There is some ghosting but no bleeding with the finer paper, which is perfect for me.

I filled one regular insert at the start of the year blogging Fran’s four week trip to Mexico. You can read our travel journal in five parts starting here.

7. Shoot a Roll of Film


I am delighted to report that this one is achieved! I bought a couple of rolls of black and white 35 mm film for my Zorki 4K rangefinder camera and had a great time talking photos in Newcastle and along the north-east coast.

I sent the film off with some trepidation. It was many years since I shot film at all and even longer since I did so on a fully manual camera with no light meter. (Thank heavens for Sunny 16!) I was delighted to find almost every photograph came out decently exposed and in focus where it was meant to be in focus.

I have yet to try a roll of film in my father’s Kodak Brownie 44B, but I still intend to do so.

I recently saw a Diana F+ camera on sale by a friend of mine on Depop. I leapt at the opportunity to try out one of the classic lomography models, so keep an eye out for some more film photography in the coming year.

In summary, then, it’s not been a bad year in terms of achieving the things I quite fancied doing. I haven’t yet drawn up my list of Things I’d Quite Like to Do in 2019, but I am interested to see what I might come up with. Feel free to suggest something!


Wednesday 19 December 2018

The Ostrich Egg: My Journey to Mental Wealth

By Lea

It is only when we lose what we had that we realise just what we had. This is true in different elements of life. Sadly, this year it was true for me when it came to my Mental Wealth.

Between the ages of seven to twenty-two my Mental Wealth was lost, eaten alive and consumed by a range of people, from bullies at school, to the lack of trust shown by professionals who had the training to know better, and others. All this in addition to a rough deck of cards life had thrown my way.

Over those years, though, I was fortunate to spend a twenty-four week admission to The Crisis Recovery Unit, a specialist unit which was part of The Maudsley Hospital, which specialised in attempting to reach those for whom self-injury had become a coping mechanism.

I guess the best analogy I can make is that my body, my life, my experiences, my emotions were like an ostrich egg. The staff at the CRU chipped away slowly and methodically to break down the barriers I had put up as an act of self-protection. Once the external shell was cracked they chipped on until nothing remained of that egg. They then took the time and tenderness to build it back up, but equipped it with the skills and knowledge, not to mention self-confidence, that things can and will change, but that change has to come from within.

That was July 2001 through January 2002. For the first time my fears and my demons were not only heard, but they were held in mind whilst solutions – all of which I had to reach – were found and embraced. But this was not without many tears and setbacks as the journey to Mental Wealth began.

It worked. It lasted. Healthy coping mechanisms were adopted, psychiatry pushed to one side, a degree obtained, the loss of one of the few who gave unconditional love even whilst in my darkest of times, the birth of a child occurred, a divorce happened, a house move and more – all whilst maintaining that wealth.

But as is so often the case with these things, life had other ideas. In May of this year (2018) I was raped twice within six days by a so-called friend of over three years. He had methodically taken time to manipulate, use and lure me into a false sense of safety and trust. He had obtained power to know my buttons, how to push them and ultimately use them against me. I did the right thing and reported it to the police, but as all of this was going on the Mental Wealth I had gained rapidly disintegrated back to the crumbs and fragmented shell which the CRU had provided the skills and self-awareness to enable me to build back up.

Sanity fell. It fell like stale about-to-go-green-and-mouldy bread fed to ducks by children at the park. Any healthy ways to express emotion failed, and thirteen and a bit years of freedom and stability were lost. After caving in to self-destructions, and a psychiatric hospital stay, it is safe to say Mental Wealth was well and truly lost to the sink hole of life. Full blown Mental Illness had returned.

Last week the police informed me that they are unable to take the case forward to court due to lack of witnesses and/or CCTV, but who actually has these things when it comes to rape? A felt a sense of abandonment from the very agency which claims it is there to help and support, urging those who survive not to be silenced but with the emergence of the “Me Too” campaign to find their voice and speak their truth. I spoke mine, yet I am the one living with additional physical scars to layer on top of the mental and emotional ones he left as his legacy, whilst he walks the street continuing to spend his days oblivious to the damage and detrimental impact his actions have left behind.

In a vague attempt to self-soothe, self-manage – and self-sabotage if truth be known – self-injury has occurred once more, medical treatment obtained. The urges remain. The self-love for now is, temporarily I hope, on a shelf. I am trying to regain my grasp on it but it is hard. It is going to be a long journey to reclaim all I had.

If I know one thing it is that once this storm passes a butterfly will re-emerge. But it is hard to keep attuned to that vision when even as I write this I am in physical discomfort and pain following an episode of self-injury earlier this week which left my leg a mess. And I am mentally reliving all that he did those two days when he stole so much.

Asking for help is a hard yet brave step to take. I asked. I begged. I reached out. I cried. I screamed. Services were offered eventually but it took a breakdown to obtain a hospital stay. Services then deemed that due to their funding I had used my time and had to move on, although they acknowledged the distress I am living with on a daily basis. That was a sharp and bitter pill to swallow.

I am mindful that I am fortunate to have a private therapist trained in trauma who is enabling me to regrow and relearn and acknowledge and accept all that has occurred this year and its impact on me. After previous experience of being unreachable or untreatable by too many therapists my guard remains high. Nevertheless, she is thankfully equipped with the skills to see through the facade and get to my gut, to know what I need but may not want to hear, enabling me to try do things differently the next day.

So much has been lost, but I cling to the hope Mental Wealth will return some time soon. Until then all I can do is keep on as I am, vocalising when in distress, reaching out in the hope light will return, and pray no one else suffers in ways I have.

About the Author

Lea is a mid-thirty year old, Gender Fluid, Pansexual Solo Parent who lives in Leeds (Yorkshire, UK) and is Natural Term Breastfeeding their small who turns six in January 2019. Lea also happens to live with cPTSD, Fibromyalgia, and ME, and lost their sight a decade ago. Follow Lea’s Challenging Parenting Perceptions blog and Twitter (@leahtova).


Tuesday 4 December 2018

The Sounds of Silence

“I wish people didn’t think silence was awkward, just enjoy it. Not every space has to be filled with words.” (Anon)

That quotation was shared recently on Facebook by a good friend of mine. I posted a response (“True, silence can be awkward, of course, but it can be lovely.”) and went on with my day. But somehow, I kept coming back to the topic of silence, and to the idea of there being more than just these two kinds, comfortable and awkward.

I hope we all know the first of these; the gentle sense of being with someone and having no need for words. I say gentle, but at times it can come upon us like a wave: the simple yet so rare awareness of sharing the moment without needing to explain or talk it away.

There is a beautiful scene near the start of the submarine movie Crimson Tide. Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) is talking to his executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), as they head out of port watching the sunset.

“Bravo, Hunter.”


“You knew to shut up and enjoy the view. Most eggheads want to talk it away. Your stock just went up a couple of points.”

On the other side of the coin, of course, is the tense, cut-the-air-with-a-knife silence we have probably all experienced at some time in our lives, whether in our own relationships or as a witness, perhaps in our parental home. These silences can last for minutes, or hours, or longer. If occasional or of short duration they can give the relationship a useful pause. Not everything needs to be addressed in the moment. Things can then pick up again on the other side. But, if left unaddressed for long, these kinds of silence can take root.

Then there is the distinction between silence vs. background sounds. My friend Roiben who shared the silence quotation on Facebook is severely deaf. The nature of the sound landscape in which she finds herself can dramatically affect her ability to hear and engage with people and what is going on around her.

I find absolute silence uncomfortable. I write and think best, for example, in a cafĂ© or coffee shop with plenty of ambient sound. Likewise, I cannot easily fall asleep without a tv or radio on in the background. Silence allows my mind to wander and distract me from falling asleep. If there is something quiet on the tv or radio – dialogue rather than music or action movies (disaster documentaries work really well for me!) – my mind has something to focus on, from which it can gently disengage and ease into sleep. Other friends prefer quiet or silence to relax. Fran is one of them. She can meditate in silence, for example, whereas I prefer a soundtrack of some kind, whether words or music.

There is yet another kind of silence, which occurs as a pause or gap in the connection between two people. Whatever its nature, every relationship has its natural frequency and intensity when it comes to connection. It may change from time to time but it is a function of the two people involved. Expecting the same level of contact and conversation from everyone we hold dear is a recipe for frustration and hurt.

Some people manage to have friendships where they scarcely hear from each other for months, even years, and are then able to pick up again as though nothing has changed. Perhaps you have friendships of that kind. I can’t do this! I have friends – I would still call them that – I haven’t heard from in any meaningful sense for years, but I would find it very difficult to pick up these relationships again and move forward. Why? Because we each would have changed so much in the intervening time that it would be like starting all over again. Actually, it would be harder than starting out anew because there would be so much “old stuff” to unlearn and set aside. We are all changing all the time! (If you are not changing, why not?)

I do much better where there is on-going contact; be that in person, on the phone, or online in chat or on social media. I’m in touch with several friends on a more or less daily basis. There are a few where it’s more like weekly; very few where we connect less frequently than that. In that way, we keep in step with each other’s lives, news, feelings, joys and issues. Not all the connections are the same, of course. Some are rich and full, others less intense yet no less valuable or valued.

I recently attended a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Awareness workshop. As part of that exercise I started to work with some of my triggers. Triggers are things that can affect our wellbeing and stability in ways that are – on the surface at least – out of proportion to the reality of what has actually happened. My biggest trigger is where I sense a (real or imagined) lessening in the frequency or intensity of the connection I have with someone close to me. Maybe they are not chatting as much or as often, or seem less engaged than usual.

There might be any number of reasons for this. Perhaps they are busy, or unwell. Maybe they have things going on for them of which I am unaware. Perhaps they simply want to step back for a while from connecting with people in general, or from me in particular. These are all perfectly valid reasons and whilst I might not like it I can respect and understand them. However, my triggered response is a powerful sense of rejection and abandonment out of all proportion to whatever is actually happening. (I have no idea where this comes from, it occurred for the first time maybe a dozen years ago.) It can feel overwhelming to me and can be devastating to the relationship unless it is acknowledged and allowed to pass safely.

I am working on this issue at the moment; learning to accept and to even appreciate the spaces between meetings, messages or phone calls, or times where things appear to change for a time. I am experimenting with allowing my feelings to be there without jumping to (mostly erroneous) conclusions or assuming the relationship is in jeopardy and thus putting it in jeopardy by responding inappropriately, or demanding more from the other person than they are able or willing to provide.

I am grateful beyond words (pun intended) for the people who allow me to explore my relationship with silence in this way; those who allow me to be myself and to be honest about my hang-ups and issues; who hold space for me to work with my stuff, as I hold space for them to work with theirs. Because, ultimately, there are things that cannot be explained or communicated in words. There are things that can only be approached and appreciated in the spaces we allow into our lives. As my friend Roiben puts it:

“Some silence is comforting, to just sit with someone and know you are in company that gets you.”

And (whisper it) that is a beautiful thing.